This is the chapter where that M rating shines through. But at least it's shippy! Let's see if you guys can spy, through the sexy, something a little suspicious about Artemis's reaction to something toward the end of the chapter. (I'm actually just trying to convince you to plow through this ridiculous writing.)
See you guys next time! I love you!
The harbor was warm and dark and the stars glittered over it. Wally heard the tugboats far out at sea, foghorns crooning; the sea lions further down the beach sounded distant. Wally encountered no trouble. It was empty, and shadowy, and rife with yellow spots of light.
There was an apartment building just at the end, small but sturdy. Dick had described it to him. Crusher Crock owned the whole place, used it to house most of his gang members. Artemis had a room on the fourth floor. There was no lock on the front door, just an elevator, its black gate like a cage. It shook on the way up, and the whole building was quiet, and Wally's heart felt like it was two steps short of jumping into his throat.
He didn't know what he wanted or expected or considered when he knocked on the door with the number416on it. He didn't know what he was doing, or why he was there. It was all blurring by at a speed that left him breathless, but he felt at home in it, this thoughtlessness, this sprinting.
When the door cracked open, it was one mascara-sharpened gray eye that peered out at him from behind it.
"Hi," he said, sounding inexplicably winded.
An astonished frown worked it way over the eyebrow that he could see, and he heard a soft intake of air, and then the door opened fully. Artemis didn't say a word as she stepped aside, and he didn't prompt her, crossing the threshold immediately.
The door closed softly behind him. He stared at the room, nothing more than a dresser and a vanity and a bed, a short standing armoire, faded taupe wallpaper, a crevice of a bathroom that he couldn't see the interior of. The dress she'd been wearing at the Black Bat was hung across the back of a chair along with her stockings.
She was standing in front of him now, sizing him up, a good few feet away beside the bed. He tried to look as sure of himself as he wanted to feel.
"You came," she finally whispered, her expression softer than he had ever seen it.
The candles fluttering on her dresser traced waxy mountains onto the wood and pushed dark shadows into the curves of her face, lighting the walls with flickering gold. Wally stood there, his arms hanging at his sides, and gazed at her silently, forcing his eyes away from the transparent fabric of her gilded robe, because he could see everything if he looked closely enough. (The tassels began at her hips and swayed across her skin when she started to cross the tiny room to meet him.)
"I came," he affirmed needlessly, shivering from the chill in the walls.
Her perfume smelled like roses and it crawled up his nose when her bare feet slid to a stop just in front of him. She folded in her swollen lips with caution and cupped his cheek in one hand. His eyelids hooded.
"Idiot," she muttered. His heart capsized at the sound.
Her eyebrows twitched against one another and her gaze, ever-moving and brewing, switched down to his mouth. With care he couldn't imagine a gun-toting mobster girl to possess, she slowly ran her thumb across his lower lip, and her jaw slipped agog.
"If my father catches you here," she whispered, her dimples quirking, "you'll be fish food."
"Oh, they won't like me, I'm all gristle and bones," he laughed out weakly. "Plus, of course I came. It's rude to ignore a lady's request."
"You're saying I'm a lady," she mumbled skeptically, chuckling and touching her forehead to his. "You're even stupider than I thought."
"Well, with those gams, I don't see how you could be anything but," he quipped, raising his eyebrows against hers and involuntarily swaying when she bumped her nose into his. She followed him, and he took her hand in his, holding it to his heartbeat.
"How tasteful," she said with a roll of her eyes. The beads on her robe rustled and shimmered in the shallow light. "Why are you really here, country boy?"
"Because I promised I'd help you," he answered in a murmur, still keeping the contact between their foreheads and gazing into her eyes without blinking. "You told me not to, which, of course, means that I have to. I came to help you because you drive me up the wall, and you almost shot my best friend last night, so I figure, maybe I can help you sidle on into a mob-free life, if you'll let me."
"Everything's so simple to you, isn't it?" She laughed, curtly, all tenderness gone. "It's doubtful I'd ever get out. Daddy doesn't like runaways, you know?"
"Miss Crock, you're the toughest bearcat I've ever met; I'm sure you can handle a little bit of laying low when the chips are down."
She scoffed, and it hit his mouth in a breath like a slap.
"You really want to help me, country boy?" she asked him, dead-on, like an arrow to the chest.
He nodded against her forehead, squeezing her hand once. "Even if it means sticking with that ridiculous nickname for the rest of my life."
Something shifted in the air between them the moment he moves his head in affirmation, and then, before he could open his eyes again, Artemis had pressed herself flush against him. Her breath skirted across his mouth and her knee brushed between his legs, her hand slipping out of his and snaking up to rest at the nape of his neck.
He couldn't bring himself to blink, looking at her. Her eyelids, low and sleepy and still covered with eyeshadow, hung over her gray eyes, which were fixed on his mouth for an instant that made his insides heat.
She lifted her gaze up, locking with his, and his eyes ran along each strand of short blonde hair, each eyelash, each hue of painted red on her bow lips.
"Then kiss me," she told him, closing her eyes. "Kiss me and touch me or so help me, I'll shoot your eye out. That simple enough for you?"
"Well, when you put it that way…" Wally started to joke, half-grinning.
Artemis, seemingly impatient with him, tilted his head down and slanted her mouth over his, the swell of her lips fitting between his with ease, tasting of vermouth and mint, pushing scarlet color onto his skin.
His hands fell to her waist and he tugged her forward until her hips bumped against him, and his heart was hammering at the feel of her robe slipping open now that she wasn't holding it closed anymore.
She was combing her fingers through his hair as though digging for something, making noises that stuck to the inside of his throat.
And it was all passing by in a whirlwind, a swift sweep like a river at his ankles. He opened his eyes.
"Me?" he whispered, sort of choked, after several glorious ticking moments and holding her breasts in his hands, soft skin and nipples that pressed into his palms like pebbles. "Really me?"
"Really you," she confirmed, clearly having trouble believing it herself. By that time, she was guiding him to the bed, and when she kissed him again, he couldn't pay attention to his balance anymore; the springs sagged beneath them when they toppled. She pulled his dizzy form over her and he banged into something.
"Ouch," he hissed. "I think I just whacked my knee on your bedside table."
"You've never done this before, have you?" she laughed, a high and crackling sound so unlike the purring chuckles he heard when she had a pistol in her gloved hands.
"What gave me away?" he asked sheepishly, on all fours over her, marveling at her collarbone and the dip between her breasts, the way her hands toyed with his necktie.
She smiled, tiltingly, and shrugged; it made the cotton sheets rumple.
"Everything's Jake, kid," she whispered, her eyes darting down. "I haven't, either."
"Oh," he breathed out as her hands started unwinding his tie, plucking apart the buttons on his shirt, straying to the zipper of his slacks. He couldn't help gulping when she dragged the open shirt and undone tie over his head and down his arms. She was biting down a smile that may as well have dazzled him.
"Well, then, uh." He blushed, like an idiot. "Ahem."
The shirt and tie were tossed aside. He could see the vague shape of her in the candlelight, could watch something igniting in the very back of her eyes when her fingers ghosted over his bare chest. They lingered there. She roved over his body with intent and calculation and it made his stomach squirm.
"No farmer's tan," she observed after a moment.
"Hard to get one in libraries," he replied through his (very, very) thick distraction.
He leaned down, kissed her, felt her legs slide up and start to pull him toward her by the hips. There was contact, the brush of him against her inner thigh. He broke off with a gasp.
"You're in an awful hurry, aren't you?" he asked shakily, half in a daze.
"Well, what can I say?" She cocked her head, smirking, one scintillating eyebrow raised. "I got myself quite a catch. I like to get cookin' straightaway or else it gets cold."
"Oh," he said again intelligently. "That's – quite the extended metaphor."
"Are you always this chatty?" she asked dryly, to which he shrugged.
"It, uh, helps give me time to, um, figure out what to do – when I'm supposed to be – uh, that is, when I am in bed, with a beautiful lady I want to impress, so it's – it's nifty." He gulped, wincing at his own incoherency. "Please don't throw me out."
"Pipe down, West; I'm not going to throw you out," she huffed with a roll of her eyes.
Her fingers ran, feather-light, down his ribs, turned at his hipbone, and swiftly moved down and grasped him in one hand. It was enough to tug a whimper from him before he could compose himself, his head dropping to bump against hers.
She beamed, and he could feel it press against the thickness in the air. "See? Easy as pie."
"Oh," he half-moaned as she stroked him. She bit her lower lip, breathing out quiet little laughs through her nose.
"All right, and now it's your turn, country boy," she told him, loosening her grip enough for him to think halfway straight. "They have books for this at that fancy college of yours?"
"Not that I've – well, uh, that is—no," Wally stuttered. "But I'll… keep my eyes peeled."
Artemis's expression shifted to something softer. Her eyes slid closed and she pulled him down to kiss her again, sighing, her limbs drifting and ensnaring him.
His hands found the fabric of that beaded green robe and brushed it open and apart, sweeping it off of her raised arms and slipping it out from under her shoulders. She was naked beneath him, warm skin and two scars that he couldn't bring himself to ask about. She kissed him harder, holding and stroking his cheek with one hand, murmuring occasional things to him in a language he didn't know.
His fingers moved down her stomach and found her. She arched, her ribs between his, and he rested his face in her collarbone when she reared her head back.
Next door, someone was playing a record, sleepy scratches and saxophones. Wally didn't really know what he was doing, precisely, but he kept moving his thumb against her and listened to her gasps as though they were beats of a heart.
(Her eyes went wide and, to quiet herself so as not to intrigue the neighbors, she grabbed his face and smashed a kiss on him, twisting, bucking, muffled.)
He missed her on the first try. They had a bad angle the second one, and she was biting her lip and wincing and it took him a good ten minutes to be reassured into trying it again.
They were laughing, noses bumping, embarrassed and fumbling and hopelessly amused. The third time, he steadied her, and looked her in the eye, and moved into her, inside of her, slowly, until she was no longer grimacing and holding her breath.
"All right?" he managed to gasp out, utterly still, his hands braced on her hips.
She inhaled and nodded, smiling (wanly, but genuinely). Something in his heart surged, and that was that; he moved in and out with fascination and bewilderment and stammered out her name when he came, and it belonged in his mouth so perfectly, the smallest weight on the tip of his tongue.
She held him, practically ensnared him, when he laid down beside her. She curled against his chest and clung to him and he kept her in place, arms shaking, breath uneven.
"You can't help me," she whispered against the freckles on his neck.
"I can darn well try," he said, his lips moving over the top of her head, the soapy aftertaste in her hair. "You're worth every ounce of trouble."
"I am every ounce of trouble," she laughed, her nose crinkling.
"Yeah," he murmured, tilting her chin up with his finger and kissing her softly. She traced a finger up his spine and it made him shiver.
"You can't stay here tonight," she said, sounding pained and furious and guilty. "My – my father could get back here any minute. Or my sister. Or – horseshit – Cameron."
"I know," he told her. "Do you want me to go?"
"No," she sighed, pressing her palm to his bicep. "Of course not. But I'm not so good at getting what I want. Go home, Wally."
"I don't think you've ever actually called me that before," he observed feebly, his insides withering as she pushed herself just slightly away from him, curling up at her pillow and gazing distantly at her mattress.
"Don't fall in love with me," she warned him, and it took him aback. "You'll be making a huge mistake."
"Hysterical," he scoffed. "You make love to me and then you try to shove me off. Well, nice try, but I'm sticking to you like glue. In a figurative sense."
He reached tentatively over and brushed her hair aside, his fingers skirting over her forehead. She smiled and it wavered. His stomach tugged at itself.
"I'm not sure that's such a good idea," she murmured. "I know gumption when I see it, but that's not much against a few machine guns and cement shoes."
"Well, gumption's gotten me this far, and I did the Charleston with a mob kingpin's daughter, so I'd say I'm on the right track." He grinned at her, encouragingly, inviting her to trusting him. He grazed her ribs and rested his hand at her hip.
"Just run," he implored her, open and vulnerable and beseeching. "You can hide under my bed. We're like a family over there; we really are. A nutty one, and but a good one. You've already charmed everyone, even Bruce."
And it was a lie, and Bruce was unaware, and he had just told her Malone's real name, but he didn't care. (He didn't even think to.)
Artemis breathed in through her nose and closed her eyes and said, as though it pained her, "Go home."
Wally wanted to say that he didn't understand, but he just laid there, propped up by one arm, and stared at her. She didn't open her eyes again, didn't look at him. His chest was beginning to sour.
Wordlessly, he stood, gathering his clothes off of the floor and pulling them back on again, hasty and rumpled and careless. He missed a button on his shirt but stuffed it under the band his slacks as it was, yanked his suspenders up, threw on his suit jacket.
"Good night," he said in a voice lower than his own, without looking back at her.
He did not slam the door behind him. He did not look back. When he got to the street, he sprinted back for the Red Robin, his limbs pumping, trying to outrun the doubt and the terror, the sheer comprehension of precisely what he'd set in motion, precisely what he was sure, now, would never leave him.
His chest was burning by the time he got there, and a car went spluttering by, its round headlights nearly blinding him. Rather than going inside, he slumped against the front door, and wheezed, and sank down to sit and catch his breath.
Honestly, even by the time the summer was over, it never really felt like he did.
It was odd to try to write sex through a 1920s sort of lens, but really, the '20s were when people started to become more sexually liberated in general. It was when the idea of sex sans marriage, sex for pleasure, was first popularized, and sex was just generally looked at as much less scandalous. Despite this, I think a lot of younger people were uninformed and had to figure things out for themselves. Thankfully it was probably mostly intuitive.