One Step Forward
Disclaimer: I don't own these characters. Artemis is awesome though.
She kept to the confines of her room when she was at the cave and then stayed at home when she wasn't. Artemis wasn't much of a social butterfly so keeping to herself didn't seem odd behavior for her. It was strange because now, of all times, was the time when she wanted others around. She wanted to tell the others why she did what she did, why she tried to play the big hero and bring in her evil family members all by herself. Artemis enjoyed pretending she was a big girl that could take care of herself but the truth was she was still that same little girl who watched her big sister walk out of her life for good.
She had tried to explain things to Wally or even just talk to him but she was met with rejection at every turn. Everything with him was awkward now and not even in a good way. So here she sat in her room at the cave, scrolling through the pictures on her phone. She landed on one that she kept hidden so no one could find it if they got her phone somehow. It was a picture of her family, the photo taken when she was only a baby. She assumed it was the last time they ever looked like a real family. Artemis enjoyed thinking that things weren't so screwed up back then but maybe they always were. Maybe they always would be.
"Probably," she muttered to herself.
She didn't expect Wally to ever speak to her again unless it was necessary. In a last-ditch effort, she left an arrow buried into the door of his room with a note attached to it. The only word in the note was "please" and she assumed he would understand. She hated herself for being so obviously vulnerable but he needed to know. He needed to know a lot of things that she never told him, things that were probably too late to tell now. Maybe her father had been right all along. Maybe she could never run away from who she was inside.
"I got your note," said a familiar voice on the other side of her closed door. "Can I come in?"
"Yeah," she half-croaked, trying to hide the obvious fact that she had been crying. "It's open."
The door opened and Wally West stood there almost as if he was afraid to cross the border into the forbidden territory of her room. She could tell that he was still angry with her and she understood that. He had defended her and put his faith in her. She rewarded him by proving him wrong and everyone else right. All of them were going to find out eventually if they didn't already know. She had a feeling Robin did because, well, Robin knew pretty much everything. You didn't hang around Batman all that time and not be able to figure everything out. So maybe Robin knew and Red Arrow definitely knew but what about the others? They honestly didn't matter so much to her. Wally did though.
"For the record, I'm still mad at you," he told her, closing the door behind him but not getting any closer to her.
"Can you please come over here and talk to me so I can explain?" she asked hopefully.
This wasn't her style. Her father taught her that sticking your neck out for someone only meant that the someone in question would cut your throat and leave you for dead. That was how things worked in Sportsmaster's world where everything was a game and you always played to win. Artemis was a tough girl on the outside but on the inside not so much. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn't be what everyone wanted her to be, not when forces greater than her were tugging her in opposite directions. For a long time, she thought those opposite forces would just rip her apart in a cruel game of tug-o-war but maybe now she could be the one doing the pulling.
"You were actually polite," noted Wally, pulling up a chair next to her bed and sitting down.
"And you actually did that at normal speed," returned Artemis. "I guess maybe we're both pretty serious about this."
"You owe me an explanation," he reminded her.
She took a deep breath and nodded, trying to figure out how best to break the news to him. It wasn't exactly the easiest thing in the world to tell the boy you may or may not have a crush on that your father and your older sister were super-villains. Well, maybe not so big on the super part but they were definitely villains. So how was she supposed to tell Wally that? Like everything else she did in her life, Artemis decided to just jump in and worry about things later.
"Tell me who's in this picture," she told him, handing him her phone with the family picture still on display.
Wally studied the picture for a few seconds and Artemis could see his mind racing at superhuman speed to place names to the faces. She grinned slightly when it finally clicked into place for him. For someone so fast, Wally could be extremely slow at times.
"The guy looks like Sportsmaster," said Wally. "Why do you have a picture of . . ."
"Daddy, Mommy, Big Sis Cheshire, and me," she explained, crawling over to sit beside him and pointing to each person as she said their names. "One big, dysfunctional family."
He looked at her and then back at the picture, trying desperately to process what she had just told him. He knew she wasn't the type to lie about something, especially not something big like this. How could it be possible though? How could they be her family? Wally looked at her and realized Artemis had never been so vulnerable before in her entire life. She was almost shaking.
"Family?" he said just to make sure he heard her right.
"Yeah," she confirmed. "I'm not like you, Wally. I don't come from a good home with a family who loves me the way they should. Every day, I wake up and tell myself that I'll be different than my dad or my sister Jade. Every single damn day, I tell myself I'm not like them. Am I insecure? Yeah, I am and I have a huge chip on my shoulder because of all the crap that I've been through. If you wanna judge me then go right ahead but at least now you know the truth."
"That's not you in the picture," said Wally.
"Wally, what part of everything I just told you didn't make sense?" she asked, exasperation clearly evident in her tone.
Wally held up her phone for her to see and started scrolling through the other pictures she kept on it. There were snapshots of him and the rest of the team goofing around in the cave. There were the pictures she and Zatanna took during their Halloween night on the town. She looked at all the pictures as he kept going through them like a slideshow and realized something. She was always so obsessed about the hellish family she was born into that she completely missed the family she was creating for herself with Wally and the others.
"That is you," corrected Wally. "You're not like them, Artemis, and you never will be. Give yourself a little credit, huh?"
"I guess," she said sheepishly. "Wally . . . thanks for that. I'm sorry that it took me so long to tell you this. Just don't tell the others, okay? I'll tell them, I promise, but I'm just not ready yet."
"You told me first though," he reminded her.
"You stuck up for me," she said, catching what he was obviously implying and hating him for it. "If I'm supposed to start giving myself more credit then you have to stop giving yourself so much."
"Fair enough," he decided as he got up and made his way to the door. "I promise I won't tell anyone. I can actually be patient and wait for things."
"And you can be a jackass," she shot back though he had already zipped away.
Artemis Crock fell back onto her bed and decided she would be spending the night at the cave. She was still shaking from everything she had told Wally and tried to steady her hands by gripping her phone between them. She scrolled through the pictures and landed on one of her and Wally that one of the others had taken. She couldn't be sure but they were probably arguing when that picture was taken. It was what they did most of the time they were around one another so chances were good that she was right. Her heart was still in her throat from confessing everything to him and she hadn't even told him how she felt about him. One thing at a time though. She lived her life putting one foot in front of the other and trudging along no matter what got thrown in her way. In that way, she was like her father but she wasn't going to dwell on that, at least not for the rest of the night.