It's finished. It's finished.
First off, I'd like to say thanks to Kory and Annica for sitting up with me for three hours while I completed this. Kory, especially, for inspiring me to get over myself and finish it in the first place.
I've been so afraid to write the conclusion to this. I've been torturing myself over it for months. Honestly, part one flowed so well for me and I was so pleased with it that I was afraid of ever touching it again, afraid of ruining what I had built in part one with an unsatisfying finish.
More than I've been afraid of disappointing myself, I've been afraid of disappointing my readers. You.
I hope I haven't.
Without further ado… Here's part two.
Disclaimer: I claim no ownership to nor affiliation with Young Justice.
here, the night is fine.
It only takes them about a day and a half to run to California. The landscapes between Happy Harbor and the redwoods whiz by like detached strokes in a painting, fluttering past, suspended in the air. When they finally come to a halt on the outskirts of Point Arena, the first thing Wally realizes is that he can breathe. The air is like mist seeping into him, cycling and dissolving through his torso and limbs.
The fog is softer there, more liberated, tumbling down through the trees on the high mountains and spilling through the town as if it holds the buildings up. The ocean is crashing and gray and loud, blown into white-capped chaos by the wind. The bluffs curve out into the sea and the beaches are cold and wide with no horizons, and the calamari and cod and clams are delicious. That's the most important part, obviously.
He and Uncle Barry see all of it, and not a single question is ever asked; not a phone call is made or received. His cell phone dies two days in. He doesn't have the charger.
When he leans back to try to look up to the tops of the redwood trees, he nearly loses his balance, and maybe he forgets how to inhale for the briefest of seconds, staring at something so huge and still and silent, stretching up past the clouds and the low-hanging fog until its green needles are almost a part of the sky. At any point in his life prior to this, he might have seen them as boring, but things are more than just a little different now – not enough for him to put his finger on.
A few days before they go back, before Wally's fingers have become utterly immune to the cold and the cool, he sends a postcard to Artemis at the Cave without thinking, dropping it in the mailbox as if it's dangerous.
"Visit the redwoods," it says on the front, a stark yellow font curling over a photograph of the auburn, pine needle-riddled path twisting between the trees. "Mendocino, CA." Wally's frank little scribble fills the back, as quick and as breathless as he'd been when he'd written it.
We need to talk.
On the way back, he wonders if it's been lost in the mail. He wonders if she won't be there when he gets back, and he wonders if he'll ever know the answer to any question ever again.
His breath hitches. Maybe she's gone. Maybe she's gone forever. Maybe he'd care if she was.
(that's all over now)
Barry drops him off at the zeta tube near his house, giving him the sort of meaningful look that comes before a battle, and Wally thanks him for everything and hugs him and steps inside the phone booth just as the yellow morning sunlight begins to creep along the asphalt of the street.
There's a flash, and he feels the familiar sensation of his intestines seeming like they're being juggled by a clown, and then Barry is gone, and he is standing in the entrance room of the Cave, and it feels like he hasn't been there for several passing seasons.
It's empty. It's quiet. Wally stares at it, utterly still, for several moments, trying to catch his breath and decide whether to walk in or walk away. He straightens his sweatshirt – the crimson fabric sticks to the sweat on his palms – and presses his hair down, heart thudding at the thought of M'gann, wet-eyed and smiling; of Conner, staring crankily at the wall.
He steps forward without considering it and walks toward the kitchen, feeling a twinge of fondness at the thought of black smoke churning out from it. But, as he discovers when he enters, there's no one there. It's pristine, the surfaces untouched as if for days. Wally falters.
"Megan?" he calls, much more quietly than he had hoped. "Hey – Meg? Conner? Jeez, anyone?"
No answer. Wally gives one last hesitant frown to the kitchen before turning to go—and almost crashes into the form that seems to have suddenly materialized in front of him.
He lets out a startled shout, leaping back to better survey the intruder. He loosens quickly when he registers the face, grinning.
"Rob," he exclaims with raised eyebrows. Robin, in a gray t-shirt and jeans, is standing in the doorway with his eyes trained on the floor. Wally gives a weak smile that quickly grows into a wider one. "Hey. Hi. Dude, where is everyone? This place is creepy when nobody's—"
He breaks off when he notices that Robin's expression hasn't changed – no welcoming grin, no mischievous smirk, not even a bitter glare. His face is pinched and drawn and largely lifeless.
"Di—" Wally starts to say softly, but Robin raises his chin and he halts, feeling his limbs grow inexplicably heavier.
"Promise me you won't run," Robin tells him in a voice that sounds like it's been ground over searing coals for hours.
Wally's chest shudders and the back of his neck feels chilled and his throat goes dry, but he nods numbly, not blinking.
Robin's eyes do not stray from his, their blue tint vague and evasive behind the sunglasses. Wally wishes he would take the stupid things off.
"It's—" Robin swallows, fingers curling and uncurling. "Wally. It's – it's Artemis. We… had a mission… and she…" He isn't looking at Wally anymore. His voice breaks. "She's…"
It's not the first time that Wally has broken a promise. Without thinking, without waiting, without pausing, he shoves past Robin and runs. He doesn't notice where he goes, how tired he is, how dark it is. He runs until he can no longer breathe.
the mines of twilight
Wally only runs on the track at dusk now, when the infinitesimal vestiges of the stars begin to prod their way past the winter mist, halfway to spring, halfway less hard-edged. His parents don't question him when he leaves the house at the same time every evening without saying anything, and Uncle Barry has yet to appear to whisk him off on another therapeutic expedition – but then again, that was three weeks ago. In some ways, he prefers it like this: alone and unquestioned, his feet thudding down onto the tarmac like stones.
He rounds a corner and, just for a second, he goes just a little bit faster than he usually does, and there is a short red-and-gray blur behind him, but it dissipates without a trace, and he keeps going, not looking back. Sometimes he feels like it doesn't suit him anymore.
He finishes his sixth lap and slows until he's come to a stop across from the bleachers, his breath streaming out, thinner now that it's nearer to spring. He wipes moisture from his forehead with one sleeve and stares at the ground, breathing as evenly as he can to the sound of some Toto song he hasn't been bothering to listen to. Eventually, he moves toward the bleachers, where he'd set down his water bottle and duffle bag, letting his eyes stray up.
He freezes. His hands spasm out, and his iPod drops, jerking away from the headphone cord and clattering to the ground.
There is a figure seated at the summit of the bleachers, largely obscured by the mist, and it stands when he notices it, slowly stepping down toward him. It's too small to be Uncle Barry and too tall to be Robin, and he highly doubts that anyone but the two of them knows that he even comes here, save for his parents, who are both at work.
The mist dissolves away as the figure draws closer, and finally, there's a face. Wally steps back involuntarily, his fingers stiff.
"You know, you could have taken the time to let Robin finish what he was saying," Artemis says harshly. The collar of her black turtleneck curves around the edges of her chin. Her hands are resting in the pockets of her gray peacoat. Her hair is tied in a bun. And she looks terrible.
"Oh," Wally hears himself say. "So, you're not dead."
"And I thought Robin was the detective," Artemis mutters, coming to a halt directly facing him, not looking at him. "Maybe if you'd stuck around, you'd have heard him say that I was just in danger of dying. But I made it."
Wally says nothing. He stares down at the red tarmac, at the fading white lines.
"Don't be stupid," Wally snaps instantly, his chin jerking up until he is glaring straight at her. There are lines on her face that he's sure weren't there before.
She pushes her loose hair out of her eyes, sighing roughly. She waits a moment to talk.
"I'm guessing you're still mad?" she mutters, her voice almost rancorous with bitterness.
Wally absentmindedly pulls at his fingers, popping his knuckles. The sound cracks out into the cold, startling a crow into flapping out of a tree.
"I don't… think so," he finally answers. "I haven't decided yet. I mean I haven't really thought about it much."
Artemis scoffs quietly. The breath bursts out into a cloud.
"Figures." She wipes her nose with the back of her hand, sniffing. "So did you have a nice trip?"
"It was fine."
Artemis doesn't speak again for a while, and neither does he. The silence fills the several feet between them, pushing against its edges, but somehow, it is not an uncomfortable one. Wally scuffs at the tarmac with his sneaker and Artemis stares at the distant hills with half-interest.
"I would've come," she says suddenly. "If I cou—"
"It's fine." Wally hears himself interrupt, and he freezes, astonished. The words had not been thought or planned or contemplated, and if he didn't know better, he wouldn't even believe that they are his.
Artemis is still focused intently on the hills, but her shoulders are shaking and her eyes are starting to look red. Wally wishes he didn't notice.
"I've been trying to figure out how to apologize," she grinds out as if they are the hardest words she has ever said. "Or to… not apologize. And I—"
"Who was it?" Wally asks her quietly. She finally, finally wrenches her gaze away from the scenery and looks him in the eye; her attention is a muffled impact against his stomach, but he wrestles down any visible reaction.
"Who was… what?" she rasps. She stiffens before coughing into her hand, a cutting and raw sound that makes Wally wince.
"Who did… that?" He gestures to her. She frowns for a brief second before loosening in comprehension.
"Uh, my dad," she answers, shifting her weight from one foot to the other and flicking her eyes to the ground. "I tried to get revenge. Y'know. Standard stupidity. Didn't quite work out for me."
"He got away?"
She shakes her head, gaze darkening.
"No," she whispers, and her tone is heavy with an emotion Wally can't quite decipher. "League has him in custody. We'll see how long that lasts."
"I waited for you." More words that he hadn't considered, hadn't even wanted to say aloud for the rest of his life. He supposes they sound better than the horrendous You never came, you never came, you never came that had been drumming through his temples a week or so before.
Artemis stands unmoving for a moment before pressing a hand over her eyes, digging her fingernails into her forehead. Wally can see little red marks starting to form around them. Her hair is straggly and loose from the hairtie, so different from the typically taut and absolute ponytail he is so used to seeing. She lets out a ragged, wretched noise, screwing her eyes shut, and the hand drops and she turns her head sharply away in profile.
"I know you did," she croaks. Wally wonders when this happened, when she went from the desperately angry girl who had confronted him in the kitchen to this ashen, limp-shouldered mess.
He breathes out until he can't anymore, feeling exhausted.
"I'm glad you're okay," he finally says. "And I'm sorry I wasn't there. For you."
"One for me, one for you," she jokes emptily. "We're even." She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. "But for what it's worth, I'm glad you're okay, too."
"As okay as okay can be," he assures her with a halfhearted thumbs-up. She smiles wryly, letting out a short breath of laughter through her nose.
"You're better than he is, you know," she whispers. "I mean, you're – too good to let him screw you over; you're… you're just better. He's nothing. You know that, right?"
Her eyes lock into his. He doesn't blink.
"Right?" she repeats with slightly more volume.
Wally still remembers the feeling of the golf club as it collided with his ribs, his cheek. He remembers the javelins, the baseball bat, the rancid floor and the algae in the corners and the dirt and dank crusted into the walls. He remembers the darkness, the light bulb, the laughter. He remembers closing his eyes and never once doubting that he would make it back in one piece, and he remembers Artemis standing outside the door of his souvenir room with her arms crossed, smiling with caution, as he denied the existence of magic.
"Right," he says.
There it is again, the careful tilt of the corners of her lips, the vaguely amused sheen to her eyes – or maybe those are the dull tears that only Artemis can let out, gathering on the edges of her eyelids. She opens her mouth and a sentence begins, but he stops her.
"You don't have to apologize," he tells her softly. "I understand. I forgive you. I think. No. I forgive—"
"Don't tell me that unless you're sure," Artemis interjects with a solemn expression, the half-smile gone.
"Things happen," Wally says slowly, pensively. "I don't need to know what they were; you don't have to tell me. It doesn't really matter. It doesn't even matter if you wanted to come or not. I shouldn't have put that much faith in you."
Artemis goes silent. When she talks again, her voice does nothing to conceal her hurt.
"Sorry I let you down," she chokes out. Wally's eyes widen and he waves his hands frantically.
"No, no—wow, that sounded awful." He scrambles to recover the words he isn't even sure he knows how to say. "What I mean is that I… should've put faith in myself, too. Instead of just… waiting." He sighs, running his fingers through his hair; it sticks up in retaliation. "I mean, I shouldn't have put that much – weight on you. Because look at what happened. In a good way! What I'm trying to say is that it was wrong to expect you, you know?"
"Wally, I'm sorry!" Artemis shouts very suddenly, frightening four or so turtledoves off of the snowy ground beyond the chain-link fence bordering the track. "I'm sorry; I'm sorry!"
Wally strides forward before he can stop himself, snaking both of his arms around her in an instant and pulling her against his chest, clutching the back of her head with one hand. She doesn't draw away, clenching his sweatshirt in her quaking fists. It is fully dark now, fully night, and his breath streams out unimpeded in clouds. The moon wanes a crescent behind the feeble mist, surrounded by the stars, and the streetlights down in town start to flicker on.
"Let's both be sorry," he suggests, and his voice is much more hoarse than he had intended it to be. "Fair enough, right?"
"You really shouldn't have to be," Artemis mumbles, her tear-strained voice muffled against his clothes.
Wally exhales into her hair, clenching her more tightly, and she reciprocates, her arms wrapped unrelentingly around his torso.
"Then neither should you," he tells her frankly, and that is the solution, suddenly and unequivocally: that is all that he has pondered saying since he came back from California, since he sprinted alone and afraid out of the Cave five days ago.
The turtledoves have come back, cooing melancholically from the trees, and Wally closes his eyes to the sound.
(the morning doesn't even scare you)
The night that they all awoke from the exercise, Wally had spent half an hour in the bathroom doubled over and retching, his eyes and throat stinging, his skin clammy and cold. No one had knocked on the door. No one had asked him to hurry up. The space beyond the white tiled walls had been silent to an almost crippling degree, as devoid of being or breath as his mind since M'gann had forcibly shut herself away from everyone, barely salvaging what was left of their telepathic link. The visions of red, of people burning, of the tundra and Artemis's dissolving bones, were rotting behind his closed eyelids and he could do nothing to eradicate them; he had vomited, curled up and on his knees, until he was so hungry he could hardly breathe.
Zeta tubes offline, Red Tornado had informed them with as much regret as an android could possess. Routine repairs and updates. Will not be functional again until tomorrow evening. The six of them had been in the living room; Artemis, slumped against the wall with her forehead on her raised knees; M'gann, perched precariously on the edge of the armchair; Kaldur, arms folded and head bowed; Robin, his head in his hands, his sunglasses thrown onto the floor; Conner, hovering anxiously behind M'gann; and Wally, seated on the couch beside Robin with his arms resting on his legs as he stared blankly at a spot of dirt on the coffee table.
They had all gone to bed without speaking. They had not said a word to each other since they had woken up, and none of them planned to. Wally, still breathless, still sick, had retreated into his bedroom and left the door wide open as he changed and slipped beneath the blankets, not bothering to turn out the light.
Sometime during the night, he had jerked awake and his t-shirt had been stuck to his skin by tepid sweat, and he had wheezed into his palms as he sat up and failed to forget watching her die.
When had it begun to matter? When had it suddenly been so unimaginable, so terrifying, that he could no longer breathe properly? When had the thought of Artemis, erased completely from the world, falling gracefully backwards as she dissolved before his eyes, rendered him incapable of feeling anything but scared?
He had climbed out of bed and strode three doors down the hallway without even registering what he was doing, half-sleepwalking, half-certain, before coming to a halt at Artemis's bare, dull door.
"Artemis," he had murmured, resting his forehead against the wood. "Artemis."
A shuffle. A sigh. The door had opened and he had infinitesimally pitched forward without the support for his head, but had righted himself before she could notice. She had been dressed in a tee-shirt at least four sizes too big for her, cadet blue, and he had no idea where she'd gotten it from, but she had been wearing little else. He hadn't even had the good sense to turn red.
She had stared up at him with the falsest expression of confusion he had ever seen, and her unbound hair had twisted down her shoulders, damp from a shower.
"Artemis," he had said again, quietly, disbelievingly. She had moved aside after a moment to allow him in and he had stepped over the threshold into her dimly lit room. She had closed the door behind her and turned to him, seeming so small against the bare walls, minimally illuminated by the vague gold light from her bedside lamp.
"I keep having nightmares," she had told him. "But they aren't about anything. They're all nothing."
"You're alive," he had whispered. "You're – alive."
"I guess I am." She had brushed past him and clambered into the bed, pulling the sheets up under her shoulders, her hair fanning out over the pillow. "So are you."
"This is crazy," he had said weakly, following her into the bed without thought and stretching out beside her, tugging at the blankets. "God. This is…"
Artemis had reached over and turned out the light, and Wally had vaguely registered himself slinging one arm over her waist before he had fallen, mercifully, asleep, and neither of them had woken until noon, never speaking of it again, both largely certain that it had been a dream.
It had to have been a dream.
dream in peaceful blue
Wally doesn't understand why his mother lacks any vague semblance of a surprised reaction when he returns home with Artemis straggling behind him. On the contrary, when he walks through the front door and Artemis hesitantly follows him inside, Mary West appears from the kitchen with a towel in one hand and a plate in the other and hardly looks at Artemis for a second before smiling warmly, asking Wally what the occasion is.
He tells her the truth: That it is far too late for Artemis to go back to Gotham by herself; that the trip, even by zeta beam, is an unnecessarily trying one to take in the cold night; that if he hadn't brought her with him, she would have had to spend the night at the homeless shelter like the bum she is.
Artemis elbows him. It feels… nice. Like old times. It barely even hurts.
Mary goes straight to work at sprucing up the guest bedroom for Artemis, whom Wally has never seen look so flustered or humble, and Rudolph emerges from the den as though he had been call for by the president, and Wally starts to regret his own hospitality the moment Mary brings out some of his old Flash pajamas for Artemis to sleep in.
"I can just sleep in my clothes," Artemis splutters, gesticulating helplessly. Mary scoffs.
"Oh, nonsense." She shoves the pajamas into Artemis's arms, nodding in satisfaction. "Just take them, honey. They may be Wally's, but at least they smell decent."
"Mom," Wally growls through gritted teeth as Mary ushers Artemis into the guest bedroom. Rudolph stays behind, hands in his pockets, and he and Wally both watch the women disappear down the hallway.
"Did you guys work it out?" he asks nonchalantly. Wally softens.
"I hope so," he mutters before heading down the hall in the opposite direction toward his bedroom. "G'night, Dad."
He assumes that Artemis has sufficiently settled, because Mary comes in to bid him good night and turn his light off, and it goes dark in the kitchen, and he closes his eyes, rolling over. The bulb of the street lamp outside is in need of repair, a filmy yellow light flickering on his floor.
The moment he starts to dream, it is of throbbing pain in all of his limbs, of the smell of dirt and grime and the sight of a glinting hockey mask with flecks of his blood on it, and he gasps and wakes up with a spasm and a shudder, his eyes flying open as he jolts forward, panting into the quiet.
He turns his shaking head to glance at the clock. 2:37 AM.
He presses the balls of his hands against his eyes until it gives him a headache, until he sees spots and splotches, gritting his teeth with viciousness.
At the end of his tether, he throws the sheets off of himself and stumbles out of his room into the hallway, making his way haphazardly to the kitchen in search of a glass of water.
He halts in the entryway. Artemis is standing over the sink, her palms flattened on the counter on either side of it, her head bowed, her hair wild, as it had been so many months ago. His pajamas are far too large on her, baggy and loose
"Nightmare?" he rasps, rubbing at his raw-feeling eyes. She gives a start, whirling around to face him. She loosens after a second, brushing her hair out of her face.
"Uh – yeah," she replies tersely. Her breathing is uneven. "Just – remembering the…" Her voice trails off, but Wally knows what she is remembering, and suddenly, the thought of Sportsmaster doing to her what he did to him makes him feel more ill than his own memories.
"Me too," he ekes out, nodding wearily. "Same cause, probably."
Artemis puts both of her hands on her face and runs them slowly down over it, stopping at her cheeks.
"We're so messed up." Her voice cracks. "I just want to sleep."
Wally grasps her wrist and leads her out of the kitchen, down the hallway and into the guest room. The eggshell-white covers of the bed are rumpled, the pillows askew, the blinds closed.
He releases her and nods toward the bed, and she, after a moment, follows his gesture, climbing cautiously in and lying down, turning away from him.
"Thanks for the support," she mutters, putting one hand on the pillow. Wally lingers hesitantly beside the bed before shrugging and turning to go.
"I'll be down the hall if you…" he starts to say, but she cuts him off without rolling over, without even moving.
"Or you can just stay here," she grunts. "For convenience's sake. Why should I have to walk down an entire hallway?"
Wally frowns at her.
"Artemis, we said that we wouldn't—"
"I know what we said," she snaps. "But that time, we'd both just died. I think that warrants a 'Not Wanting to Deal With It' excuse." She sighs. Wally, on the other hand, holds his breath. "Look, if we're both having nightmares, we might as well have them next to each other, right?"
She's talking about it with such forced detachment and vague annoyance that Wally wouldn't be surprised if she's talking about something that causes her a massive inconvenience, or about a movie she hates or a book whose ending had always bothered her. He remembers the warmth of her within his arms after the exercise, the steady rise and fall of her against his chest, and he remembers the startling ability to sleep the way he hadn't been able to in years, uninterrupted, content.
The floor heater hums, filling the quiet with its barely noticeable rattle. Wally's feet carry him forward and suddenly he is beside her, and the sheets are draped over his shoulders, and she rolls over and tucks her head under his chin and he can feel her breaths gathering against his neck. Even in the pitch-blackness, he can distinguish the edge of her form, and he shifts until his arms are around her, holding her against him, and neither of them says anything for a long time. The grandfather clock in the living room chimes three times at one point, and then she speaks, the words warm on his skin.
"Are you still awake?" she mutters.
He nods. His chin brushes against the top of her head.
"Batman wouldn't let me go," she whispers frantically, pushing her forehead against his collarbone. "He said it was probably a trap. I had to sit there and wait, and even when they brought you back, I couldn't go in. Batman had to have Kaldur tell me everything that happened." Her voice lowers. "I knew Dad was the one who took you. I would've ripped him apart. I would've broken him up into pieces—"
"It doesn't matter," he assures her. "Artemis, I forgive you. I understand. I understand."
She goes quiet. Her fingers spread out over his chest.
"Uncle Barry told me," Wally interjects softly, "that sometimes the only person I can put faith in is… me. And I believed him. But I thought that meant I'm always going to end up alone."
Artemis is murmuring, over and over, I'm going to rip him apart; Wally rubs her back repetitively, and she comes even closer to him, closer than he ever thought she could be.
"It doesn't, though," he continues quietly. "It just means that I have to… I have to trust myself to never let myself be alone." He frowns. "I think." He shakes his head pensively after a moment. "Too much deep thinking for one night."
"Just stay," Artemis whispers, and it is the barest Wally has ever heard her voice, so wispy and imploring; the words rest on him, sinking into his skin, and he curls forward, his palms loosening, his eyes closing.
He sleeps soundly and without waking; Artemis doesn't move from his grasp, her weight leaving his arm numb and useless in the morning, and his mind is a wide blank space that engulfs him like an ocean – never has it felt so nice, in all his life, to think of nothing at all.
He recovers. She recovers. He sleeps, she sleeps; he wakes, she wakes; he breathes, she breathes, and soon he is running again, a blur heading for the horizon, always turning back, always slowing himself down, to fall asleep beside the girl with the ashes in her all-discerning eyes.