DISCLAIMER: Birds of Prey and its characters are the property of Miller/Tobin Productions, Warner Brothers and DC comics. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thanks to ladyvictory and fallon ash for the beta! This takes place after the series ended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
The Fear of Falling
By Inspector Boxer
The shadows stretched out like long, demonic fingers across the warehouse floor. Shot through with the reflection of blinking neon lights, there was something hellish about the empty, cavernous space. Draco liked it that way.
His oak desk and chair were the only pieces of furniture in the room. They were back in the far right corner, giving him a view of everything and the possibility of nothing but bare walls at his back. Long since gone, the smell of packing crates and fish still hung thick in the air even after more than five years of only cold wind and dust inhabiting the space. Outside, his guards patrolled the perimeter, keeping their eyes open for his enemies and allies alike.
Draco leaned back in his chair as he raked a well-manicured hand through his highlighted hair. He was model pretty and he knew it, using his looks to lure young, unsuspecting women into his bed. He seemed like the all American boy. It always took them by surprise in those final moments when they realized the devil had the face of an angel.
The computer continued to run its search and he watched dispassionately as images and information scrolled across his screens. His blue eyes were filled with visions of Barbara Gordon, from high school yearbook photos, to images of her years as a gymnast, to the articles expounding on the tragedy of her shooting. Her life played out before him in print and pictures, but he knew he was only seeing what he was allowed to see.
No matter how deep he hacked, Draco knew there was so much more to Barbara Gordon than he would ever find. She'd scared him. And no one no one had ever had that pleasure.
He wasn't sure if he was aroused by the notion or infuriated by it. Barbara Gordon made him feel. Feel in a way nothing had for a long time. Killing had lost its thrill. It was no longer enough to buy the adrenaline rushes he craved. He'd been feeling empty, hollow. But Gordon Gordon fascinated him. She'd awoken his competitive spirit and he wanted to thank her for it. To shower her in money. To bed her till she begged for mercy. Then he would choke the life from her pretty throat.
Draco rubbed his bottom lip with his thumb as he considered the possibilities. He'd have Barbara Gordon, but he'd eliminate the people she cared about first. In the end, he would be all she had left.
The roof was wet beneath Helena's boots. She could smell more rain in the air as she stared down at the damp streets of New Gotham from her perch amongst the skyscrapers. The evening had started busy, but it had gotten quieter with each passing hour until criminal activity had all but ceased. Only a few muggings and a lame attempt at a carjacking interrupted what was on its way to being a dull night. She and Barbara barely spoke, neither sure what to say to one another.
The rain and silence suited Helena's mood. Even though she craved the sound of Barbara's voice purring in her ear, she wasn't ready to share any more than she had last night. That had been too much already. So rather than speak and risk wading into the thorny territory of her feelings, Helena watched the city below and listened to the water drip around her. It was strangely peaceful, and for once, Helena hoped an uncomplicated night would stay that way.
"You're quiet," Barbara's voice murmured, sliding down Helena's hearing and warming her unexpectedly. Barbara had one of those voices that could make Helena's body hot all over with a simple hello.
Helena's lips quirked as she sighed. Barbara always seemed to be able to read her mind, and then force her to do the opposite of what she wanted to do. "Something wrong with that?" Helena drawled in return.
"Not wrong." Barbara kept her voice low. "Just unusual."
"Am I boring you?"
There was a pause and Helena could hear a smile in Barbara's voice when she replied. "I should be so lucky."
They were quiet a moment.
"So tell me about this Kincaid person," Helena finally said, biting the proverbial bullet.
"What do you want to know?" Barbara asked guardedly.
"What's she look like?" Helena tried to keep her voice light, disinterested. She wondered if Barbara thought she'd failed as miserably as she did.
"I'm standing on a wet roof, waiting for some idiot to do something idiotic on a rainy and windy Thursday night. Humor me." Helena put her hands on her hips, tossing her head to the side to twitch a wet lock of black hair away from her eyes.
"She's about five foot six. Blonde hair. Sky blue eyes," Barbara said slowly.
"Sky blue eyes?" Helena almost choked on the description. "Jesus, Barbara."
"That's what color they are," Barbara replied defensively.
"You sound like a romance novel." Helena knew she was being harsh, but jealousy was swimming thick and heavy through her veins, clawing at the inside of her chest. "Fucking green-eyed monster," she whispered.
"Nothing," Helena answered quickly, rolling her eyes at herself.
"I think you'd like her, actually," Barbara said after a moment. "You two remind me of each other a bit."
"Smart? Beautiful? Badass?" Helena rattled off the list with a hint of humor, hoping to make up for her earlier tone.
"Modest," Barbara added sarcastically for good measure.
Helena smiled. "What are you saying?"
"You " Barbara sighed but Helena knew she wasn't mad. "I swear you live to push my buttons."
Helen bit her lip to stifle the fierce grin that wanted to stretch across her features. "You have buttons? The stoic and staid Oracle has buttons other than those on her trusty keyboard and little teacher-inspired cardigans?"
"You are so going to get it when you get back here."
"Promises, promises," Helena teased, but she let herself imagine some delicious possibilities.
"Damn." Barbara's voice lost its humor in an instant.
"At my school. Someone tripped my silent alarm."
"You think it's Draco?" Helena asked, already moving, her long legs helping her jump from building to building with ease.
"I thought I warned the bastard off. Guess he changed his mind."
"Then I'll just have to change it back," Helena announced before leaping off a ledge and into the darkness below.
The wind pushed against the glass of the hotel window, whistling a little like a bad Halloween record as it tried to creep in around the edges. Nick glared at the image of the city beyond, irritated that the sound was managing to give her the creeps.
With a sigh, she tossed the covers off and got to her feet. It was nearing three in the morning and obviously if sleep were going to grace her with its embrace it would have done so already. Quickly changing into a pair of faded jeans and a red, ribbed sweater, she decided she would satisfy a little of her curiosity about Draco and Barbara Gordon in one fell swoop. She stuffed her feet into a pair of black boots and slipped on her leather jacket before heading off into the night.
The wind whipped harder once she was out in it. Nick kept her head down as she walked the streets, winding her way toward Barbara Gordon's school. It took fifteen minutes, five of which were spent retracing her steps when she had gotten lost. New Gotham was all beautiful architecture and warm sunlight during the day, but at night it was a maze of shadows, concrete and alleys.
Finally, Nick was on the roof, frowning at the low rent security system standing between her and what she wanted to know. Getting past it took far less time than her walk. Nick dropped from the skylight and landed with a soft bang on a cafeteria table. She crouched and waited, wondering if some bumbling security guard would manifest at the sound.
No one did.
With a hop, Nick dropped to the floor and gave her surroundings the once over. The building was old but well-maintained. An inner city school built probably sometime in the fifties with most of the décor appearing to have originated in the same era. Why did Gordon work here? She had money. If teaching meant that much to her she could pursue it in a nice private school somewhere. Yet she chose this place this life. Gordon was either very admirable or very suspicious.
Nick quietly made her way down a carpeted hall past rows and rows of lockers. She had hated high school. Much smarter than the other kids, she had always been an outcast, ridiculed for having a brain. She was always picked last at dodge ball. At basketball. At everything.
She'd kept to herself and had been mostly content to do so, only rearing her head when an underdog worse off than her needed defending. That was one thing she and Gordon seemed to have in common. That and a hatred for Draco.
They had talked for hours about the man. About the pall his "business" had cast over the city. About what he had done to her sister.
Nick swallowed at the sudden tightness in her throat. Barbara had understood her feelings of impotent rage in a way that told Nick the redhead had been in her shoes, and proverbially walked far more than a mile in them.
When she reached the main office, a small set of lock picks easily managed the door. She gripped the knob and turned, expecting musty air and the scent of old wood.
She wasn't disappointed, but she got a healthy lungful of both as she sucked in a surprised breath as some grabbed her before flinging her with negligent ease into a wall. Nick hit hard enough to make her teeth rattle. Her hands came up as she saw a figure lunging at her. They closed on leather, and she smelled sweat a second before a solid fist struck her face, nearly taking her down.
Her attacker was no frat boy this time.
Nick felt power in the blow the likes of which she'd never encountered. She kicked out, catching her attacker in the stomach and sending them crashing into the receptionist's desk. A phone and files went flying, clattering onto the floor. The steady hum of a dial tone joined jerky breaths as Nick launched over the desk and tried to gain the upper hand.
They tangled. As they struggled, she realized she was fighting with another woman when her hand inadvertently closed over a sensitive part of anatomy. Irrationally, she felt the urge to apologize.
Before she could say a word, she was thrown toward the principal's office, hitting the window and shattering it into hundreds of shards. The glass crunched under her back as hands clutched her lapels, jerking her off the floor and slamming her back into the door. Nick tasted blood as her hands searched frantically for a weapon. Finding a phone, she grabbed it and swung hard, hearing a yelp for her effort. The grip on her loosened and Nick shoved her attacker away.
Moonlight filtering in through the windows revealed a beautiful face with a pair of inhuman eyes glittering back at her. Nick went still in shock, trying to process what she was seeing. "Wait!" she shouted when the woman started for her again. "I'm not looking for trouble."
"Found it anyway," the woman purred. "You part of Draco's gang? Did you think you could come in and hide some more drugs in here?"
Nick edged back, wincing as her palms were sliced on the shards of glass. She reached up and grabbed a corner of the desk, easing herself up into a standing position. "I don't work for Draco," she answered, her voice as cold and dark as the night outside. "I thought you did."
Those cat-like eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "Then why are you breaking into this school at three in the morning?"
"Why are you protecting it?" Nick wiped at the trickle of blood she could feel at the corner of her mouth.
Her attacker cocked her head. "Who are you?"
"You first," Nick answered.
Again those eyes studied her but no longer with predatory intent. Suddenly they widened and black morphed into blue. "You're Kincaid."
Nick blinked, hearing relief and something like disgust in the other woman's voice.
The dark haired woman tilted her head again as if she were listening to a voice only she could hear. "Barbara is telling me not to kill you." She sounded disappointed.
Nick sat down on a desk as she warily regarded the other woman. "Barbara Gordon?" She noticed the interesting necklace around the brunette's neck, the matching earrings. A comlink? "You're talking to Barbara?"
"She's talking. I'm listening." Helena strode toward the other woman, taking in her pale blue eyes and fair skin. She was pretty, damn it. And one scrappy as hell fighter, she admitted. Helena suspected the other woman was meta, and wondered if Kincaid had any clue about her own powers. "What are you doing here?"
"Having a look around. I wanted to know how Draco was getting his drugs in. What are you doing here?"
Helena smiled. "Making sure you weren't one of Draco's men. You tripped a hidden alarm."
Nick swallowed. "You know my name " She let the suggestion fade off into the darkness, watching the stranger curiously.
"You can call me Huntress," Helena answered, smirking a little as she heard Barbara sigh in her ear.
"Huntress?" Nick got unsteadily to her feet. "What is it with this town? All these people running around with capes, gadgets, and silly little nicknames."
"Silly little nicknames?" Helena growled. She ignored Barbara's quiet 'Oh boy' murmured in her ear. "Let me tell you something, Doc," Helena continued. "Our code names protect our real identities protect the people we love from being hunted down by the people we try to stop." She didn't believe what she was saying for a second and had argued with Barbara countless times about it, but she wasn't about to let this woman with the sky blue eyes come along and trash talk her chosen profession.
"People like the Riddler? The Penguin? I've been reading up on New Gotham. Your city is like a freaking circus."
"Would that make me one of the freaks?" Helena asked, her voice low and lethal.
Nick hesitated. "I don't know," she said evenly. "What's with the eyes?"
"The same thing that's with your strength," Helena replied. She was aware of Barbara's sudden silence on the other end of their connection. "I'm super strong," Helena admitted with no trace of vanity. "A lot of metas are. And you went toe to toe with me for at least a few seconds there."
"You think I'm like you?" Nick blurted. She shook her head. "Not even close."
"Hmm." Helena started to say more, but a noise in the hallway made them both turn.
"Cops?" Nick mouthed.
Helena's eyes turned to slits again. She took a breath, smelling the stench of drugs on the new intruder. She shook her head once before moving with purpose toward the hallway, feeling Kincaid fall in step behind her.
She found him planting a stash in a freshman locker and made a note of the number, determined to come back for the drugs later. Helena continued to stay back, watching to see what he would do next. He moved surely about the building, like a man who knew where he was going. Like he'd walked these halls a hundred times before. A student? A teacher? Or just a pusher dropping off his latest batch of poison?
He planted bundles in four more lockers. Helena mentally filed away their locations. She'd have Barbara run a search on the students. Clearly they were dealing, and Helena wanted to wring their stupid, young little necks.
Cold anger twisted in Helena's guts as she followed, barely aware of Kincaid's presence behind her. She tracked him at a safe distance, making sure he left nothing else for the students. When he detoured toward the English department, however, her cold anger went white hot.
"Wait here," she warned Kincaid with a harsh whisper. Without waiting for a reply, Helena went after him.
Nick warred with herself. Stay or go? She started to backtrack toward the drugs, determined to keep them out of the hands of unsuspecting and foolish students. She'd made it down three rows of lockers, recovering one stash along the way, when unease wound through her guts and she stopped. Pure instinct had her spinning and bolting the way she'd come, a nameless fear racing up from her feet and clutching like a drowning man at her heart.
The intruder was in Barbara's classroom. Helena waited, her whole body twitching, for him to emerge. It was so hard to stay still when she wanted to do nothing but attack, but she was gaining vital intel about Draco's operation inside the school. Instead of shutting down one bastard, maybe she could get them all.
"He's in your room, Babs," Helena spoke directly to the redhead on the other end of the link for the first time since entering the building.
A muffled curse was her response.
"Don't go in. Let's call the police, have them do a sweep." Barbara began to type out a message to send off to the authorities. An email from Oracle usually sent them running.
"I'm just going to take a quick look," Helena replied.
"Where is Kincaid?"
"I told her to stay put."
"That's great advice, why don't you listen to it?" Barbara drawled as she hit send.
Despite the circumstances, Helena smiled. She flattened against the nearest wall, blending with the shadows. "She's pretty. I see why she's got you hot and bothered."
Back at the clock tower, Barbara's head came up and she sighed. "Helena "
"Just making an observation," Helena answered easily, even though she was using her flippant remarks to hide the pain she was in. Aside from having a hell of a right hook, seeing her competition for Barbara's affections in the flesh had been a blow to her ego as well.
Helena went silent as the intruder emerged, closing the door to the classroom quietly before he sprinted away.
"He's gone. I'm going to go have a look."
"I'm going to stick my head in the door. That's all. I promise," she said with a hint of exasperation. "I want to make sure the police don't find a stash of drugs in there. Draco could be setting you up."
"Why don't we let Reese handle this? The first patrol car is pulling up at the front door now."
"Reese is as pretty as a picture but as a dumb as rock. Just give me a second." Helena moved to the door. With a quick glance down the hall, she made sure she was alone before turning the knob.
Then all she knew was chaos and pain. Followed by nothing at all.
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