Title: Rogue Gordon
Fandom: Birds of Prey
Ratings: (not much sex in this one, sorry to say... so if that's what you're looking for: keep looking.)
Disclaimers: I don't own Birds of Prey or any character created by WB or DC Comics used in this story. I'm making no profit on this and wouldn't want to - as it's not mine.
Summary: This is a story set in yet another alternate universe. It came to me when I was writing Dark Huntress, as I wondered what kind of person Barbara Gordon would've been if she'd been... well, bad. The story isn't as 'dark' as I would've liked it to be, mainly because Barbara Gordon just refused to be as bad as I wanted her to be. Tough luck... Hope you'll enjoy it anyway.
Author's note: Even though Carolyn Lance is in this story I don't know much about her character, so she's quite dull and ordinary. My apologies to all Black Canary fans!
Author's note II: I started on this story when I had finished Forgotten Lives, so it's quite awhile ago. For some reason I never finished it. Before Christmas 2008 I was asked by some people if I'm not writing any more... I'm not, really. But I decided to finish this one, since it's been kind of a 'thorn in my side'.
Feedback: as you like it, at...
Arkham Orphanage was a private institution with the same owner as Arkham Asylum, but the red brick building was placed in an entire different part of New Gotham: at the outskirts of the city. Few people ever ventured that far. The area around the orphanage was a wasteland, barren of vegetation. The square, three floor building stood out of the ground like an ill placed object on a painting, crooked and tarnished like a forgotten toy from the past.
The windows had dark shutters and where the shutters were open one could see the bars covering the windows behind the glass. There was a high, iron fence surrounding the whole area, leaving a barren garden behind black, iron gates.
Children placed at Arkham Orphanage usually didn't leave until they were eighteen - unless they ran away. Few were ever placed in adoptive homes: they were children no one wanted; abandoned, ill-mannered and left to grow wild. Instead they were used as cheap labor; as hired hands on various farms or as workers at different industries in the city. It wasn't legal, of course, but no one cared enough to control the business of Arkham Orphanage. And besides, the owner was a well-respected citizen and always gave a good impression. If the authorities wanted to visit the orphanage the warden and the rest of the staff made sure they picked the most respectable and sweet children to represent the organization, and concerning the bars before the windows... It was common knowledge that the children at Arkham were difficult. They were children that couldn't be placed in homes for different reasons, mostly due to their behavior and lack of respect for others. It was also common knowledge that those who left the orphanage (either after their eighteenth birthday or due to a lucky escape) with few exceptions ended up at Arkham Asylum as adults.
The truth, Barbara Gordon thought dismissively as she stared out her barred window, was that Arkham Orphanage created criminals. She'd seen it happen over the years: how young minds were broken down and filled with indifference towards life. She was no exception.
Arkham was a slave camp where the staff punished children with electric shocks if they didn't obey. Some children disappeared never to return and no one knew what happened to them. Life went on and you lived in fear that one day it would be you who was dragged from your room late at night kicking and screaming to never return.
Barbara Gordon - called Gordon by everyone - turned to look at the young girl she shared the small room with. Helena Kyle was lying on her side in the fetus position: arms and legs wrapped around her slim body. The dark hair was matted and she was crying in her sleep.
Poor girl, Gordon thought, watching her. She felt an unfamiliar tug at her heart - feelings of compassion and warmth she hadn't felt for a long time. Helena had only arrived a few days before, devastated after her mother's premature death, and Gordon had somehow ended up as her guardian in the orphanage: protecting the girl from the other older and often meaner children.
Gordon was sixteen years old. She'd spent seven years at Arkham Orphanage, learning to survive by using her fists and her brilliant mind. She'd known she wouldn't last long in the outside world if she ran away, so she stayed at the orphanage - learned what she could when she had the chance: to read, to write... to dream of a different life beyond the bars of her window.
When she met Helena a few days earlier she'd come to the realization that she'd stayed too long. It was time for her to leave. It was time for her to bring down the slave camp that was Arkham Orphanage.
For years she'd gathered information and evidence on the orphanage: its illegal businesses, its criminal staff and its inhuman warden. If only she could find a way to get it published it would create an outcry in New Gotham.
As she stood watching the dark a car drove up towards the iron gates. Sharp lanterns lighted the night and Gordon squinted slightly against them. The one she'd been waiting for had come.
"Helena..." Gordon knelt at the young girl's bed and softly touched her shoulder.
"Huh?" Helena said sleepily and opened her eyes.
"Time to go. Your father has come..."
"My... My dad? But... But I don't have a dad." Helena sat up with a confused expression on her face.
"Yes. You do. He's come to take you home." Gordon straightened and smiled down at the girl. "Here, take my hand."
Helena reached for her hand and was pulled straight from the bed by the older girl.
"We need to get out of here", Gordon said, mostly to herself. With a quick motion she loosened a wooden board in the floor and pulled out a gray folder and a minidisk.
"What's that?" the girl wondered curiously at her side.
"It's very important", Gordon said, straightening. "It'll bring justice to the children of this place. All of them", she mumbled, again mostly to herself. "Even the lost ones."
She had an inkling as to where the lost children had been taken, but she'd never shared that particular thought with anyone - it was too horrible.
"Come now, sweetie", she said softly and recaptured Helena's hand.
The door was locked, but Gordon knew how to deal with that; she'd made a copy of the master key, which worked in every room. This wasn't the first time she left her room late at night.
In a few minutes the two girls were out of their room, heading for the main stair. They needed to be careful: high tech cameras were watching the corridors and there was a guard on every floor. Gordon knew they would only be given this one chance. If they failed... If they failed she hoped that Bruce Wayne was everything she'd heard he was.
"Hold! Who's there?"
Helena stiffened by Gordon's side, but Gordon urged her along. "Come", she whispered to the younger girl. "We just need to get to the first floor..."
They sneaked around the corner and moved quickly down the stairs. Heavy footsteps behind them told them they were being followed.
"Stop!" someone yelled.
At the same time there was a loud noise at the main entrance; the doorbell rang and a heavy thudding came from the door.
"Stop!" another male voice called behind Gordon and the girl.
The doorbell rang anew, longer and harder this time; it made an eerie sound along the dark corridors. Then suddenly the lights went on in the large hall before the entrance and the warden came into view on the first floor. He didn't see the girls.
"No!" someone called behind them. "Don't open the doors!"
But Gordon, reaching the bottom of the main stairs at the second floor, knew it was too late. She glanced down along the stairs, down to the first floor where the warden just turned the key in the lock. He turned around and met her gaze with a surprised look that turned to immediate anger and fear, but before he had time to do anything the doors were flung open and a tall, dark-haired man walked in, followed by an older, thinner man.
The top of the stairs lay in darkness and shadow; no one would see the girls if they looked from the entrance. And the guard who'd been chasing them was almost upon them.
"Take this", Gordon said and gave the folder with the minidisk inside to the younger girl. "The man over there... He's your father. You must reach him", she said urgently. "Call for him and give this to him." She looked the girl in the eyes and held her gaze, blocking the nearing guard from her mind. "Can you do this for me, sweetie? It's the most important thing in the world right now."
Helena nodded and grabbed the folder. She glanced at the guard rushing towards them behind Gordon.
"Never mind him", Gordon said with a smile. "I'll keep him busy. Go to your father. I'll see you soon. Remember now - call for him. He'll love you and keep you safe."
The girl nodded and ran down the stairs. At the same time Gordon rose and turned around in one swift motion, throwing herself at the guard coming their way. The two of them collided, but Gordon had the upper hand and managed to avoid his grabbing fists. At the same time a second guard came rushing down the stairs, aiming for Helena. Gordon threw herself at him too and clung to him as he was about to follow the girl down the stairs; the man lost his balance and both of them fell hard on the cold stone floor.
Gordon felt strong hands grabbing her and knew there was no way they'd let her go now. Her only hope lay with Helena, and as she watched the girl was reaching the end of the stairs, calling for her dad as she ran towards the light in the main hall.
"Dad! Dad!" the girl called and Gordon watched with a twitch in her heart as the tall man in the door quickly strode towards her and lifted her up in his safe arms.
In the next moment Gordon was knocked unconscious.
Paris - four years ago
Helena Kyle stood at a small square, facing a low, gray bricked building with wide stairs leading to a double-door entrance. She was dressed in a pale yellow dress with thin straps and wore sandals, holding a British newspaper in one hand. The paper was bought from a kiosk a few steps behind her, beside a fruit stand.
Most newspapers that day showed the same front picture: a photograph of the crown-jewels of England and the print Sincerely Me strikes again in bold letters.
Helena had never heard of Sincerely Me before she came to France on vacation, but apparently the anonymous thief had plagued Europe for some years. Mostly he pestered the higher society with his unexplained thefts, leaving the police in any European country and any authority looking for him completely clueless. Other times he did stunts like the one last night: breaking in at virtually impossible places without stealing, to place his calling card with a note for anyone concerned to increase security. The calling card was a simple note signed sincerely, me. An anonymous journalist apparently coined the expression Sincerely Me and the name stuck.
Some seemed to look upon Sincerely Me as some kind of modern day Robin Hood. The people Helena had talked to about the prestigious outlaw appeared more amused than angered at the thief's impertinence. Helena didn't know what she thought about the bold thief, other than the whole idea of such a daring escapade, to break in only to prove it could be done, intrigued her. It made her wonder if a skillful thief like that could've had a future in New Gotham, with all the vigilantes running around there at night.
The thought made her remember her mother and she sighed, resolutely entering the stairs leading to the gray building ahead. She'd been strolling the streets and the squares of central Paris when she came upon the small museum by chance. "Ancient Greek - Exhibition", it said on several signs placed around the square and close to the stairs; a banner was strapped across the entrance with the same message.
Maybe the exhibition could draw her mind from what troubled her. She'd come to Paris to relax and to get away from the mess in which she lived at home; to find some kind of peace, perhaps, but at least to come to some clarity about things. But neither the warmth of the French sun shining upon her in that moment nor her friends blasé attitudes could make her forget what she'd left behind.
Helena lived a very privileged life with her wealthy father and well-liked brother in New Gotham. People would cast her as a fortunate young woman and she would agree. She wasn't shallow (she couldn't be, with her past), but was instead described as sweet, bright and generous.
That, as it turned out, was only one part of who she was.
In truth Helena was lost, with no one to turn to. For a few years now she'd tried to come to terms with who she was, but she felt nowhere nearer a solution now than when she was sixteen and first found out the truth about herself. And the past three years she'd been torn between the two sides of her personality: the sweet and caring nature of Helena Kyle and the rebellious, unpredictable Huntress.
The truth had wreaked havoc upon her (what she had believed) secure life. She'd only just begun to come to terms with the still unexplained death of her mother, who'd died when Helena was ten, when her meta-human side intruded and dealt another blow to herself and her father. As her meta-human personality developed the truth about her past was revealed. She learned that her mother had been a brilliant thief known as Catwoman - and a meta-human as well. Catwoman, Selena Kyle, had given up her life of crime when she had Helena. Then, when Helena was ten, Selena was murdered by someone from her past, for reasons still unclear to Helena.
The weirdest part of everything was that her father, Bruce Wayne, proved to be Batman - the nightly vigilante who watched out for the citizens of New Gotham. It was, to put it mildly, a lot to deal with if a teenager.
Her father swore he'd known nothing about Helena until Selena died, when he received a cryptic message telling him his daughter was in danger, locked up at Arkham Orphanage. Helena knew that much was true and she forgave him for not telling the truth about her mother's murder and his own secret identity before, but three years down the line she couldn't forgive him for not accepting her meta-human side.
Helena's meta-human abilities had been the cause of a constant battle of wills with her father since she was sixteen. Bruce plainly forbade her to use her meta-human abilities - as if she even had a choice in the matter; as if her meta-human side wasn't as much who she was as the rest of her. Once her meta-human side made itself known to Helena she'd longed to explore the nature of her new abilities, but it was a secret, forbidden longing that made her feel guilty as soon as she turned into that other part of herself. Her father didn't understand. Her father could never understand what it was like: living with such a force within him - living with such power, constantly being tempted by the sweetness of it. To him it was as if she was somehow tainted by her meta-human blood, as if it somehow twisted her and made her bad.
It took another woman to make her understand that her father's reluctance to accept her meta-human side had more to do with his own past than with Helena. "Your father could never understand Selena that way", Carolyn Lance, AKA Black Canary, had told her. "Your father always does what's right, despite the cost to himself. Even your father knows darkness in his soul, Helena, don't doubt that. The difference is that he doesn't give in to it - he fights it with everything that he is. He doesn't let it lure him, the way he thought your mother was willingly lured by it."
So he thinks me incapable of resisting temptations, Helena angrily thought.
Whatever the reasons, Helena and her father had drifted apart over the last three years and Helena didn't know how to mend their relationship. She craved acceptance, something he seemed unable to give her. He demanded obedience, something she as Huntress refused him as she felt he didn't trust her enough to give her the freedom she needed.
If it hadn't been for Dick, Helena thought as she entered the museum, she wasn't sure where her relationship with their father would be now. Her brother stood between them both and somehow managed to lessen the blows they directed at each other. Helena loved her brother deeply; he'd been there in the past when she'd needed a shoulder to cry on, missing her mother and trying to cope with her new life at the Wayne manor. But although Dick was a vigilante he wasn't meta-human and she couldn't make him understand the longing she felt, the need to run with the wild things at night as Huntress.
At the museum Helena bought a ticket and a leaflet from a woman behind a counter, speaking in fluent French. The leaflet contained thorough descriptions of the items on display and she put the newspaper with the news of Sincerely Me in her shoulder bag while she carried the leaflet in one hand.
Another of Helena's friends, a woman named Harleen, suggested that Helena should express her anger instead of suppressing it. She usually followed the advice, but at times it felt as if it only kept the wound open, preventing her and her father to meet. "But why should you be the one to give in, Helena?" Harleen asked. "If you give in now he'll never accept that you're maturing."
Harleen had known Helena since she was a child, but she didn't know about Helena's meta-human side. Her meta-human side posed a problem for Helena, not only because her father didn't approve of her less obedient side, but mostly because she had no one to share her secret with. Her friends would see her as a freak if she told them what she had become - what she was. She didn't need to be especially insightful to know this; New Gotham wasn't very friendly towards meta-human. Meta-humans were a known phenomenon, but they were also detested. Bounty hunters were hired to kill metas and no meta lived openly as one, constantly seeking to hide their true self.
The only one that probably could understand what she was going through was Carolyn Lance. But Carolyn had difficulties with her own young daughter's expression of her meta-human abilities and needed to focus on the child.
There was really no one else she could talk to about her meta-human side, Helena thought as she browsed the glass counters in the first room at the museum, looking at jewels, pottery, reproduced clothing and weapons from different periods of Greek culture. The weapons caught her interest and she studied them, forgetting her own life for a moment.
However, her thoughts drifted back to Huntress as she moved through an open vault to an adjacent room, which contained statues and paintings. Every time she used her meta-human abilities she felt as if she was an abomination. She felt almost dirty, as if she was a priest's daughter dancing with the devil. Besides, she could never share her secret with anyone for fear she'd be exposed as meta-human and maybe killed - or at least detested. Consequently Helena was torn between her human side and her meta-human side. It made her sick.
She halted before a statue of a stern warrior, looking in her brochure for the description of it.
There was also the question of her mother's murder. Her father hadn't really told her who did it or why, but she guessed he concealed things from her and accused him of it. And then they would argue... Helena sometimes thought Bruce wanted his daughter to be this sweet, innocent woman tucked away from the atrocities of the world. The fact, though, was that that was exactly who she'd been for almost six years, living a safe and sheltered life since she was saved from the awful Arkham Orphanage. Then the truth of the past was revealed and with her new meta-human abilities Helena wanted to make a difference, just like her father and her brother did (the fact that Dick too was a vigilante was what broke the last hold Bruce had on her with his statement that he only wanted to keep her safe). She named herself Huntress, seeing herself as the hunter of criminals - and the hunter for the truth about her mother's murder - as she began roaming the night as a vigilante. Bruce - Batman - wasn't pleased. To say the least.
Who am I? Helena thought, watching the statue of the stern, yet noble warrior that reminded her so much of her father. But maybe that wasn't so much the question as who did she want to be: the sweet, caring Helena Kyle or the fierce, wild Huntress?
As Helena Kyle she said, did and was everything that was expected of her, she fitted perfectly in the society that had brought her up and felt no need to challenge the way things were. As Huntress... she was unpredictable, a rebel who challenged authorities and refused to conform to the strict, unspoken rules around her. Huntress lived with the need to break rules and to seek adventure and she was bored with Helena Kyle's perfect life and her perfect boyfriend.
In fact, she thought, she loved being Helena Kyle, but she also loved to embrace the power that Huntress brought. How could she choose between the two? And how could her father ask it of her?
On the other hand: what if her father was right? What if Huntress was bad? What if she lost control of the powers and was lost in a raging madness of darkness and death?
With a sigh Helena again tried to find the statue in the brochure, but the piece eluded her. And the plaque at the front only said a name and a number. With a sigh she gave it up and decided to move ahead.
As if on cue someone stepped up beside her.
"Leonidas", the stranger said. "King of Sparta, died 480 BC in the battle at Thermopylae where he and 300 soldiers according to the legend sacrificed their lives to let the main force retreat without heavy losses."
Helena looked up in surprise at the red-haired, slightly older woman at her side. The woman was casually dressed in black slacks and a green, sleeveless top. She carried a one-strap shoulder bag across her back and when she turned to look at her Helena noticed that she had clear, green eyes; there was a twinkle in them that confused the younger woman.
The stranger seemed vaguely familiar to her, but Helena couldn't pin her down.
"Legend has it that the oracle at Delphi foretold that Sparta could only be saved by the death of one of its kings", the woman went on, gesturing towards the statue.
"A man doing the right thing", Helena mumbled, again thinking of her father.
"Right", the woman said dryly. "There are not many of those left around."
"And those who are, they're too caught up in their own righteousness to notice the real world", Helena said bitterly, before thinking; the thought of her father just angered her so much. In the next moment she felt a slight blush on her cheeks as she wondered what the stranger would think of her lashing out like that.
But the woman tilted her head to one side and eyed Helena with a soft gaze. "Speaking from experience?" she asked, genuinely sympathetic.
"My father", Helena reluctantly admitted. "Drives me mad", she mumbled.
Bruce Wayne, as Batman, always did the right thing. And to Huntress, sometimes, the right thing didn't always seem to be that clear.
"Would you do what's right no matter the cost?" she impulsively asked the woman.
The woman laughed. "Me? I'm not much for right and wrong", she said with an easy smile. "I prefer living. You?" she added with a sudden, intense interest in the green eyes. "Would you?"
Helena made a face. "If I knew what was right I might, but it seems I don't."
"Aha", the stranger said with an affectionate smile. "Seems you're too caught up in the web of other people's ideas of who you should be." Then she added, in a different, teasing manner: "You're too pretty to be troubled by such dark thoughts. Let me distract you with my dazzling brilliance and with tales of ancient gods - and goddesses." She made a sweeping gesture with one arm, indicating the exhibition.
The woman had an infectious smile and Helena couldn't help but laugh.
"Dazzling brilliance?" she asked amusedly, not unmindful of the fact that the woman had called her pretty.
"Paris is not a place for troubled thoughts", the woman admonished in the same teasing manner as before. "It's every individual's responsibility to remember to enjoy life. And if they forget" - she grinned - "it's my responsibility to remind them."
"Really?" Helena asked wryly, although she had a hard time keeping a serious face.
"Really", the woman simply said and held Helena's gaze with a soft twinkle in her green eyes that confused the younger woman and made her feel oddly shy.
To hide her timidity Helena extended her hand. "Hi, I'm..."
Helena was abruptly, but not rudely, silenced by the other woman who held up a hand before her.
"Hold, pretty. Names already?" the stranger asked, with sparkling eyes. "Names are just labels - tying us to our place in society, preventing us from finding our true selves. Names don't tell anyone who we are."
Some do, Helena fleetingly thought, thinking of the name she'd chosen for herself: Huntress. Maybe that was part of why her father disliked her alter-ego. The name Huntress indicated a predator - something completely contradictory to the sweet innocence of his daughter.
"Let's be free from convention and be what we want to be. Let's just be two strangers, with no past, no future."
"Only the present", Helena said, lowering her hand, intrigued by the idea and by the woman before her. "No strings attached, you mean?" she added pointedly, not knowing why - and immediately felt another slight blush coloring her cheeks when the other woman winked at her in response.
"Exactly." The red-haired woman tilted her head to one side to regard Helena with a level look and Helena withstood the temptation to fidget beneath that stare. "But you're too pretty not to have a proper name", the stranger added. And just like that she turned, gesturing towards a painting in the background. "I'll name you... Fair Helen of Troy."
The painting the woman indicated depicted a beautiful, blonde woman in a white dress, standing in the prow of a ship with an apple in one hand, resting the other hand on the railing. In the background a young man in leather armor, with a red cape blowing in the wind behind him, stood regarding the woman with an open, lovingly look that at the same time expressed sadness. He held a hand on the hilt of his sword.
Helena laughed. "Really?" she asked amused. "That woman is blonde", she objected, looking at the painting. "I'm not."
"Really? I didn't notice." Green eyes twinkled. "Her name was probably not Helen either, but rather... Helene, Elena, Eleni." She shrugged. "In some languages it's even Helena. I'll just call you Helena."
"Imagine that", Helena said softly, still utterly amused by the whole thing. "What?" she added, as she noticed the soft smile on the other woman's lips.
"Oh, nothing - just that it suits your sweet smile. Fair Helena."
Helena blushed a little. "You're American?" she asked, wondering if the name the woman had picked for her really was coincidental; she found the woman so familiar it irked her she couldn't remember from where.
"Labels again", the woman said, gesturing dismissively. "I'm a citizen of the free world."
"And what, exactly, is the free world?" Helena wondered, arching an eyebrow at the woman. "And what does a citizen like you do in it?"
"Good point." The woman grinned and threw out her arms, swirling about before the counters and the statues in the room as people stopped to look at her. "I'm a traveler across time and space - past, present and future. Here and now." She stopped and held out a hand to Helena, smiling. "And today - let me be your guide through the ages, showing you the world that was and will be."
Helena laughed and impulsively reached out to take the outstretched hand, intrigued by the stranger's easy manner and confident nature. And it was then, as their fingers touched, that she suddenly remembered why she found the red-haired woman so familiar. She gasped, stifling a surprised cry.
It's her! Helena thought stunned, staring at the other woman. It was her - the girl she remembered from her past. That smile, the softness and the confidence... Those eyes.
Helena remembered the last time she looked into those eyes: there had been strength and trust in the verdant look from the older girl who told her to run to the safety of her father's arms; the girl who knew the guards would take her and who still, with only one look, managed to instill confidence in the younger, frightened girl.
Helena had forgotten the name of the older, red-haired girl and she'd never asked her father about it; she'd wanted to forget all about those horrible days. But every time she thought about the orphanage where she ended up after her mother's death the face of that girl appeared before her eyes. That girl: who exposed the cruelty at Arkham Orphanage and saved the other children; the girl that was left behind when Helena was brought to safety - who was gone only a few hours later and disappeared without a trace, as if she'd never been real at all.
She doesn't recognize me, Helena thought. And why should she? Helena had been a child of ten. I wonder if she remembers me.
"I've seen you before", Helena said solemnly.
"Really?" the other woman said, smiling. "In a past life, perhaps?" she asked, arching an eyebrow. She pulled her hand from Helena's and made a gesture towards the painting of Helen of Troy. "Maybe I was Paris, sweeping you off your feet and in so doing starting a war."
Helena couldn't help but laugh when the stranger grinned at her. "Yes, maybe so", she agreed, then suddenly thought that that was almost exactly what she had done when she rescued Bruce Wayne's daughter from that orphanage.
The red-haired woman caught herself and held Helena's eyes, smiling softly. "Will you let me guide you here today, fair Helena? I promise you, you won't be disappointed."
Helena nodded. She could've confronted the other woman with her past, but she didn't. She didn't know why. Maybe she wanted to play the other woman's game; she didn't want to remember her own past and she didn't want to think about her future. She wanted to live in the present moment, spending her time with this intriguing woman without expectations, without labeling herself either Helena Kyle or Huntress.
And maybe, she also believed, there would be time later for discussions about Arkham Orphanage.
"Free of charge?" she added, arching an eyebrow.
The other woman laughed. "Free of charge. For now", she added with a wink that made Helena blush for no reason.
The stranger showed her around, telling her fascinating stories about people and places of ancient Greece and even about the painters, the sculptures, the owners and the history of an item. She seemed to be a living dictionary of all sorts of facts and curious knowledge and Helena listened captivated as the woman told tales of murder, betrayal, wars, tragic love, heroes and true love.
"How do you know so much?" Helena asked at one time.
"Courtesy of an over-active mind", the other woman simply said and stopped to regard a painting of a naked woman lying on a divan, covered only by a red cape. "In 411 BC Aristophanes wrote a piece called Lysistrata", she went on, contemplating the picture. "It's a play about the women of Sparta who refused to have sex with their husbands until they came home from the war." She frowned slightly and then quoted: " 'Oh, wanton, vicious sex! the poets have done well to make tragedies upon us; we are good for nothing then but love and lewdness! But you, my dear, you from hardy Sparta, if you join me, all may yet be well; help me, second me, I beg you'."
"And they did?" Helena asked.
Her companion chuckled. "In the play they did, but I gather it wasn't an easy feat. Both women and men lusted for each other before the end. But to me, it's more about the fact that women do have more power than we believe we do."
The red-haired woman suddenly pulled the newspaper from Helena's bag in a swift motion.
"Like this. 'Sincerely Me strikes again'."
Helena frowned. "You believe it's a woman?" she asked after a moment.
The woman shrugged. "It just goes to show how male-dominated our world is, even though we believe it to be equal, when people automatically assume something like this could only be done by a man."
Helena regarded the newspaper. "I don't know if it's a positive thing for the feminist movement if Sincerely Me proves to be a woman - wouldn't it just justify the negative belief that women are the devil's pawns and all that? Lustful creatures, bringing men to their fall?"
The red-haired woman grinned and returned the newspaper to Helena. "Still occupied with what's right and wrong, I see."
Helena sighed. "Old habits die hard", she muttered.
"They sure do." The woman smiled amusedly at her. "We'll just have to work a little harder on that", she added, making Helena's heart jolt in an unexpected movement.
Does it mean she intends to keep in touch? she thought hopefully and smiled warmly at the other woman, feeling extremely relaxed with the stranger.
They moved along. They'd reached the last room on the second floor and faced a painting that covered half a wall. The painting showed a burning city in the background, ships by the shore, warriors fighting and a large, wooden horse at the town gate. In the corner, far from the death and destruction, a woman with unruly, red hair stood gazing at the burning city with wild eyes. Her clothes were torn and there was blood in her face.
"Who's that woman, do you think?" Helena asked. "The one in the corner. Why do you think the painter placed her there, like that?"
"That's probably Cassandra. You know, the woman who predicted Troy's fall, and no one wanted to listen to her."
"Another oracle", Helena mumbled, thinking of the legend of the king on the first floor where she'd met the woman at her side.
The red-haired woman at her side shrugged. "I guess."
"That's what I'll call you", Helena said, smiling.
"Cassandra?" the woman asked skeptically. "I'm looking that mad?"
Helena laughed. "No - Oracle", she said, feeling a slight shiver down her spine, as if she'd heard the name before, in a long lost dream. "Because you know so much."
"Oh", the woman said. "Oh, that's fitting", she added, so softly Helena would've missed it if it hadn't been for her meta-human abilities.
"Oracle it is, then", Helena said with a smile as they turned from the painting. "What do you do, by the way?" she added as they moved out of the room, towards the stairs leading to the first floor. "For a living, I mean."
"I'm a freelance consultant", Oracle said, evasive, making a dismissive gesture with one hand.
"Oh?" Helena said.
"It's hard work. A lot of research and odd hours, but it pays well."
"Hard work for an overactive mind", Helena said dryly, teasingly, and was rewarded by the other woman's deep and throaty laughter.
"Yes, indeed it is. Hungry?" Oracle then asked, looking expectantly at Helena. "I know this perfect restaurant where..."
"Yes, I'd love to", Helena quickly said, not yet wanting to part with the woman.
They shared a smile and Helena felt a stab in her heart sensing and recognizing the softness of the other woman's gaze.
"When are you returning to the States?" Oracle asked, holding Helena's eyes.
"I'm staying for almost another week", Helena said.
"Good", Oracle said with a small smile as she turned away. "That's good."
Those five days and the one night that followed changed Helena's life. She hardly saw her friends during the remaining week and they teased her the few times they got the chance, thinking she'd met a cute Frenchman she was fooling around with behind her boyfriend's back. She let them keep that notion. The truth was that she was happier with Oracle than she'd ever been with Jack, the young man whom she'd left behind in New Gotham, and that wasn't something she so easily could disclose to her friends.
Together with the woman she'd named Oracle she felt, for the first time in her life, that she was free to be who she was - not an individual shaped by her father's name or a creature who was a constant reminder of her dead mother, but herself: only Helena. Oracle was so amazingly unbound by conventions and traditional roles and with her Helena was free to shape her own identity, mixing Helena Kyle and Huntress. Helena could be sweet and young and at the same time, or in the next moment, reckless and adventurous as Oracle sought out and sometimes teased out the various sides of her personality.
Helena learned more about herself in those few days than she'd done in several years. Oracle didn't believe in following the same path as everyone else - she was confident in her ways and Helena could express the different sides of Helena Kyle and Huntress in her company because Oracle, too, was both gentle and wild and allowed for both in Helena. At the same time the red-haired woman never talked about herself and she remained a mystery to Helena.
"But what is right?" Helena asked frustrated late one night in her hotel room. It was the fifth day and next day Helena was returning home. She didn't want to go, but she had no real reason to stay - not even because of a surprisingly strong friendship with an intriguing woman.
If she'd been a man, though... Helena distractedly thought as she turned to Oracle, who stood at the balcony. The sudden thought made her blush and she averted her eyes from the other woman.
It was a warm night, though windy. The room behind them was lit with candles, flickering, casting dancing shadows across the walls. One small lamp in the windowsill was lighted, creating a soft yellow light on the balcony.
Helena's room was at the top floor, with a view across the city centre.
"What does it matter?" Oracle asked, turning to her.
"Because..." Helena frowned. "I don't know."
"You know - I believe you're confusing doing what's right with behaving right", Oracle said, and then suddenly in one swift motion she jumped straight into the air. She landed smoothly and easily on the railing, turning to look down at Helena with a soft grin. The railing was large enough to stand on, but only just. "To behave right is determined by others - to do right is, on the other hand... I believe that's determined by the situation and what we know." The woman smiled softly. "You know what's right, fair Helena."
"I do?" Helena said, feeling a slight shiver seeing that specific look in Oracle's eyes.
"You do. Come, pretty."
Oracle held out her hand and Helena stepped forward and climbed the railing to stand in front of the other woman.
"To know what's right we only have to listen to our heart."
"And how will we know that what our heart tell us is the truth?"
"Because..." Oracle placed her hand gently over Helena's chest and Helena felt a sudden lurch in her stomach, making her mouth go dry. "We need to know the difference", Oracle said in a low voice, holding Helena's gaze, "between heart and need. Sometimes" - she lowered her hand to Helena's stomach - "we confuse this with our heart's voice. Most times we confuse what we feel with what we know is right. Feel in this sense... is, as in want. Fear, need, longing, anger, hatred... It's all down here - not here, in our heart."
Oracle returned her hand to Helena's chest, making Helena's pulse increase.
"You should trust that you know what's right, fair Helena. When you do, other people will trust you too. Close your eyes."
Helena immediately did as she was told, trusting the other woman without hesitation.
"Now, lean away from me", Oracle said, holding Helena in her arms. "Trust that I'll keep you safe."
Helena leaned backwards, away from the balcony. She felt the wind in her hair, across her face. She leaned even further, feeling an odd sensation - as if she was floating in thin air, suspended, and grounded only by her contact with Oracle.
As Huntress she'd climbed high buildings in New Gotham, sped through the night and jumped distances high above ground - all of which no human could ever have managed. Still, she had never felt the same sense of freedom and contentment as in that moment. The thought made her laugh and she straightened, looking into the impossible softness of the other woman's eyes. Her laughter caught in her throat.
"This", Oracle said hoarsely, "might not be right, but it is what I want."
And then she kissed Helena.
Her lips brushed softly across Helena's mouth, tenderly without asking for anything in return. Helena made a small sound and felt her eyes augment to express her meta-human side. It was the first time in two years that she lost control over her meta-human side. She knew she should close her eyes and turn away when Oracle pulled back, but she couldn't. She could only stare at the other woman with sudden desire washing over her, overwhelming her. It's what I want, too, she thought fleetingly. It's what I've wanted for a long time now.
"Your eyes..." Oracle said softly, showing nothing but tender curiosity.
"I know", Helena said hoarsely. "I'm... sorry", she added, stepping back.
"No", Oracle immediately said. "No, don't be", she whispered, caressing Helena's cheek. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have..."
Helena made a low sound, deep in her throat. "I wanted you to", she said. "I want... I still want you to", she whispered, staring at Oracle with regret. Her eyes augmented to normal again.
"And what's stopping you?" Oracle asked as she stepped forward on the railing.
Helena made another low sound as she stepped forward, too, and took Oracle in her arms. Nothing, she thought as she kissed the other woman with a passion she hadn't known until that very moment. Nothing at all.
There was absolutely nothing restraining either of them that night. Helena had never known that anyone's touch could inflame her the way Oracle's kisses and soft caresses did. And especially not another woman. Huntress within her was aroused and wanted to come out to play, but Helena held her back, not wanting to frighten the woman whose touch she needed on her naked skin.
"Don't be afraid", Oracle softly told her as she unhurriedly and tenderly undressed Helena in the bedroom.
"I'm not", Helena whispered, standing shivering with longing before her bed. "Not with you. Never with you."
Oracle's eyes were dark green in the faint light of the hotel room, lit only by burning candles. The green iris was filled with a softness that made Helena weak, making her feel that she - for once in her life - had been made complete. As if she had been looking for this particular woman her whole life to feel safe again. And maybe I have, she thought, considering who the woman before her was; what she had done to bring the child Helena had been, out of the dark.
"This is your first time with a woman?"
Helena nodded. She swallowed and closed her eyes for a brief moment when Oracle stepped close to her and lightly - and oh, so tenderly - kissed her on the mouth.
"Fair Helena", Oracle whispered, pulling back - before she took Helena in her arms and kissed her with an urgency that instantly brought out Huntress from the murky depths of Helena Kyle's psyche.
"No!" Helena whispered, stepping back - fighting to control her other side. Yes! Huntress snarled within her. Give me! Give me! You want it too! Don't deny us the pleasure!
"Helena?" Oracle gently asked.
She squeezed her eyes shut. "I can't..." she whispered brokenly.
"Helena", the other woman said quietly, affectionately. "Open your eyes, sweetheart."
Hearing the softness of the other woman's voice Helena couldn't refuse. With a sob she opened her eyes to reveal the gleaming gaze of her predatory side.
"Don't be afraid", Oracle said, holding her eyes. "I know your heart. You will not harm me."
Helena shook her head, fighting back Huntress' immediate wish to ravage the other woman without control. "I've never... I didn't think I could ever feel this strongly. I can't... control her."
"You don't have to, sweetheart. Trust me." Oracle touched her lips with a tender caress of her fingertips. "You don't have to", she added, whispering; her eyes lingered at Helena's mouth. "Let go. Let it all... go."
Oracle kissed her again, softly and carefully at first, but with increasing urgency and passion. It was more and more difficult for Helena to deny Huntress' effort to break free and in the end, when Oracle's hands slid along her back and her mouth left Helena's to graze her tongue across one of Helena's breasts, caressing the nipple with slow strokes, she lost.
Huntress snarled, grabbed Oracle by the shoulders and roughly pushed her against the wall. Huntress was pure instinct, letting her dark desires - needs and cravings that Helena Kyle had been oblivious to, but which Huntress had felt stirring the past five days - steer her. She was an animal, wild and free; she wanted to ravage, to break, to hunt... To frighten the unwary prey. She was darkness. All consuming darkness and desire. Helena Kyle had never let her go completely, never let her be a pure animal following her dark instincts.
But that night she did.
And the woman whose presence had brought Huntress out, let her be all of what she was. Oracle never showed fear, never yielded, never averted her eyes or her face in disgust or terror. Softly, tenderly and with complete trust she navigated Helena Kyle through the raging, powerful and potentially destructive emotions of Huntress. She fully embraced the wild nature of Helena's alias and without trying to tame her she let Huntress ravage her body with an equally burning need for release.
In the end, when Huntress - for the first time in her three year existence - was satiated and burned with a quiet, steady glow instead of an overwhelming firestorm, her eyes once again showed the soft blue of Helena Kyle's sweeter nature.
"You're a wild one", Oracle teasingly said, tracing a finger down the front of Helena's body. Helena blushed.
Oracle shook her head. "Don't..." she said quietly, solemnly. "Don't apologize. Never be ashamed of who you are, Helena. Never be afraid."
Before dawn they made love again. This time Helena was shown tenderness and a softness that was completely contradictory to the devouring and almost violent love-making of before. It wasn't less intense; indeed, it was even more so as Helena felt herself fall into an abyss that lay beyond even Huntress' darkness. This darkness was not, in fact, brutal or scorching or all consuming, although it was uncontrolled. To fall into the abyss was to surrender to and be embraced by the softness of Oracle's touch; it filled her completely. She was lost, so lost in the night - beyond anything she had ever known. When she cried for the sweetness of it Oracle touched her lips, tenderly, with her mouth and whispered:
"I've never known anyone like you before."
Helena swallowed, not sure what those words meant.
"When are you returning to the States?"
"Tonight", Helena whispered. "Tonight..."
Oracle nodded. "I'll come with you", she said solemnly. "It's time I returned home."
Helena closed her eyes, hearing that. She had never, ever in her life, known happiness like that.
Oracle left before the first light of dawn, with the promise of returning before Helena's flight was leaving. But she never did.
When Helena returned to New Gotham she was a new person. She broke with her boyfriend, mended her relationship with her father and teamed up with Black Canary as a vigilante of the city - not opposing Batman, but in a partnership with him that worked out surprisingly well.
Helena had lots of open flings with other young women, looking for that same softness and passion she'd shared with her first female lover in Paris, but it was never the same. Sometimes she thought she'd dreamt it all, but she didn't forget. The memory of that last night in Paris was still very vivid within her.
Oracle may have changed Helena's life, but she had also - quite thoroughly - broken her heart.
New Gotham - Present time
Many years ago there had been a show-down between Batman and the Joker - one a vigilante and the other a super villain. Their fight created a great fire that destroyed large parts of Gotham City. New Gotham, a high-technology based city, was erected on the ruins of what had been before. Parts of the older Gotham still remained below the surface, though: broken streets, ruined buildings and the old sewer system that wasn't used anymore; it all lay hidden underground - like a long forgotten, secret realm. Only a few knew of the underground city and made use of it.
New Gotham was a prosperous place, but it had its dark sides. Meta-humans were loathed and persecuted, forced to hide their true identities. As a result many of them resorted to criminality and violence and quite often bounty hunters were hired to clean the city of them.
Some bounty hunters were relatively honest and brought criminal meta-humans to justice, while others just killed them - if paid enough. The law was vague on that point, but since the ordinary, quite corrupt police force in New Gotham didn't know how to handle meta-human criminals bounty hunters were fairly free to do as they pleased. Besides, though the bounty hunters hunted all types of criminals they usually only killed meta-humans - a minority no one really cared about.
The paradox of it was that some bounty hunters themselves were meta-human, a fact that no one seemed to reflect upon.
"Five, four, three... two - one."
At one the already slightly open door to the usually heavily guarded vault was pushed fully open as three dark-clad men rushed forward... only to come to a halt when a blinding, white light caused them to stop dead in their tracks. The men threw up their arms to cover their eyes, hunching to escape the searing light that was directed at them. Before them a woman - who was the one who'd done the counting as she waited for them to rush ahead - loftily threw a metallic orb the size and the look of a hand-grenade through the air. As the orb landed with a metallic clinking sound it began pouring out smoke.
The three men dumped the heavy bags they were carrying to draw their weapons - which was about all they had the time for. In the next moment the men toppled over and fell unconscious to the floor.
The woman confidently moved forward, stepped over the unconscious men and entered the vault.
Gordon stepped into the vault, ignoring the already opened and emptied safety deposit boxes that the robbers had cleared and halted before a locked deposit box, which she opened with a key. The box contained several disks, a folder and another key. She put everything in her black, one-strap shoulder bag.
For almost four years she'd been trying to find evidence that a criminal master mind was behind the majority of the crimes committed in New Gotham, directing the criminals the way a puppet master pulled the strings to his marionettes. Again and again she'd been close to exposing the puppet master and each time the trail ended in another dead meta-human criminal. Or, as the last time, in a dead vigilante.
A year ago Gordon had probably gotten too close to her prey as there suddenly was a prize on her head. She had to go underground for several months in order to survive the hoard of bounty hunters suddenly looking for her; not even someone with her reputation could expect to survive a massive assault like that. In the meantime the criminal master mind she was looking for took the opportunity to obliterate all loose ends and Gordon had to start almost from scratch. Luckily she had some spare leads to follow up and one of them led her to a safety deposit box belonging to Arkham Asylum. This, at least in her mind, confirmed that the puppet master somehow had been involved in the illegal experiments conducted in a hidden laboratory below Arkham Asylum all those years ago - if not the one really responsible for the whole scheme.
Once Gordon had left New Gotham thinking that she'd be free from the long shadows of her painful past by leaving it all behind, but she'd been wrong. Years later she was forced to confront what she'd left behind and it had brought her back to look for truth and justice.
Arkham Orphanage had been an awful place, but the laboratory below Arkham Asylum where she'd been brought had been even worse. Since then the institution had changed owner and managers. The place was presently under the control of a foundation with five members; all of whom were anonymous.
Gordon was positive that one of those members was the puppet master directing the criminals of New Gotham as skillfully as a professional conductor directed an ensemble. She hadn't been idle the past few months, while she was forced into hiding, but had in fact managed to get so close to her nemesis that the prize on her head was retracted - again to cover the tracks leading back to the one responsible. Once the prize on her head was withdrawn Gordon could return, walking freely on the streets of New Gotham again. And resuming her quest for the truth.
Resuming her hunt for the one who wanted to see her dead.
"Look", the blonde woman said and pointed at the somewhat blurry screen. "Here we see three men enter, after they killed the guards. And then..." She made a small gesture with her hand as the screen went blank, showing only black stripes across a gray surface.
"And in the morning detective Reese found them unconscious in the bank vault, with everything they tried to steal right there with them", Helena Kyle said with a frown. "And we still don't know who did this?"
"No", the blonde woman said, shaking her head. "It's the fifth crime that we've missed this month that has been intercepted and no one knows who's done it. And the criminals refuse to speak."
The blonde woman was casually dressed in jeans and a red, denim shirt. She was sitting at a desk in front of a massive computer system with several screens above her head. Most of the screens were turned off and the ones that were turned on showed the exterior of a tall building in black and white. The quality of the pictures wasn't very good.
Helena paced the floor before the massive computer in the large room. It was late morning and she was dressed in a pale, beige dress with short sleeves, wearing sandals. She'd been on her way out to meet with Dinah when Dinah's mother called her back to the Clock Tower, where the vigilante team had their headquarters.
The hall in which Helena was pacing was large, with a high ceiling bearing up the massive clock of the tower on one wall. In the background there was an elevator, leading to the bottom floor of the tower. A stair reached a second floor where there were a kitchen and a lounge.
"Carolyn", Helena said sharply, coming to a halt and addressing the blonde woman. "We both know who did this."
Carolyn Lance hesitated. "Helena..."
"I missed her the last time. She's been gone for almost a year now, but I'm getting her this time, Carolyn. She won't escape me again."
"I don't give a crap about my father!" Helena angrily burst out. "He left, alright! He left..." she muttered and walked up to the computer screens. "We're in charge now and although he doesn't think Mr. Gordon's daughter is capable of murder - I do."
Carolyn Lance, AKA Black Canary, didn't object. She shrugged and looked back at the black screen. "It has never been confirmed that Barbara Gordon is the same Gordon that plagues the meta-human community..."
"What difference does it make?" Helena asked acidly. She had never met Rogue Gordon in person and didn't even know what she looked like. In the past their paths had never crossed and last year when Huntress set out to find Gordon, the woman had just... vanished.
"There are no clear pictures of her", Carolyn went on. "Still everyone knows who she is. She never wears a mask..."
"If everyone didn't know my fucking face I wouldn't either", Helena grumbled and Carolyn glanced amusedly at her.
"We've heard that before", she said. "Please, Helena", she added softly. "Don't let your hatred for this woman obscure your judgment."
Helena shook her head with a sigh. "I miss him so much, Carolyn", she said. "He was... He was the only one that really got close to me - he was there when I needed... When I needed a home."
"I know", the older woman softly said. "I know. But this is the life of a vigilante and vengeance... Vengeance won't bring him back."
A phone rang in the background, silenced and a few moments later an elderly man turned up at the top of the landing behind the two women on the floor above. "Miss Helena", the man said with a distinctive, British accent. "It was Miss Dinah on the phone. She wanted me to let you know she's waiting for you."
"Thanks, Alfred", Helena said, looking fondly at her father's old friend, who served as butler and moral support to both her and her father. "I'm on my way."
Alfred smiled, nodded and returned to the kitchen. He usually lived at Bruce Wayne's manor, but since Helena's father left he stayed with Helena in her villa next to the Clock Tower, caring for her; he usually had a calming effect on her mind. Alfred also spent time in the Clock Tower with the vigilantes, seeing to their needs.
"Go now", Carolyn softly said. "Dinah is waiting."
Helena looked down at her beautiful dress and sighed anew. "I don't feel like going shopping."
"Life must go on, Helena. We must keep up the charades."
"I know." Helena made a face. "I used to love the frivolity of this whole façade, you know. It was fun, fooling the world - being this rich man's spoiled daughter in the day and vigilante at night..." She shook her head. "I saw it far too much as a game. And now..."
Life wasn't the same anymore. Not since Dick died.
Eleven months ago Helena's brother had been murdered - he died in her arms at the Clock Tower. Dick had been dressed as Robin, his vigilante persona; he'd been stabbed several times and had only just made it back to the Clock Tower. Knowing his wounds were fatal he'd used the last of his strength to find his sister to try and convey a message. What that message was Helena would never know, but the last word her brother uttered before he died was a name: Gordon.
"And now it isn't any more", Carolyn said after a moment's silence.
"No, it isn't", Helena quietly agreed.
She hadn't been herself since her brother died, letting the rage and the hurt control her - losing herself in the shadows of Huntress' darker nature. The memory of the loss of her mother also surfaced within her and when her father left town even before Dick's funeral it only made matters worse.
"Helena Kyle!" someone suddenly shouted in an irritable voice from the speaker on the desk before Carolyn. "Where are you hiding your..." - an inaudible noise was heard - "ass?"
"Lucky her I didn't hear that", Helena said dryly, looking sternly at the speakers. "Did you hear that, Dinah?" She answered the voice by leaning forward and pressing some buttons as she talked into a microphone. "Lucky you I didn't catch that derogatory remark about my ass."
"Maybe I said beautiful, did you even think of that?" the teenage girl answered. "Besides, that's beside the point. Where the fuck are you?"
"Dinah!" Carolyn immediately cut in with a stern voice.
There was a moment's stunned silence. "Uh, sorry mum - didn't know you were... Uh, I mean... Shit."
The last word was softly spoken and probably not meant to be heard by either of them.
Despite her bad-tempered mood Helena had to smile at the girl, particularly when she noticed Carolyn rolling her eyes at the ceiling. "I'm coming, Dinah", she said. "Sorry to keep you waiting."
"Better have a good reason."
"I'll let you know", Helena assured her.
Since Helena was brought out of Arkham Orphanage to live with her father, Bruce Wayne - the richest and most powerful man in New Gotham - she'd had a good life. Dinah Lance, Black Canary's daughter, was like a little sister to her - they'd practically grown up together. The three of them - Dinah, Black Canary and Huntress - worked as a team to keep New Gotham free from criminals. This was a task that became more difficult by the year, since there seemed to be a criminal master-mind pulling strings and organising the criminals in the city.
Besides the criminals there was also the ever present problem with the bounty hunters, who always had one or another target in sight. More than once Helena as Huntress had been forced to battle a bounty hunter who'd been paid to kill an innocent meta-human. To begin with the problem had been what to do with the bounty hunters once she'd defeated them; they weren't strictly doing anything illegal, so once she brought them to justice they'd only be released again. In the end she worked out some kind of agreement with the bounty hunter community: when she was on someone's tail and if she caught up with them she issued a challenge. The notion of a Challenge seemed to intrigue the bounty hunters, or at least their sense of adventure; they probably looked at it as some great game.
Once Huntress had issued a Challenge there was a fight. If Huntress won the bounty hunter would drop the pursuit of the target, who'd go free - if the bounty hunter won... If the bounty hunter won the target would be lost.
Luckily Huntress hadn't lost a fight so far, but on the other hand she hadn't been involved in that many Challenges. To find a bounty hunter who was set on the trail on someone was tricky business and with all the other crimes committed in New Gotham, Huntress was far too busy to keep up with what went on in the bounty hunters' community. And most meta-humans hunted by the bounty hunters were in fact criminals. Not that they deserved to die, but none of them asked for Huntress' protection.
There was one bounty hunter Huntress had been dying to lay her hands on for eleven months, the fiercest and most famous of them: Rogue Gordon. But Gordon eluded her and went underground after Dick's funeral. Gordon had been gone since, but a few weeks ago her name seemed to resurface and Huntress had focused on finding her again. So far all in vain.
"I didn't think you were in the mood for shopping?" Dinah asked pointedly as they exited the sixth boutique for the day, making their way to the luxurious cafeteria on the third floor at the mall.
Helena had single-handedly spent a fortune on dresses, jewelry and shoes over the past few hours; items that the boutique assistances sent directly to her home address.
Helena Kyle was known to be a bit of a spoiled brat and when she went shopping at the most expensive mall in the city the boutiques neglected all other customers to center their attention solely on her. Usually she loved the attention and to play the part of a rich man's daughter, but the past year she'd changed. It wasn't the same to play games anymore - not when death interfered with your happy, superficial life.
"Old habits die hard", Helena countered dryly. "Besides, I agree with your mother - we must keep up the appearances. It's been months since I last visited the mall - I don't want the press to believe I have a heart somewhere in there, still grieving after so many months."
"No, we wouldn't want that", Dinah said softly, glancing sympathetically at her. "You know, Helena", she added in a low voice. "I know you grieve, but I haven't seen you cry once... Not even at the funeral."
It was the first time Dinah addressed the matter. It was one time too many.
"I don't want to talk about it", Helena said curtly.
"Fine", Dinah said after a moment, dropping the subject. "Harleen is waiting for us", she added, nodding towards a table at one corner of the cafeteria where a slim woman with short-cropped, blonde hair was sitting. The woman seemed absorbed in a book and didn't notice them at the entrance.
Helena nodded and let her eyes travel across the room - a habit she had picked up over the years, being a vigilante.
A dark-haired, short man in a shiny red costume greeted them at the entrance and asked if they'd reserved tables; Dinah let him know they saw their company and they proceeded through the restaurant. Large windows covered one side of the hall. Big plants and high, padded walls surrounding the tables created cozy booths and privacy for the guests, but not every table were surrounded by booths and at a small table in the corner near the windows a red-haired woman was sitting. Helena felt a catch in her heart seeing her.
That woman, she thought, coming to an immediate halt.
"Helena?" Dinah asked.
That woman... It was her. Helena swallowed, suddenly feeling her mouth go dry. Her heartbeat increased and she moved quickly towards the small table in the corner. There were no other tables close by, only plants and an emergency exit in the background. The windows let in the late afternoon sun and the rays swept across the room - across the red-haired woman, making her hair shine like fire.
"Excuse me?" Helena said, stopping by the table.
The woman sitting before her had a laptop before her on the table and a cup of coffee beside it. Her eyes were green, sparkling like gem-stones in the sunlight. Helena remembered what that had been like... Four years, she thought with a trembling in her heart. Four years - and I never thought I'd...
The woman didn't answer.
"Excuse me?" Helena said again, feeling young and shy - like that time in Paris.
The women had a tiny, pale scar a few inches long across her upper lip. It hadn't been there the last time - Helena would certainly have remembered that. The scar seemed to fit with the rest of the woman's appearance: she was dressed in black leather trousers, with a black vest showing off smooth, tanned skin; her right wrist held several leather-cords and bracelets in black and brown. The jacket covering a second chair by her side was also black, made of leather with metal-studs gleaming in the sunlight.
"Um?" the woman said, indifferently - moving her hands above the keyboard of the laptop.
Those hands... Those hands looked like Helena remembered them: slender, strong; beautiful. They were scarred, though, in a way they hadn't been when they touched Helena's naked skin in that hotel room late one night.
Helena reached forward across the table, holding out her hand. "I'm Helena", she said.
The woman looked up with a cynically arched eyebrow. "And I'm busy", she said shortly, looking Helena straight in the eye without recognition.
Helena felt a sudden flash of anger at this quite rude response. The anger was new to her since the death of her brother. Before... Before the funeral she'd been a different person, happier and easier to live with. Now she was testy and moody - much like her father had been.
Still. The anger gave way to hurt and she pulled back her hand, straightening. "You don't remember me", she said softly, wondering why she'd thought the woman would remember her. She hadn't remembered her the last time.
Two times now they had met since their first meeting so many years ago and Helena still didn't know the woman's name. Twice - and the woman hadn't recognized her on either encounter. The last time they'd met Helena hadn't really held the woman's lack of memory against her - they'd both been children when they met the first time and Helena hadn't remembered her name. But now...
It didn't really mean anything to her, she thought, disappointed and hurt. The moment that had changed her life hadn't moved this woman at all.
"We've met?" the woman said, frowning. She shook her head. "Sorry, pretty. My life's just too messy for me to remember every pretty girl passing."
"I see", Helena said slowly, not showing how the remark hurt her. "I'm sorry to have bothered you."
"Um", the woman said, already focusing on the computer again. There hadn't been any of the humor in her eyes that Helena remembered; instead the woman seemed cynical, almost hard.
Helena walked away from the table, but when she turned to glance across her shoulder the red-haired woman looked straight at her with a deep, sharp stare that pierced Helena with its intensity. She swallowed and turned away, making her way across the room to the corner booth where Dinah was sitting with Dr. Harleen Quinzel.
Harleen Quinzel was a friend of the family. Several years ago, when the secret laboratory below Arkham Asylum was exposed, she'd been hired to work with the children who'd been rescued from that laboratory. Those children had turned out to be the missing children from Arkham Orphanage, used as lab-rats for experiments with meta-human genes. Most of them, like the original children from the orphanage, later turned out to be criminals ending up at Arkham Asylum. Some of them were meta-humans turned murderers.
None of the blame fell on Harleen Quinzel for failed treatment when the children turned against society - everyone was in agreement that those children either had it in them to begin with or were turned criminals due to the contaminated meta-human genes the scientists surely mixed with their human blood.
As a child Helena had seen a psychologist to talk about the loss of her mother and in that way been introduced to Harleen. When Harleen was informed that Helena had been at Arkham Orphanage she wanted to talk to the girl. They had a few sessions and Helena told the woman about the red-haired girl whose name she couldn't remember. She told her how the girl had protected her and made her feel safe - to the very end, when Helena was told to run to her father and give him the folder. The folder that, Helena later learned, brought about the end to Arkham Orphanage.
"Helena", the blonde psychiatrist said and rose to kiss Helena on the cheek. "Lovely to see you again, and looking so fresh."
Helena nodded, still distracted by thoughts of the woman by the windows. She suddenly felt very weary. I miss me, she thought - the me meaning the softer nature of Helena Kyle, the part that could laugh and lark about with her maybe shallow but still kind friends. The part of her that could smile at a child glancing in her direction and, in so doing, make that same child return the smile with sparkling eyes.
Helena sat down beside Harleen on the bench. The blonde woman had been very supportive over the past year. They hadn't really had much contact since Helena returned from Paris, but since Dick died Harleen had made a point of checking in with Helena ever so often. Again - as when Helena was a teenager - Harleen listened patiently, giving helpful advice on how to deal with anger and grief. Carolyn had questioned if Harleen's company was actually good for her, as Helena always seemed more agitated and upset after spending time with the psychiatrist. Helena just put it down to being part of the grieving process. Harleen said grieving took time and that it was a double blow for Helena to lose Dick, with her mother's murder taken into consideration.
"I didn't know you knew Gordon?" Harleen added questioningly.
Dinah was sitting in a chair beside Harleen, focused on a menu.
"What?" Helena said sharply, making Dinah look up.
"Rogue Gordon." Harleen made a gesture towards the red-haired woman by the window. "That's what they call her." The blonde woman sniffed a little. "Don't know why they'd let someone like her in here, but I guess they don't dare refuse someone of her reputation. And she does have money", she added in a low voice, mostly to herself.
"That's Gordon?" Dinah said excitedly, putting down her menu. "You knew that, Helena?" she asked.
"I don't believe it", Helena said, shaking her head. "I've met that woman before and she..."
She's not a killer, she thought. But on the other hand - what exactly did she know about the other woman? She had gentle eyes and a soft touch...
"That's Rogue Gordon, in the flesh", Harleen empathized. "Believe me", she added dryly. "I'd love to get my hands on her to analyze what kind of person she is. What drive, what brilliance... For years I've waited for her to come to me as a patient, but no." She sighed.
"No", Helena said again, shaking her head. "I can't believe it."
"She looks rogue enough to me", Dinah pointed out.
"You said you've met her before, Helena?" Harleen asked inquiringly, with a soft voice that Helena recognized. "What do you mean?"
"She's the one who got me out of Arkham Orphanage", she said, with only a slight hesitation.
She'd never talked to anyone about her time at the orphanage since those few occasions in therapy with Harleen years ago. She did know that her father had tried to locate the girl that helped her escape, but without success.
"Ah, yes", Harleen said fascinated, again glancing at the red-haired woman across the room. She didn't seem surprised and Helena wondered if Harleen had known about Gordon's stay at the orphanage; the psychiatrist was privy to records that Helena knew nothing about.
The bounty hunter was busy leaving; she put her laptop in a case and put on her leather jacket.
"That just goes to show - children from Arkham Orphanage grow up to become criminals", Harleen went on. "Present company excluded", she added, glancing at Helena.
"She's also the one who killed Dick", Helena said in a cold voice, staring at Gordon.
"What?" Dinah gasped. "Helena?" she asked persistently when Helena didn't answer. "How do you know?"
Before he died Robin had made it back to the Clock Tower - only God knew how with that knife-wound in his side - where he bled to death in Helena's arms. Only Black Canary and Helena's father knew about the last word Dick uttered; Batman asked Helena to keep it to herself until they had proof that it really was Gordon who'd committed the killing. Huntress, on the other hand, had refused to let it go. She'd found a piece of paper, torn and crushed in Robin's hand; he'd tried to show it to her and to tell her something. The Scribble had said: "Meet at 10, Court Hall... Warn..."
Even now Helena had no idea what those words had meant, but that night she'd rushed to the Court House to find some evidence of the fight that must've occurred between Robin and Rogue Gordon. She found blood and an old homeless man who had seen a woman run from the alley behind the Court House. It was all Helena needed to know, in her mind, to confirm it was Gordon that was behind Dick Grayson's, AKA Robin's, death.
Huntress had chased the bounty-hunter for several days without success and asked around the meta-human community for her after Dick's funeral, but people just refused to talk when it came to Gordon. Even when she resorted to beatings - misusing her meta-human powers in a way that was not like her at all - she got no answers. And not even Gibson Kafka, her long-time friend who worked at the No Man's Land as a bartender, volunteered any information. The only thing Kafka finally told her was that Rogue Gordon had gone underground since Robin's death, apparently due to a prize on her head.
That was almost eleven months ago.
"How do you know?" Dinah asked carefully.
"I know", Helena said, seething. "If that woman is Gordon... then she killed Dick."
She knew it, looking at the red-haired, leather-clad woman that left the restaurant without looking about her. The confident manner, the indifferent gaze, the scar... If she'd never met the woman before Helena wouldn't have doubted that this was a hunter. A killer. Her hands... I remember her hands - well muscled, soft... Helena cut the thought, following Gordon with her eyes until the woman was out of sight.
"That's... interesting", Harleen said in a soft, contemplating manner. "You're really sure, darling?" she added, glancing at Helena.
Helena nodded. "I am. And this time", she added with a white-hot, glowing feeling in her chest, "I'm getting her."
She'd left New Gotham for Europe when she was almost seventeen, making a career as a professional thief: stealing only from the filthy rich people, confusing and frustrating the law enforcement in every country she visited. She had been different then, and cared for more than her single-minded pursuit of the truth. Then one defining moment, on a bright, shining morning in Paris, had pushed her too far and broken the last gentle part of the young woman she'd been. Thus she shaped a new maxim for herself: to care was to be weak. To feel was to be weak. That thought had eventually created the most ruthless bounty hunter of New Gotham. The infallible logic of her mind had become her refuge.
Gordon sat at her usual table in the corner, with her back to the fire exit, at the meta-human bar No Man's Land. The bar was a secret place, known only to meta-humans. Strictly speaking she wasn't welcome there, but no one really dared object to her presence; the few who did quickly learned from the older and wiser meta-humans to leave her alone. Her name was enough to keep even the younger and more hot-headed meta-humans from challenging her - which was fine by her. She'd fought to get a reputation that would save her the trouble of proving herself over and over again. Granted, it'd been a while since she was around, so if anyone wanted to prove their luck with her she wouldn't be surprised.
The evening passed, though, and proved to be uneventful. She sat at the table with her beer before her, not really drinking. Her mind was someplace else, functioning on several different levels at one time. One part of her mind dealt with the past, trying to find some leads to who had sent an assassin to kill her in Paris; another was contemplating the evidence she'd found in the deposit box the other day. A third part was focused on the event that had forced her into hiding almost a year ago and a fourth part... It was the fourth part that confused her. She kept remembering and thinking of that young woman at the mall. That smile... I haven't really had a woman in a long time, she thought a tad self-mockingly. But there was more to it than that. That smile had tugged at something within her, something she somehow knew she was supposed to remember.
For someone with a photographic memory you've got an awfully bad memory, she told her self ironically and sipped at her beer. She knew why she couldn't remember, of course. It didn't make it easier.
She knew who Helena Kyle was, obviously; that wasn't the issue. She even knew she'd met the girl at Arkham Orphanage at one time. The thing was that she couldn't remember it. There was also something else tugging at her, as if she was supposed to remember Helena Kyle from another place. The hurtful look in the young woman's eyes had told her as much. She wondered what that was about.
Several years ago - almost to the day two years after the Joker's death - Arkham Orphanage had been exposed as an illegal slave camp for children who were used as cheap labor at different unscrupulous industries. The exposure had been attributed to Bruce Wayne, although the one truly behind the disclosure was an anonymous girl no one could find once the orphanage was closed down and abandoned.
The girl had, in fact, been snared in a different kind of captivity.
At first, when she woke up tied to a gurney in a bright, white laboratory below Arkham Asylum, Gordon had had no memory of who she was. She'd been sixteen, almost seventeen at the time and she learned from one of the other children that she'd been at Arkham Orphanage to begin with. She'd also heard the staff in the lab talking about the supply of children being cut short since the exposure of the orphanage as an illegal slave operation.
Slowly her memory returned, though; bits and pieces of it, but it was never the same. She would know things from her past, but she couldn't really remember them. She knew that her mother and her stepfather had died when she was nine and lacking other relatives she'd been placed with the social services. Someone had located her biological father in a place called Gotham City.
Later, when she was older and did some research on her own past, Gordon found that the trail on the girl she'd been ended quite abruptly, as if Barbara Gordon vanished from the face of the earth - probably thanks to some corrupt administrator somewhere, sending her to Arkham Orphanage instead of contacting her biological father. If her memory lapses somehow were connected to the blow to her head that she'd received at the orphanage before she was taken from the place or to the experiments the scientists at Arkham had put her through Gordon didn't know. Her memory wasn't completely obliterated; some things she did remember. Like when the child that had been Helena Kyle was greeted by her father. The sense of well-being she'd felt in that moment had kept her alive during the months that followed.
In the end Gordon managed to escape from the laboratory. With the help of two friends she set the other children and the chained meta-humans free, before they started a fire that would draw the authorities to the place. They left enough evidence to bring down the owner of Arkham Asylum, imprisoning him for life for his crimes. To the girl Gordon had been at that time it had been enough to know that justice had been served and that the children had been taken care of.
Gordon and her two friends left for Europe. The other two were later known as Lady Shiva and Darkstrike: one an assassin and the other a policeman and a vigilante. The three of them were bound together by their shared past and despite different opinions on certain ethical matters they remained best friends, being as close as siblings.
Until someone from their past shattered their illusion of a safe and harmonious life.
"Can I get you anything?"
Gordon looked up at the slight, young man before her and shook her head. He should know better than to disturb my thoughts, one part of her fleetingly thought, but she was in a fairly good mood and let him get away with it without glaring at him. "No, thank you, Kafka."
Something in his eyes made her lean forward.
"Spit it out, Kafka", she said, narrowing her eyes at him.
"It's just..." The young man glanced about him in that nervous way he had. "You know, you make them nervous. They wonder..." Gibson Kafka swallowed and turned his anxious eyes at her. "They wonder whether you're back for good and if... if you're hunting for someone in particular at the moment."
Gordon leaned back in her chair, eyeing him closely. "Tell them the prize on my head is off - they won't win anything for hunting me."
"As for the rest..." Gordon drank slowly from her beer, letting her eyes travel the room without being too obvious about it. Her sensitive ears picked up a careless remark here and there.
Kafka uneasily shifted his weight from one leg to another while he waited.
"As for the rest - lets keep them in the dark, shall we?" Gordon said with a wink at Kafka, who blushed and nodded.
"S-sure", he mumbled, fidgeting with the hem of his shirt. "Fine, then - I'll... I'll just leave you to it. Mm, sorry... Sorry for bothering you."
And he was off towards the bar. Gordon shrugged, returning to her thoughts.
The smile of that young woman appeared again and she frowned. Why did she seem so familiar? she wondered.
Gordon had recognized the woman's face as soon as the dark-haired woman entered the restaurant together with the younger, blonde girl earlier in the day, but it wasn't Helena Kyle, Bruce Wayne's daughter, she'd reacted to when the woman so unexpectedly stood by her table. It'd been that smile.
"Really? That's her?" Gordon heard someone say in the background. "Wow! She's beautiful."
"Don't let the looks fool you. She'll hunt you down without a second thought if she gets paid enough. No mercy."
Gordon blocked the conversation from her mind; it wasn't important - she'd heard the same things being said in all imaginable ways over the years. She was a bounty hunter - the best. Meta-humans feared her because she could do what no one else could: she could turn them into humans - permanently. No one dared to get on the wrong side of her lest she'd turn on them and cripple them forever. Some meta-humans spent all their time complaining about the genetic differences that set them apart from the rest of mankind, but faced with a choice they usually grew quiet and withdrew from her company once they realized who they were talking to.
To be a bounty hunter usually meant to deal with the shadier characters of the meta-human world. For most bounty hunters a target was meant to be killed, but Gordon had made a whole new deal once her name became known. Clients - people whose names she never asked for - sometimes still asked her to kill someone, but she didn't. To de-meta-humanize someone was in principle almost the same as to kill someone - the effect wasn't much different as the meta-human couldn't use his or hers abilities to commit crimes or assassinate targets. So, Gordon did what she did and put the criminally inclined meta-humans behind bars for some offence that'd keep them in prison for ages - after she'd de-meta-humanized them, of course.
Whatever the reputation Gordon only hunted criminal meta-humans, although she'd turned against some innocent ones in the past when she got paid enough for it. She wasn't very fond of meta-humans. Nor humans, for that matter. The first category despised her for not being one of them and the second feared and hated her because she wasn't completely human. Neither side had given her a reason to trust them. Neither side had given her a reason to show mercy.
Gordon had many enemies and no friends to speak of. She didn't care much for friends; the ones she'd had... One had been brutally murdered and the other had died not long after. The two events had been connected and with that she had returned to New Gotham after several years' absence. She preferred keeping herself to herself since then.
And family... The man who possibly, probably, was her biological father had been one of the few honest cops in Gotham - and as thanks he was shot in the head on his own doorstep. Jim Gordon had gone into a coma for several months and then ended up in a wheel-chair. He'd apparently isolated himself from the rest of the world ever since. Gordon had no inclination to seek him out. He probably didn't know she existed and she had no longing to bond with anyone. Not now.
Not since her best friend had tried to kill her four years ago.
Gordon rose from the table and pulled her leather jacket from the chair. She'd been relatively happy in Europe until the past caught up with her. Four years ago she'd made her way back to the States and New Gotham, making a name for herself amongst the underworld as the most ruthless bounty hunter. Whoever had wanted to get rid of her had made a mistake: they should've left her alone. They shouldn't have awakened the bear that was asleep.
Gordon left the bar and stepped out in the night, feeling the slightly chilly wind brushing her cheeks. She stood in a dark alley with a neon light above her head, reading Pharmacist. It was the front of the meta-human bar below. There was a small, wooden door behind her leading into the shabby building below the sign; inside, a corridor lead to the boutique that was the pharmacy and behind a secret wall there was a stair leading down to an iron door protected by two meta-human guards. Only the initiated knew how to find the secret door.
Gordon moved a few steps ahead, letting two women pass who entered the wooden door. To her right a shadow detached itself from the rest.
"Gordon? Are you Rogue Gordon?" a dark voice - a woman's voice - asked.
Gordon turned to the shadow speaking. "Yes", she said.
In the next moment the stranger aimed a blow at her. Only Gordon's constant watchfulness and superhuman reflexes saved her from colliding with the fist. With incredible speed she ducked and moved out from the shadows, into the light from a lamppost close by. The shadow attacking her quickly followed and the pale yellow lamplight revealed a dark-clad woman wearing a black mask that covered most of her face. The woman had short, dark hair and moved with incredible agility. Since the first blow had missed, the woman followed Gordon, kicking at her.
Gordon pulled back, parried another blow and moved in with a few punches herself. Most of her punches missed, as did her opponents, but a couple landed where they were supposed to - although they didn't seem to have much effect.
"Would you mind telling me why we're doing this?" Gordon asked when the two of them broke away from each other for a moment.
"You're a murderer. That's the only reason I need to fight you."
Gordon sniffed. "Don't know what you're talking about," she said.
Gordon dodged another blow, but missed the follow-up and was hit squarely on the jaw with full force. Ouch, she thought as she crashed into a low fence and knocked over some metallic dustbins that made an awful noise as they fell. That hurt!
"I'm no killer", she said as she rose and dusted herself off.
The stranger in the mask seemed taken aback for a moment; Gordon doubted it had anything to do with her remark.
"And you're a liar", the unknown woman hissed, again moving towards her.
"Got no reason to lie", Gordon said and brushed the blood from her lower lip with the back of her hand. "However - I do have a reason to dislike you from now on, whoever you are."
As her opponent moved towards her Gordon made use of her exceptional speed and pulled a thin, short baton from her pocket, twisted it and exposed a thin spike at one end. With a swift motion she dodged the other woman's next blow and pin-pricked the woman in the neck. The reaction was instantaneous: the masked woman froze in motion, unable to move.
"Right", Gordon said, stepping aside. The stricken look in the woman's eyes was evident despite the mask. "If you don't listen to reason - suit yourself."
For a moment Gordon was tempted to remove the mask, but thought better of it and put the baton back in her jacket pocket. Those eyes - she seemed to remember them from somewhere. The woman's eyes had been like a cat's, dark yellow in the faint light with vertical slits in them, but now - when her meta-human abilities were compromised - they were blue.
In the next moment Gordon did remember.
"My, my", she mumbled softly. "Helena Kyle - what a surprise. Please excuse me for any lack of enthusiasm on my part at this unexpected meeting."
Fully aware that the neural shock she'd given the other woman prevented all muscular movement Gordon didn't wait for an answer. Instead she moved away to the corner of the building and picked up her helmet from the motorbike that was parked there, close to the bar. The few guests that had been outside the entrance to No Man's Land had quickly disappeared inside as Gordon and the other woman began fighting.
With the helmet in her hands Gordon went back to Helena Kyle. "Don't worry, pretty", she said dryly. "What I did to you won't last. The effect is only temporary and you won't lose your meta-human abilities."
The fear in the blue eyes subsided and Gordon smiled wryly, adding: "You know, you really shouldn't throw yourself into a fight like that if you don't know what to expect."
The look in the blue eyes turned dark, angry, when Gordon put the helmet on her head and fastened the clip beneath her chin.
"Don't look at me like that", Gordon said. "It wasn't me who jumped you for no reason. But honestly", she added with some afterthought. "You're the best fighter I've met so far - too bad we probably won't touch base again."
The blue eyes turned impossibly darker with rage and Gordon couldn't help but wonder why such a sweet, young woman like Helena Kyle would hate her so. Not that it bothered her; such thoughts were too human and she preferred the analytical mind to overwhelming emotions. She shrugged and walked off towards her motorbike.
She kicked the bike over and waited a few moments for the neural shock affecting Helena to wear off; for some unknown reason she didn't feel comfortable leaving the young woman so vulnerable in a place like that. You never knew what types were about and what they were up to - anyone could do anything to the young woman when she was incapacitated like that.
When she noticed that Helena Kyle stumbled forward as the effect wore off Gordon pumped the gas and sped away in the dark, leaving the woman that had attacked her behind.
A few hours later Gordon returned to one of her hide-outs: an abandoned cabin in the swamps. She had very little personal belongings and moved often, to keep those who hunted for her at bay. There was a mattress, a chair and a low table on which there stood a laptop. Two black, leather sport bags stood in a corner - containing weapons and technical gadgets she might need in her pursuit of meta-humans and other criminals.
As she sat down before her computer and turned it on she pressed a cold, damp rag to her lower lip. The cut wasn't deep, and it would be gone in a few hours, but the cold eased the swelling.
It surprised her a bit that Helena Kyle had come at her like that. The young woman she'd seen at the restaurant had greeted her with genuine warmth and Gordon found it difficult to attribute Helena's lovely smile to that angry, masked woman. At the same time there was that tingling in the back of her mind telling her that she ought to remember Helena Kyle for some reason. It irked her that she couldn't remember.
She put down the rag and went through her e-mails. The payment she'd been expecting had been received. Some old clients asked for new deals and she checked them to see if there was something of interest.
When she checked the Bounty Hunter's Message Board she caught her breath. Before her on the screen there was a by now familiar face staring back at her. The message read: "A great reward for the one ridding Gotham of this woman. Let Kyle be the hunted."
It was a short, non-descriptive message from a well-known client. The message was phrased like all the rest when there was a prize on someone's head. The client was the same one who had put a prize on Gordon's head eleven months before; there was no actual name, only the usual signature of someone calling herself Eris.
Gordon leaned back in the chair, staring at the sweet, smiling face of Helena Kyle. Why on earth would someone want to kill Helena Kyle? she thought contemplatively. Unless they know her secret identity. Unless they knew the secret identity of her father.
Gordon suddenly realized who the black masked woman she'd met that night must be: Huntress, the vigilante working with Black Canary. So, this is Huntress, Gordon thought detached and clinical as she watched the picture of Helena Kyle.
Gordon had heard of the vigilante, but their paths had never crossed before. It seemed Huntress was getting too close to something she wasn't supposed to know anything about. Or was it really Huntress that was the hunted? Why ask for Helena Kyle to be hunted? What possible reason...?
Without hesitation Gordon opened up a secure line and typed a few words on the screen: "You there tonight, mister B?"
It took a moment before there was a response.
"I'm here, G."
"Your precious has gotten herself into trouble, it seems. Download..."
She forwarded the site to the new address and waited until it was received. A few moments later she got a response.
"Don't believe so. Besides, her alter-ego tried killing me tonight for some reason. Know why?"
"She blames you for the small bird's death..."
"Oh, my", Gordon said softly. "No wonder."
"Tried tell her you didn't... She didn't listen..."
"No, why should she?" Gordon mumbled to herself. "These are bad asses, Bat", she typed. "They'll get her. This client... It's the one we've been looking for."
"Protect her. Please."
Gordon blinked. "What the...?" she said out loud.
"I'll pay you."
"Don't need your money. I ain't no baby-sitter!" Gordon wrote.
Gordon stared at that one, lonely word. Please...
She remembered. One of her memories from Arkham Asylum was herself pleading: "Please, please - don't..."
Pleading never did her any good. And the past four years she'd shown no mercy for the ones pleading with her.
And now it stared her in the face. She didn't owe this man anything - on the contrary: he owed her a lot. Hence the lonely word on the screen: "Please..."
What right does he think he has? she thought a tad bitterly, but then the bitterness died. She knew him enough to know he didn't expect anything from her - he only hoped.
How? she thought wryly with those blue, angry eyes fresh in her memory.
"How?" she typed. "She won't let me."
"Thank you. I'll let her know I'll pay you for it, telling her you'll do anything for money. She'll believe that."
Great, Gordon thought. Sure, why not? She already thinks I'm a murderer.
She wondered why the thought bothered her so much.
"I don't want your money. I'll do it as a favor to the little bird", she typed, before closing the window.
A few hours later Gordon went to bed and fell asleep immediately. She slept without dreaming.
"I can't believe she did that!" Huntress spat as she paced back and forth in front of the massive computer system in the great hall.
It was late at night and Huntress had only just returned to the Clock Tower after trying to locate the woman she'd fought a few hours before. Dinah sat on the lower steps of the stairs in the background and her mother stood before the desk in the middle of the room. The full moon shone through a window high above them and mingled with the interior lights.
"I can't believe you did that!" Carolyn admonished. "She could've de-meta-humanized you for good! Did you even think about that?"
Carolyn was angry because she'd been startled by the news Huntress had brought her and Helena couldn't really blame her; she'd been scared to death herself when she felt that needle-prick. She'd only really been that afraid once before in her life - and it was life's irony that it was the same woman that scared her this night that had soothed her fear then. How could a person change that much?
"Next time I'll be prepared", Huntress muttered, feeling a slight shiver down her spine when she thought about the prospect of losing her meta-human abilities.
"There won't be a next time!" Carolyn said angrily. "Helena - there's no proof what so ever that she killed..."
"I have his word!" Huntress raged. "He told me before he died."
Carolyn shook her head. She wasn't in battle dress, but wore jeans and a faded t-shirt like any other woman her age in a casual mood. Although she wasn't like any other woman - she too was meta-human and a legend amongst the crime-fighters in New Gotham. Though lately she'd preferred to leave the more practical side of the crime-fighting to Huntress and her daughter, staying behind at the Clock Tower to run things from the computer.
"There's never been any proof of anything Rogue Gordon is said to have done. She never leaves a trace or any loose ends."
"Still", Dinah interrupted dryly. "Everyone knows it's her."
"It doesn't matter", her mother said, glancing at her before looking back at Helena. "To imprison someone you need proof. Why do you think Reese leaves Rogue Gordon alone? There's no way a judge will try her case. What will you do, Helena?" Carolyn asked cynically. "Kill her?"
"Why not?" Huntress asked bitingly. "She'd deserve it."
She removed her mask and put it down on the desk beside Carolyn. As long as she'd been Huntress, since her late teenage years, she'd never lost her temper in a fight. Her father had been strict with her on that issue: never, ever let your emotions rule you when in battle. Apparently he had first hand experience with that - accidentally killing the Joker several years ago.
It was only since Dick's death that Huntress had become angry and relentless in her pursuit of justice. Carolyn had tried to contain her and hold her back, but sometimes Helena's darker sides got the better of her and instead of bringing the criminals to justice with detective Reese and the New Gotham Police Squad, she just beat the crap out of them - before she handed them to New Gotham's finest. She'd never lost a fight. She'd never even been close to losing a fight.
This night she'd lost it in so many different ways.
"That woman", she hissed. "What is she?"
"She's no meta-human", Carolyn said, turning to the computer screens above their heads. Three of them were on, showing different, blurry pictures in black and white of avenues and squares of New Gotham. "On that everyone seems to agree."
A few nightly wanderers walked their dogs on the screens, otherwise all seemed to be quiet.
"Well, she isn't human", Helena objected with a frown. "I hit her squarely with full force and she just rose as if I'd tickled her. And her speed..."
She shook her head, remembering the fight. It'd been a good fight, she thought with a thrill. Then she shuddered anew. Until she lost. She fleetingly wondered why the woman had waited until the effect of the drug - or whatever it was that she'd used on Huntress - wore off before she drove away on her bike. To taunt me, most likely, she thought bitterly.
"I don't know", Carolyn said, frowning. "But keep away from her, Helena. You were lucky tonight. Next time you might not be so fortunate."
Helena grumbled inaudibly.
"Maybe you ought to have some sessions with Harleen?" Carolyn said, still frowning. "Just to... You know - deal with..."
"No", Helena snarled, shaking her head.
She just couldn't deal with the pain. It was better letting it turn into anger. She'd directed that anger at Rogue Gordon since Dick died - futile as it had been, as the other woman hadn't been allusive. And now, when Gordon was back... Why did it have to be her ? she thought unhappily, remembering Paris. Not that it should make a difference. Gordon was to blame and if that woman was Gordon - well, then she was going to pay for Dick's death. However soft her mouth had been.
Helena closed her eyes against the memories for a moment, trying to regain her composure.
"Still", Carolyn went on. "It's not safe for you to be like this."
"I'm having lunch with Harleen tomorrow again", Helena said with a sigh, opening her eyes again. "I'll talk to her... somehow."
"She's known you for a long time", Carolyn said with a nod. "She might help, as a friend. I know I haven't been friendly towards her before, but seeing you like this... Maybe she can help you."
Could I've become like her? Helena suddenly wondered. If she hadn't been pulled from Arkham Orphanage, what would've happened to her?
At the same moment the phone rang and disturbed Helena's thoughts.
"Yes?" Carolyn said, picking up the handle from the desk. "Bruce!" she gasped.
Helena and Dinah reacted at the same time and immediately moved towards the desk.
"Yes, she's here... What? What?" Carolyn clutched the phone handle until her knuckles whitened and then listened intently. "Who? Right..."
"Carolyn - what's going on?" Helena asked impatiently.
"Here..." - the blonde woman handed the phone to Helena - "he wants to speak to you."
"Dad?" Helena said worriedly as she received the phone. "Are you alright? Where are you? And how dare you leave without a word?"
Worry turned to anger before her father had an opportunity to respond.
"You left without a word and we haven't heard from you for months!" Helena accused, angrily pacing back and forth across the room. "Where the hell are you?"
"Helena - your language..." her father admonished.
"Fuck my language", she said, but subdued a little. "Are you alright?"
"Yes, I am", Bruce Wayne's calm voice was heard. "I'm truly sorry for leaving like that, but I couldn't... It was my fault, Helena."
"No", she instantly objected, shaking her head. "No, it wasn't. You didn't..."
"I didn't listen to him. He came to me and I was too busy with... It doesn't matter - I didn't listen and he went alone and he died. I couldn't stay, Helena. I'm so sorry..."
"It wasn't your fault. That woman killed her."
Somehow she couldn't bear to say Gordon's name out loud in that moment. There was a moment's silence on the other end.
"Helena - I don't believe Gordon killed Dick. And there's something you need to know about her."
"I don't give a..." she furiously began, but was interrupted.
"She's the one that saved you from Arkham Orphanage."
Helena silenced. "How did you...?" she finally managed to ask. "How do you know?" she whispered.
"You told me. You don't remember this, but you told me her name. Then you seemed to forget everything about that place and I didn't want to push you. Harleen said it would be better if I let you forget and leave it at that. But I tried to find her for you. You know she wasn't there when the orphanage was closed down..."
Helena nodded, mostly to herself. When the orphanage closed down only a few days after Bruce pulled her from the place the red-haired girl with the soft voice and the gentle eyes hadn't been amongst the released children.
"I tried to find her, I truly did. But she was gone - just like that. I do believe, however, that she had something to do with the exposure of the illegal experimentations that were conducted below Arkham Asylum."
Helena didn't remember about that, but she'd heard and read about it later. Harleen had talked a great deal about how awful it had been. It had created an outcry in New Gotham, which had just been rebuilt and renamed after the great fire two years earlier, when the Joker and Batman fought and almost destroyed the entire city.
To begin with there had been no evidence pointing to the previous owner of Arkham Asylum being guilty of what had happened to the children at Arkham Orphanage, leaving the warden and the manager of the place to take the full blame for what had been going on. It wasn't until some months later, when an explosion at Arkham Asylum revealed even further atrocities. It turned out that Arkham Asylum for almost two years had been used as a front to hide a secret laboratory where genetic experiments were conducted on meta-humans and missing kids from the orphanage. The authorities tried to cover the whole thing up, but it was too insidious to be silenced. A proper investigation was held and the owner of Arkham was finally condemned to life-imprisonment. Although he died in jail the same day the sentence was passed.
The question of what to do with Arkham was left to the authorities and there was talk of shutting the whole thing down, but in the end it was decided that Arkham Asylum was too useful as an institution to just be forgotten. Instead it was decided that it should be run by a foundation that showed interest in the place, with regular control from New Gotham's authorities. Why the authorities couldn't run the whole thing themselves Helena didn't know, but it probably had something to do with money. According to the rumors the foundation paid New Gotham an enormous amount of money to run Arkham. The money was probably badly needed after the reconstruction of the city, even though Bruce Wayne had paid for most of it.
Helena had only been a child at the time and hadn't followed the process. It was only when she was much older that she took an interest in what had actually happened with Arkham Orphanage and Arkham Asylum and also what had happened at the two institutions.
"It doesn't matter", Helena said. "Why are you telling me this? It doesn't make a difference."
Again there was a brief silence. Then: "There's a prize on your head, Helena", her father said softly.
Helena felt a cold shiver down her spine. "What?" she whispered.
Usually when the bounty hunters went for someone they were paid individually for it. One bounty hunter was paid to take care of a particular meta-human, another was paid for another. They had different clients who contacted them and supplied them with assignments, but once in a while someone sent out a general assignment: they put a prize on someone's head and the first bounty hunter to kill the target was paid. Usually such an undertaking paid a lot more than a standard kill.
"This means you've got every bounty hunter in the country on your tail, precious", Bruce Wayne said in a low voice. "No one survives that. Ever."
Gordon did, Helena thought fleetingly.
"I'll fight", she said, clenching her jaws.
"They'll find out who you really are and your friends and your loved ones will be in danger."
Helena glanced at Dinah beside her. "What must I do?" she asked.
"I've paid someone to be your bodyguard."
Helena made a face. "A babysitter? That's... crap", she muttered.
"Would you rather die?" her father asked her with some amusement and Helena sighed.
She didn't fear death - she'd lived too close to death most of her life not to have overcome her fear of dying. But it was one thing to have death hit you in the face when you didn't expect it and quite another to wait for it to catch up with you, knowing it would come - soon. She also knew that however strong she was she couldn't survive the amount of bounty hunters that'd come for her; if one didn't get her, another would - in the end.
How the heck did Gordon manage to stay alive? she thought.
"Who?" she asked. "Who'll be my babysitter? Anyone I know?"
This time there was no hesitation. "I've hired Rogue Gordon."
" What?" Helena burst out, almost throwing the phone across the room before remembering that she couldn't yell at her father if she did. "You did what? Are you insane? What the fuck...? Are you...? Hell! You can't do this!"
Her father listened patiently to her ranting on. Helena had been a sweet girl and slow to anger, but when she did get angry all hell usually broke loose. Bruce had eventually learned to deal with it in his own way.
"She'll fucking kill me!"
"No, she won't. On all accounts Rogue Gordon always honors her contracts and I've paid her considerably more than what she would get by killing you."
"Fuck!" Helena said, coming to a halt before an equally worried and amused Dinah.
"And you're not going to kill her either", Bruce added, as if he knew his daughter's thoughts. "Not as long as that contract is on your pretty head."
"I can't believe you did this", Helena said slowly. "I'm not forgiving you for this. You better stay away for a long, long time..."
Her father didn't answer at first, but then he said in a low, sad voice: "She's the best, Helena. Whatever you think of her she'll keep you alive. And that's all that matters to me. If you'll hate me for it... So be it."
"Dad?" Helena said, but a soft click on the other end told her Bruce Wayne had hung up. She sighed and put down the phone beside her mask on the desk.
"What the..." - Dinah glanced at her mother, mumbling inaudibly - "...was that about?"
"I can't believe this is happening", Helena said, leaning against the desk. She glanced at Carolyn. "Did he tell you?"
"Told her what, exactly?" Dinah asked. "Tell me."
Carolyn nodded, holding Helena's gaze. "He did."
"Oh, crap." Helena closed her eyes.
"Will someone please tell me what's going on?" Dinah demanded impatiently.
"I can't fucking deal with this", Helena said and rose. "I'm going to bed."
"Hey! What? Wait... !" Dinah called after her. "What about...?"
"I'll tell you", Carolyn said softly. "But you better sit down."
The gods must be laughing at her, she thought as she entered the Clock Tower the next day, exiting the elevator dressed in black denim trousers and a black blouse with a low neckline.
Helena lived in a grand house next to the tower, with a secret entrance leading between the two buildings. Carolyn and her daughter lived in a four room flat on the first floor of the Clock Tower, which was the perfect cover for the secret base in the upper part of the tower.
It was Sunday morning around ten, earlier than Helena usually got up. She'd slept fitfully with odd dreams and was in a bad mood.
"Did you get some sleep last night?" Carolyn asked, coming down the stairs with a cup of coffee in one hand.
Dinah moved about in the kitchen above them.
Helena shook her head, halting before the computer screens. "Not much", she confessed.
"I don't blame you. I know how much you hate Gordon."
Helena shook her head. It'd been easier before - before she knew the face of the woman she hated so much. "I just don't get it", she sighed, sitting down in a chair before the desk. "What made her like that? I saw her the other day, in that restaurant. Her face... She was so hard. Her eyes... I just don't get it", she mumbled. "It's not how I remember her."
"Sometimes..." Carolyn hesitated, leaning against the desk beside Helena. "Sometimes life just gets to be too much."
"You think I ever could've been like that?" Helena asked. "You think I could've become a... a killer?"
Carolyn regarded her levelly. "I believe anyone can become hard, but a killer -?" She shook her head. "I don't know, Helena. Honestly I don't know."
"But you've killed", Helena said softly.
"In self-defense", Carolyn said immediately, slightly curt, and averted her face. "It's not... I don't like to think about it."
Helena nodded, knowing neither Dinah nor Carolyn would've been alive if Carolyn hadn't killed the criminal attacking them when Dinah was a child. She suddenly wondered what Reese would think of Carolyn if he ever got to know the truth about who killed his father. There hadn't been much love lost between detective Reese and his father, but it didn't stop Reese from looking for the one responsible for his father's death. Helena, knowing how much it pained Carolyn to have killed someone, had always tried to make Reese let go of the past. And now... Now she was Reese in respect to Gordon. Could she let go of the past? What if Dick's death had been an accident? What if Gordon regretted killing as much as Carolyn? Would it warrant forgiveness on Helena's part?
It's not like that, she thought angrily. She's a murderer - she's a fucking bounty hunter! She does anything for money. And now she was paid to keep Helena alive.
"Well, whatever they say about her - she does keep her promises. And she doesn't break a deal", Carolyn said. "And", she added contemplatively, "she did manage to survive almost a full year with that prize on her head, until the prize was withdrawn."
Helena nodded. "I wonder how she managed that."
"She knows how to disappear", Carolyn said dryly.
"Yeah, my father said he'd tried to find her for years."
"I know", Carolyn said softly. "I helped him with it."
Helena blinked. "You...? You did? And you never told me?"
"I promised your father I wouldn't. He said Harleen told him it would be best for you not to dwell on the past."
"Well, yeah, maybe. Maybe it was better I didn't know you were looking for that girl. I probably just would've gotten my hopes up."
"And now?" Carolyn asked softly, touching her hand. "Now when you know who she is?"
Helena irritably shook her head and rose impatiently. "It doesn't make a difference", she said. "She killed Dick..."
It shouldn't make a difference, but despite everything... she knew, someplace deep within her, that it did. But I meant nothing to her, Helena thought. Those days in Paris, it was all a game to her.
And still she refused to believe that.
"Anyway", Carolyn said, changing subject as she turned to the computer. "Did you know Arkham Asylum have a safety deposit box at the bank that was robbed the other day?"
"Where the robbers got caught in the bank?" Helena asked. "Really?"
"Yes - and apparently there's some stuff missing from it. I've intercepted the communication between the bank and Larry Ketterly, the manager at Arkham."
It didn't take long for Helena to draw the right conclusion from this. "Gordon took something from the vault!"
"It appears so", Carolyn agreed. "But we don't know what."
"Why would she...?" Helena frowned.
"Why would who what?" Dinah said, coming down the stairs from the kitchen above. She was dressed in jeans and a white t-shirt. "You're early on a Sunday", she added, seeing Helena.
"You too", Helena countered absentmindedly.
"So - your father got you a babysitter, hu?" Dinah said with a grin. "Mum - you wanna bet who kills who first?" she added, looking at Carolyn.
"It's not funny!" Helena growled, glaring at the girl.
"Fine, fine - I'm sorry. But it's not me who needs a babysitter." Dinah threw up her arms with an apologetic face, but then grinned and spoiled the whole effect.
"Do you mind if I gag your daughter, Carolyn?" Helena grumbled.
"Go ahead", Carolyn said with a smile. "It might teach her to think before she speaks."
"Hey! You're supposed to be on my side!"
"Says who?" Carolyn asked with an arched eyebrow at the blonde girl.
Dinah made a face at her mother, but then turned back to Helena. "Who stole what?" she asked, bringing them back to the previous subject.
"Rogue Gordon apparently stole something from the bank", Carolyn said when Helena didn't answer.
"Something that belonged to Arkham Asylum", Helena added. "Bruce said something about Gordon and Arkham."
"He used to believe she was the one responsible for the explosion. The one that alerted the authorities to the fact that the owner of Arkham Asylum had sanctioned illegal experimentations on meta-humans and humans", Carolyn said.
"But... she must've been young at the time", Dinah said. "My age or so."
Helena nodded. "As far as I know it happened only a few months after the orphanage shut down."
"Bruce did try to find her", Carolyn said slowly. "Do you...?" She hesitated and looked solemnly at Helena. "Do you think that's where they kept her?"
"In that case... It could explain her strange abilities", Helena said.
"It would also mean they kept her to experiment on her", Dinah said with a shudder. "Poor girl", she added.
Helena turned away, not wanting to think of what that would mean. She saved me, she thought. But my father couldn't save her.
It shouldn't make a difference, she thought - not if she killed Dick.
"And then there were no trace off her", Carolyn said. "We didn't hear about her for several years. I wonder where she went."
I know, Helena thought, again remembering Paris. "Or why she came back", she mumbled.
"In any case she seems to have an interest in Arkham Asylum", Carolyn resumed. "I've talked to Larry Ketterly, the manager, but he has no clue what the bank box could've contained or why anyone would want what was in it. I've talked to the bank, too, and the strange thing was that the box seemed to have been opened by a key."
"How could Ketterly not know what was in the deposit box?" Dinah wondered with a frown.
"The deposit box was unknown to him. It's been held there since before the old board was replaced with the new owners. He was only told about it when the bank informed him, as they are obliged to inform anyone having a deposit box in case of a theft, that there had been an attempted robbery. His name, apparently, had come up. Maybe because he's the only link to the owners of the institution."
"Who remain unknown", Helena complained. "I don't get it why they let the owners remain unknown with what went on at Arkham Orphanage and Arkham Asylum at that time."
"There's much firmer control nowadays", Carolyn said. "It wouldn't be possible for the institution to misuse its power that way again. Besides, it is legal with private transactions like that."
"As far as I know Arkham is owned by a foundation", Dinah said.
"Yeah, represented by Larry Ketterly", Helena said. She shrugged. "He doesn't seem that bad, though."
"Too bad we can't ask Harleen about it", Carolyn said softly, mostly to herself. "She's been around long enough and has a high position at Arkham."
"If Ketterly doesn't know anything I fail to see how she would..." Helena began, but silenced when the elevator doors suddenly made a small noise and opened.
Helena tried to pretend she wasn't aware of the way her heart suddenly lurched when she saw who stepped out of the elevator, escorted by Alfred. To cover for her inadvertent reaction she reacted with overwhelming anger instead.
"What the fuck are you doing here?" Helena asked icily, moving forward towards the red-haired woman behind the old man. "How the hell did you get in?"
"Alfred!" Carolyn gasped, instantly coming to her feet.
"She came to see you", the butler said with an apologetic shrug. "She's" - he glanced at the woman behind him - "very persuasive."
Rogue Gordon stepped forward to meet Helena. She was dressed in similar leather trousers as Helena had seen on her before, another short vest, pale green this time, and boots. She carried one shoulder bag and one black leather sports bag with her and walked with considerable ease, way too much for an intruder. She strode into the room as if she belonged there, perfectly at ease. The scar on her upper lip was clearly visible.
"Alfred!" Carolyn admonished, staring at the man.
"Don't blame the old man", Rogue Gordon said, dumping her bags on the floor as she looked around the room; Dinah stood a few steps behind Helena with a confused look on her face. "I already knew about this place."
"Liar!" Helena hissed, coming to a halt before the woman.
"And again", Gordon said, looking Helena straight in the eye with a level look. "I have no reason to lie."
Helena just stared bitterly at the other woman.
"It doesn't explain why you're here", Carolyn smoothly interrupted as Helena and Gordon stared unblinking at each other.
Alfred made a coughing sound and discreetly moved away towards the elevator.
"I've come to babysit", Rogue Gordon said, with only a hint of sarcasm. She turned her incredibly sharp eyes from Helena to look at the blonde woman by Helena's side. "Didn't Bruce tell you?" she added with an inquiring arched eyebrow.
"It's beside the point!" Helena snapped. "How the fuck did you...?"
"This place is seriously lacking in security", Gordon interrupted and moved about the room.
The red-haired woman briefly glanced at Dinah as she passed the girl, but showed no emotions as Dinah blushed at her scrutinizing gaze.
"And this?" Gordon added, gesturing towards the massive computer system. "What's this?"
"Don't!" Helena snapped at Dinah, who instantly clamped her mouth shut.
"Our surveillance", Carolyn said easily.
"It's hopelessly outdated", Gordon said, critically eyeing the system. "With bad reception at that."
"And I guess you could do better?" Helena sniffed.
"I could", Gordon said easily, turning back to face her.
Gordon leaned against the desk and crossed her arms before her. Her bare arms were scared, well muscled and deeply tanned. In everything she moved with the absolute confidence of a fighter and seeing her cross her arms like that, looking so perfectly self-assured as she placed one leg before the other, Helena felt a lurching motion in her stomach she couldn't deny. Gordon radiated strength, pure power - something the part that was Huntress within Helena had looked for, for so long: someone powerful enough to challenge her darker sides without turning their back in fear when Huntress got to be too wild to play with.
At the same time the Helena Kyle part within her remembered what it felt like being held by those arms. She remembered leaning far out from a balcony, laughing and feeling really free for the first time in her life - held safely by those arms. Green eyes had looked into hers; soft fingers gently pushed some of her darker curls from her face and lips softly, so tenderly brushed hers... "This might not be right , but it's what I want..."
"It doesn't matter", Helena snapped, pushing away the memories. "You're out of here!"
"Helena", Carolyn said hesitantly.
Gordon didn't say anything, she just held Helena's gaze with a somewhat ironical look while Helena seethed with mute rage.
"Helena - she knows our hiding place", Carolyn said. "We can't just let her walk out of here."
"The bird has a point", Gordon said, revealing that she knew Carolyn's secret identity as well. "This place..." she added and nodded to herself. "It'll do. It has potential. It needs some polishing up, but it'll do."
"Do as what?" Dinah asked carefully, with a slight frown.
"Why, as my new headquarters, of course."
"Your...!" Helena choked on the rest of the words.
"But we really have to do something about security", Gordon said with a frown, turning back to the computer system.
Helena watched, speechless, as Gordon moved about the computer and the screens, pulled wires, pressed buttons and typed commands.
"Why are you here?" Carolyn finally asked, after a few moments' still surprised silence.
Gordon looked up from what she was doing. "I told you." She gestured towards Helena in the background. "Bruce pays me to do this - so here I am. Get used to it."
With that she returned behind one of the screens, before she went to her shoulder bag and pulled out a pen and a pad. With swift motions she wrote down what seemed to be a list, before looking straight at Dinah.
"Baby doll - this is what I need. See to it that you get exactly what's on the list. Spare no expenses. Her father pays." Gordon looked at Helena with a blank face.
Dinah opened her mouth to speak, but closed it again as Gordon looked at her with an arched eyebrow.
"Got it", Dinah said.
I can't believe this, Helena thought, still stunned by reality of finding Rogue Gordon in their headquarters. This is fucking unbelievable!
"I'm coming with you", she said, moving to Dinah's side.
"You're not", Gordon immediately said. "You're in my charge. From now on you go nowhere without me and you do as I tell you."
"Fuck! Think again, lady!" Helena objected angrily. " No one tells me what to do."
"You don't have a choice in this", Rogue Gordon persisted, holding her gaze. "If you don't do as I tell you, or if you don't listen to me, I'll let your father know I can't work with this. I'll let him know you don't want to work with me."
"I don't want to work with you", Helena hissed. "I want you out of my face."
Gordon quickly moved up to her, standing so close to her that Helena felt an immediate need to back away a few steps - she didn't, but held her stance and met Gordon's gaze.
"If you don't do as I say I'll leash myself so thoroughly to you that you'll regret that you ever set eyes on me."
"I already do", Helena mumbled, wanting to lower her gaze to escape the intense scrutiny of the other woman, but again she stubbornly refused to show weakness - although her reactions had more to do with her body's physical responses than with anything else.
"Then we have a deal, since I presume you don't want to get closer to me than necessary", Gordon said. In the next moment she studied Helena with an appreciative look. "Not that I would mind", she added in a low voice, before she turned away.
Helena felt a sudden lurch in her stomach, which made her stifle a surprised gasp that would've betrayed too much of her current, confused state of mind. At the same time she felt her cheeks blushing as she again remembered those days in Paris and one particular night that had changed her life.
"You stay away from me", she snapped acidly. "Far away", she growled, feeling her eyes alter to that of a cat's. Fuck! she thought heatedly. It was the first time she had lost control of her meta-human abilities since she was a teenager. Except...
Except for that one night in a hotel room in Paris four years ago.
As Huntress turned away from Gordon and walked towards the stairs leading to the second floor she noticed Dinah's curious gaze.
"Don't", Huntress snarled warningly in a low voice. "Not one word."
"Still here, girl?" Gordon called over her shoulder.
"No, I'm gone", Dinah instantly said, moving towards the elevator.
"Her name's Dinah", Carolyn said evenly.
Gordon shrugged and crouched before the desk. The leather in her trousers hugged her body so perfectly it seemed to fit her as a second skin and Huntress felt her mouth go dry as she watched Gordon bend down to look beneath the desk. A sudden, burning sensation in her stomach spread downwards and connected with a dull ache between her thighs. Fuck! she thought, cursing her bodily reaction. Fuck!
And still she couldn't tear her eyes from Gordon, who in that moment tied back her thick hair with a leather cord to get it away from her face. In the next moment half of her disappeared beneath the desk.
Helena's eyes turned back to normal as she fought to regain control over herself. She was grateful Carolyn was so interested in what Gordon was doing with their computer that she didn't notice the internal struggle Helena was going through.
As soon as Gordon moved out from beneath the desk Helena averted her face with furiously blushing cheeks. I hate her, she thought. I better remember that. She killed Dick.
"Do you have a screw-driver someplace?" Gordon asked.
"I'll get you one", Carolyn said.
The blonde woman moved towards the stairs, but then seemed to remember something and looked back towards Helena.
"I won't kill her", Gordon said assuredly. "Her father pays me too much. And besides", she added with a shrug. "If I wanted her dead she would be by now."
Helena glared at her, too angry to find the words. Too confused to dare to speak.
"I was actually more afraid that she'd jump you again, as she did last night", Carolyn said with slight amusement.
Helena kept glaring, reminding herself that Gordon had killed her brother and it didn't matter at all that she had a to-kill-to-touch cute ass in those tight, black trousers.
"Fine", Carolyn said. "I'll be back in a moment."
As they were momentarily left alone Gordon looked at Helena across the room.
"I know you hate me", she said calmly, looking Helena straight in the eyes. "But that's beside the point right now. To keep you alive is what matters. We need to discuss strategies later, on how to keep those bounty hunters off your tail and also how to find whoever it is that has put a prize on your head." Gordon frowned. "Do you know anyone who would want to hurt you? You as in Helena Kyle, not as in Huntress. As Huntress you probably have plenty of enemies. Which reminds me - you need to tell me who knows about you being meta-human and a vigilante."
Helena moved towards Gordon, not sure what she was going to do. She stopped before the other woman and held her calm gaze, trying to read something from Gordon's inscrutable face. "You killed my brother", she said in a low, burning voice. "You killed him in cold blood."
Something seemed to shift within the other woman. Gordon seemed to relax and let go a little of the cold, hard wall she surrounded herself with and there was an almost gentle look in her eyes as she said, in a low, suddenly unexpectedly soft voice: "No, pretty, I didn't. I didn't kill your brother."
Helena felt a spinning sensation washing over her as she heard the softness of Gordon's voice, glimpsing part of the woman she was behind the mask in the gentleness of her eyes. The softness moved her, made her want to believe the other woman's words because of the memory that softness brought with it. Gordon's voice was like an arrow in her stomach, of burning fire, bringing need, tears and hope in a mix that confused the hell out of her.
Helena stepped back. "I don't believe you", she said harshly.
Gordon held her gaze for a moment longer and then shrugged, turning away. "Not much I can do about that", she said indifferently. "It's your life, your choices. If you want to be unhappy, that's up to you."
Helena stared at the other woman's back, grinding her teeth. "Do you even know what it's like, losing someone you love? Do you even know what it's like to feel? What are you - a machine?"
Gordon rummaged in her sports bag and pulled out a tiny screw-driver. When she rose and glanced at Helena her face was blank and her eyes remote, revealing nothing. Then she frowned, as if she was evaluating a puzzling equation. "I believe that to know what it's like to lose someone you love a first requirement is to actually have someone to love." She shrugged. "I never did. I guess that's the difference between us."
"To love is a choice we make", Helena said angrily. "If you've chosen not to love that's your problem..."
"Not my problem", Gordon said as she returned to the computer. "But people around me seem to make it a problem." She glanced at Helena. "And people like you seem to think it's my problem, when in actuality it's theirs. It never bothered me."
"So, you're heartless", Helena concluded. "Either that or a psychopath", she added.
"Psychopaths are overrated", Gordon said. "Narcissists are in. But you might have a point - I believe I've heard narcissists are more charming, blending in more in a normal society. I obviously don't."
The woman leaned back across the desk as she was speaking and Helena had to avert her eyes when the vest Gordon was wearing was pulled upwards to reveal taught muscles and soft, smooth skin.
"And who cares, anyway?" Helena muttered.
"The people getting in their way probably would care." Gordon straightened and looked at Helena across the floor. "But I'm neither. I'm a good person - I'm just not always that honest according to the law." She shrugged again, returning to the computer.
"So you're saying a dishonest person can be good?" Helena asked, wondering why she was discussing things like this with Gordon - she usually hated it when Harleen psycho-babbled.
"Didn't say I'm dishonest - just not... always honest. There's a difference."
"A very slight difference", Helena said wryly.
"Makes all the difference in the world sometimes", Gordon said.
"You really need to have the last word, don't you?" Helena asked sardonically.
Gordon didn't answer and there was a brief silence until Carolyn returned with the screw-driver.
"Found one", the woman said as she stepped down the stairs. "And I see you've survived each other", she added dryly, noticing Helena's sulking face.
"I found one in my bag", Gordon said, indicating the tiny screw-driver she held in her hand.
"I have a lunch-date", Helena curtly said, suddenly remembering Harleen. "At noon. May I go - or am I confined to my room?"
Gordon checked her wrist-watch with a slight nod. "You need to change?" she asked, glancing at Helena's clothes.
"Security is our main concern", Gordon said as Helena gave her the grand tour of her home. "Please stay away from the windows", she added noncommittally as Helena went to her bedroom windows to look out.
Helena glanced grumpily across her shoulder, but did as she was told without objections. "Do you mind?" she said a few minutes later as she stood before her walk-in wardrobe, glancing pointedly at Gordon.
Gordon shrugged and turned her back. "We're going to spend a considerable amount of time together", she said as Helena decided on what to wear. "There's no need to be prudish."
"I'm not prudish", Helena crankily objected, hardly audible.
Within her mind she heard Huntress' comment: What - she's going to sleep in the same bed, too? And her own response: I'm not asking her that!
It was bad enough to have the woman in her bedroom. Bad enough to suddenly be split between her two personalities in a way she hadn't been in years. Huntress was hateful and vengeful, wanting to tear the other woman's head off. Helena Kyle kept remembering Paris: five days of perfect friendship and one night of unimaginable tenderness, passion and - pleasure.
She dressed in a cool, soft dress, knowing it'd be warm outside and also to keep to her role as the sweet Helena Kyle.
"It surprises me that you even let me outside", Helena said as she was finished dressing, stepping up to Gordon.
"It serves a purpose", Gordon said, turning to look at her.
Gordon's eyes revealed nothing, but she nodded as if in approval as she noticed Helena. Her face was still inscrutable and Helena had no idea what she was thinking or what that nod actually meant.
"You have a car?" Gordon asked, holding her gaze without answering the question.
"I have fifty", Helena said caustically.
"Pick one", Gordon said as she turned away.
Some part of Helena had clung to the hope that the woman she'd met at the mall the other day would turn out to be wearing a mask of indifference and cynicism, behind it revealing the true face of the woman Helena had fallen in love with in Paris. Nothing seemed to be farther from the truth, she bitterly thought as she walked into the luxurious diner where she was supposed to meet Harleen. Since their first proper meeting that morning, Rogue Gordon had been nothing but cool and efficient in a businesslike way, showing no emotions at all in response to Helena's bitterly raging silence or curt comments. What hurt her more was that there at no time at all had been a flash of remembrance or recognition in the other woman's eyes that would let Helena know that she did remember their shared week in Paris. It frustrated her.
Gordon seemed to be everywhere at once as Helena moved about in the mall: before her, behind her, at her side... And then, the moment when Helena was approaching the diner, she completely vanished.
As Helena entered the cafeteria and walked towards the waiting Harleen, she failed to see Gordon anywhere. The sudden thought that the woman had abandoned her was welcomed with mixed feelings: again hurt, then disappointment - and then the complete awareness that Gordon just wouldn't abandon her. She didn't know how she could be so sure that the bounty hunter wouldn't bail on her, but she was absolutely certain about it. It didn't seem to fit with Gordon to be so... fickle.
Huntress' remark about God riddance, now I can hate her properly again, was ignored by Helena Kyle.
"Helena - you look absolutely lovely today", Harleen said and kissed her on the cheek as she moved in to sit beside the blonde woman.
Helena nodded shortly. She'd dressed in a pale blue dress with thin straps that showed off her figure. I do? she thought wryly. Between Gordon babysitting me and the whole bounty hunter community coming after me it's a true wonder.
The thought about the bounty hunters suddenly caught her for a moment, as she realized that the true implication of what that actually meant hadn't really sunken in. She'd been so confused and furious at Gordon's presence that the reason to why Gordon was with her hadn't been considered. They're actually coming for me, she thought as the realization dawned on her. Why, for Christ's sake?
"What's the matter, kitten?" Harleen asked softly, touching Helena's bare arm with two fingers in a soft caress. "You seem distracted."
"There's a fucking prize on my head", Helena muttered.
"Helena, please - your language", Harleen said disapprovingly. Then she frowned. "What do you mean?"
"The bounty hunters are after me. I don't know why, I can't imagine what I've done to get them to come after me. I'm no meta-human. I'm no threat to anyone. I used to study business economics, for Christ's sake! I've never looked a criminal in the face, I've never even met a homeless person."
"Oh", Harleen said. "Oh! But Helena, dear. Should you be out here in the open? I've heard of... Why didn't you...?" The blonde woman looked sternly at Helena. "How do you know about this? And why didn't you tell me about it as soon as you found out? You know I'd be more than willing to help. You must move in with me immediately..."
Helena shook her head. "I'd love to", she said, sulking.
"I sense a 'but' in there someplace?" Harleen said after a moment's silence.
"But my father has taken care of it", Helena added with a sigh. "He hired a bodyguard."
"A bodyguard?" Harleen said, sounding incredulous. "A bodyguard? Against the whole bounty hunter's nation...? How would that...? That's ridiculous. I'll talk to him. You'll be much safer with me and... Who?" she suddenly asked with a slight frown, as if a sudden thought had occurred to her.
Who? Helena thought and looked up in time to see Gordon make her way towards them across the restaurant. Again, as before when she'd noticed Gordon's confident stride, she felt a sudden lurching of her heart.
When Helena didn't respond Harleen looked up too and noticed Gordon coming their way. She looked momentarily taken aback, then she said: "He hired your brother's killer as a bodyguard for you?"
That pretty much sums it up, Helena thought dejectedly, suddenly feeling an unreasonable anger towards Harleen who so blatantly reminded her of Dick's death.
"Well", Harleen huffed. "I've heard them say she does anything for money. Just watch your back, kitten. These people aren't to be trusted."
In the next moment Gordon reached them and Harleen rose with a charming smile on her face. Not for the first time Helena reflected on how easy it seemed for the other woman to charm others despite the fact that she loathed some of them. "It's all part of the game people play, kitten", the woman had told her once. "What's so wrong about making people happy? Let them stay safe in their illusionary world and keep them happy with a smile if it doesn't cost you anything. That's the altruistic thing to do."
"Ms Gordon, I presume", Harleen said, extending her hand to Gordon; it wasn't a question and Gordon didn't seem to take it as such.
The red-haired woman looked at the extended hand for a moment before she reached for it and shook it.
"I've been dying to meet you", Harleen went on with that charming smile that seemed to have people falling all over to please her.
"Really?" Gordon said, arching a cynical eyebrow. "You look very much alive to me." She eyed the blonde woman with an indifferent look, ignoring the passing flash of displeasure in Harleen's eyes. "And who are you, exactly?"
"Harleen", Harleen said, again with a friendly smile; she still held Gordon's hand in hers. "Dr. Harleen Quinzel, psychiatrist."
"Huh, fancy that", Gordon said with a smirk. "I bet you'd love to poke around inside my head, wouldn't you?"
Harleen looked taken aback for a moment, but then she laughed. "Why, well, yes - who wouldn't?" she said easily.
Gordon held Harleen's gaze for a moment as something in her eyes shifted. The cynical humor became hard and sharp, focused in a way Helena had seen a couple of times before. Those green, deep eyes seemed to want to burn into Harleen's skull to read her mind.
In that moment Gordon said, in a low, intense voice: "I know I wouldn't mind having a look inside yours."
Harleen's smile died and she pulled away her hand. "I was only trying to be friendly", she said. "No need to get testy", she added as she sat down beside Helena, sounding hurt, in a way that Helena also knew usually worked to get Harleen what she wanted from people.
"I'm allergic to friendliness", Gordon said casually. "I do apologize if my behavior has insulted you."
She didn't sound apologetic at all, Helena thought. Gordon was in all probability just sarcastic.
"Humph", Harleen said, then added: "I guess you want to sit down."
"Actually Helena and I are going", Gordon said, looking at Helena.
"You just got here!" Harleen objected. "Helena - I haven't seen you lately and with your issues I was hoping to get to help you..."
Helena rose. "I'm sorry, Harleen", she said regretfully. "I'm sure we can work something out?" she asked, glancing pointedly at Gordon to make sure the other woman knew she wasn't pleased with the abrupt departure.
"Sure. We'll be in touch", Gordon said, her eyes scanning the room as she was talking.
"Kitten", Harleen said, touching her cheek to Helena's. "You ought to come live with me instead. Dump this brute and phone me. I'll keep you safe. Have I ever failed you?"
Helena shook her head. "I... I just have to give this a chance. I'm sorry", she added, not sure why she felt that she had betrayed the psychiatrist.
"Don't be, darling." Harleen touched her cheek. "I'll keep an eye on you anyway."
As they walked away from the restaurant Gordon said: "She calls you kitten?" in a way that made Helena blush.
"It's just a nick-name", she mumbled, ashamed for no reason.
"But she doesn't know about you being meta?" Gordon asked quietly, sounding serious.
"No, I've never... No."
"Why not? She's a friend."
"She's not..." Helena hesitated. "It was something my mother said once."
"Yes?" Gordon wondered when Helena remained quiet.
If there had been the slightest hesitation on Helena's part that Gordon wasn't interested in what she had to say she wouldn't have answered the question, but there was surprising concern in the green eyes as they watched Helena.
"My mother said to never trust anyone not family."
"Family in this instance, I take it she meant metas?"
"Yes. I didn't understand it at the time, but I do believe that's what she meant. I trust my friends in many ways, but people just don't..." Again Helena hesitated.
"They don't know what it's like to be different", Gordon said.
Helena glanced at the other woman, but Gordon's face was inscrutable as always. "No", she said softly. "No, they don't know that. I..." She hesitated, feeling strange talking about this, with this woman. "I used to be afraid of my own powers", she said. "But someone showed me... something. Someone showed me... I didn't have to be."
Helena glanced at Gordon and noticed the tiny smile at the corner of her lips.
"That's nice to hear", the red-haired woman said sincerely.
Helena swallowed, averting her face not allowing Gordon see what was in her eyes. "Yes", she mumbled. "Yes, it was nice."
"Beware wolves in sheep's clothing", Gordon suddenly whispered.
"What?" Helena said, looking up. She frowned, looking around.
They'd stopped a short distance from the restaurant behind a few pillars and some plants. They were probably well hidden from sight from the people in the restaurant, at the same time as they had clear view over the area. Gordon was staring intently at someone Helena soon realized was Harleen.
"What do you mean?" she asked, a tad roughly.
Gordon shook her head. "I don't trust that woman, is all", she muttered.
"Well, she's a friend and I do", Helena said. "I don't care what you think. And why did we have to leave all of a sudden? We only just arrived."
"You're probably a good vigilante in your own right", Gordon said, still searching the area with ever-vigilant eyes. "But this is what I do. I've got more experience in staying alive and right now... Trust me - I know what I'm doing. If you want to live the only person right now you can trust is me."
"Because my father pays you?" Helena asked bitterly.
"Yes", Gordon simply said.
Helena snarled. "And if someone pays you more?"
"I don't break a contract", Gordon said, seemingly distracted. "See? There are three bounty hunters in the restaurant."
Helena blinked. "That can't... Metas?"
"One meta, two humans."
"Doesn't matter", Gordon said. "As soon as we moved out of the restaurant they knew I'd seen them. They won't come for us now. But..." She looked around, down the balcony on which they were standing, to the crowd moving beneath them in the mall. "They're everywhere", she said quietly, mostly to herself. "It has begun."
When they returned to Helena's house the girl, Dinah, had returned with a shipload of technical gadgets that Gordon needed to secure the Clock Tower.
"No expense spared", Dinah said dryly to Helena when they were standing in the hallway. "I've been through the whole of New Gotham chasing things with names I can hardly pronounce, let alone understand the meaning of."
"You got everything?" Gordon cut in.
The girl nodded. Helena stood beside her still wearing the sullen look that she'd worn the entire day. All things considered, Gordon thought absentmindedly, it had been easier than anticipated. She'd been prepared to battle another round with Huntress before the other woman listened to reason. And would you've listened to reason when it came from the one who you thought killed your brother? she thought with piercing clarity. She immediately cut the thought and the searing pain that went with it.
"Fine", she said curtly. "From now on Helena Kyle is in seclusion."
"What?" Helena blurted out.
Gordon looked at her. "The table is set - the pieces are on the board. The game has begun."
Helena shook her head. "You can't seriously mean...?"
"You want to live?" Gordon interrupted.
"Yes, she does", the blonde girl said, putting a hand on Helena's arm in a soothing gesture. "She'll do whatever you say."
The look on Helena's face told another story, but Gordon nodded.
"First things first", she said. "Security and illusions. The bounty hunters know I'm with you now - it'll make them more careful."
"That's why you let me out today at the mall", Helena said thoughtfully.
At least she's not slowwitted, Gordon thought. "It'll keep them at bay and when they strike it'll be from a distance. They don't dare get too close to me."
It was said noncommittally - she knew her own worth. Dinah nodded with a thoughtful frown as Helena smirked.
"Tonight", Gordon went on, "you and I are going for a drive. We need to make them believe we're either leaving town or going underground someplace far from here."
"And this?" Helena said, indicating the mass of boxes in the hallway.
"I'm going to build the perfect watchdog", Gordon said, with some surprising anticipation.
The rest of the day they spent carrying boxes between Helena Kyle's villa and the secret lair that was the Clock Tower, and then Gordon kept busy with remodeling the computer system while the other three watched.
Carolyn Lance, who Gordon knew as Black Canary, showed an interest in what Gordon was doing, so Gordon explained certain things about the technology she was using.
"What's she saying?" she heard Dinah's confused voice in the background. "I don't understand a word of what comes out of her mouth."
"Techno-babble", Helena said, still sulking (that woman has a hard time letting things go, Gordon thought). "It's as bad as psycho-babble."
"How did you know about this place?" Dinah finally asked.
Gordon looked up from what she was doing and glanced at the girl. "It's my job to know", she said, returning to pulling out cables and rewiring the system. She would need to connect the system to a... And then there should be better security in the elevator... Maybe she could set up a detecting system in Helena's house, too, and if...
"But how?" Dinah persisted.
"I just did", Gordon said, still preoccupied with thoughts of the computer system. "The system is lacking", she added.
"So if you found your way in someone else might?" Helena said.
Gordon distractedly shook her head. "They won't." At least not when I'm done, she added in her mind as an afterthought.
"How do you know?" Helena asked.
"I know. They won't."
"They could. You did", Dinah said.
"There's no one as good as me", Gordon simply said, finally finding the right wire.
"Modesty incarnated", Carolyn mumbled in the background, but was more amused than anything.
Helena sniffed. "And what are you doing now? And what, exactly, are you proposing I do for the rest of my life? Stay buried in here?"
"I told you: first things first. Security is the most important. Then we'll talk", Gordon said.
"About what?" Helena snapped. "We have nothing to talk about."
"I know you hate me", Gordon said, glancing across her shoulder at the younger woman. "But it doesn't mean you have to be so pig-headed."
Helena blushed furiously.
"It's almost dark", Carolyn said before Helena had time to retort.
Gordon nodded. "I'm almost done."
An hour later she'd finished with the most basic and important changes and stretched, rolling her neck.
"That's it, for now."
"That's what?" Helena asked, critically eyeing the discarded parts from the system on the floor below the tables.
There was now less machine and more efficiency, leaving room for several more screens, fastened above the desk.
"This", Gordon said, turning on the computer.
The system would need some adjustments, but at least the screens showed perfectly clear pictures - in color.
"Oh, my", Carolyn said softly.
"I'll work on it", Gordon said. "But for now it'll do. The system is connected to the previous security system, but I've extended it and made it more sensitive to intruders." She turned to Helena. "From now on this'll be your new home. I take it there are some spare rooms somewhere we can use?"
Helena glared at her, not answering, and it was Carolyn who nodded.
"There are spare rooms."
"Good. I'll just sleep on the couch in the lounge up there", Gordon said, gesturing to the second floor on the opposite side of the kitchen.
"Helena is going to be like that princess in the fairy-tale, who was locked up in the tower and let her hair grow so much the prince could use it to climb up", Dinah said with a teasing smile, looking at Helena.
"Except the prince most likely will turn out to be a bounty hunter", Gordon said.
Dinah made a face. "Spoilsport", she mumbled, completely inaudible to anyone not with Gordon's supersensitive hearing; Gordon ignored the remark, pretending she didn't hear.
"Does this mean I can't go patrolling?" Helena said angrily.
"If by patrolling you mean crusading the night as a vigilante - that's correct. It's too risky."
"If you go, Gordon has to come", Carolyn said. "And if they spot Gordon with Huntress..." She didn't finish the sentence, but the implication was clear.
"We could dress her up", Dinah suggested, glancing at Gordon. "You know, with mask and stuff."
Gordon wasn't sure if the girl was serious or not, but she stared impassively at her until the girl blushed and turned away.
"Or maybe not", Dinah mumbled.
"I'll go patrolling", Carolyn said.
"Are you sure?" Helena asked, with immediate concern.
Gordon watched as the harsh expression in Helena's eyes - the same that had been there since they met that morning - gave way to the sweeter parts of the young woman as Helena looked at Carolyn.
"I'm perfectly capable of going out, Helena", Carolyn gently admonished. "I've only stayed at the Clock Tower because I thought it was better someone remained here, keeping an eye on the bigger picture and directing the two of you."
Gordon glanced at the blonde girl, Dinah, and wondered what it cost the mother to let the daughter roam the streets like a vigilante.
"And now I'm locked up here and chained to the tower", Helena mumbled.
"You might as well make use of the time", Carolyn said.
"Later", Gordon interfered. "Right now Miss Pretty Eyes and I are going for a ride." To her surprise she observed a slight blush on Helena's cheeks.
"Where to?" Dinah asked.
"Nowhere special", Gordon said evasively.
"Why can't I ride my own bike?" Helena objected as Gordon pulled out a spare helmet for her. They were standing outside the gates to the driveway of Helena's home.
"Because no one knows Helena Kyle rides a motorbike", Gordon answered dryly. "And trust me - they're watching us now."
Helena clenched her jaws and Gordon got the feeling she wanted to look around the block but resisted the impulse. It was dark, with a few sprinkled stars across the night vault.
"Hurry, so they don't have time to load their guns."
Helena frowned, but took the helmet. "You think they'd just shoot me?"
"Probably not, but standing still you make a perfect target. Come on."
Gordon kicked her motorbike to a start and ran the gas. With only a slight hesitation Helena sat down behind her. When Gordon rode off with sudden speed Helena's arms grabbed her waist. Gordon had a sudden, odd sense of recognition - as if she'd done this before with Helena. As if she'd felt the other woman's arms encircling her waist, feeling the soft pressure of her warm body against her own.
She realized with unexpected compassion that it must be an odd moment for Helena, being so close to someone she believed killed her brother.
The compassion was soon replaced by the clear efficiency of Gordon's mind. Helena's emotions weren't important; all that mattered was to keep the other woman alive and to find the puppet master. Nothing else was to be allowed to matter.
For several hours that night Gordon rode around with Helena Kyle on the back of her motorcycle. The purpose was to loose any bounty hunters tailing them, confusing others and in the end to be rid of all of them to return safely to the Clock Tower and hope that the bounty hunters were sufficiently fooled to believe that Gordon and Helena Kyle had gone underground, or left the city.
In the end Gordon rode into a closed off tunnel a few miles from New Gotham. It looked like a dead end, but in fact it connected with the underground city of Old Gotham.
"What place is this?" Helena asked when Gordon finally stopped and turned off the engine.
With helmet in hand Helena looked around at the ruined city. Gordon pulled her motorbike and hid it in a cave-like formation created by two collapsed walls. She pressed a hidden button and a door slid into place to hide the bike. Helena stared in surprise at her.
"The remains of Gotham City", Gordon explained. "Come", she added, walking briskly towards a spiraling staircase made of iron. There was a soft light coming from the spotlights Gordon had placed around the area in the past. The whole underground city was her playground. She'd been hiding there when there was a prize on her head and knew the whole, vast area by heart. "We're below the Clock Tower", she resumed as they climbed the stairs.
"This is amazing!" Helena said, sounding awed.
"There's a community of homeless people living on the outskirts of this place. But they never venture to the centre. It's a maze of labyrinths."
Helena nodded, looking around with obvious fascination. Gordon pushed open an iron door at a landing at the top of the stairwell. The door slid open without a sound, revealing complete darkness. Gordon pulled a mini flashlight from her belt, flashed it across the darkness and stepped into a narrow tunnel. After a few moments the tunnel ended in a drum with a closed lid. Gordon pulled open the lid with a lever and beckoned for Helena to enter the short drum. Helena skeptically arched an eyebrow at her, but then sighed and climbed into the drum. Gordon followed, tightening the lid behind them.
On the other side of the drum they reached a tiny, moldering chamber with tumbled walls.
"And now?" Helena asked dryly. "You suggest we walk through walls?"
"Here", Gordon said, not responding to the sarcasm as she moved a wooden board to reveal a crevice.
"This is the fucking Fort Bayard!" Helena mumbled. "I'm ruining my outfit. Do you know how much I paid for this?" she added dryly, but not unfriendly, arching an amused eyebrow as she with one hand indicated the tight fitting leather outfit she wore.
She's quite cute when she's not glowering, Gordon swiftly thought. "I couldn't care less", she said. "After you."
Helena grumbled something like, "Why do I even bother?" to herself before she squeezed through the small opening. Gordon followed, closing the entrance behind them.
This time they ended in an elevator shack. There was a small landing on the side and Gordon stepped onto it, gesturing to Helena to do the same. With a tiny device which she fastened to the cables running along the walls of the narrow shaft she could control the elevator above them. A soft sound was heard as the elevator moved.
"Where are we?" Helena asked as the elevator stopped a few feet above them.
"You'll see", Gordon said as she opened the elevator doors before she pulled the device from the system.
Light flooded from the interior of the elevator above them. They would need to climb a few feet to reach the opening, but Gordon wouldn't expect that to be a problem. She jumped, reached the opening with her hands and pulled herself upwards through the small space, until she stood freely in the elevator. She turned, knelt and gazed down into the dark.
"Need a hand?" she asked, reaching for Helena.
Helena jumped, grabbed Gordon's outstretched hand and was swiftly pulled upwards.
"I know this", Helena said as she looked about inside the elevator. Behind her the doors closed.
"You ought to", Gordon said dryly.
"Oh, shit!" Helena softly exclaimed when she realized the truth, turning to stare wide-eyed at the woman beside her.
"We're home", Gordon said.
A few moments later they stepped out in the large hallway at the Clock Tower.
For the next four or five days Gordon focused on the security at the Clock Tower. In truth the surveillance system hadn't been that bad, but things could always be improved. That was her philosophy. She moved about the tower, Helena's house and Carolyn's home to install cameras and sensors. Dinah, Black Canary's daughter, almost constantly followed her around while Helena remained aloof and sulking, usually glaring in silence as Gordon came into view.
Dinah was very inquiring, constantly chatting aloud and asking questions. Although the answers she got weren't always what she wanted to hear. "Techno-babble", she said, using Helena's term. "What does it really mean?" she asked, making a face.
"Look it up", Gordon usually said, but sometimes she gave in and explained what she was doing in simpler terms.
"And why didn't you just say so?" Dinah responded. "Doesn't it bother you that people don't understand you half of the time?"
"No", Gordon simply said. "For the simple reason that I don't make conversation", she sarcastically added.
"Well, you should", Dinah stated.
Gordon shrugged. "People aren't that stimulating."
"You prefer machines and techno-gadgets?" Dinah asked incredulously.
"How dull", Dinah said in a voice that almost had Gordon laughing.
"Why are you hanging around that woman?" she heard Helena ask Dinah at one time.
"Because she's a living legend, that's why", Dinah responded. "All those stories about her - I want to know what she's like."
"And?" Helena had asked after a moment, almost reluctantly.
"And I don't get her yet. She only talks about gadgets, never herself. But she knows so much, it's incredible."
And another time, recently after the overheard conversation, Dinah asked her about her trade.
"Meaning?" Gordon asked, putting the finishing touch to the computer surveillance system.
"Did you always want to be a bounty hunter?"
"I wasn't always a bounty hunter", she said, distractedly looking at the screens before her.
"So? What did you want to be? A teacher? I think you'd be great as a teacher. Or a librarian."
"A librarian?" Gordon asked, glancing at the girl. "Do I look the type, Barbie?"
"It could be your secret alias", Dinah said, taking no offense. "Imagine - vigilante by night, stuffy librarian by day. Perfect cover", she said, grinning.
Gordon shook her head in disbelief.
"Is it done?" Carolyn asked, coming down the stairs from the kitchen.
Gordon nodded. "It's done. Is Helena there?"
"Grumpy, but yes - she's in the kitchen. Alfred just served lunch. There's some if you want."
"Later", she said. "Get her for me, Barbie - and eat something yourself", she added, mindful that the girl had been with her the whole day.
Dinah disappeared up the stairs as Carolyn watched Gordon with an inquiring look. "You're very tolerant with her", she finally said.
Gordon swiftly glanced at the other woman. "I know what it's like to be different", she said. "It can't be easy for her, being meta."
Carolyn held her eyes. "I guess you do", she said softly. "And no, it isn't", she added.
"It surprises me you let her be a vigilante."
"It surprises me even more", Carolyn said cynically. "And I'm her mother."
Gordon looked at her. "Touché", she said softly.
"Did you kill Robin?" Carolyn suddenly asked solemnly.
"No, I didn't", Gordon said, realizing the other woman didn't really believe Rogue Gordon had killed her friend - she just seemed to want to hear her say it aloud.
Carolyn nodded, confirming her thoughts. "I didn't think you did", the woman said in a subdued manner. "But Helena won't forgive you."
"It doesn't really matter", Gordon said, returning to the screens. "Keeping her alive is what matters."
A few moments later Helena and Dinah joined them; Dinah with a plate with omelet, toast and salad.
"What now?" Helena asked irritably. To be locked up didn't agree with her; her temper seemed to be made worse with every passing hour.
"Let me introduce you to your new watchdog", Gordon said, ignoring the woman's bad mood.
The introduction took almost the whole afternoon. Gordon showed them the improvements on the surveillance - using satellite images instead of cameras to survey the city, easily altering between screen images. She showed them the alarm system, alerts tapping directly into the police radio and police computers as well as into other authorities computer systems.
"The security system of the Clock Tower is improved. No one not in the database may enter without triggering an internal alarm. There are sensors and cameras alerting us and showing us where there's been a breach. With these", Gordon indicated the screens and the computer, "I can tap in anywhere, in any computer around the globe. I'll know everything and the screens will be my eyes, letting me see everything."
"Like an all-knowing oracle", Dinah said with excitement.
At the girl's side Helena made a small sound and turned pale. Gordon wondered what that was about, but nodded at Dinah.
"Do you know where the oracle of ancient Greece had her home?"
Dinah shook her head. "Amphibolies?" she hazarded.
"Delphi", Helena said reluctantly and seemingly with difficulty. She looked straight at Gordon and briefly held her eyes, before turning away.
Gordon, taken aback by the sudden vulnerability in Helena's blue eyes, felt a soft thud of her heart. But Helena didn't look at her again and Gordon turned to the computer.
"I'll name this Delphi", Gordon said, touching the machine.
"Fine", Helena mumbled and walked towards the stairs without turning back.
Gordon watched her go.
Helena was confused - to say the least.
In the past five, six days she'd been watching Gordon move around in the building with Dinah at her side. The red-haired just didn't seem like a cold-blooded killer. She wasn't particularly responsive or charming, but that wasn't a crime. Helena would've thought that a woman who so easily had seduced her in Paris would play the part here too, trying to charm her way into the team, but she didn't. Gordon seemed completely indifferent to what went on around her, focused solely on what was at hand: keeping Helena alive.
Because she's been paid for it, Huntress sneered, reminding Helena Kyle to keep her focus.
Helena kept her distance as she tried to regain her footing with the other woman. Luckily Gordon didn't demand that they kept strictly to each other's side as long as they were inside the Clock Tower. She was too distracted by her memories of Paris to be able to focus on hating Gordon. Especially her last night with Oracle stood out in her mind; the softness of the woman's eyes and lips and hands...
"Helena - can you think of anyone wanting to harm you?" Gordon's voice interrupted her thoughts. The two of them, together with Carolyn and Dinah, were standing before the computer system named Delphi. "You, as in Helena Kyle?"
Helena shook her head with a slight frown. "I've been racking my mind about that, but I just can't see who'd want to. As Helena Kyle I'm no threat to anyone."
"And who knows you're Huntress?"
Helena exchanged a look with Dinah and shrugged. "No one, really." She glared a little at Gordon. "Although you seemed to know who I was."
"I recognized your eyes", Gordon said simply.
Helena kept her face expressionless, not showing how those words affected her. How the hell did she recognize my eyes after seeing me for so short a time?
"So, only us and your father know about your alter-ego?"
"And Gibson Kafka, at the No Man's Land", Helena added thoughtfully. "But he would never..."
"No, he wouldn't", Gordon agreed with a contemplative nod.
"But why would anyone want to get to Helena Kyle?" Carolyn asked. "Unless..."
"Unless what?" Dinah asked with a frown, glancing at her mother.
"Unless they want to get to Bruce", Gordon said with a somewhat ominous look at Helena. "It's happened before."
Helena felt a cold shiver down her back and straightened, thinking of Dick. She stared heatedly at Gordon.
"Yes", Carolyn said slowly. "Selena... It was believed that Selena was murdered because someone wanted to get to Bruce Wayne."
" What?" Helena said, turning to the blonde woman.
"Maybe they want to lure Bruce Wayne back to town", Carolyn said, holding Gordon's eyes. "If they threaten his daughter..."
"Maybe", Gordon said slowly.
"Wait", Helena said angrily. "My mother got killed because of my father? And you knew about this?" She turned angrily towards Carolyn, who nodded.
"He wanted to tell you the truth, but at that time you were so volatile and the two of you argued all the time."
"He could've told me later!" Helena exclaimed.
"He was afraid it'd spark your anger against him again", Carolyn said softly and then quickly added, before Helena had time to argue with her: "I wont defend the fact that he didn't tell you the truth, I'm just telling you how he saw it."
"And he probably knows who did it, doesn't he? And you too?" Helena spat.
"But... why?" Dinah asked. "And who?"
"It was a meta-human named Clayface, with the ability to shape-change", Carolyn explained. "He even admitted it - saying someone paid him lots of money to kill the mother of Bruce's daughter. Why? Who knows?"
"Why?" Gordon said wryly. "Probably because once the Joker had died two years before, Bruce Wayne had become the corner stone of this society. The hero - paying for the reconstruction of the city. To many people he became the symbol of a new and better life. I believe, and Bruce believes it too, that someone wanted to lay their hands on his daughter, to cause him pain." Gordon looked at Helena. "Whoever killed your mother was certain you were going to end up at the orphanage, where they could get their hands on you..."
But they never did, thanks to you, Helena thought, feeling immensely grateful to the other woman in that moment. Then the moment was gone, as Huntress reminded her about Dick, and she set her jaw. "What happened to Clayface?"
"He's locked up at Arkham," Carolyn said.
"Or so it's believed", Gordon added.
Helena turned back to the red-haired woman. "What do you mean?" she snapped.
"There are a lot of criminals said to be locked up at Arkham, whilst in fact several crimes have been committed that could've been attributed to some of those people."
"Copycats", Carolyn said with a shrug. "Or so they say."
Gordon shook her head. "I don't believe so. And the murders I'm thinking of haven't been committed in New Gotham. Those are murders all over the country, even in Europe."
"What do you mean?" Helena asked, frowning.
"I mean that someone at Arkham is using the institution for their own designs. Maybe using the criminals as hired assassins."
"You're paranoid", Helena sniffed. "You see Arkham behind everything, just because you..." She caught herself, looking at Gordon.
"Yes, I was there", Gordon said matter-of-factly. "And I know better than anyone what I'm talking about. Your brother believed it too, before he died."
Helena felt her eyes augment and she swiftly moved towards Gordon. " You killed him", she spat. "How dare you speak of him to me?"
Gordon stood her ground before Huntress' and held her gaze. There was a sudden, unexpected softness in the green eyes as she, as once before, softly said: "No, Helena. I didn't kill your brother."
Helena felt a swift, lurching movement in her stomach and stepped back, unable to meet the abrupt gentleness of the other woman.
I hate her, Huntress thought as Helena's eyes returned to normal. But Helena Kyle didn't hate the other woman; she longed for Gordon's touch, for her smile and the softness in her deep, clear eyes. Have you forgotten Paris? she asked Huntress. I haven't forgotten, Huntress answered, regarding Gordon with a leering attitude through Helena's mind. She has a fucking gorgeous ass.
Helena Kyle blushed inwardly, something that forced her to avert her eyes from Gordon as she pushed Huntress' thoughts from her mind.
"Do you know who did?" Carolyn asked.
Gordon glanced at the blonde woman. "Maybe", she said, seemingly reluctant. "At least I know why he died."
There was a momentary pause as the red-haired bounty hunter restlessly moved about in front of the computer system, in thought and seemingly in conflict with herself about something. Finally she sighed, shrugged and leaned against the table on which the keyboard to the computer rested, crossing her arms before her. She briefly looked at Helena, who glared at her.
Gordon seemed to hesitate before she said: "To talk about this I must start at the beginning."
The woman suddenly looked very weary, as if it were old wounds that were torn open. Even Huntress' anger receded a little and she felt tender compassion towards the other woman - however reluctantly. When Gordon looked at her she schooled her expression.
"I've been to Arkham Orphanage", Gordon said, looking at Helena with an unexpectedly open, searching expression. "I know you've been there, too. Do you remember me?" she asked with piercing intensity.
Helena felt a quick stab in her heart, suddenly wanting to confess the truth - wanting to say: Yes, yes I do! Wanting to tell Gordon she'd never felt safer with anyone than when she looked into her green eyes as a child. She wanted to tell her even with her mother dead and the other children at the orphanage threatening and beating her she'd felt safe and at home with the red-haired girl who gave her shelter. And although she'd forgotten that girl's name, due to the trauma the whole thing had been for her, she'd never forgotten the girl. She'd only felt as safe one other time in her life: with the same person in Paris; the girl a beautiful woman by then.
That was why she couldn't believe this woman was a murderer.
Helena crossed her arms, straightening her back - feigning indifference. "I do", she said bitterly. "Whatever good it's done me", she added.
There was a flickering of hurt in the other woman's eyes, before Gordon looked away for a moment. When she met Helena's gaze again her eyes revealed nothing and Helena wondered if she'd imagined the hurt before.
"When Arkham Orphanage was exposed as a slave camp and brought down I was already at Arkham Asylum", Gordon resumed, noncommittal. "Or rather, below it."
She silenced for a moment, thoughtful. There was something almost delicate about her in that moment, as if she'd break with a gust of wind. It was an odd sensation, watching this skillful warrior with that look about her, as if she were two women at the same time. Or two different women in one body.
Rogue Gordon looked up at the screens above her head with a distant gaze, as if her whole life was written there.
"They told us about you", Carolyn said softly.
"What do you mean?" Gordon snapped back to the reality around her, looking at the woman who had called her back from wherever she'd gone.
"The children told us about you", Carolyn said, watching Gordon with a gentle look. "About the red-haired girl who told stories about their parents looking for them - told them that everything would be alright. Even the meta-humans told us about you."
"I wasn't alone", Gordon said softly. "There were others that helped."
"You were the one they remembered", the blonde woman said, still tenderly.
Gordon nodded, losing herself in thoughts again. After a moment she finally resumed: "We managed to get out, eventually. You know what happened: the owner of Arkham Asylum and the orphanage was convicted for his crimes but committed suicide the same day; Arkham Orphanage was shut down never to be reopened and the asylum was sold. I left Gotham. Four years ago I returned."
Why? Helena wanted to ask. Why did you? What did you return to? Who did you return for?
"I came to look for the one responsible for what went on below Arkham Asylum."
A moment's silence followed after Gordon's words. Even Huntress' thoughts left the question of Gordon's return to contemplate what Gordon was saying. Then...
"You mean the previous owner wasn't responsible?" Dinah asked, frowning. "He's innocent?"
"No, that he was not. He knew what was going on below the asylum and he was probably well paid to keep quiet. Whoever it was that commenced with the experimentations needed his consent." Gordon shook her head. "But someone else was behind the whole thing. Someone planned it all and had doctors and helpers to execute the experimentations. I returned to find out who this person is. My first lead would obviously have been the previous owner of Arkham if he hadn't committed suicide. Instead I wanted to visit the warden of the orphanage, who'd been convicted for his crimes and sent to prison. But he died as I was about to visit him."
"An accident at the ward where he was held", Carolyn said and nodded. "Yes, four years ago. Something about accidentally locking himself in the freezer for the whole night. He was working in the kitchen."
"That seems convenient", Helena said cynically.
"And highly improbable," Gordon objected, with a quick glance in Helena's direction. "I've been playing cat and mouse with this invisible puppet master for four years. My leads either end in suicides or other unexplained deaths. A lot of bounty hunters keep getting in my way, too."
Helena clenched her jaws, wanting to remark upon the comment about unexplained deaths, but in the end she remained silent.
"The game changed when Robin got involved. He was following another lead... He was investigating the death of one of the psychiatrists employed at Arkham. Robin suspected that one of the members of the Tisiphone Foundation was behind the murder."
"The foundation that now owns Arkham Asylum", Carolyn said. "I remember, there was a death about... nearly two years ago." She frowned. "But it was put down to heart failure."
"Robin didn't believe so. We worked together for some time. Then, one night he contacted me, letting me know he had found a lead which he was going to follow up. Someone had contacted him about Arkham. The same night I had a meeting with another source, also claiming to have some information." Gordon paused.
"And?" Helena asked impatiently.
"I don't know how much you know about the bounty hunter community - how it works to get an assignment and such?"
"Not much", Carolyn said, shaking her head. "It's a guarded community."
Gordon nodded. "That night I was contacted by a client that sometimes asks me to kill for her."
"Her?" Dinah asked. "It's a woman?"
"I'm not positive. It might be, it might not be. Her username is feminine, though, and she asked me to assassinate Robin."
Huntress snarled, glaring at Gordon; her eyes turning cat-like.
"I didn't", Gordon said sharply, looking at Helena before the dark-haired woman had time to speak. "If you just listen..."
Huntress receded, again crossing her arms. "Talk", she said heatedly.
"In the bounty hunter community communications work like this", Gordon explained. "Every night between nine and ten a client may contact a bounty hunter to make a proposal - either by e-mail or in any other way. The bounty hunter has that one hour to reply. Ten minutes to ten that night I received an e-mail from this client, asking me to assassinate Robin. I knew this was not a sincere proposition, but a way for this specific client to taunt me, letting me know Robin was going to die that night..."
"How did you know?" Dinah asked, frowning. "That it was to taunt you, I mean?"
Gordon hesitated. "For many reasons", she finally said. "I knew Robin was meeting with someone at the Court House at ten. We didn't really work as a team and had no real way to communicate with each other. I rushed to the Court House, but I knew I'd be late. I only hoped that he'd be able to take care of himself. The thing is - the source I was meeting had also proposed the Court House, but at a later time. When I arrived I was attacked by the Specialist."
Carolyn made a soft sound and Helena glanced at her.
"What?" Dinah asked.
"The Specialist. He's as good as they say... He's as good as Gordon", Dinah's mother said. "He never lets go of a kill and will turn on the client if the client tries to retract the proposal, killing both the target and the client. No one knows what he looks like or who he is. What happened?" she asked Gordon.
"We fought and I had to flee. He's hard to beat since he has the ability to move through solid matter. I wasn't prepared for him and had to abandon the place. Although, at the time I already knew Robin was gone. There were traces of blood on the roof and the Specialist told me I had come too late."
"And your source?" Carolyn asked.
"It was just probably a set up. I believe the Specialist was hired to finish both me and Robin, and maybe make it look like we killed each other."
"Robin was killed with a knife. Stabbed in his side", Helena said, her eyes back to normal. Walking up to Gordon she pointed accusingly at the red-haired woman. "I think you did it. I think you killed him for money."
Gordon smirked. "I told you before - I've got no reason to lie. And I don't kill."
Helena held the woman's eyes and then quickly turned around, making her way across the room in a few, quick strides. With a swift motion she jumped through the air towards the railing above their heads; in a fleeting movement she stood on the second floor. Angry and frustrated she made her way towards the large window, moving outside on the ledge from where she had a clear view across the whole of New Gotham.
It was dark and the wind was gentle and warm.
"Helena", Dinah said softly behind her, stepping out on the ledge to stand beside her.
Helena shook her head. "There's nothing to say, Dinah."
"We need you in there", Dinah said. "We can't solve this without you."
"Solve what?" Helena snapped. "Robin's murder? She killed him."
Dinah shook her head. "I don't believe she did", she said. "She's... reserved, yes. But I don't think she's a killer."
Helena huffed. "Right."
"No, I don't", Dinah persisted. "And I don't think you do either. Or you wouldn't, if you hadn't been so blinded by hate."
Helena clenched her jaws. "It's not about hate", she mumbled through clenched teeth.
"You find her attractive, I know."
Helena gasped, spinning around to face the girl.
"What?" Dinah said wryly. "You think I'm blind? It was obvious once I realized it. That's why you approached her that day at the diner, wasn't it?" the girl asked curiously. "I wondered about that."
"I don't fucking wanna talk about it", Helena growled.
"Fine", Dinah said stiffly. "Just don't blame me for hanging around her when it's you who can't wait to get inside her pants."
Helena silenced and clenched her jaw. It's not what I want! she thought angrily, but the memory of how that woman in Paris had kissed her and touched her made her body ache for the same sensation again.
Dinah sighed. "I didn't come out here to argue with you. Please, come inside. We're all testy after spending too much time with each other, being locked up at this place."
Helena reluctantly nodded. Gordon had told Dinah to stay inside as much as possible, for fear the girl would be used as bait to get Helena. Since school was out for the summer that hadn't really been a problem for the girl. Dinah also helped a bit in her mother's flower shop at the base of the Clock Tower, wall to wall with their apartment.
They returned inside. Gordon watched as they made their way to the lower floor, but she didn't say anything.
"We're discussing who's set the prize on your head, Helena", Carolyn said. "Gordon explained it's a client naming herself Eris."
"It's the same client who asked me to kill Robin", Gordon said.
"It's the same name?" Helena asked with a slight frown.
"No, actually not - but they are both female. He, or she, only uses the other name when they want to taunt me. Otherwise it's Eris."
"What's the other name?" Dinah asked.
Gordon hesitated for a moment. Her eyes became vacant, as if she was lost in memories she tried hard to repress. "Lady Shiva", she said.
Carolyn frowned. "I've heard of Lady Shiva", she said. "Well, not in years now. But she used to be a well-known assassin, taking contracts around the globe."
Gordon nodded with a harsh expression. "That's correct."
"And you're sure this is not her?" Helena asked.
"I'm positive", Gordon said shortly.
"But how do you know?" Helena persisted.
"Because she's quite dead", Gordon said grimly, looking hard and cold at Helena. "I faced her in combat and I killed her."
Gordon rose. She walked towards Helena; she moved with devastating self-assurance, holding Helena's eyes with a piercing, relentless look.
"Lady Shiva is the only one I've ever killed. Whoever uses Lady Shiva's name is aware of this and is also the one that paid Lady Shiva to kill me in the first place. Whoever Eris is I'm sure they're behind everything that happened at the secret laboratory below Arkham Asylum. I don't believe the previous owner of Arkham actually killed himself, as everyone believes, by throwing himself through the windows of a locked room where no one had access... I believe someone was there with him, hired to kill him. Someone with the meta-human ability to make himself almost invisible by camouflaging himself."
"Cam..." Carolyn said. "You de-meta-humanized him later and sent him to jail for another murder."
"One that I could prove he'd committed," Gordon confirmed with an austere nod, glancing at the blonde woman. "Yes. I believe Eris is behind the death of the warden in prison and I even believe this someone is behind the death of the psychiatrist that seemed to have died of a heart-failure." She again locked eyes with Helena. "I believe they are behind the death of Robin. And... when I meet whoever this is, I'm quite thoroughly going to make them regret they ever heard of me. And you" - Gordon narrowed her eyes at the younger woman - "you're only along for the ride."
May I kill her now? Huntress snarled within Helena, but not so much for hating Gordon because she might have killed Dick as for the way she'd been speaking to her. Not yet, Helena Kyle replied. I'd like her to kiss me at least once first... Huntress snickered. Good luck with that!
"You're going to kill Eris?" she asked bitingly.
Gordon shook her head and turned away, not answering. Shaking her head wasn't an answer, just a way to ignore Helena's question.
"You're going to kill her?" Helena persisted. "Just like you kill those meta-humans you hunt for!"
"I don't kill meta-humans", Gordon objected, glancing at her with an inscrutable face.
"And the Specialist?" Carolyn asked in the background, before Helena had time to start an argument. "He killed Robin, right? What happened to him?"
Gordon turned, looking at the blonde woman. She was cool and collected. "When there was a prize on my head he came after me. When Eris withdrew the prize on my head... he still came for me. That's what he does - he never lets go. So... I had to stop him."
"Killing him?" Dinah asked.
Gordon smirked. "I told you - I don't kill. He was what I call a wall-walker. His neuroelectrical pulse activated some kind of molecular dispersion. In simple words, it made him able to pass through inanimate objects as his molecules spread out. I managed to de-meta-humanized him by capturing him in lead, which impeded his molecular dispersion. He's been convicted of another murder and imprisoned."
"Huh", Dinah said after a moment's silence.
"And he killed Dick?" Helena asked, crossing her arms. Why do you believe her? Huntress asked, sneering. Just look at her! She's a murderer and a liar and she deserted you! She promised to come back, and she never did!
Helena didn't want to think about that and pushed the thought out of her mind, focusing on the subject at hand.
"He killed your brother", Gordon said, holding her gaze.
"It's getting late", Carolyn said after a moment, breaking the increasing silence. "I'm going to change outfit and do a sweep across town. I'll ask around in the meta-community if they know anything."
"Just be careful", Gordon admonished. "We wouldn't want another dead vigilante on our hands."
Helena grinded her teeth, hearing Gordon speak so casually about Robin.
"I'm going too", Dinah said. "May I have a pair of those earrings?"
"What earrings?" Helena immediately asked, looking at Gordon.
"It's a cool invention", Dinah said with a grin. "Mom already got a pair. You should too, you know."
Helena looked impassively at her.
"Huh", Dinah said with a grimace.
"Here you go, Barbie", Gordon said and handed Dinah a pair of metal earrings, shaped like a tiny bird. Or maybe it was a bat; Helena didn't see them clearly.
"Barbie... Still?" Dinah grumbled, making a face, but not in Gordon's direction. With the earrings in one hand she strolled towards the elevator to go and change outfit.
"It's a pair of communication devices", Carolyn explained to Helena, showing her own pair of tiny earrings. They were definitely shaped like bats. "Gordon can track us anywhere and communicate with us through these and the necklaces we've been given. I don't have my necklace here", she added. "But they look cool."
Helena, despite herself, was impressed. Not to mention what Gordon had done to their computer system in the past few days. "Really?"
"Yes." Carolyn smiled. "She's handy with those things."
Helena wasn't interested in hearing about Gordon's many skills. She turned away with an angry look.
Gordon wasn't used to working in a team. She'd never needed to consider the feelings of others while she was busy planning a project. She realized it wasn't quite as efficient working with others as it was working on her own. Questions and explanations took much longer than she'd anticipated.
When Dinah and Carolyn went out patrolling Helena usually went to bed, leaving Gordon alone for the rest of the night. This night she didn't. As Gordon busied herself with Delphi Helena sat down on the stairs watching her.
"So - you have no idea whatsoever who'd want to kill Helena Kyle?" Gordon asked, trying to find some clues to the unexplained prize on Helena's head. Maybe Carolyn was right, though, and the client wanted Bruce back in town.
At first there was no answer; then she heard a soft sigh. "No", Helena said. "I don't know why any one would want to kill me. What would they gain? It's not like I've got a long lost sibling that'd get my inheritance if I die."
"Maybe you do", Gordon said. "You just don't know about it yet. Although that'd mean they'd have to kill Bruce off too, to get the money", she added thoughtfully. "Too complicated."
"And if it is someone who knows about my secret identity, why not put a prize on Huntress' head?"
"Because it's easier for Huntress to hide", Gordon said. "You'd just skip being Huntress for a while and no one would come to look for Helena Kyle."
"But if they know about me being Huntress, wouldn't they just let everyone know about it?" Helena wondered. "What's the point in setting a prize on my head and not reveal my alias?"
"That's why I don't think they know about it", Gordon said thoughtfully. "I think we're missing the point here."
"Really?" Helena said sarcastically.
Gordon glanced at her. "What we need to do is to put pressure on the client who put the prize on your head."
"Secret Eris", Helena said, making a face.
Helena regarded her with a soft, curious look in her blue eyes. "Is that how you managed to get out of it?" she asked.
It was the first time since their first meeting that Helena expressed emotions towards her other than hate and anger. It felt strange seeing curiosity in Helena's eyes, mixed with sincerity.
Gordon had watched Helena before, during the past six or so days. With Carolyn and Dinah the dark-haired, young woman behaved differently than with Gordon. With the other two her softer sides were expressed and she seemed to be a sweet, gentle young woman. She has pretty eyes, Gordon distractedly thought, looking into the soft blue of Helena's eyes.
"Yes", she said, averting her face to focus on what was important.
She was using the computer to hack into the police's files, going through crimes and murders committed in the past two weeks.
"Do you hear me, Delphi?"
"Yes, I hear you." Gordon answered Black Canary, as the woman's voice was heard from the tiny speakers at Delphi. Behind her she heard Helena move forward.
"I've talked to Gibson - he says everyone's looking for Helena and Rogue Gordon, but no one knows why the prize is on Helena's head."
"Some bounty hunters don't care about that, as long as they get paid", Gordon said and heard Helena sniff in the background.
"In any case - there's no news on the mysterious Eris either."
Gordon shook her head; she hadn't expected there to be. "Thanks, Black Canary", she said, ending the communication with a slight frown. "You had a good point, there", she said. "What would anyone win by killing you?"
"Unless they want to hurt my father", Helena said, suddenly standing very close to her. "It's the only reason I can see", she added with a shrug. "They've come for me - like they came for my mother", she mumbled.
"That's it!" Gordon immediately reached for the receiver on the desk and called: "Black Canary, do you hear me?"
"Yes, Delphi", Black Canary said.
"Call her Oracle", Helena said with an oddly strained voice. "It's more fitting."
Gordon glanced at the dark-haired woman at her side, wondering at the mixture of feelings in the blue eyes: there was a defenseless, hurtful look mingled with accusations and a strangely searching expression in a complex knot. Gordon frowned, suddenly getting the feeling that she really was supposed to remember Helena from someplace other than Arkham Orphanage.
"Is it possible for you to visit Arkham Asylum to speak with Clayface?" Gordon asked Black Canary, turning back to the desk.
There was a moment's silence. "About Selena's murder? You believe it's related? I can try."
"Do", Gordon said, straightening.
"Huntress - do you hear me?" Dinah's voice suddenly said from the desk; there was a slight edge of alarm in it. "Huntress?"
"We're here", Gordon said, at the same time opening a GPS on one of the screens. The earrings and the necklace she'd given the two women contained transceivers she could track through the computer system over a wide range. She would need to give Helena a pair of earrings and a necklace, too.
"I need back-up", Dinah said in a strained voice. "I'm in an abandoned office-building. I'm being attacked by a meta-human who turns to water. I can't get out - he's blocking the entrance."
"Let me go!" Huntress said by Gordon's side.
"Barbie", Gordon said, ignoring Helena. "I know which building you mean. I've been there once. Which room are you in?"
"Second floor, a large hall... an audience hall. He's coming!"
"Dinah, listen to me." Gordon spoke calmly. "There's a door behind a curtain in the back of the room - use that if you can. Go out, follow the corridor to the right..." While she was talking to Dinah Gordon turned on another microphone and a second speaker, calling for Black Canary. "Black Canary - do you read me? It's Oracle. The little one is in trouble."
"Oracle? I'm here. Where?"
Gordon gave Dinah's mother the directions, swiftly turning back to Dinah again.
"He's coming after me", Dinah said. "I couldn't stop him, he just... He nearly drowned me!"
"He's called Slick", Gordon said. "Don't worry, we'll get you out of there. At the end of the corridor there's a stair behind a door. It's an emergency exit. Before you open the door there should be a fire-extinguisher on the right."
" There is", Dinah said.
"How the fuck did you...?" Helena wondered at her side; again Gordon ignored her.
"Use it on him."
For a moment they didn't hear anything, then all hell seemed to break lose.
"Barbie - do you hear me?"
"I'm here!" they heard Dinah's voice; she breathed heavily, as if she'd been running. "He turned solid - ran to the roof as we fought... He jumped into the river."
"Get out of there, girl", Gordon said. "Get back."
"Yes. I'm on my way."
"Black Canary - the duckling is fine."
"She is? Where is she?" There was a considerable amount of worry in Black Canary's voice.
"She's fine", Gordon reassured the mother. "She's on her way back. You want to meet up with us?"
There was a short silence. "No, I'll get back to the mission. I'll catch you later."
"Don't tell Dinah you called her 'duckling'", Helena said wryly. "She'll be mad as hell."
"Unless you tell her I won't", Gordon said, looking at the map of Dinah's movements. She used Delphi to find an image of the building where Dinah had been struggling with Slick. The place had been abandoned a few years earlier, when the company that owned it had been bankrupted. It lay by the river leading to the harbor.
On another screen she was alerted about a failed attempt at hijacking a truck on a nearby street. "That's probably what he was up to", she said, showing Helena the information. "Dinah must've stopped him."
"What? It's just a truck."
"A truck that carries weapons", Gordon said. "Do you know Larry Ketterly?"
"Yes?" Helena said, somewhat cautiously.
"He practically owns the harbor area - every building in proximity with the harbor. That means he controls the harbor - what goes in and what goes out. Four times a year there's a weapon delivery crossing New Gotham."
"You believe Larry Ketterly is involved?"
"He's involved in something", Gordon mumbled. "And weapons pay a lot. See?" She indicated the police cars showing up at the scene before them.
"It's like watching television", Helena mumbled, sounding impressed. "What are they doing?" she added curiously.
"Something weird is going on", Gordon mumbled to herself. "Why are New Gotham's criminals suddenly stealing from each other?"
"Aren't they always?" Helena said dryly.
"No", Gordon said, slowly shaking her head. "Slick... Silas Water, actually. He belongs to a group of metas controlled by Eris. I've got reason to believe Eris is behind the smuggling of weapons - why would she be stealing from herself?"
"Larry Ketterly is involved with Eris?" Helena said, surprised. "But he..." She silenced.
"He's the manager of Arkham Asylum, yes."
"I know him", Helena said. "Or... I've met him several times. He's..."
Gordon glanced at the younger woman and noticed the slight frown on her face.
"He seemed nice."
"All nice people in this town have something to hide", Gordon said. "In any case..."
She silenced as the elevator doors opened. Dinah stepped into the room, as wet as if she'd fallen into the river herself.
"Is it raining?" Helena asked surprised, looking towards the high windows.
Dinah made a face. "Water-guy", she said wryly, removing her mask.
"Actually, it's not really water. He has an ability to alter his molecules to a stage of transition from one physical phase to another."
"Which means?" Dinah asked, arching an eyebrow.
"To become liquid. Tell me, how did you come upon him?"
"He was trying to hijack this truck. Or so I thought", Dinah explained. "I saw the driver being pulled out of the truck, the truck went on driving and I followed. Then the truck stopped, close to that building. This man walked out, just leaving the truck. When I confronted him he attacked me, forcing me into the building. I couldn't fight him." She frowned. "How did you know using the fire-extinguisher would work?"
"He needs to reach a certain active molecular state to shift phases from solid to liquid."
"And? That means what in English?" Dinah asked with a sigh.
"It's all about temperatures. Cool him down and he'll be solid. I've got a weapon to use against him somewhere", Gordon added, indicating her black sports bags by the wall. "But Slick used to be a petty thief before Eris got to him. I wonder what set him up to hijack the truck like that."
"It seems like he wanted it to be found", Helena said, looking at the screen where the police had sealed off the area around the office building and the truck.
"Yes. And in that case... Bounty hunters have known about the weapon smuggling a long time, but the police has never managed to get their hands on the stuff. This is the first time they have a lead..." Gordon frowned, thinking. "That lead will take them to the building where the weapons have been stored. This means that Larry Ketterly will be a suspect."
"Larry Ketterly?" Dinah said, glancing at Helena.
"But if Larry works with Eris...?" Helena frowned.
"Larry?" Dinah said. "He's a bad guy? And by the way", she added. "How could you guide me so well inside that building?"
"I've been there once", Gordon said, distracted by thoughts of Eris and Larry Ketterly.
"Once? And you even remember the fire-extinguisher on the wall?" Helena said. "What did you do? Memorize it?"
"Not really. Or maybe in a sense", Gordon said, still distracted. "I've got a photographic memory. One look at something and it's forever etched in my mind."
There was momentary stunned silence.
"Cool!" Dinah said.
"Really?" Helena said sarcastically.
For some reason this made Helena lose her temper. "For someone with a photographic memory you've got fucking bad memory!" she snapped and left the room by way of the stairs.
"What's up with her?" Gordon said, truly surprised at the younger woman's sudden anger.
Dinah sighed. "Never mind. She's just mad at you because you don't remember meeting her as a child."
Gordon frowned. "But I do remember. What does it matter, anyway? It's not important."
Dinah regarded her with strange look. "You really don't care, do you?" she asked after a moment. "About how to deal with people."
Gordon shrugged. "Too much trouble. Business is what matters - people are just in the way."
"But you hurt so much", Dinah whispered, suddenly looking at her with anguish.
Gordon held the girl's eyes in silence for a moment. "As long as I don't feel it, it doesn't really matter - does it?" she finally said, regarding Dinah with a tender look. "Is that what you do?" she added inquiringly. "You read people's minds?"
Dinah blushed a bit. "Something like that."
"Come." Gordon pulled out a second chair by the desk and gestured towards it. "Sit with me."
Dinah somewhat hesitantly did as Gordon asked her.
"Can you see me? Have you read my mind?"
"It... It doesn't really work that way. I've learned to control it since I was a child. I only read people when I want to or need to when on patrol."
"But you can do it?"
"Yes." Dinah nodded. "But I need to touch to make it work."
Gordon held Dinah's gaze. "Do it", she said.
Dinah again hesitated, but then reached out and touched Gordon's bare arm. The girl closed her eyes. After a moment her face crumbled in pain and she gasped, pulling away her hand. There were tears in her eyes as she looked at Gordon. "She tried to kill you", she whispered and touched the faint scar on Gordon's upper lip.
"Yes", Gordon said callously, remembering the battle with her once best friend.
Dinah shook her head. "There's so much pain within you", she said.
"I've learned to live with it", Gordon said. "I don't feel it. It's not important. Did you see anything else?" she asked.
Dinah shook her head. "Do you... Do you need me more tonight?" she asked.
Gordon gently shook her head. "You go to bed. You did well", she added.
"I couldn't have done it without you", Dinah said as she rose. "Thank you."
The girl's genuine gratefulness moved her and she watched as the girl walked up the stairs, only to realize that Helena stood leaning at the railing, looking down at her. Gordon held her eyes for a moment, but then turned away.
The distance was too great for a normal person to hear the exchange between Dinah and Helena, but Gordon's sensitive ears picked up the conversation.
"What were you doing with her?" Helena asked irritably.
"Nothing", Dinah said defensively.
"Tell me. What did you see?"
"It's none of your business, Helena", Dinah said, but then added: "There's nothing there."
"Like she's a cold blooded killer?" Helena snarled, twitching something in Gordon's heart.
Dinah had said Helena was mad at her for not showing that she remembered her from the past, but hearing Helena speak about her that way also hurt Gordon. If she remembers me, she wouldn't be so quick to judge me the way she does. If she remembered me correctly, she would know there's another side to me.
And what did it matter? she asked herself. What did it matter what Helena Kyle thought of her?
"No", Dinah huffed. "She's shielding herself. Beneath her walls there's pain. She's hurting the same way you're hurting. Like you she's lost someone, she's just dealing differently with the loss than you. You get angry. She shuts down, almost completely."
Gordon smiled ironically when she heard that, knowing it was the truth.
The next day Helena kept her distance and Gordon didn't bother to force her into a conversation. She did research on Slick, Larry Ketterly and Clayface. Black Canary hadn't managed to get into Arkham Asylum during the night, neither lawfully or illegally. The nightly staff had contacted the manager - Larry Ketterly - and he'd refused her access.
A chit-chat with Clayface would have to wait.
"Is your friend still sulking since yesterday?" Gordon asked Dinah in the late afternoon, glancing at Helena in the kitchen above them. "Did you tell her she's behaving childishly?"
Dinah made a face. "Are you completely oblivious to your surroundings?" the girl asked, somewhat accusingly.
"Honestly, Barbie - you think I survived this long in this business by being oblivious?" Gordon arched an eyebrow.
Dinah blushed as Gordon eyed her closely. "Don't call me that", she said. "And yes - I believe you're oblivious to human emotions. You're so closed off to your own self that you don't recognize what's going on in others."
Gordon watched the girl with a level look, wondering why the girl suddenly seemed to want to pick a fight with her. "So - what do you mean I'm oblivious to?"
Dinah hesitated. "Never mind", she sighed. "It's none of my business."
The girl turned and left the desk, moving upwards towards the kitchen. Gordon returned to Delphi, but a moment later she suddenly heard angry voices from the kitchen and stood up.
"You're not the only one missing him!" Dinah shouted. "It's not like you have this monopoly on being depressed and angry! Don't you think I have a right to miss him? Don't you think I do? The whole fucking world doesn't revolve around you!"
Gordon made her way up the stairs, seeing the stricken look on Helena's face as Dinah rushed passed her towards the elevator.
"What happened?" Gordon asked as the girl had left them.
Helena sighed and sat down in a chair by the table. She shook her head. "I was... I've been selfish", she said.
"About Dick?" Gordon asked carefully, leaning against the counter beside the table. She knew this was a sensitive subject and didn't want to prod too urgently.
Helena nodded. "I've been so... so caught up in my own self-righteous anger that I forgot that Dinah loved him too. Well... not forgot, actually, more like I haven't cared."
"It's tough, losing the ones you love", Gordon said wistfully after a moment, mostly to herself, but Helena's sensitive hearing picked up on it and the dark-haired young woman watched her closely.
Helena didn't ask anything, but Gordon could see the question in her eyes. At first she wanted to ignore the other woman's inquiring gaze, but then - for some reason she couldn't quite define; unless it had something to do with the mixture of loneliness and sadness on Helena's face that twitched her heart - she yielded.
"I had a brother", Gordon said, remembering. "He was... He was a friend from the orphanage who disappeared some months before you turned up. And then I met him again at the labs below the asylum. We were close, John and I. If I hadn't had him I probably wouldn't have lasted as long as I did at either place. In any case - he grew to become a good man. The best. He was righteous, kind-hearted, filled with a vision of what the world should be - and he tried his best to be an example to the rest of mankind."
Her voice filled with sadness as she remembered, her chest ached for her brother's cruel fate.
"He fought to make this world a better place and he believed it till the day he died, remaining true to his vision of a world where all are equal and just. He had his demons, as we all do. One demon in particular hunted him all his life..."
When she silenced Helena made a small sound. "What do you mean?"
Gordon looked up, for the first time seeing concern in the other woman's eyes. She's pretty like this, she thought suddenly, unexpectedly. Gordon had noticed before, obviously - she wasn't blind, though she might be single-mindedly occupied with the mission to avenge Darkstrike's death. Helena was an attractive woman, and more so when she didn't seem to constantly want to throttle Gordon. There was a surprising softness and sweetness about the younger woman that Gordon had only glimpsed in those unguarded moments when Helena forgot to be angry with her (which wasn't very often) or when she let down her guard in Dinah's company. Unexpectedly she remembered that first meeting at the cafeteria, when Helena had walked up to her with a sweet, nervous smile and with that vulnerable look in her eyes that Gordon hadn't been able to forget.
In a different time, she thought, a tad melancholic. In a different world I could've enjoyed her company... In another life she could've allowed herself to feel something other than the cool efficiency of her mind, flirting with the woman before her. Not now, though. Too much bitterness lay in the way. Too many things that needed to be done. She needed a clear head to do what was necessary.
"It's what they did to him at Arkham", she explained, keeping her voice void of emotion as she met Helena's concerned look. "He was meta-human and would've grown into his powers in due course, but at the lab they brought out his meta-human side prematurely. It caused a... an alteration within him - a split. Somehow he created an alter-ego, a manifestation of his dark side."
"Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?" Helena wondered.
"You could say that, although John didn't need a serum or a drug to awaken his other... personality. Pure anger was enough. He was aware of this and he struggled with his dual personality for as long as he lived. I watched him struggle and I tell you, I've never met a braver or such a genuinely good man in my life. He was so pained by his dark side. Sometimes, mostly during the full moon, he even had to lock himself up to prevent himself from doing harm to others."
"Dark isn't always bad", Helena objected.
"Agreed", Gordon said, curtly; the memories were difficult for her to face. "But dark sometimes indicates exactly what the word implies: darkness. John's alter ego was his shadow, his total opposite. It was total void of light and love, a beast nursed by bloodlust and cruelty." She shook her head. "It's what they did to him at Arkham, making him a demon."
John had been such a sweet, caring young man and to see him turn into that horrible creature, so lewd and brutal, had pierced her heart every time.
"What happened?" Helena asked after a moment's silence.
"I loved him", Gordon mused, again mostly to herself; her voice was broken as she remembered him. "He was so full of mischief and laughter, charming his ways into every woman's heart, gaining respect from every man. And I loved him even more because he fought so hard to keep his darker side at bay. He was thoroughly alone in that struggle." She raised her chin and met Helena's eyes with a solemn look. "He was murdered. I came home one morning and found him murdered, slaughtered like an animal at a sacrificial altar, in my hotel room."
"I'm so sorry", Helena instantly said, with genuine concern.
"He'd been left as a message for me. The one who'd killed him had done it from behind, slitting his throat when he wasn't attentive."
Helena frowned as she considered this. Gordon wondered if the other woman understood what the deed implicated: that John never would have been inattentive in the company of a stranger.
"There were three of us", she said with a fond smile, before Helena had time to ask any questions; she didn't want to talk about what had happened. She wasn't prepared to disclose the bitter truth of the ultimate betrayal. "Two sisters and a brother. We survived Arkham Orphanage and the atrocities that went on below the asylum and we were bound together forever by our experiences. We were so close, closer than any birth-siblings could be. I miss them", she said with a sigh. "They're both dead now and I miss them. They were to me what Dick was to you."
"And Eris...? It was Eris that killed them?"
Gordon nodded. Strictly speaking Eris hadn't ordered Sandra's death, but... But events unfolded, revealing corruption, betrayal and death. There hadn't been an alternative outcome.
She held Helena's eyes and her look softened. "What I'm trying to say, pretty, is that I'm sorry for your loss. I'm sorry your brother is dead and that it hurts you so much."
Helena seemed taken aback for a moment. There was an odd look on her face, as if she suddenly was looking at a completely different woman, and then - quite surprisingly - she blushed. "Mm, thanks", she mumbled, with a strangely shy expression in her soft blue eyes.
Gordon tried to no avail to fathom what that was about. "Any way", she said, turning away from the kitchen, "I haven't had the time to go through the documents and disks I brought from Larry Ketterly's safety deposit box..."
"That you stole, you mean?" Helena said dryly behind her, but there was an amused expression in her eyes as Gordon' glanced at her and Gordon realized the other woman was teasing her. The realization was quite... pleasant.
"Strictly speaking I had a key - so..." Gordon shrugged with a teasing smile. "It's not stealing if you have legal access."
"And where did you get that key?"
Helena's tone of voice and the sudden gleaming of mischief in her blue eyes weren't lost on Gordon: she laughed. Her laughter seemed to confuse Helena, who stopped in her tracks before the table to stare at her. There was an open, vulnerable expression in her eyes and Gordon, who was quite aware of the reputation surrounding Helena Kyle and her sexual preferences, suddenly realized something. Oh, my God - she finds me attractive! The thought stunned her, leaving her with an oddly lightheaded feeling. When did that happen? she wondered, completely taken aback by the abrupt realization.
She was even more surprised to learn that the knowledge strongly affected her image of Helena Kyle as a mere object that she was sworn to protect. For a moment it became increasingly difficult to remember why she just couldn't walk up to the other woman, take her by the hand and kiss her, thoroughly and ardently. I honestly don't have time for this, she reminded herself with a mental kick.
And still, as she turned away from Helena Kyle, she couldn't prevent herself from giving the younger woman a flirtatious grin over her shoulder. Adding to that she winked, as she said: "Wouldn't you like to know?" before she in one, effortless motion jumped over the railing - to fall through the air and smoothly land on the floor far below. As she looked up she saw Helena's face lean across the railing to watch her. Gordon held her gaze for a moment with a somber look.
In the same moment the buzz of the elevator was heard and the soft sound of the bell as the doors opened. Gordon turned from Helena to watch Carolyn enter the great hall with a resolute stride.
Carolyn nodded. "Nothing good, though."
They moved towards Delphi. Behind them Helena followed Gordon's move in one swift motion and fell through the air. She landed with a soft thud on the floor and then strolled towards them before Delphi. Carolyn gave her a surprised look.
"Where've you been?" Helena asked.
"I've tried to get access to Clayface", Carolyn said. She turned to look at Gordon. "Turns out Clayface escaped three nights ago."
"What?" Helena said with a frown.
Gordon crossed her arms before her, watching the screens overhead. She was thinking of Larry Ketterly. "Larry told you this?"
"No, actually Harleen did." Carolyn glanced at Helena again. "She asks about you, by the way. She says she misses you."
"How cute", Gordon mumbled cynically, strangely antagonistic towards the blonde woman whom she had only met for a brief moment in Helena's presence.
Helena gave her an annoyed look. And so we're back to hating me again, Gordon thought loftily.
"You know, Harleen is actually a good friend. She offered to take me in and shelter me from the bounty hunters." Helena sneered at Gordon. "And she'd do it for free. Unlike some other people I know."
"And you'd be dead within a day with her", Gordon maintained without taking her eyes off the screens above her; they showed different images of the city, changing with thirty seconds interval or so. "What did this Harleen woman say?"
"She told me Larry has been arrested, for reasons still unknown. She let me know that Clayface's escape had gone undetected for almost thirty hours before it was known that he was gone and then Larry tried covering it up."
"Larry really seems to have gotten himself in trouble", Gordon said quietly, talking to herself.
"I can't believe that. Larry... Larry is Harleen's friend, she would..."
"She was devastated", Carolyn said, looking at Helena. "She couldn't understand what had happened."
"What has happened, then?" Helena wondered, looking angry and confused.
"If you search the police records you'll find that Larry Ketterly reported a burglary about two weeks ago", Gordon explained. "He didn't report anything stolen, but claimed that he and his wife had intercepted the theft and scared off the burglars."
"It was you?" Carolyn asked after a moment.
Gordon nodded. "I borrowed something from him. A key."
"Ah!" Carolyn said. "To the safety deposit box? Of course."
"But... he said he didn't know anything about that deposit box?" Helena objected, with a frown.
"Well, he lied. There are documents that he has signed. Release forms for prisoners at Arkham who weren't supposed to have been let out in society again, but who Larry has stated were fully treated and ready to conform to a normal life in New Gotham. They disappeared as soon as they were released." Gordon watched the screens, adding: "Silas Waters was one of them."
"Slick? The guy who tried to drown Dinah last night?" Helena asked.
"The one and the same. And we know who he's working for now."
"That's just speculation", Carolyn said. "He might as well have acted on his own, trying to get back at Larry for something."
Gordon shrugged. "It's not impossible."
"But you find it unlikely", Helena stated dryly.
Gordon glanced at her with a short nod. "Larry released these people for a reason. Maybe to have them work for him. Or maybe to have them work for whomever he's working for."
"Eris", Carolyn said, with some bitterness.
"I've been through a few of the files I took from the deposit box, but far from all. I need time to go through the rest. Maybe there's something that leads me back to..." Gordon silenced as the elevator doors opened in the background.
They turned as one to look at Alfred, who stepped into the large space.
"Alfred?" Carolyn said and took a step forward as she noticed the worried look on the older man's face.
"Miss Carolyn..." Alfred carried a large, rectangular box in his hands; one of those boxes that came with expensive suits in them. "Miss Carolyn, I'm awfully afraid that... that Miss Dinah has vacated the building."
Carolyn turned pale. "Alfred?"
"Old man", Gordon said and stepped forward. "Speak up."
He huffed, as he always did when she called him old man, but she still didn't know if it was because he disliked the expression or her way of uttering it.
"She was terribly upset", Alfred explained. "I promised to make her some tea and bring it for her, but when I reached her room she wasn't there. I've looked everywhere for her, Miss Gordon."
She frowned. "If she wears her necklace and earrings I'll be able to track her", she said. "I'll try to contact her..."
"I'll do it", Carolyn said, returning to Delphi.
"Um, Miss Gordon, if I may?"
"Stop calling me Miss, old man", she said, looking at him with a frown. "I told you, it's Gordon."
He huffed. "I think maybe this could be of assistance."
"What is it?"
Alfred removed the lid from the box to reveal a dress made out of leather in blue, black and yellow. There was a mask with it.
" What is that?" Gordon asked carefully, after a few moments's stunned silence. Beside her Helena made a strangled sound, as if stifling a laugh.
"It's a costume, Miss Gordon", the old man said with a completely grave face.
"I can see it's a costume", Gordon said cynically. "What do you propose I do with it?"
He kept looking at her, not changing a muscle in his wrinkled face. "I'd propose you wear it, Miss Gordon."
"You want me to wear... that?"
"Yes. It's a perfect cover for you. You can't move outside with Huntress, if you want to bring Dinah back. And you ought not to go alone. None of you ought to go alone."
"Alfred - what is that?" Gordon looked down at the costume in the box.
"Oh, it's perfectly simple. Hold this, Miss Helena." Alfred gave Helena the box and then carefully unfolded the leather costume to hold it out in front of them. He held the mask in one hand together with the outfit. "It's a bat."
Gordon stared at it. She needed clarification. "You... want me to - to..." She crossed her arms before her. "Is it my size? How did you get my size?"
"I took the liberty to examine some of your clothes."
"You went through my things?"
"Only your clothes." Alfred kept a perfect straight face. "It was for a good cause."
Gordon stared at the outfit before her. "A bat?" She made a face. "Old man, is this your idea of a joke?"
"It's perfect!" Helena exclaimed, clearly not able to keep out of the conversation any longer; when Gordon looked at her she noticed the apparent amusement in the blue eyes. "You already dress in leather", Helena added, seeing Gordon's exasperated look, letting her eyes travel the length of Gordon's body.
Gordon was indeed dressed in a pair of leather trousers, tightly hugging her skin. She wore a black vest with thin straps and showed off her muscular upper arms and shoulders. When she noticed the unmistakable blush on Helena's cheeks she felt a surprising tug at her heart and a warm glow spreading deep within her chest. She pretended indifference and arched an eyebrow at the other woman.
"Um", Helena timidly said, averting her eyes. "I'm just saying... And it's practical - you can move around in the city without anyone knowing who you are. We could go patrolling together..."
"I'm not going patrolling. And I have no need for secrecy."
Except she did, on this occasion. She took the uniform from Alfred.
"There's a cape, too", Alfred said, showing her the cape that still remained in the box.
Gordon gave him a stern look. "I am not wearing a cape", she frostily told him. "Do you know how dangerous it is to wear a cape, old man? I'd be strangled before I knew it."
He acquiesced before her gaze and gave her a slight bow. "As you please."
"A bat...?" she grumbled. "Why, old man?"
"It seemed obvious, Miss Gordon", he said, at tad stiffly, straightening his back.
Gordon shook her head and accidentally caught the look on Helena's face. The dark-haired woman was gazing at her with an odd expression, as if she couldn't make up her mind about something. In the background Carolyn finally gave up trying to contact her daughter.
"I've located her", the blonde woman said, showing them the satellite image on one of the screens, "but she refuses to answer me when I call her. I should go", she added, looking at Gordon.
"No. The old man is right, none of us should be on our own. If you go alone you could be in trouble. And I don't want to let Helena out of my sight, which is why I need to be with her." That comment earned her another odd look from Helena, but she ignored it and continued: "You stay her and manage Delphi. I promise", she added with a small smile, "we'll get her back unharmed."
It was already twilight when they left the Clock Tower. Gordon felt strange in her new outfit, but the leather was surprisingly supple and the costume was more comfortable than she'd previously thought it would be. Although the mask, that also covered most of her red hair, made her face itch.
Apparently Dinah hadn't gone far. Gordon's tracking devices showed that she was located at a bar called the Dark Horse, not too far from the headquarters.
"A bar?" Helena said in disbelief as she heard the news. "A bar?"
Gordon couldn't help but grin. "Come on, Huntress. Don't be lazy."
" Lazy? I'll show you lazy", Huntress grumbled into the transceiver; Gordon heard her clearly.
They moved quickly across the rooftops; running, jumping, almost flying on occasions as they leaped into the air and crossed empty spaces between buildings. Huntress was quick and agile, challenging Gordon to the limit of her powers. It reminded her of Darkstrike and Lady Shiva and the nights they had spent racing each other across the rooftops in Europe; the exhilaration, the joy of experiencing the ultimate freedom... She knew she missed both of them more than she ever had allowed herself to admit.
And those were dangerous thoughts to be having, she realized as she sped through the darkening night side by side with Huntress, glancing at Huntress. To miss someone was to be human, and she couldn't afford to be human. Not as long as her enemy was alive. Not as long as she was sworn to protect Bruce Wayne's daughter; the child that she had brought out of the darkness of Arkham so many years ago. Though, in fact, that child wasn't a child anymore. She had grown up to become an astonishingly complex woman, beautiful, clever, sweet and - yes, Gordon admitted to herself with an inward, wry smile - dangerously attractive.
Abruptly her thoughts were interrupted by a low, somewhat strained whisper from Dinah through the transceiver.
"Huntress? Huntress! Oracle...? Someone!"
Gordon halted and held out a hand to Huntress, who noticed her stopping and joined her.
"Batgirl and Huntress here", Huntress said into her own necklace transceiver before Gordon had time to intercept.
She made a face. Batgirl?
There was a moment's silence from Dinah, then: "Batgirl?"
"Don't ask", Gordon said with a resigned sigh. "What's up, Barbie?"
"I'm at the Dark Horse bar. A lot of armed men just turned up. I think they're looking for me. I'm sorry I ran off..."
"Girl", Gordon said, instantly alerted. "Where are you?"
"I'm hiding. This is a human bar - I don't dare do anything that..."
A loud noise interrupted the transmission and then Gordon heard a man's voice yelling: "She's here! I've found her!"
In the background Huntress swore.
"It's not far", Gordon said, sprinting ahead. "Come on!"
It was just around the next block. The two of them jumped off the building together and fell several floors before they landed on the ground below, right in front of the entrance to the Dark Horse.
There were a lot of people screaming as they entered with their fists flailing. A quick survey of the interior revealed that Dinah was unharmed; the girl was held at gunpoint in front of the bar by an ugly looking man with thick hair and a great, unwashed beard. Gordon recognized him as a meta-human with the ability to spit acid.
There seemed to be seven bounty hunters in the building, only three of them metas. In the middle of the room there was a few fights going on between the human bounty hunters and some of the guests, who were big, burly men that refused to yield to guns and knives.
"Let's have some fun!" Huntress called, and before Gordon had time to answer the agile figure had thrown herself into the fights.
Gordon swore inwardly. "Huntress!" she called, but it was no use; the other woman was off, apparently having the time of her life as she kicked one of the metas across the calf and sent him sprawling across a table with a well placed punch.
"Yeah!" Huntress called, flexing her arms and swirling about with her long coat whirling around her, challenging the bounty hunters to a fight.
Ah, well, Gordon told herself reluctantly with a sigh. Let the kid have some fun...
There had been a time when she had enjoyed her abilities, when she could feel excitement and pleasure at being more than human - more than any other woman. She had been free to roam the world, free to fly... But since Darkstrike and then Lady Shiva died she'd been too serious. Life's hardship had caught up with her and she had been set on a path of vengeance where nothing else mattered than pure, bright intelligence and cold, efficient analytical reasoning. Where there was logic there was no emotional pain.
Where there were no ties to other people, no way of caring for them or loving them, there were no prospect of betrayal and death.
Gordon's eyes scanned the room. Dinah had somehow escaped the meta-human holding her hostage and now pretended to be another patron who huddled with a group of frightened guests in a corner, when she in actuality kept protecting innocents from the bounty hunters crowding the room with her telekinetic abilities.
Huntress just rescued a dark-haired young man from being acidized by the meta who previously had held Dinah captured. The young man grabbed Huntress' hand and looked her in the eye with a grateful, long gaze. He was quite handsome, Gordon reflected, experiencing an odd sensation watching the young man with Huntress. There was something in his eyes... Something gleaming that ought not...
Huntress gave the young man a quick grin, said something and then turned away to continue her fight.
The young man behind Huntress pulled a knife.
Gordon reacted. In fact, she had already begun reacting as she noticed that look in the young man's eyes. There was no time to do anything other than what she did. She called Huntress' name, but the knife was already moving - already slicing its way through the air... Huntress spun around. Gordon threw herself at the younger woman, knocked her over as she felt a searing pain in her side and then fell to the floor with Huntress beneath her. Their eyes locked for a moment and Gordon noticed through a blood red haze that Huntress' eyes turned human... Turned that soft blue shade Gordon remembered from somewhere in the past (and damn her broken memory that she couldn't remember from where!).
"Gordon?" she heard Helena Kyle's soft, sweet voice whisper.
Gordon managed to roll over and stand. She focused on the young man before her and saw, without evident surprise, his face contort for a second. There was a blurred motion and in the next moment the young man was gone. Instead there was a man before her who she recognized from pictures from the gallery of meta-human prisoners at Arkham Asylum.
"Clayface", she said - or thought she had said; she wasn't sure if she had managed to shape the name properly.
He looked angrily at her. "Who the fuck are you?"
Gordon realized with some awkwardness that she had no possible way of answering him. She felt her life trickle down her backside, shaping a pool of blood at her feet. She looked at the man and saw only the same red haze as before, knowing she was about to lose consciousness.
Before she fell she was sure she heard a gunshot through the air.
Helena cared for her. She didn't leave her side the two first days of her unconscious slumber or in the next five days of her recovery. She tended to Gordon's wound: cleaned it, dressed it with soft, careful hands, and watched the red-haired woman regain her surprising strength.
Gordon was lying in Helena's bedroom at the Clock Tower, carefully tucked in beneath the blankets of Helena's bed. Helena had been sleeping on the couch since the unfortunate trip to the Dark Horse.
"You ought to be dead", Helena was telling Gordon one morning.
"Thanks", Gordon said wryly.
Helena made a face. "Not like that! I mean it's a miracle that you're alive. The doctor said so."
"You had a doctor looking at me?"
"One of Carolyn's friends. She's nice. And trustworthy."
"Huh", Gordon said sleepily, and fell back to sleep again.
Gordon recovered quicker than Helena would have thought possible, but Carolyn wasn't surprised.
"What do you expect?" the blonde woman asked. "She's clearly not completely human."
Gordon wanted to leave the bed on the third day, but Helena strongly objected and Dinah threatened the obstinate woman with using her telekinetic powers on her if she didn't stay put. Gordon finally agreed to stay a few more days, although she wasn't happy about it. To lighten her mood Helena brought a book, which she proceeded to read aloud from to her.
Gordon instantly recognized the literature. "You're reading Aristophanes' Lysistrata for me?" she asked amused, sitting up in bed.
Helena, sitting on a stool close by the bed, shrugged with a slight blush on her cheeks. "So? Girl power", she said. "Never wrong."
"Guess not", the other woman said with a small, surprisingly soft smile.
Helena's heart lurched. Gordon had been looking at her like that a lot lately, with that softness that Helena remembered. She saved my life, she thought, wanting to talk to the other woman about that, but not daring to broach the subject.
"What?" Helena asked self-consciously after a moment, when Gordon's eyes lingered at her.
Gordon shook her head. "Nothing. Just that you're... You're a strange woman."
"What? I? I'm the strange one?" Helena huffed.
"Yes, see... You're these two people at the same time: Helena Kyle and Huntress. Doesn't it ever confuse you? Didn't you ever feel that you needed to choose between the two sides of your life?"
Helena felt a strange shiver down her spine; not fear, not elation, not anticipation - and yet all of it combined. "I... I told you", she said quietly. "I met someone. In Paris, actually. She... she showed me what I could be if I wanted. She taught me that I was free to be what I am, and that I neither have to be ashamed nor afraid of one or the other part of me. Without her I don't think... I don't think that I would've managed to blend my two sides together as well as I have."
"That must be nice", Gordon said gently. "She must have been special."
Helena swallowed. She doesn't remember, she thought dejectedly, looking at the book in her hands. She really doesn't remember me. I was never anything to her. She changed my life and I never meant anything to her. She swallowed again and nodded. With difficulty she said: "It was. She... was. Very special."
"Want to read some more for me? Its been a long time since I read the Greek classics. John used to love them."
"Do you miss him?" Helena asked after a moment's hesitation.
There was a pained expression in Gordon's eyes as she answered. "I do."
"Did you ever find his killer? Do you know who Eris hired...?"
Gordon turned away her face. "I don't want to talk about it", she said in a hard, harsh voice and Helena was abruptly reminded of who it was that she was talking to.
For almost four years Gordon had made the meta-human community tremble with fear. She did well to remember that. She saved my life, Helena reminded herself. Because she gets paid for it, Huntress sneered within her.
And still. Still Gordon could so easily have bled to death, leaving Helena and the world behind. Still neither Huntress nor Helena was able to tear her eyes from Gordon's face or her muscular arms - or her hands; those hands that Helena Kyle remembered so well.
"I'm sorry", she said awkwardly. "I didn't mean..."
Gordon sighed and rubbed at her forehead with one hand. "No, I'm sorry. I... It's difficult to remember, is all."
Helena nodded. "I know. I... Sometimes I keep thinking about Dick and I'm sure he's just out for a moment, soon strolling in through the door, whistling as he used to."
A soft, weak smile touched Gordon's lips. "Yeah? He was a good man, your brother. He talked about you sometimes."
"Mhm. He was very fond of you."
"Why... Why did you stay so long at the orphanage?" Helena asked after another short silence.
Gordon shrugged. "Where should I've gone to? I was a child. I learned to read and write. I learned so survive by helping others..." She silenced. "I don't really remember", she resumed after a moment, and met Helena's troubled gaze. "I learned how to fight, that much I know. And to never give up."
Helena nodded. "I forgot your name", she said.
"How do you mean?" Gordon asked after a moment.
"You... I..." Helena sought for words. "I remembered you, the girl who saved me, but I didn't remember your name. For years I kept crying for you in my nightmares. I wanted you in my life." She shook her head. "But you were gone."
Gordon gave her an odd look, but Helena didn't care what the woman thought about her in that moment.
"What happened to her?" she asked in a whisper. "You were... You were so different then. What happened to that girl who... who survived by helping others?"
Gordon set her jaw and there was a cold, steely glint in her eyes. "She died", she said, in that relentless voice of before. "She died in Paris four years ago."
Helena kept thinking about that remark.
The next four days they didn't really talk that intimately again and Gordon seemed to have reverted back to her indifferent bounty hunter self. Helena kept caring for her: bringing her food and drinks, dressing the wound, reading to her... Every now and again Gordon would reward her with a smile that was a little more than indifferent, but she seemed cool and aloof for the most part, reading documents and files that Carolyn brought her, making notes and calculations and surfing the net on the laptop.
Helena wasn't particularly fond of computers. It just wasn't her thing; she preferred to act, or react, to events in real life. Therefore, when she realized she needed some help with the complex system of Delphi, she turned to Carolyn.
"I need to look something up on the internet", she asked one evening when the two of them were alone and Dinah was spending time with Gordon.
The girl had been devastated about Gordon's almost fatal wound and had wept and begged Gordon for forgiveness until the red-haired woman had taken Dinah's hands in hers and said: "See if I care, Barbie."
Dinah had held Gordon's hands and with an odd look on her face finally withdrew after a few minutes. Helena later tried to talk to Dinah about it, but the girl just shrugged, saying Gordon hadn't blamed her in the least and that there was no use blaming herself.
"So?" Carolyn asked.
"I need to look up someone called Sincerely Me."
Carolyn arched an eyebrow at her. "Are you...? What?"
"Just type it in", Helena said impatiently, gesturing towards the computer.
An hour later both of them sat transfixed by the screen on which the information had been gathered. Helena watched the pictures on the screen and read the headlines below: "The notorious Sincerely Me found dead".
Sincerely Me had turned out to be an anonymous woman who died in mysterious circumstances in her hotel room, obviously murdered. Four years down the line the death was still unsolved and the woman still unidentified. She had been killed by a single stab wound, straight to the heart. The knife had been left in her body and seemed to have been one of her own. There was evidence in the hotel room that the woman, whoever she was, had been the infamous thief, but no lead to who had killed her or where the rest of her fabled treasures could be found. The police had supposed she had been killed by another criminal, but who or from which country they never dared guess.
"I was so sure", Helena mumbled with a frown.
"Sure of what?"
Helena shook her head. "Never mind. Though she was right", she added, mostly to herself. "It was a woman."
Carolyn looked oddly at her. "Helena - are you alright?"
Helena shook her head a second time. "I don't know", she said. "Wait! Take a look at that."
Her eyes fell on another article in the newspaper they were looking at on the screen. Carolyn obediently moved the cursor to the article Helena indicated and enlarged it. There were two pictures: one of a man who'd had his throat slit and lay with his face towards the camera, blood smearing his face; the other was a picture of the face of a smiling man, dark-haired and handsome.
"John---", Carolyn read. "Died a hero for his town." She shrugged. "Doesn't really say what he did, though. Apparently he was a good Samaritan, a cop serving his city."
"It says he died in an alley, uncovering a secret lair of a group of bad-ass criminals", Helena said. She shook her head. "It doesn't add up. She said he'd died in her hotel room..."
"Who said what?"
"Never mind", Helena repeated. "I just don't get what..."
She silenced as she heard a noise behind her. When she turned she noticed Gordon at the landing at the top of the stairs; Dinah stood beside her, trying to convince the bounty hunter it was too early for her to be up.
"My wound is healed, Barbie", Gordon said, a bit annoyed. "Leave me now, before I grow annoyed with you."
Dinah opened her mouth, frowned and closed it again with an exasperated expression. "You're way worse than Huntress", she finally said.
Helena turned to Carolyn and gestured towards the screen. "Get that off!" she hissed.
Carolyn looked curiously at her; Helena noticed a question forming in her eyes.
"Get that off - now!"
Finally Carolyn seemed to understand; she quickly closed the windows, one after another, while Gordon descended the stairs. Helena watched the bounty hunter approach. She'd been so sure there would be some clues that Sincerely Me had been Gordon in the past; the Gordon Helena remembered from Paris. Or at least that she would find something that connected... Oh! she thought, belatedly realizing that the woman who'd been Sincerely Me probably must have been Gordon's other friend... Sandra. Both of them had been killed. Gordon had lost two siblings - as she called them herself - the same night.
No wonder she's hurting. Helena's eyes filled with compassion as she watched Gordon coming towards her. Huntress within her appreciated the redheaded woman's powerful and confident movements and the shape of her body in a pair of tight leather trousers and a thin, sleeveless black shirt. Gordon still wore several leather cords around her wrists. The scar on her upper lip seemed darker than usual and Helena realized it probably had to do with the fact that Gordon was paler than usual due to the knife wound that had kept her in bed.
"You should still be in bed", Helena chided. "It's only been a week."
"I'm fine", Gordon said. "I heal quickly. As do you", she added, looking Helena in the eye.
Helena remembered the pain that had brought her to hate Rogue Gordon for almost a year and her longing for revenge, which had prevented her from thinking straight and almost from performing any kind of compassionate deed towards others. But she'd had Dinah and Carolyn and Alfred in her life, among others, to remind her of her true self. Gordon had no one left. Her only goal, Helena realized, was to bring criminals to justice. She lived for nothing and for no one. She was utterly and terribly alone and her need for control would never leave her, unless...
Unless someone brought her back to the living.
Helena moved towards Gordon and put a hand on her bare arm. The contact sent a jolt of warmth through her body and she felt a slight blush on her cheeks. "I..." she said shyly, not really certain of what she was going to say or do, only that she wanted to heal the hurt in Gordon, to save her - the way Gordon had saved her, three times now. "I'm sorry. I don't want to argue with you. I'm sorry I was so rude to you before... before, when you first came. And - I want to thank you." She held Gordon's eyes, seeing nothing but indifference in their green depths. She felt her resolution falter. "I... I never thanked you for saving my life. You..."
Gordon shook her head and stepped back. "No need. I get sufficiently paid for it."
Her voice was curt and cool, indifferent. Helena felt it as a punch in her stomach; a blow against her heart. Her eyes instantly augmented, expressing her meta-human side, and she snarled at the woman before her. That Gordon looked at her in complete confusion only made matters worse. Hit her! Huntress demanded. Hit her! If we can't kiss her - hit her!
She wanted to. She couldn't think of anything she wanted more in that moment than to hit Gordon squarely in the face (except for kissing her senseless, she distractedly thought), but she refused to let the other woman get the best of her. Shaking her head she backed off, away from the woman who infuriated her so. There was a deep, swirling motion beneath her - within her; it had been there since she first laid eyes on this woman at the diner. The swirling had grown every day, swallowing her up. She had no control. The swirling abyss was filled with despair. It had been filled with nothing else since she looked this woman in the eye at that cafeteria and she didn't recognize her. I mean nothing to her, she thought desolately. Not then. Not now. Not ever.
Without a word she turned and fled.
"What was that about?" Gordon asked with a slight frown as she noticed the hurt in Helena's - Huntress' - eyes, before the dark-haired woman turned and fled, leaving the area.
Dinah gave her a reproving look. "You're really a jerk."
Gordon, obviously missing the point of something inordinately human again, shrugged. "So", she said, turning to Carolyn before the computer. "Have you been able to get some information from Clayface?"
Carolyn gave her an odd look. "Didn't Helena tell you?"
"Tell me what?"
"Oh", Carolyn said softly.
The blonde woman glanced at something behind Gordon's back and when Gordon turned she noticed Dinah disappear in the elevator.
"Clayface's dead", Carolyn resumed when her daughter had left.
" What? How did that happen?"
"He was shot at the Dark Horse, before the police arrived."
"By whom?" Gordon asked with a frown, looking at the screens before her. She remembered hearing a shot...
"Don't know. It all happened so fast, according to Dinah. She was the only who saw it happen. She told me she noticed something strange about the shooter, though. She only saw an arm and a piece of a... some kind of headdress, or ornament."
"It jingled, like bells. And it was... in black and red. The sleeve of the arm was like... checkered, in black and red."
Gordon's frown deepened. "Why didn't you tell me this before?"
"Because..." Carolyn shook her head. "Frankly, because you didn't ask what happened to Clayface."
"Well, on account of us all being safe back in the tower I assumed he was returned to Arkham, with the rest of the bounty hunters who attacked the bar. Helena told me the bounty hunters had been taken care of. She didn't mention Clayface."
"She was probably saving it for later. Dinah thinks the Joker..."
Gordon shook her head. "The Joker is dead. No, this is..." She frowned anew. "I've been going about this completely the wrong way", she mumbled to herself.
"How do you mean?"
Gordon sat down before the computer. "It's like throwing a pebble in the water - it creates ripples. I've been investigating the ripples, not the cause. Like curing the side-symptoms of a disease, instead of looking at the root of the disease."
"But if you don't follow the ripples... you can't get to the core."
"I believed the core was Arkham, but now... Arkham was probably just another ripple on the water. That was my mistake. I ought to have looked further. Instead of trying so hard to figure out who was behind what happened at Arkham and who's controlling Arkham Asylum today I ought to..." Gordon silenced and looked at the screens, which showed various images and files on the Joker. "I ought to have been looking for who has a cause to make such a mess of New Gotham."
"Well, who doesn't?" Carolyn said wryly. "Every criminal in this town wants to be a bad ass movie star on the criminal cinema, as Huntress once put it. Everyone wants to rule this city - and be famous for it."
"Yeah", Gordon mumbled, diverted by the files on the screens. "I need your daughter's help by the way", she added after a few minutes and looked at Carolyn. "It might be dangerous, that's why I need to ask your permission."
Carolyn looked worried. "Is it important?"
"I believe it's the most important thing we'll ever do in this case", Gordon said seriously. "It might solve the whole puzzle."
"And you just thought of it?" the blonde woman asked with a frown.
"No. I've been going through the disks I took from the deposit box. They were encrypted. I've been working on them while in sickbed. I only just cracked the code this morning and I've been reading some stuff... Medical records of those who were held in the labs below Arkham."
"I thought those were destroyed in the fire all those years ago?"
"Not the originals, apparently. There are records of who was there, for how long and what happened to them. It's horrible reading. It states in detail what procedures were done to every patient and what the effects were." Gordon paused. "It also lists the names of the doctors. One of them is a Dr. Melfin."
Carolyn nodded. "I remember. He was working at Wayne's Industries until... thirteen or so months ago, when he was exposed as one of the brains behind what happened below the asylum in the past. Bruce immediately fired him. There was a trial, I believe, but..." She frowned. "Didn't he... die?"
"He had a heart attack, same as that other guy who worked at Arkham, the psychiatrist that got killed. But no, he didn't die." Gordon opened another window on one of the screens, hacking into the City Hospital of New Gotham. "I exposed him", she explained. "I knew he had been working in the lab, of course, but I didn't have any evidence until about one and a half year ago. I think it was my exposing him that got Eris scared enough to later hire the entire bounty hunter community to get rid of me. Here. This is him."
Carolyn looked at the screen, at a seemingly old man lying in a hospital bed, connected through wires to electrical machines that kept him alive.
"Coma. He's brain-dead. According to the doctors he'll never wake up. His heart stopped and he was dead for several minutes before they got it pumping again."
"And Eris let him live like this, thinking no one will ever know what he knows", Carolyn whispered. "Oh..."
"Dr. Melfin was a scientist dealing in genetics, bioengineering and cloning. He dabbled with the human and meta-human DNA, pretending to be a god. I believe he knows who hired him to do work below Arkham."
"You want Dinah to..." Carolyn straightened her back, looking at the screen. She crossed her arms before her, hugging herself tightly as if trying to give herself some comfort.
"I'll go with her", Gordon said. "At the slightest sign of danger we'll head back here."
Carolyn nodded, but she didn't say anything.
At the same time, as if on cue, Dinah appeared, stepping out of the elevator with a concentrated look on her face. "Mom", she said, hurrying towards them.
"Something wrong?" Gordon asked, seeing that worried look on the girl's face.
Dinah nodded. "I think Helena is gone."
Gordon, thinking back on that moment when she had landed on top of Huntress in the Dark Horse, sighed and shook her head. What would it take, she thought tiredly, to get the woman to trust her? I almost died for her, for Christ's sake! What more does she want?
"I can see I have to tie myself to her with a leash when she turns up again", she said ironically.
Dinah glanced at her and Carolyn said, somewhat resigned: "Please, don't give her too hard a time. She's really trying..."
"She's just not trying hard enough", Gordon cut off. "She thinks this is fun for any of us? She thinks I enjoy doing this, being here with you? I could be out there, hunting for Eris..."
"Why did you even bother to take the contract if you don't want to be here?" Dinah exclaimed bitterly. "Why did you even bother? Why didn't you just go hunting for her yourself?"
"She should be glad I didn't", Gordon said matter-of-factly. "She'd be dead."
"So? Is he really paying you so much more?" Dinah pushed. "Is he? Is money really everything you?"
Gordon shrugged. "That's life, Barbie..."
" Don't call me that!"
"What do you want me to say?" Gordon said, looking at the girl. "You're almost grown up, girl - you know what the world is like..."
"I respected you!" Dinah said, almost with a sob. "But if we're nothing to you... just money... I don't want you here. I think you should pack and leave and never..."
"He's not paying her anything", Carolyn suddenly said, looking at her daughter.
Dinah silenced. She met her mother's gentle look. "What?" she whispered.
"Carolyn", Gordon warned.
Carolyn shook her head, glancing at Gordon. "I'm telling her", she said, holding Gordon's gaze. "She's my daughter. She won't work with you if she doesn't believe you do this for a good cause."
"I'm not doing this for a good cause", Gordon said. "I'm doing it because it's necessary."
"What did you say?" Dinah asked her mother, not looking at Gordon. "What do you mean? Mom?"
Carolyn took one of her daughter's hands in hers, gently squeezing it. "Bruce told me the truth. He offered Gordon a... a considerable amount of money to protect Helena. Gordon refused the money."
Dinah looked at Gordon with bewilderment. "Why...? But why did you...?"
Good question, Gordon thought self-mockingly. Remind me again why I did this?
"Because he asked me to", she said softly, surprising herself with the gentleness of her voice. "He asked me to", she repeated.
And because - though that was something she wasn't going to divulge to any of them - she remembered the child Helena had been and the joyous girl she herself once had been. There was something more, something she kept even closer to her heart; there was that look in Helena Kyle's eyes, that day at the diner.
Dinah seemed to exhale in relief. "I knew it", she said with a smile that could've competed with the sun's brilliant radiance. "I knew you were on the good side."
"I'm not on anyone's side", Gordon said roughly. "Now - could we get back to business?"
"What about Helena?" Carolyn asked.
"She's taken her mask", Dinah said hastily, glancing at Gordon. "And she knows you can track her with the transceivers."
Gordon nodded, thinking. "She's not completely defenseless. And she's not stupid, although I'll call her dim-witted when I see her for running away like a child. No offence, girl", she added with a quick glance at the blonde teenager by her side.
Dinah blushed and shrugged. "What is that?" she asked, glancing at the screen with the information on the Joker. "You think he's back?"
"No, I don't think that, but..." Gordon frowned. "I'll leave Huntress be for now. She'll contact us if something happens. Hopefully we'll be quick enough to reach her if it does. Black Canary - will you stay and be her backup?"
Carolyn nodded. "I'll keep watch. You have my permission, by the way", she added.
"Thanks. And I mean that", Gordon said sincerely. "That", she added, looking at the screen, "is what I should've done from the beginning. See? Most criminals have a purpose. The Joker never did. He was all about destruction. That, in a sense, was his purpose, I guess. Carolyn, could you do some research on the Joker while we're away? Focus on his connections to other super villains and in his more obscure deeds that we don't know so much about. Like if he was into stealing technical gadgets or was interested in espionage, and who he worked with on those occasions."
"Where are we going?" Dinah asked.
"You and I are going for a trip to the hospital. We're going as we are - no costumes. Though we'll try to be stealthy about it. You game?"
The girl grinned. "You bet!"
It wasn't difficult getting in. Gordon regretted blowing her cover for the visit to the hospital and in so doing letting every bounty hunter in New Gotham know that she - and consequently Helena Kyle - was still in town. It couldn't be helped. What they were going to do was important.
"You know, when I held your hands the other day there were some memories that..."
"I know", Gordon said, cutting the girl off as they walked along the corridor leading to Dr. Melfin's room; he was held in a separate part of the building, in a sickbay that he shared with other coma patients who had no relatives who came to visit.
When Dinah had gone on and on about how sorry she was that she almost had gotten Gordon killed, Gordon had asked the girl to hold her hands for a specific reason that had nothing to do with easing the girl's conscience. While she was unconscious she'd had dreams. Strange, vivid dreams about Paris and someone laughing at her side. In her dreams she had been strolling the parks, visiting museums and eating at expensive restaurants. Someone, whose face she couldn't make out in the dreams, had been by her side and this presence had filled her with a sense of wonder. Waking up she had experienced a sense of loss, as if losing a special someone in her life.
She remembered soft lips and a careful touch. She remembered stars where there never had been stars in her mind before. And when Dinah touched her those memories were suddenly real and alive, not a construction of her mind. She realized that something had happened to her in Paris that she didn't remember. The thought was frightening. It wasn't the notion that she had lost a memory that worried her - she knew there was a valid reason as to why she would've lost some days the last month she stayed in Paris. Instead it was the emotions that seemed to have found her, that seemed to have been experienced by her in Paris.
She seemed to, quite thoroughly, have fallen in love.
And she couldn't remember with whom.
"Not now, girl", Gordon warned quietly. "First things first."
Dinah nodded. "Fine. I'm nervous", she added as the glanced around the corridor, before Gordon pushed the door to the sickbay open and they slipped inside.
"Good", Gordon whispered. "It's as it should be."
It didn't really take that long.
Gordon recognized Dr. Melfin as one of the doctors who had put needles and tubes in her brain when she was a frightened teenager and lay just as helpless as he did now before her. He wasn't the only one in the room; there were three more beds with silent, unconscious people who lay as stiff and lifeless as if they were dead. None of them concerned her. She watched silently as the girl stood by Dr. Melfin's bed and put her hands on his forehead. Dinah closed her eyes with a soft sigh.
Gordon waited patiently and attentively. Dinah never opened her eyes, but her face showed expressions of fear, pain and revulsion. One time she made a short gasp, followed by a hushed cry; Gordon almost touched her then, to draw her from the unconscious man's mind, but then Dinah's face grew calm again. After awhile there were tears on her cheeks.
Then, finally, after what felt like hours but was less than ten minutes, Dinah sighed with relief and opened her eyes as she removed her hands from the patient. She dried her cheeks with one hand when she noticed the tears. Then she turned to Gordon with large, vulnerable eyes.
"I saw you", she whispered.
"We need to get out of here", Gordon said. "Quickly."
Dinah nodded without objections. They hurried through the corridors and Gordon led Dinah down a spiral stair, through a ventilation shaft and down below the hospital, to the underground city of Old Gotham.
There was some electricity in the area where they walked; pale yellow, broken lamplights hanging on the walls. Gordon told Dinah what she had told Helena: that Old Gotham still lay like a forgotten realm below the city and that people hid there. Dinah nodded silently, listening, but also lost in thought. They walked wordlessly for some time; Gordon gently steering Dinah to where they needed to go. The old, buried city was quiet, peaceful. The streets were broken and empty, here and there some buildings still stood; large, dark monuments from a lost age. Gordon sensed some human life every now and again, but nothing that was threatening to them.
"What did you see?" she finally asked, as they left the more lighted areas behind.
They entered a darker place, where fewer lights lit the streets but still enough to make them find their way. And in any case Gordon had spent almost a year in this place; she knew it by heart now.
"I saw... I saw... awful things."
Gordon nodded. "I'm sorry", she said softly. "I shouldn't have let you go through that. I didn't think..."
"Yes, you did", Dinah said quietly. "You did. And you'd do it again." She stopped and turned to Gordon. "And I understand why, now. The question isn't really how you turned out to be so hard and relentless, is it? The question is how you managed to turn out so... human."
Gordon made a soft sound. "Girl, I'm not..."
Dinah shook her head and resumed the walk. "That's what you say, isn't it? You say you're not good in any way, but what you do is a different matter..."
"I do what I must to survive", Gordon said. "It was never a question of anything else. I do what is necessary. It's the only choice I have."
Dinah nodded. "And I get that now. I do." She silenced for a moment. "There was something in his mind... He was approached by someone, when he was teaching at the New Gotham University and working for something called Sam... Simson Labs..."
"That was probably it. I only saw the logo for a brief moment. There was some conflict between him and his employers, who didn't let him run the lab as he wanted to. Any way, someone approached him with an offer he couldn't refuse. This happened... shortly after the Joker's death, I think. Dr. Melfin was to be in charge of his own lab, where he was allowed to experiment with... whatever. At first he was careful, keeping to his moral codes, but as time went on he just... he just convinced himself that the meta-human criminals that were at his disposal weren't even human. He convinced himself they were lower than animals. Most of them were to begin with heavy criminals, like child murderers, rapists, serial killers..." Dinah made a face. "He felt sick just seeing them, knowing what they had done. In the end he just didn't care anymore. He crossed a line somewhere, going from being a scientist to... to playing God. And his new employer encouraged him, urging him to experiment as much as he pleased. Then there were meta-humans who weren't criminals and then teenagers who were meta-human and in the end... in the end he didn't care."
Dinah looked about to throw up and Gordon reached out a hand to touch her shoulder. "You did well, Dinah", she said softly.
The girl looked up at her with a grateful expression. "You called me Dinah."
"It's your name, isn't it?" Gordon said with a smile.
Dinah laughed a little. "And just you remember it." Her smile died as she looked disappointed. "I didn't see the person's face. You know - the person who hired him. I'm positive it's just one person, though. And here's the thing..." She hesitated. "Whenever he was thinking of this person, he saw him or her like a... some kind of clown."
"The Joker? That can't be..."
"I don't think it's the Joker." Dinah shook her head. "I'm not even sure the person actually wears this stuff when Dr. Melfin was meeting them. I think it's some kind of... metaphor? I only see them as if... clad in shadows. They wore a checkered uniform, though."
"Like the one you saw when Clayface was killed?"
Dinah nodded. "I see in black and white, so I can't tell you what color it is. I can tell you that Dr. Melfin didn't have an ordinary heart failure - he was killed, or almost killed as it is, by Larry Ketterly."
"I figured that", Gordon said, distractedly.
"You did?" Dinah asked, evidently surprised. "How did you know?"
"He's got this kind of ability to enter people's minds somehow. I only just found out when I read the files that I encrypted. Apparently he's been in on the whole shady business of Arkham Asylum since the beginning, long before the Tisiphone Foundation got involved."
"What does that mean?" Dinah asked after a moment.
"It means we're beginning to tie the loose ends together", Gordon said.
"Helena?" Harleen said, quite bewildered when she opened the door to her spacious apartment - on the top floor of one of the taller buildings in the city - to find Helena on her doorstep.
The residence was luxurious, with large rooms and windows. Helena would've loved the view if it hadn't been for the fact that she was used to it from the Clock Tower.
"Can I come in?" Helena asked, somewhat uneasy at doing what she was doing. She was dressed in black, with her mask of Huntress in the shoulder bag she had brought with her, together with some clothes.
"Of course! Of course... I'm sorry, you surprised me. Of course you can come in. Come in, kitten." The blonde woman moved out of the way and let Helena through the door.
"I'm sorry to come so unexpected and so late, but I had nowhere else to go and..."
"No need to apologize", the psychiatrist said as she closed the door and locked it behind Helena. "You look exhausted. Exhausted and lonely", Harleen added and pushed some of the dark curls from Helena's face. "Come. Sit down with me. I'll get you some... tea?"
Helena moved into the large room where Harleen usually received her when she came to visit. Helena always thought of it as the white room. There was a couch, a low table, soft carpets, curtains that were pulled back from the large windows to show the night sky and the lights outside, and three deep armchairs close to the table and the couch. Everything was white, like ivory. In the windowsill there was the small statuette of a dancing figure that Harleen once had explained was a harlequin. Harleen seemed quite fond of the piece and had been pleased when Helena asked about it.
Helena put her bag by the side of the sofa and sank into the couch, wondering what she was doing. She was still wearing her earrings and her necklace, although she had turned off the transceivers and wouldn't be able to hear Rogue Gordon if the woman called her. On the other hand Gordon would still be able to track her.
Helena pulled up her legs on the couch and lay down. She closed her eyes, thinking of the expression in Gordon's eyes at that moment when Gordon saved her life. There had been so much in those green eyes then; so many restrained emotions never expressed and words never uttered. Helena wanted to weep. She had tried to analyze and understand that look, but it failed her completely how Gordon could look at her like that in one moment, and then... like a few hours before, be completely and utterly indifferent to her presence.
She remembered... those years ago in Paris. She remembered Oracle saying, whispering in her ear before she left by way of the balcony: "I'll be back. I promise. I'll sort things out here in Paris, then I'll come back with you. It's time for me to return home."
Apparently Gordon had returned to New Gotham, but not to Helena. Neither to nor because of Helena. She had come seeking revenge, completely forgetting about the girl she had met and given a promise to.
She opened her eyes and straightened with a fake yawn. "I just need someplace to sleep."
"What happened?" Harleen asked as she carefully placed the teacup before Helena on the table and sat down beside her. "Is it Gordon?"
Helena nodded, looking down at her hands in her lap. What could she say? That she couldn't stay with Gordon, as she wanted to...? As Gordon never would look at her that way again, as she had in Paris.
"Your father ought to know better than to hire your brother's killer to protect you."
"She didn't kill Dick", Helena said, shaking her head.
"She said that? You believed her? Oh, Helena..." The blonde woman gently caressed her cheek. "Can't you see? She's messing with your mind."
That's not all she's messing with, Helena thought, vividly remembering Gordon's soft lips, four years ago in Paris. She closed her eyes with a soft sigh.
"That's it", Harleen said gently. "Just relax. I'll take care of you. You did right in coming here."
"I just needed to get away", Helena mumbled.
"The world is not safe out there. You should stay with me. Only the fact that you managed to run away from that woman is evidence enough that she can't care for you."
"What do you mean? The world is not safe?"
There had been something different in Harleen's voice as she said those particular words.
"Oh, didn't you hear? Larry Ketterly turned out to be some kind of meta-human and a murderer. Who is there to depend on, these days? It just goes to show, we can only rely on ourselves." Harleen smiled. "And you can trust me, of course. Haven't I always taken care of you?"
Gordon took care of me, Helena thought, slightly distracted. "Larry is a meta-human?" she asked in disbelief.
"Yes! It's all so... distasteful. Apparently he murdered that man a few years ago, who seemed to have died of heart failure. My colleague, as it were. He was a psychiatrist who found out that Larry was dealing in the weapons industry with some of his... or rather Arkham's clients. Larry would set them free, either legally by signing a paper or even let them out for a few nights - and they would work for him. Same thing that happened to this obscure Clayface. This wasn't the first time Larry let him out. Did you hear he got shot, by the way?"
"I was talking to detective Reese the other day", Harleen went on. "He told me they have enough on Larry to put him away for life. Murder, illegal arms trade, criminal connections... Isn't it just awful, kitten? And I've been working with him for years, never suspecting a thing. It's awful, it really is." She sighed. "And Arkham's owners... the members of the Tisiphone Foundation, they are appalled. They've actually asked me if I want to take Larry's place as their representative. It's a sign of trust, really. I just don't know if I'm up for it. I don't even know if I want to stay at Arkham, with all the mess and destruction." The woman suppressed a shudder.
"You should. Stay, I mean", Helena said, meaning it. "Arkham needs good people keeping an eye on the place."
"You're sweet", Harleen said with a soft smile. "But you, you'll stay with me now."
Helena suddenly realized that Harleen's touch had changed character; the woman had been stroking her hair, but was now caressing her with a tender touch across her face. Harleen's voice deepened, grew hoarse and low.
"Helena, I've never... I - I have wanted to tell you something for some time now. Or rather, I've wanted to show you something..."
Helena was aware that one of Harleen's hands suddenly was inside her blouse, touching her naked skin. She shivered. The touch didn't feel unwelcome, but it didn't feel completely comfortable either. It felt rather strange, having Harleen caressing her that way.
Harleen's other hand cupped Helena's chin and lifted her face. Then the other woman leaned forward and softly kissed Helena on the lips. "This", she whispered, "I've longed for a long, long time."
Helena didn't really know how to react. The kiss felt kind of nice, but it wasn't... It's not Gordon, Huntress reminded her. I can't have Gordon, Helena objected. Harleen would never hurt me. Huntress sniffed. Are you sure? Gordon doesn't trust her...
The thought made her pull back from Harleen. Damn! she thought, unexpectedly missing the suppleness of Harleen's lips.
"Oh, I'm sorry, kitten. I shouldn't take advantage." Harleen gave her a sweet, innocent smile. "It's just... You know how it is, wanting something for a long time?" Her eyes travelled to Helena's mouth.
Helena, remembering Gordon, closed her eyes and nodded. "Yes", she whispered. "I'm... I'm honored."
"Ah, don't be, Helena. You're beautiful. Of course, you know this. I know I'm not the first for you..." The blonde psychiatrist smiled gently at her. "Come, Helena", she said, softly caressing Helena's brow, tenderly stroking some of the dark curls from her face. "I don't ask your forgiveness. I've been meaning to show you this for a long time, but I've been afraid. I've been afraid that I would frighten you. Could you...?" Harleen lowered her face, but lifted her eyes to look at Helena's mouth again.
Helena felt an unexpected shiver of anticipation.
"Could you imagine me being afraid?" Harleen said hoarsely. "My life is in your hands. My needs... My heart is like the heart of a trembling dove between your hands. You have this power over me. Only you." Harleen looked up at Helena, searching her face. "Do you believe me?" she whispered, leaning forward. "Do you believe me, that I'm afraid of you? That my life is in your hands?"
Helena nodded, trembling now. She reached for Harleen and kissed her. Harleen made a small sound, deep in her throat, which made Helena deepen the kiss. The other woman needed her and, in that moment, to Helena - longing for Gordon as she did; for a woman that didn't care for her at all - it made all the difference.
They kissed a long time. Helena didn't know for how long. Harleen seemed content to lay with Helena on the couch, gently touching and kissing. But in the end Helena grew restless. Huntress within her urged her to either take the touching to next step or get the hell out of there to get back to Gordon. Helena couldn't understand why the Huntress part of her suddenly wanted to be with the bounty hunter so much; Huntress had loathed the woman before. Well, for one she's a better kisser than this one. And she's better looking. I never really fancied this bleached paper doll.
"Helena?" Harleen pulled away, touching her cheek. "Will you stay the night?" she urged. "Say you will. Please..."
Helena smiled at the adorable face the other woman was making, while Huntress huffed within her.
"I need you", Harleen added in a low whisper, kissing her.
"I'll stay", Helena heard herself say.
Harleen smiled and rose. "Good, then. I'll be back in a moment. You didn't touch your tea. I'll get you another cup."
Helena wondered how Harleen could think about tea in that moment, but she didn't object. She was thinking of Gordon again, trying to push the red-haired woman out of her mind. But not even when she was kissing Harleen had she been able to forget Gordon's green eyes or muscular upper body. As Harleen went to the kitchen Helena made up her mind. Without waiting for the blonde woman to return she gathered her clothes, grabbed her bag and left the room.
She left the building without a word to the psychiatrist, other than to call from the door: "I've got to go! I'm sorry, Harleen!"
She wondered if her friend would ever forgive her for doing what she was doing, but she couldn't have stayed and been comfortable with it. She would've been thinking of Gordon the whole time and that wasn't fair to Harleen. It wasn't quite fair to the woman to leave her like that either, but Helena knew Harleen; she wouldn't just have settled with Helena telling her goodbye. Harleen would've convinced her to stay and that really wasn't what Helena wanted in that moment.
She returned to the Clock Tower by way of the window ledge high, high above the rooftops. It was deep night, but the lights were still on in the tower. Dinah and Carolyn were nowhere to be seen, but Rogue Gordon was sitting by Delphi, going through some documents in a folder.
"So, you're back", Gordon said without turning as Helena stepped in from the ledge outside the window.
Huntress let herself fall through the air, landing smoothly on the floor right behind Gordon. She removed her mask and flung it carelessly towards the desk where Gordon was sitting. Gordon glanced over her shoulder with an inscrutable face. She said nothing.
"Yeah, I'm back." Helena crossed her arms before her, staring at Gordon. "Where are Dinah and Carolyn?"
Gordon put down the file on the desk, rose and turned to face Helena. She crossed her arms before her, staring at the dark-haired woman. "They have the night off. They needed to spend some time together - the kid had a rough night."
Helena's resolve to face Gordon faltered a little when she heard that, wondering what that was about; her concern for Dinah made her relax a little. But then Gordon looked at her with ice in her eyes.
In a quiet and yet commanding voice, filled with scorn and tightly restrained anger, the red-haired woman added: "And where the hell have you been?"
"Out", Helena said flippantly, forgetting about Dinah for the moment.
"This is no god-damn fair!" Gordon said, still in the same controlled, tight voice that hid nothing of the coiling anger that was rising in her eyes. "You think you can come and go as you please? You dim-witted, spoiled brat!"
Huntress lashed out. It wasn't so much the words or the fact that Gordon seemed to believe that she had a right to command her - her; Huntress! - as the contempt that was shown on her face. She hurled herself at Rogue Gordon with her fists tight and hard as steel.
Gordon's reflexes were astounding. She managed to avoid the first and second punch, but Huntress was adamant and she took a hit in her shoulder at the third blow, before she danced away - out of reach from Huntress' swiftly striking fists.
"What are you doing?" Gordon exclaimed, set on defending herself as Huntress rushed her a second time.
Huntress only snarled. There were not many coherent thoughts within her in that moment; the only thing Helena could hear herself think was, kiss her or kill her, kiss her or kill her, and kissing wasn't an option.
They exchanged hard, rapid blows. Huntress remembered what it was like, fighting Rogue Gordon; she had lost the last time, due to Gordon's cheap trick of paralyzing her. Huntress wasn't losing again - she simply refused to. Fighting Gordon, though, forced her to make use of all her inherent strength. For the first time in her life she let go completely in a fight - freeing her mind and body, shedding all control to become the perfect fighting machine. She was a tornado of wind and blows and dangerous kicks, moving like a hurricane through the place, tearing down chairs and lamps and paintings from the walls. She was deadly and ruthless - and yet she was denied.
Gordon just didn't yield. The other woman was as fast and as strong; neither ever gained the upper hand. They punched and took blows that sent them hurling across the wide floor, but neither yielded.
Finally Helena/Huntress came to her senses. She backed off, looking around. The place looked as if a whirlwind had passed through. Miraculously enough Delphi had been spared the devastation. When Huntress glanced at Gordon, standing a few feet away, reluctantly prepared to defend herself should Huntress attack, she realized with immense clarity and utmost disbelief that Gordon had been defending Delphi. The woman, in the midst of all chaos of swirling kicks and punches, had carefully been defending the computer system from damage. She didn't let go, Huntress thought, amazed. She fucking didn't let go!
The thought of Gordon still being in control of her own emotions as Huntress completely had abandoned her own restrain angered her even more. With an anguished cry she threw herself at Gordon.
"Will you stop doing that?" Gordon called as she sidestepped and somehow managed to get hold of Huntress' arms. With a swift motion she pushed Huntress towards the wall beside the elevator and pinned her arms above her head, at the same time crushing her own body against Huntress' to keep her in place. "Will you stop hitting me?"
Huntress/Helena made a small sound, unprepared for the sudden intimate contact with the other woman. Her eyes augmented to reveal her human side as she stared into Gordon's green, annoyed eyes.
"I hate you", Helena whispered. I hate you for not remembering me...
"I didn't kill you brother", Gordon said, still holding her although Helena made no movement to resist.
Helena shook her head. "I know that", she said quietly. Her eyes left Gordon's and moved to Gordon's mouth. The sight aroused her senses and she felt an uproar, a thunderstorm, in her head as her blood started pumping and her pulse increased. In the next moment her eyes revealed Huntress' nature once more.
"Helena...?" Gordon asked, with a strange catch to her voice.
Gordon's hold released a little and Huntress took advantage by seizing the woman's waist to spin her around, pressing her against the wall. There was an incredible deep, engulfing desire tearing in her flesh, making her feverish.
"It's my turn now", she snarled heatedly, before kissing the other woman.
Gordon's body was tightly pressed to her own and her own hands were circling Gordon's neck, pulling the other woman closer. As their lips met Helena within Huntress felt a jolt of burning sweetness as she remembered the contact. Gordon made a soft, surprised sound as Huntress' mouth covered hers and her lips were forced open to receive Huntress' warm, craving tongue, but she didn't pull away. Instead she encircled Huntress' waist, firmly and tenderly at the same time. She pulled Huntress impossibly closer, deepening the kiss with the same urgency that Huntress could feel building within her. It wasn't a tender kiss; it was demanding and frustrated and burning. Gordon's mouth was ruthless, hard and unyielding - just as her body had been in the fight. Huntress found it intoxicatingly arousing and felt her denied desire swirl like a fire storm within her chest, in her stomach, filling her head, her senses and her entire being. She pressed Gordon to the wall, almost crushing her against it in her need to feel her. To feel hard muscles, soft curves - her breasts, her hips, her thighs, her arms...
Then suddenly, completely without warning, Gordon pushed her away. Hard.
Huntress stumbled backwards, looking uncomprehendingly at the other woman.
"I can't do this", Gordon said, shaking her head. She stepped away from the wall. "This is not what I'm here for."
Huntress opened her mouth, closed it again and felt angry and frustrated tears rising in her eyes. "Fuck you!" she snarled.
She turned around and jumped. She jumped to the second floor, landing smoothly on the other side of the railing and went to jump again to reach the window ledge where she usually went to find solitude.
"No - you don't!" Gordon called behind her.
Rogue Gordon followed her. She jumped to the second floor and jumped again to grab Helena by her leg as Helena was reaching for the window ledge. They both fell.
They landed in the lounge on the second floor, both quickly coming to their feet again. Huntress speedily landed a blow on Gordon's chin. Gordon swore beneath her breath and punched Huntress in the chest. Huntress staggered backwards, but remained on her feet. She advanced on Gordon, warily eyeing her.
"You're not going anywhere without me anymore", Gordon said.
Huntress didn't bother with replying; she hurled herself at Gordon. But this time Gordon didn't sidestep - she simply seized Huntress in her arms, found her mouth with her own... and kissed her.
Huntress grew perfectly still. Her inside, every organ in her body, was burning with frustrated desire for the other woman, and still... Still. She made a low, desperate cry deep in her throat, wrenched away and punched Gordon in the face. Gordon fell backwards, across the couch in the lounge, but she grabbed Huntress before she fell and the two of them tumbled down to land on the soft pillows on the sofa.
Gordon's face was close to hers - too near not to be kissed - and Huntress kissed the other woman, thoroughly and desperately. Lips searching, finding... tongues circling, desperately wanting to be found and released to be found again in the endless dance of giving and receiving where warmth and moisture stirred aching, forbidden needs and acute yearnings. They lay like that, encircling each other and kissing with a desperate, burning need. Mouths sought and found, demanded, craved... desired, gave much and still nothing in return, fueled by selfish wants.
"Helena... Huntress..." Gordon slightly pulled away, looking at her with eyes that revealed nothing but a deep, endlessly inscrutable green light. "I can't do this."
Again Huntress looked uncomprehending at her.
"I... I get paid to protect you, not to fuck you."
Helena staggered to her feet, her eyes normal blue again as she stared at Gordon with intense hurt and longing. She tumbled backwards and lost her balance as she tripped on a low, small table behind her. She fell with a loud crashing noise, breaking the table in two.
"Helena..." Gordon hastily knelt at her side and placed a careful hand on her shoulder.
"Don't touch me!" Helena cried, trying to shy away from the other woman, although in reality she wanted nothing more than to be touched by her.
"Please, listen..." Gordon said, and there was - unexpectedly and oh, so amazingly - that remembered softness in her eyes.
Helena grew still as Gordon took her face in her hands and looked her in the eyes.
"I'm sorry", Gordon said tenderly, with that startling, but oh, so longed for gentleness in her voice. "I didn't mean that the way it sounded. I'm just... I'm just not good with people."
Helena shook her head. "No, you're not. In fact, you're lousy with them."
Gordon grinned, surprisingly. "I know." She helped Helena to her feet and added: "But the truth is... I can't. I can't do what we just did. I promised Bruce I'd take care of you, and that's what I'll do."
Helena shook her head. "You get well paid for it. Besides, my father hasn't anything to do with who I..." - she blushed - "sleep with."
There was a strange look on Rogue Gordon's face. Then the other woman rubbed her temple and shrugged. "The payment, yes..." she mumbled. "Still..." she added as she looked straight at Helena - and just like that the gentleness was gone again. "Finding Eris is what matters. No one or nothing can be allowed to matter beyond that. My body is a tool for my mind, nothing more."
Helena watched the other woman. In the past it had been the gentleness of Oracle that broke through Huntress' resentment and found the core of who she was. Helena suddenly knew it wouldn't solve anything by pushing this woman - she needed to allow Rogue Gordon to be who she was: relentless bounty hunter and single-minded analyst.
Helena softly inhaled. "I understand", she said tenderly, holding the other woman's gaze. "I don't blame you, I just... I just wish you would trust me", she said with a soft sigh. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have..." She made a small, inadequate gesture with one hand and turned away.
How can I reach her? she thought despairingly. How can I reach her heart, beyond the uncompromising walls of her logical mind?
"Where are you going? You're still in my charge, you know."
Helena nodded. "I know." She held herself tightly with her back towards Gordon. She wanted the woman so much, not only in a sexual way, but just to reach out to ease the pain she suddenly had realized that Gordon was living with. "I can't stay. I just... can't."
"Because..." She turned to look at Gordon, who was still standing by the crashed table. "Because I look at you and I... I want to touch you. I know you - the one you used to be, and I want her."
I want you so much my heart and body aches for you. The one you once were, the one you have become...
"You can't know me", Gordon said bitterly.
"But I can! I remember you from the orphanage and from..." Helena bit her lip. "I saw that girl at Arkham Orphanage, who saved me. That was you. This cold woman" - she gestured towards Gordon - "isn't."
"She's gone", Gordon said quietly. "I told you, she died. She's not here anymore."
"I can't believe that", Helena said disbelieving, shaking her head. "I... There's something I need to tell you. I've met you before, in..."
Gordon turned her head away with an odd look on her face, as if she was hearing something or having a conversation with someone else at the same time. "Where have you been?" she suddenly asked, interrupting Helena with an offhand note to her voice. "Tonight? Where did you go tonight? There's this scent about you..."
Helena blinked. "Fuck you! I'm trying to tell you something important and..." She silenced as Gordon looked straight at her with a confused expression.
"Helena, I..." Gordon made a small gesture with one hand, hiding something vulnerable in the green depths of her eyes behind the confusion. "This is me, right? This is how I work. My mind... my mind is constantly working on several levels. It's constantly analyzing things. Most people wouldn't even be aware of all the details and facts their brains are processing, but I'm constantly aware. I'm at least at ten different places in my head at any given time, it sometimes makes it quite difficult following a conversation. Do you understand? I have to prioritize and process what my brain tells me, and right now - I'm sorry to say - I find it more important to find out where you have been, since it seems to be connected to something I remember that could tie up the loose ends around Arkham. Please."
Gordon looked imploringly at her. Helena could only stare; she hadn't heard Gordon say as much at one time since... Since Paris. Unless it had had something to do with explaining the techniques of a technological gadget.
"Yes, I'm cold and emotionally closed off, but I don't do these things deliberately", Gordon went on, taking a step towards her. "It's just the way my mind works. It's..."
" 'Courtesy of an over-active mind'", Helena mumbled, remembering. "Yes, I know."
Gordon blinked. "Pardon?"
"Never mind." Helena shook her head, looking down at her hands. "I..." She silenced as she noticed the blood on her hands.
"Helena?" Gordon asked, concerned, as she noticed Helena's pale cheeks.
Helena looked up. "You're bleeding", she said in a strained voice, finally noticing the blood on Gordon.
Gordon looked down at herself, making a face as she noticed the blood trickling from the wound in her side that Clayface had given her. "Perfect", she muttered.
"Told you it was too early to be out of bed", Helena said, closing the distance between them.
Gordon gave her a wry look. "Yeah? Who's been kicking me around?"
Helena blushed. "I'll take a look at it... No objections", she added sternly as she noticed that Gordon was about to object.
"Well, take the time", Helena admonished, knowing what the woman was about to say. "If you're not whole and healthy, who's going to protect me?"
Gordon held her gaze. "Fine. You've got a point." She suddenly grinned. "You seem to have your bright moments."
Helena blushed again. "I have my moments", she shyly agreed.
"And you're awfully sweet blushing", Gordon teased.
"Shut up", Helena embarrassed mumbled, sensing the blush - and her longing for the bounty hunter - intensify.
"Where did you go?" Gordon asked as she sat down on Helena's bed, where she had been spending the last week as she recovered from Clayface's stabbing. She pulled off her top and let it lay discarded by her side on the unmade bed.
Helena swallowed, averting her eyes from Gordon's nearly naked upper body. The bounty hunter wore a black, slim bra, but nothing else on top. Her skin seemed soft and tender in the gentle light from the one single bed lamp in the room and Helena longed to touch it the way she had in Paris; with trembling fingers and hesitant lips.
"Um", Helena said, focusing on the wound in Gordon's side.
The wound was almost healed, as Gordon had said, and would probably not have been a problem if Huntress hadn't lured the woman into a fight. The reopend tear wasn't that awful, though; it had already stopped bleeding and would probably be properly healed in one or two days, the way Gordon's healing abilities worked.
Helena found it fascinating that Gordon had other scars on her body; one in particular stood out, as it crossed the front side of her body - reaching from the outside of her left breast down to her abdomen. It looked to have been a nearly fatal wound and it sure hadn't been there the last time Helena made love to this woman. She would've remembered that. Then there was the scar on Gordon's upper lip (Helena's eyes quickly darted to it as she remembered how it had felt to kiss those lips not even twenty minutes ago...). She wondered what had caused that.
"I went to see Harleen", Helena said, as she circled Gordon's waist with the bandage.
There was a moment's silence as Gordon seemed to contemplate this. "She's close to you? As... is she your lover?"
"What?" Helena pulled back. "No!"
"No?" Gordon watched her with an amused smile. "You seemed to have her scent all over you when you came back..."
"What? Do you have Gibson Kafka's acute sense of scent now?" Helena snapped.
"Don't need to", Gordon said easily with a shrug. "What I have gets me far enough." She watched Helena with curiosity. "I would've thought your sense of scent is heightened too?"
"Well, yeah", Helena mumbled reluctantly. "Harleen kissed me", she added after a moment.
"Honestly. I didn't see that one coming."
"You didn't stay?" Gordon said softly.
Helena felt a catch in her throat. "Well, she wasn't... She wasn't - you."
There was a moment's silence as Helena refused to raise her eyes, but in the end she couldn't pretend to fidget with the dressing anymore and looked up. Gordon was watching her with curious intent. Helena swallowed. Her fingertips tingled with the feel of Gordon's naked skin and before she knew what she was doing she placed her hand on Gordon's bare arm, sliding her palm along the naked skin... and then down and tenderly across the beginning of the scar on the woman's side. Gordon gasped softly in surprise, and there was a slight tremor to her body as Helena's fingers left the scar to explore her nakedness.
"Sshh", Helena said, moving slightly to be able to feel Gordon's body with both her hands. Carefully she shifted her weight, leaned forward and tenderly pressed Gordon towards the bed. "Please, let me do this", she whispered, gently kissing Gordon on the lips, softly caressing her mouth with her own.
Gordon didn't object. On the contrary she let her hands slip beneath Helena's sleeveless blouse to touch her with soft, warm hands. Helena closed her eyes with a soft sound at the sensation. Harleen was completely gone from her mind. There was nothing in the world other than the softness of Rogue Gordon's lips on hers, and her tongue gently, oh so tenderly greeting hers. Helena gasped quietly and breathlessly as Gordon let her undo the bra and remove it, and then her hands were filled with the softness of Gordon's full breasts.
"Helena", Gordon whispered in her ear. "You need to know, that if we do this... it won't change anything."
Of course it doesn't, Huntress thought within her. You'll still not remember me. I'll still be as nothing to you... But oh, the difference it would make to know the naked body of this woman again!
Helena nodded. "I know", she whispered. "I know."
It wasn't the same as it had been in Paris (it could never be the same), but no less good, just different. Helena had sought a lot of women's lips to find that special sensation again, but she had never managed to find it. Until now.
Gordon's mouth became Helena's entire world; the kiss satiated Huntress' desperate, long-denied desire for the other woman. There was this melting sensation within her, as there had been the first time; as if her mind was leaving her and her body was lost in a feverish dream that drove her from her senses and buried her, deep, deep within the burning fire and soil of the planet itself. She was lost, without sense of direction and with no memory of how to navigate in the dark. The only thing that was real and of any substance - of any importance - was Rogue Gordon's touch. The touch of the woman she had known as Oracle in Paris, and who had taught her how to love a woman. How to love, period.
Gordon's touch - her lips and her mouth and her hands on Helena's body - were the only thing that anchored Helena in the world. The only thing that helped her navigate through the mass of burning emotions within her. It filled her with a sense of wonder and an eerie feeling of coming home.
And Gordon wasn't indifferent to Helena's touch; her body responded, trembling and shaking, as Helena kissed her and caressed her. All over, again and again...
It was a true wonder... to kiss and be kissed, to touch and be touched, to give and receive - not in selfish need, but in a need to experience the true self of the one you love and to share your own true self with the same. Love? Helena/Huntress thought as she buried her face against Gordon's neck, after her own and the other woman's trembling had subsided. Her body was relaxed, free and full of sweetness; sated and joyous. Love? How can I love this woman? And then: how can I not? Did I not fall in love with her a long time ago? And didn't I fall in love with her again, seeing her enter the Clock Tower with Alfred that day?
To make love to Gordon was to know the ultimate freedom of mind and spirit, she thought as she lay exhausted in bed - one arm flung across Gordon's naked breasts. To be free to be who she was: Huntress and Helena, two in one.
Beside her Gordon stirred.
"What?" Helena asked as Gordon made a muffled sound.
"My head..." Gordon sat up and swung her legs across the side of the bed; she leaned forward and hid her face in her hands, making strangled sounds.
"Gordon?" Helena put a careful hand on Gordon's shoulder. "Are you alright?"
Gordon shook her head. "My head is exploding."
Ok, that was not the effect I was going for, Huntress mocked in a wry voice. Shut up! Helena objected, bewildered and worried. And a tad hurt.
Gordon rose from the bed, still cradling her head in her hands. "Christ - it hurts..."
"Is there...? Can I get you something?"
Gordon shook her head. "Memories crowding me", she mumbled, incoherently. "Christ - I don't have time for this!" she cried. She straightened, lowered her hands and clamped her eyes shut as she stood unmoving in the middle of the room. Her face was a study in pain and Helena had no reason to believe Gordon did this just to fuck with her.
After a moment the expression of pain on Gordon's face softened, until the woman opened her eyes with a relieved sigh. "That never happened to me before", she said, in a strange voice. She looked at Helena with an inscrutable face. There was a sharp look in her eyes, as if she wanted to bore through Helena's scull to read her mind in the meaty brain.
"It wasn't my fault", Helena said defensively.
"Of course not", Gordon said softly. "It wasn't your fault. You did everything right, Helena."
The sudden piercing intimacy of the other woman's voice hit Helena like a jab in the ribs and she gasped for air. "Gordon!" she whispered, again feeling her aching need for this woman beating at her heart and body with full force. She looked at her with longing and renewed desire.
"We'll... talk. I promise. When this is over we'll talk. I..." Gordon hesitated. "Please?"
There was a sudden vulnerable look in the bounty hunter's eyes and Helena swallowed, seeing it. "Please, Gordon - just tell me..." Do you remember Paris?
"If I do this now, Helena... If I open myself now I'll be vulnerable to anything. I can't... do that. I need to keep it together until... until it's over. Until I've avenged my brother."
Helena closed her eyes as she heard the genuine pain in Gordon's voice. She nodded, feeling tears rise in her eyes. Her promises aren't worth crap! Huntress objected. So? Helena retorted. You wanna talk to her? Go ahead. Tear at her - she won't give in. Her mind is a fucking fortress!
Helena knew it: Gordon might look vulnerable, but at first sign of conflict her mind would take control, blocking anything that prevented her from reaching her goal - even her own feelings. Huntress was raging emotions, Gordon was analytical intellect. They would never be able to best each other, and they would destroy each other if they tried.
"I need to... I need to freshen up. I'll... Thank you, Helena. I mean it, it was wonderful. I promise we'll talk when this is over, if you want to. I won't be going anywhere by then."
Helena remained sitting at the bed with closed eyes as Gordon moved to the bathroom. She remained sitting a long time after Gordon had left the room.
It was late morning when Dinah and her mother made their way to the headquarters. Gordon had snatched a couple of hours sleep on the couch in the lounge after leaving Helena's bed, but she had been plagued by strange dreams: those images that had assaulted her after the lovemaking with Helena, causing her such an immense pain as she hadn't felt since her days in the laboratory. Her memories were returning - those memories from the orphanage that she'd lost when the doctors experimented on her mind, but also other memories... Memories from Paris and of that young woman she had sensed in her dreams since Clayface stabbed her, but whose face was hidden in shadows. No doubt her making love to Helena had something to with her memory returning... unless it was a late side-effect of her near death experience after the stab wound?
No. Gordon knew that making love to Helena had changed something within her. It wasn't the act in itself that was the cause (even though it had been quite wonderful and sweet, she thought diverted), but rather the fact that she had allowed herself to be loved. She had opened a door to her heart that had been closed for four years; she had let out the girl that she once had been - joyous and free and caring. And that girl wasn't so keen on getting back into her cage, not after letting Helena touch her body like that.
"Oh, my!" Carolyn said as she entered the area with her daughter, disrupting Gordon's thoughts.
Gordon, who was sitting before Delphi, looked around the area behind her. She noticed the stricken look on the face of both mother and daughter. "Yeah, there was a bit of a fight..."
Dinah turned to look at her. "Who?" she asked in a strangled voice.
"Me and Huntress. But we kissed and made up", Gordon added easily, shrugging. Literally, she thought amusedly.
It had been quite nice, kissing Huntress. Gordon realized with some anticipation that she looked forward to doing it again. And, for the first time in four years, she could sense a light at the end of the dark tunnel through which she had been travelling. She had only lived to see justice done, seeing only darkness on her part beyond that. Of course, there would always be other meta-human criminals to deal with or another super villain wanting to destroy the city, and she would've coped somehow. But now, for the first time since Darkstrike and Lady Shiva died, she didn't feel alone anymore.
And, what was more, she didn't want to be alone anymore.
"Huh", Dinah said.
"So, she came home?" the girl's mother asked and added, when Gordon nodded: "And she didn't take well to you calling her dim-witted, I gather?"
Carolyn arched an eyebrow at her and Gordon grinned. "Not really, no."
"I was thinking about Larry Ketterly", Carolyn resumed. "I thought maybe Black Canary could pay him a visit..."
"Unless you want to visit him in hell that'd be difficult", Gordon said, finding the right window at one of the screens. "Larry died a few hours ago. Suicide."
Dinah and Carolyn stepped closer, reading the transcript Gordon had intercepted from the police's database on the screen.
In the background Helena made her way towards them; Gordon noticed her out of the corner of her eye and glanced at her. The younger woman was dressed in blue jeans and a blue and red t-shirt. She looked casual, like any young woman of their city. And still... Still I know how fierce and brave she is, Gordon thought, watching Helena noticing her looking at her.
Helena set her jaw, nodded curtly at Gordon as she joined the women before Delphi, before looking at the screens. "What's going on?"
"Could ask you the same", Carolyn said dryly, gesturing towards the area behind them. "What happened to your self-control?"
"It met with some obstacle", Helena muttered, glancing at Gordon.
"Larry Ketterly is dead", Dinah explained.
"He's been kept at Arkham Asylum", Gordon explained. "Pending a trial."
"Why there?" Dinah wondered with a frown.
"They found out he was a meta-human and didn't have the resources to keep him in ordinary custody."
"How did they find out?" Dinah asked. "And why didn't anyone bail him out?"
"There seemed to be some trouble with... his finances." Gordon frowned. "I don't know how the public found out he was meta. Suddenly there was just this rumor going around. I had nothing to do with it", she added as she noticed the girl's look.
"How did he die?" Helena asked.
"He seemed to have hanged himself with his sheets."
"Can you really do that?" Dinah asked, skeptical.
"He's dead, in any case. I'm trying to find out if anyone visited him before he died, but it seems the security has been lacking... or someone is doing their best to cover their tracks. Larry left a suicide letter, by the way", Gordon added. "He confessed to having been involved in what happened at Arkham Orphanage and later below Arkham Asylum all those years ago, and to have been fooling the owners of Tisiphone Foundations all these years by going behind their backs and being involved in criminal activities." She glanced at the other three. "As you know Larry has been the sole connection to the foundation's secret board members."
Carolyn nodded. "So...? Our last lead is... useless?"
"Not necessarily." Gordon looked at the screen. "The foundation must have someone at the asylum. An outward face that represents them and their wishes. I'm waiting to see who that person will be."
"Um, actually..." Helena said awkwardly. "It'll probably be Harleen."
"What?" Gordon hastily turned to her.
"She told me, last night."
"That's interesting..." Gordon mumbled.
"She has nothing to do with any of this", Helena said irritably. "She wasn't even with Arkham when my mother died... or before anything started."
"We don't know when it started", Gordon quietly said, mostly to herself. "Look", she resumed. "The truth is that there are not five, but only one secret member of the Tisiphone Foundation. I found out by reading the files I took from the deposit box. Larry apparently had copies of everything."
"It's just names, Dinah", Gordon explained to the girl. "There are five names on the list. Only one is an actual person - the others are just that: names on a list. The interesting thing is that the fifth name was erased on Larry's copy. I believe there's only one existing list, the original, with the fifth name on it. But were that list is I have no idea. Probably safe with the individual who's name is on the list."
"And you believe this person is the one behind it all?" Helena asked. "What about Larry, then?"
"I think he wanted an insurance policy, something he could use in the future when the wind might blow colder."
"Blackmail?" Carolyn said. "That's why he had all those documents and files in the bank."
"And he kept it in Arkham's name. Eris, if I may call her that, probably knew nothing about it until I busted the coconut."
"By cleaning his deposit box", Carolyn whispered. "God - the man must've been given a heart attack when he found out!"
"Either he went to Eris and gave her an... abbreviated explanation, or Eris found out on her own that he was keeping secrets from her. Probably when Arkham was contacted about the break-in in the bank vault. In either case she decided to end their relationship."
"But she must know you have the files? She must know you're on her tail?" Helena said with a frown.
"And I think that's why she decided to play her last card." Gordon looked at the dark-haired woman standing by her side. "She wanted Bruce Wayne to return to New Gotham."
"But...?" Helena frowned. "Why?"
"I was on the wrong track for awhile", Gordon admitted, looking back at the screens but in actuality not seeing what was on them. "I couldn't figure it out, what Eris wanted. But when I went through Larry's files it began to make sense. I ought to have thought about it sooner. I knew there was a link between Eris and Tisiphone Foundation, but I wasn't sure how or in which sense."
"How could you be so sure?" Carolyn asked.
"The Greek mythology."
"The Greek mythology?" Helena asked after a moment, with a strange sound.
"Eris. The name is the name of a Greek goddess: the goddess of strife. In the legend Eris was upset that she wasn't invited to a feast for the deities, so she threw in an apple - giving Paris the mission to select the fairest goddess amongst them. So the goddesses were turned against each other and the whole thing ended with Paris kidnapping the fair Helen of Troy, creating the fabled war."
Helena made a strange, strangled sound by her side. Gordon glanced at her and noticed the pale cheeks with some concern.
"That's what Eris has been doing from the beginning", Carolyn said. "Creating strife between people. She turned the bounty hunter against the both of you and she probably set Rogue Gordon up to take the blame for Robin's death..."
"She did more than that", Gordon said bitterly, remembering.
"What do you mean?" Dinah asked after a moment's silence.
Gordon hesitated; what she was about to disclose was very private memories torn open.
"Oh, I see", Dinah suddenly said, softly and quietly; Helena quickly glanced at her.
"I've had two people in this life that I've called family", Gordon said, keeping a tight leash on her emotions. "Sandra and John. In Europe they were known as Lady Shiva and Darkstrike..."
Beside her Helena gasped, probably as she remembered Gordon telling her that it had been she who killed Lady Shiva.
"Four years ago Lady Shiva... Sandra, turned against me and John. I will never know why or how much money she was paid to do it. I do know that it was Eris who ordered the kill. Sandra killed John, and she tried to kill me." Gordon touched her upper lip. "She gave me this and... she wounded me badly."
She was thinking of Helena's fingers softly tracing part of that scar that Lady Shiva's razor sharp flying knives had left on her body. Somehow thinking of Helena's soft touch lessened the pain within her. She swiftly hazarded a glance at Helena; the vulnerable expression and compassionate look in the other woman's eyes made her heart flow with sudden, surprising warmth. I'm not alone anymore, she thought.
"I almost died", she resumed. "Lady Shiva... did. I killed her. It was self-defense", she added quietly.
Lady Shiva's own knife in her own heart. John, dead on the floor in the hotel room. How Gordon had covered her tracks, letting the dead Sandra become the notorious thief called Sincerely Me. How she with the last of her life leaving her, had moved John, not to let his reputation be mixed with that of either Lady Shiva or Sincerely Me. Then she was gone...
Badly bleeding she had lain for several weeks in a filthy, secret lair underground, cared only for by a homeless couple that she once done a favor for. When she returned to her senses the world had turned. She had no memory of the last two months, except of that morning when she returned home to find John with his throat slit. She remembered with vivid clarity the soft - to anyone else inaudible - sound that had saved her life as she spun around in the last moment to avoid Lady Shiva's flung blade. The blade that had cut her upper lip and left a scar.
She couldn't remember, how hard she tried, where she had been the night before she returned to her hotel room early that morning or what she had done the past week. There had been only darkness. And that darkness had filled her heart and swallowed her.
"She was your sister", Helena said quietly by her side. "I'm... so sorry."
Gordon nodded. "Thanks, Helena."
She realized that she longed to confide in the young woman by her side and even to try to find some comfort from her. She reached out and touched Helena's hand with a careful gesture; Helena immediately took her hand and gently squeezed it before letting go.
"Why would Eris come for you?" Carolyn asked.
"I've wondered about that too. I just think she wanted to tie up loose ends. I had ruined the business she ran below Arkham. She might have just... wanted to get rid of me. And the best revenge was to have Lady Shiva kill me. I found out later that Lady Shiva had been working for Eris before - taking several contracts on hits paid for by Eris. The first time Eris name turned up at the Bounty Hunter's Message Board was only a few weeks after the exposure of Arkham Asylum."
"So... that's the beginning?"
"I think the beginning came before that. I think Eris was using the old Arkham as her steppingstone to gain power and earn money. I'm not sure that she had anything to do with the orphanage to begin with, but I'm positive she was behind the commencement of the labs below Arkham. The labs commenced only a few months after the death of the Joker, two years before the exposure.
"And Eris' purpose?" Carolyn wondered.
"Revenge", Gordon said, looking at the screen which held a picture of the Joker's face. "You see, this is were Tisiphone Foundation comes into the picture. It's Eris' way of telling the world what she wants."
"I don't get it", Dinah said with a frown.
"Tisiphone is one of the Erinyes, or the Eumenides - goddesses of revenge in the Greek mythology. Her purpose is to avenge murder."
There was a moment's silence.
"His murder?" Helena finally asked, in a strained, low voice; her eyes scanning the picture of the Joker's grinning face. "But... it's been ages and ages since he died."
"I think that when Arkham fell she decided to bide her time. She was patient for years before she decided to tie up this particular loose end... Me. Which was a mistake", Gordon added bitterly. "What does Bruce love the most?" she quietly resumed in a minute.
"Helena and Dick", Carolyn said, in the same low, unhurried manner. "And Dick is dead."
"He loves this city", Helena said. "More than anything he loves this city and the people of this city. That's why he left - he felt he had failed Robin and New Gotham when Robin died." She looked questioningly at Gordon. "You mean to say there's someone out there who knows my father is Batman?"
"Either that or Eris just wants to bring down New Gotham's highest and finest symbol for peace and prosperity. I think she wants to take her revenge on the whole city, starting with the man who's become synonymous with New Gotham for the last thirteen or so years."
"Why do you think this is connected to the Joker?" Helena asked. "Why not... lets say, Two Face?"
"It's interesting that you say that, but I'm betting on the Joker for several reasons..."
Gordon silenced as someone approached in the elevator. A moment later Alfred stepped out in the hall, making a startled sound as he noticed the mess Gordon and Huntress had left during the night, and then looked at them in a reproachful manner. "Oh, dear", he said as he made his way towards them. "Oh, dear. I presume someone is going to clean up this mess?"
"Leave it, Alfred", Helena said amusedly, "I'll deal with it later."
"Hm", he said, glancing disapprovingly at Gordon, for some reason.
"Did you want something, old man?"
He huffed, and looked at Helena. "Madam Quinn has phoned repeatedly this morning, telling me she'll call the police unless you return her phone calls."
Gordon frowned. "Who's Quinn?" she asked.
"Not Quinn", Helena said, glancing briefly at her. "Quinzel. Alfred sometimes gets her name wrong."
Not at all, Gordon suddenly thought, while a deep, oddly calm cold embraced and devoured her. Not at all wrong. I bet it's exactly right. She looked at the screen with the image of the Joker. I've found you, Eris. Or, should I say - Harlequin?
Gordon rose abruptly. "I must go", she said, grabbing her leather jacket that lay slung across a nearby stool.
"Go?" Dinah gave her a surprised look. "Weren't we in the middle of something?"
"Nothing that can't be discussed later", Gordon said shortly. "There's something I need to do. It's... a security matter. Alfred, was this woman at home? Where should Helena call her?"
"Home, yes. She gave me her home number."
"Good. Helena, give her a quick call. Just let her know you're safe. The last thing we want is the police snooping about. Carolyn - could you see that detective Reese gets the documents I've collected in the file over there?" She gestured towards a black folder on a nearby desk.
"Sure", the blonde woman said, somewhat curious.
"He's the only one I trust. Those are the documents I got from Larry Ketterly", Gordon added, and then, on impulse, she turned to Dinah. "Dinah, would you come with me and help me with something before I go?"
She didn't know why she asked, except for the possibility that she wouldn't be returning. There was something she had begun to suspect and she needed an answer before she left.
"Sure", Dinah said. "No problem."
It didn't take more than a couple of minutes. As soon as Dinah had found the right memory, all she needed to do was to intensify it, bring it out - dress it, as it were, in color and shape.
When the girl removed her hands from Gordon's head Gordon remembered.
She remembered Paris and the pretty girl she had fallen so in love with. The girl she had known, even then, to be Helena Kyle - Bruce Wayne's daughter.
"Oh, it was you", Dinah softly said, curiously stunned. "She told me about you."
Gordon looked up. She didn't ask anything, but she didn't need to.
"A few years ago, when I asked her why she couldn't settle with some of the girls she was dating... She told me about the girl in Paris. How she'd fallen in love and how her heart had been broken..."
"I didn't mean to", Gordon whispered. "Oh, Christ - I swear, I didn't mean to. I almost died that morning. I forgot everything about her. No wonder she's been so angry with me!"
The realization hit her, hard and intense as a blow with a steel hammer.
"No, no wonder", Dinah agreed.
Gordon closed her eyes for a second. It didn't really matter now. She had one more thing to do, then she could... try to clean up the mess she'd made of her personal life. One more thing as Rogue Gordon and then... Maybe then she could try to find her way back to the young woman she'd been, and begin anew.
If she survived.
She opened her eyes and looked at Dinah with a soft smile. "Thank you, Dinah. This really means a lot to me."
"You'll talk to her? You'll tell her the truth? That you didn't remember and that you... that you love her?"
Gordon nodded. "I'll tell her. As soon as I come back I'll tell her."
Dinah nodded, looking relieved. Gordon was surprised that the girl had been able to sense her love for Helena Kyle, but not her plans for the woman that was secretly know as Harlequin. Maybe because her mind had been on Helena, not on the blonde woman known to them as Harleen Quinzel.
"I need to go. See you later."
Gordon rose from Helena's bed, grabbed her leather jacket and left the room.
"Did she tell you where she's going?" Helena asked as Dinah returned to Delphi.
Dinah shook her head. "Did you talk to Harleen?"
Helena sighed. The psychiatrist had absolutely not been happy. "Yeah, I did. She wasn't... pleased."
To say the least. Harleen hadn't really revealed her anger, but she had let Helena know in no uncertain terms what she thought of her bailing in the middle of the night. Especially after they had kissed. Helena wondered why she couldn't be attracted to Harleen instead of Gordon; it seemed it would have been so much easier.
"What did she say, then?" Carolyn asked from the desk, where she stood looking through the folder Gordon had left. "Did you really go to her last night?" she added, glancing over her shoulder at Helena.
"Yes, I did. I was sick of Gordon bullying me. And Harleen didn't say much. She knows there's a contract on me at the bounty hunter's bulletin and that Rogue Gordon is my bodyguard. She wants me to stay at her place, but I explained it wouldn't be safe and only put her in danger as well. She wondered why Bruce Wayne's not coming home to personally see to his daughter's safety", Helena added with a sigh.
Some months before Helena would've followed Harleen's lead and become angry and hurt at her father's desertion and his, as she had seen it, betrayal of her, but not now. She had hated Gordon then. She loved Gordon now, and she understood a little more about hurt and anger and the way dark things could mess with your brain and your emotions. Harleen probably meant well, but Helena didn't want to dwell on negative emotions anymore. She wanted to be free to love and live her life again.
She wanted to move out of the shadows and into the arms and the safe embrace of Rogue Gordon.
"Aren't you going to see Reese?" Dinah asked her mother in the background.
"Mmhm, I'm just..." Carolyn mumbled something inarticulately, lost in the folder.
Helena paced the floor in front of Delphi, every now and again glancing at Alfred in the background, who'd made it his duty to clean up the mess that Huntress had created last night. She fleetingly considered to help him out, but was too restless to do anything useful. Behind her Dinah was surfing the net when Helena suddenly heard her gasp.
"Oh, my god!" Dinah exclaimed. "Oh, my god!"
"What? What?" Helena demanded, hurrying to her side; Carolyn followed closely.
"Look!" Dinah pointed at something. "Gordon left it open. It's the bounty hunter's community site. There's a message board... Look!"
"What I'm a supposed to...?" Helena began, but was cut short by Carolyn's soft:
Then she saw it too. Right in front of her someone had left a message for the entire bounty hunter's community, saying that the hunt for Helena Kyle was over. It was signed... Eris.
"The message was only just delivered", Dinah explained. "I didn't even notice the window was open until the marker was flashing, saying a new message had arrived. Gordon must have forgotten to close the window..."
Helena wondered what could've made the ordinary methodical woman forget something like that. "Scroll up", she asked.
Instead Dinah enlarged the window, revealing several messages on the site's message board. The second last message had been sent early in the morning. It read: "Eris - I know your alias. It's only a matter of time now until I know your true name. Call off the hunt for Helena Kyle, or I'll put a prize on your head when the day comes!"
It was, not entirely surprisingly, signed Rogue Gordon.
And then the message below confirmed that the hunt for Helena Kyle was over. There was no longer a prize on her head.
They stared at the screen in silence.
"How could she...?" Dinah whispered. "Does she know who Eris is?"
"I think she's found out who Eris used to be", Carolyn said, holding out a black and white picture from the folder; it showed a dancing figure in checkered clothes, dressed in a mask and holding a short scepter in its hand. It was difficult to tell if the figure was male or female. "I found this in the folder."
"A joker?" Dinah asked. "It looks like the one I saw in Dr. Melfin's head", she added.
Helena looked at the picture. "It's a harlequin", she said, surprised. "What has this to do with anything?"
"Harlequin used to be the Joker's consort", Carolyn explained. "I remembered it when I was doing some research yesterday evening. I left the material for Gordon to look through. She's enclosed it in the folder", she added, indicating the file with a gesture of her hand.
"Who's Dr. Melfin, by the way?" Helena suddenly asked, thinking she hadn't heard the name before. "And why would Dinah be in his head?"
Mother and daughter looked at her with identical expressions.
"Didn't Gordon tell you last night?" Carolyn finally asked.
Helena blushed. "Um, we had other things on our... uh, minds."
Dinah, for some reason, blushed beat red and averted her face; Helena wondered what that was about, hoping - fervently hoping - that the girl had been fast asleep and not roaming the tower last night.
"So, what's this about Dr. Melfin?"
So they told her.
"That's... eerie", she said when they finished. "And this is the figure you saw in his head?"
Dinah nodded. "Or at least something similar to it. How do you know what it is?" the girl added, eyeing Helena with curiosity.
"Harleen has a statuette of a figure like that in her home. She told me about it once, how it's a figure from an Italian opera..." She frowned. "At least I think it was Italian..." She silenced, suddenly not sure that she liked the direction her thoughts were going. "When you say consort... do you mean, it's like - a woman?"
"A woman, yes. Harlequin was a woman."
"I think", Helena said slowly, "we might have a problem."
Helena met Carolyn's gaze without speaking. She wasn't sure what she would say.
"I saw this figure in Gordon's head too", Dinah suddenly said with some consternation, studying the picture. "I just thought, you know..." She shrugged, looking at them with concern. "I just thought it was because I'd talked to her about it and it was on her mind, but I saw them face off with each other."
Carolyn gasped when the realization hit her. "Oh, God! Helena!"
Helena shook her head, still not believing what she was thinking. "She's been trying to reach me all morning... and then she was really anxious that I should come back to see her."
What Harleen actually had said had been that she missed Helena's presence and that she needed her in order to feel like a true woman. If Helena hadn't met and fallen in love with Gordon - both of the times - she might have been fooled by that.
She knew the truth. Of course she knew it, though her mind still refused to acknowledge it. As soon as the thought had struck her she had instinctively known it to be true. Harleen Quinzel had always tried to win Helena over, trying to separate her from her father and her brother and even from Dinah. She had tried, like a goddess of strife, to turn Helena from the people that she loved.
If it hadn't been for Gordon - first in Paris (when Helena had known her as Oracle) and then later, when the bounty hunters came for her - she would've been snared by the blonde woman's lies and manipulations.
"Who are you talking about?" Dinah asked with a frown. "Harleen?" She looked at the picture. "You know", she went on with a smile, "isn't it funny that Harleen Quinzel's name sounds a lot like..." Her smile died. "Oh, o!" she breathed, with pale cheeks. "No way!"
"We've got to go!" Helena burst out, suddenly realizing where Gordon had gone. "Fuck! Fuck!"
It was life's irony that Harleen's insistent attempts to reach Helena was what had put Gordon on the right track; Alfred's slip of the tongue had done what four years persistent research had not. Helena cursed Gordon's over-active mind, knowing the bounty hunter instantly had seen the correlation and by choice neglected to mention it to the rest of them. If Helena hadn't seen that small statuette in Harleen's place she would never had made the connection herself. Not even with Alfred's slip of the tongue.
I'm not losing her! Huntress thought, for once in agreement with Helena when it came to Gordon. I'm not losing her!
"What?" Helena snapped at Dinah, when the girl grabbed her wrist.
"She loves you."
"I felt it, when she asked me to... to read her, just before she left. She loves you, but I'm not sure even she knows if she'll come back from where she's going."
Harleen's place was exceptionally luxurious, Gordon thought as the psychiatrist gave her the grand tour.
Dr. Harleen Quinzel - AKA Harley Quinn, AKA Harlequin - had opened the front door without delay as Gordon knocked. When she noticed Rogue Gordon on the other side she had caught herself, then smiled and said: "So, it has come to this."
It has come to this, Gordon thought, noticing the small painting on the wall above Harleen's bed of a figure that she now recognized: the dancing Harlequin. Gordon was sure Harleen had a purpose with showing her the bedroom and the painting, although the blonde woman did nothing she hadn't done when she showed Gordon the other seven rooms in the apartment. In other words she kept talking about the changes she had done to the place and how expensive it was to live in New Gotham these days. Gordon suspected that Harleen wanted her to see the painting to show that she had never been afraid of being caught.
The woman did say that she never let anyone see her bedroom unless they were her lovers. And at that she turned to look at Gordon, smiling and saying with a dark glint in her eyes: "And aren't you, you rogue, in some ways my lover?"
In the end they finished the tour and ended it in a spacious room where everything was decorated in white. A small statuette of a harlequin figure stood in the windowsill. It was the only ornament in the room.
Harleen sank into the couch, casually resting her arms along the back of the furniture and crossing her legs. She was dressed formally in a white blouse with shirt sleeves and tight, white trousers. Gordon wore her usual leather outfit, a black top with thin straps that showed off her upper body and the leather cords around her wrist. Her black leather jacket was slung across the arm support to one of the armchairs. She herself leaned against another arm support to one of the other chairs, with her arms crossed before her and her legs crossed at her ankles.
"So... Have you come to kill me?" Harleen asked.
"I don't know yet", Gordon said honestly after a moment. "Is there a reason I shouldn't?"
The blonde woman smiled seductively. "Is there a reason you should? Wouldn't it be a pity if I'm gone?" she continued before Gordon had time to answer. "Wouldn't you miss me? See, we are like lovers, you and I - aren't we? Who else do you know as intimately as you know me?"
Not completely unbidden Gordon thought of Helena Kyle and felt an inward jolt of pleasure at remembering the young woman from Paris again. Outwardly she displayed no sign or reaction.
"Oh", Harleen sighed, shaking her head in disappointment. "So indifferent, aren't you?" She looked straight at Gordon and held her gaze for a moment; the look in her eyes shifted and she was dead serious when she said: "I made a mistake by trying to kill you in Paris."
"Why did you, then?"
Harleen shook her head, again with a soft smile playing at her lips. "You know why. Don't be coy - tell me."
"I've done enough guesswork finding you. You tell me", Gordon demanded.
"How boring you are. No fun playing with you." Harleen made a face. "It never was - you're so... serious all the time. Robin was much more fun." She laughed. "I had him running around in circles for a whole year before I decided to end it. His death was... a fine death."
"I would disagree", Gordon said icily.
The blonde woman huffed. "Of course you would. You never appreciated the... artistry of my trade. Do you know", Harleen went on, with some vehemence, "that because of you I had to lay low during three whole years? I was dead set on ruining New Gotham, Bruce Wayne and the Batman together with the rest of the phony vigilantes of this city four years ago, when you came trampling all over my playground with your little toys? For three years I had to wait! And when I finally came up with the perfect plan to get rid of you, by putting a prize on your head, Bruce Wayne leaves town. And so, interestingly enough, does the great Bat." Harleen's smile was acerbic. "You ought to be ashamed."
"You hired Lady Shiva to kill me in Paris?"
"I did", Harleen answered with a small, dismissive gesture of one hand. "You know I did. She managed to kill John, didn't she? It must have been a blow to your ice cold heart that I managed to turn her against the two of you."
"And Helena Kyle?"
"Ah, yes, the sweet Helena Kyle. She came here last night, did you know? Did she tell you? My intention was to drug her and then let one of my meta-humans break in to kidnap her, but she didn't touch her tea... And then she left, pity enough."
"Why put a prize on her head?"
Harleen sniffed. "To get Bruce back to Gotham, of course. And to see if Batman would return - it's really him I'm after, after all. During the year when you went into hiding I prepared everything very carefully. Except, there was this vigilante who kept interfering with my business... Huntress." The psychiatrist made a face. "She'd been around before, of course, but she was never this... pesky. Anyway, when I withdrew the prize on your head I had it all set. I would lure Bruce Wayne back to town by threatening his daughter. I would kill the mayor, blow up the Police Station, turn all of the bounty hunters against the whole meta-human community... Create havoc on the whole city." The woman smiled, with a tad of madness gleaming in her eyes. "Just like Enyo, the Greek goddess of war. All to have my revenge on the city and the people that murdered my poor husband."
"Your husband, if indeed he was, was as mad as you", Gordon said chilly.
"Well, at least I managed to fool the entire town that Arkham makes New Gotham safe." Harleen smiled anew, again with a touch of seduction, before her eyes turned dark. "Then that stupid little whore told me you had managed to secure - secure - evidence of his involvement in the laboratory below Arkham! He was trying to cheat on me, the two-faced little toad! And you..." Harleen almost spat at Gordon, with a look of hatred in her eyes. "You interfered again. Again!"
"You said it yourself", Gordon said, utterly calm. "You ought to have left me alone. None of this would have happened if you had."
"We don't know that", Harleen said, calming down. "I never thought Bruce would hire you of all people to protect his daughter."
"Why wouldn't he? I was the one who saved her in the first place, was I not?"
"Ah, yes. Of course, my mistake. The orphanage." Harleen smiled. "Say, how was it at the orphanage? Or at the lab?"
Gordon shrugged. "I find it interesting that by putting me in that lab you, in fact, handed me the weapon that have destroyed you today. If I hadn't been made part meta-human I would probably never have survived these years. Is that what they call irony?"
Thanks to Dinah, Gordon's memories of the orphanage and of her time at the laboratory were now fresh in her mind, as a newly painted picture. She remembered late one night at the lab when she had felt the presence of a woman with Dr. Melfin; she hadn't seen her, but smelt her perfume and, not unlike Dinah, seen an arm reaching out. She wouldn't have remembered the perfume on its own, if it hadn't been for the fact that she remembered that arm and that voice, saying: "This one must suffer, doctor. Make her suffer..."
Harleen rose. "Fine. I should have killed you as soon as Bruce Wayne had taken his daughter and left. Would that have made you happier? Does it make you happy, hearing me confess to my mistake?"
"Not in the least. Too many people have died already... You can't change a thing." Gordon remained leaning on the armchair. "Tell me... You tried to kill Dr. Melfin? And you killed that guy at Arkham who wanted to confess to something going on - the one whose murder Robin tried to solve?"
"Yes. I didn't do it myself, obviously, but I had people doing it for me. Meta-humans that you, and that infernal Huntress, kept capturing. But I killed Larry Ketterly myself. It wasn't that difficult, forcing him to write a letter where he confessed, and then... Swish!" Harleen made a cutting gesture with one hand across her throat. "Not that I slit his throat, of course - you know he was found hanged."
"You did that?"
"I did. It wasn't that difficult when the security cameras had been interfered with."
"Shot him too, correct. I hired him years ago to kill Selena Kyle. I knew she had been Bruce Wayne's lover."
"You wanted Helena... Why?"
"I wanted her - to raise her as a killer, to have her kill her own father. And Batman. That would've been the ultimate revenge."
Gordon shook her head. "You could never have made that child a killer."
"No?" Harleen smiled in a mixture of seduction and madness that made Gordon's stomach churn. "You underestimate the power of rage instilled in a young and tender heart. But you!" the woman suddenly snarled. " You! You had to play the little heroine, didn't you? Saving the girl and all..."
"Were you behind the orphanage?" Gordon asked.
"No," Harleen reluctantly agreed, shaking her head. "I wasn't. Not to begin with. When my darling Joker died - shortly after he had shot Jim Gordon, by the way - I came across the child slavery by accident. I approached the owner of Arkham and made him a deal that he couldn't refuse. I started up the labs and he let me use the children when needed. When you exposed the labs he got the blame. When he was convicted he wanted to appeal. I had to prevent him from spilling the beans to just anyone, so - I had him killed. Incidentally Larry Ketterly knew about it. He was in on the whole sordid deal already from the beginning." Harleen smiled. "But the most funny part of all this is that you don't have a shred of evidence against me. Who would believe you?"
"Now I do", Gordon said, straightening. She reached for her jacket by the other chair and pulled out a small recorder from the inner pocket. She turned it off. "The oldest trick in the book", she said, holding the recorder. She watched the realization dawn on Harleen's face; again the other woman's eyes grew dark, with a hint of madness in their depths.
"Now I really must kill you", Harlequin said.
"You may try", Rogue Gordon replied.
The woman was agile and strong, with great reflexes; she fought with an aggressiveness that reminded Gordon of a cornered predator. She was also reminded of her fight with Huntress the night before; the fierceness and the passion of the woman she now knew she had fallen in love with. Twice even. Huntress had let go of all control, to fight with pure instinct, and she had been like a beautiful wild cat, hunting its prey. But Huntress hadn't fought to kill.
They exchanged blows, trying to find each other's weak spots. To begin with Harlequin taunted Gordon with episodes from her past: the orphanage, the laboratory, John's death... But soon she had to keep focus on just parrying. Gordon fought with determination and four years of single-minded purpose. She wasn't about to be deflected.
"You know what I did before I killed Larry?" Harlequin said; taking advantage of a lull in the fight she stepped back a few feet. "I took his powers. It was easily done. The procedure has been perfected since Dr. Melfin first invented the charger. Now it's just a small needlelike gadget that charges like a battery from the electromagnetic impulses in the body, both human and meta-human. It's like... a plus and minus battery. You connect the one end to a human or meta-human and the other to a meta-human whose powers you want and - violá!" Harlequin smiled triumphantly. "I do it all the time. Every now and again, when I tire of the abilities I have, I have a... makeover."
"So he died of exhaustion? Larry? And you covered it up by making it look like he hanged himself."
"He actually died of suffocation. The charger isn't perfected yet - the subject on the minus end usually dies of asphyxiation within a few minutes." Harlequin shrugged. "It's enough to make the transfer however."
"It doesn't seem to be working that well yet, since you haven't used it on me", Gordon goaded her sarcastically.
Harlequin made a face. "I need to touch you properly. It's a flaw I wasn't aware of. Not so handy in moment's like this. And too bad I didn't have the ability when Helena came to visit me last night, otherwise I would've held her life like a chocolate praline in my hands by now."
"Come, then", Gordon said, straightening. "I dare you."
The woman who had posed as Dr. Harleen Quinzel for years suspiciously narrowed her eyes.
"Didn't you say you were dying to get a look inside my head? Here's your chance. I dare you, Harlequin", Gordon said with a callous smile. "Come and get me."
"No!" Helena Kyle screamed as she rushed into the white room in Harleen Quinzel's apartment to find the woman she loved laying motionless on the floor before the blonde doctor.
Detective Reese followed at her side with his gun in his hands. "Stay back!" he called.
Helena stopped in her tracks. Beside her Dinah and Carolyn halted as well.
Back in the Clock Tower they had argued for some time before Carolyn had managed to convince both her daughter and Huntress that it was best that they brought the police with them to Harleen's place. It was in the middle of the day and Harleen was a respectable citizen - in most people's eyes. It would look strange if Huntress, Black Canary and Powergirl came rushing through the city in broad daylight. Huntress hadn't been convinced Carolyn was right, but she knew they might need Reese's help if something went wrong. He needed the evidence. Her idea had been for her to go alone to Harleen's apartment, but Carolyn wouldn't hear about it. "It's enough one of you is willful and dim-witted - both of you don't have to be."
Seeing Gordon unmoving on the floor she knew she had made the wrong choice. Arguing with Reese about the evidence in the folder that Carolyn had brought and then about the three of them coming with him and his partner to the apartment had taken too much time. Huntress would've made it in half the time.
"Look", Dinah said quietly at her side -
- and Helena suddenly realized that neither of the two women in the middle of the room was moving; Harleen stood still as a statue with her hands outstretched in front of her.
"What the...?" Reese muttered beneath his breath; his partner moved silently beside him.
Then Gordon stirred and opened her eyes with a small sound. She sat up, shaking her head a little. A tiny syringe fell from one of her hands.
"What's going on?" detective Reese asked in a commanding voice.
Gordon looked up, seemed to notice she wasn't alone and let her eyes take in the scene before her. Finally her eyes locked with Helena's, and there was an unshielded expression in the green of her eyes as she noticed Bruce Wayne's daughter. Helena caught her breath, seeing that tender expression.
"Detective", Gordon finally said, a bit roughly, as if her voice hadn't been used for a long time. "I believe you'll find evidence that this woman has been the mastermind behind a lot of large criminal operations in New Gotham the past several years. If you look in the bedroom, behind the picture hanging above the bed... I believe you'll find a safetybox behind it."
Detective Reese studied Gordon for a moment, before finally nodding towards his partner, who left to find the bedroom. Reese went forward to the frozen woman standing in the middle of the floor. "What happened?" he asked wonderingly.
Gordon rose with seeming ease, picking up the syringe from the floor. "I used my serum on her, permanently erasing her meta-human abilities. I had to stun her first. She'll be fine in a minute."
Reese shook her head. "This meta-human and bounty hunters business..." he mumbled warily. "I wish it would come to an end. It's a jungle out there. You never know who's on your side."
"Sometimes you do", Gordon said, almost inaudible, and glanced at Helena with a piercing intimacy that went straight to Helena's heart and stayed there.
"Reese!" the other cop called from another room. "Here's a safety box!"
The detective glanced at Gordon. "How did you know?"
Gordon shrugged. "It's the only place that made sense. If you know her."
Helena wanted to rush forward to Gordon, but both she and Huntress knew it wasn't the right time. Dinah said she loves me... she thought, keeping to the hope those words had sparked within her. And the expression in Gordon's eyes whenever she looked at Helena seemed to be plain...
In the next moment Gordon's serum released its hold on Harleen - Harlequin - who stumbled forward and then slumped to the floor, unmoving. Detective Reese looked down at the blonde woman, and then hesitantly turned her over with one foot. Helena and Carolyn moved closer together with Dinah. They noticed that Harleen's eyes stared vacantly at the ceiling.
"She's gone", Dinah said.
"What?" Detective Reese asked sharply.
"Gordon?" Carolyn asked.
"She was using Larry Ketterly's ability on me when I gave her the serum", Gordon said, musing. She looked at the woman on the floor. "She wanted me to kill myself. She made the mistake of believing that the horrors of my childhood were still fresh and unresolved within me... that it would cripple me if she brought it out within my mind. Did she think I could've lived so long without coming to terms with what happened to me? Psychiatrists..." She shook her head in disbelief. "When the serum began to work she was... still in my mind." Gordon lowered her voice when she said, with an odd catch to it: "The transfer wasn't completed."
Helena knew she would have to ask Gordon about that later. If there was a later for the two of them. "What on earth made her risk getting so close to you that you could use your serum on her?" Helena asked. "She must have known about your reputation."
Gordon, still looking at the peculiarly lost woman before her, said matter-of-factly: "I gave her an offer she was dying to accept."
Some time later, when detective Reese's reinforcement had come and taken the evidence and the lost Dr. Harleen Quinzel with them, Gordon was sitting on the white couch in the room where she had fought her enemy. She was sitting on the edge, leaning forward, with a tiny cassette which she folded over and over in her hands. Carolyn and Dinah had left the building, knowing there was nothing left for them to do. Reese had nothing on Gordon, but he had asked her to stay to give her testimony. She had done so, telling him that she had come to visit Harleen on behalf of Helena, since Helena had been through a rough patch with the bounty hunters chasing her. When she saw the doctor she remembered her from her time in the laboratory below Arkham Asylum. She confronted Harleen with this and the psychiatrist tried to kill her to keep her quiet.
Helena wasn't sure Reese bought the whole story, but he had no reason to disbelieve Gordon. He had assigned someone to take a look at Gordon's injuries, and particularly at the wound in her side that had reopened. Again. She was properly pampered and cared for, though, when Helena found her.
"What's that?" Helena asked carefully, unsure of how Gordon would receive her presence; there hadn't been time for them to talk alone with each other.
Gordon folded the tiny cassette between her fingers on one hand without looking up. "More evidence. If what Reese found isn't enough to convict her I'll let them have this too, but I'll keep it until then."
They were alone in the white room; the police were conducting their business in other parts of the apartment. Helena looked down at Gordon, not knowing what to say. Then Gordon sighed and placed the cassette in the inner pocket of her jacket, which lay beside her on the couch, before she looked up.
"You didn't kill her", Helena said quietly.
Gordon shook her head. "No. She would've won if I had. It's not who I am."
They looked at each other in silence for a moment.
"Are you Jim Gordon's daughter?" Helena finally asked. "Barbara?"
Gordon shrugged. "My name was Barbara once. It was a long time ago. Maybe - in a different world... I could still have been her." She met Helena's gaze. "Maybe I'm Jim Gordon's daughter. I really don't know. I've never met him."
"And Sincerely Me?" Helena asked in a whisper, needing to know.
Gordon looked intently at her for a moment and then, unexpectedly, something shifted in her eyes; they turned gentle with a touch of mischief in their depths. The way Helena remembered from Paris. Gordon rose, with an easy confidence that was surprising considering what she had been through. She was smiling, almost grinning, now - and her eyes were alight with a strange, cheerful blaze of green.
"Honestly, pretty - do you expect me to confess to being a legendary thief, as famous and sought after as Robin Hood, when such a confession would have half of the known world's intelligence agencies coming after me?" She blinked. "The unfortunate thief is dead, let's leave it at that."
Helena felt a slight blush touch her cheeks, seeing that twinkle in Gordon's eyes and knowing that the woman she had met in Paris somehow - from some strange, powerful source - had returned to her.
"You know", Gordon went on, grinning, "I believe I'm a citizen of the free world who's been stranded on a strange shore, lost and abandoned... I do believe I'm in need of a home. Like... a stray puppy. Do you like puppies? Would you care to take me in? Give me food and shelter?" Gordon's smile faded and her eyes turned serious. "Give me love?" she asked, with a vulnerable softness on her face that cut at Helena's heart.
Helena nodded, unable to say anything. There was a tight clutch at her throat.
"I didn't remember you", Gordon said, reaching out a tentative hand; her voice was subdued and strained. "There was a hole in my head and... and you were gone. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
"Dinah told me", Helena said, with difficulty; the girl had told her everything, including the fact that Bruce Wayne wasn't paying Gordon a dime to protect his daughter. She took a step forward, reaching for Gordon's hand. Her eyes filled with tears.
"Is it too late?" the woman before her asked, with sincerity. "Can I come... with you? Will you take me in...? I have nowhere else to go."
Helena nodded again, stepping into Gordon's arms, embracing her. "I like puppies", she mumbled, with tears on her cheeks.
She felt Gordon's tender touch caressing her cheeks, kissing away the tears. "As long as I don't have to wear that stupid mask again", Gordon mumbled wryly.
Helena laughed involuntarily at that, but her laugh was cut short by Rogue Gordon's mouth finding hers. And she was lost, as before, when the softness of the other woman swept her away.