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She was an amazing woman.

He couldn't keep his mind off of her - the way she moved, the way she spoke, the way she cared about everyone and everything around her...it was so charming and so very heartwarming to imagine a woman like her spending time with a man like him.

The enchantment he'd placed on her - on them both, technically - was a decision he'd spent hours and hours considering. Part of him knew this was the right thing to do; the absolute best way to ensure his own safety now that he was back in Arcadia Oaks, but...another part of him was frightened. Even the thought of accidentally stubbing his toe and knowing that she'd suddenly be in that same amount of pain gave him pause. Of course he'd be as careful as possible, but some small injuries were inevitable.

He knew he was being overconfident in his decision. A ghost from his past could reappear and try to hurt him, or the Trollhunter could lose his focus and leave a mark...it was even possible that Barbara could get hurt in any normal human situations, and he wasn't sure how his body would respond to it.

Really, he wasn't one hundred percent sure how his or Barbara's bodies would react to certain physical stimuli that weren't pain. Would they share hunger or be tired at the same times? Briefly, though he'd be embarrassed to admit it, he wondered if arousal would go both ways. There were a lot of things he couldn't find answers about while researching Angor Rot's spell.

He supposed the most important thing to consider was sitting right in front of him: Barbara, and how she'd react to this once she discovered the truth. It was inevitable, what with her being stuck in the middle of everything, but Walter couldn't fathom how she might possibly react.

His mind continued to wander while she sipped her tea - the tea that he'd almost stopped her from drinking altogether - and he only came back to Earth when Barbara said his name in a questioning tone.

"Hm?" he responded, a bit embarrassed that she caught him with his head in the clouds.

"You look like you're in another world," she said with an awkward chuckle. "Something on your mind?"

He set down his cup of tea. "I do apologize. I was considering the awkward predicament between our seeing each other and, ah...your son."

Barbara shook her head and set her cup down as well. "It's fine, I just, well..." She rubbed her arm uncomfortably. "I know he's not a fan of this..." She paused, trying to think of the right word to use.

"...relationship?" Strickler suggested.

She blushed, looking up to meet his eyes. "...exactly. I mean I knew he'd be weird about it, but he's been worse than I expected, honestly."

He grimaced. "I'm sorry if I've caused any bad feelings between you two. I really don't want to make things more difficult..."

Barbara shook her head. "No, trust me, things have been difficult between us, but it has nothing to do with you." She chuckled and looked down to check the time on her phone. "Oh no, look at the time! I'm supposed to be back at the clinic in five minutes!"

Walter was surprised - apparently time really did fly in good company. "Would you like a ride?"

She blinked at him. "Oh, Walt, thank you, that'd be amazing. I can just get a ride home with-"

"Nonsense, I can take you home as well," he offered without a second thought. "I'd be more than happy to pick you up whenever you're done with work."

Barbara hesitated for just a moment before giving him a big smile. "...you're too good to me, Walt."

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Fortunately, this was one of very few days where she didn't have to stay hours late at the clinic. So Walter picked her up as promised, and they had what both parties would consider a nice, but slightly awkward chat during the drive. Though he wasn't sure why it felt so awkward, he knew one thing for certain: his heart was racing.

He assumed it must've been because of Barbara. Well, that answered one of his questions. But why would her heart be beating so fast? Surely she took good care of herself, and it's not like she just ran a marathon. They fell into a brief silence as he racked his brain for reasons why she might be feeling like this.

None had come to mind by the time they reached the Lake household, and Barbara smiled politely as he rushed around the car to open the door for her. He prided himself on being as gentlemanly as possible - every little detail mattered.

As they walked up the steps to the front door, Strickler felt his heart start to race even faster. He considered asking her about how she was feeling when she finally spoke.

"Walt, this was honestly so kind of you." She brushed a strand of hair back behind her ear. "If there's anything I can do to repay you-"

He smiled and held up a hand. "Barbara, don't worry about it. Being able to spend time in your presence is payment enough." He reached down to end their night with one of his usual hand-kisses, but before he could pull away, she had latched onto his hand.

"Well..." Barbara started. "I'd still like to give you something..."

Walter straightened his back and stared down at her. His heart felt like it was going to burst out of his chest, and then it finally hit him - nervousness. Barbara was very, very nervous about something. And whatever it was that she'd been thinking about, it felt like she'd finally reached the peak of her anxiety. Perhaps she was-

All of his thoughts were cut off by her lips gently brushing against his own.

It was the briefest of kisses - she'd held onto his hand, stepped onto her tip-toes, and gave him a small peck. But it meant the world to him. Strickler hadn't been in any sort of romantic (or even intimate) relationship in years...perhaps even decades. And he'd never felt the soft lips of a beautiful human woman before this very moment.

He stayed still - face flushed and eyes wide - while Barbara bit her lip and looked away from him in embarrassment. He could feel how much her heart was beating still - almost aching at this point.

She couldn't even look at him - and his lack of response was making her feel like an idiot. "...I'm-...I'm sorry, Walter, I didn't-"

Finally the realization caught up to him - she just kissed him - and Strickler quickly put a hand under her chin. "Don't apologize. I should have responded sooner..."

Barbara lifted her head to stare at him just as he tugged her lips towards his - continuing the kiss that he felt never should've ended. It was just a bit too brief...a few more seconds was all he needed.

Her hand squeezed his and her free hand snaked its way up to his shoulder. Finally, Strickler felt his heart start to beat almost normally again. He moved his lips against hers for just another moment before pulling away - didn't want to overdo it, of course.

He kept his hand on her chin and watched her for a moment as Barbara's eyes slowly fluttered open again. She smiled at him and blushed, which just made her even more charming. He felt the urge to kiss her again, but surely Young Atlas would be home soon to ruin this moment for them.

"...I should go."

Strickler spoke quietly, but Barbara could tell he didn't want to leave from the smile on his face. She was also thinking about how Jim would probably be home soon - since he was never home at a normal time these days - and nodded.

"Thanks again for bringing me home," she said softly, and leaned up to peck his lips again. "See you soon?"

He smiled. "As soon as possible," he said before finally slipping his hand out of her grasp and heading down the porch steps.

Barbara smiled and watched him for a few seconds before finally heading back into the house and giving him a small wave goodbye. She'd been thinking about kissing him all day, and it turned out so much better than she could've expected.

Chapter Text

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.

“Walter.”

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.”