The next time Artemis wakes, it's to the sound of several familiar voices in soft conversation. Someone is holding one of her hands, and she can sense another presence on her other side, the mattress dipping under someone else's weight.
"Artemis." Her mother's voice is quiet, slightly amused. "I know you're awake, baby."
"Mmph." she replies, scrunching her nose.
Robin's characteristic cackle sounds off somewhere to her left. Not a second later someone's tickling her feet through the blankets, and someone else has taken a lock of her hair to tease across her nose. Artemis snorts herself upright and glares at Wally and Robin, who retreat to a safe distance as soon as her eyes snap open and lean on each other as they laugh. Before she can decide whether beating them is worth getting out of bed, M'gann has flown over, beaming, and latched on in a persistent, if gentle, hug. "Artemis! We were so worried, we've been waiting for you to wake up for days-"
"It is good to see your eyes again." Kaldur smiles. Connor nods from where he's lounging against the wall; Wolf pops up beside her mother to place his front paws on the bed and give her cheek an enthusiastic lick, not looking the least bit offended when she grimaces at his doggy breath and uses the sheet to wipe her face. Black Canary smiles quietly from a chair near the other side of the door, next to none other than Red Arrow, who looks- well, the same as ever, if slightly less sulky.
A momentary silence descends; before it can get unbearably awkward, Red Arrow takes matters into his own blunt hands. "So how'd Joker catch you in the first place?"
Artemis freezes. Black Canary sighs and elbows him; the rest of her team looks at her expectantly, and Artemis swallows hard. M'gann puts a hand to her shoulder and looks down at her with sympathetic eyes.
Finding it impossible to look at the rest of them, Artemis casts her gaze to her lap and her fisted hands. "I wasn't expecting it... he came up behind me and..."
"Why were you in Gotham?" Red Arrow's tone is neutral, but she can feel the others' eyes on her and she's never hated anyone more. Artemis draws her knees up to her chest; she feels trapped, and not being able to run weighs on her, the shadow of being tied to that chair lurking in the back of her head. She can almost hear his laugh, that ungodly dark chuckle-
-no, she's not thinking about it, focus, focus. Daddy taught her better than that, she has better discipline than this. What was the question again?
"... I live there." she admits quietly to her knees.
They wait a beat for her to elaborate; when she doesn't, it's Robin who prompts her. "Artemis."
"My... my dad is..." Oh God, she can't do this. Artemis punches her bad leg in frustration. "Dammit!"
Before anyone can move, before most of them even realize what happened, Paula's grabbed Artemis' wrist in one hand, slightly lifted her arm, and poked her hard in the armpit. The arm immediately has all the dexterity of a limp noodle. "Artemis!"
"Ow." Momentarily distracted, she scowls at her mother. "Bit of an overreaction, don't you think?" she asks in Vietnamese.
"No." her mother scowls right back. "I'm not going to let you hurt yourself. Especially not after what just happened. It's also rude, you know, when all of them put so much effort into getting you back and were so worried about you."
Artemis bites her lip, and Paula's face softens. "Artemis, they are your friends. They'll understand."
"And what if they don't?" Artemis counters.
"They will. And you'll feel better after telling them, anyway. Keeping secrets is exhausting." Paula gives her daughter a steely- eyed stare. "I would know."
"Fine." Artemis sighs, then, "M'gann?"
"Yes?" the Martian asks uncertainly.
Artemis looks straight at her and projects her thoughts. Is it possible to lie to you telepathically?
Probably, at least for someone with enough experience and powerful enough shielding, M'gann replies slowly, but it would be difficult and I would probably know. It would be easier to try to keep me out altogether. I've never tested it. Why?
Could you link us up, please? I don't think I can say this out loud. Artemis' eyes drop to her knees; she fists the sheet in her one working hand.
Miss Martian's eyes glow.
Artemis? What is going on? Kaldur takes a step toward the bed, his usual calm morphing into concern.
I... I'm not Green Arrow's niece. She still can't look at them.
And... my mom's not the first member of my family that you guys have met.
Then who- starts Wally, only to be shushed by Robin, who's watching Artemis intently.
Artemis raises her head, looks at Wally. My sister tried to kill you.
M'gann is much faster to process this than their resident speedster, who just looks stunned. Your sister is... Cheshire?
Yeah. And my dad- she takes a deep breath- my dad's Sportsmaster. Grey eyes hold green. He's the one who trained me.
Why didn't you tell us? Kaldur and Connor ask simultaneously, but where Kaldur sounds neutral, Connor's tone is anything but.
I... she closes her eyes hard, swallows back tears. Would you want to admit that your dad's Sportsmaster? Everything I do is automatically suspect. I just... I just wanted this one thing. I wanted to do something good with what he taught me, and yeah, maybe I wanted to throw it in his face. That I'm not like him. Her knuckles are as white as the sheet in their grasp. I'm not gonna do what he wants me to.
And what does he want you to do? Robin inquires.
Exactly what you'd expect. she snorts, gaze snapping to the Boy Wonder. He was training me to take orders, probably to join the Shadows myself.
When did this training end? Kaldur puts a hand to Superboy's shoulder, trying to calm him down; Connor shrugs it off, but keeps his temper in check.
In August, when Mom got out of prison.
What... what was she in prison for? It's the first time Wally's spoken since Artemis dropped her bombshell, and she's grateful that he's not angry. Not yet, anyway.
Mom and Dad both used to work for the League of Shadows. she tells them, and even her mental tone is so quiet they have to strain to pick it up. Their last job went bad; there was a fight, and Mom... Mom fell... she falters, and Wally casts a sharp glance at Robin, whose lips have gone tight. After we knew she was gonna make it, they went ahead and pressed charges. Mom pled guilty in return for a reduced sentence. They moved her straight from the hospital to the pen. Jade left that night.
How old were you? Robin wants to know.
Before anyone quite realizes what's happened, the medbay is overlaid with the ghostly image of a shadowy bedroom; it makes their heads ache looking at it, but when Wally tries closing his eyes, the memory is playing out behind his eyelids. They hear Artemis pleading with her sister, Jade's voice answering back.
"I'll disappear... like the Cheshire cat."
Little Artemis hadn't cried. She sank to her knees, clutching her bear, eyes cast downward; but she didn't cry, because Crocks don't cry. Artemis didn't even feel like sobbing, didn't feel the grief; there was a strange, hollow numbness.
The memory cuts off abruptly.
Sorry, I'm sorry- two voices clamor, as both girls on the team apologize. Both sound close to tears, but when the boys look, only M'gann is actually crying; Artemis stares at her knees with a scarily blank look on her face, and Robin recognizes it with a dropping sensation in his stomach.
That's the same expression he saw in the mirror after the Exercise. It's the same expression he saw after his parents' death, that he sometimes sees on Batman after a particularly hard call, the same yawning emptiness that Artemis had felt the night Jade left.
Wally looks torn but it's M'gann who takes action, floating above the sickbed and curling around her friend, resting her head on the blonde's shoulder. Robin is the next to move, standing at the head of the bed and putting a hand to the shoulder not claimed by the Martian; Paula, settled further down near her daughter's hand, gives the Boy Wonder a grateful look.
In the days between Artemis' awakening and being declared fit for zeta- tube travel, the entire Team stays in the mountain.
Between school and the "Dynamic Duo thing," as Wally calls it, Robin is constantly running in and out of the Cave, and it's anyone's guess as to how he can keep it all straight and maintain his dual lives. But the Boy Wonder earned his title, and he manages somehow- Robin usually comes in later than the others, but at some point he always winds up sacked out in the medbay with the rest of them, and it has to be Robin who keeps pushing the beds together when they're asleep, because who else could do it without being caught?
It doesn't do to look a gift horse in the mouth, though, because however the individual beds become one giant bed in the middle of the night, it's the one thing keeping them from having nightmares. Paula realizes this, and it is for this reason that she doesn't push for Artemis to come home sooner, even after Paula herself senses that she's reached the end of her welcome and allows the League to remove her from the base. In the nights preceding her departure, Paula witnesses the beginning of several nightmares- usually Artemis and Kid Flash (who, despite the disapproval of every adult present, grinned at her and told her to call him "Wally" before pressing her for embarrassing stories about Artemis)- but Megan the Martian will furrow her brow, and the others will settle down. Or Robin will snuggle up to the one having trouble, and they will calm; Kaldur is rarely present (though he never left the base when Artemis was unconscious, and took over Paula's vigil whenever she needed a break,) but when he is there, the reserved Atlantean is surprisingly casual about putting a hand to the shoulder of a teammate whose sleep is less than peaceful. Paula has never seen his touch fail to soothe.
His presence, too, is a balm in and of itself. She finds herself talking to this boy, telling him much more than she'd originally meant to but somehow unable to regret it. She recognizes it now, that tone in Artemis' voice whenever she talked about the team leader, the soft, grateful look in her eye whenever she mentioned Aqualad. Paula is glad Artemis has found a brother, glad that Kaldur is looking out for her little girl.
Even Connor, the standoffish Superman lookalike, curls up with the rest of them at night. M'gann forms a bridge between him and the others, holding his arm like a teddy bear, head tucked against his shoulder. Wolf usually takes up a position at their feet, ears pricked even in sleep, great golden eyes opening whenever a noise catches his attention.
And Wally, the bright boy with the sparkling green eyes (oh, Paula can see why Artemis is so taken with him, this speedster who never stops talking,) only slows down when he's asleep, sprawled out among the others. It makes Paula smile to see him, always between Robin and Artemis no matter where he starts the night, never jostling her daughter's injuries no matter how restless he becomes. Sometimes when she knows she is the only one awake, Paula can't help but brush the hair back from his brow; she has forged a connection with Kaldur, M'gann is as eagerly friendly as a puppy, and she and Robin have an understanding, but Wally is special to her. He addresses her as "Artemis' mom!" often as not. She, stuck in the chair, admires and envies his free movement; in his turn, Wally is careful to pay attention when they have a conversation. She can see why Artemis is so drawn to him (and Paula sees where this is going, even if Artemis refuses to,) but spending some time with the redheaded boy reassures her. He'll be good for Artemis- draw her out, challenge her a little. Artemis will be good for him; steady him, help him grow.
Knowing that Artemis is in the care of these extraordinary boys and girl is the only way Paula is able to make herself leave; unexpectedly easing the transition is Alfred's new habit of calling, checking up on her and occasionally dropping by for tea. In his own way, he's as calming as Kaldur, and Paula can't help but look forward to the impromptu visits.
She knows it won't be easy. She dreads the day Artemis has to face Sportsmaster in the field (because it's coming, she can feel it coming,) and from what little information her long- dormant network and Alfred are able to give her, something big is brewing. Her mother's instinct wakes her up at night sometimes in a cold sweat, terrified for Artemis or Jade or both. But then she will remember the way the teenagers looked, all piled together like puppies, taking solace from one another; Paula remembers the sharp, uncompromising competence of both Alfred and Batman; she lays her hand on the knife she keeps under her pillow and the pistol in her bedside drawer, and she is able to go back to sleep.
AWKWARD ENDING IS AWKWARD.