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: This is the final installment of the "Elemental" series fics (Landslide, Watershed, Windshear, Veneer, Stainless, Obsidian, Nuclear and Dark Matter).
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
But if you want to leave take good care
Hope you find a lot of nice things to wear
But then a lot of nice things turn bad
One already. Where did the time go?
Apparently, Barbara had to admit with an emotion that she chose to label "wistful", there was a fair measure of truth to some of the parental wisdom that she'd received from her adoptive parents through the years. Too often, some activities did seem amusing -- or simply intriguing -- until someone's eye got put out by a sharp pencil -- or someone was harmed in some other way. Maintaining a clean change of underwear and eating one's vegetables were both sound practices. And, as Barbara was discovering, time did seem to go by so quickly.
Oh, baby, baby, it's a wild world
It's hard to get by just upon a smile, girl
Oh, baby, baby, it's a wild world
I'll always remember you like a child, girl
With Maxi Priest's reggae classic segueing into Alan Parsons Project's "Games People Play", Barbara finally managed to tear her attention from the center of the living area and the undeniably alluring sight of Helena dancing with Katharine. In just the last five or six weeks, their daughter had graduated from cruising from one item of furniture to another and was now walking -- toddling -- in earnest, allowing her to dance on her own two chubby feet for one of the first times.
Tempus fugit, indeed.
Feeling her lips quirk, the redhead turned her gaze to the other two young women who were dancing beside Helena and Katharine. Dinah and Gabby had assisted Helena as she'd moved the coffee table and wing chairs to the periphery of the room, and now they were working to perfect some sort of complicated pas de deux that, undoubtedly, was being hindered by the force of their giggles.
Given that Gabby had flown down from State only for this little Bacchanalia, Barbara was a bit surprised that she and Dinah had elected to come early and didn't seem to be in any hurry to move the festivities along. Likewise their other guests.
Typically, Alfred seemed to be spending most of his time in the kitchen rather than accepting his status as an invitued guest. Nevertheless, simply because her old friend continued to appear periodically with finger sandwiches and small delicacies for their other guests, Barbara had no intention of neglecting her duties as hostess.
"Can I get you more tea, Alethea?"
Ensconced on the couch next to her father, Barbara's colleague peered over her glasses at the bone china cup that she was balancing on a saucer. Then, a liver-spotted hand came to rest on her father's forearm.
"No, thank you, Barbara. James -- "
Barbara felt her eyebrows elevate just a bit as she identified the older woman's tone: Simpering.
Alethea was practically *simpering*.
Or, perhaps more accurately, *Alethea* was practically simpering.
"-- has been very attentive of my needs."
With not-inconsiderable difficulty, Barbara plastered on a smile that she hoped made it past the borderline from sickly-sweet to sweet.
"That's wonderful, Alethea."
The sudden image of a future with a step-mother in it freeze-framed across Barbara's retinas, and she set her own cup and saucer onto the side table with a clatter that was audible over the music and laughter behind her.
"Dad, do you mind helping set up for the cake?"
As tactics went, Barbara suspected that she'd done better; however, her father didn't seem to mind, rising to his feet with gratifying alacrity. By the time Barbara thought to wonder just what she planned to ask him to do -- spontaneous simply wasn't her forte -- the younger women were on the move with Gabby lowering the volume on the radio and Dinah shoving the coffee table back into place.
"Just a minute, young lady, and I'll help yo--"
Jim Gordon's eager attempt to make himself useful was cut short by a cheerful smile.
"No thanks, Mr. Gordon. I've got it."
Seeing Helena occupied with the wing chair, Barbara moved to intercept Katie, who was toddling toward the bookcases that had been lowered to hide the Delphi. Her father beat her to it, easily lifting the little girl.
"Well, you are a strong one, Dinah."
Dinah's nod was a bit too casual; Barbara's was a slow echo. While the redhead suspected that the young woman might be employing her TK to help a bit, there was no denying the growth that she'd undergone in the last two months.
Emotional and physical.
No doubt, the long hours that Dinah had been putting in with the sensei that Barbara had recommended were paying dividends. There was also simply a new determination and focus that had appeared in her most recent ward soon after the incident with Mandrill. Combined, the changes in Dinah were finally allowing Barbara to relax a bit as she allowed Dinah to run sweeps on her own.
Granted, it hadn't been an easy decision, and in the dark hours of the night Barbara still fought her doubts. Nevertheless, the discussions that she'd had with Dinah after the young woman had decided to suspend her studies had left little doubt: if Barbara didn't assist with her protege's development into a full-time crime fighter, Dinah was determined to do it herself. Given Helena's decision to... retire at the turn of the new year, Barbara had finally begun to accept that the partnership had shifted.
Indeed, it seemed to have shifted almost as smoothly as the furniture in the house was being shifted back into position.
"Well, then, Dinah -- "
Then senior Gordon interrupted himself to pry his granddaughter's fingers from his mustache.
"-- how does it feel not being in school?"
Barbara detected nothing but genuine interest in her father's question. Apparently Dinah did as well, given her smile when she looked up from clearing a space on the coffee table.
"It's different, but I'm keeping pretty busy."
Unable to miss Helena's vigorous eye-rolling, Barbara smiled and shook her head minutely as she turned to retrieve some matches from the chest of drawers in the hallway. The ongoing conversation followed her.
"Flower shop, is it?"
"Yeah, I'm working at Mr. Mushnik's, downtown. And other things."
The redhead returned in time to see the blonde's nonchalant shrug. Barbara honestly couldn't guess what had caught Dinah's interest in the part-time job she'd chosen. When she'd asked her, the young woman's explanation had been simple enough.
"Flowers make people happy."
Somehow, Barbara suspected that there was more to it; however, when she'd brought up the topic later with Helena, her partner had displayed a singular lack of curiosity.
"Shit, Barbara, your green thumb can kill fake plants. It's probably a good thing we have someone in the family who can handle flowers."
Dinah's next words managed to distract her from thoughts of what other motivations might lie behind the decision to work with plants instead of people.
"It's kind of nice to take a break and, besides, Helena's covering enough classes for both of us."
Absolutely certain that the buck had just been royally passed her way, Helena shot the blonde a look. There was no way to miss the grin on Barbara's face when her dad turned and pounced.
"That's right, Helena," Jim settled onto the chair that she'd just put back in place, those steel blue eyes pinning her like a bug on a collection board. "Five classes, isn't it?"
Going for casual, she stepped over to meet Alfred, accepting the big round layer cake that he was carrying in. Gabby was following behind with a stack of plates and utensils.
"Six, actually," she allowed as she settled the cake on the coffee table.
Sure, the Phys Ed credit that she was taking really shouldn't count. It was a mandatory class, but it was turning out to be a joke, so much that her instructor had just turned her loose in the university gym to keep herself busy with the different equipment. So, while all the freshmen were sweating to the oldies and running laps, she was sinking lay-ups and playing with the target practice equipment and trying to figure out how to play badminton by herself.
So far that last one still had her her pretty flummoxed.
"I certainly never expected you to become a student, Helena. Have you selected a major yet?"
Helena knew that Babs had sort of... bonded with Miz Harkness and all, but that didn't mean that the old biddy's voice didn't raise the hair on the back of her neck. Biting the inside of her cheek, she swallowed the need to educate the high school teacher to the fact that a C average would get her a diploma just as well as a B or an A.
Fuck, it was Barbara who'd told her that employers didn't give a flying fart about your GPA anyway.
Still, she put on a big smile and got out of Dinah's way as the Kid dragged Katie's high chair over by the low table.
"Nah-- " Something that flickered in Barbara's eyes made her catch herself. "--t yet. I just thought that since I had all of my elective credits under my belt, I'd buckle down on some of the core courses."
Barbara felt a smile touch the corners of her mouth; however, opting to keep her own counsel, she simply tossed the book of matches over for Helena to light the lone candle that adorned Katharine's first cake. Although she couldn't deny that the eclectic nature of the various courses that Helena had been dabbling in for the last year and a half certainly more than fulfilled her elective credits, Barbara wasn't sure just why her partner had chosen to become Uber-student.
Granted, since she was no longer engaging in their former pursuits, there was a great deal more free time; however, Barbara was quite aware that Helena had never seemed to have a problem with relaxing into unscheduled time.
"C'mon, Barbara, blow!"
There was no way to ignore Helena's insistence that she join Katie in the ritual of blowing out the birthday candle, and so Barbara formulated her own wish. Then, with the sound of Helena leading the others in singing "Happy Birthday," she closed her eyes and helped her daughter begin a ritual for a lifetime of birthdays. One look at the glee in two pairs of deep blue eyes persuaded her to leave the introduction of something else to Helena.
"I believe you may need to help out a bit, Hel," she suggested while the small group sat expectantly, watching Katharine who was simply staring at the small wedge of cake that Alfred had plated for her.
"Yeah, guess so."
A bright grin flashed and Barbara felt her own follow when Helena swiped her index finger through the frosting and extended it to their daughter. One taste was all it took before the toddler's eyes locked on the cake that rested on the tray of her high chair. Without hesitation, the little red head plowed face-down into the pastry.
Clearly decisiveness wasn't going to be an issue for this branch of the family tree.
When Katie finally pulled back, the frosting that covered her face from forehead to chin couldn't hide her giant smile. The laughter of the adults in the room was unable to obscure her delighted giggles.
Or the pride in Helena's voice.
"Yeah, it's your first taste of real sugar, Kitty. Life only gets sweeter from here."
"Well, that went just splendidly, don't you think?"
Somewhat distantly, Barbara identified the very bright -- chipper, almost -- tone of her partner's question; however, absorbed in cataloging the absurdly large pile of gifts that Katharine had received at her party and mentally prioritizing the thank you notes to be written, she missed the sense of the question.
What had her father been thinking in giving a one-year-old a tiny little T-ball set?
This time, Helena's tone was leading, almost comically so. It was enough to distract the redhead from her list-making, and she looked over to find Helena working on another slice of birthday cake.
It was the third that Barbara was aware of.
"What about the party, Hel?"
The question earned her an exaggerated sigh; however, Barbara was fairly confident that her companion's expression leaned toward playful rather than pained.
"I said, I thought it went pretty well."
Searching for nuance, Barbara allowed herself to tick quickly through the guest list and the interactions of said guests. All things considered, she had to agree with her partner's assessment, and so she did.
"Yes, it was--"
Catching her lower lip in her teeth, she hunted through her mental dictionary, finally finding the vocabulary that seemed suitable.
"--fun, wasn't it?"
Helena's answering nod was delivered around a final bite of cake.
"So, what's that big sexy brain of yours working on, Red?"
Barbara allowed one eyebrow to lift a few millimeters, not missing the care that her partner was displaying in licking the last of the frosting from her fork.
"A list of thank you notes to write."
The special people in Katie's life really had been too generous. Even Dick, who had yet to meet the girl, had mailed her a teddy bear that was bigger than she was.
"What's the deal with all of the different booties that Alethea brought?"
Tearing her gaze from the vision of Helena running one slender finger around the edge of her plate, presumably to catch any remnants of frosting, Barbara took in the pile of gifts on the coffee table. Automatically she found herself counting the variations of brightly color yarn that filled half the table. When the tally hit thirty, she gave up with a shrug and a smile.
"A pair for every day of the month?" she posited.
The expression on the younger woman's face as she surveyed the pile of booties was eloquence itself, and so Barbara turned fully to face her partner.
"It was very thoughtful, Helena. It must have taken her weeks or..."
When Barbara trailed off, Helena figured that even her big brain couldn't run the math that quickly.
Settling her plate on the end table, she brightened.
"I thought the best was Dinah's baby-sitting gift certificates."
Ab-so-frikin-lutely the best. Maybe the Kid was getting a clue somewhere.
Which pretty much reminded her that maybe Gabby might need a little nudge in that department.
Helena chewed on the corner of her thumbnail for a second and then decided to tackle the question head-on.
"Do you think your Dad bought what we said about Gabby's stuff?"
The little satin super-hero cape had been bad enough, but when Gabby had also thrown in a toy doctor's kit, it had taken some fast-talking to get Jim Gordon's unibrow to unwrinkle. Although Helena didn't think it was any surprise that Dinah's girlfriend was still working on coming to terms with everything she'd seen -- and learned -- a few months back, she also knew that Barbara put a lot of stock in being... discrete.
Especially around her dad.
Hopefully, spinning that the cape was just another blankie for Katie had gone over.
"I believe that Dad was too busy pacing the interior dimensions of the living area to be concerned with that."
At least Barbara hoped it to be the case. Even she had to admit that explaining the doctor kit as an attempt to steer Katharine to a career that would support her mothers in their old age was a bit of a stretch.
"Yeah," the brunette's voice was thoughtful. "He's been here before plenty of times. Why do you think it -- "
Barbara followed the wave of a slender hand that was directed toward the bookcases that were still in place hiding the Delphi.
"-- set off his detective radar today and not the other times?"
Her response was out before she had time to reconsider.
"Perhaps it's because he didn't have Alethea hanging on him the other times?"
Snorting her laughter, Helena stood and sauntered over, bending to rest her hands on the arms of her partner's chair.
"Could have been Katie, too."
The arch of a crimson brow came right on cue.
Helena grinned and cocked her head toward the bookcases.
"Every time you disappeared into the kitchen, she tried to get to the Delphi. I thought she was gonna climb over those things to find you."
Those big green eyes got wide, and Helena could have sworn that Barbara actually sputtered.
"A- are you suggesting that I spend all of my time at the computer?"
A brief flare of guilt accompanied the question, given that Barbara *had* been planning to make her way back to her workstation sooner rather than later. Before the arrival of their guests, she'd unleashed a satellite worm to help her narrow down the location of the kidnapping operations that she'd been pursuing for months. In addition, she'd also found a tantalizing hint of some sort of blackmail operation that might be tied in to the whole mess.
Nevertheless, even in the face of the Helena's frank stare, she managed to school her features.
"Noooooo, Barbara. *I'm* not suggesting it," she sing-songed.
Then, just because the whole faux-innocent thing that Barbara was trying for was just too fuckin' sexy for words, Helena hitched up her skirt a little and slipped onto her lap.
"But, you know what they say," she murmured against the sweet skin of her lover's throat. "If the keyboard fits..."
"Isn't that -- "
For the life of her, Barbara couldn't understand why concentration was suddenly so difficult.
Completely uninterested in semantics... and footwear, Helena didn't look up.
The syllables trilled against Barbara's throat, raising goosebumps. A light bulb went off, allowing her to pinpoint the possible source of her mental fugue.
"What are you -- "
The particularly skillful application of sharp teeth to the skin that covered her jugular forced a hitching gasp.
The response was short and very much to the point.
With not-inconsiderable force of will, Barbara prodded at that. It was true that, together -- with a bit of help from Alfred -- they had just successfully entertained as a family.
Without conscious volition, Barbara arched into the teasing brush of Helena's mouth, nodding. It was also true that, possibly in spite of some of Barbara's inadequacies in the parenting department, their daughter had managed to reach a one-year milestone.
The redhead, further, couldn't deny the fact that they had the Tower to themselves.
The sensation of Helena's fingers working at the buttons of her shirt completed the persuasion. Her breasts suddenly aching and heavy, Barbara pushed upward under her lover, twining her fingers in dark hair. She just managed to glimpse her partner's smile before their mouths joined, Helena's whimper breathing through her.
Dear heavens, how did Helena manage to do this to her?
She could taste the sweetness of the butter cream frosting on the full lips that covered hers. Suddenly ravenous, Barbara teased Helena's mouth open, swallowing her own gasp of pleasure along with her lover's moan. Her hands trailed across wiry shoulders, then fell to Helena's waist, Barbara's fingers confirming what she couldn't feel: already, Helena was rocking against her.
Her own voice was nearly unrecognizable, hoarse and thick. Grabbing Helena's hips, Barbara managed to distance herself from her animal brain just enough to recognize, then to remember, that Helena had chosen to wear a mini-skirt for their little festivity.
Her fingers slipped down, tracing the valley that was formed along the top of Helena's thighs, the line delineating her rectus femoris and the vastus medialis muscles, from the tensing of her legs. For a few heartbeats, Barbara teased herself, allowing her fingers to pulse in rhythm to the younger woman's movement. When she felt her own forearms tensing in sympathy, she gave up on the sweet torture and simply reached under the short skirt.
Barbara took care in working out. Since the shooting in November and the return to the freedom of her manual chair, she'd increased her time in the training room. Accordingly, it required no effort at all once she worked two fingers into the crotch of Helena's underwear: a bit of tension and the careful twist of her wrist, and the material gave way.
Helena's hiss slid to a whimper, the sound almost lost under the rip of the cotton fabric.
"Jeezus, Barbara -- "
Not that Helena was complaining or anything. Especially with Barbara's palms on her ass, yanking her down and forward and...
Oh. My. Fucking. God.
The sensation of the leather pants that Barbara had chosen for the day felt just freaking amazing against her. Instantly, impossibly, wet, Helena caught her weight on her palms and knees, allowing her lover to guide her.
Somehow, Helena pried open her eyes and drank in the sight of Barbara: Her eyes were wide open; a red flush was creeping up her neck; a tendril of crimson hair was caught against her sweating check.
She was so fucking gorgeous, and Helena felt her lower abdomen spasming, wanting... needing to give everything. She was already leaning in, trying to steal another soul-deep kiss to send her over when reality struck.
It took Barbara a moment to grasp, then to comprehend, the fact that Helena had gone still under her hands. When she did, she worked to find her voice, searching bright gold eyes.
To her relief, the passion in the younger woman's eyes was unmistakable. However, so was an expression that was a bit harder to classify.
"Sorry, Red, but I was going to make a mess all over your pants."
It didn't occur to her to smile or laugh. Instead, Barbara kept her response quite serious.
"I assumed that you planned to clean up after yourself."
The wiry muscles under her hands suddenly went utterly, utterly still. Barbara held her breath as she watched the tip of a pink tongue trace the edges of her lover's lips.
Helena was tempted. She was very, very tempted.
The thought of letting go like that, then of working her mouth and tongue all over that soft leather was freaking mind-blowing.
But, she knew it wasn't as good as something else.
"Yeah, Baby," she leaned in, drinking a bead of sweat from Barbara's neck. "But I'd rather clean up from your skin."
Pulling herself away, she quirked a smile that she hoped Barbara would decide was inviting rather than just horny-as-hell.
"Let's go get naked, Babs."
Smirking, the redhead gestured toward the pile of wrapping paper that littered the floor.
"As charming as your invitation is, Helena, what about all of this?"
That perpetually raised dark brow worked up just a bit, suggesting how very unimpressed Helena was with the question.
"I'll help you write the thank you notes later."
Barbara almost fell into the banter before she caught herself. Briefly, she regarded the young woman on her lap.
"I suppose that you do have a bit more free time now that you're no longer..."
Barbara didn't say the rest, but Helena understood the implication, the subtle prod, all too well. She didn't look up; she didn't make eye contact. Instead, her gaze fell to the placket of Barbara's shirt where Helena had gotten most of the buttons open.
Slowly, she lifted her right hand from the arm of the chair. Carefully, she brushed back the fabric that covered Barbara's chest. Tenderly, she ran the pads of her fingers around the faint edges of the slightly pink patch of skin that was the only physical remnant of their ordeal from three months back.
"So," she looked up, peering through her bangs. "Bedroom?"
Those expressive blue eyes were humbling in their openness. Her chest aching with something indefinable, Barbara sifted her hand through the dark hair that coursed over Helena's shoulders. She understood that her lover had responded to a host of questions.
She would do no less.
After all, Katharine was sleeping off her sugar high in the bedroom, and there was no reason to disturb her.
Judging by the speed with which Barbara found herself on the item of furniture in question, with Helena working industriously to tug her pants down, she wasn't alone in her desire to allow their daughter to have her rest. Of course, the redhead had to acknowledge as she drank in the vision of her companion brushing her cheek sinuously across the leather that she was pulling down, Helena might have had her own motivations as well.
Helena looked up from her intent focus in time to catch Barbara starting to fumble with the few buttons of her shirt that Helena hadn't already popped open. Instantly, her mouth went dry as every drop of moisture in her body seemed to head to one spot. Struggling to keep it together long enough to finish up with her whole Get-Barbara-Naked-Now plan, Helena cast about.
"So, uhm -- " Her gaze fell on a tiny little T-ball post with a knit baby bootie draped over it. "your dad and Miz Harkness, maybe?"
It *had* been kind of funny watching the whole interaction that afternoon.
Deliberately, Barbara finished unbuttoning her shirt and brought her fingers to the front clasp of the nursing bra. At that point, she gave Helena a long look, taking care to be certain that her lover understood how very serious she was.
She popped open the bra and then shrugged out of it and her shirt in one fluid motion.
The brunette's response was commendably swift.
Settling against the arm of the couch, Barbara searched her lover's eyes, taking in the look in violet eyes.
Apparently, Helena had gotten the message.
The heat that licked against Barbara's belly was too much to ignore. Despite feeling tremendously underdressed -- rather, despite wanting Helena naked with her -- she simply couldn't wait.
Perhaps it had been the party; she had consumed a fair amount of cake herself, possibly ramping up her adrenaline. Perhaps it was the fact that their sugar-crazed daughter had foregone her usual afternoon meal, leaving Barbara feeling a bit swollen and heavy.
And that had been before Helena's attentions had exacerbated matters.
Perhaps it was the naked hunger in her lover's eyes.
Giving up on the concept of equality of garb for the time being, Barbara stretched down, clasping Helena's shoulders and tugging her upward to where she needed her most.
"Dear heavens, Helena, I need your mouth."
Helena didn't need to be asked twice.
Hell, it was hard enough getting Red to ask for anything; and it was twice as hard in the bedroom.
Or on the sofa.
No way she was going to give her time to rethink or anything. And a heartbeat later, god, was she glad she hadn't.
Easing Barbara toward the back of the couch, Helena spooned tightly to her side, catching the heavy underswell of one breast in her mouth. Her body was already humming, wired and ready to light up, but she was determined to keep it slow, to take Barbara slowly.
Opening wide, she tasted the smooth, tumescent flesh and then allowed her tongue to flicker down, washing the warm crease where the soft flesh met Barbara's ribs. She worked her free hand to the other side, brushing turgid flesh with the pad of her thumb as she started to mouth her way across Barbara's belly.
Helena's efforts to control herself ended when strong, lightly calloused fingers came roughly to the back of her head.
"Helena -- "
Her name was breathy, needy -- almost a whine. With a low snarl, the brunette allowed herself to be guided upward the last few inches. Squeezing her thighs together, she closed her lips on pebbled flesh, then scraped her teeth across Barbara's nipple. She felt Barbara tremble and sucked in as much as she could, working the flat of her tongue against the aureole and squirming in delight at the bruising pressure of Barbara's hands in her hair.
Goddamn but Barbara was strong.
Then... Then -- warm liquid hit the back of her mouth. It took just a second for Helena's senses to weigh in and let her know that the slightly sweet liquid was real, and then she was damned near coming right there. She'd gotten tastes before, here and there, but Barbara had never gotten past all of those hang-ups or whatever and just let her milk down.
"Oh god, Baby..."
The instant that she'd let her guard down and felt the release, she'd known. A heat that had nothing to do with passion had washed across her cheeks, her discomfort bordering on shame for an act that was so intimate.
Somehow, she held herself in check, allowing herself to absorb Helena's murmurs of pleasure as the rumbling from her lover's chest tickled her skin. Somehow, she even pried open her eyes, allowing herself to see -- really to see -- her lover's unguarded pleasure. Somehow, she let go, allowing herself to face the reality of the relationship that she'd shared with Helena as a guardian and to embrace the changes they'd shared.
Barbara didn't give voice to the endearment, choosing instead to hold it close and taking strength, and then passion, from it.
She gave way under Helena's need, her desire. Helena's tender ministrations nurtured her own passion, inflaming her. Her skin burning and her nerves aflame, Barbara held herself steady as long as she could. When she could stand it no longer, she pushed upward, offering and demanding. When even that wasn't enough, she hooked her arms around Helena's waist, working the short skirt upward to rake her nails across firm glutes.
Filing Helena's mewling hiss away for later consideration, she flipped her lover to her back.
"Let me, Hel."
The response that came on a rumbling growl suggested that Barbara's impatience had been forgiven.
"Oh, fuck yeah."
The next words that Barbara made out after that -- rather the next semi-coherent words -- were a long time coming. Entwined in the arms of her still-clothed partner, Barbara barely registered the fact that Helena had spoken.
Laughing softly, Barbara ran her palms up and down her lover's back.
To her consternation, the words completely lacked the affect that she'd intended. Bowing to reality, she smiled and pressed a kiss to the dark head that rested on her shoulder.
"Give me a minute to recover, Sweetie."
The younger woman's head jerked upward with such speed that Barbara feared whiplash. She let go of that concern when blue eyes that were dancing impishly swam into view.
"Not that -- "
White teeth flashed in a vaguely predatory fashion.
"Well, not just that."
Still half-occupied with thoughts about what would be involved in screwing the top of her head back on, Barbara worked for a smile. When dark brows wrinkled and Helena spoke again, she was reminded that she had, perhaps, lost the thread of the conversation.
"So, whaddaya think?"
The redhead gave herself a little mental shake.
"About what, Hel?"
Helena's reply neatly completed the process of rousing her from her comfortable lethargy.
"Should we have another one? You know, a little sister or brother for Katie."
While she suspected that her blood pressure had just undergone an unhealthy sort of jump, Barbara merely arched one eyebrow.
"Are you volunteering?"
The brunette's startled blink quickly disappeared under her broad grin.
"With whose sperm? You said that we didn't want to use the swimmers that I put on ice for me."
Barbara's laughter was low, raising chills across Helena's skin.
"That's true, Hel."
Beneath her, Helena felt Barbara stretch. Unable to resist, she lowered her head to her partner's chest allowing her to feel as much as hear the next words.
"Let's just keep them in the bank for now."
All things considered, Barbara had to wonder if she would be better off flying solo. At this moment, she was quite certain that her partner in the field would be better off if Barbara had elected to remain a lone wolf operative.
It was true that, back in the day, she'd paired with Bruce or Dick on occasion. In the early days of her apprenticeship, such teamwork had been valuable in more ways that one. Nevertheless, as she'd settled in to her role, Barbara had usually found it simpler, not to mention more expedient, to work by herself.
Safety had also been simpler, only having her own well-being to account for.
In the years since her involuntary move to the sidelines, the necessity of teamwork had limited her need to second-guess the decision. The fact that Helena had proven to be so capable so quickly had also perhaps served to lull her into a certain complacency: her first protege hadn't encountered anything that she couldn't handle on her own for the duration of almost her entire first year in the field. Even when Helena had been overmatched, her meta-human reflexes -- and healing abilities -- had made it easy to overlook some of the responsibility that Barbara shouldered every time that she sent the younger woman into the fray.
Not so now.
"Dammit it all to hell."
The words were barely a murmur as Barbara continued to fix her eyes on the monitor, hoping for a sign -- or a clue -- or inspiration. The small portion of her brain that was somehow managing to remain removed from her growing panic continued to protest that she'd allowed this.
That she'd sanctioned it.
"What sort of god-awful idiot am I, Alfred?"
The words didn't begin to touch on how she felt; they didn't even suggest the strength of her overwhelming desire to bang her head vigorously and repeatedly against her work surface. Mercifully, her old friend remained a voice of calm reason.
"Miss Dinah did volunteer for this particular assignment."
Unwilling to surrender quite so easily, Barbara tossed her glasses next to her mouse pad and looked up into eyes that were sympathetic.
"Nevertheless, Alfred, *I* gave her the go-ahead."
"At her insistence, if I recall correctly."
Pushing back from the keyboard, Barbara turned her chair a few degrees to face her companion more directly.
To her surprise, her normally deferential confidant abandoned his habitual politeness and cut her short.
"But nothing, Miss Barbara. We both know that she has been doing extremely well in her martial arts training, not to mention in her routine sweeps. As this assignment was to be no more than a bit of reconnaissance, there is no reason to second guess yourself now."
Barbara pursed her lips, worrying at the inside of one cheek with her teeth. Although the points that Alfred had made were valid, she simply couldn't shake off her concerns.
Or her guilt.
Granted, the utter banality of the intelligence that she'd happened across last fall, the seemingly disparate incidents that she'd painstakingly pieced together over the last weeks and months, had pointed to a reasonably simple bit of recon. Nevertheless, the pedestrian nature of what she'd dug up couldn't obviate the reality that it was *her* intelligence-gathering that had been lacking.
True, the careful digging that she engaged in online to track down the genesis of a series of disappearances -- human and material -- had suggested an operation that was harmless enough in comparison with some of the foes that they had faced. Yet, appearances and evidence to the side, there was no way to absolve herself from the culpability of having dispatched her partner into a situation of horrifying brutality.
"Did I just take the easy way out in sending her?"
After all of the remote detective work that she'd done, when Barbara had finally pinpointed the origin of so many crimes it had been simply unthinkable not to pursue further.
"When have you ever taken the easy road?"
Alfred's words were gentle; his smile, indulgent. Somehow, it freed a bit of the tightness in the redhead's chest.
"Indeed." She turned back to her workstation, reaching for her glasses. "Now how do we go about assisting Dinah?"
There was simply no way to entertain thoughts that her newest partner in the field would not escape.
Her companion took two steps closer, leaning forward slightly to take in the oversized monitor.
"I dare say that you--"
The arrival of the elevator interrupted whatever advice Alfred had been about to bestow, and Barbara glanced over to confirm that Helena and Katharine were returning to the Tower. They were proceeding slowly, Katie's little fist tightly clenched around the first two fingers of Helena's right hand as their daughter asserted her growing independence by insisting that she walk rather than being carried.
"Hey, Red." Helena's voice was cheerful. "Alfred."
A couple of steps into the Tower, and the brunette got the impression that the stiff nods that she'd gotten in response to her greeting were about more than Barbara defragging her hard drive. Even clear across the room, she could tell that her partner was giving off so much nervous energy that Helena half-thought she might just levitate up from her chair.
Detouring by the coffee table, she deposited the long-stemmed rose that she was carrying. It only took a couple of hand signals for the Peapod to follow suit with the tiny little heart-shaped box of chocolates that she was carrying.
Somehow, Helena had a feeling that celebrating Valentine's Day might be off the table for the time.
"What's going on?"
She was already on her way up the ramp to the Delphi, Katie trundling along beside her, when Barbara's clipped answer nearly stopped her in her tracks.
Helena knew what it meant when Barbara got all monosyllabic. Still, she had to know, so she looked over to Alfred, widening her eyes in question.
"It seems that Miss Dinah may be in some difficulty."
Floored by the identical concern in the two sets of bright blue eyes, Barbara stretched out, allowing Katharine to grab her hand and toddle over as a deluge of questions rained down.
"What happened? Is she hurt? Where is she?"
There wasn't any thinking involved. Helena was already digging into the pocket of her duster, hunting for the comms necklace that wasn't there. When she came up empty, she remembered that she might have put it in her underwear drawer last month, when it had hit her that she really wasn't doing this any more.
Still, Barbara would probably have a spare around the Delphi or--
"She's... she's not in New Gotham, Hel."
Barbara's answer was quiet. Helena didn't bother.
"Well, where the fu--"
She caught herself, painfully aware of the big blue eyes, framed by long red lashes, that were peering up at her.
"Where is she, Barbara?"
The redhead straightened in her chair, determined to remember that it was concern that lay behind her partner's tone. Alfred's intervention spared her from speaking too quickly in spite of herself.
"Perhaps Miss Katharine would like a snack after her outing?"
Barbara looked at him gratefully as Katharine squealed and grabbed his hand. It was Helena who responded verbally.
"Yeah. Thanks, Alfred," she stepped aside to allow them access to the ramp. "She probably is a little peckish."
Hell, she had been, too, before ... this.
Silence reigned until the two disappeared into the kitchen and Helena heard the sound of the kettle being settled on the stove. At that point, she turned back to Barbara and raised one hand, wordlessly gesturing in an "after you" motion.
For the second time in not-too-many minutes, Barbara felt her lips purse. Silently, she clicked her mouse, bringing the topographic map to the top window of her monitor. Somehow, she continued to hold her tongue while Helena leaned close, peering at the map with obvious disbelief.
Helena couldn't even pronounce the name of the place. It wasn't like she had a chance of guessing where in hell might be.
Something hot and angry started crawling over her skin, and Helena roughly rubbed the heels of her hands against her eyes.
Sure, she hadn't seen the Kid in a few days, but with her course load and trying to keep up her hours at work, it wasn't that unusual. Still, it seemed like a pretty big thing for Barbara to forget to mention that Dinah was off in some unpronounceable jungle somewhere.
"What the fuck, Barbara?"
Helena was pretty sure that her eyes were still augmented, but she didn't care.
"So, while Kitty and I were finishing off her birthday cake in the kitchen last week, you just took Dinah aside and offered her some wonderful trip to... to..."
Helena's tone was pure outrage. The disgusted wave of her hand as she spat out the rest spoke volumes.
"-- to Bumfuck?"
"Eastern Bumfuck," Barbara bit out, refusing to look away from the map on her screen.
She felt bad enough, and one look at Helena -- who clearly had adrenaline to spare -- might just tip matters for the worse.
"Whatever. You sent her alone?"
"Just who was I going to send with her?"
The words snapped out before she thought to stop them. Instantly, Barbara regretted them. With an act of will, she looked up, forcing herself to meet bright yellow eyes.
"It was a fact-finding mission."
Or, the cyber-vigilante admitted bitterly, it had been a fact-finding mission. Dinah was to have breezed in, investigated some stolen property that had been ransomed and done a bit of digging for further clues on human ransom side of the issue. Barbara knew that she didn't need to make explicit the fact that she obviously hadn't been privy to the full scope of the operation that she'd been tracking for the last months.
"Okay -- "
Helena could see that Barbara felt plenty bad. She heard the conciliatory note in her voice. She knew how much responsibility her partner insisted on carrying.
Sucking in a slow breath, she leaned one hip against the table and went for something that would register a few notches below an Eight-point-oh on the Richter scale of panic.
"So what's the big deal?"
Barbara very much appreciated the effort that her companion was displaying. Nodding once, she turned back to the monitor and spelled it out.
"The deal, Helena, is that Dinah is now out there," she circled her mouse around the outline of the last known location of her partner, "and the mastermind behind the kidnapping scheme that I've been investigating has some extremely unpleasant enforcer chasing her."
Actually, Barbara suspected that the best case scenario involved Dinah being pursued. She refused to contemplate other possibilities.
Helena felt her stomach hit somewhere around her knees. Sucking it up, she shook it off.
"Why can't we get someone to her?"
She figured it went without saying just which someone that might be, but the frustrated shake of a red head told her it wouldn't be that easy.
"I had a lock on her comms, but they're off her now and in the mail."
Helena really had no idea what that meant.
"Her comms are in the mail?"
"Indeed they are," Barbara bit out, working not to gnash her teeth. "Dinah's comms are in the care of the US Postal Service--"
Clicking to another window, she checked the GPS signal which, unsurprisingly, hadn't moved in hours.
"Specifically, it appears that they are currently making their way through the New York City post office."
Dark brows beetled almost comically.
"Why the hell did D mail her--"
Barbara ended her confusion.
For heavens sakes, Barbara had wanted her newest partner to swallow the damned things when she'd been captured, allowing her to keep track of the young woman. Unfortunately, Dinah hadn't had time.
"Her jewelry is being mailed as proof that she is alive and in their control."
When Helena held her questioning expression, Barbara spelled it out.
"For a ransom."
She chose not to detail what sorts of proof of life might follow the earrings. Clearly, allowing herself to be persuaded that this would be a simple in-and-out bit of sleuthing had not been one of her shining moments.
Disgusted, she clicked back to the topo map and shook her head.
"It's like trying to find a needle in a haystack without the comms."
Blue eyes regarded her.
"You don't have to search the whole haystack at once, do you?"
Barbara narrowed her eyes, her heart rate picking up as Helena continued.
"You can get control of the Google Earth satellites, and you know the basic grid where she was, right?"
Barbara's fingers were already flying across the keyboard, working to triangulate and then scan outward. Assuming that Dinah was still near the compound and that she could be picked up on a satellite camera was a long shot, however it was the best she had to work with.
Heaven help them all if she couldn't find her newest partner.
"'The White Witch?' said Edmund; 'who's she?'
"'She is a perfectly terrible person,' said Lucy. 'She calls herself the Queen of Narnia though she has no right to be queen at all, and all the Fauns and Dryands and Naiads and Dwarfs and Animals -- at least all the good ones -- simply hate her. And she can turn people into stone and do all kinds of horrible things. And she has made a magic so that it is always winter in Narnia -- always winter, but it never gets to Christmas. And she drives about on a sledge, drawn by reindeer, with her wand in her hand and a crown on her head.'
"Edmund was already feeling uncomfortable from having eaten too many sweets, and when he heard that the Lady he had made friends with was a dangerous witch he felt even more uncomfortable. But he still wanted to taste that Turkish Delight more than he wanted anything else."
Momentarily distracted by the familiar passage, Barbara interrupted herself. Somehow, she remembered to offer her companion an apologetic look before she turned from her monitor to take in the sight of Helena and Katie snuggled together on the couch in the living area. Helena seemed to have just turned the page in her paperback and was now looking seriously into tiny blue eyes that were wide and round.
"Remember Edmund, Kat. I betcha that he's the type who going to sell his whole family down the river for some candy or something."
"Cuk-cake," was the enthusiastic response.
"Yeah or cupcakes."
Something warm tickled Barbara's chest as she watched her partner turn her book upside down on her leg and reach over to retrieve the two cups of milk that were on the end table. The sensation -- the emotion -- only intensified when Katharine accepted hers and Helena raised her Captain Crunch mug, allowing their daughter to knock her sippy cup against it.
Presumably celebrating a meeting of the minds with regard to the infamy of Edmund, they chugged in unison, the brief break in Helena's reading and Barbara's own work bringing to the forefront the selection that was piping out of "I Love the 80s" on the big screen.
Regardless of Helena's protests, Barbara simply couldn't fathom how Culture Club's greatest hit would *not* be considered a classic.
"Ready for more, Kat?"
Helena apparently accepted the little redhead's wriggle as agreement, lifting her book and starting to read. Barbara was certain that her lover knew that Katharine wasn't absorbing much, if any, of C.S. Lewis' work; however, Helena truly seemed to enjoy sharing the reading time.
Barbara was also not unaware of a certain expediency factor involved in Helena's most recent selection of reading material: When the brunette had realized that she could substitute another Children's Literature class for one of the English Lit requirements at NGU, she'd been quick to seize the opportunity.
"Hell, yeah. What would you choose, Narnia or Shakespeare?" had been her succinct summary of the choice she'd made. Barbara had elected to keep her own council on a question that was, undoubtedly, rhetorical.
Not even bothering to hide her fond smile, Barbara finally turned back to the task at hand.
"I'm sorry, Dinah."
The dip of a blonde head and a knowing smile were sufficient grace, and Barbara gestured toward her monitor.
"As I was saying, I think the 1500 is going to be too much, while the 620 won't challenge you. Altogether, the 1000cc Monster-- "
Pausing for just a beat, she clicked to the item in question on the Ducati website.
"-- should be mild enough for starters while continuing to let you gro--"
The awareness of a sudden, complete silence from the living area drew her attention. It was, the redhead realized, an absence of sound that Barbara could honestly classify as "pointed".
When she looked over, she found herself pinned by twin pairs of blue eyes that were peering over the back of the couch. However, while the shade of blue was identical, only one pair held an expression that required immediate acknowledgement.
Satisfied that she had Red's attention, Helena popped to her feet, handing the book over to Katharine.
"You're not talking lawnmower engines are you?"
Barbara's headshake was maddeningly... normal. Her response was just plain... wrong.
"No, Hel. Dinah asked about transportation options while she's on sweeps and --"
Pulling her jaw up off the floor, Helena interrupted.
"You're going to get her a motorcycle?!"
Man, Barbara had never really suggested a cycle for *her*. Even if Helena had always been pretty set about wanting to stay on the rooftops.
She started for the Delphi, then remembered herself: She probably didn't need to get her book turned into a teething ring the week before mid-terms. Offering Katie the remote control in exchange for the novel and pretty certain that the girl could keep herself busy for a few seconds, she bounded onto the ramp.
"Motorcycles are dangerous."
The words just popped out, and Helena felt herself falter just a tiny bit as she stepped onto the platform.
Had *she* just said that?
Regrouping, she joined the two women by the work table.
"C'mon, Barbara. Dinah still stinks just driving the Hummer."
More amused than she suspected it would be wise to admit, Barbara regarded the brunette serenely.
"Perhaps something a bit smaller and more agile will be just the thing, then."
"Riiiight --" Deep blue eyes sparked. "So, what about that whole VW Bug idea we were batting around?"
Barbara heard an indignant squeak from where Dinah was still poised just behind Helena. She thought she made out the words "not cool"; however, Helena barreled along so quickly that she didn't have time to make the observation that appearance was only a small part of the equation.
"Jesus Christ, Barbara!"
Working up a head of steam, Helena half-turned and gestured toward Dinah with a slashing motion of her hand.
"She's not back here three weeks from getting worked over in... in whatever hellhole that was you sent her to and now--"
To Helena's complete surprise, Dinah cut her off.
"So not true, Hel."
Fascinated, and quite aware that she had become something of an observer rather than a participant, Barbara watched as Dinah took a step forward, planting herself soundly in Helena's personal space.
"I kicked ass out there, and you know it."
Barbara felt one eyebrow tic upward as she registered that Dinah's statement had been delivered with confidence rather than bluster. It took less than a heartbeat's reflection for the redhead to agree with her newest partner's self-evaluation.
Three weeks before, the painstaking search of three-by-three meter grids of jungle had paid off when Barbara had finally pinpointed the blonde scaling a cliff. Panning out, she'd picked up a dozen salivating dogs and a large, costumed man -- with an intimidating rifle -- in pursuit. Even with the local militia dispatched to assist her comrade, Barbara had only been able to fear the worst: Dinah had been on the run for almost a day; the environment had been against her; and her pursuer had simply been... too frightening for words.
Nevertheless, by the time the helicopters had arrived at Dinah's location less than half an hour later, the situation had been... resolved. Having later read the hospital reports on the condition of the man who had been in pursuit, Barbara simply couldn't dispute Dinah's words.
Apparently, she noted, neither could Helena.
The brunette's expression seemed to be a mixture of frustration at war with pride. After running her hands through her hair, Helena apparently opted to let the latter emotion rule.
"Yeah, you did, D."
If only for a moment.
"Still, is this -- "
Barbara flinched -- unnecessarily -- when her former partner in crime-fighting waved toward the Delphi.
"-- really what you want?"
When Helena spun to face her, Barbara barely mastered her instinct to flinch again.
"Is it? Do you want to turn Dinah into... Mini-You?"
Again, before Barbara could rise to her own defense, the attempt was made moot by Dinah. The blonde didn't move, however, the tenor of her response forced Helena to face her while cutting off whatever denial or justification that Barbara might have made.
"Well, maybe the apple really doesn't fall so far from the tree, Helena."
Pretty sure she wasn't going to like where the blonde was heading, Helena dropped her voice.
The Kid didn't even blink.
"Well, your dad pretty much decided to get out when things got rough, didn't he?"
Barbara saw her lover's eyes spark to gold.
She spoke quietly but the shake of a dark head ended her remonstrance.
"No. It's okay, Barbara. The Kid's got a point about the whole genetic thing, right?"
Barbara followed Helena's gaze when she turn to look face the living area, confirming that Katharine was still on the couch. It appeared that the youngster was happily engaged in attempting to unlock one of the cable tiers with the remote. When Helena turned around, Barbara was amazed to see that her eyes were -- well, not blue but at least back to violet.
Deliberately, Helena raked her eyes down Dinah's lanky form.
"Look at you. You think you can throw on some fishnet stockings and be your mom?"
Yeah, the homage to Black Canary was better than the green body suit number that Dinah had been wearing, but that wasn't the point.
"Sure, I can see why you'd want to go with your strengths," she paused for emphasis and waggled her fingers at the long length of leg that Dinah was showing. "Your only strength. But do you really think that's going to keep you safe?"
Dinah did the fish mouth thing once or twice, then she pulled it together shaking her head and sending her pony-tail swinging.
"No. I can take care of myself, and Barbara's got my ba--"
Helena wasn't going to let her fall for that.
"Like hell, Dinah. You were out of contact for damned near a day. On your own --"
Seeing the blonde getting ready to protest, she held up a hand and gave Dinah her due.
"Yeah, you came through. This time. But you had Barbara and Alfred and Katie scared shitless."
Although she didn't care for the reminder, Barbara couldn't deny the truth of Helena's description. Honestly, perhaps she could look into having an RFID chip embedded under Dinah's skin.
Her considerations about how such a course of action could provide valuable data on the efficacy of the practice that could perhaps be employed when Katharine started dating were interrupted by Helena's growl.
"And you --"
The brunette seemed to coil in on herself before she stretched into Dinah's face.
Helena jabbed her index finger into the younger woman's breast bone.
"Have. Been. Killed."
Frankly amazed to hear words that she'd said, many times, to Helena now echoing from her lover's mouth, Barbara felt her eyebrows inch upward. As fascinated as she was by the shifting roles that were playing out, she had to acknowledge that matters were getting out of hand.
Not to mention the fact that the conversation wasn't entirely appropriate and was certainly not what Dinah had signed up for when Barbara had suggested that she come over to discuss her transportation concerns.
She waited until the younger woman turned to her, her aggressive posture easing just a bit. Then, Barbara spoke, ensuring that her tone was clipped and factual.
"Your points are noted, however you surrendered your right to input when you retired from this particular venture."
For a second, Helena felt like she'd been slapped. Judging from the look on Dinah's face, she wasn't alone.
Still, she wasn't going to give up that easily.
She nodded, her words picking up speed as her indignation grew.
"But I sure as hell didn't retire from this family. And going ahead is putting Dinah at risk when she's not ready--"
"It's not your call, Helena."
Barbara noted that Dinah's voice was calm. Certain. Her expression when she turned to look over, apologetic.
"It's not even Barbara's call to make any more. This is something I'm choosing to do."
The redhead blinked, once, then felt her head dip in slow acknowledgment. Quite suddenly, quite viscerally, she grasped that she was possibly irrelevant not just to the conversation but also to the business.
"We can help people," Dinah was again addressing Helena. "We can save lives. Like that apartment fire last week?"
Clenching her jaw, Helena narrowed her eyes and dipped her chin.
"I did a lot of good there."
Slowly, Helena nodded her agreement.
"That's true, Dinah."
Fuck, she understood how it felt to rescue people who were in trouble. She really understood how it felt to take out the not-so-innocent people, too. But, seeing as how Dinah was looking like she'd scored a point in debate club, maybe she'd given away too much.
"Then, Helena, why won't you--"
"Why?" Helena barked out a laugh. "Because, Dinah, pretty soon it's not just saving people from burning buildings. It's doing preventative saving and stopping muggers from hurting people, and then it's just stopping bad guys, and pretty soon we're out casing warehouse for drug deals or rogue electronics or weapons or..."
"Helena. That's enough."
Deliberately, slowly, Helena turned to face her lover, her mentor and former partner. She stared at her long and hard and then made her decision.
"No, Barbara. It's not enough."
When the words came out, Helena thought she'd surprised all three of them.
For long moments, Barbara felt the world narrow to Helena and herself. The silence stretched between them, first thick and cloying. When she searched deep blue eyes, the redhead revised her metaphor: the silence was stringy and brittle, like cotton candy too long exposed to the air.
Helena cut her short.
"Just... just fuck it."
The brunette hopped lightly from the platform and then turned, looking pointedly at Dinah before meeting Barbara's eyes. When she spoke, her voice was flat. Barbara suspected -- oh, good grief, she knew that the absolute lack of affect in her normally emotional partner's voice was a harbinger of much more than shouting ever could have been.
"Congrats, Barbara. It looks like you can keep at it."
"You look tired."
Dear heavens, how could it show so soon?
Of course, the accuracy of the observation could be construed to support the words that had been echoing through Barbara's head for the last long hours. Despite her best efforts to focus on making bubble-suds animals with Katharine during her bath or scouring the net for discount motorcycles or updating her lesson plans, the words looped like a record with a scratch in it: What a difference a day made.
Rather, Barbara had already allowed, a night. Or, perhaps it was the conversation of that night that made the difference, although she had to acknowledge that it also could have been the invasion of their home three months before that had led Helena to reconsider everything, or it could have been the lifetime of choices and actions that had put all of them where they were at this exact moment.
"I didn't get much sleep last night, Dad."
That was, of course, an understatement in the form of an outright lie. After the charged conversation by the Delphi the night before, Helena had returned to the living area only long enough to situate Katharine in her playpen. Then, she'd disappeared into the training room, closing the door behind her with a careful click that was all the more deafening for its restraint. In the following minutes, then hours, Barbara hadn't heard the usual sounds of the heavy bag being battered, leading her to suspect that it was refuge rather than release that the brunette sought.
Dinah had departed minutes later, leaving Barbara to her own devices. Two times during the evening, after bathing Katharine and after bringing her work for her day job up to date, Barbara had approached the training room. The first, she'd stopped herself several feet from the door, determining that too little time had passed. The second, she'd gotten as far as resting one hand on the door knob before deciding that too much time might have slipped by.
She'd been spared the need to muster her courage for a third foray. Well after midnight, Barbara had already tucked Katharine in and was occupying herself with a bit of mindless work on her laptop when the door to the other room silently swung open and Helena emerged. The silence, which until then had merely been oppressive, had become suffocating.
Somehow, Barbara had forced air into her lungs. Somehow, she'd opened her mouth and breathed a single syllable.
The brunette had straightened from gathering some of her course texts from the coffee table. Deep blue eyes had seemed to search her soul, leaving Barbara feeling lost.
"Thought I better hit the books."
Helena had dropped gracefully to the couch, the remainder of her words muffled by the high back of the sofa.
"Midterms start on Monday."
Although she'd suspected that she could wait Helena out -- Barbara was no stranger to all-nighters -- she'd decided that a showdown of that nature would be in nobody's interest. Somewhere around dawn, she'd decamped to the bedroom and pretended to rest. When she and Katharine had risen not too many hours later, the Tower had been empty, save for a note stating that Helena would be at the library all day.
Roughly an hour later, without conscious planning, Barbara had found herself sitting in the van with Katie, parked in her father's driveway. As recognition had dawned about her choice, she'd fought her concern that she honestly had no real memory of driving over, not to mention no real reason for being there.
If Jim Gordon's expression when he'd opened the door to retrieve the morning paper were any indication, Barbara was not the only one surprised by her uncharacteristic spontaneity.
Nevertheless, she'd been greeted warmly.
"Two of my best girls, just in time for breakfast."
Her dad had opened the driver's side door and stepped back in invitation.
"Come in, come in. I was just about to make coffee."
"That sounds heavenly, Dad."
"Good, good." Her father had accepted Katharine and led the way to the front door. "I believe that I can even rustle up some Oatie-Os for Katie."
It had all been so prosaically normal. Even now, situated at the table in the kitchen that she'd grown up in, listening to the coffee pot perk, and watching her father bustling around in his ratty flannel robe, Barbara knew that she could almost convince herself that life was.... routine.
When a mug of coffee was placed in front of her, the redhead murmured her thanks and paused in the process of pulling drawing paper and fat crayons from the backpack that she carried in lieu of a diaper bag. Wrapping her hands around the warm ceramic, she bowed over the cup as if it were the holy grail.
"Is this lovely lady the culprit for your sleepless night?"
Although she had almost lost track of the brief conversation, Barbara managed not to jump when her father spoke. She took a long swallow from her coffee while he picked up his granddaughter, swinging her over his head before bringing her down to tickle her cheeks with his mustache.
"Are those new teeth still bothering you, Katie Fee?"
Barbara smiled, preparing to come to her daughter's defense, when Jim turned and regarded her with a twinkle in his eyes.
"Charlie O'Hara always claimed that rubbing a bit of Southern Comfort on his children's gums helped."
Barbara ticked up an eyebrow, mulling on who would actually benefit more from the application of the sweet spirit.
"I think I'll let -- "
She stumbled over her instinct to joke, to suggest that Helena should be the one to introduce Katharine to the tools of her trade.
"I think I'll hold off on introducing her to the hard stuff for now, Dad."
She pause, screwing up her courage.
"And no, Katie's fine."
Despite her best efforts, Barbara couldn't quite read the wrinkle of her father's brow.
"Ah." The senior Gordon resettled his granddaughter in a her high chair. "So, is there -- "
The question about just how far he should prod seemed clear enough. Katharine resolved the issue.
It was the name that Helena had chosen to take. Barbara was "mommy".
Although Barbara was certain that her daughter's contribution was nothing more than coincidence, she could still feel the heat of a blush touching her cheeks. When her father bustled over to the stove, ostensibly to start whipping up some pancakes, Barbara spread out the paper and crayons for her daughter.
"Did you and mom ever -- "
Catching her lower lip in her teeth, Barbara searched for words.
"-- have difficulties about your job?"
She waited, more or less patiently, while her father tapped the spatula absently against his chin, seemingly oblivious to the dot of pancake batter that he left there.
"Are you encouraging Helena to leave the bar, Barbara?"
Although the redhead couldn't have said what response she had been anticipating, this wasn't it.
She faltered, the slight hiss of pancake batter hitting the griddle filling the awkwardness.
"Is Helena objecting to your teaching?"
Barbara was not oblivious to the fact that her father had yet to answer the question that she'd put to him. Nevertheless, she worked to help him contextualize her concerns.
"It's the internet business. The muffin top venture?"
The sight of a half-cooked griddle-cake flipping through the air accompanied the acknowledgment.
"And what, pray tell, is it that Helena objects to about -- "
When gunmetal blue eyes turned to take her in, Barbara felt herself straightening in her chair.
Buying herself a moment, Barbara checked on Katharine's coloring. The toddler had scribbled something that, in the right light and with the wrong prescription glasses, could have been a bat. Picking up an orange crayon, Barbara tackled a clean corner of the page, sketching something that was similar to a cat.
"She's afraid that I'll get burned and -- "
Dear heavens, Helena was right: their nominal cover story was, as her partner had put it, "lame".
"-- that we might be trying to do too much."
Her father slid a finished pancake onto a plate and dropped a pat of butter on it.
"I suppose that Helena is worried that Katie is at risk of getting burned as well, eh?"
A second pancake landed on top of the first, and Jim Gordon ladled two more dollops of batter onto the griddle, continuing to speak before Barbara could assure him that she, too, was concerned on that front.
"Still, Barbara, I was under the impression that you weren't much involved in the actual... baking."
Barbara found a yellow crayon and began coloring in her cat's eyes.
"That's true, Dad. I suppose that the internet side of things is more my forte." She looked up, sharing a smile with her father before sobering and adding the rest. "Honestly, I'm not sure how much I'm really needed for that."
Her father turned the two cakes on the griddle, pushing them to one edge before dropping a final spoonful of batter to make a silver dollar-sized pancake.
For Katharine, Barbara presumed.
"So, could you just hand the whole business off to Dinah?"
Barbara surrendered her art for the moment and moved to the hutch to retrieve silverware and napkins as she considered the question. While she had certainly gotten the impression the night before that the business would continue with or without her, she simply couldn't step away from her responsibilities that easily.
"Am I being selfish, Dad?"
Great blathering balderdash, where had that come from?
Feeling hopelessly needy and inarticulate, Barbara busied herself locating the syrup in the cupboard.
"Rather, Dinah says that she wants to take part, but I'm not sure that she's ready to handle it all."
She returned to the table just as her father approached holding two plates. As she'd guessed, the tiny pancake was resting on the edge of the plate that he set in front of her. Barbara lightly touched the silver-dollar pancake with her index finger, confirming that it wasn't too warm, and then pinched off a small bite that she offered to Katharine.
"Dinah needs more time."
As did she.
Her father hummed a response while he masticated a healthy bite of his breakfast, and Barbara turned her attention to administering a neat two tablespoons of syrup to her plate.
"So, Barbara, you asked if your aunt and I ever didn't see eye to eye about my vocation --?"
With her own mouth full this time, the redhead raised her brows in encouragement. It was enough.
"Indeed we did, Barbara. To the point that I moved to a less front-line job for a while."
Surprised by the admission, Barbara searched her memory, attempting to remember a time when her father hadn't been in the field, either as a detective or as commissioner. As if reading her mind, Jim Gordon smiled wryly and stabbed another bite of pancake.
"It was before you came to live with us, Barbie."
Barbara smiled at her father's use of the nickname and settled the remaining bit of the small pancake into the chubby fist that was extended.
"I'm not sure that would work, Dad." She addressed the remainder to the patterns that she was drawing through the syrup with her fork. "I think that Helena wants the business to go away altogether."
Suddenly lacking an appetite, she pushed her plate away.
"I -- I don't know how to talk with her."
Clearly the roles and interactions that she'd grown familiar with had shifted. Barbara had yet to determine just how much the changes encompassed and how far they went.
Finally looking up, Barbara found herself fixed under her father's fond scrutiny. On instinct, she reached out, using her thumb to wipe a dab of crusted batter from his chin. When he spoke again, she dropped her hands to her lap, working her napkin to a knot.
"That's a challenge, Barbara. Sometimes there just isn't room for compromise, and one person simply has to give in."
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