FANDOM: Birds of Prey TV
DISCLAIMERS: 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. Song lyrics don't belong to me either; no profit gained or infringement intended. Adult language and sexual situations.
CONTENT WARNING: Heterosex contact ahead.
SEQUENCE/INSTALLMENT NOTE: Sorry, folks! This *is* another follow-up to the "Elemental" series fics (Landslide, Watershed, Windshear, Sunspots, Veneer, Stainless, and Obsidian). As such, familiarity with that universe is recommended. Series is archived at Passion & Perfection (www.ralst.com) for the masochistic.
SUMMARY: Defining and redefining family while a new villain is on the loose.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This one has to be for Night, who has been so patiently encouraging.
COMMENTS: Please. Constructive comments and suggestions welcome. Aw, shucks, they're encouraged.
Fingers flying over the keyboard, Barbara Gordon distantly noted something niggling at her.
An annoyance of some sort.
Without thought, she wrinkled her nose, working her computer glasses up and into a more comfortable position.
With the fifty-four inch plasma monitor she'd just indulged in, the glasses really shouldn't be necessary, however even superheroes apparently couldn't fight biology.
She winced at that thought, undoing the glasses repositioning. With a sigh, she stopped her rapid-fire typing and leaned back, massaging a twinge in her left index finger.
"Did you get something?"
The question was soft, probably meant to be undemanding; however, Barbara knew her partner well enough to pick up on her frustration.
She raised her hand and waggled her fingers.
"I was just--"
An image from one of the feeds on a secondary monitor distracted her from very-possibly psycosomatic musings about early-onset arthritis.
In an instant, Helena was behind her, as swift and silent as ever.
"The camera outside the Mercantile Bank picked her up."
Already back at the keyboard, she heard the soft hiss of air behind her, could visualize her partner's expression. Point of fact, Barbara was reasonably confident that it mirrored her own.
"Sloppy. That's just really fucking sloppy."
She didn't bother with a pretense of annoyance over Helena's language.
Again, it mirrored her own feelings.
The cyber-vigilante finished hacking into the camera and directed it to follow their quarry.
"It looks like she's headed for the jewelry store."
The silence that followed her announcement was absolutely leaden. For long heartbeats, only the hum of the Delphi and the ever-present whir of the gears from the big clock filled the tower. However, neither had ever avoided the unpleasant, and it was Helena, bless her, who finally spoke.
"I'll head out now."
Barbara's nod was brief, her words barely a whisper.
"This is going to be difficult."
In truth, she felt that perhaps she should be the one to face the situation; the responsibility was just as much hers as Helena's. However, there just wasn't time, and her skills could be put to better use right where she was. In the reflection of her monitor, she saw her partner run a hand through artfully disheveled hair.
"Yeah. I wish Dinah was here."
Barbara had to agree: their sometimes-teammate would probably have a better chance of handling things without much fuss. Not to mention the fallout. However, since she was at the exobiology seminar in Ghent...
"I'm on my way."
The rustle of a long leather duster followed the words onto the balcony, and then Barbara was alone.
It was not how she'd planned, or even hoped, to spend a Friday evening. Her agenda had included a movie on the big screen, some popcorn -- liberally sprinkled with M&Ms, of course -- and family time with Helena and their daughter.
After that, after the credits on whatever testosterone-laden bit of cinematic excellence Helena picked out finished rolling, she'd been expecting some Not-family-time.
Nevertheless, this turn of events wasn't altogether surprising. She and Helena had been following a series of petty break-ins for some time; although nothing was ever taken, there was also never any physical evidence at the scenes. There were only hints and coincidences and... well... hunches coming into play. The style of the break-ins, the targets, the sheer audacity of their quarry: It was all too similar to a certain feline fatale that she herself had tracked, back in the day.
With an irritated shake of her head, Barbara turned to her keyboard. She couldn't allow herself to fixate on what she could have done -- more, better, faster -- to have averted this break-in, on this night. Instead, she focused on what she could do: namely, hacking into the store's security to by-pass the alarms. After that, she'd work on wiping the video from the bank camera and...
<"I see her on the roof.">
The low rumble interrupted Barbara's determined avoidance to think about the problem, and she instantly became all business.
This particular Catwoman copycat might be in her criminal infancy, but that made the encounter no less important.
<"I'm moving in.">
The soft thump of Helena's landing came through the headset, and Barbara held her breath. She didn't have long to wait.
<"Nice night for it.">
Her partner's ultra-casual announcement of her presence was juxtaposed by a high pitched "eep" of surprise, and Barbara almost smirked: Their quarry might be an aspiring cat burglar, but she had quite a way to go before she'd fall into Selina Kyle's class.
The redhead immediately sobered when she heard the clatter of metal on metal -- possibly a vent shaft falling shut -- followed by the sound of a blow being parried. Helena's soft grunt was the only indication of the force behind their quarry's blow.
Regrettably, it appeared that the youngster's reflexes more than made up for her lack of poise.
Dear heavens, this simply couldn't degenerate into a knock-down, drag-out...
<"Hey, chill out, Kitty, before I have to take you down.">
Reassured by her partner's mild tone, Barbara sagged in relief when she heard the response.
<<"Mommmmm! I can't believe you were tracking me!">>
The tone, one universal to aggrieved adolescents everywhere, was a far cry from "evil super-villian".
And Helena's, Barbara recognized with an odd sense of bemusement, was that of every frightened, overwrought parent: In a word: furious.
<"It's all fine and dandy if you want to follow in your grandmother's footsteps, but I can't believe you let yourself be picked up on video! And... and...">
It was time to step in.
Her own voice surprised her with its calm. Apparently it distracted Helena from the head of steam she was building as well.
"May I speak with her?"
She took that as an affirmative, listening to the slightly muffled sound of her partner's voice as she presumably removed her comm unit.
<"And, why the hell aren't you answering your phone? Here, your mother has something to say.">
Imaging the microphone necklace and earpiece being extended on one graceful index finger, Barbara almost rolled her eyes when she heard their daughter's response.
<<"Can't you talk to her for me?">>
She could easily visualize the hangdog expression on the girl's face; over the years, it had become increasingly apparent that she had inherited far more than just striking blue eyes from Helena.
Of course, their daughter had also picked up a few things from Barbara's side of the gene pool as well: her facility with computers had begun to bloom in earnest when she was five and Barbara had found herself locked out of the Delphi. It had taken several days of investigation and cajoling to determine that the girl had somehow hacked the root password and reset it to one of her own choosing: "HelloKitty".
<"Uhm, hi, Mother.">
"Katharine Fiona Gordon-Kyle."
Once again, Barbara was glad that over the years they'd managed to perfect the comm link against eavesdropping. While she and Helena simply couldn't seem to break their long habit of code names, situations like this made the advancement a blessing. The use of The Full Name might have been overkill, but it was pure instinct. It also took the wind out of her teenaged daughter's sails.
<"I was just going to see if I could get in. I wasn't going to take anyt--">
And, it was more than enough. The wings of white hair spreading from each of Barbara's temples was simply not that attractive.
Heaven knew, she'd gone through this too often with Helena twenty-some years before. Of course, Helena's infractions in the first years after Barbara had become her guardian had leaned more towards fights at school, truancy, breaking curfew, and liberal experimentation with whatever the drug-du-jour was at the time. On the positive side, Helena's checkered adolescence -- not to mention almost three decades in the classroom for Barbara -- had certainly given her the preparation and skills for dealing with just this sort of situation.
Accordingly, Barbara drew in a deep, calming breath, testing her words and marshaling her wits for a non-confrontational method to draw Katie out.
"Are you insane?! I can't believe you would do something so absolutely st--"
A discrete cough filtered through the comms, alerting her to the fact that her attempts at calm understanding had missed the mark.
Not to mention that she'd apparently been vocal enough for Helena's sensitive hearing to pick up every word.
<"I'm sorry, Mother.">
The contrition sounded genuine, but who could tell?
<"I was just...">
"Stop. Right. Now."
Oblivious to the voice-only nature of their communication, Barbara raised her right hand from the keyboard, palm out, to emphasize her words. She simply wasn't in the mood to hear excuses.
"If you want to work on your B&E skills, young lady, I'll thank you to do so on a night when you don't have SATs the next morning. Additionally, as we've discussed many times, Katharine, there are numerous areas in which you can put your particular skills to good use without working on the other side of the law. And, let's not forget about the alarm systems that you set off and the fact that it's a minor miracle that the police haven't hauled you away yet to -- "
A distant sound echoed through the earpiece, interrupting the redhead's building lecture. Clenching her jaw, she easily identified the noise: The increasing wail of police sirens. Her fingers flew across the keys, confirming that a half-dozen squad cars were closing in.
And a helicopter was less than a block away.
Oh dear heavens, there wasn't going to be time for Helena to get them out of--
Furious, Barbara jerked her arms, panicked when she realized that she was confined, unable to move enough to reach the scanners and divert the police. She heard the soft wailing again and swore softly.
It was her own utterance that yanked her awake.
For a few moments, she forced herself to lie still, running a quick assessment. Her arms were tangled in the covers of the big bed, and a pre-dawn grayness filtered through the heavy drapes. Beside her, Helena slept soundly, her small figure flung diagonally on the bed, presumably to take up as much space as possible. On her other side, the comforting, if oddly shaped, bassinet holding their infant daughter was within arm's reach.
Barbara's breathing began to steady until she heard it again, the faint noise -- a soft mewling that was not quite a wail -- that had so terrified her in her dream.
Green eyes ticked to the bedside clock, confirming that it was Katharine's preferred time for her second nightly feeding. For the last four and a half weeks, ever since the tiny being had decided on her schedule, 4:30 in the morning had become too familiar.
Dear heavens, would she ever be allowed to sleep through a night again?
Relentlessly pushing aside thoughts that didn't seem terribly maternal, Barbara started to work herself upright. For the next thirty or forty minutes, she knew that she'd force herself to remain awake, alert, as her daughter fed; after that, she should be able to grab another few hours before Katie and the household came to life again.
"Okay, Katie, I'm on my way."
The sensation of slender fingers on her shoulder interrupted her low soothing, and Barbara looked over.
"I'm sorry, Hel. I didn't mean to wake you."
The younger woman blinked owlishly, then smiled slowly.
"No sweat, Red. I was just getting up to take care of the Peapod."
A bit dumbfounded -- just-awakened had never been Barbara's best time -- she watched her partner slip gracefully from under the covers and circle the bed to retrieve the tiny bundle from the bassinet.
"Helena? Are you su--"
"No worries, Barbara."
Again, that million watt smile shone in the darkness.
"I'll just heat up some breast milk. The Pod and I will watch a little 'I Love The 90s' on cable, and you can sleep for a change."
Although the arrangement didn't seem fair to Helena, Barbara's sleep-deprived mind couldn't summon a single argument to dissuade her. The best she could manage as Helena slipped from the room and she burrowed back into her pillows was a heartfelt murmur.
"Lord, I love you, Helena."
When she let herself into the Clock Tower the following night, Helena had every intention of being quiet. She'd closed at The Dark Horse, so it was after midnight; hopefully, Kat had finished her first middle-of-the-night feeding and both she and Babs were asleep. With the schedule Barbara had been put on for their daughter, she wanted her lover to get as much rest as possible.
And, hell, if anyone could do stealth, it was her.
So, she clicked the French doors to the balcony shut quietly and shed her duster in the living area. As she'd expected, the room was dark except for the zillions of glowing lights and power indicators surrounding the Delphi. She was about to tackle her clothes in the living room -- shoot, maybe she'd sack out on the couch to be extra-certain she didn't wake anybody up -- when she spied the thin band of light filtering from under the master bedroom door.
Moving soundlessly down the short hallway, she stood outside the closed door, chewing at her lower lip. Everything was quiet inside, and she was just about to decide that her partner had conked out with the bedside light on when her sensitive hearing picked up the unmistakable sound of a page being turned in a book.
As she'd guessed, Barbara was propped up in bed, about three-quarters of the way through the latest Grisham novel that Helena had brought home the day before. Since leaving the hospital, the redhead had been going through popular pot-boilers like peanuts at the bar.
Barbara smiled her welcome over the top of the book, green eyes tracking her lover's progress as she circled the foot of the bed and squatted beside the abdomen-shaped bassinet. Careful not to disturb the sleeping infant, Helena briefly buried her nose in the fine, curly red hair, amazed that their daughter -- even at the tender age of six weeks -- could smell so much like Barbara. Moving her face a few inches lower, she pressed a tender kiss to a soft cheek, inhaling the faint essence of milk from her breath.
"She's really out of it. Smells like she had a good snack."
Struck anew by Helena's tenderness, it took Barbara a moment to process the whispered words.
Her breasts, which had been feeling pleasantly drained after Kat's midnight feeding, seemed to swell under her tee, becoming heavy and sensitive all over again.
Although, Barbara easily recognized as she watched Helena begin to unbutton her shirt, the heaviness was in a very, very different way.
Of course, she herself was feeling more rested than she had in days... weeks... possibly since the beginning of the pregnancy. She had no idea what Helena had done the night before to quiet their daughter, but whatever it had been had allowed her to sleep until 9:00am.
"Are you coming to bed, Hel?"
A little distracted by a knot in one of her boot laces, Helena barely registered that Barbara was setting her book on the bedside table. "Uhm, yeah, I thought maybe -- "
Suspecting that she might have missed some nuance, the brunette gave up on her footwear for the moment.
"Why, do you want something from the kitchen or -- ?"
Since she knew that some of that vile herbal tea helped Red relax, Helena was already moving toward the door when her partner responded.
"No, thank you, Hel. I don't need anything..."
For her part, Barbara belatedly realized that her courage was a little... rusty after so many weeks; however, Helena might have heard something in her tone because she turned, one dark brow rising in question. It was all that she needed to finish her thought.
"From the kitchen, that is."
Helena felt her heart thump once in her chest.
Now that was nuance.
Searching green eyes that seemed just a little over-bright, she allowed a slow smile to take control and shrugged out of her shirt.
"Yeah. I'm coming to bed."
Her fingers fumbled on the buttons of her jeans when she saw Barbara contorting under the covers to pull off her fuzzy bed socks. She'd never quite gotten it, but Red thought that it was just plain wrong to make love while wearing socks.
"Hurry up, Hel."
A bit embarrassed by her hissed order, Barbara managed a rueful smile as she cocked her head toward the bassinet.
"You know we don't have much time."
Having managed to push her leather pants down to her thighs, Helena hopped on one foot as she worked to shuck her second boot.
"Just... uh... give me a sec---" Barbara's next words somehow, miraculously, expedited the process.
"Good grief, Hel. Get over here and get your mouth on me."
In a heartbeat, the boot was off, followed by socks and pants, and Barbara suddenly wondered what she'd gotten herself into when her lover's eyes sparked to gold.
Dear heavens, but that was sexy.
Slowly, deliberately, Helena crawled up the bed. She kept her voice low, allowing the rumble in her chest to carry her words.
"Where'd you want me to put my mouth, Babe?"
Her heart almost failed her when her normally reserved partner yanked her sleep tee over her head, then reclined against the pillow. Helena was pretty sure she was going to combust right there when Barbara trailed her fingers up her own torso, brushing across milk-swollen breasts.
"Let's start here, Hel."
It was the younger woman's absolutely lack of motion that undid her bravado, and for a moment Barbara fought uncertainty.
"If you don't mind, that is?"
The question was light, but Helena had a pretty good idea how many levels of meaning it carried. Sex had always been more her thing than Barbara's, and, well, since the C-section six weeks before, there hadn't been any real two-way love-making. And, as much as she always enjoyed Barbara's hands on her, the intensity of her pleasure suffered a lot when she couldn't respond in kind.
Since she didn't have the words, Helena chose a non-verbal sort of response.
Hell, she'd always been a go-out-and-do-it kind of girl.
Somehow, though, what Helena had intended to be the soft brush of her mouth against Barbara's changed in a hurry from reassurance to, well, Ready Now when Helena found herself dragged forward by her tee-shirt and locked into a deep tonsil-swabbing sort of kiss.
Helena's moan -- it might have been a whimper -- managed to recall Barbara to herself, and she reluctantly managed to extract herself from what she'd started. Her cheeks burning, although she wasn't certain whether from arousal or embarrassment, she was almost ready to apologize for her hurry. She was almost sorry for not taking things a little more slowly.
Helena's growl would have consumed whatever insincere apology she might have managed.
"God, Red. I love you so much."
Forehead to forehead, their breath panting hotly between them, they were still for a beat. Then, flush with arousal and an insistent need, Barbara captured her lover's mouth again, groaning when her tongue was sucked into warm heat. She wound her fingers through silken hair, distantly aware that Helena was lowering them to the mattress, torn between wishing the moment would never end and wanting something more.
Again, her partner helped resolve her dilemma.
Somehow, Helena arched away, groaning at the loss of contact, the perfection that had filled her mouth. She waited until green eyes sought hers.
"I want to make you feel amazing, Barbara."
It had been so frikkin' long. Maybe for Barbara as well.
"Show me, Sweetheart."
Charged as if by a linear accelerator, Helena yanked off her own tee, then lowered herself, bringing their chests together. The melding of soft skin, the pressure of full roundness against her, the sensation of diamond peaks rasping against her own burning nipples: all threatened to take the strength from her arms. Biting at the inside of her cheek, Helena fought the desire to grind frantically against her lover, instead focusing on nipping and suckling at the slender column of Barbara's throat. Even that, the reverberations of Barbara's moan against her lips, might have brought her to climax if she'd not felt strong hands on her shoulders, urging her downward.
She muffled her own moan against Barbara's chest, brushing her cheek lightly against one turgid nipple. However, when Red's hands came to the back of her head, guiding with intent, she gave up on subtlety.
"Oh my --"
Without meaning to, Barbara felt herself arching upward, aching for more as her lover seemingly worked to consume her. Panting softly through her mouth, she sank back down, lost to the suction and the pleasure of teeth and tongue and skilled hands painting soft patterns across her chest and belly.
It had been far too long.
Somewhere, somehow, in the burning thick arousal, she lost track of time, her infallible internal chronometer having apparently clocked out for the duration, for Barbara honestly had no idea how long she'd been murmuring her pleasure when glittering golden eyes swam into view.
She had to wet her lips and try again, one hand automatically moving to cup the younger woman's cheek.
The slow burn of pleasure that she felt when Helena leaned into the caress chilled the tiniest bit when she made out her words.
"May I taste you?"
Helena couldn't keep herself from ducking her head, from finishing the question with her eyes hidden behind her bangs.
It wasn't like she hadn't been into what they'd been doing: fuck, taking Babs in so deeply and giving her such evident pleasure was fan-fucking-tastic. Still, there was something more, even if she knew that her lover had some issues surrounding sex in general and this act in particular.
Working to keep her breathing even, Barbara wrestled with the twin demons surrounding Helena's question. The lack of sensation made the offering seem so... pointless, not to mention how it vividly brought home her deficiencies in the sexual arena. She also had to admit that even before the shooting, she'd not much cared for this act -- at least being on the receiving end -- an instinctual dislike for the vulnerability it engendered.
Yet, as she forced herself to meet her companion's sweet gaze, she had to allow that in the fifteen months that she'd been with Helena, she'd come to realize how limited that thinking was: Helena seemed to derive enough pleasure from touching her that way for both of them, making it impossible now for Barbara to look at the act as one-sided or selfish on her part. More than once, to her surprise and intense, intense arousal, she'd been gifted by witnessing Helena's own climax seize her merely from the act of pleasuring her.
The experience was powerfully alluring, making Barbara's decision almost easy.
She worked a smile.
"I'd love your mouth."
Helena's answering smile was radiant, and Barbara's own smile grew, becoming more genuine as she watched the other woman settling in, as she witnessed the ripple of pleasure visibly coursing across her skin. Truly, Helena had perfected the art of cunnilingus: it was almost voyeuristic, almost indecent, witnessing the pleasure that she took in scenting her, brushing against her, delving into her. All the while, her lover purred and rumbled her pleasure, whispering endearments and sweet blandishments and the occasional oddly arousing pornographic description.
The irony was not lost on her that, after years of shunning the act when she could feel, with Helena it was one of the few remaining areas that raised a hot flare of resentment in Barbara for what she'd lost in the shooting.
"Jesus, Red, you taste so good. You're so fuckin' wet..."
Lord, she'd never been able to climax -- or really get very excited -- by this before the shooting; however, she was quite certain that if she'd only been able to experience all of the sensations that Helena offered -- the deep soul kisses, the gentle nudges, the unhurried explorations, all accompanied by her murmurs of appreciation -- her satisfaction could not be in doubt.
Nevertheless, this time, she wanted something else. For both of them.
Threading her fingers through sweat-dampened dark hair, she waited until bright eyes rose in question.
"Come up here, and let me take care of you now."
Even white teeth nibbled at a glistening lower lip.
Sure, Helena knew she was turned on six ways from Christmas, but still...
"I wasn't done yet."
Barbara's throaty laugh stripped her reservations away.
"I want to touch you now, Sweetie."
Helena swallowed a moan and slid up her partner's body. The friction of heated skin and sweat and other fluids dragged lightly across her, electrifying her senses, causing her nipples to tingle. She ground her breasts against Barbara's enjoying her lover's sudden intake of breath until the sensation of a strong hand cupping her through her underwear stripped her of every awareness... every bit of reason... except one.
Forcing herself to move slowly, Barbara allowed her hand to find its way inside Helena's underwear and brush the soft curls within. Her lover moaned encouragement against her cheek, and Barbara cupped her gently, sliding practised fingers along smooth folds of flesh that quickly ripened at her touch. She caught her breath when Helena's legs spread an invitation, and Barbara let her fingers glide over silky warmth, teasing her arousal at the edges, feeling the breath near her neck grow short and ragged.
Stroking, circling, she smiled in anticipation as hips moved back and forth against her and teeth grazed her shoulder.
"Barbara -- God."
The broken plea in Helena's moan undid Barbara. There was no mistaking the pleasure that Helena took in this act, the fulfillment she gained by...
She forced herself to think the words even as she turned her wrist and slipped a finger inside.
The deep pleasure that Helena -- and she, if she were honest -- took when she filled her lover.
Helena thought she was begging, her body undulating desperately beside her lover's. With one hand, she grabbed for the bar at the head of the bed; with the other, she cupped the side of Barbara's face.
"Please...," she managed on a whimper.
Unwilling, unable, to deny Helena anything, Barbara stretched a bit against the angle and slipped another finger into the tight haven. Rapt, she saw her lover's mouth form an "O" of pleasure; awash, she melted as Helena's face grew soft and lost.
Needing more, she pressed her mouth softly to her lover's, then pulled back.
"Turn around, Hel."
She saw the confusion and spoke quietly.
"Spoon into me, Sweetie."
Breathing suddenly got difficult, but Helena decided that she didn't mind. Between one labored breath and the next, she turned and wriggled close. The sensation of velvet skin against her back was incendiary. When Barbara slid her hand between her rib cage and the mattress and covered her breast, she thought she might burst into flame. Then, warm fingers were moving between her legs from behind but she couldn't think about that -- or anything -- when a warm mouth pressed to her neck, suctioning.
"Uhh -- "
As much as she appreciated Helena's enthusiastic reaction, Barbara had other plans, and the angle just wasn't right. With some regret, she moved away from her lover's pulsepoint and pushed herself down the bed... just enough. When Helena opened to her, she effortlessly slipped three fingers inside, pumping gently.
Helena heard her own voice, even as her hips pistoned frantically. She was so goddamned wet that there was hardly any friction.
She wasn't sure what she meant other than more of everything. Somehow, Barbara knew, and she felt four fingers slide into her. She arched her back, wanting -- needing -- nothing other than this connection.
Then, somehow, Barbara's thumb curled in, and suddenly she was so full -- so tight and hot and pulsing, balancing between pain and pleasure and ready to black out from it all. Helena managed to pry open her eyes and look back, seeing something that looked like surprise on her lover's beautiful face, but she didn't care.
The whispered, helpless, exhalation relieved Barbara's shock, and she finally allowed herself to feel her lover tightening around her wrist, then relaxing. Experimentally, she flexed her fist inside its haven, her own mouth dropping open at sensations she'd never imagined.
Somehow, Helena's world had simultaneously narrowed to the hot, lancing point of connection between Barbara and her, and it also seemed to be expanding, defying time and space. The fullness, the completeness, of this union was unlike anything; and all she could do was let herself bloom open and take it in.
Take Barbara in.
She didn't know if she'd spoken. She didn't care.
It was every-fucking-thing.
Helena didn't move. She didn't think she breathed.
She just... was. They were.
"My god, Hel-- Is..?"
Still lost, she laced her fingers with the hand on her chest, managed a slow dip of her head.
"God. Don't stop."
Barbara had no intention of stopping. She angled her wrist a tiny bit and worked her hand carefully, entranced by the flush blooming across Helena's back. Leaning in, she sampled a bead of sweat from the younger woman's skin.
She'd never considered a connection like this.
Between tiny, sipping breaths, Helena pulled their laced hands up a few inches, dipping her head to suck at her lover's fingers.
Even with her enhanced hearing, Helena wasn't sure she would have understood her own utterance. Barbara somehow seemed to know.
Barbara couldn't have withheld the word if she'd wanted to. In all of the years before Helena, she'd never suspected--
No, she'd certainly suspected; however, she'd never allowed herself to acknowledge the powerful allure that such possession held for her.
Barbara's affirmation was all that Helena needed. Writhing, she contracted, then expanded, on herself. There was a swell of sensation-emotion-heat-energy-connection-life that turned into a whiteout. It all coalesced and exploded, like a bomb detonating, the shock-force taking everything in its path and reforming her into something ---
Lost, carried along in her lover's explosive climax, Barbara barely caught it in time.
God, if Helena woke up Katharine now...
Somehow, her lover had the wherewithal to grab a pillow and bury her face as shudders seized her. The duration of the explosion almost led Barbara to worry about a lack of oxygen; however, the intensity of the contractions and the gush of liquid coating her wrist convinced her that all was well.
Better than that, in fact: amazing.
Right on cue, Helena heard the typing in her earpiece slow.
<"Did you find something, Huntress?">
"Looks like," was her response as she dropped lightly from the roof of the gazebo by the pond.
It had taken a few bits of neat footwork to make it to the little building in the center of the park from the roof of the apartment building two blocks over without touching the ground. There had been a dance across the stoplight in the intersection; then, channeling her inner Spiderman, she'd bounced across the roof of a city bus -- Babs' creative cursing had nothing on the bus driver's; finally, there were a few hops between two just-budding redbud trees. Not, she had to admit as she strolled onto the walkway in the park, that she couldn't have just walked over.
It was the principle of the thing.
<"Don't know if it's our guy, Oracle, but seems like it could be.">
She kept her voice low as she angled through the small crowd surrounding the latest object-du-oddness in New Gotham. A little discretion and general fascination with the... thing should keep folks from noticing a woman in black leather who was talking to her necklace.
The rapid-fire clicking of keys preceded her partner's voice over the coms for a good five seconds.
<"What makes you think that, Huntress?">
Barbara easily picked up her partner's soft snort but decided not to let it bother her. After a long dry spell, Helena was certainly entitled to stretch out the moment; and while she did, Barbara thought she might be able to snag the traffic camera on Central and see just what had the younger woman so amused.
<"You know that butt-ugly statue of the guy near the ice rink?">
Helena's casual question interrupted Barbara's search for the coordinates of the camera.
Sitting up a little straighter, the redhead felt one eyebrow creep upward a few centimeters as she allowed herself to be coaxed into the puzzle that Helena was laying out.
For the last six weeks or so, sweeps had been pro forma at best. It had been, at least in Barbara's opinion, Helena's maternity leave as well her own; and it hadn't taken much convincing for Helena to accept the idea. They'd done little more than perform some random grid sweeps, largely -- although Barbara was loathe to admit it -- to help her partner work off some of the energy she had to burn. However, in the last two weeks, they'd also been engaged in a desultory investigation into a string of burglaries in which the doors to the targeted stores had simply been... dissolved.
Not the run-of-the-mill burglar's M.O.
Still, unless the statue had been similarly zapped...
Hearing the typing start again, Helena decided that she only had a few seconds before her partner ruined her thunder. She finished pushing through the crowd and threw Red a bone.
"Sure, I guess that's the guy."
All she knew was the dude had been cast larger than life in bronze, and only the pigeons seemed to find his visage worthy of any sort of tribute.
<"What about it?">
Fighting a really weird urge to rub her hands gleefully -- like that wouldn't look suspicious -- Helena snickered.
The typing finally stopped, and Helena smirked as she circled the eight foot tall gooey confection.
<"Choc-- Are you certain, Huntress?">
Sniffing pointedly, quite certain that Babs' sophisticated audio feed would pick it up, the dark vigilante swiped a finger across old Hiram's decidedly sagging coat tails.
She sniffed again, ignoring the affronted squawk of some old biddy worried about desecration of public property.
"It's not Ex-Lax, that's for sure."
Not like she'd ever make that mistake twice.
The response was just a tad... arch.
<"And how do you know that, Huntress?">
"Uh, I got into some when I was a kid."
She ignored Barbara's sigh.
Heck, what kid hadn't?
<"I don't think I need to visualize Sel-- your mother in the possession of Ex-Lax, Huntress.">
"As if. It was -- "
A jaw-popping yawn interrupted Helena's indignation, but she worked to stifle it.
"-- at a friend's house."
Unfortunately -- or maybe not -- just thinking about that little mistake made Helena's insides twist a little. Or, maybe it was another one of those twinges that had been hitting her on-and-off since the night before.
The whole thing had been like nothing she'd ever experienced... or even fantasized about, and Helena had always thought she'd had a pretty healthy imagination.
Barbara had been so... ready; and she... Well, at the end there, Helena thought she might have screamed -- or howled -- but her mind hadn't been much up for processing anything other than physical sensation. It wasn't until she'd come back to herself that it had turned in on her again, and it hadn't been about the physical at all.
Barbara had still been spooned up behind her, keeping her close, her hand still connecting them. It had hit Helena hard when they'd finally separated. Somehow, Barbara had just seemed to know, pulling her tight and chasing away the emptiness.
Since then, Helena thought that her insides had felt a little like oatmeal.
It wasn't a bad feeling.
Not bad at all, especially with her heart -- her frikkin' heart -- turned to mush, too.
As for the rest of her?
Helena felt the perma-grin coming back full-force as she considered that, reaching the same conclusion that she had early that morning during an ill-advised stretch when she was up with the Peapod. She felt, well and truly, deliciously, fucked.
Nope. Not a bad feeling at all.
<"You didn't need to get up with her again this morning, Huntress.">
Oblivious to anyone in the dwindling crowd, Helena stared incredulously at the microphone around her neck.
The hell she hadn't.
"I wanted to."
If a little sleep through the early morning hours did Red -- and, by extension, her -- that much good, Helena figured she'd be handling all of the dark-o-night baby duties from now on.
Heck, it gave her a chance to catch Mr. Science on PBS. Helena had to admit that he was kind of interesting, and it had to be educational for Kat.
Barbara almost succumbed to an instinctive urge to argue to the point, or at least to protest that Helena had breezed out of the bedroom whispering promises to their infant child about watching VH1 and something called WWF Smackdown. However, distracted by an odd wriggling from within the snugli that was strapped to her chest, Barbara let it go; she was too grateful for the rest to argue convincingly. Instead, she glanced at her sleeping daughter, immediately feeling both of her eyebrows heading toward her hairline.
For a moment, Katharine almost seemed to vibrate before her eyes.
Wriggling her nose to scoot her computer glasses down, Barbara took a second look over the top of the rims, finally laughing softly when she recognized a very faint noise.
Their daughter was purring.
"Chocolate, eh?" It was time to get this investigation back on course, and Helena had been correct: the incident was odd enough to rank with disappearing shop doors.
<"It looks like chocolate.">
Her partner's voice was positively sunny. Of course, considering the usual threats that they faced, a little statuary substitution was almost cause for celebration.
Another sniff, clearly for effect only, came clearly through the headset.
<"--smells like chocolate. Heck, I bet it even ta--">
Barbara couldn't stand it.
"Do not tell me that you're about to put some unknown substance into your mouth, Huntress."
She spared a look at the mop of red fuzz peeking out of the snugli and smiled, briefly thumbing off her microphone to address the youngest member of their little team.
"I thought that you were the one that I'm suppose to warn about things like that."
Katharine didn't have much to say in defense of herself or her other mother, so Barbara indulged herself by giving her work table a small nudge. Obligingly, the Princess Fiona bobbin' head that had been perched on her monitor for more than a year nodded her agreement. Suitably reinforced, Barbara turned her mic back on.
"As much as I trust your... senses on this, I'd appreciate it if you'd bring back a sample for me to test."
"No problem-o. I'll just --"
Helena belatedly realized that some of her glee at the request had probably transmitted itself because Barbara was cutting her off.
<"Untasted, if you don't mind.">
Helena pulled a face even as she retrieved an evidence baggy from her duster.
Che sara, sara. Not much that could ruin her big bowl of happiness on this day.
"What part of ol' Hiram's anatomy would you like me to---"
Helena really didn't get why Oracle was going on with the long-suffering sighs. It seemed like a perfectly reasonable question to her.
<"A piece from the base should do nicely, Huntress.">
Circling the caloric monstrosity, Helena held a thumb between the statue and her face, squinting to pick the best angle.
"Are you sure you don't want me to do some urban beautification and trim off his third chin? Or what about the big wart on his nose? Or some other asset?"
She could almost hear the wheels turning, could almost see the wicked glint in those beautiful emerald eyes, and Helena knew that she had her: Babs was having to fight her own temptation.
<"Why don't you let me take a look?">
Okay, Helena could recognize a dodge when she heard one, but at least Babs hadn't gone all Civil Obedience on her ass. Not giving the redhead a chance to back out, Helena whipped out her camera phone and snapped a close up.
From the rear.
Fingers drumming on her mouse pad, Barbara worked to calculate how quickly the photos would show up on her monitor given the rather special satellite uplinks they had at their disposal. Just as a tell-tale icon flashed in her in-box, she felt a nudge against her chest and looked down, overcome all over again by the bright blue eyes staring up at her.
It was simply not possible that, at this tender age, their daughter could look so much like Helena.
Tenderly, she brought her finger to Katharine's mouth, pursing her lips when the girl suckled softly. Apparently, she needed more than pacifying, for those expressive eyes seemed to flash, and Barbara had to laugh outright when there was another, more determined, head butt that was followed by a soft mouth rooting against her breast.
"Alright Kat --"
Despite her best intentions, the nickname was starting to stick. Of course, it was better than her father's insistence on "Katie Fee".
In the middle of unbuttoning her oxford, Barbara didn't even jump when an impatient voice came through her headset.
<"So, didja get it?">
She folded down the cup of her nursing bra and cradled that soft, tiny head in her palm.
"I'm sorry, Huntress. Someone needed a snack."
Even as Barbara clicked her mouse to open Helena's photo, she heard the soft growl over the comms. Somehow, she kept her voice level.
"The base will be just fine, Huntress."
For some reason, not getting to perform a little plastic surgery didn't seem as important to Helena as it had a few minutes before. All she wanted at this point was to get her sample and get back to the tower: there was just something that made her melt faster than Hiram's butt in the spring sunshine when she watched Barbara feeding their child.
<"Man, Oracle, I am soooo going to be back there before you finish.">
Already on her way, Helena turned back and snapped off another piece of the statue's base, offering a regretful look to the big man's chins. With a shrug, she tucked the second, larger bit into the evidence baggie with the first sample and took off at a trot.
The way she was feeling, she might just have to have a snack, too.
Traveling in a fried-out combie
On a hippie trail, head full of zombie
I met a strange lady, she made me nervous
She took me in and made me breakfast.
Better than chocolate, indeed.
Almost humming her pleasure, Barbara waved a bubble bath-encased hand in front of the high tech sound system that she'd had installed when she'd renovated the master bathroom the summer before. The volume obediently increased by a few notches, and after a bare moment's consideration Barbara joined in on the chorus as she sank back into the mass of bubbles.
Do you come from a land down under?
Where women glow and men plunder?
Can't you hear, can't you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover.
She drew out the final word and then ceased her admittedly off-key warbling. Since she had the Tower to herself for the time being, she knew that she had no fear of teasing from her less musically-challenged partner; however, she'd reached the limits of her immediate memory of the lyrics and, quite frankly, saw no reason to delve into her mental hard-drives during a period of relaxation.
She'd let the little stereo do the work for her. There was no denying that a built-in sound system was ridiculous indulgence; however, Barbara had long since stopped denying that she loved her gadgets and toys.
Today, in particular, she had decided that she deserved a bit of indulgence. Not only had her doctor finally given her the all clear in terms of resuming so-called normal activities, but Barbara also thought she might have made a bit of headway in terms of New Gotham's mysterious new criminal.
Almost a week after the odd incident in the park, Barbara still wasn't positive that the prank was related to the string of burglaries. As her dynamic partner had declared, the statue had been chocolate, and the redhead felt a small smile creep across her features over Helena's glee about the confirmation.
Her smile only grew when she recalled Helena's affront when the brunette had discovered what Barbara's tests had determined: the quality of the chocolate was sub-par, at best.
Culinary critiques to the side, Barbara had asked Helena to revisit several of the burglary scenes during the last few days. No chocolate had been in evidence; however, Helena's more careful inspection of the alarm systems had given Barbara her in: by monitoring all of the security companies in the city, she might be able to catch the blip when the connection... evaporated. If she were on the ball, it might be enough to allow Helena to get to the scene of the next break-in before their thief disappeared.
Humming happily, Barbara slipped a bit deeper into the tub, reveling in the buoyancy and mobility that the water offered. Not to mention the steaming heat that she'd not been able to indulge in while pregnant or during the weeks following the C-section.
There had been, she allowed, very little mystery and even less doubt about her first stop after she'd left Gloria's office this morning. Although Barbara thought that her gynecologist had been a bit conservative in waiting seven weeks to declare her fully recovered from the C-section, she hadn't been in the mood to quibble today.
The Spa Shoppe it had been.
One hefty credit card bill later, she'd made it home in record time and had methodically worked her way through her purchases, from Aloe-n-Apple body gel to Yak Butter moisturizer. She'd drained and refilled the tub twice, blessing her foresight in having an oversized water heater installed.
Now, cheerfully unconcerned by the ever-increasing pruniness of her fingers and toes, Barbara tipped her head back in the water. She pointedly pushed her internal chronometer aside, allowing herself to drift without sense of time or space, distantly aware only of the sensations of floating, heat, and...
Given that Helena had taken Katharine to No Man's Land to "show her off" -- again -- the inkling that she might not be alone was less than comforting. Cautiously, Barbara slitted her eyes and peered over, only to find a her partner lounging on the side of the tub, looking very pleased with herself.
And, very much in a state of undress.
With a completely unbecoming gasp, Barbara flailed a little, then pushed determinedly against the sides of the tub to bring herself into a sitting position.
"Good. God. Helena!"
Glaring, she pushed a tendril of wet hair off her forehead.
"You scared the bejeezus out of me."
Helena fought a flare of guilt.
For about two seconds.
With a lazy smile, she leaned in.
"I'm sorry, Red."
Which was true.
"You just looked so fuckin' sexy in there, I had to watch you."
Which was even more true.
When the redhead nodded grudgingly, Helena released her own remaining tension and waved toward the sound system.
"What is it with you and your retro 80's fetish, anyway?"
That earned her a laugh.
"What can I say, Hel? I'm a slave to my roots."
With that, Barbara pushed herself against one end of the tub, and Helena decided to take it as an invitation, slipping into the steaming water.
Helena moved, Barbara noted absently, almost like an otter, sliding into the tub without rippling the water. Her shape, however, was something else entirely: sensual curves, complemented by sleek runs of muscle.
Something must have shown in her eyes, because Barbara found herself the subject of intense scrutiny.
"See something you like, Red?"
Since she had absolutely no plausible deniability whatsoever, the redhead let it go with a laugh.
Helena joined in, suddenly very, very glad that she'd arranged to cut short her visit at No Man's.
"Hold that thought, Red."
She wiped her fingers on a dry face cloth and touched a button on the sound system. Mercifully, the Men At Work crap was instantly replaced by something, well, else.
'When I think about you, baby, I go out of my head...'
For a split-second, Barbara worked to calculate the probability of Helena's having randomly selected Depeche Mode from her mix disk. However, the look in the younger woman's eyes reminded her that there were more important things to concentrate on.
Her partner didn't need a second invitation, and between one breath and the next Barbara found herself with a lap full of wet, naked Helena Kyle. She knew that the younger woman was allowing the water to carry her weight as she straddled her, and she could just feel a bit of calf against her waist where Helena's legs wrapped around her.
"Well, that was q--"
The bright gleam in violet eyes was all the warning that Barbara received before she was caught up in a long, soul-stealing kiss.
Helena was a wonderful kisser; somehow Barbara had known she would be before her first cautious intimacy with her at a laser light show in the park on a snowy Sunday more than a year before.
Somehow, the redhead managed to formulate, her lover's kisses had only become more amazing. After that, Barbara was swept into the eroticism of the moment, her breathing coming in steadily tighter gasps as Helena's hands slid over her body with knowing skill.
Long, lovely minutes later, she realized that Helena was disentangling herself, reaching for a towel to throw on the water that had somehow been sloshed from the tub. Barbara couldn't find it within herself to be concerned with the hardwood, instead waiting for her brain to come back online, somewhat perversely reminded of the Delphi booting up as her thought processes began to clear and her powers of speech and reason reintegrated themselves.
Dear heavens, what Helena could do to her. It made her forget her own name and...
Panic and terror instantly cleared her hormone-induced daze.
Great Gurgling Gerber Babies, what kind of mother was she, forgetting her own child? It was inexcus--
"Relax, Barbara -- "
Unable to miss her lover's panic, Helena sought her eyes, attempting to reassure as she inclined her head toward the living area.
"She's right out there with Alfred."
She heard Barbara's harsh exhalation and worked a small smile.
"I didn't mean for you to worry. I asked if he could come over to sit for a little when I decided to come back earl--"
Barbara's brain caught up with the words that had calmed her, and a different sort of panic took control.
"Alfred's out there?"
The redhead couldn't help but decide that the squeak that accented the last word was entirely unbecoming. Unfortunately, the heat that she could feel in her face -- heat that had nothing to do with the temperature of the water -- was entirely too familiar.
Her lover's smug response did nothing to cool her embarrassment.
"Oh, come on, Barbara. I think he knows that you have sex."
True. However there was knowing, and there was knowing.
Still flustered, Barbara heard herself speaking before her brain caught up.
"Yes, but not with such... such..."
She couldn't finish. Helena, naturally, had no such reticence.
Helena saw the embarrassment begin to give way to indignation. Deciding to push her luck, she painted on her best leer.
That earned her a swat to the arm, and so she dipped her head in contrition.
"Well, really it you that's showing all the prowess and all."
Right on cue, Red's befuddled look came a-calling.
" 'Prowess'? Excuse me, Helena?"
For some reason, Helena found it hard to make eye contact.
"Well, it always seems like I yell a lot louder and longer."
The younger woman's shy smile went straight to Barbara's heart, and her sudden fit of modesty disappeared without so much as a whimper.
"And more often."
At a loss, Barbara pursed her lips, searching for something she could offer. Helena's snicker relieved her of the burden.
"I like it, Babs."
One crimson brow worked its way upward; somehow, Barbara kept a straight face.
"As long as it's not too great a hardship on you, Hel..."
With that, they both dissolved into giggles, then full-blown laughter.
Oh, how Helena could make her laugh.
By the time they worked it out, another few gallons of water were soaking the bath mat, and Helena had turned herself around, nestling between Barbara's legs. Pointedly not speculating on just what Alfred might be making of the noises coming from the master bath, Barbara watched one slender foot emerge from the bubbles and work at the faucet until a slow stream of hot water started refilling the tub.
"Speaking of noise, Hel--"
Since Helena seemed occupied by attempting to determine whether her big toe would fit inside the spigot, Barbara wasn't certain she had her full attention. Nevertheless, she soldiered on.
"I've been meaning to ask about last week when you got up with Katie."
As patiently as possible, she waited until the brunette extricated her toe.
"How did you get her to quiet down and let me sleep until mid-morning?"
Inspecting her slightly reddened digit, Helena didn't give the question much thought.
"Oh, we just went for a run."
She immediately recognized that she might have made a tactical error.
"At 4:30 in the morning, Helena? In March?"
Damn. Helena could feel her partner's eyebrows heading skyward without looking behind her.
"I wrapped her up in her coat, under my coat. In her snugli. Heck -- "
She returned her foot to the water and snuggled back against her partner's chest.
"-- I even put on that little yarmulka thing that Miz Harkness knitted for her."
Distracted by the smooth skin pressing against her, Barbara absently corrected her lover.
"It's a stocking cap."
Then, the reality hit.
"You did NOT take our six-week-old daughter out on the rooftops!"
It had taken a lot of time, a lot of hard experience, but Helena had eventually figured out that there were times when silence was her best bet.
This definitely seemed like one of them.
Babs' sigh said enough for both of them. Unfortunately -- or not -- it also reminded Helena about just what portion of Barbara's anatomy she was resting against. With Barbara's nipples pressed into her back and neatly trimmed pubic hair against her butt, it was pretty hard to stay on focus. She figured that the best she could do was stay still and let the older woman make the next move.
It came sooner than Helena had expected.
Soft, warm fingers traced her throat, circling a faint bruise, the fading remnant of what they'd shared less than a week before.
Helena was glad that the bruise was taking so long to heal. She liked how it reminded her of... things. Barbara didn't seem to feel so much the same.
"I'm sorry about this, Hel. I didn't w--"
Helena didn't think twice about cutting her off.
"Baby -- "
She captured the older woman's hands and wrapped them around her waist.
"-- in case you couldn't tell, it felt really good."
Of course, Babs wasn't going to let it go that easily.
"I just don't want to hurt you."
Turning within the circle of Barbara's arms, Helena pressed a soft kiss to her shoulder.
"You won't. And, remember -- "
She looked up, catching those beautiful green eyes.
Blinking against something in her eyes, Barbara resettled her lover.
"Not so tough, Hel."
Helena was, despite her bluster, bravado, and genuine bravery, a truly delicate soul.
Barbara fought a smirk, somehow keeping her tone even as she rested her chin on her partner's head.
Given the petulance in the younger woman's earlier claim, Barbara anticipated something similar. The words she heard stole her breath.
"Tough enough for you to have used the whip."
Emotions, complex and impossible to identify, rushed through her as Barbara recalled the charged interlude that she'd shared with Helena in the training room almost two months before.
Ultimately, she decided that the truth was her only option.
"I did, Hel."
It was the truth, in letter if not spirit; however, her partner was having none of it.
Barbara had to pull back from the shake of dark hair under her chin.
"You could have... For something other than..."
Helena didn't need to finish. Barbara understood her meaning.
At the time, as they'd been working to reconfirm trust that had been wounded so by the machinations of Harley Quinn, Barbara had accepted Helena's need for... a prop. Yet, there were many ways to use a whip -- running across straining muscles, whispering across sweat-slickened skin, hinting at the possibilities of force without...
"You could have used it, Barbara."
Helena's emphasis left no doubt that Barbara's handling of the whip didn't rank as use. However, the thought -- the possibility -- of that sort of action was incomprehensible.
Without conscious decision, Barbara heard the words tumbling out.
"Hurting you isn't my -- "
She struggled for the right word. Helena beat her to it.
"Not your kink?"
The redhead took a moment to consider that, the realities of her life and her... desires painting themselves in stark colors before her.
Possession? The thought alone was enough to derail her.
Although Barbara didn't know how much further she could go with this conversation, she knew that she'd have to try to answer anything that Helena needed to know.
Surprise didn't begin to encompass Barbara's reaction to the equanimity in her lover's voice.
" 'Okay'? "
Helena could feel the tension vibrating off her lover, but she had to add one more thing.
"Yeah. I just don't want you to feel like you have to hold back or something."
Sitting up, she turned off the flow of hot water, then wriggled around in the tub to reverse their positions so that she was cradling Barbara from behind. The pressure against her center was incredible.
"Holding back -- mmm -- "
Barbara's soft moan went straight to Helena's core, but she didn't let up on the soft shoulder massage she'd started.
"Holding back hasn't been much on my list of things to do with you, Hel."
The words set her nerves to thrumming, and Helena leaned in to tease her partner's ear.
She kind of thought she'd lost track of the conversation, but it didn't seem to matter. With Barbara soft and pliant against her, there was only one thing on Helena's mind.
"Sit up, Red."
She grinned when Barbara turned into her teasing touch. "Mmm, Hel?"
With an exaggerated sigh, the brunette spelled it out.
"I wanna lick your back."
Her nerves already singing, Barbara felt a shiver run up her spine.
Dear heavens, what Helena could do to her.
"I have a better idea, Sweetie."
That got Helena's attention. She couldn't really think of anything better than her lips and tongue all over Babs' body, but if Red said she had a better idea, she trusted her.
She felt her partner shift in her arms, then Barbara insinuated an arm between them, reaching...
Helena's hips rolled reflexively against those questing fingers. Somehow, she held on to her sanity for a minute longer.
Obediently, Barbara stilled her hand, possibly, she acknowledged, in shock.
"Wait?" she finally croaked, aware of Helena stretching for something behind her.
She rapidly searched her memory, attempting to determine whether she'd ever heard Helena utter that phrase in similar circumstances.
She came up blank, but Helena's explanation clarified matters.
"Just... wanna turn the whirlpool jet... yeah, here..."
A froth of water and bubbles erupted, and Barbara laughed as she resumed her movements. Helena's final coherent words for some time were nearly lost in the well-aimed spray.
"Yeah, that'll work."
All things considered, returning to work from her maternity leave on April Fool's Day seemed apt enough. It had been just over eight weeks since Katharine's birth, and Dr. Frine had declared Barbara right as rain a full seven days ago.
At this point, lounging at home any longer would simply be... well... shirking.
Clad only in her slacks and bra, Barbara paused in the act of lacing up her favorite boots and prodded at that thought. Her opportunity to reconcile maternal instinct with her well-honed work ethic was cut short when a low soprano drawled through the room.
"Need a hand with your boots?"
Wryly glancing to the side, the redhead needlessly confirmed that Helena was still perched on the end of their bed, her legs crossed camp-style, Katharine in her arms, and her eyes -- her very violet eyes -- firmly fixed on Barbara's nearly bare torso.
"Goodness, no, Helena. I wouldn't want to interrupt your leering."
At least her partner had the grace to look the tiniest bit abashed even if her words were a trifle defiant.
"I can't help it, Red. I think it's sexy watching you get dressed."
Barbara finished her second lace with vigor, addressing her own knees.
"You think it's sexy when I read, Hel."
Helena couldn't deny that, but she had a feeling that simple, enthusiastic agreement wasn't what Babs was angling for. Accordingly, she considered her reaction to her partner's literary pursuits.
No doubt, the whole "big brain" thing was a turn on. It always had been. Still, seeing Babs at the Delphi didn't set her motor racing in quite the same way.
Helena knew that Barbara took almost orgasmic delight in that "new book smell", but Helena could take it or leave it.
Maybe it was the way Red's reading glasses slipped down her face and...
"You lick your index finger when you turn the pages," she supplied.
Judging from the way her companion froze in the act of running her brush through her hair, Helena thought that Barbara might not have been expecting any answer.
The eye-rolling was a little over-dramatic, but Helena chose to ignore it, simply nodding vigorously.
"Yeah. It's sexy."
Glancing to the side, the brunette confirmed that there was the usual stack of reading material on Barbara's bedside table. Maybe she could arrange an early evening, some time for bedtime reading, and...
"Would you dig a sweater out of the closet for me, Hel?"
Helena was on her feet, shifting Kat to one arm and moving to the closet.
"You don't want a blouse?"
She detected the shake of red hair in the periphery of her vision as she hunted for that curve-hugging orange number that she particularly liked.
"No. I'm still sort of between sizes."
No trouble detecting Red's dissatisfaction about that, even though Helena thought that her partner had pretty much shed any pregnancy pounds.
"And, not that orange sweater, Hel. It's always been snug."
Easily picking up the slump in her lover's shoulders, Barbara bit back a smirk. By the time Helena turned and offered her a less form-fitting selection, she had her expression under control.
"Thank you, Sweetie."
Tugging the garment over her head, the redhead almost missed her companion's question.
"--nervous? First-day-back jitters or something?"
Since she thought she had the sense of Helena's question, Barbara smiled and tugged the cotton hem into place.
"Actually, I'm rather looking forward to it."
Her own maternal issues didn't bear mention.
"Even after Miz Harkness put her foot in it again?"
Working to place the question, Barbara pulled her hair free of the sweater's neckline and rotated forty-five degrees to face the mirror. The reflection of Helena behind her, tenderly cradling their daughter, kick-started her memory: during her second visit to school with Katharine, Alethea had inquired about the child not having a traditional family. At the time, Barbara had felt her blood pressure rise and had considered quoting statistics and chapter and verse to support the reality that so-called traditional families were in the minority.
Fortunately, she'd kept her temper in check and recognized that her friend was speaking with her traditional sheltered bluntness. Accordingly, Barbara had opted for a smile and a statement of the most important fact: "Katharine is loved, Alethea. Well loved."
"She just doesn't understand, Hel," she finally allowed.
Circling behind her partner, Helena smiled over her shoulder into the mirror.
"You look great, Babs."
They shared a reflected smile, then Helena took a step back.
"So, your lunch hour's at 12:30, right?"
The redhead's nod seemed a little distracted -- probably had to do with that imaginary piece of fuzz that she was hunting for -- so Helena went a little more explicit.
"Are you sure that, uh, everything -- "
Seeing the question reflected in the mirror, she gestured loosely toward Barbara's torso.
"-- Uhm, stuff will keep until I get the Peapod up there for her lunch?"
The blush came right on cue, and Helena grinned when Barbara turned to face her.
"I believe I have enough nursing pads stuffed in my bra to cover it, Hel."
Helena's expression, Barbara decided through narrowed eyes, was innocence itself; however, she wasn't fooled for an instant.
"I hadn't noticed any extra padding, Red."
Laughing, Barbara offered a play-swat to her lover's thigh and started for the door to the bedroom. Just before she reached the hallway, insight struck, and she came to a stop, looking back at the other woman.
"Are you sure that you're comfortable..."
To her relief, Helena cut her off.
"Spending time my with best girl? Fu-- "
Blue eyes dipped to the bundle being cradled securely in slender arms.
"You betcha. She's gonna know how to make a Rob Roy before she's into size three diapers, and she'll know all the word's to Zevon's greatest hit in no time."
Since she was attempting to forget that she'd heard the first part of the plans for Helena Kyle's School of Day Care, it took Barbara a beat to place the reference.
"Honestly, Hel, I'm not sure that 'Werewolves of London' is quite the lullaby that she should be learning."
The younger woman's pout was extravagant at best, and Barbara let it go with a laugh.
"I suppose that it's not like she'll be sharing the lyrics with the preschool crowd."
She was already moving again when she heard it: a soft "Woo-ooh" from the tiny being in Helena's arms. Barbara froze as Helena stepped past her, and she blinked.
With a shake of her head, Barbara snagged her shoulder bag and keys and headed to the elevator.
She would... Just. Not. Go. There.
Despite her resolve, the last thing Barbara heard as the elevator doors shut behind her was Helena's voice, singing softly: "Little old lady got mutilated late last night..."
Mercifully, Barbara decided late that evening, there didn't seem to be any werewolves running amok in New Gotham. However, their mystery criminal was still at work, as evidenced by the alarm blip that Barbara had picked up minutes before.
<"Listen, Sluggo, why don't you just come along quietl--ooof!">
The cyber-vigilante winced in sympathy: The sound of fist meeting flesh had been much too close to Helena's comms necklace to be anything other than a blow being scored against her partner.
"Huntress? Canary? What's the situation?" Hailing both of the other members of her team seemed, frankly, alien. It had been such a long time since the two younger women had been out together.
While Barbara had finally accepted that Dinah was genuinely happy with her choice to live on campus, she was nevertheless absurdly pleased that the girl had stopped pretending that she didn't mind using the computer lab at NGU for her assignments. Not only did the Delphi offer Dinah a great deal more in terms of processing power and learning opportunities, but use of the system provided a lovely excuse for at least one family evening at the Tower each week.
Of course, this week's quiet evening at home had been effectively interrupted when Dinah, engaged in her regular lab time at the Delphi, had picked up the alert from Barbara's monitoring algorithms.
Another jewelry store was being targeted, the connection to its alarm system apparently evaporated.
Within two minutes of the signal, Helena had been out the door, with Dinah hot on her heels.
<"Uhm, I think everything's okay, Oracle, but it's kind of hard to tell for certain because Huntress has me outside 'covering the perimeter'.">
The sarcastic air quotes surrounding Dinah's description of her role were vividly clear. Somehow, Barbara kept her voice level.
"Huntress, an update would be lovely."
Since she was just a little busy trying to get past the hired muscle and lay her hands on the shadow she'd seen slipping into the back, Helena kept it short.
"Just a couple of poster boys from Muscle Magazine. Lucky punch."
Just to emphasize to Sluggo how very, very lucky he'd been, she used his buddy as a vault horse and planted both of her fists in his eyes. Before he hit the ground, an impressive spray of snot and blood coming out of his nose, she whirled in mid-air and threw a well-placed kick into his partner's groin.
From the look on his face, Helena would have bet that he'd never guessed he could hit that particular falsetto when he screamed.
"Canary, you see anyone coming out the back?"
Helena knew she'd seen someone -- something -- scoot for the back of the store when she'd made her entrance.
<"Nothing yet, Huntress.">
Barbara's question was right behind Dinah's update.
<"The ringleader, Huntress?">
With a quick glance, she dismissed the boys on the floor.
"I thought I saw a cape heading for the back."
Dinah's snort let her know that The Kid had picked up on Helena's feelings about that wardrobe choice.
Nobody over the age of eight should be wearing a cape.
<"What color cape, Huntress?">
She could hear Barbara tapping away at the keyboard, probably ready to cross-reference all the known villains who liked jewelry and cash and who wore a cape.
Couldn't be more than, oh, a couple thousand who fit the bill.
Sheesh, just 'cuz a girl could see in the dark didn't mean she could pull a miracle out of her coat.
<"Just wait a sec. There's only one way o--">
The sound of shattering glass cut her short, and Helena gave up on a stealthy approach.
It didn't matter anyway. By the time she skidded into place by what had been the back door, Dinah was waiting, and there was no sign of their guy.
Dinah's subdued agreement went a long way in calming Helena's urge to throttle her partner for letting the guy bust through the--
"A glass door into the alley, Canary?"
Didn't seem very secure to her.
<"That doesn't seem very secure.">
Helena couldn't help sharing a grin with Dinah, even as Red barreled along.
<"--schematic shows that it's supposed to be steel.">
By the time the two gathered up an evidence baggy of glass and made it back to the tower, Barbara had returned to her nest on the couch, Katharine snuggled against her chest. One-handed, she was absently reviewing the scores that her maternity leave replacement had recorded in a grade book.
Re-keying the entire eight weeks of grades into her classroom database program would be a nuisance; however, her more pressing concern was confirming that there had been no changes to her students' performance during her absence.
"...can't believe you didn't even get a peek at the guy, Dinah. Sheesh."
Speaking of things that didn't change.
"I was, as instructed, busy guarding the perimeter, Helena."
The bickering that preceded her partners from the elevator was, well, wonderful in its familiarity.
"Yeah, usually that means having your eyes open, Kid."
However, enough was enough.
"You'll get him next time," she interrupted Dinah's indignant squeak without a qualm.
Helena recognized that Referee Barbara had come out and decided to let it go.
Heck, between Red's monitoring programs and her own fast feet and even faster fists, they'd get there in time to catch Mystery Guy soon enough.
"Yeah, don't sweat it, Kid."
Grinning, she shed her duster and strolled over to the couch.
"Heya, Barbara. You look -- "
Still hoping for the early evening she'd thought about earlier, Helena leaned close and...
"Pee-yew. Somebody needs a diaper change."
Man, she'd never figure out how a little kid could make such a big smell.
"I was just about to take her in, Hel."
Before Helena could do the noble thing and volunteer, she heard Dinah piping in, her words almost incomprehensible.
"Ooooh! May I change her?"
It didn't take a rocket scientist... or a computer genius... or even a part-time bartender... to answer that one.
"Heck, yeah, D!"
"If you don't mind, Dinah."
As soon as Dinah cleared the room, Helena got her mind back on track and lowered herself to the couch, straddling her partner's lap. Leaning in, she nibbled at Barbara's ear.
"About ready for bed, Red?"
Barbara debated an answer to that, not quite certain what Helena had in mind--
Well, Barbara was in fact fairly certain; however, she had no idea what might have put her lover into a mood.
Ducking away from the maddening seduction of soft lips and warm breath, the redhead caught her companion's eyes with her own.
"Dinah's only changing her, Hel. She should be right back."
Helena's grin suggested that she knew something that Barbara should know.
The grin changed into a full-blown smirk, and Barbara started when Helena pulled back and called out to the back of the Tower.
"I heard the dryer buzzer when we were in the elevator, Dinah. You might want to grab your laundry."
Blinking, Barbara felt a slow grin of her own growing.
"Lab night" on the Delphi also happened to be laundry night, which meant --
"So, I figure we should have enough time now for this."
Before she could ask Helena for clarification, Barbara had her answer.
Helena lurched forward and kissed her, hard and insistent. Bowing to the inevitable -- albeit, the very enjoyable inevitable -- Barbara opened to her lover, slipping her tongue into Helena's mouth for a long, lovely tangle. Of their own volition, her hands rose to Helena's face, stroking the velvet skin, mindful all the while of the faint bruising on the younger woman's face. Somewhere, she became lost in the connection; however, the sensation of hands on her breasts proved too distracting.
Not to mention a shout from the laundry room.
"Is it okay if I borrow some hangers?"
Only able to offer an apologetic lift of her eyebrows to her clearly disgruntled lover, Barbara called out an affirmative. Then, she fumbled for the grade book that had somehow slipped into the cushions, watching appreciatively as Helena settled herself on the couch and reached for the Chemistry textbook that she'd been engaged with before the alarm.
"Will you be signing up for classes during the summer, Hel?"
Barbara was still privately surprised -- very pleasantly surprised -- by Helena's commitment to the two classes that she was taking. The young woman had efficiently managed to soothe ruffled grandfather feathers and divide baby-sitting duties between Alfred and Barbara's father for the mornings that she was at class and, to Barbara's knowledge, Helena was sailing through both classes.
Blue eyes peered through dark bangs. Barbara recognized the gesture but had absolutely no idea what might be sparking the display of shyness.
"I, uh -- "
Honest to god, Helena didn't know why she was nervous about this.
"I thought maybe I wouldn't."
She thought she saw something in her partner's eyes and rushed forward.
"I'll pick up a few in the fall and everything, but I thought it might be nice, since you're not teaching this summer, if all three of us -- "
Briefly, she waved toward the snugli still wrapped around the redhead's torso.
"-- could hang around together."
Looking back up, she saw the surprise in Barbara's face and instantly knew why the hell she was so nervous.
"Unless you think having me around all the time would work your last nerve or som--mmmf."
Unwilling to have any of that, Barbara twisted on the couch and leaned over, silencing her lover with a warm, lengthy kiss. When she finally disentangled herself, she looked directly into bright violet eyes, wanting to insure that there was no misunderstanding on the matter.
"Sweetheart, I think that sounds heavenly."
Tearing across the roof of the twenty-story highrise as if the hounds of hell were nipping at her heels, Helena Kyle didn't even blink when she saw the low rail that marked the edge. Instead, she redoubled her efforts and added an extra burst of speed, attempting to ignore the way every step was causing her come-fuck-me ass-kicking high-heeled boots to jar into her feet, up her legs, through her hips, into her...
Oh, hell, it just hurt.
Which was precisely why she wasn't looking back as she pushed off the lip of the building to soar across thirty feet of empty space -- very, very high empty space -- toward the roof of the next building.
Atypically, she overshot her mark.
But, it wasn't like she was feeling exactly on her mark at the moment.
She landed well past the balustrade that she'd been angling for and nearly flattened herself against an air vent a dozen feet further on the roof.
She didn't have the time, the energy, or even enough oxygen in her body to come up with anything more.
Stumbling, her feet again protesting against the pounding they'd taken, Helena frantically pin-wheeled her arms. Since her body seemed torn between running and falling, she compromised by hooking an elbow around a vent pipe and allowing it to carry her weight.
Pushing all the screaming in her head to the background, the dark vigilante forced herself to hold her breath. She had to quiet the rough gasps of her breathing, make sure there weren't any sounds of pursuit.
Her mouth twisting, Helena admitted that there wasn't much she could do about the pounding of her heart.
There was no sound of pursuit, only the whistle of the wind through the artificial peaks and valleys created by the downtown architecture. A long sniff of the night air further reassured the brunette that nobody was nearby.
Not a huge surprise, she supposed: she'd already run over two miles on the ground before she'd pulled herself together enough to hit the rooftops.
Slowly, Helena released her death-grip on the metal pipe that was jutting from the apartment building's roof. The wind from the cool spring night raised gooseflesh all over her body, and she locked her muscles against the need to shiver.
Oh man oh man oh man --
Barbara was gonna have a shit-fit when she found out how bad Helena had messed this one up.
Shivering despite herself, the brunette pulled her coat around her, pointedly ignoring her torn clothing and the ache in her fingers where she grasped the lapels of the leather duster. She couldn't get it to quite come together -- probably had bunched it up when she'd thrown it on during her mad dash -- but it gave her some sense of cover.
Unlike when she'd come to herself in the warehouse not too long before...
Helena had gotten the call from Barbara while she'd been at work: one of Red's monitoring alarms had triggered at the same jewelry store where Helena and Dinah had interrupted the job-in-progress the week before.
One thing Barbara had taught her: in their business, coincidences usually weren't.
Helena had stopped only to shout to Leroy that she was leaving early, then she'd been on the run, ready to catch the ringleader -- or whoever Mr. Cape was -- this time.
Or, at the very least, re-arrange a few more noses.
Without Dinah tagging along, she'd gotten to the store in under three minutes. The shards of glass surrounding where the recently replaced front door had been were a pretty good clue that it might be their guy. The visual when she'd stepped inside had confirmed it.
But, like everything that seemed too good to be true, finding the same group of pug-uglies back at the same store had been, well, not good at all.
It was all Helena had managed to get out before a lot of stuff had happened at once: two dozen guys had jumped her; her comm set had been yanked from her throat -- she thought it had gotten trampled somewhere in the fracas -- and then some sort of energy beam had dropped her to her knees.
That's when the fun had really started for the muscle crew.
Just thinking about that, Helena brought one hand to her lip, touching gently. It was still swollen, the taste of blood still coppery-bright on her tongue.
Still, that beating had been a walk in the park compared to when she'd come to, just a couple of hours before. She'd been in what looked like the proverbial empty warehouse, shackled on her back to some kind of hard table.
A low table.
They had to have been watching, waiting for her to come around, because she'd barely gotten her eyes focused when the guy who had to be the boss had come swaggering in.
The cape was a dead give-away about his status on the evil villain pecking-order. Not to mention the shiny, scary-looking weapon that was arcing in his hand.
Mr. Cape hadn't been alone: Bruiser and Bruised, her two friends from the week before, had been there, looking entirely too happy to see her.
There had been the usual song and dance from the head honcho about having his plans foiled. Helena had worked in some yawning and eye-rolling during that; at least she had until the hired muscle worked her over a little more.
Just the usual night on the street for the good guys, she'd figured.
Then, things had gotten a little less routine.
"You think you can play with the big boys, little girl?"
It had seemed like more of the same old, same old to her.
"I know it."
Only it had come out more like "Nose-oh" 'cuz of the busted lip she'd picked up somewhere.
It didn't matter: Cape-guy had seemed to get her drift.
"Let's just see about that, shall we?"
Before she'd had a chance to suggest that they not see about that, the three of them had circled in.
Even now, more than two miles away, Helena's mind skirted away from it. All she wanted to think about was that damned ugly florescent overhead bulb that had burned into her eyes. The damned light had been so bright that it felt like it had burned the back of her eyeballs as she'd focused on it...
They'd started in on her legs. Helena didn't think she was a wuss or anything, but the pain had almost taken her out right then. Good thing it hadn't or she woulda missed the fun when Mr. Cape moved up and pointed that damned thing at her arms.
It had felt like every bone was breaking and her skin was peeling away.
Then, the boys from Steroids Monthly had closed in.
By that point, Helena didn't think she could have seen straight... even if she'd wanted to look. Unfortunately, she'd had no problem hearing her clothes ripping. There'd been no way to miss the smell of their cheap cologne, like a slap against her nostrils, when they'd gotten close. She hadn't been able to wish away the taste of bile in the back of her throat at the pressure of big hands on her... and...
Swallowing frantically, Helena clenched her hands to her abdomen, her knuckles brushing against the torn material of the pants that were riding low on her body. It was as far as she was willing to go; as much as she was willing to give in to how much it hurt.
Better to think about coming back to herself on that table, alone again in the big room. The way her vest was ripped had actually worked in her favor: she'd been able to work the material over enough to snag one of the wire stays and pick the locks on her shackles.
Simple as that.
She'd grabbed her duster, gone out the transom, and run like hell.
Still unable to suck in a real breath, she worked her jaw, gulping at the cool spring air.
It was a mistake.
Maybe it was the faint taste of tar from the rooftop that the air carried. Maybe it was the way her chest hurt when she took that first deep breath. Maybe it was how her teeth had started to chatter the instant that she'd relaxed the iron set of her jaw.
Helena's stomach roiled violently, giving her just enough time to lean over before she emptied the contents.
A bottle of water to rinse out her mouth would have gone over well. Maybe Babs could fix up some sort of drink holster inside her coat.
Still, Helena didn't think there'd be room in her duster for the couple of gallons of bleach she wanted to pour all over herself.
Scrubbing her right hand across her mouth, the brunette fumbled in the pocket of her coat with the other. The duster still felt confining and awkward against her skin -- probably because her entire body hurt like merry hell; however, she found her cell tucked inside.
Who would have figured?
Frantically working to calculate some way to coax the satellite into boosting the non-existent signal from Helena's comm set, Barbara nearly jumped when her cell rang. When she saw the caller ID, she allowed a tiny measure of her terror to dissipate.
"Helena? Where are you?"
The redhead had had phone manners thoroughly drummed into her by her adopted parents; however, she suspected that, under these circumstances, they would both forgive her the rudeness.
For almost three hours, she'd been combing the police scanners, hacking into one satellite after another, and wracking her brains for anything that might provide a clue as to her partner's whereabouts. After Helena's shouted alert at the jewelry store, the comm signal had simply vanished. Trusting that it had only been damaged in a scuffle, Barbara had given her partner fifteen minutes to re-establish communications.
Thirty minutes was her usual grace period for curfews; however, this was an entirely different situation.
When no word had come, she'd contacted Dinah at the dorm. Since then, the teen had been conducting a grid sweep outward from the store, and Barbara had been digging -- unsuccessfully -- into her bag of tricks.
"M'cming in --"
Pointedly ignoring how disoriented Helena sounded, Barbara shut her eyes in thanks.
Whatever had occurred, Helena was still mobile.
"M'kinda -- "
The words were horribly raspy, leaving the redhead to wonder what sort of ordeal Helena had been through to tax her vocal cords so. More terrifying was the hint of tears she detected.
"-- messed up."
Barbara didn't hesitate.
"Stay where you are, and leave your cell on. I'm sending Dinah."
Balancing the phone between her shoulder and her cheek, she toggled on the comms, alerting Dinah to be ready as soon as she finished getting a lock on Helena's position through a cell tower GPS. By the time Barbara finished speaking, she'd gotten a lock on the signal and realized that it was too late: Helena was on the move.
"Canary, she's heading back to the To--"
A heavy thump from the balcony confirmed what she'd seen on the screen. Barbara snatched off her headset, barely relaying a final instruction to Dinah before she was headed down the ramp.
It was completely dark outside, the city's usual pervasive cloud cover blocking the light from the stars; however, the light that spilled through the French doors onto the balcony was enough to see her partner's torn clothing. It was enough to see the trembling where the slight figure huddled on the flagstones. It was enough to see the blood.
Perhaps it was too much.
Swallowing thickly, Barbara slid from her chair and turned Helena onto one side. Somehow, she managed to coax the dark head onto her thighs.
She steeled herself before beginning her inspection; however, one look was all it took.
Fighting a wave of panicked vertigo, Barbara forced herself to continue her perusal. The task was complicated by the wetness that seemed to be welling in her eyes.
"Oh, Sweetheart, no..."
Sunrise had never been Barbara's favorite time of day. Not only was she distinctly not a morning person, but through the years she'd discovered that waiting for the sun to rise usually went hand in hand with long vigils through dark nights.
It had certainly been the situation on this long night.
Inside the Tower, the only light came from the infomercials flickering across the muted television. Oblivious to the appeals to her pocketbook, Barbara snugged her daughter a bit closer to her breast and watched the rosy glow of a new day creep across the balcony.
It appeared that it would be a beautiful day outside.
Very pointedly, she opted not to think about the smears of blood on the patio that full daylight would reveal. Equally pointedly, she refused to remember the long hours she'd spent cleaning blood from Helena's face, applying bandages, getting her semi-conscious partner settled for some rest. Determinedly, she refused to speculate on what the day would bring when Helena came to.
At this moment, her job -- her vocation, she automatically corrected herself -- was completely defined by the small being in her arms. It was a bit later than Katharine's usual pre-dawn snack time; however, the events of the night had upset everyone's schedules.
A glance at the couch, where Dinah had finally dropped into a restless slumber a few hours before, confirmed that.
Nevertheless, her focus at the moment needed to be right here: the being in her arms.
Forcing herself to relax, Barbara felt Katie's suckling increase as her milk flowed more freely. The sensation alone was enough, and she allowed her entire world to narrow to her daughter.
It was odd that she could do this, the redhead freely admitted: she'd never imagined herself as a nurturing, maternal type, much less as a mother
The thought elicited a soft snort, and Katharine wriggled in response.
"Did you know I never thought I'd be a mom, Katie?"
The question came out as barely a whisper, however something in her tone must have proven more alluring than an early morning snack. The tiny red head pulled away from her breast, and Barbara was fixed by bright blue eyes. She smiled, and gently coaxed her daughter back to her pre-breakfast.
"I think you're showing me the way."
Something about this little being was so right... almost effortless. Truly a revelation for one who was as by-the-numbers as she usually was. It was Helena whose forte was intuition, not her.
"You and Helena," she amended.
Almost as if speaking the name had been an invocation, Barbara heard a soft groan from the master bedroom. On cue, Katharine pulled away and blinked sleepily, clearly ready to move into the nap portion of her schedule. Refastening her shirt, Barbara remained still, waiting for an indication that Helena was awake.
For Helena, consciousness returned in drips and drabs, reality and sensation leaking into her mind, her skin, her muscles and nerves.
Cautiously, she moved her head, wincing at the pain shooting through her neck. The pinky finger of her right hand was numb -- musta slept on it funny -- and she wiggled it to get the blood flowing again.
Something tickled at the edges of her mind, but if she was safe in Barbara's bed -- their bed -- it couldn't be too bad.
A bit of light winked through the heavy blackout curtains, the glare arcing off the mirror. It brought to mind something metal... something sparking and... and...
The harsh gasp was a big mistake. Every nerve ending came awake.
It wasn't real pleasant.
Dark lashes lowered, shutting out that maddening glint of light, and Helena ran a mental inventory.
Ribs bandaged. Okay, there had been a beating -- or two.
Throat hurt. Yeah, maybe some screaming.
Feet hurt? Well, so did everything else, from fingers to shoulders, ankles to...
Helena caught her upper lip in her teeth when the insistent throbbing between her legs could no longer be ignored. Cautiously, she worked a hand under the covers, trailing her fingers down her abdomen until she touched...
Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck...
Feet pistoning against the mattress, the brunette scrambled into a sitting position and threw back the covers. One look was more than enough.
As signs went, Barbara had to admit that the scream from the bedroom left little room for doubt: The words rose a full two octaves, breaking near the end.
It was time.
Barbara's hands dropped to the wheels of the chair without thought, and her mouth opened, ready to call out an assurance of some sort.
As quickly as the impulse came, she pushed it aside: Given the circumstances, Helena's reaction was entirely reasonable.
Accordingly, the redhead drew in a steadying breath and prepared herself for the fallout. Wordless, she handed Katie to Dinah, who seemed completely alert, despite her rather sudden awakening. The blonde snuggled Katharine a bit closer to her shoulder and inclined her head toward the kitchen as she rose from the couch.
Barbara responded with a smile that she knew didn't reach her eyes and headed toward the bedroom.
"Thank you, Dinah."
When she reached the end of the hallway, she paused, uncertain whether to knock or cough or do something to announce her presence.
Sometimes the silence of the chair's wheels on the hardwood was a distinct inconvenience.
What she heard from within persuaded her not to stand on formality.
"No no no no no..."
Every light in the room was on, and Helena was standing naked save for the bandages before the full length mirror. Slender fingers roamed across bruised and battered flesh, blue eyes wide and uncomprehending.
"No no no no..."
It wasn't freaking possible.
It wasn't right.
It wasn't fuckin' fair, goddamnit.
Still focusing on the reflection in the mirror, the brunette hunted for something to say.
The voice was all wrong: hoarse and husky and...
Just like whoever it was staring back from the mirror.
This hadn't happened to her.
"Hel, I need you to look at me."
Barbara approached slowly, somehow keeping her voice level.
"Sweetheart, please, look at me."
She stopped a few paces behind her partner, attempting to coax Helena from the shock that was clearly taking control.
"Helena, I need you."
Somehow, the words got through; however, when Helena turned, it took everything she had for Barbara not to flinch.
As incomprehensible as it seemed, this beautiful young woman had been impossibly violated.
She'd seen it all hours before as she'd cleaned her partner up. The reality -- not as apparent from behind -- still shocked her to her core. Equally, it could not be denied.
In the place of Helena's familiar sleek curves were long runs of delineated muscle and sinew. Instead of full breasts, there were hard pectorals. An adam's apple bobbed clearly from what had been the smooth column of her partner's throat. And, between Helena's legs...
Barbara had been attempting to accept what she'd seen hours before when her partner had returned to the Tower. For the last six hours, her infallible memory had continued to paint that which she'd observed as she'd treated Helena's injuries. Her inner voice had continued to whisper words that still made no sense.
Helena was a man.
The eyes, however, were undeniably the same; filled with pain and loss and confusion, those amazing blue eyes could hide nothing. Barbara could no more resist the helpless agony in them than she could simply will herself to stop breathing. She closed the distance and reached up, allowing her own eyes to shut when Helena collapsed against her legs.
"I don't know, Sweetie."
And, god help her, she really didn't know, couldn't imagine; however, Barbara was quite certain of one thing.
"But, we'll figure it out."
Cradled securely in Barbara's arms, Helena finally managed a slow deep breath.
If anybody could figure it out, it was Barbara.
Head resting against the older woman's abdomen, Helena sniffled once, then froze, fighting the urge to dissolve into tears.
Boys didn't cry, right?
Instead, he hiccuped, something between laughter and dismay.
Man, life was weird.
Since things weren't likely to get any less weird curled up in Barbara's comforting embrace, Helena pulled away and stood. Unfortunately, that brought the reflection in the mirror back into sharp focus.
"I don't get it, Barbara."
The tenor wasn't unpleasant, but it still wasn't the voice that Helena expected to hear. At a loss, he stepped around the redhead and sat on the end of the bed.
Barbara forced herself to remain still, guardedly observing her partner's movements. Helena was as graceful as ever although there was a certain hesitance, as if the brunette were uncertain of her new body.
Green eyes blinked once in vexation, and she forced herself to make a correction.
Helena's guarded movements suggested that he was uncertain of his new body.
Clearly, this would take some getting used to.
The subject of her scrutiny looked up from an intense inspection of the floor, and Barbara caught her breath at the frank hope in those amazing blue eyes.
"Maybe he just, uh, put my consciousness into this body or something?"
One crimson brow crept upward as Barbara gave the idea its due. Ultimately, she found it almost impossible to accept if for no other reason than the fact that the man sitting in their bedroom was Helena.
He had the same hair and eyes. Perhaps a few inches taller, he was slender, with sinewy runs of muscle, yet the form was Helena's. There was a hint of beard shadowing a jawline that was so achingly familiar. The hair on Helena's forearms and legs was thicker, a bit coarser, but the hands and the walk were all Helena.
This person was exactly what Barbara might have imagined her lover looking like if she'd been born with a different chromosome combination.
Opting not to go into her reasoning, Barbara kept her tone factual.
"I'm afraid that only happens on the Sci Fi channel, Hel."
She almost jumped at her companion's bark of laughter.
"Like this is so freakin' normal, Barbara?"
Helena stared her partner down, mentally defying Barbara to come out with that damned quote from Hamlet that she liked so much, something about there being more things than people understood. It seemed like Red got the message.
"I grant, this is one of the strangest things we've encountered, Hel. Can you tell me how...?"
Helena decided to keep it brief.
"Some kind of shiny... rod thing. When he was using it, I thought it was a weapon or--"
A lift of dark brows was the only response.
"I should have seen it before, Hel. Our mystery burglar has managed to change a bronze statue to chocolate, steel doors to glass..."
For the moment, Barbara trailed off as she did battle with her anger at herself.
Why had she assumed that he'd replaced the statue, vaporized the door? How sloppy had she gotten during her maternity leave?
Ultimately, the redhead pushed aside those thoughts to concentrate on the most important issue.
"Why not, er, some rearrangement of human anatomy, Hel?"
Blue eyes narrowed as Helena prodded at the idea.
No wonder it had hurt like holy hell when Mr. Cape had used the wand: nothing like having your flesh and bones re-arranged to cause a few protesting nerves.
"This isn't possible, Barbara."
The redhead could hardly deny that.
"So, uhm -- "
Helena chewed at his lower lip until protesting nerves reminded him of the working over he'd taken the night before.
"Maybe I'm in the middle of some wierd concussed dream or something?"
Barbara regarded her partner for a few moments, then deliberately leaned in, snagging a budding whisker from his upper lip. A quick jerk and --
"Oww! What the hell?"
"DNA sample," she replied blandly, refusing to be put out by the rapid blinking of affronted blue eyes.
"Ever hear of scissors?"
Retrieving an evidence baggy from the side pocket of her chair, Barbara dropped the hair inside.
"Would that have convinced you that you're awake?"
If she hadn't been convinced before, her little evidence-gathering foray cemented Barbara's conviction: the outraged look she received was pure Helena.
Not buying it for a second, Helena considered any number of comebacks. Finally, he settled on the truth.
"Hell, Barbara, the way this -- "
Working not to blush, he waved in the general vicinity of his lap.
"-- feels is enough to convince me."
In the brief period that Helena had inspected this body in front of the mirror, he'd touched the alien mass between his legs, taking in the soft warm weight. Not to mention the incredible sensitivity.
It was the one manifestation that couldn't be ignored.
"I had no idea how frikkin' sensitive it is."
Crimson brows rose fractionally.
It was all that Barbara could manage, given the circumstances. Fortunately, Helena was too caught up to bother with the lack of response.
"How the hell do guys deal with this?"
Since this was a question that had answers, Barbara relaxed marginally.
"Would you like me to contact Dick?"
Granted, her sometimes-partner from her years on the street was still in the Gulf, but a phone call could be arranged, and a male perspective might just --
"Goddammit! I don't need your Dick to tell me where to put my dick!"
The minute the words were out, Helena regretted them. Babs was only trying to help, he knew that. Not to mention the fact that Helena had a sneaky suspicion that having a little... mentoring... just might be needed.
Shamed, the brunette dropped to his knees beside Barbara.
"I'm sorry, Barbara. It's just... I'm just..."
There were no words.
The burn of straining muscles through his pectorals was intense, as was the pull through his triceps and delts. Still, hanging from the rings in the training room in a perfect iron cross, Helena had to admit that it didn't begin to approach how it felt when he'd done this before.
It was a pretty general word for a generally shitty situation.
Absolutely refusing to go there again, the brunette relaxed his arms and dropped from the T-position; he let the bounce at the bottom of the rings carry him back up, relishing the added momentum. As the thin cables looped up to follow his trajectory, Helena narrowed his eyes, fixing on his destination. At the apex, he released the rings and somersaulted forward, the balance beam that was halfway across the room his target.
He managed to work in two complete rotations in mid-air -- three had never been a problem before -- and landed soundlessly dead-center of the beam.
Dropping to the mat that covered the floor, the brunette brought his fist down on the beam with a resounding crash.
It didn't hurt nearly as much as Helena wanted, and a low growl escaped him at that thought.
Nothing about this new body was as sensitive as he had been used to. Except for one part that was waaaay more sensitive than Helena really wanted to think about.
Still, new body or not, he figured that by now he should be able to hit the mark he'd chalked onto the balance beam. In his business, being off the mark by even a little bit was as good as a mile.
For a few seconds, he steadied his breathing, blue eyes staring at the balance beam in accusation.
Why the hell was it so hard to get used to a couple of extra inches in height? A little extra bulk in the chest?
Point of fact, he had to admit that the extra mass in the upper body was pretty cool: the iron cross had never been so easy. But, brute strength wasn't what Helena wanted.
Finesse and stealth had always been Huntress's thing. Sheer strength, power...
Helena caught his lower lip in his teeth, searching for the end of the thought, and full lips quirked when he made the association.
Sheer strength was Barbara's thing.
Nodding, Helena looked up at the rings again.
Barbara was all about power. Shock and awe, even. Now, though, everything was upside down.
Grimacing, Helena punched the replay on his iPod and, with Boy George for accompaniment, lunged for the rings again.
I know all there is to know about the crying game
I've had my share of the crying game
First there are kisses, then there are sighs
And then before you know where you are
You're sayin' goodbye
Barbara had no difficulty making out the swearing that came from the training room. Likewise the sound of a fist thumping against some piece of equipment.
Without conscious thought, her mental gears ticked off another notch on her internal counter.
That was four. If her partner remained true to form, there would be one more miss or frustration or.... whatever before Barbara heard the sound of the heavy bag being beaten senseless.
Deliberately, she pushed aside her concern, opting to focus on her relief that Helena had finally elected to emerge from the bedroom today. The day before, the day after the attack, the brunette had refused to leave the solitude of the bedroom: the combined lure of the big screen, the kitchen, and the balcony hadn't proven sufficient. Today, at least, her partner appeared to be focusing her...
Green eyes blinked, and Barbara caught herself.
Today, Helena was at least focusing his rage outward.
"-- DNA matches?"
Not bothering to hide her own frustration, the redhead turned from her monitor to face her audience.
"There's no doubt, Dinah. It's a perfect match to samples from Helena that we have in storage."
Barbara had yet to decide how to react to that finding; however, as if reading her own mixed emotions, the third person by the Delphi spoke.
"If I might make the observation, Miss Barbara, the confirmation that this is our Helena is less dire than other alternatives."
Gratefully, the redhead met her old friend's sympathetic gaze.
"That's true, Alfred."
From the corner of her eye, she saw Dinah nodding her agreement.
"And -- "
Deliberately, she forced a note of confidence into her voice.
"-- I have confirmed that Mark Mandrill is still in custody."
The quirk of blonde brows spoke volumes.
"Matter Master, Dinah."
Barbara assumed that the name of a long-time nemesis of the JLA would be self-explanatory.
"However, apparently his Mentachem wand disappeared from the Metropolis Police evidence locker at some point."
Somehow, she kept the disgust from her tone. The cyber-vigilante had already quashed her desire to fire off a half-dozen nasty-gram emails to her colleagues at the JLA, inquiring when they had planned to share their information. Ultimately, she'd decided that the responsibility for improving her data gather would have to rest with her.
"So, somebody else is using it to transform stuff, and Helena just got caught in the crossfire?"
She allowed her own hope to remain unspoken: once they caught the wand thief, somehow a retransformation would be achievable.
"Based on the limited changes that you've discovered, it would appear that this person is less experienced in use of the wand."
Somehow, Alfred had managed to articulate her own assumption.
"So, he'll be easier to catch, and then we'll make him change Helena back."
Smiling her appreciation for Dinah's certainty -- and enthusiasm -- Barbara shifted gears.
"Did you have any luck with he-- him, Alfred?"
At her request, the butler had come by several hours before with a selection of clothes from the Manor. Barbara had hoped that his particular expertise in dealing with the men of the Wayne household might prove beneficial.
The slow shake of a white head deflated her hopes.
"I'm afraid that Master Helena was not interested in any of the outerwear selections that I offered. He expressed his confidence that you would return him to his proper form before such adaptations were necessary."
Barbara opened her mouth in the assumption that she could find something to say to that. Perhaps fortunately, a curse and the bang of a fist from the training room cut her off. As one, three pairs of eyes turned to the closed door to the other room.
One day soon I'm gonna tell the moon about the crying game
And if he knows maybe he'll explain
Why there are heartaches, why there are tears
And what to do to stop feeling blue
When love disappears
Pushing from the chest, fast shallow reps with the free weights, Helena could hear them talking out by the Delphi. He'd already decided not to try to hear what they were saying.
The Kid was out there. And Alfred.
Pausing with the barbell in full extension, the brunette snorted, remembering the tap on the bedroom door that had come a few hours earlier.
Helena had almost cracked up at that.
Nothing phased The Big A.
Hell, if one of them came back from sweeps wearing two heads, the butler would probably find the perfect double hat to accessorize the look.
Helena dropped the barbell into the cradle and grabbed two more forty pound weights to add: damned thing was too light. Forcefully, he cut off thoughts about extra heads: the way his luck had been going, two heads seemed less impossible by the day.
Snugging the second collar tight against the weights, Helena gave the bar an experimental nudge. Relatively satisfied that there'd be some burn, he dropped to the bench and started again.
Don't want no more of the crying game
Don't want no more of the crying game
It only took twenty-two reps before Helena heard the door to the training room open, then shut. Carefully, he reseated the barbell in its cradle.
Ignoring the twinge of guilt over the teen's palpable nerves, he turned off the iPod and jerked the buds from his ears.
"Didja pull the short straw?"
Not waiting for a response, Helena grabbed the barbell and started in on another round.
"Wha--? Oh, no."
The blonde moved to the head of the weight bench, assuming a ready position. Helena figured it was just instinct or habit because there was no way that Dinah was gonna spot the kind of weight he was lifting.
"I just haven't seen you in a while -- "
That was true enough. As far as Helena knew, Barbara had gotten them into the bedroom for cleanup and bandaging before the Kid had gotten back to the tower two nights ago.
"-- busy with classes and all. Oh, and hey, "
From his vantage point on his back on a weight bench staring at Dinah's chin, Helena thought that the Kid's excited face was downright creepy.
"-- it looks like I have a good chance getting that lab assistant position with Dr. Connors next fall!"
"Cool," he managed on a grunt.
Helena pushed three more reps in silence. As he'd guessed, it got to the blonde.
"So, well, I've been kind of busy, and you've been, uhm..."
That was enough.
Helena dropped the barbell into the cradle with a clank and sat up, reaching for the sweat-soaked towel on the floor.
"I've been getting turned into a guy?"
Okay, it had come out a little harsh, but, cripes, Babs had been pounding at it for two days, and she didn't have a freakin' clue.
This time, the protracted silence worked against Helena, and he turned a few inches on the bench to find Dinah inspecting the weights on the barbell. If her expression was any clue, she was a little surprised by the numbers she was adding up.
"Sorry, D. You didn't rate that."
Sky blue eyes peered from beneath cornsilk lashes.
"It's okay, Hel. I know it has to be..."
The brunette allowed the lift of one eyebrow to do the talking for him. Dinah seemed to get the message.
"Yeah, you're right, Hel. I don't have a clue what it must be."
With that, the teen came around the front of the weight bench and sat down next to Helena. Not entirely sure what to make of it, he draped the towel around his neck and started peeling off his weight gloves.
Well, really, the gloves were an old pair of Dick's gloves, but Helena had decided not to think about that.
"Are you really, uh, I mean, do you have everything...?"
Helena pulled off the second glove and looped the velcro strap through the other glove's strap.
He felt his companion squirm, could almost feel the discomfort radiating off her.
"Uhm, it's just, I was wondering if you really have a.... uh..."
Turning about forty-five degrees on the narrow seat, Helena leaned against the metal upright and took a long look at the Kid. He hadn't thought there would be many pluses to this weird change, but seeing Dinah that shade of red was making Helena reconsider.
For a couple of seconds, he thought about making her finish. Make her say it, just to see if Dinah would literally die of embarrassment.
For some dumb reason, he took pity on her.
"Whole package, Dinah."
There was no doubting the girl's sympathy.
This time, the silence didn't seem as heavy, but Helena was surprised to realize that he was the one to break it.
"Do I have a big 'V' tattooed on my forehead or something, D?"
Dinah's confusion was almost funny, but Helena wasn't laughing.
"Yeah. A Vee -- "
He made a victory sign with his index and second fingers.
"-- for victim. I mean -- "
Helena didn't let Dinah butt in.
"-- I know that Quinn had a jones for all of us, but, come on, this guy didn't even know me!"
"Oh, Helena, no."
The brunette almost jumped when he felt a warm hand on his forearm.
"Sometimes stuff just happens, right?"
Helena scrubbed at his eyes with the heels of his hands.
It wasn't fair that he was feeling guilty 'cuz D was feeling bad about him.
Somehow, he managed a something that could have been a chuckle.
It didn't even sound completely fake.
"Yeah. Stuff like -- "
He waved a hand at his lap.
Dinah's giggle was a good sign.
"That bad, huh?"
"You have no idea, Dinah."
And neither had he until thirty-six hours ago.
How the fuck did men deal with the thing? Just figuring out what to do with it when he'd put on that ratty pair of old NGPD sweats that Babs kept on hand had been bad enough. Never mind the sensitivity and the freakin' testicles: dangling versus tucking brought up a whole host of ugly questions.
At least the fitted briefs that Alfred had brought by this morning had helped with that question.
"Damned thing's got a mind of it's own," he tacked on on a mutter.
Caught up in his own irritation, Helena missed whatever it was that his companion whispered.
Guessing by the shade of the Kid's face, this was gonna be good.
"You could, uhm, carry a book around with you."
Dark brows knit while Helena tried to make sense out of that. Some sort of self-study course on how to be a guy wasn't what he had in mind.
Fortunately or not, Dinah cleared things up.
"You know, if, er, things come up?"
A laugh echoed through the big room, a rich tenor. It took Helena a few seconds to realize that it was his.
"No worries, D. With these on -- "
He plucked at the sweats that sagged on his frame.
"-- who's gonna know?"
Cerulean eyes widened, Helena's only acknowledgment of surprise, when Dinah bounded to her feet and extended one hand, palm up.
Helena pursed his lips, then blinked. Slowly.
This time, the blonde almost stamped her foot, probably stopping when she realized that the mat on the floor would ruin the effect.
"Come on, let's go shopping."
The voice that kept coming out of his mouth crept up a half octave, almost reaching an alto. It didn't seem to impress Dinah.
"Uh huh. It's a sure cure for depression."
Helena painted on a glower, not so sure he wanted to climb out of his sulk. Dinah's next argument stripped the sulk right out of him.
"You don't seriously plan to go out in those sweats so you can find the guy and make him undo it?"
The brunette was on his feet in an heartbeat. As much as the idea of shopping didn't appeal, he had to admit the Kid had a point: Sweeps called for leather.
Mondays were always difficult. This one, more so.
Years before, Barbara had determined that adolescents, apparently, were prone to an unusual but consistent form of amnesia, one that erased from their memories in the space of forty-eight hours everything learned during the preceding five days. Within the past few years, the redhead had also admitted that the extra time, not to mention late nights, that she put in at the Delphi on weekends tended to leave her a bit sleep-deprived on Mondays.
An extra-large, extra-strong thermos of coffee tended to remedy the latter Monday challenge; selective use of pop quizzes and extemporaneous speaking assignments across her six classes worked to ameliorate the former.
Nothing, however, had come to mind to help her with the unique distraction of this particular Monday: a nearly overwhelming desire to call home throughout the day.
Exiting the elevator, Barbara set her messenger bag on the table by the coat rack, mentally correcting herself: the desire was not to call home but, rather, a compulsion to check on Helena. It was the need to be reassured that her partner was alright -- or as well as might be expected.
The redhead didn't bother to kid herself that she might offer some measure of reassurance to Helena: the brunette's self-imposed seclusion from everyone but Katharine and Dinah had thoroughly disabused Barbara of that notion.
Nevertheless, the urge to hear Helena's voice remained an unscratched itch throughout the day, one not salved at noon, when Alfred -- instead of Helena -- had brought Katie for her lunch. Barbara couldn't fault her lover: only four days after the assault, it was hardly surprising that she -- he might be hesitant to encounter the familiar faces of the faculty at the school.
Shaking her head to clear the cobwebs, Barbara directed her senses through the Tower. The living area was empty, leaving her to guess where Helena and Katie might be: the training room or the kitchen. As she mentally flipped a coin, she noticed two things in the living area: a pile of shopping bags piled against the gear closet and the open doors to the balcony.
She decided to ignore the puzzle of the shopping bags, turning determinedly to the balcony. She wasn't disappointed by her deductive work: Helena and Katie were, indeed, out there.
Specifically, Helena was perched on her -- his favorite gargoyle, with their daughter in his arms.
Struck by the perfection -- the sheer rightness -- of the image, Barbara froze in the doorway, swallowing a tiny sound that tried to escape her and wishing, not for the first time, that she had one iota of artistic skill so that she could capture the picture on canvas.
The late afternoon sun burnished the coppery highlights of Katharine's hair while further bronzing Helena's features. Their daughter, still so petite, was cradled in impossibly gentle hand, supported by strong arms against Helena's chest. Barbara was reminded anew by how perfect a mirror Kat's eyes were of her... father's.
Barbara shook her head, opting not to relabel the branches on the family tree just yet. The movement, naturally, was enough to draw Helena's attention.
The brunette slid gracefully from her perch, and Barbara moved to the center of the balcony.
She took in her companion's appearance with a smile.
"You found some things to wear."
It wasn't a question.
For the first time since the... change, Helena was in something other than those dreadful, oversized sweats that Barbara kept on hand for the times when bandages and casts made their usual clothing too restrictive. This afternoon, faded jeans hugged muscular legs in all the right places. A tight black tee and a chambray overshirt, cuffs rolled up to just below Helena's elbows, completed the outfit. Typically, Helena's feet were bare.
The brunette perched on the edge of one of the Adirondack chairs that had come out of storage not too many weeks before and began to bounce Katie gently on one knee.
"Yeah. D bribed me to come out with a double jumbo-jumbo mocha latte."
A hint of defensiveness crept into his tone as he looked up.
"With extra whipped cream."
Somehow, Barbara maintained a straight face.
And, truthfully, she did. The lure of sweets or caffeine -- optimally, sweetened caffeine -- certainly had as good a chance of any at pulling Helena from his seclusion.
"Then she dragged me out to some second-hand shops."
The words were a bit muffled, given that he'd raised their daughter to his face to blow a raspberry against her tummy. Katie's giggles suggested that she didn't mind.
Barbara nodded minutely, allowing that Dinah had always subscribed to the belief that when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping. The girl had been in and out of the Tower several times the day before bringing in various items of male footwear for Helena to try. Barbara had presumed that the shoes were borrowed from the boys in Dinah's dorm; however, she'd not made the connection that a shopping excursion was the planned outcome of finding acceptable shoes.
Lowering Kat, Helena tucked her against his belly and worried at a thread on the knee of his 501s.
"Didn't want my jeans to be all brand new."
Unsure of just why he'd needed to explain, he peered through his bangs. Barbara's brisk nod was reassuring, as were her words.
"Of course not, Hel."
He puffed out a breath, blowing his bangs back.
Didn't know why he'd needed to say it; it wasn't like Red was gonna turn into Super-Accountant when the credit card bill arrived.
The sensation of a hand coming to rest atop his effectively blew away the visual of Barbara -- in glasses and sleeve elastics and a green visor -- working on a ledger with a quill pen.
"Well, you look very han-- attractive, Hel."
He didn't miss her slip-up, but with the sensation of things... stirring at Barbara's touch, Helena didn't focus on the words. Uncomfortably aware that the jeans were a lot more form-fitting than sweats, he felt his ears color.
"Huh. When I met the Kid on campus, she said her buddies were all panting over me or... something about being hot."
Unable to meet Barbara's eyes, Helena concentrated on the one red eyebrow that was arching in question.
"Dammit, Barbara, I was hot before!"
That earned him a soft laugh. Not so sure that laughter was what he'd been expecting, Helena carefully extricated his hand from Barbara's and returned to an inspection of the frayed threads on the knee of his jeans.
"True enough, Sweetheart."
The use of the endearment -- one that Babs had reserved only for him -- helped.
As did Red's next words.
"I dare say that whatever form Mr. Cape gave you, Hel, you would be decidedly... hot."
Blue eyes, narrowed just a bit in suspicion, finally met Barbara's.
His voice was gruff, but Barbara could hear the pleasure.
No surprise, really. On more than one occasion over the years, Helena had freely admitted that vanity was the one sin that she was all over.
However, while Barbara couldn't fault Helena a bit of pride, she was still surprised by her partner's inability to see the... impact of the transformation. "Hot" scarcely began to encompass a masculine Helena Kyle: her partner's arresting eyes and striking features were now coupled with a male physique that was breath-taking -- and perfectly suited to him.
"Brad Pitt's body" had been Dinah's assessment, and Barbara was inclined to agree.
Barbara let a smile play across her lips and continued.
"I dare say that even if you'd been transformed into a Brazilian Cane Toad, you'd still be gorgeous."
Finally --- Finally -- Barbara heard a laugh as Helena pulled a face.
"Not so much kissable, though."
The redhead filed away the subtext in that statement for later consideration and kept her voice neutral.
"I've kissed a few toads in my time, Hel."
For some reason, she couldn't read her partner's expression when he spoke.
"Somehow, I don't think that even a kiss from Princess Fiona's mother -- "
The brunette pressed a tender kiss to the soft spot on Katharine's head and then rested his cheek on the red fuzz.
"-- would turn me back, Red."
Barbara shook her head, her tone serious.
"No. We'd probably need a fairy godmother for that."
Given her partner's unreadable mood, Barbara wasn't as surprised as she might have been when she heard what seemed to be a snicker.
"A godmother, huh? You mean like Alethea Harkness?"
That drew a smile from both of them, presumably at the image of Alethea waving a knitting needle as a magic wand. Then, to Barbara's complete bafflement, Helena was laughing so hard that tears streamed from his eyes. Helpless in the face of it, Barbara had to join in although she didn't have the first clue what it was about.
Helena visibly worked to calm down.
"-- I guess I am -- "
His hiccuping giggle set them both off for a few more seconds.
"I guess I am lucky. Mr. Cape could have turned me into a frog. And then..."
Another whoop of laughter escaped the brunette, earning him a cranky "Mmmf" from the bundle on his lap.
"... I'm just thinking about your face if I'd come hopping onto the balcony in my leather coat!"
Barbara managed a smile at that little scenario, waiting as Helena calmed down. They remained silent for a few heartbeats before Barbara decided to ... well, not tackle, but at least approach the elephant on the balcony.
"Are you feeling more, er, comfortable?"
That earned her a look that was, at best, wry. Barbara supposed it was deserved: it had been only four days. Nevertheless, time and time again her lover had proven her -- his -- resilience.
"I haven't exactly mastered my new domain or anything."
The redhead immediately opted not to consider all of the layers of meaning in that.
"Still, Hel," she prompted around an odd hoarseness in her throat.
Helena allowed a shrug to speak for him. But she couldn't leave Babs hanging or feeling... bad on his part.
"At least it's gonna be easier to pee when I'm on sweeps."
He didn't think that Barbara bought it, even if it was true.
"I went to class today."
Something flashed through those amazing green eyes so fast that Helena almost missed it. He thought it might have been surprise... or maybe even pride. Still, Babs had always been a cool one, and she didn't give anything away.
"How did that go, Sweetie?"
A sound escaped him that set Katie to fussing. It could have been a laugh, but Helena didn't think it had been. Just thinking about sucking it up a few hours ago and walking into his Art Restoration Lab left him a little light-headed. For some reason, he just wanted to drop to his knees and bury his head in Barbara's lap.
A cautious look through overlong bangs -- he was gonna have to figure out something to do with his hair -- reminded him that his partner had asked a question. Straightening on the edge of the chair, Helena raked a hand through his hair and met her eyes.
"How do you think it went?"
He heard her swallow, saw her chew at her lower lip, and Helena gave into his guilt.
Hell, it wasn't Red's fault.
"It was pretty awkward. They recognized me and all, and everybody wanted to know what the fuck had happened."
Like he'd expected anything different.
"What did you tell them, Hel?"
The words were so carefully... level that he knew how much Barbara wanted to know. Somehow, Helena corkscrewed his mouth into something like a grin and shrugged.
"What else? I told 'em I had an accident in Chem Lab."
This time, there was no mistaking Barbara's reaction.
"I don't think I could have been that brave."
Red was proud of him.
"In fact -- "
Automatically, Helena passed the Peapod to her mother when Barbara leaned forward with her arms extended.
"-- I know that I wouldn't have been."
For a minute or so, Helena chewed at a thumbnail, prodding at that, working through some of the Pretty Big Challenges that Barbara had faced, including the biggest one of all. Sure, it had been weeks, maybe months, after the shooting before Babs had worked up her courage and left her apartment, but ---
"That was waaaaay different, Red. This --"
He gestured loosely toward his torso.
"-- well, I can sure as hell hit harder and kick faster, right?"
Easily recognizing an attempt to escape an emotionally charged moment when it walked over and fell in her lap, Barbara nodded briskly, pursing her lips.
"True. That sort of thing -- "
She considered briefly, deliberately opting for the vernacular.
"-- pissed me off to no end when I was on the street."
The admission, or the phrasing, had its desired effect: she had Helena's attention.
She lightly ran her index finger across Katharine's bottom lip, gauging whether the girl was ready for dinner. A grudging suckle informed her that she had a few more minutes.
"No matter how hard I trained and worked, by virtue of hormones and muscle mass, Dick and Bruce were always better and stronger and faster."
The truculence in her lover's eyes -- not to mention the stubborn defensiveness of the words -- was all Helena. Barbara let the smile reach her eyes.
"Still, Sweetie, it was... trying at times."
The dark head nodded, and Barbara settled Katharine onto her lap, ready to suggest moving into the Tower. As quickly as spring was moving in, the thought of baring herself on the balcony for Katie's dinner was distinctly lacking in appeal.
"It wasn't all second-hand shops, Barbara."
The redhead blinked against the onslaught of conversational whiplash.
Not her best verbal repartee, however, it did bounce the conversational ball back into Helena's court.
"Yeah. I had to go retail for the leather."
Barbara managed a grave nod.
She waited a beat, but Helena provided nothing more.
"Are you planning to put this leather to some special use?"
Barbara held her breath, reasonably certain that the young man didn't have clubbing in mind; however, with Helena, nothing was a given. Her tension left her, replaced with a host of other emotions, when wide blue eyes sought hers.
"Yeah, I want to get back on the streets and find the bastard that did this to me."
Laughing, Barbara turned toward the French doors.
"Well, get suited up, Hel, and let me see what you've got."
Giving in to her own fatigue, Barbara clicked off the recorded audio that she'd been looping through and thumped her elbows onto the edge of the work table. With a long sigh, she leaned forward, resting her forehead against her fingers and pressing her palms against her eyes. The nosepieces of her glasses immediately began to dig in to her skin, and the cyber-vigilante knew that she'd probably have odd gouge marks as a result.
Not to mention attractive raccoon-like circles from the frames.
At the moment, she really didn't give a flying fig leaf.
Of course, if Helena remained in the shower as long as he had for the last six mornings, she'd have plenty of time for the marks to fade.
With a soft snort of disgust at herself -- as if a few temporary pressure marks on her were the issue -- the redhead straightened and turned back to the monitor. She didn't expect to glean any further information from it, although she supposed that the partial reflection of her face could be considered a clue.
Why had she been so quick to think that Helena was ready to face his attacker?
Snagging her glasses, Barbara fiddled with the stems, attempting to position them at a perfect forty-five degree angle as she considered her own assumption.
Granted, Helena himself had seemed more than ready on Monday when he'd emerged from Dinah's room, decked out in a black leather outfit that would have put a Chippendale's model to shame. Even despite a marked disinterest in responding to the usual convenience store robberies and muggings over the last three nights, Helena had handled himself beautifully on sweeps. Thus, when Barbara's monitoring routines had alerted her to another store alarm that had suddenly gone silent, she'd not hesitated before dispatching her partner.
Apparently, Mr. Cape was a bit more resourceful than they'd assumed: he'd managed to elude Helena without so much as a physical alteration.
More to the point, perhaps her resilient partner needed more than a week to face the man who had violated him so.
'Give me back my body!'
The words that had screamed through the comms still haunted Barbara. She suspected they would for a very long time.
As would Helena's pained howl when their mystery villain had taunted him.
'That is your body, Sunshine. Now you can play with the boys.'
With another heavy sigh, Barbara placed her glasses on the mouse pad.
Not only was Mr. Cape unpleasant in general terms, but he was apparently developing more facility with the Mentachem wand: According to the very clipped description that she'd gotten from her partner, Helena's attacker had managed to transform the entire store front from glass to brick in the blink of an eye. By the time Helena had scaled the roof of the block of buildings, their quarry had made his escape.
The redhead was distracted from plotting what they could do to improve their chances the next time when she realized that the shower was no longer running. Automatically, her eyes ticked to the on-screen clock.
Only eight minutes?
She didn't have the opportunity to consider that when she caught sight of her partner padding into the living area. Helena was wearing navy sweat pants -- better fitting than Barbara's emergency pair -- and a vee-neck tee. Although he kept his back to her as he settled on the sofa and snagged the remote, she could almost hear his scowl.
Opting to give him a bit more time, Barbara sighed -- silently this time -- and resettled her earpiece. She'd go through the audio again; perhaps a plan more effective than "let's try to catch him" would strike her.
Helena heard the soft sigh from the Delphi platform.
Hell, he felt Red's eyes on him, knew that she wanted him to talk to her.
He just didn't know what to say.
A hand that didn't seem to belong to Helena's body clenched against a thigh that was just a little too long, a little too bulky.
He settled the remote on the arm of the couch and rose to his feet, half-turning toward the Delphi. When green eyes moved from the monitor to him, Helena hooked a thumb toward the kitchen.
"I'm gonna get something to drink. You want anything?"
Barbara's smile was like rain in the desert.
"I'm fine, but thank you, Sweetie."
He didn't turn on the light in the kitchen, moving easily to the sink where he turned the tap on full force. For a while, Helena let the cold water run over his wrists, then he shook off the inertia and bent down to drink from the tap. On the way out, he snagged a Fat Tire from the fridge, deciding not to go for a bourbon chaser.
As good as it sounded, he so didn't need to get fuzzy.
Helena knew he'd never been one to nurse a beer. Still, stretched out on the couch with the Peapod snoozing on his chest, he pretty much forgot about the warming bottle making condensation rings on the coffee table. In fact, he pretty much let go of everything until a soft question from the end of the couch almost sent him through the roof.
"Are you coming to bed, Hel?"
Kee-rist! The movie hadn't been that good, and he never let anybody sneak up on him.
Sitting up, Helena planted his feet on the floor and stared at the sleeping infant in his arms: maybe these things had some kind of... narcotic effect.
He shook his head, remembering there had been a question in there. For a few seconds, Helena chewed at his lower lip, then he waved the remote at the big screen.
"I thought I'd just crash out here for a little while. Catch the end of The Tuxedo."
Accepting Katie from her partner, Barbara tucked her into the rolling bassinet, working to keep her expression neutral. She brushed a red curl back from her daughter's forehead, her own inner debate resolving itself without struggle.
She tapped Helena's thigh.
Barbara managed not to laugh at the disbelief in Helena's wide blue eyes. The brunette had never been able to hide her -- his emotions.
"Make room for me to join you."
She'd accepted her partner's dodges for the last five nights. Somehow, staying in the living area to "finish a chapter of chemistry" or "look up something online" or "catch the newest episode of UFC" -- whatever that might be -- had, without fail, turned into all-nighters. Every morning, when Barbara woke to Katie's demands for morning snack, she was alone in the bed.
Since the first night after the transformation, Helena hadn't slept in their bed once; indeed, he had barely gone into the bedroom as far as Barbara could tell.
Enough was enough.
If Mohammed couldn't come to the mountain, Barbara had determined that this particular red-haired mountain would simply plant itself next to Mohammed.
Suitably... planted against one arm of the sofa and acutely aware of the way Helena seemed to be inching toward the other, she stretched over and snagged his hand and gave a gentle tug.
"I don't want to steal your stretching out space, Hel."
She patted her thigh, refusing to consider the option of rejection.
The idea didn't enter Helena's head. Instead, he felt a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth.
Man, Red was a piece of work.
Carefully, he arranged himself on the sofa -- had to hook his ankles over the arm at the end -- and then lowered his head to Barbara's lap. A wriggle here, a little scootch there, and he was pretty comfortable.
At least until he felt slim fingers combing through the hair over his ear.
Carefully, Helena twisted his upper body, trying to catch a glimpse of his partner's face.
"Stop wiggling, Hel. I'm missing the best part."
He gave up and turned back to the screen. Not too many minutes later, when the gentle combing turning into the soft scratch of nails against his scalp, he figured it was a good thing he'd seen the movie before. For some reason, his eyelids just didn't want to stay up.
It was the abrupt change of volume signaling the start of an infomercial that roused Helena. A quick glance at the big clock informed him that the movie had been over for at least an hour.
Barbara's hand was still resting lightly on the back of his neck, but the soft whuff of her sno-- night breathing suggested that she'd conked out, too. Carefully, Helena extricated himself and sat up, confirming that Barbara was out for the count.
And, that position was gonna be hell on her neck.
For about two seconds, he debated trying to stretch her out on the couch, then gave in to reality.
Red would sleep better in her own bed.
Moving into stealth mode, he snagged Barbara's chair with one hand and Kat's bassinet with the other and trundled them down the short hallway. Once he had them positioned by the bed, he switched on the bedside lamp and turned back the covers on Barbara's side. Helena started back for the living area then did an about face, pulling his partner's button-up sleep shirt from the dresser drawer and tossing into the middle of the bed.
On the way back to the couch, the brunette snapped off the lights and muted the television. Distantly, Helena registered the big clock ticking off the seconds and minutes as he stood by Barbara's knees, drinking her in by the flickering light of the big screen.
Still, silent admiration wouldn't do much to save her from a helluva neck crick.
As carefully as he knew, Helena slipped one arm under Barbara's legs, the other behind her back. There wasn't even a hint of strain when he straightened and moved down the hall.
Unfortunately, just as he entered the bedroom, there was a hint of movement, and he froze mid-step.
Red lashes fluttered, and Helena was fixed by green eyes that were still a little unfocused from sleep.
He pitched his voice low and stepped smoothly to the side of the bed.
"Just gonna get you into b--"
The words died on his lips when Barbara's arms came up to wrap around his neck. He saw something in her eyes, felt a muscle in his jaw tick when one of those slender hands threaded into the hair at the nape of his neck.
He wanted to say something, to ask something, but Barbara's face was moving so close. Her mouth... That fuckin' beautiful mouth was so close to his.
Stomach knotting, he thought his heart had stopped when Barbara stopped moving. Then, Helena felt it: the slightest pressure at the back of his neck, urging him to close that tiny space between them.
The word blessed his lips with its warmth, and without intent or conscious decision Helena leaned in to touch the softest satin. Somehow, Helena swallowed his fear, allowing their lips to brush lightly, breathing in his lover's murmur...
Dumbstruck, Helena had to pull away.
Okay -- it wasn't that different. At least from this side of the lips. Still, he couldn't really tell what it was like for Barbara, though the fact that she was stretching up again seemed like it hadn't been too... bad.
Before she could bewitch him again, Helena lowered Barbara to the bed. His attempts to straighten, to back away, were denied when she refused to remove her arms from around his neck.
He dropped to his knees, searching her face.
"Are you sure? I've got a lot more knees and elbows and --"
Those fuckin' kissable lips turned up in a smile that was hard to resist.
"I still count two of each, Hel."
He felt his smile disappear.
"Yeah, well, these are bigger and flailing and I don't want to end up--"
To his amazement, Barbara shut him up just by flipping back the covers on his side. She nailed her argument with two words.
Thoroughly trained by her first months of motherhood, Barbara dragged her eyes open just after 5am. To her very pleasant surprise, Katharine was still sleeping. To her even greater pleasure, Helena was still with her.
When Helena had finally crawled in with her not too many hours earlier, Barbara had given even odds that the brunette would disappear during the night and that she'd find him dozing on the couch again in the morning.
Being wrong had never felt so good.
Granted, it had seemed a bit dicey last night when Barbara had tried to encourage her partner to stay... to stop isolating himself or whatever he'd been doing with his grief and rage. When Helena had finally nodded his assent, circled the foot of the bed, and striped out of his sweatpants, Barbara had been hard pressed not to laugh in joy. Then, Katie had stirred in her bassinet.
"Let me give her a snack."
She'd paused in the act of buttoning up her sleep shirt and reached for the girl.
"Perhaps we'll can sleep until the alar--"
Her heart had leapt to her throat as Helena had backed toward the bedroom door.
Disbelieving, Barbara had seen her partner's vague wave toward... somewhere.
"--pee, shut off the TV, uh--"
She had arched a brow, had briefly considered seeing how many other excuses her partner could come up with. Ultimately, she'd simply raised Katie to her breast and nodded.
"I'll be here, waiting for you, and computing pi."
The promise had been clear enough: she was expecting him to return. Typically Helena had turned it into a joke although Barbara hadn't detected much levity in his voice.
"So, do you want me to hurry or not, Red?"
Barbara hadn't cracked a smile.
"Don't make me go past a thousand decimal places, Hel."
And, her partner hadn't, soundlessly stealing into the room moments after Barbara had returned their daughter to her bed.
And now... Now, not quite five hours later, he was still with her, spooned tightly to her side.
With the changes to Helena's size, it had taken some reorganizing from their usual position: normally, the brunette slept in the crook of her arm; however, this was nice. Helena had one arm hooked above the pillow that was under her head, the other draped possessively over her waist, his hand kneading gently in rhythm with his low rumbling purr.
Barbara smiled into the dark room as Helena's purr tickled against her skin, wondering how it was that -- between Helena and Katharine -- she didn't dream of catnip and scratching posts.
With a mental shrug, she raised one hand and rested it lightly atop Helena's. Gently, she brailled the strong hand, tracing the knuckles, feeling the tendons flex beneath skin that was just a little less soft than she remembered.
Dear heavens, it still felt so... right.
After Helena had gone missing last fall -- presumed dead at Quinn's hands -- Barbara had had to force herself to get into the empty bed each night. When Helena had returned to her, the redhead had vowed not to endure nights without her if at all possible.
She'd be damned if she let this trauma -- or Helena's reaction to it -- come between them.
A slight change in her bedmate's breathing alerted Barbara to the fact that, possibly, both of them had become attuned to Katharine's schedule. If Helena wasn't awake, he soon would be.
Helena was pretty sure he had to be dreaming, and with the comforting warmth of Barbara curled in his arms, with her sweet scent tickling his senses, with the soft solidity of her body under his hand, he wasn't inclined to wake up. It was the first real sleep that he'd had for a week, the first time that he'd closed his eyes and not seen that shining wand, felt...
Something about that thought forced Helena to stop nuzzling against Barbara's hair. There was a reason he'd been wary of this.
The involuntary hitch of his hips brought it all back.
Oh god. Damnit.
He'd known, damnit; he'd known.
It was bad enough waking up alone on the couch with... with no way to deny or pretend. Helena had fucking known that being this close to Barbara would only make it worse.
Maybe it was his training that kicked in, all of those hours and years in the training room with Barbara hammering at him that he couldn't always just react. Sometimes, acting -- planning -- was the way to go. Whatever it was, Helena resisted his instinct to jerk away; instead, he moved by inches and millimeters, working back just a little, getting ready to roll onto his back and keep on rolling right out of bed.
Now completely certain that Helena was awake -- and doing his damnedest to pull away -- Barbara lay still in the dim grey light before dawn, keeping her breathing slow and deep. She felt her lover work to extricate his arm from beneath her head; mentally, she charted his slow retreat to the side of the bed. She felt her brows knit in puzzlement as she worked to make some sense of it.
Then, Helena rolled onto his back, and Barbara found a clue.
A sizable clue that tented the bedcovers near his hips.
Of course. If she only had some sensitivity below the waist -- or, a little voice chimed in, a little more sense above the neck -- she would have realized.
Instantly, she worked her upper body so that she was on her side and placed a hand on her lover's chest.
"Don't go, Hel."
Helena froze. He might have thought his heart had stopped except for the rush of blood he could feel coloring his cheeks.
Some sort of noise escaped the back of his throat, but he refused to open his mouth and give it voice. As if she could feel the way his muscles burned with the need to move -- to run -- Barbara was rubbing gently over his chest.
Oddly, he found himself noticing the scratch of the cotton of the tee shirt bunching against the hair that was just growing in on his chest.
"It's alright, Sweetheart."
It was like she was trying to soothe him like she would a wild animal or something.
"It's okay, Hel. It's perfectly natural."
The words -- those words anyway -- had pretty much the opposite effect.
Turning his head, Helena fixed his gaze on the wall on his side of the bed.
"Sure it is. For a guy."
The words were barely decipherable, fraught with rage and anguish and something that Barbara couldn't name. Her eyes stung, but Barbara blinked the sensation away. Somehow, she even managed not to point out that, prior to the change, her libidinous partner had often enjoyed a bit of early morning... togetherness.
For some reason, a logical approach just didn't appear to be her best tactic.
"Sweetheart, it's all right."
She continued the light strokes of her fingers across the tee, relieved when the trembling tension in his muscles relaxed marginally.
"I can get up," she offered quietly. "Katie will be waking soo--"
She felt her lover's head shake and pursed her lips.
Granted, modesty had never been one of Helena's concerns, however --
"S'not that, Red. I just don't..."
Realization dawned, almost blinding Barbara with the insight into what those lengthy morning showers had been about. Even for Helena, the duration of the showers had approached legendary.
Not to mention the fact that there was always hot water available afterward.
"Hel, why haven't you--?"
The words were out before she could think better of it.
After all this was Helena: the same person who had cheerfully informed her, not too many months after the change in their relationship the year before, that she subscribed to a philosophy of ten orgasms a week. Minimum.
For health and happiness, had been Helena's smug explanation.
Not completely sure that he was really having this conversation, Helena worked for some way to explain, some way to make sense out of the fact that he was lying next to the woman he adored, turned on like Christmas, and all he wanted to do was get the hell out of there.
"I guess I didn't want it to get..."
He couldn't speak the last word.
He didn't want the whole goddamned thing to get real.
If he didn't look when he peed or showered, if he kept it out of the way in the fitted boxers he'd picked out, if he just didn't use the fuckin' thing, maybe it would all go away and he could be... Helena again. And then they could be together, hands and mouths and bodies touching the way they should. And afterward, lying together in a sweaty jumble, they could laugh about that weird time when she -- he -- had been... like this.
The wild thought flitted through his head that he was glad he wasn't trying to write it all down: getting the pronouns right would be a bitch.
For better or worse, he didn't have time to consider a budding career in science fiction writing. Barbara's silence let him know that her big brain was probably going off in all directions with his not-quite-admission, and Helena decided to cut that short before the redhead turned into Dr. Freud.
"And, I still don't know how to work this thing."
"Ah, I see."
There was more to it; of that, Barbara was certain. Yet, Helena's first words were too opaque, and this, at least, was something she could work with. She managed to relax a wee bit, almost smiling when she made out the brunette's grumpy addition.
"Damned thing's just so... out there."
Not giving herself time to think about it, Barbara worked herself a little closer, her hand still resting on Helena's broad chest. She didn't need meta-enhanced senses to make out the pounding of his heart.
"That can be a good thing, Hel."
In the dim light of the room, she thought she saw Helena peering suspiciously through his lashes at her, and she nodded slowly. Hoping to tip matters a bit in both their favor, she slipped her hand beneath his tee, stroking the smooth skin of his belly.
Channeling her best Shrek, she quirked the corner of her mouth.
"Really really, Hel."
Helena's snort reminded her of where her hand lay, and Barbara trailed her fingers across the ridges of sharply cut abdominal muscles as she considered just what it was she was... proposing.
True, it had been a while since she'd given, well, bluntly stated, a hand-job. Unless one recognized that a great deal of her more intimate contact with Helena prior to the transformation might be described as...
Barbara firmly pushed that thought away, reassuring herself that it was like riding a bicycle.
Green eyes blinked once when Barbara realized that, given how long it had been since she'd been on a cycle and given the reality of how poorly she'd fare if she tried to ride one at this point, the analogy was perhaps not her best hope of bolstering her own confidence.
"Let me, Hel."
Helena shut her eyes against the quiet request. She had to wonder if this was what Adam had felt like when Eve had come wandering up with the apple. Almost instantly, she decided against it.
This was more like right after he'd taken that bite and recognized his own nakedness and shame.
Swallowing with an audible gulp, he balanced on the horns of the dilemma until Barbara's whisper brushed the skin of his neck.
"I want to, Hel."
For the first time in the whole bizarre conversation, he met her eyes. They were bright and open and -- just a little dilated, and Helena couldn't doubt her. Working up all his courage, Helena moved one hand to touch the strong fingers that rested on his belly.
A soft cry almost escaped Barbara when she felt Helena's hand cover hers, guiding her hand down. He only moved their joined hands a few inches, just to the elastic waist of the baggy boxers that he slept in, then Helena's fingertips slid away.
Leaving it up to her.
And, truly, Barbara knew in the space between one heartbeat and the next, there was no decision to make.
Soft as winter snow, she let her hand fall.
It covered a long, straight erection, a shock of hardness through the slightly damp material of Helena's boxers, and Barbara battled back an urge to hurry, to know everything at once.
Of course she'd seen Helena after the transformation, notably on the night of the attack when she'd tended to his injuries. There had also been the following morning, when Helena had been searching to understand.
Yet, those had been nothing like this. During those inspections, Barbara had been almost clinical, detached in a way that enabled her to do what needed to be done. Now, here, in the haven of their bed, she could not be that person.
Not with this Helena.
She was not the physician, healing an injured comrade. She was not the analytical detective, searching for clues to effect some miracle. She was only Barbara, and this was only Helena. He was Helena, her Helena, who for whatever reason or reasons, had been unable to come to her, had been unable to seek any comfort.
She would not let him regret this trust.
Underneath her hand, Helena's hips rose, pressing his need into the crease of her palm. Barely breathing, Barbara waited.
The low noise that escaped her lover tore at her heart. It also served to set her pulse pounding.
Yearning for more, she moved her thumb, finding the swell of the glans and rubbing lightly. Again, Helena's hips slowly rose, pressing the hot flesh into her hand.
Helena couldn't finish the word. Instead, his legs fell open in invitation, and he felt his hips lift again. His eyes remained fixed on his lover's face, enraptured by the fixed concentration in her face.
And the hunger in her eyes.
He couldn't -- They couldn't be doing this. It couldn't be him, feeling like this.
God, it was... It was all heat and pressure and those amazing fingers touching him, squeezing him. It was that strong, capable hand making small upward pulls, working the cotton of his boxers over his flesh, working skin over engorged tissue. And then, Barbara's hand was working under the elastic waist of his boxers to touch bare flesh, and Helena bit the inside of his cheek against the need to cry out.
So soft... So strong... So capable... Those hands of Barbara's.
Helena's breaths were short and soft, opening out into whispery huffs as his lips parted. Barbara longed to stretch up and capture those soft sounds with her own lips, to save them forever in the treasure chest of her heart, but she refused to be distracted.
Dimly she recalled something and curled her middle finger around to tease the sweet spot behind Helena's testicles. It had been a long, long time; however, with Helena, it all came so naturally, so easily.
"Baby... I ... "
The redhead waited, but no more words came. She scraped a fingernail lightly over Helena's balls, allowed that same fingernail to trail up the shaft, and placed the lightest of touches around the head.
Sweet almost-numbness was creeping up between Helena's legs, the sustained red haze of being very close to letting go.
Just thinking about what he was about to do -- what Barbara was doing for him -- made his balls tighten into an ache that danced the line of pleasure and pain. It felt like all of the blood was draining from his arms and legs and head and was swelling up into his groin, and Barbara's hand was wrapped around him, pumping long and easy now.
Not quite sure, not quite ready, he fisted his hands into the sheets by his sides.
Barbara knew that her lover was close: the harsh, panting breaths, the way he was drawing up under her touch, the silvery dimness in his eyes. Laying her fingers along the shaft, she worked with short, careful milking motions. The angle was a little awkward, working from her side under the barrier of the cotton briefs, but she refused to shift to a better position. Rather, she held her lover's gaze, awed by the trust he offered.
Dear heavens, she didn't know if she could have been so open.
With Barbara's fingers on him, Helena couldn't remember what he'd been afraid of. He was here; they were together. Barbara was touching him, learning the new shape of him, searching out the sweetest places.
Places he'd never imagined.
Helena was dissolving into orgasm before Barbara even firmed her strokes. He tried not to yell, but the soft sound he made turned into a long moan as his eyes had to shut and Barbara kept... milking him and massaging him with her fingertips. It felt like he came for a long time, deliciously hot and wet.
The surge ended, but Barbara kept stroking, prolonging his pleasure he recognized with dumb gratitude. Her fingers moved more lightly as Helena softened until they weren't moving at all, just cradling him, limp and spent. Working forward a few millimeters, the redhead pressed a hungry, open-mouthed kiss to his shoulder while he was still pulsing sweetly in the curl of her fingers.
Slowly, by inches, Helena came back to himself, finding that Barbara was so close, her eyes still fixed on him. He worked his jaw once, then rolled away to face the side of the bed. Squeezing his eyes shut, he pulled his knees to his chest, cradling them in his arms. His breath still came in puffing gasps.
How had he... What had he done?
Pretty sure that his brains had turned into spaghetti, Helena tried to remember what it was Babs had drilled into him about taking stock of new situations.
Right. Take stock.
Okay, he could do this.
The covers, still tangled around his lower body. A sweat-soaked tee-shirt starting to chafe. Sheets, dampened by sweat, beneath him. His boxers...
Well, just, ugh.
And somewhere, probably on the wall above the headboard, was the top of his head which had blown off when he came.
Behind him, Barbara remained quiet, gently rubbing small circles between his shoulders. Given -- everything, she was content to wait as long as it took. However, since she'd long-ago admitted that she was not a patient individual, it was fortunate that it didn't take long.
"Hmm," she supplied by way of response.
"So that's what all the fuss is about."
Finally, Barbara allowed her smile to show itself.
"It is, eh?"
Without warning, her lover flopped onto his back, barely giving her time to yank her hand from his path. Amused, she watched as he plucked at the elastic waist of the Scooby Doo boxers, his expression of distaste almost comical.
Making herself comfortable, Barbara snuggled close and rested her head on a broad shoulder.
"So, what is all the fuss about, Hel?"
She hardly thought that she could be faulted for a little curiosity.
The brunette's mouth opened, then shut with an audible snap. Taking pity, Barbara pressed a lingering kiss to Helena's jaw, relishing the prickle of early morning stubble against her skin.
"Perhaps," she suggested as she dragged her fingernails across his chest and felt Helena's answering smile, "a little more research might help you describe it."
When Helena finally realized that his partner was stone cold serious, the words spilled out without thinking.
"Barbara, how can you...?"
He wasn't entirely sure what he was asking. After what Barbara had done -- hell, seemed like she'd enjoyed herself pretty much -- it didn't seem right to be questioning her.
Questioning himself -- his own readiness -- well, that was a whole 'nother kettle of fish.
The redhead shut her eyes against the pain in the words. Collecting herself, she wrapped her wandering hand around Helena's chest and managing a firm one-armed hug.
"I love you, Hel."
Warmed by the solidity of Barbara's embrace as much as her words, Helena turned that around in his mind for a bit; then he turned his face into the mussed shock of red hair by his chin. Opening his mouth, he quietly drew in Barbara's scent, willing himself not to forget.
"I love you, too, Barbara."
Another squeeze was his answer, and they lay in stillness for several heartbeats. When he felt Red's mouth quirk against his shoulder, he had to give into his curiosity.
Still enraptured by the feel of having her partner in her arms again, it took Barbara a moment to recognize that her contented hum might not suffice.
"I was just thinking -- "
"Now that's something new."
The interruption earned Helena a soft thump to his belly. Ignoring his overly dramatic "Ooof" of protest, Barbara continued primly.
"I was just thinking that it doesn't hurt that you're damned sexy, Hel."
For the first thirty-four years of her life, Barbara Gordon had never -- well, almost never -- imagined that she could be attracted to another woman. In the course of the last fifteen months, her beautiful sexy partner had taught her otherwise: Man or woman, sexiness came from within.
It was a valuable lesson, one that Barbara was determined to remind Helena of.
The soft exhalation was so unlike Helena's usual cock-sure brashness. Barbara pushed up on her elbow and sought those stunning blue eyes.
Something seemed to twist a little in Helena's chest at that, a sensation that didn't get any easier when he tracked the movement of Barbara's eyes to his mouth. A little slow on the uptake, he realized it might just be -- things coming to life.
For better or worse, the sounds of sleepy stirrings from the bassinet on Barbara's side of the bed averted the need to determine just what his recuperative abilities truly were.
"I think somebody's tired of waiting."
Slipping from the bed, he crossed to the other side and lifted Kat into his arms. He cuddled her to his chest, careful not to put his face against her skin in case the frikkin' beard stubble scratched her skin.
When Barbara had propped herself up and had the top buttons of her shirt open, he handed over their daughter. The vision of Katharine rooting for Barbara's nipple, the shadows falling across milky-white breasts, the rarely-seen tranquility in his lover's eyes stirred him as always.
God, Barbara was meant for this. He wondered if he was... ever would be.
Slowly, Helena backed toward the master bathroom, waving loosely toward his boxers. They were still damp -- kind of sticky, really -- but rapidly developing a thoroughly gross sort of crustiness.
"Now, I think I really do need a shower."
To Helena's gratification, this shower -- unlike those of the last week -- only took a few minutes. And, it included hot water.
Given the poor quality of sleep that she'd enjoyed for the last week, not to mention the limited quantity on this particular night, Barbara supposed that it wasn't surprising that she felt her eyes drooping a wee bit. With Katharine busying herself with breakfast and the memory of Helena's slightly dazed expression as he'd headed to the shower, a bit of lassitude was more than welcome.
However, when the drum of water from the shower ended and, shortly thereafter, she heard the door from the bathroom to the hallway open, Barbara suspected that it was time to rouse herself. She was pleased that she had when Helena padded back into the room several minutes later, a pair of sweatpants -- and nothing else -- slung low over his hips and a steaming cup of coffee in his hand.
"I wasn't sleeping."
She thought her words had been a little... slow. She was positive that the brunette's smile bordered on what might be termed "indulgent".
Her partner placed the mug on her bedside table, then circled around to crawl onto his side of the bed.
"Mmmm, you're an angel, Hel."
Granted, she wouldn't touch the cup until Katie was finished and away from the risk of scalds, however the aroma alone was bracing.
"Huh. That's not what you said when I was in high school." She almost laughed aloud when the patented waggle of dark brows made an appearance.
Instinctively, Barbara looked down when her daughter weighed in on the issue, charmed beyond all good sense when Helena leaned in, rubbing his nose softly against Katharine's.
"You aren't done already, are you, Kat?"
The question was more rumbling purr than words, but Barbara got the sense of it. Katharine, too, apparently understood some of it when Helena brought a finger to her mouth. The girl's eager suck was answer enough, and the redhead smiled fondly as Helena guided Katie back to her nipple.
For a few moments, all was still save for the minute noises of feeding and the low hum that Barbara had come to recognize as Katharine's purr.
"God, you're sexy, Barbara."
There was no misunderstanding that. Of course, Helena had never made a secret of her -- his -- appreciation for Katie's mealtimes.
With a mighty effort, the redhead ignored her instinctive blush and fixed her lover with a long look.
"I was thinking the same about you."
Barbara couldn't fight a shiver as Helena ran his fingertips through her hair.
"Do we really have to go today?"
Ah. Barbara's monthly dinner with her father. She could understand Helena's hesitation to face Jim Gordon, however, it didn't appear that the brunette's peculiar situation was going to resolve itself any time soon. Ergo...
Sympathetic, she shook her head.
"I'm afraid not, Sweetie. You know that Dad's been fussing since you gave his mornings with Katie to Alfred all week."
She wasn't disappointed by Helena's response. Exorbitant pout notwithstanding, his words were solidly reassuring.
"Okay. The Peapod and I will pick you up after school."
And, really, Helena had to admit nine hours later as the three of them strolled up the walkway to Barbara's dad's house, he had to face Jim sometime. He'd handled Dinah and Alfred and -- hell -- all of the students in class and his coworkers at the Dark Horse. How bad could seeing his lover's father... the ex-commissioner of the police department... the man who made him want to stand up strait and salute... be?
Sucking it up, Helena stuck out his index finger and firmly depressed the button for the doorbell.
Jim Gordon was... family now, right?
He heard someone striding down the entry hallway and half-turned, seeking Barbara's eyes. When he saw what she was occupied with -- extricating Katie from her snugli -- he forgot his own agenda.
"Uh, Babs, you might want to wait on that."
He easily heard the click of keys being worked on the security alarm's keypad inside the house as Barbara looked up. She was in full befuddled mode.
"Why should I w--"
Helena didn't bother to explain: the deadbolt was being thrown, and the door would open. He knew it was Jim's practice to swoop in and relieve whoever was holding Katie of his granddaughter at first sight.
Gently, she patted Katharine's head as if to stuff her back into the security of the pouch wrapped around Barbara's torso.
Somehow, Helena just didn't think that the right time for Jim to see the recent changes in his family was with Katie in his arms.
"Well, I must say -- "
The cheerful words coincided with the opening of the heavy wooden door, and Jim Gordon stepped forward, unlit pipe clenched in his teeth.
"-- that I never seem to have to worry that you'll be late for my Salisbury ste--"
Helena thought that Barbara's voice was a little... tight, so he plastered on a smile to compensate.
Beneath the resplendent handlebar mustache, the ex-police commissioner's jaw worked soundlessly. With his usual grace, Helena stepped forward and caught the falling Meerschaum.
"Yeah," Helena agreed, his smile waning. "I guess you just have to wonder about other things."
Barbara had a fairly good suspicion that her father was functioning on autopilot as the little group made their way into the living room. However, with her attention torn between him and Helena, she simply couldn't get a read on either one.
She held her tongue while Helena returned the pipe to the big ashtray by the easy chair, unable to miss the way her father followed his every move.
Well, no time like the present.
"Dad, do you remember those estrogen attacks across the city about eight months ago?"
Finally, those sharp gun-metal blue eyes turned to her as Jim stroked his mustache, only now beginning to recover its fully glory after the abrupt denuding from one of those attack. Barbara hid her smile, wondering if he was even aware of the protectiveness of the gesture.
"Are you telling me that Helena was caught in... testosterone spray of some sort?"
A brushy unibrow caterpillered upward on his forehead.
She shot her partner a look, and he returned to his inspection of the family photos on the wall.
"Not exactly, Dad. It was the city's latest super maniac," she supplied. "The one who's been transforming storefronts."
Fighting the urge to rock her chair, Barbara focused on freeing Katharine from the snugli.
Blue eyes narrowed, and the white head shook.
"Actually, Barbara, I don't. What was Helena doing at any of those places?"
This was the part that Barbara hated: having to obfuscate. She had spent so much of her life hiding from her father, tap-dancing around truths that could not be spoken. Rather than becoming easier with time, it was proving more and more difficult.
Strolling in from his exploration of the living room's perimeter, her partner saved her the effort.
"Trust me, Jim."
Barbara smiled her gratitude as Helena relieved her of their daughter and turned to her father with a very genuine grimace.
"I was seriously in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Jim accepted his granddaughter with an absent nod, and Katharine promptly stuck out one tiny fist and yanked at his nose.
"Odd how that happens so often in this family."
The tone was absolutely bland. Refusing to blink, Barbara met his searching gaze evenly.
"The efforts of New Gotham's finest notwithstanding, Dad, this city is still a dangerous place."
The words sounded hollow to her own ears. They tasted of ashes on her tongue.
They were, quite simply, too close to the essence of one of Barbara's long-standing internal debates: whether the presence of so-called superheros truly helped the city. There were some days -- some years -- that she thought that they only served as an enticement to the super-nuts who might otherwise leave her city to its own devices.
For the moment, she simply gave that worrisome thread a sharp push to the background: truly, given Bruce's forging by fire at the hands of Jack Napier, it was a chicken-or-egg exercise.
Her father's grudging nod allowed her to breathe again, recognizing that he wasn't going to pursue the matter.
Helena felt some of Barbara's tension depart. When he saw Jim turn his full attention to him, he realized that it was his turn.
"Well, this is certainly, er..."
"Sure is," the brunette agreed.
He cracked his knuckles and waited while Jim offered Katie an index finger to tug on in lieu of his mustache.
"Well, then, Hele-- "
The white brow rose in question, and Helena searched frantically, trying to figure out why he hadn't given any thought to a different name.
He came up blank.
Sure, when Dinah's dorm buddies had swarmed all over him, the thought had crossed his mind. Kyle would be natural enough, but "Kyle Kyle" was just dumb. Hunter: yeah, he probably could answer to that, but, well, there went his cover on the streets.
Helena gave a mental shrug.
"Helena's still fine, Jim."
The brisk nod let him know that the older man had gotten the message. Jim's next words confirmed it.
"How are you going to be able to, er, undo this?"
Without an iota of guilt, he turned to Barbara.
Hell, she was the brains of the operation.
Recognizing a buck being passed when it hit her in the face, Barbara shot her partner a pointed look. Unsurprisingly, it was met with the patented hangdog expression.
"Well, Dad, we're hoping that the authorities can capture him, and his wand can be used to reverse Helena's transformation."
Even as her father bounced his granddaughter gently in his arms, Barbara could see him switching into detective mode.
"From what I've heard, this fellow's going to be difficult to capture."
He stepped closer and handed Katharine back to her, then began patting at his pockets, presumably in search of his pipe.
"He breaks into stores without any pattern. He's in and out before the black and whites even get a notice from the security firms."
Barbara focused on her daughter's face, clearly reading the subtext in her father's words: What if their mystery criminal were not captured? It was an option that she herself had wrestled with during long nights of the previous week. As she had on each of those worry-fests, the redhead simply decided that NOT retrieving the wand was not a possibility.
However, unless she got herself on track and came up with a game plan soon, chances of helping Helena were slim indeed.
Helena, busying himself behind the wet bar, distracted her from her self-flagelation.
"--and if that wand is so fu--"
A soft cough was sufficient, and Helena seamlessly shifted gears.
"-- so freaking powerful, why does he bother to break in and steal stuff? I mean, why not just... conjure up what he wants?"
It wasn't the first time that the question had come up, however before Barbara could respond, her father spoke.
"Well, my guess would be that he enjoys the thrill of it."
The redhead nodded once. That, or Mr. Cape might be limited somewhat in terms of what he could transmute.
Barbara belatedly realized that she'd missed a few fragments of the conversation when Helena returned, offering a stiff sherry to her father.
"Yeah, I am. Everything. "
Knitting her brows, Barbara attempted to determine what direction the conversation had taken. The pieces clicked into place when the brunette waved loosely at himself and nodded.
"Lock, stock, and -- uh -- barrel, Si-- Jim."
She pursed her lips when her father downed his drink in one long swallow.
"Ah. I see."
Jim carefully settled the small glass on the coffee table.
"Well, how are you doing with everything, Hel?"
When she heard Helena's answer, Barbara felt her eyebrows head toward her hairline.
"Well, there's one thing I was really hoping you could help me figure out."
Judging from the color flooding her father's face, Barbara suspected that a strategic time out might be in order. Before she could suggest checking on dinner, her father met her partner's gaze.
"What might that be?"
Strong, slim fingers rose to touch a still visible nick on the brunette's jaw.
"I was really hoping you could teach me how to shave."
Jim looked almost flabbergasted for a moment, then Barbara picked up the twinkle in his eyes.
"I believe I may have a rusty straight-edge and a strop somewhere around here."
Helena blanched, and Barbara cast a reproachful look toward her father.
"Just kidding, Hel."
When Jim clapped the younger man on the back, Barbara thought that her partner stood a little straighter.
"Barbie, can you watch the potatoes while I show this youngster his way around a close shave?"
This time, when her father threw an arm around Helena's broad shoulders and spoke, she was certain that Helena almost preened.
"Okay, let's go, son."
"Do you think I should wax my chest?"
Engrossed in her research, Barbara responded by reflex. When her brain caught with her ears, she slipped an index finger into the stack of printouts to mark her place and gave her lover her full attention.
"I hadn't really thought about it, Hel. Why do you ask?"
For some reason, she thought that Helena's shrug was a little too casual.
"I dunno... just..."
Pencilling a small check on the page, she set the sheaf of printouts detailing Matter Master's history on the table next to the sofa.
"Just what, Sweetie?"
The brunette rested his chin lightly on Katharine's head, apparently finding something of great interest on the muted big screen. From what Barbara had determined as she'd been reading, Helena had been attempting to teach the infant the finer points of channel surfing before he'd come out with his question.
Cautiously, she rested on hand on his forearm.
"I was just thinking about whether I could wear any of my old clothes."
Barbara's mouth opened, and she tasted air. Acutely aware of the fact that it couldn't be her best look, Barbara shut her mouth, wincing at the audible click of her teeth. Helena seemed not to notice.
"I'd probably be an awful drag queen, but most of them fit --"
That was true enough; Helena hadn't bulked out significantly with the transformation. Nevertheless, over the course of the last nine days as Barbara had continued to look for signs that altered hormone levels were kicking in, she hadn't anticipated this.
"-- and they aren't really Dinah's style."
Finally, Helena turned and met her eyes.
"Or yours, right?"
They shared a smile. A very brief smile.
"I just hate the idea of giving it-- them up."
A light bulb finally began to glow.
"You'll be wearing them again soon as a woman, Helena."
She didn't blink under her partner's scrutiny; however, she did release the breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding when she made out his slow nod.
"In the meantime," she cast about for a positive spin, "perhaps you can actually enjoy some of the perks of being a man."
The arch of a dark brow spoke volumes.
"Well, for starters, there's no more societal expectation for you to shave your legs."
She thought that the look she received was, at best, dubious. However, when thick dark brows furrowed, Barbara breathed a cautious sigh of relief. Her partner's next words, accompanied by a wicked twinkle in blue eyes that hadn't changed at all, confirmed that her stab at humor hadn't been amiss.
"Yeah, and I can scratch in public now."
Helena settled his dozing daughter in the crook of one arm and nodded at that. He'd never really gotten why it was okay for guys to dig in just about anywhere they wanted to on their anatomy while if a woman had an itch in her armpit or something, well, she had to squirm and contort and pretend like that wasn't where she was scratching.
And God forbid if there was something that needed scratching in the whole ass region.
A response that sounded just the teensiest bit cool ended his musing about things he'd done -- before -- when his female ass had developed an itch in public.
"Hel, you've been transformed into a human male, not a Cro Magnon man."
Pretty much indifferent, Helena shrugged.
"Kinda hard to tell the difference, what with hair growing in strange places and all."
He raised his free hand, inspecting the sparse dusting of dark hair that fringed the outer side of the back of his hand. He had to figure that knuckle hair and tufts of fur coming out of his ears probably weren't too far off in his future.
Despite her best intentions to steer matters toward the positive, it was difficult for Barbara to find the words. Helena had always been a striking woman, a woman who was acutely aware of her appearance and who reveled in it.
This change wasn't easy.
For a half-dozen heartbeats, Barbara observed her partner. His studied nonchalance was very much at odds with his words, and, in what she instantly recognized as a rare moment of blinding insight, Barbara realized that words were not the truth that was called for.
It was time to remind Helena that, despite everything, some things had not changed.
Not to mention attending to some desires of her own.
Allowing her smile to show itself, Barbara worked herself across the seat of the couch, half-turning to face the brunette. Then, she took his hand, running the pad of her thumb softly across the fine hair that was beginning to grow.
"I rather like it," she admitted quietly, raising Helena's hand to her mouth.
She brushed the hair with her mouth, hearing the catch in her partner's breathing. Still softly mouthing his skin, she saw the pupils of Helena's eyes morph to vertical slits. Instantly her fingertips tingled with the tactile urge to brush the long lashes, to map that perpetually raised left eyebrow. She wanted to stroke around the delicate cartilage of his ear and raise the feathery hairs on the soft lobe. She wanted to stroke those beautiful lips, trace the sharp angle of his nose, touch the strong pulse in his neck and feel it pound in response to her.
She allowed her desire to work through her, pressing gentle kisses to the tips of his fingers.
"Hel -- "
The night before, after returning from dinner with her dad, neither had been in the mood for much more than dazed reflection on how well the evening had gone. This evening, however, was another matter.
Shit. Was Barbara serious?
Carefully, Helena shifted on the sofa, snugging Katie to his side and bringing himself knee-to-knee with his partner. Her eyes were wide open, offering him...
He swallowed roughly when he figured it out.
Instinctively he leaned in to meet her when Barbara carded her fingers through his hair and tugged him closer. Something electric seemed to spark between them, raising the fine hair all over his body.
Gently, the redhead bumped her nose against his. Then she trailed her hand down his neck, tugging tenderly at the tiny strands of hair that were growing just below the hollow of his throat.
It felt... Hell, he didn't know what it felt like, just that it wasn't bad at all.
Barbara had always considered Helena to be the more physically attuned of the two of them; however, there was no denying the thick, sweet arousal coursing through her own body.
"Red, are you su--"
She wasn't willing to hear any more. Effectively, she silenced Helena's questions and uncertainty with a kiss. A long, thorough kiss.
Their first real kiss, Barbara realized with some surprise, since the transformation.
That thought, as much as the sweet press of her mouth against Helena's, was enough to set her pulse racing. The low sound of pleasure that Helena made was all the invitation she needed to continue, to press forward and to coax him to her.
The kiss was warmly erotic, a slow exploring dance of lips and tongues. And, while Helena remained gentle -- almost hesitant -- Barbara couldn't miss the masculinity of the encounter: the light rasp of beard shadow against her jaw, a mouth broader and deeper than she was used to. Regardless of any differences, the kiss sent a sweet warmth through her torso, a honey-slow arousal.
It lasted for a long time.
By the time they broke apart, Helena realized that Barbara had led their joined hands to her breast. The heavy swell of flesh filled his palm, and he had to fight his own urge to deepen the contact.
The sensation of Barbara's other hand walking the inside of his thigh almost undid his resolve.
With a helluva lot of effort, Helena managed to quirk a grin.
"Why, Miz Gordon, I do believe you're trying to seduce me."
It was extremely fortunate, Barbara decided, that she was so completely focused on physical matters. There would have been no other way that she could have ignored -- well, largely ignored -- the qualms that she'd repeatedly battled concerning the age difference between her partner and her. As it was, she barely hid a wince at Helena's dreadful impersonation of a young Dustin Hoffman.
Still, her training from years on the streets and rooftops of New Gotham didn't fail her: in the face of doubt, Barbara increased the pressure on the strong hand she held to her breast and rotated his palm against her nipple, buried under what she instantly recognized as too many layers of material.
"Is it working, Hel?"
The answer was less than a heartbeat in coming.
Unfortunately, her normally action-oriented partner seemed compelled to keep talking.
"Does this mean I'm gonna be your boy-toy?"
Barbara blinked and drew back slowly.
Well, that hadn't helped her plausible deniability defense.
The shy duck of her companion's head stripped away any reservations. They were both well past the age of consent.
With that, she guided him to her mouth again for another lingering kiss. Long, luxurious minutes later, Barbara reluctantly left his lips to nibble at his throat. Helena's hitching gasp more than made up for the stubble that felt sharp and dangerous against her mouth.
It had, truly, been a long time.
Still, Barbara could no longer ignore her own body's reactions, especially to the sensation of her lover's roving hand playing at her breasts. When she pulled back a few inches and looked down, she recognized her error: on one side, it was Helena who was driving her to distraction; on the other, however, it was her daughter -- still cradled in Helena's arm -- who was mouthing at her.
And evoking entirely different reactions.
Feeling a trifle schizophrenic, Barbara looked up to capture her lover's eyes. Helena's grin was blinding.
"The apple didn't fall far from the tree, huh, Red?"
Barbara didn't even try to hide her smirk as she leaned in to lick her partner's eyebrow.
"Is that so, Hel?"
She seized his earlobe between her teeth and tugged lightly, earning a heartfelt groan.
"Maybe we can just neck, Babs?"
Her answering chuckle was interrupted by the sensation of a tiny head butting determinedly against her chest, and Barbara's immediate fantasies evaporated with a noisy pop. Her laugh as she leaned back and began unbuttoning her shirt was on the rueful side.
"Sounds lovely, Hel, but I think that Katharine has other ideas."
Helena pouted, but he handed over their daughter without protest. It was only after she was settled in with the girl in her arms that Barbara finally, really, noticed what was playing on the big screen.
An hour earlier, engrossed in her reading and plotting for Mr. Cape's capture, she hadn't paid much attention to Helena's exultant whoop. His whisper to Katharine about having found a classic on the movie tier had piqued her interest enough to glance up in time to catch a title as Helena had turned off the on-screen guide, and she'd had to agree: Any movie with Jack Nicholson was a winner. One with Susan, Michelle, and Cher to boot was a classic.
Apparently, however, her cursory view of the guide had been amiss.
Barbara simply didn't remember anything like this in the movie.
"What in the name of parental lock-outs are you watching?"
With her free hand, she snagged the remote and hit the onscreen guide.
Great suffering V-chips.
She fixed her partner with a long look.
"You are NOT exposing our daughter -- "
A thought struck her.
"-- or me to 'The Witches of Breastwick'!"
Truth be told, Barbara expected a hint of embarrassment in Helena's face, at the least the appearance of the hangdog expression. Thus, when the young man shrugged cheerfully and responded, she had to wonder if the long-awaited testosterone poisoning was finally making an appearance.
"Hey, I had to. 'Alabama Jones and The Busty Crusade' isn't on until later."
Barbara didn't let them even finish the movie. Helena couldn't say he was too surprised. He wasn't even really disappointed since he had a pretty good handle on the plot and how things would turn out.
Besides, it was cable: it'd be on again.
And, with some dull as dishwater show on The Hallmark Channel droning in the background, it gave him plenty of time to enjoy the Peapod's late night feeding. And, to wonder about what had gotten into Barbara a little earlier.
Red was always the careful one. Making sure she had all her t's crossed and stuff. And, yeah, he understood that she was trying to help him look on the bright side or something, but practically jumping him on the couch?
Really nice, though.
By the time he finished brushing his teeth and changing into the Wonder Dog boxers that D had talked him into buying, Helena decided just to chalk it up to one of those inexplicable Barbara-things.
That, and maybe some maternal hormones going wild.
The thought brought a grin to his face, and he was still smiling when he emerged from the bedroom to find Barbara settled into bed, wearing that silky sleep shirt that he liked. He detoured on his way to bed long enough to press a tiny kiss to Kat's temple, then slid under the covers.
"Man -- "
He shook his pillow inside the case, trying to get it fluffed up just right. Since his shoulders had gotten a little broader, he needed a little more poof under his head when he slept on his side.
"-- after she eats, she's really out of it."
He took that for agreement and flopped back onto the pillow.
"Are you gonna read some more?"
Helena knew that Babs was doing the Major Strategy Thing on Mr. Cape. Since it was probably his best chance at getting turned back, he sure wasn't going to gripe if she wanted to keep the light on.
Besides, he could watch her reading with those fuckin' sexy glasses on.
"No, Hel, I've done enough --"
The redhead flirted with using the word "research" but decided that it was simply too blatant.
"--reading for tonight."
She turned on her side, facing her partner. Unable to miss the way puzzled blue eyes flicked toward the lamp on her bedside table, she sighed. Somehow, she managed not to roll her eyes.
So much for subtlety.
"Kiss me, Hel."
The request... command... whatever the hell it was... shot straight through Helena. He was pressed up to Barbara's side before he even processed the words.
Looked like Red was still... in a mood. He could deal with that, right?
And, for long blissful moments, Helena did. Over and over, their mouths met, his fingers tracing her cheekbones, her hands on his chest. Then -- oh god yeah -- then Barbara's tongue was teasing against his mouth, and he wanted...
Oh, god how he wanted.
The pressure, the wet heat promised him, and the ache kept growing inside, building in his belly. Without planning, he worked a leg over the outside of Barbara's thighs, ready for her.
Then, reality reared up to greet him.
Damnitall. He couldn't do this... couldn't have...
Helena tried to move back, however the most that Barbara would allow him was turning his face into the pillow.
Aching for her lover's confusion, Barbara brushed her mouth against his temple.
"Shhh, Hel. It's okay."
She punctuated the reassurance with a soft kiss.
"It's just us, Sweeteheart, loving each other."
Barbara felt his entire body stiffen at that.
"Do I need to beg, Hel?"
The dark head turned, and blue eyes fixed her, blue eyes that were completely her Helena's, and she smiled. Her entire body registered the roll of his hips against her.
Yes, that was her Helena.
"Barbara -- "
There was a question in the name.
"-- It's not.... I'm not..."
It was, Barbara thought, David Hume who had claimed that the idea of a permanent I was a fiction. Each person's mind is made up of a collection of different perceptions that succeed each other so rapidly and are in such perpetual movement that the self that inhabits one's body today is only similar to the self that will inhabit the body tomorrow. As for the self that will inhabit the body decades away? A virtual stranger.
Catching Helena's mouth again with hers, Barbara nodded minutely. Helena's transformation was more visible, perhaps faster; however, this was still Helena.
Helena was a little surprised that Barbara wasn't going on, some longwinded ramble about soul and psyche or something. However, he had to admit that a silent Barbara Gordon could be mighty persuasive, too. Especially when her tongue was teasing his ear and he was wrapped in her arms and -- oh, fuck --
Unable to help himself, Helena arched up into the scrape of neatly blunted nails down the skin of his back. The movement seemed pretty much to put him where Barbara had been intending because the next thing he knew was the sensation of lips and tongue and... teeth at his throat.
Pleasure and pain ripped through him, the universe flashing silver behind his eyelids. Terrified that his roar of pleasure would rouse the Peapod, he buried his face in Barbara's neck. When he'd recovered enough -- barely -- Helena pulled back, feeling something wet on his throat, smelling the copper of his own blood.
There was no doubting that his eyes had augmented.
Those red, red lips smiled in wicked promise, and a growl rumbled forth.
"God, I want you."
He bathed her mouth with his tongue, still able to make out her throaty response.
"You have me, Hel."
Barbara held her breath, as much in surprise at her own wantonness as in anticipation of Helena's response. The latter -- a spine-tingling growl -- erased all concerns about the former.
Before she could blink, she found herself blanketed by her lover's firmly muscled torso, Helena seemingly determined to press his bare chest through the silk of her sleep shirt. Arching into the delicious contact, Barbara had to agree with the sentiment, if not the approach.
"Get -- "
She tried to insinuate her hands between them to work the buttons of the shirt.
"-- this off me."
Instantly, her lover rolled a few degrees to the side, enough for strong fingers to begin working their way down the placket. Rapt, Barbara followed the sure progress of Helena's hand until she thought to look up and took in the raw hunger in his face.
"Just rip the damned thing, Hel."
The softly hissed command sent a tendril of panic coursing through Helena. Sucking in a slow breath, he forced himself to calm down. Very slowly, he palmed a full breast under the silk. Very deliberately, he caught a nipple through the fabric, rolling it -- with a little more pressure than he might have before -- between his thumb and index finger.
Babs didn't seem to mind at all.
"I happen to like this shirt, Red."
He really, really liked it. The way it felt against his chest, the way Barbara's body felt under it against his chest, it all just set him on fire.
Maybe they should get silk sheets.
Focusing again on the buttons, he registered Red's brief nod even as he felt her hands at the elastic of his boxers. Normally so graceful and sure with her hands, Barbara's actions seemed fragmented and jerky, but he didn't really have time to consider that. No sooner had he spread the material of the shirt than her hands were in his hair, pushing him down to her breasts.
Somehow, he forced himself to slow down, to be gentle, deliberate. He pushed aside images of claiming that sweet flesh with mouth and teeth and hands, softly breathing in Barbara's scent, nosing one firm nipple. He drank in her soft murmurs, mouthing the weight of her breast against his chin until he remembered.
"Oh, shit, I'm sorry, Barbara."
On the cusp of madness -- would Helena never cease the gentle teasing? -- Barbara blinked against her complete bewilderment.
What in the name of faltering foreplay had stopped him?
The sight of her lover touching his chin brought matters into focus. As did the stinging skin of her chest.
Glancing down, she could see a hint of redness marking her pale skin from contact with his beard shadow. Unhesitating, she clasped her fingers behind his neck and pulled him down, brushing their mouths lightly.
"I don't care, Hel."
And, she didn't. It was true that, with her coloring, she tended to get a rash just thinking about this sort of contact. More than one lover in her checkered past had grumbled about the lack of spontaneity created by having to shave before intimate contact. Others had simply shrugged and accepted that face-to-skin contact would not be a part of unplanned encounters.
However, this evening, there would be nothing between Helena and her.
The pressure against the back of his neck increased: crap, but Barbara was strong. The sudden understanding that his partner was rubbing her face against his, deliberately marking her fair skin, sent a bolt of heat and want straight to his groin. Trapping the throbbing thing between their bodies, Helena worked for full body-to-body contact, a long, slow body hug. The pressure of her breasts under his chest generated a phantom ache, a brief flickering emptiness; but the feeling was immediately subsumed by the very real ache lower on his body.
God. It was like having a couple dozen clitorises, all doing a Rockette's happy dance across every erogenous zone in his body.
Barbara watched the dazed wonder growing in her partner's eyes. She could distantly make out the rocking of his pelvis against hers. Fighting a long-standing reticence, demanding nothing less of herself than she asked of Helena, she reached down to position her legs.
She turned her mouth to his ear, tonguing the delicate shell to get his attention.
"I want you to be inside me."
Helena's choked groan left little to the imagination. His expressive face almost undid her, clear in his disbelief that this was truly occurring. Yet, even as Barbara attempted to capture the moment in her eidetic processors, she saw Helena's expression changed to uncertainty.
"Baby, I don't know -- "
She followed the rise of his hand, the somewhat helpless wave toward his pelvis. She poured every ounce of reassurance that she could into her answering smile.
She waited until violet eyes focused on hers.
"I've never --"
She paused, adding a measure of emphasis to her next word.
"-- ever doubted your sense of rhythm."
That got her a small smile.
"We'll figure out the rest together, Sweetie."
Barbara simply refused to consider how little help she might actually be able to offer once things were focused... there.
"Are you sure?"
Overcome by tenderness, she brushed shaggy bangs back from his eyes.
Ducking his head, Helena worked for a smirk until another thought struck him.
"Holy crap, Barbara. I'm a virgin."
He didn't think he'd meant to say that out loud. Still, Barbara's totally fuckin' sexy smile distracted him from any embarrassment, much less thoughts about how the hell long it had been since he -- she could have said something like that.
"Not for long, Helena."
Then, Barbara's hands disappeared from view, and he nearly crawled out of his skin at the sensation of those soft, strong fingers on his stiff need. Somehow, Barbara wriggled herself around a little beneath him, one hand still wrapped firmly around his hardness, until she was exactly where he suddenly knew that he needed her to be.
Fuckin' hell, he was so stiff he thought the damned thing might break in half. The heat of her, the amazing wetness against his glans, was making his erection twitch like crazy, and his hips itched to join in.
He could barely hear Barbara's whisper around the rush of blood in his ears; still, somehow, he remained quiescent, allowing her to slide him in carefully until he was stunned by her wet heat.
"God...," was all that he could manage as Barbara turned her head and nipped at his shoulder.
Helena managed one... two long slow slides in and out. Then, his hips weighed in on the matter with a sharp thrust, the sound of slapping skin just incredibly wet and sexy. He didn't want to take his eyes off her -- the round 'O' of her mouth, the sweat beading on her chest -- but when he heard his grunt of pleasure echoed in Barbara's gasp, when he saw something in her face, Helena froze.
"You felt that."
Indeed she had. It was like nothing she'd experienced since -- gracious, possibly even before -- the shooting.
Barbara fought for breath, trying desperately to coax a few drops of moisture to her mouth. She hunted for something to help reassure Helena, who remained locked in position above her, his muscles vibrating urgency, his eyes telegraphing confusion.
Finally, she swallowed and ran the tip of her tongue around the edge of her lips.
This wasn't about her.
"I feel you, Hel."
Before Helena could forget what matters were about, Barbara swept her hands up her own torso, palming her breasts. As she'd hoped, those amazing eyes -- finally -- flashed back from violet to gold. With a final tweak to bring her nipples to aching attention, she resettled her hands on his hips and tugged.
Lord, if she could only use her own lower body.
"Keep going, Sweetheart."
There was no way -- just abso-fucking-lutely no way -- that Helena could deny the invitation. Pressing a hard kiss to lush, red-rimmed lips, he worked to recapture his movement. Awed by the soft, needy whispers from his lover, he deepened his thrusts, damned near ready to explode. But, when he heard Barbara's hiss again, he knew.
He fuckin' knew that she'd felt it.
Yeah, her face wasn't giving anything away. Like always, she wasn't letting it be about her.
Carefully, he worked to match his previous thrust, and the power surged through his body when those amazing green eyes grew wide. The angle was kind of funny; he didn't think he could hit it accurately like this. Still... An image, viscerally powerful, flashed behind his eyelids: Him, taking her, giving Barbara this, making her let go.
The sheer thought inflamed him. The want almost stole his reason.
Working his knees under Barbara's soft thighs, he slammed his hips against hers. Without planning, his hands were rubbing up and down her sides, and he heard his own soft moans with every thrust.
"Hel-- Hel -- "
Somehow, he pried open his eyes, registered that Barbara's hands were on his arms, pushing -- positioning him to take his weight on straightened arms.
It came out on a whisper as he grasped the intent.
Helena had to admit that the position gave him more leverage, allowing his hips to rock with gravity, Barbara's fingers digging into his gluts, guiding. He missed the chest-to-chest contact, but maybe when -- if he got better at this...
"Helena, yes, Sweetheart."
He heard Barbara's voice. It cloaked him -- something about letting go -- and Helena knew everything was okay. He felt his scrotum tightening and even if he was no expert in male orgasms, he had a pretty good idea that this one was shaping up to be a winner.
Barbara's teeth digging into his forearm almost drove him over the edge.
"Oh, god, Baby -- "
His whole body was out of control, his hips stuttering against her, the pressure building, and he was... was...
Helena's eyes flew open. Urgent and uncoordinated, he yanked out of his lover, exploding across her. For the longest time, he held himself above her, pulsing and shivering.
Oh. My. Fucking. God.
Boneless, he slid down beside her, his skin flushed and beaded with sweat and sex. Somehow, Babs worked an arm under him and stroked his back, the soft shush-shush of her fingers on his skin accompanied by the almost inaudible drip of his sweat -- and fluids -- hitting the sheets.
Man, changing the sheets was apparently going to be a daily thing.
"Hel? Why did you --"
Barbara had been as patient as possible. If something had been... amiss for Helena, she intended to find out sooner rather than later.
Not to mention, things were starting to itch.
Her lover's languid stretch was reassuring, and mouthwatering. The impish light in his eyes when he rose on one elbow and smiled, even more so. When she made out his dramatically hushed words, there was nothing for it but to join in with his laughter.
"Do you know what your dad would do to me if I knocked you up again so soon?"
"Honestly, I don't understand why other mothers say that it's so difficult to find a babysitter, Hel."
Barbara absently nodded her thanks as Helena extended the bread basket, and she selected a petite scone.
"We seem to have them beating a path to our door."
She paused at that, considering just how secret their base of operations was when it seemed that everyone they knew, plus all of Helena's favorite pizza joints, were in possession of the public access codes to the elevator. Nevertheless, this morning, with both Alfred and her dad vying for dibs on sitter duties, Barbara couldn't fault their visibility.
"Sure, Babs -- "
The brunette speared a healthy bite of salad and raised his fork to his mouth.
"--but just wait until Katie's a few years older and she doesn't have than new baby smell and all."
She nodded slowly, watching him chew with gusto.
"Well, I can hope that, by then, they'll be attached to her."
The napkin that Helena touched to his lips captured most of his laughter.
"Huh. But, by then, Red, we'll be way too uncool to come to places like this."
Almost choking on her water, Barbara looked around the restaurant. Granted, it was just Sunday brunch; however, it was brunch at the historic Roosevelt Hotel. Barbara honestly couldn't remember the last time she'd indulged in a fancy brunch; yet, when Helena had claimed that he felt like celebrating this morning, the art deco atmosphere at Gotham's oldest hotel -- not to mention cooked-to-order smoked salmon and caviar omelettes -- had filled the bill perfectly.
"Not you, Hel."
She smiled broadly, easily detecting the hint of red tinging her partner's normally blush-proof features. She still couldn't believe that he didn't see how absolutely attractive he was -- woman or man. This morning, decked out in draped wool slacks, a cream Jefferson collar shirt, and a silk vest, Helena was absolutely striking.
Pinching off a bite of her blueberry scone, she looked her companion over again. Although the current hairstyle -- pulled back in a ponytail -- wasn't a particular favorite, Barbara couldn't deny that Helena was eye-catching. He just needed a porkpie hat, she decided, to complete the Annie Hall look.
Green eyes narrowed, and Barbara mentally tossed out the hat: Helena already looked remarkably like one of the characters in the movie adaptation of a certain Anne Rice vampire novel.
"Nah. Couple more years, and I'll have to be around home to fetch Kat down from the tops of the bookcases."
Although she had to wonder if it would take that long, Barbara opted to keep her own counsel on that. For now, she would concentrate on the blessings they had.
"This is a wonderful idea, Hel."
The redhead gestured loosely with her grapefruit spoon, then felt the need to insure that she hadn't overstepped.
"Are you sure that you don't mind that I -- "
She still felt a little guilty for turning their romantic brunch into a something a bit less romantic; however, at some point during the night, held securely in Helena's strong arms, inspiration had struck.
"Decided to make this a three-way?" her companion supplied, almost causing Barbara to aspirate some grapefruit juice.
She allowed one arched brow to express her feelings at Helena's wording. Naturally, he was unfazed.
"As long as you don't let her come home with us. After all, we have -- "
Barbara felt the blood roar into her face when she spied the look in bright blue eyes.
"-- plans for this afternoon."
The accompanying waggle of dark brows was, Barbara thought, completely unnecessary. As was Helena's cheerful addendum.
Yet, in the face of a relentlessly cheerful Helena Kyle, Barbara simply couldn't remain stern.
"After a stop at the drugstore, Hel. Until we verify whether you can impregnate me, we need to be careful about --"
The lecture on safe sex that she'd never imagined having to give trailed off under the force of her partner's vigorous nodding.
"Yeah, I was thinking that if we went to that warehouse store where we get Kat's diapers, we could buy cheaper in bulk."
No doubt about it. This was her Helena, growing starry-eyed over bulk purchasing.
Barbara worked her jaw. Her attempt to articulate just why they didn't need to buy two hundred and fifty condoms, all labeled for individual resale, was mercifully interrupted when a familiar voice sang out from behind.
"Barbara Gordon. Is that you?"
Barbara thought that she might have laughed at the panic in Helena's eyes if she'd not shared a small measure of it. Glaring a warning at her partner, she pasted on a smile and pushed back from the table to meet their visitor.
"Hello, Alethea. What are you doing here?"
The instant the words were out, she wanted to yank them back. As polite greetings went, her attempt was simply dreadful; fortunately, her shoot-from-the-hip co-worker didn't seem to notice.
The blue-haired history teacher nodded briskly.
"I try to make it for brunch every few months. A bit of a treat."
Still re-gathering her shell-shocked wits, Barbara nodded and smiled, a bit wildly if Helena's smirk were any indication. Pulling in a steadying breath, she got herself together and returned to her place at the table.
"It's wonderful to see you. Will you join us?"
True to form, the older woman didn't mince words.
"No, thank you, Barbara. I'm on my way out."
Observing the way that Alethea pointedly checked the tiny watch that was affixed to her bosom, Barbara steadied herself.
"One can't lolligag in bed all morning if one wishes to have the freshest fruit and fluffiest pancakes, you know."
A cough came from the far side of the table, an expulsion of air wrapped around two syllables that sounded suspiciously like words referring to fertilizer from a male bovine.
The brunette's smile was utterly guileless.
Barbara narrowed her eyes while Alethea removed one liver-spotted hand from her chest.
"You have to get here early to get the best biscuits," Helena continued brightly.
The blue-white head nodded slowly as the history teacher peered over her glasses.
"I see. And,"
Barbara felt her posture improve just a bit when she was pinned under her friend's gaze.
"-- just who might this be, Barbara?"
So much for Helena's keeping a low profile. Heaven knew, it had been difficult enough for Alethea to accept Helena into her life... before. No telling what --
Suddenly realizing exactly what her friend from work might be thinking and hoping to forestall the gossip mill that ran full-steam in the teachers' lounge, Barbara spoke up.
"Alethea, you remember Helena?"
There was simply no way that she would be accused of cheating on her lover with... her lover.
Although he thought that the old biddy's confusion was almost laugh-out-loud funny -- not to mention the fact that it was none of her damned business -- Helena couldn't just leave Barbara hanging there.
Besides, he'd had his manners drilled into him by the best.
Setting his napkin by his plate, he rose to his feet and turned to face the teacher that had been the bane of his existence not too many years before.
At least, she'd been one of the banes.
For a minute or two, the superannuated history teacher just stared at him, catching flies. Then she took one, then a second, step closer, ending up so close that Helena began to wish he hadn't chosen the garlic aoli to go with his salad. When she kept staring at him -- and making no bones about where her eyes were lingering -- the urge to shout "Boo!" right into her face was damned near overwhelming.
A discrete cough from the other side of the table persuaded him to take the higher ground.
He smiled broadly.
"At your service."
Accurately judging the situation, he stepped around the table and snagged a chair.
She dropped like the proverbial bag of rocks, and Helena helped ease her chair under the table before returning to his place. Inspiration struck before he reclaimed his seat.
What the hell, he could give the old fuss-budget a little something to think about.
Slowly, deliberately, he smoothed his shirt, then reached down and adjusted himself.
Didn't want her to think it was just a pair of tube socks -- okay, two pairs -- rolled up down there.
Reclaiming his napkin, he resettled it on his lap, thinking that Babs' frown would have been more convincing if he couldn't make out the twinkle in her eyes.
"What on earth, Barbara?"
Heck, he'd known the silence was too good to be true. But, since Miz Harkness was Barbara's friend, he left it up to his partner, opting to snag a clover roll from the bread basket and neatly separating the rounded pieces with an extended caressing movement of his thumbs.
"Well, Alethea, you've read about the criminal who has been... changing things?"
Focused on buttering the bits of roll, Helena observed the white-haired woman's nod. He knew that her eyes were still fixed on him and had to fight the urge to squirm.
"Well, Helena got caught in the cross-fire."
"Ta-da?" Helena supplied, popping a piece of bread into his mouth.
Entirely unimpressed with her partner's contribution, Barbara vainly wished for the use of her legs -- or, Great Ahab's Ghost, just one leg -- for long enough to kick him under the table. Mercifully, Alethea seemed too caught up in the story -- speaking of gossip potential -- to mind.
"Oh, you poor dear!"
Barbara touched her napkin to her lips as one spidery hand captured Helena's wrist, none-too-subtlely pinching at strong muscles.
"This simply must be so traumatic for you."
She was glad that she'd chosen the napkin instead of her water glass when the older woman barreled along, simpering about the trials and tribulations of...
Red brows hitched skyward.
Had Alethea just said the words "brutish masculine equipment"?
Dear lord, sometimes it was difficult for Barbara to remember that the woman wasn't a spinster and had, in fact, been married for many years.
The sight of her partner leaning in conspiratorially and speaking with exaggerated seriousness to their guest distracted her from ruminations about how long it took to become a born-again spinster.
"--and you wouldn't believe how hard it is to get used to p-- "
A cough cut short whatever Helena had been planning to say.
"Well, let's just say -- "
The brunette's expression was contrite, but Barbara wasn't fooled for a second.
"-- that I'm just doing the best I can until the authorities get it straightened out for us."
This time, as Alethea patted Helena's arm -- bicep this time, she noted -- Barbara did roll her eyes. Much more sympathy and Alethea would be discovering Helena's choice in underwear.
"Still, Helena, you do make a very striking young man."
When Alethea turned her way, Barbara grit her teeth, attempting to prepare herself for the requisite lecture on cradle robbing. She was surprised.
"I must say that I've always heard that younger is better, Barbara. Is that true?"
Helena couldn't help it: he blew chunks of bread clear across the table.
At least it seemed to give Barbara time to battle back the flaming tomato red blush from her cheeks.
While the two women at the table brushed bits of partially masticated clover roll from themselves and Helena chugged from his juice glass, it hit him how bizarre this frikkin' town really was: For a good portion of the last year or so, Alethea had given Barbara no end of grief about dating him -- when he'd been a woman; and it wasn't just the same sex thing as much as the age difference. Now that he was a guy, she wasn't fazed by it.
Hell, she wasn't really fazed by the fact that he was a guy.
Waving down the wait-staff for fresh place settings, Helena realized that he'd just gotten it: this town that Barbara fought so hard to protect was seriously screwed up. Or, just screwed.
An overnight sex change barely raised any eyebrows. His classmates mostly seemed curious. Red's dad was ready to invite him into the son-in-law club. Dinah's friends wanted to date him. And, heck, even the patrons at the bar didn't much give a damn.
Helena checked himself at that thought and made a mental correction: Some of the frat boys had stopped hanging around during his shifts.
Still, instead of being freaked or anything, even Leonard had even seemed kinda excited about having another burly bouncer around; at least until Helena had pointed out that he'd done just fine bouncing folks out when he was a woman. Then Leonard had realized that some of the clientele coming in on Helena's shift had changed, and Helena heard him muttering something about the Dark Horse turning into a gay bar.
That had nearly cracked him up.
Now, Helena wasn't sure it was quite so funny.
Finally crumb-free, Barbara sipped from a fresh glass of water, noting that Helena's glee had deflated rapidly. Since this scarcely seemed the time or place to see what was going on, she focused on their impromptu guest and her last question. Considering how much obfuscation and outright lying she did in her day-to-day activities, she simply couldn't fathom why she was having such difficulty in coming up with an answer other than the truth: that she and Helena simply hadn't had much opportunity to engage in field research.
Mercifully, the third member of their breakfast party spared her the effort.
"Sorry it took me so long, but I had to call everyone to let them know I wouldn't be at our study brunch, and then I couldn't find my bus pass, and by the time I did --"
The deluge of words abruptly halted as Dinah came to a stop by the table.
Barbara smiled her greeting as the teen pushed a lock of hair behind her ear.
"Hi, Mrs. Harkness."
True to form, it didn't take Dinah long to land on her feet, catch her breath, and zoom off on a different conversational superhighway.
"It's great to see you. I mean, it seems like forever since I've been by school which is really kind of dumb since I'm just across town still -- "
By the time Dinah wound down and headed to the buffet, Alethea had recovered herself and said her farewells. With a distinct sense of dread, Barbara acknowledged that she would almost certainly find herself pinned to the wall of the teachers' lounge during break the next day.
"Thanks for inviting me for this, Barbara. Hel."
Wondering if the Kid was using her TK to balance all of that food on the two plates that she was juggling, Helena reached out and pulled out the chair that Alethea had been occupying.
"I mean," Dinah dropped into the chair and reached for the syrup. "this is waaay better than the cafeteria's food."
Helena pushed back, ready to head over to the omelette station.
"I've told you that you're welcome to join us at home for any meal, Dinah."
He snorted softly, registering Barbara's nod when he inclined his head toward the omelette area. Helena had already figured out that Dinah usually showed up at the Tower for meals only when she knew that Alfred would be cooking.
By the time he returned with a cheese-n-swiss for Barbara and a meat-with-meat omelette for himself, the two were deep in discussion about Babs' plans for taking out Mr. Cape. Dumping a little hot sauce on his pile of food, Helena tucked in, pretty much tuning out their technobabble about triangulating the areas where the S.O.B. seemed to be hitting most frequently.
"-- seems to show a preference for the stores near the business district, so we'll limit sweeps to that area."
When Babs told him where to go, he'd be there.
"And, if you're sure that you can join Helena each night -- "
Carefully, Helena settled his fork on the edge of his plate and looked up, trying to read the Kid's reaction to that.
"-- don't want to focus on capturing him, Dinah. If Helena can keep him and his BDUs busy, then you might be able to use your TK to grab the wand."
With Dinah nodding into her pancakes, Helena turned his attention back to his own brunch. He had to admit that Babs had nailed it: without the wand, Mr. Cape wasn't gonna be any threat to New Gotham, and -- more important -- they could get on with fixing him.
A measure of his satisfaction evaporated when he picked up on Dinah's next words. A big measure.
"So, I'll come back to the Tower this afternoon, and maybe Hel and I can run some scenarios in the training room?"
Redoubling his attack on his omelette, Helena gave a mental shrug.
What the hell. He'd finish up here, hit the drugstore on the way home, and still be ready when the Kid took off later.
As if drawn by a magnetic field, Barbara leaned closer to her monitor. She was still hunting for any tidbits that might help them in their fight with Mr. Cape, and so she'd been delighted when her information-gathering 'bots had sent an alert not too many minutes earlier: to her delight, they'd unearthed more information on Matter Master and his wand.
It was, the cyber-vigilante mused, simply fantastic the things one could find on Wikipedia.
Unfortunately, further details on Mark Mandrill notwithstanding, she still wasn't any closer to grasping how the Mentachem wand worked or, perhaps more importantly, how it had made its way from the property room of the Metropolis PD to the hands of some two-bit burglar in New Gotham.
A soft thump from the balcony, coinciding with that unmistakable frisson of awareness that she felt in Helena's presence, clearly signaled her partner's return from his appointment and drew Barbara from her abstraction.
"Looo-cy, I'm home."
Rolling her eyes -- how many times had she heard that particular homage to her hair color? -- Barbara turned from her monitor. One jaw dropping moment later, when Helena strutted through the French doors, she was glad that she had.
Right Said Fred.
Even busy cataloging what she was seeing -- from chained motorcycle boots to skin-tight leather trousers to a half-buttoned midnight blue shirt -- Barbara's mind automatically supplied the name of the one-hit-wonder who had come up with the lyrics that pulsed through her.
Too sexy, indeed.
She allowed her smile to show itself. She simply hadn't seen her partner moving with such a healthy display of self-esteem in much too long.
"I take it your appointment went well?"
Not quite sure what Red was getting at, Helena moved into the living area and considered the question.
Yeah, it had been good of Dr. Frine, their long-time gynecologist, to work him in so fast this afternoon. And, yeah, after Gloria had given him a good earful about the change being the weirdest damned thing that had come through her door in a good long time -- including the Peapod's curing Red's cancer -- the doctor had been happy to help out.
"Yeah, I guess," he allowed with a shrug.
Helena decided not to mention some of the colorful invective involving Ursula K. LeGuinn that the spritely doctor had come out with. It wasn't like Babs needed any more ammunition for her own creative cursing.
Still, he thought he might need to look up those Gethenians and that pheromone sex-changing thing they did.
"She did say -- and I quote -- " Helena held up both hands, visibly supplying the air quotes, " 'If Barbara believes any of that twaddle about not getting pregnant while she's nursing than we need to revisit birds and bees for first graders'."
He waited as his companion carefully removed her glasses and slid them into the pocket on her chair.
Nodding, Helena just waited.
He nodded once.
"You mean that we can -- I can -- you can -- ?"
Helena decided to spare her the other three pronouns, although he didn't doubt for a second that his big-brain lover could find a way to work them in.
"Uh huh. I can -- "
Narrowing his eyes, he cast back for Gloria's clinical assessment.
"-- well and truly put a bun in your oven."
Since suspicion and verification were two entirely different matters, Barbara found herself at a loss. Although Helena's change had been at a cellular and hormonal level, the concept that her partner -- her formerly female partner -- could create a life with her, sans interference from supervillain-created nanotechnology, was mind-boggling.
Perhaps Helena correctly read her disbelief. Perhaps he had some inkling of the song that had played through her mind when he'd made his entrance. Regardless of the reason, she found herself rapt as the brunette fixed her with a cheeky smile and began to shimmy out of his duster.
"That's right, Red. I've got concentration..."
Barbara certainly couldn't deny that, although what it had to do with the topic at hand escaped her. When he stepped toward the Delphi platform with a swivel of his hips and continued, she began to catch on.
"... and motility..."
That, too, was true.
The redhead carefully wet her lips with a rather dry tongue when Helena bounded onto the platform.
"... and morph-- That morphy one."
"Morphology," she supplied on a croak.
"And," his voice dipped a half-octave as he planted his hindquarters on the table, negligently pushing her mouse aside with one strong thigh, "lots and lots of vitality."
Barbara's laughter escaped her as she moved close to him. It certainly sounded as if Gloria had checked for all of the requisite factors for healthy sperm.
"So, in words that I understand, Red -- "
Blinded by Helena's smile, Barbara didn't have time to be irritated with his habit of putting down his own intellectual abilities.
"-- I've got lots and lots of happy little swimmers."
Snagging his right hand, she pressed a kiss to the knuckles and managed a wink.
"It's a good thing then that we did pick up a few condoms, Hel."
She saw his face change -- just a bit -- and took a guess. Smiling very warmly, she let one hand creep up his leather-clad thigh. With the other, she dug into the side pocket of her chair and pulled out a ribbon of foil packets.
A long ribbon that Helena had brought back to the Tower after their brunch the day before.
"Don't worry, Sweetie, I doubt we'll have time to get through all of these before we get the wand."
The brief shake of a dark head told her that she'd guessed wrong. The hint of pink at the tips of Helena's ears spoke volumes.
Really, Helena figured that he was pretty much being an ass about this: Babs was offering him -- that on a silver platter, and he still couldn't just grin and enjoy it.
Last night, when they'd finally put them to the test had been -- awesome, as much for how he'd felt as for how Babs had acted. His lover had been all over him until he couldn't think of anything but touching her, making her feel as good. But, still, once her hands had crept across him and rolled that thin piece of latex into place -- and, oh man, like that hadn't felt incredible -- it just hadn't been as intense or something.
"Doesn't feel as good," he admitted to the slender hand resting on his knee.
A whole gob of quiet followed that, enough that he finally had to peer through his bangs to see what his partner was thinking. He straightened up with a blink when he saw Barbara toss the streamer of foil-encased latex over her shoulder.
Oh man, had he just blown --
That thought -- and every other -- simply vanished when the redhead positioned her chair between his legs, effectively pinning him in place on the table, and those amazing hands came to the button on his pants.
"There are -- "
Dark eyes rimmed with green looked up, fixing him in place. Almost from somewhere outside himself, he heard the click of the zipper of his pants, moving with painful slowness, an erotic counter-tempo to the thud of his heart.
"-- other ways to avoid pregnancy, Hel."
Suddenly, the tight strain against the seam of his pants was almost unbearable. He was hard as a rock, so hard it ached, pushing painfully under the fly of his pants. Helena swallowed -- damned near swallowed his own tongue -- and ducked forward to seek his partner's eyes. He was only partially successful since it seemed like Babs was determined not to look up.
"Are you serious, Barbara?"
Still working Helena's zipper against the growing pressure against it, Barbara contemplated the question, and Helena's reasons for asking.
The day before had been a full one, pleasingly domestic she could grant, in a their own unique way. After she and Dinah -- and then Helena -- had returned to the tower from brunch, the two younger members of the team had undertaken an extended workout in the training room. After that, Dinah and she had strategized at the Delphi for several long hours while Helena had kept at it with the heavy bag. After an impromptu pizza dinner, after Helena had driven Dinah back to the dorm -- with a stop for ice cream on the way, not forgetting to bring a pint of decaf java fudge back for her -- after Helena had returned and solicitously inquired whether she needed anything, after Helena had bathed Katharine, after her partner had cracked his knuckles and fidgeted through four back-to-back episodes of 'Cops' on the big screen, after she'd fed Katie and they'd finally crawled into bed...
In other words, only after they had both fulfilled all of their self-appointed obligations and duties had they released themselves to --
Well, "rocked my world" was one of the more printable phrases that her vigorous partner had used to describe their activities.
Red lashes slid shut and Barbara turned her head, pressing an open-mouthed kiss to the soft leather covering the inside of Helena's thigh, just above the knee. His restless shifting recalled her to the question.
Last night, when Helena had joined her in bed and turned bright eyes to her, Barbara had wanted, needed, something for herself.
"I'd like to touch you, Hel," she'd whispered, oddly hesitant with this new body in their bed.
She'd heard him swallow, but his sultry smile as he'd turned onto his back had left little room for misinterpretation. Then, finally, for the first time since the transformation, Barbara had been able to explore the new-old planes of her lover's body. She'd been able to trace runs of sinew and muscle, to map out flat planes where there had once been lush curves, to braille the new textures of skin and hair that sheathed Helena's trembling form.
"Don't wax yet," she'd murmured, her mouth brushing the nascent hair on his chest, wanting to feel this difference against her skin.
She'd wanted to touch, to taste everything; however, when her nails had scraped Helena's nipples, the slow roll of his hips and his soulful groan had returned her to his needs. Helena was still learning his body and his reactions, and she would allow him to set his own pace. Accordingly, she'd slid from his body and beckoned him to her. To her surprise, she'd not fumbled too badly with the condom. Helena had arched into the contact, whispering something that had sounded like 'amazing', and then Barbara had readied herself in invitation.
It had been slower, Helena's movements more deliberate, as if he were exploring the experience. Likewise, and unlike their joining on Saturday night, Barbara had been able to observe more, to follow the shifting patterns of her lover's urgency, to begin to learn him. There had been no nails and teeth this time, only the slide of skin on skin, Helena's breath teasing her skin, the flex of his powerful muscles as he'd moved above her.
His climax, she'd thought, had been less explosive; her own response had been a warm surge of emotion that had yet left her wanting... more.
This act that she was requesting was, as she'd told Helena months before, one of the few ways that she truly felt... involved, when she'd been with previous lovers. While Helena always -- always -- insured that she was more than merely a spectator at their lovemaking, Barbara still wanted to feel his response, to contribute actively to it.
"As a heart attack, Sweetie," she finally supplied, not looking up.
The words were hot and moist on his newly bared flesh. Wildly, Helena thought he was going to lose it right there, just watching the hair fall over her face and spill across his thighs, from feeling those sexy, sexy fingers tugging his fitted boxers out of the way.
"Barbara," Helena had to stop and wet his lips. "I'm-- uh, this is -- "
When she looked up, Barbara's smile was sympathetic.
"Think baseball statistics, Hel."
He managed a return smile before his brows dipped in confusion. Naturally, Red caught it.
"Er, how about drink recipes?"
Helena's smile felt a little more genuine. He could do drink recipes.
He saw those lush lips purse, felt a cool breath across his most sensitive flesh and frantically cast about for something he might whip up at the bar. Unfortunately, the only drink that popped into his head just wasn't helping.
"Uh, Slippery Nipple, Red?"
He thought the heavy exhalation he felt might have been consternation, but when Barbara looked up, her smile was serene.
"Alright, Helena. Visualize Alethea -- "
Barbara couldn't help herself: she couldn't let this end before it began; and so she allowed serenity to transform to something impish. Impossibly deep blue eyes crinkled in response... until she finished.
"-- in the shower."
Not giving Helena time to become too fixated on that image, she rested her right hand on him and lifted a little, offering a tender caress of her thumb over the soft skin of the head. The helpless sound he made, the way his fingers formed claws against the edge of the computer table, her own desire were all the encouragement Barbara needed. She inclined her head, resting her cheek on the pulsing warmth of him, her breath whispering through his pubic hair.
"Oh, fuck, Barbara."
"Don't rush me" she chided, then nosed against him.
His penis jumped under her hand, and she caught it in her mouth. The size and the weight were perfect, and she allowed herself a few heartbeats to memorize tastes and textures, to acknowledge the hot ribbons of arousal that coursed through her body.
"Oh, fuck," was the best Helena could manage.
He knew he wasn't asking; the words were a prayer, a mantra. Maybe a covenant.
Helena felt Barbara humming her agreement as her tongue wound around the head of his cock. Her fingers played with his balls, then she licked him slowly, flicking the most amazing spot with the tip of her tongue.
Oh, god, he'd never imagined... He hadn't even allowed himself to think about wanting... It was too much, too one-sided, and he couldn't ask...
And, then he couldn't imagine or think or remember his own frikkin' name when Barbara swallowed him whole, letting go so slowly, her tongue pressing hard against him. Something reminded Helena to open his eyes, and he heard his own groan echo through the great room at the vision of Barbara, her crimson hair falling on his thighs, her head rising and falling.
"Christ -- "
Ecstasy seeped through him, winding him so tight with pleasure that every part of him was singing, vibrating, almost in pain.
Helena closed his eyes, briefly. He swallowed, the sound loud in the silence. Helpless in the face of something he'd never expected, he flexed his hands against the edge of the table, needing to ground himself or... to touch.
Like she just knew, Barbara captured his right hand and guided it to her hair where he could feel her jaw working. Then, she pulled away a few inches and met his gaze, her eyes heavy-lidded.
"Just try not to thrust, Sweetheart."
"Tr-- try," he managed.
Barbara still saw conflict in his beautiful face. Given her own discomfort with being on the receiving end of this particular act, she thought she had an inkling to the origins of Helena's feelings. Yet, this was something that Helena had always enjoyed, and something snapped within her, determination made steel. Purposely, she licked him warmly, wetly, with the broad flat of her tongue. She touched the tip of her tongue lightly to the head, tracing the ridge and promising more. When Helena's fingers cupped the base of her skull, she smiled and took him fully into her mouth again, sucking him down to the back of her throat.
Oh, heavens, but it had been a long time. Even, she thought to recall, with Helena... before. Yet, the taste of him -- of her Helena -- was unmistakable.
As was his choked cry of pleasure.
No longer able to deny that this was happening, that he wanted it to happen, that Barbara wanted it, Helena leaned forward at the waist. He wanted to bury his face in her hair, to press melting kisses to her temple, to shower her with every gratitude and every amazing sensation she was giving him.
When Barbara's lips closed over him again, Helena felt his orgasm surge up, but he fought it back. His lover took him in deeply, then drew up to tease his head, that sexy mouth ringing his shaft just below the ridge of the glans. Through the heat and glory, he heard himself making noises -- a lot of noises that couldn't hide how amazingly, earth-shakingly good this was.
She understood the warning in the hoarse whisper. She didn't care.
Barbara closed her mouth over him, concaving her cheeks and sucking fiercely with just a tease of tongue, her hand pumping his shaft. Every moan that she heard was a caress against her skin; every helpless twitch of his hand in her hair, a stroke to nerves she'd long forgotten. When he came, flooding her mouth, jerking helplessly under her hands and arms, she felt almost close enough to join him.
"Oh god -- "
At least, that's how Helena thought it had started: it came out as a single glottal moan. Then, all he knew was white hot ecstasy and Barbara's mouth sucking, her hand pumping, Barbara taking it all until there was nothing left but dumb amazement. And still, still, she was touching him, milking every drop of pleasure that anyone could ever possess until he knew that there wasn't -- couldn't be -- anything left of him.
Barbara pulled off with a light slide of her lips, but she stayed where she was. She battled her eyes open against the lassitude taking possession of her, drinking in the vision of her lover, his dark bangs sweat-dampened to his forehead, his chest rising and falling against his shirt, his jaw still clenched in rigid pleasure. Idly, she noted that a stack of carefully arranged printouts had somehow fluttered from her table to paper the platform floor.
She didn't care at all.
Through a tender ache of affection, she felt something more, something possessive and triumphant and joy-filled. Breathing in their mingled scents, she prodded at those emotions, adding one more: humility.
After a while, Helena murmured her name, and she pressed a gentle kiss to the wiry hair next to her face.
"As long as you want, Hel."
She took him in, just a bit, and sucked tenderly.
"Whenever you want, Sweetheart."
She met his eyes, pulling softly. It felt incredibly real to offer this, to take part and to increase what Helena felt. To be trusted like this -- to be given the opportunity to guide and to feel every nuance of her lover's pleasure -- was almost overwhelming.
"I love this, Hel."
She waited until slightly-unfocused blue eyes met hers again and spoke the rest.
"I love you."
"I'm not asking you to give it to me. I just want to borrow it for the night."
Seated on the edge of a rooftop, drumming his heels lightly against the side of a brownstone eight stories above street level, Helena chewed at his thumbnail and considered the request.
Sure, he'd been pretty hesitant in the past to let the Kid borrow his clothes. Barbara had always said that because he was an only child, he didn't share well. Helena had always figured that it was just because he didn't want his clothes to get messed up and come back smelling like sugary non-alcoholic drinks and clove cigarettes and kid-smell. But, he had to admit that over the years Dinah had shown that she didn't get his...
He swiped his damp thumb on his duster and forced himself to think the words.
Dinah didn't get his former clothes too gunked up. And, hell --
He didn't look over, and he kept his voice gruff.
"Well, if Gabby's coming down for the weekend..."
Immediately, he held up a hand, palm out to silence her squeal.
It wasn't like he didn't understand hormones -- from both sides now. With Gabby off at State, Dinah didn't get to see her girlfriend much at all anymore, and he wasn't going to stand in the way of true love -- or lust, or whatever.
"But I want it dry-cleaned and back in my closet by Monday night."
A few paces behind him -- Dinah still wasn't too keen on heights -- his companion bounced on the balls of her feet for a few seconds. Helena's hopes that he'd bought himself some silence while the blonde mentally picked through his closet were short-lived.
"So, Huntr-- uh, Hunter. What is that dry cleaning stuff anyway? I mean, I've taken chemistry and I still don't really understand how --"
He let her rambling sort of fade into background noise, not really caring how dry cleaning chemicals worked. It did the job, and, something he'd never told Barbara, the smell of it gave him a buzz. At least -- he felt his brows scrunch together a bit -- it had before.
Since the transformation, he'd noticed that his senses weren't, well, as sensitive. Sure, he was still head-n-shoulders above most non-metas when it came to the big five, but it wasn't like before. It had been sort of interesting in one of those clinical Babs-working-an-exeriment ways, the first few days after the transformation: he'd realized that oranges didn't smell as good and silk didn't feel as soft and chocolate didn't taste as intense and colors on the big screen didn't seem as sharp and Kat's high-pitched coos, the ones that only he could hear, weren't quite as immediate. But, it wasn't until he'd finally gotten around to the important stuff -- stroking Babs' skin, tasting her mouth, listening to her throaty whispers, smelling her hair, seeing the shifting patterns in her green eyes -- that he'd realized how much he'd lost.
What the fuck. He had a lot more stamina to make up for it. Not to mention, he could pound all hell out of the heavy bag, bare-fisted, without any real discomfort.
Still not listening to Dinah -- didn't she realize that stakeouts were supposed to be about stealth? -- he surveyed the streets below, absently twirling the keys to their vehicle on his index finger. He flirted with the idea of dropping the keys over the edge, just to see which one of them could snag them before they beaned some pedestrian who was unlucky enough to be out in the dark of downtown New Gotham at this hour, until a change in Dinah's tone got his attention.
"Why do you always get to drive anyway?"
Helena turned a few degrees in time to see her plant her fists on her hips. He thought she looked like some kind of wispy elf that was trying to do macho.
"Geez, Hunter, we've been out three nights now, and you haven't let me drive once."
He weighed several answers to that and, after checking to verify that the comms were still off, decided to go with the one that would be the most aggravating. Accordingly, he puffed out his chest and dropped his voice an octave.
"Me man." He thumped his chest lightly with the hand holding the keys. "Man drives Hummer."
That got him the indignant squeak he'd anticipated.
The brunette didn't care that D had broken the whole code-name rule. Who was gonna hear 'em up here?
"If Barbara heard you say that she'd soooo kick your ass."
Very slowly, Helena turned fully to face the young woman, and he painted on a leer.
And a lie.
He blinked when the blonde immediately stuck her fingers in her ears and emitted a chant of "La-la-la-la-la's". Then, he cracked up.
"Hey, Canary, chill. I didn't say anything."
Calming as Dinah slowly pulled her fingers from her ears, Helena raised a brow and waited.
"Yeah, but you were thinking really loud."
He turned back to the view of the street with a shrug, and finally silence ruled for about two seconds. Since that was just long enough for him to start thinking about the intimacies that he and Barbara had shared in the last week, he wasn't completely pissed when Dinah piped up again.
It was all still too... confusing or different or something. The way Barbara was responding to him, the way he was responding to that, it was all... weird. In a really, really nice way, of course.
"I can drive the Hummer, too."
Figured the Kid couldn't let it go.
He knew he couldn't really deny what Dinah had said: heck, he'd taught her to parallel park himself just the year before.
"Tell you what, Canary," he offered a guileless smile. "When we get a team VW Bug or something, it's all yours."
Not completely oblivious to the effects of a TK push when he was standing on a ledge eighty feet above the street, Helena fought back his snicker at the image of the blonde buzzing through the streets of New Gotham in a car with a souped-up sewing machine for a motor. He guardedly glanced to the side, seeing blonde brows furrowing.
"You mean like the Geek Squad?"
Okay, one small snicker shouldn't hurt.
"If the car fits, Canary."
Since the steam was almost visible coming out of her head, Helena took pity on her and fished in his pocket, emerging with a key on a Corona ring.
When he held out his hand, the Kid lost her pout and automatically extended her hand, palm up, to accept the key.
"Key to my old place above the bar," he cut in.
When he saw those sky blue eyes going wide, he should have grabbed a clue. Instead, Helena found himself enveloped in a rib-crushing hug that nearly sent them both toppling over the side of the building.
"Oh, wow, Hel! Thank you!"
For a second, he worked to catch his balance on the ledge, then gave a mental shrug and returned the embrace with a gruff one-armed hug.
"Yeah, well, just clean up when you leave."
Another thought struck.
"And leave some beer in the fridge."
Finally, the teen let him go and skipped backward with a laugh.
"Sure, like it's so far to head down to the bar and get--"
He cut her off with a slash of his hand.
"That's. Not. The. Point."
Movement on the street below and one block over kept him from having to explain just what the point was. Already shadowing across the roof toward his target, the dark vigilante toggled on his comm unit.
"I think we've got him, Oracle."
Considering that Red had been cut out of the conversation, she answered just like she'd been with them all the time.
<"Copy that, Hunter. Which store?">
He flowed down a fire escape, noting that Dinah was levitating herself down behind him.
"Uh, looks like one of those eBay storefronts."
That was another one of those inexplicable computer-geek things that he just didn't get: a physical store to sell stuff online. Still, he had to admit that it probably had a lot of goodies that might interest Mr. Cape.
It seemed like his partner at the tower agreed.
<"There should be quite a few portable valuables there. Remember -- ">
He heard fingers dancing over the keyboard of the Delphi and figured that Barbara was trying to hack a security camera or contacting the police or hacking into eBay to find the owner of the store.
Or all three.
<"-- don't try to capture him. We want the wand.">
Helena's grunt of acknowledgment coincided with Dinah's chipper "Copy that, Oracle." Moving into stealth mode, Helena brought an index finger to his lips, then pointed to an awning across the street. Dinah got the idea, slipping across the dark street and up to her perch. Helena held his position in the mouth of the alley until the little group he'd spied from the roof -- Mr. Cape and three friends -- were close enough for him to smell their cheap cologne.
The scent -- carrying with it images of being strapped down in a warehouse -- didn't bring back pleasant memories.
Still, Helena had to admit thirty minutes later as Dinah helped him limp off the elevator and into the tower, it had all gone according to plan. Sure, Mr. Cape had slipped away in the fray, but Helena had taken down all three of his Big-Dumb-and-Uglies in a fight that, frankly, had been a lot of fun... mostly. Dinah had snagged the wand and snapped a couple of pictures with her digi. And, all it had cost was --
Well, Dinah had finally gotten to drive the Hummer.
"Ow, Kid," he bent at the waist, wheezing -- actually fuckin' wheezing a little -- when she abruptly jostled him against the coat rack, "Take it easy!"
He realized his error the second that he saw the red head snap up from the monitor at the Delphi.
"It's okay, B--"
Barbara was having none of it. The last she'd heard after a raucous interlude between Helena and the BDUs was that the hired help were tied up in a bow awaiting the arrival of New Gotham's finest and that Dinah had gotten the wand. There had been absolutely no indication of an injury either before or after her partners in the field had gone off comms.
She waited as Helena gingerly lowered himself to perch on the edge of the wing chair, her eyes automatically ticking across his body for signs of blood or broken bones or ...
"I want a cup."
It took Barbara a second to process the words that he'd gasped out. The sight of his hands clasped protectively in his lap cemented the pieces for her, and she felt her mouth automatically rounding in an 'O' of surprise. Immediately, she tightened her lips, thinning them against the urge to smile.
"Probably a wise precaution, Hel," she murmured, moving close to rest a hand on her partner's strong shoulder.
Blue eyes sparked, then the dark head dipped contritely. Barbara simply continued the slow massage of tight neck muscles.
"Next time, I'm gonna cuff their ankles, too," Helena ground out. "Why the hell would any guy fight with a liability like this -- "
Acutely aware of the way that Dinah seemed to have found something of great interest in the kitchen, Barbara watched Helena wave a hand in the vicinity of his lap.
" -- just hanging out there."
Barbara opted simply to raise her brows. Her partner, possibly reading her expression, rolled his eyes.
"Aside from all of the philosophical blah blah about why anybody would fight at all, of course, Barbara."
Ignoring the sarcasm, the redhead smiled and shook her head, catching her lover's strong hand in hers. With her other, she retrieved a golden wand from his coat pocket.
"With a little luck, Hel, the whole thing won't be an issue much longer."
Empty spaces - what are we living for
Abandoned places - I guess we know the score
On and on, does anybody know what we are looking for...
A little luck, indeed.
With a long sigh, Barbara tugged her glasses off, fixing the item occupying an evidence tray on the corner of the desk with a baleful stare. Rationally, she knew that directing her ire at the Mentachem wand was pointless; however, at this point, it seemed as good an approach as any.
When Helena and Dinah had brought the thing back to the Tower the night before, it had been so easy to believe that it might be the answer to Helena's dilemma. Now, however, it seemed clear that matters might not be so simple.
Acutely aware of the ponderous ticking of the big clock, Barbara tapped the stem of her glasses against her lower lip and reviewed the last twenty hours or so. After she'd gotten Helena settled in front of the big screen with an ice pack, she'd asked Dinah to stay: it was the beginning of the weekend, and having a bit of TK assistance with a potentially volatile implement was more than welcome.
Not to mention, Dinah had a sharp mind for scientific methodology.
They'd begun by handling the wand gingerly, Dinah suspending it in a mental balloon while Barbara tested it for conductivity, radiation, electric pulses, and -- eventually -- traces of psychotropic drugs. Some time after midnight, they'd deemed it... inert, and settled it on the evidence tray that had become its new home. Naturally, Helena had immediately appeared, snagged the wand, and pointed it at Barbara's state-of-the-art optical laser mouse.
"Er, Hel --" had been her only concession to concerns about possible smoking plastic. It had been too late apparently, as her partner had tossed the wand back in the tray with a grunt.
"Damned if I know how to work it."
That had been the first harbinger.
Regardless, Barbara had set up a controlled environment for testing: a cube of bullet-proof glass with a lone pencil inside. Then, she and Dinah had really gotten to work, doing their utmost to change the pencil to... well, anything other than a pencil, only breaking for a few hours of sleep somewhere around dawn. She'd naturally recorded every action and attempt, every variable and permutation, in a spreadsheet; however, she didn't need to look at the neat rows and columns to know where matters stood: At square one.
They -- she -- simply couldn't get the wand to transform matter.
"Maybe it's the cape," had been Helena's suggestion on one pass through the living area during the afternoon.
Barbara had begun to wonder if it might be. According to Helena's descriptions, and based on the somewhat fuzzy images that Dinah had captured on her digital camera the night before, there had to be some reason that a grown man would wear something that garish.
Snorting, the redhead tossed her glasses onto the mouse pad.
Slowly, she drew in a long breath, working to calm herself. She'd finally sent Dinah back to campus several hours before, and now she just needed to organize her thinking, to determine logically what lay beneath the wand's power.
There was, after all, no such thing as magic. Logic and technology could approach magical levels. Genetic enhancements were certainly reasonable. Visitors from other galaxies could be explained. Even luck was a random force, an x-factor that could be accounted for.
Raising one hand, Barbara pinched the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger, the habitual gesture meant to stave off the headache she felt pounding behind her eyes.
It appeared that it could be luck, and luck alone, that would allow her to capitalize on the capture of the wand.
Luck, that must have played a part in allowing Helena to escape his captors just two weeks before.
Fortune, that had contributed in Helena's ability to adapt to the violation of his person.
Chance, that had kept the citizens of New Gotham from encountering Mr. Cape during his unpredictable burglaries.
Fluke, certainly, that had enabled her partners on the street to disarm the criminal so quickly.
Destiny, perhaps fate, that had forced this change on Helena.
An accident, like so many others in their lives, that they struggled together to overcome.
Barbara brushed her hair back, hoping that she'd succeeded in some small measure in helping Helena. Heaven knew, the... adaptation had been unusual and unexpected; however, she remained committed to offering no less than she demanded from her partner.
If Helena had to deal with this, she could certainly -- adapt.
With a rough shake of her head that brought her hair spilling back down, Barbara focused again on the wand. Yet, even as she bitterly acknowledged that she'd allowed luck to play too great a role in their lives lately, her mind insisted on tossing out one more synonym.
Inexorably, her gaze was drawn to the open doors of the balcony, needlessly confirming that Helena was outside with Katharine, and the word whispered again through her: Blessing.
Another hero, another mindless crime
Behind the curtain, in the pantomime
Hold the line, does anybody want to take it anymore
"You know how lucky you are, Kat?"
The question was barely a whisper into the silken red curls pressed to his chest, but Helena thought that his daughter had heard. He'd been showing her how to pick out the best air currents based on the swirl of the detritus on the streets below when a flock of birds had swooped past. Katharine's agitated squirm in his secure hold let him know that she'd seen them, too.
"Well, I'll tell you," he continued when she didn't seem inclined to chime in. "In six months or so when you start crawling, you aren't going to have to worry about any bird poop out here."
Huge blue eyes framed by the longest red lashes ever seemed to grow a little wider, and Helena clearly picked up the milky scent of the girl's breath when a gummy smile followed.
"Yep," the brunette unleashed a smile of his own. "There's a reason that birds never nest on our balcony."
To make his point, Helena spun them in a slow circle, his free hand gesturing to the gargoyles that were, as described, nest-free. When he came to a stop, a chubby little fist grabbed his upper lip, and Helena allowed his smile to transform to a snarl. A low growl accompanied it, but his daughter simply gurgled vigorously.
"Yep. I scare 'em off, Kitty."
Carefully, he pried her fingers free.
" 'Nother couple of years, and you can take over on balcony duty."
When the words caught up with him, he stepped close to the low parapet, letting the warmth of the setting sun bath his face. Even as he wondered what Babs would come up with to baby-proof the balcony -- hell, the Delphi -- he heard the sound of vigorous typing resume from inside. There was no doubt that his partner was still beating her head against the wand.
"You know why else you're lucky?" he whispered against a tiny ear.
He let the familiar clatter of the keyboard wash over them for a few seconds.
"Your mom, she's amazing."
Inclining his head to one side, he caught the girl's eyes and nodded gravely.
"She's f-- freaking brilliant."
It was, he was well aware, only one of his partner's many amazing quality; however, he didn't think that Katharine was ready just yet to hear him go on about all the other things he found amazing. Somehow, he kind of figured that he'd never be ready to share some of them with his daughter.
It'd be enough if, soon, Katharine had both of her moms back.
"Buh-buh-buh," seemed like agreement to him. Still, the sound of soft music coming from the disc that Babs had popped in after Dinah left forced him to be completely honest.
"Other than some really bad taste in music."
He didn't think he'd ever get the Queen fetish, but Helena decided that he couldn't fault his partner that one little foible: She'd been in there busting her hump for him for almost a whole day, nonstop; She'd come up with the plan -- like always -- to get the wand; she'd pretty much let him set the pace on this little caper while he'd pulled himself together; and whatever Babs' feelings were about the transformation, she'd been there one hundred percent for him.
Swallowing against something in his throat, Helena added the most important part: Barbara had pulled him together.
Cold chased hot through his body as he replayed it all, everything she'd done, all that she'd given to show him... The sensory memories ran through him, creating an aching emptiness that he didn't want to look at.
The last rays of the evening sun disappeared into the artificial canyons of the city, and Helena stepped back from the ledge. Bending in, he took one of Katharine's tiny hands in his, marveling at the contrast of her fair skin against his dark coloring, at the softness of her against his toughness, at the smoothness of her against his scars.
Then, with a shrug, he cradled her tightly with his other arm and began to dance his daughter around the balcony.
Whatever happens, I'll leave it all to chance
Another heartache, another failed romance
On and on, does anybody know what we are living for?
Perhaps, Barbara conceded, it was a case of mind over matter.
Straightening her shoulders, she grasped the wand between her thumb and the first two fingers of her right hand and lifted it from the tray. She held it steady, breathing slowly and finding her center before pointing it at her mouse.
The hell with smoking plastic.
For long seconds, she concentrated on channeling her chi, her eyes nearly crossing as she focused. Eventually, she surveyed the results of her efforts.
Not giving herself time to think -- perhaps thinking was the problem -- she raised the wand again, this time simply visualizing her mouse replaced by a crystal replica.
This exercise was, admittedly, less taxing; however, the end result was the same.
The invective had no force behind it. She'd tried this before. Helena had tried. Dinah, who easily had the greatest mental prowess of them all, had tried.
Already planning her next steps, ones that she'd hoped to avoid since disassembling the wand carried a real risk of not being able to reassemble it, Barbara allowed herself to wonder if her lack of success stemmed from hesitance on her part to use the wand on Helena.
Heaven knew, she wanted her partner to return to his true physical form. As brave a front as Helena put up and as lovely as some of the... experiments they had conducted were, she knew that the brunette wasn't truly settled in his new skin.
Yet, from what she'd gathered from Helena's clipped accounting of his time in the warehouse -- not to mention the shape that the brunette had been in when he'd made his way back to the Tower, the ordeal that her partner had undergone for the first transformation had been hellishly painful. The mere thought of inflicting that sort of agony on anyone -- much less on Helena -- was... distinctly unappealing.
A soft beep from her primary terminal distracted her from considerations about how she could test the transmutation of flesh -- before restoring Helena -- once they got the wand working. Instantly, one hand flew to the mercifully still-functioning mouse, and she clicked on a flashing icon. It was, as she'd hoped, results from her facial recognition software.
The night before, after Dinah had cleaned and enhanced the digital photo that she'd gotten of Mr. Cape, Barbara had unleashed her programs. It had been months since she'd allowed this particular program to run unchecked across the Internet; however, the need to identify the person behind the criminal was too great to worry about petty issues such as bandwidth and being flagged as a worm.
"Well, I'll be -- "
The cyber-vigilante heard her own soft whisper as she digested the information that had turned up, then she almost found herself laughing.
Amusement, however, was the furthest emotion from her at the moment.
Great flaming fraternity, Mr. Cape was none other than one Mike Mandrill. Apparently, Matter Master had the ubiquitous unknown younger brother who had somehow risen from anonymity to take possession ---
Three dozen rapid keystrokes slipped the final piece into the puzzle: Mike had a rap sheet for petty burglaries, and his latest capture in Metropolis had coincided with the period when the wand had gone missing.
It was as bad as she'd feared.
I guess I'm learning, I must be warmer now
I'll soon be turning, round the corner now
Outside the dawn is breaking
But inside in the dark I'm aching to be free
Helena heard the soft exclamation from within and decided not to guess whether it was a good thing or bad.
"Let's go check on Mommy," he whispered as he stepped into the living area.
Hell, if nothing else, it was time for Red to take a break.
He settled Katharine into her bassinet by the couch, cautiously surveying the area around the Delphi. Nothing appeared to be... changed, but that didn't really tell him what Barbara's curse had been about.
Helena hopped lightly onto the platform, hoping that he wasn't hovering too much. Something in the green eyes that turned to him let him know that Barbara might not be sure either.
God, he hated that lost look in her face, the hollowness he heard in her voice.
Carefully, he nudged the evidence tray from the edge of the table before resting a hip on the wood.
"What's up, Barbara?"
His mother, and Barbara, had always impressed on him the importance of getting right to the point when it was important. Helena thought this qualified.
"I'm afraid that there's a bit of a -- "
A host of self-castigating words -- many having to do with hubris and complacency -- came to mind, urgent to spill forth. Setting her jaw, Barbara refused to allow herself the indulgence: this situation simply wasn't about her.
"-- a setback, Hel."
She searched her lover's eyes, somewhat startled to find nothing but calm acceptance in their depths.
When had her headstrong younger partner become so mature? Rather, she realized with an flash of insight that was not altogether happy, what had led to the change?
"So, uhm," the brunette brought his fisted hand to his face, tapping it lightly against his chin. "Saying 'abraca-pocus' didn't work, I guess?"
Barbara managed a soft smile.
"Nor 'Hocus-cadabra', Hel."
Or any other of the ten-dozen combinations that she and Dinah had come up with. Given what she'd discovered about the wand's owner, Barbara now had a better understanding of just why that was so.
"So, what next?"
Helena deliberately kept it low-key. He knew that Babs always had another card up her sleeve, and she had said 'setback', not 'dead end'. When his partner straightened up and turned toward her monitor, he knew he'd been right.
"We capture Mr. Cape."
Forcefully putting aside his feelings about encountering the cheesy bastard who'd done this to him, Helena rose from his slouch and nodded.
He cracked his knuckles, then bounced on the balls of his feet. Figuring that Babs was too caught up in her planning to catch on to the fact at a little more intel might be useful, he caved.
Helena didn't know just what he'd been expecting, but Barbara's answer wasn't it.
"Because the wand isn't magic, Hel."
In spite of his confusion, he heard the hint of relief in her voice and had a pretty good idea about the cause.
Barbara just didn't do metaphysical.
"Well," he finally decided, not bothering to hide his grin, "that's good to know."
Flirting with exasperation, Barbara gave her partner a long look.
"I suppose," she allowed before opting to reveal what she'd learned. "The wand is powered by the user. In this case, by Matter Master's younger brother, Mike."
Helena's laugh surprised her.
"You mean that Mr. Cape is really just -- "
She waited as the brunette chewed on his lower lip.
"-- Just Matter Minor or something?"
Nodding, Barbara turned her gaze to the wand.
"Apparently. A genetic link would explain why he can use the wand and we can't."
Since she had never doubted Helena's keen intellect, Barbara wasn't surprised when she saw the comprehension dawn in bright blue eyes.
"So, somebody in Matter Master's family has to use it?"
Helena didn't really need Barbara's nod of confirmation to help him understand why his lover was feeling so dejected. No doubt, she was kicking herself for encouraging them to let him slip away.
Still, it didn't sound that bad, so he turned on his brightest grin.
"So all we have to do is catch Mikey, and we can make him turn me back."
Hell, it kind of sounded like his first plan from almost two weeks ago. Things were slowed down a little, but it wasn't impossible.
Taking another look at his partner's slumping shoulders, he made his decision.
"C'mon, Red. Time to take a break."
The way she jerked her head up, he almost worried about whiplash. Instead, he focused on persuasion.
"You know, a little delivery food, watch a little Max-X, and -- "
Turning up the wattage of his smile, he grabbed the remote for the stereo and waved it toward the unit.
"-- turn off this weird music."
That got him a nod and a laugh, and with a dramatic arch of his wrist, he hit the power button with a flourish. Unfortunately, it wasn't before the final chorus filled the great room.
The show must go on
The show must go on
Inside my heart is breaking
My make-up may be flaking
But my smile still stays on.
Man, Barbara was sexy when she was thinking.
Pretending to watch some bozo doing something stupid involving a bowling ball and a trampoline on Maximum Exposure, Helena considered the fact that he wasn't surprised that his partner was busy thinking during the time she was supposed to be relaxing.
It wasn't like Barbara could just turn off her brain; it wasn't like he didn't appreciate that she was trying so hard. It was... well, Red needed to cut herself some slack.
And, hell, she was sexy when she was thinking.
Since he'd never been much for self-censoring, Helena muted the television and turned to his partner on the couch.
"God, you're sexy when you're thinking, Barbara."
Suddenly aware that there was no longer sound coming from the big screen, Barbara registered Helena's words, hearing her own laughter bubble forth.
The line wasn't a new one.
Nevertheless, Barbara wasn't completely oblivious to what Helena was doing and, grudgingly, acknowledged that he wasn't totally off target. There was little more that she could do this evening, and she owed him more than distraction and self-castigation.
"Thank you, Sweetie."
She snagged his hand and brushed her thumb across the knuckles.
"You, of course," she had to add, "are sexy all the time."
It was all the encouragement that Helena needed. Instantly, he shifted to straddle Barbara's lap, his knees sinking into the soft cushions of the couch on each side of her thighs.
He thought that the question was almost playful. At least, Helena decided to take it that way.
"So, what say -- "
Deliberately, he lowered his voice, allowing a hint of a purr to tickle against Barbara's ear.
"--that before I go corral Matter Minor, we take this body out for another spin?"
Barbara twisted enough to brush her mouth across Helena's.
She felt his nod even as her lids drooped shut.
"Mmm, something dizzying."
Helena pretty much figured that Red's murmur was a go-ahead. The way her mouth opened under his and her body arched up toward him sure were, and he'd never been one to refuse.
And, so, he didn't.
The flickering blues and whites from the big screen faded away; the lights filling the living area seemed to dim; even the ever-present whir of the gears of the clock got lost. There was nothing but Barbara: the shape and warmth of her mouth; her breath hot on his face; her hands sliding over his shoulders. As slowly as possible, he made love to her with his mouth alone: his hands sifting over and over through Barbara's hair, he pressed soft kisses to her eyelids; he teased at her ears with his tongue; he sucked at that spot just under her jaw that made her make that sound that...
Barbara's hands plucked at the nape of his neck, then tightened to pull him close. There was no answer for it except to trail his fingers across her breasts. Helena felt her shiver; he ignored the answering ache in his own chest.
"I want to touch you, Barbara."
He punctuated the request with a nip to the slender column of her throat. When he felt a nod, he pulled back enough to work his hands between them and work the zipper of her jeans.
God, zippers were sexy.
Even though Helena knew that Barbara couldn't feel it, he took his time inching his fingers beneath the worn denim. The sensation of wiry curls against his fingers, the softness of the skin of her thighs against his knuckles, almost caused him to come undone.
No way he was gonna blow it.
Slipping his hand free, he brought his fingers to his mouth and knew the second his eyes augmented.
"And you smell good, Baby."
When he felt Barbara moving her hand between them, obviously intent on returning the favor, Helena allowed his lips to twist before he snagged her hand gently and pressed a kiss to her knuckles.
In the course of the last week, he'd learned a lot about this body, the way it responded to her touch. He'd also learned a little more about how Barbara responded to him -- inside her. Helena thought he was getting pretty decent control: it wasn't all Lightning McQueen now, but...
"Gimme a chance here, Red."
Her throaty laugh was more powerful than the hint of her touch.
"As you wish, Hel."
Returning to her neck, he nibbled with his teeth while his fingers returned to their haven.
Almost of its own accord, his free hand rose to the outer swell of Barbara's breast, the rasp of his fingertips against soft cotton loud in the silent room. Mouthing a soft patch of skin just below her ear, Helena slowly insinuated two fingers between Barbara's legs.
Barbara's low sound of approval was as good as a shout: Red had never been vocal. But, the real reward was the thin trickle of moisture that Helena found, the slow swelling of tissue that couldn't feel -- but that could react.
He fought his urge to rush, the instinct to take. Instead. Helena kept his focus on the areas that Barbara could feel. In return, he felt that insistent hand on him again, slender fingers teasing at the crease of his body and thigh.
Since he was already plenty aroused, Helena couldn't tamp down on his response. The sensation of his lover's sly grin against his temple said that she'd felt it, too.
Tempering her smile to something else, Barbara turned to her lover, opening her mouth to his questing strokes. Even as she swallowed his soft moans, she worked to catalog the riot of sensations that he was creating with his mouth on hers, his hand teasing her breast.
How had she ever come to believe that she wouldn't respond to this?
Nevertheless, as... distracting as Helena might be, she refused to lose her own focus. Since her partner was attired in loose sweatpants, it was a simple matter to slip her hand under the elastic, to delve into the sexy fitted boxers and to...
"Oh god, Barbara."
Memories of another time, almost a year before as they'd explored new intimacies, danced behind Barbara's eyelids. Her infallible memory insisted on supplying words that one of them had breathed in the afterglow of a particularly stunning moment, something about a second coming. Awed by the roads they'd traveled in the last year, she nipped at Helena's jaw and worked her hand into a fist around him. Catching a drop of pre-ejaculate from the tip on her thumb, she worked it over pulsing hardness and then began to stroke slowly.
"I love you, Hel."
The words alone almost undid him, but Helena held it together. He couldn't stop the sudden buck of his hips against her palm, the movement driving his own hand more firmly against her drenched center.
Realization struck, and he twisted his face into her shoulder, squeezing his eyes shut. He could hear Barbara's pulse rate trebling. Stilling his hand against her, he felt the moisture pooling against his fingers as Barbara stroked him, her labia pulsing against his hand in time with her movements.
He heard a soft sound and clenched his jaw when he recognized it as his own. He hoped to god that his lover thought that the noise signaled his pleasure.
But, this wasn't going to be about him.
Resolve renewed, he raised his head and captured his lover in a bruising kiss, separating to bring them forehead to forehead.
"You need to let go, Red."
Helena felt an eyebrow twitch against his, made out the word 'why' from the way her mouth moved into a soft 'o'. He answered with a slow smile.
"Cuz I'm gonna stand up and carry you into the bedroom now."
Barbara pulled away, allowing her head to rest on the tall back of the couch as she searched her partner's face. Helena met her inspection evenly, the dark violet of his eyes unmistakable. When he shifted to stand, she inclined her chin to the oddly shaped bassinet next to the arm on her side of the sofa. Instantly, Helena's expression was serious.
"Don't worry, Barbara. I'll hear her if she wakes up."
Despite the reassurance, Barbara felt a cold ribbon of uncertainty wind around her spine. She easily recognized that it had nothing to do with their sleeping child, and, perhaps, Helena saw and understood it as well. He remained still before her, arms loose at his sides, palms out.
Waiting for her to decide.
Swallowing her discomfort, the redhead nodded once and raised her arms. Before she could catch her breath, she was in her lover's strong arms, her own arms instinctively wrapping around his neck as his mouth came to her throat again.
"Hel -- "
Uncharacteristically, Barbara wasn't certain what she'd intended to say. It didn't seem to matter, her partner's soft growl answer enough, and by the time they reached the bedroom and he settled her on the bed, two big pillows propped behind her, Barbara decided that words might be unnecessary altogether.
For several long moments, Helena remained still at the side of the bed, one knee resting on the mattress. Transfixed, Barbara watched the measured rise and fall of his chest, working not shift herself on the bed under his stare.
There was something almost palpable in his intent, his need. Unsettled that she couldn't put a name to it, she reached back, gathering her hair from behind her neck with a practiced gesture and moving it to one shoulder. She saw his nostrils flare before strong hand grasped the bottom of his tee, working it over his head with a mouthwatering ripple of tight abs.
Her mouth instantly went dry when Helena settled himself beside her, the lean length of him pressed against her side as he supported himself on one elbow. Barbara tried to catch his eyes but his concentration was fixed on his free hand, moving down her chest, popping open the buttons of her oxford with confident ease.
Dear heavens but Helena possessed concentration.
She was vividly, vividly reminded of her lover's unwavering focus when he moved to her nursing bra. Helena was so close, his hand tracing her aching nipples through the cloth, his breath hot on her chest.
Barbara struggled to breathe as, with excruciating patience, Helena coaxed her nipples through the fabric, his lips gliding over the full swell of her breasts. She felt the barest flicker of tongue on one rigid peak before violet eyes rose to view, a sensuous smile curving the brunette's lips.
"You want to keep going, Red?"
The redhead heard her own laugh, somehow rueful and strangled and desperately, desperately needy all at once.
"I don't think that saying 'no' is an option at this point, Hel."
Barbara's smile flashed bright in the dim room; the brush of her hand through his bangs pulled him toward her like a Siren.
"Thank god," he managed as he stroked the clothes from her body.
His own disrobing was faster and decidedly less graceful, as was rolling on the damned latex, but when Helena lowered his body fully onto Barbara's he didn't care. Full body, skin-to-skin, Barbara's breasts cushioning his chest, the heat between her legs causing his erection to twitch against her belly: it was amazing all over again.
"You -- "
It was all he managed before he felt her tongue tracing his lips. Ensnared, he allowed her in, forgetting everything when their mouths mated and he worked to pull her into him further. His hips pistoned and instinct reared to life. Helena already had his legs spread, ready to mount Barbara's leg and grind himself to heaven, when he came back to his senses.
Gently, he disengaged himself from her lips and worked a smile.
"Minx," he murmured softly, refusing to be taken in by his lover's pout.
He had... plans. Plans that he almost forgot again when slender fingers dug into his shoulders, pushing him down to Barbara's breasts. For an eternity, he lost himself, painting pale aureoles with his tongue, then watching the flesh pucker as he blew softly across it. He nibbled gently, rocking slowly against her hip when he pulled one straining peak into his mouth to suckle.
The sensation of hands in his hair, pulling him closer still, reminded Helena that it wasn't about that.
Or, not just about that.
Those clever, clever fingers swooped across his back, then danced between their bodies to circle his navel, dipping lower. Skittering back a few inches, Helena grunted softly. Since he'd figured out that she liked a hint of pain with her loving, he raked his beard shadow against the softness of Barbara's breasts.
The way she arched under him set him on fire.
Ignoring the pulsing low in his belly, fighting against the desire to meld into her, Helena came up on his hands and knees. Hovering above all that satin skin, the brush of her curls against his erection almost caused him to forget himself. Barbara's whisper recalled him.
There was no demand in the question, only the elegant arch of a finely sculpted brow giving away Barbara's uncertainty. For a heartbeat, butterflies thundered in his chest, and Helena caught his lower lip in his teeth.
The stroke of her hand against him, the flare of arousal in emerald eyes, sealed his resolve, and he stretched a little to the side to snag a few pillows from his side of the bed. He didn't miss the way Barbara's eyes followed the line of movement in the muscles in his chest or the frank appreciation in her eyes, so he gave it an extra flex -- a little more show -- on the way back.
"I want to turn you over, Babs."
He kept his voice low, factual, and punctuated the words with a nip to her ear, gratified by the shiver that ran through her upper body.
"Mmm? Is that so?"
For her part, Barbara kept it cool. It wasn't terribly difficult, given that her ardor had just ratcheted down a few notches with two almost-audible accompanying clicks.
Helena's voice was a warm burr, his tongue tracing her ear. It was all distracting enough that Barbara first thought that she'd mis-heard his words.
"Yeah. Then, I want to get you up on your hands and knees."
Barbara's stomach clenched with sour terror. Only years of training kept her from scrabbling upward in the bed.
Dear god, she couldn't -- She didn't have the muscle control.
Fingers swept across the underside of her breast, the movement patient and steady. Barbara managed to swallow, got her breathing under control, and felt Helena's nod.
"I wanna feel you pushing back on me -- "
When Helena's tongue danced against her ear, working a shallow rhythm that had little to do with matters above the waist, Barbara found herself visualizing the picture that her lover painted.
"-- feel you taking what you want."
Swallowing dryly, she looked down and saw Helena's erection twitching against her hip. Cautiously, she rested her hands on his lower back, feeling the play of muscles wound taught.
Something hot pulsed through her when she realized what she was feeling: Helena was struggling not to thrust against her.
Yet... Yet, how could he ask this? He knew that she couldn't...
Barbara squeezed her eyes shut, aware that Helena hadn't moved save for the slow sweep of strong fingers across her br--
Understanding dawned, and she corrected her perception: Helena's hand was over her heart.
The thunderous pounding under his hand was indication enough, so Helena kept it slow, letting Barbara get used to the idea. He could feel -- hell, smell -- the fear rolling off of her and wanted to give her time.
Cripes, it wasn't like he hadn't thought about it and had to screw up his own courage, but after everything in the last week -- after feeling the way Barbara almost responded to him and the way he couldn't quite help her -- he figured it was his best shot.
When her breathing slowed, when he saw her eyes open, he moved away from the tempting flesh of her ear.
God, she had sexy ears.
The flesh of her throat was too close to ignore, and so he raked the tendon lightly with his teeth.
No biting. Yet.
Her hands moved to his back, trying to coax him down, onto her. He didn't give in, but he did raise his head and rested his forehead lightly against hers, waiting for wide green eyes to meet his.
"I've been thinking about this, Red."
Helena allowed himself one slow rolling thrust of his hips. He knew that Babs hadn't felt it where his lower body touched hers, but her sharp hiss let him know the message had been received.
Man, had he been thinking about it.
There was no way that Barbara could ignore the frank desire in violet eyes, and she swallowed roughly, hunting for a way to explain.
"It's not something I can do, Hel."
Helena hated the thinly veiled bitterness that colored the words. He clenched his jaw against everything Barbara was denying.
Fuck, he'd seen enough -- Hell, he'd heard a few not-revellations -- over the last year and some-months to guess that his lover had a few desires of her own.
"You can with me, Barbara."
Worrying at her lower lip with her teeth, the redhead decided that she would simply will herself not to fall into the trap.
This... what Helena was suggesting... or offering... or asking for... was something she'd forced herself to stop wanting. During those long and mostly lonely years after the shooting, she hadn't ever allowed herself to imagine recreating a connection that she'd adored so back in the day.
"-- I'll hold your hips. You hold your upper body and push, and my hands can be the... pivot."
In the face of geometry and logic, embarrassment fled, and Barbara got it.
Dear heavens, he had been working the angles.
"Fulcrum," she murmured, threading her fingers through thick hair.
Helena felt something turn a little in the redhead. It wasn't a one-eighty, but he was more than willing to meet her part way.
Brushing his mouth against hers, he tried again.
"Try it for me?"
Helena's eyes were blue, Barbara saw. Unable to form the words, she finally nodded. Helena's answering smile was a promise that she took deep within her as he helped her turn onto her left side.
By the time Barbara was partially over, she was already reaching for the extra pillows, and Helena quirked his lips.
Nobody could ever say that once Barbara committed herself she didn't jump in all the way.
Still, he didn't want to rush, so he reached over her and wrapped his fingers around her wrist, gently tugging her arm back. Spooning tight to her back, he pressed a kiss to the thick hair that covered her neck and worked his hand to her breast.
"That's my girl," he whispered, cupping her breast, the nipple pebbling against his palm and setting his hips to rocking.
For a few seconds, Helena indulged himself, allowing himself -- just for an instant -- to pretend that he still had breasts and flesh that responded to that sort of touch. He could almost feel the pressure, the heat and ache and the letting go.
Roughly, he pulled himself up on one elbow and surveyed the long body stretched out against him.
"God, you're so fuckin' beautiful."
He licked her shoulder, jerking at her shiver of pleasure. After a moment of internal debate, he screwed up his courage and spoke the rest.
"So beautifully fuckable, too."
The words startled her, carrying with them a coarseness that she'd never much cared for; however, Barbara tamped down on her gut response and weighed her lover's meaning. She'd heard the hesitance when he'd spoken; she could feel the steel tension in his muscles against her; and she knew that he was waiting for her judgment.
He was waiting in fear of her reaction to wanting her.
Barbara twisted her upper body, just enough to find Helena's eyes.
"Show me, Hel."
There wasn't enough air in the room, but he made himself speak.
"I will, Baby."
And, he did.
Helena was so gentle, his movements so certain and tender, as he moved her into position. Almost, Barbara grasped, reverent. It was, she acknowledged, the only thing that helped her through being... handled as he positioned her, helped her settle herself over a mound of pillows.
Dear heavens, had she really ever done this? Had she ever allowed herself to be so exposed?
Naked, propped ass-upward over stack of pillows, the redhead was assaulted by a kaleidoscope of images, courtesy of her eidetic memory, confirming that, yes, she had indeed.
The sensation of Helena pressing his length against her, blanketing her from head to toe from behind, ended the slideshow, replacing it with a different memory. Barbara gasped against the sheets at the remembered sensation of the first time Helena had done this, the electric awareness of a woman's breasts against her skin. Now... it was hot skin and hard muscle and...
And, it was still Helena.
Swallowing audibly, Barbara nodded, then pushed her hair from the side of her face. Carefully, Helena helped her come to her knees, pausing only to bend in and press an open-mouthed kiss to her waist.
"God, just thinking about you... riding me like this..."
The words were enough to bolster Barbara's flagging courage. She felt her legs being arranged a little, the strength and solidness of her lover's arm around her waist reassuring.
In the eight-plus years since the shooting, she had never done this. She'd never allowed it. It left her too dependent, too... open. Yet, when she heard the quiet whimper from Helena behind her, Barbara suddenly found that her fear had vanished.
Helena had always shown her what true vulnerability and courage were.
Looking back, Barbara found that Helena had mated the front of his thighs to the back of hers. Before she could look up and refocus on the headboard, she lost the sensation of the arm that had been holding her. Her heart thumped into her throat until a stubbled jaw brushed her shoulder.
"Easy, Babe. I've got you."
She glanced down and to the side and saw that her partner had a firm hold around her hips, just above where her thighs creased into her torso. She couldn't feel the hold, but it was exactly where it needed to be for the leverage that Helena had described.
Behind her, Helena surveyed the arrangement. It was hard to focus on the mechanics of the operation, what with all of that soft skin in front of him and Barbara's muscles tensed and ready, but he thought it should work.
It would work.
His left arm secure under her pelvis, he palmed her hip. The sweet flesh was warm and ripe under him, and he wished that -- just once -- Barbara could feel it.
Shaking that off, he moved in, reaching between them to guide himself. Before the head touched her swollen lips, he felt the moisture, and arousal surged through him like electricity.
How could she be so fuckin' ready? Her thighs were wet.
Green eyes peered back through a fall of long hair, and he sucked air through his gritted teeth.
"Hang on a sec, Red."
Still supporting Barbara's lower body with one arm, he leaned down, covering her back with his chest. When the thump of his heart came into rhythm with hers, he rose to his knees again and sought wet heat, sliding home.
Maybe it was the angle, but she felt... Oh, yeah, Barbara was tighter than any of the other times.
"You're so beautiful."
Slowly, he pulled back, stopping when a tight band of muscle ringed the head of his cock. Sucking in a long breath, he slid in again, the ample lubrication erasing any resistance as he was fully enveloped. Another second to regroup, and then he feathered his free hand across Barbara's shoulders, dragging his finger tips down her back. The redhead's shudder transmitted itself through his fingers, through their joined bodies, and Helena heard a whisper that was almost masked by the thickness of passion... and tears.
"You make me beautiful, Hel."
His own voice was rough when he managed to speak, as he panted softly against the urge to move.
"Is this okay?"
Barbara cautiously pushed against the mattress. As promised, her body moved backward, her hips the promised pivot point. Although there was no sensation for her, the trembling that she could feel in the strong hand that stroked her back let her know that Helena was enjoying this.
Nevertheless, there was no need to assume that there weren't other options.
"I need a little more leverage," she admitted, working her arms directly under her torso.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Tentatively, Barbara pushed herself backward again, and lights fired behind her eyelids.
Dear heavens --
"T-- there, Hel."
Had that been her voice?
The question was distant, clearly unimportant. Her lover's response was more than enough.
"I'm not moving, Baby. It's all up to you."
For a moment, she froze, then tried again. And, then, Barbara Gordon was lost, rocking against her lover, feeling -- actually feeling -- Helena inside her, touching her over and over.
Nobody but Helena.
Only Helena, designed just for her.
Behind her, Helena moved his free hand to her hip, working to stabilize Barbara. He didn't want her to have to worry or think or do anything except... feel. The muscles in his belly clenched, and he bit at the inside of his cheek.
He was going to keep his promise. He wasn't going to move.
But, god, it was gonna be a killer, watching the muscles in Babs' forearms flex, seeing the drops of sweat beading on her back, hearing the slap of flesh against him.
He just was not going to think about what he was feeling as Barbara finally took control of her own pleasure; but, the sound that Barbara made shattered his resolve: Helena felt his nerves go light and noise; his balls drew tight against him; the muscles in the back of his thighs cramped against the need to thrust.
That noise, Barbara's cry: it was low and hoarse and needy and just totally fucking into it.
Helena knew that he'd never heard that kind of sound from his normally controlled partner. He kind of thought he'd never heard it from any partner before it.
God, Barbara loved this. She ab-so-fucking-lutely loved this.
Ducking his head, Helena sank his teeth into his bicep, buying himself some time. The sharp tang of blood in his mouth didn't help much, but the flare of pain was just enough for him to keep it together.
Barbara was glorious.
Strands of hair were sticking to her neck and face. She was arching against him, her movements measured and forceful. Smooth muscles knotted under her skin and her face --
Helena had to look away.
The rapturous hunger was too much.
The gasping invocation was all that Barbara could manage. The orgasm was building hot and heavy inside her, waiting to burst like a summer storm. Like the moments before a storm, she could feel the electricity sparking on her skin, and she knew that she would be torn apart.
She was exhilarated.
"I'm here, Barbara. It's okay."
With five words, her mind cleared, and she put herself in Helena's hands and let go.
And when Barbara's arms gave out and she started to fall, Helena caught her, cradling her to the mattress and blanketing her shivering form with his body.
Helena's arms trembled beneath him, and he lowered himself, grinding his chest against his partner's back. He came up empty.
There just wasn't any of that pressure and pain and burning heat that he'd had before, when his body was built... for that. Something cold and sharp lanced him, and he held Barbara closer, understanding that now things were different.
He was built... for this. For Barbara.
Barbara loved this.
His erection softening, Helena grunted softly and pushed his hips against his partner before he pulled out. He didn't know if Barbara was paying much attention, but she didn't need to think about it.
Reaching down, he stripped the empty condom off and let it fall to the floor before settling behind her. The brunette nosed Barbara's armpit, then sampled a drop of sweat from her shoulder.
God, how could something so amazing hurt so much.
Feeling blinded, dumbstruck, pole-axed -- not to mention utterly, utterly limp -- Barbara dragged herself to some semblance of awareness when something tickled her back. She arched into the sweet contact and laced her fingers with Helena's, utterly confident that she was taken care of wrapped in Helena's arms.
"Dear god, Helena."
Barbara honestly didn't know the last time she'd given control like that.
Red lashes drifted shut, and Barbara relaxed in the knowledge that, even as he'd asked so much from her, Helena had still left it all in her hands.
Helena wouldn't let himself pull away: he snugged Barbara closer, allowing his hand to be coaxed up to cover one of her breasts.
There weren't any words for this.
Still awed, he ignored the ache between his legs and, deep inside, the bigger chasm of his own feelings. When he got up, when he got into the shower maybe, he'd push 'em all into a lock box somewhere inside his rib cage and forget all about them. For now, there was Barbara and the hint of a tremor he could feel that probably didn't have anything to do with post-orgasmic glow.
Barbara's rough swallow confirmed it: she was close to tears.
Helena kept his peace, brushing tender kisses to his lover's back, giving her time to come to terms. Eventually, a deep breath hinted that she was finding her center, and Helena spoke quietly.
"You ready for some water?"
Red's voice was rough, maybe a little lost still; and so Helena distracted himself by scootching down the bed to follow the trail of sweat down her back with his tongue. He stopped only when he reached her waist, where he knew that sensation bled away to emptiness.
"What are you doing?"
With the emphasis on the second word suggesting amusement more than anything, Helena smiled against the rich flesh of his partner's hip.
"Told you I wanted to lick your back."
Since Barbara did recall her lover mentioning that, she contented herself with a sigh and rolled her upper body onto her back. Magically -- or, more accurately, through the magic of Helena -- her legs followed. When she looked down, she found bright blue eyes regarding her evenly from the level of her hip.
Needing the connection, the redhead reached for him. Instantly, Helena was atop her. The crush of her breasts under the smooth muscles of his chest was powerfully reassuring, and she basked in the moment.
When she made out Helena's low rumble, Barbara was reminded that she wasn't a basking sort of individual.
"Thank you -- "
She hunted for the blue eyes that were curtained by the fall of unruly dark bangs as Helena whispered the rest.
"-- for sharing that with me, Barbara."
For an instant, she fought to breathe, then she reached for a smile.
"Something different every now and then, Sweetheart?"
Helena's first response was a minute nod, however when Barbara saw the speculative gleam in his eyes, she held her breath.
"Maybe I can rig up a couple of grab-bars from the ceiling."
The redhead pursed her lips, then gave in to curiosity.
"To what end, Hel?"
The brunette's expression, she thought, was smack in the middle of mischief and seduction.
"So you can hang on, you know, use your arms to ride me on top?"
Since she suspected that such an endeavor would be quite a ride indeed, Barbara tried valiantly to picture it. Ultimately, her pragmatic side got the best of her.
"Sorry, Hel," she punctuated the demurral with a kiss to his jaw, "but I don't think that I have the arm strength to -- "
Green eyes tracked a bit to the left as Barbara searched for the words she wanted.
"-- chin-up our way to sexual euphoria."
Good heavens, just thinking about it gave her a cramp; however, judging from the expression on Helena's face, thinking about it was leading her randy partner in a different direction. His words, delivered with a decided smirk, earned him a swat.
"Yeah, but think how much fun it would be to watch you working your pecs."
Barbara Gordon was not amused.
True, it had been her idea to leaflet the city in search of Mr. Cape, or, as Helena had dubbed him, Matter Minor.
It had been Dinah's idea to place an advertisement in the New Gotham Register's lost and found section: "Found: Mentachem wand. Call to claim."
It had been Helena's idea to sneak into the city jail and have a chat, presumably involving fists, with their burglar's hired help. When Barbara had nixed that idea, he'd agreed to canvass the streets and to talk with the junkies and the homeless people and the scavengers that might be able to relay a message to Mandrill.
Although it had been the classified ad that had done the trick, the redhead was beginning to wish that she'd been more open to employing Helena's techniques.
If not for the original intel, then at least for this meeting.
"I thought you were gonna bring the wand."
Since Barbara was of the opinion that they'd covered this point very clearly during the initial telephone conversation, not to mention several times since Mr. Cape had arrived -- sans cape -- for their meeting, she was sorely tempted to adopt some of Helena's suggested techniques for dealing with the man.
Of course, given the fact that her meeting with Mike was in a very public, neutral location -- The Burger Bucket on the outskirts of the city -- Barbara doubted that a display of force would be advisable. Her partner, tucked in a booth in the far corner of the restaurant, didn't seem to share her reservations.
<"Lemme just pulp him a little, Red.">
"Noooo," she drew the word out, both for the man across the table and for the person listening through the comm set. "We agreed that we wouldn't arrest you. The wand comes later."
She waited while Mandrill swiped a French fry through a healthy mountain of ketchup and popped it into his mouth. Barbara had to admit that, apart from his habit of chewing with his mouth open, the man didn't appear nearly as asinine as he had in the pictures with the cape.
Granted, without his brother's wand, he probably didn't have much use for the cape.
"I believe you were saying that when the Metropolis Police had processed you, you saw the wand and just walked out with it?" she prompted when he swallowed.
Ferret-like eyes glittered from across the table.
"Yeah. I knew it was Mark's, but I didn't know that I could work it or nothing."
Smiling pleasantly, the redhead snagged a packet of sugar from the square ceramic holder that was nestled between a salt shaker and the bottle of ketchup.
"How does it work, Mr. Mandrill?"
She crinkled the paper packet in her hands, attempting not to look like she was hanging on every ungrammatical word the man uttered. His shrug went a long way in tempering her enthusiasm for the conversation.
"I dunno. I just -- "
Greasy brown bangs dipped low on the man's forehead as he squinted in fierce concentration.
"-- just sort of think about what I want to happen."
Before she could respond, Helena's words grumbled through the comms.
<"So much for cutting off his hand.">
Since she had assumed that there was more involved than mere flesh-to-wand contact, the redhead merely hummed sympathetically into the microphone around her neck. Returning her attention to her companion, she neatly tore open the paper packet and dumped the contents into her tumbler of iced tea, speaking sweetly.
"I can imagine that that would be quite taxing."
She ignored the snicker that filtered through the tiny earpiece. Mandrill seemed to take her at face value, his chest puffing out a tiny bit.
"Yeah. I can show you some deep thinkin', alright."
This time, it was a soft growl that came through the comms, and Barbara simply shook her head as she finished stirring her tea and removed the tall spoon to a napkin.
"Perhaps later, Mr. Mandrill. I still don't quite understand -- "
Carefully, she caught a drop of liquid that was meandering down the side of her glass with her index finger, then sucked the drop into her mouth. Glittering green eyes followed every move.
"-- why you bother to break into the stores instead of simply using the wand to create your spoils."
Since his confusion was readily apparent, she tried again.
"Why don't you just zap some diamonds or gold, Mike?"
The clouds of confusion cleared, and she heard him mutter something that sounded like "donut".
"I said," Mandrill punctuated his words by jabbing a fry in her direction, "that I dunno. It's like I can only make glass and brick."
<"Chocolate">, a helpful voice reminded her.
The redhead sipped from her glass then fixed the little man with a long look and got to the heart of the matter.
"If that's the case, how did you manage to transform my associate into a man?"
Hiding a wince when she realized that she'd posed her question just as Mandrill had pushed the final bite of burger into his mouth, Barbara focused determinedly on his eyes.
"Damnedest thing," she made out around a mouthful of half-chewed beef, bun, and condiments. "I was fixin' to turn her legs to glass."
Barbara's sudden nausea had nothing to do with the mess of food on display in her tablemate's mouth.
"Glass?" was the best she could manage, even as she heard Helena's soft exhalation.
Oblivious to her shock, Mandrill washed down his mouthful with a long swig of soda.
"Then see how much she wanted to go kickin' us around."
Eyeing her tea, Barbara decided that it held no appeal.
"Why didn't you go ahead with glass, Mr. Mandrill?"
The man that Barbara was rapidly coming to consider a minor matter slurped the dregs of his soda noisly through his straw.
"Didn't work. She just... changed to a guy."
Contemplating just how far back this information put any plans for coaxing -- or coercing -- Mandrill into returning Helena to a female form, Barbara started when the man in question thumped his now-empty glass on the table.
"Okay, I told you what you wanted. When do I get the wand?"
She looked him straight in the eyes.
"I'm not sure, Mr. Mandrill. As you can imagine, my associate would like to return to her god-given body, and since it sounds like you might not be able to assist us, we'll need to hold on to the wand."
For an instant, when his face twisted in anger, Barbara readied herself for an attack. Instead, the wannabe criminal plastered on a smile that would have put most politicians to shame.
"No sweat, lady. You give me the wand, and I'll use it on her."
"Is that so?"
Barbara raised both eyebrows and leaned across the table.
"And, how would we know that you wouldn't turn her into a toad or a large window?"
She decided simply to omit questions about whether, given his admission about the first transmutation, he could transform Helena.
Her question earned her an oily smile, and Barbara straightened, unsurprised. She hadn't expected to be able to trust the man who had, generously put, committed malicious mischief with her partner's body. However, she did rather wish that Helena hadn't been listening to the entire thing.
She could only hope that the crunch and sound of something breaking that filtered through her earpiece was Helena chewing ice.
"Well," she extended her hand, "we'll certainly keep your offer in mind."
She waited as he worked through her words, finally deducing that he was being dismissed. Grudgingly, he took her hand, then jerked back.
"What the -- ?!"
Batting her eyes, Barbara extended her hand, palm up and thumbed the ring on her third finger. The stone, a stylized onyx bat, was turned inward.
"I'm so sorry. This must have a rough spot."
She pressed a napkin to his palm, covering the tiny wound that she'd used to introduce a GPS nanochip.
"You have our number, and we'll place another ad when we decide that you can help us."
For a second, his mouth worked."That's it?!"
A shadow fell across the styrofoam plate that contained the dregs of his meal. Barbara didn't need to look up to know who it belonged to.
"That's it, asswipe. Now scram."
Helena really thought -- kind of hoped, actually -- that the scumbag was going to piss all over himself in his hurry to take his advice. Since he didn't, the brunette slid into the recently vacated side of the booth and snagged his partner's tea.
"Well," he flashed a big toothy smile that didn't come close to being real, "so much for him wanting to apologize and make things right."
He drained the glass and set to work making condensation rings with it on the formica tabletop.
"Hel -- "
A slender hand covered his, and he looked up from the Olympic rings he'd created.
"I know," he quirked one corner of his mouth. "There wasn't any real chance."
Before Babs could say something that was going to make him think too much about it, Helena was up and heading to the back of the restaurant to retrieve his partner's chair.
Hell, he hadn't figured that it would be that easy. And, even if the twerp had been willing, it didn't sound like he knew what he was doing, and Helena really, really, wasn't into being turned into something worse.
Barbara held her tongue on the way to the parking lot, recognizing that they both needed time to assimilate. Settled in the van, she shifted into reverse, and while Helena fiddled with the radio, she waited for a pickup truck with a missing headlight and more scrapes than she could count to clear the parking area. When the lingering blue smoke from the truck disappeared, she craned her neck to check behind her again wondering if a smaller vehicle, something easier to navigate in crowded lots, would accommodate her chair.
Perhaps a VW Bug.
"Uhm, so what now?"
She flipped the turn signal lever at the parking lot exit and looked over at her companion. Helena was fidgeting in his seat, staring fixedly out the passenger side window.
"For starters, Hel, you can fasten your seat belt."
With the brunette reaching for the strap, Barbara pulled out into traffic.
"Plan B, Helena."
She heard the metal tab of the belt click into place.
"What's that, Red? I just stay this way?"
Helena hated the edge in his voice, but he couldn't seem to stop.
"Oh, wait, maybe we can contact some other matter-shifting folks."
He turned sideways in his seat to face Barbara and pretended to think.
"Hey, what about Darkseid? I hear he's a bundle of joy."
He didn't think he needed his enhanced hearing to pick up Barbara's long sigh as she accelerated around a bicycle messenger.
"Something like that, Hel."
The bicyclist safely behind her, Barbara risked a glance to the side. The frank disbelief in her lover's expressive eyes almost caused her to swerve into an oncoming bread truck, so she hastily returned her eyes to the road.
The redhead debated with herself, hating what necessity was leaving as an option.
"Instead of transformation, Hel, I'm thinking mind control."
She didn't add the rest: they already had contact with the person who might have the necessary power to influence Mandrill.
Helena thought that Barbara's nod was a long time coming, and he felt his stomach clench when the acknowledgment came.
Barbara braked for a red light, and he was fixed by serious green eyes.
"I'd like to do some investigation into hypnosis, Hel, but, yes, that may be our best option."
Heaven knew, Barbara wasn't eager to ask this of her ward: Dinah had worked so hard over the years to begin to control the invasiveness of her telepathic skills; however, at this point, they simply couldn't afford to dismiss any of their dwindling options out of hand.
Barbara accelerated through the intersection, and silence reigned for almost three blocks.
"I can just stay a guy."
The soft statement was almost lost in the background noise of rush hour traffic and Three Doors Down on the radio, and Barbara looked to the side for confirmation. Helena's face was very serious, as was the slow dip of his head.
"Why would you say that, Hel?"
"Well, I am kind of getting used to it. There's never a line for the men's room."
Barbara managed a quick smile even as her stomach flip-flopped and a vivid, vivid image of the headboard of their bed flashed before her. The picture had been imprinted just a few nights before, along with a host of other sensations and emotions and reactions that she simply didn't care to look at too closely.
Dear god, how could Helena...? Could Helena really...?
You love me but you don't know who I am
I'm torn between this life I lead and where I stand
And you love me but you don't know who I am
Completely unimpressed by the irony of WBAT-FM's playlist and timing, Barbara was hard-pressed to resist her instinct to reach out and turn off the radio.
Perhaps, to rip the damned thing from the dashboard.
"Calls of nature notwithstanding, Hel," she finally managed, surprised by the mildness of her tone, "do you really think that you can -- "
She was cut off.
"We could get married, you know."
The shyness in her partner's tone initially distracted her from his words. When her brain caught up to her ears, Barbara drove through a stop sign and zipped straight past the entrance to the Tower's parking garage.
Utterly dumbfounded, Barbara jerked the brake lever, almost getting them hit from behind. Amid a riot of honking, she turned to look at her partner, discovering that a deep blush was covering his cheeks.
"We don't have to..."
Since continued attempts to drive were clearly not in anyone's best interest at the moment, the redhead pulled to the curb, shifted into park, and turned on the flashers. Regrettably, the few seconds that it took her to avoid an accident didn't seem to do much for Helena's confidence.
"-- only if you wanted, I mean."
Helena was feeling dumber and dumber by the second. The way Barbara was jerking around in traffic was a pretty good clue that she hadn't seen his... well, proposal was about right... his proposal coming. Hell, now that he thought of it, he wasn't even sure that she was the marrying type.
"You probably don't wan--"
The sensation of a lightly calloused finger coming to rest on his lips shut up his lame attempt at backpedaling.
"I want, Helena."
Behind her index finger, his mouth spread in a wide grin. Capturing her hand in his, he inspected their twined fingers then peered through his bangs at the redhead.
The squeeze Babs gave his hand was plenty reassuring. Her answer topped it.
"No shit, Hel."
Just about the time he realized that a ring or something might come in handy, Barbara extricated her hand.
"However, before I pick out my trousseau --"
Grudgingly, he allowed her to coax his chin up, and he met her eyes.
"-- let's do a little more research into getting your old body back."
Since Helena had been getting ready for outright rejection, he figured he could live with a delay while Barbara did the big brain thing and figured out what he already knew: he was stuck, and it was time to deal. So, by the time Barbara got them back to the Tower and they headed up the elevator, he was ready when he headed over to relieve Alfred of Katharine.
"Hey, Kitty. Daddy's home."
Swallowing against the roughness in his throat, he held his daughter to his chest and pressed a kiss to her head.
It was going to be alright.
Barbara slipped her index finger into the book that was propped on her lap and reached for the ballpoint pen resting on the pad beside her leg. A small movement beside her, Helena moving in the big beg, shifted the covers and sent the writing implement rolling. She snagged the pen and raised it to tap it against her lower lip as she considered what she was learning about mind control.
Clearly, some practice -- ideally with the Mike Mandrill -- would be wise, and the redhead jotted a note on the legal pad to pick up a rat from the biology department at school.
After a moment's thought, she added another reminder: she'd need to refresh herself on how to determine the sex of a rat.
There were also drugs to consider to make Mandrill as susceptible as possible, not to mention finding a suitable location to conduct their little experiment. They needed Mandrill at their disposal, however Barbara hoped that they could avoid a complete appearance of having taken him prisoner. Not to mention the fact that bringing him back to the tower -- or even to Wayne Manor -- might be too blatant a clue, even for him.
After chewing on the end of the pen again, she block-printed a suggestion for herself: Roosevelt Hotel.
Logistics aside, there was the bigger issue of tolerance: everything that she'd read suggested that the more times they attempted to control Mr. Cape, the more likely he'd be able to resist them. It wasn't a certainty, however given the number of variables and unknowns she simply had to plan for the worst case.
In a nutshell, they probably didn't dare risk more than one practice attempt.
Acutely aware that Helena had moved again, presumably in her inch-by-inch progress from his side of the bed toward hers, Barbara glanced over. She found deep blue eyes -- violet, if she were honest with herself -- peering at her from just above the covers folded under Helena's chin. A bit more surprising was the fact that the brunette had managed, over the course of the last five chapters that she'd read, to bring himself within a hairsbreadth of her body.
Clearly, her younger partner had something in mind.
Helena knew what Barbara was working on, but she didn't sound pissed that he'd silently interrupted her. Besides, he thought he'd been pretty patient, getting Babs settled in bed with her research and a cup of herbal tea, snuggling with the Peapod until her little whuffling baby sighs had persuaded him to tuck her into her bassinet, thumbing through a couple of magazines. It was only after he'd heard the big clock hit midnight that he'd tucked under the covers and started working his way over.
The clock had hit one a few minutes before.
Still, unable to pick out inflection one way or the other, Helena weighed the question, an activity that, honestly, wasn't completely easy given how close Barbara was and the way her reading glasses were sliding down her nose and the way her skin smelled so sweet and ...
"Uh, well, I thought that maybe since we're practically engaged and all, we could, uhm, celebrate or something."
He waggled his eyebrows in what he hoped would be an enticing fashion -- or, at least in a way that would make her laugh and close the freakin' book.
One crimson brow moved eloquently upward as Barbara considered her lover's proposition. Briefly, she flirted with the idea of responding with something humorous, a demurral about waiting until the wedding night, to deflect things.
Ultimately, she simply couldn't. It seemed too forced, too awkward.
Clearly, given Helena's professed willingness to settle into his new body, she could stop mollycoddling.
Or, whatever the hell she'd been thinking.
"I'd rather not, Helena."
She'd worked to temper her tone; however, Helena's puzzlement could not be missed.
"You'd... 'rather not'?"
Sighing softly at the tone blanketing the words Helena had quoted back to her, Barbara placed the ballpoint on her bedside table, then she tugged the covers a bit higher around her waist.
"Yes, Helena. I'd prefer not to."
The brunette felt his eyebrows knit together, a far cry from the cute-and-sexy look he'd been trying for a few conversational exchanges back.
Barbara would "rather not". What the fuck did that mean? It wasn't one of her absent-minded "in a few minutes" answers; it wasn't an "I'm sorry but" dodge; it wasn't even a "I've got a headache" ploy.
"Okaaaaay..." he tried, figuring that she'd have to say something.
When she did, he pretty much wished he'd kept his mouth shut.
"I found the condom, Hel."
Barbara determined that she simply was not going to revisit the feelings that had assaulted her when, on a hunt for one of her fuzzy bed socks that had gone missing, she'd come across the spent -- and clearly empty -- condom on the floor on Helena's side of the bed. The sharp edges of those emotions would lend nothing to this conversation.
"You found -- "
Her partner sounded a little breathless. Steadying herself, Barbara marked her place in the text and then set the book and the pad aside.
"Yes, the morning after -- "
Heat flamed in her cheeks, and she searched for the right way to finish. The night that Helena had asked and she had... She couldn't say it, and so Barbara switched gears.
"-- after the other night."
He'd fuckin' known that forgetting to get the damned thing up that night would come back on him. Between getting Red's chair and settling Kat in and hitting the shower, he'd just freaking forgotten to pick it up. When he'd returned to the Tower after his shift the next day, he'd hustled in there, and it had been gone.
Embarrassment be damned, he'd hoped that Alfred had sucked it up in the vacuum.
Since you couldn't put the cat back in the bag, he pushed himself up to a sitting position and ran a hand through his hair. Then he chewed on his lip when some sort of flip answer wanted to come out.
Something in the tight set of Barbara's shoulders -- hell, the way she was looking at the foot of the bed instead of at him -- told him to try something else.
"I'm sorry, Barbara. I forgot to clean it up."
Man, sex hadn't seemed that complicated when he was a woman.
Barbara waited for a long thirty seconds to see if her partner had anything more to offer. When it became obvious that he'd picked up some of her skills in silent waiting, she worked her body around a few degrees so that she could see him without developing an even bigger crick in her neck.
"Your housekeeping skills aren't the issue."
The cold ribbon of steel in her chest softened a tiny bit when Helena, seemingly without realizing what he was doing, moved himself down the bed to make it easier for her to see him. The respite was short-lived.
"So, what's the issue, Red?"
Helena had a pretty good idea of some of his issues about that night. Well, it wasn't even about that night; it had just happened that everything had kind of come together and fallen apart for him that night.
"The issue, Hel?"
The guarded dip of a dark head suggested to Barbara that she'd been doing something very, very wrong. With great care, she removed her glasses and folded them. Equally carefully, she placed them on top of her clock radio, centering them exactly in the middle of the unit.
"The issue, Helena, is that I don't appreciate..."
Here, she stumbled again, working to articulate what had felt like such a... slap when she'd found the wretched condom, the evidence of her partner's missing arousal. The sight of blue eyes, veiled by dark bangs and appearing almost frightened, didn't help.
What had occurred two nights ago?
She'd been loved. She couldn't doubt that.
She'd been made love to. Obviously, the scratchiness in her throat after she'd come back into her body could be evidence enough of that.
She'd been wooed, by Helena's words of his own arousal and desire, into...
"... the one-sidedness of what occurred."
Helena wasn't stupid. He wasn't the one who couldn't find his emotions when they reached up and bit him. Even with testosterone and his own shit clouding things, he knew -- he frikkin' knew -- how huge it was that Barbara had offered him... that the other night. Unable to meet his lover's eyes, he picked at some fuzz on the blanket. He couldn't explain it all, but he had to let her know that he'd been there with her.
"I just.. watching you like that... I couldn't --"
The word rang out, sharp against the stillness of the room. Barbara almost blushed at her outburst, then she recalled herself and let the heat of a different emotion touch her throat and cheeks. From her side of the bed, Katharine fidgeted in her sleep, and they both held their breath until she quieted.
Then, Helena did something really dumb: he got angry although he maintained enough control to keep his voice quiet.
"So what? Didn't you enjoy it?"
Loss and emptiness and not-having clawed at his throat, and, horrified, he heard himself hiss the rest.
"Does it only work when you're the one calling the sho--"
Before he could say anything more, Barbara cut him off.
"That works, Helena," she spoke quietly, every word clipped and cool, "because I'm honestly enjoying the role that I take."
Not oblivious to the liquid brightness in his eyes, she forced herself to soften her tone and reached out to rest her hand on his.
"How did you feel when you were..."
Dear god, she couldn't think it, much less speak it.
"How did it make you feel the other night?"
The expression in her partner's eyes spoke more eloquently than his words.
"What you gave me, Barbara -- "
Cautiously, Helena wrapped his finger's around his lover's hand, trying to find strength.
"-- making you feel so good was... amazing."
This time, the thaw felt a little more permanent. Still, Barbara shook her head.
He wanted to be angry again, but instead Helena felt more like he wanted to cry.
"So, what, there's some kind of orgasm requirement or something, Barbara? You only love me when you can make me come?"
Torn between frustration and amusement, Barbara shook her head and counted to two hundred by primes.
She freed her hand and used it to tip his chin up, smiling at the obstinate defensiveness so clearly etched in his features.
"I love that you love what we are doing, what we're sharing. Together."
Barbara opted not to add the obvious: that Helena climaxed. Always.
"But, it's -- You're into it so much, Barbara."
Green eyes narrowed, then crimson brows knit. It was so far beyond her usual "thinking face" that Barbara could only hope that she didn't freeze with the expression.
The word was decisive to the extreme. Helena's dark brows scoffed for him.
"Rather, Hel, it's not that we engaged in... that."
Pushing aside discomfort that ran through a veritable geographic survey of layers, Barbara captured her partner's hand again and soldiered on.
"It isn't how you touch me, Hel, or what we do, or that you can hold me in different ways now, Hel." She took a slow breath and spoke the most important part. "It's that I'm with you, Sweetie."
Heaven knew, there was simply no other way that she would have considered her lover's enticements, a few nights before or any other time.
Seeing disbelief warring with confusion in bright blue eyes, Barbara blew a puff of air through her nose.
"Helena -- "
She caught herself and gentled her tone.
"I feel good when you do."
Okay, Helena could understand that, but he still knew what he'd seen. What Barbara had felt.
"Yeah, but now -- " he waved his free hand vaguely, "it's easier for you to enjoy it."
Even as Barbara shook her head in instinctive denial, she felt her mouth slowly gaping open as realization dawned. Unbidden, the fingers of her free hand rose to the bridge of her nose, squeezing against the building pressure.
She was responsible for this.
Other than their first few fumbling interactions the week before, she'd... she'd been hesitant to push. She'd known that Helena was still dealing with the fallout from an unthinkable violation, finding his way. Essentially, after putting some of the options on the table -- Barbara felt her cheeks flame when she remembered one specific option on the Delphi table -- she'd encouraged him to have his head.
Hollowness worked to consume her, and Barbara ruthlessly shunted it aside for later.
"Helena, you had me treating you --"
That wasn't honest enough for how she'd felt when she'd realized what had transpired, and Barbara knew that Helena deserved at least that much of the truth.
"You had me using you like -- "
It was difficult to say. Accordingly, it came out quite factually.
"--like some sort of human dildo. That is very definitely not what I want."
Helena pretty much knew that it wasn't what he wanted either. Except, he kind of did.
"But, you liked it, Red."
He clenched his jaw, then spoke the rest to their joined hands.
"It made you -- "
He couldn't say the word: "feel"; but he thought she understood.
"Helena, regardless of how we happen to interact on an intimate level, what I like -- "
Barbara shook her head and corrected herself.
"What I love is knowing that we are sharing an experience."
Obviously, she'd need to leave the birds-and-the-bees talk with Katharine to Helena: if she'd been much more clinical, she could apply to take over Ms. Stowe's Phys Ed lectures on human sexuality.
Deciding to make things a little clearer, Barbara shifted closer to her partner.
"And, I'm going to show you just what I mean, Hel."
Abject self-awareness and embarrassment and regret suddenly vanished in the face of other instincts, and Helena jerked his head up to search the redhead's face.
Barbara's smile was full of promise, promises that made Helena ache as she pushed him onto his back and threw back the covers.
"What are you going to...?"
Barbara didn't answer directly, but the sensation of one of her nails dragging down his chest gave Helena a pretty big clue.
"There are some things, Hel, that I've allowed myself to forget recently."
A finger swirled around his navel, and Helena felt his toes curl.
He tried to shift onto his side, but a delicate hand came to rest in the center of his chest, holding him in place.
"Wh-- what's that?"
Helena didn't think the question made much sense, but Babs seemed able to work with it.
"The shape of your body, Hel."
Barbara punctuated the words by snaking a hand down the outside of his thigh, and Helena felt his erection leap to attention when she trailed her fingers up his torso.
"The sensation of your nipples against my palm."
Helena's eyes slammed shut when she feathered her fingers across his chest.
"I'm going to focus on all of the areas I've allowed myself to overlook, Hel."
Now very serious, Barbara waited until violet eyes met hers.
"I'm going to touch you everywhere except here --"
With her fingers ghosting across his hip, Helena bucked and dug his fingers into the sheets.
"Not -- not touching?"
He swallowed roughly when she pulled her shirt over her head. He gasped when she answered.
"Everywhere but, Sweetie."
Somehow, with Barbara naked and eyeing him like he was the main course on the buffet, Helena managed to hold on to his sanity for a few precious seconds.
"Can I, uh, lose the boxers?"
Barbara arched a brow as she eyed the Goofy boxers that Helena had chosen to sleep in. She still didn't understand his choice of cartoon dogs for his sleepwear, however, his request had quite a bit of merit.
"I believe it's a requirement, Hel."
Helena scrabbled out of the stupid boxers when Barbara turned to fish in the drawer of her bedside table.
Man, he hoped she wasn't getting her fuzzy socks.
The sound of the door sliding shut on its plastic glides caused him to reconsider: The fuzzy socks were pretty sexy.
But, none of the three items she had in her hands were socks. One in particular was something he'd never imagined seeing.
Helena had a pretty good idea what the small adjustable leather band was; he just didn't know where Babs would have gotten it.
"It's to help keep you from climaxing, Hel."
"It can do that?"
Doh. So much for his man of the world persona. At least Barbara didn't seem to mind.
When she extended it, Helena glommed onto the fact that she wasn't going to be putting the cock ring on him. By the time he fumbled it on, the clink of steel was raising the fine hair all over his body.
"And now -- "
The police issue cuffs glittered in the dim light of the room, and Helena fought a moan.
"--because I don't want you to have to concentrate on anything but what I'm doing and what you are feeling and how that makes me feel..."
Before she finished, his hands flew to the grab bar at the head of the bed. The contrast of her soft hands with the sharp bite of the metal as she latched the bracelets was amazing.
Still caught up in testing his range of motion -- pretty narrow -- it took Helena a second to identify the third item when Barbara raised it into his range of vision.
A silk scarf.
"Since I don't believe that either of us want Katie to interrupt us, would you like me to gag you, Helena?"
Her voice was so soft. The concern and want were real and almost tangible.
Helena considered the question, searching green eyes before he shook his head in awe.
It was going to be a helluva ride, and something told him that he was going to want to be able to beg for more.
You don't know what you do to me
Everytime you come around
I can't seem to find my way
I'm shifted baby losing ground
It's like I'm spinning all around in circles
Cure me, you're my remedy
It was, Barbara acknowledged, difficult to improve upon an original. In Hollywood, sequels were seldom as good as the first movie; in music, remixes almost invariably failed.
Terminator 2 and The Pet Shop Boys' remix of Willie Nelson's "Always on my Mind" being exceptions that supported the rule, of course.
Resigned to enduring Jessica Simpson's insipid remake of another classic from her younger days and almost resigned to the fact that the melody would now be running through her head for days, Barbara raised her faux-crystal plastic cup and delicately sampled the lukewarm pink punch within.
It hadn't been spiked yet although, perhaps due to some secret formula used in concocting beverages for public school functions, it did taste vaguely like Windex. The observations was, in a manner of speaking, reassuring, providing a certain constancy to at least one aspect of her life.
It was a bit unfortunate that the area was in the arena of high school dances.
Due to a certain seniority on the faculty -- not to mention the fact that she'd volunteered the year before -- Barbara had been able to bow out of chaperoning the Senior Prom this year. Regrettably, doing so had left her a sitting duck -- so to speak -- for other events, and she'd been tapped to supervise the Junior Spring Formal.
"Lotta yellow taffeta this year," had been Helena's laconic assessment when they'd arrived.
His face had left little doubt about his aesthetic opinion of the choice, and Barbara had had to agree.
I can't help this craving honey
Everytime you look at me
I am feeling so lost in oblivion
That I can't breathe
It's like I'm moving right along with the beat
Want me, you're my melody
Despite her scant appreciation for the song, Barbara certainly couldn't fault the dancing that accompanied it. Rather, if she were honest with herself, her appreciation was directed toward the appearance of one particular dancer.
Helena had cheerfully agreed to accompany her to the dance and, with minimal prodding on her part, had forsaken his self-proclaimed role of keeping her company and entered the fray on the floor of the school gymnasium. At this point, he was nominally dancing with Gabby... or Dinah... or both of the girls who had, to Barbara's unconcealed surprised, accepted her last minute invitation to the event; however, there was little doubt that Helena was the focus of the dance floor.
The brunette had always moved gracefully; he had no trouble expressing himself physically. This evening, the sleek lines of his body were perfectly accentuated by the weak strobe lights that highlighted the black leather that, well, highlighted him.
Especially, Barbara noted with as clinical an eye as possible, his pants: hugging him like his own skin, they were accentuated by a U-shaped insert at the front and silver lacing at the fly. Every spin that Helena made, every gyration, seemed to draw attention to his hips... his--
Fortuitously, Barbara was distracted from increasingly lascivious and undoubtedly -- for a chaperone -- inappropriate thoughts about wrapping a package in a bow by the arrival of one of her fellow victims. She nodded a greeting to Maggie Moore, a colleague from her own department, and managed another sip of punch.
"He's absolutely breathtaking, isn't he?"
Seized by a fit of coughing, Barbara set her cup on the edge of a chair and blinked her watering eyes.
"I'm sorry, Maggie. What was that?"
The brown ringlets of Maggie's tightly permed hair jiggled when she turned to repeat herself, a smile that seemed almost wistful crossing her cherubic features.
"Hele-- er, Hel is so striking, Barbara."
The redhead painted on a smile and met her colleague's eyes, speaking clearly to be understood through the din of music and laughter.
"Yes, Helena always has been, Maggie."
The comment, one that even Barbara had to admit was atypically bold for her, acted as a conversational lead weight, a veritable turd in the punchbowl of discourse, as it were.
Of course, the year before Maggie had been a bit hesitant about Barbara's choice of a same sex partner. While not overtly disapproving, Maggie had done little to hide her discomfort.
The hell with discomfort, Barbara decided. Broadening her smile, she retrieved her cup and drained the vile liquid in it, wishing -- if only fleetingly -- that it were spiked.
You spin me right round, baby
Right round like a record, baby
Right round round round
You spin me right round, baby
Right round like a record, baby
Right round round round
Pouring a ladle full of something really pink into his cup, Helena looked around the gym to locate his partner. He found her down near the coat area, where most of the kids tried to sneak whatever they were trying to slip past the chaperones. That new English teacher -- Maggie Something-or-other -- was beside her, and Red was smiling like she was chewing on glass or something.
Yep, probably as good a time as any to take a break from the dance floor.
The brunette experimentally sniffed the pink stuff -- nothing that a few shots of Everclear wouldn't perk up -- and raised the cup to his mouth. He also figured that some alcohol might be the only thing that would get him back on the dance floor, what with all of these teenaged girls hanging on him.
Shit, these kids were making Gabby look pretty good by comparison. Hell, even Dinah --
His neurons came to a screeching halt, damned near self-destructed, when it hit Helena just where his thoughts were going because, honestly, that was just about the most disturbing thing that had run through his head in a long time.
And, that long time included waking up a few weeks ago to find himself in possession of a full set of male plumbing.
His state wasn't improved much when the subject of his completely twisted thinking bounced up next to him. In defense, he took another swig of punch.
"Hi Hel. Isn't this kind of neat, being back here after you're not in high school?"
As usual, The Kid was in full-blown babble mode. Helena drank deeper.
"Did you have fun with Gabby?"
And, he almost spewed all over Dinah's tasteful lilac sweater.
Sky blue eyes met his, wide and innocent.
Narrowing his eyes, he wondered just how innocent the blonde really was and how much her telepathic skills had been improving lately.
Still, it wasn't his fault that he'd not just been thinking about her girlfriend but had almost -- well, barely -- thought about...
Slowly, Helena set his cup on the table and managed some sort of lame answer that didn't include the word 'rhythm'.
Maybe guys really couldn't help themselves. It wasn't like he even wanted to be thinking about anyone else: Nobody could hold a candle to the woman he had. A couple nights back, when she'd told him that she'd found the condom, he'd been plenty scared.
Scared enough to say some pretty dumb things. But, Babs had just gotten it.
And then --
Helena felt the smile creep over his face.
Who the hell knew that his knees -- his frikkin' knees -- were an erogenous zone?
Well, apparently Barbara had.
Of course, anywhere she touched him seemed pretty willing to respond, especially after she'd marked him all over his thighs and shoulders and chest with dozens of tiny bite marks.
Shit, Helena had always thought that he was orally fixated, but Barbara had him beat. Especially after she'd gotten to his... pecs. It hadn't compared to before, but, god, the things she'd done had had him begging and pleading and offering her any-fucking-thing if he could just come.
He was still in awe of what she'd done next.
With him whispering his pleas, she'd just pushed herself upright and smiled at him, a little saint, a lot sinner. Then --
Helena wet his lips and moved to the back of the gym figuring that the press of steel from the walls against his face might cool him down because just thinking about what Barbara had done had him about to combust.
She'd offered him her fingers.
She'd danced her fingers over his lips, and even now the tactile memory of that lightly calloused skin was driving him crazy. And, he hadn't had any choice: what she was offering was everything he could ask any more; and he'd sucked her fingers, working to pull her as far into him as he could in the only way he could until she'd pulled away again.
Then... then he'd nearly levitated off the bed when she'd dragged her wet fingers around her own nipples, and her voice, throaty and hot, had caressed his skin.
"See what this does for me, Hel."
When Babs had finally removed the leather band from his aching erection, he'd -- Well, the word 'exploded' didn't seem to give Red her due. Both of them had ended up in the shower.
From the corner of one eye, Barbara watched her lover apparently attempting to meld himself into the far wall of the gym. She had almost decided to abandon her post by the "Corner of Sin" when the arrival of one of her other invited guests stopped her.
"Thanks for inviting us, Ms. Go-- uh, Barbara."
Barbara offered the curly-haired young woman a smile.
"That's not necessary, Gabby. I hope that you're having fun."
Inviting Dinah and Gabby to attend as unofficial chaperones had been a whim, and given that Gabby was only in town for another day, Barbara honestly hadn't expected to be taken up on the offer.
"It's kind of cool catching up with some of the kids from Quiz Bowl and Drama."
Barbara was fixed with a long look, then a wink.
"Plus, I can try to sell some of them on the joys of going to State. I might get a recruiting bonus, you know."
Barbara joined in with Gabby's soft laughter, forcing herself away from questions into how the long-distance relationship that she and Dinah were conducting between State and NGU was faring. Gabby was in town for the study week before finals at her university -- although, from what Barbara had determined, there had been little studying involved -- and Barbara supposed that it was as good a sign as any that the young women were spending the time together.
"It's really wild, the transformation."
Following Gabby's gaze to the opposite wall, Barbara nodded.
As if sensing the scrutiny, her dark-haired partner began to slip through the crowd, clearly intent on making his way over.
"Yeah. Dinah told me about it, but... wow."
Unable to debate the accuracy of that assessment, Barbara hummed a soft agreement.
"Really, Barbara -- "
The young woman laughed softly, seemingly embarrassed, and Barbara raised her brows in encouragement.
"Well, if I weren't with Dinah, Helios might make me turn straight... or at least take a field trip."
A bevy of thoughts and emotions flittered and flapped their way through Barbara at that little confession. Opting to bypass those that had to do with Gabby's potential willingness to cheat on Dinah with her lover, Barbara seized on the most innocuous bit of information.
The sunny voice drew both their attention, and Barbara felt a bit of heat touch her face when Helena sauntered close and bent to buss her cheek.
"Or, it might be."
Barbara painted on a smile.
For some reason, the redhead thought that the shrug that Helena offered was too casual to be unrehearsed.
"Sure, I already answer to Hel, and I won't have to re-monogram my luggage."
She allowed Helena's and Gabby's banter about other possible names to fade to the background as she considered his choice -- and the fact that he was making it.
Helios, if she recalled correctly, was a Greek sun god who had driven his chariot across the daytime sky. Although the name shared an origin not dissimilar to Helena's given name, the two were, literally, almost night and day.
Apart from this child of Selene's namesake -- this being of the night and moon -- selecting a name of light and day, there was the matter of whether he meant it. In the last few days, since her meeting with Mike Mandrill and Helena's suggestion of marriage, Helena had seemed to settle into himself. There had been a little less strutting, a little less frantic energy and... experimentation; in exchange, Helena had become a bit more quiet, more focused on Katie and his classes and, well, her.
While Barbara certainly couldn't claim that she wasn't enjoying the lengthy shoulder massages and slumbrous cuddling and the cups of coffee that she found steaming on her nightstand each morning, she thought that there was something more. Frankly, she still wasn't certain if her partner actually wanted to remain in his current form or if he had decided that it was the only choice. Since she, however, chose not to accept situations with only one option, Barbara had continued to work out a plan for attempting to control Mandrill.
Regrettably, it appeared that their chance of success -- at least without involving Dinah -- were slim. While the exercise became admittedly more academic if Helena were inclined to remain a man, Barbara still had a suspicion that the brunette was tap-dancing around a healthy dose of denial.
"Dance with me, Red?"
Somehow, in the space of a few thoughts, Gabby and Dinah had disappeared, and now Helena was leaning close. Too close.
Working some moisture to her mouth, Barbara shook her head slightly.
Helena's face was already taking on that closed expression that she knew too well, and so Barbara managed to draw out the word and tack on a final consonant.
"--t here, Hel."
It was kind of lame, as saves went, but Helena decided to let it slide. He straightened and stepped back, deliberately refusing to point out to Red that now -- now -- such a dance would be okay.
Hell, the School Board would probably condone it as a shining example of healthy, normal heterosexual modeling: They could be the freaking Ward and June Cleaver for this century.
For some reason, the thought didn't make him particularly happy.
Unable to read -- no, to follow the shifting pattern of emotions filtering across her partner's strong features, Barbara needlessly checked her watch, confirming that her time in the barrel was done. Even if having an infant daughter hadn't completely spared her from these sorts of after-hours events, it had saved her from staying until the witching hour.
Otherwise known as the time for shooing the stragglers out, supervising clean up, and scouring every nook and cranny for students who had passed out or were otherwise engaged in horizontal activities.
Her smile, when she spoke, was very genuine.
"Let's pick up Katie and go home, Hel."
Barbara caught herself and turned to look out the passenger window of the van. Nearing her father's home in the suburbs of the city, at this hour at night, traffic was light, and there were few diversions.
She spoke the name softly, trying out the feel of the syllables in her mouth, weighing its import. A strong hand came to rest on her arm, distracting her from the exercise.
"It can be anything you want, Barbara."
She turned in time to see blue eyes reflecting the shimmer of an overhead street lamp. For one dizzying moment, she questioned the pronoun she'd heard at the beginning of her lover's declaration.
"Are you certain, Hel?"
The words spilled out, barely considered.
"Are you really alright with the way things stand?"
Slowing to make the winding curve into Jim Gordon's cul-de-sac, Helena kept it light.
"Standing with three legs, Red?"
He risked a quick look over and quirked a grin.
"Sure. Why not?"
The brunette dimmed the lights as he pulled into the driveway. Once the van was in park, he doused the lights completely and turned off the engine. For a few minutes, they sat in silence, only the ticking of the engine and the whush-whush of May Parker's sprinklers next door offering any refuge from their thoughts. Finally, Helena gave in.
"Barbara ," he kept his voice low in the confessional of the darkness. "You said that hypnosis wasn't going to give us any real insurance if we tried it, and we both know that involving The K-- Dinah should be a last resort."
Blowing out a heavy breath, he raked a hand through his bangs: He was going have to cut the whole mess off soon.
"I just think that maybe it's time to let it go, Red."
The silence was thick enough to work his nerves a little. Helena knew that Barbara didn't like to give up on a challenge or anything, but she just seemed so damned set on this particular project that he had to wonder. Staring his fears in the eye, Helena unlatched his seat belt and turned to face the redhead.
"It's not so terrible is it? Being with me like this?"
The final question was so soft, so small, that Barbara could almost pretend she hadn't heard it.
Instead, she hoped that the darkness had covered her flinch as reached for her partner's hand. Before she could consciously decide on an answer -- denial or affirmation -- Barbara heard her own voice.
"Never, Hel. Not any any way, shape, or form."
She leaned down and brushed an opened-mouthed kiss to his knuckles.
"As long as I have you with me."
Suddenly, her partner was very, very close, his eyes preternaturally bright in the darkness.
"Same goes for me, Barbara, so we're okay, right?"
She just had time to nod before their mouths met and Helena's hands were buried in her hair, his tongue teasing at her lips, and...
Oh, great galloping buckets of...
Helena's confusion was thick; her own need to giggle nearly overwhelming.
"My dad, Hel," she murmured, reaching behind her seat for her chair. "He's flicking the porch light."
Honestly, she didn't know why her irrepressible partner found the situation so amusing. For that matter, she suspected that she needed to look into just why she found it so embarrassing.
Regardless of their differing reactions, Helena was still chortling when they mounted the porch, and Jim Gordon swung the door open.
"It's okay, Jim," he snickered, not even able to pretend any measure of embarrassment. "She didn't let me get past first base."
Without looking, he could feel the laser-like intensity of the glare that Babs was no doubt aiming at him.
"You'll have to excuse Helena, Dad."
Barbara stretched up to peck her father on the cheek.
"Obviously he got the contents of the good punch bowl tonight."
Steel blue eyes twinkled as a brushy eyebrow corkscrewed.
"Ah, I see. And, how was the punch?"
Their answers came as one, and Jim Gordon pulled a face. Helena tilted his head, realizing that with Jim's lush handlebar mustache, the expression magnified potential similarities to a walrus.
Not that he would ever, ever tell Barbara's father that.
"Well," the senior Gordon laughed as he led them down the vestibule hallway, "it could have been that strange green concoction that comes out for the department at Saint Patrick's Day."
Nodding somberly, Barbara rounded the corner to the living room, musing that -- regardless of the department one worked in -- New Gotham seemed to spare no effort in concocting the most vile forms of what she and her father had come to refer to as Public Servant Punch.
"--Island Punch, with extra rum," Helena was explaining, his voice automatically lowering when he caught sight of the playpen in the corner of the room and its slumbering occupant.
Barbara watched her partner's face transform to something softer, infinitely open, as he stepped to the playpen. Although his approach had been too quiet for Barbara to hear, Katie seemed to sense his arrival, stretching and yawning gummily. Immediately, Helena picked her up, cradling her in his arms and lowering his face to her ear. Barbara couldn't hear anything, but she felt the fine hair at the back of her neck tremble slightly, leading her to suspect that a subvocal communication had transpired.
Her father's voice broke her reverie.
"Well, speaking of liquid refreshment, I think this young lady might not mind a snack."
Two pairs of blue eyes turned toward the speaker, and Barbara thought her father preened just a bit.
"I gave her a bottle a few hours ago, but I think she was just humoring her grandpa when she took it."
A soft mewling gurgle seconded the assessment, and Barbara didn't need to look to know that her nursing pads had just gotten soaked.
And, to think, she'd worried about having trouble breast feeding.
Helena saw the hint of pink touching Barbara's cheeks. Stepping close, he sniffed and confirmed it.
"Now seems like a good time, huh, Red?"
He handed over their daughter, who promptly grabbed a fist full of her mother's hair, and then Helena almost stumbled when he felt a large hand clap him on the shoulder.
"Come on, er -- "
Grinning, he turned within Jim's fatherly half-embrace.
"I'm working with the name Helios right now, Jim."
Gun-metal blue eyes raked him from head to toe, and Helena felt his posture improve just a bit.
"Well then, Helios, why don't we step into the den and give our girls some privacy?"
Red's smile seemed a little sympathetic, but Helena didn't blink. It wasn't like he was nervous about sharing time in her dad's study. Really, the last case of honest-to-god, nail-biting, Malox-swallowing nerves he'd had with Jim had been well over a year before when he'd -- well, back then, he'd been a she -- come calling to seek permission to court Barbara.
Now that had been nerve-wracking.
With Jim's nod of encouragement, Helena moved to the small wet bar in the den and poured his host a stiff two fingers of a very respectable twelve-year scotch. He limited himself to just enough to cover the bottom of the heavy glass tumbler. Gliding to the oxblood leather guest chair, he saw that Jim was hovering a hand over his humidor.
"Can I tempt you Helen-er, Helios?"
The brunette gave the glass-topped box a long look, sorely tempted by the mouthwatering display of Macanudos and Gloriettas. He thought he even saw a couple of juicy Cohibas in there, the real ones. Slowly, Helena shook his head, making a mental note to pick up some Drew Estates for Barbara's dad to try.
"Uhm, thanks but -- "
Hearing the weakness in his demurral, he sat back in the chair with a smile and crossed his legs. Instantly, he caught himself and adjusted to rest an ankle atop his knee.
"Thanks, Jim, but I'll pass. Barbara says the smell still makes her nauseous."
He hadn't heard about pregnancy-induced sensitivity to odors lingering months after the birth, but he'd decided to be okay with it. Besides, he picked up plenty of second-hand smoke at the bar.
"You're a strong man," the older man acknowledged with a tilt of his glass.
Helena returned the half-toast and took a minute sip of his scotch, not oblivious to how well a cigar would complement the peaty taste. He also noticed that his host didn't choose a cigar for himself.
"Speaking of strong men, Hel -- "
As segues went, Helena thought that this one could use some polish.
"-- I gather that the chances of getting you returned to your old self aren't looking too promising."
"Truth," he allowed, draining the second, and last, swallow from the glass. "Barbara's still in Never-say-die mode -- "
The two shared a smile before Helena continued.
"But, I don't think she -- "
He stumbled a little and decided not to sugarcoat it.
"I think she's okay with it. "
And people still said that he couldn't do understatement.
"And I'm -- "
Turning the glass in his hands, he watched the refracted light from the desk lamp splay over his lap.
"I'm getting used to it."
He looked up, refusing to flinch at his own admission or under Jim's long, appraising look. Eventually, he was able to relax a tiny bit when he made out a short nod.
"In that case, Son, I have an offer I'd like you to think about."
Under the force of that iron stare, Helena almost blurted out something about his intentions of making an honest woman of Barbara. Fortunately, he held his tongue, then damned near strangled on it when Jim went on.
"I know about your mother's history -- "
The ex-police commissioner held up a hand, palm outward, in what Helena figured was supposed to be a calming motion.
"-- and I'm aware that she had reformed and that you haven't shown any inclination to follow in her footsteps. In fact, I have reason to believe --"
Blue eyes twinkled, and Helena felt his eyebrows inch up a little.
"Well, Helios, let's just say that I'm sure you have skills and abilities, practical experience even, that go beyond tending bar."
Many skills, indeed.
The phrase was one from one of Barbara's favorite guilty pleasure television series. In the silence of the van on the drive back to the Tower, Barbara found herself turning it over in her mind, reflecting on how true Katie's arrival had made it for her. Even one year ago, she would never have believed herself capable of succoring a child, yet here she was, the soft sighs she heard coming from the baby seat that was securely buckled into the back seat reinforcing her confidence in herself. Despite her misgivings, she seemed to be muddling through with Katie and Helena helping her improve her skills.
Motherhood truly was a miracle, and the fact that she -- she -- was a mother was even more so. The few times in the past that she'd bothered to think about such things, she'd always assumed that it would be Helena...
The redhead's mood deflated a few psi's at the direction her thoughts were going, and she focused on her partner at the wheel.
Helena was driving a good ten miles under the posted limit as had become his habit the moment he'd brought the van to the birthing center to ferry her and their daughter home three months before. While he had yet to procure a "Baby On Board" sign, Barbara suspected that -- given his care with Katharine -- it was certainly not out of the question.
As he slowed further for a turn a half a block ahead, she debated informing him that driving too slowly was almost as likely to cause a fender bender as was his former speed demon tendencies. Ultimately, she determined that her partner was simply becoming an amazing father, and she opted for something a bit more banal to break the silence.
"How was your chat with Dad?"
The silence that followed seemed overlong for the simple question. It was, Barbara suspected, indicative of a fair amount of mental debate. Helena finally braked at a stop light and turned to face her, the measured weight of his words confirming her suspicions.
"It was interesting, Babs."
Wishing that she'd gone with her first instinct to discuss driving safety, Barbara spoke softly.
"In what way, Hel?"
She couldn't read her partner's tone when he continued, however the words fell like fire and ash around her.
"He thinks he can get me into the class at the Police Academy this fall."
"Oh hell no!"
Almost twenty-four hours later, the words that Barbara had shouted when he'd revealed Jim's offer were still looping through Helena's brain.
Babs -- calm, cool, rational Barbara, the super-analytical Oracle of Delphi, the doting mother of the infant who had been soundly sleeping about 12 inches behind her -- had shouted. Loud enough to make him miss it when the light had turned green. Loud enough to set Katie to fussing.
Wiping down the counter at work with a bar towel that was probably a half-dozen uses overdue for a meeting with the bleach bucket, Helena felt his hackles rise again at the vehemence... and outrage... and raw pain that had leeched from those three words.
At the same time that he'd noticed that the light was cycling to yellow it had hit him that trying to accelerate through it wasn't his best option, so he'd just turned his focus back to Barbara.
He'd thought it was a pretty reasonable question; the force of the anger behind her answer had set him back.
"I don't want another Dick, Helena."
A smart remark had seemed pretty stupid, so he'd tried for the truth.
"That's not what I'm trying--"
Barbara's harsh exhalation had coincided with the light changing to green, so he'd resumed their journey back to the Tower.
"I know, Hel, and I'm sorry for snapping at you."
From the corner of his eye, he'd seen her pinching at the bridge of her nose.
"You've never shown a bit of interest in something like that before -- "
The explanation had seemed a little weak to him even if it was true, but Helena had just kept his mouth shut.
"And, I don't know what the hell has gotten into Dad to suggest such a thing."
Something in his lover's voice had told Helena that Barbara intended to find out, so he'd decided to spare Jim her wrath.
"He said that, well, now I'm big enough."
He'd kept mum about the other stuff: how Jim had intimated that he knew that Helena had some... law enforcement skills; how he'd talked up the security of the pension and all that.
"A son to follow in his footsteps," had been the last thing Barbara had said on it, and it had hit Helena like a hobnail boot to the gut.
Or, like a transmutation wand to the crotch.
Helena knew he didn't have his partner's amazing memory, but some things he didn't forget. One of those was that, years back, when Babs had first started training him for the streets, she'd hesitantly confided that her dad had always encouraged her to follow in his footsteps. "Just as he would a son," had been the words she'd used. Even if Red hadn't taken the same formal route of law enforcement, back in the day she'd sure done her part to prove that she was every bit as good at catching bad guys as her dad had been.
Helena would have bet donuts to dollars that Jim didn't know what he was doing, but Helena sure knew what the offer meant to all of them.
Tossing the spent towel into the corner, Helena strolled down the bar and smiled amiably at the middle-aged man. He was pretty sure he'd seen him in here a few times before, usually months apart. The cheap rumpled suit screamed business traveler, lending some weight to his suspicions.
"What can I get you?"
He efficiently produced the requested boilermaker, blinking a happy smile when the man told him to keep the change from the twenty he'd slapped down. It was official: his tips really were better now.
Equally official: he seriously needed to donate a chunk of Bruce's money to N.O.W. or something. He was already funneling most of the interest from his trusts into spinal cord research at a couple of medical centers and universities, but, damn, this was important.
"Say, you look like that dark-haired hottie who's usually serving here."
He fixed a bland smile in place when Business thumped his empty shot glass down and expanded on his description by curving his hands in front of his chest. Helena wasn't certain whether he was flattered or pissed off by the sheer size of the attributes that the guy was painting.
"Are you her brother or something?"
Reaching under the bar for a fresh towel, Helena shrugged.
He held himself loose under Business's bleary stare.
"I don't see her around tonight. Where is she?"
His standard line was on the tip of his tongue: "She's around"; but Helena heard the truth spill out.
"She's gone now."
And, five minutes later, barely taking time to clock out, so was he.
It was a spring night, still early enough on a Friday that Babs wouldn't be expecting him home, and he couldn't stay caged up any longer. In the alley behind the bar, Helena debated heading to the rooftops.
Maybe he could let the night air carry him along, clean him. Maybe he could forget everything for a little while and just... fly.
He looked above him, watching the clouds reflecting the pale light of the waning moon, and the urge fled. He thought he needed to stay on the streets, stay with the grime of the city and feel his town's rough edges.
And, in New Gotham, the rough edges were never hard to find. It only took Helena ten minutes before he ran across a half-dozen punks that were shadowing a group of co-eds.
His usual bait-line was on the tip of his tongue -- "Hey, dudes, why don't you try me?" -- when it hit Helena that he might not appeal in the same way. So, he went with a more direct approach, jumping in and starting the pounding. Two simultaneous jabs to the different dudes' throats dropped them; a floating roundhouse kick took out another.
It was too easy. There was no skill when his mass did the work for him. It was just too fuckin' easy to wipe the floor with them.
Helena let one of the three who where still standing tag him on the jaw, relishing the sharp sting of pain and the smell of blood where the asshole's pinkie ring had nicked him.
Who the fuck wore a pinkie ring, anyway?
"My turn now."
Something in his tone seemed to put them off. Maybe it was the growl. Hell, maybe it was the way his eyes had augmented.
Before they could run, he grabbed two by their collars and smacked their heads together. The dull conk was still hanging heavy in the air when they slid bonelessly to the filthy sidewalk.
Since Helena had already picked out the last guy as the leader of their little pack, he took a little more time with him, playing a little at stalking and making the guy scream.
It wasn't, he decided as he wiped his bloody hands on the guy's pant leg, much fun.
He kept walking.
Helena allowed the scuff of his boot heels on the rough concrete to guide him. A couple of times, when he cut through dark alleys or crossed by shadowed storefronts, he heard the whisper of footsteps behind him or the silky hiss of knives being fitted to palms.
The usual hunting noises from the streets of New Gotham.
Nobody made a move on him, and he kept walking.
It was a sense that he'd arrived somewhere, somewhere familiar, that finally stalled his progress. He took in the plain dark door in front of him, the small sign on the side: No Man's Land. Soft light crept out underneath the sill; strains of music from the juke were easily audible, as was the laughter and murmur of voices from inside.
Helena snorted quietly in the solitary darkness, admitting that the sign said it all. He had no desire to rub elbows with the city's metas, and with the strains of Berlin's "The Metro" following, he turned away.
It wasn't where he wanted to be, so he kept walking.
Hundreds or thousands of steps later, he was downtown. He hadn't consciously planned it, but his feet had carried him to the club district that was frequented by his city's non-freaks. And, by the really freakish who came to indulge in any of a number of kinks.
He gave a desultory kick to a green beer bottle, sending it skittering into the gutter, as he weighed which category he fell into. Pulsing bass and the unmistakable musk of sweat and sex drew him to a familiar door and pretty much answered his question.
Chains of Love.
Helena couldn't remember the last time he'd checked on the place that he and Babs had briefly shut down the year before. With the need for places like Chains, not to mention the slap on the wrist that the owner had gotten for butchering Clown Fish in the name of sexual gamesmanship, the joint had opened right up again. Every couple of months, Barbara would remember to have him pop in, just to see if he picked up the odor of Nemo-enhanced love drugs.
Maybe a little recon wouldn't hurt.
His hand hesitated, just for a second, before he grasped the ornate solid chain-link door handle. Shaking it off, Helena stepped inside, immediately enveloped by the flashing lights and the smoke and the pulsing bass of Soft Cell's greatest hit.
Even if the damned song did fall into that category of "Weird Barbara Nostalgia Tunes" Helena had to admit that he liked the original way better than the rap remix.
He took in the dance floor, trying not to wonder why Babs had turned him down for that one fucking dance at the school, trying to focus on the writhing bodies and the leather and latex and metal adorning all of that succulent flesh that was on display. He didn't know quite how long he hovered by the entrance before the door swung open, the stylized door handle catching him square in the kidneys.
"Oo--freakin' -- "
Catching himself, Helena turned, ready to lay into whoever it was that was in such a damned hurry. When he caught sight of the burly -- and scantily clad -- figure barreling through the door, he checked himself, certain that he knew the guy even if he couldn't put his finger on his name.
Apparently the recognition was mutual since the big blonde came to a screeching halt, his face lighting up.
Still working to place him, Helena nodded.
"It's me, George!"
The reminder did the trick, and Helena instantly placed the guy who'd been a major information source on the fish case. Not to mention the guy who'd trapped him -- well, at the time, her -- in a torture chamber so that Clint Williams could introduce Barbara to the joys of Fasma.
And him to the joys of Babs with a whip in her hands.
"Hey," he kept it low key.
Not so George, who grabbed him in an effusive bear hug that left Helena struggling for breath.
"God! You have changed, Girlfriend."
Blue eyes narrowed, and Helena tried to remember if the big guy had been quite as... flamboyant the year before. He held himself steady under a long visual inspection that left him wishing he'd worn his duster.
"I love it. It's so twistedly macho."
Finally, Helena found his tongue.
"So, uh, you're still hanging here?"
That earned him a toothy grin, and Helena wondered if his own teeth had the same eerie whiteness under the black lights.
The deep blue eyes -- had to be contacts -- went hooded and far-away.
"Or, at least I am any time I can get somebody to fasten the hooks to my nipple rings and hoist me up."
Swallowing with difficulty, Helena licked his lips and cast about for some way to respond to that. George spared him the effort.
"So, Huntress, did you come down here for some boy on boy action?"
The brunette worked his jaw. Oblivious to whatever denial or demurral Helena had been struggling for, George threw a meaty arm around his shoulders and leaned in.
"Because, seriously, I can recommend some nice starter studs, or, hey, I've been known to top once in a while myself. But -- "
Honest to god, Helena didn't remember that his former source had been quite so... talkative.
"-- I guess that spicy piece that was leading you around last year could put on a strap-on and do the job just fine."
It took Helena a second to catch up to the verbal onslaught. When he did, he pulled back enough to search the blonde's face.
"What makes you so sure that I'd be the one --"
George's laughter was wry but not unsympathetic, and it cut him off mid-denial.
"Believe me, Girlfriend -- "
A ham of a hand clapped him on the shoulder.
"-- from one bottom to another, I know what you need."
Funny that, Helena realized: he wasn't so sure himself what he needed. Nevertheless, he allowed his new best friend to guide him to the bar.
"So, can I get you something? Or -- "
A strong finger, surprisingly light and delicate in its movements, stroked down the center of his chest before coming to a halt at the waist of Helena's pants.
Helpless against his biology, Helena felt his cock stir, and he looked out onto the dance floor. It was all bodies in motion, sex and submission, domination and control.
A regular fuckin' petrie dish of every twisted perversion that he could name. And probably a good number that he couldn't.
Automatically, he downed the double vodka that had appeared in his hand. With something akin to resignation, he admitted that he didn't want any of it. With something very close to nausea, he wondered if he even really wanted Barbara's--
"So, what can I get you, Huntress?"
Intensely grateful that the big blonde had stopped that line of thinking, Helena turned back to the bar and motioned for a refill.
"A fairy godmother would be about right, George."
The words were out before he'd thought. They didn't seem to faze his companion a bit.
"Now you're talking, Girlfriend. Let's see if we can find someone with the right sized wand."
After so many years together -- first as teacher and student, then as guardian and ward, then as mentor and protege, then as friends, and then as so much more -- Barbara was infinitely grateful that she and Helena had passed a point of fury and explosion in their lives. Whereas early altercations had tended to end in shouting and cold silences and later disagreements had deteriorated into glacial distances, they now seemed to have reached a point of understanding. While they certainly fought and stepped -- or rolled -- on each other's toes and engaged in all of the typically human behaviors that occurred between two people who spent so much time together, the events were short-lived, ending quietly rather than with drama.
A case in point was her own mini-meltdown two nights before, when Helena had mentioned her father's offer about the academy. After worrying at her behavior for the remainder of the drive home -- and a good portion of the night -- Barbara had finally decided that her reaction had to do with a good case of Only Child Syndrome mixed, perhaps, with just a touch of Control Fiend.
Heaven knew, after the events of the last week or, specifically, the last weekend, she'd certainly been feeling vulnerable enough for some tendencies to kick into overdrive.
Having reached some peace with her dreadful behavior, she'd prodded Helena awake and offered an explanation and another apology. His somewhat bleary response had been sweetly typical.
"No sweat, Red. I'm not much for paramilitary organizations anyway."
Their soft laughter had easily given way to low murmurs and then to Helena's soft moans as Barbara had touched him, her mouth and tongue and lips no longer needed for a verbal apology.
In the dim mid-morning light that was softly illuminating the bedroom, Barbara worked a series of tiny isometric stretches under the covers. She took care not to disturb her still-sleeping partner, relishing that it was after eight in the morning on a Saturday and the entire family was still cocooned in the bedroom. She relished even more that Helena, for the first time since the transformation, had returned to the sleeping position that had been most common before the change: he was curled against her side, tucked under her right arm. His soft exhalations warmed her breast, and one hand was burrowed under her sleep shirt, kneading softly against her side.
A cautious bit of shifting in the grip of her human octopus confirmed that, as had been the case every morning since they'd had their discussion on Monday night, Helena was relaxed against her.
Allowing her eyes to drift shut, the redhead felt her lips twist in a smile when her lover turned minutely in the half-circle of her arm, burying his nose in her armpit. The gesture was familiar and just a bit ticklish and, she grasped on a warm swell of affection, something more.
Intimacy truly was about so much more than the obvious.
With Barbara's warmth and scent blanketing him so intimately, Helena slowly came back to himself. He knew that it was late -- well, kind of late, even for a Saturday -- for Red to be lounging in bed, and so he burrowed closer, drawing in the sweet musky scent of her.
God, he loved this. He'd always loved being close to Barbara like this, and he worked to relax, to allow her to fill his senses with everything that was familiar and right in his world.
In the face of everything, Barbara had remained a constant. She'd accepted him, embraced him even, and helped him come to grips with himself.
The soft rumble emanating from his chest bled away, and Helena squeezed his eyes tight against a feeling of betrayal and loss.
It wasn't-- it wasn't her fault.
Seizing on the words like a lifeline, he turned to her chest, mouthing the butter-soft cotton of her sleep jersey. He felt her stiffen a little and knew she was awake, but he didn't open his eyes. Instead he focused on being close to her, her hip in his lap, their legs tangled together.
No. Body's. Fault.
The words spun through his mind, shifting into a refrain that had been spiraling through his head since his last stop of the night before.
Here we go round...
Here we go round...
At five o'clock in the morning.
Beside him, Barbara bit at her lower lip, struggling to maintain the sanctity of the silence. Helena's mouth was moving against her sleep shirt, warm breath heating her breast. The action was less overtly arousing than... sweet, and she raised her free hand to rest it on his shoulder, torn between sensuality and innocence.
Her decision was made when the movement of his jaw against the swell of her breast become more deliberate, when she detected just a bit of wet heat -- and teeth -- through her shirt. The hand that had been kneading softly against her abdomen clenched beside her torso, and Barbara captured it in hers, moving it to her other breast.
"Hel -- "
Pushing up onto his elbow, Helena heard a soft whimper. He thought it might have come from him.
It didn't matter. All that mattered was beside him.
With infinite gentleness, he cupped the breast beneath his hand. His need to be slow, to be careful, was tested when Barbara arched her back up from the mattress, so he used the motion as an opportunity to slip his left hand under her back and to begin a slow massage of the muscles under her shoulder blades. Only then did he allow himself to lower his head, to brush his jaw over the heavy flesh that he'd been mouthing.
Her nipple was ripe against his cheek, and he pressed harder, afraid to use his mouth or his teeth, even through the thin barrier of the tee shirt.
But, god, how he wanted...
Still working a minute massage against his lover's upper back, he pulled his other hand free of her breast and slid it down her torso, past the waist of her boxers, cupping her vulva through the fabric.
She couldn't feel it, he knew that. But, he could, and he increased the pressure of his fingers against her shoulders, the stubble on his chin tugging against her shirt. He felt his jaw begin to move, a tiny, repetitive shaking that set his teeth to chattering, and he heard Barbara's heart rate pick up just a little as he caressed the nipple under soft fabric with his lips.
With an odd clarity, he grasped just why men were so hung up on women's breasts: they didn't have them. Then clarity fled when a series of strobe light images seared his mind's eye: the two of them on their sides, with him holding Barbara from behind. He could see one of his hands kneading her breasts, rough and demanding, as she pushed back against him; his other hand was between her legs, taking... thrusting...
The image shattered when he realized that it was he -- his old body, his real body, in front, being taken. The lingering fragments shredded him as he could see -- almost feel -- Barbara's hand delving between his legs, touching him so deeply, possessing him in a way that was no longer open to him.
Carefully, he moved his hand from between Barbara's legs, resting it on her waist, where she could feel.
No. Body's. Fault.
And those words from the night before danced again through his aural memory.
Between the motion
And the act...
For Thine is the Kingdom
Barbara couldn't miss the change in her partner. One moment, he'd been moving almost frantically against her, soft panting underscoring the shaking of tightly torqued muscles. A single heartbeat later, he was still against her, his silence profound.
Yet... yet, he was still there, and she could feel his heart pounding against her where their bodies pressed together.
She also felt it when his hand -- the hand that had not been performing a miracle mini-massage against her back, the hand that she hadn't been able to feel -- came to rest on her waist.
The heat of shame mixed with the arousal that had been suffusing her upper body, and the redhead bit at the inside of her cheek. Mustering her courage, she trailed her hand down his bicep, tracing the corded muscles of his forearm, braiding her fingers with his where they trembled against the elastic of her boxers.
Heaven knew, she hadn't been able to surpass her own fears this last week; she hadn't been able to let go in the same way. Although her lover hadn't asked, had given no indication that he wanted anything more than her hands and, the night before, her mouth, perhaps it was time to try again.
"Hel," she moved their joined hands to her thigh. "Want to help me out here?"
Somehow, Helena swallowed the strangled noise that wanted to escape him as his ardor, almost impossibly, cooled in the face of Barbara's question.
God, she was asking him to help her. She was fuckin' asking him to... handle her, something that he knew she hated. She was offering him everything.
Shamed, he shifted to rest himself lightly over her, brushing her mouth with a tender kiss.
"I love you so much, Barbara."
Barbara searched her lover's face, unable to see his eyes under the curtain of his lashes. Moving her hands to his back, she absently traced the knobby ridges of his spine with her fingers, feeling the gooseflesh rise on his skin.
"You were out late," she finally tried.
She knew that Helena had come in well after she'd turned in at two in the morning. When she'd groggily pulled Katie into bed at six for her pre-breakfast, Helena had been there, spooning her loosely. When she'd returned their sated daughter to her bassinet after almost an hour of slumbrous feeding, Helena had finally stirred just enough to work himself into the circle of her arm and hold her close.
"I -- "
The brunette's voice was raspy with sleep.
"-- went prowling."
Gently, Barbara traced the almost-healed nick on his jaw, easily recognizing the signs of a scuffle.
"Did you find what you were looking for, Hel?"
Helena gave the question its due. True, once he'd realized that George was taking him way too metaphorically, he'd ditched Chains of Love in a hurry. For some goddamned reason, he'd ended up at the other club that had been a focus of their investigation the year before: The Speak Easy. For almost two hours, he'd hung out at the poetry bar, nursing a never-ending shot of tequila and listening to the angst crowd reciting poetry.
Mercifully, he seemed to have hit the club on a night when they were reading published works instead of the kind of gawd-awful dreck that he'd encountered the year before. And, while Yeats and Eliot hadn't done much for his mood, at least he hadn't had sex throwing itself at him.
For the first time since waking up, Helena met Barbara's eyes.
"I came back to find you."
For a moment, Barbara struggled for breath, for reason, then she pressed a lingering kiss to her partner's jaw.
Yet, she couldn't deny that, as touching as the word were, they weren't necessarily an answer.
Loathe to press further, she moved enough to capture his mouth, teasing her tongue against his lips. His ragged gasp was enough, and she allowed herself to be drawn into the kiss.
A low groan, the awareness of his hips rocking against hers, drew her from the leisurely tangle, and she trailed a hand across his flank.
"Hel, do you -- "
Unaccountably hesitant, the redhead searched for a way to ask.
"Sweetheart, would you like -- "
God, what did he want?
Helena couldn't find the words to answer, only the words that taunted him.
Or, maybe, just the damned lines from that poem, the one that had stuck with him all the way home last night; that section that he'd had to look up on the Delphi and print out; the page that he'd stared at on the balcony as the stars had twinkled merrily above him.
Between the emotion
And the response...
Life is very long
"I just -- " he shut his eyes, and buried his face in against his partner's shoulder. "I just want to feel you against me."
No longer open to Helena's scrutiny, Barbara allowed her brows to knit as she worked her way through a maze of emotions that she'd simply been dropped into. She palmed his shoulders, unnerved by his absolute stillness, and reached a decision.
"Turn over, Hel."
Although Barbara readily admitted that she wasn't the sharpest tack in the big box of empathy and emotion, she had learned a few things from Helena. One of those, one very important thing, was that -- for Helena -- the physical was inexorably linked to the emotional.
A dark head rose slowly, puzzlement painted in broad strokes across strong features.
Fashioning a smile from the tattered reserves of her courage, she rubbed his back, then gave him a small push.
"On your stomach, Sweetie."
Typically, Helena was moving himself into position before Barbara had finished speaking. Her heart skipping a beat or two, Barbara shed her shirt, then turned and moved behind him, sliding her arms around his chest. Resting her body on his back, she kissed down the hollow of his neck, then moved her hand down to cup the sweet, heavy softness between his legs. Although Helena's breathless, helpless sound of surprise made it difficult, Barbara didn't linger, instead returning her focus to his back and shoulders.
Helena had to stop, to wet his lips.
Those clever, wicked hands moved between his torso and the mattress, teasing at his belly. Warm air ghosted his shoulders.
"The other night, Hel, I missed your back."
He felt the muscles in Barbara's arms tense, and his lover pushed herself a little lower on his back. Satin lips blessed the broad expanse between his shoulders; full breasts pressed against his lower back, the drag of pebbled nipples on his skin almost painful.
"How does this feel, Sweetheart?"
The question itself was a tease. Barbara had to know how much her voice turned him on.
"Like I'm gonna poke a hole in the mattress," he managed on a breathy exhalation.
He felt the curl of Barbara's lips against his side just before the snap of the elastic of his boxers against his waist.
"Lose these, Hel."
Somehow, he managed it without rolling Barbara off him. Helena thought that the eager assistance of slim fingers might have had something to do with the feat. Then, there wasn't anything to think about, just sensation: the press of her breasts against his ass; her tongue washing the small of his back; her fingers insinuating under his chest again to scrape his nipples.
God, it was Barbara and it was amazing and she was touching him and holding him and it felt so goddamned perfect.
Arching into the contact, Helena lost himself in the blanket of soft skin and enticing touch. He gave himself to her quiet murmurs of appreciation and love and the press of diamond peaks driving his hips forward until all he wanted was to spread his legs and push back... to take her inside... to be possessed... to be filled as the person that had been created for her.
Only for her.
The blood pounded through him. He heard his own soft moans muffled against the pillow.
Without thought, one knee was already pulling up under his body, readying, when the weight of reality came crashing down, leaving him hollow and breathless.
It took the redhead a moment to process her lover's words. Even as she questioned what she'd heard, she couldn't doubt the message of his body.
Beneath her, Helena grew rigid and still.
It was no more than a whisper. It carried the impact of a gunshot.
Her stomach clenching, Barbara pushed herself to the side, barely able to catch her partner's arm with one hand when he turned away, curling into himself.
Cursing her limitations, she pushed herself up the bed and wrapped her arms around him from behind.
His muscles hummed, tight as violin strings, under her hands.
"Sweetheart, what is it? What did --"
Cloaked in Barbara's arms, the press of bare flesh -- bare, womanly flesh -- against his skin an agony, Helena roughly shook his head from side to side. Unable to stand the fear and self-recrimination in her voice, he reached back to find Barbara's hand and brought it to his chest -- his goddamned firm, hard pecs -- and ground their joined hands over his heart.
"I don't -- "
Baffled, terrified, Barbara struggled to make sense of his words. His voice grew muffled when he shook free and slid from the bed, snagging his boxers on the way.
"-- Want -- "
By the time she sat up, Helena was already at the door to the bedroom, fisting his arms into the shirt he'd worn the night before.
"I'm sorry, Barbara."
God, he hated the confusion and hurt in her face, emotions that he'd put there.
"I just.. I just can't right now."
Helena was halfway down the hall, buttoning the shirt that reeked of stale cigarette smoke and alcohol, before his fingers recognized the folded piece of printer paper that he'd stuffed in the pocket early that morning. Grimacing, he yanked it out and unfolded it, the words in stark san serif type as real as they'd been the night before.
Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o'clock in the morning.
Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom
Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long
Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom
For Thine is
For Thine is the
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
Although their entire interaction had been almost deathly quiet, the noise of Helena's sudden departure managed to awaken Katie. Despite an overwhelming desire to fling herself into her chair and follow Helena, Barbara took their daughter's quiet fussing as a sign: they all needed some time.
"Shh, Kitten," she worked herself back to her side of the bed and carefully lifted the infant from her bassinet. "First things first, right?"
Katharine seemed to agree, instantly burrowing to her chest. Moments later, a surprisingly expressive "mmfff", followed by an eloquent butt of the tiny red head against her breast, reminded Barbara that she needed to relax just a bit.
"Sorry, Kate," she whispered, reclining against the pillows at the head of the bed and forcing herself not to think about what had just transpired with Helena.
Somehow, possibly by focusing on how it was possible to think about not thinking about a specific subject, the redhead did relax, and Katharine's agitation rapidly disappeared. Pointedly, Barbara concentrated on her daughter's tiny noises of satisfaction, on blue eyes that were so much like Helena's, on Katharine's face which displayed much of the same fixed concentration and pleasure that Helena did when...
Come to think of it, she hadn't seen that face on Helena for several weeks.
At that realization, a host of emotions attempted to make themselves known. Some were easy to identify, such as confusion and concern about what had led to this perhaps-inevitable place in Helena's adaptation. Others were more opaque, relating largely, Barbara surmised, to her own responses. The remainder were terrifyingly clear, veritable boogeymen of fear and trepidation.
How could she --
A high pitched rumble, Katie's purr, pulled the redhead from increasingly dark thoughts. With their daughter in her arms, she simply couldn't hold on to the bleak emotions. The child was too real a reminder of the wonder and goodness that she and Helena had in their lives.
When they finally emerged from the bedroom, Barbara found her partner parked on the couch, his attention fixed on the big screen.
Spongebob Squarepants, if she weren't mistaken.
Barbara moved to one side of the sofa and took in her lover. He was still in his boxers and the half-buttoned shirt that he'd grabbed during his hasty retreat. A mixing bowl that was filled with milk rested in his lap, and the brunette was chasing a few sugar-shellaced bits of puffed cereal around with a soup spoon. However, the instant that she reached for the buckles on the snugli, Helena moved his bowl to the coffee table and turned to accept Katharine from her.
Helena bounced his daughter in his arms, then blew a noisy raspberry against her tummy, taking the opportunity to inhale her sweet scent and the hint of milk that flavored her breath. When her coos quieted, he settled her in his lap and finally met the green eyes that were fixed on him.
"I'm sorry about earlier--"
Barbara's raised hand cut him off.
"Sweetheart, there's nothing to apologize for."
Barbara's smile was small, but it was a sufficient grace. Helena chewed at his bottom lip for a moment, then ducked his head in acknowledgment.
"I, uh, made coffee," he offered.
This time, Barbara's smile was a lot fuller, but Helena didn't have time to bask or even relax a little because he saw what Katie had her eye on: a tempting bowl of sugared milk sitting just a little too close to the edge of the coffee table.
He kind of thought that the shiny silver handle of the spoon that was peeking out of the bowl was pretty tempting, too.
"Hey, Kitty. You stick to your mom's milk for now, huh?"
He swung his feet to the floor and looked deeply into his daughter's eyes.
"When the time's right, I'll show you all the best sugar, starting with Cocoa Puffs and moving right into Poptarts and Swiss Cake Rolls."
Still smiling, Barbara entered the kitchen, deliberately tuning out her partner's plan to induce Type II Diabetes in their daughter before the girl turned three. As promised, the coffee pot was half-full -- just enough for the one oversized cup that she allowed herself each morning in deference to Katharine's caffeine levels. After filling her mug, the redhead turned toward the refrigerator, deciding to give in to the need to indulge herself with a little creamer, when she froze.
The sound of Helena's voice still carried from the living room: he seemed to be giving Katie a pep-talk of some sort. The steam rose from her mug, carrying with it the familiar rich aroma of morning. The nasal tones of Spongebob almost completed the picture of a happy, normal, family Saturday morning.
Except, Barbara sighed heavily, for the fact that they were far from a normal family.
Carefully, she set her mug on the counter and swung open the refrigerator door. For a long half-minute, she remained still, bathed in the yellow light of the small appliance bulb as she forced herself to complete the thought.
They were even further from the happiness that the domestic scene seemed to paint.
Reaching inside, she snagged a bottle of water, raising it to her face and rolling the green glass across her forehead. She was under no illusion that it would hold at bay the headache that had been clamoring to escape since Helena had bolted from the bedroom almost an hour before; however, perhaps the coolness would help in steeling herself for something that, frankly, she preferred not to face.
No way through it but to do it.
Eyeing the interior of the fridge again, Barbara returned the bottle, foregoing the creamer.
She'd need her coffee straight-up this morning.
Accordingly, Barbara decided to take her time. She retrieved her mug and moved to the kitchen table. The morning paper was neatly positioned next to her spot, just like any other morning, and she methodically worked her way through it as she sipped her coffee. She'd performed the ritual thousands of times and so had it perfectly timed, finishing her coffee just as she pencilled in the final number in the expert-level Sudoku puzzle.
As the redhead folded back the pages of the final section of the paper to leave the comics displayed by Helena's place setting, a muffled clatter from the living room finally drew her attention. She shut her eyes for a moment, working to center herself despite the growing clatter of wood, the clink of metal, and... muttering.
Obviously, it was time to move things along.
By the time she rinsed her cup out and up-ended it on the dish towel on the counter next to the sink, the clatter had faded to an occasional clack. The sound of Helena's voice remained a low hum, and Barbara's curiosity grew as she crossed the threshold from the kitchen to the living room.
What she found left her dumbstruck and simply... heartwarmed.
"Okay, Katie, do you still have that L-shaped thingie? Cuz I think that might fit here..."
Her partner was seated camp-style on the floor, sounding like he was puzzled out of his wits. Their three month old daughter was propped in a cocoon of pillows beside him. Around them both was strewn an impossible number of wooden slats and plastic coasters and metal fittings. Behind Helena was the cardboard box, now empty, that Helena had hauled up a few nights before.
The box had contained all of the myriad pieces now cluttering the floor, the pieces that would make up Katharine's crib.
Since she had grown fond of the oddly shaped bassinet that Helena had fashioned from a mold that he had made of her abdomen late in the pregnancy, Barbara wasn't eager to see Katie transition to a bigger bed. In addition, Helena was already beginning to make noises about reclaiming the bassinet, removing the wheeled legs, and displaying the cast of her very pregnant abdomen somewhere in the Tower.
Despite all of his earnest arguments -- including those suggesting that he could paint the entire monstrosity "flesh colored" and highlight her belly button -- Barbara was still not persuaded of the artistic merits of the endeavor.
Her own preferences notwithstanding, their daughter had decided to continue growing, and even Barbara had to admit that the bassinet was noticeably cramped for the child. However, when Helena and she had decided that a crib was in order and Helena had appeared at the Tower with the crib they picked out online, Barbara hadn't expected to see this.
Watching Helena put together the crib was something akin to an exercise in torture. Usually so graceful and fluid, he was now visibly awkward, reminding Barbara again of why -- when there was something to assemble that involved instructions longer than "Insert two batteries" -- the power screwdriver invariably came to rest in her hands.
"Lessee," the brunette's voice was distracted as he picked through a huge pile of hardware. "Socket sleeve... socket sleeve... What the heck does that look like?"
Since Katharine appeared to be engaged with chewing on a thick wad of paper that Barbara surmised to be the assembly instructions, she didn't answer. With some effort, Barbara kept her own mouth shut as well.
"Now, pay attention, Kitty -- "
Intrigued, Barbara moved closer, hoping that her presence wouldn't break the moment. She saw her partner hold up a handful of lock washers for their daughter's inspection.
"Now, all of these are extras. It's always good to have extras."
Somehow, Barbara doubted that; however, Katie gurgled her enthusiastic agreement and tried to grab the shiny rings.
"Nah, you keep reading the directions for me while I screw this dohickey in."
Very aware of Barbara's presence, Helena kept his eyes on the huge-assed screw that he was guessing held the headboard in place. Of course, from what he could figure out from the instructions, he might well be jamming the damned thing into the hole for the wheel.
"Easy to assemble, my ass," he muttered.
He heard Barbara's sympathetic hum and painted on a bright and happy smile. Then he made the mistake of looking up to show her that he was doing just fine, thank you very much.
His lacerated finger flew to his mouth; the screwdriver that had that had gauged the two inch gash in his index finger fell to the floor.
"Sunnuva -- "
Bright blue eyes under tiny crimson lashes were fixed intently on him, and Helena just managed to circumvent his natural tendencies.
Before Babs could get to him, he coiled to his feet and scooped up his helper.
"C'mon, Kitty. Let me show you how your mom taught me to do a field dressing with a paper towel."
Incongruously, Barbara felt a smile touch her lips at the memory of that particular bit of instruction from so many years before. When she heard the faucet in the kitchen come on, accompanied by a stream of barely disguised foul language, she slipped from her chair to the floor and retrieved the rather gummy instructions that Katharine had been safeguarding.
Perhaps she could lend a bit of assistance in this little project as she worked up her courage to tackle more weighty matters.
Barbara had just determined that Helena had been attempting to install the fittings for the gate side of the crib on the back side when she heard her two intrepid do-it-yourselfers returning. She couldn't hold back her smile when she saw that Katharine had one chubby hand firmly wrapped around the damp paper towel that was covering Helena's finger.
"Do you need a bandage, Hel?"
Before answering, the brunette resettled their daughter in her nest of pillows; then he lowered himself to the floor beside her and began unwinding the makeshift bandage.
"Nah. You know my metahealing. It's probably already scabbing up--?"
When his voice rose a good half-octave on the final word, Barbara leaned over and inspected the injury.
Rather, she realized with a startled blink, what was left of it. Helena's finger was all but healed.
Two sets of eyes -- one green, one deep blue -- turned to the infant who was busy shredding one of the pages of instructions for assembling her new bed.
Helena decided to shrug it off and reached for the screwdriver that he'd dropped.
"At least this testosterone stuff is good for something, huh?"
Naturally, Babs didn't let him get away with it.
"What do you mean, Hel?"
Her question had come a little too fast, and Helena knew that she wasn't talking about quick-healing boo-boos. Still, he gave it a good try at keeping things casual.
"Well, it sure didn't give me any -- "
He tapped the handle of the screwdriver against his sternum and waggled his eyebrows.
"-- manly tool skills, did it?"
For a few cowardly, craven, selfish seconds, Barbara flirted with letting her partner get away with it. She knew that she could laugh with him, offer to help him finish the crib, perhaps even find out where on earth all of those so-called "extra" lock washers belonged. They could proceed through the morning as if there was nothing more to say.
She couldn't do it. She owed Helena more than that.
"I don't need for you to have manly tool skills, Sweetheart."
She retrieved the screwdriver from his suddenly lax fingers and set to work removing the plastic glides from the back of the crib. As she'd hoped, he took the opening she'd provided.
"Just other manly skills, huh?"
Judging by the way the screwdriver wanted to slip, Barbara thought that the screw might be stripped. She set the tool beside her and sucked in a slow breath, recognizing that, finally, they had reached the Rubicon. Casting her die, she reached for her lover's hand and met his eyes.
"Just you, Helena."
Helena dropped his gaze to their joined hands, hearing nothing by gentle acceptance in his partner's words. Still, something within him curled tight, and he gently extricated his hand and reached for one of the washers that were piled near the tools.
He knew what he knew.
He clenched his jaw against the words and tossed the washer from hand to hand. Finally, the weight of Barbara's patience wore through him.
"This body can be pretty handy, Red," he managed with a twist of his mouth, "except for putting cribs together."
To his relief, she selected another screwdriver and started attacking that screw that he'd gotten part way in.
"In what ways, Hel?"
Although her eyes were firmly fixed on her work, Helena didn't think for a second that Babs was missing anything. Crossing his legs camp-style, he snagged a bolt and started working the washer onto it.
"Well, it's pretty good for fighting crime."
From the corner of his eye, he saw that gorgeous mane of red hair nod, and his confidence notched up just a little.
"And, it gives us a family that doesn't raise any eyebrows for Kat."
He felt her stiffen at that, but she didn't deny the truth of it.
"And, I'm -- well, it just takes some getting used to and--"
Very calmly, very carefully, Barbara set the screwdriver down.
It was that or hurling it across the room.
"Don't bullshit me, Helena."
His surprise at her words bordered on shock, but Barbara couldn't back down.
"Just," she gentled her tone, "don't."
When the brunette answered her, Barbara thought that he was very near tears.
"It's not so bad, Barbara."
Sighing, she resisted her urge to massage her temples or shout or simply... accept what he said. Barbara knew that Helena put up a great front, and he was so very good at being a man because, well, honestly because he was Helena. And her Helena was amazing.
Still, she knew what she knew.
"It doesn't seem like it from my side of the bed, Sweetheart."
The words stung, leaving Helena feeling vulnerable in a way that didn't feel good at all. He dropped the washer and bolt to the carpet quietly.
"I don't want to get D into this, Red, and -- "
The rest dissolved into a mumble. Based on the color pinking the tips of his ears, Barbara had a pretty good idea of what he'd said; however, she needed to hear it.
She looked at him, and he met her stare defiantly.
She continued to look at him.
"You like this body, Barbara!"
And then her strong, kick-ass partner was curled forward, hugging his knees, the words spilling out as Barbara worked to bridge the few feet of carpet that separated them.
"You like it and it's great for sweeps and for a normal family and for-- for--"
Finally close enough, she silenced him by bringing his chin up from his chest with her fingers. With her thumb, she tenderly stroked his lower lip.
"Hel, when have we ever done things the easy way?"
Helena almost laughed when he heard her. Then, he almost cried. Instead, he searched his partner's eyes, unable to believe what she was saying, what she was telling him.
And, because he couldn't just let her forget herself, he had to spell it out. He knew Barbara was a Very Brilliant Person, but sometimes she got so hung up on everyone else that she forgot herself.
"Baby," he pressed a kiss to her thumb. "You've never reacted like this. This body is made for you."
Okay, it sounded a little vain when he said it, but that didn't make it not true.
He knew what he knew.
But, when Babs answered him, Helena realized that he'd forgotten something: his partner was always one step ahead.
"We can take a mold, Hel."
Peering through his lashes, he saw green eyes twinkling impishly and one slender hand waving toward Katharine's bassinet.
"Clearly, you've demonstrated a facility with plaster of paris and latex."
The laughter didn't last long, but it was enough to let them both breathe a little.
At least it was until Barbara leaned close -- so close -- and Helena couldn't look away and couldn't make himself not hear what she was saying.
"What. Do. You. Want?"
It all came tumbling in on him then, and there was no way he could hide -- if he even had been hiding. Watching his fists clench in his lap, Helena ground out part of it.
"I want my body back."
Barbara wasn't surprised, although her heart stutter-stepped in reaction. However, when Helena looked up, his eyes open and beseeching, his voice only a raw whisper, she thought her heart simply broke.
"I want to be yours again."
Oh, god, what he was asking of her...
She worked her jaw, wishing for a way to reassure him, to give him what he needed. Ultimately, she recognized that words were futile for what they both needed.
Accordingly, Barbara squared her shoulders and nodded briskly. She spoke factually, needing them both to face it.
"It might not work, Hel."
From the outset, she'd been resigned to pursuing a solution although it had seemed like a long shot at best. Quite honestly, she'd been relieved when she'd seen Helena beginning to come to terms with the transformation.
Clearly, her reaction had been premature.
"Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right, Barbara?"
For a few moments, Barbara focused on the dark brow that had risen almost playfully. When she lowered her gaze to his eyes, her voice was all business.
"It could turn out badly."
She waited as he turned the words around in his mind, his expressive features hiding little.
"You mean I could end up a frog or a glass figurine to go by the gargoyles on the balco--"
"You could die, Helena."
It was strange, she mused, how words that she'd wanted to shout and scream had come out so calmly. Helena remained equally calm, his blue eyes meeting hers unflinchingly.
The complete seriousness in her lover's gaze could not be doubted, nor could the pain in his eyes.
"I know, Barbara."
Barbara somehow managed to suck in a breath that did very little to bring oxygen to her starving heart. She thought to speak, to find some way to respond, then stopped herself.
What was there to say?
Nodding once, she began the process of reclaiming her chair so that she could move to the Delphi and begin to devise a way to save her partner... or to kill him.
"You're too kind, Alfred."
Barbara accepted the cup and saucer that her old friend extended, gratefully inhaling the distinctive scent of Earl Grey.
"I would have come to get this in just a minute," she tacked on.
Bruce's former butler, Barbara's long-time confidant, inclined his head a few degrees toward the Delphi.
"I'm sure that you would have, Miss Barbara; however, I am under the impression that you prefer your afternoon tea to be hot or, at least, warm."
It took the redhead a moment to grasp his meaning, then she pulled a face.
"Point," she laughed, willing to admit her own tendency to lose track of time -- and almost all else -- when she was engrossed.
Alfred didn't join in her laughter, but Barbara detected a twinkle in his eyes as she sipped from her cup. Oddly, the brew seemed bitter to her.
Perhaps it had over-steeped while she'd been caught up in her abstraction.
She settled the delicate china on the left side of her keyboard and then turned to face her companion.
"I hate this, Alfred."
It wasn't until the words were out that Barbara realized that they might be open to misinterpretation.
"Not the tea -- "
The gentle understanding in his eyes cut short the awkward explanation, and Barbara slumped against the back of her chair and cast her gaze skyward.
"I simply hate it," she added for emphasis, completely indifferent to any childish petulance that laced the words.
From the corner of her eye, she saw Alfred take a measured step closer. In front of her, balanced atop her primary monitor, she saw the Princess Fiona bobbin' head nodding in sympathetic agreement as well.
Naturally, that reminded her that there was yet another member in this little party, and Barbara dropped her chin to her chest and stared at the large white rat that was occupying the cage she'd placed on the lab counter to the side of the Delphi. When she'd made a trip in to school to collect him from the Biology Department this morning, she'd found the exercise completely unsettling: something about the Sunday morning stillness of the school had been too reminiscent of cloistered churches and silent tombs.
Nevertheless, the moment that she'd selected her quarry and pulled him from the communal cage, Barbara had found herself grinning when she'd realized that she could check two items from the list she'd started many days before: clearly, given the prominence of the male rat's secondary sex characteristics, she'd forgotten how easy it was to sex a rat.
Helena's assessment, when she'd returned to the Tower with her little potential test subject, had been less reserved: "Whoa. Look at the set on him!", and he'd promptly bestowed the moniker "Studs" on their temporary guest.
Katie's response had been even more enthusiastic: the infant had taken one look at the rodent and burst into bubbly giggles. Before Helena had gotten the girl down for her afternoon nap, he'd spent a full hour helping her gently touch Studs and guiding the rat as he'd tickled Katharine with his whiskers. Although Barbara could only guess what the combined attentions of the two had done for Studs' nerves, the volume of the combined purring that had issued from the couch during the introduction had certainly done little to help Barbara concentrate on her work.
The meaning behind it had been even more unsettling for her. Although she'd come to realize how much Helena loathed his new body, Barbara still found herself rattled that he was willing to risk... everything to undo the transformation.
The night before, cuddled beside him on the couch as he'd focused on a bit of cinematic dreck involving a clan of atomically mutated people in the New Mexico hills, Barbara had worked up her courage and broached the subject.
"What about Katie, Hel?"
He hadn't pretended not to understand, however the response that had come forth had done little for Barbara's state of mind.
"You won't let anything bad happen, Red."
After a long afternoon of weighing the odds and the options, of facing the reality that she would have to pull Dinah into the equation to give them a fighting chance, Barbara had snapped.
"That's not fair at all, Helena!"
Her lover's contrition had been immediate -- and genuine, and Barbara had instantly regretted her outburst.
"I'm sorry, Barbara. It wasn't."
He'd muted the television and turned to face her, forcing her to see his sincerity.
"It isn't fair, Red."
She'd cupped his face, the beard shadow raspy and oddly real against her palm.
"I understand how much you hate this, Hel," she'd conceded, "but are you certain that you're willing to..."
Lord, it had been so difficult to think the words, much less speak them.
"...to leave Katie?"
She'd not been able to factor herself into the equation, and Helena hadn't pushed. Rather, he'd pulled her hand into his, tracing the lines of her palm with his index finger.
"You remember a while back we had a talk about you maybe not trusting me not to mess up and get dead?"
Since Barbara knew that such thoughts -- if not actual conversations -- had scarcely been unusual over the course of their partnership, she'd blinked her puzzlement.
"It was around the time that The Joker, uh, died."
Helena's prompt had brought the entire conversation back to her. She had allowed her gaze to drift upward, her eyes to track to the gears of the big clock to her left, as her infallible memory had rewound the conversation they'd had a year before.
>>"Hel, in the life we lead, there's always a chance...a very good chance that something could go wrong. I've known that since before you went on the streets."<<
The conversation had been in response to her fears for Helena's safety after their terrifying ordeal at the hands of her old nemesis. On this night, facing another frightening possibility of something happening to her partner, Barbara had had no choice but to remember the reassurance that she'd offered then.
>>"That reality is something that I can handle because I trust your abilities, your skill."<<
And, if she'd recalled correctly, she'd also attributed some of her trust to their luck, their strange luck that threw all manner of terrors and challenges at them but which, ultimately, never failed them.
The night before, with her lover waiting patiently, she'd grasped his meaning, and she'd had to nod her acceptance that, every time they ran a sweep, they were relying on luck and skill and ability. Nevertheless, the remainder of that conversation from the year before hadn't escaped her.
>>"I think what truly terrifies me, Sweetheart, is that I don't trust myself to deal with what I'd do if something did happen."<<
It was, Barbara had to admit as she reached for her tea, simply something she couldn't afford to consider further.
For the umpteenth time since Helena had disappeared into the bedroom to nap on the big bed with Katharine, Barbara checked the small window that was open on a secondary monitor. The steadiness of the the blinking yellow light, the GPS locator indicating Mike Mandrill's location, was depressing in the extreme.
Why couldn't the man have fled the city after their meeting? Why couldn't he have discovered the tiny locator embedded in his palm and disposed of it? Why couldn't he have done something other than continuing to call the throwaway cell number that they'd given him, inquiring with witless regularity about when he might get his wand back?
How would she find the will to tell the man, the next time he called, that it would be soon? How would she find the strength to ask Dinah to go against everything that the young woman had been taught not to do? How would she find the courage to let Helena go?
"Does it ever get easier?"
Barbara was unaware that she'd murmured her question aloud until Alfred responded.
"The relationship between a mentor and a protege is a complex one, Miss Barbara."
Suspecting that her smile was distinctly on the wan side, the redhead simply lifted her eyebrows in supplication.
"Indeed," the elderly man continued. "I distinctly recall the first time that Master Bruce sent you out on your own in search of Catwoman."
Barbara wanted to protest that Selina had never posed quite the same threat: dangerous, yes, but she'd never been a killer. Alfred beat her to it.
"Or, more to the point perhaps, the first time he sent you out knowing that, despite your scruples, you might have to kill."
Nodding slowly, Barbara balanced the saucer in one hand and rotated the cup ninety degrees, positioning the delicate handle in the twelve o'clock position.
"Is that right, Alfred? Fair?"
She ran her index finger around the rim of the cup, then turned the handle to point to the six o'clock position.
"Is it right to ask Dinah to invade a man's mind and attempt to take control of his will?"
She saw him open his mouth and hastened to clarify the source of her dilemma.
"Is it fair to ask that of Dinah?"
Granted, as odious and horrid as Mike Mandrill was, she didn't like using any human in the manner that she was planning; however, her entire loyalty lay with Helena and Dinah.
"It is a difficult decision, Miss Barbara, but if I may ask...?"
Somehow, rather than irking her, Alfred's measured formality was soothing. Barbara set her tea next to her mouse pad and nodded her encouragement.
"In that case, Miss Barbara, I must ask you to consider whether it is fair to Miss Dinah not to ask."
The question was so utterly, practically, perfectly logical that Barbara could only stare at her old friend. He, not surprisingly, seemed to misread her expression.
"What would you do if you had the metal abilities of Miss Dinah? Or," he continued very precisely, "what would Master Helena do if his position were reversed with Miss Dinah?"
There was no way to misunderstand.
"I see your point, Alfred," she managed. "Thank you."
They owed it to Dinah to ask, to allow her to make her own choice.
Alfred's nod as he stepped forward to retrieve the barely touched tea was not unkind.
"If you'll excuse me, I'll check on dinner. I expect that Miss Dinah should be arriving soon."
Sunday was, of course, not Dinah's usual night to come for dinner and time with them; however, the teen had almost jumped at the offer when Barbara had called her that morning. And, when she did arrive, asking for her help turned out to be far less painful than Barbara had feared.
"Well, finally!" was the blonde's first response.
While Barbara gaped and Alfred looked just the tiniest bit smug and Helena held a serving spoon of asparagus suspended above his plate, Dinah's sunny smile simply illuminated the dining room.
"Of course I want to do anything that I can to help you. I mean, I've been waiting to see if you wanted m--ffff!"
The verbose agreement had been cut short by Helena's bounding around the table, seizing the young woman in an effusive hug, and planting an enthusiastic kiss on her lips.
Barbara didn't know which of the four of them was more surprised by the kiss; however, it seemed that Dinah recovered first.
So to speak.
"ACK! Yuck! Stubble!"
Some pointed wiping of hands across mouths commenced, and Barbara touched her napkin to her lips at the twin exclamations involving the words "gross" and something that sounded like "spit". Although it did not escape her notice that the focus of Dinah's dismay was the specific tactile content of the kiss, she pointedly opted not to focus on it.
Not so Helena.
"Hey, you liked it plenty when I kissed you when I didn't remember who I was last fall."
Dinah's squeal of protest, in combination with the rising pitch of her voice, completely embodied the concept of "affronted teen".
"No way, Hel! I was just trying to help you get your memory back."
Although Helena was already returning to his seat, he didn't miss a beat.
Of course, Barbara mused as she raised her water glass to her lips, her partner had never been slow on his feet.
"Yeah, by horrifying me into awareness."
"Oh, right, just make me want to help yo--"
Barbara decided that they'd had their fun.
She waited for the two to settle themselves, not fooled for a second by the abashed dip of a dark head, then she worked to gather the tattered threads of their conversation.
"Are you certain that you're willing to try this, Dinah?"
The alacrity of the young woman's nod was as gratifying as her earlier verbal response, however Barbara thought she detected a trace of hesitance.
"What is it, Honey?"
Aware that Helena had become very still beside her, Barbara placed her fork on the edge of her plate and waited patiently.
She didn't have to wait long.
"It's okay, really, Barbara."
The blonde pushed a lock of hair behind one ear, and Barbara acknowledged that, one day, she was simply going to have to tell Dinah how telling the gesture was.
"It's just, well -- "
Sky blue eyes met hers, wide and innocent.
"-- I've never really tried to control anyone."
Ready to accept the words at face value, Barbara detected a hint of pink in her current ward's cheeks.
Speaking of "tells".
The redhead cocked an eyebrow. Her lover wasn't quite as patient.
"Yeah, right, D. Spill."
The pink turned into a bright red.
"Well, there was this time in Junior High, and I thought I could get Davy Machiono to pick me for his volleyball team during gym, but I guess it didn't work or maybe I'm not powerfu--"
Barbara decided to put an end to Dinah's self doubt.
Not to mention the warbling meander down memory lane.
"I doubt that it will be a problem, Dinah. Don't forget that your skills have progressed quite a bit, and we'll be using sodium thiopental to make Mr. Mandrill more open to suggestion."
Silence ruled the room for a few beats, leading the redhead to suspect that her attempt at a pep talk had missed the mark. However, when Helena jumped in, her doubts vanished as the smile bloomed on Dinah's face.
"No sweat, D. You can practice on me."
Helena really didn't mind the slap of the leather against his knuckles. The sting from the blows that he was firing against the heavy bag gave him something concrete to focus on, something to concentrate on instead of his own nerves.
Bouncing on the balls of his feet, the brunette ducked his head and wiped the sweat from his forehead against his shoulder. He managed the movement so smoothly that he caught the bag with another flurry of punches when it swung back from arcing from his last volley. Before the bag could do a full spin, he danced to the other side and landed a noisy sidekick.
Didn't know where all the energy was coming from. After the workout he'd put in with Dinah after her classes this afternoon, he should have been collapsed on the couch or something. Hell, after all the practice he'd been letting the Kid do on controlling his mind for the last three days, he shouldn't have been quite so keyed up about the upcoming meeting with Mr. Cape either, but it didn't seem like anybody had bothered to tell his nerves that.
That was the day that Barbara had circled on the calendar, the day that Red had decided they should try to get his body back. She'd given a whole lot of rational, linear Babs-speak about why Friday was good -- beginning of a long weekend, semester exams finished, yadda yadda yadda -- but all Helena knew was that it was taking a long time to arrive.
Still, he and D had been practicing her stuff, and he figured that things were pretty much ironed out. At least, he thought he had everything pretty well laid out in his own head.
It was Wednesday, and he was ready, dammit.
Another flurry of blows didn't do much to settle his restless energy, but the sound of the door to the training room clicking open ended his virtual bloodbath.
"I'm sure that if you'll just give the bag a chance to catch its breath, Sweetie, it will tell you where you left the remote."
Helena allowed the bag to glance off his side and looked over his shoulder, needlessly confirming that it was Barbara coming in instead of Dinah.
He thought he was pretty glad about that.
When he saw that she was dressed in her workout gear, those baggy heather-grey sweats that Babs had worn forever and a form-fitting wife-beater tee, his heart rate picked up, and he decided that he was really glad.
Still, he was surprised he hadn't heard her come up from work.
"Is D still playing on the Delphi?"
With the ease of long practice, Barbara positioned her chair at the end of the parallel bars and pulled herself up. She gave a small straight-armed swing, then allowed herself to drop, catching her weight under her arms on the twin beams.
"With Katharine," she confirmed.
Grimacing against the strain, the redhead decided not to share her recurrent nightmare that -- given the amount of time she spent on someone's lap in front of the computer -- Katie would be hacking into the Delphi before she was toilet-trained.
Or weaned, for that matter.
Helena's soft snort of laughter carried easily through the room, and Barbara met his eyes as she levered herself up again to carry her weight on her hands and wrists. Pointedly, she refused to look down, to track the position of her legs and feet.
"You think the Peapod's ever going to learn to write, or is it gonna be all typing?"
Carefully, Barbara walked herself down the length of the bars, stopping when she reached the end. She took the opportunity to catch her breath before tackling the tricky turn for the trip back.
"By the time she's in kindergarten, Hel, all children will probably just be transmitting their thoughts to a central teaching computer."
Bracing herself, the redhead pulled her left hand from the bar, twisting her body and carrying her weight on one hand long enough to make the ninety degree turn to the right bar. She gave herself one slow exhalation, then repeated the move with her right hand, effectively completing her one-eighty.
A year before, she'd had little difficulty managing an occasional flip; however, she was still rebuilding some muscle after the pregnancy. Thus, despite the horrid awkwardness of her current technique, she forced herself to endure.
Attempting to overreach and show off and landing face-first on the mat was simply not on her list of things to do.
When she reached the starting end of the bars, Helena was waiting by her chair, one of the worn cotton towels that they kept in the training room draped around his neck. His fingers almost itched to sweep his partner into his arms and cover the last few feet for her, but he knew exactly what sort of reaction that would get him. Instead, he popped the cap on his water bottle, extending it in invitation when Barbara dropped into her chair.
The smile that he received when Barbara accepted the bottle stole his breath.
"God, you're gorgeous."
It was out before he thought better of it.
Of course, in the soft track pants that he was wearing, there really wasn't any way to hide his reaction.
Suspecting that the heat that touched her cheeks had little to do with her little exercise on the bars, Barbara took a long swallow from the water bottle. By the time she passed it back to her partner, she was able to manage a serene smile.
"I believe, Hel, that you just like to see me sweat."
To his credit, the brunette didn't even try to dodge the playful accusation.
"You betcha, Red."
His easy grin was hard to resist, and so when he turned to set the water bottle on the free weight bench, Barbara dropped her tone a half-octave.
"Why don't we get sweaty together, Hel?"
When he came back around, Barbara thought that his expression lay somewhere between endearingly hopeful and stereotypically leering.
Inclining her head toward the rack on the wall, Barbara reached under the arms of her chairs for the batons she kept concealed.
"Grab a staff, Helena."
A smile that was unequivocally predatory coursed across her partner's features. Noting that he was selecting a staff that was slightly heavier than his usual, Barbara tapped her batons together, weighing her options.
She certainly had no problem with using the long poles from time to time: indeed, she made a point of remaining conversant with the weapon. However, with her waist-height worldview, the length of the staff made sparring... unwieldy. Nevertheless, with Helena's increased height and upper body mass, in combination with a larger staff, perhaps a bit of reach could be beneficial.
With Helena returning, casually twirling his weapon in a figure eight, Barbara decided that it was too late to change her mind. The batons extended with twin flicks of her wrists, the ssshhhuuu-snick of each weapon locking into place a clear signal.
Without further word or gesture, they were on.
There were, of course, no rules to their sparring since, in a fight on the street, such courtesies were laughable.
Barbara saw Helena's first strike for what it was: a feint to get her to bring both of her batons into play. Almost casually, she batted away the end of his staff, keeping her right hand near the wheel of her chair. Accordingly, when the brunette followed through on the swing by jumping behind her, she was able to rotate smoothly and parry the swing that was directed toward her back.
The redhead showed her teeth, smiling sweetly.
"Are you slowing down, Hel?"
"Do you need me to?"
The question was punctuated by the clack of the wooden staff meeting the metal of her baton.
Barbara shook her head, pleased that her partner hadn't risen to the bait: in the early years of their training sessions, her young protege had been quick to fall for such tactics and to allow temper to rule, making it too easy for Barbara to score. Now, after years of practice and bruises and hard lessons, Helena was circling warily, clearly hunting for an opening. Warily following him with minute turns of her chair, Barbara considered going on the offensive, perhaps releasing one of her batons and then moving in to strike while he dodged the projectile.
A movement of Helena's staff, almost a blur, ended that idea.
The tip of the weapon was coming down, but Barbara calculated that it wasn't aimed at her. Rather, the staff seemed directed at the side of her chair... or the wheel? Clasping the rim of the wheel between her fingers and the baton that was still in her palm, the redhead followed the trajectory, unable to believe that Helena was trying an old, old tactic.
Frankly, she thought that he'd learned years ago not to go for the wheels of her chair: it was simply too easy for her to perform a quick pop-wheelie that captured the end of her partner's staff in the spokes and neatly wrested the weapon from Helena's hands.
Not to mention, as often as not, also delivering a blow that left her protege with a black eye or a knot to the jaw.
In the instant before she yanked back on the wheel, Barbara saw the brunette rise on the balls of his feet and the tactic clicked: Helena wasn't attacking directly; he was planting the end of his staff in the mat preparatory to vaulting over her and striking from the other side while she was distracted with her chair.
In a movement so smooth that she almost wondered if they had practiced and choreographed this play, Barbara released the rim, allowed her hand to drop, and used gravity's momentum to carry her baton against the end of the staff just as it came to rest on the mat. The timing was perfect, knocking Helena's makeshift vault pole askew in the instant that he began his jump.
As graceful as he was, he didn't fall. However, to Barbara's gratification, there was a flurry of scrabbling for footing that allowed her to tag him sharply on the hip with her other baton.
"Sunnuva -- "
"Sorry, Sweetie," she managed with a laugh.
When he joined in, she relaxed her guard for a bit, and he ruefully inspected the staff in his hands as if it were to blame for his bobble.
"Guess I'll keep my feet on the ground, huh?"
Beckoning with one baton in a "come hither" fashion, Barbara threw him a wink.
"Probably wise, Hel."
When he ducked his head, peering from under bangs that he'd never cut, Barbara had to work hard not to fall for the patented hangdog grin. Instead, she touched her baton to the tip of his staff and nodded briskly, and they fell into a less aggressive play, focusing on technique and finesse rather than brute force and surprise.
For a good eight minutes or more, only the clatter of their weapons and an occasional gulping breath filled the room. Helena kept his feet cemented to one spot on the mat, his eyes fixed on Barbara's, his staff almost moving by itself as he thrust and parried. However, probably inevitably, when his partner faltered for just a split second and he saw her pull in a deep breath, his focus wavered.
There was this bead of sweat making its way down her throat, down her chest, ready to hit the scooped neckline of her sleeveless tee. It wasn't like it was going to be alone there: there was this dark, wet patch where the sweat had pooled on the chest of her tee, and the thin fabric was plastered to her skin and...
Licking his lips, Helena barely blocked a healthy blow aimed at his knee.
He so needed to think about something other than sinking his face into Red's decolletage.
"I kissed Dinah."
Busy rolling his eyes at himself -- Why the fuck had he thought that would be a better thing to think about? -- Helena allowed Barbara to tag him on the wrist.
Obviously, Red wasn't getting distracted. Still, since he had brought it up, Helena figured that he should clear the air.
"No," he shook his head and countered her jab to his solar plexus by swinging his staff straight up. "I mean again."
Furrowing her brow, the redhead neatly blocked a sweep from the side.
"Right. Last fall and then again on Sund--"
"No, this afternoon."
Helena's almost casual upswing caught the baton in her right hand and flipped it out of her fingers. Without thought, Barbara managed to pluck the compact weapon from the air before it could spin away.
"Pardon me, Helena?"
She saw the overhead swing coming and raised the batons, crossing her wrists and catching the heavier weapon in the X formed by her rods. For two struggling breaths, she carried the strain in the tendons of her wrists, then she slid one baton along the length of the staff and rapped Helena sharply on the knuckles.
Sucking air through is teeth -- damn, that smarted -- Helena yanked his staff free and brought it to his chest.
"Uh, yeah, earlier today when we were doing the mind control practice, and she wanted to work on making me do something I wouldn't..."
For some reason, Helena thought his voice was getting tinier and tinier. Mercifully, Barbara spared him the humiliation of going totally falsetto.
"And having you kiss her is what she picked?"
Since the depth of color in her partner's face -- and neck -- and ears was answer enough, Barbara didn't wait for a response. Likewise, she chose not to mention that those sorts of... events seemed to occur when Helena wasn't herself.
Two more days, and they could put it all behind them.
The thought somehow managed to kickstart the flagging muscles in Barbara's arms and upper body, and she feinted for Helena's jaw. When he raised his staff, she reversed her swing and struck him sharply at the back of his knee.
The opening was brief, an almost undetectable quiver of his quadriceps, but Barbara knew her partner well enough to seize it. She pushed herself from her chair, locking her arms around his waist and allowing gravity to take them to the mat.
Holy horny toads.
Helena forced his muscles to relax as he fell, feeling the bite of his own staff scoring the edge of his mouth. Still, with his partner covering him from the waist down, worrying about a little scratch was the farthest thing from his mind.
"Do you surrender, Helena?"
The energy in the room shifted as Barbara pushed up on her arms and worked her way up his torso. Pinned, fixed by green eyes that seemed overbright, Helena swallowed roughly.
"Always to you, Barbara."
Red lashes drifted shut for a slow moment, and Barbara allowed the words to work through her. When she opened her eyes, her gaze fixed on the full lips below her and the smear of blood where the staff had nicked him. Slowly, she lowered herself a few inches and washed the crimson with her mouth.
The soft, helpless noise that he made was her undoing.
Without lifting her body, she slid down his torso a few inches and buried her face against his neck. The scent of his sweat was musky and sweet; the faint rasp of rough hair against her skin, a delicious tease.
Deliberately, she nibbled around the collar of his tee and worked her hand between them. When he bucked under her, she used the momentum to bring herself upright again. Balancing herself with one hand on his shoulder, she grasped the ribbed collar of his shirt with the other and twisted, pulling back.
The rip of the fabric, followed by the cool air of the room hitting his chest, set Helena on fire. The hunger he saw in Barbara's eyes just about caused him to explode.
"Bar -- "
He had to stop and remember to breathe before he caught her hand and brought it to his mouth.
"Barbara, I can stay this wa--"
Her hand flexed within his and a lightly calloused finger came to his lips silencing anything further.
Speechless, Barbara managed to shake her head in denial, unable to find a way to respond to the offer.
Dear god. Helena had let her know that he'd rather risk dying than remain in this body. How could she even consider what he was suggesting?
A caged bird might be safe, it might be a thing of beauty and enjoyment for its owner, but it couldn't truly soar.
"I want you back, Helena."
She felt more than saw the almost infinitesimal nod against her hand.
It was enough, and so Barbara inhaled slowly and deliberately worked to change the mood.
"However, right now, Sweetheart - "
She worked her hand free and rested it on his other shoulder, counterbalancing her weight.
"--at this instant, I need to be close to you."
Determined to wait as long as it took, Barbara only had to school herself to patience for a few seconds until his eyes found hers.
"To you, Helena."
The thrust of his hips under her suggested that the strategy had been effective. Helena's lazy smile added weight to that conclusion.
"Top or bottom, Ma'am?"
Sparing a moment to swat her younger partner for his choice of language, Barbara arched a brow.
It was all he needed.
Barbara was all he needed.
Coiling beneath her, Helena effortlessly shifted them, coming to rest above his lover. Not giving the redhead a chance to catch her breath, he caught her mouth with his while his hands worked restlessly against the barriers of her clothing.
"Hel -- yes."
He captured the rest of the breathy sigh before releasing her mouth and beginning a hot wet trail of kisses along her jaw and down her throat. Groaning softly into her neck, he felt his arousal pulse fervently in his groin as she raked her nails down his back.
"God, Baby, I'm not gonna last long if you keep that u--P."
With Barbara's hands pushing his track pants out of the way, Helena lowered his face to the crook of her neck, his lips and tongue working to consume her. A groan tore from his throat when her hand brushed him, setting his cock to twitching.
"Help me -- "
Barbara's voice was rough, hot breath panting against his chest.
"-- get my sweats off, Hel."
Somehow, he held it together long enough until he found himself holding himself above her. Barbara's eyes were so dark, fathomless blackness surrounded by the thinnest band of green. One hand resting lightly at the juncture of her thighs, he searched her eyes, her face, and found nothing but want.
Clever fingers covered him, and Helena's arms almost gave out. Gritting his teeth, he braced himself above his partner, moaning softly as she guided him to her.
She was so frikkin' wet and ready and he could feel the heat against him and --
Her hands already locked around the small of Helena's back, Barbara didn't allow him to pull away. Instead, she gulped oxygen and searched for sanity.
His eyes, still gold, were apologetic.
"Uh, just let me -- " A strong hand gestured toward the other end of the Tower, toward the bedroom Barbara assumed. "-- get some protection."
It took no effort at all to formulate a response.
"Forget them, Hel."
She almost smiled at the frank confusion in his eyes.
Instead, Barbara captured her lover's jaw between her hands and pulled him close. Just before their mouths met and words were lost, she managed to whisper a response.
"No condom this time."
This time at least, there would be no barriers.
Hey, little sister, what have you done?
Hey, little sister, who's the only one?
Hey, little sister, who's your superman?
Hey, little sister, who's the one you want?
Hey, little sister, shot gun!
"Tell me again why I agreed to this lame-assed plan, Helena?"
Helena briefly looked away from the road and flashed his companion a smile that he hoped was equally apologetic and charming. In what he recognized as a rare fit of self-restraint, he decided to keep to himself the observation about how Dinah's choir-girl persona just seemed to disappear when she wasn't around Barbara.
"We're only kicking things off a few hours early, Dinah."
Returning his attention to driving, the brunette ducked a little to peer under the visor and verify the street address on the building that he'd just cruised by. There was no way to miss the sarcasm dripping off Dinah's response.
"Right. Because we don't want Barbara with us."
"That's exactly right."
Honest to god, he thought that they'd covered this pretty clearly during the private planning sessions that he and Dinah had had during the week. After their first practice in getting Dinah to work on controlling his mind, there hadn't been much point in keeping the idea to himself anyway. It had only taken one more go-round of letting D make him quack like a duck and promise to loan her various items from his feminine wardrobe and... well, whatever before he'd pitched the idea to her.
The Kid had still been nervous -- scared stiff, more like -- about whether she'd be able to control someone other than Helena. He'd set her straight on that PDQ: "Hey, compared to Mandrill, Dinah, I'm a regular Robert Oppenheimer. You're not gonna have any trouble handling his brain."
Still, here they were four days later, and his partner was having a case of nerves. And -- he caught the way his companion and co-conspirator sort of sank back against the passenger side door -- he'd just fuckin' yelled at her.
Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.
"Right," he repeated more gently. "In case something goes wrong."
It was true enough: Helena knew how frikkin' terrified Babs was about this whole operation. There wasn't any need for her to be present if something happened.
"Well, where's the rat then?"
He pulled into the alley behind the warehouse where Mike Mandrill had promised to meet them -- the little creep had been too damned eager when Helena had said they'd be bringing the wand -- and slowed to a crawl while he hunted for the most likely spot to park the van.
The irony that this was the same place where it had all started for him over a month before wasn't lost on him.
Man, he hated irony.
"I'm the rat, D."
Occupied with parallel parking between two dumpsters and running a checklist of all of the gear they were bringing and filtering out the blare of the radio, Helena admitted that he probably hadn't given a lot of thought to his answer. The indignant squeak from the passenger seat suggested that he needed to pay a little more attention to the conversation.
"We never talked about skipping the test run, Helena! You know how important Barbara said that it might be."
It was pure outraged teenager, and Helena waited until he put the vehicle in park before turning and facing his companion.
"She also said that we'd probably only have two tries, Dinah."
He saw the next question taking shape in her eyes before the words filled the hollow of the van.
"What's that got to do with anything?"
Hey, little sister, what have you done?
Hey, little sister, who's the only one?
I've been away for so long
I've been away for so long
I let you go for so long
Hunting for some way to explain, Helena puffed out his cheeks and exhaled. Then, he drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, keeping time with Billy Idol while the conversation that he'd had with Barbara late Sunday night rewound itself in his head.
Dinah and Alfred had left a couple of hours before, and he and Babs had been snuggled under the covers. She'd been pouring through a big, thick book about drugs and anesthetics he thought, and he'd been inspecting his nails.
"You know that the wand could heal your spine."
It had been kind of funny: he'd been sitting there, just sort of thinking about what shade -- or shades -- he was going to paint his nails first, and he'd heard the words come out of his mouth.
Neither of them had laughed.
He'd held his breath until Barbara had marked her place in the book and looked over. Her gaze had been level, but Helena had noticed that she hadn't had as much success with her voice.
"I know, Hel."
Three little words, and suddenly he'd had a pretty good hunch that the idea had already crossed her big brain one or two hundred times.
"Then, let's do it."
Those gorgeous green eyes had widened, the only hint that he might have hit a nerve, so he'd tried to press the advantage.
He'd waved at himself and ab-so-fucking-lutely put everything he had into sounding convincing.
"This, well, it works okay, and with you on your feet, we could be on the streets together. We'd be unbeatable."
It had been what he figured to be the best shot: appealing to her sense of duty and her weird love for this sick city. In return, she'd pursed her lips a little, and something inside of him had twitched at the thought that she might be considering it.
"Is that what you want, Helena?"
Her voice had been controlled, and he'd known.
"Do you want to use what might be our only shot so that I can --"
She hadn't finished the sentence. Helena had thought that, maybe, she hadn't been able.
There were so many ways to fill in the end, the meaning: "walk" didn't do it justice at all; "feel again", again, wasn't enough; "be free of the goddamned chair" was asking her to be selfish; even "be whole again" wasn't right either.
He'd heard his answer before he'd known he had it.
"Barbara, I want you to be able to be everything you want."
Even as he'd seen her shake her head, she'd reached for his hand and traced his knuckles with her thumb. For a few moments, he'd marveled at the fingers that were his, that were so similar to what his should be.
"And I, Sweetheart, don't want you to give up your one chance to be able to be the person you are."
Take me back home
There is nothin' fair in this world
There is nothin' safe in this world
And there's nothin' sure in this world
And there's nothin' pure in this world
Look for something left in this world
"Because, D," he turned enough to face her, "we might have two chances, and I'll be damned if I waste one on a rat."
He forced himself to wait while pale blue eyes searched his face. Finally, Dinah seemed to find whatever she was looking for and nodded slowly.
The smile that he managed felt pretty... tight, but his companion's answering grin made up for it. It followed him as he reached behind the front seats and snagged the gear bag and started pawing through it one more time.
The wand. Duh.
Sodium pentathol, just to make Mikey more cooperative.
Field medical bag, because what good superhero left home without one?
Some rope and handcuffs, to keep Mandrill under wraps while Helena was getting worked over.
Helena's hand froze for an instant over the last bundle in the bag: another set of ropes and padded cuffs. Those were for him: If the first transformation was typical, he wasn't so sure that he'd be able to keep himself still while Dinah dealt with Mandrill.
Sucking it up, he flipped the canvas flap back down on the bag and looked over to his partner.
"Okay, D, one more time: What's the drill?"
There was a flicker of impatience that crossed her features, then Helena got to feeling proud when the Kid pushed it away and nodded.
"We show Mr. Cape, uhm, Mr. Mandrill the wand and persuade him to let us restrain him."
The two shared a smirk over the teen's wording, then Dinah tucked a lock of hair behind her ear and picked up steam.
"Then you get him to do some transformations of inanimate objects while I try to, uh -- "
"Make like a wallflower," the brunette supplied.
This would give Dinah a chance to work on sneaking into his head and she could use the practice to see if she could block the effects of the wand with a TK bubble.
Just in case.
Pointedly, Helena chose not to think about just why they might need Dinah to throw a TK shield between the wand and his body.
Dinah's nodding got him back to the conversation.
"Right. And, then we get you in position for him and then ... "
Helena fashioned a smile of some sort.
"Yeah, D. Then, it's showtime."
The van seemed to get awfully quiet for a second or two before Billy's final chorus blasted through the speakers, shaking Helena from his inertia and undoubtedly cementing the lyrics that would be running through his head during the ordeal.
He just hoped that it wasn't the last song he ever heard.
Pushing that cheerful thought away, he hefted the gear bag and reached for the ignition key.
"C'mon, Dinah. Let's get this over with."
It's a nice day for a white wedding
It's a nice day to start again.
It's a nice day for a white wedding
It's a nice day to start again
"Oh, fuck, Barbara. I'm sorry."
Since words were utterly, completely, beyond her at the moment, the redhead raised one hand, bracketing her temples between her thumb and second finger.
Surely Helena couldn't believe that an apology would...
She caught herself and roughly shook her head as she lowered her hand.
What was done, was done.
"I didn't mean to ass it up so ba--"
She couldn't let her partner finish.
"Stop, Hel." She raised her hand again, this time palm out. "What's done is done."
Throughout her day at school, the final day of the semester and the school year, Barbara had battled a sense of unease. Through the classes and the hours, she'd been possessed by the same restless energy that had consumed her in the training room two days before -- on steroids.
It should have been easy enough to chalk it up to the high-octane energy of her students as they went through the motions of the day. It was logical enough to attribute it to the plans that she and Helena and Dinah had for the evening. It was even possible to consider that it stemmed from her own misgivings about returning Helena to a female form.
Yet... Yet, none of those very reasonable explanations had satisfied her.
After a day that had seemed interminable, after accepting textbook check-ins from class after class, after enjoying her usual noon visit from Helena and Katie, after submitting her final semester grades, Barbara had still not been at peace with her day. She had, bluntly, not felt ready for the ordeal that her partner -- her partners, she had to acknowledge, since Dinah was very much a factor -- and she were about to face.
In her years in the business, the cyber-vigilante had learned through hard experience that ignoring that sort of trepedation was unwise. Nevertheless, she'd made her way home, automatically stopping to top off the tank in the Hummer and unsuccessfully attempting to focus on the odd grinding in the transmission when she shifted gears in lieu of fretting over the indefinable.
The minute she'd pulled into the parking garage at the Tower, she'd known that her intuition had been dead on, and, not for the first time, she'd vowed not to ignore it in the future.
"I knew we shouldn't have -- "
Again, this time with a shake of her head, Barbara halted her partner's self-castigation.
"Ultimately, Hel, I gave the go-ahead."
She simply wouldn't have Helena or Dinah taking responsibility for a situation that she'd initially suggested, then planned. Granted, the fact that they'd set things off without her was...
Again, Barbara shook her head, then raised her hand to apply pressure to the bridge of her nose.
She didn't have the luxury to indulge in her own pique, and if she were honest with herself, her presence would have been no guarantee that things would have been different.
Even if her initial planning had been predicated on the assumption that she would be present and, hopefully, spare her partners this fallout.
The redhead inhaled slowly, putting behind her for the moment the adrenaline that had coursed through her when she'd pulled into the parking garage and realized that something was very, very wrong. The sight of the van parked haphazardly across two spaces, the driver's side door not fully latched, had been indication enough. When she'd found a few spatters of blood staining the inside of the elevator, cold terror had battled icy fury.
Alfred had been in the living area to greet her, Katie in his arms working at a bottle.
"They are in Miss Dinah's room," had been all she'd heard. The trip down the short hallway had seemed to take a lifetime, and then she'd pushed open the door and crossed the threshold on the whisper. In the darkness of the bedroom that they all still considered to be Dinah's despite the fact that the young woman had barely stayed there in two semesters, Barbara had found them huddled together on the twin bed.
It had taken her a moment to adjust to the darkness, to pick out and separate the entwined forms. At the same time that she'd realized that Helena had been curled protectively around Dinah, a dark head had risen and golden eyes had found hers.
"Can you help her?"
The hoarse whisper had galvanized her, and she'd moved next to the bed. Helena had untangled from around the blonde and slipped from the room, and Barbara had finally realized that Dinah was awake, tears casting silver trails down her cheeks. Until she'd touched the young woman's cheek gently and wide blue eyes had finally turned to her, she'd been less certain that Dinah was aware.
The sensation of her youngest partner flying into her arms, her shoulders shuddering under her hands, had made it clear that Dinah was all-too-aware.
"I didn't want-- I couldn't have you there, Barbara. To see."
Dropping her hand to the arm of her chair, Barbara flexed her fingers against the metal. Truthfully, she understood why Helena hadn't wanted her present.
"What about Studs? Our test subject?"
Helena thought that Barbara's voice was deceptively level: that calm-before-all-hell-broke-loose tone she sometimes got. Clearly, the truth was the only way to go.
"I wanted to save a try."
Yeah. Like that was gonna happen.
Barbara weighed the words, taking in her partner's appearance. Helena was huddled on one end of the couch, hair still damp from the shower that Barbara had heard running while she'd been with Dinah, blue eyes wide and sorrowful. Sighing soundlessly, the redhead nodded.
It was said that the road to hell was paved with good intentions. The nobility of Helena's -- and Dinah's -- intentions seemed clear; what was uncertain was just how far down the road they'd progressed. Since Alfred had departed at some point during the time she'd been with Dinah and Katie was snoozing in her crib in the master bedroom, it was time to start connecting the points on the map.
"Tell me what happened, Hel."
The brunette plucked at the neck of the tee shirt that was still clinging to damp skin.
"Everything was pretty much according to plan, Barbara."
And, it had been: They'd run the scenario, getting Mikey to do his transformations on some coffee mugs and one of the doors in the warehouse. Dinah had stayed in the background, doing her thing, proving that she could throw a TK bubble around the wand and cut off its effects. So, feeling probably as scared as it was possible for a person to feel without actually wetting their pants, Helena had given the go-ahead.
"He started changing me back, and Dinah was in his head just sort of... monitoring him -- "
Even strapped into a chair and trying to figure out if the tingling ache in his feet as the wand did its thing was a good thing or not, Helena had seen Mandrill's expression change: something crafty and evil had shifted into his eyes. Dinah's eyes had gotten huge and scared.
"Well -- "
Unable to miss the rapid blinking of deep blue eyes, Barbara moved a bit closer and rested her hand on a shorts-clad thigh. She heard the brunette draw in a steadying breath.
"--That's when the battle really started, I guess."
Helena didn't think there was any reason to go into how it had felt, being strapped in and helpless while the body that was and wasn't right had been hit by the force of the wand. The tingling and aches and wrenching agony of the transformation and the terror over just what Mandrill might be trying for this time weren't... well, relevant.
It was more than enough to remember that it had hurt, but what had hurt worse was seeing Dinah's face during the silent battle of wills with Mike: her determination, her fear, her -- horror over what she was having to do to the guy.
"Dinah was having to fight hard to keep him from whatever it was he wanted to do to me," was what came out.
Barbara nodded once and straightened, fisting her hands in her lap. She could understand why her partner was omitting some of the details that Dinah had tearfully shared: That Mike had been shouting and begging for Dinah to stop, to get out of his head; that Helena had been writhing against the torment of limbs and flesh being rearranged and had still been begging Dinah not to stop; that, finally, Mandrill had stopped fighting, and blood had leaked from his nose and ears and the corners of his eyes.
It was blood that Dinah had tried to stop, blood that still stained her hands and the inside of the van and the elevator and, Barbara had to admit, Dinah's soul.
The situation had been unbearable for both of her charges. Barbara had suspected that it would be so; she'd hoped that by being present, she could have mitigated at least some of the difficulties that Dinah had been forced to face. While it was true that the young woman had practiced controlling Helena, invading a willing mind was a far cry from what she'd apparently had to do with Mandrill.
Musings about might making right were mercifully put on the back burner when Helena, ducking down to peer through dark lashes, spoke again.
"And, I'm not sorry that he went through that."
The words were enough by themselves; however, defiance colored every one of them.
"He deserved to feel what it's like to be -- "
When Helena visibly cast about for a suitable word to complete the thought, Barbara found herself leaning in in expectation, opening her mouth to fill in the blank.
"-- used," was the word that Helena found.
'Violated', Barbara's mind supplied at the same time.
"I just wish that the Kid hadn't been the one who had to..."
Neither of them finished that thought, and for a long ninety seconds only the ticking of the big clock filled the room. Eventually, Helena shifted on the couch and met Barbara's gaze full on.
"Well, when Mandrill collapsed, I cut myself loose and got Dinah back here."
Typically, her partner left out the portions that involved staying by Dinah's side and attempting to solace the young woman until Barbara had returned from work. Knowing that Helena had certainly had a great deal to face in addition to Dinah's trauma, she decided that it was time to focus on the other member of their family. Accordingly, she raised her hand and brought it to her lover's cheek.
To her surprise -- perhaps a trick of the light -- her hand appeared to be trembling.
To her further surprise, she found herself struck by the absence of stubble on Helena's jaw, the sensation of smooth, satin skin under her palm almost feeling abnormal.
Not for the first time, Barbara acknowledged that humans truly were infinitely adaptable, able to learn to accept or even embrace almost any reality.
"Helena, how are you doing?"
The brunette felt her stomach flip-flop, as much at the tender touch as the warm concern lacing Barbara's tone. She had no doubt that, later, there'd probably be more hell to pay about heading off without Babs, but -- for now -- her partner was letting her know what was really important.
"Uhm, okay, I guess."
She shrugged her shoulders, a little surprised to realize that, physically, it was true. Still, since she'd hadn't had the benefit of getting roughed up by a half-dozen goons this time before -- and during -- the transformation, she really didn't seem to hurt as much.
"A little stiff," she quirked her lips and waved at her upper body as Babs withdrew her hand. "Shedding all over the place."
Right on cue, those expressive red eyebrows arched, and Helena threw her partner a wink.
"I have to warn you, there's a lot of hair in the shower."
Barbara's smile was really... tight, but at least it was a smile.
"A bit of a clog, Hel?"
The brunette pulled a long face.
"Serious Liquid Plumber time, Red."
Barbara thought her laughter was a little high-pitched, verging on the jagged edge of tears. It was probably not surprising: since exiting the elevator two hours before, terror and horror and elation had all waged battle with profound sorrow and rage and gratitude. Heaven knew when the messy emotional din would sort itself out.
"Is D going to be okay?"
The hesitant question reminded Barbara that she had more important things to focus on than her own reactions.
Biting back any quick answers, any easy reassurances, the redhead considered the time that she'd spent with Dinah in the last few hours. It was difficult to distance herself from the power of the young woman's response to what she'd done -- what she'd been forced to do in order to protect and, ultimately, heal Helena; however, Barbara focused on what she and Dinah had discussed in the darkened bedroom: difficult choices and responsibility and sacrifice.
She squared her shoulders and managed a small smile.
"I believe she will be, Hel."
There were, simply put, some hard lessons that all of them had been forced to absorb in the process of growing up, and, more to the point, in growing up as the protectors of their city... and each other. As much as Barbara wished that she could shoulder the pain of some hard truths, she knew that her charges had to forge their own paths, stumbles and all.
She saw the unwillingness to accept her reassurance in expressive gamine features, and for one wild instant, she lost the threads of the conversation as she exulted over the return of those familiar features. Helena's halting words forced her to re-gather her focus.
"Maybe if we'd started with the rat and Dinah had had more time to get control over him?"
"I suspect," Barbara spoke slowly, working out the possibilities, "that in that case, we'd simply have a transgendered rat and that you would still be..."
Her throat felt thick, and so the redhead swallowed before she could finish.
"I don't think we'd have you back, Hel."
It was, Barbara recognized, very much what she'd ultimately said to Dinah: in the end, they did have their Helena back. Questions about ends-and-means notwithstanding, Dinah's own shock and guilt not to be dismissed, even whatever temporary psychological and possible physical damage that Mr. Cape might have suffered considered, they had accomplished their goal.
"Still, Barbara, I hate that I caused Dinah -- "
Barbara was having none of it.
"Ultimately, Hel," she fixed the younger woman with a long look, making certain that she had her partner's full attention. "It was my call."
Helena's nod was slow in coming, but it did finally come. Although Barbara knew that the fallout from this episode in their lives would be slow to settle, Helena's acceptance was, for now, enough.
Leaning in, she snagged both of her partner's hands and tugged. Instantly, the young woman was in her lap, seemingly determined to squeeze the air from her lungs.
Barbara didn't care a bit.
For minutes, she returned the embrace, still stunned by the different mass and shape of the person in her arms.
This was Helena. The person before had been Helena. The person before that had been Helena.
She loved them all.
Refusing to think further on metaphysical conundrums, she feathered her hands lightly across the deceptively delicate form in her lap, taking in the slenderness of Helena's shoulders, the missing bulk in her biceps, the subtle flare of her hips --
The cataloging came to an end when Helena shifted in her arms and warm breath tickled Barbara's ear.
"Relax, it's all here, Red. Everything's where it's supposed to be."
Barbara forgot to breathe at the words, holding herself fixed as her partner's head came to rest on her shoulder. Eventually, she forced herself to remember her thoughts from a moment before: whatever the fallout, for now, it was enough.
More than enough.
As Helena had just said, it was true: for now everything was where it was supposed to be.