"It is comforting when one has a sorrow to lie in the warmth of one's bed and there, abandoning all effort and all resistance, to bury even one's head under the cover, giving one's self up to it completely, moaning like branches in the autumn wind. But there is still a better bed, full of divine odors. It is our sweet, our profound, our impenetrable friendship." --Marcel Proust, Pleasures and Regrets
The silent presence is a familiar one, and it draws Barbara gently up from sleep, tugging her from grotesque and surreal dreams of the Joker--crazed laughter, the bright shock of muzzle flash and the acrid smell of gunpowder, searing pain, and a coppery tang of blood on her tongue. She takes a deep breath and concentrates on the smooth feel of the cotton sheets against her skin; she's safe at home with Helena.
Because even enveloped in darkness, she knows who is standing beside her bed. She opens her eyes, blinking away the last wisps of unreality, and for a moment her gaze settles on the glowing red 3:05 of her alarm clock.
She's unsurprised to feel the bed dip with the young woman's weight. Trembling fingertips touch her forehead lightly, tracing down her temple and across her cheekbone, palm cupping her jaw in an intimate gesture, and Barbara remembers a similar night about three years ago.
That night--a year to the day after Selena Kyle's funeral--Barbara had allowed Helena to crawl into bed with her, had held and comforted the girl through long-awaited tears of grief at her mother's death. Gentle but determined, she had also rebuffed Helena's fumblingly naive advances.
She understands what drives people in those circumstances, why they reach out to the nearest warm body: the need to prove that they're alive, that they can feel, and the desire to connect with other human beings. She also understands that it was Helena's way of trying both to distance Barbara--by removing her from the role of mother--and simultaneously bring her closer.
Tonight she isn't sure how to react to that touch, so tender and yet so fragile. As of today, Helena is an adult; she's competent--in the eyes of the law, at least--to choose her own sexual partners.
The only problem is that Barbara's not certain she's ready to be chosen. She's even less certain that the decision will be left up to her.
It's not that Helena isn't attractive. Quite the contrary; with her full lips, almond-shaped eyes, and curtain of dark, silky hair, she's grown into a strikingly beautiful woman. And it's not that Barbara doesn't love her. For the past four years, though, she's loved Helena as a mother would--or an older sister at the very least--and she can't help feeling it would be some sort of betrayal of that familial love if they were to become lovers now.
When Helena finally speaks, her voice is soft but steady. "Will you cut my hair for me?"
Barbara nearly laughs with relief, the dilemma dissipating like a nightmare dragged into the light. Nothing has changed after all; there's no decision to be made.
"At three a.m.?" she asks, reaching up to take the hand that still cups her cheek. She squeezes it once, then lets go and reaches out to the bedside table to turn on the lamp.
Pale yellow light spills out, illuminating Helena where she sits on the edge of Barbara's bed, clad only in a sleeveless white cotton nightgown. With her feet bare and the thick plait hanging over her right shoulder, she somehow looks far younger than her eighteen years, and Barbara is reminded of the frightened and angry fourteen-year-old girl she had taken in.
Then Helena speaks, and the illusion is shattered. "Here," she says, placing a pair of scissors--kitchen shears, Barbara notes with a strange detachment--on the nightstand with exaggerated care. She reaches back with elegant, long-fingered hands, and tugs her braid through a ponytail holder, wrapping it securely around the plait about two inches from the nape of her neck.
It's not until Barbara is propped against the headboard, the covers pushed down to the foot of the bed and scissors in hand, that she asks again, "Why, exactly, are we cutting your hair at three in the morning?"
She doesn't actually expect a response; Helena is particularly good at avoiding questions she doesn't want to answer, and time has taught Barbara the wisdom of picking her battles.
"Because I'm eighteen. Because it's time for some changes." Helena turns away and scoots back until she's pressed against Barbara's hip. "Here," she points to the space just above the top-most ponytail holder.
Barbara takes the thick braid in her left hand, the hair silky-soft under her fingers. It reminds her of nearly forgotten bedtime rituals, when they would sit on Helena's bed and talk--about Helena's day, about school projects, and about Barbara's research--Barbara brushing Helena's hair and then braiding it into a long plait before tucking Helena into bed. Those rituals had ended the same night Helena had crawled into her bed for comfort and solace.
"Are you sure?" Barbara asks, reluctant to desecrate something so beautiful and so integral to the Helena she knows. Something with so many memories attached.
"Yes." Helena's answer is firm and certain.
It's the work of mere moments, but it feels as though it takes an eternity. When the scissors clatter back down on the bedside table, Helena turns around, shaking her head and grinning.
"It feels so different. Lighter." She laughs and the sound is like the ring of fine crystal as she takes the severed plait from Barbara's shaking fingers, coils it on itself, and sets it gently beside the scissors.
When she looks at Barbara again, her eyes flash yellow, like those of a hawk, and her smile is different, almost feral. In the end, Barbara's indecision decides for her; she doesn't move or protest as Helena leans forward and presses warm, needy kisses against her lips.
"Shhh," Helena whispers, shifting to straddle her lap and leaning in for more kisses, both hands pressed against Barbara's face, cupping her jaw lightly with trembling fingers.
With little effort--so little, in fact, that she knows Helena's not really resisting--Barbara flips them both over, pinning Helena beneath her.
She means to stop this, to once again rebuff Helena's advances, but as she looks down into Helena's face she realizes this is the inevitable next step in their relationship. She realizes that she's known it all along, from the moment she first held Helena--shaking and tearful--in her arms; she's just been waiting for a woman to come to her out of mature desire rather than a child out of need for comfort.
Helena smiles up at her, as if reading Barbara's acquiescence in her eyes. "I think it's time I had a name, don't you?"
She thinks about Helena, about the feral gleam in her eyes as she stalked Barbara like prey, and knows the right answer instantly. "Huntress," she says, leaning forward to press her lips gently to Helena's.
From beneath her comes a sound that could be either approval or arousal, but at the moment Barbara doesn't particularly care which it is.
Sign up to rate and review this story