Disclaimer: I do not own Young Justice
A/N: This is NOT the side-fic accompanying A Lingering Feeling.
For itshellarush on Tumblr
Christmas wasn't Artemis's most celebrated holiday, but she wasn't without her traditions. One in particular constantly baffled her teammates, especially Wally, who—after a painstakingly long year of drowning in rivers of cliché idioms—finally admitted his "unmanly and sappy" feelings for her, and suddenly grew a heightened sense of curious protectiveness over his girl.
And he never understood why every Christmas morning, Artemis would insist on hiking the forest trails on the outskirts of Gotham City for an hour, only to arrive in a bland clearing, and then stand still for another hour. The speedster had attempted all shades from his arsenal of pleas—everything from his emerald-eyed-smolder to refusing to be her teddy-bear at night. However, no creative weaponry of his ever dented her silent resolve, and he finally admitted this was one enigmatic lock he would never have the key to.
Ever since Wally had saved her that one mission—while endangering his own life, that stupid basket-case—Artemis had been like the slow-but-sure proverbial turtle and opened up all her secrets and wounds. Some were jagged and bled when the stitches were ripped open, causing instant pain and regret, but Wally had been surprisingly understanding and kissed her cuts and bruises until they magically sealed again. He learned about her past, her ties of kin, and every reason for her intended lies—but he was beyond the point of letting those boulders prevent him from his uphill climb to her heart. He walked past them, and realized that the bizarre gray rocks only made the majestic mountain all the more beautiful.
But the one stone that Artemis never revealed to Wally was her past with Cameron Mahkent, also known as Icicle Jr. She didn't keep that solitaire secret hidden for fear of Wally's reaction; it was tucked inside the most private chamber of her heart because she wanted to keep the memories to herself. When she decoded a past mystery with Wally, it no longer became hers—it was his as well. But this enigma—these memories of Cameron—was something dark that she wanted to keep in its entirety.
And every year she would honor the anniversary of their friendship by returning to the clearing of their first encounter. She had been only thirteen; he was fifteen, and they had gotten to know each other not through kind words and gestures, but with flying fists and livid eyes.
Back when her father was still training her, Artemis's Sundays were methodic and regular—she would wake up at the pastel breaking of dawn to drive to the nearest forest with her father, and undergo hours of meticulous training. They would return home late in the afternoon, and silently await the beginning of the school-week.
There was nothing special—no sprinkles decorated this cake—everything was plain vanilla and predictable as a lackluster recipe.
But that wintry Christmas morning, Fate decided Artemis Crock's life was too monotonous, and dumped that slice of boring cake into a mug of steaming hot chocolate in the form of Cameron.
Her quick eyes quickly registered them when she pushed through the forest and emerged in the large clandestine clearing reserved for sparring sessions and target practice. She saw an older man wearing a permanent scowl etched into his frosted visage, and a teenage boy whose smirk contrasted his father's like fire to ice. The boy's hair mimicked the feathery new snow on the ground and, as she approached them, seemed to share its same downy softness, if she ever dared touch it. His skin was an interesting ashen gray, like the clouds above, and those eyes that never left hers mirrored the glinting slices of sky that would shine fleetingly between the swirling ghostly mists high above. He was attired in dark jeans and a sleeveless shirt, clearly unaffected by the nipping bites of cold. His smirk never evanesced with his frosty puffs of breaths, like he thoroughly believed he was king of this winter wonderland.
Artemis's father curtly nodded at the older man.
"Joar," he gruffly acknowledged him. "Glad to see you could finally make it."
"Likewise, Lawrence," replied the other man, never erasing his stony frown. "This is Cameron." He jutted his head at the boy next to him. Knowing her father never cared to ever take such initiative, Artemis introduced herself.
"Artemis," she stated firmly, staring intensely into Cameron's flickering blue eyes. It was obvious why he was here—this wasn't a play-date; it was a sparring challenge.
She saw Joar give the briefest nod before walking away, and felt her father also leave her side. Cameron uncrossed his arms and stared at the retreating men in uncertainty. He turned back to Artemis and observed her unfolding her compound bow with intrigue.
"Wait, no rules?" he wondered out-loud.
She stared unemotionally at him.
"Just one," she answered: "Don't lose."
Cameron's smirk grew larger, and he took a step back. He stretched out his arms and they instantly transformed into two pillars of steel-blue ice, his fingers growing into tapering claws. His face also sharpened into carvings of ice, but the same spark remained in his eyes.
Artemis allowed herself to express the slightest hint of surprise by elevating a single eyebrow.
"Well, this just got more interesting," she remarked coolly.
Cameron winked at her.
"Don't lose," he repeated with a grin.
She narrowed her eyes and tightened her grip on her bow.
"I never lose," she snapped back.
She turned and kicked through the snow, making her way into the center of the field. Cameron remained by the edge, but slowly circled the around until he allowed some distance between himself and his father. The stories he heard about Artemis and her fighting skills made him wary of his father's impending vexation, and he wished to have no part in seeing it.
Artemis stopped in the middle of the clearing and turned around to measure the distance between her and Cameron. The ice on his body glowed like a misplaced jewel against the backdrop of shadowy trees blanketed in brilliant white. She didn't know what his powers were—she didn't need to know. She excelled at impromptu combat.
Like a bolt of lightning, she snatched an arrow from her quiver and fired it towards Cameron's mid-section. She watched as his arm magically thickened into a pillar of ice and intercepted her shot with a roar of smoke and sparks. As he lowered his arm, he flung his other arm forward and ice-shards the size of oil canisters tore through the air at her. She simultaneously loosened three explosive arrows and broke the blocks of ice into a flurry of hail. She had missed the last shard of ice, but she launched herself skyward and kicked it underneath her, running across its length and driving it into the ground with an explosion of white crystals.
Artemis shot another arrow in mid-air at Cameron and it split into a bola, swiftly wrapping itself around his legs. He pitched sideways with sharp crunch and confetti of snow, but he rapidly formed a sharp blade of ice and sliced through the ropes, and staggered upright just as Artemis charged at him.
She whipped through the air with a spinning heel kick, its full thrust crashing into Cameron's chest and he staggered backwards. She barked in satisfaction, but as she moved in to engage, he rapidly returned a back-fist. Her eyes widened and she bent backwards to avoid his blow, feeling the air rush past her nose as his frozen knuckles flew by. She straightened and swung her bow viciously forward and he leaped away from her. But in one fluid motion, he executed a scissor-kick and knocked the weapon from her hands. Her eyes briefly followed its path through the air, but she ignored its muffled collision into the snow. Her fists could serve as much damage as any gleaming metal alloy.
Cameron cocked his head from side to side and the sockets in his neck bones cracked like haughty gunshots.
"Losing already?" he goaded her, and they started circling around each other like lion and gladiator in an arena of hushed cheering.
"You wish," she threw back. "I'm just warming up."
"Warming up?" He tossed his head back and laughed. "More like freezing up."
"Oh, aren't you the hilarious one! Remind me to never forget you and your stupid jokes after I beat you to a pulp!"
Cameron flashed a grin and suddenly sprung towards her with a barrage of punches—jab, jab, cross, hook—and each shielded by her raised arms and glowering expression. He suddenly paused for a fraction of a second, and her arms twitched and separated briefly. He saw this opening and slipped in a thundering overhand directed at her face. She twisted away, but not before his blow caught her above her left eye.
And suddenly, the tigress lunged out of her cage.
Artemis exploded into a combination of roundhouse kicks, channeling every heated flame of wrath through her muscles and into Cameron's torso. Each kick caused him to stumble backwards, and in one vulnerable moment, he glanced behind him to steady his footfall. Her eyes sparked, and she tackled him, slamming him face-down into the snow. She twisted his arms painfully against his back and smashed her knee into his head.
"You…lose," she sneered through quick breaths of silver clouds.
She was surprised to hear a muffled laugh vibrate through his body and the surrounding snow. He twisted his face and a dark sapphire orb met hers.
"You've never suffered defeat in front of your dad, have you?" He saw her eyes flash, and that was the only answer he desired. "And you knew you had a chance of losing when I caught your pretty little eye."
Artemis's only response was a snarl as she tightened her fingers around his wrist. Cameron winced, but his expression remained confident.
"Tell you what Kitten; I'll accept defeat, but only on one condition."
She snorted, and narrowed her eyes.
"I don't normally toy around with my prey, but go ahead, humor me."
He smiled and the sharp canine of his teeth glowed against his pale lips.
"Go on a date with me."
She had accepted only for the sake of amusement, but he had taken her word to heart and arrived at her house that evening with a disguise of winter clothes and an iron chain of persistence.
"You're stubborn," she stated coldly after she opened the front door.
"What can I say," he shrugged and gestured his palm upwards in smugness, "I enjoy the thrill of the chase."
Artemis stared at his expression of pretentiousness with half-lidded eyes.
"Maybe I should let you go back to chasing then," she responded, slightly exasperated. She grabbed the edge of the door and made a move to swing it shut.
"But," Cameron interjected, placing a firm hand on the door, "I enjoy your presence even more." He smiled. "Come on. Let's grab some hot cocoa—my treat."
"That's not a very convincing argument."
"Sounds to me like the pot is calling the kettle black."
Artemis narrowed her eyes. She saw herself in him—his strong will, his subtle charm, his inquisitiveness of where he belonged in this crazy world…
"Touché. I'll grab my coat then. But," she paused and tilted her face upwards and pointed a finger at him, "only because hot cocoa sounds good right now."
Cameron closed his eyes and shrugged again, this time in a "whatever you say" kind of way.
The hot cocoa was warm and just the perfect tone of sweet to contrast the peppery conversations passerby overheard when they scooted their way between Artemis and Cameron's table and the small hallway to the restrooms.
"So do you want to see just how stubborn I can be?" His flirty grin never left his features, and seemed to have been permanently tattooed onto his personality.
"Humor me," she replied dryly for the second time that day, hugging her mug of cocoa with both hands.
"How 'bout we upgrade from hot cocoa to lunch sometime?"
She curtly laughed and lowered her mug.
"All this just because I beat you in a sparring match?"
"Now now, let's not get too full of ourselves."
"You're not making this much of a challenge, are you?" She leaned forward. "At this rate, I'm going to have you wrapped around my pinky by the end of the week."
"Just your pinky?" He winked.
She recoiled and snorted.
"I can have you wrapped around the ground again."
"Guess I have to somehow tame a tigress without getting mauled, huh."
She raised her cup of cocoa into the air as if in a toast.
"Good luck with that. These claws never stay sheathed."
"Well if it means getting to see you, you can use me as your scratching-postany day."
"These fangs are also always thirsty for blood."
"Then bite me."
Cameron couldn't be intimidated by Artemis's sharp remarks, and that slightly unnerved her if she dared pay attention to her quivering emotions. She glared at him, and then suddenly laughed.
"So you're saying that being attracted to this beautifully fierce tigress in front of me is insane?"
"But really, that's all anyone ever needs: someone who sees the psycho that you are, and likes you anyway."
"I never said I like the psycho that you are."
He looked at her square in the eye and at that moment, she knew this was a rabbit hole she wasn't climbing out of.
"Challenge accepted," he declared.
He was arrogant, wild, and fiery, and she was challenging, unswayable, and cold. Together they found that his fire could melt her frozen shell, and she alone could quench his thirst.
They lived in their own winter wonderland for an entire year, and he was so many of her firsts—her first date, her first kiss, her first hand to take…
But too much snow can soon turn picturesque mountains into avalanches, and he was also her first heartbreak.
"You lied to me!"
"Did not! I told you I was going out with some friends, and she's just a friend!"
"I don't know about you, but I don't normally go around making out with people who are just friends!"
"I did not 'make out' with her!"
"Oh, and what were you doing then? Giving her mouth-to-mouth after she drowned in your arms?"
"Tell me the truth Cam, how long has this been going on for?"
"Frankly that's none of your—"
"None of my business? None of my business? It's damn well all of my business since you're my boyfriend and I'm your girlfriend and you have been cheating on me, and I demand to know how long you've been going at it!"
"And if I tell you, what exactly are you going to do, Kitten? Shove one of your little arrows into me?"
"…You're dirt. I'm done."
"Wait! Kitten, I can—"
In the days and weeks following their heated argument and her heated heartbreak, Cameron attempted everything to lasso her back into his embrace again. But none of his explanations—however valid and supported by alibis—or sweet gestures could unlock the stone chest that held the shattered pieces of her heart.
She never wanted to play the fool ever again.
But that was before he sacrificed himself to save her, and the Team.
And the one image that would be forever carved into her memory like the etchings on his marble gravestone were those eyes that always reminded her of reflections of the sky in asphalt rain puddles after the clouds cleared burning into hers with longing and regret, and absent of any promise for a clear sunrise. He then finally uttered the words he had waited far too long to say, and will never say again: "Artemis, forgive me."
Suddenly, she only wanted to pry the relentless hands on the clock back until the razor edges cut into her flesh. She knew she had been wrong for not forgiving Cameron. And when she saw him standing valiantly with gritted teeth against the breaking pressure of the mountain, she realized that Icicle Jr. was truly never a villain—he was a hero that had lost his way in the dark.
And Artemis could have been his one and only torchlight if only she had given him a second chance.
The crimes he committed weren't by choice—his heart was never a mirror image of the ice flowing through his body. His only desire that permeated his childhood was to be regarded as a worthy son; to be loved by his own father. The dream of seeing his father beam with pride at his own son blinded Cameron's sight from all his terrible sins.
Love is the most dangerous of all emotions—from its blood-red petals drips fetid pools of heartbreak and war, and sometimes the loss of one's soul in the quest for simple fatherly affection.
But love is also a towering beacon that can never fade, and lights all lost ships through hurricanes into the dock of solid land and redemption.
Cameron had made a mistake, but he had never stopped caring for Artemis, and he gave her the most hauntingly beautiful token of affection—his life in exchange for hers.
And now he was gone, and no matter how long she stood in the forest clearing on the anniversary of their friendship, Cameron was not going to saunter through the shadows of the forest and greet her with his famous smirk and outstretched arms.
A gust of wind whipped past and she wrapped her arms around herself. She looked down at the snow and briefly wondered if she started crying, whether her tears would freeze before they fell to the ground.
Or whether they would remain on her lashes as junior icicles.
She shut her eyes and a painful shiver coursed through her veins, but suddenly the air around her vibrated and she felt strong arms embrace her. She sighed and burrowed her face into the soft folds of a jacket that permeated with a scent more familiar than her own.
"Arty, why won't you tell me what's wrong," Wally breathed into her hair.
"I told you to stop calling me that," she mumbled back, attempting to hide her vulnerability behind a lighthearted whine. Nonetheless, she circled her arms around his torso and grabbed onto the folds of his jacket, pretending that by anchoring herself to him, her emotions would also remain steady.
"Oh, I will," he teased, and then added more softly, "but only if you tell me what's wrong."
He lowered his forehead to hers and tenderly wiped away the tears framing her lashes with his thumb. Her eyes fluttered open and she allowed herself to lose her thoughts in those searching green eyes before finally realizing that above all else—even above his want for his father's acceptance—Cameron only wished for three things: her forgiveness, her happiness, and for his story to be told—for his life not to have been lived and taken away in vain.
Artemis slowly brought her slender fingers to the back of Wally's neck, and their lips drew together like two compasses finding north. Her eyes softly drifted closed again. She felt a snowflake tickle past her eyelashes, and she pulled away with a barely audible laugh. She opened her eyes and found Wally staring at her with a mixture of perplexity and tender amusement.
She took his hand and turned back to the forest path, and as they walked away from the clearing, Artemis began Cameron's story.
"Exactly five years ago, I met a boy. His name was Cameron, and he was my friend…"
The following year on Christmas morning, the forest clearing remained silent and pristine. No footsteps pocketed its smooth white skin of snow, and no mournful sighs waltzed dolefully through the billowing manes of frost…
But maybe if you close your eyes and really concentrate, you can hear the faintest whispers carried by phantom flurries of snow…
"You wish. I'm just warming up."
"Warming up? More like freezing up."
"Oh, aren't you the hilarious one! Remind me to never forget you and your stupid jokes…"