"Is he... alright?"
In the midst of the thunks reverberating from the punches he delivers solidly to the punching bag hanging in the ceiling before him, he hears her voice, and freezes. His fists lower slightly as he hears Dinah reply, barely able to decipher the words as she murmurs, though he can probably guess that she is directing the blond archer to his location.
His jaw clenches and he resumes venting his frustration with quick furious jabs. He pretends not to hear even as she steps into the room, but the steady gray gaze burning right into his back makes it hard to focus.
He scowls and then steps back, heading to the bench to grab his towel.
"Hey." She ventures. Just 'Hey'. Not 'Red Arrow' or 'Roy'; not that she's ever really called him by name, but he can't help but think too deeply into such trivial things in light of what has been revealed. Both Dinah and Oliver don't exactly know what to call him either, and neither does he.
But it reminds him of who... what he is, and it stings.
He only takes a swig from his water bottle and levels her with a questioning gaze. "What are you doing here?" It sounds defensive, and he immediately berates himself for sounding so hostile. After all, she has more right to be in the Queen Estate than he does.
"Just wanted to see how you were doing." Artemis says, crossing her arms as she leans against the wall. She's not the first one, of course. M'gann had been first; her main purpose to wipe out the 'Broken Arrow' code, and other programming, though she had tried assuring him by drawing parallels to Superboy. Kaldur had swung by too, and for a moment, the Atlantean's steady and kind words had managed to make him feel better. Recalling how his friend had stood unblinking and unwavering when M'gann revealed her true self probably had something to do with it.
He hasn't seen either Dick and Wally ever since the battle atop the Watchtower, and he couldn't blame them either. They had known the real Roy, after all, and it had to be quite difficult for them to accept it.
"I don't know." He replies simply. He feels guilty in her presence, to have accused her of being the mole when she had stood firm with her loyalty with the Team. "I don't know what I'm doing still living a lie." She has no idea of the degree of self loathing he harbors whenever he dons the Red Arrow outfit, because they cannot risk such a scandal getting out to the public.
"Look," Artemis says matter-of-factly, "You're alive. You're your own person. You made your own decisions, yes you did," she glares at him as he opens his mouth to retort, "you chose to flee from Savage. You chose to help us in the fight to reclaim the Justice League. Clone or not, you're not a lie. Just look at Connor."
"At least he has a name." He mutters.
She bites her lip, staying silent. He wonders why exactly she has stopped right now; what with how fiery and stubborn she can be in trying to prove her point.
"How about... Dane?" She asks, settling herself on the bench beside him.
For a moment, he is puzzled, but then he recalls when they had infiltrated Haly's Circus under the guise of the Danger siblings. A small, wry smile tugs at the corner of his lips. "Really? I'm not exactly a circus freak, you know."
"Dane Harper sounds okay to me." She sighs, stretching her legs. "Don't be picky. We never had any say when my parents named Jade and I."
"You're not exactly my mom." He glances downward and inadvertently stares at her outstretched legs, and for a moment, he cannot help but marvel at how long and slender they are.
Thankfully, she doesn't notice, or doesn't seem to, as she continues. "You know, Wally cares too."
Something shatters in him. Of course. She was here, in Wally's stead.
"Robin's been talking to him about it. He just... isn't sure what to say. You know how moronic Wally can be." And even though she's degrading him, he can note how her voice softens when she says the speedster's name.
Suddenly, he feels terribly empty, and he hates himself for it because it's utterly selfish. Artemis and Wally like each other. It has always been obvious, from how Wally had defended her from his insistence on her being the mole, to Artemis' concern as to what he thought of her.
So why does he have to feel like someone has just deflated him entirely?
"I know." He says, trying to make his voice sound not as hollow as he feels.
"He'll be there tomorrow." She says, smiling softly at him. Tomorrow, when he is leaving to chase down the Shadows, to find the real Roy, and as per Batman's plan, checking in with fellow heroes along the way to help him in his journey. "Along with the others. Have you packed everything?"
He nods. "Yes, mom."
She laughs, not bothering to muffle her mouth like most girls do. It sounds pleasant, and it makes him feel better. Just a bit, but enough to make him want to slap himself for it.
"Well then, you'd better be a good little boy, Dane Harper." There is slight sarcasm dripping over her words, but as he looks up, eyes meeting hers, he detects worry from the crinkle of her eyebrows.
She doesn't have to worry. None of them do. He doesn't want- doesn't need them constantly trying to reassure him that it is alright, when his only duty is to find the real Roy Harper. And that is why he is leaving Star City, even though Oliver and Dinah have told him that he can stay, and that they would help and support him along the way.
"I'm leaving Oliver and Dinah in your hands." Because Artemis is more a part of the Arrow family than he is. "And..." He hesitates as he stands and she follows suit, eyeing him quizzically.
"Spit it out."
"Take care of Wally." He breathes. The ache resurfaces as he notes the surprise on her face slowly morph into a happy glow, the bite of her lip attempting to suppress the grin forming, her eyes alight.
"He definitely needs taking care of." She agrees with a nod and a chuckle.
"One more thing."
"You're awfully long-winded today." She teases him with a dramatic roll of the eyes.
He steps forward and wraps his arms around her, the gesture eliciting a confused gasp from her and then another laugh. "And affectionate too! He deigns to hug me now, oh my!" Despite this, she pats him on the back and he fights back the urge to draw her into a tighter embrace.
"Take care of yourself." He says, releasing her abruptly. "Make sure I hear that you've gotten better with your aim."
"Oh, ye of little faith." She shakes her head and wags a finger at him. "Is that a challenge?"
"Arrow Cave?" He asks, lifting an eyebrow.
She is about to reply when she glances at the clock mounted on the wall behind the bench and frowns. "I wish I could, but I have something important."
She hesitates, and then, cheeks tinged red, replies, "Not... exactly, I'm meeting Wally for dinner."
"Oh." He simply says, and all he wants to do is to resume raining blows on the punching bag right now.
"I could just- you know, since I can't exactly take a raincheck on that challenge..."
"No." He decides, against the part of him that wants to spend more time with her before he leaves. "Go have fun with Wally. The both of you deserve it."
She smiles that smile again; the one that lights up her entire face every time Wally's name is mentioned. The one that kills him inside because she looks so beautiful, so happy, and so in love... with Wally West.
And there is nothing he can do about it.
"You sure? He's probably going to be late, anyway." While Wally is infamous for not being on time despite being the fastest kid alive, he doubts that Wally would be late for a date with Artemis. And even if he is, he can probably imagine that it would be due to rushing to change his flowers or gifts while constantly worrying that it's not what Artemis would like.
"Go." He tells her, jerking his thumb towards the door.
Artemis chances another glance towards the clock and then nods, darting towards the exit while trying not to seem too eager. "See you tomorrow then, Dane Harper!"
"See you." His voice echoes around him as he is left alone.
But being alone is what he wants.
Because he is a fake, he is a clone, and he trusts that Wally can give her the happiness she deserves. And even as his fists clench and an angry cry bubbles up at the back of his throat as he pummels the punching bag, he swallows it back. He is not worthy of them being kind to him, he is not worthy to even love—
He was meant to be a tool, used and now discarded. An arrow that carries no weight is nothing, useless to the archer, because it will not fly steady, like a true arrow should.
And they all deserve better.
She deserves better.