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.
ADDITIONAL DISCLAIMER: I've made several references to a baddie (Crimson Claw) from another work of fanfiction -- The most-excellent "Feral" by Barb/Pink Rabbit Productions. No infringement intended; rather, consider it an homage to a breath-taking work of fanfic (and another plea that Feral be completed??).
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
The Way We Were
Well, that had been a punch to the gut. Had someone sucked all of the air out of the room? There had to be some reason she couldn't get a real breath.
Helena watched alarmed emerald eyes sway back and forth in front of her -- Was Barbara alright? -- before feeling a hand pressing gently against the back of her head, steadying her and trying to guide her head down, before hearing a voice telling her to put her head between her knees. Not much inclined to fight it, the brunette went with things for a moment, until she started feeling more like herself and remembered just what it was that had gotten her kinda of ... discombobulated for a minute. Helena Kyle, the Huntress, did *not* faint.
Snapping her head up so rapidly that she nearly broke the redhead's nose, the young woman looked into concerned emerald eyes, her own eyes wide and panicky. Trapped in that warm, loving gaze, there was no way she could speak, the English language -- hell, the French language, too -- utterly escaping her at the moment.
Helena continued to focus on the little things -- breathing, staying upright -- and watched as, in slow motion, Barbara brought both of her hands up to cup her face so very, very tenderly. She felt the older woman brush her thumb softly against the her lips again before pulling the brunette down towards her gently. Again, in slow motion -- must have to do with the lack of air in the room -- Barbara stretched up to press a melting kiss to the dark brow.
"I mean it, Hel," the redhead breathed softly, "You can tell me anything.... Tell me who's been hurting you."
Helena blinked, then blinked again. Well, this was it then; almost two years -- a pretty good run, the young woman decided as the world moved back into real time. The jig was up, her goose was cooked, the shoe had dropped -- whatever the fuck that meant, she thought peevishly. No way Barbara could ever look at her the same way once she found out what ... who ... the young woman had been doing for the last two years. And, while the brunette was willing to tap-dance around a topic if needed, there was no way, abso-freaking-lutely no way, that she would ever lie to the other woman.
Barbara had moved her hands back down, resting them on Helena's knees, gazing at her compassionately. The brunette stared at those hands for a moment, then, drawing in a deep breath, she spoke quietly, "Quinn...".
Seeing the absolute horror in emerald eyes, Helena couldn't let the name stand like that.
"...zel", she tacked on. Technically, hell, in actuality, it was the truth.
Russet brows simultaneously furrowed -- God, the woman was going to get such worry lines one day if she didn't watch that -- and raised toward the ceiling. "Quin-*zel*?" Barbara repeated, enunciating quite clearly and putting a whole lot of emphasis on the second syllable. "Dr. Harleen Quinzel, the therapist you were ordered to see?"
At Helena's quick dip of her chin, the redhead continued, voice flat, "I thought you'd stopped seeing her quite some time ago."
Helena wanted, urgently, to get up and pace. No, actually she wanted to jump off the balcony; after all, she'd probably land on her feet.
The brunette swallowed, then answered quietly, "I did. Uh, professionally, I guess." She watched the red eyebrows do that weird scrunching-raising thing again. "Quinn...zel, uh, suggested a different arrangement."
"What kind of arrangement, Helena?" The question was gentle.
At that moment, Dinah poked her head into the training room. Noticing the lowered voices of an intense conversation, the intimate position of the two women, the young blonde turned her head from one woman to the other several times before softly clearing her throat. Helena couldn't decide whether to be irritated or relieved by the interruption; she settled on directing her all-purpose scowl towards the teenager.
Barbara turned her head, gaze neutral. "Yes, Dinah?"
"Uh, sorry to interrupt. Just wondered if it's okay to head over to Gabby's for a while, maybe stay for dinner? Her mom's making meatloaf." the teenager flashed a hopeful smile.
"That's fine, Dinah. Just call if you'll be back later than 10." The redhead smiled, waited patiently until the girl exited and the door closed. Then she turned back to Helena and repeated, implacable:
"What kind of arrangement, Hel?"
Feeling distinctly like a blushing virgin, though she had trouble channeling that particular scenario, Helena stammered, "Uh, there's sex..."
Looking pointedly at the younger woman's almost-healed lip, Barbara carefully inquired, "And, is this... mutual? Something *you* want?"
Helena demurred, "It's not, uh, always," Her hand stuttered towards her face, fleetingly touched her healing lip. "uh, like this."
The older woman apparently wasn't going to be sidetracked. Her voice was kind, but the words were insistent. "I asked if this is something that you want, Hel."
Well, not exactly.
"Well, not exactly." The brunette's face twisted briefly.
The first crack in the older woman's calm composure appeared. "Then, *why*, Hel?"
Helena exhaled, then drew in a deep, preparatory breath.
She exhaled again.
Ran a hand through her hair.
Finally said what she had to: "Uhm, while I was seeing her -- professionally -- I kind of got to trusting her, telling her things. You know?"
At Barbara's careful nod, the younger woman blinked back some moisture in her eyes, sucked it up, and finished the confession. "I told her about, about the muffin-top business, Barbara."
Helena stared at her lap, at Barbara's long, elegant hands, still resting on her knees, and waited.
The response was quiet, hesitant. "I'm not sure I understand. Is she... blackmailing you?"
The younger woman choked back her bark of laughter. In for a penny...
"No, Babs, nothing like that," the brunette answered softly, sadly. "Seems that the good doctor isn't really such a *good* doctor; she has some secrets of her own, a secret identity..." She trailed off, watching the green eyes curtain briefly, before they looked directly at her.
"Quinn." The redhead stated. Helena wondered how the other woman could do that, say something with absolutely no inflection in her voice.
Helena nodded, near tears. "I'm really sorry, Barbara. I never... I.. I'm just so sorry."
Helena peered at her friend cautiously, saw Barbara take a breath, felt the redhead reflexively rubbing her right hand up and down over Helena's knee, heard the deadly calm voice asking, "Why would you possibly enter into any sort of...'arrangement'", the word was bitter, "with that woman?"
Helena chewed on her lower lip, then rasped, "She promised to cut back on crime -- which she has -- and she promised..." God, this was hard.
"Tell me, Hel." The request was soft but banded with steel.
"She promised to help keep the Joker in Arkham. To tell me about any new escape plots. To help keep you safe," Helena finally whispered. "All I have to do is," she waved a hand vaguely, "...sometimes..." blinking, "...is this."
The dark woman heard a strangled sound, and jerked her head up to meet emerald eyes filled with pain, tears brimming in them. Helena dropped her head, shamed and humiliated by what she'd finally revealed to the woman she loved and respected most in the world. Despite her acute hearing, she almost missed the softly spoken words.
"Sweetheart, how hard... How you could do this..." The older woman seemed to be reaching almost blindly, moving her hands up, fumbling, grasping at Helena's sides, tugging her towards her.
Incredulous, unable to comprehend the bright shining love in those green eyes, Helena slid bonelessly to the floor, then leaned forward to wrap her arms around the older woman's waist, to lay her cheek ever-so-cautiously on Barbara's knees.
Helena's position, Barbara realized with a start, was one of total vulnerability...and total submission. The barely audible rumbling from the young woman's chest spoke volumes about her distress.
How lonely, how frightened and ... shamed and ... angry the young woman must have been for these years. Barbara felt one tear spill down her cheek, wondering how she could possibly deserve the fierce love and devotion offered by the young heroine.
The redhead was aware that Helena continued to remain absolutely still against her. Looking down at the dark head against her knees, the barely visibly trembling arms still wrapped around her, Barbara was rocked by waves of emotion. First and above all, there was a powerful tenderness for the young woman who had given so much, essentially, all for the older woman. There was also absolute blinding fury towards Quinn: under the guise of a trusted confidant -- a therapist, she had secured Helena's trust and then violated it; knowing how slow to trust the young woman was, Barbara was aware of how devastating this sort of violation would be. That the shared confidences included information which could put all of the women, their entire life as protectors of the city, at risk could only have compounded Helena's anger and hurt, could only have fueled her intense need to protect Dinah and Barbara. That Quinn -- the absolute bitch, Barbara fumed -- then could have turned Helena's desire to protect Barbara against her, used Helena's own selflessness to hurt and humiliate the younger woman.... Every muscle that she could use briefly locked as Barbara Gordon was seized by a rictus of rage.
The rage was washed away temporarily by another feeling: horrified sadness. From long association, the older woman knew the depths of emotion and tenderness that Helena cloaked behind her too-bad-for-my-leather image. She could not fathom how her friend had been able to endure the last two years. Despite years of education, reading, observing humanity, all of it stored in her infallible memory, Barbara Gordon simply could not find an appropriate word to express how she was feeling at this moment. She ached for the younger woman.
In the face of betrayal by her 'therapist', the possible threat to Dinah and Barbara, the promise of helping to protect Barbara from a madman, what had Helena done? Barbara realized that, if she'd ever felt the need to consider this particular scenario, she very probably would have concluded that Helena would handle it just as she had. In the interest of protecting those she cared for, the young woman had accepted an unpalatable situation and an even more stomach-turning 'arrangement'.
For almost two years, she'd continued her sweeps diligently, facing the usual petty criminals and other, more horrific creatures with her usual gusto. She'd dutifully shown up to train Dinah, to work out, to assist with the redhead's PT, never hinting at other demands on her time or discomfort with the tasks. She'd smiled cheerfully in their day-to-day interactions, her usual broodiness considerably abated in the last years, Barbara realized, as if the young woman was trying to insure that nothing might lead the older woman to scrutinize her emotional state too closely. And, apparently, on some regular basis -- or, knowing Quinn, it might have been purely whimsical, Helena had met with her betrayer and surrendered to her.
The young woman had the heart of a lion.
Barbara ran her hands softly down the slim bare arms encircling her, ran her fingers gently through that wild dark hair. Save for the minute trembling and the sound of that inhuman rumbling, Helena remained absolutely still and totally silent.
'Waiting for my reaction, waiting for me to... '
Barbara leaned forward slightly, moving one hand to trace Helena's cheek before placing her fingers lightly under her chin. Softly, she tipped the dark head up, coaxing the woman to face her. The redhead caught a glimpse of anguished blue eyes, flickering to gold, before they ducked away. Painfully aware of the young woman's jaw trembling under her fingers, of the fast, shallow breath brushing her wrist, the older woman attempted to soothe Helena as she might gentle an injured and skittish wild creature.
"Shhhh, sweetheart," she whispered. "It's going to be alright." She tentatively stroked the other woman's head with the hand still tangled in dark hair. "Let me help you. Let me help you make it better."
Eyes once again blue, but only slightly less pained, peered curiously into green. The rumbling slowly quieted, and the trembling gradually stilled.
"That's it. I'm here for you, Helena. Nothing, *nothing* will ever change that. Just trust me. It *will* be okay."
Barbara wasn't sure of the exact words pouring quietly over her lips, only that they seemed to be helping. Leaning forward just a bit more, she dusted a kiss to the dark hair. Moving her hand from beneath the angular jaw, she fumbled for one of Helena's hands and tangled their fingers together and then lowered her head to rest her forehead against the dark brow. The younger woman brought her other arm up slowly, jerkily -- as if expecting the other woman to recoil -- and placed her hand lightly on Barbara's shoulder.
Eyes to eyes, nose to nose, Barbara desperately wanted to press a kiss to those softly parted lips. She hesitated, fearing for the other woman's emotional state, mentally cursing the fact that big emotional scenes had never been her milieu. She wished with everything she was that she had the facility to bridge the tiny distance, to know that she could make things alright. Instead, realizing that the position was hell on both of them, the redhead opted for the practical.
Loathe to break the delicate contact, Barbara remained still as she murmured, "What say we go get cleaned up?"
The older woman sensed the split-second tension coursing through the other woman and held her pose, deliberately remaining as relaxed as possible in the awkward position. Then, she felt Helena withdraw slightly before teasing blue eyes caught hers. The young woman exhaled then sniffed pointedly.
There was a slow grin before the young woman ducked her head to look through her lashes, teasing, "Yeah. Between sweat and puke, I guess I'm pretty rank, huh?"
Delighted by the impish display, needing the release like she needed air, Barbara threw back her head and laughed.
"You and me both, Hel. It was a pretty hard workout today."
As the dark woman stood, her movement steady, if slightly less fluid than usual, the redhead backed away and turned her chair. She then shifted in her chair and held out her hand in invitation. There was a brief hesitation before Helena stepped towards her and tangled their fingers, rasping "C'mon, Red. Hot showers all around?"
After Helena released her hand and trailed down the hall behind her, veering off at the bathroom, Barbara busied herself in her room, laying out clean clothes for herself and then undressing, until she heard the sound of the shower in the other bathroom. The sound of running water was immediately, predictably, followed by singing.
When she had assumed guardianship of the young Helena Kyle seven years ago, the redhead had been dumbfounded and, occasionally, irrationally irked to discover that the young woman was apparently biologically incapable of standing in a shower without bursting into song. It spoke volumes about the evolution of their relationship, the older woman admitted on a grin, that she now found the habit only amusing and endearing. At this moment, she also found it eminently comforting.
Moving into the bathroom adjoining her room, Barbara tilted her head, attempting to identify Helena's selection. 'Was that...?' She listened more carefully to the words, the melody, as she transferred herself to her shower seat:
Somebody bring me some water
Can't you see I'm burning alive
Can't you see my baby's got another lover
I don't know how I'm gonna survive
Somebody bring me some water
Can't you see it's out of control
Baby's got my heart and my baby's got my mind
But tonight the sweet Devil's got my soul
Melissa Etheridge, if Barbara wasn't mistaken. A small shiver ran through the redhead as she wondered how random Helena's choice of that particular song had been, which 'sweet Devil' had her soul.
Barbara finished her shower in record time; if not for her damp hair, she might have doubted that she'd been in contact with soap and water at all. Not surprisingly, Helena, who determined that a shower should end only when there was no more hot water, was still in the shower.
Despite the brief emotional respite they'd embraced just before their showers, the redhead was under no illusions that the young woman's revelation would be simple to get past. With a frustrated sigh, the older woman allowed that the... situation had the potential to magnify the obstacles already between the two women.
This insight was immediately followed by a disgusted snort.
'Only if I let it,' Barbara realized.
She decided to do what she could to make the next few hours as easy as possible for both of them.
A call to Gabby's house and a brief chat with Dinah ensured that the older women would have whatever privacy -- decompression time, Barbara mentally supplied -- they might need; the teen all-too-amenably agreed to spend the night with her friend. Ending the conversation, Barbara acknowledged that there probably was some merit behind Helena's suggestive cracks about the two girls and that, possibly, a delicate conversation with Dinah might be in order.
A grimace dimpling her cheeks, the redhead wondered at the irony of her life; here she was, someone who tried to avoid emotional areas with a 99 and a-half foot pole, surrounded by young women who enriched her life so much, but damnably insisted on bringing tons of emotional stuff along for the ride.
Che sara, sara.
Barbara next powered the Delphi to standby, resisting the urge to start some background scans for more information about Harleen Quinzel and recent activities of Harley Quinn. Handling that particular situation would be very tricky indeed, the crime-fighter realized. Exactly what was meant by "situation" was something she didn't care to examine too closely at the moment. There would be time later to determine what level of risk the psychotic blonde posed.
Right now, the only thing, person, worth focusing on had apparently completed her song stylings and was very probably scrounging through the redhead's room in search of some clean clothes to borrow.
'Exactly where she belongs.' The thought filled the redhead with warmth.
After needlessly rechecking the security of the clock tower, the older woman moved into the kitchen. She pulled several bottles of water, a container of juice, and some fruit and cheese from the refrigerator and placed everything on the same tray Helena had used the other night. Grabbing two glasses from the cupboard, Barbara added a package of pop-tarts to the tray with a fond smile. The brunette was bound to be hungry -- honestly, when was Helena *not* hungry?, Barbara smiled -- after her workout and the loss of her brunch.
The redhead returned to the living room to find the younger woman sprawled bonelessly on the couch, clad only in a pair of boxers and one of Barbara's NGPD tee-shirts, a glorious amount of tanned skin exposed.
Casually tossing the pop-tarts in Helena's direction, aware of a slim hand effortlessly snagging the pouch in mid-air, she rolled to a stop by the couch. Barbara set the tray on the coffee table, swatted the young woman's legs out of the way, and transferred herself to the couch. Purposefully ignoring the brunette's curious look, the redhead poured juice into two glasses and pushed one in the general vicinity of her partner before taking a long swallow from her own glass.
"I seem to recall that there's a Jackie Chan marathon on this afternoon," Barbara offered as she settled herself more comfortably.
Well aware of the suspicious look thrown her way, the look followed by a sly grin, the older woman tracked a deceptively slender arm as it raised the remote, aimed it dramatically at the 52" set, and began to click through the channels so rapidly that, had she been watching the screen, Barbara felt sure that she would have been dizzy. Focused on that strong arm, on the muscles jumping minutely under the smooth skin, the redhead flashed to the texture of that skin under her hands earlier in the day.
The older woman was shocked back into the moment, to find the brunette regarding her steadily, if a bit curiously, when an idle thought raced through her mind: 'What would that skin feel like under my mouth?'
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