All the cool kids are doing it! Unfortunately, I am not a cool kid. This is all part of my disguise.
La nuite blanche: literally, "the white night." Idiomatically, "a sleepless night."
Prompted by Cloaks and Daggers. Artemis: Aftermath.
Artemis lies awake, wide-eyed and sore, until the dawn, just to listen to the sound of her heart palpitating in her chest. It's a stupid thing to do, she knows, and the most logical action would be to just get over it, but when she sleeps, the skies of her dreams turn scarlet and ignite; and she is running through the snow with a clawing desperation but she doesn't know where she's going, and then she is alight with a consuming but dazzling agony and she's dead, and her heart is quiet and cold.
The first piece of indispensable advice that her father had given her had been, when she was five, to "never fear dying; just avoid it." The primary thing she had ever learned, and she forgot it. Or perhaps, terrifyingly, she ignored it.
Get inside. I'm almost there.
She had needed to force herself to keep from screaming get inside aloud, with every fluttering fiber in her lungs, because – they needed to go; they needed to stay alive, and if she was their best shot at doing that, she didn't mind. She had run toward them trying to convince herself that she had every intention of making it, but a scrambling, clawing feeling in her gut had told her that she wouldn't. When M'gann had shrieked at her to look out behind her and she had whirled around with muscles readily tensed, she had thought, almost dissonantly, that this was the sort of thing that friends did for each other – this was the sort of thing that she would do for the Team that she had sworn she wouldn't get attached to.
And maybe, she had been calmly thinking as she felt her bones dissolve into the winter, it wasn't supposed to be something she regretted. M'gann's telepathic link with the Team had filled her head with an overwhelming, rapidly swelling clatter of terror and imminent grief, and she kept the screams of pain out of her mind and out of theirs, because they weren't supposed to remember her crying.
She'd had such a lovely skeleton.
Wally feels disgusted with himself for recalling such a queer detail about Artemis's death (there are no quote marks to lighten the consequence of that word in conjunction with her name), but the image of her spine and ribs and collarbone flickering backwards, spread-eagled against the wide virginal whiteness, is an imprint on his mind, like a thumb pressing into his hippocampus. He recalls the last remnant of her on the world, bow and arrow already gone; he closes his eyes and sees her head dropping back, as if she is looking to the sky, and her jaw hangs apart as though she is screaming (or perhaps singing), and then, as if she is part of the snow itself, she is gone.
Artemis is gone.
Wally remembers that she didn't make a sound. He wonders what she would have said if she'd had the chance – would she say good-bye? Would she say not to worry? Would she say that she was sorry? Would she thank them? Would she condemn them? Eventually, he quells the presumption that she would want to say anything at all – had she known, as she had turned toward the ship, that she couldn't conceivably hit it fast enough to stop the beam? Had she—
Is it selfish to wonder if, out of all of the people she could have spoken to, she would have called out to him?
There had been nothing but a coagulating, wresting rage in his chest, then – a horrendous inability to want, to hope, to rationalize. When he had thought that Artemis had merely been teleported to another location, he had been certain that he would physically wrestle aside every alien in the galaxy to reach her, and no matter how exhausted he would be or how much he would bleed, he would still have the strength to help her to her feet and – and nod inscrutably at her and chastise her for not being more careful.
But that impossibly unbridled faith had rapidly crumbled, because Robin had found no traces of anyone on the mothership, and maybe Wally had known all along that she was an empty ghost in the irrational part of his mind – maybe he had known, even before he had shouted her name in anguish as if she would suddenly materialize and yell at him to be quiet, that there had been something very important that he would never be able to tell her.
He tries to convince himself after they have all returned to breathing in the waking world that his throbbing desolation had been only an extension of M'gann's turbulent consciousness. She had made him care about Artemis, manipulated him into—
He doesn't know what he had decided he felt about Artemis when the disintegration beam had reduced him to a glowing white ash. He had realized something, something raw and inconsolable. He had thrown his arms out as if he would see her and she would accommodate him in the vast whiteness of death, and his fingertips had deliquesced into dripping blue embers and she hadn't seemed so bad. She hadn't seemed bad at all; the sight of his memory of her face – high cheekbones and chewed lips and narrowed eyes and twisting blonde hair and achingly prominent clavicle – had distracted him enough to make him forget that he and Robin were burning into nothingness and that nothing mattered.
He had been jerked out of the apocalypse and there she had been, glowering murderously at the floor, as still as she had been when she had burned before his eyes, and he wishes that he could think and feel like M'gann so that he could have breathed in the essence of her existence and let it rest in his mind until it bled into the corners and stayed there like paint.
He had wanted to touch her face, her elbows, her veins, her knees, her shoulders. He had wanted to hold her, and what did that mean? What had changed? He thinks maybe a part of him knows and is just refusing to remind him.
He would have given anything to enter the mothership and see her, dazed but awake and waiting for him to sweep her up as he had in Bialya and run toward the rim of the sky with her. And yet, the idea of speaking to her now, as she sits alone at the kitchen table with her head in her palms and her shoulders rising and falling hollowly, seems so much more frightening than watching her die, because he doesn't know what to say. He has already said the epitome of a good-bye, and now he has to say hello again, and he doesn't know where to start, because they can't begin with "Wall-man" or "Baywatch" or "what exactly are your powers" anymore.
Wally goes to the fridge, takes out an apple, and walks rapidly away, his fingernails sore and bitten as he clutches the bruised fruit. He leaves her there, alone and shuddering, and chucks the apple out the window, over the harbor, so hard that his shoulder almost dislocates.
Artemis blames herself, if you want the truth. If she hadn't been a fool; if she hadn't surrendered to the inexorable brimming of sentimentality, of nobility, M'gann would not have encroached them all in her distraught misery, and they would have gone down as a Team, together, hand-in-hand and fist-against-fist, and she could have maybe said a proper (albeit feigned) good-bye to them as they did the same to her. Unity. Bravery. Patience and evenness and determination. These things come in waves, reminding her of the stumbling fool she was, and she vows to never allow herself to love anything the way she loves her Team.
She knows that there is no reneging from her ferocious loyalty to her teammates (the word, the idea of them, swims through her whole torso and warms her), but the knowledge of that loyalty terrifies her. Attachment has never been her forte, and the Team has a flawless dynamic even without her present – they had done so much and so well while she was dead; they had forged on and mourned her silently and concentrated on the human race like the heroes they were, and where had she been? Floating indolently in a silent abyss until they had woken her up (she had been retching even before she became conscious).
M'gann comes to her one night and puts her hands on either side of the archer's head and sobs as she conveys the crippling grief that they had all felt after she had perished so quietly, so indifferently; and Artemis nearly collapses under the weight of Wally's despondency and fury and regret. When M'gann has finished, she takes Artemis in her arms and embraces her and weeps without reprieve, begging Artemis to forgive her; Artemis pats her on the head and rubs her back and wonders what she could have done to deserve any of this, because she has killed people and stolen things and hated and been bitter and unforgiving and has been everything that they fight against.
"I'm sorry," she mumbles to all of them in turn after a time, her eyelashes low and her arms folded. "I'm so sorry for not being fast enough. I won't – it won't happen again."
(And maybe she is wrong, maybe she is lying, but for now she means it, because she will protect them no matter what the circumstance, however shameful that may be.)