This was a birthday present for Dicey (thecivilunrest) way back in... uh, I actually can't remember. Whoops, go me.
It's long, but I hope it's still worth the read? Aghg.
Disclaimer: I claim no ownership to nor affiliation with Young Justice.
Gotham was a pit at night, a glittering black kingdom of bones, and rain made it no better. The light pollution turned the clouds an ugly shade of orange, half-gray and feeble in the sky; the tips of some buildings cut through it like sticks through flesh.
Artemis could not see the stars.
The cracked pavement beneath her battered leather boots was sticky and sparkling from the downpour. Puddles gathered in every crevice and she sloshed through them, undaunted. Her short blonde hair stuck to her face in pale, twisted strands, tapering off into streams of water that traced down the length of her cheekbones. There was a horrid purple-and-red bruise gathered under her right eye, but the darkness hid it.
She passed under a street lamp, and it temporarily illuminated her in a nauseous yellow splash, flickering faintly like a twitching eyelid. Artemis strode past it quickly, wincing at the light it bore down on her, and continued on her way, hands crammed into the pockets of her jeans, white tee-shirt plastered transparently to her skin, her bra. She was breathing agog through her parted lips, watching her breath spread out in front of her in cloudy waves, as if to remind herself that it was still happening.
The space now allotted to the nape of her neck by her shoddily cropped hair was making her shiver. She yanked her hands stiffly out of her pockets and pressed them into her armpits, crossing her arms for warmth.
She realized how rapidly she was walking and began to try to slow, forcing herself to take two steps at a time, scrambling to even her breathing again. The rain was freezing – unusual for Gotham – but then again, it wasJanuary, and if they didn't have snow, they might as well have sleet. She should have brought a jacket.
She had wandered into probably the most obscure part of town, it was the middle of the night, and despite her usual excellence at centralizing herself, she had no idea where she was or how she had gotten there. She and her mother had had a fight and she had just started walking, then running for a while, and now she was—
She jerked to a halt on a street corner, head bowed. Water was dribbling ceaselessly from her hair and chin and the tip of her nose, and the cold ran all the way into her marrow, breaking it to bits. She stood there and shivered, uncrossing her arms and letting them hang in ramrod straight lines at her sides, clenching her fists until they shook.
It had been almost a week since she'd left the Team. The freshness of the wound in her side tauntingly reminded her of that. The doctor had told her not to walk around with it for another two weeks or so, and now, she wished she'd taken his advice – it was smarting horribly, and she felt like she was going to be sick. She placed one hand lightly on it, wincing. It was still tender. She could still practically feel one of Sportsmaster's javelins buried in there.
"I'm sorry. But we can't have a teammate who isn't honest with us."
"I never took you for a hypocrite, Boy Wonder."
"Is it? Is it really different? Hah. Maybe you're right. Maybe I don't belong here after all."
"This isn't – a permanent discharge."
"Wow, getting fired by a thirteen-year-old kid. This is a new one!"
"Shut your mouth, Wally, or I'll shut it for you. Don't pretend you're not all for this. All of you. Don't pretend. Hey, don't worry about it. I won't make a scene. I'm out of here."
"The—The fact that you lied almost got us all killed!"
"Yeah, and the fact that I got impaled through the ribs didn't. So don't talk to me about recklessness, kid. I knew what I was doing. I did it for you. All of you. I don't know what else you want from me."
"Artemis, just wait—"
"I don't know what else I can give you."
The thunder burst above her and she raised her head back, staring with unblinking eyes at the lightning that promptly jolted out overhead. All of you. She pressed down on the wound, hard, and the rib-prying pain didn't even make her flinch. She deserved it.
She didn't know whether or not she had expected the voice. She was definitely in the kind of situation in which a voice like that was almost predictable, but there was still a prickling sensation crawling up the sides of her stomach when she heard it.
"You know, you're a lot of things, but I never thought impractical was really one of them."
Artemis didn't turn around. She tightened her fists and stiffened, trying to contain her shivers.
"How did you find me?" she snarled slowly, her voice fraught with rage.
"Well, I mean, having your best friend be the protegé of the world's greatest detective has its advantages."
"If I'd known that getting kicked out would give everybody permission to stick their noses into my private life, I probably would've tried to be a better liar," she hissed spitefully, clenching her teeth.
"But you're a terrible liar. It's part of your charm."
"Wally," Artemis said quietly, sounding utterly drained and ragged. "What do you want?"
"Three things. I want you to turn around, I want you to look me in the eye, and I want you to tell me the truth. And, y'know, a burger would be great, but let's not get ahead of ourselves."
Artemis didn't even smile.
"What if I just walk away?" she mumbled.
"Pretty sure I could catch up." She could sense his cheeky grin with clarity. "But if you wanna put that to the test—"
Artemis turned, sharply, her head bowed, and faced Wally West, resisting the temptation to make several rude gestures at him. He was quiet. After a moment, and against the lurching sickness in her gut, she raised her head and met his eyes with hers.
She didn't know why she had expected him to look any different after six days. He was still gangly; his eyes were still bright like traffic lights; there were still freckles scattered over the bridge of his nose, and his red hair was still wild. His hands were on his hips. He was in uniform, sticking out like a sore thumb in the black, oily environment.
He lifted his goggles off of his eyes with one hand. His expression was almost surprised, half-dazed.
"Hi," he murmured. She could barely hear it over the downpour.
"I hate you," she growled, as if to remind herself.
"Ooh. Yeah, you just totally failed that whole 'telling the truth' part." He grimaced jokingly. She didn't react.
"Why are you here?" she demanded quietly, far too tired to have to beat around the bush with him like she had been for so long. He shook his head like a dog as if it would get rid of the water encroaching it, with little success, and grinned at her.
"Just looking for a friend. I'm allowed," he replied.
"Well, if you need directions, I don't think I can help you; I don't know many people around here," she bit back. "And I doubt you'd find anybody in this dump, anyway. You're in the wrong end of town to be looking for a friend, Kid Flash."
Wally looked visibly stung when she called him by his heroic alias. His shoulders loosened and he exhaled.
"I don't need to look much further anyway," he said. After a moment, his face hardened. "You mind if I walk with you?"
Artemis could think of no reason why she would mind, infuriatingly enough. He was staring at her expectantly, the way he always had the nerve to, with his eyes all determined and his eyebrows poised with concern, almost dread.
In all honesty, it would probably be better to have a superpowered companion walking through the alleyways back home, especially considering that she'd come out unarmed and unprepared. If worse came to worst, she could always trip him and use him as a distraction while she ran away from any pursuing thugs.
"Yeah, kind of," she replied in exasperation. "But I guess I don't have much choice." She turned back around, beckoning for him to follow. "Come on, KF. Let's see if you can keep up."
"Oh, so you do still have that sense of humor," Wally quipped, jogging forward to fall into step beside her. "I was worried."
"No talking," she ordered, not looking at him. "If you're going to walk with me, don't talk. That's the only rule."
Wally paused for a moment before shrugging wordlessly, turning his gaze up ahead of them at the dimly-lit street.
Artemis sent him several skeptical glances. She hadn't expected her demand for silence to be met with such apathy, especially coming from Kid Mouth, but he seemed entirely unfazed, scratching periodically at his sopping head and generally not looking at her. If she didn't know any better, she might say that she was alone.
They walked for a long time. Artemis still had no set destination or direction; she was just trying to keep her feet moving, and Wally didn't object. They passed slowly by broken windows and garbage cans, dumpsters and shattered bottles and cars without tires and bloodstained brick walls, flickering street lamps and alley cats and generally everything but actual people.
Wally didn't say a thing.
She didn't know how, but eventually, they rounded a corner and found themselves at one of the loading zones of the harbor. There were few ships there except for scattered fishing boats, and the area was feebly lit by spindly orange lamps outside the warehouses.
Artemis strode forward until she reached the edge of one of the rickety wooden docks, stopping with her arms folded and staring down at the black water. Wally joined her after a second, sighing.
The rain was starting to let up, but only barely. The boats were swaying in the churning water, and the smell of old fish permeated the air, causing Artemis to involuntarily wrinkle her nose. She heard a great growling noise beside her and turned her head sharply. Wally had a hand on his stomach and was wincing pitifully.
"Don't tell me you're hungry," Artemis said incredulously. Wally shrugged helplessly.
"Food is food," he replied lamely. Artemis snorted before she could catch herself. A satisfied smile worked its way immediately over Wally's face and she turned back away with a huff.
Another silence stretched between them, an uncrossed bridge. Artemis looked back out at the water, wiping her running nose with the back of her hand. Wally pushed some hair out of his eyes. It stuck up amusingly behind his goggles.
She didn't know what made her do it. Maybe it was the desire to say it out loud, and he just happened to be standing there, but whatever it was made her turn her head toward him again. He noticed instantly and mirrored her, holding her gaze unrelentingly. She swallowed.
"He's my father," she rasped. "Sportsmaster's my – father."
"Three out of three," Wally commented, but it wasn't mocking or light; the words were gentle and comprehending, and Artemis hated how vulnerable she suddenly felt, like she'd made a large hole in her chest for someone to shoot her in. "Wow, you did surprisingly better than I thought you would."
"I wonder sometimes if I should be thanking him," she admitted. She didn't know why she was still talking.
"What for?" Wally asked.
"For making me who I am." She tugged nervously at the hem of her shirt, twisting her fingers through the soaked fabric. "Whether I wanted him to or not, he… still did. And it's thanks to him that I joined the Team, and it's thanks to him that I…" She swallowed. "Yeah."
"Well, tell him thanks from me, too," Wally said. Artemis frowned at him, bewildered. He was still looking straight at her, sporting that signature lopsided grin. "I kinda like who you are. But it's not all him, y'know. You chose not to be like him. That's kind of a big deal."
"No." Artemis shook her head. Her hair swung in cold clumps. "That's still because of him. No matter how you look at it, I'm still just… a product."
"Nah," Wally replied immediately, so nonchalant and convinced that Artemis's eyebrows went up in surprise. He was staring out over the water with an almost bemused smile. "Who we are isn't based on anybody else but ourselves. It's how we react to certain things and situations that we face that defines us. It's the way we choose how to adapt. That's what makes us human. Remember?"
Artemis thought back on the mission with Red Tornado, of the soot and ash stinging her eyes and of Wally shouting orders, of the android's missing legs and his slow, metallic voice – "If I understand the term correctly, I have come to care about you all."
If I understand the term correctly. Artemis felt a sudden urge to cry. It was disgusting, horrifying – it was happening, however, and all she could really do was hope that the rain was hiding it accordingly.
"By the way, yes," Wally inserted. "I've concluded that you're human. After months of research."
"Good to know." It was a bad idea to reply; Artemis knew it as soon as the words left her mouth, because the sentence shook and wavered precariously with the onslaught of tears. Wally, even in all his normal obliviousness, noticed immediately, whipping his head abruptly toward her and turning to face her, raising a hand cautiously. She tried to ignore him, biting her lower lip in an attempt to stifle the crying. She didn't succeed.
"There! There you go," she choked out. "Blackmail material, just for you. Better text Rob about it; chop-chop."
"Oh, shut up," Wally told her frankly, and before she even knew what was happening, he had stepped forward and started hugging her.
It was an awkward embrace by anyone's standards, mostly due to the sideways angle that Wally had decided to try it from, but Artemis didn't complain. Her nose was resting in the crook of his elbow; his other arm was wrapped around her shoulders. She kept her arms tightly crossed, feeling her entire torso jerkily shaking with the sobs she wasn't bothering trying to hold back anymore, and screamed things as loudly as she could. His arm muffled them like a pillow, and he gripped her more tightly.
"Is it weird that I did kind of come all this way just to hug you?" Wally asked after a while, as though he were simply discussing the weather. "I felt like I kind of owed you one, so…"
Artemis withdrew her face from his arm, sniffling noisily and wiping her eyes as hard as she could, inhaling a few times in an attempt to regain her composure. He released her hesitantly.
"Yeah, that's kinda weird, not gonna lie," she retorted with a breath of half-laughter, pulling her hair out of her face. "But you're you, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised."
"Do you wanna grab a bite somewhere?" Wally blurted out, rubbing the back of his neck hesitantly. "I mean, I like standing out in the pouring, freezing rain as much as the next guy, but…"
Artemis considered him for a moment before making up her mind with a sigh.
"C'mon," she told him, nodding for him to follow her. He obliged.
"Uh, not for nothing, but… this doesn't look like a burger joint," Wally said bluntly as he gazed up at the seven-story apartment complex with skeptical eyes. Artemis shook her head and shouldered past him, reaching into her pocket and pulling out a keyring, approaching the entrance.
"Not many burgers," she grunted in response, "but I can make you some phở if need be."
Wally's eyebrows went sharply up. He gaped in astonishment at the building for another second before darting over to stand beside her as she pulled open the front door.
"This is – you – this is your place?" he floundered. Artemis rolled her eyes.
"No; it's Wayne Manor. What do you think, stupid? Just…" She huffed, holding the door open for him. "Just come in."
Wally did as he was told. The hallway was dim and quiet and smelled like mothballs and cheap laundry detergent. Artemis grabbed him by the elbow and led him several doors down, into an alcove that housed an elevator. She punched the button pointing upward and the two waited in silence for a moment before the metal doors squealed open.
"Are you sure this thing's safe?" Wally asked hesitantly. Artemis didn't respond, yanking him in.
As the doors closed, she began to talk rapidly.
"Okay. My mom's home. She's probably asleep right now, so just try not to make any noise, but if she wakes up, try to hide. If you can't, just tell her you're here to, uh – follow up on my dismissal, or something. My room is strictly off-limits. You can't come into the kitchen while I'm cooking. You can turn on the TV if you want to, but keep the volume low. The bathroom's the first door on your right after you walk in. If you need to take a shower while I'm cooking, go ahead; just make sure you pull the stopper up before you turn on the water to make sure the faucet for the bath doesn't start going, because it's way too loud. And—"
"Jeez; I get it!" Wally exclaimed, throwing up his hands. "Should I just wait in the hallway or something? Would that be easier?"
Artemis hesitated, looking far too tempted by the suggestion.
"No – no, it's okay. Just…" She sighed. "I'm pretty sure people would freak out if they saw Kid Flash hanging around." Wally blinked, glancing down at himself, as if he'd forgotten that he was in uniform. "Just be quiet and don't nose around, okay?"
The elevator shuddered to a halt at the fourth floor, and the doors opened before Wally could reply. She stepped out and he followed her silently until they reached room number sixteen, where she surreptitiously inserted her key and carefully pushed the door open.
"Go ahead," she whispered, jerking her head toward the inside. Wally shuffled in and she followed, slowly closing the door with the knob still turned.
Wally stared and straightened. The inside of the apartment was largely bare. There was a haphazard pile of shoes just to his right, flanked by three umbrellas and a wooden hiking stick (the latter of which he couldn't imagine anyone in Gotham ever needing). What appeared to be the living room was through a doorway in front of him, and it held little more than a couch, a low coffee table, and a television. He thought he saw a quiver and a few arrows scattered over the rug.
"You can go wait in there," Artemis muttered, shaking out her hair as best she could. Wally was still getting used to the absence of her full ponytail. "It should only take, like, ten minutes."
"Uh… why are you doing this?" Wally asked. "Not to sound ungrateful or anything. But…"
"Can you ever just accept something without questioning it?" Artemis groaned. "You're here; it's warm; just go sit down and let me make you some soup. Jeez."
"Right. Yeah. Thanks." Wally started to walk toward the living room, but stopped when he noticed that he was dripping down onto the carpet. "Hey, d'you have any, uh, towels?"
"Bathroom," Artemis called quietly from the kitchen. "Second drawer down under the mirror."
Wally shuffled cautiously down the short hallway to his right, taking care to move quietly past the two closed doors. Artemis, in the meantime, had pulled out a tub of leftover phở from the refrigerator and poured it into a pot on the stove. She almost didn't take all of it, but then she remembered – it was Wally that she was feeding. She permitted herself a wry snort.
Wally came into the kitchen a moment later, feverishly mussing his hair with the towel. Artemis didn't look up.
"It should be ready in a few minutes," she muttered. "Just go wait in the—"
"Here." She jumped – when had he wound up so close to her? – and whirled around to face him. He was holding her towel out to her with one hand. "Not that looking like a drowned cat doesn't suit you or anything, but…"
Artemis glanced down at herself. Water dripped from her hair with the motion, splattering onto the tiled floor. She was still drenched – her shirt was stuck to her skin like glaze. Her jeans were dark and heavy.
She considered the offer for a moment before bluntly returning her attention to the stove.
"I don't need it," she said crisply.
"Yeah, you do," Wally refuted instantly. He tossed it before she could react and it flopped onto her head. She snarled and scrabbled at it, yanking it violently off and sending a murderous glare his way. He shrugged innocently, staring at the ceiling.
Artemis threw the towel onto the floor and stalked over to one of the cabinets to procure two chipped bowls and a pair of spoons.
"This probably isn't going to be very good; I'm just warning you," she informed him.
"Food," Wally reiterated, "is food."
After she had filled the bowls, Artemis brushed past him and into the living room with one in each hand. Wally picked up the towel and followed her.
The room was dark. Artemis hadn't turned on any lights, but a flash of lightning briefly illuminated the room, filling the edges of her silhouette with white. She set the bowls down on the coffee table and straightened, stretching.
"Is it bad if I'm dubious about the fact that you can operate a stove?" Wally quipped, starting toward the table with the towels tossed over his shoulder.
"Oh, I have all kinds of hidden talen—nngh." She winced sharply in the middle of her stretch and doubled over, clutching her side.
"What?" Wally barked, wide-eyed and attentive. He crossed the room in two strides, putting a hand on her shoulder without thinking and gripping it as if to hold her up. "What is it? What's wrong?"
"Nothing," Artemis bit out, shoving him clumsily off. "Nothing—"
She withdrew the hand from her side, and Wally's eyes were immediately drawn to a red spot gathering on the previously pristine whiteness of her shirt.
"Aw, jeez, Artemis," he chided her, reaching toward it. "Have you been changing the bandages like I told you—?"
"I don't need any bandages!" she gritted out, swatting his hand away. "Ugh, back off; I'm fine!"
Wally stared at her incredulously as she gingerly prodded at the wound with a scowl.
"You're not wearing any bandages?" he shouted. Artemis looked ready to smack him.
"Shut up!" she hissed. "Indoor voices, loser! And no, I'm not; big deal. I'm fine."
"You're bleeding!" he reminded her harshly, gesticulating.
"Yeah, wow, like that's never happened to me before," she snapped. Wally balked, dropping his hands to his sides and frowning.
"I'm trying to be nice," he said a little helplessly, defensively.
"And that always works great with you, doesn't it?" He flinched at her words and she stopped herself, letting out a hard sigh and looking down at the carpet. "Okay. Just eat this and go. Go home."
"Make up your mind; do you want me here or not?" he demanded hotly, clenching his hands into fists and trying to wrench his attention away from the rapidly growing stain on her side.
She stared at him for almost half a minute (or maybe it was five seconds; he couldn't be sure), viciously torn between spitting at his feet and vaulting herself out of the nearest window. Admittedly, self-defenestration sounded altogether more preferable, but she didn't want to be stuck out in the rain again, so she settled with ignoring the question and attempting to redirect her attention to the food. She could feel his green gaze prickling into her back as she busied herself with straightening the bowls on the table.
"Let me look at it," she heard him say. She sighed hugely, shoulders loosening. "…Please."
The final word came popping out of his mouth like some kind of a rock. There was a stab of pain in her side, and maybe that was what made her huff and straighten and say, "Fine."
Wally nodded, smiling a little, and mumbled something about getting some stuff from the bathroom. He was barely gone for five seconds before he came skidding in again, arms laden with bandages and hydrogen peroxide and various other altogether white things that made Artemis's ribs clench. Wally knelt down on the rug beside her and set everything on the edge of the coffee table.
Artemis tried not to stare down at him, forcing herself to train her eyes on the rain-slicked window.
"Step one," he said nonchalantly. "Shirt off."
Artemis stiffened. Maybe this wasn't such a great idea after all. Maybe this was all part of some grand ploy of his to further ruin her life. Despite these likely possibilities, however, she found herself taking the hem of her shirt in hand and pulling it fluidly off her torso, tossing it onto the floor. It felt, for lack of a better word, good to have the sodden fabric off of her skin, and she shook her hair out freely.
She chanced a glance down at Wally, who seemed to have been stricken with a sudden case of total paralysis and was staring wide-eyed at some point near her belly button. She nudged him with her foot.
"C'mon, loser; patch me up. I don't have all night," she grumbled, trying to disregard the satisfaction creeping up her arms at his expression.
"Right, right, yes, of course, patching, got it, go," Wally spluttered, quickly dousing a cotton ball in some hydrogen peroxide and beginning to gingerly press it against the corners of her wound. She clenched her teeth at the burning sensation shooting through her skin. He was frowning. "Where are your stitches?"
"I had them taken out," she replied, when, of course, she meant, I took them out.
Wally sighed enormously.
"Artemis…" he chided her. She shrugged, folding her arms under her gray bra and scowling at the wall.
"It doesn't hurt," she lied breezily.
"It's not bleeding too much," Wally observed, ignoring her statement and grabbing a fresh cotton ball. "As long as it gets bandaged up again, it should heal fine…"
"I don't want you to bandage it," Artemis snapped as Wally started unwinding the roll of wide gauze and picked up a large white square of thick cotton.
"Too bad," he said simply. He pressed the cotton over the lesion, securing it with some tape, and started to wrap the gauze in circles around her waist. Artemis thought his cheeks looked a bit redder than usual, but she wasn't about to say anything.
She stood in silence as he worked, mind wandering listlessly in the time it took for him to finish wrapping the gauze and taping it securely down.
"Please don't…" He swallowed. Artemis blinked down at him. He was staring at her knee. "Please don't do that again. Okay?"
"Yeah, I'm sure it would be such an inconvenience to the Team if their archer was put out of commission," Artemis muttered. "Oh, wait."
"Will you shut up about that?" Wally snapped very suddenly, very emphatically. Artemis's eyes went wide, startled. Wally was finally looking up at her, his glare tight beneath the yellow of his mask, his green eyes seeming bright even in the dim light. "You can't blame Rob for doing it; you can't. And you're not even – ugh, you're not even off the team; you're just suspended! Why is this such a big deal to you?"
"I dunno, Wally!" Artemis snarled back sarcastically. "Maybe because it really sucks having the only people you could call your friends kicking you out onto the street! Maybe because it really sucks working your ass off trying to get away from a life you didn't want to have, only to be told it might be a better option! Maybe because I wanted somebody to just trust me for once in my—"
"Yeah, wow, great job on the trusting." Wally's face was hard. "I'd love to see how that works out for you the next time you won't tell anyone the truth."
"Shut up," Artemis growled, entirely out of comebacks.
"I don't get you. You keep talking about how much you want people to trust you, but you don't trust anyone. How do you expect that to work?" He threw his arm out incredulously.
"Maybe it shouldn't be like some kind of trade-off, Wally!" Artemis yelled.
"You have to realize how much of a logical fallacy that is, Artemis!" He stood, and Artemis thought for a moment that he'd gotten taller since she'd last seen him, but he was still the same. "Remember? Remember what you said in the jungle? Trust is a two-way street."
"Whatever," Artemis spat. "It's not like it makes much of a difference now, is it?"
"You know, for the record," Wally said lowly, "I want you back on the team."
Artemis froze, shocked, and stared at him. His expression was softening.
"I do," he repeated.
"Yeah, it must be really boring not having anyone to give crap to," Artemis muttered, bending down to pick up her shirt. She was stopped when Wally's hand abruptly closed around her wrist, effectively halting her movement. She straightened, turning to look at him. Despite the poor lighting in the room, she could suddenly distinguish every freckle on his face, every hue in his irises. He was standing close enough to her that she could feel a humming heat in the air between them.
"I don't care," he said quietly, "where you're from, or who your family is, or what your family is. I don't know if I ever made that clear, so I'm doing it now, just in case."
Artemis swallowed. He wasn't blinking, so neither did she. She wouldn't admit it aloud, but his words had caused her stomach to all but deflate, caused her pulse to drum noticeably through her limbs, caused her lips to go dry. She was fairly certain that he'd wrapped her bandages too tightly, because suddenly her entire torso was numb.
"You are," he continued, "and always were, and always will be Artemis to me. Nothing else besides that really matters."
"Liar," she whispered, but it was so quiet that he apparently didn't hear her – or at least he chose to disregard it.
"And – and maybe that's stupid; I don't know, but—" He broke off, closing his eyes tightly and frowning and bowing his head and murmuring something that sounded eerily similar to "fuck it" before putting his hands on either side of her face and taking her lips in his.
Artemis felt, briefly, like she had just been violently knocked over backwards, and in order to regain her footing, she smashed her hand into the side of his head, effectively knocking him away from her mouth.
"What—" she started to croak, but Wally was staring at her as if he was stuck in a dream and interrupted her.
"I figured," he breathed, "that if nothing else worked tonight, kissing you was probably the best option."
He ran his thumb along the line of her jaw and pressed his lips to hers again, and she didn't see any point in protesting this time, but she refused to close her eyes.
He moved his face aside, kissing her cheek and her temple, and said, "And I'm not a liar."
"What?" Artemis whispered, staring at the ceiling. His right hand strayed away from her face and ran lightly down over her shoulder, elbow, and wrist before resting on her hip.
"I mean, your allegations against my existence are usually inaccurate, but that one was downright cruel," he continued as if they were discussing the weather. He withdrew slightly, holding her gaze with a firmness she didn't know he possessed, and exhaled slowly. "Besides. I can't lie to you anyway; we've been over this. But Artemis. Listen to me. I'm not a liar."
Maybe it was the sound of his words; maybe it was the meaning of them; maybe it was the way his palm was hot against her skin; maybe it was the tightness of the bandages making her stupid; maybe it was the drumming of the thunder outside; maybe it was the white flash that followed it – whatever it was, it made Artemis put her hands on his cheeks and kiss him with all the force and ferocity she could muster.
She didn't know many people who weren't liars. Admittedly, even when Wally tried to be one, she could see right through it, but the notion that the outrageous words he'd spoken were true, however improbable it was, was ringing through her skull like the repeating note of a piano.
She reached up and fisted her fingers around the side of his mask and pulled it back over his head, dropping it at the back of his neck. His hair rustled with the freedom, falling down over his forehead, and Artemis's teeth bumped against his clumsily as he wrapped his arms around her shoulders and pressed her to him. Maybe she was crying. Maybe he was, too. She wasn't really sure anymore. There was a heat rising from her stomach and it was all she could feel, along with Wally's chest buzzing against hers, along with the warm moisture of his lips.
She felt his hands begin to fiddle with the clasp of her bra and, as much as it physically pained her to do so, she broke away, pressing her hands against his shoulders.
"Nope," she managed to say as evenly as possible.
Wally seemed to consider this, looking momentarily confused as if he'd just been dropped in the middle of the desert (then again, he'd been known to handle that sort of thing well). After a moment, he shrugged, smirking.
"Can I get a rain check?" he asked slyly. Artemis sighed, forcing the smile off of her face, and stepped back.
"I need to go dry off," she heard herself say. "I – really need to go… yeah."
"I'm not goin' anywhere," he sang in that voice that was distinctly Wally, and for a moment, Artemis wasn't even sure if all that he'd said to her in the past couple of hours had even happened. Surely this Wally wasn't capable of saying those kinds of things in the first place.
He managed to prove her wrong again, however, when he softly clasped her hand before she started to walk out of the room.
"Do you believe me?" he asked quietly. He had been gazing at the floor, but he lifted his eyes to hers. It was like a hammer to the heart.
Artemis almost didn't want to. She wanted to believe that Wally West wouldn't be kind to her if his life depended on it. She wanted to believe that he had never trusted her and never could; she wanted to believe that he hated her and that she reciprocated those feelings. It would be so much easier, and right now, easy things were an absolute necessity in her life.
"Yeah," she murmured, squeezing his fingers. "Yeah."
She closed her eyes, not wanting to look at him for this part.
"Thank you," she said.
Wally jostled her hand encouragingly. She could sense his triumphant grin without seeing it.
"I'll be right back," she assured him before slipping out of his grasp and striding toward the bathroom without looking back.
Wally stood still for a few moments, staring at the spot where she'd been standing. He ran a hand through his hair pensively, blowing out air as if he'd just run across the country, before smiling bemusedly to himself.
In any other circumstances, he would have immediately heard the sound of wheels creaking over hardwood, but admittedly, these circumstances were not entirely typical. Suddenly, to his shock, there was a woman in a wheelchair in the doorway, frowning warily at him.
He straightened immediately, standing at attention, and fumbled over his face with one hand, remembering that his mask was off.
"Hi," he blurted out.
"Who are you?" the woman demanded. Wally gulped at the dark gray gaze she was fixating him with, so similar to Artemis's. "How did you get in here?"
"I'm—um," Wally scrambled for some sort of explanation. (Health inspection didn't sound very convincing.)
The woman's face slowly began to loosen, however, as some sort of realization dawned upon it. She sat up straighter in the chair, wheeling forward until she was a couple of feet away from Wally.
"You're… one of Artemis's friends," she said slowly. Her dark hair blended seamlessly with the darkness. "Aren't you?"
"Yeah," Wally answered quietly. "Yeah, I am."
"I don't know where she is. She went out…" The woman's eyes noticed the two bowls on the coffee table and she stopped, raising an eyebrow. "Oh. But apparently she is back now."
"I'm really sorry if I'm… intruding, miss. Uh, ma'am. Uh…"
"Paula," the woman said. "Call me Paula."
"Right. I'm sorry. Paula."
"And your name is?"
"Kid—um…" Wally hesitated. "Wally. I'm Wally. Wally West."
Paula's eyebrows shot up.
"You… why do you tell me your real name?" she inquired, astonished.
Wally smiled wanly.
"I trust you," he answered simply.
"You're Wally," Paula murmured, nodding to herself. "Yes. Yes. That makes sense."
She caught Wally's gaze again, but suddenly her eyes seemed more wet, more red around the edges. Wally's stomach twisted.
"Thank you," Paula told him, reaching up and taking his hand in two of hers. "Thank you for everything you have—for what you… thank you."
Wally nodded silently, placing his free hand atop hers, and smiled at her.
"It's mostly her, really."
"She's amazing, isn't she?" Paula whispered. "I'm so proud of her."
Wally knelt down so that his and her eyes were level, still smiling.
"I am, too," he said.
"Nice shot, Artemis!" Wally yelled in awe as he sped around a group of masked thugs, staring over his shoulder at the whirring machine that Artemis had just destroyed with one of her arrows while backflipping through the air. The Mad Scientist of the Week was shouting curses on her well-being as his creation began to short-circuit, but she ignored him, kicking one henchman in the gut and bowling him over. Robin took out another two, assisted by Zatanna.
M'gann clapped enthusiastically for the archer from her spot in the air before returning to the task of telekinetically knocking six thugs together. Superboy was charging at another group of them with a tree in hand. Wally saw Kaldur nod to Artemis in acknowledgement as he clashed with the scientist's bodyguard.
"Shut up and fight, moron!" Artemis retorted, using the butt of her bow to crack into a henchman's face. There was amusement in her voice, however. Pride. "Do me proud."
Wally smirked as he somersaulted through the air and kicked over three thugs in a row.
"Have I ever done anything less?" he called back jauntily.
That night at the Cave, he kissed her again. It was the second time since that night at her house, and it was in the silent warmth of the living room with the last embers of a fire in the hearth, and her hair gathered in his hands like water when she straddled him on the couch, and her lips were chapped and tasted salty, and both of their uniforms were dirty, but he didn't care. They were off soon enough anyway.