The patter of quick footfalls shattered the eerie quiet that had settled over the empty department. Well mostly empty, Claudia shot a look to Steve who groaned and nodded in compliance. He busied himself with some papers on his desk, papers she knew to be blank. Newb. She kept out of sight, absently checking her phone again to ensure that H.G's still pinged on the other side of town.
A frazzled voice spoke as the footsteps ceased, "Hey Steve, a little late isn't it? You said it was urgent in your message." Claudia let out a deep breath and adjusted the pins on her vintage jacket. Showtime.
"Um-Myka. Uh, Yes. I got that audio recording of the Whitman poem you asked for. Well, I think I did. I couldn't play it; it's on a medium I haven't seen, it's uh, pre records. But it was the earliest recording of that poem recited by Whitman I could find." Claudia swallowed her exasperation, he's a frakking walking lie detector but ask the boy to do a wee bit of deception himself and he'd flub every other word. But he got Myka there: that was enough.
"Thanks, but that really could have waited until be honest I'm not going to be able to do much until I get my research back from the feds." Claudia grinned, bouncing on the balls of her feet. She sounded upset, annoyed, confused. Good. She was too; she could work with that.
She poked her head around the corner in time to see Steve hand over an ancient looking cylinder and wince apologetically, "Sorry by the way."
"It's alright Steve, I was just prepping for a lecture I'm T.A-ing tomorrow. I appreciate you doing this, I know it's not your job to help overwhelmed grad students." Myka's smile was warm and Claudia couldn't help but notice how it lit her up in spite of the exhaustion and frustration lining her face. Her eyes were bright too…not just in the physical sense but with intelligence. Filled, overflowing even, a woman perpetually starved for a puzzle to figure out or new information to store away and scrutinize. And in that moment Claudia could see what it was about her that had so had captivated her mentor.
Steve grimaced again and Claudia knew in that instant that her time batman-ing in the shadows was up, "No, I didn't mean that."
Claudia rounded the corner with a flourish, "What up, dude. I think it's time you and I have a little chat."
Steve stood up and backed away from his desk in record speed, "I meant that. I'm gonna-" he gestured to the department entrance, "see you later Myka," he turned to Claudia with a look of warning, "she's good people Claud."
Claudia waved him off, eyes already focused on her prize, "Don't be silly Steve-o. We're just gonna have a powwow and clear up a few things." Neither woman noticed him go.
Myka was studying her intently; it made Claudia feel eerily like a frog being prepped for dissection. She irrationally checked the brunette's palm for a scalpel before telling herself to get a grip. Classics student or not, with that stare the woman should be a cop. And she should know…she'd run into the wrong side of a few over the years. It didn't help that she had obviously T.A'd that day, her more casual clothes forgone for black dress pants and an emerald blouse. People always seemed less intimidating in jeans, except H.G, that woman could be terrifying in a towel.
She steeled her breath. She could hear Helena's voice in her head, 'Own it darling, and no one will see the cracks in your mask,' "Look, you want answers; so do I."
Myka nodded like she'd suspected as much. Smart cookie. "You know why the feds were here yesterday."
Claudia shrugged, whipping a credit card out from her back pocket, "I know part of the story," she started making her way to H.G's office, "I suspect you know the other half."
Myka snorted indelicately, " I don't know anything. She hasn't told me anything."
Claudia tsked and continued walking without turning around, certain now that her curiosity would have the grad student following, "Come on now, for H.G. to show any interest in you academically," ('or biblically' was whispered under her breath), "you gotta be smarter than that."
She fell to her knees and slid the card in the gap between the door and its frame. Once, twice…click.
She grinned turning to Myka in triumph, "Always takes a bit of finesse to find the sweet spot…" she frowned, "that didn't sound dirty in my mind."
Myka shook her head with lazy intent, as if sweeping cobwebs from the corners of her thoughts, "Her interest in my research isn't academic." Comprehension began to spread across her face, "The FBI was after my research!" The excited look of finding the correct answer was promptly drained along with all her colour a moment later, "Oh my god. I'm never going to get it back am I? No, oh hell. It's worse than that. I'm not going to be able to publish!"
When the wild gesturing began Claudia knew she had to do something to rein her in; she'd never been good with people and panicky people even less so. Plus, she still needed information. She jumped up and grabbed each flailing arm, "Yes. I'm sorry. And yes because I'm sure you're going to get there yourself in a sec, H.G. knew you'd never be able to publish."
Myka's mouth opened but Claudia plowed on, "And you have every right to be angry. Believe me, you don't realize how much you actually should be angry. She dragged you into this and now there are some things you need to know, and if she won't tell you," she let go of Myka and maintained eye contact until she'd backed up enough to prop open H.G's door, "then I will. Now come on, I've already rigged the department lobby's cameras to erase tonight's footage, but H.G's office is bug proofed."
Myka blanched even further, "Bug proofed? Is this illegal? Have I gotten involved in something illegal?"
She looked so utterly scandalized that if things weren't so dire Claudia might have laughed, "Not yet, but I can't say the same for H.G and me. Take a chill pill and I'll explain everything."
Myka began to walk past her but changed her mind as she froze in the doorway and spun around, "No wait. There's something I have to know," she seemed to brace herself for a blow, "what's the deal between Professor Wells and that blonde FBI agent."
Claudia's eyes widened, the inside of her throat suddenly feeling like it'd been used as a cat's scratching post, "Blonde? Like seriously beautiful? Soft features, sharp eyes?"
Myka nodded and Claudia cursed, any guilt over going behind H.G's back gone. She should have told her. She deserved to know Agent Dunham was involved.
"Um, okay, see this is totally why we need to chat. There are things I need to know-"
She was stalling and the brunette clearly saw through her as she cut her off, "When I asked Helena I got the run around, and now with you. I thought we were going to exchange information, hmm?" Crossed arms, laser stare, damn this woman could be scary.
"Okay, look," Claudia raised her hands, uncertain whether she'd have to calm more wild gesturing in a moment, she so didn't want to have to placate her mentor's I-really-shouldn't-go-there-but-I-just-can't-stop- myself love interest, "it's not what you think."
To the brunette's credit she merely smirked although there was no humour in the expression, "Right, so Helena didn't sleep with her, and she isn't somehow connected to my research? And you. I'm fairly certain something happened between you two as well."
Claudia opened and closed her mouth a few times before shrugging her shoulders, "Okay it is what you think, but it's complicated. I'll get to it."
Myka shook her head definitively, "No, this isn't story time. I just want a straight answer. Just give me that."
Claudia sighed and ran her hand through her short locks, "Alright. Fine. But from my experience answers don't always illuminate much when you're missing the context." She squeezed by the brunette still in the doorway, crossed the office and plopped herself down in Helena's chair, "H.G. slept with her for information."
There was a silence then. Something for which Claudia was incredibly thankful. She knew what the next question would be; she could feel it in the air, just waiting to be summoned into existence.
"And you?" There it was.
"Agent Dunham took away the only person I had left in the world," she knew her voice was bitter, and it made getting the next bit out even harder, "and she saved my life."
There was an even longer silence. After a minute or two Myka finally entered the room. She sat-or rather collapsed- into the chair opposite the large cherry wood desk and gave Claudia a mollified look, "I think I'll take that context now."
Helena drifted off, Paris. Even saying the name of the city aloud felt like breathing life into a great number of dark things she'd rather leave buried. Helena didn't share. Not with anyone. Not anymore. She and Claudia would exchange looks from time to time; an understanding would pass between them, that was as close as she came these days.
Until Myka. Helena could not rationalize it; could not understand the source of such sentiment, but there was something about the young woman that made her feel like dredging up every twisted shadow within her…as if by expelling it, the very light that drew her to Myka could somehow eradicate her darkness. It was a dangerous notion.
"I was teaching at the Sorbonne. I came across some interesting information. Hardly anything truly, just a hint of a path and a whisper that something worth seeking might lie at the end. But soon the late night calls started. Of course no one was ever on the line." She shook her head, lamenting her own stupidity, "I told them to stop being such a damned cliché, if I remember correctly. Then they started following me, always a different face but they made no attempt to hide what they were doing. But I was stubborn, arrogant even, and ever so curious. And for that boldness, they took my daughter from me."
She took a shaky breath, her hand trailing up and along her collarbone as it sought out the locket around her neck. After a few moments she could feel it leaving an indentation in her palm, and her grasp only grew tighter. She waited; she could see Olivia's confusion already and there was little point in continuing just to be interrupted. Brown eyes scanned the darkened apartment. Sparse but warm. Not lived in.
"I read your file. There was no record of a daughter."
Helena smiled, "No there wouldn't be. My Christina. She was my brother's technically, the product of that summer's whirlwind romance left on his doorstep. But he was not fit to raise a child. The man was barely able to look after himself." She sighed, an almost wistful look crossing her face, "He may have been my older brother, but I was paying off his gambling debts while still in secondary school."
Olivia's look changed, her compassion at war with her suspicion. She cared with a depth Helena had rarely seen. It was what made manipulating her that night in Vegas so very easy; it was also a part of what made her so very good at her job. That and her dissatisfaction: with not understanding, with not saving everyone. If there was ever someone with a savior complex it was Olivia Dunham. It was to both that sensitivity and that drive that Helena sought to appeal now.
"You raised her as your own."
"Christina was mine, in every way that mattered." Her tone left no room for argument; she emphasized the point with an exaggerated swig of whiskey.
Olivia's eyes fell, taking in the slight shake to Helena's hands as she gripped the glass.
The blonde reached across the table to snag the whiskey bottle, thus revealing a thin line of flushed skin as her black tank top inched up. Helena's eyes fell to the spot as she allowed herself the luxury of the distraction.
Helena had bedded a good few men and women in her life, and some for more than purely amorous reasons. But few had left such an impression in so short a time as the young FBI agent. She had many regrets in her life, acting on impulse and emotion will do that. She regretted manipulating Olivia, but she did not regret sleeping with her, did not regret knowing how Olivia sounded on the cusp of orgasm, or that when she grazed her nails down the small of the blonde's back where the freckles formed the constellation of Cygnus (the swan) she'd tremble, eyes rolling back. She smiled faintly into her tumbler and took another sip, no, she could not find it in her to regret that.
"I remember your brother. His file I mean. Inventor wasn't he? Engineer for the British government?"
Helena chuckled, a conspiratory gleam in her eye, "Ah, no. But I let the world think he was." At Olivia's questioning expression she elaborated, "Oh, he had the credentials but no imagination, no spark, and no one wanted something made by a woman with a doctorate in romantic and Victorian literature, a genius IQ, and a problem with authority."
Olivia gave the brunette a wry look, "I noticed that last part. So you taught at the Sorbonne and invented tech for the British government in your free time," Olivia scratched the back of her neck and blew some hair out of her eyes, impressed in spite of herself, "all the while also raising your niece as your own?"
A clock on the far wall went off, midnight. Helena nodded, "Well it sounds crazy when you put it like that, but essentially yes," her smirk blossomed into something softer, nostalgic even, "my life was full, in every single way." She gave the agent an appraising look, "Have you ever been content, Olivia? Completely and wholly satisfied with your piece of the world and your place in it?"
She turned back to her glass, having already discerned her answer from the look in those pale green eyes. The woman was haunted, and she suspected the blonde had carried around her ghosts for far longer than Helena, "No. I didn't think so. It's an awful lot to lose. It will make a person do curious things. Things they would never have dreamed of doing."
It wasn't an excuse; Helena wouldn't make excuses for her actions. And after a moment Olivia nodded, having seen that explanation for what it was, a reason, "And they died."
Helena stood up from her chair abruptly, pressing both palms to the wall for balance. She'd drunk more than she'd thought, "Were murdered you mean." She bit out the words. She closed her eyes as she reined in her emotions. This anger was like an old lover, so easy to fall back into when you remember all the steps.
"Are you saying it was arson that killed your brother and…daughter?"
Helena cocked a brow as she leaned more fully against the wall and looked down to where Olivia still sat, watching her, "You have an awfully good recollection of my file."
The corner of Olivia's mouth quirked slightly as she raised her index finger to her temple, "Photographic memory."
Helena latched greedily at the insight, knowledge, understanding, that was how she curbed the rage. She scrutinized the other woman for a long moment. Her jaw dropped and she pointed a finger at the woman accusingly, "That's how you kept beating me at blackjack that night! You were counting cards."
Olivia leaned over the table, propping herself up on both elbows and interlacing her fingers. With the movement, long blonde locks were haloed by the floor lamp behind her, and she seemed to be set aglow, an angel with a far from innocent expression gracing her face, "You weren't the only one manipulating matters that evening, but you're changing the subject. Are you saying the fire was set on purpose?"
With a heavy exhalation Helena pushed herself up and off the wall, choosing instead to pace about the small room, her eyes falling to a picture on a small table of a blonde who looked an awful lot like Olivia carrying a baby in her arms. She picked up the frame and ran her finger absently along the smile on the woman's face,
"What I'm saying is that I was warned to stop my research. That one fateful week in June I left my child with my brother to give a lecture in London. What I'm saying is that I received an untraceable call telling me that for not listening there would be consequences, and that the next day the embassy contacted me to tell me both my daughter and brother were dead."
"But that didn't stop you."
"Of course it didn't." Her tone was sharp, but the aggravation was not directed at Olivia, "I couldn't let it go. Not when they were out there. Doing this to other people. Destroying other lives simply to protect their secrets. There was a camera installed in a shop across the street from my brother's place. I bribed the shopkeeper for all his footage. I spotted the same man watching his place 3 times. Then he entered and exited his building just 15 minutes before the fire."
"And the police wouldn't listen? I find that hard to believe."
"They were incompetent enough not to see the fire for what it was. I also held a suspicion that some members of law enforcement may be involved, a suspicion at last confirmed yesterday afternoon when you showed up at my office." There was that confused look again, but unlike earlier when it irritated her, it now brought her comfort. For if Olivia didn't understand her meaning, it suggested she was not yet one of them.
That said, there was one thing she felt the need to make abundantly clear. She carefully put down the picture frame and made her way over to the agent. To her credit Olivia did not back down, did not flinch, as Helena breached her personal space much like she had in front of her office the day before. Placing both palms flat on the table she leaned over until she was eye level and but a breath away,
"Know this. The only reason I'm trusting you this far is because you were there that night at the warehouse and I saw your face after you pulled the trigger. You care. It is your greatest strength and your Achilles heel. Tonight I'm hoping it will be both because I'm up against more forces than I can handle, some with which you are uniquely suited to help me. " She stood up straight, unable to discern anything but calm assurance from Olivia's face and posture.
Silence dragged for a moment after her impassioned words, it was clear that Olivia was choosing her next step with great care, "And Claudia, how does she fit into this?"
Helena buried her sigh of relief in a heavy exhale and a clearing of the throat. Olivia's response was neither a dismissal nor acceptance, but rather a gesture to continue. Helena could work with that, "If you're implying I somehow dragged her into this you are very much mistaken." The haughtiness in her tone was beyond her ability to control, not one of her best qualities but one she wore well, "Claudia was involved long before I. She was only 9 when they killed her parents. When I came across her she'd practically grown up on her crusade. She didn't know anything else."
Flashback (Claudia POV)
The air was thin, a stifling 107°F and Claudia groaned inaudibly as she wiped the sweat off the back of her neck. She'd ducked behind a large rosebush on a lawn that was far too green to be natural. She had thorns in places she didn't care to think about, but it was worth it, she'd found them.
She fiddled with the frayed edge to her jean shorts as she debated her options; Joshua would kill her if she did anything rash, well…more rash than staking out the place of one of the men responsible for their parents' deaths. He'd been an exceptionally hard man to track: average height, average build, thinning hair and a thousand and one aliases. After a false lead in St. Louis and another in Minneapolis, they'd finally caught a break.
Twenty minutes ago he'd walked up to the door of a nondescript, white colonial home, and a man she didn't recognize had let him. But the really interesting bit was that someone else was already tailing him. Claudia had easily spotted the rental stopping at the corner of the street. And while she was good, from her position she easily saw a thin raven haired woman in her mid thirties sneaking from backyard to backyard until she was in the next lawn over. Definitely not a cop. She didn't move like one, and she'd never seen a cop in khakis.
"Curiouser and curiouser. Now what?" She turned to her left and caught the eye of a creepy looking garden gnome, "break into Mr. Green thumb's house and use the phone you say? Well that's not very neighborly but if you insist." She pulled out a lock pick from her pocket and eyed the house across the street to see if the coast was clear. It wasn't. Far from it. A black SUV turned onto the street, and pulled right up to the curb in front of the house she'd been staking out.
"Jeez aren't you Mr. Popular."
Crouched and ready to bolt, Claudia waited. After a moment a blonde in slacks and a pale green button down stepped out of the driver's side. The shades and the strut screamed law enforcement even before Claudia caught sight of the gun slung low on her hip. Pulling her long locks into a low ponytail the woman turned and stared right at her, or rather right at the rosebush she was hiding behind. Startled, Claudia fell back onto her ass and cursed under her breath. She thought for sure the jig was up… but after a few seconds, or maybe an eternity, she wasn't sure, the woman turned and started heading up the path to the house.
She wanted to get closer, but her raven haired friend apparently had the same idea. Instead she scribbled down the SUV's plates onto the back of her hand. When the door opened again to reveal the blonde with her target in cuffs, Claudia was caught in a chaotic mess of conflicting emotions. On the one hand it felt good to see one of the men responsible for destroying her life chained up, but it wasn't enough.
For all she knew he was being arrested for evading his taxes. She also needed him to find the others, and now she had to know what the cops knew. She gave one last look to the black haired stranger. There were too many pieces moving around and she couldn't even see the whole board. She wiped her sweaty palms on her thighs and blew a lock of hair out of her eyes, "Time to return to home base."
Claudia ducked under a break in a rusted chain link fence and hopped over some loose debris from the building that had been demolished in the next lot over. Home base this week was a warehouse on the edge of town. She made her way up to the back entrance, and threw it open theatrically, "Lucy I'm home!" She winced as she heard the echo of rapid footsteps. Time to face the music.
"Claudia!" She was pulled into a tight hug before she could get another word out.
A fter a second she wormed out of the tight grasp, "Gross dude. You're sweaty; I'm sweaty. No need to make a stink sandwich. I hate this city, have I mentioned?"
Her brother was still scrutinizing her as if looking for injuries or maybe a third arm, "Claud. I told you to stay here. You do the computer stuff and I do the legwork. That's the deal. You're only-"
" Only 14 yada yada I know Joshua, but I got a new ping on my web crawler and you weren't around… and I found one of them," she grabbed his shoulders and shook slightly, "we finally found them. I was right; they're here."
The excitement on Joshua's face cranked Claudia's own up a few more notches and she jumped up in down in place a few times before darting away to her laptop. She'd set up shop on a table in front of a large wire box. She was hooked with some major juice, and it would only take a few minutes to get the name of the woman who'd arrested their man.
Joshua followed her, "Well? Where is he?" She ignored him, booting up her baby and logging onto the DMV database, child's play. There she was,
"FBI Agent Olivia Dunham. Now how are you involved in this?"
She raised a hand over her shoulder and blindly clasped it over his mouth, "Quiet from the peanut gallery. The wiz kid is at work." He licked her hand and she quickly pulled it away to wipe on her shirt. Ew. Brothers. A few clicks and 'secure' networks later and they had more than ever before.
While he waited, Joshua eyed the organized chaos that was her workspace, "Are those credit cards? I thought we already had the identity theft talk."
Claudia snorted and waved at him absently, "Well bro I'm afraid crusades for justice don't pay the bills… Oh here we go," taken into custody today by Agent Dunham, now they were talking, "Benedict Valda, well that's certainly a mustache-twirling worthy villain name. And you're being held-frak!"
"Claudia," Joshua was using his big brother voice, and after a moment Claudia turned from her computer to look at him, "tell me what's going on."
She reached up and pinched one of his cheeks with a smirk; "You're so cute when you get all paternal." After taking in his withering stare for a few moments she explained, "Good news, we've finally got a real name to put to this bastard, bad news the police picked him up from one of his buddies' houses and they didn't put where they're keeping him in their records," she raised a hand as Joshua opened his mouth to interrupt, "good news, I have the name of the Fed who took him into custody and she's staying at…"
Her fingers flew across the keyboard, the rest of her may be a klutz but her fingers were skilled performers in their own rite, "The MGM Grand. You still got that suit mom bought you when you turned 18?" She didn't wait for a response, of course he did, they held onto every last piece of them they could, "cuz we're hitting a casino tonight!"
"Wait," Myka's voice cut in, thus ruining her flow. Claudia had been hoping to get it all out at once. Rip off the Band-Aid so to speak, "What about Helena? I'm assuming she was the woman also watching the guy, Valda was it?"
Claudia nodded, "Correctamundo, ten points to Gryffindor." She cocked her head to the side, "Or is it Ravenclaw? I can so totally see you as a Ravenclaw." Myka just stared at her, but Claudia could see the amusement in the slight quirk of her lips. Good. Danger and dire circumstances aside, the brunette was wound a little too tight, "Anyway, Agent Dunham was our target, at the time H.G was just a curiosity, a potential snag to keep aware of."
Myka leaned in with interest, "At the time?"
Claudia nodded, if she closed her eyes she could almost taste the tobacco in the air and see the flashing lights and great sea of tacky carpeting, "Until we spotted her at the casino, and that's when everything started to go straight to hell."
Flashback (Helena's POV)
The front doors swung open automatically as she approached, the shift from oppressive heat to chilled stale, recycled air was jarring and Helena stopped in the lobby to gather her bearings. She trailed her fingers down the waistline of her blood red dress. The neckline dipped invitingly down to her sternum and sank even further in the back. She hadn't had cause to wear anything like it since Christina's passing, but tonight felt like as good a time as any to break it in.
She passed a large gold lion surrounded by plastic plant life Tack-Chic. It seemed to be the style of this city. She kept to the perimeter as moved, her eyes peeled for sight of the blonde agent. Various plans and contingencies ran through her mind as she weaved between throngs of patrons and servers.
Eventually she spotted Agent Dunham perched on a stool at one of the blackjack tables. Good, she was out of her room. Of her possible plans, lifting the agent's keycard and sneaking into her room was one of the simpler ones. Plan C, for example, involved causing a fire in the laundry room. As she strode over to the table, she caught sight of a young man in a suit eying Agent Dunham from across the room.
Now drawing the amorous gaze of men (and women) wasn't terribly surprising- the blonde agent was looking awfully fetching out of her work clothes and in a little black dress with a dusting of silver along the halter-but there was just something about him. She kept him in her periphery until he broke away towards the elevators. She shook it off and pulled out the only empty stool at the table, just to the left Agent Dunham. She studied the woman out of the corner of her eye: she wasn't carrying a purse and there certainly weren't pockets in that dress so where was the keycard…her eyes fell to the halter of the woman's dress. Oh. A slight complication.
She placed a sizable stack of bills onto the table, "Ten grand in chips please." The dealer occupied himself behind the counter counting her allotted chips, and Helena decided to use the break to her favour. She turned slightly the blonde agent and assumed her most charming smile. The agent smiled back reservedly, and Helena's breath caught as pale green eyes fell to the cleavage afforded by her dress. Well, wasn't that interesting? An alluring solution to her dilemma blossomed in Helena's mind.
She leaned over farther than necessary to accept her chips from the dealer, her smile widening to show two long rows of white as Agent Dunham's gaze (and the rest of the table's) lingered for a long moment before turning back to her cards.
Over the next twenty minutes a whole mélange of people cycled through, none lingering for too long as it was clear that Agent Dunham was dominating the table. It was fascinating to watch, the way she furrowed her brow as she scrutinized her cards way, how she pulled her bottom lip into her mouth and sucked before doubling down. For a moment, Helena almost forgot what she was there for, but the cool metal locket around her neck was ever the reminder. She caught sight of a camera pointed at their table. It wasn't scanning around like the others, and if she didn't know better she'd have said it was watching her. But that didn't make sense; she hadn't done anything to warrant that, yet.
Helena was considering how to best start up the conversation when she was surprised to hear the blonde speak first, "You're pretty good." It was the first time she'd heard the agent speak; her voice had a pleasantly low timbre. The kind someone could fall into if they weren't careful.
She grinned and nodded her head towards the growing pile of chips to the agent's right, "You're better."
A delicious shiver ran down Helena's spine as Agent Dunham leaned towards her, a captivating smirk pulling across full, glossed lips, "Why do I have a feeling you don't admit that very often?"
Helena grinned cheekily even as warning bells went off in her head. They'd barely spoken and this Federal Agent already had a good read on her, she'd have to tread very carefully, "Because I don't. Can I get you another drink Miss…"
"Olivia," A hand was offered and Helena took it, taking in the feel of lightly calloused palms before letting go, "And it's whiskey; Jameson, 18 years."
Helena tipped her head to the side appraisingly as she raised her hand to signal a nearby server, "You have good taste."
Olivia laughed, sparkling green eyes rolling down Helena's body with intent, "I like to think so."
"Okay, I know this part."
Helena smirked from her perch on the side of the table, "I was just being thorough."
Olivia rolled her eyes, but the left side of her lips quirked ever so slightly, "Yes, I remember how thorough you can be."
It was hard to tell in this light, but if Helena didn't know better she'd say Olivia was blushing. She grinned, her mind darting against her control to another woman with bright green eyes and a charming penchant for blushing, "Indeed."
Flashback (Claudia's POV)
She tugged awkwardly on the collar of the maid outfit she'd lifted as she slapped an 'out of order' sign on the door of the basement level laundry room. In a place like this there were laundry rooms on almost level, but the basement would allow her the access she needed. She pulled a laundry cart into the room and locked it behind her.
Under the towels and sheets she removed her laptop a bunch of cables, and a hammer. She passed two long rows of industrial sized washing machines before spotting her mark. According to the building's blueprints, there should be a thick bundle of wires right behind that wall. She twirled the hammer in her grip, "Say hello to my little friend."
A few minutes later she was dusting plaster off her arms as she finished plugging herself in, "You read me big bird?"
There was a groan in her ear, "I thought we decided on the code-names."
Claudia grinned as she started scanning through the various cameras looking for their agent, "I'm sorry, I just don't see you as a Captain America. Now big bird, you know, educational but a little preachy? Oo, or bert. I can call you bert."
There was a loud bark of laugher, and without even seeing him Claudia knew Joshua was shaking his head at her, "Only if I get to call you Ernie."
She grinned, "Deal," her eyes caught a familiar halo of blonde hair at one of the blackjack tables, "I've got her. She's on the casino floor, blackjack, table 17." There was a pause and Claudia snickered at her screen, "To your left Bert." She watched him ease his way closer to her table, stopping some ten yards away.
"So Ernie, who exactly is paying for these lovely new ear pieces?"
She rolled her eyes, they were about to break into the hotel room of a federal agent and he was hung up on a little case of identity theft, "Arthur Nielsen, but don't you worry your pretty head about him. He's got great credit; they'll refund him. He's just going to get a little heart attack opening his bill this month. Now, we don't know how much time we have. Get moving."
She followed his progress up to the blonde agent's hotel room, occasionally glancing back to the woman in question. She seemed to be doing very well for herself if the pile of chips next to her was any indication. Hopefully that meant she'd be sticking around for a while. After watching Joshua fumbling in front of the hotel room for a minute she couldn't help piping up, "You know I could have used this maid outfit to get you an all access pass."
"What did I say about keeping you as removed from danger as possible? Have a little faith in your big brother won't you?" On camera she could just make out the small device she'd seen him working on all afternoon, "You're not the only genius in the family." He slid something into the reader and while she couldn't see the door lock turn from red to green, she could hear his sigh of relief just before he swung the door open.
"Find the computer?" There was an affirming hum followed by rapid typing. After a few minutes the woman in red sitting next to Agent Dunham finally turned toward the camera, "Uh-oh."
T he typing halted abruptly as Joshua's panicked voice cut in, "What do you mean uh-oh? I'm in the middle of multiple felonies here Claud you can't just say 'uh-oh.'
"No it's okay. Relax. It's just that-" she struggled for the best way to say it without worrying him, "remember the woman I mentioned that was tailing Valda? Well she's here, and she's chatting up our agent."
"There's no way that's a coincidence."
" No shit Sherlock. Just hurry up," she turned her gaze back to the camera watching the blackjack tables, "Son of a biscuit. They're gone." She frantically scanned the other cameras on the floor, finally catching sight of both Agent Dunham and their mystery woman heading towards the elevators, "They're headed your way. You need to get out of there. Do you have it yet?"
More typing, Claudia groaned, if it were her, she'd have the info already. "Got it. It looks like he was released on bail a few hours ago, and before you ask, I got his address."
She nodded, "Good. Now amscray!"
Claudia watched him flee into the hall and freeze suddenly in place, right in the eye line of the opening elevator doors. He just stood there, staring in the direction of the elevators. Claudia looked on confused, she tried calling his name but received no response. He was looking just out of sight of her cameras and the redhead scrambled for the one that must be in the elevator.
When she found it, her jaw dropped open. Their mystery woman had Agent Dunham pinned to the side of the elevator, one hand wrapped in long blonde hair and the other slipping up and under the hem of the woman's dress. Her face was obscured as she feasted upon the long expanse of pale skin bared by the halter of Agent Dunham's dress, and on the multi-million dollar casino camera feed she could make out the red discoloration left in the woman's wake as her mouth drifted lower. They clearly hadn't even heard the elevator doors slide open.
Claudia blinked once, twice, and cleared her throat loudly, "Dude, I know you're living every guy's wet dream right now but you really need to go now!" She gave one last look to the pair, someone could make a mint selling that on the internet, "And take the stairs. Spock out."
She exited through the employee back entrance, looking around before ditching the maid outfit in a nearby dumpster. She parked herself on Joshua's beat up Oldsmobile and waited, unaware than when they departed it would be their turn to be followed.
"So, after you slept with me and hacked into my computer you sought out Valda…"
Helena nodded, fiddling again with her locket to school her nerves, "After some convincing he admitted he started the fire that killed Christina and my brother, and then I kindly asked him where I could find some of his colleagues."
Both of Olivia's eyebrows shot up at that statement and Helena met her stare unflinchingly. After a long moment Olivia sighed and slumped back in her chair, "So we're going to ignore the fact that I found him bound to a chair and tortured to death are we?"
Helena's eyes hardened but inexplicably, she grinned. There was no joy or warmth to the expression; rather it was danger personified, predatory and cold. She'd had no cause for such a smile before Paris, but she'd since perfected it. It was the last thing Mr. Valda had ever seen. But despite all this sharing and trust building, there was no need for Olivia to know that, "Benedict Valda received no more and no less than he deserved. He was a monster, and I suspect he was killed by one of his own creation. Fitting wouldn't you say?"
Olivia shook her head in exasperation and waved a hand, "Continue."
"Well naturally I went after his colleagues, just because I'd dealt with the man who'd started the fire didn't mean I didn't want the one that had given him the matches so to speak…" A thought struck her, "Hold on, I got my information from Mr. Valda, but how did you know to go to the warehouse?"
The agent shrugged modestly, but there was a glint of pride in her eyes, "We'd arrested Valda in connection to a smuggling operation, but we also were after two others, one of which had been ticketed for parking in front of a fire hydrant a block from the warehouse." Olivia shook her head, frustration suddenly creasing the lines of her face, "Looking back though…they had nothing to do with smuggling did they?"
Helena ran her fingers through her hair and bit her lip in thought, "Oh I do believe some smuggling was involved, but given what happened next I'd say what they were smuggling was far more insidious than anyone could have imagined."
Flashback (Helena POV)
Helena parked her rental on the edge of the street and stepped out. Even after dark the heat was overwhelming. Only a few of the street lamps on the block were operational; half the lots were filled with large industrial warehouses, the other half with rubble from buildings torn down. Not the side of town you wanted to get caught in after dark.
She pulled out a glock from the glove compartment. It had been disturbingly easy to get her hands on one upon reaching the city. She hated how it felt in her hand, the weight of it; hopefully she wouldn't have to use it. She'd had many long nights to think about this, and she had far more creative ideas. She'd just been getting started with Valda, but the man was quite vocal and the neighbors were bound to notice. Here, she'd have privacy.
She took her time as she made her way to the warehouse Valda had told her about; it helped that it was the only one with lights on. As she ducked under a break in a rusted, chain link fence, she could hear muffled yells emanating from inside. She picked up her pace until she reached the back door, quietly propping it open to peak in. The warehouse mostly empty, a few scattered boxes in a giant room half the size of a football field. At the centre, two people were being held at gunpoint: a young man and a redheaded girl no older than 15. Helena recognized the young man as the one from the casino, the one that had been watching Agent Dunham. She didn't recognize the girl, but she was clearly terrified, they both were.
There were two men with guns; one was holding what looked to be an old antique compact. He was offering it to the young man, demanding he take it. Helena looked on confused; she sniffed the air, fudge? The guy was pleading, begging that they let the girl go. But the closest guy just shoved the compact into his hands, "Open it." The words echoed in the room.
The man backed away, and his partner slid a switchblade across the cement, stopping just shy of the boy, "Pick it up." Helena was poised to jump in, the safety on the gun had been switched the moment she'd spotted them, but she didn't understand… if they intended to kill them, why were they arming them?
The boy opened the compact and froze in place. The girl called out his name, but he did not respond. He seemed to be staring fixedly at his own reflection. There was no time to dwell, however, as the two men began to make for the exit on the other side of the warehouse. Not wasting any more time, Helena swung open the door and ran inside. She ignored the shocked look on the young girl's face as she raced after the men. They saw her and fired twice, missing both times and Helena returned fire just as they yanked open the door and slammed it shut behind them.
She collided with the door, but it didn't budge; they'd locked it from the outside. Scrutinizing the situation quickly, she used the butt of her gun to break the hinges, they were already more rust than steel and crumbled after the 3rd or 4th hit. The door echoed as it fell to floor, and she darted out without glancing back. The screech of tires filled the air and she gave chase. She caught sight of a dark, plateless SUV and fired blindly at it as she ran. One of her shots shattered the rear window, but the car just kept going, taking with it her only lead.
The rage and despair she'd later experience had no time to take hold as a horrified scream reached her ears, "JOSHUA! NO!" Helena sped back to the warehouse, convinced that one of them must have stayed behind. But when she got there the sight stopped her in her tracks. The boy, the young man that had been so desperately begging to save the redheaded girl's life was now coming at her with a switchblade. Her mouth fell open, a rare feeling immobilizing her, uncertainty.
The girl fell to the ground, her hands raised in defense. A shot rang out. But it was not from her. It was Agent Dunham, inexplicably there, gun drawn and looking just as confused as she felt.
The boy fell, dead before he hit the ground. Agent Dunham had excellent aim. The scream that erupted from the girl then was far worse than any that came before, "JOSHUA!" It rebounded off the walls, off the lofted ceiling, echoing again and again, seeming to intensify rather than ebb. The redhead pulled the boy into her arms as the blood began to pool in a circle around them. The compact lay closed by their side and the girl just continued to scream.
Helena knew she'd hear it in her dreams, and as her eyes met the blonde agent's across the warehouse floor, she knew Agent Dunham would as well.
"And you know the rest," Helena turned to stare out the window behind her, blinking the moisture from her eyes, "you held us for 24 hours, but in the end let us go. Lack of evidence and all that."
"Claudia was placed in foster care I believe." There was no accusation in Olivia's tone now, just curiosity.
Helena nodded, "She ran away her first night. I found her at the bus station. I promised her then to help her find the people responsible, and I figured I was better than no one at all."
Olivia nodded, considering her words. Quiet descended on the room, but it was full. Full of everything that had been said, of all the questions that were still left unanswered, of the apologies and remorse felt but not offered, and of the confessions hinted at but holding no regret.
Their brief staring match was broken by a knock on the door. Helena's eyes went to the clock on the wall, 2am.
"A little late for a house call isn't it?" The words were aimed for teasing, but Helena was too mentally exhausted too put much effort behind it. Olivia didn't answer as she stood, but it was clear from her expression that she had not been expecting company. Helena followed her to the door, watching in bemusement as Olivia pulled a robe off the hook and draped it over her shoulders before looking through the peephole.
She turned back to Helena, tying the robe closed with one hand and undoing the deadbolt with the other, "It's your friend." Helena's confusion was short lived as the door swung open to reveal,
"Myka." She looked exhausted but determined. Her chin was raised in a manner bordering on defiance, as if daring Olivia to question her very late and unannounced appearance. Green eyes scanned the robe Olivia wore, hardening slightly before meeting Helena's over the woman's shoulder, "I'm here for Helena."
Olivia snorted and threw her hands up, "Why come on in." She glanced between the two women who no longer seemed to register her presence, "I'm going to get a little less comfortable. Talk amongst yourselves." She left the room without waiting for a response.
Helena took in Myka in. She'd like to think she'd been getting to know the young grad student over the last month, and looking at her now she saw none of the helpless confusion that had been there the prior afternoon in the department lavatory.
Myka nodded, "We need to talk." Helena winced but nodded. She'd been doing an awful lot of that lately. Perhaps it was foolish of her to think she could keep Myka out of this; it was definitely idiotic to believe she could keep Claudia from the thick of it.
All in then. Wherever it took her.