Title: Here Be Monsters
Rating: NC-17, mostly for language because the character's choice of words unfortunately often reflects the author's, though also for some adult situations
Fandom: Birds of Prey
Pairing: B/H, H/HQ
Helena dropped down lightly onto the roof of GenetiX Labs, the tall, narrow shadows of nearby buildings hiding her from any eyes that might have been watching. She’d definitely stumbled onto something, though what it was she didn’t quite know. Her therapist was into far more than counseling, and from the task she’d been given to prove her worth, Helena knew that whatever it was, it was big. It was the kind of big that Barbara would want to know about and infiltrate, but she didn’t think Barbara had picked up on it yet. Or maybe… no. She couldn’t think about Barbara. She had things to do, and thinking about Barbara was the height of counterproductivity.
Trying to recall everything her mother had ever told her, mind recalling sly smiles and the mischievous glint of sharply slit eyes more so than anything else, Helena made her way over to the roof-top access door on the far side of the building. Sliding off the bag she’d slung securely over her shoulders, she extracted a set of lock picks, easily flicking open the case to reveal a row of tools, each gleaming dully in the light of the quarter moon. After a quick examination of the door, cat-sharp eyes giving her more than enough detail even in the dark of night, she chose one from the set, nimble fingers delicately easing the pick into place and manipulating the lock with the skill of a seasoned burglar. A few seconds later and she was inside, another more complicated tool set out and being put to use to disable the alarm system.
Completing the task efficiently, sure her Mother would be more than proud of her skills, she made her way down the hallway. GenetiX Labs had a large, open courtyard that extended all the way to the top of the building, with offices and labs arranged around it, as if the designers had thought they could create a skyless oasis in a land of concrete and steel. Almost all of the building’s lights were out, but a sudden, instinctive streak of cautiousness hit, and Helena found a secluded corner and pressed herself into it, trying to slow her breathing. Excitement made it more difficult than usual to do so, but when she finally managed it, she turned her acute sense of hearing outward, picking up the footsteps of a single guard somewhere far below her, and the hum and whirr of various machines. The place was practically deserted.
Staying in the shadows until the last possible moment, she closed her eyes and breathed deeply, envisioning the jump to come. Then, with a sudden flurry of almost agitated motion, Helena hurled herself over the top floor railing, sailing effortlessly over the open area to land ten floors below where she had been, hands easily grabbing the top of the opposite railing. A quick bounce on the balls of her feet sent her up and over the barrier in what her ego imagined to be a visually stunning back-handspring. Landing silently, she quickly made her way back into the shadows, poised in silent apprehension for several minutes to make sure no alarm had been raised. Satisfied that her acrobatics hadn’t been spotted, she began the search for her destination, scooting furtively down the hallway, looking for the room number she’d committed to memory earlier in the evening.
The door, when she finally found it, had a cardkey access slot, just as Quinzel had said it would. Moving slowly, acutely aware of the open vulnerability of her position, Helena slid her pack off once more, unzipping it as silently as possible. The handy bit of technology she’d been given to combat this particular lock was resting securely in the bottom of her bag. It looked innocuous enough, a thin piece of plastic no larger than a credit card with a slim cord attaching it to an equally small black box. Sliding it down the slot in the access panel beside the door belied it’s apparently benign nature, though, and red flashed to green as the barely audible snick of a lock flipping echoed through the hallway. Sliding the door open just far enough to enable her to slip through, Helena made her way into the darkened lab, eyes quickly adjusting to the much dimmer light.
Countertops and cabinets shone with nearly incandescent brightness, and as she slipped between them, Helena couldn’t help but admire the almost militaristic order of the room. The lack of clutter certainly made her job much easier, and she made her way quickly over to the cold storage unit. She also became distinctly and uncomfortably aware of the excitement coursing through her, strong enough bring a tremor to her hands and flash silver in front of her eyes. It was disconcerting to realize that she’d never felt the same thrill during a sweep as she did in the confines of a darkened lab, black leather no longer a tool of intimidation but rather camouflage.
Decompressing air hissed out into the room as she opened the door to the refrigerator unit whose lock she’d just picked, and she was momentarily blinded by the bellows of icy steam. When her vision cleared once again, she turned her attention to the samples in front of her, all neatly labeled and stored. She wasn’t completely sure what they were, but was quite certain she didn’t want to be in contact with them for any longer than was necessary. Grimacing, wishing she’d paid a bit more attention in science class, Helena rustled through her pack once again, this time producing a small silver suitcase. Grabbing the first samples she saw, she tucked them neatly into the padded interior of the case, easing them in with nervous care. Closing and locking the case, relieved when the vials were out of sight and presumably no longer a danger to her, she shut the door to the storage unit and slipped the case into her pack once again.
Helena knew the easy part of her evening was finished. While she’d been able to make the leap down ten floors with ease, making the same jump back up just wasn’t possible. Had there been enough room for her to get adequate speed and momentum first then it wouldn’t have been a problem, but the relatively narrow walkway was far from sufficient. That meant a trip up the stairs, something she wasn’t entirely happy with. Enclosed areas offered less protection, and if the security guard happened upon her, there was less of a chance of getting away without having to somehow incapacitate him, and Helena wasn’t going to let someone get hurt just so she could work through the enigmatic Dr. Quinzel’s scheme.
Finding the stairwell was much more difficult than finding the office had been, but after five agonizingly long minutes of searching, of keeping in the shadows and skirting from barely hidden hiding place to slightly more conspicuous hiding place, Helena spotted it. Breathing a sigh of relief, she slid a glove-encased hand over the thin sliver of metal, pressed down, and stepped inside.
The piercing shrieks of the alarm system she’d been sure she disabled startled her, and Helena stood for a second, listening in shocked disbelief before realizing that it was in her best interests to make herself scarce. Looking up at the distance she had to cover with trepidation, she began to move. Taking the steps five at a time, she was well on her way up to the top when the sound of a door slamming open below her caught her attention, and she paused, peeking down over the railing to see who was following her.
“Hey… Hey, you up there! Stop!”
“Shit,” Helena muttered, eyes rolling. If she got arrested again because of this, Barbara would kill her. Well, actually Barbara might not speak to her at all. She might have to actually face this conviction alone, and prison jumpsuit orange had never been a color that complimented her complexion.
“I said stop!” came the voice again, this time much more insistent than before. And, as Helena heard the loud rapport of a gun and the ping of a bullet bouncing off of the concrete wall somewhere behind her, she revised her earlier concern. Barbara would kill her if the idiot behind her didn’t first.
Reaching the top of the staircase in a barely controlled skid, dodging another wildly fired bullet, she paused to look down and see how far behind her the security guard was. “Thought you couldn’t shoot at fleeing suspects, buddy,” she muttered, seeing the man racing up the stairs several floors below her, gun waving precariously as he peeked in between the railings.
Unwilling to stay there and face possible maiming any longer, Helena burst through the upstairs door and back onto the roof again, stumbling for a moment in the brisk wind that had picked up considerably since she’d gone inside. There was another rooftop a street away and two stories up, and so she began to run, gauging the amount of speed it would take to give her adequate distance. As soon as she planted her foot and leaped, however, Helena knew something was wrong. She hadn’t taken into account the sudden, furious gust of wind that battered her airborne body, and in horror, she watched the building start to almost waver in front of eyes stinging with cold-induced tears. Barely catching herself on the very corner of the rooftop, one hand wrapping up and over the building’s ridge, she was unable to stop her body from careening into the metal and glass side wall. Grunting in pain as her ribs took the majority of the force, she felt the grip of her fingers slip as she began to literally slide down the slick surface of the building.
Falling three floors before her fingers found purchase on a windowsill, she dug in with all of her strength, halting her descent. Hanging there for a moment, once again battered by increasingly strong winds, she caught her breath and attempted to return her heartbeat to something close to normal. When that was accomplished, she eased her way across the side of the building, inching along with agonizing slowness but unable to move any faster for fear of losing her already tenuous grip, until she was in back of it, out of sight of the rooftop of GenetiX Labs. Once out of sight, she scurried down until she was on stable ground once more, flinching slightly as the imperfections in the metal raked at her fingertips through the inadequate protection of her gloves. Then, once on solid ground again, she shoved her hands in her pockets and began to walk calmly away, not even flinching as a cacophony of sirens broke through the night air.
The Delphi alarm stunned Barbara out of the fog she’d been swimming in since Helena had disappeared into the night for the second time the week before. Fingers searching for her glasses, she tried focusing on the computer screen before her without them, eyes squinting as she scanned over the fuzzy text.
She’d configured the computer to monitor the police scanners for her, and the use of certain words were designed to immediately signal for her personal attention. Modified voice recognition software translated it all into text format for her, so only a few seconds after a call was radioed in to the New Gotham Police Department, Barbara was reading its transcript.
This call appeared to be a break-in at the GenetiX Labs building downtown. The security guard reported shots fired, but hadn’t gotten a good look at the perp, and Barbara sighed with relief at the prospect that she was actually going to have something to do. Flexing her fingers, she pulled herself closer to the array of keyboards she’d designed to surround her, and went to work breaking into GenetiX’s computer system. Security was suitably vigilant… not particularly challenging in light of her hacking skills, but it would keep out the millions of amateurish attempts to break through their firewalls the company undoubtedly received weekly. No problem for her, though, and within minutes, Barbara had made her way into the segment that housed the surveillance tapes, and a click of a button started the process that would digitally record onto her computer the images the cameras had captured.
Only giving the tapes cursory attention, the majority of her resources engaged in ensuring no one knew she was there, Barbara almost missed it. But there was no way, really, that she couldn’t be drawn to the all too familiar face that popped up on the surveillance footage, and with a gasp, she slowed the stream, freezing a frame, sure that her eyes had been playing tricks on her.
There, in all of her glory, was Helena, dressed completely in black and carrying a bulging satchel, and Barbara felt her heart skip a beat. Her mind raced in an attempt to come up with a viable excuse for why, exactly, the other woman would be there. After a few seconds, she came to the conclusion that there wasn’t one. Well, no good reason, and Barbara deliberately staved off the number of other, grossly unappealing reasons that instantly sprang to mind. Not that it was something she could worry about at that exact second, however. There were more important things to do.
Moving quickly, sure that her time in the system was limited, Barbara snipped out the segments with Helena in them, looping the empty security footage back in on itself, virtually erasing the other woman from the tapes. She didn’t think about what she was doing or why, she just did it. Protecting Helena was second nature to her, and she wasn’t about to have the police out on a manhunt for the other woman before she figured out what was going on herself.
After sneaking out of the system the same way she’d come in, Barbara collapsed wearily back into her chair, mind spinning. What was Helena up to? Had she finally decided to take after her mother? In light of their… disagreements, had Helena given up on the crime-fighter role to step into the shadows as a criminal?
It was unthinkable, but Barbara couldn’t deny what she’d seen on the tape. Helena had broken in to GenetiX Labs, stolen something, and was quite lucky she hadn’t gotten herself shot. Without knowing what she’d taken, Barbara couldn’t be sure of the other woman’s motivation. Before talking to Helena, before hearing first-hand just what the other woman had been thinking, Barbara steadfastly refused to let herself seriously consider any of the less attractive options swirling through her thoughts, no matter how high the evidence in their favor. Quite simply, she couldn’t bring herself to accept that Helena would turn against everything they’d built together.
Then again, she was also well aware that Helena wasn’t in the best of mental states, largely… well, wholly, due to her. Barbara had been battling with herself for years, unable to deny her growing attraction for her much younger friend and, in the technical sense, ward, but unable to accept it either. So, she’d tried to stem her feelings, but Barbara had quickly learned that no matter how rigid her control over them purported to be, there wasn’t really anything she could do. Helena was enchanting, and nothing if not viscerally compelling. Those times, when she was nothing but a jumble of raw emotion and pain, were perhaps just as enticing as the times when she wasn’t. There was something about the untamed, unrestrained life running through her veins, with all of the grief and anguish that came with it, that called to Barbara at a primal level she normally tried to avoid.
The first year had been rough. So rough, in fact, that Barbara had constantly doubted her wisdom in accepting custody of the obviously troubled teen. She was adjusting to the new limitations on her life, not really doing so with any measure of success, and not at all in the best frame of mind to deal with Helena’s difficulties. There had been days when the two of them had sat in morose silence, each holed up in their own individual quarters of Barbara’s small apartment, with little or no contact with each other or the world in general. She hadn’t been oblivious to Helena’s needs and her problems, but she hadn’t really known what to do about them, and hadn’t been able to fight past her depression enough to try and find the answers. In fact, it wasn’t until the day she’d pushed open the door to Helena’s room to see if the girl wanted something to eat only to find blue eyes looking at her guiltily, a razor sharp knife dripping blood dangling loosely from her fingers, that Barbara had realized that if she didn’t change, one or both of them would probably wind up dead.
She’d rolled into the room, flicking on the light as she went, watching as Helena flinched as it hit eyes too long accustomed to the darkness. Barbara had been in a state of unnaturally surreal calm as she approached, some part of her trying desperately to dissociate from the situation, until she saw the line of thin, shallow cuts trailing up the inside of Helena’s arm in a disturbingly orderly progression from almost healed scars to increasingly angry looking wounds. That was when she’d lost it, snatching the blade from Helena’s fingers and flinging it to embed in the far wall, hands reaching out to cradle the blood covered limb in her hands, head falling forward in dejection.
“Why did you do this to yourself?” she’d whispered, voice rough with restrained emotion, heart finally tearing away from the icy isolation it had been occupying for months, the separation almost unbearably painful.
“Because…” Helena had rasped, pain lacing each syllable as she struggled to find the words to explain it all, “because I just wanted to feel something again.”
Barbara had gently cleaned and bandaged the girl’s cuts, appalled at herself for not having noticed just how far gone Helena was. For not noticing just how far gone she was.
Things had changed after that. They’d moved, getting away from the pall that had settled over Barbara’s old apartment. Since Helena had missed a great deal of school, Barbara made it her mission to bring the girl up to speed, and so she did. When Helena rejoined her class at the start of her senior year, not having had to be held back on account of what Barbara perceived as her personal failing, it had been one of the happier days of her life. She’d even started to take more interest in herself, something she hadn’t done since she’d awoken to find out she was paralyzed with little to no hope of any recovery of the loss of function she’d sustained. With Helena there, and with her finally seeing the girl, seeing how much she was needed, she had something to live for again.
It had taken yet more time for them to move on, to reclaim the parts of themselves that had been sacrificed in the wake of depression and self-pity, but it had happened. Helena recaptured her dry sense of humor, her aura of invincibility, and she brought Barbara along with her. It had actually been Helena who had planted the seeds of what had evolved into their partnership. She’d challenged Barbara one day when the red-head had let the losses and the pressures get to her despite her best efforts, had asked her why she kept going if her life so was fucking miserable, and if it wasn’t, then when was she going to start using her more phenomenal talents, none of which had anything to do with her legs. Barbara still remembered her exact words in all of their inelegant glory, the mix of keen intelligence and careless slang a natural defense Helena assumed, for reasons the other woman couldn’t begin to understand.
“Fuck, Barbara, you’re the smartest person I know, and as cheesy as it sounds, you can do anything you want to do. You want to fight criminals? Do it, then. Jumping around on rooftops ain’t nothing but grunt work anyway, and most anybody with half a brain and a fitness club membership can do it. All you’ve got to do is find where you fit, and everything else will work itself out.”
Strangely prophetic in retrospect, she mused.
And, once again, Helena had given Barbara new purpose, had known something Barbara would have known had she not still been trapped by the dulling lethargy of self-pity. The legs of an operation were replaceable, but the heart, brain and soul of one were not.
Still, through it all, she’d had to try and avoid the attraction, calling herself a pervert, a pedophile, and every other name she could come up with to beat down the attraction she held for a woman several years her junior. It hadn’t really worked, though, because the physical attraction was only a small part of what drew her. She was fascinated by the seemingly unsolvable puzzle Helena presented. She was smart, funny and charismatic, yet also deeply troubled, brooding and prone to violence. She was both sides of the coin wrapped up in one, and Barbara knew that sometimes it was hard to manage the constantly raging fight between those competing sides of herself. Her mother’s death and Barbara’s drive to preserve and enforce justice had pushed her in one direction, but the red-head always had the niggling thought in the back of her mind that if those things hadn’t happened, then Helena wouldn’t have chosen the path she was on. Not at all.
Which was why, really, Barbara absolutely had to talk with her. If Helena had decided to indulge her darker impulses, then Barbara was going to have to decide what to do about it.
She wasn’t completely certain she’d be able to do anything at all.
Leaving a note and some dinner money for Dinah, Barbara maneuvered herself into the van for the short trip over to Helena’s apartment. The place was fairly nice, and, Barbara acknowledge ruefully, undoubtedly chosen with the possibility of her visiting in mind, because it had a large elevator and spacious hallways, two things that certainly made her life easier. The trip up to Helena’s floor was short, the ding announcing her arrival there prompting Barbara to take a deep breath for fortification before rolling out into the hallway.
Pausing for a moment outside Helena’s door, she raised her fist, preparing to knock. A flutter of nerves pushed her to lower it once more, though, until cursing herself for a coward, she finally did bring knuckles to hardwood, the sound echoing sharply down the hallway. Listening intently for footsteps, Barbara was rewarded with the resounding silence of nothing, and her brow wrinkled as she thought over her options. She could either give up and try back another day, something she silently acknowledged she might not be able to work up the courage to do in the near future, or go inside and wait while emotions and adrenaline provided the impetus to enter into what she knew would be yet another potentially painful confrontation. It only took a few moments thought to decide there was really only one thing she could do. Fumbling with her keyring, she located Helena’s key and, hoping she was doing the right thing, slid it into the door’s lock, twisted, and pushed the door open, steeling herself for the upcoming immersion into Helana’s world. Something was horribly wrong, though, and she’d already rolled over the threshold before she really registered what she should have known from the first.
The place was empty. Totally and completely empty, with nothing but dust-free squares left behind to indicate it had ever been occupied at all. Catching her breath, suddenly filled with a jolt of panic that caused her heart to race and her palms to sweat, Barbara remained frozen just inside the doorway, eyes wide.
Helena was gone, and she had absolutely no way to contact her. The other woman’s comm had been left behind at the Clocktower, but Barbara had always assumed it to be a temporary thing. Even that night, even seeing Helena’s face on the security footage, hadn’t been enough to convince her that there was something different about this time, something horrifyingly permanent. This, though, was an indicator even she couldn’t dismiss.
Her breathing quickened, on the point of hyperventilation, as she considered the ramifications. Because of her actions, Helena was well and truly lost to her, and perhaps lost to the side of good forever. She’d driven away the one person she wanted because of her own fears and cowardice, and now it seemed quite possible that she wouldn’t ever have a chance to fix things, to at least own up to her part in the attraction. Past that, she was faced with the daunting prospect of having to track and capture the other woman, a thought that made her instantly sick and ill at ease. Helena wasn’t built to be confined, and if Barbara did manage to catch her, if she could put aside the little voices already beckoning her to just let things slide, then the consequences of her actions would undoubtedly be Helena’s final undoing. Jail, confinement… no matter how great or small the punishment, the brunette wouldn’t last. It would break her in a way nothing else had ever been able to do. Of that, Barbara was sure.
Barbara stiffened at the words, surprised that she’d been so caught up in her grief that she’d missed the sound of footsteps behind her. Wheeling about slowly, coming face to face with Dinah’s confused and hurt countenance, Barbara nodded her head weakly. “I know. What are you doing here?”
“Followed you,” Dinah muttered shortly, ducking her head and blushing at the pointed look Barbara shot her. But then, figuring there were more important things at stake than her unauthorized use of Barbara’s car, she asked the question that had been bouncing around inside the other woman’s head, doubts and insecurities rife in her tone, “What are we going to do now?”
Sighing, eyes fluttering closed, Barbara shrugged her shoulders in defeat, unable to come up with any words of consolation.
“Good girl,” Harleen purred, eyes full of malevolent glee as she caressed the small, shiny briefcase with such obvious desire that Helena almost wanted to avert her eyes and give the two of them privacy.
Clearing her throat, rolling her eyes at the other woman’s words, wondering how she’d managed to miss that now so obvious gleam of insanity in the other woman’s eyes before, Helena asked, “So what is it anyway?”
Turning sharply, eyes narrowing in anger, Harleen nonetheless managed to say calmly, condescension dripping from each syllable, “That’s really not any of your business. You’re the brawn in this new partnership, sweetheart. Leave the thinking up to me… I’m far more qualified.”
Anger flaring at the words, Helena stepped forward then stopped, not wanting to get into a fight with the other woman and ruin things before she even really had a grasp on what was happening but unable to let the slight go without some sort of retaliation. “I won’t be your errand girl unless I know what’s going on,” she said between gritted teeth, palms clutched tightly into fists. The blonde was infuriating, sharply intelligent and dangerously ruthless, but certainly not above getting her ass thoroughly kicked.
Sighing, Harleen turned toward Helena, gaze patronizing. “I think we’re on to something quite mutually beneficial here, don’t you?” Harleen questioned, voice irritatingly sweet. “Don’t go and fuck it up by asking questions. I’d hate to have to kill you this early in the game.”
At the words, the brunette laughed, taking in Harleen’s less than imposing stature. “Kill me?” Helena echoed, brows raising in amusement, momentarily forgetting that she didn’t look like all too frightening of an opponent herself. “You and what army?”
The question seemed to cause abject amusement, and smiling evilly, Harleen raised one hand parallel with her shoulder, two fingers beckoning an unseen someone. “That one,” she said, grinning ruthlessly, and Helena heard the hiss of a pneumatic door opening behind her. Spinning quickly, automatically falling into a fighting stance, she looked up just in time to see one of the walls of the office slide back to reveal three very large, very mean looking guns attached to three equally and impressively mean looking figures. Despite the apparently dire nature of her predicament, Helena had to grin.
“Oh, that one,” she allowed, chuckling humorlessly.
Laughing gaily, Harleen stepped forward so she was even with Helena. With a quick motion of her head, she gave her men the signal to leave them alone, obviously not at all concerned with being left alone and defenseless. Though, Helena had to think that if she had one small army hidden behind a wall, it was entirely likely she had another one lurking about somewhere else as well.
Before the brutes had even taken a step, the blonde linked her fingers with Helena’s, giving the brunette’s hand a tug. The move served to bring Helena around so that they were facing, and Harleen used her free hand to trace a line down the length of Helena’s neck, pupils expanding instantly, turning brown eyes even darker. “How about a little pleasure to mix with our business,” she husked, a sly smile sliding over her face.
Feeling her stomach revolt at the thought, Helena took a deliberate step back, one brow arching arrogantly. “I think not.”
“Ooh,” Harleen purred, once again closing the space between them and hooking her forefingers in the waistband of Helena’s leather pants. “Going to make me work for it?”
Wrapping her hands around the blonde’s wrists, applying a bit of meta-enhanced force and guiltily enjoying the resulting wince, Helena pulled the other woman’s hands free and took another step back, eyes narrowing in anger. “Playtime’s over, Dr. Quinzel, and I’m not interested in furthering our… acquaintance.”
Fire flared in brown eyes for a second before it was pushed down. When Harleen spoke, her voice was crisp, businesslike. “Very well. Details on your next assignment are in there,” she said sharply, pointing to a plain manila envelope resting on the corner of her desk. “I expect results within the week.”
“And if I can’t work it into my schedule?” Helena asked breezily, tracing her fingers over the cool surface of the envelope, questioning her wisdom in getting involved with the whole mess to begin with.
A slim hand slid up her back to rest lightly on her shoulder, the touch enough to be painful had she been a normal human being. “Oh, I would suggest that you find a way to make time,” Harleen said cheerily, fingers trailing over Helena’s neck, nails none-too-gently raking across her skin.
Shrugging out of the other woman’s grasp, Helena made her way to the door slowly, determined not to let the other woman get the upper hand. Intimidation wasn’t going to work on her, and the sooner she let Quinzel know it, the better.
“See you when I see you, Doc,” she said airily, then moved easily from the room.
The screech echoed throughout the office, the sound pitched high enough to shatter glass. Helena couldn’t help but wince, the noise almost enough to shatter meta-enchanced eardrums, but quickly suppressed the gesture as she walked into Quinzel’s office. Sauntering in as if unaware of the commotion surrounding her, she slid into a chair, sprawling lazily, determined to project an aura of unconcerned nonchalance. The woman she’d once regarded as her quite sane if not slightly sadistic therapist currently looked like neither, with her eyes flashing in a mix of fury and lunacy, normally well-coifed hair spiking in a multitude of different directions as if it had once been in danger of being ripped out by its roots.
A rather mousy looking man scurried out of the room under the force of Quinzel’s gaze, and Helena watched, amused, as the other woman straightened out her business suit, slicked down her hair, and turned to face her with a serene smile, almost as if the earlier unpleasantness had never happened at all. Making her way over to sit across from Helena, hands folded primly in her lap, Harleen tilted her head to the side, her gaze speculative as she took in the black bag resting in the brunette’s lap.
“Having problems?” Helena asked, smirking, thoroughly entertained by the drama she’d been witness to only moments before, and by Quinzel’s attempts to try and make it disappear.
Deftly plucking an errant piece of lint from her suit jacket, completing the transformation back into wholly calm and collected, Harleen replied smoothly, “None that should concern you. Have you got what I asked for?”
Rolling her shoulders lazily, Helena drawled, “Well, that depends. I thought you told me this partnership was going to be lucrative. Thus far, you’ve failed to deliver on your part of the bargain. I want to see some profit, Dr. Quinzel.”
Eyes narrowing dangerously, body tense with a nervous, distracted anticipation that almost had her vibrating in place, Harleen said sharply, “I’m not in the mood for contract negotiation, Helena. Show me the diamonds.”
“I don’t think so. I could play cat burglar all by myself if I wanted to,” the brunette mused, shifting so that she was sitting a little straighter in her chair, blue eyes boring into brown. “I certainly don’t need to be a part of your organization to steal diamonds.”
“You test my patience,” Harleen replied, her tone sing-song. “Trust me, I have very little. You don’t want to exhaust your allotment of it quite yet.”
Ignoring the other woman’s unveiled threat, Helena pressed on. “I think we need to work out a reimbursement plan. It’s either that, or you let me in on the big picture. I can hold back if I know my dividends are going to pay off in the end.”
Clucking her tongue in mock exasperation, Harleen sighed. “So greedy. And to think, all I had to do was get you out from under that Gordon woman’s influence and you’d take care of the corruption for me.” There was a pause as she let that sink in, gratified by the brief spark of anger the comment drew. Then, as if conceding to a hard-fought point, she murmured, “Fine then, give me a routing number and I’ll transfer some cash.”
“Please,” Helena scoffed immediately, rolling her eyes. “Create a link between us? I think not. I’ll take my cut in twenties, unmarked if you please.”
“Been watching a few too many mafia movies, haven’t you?” Harleen said dryly, arching a brow. “Very well then. Give me a few days. Now, the diamonds, if you please.”
Tossing the bag to the other woman, Helena watched with detachment as Quinzel pulled the scattered stones free of their velvet casing. Light hit the array and dispersed, sending shards of rainbow spectrums across the interior of the room, and the blonde’s face lit up with something close to sheer joy. “So pretty,” she cooed, running a finger down the face of one particularly large specimen. Then, to Helena, “You’re far more resourceful than I had given you credit for. Is there something you haven’t told me? Spend time in juvie, perhaps?”
“Maybe you just underestimated me. It wouldn’t be the first time,” Helena said, smirking once again, a slightly sensuous edge to her tone.
“Indeed,” Harleen said distractedly, pouring the diamonds back into the bag. “But, now that you’ve proven yourself to be adequately competent, I might just have to change my opinion.”
“Just adequate?” Helena asked, stung despite herself.
“Hmm… we’ll see how you do on your next job, and then I’ll let you know,” Harleen teased in reply. “Instructions are over there. You’ve got another week for this one.”
“Sure thing… boss,” Helena said sarcastically. “I’ll expect full compensation for all the work I’ve done thusfar when I return.”
Licking her lips seductively, eyes hooded, Harleen murmured, “You know, I could give you a down payment now.”
“Sorry,” Helena shot back breezily, “but I prefer hard-earned cash to an easy fuck. I like to have to actually work for the things I get.”
“Quite the bitch,” Harleen drawled, seemingly unruffled by Helena’s blatant put-down. “Guess I’ll just have to wait until you come back into heat.”
Pushing a fall of wet hair back from her forehead, the strands immediately clinging with tenacious fierceness to the back of her neck and the sides of her face, Barbara swiped a hand across her eyes, flinging droplets of water in an arc that left a trail of wet, winding tracks down the glass door of her shower. Clearing even more water from her face, a neat spray coursing down her chin to slide over her torso, she watched, with detachment, as a cadre of water droplets meandered down her flesh. They started on her upper chest, delving inward to converge at the valley between her breasts, then flared outward once more when they hit her abdomen. Some ground to a halt in the pinkish-gray bands of scar tissue tracing a path across her lower body, the puckered skin flushed red from the heat of the water. Those that made it further descended effortlessly to the bent crease where her thighs began.
It was intriguing to watch the untimed race. From one moment to the next, the droplets changed from tickling, overly warm sensations to nothing, almost as if they’d dropped off of her body completely, but Barbara knew better. They were still there, running down the contours of legs that, while slim and toned from her physical therapy, lacked the musculature of her youth. Back then, her body had been a work of art, each and every line delineated cleanly, skin pulled taut over the sinewy strength of muscles developed for use and not for show.
She eyed the pink cast of her skin with detached interest. The water was too warm. She knew that, could feel its heat as it hit her forearms, her breasts. If she wasn’t careful, she’d burn herself. Only, she’d never know it. She could, while sitting there in her hand-crafted shower seat, do irreparable damage and never even feel a smidgen of pain. She would have appreciated the irony, but there was none.
Idly tracing a hand down her belly, she let her fingers trace over the ridges of scar tissue there. She was long familiar with their shape, having learned the curves left by the path of the bullets that had ripped through her skin, the straight line of surgical incisions that had cut with neat precision. If she pushed against them, she could feel a dull, aching pressure. Beneath that, the feeling faded away to nothing, with the exception of a few scattered spots.
Hand drifting down even further, Barbara felt the tease of water-soaked curls beneath her fingertips. If she moved down even more, she could trace the outlines of her sex, find the hard nub of her clitoris. She wouldn’t be able to feel it, though she knew that she didn’t suffer from a complete absence of feeling. There were places deep inside her that still worked, and sometimes, if she or a lover tried hard enough, they could be found.
Moving further down, Barbara traced the curve of her knee, fingers dancing lightly over a childhood scar. She remembered, vividly, how it had been acquired, and smiled sadly at the thought. She’d been living at home, engaged in her favorite activity, back before her dad had managed to make her an orphan. Perched on the roof of their slightly shabby house with the reckless disregard for personal safety that belonged only to children and idiots, she’d imagined that she was strong and tall, that she was an avenger of good ready to swoop down on the hapless criminals who dared encroach on the people she’d sworn to protect. And swoop she did, slipping on a loose shingle, fingers and knees scraped raw by the rough roofing as she’d lost her balance, as she’d skidding down the slope of the roof to stop, balanced precariously, at the very edge.
Her mother had come running out of the house, drying her hands on an old, worn dishtowel, drawn by the commotion her near fall had made. She’d looked up, eyes wide, lank hair somehow shining in the afternoon sun, and Barbara had felt, quite suddenly, very loved. She was worried about, and cared for, and her mother had dropped everything, ready to rush to her rescue.
Then, of course, her father had to show up and ruin it all.
He’d stumbled out of the back door, already drunk even though it was barely afternoon, one hand shielding his eyes from the setting sun. His hair had been plastered to his forehead with a combination of oil and sweat, and Barbara knew that had she been close to him, she would have been able to smell the stale odor of liquor and unwashed flesh. His shirt was dirty and rumpled, his belt unbuckled, his chin sporting a week’s worth of scraggly growth. A nearly empty beer bottle was clutched tightly in his left hand, the TV’s remote in his right.
“Damn fool kid,” he’d muttered, face screwing into a mixture of disgust and anger. “I ain’t paying for no fucking hospital bills. Get your scrawny, ugly ass down before you mess up the roof some more. And go fetch me another beer. Make me at least think something good came out of having you.”
All in all, it had been one of the nicer things he’d ever said to her, and at the realization, she laughed, the sound harsh and bitter.
Digging her nail into the now faded scar, she watched as the skin bloomed red but didn’t break. When they’d died, she’d missed her mother, but not for long. She had known, from a very early age, that she was never going to be like her, like that woman in the faded and threadbare cotton dress, the woman who never had anything because she was tied to a worthless, miserable excuse for a man who couldn’t hold down a job and drank away all his pay when he managed to find one. She wasn’t going to stand at her kitchen window, hands absently scrubbing a pan until it shined so brightly it was almost blinding, eyes staring longingly out at the open land beyond the thin pane. She wasn’t going to always want things she could never have.
Only, that’s exactly what she was doing. Even if the cage was different, she was still that woman. Tied to the past and to responsibility, fear erasing any desire she might have to reach for something better, she might as well be back in Kansas. Hell, she’d turned into her parents without even trying. Always yearning for more but never actually trying for it, just like her mother. Or, like her father, just a shell of a human trying to find something that made her happy. Unlike him and his blind devotion to the bottle, she had ideals and responsibilities and duties, and she hid behind them as efficiently as he had Jack Daniels and Jim Beam.
Drawing a finger up her thigh, poking the tip into the muscle with enough force to leave a bruise, Barbara sighed. There had been so many things she wanted to do. She told herself she couldn’t now, because accepting her limitations and forcing them on someone else were wholly different matters, but she was getting tired of the refrain. But, despite that weariness, Helena had asked for too much, for things she couldn’t give, and Barbara wasn’t about to let the other woman know just how incomplete she was. She didn’t mind letting other people know, people like Wade, who were only destined for short stints any way. They didn’t matter, and to be honest, she really didn’t care what they thought. They were means to an end, tools to be used when she was feeling lonely. They touched her body and she pretended to feel, the charade enough to please them and to satiate her. So what if she didn’t find fulfillment with them. That didn’t matter so much anymore anyway.
Well, it didn’t matter with them. The thought of doing that to Helena, of acting out a farce for the other woman’s benefit, sickened her. Helena would see through her deceit where the others hadn’t, would know that she was a liar and a fraud. She would fail her, would see disappointment in once trusting blue eyes, and she would lose her. And, quite frankly, Helena was all she had left. Sure, there was Dinah, and she knew she’d come to love Dinah like a daughter, but Helena was different.
She loved Helena.
There, she’d admitted it. She loved Helena. Far from a platonic love, this was more along the lines of crazy obsession. She knew every plane of Helena’s face, every expression and hidden desire. She knew Helena’s pain, had shared it and witnessed it, had been awed by its depth and scared by her inability to abate it. She was drawn to the other woman in a way she couldn’t deny and was barely able to suppress, in a way that made her want to hide the brunette from the world, to cage her away for her own private delectation and delight.
She needed too much.
If she gave into her need, she would lose herself. Part of her was afraid of that, of sublimating herself to another. She wondered, idly, if she was like her mother in that regard, if she could so easily lose herself in the form of another. She wondered if she would cease to exist.
She knew she would fail her.
It was predestined, written in the stars. She quite simply couldn’t be what the other woman wanted, much less what she needed. The part of her that chafed under the knowledge that she would hold Helena back, that she would steal something vitally essential to her, battled fiercely with the selfish, hedonist part that wanted Helena more than she could imagine a being could want.
The battle was false, though. The hedonistic side had already won.
Helena’s absence was eating her alive. With each passing day, another part of herself died. She didn’t care about the things that had driven her before. She went through the motions of being Oracle, of teaching her students. She didn’t even consider trying to stop what she knew Helena was doing. She wouldn’t be responsible for putting the other woman in any cage other than one of her own making.
Shutting off the water with a quick flick of her wrist, Barbara sat back against the cool stone wall of her shower. If Helena didn’t come back to her soon, she thought she just might go insane.
Mark Downy knew when his life was in serious peril. He was no fool, even if he didn’t always make the best of career choices. There was very little doubt left in his mind that if he didn’t safely deliver the diamonds that had been entrusted into his care, he was a dead man. His boss was quite insane, and if she hadn’t offered him an astronomical amount of money, he’d have ran from her on first sight. It didn’t take him long to realize he should have run anyway, but by the time he figured it out, it was already too late. As it was, he was on definitely unstable footing, just a few inches shy of permanent retirement if he didn’t pull this off.
Ducking his head, moving quickly through the cold night, he made his way to the rendezvous point arranged by his contact. If everything went according to plan, and he was praying that it would, then he would meet the man who was going to fence the diamonds, would get the cash, and would be out of there with enough time to spare to drop off the briefcase and flee town. A braver or perhaps stupider person might have attempted to take both the diamonds and the money and run, but Mark knew better. He’d be dead within the hour if he even tried something like that. His boss was insane but omnipotent. Or, at least he was convinced she was.
Sadly, Mark was completely unaware of the figure following his progress from the rooftops above. Dressed completely in black, from the neoprene mask baring only a pair of glittering eyes to booted feet, the figure blended in perfectly with the shadows, easily avoiding detection. Had Mark noticed something out of the corner of his eye, he undoubtedly would have written it off as a figment of his imagination. After all, a second glance would have revealed nothing.
Mark reached his destination a few minutes before his scheduled arrival time and, as he flicked open a butane lighter and inhaled the acrid smoke of a Marlboro Red, he wondered why it was that the shadier his business dealing, the more uncomfortable the meeting place. There was nothing quite like the docks in the middle of the winter, the freezing wind blowing roughly in from over icy water searing his very bones with its force. Shivering, hands stuffed deeply into his pockets, cigarette dangling from rapidly chapping lips, Mark never even heard the light thump of boots behind him. He didn’t feel the blow to the back of his neck, the one that easily knocked him unconscious, nor the support of strong arms that caught him before he could fall.
In fact, Mark didn’t feel anything until he awoke in a holding cell at the New Gotham jail, though a quick search through his inside jacket pocket did reveal the one thing he most definitely did not want to find… nothing.
Harleen Quinzel wanted to scream. Since she rarely denied herself anything, she did scream, the sound long, loud, and piercing enough to deafen anyone within a 100 yard radius.
Someone was once again making her very, very angry. Helena would steal something for her, and within the week, someone would steal it back. First the toxin, then the diamonds, then the original Dali and now, finally, one of the finest collections of flawless emeralds in the world. That one had been guaranteed to net her at least five million, and its loss was more than frustrating. How was she supposed to be expected to build a crime syndicate if she couldn’t keep up a steady supply of funding? Megalomaniacal plans for city-wide anarchy needed financial backing just as much as any other business scheme, but apparently, someone out there just didn’t understand that.
“Helena,” she purred, barely keeping the frustration coursing through her from infusing her voice, some sixth sense instantly alerting her the second the other woman walked into her office, “you’re such a good, good girl. Show me what you’ve got for me.”
If there was one thing that was constant throughout the entire mess, it was her new protégé’s ability to produce results. Harleen had never worked with a more efficient burglar, and had to wonder how the other woman had slipped under her radar up until then. Surely she had to have been practicing her skills somewhere, because people just didn’t pick up the trade in a day. But, Helena never failed to bring her what she asked for, and after that first time, had yet to set off another alarm. Not that the missing items weren’t noticed and reported, but the window between their theft and the discovery that they were gone was large enough to provide ample time to smuggle the items out of the city. Well, it would have, had someone not have stolen each and every one back.
If it happened one more time, Harleen thought she might kill someone, just for the relief of tension it offered. Of course, she’d much rather kill the pesky little vermin nibbling away at her well-constructed plan. Speaking of, she had work to do.
“Care to tell me why this is so important?” Helena asked lazily, holding a small computer chip up to the light. She was getting frustrated, convinced she’d been sent out on a fool’s errand and needlessly exposed to capture and discovery. She was also getting antsy. She hadn’t had contact with Barbara in a month and a half. Well, she hadn’t had physical contact with Barbara in a month and a half. She still watched her almost every night, hidden away from sight of the Clocktower by a parapet that may have blocked her from view but did little to dampen the freezing New Gotham winter winds.
Tsking, Harleen replied, “We’ve been over this before. You’re the gopher, I’m the boss. I say fetch and you do. But don’t worry… you’ll get your treat soon enough.”
Chafing under the other woman’s condescending tone but yet not quite ready to challenge her and upset the balance in the arrangement they’d worked out, especially when Quinzel was obviously under a great deal of stress, Helena settled for a muttered, “So you keep telling me, but so far the results I’m seeing aren’t worth the effort I’m expending.”
“Enough,” Harleen snarled, composure breaking slightly, wanting to move on to the next phase of her newest plan. “Your business here tonight is finished. Run along so I can take care of mine.”
“You mean you actually do work on occasion instead of always sending other people out to do everything for you?” Helena snarked, unable to help herself.
Ignoring her anger, Harleen instead shifted in her chair so that her legs were spread, eyes hooded and intent clear. “Either make yourself useful or leave,” she drawled. “I’ve got things to do.”
Helena merely laughed. Pushing herself out of her chair, she sauntered over so that she was standing directly in front of Quinzel, eyes tracing a blazing path up the other woman’s body. Then, leaning forward, gratified by the blatant arousal shining in the blonde’s eyes, she whispered, “Someone’s a little touchy tonight. Maybe you should look into some stress management therapy, Doctor.”
Dispassionately, the bored threat in her tone in direct counterpoint to the fires burning in her eyes, Harleen said, “Little children who play with fire often find themselves badly burned. You’d do well to remember that.”
“I’d do well to remember any number of things, Dr. Quinzel. And, you’d do well to remember that you’ve already underestimated me once. Try and see if you can avoid doing it again.”
As Helena sauntered out of her office, Harleen considered the fact that she had, indeed, been proven quite short-sighted when it came to her latest find.
“Marcus,” she said quietly, gratified when a large man separated himself from the shadows to come and stand behind her, his bulk a comforting presence, “see what you can find out about our little thief. I find I’m woefully underinformed.”
Marcus grinned wolfishly in reply, body already surging as he considered the prospect. There was something not completely right about Helena Kyle, and he was more than happy to undertake the task of finding out what, exactly, that something was.
Something wasn’t right. She’d followed the lackey with the computer chip to an abandoned warehouse, watched the trade, and then watched them leave the briefcase out in the open, completely unguarded, as they apparently slipped into the back to have a drink. It was almost as if they were making things easy for her, and in her experience, anything that came wrapped in a package like that shouldn’t be opened. But, the opportunity was too tempting, and she knew she wasn’t going to let them get away with whatever was on that chip, so with a resigned sigh, she separated herself from the shadows, scooting quickly across the clear warehouse floor to snatch up the briefcase.
She’d just popped the lid and scooped up the bag containing the chip when she heard it, the borderline insane screech with which she’d become quite familiar.
“BRING IT TO ME! DON’T KILL IT!”
Cursing, tucking the chip into the pocket of her pants, she looked around her, eyes wild, as four figures emerged from the back recesses of the warehouse. One was the slim figure of Quinzel, the other three the bulky outlines of the thugs she’d seen flit through the other woman’s office after hours. Gritting her teeth, hoping there weren’t any other surprises laying in wait for her, she took off in the direction of the door. Gunfire erupted immediately, interspersed with further screeches reminding the shooters not to kill, and she winced as she felt the bite of shattered bits of concrete ricochet into the relatively unprotected skin of her arms and her face.
Bounding up on top of a set of crates, using every ounce of strength she possessed, she was barely aware of the sting lancing through her side until seconds later when the pain throbbed through her with every movement, but there wasn’t any time to stop and see what had happened. Catapulting herself through a window, shattering the rotting wooden window frame and sending glass shards flying, she sailed out into the cool night air, feet hitting the pavement firmly as she began to run.
The sound of footsteps behind her encouraged her to seek alternate methods of escape, and so with one strong leap, she grabbed the bottom rung of a nearby fire escape, hauling herself up to the platform painfully. She could feel the thick wetness of her own blood seeping into her pants, plastering her soft cotton turtleneck to her skin, but she tried not to think about it. Instead, she raced up the fire escape to the roof then skidded to a halt just out of sight, eyes focused on the street below her. The three thugs and Quinzel appeared seconds later, each, with the exception of Quinzel, looking around frantically in an attempt to find her. The blonde didn’t seem at all panicked though, a fact which only served to make her even more nervous, and as she watched, the other woman pulled a small device from her pocket. After staring at the display for a second, the blonde looked up to the exact spot where she was crouched, superior smirk twisting her lips.
“She’s right there, boys,” Quinzel drawled, and she flinched back as a barrage of bullets bit into the brick surrounding her.
Pulling out the chip, turning it over in her hands, she cursed, then flung it off to the side, hoping it was the only thing allowing Quinzel to track her. Then, without thinking about the danger to herself, she shot up, sprinting across the rooftop and lunging desperately, arching out over the street below, hitting the next rooftop with a roll, one hand automatically clutching the searing tear in her side. But, she didn’t stop, just kept on running until she could no longer hear the rapport of gunfire. Then and only then did she allow herself to slow.
Stopping, she found quickly, was a dreadful mistake. As soon as the initial rush of adrenaline wore off, the pain in her side became almost unbearable. Ripping off a black leather glove, she touched her hand to her side, feeling faint as her fingertips shone dark red in the moonlight. She was bleeding fairly heavily, whatever wound the bullet had inflicted undoubted exacerbated by her rooftop marathon. Stumbling slightly on her feet, suddenly aware of a sensation of light-headedness, she shook herself, trying to focus on her surroundings once again. It was becoming increasingly difficult to do, however, as blood continued to pour freely from her side. So, with one last bout of strength, she headed to the one place where she knew she’d be safe. Or, at least, to the one place where she hoped she would be.
|Section 4||Harper||Birds Of Prey||Main Index|