Chapter 15: Too Perfect
He could feel her, smell her, taste her as her lips met his. She was restless as the ocean, and just as deep. Her orange hair that mimicked the color of a setting sun, and it was soft as sand as he pulled his fingers through Tula's hair. Her skin was pressed against his, warm and smooth as she pressed himself into him – she smelled like home. Her mouth was locked against his, and he could taste the currents of the sea, could feel how alive she was. She moved with the power and grace of the ocean, and he loved it. From her eyes, vibrant and clean, glimmering with ocean-blue, to her sun-kissed skin, she was the ocean he missed. She was his home.
In the simulation, he'd missed her. He'd watched her from afar as they'd practiced magic, had befriended her and cherished the words they'd shared. He'd always thought she was more beautiful than any other, both in spirit and in appearance. From the kindness she displayed from to the smile she wore, she was perfect. However, in the reality the doctor's had given him, his path had lead away from hers. His love had become pain, and he'd watched her slip away into Garth's waiting arms. He'd felt his heart bleed, and though his position as leader had become more direct as a result, it didn't stop the loneliness. It hadn't healed the wound she'd left, but to ask her to do otherwise was selfish. He'd let her go. Up on the Land, there was a saying that promised that there were always more fish in the sea. But he didn't want just anyone, he'd wanted her. He'd wanted her so badly, but for the sake of both his best friend and Tula, he'd given up his petty desires and taken on the leadership role. It'd hurt, but no one had known. It'd been for the best; it was his duty to be strong, a leader. He'd given up any obligation to himself the moment he'd been selected as leader, and he'd respected that…despite what the consequences were.
She pulled away from him gently – he was never the first; he'd never leave her again. He'd never let that happen, never let her slip away. He was free, finally – he had no team, wasn't responsible for them. He was allowed to be selfish now, to have and hold Tula without spitting in the eye of authority or turning his back to his friends.
"You better go," she whispered, her eyes bright with happiness as she looked at him, "Practice starts in seven minutes, and I don't think coach wants you wasting time."
"Forgive me," Kaldur murmured, catching a lock of her short hair and twisting it around his finger before she leaned in for a last kiss, "But I would not use the term 'wasted' to describe my time with you," he finished, and she giggled when her let her go.
They were alone at the edge of the school's pool, the team having not yet arrived. Without warning, Tula developed a mischievous grin before diving at him for one last hug. Kaldur smiled and spread out his arms, waiting for her to fall into them – but instead her hands landed square on his chest, and pushed him into the water.
The movement took him by surprise, and he tumbled backward, hitting the water with a splash – at that moment, a faint headache rumbled near the base of his skull. He felt the water suddenly as he sank into it, felt the sweet liquid filter through his gills. It was soothing, a ghost of familiarity – Kaldur's thoughts took pause…his gills? That wasn't possible; his Atlantean body had been the creation of doctors and scientists. He shouldn't be able to breathe – but he could. He felt it, and felt how good it was, how natural.
But he was a fish out of water, and he felt frantic as he thought of Tula – what if she saw? What would she say? How could he explain what he himself could not comprehend? How could he explain the impossible?
Before he could fully wrap his head around the strange development, he heard a whisper in his mind.
"Not real," the voice explained simply – it sounded achingly familiar, so calm and stern. He recognized the voice, wanted it to speak again.
But his concentration was broken as hands wrapped around his arms and pulled him to the surface in a quick, almost frantic, fashion. His head broke surface, and Kaldur's hands lung automatically to his neck before he was even aware of his motions – he felt smooth bare skin meet his fingertips. The hands wrapped around his arms belonged to Garth, Kaldur realized, as he turned his head and coughed on some water he hadn't properly filtered.
"Kal? Kal, you okay?" Garth asked – Tula was on the edge of the pool, her eyes alight with the same worry that tinted Garth's own expression. She looked sick – both of them did.
"Fine," Kaldur coughed a bit more, shaking his head to get water from his ears, "Perfectly fine." Rather confused, however, he added silently in his mind.
Because for a few seconds, he'd lost his grip on reality. He'd been an Atlantean, he'd felt responsible, more awake than he had in…since he left the doctor's office.
"I'm just fine."
Artemis walked up to Roy's room, giving the closed door a few dainty knocks. The sun had long since faded from view, and the house was asleep. It was quite, and even her nimble footsteps sounded like falling anvils to her ears. Artemis had crept out of her room silently once she was positive they were all asleep – even Dinah, who by some miracle was immune to Ollie's persistent snores. She really didn't want to wake them up, didn't want them to catch her. They already thought she was emotionally out-of-whack since the simulation, but she didn't wasn't to add 'crazy' to their list. Admittedly, a part of her considered the possibility she might actually be crazy. For right now though, she needed to believe she was sane, and it was just the world that had gone nuts before her eyes – Artemis sighed. That sounded like something a crazy person would hope for. She was knocking at Roy's door at two in two in the morning, praying he would hear her before either of her adopted parents woke up.
Artemis sighed, knocking quietly again, her heart thudding in her chest. The pounding rhythm of her breathing would wake Roy up before her stupid knocking did.
She originally had been planning on keeping the whole "Zatanna" incident to herself. Mostly because she didn't want to sound irrational. But it'd been gnawing on her all day, tailing every stray thought – Zatanna's scared eyes piercing into her own as the magician told her she shouldn't be there kept flashing into her mind. Because she shouldn't have been there. Her friend shouldn't have had magic phrases charging out of her mouth, and it shouldn't have worked even if she had. Something was going on, and Artemis tried to ignore it. But the images haunted her. She needed to tell someone, and Roy was the least likely to throw her into the arms of the Looney Bin.
"Roy?" she hissed at the door quietly, frantic for a moment, worried he wouldn't wake up, but then she heard a groan and she perked up. Heavy footfalls made their way towards the door, and Artemis backed up right before the door swung lazily open. Roy was standing in front of her in a white tank top and boxers, a tired look on his face that appeared to have barely settled before his mouth fell open into a yawn. His red hair was spiked up and messy, and his eyes took a second to settle on her.
For a brief moment she wandered how he'd managed to pull himself together and follow her to Gotham, but before she could muse for too long, Roy clamped his mouth shut, effectively stifling the yawn.
"Artemis? Do you have any idea what time it is?" he asked, his voice more awake than he'd appeared moments before. His need to speak had brought him back to life, and a few eye blinks later he seemed to have collected himself before he got an exasperated look on his face, "Don't tell me you're going to Gotham again."
"No," Artemis snapped before letting out an apologetic expression spread as it took over her face, "I just need to talk to you."
"It couldn't have waited until sunrise?" Roy grumbled rhetorically before he pushed the door open wider for the younger archer to come in, "Come on, before Dinah wakes up. She's a light sleeper."
Artemis nodded and slipped into the room, the door shutting behind her. Roy's room was on the sparser side, so Artemis stood and Roy planted his back onto his bed, his sheets a mess beneath him as he faced the ceiling.
"Why are you at my door at two in the morning?" he asked pointedly, not facing her. She felt the conversation stiffen – her breath catching as her brain took in everything at once. It wasn't Roy who'd killed the flow they'd been creating, it was Artemis as she felt her worries collide into her, embrace her. What she said now would either ease her frustrations, confirm them, or endorse the possibility that Artemis Crock was, in fact, crazy.
Piercing blue eyes stared at her with accusation, piercing her soul – begging and pleading…and scared, terrified of what her presence would mean.
Artemis caught the reactions, those unsure emotions hitting her radar like a flare in the night. Her mouth went dry – Roy knew.
Or at least, something equally abnormal had happened to him.
Relief flooded through her, her previous uncertainty falling from her shoulders. Breathing became suddenly easier, like a giant weight had been shifted from her chest. Her shoulders sagged like she'd physically dropped a heavy burden – the liberation was extreme. She felt like her old self suddenly, felt strong and unyielding. She wasn't afraid of Dinah's interference or of Roy's opinion.
Roy watched her transformation in silence before releasing a defeated sigh – he could read her as well as she'd read him.
The redhead paused, "It happened to you too." It wasn't a question. Just a statement. Artemis had never seen Roy look so…tired before, with the bags under his eyes. He sat up straighter and, despite the bags she could see forming under his eyes, gave her an analytical look, "What happened with you?"
"I was in the lunchroom. And suddenly, I guess, I was with Zatanna." Artemis started to explain.
"Zatanna? The magician girl?" Roy asked in mild surprise.
Artemis nodded, her eyes locked onto him, watching his reactions just as pointedly as he was eyeing hers, "Yeah, it gets weirder. She was using magic, and things were flying everywhere. We were on some sort of old stage, and I think she must've been getting ready for a magic show, because random props were all around us, in the air, trying to walk – a wand tried to kebab me. Zatanna looked like she just wanted it all to stop – she looked…scared."
"If she was using magic, why wouldn't she just stop it?" Roy questioned, an inquisitive look on his face. Artemis got the idea that Roy was looking for a loophole.
"It didn't look like she could control what was going on. I ran over to ask her what was going on, and then a voice was in my head."
Roy's eyebrows shot up in recognition.
"Same thing happened to me. When I was practicing in the archery range. I kept missing this shot, or something kind of stupid like that, but then my arrows couldn't miss. Some voice came into my head, and told me 'Not real', and then it was gone."
Artemis gave a tight frown and nodded, "Something's going on."
Author's Note: Okay, yet another no PM. I just want to publish this or I never will. Honestly guys, thanks for all the kind words, I mean everyone has been giving really encouraging reviews. And good ones too, nice and full of compliments! Thank you guys. It really means a lot to me :)