In A Song (part 2 of 12)

Saturday: 8:56am: No Man’s Land

“I’m sorry to call you so early but I didn’t know what else to do,” Deke said, his eyes darting back and forth.

Gibson glanced at the woman bent over the pool table to make a shot across the green felt. The pool cue slid swiftly and cleanly over flexed knuckles. The target ball caromed into the pocket. “How long’s she been here?”

“She was here when I came on at two. Bill said she came in around 10pm, asked for about $20 in quarters, ordered a double vodka rocks, said to keep them coming, and fed the juke for about 15 minutes,” Deke replied. He ran nervous fingers, the edges slightly blurred, through his van Dyke. “It’s been nothing but blues all night. Oh, and she said to give you this if she wasn’t here when you came in.” Deke reached under the bar and pulled out a CD in a white paper sleeve. The note stuck on the front read simply ‘Thanks, –H.’

Gibson took the CD from Deke’s now blurry grasp and put a hand on the other man’s arm. “Deke, relax, you’re starting to speed up to where I can’t see you,” Gibson grinned as Deke nodded, slowing down to normal human speed. “How’s she been acting?”

“Not friendly but not bad. She’ll take on anyone who wants to play her, hasn’t lost a game in about five hours. Mostly she just racks ’em, runs the table, and starts over. What worries me is this,” Deke said, gesturing to the mostly empty shelf behind the bar where a dozen types of vodka would normally be. “I’ve already been into stores once. I finally gave up trying to serve her and just gave her a bottle. I can’t figure out why she’s still standing up.”

Gibson glanced over at the pool table where Helena was dropping balls into the plastic triangle to rack for another run. He turned back to Deke. “Grief will do that to you,” he said, patting Deke on the shoulder. “You did the right thing calling me. Take the extra hour and go home early.”

“Thanks, boss,” Deke replied, relief clearly heard in his tone. He came around the end of the bar, grabbed his coat off a hook on the wall, and headed for the elevator.

Gibson turned on his stool and regarded Helena thoughtfully as she downed the rest of her drink and poured the remainder of the bottle Deke had given her over the ice in her glass. She moved over to the pool table, bent, took aim, and broke the setup with a smack from the cue ball. Gibson looked down at the CD he still held, pulled out his cell phone, and started thumbing through the electronic phone book.

Saturday: 9:11am: Clocktower balcony

Barbara watched as the sun’s rays penetrated the cracks and crevices of the city she loved, the city she’d sacrificed so much to protect, and, as she watched New Gotham wake up, she wondered for at least the hundredth time in an hour what the point was to everything she’d done.

In the hours since Helena had left the clocktower Barbara had examined and reexamined her own motivations. All her worrying around of the issues had led her to the one conclusion she didn’t want to face. She was afraid, pure and simple. She’d worked too hard and too long to get to a place where she could tell herself that not being able to walk didn’t matter. Letting anyone, including Helena, get close enough to see just how much it did matter represented a trial that Barbara wasn’t sure she was strong enough to emerge from with any sort of self-respect.

Barbara’s throat ached from all the tears she’d refused to shed after her initial crying jag. Her chest felt tight as the image of Helena’s face as she backed away popped once again to the front of her mind. The stunned, sad look had Barbara closing her eyes in shame. Helena had enough ego, and enough id, to fill a good sized stadium, and even through the temper tantrums of her adolescence, through her brooding moods and demands for the spotlight, she’d always been there for Barbara. Letting her own fear hurt someone that close to her was a lapse for which Barbara would never forgive herself. She felt one tear and then another roll from under her closed eyelids. She swiped a hand across her cheek as she heard soft footsteps approach from behind.

“Good morning, Alfred,” Barbara said.

“Good morning, Miss Barbara,” Alfred replied. “Would you care for breakfast?”

Barbara turned to look at him and found his expression as neutral as ever. “No, thank you. I don’t seem to have much of an appetite this morning.”

“Very well. Some more tea, perhaps?” he asked. Experience told him that Barbara had not slept at all over night. Her face was pale, and drawn, and he hadn’t missed the tears she’d tried to hide, or the sadness shadowing her green eyes.

“Yes, thank you.” She handed him the empty mug which sat nearby on the ledge. “I’m sorry about the mess in the kitchen. Dinner was superb.”

“I’m glad the food met with your approval.” Alfred’s tone held an edge Barbara couldn’t identify, one that had her watching after him as he turned and made his way back into the clocktower.

In the kitchen he found the dinner dishes piled neatly in the sink. He pulled open the refrigerator and found untouched the flan he’d left for Helena to prepare for the previous night’s dessert. Setting the kettle to boil for Barbara’s tea he pulled one of the ceramic dishes out of the refrigerator and found the small torch he needed in one of the drawers.

Back out on the balcony he found Barbara staring off across the increasingly bright New Gotham skyline. “Despite your lack of appetite I think this might sit well,” he said, holding the tray so she could take the ramekin and spoon. He set the mug of tea on the ledge where she could reach it.

“You really do take better care of us than we deserve, Alfred,” Barbara said, cracking the caramelized sugar on top of the custard with the edge of her spoon.

Alfred watched as she dug around under the crystallized sugar to get a full spoon of custard. “I very much doubt that, Miss Barbara.” He watched her for a few seconds as she worked on the dessert. “May I speak frankly?”

“When do you do anything but, Alfred?” Barbara said with a smile. She popped another spoonful of custard into her mouth.

Alfred smiled. “You’d be surprised.”

“By all means then, yes.” Barbara loaded up her spoon again. She felt her blood sugar going up, lifting her mood a little bit as it did.

“Life gives us a thousand chances. All we have to do is reach out and take one of them to change the course of things entirely,” Alfred said, his eyes not leaving Barbara’s face.

Barbara’s astonishment and the love she heard in Alfred’s tone washed over her like a warm summer wind. “You knew.”

“Knew what?” Alfred kept his game face on. His expression revealed nothing.

“That Helena loves…loved me; you knew…” Barbara said, spoon dangling from her fingers, forgotten.

“Yes, and I also know how you feel about her,” Alfred replied, his voice even. The blush creeping up Barbara’s neck was almost enough to make him feel embarrassed. Her resolute refusal to see the truth of her own feelings offset any tenderness Alfred might have felt. He’d had just about enough stubbornness from the two of them. “One would have to be blind not to see it. I’ll be in the kitchen cleaning up in if you need anything else.” He turned on his heel and made his way back inside the clocktower.

Barbara simply stared after him too surprised to formulate a reply. A thousand chances…and I manage to blow the only one I’ll ever get. She set the ceramic dish and the spoon down on the ledge next to the mug of tea suddenly sure that anything else she put in her stomach would immediately bounce.

Saturday: 9:36am: Gabby’s room

Warm, soft hands stroked her back as equally soft lips fixed themselves on the steady pulse point at the side of her neck. She felt loved and aroused as she heard her dream self whisper her own name. The hands moved to her arms caressing even as a steady beeping seeped through to Dinah’s sleeping mind urging her to wake up. “Saturday, no school.” She burrowed deeper into the pillow as the warmth from the body spooned behind her pulled her farther back toward dreamland. She and Gabby had fallen into bed around quarter to four after some ill-advised S’mores around 1am. The sugar had kept them both wired long enough to play another six games of Trivial Pursuit.

“‘s your phone,” Gabby said, her voice still sleepy.

Dinah snaked a hand out from under the covers and picked up the tweedling phone. She cracked open one eye and looked at the caller-ID display: Gibson 9:01am. She was about to put the phone back down when it rang again. The caller-ID displayed the same message and the current time. Dinah flipped open the phone. “Hello?…No, really, it’s OK. Two phone calls in less than forty minutes before 10am on a Saturday, definitely not a big deal…No, it’s a learned skill. Why are you calling me?”

Dinah was quiet as she listened to the information coming over the phone. While she did she became aware of her position in the bed, of Gabby’s arm wrapped firmly around her waist and the length of her pressed against Dinah’s back. “Give me 20 minutes and I’ll be there. Thanks.” She closed the phone and put it on the night table.

“Hey…” Getting only a murmur in response from Gabby she reached under the covers and tried to move Gabby’s arm. Gabby’s response was to tighten her hold on Dinah’s waist. “Gabby…I’ve got to get up.” She patted Gabby on the arm lightly until she felt her friend stir. Dinah could tell when Gabby was fully awake by how fast she pulled away and moved to the other side of the bed. Dinah rolled onto her back and looked at her friend. “Morning,” she said with a smile.

“Yeah, morning,” Gabby replied, trying, unsuccessfully she feared, not to blush a beet red. Wisps of the dream that she’d been having for several weeks which prominently featured Dinah’s hands and mouth flitted through her brain. She felt the warmth of embarrassment flood her face.

“Sorry to snore and run but I’ve got a little family emergency I’ve got to go deal with,” Dinah said, folding back the blankets and getting out of bed.

“Is everything OK?” Gabby asked, her embarrassment forgotten in a wave of concern. “Do you need anything?”

Dinah hopped on one foot, pulling her jeans on over the panties she’d worn to bed. “Things aren’t tragic but they aren’t OK either. I don’t need anything, though. Thanks…and tell your Mom I said thanks again for the lasagna, and for letting me stay over.” She hadn’t missed Gabby’s blush or her own reaction to the feeling of Gabby’s body next to hers. “Will you be around this evening? I’m gonna need to download after things have calmed down.” She buttoned her jeans and slid on her shoes.

“Sure, I’ll be around,” Gabby replied as Dinah pulled a sweater on over the tank top she’d worn to sleep in. “Hey, don’t forget this.” Gabby leaned over and grabbed the cellphone off the nightstand as Dinah slung her bag over her shoulder.

Dinah smiled, took the phone, and dropped it in her bag. “Thanks, and thanks for last night. I had a good time, even if you did end up beating me three times.” She leaned in and kissed Gabby on the cheek. “Later ‘gator,” she grinned. She headed out of the bedroom, shutting the door quietly behind her.

Gabby fell back against the pillows, inhaling Dinah’s scent which still lingered there. She pulled a pillow over her face and screamed her frustration.

Saturday: 10:02am: No Man’s Land

“You really suck at this, you know that,” Helena said, dropping the 8 ball into the side pocket. “You practically live here, Gibson. You should be hustling me.”

Gibson tapped the butt end of his pool cue on the floor in front of him. Helena had given him the break and he’d used it to sink the first of the three balls he’d gotten to shoot at. Once he’d missed it was all over. Helena had run the table, solids from the 1 right through the 8. “My talents lie in other areas, as you well know,” he replied with a smile. Mentally he counted off minute 27 since Dinah had disconnected their phone call. “Give a guy another chance?” he asked, stalling for time since he was unwilling to leave Helena to brood alone.

“Sure, I’ll even let you break again,” Helena said, stepping away from the table and motioning him in with a sweep of her arm.

“Just out of curiosity…how drunk are you? Deke and I were kind of wondering about the physics of you remaining vertical.” Gibson bent down and sent the cue ball spinning into the rest of its mates. He groaned when not a single ball dropped into a pocket.

Helena’s smile was thin and tight, devoid of any real humor. She took aim at the 14 ball and thwacked it into a corner pocket. “I think I was technically drunk for about 45 minutes somewhere around 3am. Mostly what I am right now is buzzed. I’d have to be doing a power hour with double vodka shots to get where I want to be.”

“Oh, and where’s that?” Gibson’s tone was even. He worked hard to keep his face neutral sensing that Helena was working hard to deal with some powerful emotions despite her surface bravado.

“Comfortably numb.” Helena smacked the 10 into one of the side pockets and circled around the table. She was bent over, ready to knock the 9 ball into the 12 and both of them into the other side pocket when the person who’d stepped off the elevator behind her spoke.

“Is this a private game or can anybody get in line to play the winner?” Dinah said, her tone lighter than her actual mood.

The relief on Gibson’s face was fleeting as Helena turned feral eyes toward him. “Judas,” she said, her eyes changing back to normal. She sunk her shot, straightened up, and turned to face Dinah.

“Little early for you to be playing pool isn’t it, kid?” Helena made sure her expression was hard even as her insides began to quiver.

“I could say the same thing to you,” Dinah replied, her eyes not leaving Helena’s. Even without the telepathy Dinah could see the emotions rolling just beneath Helena’s calm facade.

Helena crossed to the side table where her glass waited, downed the rest of the vodka, and set the glass down with a thump. “Actually, it’s late for me. But, hey, I don’t have anywhere else to go so I might as well hang here.” Her chest tightened as the sadness she’d be drinking steadily to keep down rose with a vengeance. “You don’t mind if Dinah cuts in do you, Gib?”

“Not in the slightest. I think I’m needed behind the bar anyway,” Gibson replied, handing Dinah his cue. “Good luck.” He patted Dinah on the shoulder and crossed to the bar giving the two women their own space to talk.

Dinah watched as Helena pulled balls out of the automatic return slot and racked them. Helena flipped the triangle between her fingers before stowing it under the table. “Your break, kid.”

As Dinah took aim she could feel Helena’s eyes on her. Helena’s manner was aggressive, predator posturing and attitude rolling off her in waves as she attempted to cover up the wound she was sure was obvious to anyone who looked. Dinah’s hit was solid sending the balls out into a neat spread. She subtly nudged the 2 into the far corner pocket. She knocked the 6 cleanly into the same pocket and circled around to take aim at another solid.

“So, you want to tell me why you’re at No Man’s Land playing pool at 10am on a Saturday morning still in the clothes you had on last night?” Dinah kept her eyes fixed on the table, hoping that this small measure of privacy would get Helena to open up. The 4 ball missed by enough that using her tk powers to drop it would be obvious. When she finally looked at Helena’s face the sadness she saw there overwhelmed her. She came around the end of the table to where Helena stood.

“You try to hug me and so help me I’ll rip your throat out,” Helena rasped, her voice thick with unshed tears. She picked up the cue ball and rolled it around in her hand knowing that another look at Dinah’s face would have her crying like a baby. She squeezed the cue ball, focusing her grief and rage into the hardened resin sphere.

“OK, hugging is out,” Dinah said, tucking some hair behind her ear. “How about some coffee? Maybe some food? ’cause, I don’t know about you, but I could eat one of everything right about now.” She paused and when no response was forthcoming Dinah touched Helena on the arm. “You know, you’re perfectly safe with me, right? I mean, I’m just a dumb kid. I am a good listener, though and since what I think is so not important to you it couldn’t hurt to bounce whatever is bugging you off someone else. You know, hear yourself talk out loud, get a different perspective.”

Helena flicked her eyes up to Dinah’s face half hoping to find some mockery there so she’d have some one besides herself on whom to focus her anger. Worry and affection were the only things she found in Dinah’s expression. “I don’t care…that’s bullshit, and you know it. You’re the only family I’ve got left now.” Helena could feel the tears welling up in her eyes. She took a deep breath and looked away, trying to lock down her feelings. If Barbara could do it, so could she. After a long pause she finally met Dinah’s eyes. “I could eat something,” she said.

Dinah nodded. “Great, so we’ll find a greasy spoon and have a big plate of cholesterol. But first, you might want to wash your hands.” She glanced down. Helena looked down at her hand. The cue ball had disappeared into pile of shards and dust that sifted through her fingers onto the floor. “Can you even buy those things individually?” Dinah asked.

Helena smiled softly. “I guess I’m about to find out.”

Saturday: 10:17am: Clocktower

Barbara blinked as the screen in front of her blurred in and out of focus. She took off her glasses and rubbed the bridge of her nose. Fatigue pawed at the back of her neck. The headache she’d felt building for the past half hour had crawled up from the ache in her shoulders to cover her head like a cowl. No matter how much she tried to distract herself with research her mind constantly returned to the same subject: Helena.

Tired, I’m just tired. She’ll show up here around dusk, we’ll talk it out, there will be some tears but everything will be fine. Barbara closed her eyes and dropped her head into her hands. She desperately wanted to believe the mantra she’d been repeating to herself but she knew in her heart it wouldn’t be that simple. She’d played out all the scenarios in her head trying to find all the possible ways Helena might behave and how she would react. Every single one ended with an ache in her gut and a near unbearable weight crushing her chest.

The Delphi’s notify alarm sounded as one of Barbara’s monitoring programs showed activity at the old Bond Bread warehouse. Barbara lifted her head and noted that the program was recording based on the parameters she’d set earlier in the week. Then she did something rare for her, she ignored what was going on in the outside world to take care of herself.

Barbara backed away from the computer’s table and headed for her bedroom. If sleep knits up the raveled sleeve of care I’m going to be out for the rest of the day. She didn’t even glance over her shoulder as another notification alarm went off. She shut the door to her bedroom behind her.

Saturday: 10:38am: Silver Diner

“You were right. This is good,” Helena said, taking another forkful of the spinach, Swiss, and mushroom omelette Dinah had ordered for her. Sugar fiend that she was, Helena had wanted a double order of French toast.

Dinah smiled. “Alcohol metabolizes as a simple sugar so when you’ve had a lot you need to balance it out with some protein.” Helena raised an eyebrow and took a bite of wheat toast. “Advanced Bio this year,” Dinah replied to the silent question. She moved the spoon around in her bowl of Raisin Bran. The worst thing she can do is kill me. “So….I’m guessing last night didn’t go too well?” Dinah braced herself for the firestorm of Helena’s reaction. The head back, so loud other customers stared, roaring laugh that she got was not what she’d anticipated.

“You’ve got a gift for understatement, you know that,” Helena said wiping her eyes with her napkin. “No, things didn’t go well. I mean,” Helena said, her expression becoming serious as she dropped her eyes to her plate and toyed with her fork. “I did get her boyfriend killed after all.”

Dinah shook her head. “That wasn’t your fault.”

“You don’t think?” Helena flicked her eyes up to Dinah’s face. “Because, you’d be the only one who doesn’t.” She took a sip from her mug of coffee. Dinah watched as the pallor of Helena’s face changed. “Excuse me for a sec.” Helena got up from the booth and hurried toward the ladies’ room.

The waitress approached the booth. “Is your friend OK?” She asked, tucking a strand of gray hair back into her cap. “Was there something wrong with her breakfast?”

Dinah shook her head. “The food was fine. She just…had a rough night. Can I get the check?” The waitress pulled a Guest Check from her pad and laid it face down on the table. “Pay up front when you’re ready, sweetheart.”

In the ladies’ room Helena rinsed her mouth and spit for a second time. She turned off the water and looked at herself in mirror. It could have been the pits around the edges of the glass, or the cheap silvering flaking off the back, but even to her own eyes she looked like she’d been to hell and back without a nap. Her stomach flipped over again as the thought crossed her mind that hell was the “what do we do now?” conversation she had yet to have with Barbara. Brought it on yourself, babe. Brought it on yourself. She clenched her fingers tight has as she successfully fought the urge to shatter the mirror with her fist.

She found Dinah standing outside the diner chewing on a Lifesaver. “Do they really make sparks?” Helena asked, the light scent of Wintergreen floating to her nose as she stopped beside Dinah. A light breeze ruffled her hair. The bright, clear sunlight of morning should have banished the shadows and shown Helena a clear path out of her dilemma. All it did was make her eyes burn.

“Yes, but they have to be dry and you can only see the sparks where it’s really dark.” Dinah handed the roll over so Helena could have one. She started moving down the sidewalk toward the corner.

“Uh, where are we going?” Helena pulled the hard candy off the stack and popped it into her mouth.

Dinah stuck her hands in her pockets. “I’m walking you home. When we get there you’re going to get some sleep, and when you wake up I want you to call me. OK?”

“Why are you doing all this? I’ve been riding your ass since you got here,” Helena said scuffing her boot on the curb as they waited for the traffic signal to change.

Dinah sighed and turned to Helena. “Look, I’m going to tell you the same thing I told Barbara. I love you. You’re my family now. I’m not going to interfere but I want you both to be happy. What?” Dinah asked in response to the stunned look on Helena’s face.

“You knew she was going to say no. Fuck! I am so stupid. Of course you knew. You’ve read both of us.” Helena shut her eyes against the nausea that twisted her stomach and the embarrassment she felt washing her features. She felt Dinah’s hand on her arm and when she opened her eyes she knew that the betrayal she felt had changed her eyes to the feral just from Dinah’s slightly frightened look.

Dinah swallowed hard. “I didn’t know. You’ve got to believe me.”

“Do I?” Helena jerked her arm away from Dinah’s touch.

“No, I guess you don’t,” Dinah said her voice soft and a little bit sad. “But you’re right. I have read you both enough to know that maybe just giving up isn’t the smartest thing you could do right now.”

Helena studied Dinah and when the younger woman didn’t look away Helena’s expression softened. She concentrated on a point in space somewhere behind Dinah’s left shoulder. “So, instead of just cutting my losses now and pretending I didn’t make a complete ass of myself last night I should keep after her — is that what you’re saying?”

Dinah nodded. “Yep, and that’s all I’m saying.” She ran her hand through her hair. “I’ve probably just violated about 10 rules in some secret telepaths’ handbook by saying that much.”

“When did you get to be so wise in the ways of the world?” Helena said flicking her eyes back to Dinah’s face.

“While you weren’t looking,” Dinah grinned, punching Helena lightly on the shoulder. “So, can I walk you home?”

Helena smiled. She handed Dinah the roll of Lifesavers. “I’d be honored if you did.”

Saturday: 2:43pm: Clocktower kitchen

Dinah scraped the rest of the macaroni and cheese she’d made for lunch into a storage bowl and put the pan in the sink. She’d come home to find the Delphi bleating, Barbara shut firmly in her room, and Alfred pouting in the kitchen. The image of the resolute British butler staring into a cup of tea, morose look fixed on his face, brought a smile to Dinah’s lips. It was only because she was happy to know that he did have feelings in there somewhere. After he’d determined she didn’t need anything he’d gone back to the manor leaving instructions that she shouldn’t hesitate to call if the situation changed. Dinah thought she’d detected some muttering about ‘too stubborn for their own good’ but she couldn’t be certain.

She was soaping up the cheese-covered pan when she heard the whine of Barbara’s chair approaching the kitchen. Dinah took a deep breath to center herself. “Hey,” she said putting as much smile into her voice as she could.

“Something smells good,” Barbara said coming to a stop just inside the kitchen door. “Four cheese?”

“There’s plenty left if you’re hungry. Can you believe one of those boxes is supposed to serve four? Helena goes through them like they’re single-serving,” Dinah replied her babble reflex kicking into gear to compensate for her nerves. D’oh! She tried not to scrunch up her face as she waited for Barbara’s reaction to the mention of Helena. She attacked the cheese stuck on the bottom of the saucepan with the scrubby sponge.

When Barbara remained quiet Dinah glanced at the redhead out of the corner of her eye. Barbara busied herself with dishing some of the pasta out into a smaller bowl. Her expression betrayed nothing as she wheeled over to the table with the food.

Barbara dug into the macaroni and cheese. “How was Trivial Pursuit last night?” She popped the loaded fork into her mouth, relishing the warmth and the rich taste of one of her all-time favorite comfort foods. Her sleep had not been restful. The back half of her time in bed was filled with desperate searching for someone she couldn’t find and left her with a lingering feeling of unease. She didn’t need a degree in psychology to know what her dreams signified.

“Good. We stayed up way too late. Gabby beat me three times,” Dinah replied, rinsing off the saucepan and placing it in the dishrack. “How was dinner and a movie?”

Barbara stared hard at Dinah’s back. “How did you know I was taking the night off?”

Damn… “Helena mentioned something about getting you to play hooky since things have been so slow.” Dinah dried her hands on the dishtowel as she tried to delay facing Barbara. She hung the towel up and finally turned around. She found Barbara’s face calm, her expression composed.

Barbara nodded. She tried to keep her tone even. “Have you talked to her today?”

“Helena? Nope. Listen, I’m gonna go hit the books. Let me know if you need me for sweeps tonight.” Dinah practically bounced with the barely controlled desire to be anywhere but in the kitchen bald-faced lying to Barbara.

“No sweeps tonight, I think. New Gotham can take care of itself for a while,” Barbara said, spearing some more macaroni. “You can make other plans for tonight if you’d like.”

“Are you kidding? And abandon that big screen TV to something educational like the Discovery Channel? No way.” Dinah grinned.

“I’d say invite Gabby over but that could get a little complicated if something major goes down.” Barbara’s smile was soft.

“She’s seen enough of me in the past couple of weeks anyway,” Dinah replied. “Get a bunch of movies and have pizza? Sounds like a plan to me.”

Barbara studied Dinah’s face. Either the girl had become the best liar in the city during Barbara’s recent distraction or she was really unaware of the discreet but longing glances from her best friend. “Go hit the books and when you’re done we’ll go to the video store.”

Dinah’s smile lit her whole face. “Great…but everything has to be in color.”

“Conditions now?” Barbara’s smile threaded through her voice.

“Without a doubt.” Dinah’s phone chimed. She picked it up off the counter and glanced at the caller-ID. Helena. “Gabby. Give me a couple of hours, OK?” The phone started its second cycle through Dinah’s current ring-tone.

Barbara nodded. Dinah flipped open the phone as she made her way out of the kitchen. “Hey, you. I’m glad you called. I wasn’t sure you would.” Dinah’s voice faded out as she moved away from the kitchen.

Barbara glanced at the clock on the wall. Four more hours until sunset. She was torn. She wanted to see Helena, to get everything to a point where they could move on. She also wanted to give Helena some time to feel less embarrassed. The more Barbara thought about it the more she leaned toward letting time pass, letting Helena make the first move on how to handle their changed relationship. Her reasons weren’t completely altruistic.

She’d fallen asleep almost immediately after she’d gotten into bed. Her dream had taken her right back to the previous evening. She’d felt Helena’s slim fingers caressing her cheek, had seen the love in her dark blue eyes. Instead of following her head, this time Barbara followed her heart.

She’d leaned forward and brushed Helena’s full lips with hers getting an aftertaste of the wine and something she knew intuitively was the taste of Helena. Helena was motionless at first. Stunned, some part of Barbara’s rational mind had supposed. After a few seconds she took over the kiss, claiming Barbara’s mouth as her own. Passionate but not rough, her tongue parted Barbara’s lips as if she had all the time in the world to explore Barbara’s body. She felt Helena’s hand slip around to the back of her neck and into her hair.

When she finally pulled away, Helena smiled sly and sultry as her hand trailed over Barbara’s shoulder to come to rest on her forearm. “Do you like that shirt?” She flicked her eyes down at the gray v-neck and back up to meet Barbara’s gaze.

“It’s not my favorite but I don’t hate it either,” Barbara replied, curiosity peaked. “Why?”

“Because, how you feel about that shirt is going to determine whether it’s wearable again after I take it off you.”

Barbara swallowed hard as she was overcome by the sudden, intimate knowledge of how prey must feel. Her lips curved into a sly smile of her own. “What makes you think you’re going to get me naked tonight, Helena Kyle?”

Helena leaned in and kissed Barbara. She took her time, savoring the softness of Barbara’s lips, the taste of her mouth, and the small sounds she made as Helena teased her. She pulled away and moved her lips to Barbara’s ear. “I can smell you,” she whispered, her voice husky with need. “You smell…edible.”

Helena stood, bent down, and picked Barbara up out of the chair. She made her way across the clocktower and into Barbara’s bedroom where she kicked the door shut before Barbara could protest. She sat down on the bed with Barbara on her lap and ran her fingers through the fall of Barbara’s crimson hair. “Too presumptuous?” Helena asked, taking in the irritation Barbara felt puckering her face.

“A little, yes. You need to make up for it,” she replied, the habit of command she’d developed as Oracle giving her voice an edge.

Helena brushed her lips over the pulse in Barbara’s neck nipping her way up to Barbara’s ear where she flicked her tongue out and teased Barbara’s earlobe. Barbara shivered. She felt Helena’s mouth curve into a smile against her neck. “You like that?”

“Um hum….” was the only reply she could manage as Helena placed a light kiss on her neck. She felt Helena’s right hand pull the shirt from the back of her waistband. Helena’s hand was warm as it snaked under the hem of her shirt and up her back.

Barbara tilted her head back, away from Helena’s mouth. Time to think. She needed time to think. She looked down into blue eyes made even darker by desire. She ran her fingers through the uneven layers of Helena’s hair.

Helena smiled. “Barbara?”

“Hum?” she muttered as she trailed her fingers down Helena’s face and neck coming to a stop at her collar bone. So beautiful.

“Stop thinking.” Helena’s smile was soft. “Just enjoy this. It may be all you ever have of me.”

And with that Barbara had risen from the depths of the dream as if shot from a cannon. She’d sat bolt upright gasping for breath. Her eyes had opened wide to mid-morning light filtered to gray through the blackout curtains over her window. A fine sheen of sweat covered her body. As she relaxed back into the mattress she felt the arousal coursing through her body. Longing and frustration pushed hot tears down her cheeks in rivers.

After she’d cried herself out she’d turned on her side and fallen into another couple of hours of fitful sleep. When she’d awoken the second time it was all she could do to shake the feeling of unease, get dressed, and emerge from her room.

Barbara sighed. Her body twisted with emotional tension. She rolled to the trash can and dumped the rest of the pasta as her stomach did a slow flip expressing what she wouldn’t let herself feel.

Saturday: 3:02pm: Clocktower balcony

“You should come,” Dinah said into the phone. She gnawed on the skin next to her thumb. “I’ve made her promise only color movies.”

“No can do, kid.” Helena’s reply was tinny even though the cell phone’s reception was in the four-bar range. “It’s too soon. Besides, I need some time to think.”

Dinah shivered as a cool breeze washed the balcony. “So what are you going to do.”

“Go to work, I suppose.” The shrug was audible in Helena’s voice. “Maybe torture Gibson by beating him at darts. Look, just give me a shout if you need me on a sweep, OK, but I don’t want to have to deal with Oracle tonight. I don’t think I could handle it.”

“Call me if you need to talk, alright?” Dinah listened to the silence for a few seconds. “Helena, I mean it.”

Helena sighed. “I know you do, Big D. but I made this mess on my own and I’ve got to clean it up. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Helena hung up on her end.

Dinah closed the phone with a sigh, the flush of pleasure at her new nickname replaced by an impending sense of doom. Great. Workout day. Tomorrow’s going to be a laugh riot. She went back into the clocktower to escape the breeze. She knew she needed to call Gabby but she wasn’t sure what she was going to say. Waking up with her best friend spooned against her back had been an unexpected pleasure. She wasn’t sure what it meant, or even if it meant anything at all. All she knew was that she didn’t want to end up where Helena was. She shut the door to her room, flipped open the phone, and started to dial.

Saturday: 11:15pm: Dark Horse

“Why are you still here, Helena? You were off nearly an hour ago.” Leonard asked, drying his hands on a bar towel.

Helena made change for the twenty she held and gave it to the customer she’d just served. “I took Jaycee’s shift.”

“Out of the goodness of your heart?” He opened a beer bottle and slid it across the bar to a customer. “I’m not paying you overtime. Three-fifty,” he said to the customer.

“No one asked you to, OK? Just give me a break and let me do my job.” She moved down the bar to get drink orders from a group of girls who were dressed to kill.

Leonard shook his head as he watched Helena. Normally she’d flirt almost anyone in the name of customer service and good tips. Tonight, though, something was off. A looker with short, blonde hair was doing her level best to throw herself Helena’s way but it was like Helena was operating on rote. A call for bartender pulled him down to the other end of the bar where he served a Heineken with a shot of Maker’s Mark back. Two martinis and a cosmopolitan later, by the time he turned to look at Helena again she was busy checking some frat boy’s ID and the gaggle of women had moved to a corner table.

For the next hour Helena moved behind the bar like she was built for bartending and nothing but bartending. Two years of pouring drinks and more than that kicking ass on the street had given her the ability to tell when a crowd needed monitoring and when she could go on autopilot and leave them to their fun.

Her thoughts churned around and around as she tried to figure out how she was going to handle the conversation she knew she’d have to have with Barbara tomorrow. Any scenario she came up with had her looking like either an insensitive ass or a spineless mess. No matter which, she felt a little green around the edges. Her eyes scanned the customers lined up at the bar to see if anyone needed a refill. She was startled when she recognized a familiar face.

“What can I get you?” she asked, dropping a coaster in front of the curly-haired blonde seated alone at the end of the bar.

“Whatever I can get with one of these on.” The girl held up her wrist to display the bright-orange plastic band that marked her as under legal drinking age. The bouncer had just laughed at her fake ID and snapped the ID band around her wrist.

Helena smiled. “There’s a wide variety of carbonated beverages or I can just serve you what I serve Big D. when she bugs me at work, a big ol’ glass of milk.”

Gabby returned Helena’s smile. “Coke, please.”

“Coming right up.” She moved to the service bar, pulled a glass and ice, and filled it from the pistol grip. She felt Gabby’s eyes on her even from her perch at the far end of the bar.

Helena set the Coke down on the coaster. “On the house.”


“One of the advantages of knowing a bartender.” She pulled a bowl of pretzels from the shelf below the bar and set them in front of Gabby. She leaned on the bar and crossed her arms. “Busting curfew again?”

“1am on Saturdays.” Gabby pulled a pretzel from the bowl and snapped it in half. She took a deep breath, stalling for time as she felt Helena watching her. She popped half of the pretzel in her mouth. “Can I ask you some advice?” She crunched the pretzel.


“Getting-the-girl type advice,” Gabby said, feeling her face warm.

Helena dropped her eyes to the polished wood. “I’m not sure I’m the best person to ask about that right now.”

“Oh come on. You’re like…sex in motion. I can tell that even only having met you once. And, I saw that woman you left Apex with the other night.” Gabby crunched the other half of her pretzel.

Helena looked at Gabby’s face. She saw the girl was serious so she smiled. “Flatter my ego…works every time. You want to go some place quiet and talk?”

Gabby felt the blush deepen warming her cheeks even further. She wasn’t sure how Helena saw the blush in the low light of the bar. “Hey, no need to go all blushing virgin on me here. I’m not propositioning you. I just hate to have to shout that kind of advice.”

“OK.” Gabby crunched another pretzel.

“Give me five minutes.” Helena moved back down the bar to the area Leonard was covering. Along the way she poured a double vodka, collected a two dollar tip, and refused a request for her phone number. “Leonard,” she said, clapping him on the shoulder. “Your overtime fears are over. I’m taking off.”

He glanced at his watch. 12:22am “Jaycee’s shift doesn’t end until 1am.”

“You’re a big boy. You can handle it.” Helena pulled her bag from underneath the cash register. Leonard glanced down the length of the bar, trying to identify whomever it was who had managed to pull Helena out of her funk. “Don’t do it, Helena. She’s jailbait,” Leonard said spotting Gabby and the wrist band as the girl watched them intently.

Helena sighed. “She’s a friend of a friend and I’m walking her home. Mind out of the gutter, Leonard. Try up here on the sidewalk for a while. It’s a little bit drier and not so smelly.” She ducked through the service cutout and made her way to the end of the bar where Gabby had hopped off the stool. “After you,” she said, gesturing for Gabby to precede her out of the bar.

Saturday/Sunday: 1:16am: Clocktower

Barbara clicked off the TV and put the remote on the coffee table. Dinah barely twitched where she lay on the couch, one arm thrown back over her head. Barbara reached out to brush some hair off Dinah’s forehead. She stopped short of touching the girl not knowing enough about how Dinah’s powers worked to risk invading her dreams with an accidental reading. She pulled the folded blanket off the back of the couch and laid it out over the sleeping teenager. Then she made her way over to the Delphi’s platform.

When the sun had set and Helena had failed to show up Barbara had started to worry. Well into the second movie, after Dinah got up to make another bowl of popcorn, Barbara started contemplating using the GPS to find Helena. Dinah and a bowl of caramel corn had prevented her from giving in to the desire to know everything. Once Dinah had drifted off to sleep Barbara had spent the rest of the third movie fighting with herself over Helena’s right to privacy.

Barbara flexed her hands over the Delphi’s keyboard. She opened the GPS program and tapped in the appropriate code. The coordinates corresponded to the bar. Which means she’s either at work, in her apartment, or was smart enough to take the damn necklace off. Barbara pulled off her glasses and tossed them on the table. She wanted to scream with frustration. Her hand hovered over the phone. And you’re going to say what to her? ‘Hi, sorry I rejected you but could you come over in the middle of the night so I can have closure?’ She made a rude sound with her mouth. Never before had Barbara understood so intimately what an outlet being able to kick ass on the street was.

Barbara picked up her glasses and resettled them on her face. Might as well do something useful. She opened the first of the two recordings from the Bond Bread Warehouse and began reviewing the material.

Sunday: 1:40pm: Clocktower entrance

Helena hesitated in front of the elevator’s security panel. You can do this. She took a slow, deep breath and let it out as she keyed in her security code. The elevator descended from the upper level immediately. When the door slid open she stepped to the back and leaned against the rail. The skin on the back of her neck prickled as the door shut and the elevator began its ascent.

Sunday: 1:43pm: Clocktower training room

“It works better for me if I do the yoga first. It gets me loose quicker,” Dinah said as she moved into a perfect downward facing dog.

Barbara shook her head as she moved the pin in the weight stack. “Just don’t stress out your joints too much, that’s all I’m saying. You pull a tendon there and you’ll feel it during a fight for weeks, even at your age.” Barbara faced the weight stack and positioned herself under the lat pulldown bar. She grasped the bar with both hands and pulled it down level with her chest. Inhaling, she let the bar lift. The repetition of the exercise felt good, as did the slight strain in her back muscles. Both took her mind off the anxiety she felt rising in her system.

“Did you do all this stretching when you were running around in costume?” Dinah asked, assuming the hero pose to stretch out her legs. She closed her eyes and concentrated on her breathing.

“Not really. Flexibility wasn’t seen as that important back then. We’re a little more enlightened now,” Barbara replied. She let the weight plates down slowly and moved herself back into her chair.

“Who knew yoga would bring us out of the dark ages,” Helena said from where she leaned against the door jamb. She moved toward the bench as she stripped off her warm-up jacket thankful that she wasn’t under the scrutiny of Barbara’s beautiful green eyes.

Barbara took a deep breath and turned her chair around. “I didn’t think I’d be seeing you today.”

“Don’t know why not. Sundays we work out.” Helena sat and bent over to check the laces on her shoes. The back of her neck felt hot. Her palms felt cold and clammy. “Besides, Big D. over there owes me for the split eyebrow last week.”

Helena glanced at Barbara just as Barbara’s eyes flicked away and toward the meditating blonde. It wasn’t as if Helena had dressed for show. Track pants and a tank top were her standard workout wear. It didn’t really matter what Helena’s intent had been. The net effect on Barbara was the screaming return of all the feelings from the previous day’s dream. All the noise in her system had her blinking a couple of times as she processed what she saw in the middle of the training room. “Hel…”

“On it.”

Dinah felt the tension crackling in the air even without seeing either woman’s face. She swallowed hard and kept her eyes shut. Breathe in…Breathe out…In…Out…In…Out. She felt Helena come up beside her.

“Uh, Dinah? You might want to open your eyes,” Helena said standing ready by Dinah’s side.

Dinah opened her eyes to find herself floating about three feet above the training room floor still in the hero pose. Her surprise was enough to break her concentration. A second of freefall that felt like an eternity had her landing in Helena’s waiting arms instead of on her butt on the training room floor. She put her feet down and stood.

“Thanks.” She felt the blush warm her face.

“No problem,” Helena’s smile was brief.

Barbara raised her eyebrows. “That’s something new.” She wheeled over to where Dinah stood. “Do you feel any different?”


“Next thing you know she’s going to be bringing the refrigerator to her when she’s hungry,” Helena said.

“I’m not the one with the bottomless pit for a stomach,” Dinah said rolling her eyes even though her tone was light.

“Let me know if you notice any fatigue or other unusual feelings later, OK?” Barbara said drawing Dinah’s attention and cutting off Helena as she opened her mouth to reply.

“No problem.” Dinah tucked some errant strands of hair behind her ear as the silence among the three of them stretched out beyond her comfort zone. “So…I’m gonna go be anywhere but right here.” She swung by the bench near the wall to pick up her bottle of water and her towel as she made her way out of the training room.

Helena crossed her arms, looking anywhere but at Barbara’s face. Being casual had seemed like such a good plan in the controlled environment of her apartment. As with any plan, implementation was more than fifty percent of the task.

Barbara ran a hand through her hair and sighed. She rolled over to the bench to retrieve her own water bottle. For all her scenario building she felt at a loss as to how best to start the conversation that had to happen. Pull the bandage off and get it over with, Gordon. “You know we have to talk about this?” She screwed the cap off the water bottle and took a healthy swig.

“What’s there to talk about?” Helena asked, blinking away the sudden urge to cry. She would not shed tears in front of Barbara no matter what the price to keep those tears at bay. “I have certain feelings for you that you don’t have for me. Seems pretty simple. We deal and life goes on.” Helena rocked on the balls of her feet.

“I never said I didn’t have feelings for you,” Barbara replied, moving back to where Helena stood.

Helena met Barbara’s gaze. “No, you said things were complicated.” She scrubbed a hand through her hair. “Look, Barbara, you’re not the first person I’ve had reject me, believe it or not. I’ll survive, and so will you. You’re pretty good at that.” The words tumbled out of Helena despite her resolve to heed Dinah’s advice about not giving up. Cut and run…so much easier to cut and run. Less pain for everyone that way. Helena flicked her eyes way from Barbara’s face unable to stand the eye contact.

The anger Barbara felt was swift and overwhelming. It pushed through her system trailing in its wake a rush of longing and need much denied. Barbara reached out and grabbed Helena’s wrist. She pulled the surprised brunette off balance and into her lap. Before she could protest, Barbara claimed Helena’s mouth.

Her lips were softer than even Barbara’s vivid imagination had postulated. The scent of Helena’s soap filled Barbara’s nose. The heat of Helena’s body seemed to sear Barbara’s exposed skin. The taste was all Helena as Barbara’s tongue darted out requesting entrance into Helena’s mouth. The request was denied as Helena broke the kiss and scrambled out of Barbara’s lap.

“What the fuck was that?” Helena demanded using all her willpower to control her temper.

Barbara tilted her head to one side. “That was me kissing you.”

“What the hell for?”

“To see what it was like,” Barbara replied, instantly wishing she could reel the words back into her mouth and start over.

Helena blinked slowly. “And I thought I had poor impulse control. Get this through your head right now, I’m not some fucking science experiment. You can’t just play with my feelings.”

“I’m not…I wasn’t…Helena don’t run away again.” Barbara said as Helena stalked over to the bench to retrieve her warm-up jacket.

“Why not? It’s worked so well for my sainted father,” Helena growled as she shoved her arms into the jacket’s sleeves. “Look, you tell me it can’t happen…that we can’t happen,” Helena said dropping all her anger into the emphasis on the word we. “Fine, I deal. I’m ready to be a grown up and move on. And then you go and do something like that? So not acceptable behavior in the bright light of a new world.”

“Helena, I didn’t mean…” Barbara swallowed hard. This is what happens when you act without a plan.

Helena stalked back over to where Barbara sat. She leaned down so her face was level with Barbara’s. “At this point, I don’t care you what you meant. New game, my rules. I’ll do sweeps, same schedule as now, anywhere you want. I’ll keep working with Dinah, training her so she doesn’t get killed out there, but that’s it. The rest of the time is my time, my life. I’ll do what I want with whomever I so choose and you’ll keep your god damn nose out of it. Deal?”

“Hel…” Barbara stammered against the sudden realization that Helena knew Barbara had been tracking her activities outside the clocktower.

“Deal or not? Offer’s on the table for a limited time, Barbara.” Helena’s eyes searched Barbara’s face.

Barbara’s chest tightened clogged with a myriad of emotions all trying to push to the surface. She met Helena’s eyes and was surprised to see the deep blue that meant they hadn’t changed. The deep blue that mean Helena was in control.

“If that’s what you want,” Barbara said finally. Sadness welled up inside her like a thing animate. She knew that this thing would have claws and nasty, sharp teeth that bit hard in the dark of night.

Helena’s laugh was raw and filled with pain. “What I want is apparently totally irrelevant. It’s all about what you want. Your choice.”

Barbara licked her very dry lips. She shook her head. “What’s my other choice?”

“I’m on the freeway,” Helena replied, jerking her head toward the training room door. “You find another warm body to do the fighting and I get on with my life.”

Anger won the battle raging within Barbara. The change was clear to Helena as a different kind of heat rose to Barbara’s cheeks. “Just once I wish you’d look beyond the end of your own nose for a second and realize that you are not the only person in this world with problems.”

“I don’t have a problem. I’m crystal clear on where I stand. It’s your problem I can’t figure out,” Helena replied, her eyes not leaving Barbara’s face. When Barbara didn’t respond Helena snorted and shook her head. “The great Oracle at a loss for words. I need to make sure I write this in my diary so I can remember it when I’m old and gray.”

“Back off, Helena.” Barbara clenched her jaw, grinding the words out between her teeth.

Helena straightened up and crossed her arms over her chest. “I need an answer, Barbara.”

“Spontaneous ultimatums aren’t my strong suit,” Barbara replied even as her anger drained away no match for the still rising sadness.

“This is hardly spontaneous,” Helena replied with a shake of her head. “I’ve offered you everything I have, everything I am, a hundred times, in a hundred different ways.”

Barbara watched Helena pull her bottom lip between her teeth. Despite feeling like she was a passenger in a car careening over a cliff Barbara tried to grab some control. “Fine. We’ve got a deal. You do sweeps, help me train Dinah, and I stay out of your life.” Barbara clamped down hard on the nausea climbing her throat as she held out her hand for Helena to shake.

Helena, her expression a mixture of sorrow and derision, looked from Barbara’s hand to her face. “Your word’s good enough. We’ll work out the logistics later.” She turned and started to make her way out of the training room. She stopped, turning back to Barbara. “And for the record, I know I’m a fuck up. Quinn…yeah, that was huge.” Her expression softened, regret clearly written on her features. “I’m sorry about Wade, I really am. Sorrier than you’ll ever know. He didn’t deserve to die. You loved him, and he was innocent.”

She crossed the rest of the distance and left the training room. In the main part of the clocktower she found Dinah curled up at the end of the couch, eyes firmly fixed on her biology book. “So I guess you heard all that, huh?”

“Kind of hard not to. I think people across town heard all that,” Dinah said quietly, turning the page. The words were a blur, black smudges on white paper. Her throat closed tight barely allowing her to swallow. She felt Helena squat down in front of her.

“It’s not the end of the world. Well, maybe the end of my world but maybe the beginning of something new, something better,” Helena said. Her eyes searched Dinah’s face as she waited for the girl to meet her gaze. “I’ll still be around and besides, you’ve got good things coming your way. I know it.” Helena’s smile was soft as she thought back to coffee and conversation with Gabby the previous evening. The girl had been clear about her feelings even though she hadn’t been clear on just how to act on them. Helena was vaguely interested to see whether or not she followed through.

Dinah’s eyes were brimming when she finally met Helena’s gaze. “So why is it I can only concentrate on the good thing that taking a walk away from me right now?”

Helena pulled the biology text out of Dinah’s lap and set it on the coffee table. She leaned forward and wrapped her arms around Dinah. “It’ll be OK. You’ll see.” She inhaled the clean, floral scent of Dinah’s shampoo. Helena shut her eyes tight as she hugged Dinah. She pulled away and sniffed, running the back of her hand under her nose. “It’ll be OK, Big D.”

“I’m not sure who you’re trying to convince,” Dinah said softly.

“Maybe both of us,” Helena replied as a loud crash echoed out of the training room. “Better go see what Red’s up to in there.” Helena stood and moved away from the couch. “I’ll see you soon.”

“Bye,” Dinah said as Helena moved to the elevator. I hope you’re right. She kept her eyes on Helena until the elevator’s door slid shut and with a sigh she moved toward the training room. Inside she found Barbara putting various pieces of equipment back on their appropriate hooks on the peg board.

“No big deal. I’ve got it under control,” Barbara said as Dinah came to a stop several feet away.

Dinah looked closely at Barbara. She did indeed appear to be under control, unruffled as if the one person she held most dear hadn’t just effectively walked out of her life. “You’re sure?”

Barbara nodded, concentrating on the task at hand as she didn’t trust her control to be good enough to meet Dinah’s eyes. “Positive.”

“OK…yell if you need anything.”

Barbara simply nodded again. She blew out a breath she held as Dinah walked away. When she was done she ran her hands through her hair. If she concentrated on the little things she’d get through this. First up, tomorrow she’d have to call New Gotham General to reestablish a physical therapy schedule. And breathe, remember to breathe, Barbara. With a sigh she wheeled out of the training room.

Speak Your Mind