Disclaimer: I do not own Young Justice.
A Lingering Feeling
January 14, 2:45 PM
10 Years Later
There was a quiver in the air; a finely strung tension vibrating down the bowstring of her spine. It had accompanied her the entire day as they retraced the steps of their teenage selves, remembering a time of naïve blithe and stolen glances of hope. Today, they had seen all the same animals, now either older like themselves, or moved on like fallen heroes. Some exhibits had changed—polished ecru remodeling, or perimeters of green instead of metal fences. But that quiver of excitement in the air—that same buzzing of the unexpected—was still there. However, this time it was a vibrating chromatic scale of the type of depth that can only be achieved by the passing of years—ten years, exactly.
Artemis shielded her eyes from the afternoon sun and made a panoramic sweep of the stage in front of them. There was a bright azure pool bordered by fawn alcoves of stone beaches, with towering screens for everyone of any size in the crowd to see the performances clearly. A clear plastic wall served as the side of the pool directly in front of the audience, and Artemis's eyes lingered contently on the mirror of blue.
Strong arms wrapped around her, and she looked sideways into a freckled face and limitless green eyes.
"We're just one bench away from the Splash Zone," Wally stated, somewhat proudly.
"Not fond of your natural element today, Baywatch?" Artemis retorted.
Wally gave her a squeeze, and tickled her cheek with the stubble on his jaw. She giggled and reached up to push him away, but he only tightened his arms around her. "Nah," he replied, "don't have my lucky Batman boxers with me today."
Their bodies, minds, and hearts may have changed, but the jokes and nicknames would always remain immutable.
The show started with a dramatic entrance of sea lions. Some dove into the water and created small and icy tidal waves that would rain down on the daring children seated in the first few rows, but would always fall within sprinkles away from Wally and Artemis. Every time that occurred, Wally shot Artemis a fulfilling grin, which she responded with a patient pat on the knee.
Halfway through the exhilarating show, the trainers and performers on stage called upon the audience for two volunteers. To Artemis's surprise (or maybe lack of), Wally's hand shot into the air at the speed of a jet plane.
"Oo, oo, pick me, pick me!" he shouted out while bouncing up and down on the bench.
And then, to Artemis's surprise again (this time it was genuine), the lead trainer on stage laughed and actually called out, "How about that gentlemen sitting just beyond the Splash Zone with that splash of red hair?"
Wally pumped his fist in the air, and then to Artemis's third surprise that minute, he grabbed her hand and pulled her with him.
"C'mon Babe, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!" he urged as he steadied her.
She blew a sigh into her bangs, and her breath swirled backwards to watch the two of them walk down the stairs and onto the stage. A performer asked for their names, and then belted into the crowd, "Wally and Artemis, everyone! And are you two from around here? What's that? Top secret information? Well, we always like a good mystery!"
Artemis and Wally were given two light-weight lifejackets, and then directed to the edge of the center beach. A sea lion silkily glided towards them, and accepted a hearty belly rub before dashing back into the water, sprinkling everyone on stage with a rain of silver droplets.
"Ah!" Artemis yelped in surprise. "That's freaking cold!"
Next to her, Wally's only response to the sudden water was laughter. Of course, Artemis thought, that man is practically a walking heater.
"Now, Wally and Artemis, I'm going to make you two our honoree trainers of the hour," announced the main performer into the microphone. "Marina—" he pointed at the sea lion frolicking in the water "—is going to take this ball—" he tossed an opaque sphere into the water, which was instantly scooped up by Marina's smiling jaws and carried away to the end of the pool "—and bring it to you, once you give the signal." He turned to Artemis and straightened her arm directly in front of her, and asked her to mimic a "come here" motion with her fingers. "And then you will hand the ball to Wally for the next trick."
"Simple enough," Artemis agreed amicably.
She turned to the sea lion, which resting on a stony island and watching her patiently with dark round eyes, and brought forward her arm. Her fingers curled up, and the obedient seal lion slipped into the water. However, she merely swam in a circle and popped back to her original post.
"Oh ho!" the trainer chuckled into the microphone. "I think we might need to further entice Marina." He leaned down and opened a bucket at his feet, and pulled out a glistening herring. He handed it to Artemis, and the sea lion immediately perked up her head and wiggled her long ivory whiskers.
The edges of Artemis's lips twitched upwards, and she glanced sideways at Wally, who caught her smile and stuck out his tongue. They were both extremely familiar with the use of food as bait for the lawn mowed or a rack of dishes cleaned.
She held out the fish in one hand, and beckoned again with her other arm. Then, she felt the quiver in the air again, like the whole world was holding onto a silent note before the final cadence.
The sea lion scooped in a gasp of air, and dove down into the lattices of light and water. Silence followed her until she burst through the surface and into the sun. She dropped the ball at the blonde woman's feet, and accepted her tasty reward with a bark and gulp. And then she leaned onto her side and raised her flipper into the air.
Artemis laughed, and accepted the hi-five to the cheer of the crowd. She picked up the sphere at her feet and handed it to Wally. He took it with both hands and, to her amazement, expertly unscrewed the ball so it opened into a secret airtight compartment. He removed a square box of velvet the color of dark wine, and his next movement knocked the breath out of her lungs, and plunged her heart into an electric dive.
He slowly dropped down to one knee, and opened the box to reveal a shimmering diamond bordered by tiny emeralds and golden topaz, all resting on a crown and band of glowing platinum. The onlookers immediately fell into a collective hush, and Artemis's hand flew to her mouth.
"Almost ten years ago, you walked into my life and told me proudly you were here to stay," Wally began, his sonorous voice reverberating into the stands. "Well, Artemis, I'm hoping you're still here to stay—this time with me, and forever by my side. So, Beautiful," he continued with a smile that made the California sun dull in juxtaposition, "whadya say? Will you marry me?"
And thus Artemis Crock, a woman of always a million spirited words, was rendered speechless, and could only nod and smile through her tears of joy as Wally slipped the ring onto her finger. She leapt into his arms, and crushed their lifejackets between as they kissed before a cheering audience. Even Marina the sea lion popped out of the water to give her blessing in loud happy barks.
"So," Wally exhaled through his grin as they finally pulled apart, "how many points was this?"
Artemis laughed, and pressed her forehead to his. She couldn't believe he still remembered that little game they used to play. "As many as you'd like, and for as long as you like."
"Infinity then," Wally replied, "and forever."
Love is like a friendship caught on fire—in the beginning a flame, very pretty, often hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. As love grows older, our hearts mature and our love becomes as coals—deep-burning and unquenchable.
- Bruce Lee
A/N: As far as I'm concerned, Earth-16's San Diego Zoo is fully capable of hosting a live sea lion show :P
Thank you everyone for accompanying me on this adventure! I want to give a special thank-you to the following individuals. It was with their help and support that made this story possible.
Thank you Satellites on Parade and Kenward for being my patient and keen-eyed betas; Black Licorice Addict and MidnightRoulette for your friendship and cheerleading; Tumblr users Dottaraqn, Emmaseashore, The-Princess-Siofra, Annicaspoon, and Brella for your beautiful accompanying artwork; and Tumblr user Yukiiix for making the cover illustration.
Also, I'd like to thank DC Comics, Greg Weisman, and Brandon Vietti for creating the world of Young Justice, and allowing writers like myself to partake in such a fantastic adventure with such lovely and strong characters.
A shout-out to my boyfriend, who I am hopelessly in love with—a love that blossomed all over the last chapter of this story. I just hope he doesn't mind lending the backwards version of his nickname to the friendly tarantula from Chapter 13 :P
Lastly, the largest thank you to every single one of you for reading and leaving notes of support. I am deeply humbled and thankful for everyone I have shared this journey with.