Title: An Empirical Question
Fandom: Birds of Prey
Disclaimer: I don’t own them. I make no profit.
A/N: This is nothing but unadulterated fluff. There are no villains. There is no crime-fighting. Just all fluff, all the time. If you have anything to say about it, you can find me at Xfjnky2@yahoo.com.
“No, Dick… No, that’s fine… No, I completely understand… Please, it’s not a big deal… Dick, trust me, it’s really not that big of a deal… No, I’ll find someone else… No, don’t you dare set me up… Dick… No, Dick… I’m warning you… What, don’t you think I can find someone on my own?”
There was a pause, a mischievous smile, and Helena imagined that on the other end of the phone line was a Dick Grayson doing about 90 miles an hour in reverse, backtracking so quickly he left skid marks.
“I appreciate the offer, Dick, but it’s not necessary… I’m not talking about this anymore… Dick, I’m hanging up now… For the last time, no… Yes… I’m good… I miss you too… That sounds good. Just let me know when things calm down over there… That’s right… Goodnight, Dick.”
At the click of the phone, Helena peered up over the back of the couch upon which she was draped, one brow arched in question as she strove desperately for nonchalance. “I didn’t know you were seeing Dick again,” she said casually, proud of the way she’d almost, though not quite, sounded as if the entire thing bored her.
Barbara chuckled ruefully, rolling her eyes as she carelessly laid the phone down on her desk. “Maybe because I’m not seeing him again,” she replied wryly, smirking. “But, he is my all-purpose handy dandy rent a date deluxe.”
“Uh… maybe you could run that by me again, this time in some kind of language that makes sense,” Helena drawled, easing up even more, still conscious of a burning desire to appear only mildly interested in the conversation.
Waving her hand about as if to push the topic aside, Barbara said airily, “It’s the annual charity gala for the New Gotham Police Department. Dad expects me to put in an appearance every year, and it’s just easier if I have a date. You know, someone to rescue me when the reminiscing begins and the guys get enough drinks in them to forget they’re trying to hit on the ex-Police Commissioner’s only daughter.”
Nodding her head in understanding, remembering years of seeing Barbara in stunningly gorgeous evening gowns and Dick in his somber tuxedos and fully aware of how a few drinks could make her want to do any number of things to Barbara she normally wouldn’t consider feasible, Helena murmured, teasing glint in her eyes, “And Dickie can’t come this year, hmmm. Well, there’s always Alfred. I hear he cleans up pretty well.”
Shooting Helena a look that let her know she was clearly not amused, Barbara murmured, “Right. Alfred. I don’t think his job description includes forced servitude.”
Grinning slightly, already imagining the ever formal Alfred putting on his best public manners and squiring Barbara around for an evening of boring speeches and annoying chit-chat, Helena shrugged, “Maybe not. Then again, you could always take me.”
The words were out before she could stop them, though Helena did attempt to find some measure of comfort in the fact that she had at least managed a veneer of casual disregard. It didn’t stretch far, though, because her stomach was already twisted in knots, the hyperactive beat of her heart betraying the fact that no matter what her outward posturing might say, she really, really wanted Barbara to say yes.
“You,” the redhead scoffed, a smile curling at her lips. “Take you with me to the gala as my date.”
The undertone of amusement lacing through the words did little to quell Helena’s nervous apprehension, but instead of jumping up and down on the couch and screaming ‘Yes! Me! Take me!’, she managed a simple easy shrug and a, “Yeah, sure. Why not?”
“Why not?” Barbara echoed, the tone of her voice indicating the apparent stupidity of Helena’s reply. “There are probably a thousand reasons why not.”
“So list them,” Helena shot back, growing defensive. It was one thing for Barbara to turn her down, but quite another for the other woman to make fun of her.
One slim russet brow arched in incredulity. “For one thing, Helena, you’re a girl. Half of the people who will be at this thing are so conservative they make the pope look like a flaming liberal. The sight of two women there together and they’d probably have to use the emergency services they keep on call. Besides, this isn’t some club, Helena. You can’t just throw on leather pants, toss back a few shots and hope you don’t pass out at the bar. The most important people in New Gotham will be there, and I can guarantee you it’ll last at least four hours. If I’m lucky, I’ll only have to spend two of those smiling and meeting people and listening to condolences on my unfortunate accident.”
Now thoroughly miffed, Helena crossed her arms irritably over her chest. “I see. You’re scared of what people will think of you and you think I’m not properly trained, is that it?”
“Yeah. You think I can’t go with you and manage to not embarrass either you or myself or your illustrious father. You’d be ashamed to go with me,” Helena summed up, daring Barbara to refute her.
Suddenly finding herself on the wrong side of the foot in mouth equation, Barbara sputtered, “Not ashamed, really.”
And she wouldn’t be, or so she thought, though a tiny part of her guiltily whispered that that might have just a little to do with it.. But, she put little stock in appearances, beyond those necessary to keep up her façade, and she’d never been overly concerned with what other people thought of her. If nothing else, her covert line of work had taught her that there were far more important things in life than worrying about risking the disapproval of people whose opinions she really didn’t value. Helena, though, was a different animal. She was a statement, one Barbara didn’t know if she was quite ready to make. Especially if it was all a farce, the other girl there just to fill shoes left open by the now absent but once comforting presence of Dick, and not because her presence indicated anything bigger than that.
“No?” Helena taunted, blue eyes clearly conveying the belief that she thought Barbara’s denial to be nothing more than a line of bullshit. “So it’s a date, then. You, me, and the New Gotham Police Department’s Annual Charity Gala.”
Swallowing nervously, realizing she was thoroughly backed into a corner with no viable avenue of escape, Barbara simply sat in silence, green eyes wide, part of her still wondering how she’d managed to be so thoroughly outmaneuvered. She couldn’t say no. If so, Helena would stomp around the Clocktower for longer than she wanted to contemplate, bruised pride requiring God only knows what to be fixed. She couldn’t quite say yes, either, or else it would look like she had actually agreed.
“So sweetheart,” Helena drawled in amusement, triumphant grin stretched wide across her face, “what time should I pick you up?”
“It’s still not too late to forget about the whole thing,” Barbara called out hopefully as soon as she heard the elevator door ping open, her hands idly smoothing down the fabric of her dress.
“Of course it is,” came the reply, Helena’s voice an amused silky purr. “I bought a dress and everything.”
“As long as you kept the receipt, it shouldn’t be a problem to…” Barbara started to say then stopped, voice trailing off at the end as she glanced up, getting her first good look at her date for the evening.
Helena was wearing what might almost could have been called a dress had it been made with a little bit more of the shimmery midnight blue fabric Barbara couldn’t name and showed quite a bit less of the olive silk of the other woman’s skin. A single strap draped around the back of the Helena’s neck, and the front plunged scandalously low between her breasts, bottoming out somewhere a few inches above her navel. The hem ended right at mid-thigh, baring the long length of Helena’s legs, and without looking Barbara already knew it was probably completely backless.
“Turn around,” she said, mouth dry.
Helena arched a brow but complied, and Barbara forced herself to swallow as she took in the back of the dress. Or, rather, the lack of the back of the dress. Fabric started again just above the swell of her buttocks, leaving the indention at the small of her back a visible tease, tattoo peeking out when the brunette moved.
“Like it?” Helena asked brightly, thoroughly pleased with the dumbfounded reaction she’d garnered. She’d taken a gamble with the dress, but judging by the appreciative gleam in Barbara’s eyes, it had been worth it.
Coughing gently in an attempt to clear her throat, Barbara said carefully, “Well, it certainly is eye-catching.”
The truth was Helena looked gorgeous. Gorgeous and nearly naked, and the thought of those two phrases in such close proximity in regard to the brunette standing in front of her, clearly not overly worried about the seeming acres of flesh she was displaying, was enough to make Barbara uncomfortably warm. In fact, she was horrifyingly certain she was actually blushing.
Throwing the other woman an arch look, the gesture only enhanced by the touch of charcoal eye shadow she’d added, Helena said, “Rule number one, Barbara. Always tell a woman what she wants to hear.”
It was typical Helena, arrogant and self-assured. Snorting in amusement, Barbara leaned back in her chair, head tilted to the side speculatively as she tried to tamp down the overly interested gleam in her eyes. “Is that so? Then tell me, what do I want to hear?”
Lips pursing in thought, Helena was quiet for a moment. “Well, I don’t think it really matters what I think you want to hear, because I’m actually going to tell you the truth,” she said finally, eyes twinkling. “You look absolutely stunning, Barbara. Beyond beautiful.”
Not sure whether the other woman was still teasing her or if the sincerity she heard in her voice was real, Barbara blushed again, looking down at her simple black dress as the blood rushing up her cheeks defied the hard work she’d put in only moments before to quell her embarrassment. “Thank you,” she murmured, cursing herself for the shy tone her voice had taken on even as she idly wondered whether she’d be scuffing the toe of her shoe against the floor in nervous anticipation had she actually still been able to do so. It was pathetic, she decided, a resolute determination to completely ignore the charm of her young companion racing up her spine on a wave of steel.
“Well, don’t thank me yet,” Helena said ruefully. “I was going to bring you roses, but I spent all my money on the dress.”
Startled into laughter, Barbara rolled forward, once again eyeing all of the light caramel skin bared for display as her composure fled with embarrassing ease. “You must have been running particularly low this month, then, because I can’t see how something with less than a yard of fabric in it could cost very much.”
“Funny, Barbara,” Helena murmured, voice a teasing monotone. “Please, see if you can avoid slaying me with your wit. Your comedic abilities astound me. They leave me speechless. Really. I’m thinking a one woman show world tour.”
Slapping a bare thigh playfully as Helena moved past her, Barbara looked up with a grin at the other woman’s offended yelp. “What?” she shrugged innocently. “Just a little payback.”
Pouting, Helena rubbed lightly at her thigh. “That hurt, Barbara,” she whined, looking down at the red hand print outlined clearly against her flesh. “You left a mark. People are going to think we’re into kinky spanking games, and anybody who knows me knows I’m not a bottom.”
“I cannot believe you just said that,” Barbara muttered, shaking her head. Then, protesting slightly, she pointed out, “And I didn’t even hit you that hard. Aren’t you supposed to be tough? At least, that’s what you’re always telling me. That whine, however, was distinctly wimpy.”
“I so was not whining,” Helena shot back, crossing her arms over her chest before remembering it might wrinkle her dress. With a grimace of frustration, she straightened them again, all too aware that her glare lost nearly half its power without the added bonus of the correct affronted posture to go with it.
Shooting the other woman a disbelieving look, Barbara merely murmured a dry, “Uh-hmm. Right.”
“I thought the mocking comments came optional with this package,” Helena muttered, heading through the Clocktower toward Barbara’s room. “Hey,” she called back over her shoulder, “you have a coat I can wear, right?”
“As if you’d get cold in that outfit,” Barbara called back, turning her chair and heading for her room before Helena could make a mess of her neatly organized closet. And, if forced to be honest, the trailing view wasn’t a real deterrent either.
She expected to see an steadily growing pile of once neat clothes on the floor, but moving through the door to her room revealed nothing more than Helena sitting on her bed, sulking.
“What?” Barbara asked, slightly exasperated. “I know there’s a coat in there.”
“You don’t like it,” Helena said, voice edging close to a sulk.
“Like what?” Barbara repeated dumbly, confused. “The dress?”
Looking to the side for a second, Helena mumbled, “I thought you’d like it, but all you’ve done is make fun of me.”
“Make fun of you?” Barbara echoed, brow wrinkling as she sought to find the words to work her way out of the situation. “That was not making fun. It may have been gentle teasing, but that’s all I’m willing to admit to.”
Helena didn’t answer, preferring to merely glare.
Sighing, wondering exactly where this fit of feminine pique had come from, she said soothingly, “I was just teasing you before, Helena. I think you look fabulous.”
Looking up suspiciously, Helena asked quietly, “Do you really think so?”
Nodding her head solemnly, Barbara replied, “Absolutely, so why don’t you pick out a coat so we can go.”
“You’re not just saying that?” Helena asked, still slightly distrustful but beginning to beam under Barbara’s reluctantly given compliments.
Fighting the urge to roll her eyes, Barbara said seriously, “I’m not just saying it. I mean it. You look gorgeous.”
“Gorgeous, hmm?” Helena said cockily, eyes gleaming.
“Yes,” Barbara sighed, giving in to the incipient eye-roll. “Gorgeous and fabulous, but if you don’t hurry up, you’re going to make us late.”
“Oh, we won’t be late, Barbara,” Helena said blithely, making her way over to the other woman’s closet. “I’m driving.”
Barbara pried her eyes open as the van rocked to a halt, cautiously looking around to make sure they hadn’t stopped for any reason she really didn’t want to know about, such as an old lady with a walker or a small child chasing a ball.
“We’re here,” Helena said brightly, far too enthusiastically in Barbara’s opinion. But then again, it was her first gala, and she had the whole night ahead of her to become apathetic and jaded.
“Thank God,” Barbara muttered, barely resisting the urge to do the sign of the cross. “Who taught you how to drive, anyway?”
“Mom did,” Helena replied, grinning slyly. “You’re not insinuating she did a bad job, are you?”
“Of course not,” Barbara mumbled, rolling her eyes. “I wouldn’t dare.”
Helena chose to ignore that, deciding instead to circle around the van. Pulling the door open, she lowered the platform that would allow Barbara to roll down to the ground. Though the redhead usually preferred her lighter, more streamlined wheelchair for use away from the Clocktower, she’d opted for the more high tech version in honor of the gala. Besides, it allowed her to control her movements with the flick of a joystick, something always preferable to wheel-dirtied palms at a formal event.
“So, give me the rundown again,” Helena demanded as they made their way toward the front door, pace slowed so she didn’t move ahead of Barbara.
Tilting her head to the side, certain she’d already given the explanation a thousand times, Barbara said wearily, “We go in and mingle, sit through an hour or two of potentially very boring speeches, mingle again until we can slip out and not appear obvious, and be grateful we managed to make it through the entire evening without drinking ourselves into a stupor.”
“Right,” Helena said, nodding decisively. “Nothing but fun all night long.”
“So much you won’t be able to stand it,” Barbara replied wryly, nodding gently at the hotel employees who had appeared to open the doors for them.
As if a flip had been switched, Barbara was nothing but gracious smiles and friendly waves as soon as they made their way into the lobby, easing past groups of people who all seemed to want to say hello. At the onslaught, Helena held back for a second, not sure she’d really anticipated the sheer number of people who would be in attendance nor the popularity of her companion. Cocky though she may have pretended to be, a part of her was infinitely terrified. For a moment, she thought about leaving, about disappearing before she could stumble her way into a mistake, but dismissed the thought as soon as it crossed her mind. She’d managed to wrangle herself an invitation, and damned if she wasn’t going to have a good time and make sure Barbara had one as well.
Realizing that she’d somehow lost her escort, Barbara spun around in an attempt to spot Helena, head weaving back and forth as she tried to see around the throng of people separating them. She caught the brunette’s eye and watched as Helena fingered the lapel of her coat and jerked her head in the direction of the coat-check, the non-spoken conversation as clear to her as if they’d brought the comms. In reply, Barbara nodded shallowly, cutting her eyes toward where her father was standing, receiving a smile of affirmation in return.
Jim Gordon was holding court at the head of a cluster of people, all with their heads thrown back in laughter at whatever story he’d just relayed, and Barbara couldn’t help but smile. He was wearing his Commissioner’s uniform, the dark navy blue a distinguished contrast to his steel gray hair and moustache. Buttons and awards gleamed brightly in the muted light, and Barbara took a second to revel in the pride she felt wash over her.
“Barbara,” Jim called out, catching sight of his daughter hovering just past the fringe of his group. “Come on over. And the rest of you, shoo. I haven’t seen my daughter in ages.”
The crowd good-naturedly dispersed, each with a few words of greeting for the graceful redhead, and Barbara grinned as she rolled over to her father, reaching up to brush away a speck of non-existent lint from his sleeve. “You’re looking quite handsome tonight, Dad,” she said affectionately, earning a chuckle.
“Please. No need to flatter an old man,” he joked in reply. “You’re looking stunning as usual. Where’s Dick?”
“Dick isn’t coming tonight. Actually…” Barbara began to explain, only to be cut off mid-sentence.
“Goodness,” Jim exclaimed, startled, eyes widening slightly. “Who is that?”
Following her father’s line of sight, Barbara smiled weakly when she saw Helena making her way across the dance floor, a trail of eyes turning to follow in her wake. She was smiling sunnily, waving, and Barbara heard herself sigh.
“You know Helena, Dad,” she said tiredly as Helena joined them, resting one hand along the back of Barbara’s wheelchair.
Clearing his throat, obviously surprised, Jim said, “Of course I do. I just didn’t realize she’d grown up so, uh… fast.”
“It’s a pleasure to see you again, Commissioner Gordon sir,” Helena said politely, extending her hand.
“Helena is my date for the evening,” Barbara added helpfully.
Returning Helena’s handshake, slightly baffled by the turn of events, Jim nevertheless managed to smile politely. “It’s a pleasure to see you again as well, Helena. I feel like I haven’t seen you for ages.” Then, pleasantries aside, he paused for a moment, doubt evident in his voice as he turned to Barbara with raised eyebrows. “Date?” he repeated, the tone of his voice clearly indicating that he was very interested in hearing an explanation.
“Dad…” Barbara started, mind scrambling to come up with an explanation that wouldn’t get her in trouble with either of her companions, only to be cut off.
“It has been a while,” Helena broke in, not letting go of Jim’s hand, smile broadening even further. “And, I just wanted to let you know, Sir, that I’m going to take very good care of Barbara.”
At the seeming non sequiter, two sets of questioning eyes looked up in apparent confusion. Clearly nonplussed, Jim said, “Well, I certainly do appreciate that.”
“I know Barbara and I haven’t discussed telling you, but I think there’s something you really need to know,” Helena continued, voice dipping low, mien serious though there was a definite mischievous twinkle in her eyes.
“Helena!” Barbara yelped in surprise, rolling forward slightly, suddenly terrified, though of what, she wasn’t sure.
Looking down at the other woman compassionately, barely repressing a grin, Helena said softly, “No, Barbara, he needs to know.”
“Know what?” Jim asked, clearly baffled, looking warily from his daughter to Helena and back again.
“Helena,” Barbara growled warningly, green eyes flashing with barely suppressed malice as her fingers tightened on the arms of her chair, knuckles white with tension.
Ignoring her, Helena turned to look at Jim, a blissful smile stretching across her features. Then, taking a deep breath, she said gaily, “Commissioner Gordon, Barbara and I are in love.”
And then, just because she could, Helena braced her hands on the arms of Barbara’s wheelchair and leaned forward, kissing the dumbfounded redhead. Lips moving softly, she stayed that way for long seconds, finally pulling back with a soft purr only when she felt Barbara regain her senses and begin to stiffen slightly. Reaching up to smooth away the smear of lipstick she’d left on Barbara’s lower lip, she smiled gently, fully aware of the look of outrage being sent her way via furious green eyes.
“Oh my,” Jim Gordon said weakly, a puzzled yet vaguely supportive smile on his face.
“What in the hell do you think you’re doing?” Barbara hissed from between gritted teeth, bright smile still firmly in place, well aware that though their position might be secluded, it was far from private.
Leaning down so her lips were so close to Barbara’s ear as to actually brush lightly against the back curve, Helena murmured, “You said these things were fatally boring. I thought I’d spice it up a little bit.”
Turning so that she could look at Helena, a bit disconcerted by the extremely close proximity of the other woman’s face, poised mere millimeters from her own, Barbara argued softly, “By telling him we were in love?”
“Sure,” Helena shot back, grinning slightly. “It’s not a big deal, Barbara. You just call him tomorrow and tell him it was all a practical joke. I mean, he looked so confused, trying to figure out just what you meant when you said I was your date, and I thought it would be kind of funny, that’s all.”
“Helena, you kissed me,” Barbara added, her tone clearly expressing the numerous faults she’d found with the other woman’s plan.
A bit wistfully, Helena sighed, “I know. It was nice, wasn’t it.”
Not quite sure how to interpret that response, Barbara instead said, “Nice? Helena, we almost gave him a heart-attack on the spot. Did you see his face?”
“Not really,” Helena mused thoughtfully. “Maybe I should kiss you again, see what happens this time.”
“Don’t you dare,” Barbara warned forcefully, and Helena pulled back slightly, pouting. “Most of the people here are watching us already. Half of them probably think we are lovers by now. Nearly all of them know you’ve been living with me since you were sixteen. I can’t even begin to imagine what they’re thinking right now.”
“Worried I’ll ruin your good girl reputation?” Helena teased, settling for a quick kiss to the cheek, though she did make sure at least the corners of their mouths met.
“I do not have a good girl reputation,” Barbara said stiffly, hyperaware of the lingering taste of Helena left by the sly kiss. “I’m not some… some… straight-laced stick in the mud.”
Rolling her eyes at Barbara’s uncharacteristic little tirade, Helena said in exasperation, “Barbara, you used to be a librarian. A librarian. You’re Commissioner Gordon’s daughter. Hell, I don’t think you’ve ever even had a speeding ticket your dad could fix for you. Your good girl reputation could only grow more sterling if you joined a convent. You are completely scandal free.”
“I used to ride a motorcycle, you know,” Barbara shot back irritably. “Good girls don’t ride motorcycles. And my reputation wouldn’t be so sterling if I weren’t so good at lying.”
“Oh, I see,” Helena murmured sympathetically. “You’ve always wanted to be a bad girl, haven’t you.”
Drawn up short, Barbara said tentatively, “Well, not a bad girl, really…”
“Sure you have,” Helena taunted, thoroughly enjoying Barbara’s discomfort. “You wish you had the attitude, wish you could get away with almost anything because you knew people weren’t going to call you on your shit. I mean, basically, you wish you could be just like me. You want people to run scared when they see you, and not because they think you’re going to assign them more homework or try to collect an overdue library book.”
“That’s not true,” Barbara protested. Then, a beat later she muttered, “I’m not like that, anyway. The operative word is ex-librarian.”
“Poor Barbara,” Helena taunted softly, “always going to be a good girl.”
Shooting the brunette a glare, unaccountably angry at the implication that she was boring even though she knew Helena was merely teasing her, Barbara rasped, “If I were you, I’d find a new subject… now.”
“My, someone’s touchy,” Helena joked lightly, eyes sparkling with mirth. “Too bad you’re too much of a good girl to do anything about it.”
Barbara felt something inside her snap. She could only take so much teasing from Helena, and some part of her felt inexplicably insulted by the insinuation that she was a boring, bland goody-two-shoes. She knew better, obviously, knew that she cultivated that image deliberately. No one would suspect the never changing Barbara Gordon to be anything other than what she appeared to be – a high school teacher and muffin top entrepreneur. But she was more than that, so much more, and at that moment, she wanted everyone else to know it. So, growling low in her throat, one free hand shooting out to settle firmly against the back of the other woman’s neck, she pulled Helena to her hard. Smirking for a mere second at the look of abject panic in the other woman’s eyes, Barbara consciously pushed all doubts and second thoughts from her mind, determined to put an end to the teasing, good natured though it may have been, and to throw a kink, no matter how small, into the image of Barbara Gordon as boring. So, lips meeting fiercely, she kissed Helena with all of the skill she possessed, tongue swiping boldly into the other woman’s mouth to tease, strong fingers holding the brunette still when she would have moved to pull away, teeth biting down firmly on a lower lip as she finally let go.
“There,” Barbara said triumphantly, panting, eyes gleaming. “Would a good girl do that?”
Stunned speechless, Helena could only shake her head no.
Leaning heavily against the inside of the stall door, head pressed firmly into the cool chrome, Helena took a moment to collect herself.
She’d fled the ballroom after Barbara’s kiss, muttering some excuse about having to fix her lipstick, and made a beeline straight for the nearest women’s room. She had to, she reasoned, because otherwise she would have melted into a puddle at Barbara’s feet and that, she couldn’t afford to do.
“Stupid, stupid, stupid,” she muttered, banging her forehead lightly against the back of the stall door, eyes screwed shut.
But, how was she to know Barbara could kiss like that? Not that she hadn’t thought about what it would be like – numerous times – though apparently her imagination had been sorely lacking. She couldn’t remember why she’d thought Barbara would be shy and uncertain. It certainly didn’t make sense any longer, not when the other woman had literally stolen her breath and nearly brought her to her knees. Hell, Helena thought with a laugh, she was probably the one who needed practice.
She was in so much trouble.
Taking a deep breath, aware of the fact that she couldn’t hide away in the bathroom all night even if part of her was ready to settle down and wait for the janitorial staff to kick her out, Helena straightened her dress and made her way out of the stall to the counter, fumbling awkwardly in her purse for her lipstick. It shouldn’t have been hard to find since she’d only brought about four things with her, but it still managed to elude her grasp for a good ten seconds as her fingers searched numbly. Cursing in frustration, she finally fished it out, then took a minute to calm her breathing and attempt to steady shaking hands. Snatching a tissue from the box in front of her, she wiped away the soft imprint of Barbara’s much lighter lipstick and the smear of her own, then carefully re-applied, taking far longer than was necessary as she traced the outline of her lips.
She pursed her lips, a discerning eye wondering if they looked any different now that they’d touched Barbara’s, then snorted at the absurdity of the thought. “Like an ex-virgin the morning after prom,” she muttered wryly to herself, rolling her eyes.
A flush and the creak of a stall reminded her she wasn’t alone, and Helena barely managed to smooth on a bland façade before she caught sight of a woman approaching the counter, expression somewhat scheming. The stranger was gorgeous, with silky white-blonde hair and chocolate brown eyes, but there was something about her Helena just didn’t trust, and she had a feeling it had everything to do with the predatory look in her eyes. She was well familiar with that look. In fact, she wore it often herself.
“So, you’ve managed to net Barbara Gordon,” the woman asked as she sidled up beside Helena, flipping on the tap and reaching for a squirt of soap. “I didn’t know she played for the girl’s team.”
Offering a weak smile, mouth suddenly quite dry as she contemplated the very real damage she might be doing to Barbara’s image, Helena managed a raspy, not at all certain, “I didn’t either?”
“If I weren’t so jealous, I’d offer you my congratulations,” the woman continued, shutting off the water and reaching past Helena for something upon which to dry her hands. “I’ve wanted her for years. She looks so deliciously… corruptible.”
“Uhmmm,” was all Helena could say, eyebrows twitching inward as she frantically searched for just the right way to let the stranger beside her know her assumptions were entirely unfounded while still giving her the impression Barbara was completely hands-off territory. After all, the last thing she needed was some blonde Amazon trying to hit on her woman. Or her Barbara. Or her whatever.
“Whereas you look just simply delicious,” the other woman purred, leaning forward suddenly, driving a slightly confused Helena back into the wall she hadn’t realized was behind her. Not sure how to extricate herself, Helena tensed, nearly jumping out of her skin as a bold finger traced down over her sternum before detouring to slide along the curve of her breast, finally disappearing in the wake of the light scrape of a stiff white business card being tucked into the dip of her dress. The stranger lingered there, poised inches away, eyes hot, heavy, and far too appraising for Helena’s taste. “Let me know if you two ever need a third.”
Eyes going wide at the realization of what the woman had just insinuated, Helena started to yell out a, “No way in Hell,” but the blonde was already gone, leaving her alone once more.
Completely unsettled, Helena shook her head to once again try to collect her bearings but finally decided it was a useless task. Some things were better off just being pushed so far to the back of her mind that they hopefully fell off the edge. So, deciding she’d already been gone for far too long, she pushed away from the counter, digging the card out of her dress, and made her way out of the ladies’ room…
…and straight into the waiting wide chest of Jim Gordon. Barely holding in a groan of frustration, Helena looked up at him, smiling as brightly as she could, eyes darting around in a desperate search for some kind of escape.
“Sorry, sir. Didn’t mean to bump into you,” she said perkily, stepping to the side and hoping that their meeting was simply a freak accident.
“I think we need to have a talk,” Jim said, voice serious, and Helena felt her shoulders slump in resignation.
Sighing, she turned to face him squarely, bracing for the upcoming undoubtedly unwelcome conversation. “Yes sir, we probably do.”
“Now, I don’t know what you’ve done to my Barbara,” he started, holding up a hand and giving Helena a stern look when it seemed like she was about to interrupt, “but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen her happier. She’s been dragging that Dick fellow to these things for years, and doesn’t do anything but sit in the corner looking bored out of her mind. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to know the details about what’s going on between you two, but for the moment,” he continued, stressing the word, “you have my blessing. The moment, you understand.”
Wincing, Helena opened her mouth to speak, determined to set the record straight. Unfortunately, the move merely earned her a scowl as Jim moved in closer, and for a moment of her own, Helena wished she’d worn higher heels just so she could have spent the evening not being towered over. “Just a warning, though,” Jim murmured threateningly, eyes flashing with something akin to menace, “you hurt her, and I’ll come looking for you again. It won’t be my approval I’ll be bringing with me then.”
Swallowing nervously, Helena put her hands up between them, palms facing outward as she guiltily tried to explain just exactly what was happening. “Look sir, we’re not really together. I know I told you that we were, but…”
Breaking in, an angry frown darkening imposing features, Jim growled, “Are you telling me you’re just toying around with my daughter?”
Backing up slowly, completely unprepared for a meeting with Barbara’s father and half convinced she was going to manage to get herself shot by an ex-Police Commissioner with an overprotective streak, Helena said, voice placating, “Not at all, sir. That’s not what I meant. That’s so completely not what I meant. No toying around. I promise. Completely serious, that’s what I am.”
“Good to hear,” Jim snapped, and Helena winced again, thoroughly conscious of the corner into which she’d just painted herself, “and if you two are having problems in your relationship, then work them out. You realize, of course, that with Barbara that means that you’ll be doing most of the work. She’s a complicated girl, as I’m sure you know. But she deserves to be happy, and if you can make her happy then don’t let her ruin things for the both of you.” He paused, glaring to make sure his point was taken with the seriousness he obviously felt it deserved. “Now, I suggest you get yourself out there and see if Barbara needs anything before I change my mind and decide I don’t quite like you after all.”
“Yes sir,” Helena said wearily, moving hesitantly, not entirely sure she’d been properly dismissed.
“Oh, and Helena,” Jim called out after her, his voice drawing the brunette’s head back around so she could see the warning look on his face, “see if you can’t manage to keep your hands off her, at least while you’re out in public. I’ll just assume that’s what you do when it’s just the two of you alone as well.”
Biting back the urge to remind him that it was Barbara who’d instigated their last public display of affection, Helena merely nodded, then continued her exodus as quickly as possible, wondering distractedly how she could manage to attract such an inordinate amount of trouble in such a relatively small amount of time. Though, she mused, she should be used to it by now.
“Well, that certainly took long enough,” Barbara crowed smugly when she returned, voice full of self-satisfaction and a smirk etched across her features.
Narrowing her eyes as she slumped down into a nearby chair, Helena said darkly, “Don’t even start with me, Barbara. You have no idea what all just happened.”
“Oh?” Barbara asked idly, snagging two glasses of champagne from a passing waiter’s tray.
“Yeah, no idea,” Helena muttered wearily. Then, pulling the card out of her purse where she’d stowed it during her confrontation with Jim Gordon, she murmured, “Do you know who Eleanor Paring is?”
“Eleanor Paring?” Barbara repeated, looking at her quizzically as she tried to process the change in subject. “Deputy Mayor Paring’s wife?”
Catching the eye of the woman in question, Barbara raised her champagne glass in a salute, receiving a smile and a wink in reply. Turning to look at Helena once more, bringing the glass to her lips for a sip, she nearly choked when the brunette drawled lazily, “Yeah, she cornered me in the bathroom and offered to be the PB&J in a you, me and her sandwich.”
“Pardon me?” Barbara sputtered, eyes watering as the highly carbonated champagne took a detour down the wrong set of pipes.
Chuckling gently at the other woman’s obvious disbelief and thoroughly enjoying Barbara’s look of near terror, Helena murmured wickedly, “She says she’s more than available, and wants to know if we could block out some time in our schedule for a threesome.”
Clearly horrified, Barbara scoffed, “No, she did not.”
“Oh yeah she did,” Helena hummed. “Apparently she’s been hot for you for years, and if she’d known you straddled the fence, so to speak, she’d have made her move already. Not that she seemed particularly upset at the prospect of a two for one deal.”
“Oh, my God,” Barbara whispered, mind flashing back to encounters she’d had with the woman over the years, easily uncovering all the barely hidden come-ons and proposals now that she knew what she was looking for. “What did you say?”
“Say?” Helena laughed, remembering the awkward scene. “I didn’t have a chance to say anything. She propositioned us, copped a feel and was gone before I could do a thing.”
One hand massaging her temples, Barbara looked up, voice weary, “That’s absolutely perfect. Now I’ll spend the next ten of these things trying to make sure she and I aren’t ever alone anywhere.”
“Well, if it’ll make you feel better, at least you don’t have to worry about your Dad. He gives us his blessing,” Helena said breezily, trying to keep her voice as light as possible in the hope that the meaning of her words wouldn’t quite hit until much, much later. Not that she should have expected Barbara to miss anything.
“I’m sorry… what did you just say?” the redhead asked, tone sharp as she did a double take.
“I tried, Barbara. I really did,” Helena offered plaintively before moving quickly into her explanation. “He caught me coming out of the bathroom, offered his approval, threatened to do any number of unspoken but probably unpleasant things to me should I ever hurt you, and told me to keep my hands to myself so he could continue to imagine you as the virginal little princess he knows you are.”
“He said all that?” Barbara asked dryly.
“Well,” Helena said, flushing, “maybe not in those exact words, but I’m just stripping off the polite and giving you the ‘what he really meant’ version.”
One brow arching in what would have been sarcasm if an eyebrow could possess it, Barbara said wryly, “And you told him the truth, I’m sure. You completely disabused him of the notion that we’re anything more than friends.”
Shoulders drooping, Helena muttered, “Well, I tried. But then he thought I was just playing around with you and man, did he not like that idea. I mean, really, really did not like that idea. And come on, Barbara… you’d just practically licked my tonsils in front of God and everybody, so what could I say?”
Blushing bright red at the reminder of their second kiss, the one initiated by her and decidedly the more heated of the pair, Barbara could only manage a strangled, “So, I take it he didn’t quite believe you.”
“Not at all,” Helena drawled, well aware of the understatement contained in her words. “And, I’m not going to be the one to explain it to him. You’re going to have to do that, Barbara. I was one second away from being arrested for messing with his precious daughter as it was.”
“You’re the one who got us into this,” Barbara pointed out reasonably, much to Helena’s chagrin.
“Maybe,” she admitted ruefully, “but it’s since spiraled wildly out of my control. I refuse to be held responsible for anything other than my initial error in judgment. You had as much of a hand in the mess it’s become as I did.”
Barbara would have argued the point, but for once, Helena was right.
Looking around, a bit worried at the brunette’s prolonged absence, Barbara barely managed to stifle a groan as she caught sight of Helena. There was a pained expression on her face, as well there should be, Barbara imagined, because she’d been rather effectively snared by perhaps the biggest gossip in all of New Gotham.
“…and you’re a bartender?”
Catching only the last few words of the sentence was enough to let her know that Eliza Lockby was well on her way to painfully excising each and every one of Helena’s secrets. So, considering it little more than a rescue mission, Barbara made her way over to Helena’s side, one hand sliding across her bare back possessively. Unfortunately, Barbara hadn’t considered the prospect it would continue to slide under the loose drape of fabric, and she quite suddenly found her hand curled around Helena’s side, fingertips pressed intimately against her abdomen, with no way to pull back without making a scene of it.
Helena squeaked in surprise as cold fingers slid across her skin, then nearly moaned when she realized the hand currently warming to meet her body temperature belonged to Barbara. Sucking in her breath at the accidental scrape of short nails against her belly, she looked down in surprise just in time to catch Barbara’s perplexed expression, and smirked as she realized the other woman’s caress had been entirely accidental despite the fact it left her quite thoroughly trapped. In fact, determined to keep it so, Helena laid her hand over Barbara’s, trapping it between the silky fabric of her dress and the even softer skin beneath it, extremely aware of the slow flush that was making its way up the other woman’s cheeks.
“That’s right,” Helena drawled, leaning over slightly to give Barbara a quick peck on the cheek. “Barbara tells me she doesn’t want me to work, but I can’t be an entirely kept woman,” she added with a mischievous smirk, eyebrows wiggling almost imperceptibly at the glare her words elicited.
Eliza trilled at the comment, drawing a sickly sweet smile from Barbara and a self-satisfied grin from Helena. “Well of course not, dear girl,” Eliza said smugly, sparing Barbara a tight smile. “I’ve known Miss Gordon long enough to know she wouldn’t be taken in by a freeloader, even one with youth and beauty on her side. Clearly you possess a plethora of hidden talents, and I have no doubt you put every single one of them to good use keeping the money flowing in… at your job as a bartender, of course.”
Eyes narrowing slightly at the barely veiled dig, Barbara said slyly “Oh, it’s not that so much as my frustration when she comes home from work too tired to properly… talk. I do so love a good… chat.” Stifling a laugh as she heard Helena’s outraged huff, she looked up at the other woman, one arched brow letting her know she wasn’t about to be a passive participant in the game afoot.
“But, honey,” Helena shot back sweetly, not to be bested, “you remember what the doctor said that last time. I need a break every once in a while. If I didn’t work, you’d probably talk me ragged.”
Nearly choking, fully aware that Eliza Lockby was watching with a kind of amazed fascination, Barbara tugged Helena to her with a quick pull, teeth gritted as she smiled.
“Oh my,” Eliza gasped, clearly enthralled. “Apparently youth can’t quite keep up with experience. You are awfully young, dear girl. Aren’t you?”
“Twenty-three,” Helena chirped brightly, ignoring Barbara’s new-found smirk.
“Indeed,” Eliza murmured, eyeing Helena speculatively. “And, you are a bit on the scrawny side, dear. You’re not one of those anorexic girls, are you?”
Mouth hanging open in shock, Helena found herself completely speechless as Barbara broke into laughter, fingertips pressing lightly into the belly in question. “No, she’s actually quite the voracious eater,” Barbara said affectionately, then blushed bright red at the highly pleased smirk Helena sent her way, the alternate interpretation her words might have not hitting her completely until that moment.
Devilish expression on her face, Helena drawled, “How could I not be, when everything is always so very…”
“Dinner!” Barbara broke in, voice high with panic. “I think it’s time for dinner now. We’ve got to go, Eliza. So sorry, but we’ll chat later, I’m sure.”
Delicately recovering her hand from its resting place, Barbara cocked an expectant brow at Helena as she spun her chair around and headed for one of the circular tables dotting the main floor of the ballroom. Chuckling at herself as she followed obediently, Helena trailed along behind the redhead, only stepping forward to whisk a chair away when Barbara selected a table. A quick glance at a passing server and the chair disappeared, leaving Barbara to ease into place with as little fanfare as was possible. Sliding into a seat beside her, Helena risked a quick look down at the formal place setting before her with a tinge of dread, mentally taking a moment to review every single etiquette lesson she’d ever had. Salt and pepper passed together, butter from the dish spooned onto her plate so she didn’t have to return for seconds, dab her lips with her napkin before each sip from the glass in front of her… all of it swirled around in her head and she sighed, certain she’d slip up eventually.
Before she could even speak, a silver-domed dish was twirled into place with a flourish, the top removed in a cloud of steam. Dinner appeared to be chicken in an indefinable but undoubtedly rich sauce, green beans with almond slivers, and some type of multi-colored pasta. Typical banquet fare… bordering on fancy, but able to be mass produced.
“Make sure you eat up,” Barbara murmured, voice pitched low enough so that only Helena could hear. “Wouldn’t want people to keep on thinking I’m starving you.”
Shooting the other woman an angry glare, Helena said haughtily, “Oh, that’s hilarious. Absolutely hilarious. Side-splitting, in fact. Do you happen to know where my spleen would be, cause I think it might’ve just burst. Should be easy to find, since I’m so scrawny and all.” At Barbara’s amused smirk, she sat back against her chair, arms crossed over her chest as she huffed, “You know what… go ahead and make fun of me, Barbara. I don’t care. But, just wait and see if I help out when you have to explain to dear old dad just what kind of kinky sex games you’re into if they require me to partake of a doctor’s care.”
Helena paused a second to let her words sink in, then smiled mischievously. “Oh, what’s that? You mean you couldn’t see that Lockby lady standing over by Commissioner Gordon? Ooh, he’s looking a little shocked. You want me to tell him how you’re not a good girl? Because, you know, I was thinking you were earlier, but now I’m not so sure. You rode a motorcycle, you say? I’d have to say that makes you definitely not a good girl. No, you’re a bad girl. A bad, bad girl.”
Horrified, Barbara twisted in her chair, searching frantically for her father. “She is not talking to him,” she hissed, unable to find either of the people she was looking for and feeling herself start to panic. There were things she didn’t want her father doing, and speculating on her bedroom behaviors was one of them, even if Helena had made the whole thing up. Especially because Helena had made the whole thing up. Being accused of things she didn’t even get to enjoy first… No, wait, she chastised herself. Not things she didn’t get to enjoy. Things she’d never done, and would never do and had never even thought about doing, not even when she gave her conscience the night off.
Thoroughly enjoying the other woman’s near hysteria, Helena smiled smugly. “Nah, but watching you have a panic attack was kind of funny.”
Eyes narrowing, Barbara turned dark green eyes gone cold as steel in Helena’s direction, jaw clenching. “Helena Kyle, I swear to God, if my father comes out of this thinking I’m some kind of perverted sex freak, I’ll…”
“Hey! Barbara Gordon? Is that you?”
The overly excited words broke into the redhead’s soon to be quite vicious threat, and Helena watched with amusement as the other woman’s scowl disappeared in an instant. Instead of the glower that had been present only seconds earlier, her face was open and friendly, lips parted sweetly in a smile of greeting. “Hello,” she said calmly, looking up as a few more table mates joined them.
“Malcolm Moore,” the enthusiastic man was saying, sliding into the chair alongside Barbara’s, and Helena divided her attention between the two, trying to get a read on the situation before deciding whether to jump in or to let the other woman handle this new annoyance on her own.
A wave of recognition washed over Barbara as she put the name and the face together, and it was all she could do to hold back a cringe. Instead, her smile turned politely fake, face almost frozen in a pantomime of the cordial greeting. “Malcolm,” she breathed, the first hint of a sigh escaping before she could catch it. “I haven’t seen you since high school. How have you been?”
As Malcolm launched into a complete run-down of his life since their time together at Gotham High, Helena studied the man. He was handsome, in that boring way that any number of men were handsome. Dark hair curled over a tanned forehead, hazel eyes twinkled as he animatedly recounted some adventure, and lips that needed to be fuller before reaching pretty stayed twisted up in a continual smile. He had dimples, though not ones nearly as deep or attractive as her own, Helena decided, and a fairly nice athletic body hidden underneath his tux. Overall, he seemed like an okay guy, but apparently Barbara was less than thrilled at his appearance, because she had her head tilted forward and to the side as if she were paying rapt attention to the man’s words, but she’d leaned away from the table, back toward her chair and Helena in a move the brunette could only feel a little smug about. The redhead was nodding and making all the appropriate conversational noises, but after knowing Barbara for as long as she had, Helena was clearly able to make out the slight tinge of frustration barely covered by a thin veil of etiquette and social awareness.
“…and so now I’m working in the tax division at Kinney, Smallcut & Klein. The city’s contracted us to handle most of their financial stuff, but the free dinner doesn’t hurt. I know, I know… you’re going to tell me I never seemed like the corporate shark type. And yes, most of the guys working in tax hate it so don’t even start, but I love it. Absolutely love it, can’t imagine doing anything but it. I mean, I just got back from Japan. Nippon, as the natives call it,” he said in a faux-intellectual voice, and Helena couldn’t help but look at him as if he were an idiot, wondering if she’d come back to the conversation too late, because if he’d been spouting off drivel like that the whole time, she’d missed a great opportunity to observe a true moron in action. “You can’t even begin to imagine what they want you to eat over there, though. And it’s so crowded! All these tiny little people walking around trying to eat rice with chopsticks, as if we didn’t invent a perfectly good and much more useful utensil called a fork over here in the West. And they don’t even bother to cook the fish. Yeah, I know ‘sushi’ is all the rage, or whatever, but come on…”
Voice strained, jaw nearly cemented in place in an effort to keep the smile from slipping, Barbara broke in, fingers of one hand entwining around Helena’s with such strength that the brunette almost winced. “Malcolm, I don’t think I had the opportunity to introduce you to my date. Helena Kyle, this is Malcolm Moore. Malcolm, Helena Kyle.”
“Date?” Malcolm echoed, a slight look of bewilderment inching across his face as his one man monologue ended abruptly, and Helena could only hope the shocked speechlessness lasted. It was a rather pleasant reprieve, after all.
So, smiling, she turned his way, waving slightly. “Pleasure to meet you, Malcolm,” she chirped, leaning closer to Barbara’s chair until their upper arms were pressed together, a picture of solidarity.
Still trying to muddle through what he’d been told, Malcolm frowned, looking from Barbara to Helena and back again. “Date?” he asked again, this time with a little bit more disbelief thrown in the mix.
“Date,” Barbara confirmed, repressing the urge to smirk, insanely pleased she’d managed to derail her tablemate.
A look of dawning comprehension slowly spread over Malcolm’s face, starting with raised eyebrows and ending with a huge grin. “Well, of course. It makes so much sense now. That’s why you’d never go out with me back in high school. You were into girls,” he said triumphantly, earning a snort of amusement from Helena.
“Because how could I have resisted your overwhelming charm otherwise,” Barbara murmured drolly, though the sarcasm in her voice might as well have been a Boeing 757 considering the distance between it and the top of Malcolm’s head.
Head bobbing in understanding as if he’d discovered a very special secret, Malcolm said thoughtfully, “I always knew it had to be something. Never would’ve guessed, though. No offense, but you always seemed a little, I don’t know… tame.”
“Tame?” Barbara repeated, vaguely outraged as she shot a chuckling Helena a glare. Unsure why she was so rankled over the implication that she was the antithesis of experimental or wild, first by Helena and now by a man she’d rather shoot than have to converse with on a regular basis, she tried desperately to shake the irritation. Growing frustrated with herself when she failed, already disgusted by the pleading tone she knew would be in her voice before she even spoke, she nonetheless said plaintively, “I’m not tame. Helena, tell him.”
“She’s not tame,” Helena said dryly, thoroughly enjoying Barbara’s small fit of vanity. She wasn’t entirely sure why it was so important to the other woman that she not be seen as the calm, steadfast and stoic individual everyone knew she was, but she wasn’t about to let the opportunity pass without taking full advantage of it. “You could kiss me again. That seemed to work the last time,” she added helpfully.
“I used to ride a motorcycle,” Barbara muttered peevishly, rolling her eyes at herself as she snatched up her fork, fully giving in to a fit of pique.
Eyeing the redhead with faux sympathy, Helena reached out, patting Barbara on the forearm. “We know you did,” she said tritely, biting down on her bottom lip to keep from smiling. “And Lord knows that if we weren’t in public and in mixed company and I could talk about the things you do to me when we… well, never mind that part of it, Malcolm.”
Trying in vain to look disinterested, Malcolm leaned forward, voice nonchalant as he said, “No need to stand on ceremony. Barbara and I go way back. You were saying?”
Giving the man a conspiratorial look, Helena leaned forward herself, licking her lips as she prepared to divulge secrets that didn’t exist. “You wouldn’t believe the things she can do with…”
“HELENA!” Barbara broke in, aghast, well aware that what had been a relatively uninteresting conversation between the three of them had, by that point, completely captivated the remainder of their dinner companions.
Looking every inch the innocent, Helena merely shrugged. “What?” she protested. “He said you were boring, Barbara. I was just trying to set him straight.”
Eyes narrowing, Barbara said, voice carefully neutral, “He didn’t say I was boring. He said I was tame.”
“Tame, boring… what’s the difference?” Helena scoffed. Then, changing tacks, she inched closer to the redhead, stopping only when she was nearly in Barbara’s lap. Voice low, pitched ostensibly only for the two of them but still loud enough to be heard around the table, she murmured, “I know you’ve got the buttoned down librarian thing going, and I’ll fully admit that you can work it like nobody else I know, but you’re so far from tame that it’s pathetic. It’s one of the things I love about you.”
Cocking a disbelieving eyebrow, Barbara merely murmured a highly unconvincing, “Uh-hmm,” and neatly sliced off a piece of her chicken, bringing it to her lips carefully. For her own part, Helena was so happy she’d managed to say that last part while keeping her tone light and as far from serious as she could manage that she felt like rewarding herself with a sip of champagne. Or really, an entire glass, just downed in a gulp.
Unfortunately, gulping champagne turned out to be a bad idea, because the bubbles all seemed to go down the wrong way and before she knew what was happening, Helena was choking and sputtering, and Barbara was patting her on the back and looking at her with concern. Eyes watering, Helena tried desperately to reclaim some small bit of her dignity, dabbing delicately at the corners of her mouth with her napkin, glaring at Malcolm when he smiled indulgently.
“You two are so cute together,” he said, looking vaguely love-struck, and Helena barely managed to suppress a groan.
“Dance with me.”
She said it impulsively, and when Barbara turned to glare at her, Helena wished she could take it back. She couldn’t though, because it was already out there, naked and freezing and begging to be taken in, and she was going to have to find some way to salvage it.
The look Barbara sent her way more than conveyed the redhead’s displeasure with the concept, and if Helena hadn’t picked up on that, the disdain in her voice was certainly an ample clue. “I would, but I left my dancing shoes back at the Clocktower,” Barbara shot back sarcastically, eyes narrowing. “Maybe you hadn’t noticed, but I’ve really let my waltzing skills get away from me lately.”
Sighing in frustration, Helena barely resisted the urge to run a hand through her hair. She couldn’t, though, because it’d taken nearly an hour to manage the meticulously mussed look she was sporting, and there was no way in Hell she was going to undo it on her own. “Why don’t you just trust me on this and say yes,” she said instead, tone slightly belligerent, lower lip poking out in the beginning of a pout.
“I don’t know,” Barbara pretended to muse, voice full of syrupy sarcasm. “Maybe because I generally try to avoid public embarrassment? Call it a silly little quirk, but I prefer not to flaunt my flaws in front of a room full of people.”
“It’s a silly little quirk,” Helena shot back, sticking her tongue out at the irritated look sent her way. It was enough to break through Barbara’s angry veneer, because even as she rolled her eyes, the redhead laughed, the sound loud and clear and music to Helena’s ears. “So, how about you can this ‘I can’t do it’ talk and dance with me.”
Standing, holding out her hand in expectation of Barbara’s agreement, Helena looked at her with puppy dog longing in her eyes, and the other woman felt almost as if she were about to deny a three year old a popsicle. So, instead of doing what her mind insisted was the logical thing, she gave in to the cajoling with something akin to resignation, eschewing Helena’s hand in favor of leading her out to the dance floor, shoulders stiffening against the awkward moment she could already feel coming.
She stopped at the edge, barely on the dance floor and in a relatively secluded alcove and waited, one brow crooked in anticipation. Glancing around uncertainly, Helena scowled lightly, mind running through a stream of plans and disregarding them just as quickly. Sitting still, a look of almost bored acceptance on her face, Barbara waited for the other woman to figure out that her plan, if she’d ever had one, was destined to fail.
Brow scrunched in consternation, Helena took a moment to examine the problem from all sides, the slow, non-intrusive and muted contemporary dance music floating past her. “Put on the brakes,” she said, voice authoritative and final, feeling anxious and impatient, and wanting to do something that would divert attention away from Barbara and herself. She could feel a few of the other gala attendees watching her, wondering what the hell they were doing, and she didn’t want to fulfill Barbara’s expectations and merely embarrass them both.
Wary confusion etched clearly on her features, Barbara said slowly, “Excuse me?”
“Put on your brakes,” Helena said again, tone striving for nonchalant as she studiously avoided her own nervousness.
Despite her uncertainty, Barbara reached down slowly, securing the brakes on both wheels with dual flicks, effectively locking herself into place. And then, before she could even ask Helena what she was thinking, much less react, the other woman was draped across her lap, legs cross-ways over her own and arms wrapped tightly around her neck.
“There,” Helena murmured, settling into place and smiling smugly. “Much better. Don’t you think?”
“Uh, no?” Barbara sputtered, disconcerted. Helena’s dress and the design of her wheelchair forced the brunette to sit almost directly on top of her lap, body angled in toward her and legs wrapping back until they were tucked neatly against her own. The result was all of Helena burning itself into all of her, with the other woman’s head resting on her shoulder, warm breath ghosting against her neck. It was, to say the least, a highly intimate arrangement. She could only be glad that there were only a few other couples around to witness it, the area of the floor she had chosen obscured from view in large part by the room’s architecture and a few well placed plants.
Arching gently into Barbara, rubbing herself against the other woman discreetly, thoroughly entranced by the tiny shivers tracing their way through the red head’s body, Helena growled her dissension. “Sure it is, Barbara. You’ve just got to… relax.”
She drawled the last word, earning a mini-glare from the woman in question. “I am relaxed,” Barbara said stiffly, linking her arms loosely around Helena’s torso for lack of a better placement for them. A rather intimidating green-eyed glare prompted nearby dancers to shy away, leaving them with a little bit of room and a whole lot more privacy than they’d had before, but Barbara still couldn’t help shifting uncomfortably.
“Uh-hmm,” Helena murmured, amused disbelief echoing through her tone. “About as relaxed as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.”
Barbara snorted, caught off guard by the unexpectedly antiquated statement, her amusement seeping into her posture, softening it slightly. “What was that?”
“Something my mom used to say,” Helena whispered, voice tinged with sadness, arms tightening minutely around Barbara’s neck as if looking for comfort. Unbidden, Barbara felt herself give it. Felt herself tighten her grip ever so slightly, tilt her head to the side so feather soft hair was brushing along the line of her jaw, and wondered why it was she seemed to be setting herself up for heartbreak and disappointment. She was allowing herself liberties she’d sworn never to take, was abusing a friendship built on so many interweaving layers of trust and dependency that to sever one would be to start the inevitable unraveling of the rest. Or, more simply, she was letting a supposedly repressed libido guide her actions, and not for the good.
Instead of mentioning what she thought had to be painfully obvious, Barbara steered the conversation in a different direction, looking down at their arrangement with amusement before saying softly, “So, you call this dancing?”
Looking up briefly, blue eyes swimming with a thousand emotions Barbara didn’t possess the skills to interpret, Helena nodded, a half-smile ghosting past her lips. “I do,” she replied, bemused. “I mean, we can sway a little if it’d make you feel better, but I’m pretty happy just like this.”
There was something in Helena’s easy smile, in the sheen of intimacy surrounding them because, as if she’d been magnetized, Barbara found herself unable to pull away even as the ever reserved part of her brain started to panic. Helena’s lips were centimeters away from her own, eyes rapidly darkening, and even though she knew she had to be telegraphing things she’d rather keep private, Barbara didn’t do anything but watch as Helena moved forward slowly, hesitantly, as if she were just waiting for the moment when she’d be rebuffed. The moment didn’t come, even though Barbara knew that if she allowed the lips destined for hers to connect, that this time would be different. This time wouldn’t be for shock-value or because anyone had something to prove. This time it would be because she wanted it, and because Helena wanted it, and because for once, they’d managed to forget about the three-foot thick brick wall usually separating them.
The first touch was teasing, nothing more than a gentle, hesitant brush of lips together, but as soon as Barbara felt the slight hitch of breath, the sudden stillness of a body almost constantly in motion, everything fell away but the two of them. There was no music, no muted chatter, and no bodies shuffling together. There was only Helena and herself, darting forward and meeting awkwardly, mouths parting for curious tongues. It was unsure and beautiful, slow and soft and sweet, and Barbara wanted to cry. Cry because it was so good she knew there was no going back, because it was a perfect, magical moment that would undoubtedly thwart future reproduction, because it promised everything she didn’t think she could ever have.
After a long while, Helena pulled back, breathing shakily and blue eyes wide and scared, the tip of her tongue repeatedly tracing the contour of her bottom lip as if she couldn’t get enough of Barbara’s taste. Everything rushed back into focus in the blink of an eye when they parted, and she was suddenly trapped in a jumble of noise and stimulation, with jarring laughter and overly loud conversations attacking her from the crowd just barely out of sight. Shrinking away from the assault, she focused on Barbara’s face, watching the minute changes in expression trace across the other woman’s sharply defined features. She couldn’t interpret them, because Barbara was hard to read at the best of times, and nearly impossible when she was guarded.
“Hey Barbara,” she said nervously, voice muted and eyes flitting off the side, arms tightening convulsively around the other woman’s shoulders, “you think you might want to go out on a real date sometime. I mean, now that our secret love affair has been exposed and all.”
“A real date?” Barbara drawled, voice low and heavy as it husked across the inches separating them, amused disbelief coloring her words, eyes unfocused and heart beating so rapidly she could only assume Helena could hear it. She was nervous, mind scrambling back to her automatic default, hiding her thoughts and feelings behind a wall of detached sarcasm for lack of a better way to cope with her discomfort and awkward uneasiness. “Because this has gone so well.”
Looking slightly chagrined, Helena’s struggled to keep herself from blushing. Failing miserably, she shifted uncomfortably, voice meek as she allowed, “So maybe a few of the people here think you’re into kinky sex and half of New Gotham is convinced you’ve been banging me since I was a sophomore in high school, but other than that, it was fun, right? You had a good time, didn’t you?”
Rolling her eyes, exasperated sigh sneaking past her lips, Barbara nonetheless nodded. “I guess I did,” she said slowly, as if not quite sure she even believed herself. “My reputation may never recover, but it was probably the most fun I’ve had at one of these things in years.”
One eyebrow cocked, hiding her uncertainty behind a front of confidence and bravado, Helena murmured arrogantly, “Oh, I’d say I did nothing but good for your reputation, Barbara. Let’s see anybody try to call you tame now.”
Chuckling ruefully, Barbara said, voice amused, “You may well have a point there. Though, I can’t say I wanted to go from tame to despoiler of innocents in one night.”
Snorting, genuinely amused at that, Helena teased, “You mean you’ve been despoiling other innocents? Because, you know, innocents would connote more than one, and I was under the impression that I was the only despoilee to graduate from the Barbara Gordon School of Virtue Tarnishing.”
Giving Helena a look that left no doubt as to her opinion of the other woman’s previous statement, Barbara asked suspiciously, “Just how many glasses of champagne did you have?” Then, without bothering to wait for an answer, she muttered, “Never mind. Plenty, obviously… despoilee indeed.”
Shrugging her shoulders in innocence, Helena suddenly turned shy once more, eyes skittering down to rest on her lap. “I’m not drunk,” she said quietly, a blush already darkening her features. “And you never did answer my question.”
“Sure I did,” the Barbara replied lightly, though there was a hint of strain in her voice. “I told you I had a good time, even if I may never be able to look my father in the eyes again.”
Clearing her throat, turning her head to the side and focusing blindly on a rather boring stretch of wall, Helena corrected softly, “No, you never told me if you’d do this again. Go out on a date, I mean. With me,” she clarified quickly, not wanting there to be any room for maneuvering on Barbara’s part.
Sighing wearily, Barbara slumped back against her chair, watching the way Helena’s jaw tightened at the move. The other woman might as well have been a statue, and for a moment, the redhead wondered if Helena was even breathing at all. “Why would you ask me that?” she asked, tone somewhat resigned, a hint of self-mockery seeping into her words.
Head snapping around, Helena stared at Barbara with wide, confused eyes. “Why?” she echoed faintly, brows jerking inward rapidly as she struggled to understand the question. “Why would I want to go out with you on a more than friends basis, or why would I bother asking such an obviously ridiculous question? Which is it, Barbara?”
“Helena,” Barbara said lowly, warning clear in her tone even as darkening green eyes flashed with a hint of anger.
Deflating slightly, Helena slumped into Barbara once more, deftly burying her head in the other woman’s shoulder. “Never mind,” she muttered, willing herself to rein in her ire.
Shaking her head softly, Barbara sighed. “No, there’s no never mind here. You brought it up, now you’ve got to deal with it.”
“I was trying to deal with it,” Helena pointed out gruffly, not relinquishing her place. She thought that perhaps it wasn’t the best thing to do, to physically plaster herself to the woman who’d just effectively turned her down, but it seemed infinitely more attractive than actually facing Barbara, so she didn’t bother to move.
Wriggling uncomfortably in her chair, wishing she could see Helena’s eyes and wanting nothing more than to detach herself from the distracting heat of the other woman’s body so she could think in some kind of coherent fashion, Barbara said absently, “No, you were going on the defensive, two steps away from making a scene.”
“Only because you put me there,” the brunette retorted, exhaling heavily, her breath burning hot against the side of Barbara’s neck. “Come on, Barbara. Can’t I just do something because I want to? Can’t I just want you?”
Sounding thoroughly miffed, Barbara shot back, voice low and restrained, “No, you can’t. You can’t just want me and…”
“And what?” Helena prompted softly when Barbara’s words trailed off, peeking up once more, focusing intently on the red head’s eyes. They were sad, much like the woman herself.
Voice hoarse, Barbara rasped painfully, “And expect me to be okay with the fact that you want to turn our relationship on its head and threaten everything we’ve built together. You can’t play with me like you do all of your other toys, Helena. Think about it… you get tired of me, and then what happens?”
Miffed herself, Helena straightened, shoulders and back going stiff. “I wasn’t the only one doing the kissing tonight, Barbara. Besides, that’s a little pessimistic, don’t you think?” she accused, voice subdued.
Barbara laughed, the sound short and unpleasant. “Hardly. It’s realistic, Helena. How long have I know you?”
“Nine years,” the brunette allowed grudgingly, not liking the linear path she could see Barbara plotting.
“Uh-hmm,” the other woman hummed. “And in that time, I’ve seen you pick people up without much thought for anything other than what they can do for you, and then throw them away like they don’t even matter. Which only makes sense, because they don’t matter to you, Helena. Give you two days, and you’ll be bored. But, I’m not like those other people. You can’t throw me away, not without throwing everything else away along with me.”
“But I wouldn’t do that,” Helena whispered plaintively, voice caught between a plead and a whine. “Not to you. You’re different.”
Smiling sadly, Barbara said softly, “No I’m not, Hel. Maybe you want to think so. Maybe you’ve even convinced yourself you believe that, but I know better.”
“I thought you were a scientist, Barbara,” Helena replied, voice wistful, posture limp with regret.
Brows drawing inward in confusion, Barbara murmured, “And what does that have to do with this?”
“Scientists never make conclusions without fact to back them up. It’s what’s called an empirical question, isn’t it? When you try to find out what you can’t already know the answer to,” the brunette said slowly, eyes heavily lidded as she watched the emotions trace across Barbara’s face. Noting the tensing of the other woman’s jaw, her mouth opening to refute Helena’s words, the brunette broke in, beating Barbara to her dismissal. “We both know what you do with an empirical question, Barbara. You…”
“…test it,” the other woman finished softly, shaking her head wryly. “But, maybe this isn’t an avenue of research I want to explore,” she countered, smiling ruefully. “Maybe I’m content to let it remain a mystery.”
Laughing bitterly, Helena pushed herself up off of Barbara’s lap to stand, straightening her dress as she looked down at the other woman. “Coward,” she taunted, though the word was said so softly Barbara knew no one else had heard. “You’re just scared, Barbara, and your lack of faith in me is insulting. I’ve been out on the streets for you for, what… four, almost five years? Maybe I don’t always do things the way you want me to do them, but I always get my job done. Hell, this is the first night off I’ve had in months, and I spent it with you because I wanted to, no other reason. Maybe I was wrong for thinking you might want to spend your night off with me too. Or, maybe I was stupid for thinking you’d ever see me as anything more than just some kid. I’ve got to say, though, it’s not fair for you to kiss me like it’s a promise you already know you’re not going to keep. Give me that much respect, at least.”
“I do respect you,” Barbara protested, voice low and intense.
Smiling sadly, Helena shook her head. “No you don’t, Barbara. Strip down the fancy words, and you said it yourself. You don’t respect me, and you sure as hell don’t trust me.”
“You’re taking things out of context,” Barbara accused, scowling, voice a hot whisper. “I trust you with everything, Helena. You know that.”
Gentle, defeated acceptance in her eyes, Helena sighed. “No, you don’t. You don’t trust me with yourself, and that’s really the only trust I want.”
“Barbara?” Jim Gordon’s voice broke in with a boom, drawing Helena and Barbara’s attention. The tension between them jumped out at him immediately, and he narrowed his eyes in contemplation. “You girls aren’t arguing, are you?”
Turning, voice weary, Helena murmured, “No, not arguing. If we’d ever really been together, I guess this would be us breaking up.”
Scratching his head, puzzlement clear in his eyes, Jim muttered, “But I just saw you two dancing. She never danced with that jackass Dick.”
“Daddy!” Barbara exclaimed with horrified embarrassment. “Dick was not a jackass. I just never wanted to dance with him.”
Sly look creeping across his face, Jim said, “But you wanted to dance with Helena, eh. Makes sense to me… she’s a helluva lot prettier than him.”
Blushing bright red under her father’s knowing gaze, even if she was quite sure he didn’t know what he thought he knew, Barbara said, voice strangled, “I appreciate the parental interference in my love life, Dad, I really do, but if you don’t mind, maybe Helena and I can sort this out on our own. I promise we can manage.”
“No offense, Barbara honey,” he said kindly, eyes twinkling as he tugged on Helena’s arm, drawing her back toward the space at the now empty table they’d recently vacated, “but I somehow doubt that. I’ve been watching the two of you tonight, and this is what I think. I think you,” he said, pointing menacingly at Helena, “weren’t lying when you said you two weren’t really together, but you weren’t lying when you said you and she were in love, either. Or, at the very least you’re in love with my daughter. Anyone with half a brain and one eye closed could see that, which means she’ll probably never believe you.”
“Hey,” Barbara protested, not quite sure she liked the correlation to be drawn between her father’s description and what it implied about her.
Chuckling, ignoring Helena’s smirk, Jim said, “Oh, you’ve probably got a brain and a half stored up there, but you’re still clueless, honey. Now, I might not know much about what’s really going on between the two of you, but I know what I’ve seen, and since I spent most of my professional career watching people, I think I’m capable of translating. Helena here is crazy about you, and you’re crazy about her, and I don’t know if she’s ever let you know about it before, but she sure as hell did tonight. And you let her think she knew for sure you were crazy about her too, but not for too long. You couldn’t, not with this,” he said, reaching out to tap Barbara’s forehead gently before dropping his fingers to do the same to her chest, “telling this it was wrong. So, you just stomped all over her, and told yourself you were doing the right thing. Am I close?”
Voice perilously close to a whine, Barbara said, “Dad, why can’t you just be upset over the prospect that I may be gay like other normal parents would be, and go away and leave us alone to our perversion.”
Rolling his eyes, Jim sighed. “Resign yourself to the fact that I’m loving, caring, understanding and supportive of you, no matter what you do. Even if it is being in love with a girl who doesn’t have enough sense to buy a whole dress.”
Now outraged herself, Helena piped in with a “Hey!” of her own, before returning to her previous activity of sulking and trying desperately to pretend like she wasn’t interested in Barbara’s reaction.
Her own eyes now sparkling with barely repressed mirth, Barbara said slowly, “It’s a very nice dress, Dad. Helena told me so herself.”
“You’re not going to get me off track,” Jim said, voice chiding, “no matter how much you try. I haven’t gotten to meddle in a long time, and I refuse to be denied.”
“I think you should let him meddle,” Helena intoned solemnly, still slightly upset with the dress comment, but not enough so to sabotage her parentally induced chances of having Barbara see the error of her ways.
Throwing her hands up in slightly over-exaggerated disgust, Barbara pouted. “So fine. Go ahead and meddle, Dad. Stick your nose where it doesn’t belong, do irreparable damage to my personal life. It’s okay. I don’t mind… really.”
Chuckling once more, Jim said lightly, “Oh, precious as you are right now, you’re still not going to get away with it.”
Barbara blushed at that and Helena laughed, earning her a scowl from the reddening redhead. “All empty, idle threats,” she said airily. “Dad, your concern has been noted, your opinion taken under advisement, and your presence here is no longer needed.”
“Maybe,” Jim said, smiling broadly, “but I expect to see you three Sundays from now. That gives you two whole weeks to work something out and report back, at which point you’re going to explain everything to me in copious detail over lunch.”
“Copious detail?” Helena chimed in slyly, snorting, mind obviously having instantly derailed itself to head straight down the gutter. It earned her another scowl, this one from Jim, and in the face of two scowling Gordon’s, she cowered slightly. “Right, lunch. Great idea,” she said quickly in an attempt to divert attention away from her apparent faux pas.
Seeing agreement as the quick, albeit messy, solution to getting her father away from the conversation and what appeared to be her landmine of a love life, Barbara nodded too, eyes solemn and innocent as she said, “Lunch. I’ll see you then, Dad, and I certainly appreciate your offer to buy.”
Cocking a single brow at that, Jim decided it was in the best interests of all involved to let it go. If it meant Barbara finally having a life beyond all of the things she did that he preferred to remain a bit hazy about, then he was sure his charge card could handle it. “It’s a date,” he said, voice just a few inches shy of being too serious, then gave them both a dapper smile and made his way back into the crowd, leaving two slightly shell-shocked women behind.
“You’ve got a date with your Dad,” Helena whispered finally, smiling softly. Truth be told, she liked Jim Gordon, even if she never really had gotten a chance to spend much time with him. He seemed like everything a father should be… kind, caring, open, funny, and, most importantly, there.
Shooting Helena a dubious look, Barbara stopped short of saying anything too cutting, surprised by the look of wistful longing on the brunette’s face. Instead, she closed her mouth completely and sighed. Things had, to put it mildly, spiraled wildly out of her control, and now she was faced with a multitude of uncertainties. It would have been better if she could have just retreated back into the relative safety and solitude of the Clocktower, but she couldn’t. Not with Helena there, looking at her with shy and expectant eyes, and not with her father letting her know gently but firmly that he knew her well enough to know she was on the verge of making what he obviously considered a mistake. Though, why he’d decided he liked Helena and why he’d made such an effort to ensure that Barbara knew he liked her and that he supported a relationship between the two of them, she didn’t know. He’d only ever been slightly more than cordial with Dick who, when seen objectively, should have been every parent’s dream date for their child. Good looking, wealthy, nice, with that aw’ shucks charm pouring off of him in waves, but yet for some reason, her Dad had taken to Helena like a long-lost child while managing to discount Dick and all of his relative merits.
She felt a soft tapping on her forearm, pulling her from her musings, and looked down to see Helena poking her gently, obviously trying to get her attention. “Yes?” she asked, tone slightly aloof, though more from her momentary disconnectedness than anything else.
Looking away nervously, once again feeling as if she might throw up, Helena said hesitantly, “So, maybe you might change you mind?”
Brows lowering in thought, Barbara said slowly, “About going out with you… is that what you mean?”
Nodding, eyes flicking nervously between Barbara and the startling gleam of the silverware scattered around the table, Helena managed an uncertain, confirming smile.
Sighing deeply, Barbara shifted uncomfortably in her chair. “I still don’t think it’s a good idea,” she said sadly, wincing as Helena turned away from her quickly, presenting her with the rigid outline of stiff shoulders. “But,” she added, pausing to lick suddenly dry lips, “I’ll do it.”
Whirling around quickly, a half-smile teasing across her face, Helena looked up at Barbara from under lowered lashes, irrepressibly happy with herself. “Tuesday,” she said, tone firm. “We’re doing something Tuesday. No backing out allowed.”
Looking slightly alarmed, Barbara said, “Tuesday? But that’s a weeknight.”
“What?” Helena asked, somewhat aggrieved. “It’s not like I’ll be keeping you out past your bedtime. We’ll do something early, I’ll make a late sweep, the world won’t end and the earth will continue to rotate on its axis. I’ve only got two weeks as it is.”
Rolling her eyes, Barbara chuckled. “Worried about having to report back to my Dad?”
“No,” Helena shot back, a little too quickly for it to be believable. “Not completely. Maybe I’m just impatient.”
“Or maybe you’re worried I won’t succumb to your charms,” Barbara teased gently, feeling more at ease with the return of their banter. The conversational give and take had been something the two of them had always excelled at, and falling back into it removed some of the anxiety she’d been feeling since… well, she couldn’t even remember when the anxiety had started. After all, there had been so many anxiety-provoking events in the past few years that it was really too difficult to pick and choose.
Grinning arrogantly, Helena leaned forward until she was mere millimeters away from Barbara, her lips so close they almost brushed the other woman’s. “Trust me, that’s the least of my worries,” she rasped, delighting in the blush that followed.
The tapping pulled Barbara away from her blind contemplation of the Delphi screen in front of her, drawing her attention over to the general vicinity of the balcony doors. She’d been reading, or at least trying to read, because pretending to go about her day as if it were a normal day was the only way she was able to get anything accomplished at all. But, it wasn’t a normal day, and she really hadn’t gotten anything accomplished other than the rather spectacular mess she’d made in her bedroom while trying to decide what to wear. In the end, she’d settled on unrelenting black because it was a color that hid all flaws, and she’d been feeling uncharacteristically self-conscious. So, as a result, she was itching beneath the wool of her vee-neck sweater, cursing herself for falling victim to the whims of fashion for perhaps only the second time in her life. The first would have had to have been her senior prom, and the memories were so vile she’d only recently managed to explore them again.
Realizing she’d once again managed to lose herself in thought, Barbara again looked for the source of the tapping. It was becoming progressively louder, sounding almost like a knock, and she gave a hard push on the wheels of her chair, sliding down the ramp leading up to her workstation and on to the Clocktower’s main floor. A quick glance confirmed her initial assessment of the locus of the noise, and with a look of confusion, she rolled over to the balcony doors.
“Did you forget the code?” she asked, looking at Helena through the thick, bulletproof glass.
Rolling her eyes, Helena reached over, keying in the code and letting herself in. “No. I just thought I’d do things the normal way. You know, come to your house, knock on the door, bring you flowers,” she added, whipping out a small bundle of hibiscuses, the enormous bright red, yellow, and orange flowers a shocking contrast to the unrelenting black of her outfit.
“Oh,” Barbara murmured, clearly startled. “You brought me flowers?”
“Yeah. You should have seen me trying to climb up the wall with those things. Sorry if they’re a little crumpled,” Helena replied apologetically, shrugging her shoulders as if to give physical voice to her haplessness. Then, sarcasm edging lightly into her tone, she asked, “Isn’t it a little early in the relationship to start dressing alike?”
Still fixated on the flowers, it took Barbara a moment to realize that Helena was speaking to her. When she did, she looked down, blushing. “Oh, I should have known… I mean, I can change…”
Mesmerized by the other woman’s uncharacteristic awkwardness, Helena smiled, leaning down to place a gentle kiss on her lips, bringing the jumbled train wreck of words to a screeching halt. “Don’t,” she said softly, lips curling up in a half smile. “You look pretty damn hot, if you don’t mind me saying so.”
One hand waving wildly in the air between them, feeling unreasonably flustered, Barbara stammered, “I’m not used to all this… stuff… between us.”
“Stuff?” Helena repeated, clearly amused. “You mean like me doing this?”
Seconds after asking, she was kissing Barbara again, lips soft and undemanding. She didn’t want to press for too much and scare the other woman away, though objectively she knew even the slight contact she’d initiated was probably leading Barbara toward a major freak out. But, she didn’t want things to fall into their usual pattern either, that of friendship and nothing more. She wanted to keep Barbara off balance, to show her the contours she wanted their new arrangement to adopt. And, it didn’t really hurt that she wanted to kiss Barbara anyway, had been dying to do so since she was a teenager, and was taking full advantage of her ability to make it happen.
When she pulled back, Helena was intolerably proud of the fact that Barbara remained as she’d left her, face tilted up and eyes closed, for just a second longer than normal, affording her a look at the other woman’s vulnerability. It was a side she didn’t often see, not with the always calm, controlled, and competent Oracle on the job. But, sitting there, tongue tracing over her bottom lip, she wasn’t Oracle. She was Barbara, beautiful, smart, and wonderfully flawed, and Helena suddenly became insanely terrified she would somehow manage to screw things up completely.
Clearing her throat, Barbara rasped, “Yeah, like you doing that.”
It took Helena a moment to remember the connection back to her earlier question, but when she did, she smiled. Smiled because Barbara’s cheeks were flushed and her voice was scratchy, because her lipstick was now a muted combination of the shade she’d been wearing before and the shade Helena had left behind. And, because no matter what Barbara might say, she couldn’t deny that she was affected by what was happening between them. It would be a lie her body had already betrayed.
“So,” Helena drawled, feeling a need to lighten some of the tension that had started to fall between them, “I was thinking we’d grab something to eat and go see a movie. Or go see a movie and grab something to eat.”
“Oh you did?” Barbara asked, adding just enough sarcasm to make the comment cheeky, earning a scowl from her companion.
“Unless you’ve got a better idea, then yes,” Helena said, tone slightly sullen, bottom lip poked out in an adorable pout.
At the sight, Barbara laughed, laying the flowers in her lap and giving her wheels a hard push, heading off in the direction of the kitchen. “It sounds fine to me, whichever way we end up going about it,” she called back lazily, deftly maneuvering herself across the rough slate of the kitchen floor. “Do me a favor and grab a vase from that cabinet.”
Feeling slightly smug, happy that her gift was going to be properly displayed, Helena searched through the indicated cabinet until she found a rather stylish blue blown glass vase, filling it with water and allowing Barbara to position her floral offering. Sitting it down on the counter with a slight smirk, she nodded her head, a physical manifestation of her belief that she’d done a good job indeed.
“Alright, time to go,” she said, suddenly impatient. “I think ‘Jay and Silent Bob Have Babies’ is playing at 7:00 at the Festival 27. You’re cool with that, aren’t you?”
Choking slightly, coughing in surprise, Barbara looked up at Helena from under lowered lashes. “You’re kidding, right.” She got no answer, the non-reply eliciting a scowl. “Come on, Helena. You’re kidding me. We’re not going to go see that. It’s not even a movie, is it? You’re just making that up.”
“Guess you’ll just have to wait and see,” Helena taunted, a sly grin stretching over her features, making her look not too different from the mischievous teenager Barbara remembered vividly. It was a highly disconcerting thought, one Barbara shook from her head with a rather vigorous nod.
Nearly half an hour later, Barbara was highly relieved to learn that Helena had, indeed, been kidding. In fact, the honor of choosing that night’s movie was graciously bestowed upon her, and she took her time, wondering if it would be worth it to suffer through two hours of romantic tripe just to torture Helena. She decided it wouldn’t, but then was stuck with a rather awkward choice. She didn’t want an action/drama… their lives had enough without paying $10 a piece to see more of it, and she didn’t want horror because, well, because they tended to bring up bad memories. That left her with an animated cartoon, a subtitled foreign film, and something she thought might have been in Oprah’s book club a decade or so before.
She wasn’t quite sure why she went with the subtitled foreign film. Perhaps it was because her pride wouldn’t let her voluntarily choose an animated cartoon, and she didn’t feel like wading through 87 minutes of potentially maudlin mush. What she seemed to have forgotten, or really not even given thought to at all, was that foreign films didn’t quite have to adhere to the same rigid code of guidelines Hollywood films did.
“Barbara, all these people are naked.”
She would have appreciated the commentary if she’d been blind, but she wasn’t and as such, was more than aware of the fact that all of the people on the screen stretched out in full color across what had to be the entire front of the theatre were blissfully nude. Three of them, two girls and a guy, and from what she could tell, they all seemed to be rather, well… rather involved.
Digging a hand into the popcorn resting comfortably in Barbara’s lap, eyes glued to the screen, Helena whispered, “This is awesome. I should’ve checked one of these out before. Good job, Barbara.”
Barbara merely smiled, then tried not to blush as the people on the screen broke up the three minutes of dialogue they’d actually managed to stumble through to have sex yet again. Honestly, if she’d wanted to see that, she could have stayed home and watched Showtime. Not that she could deny that the film had a certain… appeal. The leads were all quite easy on the eyes, in that almost prefabricated movie star way, and it did seem that they’d been particularly pleased with their jobs.
Nearly an hour into the movie, Barbara watched out of the corner of her eye as Helena licked butter from the popcorn from the tips of her fingers, wiped them rather vigorously on the wad of napkins she’d snatched, and then slid them down the sides of her pants for good measure. More amused by her companion’s antics than by the marathon sex scene onscreen, she discretely followed the path of those fingers as they made their way ever so slowly up to the back of the armrest, perching precariously there for nearly a minute before sliding even further up and then detouring down the side of the chair so that they weren’t in contact with the arm. They reappeared near the top of the arm rest, perilously close to her own hand, and she held her breath as they inched over, sneaking across her knuckles to finally slide easily between her own splayed fingers, gripping her hand from behind. Helena’s palm was blazing hot and just a tad bit sticky, the butter obviously resisting the multi-level attack on it, and Barbara smiled even as she made sure it seemed like she was facing directly forward as she eased her hand over so their palms met.
At the move, Helena instantly sighed and snuggled in closer to Barbara, apparently so relieved that she wasn’t rejected that all nervousness flew straight out of the window. Instead of drifting over so they were pressed together, she simply leaned, shifting her body so that her legs were angled out opposite from Barbara’s chair, pressing the two of them together as closely as she could manage without crawling over into the redhead’s lap.
Barbara felt the brush of soft lips against the shell of her ear seconds before Helena spoke, and couldn’t help the shiver that ran down her spine as that low voice seemed to emanate from inside her own skull. “You ever make out in a movie theatre?” the brunette asked, barely resisting the nearly overwhelming urge to run her teeth over an all too tempting tendon in Barbara’s neck.
Pulling back slightly, turning so that Helena could actually watch her roll her eyes, Barbara murmured, “Make out?”
Eyes narrowing at Barbara’s tone, as if it were the most ridiculous thing she’d ever heard of, Helena leaned forward again, this time not bothering to deny her urge to nuzzle. “Yeah, make out. Don’t pretend like you don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m sure even you did it in your misspent youth, Miss Goody Two Shoes Librarian.”
Jerking back again, this time with eyes narrowed in annoyance, Barbara muttered, “I thought we’d managed to dispel the myth of my good girl reputation.”
Chuckling lowly, Helena dropped her head slightly and looked up at Barbara from under lowered lashes, a look she knew good and well got her what she wanted nine times out of ten. “Oh, you’ll always be a good girl, Barbara. It’s part of your appeal. You’re so wonderfully corruptible… bad girls like me enjoy the challenge.” Well, me and the Deputy Mayor’s wife, she added silently.
“You’re not as bad as you think,” Barbara challenged, eyes sparkling with enjoyment as she unconsciously closed the distance between them just a little more.
Helena flashed Barbara a wolfish smile, voice low as she said, “You’re right, you know. I’m not bad at all. In fact, I’m very, very good.”
She edged closer, inches away from Barbara’s lips, the soft, pale skin all she could focus on… when it happened.
A piece of popcorn bounced off her forehead. And then another, and then a third, and she scowled, swirling in her seat to pin an angry glare on the offending party.
“You two think you could keep it down?”
The gentleman three rows back with the extra large bucket of popcorn looked, alternately, angry and quite pleased with himself, and Helena growled. Literally growled, the sound a deep rumble in the back of her throat, and she took distinct pride in the way the man shrank back into his seat, eyes wide. “It’s subtitled,” Helena added, exasperated. “All you gotta do is read.”
Sighing softly, fearing a potentially damaging public display of meta-human anger coming on, Barbara slid her hand up Helena’s arm to squeeze her shoulder lightly, drawing the other woman’s immediate attention. Turning interested eyes the redhead’s way, Helena waited patiently.
“Why don’t we get out of here,” Barbara said softly, a bit surprised at the intense focus in Helena’s eyes. “I’m thinking a cheesy old movie back at the Clocktower and Chinese delivery. What do you think?”
Shooting the popcorn man one last glare, Helena nodded. “You’ll let me pick it out?” she asked hopefully, unfolding her long legs and inching her way past Barbara, looking down at the other woman expectantly.
Rolling her eyes, Barbara nodded, voice a teasing monotone
as she said, “Yes Helena, I’ll let you decide.”
“Good,” the brunette said decisively, twirling on her heel and making her way out of the movie theatre, only stopping as she passed the man three rows behind where they had been sitting, sticking her tongue out at him in a highly satisfying fit of childish pique. Smiling broadly at Barbara’s snort of laughter, she continued on her way, making sure to hold the door for her date and beaming when Barbara mumbled an appreciative thank you.
The air was chillier than it had been when they’d stood in line for the tickets, and Helena hurried to turn on the SUV’s heater, well aware that Barbara was more sensitive to changes in temperature than most people. Easing the Hummer out of their parking spot and back toward the Clocktower, she fell silent, enjoying the moment. Not that it remained silent for long. Helena was of the opinion that Barbara was so used to filling the lulls in patrols with distracting chatter that she simply couldn’t slip out of the habit. It was endearing, actually, and when the other woman spoke up suddenly, voice rushed as if she’d been thinking of speaking for minutes and had only just managed to get her vocal chords to cooperate, Helena barely held in a grin.
“Sorry about the movie.”
One brow arched in amusement, Helena spared the other woman a short glance, eyes darting back to the road quickly, not ready to be on the receiving end of a vehicle safety lecture. “I didn’t think it was that bad. I just didn’t know you could see those kinds of films at places other than adult theatres,” she quirked, grinning widely.
“I know,” Barbara replied nonchalantly. “I usually have to pay $39.99 a month to download them onto Delphi.”
At that, Helena nearly choked, abandoning safe driving long enough to scrutinize the redhead’s face, looking for some sign she was only joking. “You don’t download porn,” she said accusingly.
“How do you know?” Barbara challenged, voice laced through with amusement.
Dark brows furrowed as Helena thought that one over. After nearly a minute of coming up with explanations and subsequently discarding them, she finally said decisively, “Because I would have found it. You’re not the only master of subdirectories in this family.”
Laughing lightly, Barbara reached over, hand resting on Helena’s thigh momentarily. “Not snooping when I’m not around, are you?” she asked gently, highly pleased with the way the other woman’s muscles contracted under her touch.
“Of course not,” Helena shot back grumpily, too distracted by the teasing touch to do anything else but wish they were already back at the Clocktower where she could take full advantage of Barbara’s good mood. “I just wait until you’re asleep.”
“Exactly how do you define my being asleep as being something other than not around?” Barbara asked, slightly exasperated.
“Because you’re still in the Clocktower,” Helena pointed out reasonably, “just not conscious.”
Rolling her eyes, Barbara decided to let the subject drop, not willing to get into an argument over something she really wasn’t that concerned about, and well aware that trying to convince Helena of the incorrect nature of her assessment was bound to be fruitless. Instead, she blinked slightly as they drove into the underground garage adjacent to the Clocktower, the bright overhead lights a sharp contrast from the lamp lit streets outside, and murmured appreciatively, “That was quite the impressive growl you gave back at the movies.”
Throwing the car into park, Helena whipped off her seatbeat, agile body sliding easily out of her seat and over the gearshift so she was straddling the redhead’s lap before Barbara had time to divine her intent. “Thanks,” Helena mock growled, smiling and sliding her arms around the other woman’s neck. “Glad you noticed. I can purr too. Wanna see if you can make me?”
Eyes widening with surprise, Barbara pressed back against the headrest behind her, hands automatically coming up to rest lightly on Helena’s hips. “I’m sorry,” she said, vaguely embarrassed by the slightly breathless quality her voice had adopted, “does the door handle on your side not work?”
Shaking her head in exaggerated disappointment, Helena sighed. “Don’t be difficult, Barbara. Don’t you think I’ve earned a kiss? I did take you out.”
“A kiss?” Barbara snorted, fingers tightening momentarily as Helena shifted into a more comfortable position, the slide of their bodies together causing reactions she chose not to look into in any real depth. “Helena, we were only gone for an hour. The date isn’t even over.”
Brows furrowing in confusion, the brunette tilted her head to the side, eyeing Barbara speculatively. “And your point is?” she asked guilelessly.
“You’re incorrigible,” Barbara muttered, though she didn’t make any move to stop Helena as she leaned in closer, slowly easing away the space between them.
“Incorrigible?” Helena echoed, voice suddenly very soft. “Do people actually use that word? Other than in cheap romance novels, that is.”
Chuckling gently, fingers sneaking up the brunette’s side until they were sliding over her shoulder, Barbara said, “Helena, no offense, but what are you talking about?”
Licking her lips, eyes hooded and heavy, Helena shrugged her shoulders. “No clue… think I’ll go ahead and stop now.”
That said, she closed the gap between them, catching Barbara’s lower lip between her teeth and sucking on it for a second before giving a small moan and surging into the other woman, tongue tracing a searing path along the skin she’d just relinquished. Barbara squeaked with surprise at the sudden assault, hands tightening before sliding around to tug the other woman toward her, head tilting slightly to the side seconds after they bumped noses, allowing Helena to deepen the kiss.
Helena felt herself start to sink into a honey thick puddle of desire, so surprised that Barbara let the kiss continue that she spent so much time frantically trying to keep the intensity at a maximum peak that she almost didn’t notice the creep of sly fingers up the skin of her abdomen. When she did, though, she pulled back with a gasp, heavily lidded eyes flaring feral at the sight of Barbara, red hair thoroughly mussed and full lips swollen and red, moist with the mixture of them painted across her skin, green eyes gone nearly black with desire.
Her shift into barely constrained animal opened her senses seemingly hundreds of times wider, and she could feel the heat rolling off of Barbara’s body like a wave, could smell the rich, earthy scent of her arousal, could almost literally see the blood pounding through her veins beneath the delicate, translucent shell of soft skin. She wanted all of it, and wanted it right then, and no longer had hold on any sort of inhibition control. So, wide grin baring her teeth in a wolfish leer, she leaned forward, running first her nose, then her tongue, then the sharp edge of her incisors up the side of Barbara’s neck, moaning in approval when the other woman’s head lolled back, providing her with unlimited access.
For perhaps the first time in her life, Barbara found herself unable to think. She tried, attempted to disengage herself from the delicious pull of the beautiful and dangerously sexy woman sliding her hands underneath the hem of her sweater, but she couldn’t do it. Not with her senses on overload, each nerve ending firing at random and her lips bruised and aching and parting around moans that made it sound suspiciously as if she were begging for more. Suddenly sure that she wanted nothing more than to touch Helena, to drive the other woman as wild as she herself felt, Barbara inched her way up through the buttons on the brunette’s shirt, pulling them apart roughly, fingers eagerly parting fabric as she made her way up.
At the feel of only slightly cool air on her skin, Helena pulled away from her perch, lips reluctantly parting with the delicious bit of flesh they’d been worrying. Nostrils flaring with excitement as Barbara roughly pushed the shirt down her shoulders, Helena threw her head back, short hair brushing against her now naked shoulders. Shirt only halfway down her arms, she found herself partially trapped, one of Barbara’s hands having wrapped the loose fabric around her fist. It left Helena with few options… namely, either stay as she was or rip the shirt in half. Intrigued, left nearly without brain function at all in light of the mischievous and liquidly lascivious look in Barbara’s eyes, Helena chose to remain as she was, to let the redhead take the lead.
An arrogant smile gracing her features at what she perceived to be the other woman’s capitulation, Barbara used her free hand to flick open Helena’s belt, deft fingers doing so with more ease than the brunette would have imagined her companion to have. The pop of her button was loud, the rasp of her zipper cutting through twin strained pants, and as Barbara’s fingers started to inch down underneath Helena’s tiny black panties, the brunette thought she might pass out. She was lightheaded from a lack of oxygen, heart racing as if it was going to beat out of her chest, and her skin was hot and tight, almost restrictive. Barbara had complete control, with sharp white teeth flashing wickedly for a second before biting down over a taut nipple through a thin barrier of silk and teasing fingers scraping a burning path over her lower abdomen, just a few inches north of where Helena desperately wished they’d travel, and it was all so utterly delicious that she was partly afraid she wouldn’t be able to take it.
Unable to help herself, Helena growled low in her throat, surging forward to search out Barbara’s mouth with her own, needing that reconnection. Lips meeting almost ferociously, she sucked the redhead’s tongue into her mouth, deft skill forgotten in the wake of overwhelming, overpowering lust as she began to struggle lightly, growing increasingly frantic to be able to touch Barbara. Those nimble fingers were moving ever so slowly downward, short nails scraping her flesh, and Helena pushed forward, desperately wanting more.
Barbara looked up with a satisfied smile, one russet brow arching, and pressed her fingers tight against Helena’s abdomen before moving down with purpose…
“Fogging up the car windows? Barbara Gordon, I didn’t think you had it in you.”
The deep voice and the crack of the car door being opened might as well have been a bucket of cold water, because the two women snapped apart, guilty wide eyes looking at one another for a second before turning to the intruder.
Voice strangled, working desperately to unwrap her hand from the snarl of Helena’s shirt, Barbara said weakly, “Dick? Is that you?”
“Sure is. Who’ve you got in there with you?” he asked convivially, bending slightly at the knees, eyes soon creeping below the edge of the roof to lock with Helena’s. Clearly surprised to see the brunette there tugging furiously at her shirt, he whispered a stunned, “Oh, my God. Helena?”
Swallowing nervously, cheeks flaring bright red and fingers fumbling to re-button her shirt, Helena grinned a crooked, embarrassed grin. “Hey Dick. Long time no see. What brings you to New Gotham?” she asked, voice wavering only slightly.
“Uh…” Eyes glazing over and mind momentarily forgetting how to force his vocal chords to make sounds, he muttered, “uh… I was going to, uh… I… I was… I was going to see Barbara. Hadn’t seen Barbara in a long time. Thought we should catch up, see if anything new was going on. Make sure she wasn’t mad at me for the, uh, for the gala.”
Tight smile on her face, every muscle in her body rock hard with tension, Barbara reached up, inching her shirt down, covering what she now realized was a vast amount of bare abdomen. “Maybe you could give us a few minutes, Dick,” she said, a tense veneer of politeness coating her words.
Suddenly terrified at the thought of being alone with Barbara in the aftermath of their impromptu make-out session turned serious, Helena bounded out of the car in perhaps the single most ungraceful move she’d ever executed, barely managing to stay on her feet. Hands immediately darting down to catch her pants before they sagged off her hips, she jerkily buttoned the button, tugging awkwardly at her zipper. It didn’t cooperate, and after a second, she merely gave it up, choosing instead to slide her belt back into place, a dark flush suffusing her cheeks. “We were, uh, just going to order delivery. You like Chinese?” she stuttered nervously, already backing away from the car and toward the Clocktower elevator, eyes glassy and frantic, the edges of her shirt held together loosely. “You’ll get Barbara’s chair out of the back, right? I’m gonna, uh, go ahead and order, or whatever.”
Both Barbara and Dick watched, dumbfounded, as Helena practically leaped into the elevator as the doors opened, chagrined face soon disappearing from view as chrome slid soundlessly shut. Wordlessly, Dick opened the backseat door to the Hummer, pulling out the lightweight chair the pair had stowed there earlier, quickly and efficiently assembling it. Rolling it over so that it was perched right outside the car, he stepped forward, ostensibly to help Barbara, only to startle the redhead when he plopped down in the chair instead.
“I’d heard she was quick as a cat,” he said, voice light, “but I don’t know I’ve ever seen her move that fast.”
Shaking her head, pushing back a long fall of hair that was threatening to obscure her vision, Barbara sighed. “Dick…”
“No,” he cut in, holding out his hands, “no excuses or apologies or whatever it was that, knowing you, you were about to give. An explanation maybe, but only if you’re going to tell me what’s going on between the two of you because I’m your friend and you want to talk, no other reason.”
“I don’t know what’s going on,” Barbara said honestly, tone stark.
Hesitating for a moment, obviously not sure it was his place to ask, Dick murmured softly, “Are you two together? I mean, are you dating? In love? What’s the deal?”
At that, Barbara snorted, shrugging her shoulders in a near vicious movement. “Love? I don’t know about that.” She paused, blushing violently. Voice strained, she added, “This was our first official date.”
Biting nervously at his lower lip, Dick leaned forward then sat back once more, jaw clenching as he carefully considered his next words. “First date? Barbara, this doesn’t seem like you.”
“I know,” the redhead said helplessly. Then, almost impulsively, she blurted, “She’s in love with me. She told me, kind of, or maybe Dad did, but either way, she’s not doing a very good job of hiding it.”
“Is that why you were… you know?” Dick prodded gently, not willing to overstep his bounds, frankly quite surprised that the usually tight-lipped Oracle had shared as much as she had. “Is that why you’re doing this? Is that why you’re with her? Because she’s in love with you?”
“I’m not with her, really. I don’t think,” Barbara stressed, running a frustrated hand through her hair. “It’s just that she’s in love with me and she wants me, and it’s been so long, Dick. So, so long…”
“And it’s nice to be wanted,” he finished for her, a sad smile teasing at his lips, eyes apologetic. “Barbara, you know I’m sorry about…”
“Don’t even say it,” Barbara broke in, voice sharp. “You are who you are, Dick. You’re not meant for me.”
“I know,” he replied, shifting awkwardly in the chair, blue eyes drifting downward, unseeing. “Sometimes I wish it could be different.”
“I don’t,” the redhead whispered softly, reaching out to place a hand on her companion’s knee, immediately stilling his restless movements. “You’re in love with him.”
Snorting in consternation, Dick shook his head. “Lot of good it does me. He doesn’t even know, and I couldn’t find him to tell him, even if I wanted.”
A look of silent understanding passed between the two, Barbara understanding Dick’s frustration, though she imagined she didn’t have a clue as to its extent. Of herself, Dick, Alfred, and Helena, she had actually perhaps suffered least from Bruce Wayne’s voluntary removal from their lives.
A sudden wave of painful understanding rolled through Barbara at the thought, the irony so sharp she simply had to laugh with it. Her chuckles earned an aggrieved look from Dick, bright blue eyes wounded, and she sobered instantly, cheeks working to suppress a smile. “I’m sorry,” she said, voice still tinged with the aftermath of her amusement, “but you’ve got to see how ironic this is. You in love with Bruce, Helena in love with me…”
Voice lighter than she knew he felt, Dick joked, “Occupational hazard, maybe.”
“Maybe,” Barbara said introspectively, voice slightly distant. “Though Helena says it’s because I’m so damn hot.”
There was a moment of shocked silence, and then Dick guffawed, nearly doubling over with laughter as Barbara shot him a highly pleased grin. “God, Barbara,” he gasped, eyes watering, “I’d forgotten you actually had a sense of humor.”
“Laugh it up now, funny man,” she said, voice bearing no animosity, glad that it seemed as if she’d cheered him out of the depressive fit he’d been hovering on the verge of, if only for a moment. “See if I let you have any shrimp fried rice.”
“Please. We’ll be lucky to even get egg rolls. Lest you forget, Helena’s ordering and from what I could tell, her brain was about the only thing on her that wasn’t working,” he teased, wrinkling his nose in response to Barbara’s scowl.
“Don’t worry about that,” the redhead shot back airily, a self-satisfied smirk supplanting her scowl. “Helena knows what I like.”
Reaching forward, the sudden move startling Barbara, Dick ran his thumb across her bottom lip. Examining the glossy red lipstick deposited there, he murmured, “Oh, I can see that she does.”
Blushing furiously, hand reaching up to wipe idly at the corners of her mouth, Barbara mumbled, “Not fair, Dick. Not fair.”
“Not to stick my nose where it doesn’t belong,” he replied, his easy, unassuming tone letting her know he was planning on doing just that, “but you’re not playing fair either. If what I saw is all you’re looking for, then you need to let her know that. If she is in love with you…”
“Then it’s not right to lead her on,” Barbara finished for him, sighing. Thumb and forefinger tracing a path over her eyebrows, she said tersely, “I know that, Dick. Don’t think that I don’t know that, and if I knew how I felt about things, then this wouldn’t be a problem.”
Voice soft, a breath shy of chiding, Dick said, “I’m going to bet that you know exactly how you feel about things, Babs. You’re just not up to admitting it to yourself.”
“That’s not true,” Barbara countered, brows lowering. “She
can’t just take a relationship that had been, as far as I knew, nothing but a
close friendship for the last six years and suddenly try to turn it into
something else and not expect me to need time to process things.”
“Is that what you were doing when I found you?” Dick quirked, smirking. “Processing things?”
Rolling her eyes, a sigh of exasperation rushing past her lips, Barbara said, “No. Helena wasn’t the only one who was thinking with everything but her brain.”
Contemplative look crossing over his face, Dick said slowly, “So you’re certainly not adverse to the idea of being with her physically.”
“Who would be?” Barbara blurted, though she had the good grace to blush mere seconds later. “I mean, she’s gorgeous. You’ve got to give her that… and sexy too. Don’t tell me you hadn’t noticed.”
At that, Dick merely cocked a brow, shooting Barbara a sarcastic look far more effective than words could have been. So, sighing again, the redhead admitted, “Fine. No, I’m not adverse to exploring a more physical relationship with Helena.”
“And the rest of it?” he prodded.
Shrugging her shoulders helplessly, Barbara said, “I don’t know. It’s been a long time since I had a relationship with someone, and even then, I wasn’t good at it. This isn’t just something I can disappear away from, Dick. If it doesn’t work out, or if I screw it up or she screws it up, I can’t just ignore her phone calls and act like nothing ever happened. And, it’s not just the work thing. I don’t even know if she noticed it, but on the way back from the movie tonight, she referred to the two of us as a family, and it’s true. I know we’re not related by blood, but she’s been such a huge part of my life for so long that if something happened and we couldn’t work it out, it’d be like losing a sister or a daughter…”
“Or a lover?” Dick broke in, tone soft and understanding. “That’s a lot of ifs, Barbara, and more presumptions than I’d ever thought I’d see you make. You’re assuming the two of you won’t live happily ever after, and you’re assuming that if it doesn’t work out, you’d never even be able to talk to one another again. It seems to me that your connection is stronger than that. If something happened, I don’t think it’d mean the end of everything between the two of you, and I’m not even all that convinced you wouldn’t make it. After all, you say she loves you. By now, she’s seen you at your best and your worst, so it’s not as if she’s jumping into things blindly. If she’s in love with you, then I’ll bet she’s in love with all of you, and probably has been for a while. So, it seems to me that the real problem here is you. Forget all the bad scenarios and the what-ifs. You’ve got to decide what you want, Barbara. That’s the real issue here.”
As she slumped back into the seat, suddenly exhausted, Barbara realized he was absolutely right.
Helena was nervous. No, scratch that, she was terrified. Not only had she acted like an adolescent caught by her parents, running off with her metaphorical tail between her legs, but she’d left Barbara alone with Dick. The mighty Dick Grayson, one time love of Barbara’s life.
She was an idiot.
She’d have felt better about it if they hadn’t been gone for so long, but she’d fled the garage nearly half an hour before, and there was still no sign of the two of them. She knew she could call up the security cameras on Delphi and see what was really going on, but the calm part of her said it would be an invasion of Barbara’s privacy while the wild, near frantic part of her screamed that she really didn’t want to know. After all, if Barbara was down there with Dick, doing any number of things that they’d probably already done before, then it wasn’t something to which she should be privy.
If they weren’t back in two minutes, to hell with it. She was going to peek.
It was at that moment, of course, when her anxiety was at its peak, that the elevator doors slid open, bearing Barbara and Dick bearing two brown paper bags. They were chatting and grinning and Helena thought she might throw up, but instead she just gave them a weak smile and wandered off. She thought she might tell them she was going to wash up if either of them asked, but neither did so she simply didn’t say anything at all. Barbara’s eyes were on her. She could feel the other woman’s gaze like a physical touch, but no one questioned her and no one asked her to stay, and so she slipped down the hall into her old bedroom, not able to run but not able to stay out there either.
She felt horribly out of sorts, as if every nerve in her body was jumping in an unsynchronized rhythm. Her mouth was dry and her ears buzzing, and she felt as if she were going to be sick. Objectively, she realized it was all a physical manifestation of something she obviously didn’t want to deal with mentally, but the self-diagnosis didn’t really help.
The sound of wheels on hardwood was as familiar to her as her own breathing, and as the sibilant hiss made its way down the hall, Helena tensed, eyes closing briefly as she tried to gather her wits. The sound paused just outside her door, and for a minute she wondered if Barbara was going to turn back, and she wasn’t sure if the thought made her happy or sad. But, Barbara didn’t turn back, and she should have known better than to have thought so in the first place. Unlike herself, Barbara didn’t run.
“Helena, are you in there?”
The other woman sounded hesitant and unsure, and Helena considered not answering her, but she figured that Barbara probably already knew exactly where she was, and was only observing the social niceties because of her borderline psychotic performance of before. As such, she couldn’t not acknowledge her, or else run the risk of seeming even more unhinged than she already was, and so with a sigh, Helena said tiredly, “Yeah, I’m in here. Come on in.”
The door slid open soundlessly, and Helena wondered abstractly if anything in the Clocktower wasn’t in absolutely perfect condition. With the exception of her, of course, but human elements were always doomed to be flawed, and no one should be held accountable for her malfunctions. But, she didn’t want to dwell on her imperfections for too long, not with Barbara watching her intently, as if she were a wild animal about to flee. It was apropos perhaps, and Helena wanted to laugh.
Fortunately, she didn’t.
“So,” Barbara said, hands clasped nervously in her lap. “About before…”
“Just me getting out of hand, that’s all,” Helena said quickly, voice rapid fire under the nervous tension running through her. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done it.”
Awkward silence followed, though when Barbara did speak, her voice was puzzled. “You’ll have to forgive me, but I was under the assumption that I was in the car too. That I was kissing you too. That I was touching you too. What makes you think you can claim the credit and the blame?”
Looking up in utter confusion, Helena stuttered, “But, uh… I thought you’d, you know, be mad at me. Or be uncomfortable, or be regretting it, and I just want to, you know, let you know that it was my fault, and that you shouldn’t worry about it.”
Shifting awkwardly in her chair, feeling the heat of a blush rise up her cheeks, Barbara sighed. “Look, Helena, I’m going to be honest with you.” Pausing as the brunette drew in a sharp breath, shoulders stiffening, Barbara waited for a second before continuing, voice soothing, “This is all moving a little fast for me. I wasn’t even aware you were interested in more until the gala the other night, and tonight we practically… well, you know… in the car.”
Smirking at the other woman’s inability to articulate just what, exactly, they’d almost done in the car, Helena tilted her head to the side, eyeing Barbara speculatively. “Yeah, I get that. You want to slow things down, is what you’re saying.”
Nodding shyly, clearly embarrassed by the topic and highly uncomfortable, Barbara said, “That’s what I’m saying. I just don’t think it’s a good idea to rush into something, Helena. I don’t know if I’m ready for any kind of serious commitment, and I’m not so sure you are either. And, I don’t think we should sleep together until we figure that out.”
There was a disturbing hint of finality to the words, as if they were merely said to sooth the wild beast until a more suitable way of ending what had sprung up between them presented itself, and Helena felt herself start to grow increasingly angry at the thought. Just like before, she could see Barbara discounting her and what she knew was between the two of them.
So, voice rough, Helena said tightly, “You mean, until you figure that out, right? Until you find some way to fit me into your neat, orderly little life without causing too much disruption. When you figure out some way to take away all the risk, so there’s no messy loose ends out there to make things complicated.”
Stung by the words even as some part of her recognized them as the truth, Barbara said harshly, reacting on bitter instinct, “If that’s the way you see me, then maybe it’s best we just forget about this now.”
Sighing raggedly, running a hand through her hair, Helena murmured sadly, “That’s not what I mean. It’s just… God, Barbara. I’ve spent the last nine years wanting you, and then it looks like I might actually get you only to have you come in here and tell me in your nice, pretty little words what basically amounts to the fact that you could pretty much just take or leave a relationship with me, no hard feelings and it was all just some mistake but thank you anyway. So, I’m sorry if I’m not jumping for joy or meekly falling into place, but I’m kind of on the ugly end of one of those messy, emotional let downs I usually try to avoid and can’t really manage to be as politically correct as you might like. And, damn it to hell, but your ex-boyfriend, who is undoubtedly a much better choice in your eyes, just pops up out of the blue being all handsome and charming and available, and you spend thirty fucking minutes down in the garage with him doing God knows what while I sit up here and wait on you like some fool.”
Shifting awkwardly on the bed, cheeks bright red in the aftermath of her outbreak, Helena shook her head, voice soft as she murmured, “Maybe we should just talk about this later, Barbara. I’m saying things I don’t mean to say and you’re probably sitting over there just getting madder and madder at me. You’re trying to discuss this calmly and rationally, and obviously right now that’s just not something I can do. I’ve been pushing you for more than you’re ready to give… I realize that. I’m acting a little psychotic right now… I realize that too. Maybe I should just go home and get my shit together, let you have some time alone with Dick,” she stumbled, jaw clenching at the word, “and give you the time you need to figure out what it is you want.”
Thrown by Helena’s apparently defeatist attitude, Barbara rolled closer to the bed, green eyes cloudy and confused. She felt the need to try and fix things, though some part of her begged to take this opportunity for what it was and put down any notions of a romantic relationship between them. After all, if she could return them to the place they had been before, a place where all of the emotions now lurching about clumsily had been conveniently hidden beneath the surface, then she wouldn’t be in so much… well, danger. Repression was all fine and good, she mused, until something boiled over. After that, it got inescapably messy.
“I’m not sure I understand what’s going on, Hel. I don’t want you to leave, and I never said that all decisions, including any final ones, rested solely with me. I’m simply saying that I had a good time tonight… all of tonight… but if I’m going to make the best decision for myself, then I don’t need to do it with overcharged hormones. I need to make it with my head, and I wanted you to know that. In the car tonight, I got so wrapped up in how good it felt that I didn’t think about what it would mean, and if you know anything about me, then you know that I need to think things through. I don’t want for you to wait around on some kind of final answer from me… that’s not what I’m saying at all. I just wanted you to know up front that it’s going to take longer than two days for this to happen. The things I’ve been doing are pretty uncharacteristic… I’m sure you’d agree. And, it’s not just because it’s you that I want to take things slowly, though honestly that’s a part of it. We’ve been such a large part of one another’s lives for so long that, on the one hand, it feels absolutely natural to move into this new stage of our relationship. But, on the other hand, I’ve got a lot of things, personal things, that I need to work through. I’d have those with anyone, Helena, and they don’t change simply because it’s you. And, if you’re worried about Dick, don’t be. I’m not in love with him and he’s not in love with me, at least not the kind of love that’s any threat to you.”
Feeling inordinately sheepish, Helena nodded, the movement awkward and jerky. “I know all these things, Barbara. I swear I do, but it’s just so hard to remember them when I’m so damned scared that I’ll make the wrong move and screw everything up. Not that my ‘in need of Prozac’ routine wasn’t enough to do that anyway,” she muttered.
Giving Helena an indulgent smile, Barbara merely said, “The take-out is here, and unless Dick’s eaten it all, I think you promised me dinner, didn’t you?”
Perking up slightly, slowly beginning to understand that she hadn’t somehow managed to completely screw up her chances, Helena said as suavely as she could manage, considering the circumstances, “I guess I did. He better not have touched the shrimp fried rice. That was for you.”
At that, Barbara merely laughed.
“I know how you feel, you know.”
Turning slightly, eyes lingering as long as possible on the New Gotham skyline as she contemplated just how to get through this conversation without doing some type of irreversible physical damage, Helena drew in a deep breath, watching calmly as Dick eased the door to the balcony closed, leaving the two of them out there alone. He shifted nervously under her inscrutable gaze, hands shoved deeply in his pockets and broad shoulders hunched, and Helena tilted her head to the side, studying him, taking in the awkward and nervous air.
“Because you’re in love with Barbara too,” she said starkly, the lack of inflection in her voice giving away nothing as she leaned back against the brick behind her and crossed her arms over her chest, eyes narrowing slightly.
Dick chuckled, the sound soft and oddly out of place as it drifted across the space between them. “Not exactly,” he drawled, voice thick with amusement.
“But you were at one time,” Helena pointed out, a hard edge to her voice, intrigued by the twist in the conversation.
Sighing heavily, closing the distance between them so that he was leaning against the brick wall beside the brunette, brow furrowed as he looked out over the city without seeing, Dick said slowly, “I think maybe I was. It was hard not to be. She was everything I could ever have wanted in a girl. Beautiful, smart, fearless… I tried, for a long time, to make it work. To make myself into the kind of guy that would be right for her, but it was never going to happen.”
Turning so that she was facing him, suddenly made aware of just how large he was as he loomed over her, Helena scowled. “Why not?” she asked, genuinely interested, puzzled as to why Dick was even talking to her at all. It wasn’t as if they didn’t get along. They did, or at least, always had on some level. But, they weren’t best friends, and she couldn’t remember the last time they’d had a heart-to-heart… probably because they never had.
“I was in love with someone else,” Dick admitted ruefully, a self-effacing snort punctuating the words. “Someone who didn’t love me back, at least not how I wanted, but who I loved anyway.”
Clearly baffled, completely thrown by the revelation, Helena murmured, “You were in love with someone else when you were with Barbara? Who?”
Dick licked his lips nervously, a grimace twisting his features as he took in a deep breath, shoulders hunching in even further and voice full of false bravado as he said carefully, “My mentor.”
“Your mentor,” Helena echoed, brows drawing inward in confusion. “Your mentor? But Batman was your… Oh. Oh, I see.”
Laughing bitterly, Dick shrugged his shoulders, face a picture of helpless exasperation. “Yeah, you see. So you can believe me when I say I know what you’re going through.”
Not sure she didn’t feel completely weirded out by the thought of Dick Grayson in love with her father, because really, who wouldn’t be weirded out at the thought of anyone in love with his or her father, Helena said gruffly, “So why’re you telling me now?”
Blowing out a long breath, some hint of the tension he’d been feeling earlier gone now that he’d uttered the words, Dick said plainly, “Because I think you’d be good for Barbara, and I think she’d be good for you. But, I also think she’s going to make things hard for you, and I don’t want you to give up.”
“What do you mean, make things hard for me?” Helena asked cautiously, unconsciously edging closer to Dick.
Pausing for a moment, Dick took in a deep breath, struggling to pull together his thoughts, to package them in some sort of comprehensible manner. “I know you didn’t really know her before the accident so you can’t see how Barbara’s changed, but she has. Before she was… I don’t know. More alive, if that makes sense,” he offered, shrugging. “Now she holds back. Back then, she used to laugh a lot, and smile and joke around and you couldn’t help but love her. Now it’s almost like she’s afraid. She buries herself in her work, and she’s so serious.”
“Like she’s got the weight of the world on her shoulders,” Helena said softly, a rueful smile on her face.
“Yeah, like that. Not that I think she’s unhappy, but I think she’s afraid to enjoy things too much, like she’s afraid she’ll lose it all again. I don’t think she’s adverse to the idea of the two of you together. In fact, I’d say it’s probably something she wants quite a bit. But, she doesn’t trust it, Helena. Barbara used to live life in search of whatever came next. Now she lives protecting what she’s already got.”
Shrugging her shoulders, Helena said simply, “And she’s already got me. Why is she afraid of that?”
“Because you’re asking for something completely new. She can be your guardian and your mentor and your partner, but your lover? That’s letting you all the way in,” Dick said with a wry chuckle, shaking his head. “She had her world torn down once, and she managed to put it back together again. If you two were to get together and things went bad, it’d all be gone again. Maybe she doesn’t think she has it in her to rebuild twice.”
“Why does everyone automatically assume that it won’t work out?” Helena exploded in frustration. “Maybe she won’t have to worry about putting things back together because they’re not going to fall apart.”
One brow arching with something akin to bemused amusement, Dick said humorlessly, “Face it, Helena… you don’t have the best track record when it comes to romance. I know you’ve got good intentions, but…”
“But what?” Helena broke in angrily. “But I’m too big of a fuck-up? Is that it? ‘I know you’ve got good intentions, but odds are you’ll just screw this up.’ Is that what you’re saying?”
“Well,” Dick hedged, “I wasn’t exactly going to put it that way, but yeah. Odds are you’ll screw this up which doesn’t mean you won’t prove us all wrong, just that Barbara’s need to make sure things aren’t going to collapse on top of her is understandable.” He paused, sighing deeply, brow furrowed with frustration, “I don’t even know how we got off on this when what I really wanted to do was tell you that I think you should give it a try, and not give up on her if she doesn’t move as quickly as you’d like. Like I said, I think you’d be good for Barbara. True, I may think you’ve got a good chance of screwing things up, but I’m hoping you’ll actually manage to surprise me.”
“Your confidence underwhelms me,” Helena deadpanned, sighing deeply and rolling her eyes, wondering just how it was she’d managed to garner the reputation she apparently had, “but I get what you’re saying. Don’t worry, Dick. I’ve waited on Barbara a long time. I thought it’d never be right, that I’d never be able to tell her, but in typical me fashion, I screwed around and did it anyway. In probably the worst way I could, I admit, but now it’s out there. And, she hasn’t kicked me out of the Clocktower yet, which I take as a good sign. So, however long she needs, I’ll try and give it to her. Just do me a favor… have a little faith that, for once, I’ll do things right.”
Easing an arm around Helena’s shoulder, suddenly overcome with an almost brotherly love for her, which strange as it was, he supposed would be somewhat appropriate, Dick gave the brunette a squeeze, then looked down at her with a smile. “Right. You’ve got it. As of right now, I’m firmly convinced that you won’t screw this up.”
Smiling weakly, not quite sure she was comfortable with the close contact but not going to offend Dick when they were getting along so well, Helena said softly, “Thanks. It means a lot, really.”
An awkward silence followed, one in which Helena became intensely aware of the muscular arm draped over her shoulders, and she struggled not to fidget. In the end, she eased away as gently as possible, giving Dick a half-smile. “Sweep time. You wanna come, or is this a non-working vacation?”
“You kidding?” he asked, grinning widely, the gleam of white teeth almost insanely bright in the darkness of night. “No sense in me sticking around here. Barbara’d just end up talking to you on that fancy comm system you’ve got and ignoring me, anyway. It’s been a long time since I kicked ass in Gotham. Think you could manage to show a guy a good time?”
“There’s something horribly wrong about that statement, but I don’t exactly know what it is,” Helena muttered, shaking her head. Then, with a shrug of the shoulders, she said, “You just better hope you can keep up, old man.”
“Old man?” Dick echoed, voice tinged with outrage, following Helena inside as she flung open the balcony door. “I’ll have you know, Barbara and I are the same age.”
That stopped Helena short, and her brow furrowed for a moment as she looked up to see Barbara looking back at her. Mouth opening and closing soundlessly, stomach growing a little queasy as a russet brow shot skyward and expectant green eyes watched her intently, Helena struggled to come up with something to work her way out of the potential mess she’d created.
Unable to find anything witty, Helena finally sighed, shoulders shrugging once again. “Maybe,” she called out, voice drifting back over her shoulder, “but Barbara’s just so damn hot.”
With that, Barbara smirked, sending Dick a knowing glance and chuckling when he merely rolled his eyes.
“Got you a present,” Helena sing-songed, choosing to take a shortcut down from the upstairs landing by simply vaulting over the railing, landing easily on her feet.
Tearing herself away from the bank of computer screens she’d been monitoring, Barbara looked over curiously, trying to keep herself from leering at all of the soft caramel skin so effortlessly on display. She didn’t even think Helena was aware of her easy sensuality, of the siren’s call of low-slung tight jeans and snug little tee-shirts that never seemed to be quite long enough, but she couldn’t help but be. It seemed that everywhere she turned, the other woman was there, all lazy smiles and heavily-lidded suggestive eyes, and it left Barbara feeling distinctly ill at ease. After all, she didn’t particularly like being subject to the more base, unwieldy emotions that seemed to have crept up on her consciousness. Like lust, and desire, and want… and she couldn’t help feeling slightly guilty for having them in the first place. Though, a part of her was glad of it. Having such naughty thoughts about Helena without even a twinge of conscience would perhaps have been worse, in her estimation.
None of which was quite as important in that moment, however, as the look of barely repressed mirth in the other woman’s eyes. She was holding out a slim white envelope, clearly anticipating some sort of reaction, so with a single raised brow, Barbara reached out, snagging the proffered gift.
“A gift? What’s the occasion?” she asked guardedly, her thumb sliding underneath the sealed flap, easily ripping along the envelope’s upper crease.
Grinning mischievously, Helena strove for calm but somehow missed. “No occasion.”
Shaking her head slightly, the other woman’s mood infectious, Barbara slowly drew out the card inside, frowning as she discovered nothing but stark white paper. Shooting Helena a confused look, she flicked the slim card open, face completely devoid of emotion for a long second. Then, voice droll, she read aloud, “Good for one tattoo of your choice at Hell’s Belles Tattoo and Piercing Gallery.”
Dimples deepening into craters in an attempt to hold back her laughter, Helena nodded solemnly. “Yet another step in your quest to become a bad girl, Barbara,” she said, barely reining in a laugh.
“I hope you didn’t actually waste your money on this,” Barbara muttered, shaking her head wryly.
Shooting the other woman her best innocent look, Helena said guilelessly, “I was thinking you could get my name tattooed in a heart on your upper arm. Unless you really want to go for the tough look and get some barbed wire, maybe.”
“You’re funny,” Barbara said, voice a dull monotone. “Really, you are.”
Rolling her eyes in exasperation, Helena bounced off of the platform to throw herself on the couch with a forlorn sigh. “I am, actually,” she said, voice casually introspective. “It’s just your sense of humor that’s missing.”
“Uh-huh,” Barbara hummed, maneuvering her chair down the ramp leading up to the bank of computers and rolling over to where Helena was still sprawled. “Is there a purpose to this visit, or are you here simply to molest my furniture.”
“Molest your furniture?” Helena echoed lazily, shooting Barbara an almost condescending look. “Explain to me exactly how one would go about molesting furniture.”
Eyes narrowing, Barbara said thoughtfully, “You know, I’m not sure. I think it might involve PVC pipe and latex gloves, though.”
“There’s a mental image there my mind is physically incapable of seeing,” Helena drawled, rolling up onto her side so she was facing the redhead, a soft smile on her face. “But, enough of that. How was your day?”
“My day?” Barbara repeated, sounding vaguely confused. “It was… uh… good?”
There was a distinctly questioning note in her voice, and Helena looked at her expectantly, clearly assuming more would be forthcoming. When nothing was, she sighed, then asked slowly, “School was good?”
“School was school,” Barbara murmured, slightly discomfited by the other woman’s sudden interest in her activities of daily life. “I taught some classes, attempted to educate some students, got a fairly tasty honey bun out of the vending machine in the teacher’s lounge.”
Nodding her head, Helena waited for a moment longer, allowing the suddenly awkward silence between them grow until she couldn’t take it any longer. “My day was good too,” she offered, pursing her lips and nodding her head uncomfortably. “Did some laundry, worked out… you know, that kind of thing.”
“Fascinating,” Barbara drawled, searching for the reason behind this relatively less than urbane conversational foray. “Is there something you need to tell me?”
“Tell you?” Helena replied. “Not that I know.”
Nodding herself, the movement apparently catching, Barbara smoothed nervous palms down her thighs. “Okay then. I think I’m going to go check on the Delphi.”
Suddenly growling in frustration, Helena reached out, fingers wrapping around Barbara’s wrist to stop her movement. “Forget about Delphi for a minute, why don’t you,” she said, voice slightly rough. “Can’t we just sit down and talk like normal people? You know, you tell me about your day and I tell you about mine, and then we talk about what we want to eat for dinner and argue about who gets the remote tonight.”
Slightly confused, Barbara said warily, “Alfred’s cooking dinner, so we’ll be having whatever he chooses to make. You always take the remote. I wasn’t even aware I had a choice in its control, and nothing particularly exciting happened to me today.”
“Come on, Barbara,” Helena said pleadingly, thumb almost unknowingly beginning to trace a path up and down the soft inner skin of the other woman’s wrist. “We can’t be so incredibly bad at this. It’s impossible.”
“Bad at what?” Barbara asked distractedly, attention diverted by Helena’s gentle touch.
Shrugging her shoulders, Helena murmured, “Small talk.”
Grinning in bemusement, Barbara finally managed to once again consolidate her attention. “Why the sudden need for this particular skill? I’d say we’ve made it through the last half decade or so just fine, horrible failings at small talk notwithstanding.”
Grumbling, looking decidedly grumpy, Helena pulled her hand away, a scowl descending over her features. “Well excuse me for showing interest in your life and hoping you’d do the same.”
Rolling her eyes, Barbara reached out tentatively, twining her fingers with the other woman’s, their hands coming to rest together on the couch in front of Helena’s belly. “Since when did you get so moody,” she teased lightly, cheeks slightly rosy with a blush.
“I’ve always been moody,” Helena shot back, voice full of soft derision though her tone wasn’t cruel. “You should know that better than anyone.”
A knowing smile on her face, Barbara said, “I guess I should. Okay then… what do you want to talk about?”
“I don’t know,” Helena mumbled, eyes downcast as she slid her fingers free, taking the opportunity to simply play with the other woman’s hand, fingertips teasing against Barbara’s flesh. “Tell me something. It doesn’t matter what.”
“Doesn’t matter, hmmm,” Barbara almost purred, growing increasingly relaxed. “Susan Bradberry– you remember her, don’t you – she’s the freshman chemistry teacher. Or maybe you don’t. I can’t remember if she had started teaching while you were still at New Gotham.”
“Don’t remember her,” Helena said languidly, inching closer, Barbara’s clean scent teasing her.
“Doesn’t matter,” Barbara said off-handedly, eyes soft and relaxed. “She’s about my age, probably one of my better friends on the faculty. She teased me all day long about wearing a turtleneck at the beginning of May. She said I must’ve finally gotten lucky.”
There was a decidedly amused overtone in Barbara’s voice, and Helena couldn’t help but smirk. “What’d you tell her?” the brunette rasped, looking up through her lashes suggestively.
“That she was just jealous,” Barbara replied with a crooked grin. “Now, your turn.”
Looking up shyly, not sure why she felt hesitant about it, Helena murmured, “I’ve been thinking about getting a kitten.”
“A kitten?” Barbara echoed, brow quirked.
Blushing, eyes skittering off to the side, Helena said softly, “Yeah. We had Isis for as long as I could remember, you know. She died just before Mom did, and it just didn’t seem right back then. Like I’d be trying to replace them,” she offered, faltering slightly, the hesitance in her voice causing Barbara to melt. “I think it’s time, though. I think I’d like to try.”
Blinking away unexpected tears, Barbara said gently, “I think that’d be nice.”
“Good,” Helena quirked, looking up with a sudden, mischievous smile. “I was thinking I could keep her here.”
“Here?” Barbara nearly squeaked, feeling momentarily as if she’d been expertly suckered.
Shrugging her shoulders, Helena said, “I spend more time here than I do at my apartment. Plus, this place is huge. She’d have plenty of space.”
“Helena, you can’t just…” Barbara started with a sigh, only to trail off mid-sentence. “She?”
Smiling cockily, Helena nodded. “No toms invited,” she drawled. “Besides, I was thinking about looking for an Isis Junior, or something like that. Don’t know what I’d name her. Maybe flip Isis around or something.”
“Sisi?” Barbara deadpanned, rolling her eyes.
Brows furrowing for a moment, Helena tilted her head to the side, chagrined smile easing across her lips. “Doesn’t quite have that special something, does it?”
Laughing shortly, Barbara murmured, “I’d say not. Though, if this hypothetical cat is going to stay here, why do you get to be the one to name her?”
“Please,” Helena snorted, shaking her head in amusement. “Aren’t you the one who named her sole, unfortunate beta fish Igor back in college? You’ve completely lost all naming privileges.”
“Igor was a fine name,” Barbara said haughtily, breaking their handhold to cross her arms over her chest, leveling a glare in Helena’s direction. “And it’s not my fault he had to be… helped into the afterlife. I think he had a stroke. His left fin just stopped working, and I couldn’t stand to see him swimming in circles day after day like that. If you think about it, it was the humane thing to do.”
“Flushing him?” Helena shot back, grinning at Barbara’s sudden discomfort. “Please… you sent that poor one-finned fish down to try and hack it in the sewers for his last days. Hardly humane, Barbara.”
“And you think the cat will fare better?” Barbara challenged, slightly miffed by the reminder of her domestic ineptitude. So she’d forgotten to feed Igor occasionally. It wasn’t as if beta fish ate a lot anyway.
“Of course it will. I’ll be here to take care of it.”
That comment earned Helena a raised brow and the brunette sat back, expression daring Barbara to contradict her.
“Well, this is your home too,” Barbara said steadily, voice carefully devoid of emotion. “You know you’re always welcome here.”
It took Helena a moment to parse through the odd tension surrounding the other woman’s words, but when she did, she couldn’t help but laugh. “Is that panic, Barbara? Are you afraid I’m inviting myself to live with you?”
“Not at all,” the other woman answered smoothly, absently scratching the arm of her chair with a blunted fingernail.
Helena snorted, one hand reaching up to ruffle her already carefully mussed hair. “Chill, Red. I haven’t started checking out moving companies yet.”
“That wasn’t what I was thinking,” Barbara muttered guiltily, blushing.
Rolling her eyes, Helena merely sighed. “And they say I’m afraid of commitment.”
Fingers rubbing wearily at the bridge of her nose, exhausted after a surprisingly difficult day at school after a particularly late night, Barbara rolled into the Clocktower with a sigh. She’d broken up a fight, only to be wrangled into supervising detention, and a quick stop at the drive-thru dry cleaners later, she’d finally made it home only to discover that the sun was quickly nearing the horizon. Her stomach was growling ominously, the delicious aroma of garlic and olive oil intermingling to tease her, and as she crossed the threshold, she felt some of the tension of the day seep free, leaving her momentarily weak and boneless.
“Hello,” she called curiously after a few seconds, moving in the direction of the kitchen.
There was a startled yelp and the crash of a pan, followed closely thereafter by a rather virulent curse, and Barbara chuckled. “Everything okay in there?” she asked, rounding the corner and crossing from hardwood onto slate to see Helena scowling at her.
“Stupid oven,” the brunette muttered, blue eyes glancing balefully down at the arm she had cradled in the palm of her other hand.
Jaw working to suppress a grin, trying to slap on her most earnest concerned expression, Barbara rolled closer, nodding sympathetically. “Hot, is it?” she asked, the barest hint of amusement seeping into her tone.
Frowning fiercely, Helena walked toward the other woman, arm held forward as if she were a small child presenting a boo-boo. “You startled me when you came in,” she said softly, sliding easily onto Barbara’s lap, ignoring the way the other woman stiffened in surprise. “I jerked up to see who it was, and burned the underside of my arm on the top of the oven-thingie.”
Drawing the injured limb into her lap, eyeing the angry red burn mark sympathetically, Barbara murmured, “What do you mean, see who it was? I’m the only person who officially lives here.”
“Ooh,” Helena snarked, “is that a dig? You practicing being tactful? A subtle way of telling me I spend too much time here?”
“Not at all,” Barbara said, rolling her eyes. “Now, go get the first aid kit and I’ll put a bandage on that.”
Hopping off the other woman’s lap only to turn a disapproving gaze her way, Helena said huffily, “The injured shouldn’t be forced to fetch their own first aid.”
“Better be glad you weren’t around fifty years ago,” Barbara said blithely. “Back then, I’d have just slapped some duct tape on it and sent you back into the kitchen to finish my dinner and fetch me a beer.”
“Fetch you a beer?” Helena echoed, voice amused and edged with sarcasm. “You trying to steal control of the pants in this house, sweetheart?”
“Steal? They’ve always been mine. Now go before that blisters.”
“I think it’s too late for that,” Helena grumped, trudging off in the direction of the bathroom. Seconds later she returned with a large stainless steel case, cocking her head in the direction of the table.
Sliding into place, flicking open the locks on the case, Barbara eased the top up, revealing an array of medical supplies of which any emergency doctor would be jealous. Sifting through, she quickly found what she was looking for, agile fingers easily undoing the small top. Reaching back in, she pulled out a pair of latex gloves, snapping them on with ease.
“Now, let’s see it again,” she said, flicking her hair back over her shoulder in an unconsciously sexy move, leaning forward to peer speculatively at the rapidly rising welt.
“You know,” she said, voice slightly distant as she coated her fingers with an antiseptic cream, “my grandmother used to put butter on burns. I don’t know how it worked, exactly, but it always made me feel better. Probably had something to do with the fats in the butter… I suppose they replenished some of the moisture. Or maybe it didn’t have a medical use at all. Maybe having her care enough to do it just made me feel so loved that it didn’t matter whether or not it really did anything.”
Mouth suddenly dry, Helena croaked, “Funny. I can hardly feel a thing anymore.”
Glancing up suddenly, soft green eyes meeting shyly serious blue, Barbara took in a deep breath and held it, trapped in the promise of the moment. Helena was smiling, looking just a little scared, and the redhead felt herself melt just a tiny bit before she moved forward, lips searching for the other woman’s of their own volition. The kiss was soft, hot and sweet, deepening in millimeters, until Barbara moaned low in her throat and pressed forward, hand coming up to skim past Helena’s cheek to ease into her hair, holding her still.
Eyes fluttering closed, Helena lost herself in the exchange, senses devouring every spare morsel of detail from Barbara’s taste to her scent to the feel of their lips moving together. When the other woman pulled away, she was left breathless and panting, eyes hooded and body begging for more.
“I think,” she rasped, “that you forgot to take the gloves off.”
Tilting her head to the side, Barbara took a moment to contemplate the statement. Then she noticed the shiny trail sliding up Helena’s face and into her hair and laughed, looking down to see she was indeed still wearing both latex gloves, the antiseptic residue she hadn’t deposited on the other woman’s cheek glistening on the tips of her fingers.
“Sorry about that,” she said, ripping off the gloves and reaching for a tissue. Wiping gently at the brunette’s cheek, still chuckling, she added, “I don’t think it’s very effective as a styling gel.”
“You don’t say,” Helena drawled dryly, rolling her eyes. “I’ll have to remember to move it down behind motor oil on my list of things to use when I run out of normal styling products.”
Sighing softly, Barbara said slyly, “Stop attempting to be funny and go check on my dinner.”
“Your dinner?” Helena yelped, playfully indignant. Then, “Attempting to be funny? Ooh, Barbara… you’d better be glad I’m particularly fond of you. Otherwise, you’d be wearing your dinner.”
Laughing easily, the low, throaty sound instantly warming Helena from her belly outward, Barbara murmured, “You’d better be glad I’m particularly fond of you too.”
“Me?” Helena asked, tone slightly distracted as she tipped the lid off a pot, poking at the contents speculatively, bottom lip clenched tightly between her teeth. “Why should I be glad. I’m not the one getting all sassy all of a sudden.”
“Just because,” Barbara said regally, slowly packing up the first aid kit. “Though really, I can’t believe you cooked. You must have known I’d had the day from hell and that this would be just the perfect thing to make everything all better.”
Blushing prettily, trying to hide it by turning away to fetch a pair of plates, Helena said, voice strangled, “That’s me, prognosticator extraordinaire.”
Chuckling at the other woman’s phrasing, Barbara leaned back in her chair wearily, groaning with contentment as the tension eased out of her shoulders. “So,” she drawled, voice slightly less tired than it had been ten minutes before, “what did you make for me?”
Laughing, the sound rich and full enough to warm Barbara from the inside out, Helena murmured, “You’re awfully proprietary. I think I like that.”
“Are you saying you’d like to be domesticated?” Barbara shot back, voice warm and thick and slightly amused.
Grinning wryly, Helena shook her head. “I think I’m a wild breed.”
“I have no doubt,” Barbara replied, tone laced with sarcasm. “Now quit procrastinating and tell me about dinner.”
“Bossy… That’s okay, though. I don’t mind a woman who wants to be in charge.”
Smirking, Barbara drawled, “I’ll keep that in mind.”
“You do that,” Helena replied, eyes glinting. “Now, for dinner. Greek chicken and steamed veggies, a la Alfred’s painfully tedious instructions.”
“He helped?” Barbara asked idly, eyes closed as she took in the delicious aroma of the food.
“No,” Helena stipulated, plating the second entrée with a smile. “He instructed. I did all the work.”
“Then I’m doubly impressed,” Barbara said, sighing and opening her eyes just in time to see a plate slide into place before her. There were splashes of color everywhere, from the feta to the green peppers and onions and tomatoes glistening with olive oil and speckled with spices. It all contrasted nicely with the cauliflower, yellow pepper, snow pea and broccoli vegetable mixture, and Barbara looked up with a grin. “It looks wonderful, Helena. Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me yet,” the other woman said shyly, ducking her head to hide a blush. “Wait until you taste it first.”
“I’m sure Alfred wouldn’t let you make anything less than the best,” Barbara said drolly, picking up her fork to spear a snow pea.
“You’d be surprised the damage I can do when I’m left unsupervised,” Helena muttered, watching Barbara’s face intently as she chewed slowly. “Alfred sends his blessings, by the way.”
Green eyes looked up in confusion as Barbara swallowed. “It’s delicious… and what do you mean?”
“Thanks,” Helena preened, grinning widely. “And, he said he was pleased to see that we had reached a new level in our relationship. He thought it was long past time, actually. His words, not mine. Though, I’ll have to admit I couldn’t agree more.”
“And just how did he know about this new level?” Barbara asked, cocking a brow.
“I don’t know,” Helena replied, shrugging her shoulders for added effect. “He just did. Never underestimate Alfred, Barbara. He’s sneakier than he looks.”
“Perhaps. Are you sure he didn’t have any inside source?” Barbara queried absently, slicing off a piece of her chicken.
“I’m sure,” Helena said patiently, willing herself to not get annoyed with the slightly distrustful edge to Barbara’s voice. “So why the bad day?”
“Trying out that small talk thing again?” Barbara asked archly, barely suppressing a moan as she bit into the juicy, surprisingly tasty piece of chicken.
“Yeah. Are you going to cooperate this time?” Helena asked sharply, defensive in the face of possible ridicule.
Leaning back in her chair with a sigh, Barbara smiled a small, crooked smile. “It’s the end of the school year, and no one really wants to be there. Least of all the students, two of whom got into a fistfight today in the hall. I turned them in, and so got stuck monitoring them in detention. Which, by the way, seems highly unfair. Not to mention a rather idiotic policy, because I imagine most of the teachers there would rather let the students beat themselves to a pulp than have to stay after school for longer than necessary. Then I had to go to the cleaners… I got your dress, by the way. And, I’ve been tired all day, which didn’t help.”
“How utterly domestic,” Helena murmured, smirking. “I cook, you pick up my dry cleaning. Next thing you know, we’ll be arguing about bills and planning vacation cruises and picking out new living room furniture.”
“God, I hope not,” Barbara muttered, shivering as a bolt of panic ran down her spine. “I don’t think I could take it.”
“Too normal for you?” Helena asked, suddenly interested. Not that she’d ever wanted normal, she supposed. Or maybe she had, but hadn’t known it, and now wanted to be privy to the same process that every other couple in the world went through. She wanted a little bit of domestic bliss to go along with the danger and intrigue.
Looking up uncomfortably, sure she didn’t like the sudden intense scrutiny being directed her way from uncommonly focused blue eyes, Barbara swallowed nervously. “Is there anything about our lives you consider normal, Helena?”
Head cocked to the side, Helena thought about the question for a long moment. “Well, sure. We’ve got cable, just like regular folks. We eat, much like everyone else in the world. We make horribly bad small talk over dinner and have a relationship that we’re working on building together, as I’m sure many other people do. Maybe someday we’ll have a pet, and if you give it a little time, you won’t get kind of freaked out when we kiss. How much more normal could we be?”
“I don’t get freaked out,” Barbara muttered with a light blush.
Smiling wryly, Helena shook her head in bemused frustration. “You definitely get a little bit freaked out. You enjoy it, which freaks you out. You remember that it’s me you’re kissing, which freaks you out. You want to do it again, which freaks you out even more. Maybe sometimes you want to do something more than just kiss me, which probably freaks you out the most.”
“And you don’t get freaked out?” Barbara challenged, trying to ignore the blush still staining her cheeks.
“Uh, no,” Helena drawled with a kind of laconic conciseness. “Mainly I just get aroused.”
Unable to think of an appropriate comeback, Barbara tried to hide the fact that she was blushing wildly by attacking her vegetables with renewed vigor.
There was nothing special about the night it happened. Helena had thought that, given that their last foray into deeper intimacy was in the front seat of the Hummer, the return to it would be better planned. She was willing to spring for all of the clichés. Flowers, candles, soft music, a romantic dinner… she’d make it happen.
What she didn’t expect was an obscenely bad science fiction movie playing on the television, an abandoned bowl of popcorn on the floor and both of them just a little bit high on exhaustion and adrenalin because it was after three in the morning and sweeps had been more arduous than usual. Barbara had leaned back against the back of the couch and let her slide into the vee of her thighs to watch the movie, and Helena had reveled in the feeling of being cocooned. And then she’d fought the urge to kiss the all too tempting patch of skin beneath Barbara’s jaw for as long as she could, but eventually gave into the urge and slid around in a move so sinuous that it almost went unnoticed. The one kiss had transitioned smoothly into two and soon bad dialogue was punctuated by soft whimpers and muffled moans and her shirt was lying on the floor, though she wasn’t entirely sure just who was responsible for that.
There was a second of recognition, a moment when they both were cognizant of the fact that they’d shifted seamlessly from impromptu make-out session to something far more serious. Helena had watched Barbara’s eyes, still for that small slice of time as she waited for the other woman to reach a decision. She wasn’t going to make the same mistake again, wasn’t going to push for more than Barbara was ready to give (and, quite honestly, more than she had been ready to get). Maybe it was that pause that tipped the balance in her favor; when Barbara closed the distance between them with conscious deliberation, lips meeting in a too soft kiss, Helena knew.
No more barriers.
She wasn’t going to argue. Things had been so busy for the past week that the momentary relaxation had been a respite. She’d been surprised when Barbara agreed to the movie, heartened by the intimacy of their position on the couch, and absolutely ecstatic when her kisses had been accepted. No, not accepted. Welcomed. Wanted. Desired.
She knew Barbara hated being manhandled, but as spur of the moment as things were, she still wasn’t going to let their first time happen on the couch. Blessing her flexibility as she managed to scoop Barbara up into her arms while still maintaining monopoly on her lips, Helena stumbled across the wide expanse of the Clocktower floor, managing to stub her toe only once.
Barbara, for her part, tried not to think of what she was allowing to happen. She consciously ignored the fluttering in her belly as Helena picked her up, resolutely denying the eroticism of the gesture. To be carried away like that… well, there was something far more appealing in the ostensibly barbaric gesture than she would ever admit. Instead she wrapped her arms around Helena’s neck even more tightly, fingers winding into short, soft hair.
She’d had enough of thinking, anyway.
“Oh shit, Helena!”
Instantly roused from sleep by the panic in her bed-partner’s voice, Helena shot straight up. “What? What is it?”
“Helena…” Barbara began breathlessly, and Helena cursed.
“Oh, no. We’re not having this. No morning after regrets,” Helena said fiercely, scowling.
Frowning, the promised beginnings of a temper tantrum not doing anything to help Barbara with her dilemma, she used the most effective way she knew to get Helena to shut-up. She kissed her. Hard.
“Uh, confused here,” Helena said moments later, gaze fazed and unfocussed.
Huffing in frustration, Barbara pushed up to a seated position. “I’m not having regrets. I’m okay. We’re okay,” she stressed. “We completely ignored that whole thing about not moving too quickly, but that’s okay.”
Feeling slightly drained, the rush of adrenalin she’d felt when she’d thought that Barbara was about to freak out and kick her out of bed subsiding, Helena asked, “Then, uh, what exactly is going on here?”
Pointing almost angrily at the clock, Barbara snapped, “It’s 12:15. I’m supposed to have lunch with my Dad at 1:00. I’ve got 45 minutes to get showered, get dressed, and meet him.”
“Oh,” Helena said, sighing with relief. “Is that all?”
“What do you mean, is that all? He’s a policeman, Helena. He notices everything. He knows far more than he should. I can’t be late.”
Helena snorted, thoroughly amused. “You’re afraid that Daddy’s going to find out you’ve been doing the naughty,” she teased, smirking. And then she remembered just what it was like to do the naughty with Barbara and felt herself turn into a puddle of love-struck goo. If she hadn’t been so happy, she’d have been disgusted with herself.
Shooting Helena a highly aggrieved and completely ignored glare, Barbara muttered, “If you know what’s good for you, you won’t say another word. And, you’ll go get me my chair.”
“Or,” Helena growled sleepily, indulging in a languorous stretch, “we could shower together.”
Barbara scoffed, then rolled her eyes, then tried to push the mental imagery from her mind. If she let her thoughts linger on just what it would be like to take Helena up on her offer, it was highly likely that she’d never put on clothes again. The night before had been nothing short of absolute bliss – and carnal perfection to a degree she’d never experienced before, but Barbara was loathe to admit it. She had a feeling Helena was already well aware of her skill in that particular arena, and didn’t really need further encouragement. Instead, she said, “If you think you can use last night as an excuse to cart me around everywhere, then you’re wrong. My chair, please.”
“Take the fun out of the morning after, why don’t you,” Helena mumbled unhappily, sliding off the bed to do Barbara’s bidding and trying not to pout too much at the realization that she wasn’t going to be allowed to resume the activities that had only just come to a halt a few hours before, more so because of exhaustion than a true desire to stop. Standing alerted her to the tightness of well-used muscles, and she took another moment to stretch, seemingly unconscious of her nakedness, before heading into the other room.
A strong hand on her wrist stopped her, and Barbara managed to pull her around and back down to the bed before Helena worked up the will to protest. Wrapping a hand around the back of Helena’s neck, Barbara pulled her closer, eyes dark. “What happened last night was serious, at least for me.”
Mesmerized by the intensity of Barbara’s gaze, Helena nodded dumbly. “Of course. I love you, Barbara. I didn’t mean to make you feel like…”
Her words were cut off as Barbara surged forward, capturing Helena’s lips in a kiss that started as a fiery response but quickly gentled to a loving reaffirmation. “I know,” she said softly as she finally pulled away. “Now, please… my chair.”
She waited until Helena had reached the door before calling out softly, “Oh, and Helena? I love you, too.”
Slightly dazed by both the kiss and the confession, Helena wandered off to do Barbara’s bidding, naked as the day she was born.
“You’re looking well,” Jim Gordon said, bending to plant a kiss on his daughter’s cheek. She had beaten him to the restaurant by a few minutes, but then again, he’d been expecting that. Barbara was nothing if not punctual.
Smiling up at her adopted father, Barbara murmured, “You too, Dad. Enjoying retirement, I take it.”
“Absolutely,” he beamed, snapping open a menu. “Now I’m just waiting for the day when you hand over my first grandchild for an afternoon of babysitting.”
At that, Barbara choked on her water, coughing and sputtering, eyes red by the time she finally managed to clear her airway. “I’m sorry, what?” she asked, aghast.
“Come now, Barbara,” Jim chided, smiling mischievously. “You’re practically glowing today. You can’t tell me things aren’t going well between you and Helena.”
Blushing beet red despite herself, Barbara blinked rapidly in confusion, mouth gaping open. “Dad… you…”
Snapping his menu closed with a wide grin, Jim teased, “I think that’s confirmation enough.”
Struggling to regain her composure, Barbara muttered, “I’m scarred for life. You’re going to have to pay for the therapy bills.”
Chuckling gently and ignoring her little tantrum, he said, “So I take it you worked out your problems with Helena, then.”
“Uh,” cheeks burning in mortification as a highlight reel of the events of the night before ran through her mind unbidden, Barbara murmured, “I guess you could say that.”
“Already working on that grandchild, aren’t you.”
Barbara was so flummoxed by her father’s attitude that she could barely think, let alone string together a coherent sentence, “That’s so absolutely wrong, Dad. Wrong.”
Jim shrugged carelessly, thoroughly enjoying his daughter’s discomfort. “Actually, probably not wrong at all.”
Glaring at her father, aware that he was having far too much fun at her disposal, Barbara strove for blithe as she said, “You do know that we can’t actually procreate, don’t you?”
Eyes twinkling, Jim merely smiled. “Oh, I have faith in you Barbara. I imagine there isn’t much you can’t do, once you set your mind to it.”
Barbara wondered briefly why the cosmic forces had chosen to converge on her quite so viciously. She wasn’t used to having much attention paid to her love life; in fact, she wasn’t much used to having one. But then she thought about Helena, still lounging lazily on her bed as Barbara had left, still naked and gorgeous and tousled.
“Hurry back,” she said, eyes sparkling with promise.
And quite honestly, Barbara couldn’t think of a better incentive to try. Repeatedly.