He sits on his couch, shoulders slumped, staring at the floor. She doesn't know whether he is really unaware of her presence, or just doesn't care. She pulls out a shuriken and aims.
He tenses. So he does know, and she thinks he's feeling suicidal. She also thinks it's odd that she hasn't thrown her shuriken yet. She finds it even more odd that she's putting her shuriken away. She doesn't know why she hasn't killed her target yet.
She boldly walks over to the couch, sits, and makes herself comfortable, as if she were a welcome guest. He doesn't say a word.
She doesn't know how long they sat there like that, but it gave her enough time to observe that his apartment is clean to the point of being sterile, and so well-organized that it could have belonged to the Lord of Order. The apartment is so immaculate that it makes her feel slightly self-conscious about the unruliness of her hair. She hasn't felt self-conscious since she had lived with her father.
She stretches her legs and puts her feet up on the coffee table.
"Feet off the furniture," he says automatically.
She turns to look at him. Her feet don't move.
"Feet off the furniture," he says again.
His voice is flat and monotonous, but she thinks she can detect a hint of annoyance. She finds it amusing that he couldn't care less about an assassin aiming a weapon at him, yet he is perturbed by the assassin resting her feet on his table. She takes off her mask so he can see her smirking at him.
He sighs. It's one of those sighs that can only come from someone who has abandoned all hope, and she can feel the smirk leaving her face.
"If you're going to put your feet on my furniture, can you do it after I'm dead? I know that's what you're here for. Now that I've outlived my purpose- which I've failed at, by the way- it's time for me to be put down, isn't it?"
"Would you like to be done in by a shuriken, sai, or katana?" she asks.
He stands up unexpectedly and walks over to his display case of bows and arrows. He selects one of the arrows, sits back down on the couch, and hands the arrow to her. "It's the first one I ever shot. I've come full circle."
The heart she didn't know she had breaks a little for the boy in front of her.
He turns toward her and says, "I know you like toying with your victims, but make an exception, will you? Just do it quickly." He shuts his eyes.
She does it quickly- one swift butterfly kiss, and by the time he opens his eyes to stare at her, she's already at the door. She waves his arrow at him. "Souvenir." She also holds up his quiver, full of more arrows. "Souvenirs."
She thinks this must be one of the most horrifying things she's ever done to herself. She breathes in and out, deeply, and plunges an arrow into her chest, missing her heart by a few scant millimeters. It hurts like hell.
She splashes a generous amount of animal blood all over her clothes. She figures she must be quite the sight, looking like a nightmarish porcupine with a dozen arrows sticking out of her body. She staggers out of the shadows to face Ra's al Ghul.
The normally indifferent man is astonished. She is his best assassin, after all. "Cheshire! What has happened?"
"Red Arrow," she gasps, "is dead, just as you ordered." She falls to her knees. "Master... I don't think I... I don't think I'll be able to do any more missions," she says. Then she collapses. Her heart has stopped.
Her heart starts beating again in ten minutes, when the anesthesia that had put her into stasis wears off. Ra's al Ghul is gone, having abandoned the corpse of his best assassin, as she knew he would. They would meet again one day, she thought, and it would not be as master and servant.
The next time she visits him, her hair has been tamed into a neat twist, held in place by her souvenir. She doesn't enter his apartment uninvited; instead, she knocks on the door, like a normal person. He opens the door, and she thinks he looks a bit better than last time.
"Back to finish the job? Or are you here to return my stolen arrows?"
"You're not getting the arrows back, but they've been put to good use."
"Good use? Like killing innocent people?"
"No," she says, "like killing Cheshire."
He raises an eyebrow at her. "Great. In addition to feeling insecure about my identity, now I also have to feel insecure about my mentality. I see dead people. That can't be good."
"Cheshire died, so Jade can live." She pushes him out of the doorway, and hauls in two suitcases. "Jade lives, but she also needs somewhere to live," she explains.
He doesn't say anything, but it's not because he's okay with her suddenly moving into his apartment. It's because his brain hasn't quite processed what's happening. He continues to stand in front of the door, looking stunned, as she starts to unpack.
She hands him a stack of cash. "Room and board. With an emphasis on board. I'm hungry."
It seems that everything she says and does is a great shock to him. "You want me to cook for you?"
"So glad we're on the same page. I'll expect something to be on the table by the time I come out of the shower," she says.
Ten minutes later, she walks back into the kitchen to see him stirring a pot of pasta sauce with one hand and clutching his phone with the other.
"I don't care if I have to go to the ends of the universe- I'm going to find him. It's the only purpose I have left in my pathetic facsimile of a life. No, Oliver, no- I will not sit here and wait for the Justice League. Every second I spend not searching for him is another second I'm stealing from his life!" he yells, and slams the phone on the counter.
"You're not stealing from his life."
"Don't talk about things you don't understand, Cheshire."
"And don't I? I knew what you were long before you did. And I know that it most definitely was not your fault. There's nothing you have to feel guilty about. If anything, you are the victim."
"No," he says dejectedly. "I'm a thief. A worthless thief." He sighs and leaves the kitchen. "Cook the pasta yourself. Boil in salted water for 4 minutes until al dente."
He returns to the kitchen a few minutes later. She thinks it's to make sure that she hasn't splattered tomato sauce all over his spotless kitchen. He stares at her bowl of sauce-covered Cheerios. "What happened here?" he asks.
"Couldn't find the pasta. This was the closest thing."
"Gross. Pasta's right here, by the way." He opens the cupboard and pulls out a blue box labeled 'fusilli.'
"Where I came from, pasta was either spaghetti or macaroni."
"Where did you come from?"
"Wonderland, of course."
"Wonderland. I guess I'm Tweedle Dum. Speaking of dumb, you're pretty dumb for giving me this." He hands her the stack of cash she had previously given him. "Did you really think I'd accept money made off of innocent lives?"
"Not innocent. The people I killed all had a reason to die. Corrupt politicians, fraudulent businessmen, the like."
"And affiliates of the Justice League."
"No. I've never actually killed a hero- you were my first heroic target. Obviously, I failed, even though the Shadows think you're dead. Lay low, Red Arrow, and the Shadows won't bother you again."
He looks at her for a moment and looks as if he wants to ask her something- perhaps the reason why she decided to protect him rather than kill him. Instead, he steals a spoonful of her cereal and grimaces. "It's like the evil twin of Spaghetti-O's."
She laughs. Not condescendingly, not mockingly, just a normal laugh because she finds him funny. "You know, aren't you supposed to avoid eating pasta on your first date?"
"Yes, but this is our fifth, isn't it?"
She's surprised he remembers, after all he's been through. She smiles. "Well then, lover boy, how about you go and cook that fusilli?"
She can feel him slipping away with every passing day. Every day, he spends a little more time searching for the real Roy Harper and a little less time living his own life.
By the third month, what little sense of humor he had left deserts him completely. He doesn't laugh or smile. He doesn't respond to her taunting. He eats the tomato sauce Cheerios without a single comment. She doesn't think he even notices what he's eating.
By the sixth month, he's completely gone. He spends day and night calling, e-mailing, or visiting people that he thinks would know something about Roy Harper's whereabouts, then going off on a wild goose-chase. He looks at her without seeing her, he lives without being alive. If there were two Roy Harpers before, now it seems there is only one- the original, because the other is only a shell.
It's not the original Roy Harper that needs to be found, she thinks. Her Roy Harper is the one that is lost.
She takes a small comfort in thinking that she's what prevents him from dying from his obsession.
She had never been much of a cook, but she keeps him fed by keeping the kitchen well-stocked. She wonders what would have happened had she not been there- he would probably have starved to death, without even realizing that he was hungry.
She notices his previously spotless home becoming decidedly spottier. She tries to clean it herself, but can't figure out how he had managed to keep the place sparkling without spending day and night cleaning it- but then again, considering his obsessive personality, she wonders if he did spend day and night cleaning it.
On the days when he is more depressed or agitated than usual, she provides him with a distraction by tackling him and kissing him senseless. He responds enthusiastically, his tormented emotions needing some kind of outlet. She doesn't mind being just a distraction to him; after all, he's a distraction for her too- a distraction from the real world. But sometimes, she can't help but hope that maybe one day she'll mean something more to him.
She sorts through his mail and makes sure he pays his bills on time. When she sees his bank statement showing his diminishing savings, she starts paying his bills herself. She knows that he doesn't notice. She doesn't care.
She also makes sure he signs all the documents that need to be signed. One day, she hands him another document, and he signs it without asking. She looks at his signature on the form and the magnitude of what she just did sinks in on her. She is Mrs. Harper now.
He looks at her, really looks at her, for the first time in ages. She can tell that for once, he is not thinking about finding Roy Harper, or what his identity is. This time, he is just thinking about her.
"I- you- we are married?"
She nods, as if forging marriage documents were the most natural thing in the world. "Mr. Harper, may I introduce you to Mrs. Harper? She's been living with you for the past year, but I don't think you noticed."
"A year?" He looks astonished. "It's been a year since..."
"Since you lost your mind? Yes. Have you found it now? Mrs. Harper would like her husband back."
"But you're not actually Mrs. Harper," he says. "Because I'm not the real-"
"Shut up about the 'real Roy Harper' nonsense. To me, you're real. I don't care what your name is, or if you even have one. Labeling you Roy Harper is just for convenience."
"But why? Why would you possibly want to marry a worthless knock-off like me? And how? How can you bring yourself to look at me and see anything more than a Cadmus experiment?"
She sighs, exasperated with both him and herself. "I don't know," she snaps. "I don't know why it's you, but it is. I've never wanted to leave the Shadows, never wanted to change my lifestyle. And then you came along one day, and everything changed. I don't know why.
And when I was ordered to kill you, I couldn't, just couldn't. So I killed Cheshire instead. I stabbed myself with a dozen arrows to fake my death, and in my 'dying moment,' I told al Ghul that you were dead, too. I had hoped that us 'dying' would provide the perfect opportunity for us to start a new life, together, but to this day, I don't know why it had to be you.
Maybe it was because you thought you were worthless when you so obviously aren't. I once thought I was worthless too, until I realized otherwise. Or maybe it was because you seemed broken, and for once in my life, I wanted to fix something rather than destroy it. Or maybe the answer is the simplest of all: I love you, and no other reason is necessary."
He looks at her intensely for a moment, then wraps his arms around her. His embrace is both soft and strong, and he's himself again, instead of that shell of a man he was for the past year.
He pulls away slightly to look at her again. "My wife," he says, gently stroking her cheek. "You're my wife."
He says the word so warmly and with so much feeling- feeling that had been absent from him for so long- that her tears spill over before she realizes what's even happening. He wipes them away and kisses her.
She thinks that he's back for good, and that everything will be okay.
Nothing is okay.
His best friend is now the enemy, his other teammates have developed their own agendas, and the Justice League has long since de-prioritized the search for Speedy. He is gone again, leaving her with the tormented shell of a man hell-bent on a single, seemingly impossible objective.
There are occasional days when he is himself again, which keep her hanging on to the hope that maybe one day he'll come back to himself and stay himself. She hangs on to that hope and looks forward to those few precious days when she has a husband again. The other days, she tries her best to just keep him alive.
She doesn't know how time passes by as she is lost in the monotony of life.
Eventually, she finds herself moving on. She has set up a new life for herself. She forges a college diploma and gets a job as a translator for a businessman. Unlike Jade Crock or Jade Nguyen, Jade Harper is well-liked by those who meet her, and men are jealous of the redheaded husband she is always talking about- the one that exists only in her Wonderland.
She travels internationally and is away from home as much as he is. She wonders if he notices. Their home is derelict and falling apart. She wonders if he even cares.
Then she comes home one day from a trip to Taiwan, lost in thought as she remembers another trip to Taiwan four years ago. She thinks of him, and nearly cries when she actually finds him at home, waiting for her. He has cleaned up their home, and is stirring a pot of soup over the stove.
"Hey," he greets, as if it were just another day. "Hungry?"
She is hungry- hungry for her husband's love. She drops everything and kisses him desperately, pouring all of the emotion she has left into that kiss, hoping it will somehow transfer to him, making him complete again, forcing him to stay himself for good.
The next morning, he is gone again, leaving behind nothing but a pot of cold soup and a note saying that he found another lead.
She hasn't seen him in two months. She isn't sure if he's even alive. She can't go on like this- they can't go on like this. She puts a protective hand over her abdomen and sobs. Her child needs a father- a real one, a good one, a caring one, not like the one she had had.
He needs to find himself, for their child's sake. And to find himself, he needs to find Roy Harper. With no progress after four years of searching, she figures he's looking in all the wrong places. But to look in the right places means only one thing- she has to resurrect Cheshire.
She remembers how he had come to his senses after the shock of realizing he had a wife. She hopes that the even greater shock of realizing he has a child would bring him back again. This time, she vows to make it permanent by exorcising his demons- she would find Roy Harper, even if it meant crawling back to the Shadows. She would find Roy Harper, she would get her husband back, and she would never lose him again.
She runs away from home for the second time in her life. But this time, she's not alone, and this time, she plans to come back.