FANDOM: Birds of Prey TV
DISCLAIMERS: I do not own the characters. They are the property of DC comics and the WB network. I'm just borrowing them for a short time. Song lyrics don't belong to me either; no profit gained or infringement intended. Adult language and sexual situations.
SEQUENCE/INSTALLMENT NOTE: This is NOT part of the seemingly never-ending "Elemental" series. Yes, folks, a one-off bit of fluff.
SUMMARY: Helena attempts to figure out what it means when her heart's desire is revealed.
ARCHIVING: Probably. Please ask.
COMMENTS: Please. Constructive comments and suggestions welcome.
The clink of metal hitting the heavy wooden counter, followed by the ringing sound of a coin dancing down the bar, caught Helena's attention first. The twinkle of the spinning golden Sacajawea dollar distracted her for a moment before the flash of red hair from the far end of the bar filled in the pieces.
Immediately, she forgot all about the auburn-haired looker over in the corner booth.
The young woman -- the thick glasses and the required book beside her on the table screamed grad student -- had been scoping Helena out for most of the evening. It had only been about an hour before that the brunette had decided that she might be up for something after shift and had started returning the woman's attentions. Deliberately, she'd caught the woman's eye, then had raked her gaze down her torso and slowly back up. Deciding that she liked what she'd seen, she'd licked her lip and arched an eyebrow in question.
The barely perceptible nod she'd received had been enough; for the last hour, they'd exchanged smouldering looks as Helena's body had begun to thrum in anticipation.
But, it didn't matter; there would be others. There were always others.
Right now, she had the real thing right in front of her.
Still, she was a bit surprised that she'd not sensed her benefactor's presence sooner; even if it was pitcher night and The Dark Horse was filled to the rafters with the usual raucous frat crowd, it wasn't right that she hadn't sensed Barbara's arrival.
Shrugging it off, Helena allowed a grin to turn up the corner of her mouth. She deliberately ignored several frantic calls for more pitchers and snagged the coin as she approached her friend and former guardian.
"Not that I'm complaining..."
She draped a bar towel over her shoulder and walked the coin through her knuckles.
"-- but most of these folks wait to tip until after they've been served."
She decided that the words 'if then' didn't need to be voiced. The crowd in the bar spoke for itself.
Barbara's answering chuckle was clearly audible, striking her as always with the force of fingers trailing across her torso, lips teasing across her breasts.
And that was when, naturally, the usual reaction to Barbara's presence kicked in: the fluttering anticipation in the pit of her stomach; the empty ache in her throat; the leaden pulsing between her...
Of all the gin joints in all the world, she had to come into this one.
Helena screwed up her mouth at the thought, then, aware of how very, very observant her friend was, worked for a slightly less pained expression.
It wasn't like she hadn't...didn't keep trying. Like she hadn't been fighting it for years: maybe from the first time she'd seen the new English teach roar into the New Gotham High parking lot on her bike; probably from the time that she and Babs had become family, after the older woman's shooting and the murder of her own mother; for certain by the time they'd embarked on their joint venture to protect the streets of New Gotham.
"So, what can I get you?"
Casual. She'd just keep it casual.
"Surprise me, Helena."
The words seemed to carry a level of meaning that Helena just didn't want to think about. Warm and inviting, bringing to mind turquoise water and soft white beaches and sweet drinks with names like "Sex on the Beach" or "Screaming O--"
Shaking her head once, hard, from side to side, the brunette reached under the counter and brought out a heavy cut-glass decanter, pouring a stiff three fingers that she placed on a coaster with a flourish.
"Blue agave. The good stuff."
From beneath her lashes, she watched the flare of Barbara's nostrils when she sniffed the contents, willing herself not to imagine the redhead scenting...other things. She didn't try to hide her appreciative grin when Barbara raised the glass in salute and then downed the contents neatly.
"So, what brings you here, Babs? I didn't think we had anything going on toni--"
A slim hand rose from settling the tumbler on the counter, palm out, and Helena cut herself off.
"Relax, Helena. It's not anything related to business."
Helena nodded and considered prodding a little more. Still, even Barbara's presence couldn't distract her from the increasing din of last calls. Rolling her eyes in apology, she turned to handle the rush, reassured by the answering upturn of cherry lips that Barbara wouldn't be disappearing on her.
As she worked, the brunette *felt* something, almost a physical touch, from the end of the bar. Sparing a glance -- Not like slinging beer required much concentration -- she was startled by the fixed concentration Barbara was directing at her.
Almost like the redhead was afraid to let her out of her sight or something.
With a mental shrug, she slid a final pitcher down the bar for the Kappa Alpha boys and strolled back to the other end.
"They're assholes, but they tip really crappy," she offered lightly.
That earned her a quick smile.
"It's closing time."
Again, Barbara's voice was low.
A refrain from Matchbox Twenty's song on that subject -- a bane of barkeeps everywhere, right up there with the theme song from "Cheers" -- whispered through Helena's mind, and she ruthlessly pushed it aside.
She'd known for a long time who she wanted to take her home.
But, like her mom had always said, wanting and having were two very different things.
"So, what's up, Red? I can't believe it's the ambience that brought you down here."
Still waiting for an answer, Helena poked her tongue in her cheek, trying to remember the last time Barbara had come down to her workplace. She gave up on her little mental exercise when something else caught her attention: the tick of neatly blunted nails against the empty tumbler.
Barbara was nervous about something.
Sure, the redhead looked all calm and cool, and she was sure as hell focused with more than her usual intensity.
Realizing once again that the focus of that intensity was directed at...well, her, Helena wadded up the bar towel and tossed it into a corner.
"You wanna talk?"
Barbara's nod came so fast that Helena almost stepped back. She covered the near-flinch by fishing the dollar coin from her pocket and extending it in her palm.
"Heads, clock tower," she offered with a grin as she tossed the coin into the air. "Tails, we head up to my place."
She'd figured that the dare would get her a laugh since the one time Barbara had come up to her apartment had been the only time. It had been right after Helena had moved in; and, maybe it had been all the packing boxes or the lack of furniture or...well, the way she'd kind of abruptly announced that she was moving out of the tower, but the redhead had made it pretty clear that she wasn't real comfortable there.
But, once again, the older woman caught her off balance.
There was no laughter, only that intense focus before Barbara shot out a hand and snatched the coin from midair. Narrowing her eyes, Helena easily caught the gold coin when, without so much as a glance, Barbara tossed it back.
Somehow, Helena managed to keep her jaw from hitting the floor, merely ducking under the pass-through and heading toward the back of the bar. The soft hiss of the wheels of the chair needlessly confirmed that Barbara was right behind her. With a mental prayer that the freight elevator would make it up one story, the brunette pulled down the gate, and the two faced the door together in a silence that was far from comfortable.
Hell, the brunette was pretty certain that comfortable was on a whole other planet.
The old freight elevator creaked and groaned, taking its sweet time. By the time it lurched to a stop, Helena thought that, if she'd been wearing one, she would have checked her watch at least twice. Still, she pushed aside her nervousness and yanked the cage door back.
"After you, Red."
During the six-foot journey to her door, she frantically worked to remember just what state she'd left her apartment in. Finally, giving a mental shrug, she unlocked the door and stepped back in invitation.
"Welcome to Chez Kyle."
It wasn't like Barbara hadn't seen her room plenty when she was a teenager.
"S'cuse the mess."
Immediately, the brunette wanted to smack herself. She resisted the urge, instead heading directly to the kitchen.
"Pelligrino okay with you?"
She took the other woman's murmur for agreement, emerging from the small kitchen a moment later to find her guest with her head tilted, an expression bordering on a grimace marring her features at the sound of the juke blaring from downstairs.
"Busboys crank it a little during clean-up," she offered, extending a glass of sparkling water.
"I'd think," the redhead nodded her thanks as she accepted the glass, "that with your hearing the noise would drive you wild."
Helena dropped onto the couch and crossed her feet on the battered coffee table.
"After living with that clock ticking, nothing gets to me."
She relaxed the tiniest bit at the older woman's smile and leaned to the side, lightly clinking her glass against Barbara's before taking a sip. As the music segued from something loud to something loud with a really heavy bass beat, she had to notice that Barbara wasn't so much drinking as just...fiddling with her glass.
She forced herself to hold her tongue, wondering what had her friend so rattled. As she waited, she let her eyes caress the older woman's features -- the pale, smooth skin of her cheeks; the sharp angle of her jaw; the arch of her throat -- wishing that, just for a moment, she could touch, could breathe the scent of her skin, sample the taste that she knew -- *knew* -- would be like no other.
With a guilty start, she forced herself to look up, relieved beyond measure to find that the redhead was still inspecting the ordinary water glass that she was clutching for dear life.
" 'Sides," she finally heard herself continuing in the face of the older woman's silence, "if it gets too bad, I go down and feed the juke from the tip jar for songs I like."
Mentally rolling her eyes, she decided on a verbal nudge.
"You know, like 'The Sound of Silence'?"
She forced herself to stop talking, hoping that Barbara would finally give her a clue.
Long association had brought with it the realization that her partner liked to play things close to the vest, but this was ridiculous.
Still, the silence stretched on, green eyes darting between the glass of water that Barbara still clutched and Helena's own hands. Tracing those slim fingers with her eyes, Helena followed her guest's arms up to her shoulders, unable to miss how her mint green cotton sweater hugged her in all the right places.
Funny, though, how she'd never noticed that it wasn't really a good color for the older woman's pale skin tone. Of course, the neon from the Dark Horse sign outside her window didn't do much to flatter any color.
With a sigh, Helena bit the bullet.
"So, what's up, Barbara?"
Another long swallow cooled her throat. Barbara's next words outdid the effect, bringing with them the sensation of liquid mercury to her belly.
It was a feeling Helena didn't have often, but she knew it: pure, cold fear.
"I know, Helena."
As calmly as possible, Helena settled her glass on a battered copy of People, not caring that the condensation might forever leave her in the dark about Jennifer Aniston's latest romantic troubles.
Her belly was still cold, twisted, kind of like that time she'd drunk a Super-Bladder-Buster Lemonade Slushee in one super gulp one summer afternoon. In fact, like that notable moment from her childhood, throwing up seemed like a pretty good option right now.
She needed to think. To move...pace...
Hell, jump out the window and hide on the rooftops of her city.
Instead, she managed a chuckle.
"Well, fuck, you know a lot of things. You're the freakin' Oracle of Delphi for the Twenty-first century, Barbara."
That didn't even get her a smile.
"You know what?"
She didn't know how she did it, but Helena heard her question come out calm, almost casual, and she gave herself a mental high-five.
Hell, no need to panic. It could be anything: the fact that she knew Dinah had put a scratch on the Hummer last week; something about the little pot stash she'd kept in the air register of her room during high school...
Come to think of it, she was pretty sure that that little secret had come out a few years ago, during one of their all night tequila shooters and video marathons.
The brunette cracked the knuckles of her right hand, then shook her wrist.
Still, it could be nothing more than the fact that she was carrying a balance on her Visa since she'd gone a little large for Barbara's birthday the month before.
"How you feel."
So much for those possibilities.
The brunette focused on a water droplet sliding down the side of her glass, wondering just what she'd done that morning to fuck up her karma for the day. Peripherally, she saw her guest shift in her chair and realized the error of her ways: the older woman was probably taking her silence for confusion.
"How you feel about me."
No way to misunderstand that.
Keep it loose.
Keep it loose.
"Okaaaaaay -- "
Helena realized that she was drawing the word out way too long and snapped her mouth shut. She reached for her glass, then stopped and met her partner's green eyes.
"So, uh, practically speaking, Barbara..."
She searched for just the right way to put it, a turn of phrase that might help them both out of this.
She managed to quirk the corner of her mouth; even worked in a little shrug.
Like lusting after...loving...wanting...your best friend and former guardian was No Big Thing.
Barbara's response didn't do a lot to help out.
"You've never said anything, Helena."
True enough. It wasn't like she'd been planning to either, and, hell, about now she was half-suspecting that she was in the middle of some Big Fantasy Dream.
The other half figured that she was about to get one of those, "I'm sorry, but..." speeches.
That's when she felt it.
Sensed it really.
Barbara seemed to stay calm -- as calm as she'd been since she'd just appeared at the bar -- but Helena clearly heard her heart rate treble.
She heard Barbara swallow and narrowed her eyes.
"...I don't believe that you know -- "
The words were precise.
Very, very precise.
Helena just had time to wonder about that when she comprehended the rest of the speech.
"-- how I feel about you."
Babs was scared.
Scared enough that she'd been practicing.
Helena swallowed -- hard -- and waited while the older woman finally sipped from her water.
Color flooded those elegant features, and instantly Helena's urge to protect came to the fore. Before she could interject, say something funny or calming or...anything, Barbara was speaking again.
"...I reciprocate your feelings."
The brunette slowly shut her mouth and gave her brain a second to catch up. When she grasped the significance of the words -- Hell, for the redhead, it was practically a love sonnet -- she wondered if she was falling off her own couch.
There had to be some reason the room was spinning.
"You -- You feel like I..."
She couldn't find -- or say -- the words, but the slow, certain nod from the other end of the coffee table was enough.
"Very much, Helena."
Scrubbing at her eyes with the heels of her hands, Helena saw some of the tension leaving Barbara's shoulders.
Like, now that she'd said her piece, she was okay with it.
Not feeling remotely like any of her tension was leaving, she dropped her feet to the floor, her favorite boots hitting the hardwood with a satisfying thump.
Could she click her heels three times and she'd be back in Kansas?
She still couldn't quite believe they were having this inane conversation rather than tap-dancing around it or denying it or...
"Why not now?"
"Dammitall, Barbara --"
Helena shook her head roughly and squeezed her eyes tightly shut. Counting to ten, she cracked her knuckles then, relatively sure that she'd be presenting her usual blue, finally met the other woman's eyes.
"Why not before? Sooner?"
Half-wondering if Ashton Kucher was about to jump out of her bathroom, video camera at the ready, and inform her that she was being punked, Helena watched Barbara steeple her fingers and knit her brows as if the question hadn't occurred to her.
Despite herself, she felt a warm swell of affection crawling through her chest: for someone who was so incredibly bright, Barbara really could be totally clueless sometimes.
"It's -- difficult to -- "
Color was creeping up the other woman's face; her words were almost strangled. Again, that damned urge to protect, to soften the blow, jumped up.
Barbara had never made any bones about not *doing* emotions, and this was waaaay new territory.
Still, Barbara had flung back the curtains on this little heart-to-heart, and Helena wasn't going to cut her short.
When green eyes finally rose from an inspection of the floor, Helena felt her heart trip-hammer.
"Certainty or -- "
Finally, the redhead seemed to relax a little, offering a soft laugh.
"-- or, perhaps the lack thereof."
Helena slouched back against the threadbare cushions of the couch when she saw her begin to tick things off in her head.
"It took a while to see, to understand. And, the timing has been difficult."
She was a little surprised to hear her own voice but, after a second, decided that she was entitled to a few questions.
"The...the attack on the tower."
She fought the urge to drop her head in shame and nodded.
"I didn't know if...either of us was ready."
The silence that followed as they regarded each other wasn't nearly as bad as the ride up in the elevator.
"Then, there's Dinah."
The brunette sat back up, feeling her eyebrows disappear under her bangs.
"Di--? What about the Kid?"
She decided that her best friend's laugh was what writers might have described as 'rueful'.
"Well, I hadn't expected to be a mother hen again when our newest chick arrived."
The words were factual, but Helena saw how tight Barbara's smile was.
"Well, let's just say that raised a few Jocasta issues."
Helena felt her eyes narrow and nodded slowly.
She'd known -- just fuckin' known -- when she'd brought the Kid home that it was gonna be --
A hand coming to rest on hers cut short that train of thought. As always, Barbara's touch was electric, raising goose flesh in its wake.
"And don't go there Helena. You know that you love her."
The brunette forced herself to grin, then sobered when Barbara removed her hand and fisted both hands in her lap.
"In fact, I'm still not sure how to...integrate this with...with our other lives."
Damned near dizzy -- was there such a thing as emotional whiplash? -- Helena raked a hand through her hair.
In the space of ten minutes, she'd had her most important and private dreams revealed; had gotten to revisit a few of her less shining contributions of the last few years; and she still didn't know where the fuck Barbara was going with this.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
It came out as rough as she was feeling, but Barbara didn't seem too put out. In fact, the redhead moved as close to the couch as she could, and Helena instantly scooted to the end, bringing them knee to knee.
"I've never had much success with relationships, Hel. I don't want to hurt us."
Once more, Barbara's words were precise, factual.
Helena slowly shut her eyes, fighting what she knew must be coming.
It wasn't like she wasn't scared shitless of the same thing, like she hadn't been afraid to say anything for the same reason. Barbara -- everything they *did* have -- was too important to risk on...
"S'alright -- " she managed before she realized that the other woman was still speaking quietly.
"And, I can't allow us to become distracted in our other work."
Something flickered weakly in her chest at that -- could have been hope -- and Helena pried open her eyelids and met her partner's eyes.
"I've been afraid to...ruin things all around, Helena."
Without thought, she reached for her friend's hand, squeezing softly. The answering pressure was both reassuring and...something else entirely.
Needing to relieve some of the older woman's nervousness -- and her own spiraling tension, Helena decided to shift the focus a little bit.
"So, uh, how long?"
The completely blank look she received was utterly Barbara.
Man, she had it bad.
"How long have you known that I'm in love with you?"
That pretty much put it all out there.
"There wasn't a single illuminating moment, Hel."
Helena Kyle was pretty certain that pugnacious wasn't her best look -- at least her best romantic look -- and so she tried to disguise her frustration with a laugh.
"Eighteen months. Give or take."
"How'd you know?"
She didn't know why it was so important to know, but...
"I was with -- "
She saw something flash in the other woman's eyes, and suddenly breathing was kind of hard.
"...Wade, and I started noticing the difference in how he treated me and how you've always treated me."
The memory was still too fresh, too raw.
"Quinn probably didn't hurt."
The instant the name crossed her lips, Helena wished she could snatch it back. Still, the redhead managed a slow nod.
"She undoubtedly played a rather important role."
Helena nodded and then, maybe her brightest move in the conversation so far, decided to keep her mouth shut.
"That's -- "
The redhead blew out a long breath, and again that tiny flickering, wriggling bit of hope tickled at Helena's chest.
"That's one reason I need to..."
Bleakly, she watched when Barbara removed her hand, knotting her hands together in her lap. Still, somehow, she kept her voice gentle.
The other woman wouldn't meet her eyes -- never a good sign. Undeterred, she ducked down to search her face.
"It's okay, you can tell me."
Time seemed to slow, to stretch out like taffy being pulled or strings wrinkling in space. Oddly, Helena realized that she wished they were at the Clock Tower: at least there the ever-present whir and hum of the gears, the jump of the big hands, would prove that she hadn't been frozen in time.
"-- try to integrate this gradually."
Barbara's lips pursed in a smile that was forced at best, and Helena felt her forehead wrinkle.
She waited patiently when those emerald eyes searched her face. When Barbara spoke again, her words were clipped again.
"It means keeping focused on business when we're on the clock."
Slowly, Helena nodded and let it sink in.
Barbara had thought a lot about that, but it wasn't the 'no' Helena had been steeling herself for.
"And, Helena, I -- "
The smile she felt trying to claim her lips ran for cover when her partner faltered.
"I'd prefer to have things more settled before we, er -- "
Geez, could Barbara get any redder?
"-- inform Dinah that, if..."
The flutter of long fingers suggested that Barbara had reached her limits. Helena chewed at the inside of her cheek for all of a second before she unfettered the hope fluttering within her.
After all, Babs was talking like it really could...
"So," she leaned in, "how's this supposed to work then?"
Red lashes fluttered, and she saw -- heard -- her friend take a long breath.
"Hopefully -- "
Barbara's slow smile was pure invitation, and the remnants of cold fear in Helena stomach were immediately pushed aside by thick, molten heat.
"-- it means this won't be my last visit to your apartment."
Her stomach lurched, pulsing against her ribs before rebounding directly onto her clit.
Somehow, instead of leaping up to do a happy dance, Helena ran the tip of her tongue around the edges of her lips and returned the other woman's smile.
"So, uhm --"
Crimson brows rose, and this time Helena felt a blush moving to her face. And she just didn't *do* the whole blushing thing.
In all of her daydreams -- and nocturnal fantasies -- it hadn't gone quite like this. No careful, linear discussions and rationales and ...
Well, it was always more -- nonverbal.
Of course, she should have realized that, where Barbara was concerned, there was always gonna be talking.
"So, now what?" she finally blurted out, a bit aghast at the hint of accusation in her tone.
Mercifully, the other woman didn't notice or didn't care. Green eyes seemed to hold a glint of amusement, but Barbara was gentle -- oh so gentle -- when she reached out and took her hand, drawing it to her lips. Helena shivered -- damned near imploded -- at the warm breath that ghosted over her fingertips.
"I was rather hoping that I could make love to you, Helena."
The oxygen in the room got very thin in a hurry, but with all of the blood in her body rocketing straight to her center, Helena didn't give a damn. The sensation of warm lips against her fingers, the briefest flicker of wet heat from the other woman's mouth, forced her to grit her teeth against the moan that rose in her throat.
"Then, Helena -- "
Somehow, she forced herself to look up, just in time to see her fingers being drawn between those beautiful lips. Then, her world turned to golds and yellows when she felt the barest suction and heard Barbara's next words.
"-- I hope you'll allow me to do so again."
She couldn't keep her eyes open. As much as the naked want in deep green eyes threatened to undo her, Helena could only concentrate on the vibration of Barbara's words against her fingers.
"And then, Helena -- "
Finally, she swallowed and forced open her eyes, gently extricating her hand to trace the older woman's cheek.
"And then?" she whispered.
"Well -- "
Barbara was close now -- leaning close.
"Then -- "
Warm hands were in her hair, drawing her in.
"-- perhaps we can flip a coin."
The neon sign outside the window winked out, the sudden change in lighting casting Barbara's face into sharp planes and angles. Momentarily, Helena thought she even saw a golden halo under crimson hair.
A trick of her augmented vision.
Or, maybe she was tripping.
Pretty much indifferent, she rose from the couch and circled the coffee table. She saw, heard, Barbara turning her chair to meet her, and when she came face to face with the other woman, she stopped, uncertain.
The whisper raised the fine hair on the back of her neck, and the brunette swallowed roughly against the hunger beginning to claw at her throat. She couldn't read the inflection, but the word gave her direction.
She dropped to her knees in front of the redhead, resting her fingertips lightly on Barbara's jeans-clad knees. Although her palms itched to trace the slender lines of her partner's thighs, she bowed her head and remained still.
It took less than a second before, through her lashes, she detected the rough shake of red hair, and her hands were raised.
"I think not."
Barbara's voice gentled.
"Not like that, Helena."
She worked her jaw and looked up.
The parentheses at the edges of Barbara's mouth hinted at a smile, and Helena had no choice but to smile back.
She felt her top lip curl upward as she eased herself forward, settling herself lightly in the chair with Barbara. With her knees buried in the thick cushioning on each side of the other woman's thighs, she lowered her face to her partner's neck, breathing deep.
Her heart staccato-tapped, her rumbling purr tickling her ribs, her throat, her belly. Barbara's low murmur was almost lost under her moan.
With her lips mere millimeters from warm skin, something caught Helena's attention: a scent, tickling her nose.
Her quiet sniff must have been louder than she'd intended.
And, she was only an inch from Barbara's ear.
Barbara's laugh was a little awkward, and Helena pulled back to search green eyes that were banded by a thin rim of amber.
"I'm sorry, Helena. I was a bit edgy about coming over here, and I'm afraid I may have overcompensated with the body splash."
The brunette could sure understand the whole 'breaking a sweat' thing, but the thought of Barbara being that nervous was almost too much.
Quirking one side of her mouth, Helena leaned in and sniffed again, finally placing the fragrance: Oranges and ginger, long one of her partner's favorites.
"I don't mind."
She felt the other woman shift beneath her, couldn't miss the tension in her tone.
"No, I know it must be irritating to your--"
Already losing track of the conversation, Helena thought it was time to get the redhead back on track.
She accompanied the pronouncement by bringing her lips to Barbara's, the lightest caress but nothing more.
The word tickled over Helena's lower lip. Her thighs tensing, she breathed in syllables, detecting the tequila from earlier at the bar, something a little minty, and...heat.
Unable to hold back, she drew her mouth lightly across warm lips, tracing the contours and committing the texture to memory. Barbara's lips were firm, narrow and finely etched, but oh-so warm, so soft.
And, moments later, when they parted on a murmur, Helena discovered how very, very inviting they were.
When Barbara swallowed her ragged exhalation, Helena dug her nails into the padded arms of the chair. The solidity was reassuring, grounding, until she felt the other woman's warm invitation, and then she fell.
For an eternity, Helena lost herself in heat and warmth. She didn't breathe, didn't move, couldn't think. There was nothing but the spare union of lips and tongues dancing and twining, colors flickering and flashing behind her eyes, liquid heat smoldering in her veins.
However, when she felt Barbara move, when strong fingers raked up her back and wound through her hair with more urgency than gentleness, it all coalesced.
This was really -- *really* -- happening.
Somehow, Helena disengaged from lips that seemed melded to hers. Somehow, she kept from collapsing on her suddenly shaking arms. Somehow, she pushed back against the wiry arms that worked to hold her close, and she fixed green eyes with her own.
Relatively sure that she could hold her weight again, Helena accompanied her rumbling question by raising one hand to trace the scooped neck of the redhead's sweater. When she heard her partner's decisive answer, she realized that she might have been a little premature in trusting her muscle control.
Not to mention her self-control.
She wasn't quite sure how they made it to her bedroom, only that by the time they landed on the bed, her shirt was gone and Barbara's sweater was unbuttoned, revealing tantalizing glimpses of pale smooth skin. Still lost in the realization that mussed and half-dressed was an incredibly, incredibly, sexy look for the redhead, Helena heard her boots hit the floor and then realized that eager hands were at the waist of her jeans.
"Hey -- Oh...Yessss."
The warm mouth that brushed her chest was almost too much, and she desperately wanted to turn into the contact, to direct those soft lips to her aching breasts. The hint of sharp teeth against her skin, punctuated by what she knew was a wicked smile, brought her spine off the mattress as she thrust into the contact.
Green eyes that were almost preternaturally clear swam into view, and Helena licked her lips, preparing for an attack of her own. The seriousness in her lover's features stilled her limbs.
"What's up, Red?"
As carefully as she could, the brunette raised one shaking hand to brush the hair from her partner's face. The sensual droop of red lashes undid her resolve.
Without conscious thought, Helena wriggled down the bed, the scrape of Barbara's bra against her bare chest a delicious torture. Ravenous for the taste of the other woman, she buried her mouth against the slender column of the redhead's throat, and effortlessly turned them so that she came to rest above the older woman.
"God, Barbara -- I need -- "
The other woman's hiss just stopped her from breaking skin. Somehow, she tore her mouth away and pushed back, barely aware that her hips were rocking against the rough denim of Barbara's jeans.
A finger tapped playfully at her shoulder, and the brunette exhaled slowly. Somehow, she eased the coiled tension in her belly and managed a grin.
Barbara's answering laugh didn't do much to keep her passion below a boil, but it sure sounded good.
Warm fingers traced her eyebrows, and the brunette smiled again.
"Will you let me do the driving this time, Hel?"
Instantly, Helena hooked one ankle around the other woman's calf, easily turning them to reverse their position. Barbara's weight was so slight, yet her body so warm, that she could barely formulate her own answer.
"As long as you promise that I get a turn behind the wheel, Red."
Again, there was that throaty laugh and a smile full of promise.
"I'm very much counting on it, Helena."
Lightning seemed to spark through her at that, starting low in her belly and arcing outward: down her legs to curl her toes; up through her chest to bring her nipples to burning embers; down her arms to bow her palms outward.
"Put -- inthbank."
She thought she said something, but it didn't seem to matter. Nothing mattered because, finally -- after years of wanting without understanding, years of trying not to want, years of convincing herself that loving without being loved could be enough -- finally, Barbara was above her.
Finally, the fall of red hair was curtaining their kisses.
Finally, those elegant hands she'd watched at the keyboard for so many years were touching her.
Finally, she heard the bedroom whispers she'd dreamed of.
At least that's what Helena thought she heard, but with her skin ablaze and her nerves singing, she figured she could ask later. For the moment, there was only Barbara, touching her with careful deliberation, her mouth brushing the outside of her breasts, her hands whispering at the edges of her underwear.
She fumbled for her lover, wanting the connection, needing to return some of the thick pleasure coursing through her veins. The softest of whispers -- "Ah ah. Let me this time" -- forced her hands away, and she drew a shaky breath. There was another slow pass from her knee, up the inside of her thigh, neatly trimmed nails pulling at the tender skin just so, and Helena spread herself, her eyes imploring what her taut muscles were already asking.
A seraphim's smile was her answer.
That, and a warm tongue laving her stomach, unleashing a flock of hummingbirds when it toyed at her navel.
There was touch.
Heat and want.
Trembling and sweat.
Thrusting and need.
It was a bedroom voice, perhaps meant to soothe, perhaps to keep her hovering on the precipice. It was accompanied by Barbara's index finger glissading across her lips.
The silken touch caused something to flutter in the back of the brunette's mind, something that was suffused by bright need when a second finger joined the first at her mouth.
Washing the length of the two digits, she felt the older woman stiffen. Swallowing her own moan, Helena drew the fingers into her mouth, unprepared when her suckling was matched by a soft thrust.
Instantly, her spine bowed, her thighs trembling and her clit pulsing insistently, her whimper counter-pointed by Barbara's breathy whisper.
It was a promise, no longer a tease, and Helena moaned. Needing to hold on to something, she flailed for her headboard before remembering that she didn't have a frikkin' headboard and contenting herself with digging her fingers into the mattress.
Then the world turned white behind her eyelids, every muscle locked in a rictus of release, only her hearing remaining alert to the murmur at her hip.
It took a while to find the words -- hell, the oxygen -- to answer.
The brunette forced her eyes open and inspected the ceiling.
She was freaking exhausted, her muscles quivering like she'd just fought a dozen back-alley thugs. And, while things were still a little...hazy, Helena seriously couldn't remember a time when sex had ever been so...physical for her.
"You've done this before, right, Red?"
She turned her head and grumbled into the pillow as satin fingertips meandered over her back and hips, raising the fine hair of her lower back. The low chuckle she heard brought other areas of her anatomy, amazingly after what she'd just experienced, to attention again.
That did it.
Ennui vanishing, she rolled into a sitting position and wrapped her arms around her bedmate. Purposely, she pitched her voice low, hoping that the rumble of her words would tickle.
"Lemme inspire you s'more."
A firm push to her chest took them both back to the mattress, Barbara's chuckle tickling *her* skin.
"I'd like that, Helena."
The words were serious, and distantly Helena detected some of that same earlier precision in them.
How many times had Barbara had to practice, to go through...
Pushing that thought aside, Helena nuzzled the redhead's neck, allowing her hips to make a slow roll as warmth began to infuse her again.
"I think oranges and ginger are gonna be my new second favorite," she whispered between sampling the sweetly saline flesh under her mouth.
"S-- ss-- Second favorite, Hel?"
She raised her head and, making sure she had the older woman's attention, waggled her fingers before splaying her hand across Barbara's lower abdomen.
This time, it was her voice that was serious. Without lifting her hand, she trailed to the other woman's still firm thigh. Pushing back her own fear, resisting the urge to joke around the issue with questions about navigating and back-seat driving, she caught her lover's eyes.
"How much do-- Can you feel this?"
Green eyes held hers, and for a moment the brunette felt that cold ribbon of fear attempting to insinuate between them. "Some pressure. Heat."
So charged had the moment been that it took a second. Then, Helena felt a grin quirking her lips.
"Heat, huh? Lessee what I can do with that."
Barbara's laugh trilled between them even as Helena began attacking the zipper on her jeans.
"I have absolutely no doubt of what you can do, darling."
One reason that Helena had always liked her apartment above The Dark Horse -- aside from it's proximity to the clock tower, the low rent, and the mice that sometimes crawled up from the storeroom -- was that it backed up to Leon's office on the east side of the building and ran across the narrow width of one side of the building. So, not only was the office behind her usually vacant whenever she was at home, but, with her bathroom on one end and her walk-in closet on the other, the only windows in the place faced west.
In a nutshell, after a night of kicking ass or pouring drinks or any other nocturnal activities, she was never bothered by that pesky dawn's early light that poets raved so much about.
This early morning, holding her soundly sleeping bedmate cradled to her chest, Helena lay awake, watching the streetlights of New Gotham wink out one by one. It was as sure an indicator as the rosy glow she suspected was peeking over the horizon on the other side of the building.
The night was almost over.
This amazing, unbelievable, earth-shattering night was almost gone.
Teetering somewhere between euphoria and depression, she buried her nose in mussed red hair and pressed a gentle kiss to the head resting on her shoulder. A soft snort was the only response for a few heartbeats before she felt her companion's upper body tense and green eyes flickered open.
She didn't need to see to sense the older woman's disorientation and so kept her voice low, light.
Instantly, Barbara relaxed into her. It was a good feeling, as was the realization that she'd never, in all of her years of catting about, ever greeted a partner in the morning.
She sure hoped it'd be happening a lot more.
For some reason, Helena had to blink against something in her eyes.
When her bedmate stretched against her, the scrape of firm nipples against her side distracted her from any maudlin tendencies. Barbara's first words finished the job, sparking the low grade arousal that she'd banked through the night.
"I was afraid I'd dreamed it all."
Helena shivered when the redhead pressed a moist kiss to her chest before continuing.
Helena opened her mouth, breathing shallowly against the hot weight suddenly pounding in her lower body. Somehow she managed to lie still despite her need to get *closer*.
"Dawn already, Hel?"
More pleased that she would have guessed by the grumpiness she detected in the short question, Helena turned a tiny bit and snugged the older woman closer.
"Yeah. School soon, huh?"
She didn't know if she was half-hoping that Barbara would do something completely uncharacteristic -- okay, something *else* completely uncharacteristic -- and call in, but her lover's reply was rewarding enough.
It wasn't so much the words that did it. It was the warm lips that grazed her collar bone, tightening her nipples. It was the soft fingers that played over her torso, causing her belly to clench.
Okay, those words did it.
Helena channeled the thrust of her hips into a quick twist to the side. Instantly, she wrapped her hands around Barbara's back and mated her mouth to the warm skin of her chest.
The beat of her lover's heart against her lips reverberated through her, cresting an insistent pulse between her legs. She allowed her eyes to close and leisurely brushed her cheek against the outer swell of a firm breast.
It was her own voice she'd heard, but the sensation of clever hands beginning to stroke her shoulders and back seemed like a good sign. Wrapping her lips around the taut peak, she stretched sinuously and feathered her palms against the redhead's sides.
Somehow, even lost as she was, Helena moved her hands with care. Hours earlier, when she'd finally begun to map her lover's body, she hadn't missed how the redhead had tensed up when she'd gotten close to the starburst scars that marred her torso.
"Verrrry nice, Hel."
Since her mom had taught her manners -- And what the hell was she doing thinking about her mom right now, anyway? -- Helena decided that some sort of reply was in order.
She timed the humming syllables to coincide with a shift to the redhead's other breast, however, before she could lose herself entirely, a chuckle that seemed self-satisfied and a bit wry distracted her from her leisurely explorations.
Curious, she looked up, amused by the amusement in the other woman's features. When soft fingers came to her mouth, she tilted her head into the caress, a low rumble of pleasure tickling her throat.
"Somehow, Helena, I simply knew that you'd be -- "
Barbara's tone was bemused, and Helena allowed herself to relax into the playfulness.
Nearly delirious under Barbara's soft stroking, she barely formed the words. The redhead's brisk reply snapped her back to reality.
"I suppose that the term orally fixated is a bit clinical."
Helena's bark of laughter was joyful. She followed it by rearing up with a leer to place her hands over the pert breasts that just fit her palms.
"Hey, I'm known for my manual dexterity, too," she groused with a waggle of her eyebrows.
The response was, Helena decided, kinda dry.
"So I noticed."
With Barbara's hands moving to her thighs, Helena rocked forward, sighing at the slow burning warmth moving through her. Still, there was something she needed to say.
"It's not -- "
Somehow, she caught those clever hands and drew them up, pressing a kiss to her partner's fingers.
An arched brow underlined the question. Suddenly feeling more exposed than her naked state warranted, the brunette lowered herself to wrap her lover in her arms, whispering her confession against the sharp angle of her jaw.
"I don't think it's an oral *or* a manual thing, Red."
A snort greeted that confession, and Helena smiled against soft skin.
"Well, not *just* oral and manual," she allowed. "I think I'm fixated on you."
Her eyes fluttered shut when gentle lips brushed her brow. For long, languorous moments, she listened to the steady beat of her partner's heart, feeling her own muscles and nerves thrumming in tempo.
"Are you certain that you're alright with things, Helena?"
The question was hushed, but the words carried that same precision that Helena was coming to recognize.
A restless shifting from beneath suggested that maybe she hadn't quite satisfied the other woman, and she pushed up on her elbows to make eye contact.
That earned her a smile, plus some eye-rolling that Helena thought was just a little dramatic for the hour of the morning.
Kiss-bruised lips moued, and Helena painted on her best hang-dog expression.
"-- Are you alright with keeping things here? With giving me some time to..."
One of the hands that had been so deliciously toying against her hip rose, gesturing nowhere in particular. Deciding to keep things easy, the brunette smiled and nodded.
"Just as long," she murmured into a delicate ear, "as you give me a little more time this morning to..."
She bumped her hips against the other woman's stomach to finish the thought. Considering how she'd been feeling for the last few minutes -- all night -- hell, for years -- Helena was unsurprised by her own reaction to the movement, but she had to admit that she was pretty happy with her partner's response: a rapid intake of air and the widening of green eyes.
The morning was just getting better and better.
Or not, she recognized sourly a moment later when the redhead planted both palms on her shoulders and pushed gently.
"As wonderful an idea as that may be, Helena,"
At least Babs sounded pretty sorry.
"-- I believe I need to pull myself together."
Somehow, just barely, she wiped the pout from her features as she pushed back the covers and extricated herself from the cocooning warmth.
Sitting on the edge of the bed, she hooked a toe into her underwear on the floor -- somehow untorn despite Barbara's best efforts the night before -- and pulled the garment to her. She tugged them up and grabbed a tee shirt that she dragged over her head.
"I'll, uh -- "
She raked a hand through her hair, and looked around the room, attempting to verify that Barbara's chair and her clothes were all within reach.
Really, just trying to look anywhere but at the beautiful woman wearing nothing but a sheet in her bed.
"-- just make some coffee."
With Barbara's murmur of agreement still humming in her ears, Helena set the kettle to boil and began spooning coffee into her French press.
How many tablespoons to make something that Barbara could stand a spoon in?
She settled on a half-cup of coffee.
As she poured two cups of boiling water into the unit, she easily heard her guest moving around the bedroom -- in an apartment the size of hers, no meta-human senses required -- and turned her attention to breakfast. Running through a distressingly brief mental inventory of her kitchen, she snagged two mugs and poured the coffee just as Barbara entered the kitchen.
"Here ya go," she extended one steaming cup, "Mud."
The older woman's smile was bright, and it seemed a helluva lot less forced than the expression she managed when Helena laid out the breakfast options.
"As nutritious as Pop-tarts or left-over pizza sound, Helena -- "
Unable to miss the twinkle in those acute green eyes, Helena felt herself grow warm.
Damn, she was really, really, gonna have to work on the whole morning-after thing.
"-- I believe I'll bypass the 'P' food group this morning."
Still feeling a little goofy over the realization that she really *was* going to need to work on her morning-after skills, the brunette didn't take offense. Likewise when her partner refused her offer to take her back to the tower.
"I'm fine, Hel."
Leaning against the arms of the chair just outside the entrance to the bar, Helena rumbled her pleasure when slim fingers brushed through her bangs.
"Why don't you go back to bed, Helena? This is a bit early for you, isn't it?"
She narrowed her eyes, then relaxed when she saw only affection in the other woman's features.
Point of fact, she was tired. For some reason, she'd not been able to...let down, even after the third time, even after Barbara had finally just sort of...faded off in her arms.
She nodded, then squatted, gently capturing her partner's hand in hers and rubbing the sharply delineated knuckles with her thumb. Marveling at the strength -- and gentleness -- of the fingers resting in her palm she almost forgot her purpose.
"Oh -- "
She looked up, squinting a little against the bright morning.
"Are you okay, Barbara? With --"
Oddly tongue-tied, she cocked her head toward the Dark Horse and managed a little smile.
"-- all this?"
Crimson lashes fluttered closed for a beat, and Helena swore that she could *see* the older woman replaying the last few hours behind her eyelids. When Barbara finally opened her eyes and met her gaze, there was no question about her answer.
Still, there was that edge of hesitation.
Smiling more broadly, she raised the hand in hers and pressed her lips to the back. She kept her gaze focused on the smooth skin right before her eyes, offering a modicum of privacy as she pressed.
"Still, there's something, isn't there?"
Barbara's slow sigh was barely audible.
Even to her ears.
"I'm realizing that it may not take as much time as I'd thought to put all of the pieces together."
Obviously, there couldn't be any question about her answer to that.
"All the time you need, Red."
With the taillights of the Hummer disappearing down the street, Helena bypassed the elevator, the stairs, and the entire bar on her way back to her apartment. Instead, she circled to the back and vaulted easily to the ledge of her kitchen window, slipping inside.
Energy to burn today.
Whistling through her teeth -- some old song by Katrina and the Waves -- she set the coffee mugs in the sink and headed to the bedroom. She moved on auto-pilot, picking up her clothing from where it had been tossed the night before and straightening the covers until...
There it was: a long red hair on the pillow.
Slowly, she lowered herself to the edge of the bed, then raised the pillow to her face. She buried her face against the worn cotton case, inhaling ginger...and oranges...and a scent she'd only dreamed of in her bed.
Grinning like an idiot, she fell backward on the mattress, still clutching the pillow in her arms while she kicked her heels against the bed in joy.
Helena punctuated her whoop of joy by planting her fist against a Cro-Magnon jaw. The behemoth's pained "ooooof" was straight out of the comics, and the dark vigilante grinned as she supplied the little lightning-jagged bubble that would go around the word. When she followed up with a roundhouse kick, again she mentally tossed in dramatic "Bop!" for effect.
There was no need to use her imagination to see the bits of teeth that flew from his mouth.
"You picked the wrong town, dude."
She leapt up, spinning in mid-air to push off the brick wall of the alley.
"And the wrong night -- "
The added momentum was, probably, not really necessary.
"-- cuz I'm a kick-ass dyn-o-mite!"
With the would-be mugger dropping like a bag of rocks, Helena finally came to a stop. The snort that echoed over the comms was soft, but she had no trouble hearing it.
Likewise the amusement in her partner's voice.
"Are we channeling Jimmy Walker tonight, Huntress?"
Busy snugging a pair of plastic riot cuffs onto meaty wrists, the brunette poked her tongue in her cheek, trying to remember whether Jimmy's George Bailey or Jefferson Smith had ever talked about kicking ass or being dyno--
Oh, wait. Wrong Jimmy.
"Well, you know, Oracle -- "
She gave the plastic fitting an extra tug.
"-- good times."
Barbara's chuckle tickling her ear, she straightened up and prodded at the limp hulk of a man with the toe of her boot.
Well, maybe not such good times for Muscles, here, but -- well, those were the breaks.
She heard fingers tapping at the keyboard.
<"I'll wait to dispatch New Gotham's finest until you finish our little project.">
Already back at the alley service door she'd been inspecting when her assailant had seen her and made a pretty stupid assumption that a lone woman in a dark alley was a lucky break, Helena nodded.
"Much obliged, Oracle."
Heck, this way, if she triggered the alarm on the way in -- like there was much chance of that -- the police might finger Muscles over there.
Whistling softly through her teeth, Helena dug into the pocket of her duster for the newest gizmo that Babs had been after her to try out.
Some kind of nanotube lock pick or something.
She fiddled with the unit for a few seconds, then gave up.
The response was instant.
<"Is everything okay, Huntress?">
Blue eyes balefully regarded the tiny cylinder in her hand.
"This frikkin' nano-pick thing keeps catching in the tumblers."
Although she figured that her partner's soft hum was meant to be thoughtful, it was way too close to the murmurs of encouragement she'd heard from Barbara only hours before. For a second, the dark alley and the semi-comatose mugger and her illicit break-in attempts simply...disappeared, and Helena was flooded with a rush of images.
Tangled sheets wrapped around flushed skin.
Mussed red hair wound through her fingers.
The tan skin of her hands splayed across pale thighs.
A long neck arched in pleasure.
<"You may need to lube the channel before inserting the bit.">
Well, *that* little bit of advice sure hadn't helped her situation.
She couldn't help it. She really couldn't.
When she slid the unit into the lock again, she heard the leer in her voice.
"I think I know just what's needed to access a channel, Oracle."
Barbara's tone was all "upright teacher", but Helena heard the amusement.
The door clicked open softly, and she slipped inside.
"Yup. I'm in."
Again she heard typing and figured that her cyber-genius partner was trolling for any alarms she might have set off. Accordingly, she waited, motionless, by the service door until that whiskey voice purred again.
"Somebody's certainly feeling her oats tonight."
Unable to let a bit of entendre pass her by, the brunette waggled her eyebrows and moved into the storeroom at the back of the store.
"I'm feeling something, Oracle."
And, boy, was she. All morning, all afternoon, all freakin' evening: Helena had been bouncing between disbelief and delirium.
Barbara's retort took her back down to diligence.
<"Mind on the mission, Huntress.">
The rebuke didn't bother her.
Hell, Red was right.
"Y'know," she ventured a few moments later when she let herself into the store owner's tiny office, "isn't it too much of a cliche to have a money laundering operation in an actual dry cleaning store?"
Seemed like it oughta be against union rules or something.
<"Just take a look, Huntress. Bank records show an awful lot of crisp fifty dollar bills coming from this store.">
The brunette rolled her eyes at the brisk response.
Apparently, Babs wasn't so much with the irony thing this evening.
In what she thought was a display of tremendous forbearance, Helena kept her answer to a grunt. She methodically rifled through the office, circled through the front, checked every machine in the cleaning area, and made her way through the storeroom. Within twelve minutes, she was back in the alley.
"Sorry, Oracle -- "
She negligently checked her prisoner, not surprised to find that he was still pretty out of it.
<"There was nothing, Huntress?">
Again, Helena couldn't help it. There just wasn't any way to pass up that kind of lead in.
She bounded to a fire escape.
"It was clean."
It was quiet -- really quiet -- but she heard it: a long, slow, steady exhalation across the microphone on the other end of the comms.
<"Well, thank you for checking, Huntress.">
Since she could almost hear Barbara rolling her eyes, she decided to give the cyber-genius a minute to fiddle with her glasses or rub her temples or whatever. Reaching the rooftop, the brunette brushed a bit of dust from the sleeve of her coat and glanced at the sky.
"So, uh, now what?"
It was still early; plenty of time to kick ass.
<"Hmm, everything seems quiet.">
Helena caught her lower lip in her teeth and nibbled at it. While she wasn't opposed to cutting things short -- especially if Babs would be wrapping things up on her end -- she figured that a little pro forma enthusiasm wouldn't hurt.
"Nobody else for me to bring to justice, Oracle?"
The dark vigilante stepped onto the low parapet at the edge of the roof. She faltered just the tiniest bit when she heard her partner's reply.
<"Sorry, Huntress, but no soap.">
Okay, so maybe she deserved that.
Relatively certain that she wasn't about to miss her footing and go ker-splat onto the streets below, she vaulted to the next building.
"Okay. I'll, uh, -- "
She *had* to see the other woman. Just had to.
"-- stop by and pick up more cuffs."
There. That was reasonable enough. Hell, it wasn't like most nights she didn't head to the tower after sweeps anyway for a snack or to debrief or to watch the big screen. It was just...
On the building adjacent to the clock tower, Helena halted her progress and took in the big face of the clock, the hands moving implacably onward.
Well, a helluva lot had changed in one night.
With that thought, she felt a smile split her face.
A heartbeat later, she landed soundlessly on the balcony and breezed through the French doors. Her ebullient greeting -- it involved further witty dry-cleaning references, of course -- died on her lips when she caught sight of who was ensconced on the couch.
Maybe that had been a little...acid.
Unable to miss the sharp look being directed her way from the Delphi platform, the brunette shrugged out of her coat and tried again.
"Uh, I meant, hey."
Somehow, instead of bounding over to Barbara and wrapping her in her arms, she moved to the end of the couch and gestured at the thick textbook in the teenager's lap.
"Whatcha working on?"
The blonde's smile was pure sunshine.
"Hi Helena. It's for a calculus test tomorrow. The entire senior class is being cross-evaluated with..."
Shit. Would the Kid never graduate from high school and move out?
With Dinah nattering on -- something about mean scores across all of the high schools in the state -- Helena allowed her gaze to travel to the other party in the room. Unsurprisingly, Barbara looked like she was deep in concentration at the Delphi, her glasses half-slid down her nose and her fingers moving gracefully over the keyboard. When one slim hand rose from the keys and moved to the mouse, Helena went dry-mouthed.
There was just something so fuckin' sexy about the curve of her wrist, the flex of the tendons in her forearm, the...
"...focus on the angles and then compute -- Helena!"
The brunette narrowed her eyes, fixing Dinah with a long look.
Maybe her less-than-total interest in normalized testing was showing; maybe the Kid was done anyway.
"If you're not interested, why'd you ask?"
The question was filled teenaged righteousness. Figuring that she'd done her part on the whole "polite and tolerant thing", Helena went with honesty.
"How would I know whether I'm interested until you started talking?"
Dinah's huff was pretty eloquent and mercifully brief for someone who usually couldn't stop talking, but Helena didn't care. She thought she heard the barest snicker from over by the Delphi; she was pretty sure she saw a smile dance over the redhead's full lips; and she was positive that she heard the muscles in her partner's neck pop when Barbara looked over and rolled her head to release some of the tension she always seemed to carry.
Without a backward glance, she left Dinah huffily gathering up her books and heading toward the kitchen and bounded lightly onto the platform.
"You shouldn't tease her so, Hel."
Feeling oddly tongue-tied, the brunette silently moved to stand behind her partner. She shook her hands at the wrists, then ran the tip of her tongue around the edges of her lips.
"Yeah, I'll work on that."
Barbara's chuckle was low, and it gave her to courage to rest her fingers on strong shoulders, to begin to work at the tight knots of tension under her fingers. She couldn't miss how her partner went stiff for a second, but she kept at it.
Her reward, when Barbara finally relaxed under her gentle massage, was a throaty exhalation that threatened to take Helena's knees out from under her.
The sound was just a few decibels and several levels of illumination off from the one the redhead had made when Helena had finally moved within her the night before.
It was hardly a whisper but it must have transmitted to the older woman. The sound of the Barbara's chuckle -- hell, the feel of it through her fingertips -- didn't do much to ease the tension that was building in Helena.
"I suppose that I do carry a bit of stress."
Shaking her head, Helena managed a smile and exhaled slowly.
"You don't mind if I...?"
She allowed the brush of one thumb over a marginally less-knotted trapezius to finish the question. To her disappointment, her partner straightened her shoulders and reached for her glasses.
"Can't say that I do, Hel, but for now I need to focus on this."
At least the tone was light, and the words -- well...
Helena decided to take that as a positive sign.
Maybe...well, maybe it wouldn't be all business all the time at the tower.
"So, what are you working on?"
Not at all inclined to try to figure out which of the two-dozen open screens her partner was staring at, she circled to the side and parked one hip against the table.
"E-mail from Dick."
Helena thought she did a pretty good job, not making gagging noises and all, but, apparently, Barbara picked up on *her* tension.
"Relax, Hel, he's not coming for a visit."
Raising her right hand, she nibbled at a hangnail on her pinkie and considered that.
"Yeah, so, how is Richard?"
When her partner finally looked up from the screen, green eyes meeting hers, Helena came to attention. When Barbara spoke, she understood exactly what the earlier tension had been about.
"He's...concerned. Some of the officers on the BPD thought they saw Quinn in town."
Couldn't they even have a freakin' *day* before some psychopathic, sociopathic, super-villain reared up? And, not just *any* villain, but the one who had invaded their home the year before and tormented them and ...
"Fuck," was all she said.
The red head nodded once.
"Indeed. I'd rather hoped when she disappeared from Arkham last year..."
Helena nodded and finished the thought.
"That she'd stay disappeared."
The two shared a long look before Helena squared her shoulders and grinned.
"So, does Dick need me to come to Bludhaven to catch her for him?"
The gibe had its intended effect, and Helena almost preened when her partner smiled.
"I'll certainly ask him when I reply, Hel, but for now -- "
Those amazing hands rose to the keyboard, and the brunette figured that it was back to business.
"-- why don't you head out for the night? I need to finish a few things here."
Helena straightened, briefly flirting with the idea of some gesture, some...However, the sound of water running in the kitchen reminded her that, not only were they on the clock, but they were in the tower and very much not alone.
She hopped from the platform and retrieved her coat. Settling it over her shoulders, she gave in to temptation.
Bright green eyes fixed blue from over the rims of the computer glasses.
Helena swallowed, fought the urge to dig her toe into the rug.
Ah, screw it.
"Will I see you later?"
Barbara's smile was instant.
"Of course, Hel."
Floating on air, the brunette was almost over the rail of the balcony before she heard her partner call.
She froze, her heart staccato-tapping, and for one wild second she thought Barbara was going to call her back.
The words she heard were every bit as good.
"Don't forget the 'cuffs."
"I'm sorry that I was tied up last night."
Gathering up stacks of magazines and junk mail from her coffee table, Helena fought the urge to leer.
Or to pout.
Even though Babs had come by damned near every night for the last week, last night hadn't been one of them.
And, they still hadn't gotten to use the cuffs.
She tossed the mess of papers and magazines into the trash and looked over with a grin.
"No sweat, Red."
Hell, the older woman had even called her yesterday before sweeps -- she *still* wasn't comfortable with them making plans or anything at the tower -- so there wouldn't be any surprises. Still, after five amazing nights in the redhead's arms -- and hands -- the night before had felt mighty lonely.
Then tonight, since Barbara hadn't...
Well, since there hadn't been any indication of...anything, Helena had started getting a little paranoid, wondering if it was all getting to be too much for her straight-laced partner. So, when there'd been a tap on her door after she'd sulked home after sweeps, she'd been just a bit surprised to find the other woman sitting there, the handles of plastic take-out bags looped over the back of the chair, the distinctive aroma unmistakable.
"I'm just glad you came by tonight."
And her teachers had always thought she couldn't do understatement.
She turned to the kitchen to rustle up some plates and silverware, leaving Barbara to start setting styrofoam containers on the low table.
"How'd you know I'd be hungry?"
A snort was the only answer to that, and the brunette grinned as she bounded over the coffee table to park herself on the sofa.
"Alright, alright. When am I not hungry...", she laughed and extended a plate and a bottle of beer to her guest.
She saw the redhead regarding the bottle quizzically and shrugged, raising her own bottle of Pyramid apologetically.
"It's not Greek -- "
She nodded appreciatively toward the feast on the table.
"-- but I figured it would be close."
Barbara's nodded decisively.
"It should be perfect, Hel."
Weirdly pleased by the approval -- like *she* didn't know beer or something -- the brunette started opening containers.
"Are you sure about this, Red?"
Peripherally, she saw a red head tilt to the side.
"What do you mean, Helena?"
Helena dug a spoon into the tabouleh.
"Are you sure you don't need another night? Take some time for, uh -- "
She looked up and waved the spoon loosely, indifferent to the bits of bulgar wheat that trickled onto the tabletop.
"Well, like you said, Dinah and Alfred aren't exactly dim bulbs."
The nervousness Helena had been trying to ignore ran out of her when Barbara didn't even look up from prying open her beverage.
"I don't believe I put it quite that way, Hel."
The brunette returned to plating their late dinner with a shrug.
Red had made it pretty clear that second night that she wasn't...ready.
Since then, Helena had been working *really* hard to keep things cool at the tower. Her apartment, on the other hand, was definitely a hot zone.
A pointed silence from across the coffee table somehow penetrated the deep bass beat of Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus" thumping from the bar below. Tamping down on the electricity running across her nerves caused by the sensory memories about just *why* Barbara might be looking a bit tired, Helena peered through her lashes, hoping that her face wasn't a completely open book.
Barbara had gotten her beer open and was fiddling with the bottle cap and, well, just sort of looking at her.
"Helena, you do know that I'm not trying to minimize or marginalize or -- "
She couldn't stand the embarrassment in her friend's face.
Without thought, she was around the table and bending close.
"It's okay, Barbara. Take all the time you need."
The other woman's smile was brighter than the garish neon of the sign outside her window. Her laugh filled Helena more than take-out ever could.
For a second or two, Helena remained fixed in place, just sort of grinning at her lover. Then, Barbara shook it off.
"For a feast like this -- "
Helena straightened, fighting a shiver at the playful tone that the other woman usually reserved for the bedroom.
"-- I believe we should both be reclining on couches."
It took the brunette a second to catch on, during which her guest set her bottle on the table and casually flipped her bottle cap after it. Helena watched it arc through the air, twinkling against the overhead light, before it spun and came to rest on the battered table. When she looked back, Barbara was waiting, her arms extended for a lift.
Damn, she was beautiful.
"I thought that was the Romans, Red," she laughed as she easily moved the older woman to the couch, "and I've only got one couch."
"I believe we can share, Hel."
Instantly, any lingering unease was gone. With Barbara settled beside her, their thighs touching and their elbows bumping companionably, there just wasn't any way not to feel good.
"Man, I love gyros," she managed around a healthy mouthful.
The glint of her partner's eyes -- the word "wicked" popped to mind for some reason -- should have warned her. But, she'd always been a sucker for Babs' sense of humor.
Helena felt one dark brow creep up under her bangs when her dinner companion leaned forward and very deliberately set her plate on the coffee table.
"Do you want to know what makes up the meat in these sandwiches?"
She finished chewing, then swallowed as she considered that.
"Nah," she finally decided.
Heck, even she knew what curiosity did for the cat, and she sure didn't want to ruin herself for gyros.
In the process of raising her sandwich for another bite, she froze when warm fingers rose to her face, brushing the corner of her mouth.
Probably had some tzatziki sauce there.
"What an absolutely appalling lack of culinary curiosity."
The words were a low burr. Barely hearing them, Helena turned into the touch, catching her lover's thumb in her teeth and sucking lightly.
Yeah, cucumber sauce.
"My interest -- "
Grudgingly, she released the digit, feeling a little lightheaded.
"-- runs to other kinds of tastes, Red."
That feeling that she was just about to end up face-first in her plate only got worse when she saw the tip of a pink tongue peek out, wetting bright red lips.
God, she wanted to kiss --
"-- the olive?"
Helena straightened back up -- Sheesh, she'd actually been leaning into Red's space -- and sucked in a lungful of oxygen. Then she replayed what she'd just heard and came up with a reply.
Okay, not her best repartee, but hormones plus proximity were clearly putting her at a disadvantage.
Still, it didn't look like Barbara minded too much.
"I asked if you'd like the olive?"
A slender hand motioned toward the open styrofoam container on the table. Unable to miss the playful glint in those amazing green eyes, Helena made a show of looking at the lone kalamata olive that garnished the hummus.
The ground chickpeas were mounded in the center of the little box. There was a small well in the center, filled with a tablespoon or two of olive oil that glistened slickly against the pale dip. At one end of the depression rested the dark olive, perched on end, partially buried in the soft paste.
Cocking a brow, the brunette grinned and retrieved the container.
"Yeah, I would."
She bent just a bit, holding her partner's eyes with her own. Slowly, she insinuated the tip of her tongue into the depression, sampling the sweet oil before wrapping her lips around the olive.
The redhead's murmur came as she sucked the dark fruit into her mouth.
"But, I'll share..."
Helena set the box back on the table as she worked the olive between her front teeth, neatly scoring it against the pit. When she was done, she retrieved the free half and extended it between thumb and index finger.
When Barbara's lips wrapped around her fingers, her eyes fluttered shut. Her heart thudded at the sensation of heat and suction, and her breathing --
Red lashes flew open, and Helena felt heat flooding her face as she spit the almost-forgotten pit into her palm.
"Sorry 'bout that."
Boy, was she sorry.
Barbara's laughter was bright.
"Do you need CPR, Hel?"
The brunette considered the offer, but ultimately the unsampled spread of food still on the table got the best of her.
"Not, uh, right now," she smiled hopefully and reached for the container of dolmas. "But, there's all sorts of other choking risks."
Barbara's hum of agreement felt really good when she slipped one of the unctuous delicacies between her lips. Her own vocalization when her partner returned the favor was, she thought, more of a purr.
Several bites of hummus-laden pita later, she felt herself break into a wide grin when a thought struck her.
She thought Barbara might have sounded a little more prim if she hadn't been sucking hummus from her own fingers at the time.
"Just thinking that I didn't really need to bring silverware out here."
Helena popped another olive into her mouth as the redhead made a show of surveying the mess on the coffee table. She almost needed to take her up on that earlier CPR offer when she heard her answer.
"Anything I can do to keep you from washing dishes in the kitchen and -- "
A warm hand came to rest on her thigh.
"-- have you out here close to me is certainly a bonus, Hel."
It was hard, but somehow she ignored the restless twitch of the fingers on her thigh. Somehow, she fought the heat blooming between her legs and gently laced her fingers with the other woman's. Somehow, instead of moving their clasped hands to the insistent ache at her center, she raised her lover's hand and pressed a soft kiss to the knuckles.
"Thanks for bringing all this, Barbara."
Then, feeling very, very lucky, and maybe just the tiniest bit reckless, she decided to press it just a little. Releasing her partner's hand, she leaned back against the threadbare cushion while making a display of loosening the drawstring of her sweats and patting her stomach.
"We should maybe do this -- "
She waved her hand casually at the remnants of their dinner.
"-- out sometime."
If Alfred and Dinah were merely "not dim bulbs", she knew that Barbara was a hundred-thousand watt spotlight. So, pretending like her stomach hadn't just knotted in fear, she snagged another triangle of pita bread and dragged it through the hummus.
No way she could miss the way one crimson brow slowly crawled toward her ceiling.
"Are you suggesting dinner out together, Helena?"
The other woman neatly rested her plate on a bare corner of the table. Feeling suddenly, abysmally, adolescent and awkward, Helena tossed the uneaten morsel onto the table with a shrug.
"Not, you know, anything fancy -- "
Since she could almost smell Barbara's sudden wariness, she worked for nonchalance.
Didn't want to spook her by suggesting that it was gonna be something like a date or anything.
"No Chez Gotham or anything, unless you want me to raid the cash register downstairs."
She grinned and fiddled with the ring on her index finger.
"Not like a date or anything."
Silence that probably didn't last as long as it felt like followed that. Finally, the red head cocked to the side.
"Why not a date, Helena?"
For a second, Helena just...froze and searched her companion's face. Deciding that Barbara wasn't just playing with her, she chewed at her lower lip and addressed her own knees.
"It wouldn't not have to be."
Well, that was smooth.
Mentally wincing at the hint of hopefulness that even she had heard in her words, Helena finally relaxed when she saw Barbara's cheeks dimpling. She held her breath as the redhead snagged a small square of baklava -- how had she missed those? -- and raised it in invitation.
Obligingly, Helena leaned to the side, accepting the honey-drenched pastry. She couldn't hold back the low rumble that escaped her chest when Barbara turned to her and dragged her fingers across her lips, then sucked her fingers into her mouth with a sin-filled smile.
"Ask me again, Helena, in a bit."
Somehow, the brunette managed to swallow the morsel that had dissolved on her tongue.
"Uh, sure thing."
Dry-mouthed, she reached for her Pyramid.
That had been subtle.
Barbara didn't seem to notice -- or care -- just moving herself closer on the couch.
Breathing got a helluva lot harder when soft fingers whispered across the exposed skin of her abdomen.
"When I don't need to be touching you whenever we're..."
Green eyes sought hers, somehow playful yet serious in their intent.
"...off the clock together."
That sounded pretty reasonable to her.
Hell, with satin fingers teasing at the recently loosened waist of her sweats, why was she worrying about dinner anyway?
Tucking away the idea of an outing for some later date, Helena fumbled to set her bottle aside, simultaneously arching her body into the mouth that was teasing her through her tank. When she thought she had the bottle on the coffee table, she let it slip from her fingers, only peripherally aware of a soft thud, completely indifferent to the fact that she'd missed and would be cleaning beer from her carpet in the morning.
"No...rush..." she managed, a little surprised by how weak her voice sounded.
Dilated green eyes swam into view.
"There is now."
The brunette swallowed, feeling the action all the way down her throat, to her belly...lower.
How did Barbara do that to her?
A decisive nod was her answer, but suspecting that there was more, she waited. She wasn't disappointed.
The whisper was hot against her chest, and Helena worked not to pant.
Hands feathered the sides of her breasts, and she struggled not to thrust into the teasing touch.
Instantly, her clit pulsed hard, insistent, and heat bloomed across her torso.
As much as her partner's big brain...and big vocabulary...and big sentences never failed to turn her on, Helena had to admit that Cavewoman Barbara wasn't so bad either.
Somehow resisting the urge to turn the tables and tackle her lover, to push her against the sofa and grind into her flesh, she lay still, twisting her lips into a sly grin.
When the other woman answered, Helena was glad that she'd controlled her first impulse.
"Everything that you don't want torn off later, Hel."
"Eat dirt, scumbag!"
Okay, maybe Barbara was right about this. The Kid had a definite knack for dialog in the field.
Not to mention that being civil to Dinah definitely eased some of the frostiness in the tower.
"Stalking women is just not cool."
Hell, if she ramped up the Kid's training, maybe Dinah could sweep while she and Barbara got some alone time.
"And that whole crotch-grabbing thing --"
The ferret-faced man they'd seen from the rooftops a few minutes before began jerking backward like he was being punched. Only, the Kid wasn't laying a hand on him.
"-- is just...eewww."
The brunette nodded to herself and smirked.
First-hand experience in the training room had taught her how painful that TK poking thing could be.
"Didn't your mother teach you any manners?"
Were those tears in the guy's eyes?
Honestly, when she'd sized up the would-be mugger and given her charge the go-ahead, Helena hadn't expected him to fold quite so fast.
Especially against a freakin' teen-ager.
Sheesh, creeps and crooks nowdays just didn't have any --
Blue eyes blinked, and Helena caught herself in the nick of time.
Not like she was *that* old.
"-- really think that an apology wouldn't be a bad idea."
The man's wet-sounding whimper coincided with a few more invisible jabs. Leaning against the rough brick wall of the alley, Helena inspected her nails and decided it was time to offer a bit of advice.
She was supposed to be mentoring, right?
"Careful, Canary, or he'll wet his pants."
When she caught the decidedly evil gleam in the blonde's eyes, she had to work not to snicker.
"If he's scared now, Huntress, what's he going to do when I open the gates to the Hellmouth?"
Despite the snort she heard through her earpiece, the brunette kept a straight face.
She shrugged and then took a pointed step backward.
"But give me a warning this time, okay? I hate it when guts and ectoplasm and shit splatter all over my coat."
That did the trick.
Not only did the fight go out of the man, but consciousness fled as well and he dropped like a rock.
"Omigosh! Is he okay?"
Pretty much indifferent to the weasely guy's state, Helena nevertheless felt herself straighten up a little when a voice that was just touched with concern came over the comms.
<"Is everything under control, Huntress?">
She strolled over and prodded at the man with her boot, confirming that he hadn't cracked his noggin when he'd hit the pavement.
"Tough-guy here passed out."
Barbara's throaty chuckle rippled through her, as tangible as the brush of fingers across her skin or the teasing whisper of warm lips over her thighs.
<"The power of suggestion is mightier than the sword.">
Somehow, she pushed aside the memories of some recent suggestions Barbara had made, memories that were doing wicked, wicked things to her libido, and grinned at her partner in the field.
"Yeah, Canary's got a future in interrogation."
That earned her another laugh from Barbara and an enthusiastic high-five from the teen. But, no sooner had the brief palm-to-palm contact ended than Helena registered her error: Pale blue eyes widened to saucer-size, and the blonde's mouth dropped open.
The instant that Dinah worked her jaw, Helena knew that the jig was up.
"You're slee- Mmmph!"
More grateful than she'd ever been for her reflexes, Helena kept her hand tightly clasped over the younger woman's mouth as she shook her head violently from side to side. If the comms hadn't been so damned sensitive, she probably woulda made some kind of embarrassing shushing noises, too.
In the seconds that it took for her partner to stop struggling, Helena could only hope that the touch telepath hadn't gotten *everything*...
Hell, she was touching her now; the Kid was probably getting waaay more information than she needed to.
Like this morning.
Lying in bed, being spooned from behind by her partner, Helena had been pulled from her light doze -- she *still* couldn't make herself sleep deeply when Barbara was there -- when she'd felt the older woman begin to stir. Capturing the hand that rested on her waist, she'd offered a gentle squeeze, shivering a bit when firm lips had blessed the back of her neck in return.
From long association, she knew that Red wasn't exactly an up-and-at-'em kind of girl: massive quantities of caffeine, preferably intravenous, were usually called for to get her partner perking; so, Helena had stayed quiet, content in the circle of Barbara's arms. It had only been when she'd felt restless fingers teasing at her side that she'd decided the other woman was awake.
*She'd* sure been waking up fast.
She'd kept her voice low even as she'd started to turn. The wiry arms embracing her had tightened, holding her in position.
Helena had stilled, even as her breathing had shallowed. She'd captured the hand roving across her belly, attempted to lead those skillful fingers up to touch her.
Her nonverbal request had been denied.
But, there had been something more in the whisper: something heavy and needful; and so she'd held her breath.
Barbara's voice had been honey, thick and unctuous. The words had been molten wax dripping on her skin, a temperature so hot that her body had felt it like cold.
Trails of ice had run down her spine, and Helena had arched in her lover's embrace. Barbara's nipples had been diamonds; the heat of her skin, incendiary.
Somehow, she'd found her voice.
"What do you want me to do?"
Her lover's tone had been pitched low, but there had been no uncertainty in the words.
"Show me how you'd touch yourself when you were thinking about me, Helena."
Incredulous and instantly, utterly, aroused like she'd never been, Helena had pushed back against the soft skin of her lover's body.
Helena still wasn't sure what she might have said. It hadn't really mattered when the hand that covered hers had moved their joined hands to her breast. The drag of their mated fingers against the heavy swell of her flesh had left her gasping.
"You did think about me, didn't you, when you touched yourself?"
Helena thought she'd nodded, but, again, it hadn't mattered when her fingers had been moved a few inches and coaxed to squeeze. The fire that had blossomed under the touch of her fingers...Barbara's fingers...their fingers had nearly obscured the redhead's next whisper.
"Think about my hands on you?"
She'd whimpered as her hand had been guided lower.
"My mouth on you?"
And then there had been no more words, only the dance of fingers and the thrust of her hips and sharp teeth teasing her shoulder as she'd crested.
But, now, there was the crackle of the comms, interrupting her little scuffle with Dinah.
<"Is everything alright, Huntress? Canary?">
Glaring daggers, Helena worked for casual.
"Sure is, Oracle."
Finally seeing a grudging nod, she slowly removed her hand, then pointedly wiped it on her coat.
"In fact, we were just gonna go off comms and grab some milkshakes if nothing's up."
She thought she *heard* Barbara's double-take and fixed Dinah with a hard look.
She exaggerated the motion as she mouthed the words, and the Kid got a clue.
"Uh, you know, Oracle. Celebrate the big victory and all?"
The utterance was, Helena thought, determinedly noncommittal. Still, Red didn't push it.
<"Everything seems quiet. If you're heading back here afterward, I wouldn't mind a coffee milkshake.">
She exhaled silently.
"Copy that. Going off comms now."
She'd no sooner toggled off her microphone before Dinah's hand flew to her own unit to shut it off. Then, true to form, the teen was off.
"You're sleeping with Barbara?!"
The brunette managed a nonchalant shrug, somehow quashing her urge to throttle her companion or somehow otherwise calm her visible excitement.
"You got that, huh?"
Even in the darkness of the alley, she had no trouble making out the deep, deep shade of red in Dinah's normally pale features, and she figured that the Kid had gotten waaaay more than just "sleeping with". Rolling her eyes, Helena headed out of the alley and turned toward Barbara's favorite ice cream shop.
"Yeah. We are."
Maybe if she kept things short Dinah would get the hint.
"But, if you're, uhm -- "
The teen took a couple of skip-steps to catch up, but Helena didn't slow down.
They were really making good time.
"-- together, why are you coming to the tower less?"
With her hand on the door of the shop, Helena came to a stop, then spun, forcing her companion to dance backward or have her toes stepped on.
"Because -- "
Seeing the girl's flinch, she stopped and took a long breath.
It wasn't the Kid's fault.
"Because, uh, -- "
Helena stepped away from the door to let some other customers in and ran a hand through her hair.
"We're not really ready to let anybody know."
She fixed the teen with a long look, satisfied by the sudden blink of pale blue eyes that her message -- "Including you" -- had been received.
"Uh, like, honeymooning?"
Pulling open the door, Helena waited for Dinah to proceed her into the store and nodded to herself.
Maybe that was right.
Aside from Barbara's uptight moral issues and all, there was something still too new, too private about what they had. Something --
She took in the flavors of the day and nodded again.
Something too sweet for public consumption.
"I don't know, Hel. It seems a little..."
When her partner trailed off, clearly at a loss for words, Helena had to fight her urge to back down.
"Fun?" she suggested brightly.
That earned her a look that was only a few degrees away from exasperated, so she decided to tone it down a little. It had been almost two weeks since the feast at her apartment, four days since her little tete-a-tete with Dinah during sweeps, and she'd decided it was time.
"No big deal, Red. Just getting out for a little bit."
She offered a grin that was meant to be charming...or disarming.
"It's not like it's all night at the Ritz."
"But, pizza and air hockey?"
Long experience told her that the arch of her lover's eyebrow was more playful than skeptical, and so she waited as a slender index finger tapped at the older woman's chin.
"I think not."
Before she had time to fall completely into a black mood, Barbara was talking again.
Helena's mood whiplashed, again, this time for the better. Instead of pumping her fist in victory, she strolled casually toward the clock tower's elevator and gave herself a second to feel -- really feel -- the warm swell of pleasure coursing through her that Barbara was, finally, agreeing to go out with her.
In principle at least.
When Barbara joined her, she tucked away the emotion for later and decided that it would just be out of character to go down without a fight.
"What's wrong with air hockey?"
She punched the button for the parking garage and looked over. The gaze that held hers was cool, but Helena saw something dancing in the older woman's eyes.
"My reflexes are good, Hel, however -- "
The redhead's pointed look spoke volumes, and Helena felt the weirdest desire to blush.
"-- they simply aren't up to yours."
She ignored her bout of uncharacteristic modesty and cocked her own eyebrow in challenge.
"So you only play if you can win?"
Well, that earned her an entirely different look.
The elevator door opened and they reached the van before the older woman graced her with an answer. And, when Red spoke, the primness in her voice had her wondering if she'd pushed it a little.
"Only if I have a possibility, Helena."
Somehow, she bit back the words that leapt to her tongue -- something about being a sure thing -- and just smiled.
It was a beautiful fall evening. The streets of New Gotham were quiet for a change. Even Dick's periodic updates about supposed sightings of Quinn had been tapering off.
No way she was gonna blow it by letting her mouth run away with her.
"So, where for pizza?"
Barbara's answering smile was bright and full.
"As long as it's not that place with the animatronic rodents."
In tandem, they rolled their eyes and piled into the van. While Barbara got herself settled and the mirrors adjusted after Dinah's last outing in the vehicle, Helena attacked the radio. By the time Barbara pulled out of the garage, she'd found it.
Are young but getting old before our time
We'll leave the T.V. and the radio behind
Don't you wonder what we'll find
Steppin out tonight
Over a healthy New York style pie -- only three kinds of meat on it in deference to Barbara's less carnivorous tastes -- Helena ran through a short list of other options for after the meal.
Nothing too serious or overtly romantic or heavy or...
Inspiration struck, even if Barbara didn't seem to be getting with the program right off the bat.
"Snow caps, Helena?"
The brunette smiled easily.
She considered for another beat.
"Or Junior Mints."
When her companion's eyes narrowed, she held her tongue, just waiting to see what else Barbara might have to say.
"What about licorice?"
She hadn't considered that and, a beat later, realized why.
"That's just wrong, Barbara."
She discretely peeled a sliver of green pepper off her slice before taking a healthy bite of sausage and cheese, pretending that she didn't see the gleam in her companion's eyes.
"And," the redhead reached over and snagged the wilted vegetable from her plate, popping it into her mouth, "why is that so wrong, Hel?"
She finished chewing and settled her pizza on the plate. Since she wanted to get her point across, Helena spoke very slowly.
"There's no chocolate in licorice, Red."
She almost earned a face full of half-chewed green pepper for her efforts, but Barbara's laughter was worth it.
"Ah, I understand now, Hel."
Full red lips moued playfully, and Helena pushed back from the table.
"So, how about that Jessica Alba movie?"
She'd had a feeling that her first suggestion might not play out, and, point of fact, she really couldn't come up with anything to shore up her argument for the movie when one crimson brow arched eloquently.
"I believe that would be more to your taste than mine."
So, they compromised on something else.
With the trailers finally finished and a jumbo bucket of popcorn balanced between them, Helena still couldn't quite believe the movie her partner had talked her into.
"I can't believe you want to see this movie."
Barbara's answer was airy.
"I have a soft spot for dogs."
Well, obviously there was no way she could let that go by.
With the opening credits splashing against the snowy backdrop of the antarctic snows, Helena turned in her seat and placed her lips close -- very close -- to the delicate shell of her lover's ear.
"Cats, too, maybe?"
She felt the other woman's shiver. She saw Barbara's warm smile.
"That goes without saying, Hel."
Like she'd figured, the movie wasn't really her cup of tea.
Really, she'd always kind of disliked animal movies. Especially Disney animal movies.
Still it did offer an opportunity to hold her lover's hand in the dark, partially in genuine anxiety for Mia and partially --
Well, she was only meta-human.
So, by the time they got back the the clock tower, Helena had to admit that she was feeling pretty damned good.
But, when she accompanied Barbara up to the living area, she realized that her luck was about done. Not only was music coming from Dinah's room, but Barbara was fetching her book bag from school and looking like she was about to go all business on her.
What the heck.
Eschewing the big screen, Helena decided to call it a night. She gave it all of three seconds of gut-clenching fear-inspiring thought before taking two quick steps and leaning in.
The brush of her mouth against that smooth cheek was the barest of caresses, but she couldn't miss how the older woman tensed.
Before she could say more, Barbara did something that really surprised her.
Really, really, surprised her. She turned her head and pressed a gentle kiss to the brunette's cheek.
A riot of butterflies erupted in Helena's stomach. Somehow, she straightened and managed a smile as she took a step backward.
"Thanks for letting us play hooky tonight."
The tension departed the redhead; her smile was easy.
"I enjoyed it, too, Hel."
In the act of raising her hand in farewell, the brunette caught herself.
"Maybe we can -- "
She loosely waved the hand that was up in the air. "...Again?"
Barbara seemed to consider the question for a helluva long time. When she finally answered, Helena instantly decided it had been worth the wait.
"I'd like that very much."
So elated was she that Barbara's next words didn't even bring her down.
"But for now I need to catch up on grading these essays."
Clear enough what that meant, but Helena didn't care.
She had a promise for another public outing.
"S'alright. I'll see you tomorrow."
With her partner's smile still with her, she sailed off the balcony, the lyrics from the song that had been on the radio earlier humming through her.
...turn to me and smile
We'll be there in just a while
If you follow me
Me babe, steppin out
Into the night
Into the light
You babe, steppin out
Into the night
Into the light
With her head half-inside the refrigerator, the click of a key -- well, knowing Babs it coulda been a lock pick -- in her door was a little muted. Still, Helena had no trouble hearing it.
Point of fact, she'd been waiting for it.
Without a second thought, she forgot all about her search for a snack and bounded into the living room.
She blinked, her hand automatically darting out to catch the small object that Barbara tossed her way. When she made out what it was -- another gold dollar coin -- she had to laugh.
"I know it worked the first time..."
She moved slowly across the small room, crowding into her guest's personal space.
"...but you don't need these to get lucky with me."
Instead of giving ground, Barbara went on the offensive. A strong hand tangled in Helena's tank, tugging her down. She didn't fight it, leaning lightly on the arms of the chair and bringing her lips to the other woman's ear.
She had to work not to growl when she detected her lover's shiver, and she felt her eyes begin to shift.
"I think we'll both be feeling lucky tonight, Helena."
Helena's stomach clenched pleasurably, and she allowed herself to be pulled into the chair. Brushing her cheek lightly against her lover's, Helena arched into the strong hands that were working under her shirt.
Damn but Barbara knew how to touch her.
"If you'd asked me to stay last night, we coulda been lucky then."
Shit. Shit. Shit.
In an instant, the rapidly heating mood began to cool.
Not much inflection.
Just sort of a weary...sadness.
Instantly contrite, she worked to settle the older woman.
"Yeah. The Kid. And, you probably needed some rest."
Barbara *was* looking kinda tired. A little thin even.
Still, the brunette didn't think that she was winning any points, so she pulled back just enough to flash one of her patented cocky grins, the one that almost never failed to thaw the redhead.
"Cuz you sure aren't gonna be getting much tonight."
She almost laughed when she felt the redhead relax. Her mood shifted to something a little edgier when she saw the wicked glint in bright green eyes.
"How ever did you guess, Helena?"
One crimson brow bowed upward, and the redhead slowly reached for something in the side pocket of her chair. It took Helena a second to *see* it, to have it make sense.
"Fuck me," was the best she could manage as electricity raced over her skin.
She'd had no idea that they made...those that big.
"Not quite, Helena."
The room spun, and the brunette belatedly realized that Barbara was heading them to the bedroom.
When Barbara stopped by the side of the bed, Helena slid from her lap then hooked her index finger through the soft leather of the harness and lifted the...apparatus for a closer look.
"You've done this before."
It wasn't a question. Not like that first night when there could have been some doubt.
Barbara's smile was an enigma as she reached down and untied her Doc Martens.
"Everyone has a past."
A pair of dark socks, neatly folded of course, sailed over her shoulder, and Helena realized that she was not keeping up. The sound of the zipper of Barbara's jeans clicking open confirmed it.
Turned on like Times Square at New Years, Helena watched the world shift to shades of gold and knew there was no disguising her arousal.
Barbara's smirk confirmed it.
Distracted as she was in working the sweater over her lover's head, she couldn't put much ire in the word.
"I have you at a disadvantage, always knowing when you're aroused, Helena."
The brunette felt surprisingly indifferent to her companion's observation as she wadded up the garment and tossed it to the corner.
"Don't be so sure."
Mouth watering, she bent and nipped lightly at the redhead's neck.
The whisper tickled Helena's lips as she teased the slender column of alabaster skin.
She straightened and began backing them toward the bed.
"You can see my eyes, but I can hear your heart."
Dropping to her knees, she allowed her palms to trace the slender thighs under soft denim before following the trail with her mouth.
The other woman's laughter was low, heavy. It rolled across Helena's skin like thunder or the fat, hot raindrops of summer.
"Then, Helena, you must know how very..."
Fingers wound through her hair, and Helena allowed her head to be coaxed up.
"...very eager I am for this."
In the process of clamping her lips around a taut nipple, Helena recalled what had gotten them to the bedroom. She rose and then dropped to the bed, certain that her heartbeat must be audible.
Maybe something in her eyes was a tell.
Maybe Barbara just knew.
Her partner joined her on the bed, her throaty laugh doing wicked things to her despite her nervousness.
Allowing Barbara to tug her tee over her head, Helena felt both of her eyebrows disappear under her bangs when the other woman continued.
"It's for me."
The sure movement of Barbara's hands caused fire to race across her chest. Breasts aching, she fell backward on the bed, pulling her lover with her.
The press of the other woman's small breasts against hers was incendiary.
"I've -- "
Helena licked her lips and obligingly raised her hips as Barbara tugged at her sweatpants.
Even as her hips bucked once, she darted her gaze to the harness and the dildo that rested on the edge of the mattress.
Her clit twitched from the vibration, and somehow Helena fought the urge to wrap her hands in long red hair, to hold her lover in place and...
"Never used one of those," she finally gasped.
Regretfully, that red head rose from between her thighs. The arch of Barbara's eyebrows was, she thought, reaching dangerous territory.
"I'd rather thought -- "
Helena shivered as her partner made her way back up her body.
"...that there were very few things..."
Hot breath teased her nipple, and her eyes slammed shut.
"...that you hadn't tried, Helena."
She managed to ease the knotting tension in her body a wee bit and pried open her eyes. Slowly, she raised her right hand, tracing her lover's firm lips with the pad of her thumb.
"No," she whispered.
She acknowledged the little cold knot of fear in her belly but ignored it.
"I wanted to wait."
Understanding dawned in those intelligent green eyes and gave Helena courage. Arching up, she caught Barbara in a brief kiss.
"You've taught me everything else, Barbara."
When she lay back against the pillow, her partner's smile was thick with sin.
"Let's see about your first lesson."
A riot of goose flesh erupted across her body when the redhead rolled off her and reached for the harness.
"First -- "
Clever fingers moved against her skin, between her thighs, across her buttocks. Helena hissed her pleasure when Barbara detoured from positioning the harness to stroke her slowly.
"First we make certain that *you're* feeling good."
She couldn't keep her hips from rolling against her lover's touch.
Barbara's smile was, again, an enigma, but Helena had little time to wonder about it. The seemingly huge phallus was being fitted against her...touching...cradling...
"Especially you, Helena."
Her clit pulsing, Helena suddenly understood -- viscerally understood -- what Barbara meant. And she had no doubts or questions about her lover's next suggestion.
"Now, let's both feel good."
Coming back to reality was always the worst part.
It didn't happen often, but in her line of work, Helena had taken a few good knocks to the head, and she pretty much had the "coming to" part down.
It didn't make it any easier.
First there was the good part: that would be the being unconscious and floating along like a hippie on acid time. Then, well, something *real* started lifting up the corners of the blackness, or the psychedelic curtain, and kinda niggling at the edges of the happy-peaceful-thing. For some reason, the body started shaking it off and crawling back to reality; the senses kicked in, admitting light and sound and...
Frikkin' cold water running into her ear.
Okay, talking wasn't such a hot idea, and shaking her head was off the scale of Not Good.
And, guessing from the feeling that she had a hot knife in her side, raising her hand to get at that freaking drip wasn't so good either.
Okay, time to take things a little slower.
Slowly, very slowly, Helena cracked her right eye. When that didn't result in cymbals crashing in her head or lightning flashing in her skull, she pried open the left.
She was at the clock tower.
If she hadn't known how much it would hurt, she might have laughed.
Of course she was at the tower: that relentless goddamned ticking wasn't in her head.
So, that meant that the crimson-haired angel beside her...
Barbara's smile was like sunshine. The feel of her fingers brushing her bangs back, heaven.
"Helena. You're back."
For someone who didn't know the older woman, it wouldn't have been noticeable; but Helena heard the relief in her tone.
Must be more banged up than she thought.
She managed to run her tongue around her lips -- didn't help much -- and quirked the corner of her mouth.
The redhead's smile wasn't quite so bright.
"Hardly that, Hel."
Sure hands moved to her forehead to probe at the knot above her eyebrow. Helena's hiss was instant; Barbara's look of contrition, immediate.
Instinctively, Helena turned into the contact, brushing her partner's palm with a kiss. The warm affection that she saw in her lover's eyes was better than all the butterfly bandages and cold compresses in the world. The tender stroke of her fingers against her cheek, the only pain relief she'd ever need.
"Lie still while I check this, Hel."
She did her best not to flinch when those capable fingers smoothed the butterfly she could feel over her eye.
"Brick?" she hazarded when Barbara finally straightened from her inspection.
Her partner's smile was more of a wince.
"Steel pipe, more likely."
Helena risked a tiny nod.
That seemed about right.
"How are you feeling?"
The question was soft but business-like.
"Can you tell me who's president, Hel?"
The brunette rolled her eyes, immediately regretting it.
"I don't want to remember that."
That earned her a laugh.
"Uhm -- "
Helena nibbled at her bottom lip and took in the familiar surroundings of the living area.
"-- How'd I get here?"
Barbara's answer was brief.
"Dinah came out."
Again, Helena nodded cautiously.
She'd have to remember to thank the Kid for the save. Or, more likely, just save her ass back the next time they went on sweeps --
Immediately, the redhead froze, her fingers still against her ribs where she'd been probing lightly under her tee. Sucking air through her teeth, Helena quirked the corner of her mouth and nodded for her to get on with it.
"I'm sorry, Hel. I should have warmed my hands."
"Soooo not the problem, Red," she hissed as the examination continued.
Funny how Barbara's hands on her chest usually felt a helluva lot better than this.
"Broke one, huh?"
She kinda remembered catching a hobnailed boot after she'd hit the ground.
"Thank heavens for your remarkable healing."
She waited it out as the redhead lowered her shirt and sat back in her chair.
"It's already starting to knit."
Deciding that the medical portion of her evening was damned well over, Helena dug her feet into the cushions of the couch and pushed herself into a semi-recline against the arm.
"Yeah," she inspected the healing scrapes on her knuckles. "Now I just need to work on my reflexes."
A slim hand came to rest atop hers.
"Well, the clown suits undoubtedly threw you off your mark."
Her surprise probably showed.
"I hacked into the bank cameras just before the second squad of goons appeared, Hel."
Nodding, the brunette shut her eyes against the memory of the harliquin-suited assholes she'd surprised at the bank. She pushed back her anger at their clear reference to "the boss" and how she'd be mighty pissed if they didn't return with a big haul.
For some reason, she kinda wanted to cry.
Instead, she forced herself to look up and meet her partner's eyes.
"I guess the honeymoon's over, huh?"
Helena saw something that looked very much like regret pass over the other woman's features before Barbara exhaled heavily and released her hand.
"I'm afraid so, Hel."
For a score of beats, only the heavy tock of the clock disturbed the silence. Finally, Helena turned and forced her feet to the floor.
It was time to head out.
"Yeah," she breathed out as she stood. "The bitch is back."
The darkness was almost absolute, but she had no trouble seeing. Truthfully, she didn't need to see; she had every inch of her path bonded in her cells.
Too many nights making this trip when they'd first become family. Too many nights fighting their nightmares.
Now, the nightmares were back.
It had been a hard couple of days since she'd encountered the clowns at the bank. Quinn -- or at least her goons -- were back in New Gotham with a vengeance. Helena had been running pell-mell from one twisted caper to the next -- from robberies to shaving cream attacks to gun fights -- but it was Barbara who was taking the brunt of it.
The cyber-vigilante had almost been glued to the Delphi, following leads, trying to route law enforcement most efficiently, trying to anticipate where the next wave of lunacy or mayhem would occur.
And, naturally, blaming herself if she guessed wrong.
It had only been by virtue of parking her ass on the mouse pad and glaring -- well, glaring back -- at the older woman that Helena had finally gotten her partner to give herself a break and head off to bed at the insanely early hour of one a.m. this night. She'd figured on hanging around for a little, just to make sure that Barbara didn't try to sneak back out, but the sound of restless thrashing from the master bedroom had drawn her down the hall.
For a few heartbeats, Helena stood motionless at the foot of the bed, weighing her choices. Another murmur -- it sounded like the word "hurt" -- made her decision for her.
Silently, she shucked her boots, then her pants and overshirt, then raised the edge of the covers and slipped in. She cautiously inched across the mattress and eased against the older woman's back. Allowing her breathing to slow and sync with Barbara's, Helena worked to remember the last time she'd shared the big bed with the redhead.
Sure as hell hadn't been after the last time Quinn had been on the loose in their city. She'd barely been able to make herself show up at the tower after that; offering any kind of comfort to Barbara had been out of the question.
She was mercifully distracted from some increasingly black thoughts when she felt Barbara stiffen. A sleepy murmur broke the silence.
Deciding to be deliberately obtuse, the brunette buried her face against the other woman's shoulder.
She felt her companion shift minutely in her light embrace.
"What are you doing?"
Again, being literal seemed like as good a tactic as any.
A lot of silence greeted that, stretching on long enough that Helena thought she could hear the gears turning in her lover's big brain.
Of course, it coulda just been that damned clock they were in.
Helena finally released the breath she'd been holding when Barbara relaxed in the loose circle of her arms. She felt the other woman's nod.
"Thank you, Sweetheart."
Hearing the old endearment, Helena worked her jaw.
"I won't stay -- I just wanted to..."
Not certain what she wanted -- or, at least, what she wanted to say -- she allowed a shrug to transmit itself against Barbara's back. In response, a warm hand clasped hers.
"I appreciate it, Hel. Quinn's a bit much to comprehend."
Ignoring the fact that she'd originally come in so that her lover could sleep, Helena spoke without thinking.
"I wish she'd stayed in Bludhaven."
To her relief, she heard a soft chuckle.
"Surely you don't still wish that sort of bad fortune on Dick?"
Okay, she hadn't made much of a secret of her feelings -- well, some of them -- when Barbara had made a mercifully brief attempt at dating the man who was technically sort of her brother. But now...
Helena ducked her head, burying her face against her bedmate's neck as she considered the question in light of where she was now.
Where *they* were now.
When she answered, she was a little surprised by the certainty of her words.
"No. Not now."
Barbara's reply was slow and warm.
"Good. He's not your enemy."
The brunette prodded at that for a minute, wondering how much time and space bridged the distance between enemy and friend. Ultimately, the question couldn't hold her interest. With Barbara pliantly easing back against her, she opened her mouth, working to create another sensory memory of her lover.
Helena felt a little warmth touch her cheeks when Barbara twitched a bit against her.
"Do I need a shower, Hel?"
The question was mild, and Helena forced herself to relax.
"No. It's just -- "
The sleepy disinterest gave her the courage to whisper the rest.
"I like the way you smell."
Barbara's snort was nearly a snore.
"Without the body wash," Helena whispered to her shoulder.
Separated from the redhead only by her tank and Barbara's ratty old Animaniacs tee shirt, Helena nearly moaned when the other woman's chuckle tickled against her.
"You gave that to me."
The brunette bit the inside of her cheek and tried to think of anything but nipples.
"Yeah. I like it, but -- "
She trailed off, not sure what she was getting at.
God knew, there were some pretty damned good associations with oranges and ginger at this point.
Finally, she bumped her shoulder lightly against her partner's back in a shrug. A soft hum was her answer, and Helena decided it was time to shut up.
With Barbara's hand twined in hers, Helena snuggled another half-inch closer and then lay in silence as Barbara's breathing deepened and began to stretch out.
God, it felt so good.
Just...Just holding Barbara. Sharing time that didn't have to do with *doing* something...or recovering from having done something.
Still, she had said she wasn't staying and Red seemed like she was a lot more settled.
Fighting off her ennui, Helena began to extricate herself from Barbara's grasp. A sleepy murmur stopped her cold.
"I'd like it if you'd stay."
Barbara punctuated her words by snugging their joined hands to her stomach.
"Yeah -- "
Helena thought her answer might have been a little breathless, but with the heavy swell of her partner's breast brushing her knuckles, she couldn't say she was surprised. For an agonizing few seconds, she teetered on the brink: the way their bodies were melded so effortlessly; Barbara's easy acceptance; the whisper of silken hair against her mouth...
And, it had been a long few nights since...
The details of the room sprang into sharp focus, and Helena knew that her eyes had augmented. Gingerly, she shifted, then damned near swallowed her tongue when her throbbing center brushed against her partner.
She squeezed her eyes shut, fighting the images of moving with Barbara only a few nights before: her hands covering pale breasts; Barbara's head thrashing as she'd positioned herself between her legs; the incredible sight of the phallus stroking between her lover's legs until Barbara's hands had dug into her shoulders and a raw voice had urged her on.
*Inside me, Helena. Now.*
Very slowly, Helena inhaled. She counted three, then exhaled slowly. She counted to three again before inhaling.
She could do this.
And, not more than two hundred repetitions later, she somehow relaxed, her breathing echoing Barbara's, her body falling away in a deep, deep sleep.
Unfortunately, she realized mere moments after coming awake the next morning from the best rest she'd had in weeks, it was gonna be a whole new battle.
Without opening her eyes, Helena knew that she was being watched. Somehow, during the night, Barbara had managed to shift onto her back, and now Helena was curled up to her side. The scrape of her eyelashes against the three-hundred thread count cotton pillow case seemed really loud, and the first thing she saw -- Barbara's full mouth, curved in a smile -- was almost too much.
With as much casualness as she could muster, Helena swallowed and then blinked a few times to clear the cobwebs.
Barbara's voice was low.
Something about the way Barbara's lightly calloused fingers came to her face to brush back her bangs seemed unbearably intimate.
Helena was instantly aflame.
Somehow she wrestled back her lustier impulses. Somehow, she contented herself with inching forward just a bit to bump their noses together. The little crinkling smile lines that formed around her partner's eyes officially released the butterflies in her stomach.
Helena didn't move forward. She didn't pull away either. Instead, she carefully ran the tip of her tongue across her lips and searched the other woman's eyes.
"Sweetie?" Aching to brush her mouth against those lush lips that were bare millimeters away, she felt the tension creeping into the older woman's body.
"Do I smell coffee?"
Barbara's question was artificially casual. Eyes burning, Helena rolled away with a sniff.
"Yeah. Kid must be up."
Tossing back the covers, she swung her feet to the floor. The sensation of a warm hand coming to rest on her back was almost too much.
"Hel? What-- "
Hating herself for it, Helena felt her blood begin to simmer.
Barbara could touch her in unimaginable ways when they were off the clock? The redhead would let -- hell -- *beg* her to take her so impossibly deep? But a good morning kiss threw her off just 'cuz they were in the tower?
Somehow, she managed a smile and looked over her shoulder.
"I've gotta head out."
She stood and retrieved her clothes on the way to the bathroom. Although she was aware that Barbara knew her schedule cold, she couldn't hold back a final word.
"I'm closing at the bar tonight. I guess you can come by if you're in a mood."
And she was drifting through the backyard
And she was taking off her dress
And she was moving very slowly
Rising up above the earth
Moving into the universe
Drifting this way and that
Not touching ground at all
Up above the yard
"I'm simply not certain that we can continue."
The noise and clatter of the Dark Horse, even the song Helena had punched into the juke on her way over with a beer, suddenly got very far away, like she was hearing it from the end of a long tunnel. Maybe from underwater, which might explain why breathing felt so hard.
iThe world was moving
and she was right there with it
(and she was)
The world was moving
and she was floating above it
(and she was)
and she was
Helena didn't know what she'd been angling for when she'd bated her partner that morning, but it sure as hell hadn't been this.
Not too surprising, Babs had called earlier to let her know she'd be by. There'd been nothing...off in her tone, like she'd just decided to let it slide. So when the redhead had come in to the bar just before last call, Helena had pretty much about forgotten all about it.
Teach her to go and shoot her mouth off.
Attempting to make sense out of things, the brunette picked up the cap from Barbara's beer and jabbed the sharp edges into the thick paper of the Coors coaster.
At least this time, she'd take a minute and *think* before...
"Goddammit, Barbara, don't *do* this."
Despite an overwhelming urge to inspect the state of her manicure, Helena somehow kept her eyes on her companion's face. The slow rise of one crimson brow was her only response for a long, painful minute.
Finally, the redhead exhaled slowly.
"Is this so important to you, Helena?"
How could she even--?
"How the fuck can you even ask that?"
A second brow joined the first, and neatly blunted nails ticked against the side of the icy bottle.
"I'm sorry, darling."
Barbara's voice dropped a register, and the younger woman leaned in.
A raised hand cut her short.
"I don't mean to be insensitive, however, I suspect that I'm having some insecurities myself."
The words were measured, bringing to mind the cadence and meter of the older woman's speech several weeks before.
"And, with the situation out there..."
A pale hand gestured loosely toward the streets of the city, and Helena nodded her understanding.
"You don't want us to fuck up," she suggested.
The beer bottle rose, tilting toward her in a toast of sorts. Helena followed the bottle to her companion's lips, wondering how the dim lights of the bar could highlight the glass and Barbara's hair and her eyes so.
Again, Helena attacked the coaster with the scalloped edges of the bottle cap.
"I hate this job sometimes."
Unaware that she'd been going to say that out loud, the brunette peered through her lashes, attempting to gauge Barbara's reaction.
After all, Babs was nothing if not wedded to her duties as a guardian of this fucked up city.
To her surprise, her comment evoked a tight smile.
More a harsh twist of fine lips than anything.
"That makes two of us, Helena."
She was glad about it...no doubt about it
She isn't sure where she's gone
No time to think about what to tell them
No time to think about what she's done
And she was
Suddenly, fire raced across her skin. She wanted to push back her chair and swing through the rapidly emptying bar. She wanted to howl at the moon or scream or laugh or...
"I don't think I've ever heard you say that, Red."
Blue eyes blinked when Helena realized that the measured response had been her own. By contrast, her companion's gaze remained steady.
"There can sometimes be a wide gulf between one's vocation and one's desires, Helena."
The brunette nodded glumly and picked at the fraying edge of the coaster she'd been torturing.
If anybody had the old responsibility thing nailed, it was Barbara.
"Do you ever -- "
Seized by nerves, she snagged her partner's beer and took a long swallow. When she finished, she focused on settling the bottle exactly on the wet ring it had formed on the table top.
"Ever what, Hel?"
Glancing over, she was surprised to see that Barbara had moved from the far side of the table and was now by her side.
The lights flickered once and she knew that she'd need to start locking up soon.
"Just...want to forget about it all sometimes and run away?"
Barbara's answering laugh was, she thought, kinda brittle.
Helena snapped her head up from her perusal of the beer label so quickly that she thought she heard her vertebrae snap.
"No shi-- No kidding?"
With the neon signs behind the bar ticking off one by one, the older woman's face was cast into shadows. Suddenly, she seemed very tired, very gaunt.
"No kidding, Hel."
Silken fingers brushed the back of Helena's hand, raising the fine hair on her arms.
"From your question, I gather that the same is true for you?"
Again, the phrasing was stilted, a sign Helena was coming to recognize. Without hesitation, she rotated her chair forty-five degrees and worked her knees between her companion's legs.
The admission was whisper soft, but Barbara's slow nod said enough. Helena worked up her courage and shared the rest.
"I think about it, us."
She looked up, falling into deep green eyes that were so acutely fixed on her.
"Leaving it all behind for -- "
Maybe in the growing darkness of the bar, Barbara would miss the blush she could feel moving into her cheeks.
"-- white picket fences and walks in the country."
She couldn't quite pin down the tone behind the chuckle she heard. The words were, likewise, almost pointedly neutral.
"A rose garden, too?"
"Hell, Red, I'll spend the days weeding flowers or playing gin rummy or -- "
She let a shrug finish it.
Barbara's response, also nonverbal, suggested that they were on the same page.
A warm hand slid up her thigh as the older woman leaned close, the scent of oranges and ginger tickling Helena's nose. She felt her heart boom in her chest when cherry lips brushed hers.
Yeah, it had been brief, but...
Long fingers snapping two inches in front of her nose saved Helena from her brief catatonia. As nonchalantly as possible, she wiped the shit-eating grin off her face and nodded.
Just to make it absolutely clear, she nodded harder.
"A whole lot of that."
And she was looking at herself
And things were looking like a movie
She had a pleasant elevation
She's moving out in all directions
The world was moving
and she was right there with it
(and she was)
Since things weren't seeming quite as bad as they had a few minutes ago, Helena decided to go for it.
"So, uh, you don't really want to end..."
She stumbled, completely flummoxed for the right word.
Hell, it wasn't like she'd ever been in any sort of relationship before, and it wasn't like Babs and she had really spelled anything out.
"...it?" she finished softly.
Even in the dimness of the bar, even without her own acute vision, the shake of red hair was unmistakable.
Helena wanted to laugh and sing and ...
And, Red was looking mighty serious, she belatedly realized.
"That's the last thing I want, Helena; however, the situation now..."
"Quinn," Helena offered, not surprised by how subdued she was suddenly feeling.
This time, the redhead nodded.
"Things are edgy right now. We need to take a bit longer to make certain that everything is in place before forgetting ourselves."
Dark brows wrinkled as Helena worked at that.
"It's been quiet tonight," she suggested. "Maybe she was just passing through town or something?"
She threw in a half-shrug and a grin, earning a rueful grimace in response.
"Somehow, I have the feeling that something's about to hit the fan, Hel."
There wasn't much to say to that. Babs' instincts were pretty good, and even she knew that Quinn wasn't just gonna breeze through town without something dramatic to cap things off.
The realization that her companion was speaking again drew her from those dark thoughts.
"However, when we get this wrapped up, perhaps -- "
Helena brought her hand to her mouth, working to convey concentration -- rather than her growing bemusement -- at Barbara's tongue-tied awkwardness.
"-- Well, if we can't actually pursue our dream of suburbia -- "
"The country," Helena interrupted.
Like she was soooo going to do the Wisteria Lane thing.
"The country," Barbara nodded.
A warm hand patted her thigh. Helena figured that the gesture was meant to be soothing, but it was working out a little different.
"Well, perhaps we can at least arrange a vacation for ourselves."
Well, *that* got her attention.
The brunette ignored the undoubtedly dopey grin that had taken control of her face while she tried to remember if she and Barbara had ever taken a vacation.
The word "no" came to mind.
Still smiling, she snagged her partner's hand, gently stroking her thumb over the smooth, unblemished skin of the other woman's inner wrist. The shiver she detected did nothing to calm her own libido.
"I'd like that a lot, Red."
When Barbara's free hand came to her thigh again, Helena felt the rumble in her chest. Without conscious volition, her eyes fluttered shut even has she shifted restlessly in the chair.
Another minute of this and she'd be ready to rub all over her partner right there in front of the few remaining patrons and the barbacks.
"How about -- "
Somehow, Helena swallowed around the pressure in her throat. When she opened her eyes, Barbara was very, very close to her.
She brought her free hand to the sharp line of the other woman's jaw.
"-- Uh, what if we start that slowing things down thing tomorrow?"
Green eyes danced. The tickle of Barbara's laughter against her fingers ran straight to Helena's clit, and she nearly moaned at the implication.
"That might be arranged."
That deliciously tormenting hand left her thigh, silken fingers whispering across the side of her neck. Dark lashes fluttered, and Helena nearly succumbed to the seduction right there.
However, some part of her remained aware of the public venue. Not to mention her nominal responsibility to lock the doors in a few minutes.
Still, sitting at the table in the dark corner of the bar, her entire focus directed on the woman inches away, it was only Helena's highly tuned senses that saved them.
The attack was so silent and sudden that she barely had time to realize what was happening before she sensed the weapon sweeping through the air. Without thought, she lunged, pushing her lover aside.
When she looked up, a wicked nine-inch bowie knife was embedded in the wall, directly behind where her partner's head had been only seconds before. Surprised shouts from the few souls in the bar almost obscured Barbara's gasp.
This didn't make any sense.
Oh, having their arch-nemesis show up at her place of work on one of the few nights Barbara happened to be there?
In their line of work, not such a long shot. Hell, Quinn had been in her head and at the clock tower; having her at the Dark Horse was nothing.
And having a fuckin' huge bowie knife still quivering where it was impaled in the wall of the bar?
Not too hard to comprehend, even if her boss was gonna want to take that out of her check.
It was just...
Things weren't making much sense.
The attack -- and her reaction to it -- had been so sudden that it had been all adrenaline and action: getting Barbara out of the way; seeing the weapon; making sure that the few people at the bar were safely hotfooting it out of there.
Finally, a few seconds after the attack, she had time to look at their attacker.
It didn't make sense.
Big as day and real as life, there she was: the woman who had just attacked them. Even as blue eyes widened in surprise, the madwoman's arm was still coming down from throwing the knife.
Except the bitch was in disguise.
Instead of spiky blonde hair, her hair was long...and red. Instead of brown eyes sparking with malicious glee, their attacker's eyes were green. Instead of a garish black and red harlequin outfit, the was wearing jeans and a New Gotham Knights sweatshirt.
But mostly --
Helena clenched her jaw against the fury that was redoubling as she fully grasped Quinn's affront.
Instead of capering wilding across the floor of the now empty bar, the bitch was parked in a wheelchair just like...
Her partner wriggled for a view from beside -- well, underneath her. From the corner of her eye, she saw Barbara's eyes narrow. Her hackles raised when she heard the older woman's hiss.
Already springing to her feet, careful to keep her body shielding Barbara, the brunette nodded.
That sounded about right. No way to guess what Quinn was angling for with the disguise, but a little earlier when Babs had guessed that the proverbial manure was about to hit the proverbial oscillating air circulation machine, well...
Foreboding didn't even touch it.
"You fucking bitch!"
She shook her hands at the wrists and stalked forward. Quinn's first words brought her up short.
She shook her head and worked her jaw, seeking her partner's eyes.
"Barbara? She sounds just like you?"
The redhead -- *her* redhead -- had resettled herself in her chair and was calmly retrieving her escrima sticks from beneath the arm.
"Look for the differences, Hel."
One of the batons waved toward Quinn. In her augmented state, Helena thought she could see color trails in its wake.
She fixed her attention on their attacker again.
"Perhaps some blonde roots--"
The fake-Barbara wavered in her vision, and, for a heartbeat, Helena saw through the disguise and the hypnosis: the curtain of red hair built above a foundation of blonde; Barbara's firm jaw replaced by the painfully sharp lines of her former therapist's face; her oldest friend's sturdy muscles shedding away into wiry sinews.
She didn't need to hear any more. She sure as hell didn't want to see any more.
In one bound she was in front of their tormenter, her top lip curling upward.
"What's the matter, Quinn? You out of knives?"
Like an absence of visible weapons made the madwoman helpless.
Quinn's jaw worked, then she raised a hand in a way that Helena supposed was meant to mean "hold on". She had the nerve to speak.
"Helena, wait. We need to talk-- sort this out--"
The fury that had been simmering boiled over. The world morphed again, this time from yellows and golds to red.
She darted forward, something making her stop just before she toppled the chair.
"Get up and fight, bitch."
True to form, the madwoman held her ground. Helena had to give it to her: she was doing a damned good impersonation.
"Helena -- stop! It's me."
Her heart double-timed, and Helena felt her leather shirt constricting her chest as she panted shallowly.
"I know exactly who you are."
At her limits, she kicked the side of the chair.
"And don't think that because you're in the chair I won't kick your ass before we send you back to the nuthouse."
Quinn's voice was low, leading.
"I just came here tonight to talk with yo--"
"And then what?!"
Her shout filled the empty room.
"Then trick me into hurting my family again, Quinn?"
That got a reaction from her: the madwoman visibly flinched, searching for words, and Helena turned her head to touch base with her partner.
The minute shake of red hair told her everything she needed to know.
"Don't even try, Quinn."
She leaned in, her fingers wrapping like claws around the arms of the chair.
It felt wrong -- probably why Quinn had chosen this -- but she had to do it.
Helena shook the chair viciously from side to side, her voice dropping to a growl.
"And get the fuck out of that chair!"
How dare she try to pull this off?
The only reason Barbara was in a chair to begin with was because of Quinn's boyfriend, The Joker. And, despite everything, Barbara had come through: through sacrifice and pain and tears and toil. Her chair was a testament.
"Helena, you know I can't."
The impostor's voice was clipped, tight. A damned good mockery.
Clenching her jaw so tightly that she could feel the muscles dance, the brunette gave the chair another shake and straightened.
"Helluva acting job, Bitch, but it doesn't fly."
From behind her, she heard Barbara's a warning.
"Careful, Hel, you know what she can do."
It was time to put an end to the charade.
Helena launched herself forward, landing a solid blow to Quinn's jaw as she toppled the chair. For a second or two, she flailed against the confines of steel and rubber and leather that the chair created, then they rolled free.
For an instant, Quinn was above her, hands pinning her shoulders, her neck arched in strain, her lower body thrust against hers, long hair creating a screen of privacy.
"Helena -- don't-- "
The brunette wavered, longing to sink into the green eyes that were so close to her. One of the hands that had been holding her down rose, swimming into her field of view.
"Finish it, Helena, and we'll be free of this."
The hoarse cry from behind her brought her back to her senses.
She bucked her hips and twisted, unseating her opponent and sending her flying. Without giving her a chance to catch her breath, Helena pounced using her knees to pin Quinn's legs beneath her and lunging for her wrists.
The madwoman didn't give ground easily, somehow evading Helena's hands. It was maddeningly hard to get an edge with the older woman countering her every attempt.
Startled, Helena was almost unseated when she realized that Quinn was fighting just like she'd watched her and Barbara sparring all of those years ago. Every move she made, Quinn countered easily, like she'd seen and practiced Barbara's moves.
The insight made her all the more furious.
"Quit it, Quinn!"
She gave up on the finesse and reared up on her knees, landing a solid blow to the other woman's abdomen. It was the type of hit she'd perfected over the years, placed just right, with enough power, to take the knees out from most full-grown men.
Below her, Quinn didn't bat an eye.
"Fight back, goddammit!"
The curse rolled out on a growl even as she swung with her left hand, crashing into the other woman's jaw.
*That* got a reaction: a hiss of pain; green eyes flashing in anger.
Sensing an edge, Helena jabbed again, pulling back at the last second to try to capture one of the hands that was pushing against her...
The red haze parted just a bit when it struck her: Quinn wasn't fighting back. She was defending herself, trying to keep her back, trying to...
The scent of their sweat rose to her. The sound of Barbara's cries from behind her -- "Now, Helena!". The haze threatened to descend, and she worked for clarity.
"Helena, please -- "
Quinn raised both hand to block her blow, and that's when she saw it: a tiny crescent-shaped scar on the inside of her opponent's wrist. Barbara had put the mark there last Thanksgiving when, during a fit of misplaced culinary bravado, she'd attempted to open a can of cranberry jelly.
The anger bled away, replaced by something cold and strangling.
Helena pushed up, straddling the other woman's hips, searching the face that was smeared with blood from the deep cut on her mouth. Grudgingly she explored the green eyes below her, eyes that were hurt and...scared.
Scared, she understood with a sickening clench of her gut, not of her but for her.
It had to be a trick of the light.
Helena leaned in, her lips drawing back over her teeth, and she inhaled: there was no overpowering scent of oranges or ginger; just the scent she knew better than her own.
Her tongue darted out, and she tasted the blood. Again, her opponent's hand raised, fingers calloused from years at the keyboard barely touching her jaw.
As if burned, she scrabbled off the other woman, her legs pistoning as she crab-walked backward. As if by magic, the narrow set of her victim's jaw broadened to the familiar lines of Barbara's jaw; the pinched angle of her mouth gave way under Barbara's lush, full lips. Even the slope of her nose and the exact color of her eyes was once-again right.
The sound of rubber tires catching on the worn wooden floor drew her gaze in the opposite direction where the other Barbara -- the Barbara she'd been with -- was approaching.
"Helena, darling, what did she--"
Something bright seemed to spark off the steel rims of the chair. Blue eyes narrowed when the face of *her* Barbara narrowed, when her lips thinned and the fullness of her body was given lie.
Okay, it was straight out of the bad dialog hall of fame, but, well, screw it.
"Yes, indeed, Helena."
The tiny figure set the brake of the chair and cocked her head to the side in a gesture reminiscent of a hundred therapy sessions and a few noteworthy battles.
At least, Helena had to admit, Quinn had the decency to admit when the jig was up.
"It's always been me, of course."
A pale hand extended, and the brunette blinked incredulously.
Like she was soooo gonna accept a --
Her eyes widened when a bright Sacajawea twinkled in Quinn's palm.
"It's wonderful what a bit of post-hypnotic suggestion can do."
Eyes that were still green sparkled brightly -- cunningly -- and Helena almost whimpered.
"Not to mention colored contacts and a bit of hair color --"
The impostor's voice became terribly chipper even as thin lips moued dramatically.
What had she done?
Helena felt something rumbling in her chest, heard a high-pitched whine and gulped for air. When Quinn leaned in, she recovered a bit.
"You freakin' bitch."
Infuriatingly, the birdlike woman only smiled more broadly, then waggled her index finger.
"Now, now, Helena."
Her muscles beginning to tense, Helena panted shallowly through her mouth, struggling not to breath in the other woman's perfume.
The same body wash she'd given to Barbara, a scent she'd no doubt waxed fondly about back in her days on Quinn's psychiatry couch.
"And here we were getting along so well. In fact..."
She struggled against something rising in her throat when silken fingers touched her jaw. Feeling like a rabbit in front of a snake, Helena couldn't force herself to spring when Quinn's voice dropped, becoming low and intimate.
"...it can still be me."
Her stomach twisted, and blood pounded through her.
"Like hell you sa--"
It was too late.
Something pricked the skin of her neck, and Helena just had time to see Quinn whisking a hypodermic away before she collapsed on herself. She struggled to push herself upright as the tables and chairs began to dance. Quinn's sing-song voice seemed distant and unreal.
"I'm sorry, darling, but I really can't have you coming after me while you're so upset."
Fighting to keep her eyes open, she saw the Doc Martens that had been so still in the chair hit the floor. The woman she'd thought was Barbara stood, casually stepping over her. Helena fought a wave of nausea, then horror, when she saw the woman she now knew to be Barbara across from her, on the other side of the table, her body akimbo on the floor.
"Lea' her alone."
The threat didn't have much -- hell, any -- punch behind it, but Quinn's boots stopped.
"Never fear, Helena. I wouldn't dream of laying a hand on her."
To Helena's amazement, the psycho was as good as her word. Somehow, Helena forced her eyes to move, to follow her feet across the floor; when Quinn came to a stop by the juke, she looked up enough to see the madwoman drop the dollar into the slot and punch a selection.
With that, Quinn made her exit, her final words nearly obscured by the opening strains of melody.
"Remember me fondly, darling."
And she was lying in the grass
And she could hear the highway breathing
And she could see a nearby factory
She's making sure she is not dreaming
See the lights of a neighbor's house
Now she's starting to rise
Take a minute to concentrate
And she opens up her eyes
The world was moving
and she was right there with it
(and she was)
The world was moving
and she was floating above it
(and she was) and she was
Coming back to reality was always the worst part.
In her line of work, she'd been beaten up, knocked out, and drugged up a few times, and she pretty much had a handle on the "coming to" part.
It didn't make it any easier.
Happily cocooned in oblivion, Helena gradually became of...other: cool air on her skin, something soft beneath her, quiet breathing. For a few minutes, she drifted, waves of lulling darkness obscuring the fine grains of reality. Then, the blackness began to ebb in earnest, exposing more and more of what it had washed away: pinpoints of light behind her eyelids; the parched sandiness of her tongue; the jagged bite of her nails from her fingers clenched against her palms.
Pretty much time to...
With a monumental effort, she dragged herself out of it, groggily forcing up her eyelids.
Muted light; neutral ceiling; some sort of light blanket over her legs.
But, where the fuck was she?
Instantly, the brunette struggled against the meager confines of her blanket and sat up. Equally quickly, the walls began to spin around her, and she slammed her eyes shut.
Obviously, she hadn't quite grasped the magnitude of the mistake that sitting up could be.
Shivering, she wrapped her arms around her stomach as goose flesh rose on her skin and fine drops of cold sweat beaded her face. With everything she could, she tried to focus on something abstract --
Or was it something concrete?
She always got confused about the advice Barbara had once given her about fighting off nausea. As she worked to remember, Helena felt saliva pooling in her mouth and swallowed convulsively.
Helena threw the blanket off her lower body and flailed to stand, inwardly quite sure that she'd never make it to the toilet -- where ever that might be -- in time. Just about to give in to necessity and christen the floor with the meager contents of her stomach, she was absurdly grateful when a metal trash can was unceremoniously thrust into her hands.
She had time to verify that the waste receptacle was empty before she hurriedly changed it state.
Gradually, her retching eased, and she set the can on the floor. Feeling marginally confident that she wouldn't need it again, she finally took in the familiarity of the wood-grained floor and the night stand and the steel wheels of the wheelchair and...
Her heart sank.
So, the toilet wasn't that far at all: just around the end of the bed and through the door. Just across Barbara's bedroom, where she was.
On Barbara's bed.
That's when it finally hit her who had handed her the makeshift emesis basin.
That's when she was struck by why she'd ended up there in the first place.
Why couldn't Quinn have drugged her and dragged her off to her evil lair or something?
Helena's stomach twisted violently, and she immediately had to make use of the wastebasket again.
Finally, utterly spent, she shakily resettled the waste can, then fell back on the bed. The patterns of the texture on the ceiling were mercifully not spinning, but since she was familiar with them, she turned onto her side and curled up around a pillow.
Instantly, she realized her error: The bed -- the pillow -- was Barbara's, imbued heart and soul with her scent.
How in the hell could she have ever mistaken the scent of the person at her apartment? How could she have believed that, even masked by oranges and ginger, it was this?
Helena squeezed her eyes tightly shut, panting shallowly against the tight bands of pain and loss that were constricting her chest. Somehow, she pried open her eyes and fought to sit up.
She had to suck it up and get moving.
A strong hand came to rest on her forearm, freezing her in place.
"What are you doing, Hel?"
She could only make her eyes move enough to take in Barbara's knees at the side of the bed.
Helena raked a hand through her hair. Regretting the rapid movement, she swallowed convulsively.
"I should go."
She saw those strong hands move to the wheels of the chair, and Barbara inched a bit closer to the side of the bed.
"You should stay."
Helena blinked a few times, unable to fathom the kindness in her partner's voice.
"You're still under the influence of whatever it was that..."
She couldn't hear that name from Barbara's mouth and had to cut her off.
"I'm in your bed."
The brunette peered through her lashes, detecting something -- amusement or sadness or disappointment -- in the older woman's face. Still, the redhead's answer was gentle.
"Indeed you are."
Without further ado, Barbara was reaching up, her hands gentle yet insistent against her shoulders. Somehow, Helena allowed herself to be pushed backward, her head nestling into a pillow. At some point, time seemed to stretch, the whirring of the clock becoming hazy and humming, Barbara's murmur caressing her senses.
"Rest, Helena. It's going to be alright."
She didn't quite believe that, but she couldn't -- wouldn't -- argue. Helena succumbed to sweet temptation, allowing herself to fall into something familiar and warm and welcoming.
If only for this one last time.
When she woke up again, she didn't need to open her eyes to know that it was almost dawn. Too many nights -- and early mornings -- on the street had attuned her senses to the changing rhythms of sunrise: the rumble of delivery trucks; a certain briskness to the wind; the scent of dew on steel and concrete buildings; the sleepy stirrings of the woman she loved in her arms...
Using amounts of self-control she wouldn't have believed she possessed, Helena somehow managed not to scramble her ass right out of bed. Instead, she cautiously cracked her eyes, confirming that Barbara had indeed joined her during the night.
No big surprised there, she supposed. It was Red's bed, after all.
The fact that she was curled up against her partner also wasn't so surprising. No way she could have resisted the siren call of the comfort of Barbara's arms.
However, when she peered up to see if she'd disturbed her companion, that's when it got surprising: A great big cold water splash of shame reminder kind of surprise.
Helena felt her face begin to burn. Her stomach filled with something cold. Everything from the night before came thundering back.
Including what she'd done to Barbara during their fight.
Horrified, she pushed down the covers and tried to slide away. The sensation of strong fingers lightly circling her wrist forced Helena to admit that she wasn't going to be able to slink away before the full light of day exposed everything.
"Calm down, Hel."
She forced herself to look over but couldn't meet Barbara's eyes. Instead, her gaze remain fixed on the fist-sized bruise on the other woman's strong jaw and the angry swelling around the cut on her mouth.
"It's fine, Sweetie. I've had worse."
Barbara's low chuckle tickled Helena's senses. She saw the uninjured side of her partner's mouth quirk before Barbara spoke again.
"Even from you a few times."
She had to admit that Barbara was right. Back in the day, when she'd just been starting out and Babs had been teaching her to fight, there'd been more than one mis-timed punch.
She couldn't help it. Helena heard a soft snort escape her, the noise somehow freeing up her breathing just a bit.
"I thought she was you."
The words sounded off-key, even to her, but Barbara simply nodded. The redhead's response was slow, as if she was thinking things through while she talked.
"The resemblance was remarkable, Helena."
Helena nodded and sat up, bunching the covers loosely around her waist.
"Right down to my favorite shoes."
Plucking at a stray thread in the quilt -- the one that Barbara's aunt had given her -- the brunette grit her teeth.
"I suspect that she's had us -- "
Helena simply waited when her companion interrupted herself, pushing up to lean against the headboard.
"-- had *me* under observation since she escaped last year. Even not under her hypnotic suggestion, I was..."
She finally looked over in time to see her partner absently brush an errant lock of hair from her eyes.
"...startled when I saw her."
Helena's fingers itched to take over the gesture, then anger flooded through her.
It wasn't her place.
It never had been.
"But -- "
Unaware that she'd been going to speak, Helena caught herself, then gave a mental shrug.
"I was really *seeing* your face, Barbara."
Twisting a bit to the side, she searched green eyes that seemed strangely guarded.
"It wasn't just red hair and green eyes and..."
At a loss, she slashed one hand roughly between them.
"It wasn't just surface stuff," she finally ground out.
A warm hand rested lightly on her back, rubbing small circles. Helena honestly couldn't decide whether she wanted to purr or cry.
"That sort of surface similarity would make it extremely difficult for you to see through her hypnotic suggestion, Hel."
The sheer practical reasonableness of her partner's answer was somehow reassuring. Chewing at her lower lip and mustering her courage to get up and get moving, she was distracted by a question.
"How long had she been there, Sweetheart?"
Still grappling with it all, Helena barely gave the question a moment's attention.
"Uh, not even an hour."
With that, she tossed back the covers and planted her feet on the floor.
Time to move on.
The balcony had always been one of her favorite spots at the clock tower. Nineteen stories up, it didn't permit many of New Gotham's architectural monstrosities to hide the sky. There were also some pretty kickin' gargoyles to hang with. Not to mention an unobstructed view of the Delphi platform inside.
But, this afternoon, Helena wasn't admiring sky or sculpture or even her partner at work. Seated on the edge of the low parapet that surrounded the balcony, she wasn't looking at much beside the street that was so many stories below her dangling feet.
All she wanted to do was slip over the edge and disappear.
Or just take a header from the stone rail and kiss the concrete down there.
Despite herself, she had to snort at that last thought.
She'd land on her feet.
She always did.
Something about that tickled her conscience, and Helena felt her lips quirk when she remembered.
Not too many years ago, end of high school maybe, when she'd be younger, dumber, and full of come, she'd sometimes belted back a dozen shots and then experimentally gone tail over head off of the downtown bank building or Wayne Arms Apartments. Even shit-faced, she somehow always landed on her feet.
Except for that one time when she'd misjudged where that dumpster had been and had to limp home and explain a broken foot to her guardian.
Funny things was, she'd told Barbara the truth about her little mishap.
Most of it anyway.
Figuring that another broken foot wasn't quite what she was angling for, the brunette turned her eyes to the sky, all too aware of the face of the clock behind her, of time moving on, and of the fact that she was right where she'd been not too many weeks before.
She rubbed at her nose with her knuckles, turning the word around.
Before was when she hadn't been tricked into believing the unbelievable. It was when her world hadn't be turned upside down by an impossible dream seeming to become real. It was when she'd thought...
Well, it didn't matter.
Since Barbara had asked, she'd stuck around for the day to make certain that Quinn's cocktail didn't have her sprouting a second head or speaking in tongues or thinking that up was down.
She figured that she could blow on out in time to pick up her shift at the Dark Horse -- and wouldn't that bring up lots of happy shiny memories? -- and then go lose herself in a bottle of Grey Goose.
Maybe two bottles.
She didn't need the whisper of rubber on the flagstones to alert her when Barbara joined her; the redhead's presence, her scent, her aura, had always been palpable for Helena. Still, Helena remained fixed in her study of the clouds between the Daimer Building and Wayne Arms, even when a warm hand came to rest lightly on the small of her back.
It felt so damned good that Helena almost arched into the gentle contact. Somehow, though, she held it together.
The silence drew on, and she recognized her partner's tactic. It was one of the most effective in her former guardian's arsenal, but she wasn't going to give in to unspoken questions.
Not this time.
It wasn't going to be her that blinked first.
"Why'd you attack, Barbara?"
Well, she could have gone with something worse, and that question *had* been bugging her. Unfortunately, it caused Barbara to remove her hand, the loss leaving her cold.
"Well, Hel, when I saw a carbon copy of our Hummer in the parking lot, I had an inkling that something was rotten in Denmark."
Helena ran her palms up and down her thighs as her mood flattened out a little more.
She thought that "glum" was a pretty good way to describe it.
When Barbara was mis-quoting The Bard, things weren't good. Not to mention the fact that, of course, her partner was gonna have observed a whole lot of things.
"Then," the other woman's voice seemed to falter a tiny bit, and Helena instinctively turned ninety degrees to see her. "when I came in and saw you with Quinn, her hands on your throat..."
The redhead shuddered, and Helena nodded slowly, hating the strength of emotion -- bad emotion -- that she'd caused. She fought her own reaction as she recalled the bittersweet conversation in the dark booth at the bar that had led up to that touch.
Flights of fancy and dreams of white picket fences. Now it was poison in her mouth.
"Still, why not a batarang?"
She dragged a hand through her hair and worked to pin down what had been gnawing at her. She'd been going over the scene at the bar -- over and over all day -- trying to figure out why it had taken her so long to see. She figured that her partner's attack had gone a long way in keeping her off track.
"I mean, a bowie? It's kind of out of character for you."
Mercifully, Barbara bypassed the obvious comments about her behavior.
"In hindsight -- "
There was no way to miss the touch of color moving into the older woman's pale cheeks.
"--it was a tactical error; however, it was instinct, I suppose. I'd just divested a would-be troublemaker of the weapon in the parking lot and it was...handy."
Helena blinked, a warm swell of pride filling her chest.
Still, she'd have to make sure Leon worked on security.
Her eyes widened when Barbara's hand came to hers, squeezing lightly.
"I -- I couldn't have Quinn hurting you, Helena."
She forced herself to meet her partner's eyes, unable to doubt the pain in them. She returned the light pressure against her fingers, searching for something to say.
"Barbara, I-- I didn't..."
The redhead's smile was sad, but it was enough.
"I know, Hel."
They remained fixed in place for a brief eternity, and Helena focused on the solid reality of the other woman's hand in hers, the calming presence in front of her.
She realized she'd been leaning in when Barbara exhaled and straightened. Seeing something in those beautiful features, Helena forced her fingers to loosen and released her hand.
"I believe I may have mis-communicated earlier, Helena."
Although the sudden lurch in her gut gave her a pretty good idea what Barbara was talking about, the brunette wasn't going to rush it. She turned a a bit on the low wall to face the city again, raising one shoulder in a half-shrug.
She thought that Barbara was slow in answering, like she was picking and choosing her words.
"Earlier, when I asked how long..."
Helena swallowed around something in her throat, following the flight of two ravens through the artificial valleys created by the city's buildings.
"I meant to ask how long had she--"
Funny how the birds seemed to know how to catch the same updrafts that she found.
"How long had you been seeing her -- me -- away from the tower?"
The birds were getting blurry, heading toward the setting sun.
Helena shivered when lightly calloused fingers touched her forearm, then slid down to the back of her hand.
"My guess would be five weeks or so. Is that close, Hel?"
She chewed at the inside of her cheek for a moment, flipping the pages of her mental dayplanner backward, then finally nodded once. From the corner of her eye, she saw color moving up Barbara's neck, flooding her cheeks. When the redhead spoke again, Helena almost winced at how strangled her voice was.
"You two were...?"
Carefully, Helena extricated her hand from her partner's. Wordless, she forced herself to nod again.
She picked at a stain on her jeans for a few seconds until the weight of Barbara's silence was too much.
"Well -- "
She looked over and quirked a grin, trying for lightness.
"-- this is awkward."
Barbara's reply was decidedly -- well -- dry.
She held her breath when crimson brows furrowed.
Who the fuck knew what Red was gonna come out with next.
Helena's chest constricted at the way Barbara sounded so...lost.
".. if you thought that we --"
Long fingers gestured between the two of them, and Helena dipped her head in comprehension.
"-- were, er..."
Impossibly, her partner's face was getting even redder. Helena had a suspicion that her own wasn't too far behind.
"Why were you...Why didn't you...here? With me?"
Yeah, that heat in her cheeks wasn't just from the warming rays of the setting sun.
She tilted her head back, inspecting the clouds, and ran the tip of her tongue around the edges of her lips.
"She said that she needed some time to reconcile things with our...with everything."
A helluva lot of silence followed that. Enough that Helena was finally forced to look down, only to find Barbara regarding her, an expression she couldn't read on her features.
The brunette swallowed around something in her throat.
The older woman's hands dropped to the wheels of her chair, and she rocked back and forth for a second.
"I can't believe that you think I'd..."
Those elegant hands rose, palms up like Barbara was trying to capture the right words.
"...segregate a relationship like that."
Since she could see the clock face behind her companion, Helena knew how little time elapsed before Barbara added one more thing.
"If we were to have one."
Trying not to think about the twisting feeling in her stomach, Helena managed a shrug. She couldn't quite make eye contact.
"Hey, I wasn't quite sure that I wasn't dreaming. That you'd..."
Too much information.
Waaaay too much.
"Uh, I guess it seemed more like you were compartmentalizing until you could figure out how to carve some adjoining hallways to other parts of our lives."
And in Junior English, Barbara had told her she needed to work on her use of metaphor.
She watched crimson brows knit, suspecting that her former guardian wasn't taking the same stroll down memory lane. Barbara's next question confirmed it.
"So just because 'I'--"
Barbara's tone clearly encapsulated the words in quotation marks.
"-- asked you to--"
She didn't need to hear the rest of whatever was gonna follow those words.
She held her breath, knowing that there was more.
"And, if I...If she had asked you to kill, Helena?"
Since that was an easy one, Helena managed a smile.
"Nah. I would have known it wasn't you."
Her brief flirtation with levity disappeared with a noisy pop when the obvious corollary to that came to mind. Before she knew it, she heard herself saying it out loud.
"Course, I shoulda known you wouldn't have wanted ...that either."
Focusing on her knees, she bit at the inside of her cheek.
How the fuck *had* she thought that Babs would ever have...
A noisy exhalation forced her to look over, and she fought her own confusion when Barbara raised thumb and forefinger to the bridge of her nose. Uncertain as to just what -- other than the whole frikkin' situation -- had bugged Barbara, Helena kept silent, watching warily.
"If *I* -- "
There was -- no way to miss it -- a helluva lot of emphasis on the pronoun.
"-- were to ask you right now to kill Quinn, would you?"
The question hit her hard. Like a set of brass knuckles to the jaw.
Not so much in and of itself, but because of the earnestness in Barbara's face.
She opened her mouth to answer, then snapped it shut. Something fluttered in her chest when it struck her what Barbara just *might* be getting at.
With some difficulty, Helena swallowed. Then, she ran her tongue around the edges of her very dry lips and screwed up her courage.
Not much she was hiding from the other woman now anyway.
"I guess I'd have to think it was the right thing to do. Or -- "
Her courage faltered, and for a moment she was tempted to let it go.
Play dumb. Keep it abstract and theoretical and safe and ...
Something in the green eyes that were fixed so purposefully on her wouldn't let her sidestep.
"Or, I'd have to want it, too."
Whatever had been fluttering behind her breastbone dropped like the proverbial ton of bricks when she heard Barbara speak, her words soft but very, very clear.
"Which was it with Quinn?"
For some reason, breathing seemed really, really hard. Helena raised her hand to chew at the nail of her pinkie finger.
Ultimately, there wasn't much of a choice. She'd never been able to lie to Barbara.
"The want one."
Some air finally reached her lungs when she saw her companion's features ease.
The weight of fear was gone, if only for this moment.
She lowered her hand and looked at the sky, her next words soft.
"Forever, I think."
She was a be-bop baby on a hard day's night
She was hangin' on Johnny, he was holdin' on tight
I could feel her coming from a mile away
There was no use talking, there was nothing to say
When the band began to play and play
Yeah, there was her opening.
Helena spun in a half-circle, one booted foot coming up on the flip side. She caught one of her attackers across the throat, and he fell to his knees with a ragged "ooof".
While he was busy figuring out whether he'd be speaking in a falsetto for the rest of his days, she danced backward, waving both hands, palms up, in a come-on movement.
Only four more, though their shouts seemed to be attracting some of their buddies from the street.
A wicked smile split her face as two of the goons rushed her.
Just her kind of odds.
"Come on, boys."
She easily sidestepped the first one, allowing the other to tag her shoulder with a weak blow.
"Not like I'm just gonna roll over for you."
She felt her jaw set at that, at the realization of how much she *had* just rolled over for Quinn. Basically, it seemed like the bitch had just had to show her a bright shiny object, and she'd fallen under her spell.
"I mean," she inquired of the second fellow as he slid down the alley wall, "how fuckin' insulting is *that*?"
Since his eyes were closed before he hit the ground, she didn't expect much in the way of sympathy about her susceptibility to hypnotic suggestion. But, maybe one of his friends had a little more stamina.
And we danced like a wave on the ocean, romanced
We were liars in love and we danced
Swept away for a moment by chance
And we danced and danced and danced
She saw the tall blonde guy coming at her from a mile away, but decided to take the hit. It landed solidly on her jaw, almost jostling the earbud that was attached to the iPod in her coat pocket.
Sometimes a little pain was good for the soul.
Like last week and that talk she'd had with Barbara on the balcony. That had been all kinds of fun.
Shaking off the little cartoon stars that were dancing around her head, she grabbed blondie's wrist and neatly tossed him over her shoulder. She didn't need to look to know that he'd landed in the bank of garbage cans.
The whole balcony scene -- hell, the last six weeks -- wasn't really how she'd planned to bare her soul to Barbara. It wasn't like she'd really planned to bare her soul period; but this mess sure took the cake.
With the noise from blondie trying to get out of the garbage getting louder, Helena ducked under a flying brick and dug in her pocket to thumb up the volume. She used the movement to bend at the waist and plant her boot against the knee of the dude who was trying to sneak up behind her.
Just like she'd been with Quinn.
As unromantic as she could be, even Helena had to admit that being caught with her pants down with a poor look-alike wasn't the smoothest way to announce her undying devotion, her unrequited love, her pathetic years of...
"Helena? How...? When...?"
Last week, after she'd made her confession, it had taken Barbara a few beats to get that much out. Helena had figured that the other three journalistic questions -- who, what, and where -- were bound to follow.
Unfortunately, it had been that other one that Babs had chosen.
The hard one.
"Why didn't you ever say anything?"
For the second time during that conversation, the redhead had sounded so...lost.
Helena hated that she'd put that tone in her partner's voice. Even more, she'd hated how her eyes had burned.
"Cuz I didn't want to have The Talk."
She'd allowed the rest to remain unspoken: I didn't want to loose what we have.
Her answer had only earned her several baffled blinks. Finally, Barbara had thrown in the towel.
"The talk, Hel?"
"It's not you, it's me, dude."
Her elbow impacting his nose made a satisfying crunch. The spray of blood and snot that followed was less appealing.
"Or, maybe," she added as she stepped out of the line of goo, "it is you, 'cuz it just isn't right."
She was pretty sure that some variation of her little speech would be the result of letting Barbara know, and it just wasn't anything she needed to hear.
I met my be-bop baby at the Union Hall
She could dance all night and shake the paint off the walls
But when I saw her smile across a crowded room
Well I knew we'd have to leave the party soon
As the band began to play out of tune
"Helena, no --"
Barbara had cut herself off when Helena had risen from her perch on the wall. Somehow, she'd managed a grin and a shrug.
"Hey, not a big deal, Red."
She still didn't know how she'd made her mouth form the words; the pain of them had nearly doubled her over.
Deciding that she didn't need her coat, she'd stepped onto the parapet and faced the city.
She'd given herself a last look, turning to catch those beautiful green eyes.
"-- *really* can't talk about this now."
And then she'd stepped into the air.
And now, she was flying through the dark alley, her leap carrying her from the back stoop of some store to the opposite wall. There, she coiled in on herself as she pushed off, her momentum sending her shoulder right into another dude's gut. She summersaulted as he went down and landed lightly on her feet.
At the mouth of the alley, she could see three or four other men gathering, trying to figure out what the fight was about and, probably, whether there was anything in it for them.
Helena decided to clear things up for them.
"Come on down, boys. Plenty for everyone."
She hadn't talked to Barbara in the last week. She'd checked in each day -- with Dinah -- getting second-hand that Quinn seemed to have gone underground.
Probably coming up with another plan to rip out her guts and do the Riverdance on 'em. Or maybe the bitch was gonna turn her attention to Barbara next.
Barbara, who'd called twice every day, like clockwork. Helena had let the calls go to the machine. She still hadn't listened to them.
Or erased them yet either.
Each night, after pulling her shift at the bar, in those grey hours of early morning before she could make herself go unconscious inside a bottle or two, she'd stare at the blinking number on the answering machine. Her fingers would sometimes make their way to the 'Play' button, itching to depress the button so she could hear Red's voice.
Trouble was, she didn't want to hear the words.
So, she'd let the counter keep creeping up by two each day, and she'd drunk and slept and pulled her shift through the hours of the days and nights.
Until this night.
Something in the air and the moon had appealed more than the bottle, so she'd headed out in search of something. On her way to No Man's Land, she'd found these guys trying to jack an ATM, and the night had suddenly gotten a lot better.
There was more than one way to find oblivion.
A whistle and a wiggle had drawn them from the money machine and into the alley. Then, the fun was on.
"C'mon -- Uhh"
She doubled over under the combined force of one guy's fist to her gut and someone else's punch to her kidneys. Ducking under another ham-handed swing, she wiped a trickle of blood from the corner of her mouth and smiled.
"Izzat all you've got?"
She could take the blows.
The endless beat, she's walkin' my way
Hear the music fade when she says
Are we getting too close, do we care to get closer
The room is spinning as she whispers my name
And we danced...
With his ass up in the air and his legs being twisted back above his shoulders, the dude in the gaudy silver trunks was complete human-pretzel material.
Not to mention, Helena figured, that he was totally set up for the triangle hold that Red-trunks was just about to put on him.
She snorted softly, a little irritated that she freakin' knew what move was going to follow, but she didn't raise her head from the arm of the couch or even bother to change channels.
WWF Smackdown wasn't high art, but it was something, and curled up on her sofa with a ratty afghan pulled up to her chest, Helena was okay with it. Hell, if she was lucky, it would bore her into forgetting how uncomfortable the couch was, and she could fall asleep on it for another night.
The bed wasn't an option, of course.
She already had the sheets and pillows pulled from it, wadded in the corner just waiting to be lugged down to the dumpster. A week since that night at the bar and she still couldn't look at the bed.
In fact, she was starting to suspect that she might have to throw out the whole damned thing.
But, for now, she was just going to lie on the couch. No bottles; no trolling for...whatever. Just...watching the smackdown.
Something about the plans of mice ran through her head a few minutes later when there was a sharp rap at her door.
Obviously, her apartment was becoming too much visited.
For about two seconds, Helena considered ignoring whoever was out there, but, considering just where her apartment was tucked, it wasn't likely to be an Amway salesman who'd just go away.
She swung open the door with a none-too-gentle jerk that obviously startled her uninvited guest. But, when she saw who was at her doorstep, Helena was the one who jumped in her own skin.
Sitting in the chair.
Her heart boomed once, and she sucked in a slow breath.
"How do I know it's you?"
She didn't really think Harley would pull the same gig again and she didn't see any shiny objects, but a girl couldn't be too careful.
Helena thought she saw a flicker of something in the other woman's eyes -- approval, amusement, annoyance.
"What do you need to convince yourself, Hel?"
The redhead's question was pitched low. The green eyes that searched hers were earnest.
"Would you come back to the tower with me? Would that convince you?"
It was a pretty good offer, but the brunette wasn't much into leaving.
Brusquely, she stepped across the threshold and bent low, allowing her cheek to brush the other woman's. She couldn't keep her eyes from fluttering shut, but she didn't forget her purpose, opening her mouth to draw in the redhead's scent.
No oranges or ginger or other perfumes. Only...
She moved minutely closer and snaked out her tongue, tasting...
Not even Barbara's sharp question -- "Hel?!" -- could break the moment, the feeling of her knees going weak at the hint of soap and sweet skin. Somehow, she fought down the growl that wanted to rumble through her and straightened, keeping her eyes downturned until she was sure she had it under control.
No way to mistake that scent.
Anger spiked through her at everything Quinn had taken, and Helena bit at her bottom lip as she debated. Finally, she took a step back and leaned against the jamb.
"What's the code for the tower?"
Green eyes regarded her evenly for a few seconds. Finally, Helena caught on and snorted.
"Now you're wondering if I'm her aren't you?"
She rubbed at her forehead with the heel of her hand and met the older woman's gaze.
"You don't know if I'm gonna take off my mask and be somebody else..."
When her brain caught up with her mouth, the brunette nearly choked on the words.
Not like she hadn't already been exposed.
Helena turned from the door with a shrug and headed to the couch.
"Sorry, Red. I don't have anything to give you."
Even with her back turned, she was aware of her guest dropping her hands to the wheels of her chair, but Barbara didn't follow her. Helena almost missed the softly whispered response.
"I very much doubt that, Hel."
Something squeezed at her chest, and Helena stopped, allowing her eyes to fall shut again as she fought through it. Eventually, she turned and simply looked at her until the redhead puffed out her cheeks.
"How about what makes up the code?"
Pretty much indifferent, Helena turned one palm up.
This time, she was pretty sure it was annoyance in her partner's eyes.
"The code is made up of the modulus of your birthdate, plus your birth year, and the three prime numbers from my social security number."
This time, she raised her hand palm out.
She waited until Barbara entered the apartment and clicked the door shut. She tried very hard not to think about the last time that someone who she'd believed to be Barbara had done the same thing.
She dropped to the couch and snagged the remote, aiming it at the set and thumbing the volume down.
"You haven't called, Hel."
She saw those acute green eyes tick to the answering machine that was on the side table.
"Or checked your messages."
Helena didn't bother to correct her.
"I've been kinda busy."
One crimson brow arched upward, and the redhead took in the room. It took Helena a second to remember that this was, really, only Barbara's second visit.
She followed the tilt of a red head toward the television. Again, she shrugged.
"Yeah, muscle-y men doing homo-erotic things. It's art."
Juggling the remote from hand to hand, Helena followed Barbara as she came to a stop at the end of the couch. She managed to maintain the silence for all of twenty seconds before she caved.
"Your face is almost -- "
She felt her own face beginning to burn, but her companion cut her off.
"That's not what hurts me, Hel."
There wasn't anything she could say, but somehow Barbara kept talking. The words vibrated against her in the dark room -- wounding, healing, hurting.
"Don't let this -- that -- come between what we have, Sweetheart."
The old endearment forced her to look up from her inspection of the remote control.
Her voice was thick, so thick that she could barely understand herself. Her oldest friend didn't seem to have the same problem.
A warm hand came to hers, the touch somehow soothing...and scalding. She hated the flicker of heat -- hope, maybe -- that tickled her chest and, ever so carefully, removed her hand.
She felt more than heard Barbara's slow exhalation.
There was another exhalation, and from the corner of her eye, the brunette watched the other woman shift in her chair.
"I know that I tend to go through life with blinders on."
When Barbara laughed awkwardly, Helena forgot to breath, aching for her visible discomfort. Somehow, she managed to quirk a smile in return.
"Dad always says that I can be as thick as a plank."
One dark brow arching upward, Helena silently held up her index and second fingers in correction. She was peevishly pleased by her mentor's blush.
"Okay, two planks, Helena."
At the admission, Helena immediately felt guilty and had to interject, somehow ease up the guilt in Barbara's words.
"It keeps you focused on the important stuff, Barbara."
Picking at a little dried pizza sauce on the remote, she didn't think she quite heard her guest's response.
"Only parts of it, Hel."
Helena felt her stomach flip-flop when Barbara extended her hand, palm up. The redhead held the position, tilting her head just a bit to the side, her eyes asking for...
Helena worked her jaw once, then settled the remote on the coffee table and placed her hand in Barbara's. The electric frisson from the contact didn't compare to the words she heard next.
"You know how much I love you?"
A hundred declarations of her own flew through her mind, but she figured that, at this point, they were kind of moot. Wordless, Helena could only nod.
"I can't begin to understand how this has affected you, but..."
She couldn't breath.
There was some huge freakin' weight on her chest, and she didn't know what to do to help with Babs' visible uncertainty.
Catching her bottom lip in her teeth, she lightly squeezed the strong hand holding hers.
"Well, Helena -- "
Something twisted inside her when the redhead straightened her shoulders and met her eyes.
Barbara always had been the braver of them.
"-- someday, perhaps you'll allow me to love you fully."
Helena had heard the term but never really grasped what it meant. Never really *gotten it*.
Until this second.
Suddenly, she could breath again, the rush making her lightheaded. Heat rushed through her belly and chest. Her fingers itched and her feet needed to move and she wanted to shout at the top of her lungs...
The words screamed across her brain in eight foot neon.
She'd spent what felt like her entire life -- at least her entire adolescent and adult life -- wanting Barbara. And here, in the space of weeks, she'd finally been told that her feelings were returned by not one but two Barbaras. Helena heard a harsh bark of laughter. Registering Barbara's quirk of consternation, she belatedly recognized it as her own and scooted from the couch to squat beside the chair.
Hell, it wasn't Barbara's fault she was in this situation.
She lightly rested her fingertips on the other woman's hand. The electricity that coursed up her arm left little room for doubt that this was the real thing.
For a moment, her nerves singing in pleasure, she allowed herself to drink it in.
"I was just thinking that the world's a crazy place."
The other woman's smile was sad.
"Isn't is just?"
"Are you nuts?"
The instant the words crossed her lips, Helena recognized just how stupid they were. The woman she'd just addressed didn't take her to task though.
"There have been rumors, Helena."
Rolling her eyes, the brunette motioned for the other woman to follow her and moved to the far end of the bar. Her unexpected visitor obligingly wove through the crowd and came around the ell, perching herself on a stool.
With brown eyes blinking brightly at her, Helena considered her question and the other woman's answer. After all, Quinn had never made much of a secret of her decidedly different mental state. "Guess being nuts would explain you coming in here," she muttered as she snagged a highball glass and poured two fingers of Scotch for the madwoman.
Quinn accepted the glass with a smile and raised it in what Helena took to be a toast.
Or a reprimand.
"Now, now, darling -- "
Helena dug her nails into her palms when she heard the endearment, just managing not to reach across the counter and throttle the tiny woman.
"-- I have been taking my meds regularly, after all."
Helena thought that some of her skepticism might have shown, because after Quinn set her glass on the bar, she smiled brightly.
"Well, most of them."
Catching herself feeling a little slack-jawed, Helena snagged a bar towel and dabbed at a discoloration on the countertop.
Finally, she looked up, meeting over-bright brown eyes. In addition to removing the contacts, Quinn had cut her hair, and it was back to its usual spiky platinum blonde.
Probably a good thing since Helena knew she would have killed the bitch if she'd dared show up looking like Barbara again.
"Just tell me why I shouldn't wrap your ass in cellophane -- "
She gestured loosely toward the sandwich station at the back of the bar.
"-- and ship you back to the nut house?"
When one plucked blonde brow arched coyly, Helena tried to ready herself for whatever might be coming her way. She failed miserably.
"Now, that wouldn't be a nice thing to do to your lover, Helena."
Absolutely dumbstruck, the brunette fixed her tormentor with a long look.
Well, that wasn't quite right.
"It wasn't you," she finished, hating the petulance in her words.
To her surprise, Quinn lowered her eyes. Her response was almost lost amid the bustle and clatter at the Dark Horse, the laughter of the Kappa boys in the corner, and the always-present whine of the jukebox.
"Funny, that. It was always you that I was making love with."
There's no sign of life
It's just the power to charm
I'm lying in the rain
But I never wave bye-bye
But I try, I try
Never gonna fall for
Modern love - walks beside me
Blue eyes blinked once, slowly.
"Fucking's more like it."
It was the best Helena could manage after Quinn's little declaration, and it earned her a trilling laugh.
"Oh, come now, Darling. Don't act quite so put out."
Slim fingers, the nails now bright red, rimmed the lip of the highball glass.
"I seem to recall that you took great delight in our little phallic adventures."
Helena clenched her teeth when blonde lashes batted coyly.
"You took my virtue, Helena."
Snorting, Helena reached for the bottle and raised it in question. Quinn ignored the offer, arching a brow.
"Plowed is more like it, Hel."
There was no way to stop the heat Helena could feel rising to her face. She just hoped that the neon beer signs would hide the color.
Church on time - terrifies me
Church on time - makes me party
Church on time - puts my trust in god and man
God and man - no confessions
God and man - no religion
God and man - don't believe in modern love
Helena shook her head from side to side and turned to freshen up the Jack-and-cokes that the two misplaced businessmen were belting back. She took her time, still trying to figure out what had brought Quinn back to the bar only a week after their little showdown.
"It wasn't you, Quinn," she finally answered when she returned.
Thin red lips moued, and blue eyes narrowed.
"I cared, Helena."
Perhaps unfortunately, the juke silenced just as Helena burst into laughter. For a moment, half the eyes in the bar fixed on her, but she didn't care.
"Right, Harley. Sure you did."
The blonde didn't back down.
"I cared enough to make the first move, Helena. I wanted you enough to notice things about you."
Helena didn't think she liked hearing that. For some reason, it made her think of Barbara, who'd somehow made herself never see.
Not entirely happy with that train of thought she shook her head and blew out a breath.
Quinn was undeterred.
"I spent months planning, Helena."
The tiny woman was leaning forward, her voice dropping and drawing Helena in.
"I grew my hair and had scars surgically added to help you see past your prejudices."
Quinn ignored her yelp, and, disbelieving, Helena thought she saw moisture pooling in brown eyes.
"I even endured injections of a botox chemical that kept me from really feeling -- "
The sensation of cool fingers brushing her arm raised Helena's hackles.
And sent a charge through her.
"--from feeling your beautiful hands and mouth--"
Scalded, Helena jerked her arm away and held up her hand, palm out.
Trying to will her flip-flopping stomach to calm, she could only hope that Quinn didn't mistake the trembling of her hands.
"Just. Stop right there."
Apparently, Helena's discomfort wasn't what was on Quinn's mind.
"Can't you give me a chance?"
Fuckin' hell, the bitch couldn't be serious.
Attempting to make herself very clear, Helena placed her hand on the counter and leaned close. She waited until brown eyes met hers, then spoke firmly.
Helena nearly jumped when Quinn stretched up and touched one finger to her chin.
"Crazy for you, Helena."
The smile was pure saccharine, but Quinn's eyes...There was something almost like longing there.
Helena abruptly straightened up.
"You lied to me, Quinn."
The words came out rough with the pain and anger Helena had been trying to wash away in the darkness of her apartment for the last days and nights. Quinn's reply, offered with such compassion, nearly sent her fleeing back to her haven.
"And Barbara has denied you."
Coming on the heels of the conversation she'd had with Barbara just the night before, the words left her floundering, and Helena turned to the back wall, unwilling to give Quinn the satisfaction of seeing her face. Very carefully, she folded the bar towel into a neat rectangle, then stopped, unsure where to place it.
The problem is all inside your head, she said to me
The answer is easy if you take it logically
I'd like to help you in your struggle to be free
There must be fifty ways to leave your lover
Mercifully or not, the familiar melody that warbled from the juke roused her.
She said it's really not my habit to intrude
Furthermore, I hope my meaning won't be lost or misconstrued
But I'll repeat myself at the risk of being crude
There must be fifty ways to leave your lover
Tossing the towel into a corner, the brunette skipped the by-pass and hopped over the counter. In three loping strides, she was at the juke and yanked the cord from the wall.
With that long-overdue mercy killing accomplished, she ignored the shouts of protest and motioned for Quinn to join her at a table.
Hell, her shift was over.
"She has to."
Even Helena had to admit that her tight whisper wasn't very convincing.
Hell, she wasn't so sure who she was trying to convince.
Still, as weak an argument as it was, it was the truth. And, it was what made Barbara who she was.
And, miserably, Helena had long ago accepted the truth of matters: it was Barbara -- Barbara, with her eyes ever fixed on duty, honor, and yadda yadda yadda -- who she loved.
"And she always will, Helena."
Again, that taunting tone that she'd long associated with her former therapist and long-time adversary was absent. The soft sympathy in the words was almost too much.
"No, she -- "
Belatedly, Helena snapped her mouth shut, unwilling to give Quinn that much.
Not to mention the fact that, after Babs' visit the night before, she was still not sure just what knowledge she was actually in possession of.
Unfortunately, the other woman knew her too well.
The blonde head tilted, birdlike, to the side.
"So, the object of your affection has professed something?"
Refusing to be played, Helena stared at her nails.
Tisk, tisk? Who the hell really said --
"Were I a cynical soul, Helena, I might be prone to question her timing."
Well, that got her attention.
"What fuck are you saying, Quinn?"
Because she had a pretty good idea what the other woman was talking about, Helena didn't bother to look up.
"Well, Helena, after our little unplanned meeting last week, can we agree that you've very clearly demonstrated to Barbara what you want?"
Not sure that "want" encompassed it all, Helena nevertheless offered a grudging nod, and Quinn picked up momentum.
"And, if your grunge appearance--"
The brunette endured the other woman's appraising look, unable to deny that she'd let things go a little.
"-- and lack of presence on the streets for the last week is any indication, I don't think that I'd be too far off the mark in guessing that you've been avoiding your dear Barbara."
She didn't want to hear this.
She didn't need to.
"And," the other woman chirped on, "we both know that Barbara is a very logical soul."
Hating the way the blonde came to a stop like she'd just set up one of those perfect proofs in geometry or something, Helena nibbled at her bottom lip.
It wasn't like she hadn't had her own questions.
The night before, when she'd finally pulled it together enough to say something half-coherent -- "Why now?" -- Babs' answer hadn't been the undying declaration she'd dreamed of.
"Don't let this come between us, Helena."
All she'd been able to promise was that she'd try. Somehow, Red had even wrangled a promise for her to come by after her shift tonight. Then, the weight of unspoken words had grown too heavy, and Barbara had left her to her thoughts.
Thoughts that had rocketed between euphoria and shame, hope and despair, like a pinball on crank.
Now, less than twenty-four hours later, she had the person who'd set it all off right here, saying the same things she'd been trying not to think.
Man, she hated Harley.
Probably deliberately ignoring the hostility Helena could feel rising off herself, the blonde inched her chair closer. Helena just kept from scooting in the other direction.
"I know that you've had your heart set on her for a long time, Helena--"
Something about the sweet treacle in Quinn's voice raised her hackles, but Helena kept listening.
Maybe this was some new hypnosis.
"-- but perhaps it's time to explore other options."
Her laugh held no humor.
"What the fuck kind of options do I have?"
She had to be drunk. Or dreaming. Or something.
No other way to explain why she hadn't just pounded Quinn into the ground, poured her into a baggie, and called the cops.
Again, Helena found herself unsettled by the openness of her companion's expression. Over the years, she'd faced Quinn in a lot of situations, seen her face in a lot of lights.
She'd never seen her like this.
"I believe, Helena, that we demonstrated that you can be happy with someone other--"
That still didn't make it right.
"You know I thought you were her," she ground out.
Quinn's waved one hand airily.
"I needed some way to present my case to you."
Feeling more and more like she was tumbling head over heels down the rabbit-hole, Helena lowered her brows.
"So why don't you just hypnotize me again and make me..."
She didn't quite want to finish that sentence, but Quinn didn't seem to mind.
"Because, darling -- "
Helena felt her brows creeping up when the tiny woman leaned close.
"-- this time, I want you to know that it's me."
Honest to god, Helena didn't think she knew anything for certain any more.
Her worst enemy was professing...something.
Her oldest friend had professed...something.
Suddenly, it seemed like she was very much in demand, but she just didn't know what the hell for.
Lost in her own head, replaying the conversation she'd just had with Harley, it took Helena a second when the elevator doors dinged open at the clock tower. Her abstraction must have been taken the wrong way, because before she knew it, Barbara was in front of the doors, looking more hesitant than Helena could remember.
"Oh -- "
The brunette ran a hand through her hair and managed a smile as she stepped into the living area.
Barbara's smile was soft.
Without thought, Helena took a step toward her, aching to drop to her knees. To bury her head in her partner's lap. To wrap her arms around her waist and hold her.
To be held.
Something held her back.
"I'm glad you came, Helena."
Half-turning, Helena blinked against the burning in her eyes and shrugged out of her coat. Somehow, she swallowed around the knot in her throat.
"No sweat, Barbara."
By the time she draped her coat over the back of the couch and turned around to face the redhead, she'd pulled it together.
"I was kinda overdue."
She took in the big room: the comforting familiarity of the Delphi humming at the back; the pervasive whir and tick of the damned clock; the big screen muted on one of her favorite channels.
"I'm glad you gave me a kick in the pants, Red."
Barbara's answering smile was like the sun.
"No kicking, Hel."
Helena didn't back away when the older woman moved close and looked up at her, her expression serious.
"I've missed you, Sweetheart."
She realized she'd been a little premature in thinking that she'd pulled things together.
It wasn't much, but she didn't know what to say, how to tell Barbara that she was *still* missing her.
Needing to escape the scrutiny of acute green eyes, she circled to the back of the couch, trailing her fingers across the worn upholstery. She picked up the muted sound of music coming from Dinah's room, saw a band of light from under the closed door.
So, the Kid was keeping a low profile.
"I have dinner for you."
Dark brows lowered, and Helena quirked a grin. For some reason, that caused a pretty shade of red to creep into her companion's cheeks.
"If you're hungry that is. I didn't know--"
Helena decided to cut her a break.
"I could eat."
She saw some of the tension leave the redhead's shoulders. Barbara's laugh was low, tickling something deep in her chest.
"Good. It should still be warm."
Automatically following Barbara into the kitchen, Helena came to a stop.
"Uh -- "
The redhead looked over her shoulder, her eyebrows rising in question.
"-- you cooked?"
She hadn't meant to sound so alarmed, but, well, Barbara's lack of domestic skills were legendary. Fortunately, the older woman didn't seem offended.
"I ordered take-out, however -- "
Barbara moved into the kitchen, and Helena could hear the amusement in her voice.
"-- I was planning to break out the real dishes."
Falling into step, Helena opened the fridge and began digging around for sodas.
"Whoa, real dishes, huh?"
She snagged two cans, a little surprised that there was still Mountain Dew around: Dinah was always raiding her stash, so unless Helena kept hauling it into the tower, it was hard to keep it in stock.
"What's the occasion, Red?"
There was no answer, and Helena felt her stomach knot when she realized she'd pretty much put her foot in her mouth with that one. As casually as possible, she straightened and turned, bumping the door shut with her hip.
Barbara had laid out the dinnerware and was now at her customary place at the table just sort of...looking at her.
"You're here, Hel."
Well, that sure didn't do much for the whole "keeping things light" approach.
Helena bit back the first response that came to mind -- a flip homily about absence making the heart grow fonder -- and stepped over to the table.
She figured that she didn't need to open up the can of worms about why she'd been absent.
She worked her index fingers under the tabs of the two cans and popped them open together, then settled herself at the table. Settling her case of nerves was going to be a whole other battle.
With the redhead's last statement still hanging in the air between them, Helena finally settled on the truth.
"You didn't need to, Barbara."
Hell, it was her own case of terminal embarrassment that was behind everything.
She realized that Red wasn't going to let it go at that when, in the process of spooning out a healthy portion of Kung Pao, Barbara settled the serving spoon in the container. Helena couldn't read the expression in her eyes.
"Yes, I do."
Suddenly, Helena couldn't meet her friend's eyes. Instead, she caught her lower lip in her teeth and reached for the carton of Sesame Chicken.
"So, uh, Dinah said things have been quiet?"
"Too quiet, Hel."
Peering through her lashes, Helena saw the other woman calmly digging into her dinner. She decided that there just wasn't much she could say in response.
Less than an hour ago, just before sashaying out of the bar, Quinn had told her that she'd pulled her men back and there wouldn't be any crime from *her* end.
Giving Helena some time, she'd said.
Helena retrieved a pair of lacquered chopsticks and poked at her rice, wishing she could forget the rest of what Quinn had said.
"I can make this crime-free thing permanent. For you."
Barbara, bless her heart, interrupted those thoughts.
"But, you're not here to talk shop, Hel."
Dark brows knit while Helena finished chewing a bite of egg roll. She gave herself a second to wash it down with a long swallow of Mountain Dew.
"So, uh," she forced herself to meet Barbara's eyes, "why am I--?"
She thought that the older woman's smile was a little sad.
"Some time in front of the big screen and -- "
Barbara's expression changed, and Helena felt her heart skip a beat.
"-- some Chinese food."
Still lost, it took her a second to realize that her partner was leaning forward, offering her a bite of dumpling from her chopsticks. Helena thought there was a hint of dare in those green eyes; definitely something playful; maybe...
The brunette ran the tip of her tongue around the edges of her lips and inhaled slowly when she identified the rest of what she was seeing.
It was the sort of look she'd wanted forever. Just...just not over a mouthful of dinner.
Quirking the corner of her mouth in a smile, she leaned forward, neatly snagging won-ton between her teeth. She sucked the small morsel into her mouth, savoring the sweetly saline sauce that Barbara had dipped it in.
However, she forgot about culinary appreciation entirely when she saw the redhead snap the chopsticks into her palm, when she felt a lightly calloused finger trace her lips.
Then Barbara sucked her fingertip into her mouth, her full, soft lips making a bow as she licked off the drops of sauce.
Dumbstruck, instantly aflame, Helena worked to draw air into her lungs.
The gentle reminder came just in time to help Helena reign back on everything that was clawing to get out. Certain that her eyes had augmented, she looked down, grateful when she caught sight of the napkin in her lap.
Without looking up from her plate, she swallowed and raised the linen to her mouth.
"Mom did teach me a few manners, you know."
Mercifully, it came out lighter than she'd feared. She even managed a quirk of her lips.
Barbara's chuckle was low, teasing across her like fingers over the sensitive skin of her thighs, like the whisper of hot breath on her...
"I know, Hel."
The flash of white teeth that accompanied the words brought to mind other things, and Helena indulged herself, allowing her eyes to trace the long lines of the redhead's throat.
She'd tasted that skin, so briefly, just the night before, and the sensory memory caused her mouth to water.
God, she still wanted...
"Nobody can question your social skills, Sweetie."
It was said with another smile, but it was too much.
"Yeah -- "
Watching the skillful play of Barbara's fingers on the chopsticks, imagining the redhead's dexterity in all things, Helena almost let it go.
Her conscience wouldn't let her.
"-- I guess it's the stuff that's not fit for public consumption that's the problem."
In all honesty, she hadn't really expected Barbara to let the comment slip past, so she wasn't surprised when she was caught by a long look. Barbara placed her utensils neatly across the edge of her plate before speaking.
"Helena, there is no problem."
Her chest tightened up just a little when the other woman ducked down to catch her eyes.
"Neither public nor private."
Helena pushed her plate away, certain that she couldn't stomach another bite. She almost flinched when one of Barbara's hands caught hers.
"Please, Helena -- "
Something about the plea made her look up, forced her to fall into green eyes.
"-- don't let Quinn make you doubt yourself."
Helena couldn't help herself.
She really couldn't.
She had to laugh even though there was no humor behind the sound.
Unable to take any more, she pushed back from the table and started gathering plates. Busying herself at the sink, she wondered how she could explain that she had always known what she wanted.
And, she still did.
Barbara, however...Well, that was a whole different ball game.
Man, she hated Quinn for that.
Again, that damnable conscience that Barbara had installed over the years forced her to face facts, and she snorted softly.
After all, it was her own damned fault.
Giving in to the almost physical exasperation she could feel being directed her way, Helena finally looked over her shoulder. When she spied the can of Mountain Dew on the table, a thought struck her about just who could have been keeping the stash stocked, and she worked a grin.
"Don't worry, Red. The fat lady hasn't sung yet."
"You were humming."
Breezing through the French doors from the balcony, Helena saw Barbara's startled jump over at the Delphi, but she wasn't too concerned. If the older woman's distracted response were any indication, Barbara wasn't too put out by the dramatic entrance either.
Helena pushed the doors shut behind her in concession to the cool fall night then, not bothering to shed her duster, bounded onto the platform that held the Delphi and all of Barbara's other assorted technical gizmos.
"Not 'hmmmming'," she chided lightly, putting a hint of nasal emphasis on the lack of vowels. "You were *humming*."
With that, she came to a stop, resting one hip against the side of the table, and waited. It took less than a second before her cyber-genius mentor looked up from the umpteen screens she had open.
Barbara's face, Helena thought, really was the perfect embodiment of befuddlement. She realized that she was dangerously close to sporting her own embarrassingly doting look when she watched the redhead self-consciously smoothing her sweater.
Man, Babs was so fuckin' cute when she was clueless.
Kind of figuring what was going to happen next, Helena unconcernedly parked on haunch on the edge of the table and swung her leg in rhythm to the ticking of the clock. Right on cue, slender fingers snagged the computer glasses that had slid half-way down Barbara's nose and tugged them off. Green eyes went smoky and distant as the redhead tapped the one earpiece against her bottom lip.
Obviously Red was reworking every second of the last hour or ten.
"No, I wasn't."
Crimson brows furrowed adorably.
For all of about a nanosecond, Helena thought about messing with her, but her own purpose got the best of her.
Not to mention the fact that the last few days since her dinner with Barbara had been too cautious, too careful. Now, it just felt so damned good being able to feel good. She didn't want to mess it up by having Red think that she was making fun of her.
Deciding not to be appalled at her own sappiness, Helena waved one hand airily.
"Nah. Not right now."
Then she blinked when it hit her: it was a real, honest-to-gosh smile.
She felt her smile stretching toward the realm of "face cracking" when Barbara's befuddled expression morphed into blankness. Helena decided to cut her a break.
"D said you'd been humming around the tower during those weeks when..."
Seeing the recognition beginning to dawn, Helena was mercifully spared from having to finish the description. She gave her partner a moment while she allowed herself to replay the particularly illuminating conversation she'd had during sweeps the night before.
"When'd you know?"
She and Dinah had been waiting for a warehouse to clear out so they could run a search for Barbara. The sheer boredom had finally gotten the best of Helena, and she thumbed off her comm set, motioned for her partner to do the same, and given in to curiosity.
Despite the darkness of their rooftop perch, Helena had had no trouble making out the pink creeping into Dinah's pale features. She'd decided to keep it to the point.
"Yeah, that it wasn't what I thought."
She hadn't felt the need to add that nothing seemed to be what she thought it was anymore.
"I didn't -- "
Something about the way she'd suddenly risen from her crouch maybe startled the teen because her younger partner's hands had gone into the air and her words had come in a rush.
"Honest. I mean, it was confusing, but I just thought she was, uhm..."
Helena had had no trouble coming up with a suggestion to help the teen along.
The word had come out sounding, she'd thought, like what writers would have described as bitter.
That hadn't been very convincing, so Helena had just waited.
"But, then she'd be all..."
The blonde had shrugged, her face wrinkling in thought.
"I don't know. Like...humming while she worked the Delphi and stuff, so I figured maybe I was just missing other signs."
Helena had been really glad that it had been another cloudy night in New Gotham. No other way she could have hidden her surprise.
"Say what, Dinah?"
The Kid had tucked a lock of hair behind her ear and narrowed her eyes a little.
"Something old and mushy...by, uhm, The Cabinet-Makers?"
Half-certain that she was having her leg pulled, Helena had nevertheless prodded at that tantalizing snippet, finally extending her right hand, palm up, in a gesture of clueless surrender.
Dinah's voice had carried an edge of exasperated adolescent.
"Why do stars fall down from the sky...?"
The warbling had done the trick, and Helena had burst into laughter.
Immediately, she'd sobered.
"Whoa. That's heavy, D."
The deep dip of Dinah's chin had said it all.
It wasn't a question.
Barbara's nod confirmed it, and Helena held her breath.
"You've been -- During those weeks, you were so..."
There was no way to miss the hint of pink crawling up Barbara's neck, and Helena was hard-pressed not to lean forward and kiss a trail behind it, to discover the subtle difference in temperature at the edge of the blush.
"...affectionate and open in a way that you haven't been for so long."
This time, it was Helena's turn to feel heat touching her cheeks.
Red hair shook briskly from side to side.
Helena peered through her lashes, and Barbara's tone gentled.
Her attempt to smile failed when she saw the pain flit through green eyes.
"But, at the same time, Helena, you were--"
Although she desperately wanted to jump in, to help her partner with her words, Helena didn't know what she could say. She saw Barbara draw a steadying breath.
"You seemed to be ignoring me or distancing yourself, not coming by after sweeps to debrief and ..."
Slender finger waved loosely.
The redhead retrieved her glasses from the mouse pad and recrossed the bows. Helena was surprised by how steady Barbara's voice was when she finished.
After all, Babs just didn't *do* the emotional thing.
"It was puzzling and maddening and infuriating."
Barbara's eyes held no accusation or recrimination, only something...else. Wanting to fall to her knees and beg for forgiveness, Helena somehow managed an exaggerated shrug and waggled her eyebrows.
"And, this is new?"
Their laughter cleared the air, and for what felt like the first time in days, Helena could breath again. That was, until she looked over to find her partner still smiling at her, one slender hand barely resting on her upper chest.
With her fingers only inches above the swell of full breasts, her cheeks still flushed from laughter, Barbara looked ready to be laid across the table and worshipped.
Since turning that conversation with Dinah around in her head the night before and the realization that maybe Babs wasn't acting out of pity or to mark her territory or anything but genuine feelings, Helena had been thinking about Barbara.
She'd been thinking a lot.
And a lot of that thinking had veered to the decidedly non-conversational.
Suddenly, the air in the room was thick and heavy, like she was in the tropics and warm humidity made it hard to draw in enough oxygen.
Maybe that was the reason that Barbara's chest seemed to be rising so under her sweater. Maybe it was lack of oxygen that was making the everything around the outside of her vision go shimmery and bright.
Too late, Helena realized what she was doing, what she was thinking. When she lowered her head, daring to peek through her bangs, green eyes were fixed on her face.
"Helena -- "
The brunette hissed through her teeth, the cool air from the room doing nothing to cool her down.
"You want to..."
Strong, beautiful hands moved to the placket of the cable knit sweater, and Helena saw -- heard, actually -- the other woman swallow. It was fast, so fast that anyone who hadn't known Barbara, who hadn't gone through so many years and tears and trials, might not have seen how self-conscious this gorgeous, self-assured woman was.
"...to see me?"
Oh. God. Yes.
The word tasted like ash in her mouth, but she had to.
She couldn't meet her partner's eyes, but she didn't need to. The hurt and confusion in Barbara's question was clear enough.
"Helena, don't you know how much I want--"
She had to cut it off before she heard something that she couldn't pretend away.
"How can you?"
She pushed herself from the table, one hand slashing at the air.
"Don't you understand that I already gave everything to--"
Miserable, she fisted her hands against her thighs, her voice barely a whisper.
A long silence followed that.
A helluva lot of quiet.
So long that she finally had to look up, which was, she guessed, what her companion had been angling for. Barbara didn't speak, however her actions were eloquence enough.
Shocked speechless -- damned near electrified -- Helena gaped when Barbara simply striped her sweater up over her head and pushed it down her arms. Helena felt for the table behind her and leaned against it, the jolt heading directly to her already throbbing center.
Somehow, distantly, Helena noticed that Barbara's bra was a pale yellow, presenting the gift within as a lovely offering. She was unable to drag her eyes from the full, creamy skin, the provocative shadow that drew her eyes down and caused her mouth to water and her toes to clench inside her boots.
Attempting to anchor herself against the desire to kneel before the other woman and lavish her with mouth and hands, Helena grabbed at the edge of the table, gripping so hard that her fingers ached.
The pain gave her just enough focus to look away.
"You may have offered many things to the person you thought to be me, Helena--"
Without looking up from her inspection of her boots, Helena heard Barbara move away from the keyboard and cross the short distance between them. Denim-clad knees came into view, and the other woman waited until Helena forced herself to meet her eyes.
"--however, *I* never received those gifts."
Without quite knowing why, Helena nodded. She froze mid-motion when she heard the redhead's next words.
"And you -- "
Barbara's hand came to the outside of her thigh, the touch light but very, very certain.
"-- certainly haven't had a chance to receive anything from *me*."
The world turned to oranges and golds with Barbara's next word.
She couldn't --
But, Barbara was really saying these things.
Strength fled from her legs, and Helena dropped to her knees. She looked up, searching bright green eyes.
"How can you...?"
Barbara didn't even hesitate.
"Helena, how can I not?"
Turning her face into the hand that came to her jaw, Helena distantly heard Barbara sounding almost like she was talking to herself.
"How could I not have seen...or known for so long?"
There was wonderment in the words and something a little sad and lost. But, with Barbara's thumb softly stroking at her bottom lip, Helena didn't know.
She had to know more.
Cautiously, she painted Barbara's fingertips, seeking to memorize taste and texture.
"Aaah -- "
And that soft, needy moan that drew her up...
Perhaps she, too, made a sound or somehow telegraphed her need, for Barbara was bending close.
The brush of their mouths was heat.
The tingling raced through Helena, the pressure of Barbara's knees against her breasts a sudden agony.
Her touch still gossamer light, she took in the other woman's air, seeking to capture her very essence.
Barbara already had her soul.
Her skin already sensitized beyond belief, Helena felt the whisper of Barbara's fingers across her cheek like hot wax.
How could she ever have believed -- mistaken -- another's hands for these?
Barbara's breath hitched against her. She felt as much as heard her words.
"Helena, kiss me."
Still disbelieving, Helena pulled back.
Just a few inches, just enough to see.
The naked want in her partner's eyes threatened to unravel her.
"Always you, Barbara."
Green eyes seemed to spark, and Helena felt hands pulling at her coat.
But something -- perhaps it was the glow from the amber monitor -- Something reflected in that vibrant crimson hair, making a flickering halo of gold.
Helena's stomach twisted.
Or, for one disjointed second, blonde.
Squeezing her eyes shut, she pulled back, knowing that it was too late, that Barbara had seen. Impossibly, fingers brushed lightly through her bangs, and Helena almost whimpered when soft lips blessed the skin of her forehead.
"It's alright, Helena."
Again, there was the warmth of full lips above her eyebrows.
"Some day, you'll be able to look at me without seeing her."
Unable to stop herself, she turned the question around.
Maybe she could believe in what Barbara was saying, but how could she ask the same?
"How about you?"
Barbara straightened just a little, her surprise evident enough.
Nodding slowly, Helena bit at her lower lip, working up the courage for what she had to know.
"Are you ever going to be able to look at me without thinking that I'm seeing her?"
Helena had to admit that, all things considered, Quinn wasn't so hard on the eyes. Attired in what Helena had come to consider her "shrink clothes", manicured, coiffed, and appearing almost sane, she could have been a model.
Or, the brunette amended bitterly, an actress.
"I'm glad that you decided to call, Helena."
Even her voice was so normal, unlike the honeyed barbs she'd used during therapy or the maniacal cackle that had filled the clock tower during her attack.
Helena thought that her tone, in contrast, was a little...flat, but the blonde didn't seem to notice. Quinn cocked her head to the side and dipped a biscotti into her triple espresso.
And people told Helena that *she* was a caffeine hound.
"Well, I've missed yo--"
Despite everything that her mom and Barbara had hammered into her about manners over the years, Helena didn't care that she was cutting the other woman off. She laced her fingers around her oversized mug and forced herself to hold those cunning brown eyes.
"Why all of this?"
Helena allowed her words to slow as she worked to spell it out.
"I mean, you hacked into the phone company to plant Barbara's number on my caller id when you'd call."
Quinn's chipper nod suggested that she wasn't quite getting the point.
"You stalked Barbara close enough to copy the dings on her chair and copied the plates for the Hummer and kept close enough track of me not to cross paths when I was with Barbara...?"
Again, the blonde head bobbed.
"That's true, Helena."
Quinn's gay chuckle set the brunette's teeth on edge.
"It was quite a bit of work, you know."
Barely -- just barely -- Helena conquered her urge to roll her eyes.
She caught herself and lowered her voice, leaning over the table just a bit.
"Harley, you fuckin' paralyzed yourself to...to..."
Straightening, Helena released the death grip she had on her coffee and waved one hand near her face.
"--to sustain an illusion."
Platinum brows wrinkled, and Helena couldn't keep it back.
She barely noticed other customers at The Common Grounds Coffee Shoppe looking over.
"Why go through all that just to fuck with me?"
It was only after the words rushed out that she realized the layers of meaning she'd left open. Mercifully, it looked like Quinn had glommed on to the fact that irony wasn't the best way to go just now.
The tiny woman leaned forward, resting her forearms on the tiny table between them.
"I did a lot of thinking in Arkham, much of it centered on you."
As explanations went, Helena thought that Quinn's needed some work in the whole stating-the-obvious department.
"Well, sure, we put you there."
The chortling that always seemed to come when the bad guys started revealing their diabolical plans didn't materialize. Not a little surprised, Helena peered through her lashes, watching Harley tap the soggy biscotti against her saucer.
"No, Helena," blonde lashes batted, "just about *you*."
The brunette shrugged and poked at the whipped cream that was dissolving in her oversized Americano.
Sure, with her usual karma, it seemed like she was the one the nuts might fixate on.
"It is true," the blonde nodded thoughtfully, "at first I thought it was revenge that I needed to focus on."
Here it came.
Helena raised her cup, sipping slowly.
"But, it wasn't quite that simple, darling."
Nearly choking, Helena thumped her cup down. Quinn appeared unfazed by her glare, but she wasn't talking either. Figuring that something was required of her, Helena cocked a brow.
"No, it most certainly wasn't."
The tiny woman deposited her cookie on a napkin.
"It would have been easier if it had been, I must admit. However, any good therapist -- "
Dark brows furrowed when Quinn interrupted herself. Helena thought she saw a flash of something almost like regret in her eyes.
"--And even you must admit that I never failed to help you find insights about yourself during our sessions?"
Not so sure that she appreciated her former therapist's methods, Helena had to give her her due.
"Yeah, whatever, Harl."
That earned her a beaming smile.
"Well, a therapist must be willing to dig deeper. And so, during those long trippy days in the asylum, I forced myself to examine my interest in you."
A bit disbelieving, Helena watched her companion pick up her demitasse cup and take a slow sip. For all the world, the woman looked like she thought she'd explained herself.
Obviously, a little prodding was in order.
"Your interest in torturing me, you mean?"
The goad did the trick, and Harley lowered her cup. With a dramatically pained sigh, she raised one hand to pinch the bridge of her nose between thumb and forefinger.
Watching the gesture, one Harley had probably picked up when she'd been studying Barbara, Helena felt something rise in her throat. She swallowed frantically and pushed her mug away.
"Now, Helena, you're oversimplifying things."
"Why don't you educate me, Harley?"
It came out a little...rough, and brown eyes narrowed before Quinn pushed her water glass across the table.
"Sip this, Helena. You're looking a little green around the gills."
Unable to deny that, the brunette nodded her thanks and accepted the glass.
"I realize that my methods may have been a bit...harsh."
Helena's bark of laughter again turned heads in the small coffee house, but Quinn was undeterred.
"I was like a school child on the playground, darling, chasing you and yanking your braids."
At least that's what Helena thought what she was doing was called.
Slowly, she closed her mouth. Then she sat up, squared her shoulders, and looked the other woman in the eyes.
"You went to a helluva lot of trouble."
Those eight words encompassed a lot of what had been screaming inside her for the last days. After all, why couldn't the madwoman just have kidnapped her and locked her up and brainwashed her or something?
Quinn, finally, seemed to get it. Something sparked in her eyes.
"*I* happen to think," the blonde's voice was pitched low, "that you are very much worth the effort, Helena."
Holy. Fucking. Shit.
That feeling that she'd had so many weeks before, when Quinn had shown up as Barbara and started spinning her web, hit her again: the sensation of liquid hot metal freezing through her belly. Helena fought a wave of vertigo as her heart triple-timed.
How was it that her worst enemy would go to so much trouble to notice things, and Barbara could go for years...
Mercifully, the sensation of Quinn's hand coming to rest on hers derailed -- or at least detoured -- that train of thought.
"So, let me assure you, Helena, my intent was not to -- "
The blonde removed her hand, her mouth pursing.
"-- fuck you."
It took Helena a second to remember that her own question had brought Quinn to that statement. In that instant, the other woman's face was transformed by a slyly wicked smile.
It was an expression that Helena remembered too, too vividly from nights among tangled sweaty sheets.
"Or, at least, not about just -- "
Sharp even white teeth caught against the thin lower lip, drawing out the first syllable of Quinn's next word.
The two sat in silence for a few heartbeats. Eventually, Quinn straightened in her chair.
"And, Helena, it can be far more than that again."
Helena's nostrils flared when Quinn tilted her head to the side.
"It can be much more next time."
The brunette scooted her chair back and turned in the seat, draping one arm across the back.
"What makes you think there's gonna be a next time, Harley?"
Her former therapist, her former lover, her continual adversary, was suddenly very businesslike.
"Because I told you the truth, Helena. I do hunger for white picket fences in my own way."
Helena turned that around in her head, remembering how sincere the person she'd thought to be Barbara had been during that conversation. Distantly, she identified the song that had just started playing over the shop's speakers and allowed her eyes to close for a second.
Meeting you, with a view to a kill
Face to face in secret places, feel the chill.
Steadying herself, she opened her eyes and worked for an unconcerned shrug.
"Yeah? So what?"
Blonde lashes batted coyly.
"Because, Helena, I can only do it with you beside me."
"You really are nuts."
It sounded weak to Helena's ears. Quinn clearly wasn't bothered.
"True, but you can't deny that we have chemistry."
Helena felt the corners of her mouth turn down.
"Alchemy's more like it."
The blonde waved airily.
"You say magic; I say explosions."
Choice for you, is the view to a kill
Between the shades, assination standing still.
The first crystal tears, fall as snowflakes on your body
First time in years, to drench you skin with lovers rosy stain
Deliberately, Helena moved her chair next to the other woman. Leaning close, she dropped her voice to a growl.
"So, what? You want to ride off into the sunset together and do the happily ever after schtick?"
Quinn didn't back down.
Rather, she leaned close, her breath warm and sweet, her brown eyes deep and inviting. Rapt, Helena watched a pink tongue dart out to moisten thin, shapely lips.
"Try me, Helena."
For an eternity, Helena remained frozen in place, attempting to take the measure of her tormentor. Finally, she gave a mental shrug.
With that, she closed the distance to bring her mouth to Quinn's.
But can we dance into the fire
That fatal kiss is all we need
Dance into the fire
To fatal sounds of broken dreams
The kiss of sunlight across her face dragged Helena awake. Without opening her eyes, she knew.
She knew that she wasn't in her own bed.
She knew that she was wearing a tee shirt, not her own, a little small for her, that she'd pulled on before dropping, exhausted, into sleep.
She knew who it was sharing the bed with her.
After all of the last weeks, after sharing her bed and her body and, she'd thought, herself with Harley Quinn, there was no way she couldn't know.
Helena was on her side, facing the outside of the bed. One arm was under the pillow under her head, the other resting atop the slender arm embracing her waist. She was being spooned from behind, soft breathing ruffling the fine hair at the back of her neck.
It felt good.
Giving in to the feeling, she allowed herself to drift a little, images of lazy house cats in sunny window sills sliding behind her eyelids. Bit by bit, however, her somnolence peeled away as physical reality encroached.
Firm breasts pillowed against her back, the thin cotton separating her from peaked nipples doing nothing to cool the heat tickling low in her belly. With her ass cradled against the other woman's lap, Helena almost thought she could feel the scratch of coarse hair through her underwear, against her upper thighs. She knew that she could scent their mingled heat and her own growing arousal.
It enflamed her.
And shamed her.
She still didn't know why she was here, why she'd given in.
She needed this.
That kiss yesterday afternoon in the coffee shop, that's what had done it. She'd had to know what was what. Once she'd decided though, Helena had given into it, her mouth molding to Quinn's, their tongues dancing, their breath mingling.
Quinn's murmur, maybe a moan, had forced her to pull away.
A few inches.
The chasm had revealed dilated brown eyes and Quinn's shallow breathing. Slender fingers had risen to spider across her jaw, red lacquered nails pulling deliciously against her cheek.
"Perhaps we should step outside, Helena."
There'd been no way to miss the attention they were getting from the other customers at the shop. Helena was no shrinking violet or anything, but she'd had to agree that a grope-fest at a coffee bar was a little much.
Not to mention who she was groping with.
She'd followed Quinn out to her Lexus, not sure just where she was headed.
What she was doing.
Quinn had directed her a little, leaning against the side of the car to face her. Somehow, clever hands had danced patterns up her arm, across her shoulder, down the placket of her shirt. At some point, Helena had allowed herself to be pinned against the conservative silver sedan, her hips moving of their own accord in tempo with the thigh pressed against her.
She'd almost lost it right there, in front of god and country, in the very public parking lot of an ordinary little strip mall.
A sharp nip to her jaw had distracted her, and she'd pressed forward, grinding against the other woman's slender frame. The buttons on Quinn's suit had caught her nipples, her hiss drawing a moan from her partner.
"Yes, Helena, you know how good we can be."
She hadn't wanted to think about that. She hadn't wanted to think about much actually except her hands in spiky blonde hair, swift fingers at the waist of her jeans, her knee pushing Quinn's skirt up.
And how fuckin' wet she was.
"St-- Harley, stop. I need to..."
She wasn't sure what had gotten her back to her senses.
"I need to think."
The blonde hadn't pushed it. She'd just straightened her skirt, slipped a card into her hand, then stepped into her car and pulled away.
After that...well, the rest of the evening was a wash.
No way to deny it: Helena had been keyed up, her muscles twitchy, sparks almost jumping from her fingertips as she'd walked Quinn's card between her knuckles. She'd prowled through her apartment, trying to sort brown eyes from green, want from desire, fantasy from reality.
Not to mention, her role in it all.
Hell, if she even had a part in it...a place.
She'd kept looking at that damned business card that Quinn had given her, at the stylized harlequin mask in the corner.
She'd finally been roused to do something by the thump of Soft Cell's greatest hit coming from the bar below. It had taken three passes before she'd picked up her phone. Another five minutes of staring at the thing until she'd punched in the number.
Answering, unfortunately, had seemed instant.
"Hey. It's me."
She'd sucked in a breath.
"Can I come over?"
She'd heard the pleasure in the response. She'd thought there had been a hint of something else.
"Of course. I was hoping you'd call, Helena."
The purring dulcet voice had followed her out the window of her apartment and onto the roof. Once there, she'd checked herself, the smiling face of the moon tickling her conscience. Ultimately, she'd probably never had a chance.
There'd been a stiff three fingers of tequila waiting for her on a mahogany end table. A little distantly, she'd noted that the living area seemed oddly empty and sterile. The television had been turned to Animal Planet: something about snakes.
It had seemed appropriate.
Despite the hospitality, the evident thought put into the touches to welcome her arrival, Helena knew she hadn't been the best of guests. Sitting on the sofa together, seemed too damned...normal. Trying to find something inane to say when there was nothing she could say, too much a lie.
"Helena -- "
Somehow, she'd forced herself to turn, to meet eyes that seemed so concerned.
It had hurt.
"-- I hope you're not feeling guilty about earlier."
She'd started to deny or laugh it off or something.
But, Helena had never been a very good liar.
She'd reached for her glass and downed the contents.
"Being here like this."
The response had been soft and certain.
"I know, but it will get easier."
And then...then she'd found herself in the other woman's arms, trying not to cry, trying not to run away. She'd succeeded at that second thing, almost made it with the first until five words had hummed against her ear.
"I do love you, Helena."
She'd thought she'd felt her heart twisting in her chest. Succumbing to an embrace that felt entirely too good, she'd felt her eyes burning, had sucked in a hitching gasp.
For better or worse, it had turned the tide.
The scent that she'd drawn in was too close; maybe, she figured, too impressed in her senses after everything.
Burying her face against the other woman's neck, she'd fallen into the spell. All she'd wanted was to open her mouth just a tiny bit more, to touch her tongue ever so lightly to that skin that was so tantalizingly close, to fall into insensate sensory overload.
Before she knew it, she'd heard her own question.
"Can I stay?"
The response had been instant.
"I'd like that very much."
And now, here she was.
In the bed she'd made or something like that.
For a few minutes, she lost herself in wondering about that whole "acting on instinct" thing of hers. It did work pretty well for her in the field. Hell, at work, in the clubs, trolling: it seemed to do the trick.
It was just in the really important stuff that, well, who the fuck knew.
Maybe she was still under hypnosis or something.
Helena was distracted from debating whether she really believed Quinn's promise from earlier about not cheating -- and for some reason, she kinda did -- when she felt fingernails scritching gently across her abdomen. Her stomach clenched ticklishly, and her eyelids fluttered shut.
She guessed they were both awake now.
Still, save for the slow sweep of slender fingers against her and the sound of ragged breathing, there was no way to know that she wasn't alone, in her own bed.
But, she wasn't dreaming the warm lips against her shoulder. She wasn't imagining the tight embrace. She wasn't just wanting, again.
She'd wanted this for so long. Had dreamed of it.
Since she'd known what desire was, she'd imagined her mouth on pale skin, nipples barely darker than the skin around them between her fingers, a slender neck arching. She'd visualized red hair flowing across her fingers, silken wet flesh between her lips and teeth, her finger seeking, wet heat pulsing around her hand.
Making love to Barbara.
Falling into the moment, Helena caught that maddening hand that was tormenting her. She laced their fingers, panting softly through her clenched teeth.
"What're y-- ?"
She ground back, rewarded by a breathy whisper.
Her clit pulsed and, without thought, Helena inched their joined hands down.
It wasn't what she'd imagined or dreamed of. She'd already lived that fantasy six weeks ago, on that tripped out night when someone she'd thought was Barbara had come to her apartment.
But, still, she was so fuckin' ready, her response -- at least here, now -- ingrained at a cellular level.
The sensation of fingertips sweeping across her upper thighs was electrifying, and she raised one knee, tenting the covers in invitation.
"Helena, turn over."
The words were ice water.
Shit. Shit. Shit.
Helena had always been, well, a go-with-it kind of girl. Once she was on, it was damned hard to turn it off.
Like yesterday at the coffee house.
Apparently, though, the physiological response wasn't as insurmountable as she'd thought, because instantly, perhaps for the first time in her life, her arousal vanished with a whimper.
Well, she owed her this much, right?
Painting on a smile that she hoped wasn't too pained, Helena turned in the circle of her bedmate's arms. Her eyes remained firmly fixed on the sharp line of a strong jaw.
Strong fingers touched her chin, tipping her face up, forcing her to see.
"Did you sleep, Helena?"
Okay, that wasn't too hard.
"Yeah," she managed a twist of her lips. "Guess I was tired."
"I'd imagine so."
The words made her laugh for some reason, freeing up the tightness in her chest just a little. Without planning to, she heard herself speaking.
"Thanks for letting me--"
A slender finger came to her lips, silencing her. Helena was hard-pressed not to sneak her tongue out, to traced that skin.
"I'm very glad you're here, Helena."
Still not sure what had brought her here, Helena searched the green eyes of the one person she always seemed to turn to. Swallowing roughly, she spoke her heart.
"I love you, too, Barbara."
Spying another little pink heart, Helena dug her spoon into the bowl and chased it over to the top of the dish. She had the little stars at the bottom, the clovers at three o'clock, and those other two squiggly shapes glopped over at nine o'clock.
For some reason, the hearts always had to go at the top.
A throaty chuckle distracted her from her hunt for any other sugary treats that could have been hidden in the cereal mounded in the middle of her bowl.
"I can't believe you still do that, Hel."
Fighting a blush, the brunette looked over. When she took in her companion, red hair still mussed from bed and a green silk robe loosely belted over her sleep-tee, she felt a different sort of heat flowing through her.
At the very least, since she'd already thrown on her clothes from the night before, Helena was feeling a bit over-dressed.
She waved a spoon at her bowl.
"This way I concentrate the sugar punch."
As Barbara moved close to the couch, Helena automatically reached out and thumbed down the volume on the big screen, then cleared a spot on the coffee table for the giant mug of coffee that the redhead was clutching.
"And you still watch Saturday cartoons."
A dark head tilted to the side as Helena considered the fact that it had been a good long time since she'd shared a Saturday morning with Barbara.
Or, at least, with the real Barbara.
"Scooby Doo's a classic, Red."
She decided that she didn't need to add that she'd always had a soft spot for Velma.
Something about the glasses, maybe. Although, Daphne did have some amazing hair.
"True -- "
Helena felt a smile trying to work its way free as Barbara turned to take in The Gang's latest Rube Goldberg-esque attempt to catch the creepy ghoul guy.
"-- I do admire the teenage detectives."
Since any comment on that would have been too easy, Helena snorted softly and dug into her Lucky Charms again. However, when yet another commercial for the toy-of-the-week came on, she heard herself speaking.
"Why now, Barbara?"
The redhead's laugh was light.
"All right, Hel, I'll admit that I watched the show when I was a child."
For a few seconds, Helena thought about playing along.
She couldn't do it.
Despite the fact that she'd ended up *here* the night before instead of somewhere...well, somewhere she didn't want to think about, despite the comfort Barbara had offered so openly and the easy acceptance into her bed, despite the fact that Helena had said *those* words this morning, Helena still needed more.
She needed to understand why the hell she'd let everything happen. Why she'd been so eager to believe and now, well, believing in anything was hard.
Since they were up at this ungodly early hour on a Saturday and the lack of sound from down the hall suggested that Dinah was still out for the count, she figured now was as good a time as any.
Leaning forward, she set her half-finished breakfast on the coffee table.
"No, not that."
She quirked her lips and sucked in a breath, registering Barbara's cautious attention.
"Why didn't you ever say anything about -- "
She almost forgot herself and used that feeling word; however, knowing who she was talking to, she changed course just a little.
"-- about what you wanted."
When one red brow arched the tiniest bit, she heard her voice drop a register.
"That you wanted it, too."
Those amazing green eyes widened.
"Us," Helena tacked on.
Nodding, the redhead reached for her coffee and blew over the edge of the cup.
Helena hated how her eyes were drawn to the bow of those full lips.
"Helena, I didn't know if you were...If you would ever..."
Something snapped at the hesitant admission.
"Are you saying you didn't know how I felt?"
It came out rough, but Helena didn't back down.
"After all these years and everything we've..."
She thought that Barbara's smile was sad. A little...wistful, maybe.
Dark brows knit, and Helena shifted on the couch to tuck one leg under her. Scooby and The Gang forgotten, she watched her partner square her shoulders.
"Let's say that I had a pretty good indication, but I just couldn't--"
Color touched pale cheeks, and understanding dawned.
"You couldn't make the first move."
Helena could feel the other woman's discomfort, and something welled warm and thick within her when Barbara met her eyes.
"Exactly, Hel. I had to be sure that you were ready, that it was something you genuinely wanted."
"How long had you--"
Her voice failed. Barbara's answer was barely audible.
"Forever, I think."
Before she had time to let the confession haunt her, Helena heard more.
"And I'll wait for you as long as you need. I'd been -- "
When Barbara stopped short, suddenly taking a lot of care to settle her cup on the coffee table, Helena knew she couldn't let it go.
She waited out a silence broken only by the tick of the big clock and the soft hiss of the wheels of Barbara's chair rocking on the hardwood.
"Hoping, I suppose, that one day you'd..."
The chair came to a stop, but Barbara's extravagant blush spoke volumes. A light bulb went off for Helena.
"So when I started acting all -- "
She waved one hand and shifted to the very end of the sofa, bringing her knee to knee with the redhead.
"-- around here and making you go to movies and..."
She let the rest go, deciding that her crawling uninvited into Barbara's bed was best left unsaid.
"Exactly," was the crisp acknowledgement. "I thought you were letting me know--"
"Courting you," Helena interjected softly.
Barbara's answering smile was so beautiful that Helena wanted to cry. It held everything: hope, happiness, want, and sorrow.
The other woman was leaning in, her voice soft.
"I'm so sorry that you were forced to--"
She didn't want to hear it, to be reminded.
"Nobody forced me to feel like I do about you, Barbara."
Didn't seem like there was much that she could be certain of anymore, but that was a no-brainer.
Her jaw set, Helena waited out her dearest friend's scrutiny.
"Can you still, Hel?"
Fingers brushed her knuckles, and Helena finally had to look away.
"Can you allow me, Hel?"
God, how she wanted to.
How she wanted to give the easy nod, the cocky smile. Maybe do a little happy dance before whisking them back to bed before Dinah ever knew they'd been up. Finally consummate everything she'd dreamed of for as long as she'd been dreaming.
Be the person she'd thought she was.
Or maybe she just wasn't any more.
Focusing solely on the hand resting lightly atop hers, Helena heard herself confessing.
She'd never been able to lie to Barbara.
"I've been see--"
The words choked her.
"--Stuck on this, Barbara."
She extricated her hand, allowing her index finger to trace the tendons delineated under the soft skin covering the other woman's hand.
"I can't get it...her out of my head and -- "
She withdrew her hand, balling it against her thigh and searching for some way to explain.
Oh, fuck it.
"I've seen her again."
From under her lashes, she saw the pain flicker across elegant features. The emotion was gone so quickly that it could have been a sprite or a figment of her imagination.
Not so the furrowing of crimson brows.
Not certain that she was breathing, Helena counted off twenty-seven ticks from the big clock while Barbara visibly thought through her little revelation. Finally, there was a whisper of a sigh and the hint of a sad smile.
"That seems about right, Hel."
Even though she was cautiously relieved by the lack of fireworks -- or, she had to warn herself, lack of immediate fireworks -- Helena had no idea what to make of that.
Red hair bobbed as her companion, apparently having worked everything out in her big brain, reached for her coffee. As patiently as possible, Helena waited while Barbara sipped from her mug.
"You need a refill or anything?" she finally had to ask.
She was rewarded with a smile.
"No, thank you, Sweetie. This is fine."
Helena pursed her lips and bobbed her chin once or twice.
"Uh, how about some toast or a pop tart or a change of channel?" she added casually.
That befuddled look almost undid her.
"No, I'm fine, but tha--"
"Soooooo," she drew it out, "what exactly is it about my seeing Quinn and not ripping her head off that makes sense to you?"
She really, really, wanted to understand whatever flight of logic her partner had taken that made round pegs fit into triangular holes.
"You've always picked at your scabs, Helena."
Blue eyes blinked once.
Helena just hoped she wasn't looking too owlish or dumbfounded or whatever. Barbara's words were so...matter-of-fact.
It was, truly, one of those "duh" moments.
"Mom hated that," she allowed with a tiny smile.
Her smile transformed itself to a smirk when green eyes rolled.
"It's not one of your most endearing habits," was the verdict.
"Hey, sometimes -- "
It was only right to put up a protest in her own defense.
"-- it helps it by getting stuff to fester out and heal faster."
She heard her voice getting smaller.
This wound didn't seem to be healing too fast.
"It still hurts so fuckin' much, Barbara."
The soft acceptance in her partner's face was too much to see, and Helena hopped to her feet, pacing around the coffee table.
"I've dreamed of this, fantasized --"
Swallowing roughly, she tried for a waggle of her eyebrows or a rakish grin or something to hide the desperate ache inside.
She couldn't put up a front at all.
"I mean, fuck, Barbara!"
She spun and stared through the transom above the doors to the balcony. Hoping she hadn't already roused The Kid, she dropped her voice.
"These should be the best goddamned days of my life, but it wasn't supposed to be like this and..."
Helena rubbed the heels of her palms against her eyes, unable to say the rest: It was Quinn, not Barbara, who had made her dreams come true.
She heard -- hell, felt -- Barbara come up beside her.
"I do understand, Hel."
Her chest fighting to expand against the tight bands constricting her, Helena could only manage a whisper.
From the corner of her eye, she saw a slender hand rise in invitation.
"Not everything that you're dealing with, Sweetheart, but I -- "
Hearing how strangled Babs' voice was getting, Helena finally turned. She saw color touching pale cheeks and laced her fingers with the other woman's.
"I've...I've had some fantasies as well."
It was an offering, a gift. Hell, knowing Barbara, it was huge.
Least she could do was try to be worthy of it.
Helena took two steps, moving close, her knees touching the side of the chair.
It was still a little rough, but she thought some of that was for...other reasons now. Barbara's smile told her she might be right.
The answer was a little playful, a little something more. Helena saw the spark of challenge in green eyes that were going soft and slumbrous.
Loosing herself in verdant depths, Helena swallowed and ran her tongue across her lips.
Her mouth instantly went dry again when Barbara's hands came to the waist of her jeans.
"Such as -- "
The pull of soft cotton against her skin as Barbara tugged her tee shirt free of her jeans was like sandpaper.
"-- your skin."
"M-- my skin?"
It was hard to speak watching the determined set of Barbara's jaw, the hungry flare of her nostrils.
Then, she was shocked speechless -- damned near electrified -- when sure hands moved to the hem of her shirt, raising the material to expose her midriff to the cool morning air of the great room. Before she could think, it was Barbara's mouth against her bare skin, warming -- burning -- her.
"How you feel..."
Instantly, every nerve ending came alive. The muscles in the back of her thighs knotted. Her hands fisted at her sides.
The words tickled through her belly just as a warm tongue washed around her navel. The sensation shot straight to her center: the brush of silken lips, the flicker of a wet tongue, the warmth of Barbara's breath.
Blood thumped a heavy beat between her legs. Her nipples were suddenly so hard that Helena could feel every thread of the cotton tee scraping against them.
Without planning, Helena found her hands wrapped in crimson silk, her palms cradling the other woman's head. Unbidden, images of that beautiful mouth elsewhere danced before her.
Almost as if she were reading her mind, Barbara moved her hands to the waist of her jeans again, fingers hooking through the belt loops and tugging softly. The pressure dragged her jeans up...just a little, just...just not enough.
Helena heard a noise, a soft mewling growl, and recognized it as her own. Carefully, she extricated her fingers from that red mane and fisted her hands against her thighs, *willing* her legs not to give way.
Then, Barbara's hands moved to cover the small of her back, and Helena shivered, nearly danced away, at the sensation of fingers teasing into the back of her jeans. She felt the other woman's nose against the underside of her breast, the lightest touch calling into counterpoint the heaviness of the flesh under her shirt.
The ache to be touched.
There was a murmur that couldn't be mistaken for anything but pleasure. There was the rasp of teeth against her stomach. There was suction that pulled in time with the nerves thrumming against the thick cotton seam of her jeans.
Wanted this touch.
Then, her skin was cold with loss, and Helena pried open her eyes. Barbara was still close, the weight of her words, her voice smoky and hoarse, almost a physical touch.
"Tell me what you want, Helena."
For an eternity, Helena teetered on the precipice. Something in Barbara's ragged breathing or the raw desire in her eyes pushed her over.
Helena clenched her jaw, then let it go. Without looking away, she yanked up her shirt and wrapped her fingers in long red hair, guiding.
"I need your mouth."
Her chest heaving, Helena felt the muscles in her calves, then her thighs, begin to torque under the strain. Her belly clenched before, fisting her hands, she exploded.
For a full two minutes -- maybe a little longer -- she thrashed. The ache in her arms from clenching her fists grew to a burn as she curled her toes into the soft foam beneath her. Wordless, she rocked in silence, gritting her teeth against the desire to scream. The only sound, aside from her harsh breathing and soft exhalations in time to the thrusts, was the slap of flesh and leather.
Helena forced herself to relax her muscles a tiny bit, twisting her head to wipe the sweat from her eyes against her shoulder. The movement highlighted the scent of leather filling her nostrils.
And baby powder.
The smile that formed on her lips was, she thought, a little raw. A lot feral.
Leather and baby powder were two scents she'd always associated with Barbara.
Not like she'd arrived at her own choices in couture out of the blue.
Panting softly, she eased her clenched fingers and turned away.
Time for a break.
She been at the heavy bag for the last forty-five minutes, ever since Barbara had shocked her senseless and turned her on like a floodlight in the living room. And, now, while she should have been going at it with the woman she loved more than life itself, where was she?
Burning it off in the training room.
It wasn't like she hadn't *wanted* it. There hadn't even been much doubt about Babs being into it either. It was just...
A single frikkin' word.
She'd been about to fall into it, about to live out her goddamned dreams. Barbara's hands had been moving to the sides of her breasts, the anticipated coolness of her fingers against the heated flesh already sending shivers down Helena's arms. Red's mouth had been so close, the thought of soft lips and warm wetness almost taking her legs out from under her.
Then, that word.
She still wasn't sure if it had been real or the echo of past ghosts. But it hadn't mattered, because it had been there, big as life in her brain, and it had been too much.
She'd scrambled backward, yanking her shirt down, ready to run like the hounds of hell were after her. It was only the sight of Barbara, looking hurt and confused and concerned all at once, that had kept her feet still.
"Helena -- "
She'd seen Barbara start to raise a hand towards her then stop.
"What did I --"
Helena had shaken her head from side to side, unable to have Barbara blaming herself.
And, *willing* herself to banish the image, the voice that was...or was not.
The click of a door opening down the hall had saved her.
Never thought she'd be glad to have The Kid interrupt that sort of moment.
For a moment, there had only been the arch of a red brow. Helena had used the time to straighten her clothing and check out the pattern on the sofa's upholstery.
"Why don't you burn off some energy in the training room, then, perhaps Dinah can get some sparring practice in."
Although she hadn't be sure that that was such a good idea, any reprieve was good enough.
And so, here she was, pounding all hell out of a leather heavy bag that she wished was someone else. Or, at the very least, that was someone who could fight back.
Her wish was granted, in a fashion, when the door to the training room clicked open a few minutes later. Without stopping her flurry of kicks and jabs to the bag, Helena looked over, confirming that it was Dinah, a milk mustache still covering her upper lip.
Probably from chowing down a bowl of Wheaties or something.
"Hey, K-- D."
Already dropping into a hamstring stretch, the teen smiled brightly.
"Hi, Helena. Barbara said that maybe you could help me work on some of my moves?"
Maybe something in her expression wasn't entirely welcoming.
"Or, I mean, you don't have to since it looks like you're already -- Ooof!"
Helena finished her leapfrog jump over the blonde, landing lightly behind her.
The brunette smiled sweetly.
"Hey, you gotta be ready for anything."
She found herself jerking backward in time to the girl's indignant squeaks.
Not into getting a TK ass-whipping, Helena raised both hands.
The invisible poking stopped, and she ran a hand through her hair.
She gave Dinah a few seconds to simmer down then dropped her hands to her side.
"Take your best shot, Kid."
Pale blue eyes narrowed suspiciously, but Dinah stepped forward. It was easy to see her left bicep tense, the slight lead with her other foot.
The Kid was telegraphing a mile away.
Still, when the teen hauled back and let loose, Helena didn't flinch. She didn't blink. She didn't duck.
The blow landed solidly against her chest, a slight exhalation her only acknowledgment.
Instantly, cornsilk lashes flew up.
"Oh, shit, Helena, I'm so sorr--"
"Is that the best you've got, Dinah?," she curled her lip up. "The drunks at the bar have more pow than that."
The taunt worked, and Dinah rushed in, leading with a roundhouse kick. Helena casually stepped out of the way, tapping her sparring partner's shoulder teasingly with her index finger.
"Gotta be faster than that."
Dinah's next blow was a blur, coming straight for her nose. For a second, Helena thought about letting The Kid find out how it felt to break someone's nose, and maybe that showed.
Seeing horror being to dawn in Dinah's eyes, she sighed and wearily raised her hand, catching the girl's fist in her palm. She didn't roll with the blow, allowing the impact to travel up her arm to her shoulder, grunting softly at the strain.
Dinah's face, she thought, was eloquence itself. She just didn't want to hear it.
"Sorry, D," she quirked the corner of her mouth, "Guess I'm just not up for it right now."
"Helena, you can't let her keep--"
In a heartbeat, she was toe to toe with the younger woman. Despite Dinah's two-inch height advantage, Helena felt like she was looming over her.
"Don't let her what, Kid?"
She saw something like fear skitter across the teen's face but wasn't going to back down.
"You may be able to read a helluva lot but you don't know what she's doing."
Briskly, she stepped to the side and moved back to the heavy bag, refusing to look at her sparring partner.
"What she really did."
Dinah's words, coinciding with the sharp slap of her fist against the bag, were almost lost.
"She's haunting you."
Blinking, Helena unleashed another flurry of blows against the hapless bag. She was spared -- in a manner of speaking -- having to come up with a verbal response, when she heard the training room door open again.
There was no need to look to know who was joining them.
"Dinah, would you excuse us?"
As ever, Barbara's voice sent shivers across her skin. Helena bought herself a moment by snagging a towel and rubbing at her neck as Dinah slipped out of the room.
As casually as possible, she moved to the training bench and dropped down, retrieving her water bottle. Drinking deeply, she didn't miss how close Barbara was when she came to a stop next to her.
"I'm sorry, Hel."
A slender hand came to rest on her thigh, and Helena almost spewed her mouthful of water. She managed to save herself with only a bit of coughing.
Smooth, Kyle. Really smooth.
"What are you sorry for?"
She recapped the bottle and juggled it from hand to hand, pretty sure that she didn't want to hear the answer.
"It's too soon, isn't it?"
Laughter probably wasn't the best way to go, but she couldn't help it.
Fuck. It had been almost eight goddamned years.
Naturally, Barbara wasn't buying it.
"It wasn't just Dinah getting up, was it?"
Settling the bottle on the end of the bench, Helena scrubbed one hand across her face.
"No, I'm sorry, Barbara."
God knew, Red deserved better.
She balled her fist and brought it down softly against her other thigh, hating that she was unable to articulate how every move she made with Barbara was like an echo of something she'd already imagined, then lived.
She saw Barbara's nod from the corner of her eye. The sensation of her partner's hand covering hers was almost too much.
"I think I understand, Sweetie, and it's--"
The speech that Helena had been expecting didn't come. Instead, there was a laugh that seemed to surprise them both.
"Well -- "
She had to look up when Barbara blew out a breath.
"-- I can't say that it's alright, Hel."
Again, there was sound -- something between a snort and a chuckle. Helena didn't think she was getting it.
Cautiously, she watched the expression on her partner's face change several times.
"Er -- "
She didn't think she'd ever seen Barbara's face turn quite that color of red.
"Aside from how you've left me all worked up..."
Again, there was that laugh, one that Helena instantly decided was rueful and charming and sexy all at once. With Barbara playfully fanning her face with one hand, the brunette felt something seeming to stretch inside her chest at the admission.
Barbara wanted her, too. She really did.
The feeling didn't have much time to grow when she saw the redhead grow serious.
"However, my state of my blood pressure notwithstanding, your state is more important."
She started to protest that, but Barbara just kept talking, her words stopping her cold.
"We had an alert while you were -- "
Green eyes surveyed the battered heavy bag, and Barbara's tone seemed a bit dry.
"-- working out. Apparently, whatever reprieve Quinn was giving us -- "
The two shared a look, the reality of what the reprieve had been for not needing to be spoken.
"-- has expired."
Helena's stomach slithered down to the vicinity of her ankles.
It was a sensation, she instantly decided, that she didn't much care for.
Carefully, she slid her hand from beneath her partner's and sucked in a breath.
She saw something she couldn't read in the other woman's eyes.
"Clown balloons over Central Park have been bursting and releasing some sort of white powder."
The answer was just as factual as she would have expected. In response, Helena stood and stepped to the end of the bench.
"I can head out right now."
Already on her way to the door, the emphatic shake of red hair stopped her cold.
"I need you on your mark out there."
The next words were much quieter.
"In here, too, Hel."
Helena worked against the lump rising in her throat, immobilized by concerned green eyes.
"We have to find a way for you to come to terms."
The silence in the room was overwhelming. Not even that damned big clock penetrated the padding on the walls, so Helena had no way to guess how long she stood there, considering that, considering the careworn creases around her partner's eyes and all the reasons they were there.
Ultimately, there wasn't much of a choice to make.
Swallowing, she nodded briskly.
"You're right, Barbara."
The other woman's mouth was already open, with Barbara probably ready to go on in full-blown logical mode. Despite the weight settling on her chest, Helena almost smiled when she saw the redhead's double-take.
She nodded again.
"Yeah, I've been kinda lax, huh?"
Naturally, Barbara was ready to excuse her shortcomings.
"You've had a bit on your mind, Helena."
Fighting a sharp flare of anger, Helena swung open the training room door and waved a hand lightly.
"Hey, no reason to fuck up everything."
Those words, and something that Barbara tried to say, followed her onto the balcony and into the air. Before her feet hit the roof of the neighboring building, Helena was digging in her pocket for her cell phone.
She punched in the number from memory, unsurprised when her call was answered on the first ring.
"Hey. It's me."
Since she didn't want to have time to second-guess herself, Helena cut short the enthusiastic greeting.
"I want to see you, Harley."
Sucking in a hitching breath, she looked over to the balcony across the street and several stories above her. She almost thought she could she crimson hair blowing in the wind.
"I've thought about it, and I need to be with you."
When she thought about it -- and since she'd been waiting for ten minutes and had little else to do besides think about it -- Helena had to admit that meeting Quinn in the small park outside her old office building was appropriate enough.
Of course, her former therapist always had had a pretty keen sense of irony.
Still, coming full circle and all that jazz notwithstanding, the park was empty on a Saturday afternoon, and the little arbor Quinn had specified was peaceful enough. It was a good spot to collect herself, to get ready for what she had to do.
Helena just wished that she was feeling a little more at peace with her decision.
The appearance of a blonde sprite moving briskly down the path forced her to push aside all second guessing. When she took in what her date was wearing -- was the woman actually wearing jodhpurs? -- she could even briefly forget what coming to terms was going to mean.
Her expression must have shown.
Quinn twirled showily, the ends of the long scarf draped around her neck sweeping behind.
"Do you like?"
Helena grit her teeth against the trilling laugh and searched for words.
"Uh, it's unique."
Funny, she remembered Barbara saying the same thing about some of her outfits back in high school.
"Traveling clothes, Helena," the tiny woman informed her sweetly. "I do hope that we'll be traveling and that you're not just gathering more data."
Helena ducked her head, following Quinn's approach through her lashes.
"I swear, Helena, sometimes I believe that Barbara's taken all of the spontaneity right out of you."
Ignoring the slow burn that was starting in her chest, Helena just shrugged.
"What's the deal with the balloons, Harley?"
The blonde smiled brightly.
"Oh, just sending up a flare, as it were."
Quinn's index finger trailed down her arm, the familiarity of the caress altogether too distracting.
"What was in them?"
Helena caught her companion's hand, waiting out Quinn's extravagant pout.
"Oh, you're so focused on the little things, Darling."
In response, she raised Quinn's hand and brought her lips to her fingertips.
"C'mon, Harley, tell me."
Brown eyes went wide, but Quinn gave it up.
"Just itching powder, Helena."
The playful batting of blonde lashes hinted at more, so Helena waited.
"Well, mostly itching powder."
Sighing, Helena lowered their hands.
"You really are nuts, Quinn."
Again, blonde lashes batted playfully. Helena used the interlude to extricate her hand from Quinn's and to take a measured step back.
"I told you, Darling, I've been taking my medications."
Ignoring the white heat licking at her belly, Helena raised her eyebrows.
"All for me, huh?"
For a second, Quinn's face was transformed by something that could have been honesty.
The realization tightened the vise grip around Helena's chest.
"You give me the reason and the strength, Helena."
Helena searched the tiny woman's face as something she'd heard a long time ago whispered through her mind: Not crazy so much as afraid to be sane.
She shook her head roughly.
"No, Harl, nobody gives you the willpower but you."
The blonde head tilted to the side. Late afternoon sunlight filtering through the arbor's trellis cast a crosshatch of shadows across the woman's pale features.
"Don't you get it, Harley?"
She took two quick steps forward, bringing her toe to toe with the tiny woman. Working to keep her breathing steady, she traced her tormentor's face with her index finger.
As if by magic, something seemed to shift in her vision. For a few heartbeats, she didn't see her long-time foe or the woman who had tricked her and exposed her so painfully. She saw the woman who had touched her so tenderly, who had allowed her to touch her so deeply, so passionately.
She rested her palm against Quinn's cheek, seeing a woman who had, for whatever fucked up reasons, shared something with her that had seemed...genuine.
"You planned all this, Harley. You pulled it off by yourself."
Her chest felt heavy when Quinn tilted her head into the touch and brought her hand up to cradle Helena's. Quinn's words, mercifully, broke the charged moment.
"As delightful as that little pep talk was, Helena, we'll have time for talking later."
Helena heard a soft whimper, belatedly identifying it as her own, when the other woman pressed a kiss to her palm.
"Time for talking and other things."
Again, she searched those cunning brown eyes, eyes that seemed wide and soft and wanting. For a few seconds, she thought about it.
For old time's sake -- whatever the hell that meant -- she could ask the madwoman to walk away, to clear out of New Gotham. She could let her know that if she ever showed up again, all bets would be off.
Ultimately, the knowledge of just who she was dealing with was too much. Not to mention the memory of warm green eyes, trusting her, asking to help.
Slowly, Helena shook her head. She saw something spark in Quinn's eyes and lowered her hand.
"Why Helena," the blonde's voice was pure treacle. "Surely this isn't a Dear John visit?"
Like a beautiful snake shedding its skin, the tiny woman seemed to grow taller.
Sighing extravagantly, Quinn paced around the small arbor.
"Now you have to admit that after the proverbial jig was up, I've been very patient with you."
Unable to deny that, Helena just nodded.
"It wounds me to think that you're still determined to run back to Barbara with your tail between your legs, to keep being her errand girl..."
Cherry red lips smiled thinly.
"To keep being her legs and her last tie to a life best left behind."
She wasn't going to listen to this. She wasn't going to let Quinn fuck with her head any more.
"Sorry, Harley, but I've gotta take you in."
The transformation from lover to foe was almost complete, Quinn's eyes going wide and wild. "Are you trying to tell me--"
The words were almost a screech, grating against Helena's ears like nails on a chalkboard.
"--that after all I've done for you, that *this* is the thanks I receive?"
Wearily, Helena caught the hand that was rising to strike.
"Quinn, don't make this harder."
It was no use. She'd figured that it wouldn't go the easy way. A sharp blow to her ribs confirmed it, and in the blink of an eye, it was on.
Quinn was small, but her meta-powers weren't limited to hypnosis. Before she was ready -- Hell, she hadn't really been ready when she made the phone call -- Helena found herself pinned on the leaf-scattered soil, her attacker raining blows to her face and body.
"You *will* be mine, Helena!"
It was straight out of the Vincent Price School of Mad Villains or something.
"Like hell, Quinn."
Throwing restraint to the wind, Helena ignored the sharp red nails that were shredding at her shirt and twisted to place herself on top. Quinn's sneer steeled her resolve, and she landed a hard blow to her opponent's jaw.
Amazingly, tears sprang to those cunning brown eyes. Horrified, Helena watched them morph to green, saw short blonde hair grow long and become red.
"How could you hit me, Helena?"
Even the voice...
Suddenly, she was no longer under a trellis in a park. Helena was once again at the Dark Horse, striking the one person who meant everything to her.
She scrambled back until she hit the wooden upright. Awkwardly, she pushed her heels into the dirt, forcing herself to her feet. The other woman was right behind her.
"I just want to love you, Helena."
She recoiled, her head impacting the wooden four-by-four behind her. Helena saw stars, then red hair and green eyes and slender fingers coming to her face, coaxing her head down.
"Why won't you let me love you?"
Blinking against the sweat running into her eyes, Helena allowed herself to be drawn down, down to firm lips and heat. Heat and motes of sunlight blinded her and dulled her senses until she tasted the copper of blood as sharp teeth nipped at her lower lip, inflaming her.
"You know how our bodies sing together, Darling."
In a breath, the haze cleared.
Without separating from the harsh caresses, Helena looked directly into eyes that were once again brown.
"I kinda prefer humming, Harley."
Judging by Quinn's infuriated shriek, that might have been the wrong thing to say. The wicked head butt that followed -- directly to the orbit of her left eye -- pretty much confirmed it.
"Uh - F- "
Still seeing stars, Helena didn't get to finish.
"Dudley. Buck. Come out. We'll have to do this the hard way."
Her hair wrapped in Quinn's hands, Quinn's knee jamming into her gut, Helena barely had time to feel bitter about the fact that there was always a "Buck" or a "Dudley" in hiding. Quinn's mouth was next to her ear, and Helena almost gagged when she felt the other woman's hand cupping her through her leather pants.
"I'm sorry to have to handle things this way, Helena."
Then, she saw two hulking guys rushing in, and something struck her head, turning the world black.
You are the bearer of unconditional things
You held your breath and the door for me
Thanks for your patience
Damn but that was right on target.
Needing to hear it again, Helena dug into her pocket and cued the track on her iPod.
For about the fifteenth time.
She'd been perched on the roof of the apartment building that neighbored the clock tower for almost an hour, ever since waking up in the grotto where she'd met Quinn. With the back of her head throbbing in beat with her heart and her left eye not quite sure whether to swell shut or not, Helena had turned, without having to think about it, toward the tower.
Still, somehow, once she'd gotten this close, she'd been unable to cross the gulf between the buildings. Her feet too heavy to make the leap, she'd thumbed on her iPod and settled in, one arm draped companionably over the shoulders of the ugliest gargoyle in the city.
So, she'd just sort of hung out, watching darkness begin to cloak the city. She'd seen the lights come on in the living area of the tower; she'd watched Dinah head down the street, arm in arm with that cute chick from her science class. And, through the sheer curtains covering the French doors of the balcony, she could see a familiar figure at the Delphi.
Still, even as hard-headed as she could sometimes be, Helena had to admit that sixteen reprises of any song wasn't really doing much to help her figure out the messed-upness of it all.
Time to face the real music.
Her sigh lost to the early evening breeze, Helena stood and stepped onto the edge of the building. A leap into space was all it took.
I had no choice but to hear you
You stated your case time and again
I thought about it
You treat me like I'm a princess
I'm not used to liking that
You ask how my day was
Somehow, Barbara was already down the ramp, like she'd known that she'd be breezing in.
Helena thought she heard a catch in the words.
"I'm glad you're back."
She couldn't miss the relief in Barbara's eyes.
"Hey, you didn't think..."
Lightly calloused fingers whispered across her wrist before Barbara dropped her hands to her lap.
"Let's say that I was afraid that you were doing the wrong thing for the right reasons, Hel."
Dropping her coat over the arm of the couch, the brunette considered that.
She'd tried to make it light, but she only earned an arch of a crimson brow.
No time like the present.
"Yeah. I, uh, went to see Quinn."
Helena figured that most people would have missed how emerald eyes went a little wide and scared. She didn't, so she hurried along her story.
"To take her in, Barbara."
A second eyebrow shot up even as Barbara's eyes darted over to the Delphi and the police scanners.
"Yeah -- "
Helena sighed and parked one hip against the couch.
"-- It didn't work out so great."
In an instant, Barbara was right in front of her, stretching up to trace the bruise over her eye. The touch was so tender, so fuckin' right...
"What happened, Hel?"
She had to shift a little against the couch when the other woman's hands smoothed over her shoulders, then up the back of her neck. She nearly moaned when Barbara sifted through her hair, somehow unerringly finding the goose egg on the back of her head.
In the interest of full disclosure, Helena shrugged and grinned.
"Or maybe it was Buck."
The hint of a smile made parentheses around Barbara's mouth, and Helena ducked her head.
"She got the jump on me."
Barbara settled her hands in her lap. Helena wished they were still on her.
"Are you alright, Hel?"
Not sure, she reached behind her to fish out the items Quinn had left for her.
"I woke up a little while ago with these."
She forced herself to meet her partner's eyes as she handed over the little bouquet of flowers -- Forget-Me-Nots, if she wasn't mistaken -- and the note.
" 'We'll meet again, darling.' "
The redhead's tone was indecipherable. Her face unreadable. Without actually planning to, Helena found herself kneeling before her, unable to look up.
"I'm sorry, Barbara. If I hadn't gone off half-cocked and everything..."
If she'd played by the rules that Barbara had drummed into her over the years, if she'd had backup, if she'd done it all different and been something...better...
"Now she's gonna come back when we least expect it and probably make me think I'm a frog or something."
She couldn't help how sulky it sounded. To her surprise, Barbara's reply was downright blase.
"You're here, Sweetie. Try not to focus on the negatives."
Deciding that later she'd have to check for a pod under Barbara's bed, Helena drew in a slow breath.
"Yeah, maybe she'll come back and turn The Kid into a frog."
She thought she heard a chuckle, and breathing was a little easier. Hoping, she looked up.
It was a mistake.
Barbara was so goddamned beautiful.
All she wanted to do was to caress the redhead's features with her eyes -- the pale, smooth skin of her cheeks; the sharp angle of her jaw; the arch of her throat. She wished that she could just...just for a moment, touch, could breathe the scent of her skin, sample the taste that she knew -- *knew* -- was like no other.
Helena's throat squeezed up, and she dropped her gaze to her companion's knees.
"I'm sorry, Barbara."
The warmth of the other woman's hand against her face was heaven.
She couldn't keep her eyes open when Barbara's thumb traced her lips. Breathless, she had to open her mouth, her bottom lip tingling under soft strokes.
"Look at me, Helena."
She couldn't do it. She couldn't force her eyes open and leave this moment. She couldn't risk this moment morphing into something else.
Or someone else.
The gentle pull of Barbara's finger's against her skin continued, and she gave in. Raising her own hand, she captured her partner's, stilling the maddening movement.
"Look at me, Helena."
It was all so close.
Lightly, ever so lightly, she touched her tongue to Barbara's finger.
"Goddamnit, Helena, look at me."
Your love is thick and it swallowed me whole
You're so much braver than I gave you credit for
That's not lip service
No surprise that Alanis kept running through her head. What was a surprise was Barbara's next words.
"Please, Helena. I need you."
Strong hands cradled her head, forcing her to look. Helena thought that something must have shown in her eyes, but before she could shutter it away, she saw something more in Barbara's eyes.
"*Look* at me."
"I'm afraid you'll think I'm looking at her."
She could barely hear her own admission, but Barbara didn't seem to have a problem. Nor, did she seem to care.
Suddenly -- hell, finally -- Barbara's mouth was on hers, fierce and insistent. Instinctively, Helena pressed forward, into the pressure, the heat, the softness and...
Nothing like it.
She thought she heard a rumbling purr, but the staccato hammer of her heart drowned it out. With Barbara's moan an invitation, she used her tongue to chart the textures of her mouth, her hips beginning to rock in time to their thrusts.
Long, breathless moments later, when Barbara slowly disengaged from the kiss, Helena whimpered her displeasure. Yet, when she opened her eyes and took in the woman only inches away, she couldn't hold on to her pique. Somehow, she remained still under the scrutiny of serious green eyes.
"If you're looking at me like that, Helena -- "
The whiskey burr in the redhead's voice was unlike anything she'd heard. It washed over her like warm salt water, leaving her drenched.
"-- I can't see that it will be a problem."
She worked her jaw, the rasp of Barbara's fingers against her traveling directly to her clit. Somehow, she made herself speak the truth.
"I want you so much right now."
Somehow, Barbara's response surprised her far less than it consumed her. And, really, there was no reason to be surprised: Barbara always knew.
"Then have me, Helena."
You're the best listener that I've ever met
You're my best friend
Best friend with benefits
What took me so long
She refused to give herself time to think, to second-guess. Pouncing forward, she brought their lips crashing together.
With Barbara's breath still in her lungs, she drew back, seeing her own hand rising, moving close. Uncertain, she looked up and fell into dilated green eyes.
A warm hand covered hers, leading the way. Her moan tickled her ribs, her throat, her belly. As she worked to take in the weight and texture under her palm, her thighs clenched, her own breasts growing hot.
It wasn't at all like...
Slowly, she shut her eyes.
Carefully, she removed her hand and started to push to her feet. Strong hands came to her shoulders, and she caught her breath.
"Helena -- don't go."
She wouldn't cry, dammit.
Soft kisses rained against her hair.
"We don't have to do anything that you're not ready for. Just...stay with me."
She couldn't ease the tension in her legs nor could she loosen the stiffness of her back.
But, Helena wouldn't run.
She wouldn't fight.
A rueful chuckle tickled her ear.
"This may turn my hair white faster than your missing curfew in high school ever could have."
Unable to help it, Helena snorted. For a second, it freed her breathing before her gust of laughter turned into a sob.
It was all there: Everything that had been. Everything that should have been.
Burying her face in red hair, she allowed the memories to wash over her: seeing the new English teacher roar up on her bike for the first time at school; getting read the bullshit notification that other kids had talked about by Ms. Gordon; enduring that shared night of blood; loneliness and terror fighting within her the the first night she'd come to Barbara's bed not too many months after Barbara was out of the hospital.
Then, there were the evenings they'd shared on the couch watching bad movies; the tactile memories of the brush of her hand against Barbara's as they pointed something out on the monitor; the soul-deep memories of catching a whiff of Barbara's shampoo as she leaned over her shoulder at the Delphi.
Inevitably, there were images of blood and betrayal in their own home, the laughter of a madwoman.
Mercifully, there was the counterpointing warmth of coming to the balcony after sweeps and just...seeing Barbara, of knowing that she was home.
Slowly, Helena brought her breathing under control. Slender fingers worked through her hair, neatly blunted nails scritching softly at her scalp. Barbara's murmur was lost under her attempts to recover her breath, but the sense of it wasn't.
I love you.
I've never felt this healthy before
I've never wanted something rational
I am aware now
I am aware now
Coming back to herself, she dropped her head to her partner's -- her lover's -- chest. Eyes closed, she brushed her cheek lightly against the softness, easily hearing Barbara's heartbeat.
She thought her own was catching up.
A gradual awareness of Barbara's restless movement, the shallowness of her breathing, caused her to freeze. She relaxed again under the redhead's laugh.
"I may need to take matters into my own hands."
As alluring as that thought was, Helena had to know.
She pulled back enough to search the other woman's eyes. She found nothing but acceptance.
"There's nothing to forgive you for, Helena."
Purring, Helena bent into the hand caressing her face. Her content morphed into something else altogether when she heard the rest.
"I will, however,"
Barbara's voice was tight, her hand suddenly firm against her jaw.
"--when you allow me, reclaim what is mine."
White heat flared through Helena's belly.
She panted softly, the scent of the other woman growing stronger and stronger.
"Everything that you have to give me."
The words were a promise. And a proclamation.
They ripped her open, leaving her with an image of Barbara stripping her bare, of being devoured by hungry eyes and hands, of being splayed out. She *felt* the pleasure of being laid out under Barbara's hands, of twisting thrusts and a single word on the other woman's lips: Mine.
The vision was breathtaking.
There was only one thing she could say.
You've already won me over in spite of me
Don't be alarmed if I fall head over feet
Don't be surprised if I love you for all that you are
I couldn't help it
It's all your fault
For all of her adult life and what seemed like a good portion of her adolescent years, Helena had dreamed of loving Barbara.
She'd planned hundreds of different scenarios for how it would start. She'd come up with scores of opening moves. She'd fantasized thousands of ways it would play out.
So, in a nutshell, when the real thing finally materialized, Helena thought she'd be pretty prepared.
She'd always planned...imagined...dreamed that her first time with Barbara would be slow.
Not, perhaps, seduction so much as reverence.
The choreography of her hands on Barbara's buttons was wired into her brain. The route her mouth would make across her face and neck, already mapped. The brush of her fingers through wiry red curls, already in her senses. Her need to give Barbara her devotion, unquestionable.
Yet, when it came...
After everything, when she -- they -- were ready, there wasn't time.
One moment, they were in the living room, eyes fixed on each other. The air was heavy, thick with promise, laden with desire.
The next, she had Barbara in her arms, their mouths locked together as she stumbled into the master bedroom. Then, they were tangled together on the bed, and it was nothing but her need: her need to know that it *was* this woman; her need to show *this* woman her heart.
Her need to give Barbara her heart.
Time seemed to separate into shards, refracting images and sensory moments:
Helena's skin too tight, leaving her with an itch to shred and tear in her desire.
Barbara, somehow naked from the waist up beneath her. Her fingers tracing the lightly veined contours of breasts that were milky white and full.
The clatter of buttons hitting the floor as she tore her own shirt off. The electricity that coursed through her, causing her feet to piston against the comforter as she lowered herself, bringing them chest to chest.
The shock of cool flesh against her own inflamed breasts. The pressure of firm nipples catching against her own. Barbara's hiss racheting her frantic need.
Her tongue dancing against Barbara's mouth. A breathy moan -- "Helena" -- allowing her to map the tangled ridges and warm heat inside. Barbara's hands in her hair and, somehow, her tongue dominating.
Opening, succumbing, embracing the exploration, a fluttering tickle in her belly as she envisioned Barbara's touch elsewhere, probing and twisting and filling her need.
Her hand working the button of the other woman's jeans. Her breath catching at the vividness of the image that seared across her brain: her own fingers gliding inside walls of velvet.
The images re-pieced themselves to a whole again, but there wasn't time: it was too bright and new and sharp.
Struggling against her own urgency, Helena lowered her face to Barbara's neck, opening her mouth to draw in the scent that was Barbara's alone. She worked to mate their bodies gently, branded by the sweat-slickened skin that pulled deliciously against her.
Strong fingers dug into her shoulders, the throaty murmur seeming to move directly from Barbara's chest to hers. Suddenly ravenous, she buried her mouth against the slender column of the redhead's throat and sucked at the blood that she could feel -- could almost taste -- pulsing against the skin.
But, she couldn't stay there long: Barbara was pushing her down, and all of her plans for a slow, deliberate exploration evaporated when her tongue touched one diamond hard peak. For an instant, Helena trembled, her bottom lip stuttering against the pale pink flesh until a hand came to the back of her head and she heard a whisper.
Instantly, her spine bowed and her clit pulsed, her body aching to take...to take in...to give. Her whimper was counter-pointed by her lover's breathless moan.
"Love you, Hel."
Her own answer was instant.
And then, Helena let go, tasting the sweet skin, sampling the texture, rimming the nipple with her teeth until the hands in her hair pressed more firmly, encouraging her to take the fullness deeper.
The world turned to colors and sounds.
Overcome, she ground against the woman she'd loved for so long and, in an instant, was overcome. For long moments, Helena knew nothing but the shape of the body beneath her and the taste of heaven as the waves roared through her.
Pain of loss.
Need long denied.
And, ultimately, exultation.
Seconds...minutes...perhaps a lifetime later, the clenching of her belly and throbbing in her center calmed, leaving her to collapse, trembling, against her partner.
Finally remembering to breathe, Helena drew in the scent of their passion.
Never woulda thought...
And, then, she remembered herself.
It really hadn't been a shining moment there. More like some hormonal teenager's first time.
The soft murmur, accompanied by fingers brushing through her hair, distracted her from her self-flagellation.
"God, Barbara, I'm so so--"
A lightly calloused fingertip came to rest against her lips, silencing the apology. The other woman's smile suggested that she had little to apologize for. Her words, husky and thick, confirmed it.
"I have no doubt that there will be many others, however -- "
A smile that had been soft and loving morphed into something infinitely sexy, and suddenly Helena realized that she'd just been getting warmed up.
"-- that was the sexiest thing I've ever seen."
Suddenly counting herself lucky that she had the recuperative powers of a teenager, Helena rolled to the side and offered a playful nip to her lover's jaw.
"You ain't seen--"
Even as she spoke, her voice dropped to a growl when she heard Barbara's heart rate doubling.
"-- nothing yet, Red."
The reply was somehow simultaneously aroused and wry.
"I'd imagine not, Helena."
She swooped upward, covering the other woman with her body, and bent to her mouth. At the last instant, she arrested her movement.
Helena felt heat crawling into her cheeks, but she had to say the words.
"How much can you feel, Barbara?"
This time there was no doubt of the wryness in the other woman's voice.
The brunette nodded and kept her gaze focused on her lover's eyes. Barbara's throaty chuckle, not to mention the sensation of calloused fingers stroking her side, went straight to her core.
"A helluva lot, Helena."
She almost took the bait. Somehow, she caught the dodge and waited, sharing the smile but refusing to drop her gaze from emerald eyes that were going a little soft.
A little sad.
Finally, Barbara relented, her sigh whispering Helena's cheek.
The admission clearly cost her. Hating that she'd had to know, it took Helena a few seconds to process her words.
She felt her left eyebrow begin to snake upward, her lips begin to quirk, as a blush raced into pale features.
On surer footing, she stroked her cheek lightly against the other woman's.
"Sometimes?" she coaxed, her nipples hardening in response to Barbara's hitching breath.
"If things are just right and I'm lucky..."
It was all she needed to know. Letting her smile take control, Helena pulled back just enough to bring them nose to nose, eye to eye.
"Let's get lucky, Red."
Later, much later, tangled in sweat-soaked sheets, her nose buried in red hair as Barbara's exhausted snores brushed her chest, Helena had to admit that they'd gotten very lucky indeed.
And the best part?
It wasn't anything like she'd ever imagined.