It was a mild Blüdhaven evening.
Well, as mild as a Blüdhaven evening could be with the heavy smog and the lingering dockside stench, but Sergeant Amy Rohrbach of the Blüdhaven Police Department forced herself to ignore those simple demerits in favor of the unseasonably warm weather and the plate of scattered, smothered, and covered that accompanied the omelet she'd ordered for 'breakfast.' It may well have been ten p.m. but it was still her first meal of the day and — granted — it wasn't the healthiest choice, but as this evening marked the end of a six-day stretch of third-shifting it, she was more inclined towards celebration than dieting.
Not that her partner's stack of chocolate chip pancakes was any better, either, but if there was one thing about the rookie Amy would consider envying it was his ability to eat like a teenager with a tapeworm and not gain a single pound. When pressed, he'd chalked it up to 'frequent exercise,' but Amy had been more likely to believe that he simply didn't eat much unless it was handed to him or came from a vending machine, typical twenty-something bachelor, hence the occasional indulgences she'd witnessed.
Now, four months into their partnership, she was more inclined to believe him. Just last night he apprehended a suspect — after an eight-block sprinting foot chase — in pursuit of an all-state track runner. The juvenile was panting heavily when her partner walked him back — cuffed and subdued — to their patrol car, but the rookie? Barely even winded and cracking jokes about Central City. Amy shook her head as she remembered some of them.
Then she sighed.
Bad jokes aside, it was still an impressive collar and the rookie deserved to hear her say so. Constructive criticism and praise where praise was due, that was her mentoring style — and one to which her partner responded very well. The collar happened at the very end of their shift last night, and she'd been so tired that now she didn't remember if she'd said anything to him about it. This was as good a time as any to correct that possible oversight.
"Good job with the perp last night, by the way."
BPD rookie Richard Grayson was so startled by the sound of her voice that he nearly dropped his fork. He recovered quickly and flashed a sheepish grin. "Hmm?"
Amy couldn't help but laugh, though the laughter died when she saw that Grayson hadn't done much more than carve a syrupy sculpture into his mostly uneaten breakfast.
"This is the first time I've seen you ignore the food in front of you," she hedged, mild concern coloring her voice.
Grayson shrugged, but the accompanying smile didn't quite reach his eyes. "Sorry. Just not hungry, I guess."
"Don't apologize to me, rookie, I didn't cook it."
The ploy at humor was met with an abbreviated laugh and more of a smirk than an actual grin. Then, as if to satisfy an impatient parent, Grayson deliberately took a bite… and abruptly pulled a face.
Amy laughed. "What'd you expect? You let them cool for twenty minutes soaked in syrup."
Grayson washed the mouthful down with a swig of lukewarm coffee… and then pulled an even bigger face. Amy laughed louder and, after smacking his tongue around the inside of his mouth in distaste, the rookie joined her for a moment, albeit halfheartedly.
"Don't tell me," he rebuffed with self-deprecating humor. "I let my coffee cool for twenty minutes?"
"They can always refill it," she dismissed, toning down her obvious amusement. Then: "got something on your mind tonight, rookie?"
"Huh?" Grayson blinked, but recovered quickly. "Oh. Nothing, really."
"Anything that distracts you from food's gotta be more than nothing."
For a moment Grayson looked like he was about to contest the point, but then he suddenly thought better of it. He sighed instead. "I just don't like third shift."
Amy read the honest truth in his statement and her concern relaxed a little. No one actually liked third shift, though some seemed to tolerate it better than most.
"What's the matter, Dick? I thought you lived for the night life?" This was her favorite point to tease him on. They normally worked first shift, and two mornings out of every three Grayson would show up barely on time and with deep bags under his bloodshot eyes. In the beginning she thought him — again — a typical bachelor, but as the pattern continued she'd grown concerned. He'd been very receptive to her thinly veiled discussions on how easily someone could lose control of their life while politely reassuring her that he really wasn't partying every night. Eventually Amy had let the matter drop, mostly because while the rookie was often so obviously tired, he never really showed any other signs to indicate the downward swing of whatever bender. That and a steady inflow of caffeine kept him on his feet — and outperforming every other rookie in the district.
Her open invitation to banter earned a victory as the fog lifted from Grayson's eyes, and they came alive with his smile for the first time tonight. It was those eyes that women on both sides of the law fawned over wherever he went, and that smile that made them go weak at the knees. Even his happily married partner wasn't completely immune, much to her chagrin. She'd take that chagrin any day of the week though, as long as it meant that there was life behind those baby blues. The shadows that had lingered there tonight were a holdover from whatever mood he'd been in yesterday, but the chase and the collar had seemed to snap him out of it. Apparently though it hadn't been a lasting effect.
"Oh I love the night life," Grayson assured. "I just prefer to love it on my own terms." He laughed slightly at himself in that disarming way of his. Grayson never seemed to take himself seriously — unless he was chasing down fleeing perps or inspecting crime scenes. Then he showed more professionalism than a priest on Sunday.
"Missing another late-night movie?" Amy teased. It was his favorite excuse, though occasionally he blamed it on visiting family in Gotham.
Grayson's grin fell to a smirk. "Would you believe me if I said I had to cancel a hot date tonight?"
"Oh? Finally taking your landlady out?" she asked, straight-faced. For all his good looks Grayson was often genuinely embarrassed at the excessive attention he was prone to receiving from the more forward members of the fairer sex — from both sexes, really, though the rookie never seemed to take offense to that — and none had been more forward than his landlady. Of course he'd rather dug his own hole with that one, helping her at times when the furnace crapped out and lending a hand when other tenants moved. The minute he let her see that he was a kind and decent human being despite being a cop with a missed a career as an underwear model his fate was sealed. When he'd confided this particular trouble to his partner all flustered and unsure, asking for a woman's advice in how to let the girl down gently, Amy had taken pity on him and had gracefully obliged.
But that didn't mean she was above teasing him about it when the opportunities arose.
"Or is it finally that redhead I've seen pictures of?" she continued, knowing full well that it was the best way to get Grayson to blush. The smile that would accompany that blush signaled that the rookie only had eyes for the girl in the framed portrait on his desk, just as the way he always averted eye contact whenever she was mentioned told Amy that all he had of that woman was her photograph.
Yet this time Grayson didn't look away. He wasn't smiling or blushing either, but rather his attention was riveted to some point over his partner's shoulder, eyes wide and jaw hanging open in unbridled shock. The last time Amy saw him look like that was when his former guardian casually strolled into the station house last month looking for him — not that he'd been the only one, mind, given who that guardian happened to be — but soon Grayson's stricken features had positively lit up in smile that would have shamed the sun.
This time though Amy was sure that whatever had surprised the rookie was hardly of the pleasant sort, because Grayson wasn't smiling now. No, far from it. She'd only just barely registered the faint squeak signaling the approach of heavy, rubber soled shoes when an ominous shadow spilled across the table from behind her. Amy knew instinctively that Grayson had reacted to that shadow's owner — likely when he entered the diner, because now that she thought about it she was certain that the bell above the door had chimed in the half-second before the rookie's attention had been diverted — and she resisted the urge to swivel around and see for herself only because, in that instant, she couldn't quite tear her gaze away from her partner's eyes.
Grayson's focus had drifted up to meet the face of whomever the shadow belonged to, his color blanching even as his gaze slid upwards, and Amy watched as he slowly slid back in his seat, his hands coming to brace the lip of the table, fingers splayed, as he exhaled in a controlled breath. The hanging jaw reset itself and his lips pursed into a thin line. She'd seem him make that face a few times, usually whenever he decided that silence was the best way to end an argument, sort of a deliberate telegraph of 'and this is me being mature by not saying anything else.' At first she'd thought it was cute — she'd done the same to her brothers often enough growing up — but now she finally read the anger in it, in the way those gorgeous baby blues had frozen over, the first sparks of a storm brewing behind their icy depths, and with a flash of dizzying insight Amy realized that the forced silence wasn't petulance at all.
It was self-preservation.
It was 'I'm not going to say something we'll both regret no matter how much I want to' and she'd only missed it before because Grayson had always looked away, down and away like he was indulging in a good head of sulk, and so she'd never really seen the cold pit of fury simmering behind his eyes. Cops shouldn't have eyes like that, some part of her thought wildly, not rookie cops who hadn't yet tasted the worst of what the 'Haven had to offer. Shit, not even veteran cops if they ever hoped to pass their yearly psych evals.
Twelve years on the force had taught Amy just about everything she knew of hate, but Grayson had obviously taken his lessons elsewhere. Perhaps from their mystery visitor.
"Slade." One word, both a declaration and a curse, forced out through clenched teeth. And was it her imagination, or had the rookie's voice dropped a good octave?
A breathy snicker answered him, but before Amy could think of reacting to it the shadow shifted and a man rounded the side of their booth. Then he boldly slid into the bench beside her and Amy instinctively pulled away, the atavistic cop-sense of trusting your partner overriding her conscious thought. She pressed herself into the wall and turned to finally regard the brazen man who'd caused such a radical change in her otherwise mild-mannered rookie.
The man was older — Amy might have pegged him for mid fifties — and dressed all in black, right down to the combat boots. His white hair was shaggy but well groomed, as was the small beard at his chin. The striking thing though was his right eye: it matched the left one perfectly, except that it was made of glass. But as fascinating as his appearance was, it was this Slade's overall countenance that truly grabbed Amy's attention. She'd been around the block enough to know 'ex-military' when she saw it. The confidence, the posture, the liquid grace, all wrapped up in razor edges and hairpin triggers. Some of the guys from SWAT had that look too, the subtle not-quite-there-ness of having gone off to war but having never come all the way back. They were the ones you had to watch yourself around, the ones that joined the force for the comfort of being legally allowed to wield the big guns.
"Isn't this a surprise," the man declared in a low, steady voice, the words fairly dripping off his tongue. "I've spent three nights in this rotting town, and now I find you in the very last place I would have looked."
Amy saw her partner's eyes flash for a moment, a flare inside the steady fire. "What do you want, Slade?" Grayson's voice was just low, and of the myriad of emotions bubbling beneath it, curiosity was far from the top of the list.
"Why you, of course," the man, Slade, assured with grin. Or at least with bared teeth. "But I think you've been hiding from me—" and here his gaze flit quickly to Amy. "With a woman." Was that disgust she heard in his voice, or just surprise?
"Sergeant Amy Rohrbach, BPD," she introduced herself with assurance. Amy refrained from proffering her hand though. You didn't need to stand on courtesy with criminals and Amy was sure the man had to be guilty of something.
Slade's eyes alit and he bared his teeth again. A predator's smile, Amy realized suddenly, and resisted the urge to reach for the comforting weight of her sidearm.
"Ah so the rumors were true. Its Officer Grayson now, isn't it. This is an interesting turnaround for you. It must be difficult getting used to following someone else's orders."
Amy sensed that there was something to that last comment, because Slade was all cat-that-got-the-canary while Grayson's jaw twitched in tension.
"I don't think blue suits you," Slade continued, a mockery of introspection. "But then, I suppose I'm being nostalgic. I always preferred you in orange."
Oh, that did it. Amy wasn't sure what it meant, but Grayson did not take kindly to that comment at all. He sat frozen, ice-sculpture still, but the fire in his eyes burned in twin black flames and for a moment Amy got the sense that of these two men, her partner was the more dangerous. Yet whatever comfort she might have otherwise found in that notion ran cold, because she knew she was right about the other man's past — and where the hell had Grayson learned to project such cold-hearted menace?
Amy's mind shied away from wondering that it wasn't a projection at all.
The spell lasted barely a moment though before Grayson banked the fire, seemingly through sheer force of will. Whatever he refrained from saying or doing in that moment, Amy was rather certain it was best she didn't know.
"I could have you arrested," Grayson suddenly announced, or rather, threatened.
Slade's response was a staccato snicker that sent shivers dancing along Amy's spine.
"Oh but you won't," he negated. "I know you; that's not the way you play the game." Here Slade's eyes narrowed. "And you're smarter than that."
Amy watched her partner seethe in silence, the fingers on his left hand clawing at the tabletop to prevent himself from forming an actual fist. Now, police officers are trained how to use everyday objects — such as keys and flashlights — as defensive weapons. However, she'd never seen a cheap aluminum fork look as threatening as it did just then, palmed in Grayson's right hand.
"Should you be arrested?" she asked the intruder plainly in a voice of tempered steel. Amy wasn't easily intimidated — and even if she was, she could fake it well enough — and in four months of partnership she'd come to realize that Grayson's word was enough for her, if ever he gave it. 'Shoot first, ask questions later' was a bit of a BHPD mantra, and so it stood to reason 'arrest first, compile evidence later' wouldn't earn them any extra attention. And she stood by her assessment that Slade had to be guilty of something.
Slade laughed again, this time in genuine amusement, and he turned to face her. Amy's attention was pulled back to her partner though when she heard his sharp inhale. She hadn't thought it possible for Grayson to get any paler, but she'd been wrong. He also seemed to be holding his breath, and the fork twitched in his iron grip.
"Forward, isn't she," Slade appraised, his one eye seeming to leer at her before returning its focus to her partner. "But an honest question. What do you think? Should I be arrested?"
"Maybe you should ask Joey," Grayson answered quickly, his tone a half-shade lighter but then twice as sharp.
Slade wasn't exactly startled, but it was a safe bet that he hadn't been expecting that. His eyes widened just barely before narrowing again, and in that simple shift his entire presence changed. Up until now he had been fluid, words slipping from his tongue like mercury. Here came the reminded that mercury was deadly among poisons. Here was a man who'd killed before, Amy realized then, and one who didn't lose sleep for the deed. It didn't surprise her one bit, and she only wished she knew if any of those deaths were handed down after the man was out of uniform.
"Now we're hitting below the belt," Slade acknowledged snidely. "Careful now; you don't want me repaying in kind."
The man couldn't have advertised a threat better had he used a marquee, and Amy found her hand drifting towards the gun at her hip before a swift kick to the ankle stopped her and she dropped that hand to her lap. Her partner had somehow sensed her movement — though she couldn't tell how as his gaze never wavered from its fixation on Slade — and he'd warned her off.
"Would it make a difference?" she heard Grayson ask even as he kicked her. He sounded tired, bitter even, but the spite lost none of its potency.
"Oh come now," Slade chided, tone laden with disappointment. "Haven't I always been a man of my word?"
"That doesn't mean I trust you," Grayson rebuffed, and Amy was surprised to see an odd smirk ghosting across his features for a moment.
Slade's amused laugh returned, if only briefly. "That's the most intelligent thing you've said all evening," he appraised with an odd sort of condescending pride. "After all, misplaced trust can be such a terrible thing."
Amy saw her partner expression harden, the flames returning to his frozen eyes. Truthfully, she half expected steam to blow out Grayson's ears. If his earlier comment to Slade had been 'below the belt' then this was likely the answering salvo. Once again though Grayson restrained himself, however this time his right hand gave into tremors at the effort. Slade seemed rather pleased by something he saw in her partner's reaction though, because he suddenly flashed his excuse for a smile.
"But here I think I've disrupted your breakfast long enough," he announced, his voice so abruptly casual that Amy nearly blinked.
That odd smirk returned to Grayson's features. "But you'll be back," he said with certainty, as though finishing the other man's thought.
Slade's feral grin grew predatory. "But of course. I'll find you again, now that I know where to look." His one-eyed gaze flashed suddenly to Amy.
"That won't be necessary," Grayson rushed to assure him, and she could have sworn the urgency in his voice held an undercurrent of fear. Amy couldn't be sure though, because it was the first time she'd ever heard it.
"Tch, so paranoid." Slade shook his head, an exaggeration of chastisement, and a sudden insight into the subtext that had set her partner off had Amy almost reaching for her gun again, righteous indignation lending an oddly feminist flavor to the hard spike of adrenaline that hit her system in response to the perceived threat. But Grayson had his foot into her shin again, sharp, sudden pressure, reminding her how much of a bad idea it was.
It was roundabout then that Amy realized how her partner had kept both hands visible and stationary for the duration of the conversation, and how that could only have been a conscious choice.
"Well, I can't sit here forever," Slade announced as he eased himself out of the booth. "I am, after all, a busy man." Then he turned to Grayson, flashing that smile again. "But I'll be seeing you."
Her partner nodded, short and clipped. "I'll be waiting." His voice was just as definitive as Slade's had been.
"I know," Slade followed, and Amy surmised it was more to prevent her partner from having the final word than anything else. "Until then." He nodded once in parting and then turned on his heels. Then Slade was breezing calmly out of the restaurant like any other patron, though everything from his posture to the lilt of his gait had Amy wondering just how many weapons the man had concealed on his person.
Amy watched to be certain he was really gone before turning back to her partner. "Dick, who the hell…" but the question died on her lips. The man sitting across from her was not the partner she knew. Of course, he hadn't been the partner she knew since the moment Slade walked in the door, but she was only now internalizing this revelation, likely because whatever change had come over Grayson when Slade appeared hadn't fully retreated with him.
"Former employer," Grayson answered in a tired voice, completely straight-faced, and even though Amy knew that couldn't have been true — she was familiar with Grayson's entire resume after all — she found no trace of falsehood in that statement. Bitterness yes, but no lies.
Then her partner sighed, almost resigned, the tension slowly bleeding out of him like a gradually deflating balloon. He slouched slightly in his seat and bowed his head as if in effort to collect his thoughts. Almost as an afterthought he forced his right hand to unclench. Only then did Amy notice how white Grayson's fingers were — they matched his knuckles, matched his napkin, even — as a warped fork clanged, forgotten, to the table.