Another old one that I'm moving here from Tumblr and AO3 after like 500 years! I wrote and posted this one in November; it was a birthday present for a friend and it's kind of accidentally sad.
The only thing Artemis knows how to say in sign language is "I love you."
It's a shame, really – not so much the fact that she doesn't know anyone who understands sign language, but more that she wouldn't have anyone to use it on anyway. Like she'd ever feel that way about anybody, ever, after having to deal with being dropped like a cold potato all her life. (Because, see, hot potatoes were at least appetizing, maybe edible, but cold potatoes were useless.)
She had learned the phrase – or whatever it'd be called; the gesture? the thing – when she was ten, from one of the pamphlets in the post office (she's pretty sure her dad had been mailing a bomb).
It feels, and always has felt, like she's doing some sort of stupid dance when she makes the motions. It's silly. It's embarrassing. She doesn't know what to do with herself, with her hands, since she can't use them for something so delicate and fragile, so she uses them for something else: drawing a bow, pressing the callouses into the joints.
The way her fingers curl around the string is just as eloquent, thank you very much: I love you, she says. I love the directions you go and I love the smoke, the fire, the impact. I love you. Maybe I even love me.
Wally's hearing is shot for six days after the explosion. It's not permanent, but it's still weird.
The thing is that they hadn't expected the Joker to have a bomb in there. Wally had been the last one in the building, eating as usual, with black-and-blue marks on his knuckles, and the Joker, with a giggle, had detonated whatever screwed-up combustibles they'd missed likeamateurs.
Wally had been halfway out the door when it had gone off, so it didn't kill him, but it vaulted him forward until he crashed through the window and landed with a crack directly at their feet. At her feet, to be precise, blood and all.
Some shrapnel in one leg. Glass everywhere, little red-tipped fragments ripping up through his costume. A broken arm (he'd just gotten his cast off). Damaged eardrums, too, but they'd be ship-shape again in a few days.
Until then, Kid Malingerer is totally making a triumphant comeback. He seems to think it's all fascinating, making humming noises and pressing a hand to his Adam's apple and grinning like it's ridiculously cool.
Artemis could kill him. She remembers all too vividly the useless twitching of his singed fingertips as she and Kaldur had carried him onto the bioship, the panicked look on his face when Robin had been talking and he hadn't been able to hear.
She could kill him.
Maybe that's her intention when she walks reticently into his room with her fists at her sides the night after the mission in question. He's reclining on the bed with a fresh cast and a gauze-wrapped left leg and an issue of National Geographic in one hand.
Artemis clears her throat loudly, but then she remembers, so she takes a book off of his dresser and throws it at him.
It smacks down next to him and he jerks so severely that National Geographic goes flying into the air, pages flailing; and he yelps, covering his head with his arms. Artemis waits impatiently for him to notice her. It doesn't take him long once he gets over the whole cowering thing, and he catches her eye with a scowl.
"What was that for?!" he shouts at a louder volume than could be considered normal. She winces.
"Calm down," she snaps, moving her palms up and down in what she hopes is a placating motion. Wally seems to loosen, shifting hesitantly, and Artemis takes it as a sign that she can come in.
She takes a seat in the swivel chair near his desk and crosses her legs, refusing to scoot closer to him.
"What do you want?" he yells. Artemis cringes again and presses a finger to her lips. He glowers at her. "Why'd you come in here if you don't want…"
He breaks off, frowning, blinking rapidly, before exhaling roughly and slamming a palm against his forehead in frustration, once, twice, against his ears, against the mattress.
Artemis fidgets with the hem of her tee-shirt, waiting for him to quit looking so sad, because the twisting sensation in her stomach is totally unwelcome and frankly uncalled for, and once again, she could really kill him.
After a while, she glances back up at him again. He's staring dully at the floor and the sight makes her bite her lip.
She raises her hands and gesticulates to get his attention before lamely attempting to communicate. She points to him, subsequently raises her thumb, and draws a backwards question mark in the air.
He blinks at her momentarily before straightening, beaming, and nodding. He pats his bandaged leg, his cast, and gives her a reciprocal thumbs-up.
This could work, she thinks. There's something palpable between them, though – a glass wall that they're beating their fists on, and she'd never admit this in a million years, but there's some sort of emptiness growing inside her at the fact that Wally isn't talking, because it's become such an obnoxious constant that its absence is beyond disconcerting.
She pivots in the swivel chair and snatches a worn out notepad and pen from the corner of the desk, flipping it open and scribbling something down on it. Abandoning all pride (let's face it; she did that the second she started hand-talking to him), she rolls forward until she's beside the bed and tosses him the pad.
He raises an eyebrow sardonically at her and she pulls a face, to which he shrugs before reading.
Man, you and food, she'd written. Fatal attraction.
He gives her a withering look and scrawls a reply, holding it up for her to see.
Let's skip to the part where you feel sorry for me, it says, in his cramped little scientist print.
She laughs incredulously and shakes her head. He shrugs and underlines feel sorry for me.
She rolls her eyes and snatches the notepad back from him, and, well, it goes on like that for a while. Much easier than waving her hands around like a freaking windmill.
In your dreams, Wally.
You'd know all about my dreams, wouldn't you?
Since you show up in them so much.
She throws the pad at him and he sniggers.
Babe, I love it when you talk like that.
I love it when you don't talk. Can we make this a regular thing? Like maybe every other week?
Wally clutches comically at his chest as though wounded.
What would you even do with yourself if you knew I couldn't hear you ragging on me?
Something more productive, probably.
A list of things more productive than hanging out with you would be so long it'd make my hand cramp up.
Funny. Do you know any sign language?
Artemis glances up from the paper with a befuddled frown on her face. "Huh?"
Wally nods to the page again meaningfully, waggling his eyebrows. When she doesn't respond, he sighs hugely and takes it again, scribbling another message down.
I don't know any, I thought you might.
Artemis stares at the message for what seems like a very long time. She remembers the pamphlet at the post office, and she remembers Wally's blood staining the broken glass on the concrete between her boots. She remembers sitting in the waiting room outside the med bay with the rest of the Team and listening to him yell. She remembers putting her headphones on and closing her eyes and playing her music too loudly to know anything or anyone.
Her mind lurches back to three weeks ago, hearing the corny digital notes of "Auld Lang Syne" dimly in her ears as Wally had closed his eyes and laughed, quietly, so that his breath lapped at her mouth. She remembers the way he had tasted, dusty and dry from their incident with the loading bay, a bare tincture of the apple cider he'd glugged down that morning. They had held hands for the entire bioship ride back to earth, staring out at space, and his fingers had fiddled with hers and he had pecked her cheek at the zeta tubes after the debriefing, and they hadn't talked about it since.
She remembers how hearing that he was in intensive care at some Seattle hospital on his birthday had made her want to throw up.
She remembers a lot.
She takes the pen.
Yeah, I know some.
He grins at her and nods encouragingly. She watches him for several seconds, half-lidded and contemplative, watches the green in his eyes and the freckle on the tip of his nose and the scar on his chin from his first time shaving (she knows that story; she knows a lot of his stories). She watches the vague tan line on his face from his mask, and she watches the tilt of his mouth as he continues to beam at her, expectant and excited.
She lifts her hands. She makes a fist with her right one and lifts her pinkie finger, then her index finger, and then her thumb.
She doesn't know how long she holds it like that. Wally blinks at her, still smiling, and she has to assure herself that there's no way he knows what she's saying, but maybe it's inside her eyes, in the dark corners nobody knows, in every blink and bitten lip.
He takes the notepad enthusiastically.
So? What's it mean? Don't leave me hangin'.
It means you're an idiot, Wally.
His face falls comically and she drops her hand, letting out a quiet breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding.
What, my dear lady Disdain? (We're reading that play in English; it's stupid.)
You're killing me here, Artemis.
Learn to live with it.
And then, weeks later, it's Wally's turn.
He hates hospital beds. He hates the smell of disinfectant, and he hates the white, and he hates the stiff mattresses and the stale pillows and the relentless pinging of the EKG. He hates it when the Team has to go to actual hospitals instead of the med bay, because then it means things are serious, and someone might die, and he hates it when people die.
He can't even remember who they'd been fighting, or what for, or how long ago. He can remember Artemis laughing, wiping at a bloody nose, and he can remember Kaldur congratulating them on a job well done, and he can remember M'gann tending to a bruise on Conner's cheek with tenderness, and he can remember Rocket stretching, and he can remember Zatanna cracking her knuckles, and he can remember Dick at his elbow chattering about how cool his backflip had been, and then he can remember a gunshot.
Red lights, and sirens, and bandages, and a damp spot on Conner's t-shirt from M'gann's thick tears. Dick not blinking, Zatanna with her hands over her ears, Rocket closing her eyes, Kaldur shouting something to the paramedics, Batman showing up, somehow, and Artemis letting out a whimper unlike any he'd ever heard, wet and terrible and crimson, and himself yelling, starting to sprint after a retreating ambulance but never making it because Conner is grasping his arm too tightly.
Sometimes, since the Joker incident, his ears start to ring at loud noises. He'd had a migraine watching the ambulance go, and his hearing had gone muffled and numb and he'd been deaf to his own shouting, his own heartbeat.
He breathes in and out and it almost rattles. He shouldn't be here. He had used his super speed tactfully to blur past the security cameras, the nurse at the front desk, the sign labeled "Visiting Hours." The rest of the Team has all gone back to the Cave, after visiting – along with Paula Crock and Green Arrow – Artemis's sleepy form for a while, but he hadn't been able to be there with them, and he had run away. And now he's running back, winded and sore, with shaking hands and frustratingly unstable legs and a dry mouth.
Her room is so dark. The monitors beside her bed light it eerily, greens and reds. He stands at the foot of her bed and stares down at her, his eyes dull, wiping absentmindedly at the reopened cut on his lip. The lesion on her face has been stitched up (she never would have done it herself, preferring the scars, the proof) and there's a nasty bruise he can see on her neck and her hair, untied and unfettered, splays haphazardly out over the pillow and the sheets. He can see a bare little glimpse of gauze peeking out over her collarbone from under the hospital gown, and he wonders how much blood there was, wonders what parts of her had fluttered on the operating table, and he wants to throw up.
He hasn't even kissed her again yet. Not since New Year's, not since the breathlessness and the galaxy behind them, not since he had nearly scared himself to death when he noticed how right her arms felt around his neck, how her tongue skirted over his lip so fleetly (spearmint gum and toast) that he'd almost gasped.
He sits in the chair beside her bed and rests his elbows on the mattress and he takes her hand without even thinking on it, remembering the blue and magenta hues that had tinted it in the bioship on New Year's, remembering the sight of the Earth below them fitting so perfectly into her irises, like a nickel.
"Artemis," he mutters before he can stop himself.
She stirs immediately, frowning in something like disgruntledness as her eyelids creak open, and her gaze is right on him, as though she hadn't even thought to look anywhere else.
"You came," she mumbles, barely coherent, her voice bone-dry.
"Yeah," he whispers, stroking the side of her hand with his thumb. "Yeah, I came."
"You weren't here… earlier," she croaks, closing her eyes again and grimacing. "Had a… bullet in me and you… ran off."
"The bullet was out of you by then," he retorts. "Don't be dramatic."
"Mmhmm, says the… the guy who super-sped out of my… hospital room," she deadpans, opening her eyes just enough to show him that she's rolling them before shutting them again. "Thanks for the – support. Coulda died. But I guess… blood's not for you. Friggin' sissy."
"I don't mind blood," he blurts out. "I just don't like seeing—yours."
Artemis's eyelids part much more rapidly than he expects. She gazes at him calculatingly, steely and nervy and so dissonant to the bleariness she'd possessed earlier, and he can't help gulping, realizing exactly how much of too much he's just told her.
The EKG pings fourteen times before she even blinks, and another six before she finally speaks.
"How's your eye?" she murmurs, squinting and licking her lips to take away the chapping.
Wally puts a self-conscious hand to the vague black eye (or maybe the black eyelid corner) now forming, hardly severe but still painful, courtesy of one of the mooks he'd gone up against.
"Hurts," he admits. "How's your—uh."
"Hurts," she tells him softly. He's never heard her voice sound so light, so reliant on air. "But I can sleep it off…"
"Why'd you look at me like that?" he asks her abruptly.
She raises an eyebrow.
"Just a second ago," he explains carefully. "Like you were gonna shoot me."
"Oh," she sighs, closing her eyes sleepily. He squeezes her fingers between his instinctively.
After a moment, she raises her right fist (the hospital bracelet is white and loose around her prominent wristbone). It rustles the sheets. She lifts her pinkie finger, and her index finger, and her thumb.
"Because I'm an idiot?" Wally asks cynically, but Artemis shakes her head.
"No," she whispers. "No."
She pats the space beside her clumsily. Wally, against any form of better judgment, moves to occupy it, sitting up against the propped up pillows and letting her shift so that her head is on his chest. Her hair spills down over his shirt and he tangles his fingers in it, on impulse, like they belong there, and she sighs shakily, frowning to herself.
"I don't like idiots," she murmurs into the fabric of his thermal shirt, burying her face in it and slinging an arm across his stomach. "But you're okay. You're a good kisser so that's… an advantage."
Wally uses his free arm to encircle her shoulders and toy with the hair at the nape of her neck. She hums against his chest and he's never heard something so alive, so certain, and it makes his stomach drop and twist and shudder. He strokes her cheek with his other hand and kisses the top of her head, and her shampoo, soapy and strawberry, lingers around his nostrils.
"Don't ever do this again," he tells her, quietly, half-muffled by her hair.
She presses her lips to his shirt and shakes her head indolently.
"No promises," she whispers. "Or at least… not that one."
He holds her more tightly. The EKG pings and its green light swells and ebbs and he starts to drift off even though he knows he's breaking a hundred rules.
"It means I love you," he thinks he hear her say. "I learned it… when I was a kid. But I'd never used it until you were – stupid."
He thinks her head fits far too nicely beneath his chin. He thinks a lot of things, and he thinks of holding her like this until she never bleeds again, never makes that noise he'd heard before the ambulance.
But maybe those are just dreams, after all.