AN: You guys would not believe how long I worked on this story. It nearly killed me, and drove me to the point of hysteria, because I don't do character death. It felt like it was literally impossible for me, but still, I wanted to finish this with a passion. I drove my friend crazy, getting her advice and forcing her to act as my makeshift beta. Thanks, LV!
It hadn't been a particularly challenging mission; a couple of gang members attempting to rob a bank. Simple, and easy to apprehend.
It seemed those were the only kinds of missions they were getting from Batman lately; bank robbers, break-ins, petty theft. It was all the same; the team of sidekicks had begun to only send two members at a time, as it was hardly worth the effort of locating the criminals.
"I'm so sick of the League treating us like babies! I thought we've proved to our mentors, and the League, that we're ready for more advanced stuff, not doing the cops dirty work!" Kid Flash exclaimed angrily, bringing his fists down onto the counter top inside M'gann's open kitchen.
"Relax, KF. I'm sure Batman will give us a new mission soon." Robin attempts to console his friend's rage, but it only makes him scoff in response.
"And how do we know it won't be just another thing to keep us busy?" Wally demands to know, jabbing a finger into Robin's chest accusingly.
"Getting angry will solve nothing." Superboy shoves his way between the Boy Wonder and Kid Flash without any trouble at all. "Stop acting like a spoiled brat."
Wally blinks, taken back by the words, before he grunts and makes his quick escape out the nearest exit.
"I know how you feel." Is the first thing she says, when she finds him at the local fast food joint, sucking back a strawberry milkshake.
"No 'ou don'." He mumbles around his straw, leaving dents in the cardboard cup from his tight grip.
"You're frustrated, and tired of being treated like a sidekick." Artemis hisses the word like it's poison, and it causes him to slam his cup down with enough force that droplets sloshes over the sides and splatter the table.
"Yeah, so what if I am? What are you supposed to do about it?" He asks skeptically, his expression jeering.
She smirks and takes a seat across from him, gesturing with her chin to the TV set in the corner of the restaurant; it's muted, but the pictures tell a thousand words.
"The Joker has escaped from prison, and we're gonna put him back in."
"Um, hate to burst your bubble there, Sunshine, but I don't think we're ready to handle the Joker."
Artemis places her palms flat against the table, and leans forward so she's inches away from his face. His eyes flicker down once to her slightly exposed cleavage, before he realizes she's the same annoying girl who let the Shadow Assassin get away, and focuses back on her face. "Do you want everyone to treat you like a sidekick your whole life? Sometimes you've gotta be a little daring to get the glory! My dad taught me that." She smiles rather proudly, then leans backward and sits up in her seat. "Well? Are you in or not?"
Wally focuses on the stains and lines on the table, considering all his options, before he looks up at her in resolution. "I'm in."
She grins. "Excellent. We just have to get to him before Batman does."
"How are we supposed to do that? I bet Batty is there right now, kicking Joker's butt!"
Artemis reaches across the table and swipes his smoothie from him just as he picks it back up, then proceeds to take a sip. "I 'unno. Luck?"
Kid Flash, being a man of science, has never really believed in such a thing. Stepping on a crack didn't break your mother's back, and walking under ladders certainly did not bring bad luck. Luck in general was all a big hoax. "...Fine. Let's do this."
It had taken a lot of digging, and skulking around in dark allies before they finally find some decent information. The Joker was doing was some kind of mob deal in an abandoned warehouse just south of Gotham City.
It took even more time to locate the address of the place, but with KF's speed, the duo make it there just past midnight.
Scaling the roof of the building proves to be a snap, and they find a small hole where they can see The Joker and a bunch of his cronies standing around impatiently, below. "It's always the old warehouses. Why can't villains ever be more original?" Kid Flash mutters, earning himself an elbow to the ribs and a "Shhh!" courtesy of Artemis.
"Lookie here, boys," The sudden intake of breath and the clasp of saliva in The Joker's mouth, enlighten the suspense and insanity that holds Joker captive. "We found ourselves a couple moles who want to.. dig around in our business." The Joker sneers straight up at them, smiling from ear to ear with a cold, murderous smile. Kid Flash only has time to scoop Artemis up in his arms before the roof explodes into a shower of green plastic, sending them slamming into the ground and leaving a trench as they skid across the gravel surrounding the building.
Wally's ears are ringing, and his gut is telling him to grab Artemis and make a break for it, but he's not about to admit that he's the slightest bit afraid right now. "What now?"
"We fight." Her arms are dusty and she's bleeding in multiple places from their fall, but she's still stringing an arrow into her bow and keeping her back rigid as The Joker's lackeys exit the building and make a human wall around their boss.
"Against The Joker, and all those guys? Are you crazy?" As he whispers it, he sees the wild gleam in her eyes, and thinks she just might be.
Then again, he agreed to come with her, so he must be crazy too.
He has to keep reminding himself of the reward they'll get out of this.
The lackeys weren't hard to nab, but The Joker is definitely proving himself to be The Batman's greatest adversary, after all. Robin had told them stories once, that Bruce had told him, but you would never believe a guy wearing some clown make-up could ever be so truly frightening.
"What's wrong, kiddies?" His grin never once falters, and he has his eyes on them at all times. Wally is feeling the fear more potently now, with his heart thumping like a hummingbird's wings in his chest, and he wonders if Artemis is feeling it too. "Why so... serious?" He begins to cackle madly, before charging at them.
KF can easily feign to the left as Joker starts to wave a small pocket knife around like it's a Katana; Artemis does the same as her partner, watching the infamous criminal in confusion.
Sudden horror make Artemis freeze where she stands. "He's just toying with us..." She looks up slightly at the black shapes sitting on the rafters of the building, and her heart won't stop pounding.
"Kid Flash! The rafters!" She screams as The Joker's ghostly laughter rings in her ears, but she suddenly can't see him anywhere. Wally only has time to look up, before the explosion brings the whole building down on top of them.
It was never decided what their relationship was. It was a complicated puzzle of dislike, friendship, and just the slightest hint of sparks underneath the surface.
Maybe she wasn't the worst addition to the team...
There's debris everywhere; no surface is left uncovered by shards of broken glass, or scraps of metal. Artemis pushes boards off of her head and flexes everything, -her wrist is definitely broken, and a couple ribs might be cracked- before she scrambles around to find Wally, calling his name and tearing away at the rubble until she finally finds him.
There's a board that's skewered him right through the stomach.
He's flat on his back, and the concrete is turning red at her feet. His eyes are staring at her blankly, like he's trying to find her name among the sea of faces and memories inside his head. But when she falls to her knees at his side, splashing his blood onto her green battle attire, he gives her a dopey grin.
"Your hair looks nice, when it's down. Never noticed before." His glove-clad hand reaches up to touch the strands that have come loose from her ponytail but he grunts as his limited energy doesn't allow him that privilege. She takes his hand, instead, and leans her forehead against his chest. She counts the beats of his heart.
All they had wanted was a challenge. No more being kept busy, or being pushed aside and called sidekicks.
They just wanted respect.
It was then that everything really sunk in. Their little mission had spun out of control so badly; they were just kids. Two children, who had gotten themselves in way too deep.
Now he was paying the price because of it.
Because she forced him into it.
She's crying, and it scares him.
"Hey, hey.. No getting your tears all over my suit." The corners of his lips turn upward, but it only makes her begin to shake violently, as his bright yellow suit is turning orange from all the blood. His head is spinning, but he can't leave her thinking this is her mistake.
"It's not your fault."
That causes heart-wrenching sobs, which terrifies him more than her silent tears, or how she whispers his name over and over, like a broken record. The thought of death is far from his mind, even when his body starts to turn cold, and he's finding it hard to remember to keep his eyes open.
His vision is starting to swim, and he can't keep a level head much longer.
Slowly, as though it takes a minute for the fact that he's speaking to her to register, she lifts her head off his chest and stares in his eyes. That single look, and the way he repeats her name once more, softly, is the only goodbye they have.
She has his blood on her face. Nothing could ever scare him worse; traumatize him more, than that one single moment before his death.
When Batman does arrive on the scene, Artemis is laying over Wally's body; which had lost all life in it hours ago. She's sobbing fitfully, truly someone who has just experienced unbearable heartbreak, but he does not find it his place to offer words of solace. He bows his head respectfully, and curses himself to the deepest pits of Hell at the same time, for letting this happen on his watch.
Artemis quits the team, the next day.
No one hears from her again; she's absent at the funeral.
A great friend, comrade, and kid. You will be dearly missed.
He isn't sure whether he's in heaven, -because it all seems like a big wad of mumbo-jumbo to him- or if it's just a pocket dimension he'll be spending eternity in, but he doesn't mind much. Time goes by quickly, and he's never alone.
"You'll see her again. Those spitfire girls, they always come back to ya."
The words seem out of place, because he already knows that.
And when she does show up, he's going to have Hell to pay for dying on her like that.