Summary: You can only take what you can carry.
Author's Note: Spelling errors fixed. Thanks for all the kind reviews!
The world was foggy, and try as she might, she couldn't expel the foul smell of fire from her senses. Had the rest of the smoke not been madly banging relentlessly on the ceiling above her, she would have sworn all of it was hacking away at her from inside her lungs. She could imagine it within of her, choking out the fresh air from her very being as she retched again; trying to force whatever clean air there was down her throat. Mounds of it, piles of billowing wisps of smoke and ash, were being swept just above his head and pressing upwards to the sky. There shouldn't have been a sky…She was inside.
She'd heard a bang. A bang before her world had turned to smoldering ash. But she couldn't focus too much on the then, her thoughts was solely centered on the immediate dangers, the now.
Artemis covered her mouth as she coughed again, ignoring the protest of burning in her silver eyes so she could look around the room.
The fire alarm systems were screaming, adding chaos to the already hectic scene before her. Everywhere, everywhere, she looked, there were flames. Roaring fierce and hungry like a lion, they growled at her, eyes of glowing ember and manes of tussled flames. They lashed out at the archer like the raging claws of angry flames that they were. Artemis leapt back, her back hitting a wall just behind her, her hands smacking flat against it, her stomach heaving while she fought for breathe.
She had to escape.
She simply had to get away, free herself from this fiery pit, where evident death awaited with a cruel smile emanating from the blaze around her.
But the fumes of toxic gas where too powerful, too intense, and she felt herself growing dizzy. Black spots were starting to fleck her vision.
She dropped to her hands and knees, trying to pinpoint the warehouse's exit door, but she knew she was growing shaky. She couldn't think. Thoughts were slow. Muddled. But then again, so was breath.
Just as her gaze settled on the room's steel latched door, her vision blurred into a sea of red and black.
He thought he'd gotten all the bombs. He…he had. He'd been so sure. He'd held them all in his arms, tight and secure, as he had run them off and dropped them somewhere out in an ocean miles away. He'd had minutes to spare. Not seconds, not milliseconds, or anything reckless like that. No. Minutes. That was forever in speedster terms.
He'd left the team in a good mood, everyone feeling pretty victorious after practically wiping the floor with one of Gotham's villains. Sure, it'd been Penguin, and all. But the dude had still set up shop in Gotham, and that meant he had a bad bone or two. So what if it had only been a smuggling scam? It still had felt good catching him.
They'd been tying up the rich creep when he'd casually mentioned the bombs he'd placed in case anyone caught on to him. The bombs that were directly beneath the warehouse they were in. Granted, Penguin admitted calmly, he was supposed to be long gone by the time they went off, and that was the only reason he had brought it up – he wanted out.
The team had acted with speed that could have rivaled the League's. It hadn't taken very long for Artemis to get the needed information from the crook or for Robin to run a radiation scan, and it had taken even less time for Aqualad and Superboy to dig their way to the bombs. Then Miss Martian had levitated all of the deadly devices into Kid Flash's arms and he'd run. He had made it too.
He had had the dangerous job, he'd thought.
He'd carried the bombs miles and miles away.
Not her. Not Artemis. She hadn't done the risky work.
All the bombs. Or…or at least they'd – he'd – thought.
A flash of anger.
She wasn't even supposed to be going back in. Artemis had no business going in.
If she'd just stayed with the team, she wouldn't have been in the warehouse. She wouldn't have been inside when some undiscovered explosive had gone off. She wouldn't be inside that forest of flames.
Wally turned towards Robin, forgetting how winded he was from running so fast. Forgetting he'd just run halfway around the world and back.
"Why was she even in there?" Wally asked, eyes wide and as he frantically gestured to what was once a fairly well maintained warehouse.
Robin cleared his throat, and that's when he noticed the pained expression on the little bird's face.
"S-She, I don't…" Robin looked back to the towering mass of fire and then turned away quickly, looking sick, "She was just double checking. Just making sure we got everything. All the money. All the people out." Robin coughed a little, his throat dry and his voice strained.
"Kid Flash, the building was supposed to be safe." Aqualad informed the speedster from behind him, a webbed hand finding its way onto his shoulder, the gesture a comforting one and his voice somber, laced with sadness, but calm.
Wally shrugged the shoulder off harshly, shaking his head.
Megan flinched at the sudden surge of raw emotion that sprang from Wally, pain and dread tinged with anger.
"Wally…" she said in a reassuring tone, her eyes wide and caring, filled to the brim with understanding. False understanding, as she went on, "I'm so sorry, but I can't sense her-"
"Don't even say it." The redhead snapped, earning a quick flash of hurt in the Martian's eyes. Superboy's mouth tipped downward into a frown, but he only glared and took M'gann's hand.
Wally didn't pay any attention though. Instead, his gaze was locked on the flames.
The explosion hadn't been that long ago, and he thought he could pick out a few spots where the flames hadn't totally devoured the structure.
There was a chance.
"I'm going to look for her." He said simply, pulling down his goggles and mashing them sternly over his eyes.
The reaction of the team was immediate, cries of disagreement and orders to remain where he was – but he was already moving by the time the word's left his friend's lip.
She has to be okay, Wally thought desperately, She promised.
It'd been after the simulation.
Wally had been sitting quietly on the coach. Artemis had been reading a thick book on the other end.
He hadn't meant to, honestly he hadn't. But the silence was killing him, and unprocessed feelings had been sitting inside him to long. This had been there chance to escape. And so they did.
Artemis looked up, but he could tell by her expression that she wasn't yet sure if this was an attack. She'd gone the safest route, "We all did."
Then, the emotions had come out, and Wally had stood up and pointed at her as though in accusation.
"But we had to watch it!" Wally protested before his voice had dropped an octave or two, "I had to watch you die."
Artemis had narrowed her eyes, then her expression had softened as she realized this was not the time for their usual banter, "Yeah, but that was just a simulation."
"It could have been real."
"No it couldn't. I won't ever let anything like that happen. I promise."
Wally sat down. He'd said more than he'd wanted to, and he hadn't even said that much.
"You can't know that." The redhead had muttered, his gaze falling to the floor, tracing the lines of his shoes.
"Shut it, West." Artemis had dismissed before adding confidently, "I never break a promise."
Her smirk had returned, and then tension had left the room, allowing room for the teasing to start again. Which it did, like always.
"I never break a promise."
Wally broke through the flames, were the skeletal remains of the double-door entrance had been. His heat-resistant suit blocked most of the heat, but he still felt a sting before a minor first-degree burn formed on the one patch on his neck that his forearm hadn't guarded him from when he'd jumped through.
He unshielded his face, his arms falling into a defensive position to his sides while his goggle-covered eyes swept around the space.
He was in the inferno, the ground dominated by fire and the sky by a vast cloud of stacked up smoke that swirled and danced through the air like crazed and burning angels. It was terrifying and beautiful all at once, and Wally was transfixed for a few milliseconds before his brain returned to him and he started moving again. Carefully though, watching his steps to make sure he didn't walk – or run – through little pockets of baby bonfires that huddled on the wooden ground beneath him.
The fire alarms had long since stopped, though he knew they'd been on at one point because he passed the remains of a charred one, the glowing red warning light still on though dimming, as though trying to warn others of its fate.
However, Wally ignored it, simply stepping over it, somehow not having the heart to push it into the starving flames even though it would help clear the way for a later time. Silly, but thought did not linger in such insignificant places.
The smoke was almost intolerable, but he was a speedster and the toxins passing through his lungs and working them out of his system only a tad slower than he could pump them out. It made him feel sick to his stomach, and he couldn't do it forever, but he had time. He had a chance.
Artemis had a chance.
No, not a chance – a guarantee. A chance implied she might not make it, and that was not a possibility. She'd promised.
"Artemis!" Wally called, rather shocked to find his voice had grown scaly with his breaths of the contaminated air. It didn't matter anyway, because no one answered him. There was only him and the sound of snarling flames.
"Artemis!" Wally called again, but this time with his mind.
But all he could feel were the rest of his team, waiting for him on the other side.
"Kid Flash, get out of there. You getting hurt is not an option. Come back out and wait for the League. They'll be here soon and if anyone can find her it's them." He heard the Atlantian reason from inside his mind.
"No. No, it'll be too late by then. She's here, and I'll find her." Wally assured before backing out and leaving the rest of his friends to call out to him in vain. But he wasn't coming out, not without Artemis. He wasn't going to give up like them. He wasn't going to wait until it was too late.
Wally shook himself and moved forward, extinguishing a small flame that started on his red hair with a hand absent mindedly, pulling back a charred lock of hair that messed his glove and left a line of telling black. But he kept moving.
Suddenly he heard a crack that didn't belong to the crackling and snarling flames, and he shot his head up to witness a once sturdy support beam cringe before giving a last mighty groan. He moved before he thought, launching himself forewords to escape the falling mass.
His shoulder hit the ground flat, pain shooting up him warningly as his eyes flew to watch the flaming support beam hit the ground dangerously close to him. As it was, he pulled up his foot to see that his specially designed reinforced boots had started to melt at the bottom.
He pulled himself to his feet, a little sweaty. The beam was luckily not blocking the way, though he could tell it wouldn't be an easy way to escape.
"Well…I really hope that's not the way we go." Wally mumbled.
He turned to face his current room, and bit his lips.
All flames, save one window near the back. The room was large though, probably a main storage room before it became a fire haven.
That's when he saw it.
A spark of green, however dim with ash, amongst this vast expanse of burning reds, oranges, yellows, and blacks. A little lump of green surrounded by a yellow curtain of hair that was still nice to look at, despite it being singed in numerous places.
"Artemis!" Wally cried out, diving down next to her, not even realizing he had moved until his hands found their way to her neck.
Her eyes, they were closed. Her face was slack. Her body limp.
"Artemis!" Wally yelled, his voice suddenly frantic as he did something you should never do to an unconscious person – he shook her shoulders, pleading in his eyes.
No, no, no, no, no.
"Come on!" the speedster demanded, "Yell at me, call me names!"
He set her down, placing his hands against her chest where her heart would be.
"Tell me I'm a moron!"
He pushed down like Batman had taught him in First Aid. Get her heart pumping.
"Glare at me!"
"Shoot me with an arrow!"
"Just breathe then, alright?"
Wally hadn't noticed he'd started crying – no, not crying. Tears were just spilling down his face. But he was not crying.
Memories. Memories of her from the past. She'd always gotten under his skin – no. Not past-tense. Never past-tense.
"Artemis!" Wally called, ignoring the wet streaks that were suddenly covering her face. His tears on her skin.
"You – you promised!"
Wally leaned back in defeat, though his hands gripped her shoulders so he could see her face. Not dead, no…but not alive. No, no, she promised! She'd promised. But she was so still…she was so, so still. Limp. Cold but surrounded by flames. Past-tense.
One last time. He had to try. Had to.
Have to stop.
Arms falling to his sides, her face lolling down.
Wally mashed his eyes closed, hot tears spilling down his face. But he wasn't crying…yes he was.
A cough. A wheeze. Her shoulders tensing beneath his tough.
"W-w-Wally?" she coughed, and his eyes opened faster than she could blink.
"Artemis? Artemis!" The speedster shouted, and he pressed her into a hug before growing embarrassed and quickly taking letting go. He didn't care though. He was too relieved, too happy, to care.
"Where – What?" Artemis mumbled, and she coughed again. But it was okay. He knew what she was asking.
"The building, it blew up. We didn't get all the bombs. You were in here. But it's okay."
Artemis shook her head, coughing, and he guessed she was trying to clear her head.
But what she said next surprised him.
"I'm scared." She whispered, looking suddenly so very vulnerable. So very unlike Artemis.
Wally was taken aback, but an especially loud roar saved him from having to answer as another support beam fell somewhere behind them.
"Come on," he said, hoisting the unsteady archer to her feet, "We have to get out of here. The building's unstable."
Despite her condition, Artemis chuckled, "Duh. It just blew up."
"Save your air, stupid. Insults can wait." He chided her, but he was thankful she was awake enough to even talk. Maybe he should keep her talking. Then again, he didn't want her wasting whatever breath she could muster.
"This way," Wally said, walking over to where the beam had almost entirely blocked the exit, "There's no way we're getting up and out through the window."
Artemis tried to take a few wobbly steps without him, but she stumbled, and he had to use his super speed to catch her before she fell.
"You can't walk?" he asked, his expression that of worry.
Artemis shook her head, her face a mask of hidden pain, "My leg."
Wally looked down and shuttered. Her right leg was red and swollen, her green suit gone in places below her knee to reveal painful looking burns. None third-degree, but still not the kind that he would recommend walking on.
Before Artemis could protest, Wally flung her on to his back as though he was giving her a piggy-back ride, not like he was saving her from burning in this forsaken place of burning flame.
"Wally…" she said warningly, but didn't continue. There wasn't much she could say in her own defense. So she simply wrapped her arms tight around his neck, though not tight enough to contract his airways.
"That's what I thought." Wally answered her smugly before switching back into super speed mode, throwing out a quick, "Hold on." Before dashing at full at the burning beam.
Right before he would have collided with it, Wally jumped into the air, using his speed as an extra surge of power to propel himself higher and farther than he could have normally.
He landed heavily on his feet, though he could still feel Artemis's legs held protectively in his arms while her own were wrapped around his neck.
"You okay?" he asked, and from behind him he felt her nod.
"Just-" she coughed, "-peachy."
Which really was uncalled for considering everything going on around him.
But they were going to make it. They were going to be okay.
Wally felt unease prick his spine as the sharp noises infiltrated the room.
"Wally? What was that?" Artemis asked.
He recognized the sound. But he'd never heard that many at once before.
"The support beams – a lot of 'em. They're coming down." He said.
No sooner had he spoken, one fell just behind them, causing Artemis to shriek out in surprise and tighten her hold around Wally's neck.
Wally dismissed it though, as another beam fell, this time from right above the two young heroes.
Wally sped forwards, his eyes on the exit. It was so close.
But all at the same time it was too far.
He couldn't make it. No, not with both of their weight combined. A crack. The next support beam was creaking, foretelling it's decent of flame. The inferno burned around him. And he made up his mind.
"Artemis, I'm going to throw you."
"Listen, I can't run fast enough. The smoke has been fogging up my lungs this whole time. I-I can't run. Not fast enough to superspeed both me and you in time."
"What are you saying?" her voice was tight. She knew.
Wally shook his head, shifting the archer into a bridal position.
"I'm going to run as fast as I can and throw you outside."
Artemis looked confused and hurt all at once, "But what about you?"
Wally didn't answer, not that he needed to, and Artemis smashed her eyes shut as the wind slammed around her face as Wally sped up. But this time was different. He was coughing, gagging, choking, on wisps of gray smoke. The poison's gases finally coming to claim him.
"Wally!" she screamed, trying her hardest to beg him not to with the one word.
"It'll be okay." He answered, "I promise."
Artemis gasped, suddenly flying through flames, and then finding herself sprawled out on the ground. Though she was still dizzy, she quickly picked herself up. The world span before her wildly, but she steadied herself just in time to turn towards what was left of the warehouse.
Just in time to see it fall.
She sank to her knees.
It was so unfair.
She never broke her promise.
But he'd broken his.
Then thought left her as her exhaustion returned and she sank to the ground, the world going white around her.
Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.
Monotone, electric, and all so distant. So foreign. It took Artemis a moment to place them. But she finally did – heart monitor.
She forced her eyes open, dragging her gaze over her body instinctually. While a large portion of it was covered by fluffy white sheets, she could see the IV in the crook of her arm and the gauze wound around her skin tightly.
Why was she here?
And then Artemis flinched as memory assaulted here.
And suddenly she remembers why her cheeks are stained with tear streaks, and why burns run up and down her body. She also remembers a horrible sound of something breaking.
She can remember Wally – relaxed, smart, stupid, arrogant, sweet, teasing, annoying, and intolerable- Wally, looking down at her and lying straight to her face.
"It'll be okay. I promise."
She's washed over by anger.
It wasn't okay.
The beeping increases on the monitor.
Her heart aches.
Artemis breathes in deeply, not sure if her heart hurts as an after-effect of the explosion, or because of the guilt, or because he lied.
But she doesn't have long to talk about it.
People enter the room.
Kaldur first, his face set into a worried expression, then Robin who doesn't look too fazed – but he was raised in Gotham, then Megan and Conner. No Wally.
"How are you feeling?" Kaldur asks. He's the first to shatter the silence. She's not that brave.
"Like I got blown up," Artemis mumbles because she's not in the mood to talk. She doesn't want to ask if Wally's okay, because for now she can pretend. For now she can lie to herself. For now, if only for today, she can pretend Wally's just fine.
"Do you need painkillers?" Kaldur asks once he sees Artemis won't talk on her own.
"No." She answers bluntly, "They make you weak." And she needs all the strength she can get right now.
Robin clears his throat, and it sounds scratchy, like the Boy Wonder has been swallowing sandpaper.
"Artemis, are you okay?"
Artemis flicks a look at Megan. Even though she's older than Artemis, the archer still sees her as an innocent. Like a child that can't know what a horrible messed up place the world is. Not yet, anyway.
"I will be." Artemis replies, because it's true. Time heals all pain. It's just a matter of how much.
"Artemis…" And there's something in Kaldur's voice that makes her know Wally is involved.
"No." She interrupts coldly. He can't do this to her. She needs to pretend. If only for a while longer.
No one says anything for a long time.
And she hates them for it.
They don't look sad. Solemn maybe, but not beside themselves like she was. They didn't even care. No one cared and the only one who did was…gone.
"He promised." She says suddenly, and her guard is down. She can't help it.
This was her without her armor. She can't stop her mouth and she can't stop the tears.
"Who promised what?" Kaldur asked.
"Kid Idiot. He lied."
"What'd he promise?"
"He said it'd be okay. And it's not. He didn't save himself; he was too busy saving me."
"Artemis-" Robin started, but she's not going to let him lie to. She's not going to let him say "its okay."
"He threw me out. Right before the support beams."
"He kept my promise for me, and that doesn't count!" Artemis says sternly, because she's too weak to yell.
"He's okay. He woke up ten minutes or so ago," Robin tells her before he starts explaining so it gives her time to comprehend his words, "When we saw you come out of the flames, Megan levitated you back to the ship. The League came not to long after, a couple minutes. Conner and Superman dug him out. He was burned up pretty bad, and unconscious, had a minor concussion from where the beam hit him. He wouldn't have lasted too much longer…but he's okay. Eating us out of house and home at the moment…"
Artemis is still grappling with the idea that he's alright. Pretending was one thing – believing is another.
But she knows it's true. Robin wouldn't lie about something this serious.
Its weeks later.
No one talks about the fire.
Everyone thinks about it, but no one says a word.
But things have changed nonetheless.
Wally and Artemis stop fighting as much, only gentle teasing.
Wally laughs at Artemis when she hobbles around Mount Justice on her crutch.
Artemis teases Wally for his uneven haircut because his accelerated healing has wiped away everything else besides a really bad burn on his back. Batman thinks the scar is permanent.
When Artemis gets off her crutches, Wally stops calling her "Cripple"
When Wally's hair grows back, she makes fun of him for it anyway.
When Artemis doesn't want to sit too close to the fireplace, no one says a word.
When Wally doesn't leave Artemis's side on the next mission, no one says a word.
On Halloween, both Artemis and Wally dress up as Burn Victims. They laugh like its funny.
No one says it's not.
On Christmas, Wally gives Artemis a fire-retardant spray. Artemis gives him a bruise.
And on New Years, Artemis surprises everyone. She's the first to get out the fireworks.
And so time goes on.
And all the teammates go through life-and-death situations. Each one a little more deadly than the last. Sometimes more or sometimes less.
And one day, when they are alone on the coach, and Artemis is reading and Wally is thinking back to all those months ago, they find each other closer than they've ever been before.
And when Wally asks if they should date, Artemis nods before she hits him, saying he should have asked sooner. He laughs.
And it's okay.
There's a promise.