i am physically ruined i've fallen and i can't get up but hey i stole the title from the episode woo i don't know what this is just kick me, kick me now

protégez-les: protect them

The tears are hot, she vaguely observes. They're hot and unrelenting and dribbling down into her lap, onto the bare floor, and some bits of hair are sticking to her face, and she feels swollen and hollow and small and afraid, and she wants her mom, and she wants her dad, and she wants to fall asleep between them in the dark without needing to open her eyes to look for monsters, but what will the monsters do now, now that they know they can come out and get her?

Zatanna's face screws up into what she's sure is a strange and tragic shape as she slumps over sideways and puts her face into a pillow and sobs until her shoulders feel like they're broken.

Wally's cast feels a little heavier than it used to. Cleaner, too, kind of. That part is certainly new. It still has yet to feel the same as the cast he'd gotten when he was seven and he'd fallen on the algae-covered rocks by the lake; that one was colored bright pink (it was the only color they had – he was the laughingstock at school for weeks and nobody wanted to sign it because pink apparently carried cooties) and he'd let his pet rat climb on it and it had generally been all in good fun.

This one, though – it's white, and it gets dirty far more easily, garnering soot and mustard and dust and the occasional Pop Rocks; it's cumbersome and stark no matter what he does to try to hide it, and honestly, he almost can't remember how he got it anymore. Even as he tries right now, his mind's just a stale and buzzing flatline, moving with indolent emptiness from ear to ear.

He stares, half-seeing and half-looking, at the little yellow-and-blue cup, and permits himself a twitch of a smile. It makes his face feel a lot lighter.

His birthday's soon, he realizes offhandedly, uninterestedly.

"Wally, what on earth…? I don't think you've ever hugged me this hard."

"Sorry, Mom. Just, uh, showing my appreciation! You know the drill!"

"That's fine and all, son, but I think she's going to need her arms back sooner or later. And, erm, getting mine back would be great as well."

"Yeah. Right. Sorry. Sorry. I'm just… yeah."

He almost hadn't come back to the Cave. Almost. There had been such an enormously consuming temptation to just sleep in his own bed, listening to his mother and father's chattering murmurs from the living room, but something had drawn him back here and he didn't know what it was. He couldn't decide if it was depressing or terrifying, that he was still coming back to this stupid job and this stupid place even after he thought he'd lost his parents forever.

"You stole a kid's sippy cup? That's new."

Wally jumps and yelps, whirling around in terror, but loosens when he sees Artemis standing in the doorway, leaning against the door frame. Her head rests against it and her hair is a little loose and there are dark marks under her eyes, and she's slumping a little, but the wry smirk is still there, the visage of self-importance.

Wally grumbles and turns away, trying not to remember how she'd stood almost the same way not so long ago – she'd seemed taller then, more straight-backed, more hesitant, but now she's leaning into the space like she belongs there, like she always has.

"It's not like sippy cups are a rare commodity," he mutters, scratching under his cast futilely. She's suddenly standing next to him.

"Isn't that where the…" She swallows, frowning. "Isn't that where… it used to be?"

Wally nods once.

"I like the cup better," Artemis says decisively. "Really lights up the place."

Wally mumbles apathetically, running a hand over his face.

"I'm so freaking tired," he moans into his palms. Artemis elbows him lightly, gently; he barely feels it.

"Then go home and go to sleep," she tells him. "Problem solved."

"Ugh, I won't be able to," he sighs, scratching his head. "It's one of those… speedster things."

"One of the many," Artemis remarks dryly.

A long silence passes between them, a comfortable one. Wally isn't sure if she's even there anymore and he doesn't want to look to see if she is.

"Is she okay?" he hears himself ask.

There's no answer for a second.

"No," Artemis replies evenly, like it's the easiest thing to say in the world. "But like… she will be. Everyone is, you know?"

Rob still isn't, not really, Wally thinks quietly to himself.

"I dunno." He lets his head drop back and closes his eyes, exhaling, long and loud. "I wouldn't be."

"I never really thought of it until now," Artemis says suddenly, "but parents are good things to have."

"Yeah," Wally murmurs. "In their own special way."

"You know what I mean," she whispers. Almost to herself, she adds, "I know what I mean."


Another silence comes. This one lasts longer. It's like the tide coming in. After what feels like a long time, Artemis finally speaks.

"I'm going home," she says.

"Okay," Wally replies without looking at her.

She doesn't seem to want to allow him that luxury, shoehorning herself into his field of vision. He huffs and looks her in the eye – what were previously tempestuous and harsh and hard to look at without holding one's breath are now calm and tired.

"You should go home, too," she tells him. Her voice is quiet, but her words are adamant. One of her hands is on his shoulder.

"I know," he mumbles. He shifts his shoulder out from under her fingers. She shrugs apathetically and brushes past him to leave and he doesn't say anything to her, and she's gone. Finally.

Sometimes Artemis is great for post-mission, moral-of-the-story moments, but other times it's stifling to see her, and he can't decide which is which anymore. The point is that he doesn't take the zeta tubes home; he runs there – but not before he goes by Zatanna's closed door and calls out a good night without knocking.

There's a piece of paper that rustles under her door in the middle of the night, and she's still awake, so she sees it.

She slides off the cold bed and pads barefoot over, picking up the white slip with careful fingers. Her hair is still stuck to her face, and her eyes feel raw and dry like hot coals, and she's left the light on, because for the first time in years, she's just a little bit scared of the dark.

She unfolds the paper.

I understand.


Zatanna reads the words several times.

She believes them, and she doesn't know why.

Suddenly she doesn't need to cry anymore.

When Artemis gets back home, her mother is still awake. It's one of the first nights in Gotham for a while that it hasn't been raining, and Paula had opened all of the windows to let the starry air in. She's in the middle of the living room, looking outside, when Artemis closes the door behind her and drops her keys in the plastic Tupperware container on the little table.

"Mom, it's past midnight," she says incredulously.

"Your point being?" Paula replies with a grin. "I wanted to wait up for you."

"You didn't have to," Artemis says.

"Yes I did. Now come and help me get into bed. And then get your homework done!"

Artemis's chest swims with something she can't describe.

"Yes, Mom."