June 7, 1941 – 11:22 EDT
Artemis wasn't sure how long she'd been fiddling with her arrows, polishing and sharpening and tweaking, but she was fairly sure that her legs were losing circulation from being crossed for so long, and she was fairly sure that her mother was going to come wheeling over at any moment to chastise her for wasting her morning on frivolities.
It was a muggy day in Gotham, and a single metal fan was rattling in the living room, contributing absolutely nothing to the situation; Artemis had long ago pulled her hair into a bun and tucked it away from her face with a bandana, but it didn't help the fact that she was still sweating.
"Artemis!" Her mother, right on cue. "Are you going to be twiddling with those things all day?"
"No," Artemis called back without looking up from the green fletching of arrow #35. "I'll be heading over to the mountain for lunch."
"Well, you had better hurry up, then! It is almost half-past eleven!" She could hear the wheels of her mother's wheelchair moving over the tiles in the kitchen. "Lateness is not smiled upon by anyone, Artemis. Not me, not the Justice League, and certainly not your friends."
"They're not my friends!" Artemis barked a bit more harshly than she had intended. She inhaled and forced her voice to soften. "They're not my friends. They're just – they're like peers. Acquaintances."
"Perhaps you should try to make them your friends, then," Paula Crock said briskly, moving down the hallway and into the living room. Artemis sighed and glanced up from her arrows, meeting her mother's sad brown eyes and smiling wanly. Paula, even in her wheelchair, seemed to tower over the rest of the world, with a straight back and a fierce posture and thick black hair that darkened her gaze. "You could use more of those, con gái tôi."
"Mom, I'm fine," Artemis insisted placatingly, putting one hand on Paula's knee and trying to strengthen her own hesitant smile. "Better off alone and everything."
"That is not you speaking," Paula snapped, looking away. "Those are your father's words."
Artemis bristled and drew her hand away, eyes darting to the floor. There was a bitter taste in her mouth; the mention of her father was harsh against her chest, and she tried in vain to wrestle it away.
"You're right; I shouldn't be late," she said sharply, her tone cold, and she stood swiftly and strode out of the room without looking back. Paula didn't say a word, and Artemis did her utmost to convince herself that it didn't slow her steps when she reached the sidewalk.
June 7, 1941 – 12:00 EDT
"No, no," M'gann giggled gently, putting her hand on Superboy's to halt him. "Don't roll the pin so hard."
Superboy let out a frustrated huff and released the rolling pin in his hands, crossing his arms obstinately and scowling down at it. He had somehow been roped into helping M'gann bake all morning, and she had taken it upon herself to teach him the finer points of it. He didn't seem to be retaining them particularly well, having already broken one cutting board from wielding the rolling pin too roughly.
"Does it even matter so long as you can eat them?" he grumbled, narrowing his eyes at the lumpy mess of chocolate chip cookie dough.
M'gann laughed, a clear clap of sound that quavered in the air.
"I suppose not," she conceded. "But they should still resemble cookies, I think. Here, let me show you—"
She tentatively placed her fingers on his knuckles and led his hands back to the rolling pin, and he acquiesced without a word to her guidance, watching the way her auburn hair spilled over her shoulder as she leaned forward over the counter, her freckled cheek barely a couple of inches from his face.
Try not to be so angry. Her voice echoed coolly in his temples. This cookie dough did you no harm.
Now you're just making fun of me, he thought back dryly, but he curled his fingers around the rolling pin's handles and didn't protest when she put her own fingers over his, moving the pin forward and backward carefully, with rhythm.
No! she protested, sounding genuinely apologetic, and her brown eyes widened as her head whipped around to meet his eyes. I would never...
Her thoughts trailed away when their eyes met, and Superboy had never been this close to her before – there were odd things swimming behind the amber of her irises, things like far-off indigo galaxies and shooting stars and unknown planets; the presence of them made him feel uneven, teetering on the edge of something indescribable. Her lips parted in something like surprise and he blinked at her, perplexed by her sudden change in demeanor.
He abruptly noticed something unusual – her dotted cheeks had begun to adopt an unusual color. He knew perfectly well that humans often fell prey to a phenomenon called blushing; he had seen Wally's face turn red on multiple occasions during training when he would trip or make a mistake – but that was just it; faces turned red.
M'gann's cheeks were green.
Your face... He frowned, lifting a hand from beneath hers as if to touch her cheek. It's—your cheeks are green.
M'gann gasped and leaped back, her palms shooting away from his hands and immediately jerking up to cover her cheeks. Her eyes were wide with something like terror. Superboy stepped away reproachfully, not entirely sure what he'd done, and the rolling pin fell to the floor with a crack.
"I'm – I'm sorry," he blurted out, even though he didn't know what he was sorry about. They seemed to be good words to say, however – at least, that was what he'd observed. That was what he had said to Superman, when the elder Kryptonian had stared down at him with an expression alternating between shock and something equal to disgust.
"Oh—" M'gann stammered, still clutching her face. "No, no, Superboy; I'm sorry; it wasn't you..."
Superboy opened his mouth, doubtless to say something else pointless and stupid and dull and everything else he felt tempted to punch himself in the face for, but was cut off by the sound of loud laughter coming from the hallway. He and M'gann turned in unison toward the source of the noise, just in time to see Wally come striding in from the direction of the entrance room, followed by a taller, more ornery-looking redhead with discerning blue eyes.
"Step aside, folks!" Wally called out grandly, throwing his arms in the air with enthusiasm. "We have a visitor!"
Superboy and M'gann stared blankly at the both of them, and M'gann lowered her hands – her cheeks had returned to their normal color. Superboy glanced at them for an instant, choosing not to point it out.
"Please hold your applause, ladies and gentlemen," Wally continued with a flourish. "I have the distinct honor of introducing your entertainment for this evening – the one, the only—"
"I'm Roy," the other boy interrupted bluntly, crossing his muscular arms and glowering at Superboy and M'gann. "Red Arrow."
Wally throttled the air in exasperation.
"For Pete's sake, Roy, that was the best part!" he yelled, sounding insulted. M'gann had to bite her lip to hold back a giggle. "Nobody appreciates the emcees anymore."
"What're you here for?" Superboy grunted, eyeing Roy suspiciously. He couldn't say that he was charmed by the other boy's blatantly aggrieved attitude.
Roy grimaced, throwing his head back.
"Baseball," he muttered. "I am here for baseball."
A whirring sound suddenly erupted from the farther end of the hallway, but nobody seemed to notice except for Superboy until the telltale announcement of zeta tube use – a loud, short-lived beep – echoed through the mountain.
"Wonder who that is," Superboy mused, putting his hands in his pockets. Wally was out of the room in seconds, leaving behind a gust that tousled everyone's hair; Superboy glanced at M'gann, who shrugged, before deciding to follow the speedster. She trailed along behind him as he strolled down the length of the brightly lit, metal-walled hallway into the entrance platform.
"Oh, swell; it's you," he heard Wally say snidely. Mystery solved.
Sure enough, when he and M'gann rounded the corner into the larger room, they saw Artemis standing woozily near the complex zeta tube receptacle, her hands on her knees, somewhat doubled over. Wally was staring at her with an unimpressed expression.
"Hello, Artemis," M'gann called shyly, waving at the archer, who gave her a vague thumbs-up.
"Never going to get used to those things," Artemis rasped, finally straightening up, swaying slightly before she seemed to collect herself and step away from the tube, untying the scarlet bandana holding her hair back.
"Maybe you're simply having an allergic reaction to decent people," Wally snipped. Artemis, in retaliation, shot him a pointed, deadpan stare. He scoffed and muttered to himself before stalking away, making a beeline back to the kitchen.
"How are you, Artemis?" M'gann inquired, blatantly attempting to break the tension. Artemis blinked and looked over at her as though she'd forgotten she was there. "We haven't – seen you in a while."
"Oh – I'm fine, Mags; thanks for asking," Artemis replied; not very convincingly, Superboy might add. "Hey, Supes."
"Hi," Superboy riposted plainly.
"So," Artemis said, putting her hands on her hips. "I hear Mr. Wonderful's trying to rope us all into being on his Little League team."
"So it would seem," M'gann confirmed wearily, pushing a segment of her hair behind one freckled ear. "He brought one of his friends. I think he's still in the kitchen, if you'd... like to meet him?"
Artemis shrugged apathetically, yawning behind one hand.
"Might as well," she mumbled.
She waited for M'gann to start leading the way into the kitchen before following, and Superboy fell into step beside her as the three of them walked down the hall. He glanced at her in his peripheral vision and raised his eyebrows at her taut expression.
"Are you – mad about something?" he asked her bluntly, tightening his fists fleetingly on instinct.
Artemis lifted her head and frowned up at him. She was nearly a head shorter than he was, he realized. She seemed uncharacteristically petite all of a sudden.
"Not that I'm aware of, no," she said dryly, quirking one precise eyebrow. "Why? Are you concerned?"
Superboy grumbled noncommittally and strayed his attention upon entering the kitchen, where Roy was still standing in the exact same spot with his arms still crossed irascibly. Wally was jabbering at him about something that nobody could be bothered to listen to, and Superboy's eyes narrowed in annoyance at the noise.
"Is Kaldur here?" Roy broke in suddenly, his scowl deepening.
Wally blinked, taken aback.
"He should be around somewhere," he answered. "I telephoned him and he said he'd be here, so..."
"He's in his room." Everyone but Wally jumped at the sound of Robin's voice, which had apparently come out of nowhere, and all heads reared back to find him hanging upside-down from one of the ceiling rafters. He was leering down at them, the wideness of his smile causing him to squint.
"For Pete's sake, Rob, get down," Wally groaned, slumping his shoulders in exasperation. Robin sniggered.
"What's the matter, Wallace? 'Fraid I'll fall?" He expertly somersaulted off of the rafter and hopped down to the top of the refrigerator before landing silently on the floor and straightening up with his hands on his hips, still grinning. "How droll."
"Where've youbeen?" Superboy asked bluntly, his brow furrowed. Robin seemed highly amused by the question.
"Neither here nor there, my chiseled friend," he answered. He ended the sentence by loping over to Wally and slinging his arm around the other boy's shoulder (Superboy noticed that he did that a lot), pushing his sunglasses further up on his nose. "So, has our friendly neighborhood nimrod informed you of today's planned activities?"
"We've been briefed, yes," Artemis replied sarcastically, narrowing her eyes at Wally, who rolled his eyes.
"Sort of," Superboy added pointedly. Wally had told them nothing outside of the fact that they all absolutely had to be free on Saturday the seventh or the world would end. M'gann hadn't believed him, thankfully, but her unending loyalty had persuaded her immediately to be there, and her presence gave Superboy enough reason to be there, too. He liked M'gann's company. He liked her smile.
"I don't believe we've been introduced," Roy said suddenly in a strangely low voice. All eyes swiveled to him to find that he was glaring, unfaltering, at Artemis.
"No, I don't believe we have," Artemis replied in-kind, crossing her arms defensively. "But you look familiar."
"Vague recognition. That's a big honor, coming from the dame Green Arrow brought in to replace me," Roy growled. Superboy saw Wally and Robin's eyebrows go up, and even his eyes went a bit wider at Roy's hostile tone.
Artemis, however, was apparently having none of it, not even flinching in response. She simpered at Roy, but said nothing.
"Can you even use a bow and arrow?" Roy demanded hotly, with a hint of mockery. Artemis scoffed.
"Yes, I can," she bit back. "Hence my being brought in, which I wasn't, by the by. I made my own way here and I have no intention of leaving."
"I wouldn't dream of asking you to." Roy sneered.
"Um..." M'gann began softly, hopefully, in an attempt to break the tense atmosphere. "Perhaps we can—"
"So you're the famous Speedy," Artemis mused, half to herself and half to Roy as her eyes scanned his form. Despite her bristling demeanor, Superboy could tell that she was impressed.
"It's Red Arrow," Roy barked. "Those days are behind me."
"Ironic, considering how snapped your cap is about me filling the spot you left," she said, blatantly amused.
Roy bridled, his shoulders stiffening, and opened his mouth to retort, but Superboy's super-hearing detected the approach of footsteps and he turned his head to see Kaldur standing in the doorway.
"Hi, Kaldur," he greeted the Atlantean pointedly, gesturing with his eyes to the fuming Artemis and Roy.
Kaldur blinked at him as he finished rolling up and buttoning the sleeves of his white cotton shirt, turning his attention to the two archers, who had jumped at Superboy's words and whirled around in unison to face Kaldur.
He frowned at them.
"Is something the matter?" he asked coolly. Artemis hung her head churlishly and focused on grinding the scuffed toe of her saddle shoe against the tiled floor. Roy folded his arms and looked away, scowling.
"Bad first impressions!" Wally interjected, leaning into view with a waving, dismissive arm. "You know how it is, Kal."
Kaldur let out a muffled noise that sounded suspiciously like laughter, looking pointedly from Wally to Artemis and back again.
"I do." He let his arms cross loosely, surveying the roomful of teammates. "So, Wally, for what purpose have you gathered us here today?"
Wally beamed at the question, stepping into the center of the room with his hands on his hips. Superboy saw Robin's eyes roll over the rims of his sunglasses.
"Okay, Team!" Wally declared, his enthusiasm bursting out onto the walls. "You've all been brought here today for one specific purpose: the defense of honor."
"Huh?" Artemis grunted, raising her eyebrow. Wally ignored her.
"This will not be easy," he plowed on, expression darkening dramatically. "It will be grueling and potentially violent, and it will take every last ounce of teamwork and skill to come out on top. You might not make it to the ninth inning. You might even skin your knees. But I promise you, you'll be making sacrifices for a noble cau—"
"Ninth inning?!" Artemis exclaimed so incredulously that it was almost comedic. "You want us to play baseball?!"
Wally clamped his mouth shut, the grin vanishing, and let his head drop back in huge exasperation.
"Thanks for the big reveal, Blondie," he said flatly. "Is ruining surprises your day job?"
"Baseball?" M'gann chimed in, her hands clasped, her eyes wide. "It sounds awfully dangerous. How do you play?"
"Baseball," Superboy inserted before Wally could respond, staring straight ahead. "Came to prominence in the United States in the mid-1850s. A bat-and-ball sport played between two teams of nine players. Four outfielders, three infielders, a catcher, and a pitcher. One turn at bat for each player marks an inning. There are nine innings in a game. The batting team takes turns hitting against the pitcher of the fielding team. Teams switch whenever three outs are recorded. The object of the game is to score enough runs to win. Runs are scored when a player gets from first base to fourth, or home."
He couldn't help it, really. Cadmus had programmed him with the most bountiful trove of knowledge that he could imagine, and sometimes when people asked factual questions he would spew out the answer before he could stop himself. It was part of how he was built. It used to leave a bit of a bitter taste in his mouth, but that had ebbed with each grateful smile or clap on the back that the Team would give him after he would answer one of their inquiries.
Everyone stared at him, slack-jawed, after he was finished. The kitchen was utterly silent except for the hum of the refrigerator. Superboy fidgeted and shifted from one foot to the other, glancing away and feeling his cheeks start to heat up at the uncomfortable weight of the attention.
"S-Sorry, I—" he started to say inarticulately, but Wally's face split into a wide grin and he raised his thumb in approval.
"Supey, you are a river to your people," Wally declared, clearly pleased that he hadn't had to explain it himself. M'gann was frowning to herself, tugging at her fingers the way she did when she was thinking hard.
Wally opened his arms wide in triumph, beaming around at everyone.
"That's it, champs! Now that we're all on the same page, let's go get your uniforms and shake a leg down to the sandlot to meet Zatanna and Barbara, shall we?"
Artemis was letting out unintelligible splutters, but Robin had already grabbed her by the elbow and started leaning her down the hallway, probably toward the locker rooms. M'gann glanced between Wally and Superboy before following, and Kaldur gave a resigned sigh as he joined them.
Superboy, though he didn't know who Zatanna or Barbara were and really had no idea what Wally was planning, didn't ask any questions and shuffled along behind the others. Wally clapped his hands together and sped on ahead, whooshing by Superboy and leaving behind a vortex of wind that blew his hair in all directions. The sound of disgruntled stomping behind him alerted him that Roy had decided to acquiesce as well.
Superboy didn't really pay much attention to Wally's pep talk as they met up with the girls after everyone had changed. The only thing he really noticed was that M'gann's little red-and-white striped baseball cap looked – of all things – cute. As a button, even.
He, on the other hand, felt ridiculous.
Wally's honor better be worth it.