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Beacon of Injustice

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Distracted and tired, she dropped the key—again. Still a bit too numb and tired to be frustrated with herself, she stooped to retrieve it before successfully guiding it into door, stepping within and quickly locking herself inside, as though anyone might at any moment try to follow her inside the apartment, pounding at the door to try and get inside—to get a peek at the sort of empty place our mutilated hero had left behind.

They wouldn’t, though, of course. There was no one outside.

This actually came as something of a surprise to Orie, having suspected that the media might send some people to keep an eye on Jason’s apartment—but there was no more foot traffic than usual in the area. Perhaps it was too soon; perhaps they knew Jason lived alone.

Or perhaps they just didn’t care.

Some dry, quiet laughter escaped her lips on thinking this, for she knew that she shouldn’t be surprised. The city—or at least the members of it who cared about these things, that piece of it which was attuned to the daily stories that heralded the future of the city—was still likely trying to process the fallout from the reports of days prior.

First, Cody Travers: who was he to Orie? No one, really—save for his ties to Dorothea—but some people still seemed to find the whole thing suspicious. For her part, she had no reason to think a spoiled business mogul wouldn’t be capable of murder, but it wasn’t as though she’d been handed the evidence to sift through herself, because… what evidence, again?

Second, the brothers Kiryu: who were they to Orie? Again, still no one, but somehow this situation—having followed directly on the heels of the first—put her ill at ease. Another suspect situation, people whispered. An awful occurrence, they might say; how could that happen to such people—to a member of the police force, to a child? And even if their backgrounds aligned with Travers’s, Orie was inclined to agree with the whispers. Plus, Jason had taken an interest in their safety himself, so she had no reservations about being on “their side”. They were victims—it couldn’t be spun any other way, could it?

Third, Ashe Duran: who was he to Orie? A friendly face, and a local hero—in more ways than one—although she was not familiar with him on any personal level. But she knew that Father Hanekoma and Jason both thought highly of him, just like everyone else. This was enough to see the career-ending tragedy for what it was. Luckily, he had been stabilized rather quickly, from the sounds of things; one of the few things they might be grateful for.
Fourth, Jason Todd: who was he to Orie? Well, he was—

She stopped, blinking and looking around the apartment as though for the first time. Inhaling deeply through her nostrils, she lifted a hand to her face, briefly covering her eyes before using her fingers to smooth down her eyebrows and massage one of her temples, trying not to allow herself to get caught up in the moment. Afraid of giving up or giving in, she tried to focus her mind back toward the reason she was here: she had a task, like always. She would be burdened with it even longer now, so she had to make sure it was done to completion.

Maybe afterwards…

She shook her head, stepping in toward the kitchen as Max poked his head around a corner and gave her that usual expectant mewling, as though to ask: “Hey, where’s Jason? Where’s Dad?”

Orie couldn’t help smiling at the idea of anyone calling Jason “Dad”. It seemed like a term of endearment he wouldn’t be all that fond of. Desiring to waste no more time, she ensured Max’s kibble was topped off before retrieving some wet food from the pantry, depositing it into the little feeding bowl and experiencing a faint sensation of satisfaction from the sight of the off-putting, chunky mixture escaping the suction of the can all at once. It landed with a wet, somewhat disconcerting little plop into the stainless steel bowl.

Once she set it aside for Max’s enjoyment, her job was technically finished: the cat’s survival was the minimum expectation from her efforts here, it seemed, but she had quickly found that a lone cat was quite easy to take care of. Feeling more lonely than she might have ever felt before, she knelt beside him, eventually turning and sitting next to him as she bit nervously at her lower lip. As her fingers stroked his fur, searching for comfort, he coolly ignored her in favor of the feast she had provided him.

“Jason might be gone… a little longer,” she said quietly, her words not earning even a twitch of the ear from her feline friend.

Even though Max would never understand what had happened to Jason, she felt a strange compulsion to tell him about it anyway. Perhaps he could at least deduce something from her tone, even if her words couldn’t reach him. But… maybe not. The cat would never have to know Jason’s current condition; even if he came home, Max would probably have no idea what his owner had been through. But… what if Jason never came back, then? Or what if his convalescence took so long that—by the time he was discharged—Max was no longer here?

Wouldn’t that be sad, she thought. The cat most likely missed him, though, right?

It was too hard to tell, with cats. What must it be like, after all, to have a brain that could content itself with enjoying the same meals, over and over? Or being able to look out through the same windows onto the same drab city scenery, subsisting off of nutrient kibble and cold, wet shreds of meat, after hunting things that could not even try to escape—all fake mice and feathers and shoelaces… found by listlessly patrolling the same hunting grounds.

Orie tried not to think about the orphanage. How long had that place been her hunting grounds? How long might she be attached to it, looking from its windows at the same drab city scenery? Forever and ever, maybe, doing her best whilst confessing to her bartender that she knew the best was still not nearly enough. It would not be enough for them. Nor for her. Being nice to children at the orphanage would not grant them the families they deserved; likewise, it would not relieve the uncertainty and grief and anger making itself at home in her belly, like some sort of cyst or tumor crying and begging for… what, exactly?

Reparations, maybe. Justice. “Justice for all” was a ridiculous phrase—at least in a world that appeared to be some years away from receiving divine absolution—but it was what Orie wanted. Specifically though, she craved it for her brother. She knew, of course: he was a hero, this was his job; danger and risk would always be present for Jason Todd while he was on the clock, so everyone knew that this might happen.

But it hadn’t, until now.

What if she had been a fighter the way he had been? She knew she could not have endured Jason’s past the same way that he had, but what if the life she had given to the orphanage had been a mistake? It was only wishful thinking, but—if she had somehow elected to join him in his profession—could she have made a difference?

Probably not. She had no reason to think she could work in the crime-fighting business. Furthermore, what would be the odds that she would have been with her brother that night? At any rate, it was probably all too late for this sort of thinking, she knew. Her fate was not to be one who delivers justice; her hand would not be the one that judges. But, on the other hand… Kate had only just started working as a hero, hadn’t she? The two of them were rather close in age…

Orie shook her head in an effort to clear it, not wanting to pretend she had the same options available to her as a Kane. Stroking Max’s fur as he finished up his meal, she allowed him to affectionately rub his cheeks against her hand, her reward for a job well done. He surprised her by coming up and flopping onto his side, exposing his now-full belly in a bid for her attention. She doubted Max could sense the state of her emotions, but she had to fight to maintain her sour mood in the face of such adorable feline mannerisms.

After giving him a few more aggressive pets, she sighed deeply and rose to her feet, clapping the cat fur off of her palms. Now that she thought of it, there was one more task that she could see to.

Once she had grabbed an old grocery bag from under the sink, she somewhat numbly made her way toward the dresser that served to house his wardrobe. She ignored the cat’s attempts at conversation as she picked a drawer at random and looked upon the surprisingly tidy arrangement of shirts within. She picked a nice dark one from the front, hoping that it was one he wore often, considering where it had been placed.

Without unfolding it, she took a moment to feel its fabric in her fingers, eyes passing over its threads as she tried to imagine Jason within it. Would he ever be able to wear it again? she wondered, setting her jaw firmly and trying not to let her mind begin to entertain the worst-case scenario, instead hollowly assuring herself that her brother would come through just fine. If he survived, this might be the first thing he wore. She’d be able to see him in it—for certain… nearly.

She brought the shirt close to her face, inhaling deeply to take in the scent of… cotton and detergent, mostly.

And maybe a trace of Jason, too.

Silly. Orie immediately stuffed the shirt into her grocery bag and looked around the apartment once more to double-check that she was alone, suddenly intensely embarrassed that she had done something so stupid: pathetically sniffing clothing like some sort of grieving widow or a lonely military wife. Or maybe it was more reminiscent of a weak, frightened, miserable little child, sick and missing her parents, longing for her brother and hoping he wouldn’t be following those parents toward whatever place they had ended up.

Trying to ignore the choking feeling in her throat, she bit back her emotions. Whatever this scene was was, it was pitiful; Jason was still alive; recovery was still possible.

Annoyed with herself, she quickly finished filling the bag, following the shirt with a pair of jeans and some other articles of clothing that might be useful. Hopefully the hospital would allow her to bring them to him.

Orie had been unable to see him at this morning’s visit. She was surprised to receive a call from Worick at such a late hour, but there it was, bearing the bad news so soon after it had broken out. He was unable to visit the hospital himself—caught up in his own work, perhaps—so she had gone in his stead after leaving a message for the Father.

Unfortunately, Jason’s injuries were severe enough that she was never granted the privilege of visiting him, even after several hours. Each doctor or nurse who came to see her had assured her of one thing, however: things were bad. Whoever had hurt Jason had done quite a number on him and his condition was extremely grave, but they would “do their best”, they had said. It hurt to hear. It hurt to hear because she knew the words they actually wanted to share were: “don’t get your hopes up”.

Don’t get your hopes up, they (almost) said.

Your brother, they wanted to say, might not come back.

She shut the drawers harder than she intended and realized that the pace of her breathing had escalated. Jason’s apartment suddenly looked huge and empty while also feeling cramped and stuffy, her skin reaching that uncomfortable threshold of temperature where one could feel that they were just about to begin perspiring. The lump in her throat had grown larger and she could feel the subtle, salty burn of emotions behind her eyes, some pressure in her sinuses threatening to make her eyes glassy and bright with moisture.

“What else would he need?” she asked aloud, trying to distract herself from the frustration of the feelings inside her.

Why did it always happen like this? Why did these things happen to him? Why was Jason Todd the one to lose his parents—the one to lose his virginity—the one to lose in that warehouse? How was he able to bear it all—and to hide it from her as though this past and these trials were something that never mattered to him? What made him able to feel that her knowing and caring and loving was just another one of those things that didn’t matter? Had he really been able to accept his past so easily? To charge forward and put himself through such terrible, horrible, disgusting things so that he could get closer to a life he wanted which was… what, exactly? To become a hero? Did Jason let men touch him so he could earn the opportunity to lose so much blood and break so many bones in some dusty warehouse?

How could he accept it all? What’s more, how could he share it and not expect her to feel? She knew it was her fault—that she had practically forced it out of him—but he had still agreed to let her share in his grief; why do that, if he would not show it to her—if he had any grief left to show? She wanted it so badly. She wanted to cling to him and to scream and to pull her hair—to wail and to let her tears fall until her eyes were red and swollen and ugly. But what right did she have to react so extremely to her brother’s experiences when Jason himself had likely never done so? It was his pain. Did she even have the right to feel it?

When she opened one of the nightstand drawers in search of some accessory that a waking Jason might appreciate, she instead found a most unexpected prize; she should not have touched it, but she did.

It was heavier than she would ever have guessed a handgun might be. She cradled it carefully in her hands, letting her fingers move about it, touching it this way and that way, turning it to and fro while keeping her fingers away from the trigger, and—although she felt the unsettling urge to peer into it—keeping the barrel pointed always away from her and the cat behind her.

Orie suspected it was unloaded, but had no idea how to tell. There didn’t appear to be any bullets nearby, though, so perhaps it was already primed for use. It looked relatively modern, but she couldn’t claim to know about these things. Just like the movies, it seemed, although those weren’t real, of course. Perhaps this one wasn’t, either?

It was heavy, though, she noticed again. If it weren’t for that, it would honestly seem absurd that such a small thing could be so deadly; even with its threatening metallic sheen, it almost looked like a toy: a little L-shaped bit of metal that spat out tiny metallic beads at… well, who knew what speeds these things worked at. Was it really so simple, though? Could such a thing really shred someone’s insides and leave them full of holes, just like that?

Had Jason used it? she wondered, as she set it back into its place, closing the drawer and trying to forget about it. Such implements weren’t that rare in a place like this, to be honest. But… it wasn’t very heroic, she couldn’t help thinking.

Orie chose to abandon her search here, concerned she might find another weapon if she looked hard enough. Or—if Jason was prone to bugging his home and the homes of his family, perhaps it wasn’t unreasonable to think he had laid a few traps here or there.

For some reason, the thought made her smile—not the traps, but the idea he might listen through the sounds of her digging through his apartment. If they were all lucky, then he just might get the chance to.

Who was Jason Todd to Orie?

She knew the answer, of course; to her, it was obvious, and did not beg further reflection or repeating. He was something to her that she could never find in another person, no matter how long she lived and no matter how hard she looked. A family could not be created or replaced, and they could not be materialized out of thin air. But as complicated as it was to find or construct such a thing, it was also incredibly easy to lose, it turned out.

Would she be losing hers?

As she gathered the bag she had filled and said her farewells to the cat, she thought once more about the weight of the gun she had held. She had kind of liked it, she realized. In a way, it had been comforting.

Maybe she would call Worick.