Hello everybody! It's Clytemnestra here. Wow, it's been forever since I posted anything! I've been really caught in with school work (where I live, it's the beginning of my senior year, so college stress is eating me alive!) and I haven't felt motivated to write, so to anyone keeping up with my other stories (i.e. In The Bedroom and The College Life), I apologize for not updating in like four months. I hope this is enough Spitfire, though, to keep you guys entertained. I've been working on this story since about March. It's something very near and dear to my heart. I tried to take this story seriously. I, wanting to go into psychology and having experienced many things Artemis does in this story (though not to nearly the same extent), want to bring up the topic of depression, suicide, anxiety and mental disorders because they aren't a fucking joke and I'm pretty sure we've all had our "emo days," if you excuse the term.
trigger warning to those who have been depressed, suicidal, or have a mental illness.
I hope you all enjoy this just the same. The topics are very serious and are dealt with as I tried.
Rated T for themes, scenes and situations not recommended for children (but this isn't porn, just very light descriptions of loving scenes, don't worry HAHA)
Comment, rate, subscribe, favourite, tell me what you think!
She was covered in scars. Some reminded her of her father and how she was raised in. Those were painful. But the second type were more so, those that were self-inflicted, keloidal, raised and whiter than her skin. These were the types that never disappeared, never faded, never ceased to be a reminder of weakness. Late at night she would sometimes feel the creases right against her thigh and reflect over what kind of person in their right mind would intentionally mutilate their skin. All this for what: a few minutes of sheer euphoria and rest from the almost ever-present dysphoria? It was a sad excuse for a cry for help, a pathetic attempt at retrieving sanity that she lost when she became isolated.
She was raised a boy. Jade had always been the much more attractive sister, with features that meshed and combined into what seemed like a masterpiece even Michelangelo wouldn't be able to recreate. She was Asian with tawny skin and cheeks that were always flushed and angular. What was special about her though was her eyes, small like little pinpricks on her face that somehow hit the light at the right angle and made her look cold and harsh and above all others, as if she was Lady Trieu of the Vietnamese legends, full of fire, tenacity and relentlessness. Her father knew that this was to Jade's advantage. She was manipulative, ruthless and objective, stopping at nothing to complete her goal; it was a quality that made her father proud of Jade and disgruntled with her. She had other scars too; her father made them.
She had cut a few days after her mother came back. It was a deep one that, if she had gone to a hospital, would have required stitches. But the point of a cut was to endure the pain and feel the sting and so she just bit her lip hard and washed the wound, allowing the sting to radiate and grow until the area dried again.
She made a new one, deep and biting, after she met the team. Hostility among the League of Shadows was one thing, but these good guys- those who swore to protect justice and goodness- didn't like her. She wasn't good enough for them, not good enough for her father, not good enough for herself. Days spent with bleeding digits from the bowstring and muscle aches from the heavy metal compound bow were for nothing- added up to nothing- was all pointless? She was a mere second-rate version of Speedy, a replacement meant for nothing more than filling a long-range position on a team of people hell-bent on fighting the people who raised her and made her into who she was then. Mid-mission she had run into the bathroom and given herself a slice, jagged and messy due to the blunt edge of the old blade she took out of the Barbie sharpener that she had gotten from an old friend. Quite frankly, she believed she deserved the irregular cut, as broken outside as she was in. She loaded the wound with tissues, pressed hard to try and stop the bleeding, then returned to her post with M'gann, hoping to whatever gods left her long ago that the wound didn't stain her clothes too much. (After Red Arrow confronts her, she makes another few in that dark Gotham alleyway, not concerned about possible infections that could have caught in the open area.)
If she was honest, she wasn't afraid when she was held over the pit of lava; she was quite at ease with the burning and sweat due to her father's many tests. "You're a disgrace if you can't stand up to the heat, princess," he used to say before leaving her in the hottest of places until she either passed out from dehydration or found a way to escape (it was much more often than not the former.)
She was clean for almost three weeks before she relapsed. An undercover mission forcing her to extract information from an old colleague- an old friend, so to say- forced her to rethink her allegiance. Was she really needed? Did anybody need her? She was a foreigner to her mother. Letters cannot fully convey events, feelings and memories that she missed while she was in prison. She was just a woman who knew more about Artemis than she would like, who knew her past and her story, and she knows that information is power, and the woman who calls herself her mother has too much over her head. And this so-called team of hers... With some people she is on good terms, while with others there is this large gap of a canyon that has no bridge in sight. Part of her says to walk around, try to find a way to the other side, but the other part says to jump off and fall in the cavernous conduit and let the river take her somewhere safer and happier than where she was (maybe even back to her old life as a villain. That would please her father, would it not?) But this felt like a betrayal of someone who did nothing wrong. He was only obeying orders like she used to when she was in his place, but she? She was divulging secrets given to her in full trust that she wouldn't tell a soul; but this trust was broken, Cameron's back stabbed and bloodied as her wrist was now, soaking in her bathtub and turning the clear water into a pool of scarlet swirls.
She was okay for a week until Biyalya. Arrant terror ran through her bones when she woke up in a new outfit in a cabin with a boy she only new from the reports as Kid Flash. She was scared she had gotten caught. It was about the time of the month when she and Sportsmaster go out and do their duties; she wondered if this was what the famed Hall of Justice looked, and if so, it was really overrated. Her muscles were tense and her fingers on edge. Did this super hero know her secrets and her scars and her problem? Last week's deep one was still scabbing, still fresh enough to reopen and bleed again, and its placement on her wrist was too near the edge of her armguard, but, of course, she, having forgotten the past six months, wouldn't have known this. The terror left then reappeared when M'gann delved into her memories as the two girls, Wally and Robin held hands. Wally's was quite clammy, which was odd since he had gloves on. She was incredibly worried that the Martian might poke too far or pry too deep and see the scars and secrets and facade of joviality and break down. M'gann was only exposed to so much of Earth as she could gain from her uncle and television shows, neither of which would have been able to tell her about what "self-harm" and "depression" are. After the procedure and snatching her hand away from Wally's she was still anxious that M'gann had seen something she shouldn't have and was just keeping quiet. She couldn't know for sure, but the fear drove her to using her long and untrimmed nails to dig a nice wound into the back of her hand, scratching and scratching until the skin became darker and dotted with red. Whenever the apprehension came again, she would merely press her fingers to the wound, and allow the dirt, oil and sweat to make the open scratch sting. Best of all, she could blame the scratching on natural causes like a bug bite as she had when Robin asked why she had been scratching her hand for minutes on end. (His lingering stare, though, said he didn't believe her, but she wasn't going to give him the time of day and allow him to see her weakness.)
There was a grace period to her sad state, as she, Robin and Wally went on a mission with their mentors and took on Kobra, although he escaped unharmed. They got to bond while watching a game of Celebrity Hockey. It was a weird feeling, having a place to stay with people she didn't have to talk about boys and shopping and what Gabby did with Joey last weekend with. But then she began school at Gotham Academy, where the girls and boys were as shallow as her first few cuts. It was overwhelming to say the least, full of repetitive introductions and lonely meals in a very shiny bathroom stall. She wished that her sister- the old Jade, not what Jade was now- was there to laugh at the aloof, conceited, selfish individuals who relied solely on money to get them through life. But Jade wasn't there, she was with her father probably trying to execute another innocent person. Her veins were on fire, begging to be ripped open and allow the pain to escape her. Before she could do so safely in her room (she forgot to pack her blade that day), she was called to the Cave; she placed the blade into her leg pocket and hoped the fabric didn't get cut. The fight against the Reds made all the sadness slip her mind; fighting usually does, since she likes to pretend her targets are her feelings and they were disappearing with each arrow fired. But that blade that rested in her pocket came back to mind when Robin mentioned the electromagnetic pulse idea. She wondered if it would be of any help, but she decided not to mention it, since Robin, as the protégé of a detective, was already onto her and could have probably figured it out if given more information. She was grateful for Wally's hoarding of alleged souvenirs, since the arrow from that fight against Amazo came in handy and really saved the day.
For a while she thought she was getting better. She began to feel accepted, even by Wally and Conner, and was improving as an archer. She was happy, had real friends, did something noble and just and something she could look back and be proud of, but all of that changed after the simulation.
It began simple as that: they were to enter a reality where there is no way of winning and they had to accept that. She thought it was a nice way to die, painless and quick and without any blood. She was a little eager to see what it was like to have pure blackness engulfing her for what seemed like eternity.
She woke up, and everybody was quiet. She had no idea what had happened, but she sensed something amiss. Kaldur told her what he could, while Wally, M'gann and Conner sat silently staring at the wall or their feet or nothing. She felt a panic attack coming on, so she ran to her bathroom in the Cave, digging around through the wooden drawers and retrieving the metal she removed from a good pencil sharpener. She shut the drawers with a bang, removed her clothes, and let the metal and her hand make a picture wherever she deemed it fit- on her hip, on her thighs, on her feet on her ankles on the backs of her knees, on her wrists... Scar upon scar turned her into a bloodied monster, full of self-hate and a pain that couldn't be cured. The bathroom tiles were covered in red from their original state of cream. She was hyperventilating, air seemingly constricting her throat and killing her lungs. She thought everyone could hear her, but if they could, they did nothing. She just sat there, breathless and waning into nothingness, until tiredness consumed her and left her full of dreamless sleep against the bathroom cabinet under the pristine sink.
The next afternoon, she decided she should go outside to make sure nobody went looking for her and saw her when she wasn't ready. After all, a cutter's best skill is deception, and hiding those parts of her was something she'd grown accustomed to.
Black Canary had no luck breaking through her walls. They were built up too high and too wide and too thick for even a bulldozer to break. She never was the kind of person to be open with feelings. Her father taught her since she was young that emotions are equal to weakness, and weakness gets you killed. When you do a job, you extract your heart from it and allow your body to take over and accomplish whatever task is needed. She did, however, find a way to admit she had fears of the team finding out her secrets, especially Wally. She never understood what was so intriguing about him. He was attractive, of course; she had to stop all the blood from going to her cheeks when he tripped into the Cave, shirtless and muscles taut, that day they met. He was also smart and interested in science just like she was. She really couldn't pinpoint it. Something was just drawing her to him as though he was a magnet and she was a piece of iron.
She was honestly not that upset when she found out about M'gann and Conner. That felt like a wake-up call. She was fooling herself, telling herself lies and letting them fuel her insecurities. Her infatuation with Conner was only an excuse to be put back in her place, pushed down and reassured that she was as awful as she thought she was. But, no matter how much she told herself that those voices that whispered to her that she was a substandard substitute and not good enough for anyone were lying, they were so convincing and good at what they did. All together, these things brought on a big dip in her usual low, her butt scraping rock bottom. She had to stay strong. She wasn't known for her fragility like M'gann or her calm like Kaldur or her anger like Conner; she was known being tough, an unbreakable, unflappable girl who is fearless and armored and guarded when she was only the last of all of those. Whispering to Wally of how M'gann and Conner were together made her stomach twist in knots, but it felt good, like a burden was being lifted from her shoulders and the weight of bottling up secrets and feelings was being shared. She didn't know how to feel about it, but she felt something inside her shift for the better.
December 4 was when she began to hit rock bottom. She was grazing it as she realized she was really just a pity case, and she was buried deep in the dirt on the 6th. Selfish was the only word that came to mind. Jeopardizing the mission because of self-doubt and lack of assurance in herself. What was so important about beating Jade herself anyway? What would that gain her? Revenge? Justice? Pride? Closure? She sabotaged herself again, brought herself down and brought herself shame. Worst of all, she was disloyal. That was something she's always been against. You stick to your morals, that is that, but she had just wronged so many people she was only beginning to get along with, including Wally. It was a mess of a plan, a mess of an attempt, a mess of a cut. It was close to the bone; she was near passing out; it required a tissue roll or two's worth of toilet paper to stop the bleeding. But she couldn't stop. She had to make six to embody all those she lost the trust of. That was one of the first times she had ever really cried. She passed out before the last cut stopped bleeding. She was lucky to have woken up before her mother found her. That would have been a disaster.
She broke on December 11, shattering as she hit the ground with a thud and as the blood dripped down her sleeve. The bottle of pills that had once contained the many tablets of painkiller she had taken lay broken on the tiles with the few pills that hadn't fit in her mouth. "Damn it," she thought to herself as she, with a sharp stab pulsing throughout her arm, tried to group together the shards in a pile that she could throw away. The blood trickled as it fell down in gasps as her heart rate increased. That was loud. That was loud. Did I lock the door? That was loud.
"Hey, Artemis! What was that?" Shit.
"Uh, uhm, nothing, Conner. Just something fell is all." Shit. Her dad would have been ashamed of that lying. Another pulse, another stab of pain, another sharp intake of breath.
"Are you sure? It sounded like something broke. I can help you clean up."
"No, it's okay, Conner. It's okay. I've got it, I can handle it, it's okay." She swiftly pulled the end of the tissue and it came off too easily in a large bunch. She began to pick up the glass and the tablets that lay scattered before her. Pulse, pulse pulse.
"It's okay. I'm here any-" The door opens. "-way." His face scrunched up as he tried to take in the state that she was in: blood pouring out of her wrist at a pace that seemed unlike any of the greatest open flesh injuries they had gotten during in any mission thus far. Her eyes were stained red and had small burst capillaries from crying. The tissue was still in her hand, as well as a few missing pieces of glass and a few pills she had missed. "Guys! I need back up in here." His eyes never left her wrist. Conner just stood there, unsure of what to do next. Cadmus had obviously not trained him for having a clinically insane friend with a wrist pouring blood onto the tiles of your home and team base.
Unknowingly, Artemis began to back away from him, crab walking without one hand until she bumped the bathtub's rim. "Conner, I'm fine. Just leave me alone," she whispered, annunciating her consonants. He didn't stop shouting though for M'gann, for Kaldur, for anybody to help him. She climbed up onto her feet and took a step back into the shower (pulse pulse pulse), trying to let as little blood as she could hit the ground with a small drip. She felt her body shaking as if caught up in its own personal earthquake. Her knees were going to give in, but, as Conner stood in front of her, she couldn't let him see that she wasn't okay. He was still shouting for help from whatever teammates were at the Cave.
"Conner, please, just lower your voice. I'll explain if you lower your voice." But he didn't stop shouting and screaming and it was all feeling like too much so she shakily lowered herself into the bathtub and lay down. Things were getting blurry and the ceiling looked dotted like a backwards night sky pinpricked with black upon a white background.
"God, SB, what's up? I was trying to- nap..." Robin was at the door now. "Okay, holy shit. What do we do? What happened? What the hell?"
"I'm going to call somebody. 911 or something."
"Yeah. And call Batman too. Tell him that he needs to get Green Arrow to go to the hospital pronto. And Canary too. We'll need her for this." Not Canary. Not therapy. Not Green Arrow. Not anybody. Just her please. Just let her be.
She wasn't able to concentrate on anything in the room. They were all blurring together in this mess of nothingness that was barely holding her together. She heard some shuffling of drawers and heavy footsteps and a distant shouting for somebody.
"What? I'm watching basketball right now and it's mid-quarter." She guessed his eyes finally landed on her state and the state of the bathroom, with its broken glass and its broken tablets and its broken girl. "Fuck. Artemis, what the fuck?" More heavy footsteps. "Dick, what the fuck?"
"Help me get her out of there. Can't you see she's bleeding, Wally?" Wally was here. She turned to see both of them talking and Robin putting some washcloths and bandages and bottles into the sink.
"I know but why?"
"Do you think I have a fucking clue? Supey found her like this, I don't know what she did, but it looks like she tried to fucking off herself."
Wally looks at her, green eyes beating into her. For a minute she felt sorry because that look on his face told her that he sure as hell did for ignoring her for so long, but he looked back at Robin and said, "Let's get to work."
They removed her in silence, Rob stepping into the tub to grab her sprawled out legs. Wally placed his hands under her armpits and tightened his grasp.
Her breath hitched in her chest and she could've sworn she saw Robin wince. "No, Dick. Wally. I'm fine, I'm-" she hiccupped, "-okay. Just leave me here please." Both the boys' faces winced as they lifted her out of the tub, out of the bathroom and onto her bed. She kept pleading, I'm okay, I'm okay, I'm alright. Just let me be. I'll be fine. It's nothing. Let me go please. Don't tell my mom. Don't tell Batman. Don't tell Ollie. Don't tell anyone. Just leave me alone. I'm okay, but they didn't let her leave. They had Conner hold her arms down and Dick hold her legs as Wally tied a tourniquet around her upper arm and applied what seemed like all of his body weight on her wrist. The cloth just kept absorbing the blood that didn't seem to stop.
"C'mon, babe. You're okay." She started to tear up. "You're okay. Or at least you will be." Tears just poured from her eyes like the pressure Wally applied on her wrist was opening some faucet in her eyes. It had all gone downhill after that stupid bottle fell and since that spat with her mom about college and the future and since last week's fight against Cheshire and since nobody trusted her and since she was absolutely, entirely alone.
The ride in the ambulance was a lonely one, full of needles and terms being shouted that had more to do with medicine than sophomore biology had taught her in the four months she was in Gotham Academy. It made her scoff a little. She looked around and listened to the pace of her heartbeat as the machine belted it off. It was noisy and obnoxious and a harrowing reminder of the fact that her blood was still circulating and her lungs still full of oxygen. Some time throughout the ride to a hospital everything went black and she fell into some void that would have reminded her of how she expected to feel when she died: like absolute nothingness.
She woke up with that same sound reverberating in the room. Her mother was holding her hand tightly and had her head rested against her fleece purple comforter from her house. As soon as she noticed that Artemis was awake she began to cry some more and kiss her up and down and say how much she loved her, but the words were so foreign to her that Artemis didn't reply. Numb and void and empty were the only feelings she had, if they could be called that at all. Her mouth had a foul taste in it. A bandage was on her wrist, taped down with leucoplast and stained very slightly with blood. An IV dripped some salt solution into her blood stream ever so slowly. It was a weird feeling, being alive, but she had to pull it together because her mother was there and God only knew how long she'd have to wait to be alone again.
Green Arrow and Canary came in next, rushing to give her hugs then quickly backing away when they realized the breach in space. Ollie tried to lighten the mood with a few jokes, to which Dinah elbowed him in the stomach and the two excused themselves after saying how they loved her like a daughter and were glad she was okay.
M'gann was the first one in, rushing to hug her and crushing her bones and already weakened body. She kissed her forehead and her cheek and her nose and her eyelids and kept telling her how much she loved her and how special she was and that she should never try that again. Artemis' face was wet with the Martian's tears that left her face cold and crackling. She just muttered, "I won't"s and "okay"s and apologies when a silence came and deemed it needed.
Conner came in next, but only for a short time, just long enough to tell her he was glad she was okay and that if she ever needed somewhere to release some steam, he was there. She really appreciated it. She was never one for the kind of affection M'gann showed; Conner's style was much more like her, reserved and rarely touchy.
Kaldur's visit was much like Conner's. As respectful as it was, it always came off too distant for her liking, but she understood the culture difference. Surely nobody in Atlantis ever tried something like this. He told her that Batman was pulling her of missions for a few weeks; she nodded and clenched her jaws, grinding her teeth until it grew painful as Kaldur told her that they all cared about her. (What lies.)
Robin came in after and took off his glasses before rubbing his eyes. He said hello and she said hi (it wasn't like she didn't suspect it; she was trained by assassins, after all). They talked about the episode that was softly playing on the television ("The show became far from aster after they killed him off.") and about how she was sure both Zatanna and Barbara had things for him. He shrugged that comment off though, casually stating that he was quite a lady's man and saying that they were all really worried and were glad she was okay. She said thank you (what else would you say, really?). He left and she was alone in a room with light yellow walls and a window that was opened too wide and seemingly blinding her.
He came in after; his red hair was messy and oily and he looked like he hadn't slept in days. She commented that he looked like hell. He said he was glad she wasn't there. It made her quiet for a while, thinking about it. She could tell that he felt bad for the joke; it was too soon and too blunt and too much of a reminder of the events of two days ago. He apologized for the comment and said he was glad she was okay. She was tempted to tell him that she wasn't, but she didn't. She kept her mouth shut and lips pursed, trying to stop the spew of emotions she was holding in her lungs. He sat down at the foot of her bed and made circles on the bottom of her feet that peeked out of the fleece blanket. It made her giggle inwardly (she had always been ticklish below the waist). Hearing this made her smile.
"We all care," he said, "about you, I mean. I know I'm mad at you, but that can wait. It all can wait. I just need you to be okay and be happy and know you're loved." He chuckled and wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. "I don't know what we'd do without you."
The grammar Nazi in her took note of the incorrect parallelism in his sentence, but her mind didn't want to read into it. She knew she thought he was cute; she, contrary to what most people would have thought, was immediately attracted to his nose, with the way it slightly turned up and had a stripe of sun block across it. Of course, she liked his eyes and hair too (they reminded her of the stereotypical Irish man) and the muscles shown off when he was without his shirt, especially his leg muscles, looked amazing to her. As he sat on the bed she remembered meeting him yet again and thought about, under the over-used red turtleneck, he looked even more beautiful. He didn't need somebody like her. He shouldn't want to be anywhere near someone like her. He doesn't deserve that. Somehow tears find their way into her eyes and down her cheeks and leave streaks on her face that shined in the fluorescent light. She used the back of her right hand to wipe it away (the other hand had the bandage on it and had an IV dripping into it).
"You'll be okay." He gulped and grabbed her other hand. "Please be okay, beautiful. Tell me what's wrong please, please." She cried even more, sobs shaking her and causing her to squeeze his hand as hard as she could. He winced, but let their fingers weave together. They stayed like that for a while, Artemis crying and Wally gripping her hand and telling her things about how she was okay and that they all cared.
She gained her composure after about ten minutes, but their hands still remained linked. Barry came in after a bit more silence and said it was time to go. Their hands separated quickly. Barry said after that he was glad she was okay. As Wally approached the door, he turned around and faintly smiled at her. Somehow she managed a smile back.
She left the hospital three days later with a bottle full of anti-depressants that some psychiatrist who reminded her Doctor Roquette.
She didn't work with the team for a few weeks. She knew they had missions, as the others had fresh bruises and cuts that hadn't been there before during their mandatory training with Black Canary. Christmas Eve was spent with her mother eating a meal of Chinese take-out and left over, flat Coke, as well as longing to at at her skin with polished blade. On the day of the new members of the League's induction, there was still a rift between her and the team, but it was healing. She didn't know how to make things less awkward and scared. Wally was distant, far and unwilling to listen to her explanations and excuses (but, quite honestly, if she was in his place, she would be doing the same.) She couldn't help but notice the small mannerisms that showed his disgust in her: how he leaned away when she was nearby; how he crossed his arms when she was offering input; how his jaw tightened when she addressed him or anybody mentioned the word trust. It was a relief when she finally told everybody about her family; it was another weight finally freed from her grasp and shared with the people she called friends and allies and teammates. Part of her told her to pull up her arm sleeves and show the scars and healing gashes that she made herself, but the timing was all wrong. She barely even noticed when M'gann somehow became a large white monster, but she couldn't care less, quite frankly, because he was standing beside her, hand wrapped around her wrist, small smiles plastered on both of their faces.
She was reasonably happy at Santa Prisca, if not a tad worried they would get caught. Kicking her father in the face was rewarding, like all those bottled-up feelings and all that resentment just was unleashed in a kick that broke his nose and left blood on her boot. Wally came to stand beside her and decided to put a hand on her shoulder, muttering that it was over at the bottom of his breath. It made her smile and look at him and see how his eyes were glittering and the sunrise made it all more like a romantic scene from a movie than a battle won against a group of evil people.
They had barely any rest until the new year, where a kiss like no other she had had- one that lifted her up and left her digits tingling and her lips hot- left her speechless and breathless and longing for more contact. After fixing all of the members of the League, he dragged her off to a corner of the Watchtower's trophy room. It reminded her a lot of his souvenir collection in the room of the Cave. He kissed her a lot against the wall there, all of their pent up feelings and hormones coming out as their tongues licked lips and fought for dominance. They stopped when the Flash came in and told them they were all going home. She was pretty sure he could see the puffiness of their lips and the flush in their cheeks; she was sure he knew when he high fived Wally and commented that she was a good catch. Wally said he knew and she was sure her face was as red as his hair.
They went on a lot of dates. For once, she was feeling good. He liked to carry her across the country and have her find them a restaurant before sunset. They'd sit and talk about how Rob had yet to ask Zatanna out and about how Kaldur's undersea friends were considering joining the team. Sometimes, he'd help her with her advanced placement biology homework in a café near Gotham Academy. Other times, she'd help him with some English essay his "brat of a teacher" requested on her table by early the next morning.
She didn't mind too much when he missed Valentine's Day; she wasn't a big romantic like he was, and she had to empathize with the number of tests he had due the next day. He couldn't stop apologizing, though, when he realized that he missed the entire day. He bought her a bouquet of flowers and ran her to a nice park in Keystone where they ate some food packed neatly in a picnic basket probably by Mrs. West. He carried her to the top of a tree and kissed her senseless at the end of the day with owls hooting and cicadas singing.
March was the first time he came over to her house. It was late at night when Batman called to say that Sportsmaster had escaped from the Blackgate Penitentiary in Gotham. It felt like the rug under her feet had been swept away, leaving her on the floor heaving. She was there for hours, listening to her cell phone chiming and ringing on her bed. She was humming some Vietnamese tune that her mother used to sing to her when she was a toddler. She used to whisper "anh yêu em" to her before kissing her forehead and shutting the lights off. That became a routine and that routine got cut off when her mother went to prison. Instead of the muttered "I love you" and the song, she would get bruises and fresh cuts and a "do better tomorrow, baby girl." She knew she'd be okay (she always was, wasn't she?) but she was scared of what would happen because she knew her father knew how much she loved her team and she didn't want them to get hurt. She didn't want to see Kaldur and M'gann burning or Conner and Dick knocked out or anything where Wally was injured. Images came like a film reeling through her head. He came in through the window, saying, "Babe? You okay?" He saw her and just sat beside her and held her hand as she cried, mumbling the occasional "it's okay," or "we'll be fine," when she cried extra loud. She fell asleep while he held her. Her mom told her the next morning that Wally had stayed until 1 in the morning to make sure she would sleep well and that he introduced himself and he seemed like a nice boy. Artemis agreed and smiled.
Their summer was spent with the team at the Cave. They had intense training with Black Canary, who deemed their performance last December as acceptable but needing more training; in her words, they all should have been able to take down Superman without the use of kryptonite. Artemis taught M'gann how to do some gymnastics moves. She was happy it made her friend happy. After training, they would all go out to the beach. Artemis would never swim, though. Scars littered her body and she really didn't want to show them off. Mid-summer, some time in late July when the sun was beginning to stop heating the sand too much, Wally convinced her to go into the ocean in her shirt and denim shorts. Reluctantly, she went in, feeling shivers crawl up her spine as the salt water lapped against her skin. The whole team was there at that point. M'gann cheered when she got near them. Wally took her under his arm and said he was proud of her. He told her she was his girl and she glared at him. He shrugged it off.
"You know, you don't have to wear that shirt, right, babe?"
"Wally, could you be any more straight forward?"
"Shut up, Rob. She knows what I'm talking about." And she did. Zatanna agreed, telling her that none of them minded the scars. She grabbed the edge of the shirt and fiddled it between her fingers. She felt somebody grab her other hand and she decided. She threw the shirt back to land and crossed her arms over her chest to hide the few scars she had there. She saw Conner and Kaldur turn away, saw Rob's jaw clench, saw M'gann touch her lips, saw Zatanna grimace.
"Wow, you're so gorgeous, babe." She glared at him again.
"My eyes are up here, Kid Pervert." The comment made everybody laugh and took all that awkward pressure that seemed to choke her away.
School began again and the number of dates they got lessened and the number of missions increased. Wally was busy college hunting (his parents liked that he planned his future) while she was busy trying to dig herself out of the rut that seemed to envelop her. Money got tight; the funds she and her disabled mother made began to run out and she was forced to get a job as a barista at the local coffee shop after school daily. The team occasionally stopped by to keep her company and help her feel better. She appreciated it, but none so much as she appreciated Dick for walking her there from Gotham Academy. It made her feel less desperate, although the money that seemed to leak from his pockets made the job ("What's your name? That will be $3.49, please.") seemed so much more demeaning when he dropped her off and got into the limousine that seemed to always be a street corner away. Wally was there as often as he could be as well, determined to order what he liked to call "his usual," sit at the small circular table nearest the back of the café and do his homework until she got off and he'd run her to a McDonald's, buy dinner and make out in the alley of the photo booth until it was so near her curfew that he had to run her to the door and speed back to make it in time for his.
A few times, it felt like too much for her. She would see the piles of bills- electricity, water, apartment rentals, credit cards- and break down in her room. One night, she shattered the bathroom mirror and made a slice against her hip that left her craving for more. Cut after cut after cut. Her mother knocked on the door and begged her to come out. She begrudgingly did so, letting her mother hug her as the blood dripped down her leg and the tears down her face. She was tired of having to carry herself.
That night, she called Dick and her mother called Wally and somehow the three of them ended up sprawled out in her room with Dick's laptop in front of them watching some recent Doctor Who episodes. Somehow the stress and the money and the bills all spiraled out of her mouth in a fit and left her with her hands guarding her face from the other two and the other two questioning what to do. They just sat there, patting her back and telling her that it would all end up okay. (Would it all end up okay?) Sometime during all the tears, she managed to lie down and fell asleep all cozied up against the wall. She woke up with Wally lying on the opposite bed and Dick on a mattress someone (her mother, no doubt) had brought into the room. It was a Saturday and she was okay.
Sometime after that, the bills lessened but the usage of everything didn't. She suspected Dick had told his father and the Batman, being as powerful as he was, had managed to pull some shit again and made life easier.
Christmas rolled around in a burst: kisses and mistletoe and eggnog that spilled all over the floor of the Cave. M'gann had insisted on the party and Artemis had reluctantly agreed. There was a tree, of course; Earth tradition said a tree with lights and decorations was to be placed in the living area and presents placed below it. She hadn't gotten anybody anything big; not like how Rob got Wally a giant replica of some chemical structure that nobody else understood but they both knew about, nor how Conner got M'gann this giant stuffed bear that she, in her words, had been "needing forever!" The gifts were small and fit for the small paychecks she got. She liked how Wally kissed her temple when he opened the small lightning bolt ring he got (he stated that it made him feel like he could knock somebody out, which he probably could with or without the ring). She whispered something else to him, which left him wearing a goofy smile that lasted on his face for a few minutes until Rob pointed it out. The team laughed, but Wally just looked back at her as if to ask if she was seriously. She just smirked in reply.
The next few nights were theirs, full of new adventures and dates and movies and bowling and, in the exact words that Wally would later tell Dick, "getting to second base, dude!" It was amazing and made her feel light and entity-less, as if the gravity that Newton had discovered had somehow floated away in this stream of his footfalls and her dim lighting of the bedroom in her apartment. Their anniversary was spent similarly, at the Cave on the beach, covered and bundled under blankets and their favorite turtleneck sweaters. He was kissing her minutes before and minutes after the year ended. She decided that it was the best way to start fresh yet.
He forgot Valentine's Day again. It left her more annoyed than last year, as she really expected the inner romantic in him to leave her speechless with whatever surprise he pulled out of his pocket, but he and Dick had been obsessed with a brand-new video game that had come out and had spent the entire day playing it on the big screen TV of the Cave. He apologized after, but she was never one to hold grudges with him; with everybody else, it was a different story.
Summer left her stressed with colleges. Her mother insisted that she look into it, claiming that "even super heroes had jobs on the side, and you won't get a job unless you go to college." She saved that shard of mirror in the drawer she keeps her turtlenecks in, deeming the underwear drawer too obvious. It got used pretty often that July and early August, with wind of the approaching change in season nipping at the open wounds. He saw them one day when her cardigan rode too high and kissed the wrists until she was sure there would be an imprint of his lips on her skin. It left them tingling and light and unable to be touched by her shard of the mirror again. (She was glad she had him.)
She invited him over for dinner the night after his birthday. His mother allowed it and he got to feast upon pot upon pan of food she had spent the entire day cooking for him: spaghetti and cake and tomato soup and steak with its blood and juices oozing out; he claimed to like it that way because it got from the grill to his mouth faster. Somewhere in the hustle and bustle of small talk ("The weather here is sure horrible. What's it like in...?" "Keystone City, ma'am." "Oh, please. Call me Paula." "Sure, Mrs. Cro- Paula. Well, it's much warmer. Lots of tornadoes and stuff, but that's Kansas for you!" Laughter) she began to zone out.
The house seemed more quiet than usual, even if it had another person so full of booming energy and vivacity. It didn't make sense to her, why somebody so pure and so chaste would want to dirty his hands with muck like her. She was a stained photograph that was used as a coaster, as a bookmark, as somewhere to wipe ones cleats; she was indented and rubbed raw and cold and beaten to a pulp. She felt her pulse pick up, fingers twitching and moving and shaking and she knew the trepidation was coming.
"Excuse me, I have to go to the bathroom." And she half-ran and hoped her mother and her boyfriend were too deep in the conversation about the majesty of a college that is Stanford to notice.
The door locked with a click and her chest rose and fell alarmingly fast. Her mouth felt dry and lips felt chapped and eyes not nearly as wet as they should have been. It felt like an elephant was pressing down on her chest relentlessly and it wouldn't let up even if she begged and pleaded because it was Wally's birthday dinner with her and it was about him being 17 and not her being of unsound mind.
She tightened her fists and pressed them down against the sink counter and counted. "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten," she whispered (to who, she wasn't sure.) Some psychiatrist who looked at her last year in the hospital suggested it. ("Chronic depression with borderline personality disorder and panic disorder. Start with a 10-milligram dosage of Lexapro, or the generic escitalopram, and a 2-milligram Abilify. I'll have you back in two weeks, okay?")
Her palms were slick with sweat, as were her forehead and armpits. ("When did it get so warm in here? It's November in Gotham," she thought to herself.) She could feel her heart skipping and pounding and pounding until she couldn't hear the hum of conversation outside the bathroom door, only her heart beating. Her saliva kept getting caught in her esophagus. Her throat felt like it was constricting, becoming smaller and smaller until air could barely pass and the ceiling tiles were swirling.
"Artemis? You okay, em bé? You've been in there for ten minutes."
"Ye-Yeah, mom." She knew her voice was shaking and that it could have easily been detected as a lie, but her mother didn't press. She never did.
"Babe? Can I come in?"
She didn't know why not. She didn't have an answer. The lock clicked open and her eyes glanced up. He was standing there in all his glory, back straight up and spine vertical. He was worried; his hair was unkempt and flopping differently and he had a tendency to mess up his hair when he got worried.
"Your mom gave me the key." He grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her toward him. He was warm, which wasn't exactly helping since the heat flashes kept coming and her eyes were suddenly too watery.
"You okay?" He mumbled. She craned her neck down to press her face into his collarbone and shook her head.
"Well, you will be, okay?" He tightened his grip around her. "I'm right here."
"Because you're special and you're far from perfect."
"Wait! That's not what I meant exactly. Uhm..." She knew his face was creased and trying to phrase what he wanted to say properly. He had always been the science guy, never really into language and poetic prose and speaking.
"I'm far from perfect too."
She scoffed again.
"No! Seriously." She was laughing and she didn't really know why.
"I got a B on my last biology test!"
"Oh, how dreadful." She knew he was happy she was using sarcasm.
"And- and I'm not good at this stuff!"
"No shit, Sherlock."
"The point is that I love you."
Her eyes shot open and her body tensed.
"It's okay! You don't need to say it back! I just want you to know."
She wrapped her arms around him and sniffed the scent of laundry detergent and baby powder and a freshly mowed lawn that Wally seemed to carry everywhere.
They stayed like that for a while until her mother said it was cake time and they went back outside. They didn't talk about it again, but the way she kept catching him looking at her said that he knew what he said (and maybe he meant it, but she didn't want to read too far into that.)
Christmas was spent in the Cave. She was a non-practicing Buddhist, but living in the United States and in her conditions made her far from religious and very into those cultural things that people did there, like cutting down the trees and setting them up (in a cave.) M'gann had suggested it and Wally had seconded the idea. Garth and Tula were there too- they had joined the team a few weeks prior to the 25th- and were reminiscing with Kaldur about some time with their fingers loosely laced together.
The clock struck 12 and Red Tornado was showered with gifts, which she couldn't help but chuckle at. Zatanna kissed Robin and muttered something to him, to which he rolled his eyes.
"Hey, babe." She turned around and felt a tap on her shoulder. She turned again and felt lips press ardently against hers. She responded with a flick of her tongue against his bottom lip. She pulled away and looked up.
"Really, Wally? I knew you were cheesy, but I didn't expect you to be this bad."
"C'mon! Mistletoe's a classic!"
"You've got problems." She rolled her eyes but felt his hand grab hers.
"And you've got me."
"Do you know I got my first bow for Christmas?"
"Really now?" His eyebrow shot up like it always did when he wanted to say something either suggestive or contradictory.
"Yup. Dad gave it to me when I was seven. That's when we started training." She tilted her head down and looked sideways.
"I've never really been a Christmas person."
"Well, I love Christmas! And this one will be a good one, I promise." He smiled at her with his teeth shining bright and crinkles at the corners of his eyes. "Let's go. I think we're all ready to open gifts."
She got a dress for M'gann, something small and slinky and way too seductive for her taste, but the way Wally ogled at it told her she'd wear it one time. Conner gave her a pair of boxing gloves. ("For when you need to let it out," he said; she knew he hadn't forgotten that day in the bathroom.) Zatanna decided to buy her sexual gag gifts that she probably wouldn't show anybody in fear that they'd either laugh or their ears would turn red. Kaldur got her a notebook and a nice copy of some old classics that only the two of them really enjoyed reading. Raquel opted for a jersey of some hockey player she idolized. ("How did you get this?! I've been looking for Kunitz gear for so long!") Garth and Tula got her a shared set of simple practice arrows that she said thank you for politely, even if she knew that she had a set to practice with in the gym. Robin got her Portal 2 and told her she had to bring it over and they'd all play it one time. Wally got her a new scope for her bow and a few bottles of different shampoos. ("You're always running out, so I thought I'd get you some. My mom helped me pick them out.")
New Year's rolled around and left kisses trailed along her back and collarbone and her shirt discarded on the floor of a closet in the cave. M'gann caught them both topless and sweaty and claimed it was because she was looking for something to clean up a mess that had been made in the kitchen when she was making food, but all three of them knew that she was just enjoying seeing them in a working relationship, even if it had been a year already. It wasn't only a surprise to her though. Artemis knew that everybody was either betting against them, claiming they were too different, too belligerent, too lazy, or believing they were stars connected by some astral dust that floated around about their heads.
He forgot Valentine's Day again when Stanford sent a scholarship. Apparently a 4.2 GPA was enough to buy you half off tuition. He was celebrating and she was locked in her room, infrequently replying to his texts about how happy he was that he got in and that his family could afford it. Maybe it was the euphoria that brought on his insensitivity. She didn't really know. All she knew was that her wrists were burning a little and that, when the team found out next time they met, M'gann would probably cry and Kaldur would berate her and Rob would just lower his eyebrows and bite his lip. She didn't know what Wally would do. He would probably just get angry and sad and hurt and frustrated that he couldn't do anything.
What she guessed happened and Wally didn't talk to her for two days. When he did, he apologized and she said it was okay, but it wasn't. Not really. The reality of college was starting to sink in. The fact that Gotham U was a shitty college but the only place they could afford in-state tuition and she could stay close enough to a zeta tube and to the team.
She got a letter on March 22: an acceptance letter.
"When did you do this?! Are you crazy?! Mom, we can't pay for this!"
"Mr. Bruce Wayne is giving you a scholarship. I know it seems like a long shot, baby, but I want you to take this."
"Mom, I can't leave you." Her jaw clenched as she lowered herself to her mother's height. "I can't leave the team."
"There's a zeta beam there. And you'll be with Wally, and I promise you that will be enough." Her eyes looked like salt was being rubbed into them, leaving them raw and cringing; the smile on her face was plastered there, stuck at the dimples at the corners of her lips.
"You need me."
"I'll live." She rolled herself forward and pulled her daughter down. "Give your mother a hug."
"It's for the best, Artemis."
And they stayed like that, with Artemis crouching awkwardly with her mom's head pressed between her breastplate and her mother's arms wrapped around her daughter's waist.
He graduated earlier and with honors and as valedictorian, no less. He didn't give a speech though and left the salutatorian with that job. He just stood there looking pretty as he bit his lip raw out of nerves; she, for one, knew he was socially anxious and a good liar. The diplomas were handed out and Keystone High's principal shook hands with those of about 300 seniors. They tossed their caps and screamed so loud that Artemis was pretty certain her eardrums were popping a little.
He jogged up to her and grabbed her by the waist and wrapped his arms around her so tight that she felt like she was about to barf. But it was a nice feeling, weightlessness as he spun her around like a ragdoll even if she knew her muscles were heavy and dense. She slid down and kept her mouth near his, nipping at his lip as she said congratulations.
"Thanks, babe. Couldn't have done it without you." He leaned toward her. She backed away.
"Not in public, Wallman." She laughed.
"No fair! All the other guys here get to have sex with their girlfriends after gradu- hi, mom! Hi dad!"
She knew she wasn't really needed anymore as his parents enveloped him in hugs and tears of pride and "I love you"s. She promised to come by for dinner, though; she didn't end up going, holing herself up in a corner of her room where her mother couldn't hear her dry heaving about the remnants she had of a family.
Her graduation wasn't nearly as special. No one was there, other than Wally, whose cheering at the call of her name made up for the lack of other people; he was loud as hell and she didn't know how to feel about it. He walked her home, their fingers laced together.
"I'm so proud of you, beautiful." They were standing in front of her door already.
"I am too." She lasted through torture. She could get through it all. She tiptoed and kissed his cheek as she walked inside to hear distorted screams. She halted.
"Surprise, babe!" There were Dick and Barbara and Garth and Tula and Kaldur and M'gann and Conner and Zatanna and Raquel and Troia and Karen and Jason and her mother and it was too much at once, her small home enclosing around her and making her head light and the room spinning and oh shit she was going to pass out.
"Do you like it? We all wanted to be here for you but by the time we planned it there were no more tickets to the graduation itself so this will have to do."
Too many people all at once flooded her mind, names and faces and details like bombs and when did the ceiling get so low?
Her knees began giving way. M'gann caught her.
"Whoa there. You okay?" M'gann laughed.
"Y-yeah." She shook her head but it made everything blurrier, like a massive abstract painting where the colours were swirling together into a brown mess. "I'll just lie down for a while." She ran up the stairs and unto her bedroom where she lay down and fell asleep.
She woke up and nobody was there anymore.
The summer was hotter than most. The team spent most days at the beach, their hair becoming a constant mess of sand and salt and lack of shampoo. It was nice, though, the closeness. She honestly wouldn't have cared if she just stayed there forever. The missions were light, especially since not all of the team had to go all the time. The girls often spent time in her room, barging in and proclaiming that they were having a sleepover and locking the doors. (That was the summer she learned how to braid; it saved her hair, in all honesty.) M'gann would talk about her problems with Conner and Karen would just laugh and say that she and Mal were doing well and Zatanna would say, "Don't use the third stall of the training room bathroom anymore," and they would all take a moment to comprehend the statement until they did and make vomit noises.
"How about you, Artemis? How far have you gotten with Wally?"
"Uhm, second, I think?"
Well, it's frenched, felt, fingered, fucked so, where?"
Her face was on fire. "Maybe stealing to third as of now?"
The girls would laugh and drop their nail polish wands on the ground, leaving small marks of red and purple on her carpet.
(They went to "third" that weekend after telling Wally the story; "just run toward the base, babe!" and she attacked him with such fervor that he didn't talk the rest of the night, just brushed her hair with the tips of his fingers, even if they got caught in the knots.)
They left for college on a Monday, zipping through the zeta tubes with the particles of their tears dispersing as they were sent across the country.
Her roommate was named Jenny. She was loud and obnoxious and enjoyed listening to house music that made Artemis want to shoot her in the foot with an arrow to make her stop. She constantly had her boyfriend in the dorm room and often made out with him (probably more, but she didn't have the guts to open the door when the lace thongs hung on the doorknob.) She befriended a girl in her English literature class and often sat next to her in the third row. The two of them, Wally and a couple of other boys would eat lunch together at the local hamburger joint that, Wally was certain, took the choco-banana milkshake recipe from the good place in Central City.
They still went to missions, very rarely though. Batman called them in for emergencies only or when the team really needed a speedster or an archer (they were a package deal, though, no arguments.) It was the life.
That is, until Jason died and she spiraled again.
The medicine had kept her stable thus far (20 milligrams of escitalopram had the tendency to do such), but she broke and bolted her dorm room and started to throw things around, intentionally stepping on splinters and prying open her fancy five-blade razor to make ten slices on each thigh. They stung when she cried above them, looking down at the sight of pools and straight, raised marks.
"Babe?" She couldn't bear it and sliced again.
"Artemis?" He knocked again and it was too loud and it was like she could hear Jason screaming in her ears.
"Artemis, open the door, please." Two more cuts on her left leg and another on her right and she'd be done, she promised.
There was noise and the door slammed open and she barely saw him run into the bathroom and get a roll of tissue and press them against her legs, whispering something to himself about "okay." And he was terrified and she was terrified too.
"I've been okay for so long." It came out as a sob.
"I know, babe." He added more tissue.
"I can't believe he-" she hiccupped.
"I know, babe. I can't either."
She looked up at him and his eyebrows shot up and creased together. "Please don't leave me tonight."
"I'm never going to."
(He woke up to the sound of her bathroom door creaking open. Artemis had left the light on and she was putting gauze on her thighs and drawing butterflies on her hips and he was happy.)
They quit the team a few days later, stating they needed to focus on their academics, but the team knew it wasn't true.
Zatanna and Dick visited for Halloween. They went all around to collect candy in mock costumes of their old uniforms. Zatanna was a witch. ("She doesn't need the costume to be one, ouch!" Dick rubbed his arm.) Dick was a ninja. ("So, I'm your ninja boyfriend, huh?" "Geez, you two, I've said it before, and I'll say it again: get a room!") Wally was a car. ("Dude your costume looks like that of a three-year-old." "You don't have to live on a college kid's budget! Just be thankful I colored this box, ok?") Artemis was Robin Hood. ("Hey babe, It'd show you my arrow any day." "Shut up, Wally." ) They stalked around the village and drank beer in the hotel room Bruce Wayne rented for them until they fell asleep on the floor with the sound of old Friends reruns playing in the background.
Artemis took Wally to the dentist two days later; he had finished all of his candy and half of hers in an hour.
Her next breakdown was when she received a text from her mother stating she needed to borrow some money from the bank. She slit her left wrist twice, featherlike strokes leaving only three dots of blood on each line. Wally didn't find them until four days later when they were kissing on her bed and she winced when he locked her wrists above her head.
The psychiatrist added 2 more milligrams of Abilify to "level her mood and keep away the anxiety." She scoffed at it and decided it was too expensive to keep ingesting, though Wally made her take it when it got bad.
Her roommate flunked out in December, leaving an empty bed on the other side of the room. Nobody joined her for the rest of the year there, even if Stanford kept insisting that they would send another girl to sleep there soon.
It was Christmas again and it was all too fast and she bought him that pair of running shoes he was eyeing in the sporting goods store and he bought her a recurve bow since she wanted to practice with it. She fell asleep at 1:00 in the morning and woke up at dawn to mistletoe all above her head, from the ceilings to the lampshades to hung on the small decorative Christmas tree on the bedside table.
"Merry Christmas, babe."
She didn't reply. She was always half asleep when she woke up.
He pointed up before kissing her hard on the mouth and barely letting his teeth graze her top lip. She didn't know how it happened but they ended up on her bed, stark naked, barely making out each others silhouettes in the light of the sunrise.
It didn't hurt. She had dealt with much worse. She took forever; he didn't take long enough. (She made the speed joke about it a few months later when it wasn't still a raw and open wound to his masculine ego.) He got to her though, her back arching up into his stomach, mouth agape and jaw vibrating, muscles tightening and nails digging into his arms.
They lay like that until he got hungry.
They heard news of Tula's death and wrapped themselves even tighter in each other's arms. The next few days went the same way, filled only with love and food, which Wally would argue were synonyms. Family called occasionally and told them to come home, which they reluctantly did for two days in each city. Mary told her that she looked like she was glowing; Artemis couldn't tell if it was a very light euphemism that she knew that she had fucked the living daylights out of her son, but she said thank you all the same. Paula had ché waiting for her at home and a big bowl of pho, saying that even if there are many Vietnamese people in California, a home-cooked meal is worth much more.
The last semester was long and dragging, filled with tests and trying to figure out her major. English was a close second option, but she chose architecture instead, remembering the lines and the measurement she did when she drew the bowstring back and released it. Wally embraced her so hard that she thought her bones were breaking.
"Babe! We're seven minutes from each other by bus! That's so far!"
"At least you'll have something to look forward to this time." She rolled her eyes and sat on her suitcase, zipping up the side of it and pushing it upright. That was everything. They had somewhat conquered their first year of college and were moving into a small apartment on the outskirts of the college town where the pavement was rougher and they allowed dogs. (They had yet to decide on a name, but she convinced him that a pug was the right choice because it was ferocious and lovable like she was; she had meant it as a joke, but he took it seriously.)
The apartment was cool and spacious and didn't feel like home. It was cheap for the size and quality, though, and the two had jumped on the chance to be able to love each other without having to lock the doors to make sure nobody came in. It came furnished with an uncomfortable brown couch and a breakfast nook and a rug that made her toes squishy and a bed just big enough for the two of them.
The first night was difficult. It felt weird being somewhere new, especially since Wally was a big cuddle big and had draped his heavy arm across the top of her chest and his leg across her thighs. It was home now, though, even if it felt like some distant and foreign place.
They christened their home the next morning with sex then a party with the team. There were new members who Artemis tried to greet with as much kindness as she could, but she couldn't manage to look the new Robin in the mask. Dick tried to snag her away as often as he could, but she almost always managed going to the bathroom to throw up or cry a little before washing her hands and serving more champagne and orange juice.
They spent the summer working, going back to Keystone, Central, Gotham and Happy Harbor every few weeks and then returning to earn their keep. The landlord decided to raise the rent by $100, thus sending Artemis into another job at the In-N-Out joint and Wally into high-paying work study job at Stanford. They kept one of those old-school piggy banks on their coffee table and put in half of the day's extra money into it, saving the rest for groceries and other things (i.e. condoms, and lots of them.)
The next year was started uneventfully. They spent days kissing and studying the class they both decided to take- Vietnamese Literature, though Wally has no idea how she convinced him to do it. They stayed up until two in the morning studying and doing other things, and called home once a week to catch up with old friends.
Everything was okay until Batman called them back to Happy Harbor in November, three days before his birthday.
The Joker and Harley had teamedup with a number of other villains and had created some sort of mind-control gas that was spreading throughout the northeast. Only a few of both the Justice League and the team were under it, but they were retained and were undergoing treatment still. The poison still had to be controlled and the League needed all hands on deck.
"Are you sure you can do this, babe?" He stepped out of his pants and rummaged through the back of the closet for his uniform.
"No," she laughed a little, "But I'm needed and so I have to go." She jumped as she pulled her pants up. (She probably gained more fat in the past few years than she ever has in her life. Wally didn't seem to mind, though. He'd kiss the skin and run his hands along her curves just the same.)
He kissed her before they left, grasping her hand as they left.
(In the end, they won; they always do.)
The next few months were a blur of planning with Dick and Wally and Kaldur. They talked of undercover missions and hidden feelings and taking acting lessons at the community center, the last of which Wally was adamantly against but begrudgingly went through with.
She died. He died inside. She lived. He lived. He died.
Down and down and down, a map of new scars that couldn't seem to fill the void again. She was always watched by a teammate. Brucely was sad, whimpering in a corner waiting for Wally to come home. She slept on the couch every night, a mattress sprawled out beside her for whoever wanted to come and share in her agony. (It was usually Dick; they were both hurting beyond compare.) She knew he was the new scabs and scratches and cuts but he said nothing about it and she was glad.
She never picked up her phone. Her mother visited once; Jade and Roy and Lian visited thrice. She was unresponsive, a murmur of who she once was.
"I know he's not gone."
"Why do you think so?"
"I can just feel it, you know? He's still here."
"You know you wanna believe he's still here too."
"Of course I do, but-"
"I've been researching. There's this thing called the speed force, and-"
"Dick. Please stop talking." It was a powerful kind of whisper, something strong and forceful and hard to hear because she sounded like she was going to burst into flames if she didn't get her way.
Dick didn't sleep over again after that night.
It was either M'gann or Karen or Raquel or Zatanna who stayed beside her. They came with her daily dose of medicine in a container (one given to them by Batman, no doubt; he probably didn't trust that she would take the proper dosage; she didn't know if she trusted herself either.) The girls liked to comment that the scars were increasing, but she'd always say they had been there before.
It was raining and it was a Wednesday in the middle January. It was weird weather for California, but California itself was weird, so she accepted it. Zatanna was outside taking a phone call and she was inside, fumbling with her blade.
"Artemis! Artemis! Open the door!" She banged at the door with power in her first until she unlocked it with some spell Artemis was too lazy to decipher.
He was there, flesh and bone and a torn up uniform, scratches and bruises on his body. He was lankier, but his hair was still red and his eyes were still green and light freckles still dotted his cheekbones and the bridge of his nose and god did he smell awful but he was there and alive and okay and she wanted to kiss him and she did and it was magnificent.
They slowly returned to normal. He traced her new scars with his fingertips and counted them.
"There are 68 new ones."
"I wish I never left."
"Sorry I did it."
"I love you." He hadn't ever said it until then. Neither had she. She replied, though, with the same words and they lay down together as if life was okay again. (And it was. Or it would be. They weren't too sure.)
They got married on the Happy Harbor beach and she traveled on his back to wherever the wind would take them. They settled back in Keystone and she made houses and he joined the police force like his uncle and they were happy. They had children- three- who were beautiful combinations of the two of them. They would ask ,"Mommy, what are those lines on you?" and Artemis would say quiet but Wally always had the answer:
"It proves your mommy's strong, kid."
And she actually believed it.