In A Song (part 11 of 12)

Thursday/Friday: 1:27am: Helena’s apartment

Helena felt her eyes shift to feral as Jessica marked her left shoulder. Her heart beat faster as the same lips that had been fastened to her skin brushed her ear.

“One word and I’ll stop,” Jess whispered sliding her hand lower across Helena’s taut, exposed belly. “That’s all it would take.”

Helena arched back into the circle of Jess’ arm pressing against warm, soft skin; against full breasts and firm abs. “More.”

Jess slid her hand even lower, fingers seeking and finding. Helena’s groan of pleasure drowned out the noise of the wallpaper shredding under her hands.

Thursday/Friday: 1:56am: Clocktower

The Delphi beeped drawing Barbara’s attention out of her memories and back to the clocktower. The query on missing kids between nine and sixteen listed more than double the previous month’s disappearances with most of them being 13 or under. The question poked its way to the front of Barbara’s mind. Who are the they she’s meeting with? Helena had only mentioned Jessica Kalen by name but the way she’d reported the vision of the kids Barbara got the distinct impression she hadn’t gotten it from Jess.

He’s running kids. Helena’s voice filled with white hot rage echoed inside Barbara’s head even as her stomach turned. She could understand Jess condoning, even promoting, a gambling operation; gambling was a basically victimless crime. A good theoretical argument could even make prostitution the same kind of crime. Barbara shook her head. The Jess Kalen she’d known would sooner have poked her own eye out with a dull spoon than be a part of King’s new business plan.

“Wow…that’s a big list.” Dinah set down a mug of tea for Barbara and blew across the surface of her own mug.

Barbara pulled up the detailed reports as a second query eliminated kids who had been found in other jurisdictions. That narrowed the list down to small double digits. It wasn’t much comfort. “Don’t forget that you’re probably still listed as missing somewhere. Fourteen kids in a month. Can King’s operation be that big?”

“I hope not. I still think you should have let me follow her.” She shuddered slightly remembering how hard it had been to make that final decision to leave home. Dinah shook her head and tried not to think too hard about what would compel the average, non-meta kid to run away from home. After a year or more on the streets doing sweeps she had a pretty good idea and it still pissed her off.

“Her contacts were very specific, and you know Helena when she gets her mind set.” Barbara smiled and shook her head. The argument over the op, over Helena going into the meet blind, had taken less than five minutes. Barbara knew from experience when it was better to wait Helena out than it was to apply logic. This had been one of those times.

Dinah nodded. “I can still get over there.”

Barbara drummed the arm of her chair tactics and unanswered questions swirling in her head. “No. I trust Helena. Let’s see how it plays out.” She turned back to the Delphi, opened a new window, and began a new search for information on Marcus King.

Friday: 2:56pm: New Gotham High School

“I wanted you to hear it from me and not through the grapevine,” Jess said, stuffing her hands into the pockets of her slacks.


Jess grinned. “Because Mrs. Miller is a horrible gossip.” She grinned wider at Barbara’s laugh. “I’ve got some family business I need to take care of and it’s incompatible with a full time job as a high school guidance counselor. I haven’t been here long enough for a leave of absence so resigning was my only choice.”

Barbara raised an eyebrow even as she noted the disappointment she felt. She knew Jess was a connection to her life before the shooting but the strength of the feeling surprised her. Barbara pushed the emotions aside for later consideration. “The last time you left town to take care of some family business you were gone ten years.” The questions formed a neat queue in Barbara’s brain but she dared not ask them; she trusted Helena’s certainty that her identity as Oracle remained a secret.

“In a few days when things have settled down I’d like to tell you about that, and about some other things.” Jess tilted her head and let the question settle unspoken.

“I’d like that.”

Friday: 4:32pm: Clocktower training room

“Tell me I didn’t just see what I think I just saw,” Dinah demanded.

Helena picked up her water bottle and sat down hard on the bench. She swigged from the bottle, more to buy herself time than to quench any thirst. When she looked up Dinah hadn’t moved; her gaze bore into Helena’s face.

“Judging by the look on your face, I’m going with you saw exactly what you think you did,” Helena muttered. She leaned forward, elbows on her knees, as her gut roiled. “Fuck.”

“You’ve probably done enough of that for a while.” Dinah flopped on the bench next to Helena. “Oh don’t give me that look,” she said in response to Helena’s glare. “I’m not the one who went all…” she waved her hands and shuddered at the second hand sensations she’d picked up, “with Ms. Kalen.”

Helena leaned back against the wall. She could feel every ridge and protrusion in the cinderblocks, and part of her welcomed the tangible physical discomfort. It distracted her from the noise in her head. “It’s not like I did anything wrong. Barbara and I never talked exclusive.” She glanced at Dinah. “What?”

“I didn’t say a word.” Dinah picked at a loose threat on her track pants. The words she wanted to say piled up on the back of her tongue. She shook her head. Not only had she gotten a big dose of Helena’s evening she’d also gotten a peek at Helena’s conflicting emotions. She knew the brunette had already asked herself all the questions from the ‘what the hell were you thinking?’ bin and that she probably didn’t need to hear them again from outside her head.

“You didn’t have to,” Helena sighed. She stood up and paced across the room. “Love ’em and leave ’em was so much simpler, Big D,” she ran her hand through her hair. “What am I gonna I do about this?”

“Do about what?” Barbara asked, chair easing to a stop just inside the door.

Helena’s eyes widened, the question screamed in every non-verbal cue. She relaxed slightly as Dinah shook her head; no, Helena’s voice hadn’t been loud enough to carry.

“Personality conflict at the bar. Nothing a little strategic head bashing wouldn’t solve.” It took everything she had to turn and meet Barbara’s eyes; everything she had to make the lie reach the same time zone as plausible. Even giving it all her energy she could only hold the redhead’s gaze for a few seconds. She had to remind herself to breathe.

Barbara frowned slightly as Helena’s eyes skittered away from hers. “The schematics you brought with you check out against the anomalies in the plans from the city records. When you two are done in here I’d like to go over the logistics again.” After getting nods of agreement from both of the younger women, Barbara turned and motored back to the Delphi’s platform.

Once the whine from the chair had receded, Dinah gathered her water bottle and her towel. She stopped near where Helena stood and made sure the brunette met her eyes before she spoke. “If you didn’t do anything wrong, then what’s the big deal?” Dinah knew her disappointment rang through in her tone of voice by the stubborn set of Helena’s jaw. “I’m not the one you have to convince, and if you can’t even convince yourself, you’re not going to convince her.”

Dinah left Helena brooding as she went in search of her cell phone. The urge to hear Gabby’s voice almost overwhelmed her. Passing through the clocktower’s main room, Dinah barely registered Barbara staring into space as she sat in front of the Delphi’s many monitors.

Barbara had every intention of going right back to the building schematic but something about the discussion she’d interrupted in the training room – the tension in both Helena and Dinah’s postures and some vague sort of vibe in the air she couldn’t quite get hold of – kept nagging at her. With conscious effort she put her glasses back on, and focused her attention on the details of the warehouse’s security system. Something about the electrical load bothered her. Barbara pulled up the checklist filed by the city inspector and quickly lost herself in the minutiae.

Friday: 9:47pm: Bond Bread Warehouse, casino floor

Marcus King spun the roulette wheel with one finger. The mahogany ring glided soundlessly. “Everything is set for tomorrow?”

Jess nodded. “Regular invitees show up for the reception at eight. We open for business at 8:30 pm. Right on schedule. All the pieces are in place for a smooth evening.”

“And the VIP clients?” Marcus raised his eyes and found Jess’ expression calm and neutral.

“Reception at 7:30. Access to special services at 9 pm.” Jess visualized each breath she took in as pure, white smoke; each breath she blew out a little less blood red than the one before it until she felt herself calm. “I don’t have anything on rooms 12 and 14, though,” she said, glancing down at the palmtop.”

“They are for a special client,” he said. “I’ll take care of those myself.”

Jess nodded, swallowing the bile that burned her throat. She’d seen the fear on the little girl’s face. “If they need extra security, Marcus, these are things I need to know in advance.” She put a little heat into her voice.

“They won’t. Trust me, Jess. I know what I’m doing.” King spun the roulette wheel again. “Jake tells me you’re bringing a guest tomorrow.” The question curled hidden between King’s words: was there any business potential here?

“A personal guest, yes,” Jess replied, her voice flat.

“An old friend perhaps?”

Jess stilled. King’s back-up plan snapped into place and she chided herself silently for not thinking of it before. If the positions had been reversed, going after someone King cared about would have been the smart move, the move she would have made instinctively. “No. Just someone I met.”

King nodded, his smile never touching his eyes. “Good.”

Friday: 11:52pm: Clocktower balcony

Helena swayed from side to side as the wind sliced past her. The sting of it almost distracted her from the cracked rib but it couldn’t touch the roiling mess of emotions that sat heavy in her gut. Guilt and self-righteous justification warred within her for dominance. She and Barbara hadn’t said anything about exclusivity and Helena would be damned if she’d play by unspoken rules. She stiffened slightly as the wind carried the high whine of Barbara’s chair to her ears.

“How’s the rib?” Barbara rolled to a stop beside Helena.

Helena shrugged and regretted it immediately. “It hurts. It’ll be healed by tomorrow.”

“How did he get passed you?”

“I don’t know. Distracted I guess.” She kept staring across New Gotham spread out below. Anything to keep from meeting Barbara’s eyes.

“Anything about tomorrow? Anything else I need to know?” Barbara took a long hard look at the woman standing beside her. Everything in Helena’s body language shouted discomfort, a discomfort that in Barbara’s judgment rooted deeper than a cracked rib and a lucky shot by a street punk. Helena almost folded in on herself and Barbara’s desire to know, to fix the problem if she could, scraped against years of friendship and experience with Helena’s moods.

Even though a part of her screamed that this was her chance to spill, to beg Barbara’s forgiveness, Helena simply shook her head. “It’s all pretty much set.” She shifted her arm and winced. That rib isn’t going to be any fun at all. She finally turned and found Barbara watching her calmly. The love that shone plain on her face landed harder than a boot to the stomach. “I think I’m going to head home. Get some sleep.” She shoved her hand in her pocket as Barbara started to reach for it.

“You can sleep here you know. It is possible to just sleep together,” she smiled softly trying to put down her growing unease. She rubbed her hand against her thigh to cover the truncated gesture.

“You really think that’s possible?” She arched an eyebrow and mustered a small turn of the lips that she hoped passed for a smile. Barbara’s round, full laugh shot straight to her center sparking the arousal that lay banked there and giving guilt the center ring in Helena’s emotional circus.

“No. I think in a few hours when it’s healed you’d be waking me up and maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.”

The grin that turned Helena’s mouth felt real this time. “More likely I’d be dragging you away from the Delphi.”

Barbara grinned back. “You know me too well.”

Helena let the remark float off certain that if Barbara knew her equally as well she’d be able to see all her deeds writ large on her face. She cleared her throat as the wind picked up. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” She crossed to the door and stopped. “Barbara?” Helena waited until the redhead turned to look at her. “I want you sleep well.”

Dread formed a knot in Barbara’s chest. She let the door swing shut before she whispered, “Then stay.”

Saturday: 9:15am: New Gotham Farmers’ & Flea Market

The market bustled. Stands displayed the last of the early fall produce mixed with cottage industry bakers, weavers, glass artisans, cheese makers, and flower vendors. The rich smell of grilling meat and vegetables wafted from somewhere near the middle of the alley of stalls.

Barbara waited for a family with a stroller to clear a tent where the merchant sold baked goods before she made her way in. She caught sight of a dark haired man in a checked coat browsing the pies. The purchase of two cookies and a coffee cake later and Barbara was carefully making her way back into the flow of traffic. She paused to let a toddler trailing a yellow balloon, followed closely by his mother, dash by. She found Dinah in the crowd.

“Vegetables galore.” Dinah put the brown paper bag holding the cucumbers into the carry-all slung over the back of Barbara’s chair. “It’s just a high tech shopping cart, right? Does R&D at Wayne know this?”

“I do free rides every evening between six and eight.” Barbara laughed at the shock on Dinah’s face. “OK, that came out a lot dirtier than it sounded inside my head.”

“Well, it sounded pretty dirty out here.” Dinah grinned and took the cookie from the bag Barbara offered.

They weaved through the crowd stopping here and there to pick up more produce and add it to the stash in the carry-all. Barbara threw a sideways glance at the young blonde. “It must be kind of weird for you everything that’s going on with me and Helena.”

Dinah raised her eyebrows. “You can say that again.”

“It’s just that things were sort of tense the other day in the training room and I thought…if you need to talk I’m always here to listen.”

“Tense with Ms. Super Anti-Hero? Never,” Dinah grinned. She tucked a lock of errant hair behind her ear. She hoped her knowledge of just how Helena has spent Thursday night wasn’t actually blazed in four foot high letters over her head.”Helena and I are good. Really.” You and Helena, I’m not so sure about.

Barbara nodded. “Still, I’m happy to listen. Any time.” She glanced to her left and pulled over sharply to her right just barely missing Dinah’s foot in her quest to get a closer look at spray of dried flowers. She ignored the indignation painted on Dinah’s face and motioned her to bend down. “See that guy in the checked coat?”

Dinah nodded. “Suddenly deeply interested in goat cheese it looks like.”

“He’s been following me since we got here.”


“He was at the baked goods near the front and at the other flower vendor while you were looking at CDs.”

Dinah glanced over just before the man looked away in an attempt to seem absorbed by the pricing details of some cheese with blueberries embedded in it. “Diversion and squeeze play?”

Barbara nodded. “Not here though.”

Dinah hung back as Barbara mixed her way into the flow of strolling customers. She grinned as the guy took the bait, dropping the hunk of cheese on the table like it was superheated and making no attempt to cover his trailing of the redhead. She set off a discreet distance behind him keeping her eyes firmly trained on the checked coat. So firmly, in fact, that she didn’t notice she’d picked up her own tail.

She wasn’t sure which store Barbara had ducked into to lose the guy but she made a mental note to thank her for leaving him lurking so close to the mouth of an alley and just out of sight of the last stall in the farmers’ market too. A quick shove from her tk had checked coat guy stumbling into the side of a nearby dumpster.

“What the fuck?” He shook his head and checked the arm he’d banged against the rusty metal.

“That’s a really good question. An even better question: don’t you have something better to do than stalk people who are just trying to shop for vegetables?” Dinah asked with just the right amount of sarcasm. The look on his face told Dinah he knew he was busted. She could practically see the gears turning in his head as he scrambled for a retort.

“If you’re that desperate for a date I’ve got some friends who would love to meet a pretty little thing like you.”

Dinah rolled her eyes as he leered and winked. “You can do better than that.” She had barely blinked before the guy was on the ground unconscious at Jess Kalen’s feet.

“Actually, he can’t.” Jess toed his motionless thigh with her boot. The guy stayed down. “He’s not one of King’s best.”

The blonde raised her eyebrows. “King?”

Jess chuckled. “Let’s not play any more games, Dinah. I’m pretty sure Helena’s told you everything by now.”

“Pretend she hasn’t.”

“You have skills. I’ve seen you fight, and you fight well,” Jess said stepping closer. “I don’t like the idea of Barbara hurt any more than you do. I know you’re not part of tonight directly but you can look out for her. King thinks he can use her against me as leverage.”

Dinah snorted her laugh. She didn’t mean to. “He’s not the master criminal he pretends to be then. You don’t give a shit about Barbara. And the examining me like prey look won’t work. I’ve gotten it from better than you at home,” she said taking in the slight tilt of Jess’ head and the narrowing of her eyes.

“And what leads you to this conclusion, that I don’t care about Barbara?”

“Helena told me about King’s operation. You’re right about that. But I’m a touch telepath, Jess.” Dinah put every ounce of scorn she had into the woman’s first name, stressing their status as equals rather than as teacher and student. “She also told me way more than I wanted to know about your Thursday night, although she did that by accident.” Dinah made a mental note to see if she could master the “becoming so still you root yourself into place” trick. She tried not to flinch as Jess stepped closer and definitively invaded her personal space.

“Helena chose; I didn’t force her. And if I remember correctly,” with this Jess smiled in a way that made Dinah suddenly see the appeal, “she enjoyed herself.”

Just as quick as she’d showed up, Jess was gone with only the stirring of an empty chip bag and an unconscious thug as evidence she’d ever been there at all. Dinah turned at the high whine of Barbara’s chair in the mouth of the alley.

“Did you get anything out of him before you knocked him unconscious?” She frowned up at the teenager.

Might as well use the intel I have. She filled Barbara in on the details as they made their way back to the car. On the way Barbara flagged a cop who was strolling through the market and pointed him toward the alley.

Dinah settled into the front seat of the Hummer. “Barbara?”

“Hum?” Barbara eased the big vehicle out into traffic.

“Remember saying I could talk with you about anything.” Dinah adjusted her seatbelt across her lap.

Barbara glanced at Dinah. She worked hard to keep her expression neutral. “Something on your mind?”

“There’s this thing with me and Gabby.”

Saturday: 10:46am, Helena’s apartment

Helena shook her head. It didn’t matter much. She’d hated that wallpaper anyway.

She stalked to the other side of the room, frustration balling her hands into fists. The urge to hit something bore down almost irresistible. Her problem: the person she most wanted to hit was herself. “No one can piss you off like you can,” she thought. She paced the apartment one more time and stopped to stare at the rended wall covering. The quiet in the apartment pressed down on her solidifying and defying the noise inside her head. Helena turned on her heel, grabbed her coat from where she’d slung it across the chair, and slammed the door behind her.

Saturday: 8:26pm: Clocktower main room

Radio traffic on the police band detailed nothing more exciting that an average Saturday night’s worth of muggings, liquor store robberies, and domestic disputes.

“You look like you’re hacking away,” Dinah said, stepping up on the Delphi’s platform and leaning on the desk.

Barbara nodded. “Keeps me from worrying. It’s a cross reference using operations data on King’s movements, missing persons reports, and the metahuman database. Based on what I’m seeing here, his clientele for the adults have to be part of some fetish community.”

Dinah glanced at the powers listed for the “artists” in King’s organization. “Ability to suck all the oxygen out of a room? How is that a fetish?”

Barbara glanced at the teenager. “You’re taking advanced bio this year.” She watched the wheels turn as Dinah applied what she’d learned.

“OK…I think my brain needs a shower now.”

“Most of the metahumans in King’s organization have extreme powers, control of electricity, ability to deoxygenate a room at will, things that would put them significantly out of mainstream society, and most of them can be traced back to a report about a missing patient from an institution or hospital. There’s one though,” Barbara tapped some keys and brought up a photo of Nicky Street, “there’s no information on him anywhere. It’s like he’s been off the grid since birth.”

Dinah took in Nicky’s blue skin, yellow eyes, and bright, friendly smile. “How is it possible no one noticed him?”

“That’s what I’m trying to find out,” Barbara replied.

Saturday: 8:25pm: Bond Bread Warehouse security center, sixth floor

Nicky perched in his favorite spot, high in the corner where the two walls met the ceiling. He stilled, willing himself quiet when Jake Tupper entered. He smiled as Jake’s eyes passed over him unseeing and dropped down silently to the floor.

“I hate it when you fucking do that,” Jake said, jumping slightly as Nicky approached from the shadow.


Jake shook his head. He pulled a card from his pocket and held it between two fingers making sure not to touch him when Nicky took it. “Agent Fallon will pick you up at 6th and Maine avenue.”

Nicky studied the business card running his fingers over the raised letters and the FBI logo. “And what about my sister?”

“I’ll take care of her just like we agreed.”

“Thank you,” Nicky said. He moved back into the shadow his outline diffusing in the darkness.

Saturday: 8:32pm: Bond Bread Warehouse casino

The guard eyed the tight black cocktail dress and the dark haired woman in it. “I don’t care how good you look. You’re not on the list and you don’t have an invite. You don’t get in,” he purred making the denial of entrance sound like it was Helena’s most desired wish.

“She’s my guest, Brian.” Jess Kalen had appeared behind the mountain-sized security guard quietly and without anyone noticing.

Brian looked over his shoulder at the auburn haired woman. He made a note in his papers. “You’re the boss.” He moved aside to let Helena pass motioning the next guest to the front.

“Not on the list?” Helena raised an eyebrow.

“Logistics take time. Sometimes you have to improvise.” Jess smiled wider and started off to her right at a slow stroll. Her auburn hair fell soft against the collar of the tailored black suit jacket she wore. Matching pants and a crisp white shirt conveyed an elegant, serious air. Combined with the unflinching gaze and amused half smile the whole package screamed danger and sex. “But you’d know a thing or two about that, wouldn’t you.” She shook her head as an image of Helena balanced above her and breathing hard streaked across her brain.

Helena shook her head as her traitorous libido kicked up a notch. “It’s a gift.”

“And if there’s trouble?” Jess’ glance brushed over the brunette’s outfit. Helena’s return smile, one that promised trouble if challenged, bumped up her Jess’ libido.

“What else?” The question had been rhetorical delivered with as much bravado as Helena could muster.

Jess laughed round, full, and not at all shy. “Indeed. King’s going to want to meet you.” They joined the short queue at the nearest bar. Helena raised her eyebrows in question and waited. “He’s into information. Leverage. The more he knows about someone the better. He likes to find out what’s important to you and figure out how to use it against you.” Bitterness crept into the auburn haired woman’s tone.

“A little bird told me about your visit to the farmers’ market this morning.” The only thing that had kept her from blowing the entire operation when Dinah related her encounter in the alley had been the vision of those two kids Nicky Street had passed to her. Yanking Barbara Gordon into his plans would have been King’s last mistake if Helena had followed her first impulse. Helena kept her eyes fixed on Jess’ face. The sadness in she saw there surprised her.

“Then you know what I mean about King and information. He finds out what you care about and he uses it to his advantage.”

As Jess turned her attention to the bartender Helena took a minute to scan the casino floor. The gaming tables sat far enough apart to provide privacy to the high rollers. Bars, some temporary, had been set up in strategic places so that there was just enough of a wait but not enough for a crowd to build up and block the flow of traffic around the floor. Two guards, bulges under their arms tastefully discreet, flanked an elevator with bright brass doors.

Helena felt a hand on her elbow. She turned and took the glass Jess offered. The smell of bourbon brought memories of Thursday night flashing back: the murmur of Jess’ voice; the cool fall breeze that swept across the roof; the crunch of gravel under her boots as Jess pulled her in for that first kiss; the sudden burning desire to see Jess vulnerable if only for a minute; the way her apartment door sounded as it slammed shut behind them and the noise of ripping cloth that followed soon after. Helena took a healthy swig from the glass as they moved into the crowd on the gaming room floor.

“The elevator leads up to what will be the condos. King always sandwiches the private rooms between two floors that are still under construction,” Jess said, nodding slightly toward the elevator. “Stairs are to the left of the elevator around the corner. When Nicky cuts the power the emergency security system and backup generators will engage and lock out the elevator.”

Helena nodded. “I’ll take the stairs, pull the kids, and bolt.”

“And I’ll take care of King. That’s him over there, by the way.” She gestured toward a knot of people across the casino floor.

The bald man with the weightlifter’s physique would have cut an impressive figure in any crowd. Clad in a classic three-piece tuxedo, King seemed to have no problems being the center of attention. Something familiar in the stance of one of the men with his back toward her pricked at Helena’s awareness. When she and Jess approached and she got a look at his profile that awareness turned to lead in Helena’s stomach.

“Very nice to meet you, Ms. Kyle,” King said, shaking Helena’s hand. “Jess, Lt. Grayson was just telling me that the climate has changed a bit in Bludhaven. He also tells me that he represents a corporate partner in town we hadn’t previously considered.”

“Really?” Jess’ memories of Dick Grayson weren’t fond ones; she’s always known that even though he was technically out of the picture he’d still had Barbara’s attention when they were in college. Jess successfully fought down the urge to punch him in the nose just for old times’ sake. She slid her arm around Helena’s waist trying not to grin at the surprise on Dick’s face.

Helena suppressed a gasp as Jess’ hand hit her not quite healed rib. She took the cue, though, and played her part. She leaned into Jess and slipped arm around the other woman’s waist letting her hand come to rest on Jess’ left hip under her jacket. It gratified her to see King’s expression settle into one more knowing as his assumptions about her relationship with Jess fell into a predictable box. She turned to Dick with a politely interested smile.

“A new commissioner took office in Bludhaven about a year ago and certain business ventures are being regarded with more tolerance. It might be worth looking into once you’ve got things running smoothly here,” Dick replied, taking a sip from his drink.

Jess moved her hand up across Helena’s bare back to the back of her neck. “And this corporate interest?” She could feel Helena’s stare and hoped King mistook it for infatuation rather than the rage Jess was certain it really was. She’d felt Helena’s hand tighten on her hip.

“Takes a pragmatic approach and would prefer to see order over chaos even if that means bending the law.” He composed his expression to neutral squashing the surprise he felt at the guilt he saw flash across Helena’s face and the way her gaze slipped away from his.

“Excuse me, Mr. King. Senator Collins is demanding access to the suites now. He’s insisting on talking to both you and to Ms. Kalen,” a young female attendant dressed in a staff uniform said from just behind and to King’s right.

King stepped back and motioned Jess accompany him and the young woman across the floor to where an irate older man seethed in front of the two impassive security guards blocking the doors to the elevator.

Helena took a sip from her cocktail. “What are you doing here?” she asked, smile plastered across her face.

“Our mutual friend decoded that data squirt she intercepted a couple of weeks ago and forged me an invite. She thought you might need some back up.” Dick’s smile looked as fake to Helena as her own felt. “Plus, I’m here to make sure that your contact turns King in to the police instead of leaving him in a bloody heap. She’s got quite a reputation both in her professional and personal life. Always did.”

Something in Dick’s expression told Helena he spoke from memory and long held opinion. The look in his eyes, though, made her wonder whether she’d turned transparent. She looked back at him with an expression she hoped showed polite disinterest rather than the wash of fear that flooded her system. “I didn’t know that.”

Dick nodded. “You seem to have gotten very close to someone you don’t know much about. Just how close are you two, exactly?”

The scorn in Dick’s voice raised the hair on the back of Helena’s neck as anger trampled guilt; the brush of Jess’ hand across her back had started a chain reaction of arousal for Helena and she wasn’t sure she was comfortable with being that easily manipulated. She kept the sweet smile on her face as she saw Jess and Marcus King approaching. “You know what, I’ve got this handled. Why don’t you just play a nice game of hide and go fuck yourself?” Helena turned and smiled at both Jess and Marcus King as they came to a stop. Jess raised an eyebrow at Helena who said nothing and continued to sip from her glass all the while hoping that Dick choked on the retort he’d had to swallow.

“I’m sorry to let business intrude. It was very nice to meet you, Ms. Kyle. Any friend of Jessica’s is a friend of mine.” King’s smile lit his eyes and Helena had to remind herself that even the most dangerous animals had decorative aspects.

“So is he still an asshole?” Jess asked, turning to look at Helena after King steered Dick Grayson over to another group of guests.

Helena snorted her laugh. She couldn’t help it. “And always will be. You know him?”

Jess nodded. “He was…the competition.” Her smile was soft, her expression limned with sadness.

“Guess it would have been a little harder to get him to screw himself into a corner, huh?”

Jess turned and met Helena’s eyes. Helena took some comfort in the surprise she saw in the other woman’s expression.

“I said that out loud, didn’t I?”

Jess chuckled. “You did but the other night…it just happened. There certainly was no planning on my part. And I’m definitely no competition for you.” She shook her head. “What’s done is done.”

Helena flashed Jess her own sad smile. “For you maybe.” She drained the rest of her glass as a soft beeping sounded from inside Jess’ jacket pocket.

Jess pulled out the palmtop and scanned the alert. “That’s Nicky’s two minute warning.” She pulled an unmarked card key out of the same pocket. “Rooms 12 and 14, last two on the left. This master will security get you in and then down King’s private elevator.”

“On the floor above. I got it.” She took the key, her fingers brushing the other woman’s.

Jess turned to cross to where King stood, paused and turned back to Helena. She leaned in and kissed her on the cheek. “Don’t throw everything away based on how you feel now. That’s a mistake you’ll never recover from. Trust me. I know,” she whispered.

Helena gaped at Jess’ retreating back. She shook her head hard, ditched the empty highball glass on a passing waiter’s tray, and strolled toward a gaming table near the elevators.

Saturday: 8:56pm: Clocktower main room

Barbara routed the sound from the police band to the main speakers and turned up the volume.

“Did that guy say FBI?” Dinah asked, dropping the magazine she’d been reading on the coffee table and floated herself up onto the Delphi’s platform.

“He did.” Barbara tapped a few quick commands and pulled up a GPS tracking map of the warehouse section of the city. “The blue are NGPD, the red are FBI. They use a different tracking frequency.”

“New software from Wayne?” Dinah grinned.

Barbara nodded, half smile turning her lips. “Coded specially for use by Homeland Security for tracking joint response to terrorist events.”

Dinah pointed. “What’s the purple thing?”

“Coast Guard helicopter. The warehouse is right on the wharf.”

Saturday: 9:01pm: Bond Bread Warehouse, private party rooms

Helena tried clamped down on her hearing abilities to cut out some of the shrieking from the security alarm. Come on number 12. She shook her left hand to rid it of the last of the pins and needles from where the security guard had insisted she not take the stairs. She’d left him with a broken wrist and a broken nose for his tenacity.

She stopped in front of the second to last door on the left and swiped the card over the reader. Helena jiggled the door handle. The door was still locked. She took a deep breath and held the card in front of the reader. The light turned green but the door had been blocked by something and would only open a fraction.

“Go away!” the girl shouted, fear and anger mixed with equal parts in her tone of voice.

What was the girl’s name. She shook her head. “Callie, my name’s Helena. I’m here to get you out.” Helena applied her hip to the door and heard the heavy chest of drawers she’d seen in Nicky’s vision scrape across the floor. She held out her hand. “Come on. We need to get Tommy so you can both go home.”

After using Jess’ card key to get into the room next, Helena led the two kids to the stairs and through the construction on the floor above to King’s private elevator. The doors were about to close when someone stuck his pasty white arm between them. Helena pushed the girl and the boy behind her, widening her stance a bit to take on the fight she heard coming in the distance.

Jake Tupper pushed his way into the elevator. Jake paid no attention to Helena at all as he stabbed the door close button repeatedly “Shut god damn it!” He sagged against the wall, jumping at the sound of gun fire from above as the elevator descended.

“It’s an express. There are no other stops,” Helena said, taking in Tupper’s days’ old clothes, mussed hair, and the slight body odor that was a special mix of high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated vegetable oil from all the sodas and tortilla chips.

“Yeah, the bullets don’t give a shit do they.” He patted his back pocket and seemed to find what he was looking for. “Are the kids OK?” Jake asked Helena.

She fixed him with a hard stare. “Who wants to know?”

The elevator stopped with a slight bounce, doors sliding open with ding to reveal a mix of uniformed and plain clothes officers with their guns drawn.

Saturday: 9:04pm: Bond Bread Warehouse casino

Jess Kalen stared at the .9mm handgun which practically disappeared inside Marcus King’s massive fist. “You lied to me, Marcus. No one gets to do that twice.” She raised one eyebrow.

“Ah…one betrayal for another. Are you fast enough to dodge a bullet, Jessica?” King’s baritone rumbled over the shrill horns of the security system.

The smile she gave King chilled him through. “We’re about to find out.”

Saturday: 9:12pm: Clocktower main room

“Reese put her in the back of a car along with some other guy and took off.”

Barbara took off her glasses and rubbed her eyes. “What about the kids?”

Through the Delphi’s speakers Dick’s question to another law enforcement official sounded loud and clear even though he’d probably moved the phone’s pickup away from his face. “Child protective services has them with a counselor now. Their families have been notified. Now it’s just about figuring out who is who in King’s organization.”

“I’ve got some data I think will help with that,” Barbara said tapping a few keys. “I sent it to your PD data drop.”

“Thanks.” Dick’s cell phone pickup momentarily overloaded with the blorp from a patrol car’s siren.

Barbara pulled off her glasses and rubbed the bridge of her nose. Her breath came short and sharp as with what her logical mind told her and what she felt warred within her. “Dick…what about Jess?” Random background noise and shouting hissed out of the speakers. “Dick?”

“Yeah, sorry. There’s a fire somewhere on the third floor. Last I saw her she was with King but they just loaded him into the back of a car. I’ll do what I can, Babs.” He cut the connection leaving Barbara with nothing but silence.

Barbara cut her end of the connection and put the GPS tracking map back on the main display. She checked that the clocktower’s security system was set and with a sigh she turned and made her way off the platform to the kitchen. She was scooping the last of Helena’s coffee ice cream out of the pint when Dinah turned the corner into the kitchen.

“I missed everything, didn’t I?” Disappointment edged Dinah’s tone.

The redhead nodded. “Mostly a lot of police chatter. How’s Gabby?”

“A little bored at home.” Dinah frowned. “Did I really miss something?” She’d heard Dick’s recitation of Jess and Helena’s performance on the casino floor. Dinah was having a hard time believing it was anything but show. Judging from the way she attacked the ice cream, Dinah thought Barbara might have a different opinion.

Barbara smiled softly. “You think Gabby would be up for company tonight?”

“Uh, yeah. I did mention the bored, right?” Dinah grinned, then frowned. “What about King’s goons?”

“They picked most of them up in the sweep. The hired muscle, I think the security system will take care of them. They don’t have much incentive without someone paying them anyway.” Barbara pulled a spoon out of the drawer and shut the freezer. “PD should have everything on the street cleared up in a couple of hours. Take the car. If her Mom says it’s OK I’m fine with you and Gabby coming back here for the night.”

This time Dinah’s grin lit up her entire face. “Seriously?”

“Seriously. Go. Be a teenager. Just don’t wreck the car.” She patted Dinah on the back as her part of an enthused hug. Barbara tossed the empty pint of ice cream in the trash before she made her way back to the Delphi, putting the police band on the systems speakers so she could follow the progress of the bust.

Saturday: 9:26pm: Warehouse District, Corner of 6th & Main Avenue

Reese unlocked Helena’s cuffs and stowed them in the pouch on the back of his belt.

“You should have told me you had an informant inside,” Agent Jeff Fallon said glancing at Helena.

“You should have told me you had an agent inside,” Reese shot back gesturing at Jake Tupper.

Fallon shook his head. “We’ve been running this op for months. No way I was going to blow that to a local cop in a compromised department.” He turned to move back to the car where Jake stood talking with Nicky Street.

“Hey, what about him?” Helena asked.

Fallon turned to look at her. “It’s a valid question,” Reese added.

“He makes our case then probably witness protection. Follow it in the papers like everyone else.”

Questions about Jess’ whereabouts died on Helena’s lips as Fallon got in and slammed the driver’s side door.

Nicky raised a hand goodbye and got in the back of the car. Helena turned to Reese as the unmarked sedan took the left up 7th street and away from wharf. “So, can I bum a ride home?”

Reese opened the front door and motioned for her to get in.

Saturday: 10:43pm: Common Grounds coffee house

Dinah tried not to gape at the two boys openly necking on the couch in the grouping next to where she and Gabby sat. She failed miserably: Gabby turned to look over her shoulder, turned back to Dinah and grinned.

“They’re at it much longer I think we should start throwing change.”

“That performance, definitely quarter worthy.” She returned Gabby’s grin. “How did you find this place anyway?”

Gabby took a sip of her coffee. “It’s on SMYAL‘s pink paw list. Safe spaces,” she continued at Dinah’s questioning look, “places that kids can go and socialize that aren’t clubs or bars.”

“So nobody’s going to care if I lean over and kiss you like,” she nodded toward the other couch and blushed hard in spite of her fervent desire to maintain an aura of cool.

“Well,” Gabby said, inching a little closer, “I might care.” She grinned as the blush highlighting Dinah’s cheeks darkened. She swallowed hard at Dinah’s searching look. “If this is freaking you out we can go some place else. I just thought it might be nice not to have to worry about holding your hand in public.”

Dinah leaned in and kissed Gabby softly getting the taste of the cinnamon and vanilla she’d sprinkled on top of her latte. “I was just thinking that there’s some place I need to take you sometime. That’s all. Sort of a safe space for people like me.”

It was Gabby’s turn to raise her eyebrows. “Tall, hot, indecently sexy blonde chicks? I’m so there.”

Dinah just rolled her eyes, taking a sip from her own oversized cup of coffee. “So I told Barbara I gave you the tour.”

“Oooo…how’d that go?” Gabby turned to face Dinah, tucking on ankle under the opposite leg so she sat sideways on the couch. “From the wrinkling nose, not so good.”

“Actually, better than I expected. I’m supposed to invite you for dinner next week.”

“That’s gonna be a little weird. Dinner with Ms. Gordon. She doesn’t make you discuss Shakespeare at the table or anything.” Gabby grinned as Dinah stuck out her tongue. She had a pretty good idea that dinner at Dinah’s house would be anything but boring. “Will Helena be there too?”

Dinah shook her head. “No clue. And I think we get to keep our change.” Gabby turned to look. The two boys were shrugging on their jackets as they made their way toward the door. When she turned back the love that softened Dinah’s smile had her scooting closer on the couch.

“You OK?” Gabby tilted her head and held Dinah’s gaze. She skipped a breath as Dinah leaned in and kissed her slow and soft, shrinking Gabby’s world to little more than the girl sitting next to her.

“I’m better than OK. I’m totally, hopelessly in love with you,” Dinah replied, letting the words she’d been sitting on for weeks just slip out. She started to worry when Gabby took her hand and simply stared across the coffee house. That worry kicked up a notch when Gabby finally met her eyes.

“You mean that?” Gabby asked finally. The hope she’d carried around with her, just a small sliver in her figurative pocket, felt suddenly solid, suddenly real. Gabby took a deep breath and unguarded her heart. “That’s good because I’ve been wanting to say the same thing to you for like…weeks.” Gabby put as much mock exasperation as she thought she could get away with into her tone of voice.

Dinah grinned, “Yeah?” After Gabby nodded she leaned in and kissed the curly haired girl softly. Gabby smiled as Dinah pulled back and rested her forehead against hers. “I’m thinking maybe I want to go where there won’t be any change throwing ’cause we’re the only ones in the room,” Dinah muttered. “How about my place?”

Gabby threw her head back and laughed. “I like that idea a lot.”

Saturday: 11:06pm: Clocktower

“I just need some time in my own head, that’s all.” Helena’s voice sounded tinny through the land line phone’s receiver; the quality couldn’t compare to the comms set and Barbara wondered if she’d chosen the phone for just that reason. “A couple of days off,” Helena continued.

Barbara fought back the questions about Helena’s mood, about Jess, about what Helena wasn’t telling her, that sat heavy and clouded her thinking. She’s not a problem to fix. Barbara knew she could get the arrest information out of even the FBI’s computer; it bothered her, in fact, that in all her research she hadn’t come across details of the operation before. “I’ll see you in a couple of days, then,” she said finally.

The dread she’d quelled with distraction returned on creeping feet attempting to seep into every unoccupied corner of Barbara’s consciousness. It was only years of habit that allowed Barbara to put that feeling aside, to refuse to be overwhelmed by paranoid suspicion, as she moved to the Delphi. She pulled up the right program and started a path into the New Gotham PD’s arrest reports for the night.

Monday: 2:47pm: Common Grounds coffee house

“Your parents sold you?” The horror Barbara felt surpassed her reaction to Marcus King’s new business venture by leagues.

Jess shook her head. “They sold Nicky. They thought I could have a normal life but I never felt right. Incomplete. Different. Then my…talents,” Jess smiled wryly, “started to manifest. Once my parents died and I found the papers in their things I had to find him.”

“So you dropped everything?” Barbara thought back to the hurried good bye, the lack of explanation at the tail end of their relationship.

“I dropped everything and used every dime they’d left me to find him. It took a while. Who ever sold him to King gave him a new name, a new background. But there aren’t very many people like him and I found him. By the time I did, I didn’t have enough money left to get him out. King wanted way more for Nicky’s freedom than I had.” Jess swallowed hard. “So I sold myself.” She watched Barbara’s face for any hint of judgment. She didn’t see judgment but she did see Barbara thinking. “Yes, exactly the way you’re thinking right now.”

“Jess…” Barbara stopped as Jess held up her hand.

“Don’t. I did what I had to do, what was necessary.” Jess fiddled with an empty sugar packet on the table. “It didn’t last that long anyway. I broke a client’s nose when he tried to take something I didn’t want to give him and Marcus figured out pretty quickly that my talents could be more use to him in other areas of the business. It took me nearly five years to work off the asking price. By then, there wasn’t anything but Marcus King and the life I’d built inside his organization.”

Jess turned away and closed her eyes against the sadness rising inside her. Everything she’d missed, everything she’d lost. For her brother to have a life had to be worth it or she’d go crazy thinking about the alternatives. She cleared her throat and turned back to look at Barbara. “You understand why I thought I couldn’t tell you about me, about Nicky?”

Barbara captured Jess’ hand with hers. “I do now, yes.”

Monday: 3:02pm: Outside Common Grounds coffee house

Helena rubbed her hands together as she approached the entrance to the coffee house. Sunday had dawned cold, hard, and sharp over New Gotham. The front page of the paper had screamed a banner headline about the arrests made at the Bond Bread Warehouse. The local news that evening had been filled with outraged city council members who’d had no idea the true nature of Marcus King’s operation. Helena had laughed right out loud at that. She and Jess had been in line at the bar behind the Council member from her district. Monday’s gray skies promised snow before the next morning. Helena shook her head and vowed to buy a pair of gloves the next time she went shopping.

She turned the corner and spotted Barbara and Jessica Kalen deep in conversation at Barbara’s favorite table near the window. She also spotted Barbara’s fingers twined with the other woman’s. Helena’s stomach clenched. She stopped and started to turn but it was too late. She raised her hand in acknowledgement of Barbara’s wave and smile. That answers the question about the FBI.

Even though it was the last thing she wanted, Helena went inside and ordered a double latte. “Make it to go please.” Helena mustered up a smile for the barista when her drink was ready, took a deep breath and crossed to where the two women sat.

Helena leaned down and bussed Barbara on the cheek. “Hey there. School out already?”

“Last bell at 2:10. Helena, you remember Jess Kalen.”

Helena nodded. “I do. I guess they let you both out early today.” She dropped just enough emphasis on the word they and raised an eyebrow playing along with the charade that Barbara was ignorant of Helena’s double life.

“It helps to have friends in the right places.” Jess smiled and then winked at Barbara.

“Would you like to join us?” Barbara watched Helena carefully in an attempt to gauge the accuracy of her own suspicions. Everything in Helena’s posture and manner told Barbara she was hiding something.

“Can’t. I hired a new bartender to replace Toby and it’s her first day.” She took a sip of the coffee careful not to let it burn her mouth. “But thanks for the invite. I’ll call you later.”

It was everything Helena could do not to run as she left the coffee house. Her demons. Her choices. She knew she’d have to face them sooner or later. Finding Barbara in confab with Jess Kalen just meant it was going to be sooner than she’d planned. She dumped the coffee in the first trash can she found.

Monday: 11:48pm: Clocktower

The hissing of the snow against the clock’s face filled the room in the wake of Helena’s confession. Sunday’s cold front and Monday’s gray skies delivered the promised storm with rain that became ice and then snow as the temperature dropped. The snow on top, like most storms in New Gotham, hid the real danger underneath.

“I know,” Barbara whispered, taking off her glasses and setting them on the desk.

“She told you, didn’t she?” Helena asked, her tone threaded with righteous indignation. “I knew it.” Something inside her seized like a machine with no lubricant as Barbara shook her head.

“No, you did.” She met Helena’s eyes noting the shock in the brunette’s expression. “On the balcony Friday night when you wouldn’t let me touch you.” Barbara breathed deep and slow trying to get a grip on the tangle of head and heart that formed her interior landscape. She’d run this conversation in her head more than a dozen times since Friday night but she’d never gotten past the revelatory moment. Barbara found herself without a plan, without a map, and that frightened her.

Helena got up and paced across the room. “It doesn’t make any difference that we never talked about not seeing other people, does it?”

“No, we never did. But fidelity and loyalty are important. If you’d asked…”

Helena’s small chuckle carried an edge of bitter, black sarcasm. “What did you want me to do, call you while she was ripping my shirt off and ask if it was OK if I had sex with your ex girlfriend?” Helena swallowed hard, trailing off at the sadness that suffused Barbara’s expression. She crossed to where Barbara sat and perched on the edge of the coffee table. “That was really rude. I’m sorry.”

“I’m going for cruel myself.” She held up the hand she moved to take as Helena reached for her. “You’re right we never talked and that’s my fault. I assumed that once we got together that would be enough. I owe you an apology for that.”

Helena shook her head. “No.”

“I do. Expectations, they have a way of backfiring on you. You think you know what someone else wants or feels or thinks when you really don’t.” Barbara paused to look out the clock’s face at the snow. When she turned back to Helena she found the brunette regarding her with equal parts sadness, regret, and resignation.

“It’s not really about the sex, is it?” Helena watched Barbara’s face carefully. She could tell Barbara fought back tears by the way her breathing changed. “It’s about this.” She reached out and tapped the ring on her forefinger against one of the chairs wheels.

Barbara managed a sad smile on informed as much by memory as by speculation. “I expect you had a fairly athletic evening.” She continued at Helena’s raised eyebrows, “I know what Jess is like. And that’s not something I can give you.” She clenched her jaw and looked away.

“You do fine,” Helena replied, the memory of one night in the tub when it seemed Barbara’s hands and mouth had been everywhere all at once flashing to the front of her mind. She reached out and let her hand hover close enough over Barbara’s forearm to feel the heat from her skin. The expression on the redhead’s face kept her from making contact. “More than fine.”

Barbara swallowed the lump that closed her throat. She finally turned back and met Helena’s eyes. “It’s not just about the chair, about me not being able to walk. Or about you sleeping with someone else. I honestly don’t know what it’s about. It’s about something more that I can’t put my finger on. But it’s there.”

“And not knowing is killing you, right?” Helena knew the answer before Barbara nodded but her breath still caught in her throat. She gave herself a mental kick for ignoring the obvious; Barbara needed her world in order or at least understandable and since Helena couldn’t explain to herself what caused her to step forward and take Jess Kalen’s offer she knew she couldn’t explain it to Barbara. Helena knew, too, that Barbara needed to feel if not in control then at least capable of dealing with whatever came her way. Taking in Barbara’s ashen pallor and the shallow way she breathed, Helena knew she was out of words, out of room, and she would have given almost anything to be able to fix the problem with her fists. She said the only thing she could.

“Tell me what you want.”

What did she want? She’d spent the last few days wrestling with herself, caught in a symphony of conflicting emotions – anger, desire, love, betrayal, curiosity, and self-pity each getting a solo – and what her head said was fair. For once Barbara put what she needed first. She took another deep breath before she answered. “Time.” Barbara shook her head as Helena opened her mouth to ask another question. “I don’t know how much. I wish I did.”

Her voice was dangerously calm to Helena’s ears. Helena nodded. She stood and crossed the room never pausing as she picked up her coat off the back of a chair and swung it on.

“If it makes any difference, I never intended to hurt you.” She resisted the urge to scoop the redhead up in her arms as Barbara swiped a hand across her now tear-stained cheeks. Almost every instinct she had told her that walking out the door now would be the biggest mistake she’d ever made. The rest spoke soft, quiet, and true that she had asked and had to honor the answer she’d gotten whether it was one she liked or not. Helena turned and headed for the elevator, punching the call button with more force than necessary. Why is the god damn thing downstairs? Right. The kid’s out. She could feel Barbara watching her.

“Just tell me one thing,” Barbara said, voice cracking slightly.

The elevator door opened and she stepped in turning to lean against the back wall. “Anything.” Helena knew deep down that her future depended upon her response.

“Was it worth it?” The question surprised even Barbara. It wasn’t the one she’d meant to ask.

Helena knew her face showed everything she felt, all the sadness, regret, and anger at her own stupidity made bare. “I’m not sure. I don’t know what it cost me yet.” She felt the first tear roll down her face as the doors slid closed.

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