Right jab to the throat. The real fun stuff always starts after that.
“We don’t have to do it this way,” says Blue.
“Except for how we really do,” says Red.
“No, we don’t,” Blue says in this tight unhappy voice, and buried under layers of mental scar tissue, James discovers he still has the puppy/rolled up newspaper kind of nerve endings. They’re going haywire and there’s weird feedback in his left eye; his jaw’s stinging numb where Blue’s fist impacted, and that voice? That was almost as bad as Cap’s disappointed voice.
“Aw, daddy, and I’ve been such a good boy, too,” Red coos back, saccharine fake as all get-out. He draws out his ohhhhs and Blue’s mouth does a good imitation of fed up. James tests his jaw again. He comes up with three new ways to kill Fury before deciding the joint still works, and then he says, “I’ll get out of your way.”
They say, “No,” and, “Okay,” he says, and Red clears as fast as he does.
“Those seventeens are shit,” Red says. “You don’t look like that kind of stupid, although I could be wrong.” Blue snorts. “Hey, it happens.”
“Guy tried to mug me two streets ago,” James says. “I took it off him.” Then got off the streets and wound up... here.
He keeps his sidearm on Red and the piece of shit Glock on Blue, who mutters, “Welcome to Blüdhaven.” Fancy stick tap-tap-tapping his leg, thumb rubbing the bridge of his nose. “You know,” he says, “sometimes it’s okay to do things the easy way.” He doesn’t sound convinced. He sounds like he’s repeating something he learned by wrote but never could quite trick his gut into believing. He looks at Red. At James. “Or not. Right. Plan b.”
Red says, “Your plan b or my plan b?”
Blue says, “I’m pretending that’s a rhetorical question.”
James figures now’s as good a time as any to jump off the roof.
He’s a sniper, he likes high places and tight lines over thin margins, but he knows from Doombots and gun-toting apes and also Nat, and this is kind of insane. He does what he does because he was built for it, because he's good at it, because he has to, maybe because he needs to; the guy on the roof above him is in love with the way gravity slides off him, water off a duck's back, one-handed handstand on a rail crazy. “Do you even have bones?” he says, too many ledges up from the ground without a zip line, and he thinks Blue grins.
“You could always just say why you’re here,” he calls down.
“Go ahead and take all the fun of it, go on,” Red says. He’s hanging upside down off a fire escape, swaying a little. (He says, So we drop without chutes and hope like hell Richards' teleporter kicks in when it's supposed to. She says, Yes, why? and he knows that smile.) Red wiggles his fingers at James and Blue’s smile drops, damn near lands on James’s face on the way down, and he swings himself up and back and around into a crouch, still on the railing.
“I told you, I’m handling this,” Blue snaps.
“You sure are.” Red sounds like a smirk.
“I thought we agreed to disagree that this was my city.”
Red looks around. “Still not seeing your name on it anywhere.”
It’s like dealing with a couple of… “You two related or something?” says James.
They say, “No,” and jump him. Good thing he’s got the jump on them.
They’re tag-teaming him, is the thing, and they don’t even know they’re doing it. If they did, they’d stop. Or they’d try to and fail, and James reads muscle memory and movement like most people read billboards and these two are neon on top of fluorescent white. They’ve had a lot of different trainers not in common but they’ve also got the one they share, the one who counts, and he marked them up good and permanent. He’s indelible down to the bone and James isn’t enough to wash himself away.
(He knows where he is and he knows where he isn’t. He knows who he was.)
They don’t move the same, no; they move like they know each other’s moves inside and out better even than him and Nat (him and Steve) and it’s creepy gorgeous dangerous as all hell. He’s not sure if he wants to put them down like the maneaters they are or put himself in between them and let them take him down hard and soft and every which way in between that.
He could take them. Red’s crazy because he likes it that way and Blue’s easy to be hard, but he’s got decades of muscle memory on them and that stuff doesn’t go away for wishing or loving or hating your own guts black and blue like fist sized metal bruises, not like blue stripes all the way down to black fingers, and James, well—
He remembers what he has to and he forgets when he can; he can’t remember if he ever knew how to do this, before or after. Sometimes all he’s got is now.
So he lets them. He misses a corner because he can and he gets his brain rattled good by threeway impact into concrete because he wants it.
“Now that,” Red’s feeling his left arm up, “is cool.”
“In more ways than one,” Blue says muffled into his shoulder.
He says, “You need to lose the puns, they stink,” and Red snickers and Blue straight up laughs and he lets them. He lets them.
He says, “Intel said no capes,” and Blue leans his shoulder into the access door, waiting. James says, “Do we have a problem?”
Blue shrugs. “Not sure. I haven’t been back that long. This place was a disaster area until last year.” His mouth twists and his body twists him, points him at Red like a needle on north. The poor bastard doesn’t even realize he’s doing it. He says, “Him? You’ll have to ask. I’ve stopped trying.”
“You know why I’m here, sweet thing. Because I curl up and wither outside the glorious sunshine of your presence.” Red stops chucking shards of brick at passing cars, bounces off the railing and up into James’s space. “What’s your damage, soldier boy? What’s the second coming of God, America and mom’s apple pie doing cowl-less in the armpit of New Jersey?”
“Not my job anymore.” James plants his flesh hand in the middle of the hood and shoves. “That thing makes you look like Red Skull, just more stupid.”
Red sounds completely off his rocker when he laughs. Not that he ever sounds sane, but.
The hood comes off with a pneumatic hiss and the son of a bitch is wearing a mask under his mask, and he still doesn’t sound any less crazy. “Stupid,” says James.
Red says, “Your face.”
Last time he got laid. The last time he—
The last time.
Six months ago and red all over some hotel’s white sheets. That’s her hair but his blood was red on her hands and the sink and down on the bathroom floor from before that, when she was stitching him up. Yeah it was.
Red lights up with a glitter pink bic that’s seen better days. He blows his first drag at Blue. “Cough it up,” James says, curls his fingers, gimme, and Red grins at him through the smoke and passes the cigarette over.
“Good times,” he says. “Batgirl always caught me back in the day.”
“And that’s why you quit,” Blue says, intercepting James’ attempt to pass it back. He drops it, grinds it out under his heel. “Remember?”
“You remember,” Red says. “I didn’t fucking quit. Remember?”
“Say,” Red says, “I could’ve sworn they buried you down DC way in your best red, white and blues.”
He says, “They buried something.”
Red says, “Gotta be better than digging your way out, am I right?”
“Sorry about the—” Blue mimes a punch. “I thought you were him.”
He glances at Red and away; the death’s head grin is starting to get to him. He’s seen some of the old Joker footage. “Sure. Why not. I get that all the time.”
Red points a finger gun at him, pulls the trigger. “Got you, buddy. You did a couple of runs for Talia.”
He sits on it for one and then one more; in this game, five times out of ten Talia isn’t Natalia. He says, “I don’t remember.”
“Oh absolutely, babe, ab-so-fucking-lutely. Me too. You ever played ‘I never’? Everybody always asks the same questions. Some days you drink. Some days you don’t.” Red pushes up into a standing stretch, bent backward, hands down to the ground. Then he’s back up and bouncing. Close by, sirens start screaming. “The boys and girls in blue are playing my song.” The hood seals him in, everything but his voice. “Catch you two zeros later, maybe.”
He steps backward off the edge of the roof. James catches himself listening for (water but he's heat thin, he's cracked through and then he smacks down and shatters) nothing. Just nothing.
“Sorry,” Blue says again.
There’s a Red-shaped hole in the air and sirens in the distance. He says, “Don’t be. He’s not.”
Most of the time he calls her Nat.
He thinks she knows why.
They finish up near the docks; he wonders why he’s surprised. He’s had dealings with the Gotham crowd twice before and both times he spent several hours on top of cold warehouse roofs, breathing in dank river stink. The stink is present here, sure, but as wharfside accommodations go this one isn’t too bad. It’s a converted turn of the last century factory and the brick makes a nice windbreak.
“Yours?” he says.
“One of mine. Hold on,” Blue says, turning his head, two fingers touching his ear piece. “Okay,” he says, “I will. Thanks. Nightwing out.” His hand drops and his face is turned toward James. “Pashkin already moved on, but he was in Gotham as of last night. If you can’t find him there, talk to Oracle. Code’s programmed into your phone.”
“My untraceable phone.”
James mutters, “Shut the hell up, why don’t you,” and then Red drops from the water tower on the neighboring building, taking Blue down with him.
Blue’s cussing a streak as blue as his stripes. Red’s perched on top of his ass, hood on the ground, laughing like a fool, and there are dark, wet looking patches on the gloves keeping Blue’s hands pinned to the small of his back. Red notices James noticing. He bares his teeth, says, “Every minute of every day, crime happens.” He says, “You can take that one to the bank, soldier boy,” and James thinks that he notices everything. He thinks that started long before Wayne made the scene.
He thinks Natalia would take this kid apart just because, put him back together for the sake of his mouth alone, then either screw him stupid (more stupid) or kill him on principle. Maybe both.
Black Widow candidate number six of twenty-eight. She’s a face, another beautiful face like the rest of them. First time out she breaks his wrist, dislocates his shoulder.
He takes her down with prejudice. Broken ribs, arm, collar bone. Bruised organs. She’s in medical for three weeks. All they care about is that he didn’t mark her anywhere permanent.
She’s more than a face. She’s two hands and one will and a body to break him with. He starts paying attention.
Under flipped lenses, Red’s eyes look like his laughter sounds. He’s still got his mask under a mask. Domino, red-not-black and blue pits where his sanity should be, and he pulls his gloves off with his teeth. He shoves his bare hand down the front of James’s pants and kisses him like a punch.
It’s the best kind, just does not get much better than this. Until he wraps his hand around James’s jaw and turns his mouth over to Blue and oh man, his mouth, that mouth is just—
“Fucking unreal, right?” Red breathes against his ear. “Genuine gold-plated fuck me Jesus miracle in Kevlar-Nomex blend. The wingdings are optional, and I know you’ve already seen his ass but you gotta get this kid on his knees if you want to fully appreciate the finished article.”
Blue says, “Shut up, Jay,” against James’s mouth, then he’s sliding down. Red laughs, laughs so soft, and he’s hot breath on James’s neck and a sweat slick hand just rough enough around his dick and James grabs a handful of his hair, yanks him in and shuts him up because Blue told him to shut up and he won’t do it by himself.
Blue sucks and James digs his fingers into his shoulder, grabs onto Red’s jacket and holds on, holds and holds.
“Fuck, you look good like that,” Red moans, dick rubbing slick and easy against James’s bare hip, one hand in Blue’s hair, cheek scraping stubble rough over James’s neck.
James wonders who he’s talking to.
Red says, rough, “C’mere,” and Blue pulls off James. He slides back up him and he must’ve lost the gauntlets because James doesn’t have time to do anything but whimper before his hand takes his mouth’s place around James’s dick.
They press him between them and his lungs crush in under the smell of them on him; there’s a dick in his hand and a tongue in his mouth then Red leans away, reaches across him for Blue.
He hauls him in, James can feel the heft of their breath on his face and neck, but they’re not kissing. Red’s mouth is up against Blue’s mouth and he’s not kissing him at all. He says, “Good soldier,” and he grins and the noise Blue makes sounds like it comes straight up from his gut. His hand goes tight around James’s dick and then he’s shaking, coming, whining against Red’s mouth. His hand never stops moving.
James thinks Steve then Jesus, that’s sick and he comes like dying. He knows a thing or two about that.
Blue drops Red’s gloves on his face, says, “You’ve been hitting people again.” He says ‘hitting’ like he means something else.
Red says, “Darling, dearest, babydoll. I never did stop.” He pulls the gloves on, looking and looking up at Blue, and smiling like sugar, like he’d scream himself raw if he had to see even a drop of his own blood.
James wipes his hands off on his pants and watches the sky change.
He puts his hand up and there’s a metallic smack; he opens his fingers and examines the two inch long remote sitting on his palm and then he looks at Blue. “My bike,” Blue says, jerks his thumb. “Tracker’s built in, so you’ll probably want to disable.”
He ditched his ride yesterday. He’d already had it two days too long. “You sure?” he says.
Blue shrugs. “I’ve got others. I’ll comm B,” he offers. “Let him know you’re coming.”
He’s seen Fury’s Wayne file. One, two, three, four (five?) little birds, black and blue like fresh bruises under fading green and yellow and red. (The girl was a surprise, right up until the image files. And then she wasn’t.)
“You are shitting all over my afterglow, Wingnut,” says Red. “B needs more excitement in his life. Let soldier boy freak him out. It’ll do his soul good.”
Blue blinks at him. “You think—you—okay, I just. God, I need to sleep.” He breaks off, rubbing his eyes. He does that often when he’s talking to Red, James has noticed, but he reins himself back in just as quick. He’s got the pull yourself up by your bootstraps move down. Cap would be… impressed or appalled. Sometimes it’s hard to remember which. “You know what? Forget it. I need not to be having this conversation and you need to get out of my city.”
Red flicks his bic, over and over, cigarette caught between two fingers. He hasn’t lit up yet. “You still suck at sharing your toys,” he sighs, “but you’d absolutely let used-to-be-shortpants stay the night, in your bed, fall asleep and drool all over him like the good big brother you so, so aren’t.”
“He hasn’t tried to kill me recently.”
“Well smack my fanny and color me shocked.”
“That he hasn’t tried to kill me.”
“The tiniest T is in desperate need of a guiding hand, possibly on his ass, but no. Baby, you said you weren’t gonna hold a grudge after New York, you really want to do this to us?”
Red’s laughing like he means it but James doesn’t want to hear about New York. He’d like to get a couple of hours of sleep sometime within the next few days. He drops down onto the fire escape, slides and slides until he’s got solid blacktop under his boots and Blue’s bike is sleek and pretty and not really his type, but she sure looks like a good time. He’s known more than a few girls like that and he guesses he’ll know a few more before he buys it for good.
He can still hear them up on the roof. Not voices. Sounds like a real party. Invitation only, and he’s hoping he already used his up. He thinks about disabling the tracker. He tries to remember everything he's ever read or heard about Oracle.
He leaves the tracker be and starts the engine.
Still barely inside city limits he pulls over and leaves a message on Fury’s secure drop line. “That was crap intel, pal, you want to reevaluate your sources. You can consider me compromised here. Next time, get someone else.” Like Deadpool. Or he could bring Nat along and watch her and Red do the fuck or kill dance, and Christ, Barnes, are you thirteen or an ex-commie assassin headcase or what, that is not okay.
Green and white sign says New York City 111m, Gotham 42m, Mystic 26m. Another one, white and blue, says Now Leaving Blüdhaven. Spray-painted underneath in rude neon green: the fuck you doing here anyway, loser? There’s a purple smiley face underneath that.
He gives Blue’s pretty girl some more fuel for the fire and he doesn’t laugh, he doesn’t and he does not.