Long story short: I had a lousy week and compensated with shameless post-apocalyptic angst. Forgive me. Inspired by a strip on the "asofterjustice" blog on Tumblr.
Disclaimer: I claim no ownership to or affiliation with Young Justice.
Wally missed being able to see the sky.
He wondered if the others did, too. It didn't seem to be terribly important to them, but that could be because Artemis was now blind, or that Kaldur was too busy wondering where the sea had gone. It had moved so far out from them, brown and chalky, that they could no longer find it. Sometimes the skeletal remains of Poseidonis would be visible when the dust storms cleared, breaking up over the horizon like black ribs.
They lost Robin. Just last week. He'd gone topside without protection and he'd paid for it. Nobody really knew why he had. As he'd coughed up little splatters of blood a few days ago with Wally seated against the metal wall beside his cot, he'd mumbled something about wanting to breathe, wanting to spread his arms and feel the world again. He asked Wally if maybe he'd see his parents again, and Wally hated being a scientist, then. Wally had tried his best not to blame him. He'd held his hand. None of them had heard from Batman since.
M'gann's skin was a strange shade of gray now, making her red hair light the hollows of her cheeks like flames. She would float around the underground shelters, pulling at her fingers until the joints popped like bubbles, her clawed feet dangling uselessly beneath her. The freckles that had once been gathered on her cheeks were gone, now. They had been there for a while, early on, but they had begun to resemble scattered ashes, so she had let them fall away.
Superboy – no, Conner; there was no need for those names anymore – stayed habitually beside her. Even when she would wander the dim mazes below ground, he would straggle in her wake like a dazed child. When he would place his fingers between hers, she would blink sleepily as if he had taken her by surprise, and he would kiss them each in turn, and she would run her pale digits along the cauterized stump of his left arm. They never spoke to each other anymore. Everyone knew about the mind-link they had. They had no reason to talk aloud. Conner would amble through the empty caves of her mind and fill them with something and she would close her eyes and meet him there.
Artemis's white eyes were often partially concealed by the short blonde strands that now haphazardly framed her face. She walked around on her own with surprising ease – it hadn't taken her long to learn to navigate by the echoes in the crevices of the changing walls – but sometimes, her hand would find his elbow, and she would clutch it wordlessly, frowning at an indistinct point, and her grip would be so tight that it would hurt. Wally never complained, not even when she would inexplicably rest her head on his shoulder as they fell asleep sitting against a wall. Not even then. The dirt and dust under his fingernails would feel like wounds. Her breath would be hot. Humid. But he never complained. Nor did she, when he insisted on calling her Hawkeye.
At least Barry and Iris had died in relatively close succession. Wally wished and wished and wished that he could believe that they were spending eternities together in some far, clear beach of the afterlife, but he couldn't, no matter how hard he tried. He still didn't know what had happened to his parents. Grandpa Jay had been Below for a while, but he hadn't lasted too long. Wally used to listen to him telling stories about the days when he had not needed to be afraid of things like this. Grandpa Jay had always been good at telling stories.
Wally never cried at the right things. He didn't cry when Robin's shaking hand went still in his; he cried when he was cleaning out his things and found an old yo-yo that he'd given him as a gift, one that had the Flash symbol on it. He didn't cry when Artemis came stumbling towards him so many months ago, hands pressed against her eyes, screaming; he cried when it was muffled by her hair as she slept against him, her fingers curling as though she was holding a bow and couldn't find one. He didn't cry when Roy finally, finally reunited with them; he cried when Roy offhandedly mentioned "That fucking yellow hat" one night next to the bonfire. He didn't cry with Kaldur for the lost civilization of Atlantis, burned to a husk during the fallout. He didn't cry with M'gann. He didn't cry with Conner. When Artemis finally caught him – he was pressed face-first against the wall, digging his fingernails into the dirt and choking – she fumbled around for his shoulder before finding it and gradually embracing him from behind, her grip angry and disappointed but hurtfully empathetic. Her forehead had pushed against the space between his shoulders.
"It's not fair," he rasped over and over. "It's not fair. It's not fair. It's not fair."
"You're lucky I can't see your face right now," Artemis croaked back. "I'd be smacking it. Lighten up."
"I can't lighten up," he protested, gritting his teeth, smashing his forehead against the dirt. "And don't make jokes like that. Jesus."
"You can lighten up. That's your job." She held him tightly. "I'm counting on you."
"You?" he whispered. "Counting on me?"
"Yeah." She nodded against his torn shirt and he wanted to hold her and kiss her and trace her veins, but the thought that she would not be able to look at him the same way she used to, stormy and untamed, made him feel sick to his stomach.
"I don't want to die," he confessed hoarsely.
"Nobody does," she told him. "Everybody thinks you'll be less alone if you're dead. But you'll be more alone. You'll rot. And—"
"Stop," he murmured. "Stop. Stop. Stop."
"Wally West," she said quietly. Wally choked, a broken, wet sound.
"Artemis Crock," he replied. She let go and walked away, tugging just for a moment on his pinkie finger. He didn't think to follow her. He heard the faint echoes of sticky rain falling far above them, wriggling through the high and hollow ceilings.
He thought of sitting in his tenth grade homeroom, staring with boredom out at the bright blue skies, the fluttering birds, the swaying trees, and wishing he could be out there, yonder, racing towards the sun. These were the memories he hoarded. Memories of the outside. Of the Above, up there. He hadn't gone up since the fallout, not even when Conner had, just to see if it would hurt him.
A dissonant tune was playing in his head. A remnant of M'gann's burgeoning thoughts, skirting through his mind. He remembered the days when he had wanted to kiss her, chaste and bumbling, and he permitted himself a smile at the presence of Conner in her head, keeping her company, singing her to sleep. He remembered the words he had spoken at Robin's side almost a year and a half ago, in a half-real nightmare. We will rebuild, and we will thrive.
We will rebuild, and we will thrive.
We will rebuild, and we will thrive.
We will rebuild. Rebuild. And we will thrive. Thrive.
Artemis died a couple of months later. Wally didn't know what to say or do except hold her and tell her, tell her that they would build the tallest skyscrapers to the sky until it turned blue again, that they would run through the night with their masks on and their powers ready and their hearts drumming, saving people, rescuing, heroing.
He didn't know why she didn't call him a liar.