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). Hence, this story, the first extension of the Elemental series.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Thick, dark lashes dipped demurely in what was quite certainly false shyness. The glimmer of even white teeth in the muted light of the bedroom was, no doubt, meant to be a winning smile; however, long association with that particular tactic permitted Barbara Gordon to hold herself aloof.
"All in the interest of helping out, Red."
The older woman felt a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth but fought it down, quirking a brow skeptically.
"Is that so, Helena?"
The brilliance of the smile seemed to dim a few watts before bright blue eyes met green in a guileless display.
"You know that you're overdue."
Barbara certainly couldn't deny the truth of that. Nevertheless, she felt a tiny trickle of irritation when she witnessed the shift in her companion's demeanor to one she'd never been able to resist: Hangdog.
Helena continued, her almost shy bashfulness at odds with the brash young woman Barbara usually dealt with.
" 'Sides, I just want to be part of the solution. And you know that's what we need to do."
The redhead felt her pique wash away under the force of the younger woman's growing -- and quite contagious -- smile. Even as her cheeks dimpled, she couldn't help but wonder if her own smile was an answer to her lover's grin or a response to the sensation of slender fingers moving covertly under their shared covers to stroke the sensitive skin of her inner arm just so.
"I suppose it is time to try something," she allowed, not missing the victorious grin which flashed across gamine features just before a lithe form blanketed her.
Barbara carefully filed the vision away, suspecting that she might not be observing much else -- visually, at least -- for quite some time. The tickle of warm breath against the shell of her ear confirmed her hypothesis as a riot of gooseflesh broke out across her arms.
"Cool. How do you wanna...?"
She blinked once, then closed her eyes for a moment, attempting to come to terms with the emotions elicited by her young partner's tender concern.
Save for one unfortunate encounter not too long after their final run-in with The Joker, Helena had never failed to demonstrate her awareness of her more reserved partner's needs. Still, the almost tentative brush of warm fingers against the swell of her upper abdomen somehow threatened to undo the relentlessly practical redhead.
Enough of that.
The older woman opened her eyes, inhaling sharply in response to the hungry gaze fixed on her.
Quashing an urge to clear her throat against the burr in her tone, Barbara ducked to the side and nipped at the satin skin of her lover's shoulder.
"...that proven methods..."
Helena's soft hiss gusted a few strands of long red hair across her cheek, but Barbara ignored the distraction, choosing instead to concentrate on laving the small mark she'd just made. At the same time, she worked one hand between them, allowing her partner's slow thrust from above to meet her.
"...should work best."
Since the younger woman's low moan suggested that she'd made her point, the redhead was momentarily at a loss when she felt her partner push up -- away -- from her. Blinking rapidly to refocus at close range, she followed the taut muscles of her lover's arms upward before meeting the concerned blue eyes above her.
"But...It's supposed to be about you, Barbara."
In an instant, her confusion vanished, and the older woman brought her free hand to cup the angular line of her lover's jaw and smiled warmly.
"It usually is when I touch you, Sweetie."
The two shared the smile, the moment, and Barbara mentally acknowledged how very true her words were.
Months earlier, when she'd begun to contemplate, then accept, and finally embrace her love for and attraction to the younger woman, she'd assumed that their physical union would be not-altogether dissimilar to her existing realm of experience: pleasant but hardly earth-shattering.
Drawing the younger woman down, the redhead allowed that it could be very, very good to be wrong.
Despite her education... regardless of her life experiences... even in the face of her hardly virginal background, Barbara Gordon knew that she never would have predicted how gratifying she found it to coax -- or demand -- her passionate lover's response. With the men in her past she'd always felt a bit like she was simply along for the ride; however, while there could be no doubt that Helena, too, was turned on by her, it was also acutely obvious how much she could do to... manage her partner's reaction as well.
Pushing those thoughts aside for later -- much, much later -- the older woman lost herself in the tastes and sounds and sensations of their early morning communion. As awkward as she sometimes felt herself to be in this physical realm, there was simply no way to remain removed from the moment: with emotion and sensation blending, she surrendered to the soft gasps, the slick friction of sweat-beaded skin, and an age-old rhythm.
"Oh, Sweetie, yesss..."
The whispered plea was interrupted by a sharp hiss, followed by a movement so unexpected that Barbara briefly fought a wave of vertigo. Yet, as sudden as it had been, the shift was accomplished with Helena's usual grace, leaving the older woman suddenly atop her partner.
"Uh -- Gotta..."
A sharp undulation from between Barbara's legs interrupted the explanation, and, not for the first time, the older woman found herself riding a wave of anger over what she could no longer feel.
The sheer eroticism of watching Helena Kyle succumb to her passion stripped away the distraction of anger. The older woman dropped her chin to her chest, a heavy fall of red hair obscuring her view as she concentrated on the sensations she did have, real and imagined.
A vivid, vivid imagination was, after all, nothing to be sneezed at.
"Yeah, Red -- "
Barbara didn't open her eyes when her lover's hands moved to her waist and tugged.
"-- uhh -- ride me."
The redhead's flare of confusion vanished as her partner effortlessly helped position her in a sitting position at the juncture of her thighs. While she couldn't feel anything directly from the contact, it was obvious that Helena was enjoying the meeting... the mating of their bodies, and her slow bucking lifted the older woman again and again.
Between the soreness of her back and the heavy weight of her belly, Barbara struggled for balance, sparing a moment to hope that their nurse-midwife was on target with her recommendations about this particular activity. When she raised her gaze to meet her partner's burning eyes, she ceased to care about the practical aspects of their actions.
And complete openness.
Both were unmistakable in her lover's face, and Barbara wet her lips with the tip of her tongue, attempting to give herself a semblance of sanity in the face of Helena's naked passion.
With that, the younger woman's movements grew faster, more urgent. Positioned as precariously as she was, the redhead fought for balance until she felt her hands gently clasped and drawn to her partner's chest.
"Lean on me, Red."
Grateful, and aroused beyond belief by the fine sheen sweat she could feel on her lover's breasts, Barbara pushed back, her own labored breathing nearly obscuring her partner's panted obscenities. Fascinated by the shifting hues of gold beneath her, the older woman impatiently shook her head, pushing her hair back and trying to hold eye contact.
"Oh, sh... fuck, Barbara... I'm..."
Barbara didn't realize that she was going to speak until she heard herself cutting in, voice low and urgent.
"Not yet, Helena."
Trusting her partner to keep her upright, she drew one hand down the firmly delineated muscles of her lover's abdomen and insinuated it between them, smiling tenderly at the utter incredulity in her lover's face.
The breathy whine accompanied the sensation slender hands roving haphazardly across her torso, but Barbara refused to be swayed.
"Yes, wait, Hel."
The redhead remained still until dark eyes, banded by the thinnest rim of gold met hers.
"Put your hands up there."
She inclined her head toward the top of the bed, nodding her approval when her lover complied. Then, she allowed their movements to resume, her own motions between them slow, deliberately teasing, and light.
"Jeezus, Red... When...?"
The dark head thrashed from side to side twice, and Barbara lowered herself fractionally.
"Soon," she purred into her lover's sweat-beaded neck.
"You're gonna kill me..."
The older woman traced a delicate outline around one coral-tipped breast. She was rewarded with a moan of surprising volume and a thrust from beneath which nearly unseated her.
"No, I believe you'll survive, Sweetie."
But she fully intended to put the theory to the test, teasing and confounding her lover until she realized that the younger woman was near tears, her words a nonstop litany of pleading and imprecations.
"Oh, goddammit, Barbara. Puh-- please."
Gauging the timing, the redhead rolled to one side, dismounting and pulling away from all contact. Despite her engagement with the moment, she couldn't ignore a brief flicker of satisfaction that she'd managed the maneuver with a modicum of grace.
"Yes, Sweetheart. Now."
All thoughts of her own awkward physical state dissolved as Barbara drank in the sight of the woman beside her: with visible effort, Helena forced her eyes open, and the vision of her lover's orgasm -- through those amazingly expressive eyes -- rocked the older woman to her core.
Barely aware that she'd spoken, the redhead distantly noticed wetness on her chest and upper belly, and she looked down, acutely conscious of the bright blue eyes moving in tandem with hers.
Colostrum, leaking as it had for the last few days. Of course, there hadn't been quite this much... vigor to the flow before this.
Barbara registered movement from the periphery of her vision before a dark head swam into view and ended her inspection of one of nature's miracles. While she'd never previously been particularly moved by this particular activity, this time the sensation of Helena's avid suckling took her over the edge, and not too much later, amid the mess of her water breaking and a laughing ride to the hospital, she offered a mental thanks to her midwife for the suggestion that an orgasm could induce labor.
As impatient as she was, two weeks past her due date was much too long to wait.
"...gonna be out here soon and find out how really cool your family is."
Catching her breath after another contraction, Barbara allowed that perhaps she wasn't the only one who was a bit impatient for this day. A moment later, her expression softened, and she twined the fingers of her right hand through chestnut silk where Helena continued to hover above her belly, talking to the bulge beneath the fetal heart monitor belt.
How many nights had she awakened during the past months to find her partner buried under the covers, humming or whispering softly to her growing abdomen?
The redhead gently extricated her fingers, anticipating another contraction, and relaxed marginally under the renewed knowledge that, regardless of how linear she herself might be, this child would have at least one intuitive parent.
A glimpse of blonde hair through the birthing room's window -- Dinah cutting her classes at NGU -- reassured Barbara further, and the sight of the thermos of Earl Grey which Alfred had recently delivered completed her ease: Their child was about to enter a world filled with loving family.
"Ready to push, Red?"
Distinctly unamused green eyes met blue, and Helena apparently got the message.
Although she couldn't feel the contractions... much, Barbara felt well past her limits: ten days -- and nights -- of Braxton Hicks had exhausted her.
Not to mention strong kicks to her solar plexus for the last few months.
"Uh, yeah... You want some tea?"
The redhead mustered an apologetic smile for her rather ogre-like attitude even as she shook her head in the negative.
"Let's call it, Hel."
While a C-section was certainly not the method that either of them preferred, there was no denying that their hopes that the autonomic contractions would be enough were fading rapidly. To Barbara's relief, her partner didn't argue, instead leaning down to bring them nose to nose.
"Yeah. I guess it's time to get this kid out here, huh?"
Barbara blinked back something warm in her eyes, grateful for the younger woman's loving smile, then even more grateful that Helena never let go of her hand.
Drapes and scalpels and all things "hospital" had never been particular favorites for Barbara, and since the numerous surgeries and extended hospital stay eight years before, they'd become an anathema. Yet, under these circumstances, watching the obstetrician and midwife over the drape, with Helena at her side, anticipation almost vanquished fear.
Then, finally, she heard the tiny wail from below the drape. Her eyes flew to her partner's face, and her fear vanished completely in the presence of Helena's awe.
The voices of the doctor and their midwife seemed very distant while she waited for her younger partner to step forward and cut the cord.
She was surprised to hear her own voice, but exhaled her gratitude when she witnessed Helena's quick nod.
Nine months plus two weeks, she corrected herself automatically.
Nine and a half months of taking every precaution and hoping and praying. Forty weeks of experiencing all of the hopes and fears and highs and lows of any mother-to-be. Three long seasons of waiting and wondering about this child which had, seemingly, appeared of its own. Two-hundred and eighty days of despair and hope: was it The Joker's, or could it, somehow, be Helena's?
A beat later, her stomach twisted sourly, and Barbara realized that she might not have experienced quite all of the low points just yet when she saw a flash of... something in her lover's eyes.
Dark brows rose but the brunette didn't respond, her attention focused below the drape. An instant -- and an eternity -- later, the younger woman began to lift a small blanketed bundle, and Barbara caught a glimpse of pink skin, covered in placental blood and mucus.
"Ten fingers and toes. And, uh, a lotta hair --"
Unable to wait the few seconds for her daughter to be placed in her arms, the redhead interrupted her partner.
"What color is her hair?"
Transfixed as she was by the sight before her, Barbara couldn't help but notice the lack of inflection in her normally emotional partner's voice. Perhaps it was Helena's very lack of affect which made it difficult to connect her word with its meaning.
Not so for the next utterance which penetrated her amazement.
"Her hair's freakin' pink!"
She didn't even look to her side, the back of her hand unerringly making contact with a firm abdomen as she attempted to silence Helena's rising volume.
After all, she was no stranger to receiving second and third glances due to her own fiery mane.
Belatedly, the older woman realized that, perhaps due to the intensity of what she'd endured not too many minutes before, her play-swat had been a bit more forceful than was strictly necessary. The soft grunt from beside her was a reasonable confirmation.
"But it's... She's..."
She did not need to hear it.
"Indeed," the redhead murmured, schooling her features into an expression which she hoped was welcoming and loving.
Acutely aware of how close pale blue eyes were, she smiled around her consternation as the youngest member of their little family raised her hand in what seemed to be an uncertain wave.
"It is very, er, colorful?"
As much as she wished to be supportive, or at least diplomatic, under the circumstances Barbara couldn't keep the question mark from her statement. Her younger companion, who was now unabashedly laughing, had no such compunctions about diplomacy.
"Huh. It's just plain stup--ooff."
"Uh, yeah -- "
The brunette finally seemed to get the hint.
"I like it, Kid. Really stupefying and all."
Exasperated pale blue eyes searched dark blue before Dinah visibly surrendered her pique and joined in with Helena's laughter.
"Yeah, it is pretty eye-catching, isn't it?"
Smiling broadly, the pink-haired teen thrust her carry-on into Gabby's hand and bounded forward, arms outstretched to envelope both of the older women waiting at the security gate. Barbara felt herself stiffen at the prospect, damning herself as she did so yet relieved beyond measure when Helena smoothly stepped in front of her, play-punching Dinah before sweeping her into a hug.
Yet, after the terrifying dream on the plane, Barbara truly couldn't fault herself.
It had only been years of practice, years of dealing with green-haired nightmares, which had spared some sort of plane-wide incident when she had started into wakefulness near the end of the flight from New Gotham. And, with her emotions so raw, the security gates at the Miami International Airport was simply not the place for her telekinetic ward to pick up on the fallout from her dream.
"First hug's gotta be for me, D. Or did you forget who baby-sat your ass through New York and DC?"
Huffing -- presumably at the choice of language -- the teen nevertheless twirled around and returned Helena's hug.
"Yeah, we thought we'd never get rid of you."
The wry comment drew Barbara's attention to the other member party that she and Helena were meeting for the flight to Jamaica, and she smiled.
"Hello, Gabby. It's good to see you."
The curly haired girl stepped closer and, after a split-second hesitation, leaned in, allowing them to exchange a brief hug. The normalcy of the contact, not to mention the brief reprieve Helena had provided, gave the redhead enough time to resettle her emotions so that she could finally turn to Dinah with her arms outstretched in genuine welcome.
A fierce squeeze was the only answer for a score of seconds until the teen finally loosened her enthusiastic stranglehold.
"Gosh, I missed you, Barbara!"
Perhaps the pregnancy hormones were affecting her more than she'd thought.
For no discernable reason, the older woman thought she might be on the cusp of tears and blinked rapidly against the uncharacteristic display. When she focused again on the lanky girl, she blinked again and smiled broadly.
"We missed you, too, Dinah."
"Yeah, like a sore thumb or a boil or something."
Two sets of eyes -- one emerald, the other cornflower blue -- moved in unison to pin the speaker, who smiled innocently.
"Whaaaat? At least she's our pain in the as--"
"Assuming that we're all ready," Barbara cut in as she released the brake on her chair, "shouldn't we be heading to our boarding area?"
Amid the bustle of gathering carry-on baggage, checking boarding passes, and merging into the impossibly long line at the woefully understaffed security checkpoint for international flights, the redhead dropped behind the teenagers they'd just met. Glancing to the side, she brushed her fingertips across the soft denim covering Helena's knee and waited until deep blue eyes met hers. She quirked her lips and lowered her voice, knowing that her partner would have no trouble hearing her in the commotion of the airport.
"Thanks for stepping in, Hel."
The brunette smiled, then winked.
"As good as the first part of your dream seemed, Red, The Kid probably doesn't need that kind of education from you."
While she appreciated that Helena wasn't dwelling on the horrifying ending of her dream, Barbara wasn't convinced that the younger woman's particular focus was necessary either. The beginning of what could have been some extravagant eye-rolling was interrupted when the brunette lowered her voice.
"Beside, there's no way she'll be picking up anything from me about, uhm, the other stuff."
Suspecting that she'd very well regret doing so, Barbara was powerless to prevent herself from asking.
"And, why is that, Hel?"
The younger woman's response was delayed while she thumped their carry-ons onto the x-ray belt and then toed off her sneakers to send them through the machine. Barbara waited until she turned to accompany her through the by-pass for her chair, attempting to steel herself for the ordeal of wanding and prodding and close examination which would follow.
Air-travel since 9-11 was near the top of her list of things to avoid.
Her companion's cheerfully casual reply distracted her from her aggrievement.
"Cuz I only have one thing on the brain, and it has to do with you and me and the Mile High Club."
The redhead's quick bark of embarrassed laughter earned her a disapproving glare from the security agent who was tapping at her chair, but Barbara didn't care: She was too caught up wondering what it said about her that she was actually relieved that all that her current ward might have picked up were her former ward's prurient thoughts.
Che sara, sara.
While she didn't care to contemplate the matter too closely, Barbara was aware that Dinah was probably a great deal less naive than she chose to believe. No doubt her innocent young ward could teach her a thing or two.
"...at least a mile high."
Somehow, Barbara managed to avoid whiplash -- barely -- as she approached the waiting area for their flight and Dinah's words reached her. Years of experience in the classroom kicked in, and she smiled blandly.
Two heads -- one pink-streaked, the other curly brown -- spun toward her in unison.
"Am I interrupting?"
Gabby recovered first, turning fully to face the redhead.
"Not at all, Ms. Gor-- Uh, Barbara."
Barbara smiled encouragingly when the young woman stumbled over the unfamiliar informality which she'd insisted on after graduation. Her smile became the tiniest bit forced when Gabby continued.
"Would you like to join us?"
The older woman allowed herself one befuddled blink before widening her eyes in question. Peripherally, she noted an extravagant smirk painting itself across Helena's face and tensed when the brunette began to speak.
"I sure wo--"
"I'm sorry, Gabby. I believe I missed...?"
Dinah's laughter was bright, a sound Barbara realized she truly had missed during the last month of the young woman's travels.
"Oh, Gabby was going to get us some giant waffle cones for the flight."
The redhead followed the teen's gesture, finally registering the soft-serve ice cream stand across the terminal even as she mourned the days of in-flight service. An instant later, as unobtrusively as possible, she narrowed her eyes, surreptitiously eying Dinah's boarding pass where it peeked from the side pocket of her cargo shorts, and then exhaled soundlessly.
At least they wouldn't be sharing an undoubtedly sticky armrest during the flight.
"Thank you, Gabby, but I think I'll skip the ice cream."
The curly-haired girl nodded and set off on her errand even as Helena stepped around the little group, gesturing toward the bank of restaurants and newsstands further down the concourse.
"A little sustenance isn't a bad idea, Red. Maybe something to read, too. What can I get you?"
Uncertain what drove the sharp spike of irritation which the question engendered, Barbara grit her teeth.
"Perhaps you could look for this month's Dr. Dobb's?"
Immediately pinned by twin looks of disbelief, she caught herself, allowing that airport newsstands weren't likely to have that particular computer magazine.
"Or, Maximum PC?" she tacked on hastily.
She didn't miss the indulgent smile in her partner's features when Helena jogged off, and her pique evaporated, replaced by an indulgent smile of her own when she caught her remaining companion's comment.
"You know you're going to end up with Maxim, right?"
"True, Dinah," she allowed, "but Helena informs me that it does contain timely articles about electronics and the latest gadgets."
The lanky teen settled herself into one of the hard plastic chairs with a derisive snort, pushing her recently shagged hair from her eyes. The motion drew Barbara's attention once again to her ward's hair color.
Green eyes briefly lost focus and tracked to the left as a name -- a character from a movie perhaps -- niggled at the analytical woman's infallible memory. A split second later, she released the breath she hadn't realized she was holding when it came to her.
Like Didi Conn's character in "Grease" after her unfortunate tint job in beauty school, Dinah's hair was streaked an arresting shade of hot pink. Given the brightly colored hair of the madman they'd so recently faced, Barbara couldn't help but question the significance of the young woman's choice.
"Yeah, right, and I read Cosmo for..."
The older woman recalled herself when Dinah's sarcastic words trailed off.
"Oh, heck, Barbara. I'm sorry."
Pale fingers fluttered toward the eye-catching coiffure before moving towards Barbara's arm. Dinah aborted the movement, clasping her hands against her thighs, and the redhead berated her own lack of control.
"It's fine, Dinah."
With what she hoped was a reassuring smile, Barbara stretched out, lightly placing her hand over the teen's.
"It's simply... a bit startling," she finally allowed.
The redhead willed herself to believe that as pale blue eyes searched her face. Eventually, Dinah sighed softly, tucking a strand of hair behind one ear.
"Yeah, but I didn't mean to make you, uhm, think about green hair."
The girl's embarrassment about her invasion of her mentor's privacy was evident, and Barbara shook her head once, hoping to dispel that concern.
"I suspect that it's not far from any of our thoughts yet, Honey."
The erstwhile blonde nodded vigorously.
"That's just it, Barbara. That's sort of why I wanted to do this."
Since she was certain that her confusion was evident, the older woman simply waited for her companion to elaborate.
"When we got to Miami and were hanging out in the clu-- uh, going to some parties?"
Despite the smile tugging at the corners of her mouth, Barbara simply nodded, wondering if she and Helena should have met the two girls a day earlier.
"Well, uh, there's a lot of color here, and Gabby was kind of teasing me about doing something with my hair since it's so light and would really show it?"
Again, the redhead offered a measured nod.
"And, then I got really freaked out because the only color I could see was green."
The teen chewed at the edge of her bottom lip, and Barbara felt something clench tightly in her chest.
They'd all seen too much, endured too much at the whims of a capricious madman: Dinah had... was wrestling with the things she'd seen and with guilt over her role in The Joker's death; Helena, undoubtedly, was wishing that she'd played a much more active part in his demise; and she herself was...
As casually as possible, Barbara removed her hand from Dinah's, knitting her fingers in her lap.
Belatedly, she noted that she was, essentially, cradling her abdomen.
"...know that I didn't really kill him and all, but I figured that I couldn't let just the thought of him keep freaking me out, right? And pink's the preppy opposite of green, right?"
"Right," she concurred with a growing smile.
Dinah returned the expression, waving airily towards her hair.
"That's for sure, Kid."
Proud of herself for not literally jumping at the sudden appearance of her partner, Barbara turned to watch the brunette deposit several plastic store bags on a chair.
"Dunno what it takes to turn a two-pack of strawberry pop tarts into something worth five dollars, but they've got some powerful magic going on."
As the gate attendant announced preboarding, Helena continued to rustle noisily through her purchases.
"...magazines and gum and juice and..."
Pinned by sparkling blue eyes, Barbara froze with her hand on the brake of her chair.
"...some of that water with vitamins in it for you."
The redhead rolled her eyes, chafing at being pampered like some invalid.
Just because she was... in a delicate condition didn't mean she needed to be treated as such.
Glancing to the side, she confirmed that Dinah and Gabby were occupied with juggling their carry-ons and waffle cones which could, indeed, be described as mile high.
Still, there was no need to cause a scene.
"Helena," she began with deliberate mildness.
One look at her lover's impish features deflated her anger. Helena's words removed it altogether.
"I want you to be raring to go when we land."
A suggestive waggle of dark brows accompanied the purring explanation.
"So, you need to stay hydrated..."
Transfixed by the vision of a pink tongue moistening perfect cupid's bow lips, Barbara struggled to focus on her partner's words.
"...so you'll be..."
When Helena leaned in, her breath tickling Barbara's cheek, the older woman was torn between laughing at the younger woman's perserverance and cursing her own fair complexion as a blush crawled to the roots of her hair.
Barbara Gordon was wet.
With a sigh of blissful indolence, she gave up her search for further synonyms, content in the understanding that, quite simply, it felt divine.
Clearly not one of her most insightful observations; however, stretched out in the resort's steam room, idly tracking the progress of a droplet of sweat across the swell of her abdomen and figuratively contemplating her navel, the redhead had no problem cutting herself some slack. After all, in contrast to the humidity of the island, which was merely sticky and unpleasant, the billowing hot steam clearly relaxed both her physical and her mental muscles.
Still, it was time for a break.
With a sub vocal grunt of protest, she transferred herself from the sweat bench, moving slowly in the slick, tiled room, and pushed open the steam room door. Once outside, she slipped her cover-up over her head, wanting nothing more than to return to the peaceful lassitude of the room she'd just departed.
For a moment, bitterness washed through her: This was her first real vacation in years, at an all-inclusive resort, no less. In her current state, she had to monitor her time in the sauna and whirlpool; she couldn't partake of the free-flowing libations available, seemingly, everywhere; she even had to curtail her consumption of certain seafood.
With a quick snort at her own lack of maturity, she shook her hair out of the neck of her pullover and turned determinedly toward one place which would cool her down and was not off limits: The video game room filled with cutting edge X-box games. While the cyber-genius had made a promise to herself to stay off the 'net -- a promise she was not entirely certain she'd be able to keep, which is why she'd kept it to herself -- she saw no reason that she couldn't get an occasional tech fix.
Seventy-five satisfying minutes later, she'd thoroughly chilled her self in the dark, air-conditioned arcade and completely iced several teenagers in head-to-head virtual street races. With a little time to kill, she found herself in the dry sauna, baking on the cedar-plank benches and feeling all of the residual stress and toxins of New Gotham rapidly leeching from her.
The hell with a swimming pool: She wanted to install one of these in the training room.
A cooling breeze accompanied the slow opening of the room's thick door, distracted Barbara from her leisurely mental debate about the best location for such an addition. She glanced up to see a bronzed, buff, Robert Redford-wannabe peering through the door.
"Do you mind if I join you?"
The redhead barely cracked an eye, gesturing loosely towards an empty cedar bench in a "help yourself" movement. The man settled himself with a sigh of appreciation.
"Damn, this is nice."
Oh, creeping catfish: A talker.
"Indeed," the redhead offered carefully.
"Especially after all the humidity here," he continued, apparently taking her minimal response as encouragement.
Barbara nodded and worked for a neutral smile until she saw where her companion's gaze had fallen: her chair, which was folded next to her. Although she knew the metal would be hellishly hot after baking, there was simply no other way to enjoy the sauna independently.
She braced herself.
Working not to roll her eyes, she nodded and blotted at her face with a towel.
An attractively arched blonde brow -- did he pluck? -- rose as her companion stretched over to retrieve a towel from the rack near the door.
"Did you have an accident or something?"
"Something like that," she allowed.
"Robert" digested that for a beat, fanning himself with the edge of the towel in his lap.
"Must be a bitch getting laid up right before coming here."
The redhead smiled ruefully, fighting a guffaw at the levels of meaning behind "laid up" and her current situation.
She couldn't miss the frankly appraising look she received. Despite the heat, her skin crawled when he licked his lips.
"Looks like it."
"And," she added in what was, very probably, a vain attempt to redirect the conversation, "this resort is very accessible."
Which as true enough, a fact which she and Helena had carefully researched and verified before booking the first part of Dinah's trip. While the resort occupied five levels of cliff-front property, strategic use of ramps and elevators left nothing -- save portions of the beach -- off limits to her.
Rob smiled toothily.
"Well, if you need a hand or something..."
Since she had a relatively good idea of just where he was considering putting his hand, the redhead was hard-pressed not to bat her eyes and suggest that he could hold her chair steady.
With his crotch.
Instead, she layered the towels she had at the ready across her chair and neatly transferred herself before, with a sweet smile and muttered excuses about treacle detoxification, she blew out of the room.
Not too many minutes later, having joined Dinah and Gabby at a table in the main lunch buffet area, she began to suspect that some sort of detoxification might very well be necessary as she watched Helena returning from the buffet, an overloaded plate balanced in her hands and more bounce than usual in her step. The senior member of the group regarded the contents of her partner's plate dubiously, aware of a green tinge around Dinah's eyes. Gabby remained silent, reaching for her water goblet and swallowing rapidly. Oblivious to her companions' reactions, the brunette dropped gracefully onto a chair and reached for her napkin.
"What a spread," she enthused.
Bemusedly, Barbara wondered if lip-smacking would ensue.
"If it can swim, fly, or walk, they've cooked it," she continued, forking a bite of conch toward her mouth.
She paused mid-motion and regarded the flesh on her utensil happily.
"Hell, even if it just sits there."
Somehow, Barbara managed a wan smile, noting that Dinah and Gabby's expressions ranged from mildly disapproving to downright queasy. Apparently, something about her companions' distinct lack of shared enthusiasm for the flesh-fest available at the buffet finally registered.
Slender fingers settled the fork on the edge of the overloaded plate.
"Uhm, they have a great salad bar."
Deep blue eyes apologetically met green.
"And, uh, fruit?"
The redhead mustered a quick smile at the thought, and Helena decisively pushed back from the table, retrieving her plate in the process.
"Yeah, fruit's good."
She gestured vaguely toward the far corner of the patio dining area.
"I'll just, uh, go eat over there."
Regretting her own selfishness, Barbara glared at her two smirking companions and called to her partner who was making her way with almost comical slowness across the dining area.
"Hel, stay here and enjoy your meal with us. We..."
She pointedly caught her companions' eyes.
"...will just go investigate the non-carnivorous buffet tables."
The blinding smile she received, not to mention the alacrity with which Helena returned to their table, was certainly incentive enough to ignore the resort's woefully inadequate vegetarian offerings and focus on fresh fruit and -- Green eyes lit up at the same moment two girlish squeals book ended the redhead: the fifty foot dessert buffet.
An hour later, confronted by her own expanding waistline in combination with the item being extended with endearing shyness by her partner in the privacy of their room, Barbara was forced to reconsider her earlier decision about the desserts.
"It's lovely, Sweetheart, but a bit... er... "
The redhead felt her forehead furrow as she searched for an apt description for the two wisps of cloth dangling between the younger woman's right index finger and thumb.
Frankly, in the analytical woman's opinion, anything short of a full wetsuit was a bit revealing for her own tastes. Helena, however, seemed to miss -- or ignore -- her discomfort, blue eyes dancing with anticipation.
"Yeah, it is, isn't it?"
Fighting a smirk in spite of herself, Barbara refused to state the obvious: She didn't do revealing.
It wasn't overwhelming modesty... or prudishness. Back in the day, after all, skin tight latex had made up a significant portion of her nighttime wardrobe.
There was simply no reason to reveal the swaths of scar tissue ribboning her torso.
Slowly she allowed one brow to crawl skyward, wishing that she could tap her foot while she waited through the lengthy -- and very probably x-rated -- mental movie which was clearly playing through her lover's mind. Finally, the brunette noticed that her appreciation of the two-piece wasn't shared, and out came the patented hang-dog expression.
"C'mon, Red. It's not that much more revealing than your one-piece."
Mentally cursing her inability to resist her younger partner's expression, Barbara had to admit the truth of the words: The tankini actually would cover more of her upper legs than her sensible black swimsuit did.
Still, her abdomen...
As if sensing the momentary concession, Helena peered through long lashes and smiled winsomely.
" 'Sides, you'll be wearing your cover-up most of the time anyway, right?"
The older woman pushed back the grin she felt bubbling up within her, sensing that she could score an effortless point in their little debate.
She schooled her features to bland curiosity.
"Which leads me to wonder why we should even bother with the tankini?"
A positively indecent expression flitted across those expressive features; aquiline nostrils flared; and Barbara felt her heart skip a beat in response.
"So I can see you in it back here."
Barbara threw her hands in the air, then reached forward to accept the garment.
Not only had she not scored her point, but it appeared that she'd lost the match.
Absently, she stroked her thumb across the fabric and looked up.
"But, why red, Hel?"
"Burgundy," the younger woman corrected breezily. "You'll be totally hot in it."
Wrestling her tee over her head, the older woman snorted, certain that her partner could decipher her words through the fabric of her tee.
"And it should match my incipient sunburn as well."
The sensation of soft, cool hands sliding down her shoulders almost caused her to jump out of her chair as she balled up the tee and tossed it on the bed.
Goodness, but Helena could still surprise her with her cat-footed stealth.
"You're not gonna burn when I finish lotioning you up."
The sound of a flip-top cap popping, coinciding with the unmistakable scent of SPF-45, alerted Barbara seconds before she felt cool lotion being spread unhurriedly across her shoulders. For long moments, she enjoyed the gentle ministrations, her eyes fluttering shut and her head dipping forward. A soft rustling and a shift in her partner's movements recalled her, and she heard the bemusement in her own voice.
"I'm not sure I'll be getting any sun... oh ... there, Helena."
Struggling not to squirm, she felt sharp even teeth graze the side of her throat from behind and instinctively arched into the contact. Even as something hot -- and sharp -- flared in her chest, she registered Helena's purring response.
"Can't be too careful, Babs."
The two syllables were distinctly wry, and the redhead stretched behind her to wend her fingers through dark silk. Tugging gently to get the younger woman's attention, Barbara continued with deliberate mildness.
"This from the teen who couldn't get her sneakers tied before heading to school in the morning?"
Helena's response was, she decided through the distraction of skillful hands on her shoulders, smug.
"That was a fashion statement, Red. This is something else."
A statement indeed.
A question tickled at her mind, and she gave it voice.
"Will I be getting into any sun this afternoon, Hel?"
As businesslike as her words had been, Helena's response was equally unconcerned. And, very much as she'd suspected.
"Not any time soon."
Barbara spun the cap of the bottle clockwise, then wiped her fingers on a towel before giving the plastic top an extra twist. Relatively confident that sunscreen wouldn't be oozing out, she tucked the bottle neatly into her beach bag and returned to her inspection of her SPF-45-slathered legs.
At the rate she was applying sun block, she'd probably return home more pale than before her Caribbean holiday.
The whimsical thought elicited a self-depreciating smile as she contemplated the feasibility of anything causing her almost ghostly skin to become whiter. The smile faltered when the redhead noticed a blotch of white lotion which she'd neglected to rub in completely.
It stood out against her quadricep like pancake make-up.
Barbara determinedly pushed those similes aside, just as she refused to allow herself to see the images of green hair against baby bunting which had danced through her dreams of late. Instead, she pursed her lips, blowing a raspberry at her own jumpiness, and vigorously rubbed at the dollop of sunscreen.
Between the lotion, her cover-up, the beach umbrella beside the chaise lounge, and her floppy straw hat, she should be safe from all threats of an ultraviolet nature.
She stilled in the act of retrieving her book and exhaled slowly, giving in to her mind's insistent reminder that she not omit one other item which was safeguarding her skin: the new swimwear Helena had presented her with the day before. While some part of her was loathe to admit it, the striking maroon tankini was perfectly modest: Covering from thighs to navel and a good portion of her shoulders and chest, it probably revealed less skin than her one-piece
Mercifully, only the barest hint of scar tissue was visible on her abdomen.
She shook her head in bemusement -- Clothes-horse that she was, of course Helena would be right about the suit -- and settled the novel on her lap. She took a moment to tilt her head just so, aligning her straw hat to shade the pages and absently observing as a gaggle of twenty-somethings noisily settled in under the umbrellas to her left.
Despite the oversized boom box they were carrying, Barbara suspected that they'd be unable to distract her from her book. It was, after all, the type of work she tended to think of a "popcorn fiction": novels which went down one right after the other. With good intentions, she'd brought along the latest Larry McMurtry; however, even that had seemed a bit too heavy for a Jamaican beach. Thus, the new Lesley Davis flight of imagination.
The English teacher had to admit that, originally, she'd been surprised when Amazon had presented her with a list of recommendations containing lesbian science fiction and fantasy novels. However, a moment's reflection about her usual programmer-techie purchase habits at the site -- in combination with her more recent selections in the lesbian sexuality arena -- had cleared up the mystery. She'd trusted the site's judgment and ordered a few intriguing titles and had to admit that she was becoming addicted.
She quickly immersed herself in the Adepts of Calluna, finding that the Beach Boys' completely expected melody about Key Largo warbling from the nearby boom box was no distraction. However, the eventual appearance of a shadow -- an extremely shapely shadow -- across her legs caught her attention immediately.
"Did you get it squared away, Sweetie?"
Green eyes squinted against the sun backlighting her companion, and the younger woman dropped to a crouch, bringing them to eye level.
"Yeah, I think they'll let us use the Cat again."
As if anything the younger woman put her mind to would be in doubt.
Granted, when Helena had signed out the Hobie Cat before casually carrying the older woman across the sand to join her for a sail, their departure from the beach had been accompanied by suspicious glances and a few shouts from the beach attendants.
Concerns about liability and lawsuits, no doubt.
Since she did have a reputation for responsibility to uphold, Barbara had opened her mouth to suggest turning back. One look at her partner's insouciant grin, and she'd snapped her jaw shut and turned to face the spray blowing across the low skiff.
Within seconds of crossing the reef which bounded the shallow waters of the beach, Helena had handed the sail over, and the redhead had been gratified to discover that sailing was, apparently, much like riding a bike: something never forgotten. Since she was unfamiliar with the waters, she'd kept a careful eye on the coastline. Other than that, it had been a perfect opportunity to let loose: building speed, tacking sharply into the wind, and not minding the salt spray which wetted her lips and filled her teeth with grit.
Both of their smiles had been too large, too bright, for the slap of the waves to miss.
Accordingly, while she didn't care to delve too deeply into what specific tactics Helena had used to charm the beach attendants, the older woman didn't try to hide her satisfaction at the outcome.
"That's good news, Hel. I'd like to go out again this week."
The brunette's easy grin left little doubt that she would insure that it would happen, and -- not for the first time -- Barbara found herself wondering what she'd done to deserve such devotion.
The music from the nearby stereo cut off at the same moment slender fingers walked across the back of the redhead's hand, mercifully distracting her from her futile train of thought.
"Sure thing, Red. You're a natural out there."
Cheeks dimpling in pleasure, Barbara had to admit that the ease and naturalness of the water wasn't limited to swimming pools.
"But, for now..."
The spray-dampened dark head dipped down, and soft lips brushed the older woman's knuckles causing her to flex her fingers ticklishly.
"Let's go to Vegas."
With a chuckle, Barbara extricated her fingers and bit back the obvious rejoinder about feeling lucking. As bright blue eyes rose into view again, she snagged the bottle of lotion, spun open the cap, and squeezed a few drops onto her fingertips.
The older woman felt her eyes sparkle at her younger partner's "reasonable" tone and carefully dabbed the sun block on the brunette's nose.
"Let's go to the beach."
Barbara allowed one brow to lift fractionally but kept her tone light.
"We're at the beach, Hel."
She punctuated her reply by tapping cupid's bow lips, narrowing her eyes when Helena grinned wolfishly.
"Okay, let's go to bed."
Her playful mood peeling away like the sunburned skin on her lover's nose, the redhead exhaled slowly, then spoke carefully.
"Honestly, Hel, is that all you think about?"
Helena's cheerfully unrepentant nod was interrupted when the group next to them queued a new CD. A slow ballad washed across the beach, and blue eyes which were suddenly uncertain met green.
Is it getting better?
Or do you feel the same?
Will it make it easier on you
Now you got someone to blame?
Barbara forced herself to face her lover's scrutiny, at a loss over her own response.
After the interaction which had become increasingly... difficult in their room the afternoon before, the brunette had gracefully allowed matters to rest.
In deference to her own reluctance Barbara supposed.
She honestly wasn't certain if her feelings stemmed from hormones, or the tenderness and changes already evident in her body, or simply from the release of the adrenaline which had been surging through and around them for the last few months. Regardless of the cause, the analytical woman couldn't deny the end result: the puzzled confusion seeking... something.
Something from her.
Did I disappoint you?
Or leave a bad taste in your mouth?
You act like you never had love
And you want me to go without
Fascinated by the shifting patterns in the other woman's eyes, somehow Barbara didn't register her lover's slow approach until velvet lips brushed gently against her jaw. A whispering purr raised the fine hair at the back of her neck.
"Be with me, Barbara."
Crimson brows knit as the older woman caught her lower lip between her teeth. A sigh gusted her neck.
"Be with me, Barbara."
The words were definitely more insistent this time, almost petulant, as the brunette relaxed from her precarious balance on the balls of her feet and settled into her crouch again.
"I didn't knock you up on purpose, and even if..."
With a patience she scarcely believed, Barbara waited out the younger woman's search for the words she wanted.
"Even if he somehow had something to do with it, don't let that take this from us."
Almost dizzied by the deluge of pronouns, the redhead raised her left hand to the bridge of her nose. She was briefly distracted when her infallible memory suddenly resurrected the memory of a GRA she'd worked with in college, almost laughing when she grasped why she'd thought of the other woman: in critiquing student writings, Shel had been a real stickler about pronoun antecedents.
And, if memory served, the use of epithets as well.
Nevertheless, this was not the time to roll down memory lane. Rather, she needed to decipher what was clearly the most vital of Helena's pronouns: This.
Well it's too late
To drag the past out
Into the light
But we're not the same
Since her confusion was certainly palpable, the redhead was relieved, but hardly surprised, when the younger woman took pity on her.
"I heard you on the plane, Barbara. The end of your dream. Nightmare."
Barbara blinked once, then allowed her gaze to fall on one of the tiny white crabs which scuttled across the beach.
"I heard you last night, too. Asking about the baby."
The younger woman's voice was without rancor or accusation.
"I heard you the night before that, also. It's like all your big, beautiful, subconscious brain can focus on, Barbara."
Again, the redhead felt fingers lightly rest against her hand. Helena's movement cast a shadow on the sand which sent the crab ducking into a shell which seemed ludicrously small and woefully fragile.
Hopelessly adrift, and suspecting that her symbolic raft might be disintegrating around her, she pried her eyes back to her partner's face.
"Helena, it's not that..."
Ultimately, Barbara couldn't glibly offer reassurances which she didn't possess.
The brunette exhaled slowly, her smile gentle... and lost. Still, Helena didn't belabor the conversation, rising gracefully and gesturing to the snack stand at the end of the beach.
"Gonna get something to eat. You want anything?"
The older woman absently shook her head, admiring her partner's courage as Helena loped across the sand and forcing herself to consider the other woman's words.
Perhaps Helena had a point: Even if it was, somehow, Jack Napier's doing, they still didn't know anything about the child she carried within.
Have you come here for forgiveness?
Have you come to raise the dead?
Have you come here to play Jesus
To the lepers in your head?
Green eyes widened, then blinked, as a small vanilla soft serve cone appeared before her, as if by magic. Barbara automatically accepted the offering with a smile of thanks, delicately catching a drip with the tip of her tongue.
But we're not the same
We hurt each other
Then we do it again
In the act of settling herself on the sand, balancing an oversized red slushee, the younger woman paused and raised her cup in invitation.
"You want some of this? Or something else? They've got cappuccino and, uhm.."
Lost in her mental inventory, Helena apparently missed Barbara's headshake.
"...hot dogs and jerked chicken and banana splits and curly fries and..."
The redhead cut in playfully, attempting to curtail the listing of what seemed to be an adolescent junk food wet dream. A beat later, she realized that she'd quite lost her appetite.
Possibly her ability to breathe, as well.
Naturally, Helena noticed, carefully relieving her of the cone which was precariously askew in her hand.
"Barbara? What is--"
The redhead was a bit surprised by the lack of inflection -- hell, panic -- in her response.
"I believe that Dinah knows."
She didn't bother to elaborate, too busy mentally kicking herself for taking so long to put the pieces together.
When Helena had pitched her idea to their little group at dinner the night before, it had seemed initially puzzling but hardly rife with danger.
"Want me to book us all for a banana boat ride tomorrow morning?"
Barbara had speared a cucumber slice with her fork and dipped it in dressing before looking up.
"What in the name of the S.S. Minnow is a banana boat, Hel?"
"Oh, you know, big yellow rubber tube with handles," had been the blase description.
Dinah's exasperated demand for more detail had finally persuaded the brunette to tear herself away from gnawing at the spare ribs on her plate.
Mercifully, the brunette had yet to avail herself of the roast suckling pig on display.
"It's like a inflatable tube which five people can sit on and get dragged along behind a speed boat."
Barbara still swore she'd seen a flicker of gold as the younger woman had licked the fingers of her left hand in a manner which could best be described as 'provocative'.
"I know it'd be better in purple..."
The older woman had hoped that the blush she could feel crawling up her neck would be missed in the flickering torchlight of the outdoor dining area. Mercifully, the two teens had been too confused to notice.
"Like what? An eggplant boat or something?"
Unfortunately, Dinah's confusion had only increased when Helena had exploded into laughter.
"Yeah, we can ride the big ol' aubergine..."
A suggestion about checking out the dessert buffet had ended that little scene, and the ride they'd all shared in the early morning had lived up to the description Helena had provided. The four had settled themselves on the giant banana, to be dragged through the bay behind a speedboat, bumping over the waves, with the three younger members of their party deliberately bouncing against the back end to create the maximum splash and roll.
And that, Barbara had just realized with a resounding mental "Doh" which would have done Homer Simpson proud, was the problem: During the course of their bouncing, as she'd worked to compartmentalize her multifaceted reactions and concerns, Dinah had rolled back against her, before regaining her handhold.
When they'd reached the shore, and since then, it had been impossible to miss the girl's stiffness -- her distance -- around her.
Apparently occupied by wrapping the uneaten ice cream cone in napkins, Helena was maddeningly unconcerned by the revelation.
Something about the crispness of her response must have captured the brunette's attention. The younger woman shifted enough to catch her eyes.
Barbara attempted a reply, then snapped her mouth shut in exasperation. Her companion concentrated on poking at the napkin-enshrouded bundle she'd placed under the edge of the lounge.
"Is that so bad, Red?"
Love is a temple
Love a higher law
Love is a temple
Love the higher law
You ask me to enter
But then you make me crawl
As relentlessly practical... and factual... and oblivious to emotional nuance as she could be, Barbara still could not bring herself to state the obvious. Under the cautious inspection of blue eyes veiled by thick dark lashes, how could she possibly remind her lover that they had yet to decide on the... appropriate course, and until they'd done so, it seemed premature at best to start announcing the news, even telepathically.
"She seems upset," she finally hedged.
Dark brows furrowed.
"Like I was when she moved in?"
Emerald eyes blinked rapidly before squinting toward the water, tracking the progress of a sailboat on the horizon.
As aware as she'd been at the time of Helena's... feelings of displacement when they'd taken the young blonde in, the cyber-genius had not begun to consider that Dinah might have a similar reaction to the arrival of another person in their lives.
She rubbed small circles at her temples, acknowledging that such a reaction from the teen wasn't outside the realm of possibility. With an irritable sigh, she realized that she'd need to sound her ward out about that.
You got to do what you should
With each other
"No," the redhead finally allowed, redirecting her thoughts to the response she had picked up on. "It's more like I'm Sigourney Weaver in the third 'Alien' movie."
The experience truly was akin to being in space: weightlessness, sensory deprivation combining with sensory overload, and an absolute host of astonishing life forms.
Blue tangs, eels, flounder, corral, sea urchins...
When she was in elementary school, Barbara Gordon had harbored a secret, one among many: this particular secret was her desire to be an astronaut, or at least a jet fighter pilot, when she grew up. Although that dream had been lost somewhere in the transition from childhood to adolescence, she'd never surrendered her joy of flight and exploration.
Given her predilection for an airborn existence, even if assisted with cables and guy wires, she supposed that she couldn't be surprised by how liberated she felt in the water. Floating face-down in the azure clarity of the bay off their resort, the redhead allowed herself the fanciful notion of never leaving.
A flash of orange and white -- a clown fish darting through the reef -- dispelled the notion, bringing to mind as it did a not-too-distant immersion, so to speak, with the little fish. Since she absolutely refused to dwell on things which couldn't be, the redhead slowly brought her underwater camera to her face plate and waited patiently for the comical fish to reappear.
As she waited, suspended in saline warmth, buoyant in her life vest, drawing in oxygen through the snorkel tube, she found herself considering the similarity of her situation to that of the tiny being within her. Immediately, she made a mental note to pick up a copy of "Pregnancy for Dummies", strictly in the interest of determining if all mothers-to-be were as... obsessed as she seemed to be.
Another flicker of color to her right -- this time hot pink instead of orange -- recalled her, and Barbara gave up on her photography, waving an acknowledgement to her companion. Two dozen easy strokes brought her to the tiny sandbar where they'd tethered the kayak, and she easily hoisted herself from the water.
"Thank you, Dinah."
She accepted the offered towel with a smile, shaking her head to untangle her hair from the strap of her mask. She dabbed at her face, then used the towel to cover her legs against the sun, aware that she'd need to ask Helena to check the back of her legs later: A dead-man's float for almost an hour had, undoubtedly, provided the area with more sun than it received in a year.
"Do you, uhm, need more sun block?"
Trying to pretend that she'd not heard the tentativeness in the teen's question, the redhead accepted the familiar blue bottle with a laugh.
The responding, and not-unsympathetic, snicker freed the older woman's breathing a tiny bit, and she set to work, briskly slathering her face and shoulders with lotion.
"That was amazing, Dinah. Did you get any good shots?"
Mercifully, the neutral topic worked, and the girl was off.
"I took about thirty pictures, I think, but I don't know if anything will be any good. I kept forgetting that I had the camera, you know? And so I was just hanging there watching stuff..."
When the young woman interrupted herself with a giggle, Barbara looked over with studied nonchalance, arching a brow in question.
"It's just... I guess if I hadn't had the snorkel in, I would have been floating there with my mouth open in amazement or something."
Cheeks dimpling at the image, not to mention the sheer pleasure of the decrease in tension, the redhead snorted softly.
"That would have been a lot of ocean to drink, Dinah."
This time, the teen's laughter was fuller.
"No kidding! And salty, too. I did get some in my breathing tube even though you were right about how easy it is to snorkel. It's just kind of like hanging there in a big old womb or som--"
When the excited discourse ended mid-syllable, Barbara lowered her lashes, giving herself five seconds -- and no more -- to collect herself.
She had, after all, twisted Dinah's arm into this little outing since there had been no noticeable thaw in her demeanor in the last two days. Given that the teen had essentially run full steam into the elephant on the sandbar, it seemed that opportunity was knocking.
"I was thinking much the same thing just before we came in," she offered cautiously.
The girl bounded to her feet as if she'd been stung by an urchin and began digging through the bag in the kayak.
The question was decidedly over-bright.
"I guess it's a pretty common, uh, thought."
Calling upon her limited reserves of patience, the older woman exhaled slowly and waited until her companion found what she'd been looking for.
"How are you doing, Dinah?"
The girl's response was muffled by the oversized "No problem, Mon" tee she was pulling over her suit, and Barbara waited until the pink-tinted head emerged. When pale blue eyes skittered from her abdomen to the kayak and back again, she quirked a smile and patted the sand next to her. Dinah obediently dropped to the ground, but the redhead couldn't help but notice that her telepathic ward made certain to keep at least a foot and a half of space between them.
Feeling the onset of an urge to fiddle with something -- a highball glass filled to the brim with scotch rocks might have worked -- Barbara carefully tightened the cap of the sun block and tossed the bottle into the kayak.
"Ever since the ride on the banana boat, you've seemed... a little distant, Honey."
The teen's cheeks pinkened, the shade having little to do with overexposure to the sun. To Barbara's immense pride, her newest protege didn't attempt to obfuscate.
"I didn't mean to invade your privacy or anything, Barbara. Really."
The girl pushed a strand of shaggy pink hair behind the shell of her right ear and ducked apologetically.
"And, it's none of my bus--"
Barbara cut short the apology, lightly touching her ward's shoulder.
"It's fine, Dinah."
Sky blue eyes peered uncertainly through corn-silk lashes.
When the blonde snickered and raised her brows expectantly, it took the older woman a beat before she realized that, once again, she was channeling dialog from the movie "Shrek".
She shared the smile, then focused again on matters at hand.
"It, er, helped break the ice on something I wasn't certain how to talk with you about."
The fact that she hadn't yet determined whether there would be a need to have this conversation at all was, of course, moot.
"Now that you know, how are you feeling?"
As Helena had helped her see, feelings of displacement or jealousy wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility.
Or, at least, among many other realms.
The teen stared at her hands for a few moments before speaking with uncharacteristic slowness.
"Uh, I guess I'd never really considered it. And, so it really, uhm, surprised me when I picked up on it yesterday."
Having experienced the same reaction, ten-fold, not too long before, the redhead offered a sympathetic nod. Barbara allowed her hair to fall to the side of her face for a moment as she sorted out her own, current, reaction.
The young touch telepath hadn't picked up on... everything. Nevertheless, it was quite a bit to come to terms with.
She pushed her hair back brusquely and waited. The soft blue eyes searching hers brightened, and Dinah seemed to gather strength.
"Don't get me wrong: you and Hel would be -- "
Barbara felt her encouraging smile stretch into something more when the girl corrected herself.
"Well, you are great parents."
Given what she could only consider a questionable track record when it came to guiding the young women in her life, Barbara could only hope that the sentiment was, or would be, true.
"It's just... I mean, I didn't know you guys were even thinking about it, what with Helena just moving in and all. I guess I was kind of surprised, and it seemed kind of sudden?"
The redhead forced herself to wait until blue eyes met hers in question.
"To us as well, Dinah."
The blonde gaped.
"How could you not ... ?"
Considering the careful choreography, and timing, and medical scrutiny which most other same-sex partners had to undergo, Barbara wasn't surprised by the girl's disbelief.
"It's a bit of a mystery to us, too, Dinah."
She placed her hands on the sand and shifted a tiny bit to face her companion.
"One hypothesis involves Helena's meta-genetics."
Pale brows furrowed as the teen visibly worked through the options. Needing the release of tension, Barbara was hard pressed not to laugh when comprehension dawned on those youthful features, followed immediately by a firehouse blush.
The blonde chewed on her lower lip.
"That's really neat."
Apparently, that was all that it took for Dinah to convince herself, for then she was off.
"...Helena's genes and yours. I mean, wow, she'll be the most beautiful genius ever. And, she'd have to be a girl, right? Because you both only have x-chromos..."
Decidedly discomfited, the older woman finally felt the need to ground her companion a bit before Dinah had the nascent being named and receiving a Nobel Laureate.
"That's only one possibility, Dinah, and our first tests have left it a bit in doubt."
Naturally, her sharp-witted ward didn't miss the obvious.
"Okay. So, uhm, what are some of the other possibilities?"
Great grandmother's garters, but she wished she could think of anything but the other likely option...
In hindsight, Barbara had to acknowledge that her confusion, perhaps even a distinct lack of enthusiasm, would have been visible to anyone with a modicum of insight. Thus, she should have been prepared for the sensation of a delicate hand clasping hers and for her companion's empathy.
"Whatever it is, it's just too cool fo--"
The shared sensation of Dinah's giddy happiness and ready acceptance was all-too-brief. Less than a heartbeat after making skin-to-skin contact, the young woman's features changed dramatically, and she jerked away as if burned.
Barbara's mood instantly plummeted.
Two days before, in describing Dinah's reaction after the banana boat ride, the redhead had likened it to something out of a science fiction-horror movie involving acid-spewing alien embryos. Less than forty-eight hours later, she understood how wrong her description had been; how very, very off-target it had been.
The response after the boat ride had been nothing. It was now, after her ward and protege shied from what had obviously been meant as a supportive touch, that Barbara understood what it was to be looked at like she were harboring pure malevolence.
The teen's hushed whisper lashed Barbara's frayed nerves, leaving her raw and shamed.
"No wonder Helena's so..."
Despite her nearly overwhelming desire to scream... or shout... or beg... or whatever it took to get her telepathic ward to finish the statement, Barbara fought down the urge. The invasion of privacy was too enormous, too unforgivable.
Instead, she held her tongue, pushing aside for later examination the odd feeling of guilt she was experiencing.
"No wonder you're not more excited."
The redhead heard a short, bitter bark of laughter, belatedly identifying it as her own. Bringing herself under control, she had to agree with the teen's assessment.
"It is a bit... discomfiting, Dinah."
If that didn't take the prize for literary meiosis, the English teacher didn't know what would.
For a minute, perhaps two, the pair sat in silence. Barbara assumed that her companion was attempting to make sense of matters. Cautiously observing Dinah's features knit in puzzlement, the redhead anticipated the moment when the girl threw in the towel on her deductive process.
"I don't understand how The Joker could have..."
When the girl stumbled to an abrupt halt, her normally pale features blanching, Barbara instinctively reached out to steady her with one hand, flailing for the water bottle with the other.
"He didn't r... get to you...?"
Lost in her concern that the teen was about to faint, it took the older woman a moment to discern her ragged question. Deciding to label her own emotion "relief", she hastened to reassure her.
"No, Honey, nothing like that."
Dinah accepted the offered bottle of water and took a small sip.
Barbara managed a smile which was, very probably, a bit stiff and turned to track a low-flying parasailer.
"We think that there could have been something in the bubble goo which he used on Helena the first time."
A decidedly curious nod encouraged the cyber-vigilante to continue.
"He did have a score to settle after she disturbed his mayhem at the DMV, and he certainly wouldn't have had much difficulty finding out about..."
Somewhat incongruously, considering the topic in general, Barbara felt a blush creep across her cheeks when she tried to find a suitable description for what she and Helena shared.
"...about Helena and my relationship."
Once again, the two fell silent until the teen's soft gasp drew the redhead from her pointed contemplation of the tide pattern.
Crimson brows knit at the girl's obvious embarrassment, but Barbara waited while Dinah twirled a lock of hair around her index finger and dug her toes into the sand.
"...No wonder you had green hair on your mind."
Stretching over, the older woman gently freed the pink-tinted hair from Dinah's grasp and tenderly tucked it behind the girl's ear.
Having reached her limits for the topic, Barbara exhaled noisily and fisted her hands beside her in the sand, nodding toward the waiting kayak.
"Ready to head ba--"
"But even if it has some of his genes doesn't mean--"
They spoke as one, but the redhead couldn't persuade herself that she'd been unable to make out Dinah's words... her meaning. Given that the teen was just coming to terms with her own role on the night of The Joker's death, Barbara couldn't imagine how she might feel about having his... progeny join their lives.
Regardless of an intellectual appreciation for Dinah's attempt to see the bright side of matters, her stomach performed a slow roll as she considered the impossibility of explaining the depth of evil inherent in Jack Napier's gene pool.
Not to mention the horror of serving as a... carrier for anything related to him.
For many years, Barbara had resolutely not allowed herself to consider what had transpired all of those years before, lying on the floor of her sparsely furnished starter apartment with The Joker standing above her. She'd not permitted herself to dwell on what had occurred between the third and fourth bullet which had gone into her body.
Unfortunately, it was becoming damnably difficult to ignore the implication that the green-hair madman was somehow, even in death, making good on things.
Squaring her shoulders, Barbara Gordon met Dinah's gaze without flinching. She even managed a self-depreciating smile.
"But, we don't know anything yet, so let's not get ahead of ourselves."
Moving forward using all my breath
Making love to you was never second best
I saw the world thrashing all around your face
Never really knowing it was always mesh and lace
A cacaphony of honking and tire screeching, not to mention some creative use of the narrow road's shoulder, abruptly ended Barbara's solo on the air drums. Eyes narrowing, she checked the security of her seat belt with one hand while simultaneously leaning forward to lower the volume on Modern English. Not missing her partner's response to the driver who had overtaken them, she cleared her throat and spoke mildly.
"Just because we sometimes call ourselves birds, Hel, is no reason to advertise it."
With a completely unrepenatant smirk, the brunette returned her hand to the gear shift, seemingly oblivious to the slow arc she was making toward the right side of the road.
"Left side --"
Plastering a smile across gritted teeth, the redhead cut herself short, absolutely loathing the idea of becoming a back seat driver.
Regardless of any... concern she might be experiencing due to her chauffeur's tendency to seek out the right lane of the pitiful excuse for a highway, she simply refused to mar their last full day of vacation by acting like some sort of fishwife. She would enjoy this outing from the resort even if Helena -- or Helena in combination with the seemingly insane drivers of the small island -- got them killed.
Knowing that her partner's hearing was... acute at worst, Barbara accepted the out which she was being offered.
"Nothing really, Sweetie. I was just wondering where someone left this... deathtrap you found."
A decidely indignant snort preceded the high-pitched response.
"Hey, I'll have you know that this is a genuine..."
Barbara didn't even try to suppress her fond smile at the affected pronunciation which made the word come out as "Jin-Yew-Wine".
"...1973 Jeep Scrambler."
She did attempt to fight back her alarm -- and ignore the sounds of further honking -- when her companion turned to pin her with blue eyes which bespoke the younger woman's wounded ego.
"It's a friggin' classic, Red."
In the hopes that agreement would induce her driver to return her attention to the task at hand, Barbara kept it brief.
Which, she had to admit, would make today's transportation a few years younger than the vintage Toyota minibus which had delivered them from Sangster International to their resort nine days earlier. Hopefully, the shuttle trip back to the airport tomorrow would be a bit less... interesting than the trip out: She simply couldn't fathom how a forty mile trip between Montego Bay and their resort could have taken six hours.
A bump which rattled the fillings in her teeth, and which she thought she'd felt in her hindquarters, forced the redhead to amend that thought.
Given the dubious quality of many of the island's highways, in combination with the torrential rains which had greeted their arrival and flooded numerous roads, perhaps the duration of their outbound trip was less than mystifying.
Shaking off her residual ire about having lost five hours of precious vacation time to waiting for roads to clear, Barbara determined that, for today, she was going to enjoy this outing with her energetic partner.
A surreptitious glance to her right forced her to amend her thoughts for the second time in less than a minute: Her energetic and relaxed and... sexy-as-hell partner.
The brunette had certainly embraced vacation casual for their outing: clad in frayed cut-offs, sandals, and a chambray shirt which was knotted, Daisy Duke-style, above the waistline of the shorts, Helena simply seemed to glow.
Dream of better lives the kind which never hate
Dropped in the state of imaginary grace
I made a pilgrimage to save this human's race
Never comprehending a race that's long gone by
Of course, the vacation had been good for all of them. Despite having flown by so quickly, it had still been... relaxed at a level Barbara hadn't experienced in years.
Especially since her snorkeling expedition with Dinah.
Since then, Barbara had felt lighter and more carefree than she could remember allowing herself to be for years. While the cyber-genius might have liked to attribute her change in attitude to the effects of sand and water alone, she was both observant enough and honest enough with herself to recognize that it was in no small part due to Helena.
In the last four days, the brunette had seemed to take special pains to spend time with the younger members of their party, giving Barbara plenty of time to read, hit the arcade, or simply nap the afternoons away. In the course of her meanderings through the resort, the older woman had been able to catch her traveling companions chasing each other through the maze of water slides, roughhousing on the ocean trampolines, and coming and going from shopping expeditions.
She'd determined that she simply would not ask, or even guess, how the underage girls had come into possession of the authentic Jimmy Buffet "Margaritaville" hats and tees they'd been proudly wearing for the last two days.
And, even when Helena hadn't left Barbara to nurse her Shirley Temples -- or whatever other non-alcoholic flights of fancy she came up with -- at the swim-up bar, she'd been wonderfully solicitous. There had been two more trips out on the Hobie Cat, several snorkeling jaunts, a horseback ride in the surf, a candlelight dinner at a local Cuban restaurant, and several moonlight swims.
It was almost, Barbara had realized the night before, as if they were reacquainting themselves, as they had during the heady days of snowy outdoor concerts and cautious touches during the infancy of their shifting relationship.
The redhead had also admitted to herself that the complete lack of... assumptions and demands had been most welcome. It hadn't been until the very night before that Barbara had finally felt ... easy enough to notice a tendril of warm desire for her lover again.
They'd been curled up in bed, spooning with Helena in front of her, the television's muted glow and low volume lulling them towards sleep. A barely audible hiss had caught the redhead's attention, and she'd suddenly grasped its origin: Her left hand, wrapped around Helena's ribs and nestled against her chest, had been absently brushing against the heavy swell of flesh under the brunette's tank top. Cautiously, surprised yet encouraged by the nascent interest raveling within herself, she'd repositioned her hand, fully enveloping one of her partner's breasts.
The nipple had immediately pebbled into diamond hardness against her palm, and Barbara had deliberately shut her eyes, closing out one sensory distraction as she savored the sensation and considered her own response. She'd distantly registered how still Helena had remained and had assumed complacency, caught up as she'd been in savoring the weight and contrasting textures, much as she'd done so many months before on the couch at the tower.
The first time she'd ever touched Helena -- any woman -- like that.
A growing awareness of the vibrating tension of her lover's muscles had alerted her to the fact that her partner was far from at ease; still, she'd neither withdrawn nor increased the contact.
"Is this alright, Hel?"
It had been a ghost of an exhalation, and Barbara had had to agree, repositioning her hand enough to touch turgid flesh with her fingertips and allowing herself to experience the sensation all over again. Eventually, she'd heard syllibant escape of air, slightly louder than the first, and she'd gentled her touch, feathering her fingers across the tumescent tissue to one side.
Her own voice had surprised her with its hoarseness.
"Can you sleep... like this?"
Slender, warm fingers had covered hers.
"I told you, Red. Cuddling with you is better than anything I ever had."
Even as distracted as she'd been, the older woman hadn't missed that the words weren't an answer, and the dark circles which, today, were present under cobalt eyes had confirmed it. Nevertheless, she'd not removed her hand as she'd snuggled closer to her lover, burying her nose against her shoulder and sleeping dreamlessly for the first time in weeks.
And, perhaps, she had to acknowledge, that sort of rest was just what she'd needed to kick start her zest again. On this day, with the top down on the aged Jeep, the wind blowing and the radio blaring, and Helena looking good enough to eat --
Green eyes blinked, then widened, when the redhead's internal censor caught up with her thinking. Smirking, she gave her censor a bum's rush to the back of her brain and casually reached across the seats, insinuating her right hand under the edge of the denim. Frayed threads ticked her knuckles as her fingers danced lightly over firm, corded muscles which began to tense, then twitch, under her touch.
A purring growl drew her attention from the expanse of lean, tanned thigh exposed by the cut-offs.
"Better be carrrrefulll, Red."
Something playful and defiant reared within the redhead.
"What if I don't want to be?"
She emphasized her sincerity by brushing the barrier of her lover's underwear, a bit surprised and not-at-all displeased by her own reaction to the movement. Her companion didn't seem to find the contact completely unwelcome, her hips rocking forward in the driver's seat once, and Barbara seized the moment to slip two fingers under the elastic just as slender fingers gently wrapped around her wrist.
"I'm gonna drive us right off the road, Barbara."
The redhead felt herself flushing, flirting with the idea as she brushed damp curls. Since she didn't particularly care to take bandages, stitches, and casts home as souvenirs of their trip, she regretfully withdrew, bringing her fingers to her face to savor the intimate scent and taste of her lover.
The redhead looked over in time to catch Helena's sly smile.
"I can pull over right here, Red, but your butt's gonna get sunburned."
Barbara threw her head back in a full laugh, then collected herself, arching one brow primly.
"Yours is the only posterior which I envision needing sun block."
Her companion's wide, open smile removed any semblance of control and sparked another fit of laughter.
"Not if you wear your floppy hat, Babs."
I'll stop the world and melt with you
I've seen some changes but it's getting better all the time
There's nothing you and I won't do
I'll stop the world and melt with you
An increase, mercifully brief, then the cessation of bumps and jolts alerted Barbara to the fact that they might be arriving at Helena's mystery destination moments before her chauffeur set the parking brake and pulled the key from the ignition.
"But -- "
Dark brows waggled, and the older woman stiffled a groan over the leering emphasis which Helena had placed on the word.
"-- before we bake any rump roasts, let's have that picnic I put together."
Barbara decided that the answering rumble from her midsection was probably responsible for the blush she felt painting her cheeks. Allowing that her appetite extended to areas beyond the carnal, she nodded her approval and reached for her chair while her companion retrieved a wicker basket and set about laying out the lunch she'd somehow assembled with the assistance of the resort's kitchen staff.
In short order, the redhead found herself selecting from an array of goodies comprising what she considered to be a classic continental picnic: various cheeses, fruits, baguettes, and -- best of all -- not a bit of spicy jerked meat or over-rich dessert in sight. The appearance of two plastic wine glasses and a bottle of red, however, gave her pause.
"I hope you brought lemonade for me, Hel."
Even white teeth flashed as the younger woman offered the bottle for her inspection.
Non-alcoholic Sparkling Grape Juice.
Through her laughter, Barbara still felt the tiniest flicker of guilt.
"You don't have to forego just because I can't drink, Sweetie."
Even considering the fact that the brunette was driving, the younger woman's meta-physiology removed DWI as an issue.
Busying herself with the foil covering the neck of the bottle, Helena shook her head absently.
"Hey, we're in this together."
An odd, but not altogether unpleasant, sensation of exposure caught the redhead by surprise. Pushing it aside for later consideration, she accepted a glass with a nod of appreciation and bent to inhale the bouquet.
"Quite, er, fruity," she managed while fighting a carbonation-induced sneeze.
They clunked the plastic glasses together, then sipped. In unison, they carefully settled their glasses, Barbara smiling sympathetically at Helena's inability to mask the affront to her palate.
"You know," the redhead reached for an apple wedge as she spoke, "Dinah said something similar after our talk."
The other woman regarded her, her usually expressive features oddly hard to read.
"She's right. We're all family, Red."
The older woman methodically smoothed a wrinkle from the blanket they were seated on.
Helpless, she met blue eyes which, in an instant, were inches away when Helena scooted around to circle her arms around her.
"Tell me, Barbara."
Crimson brows knit as Barbara wondered how she could be so fluent in most situations and so utterly at a loss at this moment.
"I... It's difficult to understand how you and Dinah can be so ready to accept -- "
Almost choking, she swallowed convulsively, and reached for her glass. She didn't think for an instant that she'd be able to down the stuff, but it gave her something to distract herself.
"To accept this. If it's... his."
Granted, Dinah had scarcely scratched the surface of The Joker's horror, but Helena certainly knew.
For a blessed moment, Barbara forgot herself, forgot the horrors which haunted her, when her lips were caressed lightly, insistently, until she finally opened on a sigh which morphed into a moan.
"I love you, Barbara, and we don't have to be afraid."
Puzzled, the redhead opened her eyes, squinting to focus at such close range.
"Whatever the genetics are, Red, this is something which we --"
Barbara felt a soft touch above her heart, and glanced down to see those delicate fingers move to the younger woman's chest, punctuating the pronoun.
"It's something we created. Loving."
Carefully, she resettled her glass and concentrated on breathing. Helena scootched back a foot or so and retrieved a slice of cheddar with seeming nonchalance.
"But, Helena, it's not that simple if somehow ... this -- "
It was her turn to gesture, this time in the direction of her pelvis.
She couldn't give the thought voice and found another approach.
"...has green-haired genetics."
Barbara blinked, then pursed her lips, irritated by the smile which had been forming in response to her companion's almost breezy unconcern.
"Excuse me, Helena?"
"I said," the brunette finished chewing. "Nature. Nurture."
The redhead blinked again and waited. Apparently receiving the message, the younger woman sighed dramatically and elaborated.
"Think about it, Red. Just cuz The Kid's hair is something out of 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show' --"
" 'Grease'," Barbara corrected mildly.
To her credit, the brunette grasped the reference immediately and laughed.
"Yeah, like Frenchy's when that Teen Angel dude sings to her."
Barbara shared the smile, seizing the lessening of tension as an opportunity to breathe again.
"So, even if D's hair is Gawdawful Pink --"
Somehow, the older woman suspected that Helena's description was exactly the name which would appear on the Clairol box.
"...that doesn't make her a peroxide blonde brain or a punk or anything, does it?"
Delighted, despite herself, that Helena had taken this discussion into a more intellectual realm, Barbara considered the argument for a moment.
"True enough, Helena; however, Dinah's current hair color has nothing to do with genetics."
The brunette nodded, nibbling at her lower lip before ducking her head to peer through her lashes.
"Well, what about me, Barbara?"
Crimson brows furrowed, and the younger woman continued, her voice suddenly very quiet and serious.
"I didn't turn into a collector of fine object d'art, did I?"
As the light bulb went on, Barbara smiled and shook her head. A beat later, she sobered and carefully reached for the other woman's hand.
"That's very true, Helena -- "
She didn't feel the need to bring up all of the similarities to Selina -- and Bruce -- which she could detect in her partner.
"-- but the same argument works in reverse in Dinah's situation, doesn't it?"
Both women were silent as they considered the amazing young woman's upbringing in foster care.
"But," Helena interrupted their somber thoughts, "the Redmonds weren't the only ones who brought her up you know."
Barbara rolled her eyes, and the brunette plowed on.
"And, what about you?"
Unable to resist the twinkle in bright blue eyes, the redhead heard the teasing lilt in her response.
"What about me, Helena?"
"From what I've heard, there weren't any geniuses with perfect memories going on with your biological parents. So, even if genetics play a part, there're always weird throwbacks, right?"
Not entirely certain whether she was marginally reassured by her partner's logic, or a bit miffed to be considered some sort of genetic throwback, Barbara simply nodded. The two sat quietly again for half a minute or so before Helena spoke again, her voice deceptively casual.
"So, you know why I picked this spot for our final day picnic?"
Aware that her companion had probably realized that she'd reached her limits for Mendelian topics, Barbara gratefully accepted the abrupt conversational shift. She deliberately compartmentalized their discussion, wishing she could lock it away completely and lose the key, and cocked her head to one side.
"I'd assumed the view...?"
There was no denying that the location Helena had somehow found was striking: They were situated in a small clearing, midway up a cliff which looked down into a narrow cove. Azure waters frothed in and out of the narrows fifty feet below while lush greenery surrounded them on three sides.
The vision of the younger woman suddenly standing and beginning to strip off her clothes forced the older woman to redirect her aesthetic appreciation.
Despite the privacy of their location, Barbara exhaled her relief when she found that the younger woman was wearing her turquoise micro-bikini.
Her relief was short lived.
"Cliff diving, Red."
Barbara felt her eyebrows rocket toward her hairline when the brunette held out her own black one piece and extended a hand in invitation.
"Wanna join me?"
Oddly, it only required a few seconds to weigh and total the odds. With a shrug and a wicked smile, she accepted her swimsuit.
"Let's take the plunge, Hel."
Despite the warm, welcoming pull of the currents holding her under, Barbara felt herself inexorably rising toward the surface. A narrow, focused tendril of brightness from somewhere distant beckoned, and, as much as she might wish to avoid its call, she could not.
Resultantly, and with a less-than-becoming grunt, she popped one eye open, grumpily peering at the seam in the blackout curtain which somehow always managed to permit a blinding beam of morning cheer to penetrate.
After her vision accustomed itself to the unwelcome laser aimed at her pillow, the first thing which Barbara noticed was her night stand: specifically, the fact that the drawer of the small table was cracked approximately an inch and a half. Instantly recalling what lay behind the uncharacteristic disorder, the redhead felt her brief burst of pique slide right off her.
Less than twelve hours before, after the long three-leg flight from Montego Bay, the little band of intrepid travelers had returned to New Gotham. By the time they'd sorted out their luggage -- Barbara still couldn't fathom why only one of their bags, one of hers, hadn't made the connection in Miami -- and dropped Gabby at her house, it had been midnight when they'd reached the clock tower.
Gratifyingly, they'd found their home to be in impeccable condition, a certain sign that Alfred had returned from his vacation and readied things for their homecoming. As expected after her month of travel, Dinah had been more than ready to return to her room, and so Barbara had accepted her ward's sleepy hug and bid the young woman a good night. At that point, she'd felt the weight of her other companion's stare and looked over to find blue eyes twinkling.
"Guess you wanna hit the Delphi, huh?"
To her surprise, especially since she had been able to stick to her promise not to surf the net while at the resort, the cyber-vigilante had realized that she had no desire to learn what had transpired in their absence and, perhaps more daunting, to discover what awaited them in their fair city.
"It can wait until tomorrow, Hel."
The frank incredulity in her younger partner's features had evoked a chuckle which had almost caused her to miss Helena's sotto voce response; when she'd made out the words -- which included "gotta find more of those pregnancy hormones" -- she'd pointedly headed into the bedroom, while Helena had decamped to the kitchen in search of something to sustain her.
Despite her weariness, the redhead had been unable to abandon lifelong habits completely and simply leave their bags sitting untouched at the foot of the bed. With fleeting guilt, she'd contented herself with digging through their luggage in order to toss the dirty laundry into the hamper before crawling into the big bed. Helena had joined her within minutes, and that's when the drawer had gone askew.
For a dozen heartbeats after she'd snicked off the lamp and Helena had snuggled close, all had been blissfully still and wonderfully comfortable. Then, the younger woman had abruptly bolted upright, clambered across her, and begun to rummage in the bedside table.
"What -- oomph -- in the name of mincing mountain goats are you..."
Her fuzzy bed socks -- the fuchsia pair -- had appeared before her, and she'd accepted them with a laugh. Once she'd performed the gymnastics to put them on, Helena had rearranged herself around her and, within minutes, both women had surrendered to the lures of Morpheus.
Now, with the realization of what had been removed from her bedside drawer came the memory of just what she'd placed in the drawer on Helena's side of the bed as she'd performed her perfunctory unpacking eight hours before.
Throughout their ten days in paradise, Barbara had honestly had no idea that her partner had carted along the...
Well, 'purple thing' was the only term she cared to use: an apt enough, if overly benign, description.
The fact that the... implement had been packed in Helena's belongings had simply not come up, so to speak, during their vacation; however, Barbara had been unceremoniously introduced to its presence on the return trip.
Traversing the gauntlet of Customs and Immigration at Miami International, Helena had been brusquely pulled aside with her luggage. After a certain amount of gesticulating, the vivacious young brunette had eventually been escorted into a private room by three customs agents. With thoughts of missed connections occupying a small part of her brain, Barbara had impatiently waited outside with Dinah and Gabby, filing through her mental rolodex in search of any immigration lawyers she might have met in the last few years and absolutely refusing to engage in any conjecture about what had sparked the search.
Helena had re-emerged long minutes later, almost puffing with righteous indignation which, later, Barbara suspected might have been laughter. In response to the questions barraging her, she'd shrugged with almost maddening nonchalance.
"How was I to know the, er... "
A circumspect glance toward their teenaged companions interrupted her, but only for a moment.
"...that purple latex was considered indecent?"
Barbara had felt her eyebrows follow the blush traveling toward the roots of her hair.
Regardless of Dinah and Gabby's complete bafflement, she'd had to ask.
"Did they confiscate it?"
Helena's reply had been pure sunshine.
"Nah, I just told 'em that I'm your PT and we use it for therapy."
Which, the older woman had realized as the blush in her cheeks had raged down her neck and entire torso, certainly explained the frankly curious looks she'd been receiving from the Customs Agents who had questioned Helena.
However, this morning, safe at home and unlikely to be meeting any of the agents any time soon, Barbara pushed aside her residual embarrassment and settled more deeply into the physical heat which was currently blanketing her from behind. Perhaps in deference to the warmth of their environment, or perhaps in deference to her own reticence, Helena hadn't seemed to sleep as closely while they'd been at the resort.
Barbara had to acknowledge that the return of her human blast furnace was... welcome.
Of course, simply being home was nice as well. Regardless of how wonderful a journey was, the lure of familiar comforts -- and her own bed -- was a lovely reward at the end of a trip.
With a blink, then a sly smile, the analytical woman corrected herself: the lure of their bed.
And, she tacked on while performing some isometric stretches, a return to their familiar sleeping position: meaning that, regardless of how she positioned herself -- on her back, her right side, her left side, possibly if she hung from the ceiling -- her bedmate was inevitably her own personal human octopus.
And, it was a lovely feeling, especially this position, with Helena spooning her so tightly from behind. The younger woman's rumbling purr vibrated through her torso while the hand draped over her waist kneaded softly at her abdomen.
Giving in to her sybaritic tendencies, Barbara worked her upper body back another inch or so, bringing her into firm contact with her companion's chest. She flirted with a moan, contenting herself with a long sigh as she savored a sensation which, until not too many months before, she'd never dreamed of.
Lost in her own sensations, it took the redhead a while before she noted a change: She couldn't be certain of when Helena began to drift into wakefulness, but she wryly suspected that it occurred around the same time that the younger woman's hand drifted upward on her torso. She concentrated on slender fingers whispering across her tee shirt, noting that their position was reversed from that of only a few nights before and guiltily acknowledging how much restraint her passionate younger lover had shown.
When her own breathing hitched, Barbara finally heard her partner's surprisingly tentative whisper.
"God, it feels so good holding you like this. Touching you like this."
The two lay in a silence broken only by the sound of Helena's shallow breathing and Barbara's own pounding heartbeat. Eventually, the younger woman seemed to arrive at a decision.
"Let me make you feel good, Baby."
Barbara swallowed with difficulty, perhaps in sympathy for the hoarseness of her bedmate's voice.
She couldn't finish the question, but the other woman easily grasped her intent.
"Huh. After that Irish massage you gave me, I owe you."
Green eyes narrowed, and the redhead began to suspect that a cup of coffee might be in order.
A warm chuckle penetrated the thick cotton of her NGPD tee, warming her shoulder.
"That afternoon with the storm?"
The succinct prompt was all that Barbara required to grasp the reference to the afternoon they'd spent in the room, on the plush rug near their balcony doors. With the curtains gusting in the wind and occasional drops of warm tropical rain spattering their skin, they'd watched the lightening and jumped to the booming thunder. When Helena had offered her a massage, Barbara had refused, insisting that, this time, she be allowed.
During the course of the two-hour massage, she'd been determined not to forget herself and shortchange her partner. In the process, she'd been able to rediscover every run of muscle in the younger woman's sinewy frame, to re-experience the delicate lines of downy hair covering Helena's lower back, to absorb the absolute softness of the skin of her inner thighs. Throughout, she'd been aware of glittering golden eyes which had never quite met hers and the unmistakable scent of her lover's passion; however, Helena had never... pushed.
Despite some sort of discomfort which accompanied the younger woman's characterization, Barbara managed a soft laugh.
"You certainly don't owe me, especially after all of the back rubs you've given me in the last few months."
Those teasing fingers touched more firmly, with intent.
"Then let me do something you can owe me for later, Babs."
She felt the woman behind her nose through her hair and gasped as impossibly soft lips moved across her neck. Eyes fluttering shut in spite of herself, Barbara surrendered to teasing strokes and soft suctioning which were all-the-more erotic for their slow deliberateness.
"Dear heaven, Hel -- "
Breasts aching, her skin almost electric, the redhead flailed blindly behind her. Her search for something to ground her led her to her partner's hip which was thrusting powerfully against her, and the heat in Barbara's veins turned to ice water.
Immediately, the younger woman's arms were around her, her cheek resting lightly on her shoulder.
"Barbara? What--? Did I--"
Somehow, the younger woman's solicitousness seemed to make it worse, but Barbara couldn't allow her partner to think for a moment that the responsibility lay with her.
"No. It... it isn't you."
Not the best she was capable of, but it would have to do.
Helena held the awkward embrace for a beat longer before slowly sinking back and spooning close. While her embrace was clearly intended to comfort, there was no way to miss that the younger woman was anything but relaxed: her breathing, the heat pouring from her, even a scent Barbara had come to recognize were all unmistakable.
Accordingly, the older woman felt even worse when she heard her lover's next words.
"What's going on, Red?"
The tone was calm, almost conversational, giving the redhead a breather. She searched, attempting to categorize and label the variegated answers to the seemingly simple question. Ultimately, she opted to focus on the moment at hand.
"I want to show you."
The words were so damned inadequate for what she meant, for what she wanted: to thrust and ride her lover actively, to show her how much...
A long, slow sigh interrupted her self-recrimination
Long-suffering would not have been too far off the mark, Barbara suspected.
As the seconds ticked by and there was no other response, she couldn't handle the silence.
"Am I overanalyzing again, Hel?"
A rumbling chuckle tickled her neck an instant before soft lips brushed the sensitized area.
"M'be a little..."
Despite Helena's unconcern and ready acceptance, the older woman couldn't let it go, couldn't just...ease back into the moment.
This time, there was no sigh, only a rustle as her bedmate raised up on an elbow behind her. Barbara shivered as strong fingers combed through her hair.
"You do, Red."
Frustrated to the point of screaming, the redhead grit her teeth, feeling the muscles in her jaw tic once before warm, slender fingers stroked lightly against her face. Despite herself, she felt her tension begin to peel away.
"I can smell you. I can feel your muscles tighten..."
That maddeningly gentle, talented hand dropped to caress her belly.
"...and feel your body calling for me"
Barbara barely had time to puzzle over the oddly poetic sentiment before her own hand was lifted, then coaxed to her lower abdomen. When the younger woman pressed their joined hands together against her, Barbara recognized that her partner had been speaking factually -- literally -- rather than symbolically. As Helena had shown her several months before, she was reminded that, internally, she couldn't help but respond.
Turning that thought over, the redhead admitted the sweet symbolism. She'd never been able to resist Helena's call: from the first day the brash young teen had entered her classroom and engaged her, to a year of atrocious deli every day, to having her eidetic neurons filled to overflowing with repeated viewings of every Jackie Chan movie on the planet, to learning how to handle Tequila shooters --
Smirking, Barbara caught herself, forcing herself to stay honest: the shooters, after all, had been something which she'd shared with Helena. It had been the younger woman who had exposed her to, and inflicted on her the hangovers from, deceptively sweet drinks with blush-inducing names like "screaming orgasms", "sex on the beach", and "slippery nipples".
She caught her lower lip in her teeth, then blinked when gamine features came into view.
"Most of all, night and day, Barbara, I hear your heart beat for me."
"You make me feel so beautiful, Helena."
Struck senseless, she didn't realize she'd spoken until she heard Helena's reply.
"You are beautiful."
She opened, then shut her mouth.
You make me feel...
She couldn't speak the words aloud, but they echoed clearly through her. Pierced by too many emotions to comprehend, Barbara heard herself whispering a wondering question.
"How can you love me so?"
The younger woman, of course, heard the words which Barbara hadn't planned on speaking aloud.
"How can I help it? You made me everything I am... everything I want to be."
Once again, she was reminded that, for better or worse, their effect on each other went both ways.
How could it not?
Bringing her partner's hand to her lips, wishing she could give voice to the need inside -- 'Take care of me, Hel.' -- she inhaled slowly, feeling her bedmate relax around her from behind.
"No...rush, Red. I know... a lot's happened."
Choosing to label her response to that as "ironic", Barbara couldn't disagree. She filed away for later consideration her reaction to the... reprieve which Helena was offering.
"Not just with this -- "
Warm fingers drifted across her upper abdomen before the maddening tickle abruptly vanished somewhere around her waist.
"-- but, uhm, everything. You and me."
Searching under the covers, she capture the hand she found resting on her hip, threading their fingers and bringing their joined hands to her breastbone.
"What do you want, Hel?"
Since she wasn't entirely certain how she'd intended the question, Barbara was curious about her partner's response. Helena took her time, perhaps searching through the nuances, and in the interim, Barbara again felt the sensation of her lover's breasts against her back and her lover's non-movement against her.
"What I've always wanted since I knew what wanting was, I guess."
Only slightly surprised that she'd deciphered the tangled utterance, Barbara held her breath.
"To be with you. For you to be happy."
Defensive armor stripped away, the redhead heard her own, almost plaintive, demand to know.
"But what about you, Helena?"
The brunette's quiet reply was instant.
And, the older woman realized with a stutter step of her heart, completely certain.
"That is for me, Barbara."
Barbara could hear a quiet rustle as her partner inched forward, then felt her partner's face against her shoulder and readied herself for... whatever the younger woman would say to lighten the mood and guard against her revelation.
After all, the older woman knew, without question or doubt, that for all her emotionality and volatility, brashness and swagger, Helena guarded her tender heart as vigorously as Barbara denied... or forgot... that she herself had one.
The redhead knew she'd seen glimmers of it from their early days in the classroom when she'd detected tearstains on her don't-give-a-damn young student's essay about "The Bell Jar". She'd recognized glimmers not long after she'd become Helena's guardian and the girl had casually assumed PT duties. Certainly by the time they'd embarked on their joint venture and her protege was risking, and sustaining, injuries to rescue puppies, it had become a given.
"And, more leather. Maybe some nunchucks, too."
The older woman silenced her lover's embarrassed additions, inclining her head to press a kiss to her knuckles.
"I just... You've... you are shaking up your life so much, and I don't want you to..."
Barbara blinked against something wet rimming her eyes, marveling at the younger woman's sweetness. Pushing aside her maudlin tendencies, she snorted soundlessly at the recognition that Helena had always been the patient one.
After all, for how many years had Helena known and waited for her to see?
The incongruous murmur distracted the redhead from her musing about the changes which had encompassed her life in the last six months.
Expecting something suggestive, she was gratified to realize that they'd been sharing similar thoughts.
"Like a painting or something, Barbara. You've been adding new colors and mattes...?"
Green eyes tracked upward, taking in the colorful Gauguin at the head of the bed, grateful beyond words for all that its presence symbolized.
"Onions?" she suggested laconically, feeling a smile ghost her lips.
Helena wasn't the only one who could -- who needed to -- diffuse a moment.
The smirk became full-blown.
"Barbaras have layers, like onions," she teased.
Naturally, Helena grasped the reference to the movie which Barbara had inopportunely quoted during Frank Lowen's laser attack on Arkham so many months before. She immediately fell into the role of Donkey.
"Nah, parfaits. Everybody likes..."
A slow nibbling of lips muted some of the remainder, but through her shivers, Barbara clearly detected the words "yummy", "eat", and "layers".
Snorting softly, she reached back, wending her fingers through silky hair and tugging gently. Her bedmate shimmied over her with pleasing alacrity, bringing them face to face.
"Onions," she corrected lightly.
Blue eyes danced.
"Lemme taste and see..."
After that, the communication flowed into something of a more nonverbal nature until, with a groan of frustration, Barbara pushed herself up, somehow yanking roughly at her lover's tank at the same time.
Her own soft 'ooh' of pleasure was lost to Helena's soulful groan when her mouth found it's destination. Fingers gently threaded through her hair, the slow rise and fall of Helena's hips under her torso increasing in tempo.
"God, I wanted you like this three nights ago."
Barbara paused only long enough to position her thigh between the younger woman's legs.
"I know," she husked, returning to the feast before her.
Barbara Gordon was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a big fan of breakfast.
While she had nothing personally against bacon and toast and cereal and the other traditional fare, she simply wasn't impressed by the charms of the most important meal of the day. Since she presented herself as a responsible adult who faced the world early each day, well-fortified and ready to go, she engaged in the habit; however, as a night owl at heart, her preference would have been to skip the whole mess and grab an extra hour or three of sleep each morning.
Brunch however, with it's connotations of lazy mornings, indulgent treats, and lingering over the newspaper, was another matter. Brunch was a habit she felt she could wholeheartedly embrace.
This particular brunch, which -- given the hour she and Helena had emerged from their room -- was closer to lunch than breakfast, was no exception. Since it had been assembled as a welcome home celebration by Alfred, she had no opportunity to indulge in The Times crossword; however, there were numerous other distractions.
"And we even got some pictures of her scaling the side of the Statue of Lib--"
Perhaps realizing that she'd divulged information which Helena might have preferred kept in confidence, Dinah abruptly cut short her vivid description of some of the highlights of her visit to New York City. Barbara touched her napkin to her mouth as Alfred, neutral as ever, approached the table with a carafe of orange juice and a magnum of champagne.
"That must have been most exciting, Miss Dinah."
The butler blandly met Barbara's smirk.
"I've taken the liberty of readying for mimosas, Miss Barbara, if it meets with your approval."
The redhead felt unbecoming lines wrinkle her brow at the implied question. Before she had time to guess why he had felt the need to ask, Alfred tilted his head infinitesimally in the direction of the only underage member of the little breakfast party, and Barbara released her nervous sigh through a laugh.
"Of course Dinah is welcome," she agreed, "but it might be a bit decadent for a weekday for m-"
Before she could continue her awkward refusal, Helena beat her to the punch.
"Thanks, Alfred, but make mine a bud."
The distinguished gentleman was unruffled.
"A Bud, Miss Helena? I believe that I've stocked Fat Tire, Blue Canoe, and Red Stripe..."
The brunette's laughter was bright.
"Sorry, Alfred, but not even I want beer with breakfast."
Dinah's snort almost caused Barbara to miss the tiny smile which Alfred presented at Helena's overly dramatic expression of distaste.
"I meant to make it a virgin mimosa."
"Me, too," Dinah piped in.
Rolling her eyes, Barbara permitted herself an admonishment.
She waited until two very different pairs of blue eyes fixed on her.
"Please. Enjoy yourselves."
She looked up to meet Alfred's quizzical countenance.
"However, I do need to keep a clear head to tackle the Delphi later."
Before the moment could become awkward, Dinah shrugged and extended her glass with a squeal.
Nodding again in response to Alfred's unspoken question, the redhead directed her attention to the feast before them, struggling not to blanch at the sight of... French Toast. Normally a much-loved and seldom-enjoyed treat, the delicacy had made up her entire breakfast repertoire at the resort: it had been that or various smoked pork products.
"...and Barbara even went cliff diving!"
Dinah's somewhat exaggerated accounting distracted the older woman from the slow roll her stomach was performing, and she looked up with a wry smile.
"I did have a bit of help," she interjected modestly at the same moment that Helena chimed in.
"Yeah, and I've got a picture to prove it."
Barbara rolled her eyes and cut off a miniscule bite of toast, secretly delighted by the reminder.
As she'd readied herself for their impromptu suicide plunge two days earlier, Helena had dug through the gear bag in the back of the Jeep and produced the underwater camera. With some fanfare, the brunette had entrusted her with the task of holding the camera at arm's length to capture their hair-raising plunge. Feeling remarkably calm about the situation, Barbara had attempted to keep the small disposable steady and snapped what was undoubtedly a memorable, if blurry, shot at the instant Helena had barreled over the cliff with her in her arms.
Chewing thoughtfully, Barbara suspected that when the photo was developed, it would join her wall of fame near the Delphi, next to the photo of Dinah's "thought bubble" fish tank and above the Richard M. Nixon commemorative presidential plate.
"Honestly, Dinah," she smoothly cut in on the teen's imaginative recounting of the feat of daring do, "it was more like a jump from an Olympic high dive platform."
The pink-haired girl opened her mouth but was cut short by the other member of their party.
Almost leisurely, Helena swallowed a mouthful of eggs and reached for her juice.
"Like they have jagged rocks at the base of the Olympic pool."
The brunette downed half her beverage and decisively thumped her glass on the table.
"And sharks. Can't forget the sharks."
Snorting into her coffee, Barbara noticed that Helena's tactic achieved the results she'd hoped for: Dinah forgot cliff diving. With Alfred settling himself at the table with a cup of tea, the teen launched into a mile-a-minute description of snorkeling, diving, and glass-bottom boat excursions. By the time she'd provided a blow-by-blow recounting of Helena's surprisingly graceless -- and drenching -- attempts at sail boarding, all thoughts of reckless plunges had disappeared, along with most of the food on the table.
An hour later, finally ensconced in front of the Delphi, Barbara paused with her fingers above the keyboard, wondering just where all of the food had gone and how she'd somehow managed to polish off two helpings of French toast.
Some days, it might be wise to wear a belt: if only so she could loosen it after a meal.
Chuckling, she straightened her shoulders and decisively faced her oversized plasma monitor.
No more delaying the inevitable; it was time to find out what New Gotham had in store for them.
Her fingers flew across the keyboard, entering the sequence of login codes and passwords without conscious thought. The soft click of the keys and pervasive humming of the CPUs as they began to overclock were as familiar and unnoticed as elevator music, and she rapidly lost herself in the process of sifting through eleven days worth of police reports, logs from security firms, and miscellaneous other automatically generated incident reports.
Caught up with plans to update her categorization algorithms -- somehow, some sort of incident involving toupees had been routed to the assault category -- the cyber-vigilante almost sailed right out of her chair when a discrete cough penetrated her distraction. One hand flying dramatically to her chest, she jerked her head to the right, barely holding back a startled squeak.
"Great Caesar's ghost, Alfred! You scared the hell out of me!"
The butler calmly settled a cup and saucer next to her mouse pad.
"My apologies, Miss Barbara. I didn't intend to disturb you so violently."
With her pulse rate finally dropping back to the double-digits, the redhead felt heat rise to her cheeks.
"No, Alfred, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have snapped at you."
She leaned down slightly and sniffed, smiling appreciatively at the rich orange pekoe.
"And, thank you for the tea. You really are too good to us."
The proper Englishman, naturally, didn't accept the praise easily.
"That would be most difficult, I believe."
Chuckling, Barbara reached for the cup.
"And, thank you for taking such good care of things in our absence."
She wrinkled her nose to push her glasses up a few millimeters and looked over the top of her cup.
"How was your holiday, Alfred?"
The reserved gentleman's posture seemed to relax a hairsbreadth, and the redhead felt herself ease a wee bit in response.
Honestly, sometimes she still felt like a schoolgirl in the principal's office when Alfred addressed her.
"It was most enjoyable, Miss Barbara. Thank you for asking."
The momentary informality ended, and he cleared his throat, extending a small sheaf of papers.
"I took the liberty of answering the phone while I was here. I believe that the topmost message may be of some import."
Cocking her head to one side, Barbara resettled her teacup and accepted the papers. A beat later, she almost jumped at the phantom sensation of butterflies in the pit of her stomach when she read the message: a confirmation of the emergency appointment she'd requested with her gynecologist.
She looked over her glasses, acutely aware of the fact that her attempt at nonchalance had come out more like a sick croak.
"The office asked me to impress upon you that they had to cancel several appointments to fit you in."
The older gentleman's expression remained completely neutral, but Barbara wasn't fooled for a minute.
"If you'll forgive my presumption, I do hope that there's nothing amiss."
A somewhat strangled laugh escaped the redhead, and she clearly detected the puzzled concern hidden behind professional reserve. With the observation came the realization that, here, finally, was an opportunity to unburden herself to someone who was less intimately involved in events yet who was privy to the... unique aspects of their situation.
For almost three weeks, Barbara had been wrestling with the situation and the possibilities, attempting to make sense of matters and, somehow, come to terms. Regrettably, she'd had little success on any front.
As much as it had rankled her scientific, orderly mind, she'd been willing to accept that Helena's meta-uniqueness could lie behind her current condition.
In their world, stranger things were known to happen.
Unfortunately, the sample she'd analyzed before their trip had suggested the impossibility of that, leaving a much less palatable -- albeit, in their line of work, more possible -- option: that somehow The Joker had infused the bubble goo he'd sprayed Helena with.
Not for the first time, Barbara felt her stomach twist, both at the thought itself and at the wish which had been, inevitably following it for the last week: if only she could have someone present her with proof of a blackout induced infidelity which could account for the pregnancy.
Anything to keep the entity inside her from being a product of hers and... Jack Napier.
Recalling herself, she met the sympathetic gaze directed her way, debating the fairness of burdening someone else with her fears and confusion.
It took her all of three second's deliberation before she laid it out.
When she'd finished her summation, she carefully folded her glasses and settled them into the pocket of her chair, feeling oddly light and, simultaneously, terribly selfish. Her confessor regarded her thoughtfully for a few seconds before inclining his head ever so slightly to the right.
"I see. The situation is certainly..."
Barbara wasn't certain whether it was decorum or the inadequacy of the English language which caused her companion to trail off. Not without sympathy, she spoke dryly.
Alfred nodded once.
The two shared a brief, humorless smile. The dignified man held her gaze, seeming to consider his words before finally speaking.
"May I speak frankly, Miss Barbara?"
The redhead exhaled heavily, hoping to blow the cares of the world -- or at least a few specific personal concerns -- from her shoulders, and smiled softly.
"I wish you would, Alfred."
"In that case,"
He nodded his acknowledgment, then shook his head briefly when Barbara gestured to a chair in invitation.
"...while this arena is one in which I must admit having very little familiarity, it is not altogether without similarity to another such event which occurred a quarter century ago."
Crimson brows furrowed while Barbara attempted to work the math and place the butler's reference. Finally, the cyber-genius gave up.
"You've lost me here, Alfred."
The older man's expression never faltered from its customary polite neutrality, but Barbara swore she detected a distinct hint of sympathy in observant hazel eyes.
"I am referring to Miss Helena's origins."
Barbara briefly wondered if she were experiencing a bout of early-afternoon morning sickness when a wave of vertigo to passed through her. She rode out the sensation, then carefully moistened her suddenly very dry lips with the tip of her tongue.
"How might -- "
She had to stop, to inhale slowly and clear her throat, before trying again.
"How is this similar, Alfred?"
Her companion shifted minutely, then adjusted his already perfect cuffs.
"It is certainly not my place to reveal a confidence, since it seems that you don't know; however, in these circumstances..."
He trailed off, clearly seeking encouragement to continue. Despite the sensation of falling -- faster and faster -- Barbara barely resisted a smirk: In some ways, the perfectly proper Englishman truly was a gossipy old hen.
She spared him any further moral qualms.
"If you think it's pertinent, I'm sure that... Bruce...?"
She added a hint of a question to her statement, continuing when Alfred nodded.
"...wouldn't mind. And, well, Selina..."
She waited, marshalling her limited stores of patience and absolutely resolute not to attempt any further coaxing. She would allow him to make his own decision.
Of course, she determined grimly, if Alfred chose not to break Bruce's confidence, she'd be doing some pretty serious research of her own -- possibly including a visit to Wayne Manor -- in the next few days.
When Alfred finally spoke, Barbara knew that she wouldn't need to dust off her skills as a darknight detective.
"It seems that your situation may not be so different from that of twenty-five years ago. Specifically..."
The sympathetic look she saw evoked another attack of phantom butterflies.
"...when Master Bruce discovered that Helena's mother was carrying his child, he requested--"
Pursing his lips, the butler corrected himself.
"--He demanded that she terminate her pregnancy."
Barbara heard the question before she recognized that it had been hers. When Alfred brushed a bit of imaginary lint from his lapel, she closed her mouth and focused on the simple act of breathing.
"Apparently, Miss Barbara, he feared that the outcome of their union could be... a danger."
Buffeted by too many emotions to grasp, Barbara knew that she was no longer able to listen... to absorb any more of what her companion was telling her.
Distantly, she watched her fingers curl around the steel armrests of her chair, and she recognized the fury boiling within herself: Fury with Bruce for his dogmatic focus on right at all costs. Almost instantly, her anger bled to horrified sorrow over what the cost of Bruce's choice would have been.
And then, so rapidly she feared whiplash, she was wracked with nauseated disgust at herself: Disgust for her predictability and her clone-like adherence to her mentor's mindset.
A soft cough refocused her attention, and she willed her tightly clenched fists to relax.
"What happened, Alfred?", she finally managed.
Obviously, Selina hadn't given in to Bruce's request; however, given how strong-willed her mentor was, she was certain that there was more to the story... and the moral.
"If memory serves, Miss Selina informed Master Bruce that he could perform a proctological examination on himself."
For the first time in what felt like years, Barbara smiled, easily visualizing that particular scene. As strong-willed as Bruce was, Selina had been no slouch herself.
Particularly when it came to her daughter.
"She disappeared immediately after that."
The redhead sobered again, well understanding why Selina had gone underground so suddenly. The possibility of Bruce taking matters into his own gloved hands would have been too great to ignore.
Working to fit the suddenly reshaped pieces of history into place, she almost missed her companion's slightly raised brow.
She couldn't believe that she was asking, but the analytical woman had always been a slave to her curiosity.
"...something else, Alfred?"
The older gentleman took a measured step forward and retrieved the now-cold tea.
"Not to make your decision more difficult, Miss Barbara, but have you considered that there is another alternative?"
"Anoth--?" she managed.
Cup steady on the saucer which was balanced in his hand, the butler remained by her side.
"Indeed. Perhaps the... offspring isn't yours at all."
Green eyes blinked. Several times.
"Excuse me, Alfred? I'm afraid I'm not following you."
Barbara almost recoiled when the reserved gentleman lightly rested a sympathetic hand on her shoulder.
"I simply wish to point out that, given the uniqueness of her genetics in combination with whatever might have been in the bubble goo, perhaps the child is a product of Helena and The Joker."
This was, simply, not at all amusing.
Specifically, Barbara mentally clarified, the current state of affairs in her city was entirely not funny. That, or the powers that be had a mighty strange sense of humor.
The crimson-haired crime fighter leaned back from her monitor and speculatively tapped the stem of her glasses against her lower lip. Considering that last thought, she had to admit that in balance with her life, it seemed as likely an explanation as any.
It wasn't, after all, that she couldn't handle the grand ironies: her less than stellar childhood in what should have been an idyllic setting; the loss of her parents which had, actually, been a bit of a blessing; the decision to end her gymnastics career to pursue vigilante justice and then having that vocation stripped from her by a green-haired madman. She even felt that, on the whole, she was managing to deal quite capably with the latest irony: carrying a child which was possibly the product of that madman and... someone.
So, no, it wasn't the grand issues which got under her skin; it was, rather, the unrelenting minutiae.
Barbara snorted, aware that, with the clock tower to herself for the afternoon, she wouldn't be receiving any looks from her partners which suggested that her sanity was in question.
In just the last four months or so, she'd dealt with a nutcase lasering Arkham asylum, with clown fish thefts culminating in an interlude of semi-public S&M with her new lover, and with The Joker himself. She was even working to come to terms with a seeming immaculate conception.
However, when she'd had the nerve to give herself a ten day vacation, what had happened?
Well, in all honesty, not much had occurred during nine and a half of those ten days. It had only been on the day before their return home that things had begun to fester again in New Gotham.
According to the police reports she'd finally organized, while she'd been picnicking and plummeting over cliffs in Jamaica on her last day of vacation, some sorts of low-lifes had crawled out of the sewer and sprayed the crowd at a minor league baseball game with goo. While the goo had clearly not been the same suffacating mixture concocted by The Joker, however the event had created an understandable panic.
The copycat nitwits had yet to reappear, however there had been another welcome home offering in her city: the night before, at approximately the same time their plane had touched down in New Gotham, some group of depraved individuals had broken into the zoo and wrecked mayhem in the aviary wing: every hawk, falcon, owl, and eagle had been... plucked.
Completely denuded of feathers and left to suffer in their cages. By the time the staff had arrived this morning, many of the birds had died of shock and exposure.
Given the lack of coincidences in her line of work, Barbara found herself wondering how closely related the two incidents might be and musing on whether some sort of tar and feathering event would soon crop up.
Exhaling noisily through her nose, the redhead reseated her glasses with a grim smile.
At least life was never dull.
Poised with her fingers millimeters above her mouse, she caught the eye of the Princess Fiona bobbin' head doll situated above her monitor. Winking, she shared a bit of advice she'd received from an e-mail correspondant.
"Noli illegitimi carborundum, Princess."
When the doll nodded her agreement, Barbara smirked and refocused on her monitor, absolutely determined that she would not allow the bastards to grind her down. Her concentrated attempts to locate further information about the nature of the goo which had been used during the attack two days before was interrupted by the soft ding of the elevator, announcing the arrival of one of the younger women in her life.
With Helena's fondness for stealthy, and showy, landings on the balcony, she put her money on Dinah. When the elevator opened, proving her suspicion correct, the redhead smiled a greeting and casually began to minimize the various windows detailing the attack.
No need to bring any bad memories to the surface yet.
The teen waved a cheery hello and bounded into the kitchen, the brief delay giving Barbara time to bring her mail program to the forefront. A plethora of humor posts which her father had forwarded during the last ten days brought a smile to her face even as she made a mental note to give him a call within the next few hours. When she absently counted the actual number of messages he'd sent, she tacked a rider onto her mental note: Obviously she'd need to set up a filter to shunt his humor posts to a separate folder.
One could only be expected to face so many "You Might Be a Redneck" posts in one week.
Smile widening, she looked up as Dinah returned from the kitchen, guzzling deeply from a bottle of spring water.
"Hello, Dinah. What have you been up to?"
Since she was all too aware that Gabby would be heading off to State before too many weeks, Barbara fully expected that her ward had spent time with the other girl, despite the fact that the two had seen each other barely sixteen hours earlier. She was, accordingly, unprepared for Dinah's sunny reply.
"Filling out job applications."
Blinking, several times, the older woman removed her glasses, carefully crossing the bows at a forty-five degree angle before she placed them on her mouse pad.
"Excuse me, Dinah? A job?"
The pink-haired girl circumnavigated the sofa and ascended the ramp to the Delphi.
"Uh huh. It seemed like a good idea before the summer's completely over and all. I figured that some of the kids who got summer jobs might be getting tired of them now, and things could be opening up."
The redhead nodded her acknowledgement of the logic even as she protested the action.
"Is this about money, Dinah? Because, it really isn't an issue."
With the number of scholarships the girl had been awarded, they wouldn't even have to pay for her textbooks out of pocket.
Pink hair whipped from side to side.
"No, it's not..."
Barbara marshaled her patience as her ward interrupted herself and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.
"Well, maybe a little. You know?"
Having learned not to assume that she followed the workings of the adolescent mind, Barbara drew upon time-proven classroom techniques and smiled encouragingly.
"You know, just..."
The teen shrugged and fiddled with the cap of her water bottle.
"...knowing that some of the money I have is really, well, mine."
Barbara nodded seriously, not unfamiliar with that particular desire from her own teenage years.
"Besides, there's still a month until classes start," Dinah barreled on, "so if it looks like it'll interfere with studying or something, I can always cut back or quit or something."
There was no arguing with her ward's logic, and so the cyber-genius didn't try.
"It sounds like you've thought things through pretty thoroughly, Honey."
A completely unforced smile turned up the corners of her mouth when she saw the shyly nervous dip of the young woman's corn silk lashes.
"Where have you been applying?"
She didn't miss the way her companion relaxed.
"Well, I talked with Dr. Connors -- You remember her?"
Uncertain whether it would have been possible to forget -- eidetic memory notwithstanding -- the memorable evening that she and Dinah had toured NGU and met the Biology professor, Barbara simply nodded encouragingly.
"Well, you have to be at least a sophomore in order to work in the lab. Can you believe how unfair that is?"
Fighting a grin at the dramatic aggrievement in her ward's tone, Barbara nodded sympathetically. Apparently placated, the teen shrugged.
"So, I applied at the library -- "
This time, the redhead's nod was genuinely encouraging: She'd earned her share of minimum wage dollars shelving books in her day.
Warm memories of dusty stacks and squeaky book carts vanished with a noisy pop when she heard her companion's next words.
"... and at the mall."
Somehow, Barbara managed to maintain a smile which she hoped was, at the very least, neutral. She heard herself parroting, with what seemed to be completely transparent nonchalance, Dinah's last two words.
The teen diplomatically didn't notice the tiny incredulous rise at the end of the question, simply bobbing her head enthusiastically.
"Uh huh. Helena told me that employees get discounts at all the stores there. And the food court, which, you know, could be really cool if dorm food sucks or something."
The redhead opted for a strategic retreat on the subject, realizing that the door had just been opened on another topic of pressing import. As far as she knew, matters were still up in the air about whether Dinah would be living in the dorms, at home, or... in Helena's old apartment.
"Speaking of Helena, have you given any further thought to your living arrangements this fall?"
Looking as completely baffled by the sudden segue as Barbara suspected that she might have been, the girl simply waited for elaboration.
Her face, Barbara noted, wore the patented teen expression suggesting that she thought her older companion might be approaching senility.
"Living quarters," she prompted mildly.
"Oh, that," Dinah laughed. "The dorms."
Mildly flummoxed by the utter nonchalance of the announcement -- after all, the decision had been a source of considerable angst for her ward for several months -- Barbara waited, hoping that her silence would serve as a prompt. When the tactic failed to achieve its desired results, she barely managed not to roll her eyes in exasperation.
"What led you to reach that decision, Dinah?"
A hint of pink touched the young woman's cheeks, and Barbara mentally winced when she reached for a lock of hair, twirling it between her fingers.
"Uhm, I just got to thinking that maybe I'm not ready to be quite on my own yet. After everything with, uh..."
Cheeks now flaming, Dinah rushed on.
"And what you said about the dorms being a good jumping off point sounded fun..."
"Dorm life can be a lot of fun," the older woman agreed, wishing she'd experienced a bit more of that enjoyment during her college years.
Bracing herself, she tackled the giant green elephant in the clock tower.
"And, how are you doing after everything with The Joker?"
They'd skirted the topic of Dinah's feelings about Jack Napier's death while at the resort, but this was the first direct reference either had made. To Barbara's distinct pride, her protege neither brushed off the question nor avoided it; instead, she leaned against the table, face scrunched in thought as she picked at the label of her water.
"I... I guess I'm getting okay with it."
Pale blue eyes sought green, seeking understanding.
"I know, uh, at the time I wanted to... to do something to hurt him, but I also know it's not my fault that he's dead. And..."
Barbara held her breath when she saw the pained defiance in those innocent features.
"...I'm not sorry he's dead. He was a horrible person."
Awash with emotions, Barbara automatically cataloged them as they coursed through her: empathy for the sentiment, sorrow that the bright young woman should have experienced so much already, pride in Dinah's directness and maturity.
And one other: Shame.
In the face of the brave honesty of the girl who was little more than half her age, she couldn't allow herself to duck the question which blazed through her mind in three foot neon letters.
"He was indeed, Dinah. And given that,"
Barbara wanted to look away, to avoid those insightful eyes, but she forced herself to keep her gaze steady.
"...how do you feel about..."
The steadiness of her voice was apparently another matter.
Helpless, she clenched her hands into fists against her lower abdomen.
"...if this is his doing?"
The analytical woman felt no need, or capacity, to add Alfred's possibility to the mix. Regardless of whether she or Helena had provided the maternal DNA, the question was how Dinah felt about the possible other half of the equation.
Given the enormity of her own trepidation, Barbara discovered that she was a bit nonplused for the second time in minutes by her companion's response: nervousness simply vanishing, the teen smiled brightly and spoke with an absolute certainty which, to Barbara's complete surprise, ellicited a genuine laugh on her part.
"I don't think it's going to be a problem, Barbara. After all, there's no way that anybody's DNA -- except maybe Helena's -- could overpower yours. Not even The Joker's."
"Holy shit, you weren't joking, were you?"
While she certainly understood the question in all of its earthiness and while she completely forgave the rather indelicate lapse, Barbara could only muster a wan smile to accompany her headshake. Possibly realizing that her query had been a bit less than professional, the redhead's companion juggled the printout in her hand and quietly closed the door to the office behind her. Once their privacy was insured, she circled to the far side of her desk and dropped the paper she'd been engrossed in during her rather voluble exclamation.
"That is, are congratulations in order, Barbara?"
Utterly uncertain herself, the redhead lifted her brows helplessly.
"Well, giant jumping alligators, Barbara..."
The other woman dropped into her chair, perching her elbows on the desk blotter and resting her chin on her tented fingers. Barbara's response -- an appreciative smile -- was immediate and genuine: she had always enjoyed her gynecologist's ability to coin colorful terms, and she accordingly filed the latest away for future reference.
"...I really thought we had a case of pseudocyesis here, but the HCG levels are simply too telling."
Having entertained some faint hopes of false pregnancy herself, Barbara nodded somberly.
"So the blood work confirms the urine tests, Dr. Frine? I'd rather thought that my home tests could be fault--"
A sharply raised hand cut her short, and Barbara caught herself with a chuckle.
"Sorry, Gloria. Old habits and all."
Dr. Gloria Frine had been her gynecologist for as long as Barbara had recognized the need for one. From her early, somewhat stammering, investigations into birth control, to her later concerns about sexual and reproductive issues after the shooting, to some recent inquiries related to her changing relationship with Helena, Barbara had consistently felt at ease with the older woman. At some point during the years of their association, they'd moved from the formality of doctor and patient into a first name relationship; however, Barbara ruefully noted, under certain circumstances, she was apparently prone to falling back on formality.
The gray-streaked head bobbed approvingly, the severity of the motion softened by a knowing smile.
"Understandable, Barbara. And, yes..."
The doctor lifted the printout from her desk and tromboned it with one hand while fumbling in the pocket of her lab coat -- presumably for the glasses that hung from a chain around her neck -- with the other.
"The blood work seems definitive. There are even traces of the expected alpha-fetoproteins."
She abandoned her search for the elusive glasses as she stuffed the lab report into a folder and peered intently across the desk which separated them.
"So, yes, my dear, it would appear that you are entirely knocked up."
Barbara's unexpected and totally indelicate snort of surprised amusement finally freed her breathing and allowed her to peer through the veil of uncharacteristic terror which had possessed her since entering the office an hour before. Apparently, her marginal relaxation didn't go unnoticed.
The doctor leaned back in the oversized chair and narrowed her eyes.
"Care to tell me how this happened? It seems that you weren't planning on this, and I am quite certain that we covered birth control thoroughly many years ago."
The redhead smiled wanly, accepting the question for what it was: curiosity mixed with professional concern.
"I'm... I'm not entirely certain, Gloria."
Thin lips pursed thoughtfully.
"Somehow, I find that difficult to believe, Barbara. Do we need a refresher on anatomy? Tab A fitting into Slot B, and such?"
This time, Barbara laughed outright and waved a hand dismissively.
"Hardly, Gloria. It may not have been a frequent occurrence -- "
Despite the heat she felt touching her cheeks, the redhead felt the need to clarify.
"-- at least until lately -- "
The doctor chuckled appreciatively and nodded for her to continue.
"...but I'm unlikely to forget something as basic as that," she finally managed to finish.
The older woman nodded again but didn't speak. Her expression, however, spoke volumes.
Quite aware of how her next words would sound, Barbara futilely hunted for a way to explain. After she'd opened, then closed, her mouth for the third time, she threw in the towel on coherence and went with the direct approach.
"Gloria, I haven't been with a man in over a year. Almost two, actually."
She didn't speak the words, but they pierced her nonetheless.
Frine took a moment to absorb what her patient had just told her, then raised a slightly bushy brow.
"Are you seriously suggesting that we have a virgin birth coming up? Do I need to dust off my beads?"
Again, Barbara felt her embarrassment pushed to the periphery by her laughter.
"Hardly a virgin, Gloria."
The doctor absently stroked the chain that held her glasses, her expression eloquence itself.
"There's a possibility that Helena..."
Sensing the blush nipping at her heels, the redhead concentrated on the facts. After all, it wasn't as if the gynocologist were completely unfamiliar with some of Helena's unique traits.
"Well, the best-case scenario seems to be that Helena might somehow have inseminated me."
When Gloria failed to respond, Barbara heard herself tacking on a bit more detail.
"With her meta-genetics."
Slowly, her doctor leaned forward, resting her fingertips against the edge of the desk.
"An honest to God case of parthenogenesis? Do I even need to tell you how utterly disturbing I find that idea?"
The best that Barbara could offer was a helpless shrug. She'd always appreciated her gynecologist's keen vocabulary if not, at this moment, her mile-wide skeptical streak.
"Okay," Frine exhaled noisily, "you said that was the best case. I take it you have other suspicions?"
Wishing desperately to sink through the tasteful wool carpeting and not stop until she reached the van in the parking garage, the redhead swallowed against the mass rising in her throat. Gratefully, she accepted the glass of water that her companion extended, sipping slowly for a long thirty seconds until her parched lips could move to speak.
Since she'd assumed that the question might come up, Barbara had given quite a bit of thought about what, and how much, to divulge to her doctor. Sometime between parking the van and riding the elevator up to the office seventy-five minutes earlier, she'd opted for a somewhat whitewashed version of the truth: Helena had been at the wrong place at the right time and had been caught in The Joker's wave of bubble goo terror.
When she completed her summation, including the fact that she'd already performed one analysis of her partner's ejaculate and found nothing to support Helena as the "father" of the child, silence engulfed the office. Fighting the urge to fidget, Barbara sipped at her water again and allowed her listener to cogitate on what she'd shared.
Frine took her time, her face inscrutable as she tapped her fingers quietly against the blotter on the desk. As the seconds, then the minutes, ticked by, Barbara found herself segueing into gratitude that they weren't rushed in this discussion: Apparently when she'd requested the unexpected appointment, the office had cleared not one, but three, slots for her.
Lost in mental perambulations about the advantages of long-standing relationships, the redhead was abruptly recalled to the moment at hand when Gloria finally straightened up. The doctor brusquely jerked a leather-bound planner across the desk and opened it, gesturing apologetically toward the monitor which was perched on one corner of her desk.
The fact that the screen was facing a side wall told Barbara all she needed to know about her care-giver's opinion of it.
"Still haven't gotten the hang of the accursed new scheduling software."
Barbara nodded sympathetically.
"Well, when would you like to schedule it?"
Before Barbara could formulate a question... or a response... or a thought, the other woman continued briskly.
"According to the timeline you've given me, we still have at least another few weeks, but sooner would be--"
Understanding finally dawned, and the redhead raised her right hand, palm outward in the universal signal for "stop".
The doctor ended her perusal of the day planner and cocked her head.
"I'm -- I'm not certain that I want to end the pregnancy."
Barbara allowed the obvious final word -- "yet" -- to remain unspoken.
The doctor tapped her cloisonne pen against the pages of her appointment calendar for a few beats before carefully placing it on the blotter. With a noisy "Pfft", she ducked down, rifling through a drawer to emerge momentarily with an ashtray and a cigarette.
"Do you mind?"
The redhead shook her head once.
All things considered, a bit of secondhand smoke was the least of her concerns.
Gloria lit the gold foil-tipped cigarette and inhaled gratefully.
"My apologies, Barbara. Given what you've always told me about having children, not to mention the current situation..."
She tapped the cigarette sharply against the tiny marble ashtray, and Barbara cut short the apology.
"I know. My first instinct -- "
Having always prided herself on her honesty, the redhead forced herself to re-evaluate the statement.
"My continuing instinct leans that way, Gloria, but..."
How could she explain to her doctor what she barely understood herself?
Namely, that she -- a rational, intelligent being who had always relied on reason and intellect -- was beginning to doubt her judgment. In the face of the emotion and faith of those around her, the logical course seemed less palatable by the moment.
Her companion leaned back in her burgundy leather desk chair, cigarette poised between her index and second fingers. Barbara concentrated on the smoke trailing toward the dark paneled ceiling as she ticked the points off.
"If, somehow, this child is Helena's and mine, obviously it's too dear to... let go."
Drawing in a breath, she forced herself to acknowledge a truth that had been thrust before her the day before during her conversation with Alfred.
"And, if I'm somehow a surrogate for a child which is Helena's and, er, someone else's..."
Beseechingly, she met the doctor's acute gaze.
"Well, it's complicated."
She snorted softly at her own equivocation, acknowledging the full truth to herself: while her qualms about dealing with the matter were -- or had been -- relatively limited in the event that it turned out to be a mixture of The Joker's DNA and hers, knowing that Helena's genetics might be involved confused matters considerably.
Heaven only knew what that particular combination might turn out to be. High spirited at the very least.
Belatedly, Barbara realized that her protracted silence had suggested that she wasn't going to continue when Frine leaned forward and stabbed out the half-smoked Sobranie.
"And, what if Helena's genes aren't involved at all, Barbara? There's simply no way you've not considered that possibility."
Barbara's reply was slow as she worked the answer through for herself.
"Well, Helena would like me... us... to keep -- "
A quizzically raised brow interrupted her, and she sidetracked, feeling the need to defend her absent partner.
"Don't get me wrong, Gloria. She's been absolutely wonderful about it and has repeatedly let me know that it's my decision, but..."
Not at all at ease with the layers of emotion and nuance which she knew lay behind her passionate younger partner's sentiment, Barbara almost whispered the rest.
"...I know that she has feelings on the matter, too."
Unwilling to dwell on all of the specific reasons which lay behind her partner's perspective, she waved a hand futilely.
Again, the doctor took her time digesting that bit of information. Finally, she exhaled noisily again and whisked the ashtray from her desk, secreting it in her drawer. Barbara felt her brows knit when the other woman pulled a small spray can of odor neutralizer from the drawer and began vigorously spritzing the aerosol around her. The older woman clearly didn't miss her patient's amusement and inclined her head toward the reception area of her practice.
"Pat will have my head on a platter with an apple in my mouth if she finds out I've been smoking in the office."
Visualizing the imposing receptionist-cum-physician's assistant, Barbara smiled for the first time in quite a while. Her caregiver dropped the spray can into the drawer and shut it with a soft thud.
Bright eyes met Barbara's, all business again.
"...some testing, some early amniocentesis, could lend a bit of clarity, perhaps?"
Relieved, the redhead nodded, allowing, "If not clarity, possibly some... peace of mind."
They shared a quick smile as the doctor turned her attention to her day planner again.
"Well then, let's get started and see just what sort of genes you're carrying."
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