I used the "Beta/hero" prompt table from the 30 Kisses Challenge set lists on LiveJournal, and lo and behold, I emerge victorious on this Valentine's Day with thousands of words of mushiness for this ridiculous pairing that stole my life.
Happy Valentine's Day, everybody!
Suddenly, smack in the middle of January, everyone on the Team gets a cold. The originator is a mystery but he or she is indubitably hated and cursed, and Red Tornado has to busy himself with passing out chicken noodle soup and tissue boxes for nearly two weeks.
Artemis is the last victim, so she's twice as miserable, because everyone else has mostly recovered and she's the only one confined to her quarters anymore. It had been kind of funny, though, when she hadn't actually been on the infected end – watching Kaldur's tattoos flare up whenever he sneezed, laughing at how Robin and Wally's sniffles always coincided, observing Zatanna's trial-and-error methods of trying to conjure up a magical cure while Raquel complained, and secretly thinking that it was kind of sweet that Conner and M'gann spent all of their time huddled under the same blanket.
The migraines are probably the worst part. She's curled in the fetal position under her ravel of sheets, in the pitch-blackness that comes with turning all of the lights off, trying to breathe in and out in counts of four so that she doesn't resort to tearing something to shreds.
She hears the door slide open and tries to sigh out through her nose, but that kind of backfires.
"Are you okay?" Wally. She must have groaned in agony and not noticed.
"No," she mumbles, although it comes out a lot more like d'oh.
A weight hits the bed a few inches beside her and she emerges from the blanket burrow, her hair matted by the fever, her eyes swollen. She can't see Wally very distinguishably in the dark, but she can tell that he's looking down at her, and his hand is maybe a twitch from hers.
She must look pathetic, because he laughs endearingly.
"Poor you," he coos, and she grumbles, starting to pull the sheets up again. He stops her, dropping a hand down onto a bunch of them to hold them in place, and she glares dangerously at him.
"You look like a million bucks; I swear," he says apologetically, his green eyes noticeably imploring even in the dark. "As usual."
They really haven't kissed since New Year's, she realizes. It doesn't bother her, or anything, and it's not like she wants to do it again – or, okay, maybe she does, and maybe she really shouldn't be thinking this because she's sick and that always equates to unfiltered talk—
"Umm, kiss me."
—ing. Damn it.
"Auuurrrgh," she groans, yanking the sheets over her head in the second that he's caught off-guard. She wouldn't object at all to staying there forever, shielded from the world and her own dumb feelings, surviving only on the warmth and security provided by the down comforter, along with the satisfying notion that she'd never have to look Wally West in the eye again.
To his credit, he gives her a little while. After a minute or so of quiet, he cautiously takes the hem of the sheets between his fingers and pulls them off. She stuffs her face into the pillow in spite of the fact that it's just going to make her cheeks feel hotter.
Unexpectedly, she feels Wally's fingers graze the tip of her ear and brush some of her hair back. She grimaces and turns her face on its side, which only makes him splutter back a laugh again, his mouth thinning with effort.
He's kind of adorable. But that's off the record, because she's sick, and nothing she thinks or says when she's sick counts. But even through her puffy eyes she can distinguish the constellations his freckles make, or maybe that's just because his face is suddenly very close to hers.
Her eyelids droop and she glances down at his mouth. His hand lingers more surely at the side of her head, and she can feel his breath on her lower lip now, warmth on every inch of him. She closes her eyes.
Then, suddenly, the heat is gone, and Wally quickly changes trajectory and drops a chaste kiss on her forehead.
"As you wish," he snickers, and by the time her eyes have flown indignantly open again, he's gone, zipping out a breeze that rustles the reading packet on her bedside table.
ii. fall from glory
"It wasn't your fault," you keep hearing her say. "Wally, none of this was your fault."
All you can see, even though she's gripping your head at either side for dear life and trying to steer your eyes back onto hers, is Tula's blood on your hands. It's an odd shade of purplish red and it's in every line on your palm, sticky and cold and thick, and Artemis is lying to your face.Everything is your fault.
"I think you can handle leading one measly squad," Nightwing had jibed at you only six hours ago.
Far away, Garth is howling in anguish and you can't blink, shaking, stuttering out nonsense, staring at the splatters and smears on your suit from where you'd held her, staring at your hands, unresponsive to the desperate kisses Artemis is pressing onto your downturned lips over and over again.
That night, you throw your goggles to the floor and stomp on them until they're mangled and smashed and shattered. Artemis is the one to sweep them up when she comes over. She doesn't ask you about it.
He likes to surprise her. He's always cherished that occurrence whenever he can actually pull it off, because Artemis has always struck him as a jaded person by nature, and she'll never hesitate to flaunt the fact that she knows him better than she should; so when he can manage to catch her off-guard, or be unpredictable, it's an extremely similar sensation to what he imagines lapping Barry would be like.
The first time he gets up the courage to do it is the day after Valentine's Day. She turns around from the fridge with a carton of milk for her bowl of Trix on the counter, and he speeds in, halts in front of her (for once, learning to stop on a dime comes in handy), plants a kiss square on her mouth, and speeds onward again. It all takes maybe a second and a half.
A moment later, he pokes his head around the corner of the hallway, grinning. She's standing in the same spot, smiling softly to herself, with two fingers hovering at her mouth.
"You were in a band," Wally repeats for what seems like the hundredth time. Artemis grinds her teeth, but it doesn't deter him. "You were in a band!"
"Not even!" she snaps back, fighting back the flush in her cheeks. "It was just some dumb thing we did."
She has no idea how the first box he'd started nosing into in her bedroom had been the one with all the old disposable camera photos of her and her two best friends in middle school posing for their lame little punk rock band. She doesn't even talk to those girls anymore – Rachel and Rose – now that she thinks of it. The only thing of notice that they'd ever done was play a bad cover of "Bad Reputation" in Rose's garage for about five minutes before her father had kicked them out.
"Did you play keytar?" Wally asks, his eyes wide as spoons as he gawks at the photos. "And also, are you actually smiling?"
"No, I didn't play keytar, stupid; I sang," she grinds out, finally yanking the picture from his hand. He protests, but she doesn't hear him, frowning down at it. "And yeah. Yeah I'm smiling."
The three of them are standing in Rose's garage, Rachel with her night-blue electric guitar and Rose sticking her tongue out from behind her set of drums and Artemis, her hair in two pigtails, beaming at the camera, sticking up her middle finger. She doesn't remember who took the thing.
"Your secret's safe with me," Wally jests, plucking the photo out of her fingers. He grins lasciviously and plants a kiss on the shiny paper right where her face is. "Ay caramba, I'm friends with a famous person. Do I get backstage benefits?"
She wrinkles her nose at him.
"Perv," she mutters, but she doesn't make him put the box away.
v. library archives
She holds her breath as he flattens her against the bookshelves and she feels the wood press lines into her back. There's a rustle of hardcovers behind her, but otherwise, they're silent, and his kiss is impatient and fevered, and she keeps her eyes on the space behind him, because at any moment, anyone in the Cave could come walking around the corner to find her hiking a leg up and tugging his waist closer with it as he drags her hairtie out and sighs heavily through his nose when she takes his lower lip between her teeth.
"I thought we came in here—" she manages to get out when he draws away to suck on the skin over her collarbone. "Oh...kay, I thought we came in here for – crap, for something."
"Privacy?" he suggests in a low voice that makes her stomach whack into her ribs. It only worsens when he nuzzles into her neck, his fingers tugging out the knots in her hair.
"You're the worst," she breathes out through a quiet laugh. In retaliation, he grasps her at the thighs and props her up, holding her higher by them, and she pulls his face up to hers and kisses him open-mouthed, slips her tongue out against his, and wonders how she ever got along without this.
vi. magnifying glass
Wally tends to use his room in the Cave for his extensive collections of microscopes. He sits at the allotted desk with all of the lights off except for the tiny red lamp, and he peers through lens after lens at bacteria and cells and sample kits, utterly engrossed.
After the Helmet of Fate debacle, he does it with even more frequency, burying himself in petty fragments of science and solidity, only ever really leaving the room for food and to go home at night. He's been scrutinizing this particular growth of bacteria for the past hour.
"So what is that?"
He hadn't even heard her come in. Her voice is right at his ear, husky and amused and utterly unexpected.
Startled, he jerks his head back from the microscope and the back of it it bumps into her mouth. She sputters onto his hair and retracts, and he whirls around in the swivel chair to squint pettishly at her.
She blinks down at him with a poorly-constructed glare that makes her look more hesitant than abrasive, brushing a loose strand of blonde away from her nose.
"What do you want?" he asks.
That gets her to bristle.
"I just wanted to make sure you weren't dead in here," she snaps. "Robin told me to."
It's funny. He's barely known her a month and he can already tell when she's lying.
He sighs, scrubbing a hand over his face.
"You look like crap," she tells him matter-of-factly. "Have you been sleeping?"
He blinks askance at her, his eyebrows furrowing.
"Uh, none of your business?" he retorts a touch too spitefully. He doesn't even want to touch on how creepy it is that she can tell he hasn't even closed his eyes all the way in four days.
She lets out a tutting sound and shakes her head, folding her arms tightly over her chest. He forces his eyes away from the dip in the collar of her shirt.
"It's... a bacterial growth," he hears himself say, turning the chair back and scooting it slightly aside so that she can stand beside him. "It's cool. Wanna see?"
"What do I look like, a nerd?" she retorts, sidling close to the microscope and bending over to peer through it.
Wally makes the mistake of staring at her, at the slope of her neck and the way she smiles in fascination, at the way the light from the microscope fills her gray irises and makes them look like liquid mercury.
"Awesome," she breathes.
"Uh-huh," he says, and tugs his eyes away.
You wait for her outside the Star City apartment building, scratching occasionally at an itchy spot under the Kevlar at your neck. You'd offered to come in, but she had said that she'd rather go in alone to make the whole thing a little less conspicuous.
When you finally do see the girl, she's standing at Artemis's elbow, walking her out to the sidewalk and chattering animatedly. Her blonde hair is pulled back in a ponytail just like Artemis's, and her arms are as willowy as Artemis's had been when you'd first met her, and the smile on her face is wide and relentless and you blow out a breath. This is the girl Artemis has been telling you about for nearly seven years.
You've seen some of the fan mail. You've seen the subtle mistiness spring to Artemis's eyes at the end of each one. You've smiled to yourself at the thought of her having a young protegée of her own, because as much as she pokes fun at Bart, you can tell that she wishes she had a Bart, too.
You watch as the girl squeals and cuffs Artemis around the waist in a tight, flung hug that reminds you, for a moment, quite eerily of Bart himself. Artemis freezes up for a second before returning the embrace, dropping her chin onto the top of the shorter girl's head and muttering something dryly with quirked lips.
The girl finally manages to tear herself away, bouncing in place for a moment before sprinting back through the glass entrance doors. Nostalgia slams into you like a battering ram and you have to breathe in quickly to keep it at bay.
"She sure looked happy," you say pleasantly, smiling down at Artemis as she comes to stand beside you with a giddy, proud expression.
"It took some persuading in the dad department," she replies. The two of you start to walk, hands loosely linked, toward the zeta tube. "But it looks like it's going to work out."
You hum and squeeze her fingers. She sighs a little shakily, apparently still catching up to the fact that by the month's end, she'll have a partner.
"She already has a name picked out," she says, clearly amused. "Arrowette."
You guffaw. "Catchy. Definitely not as much of a mouthful as Artemis."
She swings her eyes skyward and elbows you lightly in the ribs. You barely feel it. You shake your head at her, congratulate her, and lean over to kiss her on the cheek, holding your mouth there for two beats too long so that the two of you start to tip over slightly mid-stride.
She laughs, a rainstorm you could run a hundred miles in.
"Hold still," she orders him, halfway exasperated, as she moves his aching arm into a makeshift sling.
He blinks down at her handiwork when she draws away, his heart tumbling hither and yon. A row of threads inside of him are plucked at the phantom touch of her fingers at his elbow, her nails at the crook of his shoulder. He should expect music, a crescendo to punctuate the exact moment that everything he thinks and knows about her shifts like tectonic plates in his chest.
He's just about to look back up, smile cheekily, and ask her to kiss it better when Wolf slams into her from out of nowhere, and her name spills from him before he can even think to stop it.
The exercise poisons the sound, tears it to shreds and stitches it back together again. When he wakes up in the middle of the night and chokes it out, her hand is on his chin in an instant, turning his eyes to her, holding him there until he's sure she'll never burn before him again. (But then again, he knows, especially when he watches her board Black Manta's sub, that he never really will be.)
ix. mode of transportation
He carries you through the Bialyan sands, and the heat sprays around you like a rainstorm. You have never felt so safe, so revered, as you do now, being held as though you are worth every scrap of anything in the world. You're scared because you don't know who you are or where you are or what you have to do, but still he presses you to his chest and you belong there; you belong there so snugly that it terrifies you even more, because even though you are sure you've never met, there is a moment, as he coasts over the crest of a dune and the sun splatters onto you both, that you think you could go on forever with him, just like this, just feeling the pulse in his neck frantically tapping against your forehead.
You swear at one point that he tilts his chin and ghosts his lips on your temple, a reassurance, a reminder, chapped and sore and yours. It's an inconsequential little touch that you hardly remember, but will never really forget.
"Kronos seriously did that?" Wally asks, slack-jawed. "To his dad?"
Artemis nods sagely. "Yep. Castrated Uranus with a sickle. And then he ate his own babies. Your basic Greek deity family."
"Jeez," Wally exclaims, flopping back onto the couch. "This stuff is hardcore. Who else is there?"
Artemis raises her fingers, ticking off more names. "Well, there's the Primordial ones, like the ones that represent stuff like Time and Earth and Procreation—"
"Procreation's a core part of the universe?" Wally interjects. Artemis glances over at him to see his eyebrows waggling and scoffs, shoving him in the arm that isn't currently in a cast. "I like this stuff already."
"—and then there's the Olympians," she continues loudly, and he snorts. "And there's only about twelve of them who are the super core ones, and they're Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Athena, Aphrodite, Hermes, Demeter, Hephaestus, Hestia, Ares, Apollo, and Ar—..."
She breaks off abruptly, her cheeks coloring. "And, uh, yeah. Those ones."
Wally doesn't miss her hiccup, but he feigns naïveté, glancing at the ceiling as though thinking extremely hard.
"But Artemis," he says, drawing out the words in a high and mock astonished voice, "that's only eleven! Who's the twelfth?"
She folds her lips in, and the space between her eyebrows crinkles, the way he's begun to observe it does when she's bewildered or annoyed or embarrassed. He grins at the sight of it.
"Um—" She finally huffs, as if in defeat. "Apollo's twin sister is, uh, Artemis."
Wally's eyes go wide and his smile even wider.
"Ooooh," he says. "Fascinating. And what's she got under her belt? They're all gods and goddesses of something, right?"
Artemis groans, grimacing.
"Archery," she grinds out through clenched teeth. "She is the goddess of archery."
Wally whoops out a laugh that nearly tempts her into punching him square in the jaw.
"And the moon, and animals. And childbirth. And virginity," she adds in a lower, even more disgruntled voice. This elicits a full-out giggle from Wally, and really, she should be focusing on how much he pisses her off instead of committing the noise to memory.
"She sounds like a babe," he finally chuckles out, in between puffs of more laughter and wiping at his eyes. "Heh. First-class."
Artemis knows he's being sarcastic, but she wishes he wasn't. Still, this is a nice change from the brevity that's been hanging between them, and around the Cave, since Zatanna had moved into the room down the hall last week.
Wally snickers again.
"Give this to her for me, will you?" He snorts, straightens up, and blows her a kiss with his casted hand.
Artemis lets out an instinctive, "Ugh!" and surges off of the couch, stalking out of the living room to the sound of Wally still laughing behind her.
"I hate shots," he yelps, squirming in his seat before leaping to his feet, fisting his hair in his hands and staring at the linoleum floor with panicked eyes. "Oh god, I can't do this; this is the end! I hate them!"
Artemis rolls her eyes at him from her chair and Robin sniggers. Kaldur blinks as Wally paces feverishly past him, and Conner shakes his head, and M'gann is the only one decent enough to look concerned.
"Why do you hate them, Wally?" she asks curiously.
Wally halts, whirling on her with incredulity in his eyes.
"Because they are literally a form of torture, Megs," he whispers, doubling over and throwing his arms out. "They are literally worse than getting shot in the face."
"I don't think you're quite grasping what that word means," Artemis sighs at him, raising one eyebrow.
"Yes I am," Wally retorts without looking at her, keeping his eyes trained purposefully on M'gann.
"So you have gotten shot in the face," Artemis says. "That explains a lot."
"Who invited you into this conversation?" Wally demands, finally looking at her with annoyance.
She shrugs, and the leather of her jacket crinkles.
"I dunno, probably you, the second you started acting like a wimp about needles."
"Don't say that word," Wally hisses, shuddering. "And I'm not a wimp!"
"You've been freaking out about it for, like, twenty-three minutes," Conner grunts, folding his arms. "You're a wimp."
Wally opens his mouth to defend himself, but the door to the examination room slides open and Black Canary steps out with a clipboard.
"All right, this won't take long; just a quick Joker Venom immunity injection. We're going in reverse alphabetical order," she says, "so Wally, come on in; you're first."
Artemis and Robin both start to guffaw at the same time. Wally's whole body seems to blanch.
"No," he squeaks, paralyzed.
Black Canary frowns at him, then at Robin and Artemis's still-chortling forms, then at Kaldur, who shrugs helplessly. Canary seems to take this as a signal for her to grab Wally at the elbow and drag him squirming into the examination room.
"Rob, if I don't make it, tell my parents I—" Wally starts to yell.
The door closes behind them in a rush of air and the rest of his dying wish is muffled. Artemis wipes a few tears from her eyes, still sniggering freely into her fist. Robin braces himself by grasping her shoulder, still wheezing and giggling.
They hear a couple of yelps from inside that only make them laugh harder. When Wally comes out a few minutes later, he looks absolutely traumatized.
As he walks by, Artemis quickly presses her lips to her two first fingers and taps his arm with the tips of them right where the hot pink bandage is.
He freezes, staring down at her in astonishment. She falls back into her chair, shrugging apathetically. Robin is biting his lip, shoulders shaking silently.
"Just trying to help you with your boo-boo," she teases, and he scoffs at her and strides away, but she's sure that, as he turns, she can see the color coming back to his face in a startling shade of red.
xii. 1000 years ago
"Man must be reborn," Vandal Savage roars to the eight fallen forms at his feet. "I learned this nearly a thousand years ago, when I first touched the meteor that filled me with purpose. You will be wiped out, and you will begin anew, and no one will ever remember you."
Artemis shivers, terrified of Savage since childhood, but she hides it with the most venomous glare Wally has ever seen. Klarion had pinned them all with his magic and is grinning wickedly at them now.
Wally shifts his arm, with great effort, and grasps Artemis's closest hand. He pulls her knuckles to his mouth and presses them there, and her shudders finally quell, though they haven't spoken in two weeks, not since she'd broken up wi—right, concentrate.
"This is the dawn," Savage says with a maniacal smile on his scarred face, "of a new eon."
"Now," Kaldur shouts, and Zatanna's spell flings itself into the atmosphere, and Artemis's hand shoots out of Wally's as though it will never be there again.
She thanks him for it later, rubbing her wrist. He tells her it was nothing. It's a lie.
The only time he asks her not to go on the mission is the night before, and she's not even sure that she hears it at first, because his voice sounds so small, a heart-clenching echo of the one that had accused her of leaving him in a long-gone training exercise when they were just a couple of scared kids.
Part of her doesn't want to acknowledge it. It would be easy to just pretend she hadn't heard it, but she can still feel the way it had made his mouth move against the back of her neck, and she can still feel how his arm had infinitesimally tightened around her waist.
"Please," he had said. "Please don't go."
She sucks in a tiny breath and rolls over, her hair mussing over the back of the pillow, until she's curled against him. She flattens her palms over his bare chest and gulps – her throat is dry, so nothing comes of it but an unpleasant sticking feeling – and tries to hold her insides in place, which proves to be painfully difficult, because his eyes are wet and his eyebrows are upturned and the sadness and terror in the back of the green is no longer hiding, but clawing out, straight toward her.
"Wally," she whispers, slipping her hand up until her fingers are resting at the line of his jaw.
"I'm sorry," he mumbles, even more earnestly than the plea he's apologizing for. "I – really shouldn't have said that."
She shakes her head, though she's not sure if she's agreeing with him or negating him. She doesn't know what to tell him, what to say to make up for any of this, and she doesn't want to risk speaking – because there are scraps of her that are bitter that he won't put his own suit back on, and they need to stay inside of her.
He closes his eyes, wincing slightly. "This doesn't mean that I don't respect your decision. Because I do. And I can still support you going without...wanting you to go. Right?"
They blink open again cautiously, like he's afraid she's going to hit him. Instead, she nuzzles her face against his collarbone, tucks her head under his chin, encircles her arms around his torso until her middle fingers touch.
She breathes in the scent of him, the toast he'd burned this morning and the same comfortable slept-in detergent smell he's had ever since she'd first met him. She tilts her chin slightly and presses her lips to the space where his heart is. It beats under her, a frenetic drum, and he clutches her, wraps himself around her, lets out a small sound depressingly similar to a whimper.
When she wakes up in the morning, Wally's still asleep. She slips out of his arms and pulls a pillow there instead when his face starts to twitch in something like pain, because she can't lie like that, can't rest in the belly of everything that she might lose if she doesn't do this right. She shuffles out, barefoot and naked, to the closed blinds at the front of the apartment, staring blankly at the slanting strips of dawning light striking across the dark walls.
Artemis aches, but she does not change her mind.
xiv. kiss a frog
"If I kiss you," she snarks, "will you change into a cool, likeable guy?"
That gets Zatanna to laugh and Wally's face to fall. Even Kaldur, who's been uncomfortable all night, has the decency to poorly hide a smile of amusement.
"I already am," Wally finally retorts, at last managing to tear his focus away from the glass neck of the bottle pointing toward him. "Which of us thought this was a good idea?"
"You," everyone says in a chorus, shooting anything from glares to smirks at him. He puts his hands in the air as if to keep them at bay.
"Yeah, because I thought it'd be fun," he says. "Jeez, fine."
He clambers to his feet and Artemis follows, and they both head for the food storage closet just around the corner from the kitchen. Everyone's eyes stick to them until they're out of sight.
Artemis opens the door and gestures inside, bowing. "After you, Your Dorkiness."
"Har har," he grumbles, storming past her. She snorts and follows and closes the door, plunging the shelves and stockpiled non-perishable foods into darkness.
"So now what?" he asks, praying that she'll just say they can stand in there for seven and a half minutes and then lie about whatever action they did not actually engage in.
"Uh, now, traditionally, we kiss," she replies. "But I'm not up for the risk. It might turn me into you."
Even in the dim light, he can tell she's flustered. "Uh, like in that – that dumb movie, with the girl who kisses the frog and gets turned into a frog. They sing about it and fall in love and stuff."
"You wanna sing about me and then fall in love?" he says complacently, waggling his eyebrows although he knows she can't see it. Something hits him in the face; it feels like a mushroom. "Ow! What was that for?!"
"For being gross," she retorts, and then, from the indistinguishable blackness, something surges forward and two chapstick-lined lips meet his skin just over the eyebrow, knocking the words from him in an instant.
"That's for your diary," she finishes, almost sultrily, but really altogether mocking, and then she flings the door open and slips out and closes it behind her.
You think of the way she'd looked in the desert, ablaze and sunburned and always looking to you for direction.
The spot over your eyebrow feels sunburned now, too.
"So basically," Artemis says, "We can all agree that Wally's an idiot."
Everyone nods, voicing clamoring bits of affirmation, and Wally stares forlornly at Kaldur's broken bonsai plant and pot and his still-frozen hands, floundering out ashamed gibberish.
"Yeah, great to have one of your own, isn't it, Artemis?" Zatanna teases her, which makes Robin stifle a laugh behind one fist.
"Oh, ew," Artemis groans before hunkering down with her broom and dustpan to sweep up the umber ceramic remnants. "No thank you."
Wally seems to come to his senses and kneels beside her, ducking his head and brushing the dirt toward the blue plastic.
She leans down swiftly to grab a runaway fragment and the line between her roots and her forehead bumps against his mouth. He sputters and spits away the soapy taste of her shampoo, but she hadn't even noticed the touch.
"You owe Kaldur a new bonsai pot," she says. "Since, somehow, the only thing you managed to permanently damage was the actual planter."
"Yeah, yeah," he mumbles back churlishly. She finishes sweeping and straightens up and he keeps his eyes on the floor when she walks away.
xvi. all your life
"Can I tell you something?" she asks, far more meekly than is her tendency, wringing her hands together under her chest.
Wally turns his head slightly, pulling his eyes away from the clear summer stars, and the wool from the blanket under them scratches at the nape of his neck. She's biting her lip, eyebrows furrowed, thumbs tapping together.
"Yeah, 'course," he replies. "Shoot."
She breathes in deeply and it sounds a little unsteady, prompting you to slide your hand over and lace your fingers into the spaces between hers. She squeezes them welcomingly, or maybe gratefully, but she doesn't look at you.
"Literally the first thing I remember my dad saying to me," she mutters, "is that I wasn't good enough."
His face pinches into an immediate frown, his grip on her hand going just slightly tighter. Her lips twitch in a shaky sort of smile, the one he's sure she's been using for years to laugh off things like this.
"I dunno," she says. "You asked me yesterday why I was always so... y'know. Difficult."
"You're not," he tells her instantly. "Jeez, you're not. You know I don't really think that, right?"
She shrugs, her voice airy from clear effort at keeping it light.
"Well I mean, I dunno, do you?" she retorts. "I must be a pain for such a nice, normal guy."
"Artemis," he exclaims disbelievingly, in the same tone he'd used once when he'd watched her self-deprecation rear its unsightly head in Louisiana when he'd tried to hand her a tracker.
She chuckles silently and drops a hand over her eyes, almost like she's embarrassed.
"Just, sorry, I guess," she whispers. "But I can't help how I was raised, y'know? I'm have like, an anti-dad-crap filtering system, but it's only about eighty-five percent reliable right now; you're gonna have to bear with me."
The very thought of her thinking anything less than galaxy-high of herself makes Wally feel a little sick to his stomach. He clenches his jaw and props himself up on his elbow and proceeds to drop a kiss on her nose, and her eyebrows, and her cheeks, and her forehead, and finally her mouth. She lies still, but her tongue teases his lips and she sighs quietly.
"You're good enough for me," he says. "And better than that, too."
"Well, that's not saying much," she jokes, but he shakes his head solemnly.
"Artemis, I don't think you really understand," he insists. "You're better than every single one of us put together. Even if there was something keeping you from being good enough, which is doubtful, it'd be letting that creep make you think that you're not. So don't."
Her eyes finally slide away from the open sky, and the way she smiles at him, sleepy and soft and covertly adoring, is so beautifully unlike the scowling girl who he'd once liked to trick himself into thinking was absolutely not the boss of him.
"That was pretty eloquent, Wally," she mumbles.
"Yeah," he says, pretending to droop. "The sacrifices I make for love."
Artemis gently nudges him back into lying down again, and he's about to protest, but she shuffles slightly closer and sets her head on his chest and he supposes it's not so bad.
She raises her finger toward the sky. "Think fast. Shooting star or satellite?"
They both smile for the first time at each other in the same instant. Robin goes up against Kaldur in combat training and he manages to flit around enough to avoid getting hit, cackling at his own prowess, until Kaldur manages to trip him and pin his arms behind his back.
Artemis and Wally turn their heads, instinctively, to each other, grinning at his misfortune. The shapes of their mouths align, for a brief second, as though they've been making fun of Robin together for years, but it barely lasts long enough for either of them to notice.
Wally looks away first, pointing at his best friend and laughing, but Artemis still keeps her eyes on him, her smile fading into a light leftover in the corners of her lips. Two hours later, when Red Tornado briefs them on the Nelson mission, Wally's standing next to her and making jokes like she's the only one who's worth getting a laugh out of.
If you'd leaped out of the building maybe two seconds later, you'd be dead.
The explosion rocks the air behind you with force and fury, and the aftershock blasts into your back and propels you outward, and when you hit the ground, you skid along your back, the gravel driving red scraps across the exposed skin. You gasp in the cold air and dig your fingernails into the dirt, gulping down every breath of smokelessness that you can manage. The back of your head bleeds from a superficial wound that the Joker's baseball bat had left.
Nightwing rolls to a stop beside you, his arms slamming into the ground from the impact. Your heart slows in relief when you hear him groaning in annoyed pain, because it means he is, for better or for worse, okay.
The Joker's gone, though; you can hear him laughing as he escapes into the trees. You don't know where he's going or when you'll see him next. You're hoping never. You spit a gob of blood and saliva out when you prop yourself up and it lands a few inches from your fingers.
"I don't think they—" Nightwing breaks off with a hiss of discomfort as he stands. "Know we got out. Oh, man, Miss Martian's going to be worrying her head off. Come on."
Your ears are ringing, so you don't hear very much of what he says. You let out a wet groan as pain shoots through your temples, the sound more aggravated than agonized, and slowly and unsurely wrench yourself back to your feet.
You must be swaying, because Nightwing grasps your elbow to keep you steady. That's when you both hear it.
Wally, on the other side of the building from which you and Nightwing had just had to escape before it blew up, is shouting your name. No, no – he's definitely screaming it. You swear you've heard it like that before, somewhere, a dark echo pulled from bleak tundras you've never really been to. The sound of it – ragged, shattering, like an uncontrollable roar – tears the stars apart.
"I'm fine," you mumble, as if he can hear you. "Tell him I'm fine, birdbrain."
"I'll let you do that yourself," Nightwing replies, pulling you with a slight undercurrent of urgency back around the aflame ruins of the building. "Will you hurry up? We've got an idiot's heart to un-break."
You can tell, though, from the way Wally's voice is still reverberating unstoppably and with increasing desperation that his heart would not be the only broken thing.
You both come past the corner and see the rest of the Team's heads all turn in unison to you, and M'gann lets out a gasping sob and her hands fly to her mouth over a spasming smile. Conner's shoulders drop and his eyes well up and Kaldur exhales, his palm going to his heart.
Nightwing lets go of you. You barely notice, because in the time it had taken you to register everyone's crippling relief in the mind link that has sprung up again, Wally's mouth has slammed into yours.
You stumble back a little, but he braces you, and your hands shoot up to his neck of their own accord, and he's making broken noises onto your tongue and grasping your head at either side with such strength that it very nearly hurts, but you hold onto him as best you can when he's so...everywhere.
You're sore and a little dizzy, but Wally's the only thing you can concentrate on, his lips parting over yours without poise or grace or aim, his fingers curling into the roots of your hair, his chest flush against yours. You scramble for a grip on him, hooking your arms under his shoulders and flattening your palms against his back, and he breaks off and whispers your name and strokes your singed ponytail and kisses you again.
Nightwing doesn't even clear his throat or laugh or make a snide remark about getting a room. M'gann empties your minds of everyone else but you and Wally, and then you're suddenly able to place where you'd heard that scream before – a ghost of you had felt it slam into her back after he had watched you die.
"Wally," you say, cupping his cheeks in your soot-smeared hands. "Wally, I'm okay."
He drops his forehead against yours and looks you in the eye, his whole expression utterly lost and terrified. When he's had long enough to watch your eyelids move, and to feel your breath come out onto his chin, he pulls you into a hug that builds itself around you like a home and shudders out a breath.
xix. a definite "perhaps"
"I'll bet you love me," he laughs over your ear, snuggling his nose into your hair. His mouth, the smile in it, grazes the spot between your scalp and your neck. You can feel his cheeks heating up – he's blushing, you think, and it makes you want to cuff him in a hug because that is the grossest and most adorable thing imaginable. "I'll bet you're totally head over heels. You can't deny it much longer."
You're not head over heels. You're more tongue over toes.
"Maybe," you say coyly, turning your cheek into his, but what in your heart, all you're saying is that you're too scared to let him realize how right he really is.
No one will ever know where M'gann found the karaoke machine. No one even wants to ask, because they all spend the first twenty minutes following its discovery trying to figure out a way to escape.
But, as she is wont to do, M'gann looks at each of them in turn with those pleading doe eyes and they all crumble within seconds. So now they're all seated on the couches, sniggering at each other's performances, sharing two bowls of popcorn amongst themselves. It would be okay, really, if they got to pick their own songs – but they don't.
"All in favor of Artemis singing 'Call Me Maybe?'" Wally proposes. Artemis lets out a shriek of protest and everyone's hands go up.
"Et tu, bruté?" she says to Kaldur, who shrugs apologetically.
"It is melodically pleasing," he explains. Artemis's cheeks puff up and that only makes Wally and Robin fall over laughing on each other even more.
As she stands, her fists at her sides, and stalks toward the microphone, Wally cackles and blows her a kiss and all it earns him is her middle finger.
If M'gann and Zatanna sing along with her, she doesn't call them out on it.
xxi. good company?
After your eyes have wrenched open and the breath has returned to your body – a shuddering grip against your lungs that makes you hyperventilate to the point of choking – you jolt upright and bite your fist to keep yourself silent, and you remembers the alien ship firing at you; you remember burning and you remember letting a single uncontrollable scream of pain slash through the mind link before you had disintegrated with your arms spread wide.
You know that they'd heard it, because you'd felt something inside of Wally snap violently in two.
You grip the edges of the platform until your knuckles feel like they're going to tear through your skin, and you hear a great shout to your left, a loud and horrible wheezing gasp. You hold your head in place with every ounce of force you possess, refusing to let yourself look at Wally next to you, who is panting erratically and shivering so uncontrollably that the space around him hums.
M'gann is the last of the six of you to wake up, with a sudden inhale so violent that she sounds like she's swallowing her own breath. You stiffen your bones into absolute stillness, and you can feel everyone staring at you, but you keep your eyes on the floor, gulping at your dry throat and trying to teach yourself how to breathe again.
Batman's words echo emptily in your ears, useless. Eventually, Robin has stumbled away after his mentor, his nimble legs quaking; Kaldur has padded silently toward the back door to the beach after grasping your shoulder; Conner has trailed after M'gann, who has been led sobbing and shaking to her room by Captain Marvel; and the room is empty, except for Wally, who hasn't moved.
You inhale deeply through your nose, but you hadn't even realized that it's filled with loose phlegm and your cheeks are moist. The noise is loud and echoes through the yawning room.
You finally, finally lift your head – rigidly, painfully – and jerkily turn it to your right, where Wally is leaning against the end of his platform, facing away from you. He is still breathing irregularly, and you're just a little grateful that you can't see his face.
You push yourself to her feet (you had been sitting on the floor, resting against the platform) and walk over to him, your boots thudding against the floor. You come to a halt in front of him. You see his jaw tighten, a muscle near his ear growing tense.
He raises his chin and opens his eyes and looks straight at you, and that's when you see it – barely there, hovering in the back of his gaze.
You've never seen him look at anything that way before. Somewhere, beyond the gut-pinching green and the wild flickering of his irises, is an emotion you never thought he'd possess.
Terror. Not at the exercise, though. Not at the fact that he had just burned to death in an alien spaceship, completely convinced that it was real.
You open your mouth to speak, but as soon as you do, the dizzying weight of that terror is gone, emptied out the back of his head, and his furrowed eyebrows loosen.
"What?" he says coolly, standing.
You flounder for a moment, searching his eyes for even the barest scintilla of what you'd just seen, what you'd just felt – but they're back to being empty, back to being vaguely and nonchalantly annoyed by everything you do and say.
"N—" you stutter, and then collect yourself, throwing your shoulders back and narrowing your eyes at him, stepping back. "Nothing."
You turn your back to him, steeling yourrself for the walk to the zeta tubes and the four blocks home, but you hear Wally pull in a breath behind you and you stop at his words.
"Wait," he says.
You do. You'll never know why you do, but you do, and you move back around to face him again. He's fidgeting, the starkness in his face seeming out of place with the bright blue of his shirt.
"Can I walk you home?" he asks meekly, pulling at his fingers and staring at your feet.
You blink at him, startled.
"What for?" you ask.
"Please just let me," he murmurs. "I'll never ask again. I just – please."
The harshness in your spine recedes, and you loosen a little, your expression involuntarily softening. You don't know why he's asking, but you also can't imagine how anyone could ever say no.
"Fine," you say, trying to make it sound exasperated.
So he does. The two of you stand side-by-side in the zeta tube and the computer states your names and you're both gone in a whirling torrent of light, and he walks in time with you through Gotham's darkened city streets, and you let him come all the way to your apartment building, the same one he'd appeared at, once, drenched and desperate.
He doesn't say a word to you, and you offer him none in return. He doesn't even look at you or acknowledge that you're there. But when you reach the stoop of the apartment building, he hugs you, rough and tight, and holds on for far longer than any friend or enemy would, and you, in spite of yourself, cling to him, too.
If he brushes your cheek with his lips before finally letting you go, and if it only makes you want to hold onto him longer, you deny it all without even blinking.
"You're next," she grunts, closing the door to Black Canary's ridiculous therapy room behind her.
No one's heads turn but his. They all recognize the tone and exactly who it's meant for. You lift your head up from where it's been resting on the material of your cast and look her in the eye, and she seems lighter, somehow, as though she's just flung off a thousand boulders, though not at all happier.
"Yipee," you deadpan, brushing past her on your way over. "How was yours?"
"Fine," she replies too quickly. Instinctively, your hand shoots out and taps her arm and she halts at the barest touch of it, and your eyes lock.
You think of kissing her, though it would be the worst possible time. You've been wondering what she'd taste like for days, and you've decided that she would no doubt taste like life, hot and pumping and clear blue atmosphere, and maybe if you kiss her now, everything that the exercise had shown you, everything that it means, will never hang over your sore shoulders again.
"It was fine," she repeats, even less convincingly.
You believe her.
It's raining in Gotham. It's not the pleasant, romantic kind of rain that's always in the movies; it's relentless sheets of sleet that chill your very marrow and make your clothes cling unpleasantly to your skin.
Your thumb mashes into the buzzer and then slips sloppily off of it, and you slump forward, dropping your forehead onto the main door. The rain pelts into your back like a shove. The intercom crackles to life after a moment.
A small part of you, the part you never want to look in the eye, comes undone at the sound of her voice, husky and impartial for the visitor she cannot see.
You press the worn-down button again without turning your head.
"Can I come up?" you ask, the rawness in your throat making your voice come out gravelly and low.
A pause. A click, and static, and then: "Wally?"
"Can I please come up?" you repeat, much more desperately than you'd like. "Before I drown out here?"
That seems to awaken her sympathies. The door unlocks under your forehead.
"We're on the third floor," you hear her say, but you're already halfway inside, not wanting to admit that Dick's already told you where she lives. "In number—"
The door slams behind you, and you leave a trail of small foot-shaped puddles as you squelch down the shoddily-carpeted hallway to the elevator. It's old-fashioned, with a grate, and it shakes a frankly worrisome amount on the way up, but you don't care; you just stare at your shoes and try to breathe evenly.
You stop in front of the door halfway down the third-floor hall, blinking slowly at the peeling paint for a few seconds before you finally realize exactly where you are, and what you've just done, and how many chances you still have to turn around and go home.
You raise your fist and knock softly on the wood. It opens almost immediately, but you can't even bring yourself to tease her about the fact that she was clearly waiting right there for you.
She looks up at you, sort of at your forehead (never at your eyes). She smells like a fresh shower, and you can see a large Band-Aid on her upper arm from where Poison Ivy had sniped her with a thorny vine. You wonder if the stench of the bayou is still on you – behind your ears, in your joints – probably, you think, because you haven't bathed yet; coming back home had been an instant trip to the hospital and then a drive home and then shouting and now you're here, and it's after midnight.
"I must look like a first-class idiot right now," you say, for a sore lack of any other ideas. It's true, though – you're slouched outside her apartment in sodden sneakers and sweatpants and a hoodie one size too big for you with one sleeve rolled up over your fresh cast, and your hair is dripping water onto your nose, and you've still got mud under your fingernails.
She shrugs, her lips quirking. "Not like it's anything new." She steps aside, beckoning you awkwardly. "C'mon in, I guess."
Water dribbles down onto the hardwood floor in your wake and she slips around you to prod the door closed. You take in the place – small and cramped and poorly lit, dark walls and dark floors and narrow hallways. The kitchen would maybe fit three times into your bedroom.
"Nice pad," you say in spite of yourself. You have a silly thought of scooping some of the light out of your house and tossing it here.
"Yeah, welcome to the penthouse suite." She snorts, padding on bare feet past you. Her braid is thick and damp and messy and it leaves a dark, wet line on the back of her gray tee. "I was literally just pouring tea when you buzzed; you want some?"
"Uh, sure," you mumble distractedly, your eyes roving over the arrows laid out in the open living room across from where you're standing.
She mutters something, probably an ill-concealed stab at your dignity, and goes into the kitchen. You hear liquid pouring and you smell some kind of herb and then she's back in front of you, one thick, chipped off-black mug in hand.
She takes a swig and passes it to you, and you carefully turn the rim around and sip some, your lower lip aligning perfectly with the spot of chapstick she'd left there. The flavor is strong and bitter, but it kicks you awake.
"So," she says slowly, raising her eyebrows until you look back to her again. "Are you gonna tell me what's going on?" She smirks. "Or is this some new front for selling Girl Scout cookies?"
You won't say it, but you're grateful that she's joking. She's opening a hundred doors for you to write this off through, a hundred opportunities to marginalize it so you can finish the tea and turn around and leave and never be questioned about it again, but she'd slung your broken arm today, so you figure you owe her something.
"It's my parents," you mumble, and her face loosens. You keep your eyes on the floor. "It's been – rough on them, I guess, knowing I'm out on missions without Ba—uh, Flash. And today's mission was pretty intense; I mean, I got back with a broken arm, and when I said the Joker was there, they just..."
You close your eyes, hoping to push out the burgeoning headache between them.
"They asked me if I wanted to take a break," you continue, wincing at the memory. "And I was just – I thought they supported me, you know? No matter what. But now they think I can't handle myself and they're backing out and they might not let me do this anymore, and I – I don't know; I got defensive, and we yelled. A lot. And I just wanted to get out of there and there weren't many places I could go since it's late, and I don't really know how I wound up here but thanks for letting me in."
You get a little speedier on the last couple of sentences, stringing them out at a velocity that you only half-hope she can't keep up with, but judging by the sympathetic frown on her face, she got every syllable of it.
"You're such a moron," she mutters, though fondly. "Parents are allowed to worry. You should be thankful that they even do. They're not gonna make you quit. They just love you."
The way she says that last part – they love you – startles you, with its undercurrent of envy and sadness and loss, and your eyes shoot up to meet hers, which turns out to be an unwise decision because it makes your stomach tug itself into knots. Your eyebrows furrow together and her eyes dart down, and she crams her hands into her pajama pants' pockets, and chews her lip.
"Yeah, I know," you say, quietly. She doesn't reply, so you take another drink of tea, smirking a little at how your mouth fits onto the space where hers was. "Transitive theory says we've kissed now."
That certainly gets her attention. Her head snaps up and she rolls her eyes when you snigger at her, and she shoves at your shoulder and your remark passes by without comment.
That same small part of you that unraveled just knowing that she was there probably wishes that you hadn't been kidding.
The day after your thirteenth birthday, Kid Flash makes his debut. Your dad is out on a job, so you're alone in the musty apartment, still nursing your bruises from the day's training. He had left you sneering and you had refused to say good-bye, and there are cracks in the wall around the door frame from how hard he had slammed it, but you trace them with your eyes and find shapes in them and they don't seem so ugly anymore.
You're all joints and new muscles, sitting cross-legged on the rug in the living room, holding an ice pack to your cheek. You feel like a letdown to everyone you've ever known – to your father for not killing the man he'd put in front of your arrow; to your mother for letting your father talk you into aiming; to your sister for throwing all of her old clothes out the window yesterday morning – and your face hurts, and your knees are scabbed, and this is the point, you suppose, at which you're starting to change from a heartbroken little girl to someone who will never need anyone again.
Kid Flash's hair is red. It's vivid on the tiny television screen, blazing over the sunny yellow of his costume and the glimmering scarlet goggles on his forehead. He has braces and freckles and a bruise on his cheek, in the same place yours is.
You watch him with wide eyes as he balks sheepishly at the reporters and tries his best to look as self-assured as his mentor. He's as fresh to the attention and the costume as a newborn giraffe to walking, all gangly limbs and wobbly excitement, but there's a part of him that you can see under it all that belongs so fiercely to it that it almost scares you.
"Kid Flash, Kid Flash!" an interviewer shouts to him. "What motivated you to put on a suit of your own at such a young age?"
The Flash opens his mouth and starts to answer, but Kid Flash is already talking, the first sure and individual answer that he's given. His braces are glinting in the sunlight and you giggle a little when he stutters.
"W-W-Well, I, um..." he starts, and then something passes over his face and he grins, the most genuine expression you've ever seen on anyone. "I believe that anyone can choose to be a hero, no matter what. If you're – um, it doesn't matter where you come from, or who you are; everybody's got something good inside them, and everybody's worth it, and um, I just did it because... because I knew I could. And because I want to let people know that – no matter who you are, I'm there for you, and you're there for you, too – and yeah!"
You blink in wonder at him, at his fast-paced babbling and nervous smile and startlingly green eyes, and when he looks at the camera, it feels like he's looking right at you, right into you, with every ounce of faith and reassurance he's got.
You will never tell him this part.
You clamber onto your knees and shuffle to the TV, bracing your hands on either side of it, and you flush a little and quickly peck the screen right where his bruise is, right where his cheek is.
"You're my hero," you say quietly, with the shyness that only a thirteen-year-old can.
Gotham City shrieks outside, sirens and screams, oily rain and smog, and you sit back on the floor with your knees at your chin and you watch Kid Flash bolt away into the dusk, a streak of gold beside the Flash's red, and he doesn't look back at you. When you meet him two years later, there are new freckles on his cheek where the bruise used to be, and you like to think that you helped.
The tiny red radio in the Cave is on all summer long. Artemis is pretty sure that it's Wally's, just judging by the color, but it doesn't really matter, because everyone uses it for whatever they please – Conner to listen to the soothing sounds of static, Zatanna and M'gann to blare Billboard hits, Robin to dig up some obscure techno station, Raquel to tune in to the eighties at eight, Kaldur to listen pensively to NPR and pretend that he knows what they're talking about.
Artemis has taken refuge in the kitchen one sweltering July afternoon, in her cutoffs and her sister's old Nirvana t-shirt cut into a baggy tank top, and she's rummaging through the fridge for some Squirt when it plays.
She lets out a pleased gasp and slams the fridge shut, bounding back into the main room and jerking the knob to its full volume, throwing her hands in the air.
"I DON'T GIVE A DAMN 'BOUT MY REPUTATION!" she screams with unabashed enthusiasm, really only half-singing.
She tosses her head until her hair is flying every which-way and leaps onto one of the couches, air-guitaring and shouting along to the words that she's idolized since she was seven.
Of course Wally catches her. Of course it only makes him love her more, and of course she doesn't splutter red-faced at him when he doubles over laughing; of course she grabs him by the wrist and yanks him up there with her and of course they both bounce around like idiots.
Of course he manages to sneak in a kiss to her shoulder when she turns her back. Of course it turns out Robin was filming the whole thing.
Of course this is home.
xxvi. murphy's law
"What – could... go wrong?" she stutters out through hyperventilation, smiling stiffly up at him. The blood in her teeth makes stark red lines through the crooked expression that shakes over the shattered glamour charm.
He can't help the wet streaks through the smoke and soot on his cheeks. He cradles her head at either side as she spasms in his lap and he presses his dry, split lips to her forehead, frantically counting every breath she takes while the world comes down around them.
Jason's coffin is small. The wood is dark brown and there's a gold plate over the top of it with his name on it, engraved into the glimmering surface, with two dates that will make Artemis start to cry if she looks at them.
All of the eulogies are over, and holding Dick's quavering shoulders is over, and everything is over, dissolving into the harsh sunlight of the early spring around them, but Artemis can't bring herself to move, trapped in the memories of making vulgar deep-city Gotham jokes with the kid who'd lived four blocks away from her and hadn't even known it, of watching him grow lippier and more fierce-minded with every passing day, of smiling with pride each time he received a good training score or outsmarted Dick or made a smart remark that ruffled Batman.
It's the way Wally's lips press themselves to her temple that tug her out of the depths. By the time they do, it's too late for her to stop the watery black lines trailing down her cheeks now, and she'd wipe them, but that would only smear the mascara more.
"This isn't fair," she hisses, broken. "This isn't fucking fair." Her voice cracks. "It's not—"
Wally pulls her into him with incredible certainty of motion, and she falls against his chest as though she's moved that way hundreds of times, and he rests his chin on the top of her head and rubs her shoulders and she cries until she can't anymore.
"You look really foxy in that outfit," he says matter-of-factly. "I know that's not the best word to use but it suits how hot you are better than any other vocab so that's the one I'm gonna use. You are a fox and I don't even care that you're going to punch me for that, because it is worth telling you the huge absolute truth that you're off the chain gorgeous tonight."
"Wow," you reply, tossing an ill-hidden smirk sideways. The event-goers mill around you all and Wally straightens his tie nervously. "You'd better do something really classy to make up for that."
He reaches a tentative hand over and clasps your wrist in his warm fingers. His knuckles brush the satin of your go-to little black dress, and oh, god, you never thought you'd reach a stage in your life where you'd own up to even having a little black dress, but here you are, sixteen and at a Justice League party, doing just that, while Wally West showers you with debatably flattering compliments.
He smiles at you, looking stupidly dapper in his suit and combed hair, lifts your hand up by the curled fingers, and innocently kisses it.
"Nice save," you chide him, and he straightens up and shrugs helplessly and still doesn't take his eyes off of you.
She mutters to herself in Vietnamese when she's trying to remember something, or when she's making dry remarks about him that she doesn't want him to be able to understand. Once, she uses it to furiously curse at him – he's sure it's a curse word, from the way it combusts out of her mouth like she's spitting it onto his face – and another time, in the gymnasium where they're sitting with herds of children with missing parents, she glances humbly over at him and leans a bit closer and mumbles out a string of the syllables he's come to recognize, and though he has no idea what they mean, they're the most comforting words he's heard in a long, long time.
Part of the reason that he enrolls in the Vietnamese Literature course at Stanford is because he likes hearing her speak it. His is broken and American and awful, and she never hesitates to tease him for it, but he can tell by how much it makes her laugh that she's secretly over the moon about the fact that he's even bothering to try learning it for her.
And he'll ask her, over and over, to repeat his practice sentences, like he needs to hear them several times before he can try them out himself, but really, he's just trying to give her any reason that he can to roll out the language that sounds like oil to him, like the way her tongue rolls over the skin of his neck when they're tangled in the dark.
"One more time?" he requests at four in the morning on Valentine's Day, racing his fingers through his hair for the fiftieth time as he faces down his half-finished paper.
She mumbles to attention from under the blanket beside him, jerking her head up from the armrest. The texture of the fabric is emblazoned on her cheek. She blinks at him sleepily.
"Um," she replies, her voice a little hoarse from tiredness, "Tôi đã học tiếng Việt được 1 tháng."
He types it in, prodding unsurely at the international keyboard she'd set up when they'd both signed on to the course.
"Hey, babe, how do you say 'I love you,' again?" he asks, smirking. She groans beside him.
"You've asked me that like a hundred times," she grumbles. "You asked me that a week after we started dating."
"Yeah, but you say it nicer than I do," he insists, turning to her. "Please?"
She smiles wearily up at him, feigning disgruntlement and failing miserably. Her hair is mussed from dozing and he can only see her chin over the top of the dog-hair-coated blanket, and he softens involuntarily.
"Tôi yêu bạn," she murmurs, effortless and elegant even in her drowsy state.
He leans down, sliding his left arm into the space between her back and the couch cushions, and kisses her, slowly, until she hums in contentment. She pulls him down and uncurls her legs and, inevitably, they both wind up parallel to each other, the blanket cast aside. Artemis ensnares his neck in her arms and eases his mouth open with her tongue and he forgets all about writing a three-page paper on his Vietnamese Literature College Experience.
Too soon, she breaks off with a smirk and gently pushes his face away.
"You've still got a page and a half to write, genius," she says, and he groans, dropping his face onto her chest. "If I'm being this distracting, I should probably leave."
"You're the one who pulled me over!" he protests, but the indignance falls away when she leans up to peck his cheek.
"Yeah," she agrees. "Just shut up and finish this thing."
"Yes, ma'am," he replies only half-sarcastically, clambering off of her with gingerness. She kicks him in the side and pushes him over with her foot, laughing.
This is it, Wally thinks. This is normal. This is safe and real and each other.
He tells himself that it's enough and eventually he starts to believe it. But the conflict, at present, is not important. He falls asleep with his chin resting on Artemis's shoulder and she breathes in time with him and they are not children anymore.
These are the moments the two of them keep:
When she finally comes home, after the mission and the invasion and the destruction are all over, Wally gently closes the front door behind her and then doesn't move.
Her eyes start to burn and brim as she roves them over every inch of the apartment she hasn't seen in six months, every out-of-place shoe and flung-aside textbook and crooked angle of the rugs. The kitchen is the same, albeit messier. The couch is the same, albeit made up to serve as a bed. The door to the bedroom is closed and the red light from the sunset outside hits it without repent.
She turns to him, watches him. He locks eyes with her, unswaying, unblinking, and she's so startled by his stillness that she almost forgets how to pull in a breath. The silence swells between them, between their hanging hands and bruises and battle-thrashed bones, and the cold metal walls of Black Manta's sub are a far-off, distant thing. It occurs to her, at last, that maybe the bed hasn't been touched since she'd left it, which she really should find pathetic, or would have found pathetic in her younger years, but which she now just finds a little bit of an honor.
(There are broken bits scattered between them, ragged at every edge, and haphazard. Maybe some are missing. Maybe, a long time ago, they had formed the shape of a sai between her feet, or a cold-surfaced tracker in his palm, or a book she'd thrown at him as she'd screamed for him to leave.)
After a moment, she shifts closer and wraps her thinner arms around his shoulders, buries her face in his jacket, curls her fingers into the fabric and clings to him. He is warm, and motionless, and beautifully hers, a broader evolution of the freckle-faced boy who had once told her that she had nothing to prove to him. His arms encircle her in an instant, pull her closer than she could ever be, and he breathes in through his nose at her scalp.
They stay like that until the dusk is upon them both. When she finally pulls away, she holds his face at either side and rams a kiss onto him, open and slanting and needy. He has her against the wall in seconds, pouring everything into the beats their teeth make when they clumsily clack into one another. And somehow, among the running and the walking and the turning, this is the part she'll remember – the part where neither of them had dared to move at all.