“Jade, are you sure?” Paula asked, her fingers tightening around the handles of her wheelchair. “Think about it, please.”
Jade didn’t lift her eyes from her mug of tea. She knew her mother would react this way. She knew that she would try to convince her otherwise, to change her mind. Jade was set on her decision, she knew it was the right thing to do. It was the only thing to do in this situation.
“Mom,” she warned. “There’s nothing to think about.”
“A baby could be a good thing. A new start,” Paula implored. She wheeled closer to Jade, resting a hand on her shoulder. “You won’t be alone.”
“Won’t I?” Jade scoffed. It’s not like Roy would be there; he didn’t even know this kid existed. The moment that obnoxious plus sign showed up on the stick, she’d grabbed a duffel and penned him a letter saying she was done. Jade wondered if he’d cared when he’d found her things missing, or if he’d just thrown back another bottle of liquor and continued his search. Either way, it hurt.
There were a lot of things Jade wasn’t sure about right now. What she was going to do with her life being one of them. It wasn’t like the Shadows would take her back so willingly, not after she’d betrayed them. She had nowhere to go, nowhere to live. A kid was the very last thing she needed, or wanted. With absolute certainty, the only thing Jade knew was that she wasn’t about to have this baby, his baby, alone.
“You won’t,” her mother promised, squeezing her shoulder hard. “I will help. Artemis will-”
“No,” Jade insisted. “No. I’m not considering this. Tomorrow morning, I’m going to the clinic.”
“You won’t even tell him?”
“Roy doesn’t need to know. Believe me,” Jade said, setting the tea down on the coffee table and standing up to leave. “He won’t even care.”
“You don’t know that. People can change.”
“Why on earth would a baby change him? I tried, Mom. I tried for years.” Jade couldn’t disguise the bitterness in her voice. Her mother could preach all the wanted, but Paula hadn’t been there. She hadn’t lived with him. She hadn’t begged him to come to bed, to forget about Speedy for just a few hours so he could rest. She hadn’t cooked for him, despite being unable to cook anything with more than three steps of preparation, because if she hadn’t, he wouldn’t have eaten anything. She hadn’t kissed him so hard just to bring him back, for only a minute or two, to be the man who had convinced her there was more to life than following other people’s orders.
“He’s gone,” Jade said, her shoulders sinking as she turned away. “A baby won’t bring him back.” The squeak of her mother’s wheelchair edging closer made her want to jump out the window and never look back.
“Jade, please. Look at me.”
“Look at me.” When she didn’t, Paula grabbed her hand and turned her with a ferocity that Jade had forgotten she possessed. “When things get hard, you run. You think that it’s that easy? I know you’d love nothing more than to get rid of this child and move on with your life. But you can’t-”
“Enough, Jade,” Paula snapped in Vietnamese. Jade frowned; Vietnamese meant that Paula wasn’t in the mood for argument. “This isn’t something you can run from.”
Jade narrowed her eyes, snatching her hand away. “So what am I supposed to do, have this baby? Are you insane?” She crossed her arms over her chest, trying to ignore the nauseous churning in her stomach. “The moment this kid is out of me, the Shadows will come after it. Or maybe they won’t even wait that long. I wonder how long a pregnant person can last in a fight.”
“They won’t come after you,” Paula waved off.
“You’re a fool if you think that.”
“I was in the Shadows a lot longer than you were, I would know.”
“You didn’t betray them,” Jade spat.
“And what, you think that betrayals aren’t a common thing? Stop making excuses, Jade. If you want this child, we will make it work.”
Jade was about to retort back, but she paused. What did want have to do with anything? Having this child wasn’t a possibility; not in her line of work, at least. In her entire life, she’d never even entertained the thought of being a mom. What kind of shit mom would she make, anyway? Any kid she mothered would hate her before they were old enough to talk. And yet, if Roy were himself… she would have considered it.
“I’m not having this baby without its father,” she insisted, balling her fist. “And he’s in no position to be one.”
“Then go back to him, Jade. Set him right again.”
Jade shook her head before going to the door. “I can’t.” She rested her hand on the knob, letting out a shallow breath. “Not until I’ve found the real Roy Harper.”
Calling in her chips to find a lead on the original Harper had been the easy part.
Jade made use of every minute she wasn’t visibly showing and tracked down every potential favor she had. In a matter of months, she already had a solid idea of where to go next. When the baby started to kick, she put Cheshire away for a second time and rented an apartment in Star City. Roy didn’t live there anymore, but having their baby in the city in which he’d spent most of his time felt right.
Being pregnant was the harder part. If she had a choice between single handedly taking down a hundred Shadow lackeys or dealing with morning sickness for a week, she’d readily pick the former. At least then she knew what she was getting into. Nevertheless, she persevered through it. The baby was going to have enough of a difficult time with her and Roy as its genetic parents, the least she could do was give them their best chance at being born healthy. That meant going to every checkup, taking every uncomfortable test, and especially restraining herself from pushing too hard in her exercise regimen.
Paula begged her to stay in Gotham, but Jade knew that she wanted to be alone. She hadn’t even told Artemis. Sometimes she thought about popping in on her, given that her sister’s place at Stanford was so close. She changed her mind every time; Artemis didn’t need her pregnant sister making her life any more stressful. She was already upset at her as it was for leaving Roy. When Artemis had found out, she’d made a point to find Jade and attempt to talk some sense into her. She kept her mouth shut tight; Jade would tell her when the time was right.
At first, she put off finding out about the gender. Jade told herself she didn’t care what they were having. The bigger she got, the less she found it to be true. During her sixth month sonogram, she caved and asked.
The technician smiled. Her name was Linda something and she smelled of lavender. “Of course, Mrs. Harper. Give me just a few minutes.”
Jade tried her best not to grimace. When Roy proposed, he’d asked if she planned to change her name. Jade told him that if he ever so much as thought about it again, she would take a sai to his throat; it had almost made him smile. Jade Harper was the dumbest sounding name she could conceive of. The irony that she was using it for all her doctor’s appointments didn’t escape her. As far as they knew, she was Jade fucking Harper and her husband adored her but worked too often to attend any of her appointments.
She wished it were true.
Linda looked closely at the screen, slowly moving the wand around on her stomach. After a few moments, she nodded in triumph.
“You’re having a girl. Congratulations.”
“Is she okay?”
“She’s perfectly healthy. Nothing to worry about.”
Jade let out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding.
“I’m not sure whether to congratulate you, or kill you.”
“Either option carries its pros and cons, Crusher.”
Jade hadn’t been too surprised when her father met her outside the doctor’s office after one of her appointments. She knew it would only be a matter of time before he found out, and honestly she was impressed that it had taken him this long. Either Paula had told him, or her dad really did keep tabs on her. She wasn’t sure which one annoyed her most.
“Seems you’ve gotten yourself into quite a mess, little girl,” her father growled, keeping up with her brisk walking pace. “Pregnant with the clone’s kid. Who woulda thought?”
“Lian,” Jade corrected. “Her name is Lian.”
Lawrence rolled his eyes. “How original. Does she even know?”
“Nope. If you know what’s good for you, you won’t tell her.”
Her skin crawled at his amused expression, and she wished that she could gouge his eyes out for the way he looked at her stomach.“Don’t think you’re in much of a position to be making threats, Jade. Besides, I have better things to do with my time.”
It took a remarkable amount of control to keep Jade from attacking him in public. It was moments like this that she knew laying low was the worst decision she’d ever made. “What do you want, Dad?”
“Just wanted to see how my little girl was doing. Thought I’d take her out to lunch, make sure she was eating for two.”
“I’d rather get hit by a truck.”
“I don’t drink coffee.” She walked faster, but it didn’t help. Given her condition, he could outpace her without even trying.
“Jade.” Lawrence grabbed her arm, stopping her from going any further. “You know you can’t have this kid.”
Lian looked like her father.
Jade held the infant in her arms, still in a state of shock despite delivering her hours ago. The hospital was quiet, given that it was just past three in the morning. People were probably sleeping. Lian was sleeping too, nestled in her thin arms without a care in the world. Jade couldn’t even think of sleep. She couldn’t tear her eyes away from her daughter, unable to believe that she’d made something so small, so innocent.
Babies were supposed to cry when they were born. That’s what Jade had thought, at least. Imagine the panic she’d felt when no cry came. She’d resolved herself to the worst, but then the infant coughed and the doctors announced she was just fine. Jade hadn’t let her go since.
She ran her fingers along her daughter’s feathery hair, wanting to cry at how red it was. Roy should be here, and in that moment she hated herself for not telling him. She hated herself, and yet she knew she’d made the right decision. Roy was in no place to raise Lian, not yet at least. Their daughter deserved the world, she deserved everything that she could give her. She deserved much better than a broken father.
It was good that Jade had done this alone. Artemis would have teased her for the way she cried when she first held her. Paula would have cried with her, and Jade would have just felt guilty. No, she didn’t regret any decision she’d made regarding how Lian was born. For now, she was hers, and hers alone. Jade wouldn’t have given that up for the world.
In a few weeks, she’d follow up on those leads. She would do everything in her power to find the original Roy and bring her Roy back to himself. But for now, Jade was content to just hold Lian and press her lips to her head, promising that she’d make everything right.
For her, she had to.
If she were being honest, Roy and her didn’t make a bad team.
Artemis looked about ready to call child protective services when Jade had told her that Roy and her were parents. Jade didn’t blame her. On paper, Roy and her were the last people who should have ever been given the responsibility of a baby. Somehow, they made it work out in their own way.
It wasn’t anything close to normal. Between finding the original Roy Harper and her sister’s faked death, tension had been a constant presence in their new apartment. Her Roy still wasn’t completely back to himself, but he was getting better. Some nights he still refused to sleep, but instead of turning to heroin and alcohol, he held their daughter and rocked her. More often than not, Lian slept between them, both of them on the alert and ready to protect her if need be.
They still fought, but they always would. Lian would laugh if voices were raised, and Jade would smirk at the wary look on Roy’s face. He was convinced it wasn’t normal, but what could she say? It was genetic.
Roy was better with Lian than she was. He knew what she wanted when she cried, something Jade still had difficulty deciphering. Roy had more patience for her games, repeated back her baby talk with vivid encouragement and was happy to do the annoying things. Jade did her best not to show just how content she was. He was finally happy, with a new purpose. Not that she’d ever admit it, but her mother had been right.
“In the kitchen,” she responded, rinsing out the last of Lian’s bottles and setting it on the drying rack. Roy had taken Lian to the park with Kaldur. Out of respect, she kept her distance from the Atlantean. She hadn’t completely forgiven him for the stunt he’d pulled with Artemis.
“Mama!” Jade turned to see Lian, wobbling to her on unsteady feet. She’d just started walking and insisted on doing so everywhere that she could. Jade bent to her knees and scooped up Lian as she came closer, kissing her cheeks. She pretended not to notice the tender look on her husband’s face as she did so.
“Did you have fun at the park with Daddy?”
The toddler nodded enthusiastically and Jade picked her up , resting her against her hip. “She was good?”
Roy nodded, taking a water bottle out of the fridge. “She’ll be out any minute. Poor Kal, I think she wore him out more than he did her. She had both of us chasing her, and she’s fast, Jade.”
“Maybe she’s the daughter of the other redhead,” she noted without thinking. They both fell quiet as they realized the impact of what she said, but Roy kissed her cheek and broke it first.
“Can’t be. She likes arrows too much.”
“Rows,” Lian chirped, looking around for the objects. Jade shook her head and smoothed down her hair.
“Not yet, kid. Not until you’re three.”
“Doesn’t that terrify you?” Roy asked, opening up the water bottle and taking a long drink. When he finished, he wiped his mouth and looked back at Lian. He’d been right, she was starting to fall asleep. “She’s going to have both our skill sets. She’ll be a menace.”
Jade held her daughter closer, unable to answer. There were plenty of things that terrified her; Lian taking their mantle wasn’t one of them.
“I think she’s growing less ginger by the day.”
“Shut up, Dad.” Jade watched Lian climb the steps to the slide, keeping a careful eye in case she should fall. They were the only ones in the park, but she was always on alert. Her father sitting on the bench beside her certainly didn’t help. Oddly enough, he was watching after Lian just as intently as she was.
“How’s the clone?”
“None of your concern.” He was going by Will, now. Artemis had moved in with them six months ago, so her and Will decided it was time to purchase a house. They chose Star City, figuring it was only right to come full circle. Lian adored their new home almost as much as she adored having her aunt and Brucely around full time.
After a little while, Lawrence sighed and broke his gaze away from Lian, instead looking directly at Jade. “How long do you think you can keep this up, little girl? You can’t play house forever.”
Jade narrowed her eyes, refusing to meet his gaze and instead continuing to watch as Lian slid down the slide and squealed in glee.
“I don’t want to hear it.”
“Jade, they’ll find out. You may be an idiot, but you’re not stupid enough to think that they’ll never come after you.”
He was right. It hurt all the more, coming from him. Lian clambered off the slide and immediately went to the steps to go again. She’d just turned two last week.
“I don’t want to leave them.”
“You don’t have a choice, little girl. You made your bed when you betrayed the Shadows. Now you have to live with it. It’s either you, or them, Jade.”
“There has to be another way,” Jade insisted, finally looking at her father. His expression bore the same sourness it usually did, but it lacked the mocking malice it often carried with it.
“Not this time, Jade. If you want them safe, you have to go back.”
She turned her head away so he wouldn’t see the tears burning in her eyes. Lian cheered again as she flew down the slide. When she finished, she ran up to Jade, grinning ear to ear. “Mommy! See me? See?” she chirped.
Jade nodded but found herself unable to smile. “I did, Li. I did.”
Will slept beside her, his arm heavy on her waist. He’d taken her and Lian to see his new office today. Bowhunter Security, he called it. If she hadn’t been so distraught at what she was about to do, she would have told him how proud of him she was. He had everything he ever needed here. A home, a family, and now a business.
She was about to destroy everything.
Carefully, she untangled herself from his hold, going slow so she wouldn’t wake him up. The last thing she wanted was a confrontation. He wouldn’t forgive her either way, but at least this way she wouldn’t have to see his face. When she was out of the bed, she plucked her duffle bag out from under it and went to the kitchen to get dressed.
Brucely stirred as she entered the kitchen and padded up to her. She didn’t particularly care for the dog, but she gave it a gentle pat to try and convince him to go back to sleep. It worked. He wasn’t too much of a barker, so she wasn’t worried on that front. It was odd getting dressed in front of a dog, but what could she do? She couldn’t risk waking anyone up.
The baseball cap felt heavier than it ever had before. She kept telling herself that this was the right thing to do, that she was doing it for them. Lian and Will would have each other, that was what mattered. They had each other, and Artemis and the dog and all their friends. Jade was just extra, they would be just fine without her there. Lian was young, she would forget her mother in a few months. Artemis would serve as a good enough, maybe even better, replacement.
Jade hoisted her duffel on her shoulder and went to say goodbye to her daughter. It was likely that she’d wake her up, but it didn’t matter. She wanted to hold her one last time, lost in her own thoughts, just as she had on the night she was born. Jade opened the door to Lian’s room, her heart aching at how lavish it was. Will and her had given Lian everything she would need outside of spoiling her, both of them agreeing to give Lian the childhood they never had.
Her daughter slept peacefully in her new bed. She’d outgrown the crib a few weeks ago. It made things easier now. Jade set the duffel on the floor and crawled in beside her, lifting Lian up into her arms and holding her tight against her chest. Just as expected, the toddler stirred. “Mommy..?” she mumbled.
“It’s okay, Li. It’s just me. Mommy missed you.”
Lian yawned and nodded, resting her head against Jade. “Mommy okay?”
Jade nodded, running her fingers through her auburn hair. No, she would never be okay. Not with this. “Yeah. Don’t you worry,” she whispered, kissing her head sweetly.
“Okay. Love you.” Within moments, she was asleep again, her hand clutching onto her mother’s shirt. She was better off without her. Will was all she would need. He and her sister would make sure that she was safe and taken care of. They’d make sure she was loved, and protected at all costs. Jade would be doing her part, but from the outside.
All that mattered was that they were alive, and safe. If that meant removing herself from the equation, so be it. Not a day would go by that she wouldn’t think about her, but it wouldn’t matter. Lian was more important, she was her life now. She’d do whatever it took to protect her.
Her phone buzzed in her pocket; Lawrence was waiting for her outside.
If there was ever a time to cry, it would have been as she tucked Lian back into bed, alone. Jade was past tears now. She’d made her choice, and it was the right one. Jade bent down and kissed Lian’s head one last time, her fingers still buried in her hair.
I love you. So much.
Jade thought it, but she couldn’t bring herself to say it. If Lian woke up again, she’d never leave her. She straightened up, Lian’s hair slipping through her fingers as she pulled away. Without looking back, she picked up her duffel and opened the window, climbing through with relative ease.
She met Lawrence at the end of the street. His face pinched in annoyance as she finally arrived. “Took you long enough,” he muttered.
Jade narrowed her eyes, pushing away the thoughts of the sleeping family she’d left behind. “You mentioned a new partner?”
“They won’t be easy on you. You’ve gotten yourself quite a reputation, little girl,” he noted, shoving his hands in his pockets as he began to walk.
Jade lowered the baseball cap over her eyes. “Do they know?”
“Not the specifics. You’ll have to be careful.”
“So I can’t come back.”
Jade nodded, resisting the urge to look back at the house. It wouldn’t do her any good. When it was safe, she’d come back to see her again from a distance. Maybe she’d run into Artemis, get her to tell her something about her daughter. It would have to be good enough.
“Then let’s get it done.”