Thursday morning, she woke up angry. Her alarm interrupted a dream in which Wally made out with M'gann while archer's thimbles fell from the sky. "I've already won, I've already won," a chorus of invisible Wallys chanted.
"Oh, Wally," M'gann moaned.
"Oh, Wally!" Superboy shrieked.
That was how she convinced herself that it had been a dream.
"Ugh." She rubbed her eyes.
"Thinking about today's history test?" Catherine asked from the lower bunk.
Given that she had almost certainly failed her test, which was all his fault, it seemed horribly unfair that Wally didn't have to pick her up.
Given that she hadn't looked at her gas meter in days because of him, it was totally unfair that she ran out of gas halfway to Mount Justice.
And given that it took an extra twenty minutes to walk her heavy motorcycle to the nearest gas station, for which he was somehow, cosmically, entirely to blame, it really pissed her off to find him playing video games with Robin when she finally got to Mount Justice.
Just as she was about to descend on him and deliver an entirely justified…something…she felt a firm grip on her shoulder.
"Spar with me," Kaldur said in his Big Brother Knows Best voice.
"Huh? Artemis!" Wally shouted from across the room. "We were wondering where you were. Are you okay? What—"
"Dude," Robin whined without taking his eyes off the game, "she's obviously fine, and we just got to level 12. Priorities!"
"Do you have my back? No, you don't. My guy's dying over here, and you're—"
He looked way too innocent for someone who had clearly ruined her day.
"Yeah," she told Kaldur. "Sparring sounds good."
Kaldur was strong, but…well…fish out of water was sometimes apt. On days like this, though, she just needed a punching bag, and he seemed to understand that.
He blocked her punches and kicks in silence for a few minutes, letting her vent the worst of her frustration.
Finally, when she paused for a little water, he spoke.
"Are you ready to talk about it?"
She swallowed. She wanted to sass back, about what? But she liked Kaldur. He was calm, quiet, and had nice shoulders (though the gills were a little weird). Most importantly, he wasn't judgmental. And it might be nice to talk to someone.
She watched him take a deep drink from his water bottle. Poor guy. He'd probably been thirsty for a while.
"It's just Wally," she sighed.
She hadn't known that was possible.
"Umm…." She tried to decide whether or not it patting him on the back would help. He waived her off, sputtering a little, but apparently recovering. He frowned in concentration.
"We have this bet," she continued. "I'm not sure if you know about it. You see, last week—last Friday—he said that—"
"You wanted to see me?" the Martian asked as she floated through the training room doors.
"Yes." Kaldur coughed and cleared his throat. "M'gann, could you please spar with Artemis for a while?"
"Kaldur…weren't we having a private conversation?"
"I am sorry, Artemis." He looked a little sick. She wondered how bad it was for him to inhale water into the wrong lung. Lungs. Damned if she knew how his body worked. "I do not think I can help you with your current problem," he continued. "Wouldn't a…female perspective be better?"
"No. Not particularly." Duh.
"And I really need to…see about the…the…" He backed toward the door. "To see if Batman has any…thing—anything—that we should…be doing."
"Did you seriously just call her in telepathically?"
"He sort of...yelled," Miss Helpful noted. "People do it all the time, but yeah, I can hear it."
"You'll both excuse me," he apologized before turning and running. Well, speed-walking. Coward. She couldn't believe he'd left her with the telepath. Of all the times to be worried about keeping someone out of her head…
"You wanted to talk about something?"
"No." She glowered. "You can at least block arrows, right?"
"Then get ready." She loaded her quiver with practice arrows.
"Wouldn't talking be better?"
She answered with an arrow that flew straight toward its target's head until, five feet from impact, it was easily waived away. The next seven arrows took similar paths. With arrow nine, the target finally bothered to move, but only to float lazily around the room. This was much less satisfying than punching Kaldur. It must be nice to be sweet, and good, and perfect, and psychic. Stupid Martian.
Then, quietly: "You can call me Megan, if M'gann is too hard."
"I can pronounce M'gann," she said thoughtlessly before realizing…"You were reading my mind!"
"I knew it! You…you sneaky—" Her arrows flew, fast and strong, with unremitting accuracy.
"I can't help it if you yell it! It's just like what Kaldur did, except it's like you want me to know how much you dislike me!" Tears suddenly appeared on the Martian's…
As soon as she thought it, the Martian flinched. Bad timing. An arrow grazed a trembling cheek, leaving a shallow cut as fine as paper.
"Why do you hate me?" the…other girl whispered, clutching her cheek. "Look, I know we got off on the wrong foot, with Superboy and all that, but I thought that was just, you know, friendly rivalry or something. I don't get why you hate me so much."
She took a deep breath. Obviously, the other girl hadn't really been reading her mind…or else was a really good liar.
"I don't hate you."
"Then why? Why do you call me all sorts of mean things, like 'the Martian,' or 'Miss Helpful,' or 'Miss Perfect?' And it's never friendly—you always think it so meanly."
"I just…don't want you peering into my head."
"But I already promised I wouldn't!"
"I know, I know." She sat on the floor, resting her head in her hands. "I just find that hard to believe. Why wouldn't you?"
"Because it makes you unhappy. Isn't that a good enough reason?"
"Too good," she grumbled. "But you see, people react to their names, right? At least, humans do."
"So do my people," the other girl acknowledged.
"So if I think, 'blah blah blah M'gann,' isn't that basically an invitation to snoop?"
"Is that why you do it?"
She lifted her head. There was an uncertain smile on the other girl's—screw it: M'gann's—face. At the thought of her name, M'gann beamed.
"That is it, isn't it? You want to call me M'gann, but you're afraid I'll read your mind, so you force yourself to call me those awful things! And that's why you think them so loudly—you're correcting yourself, keeping yourself from thinking of my name!"
"Umm." She looked at the ceiling. "Yeah. That's it. Exactly."
"You don't hate me at all! Oh, how wonderful! But you don't need to worry about me. I know there are things you don't want any of us to know. I won't pry into them."
She bit her lip. The lip balm tasted strange. "Yeah, but…doesn't it worry you?"
"The fact that I have secrets." The floor was hard and cold. She pushed herself up and paced, slowly twirling her bow.
"Not particularly. We all have some secrets. Isn't that normal?"
She raised her eyebrows. "I don't think they're like mine."
"Well, I wouldn't know…but think about it. Robin keeps his identity a secret. And there's something else, too. He's really angry about something," M'gann said slowly. "He tries to keep it buried, but it surfaces every now and then. And Kaldur's sad about something, but that's new since we became a team."
"Superboy doesn't have any secrets."
"No," M'gann agreed with a smile. "But he hasn't been alive long enough."
"What about you?"
M'gann drifted to the ground. "Yeah," she finally replied. "A big one. I…don't really look like this."
Oh, really? "Umm, hate to tell you this, but that isn't really a secret."
"I think we've all seen your uncle in his, uh, default mode. At least in pictures," she added, shrugging. "I think we all know you must look more like him, and less like a tall, green human girl."
"All of you?"
"Even Superboy?" M'gann whispered.
Oh. "I've never asked him," she hedged. "But…well…he isn't human, either…"
"He looks like one," M'gann said miserably.
"Technically, yeah…" She frowned. "But you like him."
"And he doesn't look like a Martian. So maybe that goes both ways." As much as she liked his arms and his abs (and his ass), there was something right about Superboy and M'gann. Kind of safe and boring, but cute, like a pair of pandas.
"Do you really think so?" M'gann brightened.
"Seems possible," she ventured. "I mean, why not?" She sucked at this. Her training hadn't included many pep talks.
But it seemed to be working. M'gann thanked her sincerely, adding, "I hope that your secret, like mine, isn't as bad as you think it is."
"Somehow I doubt that," she said faintly. M'gann looked curious. Time to change the subject. "What about Wally? Does he have any secrets?"
"You probably know more about that than I do."
"Well, now that you're courting—"
"Now that we're WHAT?"
"Oh. Hello, Megan! You'd say 'dating,' not 'courting.'"
"What the Hell is wrong with you people? First Catherine, now you—and is this why Kaldur was acting so weird?"
"We're not dating," she spat.
"But…he took you home on Monday, and then you both disappeared on Tuesday, and then—"
"We are not dating. I am NOT dating Wally Freaking West. Nope. Nope. Am not. Have not. Will not. Period."
M'gann frowned at her. "But you've both been acting really strange, lately."
"That's—oh, jeez. You have it all wrong. Totally wrong. There's this bet—we have a bet. He bet me—didn't Robin tell you this?—he bet me that he could steal these—" She pulled off her thimble and tossed it to M'gann, continuing, "without my noticing it. And he's bombing, majorly, but I heard him tell Robin that he's already won, which really pisses me off, because he bet that he'd do whatever I told him for a year, and he is so wrong if he thinks he's getting out of that. Oh, and did I mention that I failed a history test today? Didn't just fail—probably came close to zeroing out, because I didn't even remember that we had a test, let alone what was on it. And…"
She paused for breath. Panted a bit. "And…"
M'gann smiled, crossing the room to hand her the thimble, clasping a green hand over her closing fist. "Relax, Artemis. I think you'll be fine."
"It isn't fair," she sulked. She had never been allowed to sulk, before. It felt almost as good as punching someone.
"Boys rarely are," M'gann said with a faraway look.
"No offense," she muttered, "but how would you know?"
"I've read all about it in a great book about the battle of the sexes," M'gann replied. "It's called Peter Pan."
That deserved a weird look. "I'm pretty sure that's a kid's book."
"Have you read it?"
"Then you must," M'gann decided. "It's in my room—come on! You'll love it. It's full of pirates, and fairies, and thimbles, and—"
"Thimbles?" Her head suddenly felt fuzzy.
"Oh, yes! There's this wonderful bit about the problem people have with translating thoughts into words and vice-versa. You see, she offers to give him a 'kiss,' but he doesn't know what that means, and that communication break-down makes her lose her nerve, so she gives him a thimble, instead. But later, when she wants a real kiss, she asks for a 'thimble,' and…Artemis? Are you okay?"
"Did you tell anyone else about this?" she croaked.
"Did you tell Wally about this? About the thimble thing?"
"…Now that I think about it…yes! He saw me reading sometime last week, and I was laughing at the thimble scene, so he asked me about it. Why?"
The thimble dropped from her nerveless fingers. She stared at it, stooped to pick it up, and nearly stumbled.
"Artemis? What's wrong?"
"I…" Her gut froze. Her heart stammered. She had to get out of there. Immediately. "I forgot. I have to go. I…have extra homework."
"But you've been here less than an hour! How about some dinner?"
"I have to get out of here."
"I think dinner would help." M'gann gently grasped her shoulders. "Really, I don't think you should be driving right now."
"What's wrong?" Wally called, zipping through the door.
"Whoa…Artemis? Are you feeling okay?" His big, green eyes, full of worry, peered down at her. Too close.
Artemis Crock, who never ran…okay, so she'd run away from one thing in her life, but you make exceptions for psychopaths…Artemis Crock ran from a skinny fifteen-year-old boy. Ran like he'd been carved from Satan and spat hydrofluoric acid. Ran like he was a fox, and she was a rabbit, and running was her only option.
She had biked halfway home before her adrenaline levels dropped and she became capable of rational thought.
Okay. Time to think logically.
Fact: At some point during the previous week, M'gann had told Wally that, in one children's book, "thimble" meant "kiss."
Fact: On Friday evening, Wally had made a bet that he could "steal her thimbles."
Fact: On Wednesday evening, Wally had told Robin that he had won the bet back on Friday.
Fact: Wally had, to date, categorically failed to steal her archer's thimbles.
Possible conclusion: The bet had nothing to do with Peter Pan. M'gann had talked to Wally after the bet was made, or the story had merely put the word "thimbles" in his crazy brain, or he had forgotten about it entirely. Wally was simply being a stupid, cocky braggart when he talked with Robin. He was losing the bet; all would be well. His bizarre behavior—the soppy smiles, the impromptu beach trip, and the definite uptick in the niceness/jerkiness ratio—was entirely coincidental.
The autumn wind was getting chilly. She frowned, remembering the warm breezes she'd felt many times in the past few days. Warm breezes and chapped lips had to be added to the pile of coincidences.
Or…the alternative conclusion: …
The alternative conclusion: When Wally said "thimbles," he meant "kisses." He'd been stealing kisses since Friday.
The reference was so obscure, it was almost worthy of a ninja.
"A terribly awesome ninja."
He'd tricked her.
"It was a trick at first…"
But why had he kept at it? It would have been a good joke back on Friday. Why string it out?
"Maybe I want something different."
He'd told Robin that someone was beautiful. She'd assumed he meant M'gann, but Robin had known—instantly—that she didn't really know what they'd been talking about. Could he have meant her? That suddenly seemed likely, even obvious, but she couldn't tell if it merely felt obvious because that was what she wanted.
That was the scary part. She wanted it to be true.
She returned late on Friday, just in time for dinner.
If she and Wally were unusually quiet, nobody mentioned it.
Robin wanted to play another video game, but Wally claimed he had to read something for school. Robin reminded him that it was Friday. Wally argued that it was a long book.
Well. It was War and Peace. But it didn't help that he kept re-reading the same page all night.
She knew this because she was watching him more than she was watching the video game Robin had uncharacteristically offered to play with her. She was faintly aware that her character was dying even faster than normal, but for some reason, Robin didn't complain. After a while, she realized that he was capable of winning the game on his own, so she settled back to watch him while spying on Wally.
The evening dragged on.
"Well," she finally said. "It's getting late."
"Yeah," said Wally. "About time for you to get back to school?"
"I think so."
"I'll just…uhh…well, I'm going that way, too. To the door, that is."
"So. Okay if I join you?"
"Sure," she replied.
"Cool. Uhm. After you."
As they walked down the hallway in an awkward silence, she realized that she hadn't said goodnight to their teammates. But then, they hadn't said anything to her, so maybe they hadn't noticed.
Wally opened the door for her, then followed her out to her bike. Their feet crunched on the dry leaves. She hadn't bothered to park her bike in the garage.
The stars were bright in the clear night sky.
"Looks like I lost the bet," Wally muttered.
"Looks like it," she repeated.
"So," he said, extending his hand: "your humble servant. Oh! And silent." He covered his mouth with his other hand.
"Wait," she said.
He waited, his hands dropping back to his sides.
"It hasn't really been fair, recently. So, if you want…" She hesitated. "If you want, you can try one more time. But just once," she added quickly.
His mouth turned up in a wry smile. "Just once. Okay."
She held her breath.
She saw the blur going for her pocket, and she moved to catch him.
Not his hand, but his face.
He froze there, with her palms cupping his chin, and his lips pressed to hers. Then she dropped him, surprised by her own success, and he rocked back on his heels.
I can admit that you've won.
She had practiced that line all morning.
I can admit that you've won.
It should have felt natural, but the words kept getting caught in her throat.
I can admit that you've won.
She took a deep breath, and said, "You can admit that I've won."
He blinked. "What?"
"I've won," she said. "I've won," she repeated with more confidence. "Obviously."
"No," he said slowly, "I think it's pretty obvious that I've won."
"No," she insisted. "You bet that you could steal thimbles without my noticing it."
"Yes," he said, nodding, "and it's clear that you've figured out what I meant by 'thimbles,' and that I have been incredibly, repeatedly successful."
"But I did notice it."
"Not within the one-day window!"
"I caught you! With my hands!" She waived them at his face. "Right here!"
"That was once."
"And you bet that I would never catch you!"
"When did I say never?"
"When did I say that 'thimbles' meant 'kisses?'"
"It isn't my fault that you didn't understand the bet!"
"You're trying to create a loophole on the last freaking day! I had won this damn bet ten minutes ago, fair and square—"
"But you were willing to admit to losing, so I don't see what your problem is now!"
"My problem," he roared, "is you!"
"You're damn right it is!" she yelled back. "As of this moment, for the next year, you have to do whatever the hell I want!"
"Hah! Wanna bet?"
And then she kissed him.
She probably had the element of surprise for a few milliseconds, but she didn't get time to enjoy it. He quickly took over the kiss, dragging her body against his, moving his lips knowingly over hers.
Knowingly. That reminded her that he'd done this—oh, a few dozen times, at least.
She pulled back and tackled him, easily pinning him to the ground.
"Spitfire bitch," he murmured.
"Idiot," she whispered. "Like you'd ever beat me at anything."
"I can kick your ass at Halo."
"Ooh. That counts as half a point, maybe." She kissed him hungrily, learning all the teasing curves of his mouth.
She didn't deserve this.
She let him flip her, just for the hell of it.
He'd learn the truth, someday. And he wouldn't like it.
She curled underneath him and kissed the hollow of his throat, curious. She liked his reaction. She liked his hair rumpled and she liked the old leaf clinging to his shirt. She liked that he stared at her as though she were beautiful, even though she knew better.
It was practically a crime.
The world's best ninja caught the wind in her hands and wrestled him to the ground.
Author's End Note:
I'm curious whether anyone caught the hidden meaning of "thimble" before Artemis did. Perhaps Wally and I are just nutters.
I hope you enjoyed this, you three or four people who read clear to the end. I think this marks my farewell to fanfiction. I'm graduating from law school dangerously soon (seriously), so it's high time I put away the thimbles and fairies and silly puppy-love romances. Or at least high time I stopped writing about them, given that I have the plot of an actual novel bubbling in my brain. Hum, hum.
It has been a delight to write for you and to read your lovely stories. I will continue popping by from time to time, particularly to read other stories, but also to see if anyone's left a review (hint, hint). Because my hopefully-to-be-written novel is intended for teenagers and young adults, I'd like to know what you like and don't like about my writing style. For example, I intentionally splatter the page with sentence fragments because I think that's the way many people think and talk, but maybe you find this distracting and annoying. If so, please tell me.
Your humble servant,