Just something to hold you guys over while I work on some other stories. I also wanted to work on my symbolism and metaphors and what not so this happened. Currently, I have two multi-chap one shot series and three other multi chaps, one of which is destined to be one of the largest stories I've ever written. I have a vote for the end A/N so be sure to check it too. Please review and thanks for reading!
Consciousness hit Artemis like a punch to the gut, knocking the wind clean out of her lungs and causing her eyes to fly open. Her back arched and her chest lifted off whatever she was lying on, like a string had been tied around it and her puppeteer pulled it up with malice. Cold and unforgiving air rushed back down her throat so that she could feel it scraping its teeth on the way down. But the light was worse, fluorescent and blinding. It stung her over-dilated pupils and made them sink suddenly, so quickly that Artemis could swear she felt it. She shut her eyes just as quickly as they'd opened. The action made her acutely aware of a sharp pain at the crown of her head, ripping and stabbing where it touched whatever she lay on. She turned her head instinctively and the pain dulled slightly, but only slightly. The pain began to throb uniformly, washing through her like the tide. It originated at her wound and flowed out through her body, starting at her crown and lessening when it got to her finger tips and toes.
Artemis took a few deep breaths and counted each throb, trying to gain some veneer of control. She counted to a hundred, then slowly squinted her eyes opened again. The light stung, but it didn't slap her like the last time. She opened her eyes a little wider and let them adjust. Her vision focused in and out dizzyingly and for a paralysing moment, Artemis thought whatever head wound she'd sustained had done permanent damage. But then her eyes focused on the grey cement wall in front of her and she let out a ragged breath she didn't know she'd been holding. The throbbing remained, now accompanied by an annoying itch. She was forgetting something. Her distracted consciousness fumbled around in the darkness of the library of her mind, trying desperately to remember what she'd forgotten. But it was like trying to catch water. No matter how hard she clawed at it, the fact slipped away and danced tauntingly out of reach, only to needle at her whenever she tried to focus on something else.
Artemis decided to ignore that for now and told herself to think of something simple, something to help her hold onto her sanity. It took her a few minutes and she had to close her eyes again but she strung enough coherent words together for a start: "My name is Artemis Crock," she thought, "I am twenty two years old. I am an archer. I am a hero. I am not scared of Shadows."She repeated those words until the throbbing decreased to a dull ache and she was able to focus properly. She thought about her wound. How'd she get it? Something to do with a lightning bolt...
Then she remembered. Simple recon mission for cobra venom, an ambush lying in wait, and Kid Flash.
She was going to kill Kid Flash.
Artemis finally sat up. She did it slowly and the speed drove her a little crazy, but she couldn't overdo it. Not if she wanted to make her wound worse.
The first thing she did was check her mask. Her world lifted from her shoulders when she found it securely in place. Her identity, along with the lives of her friends and family were safe. For now.
Secondly, she checked for weapons. Unsurprisingly, everything was gone. The knives in her boots, her crossbow, her utility belt. Even her extra bowstrings were gone, but Artemis guessed it wasn't too strange. Her father had taught her the most efficient way to strangle a man with them, after all. Without any kind of weapon, Artemis felt naked. And not in a fun way.
She checked out her surroundings. The cell was roughly seven by ten feet, deeper than it was wide. The walls were cold cement, along with the floor and ceiling. The fourth wall was a series of metal bars, placed evenly apart so that there was about half a foot of space in between. The barred door was held shut by a small keypad and two guards guarding it.
The only furniture in the cell was the shiny bench Artemis was lying on, which she guessed was supposed to be a sad excuse for a bed, and a shiny metal desk and chair, the former of which had a dark brown stain on the corner that looked suspiciously like blood. The cement ground was splotched with similar stains, as were the matching cement walls. Instead of bloodstains, the ceiling held four fluorescent bulbs, held in their own cages to protect them from the prisoners below.
Honestly, Artemis was a little insulted at the lack of security. Two guards and a keypad? That's it? You'd think they'd get something more fitted for the daughter of a high ranking Shadow, who was trained since birth by him, then defied all of them, became a hero, and was trained by the Justice League's finest. And they guarded her with a keypad? All Artemis was asking for was a little dignity.
She stood carefully, but found her legs surprisingly strong. Her limbs felt strong too but Artemis knew she was running off fumes of fumes and she was going to crash soon. She'd rather crash after she'd escaped, though, so she approached the guards silently. They hadn't noticed she was conscious, and hadn't turned to face her.
It was kind of sick how Artemis could think of six different ways to snap their necks from where she stood, all without giving them the time to raise the alarm.
"Now I know why they called you Tigress." The voice startled Artemis, making her snap her arms down to her sides and take a step back, pretty much proving her own guilt in the simple actions. Both guards turned, jumping when they saw how close their 'unconscious' prisoner was. Kid Flash smirked at her. Artemis kept her face carefully blank. The speedster was alluding to her childhood in the Shadows, when she had earned the nickname from her stealth and ferocity, despite her age. Artemis hated the sound of the word.
She watched the speedster closely, ignoring the guards when they levelled their guns on her. He wore a black spandex body suit, accented by little red lightning bolts. Artemis thought the colour was a cliché for the Shadows; they all wore black. You'd think at least one would get a little creative.
Kid Flash kneeled down and slid a tray of food he'd been holding through a slit on the bars level with the floor. Kid Flash dismissed the guards for a break and Artemis settled on her game plan.
"Thank you," she said with the most vulnerable look she could muster, "I'm starving." She kneeled down next to the tray and picked up a slice of white bread that sat there. She bit it after sending a grateful look to Kid Flash, whose expression was border lining pity with a twinge of regret. Artemis took another ravenous bite of her bread. She wasn't worried about being poisoned; if they wanted her dead, she'd be dead by now.
Once she was sure she had Kid Flash's full attention, Artemis took a few more bites of bread before she faked a wince, placing a hand on the back of her head near her real injury. The archer went all out: she winced, flew a hand to the back of her head, shut her eyes tightly, and clenched her teeth. Kid Flash fell for it hook, line, and sinker.
He kneeled in front of her, "I'm really sorry about that," he said, sounding genuine, "The doc checked it out and said you didn't have a concussion. You've only been out a couple hours too, so that's a good sign."
Artemis thought that was interesting. If the doctor checked it out, that must've meant that she had information that she wanted. If she was truly hurt, she would've been killed hours ago. They were after something specific, a secret that Artemis kept. Unsurprising, since her induction into the JLA was expected any day now, but Artemis still wondered why they chose her of all people.
Artemis winced again, "I think I need the bathroom." She half whispered her words and the line of worry between Kid Flash's eyebrows increased in depth.
The young speedster nodded quickly, pulling cuffs from the guard's table behind him. He reached through the bars to fasten them around her wrists gently. "Stay there, okay?" He said, and she nodded carefully. Artemis made a point to look at the floor while he was typing in the code to make him think she was avoiding knowing it. But, she did listen very closely to the change in tones with each number.
Kid Flash came in and gripped her upper arm gently, helping her to her feet. He led her out of her cell and down the hall, moving slowly, as if she was going to break if they moved too quickly. Artemis was sure to make herself a bit wobbly.
When Artemis was still a teenager, Black Canary used to take all the girls from the team twice a month. During these little meetings, she'd teach them the most valuable lesson that any female superhero could possess: using their sex to their advantage. All the girls learned how to play any part they wanted, even Artemis, who'd always been a terrible liar.
As they walked, Artemis silently assessed the speedster next to her. He was new to the Shadows, but not to the crime fighting scene. He'd been an individual vigilante for a while, helping those who needed it, then he just disappeared. When he reappeared, he'd gone bad, if the costume change from bright yellow to black was any indication. Kid Flash sometimes worked under Reverse Flash, but not nearly as often as one might think due to his name. Artemis had only met him twice in battle before and both times he was an arrogant, cocky kid who ran too fast and stopped too late. That Kid Flash had fought her before he knocked her out, but being kidnapped was her fault, really. Artemis had underestimated the speedster's speed, which was just plain stupid now that she thought about it. He'd somehow gotten the upper hand and straddled her, though Artemis could've sworn he apologized before slamming her head into the cement floor of the warehouse. But that could just be something her mind made up, of course.
Artemis glanced out of the corner of her eye at Kid Flash, who kept sending her worried glances. Artemis had to bite back a smile. She was playing this kid like a fiddle, and she didn't feel the least bit guilty about it. He was a Shadow, newbie or not, and Artemis had a bit of a vendetta against the Shadows.
Plus, he'd slammed her head into a cement floor. And called her 'babe'. They were far from even.
She stumbled purposely and Kid Flash caught her with the kind of reflexes she'd expect from a speedster. But he was a lot more gentle than she guessed he'd be, one arm on her forearm and the other on her waist. He held her against his side with such temperateness that you'd expect Artemis to shatter if he didn't. It irritated the archer.
"You alright?" His mouth forced out the words about as quickly as his reflexes worked, the words coming together and becoming one. It was a miracle Artemis understood him at all.
She kept her eyes half lidded and lazy, "Sorry. Just...got a bit dizzy." Kid Flash's grip tightened slightly.
"That bathroom's just up ahead, beautiful. You think you can make it?" Artemis bit back a comment on the nickname and a snarky 'I think I'll manage'. Instead, she nodded slowly, not trusting herself to speak.
He didn't notice her slip the security card from his belt to her pocket.
Kid Flash helped her to the bathroom, then apologized for not being able to take the cuffs off. Artemis made her pathetic little response and shuffled into the bathroom, the door closing behind her. The moment it did, Artemis stood straighter and opened her eyes fully, their spark returning on its own accord. She examined her surroundings for anything useful.
The bathroom was small and functional. There was three toilet stalls, all doors open, along with three sinks, a shiny paper towel dispenser Artemis could see her reflection in, and a small, overflowing trash can. The fluorescent lights also had a cage, like the ones back in her cell, and there was a clock above the sinks. Artemis stared at the latter object for a moment before she climbed carefully onto the middle sink and took it down.
She climbed back down and set the clock on the edge of the sink. Artemis cast a look towards the door before turning on all the sinks and positioning her fists above the clock face. She glanced at the door again then back at the clock. Artemis slammed her hands down, shattering the clock cover. Any noise it created was drowned out by the water from the sinks.
Artemis was lucky that the clock face was protected by plastic instead of glass for two reasons: one, it wasn't as loud as shattering glass would've been and two, she didn't rip the skin on her hands to shreds.
Artemis took another wary look back at the door. She left the sinks running while she pulled a hand off the clock and began to pick the lock on her cuffs. It took her a minute, but she finally got it after a fair bit of mental swearing. The crash of the cuffs hitting the sink was muffled by the sinks, but not nearly as much as she would've liked. Kid Flash knocked and Artemis hurriedly turned off all the sinks then strode towards the middle stall. Kid Flash knocked again.
"You okay in there, beautiful?" Again with the nickname. Artemis rolled her eyes as she kneeled in front of the toilet, hiding her hands and cuffs with her torso.
"C-Come in," she said weakly. The door creaked open and Artemis got ready. Kid Flash walked into the handicapped stall and placed a hand on her shoulder.
It took Artemis a split second to whirl around and snap one cuff on Kid Flash and one on the bar attached to the stall wall. It took Kid Flash twice as long to realize what happened, but Artemis was already backing away, well out of his reach.
Artemis smiled wickedly at his confounded expression. Then, she dropped her smile and batted her eyelashes, "Thank you so much for your help. I couldn't have done it without a big, strong man like you." Artemis sent him another smile and left before his words could choke through his surprise, leaving him handcuffed to the toilet stall.
From there, Artemis' plan was simple. She left the bathroom, chose a direction, and ran. She didn't even pause at turns or corners, she just kept running, memorizing landmarks like fire hoses and scuffs on the wall as she went. The alarm went off after her third left and she was cornered by six guards by her fourth.
Artemis took down three before they finally overpowered her. One of them slapped a baton across her shoulder blades and forced her to tumble, still finding the time to make a choice remark about his mother as she went. She earned a few more hits from that.
They didn't give her the chance to stand and dragged her all the way back to her cell with an array of new bruises, a bloody nose, and a split lip. Two guards dumped her in the back of her cell, one kicking her in the gut for good measure, then they searched her. They found the key card and smacked her for it.
Her other nostril bled when one of them got too handsy and she fought back.
After that little stunt, they left three guards to watch her. At first, they all stared at her like she was a monkey in the zoo, willing her to do something exciting; but instead of shooting pictures, they'd be shooting bullets. When all she did was stare back at them for fifteen minutes, occasionally wiping at the dripping blood from her face, one produced a deck of cards and they started playing.
The tray of food was still there, so Artemis brought it to the desk. She caught her reflection in the shiny steel of the desk and wiped at the running blood impatiently before picking up a little metal cup and drinking the water from it slowly.
Honestly, Artemis hadn't expected that attempt to work. She had no idea how to navigate the compound and even if by some miracle she did get out, she could be in the middle of a desert somewhere, or somewhere that she'd freeze in an hour in her uniform. Artemis wanted to get a feel for the hideout so she could plan her actual escape for later. Sure, she knew they'd tighten security after that stint, but she wasn't too worried about that. They had her guarded by a keypad. They were going to have to do light years better than that if they wanted to keep her caged.
Kid Flash came a while later. Her nose had stopped bleeding but her lip hadn't and blood pretty much covered the lower half of her face from a combination of wiping and smearing. It looked worse than it was.
Kid Flash dismissed the guards and sat on a chair facing her. Artemis studied him, then spoke first.
"So why am I here, anyway? What's the point?"
Kid Flash watched her face for a moment before saying, "You think you might be here for a ransom, don't you?" He let out a cold laugh, so unlike the tone earlier. Artemis didn't like how he could just switch between kind and cruel so easy; it made her wary. "Don't flatter yourself," he said.
Artemis stood a little straighter. "Then why am I still alive?"
He leaned back in his chair, "The Shadows don't take kindly to deserters."
Artemis knew that, obviously, but they'd had over ten years to extract their revenge. And they checked her for a concussion. They wanted information. Information that they weren't going to get. Instead of letting Kid Flash know how much she did, she said, "Huh. Here I was waiting for my retirement fruit basket." She tilted her head at him, continuing before he could retort, "Who're you, anyway? I know your name. I know you don't know how to stop to save your life." He bristled. "I don't know where you fit in with all this."
"I'm the Shadow's future." He didn't sound proud of it, which threw Artemis off a little. Usually, the baby Shadows were more full of themselves than... well, anyone Artemis had ever met before. She snorted and he glared. "What?"
Artemis crossed her arms and shrugged, "You're my replacement? I'm a little offended, honestly."
"Why?" He demanded, shooting up from his chair.
"I had you wrapped around my finger and handcuffed to a toilet in fifteen minutes tops."
"I was not wrapped around your finger!" Unfortunately for him, he was so angry that when he took a step forward he managed to somehow trip over himself in his fury. He face planted and Artemis watched him calmly.
"Uh-huh," she said after a moment. "Goodnight, Flash Boy," she turned and laid on the sad excuse for a bed. She turned away from him, closing her eyes.
The second day began with Artemis being pulled from sleep by the soreness of her shoulders and a tight feeling on her mouth. She opened her eyes and found the cement wall, seeing that she was in the same position as the previous night.
She reached up slowly and felt her lips, finding dried and crusted blood there. She swiped it away, disturbing whatever clot had been created over her split lip while she slept. Her hand was smeared with a new bright red smear on top of the copper stains from the night previous. Artemis made a mental note not to fall asleep with a bleeding lip again.
It looked like Artemis had committed a very messy murder, but she didn't really care. Her mask felt itchy and tight on her face, the ends crusted from sweat and blood. It scratched her cheeks irritatingly. The rest of her uniform was more or less the same but there was no way any of it was coming off. Oliver had once told her that her identity was her most precious secret and Artemis believed him. As far as she knew, they didn't know her true identity and she planned on keeping it that way.
Artemis sat up slowly, feeling the full extent of the beating she'd taken the night before. The bench hadn't helped at all and Artemis almost winced.
"Morning," it wasn't the voice that surprised her, but the person that it belonged to. Kid Flash was back, arrogant looking as ever, and a breakfast tray sat just inside her cell by the hole in the bars. Artemis stayed where she was.
She'd remembered something about him last night, just before she'd fallen into an uneasy sleep: Kid Flash liked to talk. He was a chatter box. His mouth never stopped, even when fighting. Before he'd knocked her out, he'd showered her with nauseating pick up lines and annoying little quips. The worst part was Artemis had actually bantered with the kid. She mentally rolled her eyes at herself, then devised a new strategy. So long as he talked, she wouldn't. It was simple, but sure to be effective.
"You look like you belong in Carrie," Kid Flash remarked casually. Artemis wiped impatiently at the trickle of blood that was slipping out of her lip and down her chin. Kid Flash gestured to the food, "I brought you breakfast." Artemis laid back down and rolled over away from him. "So, you're pissed at me. I get-" She rolled back over and stood, walked to the front of the cell, picked up the tray, and walked over to the desk. Artemis sipped the water and ate some of the brown mush she guessed was supposed to be oatmeal.
Four guards came from down the hall and stopped outside her cell while she was eating and she looked over expectantly at them. Kid Flash stood and took some handcuffs from off the table, along with a set of keys.
"Bathroom break," he said. Artemis looked between all of them then stood and walked to the front of the cell. Kid Flash reached through the bars and cuffed her. She didn't resist. They opened the door and two of the four guards already had their guns trained on her.
Kid Flash went first down the hall, then two guards, then her, then the last two guards. They went to the same bathroom as before.
The guards waited outside but Kid Flash followed her in. She ignored him while he leaned against the wall next to the door and she went to the bathroom. When she came out, she caught her reflection in the small mirror above the sink. It was worse than she'd expected. The blood coated her entire lower face, there were more bruises and cuts than she'd originally imagined, and there were flecks of blood all over her cowl. Artemis turned the water to as hot as it would go and washed off her arms and wrist guards, scraping at the dirt and filth with her short nails. She washed under her finger nails and the stains on her shirt. She felt Kid Flash's eyes and met them in the mirror. He looked at the floor. Artemis rolled her eyes. She cleaned her chin, face, neck, and her cowl. She wanted to take it off to see if she had any further injuries, but she didn't dare, not with the possibility of cameras and Kid Flash in the room.
Artemis almost felt bad for what she did next.
She leaned forward and pretended to study her reflection. Really, she was watching Kid Flash out of the corner of her eye. She turned around and nodded at the speedster, who returned her nod and opened the door. She walked over to him and opened her mouth like she was about to say something. Then, she kicked him across the jaw and he fell, door closing behind him. Artemis stepped forward into the hall and took down with guards with a foot to the stomach then a foot to the groin. She kicked away the third's gun and was halfway down the hall by the time the fourth was aware what was happening.
If four guards was dignified then taking them down with her hands tied must've been a least a little impressive. Then again, Artemis was a pretty impressive individual.
She didn't make it to the first corner by the time Kid Flash recovered and caught her. Artemis had underestimated his speed. Again. Just like she had the night they caught her. She bit her upper lip in annoyance. Kid Flash didn't even give her a chance to fight back, hoisting her up over his shoulder like she was nothing. He carried her like that all the way back to her cell, ignoring her kicks and swears.
Kid Flash dropped her on her bench then zipped out before she could even swing. Artemis glared, crossing her arms and looking at the wall.
The bruise on his chin was a lovely shade of purple.
Days three, four, and five passed in pretty much the same way: in silence and defiance. Artemis attempted an escape each day. Each failed escape-wise, but she learned a great deal about the building. She slowly began building a mental map of the compound. There was a downside, however. She always gained another security measure with each attempt. It was proving to become costly.
On the third day, she earned ankle shackles and a scheduled time for when she went to the bathroom. She was assigned five guards.
On the fourth day, she lifted the keys to her shackles off a guard and earned a finger print scanner on the cuffs, along with a hell of a shiner. When she figured out how to fake a finger print on the fifth day, she got hit with a baton so hard that the skin on her upper arm split.
Artemis thought it was a little strange how the guards always waited for Kid Flash to leave before they hit her.
Not only did Artemis' escape attempts continue, but so did her silence. Kid Flash's speech, on the other hand, never stopped. An endless stream of mundane questions, jokes, and riddles were always rolling off his tongue. Things like how old she was, if her hair was dyed, and the age old 'why did the chicken cross the road'? (Because the Joker wanted to "carve that bird"). He continued on and on for hours, whether she acknowledged him or not.
Sometimes, Artemis would start doing something while he was mid sentence. Like a round of push ups or going for a nap but he just continued on, completely undeterred. Artemis almost admired his tenacity.
He was persistent, but she was stubborn. It wasn't a good combination.
As annoying as he was, Kid Flash wasn't like the others. He was always there from the moment she woke up to after she went to sleep, and always with a smile. It unnerved her, how kind he could be. His anger from her trick dissipated the very day she'd pulled it and now he was all smiles and jokes and laughter. He brought her meals everyday and always treated her with respect. He didn't hit her for no reason like the other guards. In fact, he hadn't hit her since he first captured her. He kept the guards from beating her senseless whenever she didn't respond to them and he never spoke to her crudely. Kid Flash didn't act like any Shadow Artemis had ever met before.
Artemis honestly would've preferred the villain who slammed her head into concrete. Anger was trustworthy; it was the kindness that threw her off and put her on edge.
She didn't attempt an escape on the sixth day, surprising everyone. But, she was caught standing over an unconscious guard who'd tried to fondle her breast. (He had it coming). Artemis was lucky that it was Kid Flash who found her; she was twice as lucky that he'd seen what the guard had done. The guard, who'd been on rotation outside her cell since she first arrived, was suddenly gone.
Briefly, Artemis wondered what happened to him.
On the seventh day and the sixth escape, Kid Flash returned her to her cell. She was sure he was only there because he was the only one fast enough to catch her without sustaining any serious injury.
At least, she was sure until he said, "Careful, Artemis. One of these days, you'll be caught as someone who's not as nice as me." And Artemis wasn't as sure about her assumption as she'd been before.
On day eight, Artemis broke her silence.
"Why'd you draw the short straw?" Kid Flash's head snapped up from the paper he'd been reading out loud to her (Artemis hadn't been listening). They refused to give her the paper to read for herself in fear that she might somehow make a weapon out of it. Which, admittedly, she probably could if she really tried.
Kid Flash looked completely surprised that she had spoken at all and just stared at her. Artemis, who was seated on her bench, crossed her arms and leaned against the wall.
"I said, why'd you draw the short straw? You're always here. I'm not exactly exciting."
"Says the girl who's escaped from her cell six times in eight days." He grinned, "And now, you're just trying to get rid of me."
Alright, maybe he was a little right there.
"Don't flatter yourself."
"Too late." Artemis huffed and rolled her eyes at him. This was why she kept silent for seven days.
"What time is it?" She said instead. The speedster's smile dropped.
"You aren't planning another escape, are you?"
It was her turn to avoid the question. "Why am I not dead yet? Or at least tortured? I've been here for eight days."
Kid Flash seemed uneasy, "Honestly? I don't know. You've pissed them off enough."
Artemis raised an eyebrow, "You don't expect me to just sit here like some good little prisoner, do you?"
He laughed, "No, not really. After everything I've heard about you, I was a little surprised at how you were acting when you first woke up. I thought I hit you too hard." His expression became serious. "I am sorry about that. Really."
Artemis shrugged. "I would've done the same."
Day nine brought routine and routine brought another escape.
Artemis took the whole day to trick Kid Flash into drinking as much water as she could charm into him (five bottles) until he finally went to the bathroom about an hour before lights out. From there, it was easy to rile up the guards.
"Nice shiner," she said to one. She'd given it to him the day before. "Does it hurt? I know you think it was a cheap shot but you were hitting me with a baton. Then again, it was four against one and you hit like a four year old. I guess it was even." She leaned on the bars to look at the second guard (two guards watched her while she was in her cell - four plus Kid Flash escorted her to the bathroom). His arm was in a cast. "I'm not sorry about that either. You wound up too far bar and made it easy for me to do that. You guys are in serious need of some fighting lessons. I'd be happy to help, but I don't like to waste my time on lost causes." One of the guards pushed up his sleeves in what Artemis was sure was supposed to be some kind of display of testosterone but they both remained where they were. They just needed one last push. "You'd both be much better at hand to hand combat if you quit trying to protect your dicks all the time. Buy a cup or something. I'm sure they'll have extra extra small in the kid's aisle." Nothing pissed off men more than insulting their masculinity.
The guard who'd pushed his sleeves up opened her cage while the other pulled out his baton, all before she'd even finished her sentence. She backed up and let them come to her. One swung his baton and she dropped to a knee, sweeping his feet out from under him with ease. Then she fell back on her hands, kicking the second in the chest. Artemis landed like a cat and sprinted past the guards, pulling the automatically locking door shut behind her.
She ran in the opposite direction that Kid Flash had gone. The archer sprinted in the direction she memorized from a mixture of escapes and conversations between guards when they thought she wasn't listening.
Artemis skidded to a stop when she found her way blocked by a blue skinned man, who somehow managed to smile and glare at the same time when he saw her. Artemis bit the inside of her cheek with annoyance. She didn't have time for this.
"Still pissed about Belgium?" She had to dive out of the way and deal with slamming into the hall wall when an icicle came flying at her. She kicked the next one then dodged the one after that. Artemis was ready for the fourth. She kicked it up as it flew past and snatched it midair. Artemis whirled around from momentum and held the sharp icicle ready.
"You've been practicing," Icicle Junior said. He almost sounded impressed.
"Wish I could say the same for you, Cam," Artemis snapped before charging him. Now was when she wished she had her bow most; she hated hand to hand combat with him, always had. It wasn't that he was better than her, which he definitely was not, but Icicle Junior had the ability to make hard layers of ice on his skin, making every blow feel like one received.
Icicle Junior managed to slap her across the face with the back of his hand, knocking her off balance and forcing her to the floor. He grabbed her upper arm before she could even think to recover, hauling her up again so he could tighten his death grip. Her skin went impossibly cold.
Artemis was sure that she'd never felt real pain before, or true terror. Her arm, where he gripped it, had become hard, like ice. And Artemis could feel it. It became tight and fragile and cold. Her entire arm went stiff, all in the space of three seconds. Artemis cried out involuntarily and her childhood friend turned enemy lifted her up closer to his face.
"I've been practicing, just not my aim."
"What happened to you?" Artemis demanded, breathing with forced control through her teeth.
"Are you finally scared of me?" Cam had always been jealous of her strength and her bravery. She'd left the Shadows and all that accompanied it behind. Including him. Cam hated her for it, and wanted nothing more than for him to fear him. It was as sadistic as it sounds.
"I'll be scared of you," Artemis snarled through his abuse, forcing her pain into seething anger. It wasn't difficult. "The day that I miss a target. And that goes for all Shadows." His grip tightened and Artemis cried out again, despite her best efforts not to.
"What's going on?" Icicle Junior, momentarily distracted, loosened his grip on his former friend. Artemis took the chance and karate chopped him in the neck with her free hand. He dropped her in his surprise with a yelp and Artemis landed ungracefully on her backside, shooting backwards on the floor and holding her arm.
Kid Flash glared at Icicle Junior, his fists clenched. "Well?" He snapped. Icicle Junior rubbed the spot where Artemis had struck him and glared at her before answering the speedster.
"I was just on my way to speak with Artemis when she came running down the hall. Better watch your prisoners more closely, Kid." His usually frigid tone was even colder than normal and reminded Artemis of the tundra and a mission gone wrong. It made Artemis want to kick him. So she did.
Kid Flash opened his mouth to retort to Icicle Junior's comment but Artemis had already shot her foot out, slamming it into his hip and knocking him off balance, clean off his feet. The Shadow fell next to her and Artemis shot back quickly, not keen on him grabbing anymore of her limbs to play popsicle with. She slammed into Kid Flash's shins in her hurry to put distance between her and Junior. Before she could get away from him, he took her uninjured arm and pulled her up, whirling her around and snapping cuffs on her in an instant. Artemis didn't allow herself to wince when his hand brushed her left tricep. Kid Flash escorted her away before Icicle Junior could recover.
Artemis' legs shook as they walked back in silence. She tried to focus on moving the fingers of her left hand, a task that quickly became difficult and painful, but her mind was distracted by cynical thoughts. All she could think about was if she lost her arm. She'd never be able to use her bow again. It was like she'd never be able to walk again, or that she'd never be able to speak again. Archery and heroing were her life; taking them away were sure to have devastating effects on Artemis. It would break her lion heart.
Artemis' knees buckled as everything hit her at once. The disgusting brown mush that'd she'd been eating for nine days; how it seemed to be taking energy instead of giving it. The lack of sleep, her many injuries, the constant, supreme worry that her identity would be compromised and her family and friends would pay the price. The simple fact that she was still wearing the bloodstained clothes that she'd donned over a week ago was taking its toll. She knew her murder was going to come any day now, which didn't help matters much. Especially since she knew she'd go through hours of endless torture before they did it. Artemis was terrified; anyone who wouldn't be in her situation was a fool.
Her knees gave out from under her and she fell to them, the cement unforgiving against her bare knees where her pants were ripped and torn. Her breath was ragged and erratic from trying not to cry. Kid Flash dropped to his knees next to her, but she ignored him, even as he began to ask questions she couldn't hear over the pounding in her head.
Artemis closed her eyes slowly and suddenly understood that this was the torture, this waiting. It was psychological and worse than any physical pain she could imagine; she would've admired it if she wasn't so exhausted.
Artemis had no intention of letting the Shadows win, whatsoever. She'd never let them, so long as she could help it. That's why she propped one thousand pound knee up, then the other. She walked with every weight in the universe on her shoulders, leaving Kid Flash kneeling in confusion. She forced herself to move forward.
After a moment Kid Flash recovered and followed, saying things that Artemis still couldn't hear. She swallowed her tears and felt them go with a fight. The archer took a deep breath.
When they got to her cell, Kid Flash opened the door for her. Then he followed her inside.
"What?" She asked, a bit shortly.
"Can I see your arm?" She looked down to see where Icicle Junior had gripped it. There was a black handprint around her tricep. She could no longer move her fingers, not counting a stiff twitch. Artemis nodded and Kid Flash led them both to the bench.
"What'd he do to me?" Artemis asked, scared of the answer.
"I don't know for sure, but I think he's figured out how to freeze water in the skin and blood. He can block veins like that." He examined her arm, "I've seen him do worse on people. I think he held back."
"Yeah," Kid Flash's fingers brushed her arm, feather light, "This is going to feel weird, alright?" Artemis nodded and Kid Flash pressed his unusually warm fingers on the worst of it. Then, he began to vibrate them. Artemis gasped in surprise before she drew in a sharp breath as this beautiful, sore warmth spread through her arm, moving with relief and pinpricks of pain.
"Sorry," Kid Flash said quietly as his fingers worked up and down her arm, massaging feeling back into it. He finished fifteen minutes later, her arm no longer so much as tingling with pain. Artemis looked up to thank him, but he was already out of the cell. He was back literally in seconds, holding a stack of think grey blankets.
"These are yours." He said somewhat dumbly. "I mean. They aren't yours they belong to the Shadows. But I got them. For you. Because you looked cold last night when I was on watch. Not that I was watching you or anything. Well, I mean, I was but I wasn't watching you like a creep. And yeah." He thrust the blankets towards her. "Blankets." Artemis took them before he could pull his foot out of his mouth.
"Thank you," she said sincerely, "For everything."
"Sure," Kid Flash said, nodding. He turned and left the cell, locking it. He turned back to face her. "Goodnight, Artemis."
"Goodnight, Kid Flash." It was the first time she hadn't spat his name or said it with a thick coat of mockery. She half hoped he noticed.
Artemis laid on her bench after lying a few of the blankets for some form of padding. She kicked off her boots and pulled the remaining blankets over her. The lights in her cell and the hall had turned off immediately following for lights out and Artemis turned over to look at Kid Flash.
He was seated in a chair right at the bars, reading a magazine. The only light came from directly above him, bathing him in soft orange light as opposed to the usual fluorescent white.
As Artemis' eyes drifted shut, she found herself hoping that the Shadows would think her will was broken when, in reality, she was just getting started.
While the ninth day ended with stubborn determination, the tenth started with fury. Artemis woke with clenched teeth and balled fists, nails digging into her palm so hard that they very nearly drew blood. The dark bags under Artemis' eyes were lessened slightly (it was amazing, what sleeping with warmth could do) but that only made both of her black eyes (one courtesy of Icicle Junior from the previous evening) more prominent. Artemis could see it in her distorted reflection in the desk. At least the handprint on her arm had faded; last night, it had been black with splotches of her skin colour throughout. Now it was the colour of the skin of a plum, dark purple and healing.
But the injuries weren't the reason why Artemis was angry. Artemis was used to bruises, she was always covered in them from her nightly activities. (A small price to pay for being without super powers in the hero business.) She was angry because they almost had her last night, after only nine days. Nine days.
Plus, Icicle Junior was slithering around there somewhere. He knew her civilian identity and if Icicle Junior was there, her father and sister could be too. That would just open up a whole other can of worms. Not to mention the numerous villains that were lurking around every corner, the majority of which she'd pissed off in one way or another. Like Bane or Ra's Al Ghul himself - the former of which she high jacked his jumbo juice tubes and the latter of which she personally kicked in the face last time she saw them.
Mostly, she was angry about showing weakness.
Artemis decided to choose a new game. She picked out all the peas from her brown mush food and began to flick them at her guard from the desk, which was only a foot or two from the front bars. She never missed, always hitting him in either the chest or forehead, depending on where she aimed.
Yeah, she was trying to pick a fight. Unfortunately for her, she seemed to pick the only guard in the entire compound that didn't have a temper.
When a pea bounced off his nose and he didn't so much as blink, Artemis chose a new fight. With one pea to the ear, the second guard looked like he was out for blood. Hers, specifically. Artemis walked up to the front and leaned on all the bars. She gripped one in one hand and flicked a pea at him off her thumb with the other. Then she smiled sweetly. The guard took a step forward but the first stopped him with an arm across his chest.
"Remember what she did to Riley?" He said in a gruff voice. The second glared at him, then back to her.
"Riley's an idiot."
"She broke two of his ribs."
They both looked at Artemis, sizing her up. "He got a little handsy when he was handcuffing my hands behind my back," she said honestly.
"Look at her. She's just a girl, barely up to my shoulder. Besides, there's two of us. She can't take both of us at once."
"Yes she can." Both guards and their prisoner looked to see it was Kid Flash who spoke. He put her lunch tray on the floor and slid it through the gap in the bars then turned back to the guards, "She can take you and more. Trust me." He turned back to Artemis, who hadn't moved. "Trying to escape again?"
Kid Flash sighed a tired sigh, though his lips were quirked slightly, "Don't you have anything better to do than rile up my guards?"
Artemis made a point of looking around her empty cell before looking back at the speedster. "Nope," she popped the 'p'.
The eleventh day brought the most excitement Artemis had seen since before she arrived (not counting her many escape attempts): Kid Flash brought her a chess set.
He set up the board on a stool outside of the bars and sat on the opposite side. Artemis dragged her chair over and sat up against the bars so she could reach her hand through to make her move.
"Why chess of all games?" Artemis asked as she moved a pawn forward. Kid Flash considered her move while he answered.
"There are two ways to play chess; whichever you choose says a lot about you."
"Does it?" Kid Flash hummed his affirmation. "What are they then?"
Kid Flash moved his rook. "Brute force or slow strategy."
Artemis smiled. "I prefer a bit of both." She reached forward and moved her knight, using it to tip over his king. "Checkmate."
Artemis beat him three more times and Kid Flash got her once before he was called away. When one of the guards came forward to collect the board and its pieces, Artemis slinked back to her bench. The guard didn't notice the missing white knight.
By the twelfth day, Artemis had figured out how to estimate time well enough to make a kind of routine. Kid Flash always arrived before her and since Artemis was an early riser and getting even less sleep than usual, she guessed she woke around four. After a while, Kid Flash would go down the left hallway, towards the bathroom, and would come back about eight minutes later with her breakfast at around five. After eating, she would do her usual two hour workout, slightly modified to what resources she had, then she would eat her breakfast. Her morning bathroom break was at seven thirty and she was allowed fifteen minutes; two minutes for walking there, two minutes for walking back, and eleven total for being inside. There was a guard change immediately following her return to her cell. She had no way of telling time after that until noon when there was another guard change that brought her lunch, and a third at four. Then dinner at six, bathroom break by seven, and lights out at eleven. Then Artemis would pretend to sleep, Kid Flash would leave, and she'd plan her next escape. The real one.
She'd rehearse everything she knew about the compound: it was one level with three basements, according to the elevator. She was on the lowest basement: the detention block. Artemis knew that the level she was one also had some kind of cafeteria in the far left side (she didn't know North or South way down there) and the farthest right were the elevators. She hadn't explored beyond that except for the second basement, which had exactly the same floor plan. If she was lucky, the other floors would mirror them too. Then she might have a chance.
Artemis had figured out where they were geographically by the fourth day, despite the efforts of the Shadows. She knew what time, roughly, she was kidnapped at. She also knew how long she was knocked out for and, assuming that they took the same helicopter that the Shadows arrived in the warehouse she was kidnapped at and knowing the team wouldn't have had a chance to put up a chase due to their lack of nearby aviation device, she could guess how long it took it to get there. Factoring in the average speed and that it was a windless night, Artemis was able to estimate the distance travelled and a radius from that. The biggest help, though, was the papers. Guards often brought papers to read while watching her, and Kid Flash would occasionally read them to her, but they always brought multiple papers from more than one city: The Las Vegas Sun, The Seattle Times, The New York Times, The Dallas Morning News, and The San Francisco Examiner. Two days in a row, all of them were dotted with water. On the second day, she 'tripped' and knocked over the paper. When she was shoved down to pick them up, she read the weather on as many as she could. She didn't see Las Vegas or Dallas, but Artemis could hardly see either of them being plagued by rain storms. Out of the three that she did see, only one was in the midst of a series of rain storms: Artemis was somewhere outside San Francisco.
Artemis was a lot less ignorant than she let the guards believe.
The thirteenth day found Artemis in the bathroom, as scheduled. She was sweaty from her strenuous workout and it didn't matter that she stunk; her clothes smelled worse. Her clothes were stiff and stained with sweat and blood. Her cowl was the worst, though, by far. She could always smell the old blood on it no matter how much she scrubbed. Artemis was always cold; her costume was designed for movement and flexibility, not warmth. Her pants were ripped in the knees and a few places in her thighs and her shirt was ripped up the side. Both had gotten tight from days of wear. Her hair wasn't as greasy as it could've been but she could rinse it quickly during bathroom breaks, something she wouldn't have done if her hair was still as long as it used to be. She was suddenly grateful she'd cut it to her shoulders a few months back.
These were the reasons why Artemis spent most of her bathroom time trying to clean herself up a bit. It had absolutely nothing to do with aesthetics.
Kid Flash always waited inside the bathroom to guard her, always leaned against the wall next to the door with his arms crossed. He looked casual but Artemis knew it took only a second for him to be ready to jump into action. More than once, she'd caught him staring at her. But she was more or less used to his stares by now; he studied her constantly, like she was a question and if he looked closely enough, he'd find her answer. Artemis wasn't sure what answer he searching for but she half hoped he'd find it soon.
Artemis couldn't really talk either, though. She also had a tendency to study the speedster closely. She marveled at how he seemed to hum with energy at all times, and how his body radiated warmth whenever he was close. She knew it had something to do with his constant eating, which she guessed had something to do with his inner organs, possibly his metabolism or his heart. It all related back to his speed. Artemis had heard rumors about how he achieved it and found herself somewhat begrudgingly believing it.
Today was no exception to Kid Flash's visual detection. Artemis purposely caught his eye in the mirror when trying to get some of the hardened blood tracks off her arm (another tussel with the guards) and held his eye, daring him to acknowledge her back. Instead of turning away with embarrassment like he usually did, he spoke.
"I might be able to get you some new clothes. If you want them."
Artemis' mind went immediately on the defensive. Why would he offer that? Maybe he was trying to trick her out of her mask. "I'm fine," she said, dropping her hand.
"I'll get you a mask too, " he said, "You won't have to worry about your identity."
Artemis bristled. She didn't like that; how he could just read her mind. It put her on edge.
The phrase "Stockhom syndrome" crossed her mind too, and not for the first time. What if all of this was just some elaborate trick, trying to wear down her will to steal her sanity? What if all of this was palanned? What if it was all a game of good cop bad cop? But, after Icicle Junior, Artemis began believing it less and less. She even began to disregard it in a few respects. Every guard, every villain who has come to gawk at one of the only people to ever escappe the Shadows was cruel and be abusive to her, not that she expected any less. They would jeer at her from outside of her cell and occasionally venture inside it, only to be met with a fight that hadn't expected and didn't win. But Artemis noticed they never did this when Kid Flash was around. In fact, Kid Flash had a habit of stopping any fights or jokes that came her way, to Artemis' annoyance. And then there was the fact that he never hurt her himself, besides the whole concrete thing. But that was under orders and he had no idea who he was dealing with at the time.
Artemis had a feeling that Kid Flash didn't belong with these people, he didn't have any friends that she'd seen and none of the guards respected him, always mocking him when he wasn't around. As a result, Artemis found herself continuously asking herself how someone like him could become a Shadow.
Artemis slowed her scrubbing and watched him closely in the mirror. His posture was relaxed against the wall, arms and legs crossed at the ankle. He seemed completely at ease, but Artemis could read his little tells from hours of practice. His toes kept curling and uncurling and his eyes were determined, like he was forcing himself to look at her. Artemis waited a moment longer after making her decision, maybe to torture him a little, then she said, "Alright."
He left while she was eating dinner later that evening and came back in time to take her to the bathroom with the other guards. The clothes he'd brought weren't anything special; black underwear and sports bra, white tank top, and a large dark red t shirt and pants that resembled nursing scrubs. The shirt declared her a prisoner in big black letters across the chest, the back of the left leg of the pants doing the same. On top of the clothing was a simple domino mask, connected around the back by stretchy string.
Artemis went into the stall and put on the mask first, sliding it under her cowl and securing it in place before pulling her cowl off entirely. It was like taking off a bandage after having it on for too long. Cold air hit the skin on her face, which felt tight from sweat and dirt.
She changed the rest of her clothing quickly. As she pulled off her shirt, it was so stiff from sweat, dirt, and blood that it ripped when she wiggled out of it. Lastly, she flushed the toilet to cover up the sound of her ripping the rest of her shirt so she had a long strip of fabric. She tied it around her torso, just under her breasts, to hold up her white knight. The position combined with the looseness of her shirt hid it well.
Her combat boots looked a little silly with the getup she was wearing, but there was no way she was going to part with them. Not voluntarily, anyways.
The fourteenth night brought a guest.
It was maybe about an hour after lights out, and Artemis was still awake. She heard the footsteps approaching and recognized the quiet pattern. She slipped out of bed silently as he approached and stepped back into the shadows of her cell.
After lights out, there was only one light on and that was directly outside of the bars. It only illuminated a small circle of light and left Artemis in complete darkness. Artemis didn't think it was very well planned on the Shadows' part.
"Artemis?" Icicle Junior said through the bars. He didn't touch the bars but came as close as he could without, scanning the pitch black cage with eyes made of ice. "'Mis? Are you in there?"
"'Mis? We're back to nicknames now, Cam?" Artemis stepped out of the shadows to the right of him, not two feet away. She spat the last word like an insult and he seemed to take it like one.
Icicle Junior didn't seem surprised at her appearance, but Artemis didn't miss the way he leaned back, away from the bars. "You aren't helping yourself with all those escape attempts, 'Mis. You're really starting to piss a lot of high up people right off."
"And now you're worried about my safety?" Artemis crossed her arms, putting his handprint that was still on her arm on display. "You tried to freeze my arm and maim me a few days ago."
Icicle Junior's face darkened in the already low light, "You threw me in prison."
"You killed two men and a woman, two of which were unarmed and not a threat, in cold blood."
Cam's laugh was cold and humorless, "Ironic, considering who that's coming from. We grew up together, remember, Artemis? Or have you decided to completely disregard my existence along with your past?"
"I choose to comepletely disregard any relationship I've had with murderers."
"And you aren't a murderer? We're the same, Artemis," he took a step to the bars, toes brushing them.
"We are nothing alike," Artemis spat, almost too quickly.
"Yeah?' Cam asked with a snarl, "What was your kill count again? Fifteen? Seventeen?"
Artemis' spine went stiff. "I haven't killed anyone since I was thirteen."
"Time doesn't undo murder, Artemis." Cam crossed his arms and smiled at her, "Besides. That's not what I heard."
Artemis tightened her jaw, "He was trying to kill a little girl and her family."
"She's the queen to be of a nation."
"She's seven and innocent."
"She's only a year younger than you when you killed your first man. We both know there's no such thing as innocence anymore."
"Maybe you do, but I still believe in humanity."
"Then justice has rotted your brain." Cam tilted his head, "What does that assassin's life bring the count to? Eighteen?"
"Eleven," Artemis spat out fiercely, hating the number more than even the villain before her.
Cam grabbed the bars and leaned his head on them, satisfied, "I've lost count on mine. Killing makes you strong, Artemis, I don't know why you're so ashamed."
Artemis shook her head, "You sound like my father." Cam, knowing what kind of insult that was from her, threw a fist through the bars. Artemis didn't flinch, already out of his reach.
"Maybe your father was right!"
"Killing doesn't make you strong. It makes you weak. Not killing, now that takes strength."
"Now you sound like Batman," Cam said mockingly.
"I don't think that's a bad thing." Icicle Junior let out a sharp breath between his teeth, making it hiss as it escaped his mouth. Artemis took a step forward, back in his reach. "Why are you here, Cam? Want to get a second chance at freezing off my limbs one by one?"
"I've come to help."
"I don't need it. Or want it."
Cam snorted, "I guess not. You're getting plenty of help from Kid Flash."
Artemis bristled. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"He's around here an awful lot."
"He's assigned to be my head guard."
"He was also assigned to knock you out and kidnap you so he slammed your head into cement."
"Like you would've done differently."
"Actually, I would've."
"Really? What would you have done? Freeze me?"
"You're so damn frustrating!" Cam yelled. Artemis remained calm.
"Why are you still here then?"
Cam took a deep breath. "I'm just warning you to be careful."
"So now you're worried about me?"
Artemis paused, pressing her lips together. Finally, she said, "I've been a prisoner of the Shadows for fourteen days now. I'm going to die soon. Being careful isn't how I'm about to go down. You of all people should know that."
"Kid Flash is supposed to be your head guard, yes, but he wasn't ordered to bring your food or play chess with you or bring you new clothing!"
"What are you suggesting? That he has ulterior motives? I'm aware what Stockholm Syndrome is, Cam. I'm twenty two years old. I can make my own judgements."
"But Kid Flash-"
"Is doing a hell of a lot more than someone who's supposed to be helping me."
"Leave, Icicle Junior. And my name is Artemis." Artemis knew the villain identity would hit him harder than any blow she could dish out. It's why she was ready for the volley of icicles that came flying her way seconds later.
The guards came back a minute later, evidently hearing the crashes, but Icicle Junior was long gone. When they shone a flashlight into her cell, they found the archer sitting on her bench, examining a melting icicle in the dark with her hands.
Artemis did not sleep.
Kid Flash came early on the fifteenth morning, as usual. He waited until she was working out to ask.
"I heard you had a visitor last night," He said, casual as can be as he leaned against the bars of her cage, watching her.
Artemis sat up on her twentieth crunch, looked at him, then went back down, "Icicle Junior came to use me for target practice."
"In the middle of the night?"
"It seems to be you Shadows' favourite time to operate."
"How'd it go? His target practice."
Artemis smirked as she continued doing her crunches, "He's not very good at it."
"That's all that happened?" Artemis stood and walked over to her desk, pulling out the chair and placing the toes of her left foot on it. She jumped up and switched the places of her feet, then repeated the action over and over quickly.
"He thinks I trust you."
"Do you?" It was a fair question. On one hand, he was a Shadow. He hadn't hesitated to hurt her in a way that could have had very serious consequences. He guarded her in her cell nearly all hours of the day. He fastened cuffs around her wrists and shackles around her ankles and he kidnapped her without a second thought. On the other hand, he hadn't raised a hand to her since their first fight and he always respected her. He showed remorse over the action that landed her in her cell and he was the only thing stopping the guards from beating her to a pulp for fun every day.
Artemis answered him honestly while she continued jumping, "I trust you won't kill me. I don't trust you to be honest." She looked out of the corner of her eye for a reaction, but was disappointed. Kid Flash's arms were crossed loosely, his face carefully blank.
"Fair enough," was all he said.
On the sixteenth day, they almost broke her spirit. Almost.
The day started off normally. Breakfast, workout, bathroom, lunch. But then Artemis got another visitor.
She was playing chess with Kid Flash again. They'd replaced the "lost" knight with a red checker piece. Artemis was very carefully considering her next move when someone approached the cell and addressed her.
Artemis froze. Her spine went rigid and her hand froze, positioned above the piece she was about to move. Her eyes were wide. Kid Flash stood quickly and dropped to a knee.
"Great one," he said respectfully, bowing his head. Artemis did no such thing.
Artemis told herself to breathe and slowly looked up to see who'd addressed her by name. Her real name.
"Rise," Ra's Al Ghul told Kid Flash, who did so. Artemis didn't think the Great One was nearly as magnificent as she'd thought he'd be. His clothing and hair might've been pristine but Artemis caught the red tiredness of his eyes and the little lines under them. She was an archer, she had eyes like a hawk; she was trained to notice how the skin around his nails was yellow and how the palms of his hands were white from dryness. His shoes were shiny, but there was mud on the sides. The ring he wore on his finger was loose, like he'd lost weight.
Ra's was holding a yellow file and was accompanied by a woman with a long brown braid down her back, known to Artemis as Talia. Ra's watched her like she was an annoying fly; Talia watched her like she was her next meal. Kid Flash looked between everyone with wide eyes.
Ra's opened the file and read from it, "Artemis Crock, twenty two. You live in Gotham City. Grew up there with your father, Sportsmaster, until your mother kicked him out. That was the same time you abandoned the Shadows in favour of being a hero," Ra's crouched in front of her and held up the thick file, "I know every friend, every enemy, every name, and every dirty little secret you have." He smiled. "Now that you know what's at stake, I have a proposal: tell us all the names of the Justice League and you and your family with live. If not..." He stood straight and looked down at Artemis, who was still frozen in her chair.
"I don't know any hero's identities," Artemis said, her mouth acting on its own accord. The sound of her own voice startled her. She sat up, shoving her fear back down her throat, and looked up at the leader of the Shadows with an impassive expression.
"Then you'd better figure out something pretty damn fast, or we start with your niece. Jade named her after you, didn't she? You've got fourteen days." Artemis' stomach turned. Fourteen days? Two whole weeks? She almost wished the deadline would've been sooner. The next fourteen days would be absolute hell; the choice would eat her alive. Ra's knew that very well.
"We always save the best for family," he said with a smile. He picked up the black queen on the chess board and moved it, knocking over Artemis' remaining knight. "Check," he said before he turned and left with Artemis' two guards and his daughter, who was smiling like the cat who'd savagely ripped the wings off the canary.
Artemis took a shaky breath and reached with trembling fingers to grip the sides of her chair. "Artemis?" Kid Flash's voice startled her so much that she jumped and the chair tipped, dropping her to the floor. Artemis barely managed to catch herself with her arm and slowly push herself up.
"Artemis," Kid Flash repeated quieter this time, down to his knees in front of her. "Are you okay?" He asked carefully, his voice below a whisper.
Artemis swallowed thickly, her fear fighting to burn and claw its way out of her stomach, to climb its way out of her throat. Artemis swallowed again, sending the bile that rose in the back of her mouth back down, "I've been told to choose between my family," she said, "And my family." She looked up at him, "Would you be okay?" Her neck gave out from the weight of her decision and she looked back at her lap.
Artemis could feel Kid Flash watching the top of her head. "Wally," Kid Flash whispered and Artemis looked up at him, her muscles moaning in protest. "My real name is Wally West. I'm from Keystone City originally. Now we're even."
"Hardly," Artemis said, but there was no heat in it. It sounded numb, her voice cracking halfway through. She didn't bother to wipe away the single, silent tear that slid out of the rain clouds in her eyes and dropped off her chin.
"You know, I've heard about you before," Kid Flash said, crossing his legs slowly, like any sudden movements might set her off. "I know your back story, about your dad," Artemis glared at the sound of her father but the speedster continued. "They warn us about you," there was something like admiration in his voice. "I come from a family of heroes. An old family friend who might as well be my grandfather is the original Flash, my uncle is the current. Hell, my first cousin once removed is Impulse."
Artemis looked up curiously. "You have all those great heroes behind you. Why'd you go bad?"
"I wasn't good enough," he said simply. "Wasn't fast enough. They can all lap me, easily. Even the original Flash and he's in his seventies by now. I was never good enough to join them and be a hero."
"That's why you went bad? Because you weren't fast enough to be good?" Wally nodded and looked down into his lap. "Well that's bullshit," she said unapologetically. Wally looked at her with shock, clearly not expecting the response she'd given him. "If I gave up every time I thought I wasn't good enough, I would still be with the Shadows. Who told you that?"
"That you aren't good enough." Wally squirmed. "Kid- Wally. You can run faster than the speed of sound. You can vibrate your molecules through walls and if what I've heard is right, you recreated the explosion that made you Kid Flash. When you were a kid. If that isn't impressive, I don't know what is."
"Try leaving the Shadows at fourteen. Then, instead of going into hiding like any sane person, showing up as a hero just months later," Wally countered, "Try trying to escape multiple times, risking and receiving severe punishment each time. Try almost getting your arm froze off, falling, then still getting up and going because you're too stubborn to give up. Or not understanding the concept of fear."
"That's not impressive, that's just reckless," Artemis said, sitting up.
"Maybe. But it's damn courageous," something in his gaze made Artemis look back to her lap. "You're the kind of hero that people remember not only because of what you did, but what you were like. You have the kind of compassion and heart that people can only dream of having." Artemis stared at her lap, surprised at the sincerity in his voice. Did he not just see her break down? Did he not remember the ninth day? Was he completely blind?
But he continued, " I may have only known you for sixteen days but you're the bravest person I've ever met."
Artemis looked up at him finally, forcing herself to meet his intense gaze, "Why join the Shadows? Why not just disappear into society? There's no rules that say you have to choose."
"You kidding me? I'm a speedster. Never ending amounts of energy, constantly hungry. I vibrate for god's sake. There's no such thing as blending in for me."
Artemis studied him, embarrassment gone, "I think you could."
Her honesty seemed to surprise him for the second time. "No one's ever told me that before," he said finally.
"Then you must not know any honest people," Artemis said before they fell into silence.
Both were started out of their thoughts when the radio on the wall beeped, summoning Kid Flash.
Kid Flash answered the call and turned back a few minutes later. Artemis had reseated herself in her chair, all evidence of her tear gone as she stared intently at the chess board before her. Wally watched her for a moment before he spoke.
"They haven't broken you, have they? Not even after what they're making you do." Artemis moved a piece on the board.
Without looking up, she said, "They'll never break me." Artemis took a black pawn.
Artemis knew it wouldn't take long for her choices to start to wear her down. She tried to consider the whole thing objectively on day seventeen.
If she didn't name any names, her mother would be a definite casualty; her mother was tough and an excellent fighter, even in a wheelchair. That didn't change the fact that she was crippled, she couldn't run or climb or jump and she could very easily be outnumbered. Artemis knew that Jade could take care of herself and it didn't hurt that Roy had her back; she knew he sister would very literally rip anyone to shreds who tried to hurt her daughter. Jade was tough, but she wasn't invincible. Artemis didn't care what happened to her father. Then there were her neighbours, school friends, and work friends, most of them innocent civilians. There were too many innocent casualties in that scenario.
On the other hand, if she did give names, the heroes were almost guaranteed death, along with their friends and families. Some might escape, but they would have to relocate, change their identities and their faces. They'd never be able to hero safely again. There would be too many casualties and the world would be without heroes.
Logically, the choice was between the lives of the few, the selfish option, and the lives of the many. Logically, it should've been easy. But it wasn't.
Either way, dozens of people were going to die very grizzly deaths. Artemis had to choose who.
Day eighteen came with an opportunity. Artemis seized it in her grasp and dug her nails into it so she drew blood. She was not able to let it get away.
Kid Flash left to get her lunch, as usual. But on day eighteen, guard change was early. They arrived before Kid Flash got back, and Artemis suddenly found herself alone with four guards that had no higher ranking official to reign them in.
All it took was a few choice words on Artemis' part and they were opening her cell. She fought, but not hard enough to win. She fought hard enough to make it believable.
"Hey!" They all backed off her bleeding form on the floor when they heard Kid Flash's yell. Everyone was too distracted by each other to notice Artemis slip the key card onto her hip under the waistband of her underwear.
An escort of six guards came for Artemis on the nineteenth day. The archer wondered vaguely if they were going to add physical pain to her mental torture. She knew Wally was wondering the same thing; his eyes were clouded and worried when he fastened her shackles and handcuffs on.
"Fieldtrip," Artemis said to ease the tension. Wally's expression didn't change.
She was brought to the elevator for the first time not during an escape that she could remember. Artemis was led through a floor she hadn't been on before, through a series of endless hallways. She was shoved very few feet by the guards behind her to get going faster, something that was prevented by guards in front of her. At one point they shoved her so hard that she tripped right between the guards in front of her. Wally must've heard her chains snaps to attention because he turned in time to catch her before she slammed into his back. He steadied her, helped her to her feet, and glared at the guard behind her.
Wally walked behind her for the rest of the way.
The two guards in front herded her into a room, Kid Flash following. The last four remained outside the door. The only things in the room were a chair and a camera on a tripod facing it. There was also a large window on the wall behind the camera; behind it was what looked like a computer room where Talia, Bane, and Icicle Junior stood. Artemis took some pleasure in the fact that Icicle Junior looked incredibly uncomfortable between the two villains.
Artemis was shoved into the chair and the door opened, admitting Ra's Al Ghul. He took one look at her and smiled, "Your little league friends apparently don't care about you as you care about them. They haven't even tried to contact us. So we," he pointed to the camera, "Are going to send them a message." He placed a paper in her lap and Artemis looked down at it, skimming the first few lines, "Don't go off script." Artemis was too busy looking at the paper and almost missed him wave his hand.
A guard came forward and struck her across the face just as she looked up, splitting her newly healed lip again and making blood trickle out of both her nostrils, knocking her clean off the chair. She could taste blood in her mouth too and wasn't sure where it came from. She looked up, the warm blood making its way down her neck. "Can't have them thinking we're being too nice," Ra's said, almost cheerfully. Artemis got to her knees.
She spit blood onto his pristine shoes, causing the leader of the Shadows to jump back. "I'm not scared of pain," Artemis said, "My dear father beat that out of me when I was nine." She ran her tongue over her top teeth, smearing the blood and showing white underneath, only for it to coat them again in seconds.
"But you are scared of this," Ra's held up a little black USB. "All the names of all of Artemis Crock's relatives and friends. That's a lot of names." He slipped it back in his pocket and began to leave, "It's a live feed, so don't mess up." He motioned for Kid Flash to follow, which he did, but only after sending her another look.
"Wouldn't dream of it!" Artemis shouted after him. She wiped blood off the corner of her mouth before standing up herself and sitting in her chair. Ra's and Kid Flash appeared in the room behind the window, Ra's taking a seat and Wally staying away from everyone, leaned against the doorframe. Ra's pressed a button on the panel before him and the red light on the camera blinked awake. A television behind him turned on too, displaying her bloody image.
Artemis spit another lob of blood off to her right then looked to the paper in her hands. "My name is Artemis," she read. "I am the protégée of Green Arrow. I was kidnapped by the League of Shadows nineteen days ago." She kept her face annoyed, like she was still pissed about Ra's cheap shot. She didn't need them knowing what she was thinking. "They have beat me, assaulted me, and tortured me. I have eleven days to live." She hoped to whatever was up there that the broadcast was truly live. Artemis looked down and pretended to scan the words on the page, then looked up and smiled a red smile, "Tôi bao gồm. Tôi bao gồm. Tiết kiệm gia đình và bạn bè của tôi."
The guards were surprised only for a moment. She was thrown to the ground as more guards rushed in. They all began to kick her repeatedly, one knocking the wind out of her again and again by hitting her in the stomach. She could hear yelling coming from the room behind the window. Despite the beating she was taking, Artemis smiled and took pride in the chaos she'd caused.
Artemis could hear Ra's screaming, demanding someone to translate what she'd said. Guards were stomping over, all wanting to get a shot in at her. That's how Artemis knew the video was truly live.
The camera was knocked over in the chaos and Artemis could see its lens through a guard's legs, red light still blinking.
"Code black," Artemis said to it before another punch landed on her. One of the guards was suddenly thrown off her and Wally was there, pulling her up and away from the rabid guards.
Icicle Junior came from nowhere, threw Kid Flash to the floor, and grabbed Artemis round the neck, shoving her against the wall and lifting her while she held onto his wrist and fingers, trying to pry them off.
"What did you say?!" He screamed.
"Wouldn't you like to know," she choked out, clawing at his hand and drawing blood. Suddenly, Icicle Junior was gone and Wally had her again, half carrying her as her weak knees gave out and she gasped her breath. He was screaming at the guards.
"Stop! Get back!"
"He's right." At the sound of the Great One's voice, everyone backed off Wally and Artemis immediately. "We need her alive. Kid Flash, take her back to her cell. Icicle Junior, find a translator." He looked at Artemis. "I'll deal with you soon."
"Looking forward to it," Artemis said. Wally's grip on her tightened, as if warning her. Then, he hightailed it out of her, still half carrying her.
"I can't decide whether you're incredibly brave," he said, his grip on her hand around his shoulder surprisingly careful, "Or incredibly stupid."
Artemis lifted her head and looked at him, "The former, obviously."
"I've been called off for a mission tomorrow," Kid Flash said on the twentieth day while they ate dinner. He looked up at her, a glint in his eyes and a smirk on his lips, "You'll be okay without me for that long?"
Artemis sent him a look, "I'm sure I'll manage." But she felt uneasy. She knew that Wally was the only reason she didn't get the snot beaten out of her regularly and after the stunt she pulled the day before, she was sure it was going to be much worse than just her snot being beaten out of her.
"Seriously, though. Stay out of trouble for the day, alright?" His expression had gotten suddenly serious.
"What?" Artemis joked, trying to lighten the mood, "Don't wanna deal with my corpse?"
"Don't. Don't say that, Artemis. Promise me."
Artemis found herself nodding slowly, startled at his expression. "I promise, Wally."
They came for her in the morning the next day, as she suspected. Nine guards escorted her down the halls and through multiple twists and turns she was sure were supposed to be disorienting. About five minutes before they arrived, Artemis started to hear the screams. Three minutes away she heard the begging for mercy. She only heard the sobbing once they were travelling down the hall it was coming from.
The lights flickered as they walked under them. The two guards nearest to her opened the door and shoved her in, slamming it behind her. Artemis tripped on her shackles and fell onto her stomach, pushing herself up on her knees to find she wasn't alone. Ra's Al Ghul was waiting for her, along with Bane and another guard.
"Search her," Ra's commanded. The guard stepped forward and hoisted her up then began to pat her down. He found the key card and the knight piece quickly, sharpened to a point after long hours in the dark on the edge of her bench. The guard handed Ra's his findings and Ra's held them out for her to see. "Care to explain what these are?"
"That is a white knight sharpened to a point and that is a security card."
"Why are they in your possession?"
"Aren't you supposed to be brilliant?" The archer tilted her head with the question.
Ra's crossed his arms. "You've gained your bravery back now that you've warned your family and friends."
Artemis shook her head, "I never lost my bravery."
"Maybe not yet, but after today I promise your will will not be so strong." He turned to Bane. "Don't break any bones and please, nothing permanent. I want her to feel it when I kill her."
Artemis smiled, "Do your worst," she challenged.
They didn't, but they came damn close.
Bane did all the dirty work and Artemis found herself believing that this was the man who broke Batman's back. It wasn't long before her tank top had turned red and her blood was smeared on the walls and floor. That was before they broke out the toys.
Ra's did his questioning from a chair out of the spray zone, but he only ever got one answer. They were the same words that Artemis used to keep herself sane at the beginning of her imprisonment, a whole twenty one days ago.
"My name is Artemis Crock." Punch. "I am twenty two years old." Kick, kick. "I am an archer. I am a hero." Throw. "I am not scared of Shadows." She'd sit up on her elbows as Bane came towards her, then scramble to her feet if she could. She dished out blows against Bane, even though she was pretty sure he couldn't feel them.
"What is the identity of Batman?"
"My name is Artemis Crock."
"Who is Superman?"
"I am twenty two years old."
"What is Wonder Woman's real name?"
"I am an archer."
"I am a hero."
"I am not scared of Shadows."
It went on into the night. Anytime Artemis would be close to losing consciousness, Bane would dunk her head in a bucket of ice water and hold her under until she was wide awake again. Then, Bane would go back to throwing Artemis around like a rag doll and Ra's would watch calmly until Bane would pause and he'd ask his question.
Two guards had to drag her back to the cell when they were finished, Artemis too weak to walk and stand on her own. Before she left, Ra's promised they would do it again and soon. They dropped her in a heap on the floor, but Artemis didn't move from there. The world was too out of focus to even think of walking. By some miracle, she did manage to move her head enough to cushion it on her arm, which very quickly fell asleep. She could feel her consciousness slipping.
"I am Artemis Crock," she whispered weakly, "I am twenty two years old. I am an archer. I am a hero." Her eyes drifted shut, "I will never be scared of Shadows."
She heard his voice first from the furthest constellation of her soul. It soared across the universe inside her, echoing through even the darkest corners and cupboards of her mind. When his voice reached her, she could feel it in her skin. It sent warm tingles along her spine. Most of all, his voice made her feel secure.
It gave her consciousness the gentle push it needed and made it wash over her body like a wave, rinsing her skin sluggishly with feeling and fragmented memories. It made her fingers twitch for more. But her consciousness brought pain, too. It started at the tips of her toes, awakening nerves that had rested with her. Some was dull and achy, some was sore and throbbing, but most was sharp and shooting, infecting other parts of her body with its parasitic contagion.
She heard his voice again, but this time she could understand that he was calling her name, still light years away. Then she felt him touch her neck, holding two fingers there. He called her name again, closer this time, and touched her hair. She felt the pull of her hair as it came away from where it'd been stuck on hardened blood on her cheek.
When her body finally permitted it, she opened her eyes. At least, she tried to. Her eyes were being held together by something. Something in her mind whispered stuck and she began to panic. Her heart thumped faster than a rabbits, her breathing became sharp and short. She let out a scared whimper.
"Shh," he said soothingly. A wet thumb brushed over her eyelashes and Artemis realized her eyes were crusted shut with what was probably more blood. "Do you know if your neck or spine are hurt at all?" He asked softly.
Artemis concentrated on her neck and back. When she discovered only soreness, she tried to say "no" but all that came out were weak little whispery whimpers.
A warm finger slid into her half curled hand and another hand closed itself over hers, "I want to check for any injuries to your spine. If that's alright, I want you to squeeze my finger." Artemis tightened her hand slightly. "Okay," he said. His hands disappeared from hers then reappeared at her lower back. They slid under her tank top, sliding up her spine slowly. Halfway up, they disappeared and reappeared at her neck, where they worked their way down. "I don't feel anything," he said after his warm hands disappeared again. "Do you think that you can sit up?"
Artemis finally revived her lifeless voice box and wrapped her tongue around the word, "Yes."
"On three then, okay? I'll help you. One...Two...Three." On three, Artemis was mostly lifted to a sitting position from where she'd been lying on her stomach. She leaned back against a body that radiated warmth into her battered body and let her head drop gently against his shoulder.
Her head spun, but she finally opened her eyes. The owner of the voice was looking down at her, his expression worried as hell.
"Let's get you to the bathroom and clean you up a bit, okay? I think it's best if I carry you too. Your ankle looks pretty swollen." Artemis vaguely remembered that they took off her boots to prevent them keeping the swelling down and preventing the pain from being lessened by it. "Is that okay?" Artemis didn't have the strength to argue. She half-nodded against him and Wally gently shifted her so her could wrap an arm around her shoulders and another beneath her knees then lift her up. Her head fell back against his shoulder.
They were followed by two guards to the bathroom, where Wally set Artemis gently on the counted between the sinks, then went outside to address that guards.
"You. Go get another prisoner uniform. Underwear and a sports bra too. You, go get me a first aid kit."
"Can you tell me your name and age?" Wally asked her.
"Artemis Crock," she said, the words scraping up her throat, "I'm twenty two."
"And your hometown?"
"Good." Wally said. He checked her head first, carefully combing through her hair with his fingers and trying to find something larger than a scrape. There was a knock part way through and Wally paused his exam to go answer the door, taking the first aid kit from the guard behind it with thanks. He finished examining her head before he pulled out a flashlight and warned her before he shone it in each eye, studying the pupil. When he was finished, he said, "External injuries on your head are minimal. You aren't displaying any signs of serious head trauma but you were unconscious when I found you. Do you remember them drugging you at all? I don't see any track marks either so they must've given it orally."
Artemis thought hard. They didn't feed her, or give her anything to drink. "They dunked my head in ice water so I wouldn't pass out. The water kind of tasted funny but I thought that was just the blood." Wally nodded and continued working.
Wally turned on the faucet, testing the water before taking some paper towel and placing it over the drain to clog it so the sink began to fill up. Then he took another paper towel and wet it, asking for permission before cleaning her neck and face carefully. Artemis caught her reflection in the paper towel dispenser while he worked. She cringed. Her skin was painted red and bruised all over, black and blue in the places that Wally had cleaned. She looked like she'd come straight from the novel "Carrie".
Wally caught her staring and followed her gaze then looked back at her. He hooked a finger under her chin and tugged it just enough to make her look at him. "Still beautiful," he said quietly, wiping some blood off her cheek.
"Can I see your face?" Artemis blurted with a grating voice. She wasn't she why, but she wanted to see it before she died. Which, realistically, would be anywhere within the next eight days. She didn't have many regrets, but she knew that would be one.
Wally took his hand from her chin and put his other one on the counter. He lifted the hand that'd been on her chin to his cowl. He pulled it off and Artemis studied his features. He had freckles, three on each cheek. His cheekbones were softer than they were sharp and there were dark bags under his eyes. His eyebrows matched his hair but his eyelashes were black. His hair rustled with freedom. Artemis realized that as she studied him, he looked at his feet. His cheek went in, like he was chewing it. Wally looked nervous.
Artemis' bloody hand reached up and rested it against his cheek. She ran her thumb across it gently and Wally finally looked up at her. He shivered at her touch, but didn't move away. Artemis ran her finger back over his freckles.
Someone knocked on the door. Artemis dropped her hand and Wally stepped back, startled out of...whatever had just happened. Wally pulled his cowl back on as he walked to the door a second time. He answered it as Kid Flash, taking the clothes from the guard behind it.
Wally came back and set the clothes next to the first aid kit. He cut off the top red shirt and finished cleaning the blood off her arms and face, and after getting permission again, he cleaned her legs beneath her knees. Then he took out some antiseptic wipes and cleaned all her cuts and scrapes, putting bandages on the ones that needed it. He always apologized when she flinched.
When Wally got to her face, he was cleaning a split eyebrow and Artemis jumped, then sucked in a sharp breath. A barbed pain in her ribs blossomed and she grabbed then instinctively.
"Are you okay?" He asked, placing a hand on her shoulder.
"Is it alright if I check them?" He asked. Artemis nodded and lifted the hem of her tank top. Wally's eyes went wide at the long red streaks he found there.
"One for every escape," Artemis said, remembering. They'd cut a tick for each attempted mistake, plus one more. "A reminder" Ra's had called it.
Wally looked at her, then went for the scissors. After asking permission yet again, he cut off the tank top and felt along her ribs, making sure they weren't broken or bruised. Then he cleaned her torso around her bra, then he bandaged all the wounds there. When he did her back, she braced both hands on his shoulders and leaned against him, letting him look over her shoulder to work. Artemis was almost sorry when she had to sit up again.
Half of her wounds were from fighting back. When she kicked Bane repeatedly in the head, chest, and groin, he'd eventually grabbed her foot and pulled it, spraining it. Two of her fingernails were missing, lodged somewhere in Bane's back from where she'd scraped them into him, Her knuckles were split in several places, her forearms covered in defensive bruising. Her hands were covered in what would've become fight bite if Wally hadn't cleaned out and bandaged.
Artemis was a fighter and she wasn't about to just let herself get hit without returning the favour.
It took Wally half an hour to patch her up. He helped her to a stall where she changed into another prisoners uniform, just like the first one. She also cleaned off the parts of her body that Wally was too much of a gentleman to clean. As she pulled the new tank top over her head, she heard a creak as Wally leaned against the stall.
"I'm sorry," he whispered. Artemis pulled the red scrubs shirt over then approached the door. She leaned on the other side of the stall.
"I shouldn't have left."
"Wally, this isn't your fault."
"I kidnapped you."
"You followed orders."
"To kidnap someone," his retort was bitter and angry.
Artemis opened the door and looked at him. Wally stood up straight when he saw her. "You're not like the Shadows," she said, "Or anyone I've ever met. You're different."
"What's that mean?" Wally asked.
"I don't know," Artemis said, "But it's good."
Wally slept outside her cell that night.
Artemis slept for most of day twenty three. She needed to get her strength back. She only have seven days left, after all.
Day twenty four arrived and with it, a declaration from Wally. She needed her bandages changed.
He handcuffed and shackled her, but it was more for show. She could slip both right off. But Wally didn't have anything to worry about. Artemis wasn't about to hurt him.
Wally was bandaging her upper arm when Cam came. Neither noticed him at first, both too busy talking to each other. Wally got a small laugh from her and Cam grew impatient. He grabbed a baton from one of the guard's belts and slammed it against the bars of the front of her cell. Artemis and Wally jumped.
"You've been summoned," Icicle Junior said to Artemis. When Wally began to stand too, he said, "Not you, Kid."
Kid Flash opened the door and carefully directed Artemis out. She wasn't letting him let her lean on him anymore. not even with her ankle and lack of proper foot wear (her combat boots were replaced with thin cloth that were more sock than shoe). Artemis couldn't let them think she was hurt; then they'd win.
"I'm her head guard. I go where she goes," Kid Flash said forcefully. Icicle Junior crossed his arms and took a step towards Wally, making them toe to toe. "I'm starting to wonder where your loyalties lie."
"Really?" Wally said, like he was humoring a child.
"Yeah. Look at you. Actually, look at her. I've never seen a prisoner so well treated. They batter her and you bandage her."
"You think I should let her catch an infection and die? You heard Al Ghul; he needs her alive."
"That's bullshit and you know it. She wouldn't catch an infection with wounds like that. I'm starting to wonder if you're protecting us from her, or her from us."
Kid Flash's fists tightened. Artemis walked up to him, brushing her arm against him so fleetingly it could've been an accident. Wally's fists loosened.
"I was summoned?" Artemis interrupted.
Cam looked down at her, "Your friends responded to the video."
They brought her back to the same room they'd filmed in except this time, instead of a camera on a tripod, there was a television on a cart. There was also a lovely new bloodstain from Artemis' last experience in there.
Artemis sat in the chair and Cam pressed play on the television.
The screen was filled with almost every member of the Justice League, plus the entire Young Justice team. Batman stood front and center, speaking so robotically most would decide that he was reading from a script.
Artemis, however, knew differently; he was trying to cover up his emotions. Surprisingly, Artemis and Batman had grown close over the years. She'd earned his respect after ditching the Shadows; she'd earned his regard from saving both his and Nightwing's lives a few times in the field (but mostly Nightwing). But Artemis wasn't paying attention to what he was saying. She was scanning the crowd, looking for the real message.
She found Nightwing near the back of the crowd, arms crossed. One finger tapped his arm in some kind of pattern, dragging a line across it every few taps. Artemis recognized it as Morse code after a moment: each tap was a dot and each drag was a dash.
It took Artemis a moment, but she understood his message. It was simple, just three letters long, but they made the breath leave Artemis' body.
C-O-D-E B-L-A-C-K A-V-E-R-T-E-D
Her family was safe, and so were her friends. Artemis could breathe again.
The disc ran out and it stopped, turning off the player and making the screen go fuzzy.
Cam stood between Artemis and the T.V. "What do you think?" He demanded. "Batman says he'll trade you for a couple Shadows, but that's it."
Artemis shifted smugly, "I think that you don't care about my reaction to Batman's proposal. I think you want my reaction to the whatever hidden message is in there."
Fury and annoyance flashed in Icicle Junior's eyes and he raised a hand, "There's more than one way to get an answer from you."
Artemis snorted, "Because that worked so well last time."
Cam lowered his hand and hissed, "Bring her back to her cell," at Wally. The speedster walked over to her chair and lifted her up, escorting her out. Artemis stopped in the doorway.
"Oh, and Junior? Have fun telling Al Ghul your progress with me." Artemis heard the crash of the television hitting the floor or the wall or both as they marched down the hall. Wally's grip on her arm tightened.
Artemis had another visitor the next day. Ra's came the next morning, alone for the first time that Artemis was imprisoned.
Artemis paused her crunches and looked at the Great One with disinterest. "To what do I owe this displeasure?" She mocked, standing.
"I've come to see if you're ready to give up any names yet." He paused, "I'm sure your mother would appreciate it."
"I still have five days," she said simply.
"I still know where to find all your family." Artemis shifted from foot to foot, energized from her workout.
"I heard the Great One was a gentleman. Aren't gentlemen supposed to keep their word?"
Ra's looked furious for just a moment and in all the twenty five days of being a prisoner, Artemis had never felt so scared.
"Artemis," Wally said, voice low and warning. Artemis looked at him and swallowed the insult she had on her tongue. She looked back at Ra's before turning to go sit at her desk.
Ra's opened his mouth, decided against it, and turned around. He grabbed the guards' table and threw it against the wall, tipping it to its side in a fury. Then he stomped off down the hall. Artemis let out a breath she didn't know she'd been holding.
On the twenty-sixth day, Artemis found herself staring at Wally. He was reading silently, sitting in a chair with his elbows on his knees and his book held open in his hands. His head was bent down. Artemis was lying on her side on her bench, blanket pulled over her.
"Go ahead and say it," Wally said suddenly while looking down at his book, snapping Artemis out of whatever trance she'd been in.
"What?" She said dumbly, blinking. Wally smiled and looked up.
"You've been staring at me for the last hour. Whatever you want to say, just go ahead and say it."
Artemis sat up and tucked her hair behind an ear. Then she stood up and half limped to the front of the cell, leaning her forehead on the bars once she reached them. Wally's eyes followed her the whole way. The guards had gone for lunch fifteen minutes ago, leaving them alone, and Artemis found herself a little thankful for it.
"I just wanted to say thank you," she said, "I'd be dead ten times over without you. Probably painfully. So, thanks."
Wally's smile turned to a grin, "That sounded like it hurt."
"My ego is whimpering in pain."
Wally laughed and put his book down. He stood and walked over to her, standing directly across from her. "That's sweet," he said, reaching up and tucking a stray lock of hair behind her ear. "But that's not what you wanted to say."
Artemis gripped the bars a little tighter, her knuckles going white she looked at her feet. "Why?"
"Is a letter in the alphabet," he said. Artemis rolled her eyes and he laughed. "Why what?"
"Why're you so good to me?" Wally's eyebrows creased slightly and Artemis said, "You stopped them from beating me to death after the video. You helped me when Icicle Junior froze my arm. You patched me up and stopped me from bleeding to death after Bane beat the living crap out of me. And you've slept outside my cell every night since. I just want to know why?"
Wally reached up to rub the back of his neck, suddenly uncomfortable. He dropped his hand and looked at her, dead in the eye. "It's complicated," he said.
Artemis shrugged, "I've got four days."
Wally's eyes went dark, his jaw tightened. "Not funny." Artemis swallowed, feeling a twinge of guilt and regret for making him look like that. The guards steps could be heard from down the hall. Artemis looked down the hall then back up at Wally. She stood up on one foot on her tiptoes (her sprained ankle wouldn't take bending at that ankle) and kissed him right on the mouth.
"Thank you," she said quietly after pulling away. She turned and walked back to her bench, feeling Wally's eyes on her the whole way. When she looked back, the speedster's face was red and there was a smile on his lips.
Artemis immediately regretted it. She wasn't making death any easier on herself.
Artemis wasn't scared of death, not by a long shot. She'd been prepared for it for years, even since she was a child and her father dropped her off in the middle of nowhere the first time.
Having a scheduled death, however, was an inconvenience. Artemis would've preferred it be over in a second, a fleeting moment. She would've preferred a bullet or a club or a sword, over in a blink of an eye. Not hours on end waiting, wondering how it would happen. Artemis was sure that the Shadows wouldn't trade her for anything, she was too valuable. Artemis thought it was funny, in a sick kind of way, that they still thought they could break her.
Still, death loomed in her hear, casting a shadow over every thought that crossed her mind. It burned any hope in its path.
Artemis wasn't stupid; she knew her escape attempts were futile. She'd known it since they brought her to toss her around like a rag doll. The other levels weren't built like each other; the entire compound was built like a maze. There was no way she'd get out without knowing the layout. But that didn't mean she was just going to make it easy for the Shadows. That'd be like letting them win and Artemis wasn't big on losing.
That's why Artemis didn't go to sleep on the night of her twenty sixth day of imprisonment. She laid in bed, wide awake, writing in the dark. When she was finished, she waited hours for the guards to fall asleep.
It was early on the twenty seventh morning that Artemis finally crept out of bed. She walked silently to the front of her cage, paper gripped tightly with white fingers. She crouched down and held onto the bars with one hand. "Wally," she whispered to his sleeping form, eyes flicking to the sleeping guards. Wally was sleeping on a cot he'd brought out after he fixed her up, and had been sleeping under there since. Wally shifted, but didn't wake. Artemis cast another glance at the snoring guards before calling his name again. He stirred on the fourth time she called him and opened his eyes. It took him a second to lock his eyes with her and twice as long to be standing across from her.
Artemis stood. "I need a favour," she whispered. Wally nodded.
"Anything," he responded. Artemis held up her paper. "Paper? How did you...?"
"I swiped it from the guard's table when no one was looking."
"I need you to give it to Nightwing," she said, ignoring his question. "Or Miss Martian. Or Aqualad. Anyone from my old team, actually. Tell them to give it to my mother."
"What-" Wally reached up to take the offered paper.
"It's my will." Wally's hand dropped. "I never had one made. I don't have much, but there's some things I want to give people and some things they need to know and-"
"No," Wally stepped back.
Artemis, who'd lowered her eyes to look at the rolled paper, looked up at him. "What?" She asked, disbelief in her voice.
"No," Wally said, shaking his head, "I won't."
Artemis licked her lips, swallowing her pride, "Please, Wally."
Wally kept shaking his head, "No."
Artemis set her jaw, tightening it. She swallowed thickly, something other than her pride going down her throat, "Fine." She turned on a heal and stalked back to her bed. Her hands shook. Artemis was close to really crying for the first time in twenty seven days.
Artemis didn't sleep that night. Neither did Wally. They didn't speak the next day. The will itched in the waistband of her pants.
Artemis rolled over on her bench on the twenty eighth day and found Kid Flash missing for the first time in seven days. She sat up, her blanket falling off her shoulders from her nap. There were two guards playing cards outside, but there was no sign of the speedster.
Artemis' mind automatically went to the worst case scenario. She kicked off her remainder of her blankets and half ran to the front of her cell. What is he was reassigned? What if he was being punished for his kindness? What if he was in trouble?
She was about to demand that the guards tell her exactly where he was until she chanced a glance down the hall. Wally was walking towards her cell and only looked at her for a moment before he addressed the guards.
"You're dismissed," he said. The guards looked up in confusion.
"We have orders to-"
"Now you have new ones. Dismissed." He voice had grown hard. Bolder than Artemis had ever heard it before.
The guards left, but not before sending a look to Wally. One looked scared, but the other looked annoyed. Wally waited until they'd rounded the corner before he typed in the code on the keypad. Artemis put her wrists through the bars to be cuffed, but Wally just looked at her and gently pushed them back towards her.
"Don't bother," he said. Wally opened the door and motioned for her to follow him while he looked down the hall. Artemis stayed where she was.
"What are you doing?" She asked. Wally looked at her.
"I'm breaking you out."
Wally stepped forward, "They're going to kill you today. Talia's coming in an hour. I'm getting you out of here." He offered his hand. Artemis took it and followed him out. "Keep your wrists together, okay?" Artemis nodded and did so. Wally took her upper arm and led her out.
"Head down," Wally whispered as they walked. Artemis did as she was told. Two guards rounded the corner and passed them, not sparing them a second glance.
They continued down the hall, passing no one else. The elevator was in sight when someone called out behind them.
"Kid Flash?" Wally's grip on her arm tightened. Kid Flash stopped and looked over his shoulder.
"Icicle Junior." Artemis bit the inside of her cheek so hard that she drew blood.
Cam walked towards them. Artemis forced herself to look him in the face. "Where's she going?" He pointed his chin to Artemis, who kept her face carefully ignorant.
"I'm bringing her to Talia," Wally said, looking at Cam calmly.
"Really?" He said, "Where's her cuffs?" Wally froze. Instinct kicked in. Artemis threw her injured foot up and caught Cam below the belt, not feeling the impact on her injury because of the adrenaline that shot through her suddenly. She slammed and elbow between his shoulder blades as he fell and pinched a point on his neck, making him fall heavily. Wally grabbed her hand and half dragged her to the elevator, swiping his card and forcing the doors shut.
Artemis leaned against the back of the elevator, breathing laboured from the sprint. "Why are you helping me?" She demanded. Wally didn't face her, remained staring at the elevator doors, and didn't answer her either.
"We need to get to the top floor before Junior wakes up and raises the alarm."
"I've got transportation ready for you. You can ride a bike, right?"
"Wally!" He finally turned to look at Artemis, who'd crossed her arms. "Listen to me," she demanded. "Why are you doing this for me, Wally? You're supposed to be the enemy. Why doesn't it feel like it? Wh-"
Wally cut her off effectively, smashing his lips against hers. Artemis stood frozen for a moment, eyes wide, until she remembered how to work her limbs. She dropped her eyes shut and wrapped her arms around his neck, her bare skin running over the smooth fabric of his suit. He smelled like springtime, all freshly mown grass, morning mildew, sunlight, and hope. His smooth lips slid across her beaten, healing ones. Wally's gloved fingers slid across her cheeks slowly and before the archer knew it, he was pulling away.
"That's why," he said simply. Artemis kept her eyes closed. It was a stupid time to be doing this, but Artemis found herself not giving a damn. She stuck a metaphoric middle finger to the world and opened her eyes.
"Me too," she said. Pure happiness flashed in Wally's eyes, but the elevator dinged and it was gone, replaced by a layer of seriousness. They couldn't lose their heads now.
Wally grabbed her hand and pulled her out of the elevator, leading her through a series of twists and turns. As they rounded a turn, the lights went red and flashed, an alarm blaring. Wally didn't look back at her, he just gripped her hand and picked up the pace.
They emerged into the night, the sky dark and cloudless. The fresh air was crisp in Artemis' throat and caressed her skin gently, like a song. Artemis took in a deep breath, leaning her head back and closing her eyes momentarily. Artemis opened her eyes when she sensed Wally in front of her and looked at him.
"I've got your bike here. We're just outside of-"
"San Francisco. I know."
"How'd you...? Never mind, we need to get you away from here." Wally pulled something from a compartment on his wrist guard and handed it to her, "Here. This is the USB where all your information is stored. I wiped the rest of it on the computer." Artemis took the USB and dropped it, smashing it under her heel. Then she picked up the pieces and placed them in her pocket.
"Thank you," she said with sincerity, "What are you going to do? If Cam's awake, they'll know you're helping me."
Wally squeezed her hand, "I'm going to hold them off and cover your escape."
"Come with me," Artemis said. Wally shook his head at the idea.
"Artemis, I'm a Shadow-"
"So was I," she interrupted, "The Justice League will have a place for you, they aren't the Shadows. You'll be more than good enough."
"No, listen to me. If I vouch for you, you'll get the chance to earn your place. You're a good person, Wally. You don't belong here."
Wally began to nod slowly, as if he didn't believe he was agreeing. "Alright. I'll come with you."
Artemis smiled with relief and kissed him with it, pulling back a second later. "I'll drive."
"No," Wally said. "I'll run us. They'll never catch us like that."
Artemis nodded, "Okay."
The guards burst out the doors at that moment, but they were already too late. Wally had scooped Artemis up in his arms and he was running, making both of them nothing but a blur as they ran towards the red sky. Together, they raced to the sun as it rose on the new horizon.
The translation of Artemis' Vietnamese is supposed to be "I am compromised. I am compromised. Save my family and friends." but I used Google translate so who knows what it really means.
Currently, I have a few stories in the making, as mentioned above. Your choices for voting will be:
A) Upload what I have for a few of them, but it will take a while to update (much longer than usual)
IB) can wait until I've finished one and upload that like I did with The Quest for the Crest of Kings, with about a week before each upload. BUT it will be a while before that happens, at least a few weeks.
I'd just like to get your guys' opinions on it. Thanks!