In A Song (part 9 of 12)

Wednesday: 8:25pm: Dark Horse

Helena leaned against the catwalk’s railing, tapping the ring on her forefinger against the steel pipe, and surveyed the crowd below. Not bad for a Wednesday night. She hadn’t been sure about the band but she trusted Jaycee, and she was glad she hadn’t been wrong.

Zydeco hadn’t exactly been part of Selina Kyle’s regular playlist, hell jazz barely made it to the turntable in their apartment — and only then because her mother was in a smoky, dangerous mood — which had made it all the more attractive in Helena’s early adolescence. Something about the rhythms had always appealed to her, giving her visions of warm, sultry nights when the sheen of sweat on skin carried with it the scent of desire and the feel of a cold can against the back of her neck would be welcome rather than unpleasant.

Helena closed her eyes and listened, letting the music wash over her even as her meta-hearing was able to separate out the noise of the crowd down to the individual orders Toby, the new bartender, was taking at the far end of the bar. The smile spread slowly across her lips as the rhythm player attacked the washboard that hung from his neck and the singer launched into a particularly spirited burst of Creole that sounded to Helena like he was singing the praises of his woman’s charms in the bedroom. The thought brought back the memory of the soft contours and timbre of Barbara’s voice in the message she’d left earlier, the one Helena had let sit in the mailbox of her brand new, tapeless answering machine after she’d listened to it. Helena shook her head and opened her eyes. Dinner with an old friend usually meant the Boy Blunder, and Helena certainly wouldn’t put it past Dick Grayson to check up on how she’d had been treating his old, dear friend and ex.

With a sigh, Helena scanned the bar below to make sure there were no fights imminent. Seeing nothing but a crowd drinking and having a good time, she steeled herself for a task that, given the choice, she’d gladly face a dozen of New Gotham’s baddest to avoid: going over the payroll. Helena opened the camouflaged door using the inset ring-pull handle and stepped through to the Dark Horse’s back offices. The sound of the door shutting was lost in the bar crowd’s enthusiastic applause.

Wednesday: 8:45pm: Donatello’s Restaurant

Barbara looked down at Jessica’s hand covering hers and silently cursed herself. A quick mental review of recent encounters with her old friend proved fruitless; Barbara couldn’t find any signs she might have ignored or misinterpreted.

What bothered her more than the idea that she’d missed some subtle clue from Jessica was her own body’s treacherous reactions to the warmth of the other woman’s fingers on hers. In the time in took a synapse to fire Barbara knew that what she felt wasn’t simply an echo from the past; it was attraction borne of insecurity and a flattered pleasure that someone who had known her before the shooting, and who’d found her desirable then, still saw her in the same light.

Years of habit allowed her to ignore the slight rise in her heart rate and the specific reactions she’d lately learned to associate with arousal. Barbara flicked her gaze back up to meet Jessica’s hazel eyes. “I’m seeing someone, Jess,” she said softly, hating to be the cause of the disappointment she saw her old friend’s expression.

Barbara waited until Jess withdrew her hand before she moved. She glanced at her espresso cup and suppressed a smile when she noted the idle way she turned the cup on the saucer. Barbara made a mental note to pay more attention to which of Helena’s habits she picked up from then on.

“I hope he treats you well,” Jessica said, fiddling with the spoon that rested in her dish of tiramisu.

Barbara titled her head and waited for her friend to meet her eyes again before she spoke. “She does, and you can meet her later when I take you for a drink.”

Jess swallowed hard as hope turned to ash, coating her throat and making the sweet, light dessert she’d just swallowed taste gray.

Wednesday: 9:02pm: Clocktower main room

“Barbara’s really into computers,” Dinah said, tucking some hair behind her ear.

“I’ll say,” Gabby replied, expression wide-eyed as she took in the Delphi’s platform, multiple flat screen monitors, the hard disk storage, video machine, and the multiple CPUs that were visible in the equipment rack. “And what the heck is that?” She gestured toward the Plexiglas enclosure in the corner.

“It’s a portable digital PET scanner,” Dinah said, her smile feeling as thin as her voice sounded to her own ears. “The reason Barbara has all this is because she’s friends with Bruce Wayne.” She shrugged, trying to make it sound casual, as if every random high school English teacher could potentially be friends with a famous, lately-reclusive billionaire. Dinah continued, “She beta tests a lot of stuff for one of his companies. That’s why I don’t have people over. Most of this equipment won’t hit the market for a couple of years so it’s super secret, plus, she needs to be able to concentrate to do a good job with that.” She worked at her ‘this is no big deal’ expression, hoping that the small lie held water.

Gabby nodded, turning to face Dinah. She stepped in close, reached for Dinah’s hand and hesitated. “You can’t..I mean, you don’t…” she trailed off, eyes searching Dinah’s face for reassurance.

“I can’t always, and even when I can, I don’t,” Dinah said. “People are entitled to their privacy.”Stepping in a little closer, Gabby nodded once more. She slidher hand up Dinah’s arm and rested it lightly on the back of thetaller girl’s neck. Gabby leaned in and brushed her lips acrossDinah’s. “And what am I thinking right now?” she murmured.

Dinah closed her eyes and concentrated, trying to get what Gabby was projecting to the front of her conscious mind and only that. She didn’t have any trouble: the thought was powerful and encompassing. The image she got with the thought reddened her cheeks quickly. Dinah kissed Gabby softly. “We don’t have to do that out here. I have a bedroom,” she murmured. She almost missed the sound of Alfred’s footsteps in the echo of Gabby’s laugh.

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Miss. Andrews,” Alfred said after Dinah’s introduction. “Dinah speaks of you often.” He smiled at the young blonde, quietly impressed with the aplomb she showed in handling circumstances Dinah was revealing to her. “Will you need anything before I return home?”

Dinah shook her head. “I don’t think so, Alfred. Thank you.”

“Perhaps we could go over tomorrow’s menu before I leave?” The question sounded more like a command than any question Dinah had ever heard before. They left Gabby waiting on the couch, flipping through some magazine Helena had abandoned on the coffee table. Dinah followed Alfred to the kitchen upstairs.

“Do you have any idea what you’re doing?” he asked, his voice low so it wouldn’t carry out into the main room.

Dinah tucked some hair behind her ear. “Yes,” she replied. “I didn’t tell her everything everything just everything about me, well, not quite everything because that would involve telling her about Barbara and Helena but everything that matters.” She took a deep breath.

Alfred waited patiently as Dinah continued on about the value of honesty in a relationship, using more words than he’d thought possible to answer a very short question. He smiled softly and she trailed off, staring at him. “You’re not mad?” Dinah asked, eyebrows resting somewhere near her hairline.

“Indeed, I am not,” he replied. “I just wanted to be certain that you acted with forethought and not rashly as I did in the recent past.” Years of training kept Alfred’s expression schooled into neutrality even when Dinah hugged him softly. He patted her on the back before she pulled away.

“No rashness here. Lots and lots, and lots of forethought,” Dinah said with an infectious grin. “I’d better get back,” she said, glancing out the kitchen’s entrance way and back to him.

“A good hostess never neglects her guest,” Alfred said with a smile.

Dinah bounded out of the kitchen with a little wave, a wide grin plastered on her face, and down the spiral staircase to the main room.

Alfred listened closely to the soft murmurs of the girls’ voices. “No doubt,” he thought, “trying to explain my place in the story.” He shook his head. While he wasn’t angry, Alfred suspected Barbara would be a completely different matter. He heard the balcony doors open and close before he shut off the kitchen light and left the apartment.

Wednesday: 9:36pm: Bond Bread Warehouse

Jake Tupper didn’t take his eyes off the screen as he reached down and felt around for the bottle of soda he knew was on the floor. He fumbled around and finally found the plastic bottle. Screwing off the cap with the same hand holding the bottle, he scrolled up, looking for the place where he’d made the syntax error that was crashing his program.

One glance at the flat-screen panel to his left told him that King was down on the gaming floor. Another at the panel on his right told him the security screens for the private rooms were still in the testing stage.

“So what does this program do?” Nicky asked quietly from behind Jake’s chair.

Jake jerked out of his chair, choking slightly on the warm soda he’d just swallowed. He leaned forward and coughed hard as Nicky clapped him on the back with one jet-blue hand.

“It’s part of a security subroutine,” Jake finally croaked. He glanced up at Nicky and then glanced away quickly. The other man’s all-remembering, perpetually yellow gaze gave Jake the creeps. “How long have you been here?”

Nicky Street shrugged. “Most of the day. I don’t go out much before nightfall,” he replied with a soft smile. Nicky leaned in, ignoring the way Jake flinched in his chair, and hit the up arrow on the keyboard gently. “Line 128…you’re missing a semi-colon.” Jake looked at the screen and frowned. “Thanks. How did you know that?” he asked, glancing back only to find empty space where the other man previously stood. Shaking his head, Jake added the semi-colon, saved the program, and reran the test routine as he swigged the remainder of the cola from the bottle.

Wednesday: 10:02pm: Dark Horse

“Wasn’t this place a biker bar when we were in college?” Jessica asked, leaning in to make sure Barbara could hear her over the crowd and the music. Despite herself, Jessica found her foot tapping to the song’s rousing beat.

“It still is, but only every other Tuesday,” Helena said before Barbara could reply.

Jessica tried not to let the shock she felt show on her face as Helena circled around the table, leaned in, and bussed Barbara on the cheek. “I didn’t expect to see you here tonight,” Helena said with a wide grin. She waved a finger at the cocktail glasses on the table. “I hope you didn’t pay for those.”

Barbara shook her head, “You’ve trained the staff well.” She paused and glanced between the two women. “Hel, I want you to meet an old friend of mine, Jessica Kalen. Jess, this is Helena,” she said.

Jessica blinked slowly and knew she’d managed to arrange her features into something resembling a polite expression when Helena glanced her way and the brunette’s smile stayed in place. She forced herself to smile in return as she shook Helena’s hand. Helena’s grip was firm but not hard, and Jess knew from her observations of Helena’s nocturnal work that it masked the woman’s real power with subtle skill. “My pleasure,” Jess said.

Helena snagged an empty chair from a nearby table and sat. She tried to ignore the prickling at the back of her neck caused by the undercurrent of tension between Jessica and Barbara. She smiled at the two women across the table from her.

“Jess and I were on the gymnastics team together in college,” Barbara filled in.

Helena raised an eyebrow. “The pre-wheelie days.” Jess nodded, stealing a sideways glance at the redhead to see how Barbara reacted to such a casual treatment of her paralysis. “So,” Helena said, leaning forward, “what deep dark secrets about Barbara’s past can you tell me so I can tease her unmercifully later?” A playful grin turned Helena’s mouth, and mirth and affection shown clearly in her eyes as she glanced at Barbara and then gave Jess a quick wink.

In the two-beat pause that followed, Jess realized that if the circumstances had been slightly different she probably would have liked the dark-haired woman across the table from her.

Barbara’s hesitation, and the blush that darkened her cheeks, told Helena more than she wanted to know about the redhead’s relationship with Jess Kalen.

“There’s not that much to tell, Helena,” Barbara replied, the half-truth slipping off her tongue with more ease than she was comfortable with.

Helena nodded, smile still firmly, purposefully in place. She glanced over at the bar, back at the two women at the table, and stood. “Excuse me, but I think I’m needed behind the bar.” The Barbara and Jessica both glanced over to see the muscle-boy bartender in a lip-lock with a blonde in skin-tight jeans, a halter-top and a cowboy hat. All three women saw what neither the blonde girl nor the bartender did, a very angry wall of muscle pushing his way toward them through the milling crowd.

Without another word, Helena popped up from the table and made her way quickly through the crowd. She smacked the bartender lightly on the shoulder to get his attention and didn’t stop until she’d smoothly intercepted the jealous party who was now dividing his time between shooting killing looks at the blonde and listening to Helena. A passing waitress put a pad of blue paper and a pen in Helena’s hand. She continued to talking to the guy, who must have outweighed her by at least a hundred pounds, as she scribbled something on the pad.

Helena tore the top sheet off and held it out to the guy, who said something that was lost in the music and pointed angrily over Helena’s shoulder. Whatever Helena said in response seemed to satisfy him and he pushed his way out of the bar, escorted by Tony, the bouncer, who was a wall of muscle himself.

The blonde simply grinned at Helena as she ducked under the service cutout and made her way down to where the bartender stood rooted to the floor. Her smile disappeared quickly, though, as Helena spoke and Tony came to a stop at her side. She didn’t care much for the escort out, trying to twist and turn out of Tony’s grip, shouting weak insults at Helena over her shoulder.

Jess found herself even more impressed by the economical way Helena had solved the problem than she had been by Helena’s fighting style. “Not a single punch,” Jess muttered.

“She’s very good, isn’t she?” Barbara asked pride and affection mixed in equal measure in her pleased expression.

“Yes, she is,” Jessica replied with a quick glance at Barbara. She hadn’t realized she’d spoken out loud. Jess swallowed the acid that had crawled up her esophagus as she took in the redhead’s slender frame resting comfortably in the motorized chair and her own words about exploiting weaknesses echoed in her head. She drained her glass of the bourbon, grateful for the small measure of cold water provided by the melted ice. “How did you two meet?” Jess asked, thankful her voice sounded normal.

Barbara smiled softly. “It’s long and complicated,” she replied, looking up to meet Jess’ eyes after a slight pause. Barbara flicked a glance over to the bar where Helena was smoothly filling in, helping out the clearly overwhelmed Toby with the last of the drink rush before the band started their second set. She felt Jessica’s hand on her forearm but her friend’s expression was full of nothing but amused affection when Barbara looked over at her.

“I like complicated, remember?” Jess asked tone way more casual than she felt. She watched as Barbara blushed, dropping her eyes to the mug of Irish Coffee around which she’d cupped her hands. Jess flicked her gaze over Barbara’s shoulder to locate Helena whose head was bowed over two complex, multi-colored layered cocktails, and then back to Barbara’s face just in time to keep the redhead thinking she’d never looked anywhere else.

Helena poured in the last ingredient in the Orange, Black, and White, the sticky-sweetness of the Southern Comfort filling her nose unpleasantly. She shook her head, pretending she hadn’t seen Jess’ hand snake out and come to rest on Barbara’s arm, and pretending she hadn’t seen Barbara’s flattered smile, that she couldn’t imagine the way the blush suffused her cheeks with soft heat.

Helena replaced the bottle on the shelf behind the bar and focused, concentrating on the job at hand. “Eleven,” she said to the customer. She made change for his $20 bill and moved down the bar to serve a group that looked like they’d just barely cleared drinking age. Half of the band’s second set had gone by before Helena allowed herself to glance back over to the table. She frowned when she saw not the two women, but a group of wanna-be bayou cowboys occupying that space. With a shake of her head Helena let the business of the evening take over as she shoved the issue of Jessica Kalen and her place in Barbara’s life to the back of her mind.

Wednesday: 10:37pm, Gabby’s front porch

“I should get going,” Dinah said, resting her forehead against Gabby’s. “I need to make it home before Barbara does.”

Gabby made a small noise of acknowledgement but did not loosen her hold on Dinah’s waist where the taller girl had unzipped her jacket to allow Gabby’s arm’s to slide inside. “Thank you,” Gabby whispered. “For trusting me.”

Dinah pulled back a little and grinned. “Don’t thank me yet. I still have to tell Barbara I showed you around. I may be grounded for the rest of my useful life. You may not see me again outside school until we’re both old and gray and ready for the home.” Gabby laughed and the warm, throaty sound did as much for Dinah’s ego as the soft brush of Gabby’s lips did. Dinah barely suppressed the groan of disappointment that gathered at the back of her throat as Gabby stepped back and rezipped her coat.

“Let me know later how it goes,” she said, her eyes meeting Dinah’s. “That is, assuming you still have access to the internet.” Gabby grinned and flipped the tag on the jacket’s zipper as Dinah rolled her eyes. She turned and made her way inside, making sure to leave the porch light on until Dinah was well down the front walk and away from the house.

She made her way upstairs and didn’t relax until she’d shut the bedroom door behind her. Gabby picked up the biology book from the middle of the bed, hefted it and rifled the pages. It hadn’t been some trick; this was definitely the bio textbook that had been breaking her back all year. Gabby shook her head as the image of it floating slowly across the room from her desk popped into her brain. She pulled her pajamas down from the hook on her closet door and stripped off her clothes.

Dinah’s party trick talent explained a lot of the thumping and bumping that had been going on in the past few weeks. Gabby couldn’t help but grin as she remembered the way Dinah had blushed when she’d explained the reason behind her lack of control over the telekinesis in certain situations.

It was the fear on Dinah’s face as she’d revealed the other of her hidden talents, as she’d dubbed them, more than the “think of a color, think of a number between one and a thousand” practical demonstration that had convinced Gabby Dinah wasn’t lying — either about her abilities or about how she did and didn’t use them.

Even though she didn’t go around with Pride buttons all over her backpack, the fact that Gabby was into chicks wasn’t any great secret. Still, she knew the pain of that uncertainty, that moment in limbo when she wasn’t sure if someone was going to be cool or a jerk, and the fact that Dinah had trusted her with a secret far more unusual than being gay could ever be made Gabby’s heart beat a little faster. She pulled on her pajama top and made sure the string on the flannel pants was tied tight. Gabby picked up the biology book, set it on the desk, and booted up her laptop before she went down the hall to brush her teeth.

Thursday: 6:27am: Bond Bread Warehouse apartments

Jessica watched the shadows on the ceiling change character, lightening as a new day dawned over New Gotham. She snorted a laugh as hopelessly romantic thoughts about shadows on her soul ambled their way across her sleep-deprived consciousness. Jessica hated choosing between equally likely potential outcomes, and the part of the previous night she hadn’t spent castigating herself for being so dumb and naive she’d spent looking at the situation she found herself facing, turning it over in her mind to examine its various facets to see if there was some small factor that would tip the balance in favor of one outcome or the other.

With a sigh, Jessica threw back the covers, stood, and stretched in the weak, late-fall sunlight. The fine, soft hairs on her forearms shone slightly blue, Jess noted. “Time to find a discreet day spa,” she thought as she stretched her arms up over her head, exposing as much skin as she could to the sunlight. As much as her brother was a creature of the dark, sunlight was Jessica’s milieu. She drew her strength from it, and, she was sure, some of her meta powers were probably fueled by it.

She was still musing about meta powers and how they often did or did not manifest in each individual when she walked through the front doors of New Gotham High. Jessica stepped to the side to watch a group of sophomore girls go by trailing in the wake of three varsity football players who were probably more aware of the girls’ existences than they let on.

“How many?” she thought as she watched the early arrivals trickle in the front doors. “How many meta-humans? How many of these kids are really as different as being teenaged makes them all think they are?” She smiled at the couple of kids who glanced her way, and she was still smiling when Dinah came through the door, talking over her shoulder to her companion.

“Morning is so the perfect time for dance music, Barbara. It gets you up and ready for the day,” Dinah said with a grin which diminished only slightly when she caught sight of Jessica leaning against the wall, arms crossed over her chest.

Barbara rolled through the door, the slightly wider than normal wheelbase on the chair just barely clearing the door frame. “Only if you keep it below the pain threshold,” Barbara replied, tone one of exasperated amusement. Jess noted the blush that darkened the redhead’s cheeks as Barbara rolled to a stop next to her.

“Good morning,” Jess said, a smile she didn’t quite feel completely suffusing her tone and turning her lips. She nodded to Dinah before focusing once again on Barbara. “Thanks for dinner, and for the drink after. I enjoyed meeting Helena.”

Barbara grinned. “I’m glad. I had a good time too,” she replied. She paused, eyes flicking over to Dinah and then back to Jessica’s face.

Jess pushed herself off the wall with ease and focused on the blonde teenager. “Come by my office any time after school, Dinah, if you still want to chat about your Mom. I’m usually here until about four,” she said, her smile still friendly but not quite as sweet. She stepped by Dinah and moved down the hall toward the main office, the soft sound of whistling barely audible over the chatter of arriving students.

With no small amount of effort, Dinah pulled her eyebrows down from where they’d come to rest up near her hairline. She bit back the question that sprang to the end of her tongue not wanting to get into the subject of how she’d spent her time the previous evening. Dinah smiled and nodded at Barbara. “Gotta go. Mrs. Miller’s been threatening a quiz all week,” she said, tucking her hair behind her ear. She turned and headed off down the hall the opposite direction as Jess.

Barbara sighed, unable to shake the feeling she’d just been left on the open end of two very difficult conversations. She moved forward and headed for her classroom.

Thursday: 4:56pm: Clocktower training room

Helena felt the punching bag’s canvas cover give way before she heard the sound of it ripping. This didn’t surprise her; she could barely hear herself breathe over the heavy bass guitar and thumping drums she had cranked up to earsplitting levels on training room’s stereo. She pounded the bag a couple more times before she stepped back and swiped one sweaty forearm across her equally sweaty brow. Helena could feel someone watching her. She smiled as the music’s volume went down and she won the small bet she’d made with herself. Dinah would have just complained about her choice of bands.

Giving the heavy bag one last bump with her hip, Helena crossed to the bench by the wall and retrieved her water. She sat, chugging down a good portion of the cool beverage as her breathing returned to normal.

“I think you killed it,” Barbara said, as she came to a stop beside the bench.

Helena shrugged. “It probably needed killing,” she replied, examining the wraps on her hands, one of which was stiff with blood from where she’d split a knuckle early on in her sparring match with the punching bag.

Barbara watched as Helena unwound the wraps and flexed the hand that had previously been injured. She noted with a certain measure of clinical detachment that the wound didn’t reopen even as Helena moved to unbind her opposite hand. “I missed you last night,” Barbara said softly.

Helena nodded, keeping her eyes fixed on the task at hand. “I ended up having to close and I thought 4am was a little late to be crawling into your bed,” she replied, blinking slowly as the image of Barbara smiling under Jessica Kalen’s touch bobbed to the surface like a cork on the shallow lake of recent memories. Her head snapped up at the touch of Barbara’s hand on her forearm.

“You’re welcome any time, I hope you know that,” Barbara said softly, hoping the words didn’t come out to clinical and guardian-like.

Helena’s grin was rakish, allowing her to use one of her best tools. “Any time leaves room for a pretty broad interpretation there, Red. You really want me nuzzling you awake at 4:30 in the morning when I’m all revved up after a night of separating drunks and inhaling everyone else’s pheromones?” Her smile grew a bit wider and more feral as the predator in her noted a slight change in the redhead’s scent.

“Yes,” Barbara replied quietly. She felt the blush rush to her cheeks as she noted she’d blushed more in the past two days than she had the entire year she was fifteen.

At that one soft word something in Helena loosened and a hot tension that had curled up and settled on the back of her neck unwound. It wasn’t any of her business, Barbara’s past, and she had no right begrudging the redhead her history. It wasn’t as if Helena didn’t have a past of her own. Helena nodded, grin growing even wider. “I’ll remember you said that the next time I’m horny in the middle of the night.”

Barbara laughed. “Remember it the next time you’re horny at 2pm on a Sunday afternoon,” she shot back with a grin. “You’re on for sweeps tonight?”

“I fired Toby so I’m short a bartender, again,” Helena said, “but yeah, I’m on. I just need to finish up in here and get a shower before I eat something.” She stood and moved over to the peg board, selecting a leather jump rope with wood handles and moving to the center of the training room floor.

Barbara raised her eyebrows as Helena began to turn the rope, bouncing from one foot to the other in the blink of an eye. “Not for kissing that woman?”

“Nope. Hell, I’ve kissed a few girls across the bar in my time,” Helena said, wry grin turning her lips. “If I need to explain to you what a Cuba Libre is you’re not ready to tend bar at my place.” She puffed out a couple of breaths, still skimming her feet over the rope.

Barbara nodded and allowed herself the pleasure of watching Helena move. “You know,” Helena said with a grin after Barbara had gotten a full look at her form, “we could raise my heart rate another way.” The redhead’s throaty laugh kicked Helena’s already active libido into a higher gear.

“Yeah, but then I’d need a shower too and we both know how you are about the hot water,” Barbara replied with a wink as she gave the spinning jump rope and the woman wielding it a wide berth on her way out of the training room. She chuckled as she heard the pace of the jump rope’s thwacks against the training room floor increase.

Thursday: 11:57pm: Rooftop in the shopping district

< I’ve got an alarm, Huntress, a jewelry store at 7th and Crescent. >

Helena took off running for the roof’s edge, grinning as the sole of her boot made contact and she pushed off into a controlled free-fall that landed her on the roof of the warehouse across the alley. “On my way,” she replied. “How’s it look for police response?”

< Negative on NGPD. There are at least a dozen alarms on the opposite side of town all going off at the same time. >

The sound of fast typing was clearly audible in the background over the comms channel, as was Dinah’s semi-petulant assertion that she could be out helping with the mini crimewave. Helena shook her head and rolled her eyes as she hit the roof across the street from the jewelry store. She peered over the edge and frowned. The address had sounded familiar and now she knew why.

Deacon Barnes had been a friend of her mother’s. Helena still had the silver and onyx pendant Selina had bought from him for her fourteenth birthday.

“Oracle, I’m on site. This is kinda weird,” she said quietly.

< Specify, Huntress. > More tapping came down the comms channel as Barbara dealt with some of the alarms.

Helena snuck another glance over the edge of the rooftop. “A) The guy’s just leaning against the building next to this gaping hole in the glass. B) he’s blue. And c) he just waved at me.”

< Sounds like a set-up. Check it out but be careful. >

“When am I not?” Helena replied, levering herself over the edge of the roof to drop down onto the fire escape landing. She dropped from the fire escape to the litter-strewn alley way below and sauntered casually across the street toward the jewelry store. Her foot had just hit the curb on the opposite side of the street when Nicky winked at her, turned, and scrambled up the building’s brick front to the roof.

Helena raised her eyebrows. “Fuck me,” she muttered.

< Later, hopefully, yes. > Barbara’s voice was low and soft, the tone indicating to Helena’s ears that Dinah had decamped, succumbing to the lure of instant messaging with Gabby over what little vicarious thrill there was in comms traffic.

“We’ll see how this goes,” Helena replied, picking up the pace and leaping for the fire escape on the side of the building. She made the jump from the iron landing to the roof with ease and surveyed the space from a defensive crouch.

Nicky Street leaned casually against the entrance to the building’s internal stairs. He smiled at Helena, his yellow eyes shining brightly.

“Nice hole you made in the glass downstairs,” she said, straightening up and moving toward him. “You want to tell me what you were looking for?”

“Actually, he was looking for you,” a soft contralto voice said from her right. Helena turned toward the source of the remark.

< You? > Barbara half-heard the surprise in Helena’s voice before the comms channel went dead.

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