I was making a batch of "Depths" icons and was suddenly ASSAULTED WITH FEELINGS that drove my heart to the brink of ruin? So then I wrote this. It's not nearly long enough, but I didn't feel like it was going anywhere, so I just let it come to a stop where it felt right.
Ugh, just kill me now; I HATE THIS SHOW AND THE THINGS IT MAKES ME FEEL.
He'd been an idiot to think this would be anywhere close to easy.
Because the second he sees her, it's like his ribs are being pulled apart. It's been two months since the dusty smell of the Blüdhaven warehouse had left his nostrils. It's been two months since he'd seen the bay go still and it's been two months since he'd decked his best friend without warning and he doesn't know how he ever thought this would be simple.
Dick shouts something like, "I've got Deathstroke! You handle Tigress!" and Wally can't breathe anymore. The walls of the Cave are shifting eerily around the lithe and limber form of Tigress, who is nothing more than Artemis behind a mask that makes her eyes look angry and vengeful, and he can see her blonde hair and he has to remind himself that he can't touch it; he can't even let himself notice it.
She raises her crossbow and fires an arrow at him that he dodges easily, and her aim is sure, and he has to keep convincing himself over and over again that she's only pretending, but the coldness in her gaze is so convincing, and he wonders how long she'd been practicing before she'd left, how long she'd gone without telling him how ready she was.
She lets out a yell of fury and lunges at him, slamming expertly into his torso and knocking him into the wall with a crack. His shoulders smash against the surface and he cries out, and she follows through swiftly, pinning him with one arm pressed harshly against his throat and the other hand clenching his wrist.
He stares at her, panting, with wide eyes, and she stares back at him without blinking, and it's so hard; it is so impossible not to reach up and touch her face, just for a second, so that his skin will stop aching and his chest will stop clenching. She doesn't smell the same – sea and sand and rust where pine needles used to be – and there is an ashen tint to her face beneath the mask.
She pushes her arm against his throat a little more precisely, and he wheezes. He's a terrible actor. He should be fighting back, but he can't. He is a limp mess of limbs with no direction, and she's only making it worse by looking at him like that.
"So you're the famous Kid Flash?" she asks idly, and honestly, hearing her voice is enough to make his eardrums start thudding, and every lie she's spitting at him makes him want to shake her until things are somehow back to the way they used to be, when they were lippy and lion-hearted teenagers with the world laid at their feet. "It's a real pleasure, Kid."
His chest rises and falls with sharp rapidity, and one of his hands instinctively flies up to her arm and tries to wrench it away. He's still trying to process the fact that she's right here; she's right in front of him, breathing on him, blinking, tense and cunning and ruthlessly real, and he can't even tell her he misses her.
He wants to shout that he's been sleeping on the couch with Nelson because the bed isn't the same; that he still doesn't know how to work a washing machine and it's starting to negatively affect his attire; that Nelson whines at the bedroom door at three in the morning and lies down on the floor and waits for her; that West Side Story was on TV the other night and she loves West Side Story, so she should've just come over; that he's been thriving on the fridge full of food she left him but he could use some more milk so could she stop and get some on her way back from class? He hopes she had a good day, maybe she can help him out on his paper, not a chance, he'll vacuum before she gets there, he loves her, she loves him too—
He just wants to say her name. Just once. Maybe that would be enough; maybe that would take away the weight that's about to crack his chest in two (or that could just be her arm). He just wants to yell it in the air until it echoes in every crevice and she has to hear it, just so she'll remember who she is for a second, because maybe she's started to forget on that submarine lurking beneath the black water – maybe she needs a reminder.
It sits in the back of his throat like a stone, and he can't do a thing to dislodge it.
"Fight back!" she shouts, yanking him forward and sidestepping him so that he tumbles face-first onto the floor. He stops himself with his hands, and his wrists ache, but he somersaults forward until he's standing again. His back is to her, and he can't bring himself to turn around; he'll run out of breath again if he does, out of speed.
"Fight back!" she commands again, grabbing him in a chokehold from behind. It's all hold and no choke, but he lets himself grasp her arm anyway, poorly pretending that he wants to be released. His back is pressed against her chest, and his temple against her jaw, and his feet scrabble at the floor.
"Fight back." It's only a whisper this time, barely moving over his ear, but there is an imploring quality to it that is so unlike the tones she has been using. Even quieter, she adds, "I need you to fight me."
The closeness of her – the brush of her lips against his ear, rough and wind-chapped and fleet – makes his bones twinge. His skin tingles so strongly that it almost stings, and he is taut like a rope being pulled at both ends, threads away from breaking.
They had been kids once. He had been skinny and cocky and crass, covered in freckles and the occasional sunburn, all bare feet and uncombed hair and a hundred horizons to run to. She had been square-shouldered and yearning, with turbulent eyes and a turbulent heart, blistered fingers and chewed lips and insecurities hidden behind a stormy façade of self-sufficience. They had grown up once, too, somewhere along the line. He'd forgotten Valentine's Day five years in a row, and she'd forgotten his birthday once, and the couch had been theirs to fall asleep on, and the television had colored her face a hundred muted hues as she dozed against his chest and he had felt lucky. He had cherished the impossible promise of her safety for as long as he could delude himself into thinking it was a promise that anyone could make. Especially her.
He wrenches his way out of her grasp and sweeps his feet under hers, catching her off-guard and knocking her to the floor on her back. She lands with a grunt and he pins her down, each of his hands securing her wrists, breathing deeply as he stares fiercely down at her.
He wants to tear the mask off. He wants to lift her back up and snake his arms up her back and press her chest to his and he wants to kiss her, so badly that it makes his mouth feel numb; he wants to feel her teeth on his lower lip and he wants her to fist her fingers into his hair the way she always does and he just wants to forget all of this miserable shit, this lying and this acting and this deceiving, because his heart is screaming that the girl he's fighting is Artemis, and she needs to still be Artemis, now more than ever, because he needs to reassure himself that she was never in that coffin.
He wants to walk five blocks with her to pick up Chinese take-out and watch Star Trek reruns until four in the morning, and he wants to see the dawn seeping in past the curtains and he wants to hear her groaning and grumbling and burrowing further down in the bed to avoid the daylight. He wants to hear her complain and celebrate and muse and chastise; he wants to hear her fingernails tapping against the kitchen table while he's trying to do his Advanced Astronomy homework, and he wants the blanket on the couch to smell like her again, and not like the grating presence of him, of the aloneness.
Her gray eyes are flicking between his and he has no idea why he ever thought this would be easy.
"Art—" he starts to say before he can stop himself, his voice shaking and small and almost tear-strained, and Artemis gets a wild and desperate look in her eye followed by one of repentance before twisting her hand out of his grip and swiftly uppercutting him in the chin, effectively bowling him backwards – and it hurts; his teeth sink into his tongue and there's blood – just as everything cuts into black.
Dick reads him the riot act later, and Wally holds an ice pack against his split lip and his jaw throbs, and it's the first time he's ever felt like a liability.
He takes the zeta tubes home, and he leaves the yellow uniform on the couch, and he throws his goggles onto the kitchen table, where they clatter loudly enough to startle Nelson. He washes his hands in the sink with the water on as hot as it will go, and he bites down on his lip to keep himself from jerking away as it scalds him. Sunrise comes in through the curtains and the door to the bedroom stays closed.