A misfire. A freakin' misfire. How can she of all people lodge an arrow on his left bicep? Not even Baywatch can manage to screw up that badly on a mission. So how can she, an archer of four years find herself in such a predicament?
Of course, he had tried to wave it off, blaming himself for being to close to the enemy lines. However, the "I'm fine"s, "You need not worry" s and "It's alright"s seem to fall short and flat as Artemis noticed the thick blood that ran down his left tattooed arm. It wasn't alright and he was far from being fine.
All pride and confidence had left her as soon as the arrow found its way to Aqualad's flesh. For a moment, she had believed her eyes had played a nasty trick on her. No, no she couldn't have...could she? Miss? Her? That was complete nonsense. Her and the very idea were impossible to mix. No, she must have been seeing things. But as the moonlight shone brightly on her grave mistake, she realized how terribly wrong and meaningless her pathetic reassurances were. She had missed.
How could she possibly let that happen? How could she miss? She was never suppose to. She never had until that moment. So how could she let that arrow fly from her grasp and fall short from its mark?
Bile had threaten to make its way out of her multiple times since the mission ended and on the ride to Mount Justice, she sat in the Bio ship alone, silent and head hung low.
What was this, amateur hour? She was trained for years before her admission to the team. What will the rest of the team think about her now? That she was incompetent? Unworthy? How could she do this to herself? She was given the opportunity to change what defines her and and her past but mess it up entirely. Was all the training she had unloaded to her in her childhood not enough? She wasted away years to improve her aim to the finest. One misfire was all it took to send her over the edge. What if- cold panic was starting to settle in her brain- she gets kicked off the team? She knew now she was unreliable but when will the rest of the team make that same conclusion? No, no. She won't have it. She worked to gain her place and acceptance. But all that seemed blotched and washed away as soon as she let that arrow out of her grip.
She had found him alone in the kitchen an hour later, still trying to nurse his wound.
Since it was her fault on account of his injury, she could at least be of some use and help him clean his wound, she reasoned. She had taken quiet steps, and it was when she finally got around to peer at his face the hard realization that her personal angst had been such petty worries slapped her full in the face.
The damage the arrow left behind were far from pretty. It had not sunk very deep into his arm but Kaldur's jaw was set and his eyes closed tight as he rubbed the wound with alcohol. He allowed himself to give a small wince and grimace once or twice, still trying fruitlessly to hold up his calm and strong demeanor. If not for the injury, he would have noticed her entrance long ago. The injury she had given him. Was the expression on his face the result of her mistake? Had she given him that pain etched face? It was enough to send a wave of guilt over. A different kind she was not familiar to.
The question was not how she missed the arrow, but how she missed the fact that she had shot Aqualad. How could she put her personal problems over a teammate? Her leader no less. How was it that the first thing that occurred to her was her misfire and not him? she was responsible for the pain he felt. Why had she not thought of it before? How had she not apologized to him yet? Or even considered it?
It slowly sunk in that it would be her pride that would be the end of her, not her skills. All this time, she was concerned over her mistake of missing when all her concern should have been devoted to Aqualad. Her immense pride had gotten in the way and distracted her from focusing on the true matter at hand.
Slowly and thoughtful, she removed the bottle of alcohol from Aqualad's hands, surprising him, and began to clean away at the damage she done.
How did he keep his calm- how did he not say a single word to her even after the damages she inflicted on him? The answer was simple. It was because he was Kaldur.
It was because he was who he was that held up this calm front. It's because he is Aqualad that he is unable to vent any frustration out to anyone. It is because he is Kaldur that he is such a gentlemen. It was because he is leader that he had to be strong. He did not utter a single complaint or blamed her. He forced himself not to cry out when he felt the arrow piercing him, and held himself responsible, accepting Batman's cold glare and failure of the mission with grace.
The very realization of how he held himself compared to how she held herself during this situation was enough to quiet her and make her stomach clench uncomfortably.
She had been weak while he was strong.
She stood brooding while he remained nonchalant.
She was prideful while he was humble.
All those things are what made him leader. He had not blamed her for anything, which was the most subtle and sparing gesture Artemis experienced. She realized that now. He had done his part-perhaps too well- so it was only fitting that when halfway done wrapping up his injury, Artemis had finally allowed herself to utter an apology.
It was faint and raspy, and anyone else who would have heard it would not think of it as much. How could this meager apology suffice? But Kaldur would defy and think differently. His gray eyes met hers and his webbed hands found themselves squeezing hers gently. Because this is Kaldur, and it was already enough for him.