Whoops, I almost forgot to post part two. Aheh. I'm a durr.
Disclaimer: I claim no ownership to nor affiliation with Young Justice.
"Artemis Crock is dead," Wally tells the glistening brownish spot on the sidewalk. Black Canary told him it would help, reminding himself. But she was never a particularly skilled therapist to begin with.
"She's dead," he repeats, and even then it feels like a lie, heavy on the surface of his tongue. He wants nothing more than to spit it out and watch it shrivel in the hot sunlight, dissolving into the dirt, but it stays there, tasting bitter against his teeth.
"How many times are you going to say it before it doesn't mean anything anymore?"
Wally turns around to meet the sound of the familiar voice and sees Dick standing beside him, blue eyes hard in the evening light.
"As many times as I need to, I guess," he mutters, returning his attention to the stain on the pavement. He hears Dick sigh beside him.
"You're doing it wrong," he tells him frankly, and Wally hates how easily he can conjure up such eloquence, such gravity.
"Thanks, I'll remember that," he spits out bitterly.
"I heard you went to Gotham Academy." Dick stretches. His neck cracks loosely.
Wally nods, expressionless.
"You really shouldn't do stuff like that, Wally," Dick declares. "You could get in trouble."
"Uh-oh, trouble," Wally says sarcastically, waving his hands around as if recounting a horror story.
"I'm serious," Dick snaps. Wally goes silent. (Ordinarily, the sight of the blue eyes would be like a punch to the face, such a shock, such a rare thing, but it hardly affects him now.) "Wally. You have to let go."
"Why is everyone telling me to let go?" Wally shouts, voice hoarse. "I can hold on for as long as I like! You saw what happened the last time I let go of something. You were there."
Dick nods slowly.
"Yeah. I was there," he whispers. "I was here."
In unison, they both lift their heads and gaze at the top of the building towering over them, at the broken laundry lines that she'd grabbed onto instinctively, at the edge of the dent in the stone from Conner's wayward fist.
Wally turns and walks away and Dick doesn't follow him.
"Artemis Crock is deeeeeeead," Artemis wailed with flailing arms in a comically spooky voice, and Wally cackled into his hand, falling backwards onto the couch.
"There is no Artemiiiiiiis," she continued. "Only Zuul."
Wally continued laughing without reprieve – and really, who would have thought that he'd be spending his Friday night cracking up about movies with Artemis in the Cave's living room, bandaged and bruised and entirely indifferent to his injuries?
"I dunno, I'm pretty sure it's been Zuul all along," he managed to snicker. Artemis whacked him on the elbow and got to her feet, smirking.
"I'll go get us some popcorn," she said.
Wally, half-joking, half-serious, rested his head on the back of the couch and sighed, "Ah, you light up my life, She-Devil."
"Flattery will get you nowhere." She patted his head. "But thanks. It's a tough job, but somebody's gotta do it."
"I'm glad it's you, then."
She looks at him, then, with a certain warm quality behind her stormy eyes that he had never seen before, but it only lasts for the briefest of moments before they go back to being mischievous and poised and belligerent, and she goes into the kitchen without a word.
It didn't occur to him until much, much later that she had told him her real name.
Artemis Crock is dead.
Batgirl reminds him a great deal of her, though. When she leaps and kicks and swings through fights, appearing seemingly from nowhere to help them without being prompted, she seems so eerily similar to a girl he used to know.
He knows it isn't possible. He has to know it isn't possible.
Batgirl never speaks. Her black cowl, pointed and unusually shiny, covers her entire face except for a pair of pale lips; she grits her teeth when she backflips through the air and knocks henchmen out with her bare hands, and when she stands at the edges of buildings and gazes down at the Team for the briefest of moments before darting away, her silhouette is sharp around the edges.
Even when pressed, Dick will divulge nothing about her identity – not even about whether she stays at the Batcave. His short black hair is spiky over his forehead, and the angles in his jaw are becoming more prominent as the months pass.
"Not really my place to tell you, nosy," he snickers when Wally hounds him for information.
"You suck," Wally mutters, punching him in the shoulder, and Dick cackles lightly to himself.
Artemis is dead.
That fact rings around in his head from time to time when he least expects it: when he runs through the Nevada desert to get some air in the summer; when he eats an entire tub of mint chocolate chip ice cream at the Cave; when he beats Dick in hand-to-hand combat training; whenever Ghostbusters comes up on the television – when he rides in the bioship out to missions and thinks of her sitting in the so-called driver's seat, her gaze adamant.
"You don't have to prove anything to me," he had said. "Okay?"
And her voice had been soft when she had murmured, "Okay."
He remembers that she's gone when he's staying the night at Wayne Manor and the dawn crawls in through the curtains, blue and yellow and pink and whispering. He remembers when he drags himself back home after a mission and his uniform is torn and there is dirt beneath his fingernails and there is sweat clumped at the roots of his hair.
"Whatever, Baywatch," she had told him once, her smile smug and irritating. "I'm here to stay."
He doesn't mind the fact that she had lied. He's accepted that Artemis was a liar. They all are, truth be told. M'gann, for example, lies whenever she says that it's not hard to watch Hello, Megan!anymore. Zatanna lies when she laughs at the reminiscent stories that Kaldur fondly tells late at night, and Kaldur lies when he says that retelling them makes him happy. Conner lies when he says that it isn't so bad anymore, and Dick lies every time he looks Wally in the eye and tells him it will get better.
It hasn't gotten much better, really. It's just gotten less noticeable.
They're fighting the Riddler tonight, and his high and nasal giggle punctuates the smoggy night air in the alleyway behind the WayneCorp building. Wally wrestles with one of his green-clad accomplices, trying to aim the gun away from his own face, but the henchman's arms are strong and his aim is steady.
Wally gasps and closes his eyes tightly, but a great cry erupts from above him and suddenly the weight of the henchman is lifted from him. He sits up to see Batgirl kicking him to the ground, fervent and furious and final.
"Thanks," Wally says to her, feeling his heart thudding.
She nods brusquely to him and leaps away to help the others.
They win. It isn't terribly hard. The Riddler escapes, but hopefully his accomplices will have some info. As they Dick hogties them and M'gann summons the bioship as usual, Wally turns to see Batgirl scaling a fire escape with catlike quickness.
"Hey," he calls up to her, stepping forward. She halts, glancing over the rail at him, crouched.
He gulps. "Did I mention, uh, thanks?"
After a moment, she nods pointedly. He blinks and steps back, waving awkwardly.
"Okay. Cool. Cool, then. Just, uh, making sure..."
He's about to leave to help the rest of the Team, who are already boarding the bioship, but Batgirl's covered gaze stops him for the briefest of seconds.
He looks her in the eye (or, well, the filmy white shapes of her cowl's mask). There is a silence that snakes between his limbs and tugs at them.
Finally, astonishingly, she speaks, and it is the fleetest, most impulsively uttered word he has ever heard – deliberate and short but somehow desperate and infinite – and she has hardly finished saying it before she's already gone, leaping out of sight. But it roots him to the ground.
"Artemis Crock is dead, you moron," Artemis rasps with both of her hands on either side of his head, shaking him. Her forehead is pressed to his, sweaty and warm. "She's dead. I'm dead."
"Yeah, that worked out great," Wally quips, and every inch of him is shuddering and uncontrollable, humming and vibrating with bewilderment. "Death becomes you."
He closes his eyes.
"You lied to me," he whispers, and the words aren't bitter; they are resigned, filled with understanding, and Artemis's grip on his temples tightens. Her black cowl is gathered at the nape of her neck, curtained by her chin-length blonde hair. "Again."
"I had to," she murmurs. "I'd say I'm sorry, but I'm not."
"We could've been there for you."
"No." She shakes her head against his. "It was for you, too."
"Oh. How touching." Wally's voice is alternating between spiteful and ecstatic and heartbroken, and he hates every second of it, but the feel of Artemis against him is too disorienting for him to dwell on the matter too extensively. "As you can see, it really helped me out."
"Okay. You know what? I am sorry. I'm sorry."
Wally kisses her. She tastes like salt and dirt and sweat, and her lips are chapped and wind-worn.
"What, too soon?" he asks idly. "Is this creepy? Kissing a dead chick."
"Oh, grow up," she croaks hoarsely. "Is this still some kind of a joke to you?"
"Are you kidding? You should've heard your eulogy; I was a barrel of laughs, as usual," Wally declares breezily, and it's almost like old times, almost, but his voice is still shaking. "Please... please tell me you're coming back. Please."
"All of this just because you couldn't let go," Artemis mutters. Wally puts his hand on the back of her head and presses his fingers into her hair, closing his eyes again.
"Speedsters, as you know, aren't really the 'giving up' type," he jokes in a completely serious tone.
"Oh, believe me, I know." A pause. "I don't know if I should be thanking you or not. This could've been easy. I was starting over. I was... dead. And I could be safe, and make sure youguys were safe, and I wouldn't have to worry about – about what I did in December, with the trackers and the—"
"Oh my God, shut up." Wally's arms snake clumsily around her, pressing her close to him. "Am I allowed to hug you?"
"You're not violating any codes, no. I'm feeling generous."
"Sorry I couldn't, y'know, let go, or whatever," he tells her lamely. Her hair smells like a forest after the rain. "But I just, um..."
"I get it," she whispers. "And... I've decided, uh, that saying thank you is probably the best way to go."
"I knew you'd come around," he snickers, and then he halts, rethinking his words. He pulls back and looks her in the eye. Her face is dirty and damp from the drizzle and there is a bruise on her neck.
"I knew you would," he murmurs again. "Just – next time don't keep me waiting; I have a schedule to keep, being the most awesome guy in the world and everything."
"Wally. The moment. You're ruining it."
"Oh, says the girl who faked her own death. That ruined, what, like a billion moments?"
"Wally, I'm not sorry," she says, and he can tell by her tone that she means every word of it.
He sighs, eyes raking up over her face.
"I'm not, either," he tells her.
Artemis reaches up behind her head and grasps the cowl, starting to bring it back up over her face, but Wally's hand darts out and stops her.
"C'mon," he begs. "Not yet." He pauses, scrambling for a save. "Plus, everyone would flip out if I brought Batgirl back to the Cave."
"Oh. Right. Okay, so bringing back a dead girl will not freak them out at all."
"Just trust me on this, okay?" Wally exclaims, standing. She follows, favoring her right knee, and looks him in the eye.
"I do," she whispers.
And, just like that, it isn't so bad anymore.
She doesn't wind up coming back, in the end. Not entirely. But Batgirl is still constantly, vigilantly present on all of their missions, and Dick says he passed Paula Crock at the post office today, and there was a letter in her hands, and she was smiling and her face was wet and she had kissed the paper once before catching his eye and nodding.