A/N: Well, we're down to the second-to-last chapter. Thanks everyone for your patience, anticipation, motivation, and general all-around fantasticness. The finale chapter will take some time as this is my final year of college, so go easy on me please!
Disclaimer: Young Justice is owned by DC Comics, Warner Bros., and the chancellors of evil who cancel quality superhero programming (I liked BtB goddammit), Cartoon Network.
Chapter 13: The Fight
"Would you hurry up? We're gonna be the last ones there!"
Artemis was worn out from their juvenile running contest. There was something about Wally that brought out all the childish quirks she thought she'd abandoned after puberty. Not that their competition even mattered; he was clearly humoring her. She could see him practically sweating with the effort it took to run at her comparatively snail slow pace.
"Yeah, wouldn't want to be late for the obvious trap," she shot back through labored breaths. "You know he's there waiting for us, right? Batman might as well have served us and the Justice League on a silver platter."
"Probably," Wally replied nonchalantly.
Artemis almost tripped. "Are you saying you know it's a trap?"
"Trap with a capital 'T.' Oh, yeah."
"Then why the hell are we doing this?!" Her voice rose in pitch and volume with each word. She half-expected her ears to expel steam and make a sound like a train whistle.
"Because we have a plan."
"A plan," she echoed.
Artemis threw her hands in the air and started jogging even faster. "Great. Somehow I don't feel comforted by that at all."
A dozen arrows ejected from Roy's quiver at his touch and exploded in the air above them. A mixture of tear gas, smoke screen, and pepper spray surrounded them in a mushroom cloud of steam. Sportsmaster coughed and dropped the archer, waving his arms frantically the clear the air.
Roy shaded his already burning eyes with arm and hoisted Cheshire roughly onto his shoulder like a sack of flour with other. He jumped blindly from the ring and landed hard on the cement. Cheshire winced and coughed, but said nothing.
He sprinted to Kaldur's side. "I've got her, let's go."
As though on cue, Robin, M'gann, and Conner appeared in the doorway behind them. Conner held out his hands and Roy handed him Jade, who was still fighting for consciousness. Her breathing was still shallow and her eyes flickered weakly, but she had strength to hold on to Conner's sinewy neck for support. Roy tried to ignore the stab of envy in his stomach at the way the Kryptonian could lift her in the crook of one arm without the slightest difficulty.
"Everyone present and accounted for?" he asked.
M'gann shook her head. "Still no Kid Flash or Artemis. It's not like him to be late."
"Are you kidding? It's exactly like him," Robin smirked. "C'mon, we'll collect them on the way out."
Kaldur nodded. "Very well. Stand back."
He withdrew his water bearers and thrust them forwards. A wave of water rose at his command and flooded the rooms with crashing rapids. The last of the smoke had cleared from around Sportsmaster's head when he was knocked for a loop by the tidal wave and went flying across the gym. And, as momentum would have it, the wave hit the wall and made its way back, splashing over the teams' heads. In seconds, they were up to their knees in water.
Jade groaned and struggled to wipe her soggy bangs from her face. "I really hate you people."
"No, you don't," Roy replied with a smirk. She would be just fine.
Artemis didn't know how much further they had to run, but the goosebumps popping like daisies on her arm said they were close.
Wally was still explaining their vague plan. "Don't worry, as long as Kaldur's there it'll be fine. He's our secret weapon. They'll knock him for a loop, we grab Jade, and then we run like Darkseid's on our tail."
Artemis had long since tired of gaping at him in disbelief. "This is still the worst plan I've ever heard," she said.
"Wow, you do not sugar coat things, do you?" Wally shrugged. "Okay, that's just our initial attack phase of the plan. What we're really counting on is a little thing called back-up."
"Is there another team of idiot super powered teenagers waiting outside for our signal?" Artemis deadpanned.
"Even better. The League is monitoring us from their headquarters. If, for some reason, our plan backfires, our mentors will be here in seconds. They're just waiting for a signal."
"I thought the League was off-planet!" she blustered.
"There's no interplanetary crisis. Even if there were they wouldn'thave told us," he said with a note of bitterness. "We've never even seen their headquarters."
Interesting. So there was tension between the team and their mentors. She wondered if that tension drove them to forming a teen team in the first place. "You mean, you've never seen the Watch Tower?" she asked.
Wally's mouth nearly fell open. "Wha - how do you know about the Watch Tower?"
Artemis threw her hands up with frustration. "Everyone knows! It's a giant satellite in space! Once a month, some half-witted, bottom tier super villain tries to launch a missile at it, and it literally blows up in their faces."
"Oh. Right. But you see? We have a plan. Plus, a back-up plan, that's two plans."
"Great, awesome, really excellent, and was there any reason - any reason - I wasn't filled in on these two brilliant plans of yours?"
Wally sucked in a guilty breath, hissing through his teeth. "About that. You were being tested. Batman wanted to make sure you could operate on the fly. He called it a teamwork trust exercise or something. You didn't think we were just going to throw you out into the field without a little insurance, did you?" There was an unholy level of smugness on his face.
A throbbing muscle nearly popped itself out of her forehead in irritation. She whacked him on the arm. "Unbelievable! After all the crap you gave me about lying!"
He raised his hands in defense. "Hey, whoa, not my plan, not my lie. Batman was behind everything, like he always is. So if you need someone to blame, blame him."
Before she could burst out into another retort, they had turned the corner and, lo and behold, the gym doors were straight ahead. Her calve muscles nearly cried with relief.
Knowing her father and sister were directly behind those doors made Artemis's nerves razor-sharp, digging into the sides of her head like needles. She shook her head to clear the clouding anxiety and put her all into a final sprint. "Whatever, let's get this over with."
"That's the spirit."
They burst through the doors, completely out of breath, only to find the sight of a waterlogged room and their drenched teammates. Sportsmaster's motionless form had landed on a stack of dumbbells and didn't seem to be getting up. It was like an indoor tsunami had just plowed its way through the room and vanished.
"Aw, man," Wally moaned. "Did we miss all the action?"
Robin fist-bumped him upon arrival. "Just in time for our daring escape."
Artemis stood on her toes to peer across the room. "Is he out for good?"
"Don't know, don't care," Roy replied. "Get ready to run because we're leaving, now." And he pushed them back towards the doors.
Thinking about the mission in retrospect, Artemis would come to realize that there were several factors the team had overestimated in their escape plan. For one thing, their only means of escape - short of blasting a hole in the ceiling - was a single door. For another, they had assumed the building's decrepit nature meant it was technologically out of date. And for a third, they had not realized Sportsmaster's inability to stand didn't mean he couldn't push a button.
There was a faint click, and a slightly louder whirrrr, and the double doors had swung shut of their own accord.
"What the -?"
"Did that door just lock?
Superboy was first to seize the initiative, and rammed his shoulder into the wall. It didn't give way. When he fell back, they found a small dent in the reinforced, Kryptonian-proof plating. That was when Artemis began to panic.
"Miss Martian, phase us out, now!" Kaldur ordered quickly.
"Everyone grab hands!" M'gann's eyes glowed and crackled with energy. Artemis could see their bodies begin to turn transparent.
Before they could phase, a raging shock wave shot through them like an invisible gatling gun peppering them with bullets. Each member of the team fell to the ground, gripping the sides of their heads and screaming in pain. Artemis's head was on fire and her insides felt liquified. The waves pulsed through her body, disrupting her heartbeat, and rattled her brain around her skull like a rebounding tennis ball.
Mercy came when it stopped. The relief was enough to turn her knees to jelly. The team had nearly been knocked out by the blast; pure resilience was the only thing keeping their heads afloat. Artemis slapped some water from the slowly draining puddles on her face. When it didn't work, she pinched herself to stay vigilant. Sportsmaster was regaining his strength.
"So," she croaked. "About that back-up plan?"
"Working on it," said Robin. He started fiddling with his wristwatch. The electric blue screen refused to pop out or even tell him the time. "Electronics are busted," he groaned. "That means no distress signal. We just got re-trapped."
Artemis rolled onto her side to face Aqualad. "Any ideas?"
His eyes were barely open. "I-I am afraid not."
Crap. In her experience, this was usually where the good guys slapped her in handcuffs and threw her in jail. That was the bright side of evil: failure doesn't usually end in gruesome death. Unfortunately, gruesome death was exactly what her father had in mind.
She could see his steel-toed boots hit the ground and pace closer, ever closer. With the last vestiges of strength, she pushed herself off the ground. Pride wouldn't allow her to be lying on the ground when she finally faced her father.
"Artemis," said Lawrence once he'd taken his time sauntering over. "Good to see you."
Her lips still thrummed with residual vibration. "Nice trick."
"You like? A gift from some old friends. You've met Monsieur Mallah and the Brain, yeah? Big, dirty ape with a French accent and his pal, the disembodied brain? They owed me a favor or two. Only works once, but, as you can see, it's damn effective."
"Down, but not out, huh, Dad?"
"That's right. Speaking of debts to be paid, you're in pretty deep, baby girl. Time to pay up."
"I hope you don't mean with my life, because it's spoken for," she said lightly. "And I don't owe you shit."
He pointed a thick finger at her, shaking ever so slightly from his consuming anger. "That's where you're wrong, Artemis. I raised you. Put a roof over your head, paid for your clothes, put you through school. I taught you everything I knew, and now I'm exiled in disgrace. All because of your little stunt. Years of faithful service, and suddenly Ra's al Ghul decided I was a security risk," he pointed a thick, shaking finger at her face. "Because of you. After everything you owe me. And now, I'm coming to collect."
Artemis nearly trembled with rage. "You're insane," she hissed. "A real piece of work. This isn't about debt; it's your own damn pride. Your reputation is ruined, and you think it's mine and Jade's fault. That's all this is. Don't pretend it's something as stupid as debt."
He shrugged in relent. "What can I say? Reputation is all a man has in our business."
The others were starting to lift themselves off the ground. Jade was out cold; she was too weak and the blast had been the last straw. Superboy managed to move her out of harm's way and then helped M'gaan up on his firm arm. Wally took longer to stand; whatever flavor of vibration waves they'd been shot with seemed to interfere with his powers. But when he and the others made it to their feet, they formed a tight circle behind her.
"No," she said. Her team's energy surrounded her like a protective cocoon. "No, not 'our.' Don't you ever say 'our business' to me again. I'm done with the Shadows. And I'm definitely done with you."
"Give it up, Sportsmaster," said Robin with a shit-eating grin. "Our back-up's already on the way. You've got no hostage, no men, and no chance."
Artemis grinned along with him. "Odds are against you, old man. And I'm gonna enjoy watching you grow old behind bars."
Her father let out a rumbling laugh. "Back-up, huh? Birdboy, the JL ain't coming to save you." He pulled out a smartphone from his pocket, pressed some buttons, and slid it across the floor where it spun and stopped at her feet. Livestream footage. The phone emitted tinny pops of gunfire and yells that echoed in the silent gym. Artemis's heart sank when the unmistakable red and blue silhouette of Superman zoomed past the screen.
Say it isn't so, say it isn't so...
"I hate to break it to you kids, but about ten minutes ago your back-up got...well, sidetracked." His smile dripped with malice. "It looks like an international incident sprang up at the Rhelasian border. According to eyewitnesses, an American soldier shot and gravely injured a Rhelasian mother and child."
M'gann clasped a hand over her mouth to stifle her gasp.
"As you can see, your mentors are busy trying to stop a war from breaking out. And given the politics of having superhuman interference in war zones, they could be busy for a long time."
Well, shit. They were cornered. Even Superman couldn't escape from the public eye quick enough without attracting attention and provoking an international dispute. Artemis was almost impressed.
"Wow, Dad," she said. "That must've taken you almost a hundred favors to pull off. You'll be neck-deep in debt for years, and all just to kill little ol' me? I'm touched."
"My pleasure," he sneered. "And now that we've got time, I think we need to settle this once and for all."
"I couldn't agree more." Artemis took a half-step forward until Wally's hand snaked out and seized her by the shoulder.
"What do you think you're doing?"
"Remember our conversation about throwing yourself into dangerous situations?" he hissed. "This is the definition of a very, very dangerous situation." His eyes were almost desperate. "Artemis, please. You promised you weren't going to try and throw your life away."
She shook her head. "This is different, I swear."
Lawrence drifted backwards to the boxing ring in the middle of gym. "Tell y'what," he said, cutting off their mental bickering. "I'll cut you a deal. This here is a family matter. If I give you tot Shadows, they'll hold a trial, you'll be found guilty, and they'll execute you and Jade for being ungrateful turncoats. I'm thinking, there's no need to get the Shadows or the super brats involved."
"One-on-one, you and me," he continued. "You win, you walk away. I win…well, you know what happens when I win."
Artemis shook off Wally's hand and stepped forward, ignoring his telepathic outbursts. Somehow, she knew this is how things would play out. It felt like fate. "All right," she said. "But no weapons and no toys. Fist to fist, just like old times."
Lawrence's laugh was low and guttural. "Didn't think I could ever convince you to part from your precious bow and arrow. You've got a deathwish, baby girl."
She cocked her head to the side and raised an eyebrow. "I've picked up a few tricks since last time we fought. You might be surprised."
He considered her for a moment, then crossed his arms. "Fine. I'm guessing you want these punks to walk away if you win, right?"
"And Jade," she corrected.
"Only if you win."
Conner piped up angrily behind her. "And what's stopping us from backing her up?"
"I'm glad you asked." Sportsmaster shot a smug grin at the team, and snapped his fingers. Immediately, the unmistakable whirring of a dozen laser cannons charging to life echoed through the gym. Their glowing red laser pointers immediately settled on the forehead of each member of the team, all of whom froze in place on instinct.
Artemis felt her heart sink and burn its way down to her stomach. There's always a plan B.
"Those lasers are hardwired to lock onto your DNA signatures. Except mine and Artemis's, of course. Had a few of my grunts collect samples while you were fighting. Take one step, and you'll be incinerated in seconds."
"You've got to be kidding," Superboy growled through clenched teeth.
"Damn you," Artemis spat. "This is low. Just how many toys did you borrow for tonight?"
"You wanted a fair fight. Now, we're even."
"And what guarantee do we have you will not shoot even if she wins?" Aqualad challenged, his deep voice pulsing with anger.
Lawrence's smile oozed like black tar, slowly and evenly across his face. "Absolutely nothing," he said.
The team didn't say a word, but she could feel their tension collectively rise like pressure in a valve. She could see Superboy's biceps clenching tight, Aqualad's eyes searching around the room fast as light, M'gann's cape rippling around her feet without a breeze, and Robin's hands lingered above his utility belt at the ready. Wally's eyes boring into hers like a deep emerald flame. There was something about his steady gaze that set her chest on fire.
She could feel them inside her head. They wanted to help, to act, to do something. They wanted to protect her. Of all people.
Artemis was furious. She had never felt so much protective energy around her. Their thoughts sent an ebbing warmth of confidence through her veins. Her fists gripped tighter, her scowl dipped deeper, and her eyes burned brighter.
They were her team. And her father wanted to take them away from her. The same way he robbed her of a childhood, of a mother, of a life. The thought alone was maddening. The wildfire of her anger burned a smoldering path through all the emotions overwhelming her - fear, hesitation, regret - until only white-hot fury remained. For once, her mind was completely clear. For once, she knew exactly what to do.
Artemis steeled her resolve and took one step forward. "Stay back," she said. "I'm handling this."
Wally's teeth were gritted so tight, sparks practically emitted from the friction. "I hope you know what you're doing," he said, at the same time thinking, "This is a bad idea."
"Put a little faith in me. Okay?" She smiled encouragingly. "Don't worry. I think I just came up with a plan and this fight is gonna buy us time."
He nodded curtly, still glowering. "Don't take this the wrong way, but I don't feel comforted by that at all."
"Shut up," she retorted, biting back a smirk all the same. "Here I go."
Artemis swung her legs over the boxing arena's red and blue ropes. The mat was still damp and riddled with puddles from what she assumed was Kaldur's last attack. She could use the water to her advantage, but so could he.
Lawrence made a showy display of tossing his javelin to the side. It slipped off the mat and fell to the floor with a resounding crash, cracking a hole into the concrete. She swallowed a lump in her throat. The reminder of her father's herculean strength did little to inspire confidence in her chances.
"Last man standing, then."
"I was gonna say 'last woman,' but that'd just be redundant," she sneered.
"Kick his ass, Artemis!" Robin hollered from below. The rest of the team followed his lead and began shouting furiously at the top of their lungs. Their voices set her veins ablaze with fighting spirit, like they were standing right beside her.
Artemis spread her feet evenly, set her shoulders back, and raised her fists. He did the same. It was no different from the endless childhood sparring matches that always ended with her gasping and coughing for air while her father stood over her and yelled until his face turned purple.
But this time was different. She wasn't a child anymore. And she had a plan.
"We have to do this while he's distracted," she said."M'gann, you don't need to move to use telepathy, right?"
"Right," M'gann replied.
"Can you disconnect the lasers?" Artemis scanned the ceiling while she paced tiger-like around the edges of the arena. She was tried to mirror her father's movements, keeping him a tactical distance. "From what I can see, they're wired into the same fixtures as the fluorescents."
While she spoke, Lawrence made the first move. His stance was perfectly erect and balanced. His fists came swinging with the force and velocity of a whip, snapping back like a cobra's head striking. Then he changed styles, squaring his shoulders, and a leg the size of a tree trunk caught her in the stomach, blasting her backwards. She had raised her forearms to block the brunt of the blow, but the taut rubber ropes caught her hard enough to lose feeling in her shoulders.
"I see them," said Robin. "And I know where you're going with this, but even with telepathy M'gann can't cut through the wires. They'll set off sparks and Sportsmaster will know what we're doing."
Artemis shook her head minutely and dodged another charging attack. "She doesn't need to cut them. I've worked with these...before." She dodged again. Left, right, right again. His blows were getting predictable. "They're the older models. I wouldn't be surprised...if he raided the Shadows' basement...before they excommunicated him."
The telepathic conversation split her focus in half, causing a few clips to the shoulder when she wasn't looking. Lawrence was toying with her. It would've been insulting if his overconfidence weren't the only thing standing between her and being crushed into a bloody pulp.
"That's great, but can you get to the part where we do something?" Red Arrow demanded. He did not work well under pressure, she decided.
"What I'm saying is that these old models, they're plugged in! He's made some adjustments, but the plugs...have got to be the same." Another body blow, followed by an elbow jab to the face. She avoided both by nearly losing her balance after stepping in a puddle. Lucky. "There should be a small wire...connecting the barrel to the muzzle. If we can disconnect those…"
"I hadn't thought of that," Robin mused. "But that does sound plausible. Not to mention that'll be some serious precision work."
"Find those…unplug them one by one…and he won't have a leg to stand on." The thought made her swipe under his legs to knock his balance, but he twisted at the last second and intercepted her. His fist caught her square in the stomach and sent her flying back against the ropes. "Ugh," she grunted, doubling over. "So to speak."
"I'll see what I can do," M'gann promised. "Just please…be careful."
"Little late for that." Artemis's throat seized and with a hacking cough she spat out a mouthful of blood. It spattered on the canvas like a splash of crimson paint. First of many, she thought wryly.
She danced back to the corner to steal a quick breath and snuck a peek behind at the team. Superboy had shifted Jade's body so that M'gann's glowing eyes were hidden behind her sister's extended legs. The others were hollering louder than ever to distract any of her father's stray focus. She had long since tuned out their voices, except for the occasional smirk at Wally and Robin's outraged expletives. The low buzz of their cheering was a comfort. They trusted her. Believed in her. And she was going to show them just how much she'd earned it.
They traded blows for what felt like hours. For every decent punch Artemis could land, Lawrence had upped his hit count thrice over. The contrast between her lean frame and his brickwall of dense muscle meant a world of different. He was too familiar with her style; hell, he'd taught her everything she knew about using a larger opponent's size against them.
But he didn't know all her tricks.
First chance she could, Artemis sprinted to the colored ropes. She needed height, and for that she needed leverage. Lawrence followed, stalking slowly like an animal, waiting to see her next move. A bowl of chalk that kick boxers used to coat their hands with stood just outside the ring in between them. He noticed her eyes dart towards it.
"Not thinking of playing dirty, are we?" He sneered.
Artemis feigned a guilty swallow. "Of course not. We agreed on a fair fight, no holds barred."
"Hmph," he snorted. "Then you won't mind if I remove the temptation."
Just as he leaned over the ropes to push the bowl away, she sprang into action. It was a move deemed to risky to try because it was easy to see coming, but not if the target in question was facing the other way.
Artemis swiftly seized the ropes and jumped high enough to perch her feet on the uppermost one, clinging to the ropes like a monkey. One bounce was all it took to spring into the air and, just as her father turned his head to react, she landed foot-first in his face. His nose made a satisfying crunch under her boot.
The team whooped even louder. Wally and Robin yelled, "Ohhhhhhh!" like a couple of frat brothers, celebrating in place. She caught Wally's eye and grinned. That one was just for you, she wanted to say.
Lawrence righted himself almost immediately. His nose bled freely, dripping over his mouth. He wiped it away and, with a sickening crack, forced his nose back into place. A distinct shiver ran up Artemis's spine; her clever move would cost her. She had not only broken his nose, but his pride as well. Suddenly, he was no longer toying with her. He wa punishing her. The blows came faster, more frequently, and each had the destructive force of a steel hammer, or so it felt to her already bruised body.
After a third knee to the stomach, Artemis retreated back to the corner again and assessed the collected damage. Bruised shoulder, bruised ribs, swollen left eye, split lip, bleeding knuckles. Mostly superficial stuff. If she could avoid any critical hits she might still stand a chance in hell.
"How's it going, M'gann?" She dodged another punch and drove her elbow into his side, just below the ribs. Lawrence twisted his body in time so that her elbow sunk into his abdominals, absorbing the blow's momentum and making it ineffectual. She danced back to the ropes to avoid his reversal"Don't want to rush you or anything, but I'm not looking so hot."
"You should know that I'm holding back a really obvious, inappropriate comment right now," Wally mentioned. He'd been doing an ace job of lightening the mood. It was impressive, considering her situation.
"And I appreciate it, Kid." It felt crazy to smile; she knew she must look like a maniac on the outside, but even two seconds of banter was enough to kick up her confidence.
M'gann's telepathic voice came out strangled with effort. "Almost done, almost done. Just hold on, hang on, almost got it…"
But she'd been distracted one time too many. Lawrence had ripped off the kid gloves and charged at her point blank. He was impatient. Artemis tried to leap out of the way, but he was too fast. He backhanded her with an arm like a sledgehammer, and, while she was off balance, lifted her bodily into the air. For a single moment, weightless above her father's head, Artemis could see the team, their eyes wide and gasping. Then he threw her.
The mat was rock-hard and unforgiving. She flung out her hands to catch the canvas and stop herself from sliding right out of the ring, ignoring the canvas scraped and burned her skin.
M'gaan screamed. Her eyes had stopped glowing.
Artemis almost waved a hand to stop her. "Don't worry about me! Keep going!" she yelled through the psychic link. When M'gaan still didn't tear her eyes away, she used the last of her adrenaline to jump back on her feet. Her eyes practically spun in their sockets, and every bone and muscle protested violently, screaming inside her. But she had to keep going.
She struggled to stand upright, swaying slightly. "Can I just say? For a man blatantly trying to commit homicide, you're not very efficient about it," she taunted.
"You think so?"
"Still breathing, last time I checked."
"Then I'd be careful, if I were you. Your next breath might be your last."
Her eyes narrowed into slits. "Don't give me the crap villain shtick, Dad. Theatrics were never your style."
"Fair enough." He punctuated the words with another punch. She couldn't dodge. Her reaction time had dulled with the last throw, and she ended up catching his fist clumsily with her hands, hoping to absorb the blow. But his weight was set too firmly back, and he pushed through her defenses like a hot knife in butter, connecting a solid hit at her ribs.
A high-pitched snap like a pencil breaking echoed from her chest. Artemis fell to her knee, one hand clutching her side. Her bruised rib had snapped. It was a pure miracle she wasn't bleeding into her abdomen by now.
Yet, again, she stood.
"Aw, just stay down, baby girl." Lawrence sidled over, his arms relaxed behind his head. "Don't bother getting up. It'll be over soon."
Artemis raised her bloodied fists. "No can do, Dad. Not this time."
Before this, another lifetime ago, the only person she had to look out for was herself. For a while, that was enough. The line between life and death was flimsy and transparent. It was only one life, after all. One tiny, worthless, no one wanted around. What was so great about living anyway, she used to think. There was nothing special about her life. A mother behind bars. A sister floating in the wind. A father she could never please. A lifetime of failure after failure, and stinging retribution at every turn.
That was the old Artemis. New Artemis knew what kind of life she wanted, and how to take it with her own two hands. Now there was a solid iron wall covered top to bottom with barbed wire and lasers and machine guns between her and death. Dying wasn't an option. Not anymore.
"Last one, last one…got it!" M'gaan exclaimed.
"Yes!" Artemis's guard slipped for a millisecond. Just enough time for Lawrence's elbow to plow her in the chest. All the breath left her body in one great swoop. Steaming blood filled her mouth. Through her heavy eyelids she could see the steel toes of her father's boots in front of her. She raised her head and spat it out on Lawrence's boot then hastily scooted backwards when he retaliated with a heavy kick.
Sticky strands of crimson dangled from her chin. She wiped them away and rose to sitting position against the ropes. "Red looks good on you," she gasped.
"You're gonna pay for that, you little -" Lawrence swung wildly and caught the empty air.
Artemis pushed back on her feet and bounced a couple times to get the feeling back. Every cell in her body was on fire, but she didn't care. Because behind Lawrence's back, the telltale red laser pointers had disappeared and her friends were approaching the mat one silent step at a time. Boundless, stupid confidence was surging through her body now. Her feet felt jittery with anticipation; she felt like she could run a few more races with Wally when this was over. It was time for a counter attack.
"You know what we need? A good distraction," she thought with some whimsical nonchalance. "Any ideas?"
"How about your speciality?" Wally suggested.
Artemis turned to catch a glimpse of his mischievous grin and smirked in reply. "You got it."
"On the count of three," said Kaldur.
Artemis ran directly at Lawrence, ducked, and used the momentum to slide under his reach like a baseball player running into home.
One. She retreated to the edge of the mat and leaned casually against the ropes.
Two. M'gann materialized behind her, holding her quiver in outstretched arms.
Lawrence's eyes widened just in time.