"Wally, do you know where my black shorts are?"
Artemis, improved after the days spent in Gotham General and two weeks being carried, washed, groomed, and otherwise taken care of by her boyfriend, was still having difficulty maneuvering their tiny house in Palo Alto, California. Even with the rapid mending of the three bullet wounds in her left shoulder, it still wasn't strong enough to bear the strain of using crutches for the fractured tibia on the same side.
The ex-speedster himself was tidying up the main room that served as kitchen, living, and dining room combined. "Probably under the bed," he hollered back. "Need me to get them?"
"No, I've got it."
Though she'd mostly been a good sport throughout the healing process, Artemis' lack of ability to do even the simplest tasks for herself had been demeaning, and after a few days, Wally following her into the bathroom had gotten real old. Once beside the bed, she slowly lowered herself as close as she could to the floor, grunting when she had to drop the last six inches.
Spying the shorts in the shadows under the bed frame, she snatched them up and tossed them on top of the mattress. Frowning with effort, she tried several times to lift herself from her prostrate position, but each time felt resistance from either her shoulder, her clunky and heavy leg cast, or the soreness still present in her ribcage.
"Need a little help?" Wally's laughing voice sounded from the doorway of the bedroom. He'd been watching for a while, certain she would eventually call for assistance - at least to get the shorts on, he knew - but had postponed intervening at the scene he was witnessing. His beautiful, battered girlfriend was on her stomach, stretched out as far as her shoulder and cast would allow, huffing and puffing while doing halting push-up motions before falling back to the ground. It would have been hilarious were it not for her state of undress; clad only in a tank top and underwear, her movements were more alluring than amusing.
Artemis scowled. "Just get me up. They're going to be here any minute."
She wasn't far off. Not twenty minutes later, Wally was speeding to answer the doorbell after having deposited Artemis comfortably on the couch. "Long time no see," he began, throwing the door open to welcome his de facto sister-in-law and her husband, but stopped with jaw hanging open.
"Hello, Wallace," Jade greeted, smiling her mysterious smile. "It really has been a long time."
Red-haired Roy, looking a different man from the last time Wally had seen him, walked up behind his wife and placed a strong steady hand on her shoulder. "Hey, Wally," he saluted, actually smiling. "There's someone we want you to meet."
"Jade? Roy? Who is it?" Artemis called from inside. Even when craning her neck as far as it would go, she couldn't see beyond Wally's long frame. "Come in already!"
Wally, in shock, stepped automatically aside to let Roy and Jade pass into the house.
What Artemis saw registered in pieces: her sister's face, almost identical to her own except for a more pronounced tilt of the eyes and the short, silky cowl of raven hair; Roy, her brother-in-law, looking fit and full and clean, face shaven, hair trimmed, and cheeks rounded back to their natural shape; her own Wally, wearing his best shirt and a stunned expression, wordless for the first time in a long time; and finally, a smaller, unfamiliar face, chubby and perfect, topped with a dollop of fuzzy-looking black hair, big hazel eyes wide and open and staring, drinking in the world around her, gaze traveling around the whole room until they fell on Artemis. And when it did, the baby let out a wet, happy gurgle.
"Sister," Jade began, and her face was uncharacteristically soft and warm as she shifted her eyes from the child to her own blonde counterpart on the couch. "This is Lian Delorah Nguyen-Harper. Your neice."
After the initial surprise and Wally and Artemis' joy and congratulations, and after Jade had transferred the child to her sister and they had all crowded around, and the proud parents had exchanged pleased looks and a kiss or two while their friends fawned over their daughter, came the indignation.
"Eight months?" Artemis said quietly, accusation apparent in her tone. "Lian is eight months old, and you never bothered to tell us?"
Roy threw up defensive hands. "Hey, I just found out I was a father a few months ago. Think about how that felt."
Artemis turned wide eyes on her sister. "A few months? Jade, how can you not have told the father of your child, your husband, that you were even pregnant?"
Jade's eyes flashed. "Don't forget that Roy and I had separated before I even knew. Don't forget that for five years all my husband could think about was finding the other Roy. How could I introduce my baby into a world like that? Into our world?"
A silence followed, thick with guilt on everyone's part. Roy even got up and went outside on the porch. After a moment, Wally followed, closing the door quietly behind him, leaving the three Nguyen girls alone.
Jade was looking challengingly at her sister. Artemis, when she felt she could, finally shifted her gaze from the child cradled in her arms to meet Jade's eyes.
"You could've come to me," she said softly, and her brown eyes, usually so sharp and jaunty, were full of pain.
Jade snorted derisively. "What, my little sister? And interrupt your perfect life here in the perfect home with your perfect boyfriend?" She gestured towards to closed front door. "No, Artie, I couldn't have come to you. I would've ruined your little world, your screwed-up pregnant sister with no money, no job, a distant and obsessed husband that she can't stay away from, and trust issues piling higher than the eye can see."
Her speech, though quiet and composed, left her with chest heaving and cheeks pink, and Artemis, though long ago exorcised from her sister's life, knew that she had been carrying the burden of those words around for a long time. She let them marinate for a while, turning them over in her mind before responding.
"Jade," she tried, and faltered. Her voice, usually so controllable, had become thick with emotion. She swallowed. "Jade, I know we have a - complicated past. But you're my sister, and I've always loved you." She smiled tenderly down at the little face in her arms. Hazel orbs stared back intelligently, bubbling away and jerkily waving chubby arms. "I already love Lian." She already knew that to be true; in just a little while, she felt her heart grow and expand to create a warm place for this new member of her strange family.
Jade softened. "It's impossible not to. I know she's only a baby, but it feels like she understands us - Roy and I - and loves us, in spite of all the... wrong turns we've taken."
Artemis grinned at her sister. "I've noticed you two, by the way," she teased. "You seem very - sweet on each other again. Are you back together for good?"
Jade grinned back, the hint of a blush playing around her high, graceful cheekbones. "We still have a lot of shit to work out. But like I said, I can't stay away from him, and I presume everybody saw the mess he turned into when I left." She chuckled.
"About Roy's mess," Artemis wheedled, undeniably ravenous for information, "Zatanna told me that you found the original Roy."
Jade nodded. "I called in a few old Shadow favors, and we found him shut in a hibernation pod. The heavy anesthesia he's been force-fed for the last ten years damaged his brain. He's in a coma - your Justice League has him squirreled away in some secret medical facility somewhere. They don't know when - or if - he'll wake up, so Roy's real-boy fixation isn't over yet."
Artemis sighed. "I'm really sorry. None of this should've ever happened."
"What shouldn't have? Roy Harper being cloned? Artie, I know Roy screwed with you and your whole Super Friends club, but I'm not sorry he was cloned - it's this Roy I fell in love with, not jelly-legs boy."
Taken aback, Artemis blinked a few times. "Okay, I hear you. That wasn't really what I meant, but I hear you."
They sank into a comfortable silence, both watching as little Lian's great big unblinking eyes drooped closed.
Outside, Wally closed the front door. Roy was sitting on the porch steps, back to him, hands clasped on his knees and watching the sun accelerate down over the horizon, yellows and reds and purples spurting across the sky. "It's all true, you know," he said without turning to see who it was behind him. He could tell it was Wally from his footsteps. "I used to tell myself that it was Jade's choice to leave, that she didn't know how to live a straight life, that she couldn't handle the responsibility and honesty of marriage." His shoulders hunched inward. "But I was the one who gave up. I abandoned her, my friends, the League, and myself to the search." Finally, he turned to look Wally square in the eye. "I found him, you know."
"He's in a coma in League custody. Probably won't ever wake up."
Wally sat beside him on the steps. "I'm really sorry, Roy."
"I've got so much to put right," Roy sighed. Then laughed. "Do you know Jade put me in therapy? Once a week. She goes to her own shrink, too."
"Maybe it'll help you both," Wally said optimistically, feeling his friend's anger and shame. "But nothing will ever get better if you don't try. You love her, right?"
Roy laughed again, a short bark without mirth. "You know what, Wally? It took five years, a wedding, a breakup, and a daughter for me to realize what that even means." He was silent for a moment before continuing. "She - rescued me. Brought me back from a bad place. She is the most incredible fighter - and not just with her fists - that I've ever met. She's not perfect, but, hell," he grinned darkly, "who am I to talk? I do love her, and I have to put in the work to become the husband she needs and the father Lian needs."
He looked at his friend, face wide open and eyes so full of feeling - excitement, love, pride, fear, anxiety. "Wally, I'm a father. I have a daughter."
Wally guessed he hadn't gotten to say that out loud very often yet. "You are," Wally grinned, clapping his old friend on the shoulder. "She's beautiful, man."
And Roy was filled with happiness.
"Now, do you mind if we go back inside?" Wally asked, standing and stretching. "I'm starving, and Artemis probably isn't going to be giving up her new niece anytime soon, so I have a lot of work to do for dinner."