No particular order for the telling of this one...

Short String

She hadn't planned for this life. This wasn't what she thought she'd grow up to be, what she'd spend so many years doing. But she was good at it - one of the best - and made a ludicrous living on it all. Whatever she wanted could be hers. Was hers.

It was dangerous, sure, but who was she to say no to a little excitement? Kept her on her toes and maintained her ladylike figure, if nothing else.

"I was hoping it would be you."

She really had been.

It had been nearly seven years since Jade had seen her sister, and it was with a twinge of nostalgic sadness that she observed how strong Artemis had grown to be. She fought hard against her enemies - Jade - and well with her teammates, moving fluidly around them to both attack and defend.

If she didn't know better, Jade would have thought the wrenching in her gut was from jealousy. But it was more natural to have conflicted feelings about fighting her baby sister, right?

Red Arrow wasn't anything new. She'd seen him before; in snapshots and video taken by the Shadows, from afar while she was performing recon or spy missions, even closer up when he'd been summoned to the Shadows' hideouts and bunkers every few months to deliver information.

Yes, she knew all about him. How he'd been formed in a petri dish, grown in an oversized test tube, swimming in amniotic fluids for a few months until the timer had gone off and they'd released him, set him like a dog on the unsuspecting Green Arrow and his Justice League.

He'd been aware of nothing, of course - only intensifying the curiosity factor he held for her. Not to mention how absolutely delicious he was. She didn't know what the first had looked like, but considering that he'd only been fourteen or fifteen when he'd been snatched in the night, she could imagine that Roy Harper - original, copy, son, whatever - had never looked this good.

She'd lost her mask, and had to be extra careful with composing herself on the helicopter ride back to the Shadows' New England bunker while that son of a bitch stared her down from the copilot seat with that insipid little smirk on his face.

She imagined spitting right through the hole in his steel hockey mask, straight in the eye. The murky brown eye that was watching her cruelly, reminding her of years of shouting and slaps and insults and long hours of training - those innumerable hours, leading far into the night, that would leave her small body tired and bruised and begging for a respite that had never come.

They had ways of keeping their minions around. They took DNA samples, kept stolen security footage, watched closely enough to know crash pads and haunts. If they kept ID records - it wasn't unlikely, paranoia was first nature to them - they were kept quietly, secretly. Any insubordination or hesitation was met quickly with threats; no physical violence, but heavy reminders were dropped that at any given moment, there was enough hard evidence and documentation held on each member to put them away for decades.

Severity wasn't their only tactic; for players who did their jobs well, the benefits were endless. Vacations, sick leave, obscene amounts of money, not to mention the thrill and glamour of the clandestine life. There was protection, too - as long as the thieves and assassins didn't overstep themselves, they could count on crime scenes to be cleaned, evidence discreetly stolen, police officers and court officials to be paid off, even prison breaks if it went that far.

Yes, the Shadows made for a white-knuckled employer, but they were loyal and respectful, as long as they got their due.

She was tracked down on the job in Taipei. She would've been angry that such a rookie had found her so easily, but Arrow Junior was just so damn cute, she couldn't work herself up to it.

He tried to question her in that dinky cell downtown. Adorable. Arms crossed, shoulders squared, brow furrowed and the steeliest of glares set firmly in place as he attempted to work her. So easily distracted by her jabs at his mentor and little caped buddies. Behind the mask, she could see how young he was - how eager he was to prove himself, how much he resented his youth, and how he watched her so closely, white-shrouded eyes following her fluid movements and stretches.

"I think you know what I'm after."

He was so sexy when he was getting frustrated.

"I do." Daintily touched fingers to toes, leg raised and extended. The strain didn't even make her grimace. His scowl deepened as he watched, and she felt a quick thrum in her chest. "Do you?"

His whole body tensed when she reached through the bars for him, and he chased after her almost desperately when she escaped.

He had definitely noticed her.

Sometimes she got lonely. No, lonely wasn't the word - stressed, maybe? Tired? Pent-up?

Anyway, sometimes she just needed to feel a body under her, or needed to let off a little healthy steam or feel a little hot friction. A girl had needs.

Picking up civilians was as simple as traipsing off to the nearest club, or prowling around anywhere, really. Men were always leaping at her, jumping towards her, practically begging her to fuck them. Women occasionally, too, though she didn't normally enjoy them as much.

When she was young and not so skilled at the assassin thing, she used to take the money they would offer her - it was something to buy clothes with, or extra food, or motel rent when she couldn't stand sleeping in the Shadows' bunkers next to the snores, pants, and grunts of the other slaves of the night anymore. But for years now, she had made a habit of dealing the heaviest blows she could that wouldn't leave marks on any asshole would-be john who tried to charm his way into her pants with a little flash of green.

She'd established early on with her fellow Shadows that if she was going to fuck any of them, it would be on her terms. She never went anywhere without her shuriken, and she was never conservative with twirling her sai around if the few she took on got too pushy or too possessive.


Her face was impassive. "Fuck off."

"Chesh, just one more time." His voice, normally light and taunting, was low and demanding, and he made as if to grab her arm. She dodged him easily.

Betraying absolutely nothing, she brought a quick elbow up to strike him in the Adam's apple. He gasped, shock mixed with pain, and sank to his knees.

"I said, fuck off."

She was born with her father's name. Her parents had been married, but only just, and the name on her birth certificate read Jade Linh Crock. The name didn't stick, though; Lawrence Crock was an absent father at best - and at the worst, a violent, abusive, threatening, raving, manipulative bastard who only cared about his family when they were training or feeding him. By the time she was ten, after she had watched him beat her mother with a javelin for accidentally breaking some of his equipment while cleaning it through the crack of her bedroom door, she had stopped calling herself a Crock and had started writing Jade Nguyen on all her papers at school.

When she ran away from home at fourteen, she never even thought of herself as Jade Crock, and as soon as she legally could - not exactly, since she'd gotten her hands on a couple of fake IDs only a few months after leaving the shit apartment in Gotham, but who was picky enough to care about that minor infraction - she changed her name to mirror her mother's.

Jade Nguyen.

"In Louisiana, why did you kiss me?"

"Same reason why anyone kisses anyone."

"And what reason would that be?"

"You know."

"I don't understand you."

"You don't have to."

"You're evil."

"Maybe. But are you really going to let that stop you?"

"Stop me? You're the one who groped me mid-fight."

"And it was such a good groping, too."

"Stop that."

"As if you really want me to."

"I said to quit it, didn't I?"

"Yes, but Little Arrow here was just starting to enjoy himself."

"You're twisted."

"Then why aren't you leaving?"

She never minded the cold, though rolling around in almost-Arctic snows was starting to make her irritable. Watching her sister stare with wide eyes at the tumbling mass of cliff-side that was falling right above them - and having to be the one to save the sunny-haired golden child - only made her annoyance greater.

"Okay, we're sisters. I don't actually want you dead."

The admission was more than she should have allowed, but she had always had a soft spot for little Miss Arty.

"He's never going to love you, you know."

It was him.

She should've heard him, seen him, some trace of him in her apartment as she came in, or as he did. So much for being a ninja. How long had he been there?"

Spread out on her little couch, mask off, enormous body seeming to fill the entire room, lungs greedily taking in all the air, leaving none for her. Her heart began to pound, or maybe it had been pounding the second she laid eyes on him.

She hated him. Hated every blonde hair on his stupid head, hated how his beady eyes were piercing straight through her as she stood, still wrapped in her towel, hated the words he ground out that felt like they had knocked her over.

They were true, of course. They wouldn't hurt her like that if they weren't true.

"He'll get bored with you," the gravelly voice drawled. "He'll come to his senses and drop you like last week's garbage."

Every fiber of her being screamed at her to strike him, hit him so hard he felt every single rip of her own heart, to force him to feel the pain and rage of the last twenty-three years she'd suffered at his hand. To break that smirking face, tear every limb from his body, fill his veins with liquid death until her stores ran dry.

All she could do was stand there.

"I'm just trying to be a good father." Like fuck you are. "Because soon, baby girl," gouge his eyes out, those horrid little eyes, "your fairytale will be over."

She flinched when he stood, and hated herself for it.

The words were poison.

How could they hurt this much if they weren't true?

Her sister had done it.

Granted, little Artemis had never been anywhere near as deeply buried in darkness as she was, but the younger girl had had much the same upbringing as she did. Maybe not as much quality daddy time - and certainly more mommy time, especially recently - but the building blocks of training, ruthlessness, control, focus, and above all being the star of their own solo acts, were the same.

But Artemis had always had advantages that she hadn't. Artemis had always been meant for greater things.

She, on the other hand, was never anything special.

It was a mistake to get so close, especially since he was just another puppet for her masters. It wasn't as if they would feel skittish about using the relationship against her, and there was no way they didn't know.

They knew everything.

He didn't understand when she told him. Not that she had been particularly indulgent with her reasoning - she didn't do hows or whys on a normal basis, and she would be as good as dead if she ever even attempted to communicate the whole clone-thing to the very subject that was being manipulated.

She'd left it at a "This is the last time, Red," and told herself not to look back at the penetrating blue gaze boring into her back as she gathered her clothes and climbed out his window.

She didn't want to see her own feelings looking out at her from his eyes.

It was beginning to wear on her. Her body was tired, her nerves frayed. She'd almost made good on every promise she ever made to Lawrence Crock when they had been lumped together one too many times - she had been so close to letting go. If Hook hadn't been there, she would finally have exorcised the biggest demon to have ever dug its claws into her.

She asked for, and was granted, leave for an extended vacation, and began traveling. She had seen much of the world already - missions were far-reaching and varied - but had never had the chance to really see any of it.

She knew the rules, though. The second she was called, break time would be up and it was back on the next plane.

She hoped they would never want her back.

"Cheshire. The Shadows have a job for you."

The first one of them that she saw was him.

She saw him shoot wide on purpose, giving her enough time to get away.

I took the creative liberty of making up Jade's middle name for the purpose of this story; in Vietnamese, linh is spring.