It was weird for everything to suddenly be so...quiet.
Just hours before, their city was being torn apart and both their lives were in danger. Now they stood together in her absolute mess of a living room and the air was strangely peaceful.
Stricklander sighed as he felt confronted by the awkward silence between them. He wanted to turn back into his human form, thinking it would make Barbara more comfortable, but now it just felt like a façade.
As she made her way to the couch - setting down the cradle stone and taking a seat with a loud sigh - Stricklander wondered if he should even be here. He offered to take her home and she seemed pleased enough to say yes, but did she just want the escort and now he should leave?
Especially now that this was his only form, he was absolutely sure there was no future for them. Surely she’d tell him to go once she caught her breath.
He braced himself for being asked to leave before looking up to see her staring deeply at the cradle stone. “…yes?”
“What should we do with them?” She didn’t move her gaze from the stone. “Do we just take them to an orphanage? Or try to find their real families?”
His heart fluttered at her continued use of we. “Unfortunately, many of these children were born hundreds of years ago. Their families would be long dead.”
“Maybe we can at least find where they’re from. Take them to an orphanage in the town they were meant to grow up in?”
He stared down at her and smiled. Despite everything that happened and losing her son, she was still so motivated and strong. “That sounds like a wonderful idea.”
She finally looked up at him and squeezed her hands. “Will you…” She looked down again briefly and then looked back up. “Will you stay and help?”
Stricklander’s heart felt like it had its own pair of wings. “Of course. Whatever you want to do, I’ll help to the best of my ability.”
Barbara breathed a sigh of relief. “…thank you, Walter.”
He looked down at the stone and his face became serious. “The real Waltolomew Strickler is in there somewhere. Once we release him, I’ll just be…Stricklander.” He closed his eyes and took a breath. “I have access to a mask that can give me the same human appearance I’ve always had, but the man you've known will no longer…”
She grabbed his hand and Walter opened his eyes to see she was right in front of him. He hadn’t even heard her get up.
“No matter how you look, you’ll always be Walter to me.”
He felt nervous under her stare and wondered if she could tell. This reminded him so much of a moment they shared just a few months prior - when she kissed him for the first time. Did she remember that? Would she even want to remember that? Surely she had no interest in kissing a troll, but…
“Barbara…I’m so sorry,” he mumbled. “For everything I’ve done. To Jim, to you…nothing will ever make up for it. But if you could see it in your heart to give me a second chance, I’d-”
She cut him off with a kiss. It wasn’t dissimilar to last time…just like then, he felt anxious and embarrassed and oh, so happy all at the same time. But this time she seemed more confident and even a bit curious…who could blame her?
He only had a moment to kiss back before she pulled away and he felt the nervousness come back tenfold. Was she disgusted? Tried it out and hated it? Or perhaps -
She giggled and held onto him. “That’s a much different feeling than I’m used to.”
He wrapped his hands around her waist. “Is different…good?”
“It’s different.” She pulled back and looked up into his eyes. “I like it.”
Stricklander still felt too insecure to kiss her back, but god if he didn’t want to. He couldn’t believe the feeling the woman in his arms was giving him. He couldn’t believe she still wanted him. “Are you saying that we, um…that you want me to stay? With you?”
She slid her hand down his shoulder and rested it on his chest. “...yes. If you want to, I mean.”
He brought up a hand and placed it gently on top of hers. “I would love nothing more.”