He couldn't help but think of that mission whenever it snowed.
Even on his 20th birthday, with her sleeping right beside him, the mission haunted him. Whenever their boots crunched in the snow as they walked home together from school, the slightest sound would raise his alert level just a little higher. The year before, he nearly scooped her up and revealed himself to civilians over a puppy.
She couldn't blame him. Those first few winter missions after that horrible simulation, she had to will herself to suit up, to ignore that dreadful feeling in her gut that each one could be her last. On those cold, snowy missions, she stayed as close to her teammates as possible. Her fingers were always ready to reach behind her, wrap around an arrow in her quiver and eliminate the threat before she could die.
Their first night together, as they lulled to sleep, had been punctuated by gripping each other tightly and mutters.
"Wally...I'm almost there..."
More than once afterwards, they'd both wake up to their cheeks caked with tear stains. They never talked about their dreams, both knowing that with time, it'd get better. As long as they had each other and the Team, everything would be just fine.
Then Tula died.
Even though she'd only been on the Team for about two years, and sporadically at that, Artemis and Wally grew to enjoy her presence. She was kind, but also fiercely loyal, hardworking, and always coming in at the right time during a battle. Whenever they were able to go on double dates with her and Garth, the two couples bonded easily. The surface world was new to the two Atlanteans, and the stories Kaldur told them didn't compare.
"I am confused," Garth had said. "You are certain that this...'calamari' is not one of our friends in Atlantis? It is not Topo's uncle?"
"Uh..." Artemis scratched her head. "No?"
"Very well. But I will help Topo find his uncle to gain closure. And if the dish those people ate was his uncle...I pray to Poseidon he finds comfort in the sea."
Garth, in a lot of ways, was like Kaldur. Stoic, sort of private to himself. Wally often joked that if it weren't for the difference in skin color, they could both be brothers. Aside from their demeanors, speech patterns and battle tactics, they shared love for Tula. It was clear as day to see to everyone, especially as Kaldur would gaze longingly at the Zeta tubes after the two departed for Atlantis. And when her death came, it hit both men differently. Garth mourned, but after a few weeks, he left the Team. Everything in the surface world reminded him of his redheaded love, and his heart couldn't deal with it all.
Kaldur had been stoic and kept his troubles to himself, as always. Once, after having some fun at the beach, Wally found Kaldur at the shore conjuring up a water face of Tula. He made it smile and laugh, before it splashed away and he cried to himself. Wally ran over immediately and just cradled the Atlantean until he composed himself and stonily nodded before walking off.
Seeing both men react to her death spurred Wally to keep Artemis safe. It wasn't like she needed his protection, far from it. But after watching both ends of the spectrum-actively mourning and being consumed with every little thing that reminded you of her vs. bottling it in and hurting yourself with her memory-Wally knew that he'd fall into one of those spectrums, maybe even both. He knew that for his sanity, he'd have to get out. And Artemis, too.
Trying to leave the hero life was harder than he thought. He knew that Artemis would be against it. He knew the others would be against it. But he didn't know his own body would be against it. During those first few months, old instinct took over and caused his body to run toward the source of screams, toward buildings on fire. Mornings before class, he found himself carrying his old goggles or polishing the suit. Kid Flash was still intent on the same race, running toward the same finish line that awaited him.
But Wally West had abandoned the race, opting to go off the beaten path and see where the road would take him.
Whew, first one's in the bag. First of many, right? :D
I had to dance around the subject of when Artemis and Wally left the Team because even though they're in the Young Justice video game, it doesn't mean they weren't in the process of leaving. Likewise, I can only assume that Tula's death was a significant factor in them leaving the life behind. If I play the game, I'll either ignore that canon or update accordingly. I don't know how often I'll be able to update this, but I'm hoping it'll be regularly. College is starting to get harder. Ah, well.
Next time, it's Garfield and Nightwing.