Artemis shouldn't be out driving this late and she knows it. But there's nobody else to go pick him up, and so the job naturally falls to her. It's a two hour drive to the facility from her house. It's only the darkness of the night and her own conflicting emotions that make it seem a lot longer.
The moon shines onto the pavement and illuminates the beaten country road that she travels down, heading towards the hidden facility that very few actually know about. Only a few trees litter the sides of the road, and those look so beaten as to guess a giant may have just ripped off their branches in a drunken stupor. It would be creepy and strange to most people, but not to Artemis. She's used to odd scenery, odd back roads, oddity in general. It's been the basis of most of her life.
The radio is playing "Piano Man" as Artemis takes a left turn and heads down towards what appears to be a large satellite dish. Images of Area 51 flash through her mind unexpectedly and she smiles a bit in spite of herself. Then a sign appears on her right and the smile slowly fades.
Marshall Shipping Inc., Next Right.
Sing us a song, you're the piano man. Sing us a song tonight.
She turns off the radio and takes a right, pulling onto the gravel road that crunches beneath the tires of her 2015 Ford Focus. She can see the facility, now that the car is taking her closer. It appears normal, of course, but that's only because of an abundance of technological camouflage. Science that she neither knows nor cares about.
The gate is wrought iron and appears beyond ancient, but there's a running camera on the left side and so she pulls up to it. The camera flashes blue and she digs into her purse, pulling out the small badge that always makes her feel auspicious. Probably because she's lucky to have it. Lucky that the Justice League trusts her enough.
The camera flashes again, as she holds up the little gold badge and waits for the camera to process it. The light flickers up and over the badge, scanning each little indention. A second later, and the camera abruptly shuts off.
The gate makes an awful moaning sound like a whining dog and then creaks open. Artemis stares ahead and sees a shadowy figure standing at the end of the road, right next to the facility itself. It takes her a minute to put her foot back on the accelerator and move forward.
She hasn't seen him in seven years. What will he look like now? Older? Wiser? Beat-up? Will his hair have gotten darker, lighter? Will it still be the same length?
There's only one thing she knows for certain. His eyes will still be green.
Artemis isn't aware that her knuckles have gone white from her hands clenching the steering wheel, as she pulls into the dim street lighting next to the camouflaged space center. She glances to the left and watches as a man in a green suit walks by, holding a pair of keys. Kyle Rayner, she realizes after a moment. It's Kyle Rayner.
He waves to the shadowy figure by the facility and the shadow waves back. Then the shadow's head turns to watch her approach him.
She pulls to a stop beside the facility, next to the shadow. She forces herself to turn her head and watch him step into the light. Part of her has wanted this since she can't remember when. Another part is completely dreading it, dreading seeing him again, having to deal with him again. In some ways, life was easier without him.
Easier. But better? She doesn't know.
The light slowly fills out his features and she bites the inside of her cheek, thoughtfully, angrily. He hasn't changed much. Hair is just as obnoxiously red, although it's a little more combed than she remembers. Face is older, certainly. More mature, more tired. He's taken the time to build up some muscles, she notices. Arms are thicker.
Eyes the same old green.
His expression doesn't really change a whole lot as their eyes meet, but she was expecting this. What are you supposed to do, what are you supposed to say when you see your ex-girlfriend for the first time in seven years? A lot of things can change in three years, a lot more in five. But everything can change in seven.
After a moment, he leans forward and opens the door of her car. He slides into the tan leather seats without saying anything, shuts the door calmly, buckles his seat belt. He sits there for a second, obviously trying to decide what to begin with.
"Hey," she finally says for him. Her voice is soft and she has a hard time looking up at his face.
He blinks at her and a weary smile finally forms. "Hey."
"Welcome home," she tells him with little real warmth, and looks away.
It's silent for a moment. The only sound is the rumble of the car's engine and the chirping of crickets outside. Kyle is locking up the facility doors and running a few last scans, making sure the Marshall Space Center, one of many Green Lantern stations, is properly camouflaged and maintained. Artemis watches him for a moment, wondering how he is, wondering if he's the same 23-year-old they knew so long ago.
Finally, she purses her lips. "So. Seven years."
"Yeah." The man sitting beside her looks out the window, not nonchalantly, like he doesn't care, but more like he's just too tired for this kind of conversation right now. "Seven years," he agrees.
"That's a long time, Wally." This comes out almost angrily. Accusingly. She mentally slaps herself for letting emotions show through. God knows, by now, she should be able to put up a better façade.
His eyes move back to her. "Good to see you too, Artemis."
The intensity of that gaze surprises her. It's so unlike the typical Wally she remembers, the one whose glances were always so indifferent or insulting that it was easy to get angry with him. But not this look. This one makes her feel like it's her fault. And she can't handle that.
She immediately glances away, as if suddenly remembering something. She locks the car door, pulls into reverse and begins to drive away.
"How was it?"
He smirks. Under normal circumstances, this would irritate her. But now it makes her relax a bit. Reassures her that this is still Wally that she's driving home.
"Life with the Corps? Different. Weird."
"Care to specify?" she asks dryly, keeping her eyes on the road and turning the wheel to the right.
"I was living in space, Artemis. There weren't a whole lot of places to run. Food was awful, even with Kyle cooking. There were a bunch of creatures that looked like they came out of a Star Wars movie." He pauses. "I mean, it wasn't bad at first, pretending to be Luke Skywalker. Then it just got…old."
Then why did you go? Artemis wants to ask. Instead, she goes with, "What did you do every day?"
He exhales, like he's told this story a million times before and now it just bores him. "Slept, woke up, ate something green and mushy, ran through the center, helped with experiments. Sometimes they had me run in this little glass ball like a hamster or something." This creates a smile. "Would have been insulting if they hadn't of looked so impressed. This one octopus guy had, like, eight eyes and each one of them grew to the size of a dinner plate when I hit 70. You know, miles per hour. And that's nothing."
"Sounds really exciting," Artemis replies with no enthusiasm, looking dead ahead.
He falls silent. For a moment, Artemis wonders if she hurt his feelings or something. Good, she thinks. He deserves it.
Instead, he picks back up again. "There were battles too. Most of them I got to be in." He shakes his head in wonder. "It was so different than fighting on Earth. Different gravity, you know. It's like dancing in Moon Shoes." He grins. "I had to learn how to use a power ring. To an extent, anyway. Got to see the Watchtower," he tells her, glancing to see her reaction to this. It does impress her, but she forces her face to remain relaxed.
"Met some more alien girls," he continues with a smirk. Artemis' fingers clench tighter around the wheel. "Kept reminding me of M'gann. There were a lot of Martians. Those guys reproduce like rabbits. Speaking of which…" He raises an eyebrow. "Did Megs and Supey get married yet?"
"Yeah, you missed it." Again, it sounds accusing. Rightly so.
Finally, this seems to get a bit of a reaction out of him. "Mm. Damn. It's been…" He trails off.
"Too long," she finishes, her eyes narrowed. She hasn't looked at him since they left the space center.
She knew the question was coming. She just still isn't sure how she wants to answer it. Angrily, like the way she feels? Or simply? Does she want him jealous? Confused? Frustrated?
No, she just wants him to hurt as much as she does.
"No, I'm not married, if that's what you're asking," she replies.
He tries to hide it, but Artemis notices his shoulders relax and a bit of a sigh escape his lips. She ignores this.
"I'm engaged," she finishes, and holds out her hand before he can say a word. On her finger is a small diamond ring with silver band. Simple and sweet. Well, that's that. Just the way she wants it. The last thing she needs is a parade and a bunch of white roses and bridesmaids crying at her feet, sobbing, "Oh, look at you, Artemis, you're so lovely. Oh, darling, you're going to be such a beautiful bride. Oh, Artemis, I can't believe you're getting married."
No. She just wanted it done.
She still doesn't look at Wally, but she can hear the shock in his voice. For some reason, it doesn't satisfy her nearly as much as she thought it would. "To…to who?"
The devilish part of her wants to do something awful, wants to lie to him in a way that would really cut him deep. Tell him she's engaged to Dick or something. But that lie would fall apart in about two hours, when Artemis drops Wally off at Dick's house and Wally meets Nightwing's girlfriend.
Instead, she goes with the truth. "His name is Adam. Adam Kingston. He's normal."
And it's silent once more. Wally sits there, processing all of this, and Artemis' thoughts wander to Adam. Adam Kingston, with the dark brown hair and hazel eyes that are never really warm and cold and are rather unexciting. Adam Kingston who makes delicious steak sandwiches and has a way with words. Adam, who wears a Ralph Lauren polo to work, who goes golfing with his friends on Sunday afternoons instead of heading to the Hall of Justice and signing autographs or, I dunno, saving the world. Adam who asked her to marry him in a little restaurant on the outskirts of Gotham.
For some reason, she wonders how Wally might have proposed to her.
Honestly, he probably would have tried to pop the question on the moon.
Wally's sudden question pulls her out of her thoughts. Why?
He could be asking a whole matter of things, she knows. So she decides to answer all of them.
"Because I love him, Wally," she says, as if this were the most obvious thing in the world. "Because he took me to a restaurant and we talked and we shared things in common and he called me when I was sick. Because he walked me home after work every day and he sent me flowers even though I told him again and again I didn't want them. Because he didn't ask about my past and I didn't ask about his and I liked it that way. Because she was sweet and handsome and he held me when I needed him to and didn't touch me if I didn't want him to. Because he was here when you weren't." Finally, she turns and looks at Wally. She means to make it an intense, angry look but part of her knows she just looks sad. Weary. Done.
It's ironic, because now it's Wally who won't look at her. Now he stares dead ahead as if the road and his eyes were a pair of magnets. Now Artemis notices something she didn't before. There is something different about his eyes. A darkness, one that wasn't there before. A storm. He's seen things. Things that maybe he didn't want to see.
She looks back at the road.
Seven years ago today, Wally picked up his bags and left to join the Green Lantern Corps. He was dating Artemis at the time, and they were oddly happy together. 20 years old and thriving, halfway done with college, well-recognized as heroes, sharp and young. Then he received the letter requesting he come to the space center, head into the Final Frontier, and things changed. He wasn't as happy-go-lucky and affectionate. She would sometimes catch him sitting on the couch with his arms crossed, just staring at the letter on the coffee table. She told him again and again he didn't have to go, that he shouldn't go. An airless, dark place with a bunch of fighting aliens was no place for Wally. But, in the end, he had still left her and gone.
All she wanted to know was why. Then maybe things would make more sense, maybe they would get easier. Perhaps she wouldn't hurt so much, wouldn't still be so angry. Wouldn't want him to change.
So she asks.
"Why did you go, Wally?"
"Engaged…" he whispers, as if the word sounds strange on his tongue.
His eyes close and he sighs. "Jesus, Artemis. You haven't changed at all, have you? You're just as impatient and irritating and oh-so-kind as usual. I'll tell you why I left. Just give me a sec to get over the fact that my girlfriend is getting married."
"I'm not your girlfr—"
"I left because I had to!" His eyes open and he glares at her. She almost screeches to a stop along the side of the road. She can see city lights in the distance. They're almost to Gotham now.
"Why?" she snaps back, keeping her eyes on the road but digging her fingernails into the wheel, like it was somehow to blame for all of this. For all of this mess, this utter catastrophe that shouldn't have ever happened.
"Because of my uncle! Because of Barry!"
Again, Artemis' foot almost falls down onto the break as she winces. Barry. Even after all this time, it's hard for her to say or hear his name and not think how awful it all was. Watching Barry become a speed vortex, push himself to the very limit, to the point that his body couldn't physically take the velocity anymore. Watching the speed vortex create an incredible force, watching it destroy the Anti-Monitor, watching Barry unable to run any faster or any slower. Hearing Wally scream his uncle's name as the man saved the world and shattered himself, literally falling apart as the speed overtook his body and ripped away his very existence. She'll never forget it.
"What do you mean? How does Barry have anything to do with it?" she asks, her voice still shaking with anger but at least having decreased in volume.
"He was working on something with the Corps before he died," Wally replies, leaning back and closing his eyes, gritting his teeth. "His magnum opus, so they told me. He was looking for a way to tap into the Speed Force, a way to harness it so that we could use it to its full extent, without having it…" He hesitates, clenching his fists. "Without having it destroy us in the process. I had to go, had to see if he was right. Had to see if there was a way to keep what happened to him from ever happening again." He turns and looks at her. "Artemis, I swear to God, I thought it would only take a year or two. At the most."
She puts her foot further down on the accelerator, ignoring the fact that she's already soaring above the speed limit.
"But I—we—had no idea that the Speed Force was so…omnipotent," he continues when she doesn't reply. "It 's the source of energy for entire civilizations, entire planets. I'm a scientist, sure, but I only know so much." Wally runs a hand down his brow. "When we tried to tap into it using Barry's experiments, the result was catastrophic. We almost destroyed entire societies, trying to harness a power that great. We were just kidding ourselves, even trying to wrap our heads around the idea of the Speed Force. It was ridiculous. Being part of the Corps then, I had to help with clean-up, had to help civilizations pull themselves back together again after the accident. It took…longer than we anticipated."
"Seven years," Artemis says through clenched teeth.
"Yeah. Seven years." He sighs.
They drive on.
Soon, they're pulling into Gotham's city limits. Artemis glances over at Wally as he looks out the window, watching the world pass by them. It must all look so different to him, how the world has changed in only seven years. Gotham has new skyscrapers, has torn down old buildings. Dick's and Artemis' old school, Gotham Academy, was destroyed two years ago. Wayne Tower has been renovated. There are new neighborhoods, new suburbs. The deli where Artemis and Wally used to go to on Sunday nights is gone. Things change.
Artemis hoped that she could avoid this whole confrontation with Wally. The moment she heard he was coming home, she tried not to have anything to do with the reunion. She wanted him out of her life, with all the pain he caused. But, naturally, Dick was held up doing his Nightwing job, and, naturally, Artemis was the next closest person to Marshall Space Center. So she climbed in her car and went to pick up the arrogant speedster that she'd fallen in love with seven years ago and had since tried to forget.
Now she drives towards Dick's apartment on May Avenue and wonders what in the world is going to happen now. Wally is home. Heck, Wally's in the car with her now.
"Are you going to be around?"
Speak of the devil.
She glances over at him. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, you aren't just going to ignore the fact that I'm back now, are you? You're not just going to marry Prince Charming and forget that I ever existed, are you? Because I need to move on, and I need you to also."
"If you're asking if I'll still keep your cell phone number in my phone, then yeah, I will. But you're the one who chose to leave, Wally. Things are different now. Like you said; we have to move on."
May Avenue. She turns into the parking lot and pulls to a stop. Neither of them say anything for a few minutes, but instead just sit there and listen to Gotham dreaming its fitful dreams.
"Dick's apartment number is 1721," Artemis finally says. "He might not be home yet, so let yourself in with the key underneath the Welcome mat. He's old-fashioned that way." She laughs with little humor. "Order yourself a pizza if you're hungry. He told me he left money for you on the counter."
She turns to him, looking into those bright green eyes, with the hints of darkness that have accumulated recently. "I'm going back to Adam's place. He's my fiancé, Wally."
"Do you love him?"
She scoffs at this, as if she were offended. "I already told you—"
"Don't bullshit me, Artemis." His tone is so serious it almost scares her. Wally is never this serious. "Do you?"
She blinks at him, taken aback by how he's staring at her, how it's like he can see right through her. What is he asking her? Is Adam everything she ever wanted? Is Adam her soul mate, the love of her life? Is Adam what she needs, a man who will hold her a night, who will keep the bed warm and be there for her in the morning? Is that what Wally is asking?
Is there even an answer?
"…Yes." The words sound like a lie.
No. She loves Adam. Adam was there for her.
But Wally is here now. Does that change anything? Should that change anything?
"Then I guess that's that," he says and reaches for the door. Artemis doesn't know why, but her hand lurches forward before he can open it. It grabs his and holds it tight.
He slowly sits back down, watching her with an expression between surprise and curiosity. It isn't like Artemis to be impulsive, much less for her to be affectionate in this sort of way. Even back when they were a couple, they rarely held hands. She thought it awkward and cheesy. Now it seems natural to her.
"Why didn't you let me come with you?" she asks finally, searching his 27-year-old face, one that isn't all too different from his 15-year-old one. Older, yes. But the freckles, hair, and eyes are still there.
He almost laughs. "Artemis, why do you think? I wanted you to have a life. I knew I wasn't going to have one with the Corps, and I knew that you would hate it in space. So I told myself I would leave for a year, then come on back home and sweep you off your feet like some cheesy romance movie and you would nearly kill me and I would just laugh and carry you home. I was barely 20, not even drinking age. I thought things were a lot more simple back then."
"You were a damned idiot."
"So maybe I was. Doesn't change the truth. I never expected it to take so long. And part of me, even earlier today, thought I might still be able to sweep you off your feet."
Her eyes narrow, but it isn't convincing. "We aren't living a Disney movie, Wally. You had to expect things would be different."
He sighs. "Yeah. I know. I guess I underestimated just how much." He smirks with little enthusiasm. "Guess I just couldn't imagine you with another guy. What is this kid, a ballet dancer?"
"He's a lawyer, Wallace."
He rolls his eyes. "Naturally. And I bet he looks like Tom Cruise and constantly shouts 'I want the truth!' while practicing his lawyer face in the mirror."
She has to try very hard not to smile at this. "You're a jerk."
"Haven't changed a bit," Wally agrees, nodding. Then his eyes move to meet hers and the smile fades. He looks at her intently, as if trying to remember what she looked like before he left. "I've missed you. More than you know," he tells her.
She doesn't reply to this, but instead gently places her hand on his. His skin is dry and cracked, like he's been living someplace cold and damp for too long. A small shudder runs down his spine, and he sighs. "Thanks for coming to get me tonight. I know it wasn't the ideal way for you to spend your Friday night. Mr. Lawyer Pants probably wants you in his bed."
She snorts at this. "Stop it. Adam's not like that."
"Sure he isn't," Wally replies with a weary grin. They look at each other for a moment more, and then he opens the car door. He leans over and gently places a kiss on her forehead. His lips linger there longer than she knows they should, but she doesn't swat him away like she might have a few years ago. There are too many spinning emotions swirling through her head.
What does she do now? Is there something she should do now? What's the right thing to do? Does she care?
Wally is here. After seven years, Wally is here and he's sitting right in front of her. Kissing him would be wrong. She won't lie and cheat, won't hurt Adam that way. The poor man doesn't deserve it.
Instead, she very slowly leans forward and wraps her arms up around Wally's neck. At first, she wonders what the hell she's doing. Hugging Wally isn't like her, especially when he's been gone for so long and hasn't even so much as apologized for it. But, heck, here he is. She's missed him.
She brushes her thumb along the edge of his jaw and kisses his cheek, then lets go. Wally is still holding onto her, holding her up with his large arms, his hands pressed gently against the small of her back. She can feel his breath against her left ear, hot against her skin. She's tempted beyond anything to just go back now, to pretend nothing ever happened and kiss him, kiss him until morning comes and then kiss him some more. He's gotten handsome and that's not even the half of it.
But things have changed and she knows that. Sometimes you can't just pretend that they haven't.
Slowly, carefully, she pushes him away, forcing him to unwrap his arms from around her waist. He leans back and looks at her with such a puppy-dog face that it almost makes her laugh. He wants more and so does she. But it's time to move on now.
After a moment, he sighs. He sticks a foot out of the car and stands up, leaning against the doorframe and looking down at her. "Don't let Rich Guy tame ya too much. I'm always around if you need a good spar." He winks at her, but she knows he means it more than he's letting on. Please. Let's…try again.
Artemis slowly nods. "I know. Goodbye, Wally."
He shakes his head. "Nope. We're out of goodbyes. How about goodnight?"
She smiles. "Alright. Goodnight."
She watches as he shuts the car door and climbs the stairs to Dick's apartment, then turns around and yells something. At first she can't hear, and so she rolls down the window and calls, "What?"
He grins. "I want first-row seats to your wedding! If that punk tries anything, I'll be on him in a heartbeat! You can hold me to it!"
In spite of herself, she laughs at this, watching as he salutes her then turns to Dick's door, bends to pick up the key, and goes inside. Then she pulls out of the parking lot and drives away, trying not to look back. Behind her, the sun peeks over the horizon as Gotham prepares itself for another morning.
Tell me actions speak louder
But there's something about her
Words that hurt.
Closing up and it's so land and
I'm the last one still waiting for you
To lock the door.
On our way home and I realize
There's some kind of storm
Brewing in his eyes.
Only veiled by a thin disguise.
Now that I've done my time
I need to move on and I need you to try
'Cause we're out of goodbyes.
We're out of goodbyes, out of goodbyes.
Never asked you to change
But sadly you don't feel the same
I wonder does your man
still shudder when you touch his hand?
Like this man.
- "Out of Goodbyes" by Maroon 5 (feat. Lady Antebellum)
Alright, this is my ridiculously late (and ridiculously long) final entry for WallArt week. This time, the prompt was Trust.
I kinda feel like the plot here is a little pointless, but I tried to put as much meaning behind it as I could. I heard this song and it instantly reminded me of WallArt (as do most songs) and so I had to mess with it a bit. I tried to apply the lyrics as much as possible, and thus this story was born.
I had to really resist adding a whole bunch of fluff at the end (trust me, I was really tempted). But I really didn't want Artemis cheating on Adam, and I also just didn't want to do what would seem typical and expected: the usual "Oh-we're-so-sad-let's-go-make-out" ending scene. Not that I don't love those scenes now and again. ;) But I thought I'd go a little off-the-radar this go-round.
Anyway, please, please leave a comment! I'd love to hear your thoughts, as always. :D
Oh, and here is the song: .com/watch?v=cro4tho2KqI