DISCLAIMER: "Birds of Prey" and characters are copywritten by Miller/Tobin
Productions, Warner Brothers, DC comics et al. This story is for
entertainment purposes only and no money exchanged hands. No copyright
infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are
the property of the author.
WARNING: This story deals with an attempted sexual assault. I know this is kinda spoiling that chapter but I don't want anyone walking blind into a subject they may not particularly want to read.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
The boy stared up into the tree. His hands balled into fists, heart pumped wildly in his chest. He watched the blonde girl scale higher and higher with wild abandon. Climbing like she belonged up there. He could barely see her through the branches and leaves, but he knew she was smiling.
"C'mon, climb up," she called down to him.
"It's too high," he tried not to whine. It still sounded like it anyway. He didn't want her to know he was afraid.
"No it's not, don't be a baby."
"I'm not a baby." He pouted. She always called him that. Just because she was older didn't mean he was always the baby.
"Baby." She teased.
He stood there wallowing in his indecision. It looked like fun. And she seemed to love it. But, he couldn't quite get over the fear of going 'up there'. Where his feet didn't touch the ground and his life rested upon the strength of what looked like not very strong branches.
He hated that she was stronger than him, and older, taller, braver.
"C'mon Charlie, it's safe. You'll see." She demonstrated by pushing her legs up and down on a branch. The limb swayed heavily up and down. To him, that didn't look particularly safe, but he made up his mind anyway. He stepped tentatively towards the tree. Placed his hands where his sister had shown him.
Suddenly, Charlie stopped. Something washed over him. A strange feeling he couldn't quite put his finger on. It felt like he was being watched.
Charlie turned to the forest, hoping against hope that maybe it was father or mother coming to keep him from his doom. It wasn't. But, there was something there. He could feel it. Off in the distance, watching. A shape, black, shadowed, hiding amongst the bushes. Charlie could see it watching him. A sense of dread came over him. Like the thing under his bed or in the closet.
"Dinah?" Charlie looked up into the tree, then back into the forest. It had moved. Closer. He looked back at his sister, saw something in her eyes. The look that told Charlie Dinah was afraid. And when Dinah was scared, Charlie knew he should be too.
"Hurry, climb up!" She yelled at him. Charlie gripped the branch, pulled up with all his strength. He could see Dinah scrambling down the tree towards him. He dared to look towards the thing in the forest. It was even closer. He thought he saw eyes. Red, angry, staring at him with a heat that caused his chest to freeze. Charlie stopped looking.
Dinah grabbed him by the jacket, pulled him higher. Together they climbed, hearts pumping in tiny chests. Fear dripping off them. Higher than Charlie had ever climbed before. Higher than Dinah had. The wind whipped around them, threatened to push them into the waiting arms of the thing below. The two huddled together, gripping each other for dear life.
"Is it still down there?" Charlie mumbled into his sister's jacket.
"I don't know," Dinah didn't want to look down. But, she had to be strong for the both of them. She crooked her head slowly, peered down. Something moved at the base of the tree. It's head reared towards the tree. She saw it's eyes. For one tiny fraction of a second, knew what evil was.
Then, the branch broke.
Dinah jerked awake. The scream caught in her throat even as the images dissipated. Students brushed past her, spilled into the hallway. Oblivious to Dinah's nightmare.
"Bad dream, huh?" Gabby smiled at her friend.
"Yeah, I guess so," Dinah shrugged as she gathered her books.
"Huh, probably not as bad as the test we have on Monday," her smile broadened wider off Dinah's groan. "Good thing one of us takes excellent notes."
Helena stomped up the staircase, taking them three at a time. Sure, she could have taken the elevator but her feet were faster. There was an urgency in Barbara's voice when she called. She'd normally get the short version over the transceiver. But, when Barbara wouldn't even tell her that, she knew it was bad. Really bad.
She reached Barbara's floor. Skidded to a stop as Dinah emerged from the elevator.
"Are you following me?"
"Hello? Part of the gang too!" Dinah rolled her eyes.
"Don't let it go to your head." Helena opened the door to Barbara's apartment.
"Babs, we got your message. What's up?" She stopped in her tracks. A man stood in the center of Barbara's living room. Middle aged, salt-pepper hair, a cowboy hat in his hand.
"Dad?" Dinah paled at the sight of her foster parent.
"Hello Dinah." He stated grimly.
"Helena," Barbara entered the living room, making the introductions.
"This is Alex Redmond, Dinah's father."
"Foster father," Dinah corrected. "What are you doing here?"
"You have to come home."
"The Hell she does!" Helena stepped between the two of them, blocking his line of sight. Her hands immediately balled into fists. It had been a couple hours since she'd beaten the crap out of anyone. Right now, he'd do.
"Dinah," Alex stepped out of Helena's path. If he was intimidated, he didn't show it. "I, we need you to come home."
"It's your brother. He's missing."
"Missing?" Dinah gasped. The energy seemed to drain from her body and she suddenly found herself with the need to sit down.
"How do you know he didn't just runaway?" Helena hissed.
"Helena," Barbara placed a hand on her friend. "It's true. Charlie Redmond disappeared three days ago."
Alex dared a step towards his daughter, tentatively side-stepping the angry looking brunette. "I know you can .. see things .. I wouldn't ask if.."
"This is rich." Helena wasn't going let him get near Dinah. She jabbed a finger at his chest. "You don't call, don't write, and now.."
"I'll do it." Dinah cut her off. "We have to know, right?"
Alex reached into his pocket. Pulled out a tiny locket. Dinah recognized it immediately.
Helena watched the girl, body tense, ready for any signal to throw this guy out of Dinah's life forever. She'd sized Alex Redmond the moment she walked in the door. He didn't come across as the abuser Dinah had talked of. He wasn't ominous, or threatening. There wasn't the scent of a bully, or desire for power. If anything, the man was afraid. It dripped off him, practically oozed from his pores.
Dinah gripped the locket. The imagery was immediate, visceral. Until the only thing she could do was scream. It erupted from her throat in a high pitched wail, fear, pain, all wrapped together. She dropped the locket to the floor, shuddering. Dinah ran to the kitchen, bent over the sink and vomited.
Barbara rushed to the girl's side. Reached out her hand in comfort. Dinah jerked out of Barbara's reach.
"I have to go," Dinah gritted through her teeth. She tried to stop the shudders, the images flashing in her brain, the nausea. Failed on all accounts, moving towards the sink once again.
"We'll all go." Barbara glanced at Helena. The brunette nodded, grabbed the phone.
"Alfred, Bruce has a jet, right? Which means I have a jet .. I want it ready within the hour." Helena disconnected. "Guess we're going to Missouri."
"Daddy, I wanna try." Charlie pouted from his seat. He sat on the hood of the truck, arms folded defiantly across his chest.
"Sorry son, you're too young," Alex smiled at the boy. He held the rifle in his hand, checked the barrel as he reloaded. Then handed the rifle to Dinah. He moved behind her, helped her take her position.
"Now remember, stay calm, set your stance. Then, pull on your exhale."
"I know Dad," Dinah closed her left eye. Placed the butt until it fit snugly under her arm. She waited, patiently, until her breathing slowed, until her heart slowed until the only thing in existence was the tiny tin can centered in her scope.
Body braced for the recoil. She squeezed the trigger. Watched the target through the scope. Couldn't help the smile on her face as the tin can popped into the air.
"I did it!"
"Yes you did," Alex beamed.
"You see that Charlie? There's nothing to be afraid of now. I can shoot it!"
"NO!" Alex yelled. He grabbed Dinah by her jacket. "You see something, you run. Do you hear me? Both of you."
Dinah gripped the strong hand on her jacket. She hated when Daddy got like this. Hated the anger in his eyes. It always seemed to be her that made him this way.
Alex relaxed his grip. He knelt in front of his daughter, his eyes softening.
"I'm sorry Dinah. I know you're a big girl and think you can protect your brother and yourself. But there are some things left to grownups, understand?"
"Yeah, I think so." She lied.
"Now, come on, let's go get some ice cream."
"YAY!" Charlie leapt from the hood, scrambling into the cab.
Alex slid behind the driver's seat. He stared vacantly out the windshield.
"Grownups are supposed to protect children. Daddy's are supposed to protect their children," Alex's face darkened. He sighed wearily. "But sometimes Daddy's can't be there. And if I'm not, you have to protect you and your little brother. If that happens I want you to shoot. You understand me, Dinah Redmond, shoot. Don't wait, just fire everything you have. You understand me?"
"Yes Daddy," Dinah lied again. She didn't understand at all.
Dinah supposed she should have been excited. She'd never been on a jet before. The last time she'd been on a plane was with her mother. Flying to Missouri to be dropped off at her new foster home. She remembered peering out the window. How everything seemed so small, and large at the same time.
She was terrified. Her entire world seemed to be shifting again. Planes, to her, seemed to be a portend of doom. A symbol of transgression in which her world shattered completely. Planes meant being abandoned. Of lives lived in darkness with short brief glimpses of light. She didn't want to go back to that world again. Yet, here she was, ready and willing. The taste of dread mixed in with the nausea still cramping her stomach.
Dinah pulled herself off the bed, one of the perks from being the friend of a billionaire's daughter. One day she might consider telling her friends about her time in a private jet. She was sure they'd get a bigger kick out of it than she did.
Cautiously, she walked up the aisle. The nausea still camped out in her stomach. She eyed her father. He glanced up at her, worry in his eyes, then quickly glanced away. Maybe it was because he didn't want to see her. Maybe it was because of the brunette sitting across from him, attempting to kill him with her eyes. Dinah flopped onto the chair across from Barbara. The woman didn't budge, remained transfixed to her laptop.
"Aren't you going to ask me how I feel?"
"No," Barbara stated flatly. She pulled off her glasses, smiled softly. "I knew you'd talk when you were ready."
"Are you ready?" Barbara was concerned. Dinah had stopped vomiting about an hour ago. Even then, she still looked pale, wan. Something seemed 'off' the moment Alex Redmond phoned her. Even now, something seemed off about it all. She wanted to strike it up to her protective streak towards the girl. Dinah had tried so hard to win her approval, Helena's approval. Even when she didn't need to. Behind the bright eyes and smile lay a fear of abandonment a mile wide.
She watched Dinah, her eyes staring vacantly out the window.
"I.. I've never had a vision like this before. It was like everything rolled into one, past, present, future. Something dark, evil. Made Dante's Inferno look like Chuck E. Cheese." She smiled weakly at the analogy. "Whoever this guy is, he's killed before. And he'll kill again."
"What about Charlie?" Alex leaned from his seat towards the girl. "Is he alive?"
"I don't know." Dinah convulsed. The images she'd tried so hard to suppress flooded back into her head. Hard. She rose from her seat and headed straight to the bathroom.
Helena glared at the man sitting across from her. She stayed glued to his side the entire trip.
"You hate me." He stated dryly.
"Hate doesn't even begin to cover what I feel for you."
Alex folded his hands across his chest. Leaned into his seat, trying to put some kind of distance between her. "Do you have kids?"
"Oh please, don't even try that 'things are different when you're a parent'. Try putting yourself in the shoes of the punching bag you call a daughter."
Alex flinched at the accusation. "I did what I had to do to protect my family. If Dinah hating me for the rest of my life is the burden I have to bear for protecting her, then so be it."
"Maybe, but what I do know is this." Helena leaned forward. Eyes changed in hue. "You better pray to whatever God you believe in that I don't tear you limb from limb before this trip is over. And that's if I'm in a good mood."
"Helena!" Barbara's voice cut through the tension. Helena kept her eyes glued to the man for as long as possible before leaving her seat to join the redhead.
"You're not helping." Barbara peered over her glasses.
"Just making myself clear." She took the seat next to Barbara. Managed her first smile in what seemed like days as she felt a warm, comforting hand on her thigh. "How can you stay so calm?"
"You don't think I want to tear him limb from limb? Because I do, but this isn't about me, or you, or even him. It's about a lost little boy who needs our help."
Helena mulled over the thought, chewed on it with her mental teeth. Barbara's ability to think clearly in the storm always amazed her. "I just wanted him to know how I felt."
"Yeah, well, I think he got the point."
"Do you believe him?"
"I don't know what to believe right now." Barbara turned her laptop towards Helena. "Everything certainly looks legit. I searched newspaper archives, police reports. It all looks like a kidnapping."
"Maybe they wanted him to disappear, like Dinah."
"Just one problem, there's no missing person's report for Dinah."
"Bastard." Helena gritted her teeth. "Couldn't even be bothered to look for her."
Barbara gently squeezed Helena's knee. Helena was about to explode. She couldn't blame. She had the same reaction. She wanted to hold Helena, but for now, the simple touch would have to do. "Don't jump to conclusions. There's more going on. We need to find out."
"What?" Helena flashed a half-smile. "Before I kill him?"
"No, before it kills Dinah."
The landscape stretched across the horizon in rolling hills. Painted in several shades of brown with dots of fading green. The drab grey sky accented the scenery, casting a dull color over everything.
Helena exited the jet first, paused at the top of the staircase. She pulled down her sunglasses, glared around at the scenery, or lack thereof.
"Jesus," she scoffed, replacing her glasses. "No wonder you ran away."
"Welcome to Missouri." Dinah shrugged.
Dinah shivered in her jacket. It was technically still summer, but fall was in the air. Chilled her bones and chattered her teeth.
"Charles Redmond, you get down here now!"
She stared up into the tree. Could see the tiny form huddled near the top. She remembered back when Charlie was terrified of climbing the oak.
Now, he looked like he belonged up there.
She'd been standing at the bottom of the tree for God knows how long. Yelling at him, pleading with him to come down. He hadn't. Even when she'd threatened to sick their father on him, he stayed up there. Called her bluff.
"Dammit Charlie." She muttered under her breath. She was supposed to be meeting her friends tonight. It was very rare that she was allowed to leave the house. Now, here she was in her good clothes, climbing up this dirty stupid tree to retrieve her probably dirty, stupid brother.
"It's time to come down."
"No." He wrapped his arms around the trunk.
"What? I'm not going anywhere."
"Liar, you're gonna run away."
Dinah's shoulders sank. It seemed like such a great idea before. Like the best idea. Better than living with the Redmonds. Better than going to 'that place'. Now, the weight of her actions pressed heavily onto her shoulders. If she could, she'd take Charlie with her. She'd always figured it would be easier on him if she just left. This, this was much harder.
"I can't stay here anymore." Dinah sighed.
"Why?" Charlie was on the verge of crying. His bottom lip trembled.
"You know why Charlie."
He relaxed his hold on the trunk, daring to stare into his sister's eyes. "But, he doesn't hit you anymore."
"No, but it hasn't changed anything. I haven't changed."
"But, you could if you wanted to."
Dinah stared at the crystal blue eyes. Even though he wasn't, Charlie shared a remarkable resemblance to her. Blue eyes, golden blonde hair. She searched for an answer, one that would make sense to them both.
"Can you stop breathing?" He stared at her confused. "Hold your breath Charlie. Go on, do it."
He sucked in a gulp of air. Held it as long as he could until his cheeks turned red and the air exploded across his lips.
"See, with me, changing is like breathing. It's who I am, I can't do it without dying."
"But, I can hold my breath for a little bit, can't you?"
"I'm sorry, I can't."
Blue eyes stared into hers defiantly. "You're not even trying. Fine, leave then. I don't want you around anyway."
"Charlie." Dinah reached for him.
"No!" He jerked out of her grasp, scampering down the tree. "I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!"
Barbara stared at the Redmond house. It seemed warm, cozy. Something Norman Rockwell would paint while hopped up on ecstasy. Still, like everything else in the small Missouri town, it seemed off. Maybe it was her own knowledge of the Redmonds that marred the perfect exterior. Maybe it was because she knew there was no such thing as perfection.
"We're here." Alex stated flatly. He paused a moment, his hand gripped tight on the doorhandle. As if he were swallowing his resolve to venture outside.
Dinah stared vacantly at the two-story structure from the passenger side. "I'm not going inside."
"What?" Alex stopped in his tracks, a tinge of panic laced in his voice. "You have to come inside."
"Why?" Barbara leaned forward, placed one hand on Helena's shoulder. She could feel the woman tense, then relax slightly under her touch.
"The sun's going down." He stared directly at his daughter. His eyes ice cold. Dinah shivered, broke the eye contact. She'd seen that look before.
"Oh for fuck's sake," Helena had enough. "We're big girls."
"Helena's right, we can take care of ourselves. Dinah's not comfortable staying with you, quite frankly, neither am I."
Alex's shoulders sank. He cast his eyes to the ground, nodded in compliance.
"Give me just one minute."
"Okay." Dinah sighed.
Alex moved towards the house, trotted close to a dead sprint. They sat in the car, watching the house. Helena gripped the steering wheel, ready for anything.
Dinah could see a figure in the window, peering through the curtains. It was her mother, foster mother. Dinah waved solemnly, pushing down any urge to run inside to greet the woman. "I knew it would be hard coming back. I just never figured this hard."
Alex emerged from the house. He approached Dinah's side of the car, waited until she rolled down her window. Helena flinched as she watched the man pull a revolver from behind his back. Anger turned to confusion as the man handed the gun, butt first to Dinah.
"You remember what I taught you, right? You see something, you shoot. You hear me, Dinah Redmond."
"Yes Daddy." After everything he'd done, said, Dinah still couldn't help the feelings within her. Alex Redmond was the only father she'd ever known. Confusing as it was, she still loved him.
Alex reached into the window, cupped Dinah's chin with his hand. "You be safe now." He placed his cowboy hat back onto his head, nodded to the two other women in the vehicle. "You take care of my little girl."
"We always do." Barbara replied as Helena shifted the car into drive. A tinge of anger in her voice over the assumption that maybe they weren't taking care of his girl.
The three sat in silence.
"Okay," Helena couldn't contain herself any longer. "What the fuck was that?"
Dinah stared at the gun in her hand, shrugged her shoulders. "He's my father."
Barbara shifted slightly in her bed, stretched her arm across the sheets. When she felt not warm body next to her but empty sheets, she opened her eyes slightly. Helena stood in front of the balcony windows, eyes glued to the view outside. She chuckled softly.
"You're watching over me, again."
"Hard habit to break." Helena shrugged.
"Yeah, well don't. I think it's kinda cute." She'd gotten used to Helena's night watchman routine a long time ago. "Anything interesting?"
"Not a goddamn thing." A disappointed tone passed across her lips. "I've been standing here for four hours. No cars, no people. It's like the entire town's shutdown."
"Probably is. It is a small town, you know."
"Well, it's fucking weird. Less than a day here and I'm already going stir crazy."
"I have something to occupy your mind." Barbara patted the empty space next to her. "I'm cold."
Helena gave a passing glance to the non-view below, then sauntered over to the bed. She slid next to Barbara. Laid on her back as the redhead snuggled next to her. Barbara could feel the tension in Helena's body. The younger woman's body wound tight. She wrapped herself into Helena.
"I wish I could show you what it feels like." Barbara smiled into Helena's shoulder.
"You watching over me. I wish I could show you what I feel."
"I know." Helena smiled off Barbara's quizzical expression. "The transceiver. It's like having you with me where ever I go. Even when I'm knocked unconscious."
"God, we're such romantics." She planted a small kiss on Helena's neck. "You should tell her, you know."
"Tell who what?" Helena asked.
"Tell Dinah you're worried about her."
Helena paused. "She knows."
"Does she? She still needs to hear it."
Helena sighed. She knew Barbara was right. "I'm not very good at the touchy-feelie crap. Besides, I did threaten to pummel her foster dad."
"Yes you did and no you're not."
"Not even a little?" Helena managed a smile.
"You're wrong you know? You are good at the touchy-feely crap."
Helena shrugged. "I just never thought I'd like her after she insinuated herself into our lives. Now, I can't imagine what it would be like without her."
Barbara propped her head up onto her elbow, staring down at Helena. She ran her fingers over the delicate face, traced the worry lines etched across Helena's brow. Helena, even now, had a tendency to be closed off, to guard her feelings with every fiber of her being. When she spoke, her words had a tendency to be short, curt, straight to the point. But every now and then, she'd open up, and they poured from her mouth with an eloquence that always caught Barbara off guard.
"Why do people do it?"
"Have kids when they really shouldn't."
Barbara mulled over the thought. She wasn't sure if this was about Dinah or Helena. "I think people get caught up in their own idealism but don't have the self-awareness to realize what they're doing might not be for the best. Having a child is seen as a natural extension of being in a relationship. What we're supposed to do."
"It sounds arrogant."
"Do you think about having kids?"
"All the time." Barbara admitted.
"No, with Alfred. Yes with you." She brought her hand to Helena's cheek, gently caressed the delicate features. "With your eyes and bluntness."
"Don't forget killer fashion sense. But, definitely your brains." They lay in silence, each caught in their own thoughts.
"You're right." Helena sighed, breaking the silence. "I can see how easy it is to get caught up in a fantasy. But, we can never have kids can we? Not as long as I'm Huntress and you're Oracle."
"Not necessarily. Yes, you're right, it would be selfish and dangerous for us to bring a child in the world, but there are other ways. I didn't think it was possible until Dinah came into our lives. Think about it, all the meta-human kids out there, the ostracized. Kids thinking their differences make them less than who they really are. What they're capable of." She let her voice trail off. Barbara always wondered why Bruce took her in, taught her what he knew. It all seemed crystal clear now. She wanted to explain what she was thinking, feeling. But, Helena had a tendency to shut down when it came to all things Bruce related. Somehow, she didn't want this conversation to end.
"You really have thought about this." Helena peered into Barbara's eyes. Thought she could actually see the wheels turning in the woman's head. Wheels spinning and twisting at break neck speeds, faster than she could keep up.
"Hard habit to break."
"Well, don't, I think it's kinda cute." She rolled into Barbara, pinning her to the mattress.
"Have you thought about having kids?"
"Not really." She took a playful nip out of Barbara's neck. "Certainly not as much as I've thought about making a baby. And I think we should practice. Like a lot."
Hot water sprayed from the shower head. Dinah stood under the nozzle. Let the hot water pour across her skin. She didn't know how long she was in there, standing under the spray. She wanted to be warm, to feel the hot water seep under her skin, warm her bones. It just didn't seem to be working. She couldn't help the trembles wracking her body. Goose pimples splayed across her flesh, teeth chattered to the point of almost breaking.
A song kept playing in her head. Something from one of Gabby's cd's she kept in her cd player. It seemed to define her life in a few simple phrases.
'I don't want to start any blasphemous rumours,
but I think that God's got a sick sense of humour
And when I die, I expect to find him laughing..'
Dinah didn't want to be here. Could feel the urge to run screaming at her from every pore. Sleep had eluded her the night before. Images of dark places, smelling of death and blood, kept her awake most of the night.
It wasn't enough that her father hated her. Her real mother died saving her life. Or she'd spent the majority of her life feeling like a freak. Nope, it felt like Fate had stepped in to punish her personally. Took the one thing in her life she truly cared about.
Charlie was missing. And somehow Dinah couldn't shake the feeling that it was somehow her fault. If she'd stayed, maybe she could have protected him. Could have kept the dark monster with evil eyes from her brother. Maybe, it could have been her instead of him.
Banging on the door shook her from her thoughts. The pounding reverberated loudly across the walls. From the sounds of it, probably going for awhile.
"Dammit Dinah! Other people have to shower too!" Helena barked from the other side. "Don't make me come in there."
"All right!" Dinah yelled from the shower. "I'm coming."
She hustled out of the shower. Barely toweled herself off before throwing on one of the white fluffy robes neatly folded on the counter.
Her hand barely touched the doorknob when the door yanked open. A very perturbed Helena stood on the other side. She stormed past Dinah.
"If there's no hot water, I swear, I'm gonna beat yer ass." She hissed. Dinah flinched. Helena could feel something twist in her gut.
Immediately regretted the words the moment they fell from her lips.
"Helena." Barbara's voice called to her from somewhere.
"What?" Helena rolled her eyes. "I was just kidding." Her voice lowered. "Sorry."
Dinah watched her disappear behind the slammed door. She sighed and walked over to the breakfast table. Barbara sat there, laptop at the ready, enjoying a cup of tea. Dinah sat across from her, pulled the metal lid off her plate, the smell of hot cakes wafting into her nostrils.
"I'm not hungry."
"Doesn't matter, you're eating anyway." Barbara chided her.
"She hates me."
"No, she doesn't." Barbara pulled off her glasses. "She's just not a morning person."
"Or evening, or night." Dinah stabbed at her pancakes. Helena's moods seemed to be a prime example of 'chaos theory'. Whenever Dinah thought she had it in order, something came along to knock it all out of whack. Usually, it was Dinah.
"Why didn't you tell us?" Barbara asked.
Dinah sighed. The one hundred thousand dollar question. "It seemed easier. Like if I forgot about him, leaving wouldn't be so hard. Now, I wish I'd never left."
Barbara stretched her hand across the table, clasping it around Dinah's. "You did the right thing?"
Dinah attempted to smile. For all Barbara's words, saying she did the right thing and knowing it seemed like two completely separate worlds. Dinah just lived on the wrong one.
The air smelled different. Actually, Barbara realized, it didn't smell at all. Sure, she could pick up the hint of fall leaves, grass and was that apple pie? None of the smoke, dirt and grime she was so accustomed to from years of city life. Still, she missed the smell of the ocean and the noise of the city.
She pulled the car in front of the police station. The building looking something akin to an old episode of Andy Griffith. A non-descript two-story building. The words 'Opal Police' the only indication of what it was. Two middle-aged men sat in front of the building, playing chess. They nodded their hello's, tipping wide brimmed cowboy hats. Barbara smiled her hello. Another small town 'ism' she would have to get accustomed to. She wasn't used to strangers being so damn friendly.
A middle aged woman, processed blonde hair piled up in a dangerous looking bun, peered over wire-rimmed glasses from her workstation.
"Can I help you?" She asked in a thick accent which came out more like 'kin ah hep uuuu?'.
"Yes, I'm Barbara Gordon, I'm here to see Sheriff Devlin."
The woman sighed in an exaggerated manner, leaned back in her chair, head pointed towards the rear.
"CARL!!" She barked loud enough to make Barbara jump.
"What?" An annoyed voice answered from the back.
"There's a 'Gor-gon' woman here to see you." She smiled towards Barbara as if she couldn't hear the annoyed tinge in her voice.
Carl Devlin emerged from his office. Black hair cut military style, broad shoulders, warm brown eyes and a firm jaw. What set Barbara back was Carl Devlin didn't look a day over 30, and that was being liberal.
"You're Sheriff Devlin?"
"The one and only." He flashed a set of sparkling pearly whites at her. "Now, don't be fooled by my boyish good looks and charming wit, I'm completely qualified for this job."
A loud snort came from the woman eavesdropping on their conversation. The sheriff blushed making him look even younger, if that were possible.
"Don't you have a hair appointment or something?" He asked through clenched teeth.
"Fine." The woman huffed, throwing her hands up in exasperation. "Last thing I wanna do is watch you make googly eyes at the city girl."
The woman pulled a pencil from her hair and slammed it on her desk. Carl waited until the older woman closed the door behind her before refocusing his attentions on Barbara. He bowed in a gentlemanly fashion, pointing his outstretched arm towards his office. Barbara took his cue, wheeling into the room.
"Sorry about that. She's been a little snippy since my father retired."
"That was your..?" Barbara pointed her thumb over her shoulder.
"Mother." He said slightly embarrassed.
"Let me guess, your father was the old sheriff."
"Yep, unfortunately, the bonds in this town run deep. There'd be Hell to pay if I forcibly retired her." He shrugged apologetically, sitting on the corner of his desk. "What can I do for you, Mrs. Gordon."
"Miss," A coy smile played across his face and Barbara suddenly realized she was being flirted with. "I'm here to talk about Charles Redmond."
His face darkened slightly, the affable smile removed from his lips. He pulled himself off the edge of his desk, moving to the chair behind it.
"I can assure you, we're doing everything possible to find him." She'd heard the standard police script before. The one that drew the line between officer and civilian.
"I know, I just need to know more."
"What more could I possibly tell you?"
"Possibly the things you left out of your police report."
He tapped his pencil on the desk. "Membership certainly does have its privileges, doesn't it Miss Gordon."
"You've checked on me." In an instant, Barbara realized she was on the defensive.
"Yes and no." He smiled again. "When the Redmonds told me their daughter was living with you, I did a little checking for them. To put their minds at ease. When I found out you were the daughter of Jim Gordon, well.."
It shouldn't have surprised her that he knew of her father. Hell, at this point in time, she shouldn't be surprised that anyone knew who her father was. But, something in Carl's eyes told her something else. Something she couldn't quite place her finger on. They'd both sized each other up in their own ways. He was right, she shouldn't have judged him on his boyish looks. He was smarter than he looked. His eyes belied the good 'ol boy simpleton he tried to project. Carl leaned across his desk, arms folded over each other.
"I'll tell you what I legally can."
Helena parked the car as close to the Redmond house as she could, muttering under her breath. Cars, trucks, and, she joked to herself, a couple horse drawn carriages were all parked on and around the Redmond property. She could hear the barking of bloodhounds off in the distance. Another search party underway for the Redmond boy.
Dinah slid out the passenger side. She hadn't spoken the entire trip.
They stood side by side at the front gate.
"I don't wanna go inside." Dinah sighed.
"Sure, we can look around."
"The barn," Dinah opened the gate. "He was taken from the barn."
Helena followed Dinah around the property. There were a couple men standing on the front porch, talking. Probably going over search plans. They eyed the two women. Actually, they eyed Helena. Her black duster and leather pants screamed 'outsider'. Like she cared.
The barn sat about fifty yards from the house. To Helena, it looked like a barn. Red painted wood shaped in an oval. The look was nothing compared to the smell. For all the complaints people made about the 'city', it was nothing compared to the smell of the 'country'. It smelled like animal crap, rotting hay and if she inhaled deeply enough, which she wouldn't, something like apple pie.
A new scent caught her attention. It was musky, heavy, metallic. She'd recognize it anywhere. Blood. It was coming from the barn. Helena placed her hand on Dinah's shoulder. The girl jumped from the contact, passed a weak smile to Helena.
Dinah nodded. "I have to."
Dinah pulled the barn door open.
They walked tentatively inside. The smell threatened to overpower Helena. If Dinah could smell it, it didn't show.
Carl Devlin opened the door for Barbara, flashed her his best smile. She made her way towards her car. Carl had been friendly, even downright flirtatious at times. Still, she left the police station with the distinct feeling she'd just been given the run-around. Carl was right. His looks were deceiving. Instead of being an average guy who'd claimed his position based upon his looks and heritage. Barbara left with the feeling there was more to Carl Devlin than met the eye.
Mrs. Devlin, cigarette hanging off her lip, a bag of groceries in her hand approached the building just as Barbara exited.
"Gor-gon, Gor-gon," She stated aloud, trying to piece together the information rattling around in her brain. "That's right, you're Dinah's mother."
"Sarah said Dinah went to go live with her mother. Some fancy lady up in New Gotham. Figured ya'll would be back 'cuz of Charlie. Poor thing."
"What do you mean? Charlie hasn't been found has he?"
The woman's eyes glazed over, lost in thought. She patted Barbara sympathetically on the shoulder. Her old eyes suddenly focused with the intensity that comes from time, from having seen and experienced more than she would have liked to.
"They aren't gonna find him. They never do. At least, not alive anyway."
With that, her eyes seemed to lose their focus. Her countenance changed back to the embittered woman from before. "Ya'll have a nice time around here. You better watch Dinah, always getting into trouble, that one."
Charlie gritted his teeth. Pulled his arms tighter around his body to stop the shivering. He was cold, and tired and hungry. But more than anything. He was scared. He dared to open his eyes, hoping against hope this all really was a bad dream. The same fat iron bars greeted him. Cold damp dirt under his body. The worst part was the smell. If only he could stop the smell. It set up camp in his stomach, made him wretch and gag if he inhaled to deeply.
There were also sounds. First, there was yelling. A man he'd never met before. Then came crying, and screaming. Lots of screaming. It seemed to never end. Until, suddenly, it did. And after that Charlie didn't hear the man anymore. Somehow, that seemed worse. Worse because it meant whatever made the man scream might want to make Charlie scream.
He could hear it in the dark, sometimes. Breathing, skulking about. Sometimes, it would get close to Charlie. Stare at him through the bars. Charlie would close his eyes tight. He'd looked at it once. Charlie didn't want to make that mistake again, ever.
Still, Charlie's eyes sought out the thing. To see where it was. It stood at the far end of the room. All Charlie could see was its silhouette, large, bulky. It stood, back to Charlie, staring off into the blackness.
Head reared back, Charlie could hear it breathing deeply. Short, deep takes of breath, like it was sniffing the air. A low guttural noise came from the thing. Charlie couldn't tell if it was growling or laughing, maybe it was both. It lowered itself, squatted low to the ground, then bounded off into the blackness.
Charlie breathed a sigh of relief. It would be back. But, right now, it wasn't here. That always seemed to be the better of the two.
Helena kicked over a bucket, a mountain of dust raising into the air. She knew she needed to be here. She also needed Barbara. The woman had a greater knack for making sense out of thin air. The barn was empty but it seemed to be filled with clues, as far as Helena could ascertain. Something hung in the air, a certain scent. It was neither animal nor human.
"Does anything look different?" She asked Dinah.
"Don't know," Dinah shrugged. "I haven't been here in months."
Helena sighed. She understood Dinah's need to be here but the blonde wasn't helping matters any. She refused to touch anything. Hadn't even removed her hands from her coat pockets.
"Do you think they'll make me stay?"
Helena turned to look at the blonde. She walked towards Dinah, softly placed her hands on the girl's neck, pulling her eyes towards hers. "Look at me. You're a pain in the ass. But you're my pain in the ass. I won't let them hurt you. Ever again."
Dinah's lip began to tremble. The emotions she'd tried so hard to keep bottled inside seemed to explode from her. She couldn't stop the tears as they fell from her eyes, or the trembles wracking her body. Helena pulled the girl into her arms.
"You're family now. You're my family." She pulled the blonde tighter into her arms. Silenced the shivers wracking Dinah's body.
Dinah's lip trembled. The words came from her throat barely above a whisper. "He was skinning him."
"What?" A shiver ran down Helena's spine.
"In my vision.. He.. it was skinning Charlie.. Alive."
Helena felt the rage inside her building. Raw, primal, it surged in her veins.
"We're going to find your brother, Dinah. Do you understand me?" She lifted the girl's chin so their eyes met. Helena's voice lowered, growled. "Then, I'm going to kill him."
The contract was sealed in silence. Not killing was Barbara's rule. Helena had abided by it. But, this was different. There would be no prison for a man who killed children. No walls, no three squares a day. Just a six foot hole and the satisfaction that came from putting him there.
Dinah nodded into Helena's shoulder. She felt Helena's body tense. Then, the images floated into her mind. Something outside. She pulled her head from Helena's shoulder, stared into Helena's eyes. The pale blue turned to violet.
The woman pulled them apart. Instinctively, Helena placed herself between Dinah and whatever was outside. It had started as a sensation. The feeling she was being watched. Then, she smelled it. The same dark scent that permeated the barn. Whatever had been here, had taken Charlie, was back.
"Go into the house."
"No," Dinah grabbed Helena's arm. "I'm staying."
"No, you're not. I'm faster and I'm stronger." She grabbed Dinah by the jacket collar, pushed her towards the house. "Now go!"
Helena waited until Dinah exited the barn then bounded out the back door. The scent hung heavy in the air. Stronger than in the barn. She raced into the woods. Could hear something, large and heavy running in the distance. Helena spotted tracks. Human. Could see him in the distance. He was large, close to seven feet. But also very fast. Faster than Helena would have gathered from his size.
Helena followed, deeper into the woods. Growled at the branches stabbing at her face, grabbing at her clothes. Focused, she ran, legs pumping, heart hammering in her chest. The scent, the prey, locked in her sights. She couldn't see him, but knew he was there, just out of reach. She wanted him. More than she wanted anything in her life. The sensation in her body close to blood lust.
Helena skidded to a stop. Part of her screamed inside. The part that loved the hunt, the chase. Knew her prey was within reach. Still, something held her back. Years of experience, intuition. Something wasn't right.
Helena turned around, ran back towards the Redmond home. She could hear bloodhounds. Men racing towards her. Dinah probably sent them after her.
Instinct had fueled her to chase. Intuition turned her back. Helena was fast. Knew she should have caught him by now. But, this wasn't New Gotham. She was on his turf. In the game of hunter and prey, there were only two reasons a person ran. Because they were chased, or because they wanted to be chased. Helena had run into the woods under the guise of hunter. But, as she ran back towards the barn, she'd realized that wasn't the case at all. She'd been lured into the woods as prey.
Dinah lazily turned her head. Realized she was sitting up, which was weird because she was supposed to be sleeping. She felt soft firm hands on her shoulders, hands slipping her into her coat. She slowly opened her eyes.
"It's all right Dinah."
"What's going on?"
The woman knelt, hurriedly slipping Dinah's feet into her shoes. "We're leaving."
Dinah stared at her mother, confused. "What about Daddy?"
"Come on now, we have to hurry."
Dinah followed her mother down the hall. Saw her brother sleeping peacefully in his child seat. Sarah Redmond hefted the child seat onto her hip, hurrying towards the door.
"Come on Dinah."
Dinah stood in the doorway. She glanced around outside, noticed the purpling sky fading in the distance.
"We're not supposed to go out after dark. Not during harvest."
"Dinah," The woman hustled back to the porch, grabbed Dinah's hand.
"That's just superstitious clap trap. We have to hurry."
She waited patiently as Sarah buckled her in the booster seat. Charlie sat next to her, oblivious to the world. A pacifier glued to his mouth. Sarah slid into the driver's seat and gunned the engine.
Within moments, Dinah could feel herself nodding off. The rolling motion of the car always had a hypnotic effect on her. It took her several moments to realize the car was no longer moving. Dinah tilted her head up. Her mother sat frozen behind the wheel, eyes glued forward.
"Quiet Dinah." There was a tinge in her voice. Mom was afraid. Dinah could feel her heart begin to hammer in her chest. She knew this was wrong. Daddy would be so mad. Dinah didn't like it when Daddy got mad. She turned her head to the front of the car. The headlights splayed across the old dirt road. She could see a man off in the distance. The bottom of his legs barely illuminated by the headlights. He stood there staring at them.
The man started to move. Slowly, methodically, he approached the car. Sarah shifted the car into reverse. It lurched backwards as she hit the gas pedal. Faster and faster, the engine whined loudly. Suddenly, something pounded on the hood. The metal bowed inwards. Dinah couldn't contain the scream in her voice.
Sarah's foot still on the accelerator, the car slammed into a tree. Charlie began to scream. The pounding on the hood increased, harder, louder.
"Dinah, get down!" Sarah yelled at her daughter. Dinah unbuckled her seat-belt. She scurried onto the floor, packed herself into the space.
Sarah's window exploded. Dinah watched, terrified, as a hand shot into the car. She watched, horrified, as something pulled her mother out into the darkness. She heard shuffling, her Mom yelling under the sound of her brother screaming.
Gunshots cut through the din. Something howled. A sound Dinah had never heard before, never wanted to hear again.
Someone ran to the car, forced their head into the broken window. Dinah screamed.
"Daddy?" Dinah threw herself over the seat, wrapped her arms around her father's neck through the window. Alex pulled her from the car, into his arms.
"Dinah," He stroked the soft hair. Tried to calm the girl down as he lowered Dinah to her feet. "I need you to do something for me. I need you to get into Daddy's truck. Can you do that for me, sweetheart?"
Her throat clutched her voice, kept the words from coming out. She didn't want to walk into the dark. She furiously shook her head 'no' into his neck.
"Dinah, honey, I need to get your brother. I can't do that with you in my arms." Alex set Dinah on the ground. Softly pried her fingers from his neck. "Walk to my truck, Dinah. Don't look around. Just walk, okay."
Dinah snuffled. Tried to be a brave little soldier for her father. She looked towards the truck. It didn't seem to be far. The headlights illuminated the road, cut a clear path for her to walk in. but, a lot can happen between there and here, she thought to herself.
"Go on." He pushed her softly towards the truck. Dinah cautiously walked towards the other vehicle. Her body tense, rigid. Couldn't help her eyes as they scanned the dark forest. She spotted something near the truck. Recognized the soft brown hair, it was her mother.
"Dinah, get away from her!" She could hear her father shouting at her. The words didn't seem to compute.
Dinah raced towards her mother, knelt down next to the woman. She laid face down, half in the road, half in the dirt. Her back, the jacket ripped in slashes, something dark and wet saturated her back. It didn't take Dinah long to realize it was blood. Her hands reached for her mother, she had to help. Mommy's weren't supposed to be lying in roads, not like this.
Her hands clasped around her mother's, gripped them tight. Then, the images came. Sharp and quick, they pierced her skull. Seemed to come from outside and within, from where the nightmares come from. Dinah wasn't supposed to see, but she did. She saw, and she screamed, and screamed, even when the images flooded her brain, seemed to rip apart her soul.
Then, it all went black.
Barbara recognized Alfred's voice immediately. She turned to watch the man steer around the boxes of computer equipment she'd had delivered to the hotel. "Alfred, what are you doing here?"
"I thought you could use my assistance."
"We don't.." Barbara paused off Alfred's raised eyebrow. "I'm happy to see you." She smiled at the man.
He glanced around the suite. "And in good time, I see."
A harried looking concierge hustled into the suite. He pushed another cart loaded with boxes into the room, confused as to where he should put them. He looked no older the twenty. Corn blonde hair and deep green eyes. He jumped slightly at the sight of Alfred. The older man softly smiled, taking the cables from his arms.
"Here's the last of it. Sorry there aren't more of us to help." He apologized to them both. "We're just not used to visitors at this time of year."
"I thought there was some big winter carnival?" Barbara asked.
"Well yeah, but that's not until December. No body comes to Opal during harvest. No one sane, anyway."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Uh," The boy turned beet red, shifted nervously in his shoes. "Nothing. I hate to be rude, but it's almost sundown and my shift ended a half hour ago."
"That will be fine," Alfred handed the boy a generous tip. Patting his back as he led him towards the door.
Moments later, Helena and Dinah emerged through the still open door.
"Okay," Helena looked around the suite. "This used to be a hotel room."
Barbara shrugged. "My laptop wasn't fast enough so I had some stuff brought in."
Barbara ignored the brunette. She moved towards Dinah, clasped one of the girl's hands. "How are you doing?"
"I'm fine." Dinah sighed. "I just want this all over."
"We all do, and it will." She squeezed Dinah's hand slightly. Noted the slight pained expression on Dinah's face. "Have you had any more visions?"
"Not exactly. I just wanna lay down."
"Okay," Barbara released the girl's hand, worry etching her face. "Don't be offended if I come in to check on you."
Dinah smiled, she bent over pulled Barbara into a hug. "Thank you for this."
Barbara waited until she saw the door close before turning to Helena. "How's she doing, really?"
"Honestly, there's a few extra therapy sessions in her future."
She followed Barbara back into the living room area. She gave a passing glance to Alfred, waited until she saw him disappear in one of the extra rooms. Then, Helena moved in front of the woman, swung her legs over Barbara 's chair until she straddled her lap. Planted a kiss on very surprised lips.
"Helena," Barbara panted slightly as she came up for air. "Do you think this is an appropriate time?"
"Not really but who knows when we'll have a chance again."
"Hel," Barbara attempted to pull away, Helena cut her off.
"Barbara, please," She kissed Barbara's forehead. "I need to feel you."
Barbara stared up into ice blue eyes, it wasn't just desire she saw in them but want. A deep seeded aching need blazed from the brunette's eyes. She could often forget about this part of the relationship, the touching, the closeness. She threaded her fingers into Helena's hair, pulled their lips together. Felt her pulse increase as something simple and intimate turned into more. Her hands traced the line of Helena's spine, slid down, caressed the firm globes under soft leather. Helena purred into the kiss, flicked her tongue across Barbara's lips in the way that always made Barbara moan.
Barbara moved her hands around and unbuttoned the leather pants. Slid her hand between leather and skin, dove towards her target. Two moans filled the air as fingers met wet heated skin. Danced across the sensitive flesh.
Her body trembled at the sound of her name. She let Helena set the pace, bodies pressed against each other, hips thrusting onto her hand. She suckled on Helena's pulse point, her other hand raked fingers down Helena's back. The woman in her arms twitched and trembled with every touch, panted and purred in her ear. It used to frighten Barbara when Helena came to her like this. Body wired and humming from a fight, the high stored inside her like a ball of kinetic energy. Sex the only release. And it was good, hard, frenetic, and dark. That was what once scared her, not because it was a part of Helena, but it was also a part of her. She fed off Helena's energy, reclaimed what was once lost. Wondered if instead of pulling Helena into the light, she'd been pushing her back into the dark, both of them.
"Tell me you love me." Helena panted in her ear, a tinge of desperation in her voice. She was close. Barbara threaded her hand into Helena's hair, pulled them apart until their eyes met.
"I love you."
Helena trembled, mouth opening. Barbara clamped her mouth onto Helena's, inhaled her breath as she came. Devoured every moan and sigh as she brought Helena down. Helena draped her arms around Barbara's shoulders, drained.
They held each other this way for several moments. Barbara softly stroked Helena's hair, felt the grip around her shoulders tighten ever so slightly. It felt less like an afterglow snuggle than the woman was clinging to her. Fighting something within.
"You wanna tell me what this is all about?" Helena stiffened in her arms, hopped off Barbara's lap. She knew Helena would like to project that sex is just sex. But, it's never just sex with Helena. For her, and Barbara, a kiss is more than a kiss. There was always a reason for Helena's sexual advances, even if it were something as simplistic as hormones. Yet, there were other times. Like this, when, for what ever reason, the emotional connection became more. When her walls fell completely down and her mask peeled off to reveal the woman beneath. Just like that, the walls rebuilt and the mask cemented onto her face.
"I just," Helena shrugged, "Wanted to not think about this case for awhile."
Barbara watched for a reaction. Tried to find the hidden meaning with Helena 's words. If the direct approach wouldn't work, she'd just have to go indirectly. "What did you find?"
"Not much. But, I think we were followed by Charlie's kidnapper. I lost him in the woods." Helena shrugged, glossing over the details. She'd kept them to herself, for now, not quite sure if it was for Dinah's sake, or Barbara's. "What'd you find?"
"Well, I had a strange encounter of my own." She didn't want to talk about the case. Had already put some of the pieces together regarding Helena's current mood. But, she couldn't help the glimmer in her eyes as she recalled her encounter with the Devlins. She noted Helena's body language. Made a mental note to tone down any and all encounters with flirtatious men. "Anyway, I was getting no where with the information regarding Charlie's disappearance. So, I entered a search for missing persons in Missouri.
Narrowed it down to this particular county and the surrounding counties. In the past year, there have been five unsolved missing person cases. Three men, one woman, and Charlie. So I widened my search going back ten years."
"And what'd you find?"
Barbara pulled a sheet off the printer, handed it to Helena. "In the past ten years there have been 135 missing people. 135 in a population of less than 100,000. 27 of those you can scratch off the list because they don't fit our current profile. Now, ask me when the majority of those disappearances took place."
"Okay Nancy Drew, when did these take place?"
"Since you asked, 108 disappeared between late October and early November."
"The Harvest." Helena put two and two together.
"Is there something in here the police don't know?"
"That's just it, Helena, I think they DO know. I think the entire town knows. I thought it was weird how everything was shut down after dark. Combined with what Mrs. Devlin said and Alex Redmond's weird reaction the other day, it's all coming together. Kinda."
"What now?" Helena placed the paper back onto the desk. Walked over to the couch and flopped down.
Barbara sighed. They'd barely scratched the surface. Now was the time to dig in and keep digging. "Now, I'm cross referencing between the FBI's database to see if he fits any of their profiles. That and checking to see if he's murdered anywhere else. It seems off that he'd strike solely in this area. More like a drifter. He's found a good hunting ground, but I doubt he hunts once a year."
Helena watched Barbara work. How she seemed to connect with the computers, hands typing furiously. This was Barbara's terrain. A landscape of one's and zero's. She'd entered her zone. The place where everything flowed. Helena's was the streets. The information was good. Something they all could work with. But, Helena had been with Barbara a long time, knew when she was being up front and knew when she was holding back. Barbara was holding back.
"What are you not telling me?"
The fingers slowed. "A theory. A hunch is more like it. I could be wrong."
"But, you could be right?"
"Possibly." Helena grit her teeth. She knew Barbara could get like this. Now just didn't seem to be the time. There was too much at stake. She should know this.
"What are you not telling me?" Barbara countered.
Helena leaned forward, elbows on her knees. They both could get like this. Danced around each other ignoring the pink elephant in the room. Too many years as partners, a couple years as lovers and they knew each other too well. Sometimes for the best, sometimes for the worse.
"I'm going to kill him, Barbara." Helena watched for a reaction. Braced herself for it. Could see Barbara's shoulders tense. Her fingers stopped typing. There were certain lines they didn't cross in their relationship. Helena wasn't about to step over Barbara's, she was about to blow it up.
Barbara barely turned her head. More pieces fell into place. She didn't like the picture forming before her eyes. "You do what you have to do."
Dinah flopped in her bed, turned from side to side. She was dead tired, but she couldn't get to sleep. Anxiety, fear, apprehension roiled in her stomach. Nothing compared to the loud banging drum in her head.
A soft knocking interrupted her thoughts. She pulled the arm off her head, sitting up on her elbows. "Come in."
Alfred entered the room carrying a tray. "I thought you could use something to help you sleep."
"Thanks Alfred." She watched him set the tray down on the night stand. A steaming cup of milk and a bottle of aspirin. "You think of everything don't you?"
"Wouldn't be a very good butler if I didn't." He smiled.
Dinah sat up, cupped the milk in her hand. The warmth felt good, like heaven. "My mom, my foster mom, used to give me this before I went to bed. Said it would keep away the nightmares."
"Sometimes the best solutions are the simplest ones."
She shrugged on the thought. "Are they still fighting?"
"What makes you think they're fighting?"
"They haven't talked in four hours and that usually means one of two things. And the other one is not so quiet." Alfred raised an eyebrow.
"Hello? Sixteen here, no longer a child."
Dinah smiled softly. The smile faded as the conversation turned back towards its original subject. "Helena said she's going to kill him."
"Part of Miss Kyle's charm is her impulsiveness. She makes a decision and she does it. She seems to forget that with every action there comes a reaction and a responsibility."
Dinah's head began to throb again. Everything seemed so simple before. She wasn't used to the gray area she found herself in. Helena had made a decision. It seemed right at the time, it still did. But, Dinah also knew it was wrong. She felt like a coward, hiding behind Helena, using her to accomplish her goal. In one instance, she'd forgotten about Barbara's code, her code. The line between right and wrong. Now, she feared Helena was about to pay the price.
"Barbara will break up with her if she does, won't she?"
"It's not my place to say. The world is not black or white, Miss Dinah. Neither is Miss Barbara or Miss Kyle. The only difference in this world is how we wish it to be."
"I hate it when you do your Yoda routine."
"Did it help?"
"No, but I think I feel better."
He lifted the tray and walked towards the door. He stopped momentarily as he had a tendency to do. Looked back towards the woman. "I've often found that in times of darkness, the best solace is in those who are in the light."
With that, Alfred left the room, closing the door quietly behind him. Dinah set her mug on the night stand, lying down on the bed. Alfred's words still ringing in her ear. She leaned over, grabbed the phone and began to dial.
"Hello?" A groggy Gabby picked up on the other end.
"Hi, it's Dinah."
"Dinah," She could hear Gabby's voice pick up on the other end. "Do you know what time it is?"
"Yeah, about 15 minutes after you snuck in."
Gabby chuckled softly in Dinah's ear. "Damn, you know me too well. Sorry to hear about your brother. Did you find him?"
"You will." She stated like it was truth. "Want me to tell you about the party? I'd tell you how much I miss you but I know how you hate that mushy crap."
"No," Dinah cut her off. "I think I'd like to hear the mushy crap."
She didn't know how long they stayed on the phone talking. It felt right, just as Alfred said. To talk to someone away from all the darkness, away from the nightmares. They fell asleep on the phone, breathing into the other 's ear. Dinah didn't know how she would repay Gabby for making her feel this way. But, some day, she would. Some day when she was back in the light.
A one horse town. That's all Helena could think when she thought of Opal, Missouri. A one horse town. She stood in the center of it, in the middle of the street. The street light swung lightly over her head. She'd patrolled the entire town. Been from end to end looking for something, anything, to still her mind. Everything was closed, restaurants, bars. Hell, even the rats had decided to call it a night.
It had been this way every night she'd been in Opal. Tonight just seemed worse. Tonight she and Barbara were in a fight. There had been no words exchanged, no heated argument. Just a simple statement of fact and everything changed.
She knew she was right. Still felt it. The man was a serial killer pure and simple. Killing the man would put an end to Dinah's nightmare. No more Redmonds, no more Opal. Her desire had changed. She no longer wanted to kill him for Dinah. Now, Helena was going to do it for herself. Wrap her fingers around his neck and watch it die. Him and her relationship with Barbara.
The rage boiled hot in her veins. She needed to hit something. She wanted to blame Barbara and her 'code'. That stupid code. Deep down, her residual hatred for her father bled into it all. He put that stupid idea into Barbara 's head. He was the one who put this wall between them. Only, she knew that wasn't right either. The only person to blame for this mess was the one standing under a street light in the middle of a one horse town.
The end was near. She'd kill him and it would all end. No more Barbara. No more kisses, or touches, or wrapping into the warmth of her body. No more quickie sex in inappropriate places. Or the sound of her voice, Helena's name on her lips, right before she came. All of it would end. She hated herself for the decision she'd made. But, for now, she let that anger fuel her rage. Directed it all towards Him. He did this to them. He would pay. Then, so would she.
A shiver ran down her spine, more like a sensation. The sensation she was no longer alone. Her body tensed, senses went into full alert. Lungs drew in breath. A scent. It hung lightly in the air. Helena recognized it immediately. Him. He was close and he was watching her.
Helena ran towards the closest building. Hands dug into the brick, pulled her up the corner of the wall. She reached the top, hopped onto the ledge.
He stood across from her, on the opposite building, mimicking her pose. They stood that way for minutes, watching each other, their scents in the air. The smell of violence. Something raw, primal. Two hunters. One territory and the primal need in each of them to claim what was theirs.
Even with 100 feet between them, he still looked large. Helena had guessed right on the height. He was about seven feet tall, large, bulky. He wore an old coat made of leather. Helena wondered how he'd found one his size. A hood cloaked his face. Nothing but a black oval peered across the void towards her.
The man stepped to the edge. He peered down to the street, then back towards Helena. She thought she could feel him smiling at her, a challenge. One foot over the edge, then the other. Helena watched him drop to the street below. He landed with a soft thud, rolled with the impact then balanced back on his feet. He looked up at Helena. She could see the trace of a jaw. And yes, he was smiling. Somehow, knowing it and seeing it were two separate things. One was an assumption, the other sent a cold shiver down her spine.
Helena launched herself over the edge. She didn't roll with the impact, let it pass through her. Body crouched low to the ground. Eyes changed in hue. They weren't in the woods anymore. She'd patrolled this one horse town for days. Knew every nook and cranny. It wasn't the city, or New Gotham, but it would do. This time, they were on equal footing. This time, they were on her turf.
He tilted his head slightly like a child would do. As if he were still sizing her up. Helena stayed in her position, waited for him to make the first move. He took a step backwards, slowly, left then right. Helena didn't budge. He turned on his heel and ran.
Helena raced after him. Ran with everything within her. Her mind calculated the direction. Instantly, she knew where he was going. North, the closest direction out of own. She wouldn't let him lure her onto his turf this time.
A truck was parked by the curb. Helena jumped onto the hood, then onto the building. She raced the man. Him on the street, Helena above. He was fast, really fast. Tonight, Helena was faster. Ten feet between them and Helena jumped from the building. Both feet caught him in the back. A satisfied grin on her face as he went foreward, feet lifted off the ground. His body hit the pavement hard. The sound of air leaving his body filled the air. Helena didn't stop, she jumped into the air body braced to pounce on him.
Pain. That's all she remembered. Slight blackness as consciousness decided to take a trip out of her brain. In the short span between her kick and the pounce, he rolled onto his back. Waited for her, and while she was still air born, hit her with an upper cut to the jaw. Helena flew backwards, the force sending her head over heels. She landed on her stomach. No graceful landing this time. The pavement removed whatever air she had left in her lungs. Through the fog, she could see him coming. Quick. He grabbed her by the back of her jacket, pulled her off her feet and threw her against the wall. Helena braced for the impact, curled her body tight. It wouldn't stop the pain, but it would give her time to reorganize. She took the blow. Landed hard on her shoulder. Not enough to break it, just enough to piss her off.
She didn't like to admit she fed off the pain. But, she did. It was something she understood, along with the violence. Now, Helena wanted to give as good as she received. Fed off the rage in her blood, the adrenaline like liquid fire in her veins. Legs pumped she jumped into the air, caught him square in the chest with both feet. He staggered backwards. Helena wanted blood. Fired everything she had in her, kicks, punches, jumps. Time in the sticks fighting cowboys and defenseless children made him unprepared for years of combat training. He took the blows, his head whipped left and right with each punch. Knees buckled with each kick to his legs.
He should have been unconscious, or at least dead. He stood in the middle of the street, body staggering limply. Legs fighting to stand. Helena didn't care. She wanted him dead. Fury, rage, pain, she ran towards him. Lifted her body off the ground, twisted her body, a spinning kick locked and loaded.
Then, it all went wrong.
Time seemed to slow. Helena's eyes went wide as she connected with his chest. Her foot caught in his hands. He lifted his head up. She could see his eyes blazing hot behind his hood. He smiled at her. Hands wrapped around her foot, he twisted hard. Helena, already in momentum, spun with the motion. Air born, body twisting, she connected with the ground.
He pounced on her. Feet on either side of her waist. He bent down, grabbed her by the jacket.
"My turn." He sneered at her, lifted her up and threw her into the air. He'd been holding back, testing her strength, her resolve. Now, it was time for pay back. Helena landed on her back. Flipped into a stance. Yet, he was right there, waiting. He struck her with a back hand to the face and Helena was air born again. The strikes weren't controlled or disciplined like a trained fighter. But, he had strength, a lot of it. Like nothing she'd ever come up against. Enough to counter Helena, enough to counter everything. She was on the defensive. Blocking, sweeping, trying to get something that would put some distance between her and him. It wasn't enough. He closed in on her like a bulldozer hopped up on meth.
The air crackled between them. Hunter versus hunter. There was something else in the air. No longer the scent of violence, it was headier, muskier, it dripped off him. Desire. Anyone else and Helena wouldn't have cared. Only this guy was different. This time, she was scared. She'd faced opponents she couldn't defeat before. But, there was always an escape plan, a way out. She'd gone into this alone. Left the transceiver at the hotel. Slipped out while Barbara slept, even easier considering tonight they slept alone.
It was impulsive. It was stupid. Now, Helena was alone. With no where to turn and no one to back her up.
Another backhand and Helena's head began to spin. Along with her body which rolled with the punch. Only, there was no where to go. She smacked into a wall, back pressed against it. He was on her. Hand wrapped around her throat, she could feel him lifting her off the ground. His hands were amazingly large. With one, he wrapped it completely around her throat, squeezed tightly. She could feel her throat collapsing. Gasped hard for air.
Instinctively, her hands shot out, wrapped around his neck. If she was going to die, then dammit, so was he. His hood fell off, exposed his face to the light. Blonde hair, caked with dirt and mud, fell onto his shoulders. He appeared perfectly normal. Like he'd fit perfectly in Opal with his corn husk hair square set face.
It was the eyes that gave him away. They were black as coal, no pupils or iris, completely black. If eyes were the windows to the soul, his were a mirror to something darker. Evil. Then, they changed color, went from black to deep red. Glowed from the sockets.
Back to the wall, feet off the ground, he pressed himself against her. Her arms strained. Muscles screamed as he elbows bent. She could feel his nose close to her neck, inhaling her scent. He sniffed around her. Pressed his body closer. Something twitched hard in her stomach as she felt him against her, felt the hardness between his legs. At that moment, Helena realized, he wasn't searching for a victim. He'd been looking for a mate. Someone worthy of him. He'd found it.
Helena struggled, twisted and writhed her body. Anything to not feel him against her. He squeezed his hand harder, tightened his grip and she could see stars flying around in her vision. A little tighter and she'd suffocate. His breathing turned ragged. She could feel his heart racing under his chest. Despite the barrier of clothing between them, he began thrusting his hips, rubbing himself against her.
His grip loosened. Not a lot, but enough. Helena sucked in a large breath of air. With that breath, she drew strength. Took her hands from his neck, brought them to his face. With everything left she had to give, Helena dug her thumbs into his sockets. A howl erupted from his throat. He released his grip. Helena didn't know if that was a good thing or not, but she could breathe. Then, she felt the fists, pounding against her face. Hard. One after the other, the stars became constellations and blackness pooled in her peripheral. Enough space between them, she pulled up her legs and kicked him away. He staggered backwards, hands to his face, howling.
Helena fell to the ground, still gasping for air. She scooted away from him. Just needed the time to get her legs. To run. It wasn't enough. He pounced on her again, delivered a blow that took the last of her energy away.
He stood over her, one leg on either side of her waist. She peered up at him through the haze. A smile crossed his lips. Helena knew, if she lived through this, that smile would be with her for the rest of her life. Death seemed like the better option.
Slowly, he dropped to his knees, smiling. Helena, arms feeling like lead weights, swung at him uselessly. He grabbed her by the wrist, grabbed them both in his meaty hand, pulling her arms above her head. Pinned her to the ground. He leaned in low, sniffing around her. The desire crackled around him. She felt his other hand between them, the unmistakable sound of hand unbuckling belt.
The hood on his jacket exploded. It took them both a moment to realize it was gunfire. He reared back on his heels, another shot pushed him back, off Helena. He howled as another shot hit him square in the chest. In an instant, he bounded off into the darkness. More gunfire followed him into the dark.
"Jesus Christ." Sheriff Devil raced to Helena. He kneeled next to her. "I'm taking you to the hospital."
"No," Helena hissed through clenched teeth. Helena never thought in a million years she'd be so happy to see someone from the police. "Get me to Barbara. Now!"
"Why aren't you in the hospital?" Sheriff Devlin paced wildly. He couldn't believe he'd allowed the brunette to convince him into this. The moment the two walked through the door, Helena's arm draped over his shoulder (she refused to be carried), they swarmed around her. A certain surrealness about the scene. They moved in precision, Barbara applying the bandages. She'd call for something, the older gentlemen handed it to her. Made the occasional suggestion or statement. Dinah flitted about them, provided them with the extra materials when called.
And Sheriff Devlin. He just stood. Wallowed in his impotence. All he could do was pace, and seethe.
"Hell!" He barked unable to contain himself. "Tell me why I shouldn't throw your ass in jail?"
"Because," Barbara hissed. "You do and I'll sue your ass. It's YOUR fault. You knew the risk and you said NOTHING. Hid behind your curfew laws, and your.." Barbara trailed off, contained her anger.
Carl flinched at the accusation. "I did what I thought was best."
"Except Helena's paying the price."
Helena reached out, placed her hand softly onto Barbara's arm. It was meant to be calming, consolatory. A return of the calming physical touch Barbara constantly used on her. There'd be no calming this time. The touch not enough. She could see the rage in Barbara's eyes, boiling hot.
"How did.." Helena coughed through her bruised throat. "How did you know?"
"A knock down drag out fight at 3 o'clock in the morning. People have a tendency to notice those kinds of things."
Helena snorted a laugh. Followed quickly by a wince of pain.
"Why is this happening?" Dinah asked. She sat down on the coffee table, a stack of blankets in her hands. Her shoulders sagged, resigned, defeated.
"Yeah, Sheriff," Barbara spat. "Why is this happening?"
"You know I can't tell you."
"Dammit, Miss Gordon, you know I can't tell you. You're civilians, not cops."
"And you should know by now, we're way more than that. And there's a fine line between can't and won't."
Carl sighed. Ran a nervous hand over his head. He eyed the stack of papers by Barbara's computer. Saw the various missing person photos tacked to the wall. He pointed towards them. "You wanna know what's going on. I suggest you dig a little deeper. I can't tell you what's going on. Doesn't mean no one else can."
Carl placed his hat back onto his head, tipped the brim and walked out the door.
Barbara sighed. Her head began to throb. They looked at her. Stared with that look in their eyes. Like somehow the answers were supposed to magically pour from her lips. She hated being the one who had to do all the thinking, the one EXPECTED to do all the thinking. It was who she was, what she did. But, did it have to be right now?
"Could you leave us alone for a minute?"
"Is she going to be okay?" Dinah asked.
"I'm fine." Helena gritted. "Besides, I've been through worse. Right Barbara."
"Yeah, right." She lied for them both. Seven years she'd known this woman. Had seen Helena get her ass served on a platter more than once. Most of the time, it had been minor. Almost deliberate. Whether out of curiosity, inexperience, guilt, a masochistic streak a mile wide, Helena went into scraps and lost. Came home battered and bruised, but ultimately, no worse for wear. Barbara often thought of it as a perverse form of foreplay. A way to increase the building intimacy between them as she bandaged Helena's wounds and kissed the bruises.
This was different. This Helena was almost unrecognizable. Her face cut and bruised. A swollen lump formed under her left eye. Her entire body seemed to be one giant bruise. An angry red band circled her neck where his hand had been. She counted three cracked ribs in her examination, possibly one more she'd missed.
But the worst part was Helena's eyes. Those soulful beautiful eyes. She'd seen loss, grief, anger, all the emotions across the board. But, she'd never seen defeat. Even when Helena lost, there was always a glimmer of defiance in her eyes. The wheels still turning, still looking for some advantage. There's a difference between defeat and loss that's more than a case of semantics. Helena looked defeated.
"Barbara, say something."
Barbara turned her head. She couldn't look anymore. "You knew didn't you? When you came to me earlier, practically begged me to make love. You.."
"I knew if I killed him it would be over between us. I just wanted.."
"One last roll in the sack before you died." She wanted to scream. To pound her fists against Helena's thick skull until all the stupidity fell out.
"No," Helena sighed. "I just.. couldn't.. not without you."
"And I can?" Barbara wanted to hate her. For being stupid, and selfish, and a thousand other things. She wanted to reach out and throttle the woman.
Helena reached out her hand, cupped Barbara's chin. Barbara could feel the soft thumb tracing her lips. Something in her screamed 'no'. Told her to be angry, attempted to fan the rage. She couldn't. Barbara leaned into the touch. Couldn't help thinking how close she came to never feeling Helena's touch again. Never see those beautiful blue eyes. She tried to pull away from the soft touch searing her skin. Resigned herself to the fact that she never could, and never will. That she'd rather burn in Hell to be with Helena than live alone in Heaven.
"Damn you Helena Kyle."
Helena leaned into Barbara. Brushed her lips against the redhead's. Nuzzled against the soft skin. The manner almost subservient.
Simultaneously, she asked and pushed. It had a tendency to overwhelm her, how much she needed Barbara. A need so deep it made her soul ache. Right now, she needed Barbara, needed to feel her next to her. To know she was alive. To know she was okay. Even as reason and logic told her she wasn't.
Barbara whimpered slightly, arms pulled Helena into her. Helena shifted Barbara's legs, pulled them onto the couch until their bodies molded against each other and the world seemed to disappear. Like it always did when they were together.
It all looked the same. Dinah poured over the continuous printouts of police reports, newspaper clippings, until her head span and her eyes lost focus. As much as she liked playing the pupil to Barbara's teacher, she hated this part of being a super hero. It wasn't like patrolling. Where her body lay in wait relaxed ready to spring into action at a moment's notice. Or the fighting, where her heart hammered and her lungs ached.
Or maybe she hated this because she felt so worthless. Dinah couldn't make heads or tails of the material. Knew it was important, that the key to finding her brother lay in the endless piles of information but she was too dense to make heads or tails of it all.
And they never seemed to end. One report would print, then another, and another. They went back years. Before Dinah was born, before her parents had been born. A continuous string of face after face. People who had names, families, hopes and dreams stared at her. All gone. Until the only thing of their entire existence that remained, a black and white photo on a piece of paper.
"This is useless. It's all the same." She tossed the papers onto the desk. Flopped back onto her chair. "I should be out with the search teams or something."
"Nothing's stopping you." The words fell brusquely from Barbara's lips, fingers never slowing as she tapped her keyboard. Dinah had that feeling again. Where the weight of the world seemed to drop instantaneously on her shoulders. All of it a ten ton boulder called guilt.
"Dinah." Barbara sighed, pulled off her glasses. "Come here."
The girl rose from her chair. A solemn look on her face. The type a wounded animal has when it expects to be beaten by its master. Barbara had seen that look one too many times on the girl's face. She clasped her hand around Dinah's.
"Am I pissed at you? Yes, yes I am. But, I'm not going to ship you off to some anonymous boarding school or leave you with the Redmonds when this is all over with just because I'm mad at you. You're part of my.. our family. I'm not sure how many times I have to say it before you believe me."
Dinah stared down at her shoes. Barbara's shoes. The hand wrapped around her own. Anything but the green eyes boring onto her own. She wondered if she were genetically predisposed to feel guilty. Because she did. Guilty for falling into a family who loved her unconditionally no matter how many times she screwed it up. Even to the detriment of their own relationship. Then the guilt piled on even more because it made her happy. For once, she felt safe, loved, protected. A family of her own, who treated and accepted her for who she is.
"Dinah." Barbara squeezed her hand, shaking the girl from her thoughts. "How many times?"
"Five more times?" She stated/asked sheepishly.
"Okay, five more times. And Dinah, do me a favor, stop looking so goddamn guilty all the time."
"But I am guilty." She glanced over at a sleeping Helena. "When she said she'd kill him for me. I didn't think. Just accepted it because that's what I wanted. Didn't realize the repercussions until later. I should have said something."
"Yes, you should have but it wouldn't have changed anything. Listen, there are certain inevitability's in my relationship with Helena. Things, consciously or subconsciously, we both knew would come to a head. It's like we're both too alike and too different at the same time. Helena has always been casual towards the 'no killing' rule. I always knew there would be a time when it would be a conscious decision. I just never expected it to be premeditated on her part."
"Does it change anything?"
"Honestly, I don't know. I just know I love her and the thought of being without her is too terrifying to contemplate. Now or ever."
A hushed silence fell over both of them. Dinah chewed on her lip slightly, lost in thought. She knew Barbara and Helena's relationship was far from perfect. If there was an inevitability that the two would break up, there was also another one. These two were meant to be together. She sighed. Her head began to throb again. Things were getting way too complicated, way too quickly.
"How's she doing?"
"Sleeping the sleep of the morphine drip. Some super heroes get all the luck." She handed another stack to Dinah. "Now get to reading."
"Argh! How's going through these papers going to help? Why are we doing this?"
"We're doing this because we need to know what we're up against. I've already sent a sample of the guy's blood to Bludhaven for analysis.."
Dinah's ears perked up. "You think we'll need Nightwing?" She'd met a couple minor players in the super hero game. Meeting another of Bruce's protégé's was something all together different. He was one of the major leaguers.
"Not really." Barbara shrugged.
"Got beat seven ways to Sunday? Sure, but because she went out there without a plan, without her comm set and without backup. We're a team. I need her and she needs me. And we can't do this without you." The girl beamed. "Now quit stalling."
Dinah rolled her eyes. Took the stack of papers handed to her then flopped back onto her seat.
Barbara sighed and turned back to her computer. Dinah had been right, this seemed pointless. As evasive as Carl Devlin could be, she couldn't help but feel he'd been pointing her somewhere. It lay in the stacks of files building on her desk. She clicked onto another file. Her eyes went wide as she read the headline displayed on her screen. An excited gasp escaped her throat. She grabbed her glasses, slipped them back onto her face.
"What is it?"
"I think you should see this."
Dinah rose from her chair. She stared at the computer screen, read and reread the information displayed. As if her brain couldn't quite process the information before her.
"Oh my God."
Alfred hustled into the room. "Miss Dinah, you have a phone call. It's your foster mother."
Something twisted in Dinah's gut. Things had been going to well. She should have known it wouldn't be for long. She trudged towards the phone, gingerly picked up the receiver. "Hello?"
Barbara watched and waited. Her fingers gripped the armrests on her chair. The girl's face seemed to pale, the blood drained from her body. "Dinah?"
"That was my Mom." She wrapped her arms around her body. "They found a body."
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