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Title: even a fist was once an open palm and fingers
Author: ellenm. aka quasiradiant
Fandom: dcu. specially birds of prey, but drawing heavily from manhunter and huntress: year one.
Pairings: kate spencer (manhunter) / helena bertinelli (huntress)
Characters: from the dcu, includes dylan, misfit, and maybe oracle, if you squint.
Rating: nc-17.
Warnings: includes graphic descriptions of murder, bondage, and nonsexual violence.
Betas: cleo2584 and thenewhope
Summary: Kate Spencer, better known to Los Angeles' criminal element as Manhunter, has hung up the cape in favor of a normal life, which certainly doesn't involve any kind of relationship with Helena Bertinelli, Kate's best friend and co-vigilante, Huntress.  But news of a serial killer hunting lawyers in Miami draws Kate to the East Coast and Manhunter out of hiding.  With Kate and Helena on the case, it doesn't seem like anything can go wrong.  Until it really, really does.
Artwork:

Author's Notes: set a few months after the final issue of birds of prey and ignoring everything that's occurred since, including the events in the Oracle mini.  title from Yehuda Amichai's poem "Anniversaries of War."



"Wakey-wakey, Katie. Naptime's over."

In her mind's eye, Kate can see Damon, her trusty legal assistant, his hip against the doorjamb, his eyebrows raised. If she doesn't move, she reasons, maybe he'll leave. Maybe he'll think she's and stop bothering her.

No such luck. "Kate. I can see you breathing. Up and at 'em."

Kate's head stays firmly planted on her desk. "Kate's not here," she says brightly, voice muffled by her blotter, "but if you leave a message, she'll get back to you as soon as she can."

"Oh, for Christ's sake," he says, launching a Bic at her head.

"Watch it!" She sits up, wondering if any of her appointments have transferred from the blotter to her forehead. Kind of hopes they have, because then she won't feel obliged to attend them. "Choose your next move carefully," she says. "I could kill you."

"Don't flatter yourself," Damon snorts. "How're the interrogatories coming?"

"Oh, so well, you can't even imagine," Kate snorts. She picks up a sheet of paper, pretends to read. "Do you have any reason to believe that my client, Anton Dreyvitch, is a maniacal, murderous crazy person? Because we sure do! Also, could you send me a copy of every email he ever sent? Kisses, Kate Spencer, Esquire."

Damon laughs. "Oh, boo-hoo. Your job sucks. At least you don't have to work for, well, you. We're the ones who're really suffering here."

She sighs and concedes a smile. "Point made, Matthews. Just need to run a spell check. Give me twenty minutes. At two, I'm heading over to the Marquez deposition."

"Don't let me hold you up," Damon says, then turns to go. "Oh, and I left a salad for you in the fridge. You should eat something. Been looking thin ever sincejust eat it, okay?"

"Sure, Damon. Thanks," she says, and when he closes her door, she flops back into her chair, head dropping back until she's staring at the ceiling.

Ever since, she thinks. Ever since, ever since. The way a sentence ends when someone's trying to protect you, like they've almost accidentally brought up that time your grandmother died or your dog got run over by a car. Ever since.

Damon doesn't know much about what happened, just that Kate had been telecommuting from Platinum Flats almost every day for months until she reappeared suddenly and without comment to their L.A. office, full-time. Now she bills seventy, eighty hours a week. She's turned from a defense attorney of last resort to one with a sizable waiting list.

She attaches the interrogatory file to an email and sends it to Damon for a second pair of eyes. Slips her notes on the Marquez case into her attaché alongside her laptop, palms her car keys.

She's smart, she thinks. Successful. Owner of her own firm and a force to be reckoned with in the courtroom.

Who needs Oracle, anyway? she thinks. Not me. She thinks of her costumeno, Manhunter's costume, locked in a box under her bed.

Not me.

+

Kate's car, far smarter than she is, actually turns the music off when her Blackberry rings. She's spent time surrounded by an armada of the most powerful computers ever built, but she's still mystified by Bluetooth.

She says, "Answer," and then, "Kate Spencer."

"Kate," comes the voice through the car's speakers. In surround sound, something about the voice makes her skip a breath.

"Helena," Kate says. "What's up?" She turns into the parking garage and stops the car at the entrance while she reaches into the glove compartment for her parking pass. The deposition took hours, and the garage's lights have started to come on as night begins to fall.

"Not much." Helena's a little slow to answer and she sounds a little preoccupied. "Stuck in the teacher's lounge grading papers," she says. "If I try to do it at home, I fall asleep. What's up with you?"

Kate inches forward and waves her pass in front of the sensor. "Oh, you know, the usual. Just coming back from my weekly mani-pedi and dinner with the girls. Going home to change so I can hit the clubs." On the third repetition of inch-up-and-wave she finally manages to find the sensor's millimeter-wide sweet spot and the arm of the parking gate swings up.

Helena snorts. "If by 'girls,' you mean Damon, and by 'hit the clubs,' you mean eat take-out Chinese at your desk, then that is indeed the usual."

Kate laughs as she winds around towards her parking spot. She takes the garage at about five miles an hour ever since she came about three inches from flattening Margie from the second floor as she got out of her car. "Hey! I could have girls. You don't know."

"I know you don't have girls. You have me and Chase. You have two girls and neither of us even knows how to spell mani-pedi, let alone where you'd get one."

Kate thinks of late nights at Barbara's place, a half eaten pizza and dozen empty beer cans strewn across the coffee table. Thinks of Helena, and Barbara, and Zinda. When her eyes tear up, she blames it on a newly-acquired allergy to her car's leather interior.

"Whatever. What're your plans? Hot date?" Kate asks. She slides the Infiniti into her reserved spot. Oh, the little perks of the private sector. If only they could afford valet.

"In fact, I do have a hot date."

Kate frowns. That's definitely not what Helena's supposed to say. "Beating some punk up while calling yourself Huntress does not count as a hot date, Hel."

"Oh, God, Kate Spencer the comedienne. No, I have a date. With a real, live, non-bad-guy. A gorgeous non-bad-guy, in fact."

Kate picks her Blackberry up from its cradle as she steps out of the car. She's gotten her briefcase from the trunk before she manages to answer. "That's great, Helena. Really."

If Helena notices the weird catch in Kate's voice, she doesn't mention it. "Which, um, is kind of why I called."

"Ohoh no. No, Helena. No way! It's not my week!" Kate stops a few steps away from her car, almost running into a man in a grey suit who, like a normal person, appears to be heading home. He raises his eyebrows at Kate, and she just shrugs. She puts her hand over the mic, and stage whispers, "Women! Can't live with 'em, can't get 'em to leave you alone about who's gonna be on top." The man floors it, nearly running towards his car. Too easy.

"Please, Kate? For me?" Helena's wheedling, and Kate knows by now that she might as well give in, because otherwise she'll never hear the end of it.

Kate sighs and leans back against her trunk. "Fine. Misfit can come stay with me tonight. But she's going back to you tomorrow, got it? I've got Ramsey this weekend and no way am I letting the two of them near each other again. I don't think I can sweet-talk Social Services out of my house a second time."

"Thank you so much, Kate. Let me know how I can make it up to you. Oops, gotta go." Helena hangs up. Kate feels lonely, holding the dead phone to her ear, and she hates it that Helena stayed on the line just long enough to get what she wanted.

Kate slumps, her shoulders falling in, her chin on her chest. She'd left Platinum Flats for a lot of reasons, but sometimes she can't remember them a single one of them.

She stands there like that for a long moment, then picks up her head and starts walking towards the elevator. "Come on, Misfit," she says.

The girl peeks out sheepishly from behind a white SUV and falls into step next to Kate. "Um, I didn't want to bother you."

Kate actually laughs as she puts her arm around Misfit's shoulders. "It's all right, kid. Let's go. We've got some bad guys to defend."

+

It's been three weeks since Helena's big date with her hot non-bad-guy, but all she'll say about it to Kate is, "Awkward."

Kate can imagine a thousand things that might have happened to ruin it, mostly because the same things have ruined her tentative forays back into the dating world. Sometimes she thinks that a running commentary on the tragedy of her love life would make a good blog, but she hasn't figured out how to pull it off without inadvertently revealing her very-poorly-concealed secret identity.

It's her Misfit-week, and Kate tries to ask her, all smooth and casual, about Helena.

Misfit just grins. "You're so transparent, Kate." Stretches out on Kate's couch, using her really obnoxious levitating power (where had that come from? Still kind of pisses Kate off that Misfit's gotten about a thousand cool powers while Kate has a weird suit and a lame-o staff) to keep the remote control floating in the air above her.

"X-ray vision, too? Aren't you lucky," Kate says, plunging her hands back into the sink and its pile of dirty dishes.

"Okay, then I won't tell you about how Helena sits on her couch when she thinks I'm asleep, watching Lifetime and eating Haagen-Dazs and crying like a fifteen year old. " Misfit just turned sixteen and feels very mature. Kate thinks of Ramsey, and how he's started to endlessly repeat his favorite new learned-it-at- -school word: bullshit. They grow up too fast.

"She does?" Kate says. She's smiling, so she doesn't look up from the sink. She doesn't want Helena to be miserable, exactly. Just doesn't want her to be too happy, that's all.

"Maybe," Misfit says slyly. "Buy me a Wii and I'll tell you the whole story."

Kid with superpowers wants a videogame console. Incredible. "Yeah, right."

Misfit sits up and looks over the back of the couch at Kate. "I'll tell you all about her ba-a-ad date," she says, dragging bad out into three whole syllables. She grins, sweetly.

Kate sighs. "We'll go to Best Buy in the morning," she finally says. She dries her hands on a dish towel. "Now spill."

+

Weekends with no Misfit and no Ramsey stretch out into boredom and loneliness so intense Kate actually finds herself at the office on Sunday morning at 8am. And she's already been to the gym.

She pushes through a few files she's been neglecting. O'Reilly's motion for summary judgment. Harriman's motion for dismissal. A motion to get evidence excluded in the Cordoba-Frost case. The pile seems unending.

She signs her name at the bottom of fourteen thousand sheets of paper, leaves each file in Marie's box god bless Marie, Kate thinks, the world's most patient paralegal to make sure everything gets served first thing in the morning.

And then she doesn't have anything to do. It's a strange feeling, one that makes Kate's skin crawl. So she heads back out, determined to find something to do with her day that'll just be for herself. Frankly, she can't remember the last time she did something just because she wanted to.

In the car, inching down a sun-splashed city street, Kate catches herself staring up at the roof of a nearby building. She can remember a fight on that very rooftop, can remember his arms around her from behind, crushing her ribs. He breathed in her ear that he was gonna just love watching her die. She remembers feeling fury like molten salt in her veins as she flipped him, dropped down so her knee was against his windpipe. She watched him pass out from lack of oxygen, eyes widening.

She wonders if he thought she'd kill him. As a general rule, Kate avoids killing unless absolutely necessary. It's a nod towards pragmatism more than morality: the sentence for assault and battery, even with a deadly weapon if, indeed, her staff counts as a deadly weapon -- is much lighter than the sentence for first degree murder.

The legal difference between beating a man to within an inch of his life and traversing that last inch doesn't matter much to her anymore, though. She shifts her gaze to the bumper of the car ahead of her and keeps it there for a long moment without blinking.

Her costume and staff are in a firebox under her bed, locked away since Oracle disappeared. Kate had been Manhunter before Oracle recruited her, of course, but Oracle's departure seemed like a sign that maybe this was the time to get out of the hero business.

Kate's 34, two decades too old for a superhero gig, and she's got a business to tend to, a child to raise, a groove to get back from wherever it ran off to. And after being part of the Birds being Manhunter feels like a kid's game. As silly as building imaginary castles and fighting with stick-swords. After Oracle, it's just hitting people, and that's not as satisfying as it used to be.

So that life stays firmly locked under the bed. Misfit likes to try to figure out the combination to the box. Says she's going to be Manhunter, if Kate won't.

Like hell you will, Kate thinks, turns up the car radio louder, and just tries to get home.

+

She loses, astoundingly, every motion she'd spent her Sunday morning preparing.

She calls Damon from a Starbucks near the courthouse. It's not her fault, Damon insists, it's the judge. She's got four cases in front of Judge Wicker, and he, well, he hates her. Hate might not be a strong enough word. Detests. Deplores.

"He's a cockface," Damon says, very seriously. She can't see his face through the Blackberry, obviously, but she can imagine it, and he does manage to make her smile. He is kind of a cockface, she thinks.

"Be back at the office in a few," she says and hangs up. She takes a big gulp of her Americano and checks her email to make sure nothing, aside from her confidence, has melted down since she entered the courthouse.

There's nothing, really. Work, work, boring, work, spam, work, she thinks as she flicks down the list. Advertisements for boring CLEs offered by the California Bar. A plea from NARAL to call her senator. No email from Oracle, of course. Not that she was expecting one. Of course she wasn't.

She opens an email from Helena. "I miss youuuuuuu," is the subject and the entirety of the body is: "I do! Come visit?"

Kate taps out a quick reply: "Buried under paperwork! Hard to get away. Why don't you come down here? I'll find a movie star for you to grope?" She's not exactly sure how she'd manage that, but it probably wouldn't be too hard.

In her inbox, there's a notice from the news crawler she uses. "Your 'serial murder' results!" it promises, and while that might be the most disturbing exclamation point Kate's ever seen, she clicks through anyway.

Eight months before she joined the Birds of Prey, two months before she left the prosecutor's office, the case against one Simon Jenner had fallen apart based on some lousy police work, namely a mistake on a chain of custody card. The typical crap that only seems to happen when the prosecutor's trying to make her bones and get a promotion and maybe, God forbid, a raise.

Jenner was about as unabashed a serial killer as somebody could be without outright admitting to the crimes. And he'd walked right out the door. Kate hadn't known exactly what to do Jenner wasn't Manhunter's typical prey -- but she thought, at least with the email alerts, she could keep an eye on him.

And even after they caught him, she found she kind of enjoyed reading the stories the crawler sent. She knew it was a sick fascination, and now, since she tucked Manhunter away into a neat little box, the stories offer a glimpse into the world she doesn't spend much time in anymore. An innocent vice, like the stupid thriller novels Damon reads or the girly trash magazines Misfit leaves all over Kate's apartment.

She skims the news blurbs. She's got her finger poised to delete the email, but the last headline catches her attention. "Miami lawyer slain, serial killer suspected." She hesitates and reads the few sentences accompanying the headline.

She moves the email to her Action Needed folder and finishes her coffee.

+

Kate tucks the Blackberry between her ear and her shoulder as she unlocks the door with one hand and grabs her mail with the other. "Yes, sometimes I come home before dark," she says. "And I only brought a little work home." She decides not to mention that all the "work" she brought home is related to a murdered woman in Miami, a case for which she is definitely not getting paid.

Helena laughs. "I knew it. You're a glutton for it. You probably curl up with it in bed. You probably--"

"Hey, now, Miss I-Actually-Take-Pleasure-In-Reading-The-Writing-Of-Eleven-Year-Olds." She drops her bag onto the floor next to the door. She steps out of her shoes. The cool tiled floor is a relief after the stifling heat outside.

Helena actually raspberries her through the phone.

"And apparently you've been letting them teach you manners, too." Kate falls back onto the couch, skirt hiked up and rumpled. She puts her feet up on the coffee table and thumbs through the mail as Helena explains to her the many ways in which being a teacher is more rewarding than being a lawyer.

Bill, bill, credit card offer, you, Kate Spencer, could be a winner-- "Hey," Kate says, cutting Helena off midsentence. "I got a postcard from Zinda." On the front is a picture of a weird statute which is either of a woman or a grotesque bear. The text on the front might be Portuguese, and Kate assumes it says the same thing that a postcard she sent to Zinda would say: wish you were here.

Helena breathes out slowly. "Me, too." Her laugh is strained. "Funny looking statue, though, huh?"

"Helena. . ." It hangs there in the air, something like a whole unspoken conversation. Kate silently curses the distance, the hundreds of miles that keep her from reaching out and touching Helena's shoulder. That keeps them from sitting there like that, connected.

"I miss her," Kate finally says, to give voice to it. "I miss her. And I miss Barbara. Sometimes I think I miss Spysmasher."

Helena laughs like she's underwater, but at least she laughs. "No, you don't. If there's one thing I'm sure of, it's that nobody misses her."

"Okay," Kate says. "Maybe not." She leans forward, rests her elbows against her knees. "But you know what I mean."

There's a noise, like glass against granite, the sound of Helena pouring another glass of wine. "Of course I know what you mean, and I don't need the pep talk." Helena's voice is defensive and tense, and when she gets like this, there's almost no getting through to her.

Kate closes her eyes. She doesn't have the energy for Helena's hurt feelings right now. "Hel, I wasn't"

Helena cuts her off. "Whatever. I've got an early morning. Have to give tests to make sure we're not leaving any child behind."

"But"

"Talk to you later," Helena says and there's no click when she hangs up, just the silence of a dead line.

But what I meant was, I miss you.

+

When Misfit gets annoyed, her forehead crinkles like tissue paper and her eyes get a little bit darker. The more Kate learns about metahumans, the more she pays attention to these little things. When Misfit's eyes go from brown to black, she's probably only moments from winking out of the room, and when they turn the brown of weak coffee, she's seconds from sleep.

Sometimes Kate stares and stares at Ramsey, trying to figure out what his tell is going to be. Is there a sign he's about to become capable of defying the very laws of physics? Will there be a motion, a tic or twitch, that will give away whatever other powers he might manifest?

She sits at the edge of his bed, hand on his back, memorizing the feel of the beat of his heart through his little Superman pajamas. She thinks of the future. What will he grow up to become, this still-tiny son of hers? A hero? A villain? Something like Kate, firmly in the middle?

She imagines the two of them in identical outfits, running and jumping across the roofs of downtown, and she laughs. It's ludicrous, impossible to believe, especially when his little body is curled up around a Build-a-Bear named Morris, currently dressed up in the garb of a furry fireman.

But she can't help but imagine it. A thousand ways the future could unfold for him. A lifetime of unlimited potential.

Kate's world is getting smaller by the minute, but Ramsey's just keeps getting bigger.

Kate tries to make that good enough and leaves him alone with his dreams.

+

"My name is Kate Spencer," she says. "I'm calling about the Jackynn Decker case."

The person at the other end of the line sighs. "I can give you the number for public relations."

"I'm not with the media," Kate says. She spins her chair so she's facing the window. She looks up at the sky instead of down at the skyline. The sun is hot and white amid wispy curls of cloud. "I work for the Department"

"A Fed?" the cop asks.

She had expected him to cut her off, and it's good she did. It's not technically a lie. She does work for the federal government, even if Bones and the rest of the Department of Extranormal Operations wouldn't know Jacklynn Decker from Jackie O.

"Yep," she agrees. G-men never give anything away, right?

He sighs again, a big elaborate operation. "Felo Valdes," he finally introduces himself. Kate already knows his name, but she doesn't mention that. He's a lieutenant with the Miami-Dade PD. She may not be a computer genius, but she can use Google. "I'm working the Decker case."

"You suspect a serial?" Kate props her bare feet up on the window sill.

His voice is a shrug. "Uh."

She rolls her eyes. Police in every city are exactly the same, tightlipped and territorial. "Okay."

"What's your interest?" Valdes asks after a pause. She knows that when he says "your" he means "the fucking Feds'" but she chooses to take him literally.

"Might have some connections to something else I'm working on," she says vaguely. To be fair, she is kind of a superhero, and any serial killer is tangentially related to her work as Manhunter. Kate doesn't have a problem with lying, but the lawyer in her always prefers a good half-truth. "Could you send me the file?" She turns back toward her desk, hoping the improvement in posture will make her sound more trustworthy.

She can imagine him weighing his options. He could tell her to go fuck herself, and that'd be pretty much the end of it. Kate remembers the picture of Jacklynn Decker she found online. A pretty girl, light-haired and dark-eyed. The kind of girl who breezes into the office at six AM with a smile on her face, who offers to stay past midnight because she's young and good at what she does.

Not the kind of girl who ends up mutilated, violated, thrown into a dumpster like so much trash.

"I need that file, Valdes," Kate says, the way she would if Manhunter's staff was in her hand. Her fingers tighten into a fist. "Girls are dying, and he's not going to stop." She learned enough from her Google news search to know it's the truth.

"I can't know that and do nothing." She pauses, closes her eyes, and holds the phone a little tighter. "Can you?"

+

When the file arrives from Miami, she waves Damon off. "Prison penpal," she says as she signs for the FedEx package. "Very hot stuff." She raises her eyebrows at the delivery guy, who ignores her. Clearly not someone who understands humor.

She knows that Damon knows that she's lying, but that's why she's the boss. She just doesn't want to tell him yet. It might be nothing, just excessive curiosity fueled by all the energy she's not running off on L.A.'s rooftops.

"Whatever," Damon says. He opens his desk drawer and grabs his keys and wallet. "I'm going to Roma's. You want anything?"

"The usual," she says as she shuts her office door.

She spreads the contents of the envelope across her desk, right on top of all the work she should be doing, without even a twinge of guilt. The day is filled with twenty-four glorious billable hours, and she's been at her desk working since, no kidding, five in the morning. Occupational hazard -- when you spend your nights fighting crime, you get used to getting about three hours of sleep.

Even in low-quality black-and-white copies, the crime scene photos are gruesome: Jacklynn Decker's bloody body among trash bags, arms and legs splayed at unnatural angles; Jacklynn Decker's severed hands, wrapped in plastic wrap like a cut of meat; Jacklynn Decker's lidless eyes staring blankly heavenward.

The autopsy photos are hardly better, because cleaned and laid out, the damage to the woman's body is even more obvious. Kate doesn't let herself look away. Jacklynn, after all, didn't get a choice.

She reads the reports, the interviews, but it only takes a few minutes. The file is slim, and not for lack of trying -- despite the work of dozens of cops from the Miami-Dade and Miami PDs, the trail had pretty much started cold.

Valdes sent the files of the other women, too, the ones that make him think it's a serial, even though Kate hadn't asked. She suspects that a quick call to the L.A. FBI office assured Valdes realized she wasn't with them. Maybe it was relief that caused his generosity. Or maybe he knows more about her than he let on. She wasn't exactly covert about the whole Manhunter thing. . .

It doesn't matter. He knows or he doesn't and there's not much Kate can do about it either way. So she chooses not to look the gift horse in the mouth, whatever that means.

There are three other files. A hastily scribbled note from Valdes indicates that he thinks they may or may not be related. "The media sure thinks so," the note says. He underlined the word 'media' three times. At least that's something they share, a common distaste for journalists.

Sixteen months ago, the body of 42-year-old Shakila King was found at a landfill serving Miami-Dade County. Extent of decomposition indicated that she'd been dead for at least five days when they found her. Investigators worried that their inability to locate her head (either it hadn't been dumped or it had merely been lost in the hundreds of thousands of tons of trash rotting at the facility) would make identification difficult, but, apparently, they needn't have worried. The system quickly identified her from her fingerprints (this particular woman had kept her hands, at least), the fingerprints that had been taken when she was admitted into the United States Supreme Court Bar.

The incident had seemed like a frustrating, and ultimately cold, case until seven months later, when a vagrant spotted what looked like a piece of jewelry near a city garbage can in a fashionable, touristy part of town. Hoping to find more treasure in the can itself, she was unfortunate enough to find the body of Querima Hassan, an Iraqi immigrant working as a paralegal. Her hands were found in another can three blocks away.

Five months ago, Rebekah Braud, a third-year law student at the Florida International University College of Law, was reported missing by her housemates when she disappeared just before first semester finals. There was no sign of her for six weeks. Missing Persons had helpfully told Rebekah's mother who had traveled from Quebec to lead the search for her daughter that sometimes kids just run away and there's not much anybody can do.

Rebekah hadn't run away, of course. What little was left of her was found at the bottom of an industrial composting unit being run out of what appears to Kate to be some kind of hippy commune. Rebekah was identified from dental records. No evidence of her hands, or her killer, was found.

Kate leans back away from her desk. She tries to imagine what she would do if Misfit just didn't show up one day, if she just seemed to drop off the face of the Earth. For a girl who could pretty much transport herself to any spot on the planet that appealed to her, she was a homebody. If she went missing for more than a few hours, Kate thinks she might call out the National Guard. Or the JLA, at least; when they retained her as counsel, they'd been forced to give her a phone number.

When she hears Damon's voice in the outer office "Honey, I'm home!" Kate collects the files and slides them into her attaché. She feels dirty after looking at the pictures, like she could use a shower, and she certainly doesn't want to explain them to Damon.

She calls out, "I hope you brought chips!" and hopes that, through the door, Damon can't hear the waver in her voice.

+

She finds Misfit snooping.

In reality, this isn't a terribly rare occurrence. After teleporting into movies so she doesn't have to pay for a ticket, snooping is Misfit's favorite activity. (Number three, Kate's pretty sure, is slamming doors for dramatic effect. Seriously, was she this bad as a teenager?)

It's ten on a Saturday morning, and Kate's just woken up. She rubs her eyes and pulls her teeshirt down. Her legs are bare and in need of a shaving but pretty much all Kate wants to do is get an exceptionally large cup of coffee and settle in for her favorite part of the week: a quiet hour or so with the newspaper before she heads in to the office.

She pads down the hall on quiet, slippered feet when she notices the door to her office is ajar. That little. . .

Misfit's sitting at the desk, most of her lean body swallowed up by the big leather chair. She's swinging her feet and reading one of Kate's files. Since Kate's understanding of attorney-client privilege keeps her from bringing home client files when Misfit's there to poke through them, Kate immediately knows what Misfit's looking at.

"Charlie!"

The girl's swinging legs freeze. The chair doesn't turn, so Kate can't see the look on Misfit's face. But she can imagine it. Gotcha.

Finally, Misfit says, "Oops."

"Lost track of time, huh?" Kate asks. Should've known Misfit would be up with the damn sun, ready to get into trouble. "Turn around."

The chair turns, and at least Misfit has the decency to look chagrined. "I wasn't trying to invade your privacy!" The fact that she says it is evidence enough that she and Kate have had this conversation way too many times.

Kate leans against the doorframe. "I don't even know what that means, Charlie. If you weren't trying to invade my privacy, what were you doing in my office? Sitting at my desk? Going through my files?"

Misfit frowns. "I wanted to check my email!"

"Pretty sure that's why I bought you a laptop." Oh, man, Kate should've stopped for the coffee before she dealt with the kid.

Misfit gives her this are-you-some-kind-of-idiot? look. "Um, yeah. I know that. But I can only use the laptop if the wireless is on, and so I reset my IP but I still couldn't get on, so I" She apparently notices the increasingly pissed off look on Kate's face, so she gets to the point. "I came in here to reset the router. That's all!"

"I don't keep the wireless router in a manila folder." At least, Kate's pretty sure she doesn't. Misfit had installed and configured the router (which explained the name of the network, MisfitRocks, and the password, DarkVengeance). Kate knows about as much about wireless internet technology as she does about the International Space Station.

"I know! I just got. . . curious." Color rises on Misfit's cheeks.

Kate sighs. "It's my fault. I should know by now that you're incapable of keeping your eyes to yourself."

"That's not fair!" Misfit stands up, arm and leg muscles tense for a fight. Misfit's hair-trigger reflexes make Kate wonder if Misfit fights at school. Not like the other kids wouldn't have ammo: Charlie's weird fashion sense, her bizarre interest in online role-playing games, the whole Misfit-Has-Two-Mommies thing (right down to the Oracle-doctored name that appears on Misfit's new birth certificate, in order to make it less weird that Helena and Kate were the ones that enrolled her at the Platinum Flats high school: Charlotte Bertinelli-Spencer).

Poor kid.

Still, Kate only has so much patience for Misfit, especially ten minutes after getting out of bed. Kate narrows her eyes.

The tension flows from Misfit a little bit at a time. Kate's weapon is patience. Finally, Misfit says, "Sorry. I'm trying."

Kate moves to sit down on the love seat, which she stashed in the office because it didn't fit anywhere else. She's suddenly really happy for it. Misfit starts to sit back in the desk chair, but a sharp look and she takes a seat next to Kate instead.

Kate tries to remember all those parenting books she read when she was pregnant with Ramsey, but nothing of what she can remember is particularly relevant to the current situation. Where's the book for how to deal with a moody, orphaned, superheroic, teenage girl who won't stop doing things that drive you batshit crazy? There are some things you can't even find on Amazon.

Misfit kind of purses her lips before she asks: "Who's the lady?" She flicks her gaze to the files on the desk. "Did you know her?"

"No, Charlie. I didn't know her. I've never met her." A hard ball forms in Kate's throat. And I never will.

"Then why do you have all that stuff about her?" Misfit bites at the corner of one her fingernails.

Kate thinks. She doesn't exactly know the answer to the question. She finally says, "She died alone. This" she gestures towards the desk "is the only way I can ever know her. The only way I can be the kind of friend she deserved."

Misfit thinks this over, then nods, apparently satisfied with Kate's answer. "So, you have it because you're a hero and that's what heroes do." She smiles. "I'm sorry I snooped. But I did make you coffee!" She stands up and walks towards the office door. Then says, over her shoulder, "Well, kind of."

Misfit leaves to get Kate something that may or may not resemble coffee and Kate just sits there, stunned.

A hero? Not anymore.

+

Later, she probably won't understand why she does it. Why she gets those files from Miami, why she secrets them home, why she spends night after night trying to unravel their mystery.

She's a busy woman. She has a successful law firm and a beautiful son. She has friends who love her. She has Wonder Woman's cellphone number. Her life is really, really great.

But no matter how many times she repeats that to herself, a mantra she has to say a dozen times before she can even bear to leave her house, it doesn't quite sound right. Up all night watching infomercials, she texts Misfit: "I miss you." But Misfit's asleep, of course, like a normal human being and Kate finds herself staring into her empty freezer saying, "Your life is perfect, Kate. Go to bed."

She's checking her Gmail, and Dylan's chat box flashes. 'Why don't you just do it?' he asks, ever careful to avoid actually airing her super-secret identity when prying eyes might be peeking. The same question he asks almost every day, as the reality of his boredom and Cameron's absence on assignment gets realer and realer. He liked the toys, the challenge. He liked being on a team of good guys, for once.

Yeah, join the club, Kate thinks. 'You know I can't.'

There's no pause at all before he replies. 'I know you won't.'

She's tried to explain it to him before, why she had to put the toys away. But when she tries to tell him about Oracle, about betrayal, about holding a stupid fucking note in your hand that says your life as you know it is over, he doesn't get it. "Fuck 'er," he said once. "Obviously, good ol' Dylan is far more dependable than flighty Oracle. So fuck 'er."

So she tried to tell him about Ramsey, about his power and about her own. How he held back a truck without a second thought. And then about Helena, who's been training for this gig her entire life, and could probably hold back a truck with the sheer force of her will.

How she, Kate, is stuck in the middle. Poorly trained but lucky, especially in the Genetic Roulette. Just that, lucky. And luck, as we all know, has a habit of running out.

Dylan just stared at her and then, finally, said, "You sound like a crazy person."

So now, his stupid little box flashing on her screen, she just types, 'No, I won't. Not safe.'

There's a pause so long she thinks he's left, or maybe turned back to that stupid Warcraft game he and Misfit keep trying to con her into playing.

But finally he says it, the thing she doesn't want to think about, the reason, stupid as it is, that she's spent the last four nights awake with the ghosts of those dead girls.

'The problem is,' he finally says, 'that nothing's ever safe, Kate. Nothing and no one.'

She leaves him flashing and unanswered.

+

Helena calls at least six times before Kate calls her back. "I'm really sorry," Helena says in one of her messages. "I didn't mean to freak out the last time we talked. Please call me and let me at least grovel to a live person?"

Kate doesn't want to call, which is really complicated. On one hand, she really, really wants to talk to Helena. In fact, not talking to Helena sometimes feels like being locked in a very small box and thrown out to sea. It's not right and it leaves Kate feeling a little queasy.

But then there's Jacklynn Decker. Shakila King. Querima Hassan. Rebekah Braud. Names and faces she can't get out of her head. Destroyed bodies that haunt her dreams, which have become rare only because she mostly refuses to sleep. They leave her cold and angry and sad and terrified and about a thousand other emotions that she doesn't have any words for.

And how would she explain that to Helena? How would she explain the cold feeling in her joints and the hot feeling in her palms, the sick feeling that goes deeper than her gut, right into her marrow? Would Helena think Kate was totally fucking crazy, or would she see through Kate like light through a prism, able to break everything down, able to understand all the things Kate can't?

And which would be worse?

But eventually the desire to talk to Helena is stronger than the desire to avoid Helena at all costs. She's just gotten back from an eight-mile, midmorning run, which had been exhausting and still not quite enough to make her brain just shut up. After the run, she'd driven home, grabbed a shower and redressed, and returned to the office sagging and sad.

At her desk, instead of calling Petersen at the U.S. Attorney's office like the post-it note on her blotter directs her to, Kate picks up her Blackberry and dials Helena's number. It's ringing and she suddenly remembers that Helena's probably at school and therefore probably can't talk. But just before Kate expects the voicemail to pick up, Helena picks up instead.

"Kate!" Helena's voice is all grins and relief. In the background, Kate hears the sound of traffic, honking horns and moving tires.

"Hey, Hel," Kate says. She can't help but smile. Just hearing Helena's voice uncurls something deep in the pit of her stomach. "Sorry I didn't call sooner."

"No, I'm sorry." Kate can hear something like the opening and closing of a door, and then the traffic sound is quieter. "I was a real bitch and you were just trying to be, you know, a human being. As soon as I hung up, I realized what an idiot I was being, but then I didn't want to call you back because I didn't want to actually admit I was being an idiot. Which maybe just proves I'm an idiot."

Kate wasn't angry at Helena for hanging up on her or being, admittedly, kind of bitchy. Kate's just been tied up with the Miami murders, but she can't quite figure out a way to say that. Instead, she says, "I'm over it. I'm on the moon I'm so over it. I was insensitive, you were oversensitive, and we both proved once again that we're probably better with our hands than we are with our mouths. Uh, but in a far less double-entendre kind of way."

Helena laughs, but harder than the accidental joke really called for. It's okay, though, because Kate really, really likes the sound of Helena's laughter. She wishes she had some kind of nice simile to describe it, but all she can come up with is that it's Helena's and that makes it better than great.

"I'm so glad to hear you say that," Helena says when her laughter's died away. "Or else this would be really awkward."

Kate raises an eyebrow, even though Helena's not in the room to see it. "I have no idea what you're talking about," she says. "What would be awkward?"

"This," Helena says, except she's not on the phone, she's in Kate's office. Kate swivels her chair around so hard she hits her knees against the desk and God, that really hurts. But it doesn't matter, because it's Helena and she's here. Kate jumps up and very nearly sweeps Helena off her feet into a hug of epic proportions.

Helena's hand is pressed against the back of Kate's head, fingers clutching hair. Helena smells like airplanes and orange rinds and copper wire and sweat. Huntress and Manhunter have been in enough tight spots that involved fighting for their lives, praying for their lives, or both, that Kate knows the smell and shape of Helena's body probably better than she knows her own.

"Helena," she breathes against Helena's cheek. "I missed you so much."

Kate can feel the muscles of Helena's stomach and thighs tense, and Helena's voice catches a little when she says, "I missed you, too, Kate."

They stand there for a long time, and then Helena pulls away, smiling. "Surprise!"

"What are you doing here?" Kate asks. Her pulse is racing. "Don't you have school?"

Helena shakes her head. "The beauty of being a teacher is that you get the summers off, just like the kids. And you were the one that invited me."

Kate vaguely remembers sending an email. "The first time you ever took one of my suggestions. Good time to start!"

Helena rolls her eyes. "Just because your suggestions are usually much worse than my natural instincts, you turn me into a total ingrate. Thanks, hon."

Kate smiles and then just stands there smiling. She's so happy she thinks that the feeling might actually come bursting out of her chest. Would suck to die, of course, but at least she'd go feeling like this.

But then Helena says, "I also talk to Charlie, you know."

Kate looks down at the carpet, and then closes her eyes. "Kind of hoped you didn't."

Helena touches Kate's chin and draws Kate's head up. Kate opens her eyes. Helena touches her cheek. There is something in the room with them, something Kate doesn't know the words for.

Finally, Kate says, "Let's go somewhere." Let's go anywhere.

+

They end up at Starbucks. Typical, Kate thinks. Starbucks is pretty much the only place you can sit for an unlimited amount of time and feel like you have the tiniest modicum of privacy. Since Kate's spent hours at Starbucks listening in on other people's intimate conversations, she knows it's all an illusion.

At least the coffee is decent.

She buys Helena's hazelnut latte and her own Americano and they sit at the corner table. Kate takes the lid off her cup and stirs a packet of Splenda into her coffee with one of those little wooden sticks. She stirs and stirs as the coffee starts to cool, unwilling to look up at Helena.

Helena just drinks her coffee and waits. Patience is a weapon Helena's very skilled with, and Kate suddenly feels real empathy for Misfit. Being in this position really sucks. She thinks about apologizing to Misfit, but then thinks that she probably won't. She keeps her mind on the topic, though, to avoid thinking about Helena sitting there staring.

Finally, Kate blurts out, "I had to do something. You can understand that, right?"

Helena says, "I'm not angry at you, Kate," very, very gently. "And I understand perfectly."

Kate looks up through her eyelashes. Helena's eyes are big and dark. "Yeah?"

Helena shrugs, takes a gulp of her drink. "We both agreed we were hanging up the capes, but that's harder than it sounds." She lifts one corner of her mouth in a pained half-smile. "The things that made us do it in the first place are all still out there. If we didn't do anything, we'd be, we'd be saying those things are okay."

Helena touches Kate's hand where it rests against the table. Kate says, "There are four dead women in Miami. They deserve justice."

Helena nods. "Of course they do." She waits and then says, "And?"

Kate notices a woman walking on the sidewalk, holding the hand of a little girl of three or four. The girl's hair is in tight, beaded braids. In the sun, her skin is the color of polished mahogany. She looks up at the sky with eyes that don't see the grime under her feet. "And what?"

"There're a lot of people who deserve justice, Kate. Millions right here in L.A. So why these women, three thousand miles away?"

Kate wants to deflect the question, doesn't want to think about the answer. But Helena's eyes are warm and maybe they've been through too much for Kate to hide from her now.

"This lawyer, Jacklynn, she's a kid. Two years out of law school. One of those girls with purpose, you know? Direction." Helena nods and Kate finds it a little easier to keep going. "Her whole life in front of her. Carefully made plans, and the luck of the draw puts her in the hands of some maniac."

Kate leans forward, lowers her voice. "We fell into this cape business. We were stupid or crazy enough to start fighting bad guys, not just with our heads but with our hands, and we were lucky enough to be pretty good at it. Decker and the others, they didn't have that. They didn't have superstrength or the ability to disable madmen with their brains or to transport themselves out of their bindings."

Kate feels the pressure of Helena's knee against her own. The place they touch sparks, the electricity of connection.

"They were just women," Kate says. "They were smart and beautiful and unlucky. " She looks away, out into the haze of midmorning. The sun glints dazzlingly off the windows of the building across the street.

Helena says, "We want to create order out of chaos. It's why we do what we do."

"What we did," Kate says. She looks back but doesn't meet Helena's eyes.

"What we did," Helena admits and then they're silent.

+

Kate lets Helena go through all the files while Kate makes dinner. Since cooking isn't really her forte she usually just picks something up for a reason Kate ends up making mac and cheese, Ramsey's favorite food, and green beans, Ramsey's least favorite vegetable.

Kate goes back to Helena in the office, carefully balancing the two plates, the two glasses, the just-opened bottle of pinot noir. She says, "I'm thinking of becoming a chef."

Helena eyes the plates. "Sure, okay," she says. "Good plan." She takes the wine and fills the glasses nearly to the rim. She takes a sip and says, "At least the wine is good."

"There are a few perks to earning a lawyer's salary," Kate says. She puts the plates on the edge of the desk where she's pretty sure they're going to remain untouched. She takes the glass of wine Helena offers her and takes a long drink. The wine is warm all the way down her throat.

"He's escalating," Helena says, nodding towards the four files spread out on the coffee table. "Increasing the frequency of his attacks."

Kate nods. "Yeah," is all she can think of to say.

"You think it's a meta?" She knows Kate works for the DEO, and thus that her typical jurisdiction is over perverted metahumans. She knows Kate's a meta, too, and Ramsey, but the rest of her metafamily remains mostly a mystery to Helena. Kate figures it isn't really the time to bring it up. She hasn't really figured out an explanation for the robot dog yet, anyway.

"I don't know," Kate says. "It would be an unusual M.O. for someone with any sort of genuine destructive meta-ability. With a meta, I'd expect something like people being turned into stone or crushed into powder or turned into quails and then roasted." Kate shifts uncomfortably on the love seat when she thinks of Misfit's ability to turn people inside out. An evil-sounding power doesn't make somebody evil, Kate knows.

Helena nods. "I thought the same thing." She chews her lip and Kate can't help but notice. "Still, any active metavillains in the Miami area?"

Kate's already used her DEO intranet access to check out the possibility. She reaches over and slides open a file drawer. She pulls out a slim folder and opens it. "I pulled a list from the DEO. But don't tell my boss."

"My lips are sealed," Helena says, and takes the sheet of paper Kate offers her. She scans the list, eyes darting across and down. "Couple of real charmers on this list, huh?" She frowns. "This guy can seriously turn people into palm trees? That's just so. . . I mean, what's somebody going to do with a power like that except become a fucking wacko?"

Kate snorts. "I know. They actually picked him up last week, sent him out to the S.T.A.R. Labs facility in San Francisco." She thinks of the guy's file, thick with almost-comical arrest reports and increasingly bizarre psych evaluations. Wonders about a world where a person like that exists.

"I looked into two of them." Well, Dylan looked into two of them. But Kate'll take the credit. "Harden Rhodes and Steven Wolff."

Helena looks down the list for the names. "Kind-of-Translucent-Guy and Confusion Man?" Rhodes can alter the reflectivity of his own body, causing his skin to become hazier and hazier until people are genuinely unsure they can even see him. Wolff can cause confusion in the minds of those around him, causing enough distraction that he can wreak some real havoc before anybody's sure they even know what's going on.

"Yeah. Big problems with authority. Multiple arrests." Kate sighs. "But it was a big waste of time. Wolff was in jail when two of the murders were committed. Rhodes hadn't been seen for six months, leading the local DEO agent to think maybe he'd finally achieved real invisibility. But then it turned out that he was still just kind of see-through and living in Detroit."

Helena frowns. "I can't figure out whether I should laugh or cry."

"I know what you mean," Kate says. She refills their empty glasses. The wine is worming its way into her brain and it's almost a relief after the last couple weeks.

"So it's just a normal person?" Helena looks down at one of the pictures skeptically. "Well, I guess normal isn't the word."

"Unless it's somebody off our radar," Kate says. "But we've got pretty good radar." She thinks of the head of the southern Florida DEO office, a brilliant and terrifying guy named Bobby Corke, who occasionally develops an impenetrable carapace and has to be fed dozens of small goats to keep him from going on violent rampages. Weird fucking world.

"It's hard to believe that the person who did this could just be walking the streets, eating a cubano or smoking a cigar." The room feels suddenly cold and Kate watches as Helena downs her entire glass of wine.

Kate wants to agree with her. But the entire world has come unmoored, and everything has become possible. The murderer could be anyone, could be no one. It's a world without God and without hell, and, Kate knows, it's way more terrifying than Helena could ever imagine.

+

Kate's Blackberry vibrates in its holder. She unclips it from her hip and checks the text message.

'Found something.' From Dylan, cleverly disguised in her phone as "Tech Support." 'Pls call.'

She looks at the people seated across the table. They're old colleagues, but not the kind you exactly miss seeing at the office every day. Moira Cassidy is an old Irish battleaxe, sharp-featured and really, seriously not interested in any funny business. Her second chair, Bob Metz, appears to be about sixteen and may be pissing his pants just having to leave the office with Crazy Cassidy.

Kate meets Cassidy's eyes. Neither blinks. Under the table, Kate texts back: 'Cant. Impt mtg. Can u txt?' They can all obviously hear the clicking of her fingernails on the little buttons.

"If you can't devote your full attention to the meeting" Cassidy starts, making a show of restacking her papers and capping her pen.

"Come on, Moira," Kate says. She tries to remember that at the prosecutor's office, Kate Spencer and Moira Cassidy were equals, not even rivals. Each making her ascent into the upper echelons of the Justice Department, though maybe each with some secret dream of being appointed to the bench. What Cassidy has in years, Kate makes up for in sheer non-bitchiness. "I'm here, aren't I? I want to hear your offer."

Her client, a real charmer named Zacarias Ruiz, is thankfully locked up at MDC Los Angeles awaiting trial for a page long list of federal crimes, including international trafficking of cocaine. He insists that he "didn't do fuckin' nothin'," and that he's being framed by that "fuckin' marricon," by which he apparently means FBI Special Agent Tom Laramie. He has looked Kate right in the eye and said that he was "ten-thousand percent innocent."

Unfortunately for him, he's a really bad liar, and given the evidence Kate's seen turns out, Tom Laramie's a pretty nice guy when you, you know, don't try to sneak a thousand pounds of high-grade cocaine north from Juarez he's either going to take a deal or find his ass in prison for approximately ever.

Cassidy starts listing off the information Ruiz will have to turn over to the government in return for not dying in shackles. She knows that Ruiz won't agree to any deal that requires him to rat out his friends, so she just nods pleasantly and silently curses Bones. When she does something to piss him off -- that is, all the damn time -- he forces her to take on the defense of some low-life with only the tiniest blush of metahuman ability.

Which explains why she's representing Ruiz, a guilty jackass who can't seem to afford her bills, despite the fact that this couldn't possibly be the first time he brought coke over the border. Ruiz can, as Kate understands, can sort of light fires with his mind. Sort of being the key phrase; it's not a very reliable power and definitely hasn't helped him with the whole drug trafficking thing.

Cassidy ends her long, aggressive spiel with a rhetorical flourish: "And that's our final offer."

Kate's Blackberry vibrates again, and it takes all her willpower not to look down at it. Cassidy may be a real charmer, but Kate's got to maintain a pleasant working relationship with the prosecutor's office, or she's going to find herself on the wrong end of an occasionally very ugly establishment.

"Well," Kate says pleasantly, all smiles, "I'll have to discuss your generous offer with my client." Which is defense attorney speak for: my client would almost surely rather dig out his own eyes with a dull grapefruit spoon before taking that deal.

Cassidy snorts and Metz smiles obediently. "This really is the best he's going to get," Cassidy says as she packs her files and laptop back into her bag. "They've got him with the drugs, dead to rights."

Kate grimaces, shakes Cassidy's warm hand. Kate says sadly, "Claims he's innocent."

Cassidy actually laughs at that. "Nobody's innocent, Kate. You, of all people, should know that." She winks. Kate suddenly knows that Cassidy knows her secret, that they've just shared a moment of something like friendship. It's weird, and she tries to shake it off.

Her phone vibrates insistently. She waits until Cassidy and Metz have left the room before grabbing the phone from its holster and reading the first of the two texts from Dylan. 'I am more impt than ur mtg. Found connection b/t 3 of the lawyers. Might be the bad guy??'

She flicks impatiently to the second text and reads the name Dylan found.

"Oh, for fuck's sake," she says to the empty room. "You've gotta be kidding me."

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
scottyquick
Oct. 18th, 2009 02:24 am (UTC)
came here from bop fic
This is really, really, really fucking AWESOME. You have no idea how much I've craved gen Manhunter fic since the series was canceled ;_;

I think there's a minor spelling error at "god bless Marie,", doesn't it need a period and a capital G?

"Hey, now, Miss I-Actually-Take-Pleasure-In-Reading-The-Writing-Of-Eleven-Year-Olds."

LOVE that line. So very Helena and so very Kate.

Kate's world is getting smaller by the minute, but Ramsey's just keeps getting bigger.

Kate tries to make that good enough and leaves him alone with his dreams.


KATEY ;_;

which explained the name of the network, MisfitRocks, and the password, DarkVengeance

Oh hell yes.

Okay, I have absolutely nothing that I can think of that would improve your Kate or your Dylan or your awesome, awesome plot (nice chapter end!). I had a comment about Helena, but it slipped out of my mind when you wrote that line about patience being a weapon Helena was excellent with. I'm doubtful that Damon would call someone a cockface, though. I mean, if you get called cocksucker and cocklicker and all these other delightful homophobic insults, why use an insult so closely resembling them?

My only question is, why is Charlie mostly referred to as Misfit? Just cause Misfit is an awesome name?

THIS. STORY. ROCKS. Like, I cannot stress that enough. This has made my day <3
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )