Commence part two!
Artemis is awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of garbage cans being knocked over outside. She groans, rolling over onto her back, and scowls at the ceiling – if one of Mrs. Kowalski's stupid, clumsy cats is responsible for waking her up again, she'll flip a table.
She's just about to pull the covers up over her head and try to get back to sleep when she hears it.
Wally had never really thought about exactly how uncomfortable it was to hold a boom box in the air for five minutes and twenty-eight seconds. Especially in the late-night humidity of Gotham City. Especially when he was hungry. Especially after he had carried said boom box for every mile between the sidewalk outside this apartment complex and his house in Central City. Especially when he is growing progressively more mortified with every second that the third-story window he was aiming at doesn't open.
He maneuvers his hand over to the volume knob and turns it all the way up. The song's opening melody blasts relentlessly out into the previously quiet night.
Finally, mercifully, a figure appears behind the closed window and pushes it open.
Artemis pokes her head and shoulders grumpily out, resting her elbows on the sill, and notices him standing on the sidewalk with the boom box proudly thrust into the air.
Her eyes go wide and Wally grins enthusiastically at her, winking.
"Love," Peter Gabriel sings, his voice crackling out from the speakers of the boom box. "I get so lost sometimes. Days pass, and this emptiness fills my heart. When I want to run away, I drive off in my car. But whichever way I go, I come back to the place you are."
"Are you kidding me?" Artemis yells, but Wally can't hear her over the sound of the music. Incidentally, he also can't feel his upper arms anymore.
"All my instincts – they return. The grand façade so soon will burn. Without a noise, without my pride, I reach out from the inside…"
Wally only then notices exactly what he's doing. Maybe it's the way Artemis is looking at him – with her eyebrows smashed together and her eyes round and her lips tight – but he abruptly awakens to the fact that he is standing outside her apartment, playing Peter Gabriel on Uncle Barry's old boom box from the eighties, in the hopes that it will somehow woo her the way it did to the girl in that one movie with John Cusack that he'd just watched.
"In your eyes, the light, the heat—"
"It seemed like a good idea at the time!" he shouts to her, still beaming. "Also, I think my arms are about to fall off!"
"In your eyes, I am complete—"
"You've lost your mind!" Artemis shrieks back, looking increasingly panicked. "It's official!"
"In your eyes, I see the doorway—"
"It works in the movies!" Wally replies as loudly as he can, but Artemis clearly can't understand what he's saying. "It's foolproof!"
"Of a thousand churches—"
"I figured that since the flowers didn't work," Wally bellows, his voice cracking. Artemis frowns at him and shakes her head, pointing to her ear and shrugging.
"In your eyes, the resolution of all the fruitless searches—"
"Do I need to call the cops?" she yells down at him, and he only hears the last word of her sentence. He feverishly shakes his head.
"Last I heard!" he attempts to retort over the deafening volume of the music. "Mimicking 80s movies! Is legal! So…!"
"Oh, I see the light and the heat. Oh, I wanna be that complete! I wanna touch the light, the heat I see in your eyes."
"LEAVE!" Artemis screams at the absolute peak power of her lungs, and Wally definitely hears that part. Before he can reply, she has whirled around and stormed out of view, retreating back into her room.
Wally sighs and starts to lower the boom box in dejection, but he stops when he notices that Artemis, despite being gone, hasn't closed the window.
It takes him a moment to understand, but when he does, he smiles without restraint and raises the boom box again, not caring that his arms are so stiff he can't move them when the song finally ends.
"How'd you and M'gann get together?" Wally asked Superboy through a mouthful of Hot Pocket a few days later. Superboy was seated on the couch with his feet on the coffee table, watching No Signal.
He was silent for a moment, and Wally started to doubt whether or not the other boy had heard him, but eventually, he spoke.
"I thought she was going to die," he whispered. "And I thought it was my fault."
Wally opened his mouth in shock, wondering when the hell this happened, but chose to shut it when Superboy continued to speak.
"And I realized that I couldn't—" Wally could see no change in expression, but Superboy's head was bowed. "—Work... without her. I couldn't... be. And that little space inside my head where she always was, maybe by accident – it was so empty. And I wanted her back there." He swallowed thickly, and his tone lightened slightly. "But she was okay. She – came back. And I... took a chance."
"A chance?" Wally repeated, befuddled.
Superboy nodded slowly.
"I decided it would be dumb to be afraid anymore," he said. "She'd always been there. Always. And I was just so happy that I'd figured it out without having to lose her, and I just – I didn't know how to say what I wanted to say except by..."
Wally frowned as the other boy's sentence faded, lost. Superboy stood, cracked his neck.
"I'm hungry," he grunted. "Get out of the kitchen; I need it for a minute."
Wally obliged him without a word. Just before he exited the kitchen area, however, Superboy said something that made him freeze.
"Tell her the truth. Just tell her the truth."
Wally didn't reply. Later, when he was up at eleven at night and walking down the hallway toward his room and saw them kissing softly in the dim light of her room, he didn't feel sad. He smiled – tiredly, understandingly – and went on his way.
He doesn't know why he hadn't figured it out sooner.
He probably never will.
The point is that he's going for a run on the beach at sundown on Friday night, and he has an epiphany. He looks at the emerging stars and the weathered sea and he realizes that there's only one way left to do this; there's only one way that he can do it anymore.
"Hey, are you free?"
Artemis frowned at the sound of Wally's excited voice in the speaker of her battered cell phone, holding it to her ear with her elbow as she tied up her hair.
"It's a free country and I'm living in it, so..." she quipped.
"I meant are you free to hang out," Wally emphasized bluntly. Artemis's hands temporarily stopped moving around in her hair and she considered him. She was beyond tempted to give him a snarky retort that would end in her hanging up at precisely the right moment, but something about the tone of his voice stopped her.
"Um... I don't know," she said with surprising honesty even for herself. She glanced over her shoulder as if afraid that her mother would be sitting in the doorway of her bedroom and listening. "It's... kinda late..."
"And I can't exactly – get a ride..."
"Zeta tubes, genius," Wally reminded her. She blinked.
"Oh. I, uh... I guess." She chewed her lip slightly. "Why do you ask?"
"Jeez, are you free or not?" he demanded in exasperation (a clever way to mask the fact that his hands were shaking). "I don't have all day. Uh, night. Uh..."
"I'll be there in ten," she muttered. "But this had better be worth it."
Artemis wouldn't admit it out loud even on her death bed, but it was worth it tenfold.
When she finally stalked into the living room from the zeta tubes with her arms resolutely folded, Wally was waiting for her in the kitchen. He leaped off of the stool he'd been perched on and stood at attention as she walked by. She scowled up at him.
"If I came all the way over here for nothing, I'm going to kill you," she groused, starting to shed her coat and hang it on the back of the couch.
"Uh... might wanna leave that on," Wally told her suddenly. She raised an eyebrow in response but dubiously shouldered it back on, staring over her shoulder at him.
"What for?" she demanded.
"Well." Wally blinked blankly at her as if he'd entirely forgotten the answer to her question. She tapped her foot impatiently and he finally recovered. "If you can put your faith in me for just, like, five minutes, I swear I'll—"
"You know, standing here and rambling at me isn't helping your cause," she said, partially joking and partially vexed. "Is that what you do to pick up chicks? Really? You talkat them?"
"That was a rhetorical question," she added dully. Wally bristled, scowling.
"You're one to talk about – about talking," he retorted lamely. He noticed that Artemis was growing rapidly tried for patience and attempted to put aside all compulsions to challenge her, starting toward the back exit toward the beach and beckoning for her to follow. After a moment, she obliged him.
The two walked in relative silence, with Artemis striding about two steps behind Wally all the way out the back door and down the sandy path leading to the shore. It was completely dark outside (there was no moon), but shockingly clear – Wally silently thanked any omnipotent source that may or may not exist for miraculously keeping out the Happy Harbor fog. The sand was practically white under their slipping feet as they picked their way down the pathway.
Wally wasn't sure if he wished she would say something or not. He could hardly dredge up the intrepidity to initiate conversation, but in some ways, he was thankful that she was keeping her mouth shut. For the time being, anyway. Honestly, if she decided to speak, he'd probably collapse before he could thing of anything to say.
Eventually (inevitably, finally), he came to a halt and Artemis followed suit. The tide was quiet around them, and Wally was grateful for the darkness to hide the obnoxious warmth of his cheeks.
"What... is this," Artemis finally deadpanned, apparently galvanized into speaking.
"It is a blanket," Wally said decisively, satisfied at his correct definition. Artemis, however, didn't seem to have benefited from his exposition.
"And, uh, why is it here?" Artemis prodded him, drawing out the words for emphasis. There was such heavy skepticism in her voice that Wally thought it might destroy it.
Wally gestured helplessly at it in what he hoped could convey his intentions. Judging by Artemis's horrified expression, it didn't work.
"I am not going to lie down on a blanket with you on a beach in the dead of night!" she shrieked. "Wally, I hope you know that I can break your face in, like, twenty different ways, and—"
"Oh, for the love of – calm down!" Wally yelped, waving his arms around to silence her. She pursed her lips at him with dangerously narrowed eyes. "Look, fine; if it makes you feel any better, I'll go..." He strode past the blanket, a couple of feet away, and plopped down in the sand. "Lie down over here. Cold and alone."
"Good," she spat, still sounding somewhat terrified and somewhat bewildered and somewhat irked. The usual. After a moment's tense pause, she cautiously shuffled to the blanket and sat gingerly down on it. It took another good few seconds for her to lie on her back, but she did.
"Why'd you bring me down here?" she demanded, then winced at the harshness of her words before uttering them more calmly. "Wally, why'd you bring me down here?"
"Just look," Wally told her. She stared up at the night sky, and Wally, noting her distraction, glanced over at her. Her hair was splayed out over the surface of the blanket, twisting out into the sand. He could hardly see her face but for the familiar profile.
"Uh... what am I supposed to be seeing here?" she asked him. He snorted.
"Well, Artemis, those are called stars," he began in a babying voice, and she flung a handful of sand at him.
"I know what stars are, stupid!" she snapped. "I just don't know why you're telling me to look at them!" Wally opened his mouth to answer, but she pointed a threatening finger at him. "And if you say it's because they're pretty, I'm going to kill you."
"Curses," Wally grumbled. "Foiled again."
Artemis let out a huff, crossing her arms tightly over her chest and glowering up at the sky. Wally surreptitiously snuck a look at her again.
"Quit staring," she muttered. "We're out here to look at the stars, so look at the stars."
Wally felt so tempted to say that he already was, but that was more of the corniness he'd use on any passing pretty girl, so he bit his tongue and stayed quiet.
"I don't get stars," Artemis said suddenly. Wally didn't respond. "There are so many of them, and some of them aren't even there anymore. How do people keep track of the names of all of them, anyway? They all look the same. They don't mean anything."
"That's blasphemy!" Wally shouted, and it echoed against the rocks, making him wince. "Uh, I mean... stars are great."
"Right," Artemis replied, not sounding convinced at all.
"Look, see that constellation over there?" Wally asked, pointing, trying to keep her attention. "That's Orion."
"It just looks like a bunch of stars to me," Artemis muttered, sounding far too bitter to be passive.
"Well... no, see, there's his arm, and there's..." He trailed off, noticing that his attempts to trace the constellation had resulted in him leaning over, propped up on his free arm. He was far too close to her to be comfortable and quickly withdrew. "And – and – uh, there's Sirius, over there, and – oh, look, there's Castor and Pollux!"
"How do you know all of these?" Artemis asked, and she sounded vaguely interested, vaguely amazed. Wally beamed.
"My Uncle Barry got me a telescope when I was six," he replied. "And it came with this chart of all the stars and constellations and I memorized it."
"It's all in your head?" Artemis was astounded. Wally confessed that it made his pride swell.
"Well, yeah, but that map was a little outdated, so I've been looking at new ones... I would've brought my telescope down here, but – figured we'd start with the basics."
"The basics? Is there a process for this or something?" Artemis snorted. She pointed to a cluster of stars further away. "I know that one. The Big Spoon Thing."
"The Big Dipper," Wally corrected her, relishing the thought that she was wrong about something.
"That's what I said; the Big I Don't Care," Artemis riposted, putting her arms behind her head. "Okay, Wall-man; I'll humor you. What's... that one?"
She pointed. Wally leaned over again, following the gesture, and she didn't seem to notice.
"Lyra," he answered. "The Harp."
"And that one?"
"Perseus. The Hero."
"Coma Berenices," Wally replied with an amused grin. "Berenice's Hair."
"Excuse me?" Artemis permitted herself a laugh, and it was light and blew away with the sea. "There was a lady who got a constellation named after her hair?"
"Don't sound so skeptical, Rapunzel!" Wally jibed, and she elbowed him, knocking him over again. When he had righted himself again, he noticed she was frowning.
"What's that star?" she asked. "Right there, over Berenice's Hair."
Wally followed the line of her arm and finger and spotted what she was indicating: a bright, almost glittering star, hard in the sky against the others. It practically outshone them altogether.
"That?" Wally's brow furrowed, an a feeling of utter consternation crashed into him. He had scoured maps of the skies for years, and he had never seen that star on any of them before. His mind desperately raced through all available data, and came up empty.
"That's Artemis," he heard himself say.
He felt Artemis turn her head to stare up at him in either horror or flabbergastedness.
"Liar," she said. "There is not a star called Artemis."
Wally looked down at her and froze. He hadn't noticed exactly how close they'd gotten while he'd been gesticulating like a madman at the stars, but now, with his head turned toward hers, they were perhaps inches apart. Artemis was looking him in the eye and he felt like he was about to choke, because there was some sand on her cheek and in her hair and her cheeks seemed flushed in the darkness, and she was blinking expectantly up at him with that signature Artemis look on her face, and he didn't quite know what he wanted to do or what he thought made sense.
"There is now," he murmured, and he was leaning down before he even knew what he was doing. Artemis closed her eyes.
"Team, report to mission room." Wally let out a yelp at the sound of Batman's severe voice in his communicator, and Artemis was so startled that she jerked up and smashed her forehead into his nose by accident. Wally reeled back, plopping down onto the sand with a squawk of indignation.
"Ugh, we'll be right there," Artemis muttered, pressing two fingers into her ear. Wally was still recovering. "Come on, Wall-man. One does not simply keep the Batman waiting."
"I think you broke my nose," Wally whimpered, stumbling to his feet.
"Serves you right," Artemis replied breezily, already heading back to the path. Wally had to run to catch up to her.
Robin giggled ridiculously when they came in together, Wally still clutching his nose as though it was an openly bleeding wound.
"What took you so long?" Superboy grunted, but there was a knowing glint in his eyes that frankly unnerved Wally. M'gann winked at Artemis, who looked affronted.
"I don't think," Wally said, his voice muffled behind his hand, "that I'm fit for combat in this current state, and—"
"If you two are finished," Batman interjected, and everyone straightened. "You'll be deploying to Santa Prisca first thing in the morning."
Wally hardly thought it would make her angry when he decided to watch out for her during the fight against some of Cobra's henchmen in the Santa Priscan jungle. He alsohardly thought that it would make her fly off the handle when he complimented her technique or referred to her as Beautiful. But it did regardless.
"Why do you keep doing this?" Artemis demanded furiously, smashing a thug in the face with the butt of her bow. "Why do you keep pushing all of this weird sappy junk? First the bacteria, then the flowers, then the boom box and the stars and now this!" She whirled and roundhouse-kicked another henchman in the gut, knocking him down. There was mud caked in the ends of her hair. "Why, Wally? Why?"
"Because I like you! Okay?" Wally shouted in response in a wild outburst, leaping in the air and spinning to kick two thugs on either side of him down. He landed on his feet and ducked backwards to avoid a swinging fist from another goon. "I like you a lot, actually!" he continued, grabbing one thug by the wrist when he lunged at him and yanking him forward before elbowing him in the back. "Like, significantly more than could be considered normal! Like, way off the charts liking!" He dodged another few swings before finally sneaking in a swift uppercut that bowled the henchman clean over. "Like, I feel this sudden compulsion to kiss you at any given time! It's really annoying!" He sped around another two thugs and knocked their heads together. "But I've learned to deal! So should you!"
"Deal with what?" Artemis shrieked, sounding uncharacteristically panicked as she leapt above a henchman's kicking foot and punched him in the face before hitting the muddy ground again.
"With wanting to kiss me, obviously!" Wally replied, swiftly assaulting the thug in front of him with his blurring fists until the man collapsed. "Look, I asked Supey for advice a few days ago and he told me girls like pretty things and he's got a girlfriend so I trusted his word!"
Artemis was still fiercely engaged in combat, grunting and growling like a mountain lion as she fended off the last few henchmen.
"And for the record!" Wally added when he concluded that there were no more thugs around him and loosened, standing up straight and putting up one finger for emphasis. "I think you look inhumanly attractivewhen you're in the middle of a fi—"
He would have finished his sentence winningly if there hadn't been a blow to the back of his head that snapped his vision into sharp, temple-cutting black and sent him crumpling down onto the marshy ground.
As far as things to wake up to went, a severely disheveled and sleep-deprived and cranky-looking Artemis sitting in a chair in front of him wasn't so bad.
Wally let out an audible groan as his senses rapidly returned to him, grimacing at the sharp pain that was throbbing through the base of his skull. The dim natural lighting and the lack of any immediately visible white things and the familiar smell of his own dirty socks was enough to assure him that he wasn't in the medical bay, so hopefully, whatever injuries he seemed to have were minor. Either that, or Artemis deliberately carried him away from the world of medicine and trapped him here, watching him slowly deteriorate into oblivion.
He was hoping for the first option.
"Did I win?" he asked woozily, feeling a stupid grin rising on his face. Artemis's expression – sour and severe and borderline homicidal – did not change.
"You moron," she snarled vitriolically. Wally shrugged.
"I've been called worse," he said. "It sounds so nice when you say it. Except not."
With a wince, he slowly pushed himself up into a sitting position. Artemis did not protest. He felt an uncomfortable pressure in his head at the new elevation, but it quickly ebbed, and he turned his head toward the sitting girl beside his bed and smiled.
"How long have I been out? Days? Weeks?"
"Like four hours," Artemis snapped back. "Don't look so proud of yourself; we were worried sick. I think M'gann was about to crash the bioship; she kept looking over her shoulder to see if you were okay in the back."
"See? I knew she couldn't deny her feelings for me," Wally joked, and he didn't expect that Artemis would react the way she did.
"Make up your mind, Wally!" she yelled very suddenly, her husky voice cracking with effort. Wally blinked widely and only then began to take in the dark circles under her eyes, the large white bandage wrapped around her entire upper arm, the bizarre but noticeable presence of worry in the corners of her eyes.
"Um… make up my mind about… what…?" he asked cluelessly, tilting his mouth in confusion. Artemis let out a loud groan and threw her hands in the air dramatically.
"One second it's me and the next second it's M'gann," she explained tersely. "You can't have two at once, Wally. Make up your mind."
Wally opened his mouth to say something, but Artemis threw up a hand to silence him.
"Because – because if what you said in the marsh is true, then – then don't mess around about it," she continued. Her voice was hard and her eyes were focused on a candy wrapper on his floor. "I'm not… just somebody you can screw around with, and if this is a prank—"
"I promise it isn't," Wally interjected hastily, his words stumbling over each other. Artemis stopped speaking, but her eyes didn't stray towards his. "No, you have no idea how obnoxious this is. I can't even think straight when you're around. Like, what? What the heck are you doing to me? I'll bet it's illegal in some states. Insensitive attractiveness."
"You're rambling," Artemis mumbled, and Wally wasn't sure if that peculiar tone of her voice was one of fondness or of annoyance. He gulped again.
"And I've just been trying to figure out—" He halted, trying to think of the right words. "Why I want to – kiss you all the time. Or spend all day with you. Or something really gross like that. Maybe it was the exercise; I don't know, but the point is that I think I…"
Artemis's face had hardened at the words "the exercise," and Wally's gut had been momentarily clawed at; now she was clenching her fists and her knuckles were white and her hands were shaking.
"Artemis, I think I…" Wally whispered, and, just like that, the words were lost. The last of his sentence trailed off into quiet.
She wasn't looking at him anymore.
"I'm sorry," he said after a minute or so, and he had no idea why.
Artemis released her fists and the action was almost cathartic to Wally, because the rest of her demeanor and muscles unraveled around it into a loosened state. Her ponytail was still dirty, he noticed. Her lips were drier than usual, and red from being chewed. He wasn't sure why he hadn't observed it before, but she was still in her costume – her dirty, torn costume. Her cowl hung at the back of her head like a hood, gathered under the weight of her ponytail.
"You should be," she finally rasped out, and she reached one hand over and placed it on top of his. The callouses on her palms and in between her fingers were warm and sharp and grazed his skin like pebbles and she lifted her chin and looked him in the eye.
Wally didn't know how he wound up kissing her. He wasn't sure whether it was her doing or his, but what he did know was that Artemis smelled like a musty forest floor and yesterday's shampoo and a little bit of paprika. She didn't move much when he kissed her; she just closed her eyes to the feel of his hands on either side of her face and fisted her fingers in the hem of his shirt, and Wally wasn't sure if, by the time they separated and touched forehead and she put her head in the space between his neck and shoulder, she was crying or not.
"You really… really should be," she whispered, and Wally felt guilty and true and liberated, all at the same time.
Things weren't as different as he thought they would be after he kissed Artemis. There was no grand revelation, no fanfare, no credits rolling over a love song. There was no ending, nor beginning, nor defining point from which to continue on. She still had a tendency to refuse to let him get away with anything, to steal his snacks, to smack him upside the head, to tell him he was a moron, to make fun of his name, to frustrate him to the moon and back. The only large difference was that now he knew that he didn't need a reason to want her around – that she simply belonged. That he could be, like Superboy said.
Eventually, he learned to stop holding her so tightly. He learned to block the repeated visions of her dissolving into arctic tundra from his head. He learned to tell her that he was sorry, and that he understood. And she smiled at him, the way she never quite smiled at anybody else, and she learned how to say thank you and how to tell him the truth.
"How come your hair's always like this at night?" he asked her one evening in the middle of a movie through which they were both periodically dozing, tracing a finger down the length of her braid.
"You said you liked it once," she replied, sounding almost embarrassed. "I normally don't braid it because it's such a pain, but I figured I'd give you something nice to look at. Besides, y'know, my face."
"Whoa, whoa; you're starting to sound like me, babe," he commented, attempting to conceal his utter joy at the fact that she'd been braiding it all this time for him. "That's dangerous."
"Tell me about it," she muttered, and she put one hand on the back of his neck and pulled him down to kiss him, and Wally forgot all about trying to come up with a winning retort.
Supey, he thought giddily to himself, you are my best friend ever.
Let's not get ahead of ourselves, Superboy thought back sharply, and Wally had to suppress a jump of surprise, because he'd forgotten that all thoughts were basically public domain at the Cave. You can thank me later.
Much later, Wally replied dazedly. Artemis was reclining on the couch now, pulling him along with her. Much, much later.
See those stars shining in your eyes;
I know, I know.
See those stars shining in your eyes;
I know, I know.
I got, I got, I got to keep them there.
— The Weepies, "Keep It There"