Weakness and Strength

A/N: This takes place after "Secrets". At the time of this writing, it was the last aired episode. Trying to get back into fanfic writing. Years ago I wrote some Pokemon fics, and took pride in how in-character I was able to make them. I'm not back to that point yet, but I think I'll gradually get there.

"Are you sure you're ready for this?" Black Canary asked Artemis. The two of them were seated on stools at the counter of the Mount Justice kitchen. It had taken no small amount of coaxing to get her to this point.

"Yeah. Let's get it over with," the young archer replied. The team trainer truly believed that the confession Artemis was about to make was for the best.

"Remember, I'll be here, and so will Zatanna," Black Canary assured her young charge. Artemis and Zatanna, at Black Canary's suggestion, had spent several hours together the day before. During that time, Artemis confessed everything to her newest friend, and she had to admit, it had helped. Zatanna had been genuinely concerned about her ever since their disastrous "girls' night out" several weeks previously. While Artemis appreciated this, it had still taken some convincing on Black Canary's part to get her to spill her secrets, even to Zatanna alone. It had been practice, in a sense. Now she was about to tell the whole team, and even though Zatanna already knew, she insisted on being there for moral support.

Everyone had been sparring in the gym, Zatanna included, but the two blondes had excused themselves early so that Artemis could have a chance to psych herself up. Presently, she heard the unmistakable chatter of her friends as they made their way to the kitchen area. Artemis moved to the half-circle of couches and easy chairs that surrounded the cave's giant TV, while Black Canary stood up to face the other teenagers, as had been arranged.

"Everyone, I would like you all to have a seat over there with Artemis please. She would like to talk to you all," announced their trainer. Confusion registered on the faces of Kaldur, Connor, M'gann, Wally, and Robin, but they did as they were told. Zatanna sat on Artemis' left, Black Canary on her right.

Artemis leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees, and began wringing her hands nervously. Finally she said, "Guess I'll start simple. Artemis...is actually my real first name. Last name is Crock. I'm not Green Arrow's niece." Anxiously, she looked from one of her teammates to the other. All were paying rapt attention, but Artemis was slightly concerned to notice that only Connor, M'gann, and Wally looked surprised. Kaldur's and Robin's faces were unchanged.

"At this point," Black Canary cut in gently, "Artemis has asked me to request that nobody say anything until she is finished. Does everyone understand?" Everyone nodded slightly, so Artemis continued.

Everything then came spilling out. Her father's identity, her mother's former life, then she started to explain about the training. That was the hardest part, and her throat was beginning to dry up. Zatanna handed her a glass of water, which she accepted gratefully. After taking a long drink, she continued. "He used to force me to hit bullseye after bullseye until my hand bled from pulling the bowstring so much. Then, he'd make me switch hands. That's why I can shoot with either hand. Anytime I missed...he'd hit me."

"No!" M'gann exclaimed. She knew she was supposed to wait, but she just couldn't. "How could he do that to his own daughter?"

Artemis lifted her eyes from staring at the floor and shook her head slowly, still not making eye contact with anyone. "That wasn't even the worst of it. There was also the agility training. He used to shoot arrows and rocks at me and challenge me to dodge them all." To the unasked question, she responded, "I had no way to escape. He would always have armed henchmen there with orders to shoot if I tried anything. After that, his henchmen would drop their guns and it was time for combat training. If I could fight my way past all of them, I would get supper." She couldn't bring herself to mention what happened if she failed.

"He'd call me weak. Constantly. If I missed a bullseye, I was weak. If I couldn't dodge every single object he threw, I was weak. Didn't take long before I believed it myself." For the next few hours, Artemis continued to recount horrible stories such as these, to the continuing shock of her teammates. Sometimes they would offer expressions of support, but generally they respected her wish to get everything off her chest at once. At one point she said, "And then, even after Mom got out of prison, even after she got him to move out, even after I joined the team and felt myself growing stronger...when I was...weak enough to get myself killed in that training simulation...I couldn't help but think that he was right."

"No!" Wally exclaimed. It was the first time he'd spoken since everyone had sat down. An exceedingly rare occurrence for him. "Don't you ever say that! Listen, I'm honestly not sure how that scumbag is still alive. I mean if I had to put up with all that crap, I would've..." Wally trailed off and unclenched his fists, barely managing to stop himself from saying something that might get him in trouble later. "Look, you went through all of that and yet still you didn't turn out like him. You went through all of that and you just...you endured. I really admire that. I mean, if all that isn't a show of some incredible inner strength, I don't know what is. Superman's got nothing on you. You are the strongest person I know."

Artemis couldn't believe her ears. That was easily the nicest thing anyone had ever said to her. And of all people, it was Wally who said it. The same Wally who...ah, forget it. Casting that thought aside, she suddenly sprang up from the couch and wrapped the team's speedster in a bear hug. "Thank you," she whispered in his ear.

"I meant every word," he gasped in reply, "but seriously...can't...breathe!"