DISCLAIMER: I do not own the characters. They are the property of DC comics and the WB network. I'm just borrowing them for a short period of time.
MUSIC DISCLAIMER: Song lyrics don't belong to me either; no profit gained or infringement intended.
SERIES: Some readers were kind enough to point out that there are more than the traditional four elements which were covered in the original Elemental series (Landslide, Watershed and Windshear). This story is the fourth extension of the Elemental series following Veneer, Stainless, Obsidian and Nuclear.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Her legs hurt.
Barbara understood that it wasn't entirely surprising, given that she'd spent the last few hours running beside Katie as the five year old had joyfully mastered the art of riding a bicycle without training wheels. Nevertheless, while her daughter's victory ameliorated a measure of the burn in her thighs, Barbara was decidedly looking forward to a long soak in the whirlpool tub.
Rather, she had been anticipating some time in the tub until she emerged from the kitchen, bottle of Pellegrino in hand, and discovered that Helena had returned from the museum at some point while she'd been cooling down. Her lover was on the balcony, her back to the living area and her attention seemingly focused on the reds and oranges and yellows that bled into the sky from the setting sun. The wool slacks that the younger woman had selected for work that morning skimmed the slender lines of her hips; the silk blouse seemed to brush her sides like fingers.
Barbara licked her lips and set her beverage on a side table. When she registered the heat of the blood that was rushing to her center, she felt a smile touch her lips.
The bath could wait.
Her skin suddenly, acutely, sensitized to the faint breeze that was blowing in through the French doors, the redhead peeled off her overshirt, leaving her in the lime green tank top she'd put on before the riding lesson with Katie.
She suspected that Helena wouldn't object to the perspiration that dampened a patch between her breasts.
She was confident that the brunette wouldn't object to her planned stealth approach either. Barbara didn't want to surprise her lover; however, she didn't necessarily want to give her a chance to turn around either: The image that was searing her mind's eye -- slipping up behind Helena and taking her hard and fast -- was simply too much to resist.
Attuned to silence, the redhead started forward.
Rather, in the act of lifting one Keds-clad foot from the Berber, she realized that both of her feet seemed to be locked in place. Biting back her panic and her memories of all of the years when she hadn't been able to move, she dropped a hand to her thigh, reassured when her nerves clearly registered the contact.
It wasn't... it wasn't her spine again.
Panic ceding to anger, she tried to take another step, once again brought up short by the sensation that her feet were clamped to the floor.
"I'm sorry, Barbara."
The words came from her right, from the hallway that led to the bedrooms. As familiar with that voice as she was with her own, Barbara looked over, needlessly confirming just who it was holding her captive.
The young woman's expression was sorrowful. Her words were resolute.
"I can't let you go out there."
Pushing aside her desire to snap at the blonde, Barbara took a deep breath and ran her hand through her hair.
The gesture wasn't quite as satisfying since she'd cut her long mane two years before in favor of a modified pageboy. A bit irritated by a change that she should have been used to, Barbara shook her head roughly --
And shook herself awake.
For several thundering heartbeats, she held herself still in the darkness of the bedroom, working to pull herself together. She hadn't had a walking dream in quite some time, and it was a bit discouraging to grasp that she wasn't leaving the illusion behind.
Quite aware of the fact that she was alone in the big bed, Barbara finally glanced at the bedside clock. Its angry glare informed her that it was nearly dawn.
Well past time for Helena and Dinah to have finished laying their trap, having ice cream, and...
That indefinable frisson of awareness suggested that Helena had made it home, and with a soft sigh, the redhead folded back the covers and sat up.
It was time to see why Helena hadn't made it to bed.
So baby, times get a little crazy
I've been getting a little lazy
Waiting for you to come save me
I can see that you're angry
By the way the you treat me
Even out on the balcony, Helena had no trouble hearing the whisper of rubber tires on the hardwood floor of the hallway. Seemed like Barbara had switched back to her manual chair, maybe so she wouldn't wake up Katie.
If I could escape
And re-create a place as my own world
And I could be your favorite girl
Forever, perfectly together
She really wasn't surprised that Babs was on the prowl and heading right to her. Barbara had always seemed to know how to find her.
If I could be sweet
I know I've been a real bad girl
I didn't mean for you to get hurt
'soever, we can make it better
And tell me boy, now wouldn't that be sweet?
Yanking out her ear buds and cutting off Gwen Stafanie mid-whoo hoo, Helena squared her shoulders and got ready to face the music. She'd known that she couldn't sit on the balcony all night avoiding things.
Things like expectations: Barbara's for her, her's for Barbara, Dinah's for them. Things like desire and passion, whether they were there or forced or missing and needed. Things like how she'd probably gone and fucked everything up.
Barbara managed to compose a smile just before her partner swung her legs back over the parapet and rotated to face her. Helena had been swinging her feet in the empty air twenty stories up, her face upturned to the sky. The reflected light noise of the city illuminated the large cirrus clouds that feathered the pre-dawn, but Barbara was reasonably certain that Helena hadn't been looking at them.
Way back in high school, in the classroom; lost in blood and tears and rage in the hospital after that night; thousands of long dark nights over the comms; and more recently in the bedroom: Barbara's voice had always been Helena's lifeline. The gentle greeting, the soft burr of welcome, did it: Helena crumbled.
"Sweetheart -- "
It seemed as if she'd known in the split second before she saw her companion drop her head into her hands and curl in on herself. Barbara was next to her before she finished speaking.
"-- what happened?"
There was no answer -- no verbal answer -- for a half minute. Barbara held her peace, resting one hand on her lover's back as the younger woman trembled.
"I don't think I'm the one who should -- "
Again, Barbara kept silent, watching as Helena finally straightened. Helena's eyes remained firmly fixed on the sky.
"Who should be talking to Dinah."
It took the redhead a beat to make the connection.
"What makes you say that, Helena?"
She kept her hand on her partner's shoulder. The trembling of tightly coiled muscles seemed to intensify.
"I kissed her --"
For a dizzying moment, Barbara fought an onslaught of deja vu.
Before she could begin to think about formulating some sort of response, Helena shook her head roughly.
"Well, I was going to try to."
The redhead determined that her best -- nay, perhaps her only possible -- response was a slow blink. It seemed to be enough.
"Well, I wanted to try, but -- "
"You wanted t--"
Pained blue eyes finally met hers, and Barbara promptly snapped her mouth shut, wishing that she could reel her words back in.
"Shit, Barbara, I'm really sorry."
The redhead drew a slow breath.
"Slow down a little, Hel."
She rubbed the younger woman's shoulder gently and offered a brief smile.
"Tell me what happened."
Although she suspected that it didn't bode well when Helena moved a few inches to the right -- just out of reach -- Barbara decided not to concentrate on it.
"I saw how she was tonight, Red. I just..." The brunette scrubbed her face with her hands. "I guess I just had to put it out there."
Allowing herself one more slow blink, Barbara forced her powerful skills of denial to kick in so that she could focus on the issue at hand.
After all, there was no reason to think too hard about just what Helena might have put just where.
The words were so precise, so fuckin' factual and dispassionate, that Helena couldn't doubt for a second that Barbara understood.
Which was more than she could claim.
All that she knew was that Dinah's... interest in her had seemed to be moving in some sort of weird inverse relationship to, well, to Barbara's. And seeing as how she was the "go out and do it" one on their little team, tonight had seemed like as good a time as any.
"I wanted to," She really, really wanted to be sure that Barbara understood that she'd been on board. "Wanted to try anyway, but I..."
Shit, it was hard to say. It was hard to think, but when she'd finally taken the plunge with Dinah after they'd set up the netting and decamped to the roof of the Dark Horse with their ice cream, there hadn't been any way around it.
"Okay, Kid. Time to spill."
Helena's question had caught Dinah with a heaping spoonful of vanilla ice cream and hot fudge sauce on the way to her mouth.
She'd given her own sundae -- chocolate ice cream, of course -- a swirl with the long-handled plastic spoon and had shifted just a little from where she was sitting beside Dinah so she could see her eyes.
"What's gnawing at you, D?"
She'd seen the word -- at least the first consonant -- taking shape on the younger woman's lips.
"Mandrill, yeah, but that's not all of it, D."
Dinah had set her cardboard cup of ice cream aside, seeming pretty intent on getting it situated in just the right spot. Helena had chosen to lob hers over the edge of the roof, pretty certain that she'd be able to hit the dumpster in the alley below.
"C'mon, you've been mooning around and fishing for intel about Barbara and me and, well..."
Helena had figured that having Dinah's telepath thing could have helped out a lot. Still, even if it hadn't been the smoothest, it had gotten Dinah talking.
"I can't. It's just too embarrassing."
The blonde had smoothed her hands over her knees a few times and then stood up. Helena had been right behind her, moving around to keep them face to face.
"And confusing. I guess I'm still trying to figure it out, Hel."
Those pale, pale eyes had almost been silver in the moonlight.
"It's okay, D."
She'd sucked up her courage then -- big time -- and stepped into Dinah's personal space.
"Barbara knows, too. She's--"
The words had been really hard to get out.
"She's okay with it." She'd caught herself and tried again. "She understands, Dinah."
She'd kind of wanted to laugh a little at that. It didn't really seem to cover how Red was willing to do whatever was needed for them.
"Are you shit-- kidding me?"
Dinah's eyes had been huge. Dinner plate huge.
"After all of her hang-ups about you and the age difference and the whole..."
When D had stuttered to a stop, sort of flapping her arms, Helena had been surprised that she wasn't laughing.
It hadn't seemed all that funny.
"She gets it." She'd dropped her voice a little, not backing down. "Fuck, I get it, D."
Helena was no literary guru or English teacher or anything, but she'd thought that, right about then, Dinah's expression had been pretty much the epitome of "uncomfortable".
"No way, Hel. This makes you and Barbara look like--"
Dinah had shifted from foot to foot, pushing a lock of hair behind her ear.
"Well, no. I'm just not going to talk about this with you."
Figuring that talking was overrated anyway, Helena had closed the distance, resting her forehead against Dinah's and looking her right in the eyes.
"It's okay, D."
She still didn't know if she really had been going to kiss Dinah or if she'd just been thinking about it and that whole telepath thing had kicked in. It didn't matter because she'd been pulling the blonde into a hug when she'd seen the expression in her eyes.
"What the fuck? I was good enough a couple of weeks ago--"
She'd stopped herself, remembering one vital difference about the intimacies she'd exchanged with Dinah while they'd been letting D practice her mind control.
She'd been all set to be mortified but Dinah had already been talking.
"It was different when you were a guy. It was--"
Dinah had shrugged, pulling back a few steps and leaving Helena to consider that a lot of things had been different -- with all of the women in her life -- when she'd been a guy.
"I mean, I was inside your head and feeling your feelings and everything got mixed up."
That's when Helena had started to get clued in that maybe some of that hubris thing had been in play. Or at least some ego and assumptions.
Dinah's next words had put the nail in the lid.
"Just, no way, Hel. This isn't about you and me. At least, well, not directly, I guess."
"What is it, Sweetheart? What happened?"
Barbara's voice was infinitely gentle. Her hand on Helena's arm felt so comforting. Her eyes, bright in the dawning light, were completely accepting.
Even if that acceptance was going to tear her apart, there was no way that Helena could hide the truth.
She took a second, remembering Dinah's eyes when she'd talked about being inside her head and feeling what she'd felt. Then, she replayed the emphasis that Dinah had put on the words "you and me" before she'd closed down on the discussion and headed down the fire escape.
Somehow, she found her voice and met her partner's gaze.
"I don't think it's me that she wants."
Clearly she was missing something.
For a long half-minute after Helena's words, Barbara sat in mute silence, attempting to piece together just what it was that had Helena so upset. For that matter, it didn't seem at all frivolous to spare a few neural CPUs to grasp what in the name of Old Scratch had been possessing her partner to attempt to...
"We aren't talking about -- "
Resisting the urge to fan herself with her hand, Barbara wet her lips with her tongue.
"-- sororal confidences, are we, Hel?" she finally managed.
Oh, good grief, she could admit it: her protests about not emphasizing an age difference aside, Barbara would have been delighted to learn that Dinah was... wanting her as a maternal confidant.
Shutting her eyes, Barbara raised her right hand, pinching the bridge of her nose between her thumb and second finger. Despite any preferences she might have had, her mind insisted on running through the myriad possibilities for complications and hurt that were rife in what Helena had revealed.
It was insanity, pure and simple.
She understood, in a purely theoretical manner of course, that Dinah had been in Helena's head. She grasped that some sort of transference could have occurred; however, the logical object of those sorts of feelings...
Barbara's eyes snapped open and she dropped her hand to grip the arm of her chair.
"Why were you trying to kiss Dinah, Hel?"
Helena couldn't miss hearing how much emphasis Barbara had put on the word "trying". It struck her like a lash.
"Hel, can you--"
The brunette couldn't meet her partner's eyes. She thought of all of the excuses she could make, but she knew that it was results, not effort, that ultimately mattered.
"I'm sorry, Barbara."
Barbara had no doubt that her partner's contrition was genuine; however, she still couldn't fathom what the younger woman had been thinking.
"Great galloping gonads, Hel!"
She saw her partner flinch and forced herself to calm down. On a measured exhalation, the redhead leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees and peering up into Helena's downcast eyes.
"Sweetie, can't you see that trying -- "
Swallowing, Barbara regrouped a bit.
"Helena, attempting something like that is only going to confuse matters more."
In the rose-gray light of pre-dawn, she clearly saw deep blue eyes darting down.
"Seems like it was already pretty confused."
The muttered words were barely audible, but Barbara had no difficulty in grasping the sense of what Helena had said. A bit stiffly, she straightened from her semi-crouch.
"Excuse me, Helena?"
Helena knew that her partner didn't much go for snotty asides, but sometimes her mouth just ran away with her. Exhaling heavily, she sat up straight and ran her fingers through her hair.
Time to put her cards on the table.
"Listen, Barbara," she scrubbed her palms up and down the soft leather covering her knees. "I know that things have been a little different since I was changed back from a guy. And, I know that, maybe, everybody is..."
Something kind of caught in her throat, and Helena worried at her lower lip with her teeth for a second, giving it a chance to clear.
"Well, maybe the cost was more than you--"
That wasn't quite right.
Helena shook her head roughly and corrected herself.
"--more than any of us wanted."
"Helena, that's not what this is about."
The protest was instant. Instinctual.
"Fuck, Barbara! It's not not what it's about either!"
Shocked by the vehemence of Helena's words, Barbara opened her mouth to respond; however, by the time she had unraveled what it was that Helena seemed to be saying, her companion was barreling on.
"But it's okay, Barbara!"
Figuring that volume wasn't going to gain her much, Helena sucked in a quick lung full of oxygen and toned it down.
"And, it's not just because I owe her or even because you think that we owe her."
Doubt was curtaining those gorgeous green eyes, and Helena stretched over to grasp Barbara's hand.
"It's okay," she repeated, not quite sure why she was having to reassure all the women in her life so much in one night. "I'm okay being there or giving -- "
Working the pad of her thumb gently across Barbara's knuckles, Helena hunted for a way to help her partner understand.
"I love her, too, you know, and doing whatever we need to do for Dinah is something I want to do."
The letters that Barbara frequently caught her students text-messaging to each other flared behind her eyelids in garish green neon. Buffeted by the overload, she managed to pry her eyes open to search her lover's eyes.
She found sincerity.
"Sweetheart, how could you --"
Helena raised her free hand a few inches, asking for the chance to finish. She took the rise of crimson brows as permission.
"I'm really okay with doing whatever I need to for Dinah. It's just, like I said, Red -- "
Knowing that she was being impossibly selfish, Helena still couldn't keep it back.
"I don't think it's me she wants, Barbara," she tightened her hold on Barbara's hand and allowed her eyes to shut. "and I don't think I can do it."
When Helena opened her eyes again, they appeared wet in the dim light of morning.
"Do what, Hel?"
Barbara returned the pressure of Helena's hand on hers, wishing that her grasp of Helena's meaning were as solid.
"Maybe it's because I'm an only child."
The redhead blinked, several times, fighting not to become dizzy at the seeming shift in topics. Her attempt wasn't helped when Helena abruptly stood and paced to the far end of the balcony.
"Only child?" she managed.
Her companion's shrug was apologetic.
"Yeah. You know that I just can't share stuff, my clothes or jewelry or--"
Despite herself, Barbara found a smile touching her lips at her partner's odd juxtaposition of arrogance and humility.
"That's not true, Sweetheart," she interrupted mildly.
The transformation had been slow; however, this Helena was a far cry from the one who had brought Dinah back to her not too many years before.
"You share your apartment, your clothes, your time."
Quite aware of all that remained uncounted, Barbara stopped ticking the points off on her fingers.
The younger woman's smile was meager.
"I love you so much, Barbara, and this is something that D needs."
"She needs us," the redhead agreed.
She thought that Helena's answering nod was, at best, hesitant.
"Yeah, you told me when we talked about it last week."
Barbara felt her brows wrinkle as she recalled the conversation that had evolved during their latest Hepburn movie. It was difficult to believe that Katie had begun to crawl, sans the inducement of M&Ms, in the few days that had elapsed since.
"Fuck, Barbara, I love her, too."
Dark brows rose, leaving the brunette looking lost and helpless, and Barbara's hands dropped to the wheels of the chair, ready to move to her partner. When Helena spun around to face the city, she forced herself to still her motion and waited.
"I love her, too," she reminded her. "And you."
She saw the dark head dip once.
"I know, Red. But I can't be like you."
Something... Something about Helena's words sent a ribbon of cold up her spine. Wishing desperately that she could rewind the last minutes -- or the last week -- or, perhaps, the weeks that had slipped by her since Helena's transformation, Barbara forced herself to move next to her partner.
"I don't understand, Helena."
The sun was coming up in full now, and Helena allowed her eyes to be caught by the light that refracted against the garish green glass of the downtown office buildings.
The shards of daylight burned her eyes.
"I can't do what you can do."
She swallowed around the heaviness in her throat and finished it.
"I can't share you."
Green eyes blinked then went wide as understanding dawned.
"Helena, no, you don't understand."
There was no sound when Helena turned from her regard of the city, only the play of shadows and a shifting current in the air before Barbara found herself fixed by deep blue eyes.
"Please, don't, Barbara. I know... I know it's important, but I can't share you."
All of the air left her body, and Barbara worked her jaw, utterly at a loss.
"Jesus, Barbara, I'll do anything." Helena raked her fingers through her hair, her voice cracking. "I'll crawl through glass for you. You know that."
The rising sun burnished her lover's dusky features mahogany. In the minutes between dark and light, the curtain had lifted, and Barbara understood how terribly wrong matters had gone. What she didn't understand what how she needed to fix matters.
Somehow, she found her voice.
"And you know that's not what I want, Helena."
Unable to stand it, Helena dropped to her knees.
The words flayed her, so great was her need for Barbara to understand that she needed only one person. That she ached for the wanting touch of only one pair of hands, the hungry pressure of only one mouth, the demanding call of one set of lips and teeth.
And she couldn't bear to share.
On her knees, she shuffled forward a few inches and rested her fingertips lightly on the rims of Barbara's chair. Helena couldn't look up to meet her partner's eyes.
Twenty stories below, the city was coming to life. Helena could hear the shops opening, could smell the diesel of commuter buses warming up, could feel the energy of their city awakening.
Up on the balcony, where she'd laid everything out, there was only silence.
It seemed like answer enough.
Barbara simply didn't have the words. Enough words. The right words.
How on earth could she have let Helena think that she valued her so little? That she valued them so little?
The stricken look in surpassingly blue eyes disabused her of that notion, and Barbara forced herself to amend her self-castigation: How had she let Helena come to believe that she valued all of them so much that such an action would be... reasonable?
"No," she murmured again, threading her fingers into dark silk.
Bending at the waist, Barbara brought herself level with Helena's eyes. She knew that she needed to say something, to find a way to explain, yet she found herself lost in the emotions swirling in cobalt eyes.
Slowly, the redhead exhaled and straightened a few degrees. Gently, she pushed a lock of hair behind Helena's left ear. Ruthlessly, she shunted aside her own desire to rant and rage and set out in search of a soundproof room in which she could bang her head against a wall.
Time enough for that later. At this point, she needed to set some matters straight.
"I believe there's been some miscommunication, Helena."
Quite aware that the sheer understatement of what she'd just said could probably float a boat to the moon, Barbara didn't... couldn't bear to think about just what had been going on in her partner's mind to lead her to believe... that.
"I didn't mean--"
Barbara shook her head, simultaneously placing her index finger lightly against full, soft lips.
"No, Hel," she managed something that approximated a smile and dropped her hand to her lap. "You didn't do anything wrong."
She, on the other hand, had clearly dropped the ball. She'd been so caught up in assumptions about Dinah's needs that she'd completely missed the fact that Helena was... having some doubts after the return to herself.
"I'm so sorry, Helena."
Later. Later she'd try to delve deeper into what had happened. For the moment, it was most important to address what was right in front of her.
Leaning close, Barbara began.
"I love you, Hel."
"Éso much," was all that Helena could understand after that, whispered against her skin. Dropping her head, she rubbed the top of her head lightly under Barbara's chin, nearly shivering her pleasure.
"I thought that was what you wanted for..."
She inhaled deeply and looked into verdant green.
"...for the family."
Somehow, the redhead couldn't gather her wits, couldn't collect the fragmented bits of herself, to find a thoughtful response.
"Sweetheart, no," she held her companion's eyes, tucking one finger under her jaw to keep the brunette from looking away. "Only you."
After all, she was an only child as well.
Helena couldn't doubt what Barbara was saying, but she couldn't figure how she'd been so off-base about the whole thing.
"You haven't --"
It wasn't hard to make out the confusion in Red's eyes, and Helena cast about for a way to explain.
"It's been different since I changed back, like you want me to..."
Dark brows knit just as Barbara's inner voice helpfully supplied a possible ending to the thought: "Be someone else".
"--take the lead."
Another protest ready, Barbara forced herself to consider the truth of her lover's words.
"Perhaps," she leaned in, resting her forehead against the younger woman's. "Sometimes I do, Hel."
Immediately, the redhead found herself rearing back in surprise when Helena surged toward her. Taking in Helena's eyes -- deep violet, soft and open -- she managed to still the reflexive movement and leaned back in to bring their mouths together.
She held herself back for the kiss; it was a bare gossamer brush of her mouth against Helena's velvet lips. As she felt her lover's warm breath panting softly against her, raising the fine hair on her arms, Barbara opened to meet the unspoken request.
Gently, so carefully, she breathed in Helena's air; she offered her own.
Under her hands, the muscles of Helena's shoulders were quivering. The whisper had sounded broken and hungry.
Clearly, Barbara recognized with a rush of heat, she'd been neglecting her partner.
With Helena supping so tenderly, so slowly, at her mouth, Barbara surrendered on a sigh and slipped into her mouth. Refusing to be distracted by a moan that morphed into a growl and echoed against her teeth, she mapped her slowly, deliberately.
Helena realized she'd been holding her breath forever. Now... now there was nothing but Barbara and their breathing and the distant sounds of dawn...
And the frigging beep of the Delphi alarm.
No. No. No.
She saw the apology in Barbara's eyes. Heck, Helena recognized the damned "life or death" signal that Red had programmed into the monitoring routines.
Still, she didn't think they'd finished up.
"Is this gonna be...?"
Helena trailed behind her partner, stopping at the French doors as Barbara gracefully, effortlessly, sailed up the ramp and brought up her monitoring routines.
"Confusing for a while, I'd suspect, Hel."
The smile that Red took time to give her helped a lot, but Helena knew she'd have a lot of catching up to do.
Red hair shook once from side to side.
"It's not your fault, Helena. And, for now -- "
The brunette nodded and snagged her comm set from her pocket.
"-- there's a report of someone struggling to hang from the hour hand of the City Hall clock."
Snapping on the necklace, Helena glanced up at their own personal oversized clock, easily reading it backwards from years of practice.
"And in ten minutes or so when it hits the half-hour, he's gonna be in a world of hurt, huh?"
Barbara was already typing.
With two bounding steps, Helena reached the edge of the balcony, and then she was flying.
Fingers hovering over the keyboard, Barbara indulged herself for just a few seconds, watching the dark figure sail so effortlessly across the roof of the adjoining building.
Perhaps someday soon, she'd ask Helena to take her flying again. For the time being, finding a suitably located security camera needed to be her primary focus.
The cyber-vigilante had just hacked into a traffic camera that, surprisingly, had a reasonable view of City Hall -- although, regrettably, not of the clock face -- when the comms crackled to life.
Managing to reposition the camera angle ever-so-slightly, Barbara could just make out shadows against the face of the clock.
"What's the situation, Huntress?"
<<"Ooof -- ">>
The strain was evident in the soft utterance, and the play of precariously swaying shadows suggested that Helena was attempting a rescue.
<<"Gimme a s--shit.">>
Sitting a bit straighter, Barbara kept her voice calm.
It was possible that what she thought she'd seen -- one of the shadows plummeting to the ground -- had been a trick of early morning light and poor fiber optics.
<<"It was a friggin' dummy, Oracle.">>
Seeing her partner swooping toward the ground, Barbara immediately backed out of the live controls for the traffic cam and worked on accessing the digital image archive from the unit.
<<"Yup. In a Batman suit with a pair of, uhm, antlers on the cowl.">>
Oblivious to the voice-only connection, the redhead nodded.
It fit the M.O.
"Could they be moose antlers, Huntress?"
And, she had it: a clear digital image of a man dragging a cowled dummy toward City Hall half an hour earlier.
<<"Yeah, that looks about right.">>
Barbara enlarged the still, finally getting a clear visual of the man she could only assume to be the self-titled Boris Badenov. Immediately, she fed a close-up to her mug-shot matching routines, not surprised when there was an immediate hit.
She had, of course, run the mug shots with the composite that she'd put together from Helena's description: a short man with dark hear, dark trench coat, and a pencil mustache. With few likely hits in criminal databases, she'd released her 'bots on the web only to discover that her algorithms found Major Hochsetter from the cult television classic "Hogan's Heroes" to be the most likely match.
Then again, finally viewing Boris' picture from earlier that day and the mug shot that had been returned from the Gotham County Jail, Barbara had to acknowledge that her programs hadn't been far off the mark.
Prisoner number GCJ070422NH, Norbert Herman, had been released from the jail, after serving a short sentence for malicious mischief, only a few days after Mike Mandrill had taken up residence there.
A few clicks of the mouse confirmed the rest: Mandrill and Herman had shared a cell.
Wearily, Barbara logged out of the county computers and leaned back in her chair, attempting to control her emotions.
It was just one more thing that they could thank Mike Mandrill for.
In the process of opening her mouth to call Helena back to the Tower, Barbara paused, chasing the last thought around her mind.
Honesty forced her to rescind her assessment.
While it was true that Mandrill's involvement was a nuisance, the redhead knew that, ultimately, responsibility had to rest squarely on her shoulders. She had chosen a life of vigilante crime-fighting that tended to draw out an element of society that needed to test her. She had put Helena on the trail of Mandrill and his flunkies. She had allowed Helena and Dinah to proceed with their plan to return Helena to her true form.
Since then, she had made assumptions about Dinah's motivations and needs while allowing herself to fail Helena.
It was time to take ownership.
"Huntress, can you return to base?"
The hesitation she heard was painful, but Barbara didn't falter.
"I need to you look after the junior member of the team."
That information seemed to improve her lover's mood.
Moving down the ramp, Barbara turned toward the bedroom. She'd just have time to change before Helena arrived to take care of Katie, and she could leave.
It was time to see Dinah.
"Is there something you need to tell me, Dinah?"
Granted, this was one of those conversations that Barbara would have preferred to avoid entirely; however, shirking the difficult moments in life simply wasn't an option. Judging from the way that her companion was chewing at her lower lip and refusing to meet her eyes, Barbara knew that she wasn't alone in her preferred avoidance.
When the silence wore on, she finally made the decision for the blonde.
"Let me put it this way," She ducked her head just a bit, finally catching pale blue eyes with hers. "I believe there are some matters that we need to discuss."
Barbara had to assume that, even without telepathic abilities, Dinah should have been able to guess as much. After all, virtually ambushing Dinah on her way to the lab and insisting that they have coffee was a reasonably big clue.
"Do we have to?"
The redhead's sympathetic smile was entirely genuine: her most recent ward and she were, after all, not entirely dissimilar.
"I'm afraid so, Honey."
She stirred her coffee slowly, waiting for Dinah to make the next move.
"Is this about last night? With Helena?"
"In part," she allowed, watching Dinah pick at the chocolate chips in the oversized muffin that she'd selected to accompany her Americano. "I understand that there might be some problems between you and Gabby."
It wasn't the most direct route; however, according to Helena, the changes seemed to have started there.
"Yeah, I suppose."
The younger woman's expression was heartbreakingly vulnerable. And, Barbara decided, sorrow-filled.
"I was thinking that, uhm, maybe we should take a break or something."
Without conscious volition, Barbara felt herself nod once. Tempering her voice, she held Dinah's gaze.
"Is... Was being inside Helena's head part of the problem, Dinah?"
The nod that she received seemed grudging, confirming what Barbara already knew: she simply couldn't imagine being so intimately close to someone and not having some sort of effect. Given Helena's strength of will and her amazing soul, not to mention Dinah's empathy, Dinah couldn't have had a prayer.
"Sort of. I mean -- "
Barbara refused to grant herself the solace of looking away, of attempting to avoid the uncomfortable intimacy between them.
"--Helena loves you so much, Barbara, and -- "
The younger woman's laugh was soft and shy and utterly without humor.
"Well... It's just..."
Dinah's face was beet red; her fingers were busily plucking at the cellophane that her muffin had been wrapped in. Aching for her, Barbara reached out, resting one hand on the anxiously moving fingers.
"Just what, Dinah?"
Wide blue eyes met hers unflinchingly.
"It's just that, after that, I almost thought that I could fall for you or something, you know?"
Wetting her lips with the tip of her tongue, Barbara cast about for words.
While it was true that, after Helena's revelations that morning, the admission wasn't unexpected, it was still... surprising to hear.
Dealing with the innocent -- or not so innocent -- crushes of students at school had nothing on this.
An abashed laugh drew the redhead from that bleak line of thought, and she looked up from the steam rising from her cardboard coffee cup to see Dinah shaking her head.
"I mean, Helena would do anything for you."
Blonde brows quirked, and Barbara felt her own eyebrows follow suit.
"She wants to. You know?"
Helpless to do otherwise, Barbara nodded.
Even if she sometimes lost sight of it, she did, indeed, know.
"The relationship that Helena and I have is rather unique," she tried. To her temporary relief, Dinah's vigorous nod cut her short.
"I know that! And, I thought that you knew. Or..."
Barbara marshaled her patience as her companion tucked a strand of hair behind one ear and then barreled on.
"I guess I thought you knew because Helena said you did, or that you understood, and when I read Gabby earlier, she knew that you knew, but when Helena tried, uhm..."
If she'd thought the girl had been blushing earlier, Barbara realized that she'd grossly underestimated Dinah's level of embarrassment. Her normally pale features were now brick red.
"... Uhm, last night, I think maybe that--"
"Know what?" Barbara finally interrupted softly, hoping to slow the verbal train.
Her question had the effect she'd hoped for. Dinah's response, unfortunately, served to derail her.
"About Gabby and Helena."
In the manner of most teens, the "of course" -- or, less politely, the "duh" -- was unspoken.
Barbara blinked once. Slowly. Possibly recognizing that a bit more explication might be in order, Dinah was off again.
"I mean, it started when I was inside Helena's head and I felt how much--"
Touching the joystick of the chair, Barbara moved back from the small table with a jerk.
"Do you mind if we take a walk, Dinah?"
She barely waited for her companion to rise before she turned to toss her coffee and untouched cranberry-orange scone into the trash can by the door to the coffee shop. Stuffing the remnants of her muffin into her shoulder bag, Dinah was right behind her.
It wasn't until they reached the relative privacy of the busy street that bisected the NGU campus that Barbara chose to resume their conversation.
"What about Gabby and Helena, Dinah?"
She glanced to the side, confirming that the blonde's attention remained fixed on the sidewalk in front of them.
"Uh, how Gabby feels about-- I mean, I know it's not a big deal maybe or it shouldn't be or..."
Barbara checked behind them, verifying that nobody was directly on their heels, then she stopped. It took the blonde two more steps to notice and turn to face her.
"Why don't you start at the beginning, Dinah?"
Moving forward again, she inclined her head toward the grassy common that ran the length of the university. Dinah obligingly followed her across the street.
"It was after Mandrill, and I was feeling kind of bad, and Gabby noticed so, uhm, well, I told her."
There was simply no way that Barbara could hide her surprise. Dinah's response was immediate.
"No, I mean, I just told her about my TK and stuff. I didn't tell her about, uhm, the muffin top business or anything like that."
Determinedly, the redhead pushed aside her instinctual discomfort about Dinah's revelation to Gabby. Her former ward was an adult and very much her own person; she had the right, and the duty, to make her own decisions.
"I understand, Dinah," she managed with a small smile. It seemed to be enough.
"So, anyway, Gabby... well, she let me inside her head and that's when I saw how when Helena was a guy and Gabby thought that she was hot and--"
For a moment, Barbara allowed Dinah's voice to blur into the background, nodding absently as she recalled all-too-clearly how she'd felt when Gabby had shared that bit of information during a school dance.
"And, well, Helena was hot, and I know that it isn't anything real or anything, but I still started thinking that if Gabby liked her then, well, it just seemed like..."
This time, it was Barbara who was a bit slow to realize that her companion had stopped. She turned ninety degrees and raised one brow.
The younger woman's face was an endearing mixture of embarrassment, defiance, and uncertainty.
"When I was inside Gabby, there were these pieces in her head, and I wasn't trying to see anything like that but I did see, uhm -- "
Barbara started forward again, moving onto a small path that cut across the grassy common and took them under a large oak.
Judging by the color that was flooding Dinah's face, it wouldn't hurt to get out of the sun.
"What did you see, Dinah?"
"It wasn't-- well, it was just flashes and images of..."
Barbara decided to take a gamble.
Offering Dinah her privacy, she focused on a group of students who were playing frisbee nearby.
Barbara felt her heart staccato-step for two beats as she considered the possibility that all of the last few weeks could have been the result of little more than uncertainty and misunderstanding.
Not to mention a few innocent hormones.
A veritable Midsummer's Night, as it were.
"Everyone fantasizes, Dinah."
Even if she herself were, perhaps, the exception that proved the rule.
She risked a glance over, finding the blonde nodding vigorously, her eyes wide and bright.
"I know, but I guess that's what kind of tipped the scales and all."
Once again feeling lost, Barbara shook her head.
"I don't think I'm following you, Honey."
Gracelessly, the younger woman dropped to the grass, wrapping her arms around her upraised knees. Her gaze seemed focused on venerable Memorial Hall at the end of the grassy sward.
"I was inside Helena, and I felt how she feels about you."
As much as she wanted to see Dinah's face, Barbara forced herself to concentrate on the play of the red frisbee.
"Then I was inside Mandrill, and I made him..."
She heard Dinah swallow, and blinked back something that burned her eyes at the thickness in the young woman's voice.
"I made him do things, and it hurt him."
Finally the blonde looked up and over to face her, the tight expression that stretched across her young features clearly a smile for Barbara's benefit.
"I understand that it was something I needed to do but, after I was in Gabby's head and felt what she was feeling--"
A sudden icy chill trickled across Barbara's skin as she began to guess just where this was headed.
"Well, it just got me to wondering if maybe, well," the half-shrug that Dinah offered was utterly unconvincing. "if I'd kind of pushed how she feels about me, and it freaked me out that I could have been influencing how she feels about me."
Oddly, Barbara wanted to cry. Instead, she turned her chair to face her companion and leaned down.
"You have so many exquisite gifts, Dinah," she spoke quietly, needing Dinah to hear her. "And your telepathic and TK abilities are rather amazing as well."
The deliberate addendum earned her a shy smile. Marginally heartened, the redhead fumbled for a way to help her most recent charge understand.
"Tell me, Dinah, would you use your abilities to cheat for your own gain?"
Barbara bit back a small smile of her own when Dinah's forehead wrinkled in confusion.
"What do you mean?"
Dinah's reaction to the question told Barbara all that she needed, but Dinah needed to reach the same conclusion.
"If you were playing poker, would you use some of your gifts to cheat?"
The blonde's smile was just a bit conspiratorial.
"Well, if it was guys that I was playing with I might flirt a little."
Laughing, Barbara released a tiny measure of her tension before sobering.
"And what about your more unique abilities, Dinah? Would you read someone's hand telepathically or give a mental push to have someone play poorly?"
The answer was filled with the righteous indignation of youth, and Barbara could only hope that Dinah would retain her clarity of honor for years to come.
"What if the stakes were higher, Dinah?"
"Like what, money? It still wouldn't--"
Again, Barbara found herself hoping that the young woman could retain her innocence for at least a few more years.
"No, not personal gain, Dinah," she interrupted gently. "What if Helena's life were the stakes?"
Comprehension flashed through bright blue eyes.
"Well, yeah. I mean, of course I'd use them."
Satisfied, Barbara nodded.
Dinah's confusion was easy enough to read, and so Barbara elaborated.
"You only use your abilities for others, Dinah."
Cornsilk lashes blinked a few times, and Barbara waited, following the play of comprehension, then contemplation, and, ultimately, consternation in her companion's features.
"But, what if I'm doing it and don't realize it?"
Barbara pointedly didn't mention the fact that she'd seen Dinah play poker. She had, in fact, played poker with Dinah, and it simply wasn't that challenging.
More seriously, that sort of behavior simply wasn't in the young woman.
"You know when you use your gifts, Dinah."
She spoke factually, considering that it was very unlike Helena who, Barbara had to admit, used her meta-enhanced abilities unconsciously, as instinctively as breathing.
"I can understand that the way Helena -- "
Fighting not to blush, the redhead cast about for words.
"I realize that the way Helena regards me might differ from what you picked up from Gabby, Dinah. They're different people."
She reached for the younger woman's hand and gave a gentle squeeze.
"Not to mention, I've seen the way Gabby looks at you, Dinah. Why would you doubt her feelings?"
Dinah's shrug was unconvincing, as was the pointed casualness in her reply.
"I... Mandrill. When I visited him, I felt so bad--"
Barbara cut her off and spoke to the heart of the matter.
"You're worthy of being loved, Dinah, even -- "
She forced herself to wait until the young woman met her eyes.
"Even when you make the hard choices."
As was, Barbara recognized with a sudden gasp, the other dynamic young woman in her life.
Squeezing the hand still clasped in hers, Barbara hoped that Dinah was using her abilities to read her.
"Really, really, Dinah."
Even as the clouds of doubt began to clear in pale blue eyes, Barbara knew that it wouldn't be that easy.
"Sometimes Honey," she smiled, "you simply have to trust."
Dinah's smile was tentative but her eyes were bright.
Trust and leave nothing to chance.
The old truism whispered through her mind, and Barbara's decision was made. With a wink, she released her companion's hand and spoke briskly.
"Now, Dinah, I have two favors to ask of you."
"So, uhm, technically you really could get yourself pregnant?"
Helena wasn't sure just what the rising pitch of Dinah's question signified, so she decided to focus on the question itself. Considering the possibility, she reached the same conclusion as before.
"Yeah. It's kind of cool, huh?"
Since she'd taken care to put some of her little swimmers on ice before she got changed back to her real body, Helena figured that it could work.
The two took a few more steps through the crowded mall before Dinah stopped cold. Without missing a beat, the brunette turned, snagged Dinah's elbow, and pulled her out of the flow of pedestrians to stand by the display window by The Gap.
"You mean -- " Pale blue eyes went wide. "You mean you've really thought about it?"
Pulling a grin, Helena bobbed her head once. She wasn't quite sure how they'd gotten to talking about her former attributes as a guy -- probably had something to do with their stop at Victoria's Secret -- but she was ready to go with it.
She figured the "duh" was clear enough.
"Barbara and I talked about it."
She shifted her shopping bags from her right hand to her left, deciding that she didn't need to go into Red's reaction -- at least her professed dismay -- to the possibility of having Helena's genes effectively doubled in one individual. The words "holy terror" and the laughter they'd shared were enough for her.
"We talk about everything," she added.
Even if they weren't always, maybe, quite on the same page when they were talking.
The look in Dinah's eyes was a pretty good distraction from the shame that Helena felt when she thought about their recent miscommunication, and she decided to run with it.
"What're you thinking, D?"
As one they started moving, with Helena steering them toward the shoe store that was on the other side of the food court.
"I was just thinking that, well, -- "
The blonde was almost bouncing as she walked.
"-- it is really sort of cool, and it'd be neat if we could try to do something like that at the lab."
The small bag from Bits-n-Pierces that Dinah was holding waved in front of Helena's face, cutting her short.
"No, not cloning, Hel. Something where the actual male gamete created by something was used to fertilize a female gamete from the same animal. I mean, that's not anything like cloning at all and who knows what sort of outcome you'd get?"
Helena was pretty certain that she remembered something from their adventure in the club district the year before about Clown Fish being able to change gender. Still, since she didn't know what D's chances were of finding an obliging fish to experiment with, she just bumped her shoulder lightly against Dinah's.
"Sure thing, Dr. Frankenstein."
The indignant response was immediate.
"Hey, that's Dr. Fraunkensteen to you, Hel."
It was a pretty passable imitation of Gene Wilder, causing Helena to bark out a laugh as she detoured toward Orange Julius.
Didn't know why but she loved those things.
"Good things it's Saturday, Doc, or I probably couldn't have gotten you out of your evil laboratory."
She easily ducked the blonde's play swat.
"Ha! I'm the one who called you, Helena."
Stepping up to the counter, Helena waited for the slowpoke in front of her to gather up his little cardboard tray of cups.
"How'd you know I'd be going shopping today anyway, Kid?"
She cocked her head in question at the menu board, and, getting an enthusiastic nod from her companion, ordered two regulars.
"Hey, when it comes to shopping, I'm your girl."
Helena cocked an eyebrow at Dinah and dug into her jeans for change. She easily detected the hint of pink coloring the younger woman's fair features.
"Well, Barbara said you might want to."
Pocketing her change, she picked up both cups and watched Dinah chew at her lower lip. Like Red always said, the silent treatment was pretty effective.
"You know," Dinah accepted her Julius with a smile. "Just to celebrate catching those nutcases."
The trap had gone off like clockwork. Of course, seeing as how Barbara was the one who had planned it, Helena hadn't had any real doubts.
"Episodes forty-five through fifty-four, Hel," had been Red's answer when Helena had pressed her about how she'd known where to put the trap.
The Mona Lisa smile that had come with the explanation had sent the brunette straight to Google, and she had to admit that Barbara had been right: Boris and Natasha had already done variations on the fuel gig and the boxtop caper, not to mention the whole hanging from the big clock shtick. Trying to sabotage this century's equivalent of television antennas was a logical next step.
Sure, there hadn't been any six-foot tall mechanical antenna-eating moon mice or anything, but there had been two seriously pissed off nuts tangled up in the net that she and Dinah had positioned above the array of satellite dishes that covered most of the block that housed two of New Gotham's broadcast stations.
"Eet is trap, Boris!"
Helena was still hard-pressed not to snicker when she thought of the two of them flailing against the net and dancing through an occasional shock.
Just for good measure.
Raising her cardboard cup, she waited until Dinah bought a clue and clunked her own beverage against it.
"Here's to the power of good over evil."
Dinah's smile was bright.
"And really big nets."
Somehow, the brunette managed to swallow her mouthful of orange juice, powdered sugar, nonfat dry milk, and ice without choking. Then she strolled over to the rail that looked down to the basement level ice rink.
The ice was pretty full, mostly junior high-aged kids, probably escaping the muggy summer heat.
Keeping her eyes on some gangly kid who was taking a header into the ice, Helena bit the bullet.
"Speaking of tangled messes and all, D--"
A hand came to rest on her forearm, almost causing Helena to let go of her cup and send it cascading down onto the ice.
She tightened her grip on the cup, watching her thumb move as she wiped at the beads of condensation that dotted the exterior.
"I mean, I know what you were doing, and I don't want you to apologize or feel bad or anything like that. Okay?"
Risking a glance to the side, she gauged the blonde's expression and let out a long breath.
She took a long pull through the straw and peered through her bangs at Dinah, deciding to risk it.
"I just wish I'd had your telepath thing before I tried to--"
Dinah's indignant squeak turned into a laugh, and Helena didn't even think about not joining in.
"You really thought that I-- "
Pale blue eyes sparkled, and Helena felt a grin quirk the corners of her mouth.
"-- and you were really going to...?"
Tossing her half-empty cup into a trash can, the brunette almost let it slide, then almost tried to joke her way through it.
"Yeah, well," she surprised herself. "I wouldn't kick you out of bed on a cold night or anything."
Shit. Since she'd thought... well, whatever the hell she'd talked herself into thinking about Babs, who was she to say no?
Helena was glad she hadn't added that last part when she saw the color of Dinah's blush.
What the hell.
Helena draped an arm around her companion's shoulders and pulled her in for a quick hug.
A slender arm crept around her waist, returning the pressure of the half-hug.
With a shrug, the brunette resumed their journey to the Shoe Palace. Naturally, Dinah wasn't ready to let the conversation die a well-earned death.
"And, you really thought that Barbara was... uhm, that she would... I mean--"
When Dinah trailed off, Helena glanced over, waggling one dark brow.
"Oh, shit!" The blonde's hand flew up to cover her mouth. "That's just too kinky to think about."
Laughing, Helena entered the store, tossing a response over her shoulder that left Dinah standing stock-still in the doorway.
"D, you don't know the first thing about just how far Barbara's kinkiness can go."
From the corner of her eye, Helena thought that she saw Dinah's hands go up to cover her ears.
"Too much information, Hel!"
Already bee lining to a pair of patent leather ankle boots with stiletto heels, she didn't look back.
She shrugged and waited for the blonde to catch up.
"Just don't be thinking that you made us want to do it with your mental stuff, D."
She waited a beat and tossed out the punch line.
"There's no way you're that creative."
She wasn't going to bother with the rest: She'd do whatever it took.
For Babs and for Dinah.
The hug she found herself wrapped in pretty much suggested that Dinah got the picture.
"Can I help you try something on?"
Not sure if she was pissed off or relieved by the interruption, Helena peeled Dinah off and turned, promptly almost tripping backward when she saw how close the sales clerk was standing.
Clearly the bottle-blonde with the piercing in her eyebrow hadn't glommed onto the concept of "personal space."
"Uh, yeah," she took a step backward. "How about those boots?"
The salesgirl took a step forward, closing the tiny gap that Helena had created.
"You're cute. What's your star sign?"
From one row over, where Dinah seemed to be engrossed in looking at Timberlands, there was a sound that just might have been a snicker. Debating, for about a second, Helena gave in to temptation.
Bleach-blonde didn't bat an eye.
"Ooooh, groovy, I'm a Virgo."
The snicker to the side turned into a fit of coughing. Before the helpful sales associate could say anything else, Helena thrust the boot into her hands.
Honest to god, she would have left and shopped somewhere else, but those boots would go perfectly with the outfit she'd picked out. And since she'd chosen the outfit by request, she wasn't going to back down now.
When she'd gotten back to the Tower the night before, after turning Boris and Natasha over to New Gotham's finest, Helena had still been feeling... confused about where thing stood with her and Barbara. Her partner's no-nonsense request as they'd turned in for the night -- "Yes, Hel, dinner tomorrow. Just the two of us." -- had done a lot to help.
The call she'd gotten at work this morning had cinched things.
<"Helena,"> Barbara's voice had been low, almost sultry. <"I've been thinking about attire for our date tonight.">
Helena had tucked the phone between her shoulder and her ear and run the rag over the bar top.
"Yeah? Is there a dress code?"
Barbara had been vague about their plans, but Helena was willing to go with the flow.
<"Consider it a... request.">
The purring tone had caused Helena's belly to clench and had set a tendril of fire licking at her center. She'd tossed the rag into the corner and swallowed.
"Name it, Red."
The answer had been instant.
There had been only a small pause before she'd heard the rest.
<"A short skirt.">
Thinking about the words now still made her wet.
But not as much as the package that had been delivered to the bar just before she'd punched out to go shopping. In a padded mailer envelope, there'd been a tiny, elegantly wrapped gift box.
And a note: "I'd like you to wear this tonight."
When she'd opened the box, Helena's nerves had thrummed. Her skin had instantly been sensitized to the gentle draft of the bar's air conditioning unit. She'd been completely, achingly aroused.
Not giving a damn who'd seen, she'd taken Barbara's gift from the box and turned it over in her hands, considering the implications.
Made of butter-soft white leather, studded with diamonds, the collar was delicate and lovely.
And completely, fully functional.
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