A/N: I've had this one in mind for a while, keeping it in mind became the trouble.
Disclaimer: I don't own Young Justice or any associated characters.
What is Love?
She'd cried through almost the entire funeral, holding onto Wally the entire time, her body quivering and that motion translating into him. He could only reach over and try to hold her together as if she was going to fall apart, a shattered little girl held together by glue and duct tape.
He managed to get her inside their small home and onto the well-worn couch, and Brucely tried to stick his wet nose into the crooks of her crossed arms to no avail. She was too tightly wound, too stuck in her rut of despair.
"Artemis," murmured Wally, brushing messy blonde hair from her blue-grey eyes that remained red, swollen, and puffy from the day's seemingly endless tears. "Babe." He has no words to say, can't hardly fathom what she's going through. He can barely imagine her pain, although somehow he can't understand why she's so hurt.
From everything he'd heard of her childhood, that man only made her suffer. He didn't know why she loved him, why she worshipped him, why she never brought herself to hate him after all of the miseries he put onto her. Wally didn't get it. Artemis loved him through the pain, still loves him. She was loyal, he knew that, he learned that in the first few days they knew each other, but loyal to someone so terrible...
"Thanks," uttered Artemis, leaning into her boyfriend, her face burying itself in his shoulder for whatever ounce of comfort she could get out of it. "For everything. I know that was..." She actually laughed, and one hand reached up to wipe the tear trails from her pink-hued face. "That was probably hell on you, now that I think about it. I know there were at least fifteen criminals within a ten foot range of you at almost any given second."
Wally did cringe. He did now, and he did then about a thousand times earlier when he realized he was getting far too close to someone he should really be punching in the gut or kicking in the face. But he fought it off and stayed honorably by his girlfriend's side and held her upright and kept her together. He stayed loyal and kept to her, knowing that Artemis was his priority.
"Sorry you had to go through that," she said softly, apologetic eyes already on him, still brimming with burning tears. "I don't mean to put you through crap like that, I forget that they're not like us. I just know that they're family to me."
He already had one arm across her shoulders, and he used his other hand to grasp hers. "It's fine, Artemis. You know I'd do anything for you." His charming smile and promising eyes offered hope and love to his precious girl. "I'll be with you no matter what, even when it's hard like this."
She leaned into him, her head suddenly finding a perfect spot to rest on his shoulder. The girl couldn't help herself, he was warm and comfortable and all she really needed was a good hug and some sleep and she'd cry less in the morning. "Thanks, Wally," she mumbled, already settled in for a nap after the long day.
After a moment's hesitation, he finally dragged up the courage from the pit of his stomach to say: "Can I ask you something?"
Artemis was really not in the mood for questions, but after the day she'd put him through, a day of constant comforting and wiping away tears, she owed him a little bit even through her suffering. The archer girl leaned away and brought her gaze to meet his. "You just did, but I'll give you another chance."
He almost stuck his tongue out at her, so tempted to resume his usual witty banter, but he felt like the mood was wrong, especially with what laid heavy on his mind. "Why do you still love him?" he asked.
As if she'd been stuck in an icy cave for months on end, she froze up, eyes going cold and empty. "He's my dad, Wally. You of all people get that."
Wally's face stiffened with anger although he did not raise his voice. "Artemis, I've heard stories from you, even a couple from Jade for what little I ever see her, and... if you think you put me through hell today, it sounds like he dragged you through hell for fifteen years." His hand tightened around hers as he tried to keep her close to him because he knew she'd get upset. "I just don't understand why you still love your dad."
She swallowed hard and looked at their clasped hands. This was what love felt like, tender touching, light hearts, sincere smiles, hopeful smiles, adoring hugs. Wally was the first one to ever show her this side of life, that the world could be this way. Her mom taught her a little bit when she was very young, but even then there was screaming and yelling and fighting and blood and pain- Artemis just got used to blocking out the bad parts and remembering the moments when he hoisted her up and told her that she was "Daddy's Little Princess".
There were bad times too, she remembers plenty of them. He would throw around furniture like chairs and small electronics, break their glasses and plates, or pull hair and clothing from her mother or Jade when he could actually direct his anger at someone. His voice, booming and thunderous and earth-shattering, still echoed in her head from all the times he would scream at them for doing something wrong, whether it be in training or around the house. She had felt the verbal abuse like a wall of bricks coming at her, pushing her down and falling around her, crushing her, suffocating her, making her feel helpless and doomed, blocking out every ounce of hope and sunlight. When she felt like this, Artemis usually hid in a closet, and she still tried to get away and curl up in a corner when Wally got angry with her, which was hardly ever, but she knew that her boyfriend had noticed these tendencies, which was probably why he was pushing right now.
"He's my dad," she defended softly, voice timid as all these memories, primarily the bad ones, resurfaced to the front of her mind. She inwardly cringed, but she also felt her body reel away from Wally's; why, she had no answer, but she wasn't used to human contact when she felt confronted or uncomfortable. Having a constant presence, one that she didn't have to fear, was still a new feeling. "He did a lot of stuff, both good and bad, but he's my dad. He raised me."
His lower lip was almost quivering. How badly he wanted to hold her and tell her she would never have to suffer through that again...but she was pulling away and drawing back... Wally had assumed it many times before, but now he felt convinced that Sportsmaster had done more than just the verbal and mental abuse that Artemis had expressed. "Artemis-"
"If he didn't raise me-" The archer pulled away from her boyfriend further, her voice rising. "-then I never would've been strong enough to be on the team. And I never would've met you." She was nearly shaking with frustration. "If my dad wasn't who he was, I wouldn't have a good boyfriend and a decent house and a nice dog! He raised me and I became who I am today!" Her eyes were now glaring at him, burning with fury. "You should've thanked him for what he did to me, Wally! You wouldn't have me right now if he didn't treat me the way he did!"
Wally's soft voice brought her back down from the adrenaline high driven by anger. Artemis felt her chest cave as she realized she was doing what he used to do whenever he was confronted by someone he wasn't supposed to hit. Still, that didn't always mean he wouldn't. But she'd pulled into the only stance she knew how to take when she couldn't strike out to protect herself: yelling. The girl curled into herself, pulling her legs tighter to her body, every muscle going stiff; her eyes were on their still joined hands, focusing on the way their fingers interlocked.
And she remembered he would never let go.
"Babe, I get it," he began quietly. "I know you love him, I know I should be grateful for him giving me you, and I know I probably should've respected him more than I did. But I worry about everything that he did to you." Wally slowly tried to put his arm around her again. "I just want to make sure you're okay, Artemis. Today wasn't easy on you either."
He'd died over a week ago. She'd been in mourning for a week, and she'd probably be miserable for a few months beyond this, but Artemis was doing much better now than she'd been in the past seven days. And sadly, thinking it out and talking it out with Wally made her feel better. In her mind, it shouldn't've made her feel better.
"I'm upset," she muttered slowly, "but I'll be alright eventually. It's just going to... I need time."
"Of course," he said with a curt nod and an understanding face. "I get that."
And a lull came over them like a wave, and both hushed. She rested her head on his arm that wrapped around her shoulders. Artemis felt his warm, calloused fingers playing with the strands of blonde that had escaped her ponytail.
Hesitant to ask because he wasn't sure he wanted to know the answer, Wally mustered up his voice. "Did he ever hurt you, Artemis?" He didn't want to imagine her body painted in black and blue from the hands of someone she loved. He'd seen her beat up plenty of times, but he didn't want to see it in such painful light. "Like..." He couldn't even bring himself to say it.
But Artemis could say it. "Physically?" she affirmed with his subtle, tentative nod. She ran through her Rolodex of both good and bad memories, and after a bit, the girl paused and squeezed his hand; her eyes would not meet his. "No." The girl smiled to herself sadly. "He never hurt me." She swallowed hard and tried to just breathe for a moment. All she wanted to do was fold herself into Wally's loving arms. "But it felt like he did. It felt like every day was a punishment just because I existed. But he never hurt me."
Now, he did pull her into his arms and tucked her face into his chest and kissed her crown of golden hair and whispered hundreds of times over again how much he loved her and how he'd never let her go.
She'd broken down again, her tears soaking the white shirt beneath his dark suit. Her fists balled up in his shirt. "And he was still my dad..."
A/N: Do you know how short this was supposed to be? It was supposed to cover the scope of these last five paragraphs and have some sort of big reflective montage and instead it leaned more Spitfire, but I feel like the juxtaposition justifies the switch from my original plan for this one. Anyways, please leave a review. Thanks for reading.