In the Eye of the Beholder
FANDOM: Birds of Prey TV
DISCLAIMERS: The characters belong to their creators.
"Uhm, Barbara?" Helena sounded careful.
Barbara looked up from her screen and eyed the dark haired woman opposite her. "What's up?"
Helena had entered the clock tower about thirty minutes ago, after a more than boring round of sweeps, and had found her friend and partner in crime-fighting quite monosyllabic. Barbara had only looked up to say hi, with a badly faked smile, and then again concentrated on some cryptic computing.
"Nothing, what should be up? It's been quite a slow night." Barbara sounded strained. Helena's advanced hearing picked up her unusually high heart rate, "Well, you kinda typed with a lot of attitude today."
Barbara regarded her younger partner with a raised eyebrow. "Aha?"
"Yeah." Helena jumped on one of the computer tables. Only Babs' quick reflexes saved some discs from a cruel death under the younger woman's behind.
Helena still looked at her, waiting for a response.
"Was a tough day at work."
Barbara guessed that this would do as an explanation, normally Helena wasn't really interested in her day job, partially because school never had been of real interest for the younger woman. But during the last weeks that had changed. Barbara still couldn't tell how, and why, but the two women had approached each other on a different basis. A new relationship had slowly started to build itself from their friendship.
It wasn't more than an electric crackle in the air, but Barbara could feel it; and, somehow she knew, Helena sensed it too, had perhaps already sensed it when Barbara still had been unaware. The normally so cool cyber genius wasn't sure what would be expected from her, but she knew she liked the changes and was partially looking forward to what would happen next.
Helena didn't disappoint her.
"Stress in class?"
Barbara smiled, switched the Delphi to auto pilot and led Helena into the living room. "More like stress with class." She replied, over her shoulder.
"Faculty meeting this afternoon."
"Aha, must have been bad." Helena flopped into one of the oversized armchairs and suppressed the urge to scoop up the clicker and go channel surfing on the big screen TV.
Barbara managed a tortured smile and carefully transferred herself onto the couch. "Worse."
"Spill it, Red." Helena smiled at her.
"We're getting a busload of new pupils, mid term, because some suburban school had to close - danger of collapse." She finger-combed her hair. "They've been discussing it for quite a while now. But after some wall collapsed they'll start transferring the new students on Monday."
"Okay, so what's bad about it? Some more teenies, okay, but who actually cares?"
"I do, and so does the rest of the council. Crammed classes, dozens of new names and new stories, not to mention we all have to start from scratch to bring all the kids to the same level. Some will be bored and some swamped. Yippee, it'll really make work easier for me."
Helena knew it was bad when she noticed the sarcasm in her friend's voice. It took a lot to bring that out in Barbara, and it usually wasn't a good sign.
"Hmh, you'll get by it." Helena tried to cheer her up.
"Do I have another possibility?"
"Uhm, nope. Remember Red, always look on the bright side of life." Barbara smiled at the younger woman's attempt to whistle. Rhythm, yeah she had rhythm but she was more than tone deaf. Helena couldn't catch a note if you threw it at her.
"Figures." Babs snorted and fished for the remote.
Unasked, she handed it to her younger partner and leaned back, mentally preparing for high speed zapping.
It was even worse, Barbara had to admit. On a normal Monday, things would have been stressful, but on this particular Monday, she felt the urge to crawl under a rock and hide there until evolution evolved her into something better. Green, slimy goo sounded pretty appealing right now. The corridors were crammed and about thirty percent of the people she didn't even know by sight. She had just been checking the notice board when a smooth female voice addressed her. "Hey wheelie girl, where do I find room 205?"
"That would be Miss Gordon's room." She slowly rotated a few degrees.
"Yeah. So where is it."
Finally, she was fully in front of the young woman talking to her, a scruffy teen, in worn out clothes and - well, was it a hair do or a scream for help? She didn't know.
The young girl's face had barely changed, but in her eyes, Barbara could see the irritation. The girl must have mistaken her for a student. The teen did a good job at keeping up her nonchalant expression, Barbara admitted, but she knew it wouldn't last any longer.
"Well the room is down the hall, but Miss Gordon herself, you have just found. What's your name?"
"Okay then, lead the way." She extended a hand. "Most people call me Spider." The teen's insecure voice gave away the seemingly calm expression
"Well I am not most people,"
"Alex," she mumbled. "Alexandra Watts."
Barbara reminded herself to keep that name in mind, even though she didn't have to.
She opened the door to her classroom and froze in shock. The room was completely crammed with students, every seat was taken and there were people sitting on the window sills and on the floor. Some of them moved to make a path for her to reach the desk.
'Oh hell!' How would she ever find a way to get order into this chaos?
"Hello everyone!" She put her bag on the table, a little more noisily than necessary, to finally get complete attention. Slowly the omnipresent mumbling died away. She looked around. Her usually small, attentive class was in pure chaos. Her seating plan was dead and gone, and the new pupils looked as irritated as the rest of her class. Barbara took a minute to look at every single face. Then, she picked up her new name-list and started her first lesson. She marked the name Alexandra Watts; it hadn't slipped her attention that the young girl had taken a seat at the far end of the room.
When Helena entered the Clock tower that evening, she found the Delphi empty. But the scent filling the room left no doubts where to find Barbara. Slowly Helena approached the kitchen and found Barbara at the kitchen table, a huge mug of hot tea in front of her, right next to a pile of papers, and the leftovers of a very Spartan dinner - double easy eggs and some burnt toast.
"So much for nutritious food."
Barbara jumped, "Gosh Helena! There went ten years of my life!"
The slender woman stifled a grin and took a seat opposite the red head. "No sweeps today?"
Barbara put down the file she had been reading, "I switched the Delphi to auto. If something happens the alert will go off, but I doubt it. It's been slow lately."
"Yeah, but that'll change sooner or later."
Helena had barely finished the sentence when the alarm went off.
"See, I told ya!"
Both women hurried into the other room. With a few keystrokes Barbara had located the source of the alarm.
"It's the huge shopping mall on Division street, some sensors have triggered the alarm."
"On my way." With a few quick steps Helena was on the balcony and out of sight.
Barbara powered the Delphi monitors up and busied herself with getting access to the surveillance cameras. Ten seconds later she had a nice and clear live feed on her main screen. Nice and clear, but empty.
'Unbelievable! The one building with good cameras and then there's nothing to see.'
She opened Helena's frequency, "Huntress?"
"Nearly there Oracle, what have you got?"
"Nothing." Barbara tried to keep her voice calm. She cross-checked the feeds again. Only two minutes had passed by since the alarm had been triggered, the silent alarm. No chance the intruder was gone by now.
"What do you mean, 'nothing'?" Helena sounded irritated.
"I've got access to the video feeds but there is no movement." Again her eyes flew across the monitors. "Wait! I've got something - the back door, there was a shadow moving."
"On my way."
Barbara transferred the video capture into an enhancement program. "Yes, but, as long as we don't know what's in there, be careful."
Helena was grateful Babs couldn't see the smile spreading on her face. She wanted to add, I'm always careful. But they both knew that would have been a lie.
"Check. Going in now."
The com system fell silent, and the pictures on the red head's screens kept still. She knew her partner would stay out of camera vision as long as possible. That left Barbara with waiting. She occupied herself with enhancing the video, or better - with staring at the program which automatically did that. Slowly the picture got better, but Barbara still couldn't make out the shadow, it was oddly shaped. Another round of enhancing.
"Yes!" Barbara was fully alert.
"I'm in, and I think I found our intruder."
Barbara could actually hear the younger woman's grin.
"Someone left the backdoor open. The alert contact seems broken, and well, someone used the opportunity and went inside."
"Huntress?" Barbara heard a snicker.
"It's a cat-astrophe!" Barbara heard a faint meow and then some purring over the com set.
The shadow of a cat. She had actually enhanced the shadow of a cat!
Babs checked her screen for confirmation.
Yes it could be a cat.
Smiling, the older woman shook her head.
"Okay but still make a round to see if the cat was the only one inside there. And lock the door."
Barbara relaxed into her chair.
"Uh, don't think so Oracle." Helena's words were accompanied by the faint sound of police sirens. "I'd better hurry out."
"Copy that, and get rid of that cat."
Barbara disconnected the surveillance feeds and did a general check on her databases, if another alarm were to go off somewhere, she would know.
Three hours later Helena re-entered the Clock tower.
At least she had found some purse robbers to keep in training. But all in all, the sweep had been - as of late - boring as always.
Barbara couldn't suppress the thought that this was only the silence before the storm. She felt the prickle in her fingers. Something was coming their way. When Helena entered, Barbara already was back to reviewing her files.
"Hey Red." Helena slowly sat down, next to Babs, on the couch.
"Hey!" She looked up from her files, "How was it?"
"Boohooing!!!!" The young woman answered, whilst fishing for the clicker. "I didn't even break a sweat, well actually I barely moved." She trailed off.
In the background some TV cook was preparing chicken chop suey.
"So whatcha reading, Red?"
Barbara closed the file and put down her specs. "The new students' reports."
"No, not really. Only grades, behaviour and the likes."
Babs sounded exhausted. It was time to call it a night, Helena decided. She was just about to get up when a small movement reminded her of something.
"Uhm, Red?" She smiled, "I brought you something." The grin widened.
Barbara looked up, a crimson brow had disappeared under her hairline. Helena shifted a little in her seat, to get better access to the inner pocket of her duster. The one usually reserved for a few pop tarts, an mp3 player, camera etc. The faint meow nearly ruined the surprise.
She pulled out the little kitten she had found at the mall and handed it to a totally dumbfounded Barbara. The red head took the small dark grey kitten into her hands, it was barely bigger than her hand, and looked at Helena.
"Uhm, didn't I tell you to get rid of it?" She looked down at the little fur ball who had started to lick her palm.
"I think I just did." Helena smiled.
"But me? I can't even care for a potted plant!" Again she eyed the animal, carefully shifting it's weight in her hands.
"I'll check on it regularly. Look at the eyes, she's so cute, and she needs us."
"Yeah, she." Helena took the little one again, faint purring filled to room.
"It... Sorry, she'll need a name. And the litter box will be your responsibility."
Barbara had overcome her first shock and had to admit she liked the idea of a pet, even though she had always been more of a dog person. But this little one was just too cute.
When had she turned girly? She couldn't say, but she hoped a shower would help.
Helena nodded and crawled to the kitten.
"I think I'll name her Selina."
Barbara looked shocked. "You want to name a cat after your mom?"
"Yeah. After all, the little one is sort of a cat burglar." Helena smiled somewhat fondly, "And look, she's wearing a little mask." Helena took Selina from the red head and held her close to Barbara's face.
Babs took the kitten again and closely observed the little face. Helena was right - the fur around the eyes was a faint shade darker. A heartbreaking meow emerged from the kitten. The red head gave Helena a pleading look, "I think I scare her."
"No, you're just holding her too tight." Helena loosened Babs' grip on the whining animal and put her down into the older woman's lap.
"Okay I'll give you two time to get to know each other. I'll drop by tomorrow morning to bring in some food and a litter box, until then I hope an old paper and some milk will do."
Helena had already turned around, to head out
"Hel! You can't leave us, eh me, here like this."
"Sure I can. I'm sure you two will get along just fine." With that Helena waved her goodbye and was out through the balcony doors.
"Well," Barbara looked down to the cat who already had fallen asleep in her lap. "Time for nap naps."
It took her another hour to fix a pro forma litter box and some milk for her new pet, one difficult point had been to get a milk filled bowl on the floor without spilling anything.
Helena emerged from the elevator only a few minutes past five. She knew Babs would get up around 5:30, so she still had enough time to prepare everything. She herself hadn't slept all night. After leaving Barbara she had done some clubbing before fetching cat supplies from a 24-hr multi-store. The boring sweeps had left her with way too much energy, and clubbing, sometimes, was just as good as hitting mobsters. Right now, she was about to achieve her master plan. With a little help from the French café a few streets south.
Silently she moved around the apartment, setting up a pair of cute cat bowls in the kitchen, and finding a perfect place for the litter box. Best some place out of Babs' sight and range...
She checked the kitchen clock - 5 minutes till the alarm went off, Helena knew she had to speed up. She decanted the Kenya brew into two mugs and prepared dishes with croissants. Slowly, she moved the tray into the older woman's bedroom. Smiling at her timing, she reached the bed the same second the alarm went off. Fascinated, she watched the scene developing in front of her eyes.
Babs was lying on her belly, the blanket pulled up to her waist, a tight tank top covering her upper body.
In awe, Helena took in the muscles exposed by the tight shirt. Most of the older woman's head was buried under a pillow.
Finally, Babs slowly moved, a muffled 'shut up' silenced the terribly beeping alarm, Helena had to smile, of course it was a voice command alarm clock, Babs loved her geek toys. The pillow was finally pulled aside. And revealed more than Helena could have guessed. Next to the still sleepy headed Babs laid a small ball of fur, silently purring in her sleep.
Barbara turned her head and froze when she noticed Helena standing next to her. Only a split second later, she jerked up the blanket.
"Helena! What are you doing in here?"
All the commotion had woken Selina who now meowed and rubbed her face on Barbara's elbow. Babs herself struggled to get into a decent position. She felt vulnerable. Helena had invaded her private space. How long had she been here? Had she watched her sleep? She got angry at the younger woman.
Helena stood there, not quite sure what to say, she hadn't expected this reaction from the red head, but then, what reaction had she expected? With an apologetic smile she held up the tray.
She watched how Barbara slowly turned on her back. During all her years living with the older woman, Helena suddenly realised, she had never seen Babs getting up. She had barely ever seen her in bed, except for some late night TV marathons. She noticed that she had been staring at the red head; the same moment she noticed the angry look in the older woman's eyes. Slowly she dropped the tray next to the now, finally, upright sitting Barbara and shrugged her shoulders. "Sorry..." She trailed off not knowing what she had meant to say in the first place.
Barbara closed her eyes; steadying herself at the headboard of the bed she pinched the bridge of her nose. She knew it was stupid to get so agitated just because Helena had startled her, but she couldn't help it, she felt embarrassed. Helena shouldn't see her like this. No one should.
As if Selina had sensed the tense situation she climbed up on Babs' lap and started whining.
Barbara smiled down at the little figure and softly padded it's head.
Helena smiled at the picture. "I think someone needs breakfast."
"Yes you could be right there. You feed the cat, I feed me." Barbara smilingly handed the fur ball to the younger woman. Apparently the scent of fresh black coffee had eased her mood.
When Helena re-entered the room Barbara was happily munching her croissant. She smiled and sat down next to her friend, grabbing her own pastry and a coffee.
"Sorry for that." Barbara put down her mug.
"It's okay, Red." Helena smiled and laid her re-assuring hand on the older woman's thigh.
Barbara looked down. She acknowledged the meaning of the gesture, but couldn't suppress the anger welling up inside her for not being able to feel it. Somewhere deep inside her she ached for this faint touch. Softly she laid her own hand on Helena's. "It's getting late I need to get ready."
Helena nodded silently and took the tray away, wordlessly leaving the room. She still felt Barbara's touch on her hand. There was a tension between them. Helena had noticed how, during the last weeks their relationship had changed. They had gotten closer, on a different basis. She couldn't pin down an actual date but something had changed. But there were unsolved issues, borders none of them dared to cross.
"I don't actually think that that's the intention of the book!"
"Probably not, but honestly do you really think that the author meant it as a hymn for unfaithfulness?"
Barbara was astonished; silently she scribbled notes down into her class book. It hadn't taken more than a week to bring the class on the same level again. She wasn't really sure about how the discussion about Haruki Murakami's 'South of the Border, West of the Sun' had started, but she was willing to follow the flow, secretly appreciating that her students actually read books.
And it left her some time to process the events of the morning. Even though she knew there wasn't much to actually be processed. She had to talk to Helena; talk about what was going on, and how she felt about it. A small smile spread over her face as she acknowledged how much she loved the younger woman. A fact that still was pretty new to her. Of course she had always loved Helena, like a daughter first, later as a friend. But now... The way how touching her had felt this morning; How she had longed to feel her hand. She shook off that though, school wasn't the right place to go there.
She noticed a pair of eyes resting on her, but when Babs looked at the girl she froze, apparently she had been as lost in her thoughts as Barbara herself had been. Teenage love she supposed, and again focused on the still fiery discussion, involving among others, Spider. There was a knock on the classroom door and the vice principal entered the room.
"Mrs Gordon, could I talk to you for a moment?"
"Sure." She looked at her class "Keep that up, and you might consider why the reader learns so little about Shimamoto"
"Miss Gordon, we had a little commotion this morning." Principal Evans closed the door behind her.
"Yes, yes." He nodded absently, "destruction of school property."
Barbara's eyes widened. Secretly she wondered what she had to do with it.
Evans smiled at her, "Nothing serious just an ugly graffiti, pretty big though, I wonder how he or they managed it, but I'm pretty sure one or more of the new students did it, and because I know how fast you are in reading the files and evaluating them, I thought I'd ask you if you have a hint who our artists may be." Barbara rolled her eyes behind Evans' back. Sure, she was fast, but didn't she have enough to do already? She knew Evans was just too lazy to review the files on his own.
He guided her towards a now coloured wall. Barbara tilted her head, "You think it was one of the newbies? Why is that?" Babs was impressed about her acting skills, she had actually managed to keep a professional and polite tone.
"By now I know the painting styles of our local artists."
"You have a point there." Barbara looked closer at the graffiti, " 'Hath left me broken-hearted.', what's that supposed to mean?"
"I don't know," He checked his watch, "So if you come across any potential suspect, please come to see me."
"Of course." Barbara nodded and watched Evans walk away before she pulled out her digital camera to secure some evidence.
When she returned to her classroom she had already braced herself for the chaos that she expected. Or better, for the chaos that she found.
Slowly she re-entered her classroom, automatically the noise abated. Spider was still standing in the middle of the room, her face red with anger. She looked furiously at Mike, a boy Barbara knew quite well for his opinions about women in general. When she caught Spider's eyes she saw the anger in them; she held the stare and the young girl lowered her gaze and sat down again. Babs looked around. Somehow, she had the feeling the young crowd was only pretending to be an attentive class. Again she caught the eye of the girl who had stared at her earlier. She seemed to have been sitting there quietly the whole time. Now she shrugged her shoulders at Babs in a 'wasn't me' gesture and looked away. Babs made a mental note to check her name, later. Right now the graffiti occupied a big part of her mind.
Saved by the bell she gathered her stuff whilst her students left for their next class. She felt someone staring at her and looked up, it was Spider, who now simply got up and left the room without regarding her in any way.
'Creepy' Barbara shook her head.
Barbara heard the rumbling through the still-closed elevator doors. When they opened, the sound-explosion took her breath away. A strong electric guitar riff filled the room, emerging from the sound system of the Delphi. She didn't particularly appreciate Dinah using the super computer for her homework; but even more, she disliked the teen's fondness for loud music when doing so. Hoping her eardrums would stand the attack she wheeled closer.
The teen didn't hear her, head banging to the rhythm of 'Open Your Eyes' by the Guano Apes, a German alternative rock band Dinah had lately developed a strange fondness for. She typed along with the not too strong melody line. How could she work like this? How could she even read what she was typing while moving her head in this fashion? And when would she start suffering from whiplash?
"Dinah!" This time, the close distance and Babs' lung volume did the trick.
The teen jumped. A second later silence was screaming in Barbara's ears, she heard a faint beep. "Barbara! Why do you sneak up on me like this?"
"Thanks for giving me a tinnitus." Barbara wiggled a finger in her right ear. "Haven't you got headphones?"
The teen blushed. "Sorry." She collected her belongings and made space for the older woman. With a few keystrokes she transferred the documents still visible on the screen to her Laptop, her latest Christmas gift from Barbara, and stepped aside to make room for the red head.
Babs smiled at her and plugged in the digital camera that'd been resting in her lap.
"How was school?"
Both women spoke unison.
"Quite okay," Barbara smiled.
"Yeah, same here."
"Did you notice that graffiti in the Hall?" Barbara asked whilst downloading the photos.
"Yeah I did, any idea who did it?"
"Not yet, but I'll have a look into it" She half-heartedly loaded the pictures into a graphics program.
"Sweeps must really have been boring if you're busying yourself with hunting a tagger." Dinah leaned relaxed against one of the computer tables.
Barbara glanced up, "Even if society is pretty used to graffiti, they're still against the law."
"Oh, that boring." The teen grinned.
Barbara shook her head, smiling, she knew what the teen meant.
"By the way Barbara, why are there pet bowls in the kitchen?"
Barbara froze. She totally had forgotten the small animal, which should have been around there somewhere. She looked up to Dinah. "Well, there should be a pet accompanying the bowls." She managed a firm smile, not sure how Dinah would react to an animal in their shared apartment.
The kid beamed, "A pet? Where is it? What is it?"
Barbara smiled broadly. "Helena brought in a kitten from her sweeps."
"Then where is it?" Dinah looked around.
"Actually," Barbara looked a little dumbfounded, "I have no idea."
About forty minutes later Dinah had found the little kitten, silently purring in her sleep on top of a computer on the far end of the Delphi. The heat emerging from the CPU and the faint vibrating of the fan seemed to have lulled her into sleep.
Dinah cautiously took Selina in her hands. Greeted by a sleepy meow and a half opened eye she brought her to the living room where Barbara had been looking.
"Here she is." The teen held up the cat in triumph.
"We should consider implanting a GPS chip."
The red head enjoyed the look of terror in Dinah's face and grinned.
"Barbara, you're mean." She cradled the little animal.
"Okay but I think we might compromise to a collar with a little bell."
"You are not going to tie a bell to Selina, are you?"
None of them had heard Helena enter the room. She now took the cat away from the teen and hugged it.
Dinah looked at Barbara and clearly mouthed "Selina?" forehead furrowed inquiring.
The older woman shrugged her shoulders and made a resigning gesture towards the dark vigilante. "Otherwise she'll get lost, and I wouldn't really appreciate finding a mummified cat in one of my fan casings."
The two younger women looked at her. "Okay you have a point there." Helena admitted, she walked over to Babs and put Selina on her lap.
Dinah grabbed her stuff, "Okay then, time to finish my homework." With that she disappeared into her room.
Helena walked over to the Computer and looked at the graffiti, now displayed on the main screen. "What's that?"
Barbara wheeled closer, careful, not to wake the sleeping cat on her lap.
"A graffiti from school." She had reached Helena.
The younger woman glanced down. "Gosh I envy that cat." She murmured.
"Huh?" Barbara wasn't sure, had she just heard that, or was her hearing playing tricks on her after the Guano Apes attack from an hour ago.
"Nothing," Helena smiled. "So what about that graffiti? Looks creepy."
'Creepy' yeah creepy was a good description for the picture painted in dark brown, black and red it really gave you the creeps.
"There's not much about it, Evans informed me that it had appeared this morning." She told Helena about the small conversation she had had with the vice principal. Of course without mentioning her personal opinion about Evans.
The younger woman nodded, "So you decided to look into that matter." She smiled.
"Yes, I figured as long as the sweeps stay low profile I could re-fresh my detective skills a little." She grinned.
"Have fun Babs, I'm gone now, my shift starts early today."
Helena tousled the cat's fur and went out.
'She looked at me!' her thin lips curled into a smile. 'She looked at me, but she didn't see me; just like all the others, she didn't see me. I'm so good at this. So good they actually believe I am what I want them to think I am.' She laughed. Slowly she placed her fingers on the keys. 'No one will see me, because I'll always be invisible to them.' Softly, with eyes closed she hit the key and transferred herself away into her own world.
Helena looked at the two legs that protruded from underneath one of the tables. Barbara looked as if someone had dropped a house on her. Helena grinned; she had to stop watching late night re-runs.
"What are you doing there?" She bent down to look under the table. A muffled "thud" signalled that she had startled Barbara, as always...
"Sorry..." She was grateful Barbara couldn't see her grin. She sat down next to the red head's legs and asked again, "What are you doing there?"
"Cat proofing the Delphi and, while I'm down here, re-wiring a part of the main frame. Fibre optic is so convenient." She chuckled.
"Yeah talk to the hand, Red." Helena absent-mindedly patted the leg next to her.
"Hand is a good cue, hand me that panel please, the one to your left."
Helena pulled away her hand, noticing what she'd been doing there, and fetched the small grey item.
Barbara snorted. "Yeah fun."
"Great idea but let me finish here first."
"Sure," She got up and made her way into the kitchen to fix some coffee for them.
A few minutes later Helena looked around for a chair, something usually not around the Delphi platform. She looked at Babs' now empty wheelchair and flopped down on the floor next to the older woman's legs, putting the mugs right next to her. After a while, Babs started to wiggle herself out.
"Shall I give you a hand?"
The movement stopped but Babs didn't answer immediately.
"Yes, it would be nice if you'd just grab my ankles and pull."
Helena got up and did as she was told, carefully dragging out the older woman.
Babs grabbed the table and, with Helena's help, swung out from underneath the desk.
Helena tilted her head to the wheelchair, but the older woman shook her head, "Let's stay on the same level, for a while." She grinned, and steadied herself against the table.
Helena handed her a still steaming cup.
"A little coffee in your sugar just as you prefer it."
"Thanks." Barbara inhaled the scent. Helena again sat down next to her and watched her sip her coffee.
They hadn't been this close to each other for quite a while, Barbara acknowledged to herself.
She looked at the younger woman who now was silently sipping her own coffee.
Barbara felt that she had to say something. But she didn't know where to begin, or what to say.
Helena, looked at her. "Barbara?"
"Yes?" She tried to find Helena's eyes, but the younger woman stared into her mug.
"I...you know." She trailed off, still eyeing her mug.
"Yes?" Barbara tried to sound re-assuring.
Helena's head snapped up, "Have you processed the graffiti, yet?"
The older woman sighed, she wasn't sure what the younger woman had been about to say, but she accepted the bad change of topic.
"No I haven't. I wanted to finish that re-wiring while Dinah occupied Selina." Barbara smiled, remembering how the young teen tried to 'extract' the small animal from her. Since the cat search issue, Selina barely had left her side. Quickly, the cat had discovered that Barbara's lap wasn't just warm, but that it transported her nearly everywhere.
"But we can do that now." Barbara emptied her cup and pulled herself closer to her chair. Helena was quick on her feet to help her, but Babs simply shook her head. And pushed the chair behind her.
With a few often-practiced moves, she got into it and adjusted herself into her usual, comfortable position.
Helena hid her smile. Long ago, she had underestimated the older woman's upper body strength - They had been living together for quite a while back then and just started out with Helena's training for the vigilante business. The physical therapy had boosted Babs', for a non-meta, already impressive upper body strength. And she'd taken up Escrima as a convenient way to protect herself and to stay in training. She had agreed to not only teach but also sparring with Helena. After starting out quietly Helena had quickly found out that there was no reason to go easy on Barbara and had found a good way to channel her aggressions in the sparring rounds. Barbara herself had enough unsolved issues and anger packed up to be not a target but a decent opponent. During one of these rounds Helena had let her anger win over her skills and promptly had received a full force blow to her abdomen which had taught her never again to underestimate the red head's strength; and to keep focused during sparring.
With a few strokes on the keys, the photos again appeared on screen.
"Okay," Helena tried to sound enthusiastic, "What have we got?"
Babs put on her specs and eyed the younger woman over the rims. "A graffiti, Helena."
"Yeah, queen of the obvious," she grinned and again looked around for a chair.
At the far end of the platform she finally found one of the kitchen chairs, which Dinah had left at the computer when she last did her homework there. She pulled it close and sat down.
"Okay, where do we start?"
"Well, the text?"
"'Hath left me broken-hearted.' Okay, and now?"
Barbara had to smile, since when did Helena interest herself in the more boring computer work? She enhanced the photo and rendered the text to separate it from the dark background.
"Hmm." She leaned back, "I know this phrase."
"And?" Helena raised an eyebrow.
Slowly Barbara shook her head, "It's on the tip of my tongue. I'll do a phrase search later..." Again she hit a few keys. On the screen the photo was split up in different areas. The red head absent-mindedly bit her lip.
Helena couldn't suppress her snicker.
"The all knowing Oracle has reached her borders, heh?" Helena's grin froze as she felt Barbara's stern look.
The younger woman checked the clock on the Delphi, searching for a good way to change the topic. She hadn't noticed how late it had become until that moment. And still the Delphi hadn't triggered an alarm.
"Do you think it's broke?" She pulled Barbara out of her thoughts.
"Huh? Broke? What's broke?" Barbara looked at her, quite irritated.
"The computer, it's way past eleven and still there isn't a single alarm."
Barbara's eyes narrowed, "My computer is not broken."
"I just mean with all that re-wiring you just did, maybe you forgot to plug in a cable or something." She trailed off; within 10 minutes she had offended the older woman twice, not a good score.
"I do not forget to plug cables back in!"
Helena looked busted, and immediately Babs felt sorry for her harsh tone.
She knew how Helena felt, she herself missed the action, too. Even though she hadn't been out in the field for years, she could still feel the adrenaline rush of the hunt. The adrenaline kick from sitting behind the computer, not being able to jump into actual action was probably even bigger.
She shook her head, "Sorry. Now let's do that phrase search or it'll bug me all night."
Within seconds the master computer had cross-referenced the phrase.
"Hm, that's embarrassing." Barbara shook her head, almost laughing about herself.
"What's embarrassing?" Helena was ready to join the game.
Barbara put down her glasses, "I think it's time for bed, the phrase is from an Edgar Allen Poe poem, and I didn't catch it."
"So what?" Helena shrugged her shoulders.
"Well, I'm an English teacher, I should have noticed it." She shook her head.
Helena smiled at her friend, "Could have happened to anybody. I, for that matter, would have thought the line is from a long forgotten Guns 'n' Roses song."
Barbara snorted. Maybe she had been a little preoccupied lately. Perhaps it wasn't bad that the crime rate had been this low during the last days.
Helena checked the clock again, it was close to midnight, tomorrow was a school night, but she was fully awake and so was Barbara; the younger woman grinned.
"I think we both could use a little quality time. What about a drink?"
"A drink? I think the mini bar is empty."
"Not here, let's go to a club."
"A club?" The red head checked the time, "Now?"
"Yeah why not? Don't tell me you're tired?" Helena was already standing beside her.
"Not really, but what about the graffiti?"
"The graffiti can wait. Come on!"
Barbara saw the light flickering up in Helena's eyes. Maybe they really could use a night out.
She nodded smiling.
"Okay, why not."
Helena nearly bounced. "Yay, I know this really great club you'll love it!"
"Okay." Barbara trailed off, wheeling down the platform. Helena was already ahead of her and threw her a jacket, "The club is pretty close by, so we needn't drive, this way you probably get some quality unfiltered smoggy air."
They entered the elevator. Secretly Barbara was skimming through her 'inner plan of the city' to locate the club Helena was referring to. Mentally she winced at what Helena might call a great club, she already saw herself in a smoky dance club. The thought of loud techno beats made her shiver.
So she was surprised when they entered the small club about twenty minutes later. She had been right about the smoke, but the rest? She really had been off base. The Club Indigo seemed to be quite new in the neighbourhood, or she just hadn't noticed the small sign before. The interior seemed pretty old, but then again for a real jazz and blues club it had to look like this. The dark indigo blue was the dominant colour, mixed with dark wood and smooth lights.
Helena nodded to the bar tender, who seemed to know her and directed her to a table at the far end of the bar. Only a few tables were occupied.
Helena sat down at the table and waved the bartender over, whilst Barbara took in the atmosphere. Slow piano music filled the room. It took a while till she finally located the source of the music, it wasn't a CD, as she had thought at first. In a dimly lit corner stood an old grand piano. A woman was improvising a smooth melody. A smoking cigarette was burning down in an ashtray on top of the instrument. For a second Barbara felt like she was in an old movie. The phrase 'play it again Sam' jumped into her mind.
"Two times the usual Hel?"
The bartender's voice pulled Barbara out of her thoughts.
"Yeah Mike. Just as always." Helena smiled at the grey haired man and watched him walk back towards the bar.
"So what do you think, Red?" She smiled at Barbara.
"I'm impressed, how do you know this place, and 'the usual'?" she raised an eyebrow.
Helena laughed, "I discovered it a while ago and since then I kinda drop in occasionally. And the usual would be a Long Island iced tea."
"Somehow I figured you for a dance beat person."
"I am, but sometimes, you gotta have the blues."
There was something in Helena's smile, Barbara couldn't make it out in the dim light but somehow her face had changed.
"You ain't been blue, since you've had that mood indigo." Helena nodded at the bartender who just had brought their drinks. She cheered to Barbara and took a sip.
"Okay," Barbara sipped as well, she drew in air when the alcohol hit her mouth, the drink was stronger than she had thought. "Now you're scaring me." Her voice suffered from the drink.
"Why?" Helena tried to look innocent.
"You're quoting Duke Ellington. Aren't you more pop culture?"
Helena played with her straw. "My mother was a fan. I can still sing along with most Ray Charles and Dr John songs."
Barbara looked at the younger woman over the rim of her glass. After all these years there were still things she didn't know about the younger woman.
"You never told me."
"You never asked."
Helena was right, there had always been more important things on her list than asking the young woman about her preferences in music or literature. Many things she had picked up by just living with Helena, like her fondness for hard rock when taking a shower; or the dance beats she used to wake up, instead of Barbara's drug of choice, coffee. The older woman nodded slowly.
"No." She leaned back and listened to the music with closed eyes for a while. The song had changed. Barbara had to smile. Even though she wasn't all too familiar with the blues, she identified the first bars of Georgia on my mind. So much for Ray Charles...
When she opened her eyes again, she saw that Helena had been looking at her, silently sipping her drink.
"I wonder why I never asked."
Helena shrugged her shoulders. "Times were different then. We both have changed, developed." She smiled.
'Perhaps this is the time,' Barbara thought, 'perhaps we can talk now.' "Yes we've both changed, but into what?" It was only a half-hearted try and she knew it. She still wasn't sure if she really wanted to have this conversation, and she wanted to give Helena an easy way out if she'd been wrong.
The younger woman smiled and slowly took Barbara's hand into hers. "I don't know yet, but I think we have plenty of time to find out."
Softly, the last bars of the song died away and the room fell quiet. In the corner of her eye Barbara saw how the woman behind the piano lit up another cigarette and leaned back. She looked pretty young, but then again it was too dark to really see her. She looked at Helena again who softly squeezed her hand. She mirrored the movement, smiling at the younger woman. The silence was comfortable; she leaned back and sipped her drink. For now it was enough talk. There were enough things on her mind already, and Helena had just added another one.
Dinah hammered against the bathroom door, "We're running late!"
"Yes, I'm right out!"
Dinah was right, and Barbara knew it. The night out had been great but this morning she had barely heard her alarm, not to mention that a few too many Long Island ice teas gave you a killer hangover.
She wheeled out and was greeted by Dinah's best stressed-teen face. She knew it was embarrassing enough for Dinah to drive in with a teacher, but coming in late with a teacher had to be worse. Dinah's face changed immediately when she saw the older woman, "Uh Barbara, you look..." She trailed off when the red head's eyes met hers.
"I know." The little drummer boy inside her head started marching again. She felt the urge to search the teen for tapes and CDs before entering the car. Usually, they would listen to Dinah's 'car mix CDs' whilst driving, but today the music wouldn't mix well with her internal percussionist.
Dinah silently followed her down to the garage - sometimes the girl just knew when to shut up, Barbara noticed thankfully.
When she pulled the car out into the traffic Barbara noticed the smile spreading across the girl's face. She put all her mental strength into raising an eyebrow. "What?"
"Uh, well I just thought with all that tech gear in the Hummer, perhaps we should add an onboard coffee machine." The grin spread.
Barbara felt her lips curl up. "Not a bad idea, we could have little tubes run down from the dash board and get the coffee intravenously."
"Eww." The teen's disgusted face was priceless. "Barbara you're gross."
They had crossed the short distance to the school. Barbara pulled the car into a parking box and, again, raised an eyebrow, "Gross? No, I'm Grossartig!" She grinned at the teen's puzzled face. "Now hurry out, I'll give you a head start."
The teen nodded thankfully, and disappeared into the nearby building. Even though her own class didn't start for the next 15 minutes, Barbara regretted being this late. Being late meant vending machine coffee.
'She knows me, she follows me! She is the one. Will she be able to see me? No that can't be!'
She swayed slowly, eyeing the black surface in front of her. Slowly, her fingers wandered over the smooth wood. 'There is something about her. I should be more careful.' She smiled as her fingertips felt the old paper sheets. Their mouldy scent mixed with the smell of wet fur, formalin and other chemicals. They mingled to what she called the smell of death. 'But I will make her see me.' She sighed softly 'But that other woman!!!! I can't stand that other woman! I know her. I've seen her so many times.'
The dim light fell on the papers, which she now neatly sorted. She sat down and laid her hands on the keyboard. Taking a deep breath she filled her lungs with death and the music came to life.
A week passed and, finally, the crime rate picked up again. Barbara wasn't sure if she should regret it, or welcome it for Helena's sake - she had noticed the tension the younger woman had built up. She had also noticed something else, another kind of tension, which left her unsure how to handle it. After the night out at the club she had thought about Helena and their, so to say, relationship. They had come a long way together. Helena had moved from an angry, skinny teen into a confident and beautiful woman, with highly trained martial arts skills. And she herself had made her way from a depressed, former crime fighter, feeling useless and disabled, to the person she was now: a strong, independent cyber crime fighter.
And Helena had helped with that development. She had given Barbara something to occupy her mind with, something to care for. And she had yelled at Barbara, she hadn't looked after her, or treated her with care.
Barbara had to smile at the memories now floating back. Yes, they had moved on. Now, they weren't mentor and student anymore, they were equal: two women, two friends. But it still would be quite a way to go until she really could adjust to that change.
Now, love was a factor too. She had long ago acknowledged that she loved Helena, but she had kept it secret. But now, with that night at the club and the loving gaze she had noticed in Helena's eyes, perhaps there was hope.
How could she? - Barbara rubbed her temple - how could a woman like Helena love a cripple like her? 'Don't go there, Babs!' she shook her head. A faint 'thud' outside the balcony doors kept her from thinking further along this direction. Helena rushed in, more noisily than she usually would. "You won't believe what I just found!"
"And hello to you too."
"Yes, yes, hello." Helena waved her off. "Look at these." She pulled the little camera from her pocket and handed it to the older woman.
Barbara took the silvery item and connected it to the mainframe. Within seconds several photos appeared on the screen. Showing, obviously, the shop to where she had sent Helena earlier this evening.
Unbelieving, she stared at one of the photos. Without looking at the keyboard she toggled in a few figures to render the picture and zoomed in on the dark brown writing on one of the walls.
"To him whose eyes are cast." Barbara slowly read the dark letters written in some sort of gothic font. She had seen this style before, about a week ago. It was the same style of graffiti but this time not on a school wall but on a wall in a totally demolished grocery store.
"It's the same, right?" Helena sounded agitated.
Within seconds the complete poem appeared in front of Barbara's inner eye, God bless her memory.
"Yes Helena it's from the same poem, but there are lines missing."
"Aha, so the writer only takes the nice lines or what?" Helena sounded irritated.
Barbara turned around to face her, "No I think we missed the other lines."
"But how could we?"
"That's not too difficult, the Delphi is programmed to show only the, so to say, important things, so if anyone calls in about a graffiti we wouldn't know. Imagine if the alert were to go off for every graffiti or damaged pole."
"Yeah, you're right, so what did we miss?"
"In visions of the dark night
I have dreamed of joy departed-
But a waking dream of life and light
Hath left me broken-hearted.
Ah! What is not a dream by day
To him whose eyes are cast.
On things around him with a ray
Turned back upon the past?
That holy dream- that holy dream,
While all the world were chiding,
Hath cheered me as a lovely beam
A lonely spirit guiding.
What though that light, thro' storm and night,
So trembled from afar-
What could there be more purely bright
In Truth's day-star?"
"Aha." Helena nodded. She wasn't even surprised that Barbara knew the poem from memory. "So what do you make of it?"
Absently, Barbara played with her specs. "I'd say who ever does this wants to get a message through. I'm not sure about the message right now. But we should keep an eye on it, since we noticed the graffiti only by accident. But I have no good feelings about it."
The younger woman nodded, "I'll keep an eye open on sweeps."
Barbara smiled, "And I'll start cross referencing the graffiti. Perhaps I didn't look closely enough last time.
"It would help if we understood the message."
The red head shook her head. "Or the person behind the message, but I think I can shed some light there, later."
Helena raised an eyebrow, but Barbara just shook her head again, "Later. First, I have to check some things. And I think," she looked down on a frame that just had started blinking, "you should go and check the source of that alarm." She gave Helena the address and watched the young woman dive off the balcony, before she turned to the computer again.
With one ear on the intercom, she toggled in some figures and checked the screen.
After she'd tried some different approaches, she finally found the missing graffitis. And she didn't particularly like what she saw.
She heard a muffled sound through the intercom and then the younger woman's voice, "Simple break and enter, guy tried to fight back. I'd guess a straw will be his best friend for the next few weeks."
"Okay. Clear out of there, the blue boys will arrive shortly." Barbara checked her GPS monitor and smiled at the blinking light approaching Helena's current position.
"Any news on the graffiti?"
"Yes, but I need some more information. I found some of the missing lines and there's some sort of pattern appearing. We can discuss it tomorrow. For now, I think it's time to call it a night."
"Okay, want me to come over?"
"No, I still have some stuff to do here. Sleep well."
"Oh, okay. You too. Huntress out."
Did Helena sound disappointed? Barbara wasn't sure, but she knew she would have liked to spend the rest of the night with her. But, she had business to do. With a few strokes she opened a port on her router for a direct uplink. Blindly, she typed in the server address and connected. Within a second her intercom system came to life again, and a familiar voice greeted her, dark and calm as always.
"Hello Oracle. You never sleep, do you?"
Barbara had to smile, "So it seems. Hello Anima, did I wake you?"
"No, you didn't, but I suppose, since we're in the same time zone, that this is no call about the time of day, right?"
"As always, I could use your profiling skills."
Barbara re-adjusted her specs and recalled the data from her hard drive, "We have quite an unusual tagger, here. I think he or she wants to get a message across. But I can't make a picture for myself."
"Tell me what you've got, so far."
Barbara heard a faint click and then a deep breath. "You should quit that habit."
"Your ears are good. But let me keep my cigarettes, and I won't tell anybody 'bout that coffee habit of yours."
Barbara had to laugh, "My coffee habit isn't secret."
"Just like my smoking. Now go on, will you?"
Barbara smiled. "Okay we have a tagger here: he or she started with simple tags, as it seems. I can't really confirm that because I haven't found the first tags. He or she always leaves a line from the Poe poem 'A Dream', written not in the common graffiti style, but in something close to the old gothic scripts. The first graffiti we found more or less by accident, he had sprayed a whole wall at school last week. The next one, Huntress found tonight during sweeps; again, it was a whole wall, but this time in a demolished grocery store. I checked the police database, there are a few other lines reported to the police, but apparently not all small tags were reported. As it seems, he gets bigger with each attack; first only small tags, then whole walls, and, tonight, the destruction at the shop. Although, I do not know at this point if the tagger did it, or if he just exploited an opportunity. The colours are pretty unusual for graffiti as well. All dark browns, with red and black. Call me crazy, but I have no good feelings about this."
Patiently, Barbara waited on an answer to her input. Seconds stretched to what seemed like hours.
"I would never call you crazy. You might be right, there could be something bigger following. But, based on this, my profile won't be that detailed."
Barbara smiled, she knew everything Anima gave her would assist her own investigation. But she also knew how cautious the other woman was about sharing her profiles. "Anima, you know me; I'll keep you out of this, but I'm at a dead end."
She heard the other woman's usual rhythmic typing.
"I called up the poem from my database, it's obvious that there is a connection between it and the message. Keep in mind these are only speculations. Judging from the way your guy chose to get the message across, I'd say you're dealing with someone around sixteen to twenty, probably well educated given the fact that he or she knows Poe. I would probably opt for a female. She feels lost, lonely, probably rejected in some way. She wants acknowledgement in some way, perhaps love. She probably comes from a broken family, or an unloving family. Right now, I can't really tell where she's headed, but her actions so far haven't brought her what she longs for - attention. Perhaps it's a cry for help." Anima trailed off.
Barbara could hear the faint vibrato in her voice. She didn't like speculating but, right now, speculation was all they had.
"Okay," Barbara re-adjusted her specs, " you have more, I can tell from your voice."
Again Barbara heard a sound via intercom, some sort of slow rubbing, then some keystrokes. "You're probably dealing with a teen trapped in puberty, or you're in the ring with a madman, I can't say right now. But you were right to trust your guts, there's something coming your way."
"Thank you Anima. May I keep you posted?"
"Of course. I'll try to help wherever I can. And you could try to call outside from vigilante business more often."
Barbara heard the smile in the voice. She could almost imagine the smile on the other woman's face, on a face she had never seen. "Okay, will do. Have a good night. Oracle out."
"'Night. Anima out."
Barbara put down her specs. Time to call it a night. She turned slowly and a small pile of unfinished paperwork appeared in her view. 'Damn! I should have finished these files hours ago.' She sighed and wheeled closer to the table, mentally preparing for at least one more hour of boring paperwork. She shifted a file and was greeted by a small yawning mouth that appeared under the paper stack. "Aww Selina, what are you doing here?" She picked up the tiny animal, sat her down in her lap and petted her absently. Half-heartedly, she worked her way through the reports whilst the bigger part of her brain still spun around what Anima had said. A young girl, probably well educated. That, plus what Evans had said about the painting styles of the local pupils, left her - again - with the new students. She hadn't reviewed the files yet, perhaps she could do that instead of brooding over the budget reports. She turned around again and powered up the main screen.
Two hours later she still hadn't found anything. Her new students, and the ones she didn't have in class, all seemed to be pretty normal teens - some bad, some worse. A few had impressive grades, but there was nothing in the files indicating any relation to the tagger. Barbara felt relieved, as it seemed the tagger was an outsider, who probably somehow gained access to the school. It was a public building after all, and none of her students...
Again, she pulled Alexandra Watts' file. She had read it before - the young girl had quite a sheet, and her grades were a shame. She surely would have to keep an eye on her. Even though Alex attended class regularly, Barbara had noticed her falling asleep or interrupting the lessons with unasked for remarks and comments. As she read the file again, Barbara had to admit that it partly, remotely fit into the profile. She shook her head. She remembered what she had thought when Alex had left the room a week ago, 'creepy'; and how Helena used exactly the same word to explain the graffiti. But, no, that was only coincidence. Helena used 'creepy' a lot. Again she looked at the file. There was a report filed about destruction of school property. It seemed she had written a parody on a gym hall wall. But that wasn't unusual, some other students had similar reports. But Alex had more - there was a report from Social Works about a violent father, and a mother with serious alcohol problems.
She would have to keep an eye on the girl, probably talk to her during the next few days. Hopefully, the tagger would give her some time to find him, or her, before striking again.
A look at the clock confirmed what her body had been telling her for quite a while now. It was long past her usual bed-time. Even on a busy night she would have been in bed by now. It was close to four am. But she had to finish that budget report and, to be honest, she had to get up in less than two hours so why bother at all?
She leaned back, taking off her glasses for a moment when she noticed an unusual shadow outside on the balcony. She looked again, something dark was out there. Carefully, Barbara wheeled closer to the doors. There was someone sitting outside. Had Dinah passed by her, unnoticed? But what would she be doing outside? It wasn't exactly warm there. The red head reached the doors and peered through the glass. She knew the black haired figure out there, and now, she could finally see that the young woman was watching her.
Barbara opened the doors. "Helena what are you doing here?"
"I couldn't sleep." The dark vigilante shrugged her shoulders.
"Then why didn't you come in?"
"You seemed busy." Helena got off the wall where she had been sitting. "You should be in bed."
"I know but I still have work to finish." Barbara tried a tired smile.
"Then I'd better leave."
"No, why don't you come in? Working alone is no fun at all." The smile on the older woman's face broadened. "We can catch breakfast later."
Helena grinned and followed Barbara inside.
"So what's this work you still have to do?"
"A budget report, but I'm close to done." Babs retook her position behind the stack of papers. She quickly sifted through it and added a few notes. Helena had barely taken a seat on one of the tables when the older woman grinned at her, "Done!"
Helena shook her head. "And that kept you up until the wee hours of the day?"
"No, our tagger did that."
The younger woman curiously raised an eyebrow. "Any news?"
"Sort of," Barbara admitted. "I got an initial profile together."
"Then spill it." Helena jumped off the table.
"Okay but I need some input first, I think cocoa should do." Barbara put Selina into Helena's hands. The little kitten had slept thought everything since Barbara had put her in her lap. Helena petted the kitten's head before putting her down on the floor and followed Barbara into the kitchen; the older woman was about to put a milk filled mug into the microwave. As soon as Helena entered the kitchen, Barbara began to speak. Shortly, she filled the younger woman in on what Anima had said, without telling her, of course, from where she had gotten the information.
In awe, the young vigilante watched the information unrolling in front of her.
"Okay, I know now why you're up this late. How did you do that?"
Barbara blushed and stared into her mug.
"So that's what you talked about on the intercom earlier?"
Barbara's head snapped up, "What?"
"When I entered the balcony, you were talking to someone but there was no one inside so I figured you were talking via the intercom. That's why I didn't come in."
"You've been out there that long?"
"Yes. So whom did you talk to?"
"A friend, she's a profiler, but I promised to keep her out of this."
Helena nodded. She tried to take in that new fact - Barbara asking someone for help was new to her - after all, the older woman had never asked for her help outside sweeps. But it was good to know that the new information came from a reliable source and was not some backyard psychology. Helena had to smile; it was also the first time that Barbara had called someone a friend. She knew that the two of them were friends, but outside of their friendship, she barely knew of any other 'friends' of the red head. Smiling, she noticed how she became a little jealous.
"So who is this friend?" she raised an eyebrow, grinning.
"A friend," Barbara answered calmly. "I've known her for some time now."
"There's nothing more you want to tell me about her?"
"No, not really," the red head grinned.
Helena smiled, "It's okay." She checked the clock, "So what about that breakfast you promised?"
Babs looked at the kitchen clock as well. How could it already be five fifteen in the morning? She shook her head.
"Let me change into fresh clothes and write a note for Dinah, then I'll be ready."
"Still trying to beat your old record?"
"Sure, getting changed in less than forty minutes is quite a challenge for me."
Helena saw the broad smile on the older woman's face and happily noticed there wasn't the faintest hint of anger behind it; even though, she knew, it still bugged the older woman, sometimes, that a simple task like putting on a pair of jeans took her so long.
"Okay, I'll busy myself with the litter box and so on." She smiled and watched Barbara depart into her room.
Around half past seven they both sat on a table in the French café where Barbara preferred to get her Kenyan, to go. Steaming cups and some fresh croissants sat right in front of them.
"You look tired." Helena took a sip from her mug.
"I surely am. But one more of these coffees, and I'm flying high." Barbara smiled and picked up her cup as well.
Barbara noticed Helena watching her as she carefully peeled a layer from her pastry.
"What? Why are you staring at me?"
"Uh sorry, I didn't mean to stare, I just enjoy looking at you."
The older woman tilted her head. She needed a few moments to process that data. "Why?"
That question brought a fast rising blush to the dark woman's features. Something Barbara had always thought impossible. Helena looked down at her plate. Her response was no more than a faint whisper. "Because I think I fell in love with you."
Barbara stopped chewing on her croissant, she hadn't expected something like that. In fact, she knew that she felt similarly, but she would have never thought of such an approach to the topic.
Helena looked up again, now panic ruled her features, "Oh god Barbara I shouldn't have said that, I'm sorry! Pretend I never opened my mouth!"
The red head slowly swallowed her bite of croissant, "No, I can't pretend that." Slowly she took the younger woman's hand, "It's good you said it. You startled me a little, to be honest. But, Helena I'm happy, even more than I can tell you at the moment. I feel the same way."
That last piece came out a little faint and stuttery, but she had said it, after all. Helena's eyes widened and Barbara could see the love spreading in them. "But..." she hated herself for adding this, "I think I need a little time. You know, to adjust, or something." For once, Barbara was out of words, something that barely ever happened to her. She looked away, not willing to see the expression on the younger woman's face change.
"It's okay," Helena spoke quietly. "Take all the time you need, I'll be waiting."
They finished the breakfast in silence. And then walked slowly towards the school.
'I can't believe she did that! How dare she touch her! That's not right!' The small figure hid in a doorway and watched the scene. 'First she follows me down here and then this! I know she wants me, maybe she doesn't even know it now, but she wants me; and I want her. And I'll get her.' She stepped out of the doorway the moment Helena and Barbara passed by without noticing her. She was invisible again; she knew it. She adjusted her shades and walked the other way, a broad grin forming on her face. It was time to return to her world.
"I'll pick Dinah and you up after school, it's my day off." Helena grinned down at the red head.
"Great, thanks." Barbara reached for Helena's hand. Their fingers twined for a second, before Barbara let go of the younger woman, after all they were in front of the school building and right now she wasn't sure she'd like the internal gossip from outing herself.
The morning passed in slow motion, Barbara could actually feel the caffeine wear off. Her normally so analytical brain had somehow turned into something slimy and slow. But lucky her, one more lesson and she could call it a night. She would hand in the budget report and then sneak out the back door.
Right now she was staring into her mug, filled with vending machine coffee and waited for the last bunch of students to arrive.
She was definitely too old for all-nighters, or for that matter, for long nights out.
Again Barbara turned the night around in her head. She had been baffled by Helena's words, and by her actions. Had the younger woman really been sitting out there for hours just to watch her? Barbara felt a warmth inside her. Helena was in love with her. A part of her wanted to dance for joy. But that was the little part that actually could dance. She noticed how she wandered down a mental path which she shouldn't visit right now, she wasn't sure her well trained facade was enough to keep her students from getting suspicious.
The swift opening of the door pulled her out of her thoughts. In came her class, barely looking at her the young people took their seats and the mumbling slowly died away. Barbara took a deep breath and opened her class list to check the names. She looked around, someone was missing. But who? By now she knew all names and faces, or rather, she thought she knew. But she couldn't make out who was actually missing right now. She checked the list and finally she reached a name to which no one responded in class - Reena Nelson. She scanned her internal database for an image of the young girl in question, she knew she had looked up the name earlier and slowly the image appeared in front of her inner eye. Reena had been the young girl looking at her a week ago, the silent one near her desk. When she had gone through the Student reports last night she had read her name as well, she was one of the few promising students, good grades, nice behaviour. In her old school she had participated in some afternoon activities like the school choir. She seemed to have been one of the teachers favourites; handing in her papers on time, quite active in class; attentive. Mentally she shrugged her shoulders, no reason to worry, after all she was dealing with teenagers here. She opened her book and started her lesson.
The lesson stretched like glue; the only one who seemed to have at least remotely heard of Gabriel Garcia-Marques was, to her surprise, Spider. The young girl had mumbled something about having picked up one of his books but hadn't read it so far. Barbara had to admit she was starting to wonder about the young woman with the bad attitude. Even though the girl seemed uninterested in the lessons, she still followed them. Her first impression had been wrong, Barbara had to admit. The teen wasn't sleeping in class, it was more like she was listening with closed eyes as it seemed. Alex "Spider" Watts had woken her interest; even on their first encounter. And now Babs was pretty sure she had to keep an eye on her. Not only to rule her out as a suspect for the graffitis but also for her school career. She couldn't explain the girls bad grades, she seemed quite bright. And had a way in expressing her opinion. Perhaps that was the problem, the girl had quite a temper and Babs knew as sad as it was, there were teachers out there who just didn't care, or were too overworked to put up with a girl of Alex calibre.
She shook her head and pulled herself out of her thoughts. Soon Helena would come and pick them up, and she wasn't sure what would await her then, this morning had left her with too much to think about and she knew she had to do the thinking before she again spoke to Helena, and probably best before Helena spilled something to Dinah for that matter.
The young woman leaned, relaxed, against the car, her weight partially resting on her elbows on the hood of the broad black Hummer; her face extended to the sun, which, finally, had come out for the first time this year. Her eyes shielded by the dark shades, she looked like the model she easily could be. Barbara saw that Dinah was already running to the car, to greet her 'adopted' older sister. Dinah enjoyed each time Helena picked her, or them, up, because she could show off the older woman to her friends. When Barbara wheeled down the ramp, she saw the young boys gawking. And she nearly could see the blonde teen's grin through her back as she greeted Helena. The dark woman stayed her cool self. Barbara knew she had noticed the looks they got, and had decided to play along a little.
"Hey D. How's it hangin'?" She punched the girl's shoulder in a friendly manner.
Dinah's reply was too low to catch and Babs regretted ruining their scene by approaching the car.
As Barbara wheeled closer, she could see the expression on the dark woman's face change. She shook her head in Dinah's direction; Helena's only response was a faint nod.
"Babs you look like hell." She tried to sound casual but Barbara easily sensed the concern in the young vigilante's voice.
Dinah turned around now, giving her mentor an all over glance. "Oh boy, Barbara."
"Yes I know. I just want home and my bed. Perhaps, a few hours in the shower first." She wheeled herself to the passenger door and heard a faint snicker.
"Hey watch it, I heard that!"
A dark head ducked and disappeared at the driver's side.
After a more or less silent drive home, the women stood in the elevator together. Helena finally found something to say, "So no sweeps tonight?"
Barbara checked her watch, "It's still early. Give me some time for a little nap and then we'll see how busy tonight will become."
"I can maintain the Delphi," Dinah chimed in, enthusiastically.
"I don't think so." Barbara gave her young protégé a stern look, "You won't maintain the mainframe without me, and if I'm informed correctly you have a bio exam tomorrow."
The teen stared at her shoe tips with such intensity Barbara needed no other confirmation.
The elevator doors opened and one after another, they stepped out. Dinah excused herself with having to do some learning for the exam, and left the older women alone.
Barbara looked up at Helena, "I'm sorry, I think I really need some sleep."
The younger woman tilted her head, "There's something else."
"Maybe. I'm not sure yet but I can't think, I can barely keep my eyes open. Sorry."
Helena nodded her understanding and pushed the elevator button, "I'll drop in tonight again, go rest a little."
Barbara smiled weakly and watched the doors close behind Helena.
Like long fingers, the wind combed her hair. Up here it was absolute freedom. She felt the muscles under her tight Kevlar suit tense as she readied herself for the jump. The jump-line extended, she checked her grip for one last time, and then she swung. At last! She felt the blood rush through her ears, accompanied by the noise of the wind. Cold air brought tears to her eyes. Her fingers strained, holding her body's weight, in a tight grip, to the rope. The swing reached its peak and, using the force of the upward swing, she gracefully released the jump-line. Using her own velocity to extend her flight, she somersaulted and stretched again. Smiling, she looked down to see the next rooftop come closer. Her grin broadened as she curled up into a somersault again. Landing on the rooftop, she caught herself, rolling on the surface. And, finally, stood gracefully in the middle of the roof, looking around. She noticed the lithe figure and slowly approached it. When she was close enough to see the warm smile on the younger woman's face she pulled off her mask, shaking her long red hair in the cold wind. The ethereal figure, who now was within arms length of her, mirrored the movement, and took off her black leather cat-mask to reveal not Selina Kyle's but her daughter, Helena's face. Barbara smiled. She watched the younger woman raise her hand to pull a long red strand out of Barbara's face before she leaned in for a tender kiss. Barbara noticed how her own hands came alive and traced the younger woman's shoulders. She felt the muscles under the black leather suit. A soft purr drew her attention back to the face only inches away from her own. She tilted her own head a little and, smiling, turned in for another kiss. Capable hands worked their way to the buckle of her utility belt, and a metallic 'click' told her that it had just hit the floor. In the dim moonlight, their silhouettes melted into one.
Sensations rushed through her as she felt slim fingers explore her body.
She felt how her feet lost the contact with the roof, as if she was floating. Suddenly everything changed, the soft purring changed into laughter. She pulled away, eyes wide open; disbelieving, she stared into a face she hoped never to see again.
The Joker! Gun in one hand, the other still resting on her arm, he laughed at her. He shot. The floating changed, it felt like falling. Falling down the rooftop, she felt the pain again - the last thing she ever felt below her waist - this stinging pain. Barbara heard the gunshot from far away. She knew she was heading towards the concrete at 9.81 m/s². Shouldn't her life run past her in a film? All she saw was the equation for Gravity and how she would look as street pizza.
Soaked in sweat, muscles tense and breathing laboured, like she'd had a bad nightmare. She probably had had a nightmare. Barbara couldn't remember much. She slowly sat up, trying to control her breathing. What had that been? She checked her alarm clock. It was already past nine pm, time to power up the Delphi. She sank into her pillows again. Slowly, images started floating across her inner eye.
What had that been? She still felt like shit, the little nap had done nothing to make her feel better. It was time for the next shower. Carefully, she manoeuvred herself into her nearby chair, feeling the tensed muscles in her shoulders; and wheeled herself to the bathroom.
Barbara felt as if her strength had left her body, her limbs, at least the ones she could feel, felt like mellow rubber. Still, the images before her inner eye were confusing. She managed to seat herself in the shower, and leaned back when the hot water started running over her body. With closed eyes Barbara tried to relax and get rid of the dream's aftermath. She felt her muscles slowly relax.
"Barbara? Are you in there?"
The familiar voice pulled Babs out of her thoughts. She didn't know how long she had been under the shower but the steam filling the room and the wrinkled skin on her fingers implied that she had been longer in there than she had intended.
"Yes," she shouted back, "I'm right out. Could you switch on the coffee machine?"
The younger woman's snicker was audible through closed doors and running water. Barbara smiled. She mentally braced herself and then turned the water to cold. Like a whip, the now freezing cold stream hit her body. She grabbed the showerhead and moved the stream all over her body, rinsing off the last bit of sleep.
When she emerged from the bathroom, wearing a majorly oversized sweater and matching trousers, Helena awaited her at the Delphi, a huge mug perched at her side.
She looked at Barbara and her relaxed expression changed to concern. "You don't look good Babs."
"I know. I didn't really sleep well."
Helena approached her and softly pushed a strand of still wet hair behind Barbara's ear. A normal human wouldn't have picked up the older woman's body tensing, but Helena's sharpened senses picked up the shift in the air. She looked down to the older woman who wasn't able to meet her gaze. Slowly Helena's hand traced down Babs strong jaw. Barbara pulled away. "Helena," she trailed off for a moment, "... I don't think I can do this."
"Do what?" Helena stepped back, trying to catch the red heads eyes.
Barbara took a deep breath, finally looking at the dark woman, "At the café, I... you... Where do we stand Helena?"
"What do you mean, where do we stand?"
"Us, you and me, I don't know." She shrugged her shoulders.
"At the restaurant I told you that I love you, and that hasn't changed; you asked me to give you time and that's what I'll do. It's your call."
Barbara lowered her gaze again. "I don't know if I can make that call."
Helena knelt down in front of her, trying to meet her eyes. "What do you mean?"
"I have never been in such a situation, I don't know what to expect or what is expected from me."
Helena folded her legs under, and found a comfortable position. "We have time Barbara, no expectations, no strings attached. We only talked this morning. Give yourself some time. Give us some time"
"It isn't that easy Helena; after all, we're friends, colleagues, we share so much; what if it doesn't work out? I won't even mention the age difference."
Barbara swallowed the other things she wanted to add.
Of course Helena was right, barely half a day had passed. This dream bothered her more than she was willing to admit right now. And somehow she had the odd feeling that it wasn't good to tell Helena about it. Not right now.
Helena nodded. Even though she couldn't completely agree with the red head's point of view, she still understood it. "Barbara, look at me." She waited till emerald eyes looked up. "I can't promise that it'll work out; in fact, I can't promise anything. All I can say is that we came so far, went through so much crap, I can't imagine anything separating us."
Barbara nodded slowly.
"So what do you say, we just, err, start it and see where it leads us," she grinned up to the still insecure face opposite her. Slowly a smile formed on Barbara's lips. Helena got on her knees and softly touched the slim, pale hands resting in Barbara's lap. The cyber genius slowly moved her fingers to twine them with Helena's. Looking down to their hands she noticed a warm breath at her cheek, followed by a feather-like kiss. This time no muscles tensed.
"That's all the news I've got so far." Barbara took off her specs, realising that she didn't need them when talking on the intercom, she pinched the bridge of her nose.
"That doesn't sound too good." The calm voice sounded concerned.
"It wasn't good Anima, trust me." The incident from two days back replayed itself within Barbara's mind. She and Helena had planned a relaxed evening in front of the big screen TV, to have some time to themselves when the Delphi had pulled them out of their mood and into action. What had, first, seemed like a normal break and entry had left them both shocked.
Helena had left for the little drug store not too far away to check out what had happened there, and Barbara had, as always, monitored the situation when the tone, audible via the transceiver, in Helena's voice alerted her. "Oracle? Something is going on here."
"A little more specific please."
"I can sense someone's still around, but I can't see anybody or locate anything, I'm going in there now: something smells."
"Yeah. I know the scent, it's something chemical."
"Chemical?" The older woman was fully alert.
"What is it? Huntress?"
There was silence on the com set for a moment then she finally heard her younger partner again.
"Damn it. It really smells bad in here, and it's complete mayhem!"
"Huntress there's no surveillance at the store so please be a bit more specific."
Barbara couldn't suppress the agitation in her voice.
"All the shelves are emptied, I'm wading knee deep through stuff here, someone emptied cleanser bottles and other stuff. Gosh I'm going to ruin my boots!"
"Huntress!" Barbara knew exactly how dangerous chemicals were, even the ones commonly used around the house, but right then she wasn't sure if Helena knew that as well. "Watch your step. There might be acid, and can you at least make out the kind of scent, so I can find out if it's dangerous?"
"Of course I can watch my step!" Helena sounded snippy, "I smell ammonia, hydrogen peroxide, of course, that's where I know the scent from, it smells like a barber shop!"
Barbara checked databases for other uses of the chemicals Helena had identified. Maybe there was a really bad smelling bomb hidden somewhere.
"Can you tell, if you're alone, yet?"
"It seems like no one else is here, but I still have this dull feeling someone is close by. There's another scent mixed with the chemical stuff, something iron-ish, I know that scent too, I'm going further in now."
With long trained patience the red head waited on the next status message from the young vigilante, busying herself with cross referencing different cleansers and chemicals.
The com set came to life again, "Oracle, I've found the source of the scents, well the other one apart from the pool cleaner in the front. 'On things around him with a ray turned back upon the past?'"
"It's him again, the tagger."
"Yes but this time coloured not with spray paint."
"He used," Barbara heard a sniff, "hair dye. Different types of hair dye, it's still wet. And here the other scent is stronger too, iron, definitively iron."
Liquid iron? Barbara didn't know what to make of this.
"I'm taking samples now, the dye is mixed with blood."
"Is there a victim somewhere? Someone wounded?"
"Don't you think I would have told you something like that? There's no source, of any kind for the blood, but I can smell it, and I can see the red writing on the wall."
"Sorry." Barbara knew she had overreacted and had treated Helena like a newbie, "Finish there and do a close sweep of the area before you come back here."
"Check." The younger woman's voice was cold now, "Going off coms now. Huntress out."
From there on, the evening had gone further down the drain. Helena had been pissed off, for a reason, as Barbara had to acknowledge, and she herself had immediately started to analyze the chemicals and the blood.
"The blood was animal blood, but thanks to the hair dye I can't make out yet which animal exactly. I sent the probes to Star Labs, the analysis is still pending. So what do you make of it?"
Barbara listened to the faint metallic click, which was, as always, accompanied by a deep breath. "I still think it's a she, I don't think a male perpetrator would paint with hair dye."
Barbara couldn't suppress a grin, "You could be right there."
"She's escalating. The blood troubles me, you have to find out where she got it, maybe next time it won't be animal blood."
Barbara smilingly entered another database. So far no report of any kind of slaughtered animals had appeared, hopefully whoever had done this had connections to a butcher or something like that.
"And the chemicals?" She lightly bent her head to aim at the cardioid microphone hidden beneath one of the screens.
"I think you're overrating the chemicals."
"Huntress mentioned the scent so often because it was tough on her, her advanced senses made it smell stronger to her. You said she smelled the blood through the ammonia. In my opinion the scent was only a by-product of the destruction, and the painting of course."
"Yes, maybe." Barbara heard soft laughter via the intercom.
"Oracle shouldn't you be used to the subjective perspective by now? After all you mainly get an audio commentary from the sweeps, kinda like a movie with commentary for the blind."
Barbara had to smile at the reference. Even though it was a sad smile. For a moment she was lost in the memory of her own time in the line of fire.
"I know how you're feeling."
"Huh?" the cyber crime fighter was startled for a second.
"Haunting the roof tops, the fighting. Vigilant, valiant, and fearless to be... " Anima trailed off.
"Sometimes I think you're meta, a mind reader or something, and it scares me when you talk in song lyrics. But let's not have this conversation now."
The voice on the intercom was soft and warm, "I don't need mind reading abilities for that one; a little psychology is enough. I've known you long enough now, to know that something else is bugging you. By the way you might want to check your audio input there's some sort of buzzing on the line."
A buzzing? Barbara looked around; for her own convenience she had decided to use the cardioid microphone instead of her headset. She grimaced at the huge green eyes greeting her from the console. "That's not a buzzing that's a purring, I think Selina likes your voice."
"You lost me."
"Sorry, I forgot to tell you, Selina is our new pet kitten. Huntress brought her in a few days back, she's like a fist full of fur and constantly purring - I've gotten used to it by now." The red head smiled at the cat now stretching on some CD cases.
"A kitten, that's nice. Let me guess, Helena named her."
"How'd you..., forget it."
"So how are things between you and Helena working out?"
By not using a codename anymore Anima had pointed out that she was all private now. Right now she wasn't a freelance co-worker in the crime fighting business but one of Barbara's oldest friends.
"I don't know Sarah, other than that, how ..."
"Yeah, how did I find out? Easy, your voice changes when you talk about her, plus what you told me bout the incident earlier. You behaved like a mother hen: you've always cared for her, but the way changed."
"Stop profiling my private life!" Barbara played annoyed. A soft giggle over the com set told her that Sarah wasn't buying it; of course not.
"Things aren't that well." Barbara got serious, "I'm pretty insecure about the whole situation."
"You're scared senseless."
"Yes, you could say that."
"Why?" This single word via the intercom was so powerful Barbara didn't know how to react.
Shrugging was not an option because of the audio only conversation mode, so she sighed.
"I think I've just been single too long, I have to get used to caring for someone in this way again. And," she added grinning, "I should get rid of that mother hen attitude."
"Is it only this?" Barbara heard the concern in her friends voice.
"No, I had a weird dream, right after Helena told me about her feelings for me." Barbara admitted slowly.
"What do you mean, weird dream?" Sarah didn't even try to mask her professional interest.
"I don't know." Barbara absently crawled the cat which had climbed her lap. "I only recalled it completely a few days later." She told Sarah about the dream, and how she felt about it. The silence following her report prickled on her skin.
"Do you want my professional opinion about it?"
"A part of me does, the other part would prefer to run and hide."
"Which part wins?" Sarah's voice was warm and somehow intimate now.
"The one which wants an opinion, of course! But I'd prefer a friend's opinion."
"You're afraid of becoming intimate with Helena."
"Pardon me?" Barbara heard a faint snicker.
"You have antagonistic feelings about it. Let me explain before you interrupt me again."
Barbara closed her mouth; someday Sarah had to tell her how she did things like this.
"In this dream you mix things you love with things that you hate; or better which scare you. There's the leap; the detailed way in which you described it, how you felt the jump-line between your fingers, the somersaults. Combined with the words you used. I can tell you loved it, and even though you say you don't miss it, we both know deep inside, you do miss it."
Barbara nodded slowly, unable to add an audible reaction.
"The scene on the roof; It is a symbol for the things you lost; not only your agility, but also Selina, who was, outside her catwoman identity, a friend of yours. You see Helena in her place, as what she is, Catwoman's, means Selina's daughter, but also a close friend. I won't go into detail about what it could mean, you picturing her in her mother's suit, but be assured Freud would love it." Sarah's light laugh helped Barbara not to drown in the melancholic mood. She softly sighed.
"Now comes the interesting part, you become intimate with her, in quite a romantic fashion, if I might add. That's also the part where the antagonism comes into the picture. You enjoy touching Helena, but your subconscious is scared, so it changes Helena in the one thing you fear most; the one thing that harmed you and the ones you loved; The Joker. Again he shot you and catapulted you off the roof. Like he, in real life, catapulted you out of the life you've known so far. And there the analytical part of your mind slips into gear, in telling you what happens on the physics side other than telling you how shitty or nice your life has been."
Barbara bent forward to rest her elbows on her knees. "I see your point, no need to go on."
"Don't sound so devastated."
Barbara laughed dryly. "Easier said, than done. So mainly you're telling me that my subconscious is afraid of Helena."
"Partly yes, but I think that's just being afraid of changes in general. With a little time it'll get better, and if I understood you correctly this was the only dream of that kind. So it's not that bad." Anima fell silent again. Barbara heard a faint rubbing from the still open intercom and then typing, "Okay then, mind back on the mission." The voice was all serious again. "I think there's more to the colour issue. Why did she use hair dye this time?"
For a second she was startled by the quick change of topic, but after all this was a more harmless territory.
"Yes, I suppose the tagger forgetting her paint isn't an option here." Barbara loaded up the photos to her screen again. "Why would someone put such an effort in here and then paint with hair dye?"
"Because the hair dye is some sort of part to the puzzle?" Anima offered.
"Okay but what part? Look at me I'm a lonely young woman with a stupid family and I want to be a hair dresser?"
"Possible," Anima managed between giggles. "But let's take the hair dye from another angle, what do you use dye for?"
"To change your hair colour. So what?" Barbara sat upright again, "Wait, wait, wait, of course, to change not only your hair colour but also your type."
"I think we're going somewhere, changing, becoming someone else. Perhaps imitating someone. What colours did she use?"
"Again, brownish red like before, but this time a sort of crimson red is the dominant colour."
"I think the blood fits into the picture here too, it's a sign."
Barbara heard fast typing followed by that plastic rubbing again. Silently she waited for the other woman to go on.
The rubbing went on for quite a while. Slowly Barbara started to wonder what it was, had the other woman a nervous tic? Finally the voice re-appeared.
"Okay this will take a little time, I'll re-edit my profile and put it on your server later. Right now I can work better with the Goldberg variations on my headphones, other than your breathing."
Barbara measured the distance between her and the mic, "You can't possibly hear me breathe."
"You'd be surprised. Anyways, I'll talk to you later. Anima out."
'She ruined it! What the hell was she thinking? This was my evening. She ruined it! It was so beautiful and she ruined it!' She punched her pillow sending it straight through the room. 'But I watched her. What was she doing there anyways? How did she find me? Black haired bitch! First she's hitting on my woman and now she's terrorizing me! I'll show her! We haven't met for the last time!'
Unbelievable! There she was on a Saturday morning, one of the few days where she actually could sleep in a little and she was awake at six o'clock. Barbara rolled her eyes and tried again to find a comfortable position in bed. The feeling of asphyxiation had pulled her out of morpheus arms. What she first had mistaken for another bad dream, had quickly turned out to be Selina sitting on her chest. As soon as the little kitten knew that she had Barbara's attention she started whining. Used to getting an early morning snack the red head found no other way to soothe the cat, than to feed her. Now she just had re-adjusted into her still warm sheets, not willing to start her day at this hour.
It seemed to her, that she just had fallen asleep again when a soft knock on her door pulled her out of her dreams again. A quick glance at her bedside clock confirmed that this 'just' had been three more hours of sleep. "come in." She rubbed her eyes and slowly turned her upper body, steadying herself with her arms. In her favourite sleeping position, on her belly, she wasn't able to see who would enter. She glanced up just to see Helena's face appear in the doorframe. After her blunt entry some days ago she was more careful about entering the red head's den. "Why are you still in bed?" A dark eyebrow rose over curious eyes.
"I thought I could sleep in." Barbara stretched. "You know sometimes even I need sleep." She grinned lazily.
"But not today. It's announced to be the first really warm and sunny spring day and you're not going to sleep through it."
"Why not?" Barbara had to smile about Helena's childish attempt to get her out of bed.
"Come on, the weather is great! Why don't we go out, stock up some sunshine!"
"Is that you, the night active super mean crime fighter, telling me about stocking up sun?"
Helena had finally entered the room and stood in front of Barbara, hands on her hips she looked like a female version of Peter Pan, well not that green. Barbara made a mental note as she noticed that Helena wasn't wearing anything black, not even black shoes. Her tight shirt was white with some rips just at the right spots, something that indicated not that the shirt was old, but that it had been quite expensive. It highlighted her dark tan along with her lithe figure. As did the, also tight, trousers. The stone washed jeans would have looked awfully eighties, along with the dark red converse allstars. But on Helena everything looked fashionable.
Barbara smiled. "Sure," Helena's grin got somehow wicked "You know sun is all good for you, photosynthesis and all."
"Uh." Barbara winced. "Photosynthesis. Sure, whatever." She, relaxed her arms, and rolled back on her tummy.
"Come on!" Helena loosely grabbed her hand. "It's warm and sunny outside, we could go poisoning pigeons in the park."
"That sounds promising." Barbara's voice was muffled by the pillow. Steadying herself again with the other arm she looked up to Helena who still was holding her hand. It felt good to have her close. After that talk to Sarah, Barbara had done some serious thinking. She had to open towards Helena, seize the day, so to say. Why analyse when a touch felt good, instead of just enjoying it? That was something she had to learn, and she was more than eager to learn that lection. She knew exactly what her subconscious was scared about. But Helena was right, they had all the time in the world. Barbara smiled. Helena looked at her curiously. Then, the moment Barbara's smile developed into a mischievously grin there was something like realisation in her gaze. But it was already too late. With a quick movement Barbara twisted her arm and got a hold of Helena's wrist, she used the surprise moment and pulled her down on the bed next to her.
"Hey!" Helena laughed "What's going on here?"
Barbara smiled into the smiling face now only inches away from her own. "Nothing," Her grin broadened.
Helena softly shook her head. "You're weird without your morning coffee."
"Coffee! That's a great idea!" Barbara turned her head and closed her eyes for a moment, "Do I smell fresh coffee?"
Helena laughed, "Yeah what lasagne is for Garfield is coffee for you."
Barbara shook her head laughing and rolled on her back. Effortlessly she pulled herself in an upright position. "Why don't you go fill the cups, I'll be right there."
"Sure," Helena laughed "first you pull me into bed and as soon as you smell coffee you drop me like a hot potato." She got up. "See you in the kitchen." She waved and left the room.
Helena had been right, the weather was great, unusual warm and sunny for Gotham. They had decided for a strolle in the Park. Barbara had decided to not use her usual electric chair, but her sports chair. Not only that she could use the little workout in the sun but she was also more flexible in it. You didn't need to be a genius to know that, on the first warm day, the park would be crammed. And it was a Saturday so you could compare the park to a K-Mart on a special sales day.
Side by side they wandered down the paths and enjoyed the sun.
"Why didn't Dinah come along?" Helena stepped aside seconds before a young man would have ran into her. "When I asked her she was already packing her bag, seems Gabby had called yesterday and invited her over for some 'doing homework next to the pool'"
"That sounds appealing." Helena grinned. "Want some ice cream?"
"Ice cream sounds appealing too." Barbara's face lit up.
They approached a vendor, who had put his wagon up at the path side. Helena ordered whist Barbara tried to stay out of the crowd surrounding the small stand. Fascinated she watched the young woman dance her way through the people, sidestepping everyone who came too close. Barbara knew her metahuman senses made her feel the people getting too close faster than a normal human would. So she easily stepped aside even before people noticed that they would have bumped into her. For Barbara she looked like a ballerina in a rhino stampede.
She was still smiling about that metaphor when Helena joined her, two already dripping ice cream cones in her hands.
"Let's find some place more quiet to enjoy these." She looked at Barbara. "What are you smiling about?"
"Nothing." Barbara's smile broadened. "Look over there, the bench is empty, let's hurry." With a strong push she set the wheelchair into move and stopped it right in front of the bench, Helena right behind her. She rotated a few degrees and waited for Helena to sit down. Then she secured the breaks on her chair before accepting her cone from Helena.
For a while they just sat there, enjoying the sun and watching the people pass by.
"You seem a lot more relaxed today." Helena licked a drop of ice from her finger.
"Yes, I got plenty of sleep, even though one or two hours more wouldn't have hurt." Barbara grinned mischievously, and slowly licked on her cone.
"Then I think I should secure your sleeping hours."
The red head slowly titled her head. She tried her best to shake off the tense again crawling up her shoulders. Apparently she still had a long way to go. And one step after the other was the best way to make it. Barbara noticed Helena's gaze, she had been silent a heartbeat too long. Smiling she put her hand on the younger woman's leg and squeezed it.
This was too easy, too obvious! It couldn't be. Barbara shook her head and tried, again, to concentrate on the papers in front of her. This Monday morning had brought no news from Anima, or Star Labs, so she'd occupied herself with her day job; and right now, in the middle of class she wasn't sure she could trust her eyes. There, in the last row, sat Spider Watts with what seemed like colour spray all over her trousers. Or rather Barbara hoped it was just paint- from that distance she could only make out dark brownish red spots. This couldn't be just a coincidence. She had to talk to the girl, or immediately put her under surveillance.
Barbara couldn't suppress the images floating around in her mind. She had to inform Huntress. No. Helena would start her shift at the Dark Horse soon, and even though the young woman would happily skip her shift to follow the teen, Barbara was not willing to interrupt her day job. After all, the crime fighting interfered with the bar too much already. And so far she had nothing more than a small hint in this direction. A few drops of paint weren't enough to call her, not right now. Barbara knew she needed more info. If only Star Labs would send the analysis report.
She watched the teen from the corner of her eye, trying not to look suspicious.
A low cough pulled the red head out of her thoughts.
Reena Nelson was standing in front of her, slowly waving some sheets of paper. Barbara took them nodding, "Thank you, are you sure you don't need to look over them again? Check for mistakes and so on?"
"I already did that."
Had she heard the teen's voice before? Barbara pondered. She would have never guessed the girl would have such a low voice, somehow rusty, gravely.
A thin smile formed on Reena's lips as she turned and left for her desk.
Barbara re-adjusted her specs and flipped through the papers. On the first view there were no mistakes; the handwriting was sharp like print, and not a single word was erased or crossed. 'Impressive.' The red head smiled and turned her attention back to her students, to Spider in particular.
She still hadn't worked out a plan of action. Asking Dinah wasn't an option either. She didn't know what to expect from Alex Watts, and she wasn't willing to let the teen go in blind and on her own.
'Seems I'm remotely back in the line,' she grinned. She would follow the girl and, if she had the opportunity, talk to her. Perhaps she could shed some light on the situation, and she could still play the concerned teacher. Mentally, she kicked herself for not bringing a transceiver. It would have all been so easy, attach it to Alex and then wait and see. Now she had to do it old style and, honestly, the Hummer wasn't the best car for a tracking job.
Waiting in the hall, Barbara still wasn't sure if she had made the right decision in stopping Alex before she left the school, to talk to her, instead of following her down to wherever she might go. But now there was no time left to act otherwise; she already saw the young girl approach the exit.
A hand already on the handle of the main door, the teen stopped and turned to Barbara who now wheeled closer; the sound of the wheelchair motor was the only sound audible. Most of the students had already left the building and, secretly, Barbara wondered what had taken Spider so long.
"What's up doc?"
"I'd like to talk to you."
"Sorry I'm busy." With that she opened the door and went out. Barbara followed her immediately, "Alexandra!"
The girl jumped down the stairs, taking two at a time. The distance between them grew, and Barbara silently cursed herself for having to take the detour over the ramp.
Called by her nickname, the girl turned around. "What?"
"I really need to talk to you!"
"Yeah but make it snappy, I'm already running late."
Finally, Barbara caught up to be close enough to talk to her in a normal conversational tone.
"I've pulled your file and we have to talk about your behaviour at school, and your attitude in general."
"Oh gosh! That talk." The girl raised her hands, "No time for that."
"You should take the time, I have."
"Well that's not my business, and perhaps you should find better things to spend your time on, start knitting or something."
With that the girl turned around again and jogged down the sidewalk.
Barbara watched her, confused, still not sure what to make of the girl and without a chance to follow her. Fetching the car and getting ready to follow her would take too long.
She sat there for a little longer, staring into the direction the girl had disappeared, not noticing the slim shadow at the corner of the building behind her, who now disappeared, unseen, around that same corner. The woman put on her shades, and walked slowly down the road.
She was invisible again, and smiled to herself about a secret only she knew.
Finally Anima's profile had arrived. Babs had gone over it for a few times now. She had made some important changes. Not only about the violent behaviour, but about the background as well. Regarding the fact that they hadn't really found new traces or had gotten a hint into any direction; Anima seemed sure the girl was pretty self restraint. The last paragraph of the profile was a personal note to Barbara telling her that Anima would need some more time to get a more specific profile, and that Barbara, should there be new traces or hints, call her.
The red head sighed, so much for the profile, it wasn't really helpful right now, to vague. She would have to talk to Anima again, perhaps they could come to better results when working together.
Barbara took off her glasses as she heard the well known sound of the balcony doors closing.
"Hey," Helena's voice was low. "Any news?"
"No," she sighed, "still no news from Star Labs. Apparently not even the Flash is fast when it comes to analysis. I got an updated profile, but it's too vague."
"Have you talked to your friend again?"
Barbara simply nodded.
Helena reached her friend and stood behind her, softly laying her hands on the older woman's shoulders.
Barbara leaned back, happy to finally feel Helena's soft touch. She had ached for that touch, and rested her head against the younger woman's stomach.
She felt the featherlike kiss on her hair, Helena's warm breath on her scalp. "It's good to have you here," she whispered.
"I've always been here," Helena whispered into the red hair. Slowly she started to massage the always-tense shoulders.
Barbara relaxed into the touch; even though the muscles ached in rebellion, she still enjoyed it.
"Do you think we should tell Dinah? About us I mean."
"You really think we still have to tell her? Dinah is a bright girl, I think she already knows."
"Knows what? Did I miss something?"
They both jumped. Even Helena had been so lost in her actions, that she hadn't noticed the teen entering.
"What are you doing?"
They both parted like busted teenagers. Barbara was the first to find her voice. She rotated ninety degrees to look at the blonde teen, "Dinah, good to see you, there's something Helena and I wanted to talk to you about."
The young girl's eyes narrowed, "What's going on here?"
Helena chose a more blunt approach, "Dinah, Barbara and I...well let's say our friendship moved to the next level." She spiced her comment with a knowing grin.
"What? Do you mean you, and you..." she looked from one to the other, "You two are like..." Again she was missing some words, not able to complete her sentences. Dinah went pale, "That's disgusting!"
Barbara felt like frozen to the spot, her mouth opened but no sound came out, Helena was a bit faster. "Watch it kid!"
That earned her an even more disgusted glare from the young girl, who now turned on her heels and left the room. Only seconds later, they heard the elevator doors close.
Barbara released a breath she didn't knew she had been holding and turned back to Helena. "Okay, what was that?"
"I have no idea. Shall I go after her or do you want to give her some time?"
Barbara sighed, "Perhaps it's really better to give her some time, and I think it's best if I talk to her."
"Okay, I guess she'll take a walk and then end up in No Man's Land."
Barbara nodded. "I'll go down there. Sorry honey, would you mind if I go alone? I'd like to take in some fresh air and have time to gather my thoughts."
"Okay. I'll, uhm, maintain the Delphi." She grinned.
Barbara smiled. "Good luck then. I'll take a com set with me, and my PDA, so if something happens I'll patch myself in."
Helena smile, "You're being overprotective again."
Barbara wheeled herself off the platform directly into the training room, where she easily settled herself in her sports-chair. She hoped the physical work would keep her thoughts from speer racing inside her mind, and it would give Dinah a little more time. Slowly, now using her own body strength, she got into the elevator and left the building on the street level.
The air was fresh and cool, a faint breeze was washing through the streets. Barbara sped up a little, enjoying the feeling of her muscles warming up. When she finally reached NML after a slight detour along the park, Dinah was already there, sitting at a table with Gibson, staring into her soda.
Gibson noticed her first and got up to leave them to themselves. His movement pulled Dinah out of her thoughts.
He smiled at Barbara and departed back to the bar. Dinah turned around and waited for her to reach the table, knowing that she had no way out.
"Dinah, what was that all about?"
"I'm sorry Barbara. It's just, gosh! You and Helena?"
"Yes, Helena and I. Do you have a problem with that?" Barbara kept her voice low and calm.
"Honestly Barbara, yes, I do have a problem with that."
"Can we talk about it?"
Dinah sighed. "It's, it's...." She wasn't able to finish the sentence.
"Is it because we're both women?"
"No, no," Dinah heavily shook her head, "Gabby is into girls too. I have no problem with lesbian relationships."
Barbara felt relieved, "Okay what's the problem then?"
The girl shrugged her shoulders, "It's... I don't know, somehow it feels like my mum making out with my sister."
Barbara's eyes widened; on one hand she felt touched by the way Dinah accepted them as family, on the other hand this seemed to be a serious problem.
"Do you think we can work something out?"
"Perhaps, but please give me some time to figure it out for myself first."
"Of course," Barbara smiled.
The beeping of her transceiver interrupted them.
"Huntress what's up?"
"I thought you would like to know that the Star Labs report just came in."
"Great! We're on our way."
Dinah followed Barbara back to the clock tower without hesitation. They made their way home, silently walking side by side. Barbara was anxious to get her hands on the results so she set quite a tempo.
Dinah wasn't in the mood to chime in on the crime fighting, so, when they entered the clock tower she waved a quick good night and disappeared into her room. Barbara wheeled herself slowly onto the platform, where Helena was already waiting. She was sitting, legs folded under, on one of the desks, and teasing Selina with a cable. A cable Barbara easily identified as one of the new fibre optic cables, which she still had to wire to the mainframe. Well, judging from the bite marks on the cable, she couldn't wire this particular cable to the mainframe anymore.
"Do you think it's such a good idea to train the cat on cables?" Her tone was light, so Helena just shrugged, smiling, and put the kitten on the ground.
"What did the kid say?"
Barbara was already powering up the mainframe, she glanced up at Helena, "She's troubled. She said, to her it feels like her mother making out with her sister."
Helena raised an eyebrow, "So? Do we have a plan?"
"No, not at the moment. Let's give her some time and then talk to her again."
Helena nodded, and watched as the first files appeared on the screen. Barbara grew silent as she started reading, so Helena made a silent departure upstairs. She could be of no help here.
Twenty minutes later, Barbara put down her specs. She had read the report twice, and cross-referenced the results. The muffled sounds from upstairs indicated that Helena had fallen asleep on the couch, possibly with the little kitten on her lap. Barbara smiled and silently wheeled to the elevator. Slowly the elevator doors opened and Barbara's smile broadened. There was Helena, just as she had imagined, stretched out on the couch, a small fur ball on her thighs. Quietly, she approached the still sleeping figure, glad about the fact that she hadn't changed back into her electric chair. The motor would have woken Helena. For a moment she watched in awe, till the lithe figure on the couch stiffened and stretched. Slowly Helena opened an eye. "Hey red, what time is it?"
"Close to midnight, sorry I didn't mean to wake you."
"It's okay," she smiled and slowly sat up, putting the cat down on the sofa.
"Did the Star Labs report shed some light?"
"Yeah, a little," Barbara sighed and closed the distance between herself and the couch. "They could figure out the animal. It's deer blood."
"Deer blood?" Helena was totally awake now, "You mean someone killed Bambi just to paint that graffiti?"
"Not necessarily. At the moment the Delphi is cross-referencing different databases and police reports to see if, somewhere in the greater Gotham area, a car accident occurred that involved a deer. But so far all have come back negative. Deer hunters are a possible source too."
"I see a lot of work in our near future," Helena smiled.
"Yeah, I think we could narrow it down if we find out where you can find deer in Gotham."
"Yes, I'd guess you don't usually run into deer in this city. What about public parks and zoos?"
"The animals in the parks and zoos are all registered, and wear chips. If one was missing we would know it by now. I put a bug into several veterinarian databases, they came up empty too."
"What about the greater area? The suburbs?"
"The Delphi is no use checking those, we would need the Baker Street irregulars."
"Never mind, it's a Sisyphean job to sift through the suburbs. The animals are registered, but it would take days, if not weeks to see if one were missing."
Helena took Barbara's hands in hers and squeezed them softly. "You smell good."
"I what?" Barbara laughed. I need a shower, the little work out left me sweaty."
Helena patted the seat next to her on the sofa and waited till the red head had seated herself until she spoke again. "Wait a little with the shower."
Smiling, she hid her face on Barbara's shoulder, tracing her neck with kisses; slowly working her way up, along her jaw line.
"Yeah, I know. Dinah could come in." She kissed Barbara's neck before she pulled away again.
"It's not only that." She felt Helena's gaze resting on her, it was time to tell her about Spider Watts.
"There's this girl at school. She fits into the profile."
"She had paint spray on her trousers today."
"And, you did talk to her, right?"
"I tried." Barbara told her what had happened that afternoon, and what she had found out so far about Spider.
"So why am I still sitting here? Give me an address, I'm gonna talk to that girl."
"Wait Helena, since it's only paint spatter and a little bit of intuition right now, I'll talk to her tomorrow after class again."
"Okay, but be careful. If she's our tagger, we don't know what she'll do."
"Sure, sweetie." Barbara leaned against the younger woman's chest, feeling her heartbeat through the fabric of their shirts.
"Want me to come with you?"
She smiled against Helena's chest, "No I think I can handle that on my own."
It was the last word Barbara heard before she drifted to dreamland.
The first thing she noticed in the morning wasn't that she was laying in bed, fully dressed, but Helena's soft breathing by her side. Still half asleep, she enjoyed the feeling of a warm body beside her. She looked around; Helena had thought of everything, the chair was next to the bed, easily available for her and there was even a glass of water on the bedside table. She checked the clock; time to get up, she sighed. Slowly to not disturb Helena, she wiggled out of the sheets and tried to get into the chair.
"Morning." Her voice still heavy with sleep Helena opened an eye.
"Morning. Go back to sleep you don't have to get up this early."
"Mhm," Helena turned again.
This seemed not to be Barbara's day. Even though it had started out rather nicely with waking up next to Helena, who had already prepared breakfast for them when Barbara had emerged from the shower.
She could get used to this, she admitted to herself; a hot cup of coffee awaiting her and such beautiful company whilst drinking it.
She shook off these thoughts. Not in class, she reminded herself. Class had been the part of the day that had gone majorly wrong. Spider hadn't appeared in class, so she'd had to postpone her 'talking' plans to another day. And something else felt wrong. Somehow she couldn't suppress the feeling of being watched. But every time she looked up, she noticed nothing out of place. On the contrary, the mood in class was unusually light, maybe because of Spider's lack.
She was in the middle of listening to an essay about James Joyce and his influence on recent writers when her classroom door opened.
Vice principal Evans entered, this time he didn't even knock. "Miss Gordon, a word please."
She nodded. "Reena, would you go on with your essay, please. I'll be right back."
The young girl nodded, smiling, and went on.
"Do you have any news about that graffiti?" Evans spoke as soon as the door had closed behind them.
"Not yet. I've gone through the files and there are a few possible suspects, but I figured it would be best to wait, since nothing else occurred here. Possibly it was a one time only event." She had no guilty feelings about lying to Evans.
"Still, I would like to get the perp - to set an example."
Barbara nodded, "Will that be all?"
"Yes, ah no," he laughed mechanically, "Mrs Watts called. As it seems, her daughter caused a little commotion and won't be able to come to school for quite a while."
"What do you mean caused a commotion, won't come to school."
"I don't know, exactly, my secretary took the call. She told me that Miss Watts was involved in some sort of assault, I'd guess she's in jail by now.
Barbara wasn't sure she really heard what he'd just said. She kept her calm mask and nodded.
"Okay I'll write it up. If you'll excuse me now, I have a class to teach."
"Of course, of course," Evans smiled and turned on his heel.
As Barbara watched him walk down the hall, her thoughts raced around in her mind. Had the police been faster? Had they arrested Spider? Was she really the tagger or was all this unrelated?
She could kick Evans in his fat, flat arse, well literally, she couldn't.
Barbara looked down at the little screen of her PDA, which she had, thanks to some slight modifications in the Hummer, up-linked to the police database. Barbara switched on her transceiver.
"Huntress do you copy?"
"Yeah, lucky you, I just switched on the com."
"Good, I have news."
"What is it?" Helena's voice sounded curious "And why do you sound so odd?"
"I'm in the car. Spider was attacked."
"Evans called me out of class today to tell me that she was involved in something. He thought she might be in jail, so I hopped on the police database some minutes ago, Spider didn't ambush someone, she got ambushed."
"Helena, she had something carved into her body. 'A lonely spirit guiding.'"
"That's part of the poem, right?"
"Yes. In the files there are photos of the scene. It seems she wrote the rest of the verse on the wall. I'll send you the address. Can you check out the scene again, I'll go down to the hospital and talk to Spider."
"Check. Huntress out."
Barbara hit the send button on her PDA and the address was on it's way to Helena's cell.
Only minutes later, she pulled the Hummer into a gap right in front of the New Gotham Community Hospital, a building she had her own special memories about, and made her way to Spider's room.
The door was guarded, just as she had expected; but sometimes it wasn't bad to be the daughter of the former police commissioner. The officer at the door recognized her immediately, and after some chat about her father, and the explanation that she was the girl's teacher and would like to check on her, the door opened.
Spider was awake. She looked out the window, but turned slowly as she heard the door close.
"Hi," Barbara smiled.
"What are you doing here? Homework delivery service?"
"No, I just wanted to check on you. What happened?"
Barbara hadn't thought about how to get the information out of the girl without letting her cover slip. The concerned teacher approach probably wouldn't do it.
"I got quite a whack in the face."
"Do you know who did it?"
"No, not really. Why are you asking, are you a part time cop now too?"
Barbara smiled. She had reached the girl's side. "No, but I have my connections to the department, and that's why I know that you didn't just get a whack in the face."
Spider turned her face away.
"I'm here if you want to talk."
"There is nothing to talk about." Alex looked vulnerable, maybe even younger than she was. Without her leather jacket and tough girl attitude all that was left was an insecure teenager.
"There's always something to talk about." Barbara smiled again.
"Okay then," the young girl turned back to Barbara "Let's talk about you. Why are you here?"
Barbara looked down for a second before she met Alex' eyes again. "Because I'm concerned. I want to know what happened and why it happened to you?"
"Does it make any difference?"
"To me it does. And to the police too."
"I see. They hired you to get me to talk, but I've told them all I know, there's nothing more to say."
"They didn't hire me. Let's say I have a special interest in this matter."
"Why?" Spider's eyes narrowed.
"Because one of my students is involved."
Spiders laugh was faint and lacked humour. "Sure, and what are you planning to do about it? Find the one who did it and wheel over her foot?"
Barbara listened up, "You said her, was it a woman?" For the moment she was willing to let that crack slip.
Alex knitted her brows "I don't know. Maybe I heard a voice when I fell, I can't remember what she said but it was definitely a female voice."
Barbara nodded. There was no use pushing the girl.
"What about the writing?"
"How do you know?"
"As I said, I have my connections."
Spider opened her gown a little and Barbara saw the huge white bandage covering her chest. At some points the blood had oozed through.
"I don't even know what this crap means, but I'm gonna be stuck with it for the rest of my life."
"Nah, I'd guess the doc's stitched it up rather nicely so that there will be no scars."
Alex grimaced, "Hopefully."
Barbara noticed how tired and weak the girl looked. She smiled at her, "I'll leave you now, get some rest, if anything happens, or you want to talk here's my card."
She laid the small item on the bed right next to Alex's hand. "Get well."
Barbara turned to leave. At the door she turned around once again. There was one more thing she needed to know.
"Yes?" The teen rose an eyebrow.
"Yesterday at school you had paint on your trousers, where did it come from?"
Spider looked irritated. "From painting." She shook her head.
Barbara tried to suppress a grin, stupid question; stupid answer.
"I guessed so much. What kind of painting?"
"I made a few extra bucks, helping someone to paint a staircase before school."
Barbara nodded Right now there was no need to investigate further into this direction. She was pretty sure the girl told the truth.
"See you soon."
Barbara left the room.
"We have a confirmation now that the tagger is female. Alexandra Watts is pretty sure that she heard a female voice." Barbara adjusted her headset. After filling Anima in about her suspicion against Spider. And the recent events that ruled her out they could now start on working out a few details on the profile. "And I think she's speeding up, this time she left a complete verse."
"Maybe, or she left the whole verse because the action was bigger, so the left text had to be bigger too. Either way she's fast approaching the end of the poem. Which means we have to find her before she reaches the last line, because there's a high chance that she'll stop at all when the poem has reached it's end." Anima sounded concerned. "And I'd guess her last act will be the big bang, after which she disappears. We would have no chance to find her then."
"Yes. Do you have any idea where she's headed?"
"To be honest, yes, but I don't like the sound of it."
"Spill it Anima." Barbara couldn't suppress the agitation in her voice.
"She's already harmed someone, maybe she'll kill someone. Oracle, we have to find her fast! Really fast."
"Yes, but how?"
"She feels safe."
"What?" Barbara furrowed her brow. "That's why she's moving so fast now. She knows we're no closer to her than when she started: she feels safe. Let's see what we've got so far."
Barbara opened the profile, "A girl: sixteen to twenty, possible family issues, maybe a social works case. Violent tendencies, well educated, maybe a creative person, due to the painting style. Quite self restraint." She stopped. "What else?"
"The creativity might be an issue. She probably isn't allowed to act out her creative side, that's why she puts so much effort into the painting. She uses the task of painting to transport a part of the message."
"So shall I check arts and crafts schools and private education programs?"
"No, I think that would be useless. I don't think her parents, or whoever, would allow it. She has to do arts in secret. Maybe she even disguises herself when doing so."
"I don't see where we're headed."
Barbara listened to the typing via her head-phones and silently waited for Anima to explain where her chain of thought was leading
"We have no clue whatsoever who this girl might be. That implies she has no rap sheet or anything like that. She is completely inconspicuous. By day, she's probably the good daughter, a good pupil who keeps herself out of mischief; and by night she sets her inner self free."
"Listen." She could hear Anima was speaking with a cigarette between her lips; when had she lit it? "Have you checked if there's some sort of pattern to the scenes?"
"Yes, I ran them through different databases but they seem totally random. Only thing they have in common is that they're all near the city centre." Barbara pinched the bridge of her nose.
"What about the blood? Any news there?"
"Yes, it's deer blood."
"Deer blood? That has to have a meaning, why deer? What attributes has the animal?"
"Other than being Bambi? I don't know, lithe, graceful, tastes great with thyme?"
She heard Anima snicker. "I guess you have no ideas where she got the blood?"
"No, Vets came up empty, as did forest management no accidents were reported and the few hunters who actually shot a deer lately came up clean. There's no animal missing from zoos and parks. It's a dead end." Barbara rubbed her eyes.
"What about the assaulted girl?"
"Yes, I think it might be possible that she has something to do with this issue."
"You do? I figured it as wrong place, wrong time for her."
"Hmh, why not choose an easier target than a healthy young teen who would probably fight back?"
"So you're saying that she might have been following Alex or knew her habits, and attacked her on purpose?"
"Sounds logical to me. Now we just have to find out why."
"Okay, I'll talk to her again, but I'll give her a bit time to recover first, i don't want her to get suspicious "
"Yes, I think I'll withdraw now too. Go through the files again, maybe I'll find something I've overlooked so far."
"Thank you Anima."
"You're welcome; and you should go rest a little too, perhaps drink a glass of wine and get your thoughts off the case for a night."
"You might be right; it's pretty late and so far no reports of anything occurring have come in. A glass of wine sounds promising," she smiled.
"Drink one for me too. Good night Oracle."
"Good night Anima. Oracle out."
Before putting off the headset, she switched channels, "Huntress, do you copy?"
Helena had been on sweeps all night, randomly checking the streets and back alleys around the city centre, where the tagger had struck. Quite a big area but Barbara knew Helena's preferred way of travel was faster than a car.
"Yes Oracle, I just finished my second sweep. But apart from some purse snatchers and a bar brawl there was nothing interesting."
"Listen, why don't we call it a night. I guess it'll stay this quiet tonight."
"Sure. Any plans for the remaining evening?"
Barbara smiled. A glass of wine had it's perspectives to it, but a nice glass of wine in the dark blues club with Helena by her side sounded more promising. "I'll meet you there."
"Okay, Huntress out."
Thirty minutes later, Barbara was sitting at the same table as a few nights ago and watched Helena entering. Again, the young woman was behind the piano.
Helena nodded at Barbara, and crossed the room, but not without waving hello to the Bartender.
She sat down. "What a boring night!"
"And hello to you too," Barbara grinned.
Helena smiled, "Has your day been more productive?"
"Yes and no," she nodded as the waiter brought their drinks. A dry merlot for her and the usual Long Island iced tea for Helena.
Barbara waited till the bartender was out of range, "we went over the profile again. But as it seems, everything leads to a dead end."
"We? That profiler friend of yours?"
"You've never talked about her, why?"
"You never asked." Barbara smiled as she recalled a similar conversation they had had at this table."
Helena grinned, "Well I am now. Who is she?"
"Her name is Sarah, Sarah Robinson." Barbara lowered her voice," codename Anima. She once was a Profiler for the FBI then something occurred. She disappeared for a year and then re-surfaced."
"Okay, so much for the official version, now the details?"
Barbara sipped her wine, "I don't have that many details."
Helena shot her a demanding glance. "Tell the story."
Barbara grinned into her glass, "It's a short one. Years ago, I was still Batgirl then, I was working a case with Dick. We were at a dead end and Bruce, occupied otherwise, told us to call her for help. This was so out of character for him that we immediately called her. She somehow must have really left an impression with your father. She helped us out with the case. Profiling a serial killer for us. Because she was at Quantico at the time, we did everything over the phone. We stayed in contact, somehow. Mostly talking about cases. Bruce told me that she'd visited me in the hospital, shortly after the shooting, I hadn't been out of coma, so till today I've never seen her. Funny, isn't it?"
Helena tilted her head to one side. "Well, funny isn't the word I would use. Aren't there photos of her? And what about the disappearing issue?"
"No, the FBI did everything to keep her identity and face a secret to protect her from possible assaults. The disappearing, that's the interesting part, I know nothing about it."
"Huh?" Helena looked confused.
"Well it was about two years after I became Oracle. She suddenly disappeared. Without a note or word. I tried my best to find her. But someone covered her tracks. Someone even better than me. There were rumours a guy she testified against broke out of prison and killed her, but she re-appeared twelve months later. And how could he have killed her without knowing who she is or how she looks?"
"Hmh, odd. And you trust her?"
"Probably because we have been friends for so long, and because Bruce trusts her. There's something about her that keeps you calm. I don't know. All I know is that she's the best profiler I've met so far."
"But didn't you say you had to go over the profile again?"
"Yes, but that's quite common. The first profile often lacks information. I don't blame her for being wrong sometimes."
"But being wrong in this business can cost someone's life."
"I know. And I know she is aware of that fact too."
"Still, all this sounds odd to me."
Helena emptied her glass and made a sign to the bar for a re-fill.
The music in the background had changed, from some light and easy jazz to something deeper. Barbara leaned back; she knew this song. The woman started to sing.
"Oh oh oh,
you'll remember me when the west wind moves,
among the fields of barley,
you can tell the sun in his jealous sky,
when we walked in fields of gold."
Fields of Gold. Barbara had always liked this song, and the dark voice of the piano player suited it well, even though it was nothing compared to the cover by Eva Cassidy. For a moment she enjoyed the music.
"I've heard that voice before." She looked over to Helena.
"The singer? Well last time we came here perhaps?"
"No, she didn't sing then."
"Hmm then on the local radio station perhaps? I don't know." She shrugged and sipped her fresh iced tea.
"Yes, probably." Barbara smiled and relaxed into the mood.
She looked over to the two women at the table, yes she would remember her, once she finally saw her. Everyone would.
Slowly, Barbara became curious. It had been over a week since the tagger had struck last. Had she decided to skip the last verse?
Since spring had finally fully arrived, the crime rate had hit the roof. She and Helena had been busy enough with the usual crooks during the last nights; leaving barely enough time to process the little data they had on the tagger.
Right now she was doing overtime at school - correcting a few papers and planning her lessons. Things she didn't find the peace to do at home. At the clock tower there always was something else that occupied her mind. At this time of the afternoon the school was basically empty, except for some afternoon classes and the cleaning brigade. School could be so nice, without the students. She smiled and tried to concentrate on the papers once again. A task that appeared difficult even in this quiet environment, partly because she was still thinking about the disappearance of the tagger and partly because of her situation with Helena. Since that afternoon in the park, things had started to lighten up. Their relationship was building - slowly, but it was building - manifesting in small gestures and touches.
Dinah's first reaction had been a prime factor for the slow pace at which things developed now. They hadn't talked to her again, something they needed to do soon, Barbara acknowledged. Dinah had basically shut herself off. Other than her training and the occasional sweep with Helena, she mostly kept to herself.
Barbara closed her books. The afternoon activities would end soon, and she preferred not to run into her students. Not that she didn't like them but she knew too well that they would try to bribe her into extensions for some papers due end of the week.
Slowly she wheeled down the empty halls. Now and then a muffled voice or sound told her that she wasn't alone in the building. After dropping off her papers at the school office and getting her personal belongings from the locker, Barbara went through the main hall, heading towards the fine arts wing. It was not only a nice short cut to the teachers' parking lot, but offered the best view too. The hallways were decorated with sculptures and paintings. Here the best pieces of the different arts classes were exhibited. Every once in a while the paintings and objects would change, depending on how productive the recent class was. The Wayne Foundation had built this wing years ago, along with a new Gym. At the induction speech Bruce had mentioned something along the lines of 'Mens sana in corpore sano'. A healthy mind in a healthy body. A weird smile spread across Barbara's face. By now she knew very well that there were ill minds in healthy bodies, and vice versa. A fact Bruce himself was well aware of too.
But, she had to admit, Bruce's idea had been a good one, giving the students a place to not only work out their bodies but also a place to advance their creative skills. And the school had definitely benefited from it. Now they had added a small concert hall to the wing, in which the choir or dance group occasionally gave concerts. The theatre group in which Barbara herself was involved did a play each autumn. Not to mention the annual benefit auction in which the students sold their artwork for different charity organisations.
She had just stopped in front of an impressive painting to take a closer look, when she became aware of a faint melody. Somewhere, music was playing, perhaps a choir rehearsal. She looked at the painting, the strong colours and expression appealed to her. Perhaps she would ask the painter if it was for sale. When she wheeled further down the hall approaching the auditorium the music became clearer. It wasn't a choir rehearsal. There was someone practicing the piano. Barbara decided to take a quick glance inside - Supposedly the player was Meredith Cooper, the new music and dance teacher. Perhaps Barbara could get a chance to talk to her about the next theatre project. Carefully, she opened the door, trying to not disturb the player. The room was dark, except for a spotlight on stage highlighting the grand piano and the player. It wasn't Meredith. The red head recognized the sweater and jacket Reena Nelson had worn this morning in class. Barbara was impressed. Apparently the young girl hadn't noticed her entering, so she stayed at the shadow by the, now again closed door, and listened. Her knowledge of classical music was only rudimentary, but the piece sounded like something Bach could have written. The girl's body language spoke volumes. She sat upright, one foot on the pedal the other one on the ground. The muscles were so tense she saw the foot on the ground tremble. Determined, she looked at the music sheets atop the instrument. Slowly she faded out and exhaled audibly. Barbara didn't dare to move. She was very curious to see if the girl would play on. The sound of pages being turned told her that there was more to come. Finally, Reena decided on the next piece. She laid her hands on the keys and played one or two notes as if to confirm that she had decided on the right keys. They young girl glanced once more at the page and then slowly hit the keys. The tune filled the air, calm and heavy and very punctuated. Barbara would've guessed it was something by Chopin but she wasn't sure. The tune changed, it sped up. Reena's playing became louder and more agitated. It changed from light and fine to loud and fast, and back. Barbara wheeled closer. Still careful to not disturb Reena's playing, she came to a halt directly in front of the stage.
The young girl seemed lost in the music. Her gaze followed the music on the paper, from time to time moving down to her hands. The young girl's body seemed more relaxed now. Her face was calm but showed her concentration. The playing got louder again and her fingers ran up the keyboard, hitting the keys in a tempo, which impressed Barbara. The music softened again without losing much speed and then finally died away. For a moment Barbara sat there - silently looking at the girl, who now sat there, breathing heavily - Then she started to clap her hands. The small figure on stage froze and then turned around, blinking into the auditorium.
"What are you doing here?" She looked at Barbara, startled.
"I heard your playing from the outside and came in to listen I didn't know you played the piano."
"I'm not that good." Reena blushed.
"What I heard sounded great I'm sorry, but I don't have that much experience with classical music. Was that Chopin?"
Reena grimaced and tried not to wince too obviously. "The last one? That was the Wanderer Fantasia by Franz Schubert."
"Oh, okay. Sorry I really should know more about classical music." Barbara shrugged her shoulders. "All I can say is that I liked it, it sounded interesting. As if the composer wanted to transport something with it."
"He surely did." Rena had closed her books and came down into the auditorium. Leaving the spotlight on. "It's a fantasy about the song 'der Wanderer'." She had difficulties with the German but smilingly went on. "Quite an interesting piece, I like it very much, but the fantasia...," she trailed off, looking back up to the piano. "It's great but so difficult. Afterwards, I always feel as if I ran a marathon."
"So you like Schubert?"
"He's okay," she shrugged. "I prefer Bach. His pieces are so mathematical, it's fascinating."
"Mathematical?" Now Barbara's interest was fully wakened.
"Yes, I can't explain it now. I would have to look it up again but as far as I remember all his pieces follow mathematical structures. He's also known to put riddles into his music, and signatures. In many of his pieces you can find the notes b, a, c, h, in a row. He wrote his name into the notation. Good thing his name was Bach and not Lipshitz."
Barbara laughed. Mentally, she made the note to look into Bach. Perhaps she could use his mathematical structures for an algorithm or something.
"I will have to look into that," she smiled. "Any advice about what to listen to?"
Reena shrugged. "Everyone likes Bach, most of his works are interesting. Like the toccatas or the Mass in h-minor. But I like the song book for Anna Magdalena Bach best. He wrote it for his daughter. There's a nice recording of Martins playing it."
Barbara blinked, astonished by the girls knowledge, "You've lost me."
Reena smiled. "Joao Carlos Martins, a Brazilian piano player. He's a great Bach interpreter. In my opinion he's even better than Glenn Gould."
Barbara nodded. "Okay, if you say so," she smiled, "I suppose when it comes to classical I have no chance against your knowledge, but I'm always willing to learn something new. So Martins it is, I'll look into it." She checked her watch. "But for me it's time to go now. I still have some work to do."
"What, it's this late?" Reena checked her watch too. "My mum will be all over me for coming back this late." She quickly stuffed her belongings into her bag.
"Shall I give you a ride?"
Reena froze mid movement. Her back still turned to Barbara, she shook her head. "No that won't be necessary, I don't live that far."
She shouldered her backpack. "See you tomorrow."
"Yes, tomorrow. Thanks for the talk." Barbara smiled.
Reena's face lit up, "Yes, it has been nice talking to you."
She hurried out.
It hadn't escaped Barbara's attention that the girl had seemed more open and relaxed when talking about music. In class she usually was quiet and a little shy but it seemed music, and talking about it was more her teretory.
Barbara slowly followed her out, hoping the cleaners would switch off the spot.
When the hummer came into sight she was slightly surprised. Atop the broad black car sat a lithe black figure, feet loosely tangling from the hood. Helena waved at her. "Hey you're late."
Barbara tilted her head. "Sorry, I didn't know we had a date."
"We didn't I just thought it would be nice to see you home, or maybe see you to some sweet and sour?" Helena wiggled her eyebrows along with the questioning tone in her voice.
"Sweet and sour?" Barbara smiled. "What about some Curry? I feel somewhat indian today. A nice chicken vindaloo."
Helena grimaced. "Chicken vindaloo isn't really Indian, it's more like what the Brits think tastes Indian. But if you want to ruin your stomach chicken vindaloo it is."
Helena watched, with a disgusted face, as Barbara dug into her vindaloo. She herself had stuck to Alu Gobi, one of the few Inidian dishes which she trusted not to ruin her stomach walls.
"How can you eat that?" she grinned.
"Easy, I just put the fork into my mouth" Barbara replied still chewing.
Helena shook her head, laughing. "So what's on the agenda for today?"
The red head finished the next forkful and put the fork down on the plate. "I don't know about you but I would like to visit Spider Watts again, there are a few things I'd like to know." Barbara had planned to visit the girl earlier but the recent crime rate had kept her too busy.
Helena played with her food. "I thought we could perhaps spend the afternoon together." She kept her eyes fixed on the dish.
Barbara rested her elbows on the table. "Perhaps afterwards?"
Helena smiled. "Sounds good to me, any ideas"
Barbara shook her head, "No idea, a DVD?"
"Sure, I'll pick something up later." Helena's smile had a wicked edge.
"You seem a little distracted today. What's wrong?"
Barbara had taken up her fork again and was fighting with a piece of chicken skin, she looked up.
"What do you mean?"
"You're even less talkative than usual." Helena tried a smile.
"Sorry hon there's a lot spinning around in my mind right now."
"About us?" Helena tried her best to sound only interested and not concerned; she failed.
Barbara looked up and quickly shook her head, "No, no, not about us. Everything is all right," she reassured her, marking her words by reaching across the table to squeeze the younger woman's hand.
"Then what is it?" Helena asked curiously.
"I can't stop thinking about the tagger, sorry."
"Not even now?" Helena wiggled an eyebrow, smiling. "Besides, she hasn't struck in quite a while, I'd guess she's stopped. Maybe she found something better to occupy herself with."
Barbara slowly shook her head. "I don't think so, but I have to admit the silence troubles me."
"Why?" Helena dug into her dish again.
Barbara had now fully lost her appetite and pushed her plate aside. "Because I'm scared we missed her last action. Perhaps she killed someone and we missed it"
"Barbara, you know better than me that by no chance could we miss a homicide in this town."
"Well if she killed a homeless guy there would be no missing persons report, what if the body just hasn't turned up?"
Helena shook her head. "Look at her style, she wants to be noticed. How high is the chance that we wouldn't have found a body or a crime scene by now?"
"You're right, I'm totally overreacting. But since her actions have been spaced pretty close together until now I wonder why she's been silent for so long."
"I don't know," Helena shrugged, "maybe she's on vacation or has to work double shifts. Which reminds me," she put down her fork on her now empty plate. "I see several double shifts in my close future, my boss is sorta pissed off at me for skipping so often."
Barbara nodded, and made a signal to the waiter. "Okay, how long?"
"I don't know, the next few weeks I guess."
Barbara nodded and checked her watch. She was aware of what double shifts did, not only to their professional relationship but also to their private lives. She didn't like the idea of cutting the lunch short but it was getting later and later.
"I'm sorry dear, but it's already pretty late and I would like to catch the normal visiting times at the hospital."
"Do you think she'll tell you more this time?"
"Maybe, at least this time the questions will be different."
They paid and left the restaurant together.
"Shall I drop you off somewhere?" Barbara looked up.
"No thanks, I'll come by tonight." She smiled and bent down. Softly her lips brushed Barbara's cheek. "See you tonight." The words were only a faint whisper close to her ear.
Barbara leaned into the touch. "Yes tonight." She smiled and watched the younger woman walk down the road before she got into her car, not noticing the small woman with the dark glasses sitting on a bench by a bus stop.
The woman lowered her glasses a little and watched the scene. Following them had been no difficult job. Even travelling by foot, the rectangular layout of the streets made it quite easy to predict a direction, and after all a Hummer wasn't exactly an inconspicuous car. Now began the difficult part, following the dark haired woman - Helena. For some reason it was hard to follow her. Even though her slim lithe figure stood out from the masses she had a way of somehow blending in. During the last few days she had lost track of the woman several times. She had to keep a safety distance between them, once or twice she had come too close and it was as if the black haired woman had sensed her presence - she had looked around and on one occasion nearly discovered her. But she was invisible, and she knew it. Smiling she adjusted her shades and stood up. Watching the Hummer driving away, she decided it was time to follow Helena again.
There was not much time left.
Spider's door wasn't guarded anymore; Barbara knocked and opened the door.
Spider had been reading, the book still lay in her lap. She looked better today.
"I hope that's for school," Barbara pointed at the book, smiling.
"Hi." Something close to a smile lit her face. "I'm afraid it's not." Grinning, she lifted the book, it was a comic. "Even though I think a class about Roman Dirge would be highly appreciated."
Barbara took a close look at the cover. "I don't think so, what is that?" She shuddered theatrically and wheeled closer.
Spider looked down at the cover, "That's Mr Taxidermy."
"No," Barbara laughed, "that's disgusting."
She reached the girls bed. "How do you feel?"
"Better," Spider nodded.
The redhead noticed that there was no trace of the girl's usual bad-ass attitude. She smiled. "Good to hear."
Alex closed the book and gave Barbara her full attention. "So, now is this the homework delivery service?"
"I'm sorry to disappoint you again, I just wanted to check on you."
"Really?" Spider looked surprised.
Barbara shifted in her chair effortlessly. "Yes. And well, I'd like to ask you a few more questions."
"Miss Gordon, the police have asked me enough questions, there's nothing more I can tell you, and, honestly I don't see why you should be interested in the matter anyways."
Barbara's pupils flickered into the left corner of her eyes as she thought about a logical reply.
"I told you - it is of interest for me because you're a student of mine." She tried an innocent look.
"I'm not buying that crap." Spider's eyes narrowed.
"It doesn't matter if you buy it or not, I'm here to help you. Let's say I have a special interest in this matter."
"Special interest," the girl muttered.
Barbara looked down to her hands, which rested loosely on her knees. "Yes, I've heard rumours that the guy or girl who attacked you has struck several times before, always leaving written text. But until now he or she never attacked anyone. So I wonder if there's a reason you were attacked."
"Like the text she wrote on me?" Alex's voice was low.
Barbara looked up again, "Yes like the text on your chest, it fits into the profile."
"So you think I offended her for some reason? But I don't even know who she is."
"Maybe you know her, but you don't know she's the one. Have you been in a fight with someone lately?"
Spider laughed. "I get into fights all the time, you've seen me in class."
Barbara had to smile, yes she had seen her in class but those incidents hadn't been real fights. They had been more like fiery discussions. "No I mean real fights."
"I'm sorry to disappoint you but recently nothing out of order has occurred."
Barbara was surprised. Even though she did her best to mask it, she saw Spider's grin spreading. Could she have been so wrong about this young girl? All that attitude and harsh behaviour shouldn't she be in fights all the time? Barbara had to admit, right then Alexandra Watts was behaving like a quiet young woman. If only this behaviour would last till she returned to school.
"No, Miss Gordon - no fights, no problems with anyone."
"Then why you?" Barbara murmured more to herself.
"I don't know." Spider sounded sincere. "I know I'm not a really likable person, maybe I just pissed someone off really bad and didn't even notice," she shrugged.
"That would be too much of a coincidence." Barbara noticed she had started to knead her knees. She looked up at the girl again. "Have you been doing anything unusual?"
"No, I go to school, afterwards I go to my job, and the evenings I mostly spend at home."
"You have a job?" Barbara looked curious.
"Yes, I restock shelves in a store."
"What kind of store?" Barbara sensed a lead.
"The K-mart downtown."
Dead-end, again. Barbara furrowed her brows. "What about school? Have you had difficulties with anyone in particular?"
"With no one I think, well apart that macho guy from your class."
"Mike?" Barbara smiled. It was obvious that the two didn't get along well. Both were too headstrong.
Spider nodded. "I sorta tried to stay low profile," she grinned.
Barbara smiled too, if this was low profile she wondered about the girl's usual behaviour.
"It's time for me... I have to get home, get my homework done." She smiled.
"Okay see you soon." Alex smile.
On her way home Barbara stopped by a record store, which she trusted to have the CDs Reena had recommended. Of course, it was one of the few shops with a step at the front door. Mumbling curses under her breath Barbara manoeuvred her chair up the small step whilst simultaneously trying to open the door. So much for a barrier free city.
She noticed the young man minding the counter had been watching her, probably wondering if it were politically correct to offer help. She shook her head and wheeled to the counter.
"Hello, I'm looking for a few special CDs."
She explained to the clerk what she'd been looking for and was regarded with an appreciative look. He disappeared into a darker region of the store and after a few seconds re-appeared with a high stack of CDs.
"Here we have the complete Bach recordings-quite expensive but worth every penny; and here are different solo CDs and concert recordings.
Nodding thankfully, she took the stack and flipped through it, well aware of the all over glance the clerk gave her. She grinned down at the CDs and decided on an early recording of the Songbook for Anna-Magdalena and a recording of the Goldberg Variations, hadn't Sarah talked about them? There was also a CD featuring another pianist-Chopin and Bach preludes-that sounded promising. She held up the three CDs and nodded to the clerk who now took the stack away from her.
Leaving the store was much easier, partly because the young man held the door open for her. That was the least he could do with all the money she had just spent there. Who would have thought classical CDs would be so expensive?
Dinah was sitting at the dining table working on her laptop when Barbara entered.
"Hey, how's everything?"
The blonde looked up. "Hey, fine I guess. Helena called, she'll be late tonight, said something about her boss being an ass."
Barbara grinned, yes that sounded like Hel.
"Thanks, good to know." She wheeled past the table and opened the fridge. "Do you want to join us later, we were going to watch a movie, if the Delphi allows it." She looked over to Dinah.
Secretly, Barbara hoped the teen would decline, so she and Helena could perhaps have a bit of a romantic moment. In her mind she had rolled out everything, some snacks, soft light and a nice film. But the rational side of her knew that it wasn't good to keep Dinah out of their private lives. She was a part of the family now a-silent one, but still she was there and she needed attention.
"What kind of film?" Dinah perked up.
Barbara lifted her head above the fridge door a little dumbfounded. "I have no idea."
"Well sounds okay to me, if I don't interrupt something."
Barbara sighed and closed the door again without taking anything out. "You'll never interrupt anything." She saw the grin on the teen's face and realised what she had said. Barbara frowned, "Or at least I hope so." A mischievous grin formed on her lips and Dinah winced.
The red head grabbed a bottle of water from the counter and joined the young girl at the table.
"Dinah, I'd like to talk to you again."
"I guessed so." Dinah went on before Barbara could fully open her mouth, "I've thought about all this, about you and Helena I mean."
"And?" Barbara tried to sound casual, screwing open the water.
"It's your lives, I don't think I have the right to interfere."
Barbara bought some time by taking a sip of her water. Slowly, she closed the bottle and put it on the table. "Dinah listen, you are a part of our lives too. In a way we're a family, that's what troubled you in the first place. We don't want to lock you out, we both would love it if you could find a way to accept our relationship."
Dinah held up her hand to stop her.
"Barbara, it's okay, I can accept your relationship, it just sort of caught me off base." A faint smile crossed the blonde's face. "I'm not that comfortable with it yet, but I'll get used to it." The smile finally broadened and reached her eyes.
Barbara couldn't suppress a sigh of relief. "Then why have you been keeping so much to yourself lately?"
"I don't want to disturb you. There are just things I don't need to witness."
Barbara felt the blush crawl up her features. "We're not that far gone." She smiled. "So you'll join us?"
"Depends on the movie." Dinah closed her laptop. "But right now, I'm off to Gabby's - math exam coming up."
"Have fun, see you tonight." Barbara watched her depart.
Alone again in the huge apartment, she took her bottle and made her way to the training room. She had neglected her training lately and it was now time for a serious workout. She fetched the CDs from her bag - a little music while working out seemed like a nice idea, and when else would she have the time to listen to them.
She slid the CDs into the CD changer and changed into her training gear.
She was lying on the bench, pressing some weights when the inbuilt communicator chimed. It had been a good idea to wire every room to the phone with a good micro and a separate speaker system. She grabbed the remote lying next to her and lowered the music to a minimum. Then, pressing another button on the remote she took the call. On days like this she really felt a little geeky. Still grinning she spoke, "Hello?"
"Hi Barbara." The low voice revealed its owner on the first tone.
"I thought it would be a good idea to check on you, I haven't heard any news on our special friend for quite a while."
Barbara had to smile at the concerned tone in her friend's voice. "That's because there isn't any news. She's been silent for a while now."
"Do you think we missed her last attack?"
"Honestly, that thought crossed my mind a few times, but I don't think that's possible. After all, her other attacks were designed to be discovered."
"Yes. I keep thinking about this. Somehow, it feels as if we have several key pieces of the puzzle but don't know it."
"Wicked feeling, isn't it?" Barbara's voice strained as she pulled herself in an upright position on the bench.
"You sound different."
"Yes," she had to interrupt herself while readjusting in her chair, "sorry I'm in the gym, just changed back into the chair."
"Oh I see." Sarah fell silent for a second. "Interesting choice of music. Is that the Goldberg Variations?"
"Yes, you have marvellous hearing. A student recommended the pianist to me, and I must say he really appeals to me."
"Who is it? It's not Glenn Gould that much I can tell."
Now Barbara was really impressed, she wasn't sure she could have told the difference between two players, but then, she hadn't tried.
"It's Carlos Martins."
"I've heard about him, your student must really know her classical music, he isn't that well known. Most people go for Gould."
"So she said. She herself plays well. I heard her at school today."
Barbara enjoyed the all private nature of the conversation. Lately they had spent too much talking about the case. It felt great to just chat with Sarah again. "Yes, I think she's quite talented, but then again I'm no music expert."
Barbara heard the faint giggle via the speakers. Along with the usual metallic click that announced another lit cigarette.
"What did she play? Let me guess, you have no clue but it sounded nice."
"Hey I'm not that ignorant, besides, she told me," Barbara admitted ginning sheepishly.
Sarah was laughing.
"It was a thing by Schubert..." Barbara needed a second to recall the name, "the Wanderer Fantasia."
"Wow! Then she's really good. I've heard of people playing for more than 30 years who don't dare touch it."
"Really? Well it sounded nice when she played it."
"You seem to have a genius there." The smile was audible in her voice.
Inside Barbara's mind synapses jumped into gear.
"Sarah do you think..." She found no words to finish her sentence, but there was no need to, Sarah did it for her. "Do I think she could be the one?" Barbara nodded, well aware that Sarah couldn't see it. She gave the thought some time. Towelling off the sweat she turned it round and round in her mind.
"I suppose she could fit into the profile, but then, I thought the same about Spider Watts."
"What's your personal opinion of her?"
"Well, as a teacher all I can say is, she's quiet in class, hands in her homework on time, does answer eloquently. Sometimes she seems a little dreamy. But all in all she seems quite bright."
"And on a private basis?"
"I talked to her for the first time in private today, but she seemed pretty normal. I was amazed by her playing, and she told me a little about music. I didn't get the impression that she was hiding anything. Plus she's more the music type than the painting type, I think."
Barbara could hear Sarah exhale.
"She was quite open and relaxed. I don't think our tagger would be that relaxed when facing a teacher."
Barbara heard a beeping from Sarah's side.
"Sorry Barb, there's another call coming in, I'll talk to you later?"
"Okay, talk to you later, bye." She heard the disconnect and switched off her speakers.
Barbara shook her head. So much for working out, she smiled.
The lithe figure had entered the building hours ago; she hadn't used the entrance of the bar, and had used a key, so there was a high chance she lived there.
She found a nice place down the street from where she could watch the building without being seen. And she was sure she would notice if that Helena woman exited.
In the Apartment above the bar the lights had gone out a while ago but Helena hadn't exited the building. It was too early for a woman like her to go to bed. She knew the times that Helena usually visited the club. She seemed to be quite the night person. And that day at the store, why had she been there? And whom had she been talking to? She hadn't been able to understand what Helena had been talking about but she had heard her voice. She braced herself for a long waiting period. Hopefully no one would notice her absence at home.
Lost in her fantasies, she passed the hours. Occasionally she checked the building, the apartment was still dark but the bar, the Dark Horse, was slowly beginning to crowd. It was well past ten when a movement caught her attention. The light in the apartment reappeared again. Only a few moments later the light went off again. Had she gone to bed? Slowly she approached the building. She looked up and saw her, a slim silhouette against the dark sky, illuminated only by the city lights. She watched her approach the edge and jump. In disbelief, she watched how she landed on the next building, and her departure.
Silently cursing she shook her head, and turned to go. There was no chance of following Helena. It was time to go home otherwise all her plans would go up in smoke.
Helena paused on one of the rooftops and looked around. During the last few days, she had occasionally felt watched. Even though she never saw anyone in particular she couldn't ignore the feeling. Tonight again, as she had departed from the Dark Horse's roof she had felt someone's presence. But the streets had been empty.
Perhaps it was a sign that she really needed some vacation. She looked around again and then jumped to the next building. When she reached the well known balcony the feeling had fully disappeared. She opened the doors and was greeted by the dim green light of the Delphi, and the faint scent of melting wax.
She found Barbara in the living room, where some candles were lit and faint music was playing. Barbara had positioned herself on the couch leaving exactly enough space for Helena. She smiled at the dark haired woman now entering the room. "Hi, it took you long."
The young woman rolled her eyes, "don't get me started!" She looked around; "Where's Dinah?"
The red head smiled "She's still at Gabby's. She called earlier, she's going to stay there, Halloween re-runs on cable."
Helena beamed "Then why did I rent a DVD? And why isn't the TV running already?" Barbara's eyebrow disappeared under her hair line. "You want to watch Halloween?"
"Sure, why not?"
Barbara saw her plans of a romantic evening float away and disappear over the next river bend.
Helena smiled mischievously, hit the button on the remote control and gracefully folded herself on the sofa to rest lightly against Barbara's torso.
The older woman had to admit, the film itself was incidental, with Helena she could have watched that odd Warhol film where you see someone sleep for 6 hours. Perhaps the Warhol film wasn't a bad choice after all, she thought smilingly as she noticed how the smaller woman's body touched hers.
Helena snugged up closer and Barbara felt her well-formed rear softly press into her own belly.
Still pondering what she had just witnessed, the girl made her way through the dimly lit alleys. She had made it a credo to avoid the crowded, noisy, main streets. That way it was easier to avoid people who might recognize her.
How was it possible? How could Helena just jump off a rooftop and not only survive the fall but also jump far enough to reach the next building? And how could she just walk on as if she just had jumped over a small puddle on the pavement?
A lump formed in her stomach, this wasn't going to be as easy as she had thought it would be. But she knew she was invincible, invisible; and no one could hurt or run out something he couldn't see.
She smiled. With Spider out of the way there was only this Helena woman left, then there would be no more obstacles in her way. Well except that blonde girl, what was her name? Dinah. She would have to think about her later. Right now it was more important to find a way to get rid of Helena.
Slowly she turned the key and entered her little room. It seemed that no one had noticed her absence. Smiling she started to roam about the room. A trap, she had to set up a trap. Helena had been at that store, she knew now it wasn't a coincidence. But she had to be very careful.
Her grin widened.
Barbara's body tensed. She must have dozed off, but wow Jamie Lee Curtis sure had a voice.
She felt the warmth of Helena's body resting on her torso. She couldn't help but look down at the younger woman in front of her whose body mirrored her own position. She compared the picture in front of her to what her senses told her. Helena's shoulders rested lightly against her chest, the small of her back and her, quite nice, behind rested by her tummy. She could feel the heat emerging from the dark woman's body, the faint vibration of her purring. But there was this invisible line, a few inches below her navel, where Helena's behind rested in the curve of Barbara's tummy and her lap formed. Like the Berlin Wall nothing crossed that line- no warmth, no vibration, no touch. She felt a lump forming in her throat and tried to shake off the thought. Barbara took in the scent of Helena's hair and buried her face in it, planting soft kisses on her scalp. Helena's purr got louder. She had been awake all the time. Barbara smiled and snuggled a little closer to shake off her melancholy.
Helena groaned as she felt Barbara's hand slowly wandering across her stomach. Barbara was slightly bewildered by how her own body reacted to the now very close contact. Her breasts now softly pressing into Helena's back started to tingle.
"You said Dinah would stay at Gabby's?"
Was that some sort of mischief in Helena's voice?
"Yes." Barbara couldn't believe it. What she had meant as a simple answer to Helena's question had turned into a husky groan. She felt as if her body were a locomotive and her brain was somewhere on the last wagon.
Slowly the figure in front of her turned around. "Then I think we should seize the opportunity."
Helena's smiling face greeted Barbara.
In Barbara's brain alarms were going off one after another. Countless "what ifs" raced though her mind.
Helena must have sensed it because her smile changed. Without a word she arched upwards to Barbara's face. Softly she kissed the redhead.
Barbara felt as if her body was on autopilot, she noticed how she opened her mouth a bit. And then every rational thought left in her brain switched off as she welcomed Helena's tongue. She accepted the younger woman's offer to pull her closer, until she rested on top of the lithe figure.
Finally Helena broke the kiss, allowing her to catch her breath and perhaps figure out what was happening here. When she finally found the strength to open her eyes she was greeted by Helena's loving gaze. A smile played around her lips and her eyes had changed to cat eyes. The signals were obvious. And Barbara was scared.
Helena of course noticed the shift in Barbara's feelings, like she noticed the faint shift in her body. Smiling, she kissed the red head again.
"Whatever you mind's telling you, your body's already made a decision," she grinned.
Barbara followed her gaze and saw what Helena had already felt - her nipples were hard and erect, clearly visible through the fabric of her shirt. She steadied herself on her elbows and looked into Helena's eyes again. She swallowed trying to build up the strength to say what she was about to say. To tell the woman she was in love with that she never was going to feel her making love to her. How she had to say that it had been nice with Wade only because she clearly remembered how it should feel, that she was able to trick her body into feeling it? That she sort of had an orgasm by remembering one?
She felt tears fill her eyes. How would Helena understand?
"Hel," she blinked away a tear. "I... I won't be able to feel anything." She saw one of her tears fall on Helena's face.
"Shhht. Don't cry." Helena's voice was soft. "Maybe you won't feel anything down there, but there are places where you'll feel. Trust me. I'll be soft and slow." She held Barbara's stare, "Trust me."
Barbara nodded slowly. There was no use in denying it, she longed for this as much as Helena did. But she was still scared.
Helena didn't wait for any further reaction. She lifted the taller woman from herself and gently scooped her up. "I'll fetch your chair later," she smiled reassuringly and kissed the red head.
Barbara felt warm and comfortable, and amazingly satisfied. She felt Helena's arms wrapped around her waist and heard her soft purr.
It had been wonderful with her.
She felt Helena stir behind her and felt her warm lips on her neck.
"Good morning dear."
"Good morning." Barbara slowly turned around to face her lover.
She kissed Helena softly and smiled at her. "I wish I could stay here all day but I'm afraid I need to get up. After all it's a school day."
Helena muttered something under her breath but obeyed and set her lover free.
Barbara pulled herself up and looked around.
"Hel, didn't you say something about fetching my chair later?"
Helena looked around and blushed, with a quick move she jumped out of bed and rushed into the living room. Only seconds later she re-appeared with the chair. "Well, now is later, isn't it?"
Barbara rolled her eyes and laughed.
When she entered the kitchen Helena already had prepared breakfast. Barbara wheeled to the table and smiled thankfully.
She took her cup and eyed the dark woman opposite her, cautiously.
"Helena..." She took a sip, "Last night..."
"Yes?" Helena raised an eyebrow, mentally already preparing for the 'it was all a mistake speech.
"Last night was great."
Helena beamed, as Barbara blushed considerably.
"Thank you but I have to return the compliment."
"How did you do that?"
"What?" Helena raised an eyebrow whilst picking on her slice of toast.
Barbara's face turned deep purple, "You know what!"
Helena snickered "You mean how I made you scream and thank god the father almighty?"
Barbara rolled her eyes. "Yes."
Helena smiled even though a faint blush coloured her cheeks.
"I researched it on the internet."
"You did what??????" Barbara stared at her in disbelief.
"I looked on the internet, you know how it works."
"You actually googled how to have sex with me?" Barbara was shocked.
"Yes, I was a little afraid to ask you. I don't know, you've been quite preoccupied lately and I didn't want to dig up old wounds, so I checked on the net. There's a lot of information about all that..." Helena waved vaguely in the direction of Barbara's chair.
Barbara nodded. She wasn't quite sure what to think about it. On one hand the sex had been great, and she felt touched by the effort Helena had made. On the other hand it felt a bit weird that she actually had to research. And, Barbara had to admit, she was a bit sad that Helena had been afraid to ask her.
"And while we're on it I think there's something else I should tell you."
Helena nibbled on her toast.
"What is it?" Barbara curiously raised an eyebrow.
"I think someone has been watching me."
Barbara stopped mid motion. "Someone did what??? Why didn't you tell me earlier?"
"I thought about it. But thought it would be best to check if I was being paranoid or if there actually was someone. So far it's just a feeling. I haven't actually seen anyone but from time to time I sense that someone is there."
Barbara nodded slowly, "I've had a similar feeling lately. Once or twice I felt like I was being followed. But who would follow a teacher? I wrote it up to a bad case of 'I need a vacation'"
"I did the same," Helena nodded.
"Perhaps we should be a little more on the lookout?"
Helena nodded, "There's something in the air, you were right. So please be careful."
Barbara smiled at her and nodded. She was touched by Helena's concern and she had to admit, she was afraid that something would happen to her friend and now new found lover as well. She knew Helena could look out for herself quite well, but there were unknown variables in the equation.
They would have to stay put and wait.
It was a typical Friday at school, her class was inattentive and planning their weekend activities.
Spider would be back on Monday and Barbara wondered how, and if, the incident had changed her. The girl in the hospital bed had been the total opposite of the girl she knew from the back row in her class room.
Classes had trickled like sand in an hourglass and Barbara was looking forward to her last lesson for the day. She was anxious to get back home and do a more intensive search on the Delphi. She wanted to check if they had missed another attack of their tagger, and more importantly she wanted to contact a few of her old informants to see if there was something even bigger heading their way.
Perhaps one of the big boys.
If someone was tracking Helena, it was serious. And Barbara still couldn't figure out why someone would follow her. After all, to the outside world she was just an English teacher. It was a highly worrisome point. Who would follow her? She was sure her secret identity was safe. Of course there had been incidents when someone had come close, but she knew where everyone, who knew her secret, was. She made a point of keeping track of those few people. Perhaps the stressful sweeps and the weird tagger business had just gotten to them.
Barbara taught her lesson half heartedly but she was sure the pupils wouldn't mind or notice.
After the last teenie left her room she packed up her papers and slowly made her way back to the car. A part of her brain already was planning the evening with Helena while the other part was still pondering whatever was headed their way. As she transferred into the car she stopped for a minute. Perhaps she had been thinking about the whole business too much but suddenly she felt someone watching her. Carefully, she looked around but there were only some students leaving school. Barbara got into the car and took a moment. She had been in the business long enough to not only feel that someone was watching her but to find the person fast.
She scanned the area, nothing.
The experienced crime-fighter secured the doors, linked her pda to the Hummer's communication unit, secured a frequency and called Helena.
"Huntress do you copy?"
"Yes Oracle, I'm here. What's up?"
"Someone was watching me, but I couldn't make out who it was. Did anyone follow you today?"
"No. Should I come over and have a look around?"
"No, it's okay, but I'll take some detours before heading home."
"Okay, I'll be in before my shift starts, see you later. Huntress out."
"Okay, Oracle out."
Barbara started the car and drove off.
Helena entered the tower in the late afternoon and found Barbara locked behind a screen at the Delphi.
"Hi. dear." A CD case hit the floor and she chalked it up on the 'I startled her' list.
"Hi Helena." Barbara slowly turned to greet her lover.
They kissed and Helena looked at the different screens of the mainframe.
"What have you been doing?"
"I tried to straighten out what's going on."
A loud meow interrupted them and Helena picked up Selina to pet her.
Barbara frowned. "I have no idea. There's nothing new on the tagger, so we can put that on the 'good' list for now. But on the other hand there is something in the air. Someone has been following us, both of us, and I have no idea who or why. The only people who know who I am either have my complete trust or are safely in Arkham. Or they're too far away to be on our track."
Helena nodded slowly and put the kitten into Barbara's lap.
"And honestly, the ones who might know who I am and who could be up against us would have simply tried to off us and not put a spy on us." Barbara frowned.
"So what do you think?"
"I have no idea, maybe we're facing a completely new villain, and a good one, or we're just going nuts."
The dark woman shook her head, "A 'no' on the latter. And a new villain? Do you really think that? Wouldn't we have gotten word that there was a new kid on the block?"
"Maybe that's the way the word gets out this time?"
"Hmm, do you think the issues are connected? The weird tags and now the shadow following us?"
"I don't know we've seen weirder things. But then the profile said a young girl..." Barbara trailed off. She knew well enough how many young girls were on the 'dark side'.
"It all adds up to one thing, we should lay low. No sweeps for a while, at least not you, I'll see if Dinah is willing to do a few light rounds, nothing fancy."
"Suits me. I'm on double shifts starting today. Maybe a few days of normal life wouldn't hurt, and we'll have a bit more time for us."
They both smiled, knowing well that their quality time would be minimal.
"Which reminds me, I have to get to work." Helena kissed her lover again and turned to the balcony.
She stopped. "I think I'll walk to work today."
"Wise decision." Barbara snickered.
Another a few days passed, Dinah was happy that she was allowed to do light sweeps on her own, carefully watched by Barbara of course. Nothing out of the ordinary happened.
Helena busied herself with her double shifts, and Barbara, she had to admit to herself, was still on the lookout. Why had the tagger stopped after the attack on Spider? Had she fulfilled her fantasies? Why hadn't she ended the poem? Was it really just a teenager on a rampage or was there more behind it? She had discussed the situation with Helena, and they had tried to find out how often they had had the feeling of being followed, and when it had started.
Barbara had put a time table together and was now hovering over it. She didn't like what she saw there. Perhaps they were suffering from a bad case of paranoia, but after thinking about it, they had discovered that during the last weeks they had both occasionally felt someones's presence. They had both chalked it up to stress and occupational hazard.
Barbara was brooding over the file when Dinah came into the room.
"Barbara, I think you should come out to the balcony."
The red head looked up from her files, "What? Why?"
"I think you should see this."
"Just get out on the balcony!" The teen clenched her teeth.
Barbara took Selina off her lap and put her on the floor. Dinah opened the door and led the way to the balustrade.
"Look down on the street"
Barbara came closer to the edge and looked down.
"Oh my god!" She looked at the teen, "How could that have happened?"
"I have no idea."
"Where is Helena?"
"At the bar."
Barbara hurried back inside and fired up the intercom. "Huntress do you copy?"
"Yes, but make it snappy. The place is crammed!" The reply was only a whisper, barely audible.
"The tagger's struck again. Right under our nose on the street below the tower is a graffiti 'What though that light, thro' storm and night, so trembled from afar-'"
"Shit!" It was a mere muttering. "I'll try to get there as soon as I can. Huntress out."
Barbara looked at Dinah, terrified. So far they had mostly kept her out of the business, It hadn't been the best idea, but seemed wise back then.
"Dinah, I think I should tell you a few things."
She filled Dinah in on the whole business how a simple boring graffiti had slowly started to scare them.
Dinah took it all in very calmly and silently. Then she turned to the time table still visible on one of the smaller screens. She took the keyboard and with a few keystrokes she changed the file.
Barbara watched the screen.
The teen entered her own name and after a few moments of recalling the dates, entered them too.
"Yeah. First I thought it might be a boy who had a crush on me, but after what you just told me. I'm not so sure about that any more."
"Okay, Houston we have a problem." Barbara checked her watch. When would Helena finally arrive? There was someone out there, trying to get them.
"I'll take a careful look around. Perhaps our perp is still in the area."
"No Dinah. You stay here. We have to keep cool now and stay low. When Helena arrives we'll have a look at our possibilities. Right now, I have to call someone. Would you mind leaving me alone for a while?"
Dinah nodded and left the room.
Just then Barbara noticed how the teen had changed. She finally had settled down a bit, she had grown up with taking responsibility.
She toggled in the figures and opened a frequency. Time to bring Sarah up to date.
"Anima you there?"
"Yes Oracle. What's new?"
"A lot. There's someone on our tail and I think it's our tagger."
Barbara filled her in quickly.
"Do you still think it's a young woman? I mean how could she have traced us?"
"Oracle, calm down. I have no idea; but I'm sure, you're right she's after you. Send me that time table please.
Barbara knew she had to calm down, but it wasn't easy. She sent the file to Anima and sat there waiting for the other woman's input. Again, she heard the sound of a lighter, a Zippo she was sure, then the inhaling, and again that weird rubbing sound. What sort of a nervous tic did Anima have?
She heard the balcony door open and close again and switched off the microphone.
"Huntress. Good you're here!"
By using Helena's codename she had sent out a clear statement; tonight was all business.
"I have Anima on intercom she's working on our profile. Dinah's been followed too."
Helena tried to take in the new information the redhead threw at her and stopped her with a raised hand after a few moments.
"Oracle, stop. Where's the kid?"
"In her room."
"Okay, you stay out here checking with Anima, I'll take Dinah on a sweep, we'll check the area."
"Do you think that's a good idea?"
The dark woman looked at her seriously, "Yes, I'd like to have her out there with me. Probably isn't the best idea to go out alone if someone's shadowing us."
"Okay, but please watch out for her, and for yourself, I have no idea what's out there and I don't want you two to get hurt."
"I know, Barbara." She embraced the redhead and kissed her.
"Oracle you still there?" The voice came out of the speakers.
Barbara switched on the microphone again. "Yes I'm here, Huntress just came in."
"Hi there." Helena chimed in.
"Hello, Huntress. Nice to meet you... in a way."
Helena rolled her eyes, "Geeks! Okay I'm going to get the kid and go kick some ass!"
Barbara looked at her and Helena softly touched her shoulder before she rushed out of the room.
"Okay, what do you have?" Barbara turned her full attention back to the Delphi.
"All this is really weird. I have a few theories. Let's try to find the right one, okay?"
"Okay, just wait." Barbara turned to the sounds behind her- the two young women appeared in the room both dressed for a tough night.
"You have your gear?"
They nodded in unison.
"Please, you two, be careful and keep me posted. I'll link Anima into the intercom so she can listen as well."
They nodded again and went out on to the balcony.
"I'm all yours Anima, go ahead."
"First one- are there any of the big fellows out there who might have put out a hit on you?"
"Checked that, nothing came up. Plus the usual creeps aren't bright enough to find out who Oracle is."
"Okay." Another cigarette was lit.
"I guess you checked for new mobsters who want to get their part of the turf?"
"Yes, nothing. Anima I actually do my job here." Barbara couldn't help but snap at her friend."
As always the other woman stayed calm.
"Oracle, Anima, do you copy?" Huntress voice interrupted the silence.
"There's nothing in the area we're broadening the search."
"Okay, but stay low and please be careful."
Barbara returned her attention to the Delphi. "Anima?"
The voice answering her on the intercom was calm and dark as always but there was something in her timbre Barbara couldn't quite put her finger on. "Yes, I'm going over the photos you uplinked to my server. That'll take a few minutes."
"Weren't there other theories?" Barbara's voice trembled.
"Yes there are. But first I have to take a closer look at those photos. I'll disconnect for now but call me as soon as the girls return."
"Okay, Oracle out."
Barbara didn't like being left on her own like this. She still disliked the helpless position behind her screens, and she hated it on days like this when the intercom stayed silent for what seemed like hours.
Who are you??? What are you doing in my world? Why do you follow me?
The shadow stood still in the doorway and watched as she saw the two women pass again.
I knew it Dinah is in on it too. When she felt it was save she walked out on the street. She was a normal young girl on the sidewalk, going to work. She pulled down her hat and went into the entrance. No one would look for her here, not tonight.
It was time, she had decided. Time to seize the opportunity. She had mapped out her trap, and she had the bait. Slowly, she sat down and lit a cigarette. Tomorrow would be her big night, their big night. She touched the keys and her world opened up.
"Oracle, we're coming in, there's no trace of our perp."
"Copy that Huntress. I'll have some coffee ready for you."
She heard a snicker on the line before it died down. Followed by Selina, she made her way to the coffee machine. The small pet took a spot right next to her empty bowls and gave Barbara her best cute look.
After she had switched on the coffee machine she bent down to feed the small animal. As soon as the first bit of cat food touched the bowl the kitten started purring and happily chewing on it.
The balcony door closed a bit louder than usual and seconds later the young women appeared in the doorway. "Nothing. No one there, just a few pedestrians, cars, drunks... The usual crowd, but nothing that would make my spider sense tingle."
"Uh, don't let Spidey hear that, he sorta has a copyright on that one." Dinah grinned.
Barbara looked at them, she knew they had both hoped to find the tagger and give him a good run for his or her money. She poured them coffee and they made their way to the Delphi.
"Anima told me I should call her again when you guys came back. Let's see what she's got for us."
The two girls sat down on the desks and waited for Barbara to open the frequency.
"Yes, Oracle. Are they back?"
"We're here," Huntress answered for them.
"Okay, I've researched the grafitti and checked my profile again, I guess Oracle has filled you in on what we have so far?"
"Yes, Anima, go on." Barbara looked from one to another.
"I went over this again and I have an idea, and I'm not altogether sure that you'll like it."
"Shoot." This time Dinah beat Barbara to the reply.
"Okay, are you guys really sure, that who ever is out there is after Huntress, Oracle and, hmm... what do they call you nowadays? Have you taken your mothers name, Canary?"
"Nah, Dinah is okay."
"If you say so. And Dinah?"
"Where are you going with this?" asked Barbara.
"There is the remote possibility that one of you has a stalker. A pretty weird one I must admit."
"A stalker?" all three of them stared at the speakers in disbelief.
"Yes. Let's go over this hypothetically. What if someone saw you at the shopping mall or at a cafè and fell madly in love with one of you. He, or in this case probably she can't know about your night job. So when she starts following you and mapping out your life, what would she see?"
The three women looked at each other silently.
Anima's voice brought them back, "Map it out for me, Barbara, why don't you start?"
Barbara took off her specs, and massaged her temple. "Well, she would see me, leaving the tower in the morning, going to work, doing groceries, and stuff like that. A normal Stalker couldn't possibly know about the Birds because I do my work from behind a computer."
"Yes...," Anima's voice was companied by some typing, "Dinah?"
"Hmmm...," The teen frowned, absent-mindly playing with Selina. "A normal teen I guess, going to school, to cafès, me hanging out with my friends..." She tousled the cat's fur. "But wait, sometimes I do sweeps, like Helena."
"Indeed. So now it's Helena's turn"
"I guess just the same stuff, except for the sweeps. If someone was really out there watching me that closely she'd probably see me on sweeps. But I don't think anyone could get that close to me without me noticing."
"So where does this leave us?" Inquired the voice over the intercom.
They fell silent.
"So, Anima, you're saying that one of us has a stalker and we didn't notice? I doubt that. Plus why stalk all three of us? We all had the feeling that someone was following us."
Barbara could actually hear Anima grin.
"That's the interesting part about it, you all felt the stalker in your normal everyday life, except Helena one time on her sweeps. You were all in situations totally disconnected to your crime-fighter identity. I doubt that you would miss someone watching you when you're out on sweeps. But I guess if one of you had a stalker, he would try to learn about your friends pretty soon, and then he or she would learn about the Birds, not as a crime fighting organisation but as a trio of three female friends. Which would explain why all of you are being followed."
"Okay, let's go with it. So you think the stalker is our tagger?"
"Yes. My guess is he or she saw one of you and tried to get your attention."
"But which one of us?"
Helena looked around.
A beep on the Delphi forced Barbara to turn around to the screen. Anima had transferred a file.
"What is this, Anima?" she opened it.
"Look for yourself."
Barbara looked at the file now displayed on the screen. She sensed how Dinah and Helena came closer.
Anima had mapped out their timetable and cross referenced it already.
Barbara looked impressed. "Anima, are you trying to muscle in on my job?"
"No," she laughed. "There's still enough for you to do, and I think I'll leave you to it now. Talk to you later, and gals, be careful."
"We will. Oracle out."
Helena silently approached her sleeping lover. She had just come in to check how far she was with the cross referencing of the time table and the tagger attacks. For the last three hours she and Dinah had tried to get their minds off the whole issue by playing video games, leaving Barbara to her work. She checked the screen. It seemed Barbara was done. Slowly Helena came closer.
"I'm awake." Barbara's voice was muffled by her arms and the table she was resting on.
Helena softly touched her shoulder, "I guessed so. I didn't think you 'd go to sleep with these results."
Barbara leaned back again and looked at the screen. "Indeed."
Helena rested her hands on her lovers shoulders.
"What's your plan of action now?"
"Business as usual. I don't think we'll hear from your tagger, or better, my stalker again tonight. Tomorrow you two will do sweeps again together and we'll hopefully come up with a lead. Meanwhile, I'll check out satellite pictures of the last few weeks to cross reference them with our time table." Barbara checked her watch. "Why do things like his always happen on school nights?" she yawned.
Helena massaged her shoulders. "One coffee hot and strong, coming up."
When Helena returned after filling in Dinah, and sending her to bed, and making fresh coffee, Barbara was typing fast, wearing her headset and mumbling into the microphone from time to time.
"One double espresso, black as the night, hot as love and sweet as sin." She put down the cup next to the keyboard when the speakers came to life.
"Whoha, do you deliver?"
Barbara immediately grinned.
"Oh Anima," Helena blushed. "I didn't know you were listening. But sorry, no take out today."
"Thank you, dear." Barbara gave her a loving gaze.
"Okay I'll leave you two to it. See you tomorrow then." She bent down and kissed Barbara's head.
The sunlight was way too bright when Barbara left the school building. Dinah had stopped her in the hallway and told her that she would be going over to Gabby's to study, but would be over in time for the sweeps that night.
That morning they had decided to try to act as normaly as possible to not raise the stalker's suspicion.
For Barbara, that meant secretly hoping that Dinah was safe and that she wouldn't put Gabby in danger, and then going back to the mainframe to finally solve their problem.
She was happy she had brought Anima in. She had done it not only because she knew Sarah's 'people skills' were better than her own but also because it was a way of re-connecting with a good friend. Back then it had looked a bit weird but not that tough a case, and not that close to home.
She wheeled down the ramp towards the Hummer. It had already been a tough night and it promised to become an even tougher day, she winced.
The teen stopped and slowly turned around as she heard the unfamiliar voice behind her. The hand in her pocked clenched to a fist as she prepared for the worst. A girl jogged up to her. "Hey, sorry did I startle you?"
Dinah exhaled slowly, "Hi, a little, yes. I know you, you're in my bio class, right?"
"Yes," the girl nodded, "that's why I ran after you, Mrs Stiers stopped me when I left school. She forgot to hand out a few papers and asked me to deliver them. When I saw you I thought it best to give it to you now, one less to go on my list." She grinned.
"Ah! Sure." Dinah nodded, "you know I could have waited for the next bio paper till tomorrow."
The kid nodded. "Yeah, me too. But see it my way, when you get the papers a day early you have a day more to finish it." She looked around for a spot to drop her bag and search for the papers. Dinah followed her into a doorway so they wouldn't block the pavement, not that there were a lot of people around anyway.
The girl knelt down in front of her bag, "I know I have it in here somewhere!!"
Dinah bent down to her.
She didn't know where the spray had came from. And suddenly everything went black.
Barbara fired up the mainframe. As the computers booted and logged on to different servers, she wheeled into the kitchen to feed Selina.
She had, as always, left the Delphi on standby so it would still log alarms and incoming messages. Now she was bringing it up to full mode, she would need all the computing capacity she could get. In her mind, she had already mapped out an algorithm to search the satellite photos. All she had to do now is to type it in and set borders to the time frames and dates. It would take hours and she knew it. Hopefully she would have some results when Helena and Dinah came in.
She fixed some coffee and took her place behind the computer.
It was late afternoon when Helena dropped in, Barbara was still typing and de-bugging the algorithm and slowly losing her nerve.
"Hey, red." Helena stopped next to her. The slight muscle movement in her shoulders told her that she had, again, startled her lover.
"Hi dear, is it that late already?"
"Close to seven, why?"
Barbara looked around. "Damn!" She took off her specs. "Dinah should be in soon , too."
"Where is she?" There was a concerned tone in Helena's voice.
"At Gabby's, studying."
"Did you think that was wise?"
"Yes, business as usual, I guess, or better I hope, that she's safe there."
The younger woman slowly nodded. "So what have you got?"
"Not much," she shrugged. "I'm not the only one in Gotham following her routine. I've cross referenced the satellite photos, but I usually go to the same shops and so do the people around me. So far I've come up with a few people who turn up several times. I'm now cross referencing them to the satellite footage of you and Dinah. The algorithm is running but it has it's bugs."
"So you've been waiting for results?"
"No I went back over the Star Labs report and checked again where the blood came from. There's still nothing in the Databases, and it's been so long I don't think that anything unusual will turn up. So now I'm looking into ways a 'normal' person could get his hands on deer blood. I've already called some butchers..., nothing so far."
Helena nodded, "Okay then, you keep going here and I'll do a sweep of the sites where we usually hang out, maybe I'll come up with something."
"Okay, but take Dinah with you. I'll call her."
The red head toggled in some figures and the intercom came to life. "Dinah? Do you copy?"
The line stayed silent. A few keystrokes later the dial tone of Dinah's cell emerged from the speakers.
Barbara stirred in her chair, "Why isn't she picking up?" She looked at Helena.
"Maybe she switched it off so they could study in quiet?"
Barbara slowly shook her head.
Again, her hands flew over the keyboard, this time some one answered the phone, it was Gabby.
"Hello Gabby, Barbara Gordon here, is Dinah still with you?"
"Oh hello Mrs Gordon. Nope, she isn't here, actually she didn't show up all day, I got an SMS telling me that she had something to do at home and that we would meet tomorrow at school. Isn't she at home?"
"No, Gabby, she isn't." Barbara took a moment to pull herself together. "Thanks Gabby I'll try her cell again, maybe she has a secret date or something."
"Yeah, maybe." The teens voice sounded light and easy. "See you at school then, bye."
"Bye." Barbara ended the connection and turned to Helena, pale as a ghost.
"I'll try to find her via the GPS, her comm system seems to be off-line there's no signal. Damn I wish I had added a GPS chip there too, but at least her cell has one."
"Why would she send an SMS to Gabby?" Helena turned to the screen on which different figures were appearing now, as Barbara typed.
"I don't think she did sent that SMS."
Different maps of Gotham were appearing on the screen when she triangulated the GPS chip.
"Here I've got her."
Helena bent over to take a close look at the map. "Right in the centre of Gotham, I'm on my way.
Barbara went back to the blood research as Helena made her way.
"Oracle, do you copy?"
"I'm on location, can you give me coordinates?"
"I can see you on the screen, you're close. About 6 feet west and you should be right there, there's a door."
"I can see the door."
Barbara watched the little red dot on her screen move.
"You should be right there now, what do you see?"
"You're not gonna like this, Oracle."
"What do you see?!?!" she tried to stay calm.
"Her backpack, with her cell phone. There's a note attached to it."
"One out of the way. Want her back? Come find me!" Helena stuttered, "There's actually an address attached."
"It's a trap! It's obviously a trap." Barbara clenched her fists and hit the desk.
"I don't care, I'll go there. That stalker doesn't know what she's up against I'll kick her ass!"
"Shit! Huntress be careful, please!" Barbara bit her lip.
"I will. And you, find out who that stalker is. Huntress out."
Barbara took a deep breath. She knew Huntress was running straight into a trap, and her only hope was that the stalker didn't know about her meta powers and that she could easily bring her down.
She transferred Helena's GPS tracking to another monitor and started typing again.
"Anima, do you copy?"
"Dinah's been kidnapped, Huntress is on her track. It's obviously a trap. I'm climbing the walls here."
"I don't have to tell you to stay calm, I know you're the best in your job, so how can I help?"
Barbara brought her up to pace.
"There's nothing much I can tell you now. I guess she's trying to get Huntress out of the way as well to get to you. In her world they're obstacles to overcome to get to you. I guess she sees her as the mean wardens guarding her princess in the ivory tower or something like that.
We can only hope that she doesn't know about huntress' powers yet. But I guess from watching her, she at least might have a faint idea about them."
The intercom started to buzz before Barbara could answer, "Just a moment Anima, hang in there a second." She cleared the frequency, "Yes?"
"Oracle I'm there now, it's an old warehouse. I'll go silent now, I'll post you later."
"Huntress, wait. Anima said there's a remote possibility she knows about your powers, or at least has a vague idea. So you might not have that element of surprise."
"Okay copy that, Huntress out."
Anima was still on the line but when Barbara opened her mouth she again was interrupted by another beep.
"Anima, the satellite search is done." She checked the screen and, there was a figure in the pictures, most of them. Always the same shades, the same build but different clothes.
"I have to render it to get a better view but I guess we'll have a face in a few seconds."
"Did you get a lead on the blood?"
"Not yet, but the computer is working on it." Barbara listened up there was something else on the line, "Anima what is that hideous racket on the intercom?"
"Racket? Oh you mean the music. Sorry, I didn't think you would hear it, but that's no racket, that's Taxman, by the Beatles."
"Taxman.." Barbara mumbled whilst typing. "Taxman, tax...."
"Shit Anima! I've got it! The perfect way to get deer blood, Mr Taxidermy!"
"Oracle, what are you talking about?"
"Sorry Anima I'll fill you in later. For now I have to follow that lead."
"Okay." The woman's voice sounded a bit strained but she accepted the end of the conversation. "Later, Anima out."
Barbara typed in "Taxidermy" and the computer started searching and cross referencing. She checked the other display, the satellite photos were still not done but she could already see a difference, the big dark shades covered a big portion of the face but in a few minutes the photo would be good enough to send it through some reconstruction software to fill in the missing spots.
The search was done, over 200 taxidermists were listed in the greater Gotham area, she refined the search to the city.
"Huntress do you copy?"
"Huntress!!!!" She yelled into the microphone.
"Yes, Oracle I'm here." Helena sounded weak, "You were right, it was a trap."
"I went into a room and somehow tracked a mechanical device. It sprayed me with some sort of drug, but it's wearing off now. I guess our friend doesn't know about my metabolism."
"Get out of there, I have a lead."
"No, Oracle. First I'm going to check if Dinah is in here."
"Okay, but be more careful. And I think...," she checked the screens, "I think this calls for a different approach or we'll blow our cover." She heard the slow and steady step of her partner via the intercom.
"You go check there, and I'll visit our stalker's parents."
"You know who it is?"
"Yes, I'm 100% positive."
"Stay where you are, you're not going in there on your own! I'll be with you in a few minutes, Dinah isn't here, the only thing I found is the last verse of the poem."
"I guessed so. Hurry back, I'll get ready. Oracle out."
Barbara wheeled into the training room. She grabbed her gear and stopped for a second in front of the glass cabinet containing her old cowl and cape. A big part of her wanted to run out immediately and find Dinah, but she knew that she would not only risk the teens life but also blow her cover. What if she failed? She couldn't risk that.
She heard Helena's voice from the Hallway.
"I'm in the training room." With a quick move she changed into her sports chair, which had a few light combat modifications. She fastened the leg straps and checked the side pouches for her weapons.
When Helena entered, she was straightening out her hair and blouse. "Do I look harmless?"
"To me? Never. But to them you'll look perfectly harmless." Huntress grinned an evil mean grin. Barbara knew she wanted to hurt the stalker, but she also knew she had to hold Helena back or she'd kill the girl
The women moved to the elevator. "So who is it?" Helena was anxious.
"A girl from my English class, Reena Nelson. She seemed so nice..." Barbara trailed off.
"Nice my ass!" Huntress muttered between her teeth.
They got into the Hummer and drove off to the address the Delphi had displayed only minutes ago. Tactics was the topic the whole way. Helena wanted to kick in the front door and beat the girl senseless while Barbara, still caring for her student, opted for a more polite approach. Finally they agreed on Helena checking out the premises first, before Barbara played the concerned teacher and ring the doorbell.
The lithe figure silently got out of the car and immediately merged into the shadows. Barbara waited in the car, watching the house. It seemed empty, there was no light visible through the windows and all seemed silent.
Slowly, the door of the Hummer opened again. Helena crawled back into her seat.
"They're in the cellar - the young girl and Dinah. The girl, I think I know her too. Dinah is unconscious, but seems okay. Can I go in there now and bust that kid?"
"No, we'll go together." Barbara had though it through a few times. She'd sidetrack Reena while Helena went in to grab Dinah.
Helena didn't seem overly convinced by the plan but she obeyed.
They went to the back of the house. There was a separate entrance to the cellar. Barbara smiled. There were a few steps, the best excuse to lure the kid out.
"Reena?" She called out, "Reena I know you're in there. Can you come out please?"
Slowly the door opened.
"I knew you'd come." Reena stood in the door frame.
"Could you come up here please? So we can talk?"
The girl slowly climbed a few of the stairs.
"Dinah is out of the way, and that Helena woman too. We can be together now."
Barbara nodded slowly. So Reena really thought that Helena was still unconscious in some warehouse. Good.
She had to occupy the girl now for a few minutes.
"Yes Reena. But we have to talk first. Why did you do all this?"
The young girl's eyes narrowed. "I did it for you, for us. You know we're destined for each other."
"Reena I am just your teacher."
"No you're not, and you know it!" She was becoming angry.
"Shhh Reena, I'm sorry, give me some time."
Barbara had seen a slight movement behind Reena. She knew Helena was on her way to the cellar, she had seen her shadow in the light emerging from the open door.
She had to keep the kid talking, but she was already running out of things to say. Maybe knocking her out would have been the better option.
"Why me Reena?"
The girl tilted her head a little and gave Barbara a loving look. "Isn't that obvious? You're beautiful, and I love you, and I read your signals, you love me too."
'Signals'? Barbara was confused, she had never sent out any signals.
She stuck to smiling at Reena.
In the corner of her eye, she noticed Helena re-appearing in the door frame, she held Dinah in her arms and nodded.
Barbara took a deep breath and her smile broadened. Now she just had to end this.
A moan interrupted the silence. Dinah had moved in Helena's arms. Reena spun around and screamed.
"You tricked me! You dirty bitch, you tried to trick me! I'll show you!" She turned back to Barbara and jumped at her. She saw Helena's eyes changed as she put Dinah down but she was still too far away, the skilled crime-fighter in Barbara jumped into action and in a move so fast it was barely visible she grabbed and extended her escrima sticks. She easily fought off Reena's first attack, but the girl was furious and she jumped again. But she had no fighting skills whatsoever. Barbara easily blocked a few blows before she attacked the girl and sent her to the ground with only one good aimed blow.
Helena was right next to her now, holding the kid to the ground.
"I'm okay but I think I'm on the brink of a terrible headache." The blond girl slowly sat up.
Barbara looked down to Helena who was whispering curses at the unconscious Reena.
"We should get her to a hospital. Best a psychiatric hospital."
"Arkham springs into mind," Helena muttered.
Barbara had to grin. "Honestly Helena, such a skilled girl. Can you imagine what will become of her after a few years with villains like the Riddler, Joker, the Ventriloquist?"
"You've got a point there." Helena looked down to the now groaning figure on the ground.
Dinah slowly approached them, "Let's haul her into the car and drop her off at a hospital."
Barbara nodded. "I'll pull a few strings."
A few days later all three of them were enjoying the sunny spring weather on the terrace of a cafè. Barbara had just gotten a status report on Reena and wanted to sort of celebrate the closed case. So she had ordered oversized latte macchiatos for all of them.
"So now tell us." Helena inquired as she stirred her drink.
Dinah too came closer, anxious to hear all the details.
Barbara put down her glass. She looked sad.
"All in all, I can only say I pity that girl. She's a child prodigy. Her parents are really stern and I don't think they ever showed any love or appreciation for Reena. The mother holds the reins in the family and she forced the kid behind the piano. Her father, a taxidermist by the way, has nothing to say. He seems to love Reena but doesn't really know how to show it. He took her to his shop often to spend some time with her..., that's how she got the deer blood by the way, her father was stuffing a deer for a hunter. She longed for someone who loved her and it seems she thought I was that one."
"And what gave her that idea?" Was there a slight hint of envy in Helena's voice?
"Well, during her therapy sessions she stated that she had difficulties at her old school. She wanted a transfer but her parents denied it. She was at my school for information, where she saw me for the first time. I actually can't remember this first encounter. But it set something off in her mind. She actually rigged up something to collapse that wall, in hope of a transfer to my school, and it worked."
"Wow." Dinah looked impressed, "Quite skilled, that girl."
"Indeed," Barbara nodded. "From there, she tried to get my attention with that graffiti. But I had no chance of seeing them. Honestly, this town is so dirty I barely notice new graffiti. So she sprayed at school, the text and design laid out to catch an English teacher's attention. She started watching us and following us. And we didn't notice her. She blended in, she was a young girl on the street we're usually on the lookout for mean muggers, so when we felt someone was following us we never expected a little girl with a school bag."
"Not to mention that she looked just like the others at school," Dinah chimed in.
Helena and Barbara nodded.
"When we looked for a stalker our professional minds looked for the stereotype, and so we probably missed her. By then, she was far gone, she had picked up a job at Club Indigo to get a bit of freedom. At night she sneaked out of the house to play there. When we turned up there, we set her off. She had seen you there, Helena, and and thought that you followed her."
Helena shook her head in disbelieve. "And we still had no idea."
"Yes." Barbara took another sip. "She was so too gone in her own deluded world. And when she saw us interact she got jealous. She felt she had to get you out of the way."
"And why did she attack Alexandra Watts?"
"For the same reasons. Alex got my attention because of her behaviour. And in class I had some difficulties with her at first. I guess she already knew her from her old school. She attacked her to give me another hint, to show me her love. She took Alex out of the picture and sent a message to me with that message on her chest. And I don't have to tell you she wasn't amused when I told her why she got attacked."
Helena grinned, "So how did she take it?"
"Not very well, she wanted to find Reena and, in her words, slap her senseless."
"I know the feeling." Helena hid behind her glass.
Barbara shook her head. "Reena is nothing more than a teenager with a mean personality disorder and instead of beating her up we should hope that therapy will bring her back to the real world."
"Poor girl." Dinah nodded.
They sat there a while in silence. Finally Helena checked her watch. "It's time for me. Another shift, I'll be around later okay?"
"Sure," Barbara smiled "see you later."
They kissed and Helena took off.
Barbara carefully looked over to Dinah. "Everything all right?"
Dinah smiled, "Do you mean Reena or Helena?"
Barbara sighed, "Helena."
"Yes, it took some time but I must admit you're a nice couple."
Barbara was relieved. Dinah got up too, "Time for me as well. Math..." she trailed off.
Barbara grinned, "Have fun then."
"Ha, ha! Very funny!" The teen boxed her shoulder in a playful manner and turned to go.
Barbara took another sip and watched her depart. She leaned back and closed her eyes for a minute, enjoying the sun on her face.
She heard a faint click and then someone exhaled behind her. Even without the intercom she immediately recognized the sound.
"What brings you here? Finally decided to meet in person?" Barbara didn't turn around to the person behind her.
"Perhaps?" Sarah's deep voice sounded close by, perhaps the table behind her.
"Why didn't you join us?"
"I didn't want to disturb, why don't you turn around?"
Barbara slowly rotated a few degrees and looked at the figure that had been behind her. A slender woman with cognac coloured hair. Dark sunglasses shaded her eyes. Barbara saw the white stick, folded, resting on the table.
"Braille, that explains that weird rubbing sound."
"It surely does." Sarah tilted her head a little in Barbara's direction and smiled.
Barbara's mind put all the links together and she smiled.
"Nice to meet you. Sarah."
"Nice to meet you too Barbara."