It's quiet in the warehouse.
Quiet enough that the only thing Dick has to fill the silence is his own thoughts. Tonight, there are plenty fighting for his attention.
He leans against the crates standing behind him, releasing a tired sigh as he does. Behind the mask, his eyes close and he lets himself wander. Unbidden, images of that night come in a flood, each lasting only a moment before fading to the next. The long wait in that tower, the rocket, La'gaan, Kaldur—
He lets his head fall back against the wood with a dull thunk, and he lifts his hand to pinch the space between his eyes.
When they discussed this plan, he never thought watching it in action would hurt as much as it did. He never thought going through the motions—Kaldur appearing to stab her through the chest, watching her face contort, seeing her stagger and fall to the ground—
He stops that trail of thought before it can go any further, brushing it away like a line in the sand. They've already seen her die once, and even though he knows this time it isn't real...
Knowing what comes next doesn't make it any better, he thinks to himself.
Making a sound between a grunt and a frustrated groan, Dick tries to think about other things. About what the hell he's going to say to the team when he returns to the cave, how he's going to look at M'gann and Conner and tell them how Wally took the news.
But as weighty of topics as those are, his mind insists on Artemis. So much rested and will rest on her shoulders, when she hasn't been in the field for nearly a year.
What if she blows her cover—
Could M'gann or Conner figure it out—
What if something goes wrong—
What would you have done if she really died?
The last one makes his stomach churn and his mind go numb. The worst part is he does have an idea of what he'd done, of how he would have reacted had Kaldur truly murdered her. He knows that because when he bent over her prone form—chest unmoving and heart beating so slow and so quiet it was impossible to detect—he almost began to believe it himself.
Every compression drove the idea further into his mind. Every time he pressed his lips to hers, breathing into her lungs, it was as though he in somehaled thing that clouded his mind, making the scenario very real.
The blood was real, the stillness was real. All of it—horribly, terribly real.
Wally, his best friend would be torn apart, a shell of himself. He'd probably never speak to Dick again.
And then Artemis herself. Her golden blonde hair, her glinting gray eyes, the confident stride and self-assured motions—all lost. Her laugh, her biting sarcasm that kept him on his toes, her companionship - that as well, left only in his memories.
No one telling him to get traught when he expressed to her how much he missed having his two best friends on the team.
He swallows in an attempt to rid himself of the lump in his throat.
"It wasn't real," he whispers to himself, hands covering his face and sliding downwards, as though he could wipe the concept from his head.
If it had been?
The inner voice is curt, digging at him. It sounds a hell of a lot like Wally - the angry voice he's grown all too acquainted with recently.
I don't know, he responds.
Please. You do. You've known since Tula died.
It doesn't matter.
Forcibly, he pushes the voice—the one that summons images and sensations for blood, revenge, anger—away.
But another takes its place.
Where would that leave you, Dick Grayson? This one sounds oddly like Babs, curious and searching.
Babs, his real name, Gotham Academy—
What would you regret?
There's a line tracing a pattern through his mind, drawing him to one thing—
"That I never told her," he whispers to himself. "It's something she deserves, something she should know before…"
Before she dies.
Almost subconsciously, he lifts his wrist and—with a few flicks and taps—navigates to what he's looking for.
He knows he shouldn't have a personal picture on his uniform's computer. He knows it could compromise him, were his gauntlet to glitch and pull it up mid-mission.
But he doesn't have the heart to take it off. Besides, he always figured he could surprise Artemis with it one day—get her incredulous reaction.
You never did, though.
No, he didn't. He never showed Artemis this picture. The way her eyes stare up at the camera in confusion and surprise, the anxious set of her mouth, the hunch in her shoulders, all next to his ridiculous grin, slicked-back hair, and mischievous blue eyes—no, Artemis hasn't seen this image since the day it was taken all that time ago.
Things were simpler then.
"We'll laugh about this someday," he whispers to himself. He's carried this—those words, the picture, that memory—with him for five years.
When is "someday," Dick?
I wish I knew.
told you that I had more Depths-related stuff in store. the next few might actually shift toward other relationships/characters, GASP.