For kittu9 for the No Signal ficathon on LJ. She prompted "Artemis and her father, time is filled with beginners."
"I'm not any good," Artemis had whined when she was seven and her father had guided the bow into her stumbling fingers, her gnawed-up nails. "I'll never be as good as Jade."
Her father (and this was a rare memory, a memory in which his face had not been obscured by the uncanny surface of a silver mask) had turned her toward him firmly, his brown eyes like teetering combustibles. His large hands had felt cumbersome on her tiny shoulders as she had bitten her lip and attempted to avert his gaze.
"You'll get better," he had insisted. "Time's filled with beginners, little girl. You'll get better as you grow up. Jade was just like you when she was first learning—"
"No, she wasn't!" Artemis had exclaimed adamantly, loosening her grasp on the bow. "She was already great at boxing when she was five…"
"This isn't a competition," her father had told her, grabbing her face with one hand and jerking her head toward him. "Life isn't a competition, girl. It's only a competition if you can't kill anyone."
"Maybe I don't wantto kill people," Artemis had snapped, just to spite him.
There had been a tight pause as her father had frowned deeply at her, mouth thin and severe. She had finally looked away, her cheeks cold, and he had whacked her lightly upside the head, drawing himself up to his feet.
"Well, you're a kid right now. One of these days you'll figure it out."
"Figure what out?"
"The shit you need to," he had retorted with hardness, and she had balked as he had taken the bow from her and stormed out of the room.
"I want to be better!" she had insisted at the closed door. "Teach me how to be better. Teach me how to be like you and Jade."
She had held her teddy bear close and glanced at Jade's empty bed.
"Teach me how."
( "This isn't working," Wally coughed as he buckled over, hands on his knees, breathing heavily. "I'm tired. I'm slow."
"You're starting out," Barry reassured him, ruffling his bright red hair in the early morning autumn fog. "You'll get better. All it takes is practice."
"I'm hungry," Wally said.
Barry, after a moment, patted his back and nodded.
"Yeah, me too, Kid. Let's go grab a burger and try again."
"I'm not cut out for this," Wally muttered.
"You are," Barry told him, and Wally's heart had slowed, because Uncle Barry had never praised him or his decision to force his way into the life of the hero. "I mean it." )
Snow did not make Artemis think of Christmas. It made her think of the night she had watched her father kill a man. It made her think of the magnificent contrast of scarlet on white. It made her think of the blue moonlight turning a human's blood cold and indigo.
"He wasn't a good man, girl," her father had told her softly, closing the man's eyes with one great paw of a hand. "He was one of the guys who got your mom in jail…"
"You should've let me kill him," she had whispered, her bitten fingernails sore as she clenched her fist around the bow.
He had turned to her, eyes ever the same beneath the mask.
"I wanted to kill him." Her voice had been much more emotional and hoarse than she would learn to accept as the years wore on. Now, diminutive and thirteen and scrawny, she seemed pathetic, throwing a murderer's words into the air like a flurry of snowflakes.
"One of these days," her father had reassured her. "Come on. Let's go. Heat's comin'."
Sure enough, sirens had rung through the Christmas Eve air like bawling children, flocking to the scene with sadistic curiosity.
Artemis did not find blood fascinating. It was in you, always, and you only started caring about it if you were watching it flow out of you and not come back.
Artemis, four years old and shaking, clung to her purple sheets and gazed up at her towering father with protuberantly swimming eyes.
"Baby," Jade hissed from across the room, glowering.
"Quiet, Jade," her mother hushed the older sister warningly (when she had been tall, when she had towered and reached with grace).
"What're you scared of, girl?" her father asked gently, sitting down beside Artemis.
"Monsters and bad people," she whispered conspiratorially, her teddy bear clutched against her chest. "I'm afraid, Daddy; I'm—"
"Don't be." It was not comfort. It was an order, but Artemis preferred orders, because they provided no room for doubt. "Listen, little girl. You don't get anywhere in life by being scared. You can take all of 'em. All of 'em, if you're willing to; if you've got the balls."
"A-All of them?" Her voice was small and frightened. Jade scoffed and her mother scolded her.
"Every one," her father confirmed with a proud smile. "You're my girl, after all. My girl, my little girl. You can take 'em all and never get tired, can't you? Fight 'em all and not break a sweat."
"I can." It was a promise. Her first.
"That's my girl." He patted her head and left briskly, and her mother nodded warmly at her before following.
"You're still a baby," Jade hissed.
"Leave me alone," Artemis whimpered.
There was silence. Cars were honking.
"I'll take all of them on for you. Promise. If anything shows up, I'll gut it," Jade told her earnestly. Artemis smiled, snuggling down into the sheets. "With my bare hands. With my face."
"I'm not afraid," Artemis insisted softly, and she slept.
"Hit me, girl. Hit me. Right here. Right in the jaw. Hit me. Come on, come on! Hit me!"
Artemis' hands were in fists as her father goaded her across the kitchen table, beckoning her toward his maskless, weathered face. The power was out again. Their macaroni and cheese had grown cold, and there was rain falling, greasy and slick, outside the window. The traffic swelled.
"Hit me. Hit me." He jerked a hand toward his chin, extending his face to her, offeringit to her, and she was in a combative pose, eyes narrowed, but – she could not bring herself to move. His face was uncovered, his guard intentionally left sloppy.
He had made her dinner. He had bought her a Safeway cupcake for her birthday tonight.
"—Come on, girl, what's the matter with you? Hit me!" he commanded hotly, and Artemis's head felt cumbersome, her fists stony. "Swing, you little—"
His face screwed up with furious frustration as he reached forward violently and grabbed her wrist, yanking it forward until her fist collided with his jaw. She winced, not out of pain, but out of something equal to shame.
"Weakling. You're weak, girl!" he bellowed, pounding a fist on the table. "You don't get anywhere in this life by being weak! You're weak, you die. That's the way the world works. You've gotta be tough. No mercy. No attachment to anything, anyone. Those are the unwritten rules."
"I'm not hitting you," she shouted insistently.
"That's what you think. Come on, girl. Come on – what's the matter, you think Mom wouldn't like it? You still think Jade's better? You still the black sheep, little girl?" He was goading her; it was blatant, and she, hot-headed with adolescence, fell for it, leaping forward with a raw snarl and giving him an uppercut that knocked him backwards out of his chair.
He was laughing with pride before he even hit the floor. When he got back up, his lip was bleeding.
"That's my girl," he told her, ruffling her hair. "That's my damn girl. Yeah. Knows what she needs to do."
Softly, he had added, "No damn attachments to anybody. No family. That's how it's got to be."
( "That may have been true about our family, but I have a new family. And here, we're all for one, and one for all." )
"Where are you going?" he roared as she leapt toward the open window, the rusty fire escape, her face streaked with rain, her cheeks grimy. She turned toward him, silhouetted against the yellow moonlight. "Where the hellare you going, girl?"
"Did you not look at my birth certificate or something? My name is Artemis," she growled, hair dripping.
"I don't care if you run away, you little—" Her father stopped himself. "But you had better be prepared to answer to me when the time comes. You had better be prepared to take the step."
"If I had my way, Dad, I'd pissall over your steps," she hissed, and jumped onto the fire escape, crawling at desperate speed down the ladder as he bellowed furiously after her, rattling the metal with spite.
She ran down the Gotham street, and the stench of the rain filled her, like fresh gasoline or motor oil on a summer evening, sizzling and stinging.
"I'm going to be just like Daddy when I grow up," Artemis declared, seated firmly beside the small, sparse Christmas tree. Jade snorted and whacked her across the back of the head. "I am, Jade! Don't be a b—"
"Artemis!" her mother interpolated sternly. "We do not use unfavorable words in this house! Especially not on Christmas, of all days."
"Open up your present, girl," her father gruffly said, smiling infinitesimally. Jade did not react. She had never been a girl. She had never been thegirl.
Artemis, bouncing, scrambled around under the tree before withdrawing a shoddily-wrapped, stout rectangular box. Curiously, she tore off the wrapping paper and popped off the top of the cardboard thing, and her eyes widened reverently.
"You like it?" her father asked, amused.
She gaped in awe at the smooth slingshot, at the pine-green fabric around the handle.
"Thanks, Daddy," she whispered.
"Can we kill birds with it?" Jade asked excitedly.
Sportsmaster roared with laughter, throwing his head back. Paula Crock shook her head wearily.
"Sure thing, girls," he told them happily. "Kill anything you want."
"Not my name," Artemis murmured bitterly. "Never my name. I was always girl. Little girl."
"It suits your attitude," Wally quipped. Artemis punched him.
"He taught me everything I know," Artemis whispered, hand shaking as it pulled back the string of the bow, eyelids shivering as she aimed the silver-tipped arrow at the crumpled figure on the ground. "Everything."
"She has me to thank for all of this, too," Sportsmaster chuckled, patting her on the back. The impact nearly caused her to release the arrow on Wally's curled-up form, but she contained the weapon. "She's a smart girl, she is. Never said a word otherwise."
"Fuck you," Wally coughed, palpitating, bleeding.
Sportsmaster turned to make his way toward the waiting helicopter the next building over, winking at the waiting Cheshire as she hung dutifully off of the ladder.
"I'm quakin' in my boots, little kiddo," he sneered. "Finish him off, Artemis. Chesh and I'll be waitin' for ya."
He retreated. Artemis, without lowering the bow, shut her eyes tightly.
"He called you Artemis."
"I said run."
"You got in over your head, huh?" he spluttered weakly, one eye swollen shut. "Beginner's luck?"
She laughed a little, hollowly.
"Yeah. Yeah, I guess beginner's luck."
"We're all beginners in the end, I think," Wally murmured, rolling over onto his back, spread-eagled and facing the stars.
Artemis, out of the corner of her eye, thought she saw the shifting, merciful form of M'gann approaching them, and maybe the silhouette of a leaping Superboy further behind her.
"Megs is coming," she muttered.
"My angel," Wally swooned facetiously.
"Play dead," Artemis whispered, and released the arrow. It landed mere centimeters from his heart. He didn't flinch.
"We'll – find you, or whatever."
"No hurry," she insisted softly. "I've got Dad."
Wally grimaced. The blood was coming forth, curdling the yellow.
Her father had hugged her once, after her mother had been sent to prison. Jade had brooded in the bedroom, but Artemis had curled up on her mother and father's futon and sobbed. He had walked in, lifted her up, and held her tightly.
"I don't ever wanna see you crying again, you hear me?" he had murmured, stroking her ponytail comfortingly.
"What if she never comes back?" Artemis had sniffled.
"Then too bad," he had riposted easily, drawing back to lock eyes with her seriously. "We'll be okay. We're always okay."
Artemis had hiccuped.
"I want Mom."
"Well, you're stuck with me, little girl. But you're in good hands. I'll teach you what I should've years ago."
"You mean—" Her breath had hitched deferentially.
"Yep. And knowing you," he had smiled, setting her down and leaving, "you'll have the best damn beginner's luck that ever began to be lucky."
Artemis, then, was foolish: "I love you, Dad."
He had froze, turning slowly toward her with intent imminent in his hard gaze. A finger was lifted, pointing toward her in cautionary emphaticness.
"That's your first mistake," he had chastised her. "But – you're a beginner. I'll let it slide."
"Thanks," she had coughed out meekly, shrinking back. The door had slammed. The room had gone dark, and the rain had fallen, indolent against the beat of the oncoming years.