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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)

see part 1 for extended headers.



Kate swings by her house for the just-showered Helena, whose hair drips disturbingly onto the leather interior of the Infiniti. Kate tries not to think about it, because it's just a car, but she can't help it. Her brain has no ability to prioritize, sometimes, and so instead of being freaked out about Dylan's text, she's obsessing over the potential leather damage.

When they get out of the car in front of Dylan's dump, Helena pauses to pull her long hair up into a messy bun. The back of her pale blue teeshirt is damp and dark against her back, showing how the line of her neck descends to become the line of her spine.

Helena starts walking towards the door and then stops and looks back at Kate, who has stopped to watch Helena. Kate's watching with the kind of intensity usually reserved for watching sunsets or other minor miracles, and when Helena clears her throat, Kate can feel heat rise in her cheeks. She can't think of anything that might explain away her sudden inability to act like a normal human being, so she just shrugs and goes ahead of Helena to the door.

When Dylan opens the door, he spots Helena and it looks momentarily like his eyes might bug out of his head. "Whoa," he says, "who's your hot friend and why haven't you ever introduced me before?"

Kate rolls her eyes and says, "My hot friend is named Helena and she's fully capable of killing you with both arms tied behind her back." She leans in towards Dylan's ear and gets a whiff of his unwashed hair. "And if you even look at her sideways again," she says quietly, so Helena can't hear, "I'll pull your fucking brain out through your nose. Got it?"

Dylan swallows loud enough for Kate to hear. "Uh, you guys more than friends or something?"

If he expects a laugh, that's not what he gets. Helena just sort of shifts from one foot to the other and clears her throat, and Kate wraps her hand around Dylan's arm hard enough to bruise. She spins him around and walks him into the house. "This had better be good, or you're going to wish you hadn't even gotten out of bed today." She releases him when they get to his computer.

"Ouch," Dylan says, rubbing his arm. "Looks like somebody woke up on the wrong side of the bed." He falls into his fairly gross desk chair, which is sprinkled with something that looks like Cheetos crumbs.

"Just get to it," Kate says, and from behind Dylan's back, Helena mouths 'Who is this guy?' Kate just shrugs. In the cast of characters that makes up Kate's life, Dylan is integral but annoying.

Dylan taps a few keys, and an array of documents flies onto the screen. He says, "I was looking for connections between the victims, like you suggested." He presses a key and the women's faces appear on the screen. "Besides the obvious, that they're all women and they all have legal-type jobs."

"You're right," Kate says impatiently, "That is obvious."

Dylan glances at her over his shoulder. "Know what else is obvious? That you seriously need to get laid." Helena wanders forward and lays a warning hand on the back of Dylan's chair. He starts to look over at her.

"Eyes forward, Romeo, and cut out the Freud crap," Kate says. "Serial killer on the loose, remember?"

Dylan pouts a little before he gets back to explaining the text he sent. "Right. So I did a little checking, and couldn't find anything. They don't live near each other. They don't eat at the same restaurants, shop at the same stores, get their hair done at the same place. They don't work anywhere near each other. They don't ride the bus together, they don't appear to have any friends in common. If they'd ever passed each other on the sidewalk which they probably didn't they wouldn't have known each other from Adam. Er, Eve."

Helena leans closer to the screen, and Kate can see Dylan struggling not to look at her. Helena sounds pretty impressed when she says, "How the hell do you know all that?"

"A good magician never reveals his secrets," Dylan says smugly. "So I looked deeper. And I found a connection." A picture appears on the screen, and it makes Kate feel sick to see it there in crystal-clear color, the same picture she found on Google Images. "Felo Valdes. A lieutenant with the Miami-Dade Police Department. In the last three years, each of the victims has been intimately involved in a case involving Valdes. They were all part of the defense, which won in each case. He's also, incidentally, the cop who picked up Jacklynn Decker's case, and the cases of the other women."

"But that was random, right?" Kate asks. She doesn't want to think that this guy who she's come to think of as one the few upstanding people in the world could be responsible for this horror.

"Negatory," Dylan says. "Best I can tell from what I pulled off the MDPD server, Lieutenant Valdes specifically requested the case. Technically, two of the bodies were found in Miami proper and would usually be tossed to the Miami PD, not the county cops. But the chief of the MDPD grabbed the case and assigned it to Valdes."

Kate stands there, speechless. It doesn't really make sense, why Valdes would've sent her the files if he did it. Then again, whoever committed the murders was obviously beyond deranged. A guy like that, he might think that the crimes he had committed were so perfect, he'd never be caught. And the forensics were awfully clean and the trail awfully cold. . . a cop really did make sense.

But Kate had talked to the guy! Certainly she would have picked up the Evil Serial Murderer Psychopath vibe, if it was there, right? Yeah, Kate. You're a super judge of character! You're also the Queen of the World!

She thinks for a second, then unclips her Blackberry. She flicks through her contacts until she finds the number she's looking for.

Both Dylan and Helena just look at her with two identical puzzled looks. The phone rings twice before somebody picks up on the other end.

"Hey, Kerry-Ann?" Kate says. She looks at Helena. "It's Kate Spencer, how're you doing?" She pauses, and Helena arches an eyebrow at her.

"Glad to hear it," Kate says. "I need you to do me a favor. Money is no object. I need two tickets to Miami, Florida, and I need to get there yesterday. We can be at the airport in an hour and a half." She pauses. "Uh huh," she says, and then, "Thanks."

She hangs up and looks at Dylan, "I'll call you with the details, when I have them. And no, you can't come." He frowns, but he doesn't seem surprised.

Kate turns towards the door. "C'mon Helena, we've got some packing to do."

+

As promised, there are two very expensive first class tickets waiting for them at the United counter. As she checks her bag, Kate groans a little internally. She wishes that she'd said something like, "Money is very little object," or "Hey, we don't have to break the bank." But she didn't, and at least she'll be able to stretch her legs instead of being caught between two screaming toddlers in coach.

She and Helena are both subjected to a pretty thorough search -- a little too thorough, Kate thinks -- at security, mostly because of the items in Kate's carry-on luggage. Despite the fact that she's got a special permit for it from the DEO, nobody seems too thrilled about seeing her staff on the x-ray machines. Helena's terrifying crossbow isn't much better, despite the fact that she helpfully points out that she left the actual arrows in her checked luggage and she has a special permit to carry the bow as carry-on. (To the credit of the TSA, Helena probably could do some significant damage just beating somebody about the head with the bow.)

It's kind of funny, because neither Kate nor Helena actually mentioned to the other that she was bringing her gear. It was unspoken, a hopefully unnecessary backup plan if things didn't pan out with Valdes or the normal investigation.

At least, that's what it is for Kate. As for Helena, well, Kate can only imagine. Maybe for Helena it's just not a vacation without a plasticky bathing-suit thing and a deadly weapon. Or maybe I'm just really good at deluding myself?

They're finally waved through security, but not without a underbreath mutter of, "Fuckin' capes," from the most charming of the TSA officers. Kate wonders if filing a harassment suit would be worth the time, but guesses that public ambivalence about superheroes might make it a wasted effort.

They get their bags stowed in the overhead bins without too much worry and Kate's working on a glass of champagne before they've even pulled back from the jetway. "Not as good as flying Air Zinda," Kate says, "but not too bad, huh?"

Helena laughs. "I do kind of miss having an airplane, helicopter, hovercraft, whatever, at my command. I really never took proper advantage of that. Think of the vacations we could have taken."

Kate snorts, which kind of sends champagne bubbles up into her nose. Ouch. "Yeah, right. Because either of us has been on a vacation in the last, oh, decade."

Helena glances across Kate and out the window. The plane picks up a little speed as it taxis around to the runway. She says, "If it weren't for the, you know, women," she says meaningfully, so as not to alarm the two very pleasant old ladies sitting behind them, both of whom are eavesdropping shamelessly. "If it weren't for them, this would kind of be like a vacation."

Kate nods. "I guess I expected my next trip to the beach to be more of a romantic getaway," she says. "Sun, sand. . . sex." She says the last word particularly loudly for the benefit of the eavesdroppers, who titter quietly.

"Yeah," Helena says, a little oddly. "I guess." She shifts in her seat, crosses and then recrosses her legs. She says, "sure," after such a long pause that Kate's almost forgotten what they were talking about.

"Something wrong, Hel?" The plane is taxiing in earnest now, and Kate readies herself for the feeling of the wheels losing touch with the ground. For somebody who regularly flies around using some unknown kind of hover-energy-thing, Kate's pretty much a wimp when it comes to airplanes.

"Uh, no. I just thought--" Helena looks away. "Nevermind. Ignore me."

They taxi for an eternity. Just when it seems like they're about to run out of runway, Helena turns to Kate, face open as a clear pool of water. There's something there, in her eyes or the shape of her mouth or something, and Kate feels like she almost has it when Helena shakes her head and closes her eyes.

The plane leaves the ground, and Kate wonders what test, exactly, she's failed.

+

It's actually hotter in Miami than it was in L.A., even at ten thirty at night. Late June in southern Florida is useful for nothing but an excuse to stay inside and drink mojitos, in Kate's opinion, but she knows that's not in the cards.

At least the air conditioning works well in her rental car, even though Kate and Hertz clearly disagree about the definition of a "luxury" car. She'd tried to explain to the man at the desk that four wheels alone do not a luxury car make, but he'd held out the keys to the Saab and told her she could take it or leave it.

She took it.

Now, the Saab's tires are bumping over a poorly paved highway as they drive towards Miami proper. The city is bright but seems far smaller than L.A. or Gotham or New York. Kate doesn't like it.

She half expects Helena to turn on the radio and locate some station playing Cuban music, one of Helena's favorites. It's the kind of thing Helena does: she brings together incongruities. It's one of the things Kate loves most about her.

But Helena just stares out the window, apparently unwilling to bring any levity to their grim task. So Kate keeps her eyes on the road and says, "We should be there soon."

Come on, Helena, she thinks, Don't do this to me now. Not tonight. Not even entirely sure what this is.

Finally, Helena says, "I don't think it's him."

Kate shrugs in the darkness. "Pretty big coincidence then, don't you think?"

Helena turns her head, and Kate catches the light of a street lamp reflecting off Helena's eyelashes. "Pretty sure that's my line. Aren't I the one who thinks everything happens for a reason? And you're the one who thinks nothing does?"

It's not meant cruelly, Kate's sure. But it's not a passing comment, either. Helena says it with just enough gravity that Kate really wishes she weren't trying to follow the chirrupy voice of the GPS down unfamiliar streets so that she could pay proper attention. Instead, she says, "I just believe in randomness." She pauses, then says, "I don't believe in grand plans."

Helena thinks, then says, "But what about the plans we make for ourselves? Can't we, can't we control the randomness, just a little?" She shakes her head. Kate hears the tiny tinkle of Helena's earrings as they move. "Sorry. Apparently Florida makes me kind of maudlin. I just. . . I want to believe we can create our own future."

"I'd like to think so, too," Kate says. She turns right cautiously at a blinking red light. "But then I find out about things like, like this." The dead women. Ruined lives. She shudders. "And I want to know, what gives me the right to make plans, to change the world, to hope or pray or whatever for something different or better?"

Helena doesn't answer. Kate feels the whole car fill with what Helena doesn't say. She waits there, suffocating in it, feeling the pressure of it on her chest.

She's saved only by the fact that, according to the GPS, they've arrived at their destination. When they step out of the car, the conversation evaporates like dry ice, like it was never there in the first place. Helena turns to Kate and says, "So, how're we going to play this?"

"Well," Kate says, "obviously I get to be the good cop."

Helena snorts, crosses her arms across her chest. "Duh. But only because I make a way better bad cop than you do. You're always all, 'Let's work something out,' and I'm like, 'Oh, hi, I'm gonna punch you now.'" She glances over at the house across the street. Lights are still on in the first floor.

Helena's eyes scan with the precision of a seasoned SWAT team member. Kate can see her noting exits, determining the likely layout of the inside of the house, checking the bushes and the shadows for traps or muzzles she might be able to spot. She does it all in the space of five breaths.

"Looks clear," Helena finally says. She taps a fingernail against the hood of the car. "Really clear." Her forehead wrinkles. "You really think we should do this?"

Kate leans her hip against the closed driver's side door. "There was this guy, Jerry Brudos," Kate says. "Kept pieces of women's bodies in his workshop."

"Gross," Helena says. She hooks her thumbs in her belt loops and leans back into her hips a little bit, falling into the stance of an over-alert cowboy. Her shirt pulls up the slightest bit, and Kate sees the curve of a hipbone exposed.

"One time, a car ran into Brudos' workshop, right? Total accident, completely unrelated to the fact that the guy was a crazy fucking butcher. The police came, investigated, but never really looked in the big hole in the side of the workshop. If they had, they would've seen a girl's body hanging from a meat hook, right in the middle of the workshop." Kate looks up and down the street, but it's quiet. No cars, no movement at all. Just the two of them.

"So?"

Kate turns to Helena and says, "Guy could be President of the fucking United States. No reason not to take the extra two minutes to look inside the workshop, you know?"

Helena looks back at the house and then shrugs. "All right. You didn't need the big gross-out to get me in there, though."

Kate grins. "I know. I just like to see you squirm."

They move towards the house. Both know how to walk quietly, each footfall marked by nothing but a little movement of air. It feels strange to do this in plain clothes. Kate touches the knife she's got slipped in the back waistband of her pants. Long, deadly, and still secure. Helena's got some kind of weapon, too, Kate's sure. They hadn't talked about it, but Kate knows Helena isn't stupid. She can't exactly imagine Helena with a gun, so she expects a knife or a pair of those scary sticks Barbara'd taught Helena to use.

They creep up the walk. When they get to the front door, Kate's heart almost stops when the door swings open. Valdes is standing there, eyebrow cocked, snap on his gun unsecured. His hand is against the butt of his Glock.

He blinks, then says, "Kate Spencer? What the fuck are you doing, sneaking around my house in the middle of the night?"

Kate says very reasonably, "It's only eleven."

He doesn't laugh, but she didn't really expect him to. He just stands there, gaze becoming increasingly agitated, flicking back and forth between Kate and Helena. Helena's long legs and leather jacket suggest that Kate brought her along as some kind of protection. Kate can only imagine what he's thinking. So Kate says, "Can we come inside?"

He looks like he might laugh. Kate can't really blame him.

"Detective Valdes," she finally says, "we need to talk to you. We've been looking for connections between the serial's victims. We found one." She looks at him, at the shadow of stubble across his slender face. His black hair is flecked with grey. He looks distinguished and sharp, a seasoned and reasonable cop. Kate's met her share of killers, and Valdes doesn't fit the mold.

Could be the President of the United States, Kate. Don't forget.

His face says he knows what she's talking about.

He says, almost under his breath, "Knew I shouldn't have sent you those damn files." He walks back into the house and leaves the door open behind him. Kate knows it's all the invitation they're going to get, so she follows him in, Helena close behind.

+

She presents him with Dylan's evidence, which he'd been helpful enough to print off for her. It seems awfully damning: even if he's not a murderer, the pages certainly seem to indict him as a pretty crappy cop.

When she's done, he leans back in his chair and folds his hands in his lap. Kate wishes she was better at reading body language. Are those guilty hands? Innocent hands? Is he praying?

"So," he says. "Am I your only suspect?"

Kate doesn't know quite what to make of this question. After half an hour of listening to a litany of his defeats, Valdes doesn't seem shaken. He doesn't seem guilty, or anxious, or amused, either. He seems, well, kind of disappointed. Disappointed?

He spreads his hands out on the table when she doesn't answer. "Damn. I'd hoped you'd find something new, figure something out that I hadn't seen. That's why I sent you the files."

He looks at Kate and then Helena. "I'm a cop in Miami who deals with violent crime. Last year our violent crime rate was three times the national average. We're talking nearly 10,000 violent crimes a year." He shakes his head and blinks a second too long, like it hurts to say it. "I go through hundreds of cases a year. Most of those have some connection to the drug trade."

His eyes focus on something behind Kate's shoulder. He seems suddenly much older than he had when they first got there, standing in the doorway backlit and straight-spined. "If I held a grudge against every person who worked to kill one of my cases, then I'd probably have to go out and murder three-quarters of Miami's population."

He takes a long breath. "I knew Jacklynn Decker," he says softly. Now he looks down at his hands on the table, maybe wondering why they aren't wrapped around the neck of whatever S.O.B. mutilated Decker's body. "She loved the courtroom. Would come as second chair every time she could manage it. Sometimes, she would come on a lunch break or for a while in the morning, just to watch the lawyers do their thing."

He looks up at Kate. "You meet a lot of people who go become lawyers because they want to make a quick buck. They're stupid, smug, cocky during cross. They'll make their money, sure. But they don't care, don't care about whether their client is guilty or innocent. Don't care whether the system works. Don't care that they're trying to get some mother put away for seven to ten because somebody found a little crack in her purse. Don't think about those kids, who'll be shipped from one foster home to another until they're eighteen. Don't fucking care about any of it."

Kate knows the type. Twenty-four year old kids in thousand dollar suits who think because they passed the Bar, they're some kind of god in the courtroom. Once, she saw a defense attorney forget his own client's name and then just kept going, laughing about the oversight.

Yeah, she knows the type.

"Jacklynn wasn't like that. She defended the hell out of her clients, whether they were crackheads or murderers or just innocent kids who were at the wrong place at the wrong time." His voice gets louder, firmer, when he says, "So no, I didn't kill Jacklynn Decker or any of the others. I requested the case because Jacklynn deserved more than what another cop might've given her. She deserved somebody who cared."

Helena looks down, like maybe she's embarrassed. Her hair falls across her face.

Kate looks back to Valdes. "Okay," she says.

"Okay?" He raises an eyebrow.

"Okay. Then I'll keep looking." Kate slides the papers back into her bag.

"That's it?"

Kate nods. "Look, Detective. I've been a lawyer long enough to know what it looks like when somebody's telling the truth. So yeah, that's it." His grief is palpable, and Kate now feels a hundred percent certain that they're wasting time looking at Valdes for the murders.

They all shake hands before Kate and Helena leave. Valdes is visibly troubled, eyes dark and lids heavy. His shoulders seem unable to hold up the weight pressing down on him. He seems tired and infinitely sad. They promise to follow up should they discover anything, and Valdes doesn't ask them what a lawyer and a schoolteacher think they're going to accomplish investigating a serial killer.

When Kate and Helena get back into the car, Kate pulls out her Blackberry and dials Dylan's number. When he picks up, she cuts off his hello with, "It's not Valdes. Keep looking."

She hangs up on his questions and thinks of Manhunter. Might be bigger than Kate Spencer can handle. She chews at her lip as she weighs the options.

Helena finally breaks the silence. "I think we'd better suit up," she says.

Hearing Helena say it makes it okay for Kate to think it. She nods. "Yeah," she says, wishing the lame-ass car could peel out of the parking spot or make an impressive revving sound, just to add to the drama of Helena's voice. It's hundred and thirty horsepower just purr happily instead. God, I need better wheels. She makes a mental note to get Dylan on the project of the Manhuntermobile.

She realizes that for the first time in months, she's thinking of Manhunter in the present tense.

She glances over at Helena, who appears to be planning the night's activities in great mental detail. Kate smiles.

Up, up, and away! she thinks, and then laughs.

+

They drop their bags in the hotel room Kerry-Ann -- the best travel agent in the whole world, Kate decides -- had booked for them. The room is big and private with surprisingly good access to the rooftop of the building next door.

Kate opens the case where she'd stowed her costume. She wonders what the suit had looked like going through the x-ray scanners, if it'd looked like anything. She's always finding new talents in this piece of cloth, and she's not about to doubt that it could easily fool an x-ray, though she knows that it has metal gizmos throughout.

She spreads the costume out gently on one of the beds. She puts her boots on the floor at the foot of the bed, sets the staff on one of the pillows. She just stares for a long time, anxiety and anticipation building up like magma in a volcano, ready to erupt. Whatever part of her brain is supposed to be directing her hands and arms is on break, paralyzed by emotion.

Helena finally says, "Um, Kate? Did you forget how the zippers work?"

"There aren't any zippers," Kate says, distracted. It's true. She's not sure how the thing works, but all she has to do is slip in her legs and arms, and it seals tighter than Tupperware. Waterproof from the outside -- she's been caught in enough freak downpours to know that -- but porous enough to wick away her sweat from within.

When she first put it on, it fit her as snugly and comfortably as a soft, worn tee-shirt, or like a warm wetsuit lined with jersey. It had made her feel, for the first time since she was pregnant (after the morning sickness, of course, and before the fiercely, painfully swollen ankles) perfectly comfortable in her own body. Like something divine, an angel of retribution.

"Kate," Helena says again, softer. She puts her hand on Kate's back. Kate looks over at her, and Helena's standing there in the summer version of her costume, tight and revealing. Her stomach is hard and rippled with muscle.

Kate thinks of how Helena doesn't have any superpowers, no super-strength or anything else that would make her look like that. It's all the product of hours at the gym doing crunches and lifting weights and sprinting on a treadmill.

"Kate," Helena says again, more forcefully. "You ready for this? It's been a while."

Helena looks perfectly at ease, suited up but for her mask and belt and boots. Her long legs glisten, smooth and freshly shaved and apparently recently moisturized. Kate's stomach sinks into her pelvis, and there's a flare of heat behind her bellybutton, something like fear or arousal. She's not sure which, but both options kind of freak her out.

"Yeah," Kate finally says. Her mouth is dry and her tongue sticks to the top of her mouth. She's definitely not ready. "Yeah, sure. It's just kind of overwhelming." Kate shakes her head. "Stupid, I know."

"It's not" Helena starts, but Kate cuts her off.

"Could you get me a glass of water or something?" She thinks of asking her to find some booze in the mini-fridge, but she doesn't. "Or I'll have to blame you if I die of dehydration."

Helena stands there, unsure, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. Finally, she turns and heads towards the little bathroom, with its ice bucket and plastic-wrapped tumblers.

When Helena's back is turned, Kate hurries to strip down to her underwear and bra. Somehow, even though she's been much more naked in front of Helena, she doesn't want Helena to see her like this now. She's sweating and her legs are kind of hairy and she's definitely smelled better. She frowns, wishes there were time for a shower, but then just slips into her costume and feels it close around her, warm as flesh.

She feels it scan her, feels the deep and silent thrum of electronics at the small of her back and the inside of her leg and along the underside of her arm, where the different parts of the suit's brain reside. Feels the inside cool against her skin to help her stop sweating and as it kicks in, she feels calmer and calmer.

She turns around and Helena's standing there with a glass of ice water in her hand. She's looking at Kate, her eyes a little out of focus, and Kate can't divine what Helena could possibly be thinking. She just reaches out and takes the glass of water and drinks it down in three very large gulps.

"Thanks," Kate says. She raises her eyebrows and asks, "Are you ready for this?"

Helena pauses for a fraction of a second, then nods. "You know me, I'm always ready."

Kate grins. "Don't forget to keep the radio on." Kate's going to search the alley where the cops found Jacklynn Decker's body and Helena's going to go check out the oceanside locale where Querima Hassan was found stuffed into a trashcan.

"Don't worry," Helena says. She walks to her bag and pulls out her mask. She slips it on, her back to Kate, then steps into her boots. When she turns around, all Kate can see is Helena's bright eyes and her wide mouth, lips thinned and resolute. Kate can actually feel her pupils dilate, and she's embarrassed to hear her own breath hitch.

Helena clicks on her belt, then smiles, apparently taking Kate's labored breath for worry. "Hey, we've been doing this a long time. We'll find something."

"Your lips to God's ear," Kate says, and watches as Helena jumps out the window quieter than a shadow.

Kate stands there for a long minute before she presses on her mask and grabs her staff. She takes a deep breath, then -- heart heavy but not hopeless -- slips out the window like Helena, into the dark, humid night.

+

When Kate wakes up two mornings later at eleven (six hours of sleep proves to be a recent record), Helena's lounging on her bed drinking a cup of coffee and doing the crossword in the Miami Herald.

She notices Kate stirring. "Six letters," she says. "'Eponymous burner designer.'"

Kate stretches her toes towards the end of the bed. "Bunsen," she says, and gingerly pushes herself up, pondering the possibility of a headache. But no, her mind and head are clear and she feels, well, pretty awesome. Only a little sore, mostly just limber, muscles fluid-soft. The exercise stretches her intercostal spaces, and her breath comes easier. She feels really, really good.

Helena glances at her and says, "You look. . . happy."

"I am pretty happy," Kate says, pushing herself up. She swings her feet over the edge of the bed and her toes sink into the plush carpet. "I forgot about all the good patrol-related endorphins."

Helena laughs. "People think we just do it out of the goodness of our hearts. Wouldn't they be disappointed to know Manhunter's just driven by a chemical addiction?"

Kate sticks her tongue out at Helena as she stands and heads towards the bathroom. She's brushing her teeth when Helena says, "Oh, I forgot to tell you. You're famous."

Kate comes out of the bathroom, toothbrush tucked between her molars and her cheek. She arches an eyebrow and wipes away a bit of toothpaste from the corner of her mouth with her thumb.

"Go spit," Helena says. "You're too gross for words."

Kate rinses her mouth, looks at herself in the mirror. The circles under her eyes are lighter, her skin seems clearer and smoother. She wonders, sometimes, if her power, whatever it is, might actually keep her body younger, preserving it and keeping it healthy. She's noticed the changes before, the smoothing of crow's feet and the pinkening of sallow skin. Only after a good run amongst the rooftops, though.

Or after sex. But it's been long enough since that happened that she thinks it's possible she just made that up.

She returns to her suitcase and starts digging for something to wear. "You were saying, about my burgeoning fame?"

Helena holds up the Entertainment section. There on the front page, beneath the fold, is a picture of Kate, an older one where her hair is longer. She's dressed in a nice suit and Kate doesn't think she looks too bad. Far worse pictures they could've chosen, that's for sure.

"What the hell am I doing in the paper?" Kate asks. She leans against the wall. Weird publicity is just what they don't need if they're hoping for a break in the case.

"It's a puff piece," Helena says, looking back at the article. "It must be a slow news day here in the great state of Florida. A reporter must've seen us out yesterday, or at the airport. It doesn't say anything about why you might be here. Just local color, famous lawyer prowling the beaches for a young Miami lover. That kind of thing."

Helena grins as she tosses the paper onto Kate's bed. Kate looks at it warily, like it might jump up and bite her.

"No mention of my name," Helena says, pouting. "Which I find a little offensive, by the way. I am way cuter than you are."

"Schoolteacher takes vacation to Miami," Kate says, spreading her hands out in front of her as if describing the shape of a newspaper headline. "Stop the presses!"

"Oh, fuck you," Helena says, pushing her lower lip out even further. Kate tries not to notice. "I've always been the more interesting one. But nobody takes the time to get to know me." She crosses her arms under her breasts. She's wearing a white teeshirt and no bra and it looks really good on her.

"Helena," she says, chiding. "I am well aware of the fact that you're light years more interesting than I am. Your life is a rollercoaster of thrills and spills. But most people just aren't as smart as I am."

Helena softens a little. "I guess that's true." She cocks her head. "You take milk, right?"

Kate just blinks.

"In your coffee, I mean. I got you one." She motions towards the dresser with her chin. There's a cup of coffee there, still hot, and Kate figures that room service must have come and gone.

"Yeah, milk," Kate says. "In my coffee." She picks up the coffee, somehow inordinately moved by the gesture, by the fact that Helena knows how she takes her coffee. "Thanks," she says awkwardly.

"No problem," Helena shrugs, and returns to her crossword. "Eight letters," she says. "'Ivory tower milieu.'"

"Academia," Kate says. She stares at Helena for a long minute, thinking, Look at me, look at me, look up at me, Goddammit. She doesn't know why it's important.

But Helena doesn't look up. Just touches the sharpened point of her pencil to her lips and scowls in concentration.

Kate finally turns away.

+

They're at it for four nights. Collecting evidence, analyzing it with whatever they can cobble together and overnighting the rest to Dylan, who proves to be an ace with a mass spectrometer.

The scenes are cold, of course. They don't have Oracle's mystical computer expertise -- sometimes it seemed nothing short of magical, and Kate still wonders if Barbara's actually some kind of meta -- and even with the best Dylan has to offer, he can't wrangle anything from the information superhighway that might help them locate the killer.

It's immensely frustrating. Girls vanished from the face of the Earth. They're already buried, so analysis of their bodies is, mercifully, out of the question. Kate and Helena don't know the town well, but Manhunter and Huntress put their ears to the ground, searching out the town's usual hoodlums and petty criminals to try to get a bead on the serial.

But it's useless. Nobody knows anything about it. Nobody saw anything, and it's not clear if this is because the guy's really that good, or if it's witness-itis, a specially acquired form of blindness and deafness that sets in whenever people are sufficiently afraid of the bad guy.

If the presence of two West Coast capes surprises anyone, they don't let on. Kate figures that even heroes go on vacation, and thus that resort towns like Miami must get their fair share of transient vigilantes. But for the moment, those vigilantes are striking out, and striking out hard.

Kate crouches on a rooftop overlooking the shore. The view is coldly beautiful, even though the air isn't a degree below ninety.

She considers the ocean, so different from the Pacific. Where the Pacific is rocky and occasionally angry, the Atlantic seems serene and safe despite the waves. It looks cold the way a mountain brook looks cold, icy and fresh. It looks like one might dive in and simply float out across the breakers.

Til human voices wake us, Kate thinks. It's the kind of ocean Eliot might have been thinking of, dark and mysterious and deadly. A seagull lifts then falls, cawing into the night.

Kate hears the distant wail of a siren, and the spell is broken. She narrows her eyes behind the mask, and she gets the momentary sense the killer is so close that she could reach out and touch him.

There's a brush of air against her neck, like a human breath, salty and rank. Kate spins, still crouching, staff at the ready.

Of course, there's no one there.

Into the radio, Kate says, "Let's pack it in." She approaches the edge of the building and then she flicks her staff and flies off into the night.

+

Valdes calls before Kate's made it three blocks. The phone, tucked in one of her costume's many hidden compartments, is linked to the earpiece via Bluetooth. She crouches on the corner of a three story apartment building.

"What's up?" she says. "We haven't found anything."

He sighs hard into the phone. "Unfortunately, we have."

"Shit," Kate says. Her mask picks up infrared, and she scans the nearby streets, as if she'll find a group of cops clustered around a cooling body.

Of course, the location he gives her is on the other side of town. With her staff, it doesn't take long, but she still wishes she could hurry. When she uses the staff somewhere she might find open hostility toward capes, she makes short jumps that don't leave her flying comet-like across the open sky. She has an ongoing fear about fighter jets being scrambled to intercept her. So far, the worst that's happened is that she was sighted and reported as a UFO, but technically, that is true.

It turns out that Valdes is located way on the other side of town and by the time she's arrived, the moon is high in the sky. A sign indicates that the site is some kind of sorting facility for recyclables.



A group of cops is clustered around the doorway, where a piece of yellow police tape has been strung. Valdes is standing off to the side in a large parking lot, considering something in a manila folder and speaking in low tones to another officer. She drops lightly to the blacktop, but neither of them seems to notice her. She stays crouched in the darkness.

Valdes sighs. "Okay, Ritter," he says. "Give me a second to make a couple of calls. Could you go make sure none of the rookies are contaminating my scene?"

Ritter is young and attractive, in a very German sort of way. His eyes are light and his forehead long under his flop of blonde hair. He chuckles. "Yessir," he says. "Then I'll take the perimeter and see if there are any secondary scenes we should tape off."

Valdes just grunts in approval, and Ritter heads back towards the other cops. "Hey, knock it off!" he yells, and Kate can't help but smile. She rises to her feet and clears her throat to get Valdes' attention.

Valdes spins around at the noise, and his eyes widen. "The fuck?" she hears him say, and then he's drawing down on her and she's staring at the muzzle of his Glock.

"Valdes!" she says, trying not to make any sudden moves. "What the hell are you doing?"

He drops the gun slowly, reholsters it, and clips the holster shut before he says anything. "I can't fucking believe this," he finally says. In the yellowish light of the parking lot's sodium lamps, his eyes are completely black, obscured under heavy brows.

It hits Kate like a dump truck. Most big city cops are used to capes dropping in literally from time to time, when they happen to take an interest in a given case. It's usually the only interaction a cape'll have with actual law enforcement, so it's unlikely that a cop is going to make a connection between a cape's eyes or voice or posture and that of someone they know in the un-costumed world.

In L.A., Manhunter toys with the edge of this boundary. Kate Spencer interacts with cops everyday in the courtroom, or at the corner bodega, or at the jail when she's visiting a client. As prosecutor, she would spend time hanging out with FBI and ATF and DHS officers when they were working together on a big case. Some of them have probably made the connection between Kate and Manhunter, but so far they've been quiet about it.

But in Miami, capes are thin on the ground and thin in the air, for that matter and Valdes' mind doesn't have the easy partition that allows someone to know exactly who it is behind the mask and yet not recognize that fact at all.

And he doesn't look happy to see her. The gun was her first clue.

"I knew I shouldn't have talked to you." He wipes a hand down his face. "I can't believe I didn't see through you."

Kate peels off her mask, thinking this conversation will be easier to have if he can see her eyes. She stows the mask in a pocket near her hip and drops the staff into its holder. "I'm not a bad guy, Valdes," she says.

He laughs darkly. "Oh yeah? What do you think the papers are going to say when they find out we've got our own fucking caped crusader hopping across our rooftops? Either there's mass panic, or people are so relieved they lose all faith in the cops who are actually protecting them." He shakes his head. "This isI just thought you were smarter, Kate."

Kate screws up her forehead as she thinks. Valdes' voice has stayed quiet, and the cops near the warehouse haven't turned to look at them. Kate's never felt so vulnerable in her costume before, not in front of a civilian like Valdes. She crosses her arms across her chest. "I help people."

"A lot of help you're being. The fucker's still killing!" He points towards the warehouse. "Sofie Iverson. Thirty-six year old law professor, husband and three kids. How did you running around, stirring people up, bringing new criminals out of the woodwork help her? How is it helping find who did this?"

"I was"

He puts a hand up and Kate falls silent. "I don't even want to hear it. I want you to go home. Miami doesn't need vigilantes."

Kate has no idea that Huntress is behind her until Valdes looks over her shoulder and says, "Helena, I presume."

Helena says, "You need to back off." Her voice is low and dangerous. "We're helping you and we're not doing anything illegal, unless you have a mask ordinance, okay?" Kate can feel Helena somewhere just behind her.

Kate grimaces, but Valdes laughs. "As a matter of fact," he says, "we do have an anti-mask ordinance here in the great state of Florida. But I'll be nice and let you off with just a warning this time."

Kate can feel the tension rolling off Helena and silently wills her not to do anything stupid. Helena finally relaxes and says, "What, are you afraid we might do a better job than you?"

Valdes lifts his chin, and Kate guesses it's supposed to look defiant, but all it does is confirm Helena's suspicions. Somehow, it makes Kate so angry she can't see straight, that he would be more worried they would outshine him than he is about stopping the killer.

"Fine," she says. The muscle in her jaw burns, she's clenching her teeth so hard. "You'll never see me again." She fumbles with her pocket and puts her mask back on. She adjusts it, then slides out her staff. She flicks the staff on with her thumb.

"This isn't hide and seek, Spencer," Valdes says. "I want you out of Florida."

Power rushes through the staff and into Kate's hand, the flare of her anger had pushing the weapon into ready mode. She takes a slow breath and the staff's glow pales. She hopes Valdes doesn't realize she was accidentally threatening him with a very dangerous weapon.

Well, he's the one who drew down. Turnabout is fair play, after all.

She shakes her head. "An ego like that going to make finding this asshole a hell of a lot harder." She smiles wryly. "But I guess it'll be your funeral." It's not a threat, just a statement of fact. He's being an idiot.

She puts a little pressure on the staff and lifts into the air. Just before she really lifts off, she turns to Valdes and says, "And Sofie's, of course."

She shoots off into the sky and wishes she could just keep going and never come back to earth.

+

Helena gets back to the hotel room just a moment after Kate, so close behind that the shades are still swishing in Kate's wake. Kate hasn't even had a chance to take off her mask.

She's so angry. What the hell are they even doing here, she wonders, if there are still girls being murdered right under their noses? It's disgusting, terrifying, absolutely infuriating. Their failure and Valdes' dismissal leave her so pissed she's actually shaking, muscles pulled so tight against her bones she wonders if she might sprain something.

She's facing away from the window, but she hears the light mpf of Helena's breath as she touches down onto the carpet and the zzzzip as she recoils her line. Kate doesn't turn. She just stands there, trying to breath and trying desperately not to break any of the furniture. (Hotels, she's discovered in her lifetime of anger management problems, tend to charge a lot for that.)

Kate can feel Helena's presence behind her, can hear the slight slowing of her breath as the moments pass.

She finally can't stand it. She pivots on the ball of her foot, voice too loud as she says, "For fuck's sake"

She stops, not sure what she was going to say next. Her pulse is pounding in her ears and she can taste the sour copper of adrenaline in her mouth.

Helena's still got her mask on. Her lips are parted and her eyes are wide open and glittering with something Kate doesn't recognize. Her stomach and thighs are glossy with a sheen of sweat. Kate can see Helena's jaw move as Helena maybe struggles not to say something.

"Helena," Kate says. She's surprised at her own voice, sandpapery and low. She feels the electric thrill of this moment slide up the back of her thighs, up through her stomach, out through her sternum.

"Kate," Helena says. Her voice is old scotch and excellent cigarettes and the slow roll of the Pacific in winter. Helena's voice curls up hot and needy in the circle of Kate's pelvis.

Helena swallows hard. Kate can see her hands form fists. Helena says, "Kate, I need"

Kate doesn't let her finish. It takes the span of three quick heartbeats, and Kate has Helena pressed up against the wall next to the open window. There's a whisper of a breeze but it doesn't do anything to cool the burn in Kate's cheeks.

She's close enough to Helena to feel the movement of Helena's chest as she breathes, close enough to feel the way Helena's hips tip a little bit forward as Kate presses against her, close enough to see Helena's pulse pounding at her carotid.

Kate feels the hot flash that spreads up from her chest to her face and recognizes the feeling suddenly for what it is: arousal. "Fuck, Huntress," she says, a slip of the tongue owing to Helena's still wearing the stupid mask.

But she says it, and Helena's eyes darken and Kate feels something in the air, like the hunger of a stalking lioness. So she leans closer, whispers in Helena's ear, "Huntress. Huntress." Actually touches her mouth to Helena's earlobe and whispers again, "Huntress."

"Fuck," Helena says, through gritted teeth and then suddenly Helena's fingers are in Kate's hair, pulling her head back and Kate doesn't have a chance to register that, hey, that kind of hurts, before Helena's mouth is on hers.

Helena's mouth is so fucking hot, and it tastes like a bullet, metallic and dark. Kate brings one hand to Helena's face and the other to Helena's hip, pushing her back against the wall. When the kiss breaks, a thousand years later, Helena pushes forward a little, trying to regain her footing and maybe the upper hand.

Kate grins with all her teeth, a smile that isn't a smile but maybe some animal sign of aggression. At least, that's what it feels like, coursing through Kate's veins, the same feeling she gets when she's in some dark, nameless alley, in the midst of some fight that'll leave her bloody and bruised, but almost certainly victorious.

"Uh uh," she says, pushing Helena back against the wall, probably a little too hard. She doesn't care. She stands with a leg between Helena's, using her own hip to hold Helena firm against the drab wallpaper.

Kate leans to Helena's ear, traces the tip of her tongue around the curl of Helena's earlobe. She feels Helena's sharp breath.

"Huntress," she says quietly, as her hands slide up the curve of Helena's hip to the bare skin above her belt. She does it like it's the most natural thing in the world, like she's done this a thousand times. It feels good, it feels right. It feels, frankly, like maybe the hottest thing she's ever done.

"Huntress," she says again. "So strong, always in control of every situation." Kate's using a voice she didn't even know she possessed.

She lowers her voice to a quiet purr. "I think it's my turn to be in control."

And if the quick jerk of Helena's hips means anything, Kate knows, it's that taking a little control isn't going to be hard at all.

+

The next morning, before Kate opens her eyes, it feels like a dream.

But then she opens them, and she realizes that Helena's there, naked, splayed out on her stomach, her face turned away from Kate. There are bruises forming on Helena's back, and Kate wonders why she doesn't feel kind of horrified by the fact. Then she remembers just how much Helena had enjoyed receiving every one of those bruises, and that pretty much answers that question.

The sun's just coming up, and the room is filled with pale, watery light. Kate wonders if she's supposed to be embarrassed, if she's supposed to feel ashamed. She doesn't. All she feels is sore and sated and, well, really fucking good. She imagines the meta blood in her veins stripping years off her body in the wake of the night of sex.

She decides not to worry about her lack of angst. So she slept with Helena, so what? Weirder things have happened. I wear a costume and fight crime, Kate thinks. Doesn't get much weirder than that.

She wants to let Helena sleep, but her resolve only lasts about five minutes. Finally, she can't stand it anymore, can't help but to reach out and trace a careful line from Helena's thigh, over the rise of her ass, and up along the long dip of her waist.

Helena doesn't stir, and that makes Kate feel a little bolder. She leans forward, kisses the spot right between Helena's shoulder blades. Kisses each one of Helena's vertebrae, trying to burn them onto her memory in case she never gets this opportunity again.

She's kissing the back of Helena's knees when Helena says, "This is so much better than an alarm clock."

Kate freezes, momentarily concerned that Helena's going to freak out when she realizes just who, exactly, is currently nuzzling this incredibly intimate spot. Oh shit, oh shit.

She eases back onto her knees. Helena stretches, toes pointed towards the far wall, then slowly turns over. This isn't the movies, there's no sheet demurely hiding Helena's body from view. There's just Helena, naked as the day she was born, with her perfect breasts -- Kate thinks wistfully of her own, pre-pregnancy breasts and sighs inwardly -- the flat plane of her stomach, and below that, the black shock of neatly trimmed hair. Kate has no idea when Helena finds time for all this grooming (her own legs and, uh, other spots could sure use a little tidying).

She looks to Helena's face, and Helena smiles. A big, bright, beautiful smile, a birthday-and-Christmas-rolled-into-one kind of smile. "Hey," she finally says.

"Hey." Kate relaxes a little, If there's a freak out coming, Helena hasn't mustered it up yet.

Helena licks her lips. "C'mere," she says. Kate leans forward, just a little, but it's enough so that Helena, with some kind of freakish, cat-like grace, gets the chance to flip Kate onto her back. Helena leans forward, one hand against the bed, and there's a bright flush across her chest.

"Where'd you learn that trick?" Kate says.

"Cardio striptease," Helena deadpans. "Twice a week."

"Man, I've gotta switch gyms," Kate says and they're both laughing when Helena kisses her.

The kiss is just turning into something more (Helena's tongue in Kate's mouth, Helena's thigh pressing down against Helena's pubic bone, picking up a little bit of rhythm) when Kate's cellphone rings.

Kate groans and grabs her phone off of the nightstand. Helena just moves her mouth to Kate's neck.

Kate hits the talk button. "Kate Spencer."

It's Valdes. He sounds shaken when he apologizes for calling so early. Kate touches Helena's shoulder, and the look on her face must tell the story, because Helena's up and looking for clothes as soon as she sees it.

Kate sits up. "What's wrong?" she asks. The tone of his voice forces her lingering anger at him to the back of her mind.

"He's done it again," Valdes says. "We found another body."

+

Kate's amazed that Valdes hasn't had a full-blown meltdown by this point. He's being pretty nice to her this morning, all things considered, and the fact that he called her is an apology in itself. She wonders what must have gone through his mind before he picked up the phone, whether he realized that he might actually need their help.

She keeps her thoughts on Valdes to avoid thinking about her own panic, her own nausea, her own growing sense of despair at the discovery of two bodies in two days.

The crime scene is fresh, but the body has been moved, probably by the county coroner. CSU techs in alien-looking Tyvek suits are collecting evidence, so Kate, Helena, and Valdes stay on the other side of the police tape.

"Do you have an ID?" Kate asks, not expecting him to say yes. It could take weeks to identify a body, especially if no one has yet reported them missing.

"Yeah," Valdes says. He's watching the search, eyes trying to catch anything CSU might miss.

"Really? That was quick." Kate looks up. The air has been scrubbed clean by an early morning rain and the only mark on the vast blueness of the sky is a single comma of cloud, high up in the stratosphere. Kate wonders at the beauty of it, can't understand how such an awful thing could exist underneath such a beautiful sky.

"Well, the first officer on the scene recognized her." Valdes sighs. "She was an assistant DA. Vicious in the courtroom, but with this huge laugh. She would stand out in the hall kibitzing with you before she went in and kicked somebody's ass on the stand. She was good enough that I was always happy she and I were on the same side."

"I'm so sorry," Kate murmurs. A seagull screams and then lands on a nearby eave, perhaps considering if the strange entourage in white suits is preparing to provide it with food. "I was a federal prosecutor," she says, and Valdes flashes her a you-think-I'm-an-idiot? look. "What I mean is, I know about the death threats, the danger that comes with the job. How, after a while, it almost becomes the norm. You get sloppy."

"You saying this is her fault?" Valdes doesn't even look at her, but she can feel way he tenses.

Kate shakes her head. "I think maybe you know me better than that by now, Detective." He tilts his head, an inch of concession. "What I mean is, I can imagine her-- her last moments. That maybe she thought it was her fault. If only she carried a gun, if only she accepted police protection, if only she didn't insist on walking to her car alone. . . " Her voice trails off.

She looks sharply at Valdes. "Where has he been grabbing the women?" And where the hell are the poor woman's legs? She'd gotten a rundown from the officer in the cruiser that brought Helena and her over, which included the fact that she'd been limbless below the hips.

"Not on the way to their cars, we don't think." He gestures at the nearby parking deck with an upturned palm. "Cameras in the garage."

"So outside the buildings where they work? Near their homes?"

Valdes shrugs. "Somewhere in between, we think. Must be following them, stalking them. Nobody ever sees them disappear." He shakes his head. "He's dumping the bodies faster, too. Somebody saw ADA Metetakee the day before last, leaving her office at about six thirty."

Kate considers the alleyway, the ripped-open garbage bags. She thinks there should be more blood, but then remembers that the ADA had been tortured and mutilated elsewhere and merely dumped her. She feels the bile rise in her throat, but swallows it back hard.

"Metetakee," Kate says, to focus on something anything else. "Never heard that name before."

"She's Seminole," Valdes says. "I mean, was. She was born and raised on the reservation north of Okeechobee. Top of her class, Yale Law School." He smiles as if as something very far away. "She would joke with me, say she had to be better than everyone else just to prove that she hadn't gotten where she was 'cause of affirmative action.

"I remember," his eyes soften as he says it, "I remember, we were in her office, talking about some case, and she said that, about affirmative action. I said that I liked when people thought I was some idiot affirmative action hire. Kept 'em off balance. She thought that was great."

He goes quiet, sliver of a smile still on his face, even as his eyes refocus on the crime scene in front of him. Then he says, "Sorry your theory fell through. Christine and I were on the same side. I've got no motive."

"Yeah," Kate says. "That was the first thing I thought of, too."

He looks at Kate out of the corner of his eye, but she smiles and nudges him with her elbow. Nothing like drawing a gun on someone or accusing someone of murder to make a new friend.

"Hey," Helena says. Kate had almost forgotten she was there, she was so quiet. "What's that, there?"

Kate looks down the street, following the direction of Helena's outstretched finger. On the wall, about waist height, is some kind of white smudge.

Valdes, Kate, and Helena walk over to it. Helena gets down on her knees, nose almost touching the wall but careful not to disturb the white mark.

Valdes shakes his head. "Look here," he says, pointing towards the next storefront over. It's got a gleaming coat of fresh white paint on it. "It's just paint."

Helena nods. "Yeah, I've seen paint before. But, look," she says, pointing.

Kate kneels down next to her, leans so close that her cheek almost touches Helena's. She doesn't allow that fact to distract her, except it does a little.

Kate turns her head sharply to look at Helena. "Oh my God," Kate says. "You don't think?"

Helena leans back on her heels and shrugs. "Could be. It's worth checking. It might be nothing, but it might be"

"Him," Kate says. "Or a witness."

Valdes clears his throat. "Take pity on an old man with bad knees," he says.

Kate looks up at him, cheeks flushed but not from the heat.

She grins as she says, "It's a fingerprint."