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It Stopped Snowing

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Renee stared at the bottle of rye as she did almost every evening. She had taken it out of its cupboard almost half an hour ago, along with the bottle opener and tumbler she kept alongside the bottle. The three of them had stood all alone on the shelf, and there was a very fine layer of dust all around the clear patches they left behind. Now they were lined up on the counter before her in precise positions, and she reached out to pick up the bottle opener.

 

Without taking her eyes off of the bottle itself she began to spin the bottle opener in her fingers, first one way then the other, rolling it over and beneath her palm. She moved smoothly, with the ease that came from long practice that had since ground the motions into instinct, and it could have been a pencil that she spun as easily, or a twig, or a cigarette. Or a coin. Her hand knew the motions so well that it did not even need to consult her thoughts, and that left her mind free to continue focusing on the bottle.

 

The wedding was only a few days away and she still did not know if she was going to go. She had R.S.V.P.'d that she would attend, had actually R.S.V.P.'d twice (She was still trying to work out just what they had been trying to say by giving her an invite on both sides. It had to have been deliberate, but was it deliberate on purpose, or accidentally?), and had even bought a gift, but she still did not know for sure. There were a thousand excuses she could give to back out even now, and just as many legitimate reasons to avoid going, and Renee knew they would understand either way. They would even understand if she just did not show up at all, without an explanation. Better than most, of course they would understand. Of course.

 

She stopped twirling all of a sudden and reached out to pry the cap off the bottle. She almost did not even need the opener, the cap came off at the first pressure, barely holding onto the lip. She held the cap tightly in her left hand as she resumed twirling with her right, feeling its teeth bite into her skin as she squeezed, but just barely. The teeth were soft, almost smooth, pulling at her skin as lightly as they had gripped the bottle itself. The smell of the whiskey itself was stronger than the metal in her hand: She could feel that. Down to her bones she could feel the whiskey, emanating from the open bottle neck and forcing its way inside her, burning her nose and throat as it passed. It was not waiting for her to drink it, not even giving her a choice, it was making itself known whether she gave it permission or not.

 

She had not even noticed when she had dropped the bottle opener, but she felt the stronger bite of the bottle cap as she clenched a fist. Clenched tightly enough even for the teeth that had been worn down to almost nothing to be noticeable. She forced herself to relax, drawing the tension out of her fingers one by one in deliberate motion until she was just holding the cap again, not trying to crush it into a pellet. Then she picked up the bottle opener from the floor, dutifully washed it in the sink, and placed it and the cap on the counter in their usual positions.

 

Then she poured a drink into the glass.

 

Not a large drink, nothing extravagant, just enough for a good gulp and maybe a sip or two afterwards. Just enough to get started. Just enough to feel it; feel it inside of her, like when she had opened the bottle, but this time choosing to to feel it. All the old rationales came back to her mind: She could forget for a while, even if only a few hours. She could relax for a while, even if it was only here. She could open up to the world around her for a while, even if she was alone.

 

She could let go. Whatever else there was in the world, whatever else, for a a short while (Whether it was days or hours or only minutes) she could let it go.

 

Slowly, deliberately, she picked up the glass. She held it like it was precious, moving so smoothly that the glass could have held something both delicate and valuable, something that would have been worth more than her life to spill a drop. There was none of the ease and instinct like when she had been twirling the bottle opener, there was no automation as she held the drink before her, she was focused on that glass like it was the single most important thing in the world. Her hands were as steady as she held them when she was holding a weapon, not letting them shake or tremble, because it could mean tragedy (For her or for somebody else) if they shivered at just the wrong moment.

 

It must have been nearly a minute that she held that glass in front of her, staring at it, before she shook her head. It was a completely normal, perfectly casual motion, the absent gesture of somebody clearing out a thought or deliberately shifting mental gears, and then she turned and dumped the whiskey down the sink. She rinsed out the glass, then pressed the cap back onto the bottle, needing to apply a lot more force to get it to stick than she had needed to remove it in the first place; she had taken it off and put it back on so often that it had become nearly worn out, just a thin metal disc.

 

After she had cleaned up, putting the bottle, tumbler and opener back in precisely the same spot in their cupboard, she turned around to face the open window at the opposite end of the her small apartment kitchen. She had not heard any noise or seen any movement, nor even 'sensed' something, but Renee knew she would be standing there anyway.

 

"You know," she said, with just the smallest hint of humor in her voice. So tiny you would only know it was there if you knew to look for it, "You could come in through front door. If you keep squeezing yourself through that window you're going to throw your back out. I promise, I won't tell anybody, you don't need to worry about your reputation as one of the 'Behind you' capes."

 

"I don't worry about my reputation." Silhouetted against the Gotham night sky, the purple of her costume almost blending in with the darkness and standing in such stark contrast to the white that was blindingly clear, the Huntress cut such an imposing visage that Renee had no trouble accepting her easy acknowledgement of her reputation. "Isn't it you who spends so much time talking about the importance of knowing who you are when nobody else is looking?"

 

"Yeah, but knowing that you put yourself out of commission for a week because you crawled through a square too tight for a ten year old isn't what I had in mind. Drink?" Grinning, Renee nodded towards her refrigerator. She did not, however, nod towards the cupboard where she had put back the bottle of whiskey.

 

"No, thanks, not tonight. I thought you were going to, though." Like the humor that Renee had let leak into her voice, the concern in the Huntress' question would have been impossible to notice if you had not already known it.

 

"No. Seems that all the problems I have when I start drinking are still there when I stop." Her voice was now calm and even; no struggle, just certainty. "It never goes away, but it's not coming out. Not tonight."

 

"Good, because we have plans tonight." The grin that split her face was almost childish, the kind of grin a precocious imp would sport at the thought of a new prank, and it transformed the Huntress from an imposing figure that even Renee would admit looked intimidating. What it transformed her into was something Renee could not have put into words, but it was enough. "Blast from the past it looks like; Burnley Town Massive is making a comeback, and there's talk of them meeting up with a representative of the Inzerillo's."

 

"BTM? What do they have left to offer Inzerillo? The way they came out of the War Games I wouldn't think the families would touch them even as drop men." As she spoke Renee was pulling on equipment and clothing that had been secured throughout the apartment. "Has Inzerillo gotten desperate?"

 

"I don't know the specifics, but it seems like BTM has something worth the meeting, they think it's going to get them up again." Huntress paused a moment as Renee layered the pesudoderm across her face, then waited for the binary gas to clear before she continued speaking to the Question. "Whatever it is, Inzerillo must think it's real, he's sending somebody respected out for the meet. I've got the time and place, I was thinking we'd go make a few polite inquiries."

 

"Well, in that case I suppose it would only be friendly of me to come and lend a helping hand. Ask a few cordial questions." Her blank face, no eyes or mouth, nonetheless lit up with a smile. "Just to keep the flow of conversation friendly."

 

"I was thinking the same thing." Huntress' grin was a smirk now, and she turned back to the window that opened freely into the Gotham night. She had reached out and grabbed the sill, about to fling herself free, when the Question spoke again from behind her.

 

"Are you going to the wedding?"

 

The Huntress froze, one hand still on the window sill as she readied to jump. She did not bother to ask which wedding, there was only one possible candidate. "I'm not sure. Me and the MCU have never had a strong working relationship. Hell, you know that even better than I do." Even looking at the back of her head, the Question could see the smile that accompanied that sentence. "Even when Gordon was strongest for Batman he was never hot for me. Too much history for me to wash away. I can't even say I blame him, we were on different sides of too many different lines and..." She wound down and audibly took a breath. "Sawyer always took a lead from Gordon when it came to handling what's particular to Gotham, and those feelings came with it. Throw in what she knows about Helena Bertinelli and I know I'm not one of her favorite masks. Not even close. And me and Kate....there is no me and Kate. She passed me the invite because we're in the same club, that's it. Professional courtesy."

 

"That's all a pretty strong indicator to 'no', not 'I'm not sure'," the Question prodded.

 

"Yeah, it is, but....this is big. Isn't it? How often does this happen? How often does this get to happen? The Happy Ending? To one of them? Can anybody pretend this isn't big for every one of us even if they never even met the two of them? And I'm actually invited. How can I ignore that?" The last one sounded like an honest question, as if she was actually asking for a way to be able to ignore the size and implications. "Are you going?"

 

The Question paused before answering, but it was barely long enough to register, just enough time to marshal a thought. "Yeah, I am."

 

"Okay. So, are we going to let BTM have the night off, or are we ready?" And without even waiting for a reply the Huntress launched herself out of the window into the black Gotham night.

 

"Oh, I'm ready," the Question called out and leapt after her, even though she was part of the second set of Gotham masks. The set which walked instead of flying on cables. But she had always had a good set of hands for picking up new skills, and she was following the Huntress with ease.

 

On the first rooftop they came to, where they paused for a moment to orient themselves and for the Huntress to angle towards their destination, the Huntress asked "Which side of the aisle?"

 

The Question did not answer right away, eyeing the space to the next building and readying herself for the jump. "Good question," she said, and leapt.