Written for disco_vendetta for the Maneuver Seven ficathon on LJ! Just a quick little break from Auld Acquaintance.
Artemis, Artemis/Wally, Arty and Kent Nelson have a little chat inside the Helmet of Fate - they both agree that Wally is an idiot.
EDIT: Whoa, my formatting got really mucked up! It's all fixed now.
Wally was going to kill her.
At least, he was going to try to kill her – as if that lunkhead could ever be considered even vaguely able to do anything more than pinch her – but regardless of the low chances that he would succeed, she still didn't look forward to having to fight him off.
It had been different when Kaldur had put it on, because Wally had just been worried. Artemis remembered the fretful way that he'd shouted at the Atlantean that night in the bayou, and it was in an entirely different tone than the one he'd used on her just a few minutes ago.
"Artemis, you stupid fucking idiot; don't you dare put—"
Honestly, a part of her was glad that her consciousness had been plucked from her body at that moment, because if she had to listen to Wally whine any longer, she might have had to (change her mind) commit homicide.
It was peculiar in the Helmet of Fate – the first thing Artemis noticed was a disconcerting absence of temperature, which made her feel stale and brittle. There was an omnipresent, hollow rushing of air, as though someone had left a fan on in a total lack of sound. She would have shivered if she could feel cold.
She stood very still for a time, as if hoping that there was something more to living in here than infinite black and a beacon of blue light. She had never liked the idea of infinity. As a child, she had always wanted to believe that the sky ended somewhere, and that somewhere was where there had been holes poked into it that became the stars.
Things needed to have endings. People just wanted to think that they didn't, and that was where forever came from: from being scared. Love couldn't last forever because everybody dies and that's an ending. Things couldn't stay the same because life moved unrelentingly toward the horizon and pitches off the edge.
Artemis wasn't pessimistic. She was just... a pragmatist.
Even being stuck in the Helmet of Fate wasn't going to be for eternity. Five thousand years, five million years; it didn't matter – those would all wear out eventually, and she would be free. It wasn't so bad.
With a sigh, she plopped down on the ground, crossing her legs and folding her arms. She breathed, but it was with a niggling knowledge that it wasn't really necessary. She could sit there and not take a breath for five hundred years and she'd still be fine, but she did it anyway – it was a quiet reassurance, the flat air tumbling down into her lungs.
"Is anybody here?" she heard herself ask monotonously, glowering straight ahead of her. "Because, I mean, if I'm going to be in here for the next few millenia, I think it's fair that I know all the secrets."
"There aren't a lot of 'em, kid," a voice chuckled from behind her, and Artemis shrieked in surprise, pouncing to her feet and whirling around, crouched and with her fists at the ready. At the sight of the benevolently smiling old man who was looking at her as if he'd known her longer than she'd known herself, she loosened, straightening back up warily.
He looked vaguely familiar, but she didn't have the energy or interest to place him.
"Oh," she said.
"Don't I know you from somewhere?" He was trying to feign a sort of doddering curiosity, but Artemis could tell by the way that his eyes were twinkling that he was being nothing short of sly.
"Probably not," she snapped back, crossing her arms and squinting apathetically at him. "I remember people."
She frowned. "Yes."
"I do, too," he remarked happily, tilting his head to gaze up at the endless black above them. Artemis followed his stare hesitantly.
"What're you looking at?" she demanded.
"Oh, something," he replied with a laugh. "Nothing to look at in here, so you gotta start making things up after a while."
Artemis shot him an askance look before redirecting her attention to the – was it a sky? – again.
"Making things up isn't really my forte," she said with bitterness. "By the way, since I'm probably going to be stuck in here for like a billion years, maybe it'd be a good idea to get names out of the way. I'm—"
"Artemis," the old man inserted as if he was being a great help. Artemis's eyes widened, and she started to open her mouth to speak. "And here's a little help for that 'remembering people' bit – I'm Kent Nelson. Former Doctor Fate."
Artemis let out an undignified noise of recognition before stumbling back.
"But I thought you were—"
"Dead as a doornail!" he exclaimed almost cheerfully with a wave of his hand. "Ah, but it's not a problem. They gave me a nice little funeral, too; were you there?"
Artemis swallowed, feeling suddenly uncomfortable.
"Um," she muttered, "Yes."
"How about that... Miss Manners of yours? Stubborn little scientist with the red hair."
"Wally?" Artemis snorted, ignoring the abrupt tight feeling in her stomach. "Yeah, he was there. It would've been a nice little funeral if he hadn't shown up."
"I thought he was surprisingly well-behaved," Kent Nelson said with a smirk. "Didn't even point out all the logical fallacies in the priest's reading."
"Yeah," Artemis mumbled, considering this. "Yeah, I guess he was okay." She blinked and glanced nervously up at Nelson. "He was, um... he was upset."
"Ah, what the hell for," Nelson chuckled. "I already told him; I've got a few million years in here and I'm an old man, so everything's entertaining. Plus I've got my old chum Nabu."
"Nabu?" Artemis asked, and she didn't know why, because Wally had already exhaustively explained most of the workings of the Helmet of Fate to her.
"Lord of Order," Nelson recited. "The true inhabitant of the Helmet; he needs a host body to—"
"It's fine, it's fine," Artemis interrupted hastily, waving her hand. Her voice grew quieter and she looked at the ground pensively. "Wally told me."
"You fond of the kid?" Nelson suggested innocently. Artemis's head jerked back up.
"Ugh, no," she snapped. "Are you kidding? That's the upside of being trapped in this thing – no more Wally."
"Kid," Nelson said, and he stepped forward, putting a hand on her shoulder. Artemis had to resist the urge to leap away. "If you're going to be in here for as long as you might be, the best thing to start telling around our little campfire is the truth."
Artemis bit her lip and avoided his eyes, shifting from one foot to the other. He was smiling as if he comprehended everything.
"No need to at all, though," Kent Nelson appended, releasing her shoulder and stepping back. "There are things you gotta keep to yourself, after all."
"Um," Artemis muttered.
"I remember when you two came barging in here," Kent Nelson reminisced. "How long ago was that? Sorry; you lose count of the years in here."
"About a year ago," Artemis answered, not even needing to think. For some bizarre reason, she felt the need to add, "Wally's sixteen, uh, now."
Nelson nodded pensively. "Hmm. Right." He shot her a knowing look. "He gotten any better?"
"Are you kidding?" Artemis sputtered. "He's gotten worse. Everything's a pervy joke now, and he constantly eats three times his body weight in cheeseburgers, and he always talks with his mouth full, and he still won't shut up about M'gann even though she and Superboy have been going out for like a year, and he still makes kids cry because he says that Harry Potter isn't real, and he's still a total clod and an idiot and a pig and a pervert and a jerk and pompous and stubborn and—"
"Whoa, slow down there, girl!" Nelson exclaimed, throwing up his hands as if in surrender. He was laughing. "Ah, you remind me so much of my Inza. She was a real spitfire, that gal. Wouldn't let me get away with nothin'."
Artemis tried to slow her furiously beating heart, taking a breath after her tirade, and frowned up at her companion almost sheepishly.
"Believe me, though, I know exactly what you mean," Nelson assured her good-naturedly. "I only knew the kid for about twenty minutes, but he was a real blockhead. First-class."
"Oh my God, I know!" Artemis exploded, throwing her hands out. "Thank you! Ugh, he thinks that his 'professional' opinion is just of the highest goddamn order of everything!"
"Oh, absolutely." Nelson shook his head forlornly. "He just can't think about things any other way than the way he wants to."
"And he's always wrong!" Artemis shouted. "Magic is real! It's obvious! I mean, look at Nabu, for Christ's sake! Look at Klarion the Bitch Boy!" She froze. "Oh – I'm sorry, are you... okay with swearing?"
"Ah, Inza swore like a sailor. I don't mind it."
"Just..." Artemis's hands fell to her side in exasperation. "I just... he makes me so angry."
How's it goin', Megalicious? Have I mentioned you look especially volcanic today?
Man, that Megan is one gorgeous babe. I'd chase her skirt to the ends of the earth.
Yeah, Artemis, I'm sure the boys at school love your nasty temper and gross lips and creepy eyes! We'll continue this discussion later. Megan sighting at two-o'clock.
"I swear, sometimes I wish he'd just fall into a hole and stay there," she finished spitefully. "He's such a – ugh. He's such an ass."
"Ahhh, but you love him, right?" Kent Nelson said fondly, and he was doing that eye-twinkling think again, like freaking... Dumbledore or something. Artemis choked.
"No!" she yelled, and her voice cracked noticeably. "Are you insane? The only thing I'd love is if he spontaneously combusted in the middle of dinner!"
"You know, it's funny," Nelson continued wistfully as if he hadn't heard her. "When I first met my Inza, I thought she was the most disagreeable little slip of a thing that I'd ever met. We'd spend hours at parties just going at each other's throats. She would get on my case about everything, from the way I stood to the way I ate to the girls I chased. I used to think she was the worst creation made by man and I could never understand why I had to get stuck with her on my back. Then one day I woke up and I wanted to grow old with her. Funny, isn't it?"
Artemis softened in the wake of his story, shoulders loosening as she bowed her head and gazed contemplatively at the ground.
"Yeah," she agreed quietly. "It is."
"Would you like to see something really fantastic?" Nelson interrupted her introspection, and she jumped.
"Sure?" she replied hesitantly, fidgeting.
Nelson turned her around and gestured to the wide open black in front of them.
The darkness suddenly morphed into a scene in reality, and it felt as though Artemis was standing in the middle of it and watching just as she would if she were there.
Wally was right in front of her. She almost recoiled, but the desperate look on his face stopped her.
"You have to let her go!" he was yelling, and Artemis could hear echoes of sentences he was going to say before he said them, shifting and swelling behind his speech. "Nabu, please."
"You're just saying that because you don't want Nabu to be trapped with me," Artemis shouted as if he could hear her, but it seemed he didn't.
"No," a deep voice rumbled back, and it rattled in her throat though she wasn't speaking. "You promised me a year ago that you would find me a host forthwith, but you failed to keep your word. This girl will be your sacrifice for your error."
"Nabu." Artemis gasped. Wally's eyes were gleaming and wet. "I swear to God, I will do anything. You can take me. Just take me."
"Are you insane?" Artemis screamed. "Wally, don't be stupid! I'm fine! It's not your problem! I thought you'd be happy!"
"Your protests are fruitless, boy," Nabu murmured. "You suffer only because you were a fool."
"Nabu, please; she's the only..." His voice trailed off into a strained choking noise, and Robin stepped forward to put a hand on his shoulder.
"I'm the only what, Wally?" Artemis shrieked. "The only person you'd like to see eaten alive by vultures? The only girl you'd never go on a date with? The only person who shouldn't be on the Team? The only what, you stupid disgusting obnoxious... wonderf—"
She was so caught up in her tirade that she hadn't noticed the rapidly growing look of astonishment on Wally's face, and only when he croaked out her name did she stop herself, blinking. He was looking straight at her.
"She speaks," Nabu declared.
"Are you in there?" Wally shouted, stepping closer until he was centimeters from her – Nabu's? – eyes. "Artemis, can you hear me?"
"Unfortunately, yes," she snapped back, trying to conceal the wriggling smile swelling in the back of her throat. "Wally, just shut up and go home. I'll be okay."
"You will not," he insisted.
"I will be without you, that's for sure."
"Oh, please! You'd be lost without me, beautiful."
"Wally, if you call me that again, I'm going to have to throw up all over you; I'm sorry."
"God." She became motionless at the sudden forlorn tightness that his voice had taken on. "I miss you already. Isn't that horrible?"
"Your time with the girl is now ended," Nabu interrupted them very suddenly, and Artemis looked around wildly, reaching desperately toward the flickering sight of Wally in front of her.
"No!" she protested. "No, no, no; not yet! I didn't tell him he was an infuriating moron!"
She whirled toward Kent Nelson as if to beg him for guidance, going indignantly rigid at the still-present knowing smile on his worn face.
"Can't you—" she choked out. He shrugged and looked toward the heavens.
"Nabu," he called, sounding very bored. "You've made your decision, I trust?"
The Helmet of Fate suddenly materialized, floating down toward Artemis and Kent Nelson. Artemis gaped at it.
"Yes." Nabu's voice echoed sonorously through the vastness.
"No one ever said you weren't a sap, Nabu," Nelson said kindly to the Helmet. "You're just as bad as I am."
"I will not make another exception," Nabu murmured, and Artemis knew immediately that he meant it. "This is the last time you make a human out of me, Kent Nelson."
"All right, all right, you old curmudgeon," Nelson sighed, laughing. "And hey, I'll still be around."
"Indeed." A pause. "Girl."
"You are only leaving this place because I allow you to," Nabu stated very firmly, and she nodded.
"Yeah. I understand," she breathed. "And... thank you. Thanks."
Kent Nelson's hand was on her shoulder again.
"He'll wake up one of these days just like I did," he assured her. "Just be patient with the kid."
"You're asking a bit much," she joked.
He winked at her.
A celeritously brightening white light began to form around her ant Kent Nelson, and he raised a hand in good-bye.
"Twenty-three skiddoo, kiddo."
Artemis jerked back into consciousness, feeling the cold surface of the Helmet of Fate under her palms. She blinked, temporarily disoriented from the journey, and saw the faces of the Team all staring in bewilderment at her. Wally was still at the front of all of them, watching her with strained, rampant hopefulness.
"How's it going, Baywatch?" she snipped with a smirk. "Scored any girls while I was out?"
Wally's face – which, Artemis offhandedly noticed, was pale and drawn – seemed to unravel into raw relief, and he made a motion towards her with his arms half-raised as if to embrace her, but stopped.
She looked him in the eye. He looked back.
He straightened back up and extended his hand.
"Relatively decent to have you back, Artemis," he stated, and out of the corner of her eye, Artemis saw Robin drop his head into his hand.
"Yeah," she agreed, and ruffled his hair, causing him to yelp. "Next time, you're putting on the Helmet."
He smiled at her, and she was taken aback by the genuineness.
"Artemis," he said, and the way he looked at her made Artemis's chest brim with an emotion she couldn't describe, "I'm... I'm glad he let you go."
"Ugh, spare me the corniness, Wall-man."
"By the way," Wally mentioned on the ride back to the Cave, twisting in his seat to look at her behind him, "did you see Kent Nelson?"
"Yeah," Artemis answered.
"What'd he say?" Wally asked excitedly. "Did he mention me?"
Artemis rolled her eyes.
"Yep. And, uh, he was babbling about, like, spitfires or something?"
Wally's expression transformed at an inhuman speed from one of cockiness to one of sheer terror, and his face lost all color as he whipped back around. He didn't say a word to her for the rest of the trip.
It was the nicest damn trip ever.