DISCLAIMER: I do not own the characters. They are the property of DC comics and the WB network. I'm just borrowing them for a short period of time.
MUSIC DISCLAIMER: Song lyrics don't belong to me either; no profit gained or infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SEQUEL: To Landslide.
Crimson lashes fluttered open, revealing sleepy -- and puzzled -- green eyes.
No, not 'a' nipple.
Her own nipple.
More specifically -- and, even half-asleep, Barbara Gordon appreciated specificity -- her right nipple, which seemed to be growing ever-more sensitized by the moment under the gossamer brush of softly panted breathing.
Remaining motionless in the hope that her sleep-fogged mind would eventually catch up with her obviously rapidly-awakening body, the analytical woman focused on her environment and concentrated on her breathing. Calling upon ingrained habits, she adopted the physical semblance of sleeping -- perhaps her body would get the hint -- while she oriented to the heretofore unknown experience of being dragged from the arms of Morpheus by her own right breast.
The bedroom was dark, although an almost indiscernible hint of grey suggested that dawn wasn't too far off. Save for the whisper of breathing and the soft whir of the central heating unit, the room was also utterly still. The redhead was, as she'd expected, cocooned safely in her own warm, soft bed, lying in her usual position on her back, with nothing to keep her from dropping back into dreamland to savor a few more coveted moments of sleep before the alarm.
A prickly, tingling sensation forced Barbara to amend that somewhat hopeful thought.
Nothing was keeping her from sleep except her normally well-trained body's insistent response to her bedmate's breathing. Warm breathing which, given Helena's position with her head pillowed on the older woman's chest, puffed teasingly across her right breast, inflaming her even through the thick material of her tee shirt.
The redhead creased her forehead minutely in consternation.
Apparently, neither ignoring the tight burning nor willing the sensation away were likely to be successful strategies. It seemed that sleeping with Helena curled tightly to her side would simply require some... acclimatization. Regardless of the not-inconsiderable willpower and intellect she might throw at the situation, Barbara had to admit that the few nights she'd spent so far with her younger partner since the shift in their relationship were hardly enough to immunize her to the brunette's presence.
The redhead immediately mentally rolled her eyes at that thought.
Just how sleep-addled was she, even considering that she might someday want to become... jaded to sleeping with the lithe brunette?
Green eyes shifted to the clock next to the bed.
Perhaps this precise moment might be savored more fully in the light of day.
Barbara refocused on quieting the excitement meandering through her upper body, baffled that the lone sensation of Helena's sleepy breathing should have been enough to rouse, er, awaken her.
A fond, knowing smile painted itself across the older woman's features when she noted the other factor which had, undoubtedly, contributed to her admittedly slow ascent from sleep. Under her right hand, the one resting lightly on her younger partner, the muscles of Helena's back were trembling... quivering. The movement was so minute -- and so total, as confirmed by a cautious movement to the younger woman's shoulder -- as to be almost unnoticeable.
Certainly almost masked by the brunette's rapid, shallow breathing.
Barbara felt a great deal of her residual grogginess instantly evaporate under the knowledge that her younger lover was not, in fact, resting peacefully by her side, innocently titillating her with the peaceful respirations of sleep. Helena was awake, trembling almost imperceptibly in her arms, and rigidly, fixedly, not moving.
And, if those signs weren't enough, the sound of the brunette tentatively shifting her legs under the covers confirmed it: Helena was aroused.
A bevy of emotions struck the older woman at that realization, and she worked to keep her breathing regular, attempting not to give herself away with a pounding heartbeat which she knew her companion would easily detect. While the younger woman's... enthusiasm was certainly not surprising, her own response -- excitement mixed with a healthy dose of concern -- was something the redhead needed to contemplate.
A tiny sound -- possibly a muffled gasp -- alerted the redhead to the fact that this was not, perhaps, the ideal time for analysis. Indeed, if her body's reaction to the sound her partner had swallowed were any indication, any sort of useful thought might be well nigh impossible.
Still, she managed to formulate, then breathe, a question of sorts.
The younger woman shifted her head downward fractionally, as if to avert her features in the darkened room. Her low soprano was halting.
"Sorry. Didn't want... to wake you."
Barbara's own breathing hitched, both the apology itself and the brush of Helena's mouth against her conspiring to steal the oxygen from her system. Silently, she collected herself, stroking the brunette's upper arm. Although her gentle touch confirmed that the other woman's trembling had increased, Helena still made no movement. The redhead slid her hand up, scratching neatly blunted nails through dark silk and marveling at the courage of her companion's physical honesty.
That sort of openness... vulnerability... had never been something that the older woman had been -- or had wanted to be -- acquainted with. Yet, when Helena's quiet panting became more pronounced and Barbara again heard their shared covers shifting to the restless movement of the brunette's lower body, the redhead found herself staggered by the enormity of such honest, open desire.
Staggered -- and distinctly excited.
As Helena's rapid exhalations continued to dust over her tee, Barbara lowered her lashes when her pectoral muscle contracted reflexively. The movement raised her breast just... just enough to bring the tense peak into contact with warm lips, and the redhead shivered when a soulful groan -- almost sounding of pain -- resonated from her partner.
Disbelieving, the older woman felt her partner's hand -- the one resting lightly across her belly -- clenching convulsively against the mattress on her far side. Uncomprehending, she experienced the warm lips grazing diminutively -- almost jerkily -- near... next to... almost against her. Overwhelmed, she noted the minuscule movement of slender hips against her unfeeling upper thighs. Astonished, she wondered how she could be so filled with heat when her younger partner was scarcely moving.
Abandoning her attempts to understand -- or even to plan -- Barbara spread her fingers, palming the back of the brunette's head, and pressed down ever-so-slightly.
It sounded like a cross between a sigh and a groan as the dark woman crossed the yawing microcosm. Barbara's own soft sigh echoed at the sensation of moist heat enveloping her, at the delicious, fierce pull of her lover's mouth.
Had that been Helena's velvet whisper or her own?
The redhead forgot the question as thick, liquid arousal coursed down her upper spine in response to her partner's soft whimpers. She arched under the contact of her lover's mouth even as the younger woman roughly pushed her tee up, dancing her fingers over her torso before palming her other breast. The heat radiating from the brunette's fingers was incredible, inflaming the heavy flesh which was being so tenderly caressed.
Under the tendrils of fire arcing from one side of her chest to the other, Barbara's breathing shallowed, and the redhead twisted to press a lingering kiss to the sleep-tousled hair near her shoulder. She felt her lover spasm against her at the soft touch, mouthing her hungrily through the heavy cotton before Helena raised on her side and rubbed her cheek slowly against the damp material.
"God, Barbara -- "
The dark figure's breathing had become a series of sharp gasps, and the cool air swept the wet material -- an appealing counterpoint to the warmth on the other side -- leaving the redhead squirming under the tightening of already over sensitized flesh. Barbara raked her fingers across her companion's wiry shoulders, awed and further stirred by the almost violent trembling of the strong muscles beneath her hands.
"Helena -- ", she managed, just as the brunette ducked to lave her exposed stomach with wet kisses.
The older woman froze -- arousal at war with terror within her -- when the younger woman swirled her tongue in her belly button. The volume of the other woman's groan reverberated through her torso, and Barbara remained utterly still, shutting her eyes and wetting her suddenly very dry lips with the tip of her tongue.
It felt... It felt so good, but --
And, then, Helena shifted, resting herself lightly above the redhead, and pressed a soft kiss to her mouth. Green eyes flew open, unsurprised by the golden cat's eyes regarding her tenderly.
"Uh, good morning?"
Barbara exhaled lightly and released some of her tension at the teasingly purred greeting and the abashed dip of her bedmate's dark head. She wrapped her arms fully around the younger woman's back, not missing the concerted effort that Helena was making to still her trembling... to control her arousal.
Pierced by emotions much stronger than fear, the older woman lifted her head enough to brush those lush lips with hers.
It was all that she had the time -- or the wits -- to offer before she found herself plundering her partner's mouth. Shamelessly, she captured the other woman's tongue, dancing against the stud and then swallowing both of their thick groans in a kiss which drew on and on.
My-oh-my, but Helena knew how to kiss.
A small whimper escaped the older woman at the sensation of her partner rocking against her. Urgently, she fumbled for the brunette's firm hips, grinding her down against her own stomach. The heat -- and wetness -- covering her abdomen were unmistakable, and the redhead reluctantly disengaged from their endless kiss to stare in amazement at the other woman.
Dark brows furrowed in question while kiss-bruised lips quirked helplessly.
"Good heavens, Hel --"
Barbara had to pause to clear the thickness from her throat before she could complete her admission.
"-- how I want you."
Hummingbird wings fluttered in her chest when the younger woman's mouth twisted into a snarl and came to her throat. Even as she felt sharp teeth rasp against the sensitive tendons of her neck, Barbara was able to make out the younger woman's response -- "Good. I want you to have me." -- and moaned her enthusiastic agreement.
The cyber-genius wasn't overly proud of her verbal offering, however, given both the somewhat unexpected nature of the situation and the hour of the morning, she cut herself a little slack. After all, she could hardly be expected to quote Dickinson or Shakespeare at the moment although she was gratified to note that she did seem to be capable of rising to the occasion.
Seeking confirmation for both the idea and the somewhat unfamiliar sensations coursing through her, Barbara surreptitiously raised one hand to her own chest. While she found that she was, indeed, rising, the movement apparently caught Helena's attention as well. In a heartbeat, the dark woman rolled away with a hair-raising growl, and the older woman reflexively jerked her hand.
The redhead's somewhat sour musing about the startled squeak she'd almost emitted -- how sexy would that have been? -- disappeared at the sensation of slender fingers capturing her fleeing hand and firmly guiding it back to her chest.
"Fuck, Barbara. Do it."
The older woman could scarcely decipher the guttural words, but the leading movement against the back of her hand provided ample interpretation. As did the raw hunger in the feral eyes trained on her chest and the brunette's low hiss.
Although, in the past, the redhead had never seen much point in this particular activity, the stark desire in her partner's face abruptly opened her eyes. Dizzied, she had no choice.
Tentatively, she stroked, allowing herself to feel her own touch even as she witnessed its power over her lover. An alluring sense of mastery flooded through the older woman, and every insecurity she'd experienced about being with this woman temporarily evaporated.
At that moment, Barbara Gordon had no doubts about pleasing her lover... specifically, about how she wanted -- needed -- to do so.
She watched the brunette drop her jaw, her shallow panting unrestrained, and Barbara arched into her own touch, reaching for Helena with her free hand. Sweeping one slender thigh with her fingertips, the older woman gasped at the strength of the trembling possessing her partner's limbs.
"Jesus, Ba-- I'm... I'm gonna -- "
The redhead blinked, steadying herself, not able to doubt the truth of her companion's words. Quite honestly, it appeared that Helena was a hairsbreadth from climax... simply from watching her touch herself.
Deliberately, Barbara leveraged herself onto one elbow, reaching behind her to switch on the small reading lamp. Smiling eloquently, she stretched up to grasp the younger woman's neck, murmuring her response through the brush of their mouths.
"Then I need to stop, Sweetie, because that is not how I want you to climax."
So long had she known the younger woman and so well-acquainted was she with the brunette's many expressions that Barbara was quite certain that the brief movement of Helena's lips was a quirk of consternation. Accordingly, the older woman soothed her lover over a purring chuckle, slightly agog at her own wantonness.
"At least, it's not how I want you to come this time."
The redhead drank in Helena's gasp, thrilling at the buck of the younger woman's hips against her side. Entirely certain that her partner was well-past the point of slow seduction, she roughly yanked at the smaller woman's underwear.
To Barbara's complete approval and to Helena's distinct credit, somehow the lithe woman managed to effect the removal of her underwear without breaking the kiss. Inhaling deeply, the redhead tugged at her partner's hips, giving no thought to concerns about the unfamiliar.
"Get up here, Hel."
With her hands wrapped loosely around the brunette's trim waist, Barbara easily felt the quiver in the firm muscles under her thumbs. At the aching joy she witnessed in her lover's eyes, she sensed something moving within her own abdomen and gentled her tone.
"Please, Helena. I want -- ", she stopped to correct herself, "I need you."
An instant later, the redhead's moan -- muffled as it was -- almost bested the heartfelt groan from above her.
Dear heavens. How had she gone so long without knowing this most intimate touch?
Although it was all virgin territory, there was nothing -- absolutely nothing -- uncertain in the older woman's questing strokes. Recognizing that Helena's readiness -- not to mention her own swelling eagerness -- left little opportunity for the leisurely exploration she desired, Barbara gave in to an almost wild abandon. Wrapping her arms around the slender thighs which quivered on each side of her head, the older woman attempted to hold her lover steady... and to pull her closer still... as she lost herself in shared pleasure.
So caught up was she in the exquisite sensations that it took the older woman several moments to recognize that her partner's movements against her grasp were not just the disjointed shifting of passion. Rather, Helena was moving with purpose -- a purpose which apparently involved escaping the redhead's attentions.
Incredulous -- and perhaps a trifle edgy -- Barbara reluctantly pulled away and looked up. Her desire to flagellate herself over some possible failing disappeared instantly at the sight of the woman above her.
Helena was locked in place, muscles rigid, sweat-slickened forearms supporting the bow of her torso over the older woman's head. Barbara initially thought the younger woman had even ceased to breathe before noticing the shallow bellowing of her ribs.
Whatever she, herself, had been doing... wrong didn't matter. What the other woman needed was all that was important.
Green eyes blinked in bafflement when the brunette lifted her lashes, and very aroused blue eyes looked down. The younger woman's soft smile was apologetic; her words were ragged.
"I'm.. sorry. I've gotta... I mean, I'm going to--"
Barbara's trepidation dissipated under the returning onslaught of insistent, incendiary desire. She released the breath that she hadn't realized she was holding and spoke warmly.
"That's a good thing, Hel."
Utilizing a fair measure of her not-inconsiderable upper body strength, she tugged downward, delving deeply again to the accompaniment of the other woman's keening gasp. Almost immediately, she felt deep spasms building against her mouth and moaned in sympathy.
"Oh -- fuc... No -- Ba...bara..."
The brunette thrashed against her in earnest, and the older woman hissed her own encouragement... and desire.
"Helena... Yes, Sweetheart."
Perhaps the whisper of her plea pushed her partner over the edge; perhaps Helena simply couldn't hold out any longer. A heartbeat after the words, Barbara felt the younger woman jerk roughly to one side, then convulse in a body-stuttering climax as she cried out the redhead's name.
With shock momentarily tempering her own deep satisfaction and pleasure, it took the redhead a few seconds to decipher her partner's next hoarse utterance, whispered as the dark figure worked to disentangle herself.
"God, Barbara, I'm so sorry."
Utterly vexed, the older woman summarily snagged her partner's waist and pulled her down, managing to half-turn onto her side at the same time. Eye to eye, she leaned in and silenced the younger woman's whispers with a deep, thorough kiss.
"Do. Not. Ever. Apologize. For that."
With as much patience as she could muster, Barbara remained still, trying not to laugh at the flurry of emotions whirling across her partner's expressive features: disbelief; shame; a pugnacious instinct to argue; grudging thoughtfulness; and, finally, acceptance.
The redhead wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry at the cautious hope in cerulean eyes. She opted to keep it simple -- and truthful.
"Really, Hel. That was," she swallowed at the memory, "one of the sexiest things I've ever witnessed."
Barbara allowed her smile to break through in response to the brunette's tentative half-cocky grin and the sensation of clever fingers walking up her abdomen.
"If you think that was good, Red, wait'll you see--"
>>"Rise-n-shine! Rise-n-shine, New Gotham. It's 6:00 and another cloudy d--"<<
"Great gooey gopher guts!"
Not bothering to mask her ire, Barbara flailed at the clock radio before whacking the snooze button. Turning back to her companion, she felt herself coloring in response to the very amused glint in blue eyes.
Somewhat to the older woman's surprise, Helena bypassed any easy taunts about redheaded temper and, instead, scootched in to nip at her ear.
"Seven minutes on that snooze, right?"
Struck dumb by the sensation of a warm hand trailing up her side, the redhead nodded, feeling her companion's wide smile against her neck.
"Hmmm, I can do seven minutes, Babs.... You game?"
The purring entendre broke through the older woman's speechlessness. Laughing delightedly, she wrapped her arms around her bedmate and made a counter-offer.
"I believe, Sweetie, that I'd prefer seven minutes of afterglow."
The green and amber glow from the CRTs flickered through the darkened corner of the Delphi platform, but Barbara Gordon was entirely oblivious to the rather bilious cast they lent her normally pale skin. Green eyes tracked from one monitor to the other, following the sixteen-gigahertz updates between the two displays while each processor seemed to volley to the other, only to have its offering countered and increased by it opponent.
It was, the redhead absently mused, a bit like watching a very, very high CPU version of Pong.
Hoping that she hadn't just hopelessly dated herself with the reference, Barbara smirked wryly, then squeezed her eyes shut and wrinkled her forehead against an incipient tension headache. Bowing to the necessary, she turned back to her primary monitor.
As hypnotically fascinating as it was watching the two routines battling, it was the reams of debugging output from the programs, channeled to the Delphi's primary processors, which offered the best chance of helping clear the cyber-genius' headache. Fully aware that the Delphi was analyzing each byte of data with sophisticated pattern-matching logic, the redhead nevertheless pushed her glasses up her nose and followed the bits and bytes scrolling across the screen in the off chance that a human perspective might see something that her AI routines weren't smart enough -- yet -- to catch.
Half an hour later, Barbara pushed back from her scrutiny, aware of the likelihood that she'd, literally, left a nose print on the plasma screen. Despite the fact that, with Helena at work and Dinah in Florida, she had the clock tower to herself, she furtively glanced over her shoulder, half-expecting another gentle reprimand for being too close to the screen.
Smiling fondly at the idea, the redhead rolled her head in a slow circle, grimacing at the crackle of tight muscles and vertebrae.
If only there were a way to roll away the tension between her eyes.
Of course, given that this particular headache was the result of her own actions, Barbara admitted that she had no grounds for complaint. She was, after all, the one who had created the encryption routine -- the green CRT -- which was currently flummoxing the decryption routine on the amber monitor. That the encryption algorithm was merely meant to be a programming exercise for her and a chance to improve the decryption program she'd written was incidental. The fact remained that she, apparently, had simply outdone herself.
On a lark, she'd devised an algorithm which created self-aware encoded messages. Each encrypted message literally became a functional program which responded to unauthorized attempts to crack it by mutating. While it was a neat bit of coding, it was going to take quite a bit of analysis and a truckload of Excedrin to program an antidote for her encryption virus.
Pushing her glasses to the top of her head, the cyber-crime fighter considered that, perhaps, a multi-step solution was needed. If she could have the decryption routine insert a code genome which blocked the message mutations, then the program could decrypt at its leisure rather than constantly playing catch-up.
The redhead jotted a note on a Postie and affixed it to a semi-clear inch of the valuable real estate surrounding her monitor. Leaning back, she absently tapped the end of her pen against her lip, but only after confirming that she was using the cap end.
She'd been caught with one-too-many felt tip mustaches to become overly complacent about her fidgeting.
In essence, she'd need to program a cryogenic applet -- something similar to what she'd had to unleash a few years ago at LexCorp. However, this would need to be broader in spectrum, almost a spray effect...
A few minutes later, Barbara shook her head in dismay. Neatly recapping her pen, she set it aside and picked up her cup of long-cold tea, blowing distractedly across the top.
For some reason, her thoughts had strayed from her intriguing data puzzle to her earlier encounter with Helena.
Instantly recognizing exactly what had induced her mental segue, the older woman felt a blush crawl up her neck. This was followed by a flash of irritation that she was blushing with nobody around to instigate the response.
If asked -- and, privately, too -- Barbara freely admitted that she'd never been a morning person. On occasion, she'd considered the possibility that at least a part of her calling to vigilante crime fighting might have had something to do with her nocturnal personality. She'd even gone so far, during long car rides or when proctoring exams, as to while away the time by toying with the idea of a superhero survey to determine how widely her aversion to early mornings might be shared by others in the life.
Yet, this morning -- a mere eighteen hours earlier -- she'd had remarkably little difficulty recognizing some very significant benefits of rising to greet the day.
So to speak.
Her biggest regret, in fact, was that she'd wasted a few valuable minutes trying to rouse herself and orient to the situation.
Perhaps she could persuade Helena to dab a bit of coffee on her pulse points and behind her ears before retiring at night. That might facilitate a more rapid ascent to wakefulness.
The redhead sipped her tea, grimacing at the bitter aftertaste of cold herbs, and decisively set her cup aside.
In all honesty, she suspected that in the future she'd not be nearly as... tardy in recognizing and responding to her amazingly sensual partner's nonverbal clues. Frankly, she was baffled that it had taken her as long as it had this morning; after all, as silent and... still as the younger woman had been, there had been very little subtlety involved.
The analytical woman found herself blinking in surprise when her eidetic memory suddenly supplied an image from years before. There was absolutely no doubt about just what had triggered the remembrance.
She and her headstrong young ward had been living together for a bit over a year. At that point, Helena had been sulking and fighting her way through her senior year of high school, and Barbara had just cautiously returned to the classroom.
After another trying day -- the redhead continued to chafe at having only half a chalkboard to work with, not to mention the disadvantage of having to look up at all of her students -- Barbara had returned home, vexed by a late-afternoon meeting with the principal to discuss another round of Helena's truancy. Adding a cherry to the top of the crumb cake of her day had been the fact that she'd been surprised by the onset of her period during her lunch break at school.
A year and a half after the shooting, she'd still been too preoccupied with the complexities of normal hygiene to predict and prepare for her monthly cycle. While the embarrassment and mess were a nuisance, it was the sight of unexpected blood below her waist which had still been enough to rattle her.
Accordingly, when she'd entered the apartment at dusk, Barbara had been loaded for bear, looking for an excuse to unleash a little redheaded temper. A light on in the living room and Helena's backpack hanging neatly by the door had indicated that the girl was -- or had been -- home; however, the teen's bedroom door had been open, and a quick glance into the dark room had confirmed that it was vacant.
But, not the apartment.
Barbara's senses had prickled at the awareness that she'd not been alone: she'd just begun to associate the feeling with Helena. A moment later, sitting poised in the short hallway, she'd detected a nearly inaudible sound from -- of all places -- her own bedroom. She'd moved soundlessly through the doorway, allowing her vision to acclimate to the darkness. Once in the room, she'd found her young ward, huddled on her bed.
The dark teen had seemed unaware of Barbara's presence, trembling visibly and whimpering, rocking against one of her guardian's pillows.
Astonished, and more than a little concerned, the twenty-something woman hadn't known what to make of Helena's state. She'd certainly been aware of the girl's... unique traits and had feared that this previously unwitnessed display signaled a problem. A more practical side of the older woman had feared some sort of incident -- either at school or during one of the teen's truant stretches. Regardless of the cause, Barbara had been quite certain that something was terribly wrong -- and that she would do anything in her power to help.
Deliberately pushing the door back softly, she'd approached the bed. Helena's sudden stiffening had evidenced her awareness of her guardian's arrival.
"Sweetheart, what is it?"
Barbara had lightly placed her hand on her ward's back, shocked by the tremors possessing, seemingly, every muscle in the girl's body. The young brunette had not responded directly; rather, she'd exhaled raggedly, then turned to slide from the bed, kneeling on the floor and wrapping her arms around the older woman's waist. For a brief eternity, they'd remained locked in silent embrace before the girl had abruptly pulled away and scrambled to her feet.
Helena had muttered an apology for being in Barbara's room, offered a decidedly lame excuse about cramps or some such twaddle, and then fled, leaving her guardian feeling completely frustrated and clueless. At a loss, the redhead had grudgingly dismissed the incident as meta-human, teenaged hormones running amok.
Now, long years later, the older woman started at the realization of how right and, conversely, how utterly wrong she'd been. Not entirely certain how she felt about suddenly putting that piece into place after six years, Barbara pursed her lips and blew a raspberry.
She honestly couldn't find it within herself to be upset about the event. Not only had Helena recently admitted to having loved her "forever", but, practically speaking, there was simply no point in fretting over something in the past.
Nevertheless, the sense of predestination left Barbara a bit... uneasy, as did the fact that she'd been so oblivious to what, in hindsight, was now so obvious.
Of course, how could she have seen -- even allowed herself to look or to contemplate -- that, so long ago? The impropriety, the sheer, unadulterated wrongness of looking at her former student, her ward, in... that way was overwhelming.
Even now, even without the differences in their ages and her own... limitations, facing and admitting that she returned Helena's feelings had been challenging during the last few months. Acting on their feelings was a whole new ballgame altogether.
Even now, after finally consummating their feelings three nights before, Barbara recognized that they were both still feeling their way. Their union on Saturday night -- as amazing and breathtaking as it had been -- had been slow and careful. It had been about learning and emotion, an experience slower and more intimate -- something more tentative and perilously vulnerable -- than any of Barbara's previous encounters.
An unspoken reticence and various obligations had conspired to keep them from further exploring their new relationship on Sunday. Somehow, amid seeing Dinah off on her trip, their decision to follow through with the planned outing to the tattoo exhibit -- although they had foregone matching tats for the time being -- and an unexpected gang fight which had required Helena's attention, neither woman had had much interest in anything beyond cuddling when they'd fallen into bed the night before. This morning however...
A different sort of heat suffused the redhead's upper body as her infallible memory supplied some enticing images of raw passion and hormones at work. She had a suspicion that -- having bridged the divide between intimacy and uninhibited delight -- there would be many more images to come.
Snorting softly at having come full circle in her mental perambulations, Barbara straightened and regarded the data streaming across her monitor with equanimity. She did enjoy a good puzzle, and, perhaps when Dinah returned, the teen would have some suggestions.
Green eyes automatically observed the small clock on screen, and the older woman smiled in anticipation.
Helena's shift should be ending soon.
The smile faltered, becoming a trifle forced, as green eyes continued to track upward, falling on the Richard M. Nixon commemorative plate which Helena had affixed to the wall over the centrifuge. While the brunette claimed that the item had sentimental value -- their first "couple purchase" -- Barbara continued to hold firm in her belief that it would be shown to better advantage in one of the dark recesses of the Batcave.
Putting that tangent aside, the cyber-genius brought up a new window and lost herself in necessary, albeit prosaic, activities necessary for her work as a guardian of the city. Not too many minutes later, a frisson of awareness, coinciding with a deliberate thump from the balcony, alerted the redhead to the arrival of her partner. By the time the younger woman entered the living area, Barbara had saved her work and turned to greet her.
The older woman felt her heart skip a beat at her partner's expansive grin. Helena covered the distance between them in four exuberant bounds, coming to a stop at the base of the Delphi platform.
The two women's hands met, fingers tangling while the brunette laconically inquired, "Uhm, any crime in our fair city tonight?"
Absurdly pleased by her partner's dedication to duty, especially when she, herself, seemed to be feeling downright giddy in the younger woman's presence, Barbara managed to school her features to seriousness.
"Indeed, Hel, the absolutely heinous crime that you had to work a double shift tonight."
That earned her a smile, and Helena stretched up, lightly brushing their mouths together.
"Yeah, that's true, and on pitcher night, too."
The brunette grinned and stepped back to shuck her duster, continuing lightly, "But, it does pay the rent."
Words, insistent and rife with possibilities, rose unbidden from her chest; however Barbara managed to hold her tongue against the onslaught. Instead of speaking, she snagged her cup of cold tea and headed down the ramp, following her partner to the kitchen.
"--rything okay at Arkham?"
The question was muffled by the refrigerator door, and so the older woman waited for her always-hungry younger partner to emerge from the depths of the unit -- jug of milk and cold fried chicken in hand -- before replying.
"It appears so, Hel."
Barbara dumped her tea in the sink and rinsed her cup, placing it neatly on a folded dish towel on the counter.
"Apparently, the rockslide that our mad astronomer set off did damage some exterior structures; however, facility reports don't show any security issues."
The redhead watched with some amusement as the younger woman managed to retrieve a glass and fill it with milk while not releasing her hold on the chicken breast in her right hand. Somehow, Helena even managed to make the entire juggling act seem graceful.
"Well, that's a piece of luck."
The brunette raised her snack to her mouth before, apparently noticing Barbara's scrutiny, altering her hand's trajectory and extending the chicken in invitation.
Smiling, the older woman shook her head and closed the distance between them. Placing one hand lightly against a slender leg, she looked up to meet sparkling blue eyes.
"No, thank you, Sweetie. In fact, I think I'll turn in. Will you...?"
Inclining her head fractionally, she allowed her eyes to complete the question. A decisive and, if she weren't mistaken, enthusiastic nod was the only reply required, and the redhead happily made her way down the hall.
In short order, Barbara slid into her bed and tidied the covers around her hips before reaching for her current bedside reading, a medical overview of surviving extreme conditions. Hand hovering inches above the book, she paused and smoothly detoured, opening the drawer in the small table and fishing out a pair of footsie socks. She folded back the covers and stretched to pull on the thick, soft socks.
Just because she was no longer bothered by her own cold feet didn't mean that her hot-blooded partner should suffer.
Minutes later, again resettled and lost in Kenneth Kamler's very vivid descriptions of the effects of extreme G-force and zero-gravity on the body -- she'd shamelessly skipped to the penultimate chapter with a mental promise to start at the beginning as soon as she finished the section on space travel -- Barbara detected soft footsteps coming down the hall. Since she was quite aware that her normally cat-footed partner was deliberately announcing her arrival, the redhead positioned her bookmark and closed her book firmly, speaking quietly as she placed the item on the bedside table.
"Did you get enough to eat, Hel?"
The older woman hid her amusement at the sight of the brunette shimmying out of her tight leather pants and concentrated on the act of pushing herself down in the bed and getting settled. Her amusement transformed to a different emotion when the younger woman efficiently stripped off her shirt and, clad in her underwear, glided toward the bed.
"You could have mentioned those brownies in the cupboard, though, Babs."
Belatedly, Barbara realized that her partner, poised with one knee on the edge of the bed, seemed to be expecting a response. She guiltily raised her gaze to petulant caramel features and opted for something neutral.
It appeared to suffice since Helena resumed her motion, crawling into the bed.
"Uh huh. By the time I found them, I almost didn't have room to eat any."
The redhead chuckled but managed what she hoped was a suitably contrite tone.
"I'm sorry, Hel. I'll try to stay on top of that."
Perhaps the words had been a trigger, or perhaps Helena had taken them as a suggestion. Regardless, a heartbeat later, the older woman was pinned by the slight weight of her bedmate, who was kneeling above her, knees on each side of her hips.
A crimson eyebrow quirked, and the redhead felt a flutter of... something in her chest.
My, but her partner's passionate side could appear suddenly.
Barbara resisted the urge to squirm as the dark figure slowly leaned down. Helena's purring response tickled her ear, simultaneously thrilling her with the sensation and calming her with the words.
"Relax, Red. I just want to rub some of these knots out of your back."
The brunette straightened, blue eyes catching green.
"Is that okay? Will you turn over?"
Exhaling fully, the older woman sensed the beginning of what was, undoubtedly, a rather goofy grin creeping across her face.
"Twist my arm, eh?", she murmured as she pushed to one side.
The movement was stilled by a warm hand coming to rest lightly on her upper arm. A slender finger circled under the sleeve of her tee.
"It'd be easier if you took this off."
Barbara struggled against the tightness in her throat while Helena gracefully swung her leg back across her body. Settling on her knees, and very possibly picking up on the redhead's nervousness, the brunette waggled her eyebrows playfully.
"I'll be good. Promise."
The redhead laughed, deciding to go on the offensive. Reaching for the hem of her shirt, she purred, "I have no doubts about how very, very good you can be, Hel. But, will you behave?"
Laughing in turn, the dark vigilante helped free the tee from Barbara's hair, then unobtrusively helped the older woman settle on her stomach. The cyber-genius felt the mattress dip slightly as Helena straddled her again, then shut her eyes at the earnest words whispered by her ear.
"Yeah, I'll behave. I just want to make you feel good tonight."
Unable to formulate any reply, she remained still, almost moaning in pleasure as gentle hands began kneading the perennially tight muscles of her trapezoids. For countless minutes -- and Barbara did indeed stop counting -- the redhead succumbed to her partner's ministrations, luxuriating in the tireless work to sooth knotted muscles, indulging in the sweep of strong thumbs down the sides of her spine, and absolutely savoring the fact that it was all occurring against her bare skin.
Helena had worked out kinks for her in the past, too many times to count; however, the play of knowing hands against bare skin was a previously unknown experience. Barbara certainly hoped to become much, much more familiar with the sensation.
For the time being, with her capable masseuse working magic, the older woman felt herself relaxing, letting go of her tension, in a way that was, in actuality, quite new. Almost dozing, she eventually heard Helena speak softly, although she wasn't positive that the younger woman was aware that she was still awake.
"That's it... let it go. You don't have to carry the weight of the world all the time."
The brunette's tone was loving, yet faintly chiding, and Barbara smiled fondly into her arms beneath her head. The soft note of self-reproach in the other woman's next utterance altered her expression.
"P'bly didn't help waking you up so early today..."
Slowly rotating her head to the right, the redhead reached up to sweep the fall of hair back from her face and then lazily lifted her lashes. She deliberately kept her tone mild.
"Actually, Hel, that turned out to be a great way to start the day."
After a split-second of reflection, she felt the need to add, "And, Hel, it made me feel very, very good, too."
She didn't miss the flash of even white teeth above her in the dimly lit room, nor the sense that the other woman had relaxed marginally, lowering a bit of her weight onto her. However, the topic reminded Barbara of something and, with the door now open, she had no compunctions about plunging ahead.
A moment later, she reconsidered the wisdom of her action when she felt the brunette stiffen in response to her words.
"Will you tell me about what happened this morning?"
"I can't believe that, just this morning, I was on the beach."
Grunting softly as she came up for her forty-seventh inverted crunch, Barbara looked over at her workout companion and smiled.
"Air travel can be a bit disorienting, Dinah."
The teen continued her butterfly presses on the Nautilus, a barely noticeable jerkiness suggesting that she was reaching her limit.
"Yeah, but it's really neat though. I guess I'm still kind of silly about it and everything, but, I mean, it was only my third time on a plane."
Emerald eyes narrowed slightly as the older woman pushed herself into an extra ten sit ups. Given the girl's sunny outlook, it was sometimes easy to forget how... limited her opportunities and experiences had been before coming to New Gotham. Obviously another trip -- something having nothing to do with investigating university campuses or a flight from Opal -- was definitely in order.
Half-listening to her current ward's ebulient description of being frisked at airport security, the redhead counted down her remaining crunches and made a mental note to discuss the idea with Helena. For some reason, she suspected that the brunette's suggestions on the topic might be of greater interest to Dinah than anything that she could come up with.
Set finally completed, Barbara released the straps securing her legs and swung around on the bench. Snagging her water bottle, she drank deeply, waiting for a break in the blonde's verbal deluge.
"I believe that most airports are moving toward having everyone remove their shoes," she supplied before smoothly redirecting the conversation.
"Other than that, Dinah..."
The English teacher deliberately allowed the vague pronoun to substitute for all of the details which her ward had already enthusiastically shared about the plane trip, the hotel, the restaurants and malls, the beaches...
"...what did you think of the university?"
Barbara waited patiently while the teen reached for her own water bottle. She suspected that the increased color in the girl's cheeks had little to do with her exertion with the stationary weights.
Cornflower blue eyes peeked from under blonde lashes, and the older woman nearly laughed aloud when she recognized where Dinah had picked up the mannerism.
"...well, it was okay. I guess. Not as good as State or NGU..."
The redhead took pity and let her ward off the hook with a knowing smile and quiet chuckle. Standing, the teen joined in with an abashed grin and made her way over to sit cross-legged on the mat in front of her guardian.
"Well, you know, Barbara..."
Nodding, the older woman instinctively reached out to brush back the girl's bangs, hesitating for a split-second.
Sometimes, Dinah's touch telepathy manifested itself at the most unexpected times.
With a mental shrug, she completed the gesture, warmed by the girl's happy smile.
"Indeed, Dinah. But, I am glad that you're exploring a variety of options."
In response to the faintly puzzled look directed her way, she elaborated.
"You won't know what you do want -- or appreciate -- unless you have something to compare with."
"Yeah, I guess so."
The blonde punctuated her soft acknowledgement by fiddling with the top of her water bottle and chewing at her lower lip. Barbara's hunch that her charge was thinking of something other than academic choices was confirmed momentarily when the teen hesitantly looked up.
"Can I ask you something, Barbara?"
The older woman took a measured breath, hoping that her trepidation wasn't too obvious. If there was one thing she'd learned during her tenure as the guardian of her previous ward it was never to underestimate what might follow that particular request.
"Of course, Dinah."
Patiently, she waited through a lengthy pause as her companion seemingly worked up her nerve.
"Uhm, it's kind of embarrassing."
Barbara didn't point out that, given the color flooding the teen's pale features, the admission had been completely superfluous. Instead, she offered a measured nod and a tiny encouraging smile.
"Well, it's just... I was wondering, uhm, how you know..."
At this point, the blonde looked like she was ready to sink through the training room floor. Actually, with the array of new powers that the young meta-human continued to develop, Barbara thought she wouldn't have been entirely surprised if Dinah had spontaneously phased down to the parking garage.
"Know what, Dinah?", she prompted gently.
Again, she waited patiently through the girl's nervous fidgeting.
"Uh, how do you, uhm, know-how-to-please-another-girl? Uh, woman?", the blonde finally blurted, neatly dissolving the older woman's faint hopes that the question might be about settling on a college major.
The question also, somehow, instantly transmitted Dinah's deep blush to the redhead.
Catching herself raising her hand, Barbara diverted her habitual gesture -- pinching the bridge of her nose -- into a rather graceless flutter of her fingers against her throat. She inhaled slowly, mentally kicking herself for her overly optimistic belief that Dinah had entered her life at a point which would make this sort of conversation unnecessary.
Eventually -- the older woman hoped that it hadn't taken her too long to collect her wits -- she decided not to make any assumptions about the teen's question. Accordingly, she went with a tried and true technique of putting the ball back in her young companion's court.
"I'm not sure why you're asking, Dinah."
Barbara kept her expression as open and welcoming as possible, her voice gentle but factual. The strategy seemed to relax the young woman a tiny bit, and she sipped at her water before speaking thoughtfully.
"Well, it's just, all the girls talk about their boyfriends and what they do and -- "
The blonde stumbled, coloring extravagantly again.
"-- and stuff. But, well, it's not as easy to, uh, find out..."
Awash with a veritable deluge of conflicting emotions -- sympathy for the girl's predicament, confusion about why Dinah had thought that she would know, a shy delight that her ward trusted her enough to tackle the sensitive topic, not to mention a healthy measure of discomfort -- the cyber-genius flirted with an easy out and ultimately discarded it.
While consulting the internet would no doubt be educational -- and, she could recommend a few specific sites -- she suspected that Dinah had already gone that route and was searching for something more.
Mustering her courage, Barbara responded as honestly and openly as possible.
"I certainly understand your... confusion, Dinah. It can be a little overwhelming, and if you're feeling uncertain or -- pressured...?"
An emphatic shake of blonde hair alleviated that concern, and so the older woman tip-toed onward.
"Er, that's good, then. However, becoming intimate with someone almost always has an element of exploration."
Somehow, she managed to bite back words about feeling one's way and smiled sympathetically.
"I'm afraid that I can't offer you any specific, er, advice. Each person -- male or female -- is unique, and unfortunately..."
Barbara paused for a beat, wryly acknowledging the truth of her next words.
"...none of us come with an owner's manual."
Green eyes blinked once before the redhead quirked her lips and hastily amended her words.
"Or, er, operating instructions."
There. That had been more politically correct, even if it was a bit on the techno-geek side.
Fortunately, Dinah seemed to be getting the point.
"So, it really is all trial and error?"
Barbara found herself hard-pressed not to smile at the blonde's expression, a sweet study in anticipation, resignation, and disappointment.
"I'm afraid so, Dinah, although that can be part of the, er, beauty of the, er... it."
The teen's countenance suggested that she found her guardian's input a bit on the thin side, and the redhead narrowed her eyes, unwilling to leave the girl with no options. With only the tiniest twinge of conscience, she offered a suggestion.
"Still, perhaps someone more, er, experienced could help a little more."
Observing the girl visibly brightening, then instantly deflating, the redhead almost choked on her suppressed chuckle.
"Exactly. I'm sure she'd be able to help."
Barbara was pinned by suspicious pale blue eyes. Clearly, Dinah was weighing the cost-benefits of approaching the other woman about such a delicate subject.
"Riiiight. You think Helena would --"
"Helena would what?"
Two heads -- one crimson, the other gold -- whipped guiltily toward the door of the training room to stare at the speaker. Somehow, Barbara recovered her composure first and smiled cheerfully.
She deliberately ignored the brunette's question.
"I'm glad you made it."
The younger woman sauntered over and bent to buss the redhead's cheek.
"I rushed through inventory. Didn't want to miss seeing the Kid's sunburn before you get some sort of magic goo on it."
Barbara hid her smile at the teen's indignant huff: with her fair skin, no amount of sunscreen had spared Dinah the effects of the Florida sun. Instead, she arched a brow when Helena bent again and pointedly sniffed her neck.
"You smell... different."
The younger woman trailed off, clearly at a loss, and the redhead searched her memory before laughing self-consciously.
"I believe that's chalkboard cleaner, Helena."
She elected not to elaborate on how the spray had come to cover her. It simply wasn't worth detailing the run-in she'd had with Alethea Harkness in the supply closet earlier in the day.
The superannuated history teacher had made an arch comment about the fading mark on Barbara neck -- honestly, the redhead had thought it was barely visible -- and then, in the same breath, had made a cutting remark about seeing Barbara and Helena at a restaurant on Sunday. The redhead still maintained that it had been an accident that the can of cleaner had inexplicably gone off in her hand. However, even she had to admit that something other than plain bad luck had been at work in placing Alethea directly in the brunt of the spray.
Helena's leaning close and purring almost sub vocally in her ear recalled Barbara to the moment.
"I like it. Kinda makes me think of school uniforms and yardsticks."
Unable to hold in the bubble of laughter which burst past her lips, the older woman lightly swatted at her partner's firm stomach.
"Behave yourself," she admonished lightly as the dark figure skipped backward with a saucy waggle of her eyebrows.
Watching the younger woman begin a series of mouth-watering stretches, Barbara suspected that her reprimand wouldn't have much effect. Helena was simply too... too free-spirited in her sensuality to be concerned with the blush-inducing effects of her entendres.
It was, perhaps, that very fact which had left her so shocked by her partner's reaction during their lovemaking three mornings before. It was certainly part of the reason that she'd brought it up during her massage on Monday night.
The redhead positioned herself on the Nautilus and began to work her lats, not missing the intense, covert scrutiny of blue eyes fixed somewhere in the vicinity of her pectorals. Quirking a brow, she pinned the brunette with a stern look and inclined her head toward the open mats, where Dinah was waiting to engage in some sparring. The brunette contritely dipped her head and obediently headed over to the teen.
Marveling at the charming mixture of brashness and shyness in her lover, Barbara methodically continued her strength-training while she replayed the conversation from a few nights before.
Not surprisingly, Helena had recovered almost instantly after Barbara had tendered her question, resuming her slow, thorough work on tight muscles.
"What about it, Red?"
Sighing contentedly under the delicious pressure focused on her upper arms, Barbara had spoken a bit hesitantly.
"So, you can ejaculate?"
The tender strokes had lengthened to encompass her forearms. The brunette's response had sounded oddly shy.
"Yeah. Not all the time or anything."
Warmth suffusing her upper body, the older woman had almost purred her next words.
"Mmmm. I've heard about it but never..."
She'd felt a different warmth touch her cheeks at the awkward admission and had forced herself to continue.
"How... how does it feel?"
The younger woman's touch had slowed, shifting to absent strokes against Barbara's ribs, leaving the redhead breathless when Helena had finally husked her reply.
"Well, it does really kind of put a punch in my pants, if you know what I mean."
The older woman had joined in with her partner's self-satisfied chuckle.
"I'd... imagine so, Hel."
The cyber-genius had long possessed a vivid imagination, and for a full thirty seconds or so, she allowed it to do its work, nearly moaning at the outcome. Still, unwilling to be completely distracted from the other impetus behind the conversation, she'd finally pushed those thoughts aside -- for later, definitely for later. She'd shifted slightly under her partner, just enough to glimpse sinewy forearms and dark hair over her shoulder.
"If it feels good, Sweetheart, why did you apologize this morning?"
At that, the other woman had lightly dismounted the redhead's hips and settled on her stomach next to Barbara on the bed. Resting her chin on the back of her loosely laced fingers, the brunette had spoken casually.
Too casually, in the older woman's opinion.
"Well, not everybody's into it. I really freaked out the first person it happened with."
From the corner of her eye, Barbara had observed the wry twist of her lover's full lips.
"Actually, first time it happened, it really freaked me out."
The redhead had continued her deliberate study of the pattern on the pillow case in front of her nose.
"What happened, Hel?"
The lithe woman next to her had exhaled, shifting onto her side to face the older woman, and Barbara had shivered slightly at the sensation of slender fingers sifting through her hair. She'd easily detected the playful note creeping into the brunette's voice.
"Hmm? Well, I guess it was senior year, and I was in my room, doing the happy dance...?"
Sensing the other woman's questioning expression, the redhead had snorted softly at the euphemism, deliberately refusing to concentrate on the image Helena's words brought to mind.
"And, well, things were going along great when, all of a sudden, geyser-time."
Both women had laughed before the brunette had sobered a bit.
"Man. I thought I'd done something really, really bad. Or that it was another weird meta-thing."
Feeling for her partner's teenaged confusion -- after all, this wasn't something that was often covered in The Talk -- Barbara had squirmed onto her side, facing the younger woman.
"You could have asked me about it, Hel."
Well, that had earned her a long, heartfelt, head-thrown-back and shoulders-shaking, laugh. Completely against her will, the redhead had felt the corners of her own mouth turning up in a smile. She hadn't been sure why she was joining in with Helena's mirth; after all, the brunette had never seemed to have any problem approaching her about any topic. In fact, during their early years together, she'd sometimes wondered if the girl spent her free time dreaming up deliberately blush-inducing topics to ask about.
"Shit, Barbara. No way!"
Helena had eventually settled down, leaning in to rest her forehead lightly against her bedmate's.
"I mean, come on. I was in there thinking about you. For I all knew, it coulda been some sort of -- I dunno -- some kind of divine retribution for nasty Oedipal thoughts or something."
Pierced by several confusing emotions at that admission, Barbara had brushed a soft kiss to the younger woman's mouth.
"I can see how that might have been inhibiting, Sweetie."
The brunette had inched closer, dropping her hand to trace random patterns across the older woman's bare shoulder.
" 'Sides, it felt so fuckin' good, I just figured that -- as retributions went -- what the hell."
The two had lain quietly for a moment until the redhead's curiosity had gotten the better of her again.
"You said 'not all the time'?"
A wicked smile had painted itself across caramel features.
"Yeah. Mostly it's when I'm thinking about you. You know..."
Helena had lifted her hand, brushing the back of her fingers across the redhead's cheek.
"...when I'm alone."
Barbara's eyes had fluttered shut at the tantalizing touch. They flew open when she comprehended her partner's meaning.
Swallowing thickly, she'd smiled warmly.
"I think I'd like to see that sometime, Hel."
The speed that her companion's eyes had augmented had been dizzying, and she'd made a mental note to ask -- sometime -- how such a rapid transformation felt. At the moment, she'd had something more important to say.
"However, until then..."
To emphasize her sincerity, Barbara had tenderly cupped her partner's cheek, focusing pointedly on that beautiful mouth.
"...please don't pull away next time."
Despite her own very human abilities, the redhead had had no problem hearing her partner swallowing. The slow dip of the dark head under her palm had provided the answer she'd wanted.
Again, they'd remained still for a few moments, and Barbara had watched with fascination as golden eyes slowly morphed back to blue. Eventually, the brunette had pressed forward a hairsbreadth and rubbed their noses together playfully.
"Okay, Red. Now it's my turn. Can I ask you a question?"
Given their previous topic and the wicked twists of the younger woman's mind, the redhead hadn't been overly sanguine about just what Helena had had in mind. However, fair was fair.
Accordingly, she'd slowly nodded, waiting with bated breath until the brunette narrowed her eyes and nodded toward the foot of the bed. Helena's whispered question, delivered with overly dramatic dismay, had reduced the older woman to laughter.
"So, what's the deal with the fuzzy socks, anyway?"
Exactly what sort of socks -- and shoes, and, hell, clothes for that matter -- did one wear to a "super casual" mystery date?
As much as Barbara enjoyed the playful secrecy that she and Helena had taken to adding to the dates they planned for each other, sometimes it just seemed darned inconvenient.
Case in point. Did Helena's instructions, delivered as she'd departed their regular Sunday afternoon workout to make some sort of arrangements for the evening, mean that the attire Barbara had donned after her shower would suffice? Somehow, the redhead suspected that her comfy, albeit threadbare, sweats would probably not be appropriate; while that outfit was fine for pouring over reports from an incident in the club district the night before, it just didn't seem right for a date.
Her favorite jeans should work; in fact, they were the simplest part of the decision-making process.
Gritting her teeth over the fact that she had little difficulty juggling life and death situations in her "other life" but seemed incapable of picking out her wardrobe for what should be a fun-filled outing, the cyber-crime fighter finally shrugged and dug through her chest of drawers, emerging with a NGHS tee shirt which she slid over her head. She'd throw her favorite denim shirt over it, and go with her Doc Martins for footwear.
Twenty minutes later, the redhead pulled sedately from the parking garage and headed towards the Dark Horse. She was pleasantly intrigued that her partner had broken from her usual M.O. and, rather than picking her up at the clock tower, had requested that Barbara meet her at her apartment.
Perhaps there was a band which Helena wanted her to hear playing at the bar, or perhaps the younger woman had some sort of club hopping plans. However, given the relatively early hour, Barbara was inclined to dismiss the former supposition; and, given the fact that it was a Sunday -- and she needed to be in relatively decent shape for work the next day -- she hoped that her exuberant partner didn't have the latter in mind.
Resigning herself to the fact that she'd simply have to wait and see what the younger woman had up her sleeve, the redhead checked her watch and made a quick detour.
The impromptu stop took longer than expected -- she still couldn't fathom why it was so difficult to select the perfect flowers for the younger woman -- and so Barbara was a bit surprised not to find Helena waiting outside when she finally pulled up behind the bar. Regardless, a brief call from her cell resulted in a breathless apology and a promise to be right down.
True to her word, the young vigilante appeared approximately fifteen seconds later, seemingly dropping from the sky. Since her gaze had been fixed on the service door, the sudden peripheral motion, followed by a quiet tap against her window, nearly sent the redhead through the roof of the van.
"Jesus Christ, Helena..."
The older woman spoke even as she stabbed the button to lower her window.
"...you nearly scared the life out of me."
The brunette's hang-dog expression instantly reduced Barbara to ogre-territory, especially since she knew that she should have expected one of her partner's showy entrances. Accordingly, she released a steadying breath and smiled an apology.
"I'm sorry, Sweetie. I shouldn't have snapped at -- "
Finally observing her date's wardrobe -- low-slung cargo pants, crop-top sweatshirt, and bare feet -- the redhead cut herself off, feeling her eyebrows crawl towards her hairline.
"Am I early, or did I overdress?"
The playful question earned her a laugh.
"No, you're not early, and I always think you're overdressed, Red."
Somehow, Barbara managed to ignore the hint of pink which dusted her cheeks.
"Indeed. Where exactly are we headed, Helena?"
The younger woman grinned broadly as she opened the driver's side door.
"Your -- ?"
The brunette's smile dimmed slightly, and even white teeth caught the young woman's lower lip.
"Uh, yeah. I'm cooking dinner for us, so if you don't mind accepting a lift...?"
The redhead distantly noted her partner's arms rising in invitation; however, she was so absolutely... floored by Helena's plans that she couldn't respond for a moment.
Barbara honestly couldn't remember when -- or if -- a romantic partner had ever prepared a meal for her.
Belatedly, she observed a slight crack in her partner's bravado. Pulling herself together, she unbuckled her seat belt and raised her arms.
"I'd be delighted, Hel."
And so it was that not too many minutes later Barbara found herself exploring her younger friend's small apartment while a symphony of banging, clattering, and muttering -- and, surprisingly, some enticing aromas -- emanated from the small kitchen. Helena's home was small -- kitchen, living room, and bedroom -- but fastidiously tidy. Both furniture and decoration were sparse, and the older woman wondered if that had to do with lack of interest, lack of money, or lack of time. Studying a colorful Gauguin print, Barbara was startled -- then shamed -- to realize that this was her first visit to her partner's space.
Of course, given the amount of time the brunette spent at the clock tower, perhaps it wasn't that surprising after all.
The cessation of the cacophony from the kitchen, coupled with a slight shiver of awareness, alerted the redhead to Helena's presence. She looked up, automatically accepting a wine glass with a smile of gratitude. She took an appreciative sip of the red as the brunette squatted beside her, smiling winsomely and gesturing vaguely towards the room.
"Don't worry, I chased all of the bugs out for the evening."
Barbara's answering smile was genuine.
"I never had a doubt, Sweetie."
She took another small sip, then inquired tentatively, "Is there anything I can do to help?"
Just because she honestly had no idea what she could do to be helpful in the kitchen didn't mean she shouldn't offer, after all.
Rising gracefully, the younger woman grinned.
"I think I've got it covered in the kitchen. 'Sides,"
Observing the glint in the other woman's eyes, Barbara steeled herself for whatever might come next.
"...I'm not sure my fire insurance is paid up."
The redhead allowed a raised eyebrow to express her appreciation for the gibe, but couldn't hold the expression. Helena's bright wink was simply too charming.
"You could -- "
The younger woman bounded into the kitchen, returning momentarily with an oversized beer mug.
"-- put the flowers in water for me?"
Happy to be of use, Barbara had just tucked the final calla lily into its ersatz vase when the brunette flew out of the kitchen. Swinging open her door with a promise to be right back, she disappeared down the stairs to the bar.
Before the older woman had time to guess what on earth lay behind her partner's hasty exit, Helena returned, a jigger in hand. Barbara thought she detected a hint of pink in normally blush-proof caramel features as the younger woman headed to the kitchen with forced nonchalance.
A cheerful voice resolved the mystery, simultaneously relieving the redhead's concerns about the alcohol content of their dinner.
"I don't have any measuring cups, so I figured this would work."
Barbara's admiration for the other woman's ingenuity waned slightly at the next words she heard echoing from the other room.
"Twelve ounces in a cup, right?"
A tousled head popped around the door frame.
"I'm kidding, Barbara. I pour a lot of liquids in my line of work, you know."
The older woman summoned a smile. Her suspicion that it had been less-than-convincing was confirmed when Helena stepped into the doorway.
"Hey, relax. If it turns out too bad, I've got Jiffy Pizza on speed dial."
Attempting to soothe the dark woman's nervousness, Barbara made the mistake of speaking without thinking first.
"I'm sure it can't be any worse than some of the dinners I created for y--"
The slow rise of a dark brow clearly intimated that, as reassurances went, Barbara's had fallen short. The redhead hastily attempted some damage control.
"I'm sure it will be wonderful, Hel. It smells delicious."
And, indeed, settled at her partner's small table not too long afterward, the older woman discovered that her prediction had been right on target. After cautiously sampling a bite of the lamb, then the asparagus, then the au gratin potatoes, she deliberately placed the tines of her fork on the edge of her plate and waited until blue eyes rose in question.
Barbara punctuated her declaration by raising her hand and pointing an accusatory finger towards the younger woman.
The redhead took her time lowering her hand to smooth the paper towel napkin in her lap. Finally, she completed her observation-cum-accusation.
Grinning, the brunette attacked her lamb chop again.
"Yeah. Well, I can cook -- "
Helena waved her forkful of lamb above her plate.
"-- or, at least, char just about any kind of meat you want to throw at me. The other stuff is just sort of figuring it out. It's not rocket science or anything, Red."
Not completely convinced of that, Barbara cut a small bite from her own entree and offered what she suspected was a clueless half-smile. The younger woman touched her napkin to her mouth and smiled indulgently before speaking slowly.
She couldn't be positive, but the redhead thought that her partner's tone was similar to the one she adopted when addressing some of her classes about the intricacies of subjunctive verbs.
"Okay, look at it this way, Barbara. I know you're a little less carnivorous than I am, so I had the whole vegetable quandary, 'cuz that's not something I normally deal with. But, it wasn't really a big deal."
Wondering if she were having her leg pulled, Barbara furrowed her brows and stabbed an asparagus spear. The brunette's smile seemed to soften as she continued.
"Like the asparagus. Right there on the little card in the supermarket, it says to simmer it until tender. And, even if I'm not Jacques Pepin, I know that simmering mad is less than boiling mad, right?"
Utterly flabbergasted, the redhead managed a slow nod.
"So," the brunette finished as she cheerfully forked some potatoes to her mouth, "I just got the water boiling mad then calmed it down."
The entire explanation made such perfect sense -- and was so utterly, perfectly Helena -- that Barbara had to laugh. However, after a few more bites, something scratched at her forebrain.
"If you can cook like this, Hel, why don't you fix some real food at the tower sometimes?"
Incredulous blue eyes met green.
"I said I can cook, Barbara, not that I like to. I just wanted to tonight."
The younger woman looked down, directing her final utterance to her plate.
There was really nothing that the older woman could say to that other than the obvious.
"Thank you, Hel."
They finished the meal in companionable silence, listening to the music Helena had programmed on her stereo. As she carefully refolded her paper towel and set it beside her plate, Barbara noted the selection and wondered how random her partner's choice -- Dylan's "Knocking on Heaven's Door" -- had been.
"Thank you again, Helena. It really was wonderful. I simply had no idea..."
The brunette stood to begin gathering plates, and the older woman found herself pinned by twinkling blue eyes.
"The real mystery, Red, is why you can't cook."
Laughingly dancing out of range of the wadded paper towel directed her way, the younger woman waved her guest to the couch. She rapidly returned from the kitchen with a DVD in hand.
" 'The Lion In Winter'?"
Barbara didn't even attempt to hide her pleasure.
"Uh huh. The original, too."
An hour later, as Katharine Hepburn's Eleanor of Aquitaine plotted another twist to place one of her sons on the throne, Barbara was yanked from England in 1183 AD when her companion abruptly leaned forward and hit the pause button. Without a word, the younger woman vaulted the coffee table and disappeared into the kitchen, reappearing almost immediately with a small bowl in hand. The brunette placed her offering on the low table before rejoining the older woman on the couch.
"I almost forgot about dessert."
Somehow, Barbara found that hard to believe. To her knowledge, the smaller woman had an insatiable sweet tooth.
"What did you make?"
"Mousse. Dark chocolate."
The older woman felt the hair on the back of her neck rising in response to the words. Something about the brunette's purring tone was almost indecent, fully laced with thoughts of anticipated pleasure.
An exaggerated sigh recaptured her attention, and she looked from the dessert dish to her partner's face, which was fixed in a playful moue.
"Well, there's just one little problem..."
Smiling, the redhead cocked her head in encouragement.
"You see, you can't, and I mean you just cannot, eat dark chocolate with a metal utensil. It totally messes with the taste."
Although her analytical brain promptly and helpfully supplied a plethora of explanations for the phenomenon, Barbara decided that a discourse on pH-balances and acidity was, probably, not called for at the moment. Instead, she opted for a solemn dip of her head, and Helena continued.
"Well, the problem is that all of my fancy horn caviar spoons are in the dishwasher."
While she was quite cognizant of the fact that her partner's small apartment lacked a dishwasher, Barbara wasn't quite as certain that the younger woman was not in possession of caviar spoons. Given the brunette's upbringing, she honestly wouldn't have been surprised. Nevertheless, delighted by the playful exchange, she creased her brows in perplexity.
"That does seem to be a problem, Sweetie. What do you think we can do?"
She immediately felt her eyebrows traveling in the opposite direction -- briefly she wondered if they would end up on the back of her head -- when she witnessed the dark woman slowly easing her index finger into the bowl. Tracing the outline of her suddenly very dry lips with the tip of her tongue, the older woman managed a blink as Helena extended her hand with a wicked smile.
"I was hoping we could improvise."
Since the other woman had gone to the trouble of making the dessert, Barbara thought it only... polite to sample her partner's offering. Holding the brunette's gaze, she ducked slightly to taste the airy confection. The chocolate was powerful, its bitterness tempered by a hint of sweetness.
Sweetness... and something else.
Swallowing her first tentative taste, the older woman dropped her gaze to the slim, corded hand before her. Gently, she curled her fingers around Helena's palm, guiding even as she leaned down. Without further hesitation, she swept her tongue along the length of partner's finger, then rotated her hand to suck the digit into her mouth. The redhead took her time, sucking deeply, carefully curling her tongue to remove all traces of the gooey dessert.
Her release of the improvised "utensil" coincided with a voluble gasp from her companion, and Barbara straightened, looking up to meet golden eyes. Running her tongue around the edges of her mouth again, she watched the younger woman swallow.
"I'm... I like it, too, Red."
Pinned by her partner's burning gaze, the redhead reached toward the low table, dipping her index and second fingers into the bowl without looking. Wordlessly, she extended her hand, struck dumb by the slow curl of the dark figure's upper lip, by the quick flare of aquiline nostrils.
The brunette inclined her head, and the older woman felt several quick puffs of warm air ghost her palm when the other woman scented the dessert... and her. Tiny ripples of warmth traveled across her palm, up her arm, and through her chest at the sight -- and sensation -- of her partner delicately lapping the creamy substance from her fingers.
Helena's feeding was slow and definitely -- most definitely -- thorough. By the time the younger woman finally straightened, Barbara suspected that a crime unit would have been hard-pressed to find a trace of chocolate on her hand.
Assuming that she could have controlled her own trembling long enough for them to check.
Helena remained still, meeting the other woman's eyes calmly, however her rapid, shallow breathing was more than evidence enough of her... state. The older woman spared a moment to observe the other woman's arousal, attempting to identify her own decidedly mixed emotions. She certainly felt excitement; in addition, she could clearly distinguish amazement... and trepidation... and, perhaps, even a trace of envy.
Good heavens. With little more than a bit of innuendo, the brunette could get to a state that Barbara hadn't visited deeply in years.
Pushing those thoughts aside for later reflection, she noticed a tiny dab of mousse at the corner of her companion's mouth. She reached out, lightly touching that full lower lip.
"You have some... "
Distracted by the heat under her fingertip, the redhead leaned in, bringing her mouth to the younger woman's smooth cheek.
While she had never exactly been a fan of... food play, as she painstakingly cleaned the dot of sweetness, Barbara had to admit that the combination of dark chocolate and Helena was definitely a winner.
A moment later, the brunette distracted her from that line of thought when she pulled back a few inches, smiling tenderly.
Perhaps, the redhead determined, the tenderness was in response to the vexation which must have been evident in her own eyes.
"So do you, Red."
It took the older woman a beat to re-gather the threads of their conversation, then she blinked.
Honestly, Barbara thought that she'd been relatively tidy...
Concerns about personal decorum and hygiene evaporated when she observed slender fingers dip into the small bowl and then move purposely towards her.
Shivering slightly while her partner painted her lips with chocolate cream, she finally looked up and batted her eyes playfully.
"Would you mind taking care of that, Sweetie?"
The other woman's purring growl left no doubt that Helena was up for the job.
"Definitely my pleasure..."
Considering that it was supposed to be a source of harmless pleasure, the New Gotham club district had been failing abysmally of late. Specifically, for the second time in less than a week, Barbara had picked up a report from one of the clubs.
On Saturday, there had been a sexual assault. On the surface, such an attack wasn't completely surprising; however, since this incident had occurred between two men at an avowedly straight nightclub, it did raise a few flags. This evening, a particularly ugly fight was in process at a normally mellow poetry club and, from the sound of things, seemed to be escalating into a possible riot.
Listening to the sounds of the enthusiastic "crowd control" which Helena was dispensing, interspersed with Dinah's cries of dismay, the cyber-crime fighter hoped that this wasn't the start of a trend. Additionally, as she pushed her glasses up to pinch the bridge of her nose, Barbara couldn't help but second-guess her decision to allow the teen to accompany the older woman on sweeps.
True, Helena had worked an early shift at the bar, resulting in an early patrol -- something the redhead viewed as an absolute must if Dinah went on sweeps on a school night. It was also a Tuesday, normally a fairly slow night for criminal activity. Nevertheless, technically, the girl shouldn't even have been in that particular club -- Barbara was quite aware that oversized drinks contributed significantly to making the notoriously awful poetry at The Speak Easy more palatable --much less attempting to assist her volatile sweeps partner in controlling an enraged crowd of would-be poets.
Acknowledging the clarity of hindsight, the older woman checked the police scanner again, confirming that the understaffed department had yet to dispatch a single patrol to the area. Resigned, she attempted to gather another situation report from her partners in the field.
"Huntress? Canary? How are things going?"
<"Throw a book at me, will you?">
While Helena's words weren't a direct answer, they certainly provided some fairly vivid clues.
<"Lemme show you what I know about Browning... and black-n-blueing, too.">
The sound of fist meeting flesh immediately followed, and Barbara smirked, suspecting that the book-tosser had just gained an entirely new perspective on the Romantic poet.
Tangentially, she wondered if the dark vigilante had been thinking of Elizabeth or Robert when she'd made her... offer to the club patron.
"Canary? Can you provide an update?"
As instructed, Dinah had been keeping out of the thick of things, a "thick" which -- from Dinah's periodic descriptions -- seemed to center wherever Helena was. According to the blonde's own updates, she'd primarily been using her TK to trip, trap, and separate various pugilists.
<"Uh, yeah, Oracle. Looks like -- Eeep!">
The sound of breaking glass carried clearly from somewhere quite close to the girl's transceiver, and Barbara reflexively ducked.
<"Uhm, vodka bottle.">, the teen supplied before resuming her report.
<"Looks like it's finally winding down. Huntress has, uhm, subdued about ten people.">
Noting a significant reduction in the sounds of mayhem, the redhead released a slow breath, then pursed her lips in vexation when she noticed an update on the scanner. NGPD was finally on the way.
Helena sounded distinctly cheerful.
<"All wrapped up in a bow, ready for some stopping by the jail on a snowy evening.">
Frost? Her determinedly non-academic former student was now paraphrasing Robert Frost?
Shaking her head fondly, Barbara spoke briskly.
"Good work, but you may want to clear out. The police should be there soon."
The simultaneous acknowledgements were followed by the familiar sounds of swift movement. In short order, only distant street noises and the whistling wind echoed through the transceiver.
Presumably, her charges had decamped to the rooftops.
<"Well, that was a fun little warm-up, Oracle. What else do you have for us?">
The question was colored with conspicuous zeal. As she consulted the scanner again, Barbara could almost see her younger partner rubbing her hands together in anticipatory glee.
"I'm sorry, Huntress, but, other than your little brouhaha at the club and a B&E at a toy store, it's been quiet tonight."
Given her younger partner's ramped up level of adrenaline after the fight, Barbara expected a certain measure of disappointment or pique. She was, thus, a bit surprised by the brunette's intrigued reply.
"That's correct, Huntress."
What on earth was Helena finding so interesting about a burglary?
<"What kind of toy store, Oracle?">
The redhead sputtered, then laughed outright, at the purring emphasis the brunette placed on the word "toy".
<"Huh? What are you talki -- Oh!">
Barbara easily visualized the confusion, then comprehension, which had undoubtedly flooded Dinah's features. She attempted to mask her chuckle under the guise of clearing her throat and then deliberately dropped her voice half an octave.
"Sorry, Huntress, but it's not that kind of toy store."
Rechecking her monitoring programs to the accompaniment of her partner's soft huff, she added more briskly, "It was the FAO Schwartz downtown."
A moment of silence greeted that information.
<"What the heck, I love that place. Wanna check it out, Canary?">
<"Kewl! If that's okay, Oracle?">
In an instant, Barbara's two kick-ass crime fighting companions had transformed into... overgrown kids. A smile dimpled the older woman's cheeks.
"That's fine, as long as you don't bring back any... evidence."
Heaven only knew what the two young women might opt to haul out of the store... in the name of crime scene investigation, of course.
The muted sounds of movement and conversation ensued as the redhead reseated her glasses.
<"You know you just want to go there because you like the stuffed animals.">
Helena's reaction to the blonde's dig was remarkably blase.
<"Who doesn't? 'Sides, I really just like that huge panther in the window.">
Half-listening to the sororal banter, Barbara made a mental note about the stuffed cat. After all, her partner's birthday was coming up in a few months.
The cyber-genius briefly checked the younger women's position on the GPS, confirming that they still had a dozen blocks to cover, then directed her attention to hacking in to the police system. In an instant, she was in; and, four dozen keystrokes later, she completed her covert task -- adding a directive to run drug tests on the group being picked up from The Speak Easy.
The behavior of the patrons at the club was simply too bizarre -- and widespread -- to dismiss as a mere overindulgence of alcohol and iambic pentameter. In all likelihood, blood tests would reveal a new designer drug making the circuit.
Barbara seamlessly backed out of the system, leaving behind a monitoring bug to alert her when the tests were logged, just as a soft hail emanated from her transceiver.
<"You copy, Oracle?">
Green eyes snapped to the locator. Her partners were on-site.
"I copy, Huntress. Have you found anything?"
<"So far just some police tape on the back entrance.">
Oblivious to the fact that it was an audio-only connection, the redhead nodded at the laconic response.
<"We're gonna go in through the vent.">
Some pointed muttering about the job not being all glory and then some soft rustling followed Dinah's indignant squeak.
Confident that Helena would update her as soon as she found anything to report, Barbara focused on her encryption-decryption puzzle. Amid the routine duties of her day and night jobs, an unexpected call to substitute for one of the school's Quiz Team instructors who was out after an overambitious ski trip, unplanned time at the auto shop to have the van's shocks adjusted after her hot-dogging trip to rescue Helena, some lengthy discussions with Dinah about college selection, and -- certainly not least of all -- fleeting moments with Helena, Barbara had somehow not found much free time to devote to the problem. Dinah and she had finally managed to spend time the night before batting some possibilities around, and the redhead was, frankly, eager to test one of the teen's suggestions about the cryogenic applet.
Effortlessly shifting mental gears from toys and designer drugs to method calls and encryptions APIs, the cyber genius instantly lost herself in her coding. A low whistle in her earpiece interrupted her rapid-fire keystrokes a few minutes later.
<"Huntress? Canary? Did you find something?">
Despite being yanked from the nearly meditative state she sometimes achieved when programming, Barbara managed to smile indulgently at the brunette's reply. It was Dinah who provided some elaboration.
<"Most of the store is fine, but over in the Moving Toy section, it's a real mess.">
One crimson brow crept upward, and Barbara tamped down on her impatience.
Oh, how she missed seeing things for herself sometimes.
"A mess?", she prompted mildly.
<"Yeah">, Helena supplied. <"Looks like all of the animatronics soldiers and wind-up dolls and remote-control cars went to war or some-- Awwww, man!">
The leader of the crime fighting trio held her tongue after the twin exclamations. Her patience was rewarded when Helena, voice tinged with an odd mixture of amusement and regret, continued.
<"Some collateral damage. Looks like G.I. Joe and Bozo The Clown took out that groovy tropical fish tank near the front of the store.">
Dinah chimed in at that point with her own contribution.
<"There are fish all over the place.">
Although the teen's description dominated the comm set, the redhead didn't miss a nearly sub vocal addition from the other woman on the scene.
<"And salt water all over the stuffed animals...">
Despite the subdued tone, Barbara had no problem detecting the very genuine dismay in Helena's quiet addition. Under her too-tough-for-her-own-good exterior, the brunette still possessed a genuine enthusiasm for many of the magical, wonderful elements of childhood. Indeed, the younger woman's ability to view the world through childlike eyes -- despite everything that she'd endured in her young life -- continued to awe the redhead. Barbara was, therefore, quite certain that the destruction at the toy store was upsetting to her partner at a level the younger woman would never admit.
And, she noted wryly, which the young woman would certainly not appreciate having made public.
Accordingly, the older woman focused on business.
"Why don't you check for any piscine survivors and get some photos? After that, let's call it a night."
To her experienced ear, the younger woman's acknowledgement seemed the tiniest bit... flat.
<"Will do, Oracle. Going off comms.">
Twenty-five minutes later, the redhead resurfaced from her programming-induced abstraction and pushed away from the keyboard just as the elevator doors slid open. She saved her work and closed numerous terminal windows as the sound of bickering preceded her charges into the living area.
"If you don't want to listen to me, that's your prerogative, Kid. But, I know what I'm talking about."
The older woman detected more uncertainty than disbelief in the teen's reply.
"I just... Well, gee, does that really work?"
Barbara instantly determined that she did not want to know -- or even hypothesize -- about the topic under discussion. Managing a somewhat brittle smile of thanks when Dinah extended the digital camera, the redhead turned back to the Delphi and focused on downloading the images. Nevertheless, she couldn't miss the brunette's measured reply as the two turned to the kitchen.
Furrowing her brows, the older woman puzzled briefly over the almost wistful note she thought she'd detected in the lone word before finally revisiting her earlier decision. The philosophy behind her resolution was a shameless alteration of Bill Clinton's advice to gay service men and women; and, while "Don't Ask, Don't Guess" might not have been the most original of credos, she'd found it went a long way -- depending on the situation, of course -- toward allowing her to sleep at night.
In this case, for example, Barbara sixth sense hadn't alerted her to any signs of devilment, physical danger, or criminal mischief. As a result, she assiduously kept her curiosity in check and opted to give her young charges time to complete their discussion, conscientiously dumping all of the images from the digi, then perusing them. It was only after Dinah exited the kitchen and disappeared into her bedroom that Barbara felt confident enough to join her younger partner.
Pausing in the doorway, she found Helena nibbling on a pop-tart, an untouched bottle of beer opened next to her. The brunette appeared uncharacteristically subdued.
"I'm sorry about the stuffies, Sweetheart."
Such inadequate words to express her regret, regret for her partner's years of pain and stolen innocence and joys denied.
Suspicious blue eyes peered from under shaggy bangs, clearly attempting to determine whether Barbara was mocking her. Apparently satisfied by the redhead's sincerity, the younger woman exhaled noisily.
"Yeah. And the fish tank, too."
The older woman moved to the end of the table, nodding seriously as the brunette continued.
"I know a guy from the bar who tends to tropical aquariums. Did you know it can take months to get one set up and the water all... balanced and everything before you can even start introducing fish?"
Although the redhead had, in fact, been in possession of that information, she shook her head slowly and took a small sip from the other woman's beer.
"The entire incident sounds like senseless vandalism, Hel."
Perhaps whatever was presumably circulating in the club district had been at work at the toy store as well. Unfortunately, without any physical evidence from the perpetrators, the cyber-crime fighter doubted that she'd be able to make such a link.
The realization that her partner had not replied -- that, in fact, the younger woman was barely making eye contact -- pulled the redhead from her mental segue. Suspecting that there was something waiting to be said, Barbara silently watched her partner while she picked at the sprinkles on her pop-tart.
Eventually, the brunette apparently found the words she'd been hunting for in her pastry and straightened, fixing the older woman with a faintly wounded glare.
"By any chance, Barbara, did you sic Dinah on me?"
"Sic Dinah?", she automatically parroted.
Given the complete shift in topics, mental whiplash seemed like a very real possibility.
Completely at a loss, she observed the other woman's left eyebrow -- the one which was perpetually raised -- inch up a few cynical millimeters.
"Yeah, you know. For 'advice'...?"
Although the irony suffusing the word made it unnecessary, the younger woman lifted both hands from the table to encapsulate the word in virtual quotation marks. Simultaneously, a light bulb went on for the redhead, and, immediately, she felt herself coloring.
The older woman imagined that the blush was enough of a 'tell'; still, honesty forced her to verbalize the truth.
"Er, I suppose you could say..."
Stammering to a halt at the sight of Helena's right brow rising to join the left, Barbara dug into her stores of courage and cut to the chase.
"Yes. Yes, I did suggest, er, that."
A bit disconcerted by the brevity of her partner's grumpy rejoinder, the redhead sat quietly for a few minutes. For her part, the younger woman returned to denuding her pastry of its sprinkles.
Inexorably, Barbara's curiosity got the better of her.
"How did it go, Sweetheart?"
Blue eyes met green, clearly telegraphing how very, very displeased Helena was with the conversation which the redhead had, essentially, foisted on her. In return, the older woman tendered a genuinely apologetic half-smile and worked for an explanation.
"She, er, came to me last week and asked, and I... Well, you can imagine?"
That seemed to help a bit.
The older woman observed the expressive features across the table visibly running through the possible scenarios which could have played out between Helena's two blushing companions. Finally brightening, the younger woman stuffed the remainder of her pop-tart into her mouth and chewed with gusto.
"I'll just bet," was the verdict.
Quirking her lips, Barbara laughed self-consciously.
"Indeed, Hel. I hoped that it might help if she talked with someone who was more comfortable with... things."
The redhead deliberately ignored the possible layers of meaning in her own words, focusing expectantly on her partner. Something which could have been irritation flickered through cerulean eyes before the brunette exhaled noisily and reached for the beer.
"Yeah, well, that's me. Dear Abby for the teen set, huh?"
Deciding that silence was her best option at the moment, Barbara remained still as the younger woman downed half of her beverage in three long swallows. When Helena returned the bottle to the table, the redhead found herself struggling not to be distracted by the trace of foam on her partner's upper lip.
For some reason, it made her think of chocolate.
"So, yes, I talked to her. Had to be careful not to fry her circuits or anything -- "
Their quiet laughter seemed a bit stiff to the older woman; however, it was a delicate topic.
"Do you think you were able to help, Hel?", she prodded gently.
The brunette considered the question for a few beats.
"I dunno. It's not like I'm going to give her hands-on lessons or something, right?"
Feeling the blood drain from her cheeks, the redhead hoped that the reaction hadn't been too visible when teasing blue eyes caught green.
"I mean, that would be just... twisted."
Barbara distantly registered that she should laugh at... or somehow respond to... her companion's comically aggrieved indignation. Regrettably, the tremor working its way down her upper spine had stripped her facility for both speech and movement.
For better or worse, Helena seemed to pick up on her former guardian's mood and continued more seriously.
"But, yeah, I tried to get her to understand about how it's different with every person."
That odd, paralyzing force lessened its grip, and Barbara managed a nod. Speech was definitely still out of her reach.
She worked not to squirm under the scrutiny of acute blue eyes, relieved when the younger woman lightened her tone fractionally and resumed her narrative.
"And, after that, I shared a few G-rated tales from when I was first figuring things out and fumbling toward ecstasy."
Desperately needing to keep the mood light, the redhead managed to raise both brows and fixed her companion with a mild variant of The Look. The tactic evoked a laugh, and the younger woman capitulated, raising her hands in surrender.
"Okay, okay. Maybe it was PG-15. But the Kid needs all the help she can get. After all..."
The brunette paused dramatically, blue eyes twinkling devilishly.
"...I was a quick study. Practically a frikkin' prodigy."
Barbara's tension finally receded under the combined onslaught of Helena's laughter and the younger woman's playful insouciance. She even managed a laugh of her own as she pushed back from the table.
"Is that so, Sweetie?"
"Oh, you betcha. Still,"
The redhead found herself holding her breath when her partner narrowed her eyes and leaned forward a bit, speaking conspiratorially.
"...it never hurts to keep on studying."
A smile creased the older woman's face.
"Live and learn, then, Hel?"
The instant the aphorism crossed her lips, Barbara recalled the same utterance being spoken by the younger woman seven weeks earlier. The place had been New Gotham's newest French restaurant; the occasion, of course, had been nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing, that was, until Helena had shyly divulged that she hoped -- wanted -- the outing to be a date, and Barbara had dismissed the notion out of hand.
Breathless, the older woman replayed the scene, lost in nuances and meanings. The sight of her partner rounding the table firmly recaptured her attention, and Barbara ruthlessly pushed aside the sudden reminiscence.
Perhaps Helena sensed her mood; after all, from the time the teen had come to live with her, she had always seemed attuned to her guardian's needs. Regardless, the lithe figure knelt gracefully by her side, touching her hand gently and tendering a crooked smile.
"That's right, Red. But, try to relax a little; it's supposed to be a fun thing."
Could it be just that simple?
A soft squeeze against her hand drew searching emerald eyes to blue.
"Ready to go to sleep, Barbara?"
Acutely conscious of how Helena had phrased her question and quite certain that it had not been accidental, the redhead managed a quick nod. Leading the way from the kitchen, Barbara found herself wondering why she felt so deeply, deeply at sea.
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