“Please don’t go.”
Jade sighed, pausing at the door. “You should get out too. I’d take you with me, but you’d just slow me down.”
The blonde eight year old behind her, clutching a hand-me-down teddy bear, gazed back steadily. “Someone has to be here when Mom gets out.”
“Don’t you know anything? In this family, it’s every girl for herself.” With that, Jade turned to go. She stepped through the bedroom door - and into a prison hospital, where the staff walked dispassionately past their patients, where a dark-haired woman wheezed softly in her bed.
Jade didn’t want to move closer.
She did anyway.
Just as her feet stopped beside her mother’s bed, the woman opened her eyes. “Jade,” she coughed, trying to lift a hand. Even without the handcuffs attached to the bed’s railing, she didn’t have the strength to raise it far. “Jade, why did you leave? I needed you... Artemis needed you...”
I had to get out, the girl wanted to say. I couldn’t stay. Not with Him.
Instead, all that came out was, “Every girl for herself.”
Her mother seemed to shrink at the words. Her skin shriveled, her muscles deflated - in moments, a mummy rested on the hospital sheets, barely recognizable. Jade shuddered when it crumbled into dust - and screamed when the floor disintegrated beneath her feet. She fell, down and down and down, books and teacups and white rabbits swirling around, grey eyes staring accusingly.
“Every girl for herself,” they taunted, over and over. “Every girl for herself, in this family, every girl for herself!”
“I didn’t know!” Jade shouted, trying to be heard over the maelstrom. “I didn’t know she’d die! I didn’t know what Dad would do! I wouldn’t have left Artemis there if I’d known-!”
“EVERY GIRL FOR HERSELF!”
Gasping, the young woman lunged upright, sheets flung aside. It took a moment of panic before she registered the safe surroundings of her studio apartment, sunlight pouring in the windows, and Dinah crouched next to her bed.
“Are you alright?” The woman asked, a hand holding tight to Jade’s shoulder. “I could hear you screaming from out in the hall.”
“Uh... Nightmare,” Jade replied honestly, reaching up to rub at her eyes. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to scare you.”
“It’s fine. I’m more concerned with what upset you so badly - your nightmares are usually pretty quiet.”
“Yeah, I know. I... I’ll explain in a bit. What time is it?”
“A little before noon. I thought I’d come surprise you for lunch.” Dinah gestured over her shoulder, and sure enough, when Jade glanced over she saw a pile of cloth grocery bags dropped haphazardly by the door. She smiled wanly, and started to look back towards her mentor, only to pause and do a double take.
“Seriously? You kicked my door in? You have a spare key!”
Somehow, Dinah’s sheepish expression still managed to look pretty damn demure. “I was in a hurry.”
“Oh my God,” Jade groaned, flopping back onto the mattress with her hair flying in all directions. “I don’t even live with you any more and you still manage to embarrass me.”
“At least I didn’t Scream it down.”
Jade had to snort at that. “Even so, you’re paying to fix the damn thing.”
“Fair enough. Now come on, get dressed, I’ll start putting things away and then you can tell me what’s on your mind.”
“Therapist,” the younger woman huffed, doing as she was told. In a few moments, she’d yanked a t-shirt on over her tank top, hopped into a pair of khaki shorts and slid her feet into the Tweety Bird slippers that were a gag gift several Christmases before. Shuffling into the kitchen, she helped sort out the last of the groceries, which thankfully included some more of her favorite tea blend, which she’d run out of a couple days earlier.
Leaving Dinah to finish putting the canned vegetables and soups away in her pantry, Jade set a couple mugs of water in the microwave to heat up, then tore open the first box of tea to pull out two single-serve packets.
“So,” her mentor finally said, closing the pantry door. “Nightmare?”
Jade sighed. “...You know this week’s the three year mark since my mom died.”
“And it’s also the anniversary of when that bastard disappeared, taking my baby sis with him.” There was no need to specify which bastard - they both knew Jade only ever applied that insult to her father. “Well... I called the undertaker of Gotham Cemetery, to ask him to add a gladiolus flower to the usual bouquet... And he told me that a blonde teenager showed up two days ago with a whole bunch of them to go on Mom’s gravestone.”
Dinah’s eyes widened. “Jade...”
“Before you say anything, I’m not jumping to conclusions,” the younger woman said. “I don’t know if it was Artemis. Even if it was, there’s practically no chance this is enough of a lead to help me find her-”
“But it might be,” her mentor interrupted. “Jade, if you need to take off to Gotham to chase this down, do it. I can handle the city by myself for a while.”
“You sure? The League’s been calling you in on a lot of missions lately...”
Dinah waved a dismissive hand. “They do that because I keep my availability status open, since you’re usually around to cover if need be. But I’ll switch to reserve duty for a while, it’s fine. And if you need help, please, use the emergency frequency I gave you and call the Hall of Justice.”
“Okay,” Jade breathed. “Okay. In that case, I’m gonna pack some stuff and leave tonight.” She let out a deep exhale, before reaching for Dinah. The other woman met her halfway, holding Jade close for a minute as the kid collected herself.
“If anyone can find her, it’s you,” she murmured.
“Yeah. I’m going to.” Pulling back, Jade turned just enough to gaze at the cabinet standing by the far wall, the one that held her superhero uniform and weaponry. “It’s time for the Cheshire Cat to go hunting.”