Wally West, retired Kid Flash, was sitting silently in a hospital room. The plain clock on the whitewashed wall read 1 AM. Doctors and nurses bustled by in the hallway, slurping at cups of instant coffee and comparing patient files, focused only on the detached business of human repairs.
A young man walked into the room, two coffee cups in hand, and sat in the visitor chair next to Wally's. His delicate features and athletic physique would have inspired attention from the hospital's female staff, were it not for the strangeness of the impenetrably dark sunglasses he wore indoors in the dead of night.
Wally, though, saw nothing amiss in the youth's appearance. "Thanks, Dick," he said tiredly, taking the proffered cup.
"Doc will be in in a minute," Dick Grayson replied, and the two returned to silence.
The object of their vigil was the woman in the bed. She was a stunning golden-blonde, but she'd clearly seen better days. Thin cuts to the forehead and a split lip were the least of her injuries; three cracked ribs, a fractured tibia, bullet wounds to the shoulder, and a concussion were the cause of her admittance to Gotham General. Under her tanned skin, her pallor was grey and her face wan. Great purple bags were gathered underneath her eyes, as if she hadn't slept properly in days.
The visitors' silence was broken when the hospital's attending entered.
Wally stood immediately. "Doctor, why hasn't she woken up?" His voice was thick, either from emotion or lack of sleep - probably both, judging from the look on his frightened face.
The white-coated woman took a look at the chart hanging from the footboard of the bed. "The bullet extraction on her shoulder was five hours ago. The anesthesia should be wearing off, and her vitals are steady. It should only be a matter of time." She gave him a comforting look, but Wally didn't see it.
He had bent over the rail of the bed, gazing intently at the blonde woman's weak face. Carefully, cautiously, he took her limp hand in his, brushing his fingertips over the white knuckles as delicately as if they had been tiny flower petals.
"Come on, Artemis," he murmured, pressing her palm to his cheek. The intimacy of it forced Dick to turn away. "Come back to me, babe."
Some time later found Dick fast asleep in his chair, half-empty coffee cup tipping precariously in his half-clenched hands, and Wally dozing with head resting on arms folded atop the bed railing.
Artemis was wide awake, piercing brown eyes watching Wally sleep. His cheek was slowly sliding down the back of one hand. She had contemplated waking him, but after noting the chalky whiteness of his cheeks and the dark circles under his eyes, she had opted to let him rest. She contented herself with drinking in the sight of him.
He had grown thinner, his carrot top gone moppish, and a few days' worth of whiskers had sprouted up along the jawline. He had obviously not kept well these last seven weeks. But he was Wally, and he was familiar, and she was relieved that it was all over and she could finally see his face again.
Trying not to wake him, but unable to go a moment longer without contact when he was so close to her, she reached out - with the same hand Wally had held so carefully not long before - and ran her fingers lightly through his ginger hair. It was long enough now to flop down over his forehead, and she softly brushed it back.
At her touch on his skin, Wally stirred. Eyes blurred with sleep, he didn't realize for a moment who he was seeing.
"Wally," Artemis smiled, and her voice was hoarse and thick. And then he was kissing her - her fingers, her forehead, her cheeks, eyelids, lips -
"Artie," he groaned urgently between kisses, "it's been so long, so long, and all you could do for hours was sleep like the dead."
"Getting the shit kicked out of you will make you a little tired," she reminded him. "Or have you been out of the game so long you've forgotten?"
Wally's jaw tightened. "Don't call it that, Artemis," he insisted. "Not now, after what it's done to you."
Artemis waved a hand. "I've had worse."
"When?" Wally demanded, completely serious now. "When has the life left you this battered in one go? You've never been this bad."
"Don't," she pleaded, serious now too. "We haven't seen each other in two months. We can't fight now."
Wally softened. "I missed you. So much."
Tears welled in Artemis' eyes. "We've never been apart for so long. I didn't know it would be so hard."
They kissed again, slower and deeper, until Wally tasted blood. He yanked away. The cut across Artemis' lip had opened, and dark red blood oozed down her chin. "Artie, I hurt you!" he gasped. "Is it bad?" He grabbed a damp cloth from the bedside table, left earlier by a nurse in case of fever.
"Relax, it's just a little cut," she reassured him, staunching the flow of blood with the cloth.
Wally dropped into his chair. "How did all this even happen?"
Artemis shook her head, wincing at the stabbing pains in her side. "I'm not talking about it now. I don't want to talk about anything now. You can see it all when J'onn debriefs me. All I want now is for you to get up here with me." She patted the empty space beside her on the bed. Wally crawled up the unrailed foot of the mattress on the non-crushed ribs side of Artemis. She held out her uninjured arm to him, wrapping it around his neck as he laid his head next to hers on the wide pillow. "You look like crap, by the way."
"Ha ha," he grumbled, patting her still-trickling lip with the moist towel. "You're one to talk."
"When I come home, you're getting a haircut."
"When you come home, I'll do anything you want - just as long as you swear you'll never leave for seven weeks again. For any reason."
"No problem, baby," she sighed. "I'll never go anywhere without you again."
At 5 AM, Dick Grayson awoke with a start. The hospital was just waking up for the day shift, but inside the room there was only the slow, even sound of deep sleep. Wally was snoring quietly, orange head pillowed on Artemis' chest, curled around her body as if soldered there. The patient herself was awake, stroking Wally's hair, and looked over at Dick as he stretched.
He smiled. "Glad to see you conscious," he said warmly, rising stiffly from his seat.
"Thank you," Artemis whispered, so as not to wake her slumbering charge, "for everything."
"I didn't do anything. You and Kaldur did all the hard work. I should be thanking you."
Artemis shook her head. "Your plan kept Kal and I alive. And I know you helped Wally while I was gone."
Dick chuckled. "Sometimes he would forget to shower for days. His professors at school were starting to ask questions." He dipped down and gave her a friendly kiss on the cheek. "I'm really glad you're okay."
Dick nodded. "Somebody has to tell the team that the friend they thought had betrayed them has been protecting them this whole time, and the other that they've been mourning for two months is actually alive."
Artemis sighed. "They're all going to hate me."
"No, they'll be ecstatic you're not dead - it's Kal and me that they'll hate. I'll probably have to take a beating from Superboy."
She smiled. "Tell him from me to take it easy."
He rolled his eyes. "Oh yeah, because we all know how good Connor is at listening." He pointed at Wally. "And you tell this one when he wakes up, 'Way to be a man.' He's practically sucking his thumb."
Looking tenderly down at the mop of orange hair resting on her chest, Artemis grinned. "After five years, neither of us is very good at sleeping alone."