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.
SEQUENCE/INSTALLMENT NOTE: This is the third extension to the "Elemental" series and follows Stainless. You probably should read those stories to follow this one (http://www.ralst.com).
SUMMARY: Impenetrable motivations; hard choices. The Birds attempt to nest with a cuckoo on the loose.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Special thanks to LisaM for her encouragement and to Mj/ maven for getting Barbara talking to me again.
COMMENTS: Please. Constructive comments and suggestions welcome.
"I didn't know."
She couldn't be positive, but Barbara Gordon had a reasonable certainty that when her companion responded to her protest the tone was just the slightest bit arch.
"If you'd bothered to return any of the three dozen messages I've left on your voice mail in the last month, that wouldn't be an issue, Barbara."
The redhead realized that she was slouching the tiniest bit at the reprimand and forcibly straightened her shoulders.
"It's been a busy month, Gloria."
She considered tacking on apology for having deleted all of the messages without listening to them, however, she decided to allow her embarrassed shrug to speak for her. The grey-haired doctor regarded her evenly for a long moment before nodding slowly.
"So I understand."
Gloria Frine rested her elbows on the desk and steepled her fingers.
"Still, since you're not too far into your second trimester, there's probably little harm done."
Gravely, Barbara nodded, grateful for favors small and large: the fact that she'd been so early into her pregnancy when the cancer had been diagnosed and the hysterectomy scheduled; the fact that the ensuing mayhem resulting from her lover's abduction had lasted only a month; the fact that somehow her cancer had simply disappeared; and the fact that Helena was back now.
The soft sigh of relief from beside her highlighted the last point, and Barbara turned her head a few degrees to share a small smile with her partner before returning her attention to her long-time Ob-Gyn.
"I do appreciate that you worked me -- "
Catching herself, she again glanced at Helena, warmed by the sparkle of blue eyes.
"-- worked us in after your regular hours."
She waited as her doctor leaned back in her heavy leather chair, deciding that Gloria's bark of laughter was hardly undeserved.
"Pugilistic polliwogs, Barbara, I've been holding my breath for a call from you. Of course I was going to see you once you decided to get your head out of your alimentary canal."
The half-hearted effort she made to appear affronted was handily defeated by the blush she could feel licking at her cheeks. A sound from beside her that just might have been a snort didn't particularly help matters. With a mental shrug, Barbara gave up.
"The extraction occurred just this morning, Gloria," she finally allowed.
Details about the return of Helena's memory less than twelve hours earlier weren't necessary. All that was necessary was beside her.
Slightly agog by the uncharacteristically romantic thought, Barbara recovered herself in time to find her doctor again regarding her steadily.
"Good. Perhaps there's hope for you yet."
The redhead felt one eyebrow crawl toward her hairline, but, leaning forward and beginning to flip through a thick folder, Frine continued undeterred.
"Now let's see where we are. Blood and urine off to the lab -- "
The grey head nodded, and Barbara waited as Frine reviewed the results of the impromptu exam she'd had less than thirty minutes before.
"Everything seems in order."
Bright eyes finally looked up from the folder, and Barbara felt some of the tension ebb from her shoulders.
"I trust -- "
Suspecting that her relief had been a bit premature, the redhead forced herself to meet the doctor's gaze as Gloria pointedly removed her half-glasses and allowed them to drop on their chain.
"-- that it won't be another month before your next prenatal visit?"
Barbara shook her head, detecting an echoing motion from the dark head beside her.
"Good. We dodged a bullet with the cancer remission or -- "
Frine turned her attention to Helena, grey brows quirking.
"-- whatever genetic miracle your offspring performed for her mother, Helena."
Since her doctor had long been aware of some of her partner's unique meta-genetics, she and Helena had shared their hypothesis that the child Barbara carried had inherited it's other mother's meta-healing abilities and wiped out the cancer. True to form, the older woman had accepted the revelation with scarcely a blink.
Helena's soft laugh was, Barbara decided, oddly abashed. Charmed, she turned and extended her hand, lacing their fingers when Helena reciprocated the gesture. The sound of Frine clearing her throat returned her attention to matters at hand.
"Whatever happened, Gloria, rest assured that we plan to take very good care of this little being."
"And of yourself as well, Barbara."
Already nodding automatically, Barbara slowed her motion, detecting something in the older woman's tone.
The doctor fixed her with a pointed look.
"The C-section is going to take a lot out of you when the time comes, Barbara."
Helena's soft hiss underscored her own disappointment, but she refused to dwell on it. The information confirmed what she'd already known: the chances of a natural birth were slim indeed. Accordingly, she focused on the practical.
"Indeed, Gloria. What are my options?"
The doctor stretched forward a bit and fiddled with the glasses hanging from their chain.
"Well, I assumed that you'd have no problem with a local anesthetic, but if you're feeling squeamish, general is an option."
Barbara heard her own laugh and finally released her partner's hand to wave dismissively.
"Believe me, anesthesia is the least of my worries."
She dropped her hands to the brakes of her chair, tapping at them softly before meeting the older woman's puzzled gaze.
"I was referring to -- "
"Vertical versus bikini cut?"
Mustering a chuckle at her partner's helpful suggestion, Barbara shook her head but not in time to forestall the remainder of Helena's words.
"Personally, I vote for bikini."
She opted to ignore the frankly wolfish -- or leonine -- expression she could feel directed her way. Likewise quashing her urge to swat her exuberant partner, she continued primly.
"I believe they can just follow the dotted lines, Hel."
Considering that the surgical incision from her near-hysterectomy was barely healed, installing a zipper seemed as likely an option as any.
"I was referring," Barbara continued, returning her attention to her doctor, "to doing this at home."
When the tiny woman across the desk from her didn't speak for a long thirty seconds, the redhead realized that, finally, she'd caught her normally verbal doctor flat-footed.
"By any chance are you still taking the pain meds from your surgery, Barbara?"
The question was almost preternaturally calm. The fact that Frine had foregone any of her usual colorful colloquialisms was, perhaps, even more telling.
A bit peevishly, Barbara noted that Frine didn't wait for an answer, pushing back from her desk a few inching and digging into a drawer to emerge with an ashtray and a pack of gold-tipped cigarettes. Barbara waited in silence as her medical advisor tapped one from the box and raised it in question.
"Well, she is preg--"
The doctor cut short Helena's objection with a smirk.
"If this child can cure clear-cell cancer, Helena, I don't think that a few puffs of second-hand smoke will be a problem."
Warmed by the reminder, Barbara smiled through her partner's laughter. Frine raised her heavy lighter, then paused.
"Would you like one?"
The redhead grasped that the question had not been addressed to her just as she detected the happy nod of the dark head beside her. Turning a few degrees, she raised one brow.
"Er, maybe another time."
Satisfied, she returned her attention to the older woman and waited while Gloria lit her Sobraine and took a long drag.
Underscored by a plume of smoke, the word initially made no sense; however, a quick rewind of the conversation clarified matters.
She waited with what she considered considerable patience while Gloria inhaled again, then tapped her cigarette briskly against the ashtray.
Any attempt to negotiate was cut short when the doctor leaned forward and rested her forearms on the desk.
"Since we appear to be having some trouble communicating and I have little doubt that, at this very moment, you're making plans to perform your own Caesarian, let me clarify this, Barbara."
Since the option had, in fact, occurred to her, Barbara deflated a wee bit while the cigarette was abruptly crushed into the ashtray.
"Zero. Zip. Butkiss."
Again, Frine cut her short.
"This is surgery, Barbara, and, even if it weren't, a home birth is just too risky at your age."
Not certain that the addendum had been entirely necessary, Barbara took a moment to consider her response. Eventually, she drew in a long breath and squared her shoulders.
Before she could determine whether her doctor's expression was more puzzled or frustrated, Barbara heard her partner speaking up.
"Hospitals haven't been too good to us."
Nodding, Barbara waited while Gloria leaned back, clearly taking a few seconds to consider matters.
"Perhaps a birthing center could be found, but it would be risky. And you'll have to swear not to fart around when the contractions start."
Somehow, the redhead mustered a smile, hoping that the older woman would understand that she appreciated the attempt, even if she could not accept it.
"At home, Gloria."
Her genuine appreciation for the stream of creative invective that flowed forth -- invective including imprecations to all of the deities of the major religions and colorful epithets involving estrogen and progesterone -- was curtailed when Barbara noted a movement from beside her. She just had time to catch her partner mouthing something that looked suspiciously like "talk to her later" before Frine calmed.
"Er, perhaps you should take some time, Barbara and -- "
This time, Barbara cut off her doctor without a twinge of guilt.
Again, she was quite certain that meaningful glances were being exchanged between Helena and her doctor. Unwilling to be treated as if she weren't present, she pinned her lover with a hard look; then, suspecting that a display of temper would gain her little, she took a moment to count to one hundred by primes. As she completed the exercise, she detected her doctor and her lover exchanging a long look, another word being mouthed by Helena. Deliberately, she repeated her exercise, this time going to one thousand before she pinned first Helena, then Gloria, with a long look and spoke very clearly.
"And if either one of you dare breathe the word 'hormones', I'll show you the full scope of redheaded hormones."
The words seemed to have more or less the desired effect. Barbara watched with some satisfaction as Gloria re-seated her glasses, apparently finding something of interest in the file on her desk, and Helena straightened in her chair. She chose to ignore what might have been a smirk dancing across her partner's features, simply nodding her agreement when the younger woman finally responded.
"Wouldn't dream of it, Red. Let's go get some pancakes."
In the darkness before dawn, blinking grudgingly into wakefulness, Barbara briefly assumed that the rumbling that had penetrated the first truly restful slumber she'd enjoyed in a month was her stomach. A following rumble disabused her of the notion while concurrently shaking the remaining tendrils of sleep from her mind.
Helena, of course.
Specifically, her Helena, nestled beside her in their big bed, nose burrowed into her shoulder, rumbling purr tickling her skin. For a moment, she wondered how she could have ever mistaken that sound for anything else, then let the thought fade.
Heaven knew, it had been long enough since she'd enjoyed this closeness with the other woman.
The sensation of her partner's hand kneeding softly against her side recalled her initial confusion, and, again, the redhead had to wonder how she could have presumed hunger after the tall stack she'd consumed the night before after they'd departed Gloria's office.
"C'mon, you owe me pancakes from yesterday," had been Helena's attempt at persuasion, and nothing more had been required save a promise from the vivacious brunette not to bring up matters pertaining to hospitals and plans for the birth of their daughter. Accordingly, they'd decamped to her favorite diner, a place she'd visited often back in the day after coming off late night patrols. Unhesitatingly, and to the visible appreciation of her companion, she'd ordered a lumberjack sized breakfast of pancakes, eggs, and bacon.
"What, no milkshake to go with that, Red?"
Although she'd suspected that she was having her leg pulled, Barbara had paused in her decimation of her dinner and given the suggestion due consideration. The idea hadn't been without appeal, however, mercifully, good sense had prevailed.
"I believe that coffee is more traditional, Hel," she finally allowed, not bothering to hide the regret in her tone.
After all, she'd already had the one cup per day that she, under the cajoling from her partners, had decided to allow herself during the pregnancy.
Refusing to dwell on the missing element in her feast, she'd finally settled her fork on her plate and come up for air.
"A chocolate shake might go better with tacos."
Barbara had been grateful that she'd been touching her napkin to her lips when she'd witnessed the comically appalled expression on her normally iron-stomached companion's features. There would have been no other way to hide her smile.
She'd waited as Helena had pushed her half-eaten short stack aside and taken a sip of juice.
"...Yeah, I can swing by school with that at lunch tomorrow if you want."
The offer had elicited a laugh and a demurral. Re-attacking her buckwheat pancakes, the redhead had flirted with the idea of probing her companion to see if, by any chance, Helena might be coming from the university when she delivered the offered stomach bomb. Ultimately, she'd opted to let the subject lie: Helena was an adult and quite capable of deciding whether she would continue the classes she'd started at NGU a few weeks before while under the influence of Quinn's mental reprogramming.
"You could always get a decaf."
Although Helena's suggestion had seemingly come from left field, Barbara had suspected that the other woman hadn't -- could not have -- missed the way she'd been tracking their waitress' progress through the diner to warm up other diners' coffee.
"What's the point, Hel?"
Finally, fully, stuffed, she'd pushed her plate aside and reached for her water.
"Yeah. Kind of like near-beer, huh?"
She'd smiled then been struck by a thought.
"Do you think those drinks at the club could be a problem for her, Hel?"
Dark brows had furrowed, then Helena's expression had cleared, presumably as she'd recalled their meeting at the dance club not quite two weeks before.
"Probably not, Barbara. After all, it was only two shots of vodka, and you haven't really been belting 'em back, have you?"
Barbara had shaken her head, suddenly grateful for the overwhelming depression that had kept her from the liquor cabinet while she'd been mourning her partner's presumed death.
"And," the younger woman had continued with a cheeky grin, "if the Peapod can handle your cancer, a couple of drinks won't phase her."
She'd managed a nod and a smile, yet had been unable to accept matters quite so easily or to dismiss the fear that had plagued her since learning about the mysterious disappearance of her cancer. Swirling the ice in her glass while Helena had picked over the remaining bacon from her plate, she'd again prodded at the possibility that there had been no cancer. Quinn was a doctor, with ties to various labs, and given the madwoman's delight in tormenting them, having lab results falsified would have been almost too easy.
Somehow, Barbara had forced herself to put aside an unsolvable mental debate about the degrees of evil between false cancer versus a real one, and somehow, probably because she'd shared it with Helena, the remainder of the evening and the long night's sleep had been peaceful. The nightmares that plagued Barbara had been kept at bay, and if the volume of Helena's purring were indication her partner was likewise untroubled by dark thoughts.
With her eyes finally moderately adjusted to the darkness of the room, Barbara shifted her head a few inches to drink in the sight of her bedmate.
True to her usual M.O., Helena had transformed into a human octopus during the night and was plastered as close as physically possible without, perhaps, being on the other side of her. Smiling at the thought, Barbara gently brushed the dark bangs back from her bedmate's forehead, automatically noting that the length was a good two inches longer than Helena traditionally wore her hair.
Another influence of the good doctor, she assumed.
It was not a bad look, she had to admit. It was, in fact, reminiscent of the long hair that Helena had sported through her youth, until things had changed so drastically for her -- for them all -- that night eight years before. Perhaps in allowing it to grow again, Helena was signaling that she was somehow reaching peace with the memories of her mother.
Not entirely certain how she felt about the means used to reach that potential end, Barbara focused on the here and now: the softness of the dark hair under her fingertips; the solid strength of the arm embracing her from the side; the warmth encompassing her from within and without; the tickle of a pert nose nuzzling into her shoulder; the almost sub-vocal rumbling that she felt echoed through her own upper body.
Pierced by a bolt of something bright and almost painful, the redhead brushed her lips against her partner's brow. The volume of Helena's purring increased fractionally, and Barbara was seized by a desire to wrap the other woman in her arms.
For a moment, familiar feelings of loss and anger licked through her over the impossibility of simply turning onto her side to embrace her lover, over the fact that, forever more, such a small, unobtrusive movement was beyond her with out numerous machinations and careful choreography. Still, Barbara had to admit that the situation was hardly new, and, with Helena back by her side, focusing on the small inconveniences scarcely seemed to be a good use of the limited time available before she had to get up for work.
Accordingly, she gave a mental shrug and twisted her upper body forty-five degrees, reaching down to work her leg into position. Mid-motion, she ceased her efforts, working not to laugh: seemingly unconsciously, Helena had snuggled closer and hooked her calf against her leg, seamlessly assisting in the process.
Dear heavens, how she loved this woman.
More or less facing her somnolent partner, Barbara lowered her face to bury her nose in dark hair. Opening her mouth, opening her senses, she breathed in the delicate citrus of shampoo and the deeper, more complex scent of her partner. For a few heartbeats, she held her breath, moving her head ever so slightly to allow Helena's hair to caress her face. Finally, unable to resist, she placed another ghosting kiss to her lover's forehead.
The resulting tickle of Helena's hand clenching against her stomach undid her.
Still, somehow gently, Barbara lost herself in dusting tender, open-mouthed kisses to her companion's brow, her eyelids, her cheeks, and her nose. A languorous stretch alerted her that she had disturbed Helena's slumber, and she gently raked her nails down the brunette's spine, almost whimpering at the soft hiss of pleasure her motion had engendered.
Helena's voice was rough with sleep, but when Barbara pulled away a few inched and focused, the gold of her partner's eyes suggested that she was awakening rapidly.
"Good morning, Hel."
Again, she inched close, charmed when the younger woman stretched to meet her, rubbing their noses together gently.
"Having trouble sleeping?"
Feeling the corners of her mouth curl in a smile, Barbara answered honestly.
"I didn't want to."
She felt the sweep of thick lashes against her cheeks as Helena blinked. Another mouth-watering stretch followed before the brunette answered.
"That's good. I thought that maybe the pancakes were coming back to get you."
Barbara's laugh was cut short when she felt herself rolled onto her back, Helena gracefully following to blanket her.
"So, you're awake, huh?"
Even in the darkness, she had no trouble detecting the bright glint in those amazing golden eyes.
"Mmm-hmm," was the best she could manage as warm lips brushed her ear.
"And, you're feeling alright, huh?"
This time, arching into the warm wetness tracing her ear, she could only nod.
Perhaps their position was beginning to affect Helena, if the monosyllabic murmur were an indication.
Working to gather her own wits, the redhead swallowed with difficulty.
"Why is that, Sweetie?"
The delicious contact ended, and she held her breath when the other woman pushed up on one arm. When Helena's free hand touched her jaw, she shivered, forgetting her question until she heard the response.
"Cuz I haven't gotten my turn yet."
Turning into the caress, she struggled to make out the meaning of the words, finally breathing another question around the kiss she placed in her lover's palm.
She saw the outline of the shaggy head nodding seriously.
"I haven't gotten to touch you yet."
Barbara managed a brief nod of understanding, allowing that their interlude the morning before had been cut short by the sudden return of Helena's memory. Her nod became an encouragement, and she shivered as a strong hand ghosted across her stomach.
"So fuckin' beautiful."
The words rumbled against her throat, felt more than heard, but Barbara had no trouble interpreting them. Likewise the whisper that followed.
"I need to touch you so bad."
The minute portion of her analytical self that still functioned distantly wondered how a few gentle touches and a handful of words could arouse her so. Mercifully, her less analytical side stepped to the forefront.
"I want that -- want you, Helena."
Again, Barbara arched into the sharp teeth at her throat, not at all ashamed of her moan of pleasure.
"Touch you -- "
Her murmur of approval faded when she felt her bedmate shift, warm breath whispering through her heavy tee, and she saw the dark head moving down her chest.
The words coincided with her shirt being bunched upward and Barbara squinted in the darkness to take in the hunger in bright eyes, the taut set of Helena's jaw as she drew close to her newly bared skin. A flicker of memory, or imagined memory, from the billiard hall danced behind her eyelids, and something akin to a shiver coursed through her again. Instinctively, she raised her free hand, catching the side of the younger woman's jaw to guide her upward, bringing them nose to nose again.
"Use your hands, Sweetheart."
She saw a flash of something -- puzzlement, consternation -- and brushed her lips against her lover's.
"I want you right here."
This time, the sound of approval was more of a low growl, and Barbara had no trouble identifying her shiver for the pleasure it signaled. Unfortunately, mere seconds after, she snapped to reality and captured one of the hands roving lightly across her skin even as her internal chronometer automatically did the math. Witnessing the incredulity in her lover's face, she raised one hand to trace the perpetually raised left brow that echoed Helena's confusion. Genuine regret colored her tone when she spoke.
"We only have eighteen minutes before the alarm, Hel."
She waited as Helena's head sank to her chest, uncertain just what response to expect. A wet snort gusted her PAL tee shirt, and she detected one blue eye peering balefully over the swell of her chest.
"As mood setting goes, Red, you kind of suck at it."
Her own words were distinctly contrite.
"I'll try to work on that."
Helena's, cheerfully unconcerned.
"Nah. We've got more important stuff, and besides-- "
A lithe body slid against hers, briefly making her forget all things time- and mood-related.
"-- do you know home many times I can come in eighteen minutes just from touching you?"
Suddenly breathless, Barbara could only manage two words.
The whisper of soft lips against her jaw brought her hands above her head to grip the headboard. A moment later, she eased her grip and smirked smirked when she heard her lover's next words.
"Empirical research, huh?"
The tender bite of sharp teeth against her neck wiped the smile from her lips.
Barbara traced the edges of her lips with her tongue and swallowed thickly.
"It is the best way, Hel."
Wending her fingers into dark hair, she felt the other woman's enthusiastic nod, then was struck by a happy thought.
"Don't forget the snooze alarm."
Instantly, Helena's features moved into view, and she held her breath as a predatory smile crept across her lover's face.
"Yeah. Seven more minutes, right?"
Instantly, Barbara did the math, her own smile, she suspected, mirroring Helena's.
"Time for 39% more orgasms, Sweetie."
Helena's laugh was contagious; her challenge, completely inviting.
"Hell, let's get started then."
"Are you sure you don't mind, Barbara?"
Still caught up in attempting to decipher the absurdly complicated schematic, the redhead barely glanced over her glasses.
"My using the Delphi. I mean -- "
The shy hesitance in the other woman's voice was enough of a clue. However, when Barbara peripherally noted her swiveling away from the oversized plasma monitor to face her, she settled the pages on her lap and looked up to give her full attention to the conversation.
"-- I can do my assignment at the lab on campus, you know."
A bit of advice from her Aunt Barbara whispered through her forebrain: Keep it simple. Accordingly, she shook her head once and smiled.
"I'm quite certain, Dinah."
The stubborn hesitance in her ward's face suggested that further reassurance might be needed. Fishing the stereo remote from the pocket of her chair, the redhead clicked twice to lower the volume on the CD mix that Dinah had shyly presented her with earlier. With apologies to Enya, she unlocked the brakes of her chair and followed her own road of the moment up the ramp to join her ward on the Delphi platform.
"You said yourself that there's always a huge wait for the university's computers."
She came to a stop beside her newest protégé and tried not to appear too obvious in her appraisal of the code filling the screen. Instead, she focused on the blonde head bobbing beside her.
"Uh huh. And the Delphi really screams compared to those creaky old Solaris systems."
"I dare say."
Although just that morning she'd been discussing the concept of hubris and the Greek gods with her sophomores, Barbara couldn't fault herself a small puff of pride at the assessment. It was, after all, true that only the very best government systems could rival her Delphi.
She tamped down on her moment of ego when Dinah pushed a lock of hair behind her ear.
"-- I know you need to stay on top of stuff in the city."
Barbara felt her brows knit as she considered just what might be implied by the teen's words. Ultimately, she chose to go with the facts.
"Since Quinn's disappeared, crime hasn't been much of an issue."
She didn't miss the way Dinah's shoulders seemed to sag a tiny bit and made explicit another point.
"And, Dinah," she lightly rested one hand on the young woman's forearm, "I like having you here."
Smiling, she removed her hand and met cornflower blue eyes.
"I feel like I never get to see you any more."
The younger woman's blush was, Barbara noted with a fond smile, right on schedule. Dinah's duck behind blonde bangs was a bit less expected.
Barbara bent to catch her ward's eyes, returning the tentative smile she saw forming.
"I mean, I miss yo-- It. This."
Face now aflame, Dinah nevertheless stumbled on, and Barbara's pride swelled again.
"Uh, you know."
Apparently throwing caution to the wind, the teen lunged forward, and Barbara blinked under the onslaught of a fierce hug.
"I've missed everything."
Re-gathering her wits, the redhead returned the embrace with equal fervor.
"I have, too, Dinah."
They only held the position for a few seconds before awkwardly disentangling. Barbara just stopped herself from needlessly straightening her shirt even as she attempted not to observe that Dinah was likewise occupied in smoothing her jeans as she resettled herself at the Delphi.
Clearly, there was nothing for it but a smile and a laugh.
"Thank you, Dinah."
She nearly laughed again at the puzzlement washing the young woman's pale features.
"Just for being you," she managed to clarify, straight-faced.
A grin took any sting out of the sarcasm, and Barbara returned the smile.
Great Ganymede, but it was good to have things returning to some semblance of normalcy.
"Still -- "
Given the exchange they'd just shared, Barbara found herself baffled by the return of Dinah's reticence.
"-- maybe I shouldn't be fooling around on the Delphi. I could mess it up or there could be an alarm that I'd miss or -- "
Her ward's mouth shut with an almost audible pop, and blonde brows quirked.
"I trust your judgment."
Hesitating for just a moment, Barbara weighed her options before deciding to tackle the elephant in the room.
"It appears that it's better than mine in some situations."
A startled blink gave it away, and the older woman mentally gave thanks for the teen's inability to hide her thoughts and feelings. Poised for her companion's reaction -- whatever it might be -- Barbara mentally winced when she recognized the lyrics quietly filling the room.
She still lives with her mom outside the city
Down that street about a half a mile
And all her friends tell her she's so pretty
But she'd be a whole lot prettier
If she smiled once in a while
'Cause even her smile looks like a frown
She's seen her share of devils in this angel town
"But, uh, what if, uhm, she does something?"
It did not go unnoticed that the girl was unwilling to speak the name of their tormentor.
"I mean, you are still tracking for her and all, aren't you?"
Exhaling slowly, Barbara briefly pinched the bridge of her nose between thumb and forefinger.
Perhaps some concrete facts would get the ball rolling.
"I've had to limit the scope of the facial recognition 'bots I deployed," she offered, working mightily not to sound too peevish about the situation.
The software she'd jury-rigged after Quinn's visit at the hospital, piggybacked onto her web crawling bots, had enabled her to have eyes in almost every internet-enabled security camera around the globe. Had Quinn put her face, even heavily disguised, in front of any ATM, airport security camera, or department store shoplifting system, Barbara would have known about it.
"But, why? I thought they were working."
Smiling her appreciation for the affront in her companion's tone, Barbara looked down to inspect her nails.
"Well, they were consuming quite a bit of bandwidth."
She looked up, registering the unspoken "So?" in Dinah's expression and smiled at her own expense.
"It, er, brought them to the attention of various system operators."
This time, Dinah's confusion was almost palpable, and the cyber-vigilante spilled the beans.
"The I.C.U. worm?"
It took one startled blink before the pieces clicked into place, and Barbara waited patiently as her ward attempted to keep a straight face. Inevitably, Dinah lost the battle.
"That -- That was you?"
"Indeed," she allowed dryly.
It had been, she thought, a lot of sound and fury over little. Granted, she'd been a bit distracted when she'd deployed her army of 'bots and hadn't taken her usual care in streamlining them; however, the two week hue and cry that had ensued when one of the little bits of code had been found and reported to Newsweek Magazine had been... well, unnecessary. Nevertheless, having rediscovered Helena, Barbara had bowed to the inevitable and, with the press of a button, the so-called worm had simply vanished from cyberspace.
"At this point, Dinah, I only have them in specific locations in New Gotham and a handful of international airports."
There was no need to make explicit the fact that catching Quinn had become exponentially more difficult, and again Barbara waited as Dinah worked through the implications. When the girl finally looked up, Barbara found herself unable to read everything in her eyes. Her words clarified things neatly.
"I'm really sorry I caused you to let her get away."
Temporarily at a loss, Barbara held her breath while Dinah chewed at her bottom lip before whispering an addendum.
There was no need for further clarification.
Barbara knew that that terrible night after Quinn's visit at the hospital, when they'd all feared Helena dead and she had planned to catch Quinn at the airport with a satchel of C-4 taped to her chest, would haunt them for a long time. They had made their apologies the day after Dinah and she had nearly come to blows during the teen's attempts to stop her suicidal venture; yet, acceptance of both their parts was slow in coming.
She forced herself to wait until pale blue eyes peered through corn silk lashes.
The young woman's jaw worked, but Barbara was having none of it. Pushing forward, she brought them knee-to-knee and ducked down to meet her ward's eyes.
"Don't apologize for something I'll be forever grateful to you for."
She registered the hesitant lift of her companion's hand and stretched out her own in invitation. As her palm met Dinah's, she allowed some of her walls to come down, waiting as blue eyes widened in surprise.
Inhaling, Barbara forced herself to speak words long overdue.
"You showed great courage and more morality than I can ever hope to claim. You stopped me from doing something inconceivable."
"I... I didn't know if -- "
With a brief shake of her head, the older woman cut her off.
"No, Dinah. Just... Thank you."
And with that, Barbara finally saw something lift from the teen's shoulders. She gratefully returned the squeeze of her hand, finding herself blinking rapidly when she heard Dinah's reply.
Since she certainly didn't have a clue about the proper way to wrap up this sort of interaction, the redhead barely suppressed a smirk when she spied a small green light blinking in the top corner of the plasma display. Toning down her relief, she smiled and inclined her head toward the monitor even as she reached for the comm set next to the mouse pad.
"I copy, Huntress. Is everything okay?"
Trust Helena to show up, even remotely, when she was needed.
<"Sure is, Oracle. I'm free now -- ">
Barbara felt herself nodding as she automatically checked the on-screen clock, confirming that her partner's shift at The Dark Horse had just ended.
<"-- and wondered if you've got any asses for me to kick tonight.">
Hearing a poorly muffled snicker from beside her, she turned to fix Dinah with a stern look, a look that she had no hope of holding. Quite cognizant of the smile bleeding through to her tone, she cleared her throat and spoke primly.
"Things are pretty quiet tonight, Huntress. Why don't you come in?"
<"Are you sure? I could run a sweep or -- ">
Rolling her eyes, she interrupted cheerfully.
"Quite certain. You were up early this morning."
The second the words crossed her lips and she heard her kick-ass partner's snicker, Barbara was grateful that she was no longer in physical contact with her telepathic ward. She suspected that her blush alone was telling enough.
<"Copy that, Oracle, even if I was hoping for a late night, too.">
Doing her utmost to ignore the almost visible leer in her earpiece, she toggled off the comm set and turned toward the ramp, speaking over her shoulder.
"As for you, Dinah, why don't you get back to your program?"
By the time she heard a soft thump from the balcony heralding Helena's arrival, she'd managed to re-engross herself in her schematic, and the steady sound of keys clicking from the platform suggested that Dinah had likewise put her giggling aside. Accordingly, the redhead's smile was quite full and entirely welcoming when the French doors swung open and her cat-footed partner strode into the living area; however, when she witnessed the barrage of emotions flashing across Helena's features, she knew that her smile became just a trifle smug.
"Hey, Red. Uh,"
The brunette gracefully shrugged out of her duster and raised a hand in laconic greeting.
Barbara wasn't fooled for a moment. It was the first meeting between the two since the return of Helena's memory less than two days before; it was also the first meeting, barring a brief run-in at the coffee shop, since misperceptions and Quinn's influence had led to an...
Well, frankly, an intimate moment between Helena and Dinah.
At that point, Barbara felt heat touching her own cheeks: Nothing as violent as the red flooding Dinah's face, however, awkward nonetheless.
"Missed you today, Red."
The words were barely a whisper, ghosting her ear as Helena bent to buss her cheek. Barbara was having none of it.
Before her partner had a chance to straighten, she slid one hand to the back of her neck and drew her down, allowing their mouths to meet. Long, wonderful moments later, she realized that her own equilibrium had been considerably improved, even if it were at the expense of Dinah's ever-deepening blush.
"I missed you, too, Sweetie."
Reluctantly, she released the other woman, then quirked her lips.
"Although I'm not upset that you didn't bring tacos by school today."
Helena's bark of laughter, shyly echoed from the platform by the youngest member of the party, released much of the lingering tension from the room, and Barbara happily resettled her glasses and prepared to delve back into her current project. A pronounced silence once again drew her gaze from the printout.
Craning upward, she followed her partner's eyes to the mess on her lap.
"What gives, Barbara?"
Ignoring the hint of concern in the question, the redhead shrugged and gestured to the pile of yarn and knitting pattern she was attempting to decipher.
"I suppose I'm nesting."
She blandly met the faintly appalled gaze, holding her breath expectantly as deep blue eyes narrowed speculatively.
Draping her coat over the back of the couch, the brunette oozed disbelief.
"Right. I think you're just psyching yourself up for tomorrow night."
Barbara felt her brow furrow until she remembered the dinner she'd arranged for them to have with her father; by then, Helena was barreling along full-steam.
"You think he's gonna go great ape on me for knocking you up?"
The question evoked a quick snort of laughter, and Barbara instinctively opened her mouth to reassure the other woman. However, considering her father, she could only snap her jaw shut with a noisy click.
"Er, perhaps," she finally allowed.
One dark brow rose eloquently before, with an easy grin, her lover turned toward the Delphi platform.
"Che sara, right, Red?"
Barbara nodded whole-heartedly, feeling her heart leap into her throat when Helena turned her attention to Dinah.
"Hey, D. You wanna help me make some cocoa?"
Maybe, Barbara realized with a blink, it could be as simple as that: a seemingly casual question, the bob of a blonde head, the sight of her proteges playfully bumping shoulders on the way to the kitchen. Almost laughing, she raised the stereo remote again and rewound, then picked up her knitting needles again.
Everything's gonna be all right
Everything's gonna be all right
bye, bye, bye, bye
"I've got it."
Not waiting for an acknowledgment, Barbara made her way down the oak-paneled front hallway to the door. Purely out of habit, since she was quite certain who was waiting, she checked the monitor, and then, flirting with a smile, she punched in the codes for the alarm and opened the door.
She noted that when her partner returned the greeting, she didn't quite make eye contact, clearly too occupied with peering past her toward the living room. Not altogether unsympathetic, she pushed the door shut and captured the younger woman's hand.
"Relax. Dad's in the kitchen."
The brunette's nervous tension eased.
Smiling in spite of herself, Barbara gave a mental shrug and tugged her down to her lap.
"I missed you today."
Although the words, and the brush of her mouth across full lips, were quite sincere, they also seemed to serve as an effective distraction for her partner's nerves. Point of fact, when Helena leaned into the caress, then returned it ten-fold, the redhead had to admit that she'd quite forgotten her own mild case of nerves.
Not quite certain what Helena had been affirming, she nevertheless had to agree.
A moment later, the question that whispered across her ear returned her to her senses.
"What's your dad gonna think if he finds us making out like teenagers?"
Wryly, Barbara had to acknowledge that such a discovery would be a first for her father given the limited amount of dating she'd done. Yet, captivated by the softness of the skin she was tracing with the pads of her fingers, the issue simply didn't seem that pressing.
"You'll hear him before he gets here."
Sensing the laughter bubbling up, she opened to drink it in, not surprised when the sound morphed into a rumbling purr.
"Dunno 'bout that, Red."
Somehow, Barbara retained enough of her wits to be puzzled by the admission, and she pulled back a few inches.
"Why not, Hel?"
The other woman hadn't mentioned any changes in her meta-enhanced senses since her run-in with Quinn, however, perhaps she'd been hesitant to do so.
"My heart's beating so loud I can't hear anything else."
Breathless, Barbara captured her lover's face between her hands and focused on the deep violet of her eyes.
"From this? Or are you still nervous?"
The brunette turned to press a kiss to her palm before gracefully rising from the chair and tugging down her shirt.
"Little of both, I guess."
Barbara turned toward the living room with a chuckle.
"I suppose that's an improvement anyway."
Helena's answering laugh seemed just a bit forced.
"Yeah, but I'd still take last night's talk with Dinah over this any day."
Hands poised above the wheels of the chair, Barbara blinked, supposing that the words were true enough. After a protracted period of milk warming the night before, the two young women had emerged from the kitchen -- sans cocoa -- with Dinah squealing her indignation to her companion's ribbing.
"-- Even with my memory gone, I knew you needed any pointers you could get."
"No way, Helena! I was sacrificing myself to try to jog your memory."
And, to Barbara's delight and slight amazement, the relationship between the two had been returned to familiar footing. While she could only hope for such an easy outcome from this evening's meeting, she attempted to marshal her best confident tone.
"Don't worry so much, Hel."
She looked over her shoulder and smiled.
"I've already checked, and the ammo's all locked away."
Ignoring the offended huff from behind her, she wheeled in to the living room, raising her voice cheerfully.
"Dad? Helena's here."
Given how quickly her father appeared from the kitchen, the redhead suspected that he'd been waiting for an all clear. Not surprising, considering his level of delight when she'd called two days before to let him know that Helena was back.
"Helena!" Barbara winced just a bit when her partner was wrapped in an enthusiastic bear hug.
"I can't tell you how glad I am to have you back."
The two held the hug for a few more beats, and Barbara felt herself warm at their genuine affection. When they finally disentangled, she was hard-pressed to hide a grin at the crimson blush painting her partner's cheeks.
"-- really good to have my memories back, Mr. G-- "
A raised finger cut short the acknowledgment; however, Barbara suspected that the severity of the gesture was handicapped by the frilly gingham apron her father was sporting.
"-- uh, Jim."
"I dare say, Helena. I dare say."
The ex-police commissioner pinned them both with a long look.
"We were all just worried sick."
Seeing the helpless lift of dark brows, Barbara finally jumped in.
"I don't think it was any picnic for Helena either, Dad."
Steel blue eyes met green before the elder Gordon stroked his handlebar mustache. For some reason, Barbara was inordinately pleased that it was finally returning to its full glory after being denuded during Quinn's estrogen attacks on the city during the summer.
Waving a hand in invitation toward the wet bar, he continued, "Barbara said that Quinn dragged you off to Michigan?"
Not missing a covert question from the younger woman, Barbara winked and nodded toward the bar, then settled back as Helena poured two scotches and launched into the parts of the story they'd decided to share.
Stepping lightly around the bar, she offered one glass to her host.
"She brainwashed me, then dropped me naked in the woods of the Upper Peninsula."
Barbara pursed lips when her father's drink apparently went down wrong, then smiled when Helena thumped him on the back.
"You okay, Mr., er, Jim?"
Wiping his watering eyes, the white-haired man settled his drink on an end table and coughed again.
"Yes, thank you, Helena. Did you say naked?"
Following the exchange like a tennis match, Barbara casually raised one hand to her lips while Helena swallowed her drink with relish.
"That's right. Butt naked."
The combined laughter of the two Gordons covered the sound of Helena thumping her glass onto the bar, and Barbara couldn't help but admire the way her partner paused for maximum effect.
"Mosquitoes the size of birds, and me with nothing but a fig leaf."
A bushy unibrow rose over twinkling eyes.
"A fig leaf, eh? Didn't know they were native to that area."
Helena's shrug was nonchalant as she trailed behind him to the kitchen.
"Well, maybe it was poison ivy."
Rolling her eyes, Barbara unlocked the brake of her chair and followed slowly, attempting to remember when they'd added that little detail to the story. When she arrived, Helena was continuing cheerfully as she easily moved from the hutch to the table with placemats and napkins.
"-- thought it was some kind of hazing, but I finally managed to hitch a ride on a cattle truck."
Barbara headed to the silverware drawer, grateful that her father's response saved her the need to say anything about her exuberant partner's tale.
"I can imagine that any trucker would be hard pressed not to stop for you standing naked by the road."
Hoping that her snort of amusement would be mistaken for the rumble of her stomach -- her father's trademark Salisbury steak was quite aromatic -- she primly began laying out place settings. Given the volume of Helena's laughter, she suspected that she needn't have worried.
"Well, I don't know about that, Jim,"
Barbara settled herself at her place while her partner gracefully ported two heaping plates to the table.
"--but I'd sure rather be eating cows than riding with them."
Laughing, their host joined them at the table with his own plate and a bowl of mashed potatoes.
"I wish you'd tell her that, Helena."
The redhead felt her eyes nearly cross in vexation when she sensed two pairs of blue eyes trained on her. Somehow she managed to smile and looked across the table to her father.
"You need to eat more, Barbara. You lost some weight during all this."
Surreptitiously eying the growing bulge that was, as yet, hidden under her overshirt, the redhead merely nodded and accepted another heaping spoonful of potatoes with a smile.
She tucked into her meal on autopilot, wondering just how she had managed to ignore or rationalize the sign of the growing life within her. To her relief, another question directed to Helena drew her from rather dark musing on the power of grief and denial.
"Barbara tells me that you're taking classes at NGU?"
Immediately, Barbara perked to attention, belatedly hoping that she'd not been too obvious.
"Yeah. Quinn got me thinking I was a coed or something and now, well,"
The brunette smiled and offered a half-shrug as she reached for a dinner roll.
"-- I figure it's paid for so I may as well keep going."
Nearly ready to pump her fist in the air in delight, Barbara almost missed it.
Her father's sage nod suggested that the vague reference had been taken as she was certain Helena intended: that somehow Helena was attending on Harley's money. However, the younger woman's artful nonchalance was not, she decided, entirely convincing: given how the psycho therapist had programmed Helena to deal with other bills, Barbara wasn't so certain.
Spearing a brussel sprout, she pushed the thought aside.
The source of Helena's financing for the semester was something she'd quite deliberately opted not to investigate. It was, in fact, something she continued to work assiduously not to contemplate.
In the spirit of willful denial, she focused again on the moment at hand and Helena's humorous description of a run-in with a herd of disgruntled cows in a dark field during her astronomy lab one evening. Their shared laughter was full, but Barbara sensed a shift in the air just before her father spoke.
"As odd as it is that she chose to send you to college, Helena, I still don't understand Quinn's fascination with you after all this time."
A white brow furrowed, and Jim Gordon raised his fork in emphasis. There was no way that Barbara could miss the way that her partner seemed to be sinking low in her chair.
"After all, you were only one patient among many. Why on earth," he paused to pop the final bite of his entree into his mouth, "do you suppose she targeted you two?"
"We're pregnant," Barbara heard herself blurting out.
Long having prided herself on her ability to act rapidly in a crisis, she was, nevertheless, a bit startled by her own choice in this case. However, as diversionary tactics went, she had to concede that it was quite successful.
Ever-so-carefully, her father lowered his fork to the accompaniment of Helena discretely coughing into her napkin. Eventually, the senior Gordon rested his fork against his plate and, equally deliberately, turned to face her.
"I'm sorry, Barbara, but what was that?"
The snicker from the other edge of the table was almost inaudible.
Resisting the urge to punt the whole conversation back to her partner, Barbara took a deep breath and spoke with great cheer.
"You remember what we talked about when Helena was over for dinner a few months ago?"
Clearly growing more bewildered by the moment, her father pursed his lips, absently patting at his the pocket of his shirt, possibly hunting for his pipe.
"May Parker, wasn't it? And her nephew?"
Why was nothing ever simple?
"Uhm, no. It was while Helena was visiting her," Barbara hedged, her voice sounding strangled to her own ears. "About, er, your becoming a grandfather...?"
A bushy unibrow rose with alarming speed, and the white-haired man began patting at his other pockets as if to put out a fire.
"Well, you are," she tacked on, then corrected herself. "Will be."
The pronouncement finally stilled the futile hunt for the Meerschaum, and Barbara gnawed at her lower lip until her father began to smile broadly.
"Well, this is dandy news. Just wonderful."
Her sense of relief fled when he turned to beam at her partner.
"I hope it's not incorrect to offer special congratulations to you, Helena. I hadn't thought you'd be quite ready to become pregnant, but I'm delighted. Just delighted."
Caught between her father's chortling and the helpless lift of dark brows, Barbara deliberately throttled the napkin in her lap and piped up.
"Er, no, Dad. What I mean to say is that I'm pregnant."
Her father's brow lowered slowly.
"I don't understand, Barbie."
For perhaps the first time that she could remember, her dad sounded plaintive. Lost.
"I thought that the surgery last month..."
The redhead sighed silently, regretting at the moment that she'd woven such a carefully circumspect veil of partial truths.
"I did, too, Dad."
Somehow she mustered a laugh at her own expense.
"Apparently, when they opened me up, they discovered a spontaneous remission that I didn't have time to learn about until, well, a few days ago."
She struggled not to squirm under a long, appraising look, inordinately relieved when her father nodded once and turned his attention on Helena. The glare that he fixed on the brunette, Barbara suspected, would have made the most hardened of criminals confess.
Perhaps, Barbara suddenly realized as a host of memories of being on the receiving end of that look came to mind, it was the genesis of her own patented classroom look.
"You do plan to do right by my daughter?"
Barbara barely suppressed a smile when her normally brash partner swallowed audibly, clearly having missed the hint of a twinkle in her father's eyes.
She thought she detected Helena's shoulders straightening fractionally and wondered what might be coming next. Her partner's next syllable answered the question, and caused both Gordons to burst into laughter.
Those awkward years have hurried by -
why do they fly away? Why is it, sir, that children grow up to be people one day?
What takes the place of climbing trees and dirty knees in the world outside?
What is there for you I can buy?
If you wanted the world I'd surround it with a wall
I'd scrawl in words with letters ten feet tall
A frisson of awareness raised the fine hair on Barbara's neck, and instinctively she turned, just in time to see the shadow crossing the threshold of the open door to the balcony. Briefly, her eyes ticked up to the clock, confirming that Helena was much earlier than she'd anticipated. Not at all offput by that, she paused 10,000 Maniacs, quite aware of why she'd had that particular song on the brain since the previous week's dinner with her father.
"I didn't expect you quite so early, Helena."
She allowed a hint of a question to color her greeting, having anticipated that her partner's lab exercise at the art department would take much longer. The brunette's answering smile was nonchalant.
"I got itchy feet."
Returning the smile, Barbara quirked a brow.
"Itchy feet, Hel?"
The younger woman nodded sagely while she dropped her book bag and duster onto the sofa.
"Kind of like you should be itchy all over from sitting in front of the Delphi all day."
A second crimson brow joined the first, and Barbara pursed her lips as her companion sauntered up the ramp to join her on the platform.
"What makes you think I've been here all day?"
True, she hadn't actually left her station since Helena had departed hours before, however she wasn't certain she cared for her partner's assumption. However, apart from some dramatic eye-rolling, Helena didn't bother to answer her question directly.
"C'mon, Red, it's Fall. Let's celebrate."
She glanced again at the two dozen open terminal windows on her monitor and the tweaks she was making to automate many of the monitoring and routing tasks that she normally performed. With crime on the downswing, there was simply no need to baby-sit the Delphi.
"Technically, Hel," she looked back up with a smile, "autumn began over three weeks ago."
Somehow, the redhead sensed that her partner was completely unimpressed with her accuracy.
A shapely rear end settled next to the mouse pad, effectively preventing Barbara from accessing it.
"The air is crisp; the only clouds in the sky are pretty ones; and the leaves are the color of your hair. And -- "
A slender index finger raised in emphasis.
"-- whatever you're working on can't be that important. Hell, we haven't even been running sweeps lately."
Opting to ignore the subtext in the statement, the redhead smiled.
"What is it you're suggesting, Hel?"
When her partner cranked up the wattage of her smile, Barbara readied herself for whatever might follow.
"Let's play hooky."
Briefly, Barbara flirted with the possibility that her companion was searching for ways to get out of another poetry writing assignment. Nevertheless, she took the invitation at face value.
" 'Play hooky'?" She encapsulated the phrase in air quotes. "It's Saturday, Helena."
Her breath caught in her throat when the younger woman slid from the table, gracefully insinuating herself between her chair and the desk. When she knelt before her and rested her fingertips on her thighs, Barbara suspected that their little debate had just entered new territory.
"Okay, Red. Let's just play."
Helena's smile was, Barbara had to concede, extremely inviting. Sifting dark hair between her fingers, she gave her own indulgent smile free reign.
"Play, eh? Is this indoor or outdoor play, Sweetheart?"
She shivered, very close to giving in, when a kiss ghosted her palm. A leaden heartbeat later, when her lover captured her hand and began nibbling at her thumb, she recalled herself enough to make out the reply.
"Depends on whether you want to try something different."
Working for a smile, she gently removed her hand from that talented mouth and brushed overlong bangs from deep blue eyes.
"Getting leaves all over your back."
The waggle of dark brows evoked a laugh and a moment of genuine regret; however, glancing at her monitor, she shook her head slowly.
"I wish I could, but I really need to finish here. With the baby and planning for the birthing center and such, there's just not much time."
The younger woman nodded, and Barbara mentally gave thanks that Helena was not gloating over the fact that she was gradually giving ground on the issue of a non-do-it-yourself birth. Still, she saw something in those expressive eyes, something shuttered so quickly she realized that she could have imagined it... or pretended that she had.
"Helena? What is it?"
She marshaled her patience, waiting while Helena inhaled, then stood and paced to the side of the desk.
"At the hospital, just before she finished throttling me?"
Dark brows rose, and Barbara simply nodded.
"Well, Quinn told me that I caused your cancer."
She'd been hoping that the madwoman had been lying when she'd revealed that she'd shared that bit of information with Helena.
Somehow, Barbara held her partner's gaze, feeling the muscles in her jaw tic as she clenched her teeth. She forced herself to release her own tension and chose her words carefully.
"It's possible that some of the goo that The Joker hit you with carried certain toxins that your metabolism... shrugged off."
The younger woman's countenance visibly darkened.
"And I passed it on to you, right?"
A host of equivocations and scientific rationalizations and demurrals flew through her mind. Ultimately, the redhead dismissed them and nodded once.
"Along with the cure, Helena."
Stretching out, she snagged her lover's hand and drew it to her abdomen.
"Your genetics saved us both."
Barbara had to force herself to keep breathing steadily, to radiate absolute certainty. Eventually, she saw some of the tension leave the brunette.
Not quite certain, she tilted her head and searched her lover's eyes.
Full lips quirked ruefully.
"I guess it has to be. Uh, I'm just -- "
No stranger to rough segues from awkward topics, Barbara nodded her understanding when Helena jerked a thumb toward the couch and hopped from the platform.
"-- gonna be over here."
Allowing her partner time to regroup, Barbara lost herself in her programming again until something penetrated her concentration.
Rather, the absence of sound from the big screen.
Puzzled, she looked over to the living area, needlessly confirming that Helena hadn't even turned the unit on. Instead, the cant of the dark head that was barely visible over the tall back of the sofa and the distinct sound of a page in a book being turned suggested that the younger woman was engaged in other pursuits. Since Helena had always claimed that she studied better with the television on -- and remote control in hand -- Barbara's curiosity got the best of her.
"What are you working on, Hel?"
She smiled when a shaggy head popped up, then squinted when Helena raised a book for her inspection. The cover was a familiar black and yellow, but she couldn't make out which entry in the series it was.
"Oh, wait -- "
Laughing, the brunette vaulted the couch and bounded onto the platform to offer the book for closer inspection.
"Here you go, Mr. Magoo."
A sharp retort having to do with Jim Bacchus and bald cartoon figures died on her tongue when Barbara made out the title.
Unix For Dummies.
Feeling her eyebrows creeping toward her hairline, she read it again.
"Hardly that, Hel."
The redhead succumbed to the temptation to roll her eyes when Helena's patented hang-dog expression made an appearance.
"Hey. I've gotta start somewhere."
After prodding at that statement for a moment, she bit the bullet.
"But why? Have you picked up a computer class?"
Heaven knew where the younger woman would find the time.
"Well, for starters -- "
The brunette shifted her weight from side to side.
"I think I found out that learning's not so terrible."
Pushing aside some decidedly mixed feelings about the fact that Quinn's chicanery had led Helena to that insight, Barbara reached out to grasp the younger woman's hand.
"And," she prompted lightly.
She thought she detected a hint of embarrassed sulkiness in the word and pursed her lips against a smile.
" -- if you're all nesting, I've gotta hold my own on Delphi duty now."
Once again allowing her smile free reign, Barbara plucked the book from the other woman and tossed it onto the desk. With a gentle tug, she coaxed her lover into her lap.
"Hmmm, I see." She punctuated the pronouncement by burying her hands in her partner's hair and pulling her close, not missing the spark that flared in violet eyes.
"And, just what -- "
Interrupting herself, the redhead leaned in and traced the shell of her partner's ear with her tongue.
"-- have you learned so far?"
Helena's answer was instantaneous, albeit just a bit breathless.
Nuzzling closer, she swept her hands across slender shoulders.
"Uh huh. About finding hidden stuff buried -- Oh, shit -- Deep."
Torn between laughter and nearly overwhelming desire, Barbara pulled back a few inches and looked her partner in the eye.
"Keep talking, Hel. You're turning me on."
The brunette's rueful snort tipped her toward the laughter side for a moment.
"Damn, Red. I thought I was kidding about reading the manuals for you."
Again, Barbara felt herself smiling, both at the memory of the offer and at the offer itself. Not to mention how far they'd come.
Bemused, she watched Helena struggle to focus, a bit surprised when she heard the younger woman's next words.
"Uhm, what's the difference between grep and egrep?"
For some reason, it took Barbara more effort than she might have anticipated to come up with the answer.
"Egrep is grep with the 'E' switch enabled."
A rumbling moan nearly obscured Helena's next question.
"What's the E-switch for?"
With a chuckle, Barbara disengaged herself enough to form an answer.
She tilted her head to one side in mock concentration and amended her statement.
"Or, perhaps, erogenous."
For some reason the words brought to mind her partner's earlier not-quite-dare, and she patted the top of her work table. The alacrity with which Helena disentangled herself and hopped up was gratifying.
"Come to think of it," she murmured into the denim-clad thigh before her, vaguely aware that her partner's squirming had restarted her audio play, "there is something different I've been meaning to try."
The time has come for closing books and long last looks must end
And as I leave, I know that I am leaving my best friend
A friend who taught me right from wrong and weak from strong
That's a lot to learn - what can I give you in return?
If you wanted the moon I would try to make a start
But I would rather you let me give my heart
Where on earth were all of her windows? Or screens? Or whatever the devil this toy operating system called it?
Barbara blew a puff of air through her lips, pushing back a strand of hair from her forehead, and glared at the attractive white notebook sitting in her lap. The ease of setting up the unit had been, frankly, amazing, and the convenience of a wireless hookup to the Delphi was long overdue. Granted, a seventeen inch screen hardly rivaled her forty-two inch plasma, but she'd assumed she could come to terms with the slight inconvenience.
That was, until the multiple screens she'd opened just seemed to have disappeared.
Still fixing the screen with her fiercest expression, the redhead worked on calming herself by coming up with up with suitable curses to rain down on the makers of certain fruit-flavored computers. Somewhere between parallels between forbidden fruits and Pandora's box, a bobbing icon in the taskbar, er, tray caught her eye.
Now she could see it: one application; multiple views.
She allowed the grin to overtake her and happily dove into the new paradigm. So engrossed was she that she completely missed the ding of the elevator from the parking garage and was alerted to the arrival of someone only when the elevator doors began to open. Since she could clearly make out Helena's voice through the opening, she barely looked up.
"-- need a freaking furniture dolly for this sunnuvabitch."
Intrigued, the redhead paused in her typing.
"Hel? What in the land of cotton...?"
Her partner's voice sang out from the elevator without missing a beat.
"Look awa-- ?"
Catching herself in the nick of time, Barbara rolled her eyes, not missing Helena's dramatic entrance: Carrying a huge cardboard box, the brunette shuffled across the room and dropped it on the couch with an affected huff of effort. Barbara refused to be swayed by the dramatics: heaven knew the younger woman could easily manage her growing weight; however, when she glanced over the top of her glasses at the large box and made out the distinctive logo on the side, she abandoned all pretense of disinterest.
"It's here," she heard herself commenting a bit needlessly.
In the act of shrugging out of her jacket, Helena froze.
"Fine, fine. Thanks for asking. I'm sure the hernia will clear right up-- Offf."
"Would you hold this, Sweetie?"
Barely waiting for what was probably an automatic nod, the redhead deposited the laptop into waiting hands and spun to the couch. She didn't bother to set the brake of her chair before digging under the armrest for a batarang and efficiently slicing through the packing tape.
"What the hell?"
Registering her companion's indignant tone, she simply smiled.
After all, when Helena saw the contents, she'd probably be as excited as she was.
"I'm sorry, Hel," she explained as she attacked the far side of the box, "I didn't expect it until tomorrow."
Amazon's shipping department was nothing if not efficient.
A protracted silence finally caught her attention, and she turned to arch a brow in question. Blue eyes caught green, a dark head bobbing toward the box.
"Something good from the electronics section?"
The waggle of dark brows clearly suggested that she was missing something.
"From the electronics section?" Barbara heard herself parroting blankly.
A Cheshire grin accompanied her companion's reply.
"Yeah. I mean, I really liked what you did with the mouse and your spare USB dock last week, so..."
Again, dark brows waggled, and Barbara felt heat rushing to her cheeks. Nevertheless, she managed to reply calmly.
"Hardly, Hel. This is much more educational."
The brunette's snort suggested how very unimpressed she was with that information, and Barbara shook her head in amusement when Helena shrugged and fell backward over the arm of the sofa, the notebook resting in her lap and a rapid clicking indicating that the settings Barbara had spent the last hour refining were in jeopardy.
"Hey, cool, a marble game..."
With a shrug of her own, Barbara cracked the box, tossed the bubble wrap onto the coffee table, and began to extract its contents.
Dr. Spock Revisited.
The First Twelve Months.
A none-too-discrete cough interrupted her catalog.
"Geez, Barbara. Read much?"
This time, the redhead spared a moment to look over the top of her glasses, pointedly raising her right eyebrow.
"This from the woman who, just yesterday, carted in an economy pack with enough diapers for triplets?"
She allowed to remain unspoken a fervent "Heaven forbid" on that final bit.
It was faint, but the hint of a blush in the younger woman's features couldn't be missed. In all honesty, Barbara was a bit surprised by the reaction, given Helena's crowing pride when she'd returned from her latest exploration of the warehouse club the day before.
"Hey, that was a good deal."
The tone grew just a trifle self-righteous.
"And, the Peapod's gonna need diapers."
The remainder of the accusation remained unspoken, and Barbara casually thumbed through "Parenting For Dummies" as she considered whether to respond. A section heading on gas pains caught her eye and made her decision for her.
"These are a necessity, Hel."
As much as their daughter would need diapers and furniture and little outfits, the redhead was quite certain that a capable mother was equally necessary.
Dark brows corkscrewed as the brunette leaned in to inspect the growing library of infant care manuals.
"Uh, all of them? I mean -- "
Dog-earring the corner of the burping page, Barbara nevertheless caught her lover's tentative smile.
"-- what about maternal instinct and all?"
She thought that the laugh that trickled past her lips contained very little amusement, and a host of responses came to mind.
The fact that she didn't do instinct.
The fact that she couldn't remember that last time she'd seen an infant, much less held one.
The fact that having an infant had never been something she'd considered.
And, again the fact that "Feeling the Force" had never been her metier.
Ultimately, the redhead simply elected to look over the frames of her glasses again and pin her partner with a frank look. When she raised her brows in challenge, Helena apparently got the message. Swinging her feet to the floor, the younger woman carefully settled the notebook on the coffee table and began rolling up her shirt sleeves.
"Ooookay. Which ones do you want me to start with?"
Awash with too many emotions to categorize, Barbara regarded the other woman for a long moment, detecting nothing but sincerity. With a nod and a laugh, she pointed to the box and they set to work, eventually getting the mini-library organized: The Doctor Spocks in the dining room for morning coffee; The Dummy's Guide by the tub; The First Twelve Months on the coffee table; The Hip Mama Survival Guide by Helena's side of the bed; and the other dozen in a teetering stack on Barbara's bedside table, one of her spare fuzzy bed socks -- Helena's suggestion, of course -- at the ready as a bookmark.
And so the pile remained when Barbara awakened some time in the dark of the night, her eyes automatically tracking to the towering stack looming over her. Despite her best efforts, she couldn't push back a twinge of guilt that she hadn't made further headway when she'd turned in earlier: She'd begun with one title, then become distracted, thumbing though each book in succession. Mercifully, Helena's appearance, herbal tea and gingersnaps in hand, had distracted her from what was apparently a futile hunt for a phone number for tech support.
Since they had turned in so early, the redhead supposed that her wakefulness shouldn't be surprising, yet... yet... There was something off. A moment later, her eyes almost adjusted to the darkness, Barbara realized what it was: Helena.
Rather, the absence of her partner in her customary position curled up beside her.
A startled blink later, Barbara realized that Helena was present, simply completely obscured under their covers. The barest of rustling and the position of Helena's body suggested what she could be up to, and the redhead fought a flare of irritation. Seconds later, she grasped her error and, completely charmed, lifted the comforter and peered underneath, squinting in the darkness.
"What are you up to under there, Hel?"
With a completely graceful movement, a shaggy head emerged and Barbara saw moonlight reflected in her lover's blinding smile.
"Listening to your hearts beat."
At a loss, she murmured something -- perhaps an "Oh" of acknowledgment -- wondering how her partner managed to hide her poetic side so well in the light of day. Gradually recovering, she considered the statement for a moment.
"What do you hear?"
She sensed, as much as saw, the dark head canting to one side in thought. The brief wait was well worth it.
"Yours is strong, but hers is faster."
Feeling her smiling growing wider, Barbara prompted for a bit more detail.
"What about yours, Sweetie?"
Somehow, her partner's answer managed to steal the breath from her and, very probably, caused her strong heartbeat to stutter just a bit.
"I think it stops when I hear yours and hers."
Dumbstruck, she fumbled for her lover's hand.
She thought she detected a flicker of puzzlement before the younger woman smiled and ducked under the covers again. Barbara felt one warm hand come to rest lightly on her upper abdomen, the other near her breast bone. Then... Then, there was a soft fluttering beat against her stomach, in a moment counter-pointed by steady, soft thumps against her chest.
Blinking frantically in the darkness, the redhead spared a moment to wonder how Helena kept the two rhythms.
Perhaps it was like the baffling ability of some people to rub their stomachs while patting their heads.
She pushed the thought aside and shifted her upper body restlessly. Considering anew what that rapid thumping really meant, she carefully captured her partner's hands and dusted a kiss to the knuckles. Instantly, the brunette squirmed up beside her, and she struggled to meet the dark eyes fixed on her.
"It'll be okay, Red."
Somehow, Barbara swallowed, then wet her lips with the tip of her tongue. When she finally spoke, her voice was barely above a whisper, but her lover's solid embrace assured her that she'd been heard.
"I'm frightened anyway, Helena."
Given that it was traditionally a night for fear and mischief, Halloweens past had always found Barbara soundly entrenched behind the monitors of the Delphi. For the last half-dozen years, instead of handing out candy to children or attending more mature costume parties, she'd always been on duty, monitoring pranks and crime, dispatching police, fire, and rescue workers, and judiciously ordering the intervention of her own particular weapon as warranted.
So accustomed had she become to that life, Barbara was a bit surprised to discover that, on this particular Halloween, alternate activities were not entirely without appeal: even one so mundane as chaperoning the school's costume dance. The music was the standard school dance mix; the students who were in attendance didn't seem predisposed to causing trouble; and seeing her fellow teachers in costume was reward enough in itself.
Circumspectly checking on Amy Brenner again, whose choice of a Xena costume was garnering a certain amount of teasing from her fitter classmates, Barbara spared a moment to consider whether the current bouncy hit -- a rather risque melody by The Black Eyed Peas -- had been on the list submitted for approval prior to the dance. With a mental shrug, she turned to the refreshment area, fighting a grin at the sight of Mrs. Giles from the machine shop who was manning her usual station by the punch bowl, outfitted in what Barbara had decided was the costume of Fairy Godmother from Shrek II.
Given the concoctions undoubtedly brewing in the punch at this point, the choice seemed natural enough.
Since she had no desire to determine what noxious mixture of grain alcohol, schnapps, and windex had been poured into the pumpkin-shaped faux-crystal bowl, the redhead nodded a brief acknowledgment before heading down the west side of the gym. On her way, she passed Mr. Smithers from Biology who was dressed as... well, a frog was as good a guess as any.
The observation renewed her gratitude for the fact that she'd quickly abandoned her first instinct to dress as The Bard or some other hackney'ed English teacher cliche. Despite the seemingly infinite debate -- and dubious witticisms -- her request for suggestions had created at home, at least she was, nominally, out of character.
Coming to a halt under a basketball backboard, she raked the adolescent set with another long glance, smiling as she replayed some of the livelier conversations her costume options had created.
Barbara had dismissed Helena's first suggestion out of hand.
Notwithstanding the chill of the late October air, did she look like she wanted to parade in front of her students as a belly dancer?
Out of increasing desperation, she'd given her younger partner's other publicly acceptable suggestion some consideration, but had eventually dismissed the idea. A sweatshirt with the word "Virgin" stenciled over her belly simply wasn't appropriate for the crowd she'd be with.
The costume she'd settled on -- or allowed herself to be talked into -- had been Dinah's shy suggestion. Although she'd initially been quite uncomfortable with the idea, Barbara had had to grant that they did have most of the materials on hand and, as Dinah had pressed, it was the unofficial mascot of the school. The glint that had appeared in Alfred's eyes when she'd broached the idea with him had clinched matters.
And so, here she was: dressed in semi-form fitting blue neoprene, with a black bat cowl and cape. A bit of padding from a Hulk Hogan costume that Dinah had found at a second-hand shop bulked out the deliberately bad imitation of her former mentor's costume, while some custom latex and paint -- red, green, yellow -- on her abdomen allowed Baby Gordon-Kyle to sport her own version of Dick's first costume.
Again pushing aside her trepidation about exposing her child to The Life so early, Barbara focused on the irony of the fact that for the first time in eight years, she was out at night in a bat costume, with some version of her old running partner at her side.
Or, to be accurate, in her lap.
She gently rested one hand on the six month old bulge, allowing her lashes to flutter closed when she felt an answering jab from a tiny foot.
"Don't worry, Peapod, I know Helena will find better colors for you later."
She detected more vigorous activity under her palm; however, brief considerations that it might have been in response to her words disappeared when she heard the sudden hush fall through the gymnasium. Green eyes flew open and the hand that had been resting on her stomach moved smoothly to the arm of her chair, prepared to release the hidden batarang. When the oddly quiet teens on the dance floor began to ebb toward the sidelines and she saw the cause, Barbara was glad that she was prepared.
Rather, a sultry figure in a Catwoman costume.
In the split-second that adrenaline flooded through her, another instinct kicked in, triggering the electric frisson of recognition that always accompanied Helena's entrance. Blinking frantically against the cognitive dissonance, Barbara exhaled slowly and released her death grip from the arm of the chair.
The crowd of students, apparently recognizing that the sultry figure wasn't a threat, was slowly returning to the dance floor, and the redhead picked up snatches of words from the buzz of adolescent voices.
"Hey, are you supposed to be Halle Berry?"
Even as she rolled her eyes at that question, she heard another voice responding.
"No, dummy, she's Catwoman, right?"
In the act of swallowing her instinctive distaste for the choice of costume, Barbara noticed several subtle differences in the costume and realized that, mercifully, it was unlike any that she'd seen Selina in. Or out of.
Not to mention some profound differences in the wearer.
The teasing purr of her partner's voice finally cleared matters up.
With a casual wave, Helena came to a stop in front of her then, with a wink, half-turned to address the young man who had tendered the last question.
"Nah, I'm from the Bond movies, Buddy. I'm Pu--"
Suddenly realizing where things were heading, Barbara snapped a hand out, neatly swatting her lover on the side of her leg.
"-- Uh, Kitty Galore," the brunette finished.
Behind her cowl, Barbara allowed her eyebrows to creep upward. The students surrounding them were less concerned with politeness.
"Who cares, man. Look at her."
"Hey, better watch out. She's Ms. Gordon's girlfriend."
To her surprise, Barbara realized that she wasn't embarrassed in the least by the fact that her love life was, apparently, common knowledge. She thought she was just a bit surprised by the fact that Helena seemed to stand a little taller at the description. However, when she heard a shy voice from the edge of the group, surprise barely encompassed her response.
"I wish she was my girlfriend."
As casually as possible, the redhead turned toward the feminine voice, nearly laughing aloud when she spied a chunky Xena slinking off toward the refreshment area.
"Come on, Hel."
Giving her chair a sharp push, she waved the remaining admirers to the dance floor and moved toward the back wall.
"You're making the natives restless."
An unimpressed snort was the only verbal acknowledgment, however the younger woman obligingly trailed beside her. When they reached the edge of the bleachers, Barbara stopped and slowly turned to face the dance floor.
"Cool. Are we gonna neck under the bleachers, Red?"
Ignoring the question, the redhead quickly glanced under the aluminum seats to insure that they had a modicum of privacy, then looked up to meet sparkling blue eyes.
"Pussy Galore, Helena?"
Barbara sighed quietly at the sight of enthusiastic nodding and attempted to steel herself for whatever was to follow.
"You wanna be Goldfinger?"
Resisting the urge to swat her partner again, the redhead pursed her lips.
She paused briefly, suddenly aware of the irony of her next words, but managed to continue.
"I prefer to be the good guy."
Helena's comically eager response removed her lingering concern.
"Oooookay. I can work with that."
"Indeed?", she fought a smirk, "Are you a bad Pussy?"
She seemed to recall that the original Bond character had worked with the hero, however, when her partner leaned close and her words purred into her ear, Barbara decided that some artistic license wasn't all bad.
"I think I might need catching."
Something fluttered in her chest, and Barbara turned to whisper her thoughts on that suggestion. The sight of a dot of blood by her partner's bottom lip caused the words to change abruptly.
"Is that blood?"
The other woman straightened and touched an index finger to the spot.
For some reason, Helena's unconcerned tone did little to calm the keening panic rising within the older woman, but she managed merely to arch a brow in question. When she realized that her cowl effectively hid the visual clue, she canted her head to the side.
Again, she found her partner's nonchalant smile almost maddening. Her explanation did little to clarify matters.
"I was doing some trick or treating on my way over. Scared the bejeezus out of some kids who were all set to T.P. your dad's lawn."
Narrowing her eyes, Barbara nodded her thanks for the action but refused to be distracted.
"Are you suggesting that's from a 'paper' cut?"
She allowed her tone to encapsulate the word in quote marks, making no effort to hide her growing exasperation. Mercifully, Helena seemed to catch on.
"Oh, I was just having some fun with some creeps hanging around the school before I came in."
Slowly, Barbara inhaled, raising one hand to pinch the neoprene beak of her cowl between thumb and forefinger.
For some reason, the habitual gesture seemed to have little effect in staving off the headache she could feel building.
"You know that it's not wise to be patrolling off comms."
Proud of herself for what she considered to be a fairly mild rebuke, Barbara was taken aback when her companion abruptly bent down, bringing them eye to eye.
"We're never on comms anymore, Barbara."
True. They hadn't been running sweeps in the last month, however she hadn't guessed that Helena had missed the routine. Before she could marshal her wits to follow up on that thought, Helena's display of temper disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. Fighting whiplash, Barbara watched her partner straighten and smile evenly.
"Besides, I didn't think you'd want me to be a bad Samaritan."
Perhaps mercifully, the minimum wage DJ managed to scratch his next album, the screech that echoed through the sound system effectively shocking Barbara back to her senses.
Clearly, this was neither the time nor the place to get into this particular discussion.
Accordingly, she took a cleansing breath and offered a smile of apology as The Pet Shop Boys' "What Have I Done To Deserve This" began to thump through the gym.
"You're right, Helena. I'm glad you were there to help out."
The brunette accepted the apology with a quick nod, turning to walk with her as Barbara began another never-ending circuit of the floor. The patrolled in silence for a few minutes, interrupting a romantic tryst near the equipment lockers and circumventing another addition to the punch bowl. She thought to offer a warning when Helena ladled some punch into a cup but decided that her partner's acute senses would certainly pick out the vile additions.
Or, perhaps not.
She smiled her sympathy when her partner took a sip and then crossed her eyes dramatically.
Coughing in affront, the brunette dropped her paper cup into the trash.
"Was it that bad back when I doctored it?"
Barbara discretely chose not to point out that her former ward had finally confirmed a long-standing suspicion and, instead, wrinkled her forehead in concentration.
"Your taste in mixed drinks has always been much more refined than average, Sweetie," she eventually allowed.
Suspecting that it was as good an opening as any, she looked up and caught her partner's eyes.
"I wasn't certain that you'd be able to make it tonight."
Not even the small mask around her eyes could hide Helena's confusion; however, her answer was casual.
"Hey, Halloween's my favorite night. Why wouldn't I want to share it with my girl?"
Utterly charmed, Barbara reached out to squeeze her lover's hand. Nevertheless, she didn't forget her purpose.
"Still, you must be tired with your schedule."
As casually as possible, she released her partner's hand and turned for another sweep of the perimeter.
"Between work and school."
When she detected the other woman's leer, she realized that her clarification might have come too late.
"Yeah. And a lot of nocturnal attention from somebody."
The redhead resolutely kept her eyes on the dance floor, hoping that her cowl would hide the worst of her blush.
Could she help it that any time she was alone with the other woman she was seized by a desire -- no, a need -- to cover her from head to toe with melting kisses and gentle touches?
Pausing by the scoreboard, she glanced up, allowing her smirk to show.
"Hmmm. Do we need to curtail your busy load in some way?"
The panic that briefly flashed across expressive caramel features was almost comical, but Barbara kept her poker face in place. To her credit, the younger woman recovered quickly.
"Guess I could drop a class or two."
Grateful for the opening, Barbara pretended to weigh the suggestion as they resumed their circuit.
"Well, that is a possibility. In fact,"
She grew serious and stopped their progress to face her partner.
"I had thought that you were planning to."
Barbara allowed the brunette to search her eyes, silently sighing her relief when she saw a minute nod.
When blue eyes darted away to inspect the toe of a high heeled boot, she ducked down and smiled as encouraging as possible from the confines of her cowl. Eventually the younger woman looked up.
"I just want her -- "
A slender hand waved toward the growing bump in Barbara's lap that was, week by week, slowly obscuring the redhead's view of her knees.
"-- to know that both of her moms have some education. And,"
The pride that had welled within her temporarily receded when Barbara saw her partner's hesitation return. For the second time in fifteen minutes, she took her partner's hand.
"And what, Hel?"
Barbara thought she detected a hint of something in the other woman's eyes, her face. When Helena spoke, she almost gasped.
"And I want her to be proud of me like you were when you found out I was in school."
Without releasing the other woman's hand, she reached up, roughly jerking the cowl back from her face, then down around her neck.
She shook her head, exasperated with herself, with her partner, with the entire situation.
"You can't think that-- "
She snapped her mouth shut when her companion squatted beside her and shook her head.
"Well, not just that."
Easily sensing the younger woman's discomfort with the unplanned revelation, Barbara simply nodded.
"I do want you both to be proud of me, but the classes are kind of fun, so maybe--"
Helena's cocky grin clearly signaled a segue from what was an uncomfortable topic, and the older woman allowed her own smile to answer.
"-- I stay in school but just cut back on homework?"
Laughing, Barbara finally released the brunette's hand and slowly turned to survey the hallway to the restrooms.
"I think not, Hel."
The other woman's laughter was surprisingly unconcerned as they resumed their stroll around the gym.
"Well, I guess there's nothing else for it then, Red."
Entirely certain that she was being set up, Barbara cheerfully accepted her role as the straight man in this conversation.
"And, what's that, Hel?"
Her lover's response neatly clarified why Helena had been unfazed by continuing her homework. Delivered as it was during the quiet lull between songs, it also reduced Barbara to red-faced laughter.
"In the interest of my rest, you're just gonna have to have your way with me during the daytime."
"You are so fuckin' sexy."
Since, according to her most recent awareness, her partner had been entrenched in their shared bathroom, steam creeping from under the door during an hour long shower, Barbara was not expecting to hear anything from her, much less those particular words. Accordingly, with a barely supressed squeak, Barbara started violently, one hand flying to her chest. Allowing her heart rate to settle, she dubiously surveyed the seven month old bump that her current parenting manual was resting on and laughed ruefully.
"Hel, I can barely get my socks on by myself."
Apparently unimpressed by the protest, the brunette tossed her towel toward the hamper and crawled slowly up from the foot of the bed. Wearing boy brief underwear and a see-through tank, she was -- Barbara decided instantly -- very sexy indeed.
"Even sexier, Red. I like putting your socks on."
Barbara traced the edges of her lips with the tip of her tongue, watching her partner's hand trail somewhere in the vicinity of where she'd positioned her legs after hoisting herself into bed an hour before.
"I like taking them off even more."
Unable to miss the light in her lover's eyes, the redhead retrieved her Commander Data bookmark from the bedside table.
"Someone's in a mood tonight," she ventured, carefully placing her bookmark before closing the cover.
The response was playful, and green eyes narrowed thoughtfully.
"You're tanked up on tryptophan, aren't you?"
The younger woman's smile was supremely self-satisfied as she settled onto her knees halfway up the big bed.
"I'm not sleepy, if that's what you mean."
Arching one brow, Barbara returned her book to the shrinking stack on the table.
"Apparently. Although that's difficult to believe considering how much you ate this afternoon."
The bright smile only seemed to broaden.
"Don't forget that turkey sandwich and third piece of punkin' pie tonight during the game."
The redhead heard herself laughing even as she worked to push aside the tiniest hint of resentment that she'd not had room for seconds herself.
Great galloping gourmets. Even Alfred had returned for a second piece of mince pie.
However, this year it was not to be. Although Dinah and Helena had truly outdone themselves in the kitchen, she'd barely had room to sample a bit of everything from their Thanksgiving feast. With Baby Gordon-Kyle occupying more and more room, she felt fortunate that she'd managed as much as she had.
"So why aren't you passed out in a stupor yet, Helena?"
The other woman's shrug suggested a distinct lack of interest in the reasons for her mood.
"Maybe I'm tanked up on pregnancy pheromones."
Barbara pursed her lips for a moment, then stretched to turn off the bedside light.
Her invitation was met with a quick shake of a dark head, and she arrested her movement toward the light.
She placed her hands on the mattress and began to push herself forward, once again having her motion halted by the sight of her partner stretching toward the other side of the bed. Giving up, she waited as the younger woman dug in the drawer of her bedside table and then returned to her kneeling position near her hip, a small bottle of Vitamin E oil raised in question.
"Want me to lotion your stomach?"
Sensing as much as seeing something in her partner's deep blue eyes, Barbara nodded and reached for the hem of her tee shirt. In a movement so fluid and graceful that it took her breath away, Helena was by her shoulder, one arm reaching behind her to help support her during a movement that had become increasing awkward during the last few months.
"Here. Let me help you."
The redhead had abandoned her dogged determination to do everything herself weeks before, during a particularly frustrating attempt to lean over the arm of her chair to retrieve a pen she'd dropped on the floor. Accordingly, she nodded her thanks and raised her arms, allowing her partner to strip the shirt over her head.
With Helena's help, she settled herself again, noticing the gooseflesh rising on her newly bared skin. Acutely aware of the seeming miles of flesh she'd just exposed, she worked to identify her response, ultimately deciding that the cause was a toss-up: it was either the low setting on the thermostat she'd programmed in deference to her bedmate's body heat, or it was the rumbling growl she'd felt from her partner's chest as the brunette had leaned in to position a second pillow under her head.
With a presence of mind that surprised her, Barbara opted to set analysis aside for the time being. She forced herself to relax into the pillows, a small murmur of pleasure escaping her when warm hands began to work unhurriedly across her upper abdomen. As her partner worked, Barbara was torn between watching her hands, so careful and deliberate in their movements, and her face, which seemed raptly fixed on her task. With her companion's soft breathing seeming to synchronize with her own, she gradually gave in to the pampering and drifted.
Long, luxurious minutes later she noticed that her partner's aim seemed to have strayed.
"I didn't think I was getting any stretch marks there, Hel," she observed mildly.
After all, it wasn't as if she'd checked.
Granted, the lighting was a bit dim in the bedroom, however Barbara was unable to detect even a hint of embarrassment in the younger woman's features. To her annoyance, she actually experienced a flare of something approaching embarrassment when she saw her partner duck down to brush a kiss to the area in question.
"Can't be too thorough, Red."
The redhead felt a smirk creeping across her face and cast her gaze toward the headboard.
"Is that so --"
A barely audible growl interrupted her attempt at banter and raised the fine hair on her forearms. The next words she heard struck her like a blow.
"Jesus, Barbara, the way you taste..."
Although she could barely see her lover's dark hair over her stomach, Barbara clearly detected soft movement against the mattress and knew that Helena was moving against her.
In addition, her imagination was fully capable of filling in any blanks.
Struggling not to squirm, unable to deny her lover's evident desire, she focused on her breathing.
One shallow breath in.
One long exhalation.
Another slow inhalation.
A steady breath out.
"So fuckin' amazing -- "
The rumble broke her concentration, and Barbara shut her eyes, regrouping.
One long... hitching breath in...
The situation got the best of her, and, as gently as possible, she reached down to find her partner's face, cupping the velvet skin of her cheek in her palm.
She kept her tone mild even as she cautiously guided her partner's head up until puzzled golden eyes came into view.
Those phenomenal eyes flickered to blue, and Barbara ached for the visible concern in the other woman's expressive features.
"Did I do something--"
Unable to hear any more, she shook her head. She even managed a rueful smile, kept her tone light.
"You do realize that I can't .. see anything that's going on down there?"
Dark brows dipped, the inquisitive bob of her lover's head almost evoking a laugh. The apologetic look that immediately followed made the redhead glad that she'd resisted the impulse.
"Shit, I'm sorry. I just -- "
Barbara nodded carefully when her partner gestured loosely toward her lower half and waited when Helena's eyes hooded for a few beats.
"We'll just -- "
Barbara attempted to ready herself for whatever might follow as the younger woman sat up between her legs and broke into a grin.
"-- have to rig something up."
She felt one brow rising skeptically, but nevertheless gave herself time to consider the pronouncement and just what permutations her lover's imagination might take with the idea. Finally, she pinned the younger woman with a hard look and spoke primly.
"We are not suspending a mirror from the ceiling, Helena."
Barbara realized that she'd been off base when the dark head started to shake. A moment later, when she saw Helena abruptly halt the movement -- clearly running the possibility through her mind -- she realized that she might have opened a can of worms.
"Earth to Helena."
She snapped her fingers and blue eyes that had gone violet refocused on her.
"No. Ceiling. Mirror."
The redhead exhaled as the other woman nodded grudgingly. She decided that her relief might have been premature when Helena brightened.
"S'okay. I was thinking something more like a miner's helmet."
Completely at a loss, Barbara cultivated the furrow that was growing between her eyebrows.
Barbara smirked when her partner pouted and bounced once on the bed.
"Instead of a light on the front, we could put a big mirror -- right on my forehead so you can see what I'm--"
With the image of Helena in such a get-up taking over her imagination, the redhead allowed her laughter to cut short the inevitable outcome of the description.
"I'm sorry, Hel, but that might not be very conducive to setting a mood."
Again, Barbara mustered a smile when her lover's face fell comically.
"And, hopefully, this --"
She waved in the general vicinity of her abdomen, trusting that Helena would make the proper assumption.
"-- won't last much longer."
Nodding, the brunette crawled up the bed and slid under the covers. Not sure just what to expect given the rather abrupt kibosh she'd put on her passionate partner's activities, Barbara lay still until she felt the smaller woman mold tight to her side, dark head nestling under her chin.
Gingerly, she allowed her fingers to brush through shaggy bangs, charmed when her bedmate ducked her head and snuggled impossibly closer.
"Are you alright tonight, Sweetheart?"
Although she wasn't certain just what response she'd been expecting, Barbara knew that nothing could have prepared her for what she heard.
"Yeah. I just want to breathe your air."
Pierced, she closed her eyes, suddenly terribly close to tears. Feeling impossibly unworthy, she knew that she'd stiffened; naturally, Helena didn't miss the change.
"Barbara? I didn't mean to..."
Mute, the redhead could only shake her head. With all her might, she wished she could blame hormones, but ultimately she was unwilling to take the easy way out.
"Even before... "
Almost choking on the admission, she took a second to swallow and gather the threads of her courage. Throughout, Helena remained still in her arms, her breathing steady and more reassuring than Barbara could have imagined.
"Even before, Hel..."
She resolutely trained her eyes on the ceiling, wishing she'd turned off the light, wishing for the confessional darkness.
"Even before, climax was never easy."
She felt the dark head resting against her shoulder nod once and stumbled on.
"And when it... when I did, it was physical."
When there was no reaction, she sought a different way to explain.
"It was about what I was experiencing."
Barbara felt her partner's sly grin against her bare skin and couldn't hold back her snort. Giving in to the need for release, she lightly swatted the younger woman's shoulder, then sobered and forced herself to keep working through what she needed to express.
"And now, when it's damned near impossible..."
Green eyes blinked rapidly in the darkness. Seized by an embarrassed inarticulateness, Barbara was wracked by the ache to be: The need to feel the clenching torsion; The ability to surrender herself in offering, head thrashing, body twisting, fingers in hair; The chance to...
"I want to feel it -- "
Her voice broke, and she paused, finally ducking her head to meet the open blue eyes so close to her.
Again, Helena nodded.
"To share m--"
Barbara couldn't quite give voice to the pronoun she'd intended, but she managed to continue.
"To share that with you."
She felt their hearts beat in rhythm for a silent moment. Then, Helena shifted, and she was wrapped in wiry arms, warm breath pluming against her neck as Helena snuggled close and whispered her absolution.
"Every minute I'm with you, you do."
We gather together to ask the Lord's blessing;
he chastens and hastens his will to make known.
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
"You do realize this is going to take forever, don't you?"
Barbara experienced a moment's guilt for her hyperbole and a briefer moment of embarrassment at the hint of a whine inflecting her question; however, she easily pushed both aside.
If nothing else, her question had -- briefly -- silenced the ceaseless loop of lyrics that Helena's absent humming had planted in her mind.
And, the redhead observed from below, her question didn't seem to have fazed her partner at all.
"It's a long weekend, Red. Where do you have to be?"
Without waiting for an answer, the brunette resumed her painstaking work, once again whistling the same melody through her teeth.
Clearly, yesterday's Pilgrim-inspired festivities had stuck with Helena as well.
In an attempt to derail the soundtrack in her head, Barbara pondered the question that her partner had apparently meant to be rhetorical.
Although it was Black Friday, Dinah's invitation to join her at the malls was beginning to sound almost appealing.
Realizing that, at this point, she was well and truly committed to their little project, she exhaled noisily. When that garnered no response, other than hands gently smoothing across her belly, she huffed again, satisfied when blue eyes looked up to meet hers.
"I can't believe you talked me into this, Helena."
An infectious grin and the waggle of dark brows accompanied her companion's response.
"I can be very persuasive."
Watching as another handful of cold goo landed on her torso, Barbara suspected that her reply was just a tad on the dry side.
Although she wanted to be irritated by the smug smile and cheerfully unconcerned shrug she received, the redhead simply couldn't find it within: Helena was entirely correct about her persuasive qualities.
Such as the night before.
After her halting confession and her partner's easy acceptance, they'd remained still for minutes. The realization that Helena's 'owing and deepening had finally roused Barbara from her own near-sleep, and she'd stretched to turn out the light.
The barest nudge from beside her had signaled her bedmate's request, and she'd obligingly worked to turn onto her side. The warmth that had immediately blanketed her back when Helena had spooned close had been both welcome and reassuring, and Barbara had reached behind her to find her lover's hand, tugging it over her side to hold her even closer.
Again, they'd lain in silence, Barbara realizing that -- for whatever reasons -- she'd been nowhere near as sleepy as she'd been only minutes before. The sensation of slender fingers gently ghosting her upper abdomen had suggested that her wakefulness was shared: the movement hadn't been Helena's sleepy kneading that continued to so charm her; neither had it been anything overtly seductive... or demanding.
Rather, as Barbara had concentrated on the sensation of skin brushing skin, the touches had been tender, almost tentative, possibly meant to relax her. Undoubtedly serving to connect them, the soft strokes had gradually sensitized her skin to the point that she'd been positive that she'd been able to detect the whorls of her partner's fingertips against her torso.
Whatever the intent of the motion, when Helena's hand had brushed the underside of her breast, Barbara hadn't been able to silence a hiss. Instantly, all movement had stopped, and she'd held her breath until she'd heard a soft mutter through her hair.
"Shit. I'm sorry."
The words had been contrite, almost comically so.
"Still tender, huh?"
Barbara had given due consideration to the question in light of the extraordinary sensitivity that had plagued the second trimester of her pregnancy. Responding to hormonal changes presumably, her breasts had barely been able to tolerate the whisper of a tee shirt; forcing herself into a bra for her daily work had been an exercise in torture, one which had very possibly resulted in a few extra pop essays for her students as she'd chafed her way through some particularly bad days.
"Not in a bad way," she'd finally decided.
The response had been immediate, without inflection, and Barbara had suspected that it had been automatic. Moments later, she'd practically heard the wheels turning in her partner's mind and smiled against her pillow when a follow-up had purred against her shoulder.
It was then, Barbara decided as she replayed events, that things had ceased to be quite so... linear. There had been electric touches. She'd heard her own softly whispered encouragement and risen to her partner's panted imprecations. And throughout, there had been Helena wrapping her securely from behind.
Yet, at some point, she'd needed more.
"Would you take your shirt off, Hel?"
The sound of fabric being ripped asunder had been immediate and enthusiastic.
And then... then...
There had been no sequence, only silken softness and amazing sensations covering her skin. There had been Helena -- the solidness and warmth and full softness and diamond roughness of her lover against her back.
There had been very few words until she'd needed -- honestly needed -- more.
"Hel -- "
Even in the darkness, even after everything, Barbara had felt her blush rise. Still, she'd soldiered on.
"Can you -- would you --"
More or less.
Fortunately, the response panting against her shoulder blade had been instant.
Swallowing had become difficult, but Barbara had been having none of her own fears.
"Will you use the purple --?"
In the darkness, she'd seen her hips suddenly thrust forward and had been flooded with heat that merely the request could affect her partner so. Helena's sudden hoarse exhalation had, likewise, conveyed more than enough information about her reaction.
Yet, the fingers she'd felt feathering her upper abdomen had remained gentle, the touch impossibly careful.
"Uh, access could be a little tricky, Red."
In a heartbeat, Barbara had been truly, viscerally, grateful for every physics and geometry class she'd ever taken.
Not to mention a few heated encounters with Dick during nights on patrol when adrenaline had run high: access through neoprene and latex was a carefully choreographed maneuver.
Stretching for the edge of the mattress to help in the process, she'd shaken her head.
"Help me roll further onto my side."
Helena's growl had been almost nerve-wracking in its volume, and then conversation had seemed to fail them both. Their sweat mingling, her hand jammed against the headboard to brace her, and tendons in her forearm flexing in rhythm to the strain, the only sounds had been Helena's panting and her own pleas.
"Harder -- "
"And a little more here..."
The sing-song words drew Barbara from what had been, she had to admit, a very pleasurable way to wile away the time as her partner worked. Not at all pleased to have her little trip down memory lane cut short, she nevertheless managed to remain civil.
"Just how much more of that do you really need to plaster onto me, Helena?"
Well, relatively speaking.
The question did cause the brunette to stop her interminable stroking and smoothing and adjusting -- Who would have imagined that Helena was such a perfectionist? -- if only for a moment.
"Aw, c'mon, Barbara. We've got a good movie on, the Kid's out shopping with Gabby, and -- hey -- "
Slender shoulders shrugged dramatically.
"-- when's your belly button ever gonna be this much of an outie again?"
Sighing, Barbara allowed Helena free reign for a few minutes, lulled once again by the movement of capable hands flowing over her body. Turning her head a few degrees to the side, she focused on the big screen and the movie that Helena had found for her.
In honesty, "A Night To Remember" was one of her favorites, and it was at the most gripping part. Unfortunately, she realized as she felt her teeth begin to clench, her partner's low humming of the Thanksgiving hymn was not entirely in sync with the Titanic orchestra's rendition of "Nearer My God To Thee".
Since aural dissonance was more than she chose to deal with, Barbara returned her attention to her partner. Helena was, she realized with relief, actually cleaning her hands of the plaster of Paris she'd been molding to her belly for almost an hour.
"You do realize that this is not going on display," she offered, mentally shuddering at the vision of the results of Helena's project hanging on the wall next to the Richard M. Nixon presidential plate and the photo of Dinah's "thought bubble" fish tank.
Dropping a wad of plaster-covered paper towels into a waiting trash bag, the brunette leaned down to inspect her work.
"Nah, I've got other ideas."
Barbara chewed on that thought for a few minutes, finally giving up on her attempts to guess what her partner could have in mind.
"It's cold," she finally responded, distantly appalled to realize that her tone had bordered on a whine.
Apparently, her partner didn't notice, or graciously pretended not to, simply leaning close to purr into her ear, "I'll warm you up later."
Unable to hold in her smile, Barbara still managed a touch of petulance as she lobbed another complaint.
"It's probably drying my skin terribly."
Again, Helena was untroubled.
"I'll lotion you up later."
Finally, Barbara grinned fully, certain that she'd found the right tact.
Helena's smile as she tapped a nail lightly against the drying cast was, Barbara decided, quite wicked.
"Tell you what, Red: I'll do any part of me that you want while you dry."
It took less than a second for the redhead to decide.
Beside us to guide us,
our God with us joining,
ordaining, maintaining his kingdom divine;
so from the beginning the fight we were winning;
Whistling softly, the younger woman busied herself cleaning up while Barbara fanned at her abdomen to hasten the drying process and contemplated her options in terms of a cast of some portion of her lover's lovely anatomy.
She didn't realize that she would speak aloud until she heard her own voice. A dark head swiveled in her direction, a sly grin creeping across gamine features.
"Okay, Red, what did you come up with?"
"I believe, Helena," the older woman took her time, making certain to speak very clearly, "that I'd like a cast of -- "
The shrill buzz of the bell from the downstairs delivery entrance interrupted her, practically scaring her into shedding the plaster cast covering her lower torso. She rolled her eyes at her partner's apologetic shrug, suspecting that it had been less than entirely sincere, and waved the other woman off to sign for the delivery.
Sometimes the younger woman's timing -- or luck -- was simply too good to believe.
Setting aside her pique, Barbara began to peel the reasonably dry cast up. Her consideration about just when they might revisit the casting offer was cut short by her partner's return.
"Were you really going to make a cast of any part of yourself that I asked?"
She was careful to emphasize the word "any", and Helena gave the question a few moments' thought.
"Well, you know me."
A bright grin accompanied the pronouncement.
"Not smart enough to do everything but dumb enough to try anything."
Snorting, Barbara nodded her thanks when her partner lifted what appeared to be the absurdly huge plaster cone from her and placed it carefully on the coffee table. She managed to push herself upright, grimacing at the bits of plaster flecking from her skin, and grabbed her robe.
"What did we get?"
Jamming one arm into her sleeve, she nodded at the open cardboard box that Helena had dropped on the wing chair.
"Dunno. It's addressed to both of us, but it's wrapped up in weird paper."
The redhead cinched her robe as the younger woman retrieved the contents of the box and displayed the gift with a dramatically affronted expression.
"I mean, what the hell?"
Barbara caught the small package and squinted at the wrapping, then burst into laughter.
Pink paper with a pattern of little yellow ducks.
Little yellow ducks wearing red rubber rain boots and splashing through blue puddles under bright white umbrellas.
"It's a shower gift, Helena."
She gave it a cautious shake and cocked her head.
A dark head shook once.
"No, but I ran it though the scanners, and it didn't set off any alarms."
Nodding, Barbara stared at the overly cheerful paper again, then slid her index finger into the seam.
"Looks like something the Pep Squad might choose," she hazarded.
Her partner's bark of laughter coincided with the crinkle of the paper falling open, and instantly Barbara realized how very off base she'd been in her guess.
Resting on the bright paper in her lap was an item that left no doubt about the sender: a tiny little cap, just the right size for a newborn, decorated in a diamond pattern of blacks and whites and reds, with tiny little bells on each of the pointed peaks.
A harlequin's hat.
We all do extol thee,
thou leader triumphant,
and pray that thou still our defender wilt be.
"Are you surprised?"
"Yeah, whaddaya think?"
Two pairs of blue eyes were fixed on her: one deep blue, framed by thick dark lashes and filled with impish delight; the other, pale and enrobed by corn silk lashes, radiating shy excitement.
This was clearly the not the moment to, as Helena might put it, "go all left brain."
Resultantly, Barbara cocked her head to the side and again surveyed the oversized item she'd just divested of green and gold paper. She stroked the tail of the huge red bow that had adorned the package, searching for just the right way to express how she was feeling. Fortuitously, an apt quote from a favorite seasonal movie came to mind.
She met their eyes, allowing a hint of a grin to skirt her lips.
"If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewed to the carpet, I couldn't be any more surprised."
That earned her two startled blinks before both younger women burst into laughter. Naturally, Helena succinctly came to the point.
"But, do you like it, Barbara?"
The redhead reached for her mug of eggnog, working not to shudder at the idea of imbibing the sweet beverage in lieu of her morning coffee.
As an addition to her coffee, perhaps; as the sole way to greet Christmas morning, no. However, as she had for the last seven years, Helena had been adamant that this was a must-maintain tradition. Barbara had never coaxed the origin of the tradition from the younger woman but she'd long had a suspicion that a creamy beverage -- especially such a hyper-sweetened one -- might have been to Selina's holiday taste.
Completely unfortified, she leaned in to peer at the gift that was clearly meant to be her centerpiece for the year.
Large and pink and flexible, with several carefully affixed webbing straps.
Barbara chewed at her lower lip, then espying a distinguishing feature on the contraption, felt herself break into a smile and looked up.
"It's an abdomen?"
Helena's nod was nothing if not enthusiastic.
"Uh huh. Or,"
The young woman squatted beside her and ran one hand over the outside of the... object.
"-- specifically, it's your belly."
Since the presence of a distinctive protruding navel on the bottom -- or, what Barbara presumed to be the bottom -- of the item had suggested as much, the redhead merely nodded and cocked her head to the side. Finally, she went with her best guess.
"Helena, when I said that we were not hanging the cast of my abdomen on the wall, I was in no way suggesting that you should use it to mold something to hang from any other -- "
An emphatic shake of her partner's head cut short the lecture she'd been preparing on the difference between the meaning and the spirit of a statement.
"Then -- "
Hearing the hint of exasperation creeping into her tone, Barbara reached for her mug, aborting the gesture when she remembered what was in it.
"-- what on earth is it for?"
Helena smile was, she thought, entirely too smug for words. However, when she looked beseechingly toward the other member of the early morning present-opening crew, there was no reprieve: Dinah's grin was infectiously happy as well.
"It's a bassinet."
"A bass-- "
Suspecting that her mouth was flapping open like a fish out of water, Barbara cut herself short and surveyed the item again. Clearly, it had been created from the mold Helena had made the month before and was lined with --
"-- shearling inside with a middle layer of gel packs to simulate that nice squishy environment the Peapod has now."
"Uh huh. And -- "
Wondering if this was what being tag-teamed by used car salesmen was like, Barbara snapped her attention to Dinah, who was enthusiastically tugging at the webbing straps.
"-- since it hangs from the ceiling, she should have the same kind of weightless, floating feeling that she does now."
"And, don't worry, Red."
Green eyes ticked back to the brunette.
"We checked out the design with the pediatrician and with a couple of baby stores. It's A-okay."
Barbara bit at the inside of her cheek for a moment, then squared her shoulders and smiled with as much perkiness as she could manage.
"I'm sure you've covered all the bases. It's -- "
Despite her best intentions, she felt her brows crease the tiniest bit as she hunted for the proper words.
"-- absolutely amazing."
The moment the words passed her lips, Barbara recognized the truth in them, and her smile grew.
"Thank you so much, Hel. Dinah."
Dinah's pleased blush was unmistakable, however Barbara thought she detected a hint of pink in Helena's cheeks as well.
"I honestly had no idea," she added, running her index finger along the smooth top edge of the very novel baby bed.
Which was, she had to admit, true enough.
For the last two weekends, Helena and Dinah had secreted themselves in Dinah's room for hours. While the ensuing racket and trips to the gear closet and poorly suppressed giggles had certainly piqued her curiosity, Barbara had remained true to her promise not to peek.
"It's exquisite," she murmured absently, brushing the supple outside of the unit, pleased that she was unable to find the hint of a seam or crease.
Inevitably, a thought struck her, and she tapped the rubbery outer shell and then fixed her partner with a long look.
"Is this made from..."
Vigorous nods confirmed her suspicions even has Helena piped up.
"Uh huh. Latex to simulate your tummy."
Pursing her lips, Barbara made a mental note to check the supply cabinet later to see if any of their high grade forensic latex remained. But, for the moment, she simply smiled more broadly and nodded toward the stereo.
"Dinah, why don't you pick out some different music?"
One more go-round of Alvin and The Chipmunks on the all-Christmas radio station was more than she could bear, and her ward had been eyeing the stack of CDs that had been under the tree for her.
When the blonde nodded happily and bounded over to load the CD racks, Barbara finally redirected her attention from her final gift and took in the clutter filling the living area: boxes, bows, and wrapping paper -- some torn and haphazardly crumpled, some neatly removed and folded -- littered the floor and couch; small stacks of gifts were piled on the coffee table and end tables; and tinsel strands twinkled from the arm of the couch.
It appeared that Santa -- and all nine reindeer -- had blown through the clock tower with a vengeance.
As if reading her mind, Helena circled the coffee table and began gathering bits of wadded wrapping paper.
"Just think, Red -- "
Unable to miss the hint of glee in her partner's voice, Barbara glanced over.
"What's that, Hel?"
"Next year, I can dress up as Santa and come in from the roof for the Peapod."
Although she was a bit distracted by attempting to determine whether the bassinet wrapping paper could be reused, the redhead remembered the one productive activity she'd managed between being hustled out of bed at dawn and joining the two younger women by the tree not too many minutes later.
"Your beard and red jacket are in the back of the gear closet."
The shiny paper was probably worthy of recycling; after all, almost an entire roll had been used to wrap the stomach-cum-bassinet.
A pointed silence from the other side of the coffee table finally drew her attention, and Barbara worked not to snicker at her partner's dramatic display of dismay.
"You mean that you knew that was me last night?"
One crimson brow arched eloquently.
"Considering what Santa and I did to ring in Christmas, it have better have been."
With the beginning of Chumbawamba's "Tub Thumping" booming through the room, Barbara allowed herself to mirror her lover's sly grin, then unlocked the brake of her chair and turned toward the hallway.
"And, if you'll excuse me, since you two dragged me out of bed without a proper shower or cup of coffee, I'll be in the shower."
Frankly, she would have much preferred a long soak in their relatively new whirlpool tub; however, since there was no way to have the water suitably scalding without endangering her precious cargo, Barbara contented herself with a wistful sigh as she stripped out of her sweats and transferred herself to the shower bench. She adjusted the temperature and turned her face into the spray, acknowledging that she couldn't really fault the shower: it had, after all, become a refuge of sorts.
The shower was where she'd retired to clean up the month before after Quinn's package had arrived. It was where she'd turned the water on full force and allowed it to pelt her face as she silently screamed. It was where she'd clenched her jaw against her impotent fury and begun to sort out her options. It was where Helena had found her almost an hour later, slipping silently in to join her.
And, on that day, it had also become a confessional of sorts for Helena.
The brunette had positioned herself behind her, poured a dollop of shampoo into her palm, and begun working it through Barbara's hair. Barbara had closed her eyes and leaned back into the gentle touches, unsurprised by her companion's hoarse whisper.
"Why does she keep hurting us?"
She'd heard a hissing intake of breath before Helena had continued.
She'd opened her mouth to respond, but Helena hadn't been done.
"The fuckin' bitch used me to hurt you, and now..."
Suspecting that some of the warm wetness on her shoulder was not from the showerhead, Barbara had leaned back into her lover's torso.
"And we came through it, Hel."
It hadn't been that simple, of course.
In the last month, Helena had spent a lot of time in the training room pummeling the heavy bag. Barbara had worked to channel her own fury in other directions: the planning and safeguards that she could put in place. There had been other halting discussions in which Helena had railed against her role as Quinn's pawn.
And there had been those long showers each day; Barbara's time for privacy and contemplation, assured that, were Helena to surprise her, there would be no way to identify the wetness on her face.
On this day, however, she allowed her thoughts to drift to more pleasant matters: her personal visit the night before from "Santa". When she'd recovered from her surprise, and then her laughter, she'd taken great delight in slowly stripping Helena of her garb and then covering her with hands and mouth, whispering her delight and love into the supple thighs pressed to her cheeks.
By the time Barbara replayed the night before -- the twelve orgasms of Christmas, as Helena had mumbled before giving way to her exhaustion -- she felt a great deal more refreshed and awake. The aroma of coffee drifting from the kitchen lured her down the hallway, and she discovered her two younger partners entrenched in front of the Delphi.
"See, Hel? There's a script here on the S-partition to re-initialize all of the facial recognition bots."
Barbara shook her head in amazement when she saw Helena nod slowly.
"Okay. I get that we want to change the signatures on them, but how does -- "
Almost bouncing in her chair, the blonde tapped rapidly at the keyboard.
"It's easy, Hel. We just use this config file of locations here and send it through a pipe to the scr--"
"Pipe? Who comes up with this stuff and what was in their pipe?"
Barbara could no longer restrain her laughter.
"Not that kind of pipe, Sweetie. And,"
She resumed her progress toward the kitchen.
"Since it is Christmas, shouldn't you be playing with your gifts instead of working?"
By the time she returned from the kitchen, a mug of fortification balanced on a small tray in her lap, the two had abandoned the Delphi. Noting that the handset for the cordless was missing from its base, she assumed that Dinah was making plans with Gabby. Given the limited visits the two had shared during the fall, Barbara suspected that she'd see very little of her charge while Gabby was back in town during the holiday break.
Reasonably assured that at least one of her proteges was taking her advice to enjoy the day, she turned her focus to the other. There was no sign of Helena in the great room, and the silence from the training room suggested that the brunette wasn't in there either. Barbara chewed at her lower lip for a moment, then set her mug on the end table and moved toward the balcony.
When she cracked the French doors, her suspicions were confirmed: Helena was there, balancing on the edge of the balustrade. The dark figure was facing outward, motionless save for the slow clenching of her fists, and Barbara sat in silence, loath to disturb her solitude.
Naturally, however, her approach had not gone unnoticed.
Gracefully stretching, Helena seemed to rouse herself from her vigil and turned to hop lightly to the balcony. Her smile was easy, but Barbara noted an edginess to the younger woman, an energy almost crackling off her.
"You look amazing in that sweater, Red."
Barbara reflexively glanced down at her sweater as her partner drew close and bounced restlessly on the balls of her feet.
When she'd opened Helena's gift earlier, her first instinct had been to protest: the cashmere was a ridiculous indulgence considering that in another two months it would be absurdly huge on her. Yet, thoughts of it caressing her skin -- and the look in her partner's eyes when she'd held the burnt orange turtleneck up -- had won her over.
"It feels wonderful, Hel. I'm glad you chose it for me."
The brunette stilled for a moment and leaned in, slender fingers tenderly brushing the soft wool covering Barbara's forearm. Warmed, the redhead nevertheless felt a small shiver race down her spine at the gesture and found herself wondering if Helena had touched her this often -- or had wanted to -- before their relationship had changed.
Clearly, as Barbara had come to realize in the last months, Helena's desire to be close was as instinctive as breathing to the younger woman.
"You seem edgy," she finally offered.
The younger woman's gaze seemed speculative, perhaps even guarded, and Barbara grudgingly seized upon an option. Inclining her head toward the Delphi, she caught her partner's chin with her index finger and smiled.
"Would you like me to find some criminals for you to pound the Christmas spirit from?"
That at least earned her a smile, and her partner dropped to one knee beside her.
Barbara worked on the lines between her eyebrows for a few seconds before giving up.
"Then, what's going on, Hel?"
Dark blue eyes remained steadfastly focused on her arm, and so she worked for a bit of levity.
"I thought I was supposed to be the broody, hormonal o---mmmff."
Perhaps, the redhead just had time to consider, she hadn't been amusing at all, for she'd certainly been effectively silenced. However, with full lips covering hers, she wasn't inclined to dwell on matters.
Falling into the kiss, she bent into the contact, teasing at her partner's mouth and murmuring an invitation. Her desire for more from her lover was denied, and she moaned a soft protest at the stud that danced against her, almost seeming to draw her forward until...
Helena's harsh gasp coincided with Barbara's surrender. Shuddering from the force of Helena's kiss and the almost ravenous pull, she allowed herself to be consumed until, as suddenly as it had begun, the contact ended.
Well aware that she was once again sporting her soon-to-be-patented befuddled look, Barbara worked to focus, to uncross her eyes and recover the power of speech.
The dancing mischief in her partner's eyes told her all that she needed to know.
"If I counted right last night before you wore me out, we only got up to the five golden rings."
Barbara briefly lost focus again as she replayed events, then nodded.
"Indeed, Helena. What do you think we should do about that?"
Instantly, the younger woman was standing, gesturing toward the interior of the tower.
"Well, I told D. that she and Gabby can stay at my old apartment this week, so whaddaya say I try to get some pipers piping for you?"
With her hands automatically dropping to the wheels of her chair, Barbara looked down at herself then grinned ruefully.
"Maids a milking is more likely, Hel."
Barbara was halfway through the door when she heard her lover's response.
"Milking, swimming, dancing, or drumming, I don't care as long as you let me taste you."
She allowed momentum to carry her to the living area, then turned and very carefully set the brake on her chair.
"Excuse me, Hel?"
Helena, always graceful, appeared to stumble the tiniest bit, but Barbara forced herself to hold her tongue as the younger woman -- looking for all the world as if she were facing a firing squad -- slowly approached her. Time seemed to stretch until Helena finally squatted beside her.
Barbara couldn't miss that her companion was not touching her.
"I'm sorry, Barbara."
Blue eyes peered through dark bangs, and the redhead fought the instinct to push the hair back, to coax, to push.
"It's just... I-- I need..."
Certain that nothing more would be forthcoming, Barbara exhaled slowly.
"What do you need, Sweetheart."
It wasn't a question.
After all, Helena had already answered.
Nevertheless, her partner's reply -- the rawness of it, at least -- surprised her.
"Fuck my mouth."
For a moment, Barbara experienced a whirling vertigo that brought to mind some of her less-planned descents from rooftops back in the day. Since she no longer had grappling hooks and cables handy, she had to rely on her wits.
She placed the pads of her first two fingers under the younger woman's chin and forced her partner to look up.
"I don't want to fuck any part of you."
Heaven knew, she'd been trying hard enough to show her partner just that, to demonstrate through word and deed how much --
"Yeah. I get that."
Almost casually, Helena turned her head, slipping from her fingers and ducking behind her bangs again.
"You've made love to me and ... and you've let me touch you in ways I couldn't even imagine."
There was no way to miss the unspoken syllable.
Finally, the dark head rose, and Barbara fought not to look away under the force of her lover's honesty.
"I know it's still raw, but I need to..."
She wouldn't look away, but she didn't think she could hear the rest.
"Sweetie, it's not that I don't..."
Somehow, Helena's nod was resigned and accepting at the same time.
The brunette straightened slowly.
"It's just that you keep seeing it, don't you?"
The instinct to deny was strong, but Barbara couldn't do it. Unable to give voice to the truth either, she could only nod.
With the echo of the end-of-period bell still ringing in her ears, Barbara waited for the door to close behind the last student from her third period class before reaching into her bottom drawer for her insulated lunch cooler. She carefully shut the drawer and unzipped the bag, positioning her bottle of vitamin-enhanced water, a small thermos of soup, and a orange on her blotter.
For the moment at least, she'd leave the ziploc of Alfred's homemade oatmeal cookies -- Helena's addition she presumed since she'd not put them in -- inside the lunch bag.
Twisting open the cap of the water, she sipped slowly, reflecting on how difficult it could be to find the right time for some things. A perfect example was the discussion -- or not-quite conversation -- that she and Helena had skirted on Christmas Day. In all honesty, Barbara couldn't decide why she'd been so surprised by the encounter three weeks before. Helena was hardly unobservant, and Barbara had known that her partner was aware of a... change in their physical relationship. And, even as myopic as she could sometimes be, Barbara hadn't been unaware of her lover's almost palpable desire for...
The redhead nodded slowly at that, recognizing that as passionately expressive as Helena was of course she would have to be the one to speak. Yet, while Barbara was eternally grateful to have her Helena back, while she was damned well determined to show her in word and deed everything that she meant, there were -- apparently -- some things that simply could not be rationalized or worked through logically.
Or, she had to admit, spoken.
Today, however, was another story.
With a sigh, the redhead settled the bottle on her desk and allowed her fingers to brush her abdomen, confirming what she already knew.
It was time.
Straightening her shoulders, she punched the intercom button and steadied herself for the invariably cheery response from the school secretary.
<"I hope you're having a wonderful day, Ms. Gordon. What can I do for you?">
Barbara pursed her lips, fighting the urge to cradle her stomach, to ignore or find a way to call the whole thing off. Then, she shrugged.
No way through it but to do it.
"Good morning, Linda."
Years of interaction with the perpetually peppy woman allowed Barbara to avoid even a hint of treacle. The woman really was amazingly efficient and thoughtful, and there was no need to fault her Pollyanna-esque tendencies.
"Can you find someone to cover my afternoon classes?"
She heard keys clicking rapidly before the other woman responded and, with a smile, dug into the side pocket of her chair for her phone.
<"That shouldn't be a problem, Ms. Gordon. If the sub can't get her until later, I can pull Ms. Stowe to cover your fifth period class.">
With her thumb hovering over the call button of her cell, Barbara felt herself smile.
Amy Brenner would undoubtedly be pleased if the substitute were a little slow for fifth period.
The sound of keystrokes ended as Linda chirped again.
<"All set, Ms. Gordon. Is everything all right? Do you need any assist--">
Deciding to nip things in the bud, Barbara interrupted.
"I'm fine, Linda. It seems that it's time to head to the birthing center."
Barbara was acutely glad that she wasn't wearing her comms headset when she registered the volume of the secretary's excited squeal.
<"Oh my goodness, it's time? Aren't you early? I thought that she--">
"Technically another two weeks," she supplied, resting the cell phone on her abdomen.
<"That's right. Do you need me to call someone? Helena? Or -- ">
Very conscious of time ticking by, Barbara allowed herself to interrupt again, smiling at the hint of fluster creeping into the bubbly woman's voice.
"No, thank you, Linda."
Automatically, she checked her watch, needlessly confirming that Helena should be at the lab for the Art Restoration class she was taking and undoubtedly up to her elbows in paint thinner and such.
When Helena had casually dropped the Spring course catalog on the coffee table several months before, Barbara had forced herself not to get too excited. She'd made certain to remind her partner that there was no expectation or need for her to continue classes if she weren't so inclined. The younger woman's seemingly off-hand mention of the Art Restoration course had persuaded Barbara that her interest was genuine; and, laughing at her desire to "balance things", Helena and she had then scoured the catalog for a complementary class, with Helena eventually deciding on -- of all things -- a chemistry class.
"Can't have you and D being the only ones who know how to blow stuff up," had been her rationalization, and Barbara had laughingly agreed. However, with Dinah already taking junior level biology coursework, she suspected that she'd soon have a household of mad scientists at work.
"Helena's in class right now, and the university has a Cell-off policy. I'll leave a message on her voice mail."
There should be plenty of time for her partner to meet her at the birthing center after she left the lab and checked her messages.
<"Good heavens! You need a ride, don't you? I'll call an ambu--">
"That's not really neces--"
The reassurance was swallowed by the next excited onslaught.
<"That's right, Barbara. You have something worked out with the police, don't you?">
With the velocity of the words finally slowing, Barbara puffed out her cheeks and smiled at the intercom.
"That's right, Linda. I should be all set on this end."
True enough, and exactly as she'd reassured her fellow faculty members at the not-quite surprise shower she'd rolled into in the teachers' lounge the week before. Somewhere between opening her second and third copy of "Great Books for Girls", she'd been buttonholed by Jessica and the principal to detail her planning.
"After all, you said that she has been kicking up a storm, so things are probably getting close."
Since Jessica had had enough children of her own to know, Barbara had taken the warning seriously. In just the last week, Baby Gordon-Kyle had turned, finally putting her very active feet into play against Barbara's diaphragm; and, while Barbara's enthusiasm for her child's budding soccer career didn't approach Helena's, she wasn't taking the shift lightly.
She and Helena had already re-reviewed all of their planning. Not to mention the contingency planning they'd put in place with the sober assistance of her father.
Which was, Barbara had to acknowledge, fortuitous, given that Helena was not available to drive her.
Finally extricating herself from Linda's eager solicitousness, she toggled off the intercom and raised her phone. Since the redhead estimated that she had perhaps two minutes before news spread throughout the school, she decided to wait to call Helena until after she'd contacted NYPD's dispatch for her ride.
The choice was wise.
Barbara had no sooner toggled off her cell when the door to her classroom flew open. Completely unsurprised, she looked up and smiled.
"Alethea, don't you have class during fourth period?"
The history teacher waved a liver-spotted hand dismissively and swooped in.
"Pish posh, Barbara. They can take care of themselves for a bit."
With a laugh, the redhead turned toward her desk and began to stuff her untouched lunch into her bag.
"Leave that, Barbara. For heaven's sake -- "
Barbara blinked rapidly when her visitor grabbed the lunch bag and took over her task.
"-- you have more important things to think about. Now,"
Feeling more than a little shell-shocked, Barbara suddenly found her lunch bag and her coat in her lap, Alethea striding purposefully to the door.
"I understand that Helena can't be here to drive you?"
Sliding her hand over her belly once more, Barbara dropped her cell into the pocket and released the brakes of her chair.
"I left a message for her to meet me at the birthing center, Alethea."
She nodded her thanks when her companion opened the door for her.
"And the police are sending a car to drive me."
Peripherally, she saw the grey head bobbing vigorously as they made their way down the hallway. When bony fingers landed lightly on her shoulder, she stopped by the water fountain and looked up.
"Would you like me to ride with you, Barbara?"
The older woman's nervousness was quite apparent, and Barbara found herself speechless when she continued.
"To keep you company? I can even function as your coach until Helena arrives."
Utterly humbled, she rested one hand lightly on the older woman's.
"Thank you, Alethea. That means a lot to me."
Considering the threat that circled her, it meant more than she could say. Making a mental note to consider a change in their daughter's middle name, she shook her head with a smile.
"But, I'll be in good hands with the police, and I'm sure Helena will be there very soon."
She reflexively checked her watch again, distantly surprised by how quickly the minutes seemed to be flying by.
There was simply no way to guess how much time she had.
Mercifully, when she reached the front of the school -- somehow having acquired a little processional of well-wishers from her classes, the Quiz Bowl club, and a half-dozen other teachers -- she saw a black and white already at the curb.
The sheer size of the burly officer who jumped forward to open the passenger door for her -- not to mention the size of the service weapon on his hip -- seemed to alleviate some of Alethea's concerns. Since she vaguely remembered the man, Barbara allowed herself a moment to hope that everything would go according to plan.
"Let us know as soon as she's born, Barbara. I have a cap to bring by for her."
Positioning herself in the front of the squad car while Officer Bollen stowed her chair in the trunk, Barbara managed a laugh and a wave. However, no sooner had they pulled out of the parking lot than Barbara realized that her giddiness had been premature.
From the corner of her eye, she saw movement: purposeful, fast, and on a collision course with the car. Before she had time to shout a warning, her driver was hitting the brakes and fumbling for his side arm as a dark figure landed on the hood of the car.
"What the fuck's going--"
Swallowing furiously in the hopes of moving her heart back out of her throat, Barbara shot out a hand and grabbed her protector's forearm.
Her hand shaking only a bit, she lowered her side window and leaned out to address their unexpected hitchhiker.
"Helena! What in the hell are you doing here?"
She felt Officer Bollen relax a bit and released his arm, her concentration fixed solely on her panting partner.
"I saw your message when I ducked out for a soda and -- "
Barbara rolled her eyes when the brunette hopped lightly from the car and approached with a shrug.
"-- well, I hoofed it over top-speed." "Obviously."
She kept the acknowledgment brief since there was no reason for Bollen to know that her partner had just flown sixty blocks in less than ten minutes.
"Hey - "
The dark head poked through the window, and Barbara jerked back to allow the younger woman to speak to her driver.
"-- mind if I hitch a ride?"
Seriously tempted to suggest that her partner "hoof it" back to the birthing center -- odds were good that Helena would get there first -- Barbara rolled her eyes, then nodded at the uniform. He put the car in park and stepped out to open the back door.
"Okay, but you'll have to ride in the cage."
Apparently, the idea of riding in the enclosed back seat didn't bother the younger woman, who hopped in with an easy grin.
"I've been here before."
The words were light, but Barbara fought back the urge to retch.
It had been Helena's last ride in a squad car that had caused her to end up with court-mandated counseling and had brought her to Quinn's attention.
She pushed that memory -- and the sensation that someone had just walked over her grave -- aside, when she heard Helena pipe up from the back.
"Hey, where's Officer Nash? I thought he was gonna drive you."
Barbara poked her tongue into her cheek, unsurprised by her partner's question. When they'd made their backup plans, her father had recommended the young officer that he'd mentored through the academy and had gone to the trouble of arranging for him to be the first driver dispatched if possible.
"He was on a call," was the clipped response, and Barbara attempted to catch her partner's gaze in the rearview mirror to circumvent any other questions.
Her attempt failed.
"Hey, this isn't the way to the birthing center!"
The steel cage separating the front seat from the back rattled with the force of her partner's blow. Instinctively, Barbara worked to twist herself around, to attempt to calm the younger woman; however, when she saw the large police issue weapon unholstered and trained at her abdomen, she knew she was too late.
"Sorry, ladies, but this car doesn't go to the birthing center."
When the squad car pulled into a warehouse and their driver stepped from the car, there was no question that they'd reached the end of the line. Not a pretty end of the line either if the presence of what appeared to be a dentist's chair -- and nothing else -- in the cavernous space were any indication.
"Fuck, Barbara. What are we gonna--"
With "Officer Bollen" circling the front of the car, Barbara didn't waste time.
Their luck had been so spotty, but there was no way that it should play out like this.
She twisted in her seat and threaded her fingertips through the metal cage separating the front and back of the car. Instantly, her partner reciprocated the gesture, placing her fingers lightly atop hers.
"We'll just have to play the hand we're dealt, Helena."
"Wish I had a weapon," the brunette smiled crookedly, "but I've only got my paintbrush from lab."
Barbara managed an answering quirk of her lips and lifted her lunch container.
"Indeed, and I don't think my soup spoon will do much good eit--"
The click of the car door being opened cut short her attempt at humor, and Barbara only had time to smile before the burly man dressed as a police officer lifted her from the car. Automatically, she wrapped a hand around his broad shoulders, contemplating a rabbit punch. As if reading her mind, he turned his head and met her eyes.
"Don't even think about it if you want your friend to make it out of here."
Since having both of them -- all three of them -- making it out was very much at the top of her list of priorities, the redhead smiled brightly and inclined her head toward the trunk.
"While I appreciate the lift, it wouldn't be necessary if you'll just get my chair--"
"Ah ah ah, Barbara. You have too many tricks in that chair of yours."
The trilling sing-song tone set Barbara's teeth on edge, perhaps mercifully distracting her from the realization that Quinn's crony had just settled her into the dentist's chair. Judging from the volume of the growl echoing from the still-open door of the car, her partner was equally unhappy to hear the voice.
The blonde pixie moved into view, and Barbara schooled her features to neutrality.
"Barbara, how lovely to see you again. If you'll allow the observation,"
Quinn tilted her head to the side and smiled.
"...you're looking absolutely radiant."
Instinctively, the redhead moved her hands to her abdomen -- marginally surprised to realize that she was still clutching the strap of her lunch bag -- and confirmed the movement under her fingers.
"As delightful as it might be to catch up, Quinn, perhaps we could arrange a later meeting?"
Of course, Quinn didn't go for the suggestion, simply laughing gaily.
"After all of the trouble I went to sneaking into the city in a garment bag in the trunk of my car?"
The blonde shuddered violently. Resisting her own urge to smile smugly at the image, Barbara unzipped her lunch bag and fished out her water bottle, raising it in silent question. Their host waved a hand in invitation, her next words confirming Barbara's suspicions that they were in this for the long haul.
"No, I think we'll do our chatting now, Barbara. But first --"
Recapping the bottle after a long swallow, the redhead held her breath when Quinn turned to the squad car.
"Bollen, why don't you ask our other guest to join us?"
The big man unholstered his side arm again and strode to the back of the black and white. There was no way to miss the click of a round being chambered before he opened the door, and Barbara shook her head minutely, hoping that her partner would heed the warning.
"Cuff her arms around the pillar there, Bollen."
Any cooperation that Helena had been planning on evaporated at that, and the brunette lunged toward the tiny woman.
"Like hell --"
The appearance of another weapon -- a .45 if Barbara weren't mistaken -- in Quinn's hand, aimed directly toward Barbara's abdomen, ended the dark figure's bravado. Glaring daggers, the young woman allowed herself to be cuffed.
"Behave yourself, Helena."
Quinn strolled over to the brunette, twirling the gun around her index finger.
"As much as threats pain me -- "
Barbara rolled her eyes when the blonde moued dramatically.
"I believe we'll need some sort of incentive to be sure that we have Miss Kyle's cooperation. Let's see, Bollen..."
The madwoman tapped two fingers against her mouth, then beamed.
"Let's plan to break one of Barbara's fingers any time Helena acts out."
Instantly, Helena jerked against her cuffs, and Barbara clutched at her water bottle.
"You goddamned psycho bitch! I'm gonna rip off your head and stuff it down your neck."
The threat didn't get a rise out of the blonde, and Barbara felt a shiver creep up her spine when Quinn turned to look at her.
"Tsk, tsk, Helena, you never did learn quickly. Bollen -- "
Brown eyes glinted, and Barbara's stomach sank when the madwoman gestured toward her.
"-- you know what to do."
Her stomach rose a notch, twisting sourly when the big man approached. Being tortured had never been her favorite activity, however when she pried her hands free of her water bottle, she was absurdly pleased to see that they were not shaking. Likewise, her voice didn't quaver when she raised her hands and met Bollen's eyes.
"Right or left, Bollen?"
Not so her partner's voice when she cried out.
"NO! Shit, Harley, I'm sorry. I'll--"
The blonde spun, cocking her head toward the younger woman, appearing for all the world like a bird listening for worms beneath the earth.
"Ah, Helena. I always have had a soft spot for you. So, just this once..."
Barbara released a slow breath while her partner sagged against the concrete pillar. When their captor smiled sweetly, she realized that their relief had been premature.
"But, just to show you that I'm serious."
The blonde snapped her fingers at her henchman.
"Bollen, break Helena's left index finger."
The snap of bone and Helena's soft grunt echoed painfully through the empty warehouse, and Barbara was suddenly very grateful that she'd not eaten any of her lunch. As it was, she found herself swallowing furiously against something rising in her throat. To her dismay, the reprimand didn't silence her partner.
"You're a real fuckin' piece of work, Harley."
The psychotic therapist seemed less angered than amused, sauntering slowly toward the brunette.
"Helena, how I've missed our phone calls and long chats since you've returned to your dear Barbara."
The brunette's response was instant.
"S'at so? I've got the number at Arkham. How about I call you there?"
Barbara covered her snort of amusement under the guise of taking another sip of water.
No need annoy their captor further.
Still, Quinn remained calm, shaking her head sadly.
"Tsk, tsk. Your manners have deteriorated in the last few months."
Carefully recapping her water, Barbara didn't blink when Quinn turned to her.
"It appears that you've been a bad influence on Helena."
In an heart stopping moment, Quinn was before her, leaning in threateningly.
Deliberately, Barbara put aside her reaction to the accusation for later. Painfully aware that Bollen had his gun firmly fixed on Helena, she remained calm.
"What do you want, Quinn?"
The mad sprite stepped back, then in a display of completely unamusing whimsy, flung out her arms and spun in a circle.
"Family, Barbara," she trilled before coming to a stop. "It's all about family, isn't it?"
The redhead chewed at her lower lip for a beat.
"I'm not following you, Quinn."
At that, the blonde waived toward Helena.
"I meant what I said: that I've missed the little family I had with Helena before you somehow reclaimed her."
Feeling her eyebrows creeping upward, Barbara watched her captor as she looked heavenward and tapped her index finger against her chin.
"Fascinating, really, the fact that you broke the hypnosis. I've been considering that, you know?"
Barbara blinked when she was pinned by brown eyes, blonde lashes batting coyly.
"The bond must be stronger than I'd thought, or perhaps you've imprinted yourself in her blood or something, Barbara."
Somehow, Barbara barely held back her own hypothesis, suspecting that Quinn wouldn't be interested in thoughts of love and genuine commitment.
"On the bright side,"
The tiny woman took two quick steps closer and smiled brittlely.
"-- I do believe that I'll be able to get a paper out of this for the Journal of the American Psychiatric Association."
Fearing whiplash, Barbara forced a smile of her own.
"How wonderful for the field of mental health."
Quinn narrowed her eyes, but apparently decided to let the sarcasm slide.
"Too true, Barbara. However, as gratifying as career might be, I still feel that there's something lacking."
"Yeah, most of your mind."
Instantly snapping her gaze to her partner, the redhead offered a glare that she thought could have cut through Helena's cuffs. Mercifully for their continued manual health, Quinn simply laughed gaily.
"No, Helena, it's something else."
Wearily, Barbara returned her attention to the blonde and worked to breathe shallowly through her gritted teeth.
Somehow, she suspected that they didn't have much time left.
"Perhaps it's that pesky biological clock tick-tick-ticking."
The blonde tittered and then continued.
"Or, it could have been the unfortunate loss of my dear Mr. J," Quinn trilled on, "or perhaps it was my happy time with you last fall, Helena. However, I seem to be suffering from an acute case of empty nest syndrome."
Entirely certain that she couldn't be hearing correctly, Barbara blinked. Twice.
There was simply no way that she could have kept the incredulity from her voice, and instantly all of Quinn's maniacal cheer disappeared.
Again, Barbara held her breath when the madwoman stalked over to Helena. Almost casually, she raised the .45 and sharply rapped the young woman's broken finger.
"Why should you have everything and I have nothing, Barbara?"
Although she suspected that the question was more than rhetorical, the redhead could only swallow convulsively when their host waved her weapon toward her midsection. Finally, she found her voice.
"You realize that you'll never be able to control Helena, Quinn."
While she appreciated her partner's support, Barbara frankly wished that Helena would stop bringing the madwoman's attention to her.
Suddenly, the blonde was gaily cheerful again, strolling in a wide circle through the warehouse. Warily, Barbara tracked her progress.
"During the long dull months after you reclaimed your little pup here, Barbara, I had a lot of time to think about this. And -- "
With Quinn directly behind her, Barbara couldn't see her; however, her tone raised the fine hair on the back of her neck.
"-- to catch up on my movies."
A protracted silence suggested that the lunatic expected something from her captive audience and so, with a mental shrug, Barbara obliged.
"Watching movies, Quinn?"
The woman truly was mad as a march hare.
The sensation of the tiny woman's lips brushing her ear caused the redhead to abandon that line of thought and nearly sent her scrabbling out of the dental chair.
"Exactly, Bar-bar-a." Forcing herself not to move, Barbara focused on her partner's deep violet eyes, hoping that Helena wasn't about to try anything.
"AMC's Top 100, to be precise."
Quinn was beside her, the gun twirling around her finger again.
"And while I was watching a particularly awful tour de force from the 1980s -- "
Green eyes blinked when the blonde interrupted herself with a cackle.
"And, honestly, just who told Meryl Streep that she could do accents?"
Suddenly terrified that she knew what Quinn had in mind, Barbara clenched her jaw. Sensing her partner's growing tension, she managed a minute shake of her head as Quinn shrugged.
"Well, let's just say that I'm offering you your own little Sophie's Choice, Barbara."
Horrified and furious beyond belief, the redhead ground out her only possible response.
"You can't be serious."
That earned a long, grating laugh. When Quinn settled herself, she nodded at her henchman who raised his cocked gun to Helena's temple.
"Quite serious, Barbara. Either I have Bollen put a few bullets into Helena's brain or -- "
When a scalpel appeared in Quinn's free hand, directed toward her abdomen, Barbara instinctively reared back against her chair, hoping not to hear the remainder of the ultimatum. Unfortunately, Quinn was not to be deterred.
"-- You can give me that child."
"What the hell?!"
Caught up in her horrified shock at the choice that had just been presented to her, Barbara snapped her attention to her very agitated partner. Gesticulating as best she could with her wrists cuffed around the thick concrete pillar, the brunette appeared to be gathering steam.
"I mean, come on, Harley."
Mercifully, the blonde psychopath appeared more intrigued than put out by the little display of temper.
"What seems to be troubling you, Helena?"
Grateful for the reprieve, even as she feared its outcome, Barbara cradled her stomach with both hands and fixed the younger woman with a pointed stare. Her nonverbal warning was either missed or, more likely, ignored.
"Well, shit, Harl -- "
The redhead winced at the mocking emphasis that her partner put on the name, but Quinn let it pass.
"-- did it ever occur to you that I might be getting a little tired of being treated like your personal chess piece?"
Not altogether unfamiliar with the sentiment, Barbara shook her head in amazement even as Helena rattled her cuffs against the concrete.
"Some kind of fucking pawn or something."
Quinn's laughter was bright, and Barbara thought it sounded as genuine as anything she'd heard from the not-so-good doctor.
"Oh, Helena, you've always been one of a kind."
The blonde strolled close to the young woman, and when she ran one hand down Helena's arm, Barbara clenched her jaw in fury at the familiarity of the gesture.
"I do so hope that Barbara chooses to offer me the baby so that I won't have to have Bollen dispatch you."
Although she agreed wholeheartedly, when Quinn's pistol whipped across Helena's face, dropping the brunette to her knees, Barbara wished that her partner had kept her thoughts to herself.
"S'at the best you can do...?"
The words were thick, a trickle of blood running from the young woman's lovely mouth. The blonde head tilted quizzically at the taunt, and when brown eyes turned to her, Barbara wondered if she were about to have a finger mangled.
At the moment, it seemed like a very small concern indeed.
"Perhaps, dear Helena, but there you have it."
Smiling brightly, Quinn stepped away from the brunette.
"Barbara. One child --"
The redhead inhaled sharply when Quinn waved the big gun toward Helena. She was unable to breathe at all as their captor stepped briskly toward her and pointed the scalpel at her abdomen.
" -- or the other."
Faced with the tiny woman's malevolent smirk, Barbara cast about for options. With Bollen's handgun fixed firmly at Helena's head, using her lunch as a projectile didn't seem feasible. Likewise, uncapping her water and suggesting that Quinn and she share a drink seemed equally improbable. Accordingly, she went with her best weapon.
After all, she was able to reason with high school students; perhaps a homicidal lunatic wasn't out of reach.
"What on earth does it gain you to kill Helena?"
The steadiness of her voice was a source of pride bordering on amazement. Quinn however did not appear impressed, huffing in exaggerated dismay.
The blonde snapped her fingers.
"Has anyone been listening?"
Noticing Bollen perking to attention, Barbara filed the reaction away for later use and attempted to appear suitably nervous.
Not much of a stretch.
"Quinn, I simply don't understand what-- "
Chocolate brown eyes rolled in what was almost a parody of evil villainy.
"Your understanding -- "
Malevolence impregnated the word.
"-- is entirely irrelevant to this little endeavor, Barbara. However, it's very simple, Barbara. As I asked not five minutes ago, why should you have everything?"
With very little recourse, the redhead risked a response, gesturing loosely toward her lower body.
"I scarcely think that -- "
Quinn was having none of it, slashing her gun hand through the air.
"Forget it, Barbara. You took Mr. J from me, so if you want the pup in your womb, then it stands to reason that you shouldn't have Helena."
Bafflingly, the madwoman's tone gentled, becoming sing-song.
"And, since you toooold me that Helena would never belong to me, well..."
Barbara's heart clawed into her throat when Quinn turned and sighted down the barrel of her handgun toward Helena.
The letters were spelled out in a bright chirp that turned harsh as Quinn lowered the .45 with a shrug.
"She has to die."
The letters blazed in neon across the redhead's forebrain as she worked to make sense of matters.
Quod erat demononstrandum.
She knew that Quinn's logic was flawed; she was equally aware that she had no chance of persuading Quinn from her reasoning. Still, she had to try, to buy time and space for Helena -- who was just dragging herself up from the floor -- to pull herself together.
"Then -- "
Barbara swallowed with difficulty and gestured toward her abdomen.
"-- what are you..."
Quinn's long, pained sigh cut short the question.
Oh, I suppose that the birth mother always wants to know."
Twirling the scalpel between her fingers, she took two steps closer.
"I can raise her and offer her all sorts of love and devotion. Not to mention the special tutoring I offered Helena."
The enraged growl from the other side of the warehouse masked Barbara's own gasp, but Quinn allowed no respite.
"And all we have to do is cut you open and take her out. If you're good..."
A sickly sweet smile warned the redhead to prepare herself.
"-- I may even leave you your uterus. Of course..."
Red lashes fluttered down, attempting to shut out the image of her tormenter cocking her head -- very birdlike -- to the side.
"-- that means that I may have to come back and raid your nest aga--"
"Goddamn you, Quinn!"
Helena's growl cut short the blonde's insane rambling. Unfortunately, it also seemed to remind her about the business at hand.
"Hurry with your decision, Barbara. I do have a perfectly timed escape plan to execute, you know."
As if she weren't tightly wound enough, the redhead felt her teeth set on edge by the diminutive woman's giggle.
"Execute, indeed. If you don't make a decision, I'll take them both."
Flexing her fingers against the padded steel arms of the chair, Barbara found herself considering the irony that the Halmos symbol used to symbolize the end of a proof was a tombstone.
"Tick tock, tick tock, Barbara."
She clenched her jaw and ground out the only words she could.
"Quinn, I can't -- "
Brown eyes rolled dramatically, and her tormentor turned to face her partner.
"Bollen, it appears that we have a two for one special today. Whenever you're--"
Barbara made her decision.
Clearly there was no room for negotiation.
Deliberately, she ignored Quinn's gleeful cackle and locked eyes with Helena, attempting to communicate everything.
"I didn't want this for you, Sw-- "
She cut herself off, unwilling to share the endearment with the woman who had hurt them so.
Who continued to wound them so.
"I didn't want this."
Her lover's ghosting smile, almost hidden by her quick nod, caused her heart to contract painfully. The young woman's words almost broke her.
"Fuck it, Red. Do me."
Blinking furiously, Barbara looked at her friend, her partner, her lover.
Of course Helena would make the sacrifice. She always did.
Her next words were barely a whisper, but she knew that the amazing young woman would have no trouble hearing her.
"I'm so sorry, Hel."
Again, full lips quirked.
"It's okay, Barbara."
Almost numb, Barbara looked away, shaking her head even as she tugged her shirt up.
They'd come this far. Clearly, there was only one option.
She met Quinn's dancing eyes and dipped her chin toward her bulging abdomen.
Silence filled the warehouse for a full five seconds, then Quinn nodded briskly, suddenly all business.
"A wise choice, Barbara."
The redhead had never been much of a believer in the power of wishes, or prayers for that matter; however, at this moment, she found herself fervently hoping, wishing, and praying that her choice was, indeed, the wise one.
"Perhaps," she managed.
Helena's cry was the howl of a wounded animal, raw and primal, and Barbara and her tormentor jerked when the brunette struggled violently against her cuffs. The sensation of cold steel against her temple drew Barbara's attention from the anguish in her partner's eyes. When she looked up, she was unsurprised to find the muzzle of Quinn's .45 against her skin.
"Calm your bitch, Barbara, or I'll take you both from her."
There was no malice in the madwoman's voice. Indeed, the threat was all-the-more chilling for its matter-of-factness.
Wearily, she turned back, biting her lip against the tears running down the younger woman's face. Somehow, she found her voice.
Words, however, escaped her, and she ended up lifting her brows in supplication. There was little doubt that the younger woman understood: her futile struggle against concrete and steel stilled, and Barbara clenched her jaw when Helena sank to her knees.
"Please, Barbara, don't let her do this."
For the hundredth time since their driver had diverted from the birthing center twenty minutes earlier, Barbara weighed the odds.
Neither she nor Helena were any strangers to perilous situations, even situations in which an unexpected rescue was the best chance of escape. However, today, in this warehouse, with both her lover and her child at risk, the redhead had to admit that there would be no last minute rescue, no sudden arrival of the cavalry in the form of the police or Jesse or Dinah.
Not even Alfred or Bruce.
In a moment of matter-of-fact practically, she'd decided not to notify anyone, except Helena, until she'd gotten settled at the birthing center. Now, faced with the consequences of her choice, Barbara realized that she was honestly relieved that Dinah, at least, wouldn't be exposed to the scene.
The fact that Helena was present was hard enough.
Nevertheless, the fact remained: unless Alethea were suspicious for some unknown reason and came storming through the metal doors with her knitting needles at the ready, she and Helena -- and their child -- were truly on their own for this one.
It only took her a split second to lay it all out again. Slowly, she shook her head and tore her eyes from her partner.
"Do it, Quinn."
Quinn's gleeful cackle almost masked Helena's ragged whine.
"I think not, Barbara."
For a second, the redhead thought she might faint.
Quinn cut short her croaking attempt to make sense of matters.
"And have you take me unawares while I operate?"
The blonde shook her head and pursed her lips.
"Head butts are so terribly painful, after all."
Allowing her own extravagant eye-roll to express her feelings on that, Barbara managed not to flinch too much when Quinn extended the scalpel with a flourish.
"You'll just have to birth your own baby, Barbara."
She did, however, blanch when she saw Quinn nod briskly at her henchman, who dutifully directed his handgun toward Helena's head. Squaring her shoulders, she opened one hand and accepted the glittering blade that Quinn dropped into her palm.
"No funny ideas, or Bollen will pull the trigger."
Barbara looked into the tiny woman's dancing eyes and dismissed her first instinct to inform her that the warning was entirely redundant.
"I wouldn't dream of it," she allowed before turning her attention to the scalpel.
A bit dubiously, the redhead eyed the sharp steel, absently noting that it at least looked moderately sanitary.
Of course, in her madness, Quinn never seemed to forget her medical training.
"Baby -- don't..."
Ignoring Helena's broken whisper was easier than Barbara might have expected; it wasn't that she had much choice, after all.
Her own reaction to performing the... procedure herself was another matter.
It certainly shouldn't be squeamishness: she routinely performed basic triage on her partner and, back in the day, had been able to stitch herself up without blinking. In addition, not too many months ago -- in the happier days of Helena's return from her brainwashing -- she'd actually half-joked about the possibility of performing her own Caesarean at the Clock Tower.
Still, abstract jokes and the reality of the scalpel in her hand were two entirely different matters.
Even more grateful that she wasn't nursing a few broken fingers for the procedure, Barbara stripped off her shirt, then pushed the elastic waist of her pants and underwear down to her hips. She managed a nod when Quinn extended a large towel and draped it across her lap.
"Do we have any sponges? Antiseptic?"
The blonde's dismissive wave did little to leave Barbara sanguine about the outcome.
"Pish, posh, Barbara."
The redhead sighed slowly when Quinn beamed.
"There will be blood. Deal with it."
The words tickled at her, and as she ran her fingertips lightly over her belly, it clicked. She was remembering a quote from a forgettable gore-movie that Helena had gleefully brought home a few weeks before. With a mental nod to better days, she decided to follow the scar from her near hysterectomy.
No need to reinvent the wheel.
Steadying herself, she balanced the blade between the first two fingers and thumb of her right hand and placed the tip on the left edge of the scar. As she'd expected, there was no pain when she made the first cut. Rather, there was no physical pain.
The ragged hiss from the other side of the warehouse, in combination with a sharp kick to her solar plexus from within, needlessly reminded the redhead that there were worse agonies than physical discomfort. For a moment, she watched the sticky redness seep sluggishly from her first shallow incision until something white hot crept through her. Throwing aside layered strokes, she drew the scalpel across her midriff one more time, determined that the second cut would be the last.
The empty warehouse was suddenly deathly still. A quick flick of her eyes confirmed it: her audience of three was rapt, each focused intently on her work, the blood, her fingers creeping to the edges of the wound to function as makeshift retractors. It was possible that all three had ceased to breathe.
Taking a deep breath, Barbara pulled the tissue back, readying herself for what had to follow. Even focused on her work, she sensed Quinn leaning close in fascination. There was no way to miss the psychopath's screech of outrage.
"What the hell is that?!"
The tiny woman leaned close -- very close, and knowing that she had no other option, Barbara unhesitatingly released the scalpel. It flew through the air, winking silver and red under the stark bulbs in the ceiling, and came to rest in Bollen's throat. The burly man fell to his knees with a grunt, blood spurting in a two foot arc in the air. Before he hit the ground, Barbara snapped one crimson-stained hand to the side to grab Quinn's wrist.
It was a risk: battling for possession of the large caliber gun in her lap, her hands slick with viscous fluid; mercifully, however, in her distraction over the surgery, Quinn had allowed her finger to stray from the trigger. Still, for a few agonizing seconds as the battle waged in silence, Barbara feared that she'd miscalculated. Quinn was wiry and possessed of the strength of an enraged madwoman; yet, Barbara had been handling her own weight plus a growing child for almost 10 months.
The gun was hers.
Her hands absolutely steady for the first time in what felt like hours, Barbara fixed the blonde in her sight and waved her back. Appearing almost comically dazed and furious, Quinn took a few steps back.
"That's far enough."
Carefully, Barbara wiped her left hand on the edge of the towel, then transferred the .45 to her relatively dry hand, She held the gun easily, aiming right between the brown eyes that were fixed on her abdomen and raised the towel to blot at the edges of the wide incision she'd made.
She didn't look over, simply inclining her head in acknowledgment.
"I'm fine, Helena."
The redhead felt what seemed to be an indignant thrust against her ribs and tacked on an addendum.
"And she's fine, too."
Her partner's sigh spoke volumes, but when Barbara lowered the towel, Helena's tone changed.
"What the hell is that, Red? That can't be norm--"
Fighting a smirk, Barbara addressed her answer to her prisoner. She pulled at the edge of her wound again and prodded at the grey mass within.
The tiny woman appeared ready to launch into a tirade of some sort, however Helena's whoop of delight came to the rescue.
"Hot damn! The kid's one foot tall and bullet-proof."
Unable to deny the truth of that, Barbara fished into her pocket and tossed her key ring across the warehouse, placing it within inches of Helena's boots. After some snarky comments from Helena years ago, she'd stopped carrying her standard issue police cuff key; however, she still always kept a tiny lock pick attached to her key ring.
One never knew when there would be a need to access a criminal headquarters or a student's locker.
"Kevlar!? What kind of game are--"
Brief moment of lightness disappearing, the redhead narrowed her eyes and spoke very clearly.
She waited while the blonde snapped her mouth shut. She counted the seconds as she watched the gears almost visibly turning behind cunning brown eyes.
"What on earth are you talking about, Barbara?"
With Helena busily working at her cuffs, she moved the gun to aim at her prisoner's chest.
Smiling without humor, she changed her aim, this time targeting Quinn's stomach.
Peripherally, she saw the dark head across the floor look up; however, she remained fixed on her prey, swinging the gun upward to bead directly between Quinn's eyes.
She heard Helena's soft grunt and opted to consider it later. For the time being, she remained focused on Quinn. Never lowering the gun in her left hand, she slid her right index finger into the incision, gripped the edge, and began to pull.
It took more effort than she'd anticipated to rip a strip free; however, once she held a two inch strip of the latex she'd molded from the cast Helena had made two months before, she smiled grimly and tossed it on the floor beside her. Wordlessly, she crooked her index finger, beckoning her prisoner to step closer until Quinn stood by the thin strip of pink latex.
"On your knees."
She pointed the muzzle of the gun.
"Now," she added when she saw the hesitation.
Although Quinn was many things -- homicidal, insane, crafty, evil -- Barbara would never have characterized her as stupid. The blonde, possibly correctly reading the intent -- the desire for a reason -- in Barbara's eyes, dropped to her knees. The clink of Helena's cuffs hitting the concrete seemed to applaud the movement.
"Would you get my chair, Hel?"
The normalcy of the question was almost jarring.
When the trunk of the squad car popped open, Barbara finally moved the gun to her right hand and placed the muzzle under her tormentor's chin.
"What are you doing?"
Helena -- too quickly -- was beside her with the chair. Verifying that the brunette had Bollen's weapon firmly fixed on Quinn's head, Barbara transferred herself to her chair and then resumed her previous position.
"Open your mouth, Quinn."
Again, the calmness of her tone surprised the redhead.
She noted Helena rocking lightly from foot to foot, but kept her eyes focused on Quinn. She almost regretted her scrutiny when faced with the wild, almost ferret-like expression, followed by sheer mad glee that filled the madwoman's face.
"I've sucked on far bigger than that, Barbara. In fact, my dear Mr. J --"
Ice hot fury ran through her when she saw the brown eyes tick over to Helena and then back to her.
"Well, you know all about that, don't you, Barbara?"
Refusing to be bated, she remained cool.
"You've never had a load like this shoot in your mouth."
That earned her a sneer.
"Let me wring her neck, Red."
Never taking her eyes off the blonde, Barbara shook her head and cocked the big weapon.
"Open. Your. Mouth."
So focused was she that, when Helena's hand came to rest lightly on her forearm, Barbara almost misfired. Green eyes ticked down to the soft touch, and Barbara felt herself wince at the misshapen finger angled away from her arm.
Slowly, she looked up and met blue eyes.
"Don't do this. It won't change anything that happened."
For a long, breathless twenty seconds, she considered the advice. For a full, painful third of a minute, she recalled everything that the madwoman had inflicted on them, everything that Helena had undergone. For twelve leaden heartbeats, she weighed how much her influence had impacted others.
Finally, Barbara made her decision.
The blonde bounded to her feet, her sneer sorely threatening Barbara's resolve. The sneer faltered when Barbara raised the gun and took aim.
Still, Quinn retained her bravado, flinging her hands expansively outward.
"You can't shoot me: I'm defenseless."
In the silence that followed, Barbara heard her partner's slow exhalation. She thought she heard the slick whisper of the oiled gun metal against her hand.
Very deliberately, she pulled the trigger. Then, just to be certain, she took aim at the figure on the ground and fired again.
Is this the real life-
Is this just fantasy-
Caught in a landslide-
No escape from reality-
Open your eyes
Look up to the skies and see-
As deliberately focused as she was on the simple, repetitive movements she was making and on the music resonating softly through her headphones, Barbara still didn't miss the shadow that crossed the threshhold of the big room. Since the familiar crackling energy that usually accompanied Helena's stealthy approaches was absent, she took a guess and worked for an easy smile as she looked up.
The junior-most member of their little team bounded closer.
"Barbara! Are you okay? I came as fast as I could when I got Helena's call and I guess she kind of filled me in on everything but -- "
The redhead slipped the headphones down to her neck and tapped the pause as her ward zoomed along at a mile a minute.
When Helena had cheerfully presented her with an iPod two months before -- "For chanting during labor" -- she'd not been overly impressed. However, at this point she had to admit that the convenience, not to mention the quality of the sound, was quite remarkable. Were it not for the fact that she'd grown fond of the unit, she'd considered canibalizing some of the components to improve their own comm sets.
"-- And why aren't you at the hosp -- uhm, birthing center anyway?"
Finally, the blonde came to a stop, parking her fists on her hips with what Barbara supposed was meant to be an intimidating glare. However, since she'd just faced down someone far more intimidating, the redhead only felt her smile growing.
"I'm fine, Dinah."
She gestured loosely towards her stomach, which was revealed to the harsh lights of the training room as she worked at the latex encasing her.
With a grimace of distaste, she rolled a bit more pink latex from her fingers and added, "I'm afraid that Helena got the worst of it of the three of us."
The blonde bobbed her head, but before she could fire off the question that was clear in her eyes, Barbara cut her off.
"Where is Helena?"
After Barbara had painstakingly attended to her partner's injuries, the brunette had hit the phone and then disappeared into the shower while Barbara had parked herself at the Delphi.
The teen tucked a lock of hair behind her ear and jerked a thumb toward the living area.
"I think she's following the police on the Delphi."
Barbara nodded and ran her hands lightly across the Kevlar she'd been painstakingly exposing.
"So, uhm, did your labor stop or something? Is that gonna hurt her or--"
"The Peapod's fine."
The dulcet soporano caused both Barbara and Dinah to start, but the speaker continued as if she'd not noticed.
"Or, didn't you hear, D? The Kid's freakin' bulletproof."
One crimson brow crept upward a few millimeters, and Barbara decided to take a try at explaining.
"With Quinn on the loose, I couldn't take any chances."
A noisy exhalation was the brunette's only response, and Barbara watched her warily as she circled the training room. A restless shifting from the other member of their little party drew her attention back to Dinah.
"But, you were on your way to the birthing -- "
She felt a flicker of heat creep into her cheeks but kept her gaze steady.
"I haven't gone into labor yet, Dinah."
Corn silk brows furrowed, then rose almost comically.
Merely nodding, Barbara risked a glance across the room, finding Helena lazily draped against the pommel horse.
Perhaps Dinah had seen the covert look. Perhaps her telepathic ward was picking up on some of the undercurrents.
More likely, Barbara allowed wearily as the girl backed toward the living room, Dinah couldn't miss the tension that was thick enough to cut with a knife.
"-- I'll just be at the Delphi."
The teen disappeared with remarkable speed. Barbara considered re-attacking the latex covering her lower body but forced herself to remain still. Eventually, Helena roused herself and circled the horse.
"So why aren't we at the hospital, Red?"
Barbara knew that laughter was a bit disingenuous, but after the day they'd had it simply felt too good to hold back.
"Because I'm not really hurt, Helena."
She waved lightly at the thin gel packs of red corn syrup that she'd had tucked between the latex and the kevlar.
"It was a sticky situation, but -- "
The impatient shake of a dark head ended her flirtation with levity.
"Yeah, I know. So it was all a set up?"
The redhead took her time, considering not just the question but her partner's tone, the defensive set of her body.
"I hardly could have set something like--"
Perhaps she'd not considered long enough. The rough slash of Helena's hand cut her short.
"Don't bullshit me, Barbara."
Blinking, she tried again.
"It was a ... trial run, Helena. I simply had to see if she would --"
When blue eyes snapped to gold, Barbara knew how very agitated the younger woman was. Still, the brunette spoke slowly, her words deceptively calm.
"And you couldn't let me in on this 'trial run'?"
The phrase was encapsulated in such anger and mockery that the redhead was hard-pressed not to wince.
"I didn't know that anything would--"
"Stop it! Just... just don't."
The words were hissed through clenched teeth, and Barbara tightened her jaw as her partner scrubbed at her eyes with the heels of her hands, visibly working to get herself under control. Her approach was so sudden that Barbara nearly flinched. When the younger woman slowly leaned in, she was eternally grateful that her nerves had held steady and she'd not compounded matters.
Golden eyes fixed on her -- No, on the side of her face. The redhead felt her brows knit at the scrutiny, then held her breath when Helena licked her thumb and gently rubbed at her temple. She blinked to focus at close range as Helena straightened, a small smear of crimson staining her thumb.
Again, quite deliberately, her partner raised her hand, sniffing at the droplet before sucking her thumb into her mouth, and a shiver crawled down the redhead's spine.
"You missed a drop."
Dry-mouthed, Barbara nodded, not at all surprised.
After their return to the tower, her own clean-up of the blood that had splattered over her when she'd fired the second time had been brief; she'd been too eager to set Helena's finger, to log into the Delphi to monitor the police response to their anonymous call, to ask Helena to contact Dinah and Alfred.
Unthinking, she waved one hand, startled when the movement started her iPod again.
Mama, just killed a man,
Put a gun against his head,
Pulled my trigger, now he's dead,
Mama, life had just begun,
But now I've gone and thrown it all away-
Didn't mean to make you cry-
If I'm not back again this time tomorrow-
Carry on,carry on,as if nothing really matters-
Probably mercifully, the music broke the mood, and the brunette rolled her eyes extravagantly. Quite cognizant of the fact that Helena's meta-enhanced senses could pick up every note from the earphones draped around her neck, Barbara worked not to blush, embarrassed by her closet Queen fetish. Bowing to the inevitable, and perhaps her own predictability, she finally grinned before gesturing at the growing pile of latex.
"I'll shower when I finished getting this off."
The other woman nodded slowly, then gestured toward one of the gear lockers.
"Do you need spirit gum remover?"
That elicited a laugh, even if it was a bit rueful.
"No, thank you, Helena. I stuck with rubber cement."
Not that she'd dismissed spirit gum out of hand when she'd been molding her own latex disguise from the cast that Helena had made. However, by the time she'd wrapped her entire mid-section in kevlar and then covered the entire mess -- front to back -- with flesh-colored latex, there hadn't been much need.
"The Kevlar acts a little like velcro," she tacked on.
Finally, she got a quick smile -- more of a grimace actually -- from her companion.
"You should have let me wring her neck."
Peeling off another tendril of latex -- hopefully she could melt it down and recycle it -- Barbara sighed silently.
Clearly, Helena had things on her mind.
"We -- "
The brunette interrupted herself and waggled her splinted index finger toward her abdomen.
"She's never gonna be safe with Quinn alive."
Unwilling to be sucked into a conversation that she wasn't ready for, the redhead just shook her head and attacked a particularly recalcitrant bit. When the imprint of a little fist thrusting against her abdomen appeared, she blinked, then smiled.
"I didn't want that on your hands, Hel."
Peripherally, she noted her partner's slow nod.
"You knee-capped her.
The words were soft, ghosting over her fingers as Helena knelt and began to assist in her exfoliation process. Barbara truly couldn't decide if the tone had been wondering or admiring or regretful. A beat later, she leaned toward the last option.
"Now she's gonna be more pissed off and limping."
Suspecting that no reply was expected, Barbara straightened and rolled her neck, working to relieve the tension of the last few hours.
"You should have killed her."
Too late,my time has come,
Sends shivers down my spine-
Body's aching all the time,
Goodbye everybody-I've got to go-
Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth-
Mama ooo- (any way the wind blows)
I don't want to die,
I sometimes wish I'd never been born at all-
Very slowly, she met her partner's eyes.
She caught herself, refusing the easy lie.
"It wasn't something I could do."
The dark head bowed, and eyes that were, for the moment, blue were hidden behind dark bangs.
"Because I was there?"
Again, she couldn't take the easy way out. Neither could she answer.
Shaking her head, she peeled the kevlar from around her waist, still amazed that it had required almost four feet of the material to circumnavigate the growing life inside her. Helena's next question neatly distracted her from all thoughts of her waistline.
"What the hell is she gonna think if she ever learns you were gonna give her up to save me?"
The words were so quiet that Barbara knew that she could pretend not to have heard them; however, she had heard them. Utterly baffled by the question, Barbara blinked a few times then spoke very clearly.
"Giving her up was never an option, Helena."
Carefully, to be certain that there could be no misunderstanding, she added, "Giving up either of you was never an option."
She set her jaw and met her partner's gaze.
Helena's nod was grudging.
"How are we gonna keep her safe? We know Arkham can't hold the bitch."
Barbara tossed the kevlar onto the exam table -- she'd clean it later -- and tugged her shirt down. Since she wasn't certain how she could find the words, it was something of a relief when Dinah stepped quietly into the room. However, when she saw the expression in the younger woman's face, relief was the last emotion that came to mind.
"Dinah, honey, what is it?"
The teen leaned heavily against the door frame, her eyes wide and oddly unreadable.
I see a little silhouette of a man,
Scaramouche,scaramouche will you do the fandango-
Thunderbolt and lightning-very very frightening me-
But I'm just a poor boy and nobody loves me-
He's just a poor boy from a poor family-
Spare him his life from this monstrosity-
Easy come easy go-,will you let me go-
"Do you think she did it?"
At a loss, Barbara looked up from her monitor, raising her brows and allowing her glasses to slide down her nose.
"I'm sorry, Sweetie."
She offered an apologetic shrug, trusting that her partner wasn't about to unleash some version of "Who's On First". Since she had been fully engrossed in her latest task, she was willing to concede that she might have missed whatever Helena might have said before parking herself next to her mouse pad.
Her trip to the morgue that morning, accompanied by Jesse Reese and Helena, hadn't been pleasant in and of itself. Neither had been witnessing Helena's movements when she'd flipped the sheet back from the diminutive figure in the storage locker, watching as she'd silently bent close -- so very close -- to the dead woman's neck, fighting not to look away when the brunette had scented the body before them. Still with Helena's absolute certainty, in combination with her own DNA tests against samples she'd kept on hand since the clock tower invasion, it was official.
Or, as official as these things could get in their line of work.
Accordingly, Barbara had decided not to waste any time in ensuring that all of her facial recognition 'bots were withdrawn from the net.
Due dates and labor waited for no one.
"Who did what?"
Her companion wiggled a few inches further back on her table and smoothed her jeans -- needlessly, in Barbara's opinion since the faded denim fit like a glove -- and drummed her fingers against her thighs.
For some reason, the movement was inordinately distracting.
Perhaps, she allowed as she forced her eyes back to Helena's face, it was the tape wrapping the younger woman's rapidly healing index finger.
"Dinah?" she repeated, not altogether brilliantly.
Collecting the threads of the pseudo-conversation, she added, "Do I think that Dinah did what?"
Helena's own shrug seemed curiously offhand.
Possibly because of the words that accompanied it.
The redhead snagged one of the bows of her glasses between thumb and forefinger and carefully removed them. Tapping the free stem against her lower lip, she gave the apparently casual question due thought.
"It's certainly a possibility, Helena," she finally allowed.
Internally, she had to concede that it was even a reasonable possibility: Dinah wasn't oblivious to the risks that Quinn presented to all of them; she wasn't without means or, given how engaged Helena and she had been in the training room the day before, opportunity. Indeed, given the weight of responsibility that the teen carried, such an action truly couldn't be termed surprising.
The dramatic rolling of bright blue eyes eloquently suggested that Helena might have already entertained similar thoughts.
"I know that, Red."
Barbara worked not to roll her own eyes when she heard her companion's tone take on an overly patient timbre. The tone was, in fact, one she heard frequently during her day job, one that she'd long ago dubbed the "Slow it down for the old folks" dialect of adolescents everywhere.
"That's why I asked, you know."
Again, slender fingers drummed lightly against denim-clad thighs.
"Or, maybe I should be asking if you did it."
Exhaling slowly, Barbara crossed the earpieces of her glasses at a precise sixty-degree angle before placing the little equiangular triangle on the other side of the keyboard.
She met her partner's gaze without blinking, very aware of the fact that Helena had not asked.
"And, technically, I suppose one could ask the same about you."
Which, she had to admit, succinctly distilled the nonconversation the three of them had shared the night before.
When Dinah had appeared in the training room and delivered her news, the silence that had followed had been overwhelming. Eventually, Barbara had found her voice.
"She was at the hospital. Having her -- "
She'd stumbled just a bit over the words.
"-- her wounds treated."
Dinah had nodded, unnecessarily confirming the intelligence that Barbara had gathered when she'd been at the Delphi earlier.
"Uh huh. They were transferring her to Arkham and, uh, the police ambulance was hit by lightning or something and blew up."
A soft sniff had drawn Barbara's attention to the other person in the room.
"Finger of God, huh?"
Helena's comment had been surprisingly subdued, and sparing a second to glance through the skylight in the training room, Barbara had had to agree with the hint of question in the pronouncement: It had been an unusually cloudless day in New Gotham.
Not to mention that coincidences were few and far between in their fair city.
She'd felt two pairs of blue eyes fixed on her and nodded briskly, leading a little procession to the Delphi. The two younger women had hovered near her workstation as Barbara had dutifully hacked in to various police and government sources, the city's news sources, and eventually a score of satellites.
"Not lightning," she'd finally confirmed.
She'd pushed back from the terminal and turned ninety degrees.
"It was a laser from a Department of Defense satellite."
Again, silence had reigned as she'd watched the minute hand on the big clock jump, incongruously finding herself wondering just when she'd learned to read the time so effortlessly backwards.
"It was triggered through a series of satellite hops that appear to have originated with -- "
Here, she'd paused again and chewed at the inside of her cheek, debating which details were truly necessary. With a mental shrug, she'd laid out the facts.
"A Wayne Industries satellite that was programmed through -- "
Still focused on the clock, she'd gestured toward the Delphi.
Peripherally, she'd seen two heads bob and had continued flatly.
"It was programmed with heat recognition, geared to trigger when the guards exited the police ambulance."
"No innocent victims."
Dinah's words had been hushed, and the three had exchanged looks. Against her own instincts, Barbara had attempted to read her proteges faces.
Helena's had been hard, almost stony, possibly considering that Quinn had deserved far worse. Dinah had been focused on her fingernails, appearing almost sulky.
Typically, it had been Helena who'd pointed out the tiger in the room.
"Unless there's something you've been keeping from us -- "
A hard look from deep blue eyes had suggested that Helena hadn't been referring just to computer operations.
"--there are only three people with access to the Delphi."
The redhead had nodded once, speaking carefully.
"That's true, Helena."
Then she'd waited, curious as to which would give voice to the question that thung heavy above them. The continuing silence had revealed a great deal.
"I'm glad she's dead."
Barbara blinked and pulled herself back to the moment when her companion abruptly scooted from the table. The brunette stretched extravagantly, her thin muscle tee leaving nothing to the imagination.
Deliberate, the redhead supposed when Helena leaned close and warm breath teased her cheek.
The younger woman turned with a smile and hopped lightly from the platform. Watching her head to the kitchen, Barbara allowed one hand to come to rest on her stomach and finally allowed her own response to bubble to the surface: Although she could not honestly claim satisfaction with how it had occurred, she had to admit that she, too, was very, very glad.
Nevertheless, her feelings on the matter underwent a slight correction the next day when the subject returned to haunt her.
"So, did you?"
Since she was less engaged than she'd been the day before -- she'd almost mastered the knitting pattern and barely had too look at her work -- Barbara felt less at a loss. She finished counting the row, then lowered the pink and purple striped baby blanket.
Or, if it kept growing, perhaps it would be a cape for Helena.
"Did I kill Quinn?"
Just because she was certain that she knew what Helena was asking was no reason to assume.
Still damp from two hours at the free weights, the dark figure prowled close, the tan skin revealed by her minimal workout shorts and tank dotted with sweat.
"I know you wanted to, Barbara."
The redhead managed to open her mouth before realizing that she had nothing to say. Feeling more and more like a fish out of water, she snapped her mouth shut.
"You killed that fake cop."
The reply to that was easy. Or, as easy as it could be to justify taking a life.
"That was unavoidable."
The brunette dropped lightly into the wing chair and nodded.
"Yeah. He had a gun on me, right?"
Barbara suspected that her own nod of acknowledgement was, at best, wary. Seemingly oblivious, her companion toed off her Nikes and crossed her legs camp-style in the chair.
"I've been trying to figure the whole thing out, you know?"
Although it was one of the last things she wanted to do, Barbara had always been a slave to her curiosity. She felt her eyebrows lift in unspoken invitation to continue.
"Yeah. If it was a trial run like you said, why not clue me in? At least -- "
Absently, Barbara found herself wondering when she'd agreed to board what seemed to be a train speeding toward an unpleasant destination.
"--to shadow you in case something went wrong. But,"
The brunette shrugged, all too casually.
"--maybe you were afraid I'd become the hostage-du-jour, right?"
Again, the redhead's nod was wary.
If one boarded a train in New Gotham that was traveling to Los Angeles at two hundred miles per hour with stops in...
"But, then, you figured you had to call me in case nothing happened and I found out about you going to the birthing center, right? So you could cover your bases and say it was a false alarm or something?"
Feeling the heat of a blush touch her cheeks, Barbara worked to explain.
"I didn't want to deceive you, Helena. I--"
The brunette snort of amusement cut her off.
"Like hell, Red."
Still, somehow, Helena's tone was mild. Almost lazily, the younger woman uncrossed her legs and stood.
"You didn't want me there 'cuz you wanted to kill her."
If two more acute accusations hop on the train in Chicago and the conductor refuses to let anyone off the train...
"Helena -- "
Somehow she found her voice.
"She was threatening--"
The dark head shook once.
"No. You were planning to."
Nearly dizzied, Barbara instantly decided that another tact was in order. Allowing an indulgent smile, she peered into her partner's eyes.
"Have you been in the catnip again, Hel?"
The smile they shared was a welcome respite. Unfortunately, Helena was not to be distracted.
"Not since Quinn fucked with my head last fall."
The reminder sobered her, and Barbara held her breath as her partner prowled softly around the perimeter of the living area.
"But yeah. You were gonna kill her."
The redhead clenched her jaw in expectation when Helena came to a stop behind the sofa and fixed her with a long look.
"At least until I showed up anyway."
Obviously the train was picking up speed somewhere around the continental divide.
"How on earth would I do that, Helena?"
She didn't try to keep the exasperation from her tone.
"Oh -- "
The brunette waved airily and resumed her pacing.
"-- not lying in wait or anything. But, I thought I smelled cordite in the cop car."
Barbara ran her tongue around the edges of her lips when Helena disappeared into the kitchen, her voice becoming just a bit muffled. Cursing her partner's keen intellect and her meta-enhanced senses, Barbara steeled herself, awaiting the inevitable.
Clearly this train was rocketing into L.A. during an earthquake.
That hypothesis was confirmed when the other woman returned, the strap of Barbara's lunch sack hooked over her first two fingers.
"And then again when I brought this up when we got home."
Barbara threw in the towel, accepting the insulated bag from her partner and unzipping it.
Clearly this train ride had come to an end.
"I had to test it," she explained as she pulled her thermos from the bag and extended it -- cap first -- to the other woman who accepted it carefully. A low whistle distracted her from wishes that she'd had Q, from the James Bond franchise, on retainer.
Barbara managed a quick smile as Helena peered at the small hole in the bottom of the thermos then brushed her finger lightly over the handle of the screw on plastic cup.
"Careful, the trigger's a little -- "
Gravely, she accepted the rather awkward weapon and carefully popped the cap to dig inside. Her partner's next question froze her mid-motion as she worked to retrieve the chambered .32 caliber bullet that she'd primed two days before.
Wondering just how deliberate Helena's final word had been, Barbara realized that her little train ride was becoming a train wreck.
"So why didn't you kill her then?"
"I never dreamed that any mere physical experience could be so stimulating."
With Rose Sayer and Charlie Allnut safely through the whitewater in their none-too-secure African Queen, Barbara smirked and forced her attention back to the elegant little laptop perched on a typing table in front of her abdomen. Nevertheless, she found her thoughts wandering, bringing to mind so many experiences that were most definitely stimulating: her first international gymnastic meet; setting a grappling hook and sailing off the Central Bank building the first time; seeing a genuine spark of interest in a student's eyes; hot-rodding her Ducati through the dark streets; emerging victorious from a battle.
Even, she had to admit, when such a victory involved the death of another.
Idly, she drew her index finger across the track pad and faced the truth of matters: In their line of work, death was sometimes inevitable, and, in the words of her former mentor, any fight that you could walk away from was a good one. Over the years, she'd shared that bit of wisdom -- with no little irony -- with her own proteges.
This afternoon, still mulling over a death that had been anything but inevitable, she had to admit that the homily was still valid. And that thought, naturally -- and rather maddeningly -- brought her squarely back to the reason she was probably allowing herself to be so easily distracted by one of her favorite movies: Wirelessly connected to the Delphi, with several terminal screens up and running and a host of batch programs ready to comb the log files, did she really want to find traces of the person who had programmed the satellite that had taken Harley Quinn's life?
In the week since their rather revealing discussion, neither she nor Helena had broached the topic with each other.
Letting sleeping cats lie, perhaps.
Helping Dinah fold what must have been the laundry from the entire dorm two nights before, she'd skirted the topic, discovering that her normally loquacious ward had become abruptly conversationally-challenged.
However, Barbara had always been a slave to her curiosity, and the possibility that there were clues sprinkled throughout the Delphi was nearly an insurmountable temptation.
Not to mention her own boredom.
With her anticipated due date now four days behind her, she'd finally ceded to the pleas of her family and coworkers and begun her maternity leave that very morning. Unfortunately, she'd rapidly discovered that sitting around like a broody hen was of decidedly limited appeal.
She only hoped that she wouldn't go out of her mind with boredom when her maternity leave began in earnest after the birth.
With a shrug -- perhaps she owed it to all of them to be certain that there was nothing that could be of use to a computer forensicologist -- she clicked to one of her terminal screens. The ding of the elevator mercifully saved her from the temptation of her own curiosity.
"Hey, Red. You still pregnant?"
Reaching for the remote, Barbara neatly muted her movie and spoke primly.
"No, Helena, this is a new one."
The younger woman's laughter as she shrugged out of a knee-length coat was bright and full.
"Well, you are efficient once you get the hang of something."
Barbara's own, she thought when she saw what was under the coat, was a bit breathless.
"Good heavens, Hel, could that skirt go any higher?"
When she saw her companion's eyes dance impishly, she prepared herself.
"Sure, but then it would be a belt."
Again, Barbara heard her own laughter echo through the great room, and with a blink realized that it hadn't been an uncommon occurrence in the last week. Considering the charged conversation that she and Helena had engaged in, Barbara was frankly surprised that her sometimes volatile younger partner hadn't been more visibly upset. When she'd as much as asked Helena about it, the brunette's smile had been stiff.
"I get it, Barbara."
As cryptic and unsettling as that had been, Barbara had opted to embrace it, supposing that some of her partner's forbearance was due in no small part to her own delicate condition. Helena certainly had taken pains in the last week to check on her several times a day, at work or at home. The younger woman had been solicitous in the extreme, breezing in with samplings of her favorite delicacies, spending hours rubbing the tension out of her lower back and upper arms, keeping close at night, and all the while demurring at Barbara's attempts to reciprocate.
"What's the occasion, Hel?"
Barbara corralled her laughter long enough to gesture toward the brief outfit.
"That is a lot of skin to reveal in the first days of February."
The younger woman moved smoothly into the living area, dark head shaking once as she pushed the typing table aside.
"Nah. It's just to see if I can still catch your eye, Red."
Quite certain that she was having her tires yanked, the redhead rolled her eyes indulgently and caught her partner's hand.
"I assure you,"
She tugged, pleased when the smaller woman dropped gracefully into her lap.
"--catching my eye is never an issue, Hel."
Instead of the quip or sly grin that she expected, Barbara received a long, curiously vulnerable look. Unable to read her lover's face, unwilling to guess at an atmosphere that had gone from playful to pointed in a heartbeat, she squeezed the other woman's hand lightly.
"Hel? Is there something -- ?"
"You hide it."
She felt the shoulder resting against her chest shrug as Helena continued.
"You've been hiding a lot, Barbara."
Somehow suspecting that going on the offense was not in her best interests, Barbara managed to swallow her own sharp retort. Angling her neck, she sought to catch her partner's eyes.
"Helena, it's not--"
The other woman cut her short, and Barbara blinked when she heard the clipped hardness of her voice.
"You think I don't know what you're doing? Hiding your plan with Quinn? Pulling back on sweeps? Enticing me to stay here?"
Even as her blood began to boil, Barbara heard her voice remain very, very calm.
"Let me make one thing very clear, Helena."
She waited a full twelve seconds after that. She waited until blue eyes rose sulkily to meet green.
"I've never feigned wanting you near me."
Setting her jaw against the acid in the two syllables, Barbara followed one slender hand as it slashed through the air.
"I guess you don't fake it. Hell, you love me and touch me and -- "
Her instinctive anger began to give way in the face of the tightness of her lover's voice, the brightness of her eyes.
"-- and it's all hearts and flowers and soft touches until I'm so fuckin' crazy I forget my own name."
There had to be more.
Utterly at a loss, Barbara worked her mouth, finally managing, "And, is that a bad thing, Hel?"
At least that earned a sheepish smile.
A fleeting, sheepish smile, followed by the younger woman twisting in her arms to bring them nearly eye-to-eye.
"Don't go all Kelly Clarkson on me, Barbara."
Blinking at close range, taken aback by the apparent non sequiter, Barbara frowned. Given that she was one hundred and two hours past her due date and as uncomfortable as all hell with a permanent beach ball in her lap hindering her access to everything, she knew this wasn't the best time for puzzles.
"You know -- "
That adolescent whine of impatience colored the words, and then Helena burst into song.
"Because of you I never stray too far from the sidewalk?"
The serenade ended with a rough slashing movement of the young woman's hands.
"Only, it's you, Barbara. About me. Treating me like I'm glass or something."
Suddenly getting it with the force of a jackboot to the solar plexus, Barbara worked for words. Her partner beat her to it.
"But, I'm not, Barbara."
The impossibly soft skin of her partner's cheek brushed her face, and warm breath teased her ear.
"I'm flesh and bone and blood and nerves, and I don't break easy, Red."
Never, ever, able to deny the other woman's reality, her vitality, her humanity, the redhead nodded slowly, gathering her courage.
"I know, Hel."
Unwilling to hide in the anonymity of proximity, she gently raised one hand to the younger woman's jaw and guided her back until bright blue eyes came into focus.
"It's me," she managed before words failed her.
How could she explain that she wasn't enough... or, more accurately, was more than the other woman should have to deal with?
She was torn between vexation and relief when Helena shook her head with a sigh and leaned out to snag the remote from the side table. Somehow -- as always -- almost preternaturally aware of everything around her, the brunette thumbed up the volume for another round of bickering between Rose and Charlie. This time, if Barbara were recalling the film correctly, it was during their sentence of death at the hands of the Germans.
From movies to songs to movies.
In media res didn't begin to sum up this conversation.
Puzzled she quirked her brows at her partner who merely inclined her head toward the screen as a distinctive patrician voice silenced Humphrey Bogart's attempts to protect her.
"I'm certainly not going to outlive you, and that's all there is to it."
The exasperated sigh was her own. Barbara waited just long enough for her companion to mute the movie again before responding to what was entirely too low a blow.
"Helena, don't you see? I'm not the person you think."
When a doting smile was her only answer, she lowered her voice and tried again.
"Helena, I am not fair and rational and just and all of those heroic qualities."
Exasperated, she brushed a strand of flyaway hair from her cheek and let her temper fly.
"Don't you understand, Helena? I'm a goddamed vigilante."
Contrary to her expectations, the shouted confession neither provoked her partner to anger nor sent her screaming. Instead, Barbara watched with something bordering on disbelief as the brunette leaned back, resting her hands lightly on the arms of the chair.
"Don't you get it, Barbara?"
She saw one slender hand raise, perhaps to touch her, then descend almost abjectly.
"I'm okay with that. Better than okay."
Flummoxed and quite positive that Barbaras were from Neptune and Helenas from Venus, she opened her mouth to go on the counter attack. A warm mouth brushed against hers, stealing her will to fight.
"I fell in love with all of you, Red."
She turned away but couldn't escape the other woman's rumbling whisper.
"Teacher and mentor."
Her hand was brought to soft lips, tingling against the ghosting kiss.
"Friend and hero."
A deeper kiss to her palm accompanied the description before her hand was raised and turned, brought to rest against her partner's chest.
Utterly humbled, Barbara heard her own voice before she knew that she would speak.
"I thought you called me a human computer."
Hearing the hint of petulance, she winced, but her lover only laughed softly, the rumble in her chest tickling Barbara's palm.
"That, too, Red."
The seduction, Barbara realized later -- much later -- was so subtle, yet so blatant; so soft and sudden that she had nowhere to hide. Nowhere to collect herself.
One moment Helena was balanced with her knees on each side of her legs, leaning over her belly, pressing the softest of kisses to her skin. The next, sharp teeth were at her throat sending ribbons of pain-pleasure coursing through her; her hand was being moved to the younger woman's chest and ground roughly; her partner was hissing her pleasure.
Even as she reacted, Barbara knew that her body was moving with an instinct of it's own.
Without thought, she moved to the side, catching her lover in a breath-stealing kiss.
Barbara hadn't known she'd speak the word -- much less think it -- until she heard it pass her lips on a growl. Bowing to the moment -- in her opinion, retraction had always lacked sincerity -- she abandoned regret and fumbled frantically beneath the short skirt. Impossibly her pulse skyrocketed as her lover arched against her.
Needing nothing more, she plunged into the younger woman, Helena's shuddering gasp only serving as fuel to the flame of her need. Yet, some small portion of her rational mind remained and, horrified, she recognized that the hard set of her lover's jaw against her shoulder was not all pleasure; the friction against her fingers was too much.
What the hell was she --
A softly grunted command drew her from her recriminations.
The grind of increasingly wet heat against her palm almost undid her resolve. The deep violent of her partner's eyes managed to keep her in check.
"Don't you want me?"
Somehow, Barbara mustered a tender smile. Raising her free hand, she lightly brushed the other woman's bangs back, fighting a moan when those phenomenal eyes fluttered shut in pleasure.
"Very much." When Helena opened her eyes and dark brows quirked, Barbara found herself unable to fathom her partner's expression.
Slowly, she traced the tip of her tongue around the edges of her lips, not missing the flare of gold that sparked into the younger woman's eyes. Cautiously, she nodded once, unsure of her grasp of a situation that had suddenly become amorphous.
Somehow, the redhead swallowed, not certain how much was playful and how much genuinely challenging. Nevertheless, she couldn't avoid the feeling of something dark and alluring rearing within her, clawing for the surface, if only for a few moments. When she managed an answer, she knew that some of it edged her voice.
"Are you so certain that you want to see that side of me?"
Somehow her voice hadn't cracked.
For a heartbeat, she considered. For a lifetime, she balanced between everything she was and everything she'd promised to be. Inevitably perhaps, Barbara reached her decision and nodded.
"Go into the training room."
There was no lingering self-examination.
No trips to the balcony to reassess.
No wordless communion with the spirits of her city.
Having made her choice, Barbara waited only until her partner disappeared into the training room before setting to work: a swing into the kitchen for bottled water and a terry towel; a stop by the elevator to engage the lock; a pass through the bedroom to snag a light tee shirt to replace her sweatshirt. Scrubbing her face at the bathroom sink, her reflection in the mirror caught her eye.
Nothing had changed on the surface, yet...
Shrugging that thought aside, she momentarily debated rummaging through the bedside table for one other item but decided that her next, and final, stop at the gear closet would be quite enough.
The pockets of her chair fully outfitted, Barbara finally approached the training room. It was there, her hand poised above the door handle, that her resolve faltered the tiniest bit. The sound of soft singing from within -- Tears For Fears' "Shout" if she weren't mistaken -- steadied her nerves, and she swung open the door and entered the big room.
The words were low, a juxtaposition to the flashy air drum solo that accompanied them.
Barbara smiled her greeting in return and moved to the center of the floor. With her musical interlude apparently completed, her partner hopped lightly from the padded massage table she'd been perched on and joined her. Barbara ran through her mental checklist one final time before looking up and allowing a different type of smile to cross her features.
"I believe you're overdressed, Helena." Although the minimal amount of material in the brunette's skirt, not to mention the sheerness of her shirt, made the observation improbable at best, Barbara was pleased to note that her partner didn't even bat an eye.
"I didn't know if... what you wanted."
Regrettably perhaps, the almost shy admission lured Barbara's own doubts to the surface. She held the younger woman's gaze and spoke equally quietly.
"I have everything I want, Helena. There's no need to -- "
The emphatic shake of a dark head cut her short, and she waited as Helena took the two steps that brought her to her side and then dropped to her knees.
"Then I don't have everything I want, Barbara."
Dropping her gaze to the slender hand resting on her leg, Barbara knew that she had no choice.
"What is it that you don't have, Hel?"
The response was so immediate and so certain that the redhead couldn't doubt its sincerity.
"For you to feel safe being you with me. For you to stop hiding who you are."
For some reason, the words struck with the force of an almost physical pain, but Barbara didn't look up from her inspection of the hand that was still resting on her knee.
"Helena -- "
Her throat was tight, the words nearly breathless.
"-- I do."
Grudgingly, Barbara looked up and met deep blue eyes.
"Like with Quinn."
Crimson brows crept upward in silent question.
"Whatever you did or were planning to do or wanted to do, I'm okay with it. I don't care if you wanted to kill the bitch."
The younger woman shrugged, and Barbara swallowed with difficulty as she felt her hand being taken, Helena's thumb moving in slow circles in her palm.
"You work so hard to hold everything in, Babs."
Her partner's voice seemed to drop half an octave; her words slowed.
"You try to be this perfect freaking paragon or something, but when I get to see the real you..."
Barbara had to work very hard not to look away, not to shut her eyes, not to hide from her lover's scrutiny.
"When I feel the real you, the woman with passions and wants and needs and -- "
Suddenly, Helena was again in her lap, straddling her with her knees buried in the thick padding of the chair, her words faster, firmer.
"And I know how much you want, and it makes me so fuckin' hot that I want to explode."
Distantly, the redhead found herself considering that the climate control in the clock tower must be malfunctioning, for she was suddenly very, very warm herself. Helena's next words, purred directly against her ear, did nothing to improve her temperature.
"Because I know that it's me you want, it makes me so fuckin' wet I want to do anything..."
She allowed her hand to be coaxed, her heart trip hammering when she was presented with the truth of her lover's words.
Somehow, Barbara maintained a tenuous grasp on her own wits and carefully extricated her hand, raising it to cup her partner's face. "I-- I've caused..."
Feeling the obstinate set of the other woman's jaw, she tried again.
"You've had to deal with so much, Hel, and I don't want -- "
It was so difficult to speak the words.
"I won't objectify you or treat you like--"
Almost playful, the interruption caused green eyes to blink twice.
Barbara allowed her tone to supply air quotes as she parroted back the words in question. She felt a bit of tension depart when her partner smiled against her palm.
"Every second that we're together, Red, there's never a doubt in my mind that you know it's me."
"Sweetheart -- "
Perhaps the baby was kicking, or perhaps her lunch wasn't sitting right: the pain filling her chest had to be more than merely emotional.
At a loss, she stroked her thumb lightly across her lover's mouth. She caught her own bottom lip in her teeth with lush lips parted, eyes that were morphing to violet sparking a bright question.
Dumbly, Barbara nodded slowly, and something clenched high in her belly when she allowed the younger woman to draw her in. Without conscious volition, her eyes fluttered shut, and for a score of seconds all that she knew was her heart beating in counterpoint to the soft suction.
She thought the voice had been her own although Barbara quite definitely did not recall planning to speak. Nevertheless, the hushed syllables roused them both. A lingering kiss was pressed to her palm, and the redhead pried open her eyes as Helena gracefully extricated herself from the chair to stand beside her again.
Her mouth so dry that she knew her voice would be nothing but a croak, Barbara nodded. She didn't miss the way violet eyes flashed to gold or the other woman's soft gasp.
"So, you were saying I'm overdressed?"
Again, the redhead nodded and then almost laughed when, true to form, her partner leapt into action. However, the vision of the sheer blouse falling to the training room floor, followed immediately by the wisp of a skirt, was decidedly more arousing than amusing.
Having already shucked her footwear, the brunette was reaching for the hooks of her bra when Barbara finally managed to speak. Suspecting that the solitary word might have been a bit... short, the redhead smiled and nodded toward her lover's underwear.
"Leave those on for now."
She had some very, very specific plans for removing the bra and boy-briefs.
"So, what else?"
Helena's question was a mixture of casual unconcern and breathlessness. Charmed, Barbara fought her own nervousness -- there was no going back after this -- and dug into the side pocket of her chair. Refusing to look away, she met the other woman's gaze and dangled the standard issue police cuffs from her index finger.
Since Barbara was quite aware that the brunette might have some residual issues about being cuffed, given her recent experience of being the hostage of the day with Quinn, the sly smile she received in answer was inordinately reassuring.
"Oh, yeah, but -- "
In a heartbeat, Helena had bounded over to the massage table and ducked down to retrieve something. Fighting a smile, Barbara pursed her lips as the scantily clad brunette approached her with something hidden behind her back.
"What do you have there, Hel?"
Tipping her chin, she searched her lover's face, and her levity was pushed away by awe at the openness of those violet eyes.
"I want to wear this."
Barbara felt her brows knit, then shoot toward her hairline, when she realized what the younger woman had revealed.
The thick leather collar was stiff, but it was not new. A searing image of her lover in the collar -- and little else -- after a bit of fieldwork in the club district nearly a year before filled Barbara's vision. Pierced, breathless, she settled the cuffs into her lap and then extended her hand, palm up. She accepted the heavy circlet, however, when Helena stepped closer, the redhead permitted herself a digression.
A very necessary detour.
Before the other woman could bend or kneel or otherwise position herself to receive the collar, Barbara circled her arm around the back of her bare thighs and pulled her close. Instantly, she turned, resting her forehead against the younger woman's firm abdomen, her mouth watering and her own gasp of desire further inflaming her. When she felt a warm hand come to rest lightly on her shoulder, when she picked up the thrumming tension of the sinewy thighs beneath her hands, she almost gave in to her own hunger.
Oh, how she wanted...
Almost. But, this wasn't all about her needs.
More than a bit reluctantly, the redhead pulled herself away, allowing her eyes to droop closed for a moment while she fixed the memory of that sensory moment firmly in her heart. Then, feeling the other woman dropping to her knees beside her, she collected herself and turned to her task.
The creak of the leather bending, the prick of the sharp studs against her fingertips, the image of her partner's dark head bowed before her caused something to flare within her. With a sharp inhalation, she tested the security of the buckle, then caught her lover's eyes.
"Are sure that you're... comfortable with this?"
Helena's nod was instant. The words that followed, a low rumble.
"But only if you promise to use that."
Clenching her jaw, Barbara followed the direction of the other woman's nod, needlessly confirming what her partner was referring to.
Still uncertain and questioning her resolve -- not to mention her good sense -- as she'd gathered things, Barbara had tightly coiled this particular item and tucked it between her back and the back of the chair. Of course, with her keen sense of smell, Helena had probably easily detected the oiled leather the instant she'd entered the training room.
Deliberately, Barbara rotated her neck, working a bit of residual tension from her shoulders. Reaching behind her, she retrieved the heavy bullwhip and tossed it onto the floor beside her.
"Count on it, Sweetheart."
The heavy-lidded droop of the other woman's eyes and the flare of aquiline nostrils sent blood thundering through Barbara's veins. Yet, despite the growing ache in her chest and the burning of her nipples as they came in contact with the soft cotton of her tee, she didn't miss something in Helena's face.
Very gently, she pushed the other woman's bangs back.
"Uh, before we get started...?"
Knowing that there was nothing -- absolutely nothing -- that she would deny this amazing woman, Barbara nodded. Somehow, she was unsurprised when her lover stretched close and brought their mouths together, a whisper preceding the contact by a hair's breadth.
"-- need to kiss you."
As she lost herself in soft lips and the warmth of the other woman's mouth for long, wonderful moments, the redhead realized that this kiss alone would be enough.
Not so, apparently, for her partner.
Barbara worked to steady herself when Helena, panting softly against her skin, pulled away. Eyes gold, the young woman rocked back on her haunches, collecting the cuffs as she stood.
"What are you gonna do to me, Red?"
There was only anticipation in the question, and Barbara nodded once in the direction of the pommel horse. She waited until Helena turned before responding, not missing how her always-graceful partner seemed to mis-step when she spoke.
Helena's hiss was piercing, however it couldn't begin to compare with the volume of her cries later.
As impatient as she tended to be personally, Barbara had never doubted the value of forbearance. On this afternoon, she'd taken that particular virtue to heart. With Helena firmly cuffed to the pommel horse, Barbara had somehow managed to corral her own insistent urges. Denying the heat and thrust building within, she'd taken her time, banking and fanning her fire... and Helena's.
Throughout, it had occurred to her that, after the last four months of feeling increasingly ungainly and awkward, there had been not a trace of awkwardness during the afternoon.
It was a thought she'd put aside for later consideration.
There were other matters to occupy her.
From her chair, to the floor, to the horse, and back to the chair, she'd explored every angle. With the rattling of the metal cuffs as counterpoint, she'd stroked with her hands, stilling Helena's trembling for a moment before reigniting it. Leather molding against her palm, she'd brushed cotton undergarments aside, then had used her hands to tear them asunder. Her own breathing harsh in her ears, she'd finally given in -- briefly -- to her own need, covering Helena's body with her own and allowing her lover's nearly-frantic grinding to assuage the fire in her chest and belly.
And still somehow, she'd held back from that final touch.
Her fingers almost itching, her biceps quivering in anticipation, sweat beading her face, she'd waited. It took almost two hours of teasing her lover with her hands and mouth and tantalizing her with the lightest strokes of the whip before Helena's pleas for more finally undid her resolve.
Nearly sobbing her own relief, Barbara raked her hands down the other woman's back one final time, pressed her mouth to her chest again, and then pulled away.
One fast stroke was all that it took.
If volume and duration could be used as an indicator, Barbara suspected that Helena's climax was explosive. To her surprise, her own was even more so.
The breathy moan fluttered through her hair. Since the power of speech seemed to have gone on holiday, the redhead contented herself with a nod.
With Helena wrapped around her on the training room mats, both of their bodies effortlessly melding together, Barbara was close to dozing when she felt her lover stretch minutely in her arms. She heard a soft sniffing then squirmed when her partner inched upward to lap softly at the side of her mouth.
Even at such close range, she couldn't mistake the crimson stain that transferred from her mouth to her lover's, and she worked not to look away.
"You bit me."
Helena's voice was, she thought, a bit dazed.
She waited, finally releasing the breath she'd not realized she was holding when the wicked smile overtook the younger woman's features.
"I like it."
A laugh bubbled forth, and she buried her hands in dark hair, pulling the other woman close.
Their kisses this time were unhurried, perhaps almost somnolent, as her lover fitted herself almost bonelessly against her. However, when slow strokes began to change tempo, she knew that Helena's amazing recuperative abilities were obviously about to prove themselves again.
"Holy -- "
The younger woman's voice was sharp.
"--you're fucking soaked."
The redhead didn't bother to open her eyes. The sweep of her fingertips over satin skin never faltered.
"I'd imagine so," she allowed, feeling altogether agreeable.
Helena's absolute stillness eventually drew her from her preoccupation, and she met her partner's eyes.
"Really wet, Barbara."
Somehow, she knew, and a moment's investigation confirmed it.
"My water broke."
Complete silence followed as Barbara considered the information she'd just shared, and Helena, presumably, did likewise. A dramatic groan finally distracted her, and she arched one brow.
Her partner's voice was distinctly aggrieved.
"You mean that after all of -- "
Slender fingers waved vaguely above their intertwined bodies.
"--this, I've got to pull it together and get us to the birthing center?"
Laughing, Barbara combed her fingers through sweat-dampened dark hair.
"I think we have a few minutes to collect ourselves."
Instantly, she felt the tension leave the younger woman's body, and allowed herself to relax a bit as well. For a few moments, they lay quietly, Barbara gently stroking her lover's back until Helena pulled away and slipped down her body.
Wiry arms snugged around her upper belly, and Barbara finally stopped ticking through her mental list for the birthing center -- A turtleneck was definitely in order for Helena -- and focused on the other woman. When she heard the words addressed to her midriff, she suspected that her partner was referring to her; however, she had to admit that no truer words could be spoken about Helena herself.
"Get ready, Peapod. You're about to meet the most amazing woman in the world."
"I am not so much complaining as seeking clarification."
Suspecting that her tone might have been just a bit petulant, Barbara inhaled slowly through her teeth and released a long cleansing breath.
"Since I haven't been able to feel anything below the waist for the last eight years, I simply fail to understand why there's this much..."
Acutely aware of deep blue eyes focused intently on her, she took a moment to find the right word.
The anesthesiologist, a man Barbara was rapidly coming to think of as Dr. Mengele, didn't look up from fiddling with the IV.
"You should know that contractions impact the entire torso, and -- "
Finally the man appeared interested in something other than his tray of needles.
"--it appears that other nerves and muscles are attempting to compensate."
The redhead grit her teeth and panted shallowly as she considered that, especially in light of some of the times during the last eight years -- especially the last year -- that she might have appreciated such a thing.
"What fortuitous timing."
The sarcasm appeared to be lost on the anesthesiologist, who snapped his gloves off and moved toward the door.
"The spinal should kick in shortly."
Before the door clicked shut, Helena was at the side of the bed again, cool fingers brushing the hair back from Barbara's face.
"Is it really bad?"
In response, Barbara squeezed her partner's hand.
It was, after all, so difficult to quantify pain. The last time she'd felt, truly felt, this level of physical discomfort had been...
No, not the shooting.
The redhead felt her brows knit as her mental CPUs went into overdrive.
Perhaps it had been when a group of surprisingly effective drug dealers had somehow gotten the drop on her, hooked her up to a generator, and shocked all hell out of her. Repeatedly. The more it had hurt and the more she'd tensed, the more the biofeedback unit had ratcheted up. Since escape had been out of the question, unconsciousness had been her savior until the decidedly tardy arrival of Bruce and Dick.
Appreciating the distraction, such as it was, Barbara re-considered her first assessment.
Given this afternoon's similarity to terrible stomach cramping, perhaps the last time she'd experiences something like this had been after the first big family meal she'd attempted for Helena and herself after things had changed so many years ago. Having more-or-less reconciled herself to her new circumstances, Barbara had decided to tackle the domestic role that had been thrust upon her. It had only been her new ward's remarkable physiology that had saved Helena from a woefully mistaken attempt at eggplant and liver.
She herself had not been so fortunate.
"No Sweetie. I'm.... "
Another contraction interrupted her attempt to calm the younger woman's palpable nervousness.
She grit her teeth again and rode it out. She suspected that the smile she mustered was, at best, a bit forced.
If the agony reflected in her partner's deep blue eyes could be used as an indicator, clearly she needed to brush up on her stoicism.
At the moment, she rested her free hand on her upper abdomen, shivering when her lover bent close to breathe into her ear.
Barbara waited as Helena straightened and fished in the tacky plastic pitcher for an ice chip.
"Not being afraid to let me see?"
Green eyes blinked once, and Barbara vigorously crunched her ice chip.
"So cursing and crying are back on the table?"
The attempt at levity fell flat, and Barbara sucked in a sharp breath when her partner leaned close, her words low and urgent.
"Don't ever take 'em off. Don't take anything away."
Stunned, she opened her mouth to comment on the enormity of the demand, but Helena beat her to it.
"That whole time, earlier --"
Looking up from the hand that was gently clasping hers, Barbara was amazed to see eyes flicker yellow then back to blue.
"And -- I've never -- "
Helena cut herself off, dark head shaking once. Entirely sympathetic to feeling a bit tongue tied, the redhead wet her lips and smiled encouragingly. Eventually, her words slower, the younger woman continued.
"You were on me and in me, and I couldn't touch you but I was with you."
Again, the dark head shook, and Barbara allowed her lover to finish.
"You were letting me in. Showing me."
She was pinned by violet eyes, her hand raised to the other woman's lips. Helena's final words ghosted across her knuckles on a kiss.
"Don't take that away."
Throughout her life, even before the accident, Barbara had never considered herself a particularly observant individual. Casing for clues or detecting a bit of subterfuge from a student, yes; however, in terms of noticing the sensory world around her, she felt she tended to be... well, a bit oblivious.
However, at this moment, held securely in her partner's hands, lost in her eyes, the reality of labor and contractions faded just a bit. In their place came a rush of sensory memories from not too many hours before.
Oddly, scent was first: The hint of antiseptic and linament that always lingered in the training room; the familiar, evocative aromas of Helena... and leather; a different, equally complex scent of Helena on leather. On the heels of that came a rush of flavors: The sweet saline taste of Helena's sweat; the velvet musk of her partner on her lips; the sharp coppery tang of blood in her mouth. Then, Barbara's fingers almost tingled as she felt again: The smooth silk of skin under her hands; the impossible give of diamond-hard peaks between her fingers; the warm heat that later cocooned her hands. From there, a rush of kinetoscopic images: Helena splayed before her, her hips working frantically as she'd drawn the length of the leather down her body; her own hands, tendons flexing, the paleness of her skin in stark relief against Helena's tan.
And, while Barbara had always unashamedly described herself as a visual person, she was unsurprised to discover that it was the aural memories that struck her most: the clink of cuffs against metal; the slap of flesh against the leather pommel horse; the hiss of the bullwhip whispering over trembling muscles; Helena's grunt of pain-pleasure that still sent a phantom jolt directly to her center.
Her own cry just before she'd collapsed on top of her lover.
Yet, with those sensory moments came even more intense emotional memories: Helena's soft murmur afterward, "Yours." The warm wetness on her cheek from the tear that had escaped. Her own ragged response, "Yes."
The grinding ache currently squeezing her upper abdomen and spine finally brought her back to the moment, to find her partner smiling a Cheshire grin.
"See, Babs? A little distrac--"
Eschewing politeness, Barbara cut in.
She panted softly through her teeth, wondering just when Gloria would be making an appearance to get the C-section underway.
Blue eyes came into view again looking decidedly less self-satisfied.
"Shit, Barbara, I wish I could take the pain for you."
Not doubting the other woman's sincerity in the slightest, the redhead squezed her hand again. A moment later, she wasn't certain if her words or the squeeze were behind the younger woman's startled jump.
"Next time, Hel."
The shocked blink she received spoke volumes, but in the throes of another contraction, Barbara opted to let it go. Again she reached for her partner's hand and tugged her close.
"C'mere and distract me..."
Those stunning blue eyes widened almost comically, then hooded.
Strong fingers needed at the back of her neck, and Barbara sighed her appreciation as her partner moved close.
"Whaddaya want me to do?"
Since she'd never been one to back down from a dare, the redhead narrowed her eyes in thought.
"How about a lap dance?"
Helena's whoop of laughter almost drowned out the very vocal woman in the room next door -- from the sound of things, she must have been giving birth to a Sumo wrestler -- before the brunette quieted and waved toward her abdomen.
"Don't think there's room there for both of us, Babs. But, uh, you want your iPod?"
As if by magic, the elegant little white rectangle appeared in the younger woman's hand, and Barbara eyed it doubtfully before giving her partner a long look. Despite her best efforts, Barbara suspected that when she spoke her tone might have been the slightest bit arch.
"Does it look like music will hath charms to soothe?"
She instantly felt guilty when the other woman's expressive features sobered.
"Uh, maybe not."
Just as quickly, Helena brightened, and Barbara held her breath, completely uncertain what to anticipate.
"But, I could lip-sync a show while you listen. I put The Divinyls on there last night."
It took her a moment; however, when her companion raked her free hand down the front of her turtleneck and flirted with the buttons of her jeans, she instantly pinpointed the song by the one-hit-wonders. Swallowing roughly, she extended her hand for the iPod.
The arrival of her doctor spared -- or shortchanged -- her what promised to be a memorable show.
"Personally, I prefer the version by Jack Off Jill."
Barbara rolled her eyes as Helena turned smoothly to great the grey-haired woman.
"Sure, but this one's the classic."
With a laugh, Barbara's Ob-Gyn peered under the sheet covering her lower half.
"Sorry to be so long, Barbara, but I had to finish off the pitcher of martinis I'd just ordered. As for you,"
Dropping the sheet into place, the doctor turned to Helena and continued speaking over their laughter.
"I don't think we'll be having time for a floor show. Perhaps you can greet your daughter with a dance in a bit."
And with that, after almost ten months of waiting, things seemed to move remarkably rapidly.
Dr. Frine disappeared while Barbara was prepped and draped. The doctor returned with two nurses and the anesthesiologist in tow. Helena moved to one side, holding her hand and offering a play-by-play of the incisions, the opening of her womb, the first sight of their daughter.
Because of her limited vantage point -- Gloria had soundly nixed her requests to watch -- Barbara focused on her partner's face. For the most part, the younger woman remained focused solely on her until Barbara heard her doctor's murmur, "There she is." At that point, she smiled and inclined her chin, willing herself to see through her lover's eyes: eyes that went wide, then wet, then joyful.
"She's beautiful, Barbara. Just like you."
A minute later, she watched the younger woman's mouth open in a soundless "O" as she cut the cord. Then, an impossibly tiny being came to rest in her arms, on her chest, and she felt her own mouth open in soundless awe.
Dear heavens, she was a mother.
Awestruck, she forgot about Gloria, who was busy stitching her up. The only realities were her partner leaning close to her and this little being who, to her eye, looked amazingly like Helena.
"It makes it real, doesn't it, Red?"
Still floating between numbness and an endorphin high, Barbara only nodded. When her partner continued, blue eyes fixed firmly on their daughter, her haze evaporated with an almost audible pop.
"Kinda makes me wish Quinn was still alive so I could kill her face to face for threatening this."
An hour later, Barbara was still dazedly dissecting her partner's declaration, working not to wonder if the word "again" had been censored, when a discrete knock mercifully distracted her. An unmistakable rich aroma, laced with cream and lemon if she weren't mistaken, completed the process, and she smoothed the covers as the door cracked open.
"Are you accepting visitors, Miss Barbara?"
Delighted, she beamed and waved her guest in.
"You're hardly a visitor, Alfred."
Her smile broadened when the elderly gentleman approached and offered a stainless steel travel mug. She eagerly raised the cup, sipping the still-steaming tea, suddenly aware of how terribly thirsty she was.
"It's so good to have you here, Alfred."
Her companion offered the hint of a smile in response.
"Has your father been by?"
Laughing, Barbara settled her Earl Grey on the night stand.
"He's been here almost the entire time."
Her father and half of the NGPD, in fact, had been prowling the birthing center diligently since her arrival, undoubtedly giving a fair number of the other mothers second thoughts. Helena herself had only left her side moments before, at Barbara's request for the biggest, juiciest burger she could find -- for some reason she was absolutely famished -- after having ensured that both Dinah and Jesse Reese would not leave her door.
"He and Dr. Frine are outside sharing cigars."
Following the direction of her old friend's eyes, she rested her right hand lightly on the edge of the bassinet by her bed.
"Meet our daughter, Alfred."
The words sounded awkward to her own ears, like something poorly rehearsed for a play; however, Alfred seemed not to notice, turning to the bassinet and bowing from the waist.
"I am most pleased to make your acquaintance, young lady."
Torn between amusement and humility by the courtly gesture, it took the new mother a moment to notice when her visitor cocked his head toward the little crib.
Her answer required no thought.
"Of course, Alfred."
Smiling, probably completely goofily, Barbara waited as her old friend carefully lifted her daughter and then settled himself into the rocking chair by the bed. A bit distantly, she noted the teensiest bit of envy at the ease with which her long-time friend handled the tiny bundle.
"If your first nine months are any indication," he continued, his eyes fixed solely on his little charge, "you'll be seeing many, many things during your lifetime."
Barbara had to snort softly at that.
"Like your other mommy flying over the rooftops," she suggested.
The unofficial fourth member of their team finally looked up.
"Undoubtedly, Miss Barbara. Possibly,"
White brows rose, and Barbara smiled her encouragement.
"--joining her mother on those flights."
There was nothing for it but to parrot her guest's words.
She allowed the gentle moment to linger before growing serious.
"But, there are so many things I hope she never..."
Alfred's nod allowed her to trail off. His following question briefly removed any chance of responding coherently.
"Such as the death of another person, Miss Barbara?"
Waiting for her heart to stop booming in her chest, the redhead chewed at the corner of her lip. Ultimately, she decided to broach the topic.
Kind blue eyes didn't blink, and she soldiered on.
"Do you think that..."
Words escaped her for a moment.
"Do I believe that Miss Helena was involved? Or,"
Her companion tugged out his handkerchief, dabbing at a drop of baby drool on his lapel without missing a beat.
"-- is it Miss Dinah you worry about?"
She nodded slowly.
"Both, Alfred. At first glance, Dinah seems more likely for the method."
She slowed, allowing herself time to sort out her thoughts before continuing.
"However, the few times that we've tap-danced around it in the last week, I get the impression that she knows something but doesn't want to let me know."
Alfred's slow rocking seemed to set the cadence for her words, allowing them to spill forth without the usual censoring she employed.
Finally, her confidant spoke.
"One might presume a more personal approach from Miss Helena."
Barbara felt herself nod so quickly that she feared a neck spasm.
"Exactly, Alfred. Yet, this is the perfect disguise."
Again, Barbara allowed her words to slow as she worked through that which she'd refused to consider.
"I'm not sure I know her, Alfred. The change's she's made recently -- classes, allowing me to cut back on sweeps, learning--"
She stumbled the tiniest bit before facing those wise blue eyes.
"--taking responsibilities at the Delphi."
Still sorting through things, she cravenly opted not to mention her partner's words during the birth.
"Very true, Miss Barbara."
A tiny fist worked free of the swadling blanket, and he took a moment to settle the tiny being in his arms.
"Yet, she's is still so very much your Miss Helena."
Barbara couldn't miss her companion's choice of words.
"My fiercely protective Helena," she reminded him.
"Again very true," he acknowledged as he rose and stepped over to the bedside.
"Never underestimate the power and protectiveness of a spouse or a parent."
Stretching out her arms to accept her daughter, Barbara saw something in her old friends eyes, and she nearly forgot herself when she made out his next words.
"Or that of a grandparent."
Dorothy Gale certainly had it right: There was no place like home.
After two nights and almost two full days at the birthing center, Barbara had pulled every string she had, used every weapon in her arsenal, and pulled every wile from her book to secure Gloria's permission to continue her recuperation at home.
Assistance transferring herself in and out of her chair? Absolutely.
No heavy lifting or stretching? Not an issue.
Someone nearby to assist with her newest charge? Please.
Settling herself in the big bed after the brief ride from the birthing center to the clock tower, Barbara automatically ticked through the promises she'd made, allowing herself a moment of satisfaction that, as yet, she'd not broken any of them: She'd allowed the hospital staff to push her chair into the van; she'd permitted Helena to transfer her from her chair to the bed; and she had even managed to endure endless amounts of solicitous fluffing as Helena had settled the pillows and covers for her. Even now, with her vivacious partner unloading their bags from the van, she had Dinah at the ready, cautiously lifting the newest resident of the tower from the odd latex stomach-cum-bassinet that Barbara had received for Christmas.
"I can't believe that Helena told me you two named her Jean."
The redhead accepted her two-day-old daughter, still feeling hopelessly awkward with the tiny life form and barely able to believe that The Powers That Be had actually allowed her to leave the birthing center with her.
Honestly, she'd had to fill out more paperwork to bring a puppy home from the pound than she'd needed to leave the birthing center.
Nevertheless, her own awkwardness apart, she had pledged to herself that her daughter would receive as much human contact as possible.
The repetition was obviously meant to signify something, and Barbara worked to identify the source of Dinah's pique. Although, privately, she suspected that the character Jean Grey from the soon-to-be-released third entry in the X-Men movie franchise might have been behind her partner's choice, she wasn't sure why Dinah seemed so perturbed.
"It is a little plain, Dinah," she finally hazarded.
The impatient shake of blonde hair suggested that she wasn't quite with the program.
"No. I mean, yeah, it is plain, but -- "
The teen pushed a lock of hair behind her ear and took a breath.
"Jean? You know, G.E.N.E."
It took the older woman a beat before she chuckled.
"It would indeed be apropos given her origins."
Unable to help herself, Barbara grimaced at the idea before continuing.
"However, I think I might have leaned toward plain old Gregor Mendel. Or,"
She looked down at the tiny being in her arms, almost loosing herself in bright eyes.
"-- perhaps just stayed with Peapod."
Dinah's laugh was bright.
"Even Gordon Kyle would have been better."
Nodding slowly, Barbara decided to keep to herself the fact that she'd flirted with the name Jordan. It had only been Helena's less than diplomatic input -- "Hell, why not just tattoo bifocals on her and name her Poindexter?" -- that had brought her to her senses.
Transfixed by the inquisitive eyes fixed on her, Barbara was pleased that she'd bypassed the easy choices.
The fuzzy cap of crimson hair that had greeted them when their child had finally made her appearance had simply reinforced the choice that she and Helena had arrived at.
Growing serious, she looked up into different blue eyes.
"You knew, didn't you?"
When Dinah opened her mouth, Barbara cut her short.
"Who was behind Quinn's death."
To her credit, the girl didn't blink; however, her cheeks pinkened noticeably even as she nodded hesitantly.
"When you two were in the training room, I was monitoring the police frequencies and I saw stuff happening and -- "
When her companion trailed off, suddenly finding something about her shoes of great interest, Barbara marshaled her patience. She softly patted the edge of the bed beside her, pleased when Dinah carefully lowered herself to the mattress.
"You saw the activity programmed into the Delphi?"
With her gaze now fixed on her hands fisted in her lap, the blonde chewed at her lower lip before responding.
"At first I thought that maybe Helena had programmed it, but it didn't seem like... well... "
A shrug completed the non-sentence, and Barbara nodded.
"It lacked a personal touch," she suggested.
When Dinah nodded, Barbara sought pale blue eyes hidden by blonde lashes.
"And you thought it was me?"
The color deepened in the girl's cheeks, but this time she didn't look away.
"For, uhm, just a second until I saw one of the commands backspace -- "
Barbara shifted her daughter to her shoulder and arched a brow in question.
The blonde nodded vigorously and picked up steam.
"You know? Deleting and retyping? So I knew that it wasn't a script and had to be real time so, uhm, I -- "
Suspecting that she knew, Barbara smiled.
"You did what?"
The response was an equal mixture of embarrassment and defiance.
"I messaged him."
Barbara almost laughed until she remembered her purpose.
"And, you allowed Helena and me to believe that it might have been you?"
Again, the teen chewed at her lower lip.
"I didn't want Helena to freak out or anything, and -- I mean -- it was already done and, well, I was kinda of complicit or something and so I figured that if nobody said anything we could just..."
So many secrets, each of them intent on protecting the others.
Vowing to consider the ironies of that thought later, Barbara checked her hold on the tiny bundle beginning to squirm in her arms and placed one hand over her ward's.
"I understand, Dinah."
The increased squirming against her chest permitted the redhead to ignore the vast proportions of her understatement, and she automatically checked the clock and did the math.
"I'm sorry, Dinah, but I think she's hungry."
The speed with which the teen shot to her feet and backed toward the door suggested that she, too, might be a bit relieved to let the topic fade.
"Uh, sure. I need to head back to the dorm anyway."
Barbara barely had time to waggle her fingers in farewell before Dinah was at the door; however, noticing the blonde pausing with her hand on the knob, she stilled the movement of her hand toward the buttons of her shirt.
The teen's smile was sunny.
"I'm still on for baby sitting on Friday night, right?"
Almost laughing, Barbara shook her head in amazement. Abruptly aware that the movement could be misconstrued, she rapidly reversed directions and nodded firmly.
According to Jessica, who had enough children to know, one didn't look a good baby sitter in the mouth, regardless of whether said sitter should be more interested in Friday night parties on campus than in changing diapers.
With Dinah's excited squeal -- "Kewl!" -- still echoing through the room, the redhead toggled on the iPod resting in its clock radio base. She still hadn't listened to the play list that Helena had downloaded for the Big Event, and there was no reason not to start the newest member of their little family on the classics early.
Although, "Leather and Lace" might not be the best choice for a two-day-old.
Shaking her head, she toggled to the next selection -- Peter Gabriel was certainly appropriate -- and then finally turned her attention fully to her daughter.
"It's been more than two hours," she murmured as she efficiently worked open the buttons of her oxford shirt. "You must be starving."
A somewhat gummy whimper was the only verbal response, however, when she brought her child to her chest, nothing else was needed: instantly, the tiny being burrowed into her chest, rooting determinedly until she latched on to her breast.
"At least one of us knows how to do it."
Barbara hadn't planned on making her confession aloud, however, her daughter seemed not to care. Amazed, the new mother watched her child settle in to suckle, a small noise of discontent confirming what Barbara knew: she was still having difficulty letting her milk down.
For a moment, she closed her eyes, rapidly ticking through all of the helpful hints that the nurses at the birthing center had shared. Mercifully, the sensation of tiny little fists kneading against her engorged breasts, followed by the determined bump of a fuzzy red head, saved her the trouble. When she looked down again and found herself fixed by blue eyes that were miniatures of Helena's, it was suddenly effortless.
For uncounted minutes, Barbara lost herself in... experiencing: Watching the eager motion of her child's mouth; feeling the tiny fists continue to work against her; hearing the soft gurgling coos.
Dear heavens, the emotions welling within her were unlike any she'd ever dreamed of.
An electric frisson of awareness drew her from her abstraction, and she looked up in time to smile a greeting as her partner padded silently into the room. Wordlessly, the younger woman placed their overnight bags next to the chest of drawers and then came to the side of the bed.
Barbara remained fixed in her study of her lover's expressive features, easily detecting the host of emotions in her eyes. It was only when the brunette sank to her knees that violet eyes finally moved from the child in her arms to Barbara's face.
Helena's tone was hushed.
"You're so beautiful."
Since she suspected that the other woman was referring to the situation rather than her own appearance, Barbara offered a slow smile and ducked her chin toward the child in her arms.
"You can always wet nurse, you know, Hel."
Helena's reply was not anything that the redhead had anticipated.
"And miss watching this? I'll catch the next one."
Her startled laughter coincided with the end of Baby Gordon-Kyle's first dinner at home, and Barbara carefully extricated her daughter from her chest.
"I'll hold you to that, Sweetheart."
The brunette grinned easily and accepted their child. Barbara distantly noted an odd pressure in her chest -- somewhere near her heart -- when she watched her partner press a soft kiss to fuzzy red hair before settling the already sleeping baby into the oddly shaped bassinet.
"Man, she's really out."
With Helena still focused solely on their daughter, Barbara slowly wet the edges of her lips with the tip of her tongue. The ache in her chest grew when she saw one slender finger gently trace a tiny crimson eyebrow, and she decided to speak.
Her voice seemed oddly husky, perhaps accounting for the puzzled look she received when Helena turned. Chest still tight, the redhead spoke more warmly and patted the mattress.
One dark brow rose eloquently; nevertheless, the younger woman leapt lightly across her to land on her side of the bed. Before she'd fully turned, Barbara grabbed her shoulders and pulled her close, plundering her mouth. When she finally came up for air, Barbara blinked to focus and worked not to chuckle at the war between puzzlement and pleasure that played across her companion's face.
"What's up? I mean, you're still healing and everything--"
The redhead didn't try to hide her smile.
"She's yours, Hel."
Immediately, the younger woman's eyes widened in mock horror.
"Hey, Red, I said I'd change my share of diapers but..."
Barbara allowed her laughter to spill out, then grew serious. Turning just a bit to the side, she captured her partner's hand.
"Perhaps I meant to say that she's ours."
Their joined hands were raised, and dark lashes fluttered down as Helena breathed her answer across a kiss to her fingertips.
They shared the silence for a few beats, the soft rustling from the bassinet and the pervasive whir of the big clock only enhancing the reverent air. Eventually, Barbara saw an impish light enter her partner's eyes and, following the direction of Helena's gaze, attempted to fortify herself for whatever might come.
As warm fingers slowly traced her engorged breasts, Barbara glanced down to confirm the obvious: the night before, colostrum had been replaced by milk.
With a vengeance.
When Helena spoke again, her tone almost shy, the redhead realized that she didn't need to worry about where she'd put her nursing towels.
The tilt of a dark head toward her chest left no room for misinterpretation. Barbara's response was unhesitating.
Watching the other woman's eyes hood with pleasure, the redhead experienced a moment of almost vertigous dizziness. She breathed slowly, suspecting that her own eyes might be the slightest bit glassy when Helena leaned close. The whisper of warm breath, the brush of warm lips millimeters from her skin, caused her skin to pebble.
"You sure, Red?"
Barbara wet her lips then tenderly brushed the bangs back from blue eyes.
She felt her lips curl in response to the sly smile that crept across her partner's face.
"I don't want to short-change the Peapod."
Laughing she bent close and brushed her lips against the shell of her lover's ear.
"I believe I've shown a facility for making more."
With that, she resettled herself against her pillows and threaded her fingers through dark silk. The slightest of tugs was all it took.
"Oh -- "
Her own murmur of surprise was nearly obscured by Helena's soft moan, and her fingers -- scritching lightly against the younger woman's scalp -- tingled from the strength of the brunette's rumbling purr.
Slowly, bright gold eyes rose into view, and Barbara's mouth watered when the other woman stretched luxuriously against her.
"Is it gonna freak you out that I'm turned on like Times Square at New Years?"
Instantly, Barbara decided that fixating on Oedipal issues was in nobody's best interest.
"Not at all, Sweetie."
Her answer elicited a smile that was positively wicked.
"Good -- "
Full lips, still sticky, brushed her cheek.
"--I think that's gonna be my new favorite for a while."
Her chuckle was deep and throaty, however when she spied the speculative light in eyes that were morphing back to blue, Barbara cut her mirth short.
"Can you breast feed her until college?"
She allowed a skeptically raised brow to respond for her, but Helena was not so easily dissuaded. Dark brows waggled hopefully.
A second crimson brow joined the first near her hairline.
"That good, eh?''
A bit regretfully, she allowed the other woman to return to the other side of the bed.
"Yeah. Kind of like an erotic milkshake bar."
Working to rebutton her shirt, the redhead simply rolled her eyes. Helena, apparently, missed -- or, more likely, ignored -- the gesture, and Barbara readied herself when her partner bounced against the mattress.
"You don't suppose if you ate more chocolate we could punch it up a little?"
Barbara pursed her lips and brushed a bit of lint from the front of her shirt.
"I don't believe it works that way, Helena."
Another bounce from the other side of the bed preceded the brunette's laughing response.
"Well, you could try, right?"
Although she had to grant the validity of a bit of research, Barbara was distracted when a memory associated with chocolate shakes -- a conversation at a diner five months before -- flashed through her mind. Accordingly, she smiled sweetly and met the other woman's eyes.
"Only if you bring tacos, Hel."
The brunette's affected gagging noises, possibly in combination with Barbara's own laughter, apparently roused the third person in the room, and a decidedly disaffected squeak echoed from the bassinet. In a heartbeat, Helena was serious, sliding gracefully from the bed to approach the bassinet on cat feet.
Again, something warm and overpowering welled within the redhead as she took in the almost comic concern in her lover's face, as she watched her gently lift their fussing daughter to her shoulder and rumble something sub vocally.
Almost instantly, the tiny bundle calmed.
"Speaking of stuff we never followed up on,"
Still captivated by the scene before her, it took Barbara a split-second to regather the threads of their conversation and connect her partner's words with long-ago discussions about tacos and chocolate milk shakes.
"-- are you gonna follow up on the satellite?"
Although she had to grant that the question was reasonable enough, Barbara wasn't positive that she was ready for it. As she considered her options, she distantly noticed that the iPod had ticked through much of its play list, including recent classics by Martina McBride and Leeann Womack, and was just beginning its final track.
Everyone can see we're together
as we walk on by...
and we fly just like birds of a feather
We know that's no lie-a-ie
"A bit removed. Not, however, oblivious."
Those were the final words that Alfred, his smile placid, had offered two days before.
"So many secrets, each of them intent on protecting the others."
Her own thoughts from not much more than an hour before.
All of the people around us say...
Can we be that close
Just let me state for the record
We're giving love in a family dose, yeah
We are family
I got all my sisters with me
We are family
Get up everybody and sing
We are family
Something, a homily or truism about grandchildren becoming bridges between parents and children, flashed through her mind. Taking a leap of faith, Barbara caught those stunning blue eyes and spoke very deliberately.
"There are more things, Helena."
She saw dark brows quirk and plucked at the tail of her shirt.
"I think we can chalk this one up to Zeus --"
For a beat, Barbara paused, then allowed herself a correction.
"-- or perhaps Ares -- "
Unable to miss the patent amusement in her partner's face, she quashed her urge to digress into a thesis on the appropriateness of one over the other.
"One of the Greek gods raining thunderbolts from the sky."
She saw the wheels turning. It took two blinks of dark lashes before the other woman nodded slowly, and Barbara held her breath, not sure just what response to expect.
"When he shows up again, I'll have to thank him for that."
Barbara released a slow breath as Helena perched on the edge of the bed.
"But for now, Red,"
Aquiline nostrils flared once before the brunette wrinkled her nose and looked over with a grin. As if by magic, Barbara's tension fell away, and she joined in with her partner's rueful laugh.
"-- I think I'm about to learn how to change a diaper."