Jade likes him at first sight.
He’s tall, he’s gorgeous, and he’s angry, angry like fire rolling through the heavens. Jade knows that kind of anger, knows that you have figure out how to consume it so it doesn’t consume you. She doesn’t know if he knows that, not yet.
She can’t wait to see it.
“Hey there, lover,” she purrs, swinging her feet in midair. She’s perched on the counter in his ratty hideaway apartment, nibbling her way through the last apple he’d had in the bowl on the table. She wonders if it’s appropriate to make a joke about archers and apples, but by the time she’s done considering it, he’s already lowering his bow.
“Cheshire,” he growls, and really, that shouldn’t make her smile curve more sharply, and yet.
“Red Arrow,” she nearly sings, sliding off the carpet and tossing the apple’s core towards the garbage can in the corner. She hears it rustle the bag as she takes another step towards him, and the arrow rises a little more with every step she takes. Jade comes to a stop with the arrow biting into her chest armor. “Now, that isn’t any way to treat a lady.”
“I’m sorry,” he nearly snarls, and the anger is just rolling off of him, snapping and cracking in the air around them. “I was under the impression that women who broke into apartments and laid in wait for the owners to return didn’t qualify as ladies.”
Jade laughs, delighted, and grabs the shaft of the arrow. “And here I was under the impression that you’d appreciate that sort of initiative.”
He stiffens minutely and narrows his eyes beneath his mask. “What do you want?”
“You,” she says simply. Sometimes the truth is the best course of action, and Jade has the feeling that anything less wouldn’t work here.
There’s a heavy moment of stillness before he jerks his chin. “Let go.” When Jade drops her hand from the arrow, he lets the tension out of the bowstring, and the arrow falls towards the floor. He catches it without looking and puts it neatly back into the quiver.
Jade smiles. “Nice trick,” she says. “Got anything else that will impress me?”
Jade isn’t at all sure what she’s doing.
That should probably be a clue of some sort, she thinks wryly as she picks her things up off the floor and heads for the bathroom. She had planned to get an idea of who Red Arrow is, what he’s capable of, and have herself a little fun in the meantime. It’s not that she hadn’t accomplished those goals; it’s that now, in the late afternoon light, with the man in question snoring while taking up at least eighty percent of his too-narrow-for-two bed… Jade finds herself wishing that she didn’t have to leave before he wakes.
She pulls her clothing on and leaves without looking back again. Some things are best left alone.
Now, if only she can make herself stick to that. Jade has her doubts.
“Cheshire,” he nearly growls, “what are you – no, don’t tell me, just-”
“Oh, don’t send me away,” she laughs. “I brought you a present, lover.”
“And don’t call me that,” he sighs, lowering his bow. “What could you possibly have for me?”
Jade grins and flips him a thumb drive. “Information.”
Red Arrow’s face breaks into a reluctant grin. “So you do actually like me.”
“I didn’t say how useful it was,” she teases, turning to duck back out the window. “I’m not telling any tales out of school, Arrow.”
“All information is good information, as long as it’s true,” Red Arrow says absently, as if he’s reciting an old lesson. He puts the thumb drive on the end of his table and reaches out to catch her wrist. She lets him do it. “Thanks, kitten.”
Jade groans. “Okay, I’ll stop calling you ‘lover’ if you promise to never call me ‘kitten’ again.”
He seems to hesitate before squeezing her wrist lightly. “Roy,” he says as he lets her wrist drop. “And no, I’m not expecting you to tell me yours, I just-”
“Jade,” she says before she can talk herself out of it. Roy’s mouth snaps shut, so Jade leans in, kisses him quickly, and darts the rest of the way out the window.
She finds him, after.
“Red Arrow,” she says, dropping in beside him and blocking a strike that would have bruised one of his ribs badly, if not broken it outright. “I think we should talk.”
“Fuck you,” he snarls, spits. “You knew, didn’t you, you knew this whole time-” He pivots, wrenches one of the men over his hip, and tosses him a truly impressive distance. He turns just in time to twist away from a kick and return one of his own.
Jade turns her attention to the three rather large men bearing down on her. She smiles as she draws her sai, making quick work of her attackers before turning to look at Roy.
He looks nearly wild as he grapples with the last of the men. It’s in no way a fair fight, and Roy should have been able to finish it easily. He’s far from the top of his game, though, and Jade grimaces as Roy’s opponent gets a lucky shot in. Roy grunts and loses his grip on the man, and Jade steps in and raps the hilt of the sai against the man’s skull. He drops like a rock.
“Fuck you,” Roy yells, screams. “No, really, Cheshire, where the hell did you get off in this, huh? Was I some sort of game? Were you keeping tabs on me?” He’s panting, and he seems no more than a moment from losing his control. “How long did you know?”
“I didn’t,” Jade says simply, and his anger seems to brighten the space between them. He’s breathing heavily, fists clenched at his sides, and Jade recalls her first impression of him, how she hadn’t known if Roy would use his anger to fuel himself or if he would let it consume him. Then, she’d merely been curious about how it would play out; now, she wants to help Roy keep himself together.
“Roy,” she says quietly, taking a chance and reaching out to lay her hand on his arm. “I didn’t know. I can’t say for certain what I would have done if I had known, and I won’t lie and say I’d have told you.” His eyes flash to hers, and for a moment Jade wonders if she had miscalculated. Roy’s anger boils for a moment, rolling under his skin, before he inhales deeply and breathes it out.
“Jade,” he says, and there’s a lot there in her name, fear and hopelessness and shame and anger, always anger. There’s a sadness in the tilt of his shoulders, rainclouds in summer, and Jade moves into him when Roy reaches for her, pulls her in, holds her tightly. “I need to find him, Jade. The – the real-”
“I’ll help you,” she promises before he can finish his thought aloud. She doesn’t ever want to have to say you’re the real you.
She knows she’ll probably have to.
She’s heard, of course, of how people fall in love. There are flowers and songs and candles, champagne and laughter. Jade rather thinks she trips into it instead, fights it the whole way down, but in the end, fall she does.
It’s a thought that strikes her somewhere north of Moscow. It’s her turn to keep watch over Roy while he sleeps; in another three hours, she’ll wake him so she can rest before they reach their destination. His associates are looking for him, just as hers are searching for her. It’s more than dangerous for them to be together right now, but he can’t do this on his own, and she won’t leave him to try it.
That’s when it hits her, that she’s well and truly in love with Roy. Here they are, half-freezing in the back of a train car in Russia; neither of them has showered in a week, and it’s been longer than that since Roy was able to shave. They’re indistinguishable from any of the homeless that pack the streets in the poorer districts of Moscow, which was always the plan, but Jade is suddenly struck by the realization that the thing in her chest is fondness, that her smile when she looks at Roy is soft, that she’d gladly kill anyone who tried to hurt him while he was down.
That she’d not kill someone for him, because he’d look at her differently if she did.
It’s terrifying. Jade shivers and pulls the scraps of her coat around her body and stares out of the boxcar.
There’s a shuffling sound behind her far before her shift is over, but Jade isn’t surprised in the least when Roy crouches down beside her. He’s got the blanket wrapped around himself, and when he sits next to her, he drapes one end around her shoulders. It’s warm and nearly comfortable, and Jade sighs and leans into Roy’s chest, soft smile on her face as he puts his arm across her shoulders and pulls her close.
“You have nearly two hours left to sleep,” she says after she can feel her fingers again. “You should take advantage of it.”
“I sleep better next to you,” he replies. “Suck it up, or I’ll take the blanket back over to the corner.”
Jade elbows him in the side, unsurprised when he just laughs quietly and tucks the blanket more securely around her.
The concierge sneers when Jade asks for a room. Roy is standing casually near the door, scanning their surroundings somewhat conspicuously.
“We have no rooms,” the man behind the counter says without even glancing at the register. “Perhaps another hotel.”
Jade narrows her eyes. “I would appreciate it if you actually checked before turning us away.”
“The management has the right to refuse service to-”
“If you’re about to make a racist comment about my wife,” Roy says without looking away from the door, “I’d suggest you think again.”
The concierge coughs. “I would not-”
Roy finally turns and walks to the counter. He pulls something from his pocket and slaps it down on the counter, slipping his arm around Jade’s waist and pulling her close. Jade lets her body sway into Roy’s, turning to smile up at him. She isn’t sure what he’s playing at, but she can go along with it for now.
“I’m sorry,” the concierge says, but he sounds slightly frantic as he flips through the register. “I meant no offense-”
“A room,” Roy says tightly. “Now, please.”
“Right away,” the man babbles, writing something in the register and reaching for a key. “Please accept my sincerest-”
“Thanks,” Roy cuts in, grabbing the key and heading for the stairs. “We’ve got it from here.”
They’re halfway up the second set of stairs before Roy lets go of Jade’s waist and sighs. “We have about twelve hours before we need to not be here anymore.”
Jade hums. “What did you do back there?”
“Gave them a friend’s credit card,” Roy says blandly. “His family is kind of a big deal, and they’re pretty well-known. He’ll figure out that it was me pretty quickly, though, so once we sleep and clean up, we should get out of here.”
Jade raises an eyebrow. “We’re in France,” she points out. “Your friend is that well-known?”
“Yeah,” Roy replies. “Please don’t ask.”
“I won’t,” she says. It’s one of the things that makes their relationship work – he doesn’t ask things she won’t reveal, and she returns the favor. There’s no rule, spoken or otherwise, that says that they can’t piece the clues together on their own; in that vein, Jade has a reasonable guess as to the identities of several of Roy’s former associates, and she knows that he’s close to the truth about a few of her own. They don’t speak about it, which is for the best.
Jade shifts. “I do have a question, actually,” she says as lightly as she can. “Did we get married when I wasn’t looking?”
Roy smirks. “Brush up on your French, chérie,” he teases. “Why do you think we had to sign those papers in Boussac?”
“Connard,” she says, far more amused than anything else. “My French is fine, and the fact that your friend gave us papers and not rings is telling.”
Roy shrugs as they finish climbing the stairs and turn towards the door at the end of the hall. “Oh, hey, I think he gave us the suite,” he snickers. “I’ll be paying this back for a year.”
Jade smiles as Roy opens the door and bows grandly. “After you, Mrs. Harper.”
She swats his head as she walks into the room, and he snickers again.
“Roy,” Jade begins, considers, stops. She crouches down next to him and puts a hand on his arm. “Maybe we should consider putting the search on hold.”
“No,” he growls before she’s finished speaking. “No, not you too, Jade, please-”
“I didn’t say stop entirely,” she says, running her hand up his arm and squeezing his shoulder. He carries all his tension there, and nearly twenty-six months spent running around the globe together is more than enough time for her to figure out how to make him relax. “Roy, this is pointless. We can’t keep running around aimlessly. Maybe it’s time to find a place to rest for a while and do some more concentrated research.”
Roy’s shoulders slump as she digs her fingers into the muscle. “I have to find him, Jade. Even if all I find is his body, I need to keep looking.”
“I know,” she murmurs.
“I don’t know who I am without him,” Roy says, as if she hadn’t even spoken. “If he’s Roy, then I’m not Roy, right? But if I don’t know who Roy is, then…”
Jade slips her arms around him and holds on. She has no easy answers, not for this. She has no answers at all.
The way he asks is almost an afterthought, like it’s something casual. He has a ring, though, and it fits her like it was made specifically with her in mind. It doesn’t take long for Jade to figure out that it was.
“Don’t feel like you have to,” Roy says with a sick twist of a smile when he tosses her the box. “I just – I can’t think of anyone who would have stuck with me through everything I’ve thrown at you over the past few years.” He shrugs. “I was thinking about – after. When it’s all over. I don’t want us to split up.”
Jade studies the ring for a long moment. It’s not a traditional engagement ring; it’s carved out of bone-white stone, and there’s no diamond. It’s thin enough to wear beneath gloves without getting in the way, and Jade has the suspicion that it can take a beating, whatever it’s made out of.
“I’m not going to go nuts if you say no,” Roy says after a minute, cautious, unsure. “Really, Jade, this doesn’t have to be-”
Jade kisses him as she slips the ring onto her finger. She won’t wear it, not often, and she knows they both know that – but for now, it’s something there, a physical reminder that she doesn’t want to leave him behind, either.
“Weak,” Sportsmaster sneers at her. “Here I thought you were trying to break him or turn him. Instead, you fall in love with him. This isn’t how I raised you, Jade.”
“I’m choosing a different path,” Jade purrs, bending nearly in half to avoid his kick. “Most parents are proud when their kids find their own way.”
“Your way was chosen for you a long time ago,” he growls, striking for her throat. Jade catches his arm and uses his momentum to wrench him over her hip. It’s not pretty, but he hits the ground with a grunt and doesn’t spring right back up.
Instead, he turns over and glares up at her through his mask. “Think carefully about what you’re doing here, kid. I can’t keep covering for you if you marry the idiot.”
“I never asked you to cover for me,” Jade replies, feeling something cold knot itself in her stomach. “I would never have asked that. Not of you, not of anyone.”
Sportsmaster shrugs. “Call it late-onset fatherly instinct. Look at it how you want, Jade, but know that if you actually tie yourself to that loser, I’m officially cutting he apron strings.”
“Allow me to help,” Jade says, plucking a knife from her belt and throwing it. The knife lands an inch from his ear, sticking up out of the dirt beside his head.
Jade hears him laughing as she turns and walks away.
Jade grins when Roy swings in through the window. He heads straight for the kitchen without pausing. “How did it go?”
“Well, if you had any doubt that I loved you, it should probably be gone now,” he says, rummaging through the freezer. He comes out with a bag of peas and walks towards her. She can see the bruise forming high on his left cheek as he drops on the couch beside her. “I think the only reason that Green Arrow didn’t take my head off is because Black Canary and Artemis were both there to redirect him.”
Jade stills. “You told Artemis.”
Roy blows out a breath. “I’m sorry. I know you didn’t want her to know.”
She shakes her head with a sigh. “I wanted to be the one to explain it to her, I suppose. It doesn’t much matter, though; if she was trying to keep Green Arrow from taking your head off, she can’t disapprove too badly.”
“Maybe she just knows how much of a catch I am,” Roy says, smiling cockily. The effect is ruined by the bag of vegetables slowly melting against the side of his face.
“My hero,” Jade says dryly, bending to kiss his nose. “Did you tell your friends?”
Roy sighs, shoulders slumping. “I told Nightwing and asked him to let the others know, if he thought they wanted to.”
“If you want him there,” Jade starts quietly, but Roy shakes his head.
“You and me against the world, kitten,” he says, slipping an arm around her waist. “It’s worked out okay so far. Might as well keep going.”
It’s better and it’s worse, Jade thinks tiredly. It’s still them against the world, but every day it seems more like Roy is pushing her out of the fight. It’s more like it’s Roy against the world, and Jade is just there to pick up the pieces when the battles are over.
“You need to take yourself out of the game,” she says as she’s stitching up a five-inch knife wound on his thigh. “You’re past the point where you’re a danger to yourself. You’re a danger to everyone around you, too.”
“Nobody is making you stay,” he snarls, and she grits her teeth and isn’t particularly careful about how she sticks the needle in. Neither of them says anything as she finishes stitching the gash.
Jade takes her time cleaning and wrapping the area when she’s done. She meets his eyes when there’s nothing else she can do to put it off. “You asked me to stay when you married me,” she says quietly, evenly. “And I promised that I would when I married you. I don’t like going back on my promises, Roy.”
Roy closes his eyes and bows his head, resting their foreheads together. He doesn’t say a word.
“You’re going back to your father?” Roy rears back as if she’s slapped him, and Jade supposes that she has, in a way.
“I can’t stay here,” she says tightly. “You’re killing yourself, Roy, and I cannot sit here and watch you do it.”
He stands and stalks over to her, looming like he wants to intimidate her. “You promised,” he says harshly. “Jade, you said you’d help me find the real Roy. You said that-”
“I said that I would help you find Speedy,” Jade cuts in. There’s only so long she can listen to this. “As far as I’m concerned, you are the real Roy. You’re the only one I’ve ever known, ever fought beside, ever starved or frozen or celebrated with. You don’t have to be the original Roy to be real, and I need you to know that.”
He looks down at her, uncomprehending, and Jade smiles crookedly and reaches up to cup his face. “And that’s why I’m going, lover. If you don’t believe in yourself, you can’t trust that I believe in you.”
She leans in to brush a kiss against his lips before turning and walking out the door. She can feel Roy’s eyes on her back until she reaches the end of the street and turns the corner. Not turning back to see his face one more time is one of the hardest things that Jade has ever done. She doesn’t let herself cry, but she does bow her head and take a deep breath once she’s out of Roy’s sightlines.
She breathes in, lets it out, and raises her head. She’s got work to do.
“You want information,” Slade says, tilting his head to the side and studying Jade critically. “That’s it?”
“I want reliable information,” Jade stresses. “I don’t want a lead to a lead that brings me to nothing, Wilson. I’m calling in what you owe me, and that’s more than a small favor.”
“Oh, you’ll get what you’re looking for,” Slade says, waving his hand. “I’m interested in why you want to know, though. Is it true you married the angry Arrow?”
“Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t,” Jade replies. “Either way, I’m doing him a favor, and you’re one of the few people I can trust to get what I need.”
“Your trust is inspiring, Cheshire,” Slade says mildly, rearranging some papers on his desk. “And hey, here’s some more trust for you: I’ll keep your condition to myself for the time being.”
Jade doesn’t startle, doesn’t let on that she’s surprised. Slade probably notices anyway, but he’s gracious in making it seem like he hadn’t. Jade inclines her head. “I appreciate your consideration.”
“Kids,” Slade says, and the fondness in his voice is almost chilling. “You have to love them.”
“So I hope,” Jade says, standing and holding her hand out. “It will certainly make my life easier if that’s the case.”
“Interesting timing,” Luthor drawls, raising one eyebrow and smirking. It’s the expression he gets when he thinks he’s got the upper hand and isn’t afraid to show it. “You want to help that worthless kid of yours while you’re preparing to have another?”
Jade smirks right back, resting her hand on the swell of her stomach. “Some people would say he’s your responsibility,” she shoots at him. “I didn’t have a hand in creating any of your clones, Luthor. I’m just trying to clean up the mess you left behind when you did.”
Luthor snorts. “Nobody will ever say you don’t have the balls for this business, that’s for sure.” There’s a pause before he nods. “I’ll get you what you need.”
“Oh, child,” Ivy says, smiling even as one of her vines reaches out to bump against Jade’s heavy stomach. “Some things are more important than your revenge.”
“It’s not my revenge,” Jade replies steadily. “It is my responsibility, though. I’ve made it that.”
Ivy nods, still smiling. “I have what you’re looking for.”
Her daughter is a tiny little thing, barely six pounds and curled in on herself like a cashew. Her skin is flushed red and her hair nearly matches, and Jade’s heart clenches in her throat when the baby opens up her eyes and wails a thin, reedy cry.
Green, green, green eyes stare up at her as tiny fists wave in the air, and Jade closes her own eyes and presses a feather-light kiss to Lian’s forehead.
For all her bravado over the last ten months, Jade isn’t sure this is a good idea.
She sighs and adjusts the straps on Lian’s sling, tugging and tightening, pulling and settling them into the same configuration again and again. Her daughter sleeps through it, which is something she gets from her father; Jade thinks back to how many times she’s teased Roy about his inability to hear when his eyes are closed.
She’s got the information that she’s been tracking since she left. She knows, as well as she can, where Speedy is being kept, what’s been done to him, what kind of resistance they’ll run into when she and Roy head in. It’s solid intel, checked and double-checked and then checked again, and if she and Roy were the only factors, she’d say it was absolutely foolproof.
Lian lets out a tiny baby-sigh against Jade’s shoulder, and Jade bows her head. It’s not her game anymore, and it’s not Roy’s, either. There’s more to lose, higher stakes than either of them could have planned for when they’d set out.
It’s what has to be done, though, for all of them – for Jade’s promises to Roy, for Roy’s sanity and wellbeing, and for the life they can create for their daughter. Jade knows all of this, has had the argument with herself and with the Roy in her head and, once, with Slade, who really hadn’t been kidding about his love for children.
It’s what has to be done, but that doesn’t make it any easier.
Jade takes a deep breath in, lets it out slowly, and walks up to the building that Roy hasn’t moved out of since Jade walked out. She climbs the stairs inside slowly, methodically, and pauses outside the door on the top floor. The key in her hand has warmed from how tightly she’s been clenching it, and Jade holds her breath as she slips it into the lock and turns it.
The bolt slides smoothly. Roy hasn’t changed the locks.
Jade sends a silent prayer to whoever might be listening and walks inside. The apartment is empty, but shows signs that someone has been here recently; the knife on the table and feathers on the floor near the couch say that it’s most likely Roy. Jade steps neatly to the side as the traps on the door start to set off – two arrows cut through the air, a dagger embeds itself in the wall near the door, and Jade spins just in time to catch the trip and tug the carefully-placed vial of knockout gas back into its spot.
Lian is still asleep. Jade lets a small smile slip across her face as she works to reset the traps. When she finishes, she glances around before walking into the kitchen and leaning back against the counter. It’s not the same apartment, not the same kitchen at all, but there’s a bowl on the counter with a single apple in it, and Jade can’t help but reach for it.
She takes a bite and settles in to wait.