Title: Experimental Method
Fandom: Birds of Prey
Disclaimer: I don’t make any profit and they don’t belong to me.
A/N: I don’t know what went wrong, but I think I might have written something vaguely fluffy. Anyway, it’s un-beta’d, so all mistakes belong to me. If you’d like to send feedback, I’d love to receive it. I’m at Xfjnky2@yahoo.com
Barbara had gotten coffee all over the table.
Normally, it wouldn’t have been an incident that would have concerned me, but then again, I was looking for something and that was what I got. It wasn’t concrete evidence, of course, because it could have just been the shock of looking up to see me striding past in my underwear, having left my completely rain-soaked clothes at the balcony doors. I was on my way for a shower, I said blithely, when she tried to choke out a question, coffee pot still tipped and pouring into a cup long full. Then again, maybe there was more than shock in her eyes, but I didn’t want to jump to conclusions.
Later, when I leaned over her shoulder, ostensibly to whisper a secret in her ear, and let my lips brush ever so slightly against the curve of her neck, she misspelled three words in the sentence she was typing. I pointed it out to her, and she blushed and stammered and nearly rolled over my toes in an attempt to put some space between us.
One long afternoon, I spent hours on the couch, idly watching her watching me in the reflection of one of her many computer monitors. I doubt she knew I could follow the way her eyes traced my form, and that I paid special attention to the hitch of her breath as I shifted into an arguably more seductive pose. She probably didn’t realize that it was by design and not accident that my shirt slid up my belly, baring several inches of flesh that I didn’t bother to recover. I wonder if she was even aware of how long she stared, fingers moving only periodically, eyes flicking away for a few seconds, always to return.
I caught her outright staring one day when she thought I was far too busy doing leg presses to notice what she was doing. There wasn’t anything else I could notice, though, but her, paused just barely in the scope of my peripheral vision, already dark red hair gone crimson with sweat, strands plastered erratically to her neck. She was wearing a fitted black sports bra and loose black Adidas track pants, and if I focused hard enough, I could make out the crisp plunge of each and every recently exercised muscle. It was a wonder I’d even noticed her gaze at all, what with all of the other highly distracting flesh on display, but she was watching with a nearly tangible something, though whether it was want, need, or desire, I didn’t know. But, just for her benefit, I flexed a little tighter and moved a little slower, making sure she got the full impact of the show.
Seconds later, I faked a cramp, and she was by my side seconds after I called out for her. Hiding my perusal under hooded eyes and the length of my lashes, I watched her work her fingers deep into the muscle, bottom lip held tightly between her teeth as she focused on her task. Soon, though, massage turned into a caress and caress into a light scratch before she finally looked up at me, confusion and panic warring for dominance in her eyes as she rushed through an excuse to be somewhere other than where she was.
I flirted with Reese, though how I managed to pull it off with every bit of my focus on trying to discern any audible changes in the tone and pitch of her voice or the cadence of her breath, I’ll never know. It was there, though, and something only someone with years spent listening to that husky timbre would notice. A hint of strain, a tinge of tightness, and the awkward struggle to make herself sound as if she wasn’t affected at all. So I’d flirt even harder, saying things that nearly evoked a cringe as soon as I heard them, and reveled in the fact that by night’s end, her temper would be sharp and her voice angry.
One night, I rented a video, popped popcorn, and declared it a night in. I’d gotten a movie about two girls falling in love, and watched Barbara watch them move through indecision and awkwardness, obstacles and misunderstandings. I watched her hold her breath when they first kissed, watched her wipe a tear from her eye when they finally said, “I love you,” and hung on her soft sigh when it turned out that they might just make it. And when she looked over at me, quizzical expression etched on a face shadowed blue by the blank screen, I told her I thought it was a beautiful story. She just nodded and smiled, a faint little half smile that promised the world and nothing at all, and flicked the television over to some random cable channel, breaking through the promising tension of the moment.
Like the scientist I knew she was, I’d gathered my facts with arduous care, assembling them with methodical intent. Each one had played for hours in the dark confines of my room, sheets thrown off a body hot with anticipation, eyes closed though sleep refused to come. I’d dissected them all, split them into seconds and milliseconds, catalogued each reaction and non-reaction and searched for all available alternative explanations for the conclusion I reached. There were none strong enough to challenge the validity of my findings, though, so like any good experimenter, I prepared myself to move to the next phase.
I’d lured her to the couch with hot chocolate and a promise that I’d let her control the remote, and she’d settled on some program about the pyramids of ancient Egypt. It was typical Barbara fare, and even as I turned a laconic and bored eye to the screen, part of me couldn’t help but think it was adorable. So, I pretended to pay attention and waited for my opening, knowing things had to happen as they were going to happen because rushing them would only lead to disaster.
When the program ended, she reached for the remote in hopes of finding something more to her taste than the history of prostitution, but I caught her hand, switching the set off before she could protest. She gave an odd look, but didn’t say anything, probably because the look in my eye told her I had something I wanted to talk about and when I got in those moods, Barbara was reluctant to dissuade me.
“Do you remember Tara Evans?” I asked, and saw her flinch back in question. Not in fear or surprise, but confusion, though I knew that if Barbara thought about it, the memory would present itself. She stored away more things in her cortex than in her Delphi files. But, I wasn’t playing guessing games, so I gave her another hint. “We went to high school together.”
Recognition washed over her face and she nodded guardedly, still not sure where the conversation was headed and reluctant to jump whole-heartedly into it before she had a grasp on things. Barbara had always been like that, wanting to be well grounded, to know where she was, what she was doing, and what her place in the scheme of things was before she’d commit.
“Yeah,” she said slowly, brows lowering a bit as she tried to puzzle out where I was going with the intro. “National Merit finalist. She went to MIT, I believe. What about her?”
I nodded, a ghost of a smile teasing at my lips even as I tried to remain expressionless. “She was the first girl I ever kissed,” I replied, throwing in a shy grin and an almost embarrassed hunch of my shoulders, playing up the revelation angle for all it was worth.
For a moment, Barbara’s body froze in surprise. She looked like the proverbial deer in headlights, not sure what was happening and not at all certain which direction was the right one to take, and I almost had to laugh. Curiosity battled with confusion, as if she couldn’t decide which she wanted to know first… what had happened or why I was telling her. There was some part of her formulating all the right things to say, coming up with appropriate supportive responses and non-judgmental affirmations, but either she decided to play it cool or her curiosity won out, because instead of applauding my valiant self-disclosure, she said guardedly, “I never would have imagined her as your type.”
It was an interesting statement, one said with any number of designs in mind. Either she simply didn’t know how to reply to my announcement or she was biding time until she could figure out how to ask for what she wanted to know without being obvious, but regardless, it provided me with just the opening I was looking for.
“Who do you imagine as my type?” I asked, a little hint of tease in my tone to keep things from delving too far into the serious, but she blushed nonetheless.
Voice strangled and eyes slanting to the side so she didn’t have to look at me, she murmured, “I don’t know.”
I chuckled at that, the evasion plainly vivid and not completely out of character. Barbara didn’t always deal well with being questioned. I figured it had something to do with her years as Oracle. With as much information as she had at her fingertips, she had to know how potent of a weapon it was, and as such, parted with as little as she could when it came to personal matters.
“Sure you do, Barbara,” I challenged, scooting a little bit closer to her on the couch, making sure she’d at least be able to feel me even if she wouldn’t look at me. “I mean, how can you know who you think isn’t my type if you don’t know who is?”
It was, at best, an awkwardly worded yet still logical argument, but she was long used to muddling through my abuse of the English language. “I don’t know,” she repeated, though there wasn’t any real feeling behind the words. “I mean, I guess if I’d stopped to think about it, I would have picked just about any body other than Tara Evans. Someone a little more exciting, maybe. Not some shy little smart girl who spent more time in the library than anywhere else, and could talk about physics all day long but couldn’t carry on a normal conversation without running out of things to say in five minutes.”
“I used to love to listen to her talk,” I said, and this time my smile was real. No planning or machinations behind that one, just simple pleasure at the memory of afternoons spent listening to Tara ramble on about things I didn’t understand but that made her face light up with joy. And then, when she’d pause to catch her breath, I’d lean over and kiss her, and pretty soon she’d forget all about quantum physics or whatever else her obsession of the moment had been. Completely mismatched but somehow utterly perfect, we’d wound our way through numerous emotion-laden teenaged afternoons, and I couldn’t say there was a single thing about it all I regretted.
I guess Barbara caught on to the fondness of those particular memories because when I finally brought myself back to the present, she was looking at me with a hint of wistful sadness, like she was sorry she couldn’t share those things with me, or perhaps, because she couldn’t call up any equally pleasant reminiscences with such ease. I didn’t know. Years of studying Barbara didn’t do me much good when she was hiding her emotions, and her shields were running on high.
Before she could think to ask me why I’d chosen to divulge that little secret in the first place, I moved on to another. “Do you know who the second girl I kissed was?” I asked, and this time a tired sigh met my question. I didn’t know how to interpret it, and hoped it wasn’t a harbinger of bad things to come.
Shaking her head wearily Barbara breathed, “No, I don’t. Who, Helena?”
“Raina Graves,” I answered simply, waiting on Barbara’s memory to do its job.
There was another slight wrinkling of her brow, a positively adorable physical manifestation of the workings of her mind, and I had to remind myself that I hadn’t seen my plan through to fruition yet, and that I couldn’t yet be swayed. “Isn’t she the one who publishes all those neo-feminism essays now?”
“That’s her,” I admit, nose crinkling wryly as I remember my last attempt to wade through one of her diatribes. I was more than capable of reading all the words and comprehending the basic structure of what she was saying, but I still didn’t understand half of it. Not because I considered myself mentally deficient, per se, but because she was quite clearly writing about things with which I simply didn’t have ample background to provide an appropriate context. Or, in other words, I could spout back the rhetoric but couldn’t expand on the arguments.
I knew Barbara was struggling to remember who she was, and probably coming up with little more than memories of a girl who made fiery speeches laden with complex historical references and a passion for just about every cause that caught her fancy. She’d been beautiful too, with creamy mocha skin and fiercely intelligent mahogany eyes hidden behind stark black frames, with her riotous, unruly mane of curly hair. But, when she opened her mouth that all faded away in face of the compelling, almost visceral pull of her words. Not that she’d been widely appreciated back at New Gotham High, but I’d never been one to get caught up in the whirlwind of popularity anyway. People didn’t understand me either.
It all must have finally have gotten to her, natural curiosity outweighing some intrinsic hesitance, because finally Barbara asked, “Helena, why are you telling me all of this?”
I nearly breathed a sigh of relief, glad that I wasn’t going to have to run through any more of the list of my ex’s, though I’d come prepared to do so. Instead, I merely drew myself up straight, looked her right in the eye, and tried to find the words to make her understand. “I just thought it was time you knew,” was all that came out initially, and it was all I could do to resist the urge to roll my eyes at myself, to slap my forehead at that particularly pitiful display.
Barbara was looking at me much as one might a mental patient, all acceptance and bemused patience, and I couldn’t help but grit my teeth together. If she patted me on the hand, the plan was going out the window.
Clearing my throat, I tried again. “I didn’t think you knew that I’d always had a thing for smart girls in glasses,” was the incredibly unhelpful correlate that spilled forth, and this time, I did shake my head in frustration. Barbara still had that look in her eyes, like she was amused by something, and I could feel my control slipping away.
“Fuck it,” I growled, then did what I’d wanted to do for almost forever. Before she could figure out my intent, I’d lunged forward, hands on either side of her face holding her still. She divined my intention mere milliseconds before I closed the distance between us, because her eyes grew wide with surprise and her mouth opened to say something, perhaps to protest, but by then it was too late. I was kissing her, lost in the sensation of her lips on mine, her taste on my tongue, and I was almost sure she was kissing me back.
When I broke away from her, panting for air and scared as hell, she just looked at me for a moment. I could have been another species from the intent focus she turned my way, but just as I decided to be damned for a lion and leaned in yet again, she turned away, presenting me with a restricting curtain of long red hair.
Pulling back, wounded by this rejection, I sat, unable to move. Part of me knew I should get up and run away, figuring it for the only action left to me that might do something to repair my dignity, but something held me still.
“Wha…” my voice failed me, much as had everything else in the past few minutes, but I cleared my throat and tried again. “What…”
“What were you doing, Helena?”
I guess it was a good thing she broke in with a question, because I sure as hell hadn’t known what I was going to say. Only, after I took a minute to think about it, it wasn’t such a good thing at all, and I was left scrambling for any kind of response that wouldn’t leave me looking like a pathetic fool.
“I thought you wanted it too.”
I guess I failed on that pathetic fool part, because I sounded about as strong as a whipped puppy. Cheeks flaring bright red with embarrassment, I shifted uncomfortably on the couch, staring straight ahead of me now, eyes focused intently on the blank television screen. It wasn’t necessarily the best move I could have made, though, because there we were, outlined as clearly as if I were looking in a mirror. I still couldn’t read Barbara’s expression, didn’t know if she was angry or upset or ready to rip me limb from limb, and resigned myself to seeing this messy situation through to its inevitably painful end.
“Wanted to be number fifty-seven on that list of yours?” Barbara scoffed, and I cringed, taken aback by the bitterness underlying her tone. It was an unfair accusation wrapped up in angry rejection, and I couldn’t help but pay her back in like terms.
Voice a little edgier than I would have liked, emotion driving me to reveal more than I wanted, I shot back, “They were all just poor copies of an original I couldn’t have,” I admitted harshly. “I was saving the last spot for you, Barbara, but it’s obvious you don’t want it.”
And even as I was cursing myself for a fool, she’d ducked her head and leaned over, one hand braced against my thigh for balance, and I thought my heart would explode from the sudden burst of adrenaline that rushed through me. “What does that mean?” she asked, voice almost angry, and I recoiled slightly, startled.
Shrugging my shoulders defensively, I mumbled, “It means I want to date you.”
“Date me?” she asked cynically, one brow arched in disbelief.
I was getting uncomfortable now, thrown off my game by her unexpected reaction and my unwieldy emotions. “Yeah, date you. Like, as in the first step of a relationship.”
“You want to date me?” She said it again, almost like she was mocking me, and I pushed away, arms folded protectively over my chest.
“Jesus, what’s so hard to understand about that? Yes, I want to date you. I want to kiss you. Eventually, I want to sleep with you. And, if you don’t get tired of me, I want to do all of it for as long as I can.”
“A relationship,” she summed up, though I thought I’d already covered that a few exchanges back.
Looking at her in exasperation, I nodded. “Yes, a relationship. You and me together, like girlfriend and girlfriend only maybe a little bit more. Hand-holding and going to the movies, maybe a little kinky sex, and me going home with you to Christmas dinner because I’m part of the family.”
“Part of the family,” she echoed, and I wondered if maybe she’d lost the ability for autonomous speech and could only communicate by repeating back what I’d just said.
Groaning in frustration, I ran my hand through my hair, fingernails clamping down on the back of my neck. “Forget I even mentioned it,” I sighed, slumping back into the couch cushion behind me, my other hand coming up to massage my temples.
This time, there was a definite air of amusement in her words, and I looked up suspiciously. She was grinning, almost all of her teeth bared in an expression mixing sheer happiness with mirth, and I couldn’t help but smile back.
“Maybe… someday,” I replied shyly, feeling a little bit better about things than I had a minute before. Now, when she didn’t look so shocked and angry, I thought that maybe I might just have a chance after all.
Nodding wisely, Barbara said softly, “But you want to date me first.”
I couldn’t tell if she was touched by the thought or making fun of me, and the defensiveness returned, though nowhere near as virulent as before. “Yeah, I want to date you first. Do things right, you know.”
“This Friday?” she asked, and I had to wonder where this new, overly succinct Barbara had come from. Normally she couldn’t even ask me what I wanted for dinner without turning the question into a relatively short narrative, and I wasn’t sure I liked it. A non-talkative Barbara left the burden of the conversation on me, and I wasn’t confident in my ability to carry it with any amount of grace.
Swallowing uncertainly, suddenly painfully afraid I was actually going to get what I wanted, I asked hesitantly, “You mean, go out this Friday?”
Suddenly flush with power in the face of my awkwardness, Barbara nodded confidently. “That’s right, one of those dates you promised me.”
“Yeah, before sweep,” I found myself answering, wondering how it was I’d managed to maneuver myself into making it seem like I was accepting when I’d been the one doing the asking in the first place. Not that it mattered, really, because Barbara was nodding, looking infinitely pleased with the idea, and I suddenly became vividly aware that she hadn’t taken her hand off of my thigh. It was burning into me, scorching through a thick layer of denim to sear into my skin, and it immediately became of paramount importance for me to get her to remove it before my body overpowered my mind and I did something I shouldn’t.
Barbara must have followed my terrified gaze down to the limb in question, because she just gave me a sinfully seductive smile and squeezed the already rigid muscle, and I think I might have moaned at the pleasure of it, embarrassing as the thought may have been.
“How about, until then, we settle for some more of the kisses I heard about?” she purred archly, teasing me in the best kind of way. I nodded dumbly because by that point, there was little else I could do.
Well, except kiss her, of course. Even I wasn’t stupid enough to say no when asked so nicely.
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