DISCLAIMER: I do not own the characters. They are the property of DC comics and the WB network. I'm just borrowing them for a short period of time.
MUSIC DISCLAIMER: Song lyrics don't belong to me either; no profit gained or infringement intended.
SERIES: This is the final installment of the "Elemental" series fics (Landslide, Watershed, Windshear, Veneer, Stainless, Obsidian, Nuclear and Dark Matter).
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
"So you see, Katie, while it is conceptually possible, nobody has ever succeeded in creating a perpetual motion machine."
Pausing in her explanation, Barbara reached past her little audience of one to retrieve another piece from behind Katharine on the floor. As she snapped the white Lego block into place, she looked over the tower that they were completing and smiled.
"That should never stop you from trying."
The little girl grinned in return, waving the tinker-toy propeller that they had constructed earlier.
Barbara nodded and settled the plastic base onto the hardwood between them.
"Exactly." She gently tapped the receiving area that they had fashioned into the Legos, nodding in approval when the little redhead worked to stuff the shaft of the blade apparatus into the base. "Entropy is simply one force that we haven't been able to overcome yet--"
"What about that whole body in motion staying in motion thing?"
The teasing murmur made her jump, presumably scaring a number of very useful years off her life. Katharine didn't seem to be similarly affected.
In an instant, the toddler was on her feet and barreling toward the French doors to the balcony, where Helena was in the process of stepping over the baby gate. Lego blocks and wooden sticks and circular fittings scattered in her wake.
"Well, perpetual motion always did seem to hold for you, Helena," she allowed as she pulled herself back into her chair.
Judging from the detritus, their little construction-cum-science lesson would need to be tabled for the time being.
The question was muffled just a bit as the younger woman bent to scoop up their daughter and pressed a kiss to her head. Although Katharine had recently enjoyed a milestone of having her first haircut, her curly ringlets still abounded, obscuring most of Helena's face.
"Indeed," Barbara nodded, not bothering to add that it usually took a significant force or event to counter a process that was already in motion. Instead, she watched quietly as Helena lowered their daughter to the floor and, pointing at the mess of blocks and tinker-toys, whispered something to her. Barbara felt the corners of her mouth turn upward when the girl grabbed one of her plastic pails and began gathering up the mess, her giggles belying the fact that she was engaged in a chore.
Honestly, Barbara simply couldn't fathom where the child got her penchant for organization. She didn't have the opportunity to comment when she glanced back to her partner and took in the expression on her face. Without conscious thought, she turned and gave the wheels of her chair a sharp push.
Before she'd come to a complete stop, Helena was in front of her, sinking to her knees. Barbara thought she detected wetness in deep blue eyes as the dark head lowered to rest in her lap, and she fought a wave of panic. Gently, she carded her fingers through long locks, considering the possibilities.
The last that she'd heard, Helena had been planning to visit Dinah at her apartment above the Dark Horse. Certainly nothing could be amiss so soon.
Unable to fight her concern, Barbara lightly tugged, bringing Helena's eyes into view. She searched, registering a miasma of emotions.
Leaning down, she pressed a tender kiss to her lover's forehead. In response, she felt strong arms encircle her waist before the brunette once again lowered her head to her lap. Green eyes ticked to the side, confirming that Katie was still engaged in her cleanup, and Barbara drew several deep breaths through her nose, weighing the options.
Ultimately, she forced herself to break the silence.
"Helena, what is it?"
Finally, blue eyes rose into view to search her face. Something twisted sharply inside Barbara's chest when she finally recognized, and then named, the emotions she saw: sadness and defeat.
"I'm not as strong as my mom."
The redhead felt her brows furrow a bit, and then she allowed her gaze to drift upward a bit and to the left. Freeze-frame images of encounters with Selina Kyle flashed through her mind's eye, providing tantalizing views of battles fought and lessons learned; however, regardless of the encounter that presented itself, Barbara couldn't begin to compare Selina's physical prowess to Helena's.
"What do you mean, Sweetie?"
The response that Barbara received suggested either that she had been on the wrong track or that Helena had moved on.
"That bastard broke Dinah's legs, Barbara."
She nodded slowly. She, too, was terribly aware of that fact.
The day after a somewhat miraculous rescue, Gabby had flown down from State, jump-starting her spring break to nurse her girlfriend. There had been no recriminations from either of the young women; however, that did nothing to alleviate Barbara's own feelings about the matter.
"He hit her until he gave her a bad enough concussion that she couldn't use her TK, Barbara."
The admission stole her breath, but Helena seemed unaware-- or undeterred.
"He was going to keep hurting her."
Barbara couldn't let this continue.
"I'm aware of that, Helena. What's your point?"
Instantly, she regretted her snappish tone, yet she couldn't deny that Helena had been injured far more gravely -- many, many times -- during her years on the street. Additionally, Barbara couldn't help but resent an implication in her companion's words that she might be... unaware of matters.
To the contrary, Barbara had tried to talk with Dinah about this very topic during the first day after the rescue.
"I just don't understand why you're all skittish now, Barbara."
To her surprise, Dinah's statement hadn't carried even a whit of the adolescent whine that would have been present a year before. Accordingly, Barbara had tried to remain equally factual.
"Honey, he broke your l--"
The blonde, parked beside her in her own wheel chair, both legs elevated in the leg rests, had interrupted whatever she had been working up the nerve to say.
"Hairline fractures. With these walking casts -- " She'd gestured to the items that had replaced the heavy plaster that her captor had applied, "I can, well, I'm walking already."
Barbara had been unable to deny that, yet she'd suspected that her youngest protege might be missing the point.
"True enough, Dinah, however you were injured and--"
Once again, Dinah had refused to listen.
"Shit happens, and when it does, does that mean we stop trying?"
The younger woman's tone had been gentle. The look that had been directed to Barbara's own chair had not been unkind. Nevertheless, Barbara had gotten the point.
Of course, she had long advocated the merits -- and necessity -- of leading by example.
"You wouldn't have let him keep hurting her, Barbara."
Helena's words brought her up short.
"No," she had to admit, "I wouldn't."
Something unreadable passed across gamine features.
"He was going to use her to make you work for him."
Something undefinable twisted inside Barbara's chest.
"That was his plan, Helena."
She remained still under her lover's scrutiny; however, Barbara was unable to remain stoic when Helena spoke again.
"We rescued her too late for Katie to fix D's legs."
As one they looked to the side, checking on their daughter. The toddler was planted on the floor, working diligently to reconstruct the lego tower that had been kicked apart in her mad rush to reach Helena minutes before.
Turning back to her companion, Barbara noted that their reassurance was apparently mutual: Helena's full attention was once again directed at her. Her own efforts to note that the fractures had already been healing by the time they'd found Dinah settled like ashes on her tongue.
"It was another close one, Barbara. There have been a lot of them."
Bitterly aware of that, the redhead nodded.
She considered the word, taking Helena's observation to heart. There was no room for self-deception in this business, and Barbara was unwilling to start now. There was simply no way to overlook the fact that the self-proclaimed "genius" who had been behind this last caper had gotten the drop on Dinah; he and his muscle had nearly taken out Helena; he had *dupped* Barbara. In addition, the rescue that she and Helena had mounted had been precarious at best; if Dinah hadn't managed to push through the agony of her concussion to manage a few TK maneuvers, and if Helena hadn't finally managed to drop the muscle man, and if Barbara hadn't managed to hack in to the mastermind's computer -- simultaneously wiping out his blackmail database and exposing him for the poseur he was --
Straightening in her chair, Barbara shook her head minutely.
There were too many "ifs"; nevertheless, at the end of the game, it was the result that counted.
"We came through, Helena," she reminded her companion gently.
Blue eyes looked up, two words hanging heavy between them.
Utterly at a loss of what to say to bridge the silence, Barbara dropped her hands to the wheels of her chair. She managed not to rock the wheels as a litany of empty reassurances cascaded through her cortex. Since any one -- or every one -- would be a disservice to them all, she searched for answers in the sweet face that still looked up to her.
It was, of course, Helena who found her voice first.
She had always, Barbara knew, been the braver of them.
"We could have lost her this time, Barbara. And even if that asshole had kept her alive and locked up, we --"
The younger woman's jaw clenched, and then Helena pushed up to rest on her knees, scrubbing the heel of one hand under her nose.
The comfort that Barbara so desperately wished to offer was refused. A slender hand rose between them, palm out, and Helena shook her head slowly.
"It could have been you. Or, it would have been you eventually."
Denial was instinctual.
"Helena, it doesn't have to--"
The protest fell on deaf ears.
"And, I keep thinking and thinking about what I can do, and it always comes back to how I'm just not strong like my mom was."
Dizzied by the sudden return to Helena's earlier statement, Barbara felt the weight of her lover's expectation, of Helena's need for her to understand.
"Helena, I don't--"
"I can't leave you like she did."
Barbara was ready to protest that her relationship with Selina hadn't been of quite that nature when enlightenment dawned.
"When she left Bruce."
It wasn't a question.
Then realization struck, dragging terror in its wake. Helena hadn't jumped back to her earlier topic; she had come full circle.
"When she left...?"
Something cold clenched in her abdomen. A bit distantly, Barbara thought that it felt very much like the freezing terror that had seeped through her limbs not too many months before as she'd laid on the floor, choking on her own helplessness to make things right.
"Would you--? Are you--?"
Dear heavens, she couldn't even think the words, much less say them.
The look that she received was sad; resignation threaded Helena's slow sigh.
"I can't, Barbara. You're my life. You and Katie and Dinah and -- "
The dark head shook once and then lowered, coming to resting on Barbara's legs again. Barbara very much wished that she could actually feel the weight of her lover against her.
"-- everything. You."
Unhesitating, she moved her hands from the wheels of the chair, allowing one to rest on one deceptively slender shoulder. The other came to Helena's face, carefully, tenderly, touching the swelling that had almost faded from the angular line of her jaw.
A momento from the fight a few days before.
Blessing the meta-healing abilities of her partner, Barbara leaned in, resting her cheek against Helena's and bring her mouth close. Warm breath, sweet with a hint of Red Bull, washed Barbara's lips, and she opened her mouth, inhaling.
Pulling back a few inches, Barbara traced the fading injury. Something threatened to constrict her breathing, and her eyes blurred for an instant when recognition arrived: Helena had faced far too much loss and hurt in her short life. Truly, the only pain that Barbara wanted her lover to experience from this point forward, should be... recreational.
"You're the air that I breathe, Helena."
The words were out without thought. The decision was made in that moment, surprising Barbara with how easily it was to give voice to her choice.
Some people live with the fear of a touch
And the anger of having been a fool
They will not listen to anyone
So nobody tells them a lie
Poised to enter the Tower, Helena stopped with her fingers resting on the handle of door from the balcony. Through the glass, she could easily see Barbara where she was positioned near the couch in the living area. The redhead had her laptop open but she didn't seem to be working on it; the big screen was on, tuned to one of the local news channels, but Barbara wasn't looking at it either. Instead, her partner seemed to be fixated on something on the floor near her feet, lost in thought. With Barbara not even moving and the sound of the television muted, it was only the warbling of some damned old 80s song that gave any indication of life in the house.
Helena was pretty used to Barbara getting all caught up in her own head and all, but there was still something about Red's utter stillness that had her feeling like somebody was walking across her grave. Since that wasn't a feeling she wanted to get familiar with, the brunette made a point of scuffing her feet before flinging open the French doors and letting a little spring air into the room.
When Barbara looked up, Helena suddenly figured out where that creepy feeling might have come from: Barbara had been looking that piece of flooring that had been replaced a few months back.
The one that they couldn't get the blood stain out of.
She thought that Barbara jumped a little inside her skin, so Helena took a leap with both feet. It wasn't like she was going to go beating around the bush or anything. She knew that Barbara was still sorting things out after her sudden -- and immediate -- retirement the week before.
Feeling inexplicably guilty -- and immediately irritated with herself for it -- Barbara worked to meet her partner's eyes. Her smile managed to relax a wee bit when she looked up, finding nothing but nonchalance in her companion's features.
"I was just... surfing," she admitted, not missing the roughness in her words.
Helena heard it, too. She saw the faint hint of blush working its way up her companion's neck.
Barbara had been as good as her word. After she'd made her choice last week, she'd shut down the Delphi just like that. She'd made a point of only firing it up when Helena was around, making sure that Helena knew that she was just offloading files to send to the JSA and scrubbing her data directories and unmounting disks and other techie stuff that didn't tie in to fighting crime.
Well, "cleaning house" is how Barbara had put it. Putting things to rest is what it felt like to Helena.
And, Barbara had been good about not spending too much time on that either, but Helena knew that once Barbara made up her mind, she didn't spend a lot of time second-guessing herself. So, between brief bursts of activity at the Delphi, Barbara had been all hers and Katie's. Four days ago, Red had shown up after work with a couple of movies in hand that Helena had been wanting to see.
Okay, even Helena had to admit that Bruce was getting a little long in the tooth to be doing the action hero gig, and there was no amount of plastic surgery and CGI that was going to convince anyone that Stallone was young enough to be playing Rambo again, but it had still been fun.
Helena also thought it had been pretty fun when Babs had tagged along with her yesterday on her monthly pilgrimage to the Super Warehouse Club. Barbara had even managed a pretty good impression of enthusiasm when Helena had pounced on a fantastic deal on tuna fish.
So, yeah, Helena wasn't going to let her lover think that she was doubting her now.
Crossing the short space between them, Helena casually leaned over the side of Barbara's chair to see the screen.
"Real estate, Red?"
The redhead turned a few degrees.
"I was curious about what sorts of more traditional offerings might be available."
Given that they were no longer needed in the heart of the city, not to mention the sheer weight of memories associated with the Tower, Barbara thought it was only logical to look.
The grin that she found plastered on Helena's face was unexpected. In lieu of comment, Barbara quirked the corners of her mouth and arched one eyebrow. The younger woman accepted the non-verbal request to elaborate on her amusement.
"And you were worried about me being the Super-Lesbian with the U-haul."
Feeling the lines of oh-so-attractive furrows deepening in her forehead, Barbara searched her memory. She easily recalled some tentative teasing that she and Helena had engaged in early in their steps towards intimacy. Indeed, she couldn't dismiss her own fit of bravado during a trip to a pawn shop two years before when they'd been investigating the series of break-ins that had led them to their laser-firing madman.
Nevertheless, she simply couldn't fathom what that had to do with housing.
"I'm afraid I'm not following, Hel."
Her companion's smile transformed into something approaching a smirk.
"Oh, c'mon, Barbara. That whole thing about white picket fences in the suburbs."
Just to make it clear, Helena hummed a few bars from the Crosby, Stills, and Nash classic.
"Two cats in the yard?" Barbara laughed as her mind's eye supplied an image of Helena and Katie sunning themselves on a velvet green lawn in front of a homey bungalow. A moment later, reality struck and her laughter turned a little rueful. "Heaven forbid we end up in the suburbs too close to my father."
Deliberately, working partially for a comic effect, Barbara shuddered at the idea of having her father drop in too readily. Although there was now certainly less to hide, she suspected that she would always appreciate a healthy measure of privacy on the parental front.
Or any other front.
For a moment, there was no response, only the chorus of the CD that was playing echoing through the room.
But I'm not above
Making up for the love
You've been denying you could ever feel
I'm not above doing anything
To restore your faith if I can
Eventually, Helena responded, not with the laughter that Barbara had anticipated. Rather, the younger woman's expression seemed thoughtful.
"Your dad is a pretty handy guy to have around."
Barbara absorbed that, nodding slowly.
"I noticed that the bowling alley is having open lanes this Friday." She searched Helena's eyes. "We could take Katie with us, or Dad might keep her."
Again, Helena remained thoughtful, allowing a break in their conversation.
Some people see through the eyes of the old
Before they ever get a look at the young
"Well, what about asking D to keep her? We still have those baby-sitting certificates from Kitty's birthday."
Exhaling sharply through her nostrils, Barbara shut her laptop. The action reminded her of other shutdowns, and she took a moment.
There was no way to deny that she'd always enjoyed the thrill of the hunt, the battle of wits that occurred in tracking down evil, the cat and mouse interplay and setting a stage like a chessboard. It was, she had long suspected, one reason that she'd been drawn to Bruce's brand of vigilante justice: Rather than merely responding to events as they occurred, there was a fair amount of preventitive detective work as well.
It had been a mercy, allowing her not to completely lose her mind -- or her will to live -- after the incident with the Joker: although she could no longer partake of the endgame as immediately, she had still been able, through cyber-infrastructure, to dig deeply into the setups. While her partners on the street were out helping her with her sleuthing -- and bashing heads as the opportunity presented itself -- Barbara was able to investigate, to make connections, to plan.
Clearly, times had changed.
"I'm afraid that Dinah won't be available many evenings, Helena," she finally managed, refusing to allow the words to swallow her with them.
I know you don't want to hear what I say
I know you're gonna keep turning away
But I've been there and if I can survive
I can keep you alive
She had tried.
Leaving Dinah on her own was something that galled her no end; however, Barbara had given her word. Having done so, she had met with Dinah, encouraging her to accept a field promotion.
"Do what, Barbara?"
It had been difficult enough to tender the offer the first time; Barbara had suspected that, even without the benefits of touch telepathy, Dinah had sensed her emotions.
"I'm suggesting that you come off the streets and handle the Delphi, Dinah," she'd repeated.
There had been no need to re-iterate the good that Dinah could accomplish from the driver's seat; nor had there been any reason to dwell on the danger that she faced as a lone operative on the street. Barbara had covered it all once, and Dinah was far from oblivious.
Unfortunately, she'd known before Dinah had spoken, her most recent partner was also far from interested in her suggestion.
"I love that you care about me, Barbara. And -- "
The blonde had briefly seemed to lose the poise that had been developing so quickly in last months. For an instant, Barbara had seen the sweet, hesitant young woman who had come into her life not too many years before.
"-- well, I know that you've been doing some thinking yourself in the last ... well, since..."
Barbara had nodded, sparing them both. Pale blue eyes, the color of summer sky, had held hers unflinchingly.
"But, you of all people have to understand, Barbara."
Knowing what would be coming hadn't made hearing Dinah's words any easier.
"I need to do this. I have to help people. It's the only thing that makes sense."
Barbara *had* understood. Her heart had been entirely on Dinah's side. Regardless, she'd owed it to her partner to try one more salvo.
"Dinah, without backup you'll be--"
When she'd seen the set of her most recent ward's jaw, Barbara had cut herself short. Dinah's response had been certain.
"I'm not anybody's sidekick anymore, Barbara. You're going to have to trust me."
I'm not above going through it again
I'm not above being cool for a while
If you're cruel to me I'll understand
In retrospect, Barbara was forced to admit a measure of pride in the growth that Dinah had shown in the last months. It was, she suspected, not unlike the changes that Helena had undergone.
With Helena, the last months had echoed the paradox of irresistible force: a battle of wills akin to the unstoppable object meeting the immovable post. One well known possible outcome from such a meeting was, of course, a lot of friction resulting in a really loud explosion.
For weeks, Barbara had assumed that Helena's need for excitement and challenge might carry the day; apparently, however, the younger woman's tolerance for boredom had outpaced her own. Or perhaps, Barbara had come to realize through the weeks of watching Helena interact with Katharine and keep up with her coursework, her devil-may-care partner had redefined excitement.
Canting her head to one side, Barbara allowed her hair to fall forward to obscure most of her vision. For a few heartbeats, she focused on her hands where they rested, fingers knit, in her lap.
It had been a good run. The immovable post apparently could bend.
Some people run from a possible fight
Some people figure they can never win
And although this is a fight I can lose
The accused is an innocent man
When Barbara looked up, Helena finally let go of the breath she'd been holding. She took a step backward when the redhead placed her laptop on the end table by the couch.
"Are you hungry, Hel?"
The brunette's ready answer died on her lips when she made out her partner's next words.
"I made dinner."
Helena felt herself blanch. She was pretty sure she hadn't quite covered it.
"Uh -- " she waved one hand toward the kitchen. "You cooked?"
Very, very aware of the quaver in Helena's voice, Barbara kept it light.
"Nothing involving fire, Hel."
The tense set of slender shoulders eased for a moment, then Barbara saw deep blue eyes narrow suspiciously.
"Is there meat?"
A chuckle worked its way free.
"I made tuna fish salad."
Barbara's hopes that she'd sufficiently reassured and clarified ebbed when she saw Helena attempting to peer at her hands. Sighing, she held them up and waggled her fingers.
"No cuts either."
Helena finally relaxed, happy that Red had taken her concern -- well, her concerns -- in stride. After all these years, she still couldn't figure out how this amazing woman could handle razor-sharp Batarangs so gracefully but, put her near a kitchen knife, and she was likely to slice a finger off.
"In that case, I'm starving," she finally answered the original question and snagged the remote to turn off the big screen.
When she swung around and pointed the device at the television, she finally noticed that there was a breaking news story. From what she could pick up without the sound up, it looked like a standoff, complete with a lot of guns, at the docks.
Probably, Helena had to figure, a drug bust gone bad.
Still locked in place, her hand extended with the remote pointing at the screen, Helena heard a sharp inhalation from beside her. From the corner of her eye, she saw emerald eyes glint.
Helena tried to throw out a lifeline.
"Should we give Dinah a call?"
Barbara didn't hesitate.
The word echoed hollowly between them, but the redhead chose not to elaborate. She had made a decision, and she wasn't going to enter a slippery slope of dabbling, using a cell phone and calls to Dinah as a virtual nicotine patch.
She could do this.
She would do this.
Steadying herself under her Helena's scrutiny, she only turned toward the kitchen when she finally saw the brunette's nod. Barbara heard the television click off and then felt her partner fall into step behind her as they moved to the kitchen, only the sound of the stereo filling the silence.
Some people hope for a miracle cure
Some people just accept the world as it is
But I'm not willing to lay down and die
Because I am an innocent man
I am an innocent man
Oh yes I am
An innocent man
The quiet snick of plastic hitting the wooden top of the kitchen table was barely noticable over the hum of the popcorn that was popping in the microwave. Still, Barbara didn't blink as she looked up from the list that she'd been making and glanced at the three by two inch rectangle.
"What's this, Hel?"
For a second, the brunette thought about playing it off or letting it go. With her heart pounding like she'd just chased a bunch of crooks fifty blocks -- and they'd been driving -- it suddenly seemed like letting things coast along like they had been might not be such a bad idea.
For almost a whole month, she'd been getting something she'd never known before: undivided time and attention from Barbara. There had been no alarms, no late nights sitting vigil, none of those weird lines that sometime seemed to grow across Barbara's forehead when something was going bad. Instead, Helena had been able to focus on her course work and Katie and Barbara, and Barbara had been right there.
Hell, Red had even been understanding about Helena's course load. Instead of seeming like she was missing the time that Helena was having to spend on classes and work, Barbara had been saying that she was jealous and had been making noises about getting another degree of her own.
The ding of the microwave finishing its timed cycle pulled the brunette from her thoughts about just what subject was left for her multi-degreed lover to pursue. Without that noise, Helena realized -- again -- how quiet the Tower was without the usual pervasive hum of the Delphi's fans and the chatter of police scanners in the background.
Acutely conscious of the green eyes that were still fixed on her expectantly, she pulled a grin and rested one hip against the edge of the table.
"It's the access card for Bruce's accounts."
Well, technically since dear old Dad had amscrayed, they were Helena's accounts, but she figured that Barbara got the gist of things.
The redhead removed her glasses, a smile ghosting her features.
"You know I can get into those accounts without this, Hel."
Helena rolled her eyes and stepped over to the microwave to retrieve her partner's snack.
"Yeah, yeah. It's a symbolic gesture."
Arching one brow, Barbara smirked and folded her glasses, placing them neatly next to her notepad.
"And what, pray tell, are you symbolizing?"
She nodded her thanks when the younger woman placed a bowl of steaming low-fat salt and black pepper flavored popcorn in front of her. Her hand froze midway to the bowl when Helena responded.
"That it's time to stop thinking with my fists."
And, Helena thought, it was time to stop thinking with her heart as well. Though she wasn't as certain about that one.
Recollecting herself, the redhead snagged a handful of popcorn and spoke mildly.
"I was under the impression that you've already made that transition, Hel."
A dark head shook from side to side.
"I was wrong."
Barbara didn't have the opportunity to solicit further information about the nature of her partner's error when the dark head shook again and Helena recanted.
"Well, not all the way wrong."
This time, Barbara decided that there was no rush. Accordingly, she finished her mouthful of popcorn and then took a cleansing swallow of her tea. Only when she felt appropriately fortified did she plunge back in.
"Would you mind being a bit more specific, Helena?"
Sighing extravagantly, Helena dropped into one of the kitchen chairs and gave Barbara a long look.
She really couldn't blame her lover for being cautious, for being unwilling to see. But that didn't mean that she wanted to deal with the... blandness that painted Barbara's normally keen features. Sure, there hadn't been much in the way of worry lines lately, but there hadn't been laugh lines either. Those green eyes remained guarded.
Barbara had been bare-knuckling it.
"We need to get back into the business."
For a second or two, the brunette allowed herself to digress, to think how funny it was that her words sounded like some declaration from a crime family. She flashed on Tony Soprano talking to Carm, and she had to wonder if Katie would turn out to be more like Meadow or AJ.
"Is this a joke?"
Barbara didn't sound amused, and Helena remembered the date.
"Okay, so my timing sucks."
She swallowed, not sure that she cared for the irony of that, then she let it go. During the last week of March, with the schools on spring break, Helena had gotten a chance to watch Barbara puttering around the Clock Tower.
She'd really seen her, and she'd finally glommed onto the fact that Barbara was scheduling her days pretty tightly, metering out her time, making sure that she was always busy... and away from the computer. Something had really clicked when she'd found Barbara reading through a glossy brochure for the Mommy and Me classes that were offered out of the YMCA.
No doubt in her mind: that sort of thing would be mind-numbing for Barbara *and* Katie.
"You were polishing the silverware last week," she finally offered.
Barbara stared at her in frank puzzlement.
"Simply because Alfred is kind enough to -- "
Helena cut her off with a laugh.
"Barbara, they're frikkin' stainless steel."
She snagged the spoon that was resting on the saucer that held Barbara's tea cup. "No polishing?" she added when it was pretty clear that Red wasn't making the connection. When she saw Barbara stiffen, she had to fight her urge to scream and shout and stomp her feet.
Honest to god, her partner was starting to remind her more and more of that Marcia Cross chick on Desperate Housewives: more brittle every day.
Barbara felt warmth touch her cheeks, the sensation not improved when Helena waved her spoon like a conductor and gentled her tone.
"Look at yourself, Barbara."
Instinctively, the redhead started to look down. Belatedly grasping that the instruction might have been figurative, she felt her brows knit, and she searched for some response.
"Helena, I don't understand what my domestic skills or -- " she pursed her lips and managed a hint of a smile at her own expense. "-- or lack thereof have to do with anything."
With Barbara's confusion hanging in the air between them, Helena bit her bottom lip. Then she noticed the notepad that Barbara had been working on resting on the table between them. Craning her head, she saw what was written and realized that she had what she needed.
"Look at this."
One slender index finger landed accusingly on the page. A beat later, Helena rotated the paper, and Barbara watched in fascination as her companion read over her work, her eyebrows fairly leaping toward the ceiling. When she discerned that Helena's expression of amazement was transitioning to one of distaste that bordered on horror, she jumped to her own defense.
"I hadn't finished working on it."
"So? Just look at it."
Once again, Barbara felt her brows knit. She easily read the neat block printing upside down.
Date Night Activities
-- Billiards and Bowling (two week rotation)
-- Local events (UFC? LeatherCon?)
-- Masters coursework (MBA? )
-- Faculty knitting/crafts
-- Habitat for humanity
-- Cooking classes (NB: Create separate list of Helena's favorites)
Provisioning for Intimate Activities
-- Nipple clamps
-- Rebuild vibrator for 220V
-- Leather cuffs
"Helena," she looked up, searching bright blue eyes. "I still don't--"
Granted, the nascent organizational exercise was a bit rough, and she'd barely begun to exercise any creativity in terms of date night activities; however, Helena's response seemed a trifle extreme.
"This -- " The brunette waved the notebook loosely. "-- is just whacked."
Glancing at the words again, she caught herself.
"Well, not these last ones." She pointed to the third category and smiled at her lover. "They're great."
Stretching out, Helena retrieved Barbara's pen and scratched in another item under the cuffs: Fur blindfold.
The silk scarves were nice, but a girl could use a little variety.
Deciphering Helena's writing, Barbara allowed herself a smile and then decided to by-pass this particular topic. Obviously, Helena's reasoning was simply beyond her ken.
"I thought you said that Dinah wasn't ready."
Pretty sure that she understood what Barbara was doing, Helena rolled with the change in the conversation.
"I was wrong."
Her shrug, Barbara thought, seemed to suggest that Helena was admitting that such a thing could happen, and she smiled in spite of herself.
"D proved herself plenty getting by that man-mountain when she had two broken legs. She just needs backup."
Barbara regarded the other woman cautiously, finally allowing, "We all do."
"But, it's not just that, Barbara."
And, Helena knew -- right then -- that she couldn't be wrong about this.
It wasn't *just* because fighting crime was what Barbara was. It wasn't just because Helena wanted Katie to know -- to see -- what making a difference meant. It wasn't just because she kinda, sometimes, missed pounding BDUs into the pavement or because Dinah was out there on her own trying to fight the good fight or hell, even because of the nature/nurture aspect of things.
"What is it about, Hel?"
Barbara kept her voice gentle, suspecting that a step in the wrong direction could spook either of them. She waited more-or-less patiently as Helena drummed her pen against the table for a few seconds before answering.
"I think it might be about sweating the details."
Blue eyes looked up, meeting green.
"To stop doing this half-assed."
Something akin to the patented hang-dog expression passed across expressive features; however, this time Barbara suspected that the emotion was sincere rather than for the sake of effect.
"I've been going at it half-assed all this time, Barbara, and that made it impossible for you to get into it... uh -- "
Suspecting that she was detecting a hint of color in normally blush-proof features, Barbara stepped in.
"With both cheeks?" she suggested cautiously, still not entirely certain that she was following the thread.
The volume of Helena's agreement was enough to reassure the redhead that she was on the right track.
"Fuck, if I'm not hiding our identities any better than I was and I'm assing around the bar and lipping off, well --"
A slender hand came to rest atop Barbara's.
"Well, shit, no wonder Mandrill found us so easily."
Finding the younger woman's willingness to absolve Dinah sweetly surprising, Barbara rotated her hand beneath Helena's and linked their fingers.
"And, it's no wonder that D might have gotten the wrong idea about how to do things, right?"
Offering a gentle squeeze, Barbara could only nod dumbly. It was, apparently, enough.
"So, I figure we have to stop doing it half-way. Take the money and do it right."
Helena's challenge seemed to fill the quiet space of the Tower. Barbara inhaled slowly and straightened in her chair, easing her hand free from her partner's.
"And how do you suggest we do things right, Helena?"
With so much before her, Barbara could barely find her voice.
Helena waved a hand dismissively. In return, Barbara allowed one brow to rise, eliciting a rueful grin from the other woman.
"Well," the brunette grabbed a handful of popcorn and tossed a few kernels into her mouth. "I figured that we could get a plane. Build a frigging information fortress. Hell -- "
She chewed rapidly and swallowed. "Let's bring some others on-board."
Barbara was certain that her expression could be, generously, described as incredulous. Helena's next admission did nothing to ease her sense of mental entropy.
"Sure. Gabby's already volunteered."
Barbara barely had time to quirk her eyebrows before Helena picked up steam.
"I bet there are plenty of other nubile young women out there that we can corrupt and then send out in scanty outfits to fight evil and injustice."
Although the redhead wasn't entirely certain that she cared for that particular characterization of her life's work, the twinkle in Helena's eyes deflated most of her pique. Accordingly, she took a mental step back to focus on the big picture.
"What about school, Helena? Are you going to stop taking classes?"
The dark head shook emphatically.
"No. I quit at the Dark Horse this morning."
Barbara felt her jaw hanging open at the announcement that had been delivered with seeming casualness. Very aware that Helena had always professed to love her job, she somehow managed to crank her jaw shut.
Helena pushed the bowl of cold popcorn to one side and nodded.
"I wanna keep going to school full time, and, with getting back into the business, there's just not time."
Somehow Barbara ignored the fait accompli that Helena seemed to have announced.
"You want to keep taking classes full time?"
For an instant, Barbara's partner looked impossibly young and shy.
"I declared a major yesterday."
Fighting a sensation of vertigo that bordered on euphoria -- or nausea -- Barbara blinked.
"What did you choose?"
She didn't even try to come up with a guess. Knowing her lover's spirit and keen intelligence, Barbara suspected that she wouldn't be surprised to hear that Helena had elected to major in Rocket Science or Home Economics or Physics or Art History or --
That choice, however, was surprising. As were Helena next words, spoken so quietly that Barbara almost could have believed that she'd supplied them in her own imagination.
"I want to teach."
The question must have been clear in her face, for Helena spoke immediately, ducking to hide behind her long hair.
"I got to thinking, well, about who made the most difference in my life."
The focus of those startling blue eyes was clear. And humbling.
Barbara's soft exhalation stole the air from her lungs. Helena's smile set her heart to pounding.
"Heck, I'm an adrenaline junky, right?"
The laughter they shared finally freed Barbara's breathing.
"That's true, Hel."
Barbara had long posited that nothing -- not a dozen BDUs, not a gaggle of armed robbers, not even The Joker -- could be more challenging to deal with than a classroom full of students. Yet, even as she could grasp, intellectually, the truth of her lover's words, she had to know, again, that her intent was true.
"Are you really serious, Helena?"
There was no need to elaborate further. One look at Helena's face made her following words superfluous.
"As a heart attack, Barbara."
How her heart could stop beating while blood absolutely pounded through her veins was a mystery.
Barbara knew that her heart had stopped through the simple expedient of observation: the lump in her throat could be nothing else. Likewise, that fact that her blood continued to rush through her veins was indisputable: she could feel it suffusing her skin and nerves and every cell of her body that had sensation -- and possibly a few that hadn't felt anything in a decade.
Clearly, it was a paradox, one that Barbara fully intended to consider in some depth.
At the moment, the subtle shifting of her companion as she stood before her suggested that something of a verbal nature was expected on her part.
"Holy Mother of God, Helena," she managed to breathe.
The effort earned her a beaming grin, and the brunette pirouetted gracefully.
Struggling to work a bit of moisture into her very dry mouth, Barbara licked her lips. The raspiness of her voice when she formulated a response surprised her.
Clearly, Alfred had outdone himself, although Barbara certainly wasn't discounting Helena's own sense of style.
"I-- I like your ears, Hel."
Through long years in the classroom, Barbara had learned that specificity was paramount when offering a critique, and the stylized purple ears that swept up from the mask that covered Helena's eyes and jaw seemed as good a place as any to begin.
They were dramatic and impossible to categorize as either feline or chiropteran.
The brunette smiled and touched the bat-shaped gold receivers that were affixed to her earlobes.
"All the better to hear you with, Red."
The smile, Barbara determined, was really quite wolfish.
When she made out the glint in the blue eyes hidden behind the three-quarter face mask, Barbara cut herself short.
She smiled and swallowed any additional words to the effect that it was high time that her free-wheeling partner began to listen to her. At this stage in the game, it was unnecessary: as had been evidenced during their discussion a few days before -- not to mention by Helena's current state -- the change was already occurring.
Indeed, Barbara recognized, it appeared that both the immovable object *and* the unstoppable force could... have a concurrent change of directions. She was able to embrace a future that included a search for a more secure -- and secret -- base of operations and that included scheduled vacations and more help, and Helena was accepting her legacy in full.
Admittedly, her fit of tactfulness wasn't solely based on altruism and personal responsibility: Barbara simply had other things to focus on.
Namely, the costume that Helena had created and was now modeling for her.
For the second time in minutes -- and, quite possibly for the second time in a years -- Barbara felt a phantom tug from between her legs. Atypically, she opted not to concern herself with the phenomenon.
It was clearly her body's response to... a force of nature. Specifically, there was no way to doubt that she was responding to the force-of-nature that Barbara thought she'd come to know as Helena. With absolutely no regret, the redhead allowed that she might need to revise her assumption. After all, she had never anticipated... this.
The costume was striking, to say the least. The body, if the form-fitting material that sheathed Helena from her upper thighs to her neck could be called that, was a deep blue, almost black. Briefly, Barbara allowed herself to wonder if the color were an homage to Bruce ... or to her old outfits.
In contrast, the purple cape that almost touched the floor, in combination with the same color for Helena's boots, gloves, mask, and the gear belt that circled low on her hips, was all Helena. As was, Barbara determined appreciatively, the cutout in the outfit that extended from just below Helena's breasts to just below her navel. Trimmed in baby blue and exposing rock hard abs, it offered a tantalizing view.
Indeed, while she wasn't entirely sure what lay behind the instinct, Barbara felt a nearly overpowering need to run her mouth across the exposed skin of her partner's abdomen.
"So, whaddaya think?"
Faced with a dawning insight that Helena was growing impatient with her distraction, Barbara finally met her partner's eyes again.
When she made out the vigorous rolling of said blue eyes, she flirted with returning to her perusal of the outfit.
"You think the costume will turn heads or stop traffic or whatever?"
Barbara didn't doubt it for an instant.
"I suspect that it will turn traffic and set heads rolling, Hel," she allowed with a chuckle.
Not to mention the possibility of setting tongues wagging in the New Gotham tabloids. Nevertheless, Helena was clearly soliciting some serious input on her change of wardrobe, and Barbara was determined to do her best to provide it.
"What do you have in the utility belt?"
Since, to date, her partner had assiduously avoided wearing anything reminiscent of a gear belt, Barbara's curiosity was definitely piqued.
"Just some odds and ends."
The brunette made a show of looking down, taking in the small pouches that did nothing to cover her bare midriff.
"Pepper spray and one of those mini-tasers that you picked up a while back and a few packs of gum and some Twinkies and --"
Barbara couldn't restrain herself.
"Twinkies? Won't those get crushed in a --"
Belatedly, she recognized the glint in sparkling blue eyes. She had to imagine the dark brow lifting behind the mask. When she realized that she'd been had -- again -- Barbara began to suspect that something had short-circuited a few of her neurons.
The sight of Helena tossing her cape dramatically back over her shoulder distracted her from that concern when she took in the vision of --
Swallowing convulsively, Barbara approached her partner, distantly aware of the fact that she was damned near hyperventilating at the vision of the small bolts that were strapped to a toned thigh.
There was no way that Helena was missing Red's reaction to the weapons that she'd kept from view. Of course, Barbara always had had a Jones for gear of any type.
Reaching back and under her cape, she pulled out the crossbow that she'd had sheathed. With her instinct to do things in the moment, she knew she was going to have a hard time holding off using the thing when she got on the street the first time.
"When I was dicking around in the gym during the mandatory Phys Ed class this semester, I found these things and, well -- " She offered a shrug. "They make a cool noise when they fly."
The uptick of a crimson eyebrow told her that her partner wasn't buying it.
"I'm a huntress, right? I'll hunt."
She figured that she didn't have to go into how fighting from a distance could have let her take out Mandrill without ever having to go face to face. For some reason, not always having to use her fists was sounding pretty good.
"I'm not sure that you'll be doing much hunting in the immediate future, Sweetie."
The husky burr in Barbara's voice sent shivers up and down Helena's skin.
"Yeah?" She had to stop and clear her throat before she could finish. "Why is that?"
Hearing the catch in Helena's voice gave Barbara confidence, yet she still couldn't give voice to the bald fact that she was, frankly, incredibly hot for her lover. She chose to phrase matters another way.
"I believe I need to inspect your costume in more detail."
The brunette beamed.
"So you really like the new threads?"
Her smile turned a little predatory when she saw the flare of Barbara's nostrils.
"What hits you the most, Barbara? The belly cutout or the thigh boots or -- "
The long look that raked over her set her skin on fire.
"Perhaps... it's the cape."
Barbara poked her tongue in her cheek and considered.
There were, after all, so many choices.
"I presume," she stretched out and snagged one edge of the item in question, running the fabric between thumb and forefinger, "that it's not for decorum."
Even behind the mask, Helena's shocked expression was clear.
"Fuck, no. It's the intimidation thing."
Barbara nodded, quite cognizant of the fact that a menacing shadow -- preferably a large shadow -- could go a long way in dissuading some potential criminals from their plans.
That elicited a chuckle, and Barbara had to give her lover credit for honesty.
The outfit certainly didn't offer much in the way of coverage.
"Perhaps it's the cross bolts," she murmured, closing the remaining distance between them.
Barbara thought that her companion said something in response; however she missed it as she ran her hands gently over the silky material encasing her body. Following through on her movement, she swept her fingertips around Helena's hips to trace lightly across the hem of the mini-short type body suit that ended a full inch or so above where Helena's thighs met her buttocks.
A sudden, almost convulsive, squeeze of her glutes had Helena happily remembering that she wasn't the only one who had a problem with delayed gratification.
And, sometimes, with self-control.
"Where's the catch, Hel?"
It took the brunette a beat to glom onto the key concept of Barbara's question: she'd asked "where", not "what". When realization struck, she felt a lazy grin painting her face.
"You'll have to find it yourself, Red."
And, no surprise, Barbara did.
Maybe, Helena got to thinking later -- much later -- it was Barbara's time on the streets and her familiarity with the whole superhero shtick. Whatever it was, it seemed like she'd been disrobed in record time.
Not that she was complaining at all: that zipper that had been ripped open could always be fixed.
Feeling utterly sated and just a little sleepy, Helena stretched a minutely on the hardwood of the living room floor where she was acting as a human cushion beneath Barbara. The sensation of lightly calloused fingers tracing patterns over her belly pulled her from any further thoughts of a... tailoring sort.
"Would you mind suiting up again?"
Beneath her, Barbara felt Helena's muscles vibrate just a bit. The leer that painted her lover's face was unmistakable.
"Why? You gonna rip it off again?"
The redhead pushed up on her hands and regarded her very naked partner seriously.
"No, Helena. This time -- "
Holding herself with one arm, she scraped her nails down the other woman's sternum.
Not entirely gently.
"-- I thought I should go more slowly."
Blue eyes sparked to violet, and Barbara lowered herself to breathe the remainder across kiss-bruised lips.
"I'd be remiss if I omitted a careful item-by-item inspection."
Helena's laughing response was almost swallowed in their kiss.
"I guess it is the only safe way to go."
Given the amount of security that had been added to the Tower over the last months, and especially in the last weeks, it was simply silly to react with such terror to the alert that signaled a visitor waiting at the elevator downstairs. Cognitively, Barbara understood this completely. Viscerally, such a grasp of the obvious did nothing to obviate the fact that her heart was trip-hammering as if The Joker were waiting downstairs.
Nor the fact that she almost wished that it were The Joker coming to visit.
Apart from being completely unnecessary, Helena's sing-song announcement seemed just a bit too cheerful to Barbara. Somehow she kept a reign on her temper; in lieu of snapping at her companion, she merely offered a long, pointed look.
Helena's shrug, she chose to decide, was clearly meant to be apologetic.
"Indeed they are," she offered.
For the life of her, Barbara couldn't fathom what she'd been thinking when she'd tendered this invitation for a holiday brunch two days earlier. Obviously, something had seriously clouded her judgment.
Still locked in place at the base of the ramp to the Delphi, Barbara looked down at the small remote that she had clenched in one hand. The device performed a multitude of functions, from handling their recreational electronics to unlocking the elevator to bringing down the bookcases that secreted her workstation.
It was the last that had Barbara teetering on a virtual precipice.
A second buzz from downstairs nearly tipped the redhead over the edge. This time, it was Katharine who served as herald. A mop of red curls appeared from behind the sofa, where Katie had been busily hunting for eggs under the cushions and concurrently managing to smudge the pale yellow dress that Barbara had just helped her into, and the toddler's voice rang through the living area.
"Mommy! Ding dong!"
Wincing, Barbara raised her free hand, her index finger hovering above the button that would bring down the bookcases. The sensation of a slender hand coming to rest lightly on her shoulder forestalled her action.
"It's gonna be okay, Barbara."
Searching blue eyes that weren't altogether unsympathetic, the redhead heard her own whisper.
"I'm not so sure, Hel."
Nevertheless, she allowed Helena to pry the remote from her hand. In answer to her partner's unspoken question, Barbara nodded her assent to send down the elevator and turned to move to the entryway.
The blare of the stereo coming to life arrested her motion and nearly arrested her heart.
Father wears his Sunday best
Mother's tired she needs a rest
The kids are playing up downstairs
Sister's sighing in her sleep
Brother's got a date to keep
He can't hang around
Our house, in the middle of our street
Our house, in the middle of our street
Our house it has a crowd
There's always something happening
And it's usually quite loud
If she'd still been physically capable of such an action, Barbara suspected that she might have hit the ceiling of the vaulted room. The look that she gave her partner said as much.
"Oops." Helena held up the remote in one hand, raising the other in a pacifying manner. "My bad."
Barbara felt her eyes narrow and waited to turn this time until she saw Helena very pointedly pressing the button that would send the elevator down.
"Thank you," she spoke crisply and very, very quietly.
In return, Barbara received an abashed grin, but she didn't have time to dwell further on her partner's "accident". The ding of the elevator announced the arrival of their guests and sent her stomach into freefall.
Our house, in the middle of our street
Our house, in the middle of our street
Our house, in the middle of our street
Our house, in the middle of our
Our house, was our castle and our keep
This time, Barbara didn't even try to hold her temper in check.
"Not funny, Helena."
Finally she saw the power indicator light for the stereo go dark. Barbara thought she heard a mumble from behind her to the effect of "a little funny"; however, with their guests stepping off the elevator carrying a gaudy oversized basket filled with what appeared to be ten pounds of chocolate, she chose to ignore it.
Mustering her flagging courage, she shooed Katie toward the elevator and worked appear, if not at ease, at least... not completely panicked.
Dear heavens, her mouth felt as dry as one of Alethea Harkness' hams.
Barbara smiled when she saw Katharine's enthusiastic embrace of Dinah. Ticking her gaze to the left, she took in the acute blue eyes that were narrowing to observe the room -- the full expanse of the room -- and then the white brow that notched upward. Refusing to falter, she widened her smile.
Not too many hours later, Helena dropped yet another blue foil Cadbury Egg wrapper into the trash, wishing she'd been the one to eat the candy.
No bout-a-dout-it, Katie was going to be bouncing off the walls from all the sugar, but it was all part of the holiday. Besides, she figured that the toddler would have to crash soon.
"So," she spun around and grinned at Barbara. "That didn't go too bad, right?"
Helena thought it was damned decent that Dinah had volunteered to accompany Jim Gordon over for brunch: it was no surprise that Babs could use all of the moral support she could get.
Of course, Helena had a sneaking suspicion that the blonde hadn't been all altruism: the offer for of some of Alfred's patented brunch cooking couldn't have hurt.
"Do you really think so, Hel?"
Green eyes that were wide and beseeching and -- Helena thought -- just a little shell-shocked were pinning her, and so she resisted the urge to go with the easy reassurances. She knew what a big fucking deal the day had been to her partner.
It was almost a shame that The Big Moment had been, well, pretty anti-climactic.
"Oh, Barbara, I'm not sure what you expected," had been Jim's laughing response to Barbara when she'd asked if he was okay with it all. "Did you think that the fact that you fight crime in your spare time would surprise me after all of these years that I've accepted -- "
A strong hand had gone up in the air, Jim Gordon ticking off points one by one on his fingers.
"-- that you were some sort of collateral damage from The Joker, that you took in various waifs and strays, that Bruce Wayne's butler seems to drop in on you, that you've established a lesbian relationship with your former ward, and that you've blessed me with a granddaughter who is almost a virgin birth?"
Feeling a little prickly about being referred to as a stray -- since she figured that Dinah had earned the "waif" thing -- Helena had let it go when Barbara's dad had mentioned Katie's origins.
It just couldn't have been healthy for her lover to turn that shade of red.
"And those are just the tip of the iceberg, aren't they, Barbie?"
Gunmetal blue eyes had twinkled, and Helena had seen the second that Barbara had thrown in the towel.
"There's no getting anything past you, is there, Dad?"
The eldest Gordon had bounced Katharine on his knee and raised that bushy unibrow.
"And don't you forget it, young lady."
There'd been just a second's silence before Jim had dropped his voice to a rumble.
"Honestly, when you invited me over for some big announcement, I was rather hoping that there might be news about another grandchild."
Helena had just about spewed her Mimosa all over the coffee table at that. She still didn't know why he'd been looking at *her* like that.
Still, whatever hell Jim had put her through for the rest of the visit -- asking about her health and throwing out comments about biological clocks -- had been worth it. A few days before, Helena had asked Barbara to help them all act like professionals. Her partner's decision to tell her dad hadn't been so much for safety's sake -- or even to add the ex-commissioner to their list of resources -- as for sanity's sake.
"Yeah, Baby." Helena closed the distance between them and leaned down to rest her arms on Barbara's chair. "I'm sure."
Straightening, she allowed herself a snicker. Barbara perked to attention at the sound.
"Bat-baby. Your dad is too much."
Rolling her eyes, Barbara nodded her agreement. After the big revelation -- and her Dad's subsequent lack of reaction -- he'd reminded them of the broad hint he'd provided in giving Katie the T-ball set for her birthday.
The redhead exhaled slowly and at length, releasing a world of tension. Then, she checked the clock, quite unnecessarily since her internal chronometer told her exactly what time it was: too early for dinner and too late to start on anything of weight.
"Well, Helena, what now?"
If she'd expected a flip response, she was surprised. Her partner leapt lightly to the coat rack by the elevator and dug through her messenger bag, emerging with a dog-eared paperback.
"How about you read to Katie and me? We've almost finished."
Barbara instantly recognized the beauty of Helena's suggestion.
"Perhaps that will help calm Katharine down," she allowed with a smile as she situated herself on the couch.
Accepting the C.S. Lewis classic that Helena had been reading to their daughter, she made a mental note to pump their daughter full of sugar before dropping her off at Grandpa's the next time. While Helena made herself comfortable, stretching out with her head on Barbara's lap and Katie on her stomach, the redhead turned to the bookmarked page and acquainted herself with where Helena had left off.
"Are you ready?"
She heard the amusement that threaded her words as she took in the sight of her partner and their daughter curled up beside her, twin expressions of expectation on their faces.
"Aslan!" was Katie's enthusiastic response.
Needing no further encouragement, Barbara began.
"At that moment they heard from behind them a loud noise -- a great cracking, deafening noise as if a giant had broken a giant's plate.... The Stone Table was broken into two pieces by a great crack that ran down it from end to end; and there was no Aslan.
'Who's done it?' cried Susan. 'What does it mean? Is it more magic?'
"'Yes!' said a great voice from behind their backs. 'It is more magic.' They looked round. There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself.
"'Oh, Aslan!' cried both the children, staring up at him, almost as much frightened as they were glad....
"'But what does it all mean?' asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer.
"'It means,' said Aslan, 'that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.'"
The restless shifting of her lover drew Barbara's attention from the page. She glanced down, lifting her eyebrows in question.
"Are you sorry?"
Utterly at a loss, Barbara rewound the last moments and hours. Since she suspected that Helena wasn't referring to Aslan's return from the dead, she went with the most likely alternative.
"Sorry that I told Dad about--"
"No." The dark head in her lap shook once from side to side. "That I changed back from a guy and we can't get married."
Barbara's response required no thought whatsoever.
"I believe that we're happily-ever-aftering just fine as we are, Sweetheart."
Barbara had always been... ambivalent at best about the Batcave. Nevertheless, it had been the Strategic Command Center as it were for her mentor, and so she'd admitted her lack of admiration to nobody: not to Bruce, when he'd been available, nor to Dick or Alfred, and not even to Helena.
Especially not to Helena.
Idly sorting through a small box of transceivers, the redhead had to snort at that last thought.
Heaven knew, her partner certainly had enough hostility toward anything related to her father that Barbara hadn't wanted to contribute to the laundry list. Nevertheless, protecting Bruce's memory from Helena didn't negate her own feelings toward her old stomping grounds.
The place was simply ghastly. It was dank... and inaccessible... and dark... and smelled of mouldering earth... and sounded of dripping water... and, well, quite frankly the place reminded her of a grave. However, regardless of her personal feelings, Barbara had felt an obligation through the years to visit and check on her old stomping grounds at least once or twice a year.
Barbara was quite cognizant that Alfred maintained the place, yet she still needed to make the pilgrimage. Sometimes she had a specific mission in mind, such as locating a particular program from the computer files or scavenging gear or electronics. Some visits, such as this one, simply found her sitting in the sepulchral quiet, chasing her own thoughts and memories.
And, on this day, Barbara recognized with something akin to surprise, her plans.
It had been, apparently, quite some time since she'd contemplated such a change in her future. Suddenly almost giddy, she heard her own laughter echoing through the recesses of mossy rock before being swallowed by stone and silence. Another sound, something akin to a soft hiss, and then a few words, cut short her delight.
"Not healthy, Red."
Nearly scared witless, Barbara somehow managed to turn calmly to take in the sight of Helena completing her descent from Wayne Manor via a Batpole. While her response wasn't as collected as she might have preferred, it was at least not the startled squeak that she'd anticipated.
Even in the dim light, she saw blue eyes dancing.
"You know, that whole Doctor Moreau thing---? Sitting in a secret lair cackling maniacally?"
Although the redhead wasn't certain she agreed with Helena's characterization of her laughter, Barbara let it go. She had other issues on her mind.
"How did you know I was here, Helena?"
In deference to Helena's feelings, Barbara limited her visits to Bruce's old residence, and she tried not to make a production of it. On this day, she'd simply mentioned that she had a few errands to run.
"Tracked your cell on the GPS," was the laconic reply. "And then D gave me a ride out here on her bike."
Helena ran her hands through her hair, pretty certain that she had a bad case of helmet-head.
"She's wicked crazy on that thing, you know," she added before something more important struck her. "I have *got* to get one of those."
Barbara didn't even try to suppress her smirk. After all, she had... debated with her partner for years about the efficacy of having available alternative means of transportation.
"Rather helpful for getting around, aren't they?"
The frankly dirty smile that painted itself on expressive features suggested that she might not have won the battle for the right reasons. Helena's words confirmed it.
"It's like riding a giant vibrator."
A crimson brow ticked upward. For good measure, Barbara threw in an eye-roll. Then she spoke primly.
"In that case, Hel, you'll need a Harley Fat Boy for the full effect."
For a split second, the redhead was certain that she'd seen an expression flit across Helena's face that mimicked Homer Simpson when he contemplated donuts, and she readied herself to hear a response to the effect of "Mmmmm, Fat Boy."
It didn't come.
Instead, Helena simply grinned broadly and turned to take in the Batcave.
"Hey, how about I ride--"
Barbara saw where Helena's gaze had landed.
She managed to speak gently, but she left no room for doubt. Her old bike simply wasn't... appropriate. Helena wasn't Batgirl, and Barbara refused to take even one step to make her over in her own image.
Perhaps in the years to come, someone else might choose to fill that costume. Now -- and always -- Helena was simply too precious *as Helena*.
To her relief, her partner let it go, turning her attention to the further recesses of the room and focusing pointedly on the Batmobile.
"Well, you think Dad'll mind if I take the keys to the car?"
Laughing, Barbara shook her head.
"I don't think he'd mind a bit, Sweetheart."
She returned the box of transistors to its rightful location and moved toward one of the gear cabinets.
Barbara glanced over, taking in the image of Helena's nose wrinkled in disgust.
"I can't believe you all hung out here." She sniffed pointedly. "Guano."
Laughing, the redhead pressed her thumb to the biometric lock that guarded the contents of the cabinet. It immediately opened with a nearly inaudible click.
"The bats weren't as prevalent when we were around every day, Hel."
She blinked and then corrected herself.
"The small, winged version, that is."
When she saw the brunette's nod, Barbara turned back to the shelves that were now exposed to her and began rooting through them. Helena's next comment drew her attention from her search again.
"So, do you think we should have our base out of here?"
The redhead couldn't read the other woman's tone, and she had to assume that Helena was deliberately keeping her opinion on the option to herself. Barbara chose not to be coy.
"I'd rather not, Helena."
This time, there was no missing Helena's relieved sigh.
"Yeah, I like the Tower, too. Maybe we can figure out a way to stay there, huh?"
Spying what she'd been looking for, Barbara held back her smile.
"Still, Helena, I have been considering some experiments, and the gear is more readily available to us here."
Blue eyes didn't even blink.
"What kind of experiments, Red?"
Barbara took her time in answering, first shutting the cabinet door and then turning to head toward the van. Only when she was next to the driver's side door did she stop, and, raising the heavy manacles that she'd procured, she offered a slow smile to her partner.
"I'd like to test whether it really is possible to make someone go unconscious from climaxing multiple times."
Helena felt her stomach hit somewhere around her knees.
It wasn't a bad sensation at all.
Those big green eyes didn't so much as blink.
Drawing a deep breath, Helena decided to step up to the challenge.
"I don't pass out easily, Barbara."
Her lover's smile as she shifted into the driver's seat was pure promise.
"And I don't give up easily, Helena."
This time, it was Helena's laughter that filled the cave. Waiting for Helena to circle the van, Barbara turned the key and allowed herself to join in with a chuckle.
Sometimes, apparently, the paradoxes of opposing forces could offer certain benefits.
Her musing about who would bend or change direction first in this particular battle of wills was interrupted by an affronted exclamation from the passenger seat.
Calmly, the redhead looked over, arching one eyebrow in question.
"I don't believe that you came toodling out to the frigging Batcave listening to that."
Utterly perplexed, Barbara looked at the dashboard, confirming the obvious: the CD that had been playing when she'd arrived had kicked back on.
You belong to me now
Ain't gonna set you free now
When those girls start hanging around
Talking me down
Hear with your heart and you won't hear a sound
Just stop, 'cause I really love you
She felt her brows knit.
Helena opened her mouth, but nothing came out. Fuck, it was wrong on so many levels that she couldn't even figure out where to start. Huffing, she threw her hands in the air and pulled the shoulder belt across her chest.
"You are one freaky bitch, Barbara."
The redhead accepted the words for the compliment they were and leaned across the console that separated their seats. Briefly, she brushed her mouth lightly across full lips, then deepened the kiss. Helena almost jumped out of her skin when she felt her lower lip seized by sharp teeth.
Not entirely gently, either.
"And don't you forget it, Hel."
Pulling away, she waited for the younger woman's happy nod and then turned her attention to fastening her own seat belt. While she was occupied, the lyrics from the stereo suddenly changed, and Barbara looked over to find that Helena had toggled from the CD to the radio.
REO Speedwagon's 'Keep On Rolling'.
For a moment, Barbara flirted with allowing it to play. It was, after all, not a bad song; nevertheless, it also reminded her of the final episode from The Sopranos for some reason. As appropriate as it might be, Barbara made the decision in an instant in favor of her own taste.
The Captain and Tennille seemed to fit as well.
Stretching out, she rested her index finger above the button to switch back to the CD and smiled at her companion.
On cue, the hang-dog expression made an appearance.
"Okay, Babs. One more time."
Charmed, Barbara abandoned the sound system for the moment. Instead, she reached over, cupping the angular line of her lover's jaw in her hand and brushing the pad of her thumb lightly across full lips.
"You always do, don't you?"
The answer was clear enough in those deep blue eyes. Somehow, Barbara forced herself to breathe as she took the moment within herself to cherish. Pulling out of the darkness of her old haunt, she toggled the stereo back to the CD and waited to be certain that the security doors to the cave came down.
Be there to share forever
Love will keep us together
I said it before and I'll say it again
While others pretend
I need you now and I need you then
Just stop, 'cause I really love you
Stop, I'll be thinking of you
Look in my heart and let love keep us together
"So, what are we going to do next, Red?"
Barbara didn't even blink at the question.
"Elementary, my dear."
They shared a smile before Barbara put the van into gear and turned them toward The Tower.
"We head home and start on the next phase of our lives."
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