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.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
And she was drifting through the backyard
And she was taking off her dress
And she was moving very slowly
Rising up above the earth
Moving into the universe
Drifting this way and that
Not touching ground at all
Up above the yard
"I'm simply not certain that we can continue."
The noise and clatter of the Dark Horse, even the song Helena had punched into the juke on her way over with a beer, suddenly got very far away, like she was hearing it from the end of a long tunnel. Maybe from underwater, which might explain why breathing felt so hard.
The world was moving
and she was right there with it
(and she was)
The world was moving
and she was floating above it
(and she was)
and she was
Helena didn't know what she'd been angling for when she'd bated her partner that morning, but it sure as hell hadn't been this.
Not too surprising, Babs had called earlier to let her know she'd be by. There'd been nothing... off in her tone, like she'd just decided to let it slide. So when the redhead had come in to the bar just before last call, Helena had pretty much about forgotten all about it.
Teach her to go and shoot her mouth off.
Attempting to make sense out of things, the brunette picked up the cap from Barbara's beer and jabbed the sharp edges into the thick paper of the Coors coaster.
At least this time, she'd take a minute and *think* before...
"Goddammit, Barbara, don't *do* this."
Despite an overwhelming urge to inspect the state of her manicure, Helena somehow kept her eyes on her companion's face. The slow rise of one crimson brow was her only response for a long, painful minute.
Finally, the redhead exhaled slowly.
"Is this so important to you, Helena?"
How could she even--?
"How the fuck can you even ask that?"
A second brow joined the first, and neatly blunted nails ticked against the side of the icy bottle.
"I'm sorry, darling."
Barbara's voice dropped a register, and the younger woman leaned in.
A raised hand cut her short.
"I don't mean to be insensitive, however, I suspect that I'm having some insecurities myself."
The words were measured, bringing to mind the cadence and meter of the older woman's speech several weeks before.
"And, with the situation out there..."
A pale hand gestured loosely toward the streets of the city, and Helena nodded her understanding.
"You don't want us to fuck up," she suggested.
The beer bottle rose, tilting toward her in a toast of sorts. Helena followed the bottle to her companion's lips, wondering how the dim lights of the bar could highlight the glass and Barbara's hair and her eyes so.
Again, Helena attacked the coaster with the scalloped edges of the bottle cap.
"I hate this job sometimes."
Unaware that she'd been going to say that out loud, the brunette peered through her lashes, attempting to gauge Barbara's reaction.
After all, Babs was nothing if not wedded to her duties as a guardian of this fucked up city.
To her surprise, her comment evoked a tight smile.
More a harsh twist of fine lips than anything.
"That makes two of us, Helena."
She was glad about it... no doubt about it
She isn't sure where she's gone
No time to think about what to tell them
No time to think about what she's done
And she was
Suddenly, fire raced across her skin. She wanted to push back her chair and swing through the rapidly emptying bar. She wanted to howl at the moon or scream or laugh or...
"I don't think I've ever heard you say that, Red."
Blue eyes blinked when Helena realized that the measured response had been her own. By contrast, her companion's gaze remained steady.
"There can sometimes be a wide gulf between one's vocation and one's desires, Helena."
The brunette nodded glumly and picked at the fraying edge of the coaster she'd been torturing.
If anybody had the old responsibility thing nailed, it was Barbara.
"Do you ever -- "
Seized by nerves, she snagged her partner's beer and took a long swallow. When she finished, she focused on settling the bottle exactly on the wet ring it had formed on the table top.
"Ever what, Hel?"
Glancing over, she was surprised to see that Barbara had moved from the far side of the table and was now by her side.
The lights flickered once and she knew that she'd need to start locking up soon.
"Just... want to forget about it all sometimes and run away?"
Barbara's answering laugh was, she thought, kinda brittle.
Helena snapped her head up from her perusal of the beer label so quickly that she thought she heard her vertebrae snap.
"No shi-- No kidding?"
With the neon signs behind the bar ticking off one by one, the older woman's face was cast into shadows. Suddenly, she seemed very tired, very gaunt.
"No kidding, Hel."
Silken fingers brushed the back of Helena's hand, raising the fine hair on her arms.
"From your question, I gather that the same is true for you?"
Again, the phrasing was stilted, a sign Helena was coming to recognize. Without hesitation, she rotated her chair forty-five degrees and worked her knees between her companion's legs.
The admission was whisper soft, but Barbara's slow nod said enough. Helena worked up her courage and shared the rest.
"I think about it, us."
She looked up, falling into deep green eyes that were so acutely fixed on her.
"Leaving it all behind for -- "
Maybe in the growing darkness of the bar, Barbara would miss the blush she could feel moving into her cheeks.
"-- white picket fences and walks in the country."
She couldn't quite pin down the tone behind the chuckle she heard. The words were, likewise, almost pointedly neutral.
"A rose garden, too?"
"Hell, Red, I'll spend the days weeding flowers or playing gin rummy or -- "
She let a shrug finish it.
Barbara's response, also nonverbal, suggested that they were on the same page.
A warm hand slid up her thigh as the older woman leaned close, the scent of oranges and ginger tickling Helena's nose. She felt her heart boom in her chest when cherry lips brushed hers.
Yeah, it had been brief, but...
Long fingers snapping two inches in front of her nose saved Helena from her brief catatonia. As nonchalantly as possible, she wiped the shit-eating grin off her face and nodded.
Just to make it absolutely clear, she nodded harder.
"A whole lot of that."
And she was looking at herself
And things were looking like a movie
She had a pleasant elevation
She's moving out in all directions
The world was moving
and she was right there with it
(and she was)
Since things weren't seeming quite as bad as they had a few minutes ago, Helena decided to go for it.
"So, uh, you don't really want to end..."
She stumbled, completely flummoxed for the right word.
Hell, it wasn't like she'd ever been in any sort of relationship before, and it wasn't like Babs and she had really spelled anything out.
"...it?" she finished softly.
Even in the dimness of the bar, even without her own acute vision, the shake of red hair was unmistakable.
Helena wanted to laugh and sing and ...
And, Red was looking mighty serious, she belatedly realized.
"That's the last thing I want, Helena; however, the situation now..."
"Quinn," Helena offered, not surprised by how subdued she was suddenly feeling.
This time, the redhead nodded.
"Things are edgy right now. We need to take a bit longer to make certain that everything is in place before forgetting ourselves."
Dark brows wrinkled as Helena worked at that.
"It's been quiet tonight," she suggested. "Maybe she was just passing through town or something?"
She threw in a half-shrug and a grin, earning a rueful grimace in response.
"Somehow, I have the feeling that something's about to hit the fan, Hel."
There wasn't much to say to that. Babs' instincts were pretty good, and even she knew that Quinn wasn't just gonna breeze through town without something dramatic to cap things off.
The realization that her companion was speaking again drew her from those dark thoughts.
"However, when we get this wrapped up, perhaps -- "
Helena brought her hand to her mouth, working to convey concentration -- rather than her growing bemusement -- at Barbara's tongue-tied awkwardness.
"-- Well, if we can't actually pursue our dream of suburbia -- "
"The country," Helena interrupted.
Like she was soooo going to do the Wisteria Lane thing.
"The country," Barbara nodded.
A warm hand patted her thigh. Helena figured that the gesture was meant to be soothing, but it was working out a little different.
"Well, perhaps we can at least arrange a vacation for ourselves."
Well, *that* got her attention.
The brunette ignored the undoubtedly dopey grin that had taken control of her face while she tried to remember if she and Barbara had ever taken a vacation.
The word "no" came to mind.
Still smiling, she snagged her partner's hand, gently stroking her thumb over the smooth, unblemished skin of the other woman's inner wrist. The shiver she detected did nothing to calm her own libido.
"I'd like that a lot, Red."
When Barbara's free hand came to her thigh again, Helena felt the rumble in her chest. Without conscious volition, her eyes fluttered shut even as she shifted restlessly in the chair.
Another minute of this and she'd be ready to rub all over her partner right there in front of the few remaining patrons and the barbacks.
"How about -- "
Somehow, Helena swallowed around the pressure in her throat. When she opened her eyes, Barbara was very, very close to her.
She brought her free hand to the sharp line of the other woman's jaw.
"-- Uh, what if we start that slowing things down thing tomorrow?"
Green eyes danced. The tickle of Barbara's laughter against her fingers ran straight to Helena's clit, and she nearly moaned at the implication.
"That might be arranged."
That deliciously tormenting hand left her thigh, silken fingers whispering across the side of her neck. Dark lashes fluttered, and Helena nearly succumbed to the seduction right there.
However, some part of her remained aware of the public venue. Not to mention her nominal responsibility to lock the doors in a few minutes.
Still, sitting at the table in the dark corner of the bar, her entire focus directed on the woman inches away, it was only Helena's highly tuned senses that saved them.
The attack was so silent and sudden that she barely had time to realize what was happening before she sensed the weapon sweeping through the air. Without thought, she lunged, pushing her lover aside.
When she looked up, a wicked nine-inch bowie knife was embedded in the wall, directly behind where her partner's head had been only seconds before. Surprised shouts from the few souls in the bar almost obscured Barbara's gasp.
This didn't make any sense.
Oh, having their arch-nemesis show up at her place of work on one of the few nights Barbara happened to be there?
In their line of work, not such a long shot. Hell, Quinn had been in her head and at the clock tower; having her at the Dark Horse was nothing.
And having a fuckin' huge bowie knife still quivering where it was impaled in the wall of the bar?
Not too hard to comprehend, even if her boss was gonna want to take that out of her check.
It was just...
Things weren't making much sense.
The attack -- and her reaction to it -- had been so sudden that it had been all adrenaline and action: getting Barbara out of the way; seeing the weapon; making sure that the few people at the bar were safely hotfooting it out of there.
Finally, a few seconds after the attack, she had time to look at their attacker.
It didn't make sense.
Big as day and real as life, there she was: the woman who had just attacked them. Even as blue eyes widened in surprise, the madwoman's arm was still coming down from throwing the knife.
Except the bitch was in disguise.
Instead of spiky blonde hair, her hair was long... and red. Instead of brown eyes sparking with malicious glee, their attacker's eyes were green. Instead of a garish black and red harlequin outfit, the was wearing jeans and a New Gotham Knights sweatshirt.
But mostly --
Helena clenched her jaw against the fury that was redoubling as she fully grasped Quinn's affront.
Instead of capering wilding across the floor of the now empty bar, the bitch was parked in a wheelchair just like...
Her partner wriggled for a view from beside -- well, underneath her. From the corner of her eye, she saw Barbara's eyes narrow. Her hackles raised when she heard the older woman's hiss.
Already springing to her feet, careful to keep her body shielding Barbara, the brunette nodded.
That sounded about right. No way to guess what Quinn was angling for with the disguise, but a little earlier when Babs had guessed that the proverbial manure was about to hit the proverbial oscillating air circulation machine, well...
Foreboding didn't even touch it.
"You fucking bitch!"
She shook her hands at the wrists and stalked forward. Quinn's first words brought her up short.
She shook her head and worked her jaw, seeking her partner's eyes.
"Barbara? She sounds just like you?"
The redhead -- *her* redhead -- had resettled herself in her chair and was calmly retrieving her escrima sticks from beneath the arm.
"Look for the differences, Hel."
One of the batons waved toward Quinn. In her augmented state, Helena thought she could see color trails in its wake.
She fixed her attention on their attacker again.
"Perhaps some blonde roots--"
The fake-Barbara wavered in her vision, and, for a heartbeat, Helena saw through the disguise and the hypnosis: the curtain of red hair built above a foundation of blonde; Barbara's firm jaw replaced by the painfully sharp lines of her former therapist's face; her oldest friend's sturdy muscles shedding away into wiry sinews.
She didn't need to hear any more. She sure as hell didn't want to see any more.
In one bound she was in front of their tormenter, her top lip curling upward.
"What's the matter, Quinn? You out of knives?"
Like an absence of visible weapons made the madwoman helpless.
Quinn's jaw worked, then she raised a hand in a way that Helena supposed was meant to mean "hold on". She had the nerve to speak.
"Helena, wait. We need to talk-- sort this out--"
The fury that had been simmering boiled over. The world morphed again, this time from yellows and golds to red.
She darted forward, something making her stop just before she toppled the chair.
"Get up and fight, bitch."
True to form, the madwoman held her ground. Helena had to give it to her: she was doing a damned good impersonation.
"Helena -- stop! It's me."
Her heart double-timed, and Helena felt her leather shirt constricting her chest as she panted shallowly.
"I know exactly who you are."
At her limits, she kicked the side of the chair.
"And don't think that because you're in the chair I won't kick your ass before we send you back to the nuthouse."
Quinn's voice was low, leading.
"I just came here tonight to talk with yo--"
"And then what?!"
Her shout filled the empty room.
"Then trick me into hurting my family again, Quinn?"
That got a reaction from her: the madwoman visibly flinched, searching for words, and Helena turned her head to touch base with her partner.
The minute shake of red hair told her everything she needed to know.
"Don't even try, Quinn."
She leaned in, her fingers wrapping like claws around the arms of the chair.
It felt wrong -- probably why Quinn had chosen this -- but she had to do it.
Helena shook the chair viciously from side to side, her voice dropping to a growl.
"And get the fuck out of that chair!"
How dare she try to pull this off?
The only reason Barbara was in a chair to begin with was because of Quinn's boyfriend, The Joker. And, despite everything, Barbara had come through: through sacrifice and pain and tears and toil. Her chair was a testament.
"Helena, you know I can't."
The impostor's voice was clipped, tight. A damned good mockery.
Clenching her jaw so tightly that she could feel the muscles dance, the brunette gave the chair another shake and straightened.
"Helluva acting job, Bitch, but it doesn't fly."
From behind her, she heard Barbara's a warning.
"Careful, Hel, you know what she can do."
It was time to put an end to the charade.
Helena launched herself forward, landing a solid blow to Quinn's jaw as she toppled the chair. For a second or two, she flailed against the confines of steel and rubber and leather that the chair created, then they rolled free.
For an instant, Quinn was above her, hands pinning her shoulders, her neck arched in strain, her lower body thrust against hers, long hair creating a screen of privacy.
"Helena -- don't-- "
The brunette wavered, longing to sink into the green eyes that were so close to her. One of the hands that had been holding her down rose, swimming into her field of view.
"Finish it, Helena, and we'll be free of this."
The hoarse cry from behind her brought her back to her senses.
She bucked her hips and twisted, unseating her opponent and sending her flying. Without giving her a chance to catch her breath, Helena pounced using her knees to pin Quinn's legs beneath her and lunging for her wrists.
The madwoman didn't give ground easily, somehow evading Helena's hands. It was maddeningly hard to get an edge with the older woman countering her every attempt.
Startled, Helena was almost unseated when she realized that Quinn was fighting just like she'd watched her and Barbara sparring all of those years ago. Every move she made, Quinn countered easily, like she'd seen and practiced Barbara's moves.
The insight made her all the more furious.
"Quit it, Quinn!"
She gave up on the finesse and reared up on her knees, landing a solid blow to the other woman's abdomen. It was the type of hit she'd perfected over the years, placed just right, with enough power, to take the knees out from most full-grown men.
Below her, Quinn didn't bat an eye.
"Fight back, goddammit!"
The curse rolled out on a growl even as she swung with her left hand, crashing into the other woman's jaw.
*That* got a reaction: a hiss of pain; green eyes flashing in anger.
Sensing an edge, Helena jabbed again, pulling back at the last second to try to capture one of the hands that was pushing against her...
The red haze parted just a bit when it struck her: Quinn wasn't fighting back. She was defending herself, trying to keep her back, trying to...
The scent of their sweat rose to her. The sound of Barbara's cries from behind her -- "Now, Helena!". The haze threatened to descend, and she worked for clarity.
"Helena, please -- "
Quinn raised both hand to block her blow, and that's when she saw it: a tiny crescent-shaped scar on the inside of her opponent's wrist. Barbara had put the mark there last Thanksgiving when, during a fit of misplaced culinary bravado, she'd attempted to open a can of cranberry jelly.
The anger bled away, replaced by something cold and strangling.
Helena pushed up, straddling the other woman's hips, searching the face that was smeared with blood from the deep cut on her mouth. Grudgingly she explored the green eyes below her, eyes that were hurt and... scared.
Scared, she understood with a sickening clench of her gut, not of her but for her.
It had to be a trick of the light.
Helena leaned in, her lips drawing back over her teeth, and she inhaled: there was no overpowering scent of oranges or ginger; just the scent she knew better than her own.
Her tongue darted out, and she tasted the blood. Again, her opponent's hand raised, fingers calloused from years at the keyboard barely touching her jaw.
As if burned, she scrabbled off the other woman, her legs pistoning as she crab-walked backward. As if by magic, the narrow set of her victim's jaw broadened to the familiar lines of Barbara's jaw; the pinched angle of her mouth gave way under Barbara's lush, full lips. Even the slope of her nose and the exact color of her eyes was once-again right.
The sound of rubber tires catching on the worn wooden floor drew her gaze in the opposite direction where the other Barbara -- the Barbara she'd been with -- was approaching.
"Helena, darling, what did she--"
Something bright seemed to spark off the steel rims of the chair. Blue eyes narrowed when the face of *her* Barbara narrowed, when her lips thinned and the fullness of her body was given lie.
Okay, it was straight out of the bad dialog hall of fame, but, well, screw it.
"Yes, indeed, Helena."
The tiny figure set the brake of the chair and cocked her head to the side in a gesture reminiscent of a hundred therapy sessions and a few noteworthy battles.
At least, Helena had to admit, Quinn had the decency to admit when the jig was up.
"It's always been me, of course."
A pale hand extended, and the brunette blinked incredulously.
Like she was soooo gonna accept a --
Her eyes widened when a bright Sacajawea twinkled in Quinn's palm.
"It's wonderful what a bit of post-hypnotic suggestion can do."
Eyes that were still green sparkled brightly -- cunningly -- and Helena almost whimpered.
"Not to mention colored contacts and a bit of hair color --"
The impostor's voice became terribly chipper even as thin lips moued dramatically.
What had she done?
Helena felt something rumbling in her chest, heard a high-pitched whine and gulped for air. When Quinn leaned in, she recovered a bit.
"You freakin' bitch."
Infuriatingly, the birdlike woman only smiled more broadly, then waggled her index finger.
"Now, now, Helena."
Her muscles beginning to tense, Helena panted shallowly through her mouth, struggling not to breath in the other woman's perfume.
The same body wash she'd given to Barbara, a scent she'd no doubt waxed fondly about back in her days on Quinn's psychiatry couch.
"And here we were getting along so well. In fact..."
She struggled against something rising in her throat when silken fingers touched her jaw. Feeling like a rabbit in front of a snake, Helena couldn't force herself to spring when Quinn's voice dropped, becoming low and intimate.
"...it can still be me."
Her stomach twisted, and blood pounded through her.
"Like hell you sa--"
It was too late.
Something pricked the skin of her neck, and Helena just had time to see Quinn whisking a hypodermic away before she collapsed on herself. She struggled to push herself upright as the tables and chairs began to dance. Quinn's sing-song voice seemed distant and unreal.
"I'm sorry, darling, but I really can't have you coming after me while you're so upset."
Fighting to keep her eyes open, she saw the Doc Martens that had been so still in the chair hit the floor. The woman she'd thought was Barbara stood, casually stepping over her. Helena fought a wave of nausea, then horror, when she saw the woman she now knew to be Barbara across from her, on the other side of the table, her body akimbo on the floor.
"Lea' her alone."
The threat didn't have much -- hell, any -- punch behind it, but Quinn's boots stopped.
"Never fear, Helena. I wouldn't dream of laying a hand on her."
To Helena's amazement, the psycho was as good as her word. Somehow, Helena forced her eyes to move, to follow her feet across the floor; when Quinn came to a stop by the juke, she looked up enough to see the madwoman drop the dollar into the slot and punch a selection.
With that, Quinn made her exit, her final words nearly obscured by the opening strains of melody.
"Remember me fondly, darling."
And she was lying in the grass
And she could hear the highway breathing
And she could see a nearby factory
She's making sure she is not dreaming
See the lights of a neighbor's house
Now she's starting to rise
Take a minute to concentrate
And she opens up her eyes
The world was moving
and she was right there with it
(and she was)
The world was moving
and she was floating above it
(and she was) and she was
Coming back to reality was always the worst part.
In her line of work, she'd been beaten up, knocked out, and drugged up a few times, and she pretty much had a handle on the "coming to" part.
It didn't make it any easier.
Happily cocooned in oblivion, Helena gradually became of... other: cool air on her skin, something soft beneath her, quiet breathing. For a few minutes, she drifted, waves of lulling darkness obscuring the fine grains of reality. Then, the blackness began to ebb in earnest, exposing more and more of what it had washed away: pinpoints of light behind her eyelids; the parched sandiness of her tongue; the jagged bite of her nails from her fingers clenched against her palms.
Pretty much time to...
With a monumental effort, she dragged herself out of it, groggily forcing up her eyelids.
Muted light; neutral ceiling; some sort of light blanket over her legs.
But, where the fuck was she?
Instantly, the brunette struggled against the meager confines of her blanket and sat up. Equally quickly, the walls began to spin around her, and she slammed her eyes shut.
Obviously, she hadn't quite grasped the magnitude of the mistake that sitting up could be.
Shivering, she wrapped her arms around her stomach as goose flesh rose on her skin and fine drops of cold sweat beaded her face. With everything she could, she tried to focus on something abstract --
Or was it something concrete?
She always got confused about the advice Barbara had once given her about fighting off nausea. As she worked to remember, Helena felt saliva pooling in her mouth and swallowed convulsively.
Helena threw the blanket off her lower body and flailed to stand, inwardly quite sure that she'd never make it to the toilet -- where ever that might be -- in time. Just about to give in to necessity and christen the floor with the meager contents of her stomach, she was absurdly grateful when a metal trash can was unceremoniously thrust into her hands.
She had time to verify that the waste receptacle was empty before she hurriedly changed it state.
Gradually, her retching eased, and she set the can on the floor. Feeling marginally confident that she wouldn't need it again, she finally took in the familiarity of the wood-grained floor and the night stand and the steel wheels of the wheelchair and...
Her heart sank.
So, the toilet wasn't that far at all: just around the end of the bed and through the door. Just across Barbara's bedroom, where she was.
On Barbara's bed.
That's when it finally hit her who had handed her the makeshift emesis basin.
That's when she was struck by why she'd ended up there in the first place.
Why couldn't Quinn have drugged her and dragged her off to her evil lair or something?
Helena's stomach twisted violently, and she immediately had to make use of the wastebasket again.
Finally, utterly spent, she shakily resettled the waste can, then fell back on the bed. The patterns of the texture on the ceiling were mercifully not spinning, but since she was familiar with them, she turned onto her side and curled up around a pillow.
Instantly, she realized her error: The bed -- the pillow -- was Barbara's, imbued heart and soul with her scent.
How in the hell could she have ever mistaken the scent of the person at her apartment? How could she have believed that, even masked by oranges and ginger, it was this?
Helena squeezed her eyes tightly shut, panting shallowly against the tight bands of pain and loss that were constricting her chest. Somehow, she pried open her eyes and fought to sit up.
She had to suck it up and get moving.
A strong hand came to rest on her forearm, freezing her in place.
"What are you doing, Hel?"
She could only make her eyes move enough to take in Barbara's knees at the side of the bed.
Helena raked a hand through her hair. Regretting the rapid movement,, she swallowed convulsively.
"I should go."
She saw those strong hands move to the wheels of the chair, and Barbara inched a bit closer to the side of the bed.
"You should stay."
Helena blinked a few times, unable to fathom the kindness in her partner's voice.
"You're still under the influence of whatever it was that..."
She couldn't hear that name from Barbara's mouth and had to cut her off.
"I'm in your bed."
The brunette peered through her lashes, detecting something -- amusement or sadness or disappointment -- in the older woman's face. Still, the redhead's answer was gentle.
"Indeed you are."
Without further ado, Barbara was reaching up, her hands gentle yet insistent against her shoulders. Somehow, Helena allowed herself to be pushed backward, her head nestling into a pillow. At some point, time seemed to stretch, the whirring of the clock becoming hazy and humming, Barbara's murmur caressing her senses.
"Rest, Helena. It's going to be alright."
She didn't quite believe that, but she couldn't -- wouldn't -- argue. Helena succumbed to sweet temptation, allowing herself to fall into something familiar and warm and welcoming.
If only for this one last time.
When she woke up again, she didn't need to open her eyes to know that it was almost dawn. Too many nights -- and early mornings -- on the street had attuned her senses to the changing rhythms of sunrise: the rumble of delivery trucks; a certain briskness to the wind; the scent of dew on steel and concrete buildings; the sleepy stirrings of the woman she loved in her arms...
Using amounts of self-control she wouldn't have believed she possessed, Helena somehow managed not to scramble her ass right out of bed. Instead, she cautiously cracked her eyes, confirming that Barbara had indeed joined her during the night.
No big surprised there, she supposed. It was Red's bed, after all.
The fact that she was curled up against her partner also wasn't so surprising. No way she could have resisted the siren call of the comfort of Barbara's arms.
However, when she peered up to see if she'd disturbed her companion, that's when it got surprising: A great big cold water splash of shame reminder kind of surprise.
Helena felt her face begin to burn. Her stomach filled with something cold. Everything from the night before came thundering back.
Including what she'd done to Barbara during their fight.
Horrified, she pushed down the covers and tried to slide away. The sensation of strong fingers lightly circling her wrist forced Helena to admit that she wasn't going to be able to slink away before the full light of day exposed everything.
"Calm down, Hel."
She forced herself to look over but couldn't meet Barbara's eyes. Instead, her gaze remain fixed on the fist-sized bruise on the other woman's strong jaw and the angry swelling around the cut on her mouth.
"It's fine, Sweetie. I've had worse."
Barbara's low chuckle tickled Helena's senses. She saw the uninjured side of her partner's mouth quirk before Barbara spoke again.
"Even from you a few times."
She had to admit that Barbara was right. Back in the day, when she'd just been starting out and Babs had been teaching her to fight, there'd been more than one mis-timed punch.
She couldn't help it. Helena heard a soft snort escape her, the noise somehow freeing up her breathing just a bit.
"I thought she was you."
The words sounded off-key, even to her, but Barbara simply nodded. The redhead's response was slow, as if she was thinking things through while she talked.
"The resemblance was remarkable, Helena."
Helena nodded and sat up, bunching the covers loosely around her waist.
"Right down to my favorite shoes."
Plucking at a stray thread in the quilt -- the one that Barbara's aunt had given her -- the brunette grit her teeth.
"I suspect that she's had us -- "
Helena simply waited when her companion interrupted herself, pushing up to lean against the headboard.
"-- had *me* under observation since she escaped last year. Even not under her hypnotic suggestion, I was..."
She finally looked over in time to see her partner absently brush an errant lock of hair from her eyes.
"...startled when I saw her."
Helena's fingers itched to take over the gesture, then anger flooded through her.
It wasn't her place.
It never had been.
"But -- "
Unaware that she'd been going to speak, Helena caught herself, then gave a mental shrug.
"I was really *seeing* your face, Barbara."
Twisting a bit to the side, she searched green eyes that seemed strangely guarded.
"It wasn't just red hair and green eyes and... "
At a loss, she slashed one hand roughly between them.
"It wasn't just surface stuff," she finally ground out.
A warm hand rested lightly on her back, rubbing small circles. Helena honestly couldn't decide whether she wanted to purr or cry.
"That sort of surface similarity would make it extremely difficult for you to see through her hypnotic suggestion, Hel."
The sheer practical reasonableness of her partner's answer was somehow reassuring. Chewing at her lower lip and mustering her courage to get up and get moving, she was distracted by a question.
"How long had she been there, Sweetheart?"
Still grappling with it all, Helena barely gave the question a moment's attention.
"Uh, not even an hour."
With that, she tossed back the covers and planted her feet on the floor.
Time to move on.
The balcony had always been one of her favorite spots at the clock tower. Nineteen stories up, it didn't permit many of New Gotham's architectural monstrosities to hide the sky. There were also some pretty kickin' gargoyles to hang with. Not to mention an unobstructed view of the Delphi platform inside.
But, this afternoon, Helena wasn't admiring sky or sculpture or even her partner at work. Seated on the edge of the low parapet that surrounded the balcony, she wasn't looking at much beside the street that was so many stories below her dangling feet.
All she wanted to do was slip over the edge and disappear.
Or just take a header from the stone rail and kiss the concrete down there.
Despite herself, she had to snort at that last thought.
She'd land on her feet.
She always did.
Something about that tickled her conscience, and Helena felt her lips quirk when she remembered.
Not too many years ago, end of high school maybe, when she'd be younger, dumber, and full of come, she'd sometimes belted back a dozen shots and then experimentally gone tail over head off of the downtown bank building or Wayne Arms Apartments. Even shit-faced, she somehow always landed on her feet.
Except for that one time when she'd misjudged where that dumpster had been and had to limp home and explain a broken foot to her guardian.
Funny things was, she'd told Barbara the truth about her little mishap.
Most of it anyway.
Figuring that another broken foot wasn't quite what she was angling for, the brunette turned her eyes to the sky, all too aware of the face of the clock behind her, of time moving on, and of the fact that she was right where she'd been not too many weeks before.
She rubbed at her nose with her knuckles, turning the word around.
Before was when she hadn't been tricked into believing the unbelievable. It was when her world hadn't be turned upside down by an impossible dream seeming to become real. It was when she'd thought...
Well, it didn't matter.
Since Barbara had asked, she'd stuck around for the day to make certain that Quinn's cocktail didn't have her sprouting a second head or speaking in tongues or thinking that up was down.
She figured that she could blow on out in time to pick up her shift at the Dark Horse -- and wouldn't that bring up lots of happy shiny memories? -- and then go lose herself in a bottle of Grey Goose.
Maybe two bottles.
She didn't need the whisper of rubber on the flagstones to alert her when Barbara joined her; the redhead's presence, her scent, her aura, had always been palpable for Helena. Still, Helena remained fixed in her study of the clouds between the Daimer Building and Wayne Arms, even when a warm hand came to rest lightly on the small of her back.
It felt so damned good that Helena almost arched into the gentle contact. Somehow, though, she held it together.
The silence drew on, and she recognized her partner's tactic. It was one of the most effective in her former guardian's arsenal, but she wasn't going to give in to unspoken questions.
Not this time.
It wasn't going to be her that blinked first.
"Why'd you attack, Barbara?"
Well, she could have gone with something worse, and that question *had* been bugging her. Unfortunately, it caused Barbara to remove her hand, the loss leaving her cold.
"Well, Hel, when I saw a carbon copy of our Hummer in the parking lot, I had an inkling that something was rotten in Denmark."
Helena ran her palms up and down her thighs as her mood flattened out a little more.
She thought that "glum" was a pretty good way to describe it.
When Barbara was mis-quoting The Bard, things weren't good. Not to mention the fact that, of course, her partner was gonna have observed a whole lot of things.
"Then," the other woman's voice seemed to falter a tiny bit, and Helena instinctively turned ninety degrees to see her. "when I came in and saw you with Quinn, her hands on your throat..."
The redhead shuddered, and Helena nodded slowly, hating the strength of emotion -- bad emotion -- that she'd caused. She fought her own reaction as she recalled the bittersweet conversation in the dark booth at the bar that had led up to that touch.
Flights of fancy and dreams of white picket fences. Now it was poison in her mouth.
"Still, why not a batarang?"
She dragged a hand through her hair and worked to pin down what had been gnawing at her. She'd been going over the scene at the bar -- over and over all day -- trying to figure out why it had taken her so long to see. She figured that her partner's attack had gone a long way in keeping her off track.
"I mean, a bowie? It's kind of out of character for you."
Mercifully, Barbara bypassed the obvious comments about her behavior.
"In hindsight -- "
There was no way to miss the touch of color moving into the older woman's pale cheeks.
"--it was a tactical error; however, it was instinct, I suppose. I'd just divested a would-be troublemaker of the weapon in the parking lot and it was... handy."
Helena blinked, a warm swell of pride filling her chest.
Still, she'd have to make sure Leon worked on security.
Her eyes widened when Barbara's hand came to hers, squeezing lightly.
"I -- I couldn't have Quinn hurting you, Helena."
She forced herself to meet her partner's eyes, unable to doubt the pain in them. She returned the light pressure against her fingers, searching for something to say.
"Barbara, I-- I didn't..."
The redhead's smile was sad, but it was enough.
"I know, Hel."
They remained fixed in place for a brief eternity, and Helena focused on the solid reality of the other woman's hand in hers, the calming presence in front of her.
She realized she'd been leaning in when Barbara exhaled and straightened. Seeing something in those beautiful features, Helena forced her fingers to loosen and released her hand.
"I believe I may have mis-communicated earlier, Helena."
Although the sudden lurch in her gut gave her a pretty good idea what Barbara was talking about, the brunette wasn't going to rush it. She turned a a bit on the low wall to face the city again, raising one shoulder in a half-shrug.
She thought that Barbara was slow in answering, like she was picking and choosing her words.
"Earlier, when I asked how long..."
Helena swallowed around something in her throat, following the flight of two ravens through the artificial valleys created by the city's buildings.
"I meant to ask how long had she--"
Funny how the birds seemed to know how to catch the same updrafts that she found.
"How long had you been seeing her -- me -- away from the tower?"
The birds were getting blurry, heading toward the setting sun.
Helena shivered when lightly calloused fingers touched her forearm, then slid down to the back of her hand.
"My guess would be five weeks or so. Is that close, Hel?"
She chewed at the inside of her cheek for a moment, flipping the pages of her mental dayplanner backward, then finally nodded once. From the corner of her eye, she saw color moving up Barbara's neck, flooding her cheeks. When the redhead spoke again, Helena almost winced at how strangled her voice was.
"You two were...?"
Carefully, Helena extricated her hand from her partner's. Wordless, she forced herself to nod again.
She picked at a stain on her jeans for a few seconds until the weight of Barbara's silence was too much.
"Well -- "
She looked over and quirked a grin, trying for lightness.
"-- this is awkward."
Barbara's reply was decidedly -- well -- dry.
She held her breath when crimson brows furrowed.
Who the fuck knew what Red was gonna come out with next.
Helena's chest constricted at the way Barbara sounded so... lost.
".. if you thought that we --"
Long fingers gestured between the two of them, and Helena dipped her head in comprehension.
"-- were, er..."
Impossibly, her partner's face was getting even redder. Helena had a suspicion that her own wasn't too far behind.
"Why were you... Why didn't you... here? With me?"
Yeah, that heat in her cheeks wasn't just from the warming rays of the setting sun.
She tilted her head back, inspecting the clouds, and ran the tip of her tongue around the edges of her lips.
"She said that she needed some time to reconcile things with our... with everything."
A helluva lot of silence followed that. Enough that Helena was finally forced to look down, only to find Barbara regarding her, an expression she couldn't read on her features.
The brunette swallowed around something in her throat.
The older woman's hands dropped to the wheels of her chair, and she rocked back and forth for a second.
"I can't believe that you think I'd... "
Those elegant hands rose, palms up like Barbara was trying to capture the right words.
"...segregate a relationship like that."
Since she could see the clock face behind her companion, Helena knew how little time elapsed before Barbara added one more thing.
"If we were to have one."
Trying not to think about the twisting feeling in her stomach, Helena managed a shrug. She couldn't quite make eye contact.
"Hey, I wasn't quite sure that I wasn't dreaming. That you'd..."
Too much information.
Waaaay too much.
"Uh, I guess it seemed more like you were compartmentalizing until you could figure out how to carve some adjoining hallways to other parts of our lives."
And in Junior English, Barbara had told her she needed to work on her use of metaphor.
She watched crimson brows knit, suspecting that her former guardian wasn't taking the same stroll down memory lane. Barbara's next question confirmed it.
"So just because 'I'--"
Barbara's tone clearly encapsulated the word in quotation marks.
"-- asked you to--"
She didn't need to hear the rest of whatever was gonna follow those words.
She held her breath, knowing that there was more.
"And, if I... If she had asked you to kill, Helena?"
Since that was an easy one, Helena managed a smile.
"Nah. I would have known it wasn't you."
Her brief flirtation with levity disappeared with a noisy pop when the obvious corollary to that came to mind. Before she knew it, she heard herself saying it out loud.
"Course, I shoulda known you wouldn't have wanted ... that either."
Focusing on her knees, she bit at the inside of her cheek.
How the fuck *had* she thought that Babs would ever have...
A noisy exhalation forced her to look over, and she fought her own confusion when Barbara raised thumb and forefinger to the bridge of her nose. Uncertain as to just what -- other than the whole frikkin' situation -- had bugged Barbara, Helena kept silent, watching warily.
"If *I* -- "
There was -- no way to miss it -- a helluva lot of emphasis on the pronoun.
"-- were to ask you right now to kill Quinn, would you?"
The question hit her hard. Like a set of brass knuckles to the jaw.
Not so much in and of itself, but because of the earnestness in Barbara's face.
She opened her mouth to answer, then snapped it shut. Something fluttered in her chest when it struck her what Barbara just *might* be getting at.
With some difficulty, Helena swallowed. Then, she ran her tongue around the edges of her very dry lips and screwed up her courage.
Not much she was hiding from the other woman now anyway.
"I guess I'd have to think it was the right thing to do. Or -- "
Her courage faltered, and for a moment she was tempted to let it go.
Play dumb. Keep it abstract and theoretical and safe and ...
Something in the green eyes that were fixed so purposefully on her wouldn't let her sidestep.
"Or, I'd have to want it, too."
Whatever had been fluttering behind her breastbone dropped like the proverbial ton of bricks when she heard Barbara speak, her words soft but very, very clear.
"Which was it with Quinn?"
For some reason, breathing seemed really, really hard. Helena raised her hand to chew at the nail of her pinkie finger.
Ultimately, there wasn't much of a choice. She'd never been able to lie to Barbara.
"The want one."
Some air finally reached her lungs when she saw her companion's features ease.
The weight of fear was gone, if only for this moment.
She lowered her hand and looked at the sky, her next words soft.
"Forever, I think."
She was a be-bop baby on a hard day's night
She was hangin' on Johnny, he was holdin' on tight
I could feel her coming from a mile away
There was no use talking, there was nothing to say
When the band began to play and play
Yeah, there was her opening.
Helena spun in a half-circle, one booted foot coming up on the flip side. She caught one of her attackers across the throat, and he fell to his knees with a ragged "ooof".
While he was busy figuring out whether he'd be speaking in a falsetto for the rest of his days, she danced backward, waving both hands, palms up, in a come-on movement.
Only four more, though their shouts seemed to be attracting some of their buddies from the street.
A wicked smile split her face as two of the goons rushed her.
Just her kind of odds.
"Come on, boys."
She easily sidestepped the first one, allowing the other to tag her shoulder with a weak blow.
"Not like I'm just gonna roll over for you."
She felt her jaw set at that, at the realization of how much she *had* just rolled over for Quinn. Basically, it seemed like the bitch had just had to show her a bright shiny object, and she'd fallen under her spell.
"I mean," she inquired of the second fellow as he slid down the alley wall, "how fuckin' insulting is *that*?"
Since his eyes were closed before he hit the ground, she didn't expect much in the way of sympathy about her susceptibility to hypnotic suggestion. But, maybe one of his friends had a little more stamina.
And we danced like a wave on the ocean, romanced
We were liars in love and we danced
Swept away for a moment by chance
And we danced and danced and danced
She saw the tall blonde guy coming at her from a mile away, but decided to take the hit. It landed solidly on her jaw, almost jostling the earbud that was attached to the iPod in her coat pocket.
Sometimes a little pain was good for the soul.
Like last week and that talk she'd had with Barbara on the balcony. That had been all kinds of fun.
Shaking off the little cartoon stars that were dancing around her head, she grabbed blondie's wrist and neatly tossed him over her shoulder. She didn't need to look to know that he'd landed in the bank of garbage cans.
The whole balcony scene -- hell, the last six weeks -- wasn't really how she'd planned to bare her soul to Barbara. It wasn't like she'd really planned to bare her soul period; but this mess sure took the cake.
With the noise from blondie trying to get out of the garbage getting louder, Helena ducked under a flying brick and dug in her pocket to thumb up the volume. She used the movement to bend at the waist and plant her boot against the knee of the dude who was trying to sneak up behind her.
Just like she'd been with Quinn.
As unromantic as she could be, even Helena had to admit that being caught with her pants down with a poor look-alike wasn't the smoothest way to announce her undying devotion, her unrequited love, her pathetic years of...
"Helena? How...? When...?"
Last week, after she'd made her confession, it had taken Barbara a few beats to get that much out. Helena had figured that the other three journalistic questions -- who, what, and where -- were bound to follow.
Unfortunately, it had been that other one that Babs had chosen.
The hard one.
"Why didn't you ever say anything?"
For the second time during that conversation, the redhead had sounded so... lost.
Helena hated that she'd put that tone in her partner's voice. Even more, she'd hated how her eyes had burned.
"Cuz I didn't want to have The Talk."
She'd allowed the rest to remain unspoken: I didn't want to loose what we have.
Her answer had only earned her several baffled blinks. Finally, Barbara had thrown in the towel.
"The talk, Hel?"
"It's not you, it's me, dude."
Her elbow impacting his nose made a satisfying crunch. The spray of blood and snot that followed was less appealing.
"Or, maybe," she added as she stepped out of the line of goo, "it is you, 'cuz it just isn't right."
She was pretty sure that some variation of her little speech would be the result of letting Barbara know, and it just wasn't anything she needed to hear.
I met my be-bop baby at the Union Hall
She could dance all night and shake the paint off the walls
But when I saw her smile across a crowded room
Well I knew we'd have to leave the party soon
As the band began to play out of tune
"Helena, no --"
Barbara had cut herself off when Helena had risen from her perch on the wall. Somehow, she'd managed a grin and a shrug.
"Hey, not a big deal, Red."
She still didn't know how she'd made her mouth form the words; the pain of them had nearly doubled her over.
Deciding that she didn't need her coat, she'd stepped onto the parapet and faced the city.
She'd given herself a last look, turning to catch those beautiful green eyes.
"-- *really* can't talk about this now."
And then she'd stepped into the air.
And now, she was flying through the dark alley, her leap carrying her from the back stoop of some store to the opposite wall. There, she coiled in on herself as she pushed off, her momentum sending her shoulder right into another dude's gut. She summersaulted as he went down and landed lightly on her feet.
At the mouth of the alley, she could see three or four other men gathering, trying to figure out what the fight was about and, probably, whether there was anything in it for them.
Helena decided to clear things up for them.
"Come on down, boys. Plenty for everyone."
She hadn't talked to Barbara in the last week. She'd checked in each day -- with Dinah -- getting second-hand that Quinn seemed to have gone underground.
Probably coming up with another plan to rip out her guts and do the Riverdance on 'em. Or maybe the bitch was gonna turn her attention to Barbara next.
Barbara, who'd called twice every day, like clockwork. Helena had let the calls go to the machine. She still hadn't listened to them.
Or erased them yet either.
Each night, after pulling her shift at the bar, in those grey hours of early morning before she could make herself go unconscious inside a bottle or two, she'd stare at the blinking number on the answering machine. Her fingers would sometimes make their way to the 'Play' button, itching to depress the button so she could hear Red's voice.
Trouble was, she didn't want to hear the words.
So, she'd let the counter keep creeping up by two each day, and she'd drunk and slept and pulled her shift through the hours of the days and nights.
Until this night.
Something in the air and the moon had appealed more than the bottle, so she'd headed out in search of something. On her way to No Man's Land, she'd found these guys trying to jack an ATM, and the night had suddenly gotten a lot better.
There was more than one way to find oblivion.
A whistle and a wiggle had drawn them from the money machine and into the alley. Then, the fun was on.
"C'mon -- Uhh"
She doubled over under the combined force of one guy's fist to her gut and someone else's punch to her kidneys. Ducking under another ham-handed swing, she wiped a trickle of blood from the corner of her mouth and smiled.
"Izzat all you've got?"
She could take the blows.
The endless beat, she's walkin' my way
Hear the music fade when she says
Are we getting too close, do we care to get closer
The room is spinning as she whispers my name
And we danced...
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