Okay, holy shit, this got like twenty times bigger than I was planning on. I thought I maybe had 3,000 words but nope, I actually have closer to 7,000. Jesus Christ. I am so sorry, everyone.
This is really my first serious into the realm of angst (though that Artemis/Zatanna story was certainly creeping into this territory, but with more crazy), so I'm not quite sure how it is, but I'm hoping it's all right. Originally it was going to be a oneshot, but the story got so big that a two-shot will have to do. I'd always wanted to explore the idea of loss of trust, not so much in the YOU LIED TO ME sense, but in the I THOUGHT YOU'D BE THERE FOR ME AND YOU WEREN'T sense. Also, this was HEAVILYinspired by "Ashes On Your Eyes" by Deb Talan, which I highly recommend listening to to sort of… get the feel for this fic. Which, granted, even I am still attempting to do.
Huge huge thanks to my bro Antiox for helping me whenever I'd hit a wall. She is incredible, and I bounce every idea I ever have off of her. WHERE WOULD I BE WITHOUT YOU, LADY?
This is dedicated to therantdragon and antioxidantsuperhero. I HOPE I DIDN'T. BREAK YOUR FEELS.
Okay, I'll shut up. Enjoy.
a road you won't revise
Wally doesn't look her in the eye anymore.
In some ways, she's glad he doesn't, because she's not sure that she can face that pale, crawling desolation corroding the edges of them; she's not sure she can observe the crippling loss of their rambunctiousness, their vigor. Maybe it's fair, she thinks, that she won't look at him, either – that she won't let her wandering eyes rake up over his uncharacteristically quiet face, the freckles almost red against the pallidness of his cheeks.
"He'll get better," Batman tells them all, staring at the wall. "In time."
Artemis doesn't want to be the one to call Batman a liar.
She never thought she would miss the speedster's endless, empty chattering or his inflated statements of self-brilliance, but the sound of their absence is so loud that it pries her ribs apart. The sight of him sitting with his knees crooked around the stool and his chin resting behind his arms on the kitchen counter, wordless and deliberately ignorant, is a clawed hand reaching into her gut and twisting it to pieces.
They haven't spoken a word since he's been back, since he was dredged off of that distant, grimy warehouse floor with his bones scrambling to pick back together and his blood caked down to the roots of his hair and his jocularity a distant, hissing memory. She can't bring herself to open her mouth near him. His presence gnaws her words into useless white pulp, and she – like he – says nothing.
She wonders if his dreams are different now – she wonders if the horizons he always scrambles so desperately toward (she can see them, too, thanks to M'gann's loosened grip on her mind at three in the morning) have now turned to fathomless skies of trustworthy summer hues, cloudless climates and silent breezes and an infinity that never goes dark. She wonders if his feet ever touch the ground.
They don't. Not anymore.
A light bulb, bright white the way broken glass was in the desert, swung imminently above his achy, blur-blanketed eyes, swiveling around his smashed-up form. He could feel the absolute, bare filaments of his broken bones reaching toward each other, prickling and stitching themselves together only to be knocked apart again, and he wanted to scream, but his body wouldn't permit him so much, nor would his dignity.
The edges of the man's laugh were so disgustingly like Artemis's, husky and deliberate and attentive like hail, but there was something he did not possess that she did – an inherent, ever-present need to laugh, a thundering undercurrent of devotion to hazy happiness, and Wally wondered if the man envied her for knowing what joy was.
"You gonna…" he rasped – his dirt-muddled blood was crusted unpleasantly in the creases and corners of his lips. "Tell me why I was… invited to this little p-party of yours, Sporty?"
Sportsmaster wiped his golf club clean and kicked Wally over onto his side with the toe of his boot. He snickered, and it cut apart the darkness, the dank.
"Oh, because she likes you," he replied evenly. "Had to make sure you were worth it."
"Hope I'm – impressing you," Wally cracked out with a cunning smirk. He couldn't feel his legs anymore, but he could move them, in feeble, slipping kicks, attempting to right himself with no success.
"Not a bit," Sportsmaster sneered. "Brace yourself, Kid. We might be hanging out for a while to come."
"Wouldn't have it any other way," Wally croaked with a jutting chin as Sportsmaster lifted him up by the hair and threw him across the room. His elbow cracked against the concrete and he realized that Artemis would not be coming around the corner with a makeshift sling – that the frayed green cloth, muddied and musty-smelling, was probably still crumpled under his bed: untouched.
all in pieces
The Cave is quiet for days. So, so quiet.
Artemis sometimes hears trace murmurs of conversation between Wally and the others, or feels his thoughts crawling with stale aimlessness past her own, and she tries to keep the sour taste of jealousy and confusion underneath her tongue when he talks to everyone but her.
She hates that mind link sometimes, because there is nothing worse than feeling the inscrutable existence of Wally at all times of the day and night, even when her room in Gotham stinks of rain and mold and the link does not have the decency to fade with distance. She remembers when the boy's thoughts had been of floating cheeseburgers and pin-up girls and bits of summertime he'd kept in a jar, and in some ways, she misses the obnoxious humming of "Livin' On a Prayer" in the corner of her head when she's trying to get to sleep – she misses the staticky, fading snippets of his food-related bemoaning keeping her up until she mentally yells at him.
Now it's quiet. Wally's mind is a vast black expanse of No Signal, and Artemis, no matter how hard she tries, can't change the channel.
The conversation that they need to have scrapes against the back of her teeth, day in and day out, whenever she passes his form in the Cave, but she stays silent, waiting. Wally is going to initiate it sooner or later, she knows, because all he ever does is initiate conversations, especially if they primarily concern himself. And maybe she's just a little bit scared to approach him and grab him by the shirt and shake the answers out of him, because what if his expression never changes?
So she waits. She cuts an apple for herself, strides slowly past his back – curled around his knees on the couch in front of the switched-off television – and goes into her room to stare at the ceiling stilly as the apple slices turn a malleable, unappetizing brown around the edges.
She spends her nights at the Cave for now. Batman told her she can't go home.
"That's okay," she whispered with a tearful bark of raw laughter. "I've got more than one home."
Wally is in the infirmary overnight, and he doesn't move once. Artemis sleeps in the uncomfortable chair with her hair disheveled and untied, with her shoulders shivering in the artificial air, with her teeth driving into her lower lip until it bleeds a little. She has the mad, dizzying want to hold his hand, but she's certain that it will burn her if she tries and that white blisters will dot her fingers for years and years to come.
The dawn rakes up the walls and she wakes up without hesitation, and there is a red spot on her awkwardly raised knee from where her cheek had rested. Her collarbone twinges and cracks as she straightens.
Wally mumbles something and stirs, and by the time he opens his eyes, she's already halfway down the hall.
His fingers twitch uselessly at the end of his bent arm while he lies spread-eagled on the damp concrete. His right eye is swollen shut and thumping. His throat is hard, and there are purple and white bursts of pain blossoming up through his elbows and chest and hips and ribs and knees. And he bleeds.
Sportsmaster's footsteps fall away in muffled thuds, and the rusty metal door closes somewhere in the far edges of his field of hearing. No noise can reach his left ear.
He coughs, and something splatters onto his chin. His tongue tastes iron and spoiled water and algae and dirt. Brown and crusty things are under his fingernails, caked across the tips of his fingers. And he hurts. And he bleeds.
But it's okay, he thinks. They'll come. Any minute now. Any minute now, he thinks as he closes his eyes – any minute now she'll kick down the door and fire at Sportsmaster until he's more arrow than flesh.
Wally grins. There are red lines between his teeth, and his fingers spread as if reaching for something and there is blackness as he bleeds. Maybe he can treat her to milkshakes afterwards. She's tipping, though.
your heart breaks like a wheel.
He hears a crash and it jostles him awake. Sportsmaster had been holding him up by the hair again (and it had hurt, but the pain was so insignificant compared to the throbbing of his bones and his muscles and the scattered, red-edged cuts on his skin that it felt like nothing at all) but when the noise erupts, Wally is dropped to the floor again in a crumpled heap, not bothering to attempt to right himself.
He half-expects her to show up at his side with her face all bruised from the vicious fight she likely went through to find him, and everyone else will be there, too, but she'll be closest, barking orders and picking him up and muttering bitterly at him for getting himself hurt, and there will be a lackluster glistening in her eyes that he's only seen once, when she had glowered at the floor after the training exercise. He'll gloat to himself for eliciting such an expression, but he'll deserve a little pat on the back after all he's been through. A pat on the back, and a cheeseburger on her dime.
A ruckus occurs in the room, maybe a few yards to his left, and then there is a crack of bone and a thud of body against floor and quiet for the briefest of moments.
Then – two hands cupping his head, pulling it into a lap. Whispers. Rasps. Wally dares to open his eyes, preparing a lopsided smirk for the archer who is undoubtedly cradling him, but instead it's M'gann – her dark tears are dropping like rainfall onto his dust-laden face.
He frowns and looks wearily around – Robin is beside him, mouth hard; Kaldur, Superboy, each looking equally ashen, equally exhausted.
There is no one else. The gap between Superboy and Kaldur showcases a feebly-lit, grimy corner, and the light bulb swings, shifting the shadows like bits of fabric.
"Where's Artemis?" Wally hears himself ask, and no one answers as Kaldur and Superboy gingerly lift him up and begin to carry him out.
"Wh—Where's Artemis? Where's Artemis?" he asks again, his voice slurred and mumbling and hardly distinguishable from his scattered groans of pain. He doesn't stop asking: not for the entire walk back to the bioship – not even when he sleeps, sedated, in a makeshift cot at the back of the ship for the flight back to the Mountain – not even as M'gann starts to cry so hard and so unrelentingly that Kaldur has to pilot the ship in her place.
so look up (up ahead)
Wally stares at walls and ceilings and floors and clouds and stars and dirt and grass and generally everything but her.
His lips never move. Quiet. Silence. The occasional languid blink, a trailing vestige of a sigh. Artemis's fingers curl. Her tongue twists. Her hands are bone-etched fists. She wants to hit something. To hit him. He isn't looking at her. He never looks at her. She'll be the only other person in the room and he won't even act like she's there.
She remembers being angry with her mother when she was a child, refusing to speak for hours. But Wally's hours stretch into days, and suddenly a week has gone by since they brought him back. Artemis's back is sore – stiff – rigid and sharply hewn. She hates it. Hates him. Hates this feeling, this clawing in her gut, this dried-up clenching in her throat, this need to look at a mirror to make sure she's still there. That he's still there. And maybe he isn't. Maybe they only brought back a part of him.
He should be talking. He should be yammering. Babbling. Practically teething on his own sense of self-importance. But he isn't. He's pale and drawn and he won't look at her.
Idiot. Moron. Jerk. Creep. Dirtbag. Dimwit. Bastard.
She punches walls. Punches a lamp. Wants to shout. To scratch. But stays – always – still. And waits. Waits for him to grow up and get the guts to treat her like she's real.
tell me something real
It doesn't take long for Artemis to find him. He's in the kitchen, but there are no traces of food on the table in front of him, nothing to suggest that he has eaten or plans to. His right arm, encased in a white plaster cast not so different from the one it had sported just a few months ago, props up his chin as he gazes intently at the marble patterns on the countertop, his eyelids lowered. His filtering orange eyelashes sift through the light like dissonant embers.
Artemis doesn't speak to him. She stands in the doorway, hands clenched at her sides until she is certain her knuckles will rip up through her tightly drawn skin, and watches him. She stares directly at the side of his head, holding her tongue between her teeth, behind her thin, closed lips. He has to know she's there, she thinks. He has to realize.
She has been waiting eight days for him to turn his despicable head and catch her eye, for him to drop the sniveling front and readopt his boorishly jocular nature, but he has done her no such favors and looks as if he will continue to avoid it.
Artemis feels sick. His face is so devoid, so uncharacteristically somber, and the crippling absence of his often-copious words is crawling up the walls and over all surfaces, twisting in black vines over her limbs.
She stares at him for a little over fifteen minutes before it – all of it, all of the quiet and the rib-picking and the emptiness and the hunger and the bewilderment – crashes up her throat from her stomach and explodes with startling volume out into the kitchen.
"Why won't you talk to me?" she demands so harshly and so sharply that it rings against the silver pans over the stove.
Wally, at first, doesn't seem to have heard her. After a moment's crumbling pause, he blinks slowly and turns his head slightly toward her, focusing on the refrigerator to her left.
"What?" he replies, and the limp little quality of the word is like a stinging slice to the face.
"You heard me," Artemis snarls. "Don't pretend you didn't." She swallows – her voice already sounds strained and increasingly wet. "Oh, come on, Wally; don't do this to me; don't pull this crap, just – just say something."
Wally exhales. There is a stone forming in Artemis's throat that she can't seem to swallow. She's starting to stammer.
"Y-Y'know, even if it's just to… tell me to go away, or that you never want to talk to me again, or that I'm a harpy or a—a witch or obnoxious; even if it's something so – so stupidly you and boring… say it." She can't stand how adamant her voice sounds on the final syllables. She wants to slice away that adamancy and replace it with indifference, but she can't.
"I need to hear you say something," she snaps. "Come on, come on…"
Wally considers her for a great deal of time, maybe even a couple of minutes, before he inhales and straightens his shoulders, shifting his elbows onto his knees and prodding at the prongs of the stool with his sneaker.
"Didn't think it was that big a deal—"
"You didn't th—" Artemis may as well be choking on the words Wally is flicking at her, and her rage is back now, weaving up between her ribs and curdling her heart. "You haven't said anything to me since we saved you; you haven't even looked at me."
"We?" Wally asks sharply.
"Yeah," she whispers hoarsely. "We."
Wally then astonishes her by letting out several ripping cracks of laughter, and the rigid corners of what could be considered a smile twitching jaggedly over his face. No other inch of it accommodates the expression – his eyes stay dull, distant. Artemis swallows.
"What's all this we stuff, Artemis?" he demands. "Because, I mean, maybe I'm crazy, but… I distinctly remember not seeing your ugly mug when everyone showed up to bust me out."
Artemis bristles at the rancid undertone of his words, trying to ignore the sudden sharp pain on her cheek as if she has been punched. Her voice turns to a dribbling bitterness as she ekes it out of herself like tar.
"Shut up," she hisses. "Look at yourself. I-I can't stand seeing you like this; it makes me sick – I mean, you're… you're the Wall-man, right?" She says the nickname with such shaky, cynical admiration that she thinks it makes him flinch. "You're just supposed to… to plow right on past this and keep joking and flirting with everything that moves and being a total idiot, and just… forget about it, right? I mean, that's how you roll. This kind of stuff has never bothered you before."
"It was different," Wally murmurs.
"Different? Different?" Artemis repeats, her shoulders cold and quivering. "You know, Wally, you're a joke. He had you for, what, six hours?"
She scoffs, feeling the acrimonious curl of a furiously resentful smile on her face.
"That's nothing," she whispers, remembering the days and days that her father would lock her up in that basement and throw in "assignments" for her to take care of; living, breathing assignments with bloody noses and broken bones; remembering the sound of her pathetic crying against the grungy walls when he would punish her for her mistakes, for letting them get away.
Wally stiffens. She shakes her head.
"That's nothing," she reiterates. "You – you got off so easy. You're… you're really gonna let six puny little hours turn you into… into this?"
She gestures to his curled form, his deadpan face, and feels disgusted.
"That's nothing," she repeats softly. "You're pathetic."
"I'm what?" Wally mutters after a time, scooting the stool back and standing up, resting his hands on the counter. "I'm pathetic? I'm pathetic."
There's that laugh again – the one that makes her want to punch a hole in his chin.
"Artemis, you…" He gulps something down, chewing his lip. "You wanna know something?"
She says nothing.
"I… was lying on that floor for six hours, yeah. And you know, he… Well, I gotta give the guy credit for being the most imaginative torturer I've ever had the pleasure to spend a while with. He used everything on me – javelins, tazers, brass knuckles, a golf club… do you know how many hits to the face I took from his golf club? Seven."
"And I would've fought back. Oh, man, I totally would've. Except he had one of the inhibitor collars from Belle Reve. Took away my super speed, but… haha. He modified it. Kept it from dampening my accelerated healing, because he really loved the idea that he could beat me up and break my bones as many times as he wanted and I'd still mend myself up, ready to take it all over again, maybe somewhere different this time, maybe in some new way." Artemis is going to vomit; she's certain of it. "Hey, Artemis, lemme ask you a question! Do you have any idea what it feels like – having your body be… brutally injured, and trying to put itself all back together again? D'you know why they knock you out when they reset your broken bones? I don't get that luxury. If I lost a leg, my body would be trying to make me a new one for the rest of my life."
"Stop," Artemis whispers, but he hardly hears her.
"Nobody ever thinks about that part of the accelerated healing gig. It's not just magic. Everything has to just smash itself back together exactly the way it was before, and you can't just turn it on or off; it's happening, constantly, and—" He stops himself, halts, closes his eyes.
"You know something? I…" He curls his hands into fists and drives them into the counter, bowing his head. "I took everything he threw at me. I took all of it with this… big, stupid grin, and I kept making him mad on purpose, just to see him lose it. And he'd break my bones over and over again because he wanted me to just shut my mouth, but you know me! Shutting my mouth is not an option." He swallows. "And of course my body's trying to heal itself and I can't feel anything anymore, not even when he punches me in the jaw with the brass knuckles on, but… I didn't mind."
His speech is escalating in pace now, blurring into an angry, unforgiving tidal wave, and he starts pacing, gesticulating.
"I kept telling myself that, uh… that you'd show up. You know what I said to him, Artemis? I said, 'You just wait until they get here; just wait until Artemis gets here; she's gonna drive you into the ground.' But you never came!"
He shouts the last bit, freezing in his tracks. Agonizingly, he lifts his head, and his eyes meet hers, and she suddenly wants to look away and never have to see them again, because they are so pale and glittering with an indecipherable emotion and there are leaping, tumultuous things contained in them – all directed at her.
He quiets his voice, breathing starting to slow.
"You never came," he whispers again, and Artemis, seemingly of her body's own accord, turns away and leaves.
that dirty compromise
Artemis had put on her uniform from the moment it looked like Wally had been taken and hadn't removed it since. Her quiver was heavy on her back, laden with more arrows than she would ever use, and she had been sitting in the mission room, polishing her bow, for the past five and a half hours, her eyes dull and distant, her cheeks ashen.
When Batman finally walked in, finally had information, she was the first to stand, waiting vigilantly before the rest of the Team even came running into the room and began clustering dutifully in front of Batman. Robin looked as if he would be sick at any moment. Batman didn't look much different, but any emotion he may have been feeling was masked by the cowl, by the bone-hard line of his mouth as he began to speak.
"We've pinpointed Kid Flash's location." Robin's shoulders sagged in relief or sheer terror or something between the two, and M'gann made a small choking noise. "He's being held in the basement of an old apartment building in the slums of Gotham City by – by who we believe to be Sportsmaster."
Artemis didn't flinch. She'd had a feeling.
"Tracking information and directions have been sent to all of your communication devices. You deploy immediately."
All of them nodded wordlessly and turned to run out the door toward the hangar, and Artemis began to follow them. They didn't get far before Batman spoke again.
"Artemis will not accompany you."
They all froze, Artemis having shoved her way to the front of the group. She turned slowly toward Batman, and her previously empty eyes were now alight with imminence.
"Excuse me?" she growled. Robin stepped toward her as if to place a hand on her shoulder and faltered.
"You will stay here while the rest of the Team retrieves Kid Flash and takes down Sportsmaster." He fixed her with a harsh, adamant glower. "You're absolutely forbidden from going anywhere near that building."
"Why?" Artemis demanded, her chest a burbling mess.
"We – the League believes that Sportsmaster's kidnapping of Kid Flash is simply a ploy to lure you to him so that he can… secure you again." Artemis winced that time, remembering the months earlier that he had dragged her away from a fight by her hair. "We are not prepared to let that happen, and I'm sure your Team isn't, either. So you stay put."
His expression made no room for argument. Artemis's fists were clenched so tightly that they shook.
"And what if I don't care what Sportsmaster does to me?" she shrieked. "What if I just go whether you say I can or can't? You think you're going to stop me?"
"Artemis…" Robin whispered. She ignored him.
"I go where I want," she hissed. "This isn't just a teammate. This is Wally! I'm not just going to sit here—"
"Exactly," Batman said. "This isn't just a teammate. This is… Wally. And that's why you are staying here under Black Canary's supervision."
Black Canary, out of nowhere, stepped forward. Artemis didn't remember her entering the room, but she paid no mind to memory as she stepped backward, toward the already hesitantly departing Team.
"Artemis, come on into the living room," Black Canary said calmly, extending a hand. "Just sit down. They won't be long."
"Don't touch me!" Artemis screamed, leaping back. "You don't know how this feels! I can't just sit and let things happen, not anymore! Not if it's W—"
"Artemis!" Black Canary interjected as the archer turned to run after the Team. Batman promptly grabbed her and held her forcibly back, but she flailed and kicked, her visage aflame with rage. Despite her struggles, Batman carried her into the living room with Black Canary following.
"Let me go! Let me go!" she shouted. "I'll kill him! I can kill him! I can make sure he never bothers us again; I can break him apart—"
"That's not your call," Batman barked as he dropped her onto the couch. She glared up at him.
"Whose is it, then?" she snapped.
"Your Team's," Batman growled. "Now stay put. Go wait in the infirmary if you have to. They'll be back within an hour."
Artemis, left with little choice, stood and strode toward the infirmary. Black Canary let out a ragged sigh before jogging after her.
you are a phoenix
In retrospect, Wally supposes that he shouldn't be surprised. The Keystone High School track is tinted a shades of lavender and yellow as the sun begins to feebly rise over the winter-laden mountains, and his breath streams out in front of him in dissipating waves, and he forces himself to run like an ordinary person: putting one foot in front of the other, one, two, one, two, breath, breath, eyes on the ground, going slowly. His red sweatshirt is bold against the snowy oak as he runs past it, lips chapped and fingertips prickling with imminent numbness. His earbuds feel hard and obtrusive, and he knows that this is the part where he should be listening to the loud and pulsing comfort of Phoenix, but instead there is Death Cab for Cutie in his ears as he runs behind the approaching morning, disoriented by the fog of his own breathing.
And all you see is where else you could be when you're at home.
He hasn't been able to run in weeks – he hasn't been able to bring himself to rocket toward the sun; he hasn't seen any point in dissolving into an unstoppable blur on the frosted hills. The track, the endless and forgiving loop of it, the chance to always start over again, has been his primary haunt each night and dawn, and though he doesn't remember a single step of it, he does it again and again, content with the routine, the circling, the loss of consciousness to the beat of one's disgustingly languid feet.
He coughs, and the early morning cold comes up from the ice to encroach his throat. He can smell more snow in the clouds.
He hardly notices when Barry jogs up and falls into step beside him, his blonde hair seeming pale in the morning light.
"Aren't you cold, Kid?" Barry asks nonchalantly, causing Wally's eyes to briefly widen and his pace to quicken on instinct. Barry reaches over and plucks the earbuds out, yanking down on the cord until they dangle out of Wally's sweatshirt pocket, sending out tinny noise into the cold.
"Rhetorical question?" Wally mutters, not blinking or flinching. Barry shrugs.
"Just asking. I mean, your mother couldn't accompany me this early, so she's nagging you vicariously through me."
Wally doesn't laugh. Barry's previously lighthearted expression straightens with seriousness.
"Kid, we need to talk," he says frankly as they round a corner, their footsteps perfectly synchronized.
"We need to, huh?" Wally mumbles snidely, and Barry frowns before halting, putting a hand on the younger speedster's shoulder with enough firmness to stop him as well.
"Yeah. We do." He releases Wally, who stuffs the earbuds all the way into the pocket, followed by his hands.
"About what?" Wally inquires breezily, staring off at the tree, jaw clenching from the cold. Barry sighs, putting a hand behind his neck pensively.
"About what happened," he explains, "with Sportsmaster."
Wally visibly flinches, his flushed cheeks tightening in something like physical pain. Barry's conscience fumbles, but he does not relent.
"You've barely said a word to anybody for weeks," he says as if Wally does not already know this. "Batman's very concerned about you, and don't even get me started on your mother…"
"What are you, the house representative for any and all nagging now?" Wally demands belligerently, not looking away from the oak. Barry exhales for patience.
"Listen, Wally… let's go sit on the bleachers."
After a moment, Wally shrugs and abides, loping over to the nearby metal bleachers, clambering up and up until he has reached the back row. He takes a seat and Barry joins him, grimacing at the frigid feel of the metal.
The sunrise is at its peak, and the snow is red and orange. Wally's gaze is distant.
Barry lets a moment of silence pass, and there are a great many things he can say, but he settles on:
"I know how it feels."
Wally lets out a puff of some twisted definition of laughter and shakes his head.
"Yeah?" he replies emptily, sounding miles above skeptical.
"I'd think it was obvious," Barry grumbles, attempting to keep a large amount of sarcasm out of his voice and largely failing.
Wally gives him an incredulous look.
Barry breathes out slowly, watching his opaque breath cloud up and drift away into the frost. His chest is tight at the thought of recounting the memory, but the Kid needs it.
"Way back in the day," he says, "I was nabbed by Professor Zoom."
Wally's blood grows as chilled as the landscape around them at the mere mention of the name, but he says nothing.
"He had me for… I dunno. A day or so, maybe a little less. And he was brutal. Man, I was a wreck, even with accelerated healing on my side. They had to work on patching me up in the infirmary for three days, practically." He shudders. "I was bleeding all over the place, and a bunch of my bones were broken. Iris had a fit. Practically wouldn't let me leave the house for a month."
He shifts, leaning back on the railing. Wally is watching him carefully, compelled, and there is a vague semblance of a smile on his face at the mention of Iris being flung into a tizzy.
"It was… one of the worst things I've ever been through," he confesses. "I mean, I barely remember any of it, but… I just remember being held up on that wall, thinking, begging that the League would come for me and get me out, but… in the end, they hadn't even noticed I was gone until about twenty-one hours in. I thought they'd get it when I didn't show up for monitor duty the night before, but I guess they thought that was a common occurrence or something."
Wally permits himself a smirk.
"But – I kept telling myself they'd come for me, and that everything would be okay. That I was going to make it through this. I couldn't do anything because Zoom had totally incapacitated me, but the League could, and they'd come for me. I kept saying that to myself over and over. Just a little longer. Just a little longer, and then they'll come, and Iris'll be waiting at home for you." He sighs, long and weighted. "But… in the end, the one who got me out of there was… well, me. I managed to vibrate so much that it went over the capacity of the machine he had me locked in, and I barely got out of there in one piece; I don't remember it at all. I just remember waking up with Iris beating me over the head with part of my IV drip." His expression hardens. "I thought I'd never be the same. I let the whole thing eat me apart for months. It took me a while to unconditionally trust the League the way I used to."
"I'm sorry," Wally mumbles, because it's all he can think of, and he doesn't say it often, so it must mean something big. Barry laughs through his nose.
"No need, Kid," he whispers. "I got over it."
Wally blinks rapidly and glances at Barry, clutching the bleacher seat with viciousness.
"How?" he demands hoarsely. "How do you get over something like—"
"Wally, listen to me." Barry's hand is on his shoulder. Wally allows himself to look his uncle in the eye, and swallows. "This is not the Team's fault. It isn't Artemis's fault, and it sure as hell isn't your fault. It's Sportsmaster's."
"Yeah, you say that," Wally snaps, roughly shouldering Barry's hand off. "But it is. It is her fault. She just left me there."
"She didn't leave you there," Barry insists. "You just let yourself think she did."
"I wouldn't have made it through that if I hadn't thought she would come," Wally growls, and he sounds pathetic and wants to hit himself until he bleeds again. "I was so stupid and helpless; I just laid there and took it and I kept telling myself that they'd come and get me, that she would, because—because I thought she and I… had something. After the exercise." That word is spoken with such unbridled spite that it causes Barry's eyes to widen. "I thought I could trust her. I thought—I don't…" He bows his head, and his red hair covers his eyes. "I don't know what I thought."
A crow cries out from the trees. Barry sees a feral cat limping by on the other side of the track, alone and scared.
"You did all right, Kid," Barry says very suddenly, very quietly. These are not words that he throws around all that often. He has always been tough on Wally, because the last thing the kid needs is to think that heroism is easy or that he's good enough at it to let himself run ahead and make mistakes, and maybe he's been unfair, but it's just been to make sure that his nephew doesn't get so cocky that he winds up dead. Wally, at the sound of the words, straightens up, looking as if he has just been hit in the face with a hammer. "You did all right the whole time because you believed in something greater than the bad guy – something greater than what was happening to you. That's something you need to always remember: that there's always something above the bad guys. There's always something better than them, and usually that something's you."
"It shouldn't have to be," Wally exclaims. "The first thing you told me was to never let yourself be alone, to always make sure you keep your friends close, because working alone and trying to be self-sufficient is impossible and stupid. I just – I can't believe they… she didn't…" His voice breaks and he hunches over, humiliated by the crack.
Barry sighs, scratching his head.
"Man, I always hoped I wouldn't have to teach you and of this stuff for a while to come," he murmurs. "I'm sorry this had to happen to you, Wally. I'm sorry you had to go through it. But the truth is, it happens. It happened this time and it'll happen again and again. That's… part of the gig."
"Then maybe this isn't the gig I'm meant for," Wally spits out bitterly, "if I can't take it."
"Hey, I didn't say that!" Barry shouts. "Now you listen to me, Wally. You listen good and hard. This anger thing, this whole blaming shindig – this isn't how it works. This is not what you do to cope. Do you understand me? Never be angry. Never let rage get the better of you, because it'll destroy everything you've got if you do. You let yourself get angry and you'll be blaming the wrong people, and they'll leave you. And you'll look back on it years later and wonder what you did wrong, and you'll never be able to figure it out because you'll think that getting mad was just a step, but it isn't."
"I can't help being angry, okay?" Wally yells furiously, digging his fingers into his hair and tugging with painful force. "What else am I supposed to be? Happy? They didn't even notice I was gone! She didn't even come to help them get me! What, was she too busy with target practice, or something?"
"Stop that, Kid," Barry tells him with such staggering adamance that Wally is driven to silence. "Stop that right now. I get it. You put your hope in Artemis and she let you down. So what? I know it's hard, Kid, but you have to accept that sometimes the only person you can really put faith in is yourself."
Wally curls in on himself, resting his chin on his drawn-up knees and gazing out at the glittering frost on the track. The fog was vanishing against the onslaught of the white sun. He says nothing.
Barry waits for a while before adopting a pensive expression, drifting into silence for a few moments. Eventually, he straightens.
"Okay. That does it." He turns to Wally, brandishing a stern finger. "You need time away from the Team – from the base. From the missions." Wally's eyes go wide. "You're so caught up in feeling hateful right now that you can't see things the way that really are anymore, and you need to take a break so that when you go back, you won't be biased by all of this crap you're feeling."
"What're you saying, we take a vacation? Now? I've got school!" Wally exclaims.
"Think of it as a… hero sabbatical." Barry grins, winking. "And I already called ahead to the school. Said you had pneumonia. You've got two weeks' leave. Doctor's orders."
"Are you serious?" Wally says weakly.
"We can run anywhere you like, Kid. Anywhere. And we can stay there for as long as you want. And we – you can sort this out. On your own or with my help; whichever you prefer."
Wally lapses into quiet, debating this. And suddenly, the horribly sick feeling in his stomach at the prospect of returning to the Cave after his run is gone, and the morning seems infinitesimally brighter and more wide, and the thought of sleeping in his unkempt bedroom is not the same nauseating foreboding.
He smiles, weakly. Barry considers it to be one of his greatest personal triumphs.
"Okay," Wally whispers.
Barry stands. "Where to?"
Wally thinks for a moment.
"Always wanted to see the redwoods," he says, and gets to his feet.
"Excellent choice," Barry comments with a wink. "Oh, and can we stop for burgers on the way? I'm starvin'."
A burger has never sounded better.