You know how sometimes at the Oscars, the winners get really blubbery and emotional and cry a lot and don't finish their speech because they just can't stop talking and thanking everyone so the TV cuts to commercials? I'm not winning an Oscar or anything really but that's basically what I'm doing and I'm counting on you guys to be the TV.

So like, when I started this fic, I was thinking it would be five, maybe six chapters. And I really did kind of start it on an impulse, like some kind of knee-jerk denial thing after "Endgame" shattered me as a person. You were all there. You all remember my tears and my howls of agony. You all remember how I was so depressed I didn't write my French paper (but don't worry; I got a B+ in French so I'm fine).

The point is, I really was not expecting this to become as long or involved or… well-received as it did? Like, this thing has its own tag on Tumblr. There are people who liveblog this and draw fanart and make fanmixes and graphics and various other things that just make me wanna die. And honestly, it's been for you guys all along. I remember seeing a lot of the fandom get ruined by that finale and thinking, "I should try to fix that." So this isn't even just a fix-it fic for the show; it's for the fandom, too. I tried to put in as many things as I could, as many slighted relationships and sidelined characters as I could fit. I tried to remember everything the fandom said they wanted to see more of in season 2 so I could try to squeeze it in here. So the scope of this is a lot larger than I'd ever predicted, but I'm grateful to you guys for helping me spread my horizons and try new things and challenge myself. I'm grateful to you guys for all of the support and kindness you've been sending my way since I started this thing; I'm grateful to every review, every reblog, every little click of that "like" button, every one of those kudos on AO3, every follow and favorite on FFNet. Man, even if you've never said a word about this fic directly to me, I'm grateful that you've read it, because that's what it's here for.

The biggest thanks, though, go out to Libby, who has been in my corner since I first started brainstorming on Skype, who has beta'd nearly every chapter, who has always made me feel like I'm making something awesome; to Emma, who's been just as wonderful, always cheering me on and asking for more and sharpening her pitchfork with alacrity and love; to Cat, who's been making stunning graphics for every single chapter and still finds the time to liveblog it and make every dragging night of forcing the words out feel totally worthwhile; and to Pyrin, Maria,PJ, hmmaster, and everyone else who's reviewed every chapter; to nygma619, for making me think harder about this fic than I'd expected to, in a great way; to Star,mrsgingles, sodalimepop, Nighty, Stitch, Nemo, Hannah, threshecutioner, young-at-heart, opaul, and cynessie for all of the really amazing and motivating stuffthey've made for this? like jesus christ, the talent; to Katelyn, for giving me the inspiration for the Conner-Artemis scene in Chapter 2 and for beta-ing the first three chapters for me; to Izzy, who has sat through so many hours of me second-guessing myself and who's always been so perfectly constructive and helpful and supportive and smokin' hot; and… christ, to all of you. If I could track all of you down and send you personal thank-you cards for all you've done to help me get to the end of this, then I would. Maybe I will. I am Nancy Drew, after all. Really, this wouldn't have been possible without any of you. You've all been with me since I wrote my first fic for this dumb show in August of 2011, and I never thought I'd get to where I am today, with people actually reading my stuff –wanting to read my stuff, asking me what I'll be writing next, telling me what they think of the things that I write, drawing fanart for them – jesus.

Thanks to all of you guys for making me feel like I'm actually doing something worthwhile. I love all of you a lot and I doubt I'll ever be able to convey my gratitude adequately. I just wanna kiss all your faces and—

Crap. The TV cut me off.

Happy June 20th, everyone. Thanks for joining me on this ride. I love you.


The Watchtower

August 8, 2017 16:04 EDT


"Attention all Team members: report to the mission room for a new assignment immediately."

Artemis has to bite back a laugh as Wally scatters pecking kisses across her cheeks, down her throat, back up to her chin. His hands are resting lightly at her waist and her arms are slung around the back of his neck and she can feel his smirk branding itself into her skin, and the wall against which she's currently pressed is mussing her hair.

"This is your co-captain speaking. What Aqualad meant to say is that we need all of you suited up in all your finery and in the mission room for a briefing in five. Chop chop."

Wally snorts and Artemis hooks a finger under his jaw, tilting his face up so that she can properly take his lips in hers, messy and needy. He smiles against her teeth and his chuckle fills her slanted mouth, and she tugs him closer to her until their knees bump clumsily against one another's, and as her hand strays downwards, he groans, sagging slightly. His fingers tangle needily into her hair and she sighs through her nose, closing her eyes to the minute sound of his heartbeat, to the way his taste – toothpaste and the waffles he'd made that morning – is finally something close to familiar again.

"This is an all-points bulletin that we seem to be missing two of our senior members. I'm sure that they're on their way, though, and not scandalizing the security cameras in a corner somewhere."

At that, Artemis can't help snickering, breaking off to raise an eyebrow at Wally, whose mind seems to be catching up to the fact that they're not making out anymore.

"We really should get going," she mutters. "Kaldur and Dick are probably—"

"Going to understand," Wally finishes in a low voice, snatching her mouth again, parting her lips with his tongue. She lets out a long and heavy breath and he grabs one of her thighs in his hand, hiking it up to rest at his hip, and Artemis forgets all about punctuality.

"Artemis and Kid Flash, we kindly request that the two of you cease whatever activities you're—"

"Kaldur, what have I told you about using the c-word in this house?"

Neither Artemis nor Wally pay any mind to the announcements, and Artemis's fingernails dig slightly into Wally's suit as he withdraws, moves his chin down, and kisses her at the jugular.

"Can you guys either get a room or get your heads in the game?" Raquel's voice suddenly cuts in, echoing reproachfully in what seems like the entire hallway. "Just because you spent two weeks in the City of Lights doesn't mean you get to start frenching on the job."

"Bus-ted," Wally sings under his breath with an innocent grin, not sounding sorry at all. He and Artemis immediately spring apart, raising their hands at either side of their heads in surrender and Artemis mentally puts a tick in Raquel's square of the "Team Members Who Have Walked In On Artemis and Wally" chart.

Raquel stares at them with a quirked eyebrow and a knowing smirk under narrowed eyes. Her hands are slung in the pockets of her trusty brown-and-black costume, and her boot is tapping on the tile floor.

"Yeah, why don't you show me just how sorry you both are by hurrying up?" she suggests. "I've got Amistad with a sitter and I'd like to be back with him before sunrise, if that's okay with you."

Wally salutes her, striding forward. After Raquel turns her back and rounds the corner, Artemis jogs to catch up to him, falls into step just behind him, and swiftly swats his rear.

He jumps and glances over his shoulder with a mock scandalized expression. She snorts, shoves at him, and takes two large steps ahead so that they walk into the mission room side-by-side.

Kaldur, Dick, M'gann, Conner, Zatanna, and Raquel are all gathered under the holographic screens, and standing on the outskirts of the small cluster – Artemis nearly trips in her tracks – is Roy.

He catches her eye and mutters something she can't understand, looking pointedly away. She wrestles back her knowing grin and comes to a halt with Wally among the rest of their original Team, folding her arms at her chest.

"All right, Mom, we're here," she says, raising her eyebrows in Kaldur's direction.

"What's with the 911?" Wally inquires with a laugh.

"Yeah, and what was that about needing all Team members?" Artemis adds. "I only see seven and two of them aren't even on the Team, so, explanation, please, Kaldur."

Artemis can't be sure, but she swears that Kaldur rolls his eyes at her.

"It was not a 911," he tells her. "We were merely hoping that, since your vacation, you would not have lost sight of the importance of promptness for mission briefings. As for your second question, the rest of the Team will be arriving shortly." His voice darkens, just minutely. "The weight of this new mission is far too great to reveal on a large scale just y—"

"C'mon, Kaldur," Dick cuts in, popping into sight out of nowhere. "Lighten up. Trust me, it's a valuable asset to have when you're co-leading a Team."

"He has been giving me co-leading advice for the past three hours," Kaldur stage-whispers. "If I had known this would be the case, I would not have agreed to split leadership with him in the first place."

"Dude, he's a great leader," Wally assures Kaldur with a clap on the shoulder. "Y'know, when he doesn't have to keep secrets. I mean, not that he isn't good at it; it just really doesn't do wonders for his mood."

"Oh, and you, of course, were Mr. Sunshine through the whole ordeal," Dick retorts, but jokingly. "I'm gonna have to tell you about it sometime, Artemis. Two years later and I still don't ever want to see another tub of Chubby Hubby again."

"He is lying," Wally shouts, pointing a stiff, accusatory finger at Dick. "Do not listen to him."

"Boys, behave," M'gann giggles, floating over to sling her arms between Kaldur and Conner and hang there on her tiptoes.

"Please," Zatanna agrees, pulling the same pose between Dick and Wally – Dick looks inordinately thrilled. "I will turn this giant space HQ around."

Raquel glances over at Roy before shrugging and throwing one arm casually around him, tugging him slightly down. He grimaces, but makes no attempts to escape.

"Is anybody gonna address the elephant in the room?" Wally asks after a moment.

"Uh, does it go by the name of Chubby Hubby?" Zatanna fires back. Dick snickers.

"No," Wally retorts a bit indignantly, and Artemis is sure his ears are going scarlet behind the red adornments on his costume. "It goes by the name of Dick having a new costume."

It's only then that Artemis notices – Dick's costume is, indeed, different; it fits him more snugly and has slightly less padding, but the most noticeable new detail is the blue emblem on his chest that continues over his shoulders and down his arms, ending at his middle and ring fingers in two cyan stripes.

"What," Artemis says slowly with a disbelieving laugh, pointing to Dick, "are those?"

Dick smiles complacently at her and glances at his hands with innocence, turning them over and flexing his fingers. Zatanna detaches from him and Wally, watching the scene with relish.

"I like to call them…" He looks back up, waggling his eyebrows. "The chicest creation to come out of Gotham City?"

"I like to call them ridiculous," Artemis retorts with a shake of her head, but Wally elbows her.

"You're insane," he says sagely. "Dude, those are the coolest things I've ever seen; the ladies are going to be climbing all over you."

Artemis scoffs loudly, half-mocking and half-offended.

"The most important question, though," Wally continues with solemness, "is this: do they glow in the dark?"

Dick nods, slowly, with a widening grin. Wally immediately raises his hand and Dick slaps his palm against it in a high-five that makes Conner wince and grumble.

"You are my hero," Wally says.

"Wow, get a room," Zatanna deadpans.

"Perfect; we'll use yours." Wally grins triumphantly over at her and she shakes her head.

"And here I was starting to think I missed you," she says blithely, causing Wally's face to fall. "Walls, I'm kidding; I'm kidding!"

"So you did miss me?" Wally perks up slightly.

"More than I could bear, darlin'," Zatanna gasps out in an over-the-top Southern accent, grasping his upper arm. "Why, I cried for days; absolute days!"

"Can I address the other elephant in the room?" Artemis interjects before turning her attention to Roy. "Namely, the Prodigal Red Arrow?"

"Shut up, Crock," Roy grumbles without much investment. "Somebody's gotta keep you twerps in line. And I need to make sure West doesn't wind up in some alternate dimension again when he's supposed to be on perimeter."

"I'm not talking to you," Wally says loudly. "Not until you take back the calendar you gave me. Meanest belated birthday present ever."

"Red Arrow's gonna be rejoining the Team part-time," Dick explains over Wally's wounded yelling – and the happiness he feels is tangibly evident in his chipper voice. "And Zatanna and Rocket are our League liaisons, so they'll be helping us out on this next mission."

"Which is…?" Artemis prompts him.

The jocular air in the room sinks to a standstill. Artemis glances to Kaldur first for a response, and is taken aback by the grimness in his eyes when they meet hers. Dick seems to notice the change in mood and sighs, crossing his arms at his chest and frowning at the floor.

"Batgirl and I've been working on tracking down Vandal Savage since last June," he explains. Artemis marvels, not for the first time, at how quickly his tone can change from delighted and devious to solemn and focused. "Since the Summit, the Light's gotten themselves dispersed all over the globe. Luthor's in the world spotlight now, so at least we have eyes on him, and now that the Team's finally starting to bounce back from the bad press we and the League got during the invasion, it's a lot easier to keep those eyes open. Recon in Taipei revealed that Ra's al-Ghul is, just like I found out in December, alive, and that he and Black Manta have been rubbing elbows, which means the Light and the Shadows have gotten over their little lover's quarrel. Intel from Red Arrow and an, uh, anonymous source—" Artemis snorts – Jade. "Sportsmaster's back in the Light's good graces again and is working on the distribution of some of the new Reach drink our raid on LexCorp missed. Batgirl, Wonder Girl, and Artemis's check of Queen Bee's new compound in the Bialyan desert revealed some distinctive boom tube energy signals, and there are still missing kids unaccounted for in some of the hot spots we checked out last spring while we were looking for some of the Light's possible meta-gene guinea pigs. As for the Reach, they've been convicted of enough war crimes to keep them locked up in the Phantom Zone for the next eternity or so, and the Zone's being monitored by scientists on Rann."

"Up until this point," Kaldur picks up for him, stepping forward, "Vandal Savage has been the only remaining member of the Light who has been unaccounted for. The Brain has remained in the League's custody, though Black Manta has, obviously, managed to escape. Klarion has been attempting to steal an item called the Amulet of Anubis from Doctor Fate, though he has been unsuccessful. We do not know what he requires this for, but discovering that is one of our top priorities in the coming months. Though we have no sightings of Queen Bee, we are certain that she is behind the compound, which the Justice League suspects is being used for experimentation with the meta-gene. Just because the Reach is gone does not mean their research has not taken the attention of… other interested parties."

"So we're going to have our hands full," Dick continues. "But everything pertaining to Earth is going to be handled by the junior members of the Team, who'll be led by Guardian. The rest of us—"

"Will be initiating communications with Apokolips," Kaldur finishes, and Artemis is sure that the name chills the entire Watchtower. "Which is where Batgirl's year-long search has led us."

"Whoa," Wally breathes, sounding staggered.

"Our liaisons for the intergalactic relations will be the Forever People," Dick adds, and Artemis notices Conner brighten out of the corner of her eye.

"Wait – hold on," Artemis interjects, unable to hold back her questions any longer. "You're saying Vandal Savage has been MIA for the past year because he's on Apokolips?"

"Got great taste in vacation spots, doesn't he?" Dick quips, but then he nods. "Yeah. Apparently he and Darkseid have been getting pretty friendly. Or, uh, as friendly as a couple of guys like Vandal Savage and Darkseid can get."

"Right now, the League's top priority is reconnaissance," Zatanna inserts, and when all eyes turn to her, she puts her hands on her hips. Artemis is struck, suddenly, by how grown up she is, how grown up they all are, facilitating an investigation that's going to take them across the galaxy. "As usual. We aren't trying to stop Savage just yet. We need to figure out what he's doing first."

"Dude," Wally exclaims, brightening. "Space voyage?! Seriously? Cool!"

Artemis swats him on the shoulder. "No, not cool. I don't think we can take independent study in space."

She could laugh at the way Wally seems to visibly deflate, but she reels it in. He sticks his lower lip out at her and she groans, rolling her eyes skyward.

"Good news for you," Raquel says primly, "is no, there's no space voyage. Not yet."

"There's a yet in there," Wally points out, and M'gann laughs.

"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it, buddy," Dick tells him, clapping him on the shoulder. "For now, we've got a lot to do."

"When's the rest of the Team getting here?" Conner asks, his eyes wandering to the empty zeta tubes.

Wally lets out a loud, obvious groan. "Oh, man. I completely forgot I'm gonna be on the same team as Bart now." He shoots a look Artemis's way. "If I die of a heart attack by the time I'm twenty-five, you can blame him."

"Or I can blame the Chubby Hubby," Artemis fires back without missing a beat, and at Wally's horrified expression, peals of clamoring laughter rise to the ceiling.

"So," Dick says to them when they've all quieted down, leaning easily against the wall and smiling, and it's a smile Artemis hasn't seen in years. "Business as usual?"

Artemis glances to Wally, and he slips his hand into hers, grinning the same freckled, game-ready grin that he does on sunny days when they have nowhere to go but somewhere new.

"What could go wrong?" he asks her jocularly.

"Say that again and I'll kill you," she retorts in an instant. "Slowly and painfully."

He smiles cheekily and she kisses him without discretion or shame, holding his face at either side.

M'gann and Conner both perk up at the sight and smile warmly at each other before blushing and glancing away again, but their fingers find one another's, tangling gently and easily together. Kaldur bows his head contentedly, closing his eyes and curving his lips. Zatanna rolls her misty eyes and mutters "ew," and Raquel shakes her head with ill-concealed fondness, and Roy clears his throat with ill-concealed discomfort. The Earth moves patiently behind their picket line of silhouettes: so much taller now than they used to be.

"Kid, you sure about this?"

"Yeah. For now, anyway. Trust me, trying on the scarlet suit's definitely gonna happen someday, but… I don't know. I gotta keep myself grounded for a while. Plus – I doubt these guys could last another second without me. And you'd lose major points with Iris if you lost the costume; she digs it."

"Wise guy. All right; suit yourself. But just know the offer's up anytime."

"I'll keep that in mind."

The zeta tubes start to blaze to life with incoming Team members. Their numbers and their names crowd into each other in the open air, in every crevice, and they are the messiest symphony Artemis has ever heard.

She'd seen Jade the week before, when she'd been on bonding Gotham patrol with Batgirl and Robin (half of which she and Batgirl had spent giving Robin advice on how to ask Wonder Girl to his junior prom). A lot of jokes had been made about carved birds and clipped wings, and Jade had pinned her to the ground with such force that Artemis's head had throbbed against the pavement and it was the closest she'd ever get to a hug, and she hadn't even tried to conceal her smile.

Her mother had braided her hair for the first time in years two nights ago, murmuring promises and pride to her and rubbing her shoulder and kissing the back of her head in the same spot that Jade had injured it.

She'd only come dangerously close to killing or mutilating Wally two more times since June, and the nightmares of watching him burn and scream have finally begun to fade, and they'd just happened to glance at Palo Alto apartment ads that had just happened to be open on Wally's still-dusty laptop, and they'd just happened to have sent in applications for the Stanford spring semester, and Artemis had just happened to go over to his parents' house and help him unpack every haphazardly stowed item in the cardboard towers at the foot of his bed, one by one, memory by memory, until he couldn't stand not having a sandwich in his hand anymore and bolted out to make himself three BLTs. In his absence, she'd privately coveted a photograph of six crowded-together kids in front of a mountain that seemed every year to grow smaller than they were, and she'd run her fingers over their bright eyes and fearless smiles and linked arms with a care she wouldn't have guessed herself to possess.

"Yep," Dick comments under his breath with false exasperation, his quirked lips deceptively nostalgic in the light from the sun and the stars. "Business as usual."

Wally, to show off, scoops Artemis up in his arms so that she shrieks and flails. As he holds her up, beaming toothily at her (a dusting of fresh freckles splayed out over his nose from the new summer sun), she crosses her legs and links her hands behind his neck and rolls her eyes at the rest of the Team like she can't believe her own misfortune.

Still, though – this is the kind of business she'll never mind doing for free.


NEVER THE END…