|Mon, 6 Dec 1999|
Interlude in Bludhaven 1/3
DC fic! Yes, finally that Nightwing/Huntress fic I've been talking about for so long is here.
Notes: I first met Huntress in the Nightwing/Huntress mini-series and I fell instantly and passionately in love with the character (in a girl-to-girl, not-at-all-sexual way). She was damaged and hurting and had ragged moral edges but was a woman who tried very hard to do what she thought was right. This is that Huntress - not the strangely psychotic bimbo who has turned up in Nightwing occasionally and I don't follow the Bat-books otherwise so I have no idea what she's like there.
Warning: This is the adult version of this relationship. Smut happens (though not described in any great detail) and there is bad language.
Continuity: Between the Nightwing/Huntress mini-series and her first appearance in Nightwing. Before the Gotham quake, before she tried to be Batgirl, before Dick became a cadet - he still works in the cop bar at this point.
Dedication: This story is dedicated to Maelstrom. For writing such very nice feedback and for hinting so very gently that she wanted to read this story. And for being a damned talented author in her own right!
Disclaimer: DC and those who sail in her own nearly all of the characters named herein. I own the odd other one. LA Confidential (and I'll just say at this point - hot damn, that movie was good!) is owned by Warner Brothers and James Ellroy. The Usual Suspects is owned by various people but I'm going for Gramercy Pictures and Columbia Tristar as my best bets in a disclaimer. I won't make a profit and I'm certainly not worth the cost of a retainer for a corporate lawyer.
Interlude in Bludhaven
Dick Grayson crouched lightly on his haunches in the shadow of the fire-escape, his costume blending with the dark of night, his breathing soft and shallow. He knew he couldn't be seen from the darkened warehouse that lay across the road but still he took no chances.
A soft ripple curved beneath his armour as he alternately tightened and loosened muscles to ensure that they would be supple when he had to spring into action. His eyes moved constantly behind his mask, quartering each approach to the warehouse, drawn to each movement however slight, restlessly awaiting the arrival of the owner and whatever henchmen would be there tonight. Nightwing fitted perfectly into the spaces in the dark, his body utterly there, completely ready to be used a weapon when necessary.
His mind was somewhere else entirely.
'I need to join a club,' he thought. 'Somewhere I can try and work out exactly why I hang around on rooftops at midnight. Superheroes Anonymous. Hello, I'm Nightwing and I'm a superhero. I can't tell you my real name - but you're all superheroes, you all have secret identities, you know how it goes. I find myself hanging out on rooftops a lot after dark. It was an addiction that started when I was young - barely into double digits. Course I was a protigi - and a prodigy. There wasn't anyone better than me at hanging out on rooftops by the time I hit my teens. My parents were dead - isn't it always the story? Except for those of you whose parents are superheroes or criminals or demons or don't actually exist.'
He had been trained well - trained since birth by his parents in control over body and mind, honed further by the Batman, turned into a perfect acrobat, a crime-fighting machine. While his mind wandered off into whimsical fancies, Nightwing's eyes continued to quarter the scene below him and his body remained poised and ready for instant movement.
'Had a mentor - then I hit the rebellious teens, had a fight - we parted ways. We're reconciled now but I figure mentor angst is part of being a superhero. Changed my codename, gone through a few girlfriends, had the celebrant incinerated by an enraged demonic ex-team-mate at my attempted wedding to an alien, was brain-washed by the Brotherhood of Blood, sham-married a suspected murderess, was attacked by the Hive, you know, the usual. Anyway, I'm here for the support offered by this organisation, the support needed by those of us who can't come down from the rooftops.'
He caught the motion from the corner of his eye, turned his head to catch a movement in the shadows of the roof of the warehouse. Whimsy dropped from his mind and he pulled a gripline from his utility belt, swiftly preparing it for use. His eyes bored into the shadow, the enhancements in his mask revealing a shape, a human figure crouched low and tense, a cape, a costume in purple and black . . .
'What in the hell is *she* doing here?' Then his gripline was swinging up and free and he fell into the perfect moment of flight - released into motion, the joyous sweep of his body into the arc where gravity looked away for just one moment, left him weightless, massless, at one with the universe, and then down and down, dropping lightly onto the warehouse roof. She heard him land, as he knew she would, and turned to him, her face snarling, her cross-bow raised high and steady at his throat.
'Oh, it's you,' she said, and her hand dropped back to her side. 'Should have realised you'd be here.'
'Huntress,' he said, lightly.
'Nightwing,' she returned, and the frown didn't quite leave her face.
'This is my territory, Huntress,' he said. 'You don't have to make it look like I'm muscling in on yours.'
She turned away from him, drifted back into the shadows. 'Why are you here, Nightwing?' she asked.
He sighed lightly, crouched down into the shadows next to her, kept his voice low. 'I got a tip-off,' he said. 'Found out there was a warehouse going to be used for storage for a bunch of stolen goods. Looks like it's the proceeds of a set of hi-jackings from interstate trucks. I did a bit of detective work and it seems that tonight's going to be the night they bring the goods in.'
'Do you know who's bringing them in?' asked Huntress.
'No,' admitted Nightwing, his tone rueful. 'All I know is that it's organised crime.'
'Mafia, actually,' said Huntress. '*My* territory.'
Dick decided that he wasn't going to get into a cross-jurisdictional argument. 'Who is it?' he asked mildly.
Huntress shrugged slightly, turned her face to his. 'Not sure exactly. He belongs to one of the old Families, but he's not part of them any more. There's a few younger sons out there that aren't happy when they're not the heir to the family fortune. Being unhappy makes you stupid - most of them are dead or disappeared before they can get too depressed about the whole thing. It seems as if one of the ones that had disappeared has resurfaced - and he's decided to start a whole new branch of the Mafia with his headquarters in Bludhaven. I guess that makes him the black sheep of the Family.' Her grin was a flash of white teeth in the dark.
'So has he got a name, this black sheep?' asked Nightwing.
'Not a real one,' replied Huntress. 'Not that I've been able to find. He calls himself Rollo Tomasi.'
'Rollo Tomasi.' Dick rolled the name around in his head for a moment and then groaned. 'As in the non-existent villain in LA Confidential Rollo Tomasi?'
'As in,' confirmed Huntress.
'Original,' said Dick, ironically.
'He's hidden his tracks well,' said Huntress. 'I'm not the second-greatest detective ever,' she flashed Nightwing a sly, sidelong glance and he couldn't help the smile that twitched at the corners of his mouth, 'but I'm pretty good at knowing my Mafia dons. I can't find anything on this one.'
'Maybe he is a non-existent villain,' said Nightwing. 'There hasn't been any activity here tonight - maybe he really doesn't exist.'
'I wish,' said Huntress softly, swirling her cape tightly around her - a swift, unexpected movement. 'He's real, Nightwing. He's dangerous, too. He's done some things up in Gotham since he emerged - I don't like the old dons but what he's done to some of them . . . what he's done to their women-folk . . .' She trailed off.
'That bad, huh?' asked Nightwing, sympathetically.
'Worse,' she replied simply.
'So what brings him here?' Nightwing asked.
Huntress shrugged. 'Batman started keeping a close eye on him, took down a few of his lesser players. Then I managed to track him down,' she smiled suddenly, 'and it appears I was a person he didn't like meeting in a dark alley. I suspect he thinks Bludhaven might be an easier target.'
'Great,' grumbled Nightwing softly. 'Why don't you keep on making me feel good about myself? I *thought* I was getting a reputation for cleaning up this town.'
'You have,' replied Huntress. 'Bludhaven is a cesspit, Nightwing. Gotham is a law-abiding, gentle little town by comparison. At least the cops are generally on the right side in Gotham. A Mafia boy trying to make a name for himself finds police corruption a rather tempting carrot. It seems your reputation wasn't enough to keep Tomasi away.'
'I just love it when you stroke my ego like that,' said Nightwing.
Huntress flashed him another sidelong glance. 'I'm not that good at stroking egos,' she said softly, and her glance suddenly reminded him of what she was good at stroking. His breath caught in his chest and he let it out raggedly.
'So how have you been, Helena?' he asked gently.
'Lonely,' she said, and she didn't try and soften the starkness of the word. 'Over-worked. Underpaid. Under-appreciated. Playing my dangerous games. The usual.'
He didn't quite know whether to take her seriously or not, so he took the coward's option and changed the subject. 'Do you think Tomasi is coming tonight?' he asked. 'I was told he'd be here before midnight and it's getting close to one am.'
She turned to him and her mouth opened, but her words were lost in the explosion that ripped from the building across the street. For a moment, she was emblazoned across the sky in front of him, outlined in vivid orange, her face a sudden snarl of outrage and then she was hurtling at him, lifted by shock-waves into an arching tumble of limbs and he only just caught at her hand as she was flung by him. He felt his body lift and fly outwards, strained by the effort of holding her and then his gripline was out and swinging and they tumbled down the side of the building, under the ferocious blast of air, and he felt the gripline catch and hold his momentum. More gently than he would have thought possible, he swung them down to the fire-escape and they shuddered to a stop.
His arm was wrapped tightly around her waist and her body was pressed close to his. She was screaming words into his ear and he was fairly certain they were swear-words but he couldn't be sure over the ringing in his ears. He gestured with his free hand and she caught his meaning - she stopped talking but her face was set in a ferocious scowl and he could feel the rapid beating of her heart against his chest, the ragged rise and fall of her ribs as she gulped in air.
Nightwing shook his head a few times, tapped his hand against his ears until the ringing subsided somewhat. 'Was that him?' he said and knew, with a wince, that he was yelling.
Helena barely heard him over the ringing in her own ears. 'No,' she half-screamed. 'Not his style. Rival, maybe. Accident, maybe.'
'Don't think he'll do the delivery now,' said Nightwing as the sound of sirens pierced the air.
Huntress shook her head. 'Too many people around,' she said. 'Cops, firemen. He won't risk it.'
They both caught the sound at the same time, looked down between their feet, through the grill of the fire-escape. A police car had slewed to a halt beside the building, siren wailing and, as they watched, a cop hung out of the passenger door, shouted up at them. And then his gun was out and the first bullet whizzed by the escape.
'Shit,' said Nightwing, and clutched at Helena's hand, pulling her to him again as he swung up onto the gripline, using momentum to flip him back onto the roof and then they were fleeing the increasing clamour of sirens and strobing lights, using the rooftops to fling them heedlessly into the safety of the night.
He didn't take her back to the apartment at Clancy's - she still didn't know his real name and he wasn't going to give her a chance to work it out. Instead they tumbled through the window into a place that was his but had such a convoluted trail of false names and dead-end companies attached to it that only Oracle would be able to trace it back to him.
'Nice,' said Helena, dusting herself down. He grinned over his shoulder at her. She wasn't an acrobat in his own league but she had kept up with him all the way there - Dick was willing to be impressed.
'I think so,' he said. 'Just my little home away from home.' There was little furniture on view, only a dilapidated lounge and a glimpse of a bed in the next room but the security systems installed were top of the line.
'So what the hell happened tonight, Nightwing?' Huntress asked, pacing the floor rapidly with the excess of energy left from their adrenalin-surging run across the roof-tops.
'I was just about to ask you that,' he said. 'My tip-off was just for a shipment of goods - not half of Bludhaven being blown to pieces. Do you think someone might have been trying to take Tomasi down?'
'I don't know the villains here,' replied Huntress, her hands curling and uncurling into fists. 'That's your department. You told me this was your town, Nightwing. Who'd do this?'
'Half a dozen people,' he replied. 'And they're just the ones I can think of off the top of my head. Probably dozens more. It may not even be connected to Tomasi - buildings exploding isn't as unusual as, strictly speaking, it should be.'
'Maybe the person who tipped you off was setting you up,' snarled Huntress. 'What better way to get rid of the town's only superhero?'
'No,' he caught her hand, turned her around to face him. He couldn't tell her that his tip came from a policeman in a cop bar - couldn't tell her that his job as a barman meant they had no way of knowing it would set Nightwing up. 'It wasn't a set-up,' he said softly.
Dark eyes flashed up at him, hand drew sharply back, tried to pull from his. Her mouth curled up, softened, filled his vision. It looked so soft suddenly, so inviting - and then it was soft beneath his, soft as fever-dreams and madness, and his senses filled with her - the taste of her, the smell of her, the touch of her hands sliding upon his back, the soft moan in her throat as she clung to him, the kiss deeper and deeper, more urgent - reaction and relief and the knowledge that death had been cheated drove passion through their veins until it thrummed like madness in his mind.
He tore his mouth from hers finally, ignored her inarticulate sound of disappointment, slid his hands beneath her legs and carried her into the bedroom. She clung to him, her hair hiding her face, but her hands hungry as they roamed across his body. He put her down next to the bed and she swayed almost drunkenly towards him, her mouth savouring his.
'Helena,' he moaned and then his hands reached for his utility belt, unsealed a compartment, took something out. Huntress looked down at the foil-covered packet in his hand and laughed suddenly. 'A condom in your utility belt?' she asked, one eyebrow arched in amusement. 'Did Batman teach you that?'
He didn't feel the need to explain to her that he normally used them to seal evidence, transport it back to his rooms for analysis. 'No,' he said, instead, and then kissed her so thoroughly that when he raised his head she was panting. 'He didn't teach me how to do that either.'
'I'm glad, I'm glad,' she moaned and then his mouth was sliding down her neck, beneath the heavy, dark fall of her hair and he could feel her knees tremble. 'This is madness,' she said, softly.
'I know,' replied Nightwing, his skin shuddering as her hand slid behind him, found the clasp of his costume, released it, slid coolness across his burning flesh. 'Complete insanity.'
'Stupidity,' she panted as his hands freed her costume's bindings and released it, as his mouth left lingering trails of heat across her breasts.
'Foolishness,' he whispered into the soft skin above her collarbone as her hands descended lower, drifted lazily across urgent flesh, burned him with the trembling need they both felt.
Costumes whispered down, fell softly into darkness as the heat between them rose, spiralled higher, as her knees buckled and she pulled him down onto the bed next to her, onto her, inside of her. He kissed her and she kissed him back harder and he felt the rub of their masks upon each other, forgotten, left on.
'Fucking in the dark with our masks on,' thought Dick. 'Hello sexual perversion, my name is Dick Grayson, it's a pleasure to meet you.' And then Helena's arms reached up and wrapped around him and dragged his mouth down to meet hers again and he stopped thinking about anything else at all.
He reached out in half-sleep, found the bed empty, frowned and then wondered why he frowned. Memory returned and he woke fully, stared in consternation at the empty space beside him.
'Morning, lover,' came a cool voice from the bedroom door and he looked up to see Huntress, fully-costumed, standing there.
'Helena,' said Dick. 'You're up early.'
'Some of us have work to do,' she said, and he barely caught the sly flicker of a grin on her face, the unexpected humour that sparked in her eyes.
'I thought school was out,' replied Dick, stretching out a hand, inviting her back in to bed.
She ignored the invitation. 'School is play,' she said. 'Being Huntress is my real work. And Huntress has work to do.'
'Then wait for me,' said Dick. 'Let me get ready. We can start working on this together.'
She grinned, her eyes flickering downwards in something between modesty and mockery. 'It's not that I'm not flattered, Boy Wonder,' she said and there was so much innuendo in those two words that Dick found himself blushing. 'But I'm sure you've got some detective work to do. Apparently I'm not much good at that - I'm going to go and beat up some thugs instead. See if I can get the information that way.'
'Huntress,' said Dick, helplessly. 'Helena,' but she was already gone, the curtain stirring gently in the breeze of her passing. He cursed for a moment, and then threw back the covers and prepared to face another day.
'So the police reports confirm it,' said Nightwing. 'Modified Semtex.'
Oracle nodded, her face closely framed by the confines of the lap-top monitor. 'I've got the analysis reports from the lab. Modified for increased power - high-level science. Someone had a lot of money to play with, to buy that on the black market. There's a few different distribution outlets - I'll back-track them for you, see what I can come up with.'
'Thanks, Babs.' Dick grinned at the screen, had the smile returned. 'It looks like I need as many leads as I can get on this one. I'm not hearing anything back from my contacts, so it doesn't look like it was a local villain.'
'Have you got any clues?' asked Barbara.
'Maybe,' replied Nightwing, rubbing his eyes gently. 'Have you heard of a Rollo Tomasi?' he asked.
'As in the villain in LA Confidential or as in the new bad-boy in Gotham?' asked Oracle.
'New bad-boy in Gotham,' said Dick. 'I was staking out a warehouse across the road from the explosion - I had a tip-off that stolen goods were going to be stored there. There doesn't seem to be any other reason for the building being blown up - I was wondering if it tied in with the stolen goods. I was told Rollo Tomasi was the one who was responsible for the stolen goods.'
Barbara frowned, pinched at her lip. 'I didn't think he'd leave Gotham,' she said. 'He's been putting a lot of effort into setting up shop here - I would have thought he'd leave Bludhaven alone until he had a secure power-base. Interesting.' She looked back at Dick. 'Be careful,' she warned. 'He's Mafia. You'll have Huntress on your patch before you know it.'
He couldn't help the faint blush that spread across his features. 'She already is,' he said. 'She's the one who told me about Tomasi.'
'Oh,' said Barbara faintly.
'She was on the warehouse roof last night,' said Dick and defensiveness crept into his tone. 'We had to run away after the explosion - there were too many cops around. I had to take her back to my apartment . . .' He trailed off uncertainly.
'So you and Huntress did it again,' said Barbara, her mouth a prim little line of disapproval.
Dick shrugged uncomfortably. 'It just - kind of happened,' he said. 'God, that's got to be the lamest excuse I've ever used. True, though.'
'I thought Bruce would have taught you how to control those urges,' said Barbara.
Dick looked at her on the monitor in astonishment and then laughed. 'Bruce?' he said incredulously. 'Bruce 'I think I'm in love with Catwoman' Wayne trying to teach me how to control myself? Oracle, think about what you just said.'
She winced. 'It was a little silly, wasn't it?' she said and then added sharply, 'But you don't have to be so quick to agree,' as Dick nodded enthusiastically. She sighed and settled into her chair. 'How serious is it between you and Helena?' she asked.
Dick ran his fingers through his hair. 'I don't know,' he confessed. 'I just - it just happened, Babs. I don't know what it means.'
The look she gave him was piercing. 'How about if I put it this way - what if it came down to a choice between saving my life and saving hers?' she asked.
Dick frowned at the monitor for a second and then laughed again. 'That's not a choice at all, Babs. You know what the answer is - I don't even know why you'd ask the question.'
'Because I'm not the one you're fucking,' snapped Barbara. She stared at his shocked face on the monitor for a moment and suddenly bit her lip. 'Did I say that out loud?' she asked, tentatively.
Dick nodded, his eyes wild. 'Do you want me to say anything about it?' he asked, his voice strained. 'Or should I just pretend I never heard it?'
'Pretend you never heard it,' responded Barbara quickly. 'For goodness sake, pretend I never said a thing.'
'So you'll track down those distribution outlets for me?' asked Dick, his voice unnaturally high.
'No problems there, Nightwing,' replied Oracle. 'I'll keep you updated. And I'll see what I can get you on Tomasi.'
'That'd be great, Babs,' said Dick. 'Talk to you later then.'
'Yep, fine,' replied Babs and had the monitor switched off in record time.
Nightwing stared at the blank monitor for a while and then buried his face in his hands and wondered whether he should laugh or cry.
She was waiting for him on a rooftop as he knew she would be. Her cape fluttered in front of her as he rode his gripline in beside her, settled lightly at her side.
'How did you go, Huntress?' Dick asked, his voice strangely gentle.
'How did you go?' she returned. Her body was tense beneath her cape.
'It was deliberate sabotage,' said Nightwing. 'Semtex. Modified. No-one local is taking credit - it looks like it was aimed at Tomasi.'
Huntress nodded, remained silent.
'What happened with you?' prompted Dick.
'I found one of his lackeys,' she said quietly. 'Threatened him some.'
'And they're more scared of what he'll do to them than what I'll do to them. I let him go in the end.' Her voice was strained, unhappy.
'Helena,' said Dick, quietly, reached out a hand, withdrew it before it could touch her. 'About last night . . .'
'Last night didn't mean anything,' said Huntress.
'Didn't mean anything?' Dick was astonished. 'After what happened, what we did, it didn't mean anything? I don't know what you felt, Helena, but it certainly meant something to me.'
'Yes,' said Huntress, and her smile was utterly humourless. 'Meant so much to you that you won't even tell me your name.'
Nightwing opened his mouth, found nothing he could say, closed it again.
'I understand,' said Huntress. 'You've got a family, your cosy little Bat-family and you'll do anything you can to protect them. I do understand that.' Her voice was cold and hard, with no cracks that would let him in on her feelings. 'I don't have a family, Nightwing - there's no-one left. Being with you - I get a glimpse of what it's like on the inside. Just enough. Enough to remind me what it feels like to be part of something. Enough to remind me how alone I really am.'
'Helena,' Dick said softly. 'If there was any way . . .'
'But there's not,' she interrupted harshly. 'You've made that clear. Batman's made that clear. I'm an outsider, Nightwing. I always will be.'
He reached out for her again, stopped himself again, felt the frustration grow inside of him.
'So what are you going to do about Tomasi?' asked Helena and her voice was flat, emotionless.
'He's obviously got enemies,' said Nightwing, letting go of what he wanted to say. 'Enemies here in Bludhaven by the looks of it. I'll get onto my contacts, see if they can find a lead. And I've got Oracle looking into the Semtex distribution and seeing what she can come up with.'
'Oracle,' said Huntress lightly, but her mouth tightened. 'Did you tell her about us?'
'Damn,' thought Dick. 'How come I can't stop blushing today?'
She had seen the blush, knew what it meant. She turned her face away from him again. 'I'm sure she disapproved when you told her.'
'She wasn't happy,' replied Dick. There didn't seem a lot of point in concealing that.
'Well, you can tell her it doesn't mean anything,' said Huntress, her voice tightly controlled.
'I get lonely, too, Helena,' said Dick softly. 'Sometimes I think I'm the only one on my side in this town. When you're here - after last night - maybe neither of us is quite so lonely any more. Can't it mean that much?'
But he was speaking only to the empty space where she had been.
He had left the window of the apartment open, hoping that she would come back there. But the night was three-quarters done and he was asleep when he was woken by the soft shush of her body coming in. He lay still in the bed as he listened to her walk into the bedroom, hesitate at the door and then creep quietly forward. He felt the weight of her settle on the side of the bed, felt her hand reach out blindly, touch his shoulder.
'Nightwing?' she asked, and he reached out with the covers, made space for her so she could curl herself beside him. He clasped himself around her, surprised to find her wet and cold, her fine muscles trembling against his skin. He held her tightly until the trembling ceased, soothed wet hair from her face, looked into eyes that held hints of terrifying loneliness and pain.
She leaned forward, then, leaned into his embrace, drifted her mouth down onto his as gently as snow-flakes - and just as cold. Hunger caught within him, drove fire into his veins and she met and matched that hunger.
It was a long dark night and cold, but together they kindled warmth enough to keep the demons away.
He was woken by the sound of his monitor buzzing, was surprised to find himself curled around the warm length of someone else's body, delighted when memory came back. He kissed Helena's neck gently, where the curve of it met her collarbone and then went to the other room to answer the call.
Oracle's face lit the screen with a smile. 'Looking good, short-pants,' she said. 'The naked look is definitely you.'
'Nice to see you, too, Babs,' he said. 'Now why are you waking me up at this time of the morning?'
'This time of the morning?' she said. 'It's ten o'clock. What's turned the redoubtable Nightwing into a slug-a-bed? I bet I can guess.'
'It's none of your business, Babs,' he said and managed not to blush. 'What have you got for me?'
'Nothing much on the Semtex or anything new on Tomasi. But I thought you might like to know that they fished the body of a James Tucker out from under Bludhaven docks this morning. Looks like a mob kill. And Mr Tucker was a known associate and flunkey of Rollo Tomasi. Might be time for a visit to the morgue.' Her grin was frankly mischievous. 'I know how much you like playing with dead bodies.'
'Yeah, well, the things I do for a clue,' grumbled Dick. 'I'd better go, Babs.'
'Take care, Dick,' she said softly. 'Don't let the bed-bugs bite.' The monitor blanked out.
'I hope I don't qualify as one of the bed-bugs,' came a voice from the bedroom door and he turned to see Helena there, draped in one of his shirts. She grinned, a sudden sharp baring of teeth. 'I like to bite,' she said.
'I noticed,' replied Dick. 'Oracle was just telling me they pulled one of Tomasi's flunkeys out from under the docks this morning. I thought we might have a look.'
'Okay,' shrugged Helena.
'She's not surprised,' thought Dick and then a horrible, sharp suspicion rose in his mind. She had come in so late last night, and she had been cold and wet - he nipped the thought off sharply, but not quickly enough to stop the flit of emotion across his face.
Huntress had no problems interpreting that emotion. 'That's what you think of me, then?' she said, and her voice was hard. 'Psycho little Huntress, taking down the bad guys, murdering them when it suits her purpose. No wonder your precious Batman won't let me in. Tell me, Nightwing, why do you take me into your bed if you think so little of me? I hope I qualify as a good fuck, at least.'
'It's not like that, Helena,' said Dick, his voice soothing. 'You - they damaged you. Just like they damaged me when my parents were killed. But you - - it's deeper than that. Somewhere down inside of you - and you won't let me in - won't let anyone in - won't tell us why it hurts so much. I think you're dangerous, Helena, but I don't think you're crazy.'
She looked at him suspiciously but the sincerity in his dark blue eyes was obvious. 'Do you think I murdered that man?' she asked.
Nightwing looked at her, thought of the last case they had worked together, made his decision. 'No,' he said. 'You didn't do it.'
'You're right,' she said. 'I was cold and I was wet because I got chased by a bunch of Tomasi's goons and I had to spend half the night hiding in a drainage pipe. Not because I was dumping dead guys off the docks.'
'I believe you,' said Dick quietly.
'I know,' she replied. 'But when are you ever going to trust me?'
He slid the drawer out quietly, careful not to make too much noise. Lifting the sheet carefully, Nightwing winced as the sight of the abused body of James Tucker.
'Jimmy Tucker,' said Huntress softly. 'One of the Tucker twins.'
'Poor guy,' said Nightwing.
'He got what he deserved,' Huntress said, her voice very cold.
'No-one deserves that,' replied Nightwing.
'In your world maybe,' said Huntress. 'Not in his. Not with what he's done in the past.'
'We'd better get out of here,' said Nightwing, as the soft shuffle of approaching footprints sounded in his ear. He heaved the drawer back in and together he and Huntress fled back out into the dulling twilight.
They stopped on the rooftop. 'One of the Tucker twins?' Nightwing asked, turning to Huntress.
'There's two of them,' she replied. 'Johnny & Jimmy Tucker. They weren't related - met in high school, I believe. But they became best friends, joined in with the Frascetti family, rose through the ranks together. You couldn't separate them - that's why they were the Tucker twins.' She shrugged. 'If Jimmy Tucker had defected to Tomasi, then so did Johnny. If you want to get a lead on Tomasi, we're going to have to track down Johnny.'
'If the poor sucker hasn't been killed already,' murmured Nightwing.
'It would serve him right,' replied Huntress. 'What happened to Jimmy - he deserved it.'
'No-one deserves that,' reiterated Nightwing.
She turned a flashing gaze on his. 'You don't know what they've done,' she hissed. 'You don't know what the Tucker twins have done to people who their bosses were "offended" by. Don't tell me what they do or don't deserve.'
'Helena,' said Dick softly. 'You're not like this, Helena. I know you don't believe what you're saying . . .'
'Oh, don't I?' she interrupted. 'Not that long ago you thought I was the one who killed him. I'm Huntress, aren't I? Psycho-bitch Mob-killer.'
'No,' Dick protested. 'You're not like that. I want to work with you, Huntress. Don't make this so hard, please.'
'Make this hard on you?' she said. 'You were the one that thought I'd done *that* to him.'
'I'm sorry, Helena,' Dick said. 'I'm sorry the thought even crossed my mind. Is that why you're so angry - because you don't like the thought of anyone thinking you could torture someone to death?'
'Don't turn that psycho-analysis bullshit on me,' said Huntress in a low voice. 'You don't know why I do anything, Nightwing. You won't let me in. Don't expect me to let you in.'
'Why don't we go and see if we can find this Johnny Tucker?' said Nightwing, trying hard to defuse the situation.
'You won't be able to get what you want from him,' said Huntress. 'He's not frightened enough of you. You won't get information from him.'
'And you will?' asked Dick, his patience suddenly running out.
'Yes,' she said, turning a sharp smile on him. 'I know how to get him to talk. But you won't like it.'
'Then you're not coming along, Huntress,' said Dick, a warning tone in his voice.
'Who said I needed you?' she asked. 'I'm going to find Tucker,' she said. 'I'll get the information from him.' And then she was gone, her cape swirling behind her as she ran across the rooftop.
'Not if I get there first,' muttered Nightwing, and then he, too, swung into the gathering gloom.
'I don't care what you threaten me with, Nightwing,' said Johnny Tucker and although his voice was high and squeaked with fear, he was obviously sincere. 'I'm not selling Tomasi out.'
Nightwing looked down at the man, tied firmly to his chair, and pondered his next move. He really didn't like beating people up just to extract information and the thought of torture made him physically ill.
'You tell me where he is, Johnny,' said Nightwing, 'and I'll take you to the cops myself. Put you in a nice safe jail cell where Tomasi can't get you.'
Tucker actually laughed. 'You'd give me to the Bludhaven cops and think Tomasi couldn't get to me? You've got to be joking. You can't threaten me with anything that Tomasi wouldn't do a hundred times worse to me, Nightwing. You haven't got the balls.'
'He hasn't,' said the voice from behind them and Huntress descended down from the opened window. 'But I have.' Her smile was feral.
'Huntress,' began Dick, but she cut him off with a sharp gesture.
'You thought you couldn't be found,' she purred at Tucker. 'Thought you were safe because Nightwing found you and he doesn't get off on hurting people - not like you do, hey, Johnny? Not like you and Jimmy did. But I'm Huntress - and I know your type. I've seen what you do to people, Johnny. Seen their poor ruined little bodies. And I'm quite happy to hurt you.'
Nightwing went to protest, couldn't as Huntress walked passed him, slid her hand down Tucker's transfixed face, leaned in close enough that her mouth nearly whispered across his skin. 'I want to hurt you, Johnny,' she said.
'Please, Huntress,' begged Tucker. 'I can't tell - if Tomasi knew I sold him out . . .'
'But he will,' whispered Huntress. 'If you don't tell me exactly what's going down in Bludhaven - I'm going to find Tomasi, Tucker. I've done it before - I'll do it again. And when I've found him I'm going to tell him in great and loving detail exactly how you betrayed him. I saw what they did to Jimmy, you know, after they fished him out of the harbour. Do you want that to happen to you, Johnny? Because I'll make sure it does.' She smiled again. 'But if you tell me what I want to know - well, Tomasi won't hear a peep out of me.'
Nightwing had never seen anyone that pale and the sweat rolled down Tucker's face in sheets. 'Huntress,' said the man, hoarsely.
'Decide, Tucker,' she said.
'What - what do want to know?'
Her smile was almost gentle, but it caught Tucker's gaze like a rabbit in the headlights. 'Why is Tomasi setting up shop in Bludhaven?' she asked.
'Setting up shop?' whispered Tucker. 'He's not setting up shop. He wants Gotham in his pocket first.'
'Then why was he storing stolen goods in Bludhaven?' asked Dick.
'He wasn't,' said Tucker. 'It was a set-up. It was supposed to be an ambush.'
'An ambush?' asked Huntress. 'Who was he trying to ambush?'
'It's a war,' said Tucker. 'It's the middle of a turf war.'
'Who, Tucker?' asked Huntress again, impatiently.
'It's his brother,' said Tucker. 'His brother wants to set up in Bludhaven. Tomasi doesn't like it - he wants to take Bludhaven next. If his brother gets established in town before him it'll be harder to take it later.'
'His brother?' Huntress's raised eyebrow clearly showed her disbelief.
'They both escaped - one of the mob families. Don't know who. Been batting around together for years. Came back to Gotham. Tomasi started his little empire - his brother got greedy and wanted some. He couldn't break into Gotham so he came down here. Tomasi thought Jimmy had betrayed him to his brother - thought the ambush failing was his fault - that's why he had him killed. He's going to take his brother down, whatever it takes.'
'Whoever's in the way,' murmured Nightwing.
'So,' whispered Huntress. 'What's his brother's name?'
'I can't believe he called himself Keyser Soze,' half-shouted Dick into the night. 'Don't these two have any imagination?'
'Only of the nastier kind,' said Helena.
'Two non-existent villains,' said Dick. 'LA Confidential and The Usual Suspects. At least they've got taste in movies.'
'Hmmm,' Huntress gave a non-committal shrug. 'So what are we going to do now?' she asked.
'What we always do,' said Dick. 'Track them down, put them in jail. Stop them in their tracks.'
'Stop them in their tracks?' Helena's voice was rich with amusement. 'You think putting them in jail will stop them?'
Nightwing gave her a sharp look. 'Yes,' he said. 'They don't have to be killed to stop them, Huntress. Putting them in jail does that.'
She grinned, an utterly mirthless smile. 'God you're cute when you're naive.' She turned her gaze away from him again. 'Killing them is the only thing that stops them, Nightwing. Haven't you learnt that yet?'
'No, Helena, I haven't,' he said. 'We make choices. Hard choices. That's what being a superhero is about. It's not about being a vigilante. And unless we make the right choices then we're no better than they are.'
Helena's voice was very soft. 'They don't give you choices,' she said. 'They take away everything - your family, your life, your hope, your future. And they don't give you any choices at all.'
'Yes, they do.' He caught her chin with his hand, swung her face to his. He almost drowned in the soft luminous sheen of her eyes. 'You have to make your own choices, Helena. When they take something away from you, it's your choice as to what you do after that.'
'They took away my childhood, Nightwing,' she said and he knew that, suddenly, all of her defences were down. 'Took away my innocence. I didn't have any choice in that. I was only five and they took everything away. They broke things inside of me and I don't know how to fix them any more. Why should I give them chances that they never gave me?'
'Oh, Helena,' breathed Dick and he gathered her to him, held her as she shook within his arms. 'What happened?' he asked. 'I know about your parents, when you were nineteen. What did they do to you before?'
And she was gone, away from his arms with a wrench so sudden he couldn't stop her. Her stance was defensive and he knew from the expression on her face that he had lost whatever chance he had of learning anything tonight.
'Nothing important,' she said. 'What are we going to do about Tomasi and Soze?'
'I want to go after Tomasi,' said Nightwing, knowing not to press her now, willing to go with her change of topic. I got a lead when I was hunting for Tucker tonight. I think I know where he's going to be.'
'Good,' replied Huntress. 'Then I'll go after Soze.'
'Helena, no!' shouted Nightwing but he said it only to her disappearing back.
'Damn,' he thought and then his thoughts slowly turned to wonderment. 'Did the Huntress just reach out to *me* for comfort? Dick Grayson, Boy Wonder, I think you may be getting in way too deep here.'
'It's always roof-tops,' thought Dick. 'What is it about roof-tops? Do they have some kind of magnetic attraction for us superhero types? I must remember to ask that at the next Superheroes Anonymous meeting.'
There was a perfectly good reason for the roof-top and Nightwing knew it. He crouched beside a bank of windows, looking down into an empty warehouse where he had been told that there would be a meeting between some local gang and a "hoodlum down from Gotham" as it had been described to him.
He waited with the infinite patience Batman had taught him, subtle movements of his thigh muscles the only indication that he had been there for hours. He was just wondering whether this was going to be another wash-out, whether he should try and track down Huntress and Soze, when the door to the warehouse opened.
Eagerly he leaned forward, close enough to the windows that his breath left a mark as he whispered, 'Shit.'
A man he hadn't seen before was coming into the warehouse, surrounded by goons toting heavy firepower. And in the man's arm, struggling hard, bound and gagged, was Helena.
The man and his phalanx made their way to the centre of the warehouse, to a clear spot. The man looked up and around and then called, 'Nightwing.'
Dick jumped, startled, and then crouched down again, immobile.
'Nightwing,' the man shouted again. 'I know you're here. My name is Keyser Soze. I've got a proposition to make to you.'
Nightwing didn't respond.
The man leaned forward, wrapped his arm around Huntress, curled his hand over her breast. 'You'd better come out and play,' Soze said. 'Unless you want to watch this bitch being raped by every one of my men on the floor here. Do you understand me?'
The window-glass shattered satisfactorily beneath his gauntlets, though he wished it could have been Soze's face. 'I understand you,' said Dick, standing in the window. His voice was quiet but it carried through the warehouse.
'Good,' said Soze. 'I have a proposition to make to you.'
'So you said,' replied Dick evenly.
'I want you to leave us alone,' said Soze. 'My brother and I are just trying to transact a little business in your fair city. I want you to back off - and I want this bitch out of the city. Send her back to Gotham.'
'Huntress goes where she likes,' said Dick. 'I can't speak for her.'
'You'd better,' Soze said. 'She can't exactly speak for herself right now.' He glanced at Huntress, whose scowl was truly ferocious.
'What are you offering in return?' asked Nightwing.
'You can have her back,' said Soze. He pushed Huntress out in front of him.
'You're talking about a war,' said Nightwing. 'Not business transactions.'
'That's where you're wrong,' said a voice - charming, urbane, unruffled. All eyes swung up to the windows angled across from Nightwing - to where a be-suited figure stood, looking down on the scene. 'In our world, a war is a business transaction.'
'Rollo Tomasi, I presume,' said Nightwing.
The man half-bowed in his direction. 'Not even slightly at your service,' Tomasi said.
Soze looked up at the man silhouetted above him. 'Rollo,' he said. 'I didn't know you were planning to be here tonight.'
'Whereas I knew you were planning to be here,' replied Tomasi. 'That's why I'm the one running our business in Gotham, not you. Planning, Keyser, is the key to success.'
'So what are you planning to do?' asked Nightwing, his gaze darting nervously about. There were too many variables here, too many choices to make.
'I'm planning,' said Tomasi, reaching behind him, 'to take this very big gun,' he hefted a monstrous machine gun in front of him, 'and fire it into the crowd down there.' He frowned down at them. 'Huntress is becoming quite the nuisance in Gotham. I shall be quite happy to see her dead.'
'But Rollo,' said Soze, and his voice went up an octave. 'I'm down here, too.'
'That's quite all right, brother dear,' replied Tomasi. 'I want you dead, too.'
The next few seconds were a blur for Nightwing as Tomasi leaned his gun down and opened fire. He just had time to look down, to see Huntress, her face almost black with rage, twist her body and pull Soze forward, over her shoulder until he shielded her, sprawled atop of her as she threw herself down. And then the air was full of flying lead, smoke and haze and he could hear nothing over the chatter of the gun.
Then it was finished and he uncurled himself from the ball he had curled into, looked up into the smiling eyes of Rollo Tomasi, who saluted him. 'Pleasure doing business,' he said and then strolled away.
Nightwing debated following him for a split second, but it was never an option. Instead he used a gripline to fling himself hectically down into the warehouse, down to where the pile of bodies lay. He pulled the torn, maimed thing that had been Keyser Soze aside and nearly wept with relief at the sight of Helena's scowling face looking up at him.
He pulled the gag from her mouth, the bonds from her wrists and ankles. He tried to hug her - he could have wept with relief - but she was too angry even to stand still.
'Fucking bastard,' she hissed down at the body of Soze and gave it a kick that sent something flying to land with a meaty thunk in the dark.
'What happened?' asked Dick. 'How did Soze catch you?'
'He was expecting me,' hissed Huntress. 'Either Johnny Tucker is Tomasi's weak link or Soze was completely paranoid. I broke into his house to get him - the bastard had the biggest gun I've ever seen pointing straight at me. I didn't have a chance.'
'Did he hurt you?' asked Dick, trying hard to see if Huntress was wounded anywhere. There was blood all over her, but none of it seemed to be hers.
'No,' she said and the anger leaked out of her as if she'd been punctured. 'He wanted me as a bargaining chip. Thought it'd get you out of his hair if he used me. He knew you wouldn't cut him any slack if he'd hurt me.' She smiled suddenly, able to shrug off her near-execution with a lightness Nightwing was amazed by. 'Seems like your reputation does come in handy,' she said.
'I thought you were dead,' said Dick. 'I couldn't stand it if you'd been killed. Not on my turf, Helena. I couldn't live with it.'
She shrugged. 'I figured I'd be okay. I didn't think the costume'd cut it against that gun that Tomasi had, but I thought I'd be safe with Soze on top of me.'
'You did it deliberately?' asked Nightwing, and he couldn't help the sudden horror that crossed his face. 'You knew he'd be killed.'
'Of course I did,' replied Helena, her voice strangely rough. 'What do you think I'd do?'
'I don't know,' floundered Dick, aware he'd made a tactical error. 'I thought you might have tried to shield him, save him - bring him to justice.'
'To justice?' said Huntress and her voice was a low growl. She waved at the piled bodies on the floor. 'This *is* justice, Nightwing.'
'No, it's not,' he said. 'It just means that Rollo Tomasi has won.'
'Like I care,' snarled Huntress. 'Soze deserved to be dead.'
'He deserved to be in jail,' said Nightwing. 'Not executed by his own brother.'
'I don't fucking believe you,' said Huntress, shaking her head. 'You wanted me to get in front of a hail of bullets for that scum.'
'You risked your life for Frankie Black,' said Nightwing, softly.
'Risk my life, yes,' shouted Huntress. 'But I'm not going to commit suicide for some Mafiosa lowlife.'
'Your costume would have saved you,' said Nightwing.
'I didn't know that. You wouldn't know that.' She turned, pushed her fist into Nightwing's chest. 'Even you wouldn't be so noble that you'd trust your costume against a gun that big for a bottom-feeder like Soze.' Then her eyes grew wide, her expression frankly incredulous. 'You would, wouldn't you?' she said, and her voice was full of wonder.
'You fool,' she said gently. 'You beautiful, noble fool.' She leaned forward into him, kissed him - a long slow kiss of promise and wonder, flavoured with her anger. 'You would have died for that bastard, just so you wouldn't compromise your principles,' she whispered when she lifted her mouth from his. Her eyes were wide and bright. 'You are such an idiot, Nightwing. Such a damned idealistic fool.' She shook her head. 'No wonder you're all wrong for me,' she said. 'Maybe that's why I want you so much.'
She let go of him, turned away from him, went to walk out.
'Where are you going?' Nightwing asked.
'Tomasi'll go back to Gotham now,' said Helena. 'I'm going after him. Try and take him down before he does too much damage.'
'Helena,' whispered Dick. She turned back to him, eyes bright. 'Take care of yourself, huh?' he asked.
She nodded slowly. 'Next time you come to Gotham,' she said. 'You know where to find me.' Her hand raised in a swift gesture of farewell and then she was gone.
'She's a dangerous woman, Grayson,' his brain warned him. 'All wrong for you.'
'I know,' he replied. 'But I'm going to end up on the rooftops in Gotham sometime. I know where to find you, Huntress. And maybe then the rooftops won't be so lonely.'
'Hello, Superheroes Anonymous, Nightwing back again. I thought I'd update you on what's happening in my life. Well, as you can see, I haven't been able to break my addiction to rooftops. Yes, here I am, on another one, waiting for a heist to go down on the Bludhaven docks. What's happened since I was last here? Well, I saw my - well, I don't know what she is - Huntress again. She's - a dangerous woman. She's damaged somehow - in ways I don't think anyone can ever fix. She makes me feel like I don't know what loneliness is - me, with my life. And I don't know if I can ever reconcile the way she works with my moral principles. I mean, I know she would have told Tomasi about Tucker if he hadn't talked - I know she wouldn't have cared if Tucker was found minced into little pieces the next day. But maybe that's why she got the information and I didn't. How did Shakespeare put it - - "Reputation, reputation, reputation."'
He shifted on his haunches, tried to make himself more comfortable as his eyes scanned below.
'Did she and I - well, did we? Yes, we did. Doesn't my blush tell you that? It was - amazing, as per usual. Sometimes I think we connect, deep down, like maybe she'll trust me with what happened to her. What "they" did to her to take away her childhood - to turn her into Huntress. But we can never quite get there. Of course, I won't tell her my name because that'd compromise Batman, but I still think she should tell me all her secrets. Yeah, right, Nightwing, that's not exactly playing fair. And then I had to go and tell the woman I . . . care about more than any other that Huntress and I had done it. I'm sure that went down a treat. She didn't believe it the first time - this time I think Oracle is just going to be pissed. And I dread to think what Batman will have to say about it. Particularly when I tell him I let Huntress be captured by Soze. What a jolly little lecture that one's going to be.'
'Ooh, wait, look, there's some movement below. I spy with my little eye - several men in masks with crowbars. Looks like it's time for Nightwing to play.'
'So how come I keep hanging out on rooftops and playing the superhero?'
The gripline caught, held him as he dropped down in a perfect arc, let loose the line and tumbled downwards, always in control.
'How come? Because sometime the superheroing is the easy part.'