five: no, yes

If she could, Jade would tell League of Shadows that she's done for a while. Burnt out; trying to find her inner evil. Gone fishing. Back later. Whatever, if she's missing, don't come looking. And if by some miracle the casbah is a rocking, that's not a super-hero in there and they shouldn't come a knocking.

But she can't. So she writes Talia Al Ghul an email, the gist of which is: Luthor's obsessed and probably dangerous to us. Sportsmaster's an idiot. Need some down-time before I kill them both.

She wouldn't exactly say she and Talia Al Ghul are close. Jade is just starting her twenties; Talia is in her mid-thirties. But Talia seemed to see something in her. Maybe it's that Ra's Al Ghul isn't much saner than Lawrence Crock.

It still doesn't surprise her when Talia's response amounts to, essentially, Sure, fine; you've made us obscene amounts of money. I hear Roanapur's nice this time of year.

But Jade doesn't go to Roanapur. Cheshire would fit right in, and so would Jade, but she's got an angry archer to track down. She checks Gotham first, but doesn't find Red Arrow. Boston, Metropolis, Star City, Central City, Kansas City (Kansas and Missouri, and just for the record she hatesKansas City, Kansas).

Cheshire finds him in a slummier part of Bludhaven. Considering that Bludhaven is a total shit hole, the fact that Red even founda slummier side is pretty impressive. The little hole in the wall looks so filthy even the roaches must think it's gross.

"Really, Red?"

He's off the couch (looks like something time forgot; it either came with the apartment or from a dumpster) and has an arrow nocked in seconds. He draws the string back toward his ear, eyes narrowed underneath his mask.


"Jade," she says, and unties Cheshire's face from above her own.

"You can't be serious." Only Roy could sound both poleaxed and darkly amused at the same time.

She sits on the floor and says, "Nguyen Jade."

"I... thought I was Roy Harper."

"I know." She offers him a smile. "I thought you were my boyfriend."

His face shuts down even more. His voice is almost Batty when he says, "I noticed."

And for that she has to laugh. "Sand in your throat?"

He frowns. It's a beautiful frown, angry and confused, and it curves his lips downward in a perfect arc.

"I didn't know, you know. About gamma and beta protocols. There were little things that didn't make sense, but I thought it was League of Shadows business. And that never makes much sense unless you're an Al Ghul."

He relaxes the tension in the bowstring, then carefully slides the arrow back into his quiver. "Then why are you here?"

Cheshire says: "I didn't know. It didn't make sense. It never does."

Jade means: I'm sorry.

Red Arrow says: "Then why are you here?"

Jade doesn't know what that means.

Jade doesn't know why she's in the worst mudhole in Bludhaven. He's asked a question she doesn't have any kind of answer for.

"I... I don't deal in why," she tells him. (I love you, she said, all those months ago. Or as good as.)

"Of course you don't." The frown vanishes from his face. It's replaced by the start of a smile. Tiny, barely there, a mere suggestionof an upward curve. But it's just as beautiful as his frown.

"I still don't trust you, you know."

Smart boy. "Of course you don't."

I still don't trust youhis mouth says. But he takes the mask off and slides to the floor beside her.

Jade only smiles and says Of course you don't.If she were another woman, she'd reach out to him. Rest her hand on his bicep, or press her palm to his back, or glide her fingers over his hair.

It's not just her he doesn't trust.