by Chicago

Part 4: The Friends

"Garh shna enmf!" Sparky complained, gesticulating to make his point.

Babs grinned, beginning to understand Sparky's garbled speech. "Hey, it worked out for my team."

"She's got you there, Sparky. But Miss Barbara," the Doc continued, "you must admit that we *gave* you that victory."

"Hey, I didn't say you didn't," Babs defended, holding her hands up, "but beggars can't be choosers."

"Ah, spoken like a true Knights fan," Chris put in. "What'd'ya think would happen if the Knights actually made it to the Series?"

A hearty laugh sounded around the table, and John reached forward to snatch a french fry from Babs' plate. "I bet they'd win it if they played the Cubs," he remarked, a gleam in his eye.

"I don' know about that," Cap disagreed, and Tigs and the Doc nodded.

"Denver used to be Cub territory before the Rockies," John murmured to Babs by way of explanation, brushing his lips near her ear.

"Someone talkin' about my Cubs?" Dom asked from over by the bar. "They'll win it some day. You'll see."

"Shut up, Dom," Chris yelled amicably. "Sparky, can you believe these old farts? We need to run with a younger crowd."

Sparky smiled broadly. "Ep. Cuz nh nahts, wuhl go-" He made a sound convincingly like an explosion, his arms flying akimbo and raising another raucous laugh from the group gathered around the tavern tables.

"You got that right, Sparky," the Doc agreed, raising his beer in toast to the teen.

"Havin' too much fun over here?" a new voice asked, and Babs turned to see a woman bearing a tray of food and drinks.

"Lisa, yer takin' perfect care of us as always, m'dear," Cap grinned as Chris traded the empty glass from the cup holder around Cap's neck for a full one. Cap took a quick slurp from the straw Chris dropped into the drink and smacked his lips in satisfaction. "Now this is livin',"he remarked, only the faintest touch of irony in his tone.

Lisa set down a couple more pint glasses and parked a burger in front of the Doc. Then she leaned over to Babs, her hand reaching for her plate. "You want me to get this out of your way?" she asked.

Babs smiled. "Depends on if John is done stealing fries," she replied.

Lisa shot a look at John and grinned. "Honey, one of these days we'll get that man to order his own damned fries."

"You wound me," John cried melodramatically, clutching at his chest.

"Heh. Th' day John ordersh 'isz own friesh iszz th' day th' Cubz an' Knightsh play th' World Sheriesz," Lawrence slurred from his corner near the wall.

In the razzing that followed, Babs nodded to Lisa that she could take the plate, and the waitress continued gathering empty glasses. "Hey, Sparky," she suddenly interrupted, "your ride's here."

Sparky groaned and the crowd of regulars shifted around casually to give the teen room to manipulate his chair back from the jammed together tables. The electric chair jerked and spun under the teen's unsteady guidance, eventually pointing toward the door. He paused for a moment.

"Bahba," he said, holding out his hand. "Guh ttt mee oo."

Babs took the proffered hand and shook it. "Nice to meet you, too, Sparky. Maybe if I get back to Denver you can explain that rotation play."

Sparky beamed. "Ka. Buh!"

A chorus of "Bye, Sparky"s filled the tavern as a wide path to the front door opened for him. Babs watched him go with admiration. "What a great kid," she remarked.

"I give a lot of credit to his family for trusting him to know what he likes and letting him do his thing," John answered mildly, rising to his feet. "I'll be back in a minute-call of nature. You'll be okay?"

Babs nodded, flashing him a quick smile before he moved off.

No sooner was his seat vacated than Tigs moved in. She dropped her heavy body into John's chair and spoke without preamble. "We never got to talk during the game. I'm Tigs."

"Barbara," Babs answered, holding out her hand. Tigs accepted the handshake but did not return the smile. Her eyes were flint hard.

"You did okay out there today-the Sister seems to like you all right. Can't judge from the boys-they like any pretty young thing." Tigs studied her appraisingly. "I'm thinking you might just be all right. But we've had our share of little chippies think they can just move into our crew."

Babs felt suddenly trapped and confused. "I'm not-I mean-"

"Look, honey, I'm sure you don't mean no harm. But these is my family, y'know? We're out there together all the time. We been there to pick up the pieces for each other more than once."

"Oh! I-"

"How long you know John, anyway?"

Finally it seemed as if Tigs was going to wait for an answer. "We've known each other through work for years," Babs replied honestly.

Tigs nodded. "And you live out in Gotham?"

"Uh, yeah."

"Don't get me wrong, but I known John for a long time. Back from when he was still on the force, and then after, and all that mess with his partner and everything. He's a good guy. And I won't stand to see him hurt again, you get me?"

Babs blinked. Someone was protecting someone else from *her*?

"Tigs, you givin' Barbara a hard time?" Cap intervened, shooting her a pointed look.

Babs laughed, but she kept her eyes on Tigs. "Nah, just girl talk," she called in answer. She redirected her tone to Tigs. "I get you," she acknowledged. "And believe me, there have been people I've wanted to hurt in my day. But John Jones isn't one of them, and I don't see how he ever could be."

Tigs held her eyes for a moment longer, then nodded. "I believe you. Get you another drink?"

"I was just going to suggest it was time for Barbara and I to head on out," John's voice came from behind them. "Unless you want one more before we go?"

Babs shook her head. "This one's going to my head already. But thanks, Tigs."

"Hey, anytime you're back in Denver, Barbara," Tigs replied, relinquishing John's seat and moving back to her previous chair.

"You don't mind leaving now?" John asked, slipping back beside Babs. His eyes held only gentle consideration, but their gaze gave her a little thrill.

"Do we have to go home?" she asked.

His lips turned up in that gentle smile. "Not if you don't want to. Something in mind?"

"No. I just don't know if I want today to end just yet."

His eyes lit up. "Me neither. Up for a walk?"

"Yeah." Her smile answered his.

"Well, folks," John began, standing again. "We're going to go paint some more of the town."

"So that's what they're calling it these days, eh?" Dom called from the bar.

"Heh. Don't do anything I wouldn't do," Cap added.

"Whass that leave outs, Cap?" Lawrence threw in.

A further set of ribbing and good-byes accompanied them out to the street, darkening into late evening. Babs took a deep breath, enjoying the cooling night air. "Where to, John?"

"Moonlight stroll?" he suggested, pointing toward the nearly full moon rising between buildings down the street.

"Sounds good. And then?"

The smile that had never wholly left John's face again brightened. "You like jazz?" he asked.

Continue To Interlude Two

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