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 and Obsidian.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
WARNING: Heterosex contact ahead.
Fingers flying over the keyboard, Barbara Gordon distantly noted something niggling at her.
An annoyance of some sort.
Without thought, she wrinkled her nose, working her computer glasses up and into a more comfortable position.
With the fifty-four inch plasma monitor she'd just indulged in, the glasses really shouldn't be necessary, however even superheroes apparently couldn't fight biology.
She winced at that thought, undoing the glasses repositioning. With a sigh, she stopped her rapid-fire typing and leaned back, massaging a twinge in her left index finger.
"Did you get something?"
The question was soft, probably meant to be undemanding; however, Barbara knew her partner well enough to pick up on her frustration.
She raised her hand and waggled her fingers.
"I was just--"
An image from one of the feeds on a secondary monitor distracted her from very-possibly psycosomatic musings about early-onset arthritis.
In an instant, Helena was behind her, as swift and silent as ever.
"The camera outside the Mercantile Bank picked her up."
Already back at the keyboard, she heard the soft hiss of air behind her, could visualize her partner's expression. Point of fact, Barbara was reasonably confident that it mirrored her own.
"Sloppy. That's just really fucking sloppy."
She didn't bother with a pretense of annoyance over Helena's language.
Again, it mirrored her own feelings.
The cyber-vigilante finished hacking into the camera and directed it to follow their quarry.
"It looks like she's headed for the jewelry store."
The silence that followed her announcement was absolutely leaden. For long heartbeats, only the hum of the Delphi and the ever-present whir of the gears from the big clock filled the tower. However, neither had ever avoided the unpleasant, and it was Helena, bless her, who finally spoke.
"I'll head out now."
Barbara's nod was brief, her words barely a whisper.
"This is going to be difficult."
In truth, she felt that perhaps she should be the one to face the situation; the responsibility was just as much hers as Helena's. However, there just wasn't time, and her skills could be put to better use right where she was.
In the reflection of her monitor, she saw her partner run a hand through artfully disheveled hair.
"Yeah. I wish Dinah was here."
Barbara had to agree: their sometimes-teammate would probably have a better chance of handling things without much fuss. Not to mention the fallout. However, since she was at the exobiology seminar in Ghent...
"I'm on my way."
The rustle of a long leather duster followed the words onto the balcony, and then Barbara was alone.
It was not how she'd planned, or even hoped, to spend a Friday evening. Her agenda had included a movie on the big screen, some popcorn -- liberally sprinkled with M&Ms, of course -- and family time with Helena and their daughter.
After that, after the credits on whatever testosterone-laden bit of cinematic excellence Helena picked out finished rolling, she'd been expecting some Not-family-time.
Nevertheless, this turn of events wasn't altogether surprising. She and Helena had been following a series of petty break-ins for some time; although nothing was ever taken, there was also never any physical evidence at the scenes. There were only hints and coincidences and... well... hunches coming into play. The style of the break-ins, the targets, the sheer audacity of their quarry: It was all too similar to a certain feline fatale that she herself had tracked, back in the day.
With an irritated shake of her head, Barbara turned to her keyboard. She couldn't allow herself to fixate on what she could have done -- more, better, faster -- to have averted this break-in, on this night. Instead, she focused on what she could do: namely, hacking into the store's security to by-pass the alarms. After that, she'd work on wiping the video from the bank camera and...
<"I see her on the roof.">
The low rumble interrupted Barbara's determined avoidance to think about the problem, and she instantly became all business.
This particular Catwoman copycat might be in her criminal infancy, but that made the encounter no less important.
<"I'm moving in.">
The soft thump of Helena's landing came through the headset, and Barbara held her breath. She didn't have long to wait.
<"Nice night for it.">
Her partner's ultra-casual announcement of her presence was juxtaposed by a high pitched "eep" of surprise, and Barbara almost smirked: Their quarry might be an aspiring cat burglar, but she had quite a way to go before she'd fall into Selina Kyle's class.
The redhead immediately sobered when she heard the clatter of metal on metal -- possibly a vent shaft falling shut -- followed by the sound of a blow being parried. Helena's soft grunt was the only indication of the force behind their quarry's blow.
Regrettably, it appeared that the youngster's reflexes more than made up for her lack of poise.
Dear heavens, this simply couldn't degenerate into a knock-down, drag-out...
<"Hey, chill out, Kitty, before I have to take you down.">
Reassured by her partner's mild tone, Barbara sagged in relief when she heard the response.
<<"Mommmmm! I can't believe you were tracking me!">>
The tone, one universal to aggrieved adolescents everywhere, was a far cry from "evil super-villian".
And Helena's, Barbara recognized with an odd sense of bemusement, was that of every frightened, overwrought parent: In a word: furious.
<"It's all fine and dandy if you want to follow in your grandmother's footsteps, but I can't believe you let yourself be picked up on video! And... and...">
It was time to step in.
Her own voice surprised her with its calm. Apparently it distracted Helena from the head of steam she was building as well.
"May I speak with her?"
She took that as an affirmative, listening to the slightly muffled sound of her partner's voice as she presumably removed her comm unit.
<"And, why the hell aren't you answering your phone? Here, you mother has something to say.">
Imagining the microphone necklace and earpiece being extended on one graceful index finger, Barbara almost rolled her eyes when she heard their daughter's response.
<<"Can't you talk to her for me?">>
She could easily visualize the hangdog expression on the girl's face; over the years, it had become increasingly apparent that she had inherited far more than just striking blue eyes from Helena.
Of course, their daughter had also picked up a few things from Barbara's side of the gene pool as well: her facility with computers had begun to bloom in earnest when she was five and Barbara had found herself locked out of the Delphi. It had taken several days of investigation and cajoling to determine that the girl had somehow hacked the root password and reset it to one of her own choosing: "HelloKitty".
<"Uhm, hi, Mother.">
"Katharine Fiona Gordon-Kyle."
Once again, Barbara was glad that over the years they'd managed to perfect the comm link against eavesdropping. While she and Helena simply couldn't seem to break their long habit of code names, situations like this made the advancement a blessing.
The use of The Full Name might have been overkill, but it was pure instinct. It also took the wind out of her teenaged daughter's sails.
<"I was just going to see if I could get in. I wasn't going to take anyt--">
And, it was more than enough. The wings of white hair spreading from each of Barbara's temples were simply not that attractive.
Heaven knew, she'd gone through this too often with Helena twenty-some years before. Of course, Helena's infractions in the first years after Barbara had become her guardian had leaned more towards fights at school, truancy, breaking curfew, and liberal experimentation with whatever the drug-du-jour was at the time. On the positive side, Helena's checkered adolescence -- not to mention almost three decades in the classroom for Barbara -- had certainly given her the preparation and skills for dealing with just this sort of situation.
Accordingly, Barbara drew in a deep, calming breath, testing her words and marshaling her wits for a non-confrontational method to draw Katie out.
"Are you insane?! I can't believe you would do something so absolutely st--"
A discrete cough filtered through the comms, alerting her to the fact that her attempts at calm understanding had missed the mark.
Not to mention that she'd apparently been vocal enough for Helena's sensitive hearing to pick up every word.
<"I'm sorry, Mother.">
The contrition sounded genuine, but who could tell?
<"I was just...">
"Stop. Right. Now."
Oblivious to the voice-only nature of their communication, Barbara raised her right hand from the keyboard, palm out, to emphasize her words. She simply wasn't in the mood to hear excuses.
"If you want to work on your B&E skills, young lady, I'll thank you to do so on a night when you don't have SATs the next morning. Additionally, as we've discussed many times, Katharine, there are numerous areas in which you can put your particular skills to good use without working on the other side of the law. And, let's not forget about the alarm systems that you set off and the fact that it's a minor miracle that the police haven't hauled you away yet to -- "
A distant sound echoed through the earpiece, interrupting the redhead's building lecture. Clenching her jaw, she easily identified the noise: The increasing wail of police sirens. Her fingers flew across the keys, confirming that a half-dozen squad cars were closing in.
And a helicopter was less than a block away.
Oh dear heavens, there wasn't going to be time for Helena to get them out of--
Furious, Barbara jerked her arms, panicked when she realized that she was confined, unable to move enough to reach the scanners and divert the police. She heard the soft wailing again and swore softly.
It was her own utterance that yanked her awake.
For a few moments, she forced herself to lie still, running a quick assessment. Her arms were tangled in the covers of the big bed, and a pre-dawn grayness filtered through the heavy drapes. Beside her, Helena slept soundly, her small figure flung diagonally on the bed, presumably to take up as much space as possible. On her other side, the comforting, if oddly shaped, bassinet holding their infant daughter was within arm's reach.
Barbara's breathing began to steady until she heard it again, the faint noise -- a soft mewling that was not quite a wail -- that had so terrified her in her dream.
Green eyes ticked to the bedside clock, confirming that it was Katharine's preferred time for her second nightly feeding. For the last four and a half weeks, ever since the tiny being had decided on her schedule, 4:30 in the morning had become too familiar.
Dear heavens, would she ever be allowed to sleep through a night again?
Relentlessly pushing aside thoughts that didn't seem terribly maternal, Barbara started to work herself upright. For the next thirty or forty minutes, she knew that she'd force herself to remain awake, alert, as her daughter fed; after that, she should be able to grab another few hours before Katie and the household came to life again.
"Okay, Katie, I'm on my way."
The sensation of slender fingers on her shoulder interrupted her low soothing, and Barbara looked over.
"I'm sorry, Hel. I didn't mean to wake you."
The younger woman blinked owlishly, then smiled slowly.
"No sweat, Red. I was just getting up to take care of the Peapod."
A bit dumbfounded -- just-awakened had never been Barbara's best time -- she watched her partner slip gracefully from under the covers and circle the bed to retrieve the tiny bundle from the bassinet.
"Helena? Are you su--"
"No worries, Barbara."
Again, that million watt smile shone in the darkness.
"I'll just heat up some breast milk. The Pod and I will watch a little 'I Love The 90s' on cable, and you can sleep for a change."
Although the arrangement didn't seem fair to Helena, Barbara's sleep-deprived mind couldn't summon a single argument to dissuade her. The best she could manage as Helena slipped from the room and she burrowed back into her pillows was a heartfelt murmur.
"Lord, I love you, Helena."
When she let herself into the Clock Tower the following night, Helena had every intention of being quiet. She'd closed at The Dark Horse, so it was after midnight; hopefully, Kat had finished her first middle-of-the-night feeding and both she and Babs were asleep. With the schedule Barbara had been put on for their daughter, she wanted her lover to get as much rest as possible.
And, hell, if anyone could do stealth, it was her.
So, she clicked the French doors to the balcony shut quietly and shed her duster in the living area. As she'd expected, the room was dark except for the zillions of glowing lights and power indicators surrounding the Delphi. She was about to tackle her clothes in the living room -- shoot, maybe she'd sack out on the couch to be extra-certain she didn't wake anybody up -- when she spied the thin band of light filtering from under the master bedroom door.
Moving soundlessly down the short hallway, she stood outside the closed door, chewing at her lower lip. Everything was quiet inside, and she was just about to decide that her partner had conked out with the bedside light on when her sensitive hearing picked up the unmistakable sound of a page being turned in a book.
As she'd guessed, Barbara was propped up in bed, about three-quarters of the way through the latest Grisham novel that Helena had brought home the day before. Since leaving the hospital, the redhead had been going through popular pot-boilers like peanuts at the bar.
Barbara smiled her welcome over the top of the book, green eyes tracking her lover's progress as she circled the foot of the bed and squatted beside the abdomen-shaped bassinet. Careful not to disturb the sleeping infant, Helena briefly buried her nose in the fine, curly red hair, amazed that their daughter -- even at the tender age of six weeks -- could smell so much like Barbara. Moving her face a few inches lower, she pressed a tender kiss to a soft cheek, inhaling the faint essence of milk from her breath.
"She's really out of it. Smells like she had a good snack."
Struck anew by Helena's tenderness, it took Barbara a moment to process the whispered words.
Her breasts, which had been feeling pleasantly drained after Kat's midnight feeding, seemed to swell under her tee, becoming heavy and sensitive all over again.
Although, Barbara easily recognized as she watched Helena begin to unbutton her shirt, the heaviness was in a very, very different way.
Of course, she herself was feeling more rested than she had in days... weeks... possibly since the beginning of the pregnancy. She had no idea what Helena had done the night before to quiet their daughter, but whatever it had been had allowed her to sleep until 9:00am.
"Are you coming to bed, Hel?"
A little distracted by a knot in one of her boot laces, Helena barely registered that Barbara was setting her book on the bedside table.
"Uhm, yeah, I thought maybe -- "
Suspecting that she might have missed some nuance, the brunette gave up on her footwear for the moment.
"Why, do you want something from the kitchen or -- ?"
Since she knew that some of that vile herbal tea helped Red relax, Helena was already moving toward the door when her partner responded.
"No, thank you, Hel. I don't need anything..."
For her part, Barbara belatedly realized that her courage was a little... rusty after so many weeks; however, Helena might have heard something in her tone because she turned, one dark brow rising in question. It was all that she needed to finish her thought.
"From the kitchen, that is."
Helena felt her heart thump once in her chest.
Now that was nuance.
Searching green eyes that seemed just a little over-bright, she allowed a slow smile to take control and shrugged out of her shirt.
"Yeah. I'm coming to bed."
Her fingers fumbled on the buttons of her jeans when she saw Barbara contorting under the covers to pull off her fuzzy bed socks. She'd never quite gotten it, but Red thought that it was just plain wrong to make love while wearing socks.
"Hurry up, Hel."
A bit embarrassed by her hissed order, Barbara managed a rueful smile as she cocked her head toward the bassinet.
"You know we don't have much time."
Having managed to push her leather pants down to her thighs, Helena hopped on one foot as she worked to shuck her second boot.
"Just... uh... give me a sec---"
Barbara's next words somehow, miraculously, expedited the process.
"Good grief, Hel. Get over here and get your mouth on me."
In a heartbeat, the boot was off, followed by socks and pants, and Barbara suddenly wondered what she'd gotten herself into when her lover's eyes sparked to gold.
Dear heavens, but that was sexy.
Slowly, deliberately, Helena crawled up the bed. She kept her voice low, allowing the rumble in her chest to carry her words.
"Where'd you want me to put my mouth, Babe?"
Her heart almost failed her when her normally reserved partner yanked her sleep tee over her head, then reclined against the pillow. Helena was pretty sure she was going to combust right there when Barbara trailed her fingers up her own torso, brushing across milk-swollen breasts.
"Let's start here, Hel."
It was the younger woman's absolutely lack of motion that undid her bravado, and for a moment Barbara fought uncertainty.
"If you don't mind, that is?"
The question was light, but Helena had a pretty good idea how many levels of meaning it carried. Sex had always been more her thing than Barbara's, and, well, since the C-section six weeks before, there hadn't been any real two-way love-making. And, as much as she always enjoyed Barbara's hands on her, the intensity of her pleasure suffered a lot when she couldn't respond in kind.
Since she didn't have the words, Helena chose a non-verbal sort of response.
Hell, she'd always been a go-out-and-do-it kind of girl.
Somehow, though, what Helena had intended to be the soft brush of her mouth against Barbara's changed in a hurry from reassurance to, well, Ready Now when Helena found herself dragged forward by her tee-shirt and locked into a deep tonsil-swabbing sort of kiss.
Helena's moan -- it might have been a whimper -- managed to recall Barbara to herself, and she reluctantly managed to extract herself from what she'd started. Her cheeks burning, although she wasn't certain whether from arousal or embarrassment, she was almost ready to apologize for her hurry. She was almost sorry for not taking things a little more slowly.
Helena's growl would have consumed whatever insincere apology she might have managed.
"God, Red. I love you so much."
Forehead to forehead, their breath panting hotly between them, they were still for a beat. Then, flush with arousal and an insistent need, Barbara captured her lover's mouth again, groaning when her tongue was sucked into warm heat. She wound her fingers through silken hair, distantly aware that Helena was lowering them to the mattress, torn between wishing the moment would never end and wanting something more.
Again, her partner helped resolve her dilemma.
Somehow, Helena arched away, groaning at the loss of contact, the perfection that had filled her mouth. She waited until green eyes sought hers.
"I want to make you feel amazing, Barbara."
It had been so frikkin' long. Maybe for Barbara as well.
"Show me, Sweetheart."
Charged as if by a linear accelerator, Helena yanked off her own tee, then lowered herself, bringing their chests together. The melding of soft skin, the pressure of full roundness against her, the sensation of diamond peaks rasping against her own burning nipples: all threatened to take the strength from her arms. Biting at the inside of her cheek, Helena fought the desire to grind frantically against her lover, instead focusing on nipping and suckling at the slender column of Barbara's throat. Even that, the reverberations of Barbara's moan against her lips, might have brought her to climax if she'd not felt strong hands on her shoulders, urging her downward.
She muffled her own moan against Barbara's chest, brushing her cheek lightly against one turgid nipple. However, when Red's hands came to the back of her head, guiding with intent, she gave up on subtlety.
"Oh my --"
Without meaning to, Barbara felt herself arching upward, aching for more as her lover seemingly worked to consume her. Panting softly through her mouth, she sank back down, lost to the suction and the pleasure of teeth and tongue and skilled hands painting soft patterns across her chest and belly.
It had been far too long.
Somewhere, somehow, in the burning thick arousal, she lost track of time, her infallible internal chronometer having apparently clocked out for the duration, for Barbara honestly had no idea how long she'd been murmuring her pleasure when glittering golden eyes swam into view.
She had to wet her lips and try again, one hand automatically moving to cup the younger woman's cheek.
The slow burn of pleasure that she felt when Helena leaned into the caress chilled the tiniest bit when she made out her words.
"May I taste you?"
Helena couldn't keep herself from ducking her head, from finishing the question with her eyes hidden behind her bangs.
It wasn't like she hadn't been into what they'd been doing: fuck, taking Babs in so deeply and giving her such evident pleasure was fan-fucking-tastic. Still, there was something more, even if she knew that her lover had some issues surrounding sex in general and this act in particular.
Working to keep her breathing even, Barbara wrestled with the twin demons surrounding Helena's question. The lack of sensation made the offering seem so... pointless, not to mention how it vividly brought home her deficiencies in the sexual arena. She also had to admit that even before the shooting, she'd not much cared for this act -- at least being on the receiving end -- an instinctual dislike for the vulnerability it engendered.
Yet, as she forced herself to meet her companion's sweet gaze, she had to allow that in the fifteen months that she'd been with Helena, she'd come to realize how limited that thinking was: Helena seemed to derive enough pleasure from touching her that way for both of them, making it impossible now for Barbara to look at the act as one-sided or selfish on her part. More than once, to her surprise and intense, intense arousal, she'd been gifted by witnessing Helena's own climax seize her merely from the act of pleasuring her.
The experience was powerfully alluring, making Barbara's decision almost easy.
She worked a smile.
"I'd love your mouth."
Helena's answering smile was radiant, and Barbara's own smile grew, becoming more genuine as she watched the other woman settling in, as she witnessed the ripple of pleasure visibly coursing across her skin. Truly, Helena had perfected the art of cunnilingus: it was almost voyeuristic, almost indecent, witnessing the pleasure that she took in scenting her, brushing against her, delving into her. All the while, her lover purred and rumbled her pleasure, whispering endearments and sweet blandishments and the occasional oddly arousing pornographic description.
The irony was not lost on her that, after years of shunning the act when she could feel, with Helena it was one of the few remaining areas that raised a hot flare of resentment in Barbara for what she'd lost in the shooting.
"Jesus, Red, you taste so good. You're so fuckin' wet..."
Lord, she'd never been able to climax -- or really get very excited -- by this before the shooting; however, she was quite certain that if she'd only been able to experience all of the sensations that Helena offered -- the deep soul kisses, the gentle nudges, the unhurried explorations, all accompanied by her murmurs of appreciation -- her satisfaction could not be in doubt.
Nevertheless, this time, she wanted something else. For both of them.
Threading her fingers through sweat-dampened dark hair, she waited until bright eyes rose in question.
"Come up here, and let me take care of you now."
Even white teeth nibbled at a glistening lower lip.
Sure, Helena knew she was turned on six ways from Christmas, but still...
"I wasn't done yet."
Barbara's throaty laugh stripped her reservations away.
"I want to touch you now, Sweetie."
Helena swallowed a moan and slid up her partner's body. The friction of heated skin and sweat and other fluids dragged lightly across her, electrifying her senses, causing her nipples to tingle. She ground her breasts against Barbara's enjoying her lover's sudden intake of breath until the sensation of a strong hand cupping her through her underwear stripped her of every awareness... every bit of reason... except one.
Forcing herself to move slowly, Barbara allowed her hand to find its way inside Helena's underwear and brush the soft curls within. Her lover moaned encouragement against her cheek, and Barbara cupped her gently, sliding practised fingers along smooth folds of flesh that quickly ripened at her touch. She caught her breath when Helena's legs spread an invitation, and Barbara let her fingers glide over silky warmth, teasing her arousal at the edges, feeling the breath near her neck grow short and ragged.
Stroking, circling, she smiled in anticipation as hips moved back and forth against her and teeth grazed her shoulder.
"Barbara -- God."
The broken plea in Helena's moan undid Barbara. There was no mistaking the pleasure that Helena took in this act, the fulfillment she gained by...
She forced herself to think the words even as she turned her wrist and slipped a finger inside.
The deep pleasure that Helena -- and she, if she were honest -- took when she filled her lover.
Helena thought she was begging, her body undulating desperately beside her lover's. With one hand, she grabbed for the bar at the head of the bed; with the other, she cupped the side of Barbara's face.
"Please...," she managed on a whimper.
Unwilling, unable, to deny Helena anything, Barbara stretched a bit against the angle and slipped another finger into the tight haven. Rapt, she saw her lover's mouth form an "O" of pleasure; awash, she melted as Helena's face grew soft and lost.
Needing more, she pressed her mouth softly to her lover's, then pulled back.
"Turn around, Hel."
She saw the confusion and spoke quietly.
"Spoon into me, Sweetie."
Breathing suddenly got difficult, but Helena decided that she didn't mind. Between one labored breath and the next, she turned and wriggled close. The sensation of velvet skin against her back was incendiary. When Barbara slid her hand between her rib cage and the mattress and covered her breast, she thought she might burst into flame. Then, warm fingers were moving between her legs from behind but she couldn't think about that -- or anything -- when a warm mouth pressed to her neck, suctioning.
"Uhh -- "
As much as she appreciated Helena's enthusiastic reaction, Barbara had other plans, and the angle just wasn't right. With some regret, she moved away from her lover's pulsepoint and pushed herself down the bed... just enough. When Helena opened to her, she effortlessly slipped three fingers inside, pumping gently.
Helena heard her own voice, even as her hips pistoned frantically. She was so goddamned wet that there was hardly any friction.
She wasn't sure what she meant other than more of everything. Somehow, Barbara knew, and she felt four fingers slide into her. She arched her back, wanting -- needing -- nothing other than this connection.
Then, somehow, Barbara's thumb curled in, and suddenly she was so full -- so tight and hot and pulsing, balancing between pain and pleasure and ready to black out from it all. Helena managed to pry open her eyes and look back, seeing something that looked like surprise on her lover's beautiful face, but she didn't care.
The whispered, helpless, exhalation relieved Barbara's shock, and she finally allowed herself to feel her lover tightening around her wrist, then relaxing. Experimentally, she flexed her fist inside its haven, her own mouth dropping open at sensations she'd never imagined.
Somehow, Helena's world had simultaneously narrowed to the hot, lancing point of connection between Barbara and her, and it also seemed to be expanding, defying time and space. The fullness, the completeness, of this union was unlike anything; and all she could do was let herself bloom open and take it in.
Take Barbara in.
She didn't know if she'd spoken. She didn't care.
It was every-fucking-thing.
Helena didn't move. She didn't think she breathed.
She just... was. They were.
"My god, Hel-- Is..?"
Still lost, she laced her fingers with the hand on her chest, managed a slow dip of her head.
"God. Don't stop."
Barbara had no intention of stopping. She angled her wrist a tiny bit and worked her hand carefully, entranced by the flush blooming across Helena's back. Leaning in, she sampled a bead of sweat from the younger woman's skin.
She'd never considered a connection like this.
Between tiny, sipping breaths, Helena pulled their laced hands up a few inches, dipping her head to suck at her lover's fingers.
Even with her enhanced hearing, Helena wasn't sure she would have understood her own utterance. Barbara somehow seemed to know.
Barbara couldn't have withheld the word if she'd wanted to. In all of the years before Helena, she'd never suspected--
No, she'd certainly suspected; however, she'd never allowed herself to acknowledge the powerful allure that such possession held for her.
Barbara's affirmation was all that Helena needed. Writhing, she contracted, then expanded, on herself. There was a swell of sensation-emotion-heat-energy-connection-life that turned into a whiteout. It all coalesced and exploded, like a bomb detonating, the shock-force taking everything in its path and reforming her into something ---
Lost, carried along in her lover's explosive climax, Barbara barely caught it in time.
God, if Helena woke up Katharine now...
Somehow, her lover had the wherewithal to grab a pillow and bury her face as shudders seized her. The duration of the explosion almost led Barbara to worry about a lack of oxygen; however, the intensity of the contractions and the gush of liquid coating her wrist convinced her that all was well.
Better than that, in fact: amazing.
Right on cue, Helena heard the typing in her earpiece slow.
<"Did you find something, Huntress?">
"Looks like," was her response as she dropped lightly from the roof of the gazebo by the pond.
It had taken a few bits of neat footwork to make it to the little building in the center of the park from the roof of the apartment building two blocks over without touching the ground. There had been a dance across the stoplight in the intersection; then, channeling her inner Spiderman, she'd bounced across the roof of a city bus -- Babs' creative cursing had nothing on the bus driver's; finally, there were a few hops between two just-budding redbud trees. Not, she had to admit as she strolled onto the walkway in the park, that she couldn't have just walked over.
It was the principle of the thing.
<"Don't know if it's our guy, Oracle, but seems like it could be.">
She kept her voice low as she angled through the small crowd surrounding the latest object-du-oddness in New Gotham. A little discretion and general fascination with the... thing should keep folks from noticing a woman in black leather who was talking to her necklace.
The rapid-fire clicking of keys preceded her partner's voice over the comms for a good five seconds.
<"What makes you think that, Huntress?">
Barbara easily picked up her partner's soft snort but decided not to let it bother her. After a long dry spell, Helena was certainly entitled to stretch out the moment; and while she did, Barbara thought she might be able to snag the traffic camera on Central and see just what had the younger woman so amused.
<"You know that butt-ugly statue of the guy near the ice rink?">
Helena's casual question interrupted Barbara's search for the coordinates of the camera.
Sitting up a little straighter, the redhead felt one eyebrow creep upward a few centimeters as she allowed herself to be coaxed into the puzzle that Helena was laying out.
For the last six weeks or so, sweeps had been pro forma at best. It had been, at least in Barbara's opinion, Helena's maternity leave as well her own; and it hadn't taken much convincing for Helena to accept the idea. They'd done little more than perform some random grid sweeps, largely -- although Barbara was loathe to admit it -- to help her partner work off some of the energy she had to burn. However, in the last two weeks, they'd also been engaged in a desultory investigation into a string of burglaries in which the doors to the targeted stores had simply been... dissolved.
Not the run-of-the-mill burglar's M.O.
Still, unless the statue had been similarly zapped...
Hearing the typing start again, Helena decided that she only had a few seconds before her partner ruined her thunder. She finished pushing through the crowd and threw Red a bone.
"Sure, I guess that's the guy."
All she knew was the dude had been cast larger than life in bronze, and only the pigeons seemed to find his visage worthy of any sort of tribute.
<"What about it?">
Fighting a really weird urge to rub her hands gleefully -- like that wouldn't look suspicious -- Helena snickered.
The typing finally stopped, and Helena smirked as she circled the eight foot tall gooey confection.
<"Choc-- Are you certain, Huntress?">
Sniffing pointedly, quite certain that Babs' sophisticated audio feed would pick it up, the dark vigilante swiped a finger across old Hiram's decidedly sagging coat tails.
She sniffed again, ignoring the affronted squawk of some old biddy worried about desecration of public property.
"It's not Ex-Lax, that's for sure."
Not like she'd ever make that mistake twice.
The response was just a tad... arch.
<"And how do you know that, Huntress?">
"Uh, I got into some when I was a kid."
She ignored Barbara's sigh.
Heck, what kid hadn't?
<"I don't think I need to visualize Sel-- your mother in the possession of Ex-Lax, Huntress.">
"As if. It was -- "
A jaw-popping yawn interrupted Helena's indignation, but she worked to stifle it.
"-- at a friend's house."
Unfortunately -- or maybe not -- just thinking about that little mistake made Helena's insides twist a little. Or, maybe it was another one of those twinges that had been hitting her on-and-off since the night before.
The whole thing had been like nothing she'd ever experienced... or even fantasized about, and Helena had always thought she'd had a pretty healthy imagination.
Barbara had been so... ready; and she... Well, at the end there, Helena thought she might have screamed -- or howled -- but her mind hadn't been much up for processing anything other than physical sensation. It wasn't until she'd come back to herself that it had turned in on her again, and it hadn't been about the physical at all.
Barbara had still been spooned up behind her, keeping her close, her hand still connecting them. It had hit Helena hard when they'd finally separated. Somehow, Barbara had just seemed to know, pulling her tight and chasing away the emptiness.
Since then, Helena thought that her insides had felt a little like oatmeal.
It wasn't a bad feeling.
Not bad at all, especially with her heart -- her frikkin' heart -- turned to mush, too.
As for the rest of her?
Helena felt the perma-grin coming back full-force as she considered that, reaching the same conclusion that she had early that morning during an ill-advised stretch when she was up with the Peapod. She felt well and truly, deliciously, fucked.
Nope. Not a bad feeling at all.
<"You didn't need to get up with her again this morning, Huntress.">
Oblivious to anyone in the dwindling crowd, Helena stared incredulously at the microphone around her neck.
The hell she hadn't.
"I wanted to."
If a little sleep through the early morning hours did Red -- and, by extension, her -- that much good, Helena figured she'd be handling all of the dark-o-night baby duties from now on.
Heck, it gave her a chance to catch Mr. Science on PBS. Helena had to admit that he was kind of interesting, and it had to be educational for Kat.
Barbara almost succumbed to an instinctive urge to argue to the point, or at least to protest that Helena had breezed out of the bedroom whispering promises to their infant child about watching VH1 and something called WWF Smackdown. However, distracted by an odd wriggling from within the snugli that was strapped to her chest, Barbara let it go; she was too grateful for the rest to argue convincingly. Instead, she glanced at her sleeping daughter, immediately feeling both of her eyebrows heading toward her hairline.
For a moment, Katharine almost seemed to vibrate before her eyes.
Wriggling her nose to scoot her computer glasses down, Barbara took a second look over the top of the rims, finally laughing softly when she recognized a very faint noise.
Their daughter was purring.
It was time to get this investigation back on course, and Helena had been correct: the incident was odd enough to rank with disappearing shop doors.
<"It looks like chocolate.">
Her partner's voice was positively sunny. Of course, considering the usual threats that they faced, a little statuary substitution was almost cause for celebration.
Another sniff, clearly for effect only, came clearly through the headset.
<"--smells like chocolate. Heck, I bet it even ta--">
Barbara couldn't stand it.
"Do not tell me that you're about to put some unknown substance into your mouth, Huntress."
She spared a look at the mop of red fuzz peeking out of the snugli and smiled, briefly thumbing off her microphone to address the youngest member of their little team.
"I thought that you were the one that I'm suppose to warn about things like that."
Katharine didn't have much to say in defense of herself or her other mother, so Barbara indulged herself by giving her work table a small nudge. Obligingly, the Princess Fiona bobbin' head that had been perched on her monitor for more than a year nodded her agreement. Suitably reinforced, Barbara turned her mic back on.
"As much as I trust your... senses on this, I'd appreciate it if you'd bring back a sample for me to test."
"No problem-o. I'll just --"
Helena belatedly realized that some of her glee at the request had probably transmitted itself because Barbara was cutting her off.
<"Untasted, if you don't mind.">
Helena pulled a face even as she retrieved an evidence baggy from her duster.
Che sara, sara. Not much that could ruin her big bowl of happiness on this day.
"What part of ol' Hiram's anatomy would you like me to---"
Helena really didn't get why Oracle was going on with the long-suffering sighs. It seemed like a perfectly reasonable question to her.
<"A piece from the base should do nicely, Huntress.">
Circling the caloric monstrosity, Helena held a thumb between the statue and her face, squinting to pick the best angle.
"Are you sure you don't want me to do some urban beautification and trim off his third chin? Or what about the big wart on his nose? Or some other asset?"
She could almost hear the wheels turning, could almost see the wicked glint in those beautiful emerald eyes, and Helena knew that she had her: Babs was having to fight her own temptation.
<"Why don't you let me take a look?">
Okay, Helena could recognize a dodge when she heard one, but at least Babs hadn't gone all Civil Obedience on her ass. Not giving the redhead a chance to back out, Helena whipped out her camera phone and snapped a close up.
From the rear.
Fingers drumming on her mouse pad, Barbara worked to calculate how quickly the photos would show up on her monitor given the rather special satellite uplinks they had at their disposal. Just as a tell-tale icon flashed in her in-box, she felt a nudge against her chest and looked down, overcome all over again by the bright blue eyes staring up at her.
It was simply not possible that, at this tender age, their daughter could look so much like Helena.
Tenderly, she brought her finger to Katharine's mouth, pursing her lips when the girl suckled softly. Apparently, she needed more than pacifying, for those expressive eyes seemed to flash, and Barbara had to laugh outright when there was another, more determined, head butt that was followed by a soft mouth rooting against her breast.
"Alright Kat --"
Despite her best intentions, the nickname was starting to stick. Of course, it was better than her father's insistence on "Katie Fee".
In the middle of unbuttoning her oxford, Barbara didn't even jump when an impatient voice came through her headset.
<"So, didja get it?">
She folded down the cup of her nursing bra and cradled that soft, tiny head in her palm.
"I'm sorry, Huntress. Someone needed a snack."
Even as Barbara clicked her mouse to open Helena's photo, she heard the soft growl over the comms. Somehow, she kept her voice level.
"The base will be just fine, Huntress."
For some reason, not getting to perform a little plastic surgery didn't seem as important to Helena as it had a few minutes before. All she wanted at this point was to get her sample and get back to the tower: there was just something that made her melt faster than Hiram's butt in the spring sunshine when she watched Barbara feeding their child.
<"Man, Oracle, I am soooo going to be back there before you finish.">
Already on her way, Helena turned back and snapped off another piece of the statue's base, offering a regretful look to the big man's chins. With a shrug, she tucked the second, larger bit into the evidence baggie with the first sample and took off at a trot.
The way she was feeling, she might just have to have a snack, too.
Traveling in a fried-out combie
On a hippie trail, head full of zombie
I met a strange lady, she made me nervous
She took me in and made me breakfast.
Better than chocolate, indeed.
Almost humming her pleasure, Barbara waved a bubble bath-encased hand in front of the high tech sound system that she'd had installed when she'd renovated the master bathroom the summer before. The volume obediently increased by a few notches, and after a bare moment's consideration Barbara joined in on the chorus as she sank back into the mass of bubbles.
Do you come from a land down under?
Where women glow and men plunder?
Can't you hear, can't you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover.
She drew out the final word and then ceased her admittedly off-key warbling. Since she had the Tower to herself for the time being, she knew that she had no fear of teasing from her less musically-challenged partner; however, she'd reached the limits of her immediate memory of the lyrics and, quite frankly, saw no reason to delve into her mental hard-drives during a period of relaxation.
She'd let the little stereo do the work for her.
There was no denying that a built-in sound system was a ridiculous indulgence; however, Barbara had long since stopped denying that she loved her gadgets and toys.
Today, in particular, she had decided that she deserved a bit of indulgence. Not only had her doctor finally given her the all clear in terms of resuming so-called normal activities, but Barbara also thought she might have made a bit of headway in terms of New Gotham's mysterious new criminal.
Almost a week after the odd incident in the park, Barbara still wasn't positive that the prank was related to the string of burglaries. As her dynamic partner had declared, the statue had been chocolate, and the redhead felt a small smile creep across her features over Helena's glee about the confirmation.
Her smile only grew when she recalled Helena's affront when the brunette had discovered what Barbara's tests had determined: the quality of the chocolate was sub-par, at best.
Culinary critiques to the side, Barbara had asked Helena to revisit several of the burglary scenes during the last few days. No chocolate had been in evidence; however, Helena's more careful inspection of the alarm systems had given Barbara her in: by monitoring all of the security companies in the city, she might be able to catch the blip when the connection... evaporated. If she were on the ball, it might be enough to allow Helena to get to the scene of the next break-in before their thief disappeared.
Humming happily, Barbara slipped a bit deeper into the tub, reveling in the buoyancy and mobility that the water offered. Not to mention the steaming heat that she'd not been able to indulge in while pregnant or during the weeks following the C-section.
There had been, she allowed, very little mystery and even less doubt about her first stop after she'd left Gloria's office this morning. Although Barbara thought that her gynecologist had been a bit conservative in waiting seven weeks to declare her fully recovered from the C-section, she hadn't been in the mood to quibble today.
The Spa Shoppe it had been.
One hefty credit card bill later, she'd made it home in record time and had methodically worked her way through her purchases, from Aloe-n-Apple body gel to Yak Butter moisturizer. She'd drained and refilled the tub twice, blessing her foresight in having an oversized water heater installed.
Now, cheerfully unconcerned by the ever-increasing pruniness of her fingers and toes, Barbara tipped her head back in the water. She pointedly pushed her internal chronometer aside, allowing herself to drift without sense of time or space, distantly aware only of the sensations of floating, heat, and...
Given that Helena had taken Katharine to No Man's Land to "show her off" -- again -- the inkling that she might not be alone was less than comforting. Cautiously, Barbara slitted her eyes and peered over, only to find a her partner lounging on the side of the tub, looking very pleased with herself.
And, very much in a state of undress.
With a completely unbecoming gasp, Barbara flailed a little, then pushed determinedly against the sides of the tub to bring herself into a sitting position.
"Good. God. Helena!"
Glaring, she pushed a tendril of wet hair off her forehead.
"You scared the bejeezus out of me."
Helena fought a flare of guilt.
For about two seconds.
With a lazy smile, she leaned in.
"I'm sorry, Red."
Which was true.
"You just looked so fuckin' sexy in there, I had to watch you."
Which was even more true.
When the redhead nodded grudgingly, Helena released her own remaining tension and waved toward the sound system.
"What is it with you and your retro 80's fetish, anyway?"
That earned her a laugh.
"What can I say, Hel? I'm a slave to my roots."
With that, Barbara pushed herself against one end of the tub, and Helena decided to take it as an invitation, slipping into the steaming water.
Helena moved, Barbara noted absently, almost like an otter, sliding into the tub without rippling the water. Her shape, however, was something else entirely: sensual curves, complemented by sleek runs of muscle.
Something must have shown in her eyes, because Barbara found herself the subject of intense scrutiny.
"See something you like, Red?"
Since she had absolutely no plausible deniability whatsoever, the redhead let it go with a laugh.
Helena joined in, suddenly very, very glad that she'd arranged to cut short her visit at No Man's.
"Hold that thought, Red."
She wiped her fingers on a dry face cloth and touched a button on the sound system. Mercifully, the Men At Work crap was instantly replaced by something, well, else.
'When I think about you, baby, I go out of my head...'
For a split-second, Barbara worked to calculate the probability of Helena's having randomly selected Depeche Mode from her mix disk. However, the look in the younger woman's eyes reminded her that there were more important things to concentrate on.
Her partner didn't need a second invitation, and between one breath and the next Barbara found herself with a lap full of wet, naked Helena Kyle. She knew that the younger woman was allowing the water to carry her weight as she straddled her, and she could just feel a bit of calf against her waist where Helena's legs wrapped around her.
"Well, that was q--"
The bright gleam in violet eyes was all the warning that Barbara received before she was caught up in a long, soul-stealing kiss.
Helena was a wonderful kisser; somehow Barbara had known she would be before her first cautious intimacy with her at a laser light show in the park on a snowy Sunday more than a year before.
Somehow, the redhead managed to formulate, her lover's kisses had only become more amazing. After that, Barbara was swept into the eroticism of the moment, her breathing coming in steadily tighter gasps as Helena's hands slid over her body with knowing skill.
Long, lovely minutes later, she realized that Helena was disentangling herself, reaching for a towel to throw on the water that had somehow been sloshed from the tub. Barbara couldn't find it within herself to be concerned with the hardwood, instead waiting for her brain to come back online, somewhat perversely reminded of the Delphi booting up as her thought processes began to clear and her powers of speech and reason reintegrated themselves.
Dear heavens, what Helena could do to her. It made her forget her own name and...
Panic and terror instantly cleared her hormone-induced daze.
Great Gurgling Gerber Babies, what kind of mother was she, forgetting her own child? It was inexcus--
"Relax, Barbara -- "
Unable to miss her lover's panic, Helena sought her eyes, attempting to reassure as she inclined her head toward the living area.
"She's right out there with Alfred."
She heard Barbara's harsh exhalation and worked a small smile.
"I didn't mean for you to worry. I asked if he could come over to sit for a little when I decided to come back earl--"
Barbara's brain caught up with the words that had calmed her, and a different sort of panic took control.
"Alfred's out there?"
The redhead couldn't help but decide that the squeak that accented the last word was entirely unbecoming. Unfortunately, the heat that she could feel in her face -- heat that had nothing to do with the temperature of the water -- was entirely too familiar.
Her lover's smug response did nothing to cool her embarrassment.
"Oh, come on, Barbara. I think he knows that you have sex."
True. However there was knowing, and there was knowing.
Still flustered, Barbara heard herself speaking before her brain caught up.
"Yes, but not with such... such..."
She couldn't finish. Helena, naturally, had no such reticence.
Helena saw the embarrassment begin to give way to indignation. Deciding to push her luck, she painted on her best leer.
That earned her a swat to the arm, and so she dipped her head in contrition.
"Well, really it you that's showing all the prowess and all."
Right on cue, Red's befuddled look came a-calling.
" 'Prowess'? Excuse me, Helena?"
For some reason, Helena found it hard to make eye contact.
"Well, it always seems like I yell a lot louder and longer."
The younger woman's shy smile went straight to Barbara's heart, and her sudden fit of modesty disappeared without so much as a whimper.
"And more often."
At a loss, Barbara pursed her lips, searching for something she could offer. Helena's snicker relieved her of the burden.
"I like it, Babs."
One crimson brow worked its way upward; somehow, Barbara kept a straight face.
"As long as it's not too great a hardship on you, Hel..."
With that, they both dissolved into giggles, then full-blown laughter.
Oh, how Helena could make her laugh.
By the time they worked it out, another few gallons of water were soaking the bath mat, and Helena had turned herself around, nestling between Barbara's legs. Pointedly not speculating on just what Alfred might be making of the noises coming from the master bath, Barbara watched one slender foot emerge from the bubbles and work at the faucet until a slow stream of hot water started refilling the tub.
"Speaking of noise, Hel--"
Since Helena seemed occupied by attempting to determine whether her big toe would fit inside the spigot, Barbara wasn't certain she had her full attention. Nevertheless, she soldiered on.
"I've been meaning to ask about last week when you got up with Katie."
As patiently as possible, she waited until the brunette extricated her toe.
"How did you get her to quiet down and let me sleep until mid-morning?"
Inspecting her slightly reddened digit, Helena didn't give the question much thought.
"Oh, we just went for a run."
She immediately recognized that she might have made a tactical error.
"At 4:30 in the morning, Helena? In March?"
Damn. Helena could feel her partner's eyebrows heading skyward without looking behind her.
"I wrapped her up in her coat, under my coat. In her snugli. Heck -- "
She returned her foot to the water and snuggled back against her partner's chest.
"-- I even put on that little yarmulka thing that Miz Harkness knitted for her."
Distracted by the smooth skin pressing against her, Barbara absently corrected her lover.
"It's a stocking cap."
Then, the reality hit.
"You did NOT take our six-week-old daughter out on the rooftops!"
It had taken a lot of time, a lot of hard experience, but Helena had eventually figured out that there were times when silence was her best bet.
This definitely seemed like one of them.
Babs' sigh said enough for both of them. Unfortunately -- or not -- it also reminded Helena about just what portion of Barbara's anatomy she was resting against. With Barbara's nipples pressed into her back and neatly trimmed pubic hair against her butt, it was pretty hard to stay on focus. She figured that the best she could do was stay still and let the older woman make the next move.
It came sooner than Helena had expected.
Soft, warm fingers traced her throat, circling a faint bruise, the fading remnant of what they'd shared less than a week before.
Helena was glad that the bruise was taking so long to heal. She liked how it reminded her of... things. Barbara didn't seem to feel so much the same.
"I'm sorry about this, Hel. I didn't w--"
Helena didn't think twice about cutting her off.
"Baby -- "
She captured the older woman's hands and wrapped them around her waist.
"-- in case you couldn't tell, it felt really good."
Of course, Babs wasn't going to let it go that easily.
"I just don't want to hurt you."
Turning within the circle of Barbara's arms, Helena pressed a soft kiss to her shoulder.
"You won't. And, remember -- "
She looked up, catching those beautiful green eyes.
Blinking against something in her eyes, Barbara resettled her lover.
"Not so tough, Hel."
Helena was, despite her bluster, bravado, and genuine bravery, a truly delicate soul.
Barbara fought a smirk, somehow keeping her tone even as she rested her chin on her partner's head.
Given the petulance in the younger woman's earlier claim, Barbara anticipated something similar. The words she heard stole her breath.
"Tough enough for you to have used the whip."
Emotions, complex and impossible to identify, rushed through her as Barbara recalled the charged interlude that she'd shared with Helena in the training room almost two months before.
Ultimately, she decided that the truth was her only option.
"I did, Hel."
It was the truth, in letter if not spirit; however, her partner was having none of it.
Barbara had to pull back from the shake of dark hair under her chin.
"You could have... For something other than..."
Helena didn't need to finish. Barbara understood her meaning.
At the time, as they'd been working to reconfirm trust that had been wounded so by the machinations of Harley Quinn, Barbara had accepted Helena's need for... a prop. Yet, there were many ways to use a whip -- running across straining muscles, whispering across sweat-slickened skin, hinting at the possibilities of force without...
"You could have used it, Barbara."
Helena's emphasis left no doubt that Barbara's handling of the whip didn't rank as use. However, the thought -- the possibility -- of that sort of action was incomprehensible.
Without conscious decision, Barbara heard the words tumbling out.
"Hurting you isn't my -- "
She struggled for the right word. Helena beat her to it.
"Not your kink?"
The redhead took a moment to consider that, the realities of her life and her... desires painting themselves in stark colors before her.
Possession? The thought alone was enough to derail her.
Although Barbara didn't know how much further she could go with this conversation, she knew that she'd have to try to answer anything that Helena needed to know.
Surprise didn't begin to encompass Barbara's reaction to the equanimity in her lover's voice.
" 'Okay'? "
Helena could feel the tension vibrating off her lover, but she had to add one more thing.
"Yeah. I just don't want you to feel like you have to hold back or something."
Sitting up, she turned off the flow of hot water, then wriggled around in the tub to reverse their positions so that she was cradling Barbara from behind. The pressure against her center was incredible.
"Holding back -- mmm -- "
Barbara's soft moan went straight to Helena's core, but she didn't let up on the soft shoulder massage she'd started.
"Holding back hasn't been much on my list of things to do with you, Hel."
The words set her nerves to thrumming, and Helena leaned in to tease her partner's ear.
She kind of thought she'd lost track of the conversation, but it didn't seem to matter. With Barbara soft and pliant against her, there was only one thing on Helena's mind.
"Sit up, Red."
She grinned when Barbara turned into her teasing touch.
With an exaggerated sigh, the brunette spelled it out.
"I wanna lick your back."
Her nerves already singing, Barbara felt a shiver run up her spine.
Dear heavens, what Helena could do to her.
"I have a better idea, Sweetie."
That got Helena's attention. She couldn't really think of anything better than her lips and tongue all over Babs' body, but if Red said she had a better idea, she trusted her.
She felt her partner shift in her arms, then Barbara insinuated an arm between them, reaching...
Helena's hips rolled reflexively against those questing fingers. Somehow, she held on to her sanity for a minute longer.
Obediently, Barbara stilled her hand, possibly, she acknowledged, in shock.
"Wait?" she finally croaked, aware of Helena stretching for something behind her.
She rapidly searched her memory, attempting to determine whether she'd ever heard Helena utter that phrase in similar circumstances.
She came up blank, but Helena's explanation clarified matters.
"Just... wanna turn the whirlpool jet... yeah, here..."
A froth of water and bubbles erupted, and Barbara laughed as she resumed her movements. Helena's final coherent words for some time were nearly lost in the well-aimed spray.
"Yeah, that'll work."
All things considered, returning to work from her maternity leave on April Fool's Day seemed apt enough. It had been just over eight weeks since Katharine's birth, and Dr. Frine had declared Barbara right as rain a full seven days ago.
At this point, lounging at home any longer would simply be... well... shirking.
Clad only in her slacks and bra, Barbara paused in the act of lacing up her favorite boots and prodded at that thought. Her opportunity to reconcile maternal instinct with her well-honed work ethic was cut short when a low soprano drawled through the room.
"Need a hand with your boots?"
Wryly glancing to the side, the redhead needlessly confirmed that Helena was still perched on the end of their bed, her legs crossed camp-style, Katharine in her arms, and her eyes -- her very violet eyes -- firmly fixed on Barbara's nearly bare torso.
"Goodness, no, Helena. I wouldn't want to interrupt your leering."
At least her partner had the grace to look the tiniest bit abashed even if her words were a trifle defiant.
"I can't help it, Red. I think it's sexy watching you get dressed."
Barbara finished her second lace with vigor, addressing her own knees.
"You think it's sexy when I read, Hel."
Helena couldn't deny that, but she had a feeling that simple, enthusiastic agreement wasn't what Babs was angling for. Accordingly, she considered her reaction to her partner's literary pursuits.
No doubt, the whole "big brain" thing was a turn on. It always had been. Still, seeing Babs at the Delphi didn't set her motor racing in quite the same way.
Helena knew that Barbara took almost orgasmic delight in that "new book smell", but Helena could take it or leave it.
Maybe it was the way Red's reading glasses slipped down her face and...
"You lick your index finger when you turn the pages," she supplied.
Judging from the way her companion froze in the act of running her brush through her hair, Helena thought that Barbara might not have been expecting any answer.
The eye-rolling was a little over-dramatic, but Helena chose to ignore it, simply nodding vigorously.
"Yeah. It's sexy."
Glancing to the side, the brunette confirmed that there was the usual stack of reading material on Barbara's bedside table. Maybe she could arrange an early evening, some time for bedtime reading, and...
"Would you dig a sweater out of the closet for me, Hel?"
Helena was on her feet, shifting Kat to one arm and moving to the closet.
"You don't want a blouse?"
She detected the shake of red hair in the periphery of her vision as she hunted for that curve-hugging orange number that she particularly liked.
"No. I'm still sort of between sizes."
No trouble detecting Red's dissatisfaction about that, even though Helena thought that her partner had pretty much shed any pregnancy pounds.
"And, not that orange sweater, Hel. It's always been snug."
Easily picking up the slump in her lover's shoulders, Barbara bit back a smirk. By the time Helena turned and offered her a less form-fitting selection, she had her expression under control.
"Thank you, Sweetie."
Tugging the garment over her head, the redhead almost missed her companion's question.
"--nervous? First-day-back jitters or something?"
Since she thought she had the sense of Helena's question, Barbara smiled and tugged the cotton hem into place.
"Actually, I'm rather looking forward to it."
Her own maternal issues didn't bear mention.
"Even after Miz Harkness put her foot in it again?"
Working to place the question, Barbara pulled her hair free of the sweater's neckline and rotated forty-five degrees to face the mirror. The reflection of Helena behind her, tenderly cradling their daughter, kick-started her memory: during her second visit to school with Katharine, Alethea had inquired about the child not having a traditional family. At the time, Barbara had felt her blood pressure rise and had considered quoting statistics and chapter and verse to support the reality that so-called traditional families were in the minority.
Fortunately, she'd kept her temper in check and recognized that her friend was speaking with her traditional sheltered bluntness. Accordingly, Barbara had opted for a smile and a statement of the most important fact: "Katharine is loved, Alethea. Well loved."
"She just doesn't understand, Hel," she finally allowed.
Circling behind her partner, Helena smiled over her shoulder into the mirror.
"You look great, Babs."
They shared a reflected smile, then Helena took a step back.
"So, your lunch hour's at 12:30, right?"
The redhead's nod seemed a little distracted -- probably had to do with that imaginary piece of fuzz that she was hunting for -- so Helena went a little more explicit.
"Are you sure that, uh, everything -- "
Seeing the question reflected in the mirror, she gestured loosely toward Barbara's torso.
"-- Uhm, stuff will keep until I get the Peapod up there for her lunch?"
The blush came right on cue, and Helena grinned when Barbara turned to face her.
"I believe I have enough nursing pads stuffed in my bra to cover it, Hel."
Helena's expression, Barbara decided through narrowed eyes, was innocence itself; however, she wasn't fooled for an instant.
"I hadn't noticed any extra padding, Red."
Laughing, Barbara offered a play-swat to her lover's thigh and started for the door to the bedroom. Just before she reached the hallway, insight struck, and she came to a stop, looking back at the other woman.
"Are you sure that you're comfortable..."
To her relief, Helena cut her off.
"Spending time my with best girl? Fu-- "
Blue eyes dipped to the bundle being cradled securely in slender arms.
"You betcha. She's gonna know how to make a Rob Roy before she's into size three diapers, and she'll know all the word's to Zevon's greatest hit in no time."
Since she was attempting to forget that she'd heard the first part of the plans for Helena Kyle's School of Day Care, it took Barbara a beat to place the reference.
"Honestly, Hel, I'm not sure that 'Werewolves of London' is quite the lullaby that she should be learning."
The younger woman's pout was extravagant at best, and Barbara let it go with a laugh.
"I suppose that it's not like she'll be sharing the lyrics with the preschool crowd."
She was already moving again when she heard it: a soft "Woo-ooh" from the tiny being in Helena's arms. Barbara froze as Helena stepped past her, and she blinked.
With a shake of her head, Barbara snagged her shoulder bag and keys and headed to the elevator.
She would... Just. Not. Go. There.
Despite her resolve, the last thing Barbara heard as the elevator doors shut behind her was Helena's voice, singing softly: "Little old lady got mutilated late last night..."
Mercifully, Barbara decided late that evening, there didn't seem to be any werewolves running amok in New Gotham. However, their mystery criminal was still at work, as evidenced by the alarm blip that Barbara had picked up minutes before.
<"Listen, Sluggo, why don't you just come along quietl--ooof!">
The cyber-vigilante winced in sympathy: The sound of fist meeting flesh had been much too close to Helena's comms necklace to be anything other than a blow being scored against her partner.
"Huntress? Canary? What's the situation?"
Hailing both of the other members of her team seemed, frankly, alien. It had been such a long time since the two younger women had been out together.
While Barbara had finally accepted that Dinah was genuinely happy with her choice to live on campus, she was nevertheless absurdly pleased that the girl had stopped pretending that she didn't mind using the computer lab at NGU for her assignments. Not only did the Delphi offer Dinah a great deal more in terms of processing power and learning opportunities, but use of the system provided a lovely excuse for at least one family evening at the Tower each week.
Of course, this week's quiet evening at home had been effectively interrupted when Dinah, engaged in her regular lab time at the Delphi, had picked up the alert from Barbara's monitoring algorithms.
Another jewelry store was being targeted, the connection to its alarm system apparently evaporated.
Within two minutes of the signal, Helena had been out the door, with Dinah hot on her heels.
<"Uhm, I think everything's okay, Oracle, but it's kind of hard to tell for certain because Huntress has me outside 'covering the perimeter'.">
The sarcastic air quotes surrounding Dinah's description of her role were vividly clear. Somehow, Barbara kept her voice level.
"Huntress, an update would be lovely."
Since she was just a little busy trying to get past the hired muscle and lay her hands on the shadow she'd seen slipping into the back, Helena kept it short.
"Just a couple of poster boys from Muscle Magazine. Lucky punch."
Just to emphasize to Sluggo how very, very lucky he'd been, she used his buddy as a vault horse and planted both of her fists in his eyes. Before he hit the ground, an impressive spray of snot and blood coming out of his nose, she whirled in mid-air and threw a well-placed kick into his partner's groin.
From the look on his face, Helena would have bet that he'd never guessed he could hit that particular falsetto when he screamed.
"Canary, you see anyone coming out the back?"
Helena knew she'd seen someone -- something -- scoot for the back of the store when she'd made her entrance.
<"Nothing yet, Huntress.">
Barbara's question was right behind Dinah's update.
<"The ringleader, Huntress?">
With a quick glance, she dismissed the boys on the floor.
"I thought I saw a cape heading for the back."
Dinah's snort let her know that The Kid had picked up on Helena's feelings about that wardrobe choice.
Nobody over the age of eight should be wearing a cape.
<"What color cape, Huntress?">
She could hear Barbara tapping away at the keyboard, probably ready to cross-reference all the known villains who liked jewelry and cash and who wore a cape.
Couldn't be more than, oh, a couple thousand who fit the bill.
Sheesh, just 'cuz a girl could see in the dark didn't mean she could pull a miracle out of her coat.
<"Just wait a sec. There's only one way o--">
The sound of shattering glass cut her short, and Helena gave up on a stealthy approach.
It didn't matter anyway. By the time she skidded into place by what had been the back door, Dinah was waiting, and there was no sign of their guy.
Dinah's subdued agreement went a long way in calming Helena's urge to throttle her partner for letting the guy bust through the--
"A glass door into the alley, Canary?"
Didn't seem very secure to her.
<"That doesn't seem very secure.">
Helena couldn't help sharing a grin with Dinah, even as Red barreled along.
<"--schematic shows that it's supposed to be steel.">
By the time the two gathered up an evidence baggy of glass and made it back to the tower, Barbara had returned to her nest on the couch, Katharine snuggled against her chest. One-handed, she was absently reviewing the scores that her maternity leave replacement had recorded in a grade book.
Re-keying the entire eight weeks of grades into her classroom database program would be a nuisance; however, her more pressing concern was confirming that there had been no changes to her students' performance during her absence.
"...can't believe you didn't even get a peek at the guy, Dinah. Sheesh."
Speaking of things that didn't change.
"I was, as instructed, busy guarding the perimeter, Helena."
The bickering that preceded her partners from the elevator was, well, wonderful in its familiarity.
"Yeah, usually that means having your eyes open, Kid."
However, enough was enough.
"You'll get him next time," she interrupted Dinah's indignant squeak without a qualm.
Helena recognized that Referee Barbara had come out and decided to let it go.
Heck, between Red's monitoring programs and her own fast feet and even faster fists, they'd get there in time to catch Mystery Guy soon enough.
"Yeah, don't sweat it, Kid."
Grinning, she shed her duster and strolled over to the couch.
"Heya, Barbara. You look -- "
Still hoping for the early evening she'd thought about earlier, Helena leaned close and...
"Pee-yew. Somebody needs a diaper change."
Man, she'd never figure out how a little kid could make such a big smell.
"I was just about to take her in, Hel."
Before Helena could do the noble thing and volunteer, she heard Dinah piping in, her words almost incomprehensible.
"Ooooh! May I change her?"
It didn't take a rocket scientist... or a computer genius... or even a part-time bartender... to answer that one.
"Heck, yeah, D!"
"If you don't mind, Dinah."
As soon as Dinah cleared the room, Helena got her mind back on track and lowered herself to the couch, straddling her partner's lap. Leaning in, she nibbled at Barbara's ear.
"About ready for bed, Red?"
Barbara debated an answer to that, not quite certain what Helena had in mind--
Well, Barbara was in fact fairly certain; however, she had no idea what might have put her lover into a mood.
Ducking away from the maddening seduction of soft lips and warm breath, the redhead caught her companion's eyes with her own.
"Dinah's only changing her, Hel. She should be right back."
Helena's grin suggested that she knew something that Barbara should know.
The grin changed into a full-blown smirk, and Barbara started when Helena pulled back and called out to the back of the Tower.
"I heard the dryer buzzer when we were in the elevator, Dinah. You might want to grab your laundry."
Blinking, Barbara felt a slow grin of her own growing.
"Lab night" on the Delphi also happened to be laundry night, which meant --
"So, I figure we should have enough time now for this."
Before she could ask Helena for clarification, Barbara had her answer.
Helena lurched forward and kissed her, hard and insistent. Bowing to the inevitable -- albeit, the very enjoyable inevitable -- Barbara opened to her lover, slipping her tongue into Helena's mouth for a long, lovely tangle. Of their own volition, her hands rose to Helena's face, stroking the velvet skin, mindful all the while of the faint bruising on the younger woman's face. Somewhere, she became lost in the connection; however, the sensation of hands on her breasts proved too distracting.
Not to mention a shout from the laundry room.
"Is it okay if I borrow some hangers?"
Only able to offer an apologetic lift of her eyebrows to her clearly disgruntled lover, Barbara called out an affirmative. Then, she fumbled for the grade book that had somehow slipped into the cushions, watching appreciatively as Helena settled herself on the couch and reached for the Chemistry textbook that she'd been engaged with before the alarm.
"Will you be signing up for classes during the summer, Hel?"
Barbara was still privately surprised -- very pleasantly surprised -- by Helena's commitment to the two classes that she was taking. The young woman had efficiently managed to soothe ruffled grandfather feathers and divide baby-sitting duties between Alfred and Barbara's father for the mornings that she was at class and, to Barbara's knowledge, Helena was sailing through both classes.
Blue eyes peered through dark bangs. Barbara recognized the gesture but had absolutely no idea what might be sparking the display of shyness.
"I, uh -- "
Honest to god, Helena didn't know why she was nervous about this.
"I thought maybe I wouldn't."
She thought she saw something in her partner's eyes and rushed forward.
"I'll pick up a few in the fall and everything, but I thought it might be nice, since you're not teaching this summer, if all three of us -- "
Briefly, she waved toward the snugli still wrapped around the redhead's torso.
"-- could hang around together."
Looking back up, she saw the surprise in Barbara's face and instantly knew why the hell she was so nervous.
"Unless you think having me around all the time would work your last nerve or som--mmmf."
Unwilling to have any of that, Barbara twisted on the couch and leaned over, silencing her lover with a warm, lengthy kiss. When she finally disentangled herself, she looked directly into bright violet eyes, wanting to insure that there was no misunderstanding on the matter.
"Sweetheart, I think that sounds heavenly."
Tearing across the roof of the twenty-story highrise as if the hounds of hell were nipping at her heels, Helena Kyle didn't even blink when she saw the low rail that marked the edge. Instead, she redoubled her efforts and added an extra burst of speed, attempting to ignore the way every step was causing her come-fuck-me ass-kicking high-heeled boots to jar into her feet, up her legs, through her hips, into her...
Oh, hell, it just hurt.
Which was precisely why she wasn't looking back as she pushed off the lip of the building to soar across thirty feet of empty space -- very, very high empty space -- toward the roof of the next building.
Atypically, she overshot her mark.
But, it wasn't like she was feeling exactly on her mark at the moment.
She landed well past the balustrade that she'd been angling for and nearly flattened herself against an air vent a dozen feet further on the roof.
She didn't have the time, the energy, or even enough oxygen in her body to come up with anything more.
Stumbling, her feet again protesting against the pounding they'd taken, Helena frantically pin-wheeled her arms. Since her body seemed torn between running and falling, she compromised by hooking an elbow around a vent pipe and allowing it to carry her weight.
Pushing all the screaming in her head to the background, the dark vigilante forced herself to hold her breath. She had to quiet the rough gasps of her breathing, make sure there weren't any sounds of pursuit.
Her mouth twisting, Helena admitted that there wasn't much she could do about the pounding of her heart.
There was no sound of pursuit, only the whistle of the wind through the artificial peaks and valleys created by the downtown architecture. A long sniff of the night air further reassured the brunette that nobody was nearby.
Not a huge surprise, she supposed: she'd already run over two miles on the ground before she'd pulled herself together enough to hit the rooftops.
Slowly, Helena released her death-grip on the metal pipe that was jutting from the apartment building's roof. The wind from the cool spring night raised gooseflesh all over her body, and she locked her muscles against the need to shiver.
Oh man oh man oh man --
Barbara was gonna have a shit-fit when she found out how bad Helena had messed this one up.
Shivering despite herself, the brunette pulled her coat around her, pointedly ignoring her torn clothing and the ache in her fingers where she grasped the lapels of the leather duster. She couldn't get it to quite come together -- probably had bunched it up when she'd thrown it on during her mad dash -- but it gave her some sense of cover.
Unlike when she'd come to herself in the warehouse not too long before...
Helena had gotten the call from Barbara while she'd been at work: one of Red's monitoring alarms had triggered at the same jewelry store where Helena and Dinah had interrupted the job-in-progress the week before.
One thing Barbara had taught her: in their business, coincidences usually weren't.
Helena had stopped only to shout to Leroy that she was leaving early, then she'd been on the run, ready to catch the ringleader -- or whoever Mr. Cape was -- this time.
Or, at the very least, re-arrange a few more noses.
Without Dinah tagging along, she'd gotten to the store in under three minutes. The shards of glass surrounding where the recently replaced front door had been were a pretty good clue that it might be their guy. The visual when she'd stepped inside had confirmed it.
But, like everything that seemed too good to be true, finding the same group of pug-uglies back at the same store had been, well, not good at all.
It was all Helena had managed to get out before a lot of stuff had happened at once: two dozen guys had jumped her; her comm set had been yanked from her throat -- she thought it had gotten trampled somewhere in the fracas -- and then some sort of energy beam had dropped her to her knees.
That's when the fun had really started for the muscle crew.
Just thinking about that, Helena brought one hand to her lip, touching gently. It was still swollen, the taste of blood still coppery-bright on her tongue.
Still, that beating had been a walk in the park compared to when she'd come to, just a couple of hours before. She'd been in what looked like the proverbial empty warehouse, shackled on her back to some kind of hard table.
A low table.
They had to have been watching, waiting for her to come around, because she'd barely gotten her eyes focused when the guy who had to be the boss had come swaggering in.
The cape was a dead give-away about his status on the evil villain pecking-order. Not to mention the shiny, scary-looking weapon that was arcing in his hand.
Mr. Cape hadn't been alone: Bruiser and Bruised, her two friends from the week before, had been there, looking entirely too happy to see her.
There had been the usual song and dance from the head honcho about having his plans foiled. Helena had worked in some yawning and eye-rolling during that; at least she had until the hired muscle worked her over a little more.
Just the usual night on the street for the good guys, she'd figured.
Then, things had gotten a little less routine.
"You think you can play with the big boys, little girl?"
It had seemed like more of the same old, same old to her.
"I know it."
Only it had come out more like "Nose-oh" 'cuz of the busted lip she'd picked up somewhere.
It didn't matter: Cape-guy had seemed to get her drift.
"Let's just see about that, shall we?"
Before she'd had a chance to suggest that they not see about that, the three of them had circled in.
Even now, more than two miles away, Helena's mind skirted away from it. All she wanted to think about was that damned ugly florescent overhead bulb that had burned into her eyes. The damned light had been so bright that it felt like it had burned the back of her eyeballs as she'd focused on it...
They'd started in on her legs. Helena didn't think she was a wuss or anything, but the pain had almost taken her out right then. Good thing it hadn't or she woulda missed the fun when Mr. Cape moved up and pointed that damned thing at her arms.
It had felt like every bone was breaking and her skin was peeling away.
Then, the boys from Steroids Monthly had closed in.
By that point, Helena didn't think she could have seen straight... even if she'd wanted to look. Unfortunately, she'd had no problem hearing her clothes ripping. There'd been no way to miss the smell of their cheap cologne, like a slap against her nostrils, when they'd gotten close. She hadn't been able to wish away the taste of bile in the back of her throat at the pressure of big hands on her... and...
Swallowing frantically, Helena clenched her hands to her abdomen, her knuckles brushing against the torn material of the pants that were riding low on her body. It was as far as she was willing to go; as much as she was willing to give in to how much it hurt.
Better to think about coming back to herself on that table, alone again in the big room. The way her vest was ripped had actually worked in her favor: she'd been able to work the material over enough to snag one of the wire stays and pick the locks on her shackles.
Simple as that.
She'd grabbed her duster, gone out the transom, and run like hell.
Still unable to suck in a real breath, she worked her jaw, gulping at the cool spring air.
It was a mistake.
Maybe it was the faint taste of tar from the rooftop that the air carried. Maybe it was the way her chest hurt when she took that first deep breath. Maybe it was how her teeth had started to chatter the instant that she'd relaxed the iron set of her jaw.
Helena's stomach roiled violently, giving her just enough time to lean over before she emptied the contents.
A bottle of water to rinse out her mouth would have gone over well. Maybe Babs could fix up some sort of drink holster inside her coat.
Still, Helena didn't think there'd be room in her duster for the couple of gallons of bleach she wanted to pour all over herself.
Scrubbing her right hand across her mouth, the brunette fumbled in the pocket of her coat with the other. The duster still felt confining and awkward against her skin -- probably because her entire body hurt like merry hell; however, she found her cell tucked inside.
Who would have figured?
Frantically working to calculate some way to coax the satellite into boosting the non-existent signal from Helena's comm set, Barbara nearly jumped when her cell rang. When she saw the caller ID, she allowed a tiny measure of her terror to dissipate.
"Helena? Where are you?"
The redhead had had phone manners thoroughly drummed into her by her adopted parents; however, she suspected that, under these circumstances, they would both forgive her the rudeness.
For almost three hours, she'd been combing the police scanners, hacking into one satellite after another, and wracking her brains for anything that might provide a clue as to her partner's whereabouts. After Helena's shouted alert at the jewelry store, the comm signal had simply vanished. Trusting that it had only been damaged in a scuffle, Barbara had given her partner fifteen minutes to re-establish communications.
Thirty minutes was her usual grace period for curfews; however, this was an entirely different situation.
When no word had come, she'd contacted Dinah at the dorm. Since then, the teen had been conducting a grid sweep outward from the store, and Barbara had been digging -- unsuccessfully -- into her bag of tricks.
"M'cming in --"
Pointedly ignoring how disoriented Helena sounded, Barbara shut her eyes in thanks.
Whatever had occurred, Helena was still mobile.
"M'kinda -- "
The words were horribly raspy, leaving the redhead to wonder what sort of ordeal Helena had been through to tax her vocal cords so. More terrifying was the hint of tears she detected.
"-- messed up."
Barbara didn't hesitate.
"Stay where you are, and leave your cell on. I'm sending Dinah."
Balancing the phone between her shoulder and her cheek, she toggled on the comms, alerting Dinah to be ready as soon as she finished getting a lock on Helena's position through a cell tower GPS. By the time Barbara finished speaking, she'd gotten a lock on the signal and realized that it was too late: Helena was on the move.
"Canary, she's heading back to the To--"
A heavy thump from the balcony confirmed what she'd seen on the screen. Barbara snatched off her headset, barely relaying a final instruction to Dinah before she was headed down the ramp.
It was completely dark outside, the city's usual pervasive cloud cover blocking the light from the stars; however, the light that spilled through the French doors onto the balcony was enough to see her partner's torn clothing. It was enough to see the trembling where the slight figure huddled on the flagstones. It was enough to see the blood.
Perhaps it was too much.
Swallowing thickly, Barbara slid from her chair and turned Helena onto one side. Somehow, she managed to coax the dark head onto her thighs.
She steeled herself before beginning her inspection; however, one look was all it took.
Fighting a wave of panicked vertigo, Barbara forced herself to continue her perusal. The task was complicated by the wetness that seemed to be welling in her eyes.
"Oh, Sweetheart, no..."
Sunrise had never been Barbara's favorite time of day. Not only was she distinctly not a morning person, but through the years she'd discovered that waiting for the sun to rise usually went hand in hand with long vigils through dark nights.
It had certainly been the situation on this long night.
Inside the Tower, the only light came from the infomercials flickering across the muted television. Oblivious to the appeals to her pocketbook, Barbara snugged her daughter a bit closer to her breast and watched the rosy glow of a new day creep across the balcony.
It appeared that it would be a beautiful day outside.
Very pointedly, she opted not to think about the smears of blood on the patio that full daylight would reveal. Equally pointedly, she refused to remember the long hours she'd spent cleaning blood from Helena's face, applying bandages, getting her semi-conscious partner settled for some rest. Determinedly, she refused to speculate on what the day would bring when Helena came to.
At this moment, her job -- her vocation, she automatically corrected herself -- was completely defined by the small being in her arms. It was a bit later than Katharine's usual pre-dawn snack time; however, the events of the night had upset everyone's schedules.
A glance at the couch, where Dinah had finally dropped into a restless slumber a few hours before, confirmed that.
Nevertheless, her focus at the moment needed to be right here: the being in her arms.
Forcing herself to relax, Barbara felt Katie's suckling increase as her milk flowed more freely. The sensation alone was enough, and she allowed her entire world to narrow to her daughter.
It was odd that she could do this, the redhead freely admitted: she'd never imagined herself as a nurturing, maternal type, much less as a mother.
The thought elicited a soft snort, and Katharine wriggled in response.
"Did you know I never thought I'd be a mom, Katie?"
The question came out as barely a whisper, however something in her tone must have proven more alluring than an early morning snack. The tiny red head pulled away from her breast, and Barbara was fixed by bright blue eyes. She smiled, and gently coaxed her daughter back to her pre-breakfast.
"I think you're showing me the way."
Something about this little being was so right... almost effortless. Truly a revelation for one who was as by-the-numbers as she usually was. It was Helena whose forte was intuition, not her.
"You and Helena," she amended.
Almost as if speaking the name had been an invocation, Barbara heard a soft groan from the master bedroom. On cue, Katharine pulled away and blinked sleepily, clearly ready to move into the nap portion of her schedule. Refastening her shirt, Barbara remained still, waiting for an indication that Helena was awake.
For Helena, consciousness returned in drips and drabs, reality and sensation leaking into her mind, her skin, her muscles and nerves.
Cautiously, she moved her head, wincing at the pain shooting through her neck. The pinky finger of her right hand was numb -- musta slept on it funny -- and she wiggled it to get the blood flowing again.
Something tickled at the edges of her mind, but if she was safe in Barbara's bed -- their bed -- it couldn't be too bad.
A bit of light winked through the heavy blackout curtains, the glare arcing off the mirror. It brought to mind something metal... something sparking and... and...
The harsh gasp was a big mistake. Every nerve ending came awake.
It wasn't real pleasant.
Dark lashes lowered, shutting out that maddening glint of light, and Helena ran a mental inventory.
Ribs bandaged. Okay, there had been a beating -- or two.
Throat hurt. Yeah, maybe some screaming.
Feet hurt? Well, so did everything else, from fingers to shoulders, ankles to...
Helena caught her upper lip in her teeth when the insistent throbbing between her legs could no longer be ignored. Cautiously, she worked a hand under the covers, trailing her fingers down her abdomen until she touched...
Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck...
Feet pistoning against the mattress, the brunette scrambled into a sitting position and threw back the covers. One look was more than enough.
As signs went, Barbara had to admit that the scream from the bedroom left little room for doubt: The words rose a full two octaves, breaking near the end.
It was time.
Barbara's hands dropped to the wheels of the chair without thought, and her mouth opened, ready to call out an assurance of some sort.
As quickly as the impulse came, she pushed it aside: Given the circumstances, Helena's reaction was entirely reasonable.
Accordingly, the redhead drew in a steadying breath and prepared herself for the fallout. Wordless, she handed Katie to Dinah, who seemed completely alert, despite her rather sudden awakening. The blonde snuggled Katharine a bit closer to her shoulder and inclined her head toward the kitchen as she rose from the couch.
Barbara responded with a smile that she knew didn't reach her eyes and headed toward the bedroom.
"Thank you, Dinah."
When she reached the end of the hallway, she paused, uncertain whether to knock or cough or do something to announce her presence.
Sometimes the silence of the chair's wheels on the hardwood was a distinct inconvenience.
What she heard from within persuaded her not to stand on formality.
"No no no no no..."
Every light in the room was on, and Helena was standing naked save for the bandages before the full length mirror. Slender fingers roamed across bruised and battered flesh, blue eyes wide and uncomprehending.
"No no no no..."
It wasn't freaking possible.
It wasn't right.
It wasn't fuckin' fair, goddamnit.
Still focusing on the reflection in the mirror, the brunette hunted for something to say.
The voice was all wrong: hoarse and husky and...
Just like whoever it was staring back from the mirror.
This hadn't happened to her.
"Hel, I need you to look at me."
Barbara approached slowly, somehow keeping her voice level.
"Sweetheart, please, look at me."
She stopped a few paces behind her partner, attempting to coax Helena from the shock that was clearly taking control.
"Helena, I need you."
Somehow, the words got through; however, when Helena turned, it took everything she had for Barbara not to flinch.
As incomprehensible as it seemed, this beautiful young woman had been impossibly violated.
She'd seen it all hours before as she'd cleaned her partner up. The reality -- not as apparent from behind -- still shocked her to her core. Equally, it could not be denied.
In the place of Helena's familiar sleek curves were long runs of delineated muscle and sinew. Instead of full breasts, there were hard pectorals. An adam's apple bobbed clearly from what had been the smooth column of her partner's throat. And, between Helena's legs...
Barbara had been attempting to accept what she'd seen hours before when her partner had returned to the Tower. For the last six hours, her infallible memory had continued to paint that which she'd observed as she'd treated Helena's injuries. Her inner voice had continued to whisper words that still made no sense.
Helena was a man.
The eyes, however, were undeniably the same; filled with pain and loss and confusion, those amazing blue eyes could hide nothing. Barbara could no more resist the helpless agony in them than she could simply will herself to stop breathing. She closed the distance and reached up, allowing her own eyes to shut when Helena collapsed against her legs.
"I don't know, Sweetie."
And, god help her, she really didn't know, couldn't imagine; however, Barbara was quite certain of one thing.
"But, we'll figure it out."
Cradled securely in Barbara's arms, Helena finally managed a slow deep breath.
If anybody could figure it out, it was Barbara.
Head resting against the older woman's abdomen, Helena sniffled once, then froze, fighting the urge to dissolve into tears.
Boys didn't cry, right?
Instead, he hiccuped, something between laughter and dismay.
Man, life was weird.
Since things weren't likely to get any less weird curled up in Barbara's comforting embrace, Helena pulled away and stood. Unfortunately, that brought the reflection in the mirror back into sharp focus.
"I don't get it, Barbara."
The tenor wasn't unpleasant, but it still wasn't the voice that Helena expected to hear. At a loss, he stepped around the redhead and sat on the end of the bed.
Barbara forced herself to remain still, guardedly observing her partner's movements. Helena was as graceful as ever although there was a certain hesitance, as if the brunette were uncertain of her new body.
Green eyes blinked once in vexation, and she forced herself to make a correction.
Helena's guarded movements suggested that he was uncertain of his new body.
Clearly, this would take some getting used to.
The subject of her scrutiny looked up from an intense inspection of the floor, and Barbara caught her breath at the frank hope in those amazing blue eyes.
"Maybe he just, uh, put my consciousness into this body or something?"
One crimson brow crept upward as Barbara gave the idea its due. Ultimately, she found it almost impossible to accept if for no other reason than the fact that the man sitting in their bedroom was Helena.
He had the same hair and eyes. Perhaps a few inches taller, he was slender, with sinewy runs of muscle, yet the form was Helena's. There was a hint of beard shadowing a jawline that was so achingly familiar. The hair on Helena's forearms and legs was thicker, a bit coarser, but the hands and the walk were all Helena.
This person was exactly what Barbara might have imagined her lover looking like if she'd been born with a different chromosome combination.
Opting not to go into her reasoning, Barbara kept her tone factual.
"I'm afraid that only happens on the Sci Fi channel, Hel."
She almost jumped at her companion's bark of laughter.
"Like this is so freakin' normal, Barbara?"
Helena stared her partner down, mentally defying Barbara to come out with that damned quote from Hamlet that she liked so much, something about there being more things than people understood. It seemed like Red got the message.
"I grant, this is one of the strangest things we've encountered, Hel. Can you tell me how...?"
Helena decided to keep it brief.
"Some kind of shiny... rod thing. When he was using it, I thought it was a weapon or--"
A lift of dark brows was the only response.
"I should have seen it before, Hel. Our mystery burglar has managed to change a bronze statue to chocolate, steel doors to glass..."
For the moment, Barbara trailed off as she did battle with her anger at herself.
Why had she assumed that he'd replaced the statue, vaporized the door? How sloppy had she gotten during her maternity leave?
Ultimately, the redhead pushed aside those thoughts to concentrate on the most important issue.
"Why not, er, some rearrangement of human anatomy, Hel?"
Blue eyes narrowed as Helena prodded at the idea.
No wonder it had hurt like holy hell when Mr. Cape had used the wand: nothing like having your flesh and bones re-arranged to cause a few protesting nerves.
"This isn't possible, Barbara."
The redhead could hardly deny that.
"So, uhm -- "
Helena chewed at his lower lip until protesting nerves reminded him of the working over he'd taken the night before.
"Maybe I'm in the middle of some wierd concussed dream or something?"
Barbara regarded her partner for a few moments, then deliberately leaned in, snagging a budding whisker from his upper lip. A quick jerk and --
"Oww! What the hell?"
"DNA sample," she replied blandly, refusing to be put out by the rapid blinking of affronted blue eyes.
"Ever hear of scissors?"
Retrieving an evidence baggy from the side pocket of her chair, Barbara dropped the hair inside.
"Would that have convinced you that you're awake?"
If she hadn't been convinced before, her little evidence-gathering foray cemented Barbara's conviction: the outraged look she received was pure Helena.
Not buying it for a second, Helena considered any number of comebacks. Finally, he settled on the truth.
"Hell, Barbara, the way this -- "
Working not to blush, he waved in the general vicinity of his lap.
"-- feels is enough to convince me."
In the brief period that Helena had inspected this body in front of the mirror, he'd touched the alien mass between his legs, taking in the soft warm weight. Not to mention the incredible sensitivity.
It was the one manifestation that couldn't be ignored.
"I had no idea how frikkin' sensitive it is."
Crimson brows rose fractionally.
It was all that Barbara could manage, given the circumstances. Fortunately, Helena was too caught up to bother with the lack of response.
"How the hell do guys deal with this?"
Since this was a question that had answers, Barbara relaxed marginally.
"Would you like me to contact Dick?"
Granted, her sometimes-partner from her years on the street was still in the Gulf, but a phone call could be arranged, and a male perspective might just --
"Goddammit! I don't need your Dick to tell me where to put my dick!"
The minute the words were out, Helena regretted them. Babs was only trying to help, he knew that. Not to mention the fact that Helena had a sneaky suspicion that having a little... mentoring... just might be needed.
Shamed, the brunette dropped to his knees beside Barbara.
"I'm sorry, Barbara. It's just... I'm just..."
There were no words.
The burn of straining muscles through his pectorals was intense, as was the pull through his triceps and delts. Still, hanging from the rings in the training room in a perfect iron cross, Helena had to admit that it didn't begin to approach how it felt when he'd done this before.
It was a pretty general word for a generally shitty situation.
Absolutely refusing to go there again, the brunette relaxed his arms and dropped from the T-position; he let the bounce at the bottom of the rings carry him back up, relishing the added momentum. As the thin cables looped up to follow his trajectory, Helena narrowed his eyes, fixing on his destination. At the apex, he released the rings and somersaulted forward, the balance beam that was halfway across the room his target.
He managed to work in two complete rotations in mid-air -- three had never been a problem before -- and landed soundlessly dead-center of the beam.
Dropping to the mat that covered the floor, the brunette brought his fist down on the beam with a resounding crash.
It didn't hurt nearly as much as Helena wanted, and a low growl escaped him at that thought.
Nothing about this new body was as sensitive as he had been used to. Except for one part that was waaaay more sensitive than Helena really wanted to think about.
Still, new body or not, he figured that by now he should be able to hit the mark he'd chalked onto the balance beam. In his business, being off the mark by even a little bit was as good as a mile.
For a few seconds, he steadied his breathing, blue eyes staring at the balance beam in accusation.
Why the hell was it so hard to get used to a couple of extra inches in height? A little extra bulk in the chest?
Point of fact, he had to admit that the extra mass in the upper body was pretty cool: the iron cross had never been so easy. But, brute strength wasn't what Helena wanted.
Finesse and stealth had always been Huntress's thing. Sheer strength, power...
Helena caught his lower lip in his teeth, searching for the end of the thought, and full lips quirked when he made the association.
Sheer strength was Barbara's thing.
Nodding, Helena looked up at the rings again.
Barbara was all about power. Shock and awe, even. Now, though, everything was upside down.
Grimacing, Helena punched the replay on his iPod and, with Boy George for accompaniment, lunged for the rings again.
I know all there is to know about the crying game
I've had my share of the crying game
First there are kisses, then there are sighs
And then before you know where you are
You're sayin' goodbye
Barbara had no difficulty making out the swearing that came from the training room. Likewise the sound of a fist thumping against some piece of equipment.
Without conscious thought, her mental gears ticked off another notch on her internal counter.
That was four. If her partner remained true to form, there would be one more miss or frustration or.... whatever before Barbara heard the sound of the heavy bag being beaten senseless.
Deliberately, she pushed aside her concern, opting to focus on her relief that Helena had finally elected to emerge from the bedroom today. The day before, the day after the attack, the brunette had refused to leave the solitude of the bedroom: the combined lure of the big screen, the kitchen, and the balcony hadn't proven sufficient. Today, at least, her partner appeared to be focusing her...
Green eyes blinked, and Barbara caught herself.
Today, Helena was at least focusing his rage outward.
"-- DNA matches?"
Not bothering to hide her own frustration, the redhead turned from her monitor to face her audience.
"There's no doubt, Dinah. It's a perfect match to samples from Helena that we have in storage."
Barbara had yet to decide how to react to that finding; however, as if reading her own mixed emotions, the third person by the Delphi spoke.
"If I might make the observation, Miss Barbara, the confirmation that this is our Helena is less dire than other alternatives."
Gratefully, the redhead met her old friend's sympathetic gaze.
"That's true, Alfred."
From the corner of her eye, she saw Dinah nodding her agreement.
"And -- "
Deliberately, she forced a note of confidence into her voice.
"-- I have confirmed that Mark Mandrill is still in custody."
The quirk of blonde brows spoke volumes.
"Matter Master, Dinah."
Barbara assumed that the name of a long-time nemesis of the JLA would be self-explanatory.
"However, apparently his Mentachem wand disappeared from the Metropolis Police evidence locker at some point."
Somehow, she kept the disgust from her tone. The cyber-vigilante had already quashed her desire to fire off a half-dozen nasty-gram emails to her colleagues at the JLA, inquiring when they had planned to share their information. Ultimately, she'd decided that the responsibility for improving her data gathering would have to rest with her.
"So, somebody else is using it to transform stuff, and Helena just got caught in the crossfire?"
She allowed her own hope to remain unspoken: once they caught the wand thief, somehow a retransformation would be achievable.
"Based on the limited changes that you've discovered, it would appear that this person is less experienced in use of the wand."
Somehow, Alfred had managed to articulate her own assumption.
"So, he'll be easier to catch, and then we'll make him change Helena back."
Smiling her appreciation for Dinah's certainty -- and enthusiasm -- Barbara shifted gears.
"Did you have any luck with he-- him, Alfred?"
At her request, the butler had come by several hours before with a selection of clothes from the Manor. Barbara had hoped that his particular expertise in dealing with the men of the Wayne household might prove beneficial.
The slow shake of a white head deflated her hopes.
"I'm afraid that Master Helena was not interested in any of the outerwear selections that I offered. He expressed his confidence that you would return him to his proper form before such adaptations were necessary."
Barbara opened her mouth in the assumption that she could find something to say to that. Perhaps fortunately, a curse and the bang of a fist from the training room cut her off. As one, three pairs of eyes turned to the closed door to the other room.
One day soon I'm gonna tell the moon about the crying game
And if he knows maybe he'll explain
Why there are heartaches, why there are tears
And what to do to stop feeling blue
When love disappears
Pushing from the chest, fast shallow reps with the free weights, Helena could hear them talking out by the Delphi. He'd already decided not to try to hear what they were saying.
The Kid was out there. And Alfred.
Pausing with the barbell in full extension, the brunette snorted, remembering the tap on the bedroom door that had come a few hours earlier.
Helena had almost cracked up at that.
Nothing phased The Big A.
Hell, if one of them came back from sweeps wearing two heads, the butler would probably find the perfect double hat to accessorize the look.
Helena dropped the barbell into the cradle and grabbed two more forty pound weights to add: damned thing was too light. Forcefully, he cut off thoughts about extra heads: the way his luck had been going, two heads seemed less impossible by the day.
Snugging the second collar tight against the weights, Helena gave the bar an experimental nudge. Relatively satisfied that there'd be some burn, he dropped to the bench and started again.
Don't want no more of the crying game
Don't want no more of the crying game
It only took twenty-two reps before Helena heard the door to the training room open, then shut. Carefully, he reseated the barbell in its cradle.
Ignoring the twinge of guilt over the teen's palpable nerves, he turned off the iPod and jerked the buds from his ears.
"Didja pull the short straw?"
Not waiting for a response, Helena grabbed the barbell and started in on another round.
"Wha--? Oh, no."
The blonde moved to the head of the weight bench, assuming a ready position. Helena figured it was just instinct or habit because there was no way that Dinah was gonna spot the kind of weight he was lifting.
"I just haven't seen you in a while -- "
That was true enough. As far as Helena knew, Barbara had gotten them into the bedroom for cleanup and bandaging before the Kid had gotten back to the tower two nights ago.
"-- busy with classes and all. Oh, and hey, "
From his vantage point on his back on a weight bench staring at Dinah's chin, Helena thought that the Kid's excited face was downright creepy.
"-- it looks like I have a good chance getting that lab assistant position with Dr. Connors next fall!"
"Cool," he managed on a grunt.
Helena pushed three more reps in silence. As he'd guessed, it got to the blonde.
"So, well, I've been kind of busy, and you've been, uhm..."
That was enough.
Helena dropped the barbell into the cradle with a clank and sat up, reaching for the sweat-soaked towel on the floor.
"I've been getting turned into a guy?"
Okay, it had come out a little harsh, but, cripes, Babs had been pounding at it for two days, and she didn't have a freakin' clue.
This time, the protracted silence worked against Helena, and he turned a few inches on the bench to find Dinah inspecting the weights on the barbell. If her expression was any clue, she was a little surprised by the numbers she was adding up.
"Sorry, D. You didn't rate that."
Sky blue eyes peered from beneath cornsilk lashes.
"It's okay, Hel. I know it has to be..."
The brunette allowed the lift of one eyebrow to do the talking for him. Dinah seemed to get the message.
"Yeah, you're right, Hel. I don't have a clue what it must be."
With that, the teen came around the front of the weight bench and sat down next to Helena. Not entirely sure what to make of it, he draped the towel around his neck and started peeling off his weight gloves.
Well, really, the gloves were an old pair of Dick's gloves, but Helena had decided not to think about that.
"Are you really, uh, I mean, do you have everything...?"
Helena pulled off the second glove and looped the velcro strap through the other glove's strap.
He felt his companion squirm, could almost feel the discomfort radiating off her.
"Uhm, it's just, I was wondering if you really have a.... uh..."
Turning about forty-five degrees on the narrow seat, Helena leaned against the metal upright and took a long look at the Kid. He hadn't thought there would be many pluses to this weird change, but seeing Dinah that shade of red was making Helena reconsider.
For a couple of seconds, he thought about making her finish. Make her say it, just to see if Dinah would literally die of embarrassment.
For some dumb reason, he took pity on her.
"Whole package, Dinah."
There was no doubting the girl's sympathy.
This time, the silence didn't seem as heavy, but Helena was surprised to realize that he was the one to break it.
"Do I have a big 'V' tattooed on my forehead or something, D?"
Dinah's confusion was almost funny, but Helena wasn't laughing.
"Yeah. A Vee -- "
He made a victory sign with his index and second fingers.
"-- for victim. I mean -- "
Helena didn't let Dinah butt in.
"-- I know that Quinn had a jones for all of us, but, come on, this guy didn't even know me!"
"Oh, Helena, no."
The brunette almost jumped when he felt a warm hand on his forearm.
"Sometimes stuff just happens, right?"
Helena scrubbed at his eyes with the heels of his hands.
It wasn't fair that he was feeling guilty 'cuz D was feeling bad about him.
Somehow, he managed something that could have been a chuckle.
It didn't even sound completely fake.
"Yeah. Stuff like -- "
He waved a hand at his lap.
Dinah's giggle was a good sign.
"That bad, huh?"
"You have no idea, Dinah."
And neither had he until thirty-six hours ago.
How the fuck did men deal with the thing? Just figuring out what to do with it when he'd put on that ratty pair of old NGPD sweats that Babs kept on hand had been bad enough. Never mind the sensitivity and the freakin' testicles: dangling versus tucking brought up a whole host of ugly questions.
At least the fitted boxers that Alfred had brought by this morning had helped with that question.
"Damned thing's got a mind of it's own," he tacked on on a mutter.
Caught up in his own irritation, Helena missed whatever it was that his companion whispered.
Guessing by the shade of the Kid's face, this was gonna be good.
"You could, uhm, carry a book around with you."
Dark brows knit while Helena tried to make sense out of that. Some sort of self-study course on how to be a guy wasn't what he had in mind.
Fortunately or not, Dinah cleared things up.
"You know, if, er, things come up?"
A laugh echoed through the big room, a rich tenor. It took Helena a few seconds to realize that it was his.
"No worries, D. With these on -- "
He plucked at the sweats that sagged on his frame.
"-- who's gonna know?"
Cerulean eyes widened, Helena's only acknowledgment of surprise, when Dinah bounded to her feet and extended one hand, palm up.
Helena pursed his lips, then blinked. Slowly.
This time, the blonde almost stamped her foot, probably stopping when she realized that the mat on the floor would ruin the effect.
"Come on, let's go shopping."
The voice that kept coming out of his mouth crept up a half octave, almost reaching an alto. It didn't seem to impress Dinah.
"Uh huh. It's a sure cure for depression."
Helena painted on a glower, not so sure he wanted to climb out of his sulk. Dinah's next argument stripped the sulk right out of him.
"You don't seriously plan to go out in those sweats so you can find the guy and make him undo it?"
The brunette was on his feet in an heartbeat. As much as the idea of shopping didn't appeal, he had to admit the Kid had a point: Sweeps called for leather.
Mondays were always difficult. This one, more so.
Years before, Barbara had determined that adolescents, apparently, were prone to an unusual but consistent form of amnesia, one that erased from their memories in the space of forty-eight hours everything learned during the preceding five days. Within the past few years, the redhead had also admitted that the extra time, not to mention late nights, that she put in at the Delphi on weekends tended to leave her a bit sleep-deprived on Mondays.
An extra-large, extra-strong thermos of coffee tended to remedy the latter Monday challenge; selective use of pop quizzes and extemporaneous speaking assignments across her six classes worked to ameliorate the former.
Nothing, however, had come to mind to help her with the unique distraction of this particular Monday: a nearly overwhelming desire to call home throughout the day.
Exiting the elevator, Barbara set her messenger bag on the table by the coat rack, mentally correcting herself: the desire was not to call home but, rather, a compulsion to check on Helena. It was the need to be reassured that her partner was alright -- or as well as might be expected.
The redhead didn't bother to kid herself that she might offer some measure of reassurance to Helena: the brunette's self-imposed seclusion from everyone but Katharine and Dinah had thoroughly disabused Barbara of that notion.
Nevertheless, the urge to hear Helena's voice remained an unscratched itch throughout the day, one not salved at noon, when Alfred -- instead of Helena -- had brought Katie for her lunch. Barbara couldn't fault her lover: only four days after the assault, it was hardly surprising that she -- he might be hesitant to encounter the familiar faces of the faculty at the school.
Shaking her head to clear the cobwebs, Barbara directed her senses through the Tower. The living area was empty, leaving her to guess where Helena and Katie might be: the training room or the kitchen. As she mentally flipped a coin, she noticed two things in the living area: a pile of shopping bags stacked against the gear closet and the open doors to the balcony.
She decided to ignore the puzzle of the shopping bags, turning determinedly to the balcony. She wasn't disappointed by her deductive work: Helena and Katie were, indeed, out there.
Specifically, Helena was perched on her -- his favorite gargoyle, with their daughter in his arms.
Struck by the perfection -- the sheer rightness -- of the image, Barbara froze in the doorway, swallowing a tiny sound that tried to escape her and wishing, not for the first time, that she had one iota of artistic skill so that she could capture the picture on canvas.
The late afternoon sun burnished the coppery highlights of Katharine's hair while further bronzing Helena's features. Their daughter, still so petite, was cradled in impossibly gentle hand, supported by strong arms against Helena's chest. Barbara was reminded anew just how perfect a mirror Kat's eyes were of her... father's.
Barbara shook her head, opting not to relabel the branches on the family tree just yet. The movement, naturally, was enough to draw Helena's attention.
The brunette slid gracefully from his perch, and Barbara moved to the center of the balcony.
She took in her companion's appearance with a smile.
"You found some things to wear."
It wasn't a question.
For the first time since the... change, Helena was in something other than those dreadful, oversized sweats that Barbara kept on hand for the times when bandages and casts made their usual clothing too restrictive. This afternoon, faded jeans hugged muscular legs in all the right places. A tight black tee and a chambray overshirt, cuffs rolled up to just below Helena's elbows, completed the outfit. Typically, Helena's feet were bare.
The brunette perched on the edge of one of the Adirondack chairs that had come out of storage not too many weeks before and began to bounce Katie gently on one knee.
"Yeah. D bribed me to come out with a double jumbo-jumbo mocha latte."
A hint of defensiveness crept into his tone as he looked up.
"With extra whipped cream."
Somehow, Barbara maintained a straight face.
And, truthfully, she did. The lure of sweets or caffeine -- optimally, sweetened caffeine -- certainly had as good a chance as any at pulling Helena from his seclusion.
"Then she dragged me out to some second-hand shops."
The words were a bit muffled, given that he'd raised their daughter to his face to blow a raspberry against her tummy. Katie's giggles suggested that she didn't mind.
Barbara nodded minutely, allowing that Dinah had always subscribed to the belief that when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping. The girl had been in and out of the Tower several times the day before bringing in various items of male footwear for Helena to try. Barbara had presumed that the shoes were borrowed from the boys in Dinah's dorm; however, she'd not made the connection that a shopping excursion was the planned outcome of finding acceptable shoes.
Lowering Kat, Helena tucked her against his belly and worried at a thread on the knee of his 501s.
"Didn't want my jeans to be all brand new."
Unsure of just why he'd needed to explain, he peered through his bangs. Barbara's brisk nod was reassuring, as were her words.
"Of course not, Hel."
He puffed out a breath, blowing his bangs back.
Didn't know why he'd needed to say it; it wasn't like Red was gonna turn into Super-Accountant when the credit card bill arrived.
The sensation of a hand coming to rest atop his effectively blew away the visual of Barbara -- in glasses and sleeve elastics and a green visor -- working on a ledger with a quill pen.
"Well, you look very han-- attractive, Hel."
He didn't miss her slip-up, but with the sensation of things... stirring at Barbara's touch, Helena didn't focus on the words. Uncomfortably aware that the jeans were a lot more form-fitting than sweats, he felt his ears color.
"Huh. When I met the Kid on campus, she said her buddies were all panting over me or... something about being hot."
Unable to meet Barbara's eyes, Helena concentrated on the one red eyebrow that was arching in question.
"Dammit, Barbara, I was hot before!"
That earned him a soft laugh. Not so sure that laughter was what he'd been expecting, Helena carefully extricated his hand from Barbara's and returned to an inspection of the frayed threads on the knee of his jeans.
"True enough, Sweetheart."
The use of the endearment -- one that Babs had reserved only for him -- helped.
As did Red's next words.
"I dare say that whatever form Mr. Cape gave you, Hel, you would be decidedly... hot."
Blue eyes, narrowed just a bit in suspicion, finally met Barbara's.
His voice was gruff, but Barbara could hear the pleasure.
No surprise, really. On more than one occasion over the years, Helena had freely admitted that vanity was the one sin that she was all over.
However, while Barbara couldn't fault Helena a bit of pride, she was still surprised by her partner's inability to see the... impact of the transformation. "Hot" scarcely began to encompass a masculine Helena Kyle: her partner's arresting eyes and striking features were now coupled with a male physique that was breath-taking -- and perfectly suited to him.
"Brad Pitt's body" had been Dinah's assessment, and Barbara was inclined to agree.
Barbara let a smile play across her lips and continued.
"I suspect that even if you'd been transformed into a Brazilian Cane Toad, you'd still be gorgeous."
Finally --- Finally -- Barbara heard a laugh as Helena pulled a face.
"Not so much kissable, though."
The redhead filed away the subtext in that statement for later consideration and kept her voice neutral.
"I've kissed a few toads in my time, Hel."
For some reason, she couldn't read her partner's expression when he spoke.
"Somehow, I don't think that even a kiss from Princess Fiona's mother -- "
The brunette pressed a tender kiss to the soft spot on Katharine's head and then rested his cheek on the red fuzz.
"-- would turn me back, Red."
Barbara shook her head, her tone serious.
"No. We'd probably need a fairy godmother for that."
Given her partner's unreadable mood, Barbara wasn't as surprised as she might have been when she heard what seemed to be a snicker.
"A godmother, huh? You mean like Alethea Harkness?"
That drew a smile from both of them, presumably at the image of Alethea waving a knitting needle as a magic wand. Then, to Barbara's complete bafflement, Helena was laughing so hard that tears streamed from his eyes. Helpless in the face of it, Barbara had to join in although she didn't have the first clue what it was about.
Helena visibly worked to calm down.
"-- I guess I am -- "
His hiccuping giggle set them both off for a few more seconds.
"I guess I am lucky. Mr. Cape could have turned me into a frog. And then..."
Another whoop of laughter escaped the brunette, earning him a cranky "Mmmf" from the bundle on his lap.
"... I'm just thinking about your face if I'd come hopping onto the balcony in my leather coat!"
Barbara managed a smile at that little scenario, waiting as Helena calmed down. They remained silent for a few heartbeats before Barbara decided to ... well, not tackle, but at least approach the elephant on the balcony.
"Are you feeling more, er, comfortable?"
That earned her a look that was, at best, wry. Barbara supposed it was deserved: it had been only four days. Nevertheless, time and time again her lover had proven her -- his -- resilience.
"I haven't exactly mastered my new domain or anything."
The redhead immediately opted not to consider all of the layers of meaning in that.
"Still, Hel," she prompted around an odd hoarseness in her throat.
Helena allowed a shrug to speak for him. But he couldn't leave Babs hanging or feeling... bad on his part.
"At least it's gonna be easier to pee when I'm on sweeps."
He didn't think that Barbara bought it, even if it was true.
"I went to class today."
Something flashed through those amazing green eyes so fast that Helena almost missed it. He thought it might have been surprise... or maybe even pride. Still, Babs had always been a cool one, and she didn't give anything away.
"How did that go, Sweetie?"
A sound escaped him that set Katie to fussing. It could have been a laugh, but Helena didn't think it had been. Just thinking about sucking it up a few hours ago and walking into his Art Restoration Lab left him a little light-headed. For some reason, he just wanted to drop to his knees and bury his head in Barbara's lap.
A cautious look through overlong bangs -- he was gonna have to figure out something to do with his hair -- reminded him that his partner had asked a question. Straightening on the edge of the chair, Helena raked a hand through his hair and met her eyes.
"How do you think it went?"
He heard her swallow, saw her chew at her lower lip, and Helena gave into his guilt.
Hell, it wasn't Red's fault.
"It was pretty awkward. They recognized me and all, and everybody wanted to know what the fuck had happened."
Like he'd expected anything different.
"What did you tell them, Hel?"
The words were so carefully... level that he knew how much Barbara wanted to know. Somehow, Helena corkscrewed his mouth into something like a grin and shrugged.
"What else? I told 'em I had an accident in Chem Lab."
This time, there was no mistaking Barbara's reaction.
"I don't think I could have been that brave."
Red was proud of him.
"In fact -- "
Automatically, Helena passed the Peapod to her mother when Barbara leaned forward with her arms extended.
"-- I know that I wouldn't have been."
For a minute or so, Helena chewed at a thumbnail, prodding at that, working through some of the Pretty Big Challenges that Barbara had faced, including the biggest one of all. Sure, it had been weeks, maybe months, after the shooting before Babs had worked up her courage and left her apartment, but ---
"That was waaaaay different, Red. This --"
He gestured loosely toward his torso.
"-- well, I can sure as hell hit harder and kick faster, right?"
Easily recognizing an attempt to escape an emotionally charged moment when it walked over and fell in her lap, Barbara nodded briskly, pursing her lips.
"True. That sort of thing -- "
She considered briefly, deliberately opting for the vernacular.
"-- pissed me off to no end when I was on the street."
The admission, or the phrasing, had its desired effect: she had Helena's attention.
She lightly ran her index finger across Katharine's bottom lip, gauging whether the girl was ready for dinner. A grudging suckle informed her that she had a few more minutes.
"No matter how hard I trained and worked, by virtue of hormones and muscle mass, Dick and Bruce were always better and stronger and faster."
The truculence in her lover's eyes -- not to mention the stubborn defensiveness of the words -- was all Helena. Barbara let the smile reach her eyes.
"Still, Sweetie, it was... trying at times."
The dark head nodded, and Barbara settled Katharine onto her lap, ready to suggest moving into the Tower. As quickly as spring was moving in, the thought of baring herself on the balcony for Katie's dinner was distinctly lacking in appeal.
"It wasn't all second-hand shops, Barbara."
The redhead blinked against the onslaught of conversational whiplash.
Not her best verbal repartee, however, it did bounce the conversational ball back into Helena's court.
"Yeah. I had to go retail for the leather."
Barbara managed a grave nod.
She waited a beat, but Helena provided nothing more.
"Are you planning to put this leather to some special use?"
Barbara held her breath, reasonably certain that the young man didn't have clubbing in mind; however, with Helena, nothing was a given. Her tension left her, replaced with a host of other emotions, when wide blue eyes sought hers.
"Yeah, I want to get back on the streets and find the bastard that did this to me."
Laughing, Barbara turned toward the French doors.
"Well, get suited up, Hel, and let me see what you've got."
Giving in to her own fatigue, Barbara clicked off the recorded audio that she'd been looping through and thumped her elbows onto the edge of the work table. With a long sigh, she leaned forward, resting her forehead against her fingers and pressing her palms against her eyes. The nosepieces of her glasses immediately began to dig in to her skin, and the cyber-vigilante knew that she'd probably have odd gouge marks as a result.
Not to mention attractive raccoon-like circles from the frames.
At the moment, she really didn't give a flying fig leaf.
Of course, if Helena remained in the shower as long as he had for the last six mornings, she'd have plenty of time for the marks to fade.
With a soft snort of disgust at herself -- as if a few temporary pressure marks on her were the issue -- the redhead straightened and turned back to the monitor. She didn't expect to glean any further information from it, although she supposed that the partial reflection of her face could be considered a clue.
Why had she been so quick to think that Helena was ready to face his attacker?
Snagging her glasses, Barbara fiddled with the stems, attempting to position them at a perfect forty-five degree angle as she considered her own assumption.
Granted, Helena himself had seemed more than ready on Monday when he'd emerged from Dinah's room, decked out in a black leather outfit that would have put a Chippendale's model to shame. Even despite a marked disinterest in responding to the usual convenience store robberies and muggings over the last three nights, Helena had handled himself beautifully on sweeps. Thus, when Barbara's monitoring routines had alerted her to another store alarm that had suddenly gone silent, she'd not hesitated before dispatching her partner.
Apparently, Mr. Cape was a bit more resourceful than they'd assumed: he'd managed to elude Helena without so much as a physical alteration.
More to the point, perhaps her resilient partner needed more than a week to face the man who had violated him so.
'Give me back my body!'
The words that had screamed through the comms still haunted Barbara. She suspected they would for a very long time.
As would Helena's pained howl when their mystery villain had taunted him.
'That is your body, Sunshine. Now you can play with the boys.'
With another heavy sigh, Barbara placed her glasses on the mouse pad.
Not only was Mr. Cape unpleasant in general terms, but he was apparently developing more facility with the Mentachem wand: According to the very clipped description that she'd gotten from her partner, Helena's attacker had managed to transform the entire store front from glass to brick in the blink of an eye. By the time Helena had scaled the roof of the block of buildings, their quarry had made his escape.
The redhead was distracted from plotting what they could do to improve their chances the next time when she realized that the shower was no longer running. Automatically, her eyes ticked to the on-screen clock.
Only eight minutes?
She didn't have the opportunity to consider that when she caught sight of her partner padding into the living area. Helena was wearing navy sweat pants -- better fitting than Barbara's emergency pair -- and a vee-neck tee. Although he kept his back to her as he settled on the sofa and snagged the remote, she could almost hear his scowl.
Opting to give him a bit more time, Barbara sighed -- silently this time -- and resettled her earpiece. She'd go through the audio again; perhaps a plan more effective than "let's try to catch him" would strike her.
Helena heard the soft sigh from the Delphi platform.
Hell, he felt Red's eyes on him, knew that she wanted him to talk to her.
He just didn't know what to say.
A hand that didn't seem to belong to Helena's body clenched against a thigh that was just a little too long, a little too bulky.
He settled the remote on the arm of the couch and rose to his feet, half-turning toward the Delphi. When green eyes moved from the monitor to him, Helena hooked a thumb toward the kitchen.
"I'm gonna get something to drink. You want anything?"
Barbara's smile was like rain in the desert.
"I'm fine, but thank you, Sweetie."
He didn't turn on the light in the kitchen, moving easily to the sink where he turned the tap on full force. For a while, Helena let the cold water run over his wrists, then he shook off the inertia and bent down to drink from the tap. On the way out, he snagged a Fat Tire from the fridge, deciding not to go for a bourbon chaser.
As good as it sounded, he so didn't need to get fuzzy.
Helena knew he'd never been one to nurse a beer. Still, stretched out on the couch with the Peapod snoozing on his chest, he pretty much forgot about the warming bottle making condensation rings on the coffee table. In fact, he pretty much let go of everything until a soft question from the end of the couch almost sent him through the roof.
"Are you coming to bed, Hel?"
Kee-rist! The movie hadn't been that good, and he never let anybody sneak up on him.
Sitting up, Helena planted his feet on the floor and stared at the sleeping infant in his arms: maybe these things had some kind of... narcotic effect.
He shook his head, remembering there had been a question in there. For a few seconds, Helena chewed at his lower lip, then he waved the remote at the big screen.
"I thought I'd just crash out here for a little while. Catch the end of The Tuxedo."
Accepting Katie from her partner, Barbara tucked her into the rolling bassinet, working to keep her expression neutral. She brushed a red curl back from her daughter's forehead, her own inner debate resolving itself without struggle.
She tapped Helena's thigh.
Barbara managed not to laugh at the disbelief in Helena's wide blue eyes. The brunette had never been able to hide her -- his emotions.
"Make room for me to join you."
She'd accepted her partner's dodges for the last five nights. Somehow, staying in the living area to "finish a chapter of chemistry" or "look up something online" or "catch the newest episode of UFC" -- whatever that might be -- had, without fail, turned into all-nighters. Every morning, when Barbara woke to Katie's demands for morning snack, she was alone in the bed.
Since the first night after the transformation, Helena hadn't slept in their bed once; indeed, he had barely gone into the bedroom as far as Barbara could tell.
Enough was enough.
If Mohammed couldn't come to the mountain, Barbara had determined that this particular red-haired mountain would simply plant itself next to Mohammed.
Suitably... planted against one arm of the sofa and acutely aware of the way Helena seemed to be inching toward the other, she stretched over and snagged his hand and gave a gentle tug.
"I don't want to steal your stretching out space, Hel."
She patted her thigh, refusing to consider the option of rejection.
The idea didn't enter Helena's head. Instead, he felt a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth.
Man, Red was a piece of work.
Carefully, he arranged himself on the sofa -- had to hook his ankles over the arm at the end -- and then lowered his head to Barbara's lap. A wriggle here, a little scootch there, and he was pretty comfortable.
At least until he felt slim fingers combing through the hair over his ear.
Carefully, Helena twisted his upper body, trying to catch a glimpse of his partner's face.
"Stop wiggling, Hel. I'm missing the best part."
He gave up and turned back to the screen. Not too many minutes later, when the gentle combing turning into the soft scratch of nails against his scalp, he figured it was a good thing he'd seen the movie before. For some reason, his eyelids just didn't want to stay up.
It was the abrupt change of volume signaling the start of an infomercial that roused Helena. A quick glance at the big clock informed him that the movie had been over for at least an hour.
Barbara's hand was still resting lightly on the back of his neck, but the soft whuff of her sno-- night breathing suggested that she'd conked out, too. Carefully, Helena extricated himself and sat up, confirming that Barbara was out for the count.
And, that position was gonna be hell on her neck.
For about two seconds, he debated trying to stretch her out on the couch, then gave in to reality.
Red would sleep better in her own bed.
Moving into stealth mode, he snagged Barbara's chair with one hand and Kat's bassinet with the other and trundled them down the short hallway. Once he had them positioned by the bed, he switched on the bedside lamp and turned back the covers on Barbara's side. Helena started back for the living area then did an about face, pulling his partner's button-up sleep shirt from the dresser drawer and tossing into the middle of the bed.
On the way back to the couch, the brunette snapped off the lights and muted the television. Distantly, Helena registered the big clock ticking off the seconds and minutes as he stood by Barbara's knees, drinking her in by the flickering light of the big screen.
Still, silent admiration wouldn't do much to save her from a helluva neck crick.
As carefully as he knew, Helena slipped one arm under Barbara's legs, the other behind her back. There wasn't even a hint of strain when he straightened and moved down the hall.
Unfortunately, just as he entered the bedroom, there was a hint of movement, and he froze mid-step.
Red lashes fluttered, and Helena was fixed by green eyes that were still a little unfocused from sleep.
He pitched his voice low and stepped smoothly to the side of the bed.
"Just gonna get you into b--"
The words died on his lips when Barbara's arms came up to wrap around his neck. He saw something in her eyes, felt a muscle in his jaw tick when one of those slender hands threaded into the hair at the nape of his neck.
He wanted to say something, to ask something, but Barbara's face was moving so close. Her mouth... That fuckin' beautiful mouth was so close to his.
Stomach knotting, he thought his heart had stopped when Barbara stopped moving. Then, Helena felt it: the slightest pressure at the back of his neck, urging him to close that tiny space between them.
The word blessed his lips with its warmth, and without intent or conscious decision Helena leaned in to touch the softest satin. Somehow, Helena swallowed his fear, allowing their lips to brush lightly, breathing in his lover's murmur...
Dumbstruck, Helena had to pull away.
Okay -- it wasn't that different. At least from this side of the lips. Still, he couldn't really tell what it was like for Barbara, though the fact that she was stretching up again seemed like it hadn't been too... bad.
Before she could bewitch him again, Helena lowered Barbara to the bed. His attempts to straighten, to back away, were denied when she refused to remove her arms from around his neck.
He dropped to his knees, searching her face.
"Are you sure? I've got a lot more knees and elbows and --"
Those fuckin' kissable lips turned up in a smile that was hard to resist.
"I still count two of each, Hel."
He felt his smile disappear.
"Yeah, well, these are bigger and flailing and I don't want to end up--"
To his amazement, Barbara shut him up just by flipping back the covers on his side. She nailed her argument with two words.
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