Dreams Dark And Light

by Susan P.


Disclaimer: "The Division", "CSI: Crime Scene Investigators," "Birds of Prey," "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," the characters, and situations depicted are respectively the property of Lifetime Television, Kedzie Productions, Viacom Productions, and Paramount [The Division]; Jerry Bruckheimer Television, Alliance Atlantis, and CBS Productions [CSI: Crime Scene Investigators]; Tollin/Robbins, DC Comics, and Time/Warner via the WB [Birds of Prey]; and Wolf Films, Universal Network Television, and NBC [Law & Order: SVU]. This piece of fan fiction was created for entertainment not monetary purposes and no infringement on copyrights or trademarks was intended. Previously unrecognised characters and places, and this story, are copyrighted to the author. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author. This site is in no way affiliated with "The Division", "CSI: Crime Scene Investigators," "Birds of Prey," "Law & Order: SVU," Lifetime Television, CBS, the WB, NBC, or any representatives of the actors.

[Please do not fold, spindle, or mutilate. Thank you. Shatterpath]

Author's Disclaimer: The characters aren't mine.  They belong to Miller/Tobin Productions, Warner Brothers, DC comics, and whoever else has a piece of it.  This is done for fun, not profit.  This particular story is mine, however, copyright May 2003.

Author's notes: Thanks to cheerful minion for the beta, which was invaluable since this thing was written a few lines at a time over the course of about a month.  This piece was partly inspired by Dina Meyer's 'death scene' in "Deadly Little Secrets," of all things, but Helena's dream-visions match those she had in the pilot while under Ketterly's influence.


It was that dream again.  THE dream.  The one that kept coming back to torment her.  The one that had haunted her for more than seven years now.  She jerked awake, sat up and wiped the sweat from her brow.  Taking several deep breaths, she willed her heart to slow and tried to shake off the dream-induced panic.  She drew her knees up and leaned forward to wrap her arms around them.  She had never been entirely sure why this particular dream had such power over her--it was hardly her only nightmare.  Hell, it wasn't even her only recurring nightmare.

The dreams about her mother--those should have been the ones that shook her to her core and left her emotionally bloodied.  Not that they didn't, but it was...different.  Maybe because the waking memories were so close to the surface most of the time that the dreams just couldn't compete.

Those memories of her mother lying bleeding to death on the street--of being helpless to prevent it--still haunted her.  But it was what had happened across town that same night--the attack she hadn't been witness to--that haunted her more.

In the dreams, it was Barbara she saw.  Barbara lying in a pool of her own blood, all alone.  How long had she lain there before help had arrived?  Had she been conscious?  In pain?  Had she been frightened?  Had she lost hope?

Once, when she was younger, she had tried to ask Barbara about it, but the other woman couldn't or didn't want to remember.  And Barbara, who had always tried to be open and available to talk with Helena about her loss, had nearly shut down altogether when faced with talking about her own loss.  Helena had been so afraid of alienating the one person she had left in the world--the only one that mattered to her--she hadn't dared push things.  Back then, they'd still been adjusting to each other and Helena had been more than a little afraid that Barbara would decide that having an unruly teenager around was more of a burden than she could handle while she was still recovering from her injuries and learning to adapt to life in a wheelchair.  So, when she wasn't screwing up, Helena tried to do whatever she could to make things easier for Barbara, sometimes offering physical assistance, sometimes trying to keep Barbara's spirits up, and sometimes just by keeping her mouth shut.  She still wondered about what Barbara had gone through the night of the shooting, and she'd wondered more than once over the years if she'd done Barbara any favors by letting her avoid the issue, but she still had yet to find the courage to ask Barbara again.

She had never told Barbara about this particular dream, even though it had driven her out of bed on more nights than she'd dared count--pushing her to go check on her former guardian, her mentor, her friend, er...everything.  When she lived in the Clocktower, she'd slip out of her room and sneak around it and its attached apartment, until she spotted Barbara.  Sometimes it was enough just to see Barbara working on the Delphi terminals, grading student assignments, sleeping safely in her bed, or whatever, as long as she was alive, well, and reasonably whole.

There were some nights she caught Barbara staring dully off into space, silent tears sliding down her face.  She'd *seen* Barbara cry before but rarely, if ever, heard it.  She'd often wondered how that had become such a part of Barbara's self-discipline.  Who or what had taught her to keep her emotions under such tight control?  Her biological father? Training with Batman?  Or living with a volatile, needy teenager whose grief was so intense it was almost a separate presence in their home?

On those rare occasions when she did catch Barbara indulging her own pain, sometimes the redhead's remoteness was so great that Helena was afraid to reach out to her for fear of being rejected.  More often than not, however, she would go to Barbara in those moments.  She really missed the days when she was younger and could unselfconsciously climb into Barbara's arms and cling to her, wordlessly pouring out her own need and trying to offer Barbara what comfort she could in the process.  She missed it more than she could say--wanted it now with an intensity that frightened her a little.

Now, when the dream came, if she found Barbara awake, no matter what mood the redhead was in, Helena was reduced to using humor to cheer up Barbara...or herself.  Now she was just too embarrassed, or self-conscious, about her own need to admit it.  She suspected it was the same for Barbara.

In the first couple years after their respective tragedies had brought them together under the same roof, they had both been so needy and vulnerable that they had clung to one another without reservation.  Well, they had when one or the other wasn't too busy trying to stubbornly assert her independence or too angry at the world to accept a moment of kindness from anyone--least of all each other.  But they always came together once the moment had passed, sometimes muttering sheepish apologies, sometimes joking, and sometimes just falling into an embrace.

Things had grown more complicated as Helena matured and their pain dulled with the passage of time.  A certain degree of distance had grown up between them--not so much that anyone else would notice, maybe not even Barbara.  But Helena had.  She just didn't know what to do about it.  She felt the loss keenly, but she didn't know what, exactly, she'd lost, never mind how to get it back.

For the past few years, she had clung to Barbara the only way she knew how--by pretending she didn't need her.  So, she'd always preferred it when, seeking Barbara out after the nightmare, she found the redhead sleeping soundly in her bed.  That way she could indulge her panic about losing Barbara and soothe it at the same time--all without ever having to acknowledge the fear to anyone but herself.  Even after she'd 'outgrown' needing to crawl into bed with
Barbara after a nightmare, she'd still spent many nights in Barbara's room, lurking in a dark corner watching the redhead sleep.  More than once on those nights, Barbara had stirred awake and Helena would have sworn that the other woman knew she was there.  Maybe she had, but if so, she had never once acknowledged Helena's presence.

Over the past few years, when the dream had come, she had inevitably dressed, left her apartment and gone out racing across the rooftops to get to Barbara, the trek across town providing a slight release of the tension caused by the dream.  Though she had complained about it for Barbara's sake, the rooftops were her domain and she knew all too well why Barbara missed it.

Now that they were again sharing living space, Helena no longer had the option of burning off her tension through those moonlit runs.

She shoved the blankets aside roughly and pushed out of bed to pace restlessly around her room, trying to shake off her mood.  Trying not to do what she knew she eventually would.  What she always did after the dream.  She needed to calm down a little before going to Barbara, though.  If she happened to find Barbara awake, she would almost certainly have to face questions about her own mental state, and, after everything that had happened, she didn't want Barbara to waste any time worrying about her.

After the incident with Harley Quinn, they had discussed what to do about their no-longer-very-secret lair.  Harley was in Arkham now, but she knew far too many of their secrets.  Criminals had been known to escape from the Asylum before--Clayface had hardly been the first.  Even if Harley didn't manage to get out, she no doubt still had contacts on the outside.  So, if they tried to rebuild the Clocktower, they might as well paint a huge bull's-eye on it as well, since it would be an all too likely target for criminals.

They had, briefly, discussed using the Bat Cave, but Helena was no more eager to claim her legacy than she ever had been.  Harley knew that as well as anyone.  If Helena had suddenly relented and moved into the Manor, Harley might just be clever enough to at least suspect that something was going on--especially if Barbara, a woman of means who wouldn't need handouts from Helena, were to move in there as well.

Who knew there was another clocktower in New Gotham?  Not nearly as cool as their former headquarters, but it was more heavily fortified than the last, thanks to Barbara's upgrades to the security systems.  And it was, they hoped, a less than obvious choice, for a couple of reasons.  First, because it was a mundane--almost ugly--building that didn't attract much notice.  Secondly, because, 'officially,' she, Barbara and Dinah lived in the building next door to it.  They did keep an apartment in the adjacent building, but it had the only access to an old cargo elevator that led to the basement and a secret tunnel between the buildings.

They still spent the bulk of their time in Clocktower 2.0 (as Helena thought of it).  So much time, in fact, that they all had bedrooms set up in the clocktower for nights when they were too busy or too tired to make the trek back to the apartment.

How, and when, Barbara had found the buildings and planned the setup was still something of a mystery to her, but it all came together a little too quickly to have been coincidence or even sheer dumb luck.  Even if the buildings were new acquisitions, something she doubted, she suspected that the layout of their new lair had been drawn up and set aside months or years ago.  Barbara was known for her foresight and her organizational skills, after all.  The new Delphi system she'd set up had to have been developed and set aside in expectation of needing a backup or a replacement.  It had taken nearly a year to develop the original, but they had been all moved into their new digs and back in business, so to speak, a little over two months after the Clocktower had been trashed in the fight with Harley and her goons.

Helena had never once considered asking Barbara to give it all up--go back to some semblance of a normal life.  Part of her wanted to--just chuck it all, maybe even leave New Gotham and try to build a nice, quiet little life somewhere else.  Try to forget how badly she'd screwed things up, or how much safer Barbara and Dinah might have been without her as their 'protector.'  But she couldn't leave Barbara, and even if Barbara might be willing to leave it all behind, Helena wasn't sure she could leave it behind as easily as she hoped.  She was afraid she needed that outlet for her more violent impulses too much to just...stop.

It was just a silly fantasy, really.  She wouldn't leave Barbara, and Barbara wouldn't quit.  Barbara needed it too much--had always needed it and believed in it much more than she had.  And Barbara had only seemed more determined since the fight with Harley, in spite of all that had happened--maybe because of it.  Wade's murder, having all their identities so thoroughly exposed...God, having her best friend turn against her and almost kill her--all of it was just fuel for this new fire of dedication for the job.  Helena couldn't dare ask Barbara to give it all up--especially since it was all her fault their house of cards had been brought down around their ears.

Helena paced harder and faster as the guilt burned through her soul.  Her fault.  All of it.  As many times as she and Barbara had had the mask discussion, the wisdom of the idea had never sunk in.  She'd been so determined to distance herself as much as possible from her father's legacy, her father's rules--no matter that both Barbara and her mother had worn masks, as well.

She had learned that lesson the hard way.  If only she'd worn a mask the night she'd fought with Clayface, Dr. Quinzel might not have recognized her and they might have been spared some of the recent heartache.

She wore a mask now, for what it was worth.  It was black, and similar in design to the one Nightwing wore, but Barbara had added a few bells and whistles.  Now she could hide from the rest of the world behind it.  She'd thought she would hate it, but discovered that there was a certain comfort in the added anonymity.

She almost wished it would allow her to hide from Barbara--or maybe just hide from herself.  Barbara had never once accused her, or even seemed to blame her.  Then again, she hadn't talked about what had happened much at all.  But Barbara's silence was accusation enough.

She'd screwed up royally in trusting Quinzel with her secrets.  She couldn't even blame it all on Harley's brainwashing.  She'd *told* the woman all that stuff about what she did.  Sure, she hadn't drawn Harley a map to the Clocktower, but she might as well have, and the brainwashing had taken care of the rest of it. She had almost lost everything in the world she gave a damn about.  Hell, she might have killed Barbara herself, if Barbara hadn't found a way to break the spell.  Thank God there'd been just enough of herself left to keep her from killing Barbara during that first encounter.  If she hadn't required the actual command to push her to it...if she'd actually...

Helena slammed her fist into the closest, most solid thing she could find.  The bookcase was solid oak, but she heard it splinter and felt the wood give a little under her hand.  Her knuckles stung from the impact, providing a welcome, if temporary, distraction from her thoughts.  She couldn't bear the thought of what she might have done to Barbara, let alone what she *had* done to her.

She continued to pace, trying to work off some of the tension from the dream and her own thoughts and trying to calm down as much as she could before going to check on Barbara.

Most nights, she would crash in whichever of her bedrooms was nearer to where Barbara happened to be, which usually meant sleeping in the Clocktower. But she hated the new Clocktower.  The vibe there, the feel of the place, everything about it just seemed *wrong* to her.  They didn't belong there, and since it was her fault they couldn't continue living and working where they *did* belong, the guilt she felt being there became overwhelming at times.

Her guilt, and the icy barrier that had seemed to form around Barbara's heart since Wade's murder, had all become too much for her tonight.  The redhead had barely said five words to her that weren't directly related to the job, and that had just heightened the sense of distance between them that Helena was already feeling.  That distance, Barbara's relative coldness and her own guilt all combined to do a tap dance on her already jangled nerves.  She'd been afraid she'd wind up doing or saying something she'd regret.  She just couldn't stand to be there in the same room with Barbara and feel so disconnected from her. So, she had decided to get away from Barbara for a while and try to find a little peace in the apartment. She didn't much care for it, either, but it was just an apartment, after all.  Relatively neutral territory.

She'd thought she could avoid the crushing symbolism of all the mistakes she'd made in recent months by retreating to the apartment, but the dream had followed her there, allowing her no peace.

Why the dream was tormenting her was no real mystery.  She'd been having it more frequently than usual the past few months, but apparently she'd managed to awake before the grand finale all those other nights.  Tonight, the dream had ended differently.  As usual, she saw the gun, heard the shots, saw Barbara fall, but this time, she wasn't some passive observer, helpless to change things.  This time, she herself was revealed as the shooter.  A cackling Harley Quinn offered encouragement as she stared down in horror at the gun in her hands.

Helena had awakened screaming.  Since Dinah hadn't come to check in on her, she was either a very sound sleeper or she'd chosen to bunk in the Clocktower, as Barbara apparently had.

Helena stopped pacing, took a deep breath and ran a hand through her hair.  She'd calmed as much as she was likely to until she could see with her own eyes that Barbara was safe.  She stalked out of her room and, just to be thorough, peeked into Dinah's room.  It seemed the young woman had come back to the apartment after all, but had fallen asleep with her stereo headphones on.  The music was loud enough that Helena could hear it from her place in the doorway--no wonder the blonde hadn't heard her cry out.  Helena debated whether to turn the music off, but decided against it, not wanting to wake Dinah and risk getting pulled into a conversation she wasn't really up for.

She continued on past the elevator, glancing in at Barbara's bedroom door as she passed and finding it as empty as she expected it would be.  Instead of heading down to the basement, she went up.  She no longer had to race across rooftops to get to Barbara, but she could get in one good leap and expend a bit of energy that way.  She could then go in through the roof access Barbara had set up for just such purposes.

Helena might be sorry about the circumstances that had caused it, but she wasn't sorry to be living with Barbara again--not that she'd ever spent that much time away from her even when she kept an apartment over the bar.  Having nearly lost the woman who meant everything to her, she was all the more determined to watch over the redhead and protect her.

And if Barbara never quite fully trusted her again, and if they never fell back into the relatively easy relationship they'd had before, well, she had no one but herself to blame and she'd have to learn to live with the consequences.

Helena made the leap easily, entered her security code, and took the stairs down to the floor they occupied.  A glance into the training room confirmed that it was empty and Helena didn't hear the distinctive tap-tap-tapping of computer keys, so she wasn't surprised to find the Delphi station abandoned and in stand-by mode.  She knew without looking that Barbara would have it monitoring criminal activity in New Gotham and elsewhere and that it would sound an alert if it found anything unusual.

She silently made her way to Barbara's bedroom in the semi-dark.  She was almost there when she heard it: a soft voice making indistinct sounds, whimpering, almost.  Definitely Barbara's voice--she'd have recognized it in her sleep.  She quickened her steps, even though she heard no other sounds indicating any immediate outside threat.  Perhaps the other woman had fallen and been too stubborn to call for help? Was she hurt?

No.  Helena made it to the half-open door and pushed it open further to check on Barbara.  Barbara was safely tucked into her bed, but it seemed she was having nightmares of her own.  She was struggling with the sheets and shaking her head from time to time.  Had Barbara had the use of her legs, she no doubt would have been thrashing about even more. Helena was still debating whether to try and wake Barbara when she heard the redhead cry out softly.

"Helena!  Nooooooo..."

Helena was on her knees at the bedside in an instant. There had been more emotion in those two words than Helena had sensed from Barbara in all the weeks since Wade's murder.  Hearing it now tore something loose within her and the tears she'd refused to shed over what she thought had been lost in her relationship with Barbara started coursing down her face.  If the her that was starring in Barbara's dream was someone her best friend could still care about then there was still hope that the ice around Barbara's heart would melt and they could rebuild their friendship.

"Helena...don' leave..." Barbara mumbled.

Helena would have laughed out loud at her good fortune had there not been such anguish in Barbara's voice.

"Sshh...  I'm right here."  She lightly brushed a lock of hair off Barbara's forehead.  Then she dared to trace the line of Barbara's jaw with the backs of her fingers. "I'm not going anywhere."

So intent was she on watching the path of her fingers that she didn't notice Barbara's eyes flutter open.

"Hel..." Barbara croaked.

"Mm-hmm," was all the response Helena could muster.

"You're..." the question was tentative, "you're really here?"

"Yes."

"But you were..." Barbara mumbled, still trying to shake off whatever nightmare had plagued her.

Helena rose and sat on the bed next to Barbara.  She gently combed her fingers through Barbara's hair, trying to soothe her.  It seemed to work and Barbara leaned into the touch.

"It was just a bad dream."  Helena sniffled.  "Seems to be a lot of that going around tonight."

Barbara reached up to trace gentle fingertips across Helena's tear-stained cheeks.  "Is that why you're crying?"

"Kinda," Helena shrugged.  Barbara's touch encouraged even more tears, rather than soothing them.  Instead of letting that stop her as she normally would, Helena pushed on, needing to say a few things before she lost her nerve.

"Barbara, I want you to know that I'm here to stay.  I won't ever leave you again, unless..." her voice almost broke and she ducked her head, afraid of whichever answer she might find in Barbara's eyes, "unless you need or want me to go?"

"Shhh..." Barbara's hands enveloped her face, gently forcing Helena to meet her gaze.  "I would never ask you to leave.  I need you too much."

Some bitter part of Helena's brain thought, 'yeah, as muscle--as her legs,' but there was something more in Barbara's voice, in her eyes, and in the tears now falling from them that gave her reason for hope.

"After...everything that happened..." Helena continued, "I don't know if you can trust me again, but I swear...  I'll do everything in my power to make sure no one ever hurts you again."  She closed her eyes and mumbled the rest, "...not even me."

"Helena..." Barbara's hand sifted through Helena's hair, trying to coax a response she couldn't quite give. When the silence stretched out too long, Barbara tried again.  "Helena, look at me."

Barbara's voice was velvet with more than a hint of steel underneath, and Helena couldn't help but obey the command.

"I don't blame you...for any of it.  You made mistakes, sure, but you're not the only one.  I never should have...given Wade the access codes.  I never should have let him think," the redhead sighed in frustration, "what everyone else apparently did--that he could share my life."

Helena had been ready to dispute Barbara's attempt to take the blame for Wade's death, but that last statement confused her into silence.

"You're not the only one who's been feeling guilty these past weeks, Helena.  I have, too.  Not only for putting Wade in harm's way, but...for not feeling *more*...more guilt, more pain..."  Barbara had begun by trying to reassure Helena, but as she spoke, her voice revealed her own shame and self-doubt.  It shouldn't have surprised Helena to discover Barbara blamed herself, but somehow it did.

Unable to bear listening to Barbara berate herself, Helena rushed to defend her.  "Barbara, it's not your fault.  If you were going to trust anyone with the secret, at least you picked the right person.  That's a helluva lot more than I can say.  You couldn't have known Wade would come here when he did."

"Neither could you."

Caught off-guard at having her own logic turned against her, Helena couldn't respond at first.  But Barbara wasn't the only one who felt guilty for not feeling bad enough about Wade's death.  In any case, the lion's share of the blame--for all of it--was still hers and she wouldn't compound her mistakes by trying to deny them.

"Wade's not the only one I put in harm's way. Barbara...what I did...what I could have done..."  The mere thought of it made the terror clutch at her heart and she fell forward, though she reacted quickly enough to brace her hands against the bed, which kept her from falling into Barbara.  She hovered there, lost in Barbara's eyes a moment before trying to duck that steady gaze.  Barbara's hands were too fast for her, however, and caught her head, preventing the evasion.

"You were being used.  By a criminal.  Who probably would have been happy to do the job herself if she hadn't found a way to manipulate you.  And there are probably plenty of other criminals out there who would be just as happy to take me down, given the chance.  That's the nature of what we do.  That's the job.  You didn't put me in harm's way, Helena.  I put myself there when I chose this life." Barbara stroked a hand through Helena's hair.  "You didn't *choose* to harm me.  You weren't in control of your actions or you never would have done what you did.  I know you would never willfully hurt me, Helena. I *know* that."

"But I..."

"You made the mistake of trusting a therapist you'd been seeing for months, who should have been ethically bound to keep your secrets."

There was that damned logic again.

"But none of that really matters, Barbara, compared to...  I could have lost you!  I might have..."  Helena shifted her weight so she could grip Barbara's head, holding their gazes steady.  "You have to *live* Barbara!  Do you understand me?  I can't lose you." She loosened her grip on Barbara's head, but slid her hand up to cup her cheek.  "I need you.  You're all I have..."  The tears were falling again, dropping from her eyes to trace lines across Barbara's cheeks.

Barbara was shedding fresh tears as well, as she reached up to caress Helena's temple.

"But don't you see?  I can't lose you, either.  I *need* you, Helena.  I can't imagine my life without you in it."

Helena couldn't quite believe what she was hearing-- not just the words, but the depth of feeling behind them.  Part of her wondered if she was having one of those weird dream within a dream things.  The nightmare wasn't the only dream she had that starred Barbara, after all--and most of them were much more pleasant.  She hadn't had one of the good Barbara dreams since before the incident with Harley, but her own need could be playing tricks with her unconscious.

Or it could be true.  She could really be here with Barbara, listening to her say...almost all the things she'd ever wanted to hear from the redhead's lips.  She fought the urge to pinch herself.  Instead, she found Barbara's hand with her own, deciding to trust in the sensation of holding it, trying not to squeeze too hard and hurt Barbara.  "You...you've been so...distant, lately.  I was afraid that things would never be the same between us again," she confessed.

Guilt shone in Barbara's green eyes.  "I've been afraid, too."  She hesitated a moment before continuing. "I...cared for Wade.  Maybe I even loved him, in a way.  But...it wasn't *real*.  After we found out Harley killed him and you took off...  I was so afraid you'd gone off after her without any kind of plan or backup and that you'd...getyourselfkilled."

Helena's heart had been doing a reverse roller-coaster ride--starting with the steep plunge and then slowly climbing upward.  She fought the urge to smile when she felt Barbara squeeze her hand, knowing that Barbara was still wrestling with her own emotions. She wanted to hear whatever Barbara had to say and she didn't want to do anything to distract her until she'd said it.

Barbara squeezed her hand even harder and looked at her intensely, as if willing her to understand.  "You see?  It was *you*!  Even then--and before that, if I'm honest with myself--you were the one I was thinking about.  Not Wade.

"It...made me realize some things, but...I was afraid to..." Barbara squeezed her eyes shut a moment before continuing.  "I thought if I could just focus on the job that...everything would go back to normal, eventually..."

"Barbara..."

It was a moment of almost perfect understanding between them.  Their eyes locked and their souls lay open to one another.  Helena saw it all there in Barbara's eyes: not only the recent pains, but also the longing that had been left  unspoken because Barbara had thought it her solitary burden to bear.  She almost cried with relief.  She couldn't find the words to speak, but she tried to expose all of the love and longing in her heart so that Barbara would know that  she wasn't alone--that neither of them ever had to be alone again. She watched as understanding dawned in those soulful green eyes and she hoped she saw a new promise for the future there.

In an instant, Helena shifted to straddle Barbara's hips, bracing her arms on the bed near the redhead's shoulders.  Barbara took a moment to let her eyes travel over Helena's body and Helena saw a hint of the hunger Barbara had kept well-hidden from her for so long.

They came together slowly, reverently.  Helena was grateful for each and every one of her heightened senses because they allowed her to savor each new sensation as they grew closer.  She lowered herself onto Barbara's body, feeling the combination of softness and well-developed musculature, stopping only when her lips were hovering above the ones she longed to taste.  She bent down just enough to brush her lips against Barbara's in a brief, feather-light touch, then pulled back to look into Barbara's eyes. Barbara smiled up at her before rising to bring their lips together again.  The first kisses were tentative: each gently exploring the shape and texture of the other's lips.  When Helena used her tongue to map the territory more thoroughly, Barbara lay still as long as she could before giving in to her desire to do some exploring of her own.

Helena slid an arm under Barbara's back and was gratified when Barbara's arms encircled her, pulling her closer.  They pressed even closer and held each other tightly as the kiss intensified.

Helena abandoned Barbara's mouth only for the sake of exploring the territory she'd studied so closely with her eyes over the years: neck, clavicle, jaw line, earlobe, cheeks, forehead, nose...  She tasted the remains of their tears where she found them.  She pulled back to look at Barbara, needing that connection, needing to see the desire and the love in those beautiful green eyes.

Their lips met again in a searing kiss, years of pent-up longing finally given purpose and direction.  Helena was slowly grinding her hips against Barbara's, though she wasn't fully aware of that fact until Barbara's hands tightened on her hips to stop their rocking motion.  She pulled back as Barbara broke their kiss, already afraid she'd pushed things with the redhead too far, too fast.

"Helena..." Barbara panted.

"Something wrong?" Helena was equally breathless, and more than a little scared of being denied.

"No," Barbara was quick to reassure her, but Helena could tell the redhead was nervous.  "It's just that...since the shooting...sex is...a little more complicated..."

Barbara was blushing.  Helena wasn't sure whether it was because she was discussing sex or because she had to acknowledge her own limitations.

"I know."  Barbara looked skeptical, so Helena continued quickly, "I've read almost as much of the literature on spinal cord injuries as you have, Barbara. When you took me in, I wanted to be able to help you in any way I could.  And...I've wanted this for...a long time.  So, I did some research."

Barbara looked impressed, and a little intimidated. Helena hadn't seen her this self-conscious about her mobility issues since the early days when she was first learning to adapt to her limitations and they were both trying to adjust to what they'd lost and to their new life together.

"Helena, it's just...  It's been a strange night, and we're both tired...maybe we should both get some rest.  See how this all looks in the light of day."

"Barbara," Helena reassured her, "you know I can see perfectly in the dark, and I promise you I *won't* feel any differently in the morning."  She caressed the redhead's cheek, trying to keep her in the moment--to keep Barbara focused on her.  She could tell the redhead was anxious about the prospect of them being together physically.  She couldn't blame her, really. Research or no, this would still be new territory for her, and she wasn't entirely confident she could pull it off.  But she wouldn't allow fear to be an excuse not to try--for either of them.  "But we can take our time, figure this out together.  You can talk to me, right? Tell me what you need, what you want, let me know what works, what doesn't?"

Barbara swallowed, looking only slightly less panicked.  "Um, I think I can handle that.  I just...need a little time to adjust to the idea, I think."

"Okay.  It doesn't have to be tonight.  I can wait." That was a lie, of course.  Faced with the prospect of finally getting what she'd wanted for so long, Helena's nerve-endings were singing with desire.  But Barbara did look tired, and far too apprehensive to do something she would consider a rash move, never mind how long they'd waited already.  Helena would just have to control her rampaging hormones, for both their sakes, until Barbara's desire overrode her fears. Less than an hour before, Helena had been willing to accept any amount of distance between them, as long as she could be near the woman she loved and had sworn to protect.  Now that the distance was closing, she could afford to take as much time as necessary, do whatever was necessary to help Barbara adjust to the change in their relationship.  It was worth every effort if she and Barbara could finally be together.

"Just...tell me I don't have to leave."

Barbara smiled up at her, looking a little more relaxed.  "I'd like you to stay, actually."

"Good."  Helena settled back into Barbara's body and nuzzled into her neck.  This was far more than she'd hoped for as little as a half-hour before, so she wouldn't push it.

Well, maybe just a little...

"Barbara?"

"Mhm-hmm?" Barbara sighed.  Helena pushed herself up so she could look into Barbara's eyes.  "So...  I know this is new, and we haven't really even been out on a date...or whatever we should be doing, but...could I, um, maybe talk you into a little naked cuddling?"

Barbara looked like she might laugh, at first, but then seemed to realize that Helena wasn't joking and raised an eyebrow.  "That wouldn't be very conducive to, um...sleeping."

"I can behave myself if you can," Helena replied, hoping it was the truth.

Barbara's eyes slid away from hers, the redhead already seeming to imagine just how awkward her mobility issues could make things.

"Half-naked cuddling?" Helena conceded, hoping to keep Barbara's thoughts from straying below the waist.  "Please?"  She slid a hand just under the bottom edge of Barbara's tank top, feeling the soft skin there and letting Barbara feel the warmth of her hand.  "I just want to *feel* you."

The touch had the desired effect: Barbara's eyes were again riveted to hers and the redhead seemed to be contemplating the benefits of the proposal instead of the costs.  It probably wasn't enough in itself to convince Barbara to relent, but, if nothing else, it was good to see the desire in her eyes.

"And..." Helena continued nervously, not able to meet Barbara's eyes for long, "if you can do this for me, then I'll...  I'll know this is *real*.  And you'd have a much harder time backing out of it in the morning."

She felt pathetic, not for wanting it, but for needing it as much as she did, and she half expected to see pity in Barbara's eyes.  When Barbara gently cupped her chin and pulled her head around until their eyes met again, however, Helena saw nothing but love in Barbara's eyes.  Barbara clearly seemed touched by her request.

"You first."

Helena could hardly believe she'd heard correctly, but she quickly stripped off her shirt and tossed it aside, not even taking the time to confirm Barbara's meaning.  There'd be plenty of time later for things like finesse and playful teasing--or so she hoped. Until then, she didn't want to give Barbara time to think or talk herself out of it.

Barbara looked up at her, blinking rapidly, pupils dilated.  She put her hands on Helena's waist, above the pajama bottoms.  She gripped the bare flesh tightly, as if to keep her hands from wandering.

"Okay?" Helena asked.  Barbara made no sound but managed a quick nod.

"Are you ready?"

This time, Barbara's response was more tentative, but she again nodded her assent.

"Okay," Helena leaned down over Barbara, close enough for her nipples to brush against the thin material of the other woman's shirt.  "Put your arms around my neck and hold tight.  I'll take care of the rest."

Once Barbara's arms were wrapped around her securely, Helena slowly pushed herself up, pulling Barbara up with her.  When she'd risen far enough that she no longer needed to use the bed for leverage or balance, Helena used both hands to slowly push Barbara's tank top up her body.  Barbara gasped softly as Helena's thumbs brushed across the sides of her breasts.

Helena slid an arm behind Barbara's shoulders, gently but firmly supporting the other woman as she grabbed the shirt to pull it off completely.  Barbara raised her arms to help and, once the shirt was off and tossed aside, she put her arms around Helena again to pull her closer.

They both sighed as warm skin met warm skin. Helena slowly lowered them both to the mattress, careful not to lose contact with even an inch of Barbara's flesh.  Then, rising only slightly, she undulated her own body to slide her breasts across Barbara's before moving in to taste the delicious skin of Barbara's neck.  At Barbara's sharp intake of breath, Helena pulled back to look at her.

Barbara reached up to caress her cheek.  "You're going to be good at this, I think," she breathed.

"That's the plan.  You deserve the best, after all." Helena injected just enough cocky sarcasm into her reply that Barbara could choose to take it as a joke if she wanted to, but she was entirely sincere.

Sensing they were drifting into dangerous territory, Helena decided to change the subject.  "So, how do you want to, um, sleep?"  She slid a leg off Barbara as she moved to snuggle against Barbara's right side.  "Is this comfortable?"

"Yes, but...  Actually, I'd...like to hold you."

"Great," Helena agreed quickly, happy to grant that request.  "How do you...?"

"Just help me turn onto my side."

Helena slid aside to make room and pulled the blankets aside before rushing to help Barbara, tugging Barbara's hips into position as the redhead struggled to maneuver her upper body, then pulling Barbara's knees up several inches to help balance the weight of her lower body.

"Is that okay?"

Barbara squirmed a little and adjusted the pillow to get comfortable.  "Yeah, this is fine.  Now, if you could just...snuggle back against me."

"Huh?" Helena had been staring at all the wonderfully bare flesh before her, so it took a moment for the request to sink in.  "Oh.  Yeah.  Right."

"Unless you'd rather...?" Barbara asked uncertainly, too caught up in her own doubts to notice Helena's appreciative gaze.

"Nonono, this is great!" Helena cut her off and demonstrated her enthusiasm for the idea by flopping onto her side, slipping her legs under the covers and sliding back into Barbara's body.  She matched Barbara's position as closely as she could and sighed contentedly when the redhead slid an arm around her to pull her even closer.

Helena pulled the blankets back into place, covering them both, before snuggling deeper into Barbara's embrace.  "If you need to move at all during the night, just wake me up.  Let me help you...or at least get out of your way.

Barbara leaned in to place a light kiss at the base of her neck.  "I like having you in my way."

Helena could think of at least half a dozen incidents over the years when that almost certainly hadn't been the case, but decided not to bring them up.  She was too touched by Barbara's declaration, and too hopeful about the future together it implied, to want to think about all the ways it could go wrong.

She grasped Barbara's hand and pulled it up to kiss her palm.  "Then I plan to be in the way *a lot* from now on.  Still, wake me if you need...anything."

"What are you, my personal slave, now?" Barbara teased.

"Only if you put the word 'sex' in front of that," Helena joked, earning the quiet laugh she'd hoped for.

"You're impossible."

"That's me all over: Helena 'Impossible' Kyle."

The two fell into a comfortable silence and Helena listened as Barbara's breathing slowed and evened out. Lying there in Barbara's arms, the redhead's warm breath against her neck and Barbara's hand gently cupping her breast, Helena thought back to how miserable she'd been just a couple hours before and how miserable she'd been for the past several weeks. None of it seemed to matter now that she knew she and Barbara would be together.

"I think I could get to like this place," she mumbled to herself, thinking Barbara was already asleep.

Apparently, the redhead was still half-awake, because she murmured sleepily, "s'okay, I know you hate it."

"I did.  Or I thought I did.  But, you're here, and... This is where I first told you I love you.  This may not be where we fell in love, but it's where we'll be together.  How could I hate it?"

Barbara said nothing, but pulled her closer, and Helena felt what she was almost certain were Barbara's tears on the back of her neck.

So they hadn't made love.  They would.  So Barbara hadn't said the words.  She would.  The emotion was there, in everything Barbara had done tonight, and she would overcome her reticence in time.  Helena was sure of it.  She refused to believe otherwise.  She'd had this taste of happiness tonight with Barbara and she could wait for more.  She could wait as long as it took if it meant she could finally be with Barbara--not as a friend, not just as a partner in fighting crime, but as a true partner, in every sense.

She could wait.  In the meantime, she was content to lie there, cocooned in Barbara's embrace.  The redhead had slipped fully into sleep shortly after Helena's declaration.  Helena tried to stay awake so she could enjoy the feeling of being held by the woman she loved as long as possible, but soon the rhythm of Barbara's breathing lulled her into sleep, as well.

She slept more soundly than she had in weeks.
 

The End
May 2003