This is the first chapter of what I hope soon balloons into an enormous epic, and yes I realize that is farfetched but let a guy dream. I would like to extend my utmost thanks to fellow fanfic writer mahlia, without whose help this would be far, far worse. And, well, that's it! Read, enjoy, and tell me how I might improve this.
M'gann had been the first to die.
"It should've been you," he remembers hissing, screaming, shouting, cursing, again and again, at the girl he'd saved instead. Artemis never does anything but stand there, taking the abuse silently. One night, it's too much for her, and she vanishes.
Kaldur had been next to disappear in the screaming heat of a disintegrator beam. He'd shoved Wally to the side, the look in his eyes burned into Wally's brain for the rest of his life.
Of course he'd had to die content, the bastard.
The remaining three of them manage well for a few months. Dick learns to fly M'gann's bio-ship with some proficiency and Conner and Wally salvage one of the disintegrators from a downed but still-intact alien ship. They live on hope for those months as Wally and Dick pore over the technology, taking every last scrap of it apart in their desperation to find something that could be used to their advantage, all while men and women and children burn outside their sanctuary. They hope that the discovery they'd made, that zeta radiation could be detected coming off of the beam, means what they wanted it to.
Oh, how naïve of them.
"Yeah, it uses zeta tech," Wally tells them one evening. "It uses it to tear its victims apart on a subatomic level and scatter their remains all over the place."
The PDA slips from his hands, smashing against the floor, and he walks off.
Conner abandons them soon afterwards. The major telecommunications networks all went down shortly after the initial assault, so there's not a shred of definitive information save for some rumors, and they just know the clone is gone.
After that it's just him and Dick. They do what they can—blow up a scout here, rescue survivors there. But at this point they're fighting a losing war, merely stalling the inevitable. At some level, behind the smiles and what little encouragement they can offer, they realize this. Maybe it's why they keep moving, moving by months across the continental United States, never looking back.
Dick dies when a tank round, fired by a panicked half-trained recruit thinking that they are bandits, hits the car they're using as cover. Wally drags them both away, but he's too late to keep a cloud of fragmentation from tearing into Dick's leg and severing the femoral artery. He cradles his best friend in his arms as he bleeds out, pressure bandages and makeshift tourniquets doing nothing to staunch the bleeding.
"Oh God," the soldier says as he runs up. "Is he okay? Is he okay?"
Wally stands, lifting his friend in his arms, and disappears. He buries him later that night in the middle of a forest, raising a cairn in lieu of a gravestone. He later brings the bio-ship over, cloaking it and setting it down.
He just gives up after that. His yellow-red uniform goes into an old scavenged backpack, replaced with odds and ends that he finds. He keeps away from any major concentrations of people, and the one time that he does pop into one, he is only in long enough to snag a new canteen, his old one having broken beyond repair in a brief tussle with a grizzly bear somewhere in the Rockies.
It is exactly one year after M'gann's death that he finds Artemis again, just outside of the settlement he's vacated. Or more specifically, she finds him.
A weight crashes down on his shoulders just as he's about to sprint off into the night. Combat training long-forgotten kicks in, and he rolls with the blow, throwing whoever it is off his back. He makes to run off again, but his attacker is there, an intercepting fist slamming into his face. Whoever this is, she—and she is most definitely a she, he can tell that much even with her heavy cloak whipping around—she knows enough about how to fight speedsters that she presses the advantage, striking quickly, keeping him on his heels, never letting him use his speed for a moment.
It ends when she sweeps his legs out from under him and pounces, holding a knife to his throat.
He knows that move. He's been humiliated with it more times than he cares to remember, but it can't be her, it just can't. One look at her face beneath her ragged hood and at those familiar dark eyes, a strand of golden hair coated with grime and muck dangling down across her forehead and he knows it's her.
"I'm sorry," he croaks out, trembling. "I'm so sorry."
Artemis says nothing as she cracks him across the temple and everything goes black.
When he wakes up, the noon sun is beating down on the world, and he is tied to a tree. Artemis is half-asleep, leaning against her own tree, her knife resting unsheathed on her thigh, ready to be picked up at a moment's notice.
He shifts, and her eyes shoot open.
"Wally," she says, her voice even and flat. "Where are the others?"
"Dead," he hears himself say.
"Kaldur got zapped, Conner ran off, Rob bled out." He trembles a little at the memories, but keeps himself under control.
"And how did you survive?"
He laughs a harsh, croaking laugh. "How do you think?"
She purses her lips and pulls a whetstone from a pouch, sliding her blade across it with a quiet whisk, whisk, whisk. "Never thought that you of all people would stoop to crime," she says after a while. "That canteen belonged to someone, you know."
"I know," he says. "And what the hell's the point? The world's fallen. The world fell a long, long time ago. We're just waiting for the executioner's axe."
She says nothing in response, merely standing and walking off. Wally sighs, slumping against the trunk, and gets to working himself loose.
He's only managed to give himself maybe a centimeter's worth of slack when Artemis returns, a fat pair of rabbits in her hand.
"You've lost your touch, Baywatch," she says, setting them down and walking over to cut him loose. Wally just stares at her as she begins to skin them. "Well? Can you go get some kindling and fuel, or is that too mentally taxing for you, Kid Idiot?"
He gets up and speeds off, returning a minute later with a pile of small twigs cradled in his arms. He dumps it and sets to clearing an area, arranging stones and lighting the kindling with a moment's work.
"Thanks," Artemis says. She digs around in her pack—where had that been a moment before?—and pulls out a small cast-iron pot. "Stream's that way. Can you go fill this?"
She blinks and Wally is back, the pot sloshing full. "Why are you doing this?" he asks, handing it over.
"This whole—everything," he says. "You keep using those jokesy-cutesy nicknames that we used to use, and you're not even yelling at me. Why? Last I remember, I was blaming you for M'gann's death."
Artemis shrugs. "You were upset," she says. "This is you, Wally, you can't hate anyone. You even stopped hating me after a while."
"Do you really believe that?"
"I have to," she says. "Because in case you haven't noticed, we're the only ones left, Wally. You and me, the last remnants of the Justice League."
"Fat lot of good that's going to do," he snorts. "A speedster who couldn't save his own friends and an archer without arrows."
"I still have some," she says.
"Are any of your trick arrows left? Y'know, the ones that might actually prove useful against those alien attack craft?"
"In other words, no useful arrows. Fantastic."
Artemis dumps both rabbits into the pot, and takes it from Wally. She places it next to the fire, stands, and knees him in the groin. "Okay," she says. "I've been remarkably patient with you up until this point, but you need to get over yourself. Yes, everyone you've ever cared about is dead, I'm in the same boat here. Or do you think that you guys weren't family to me? We are the only two people left on the face of the planet who are capable of doing anything, Wally, so get your shit together and help me."
Wally recovers, his hands on his knees, his breath coming in short pants. He glares up at her. "Fine," he growls out. "But you'd better have a plan."
She smirks. "Oh, yes."
Her plan is a bit fantastic, in the sense of "you honestly think that this is going to work" fantastic, not "gee-golly-willikers, this is fantastic!" fantastic. But for the first year, it works well. The few villains that hadn't been killed in the initial invasion were now warlords of vast hidden empires. So they go in, bring in Artemis as a plant, and then when the time is right several weeks later, spring her and all the supplies—mostly what little high explosives there are in the armories—they need and flee. They spend another couple months lying low in the wilderness, then rinse and repeat.
It's only when they attempt this with Vandal Savage over in what used to be Tibet that things go very, very wrong.
"Stay with me Arty, stay with me!" Wally shouts as he cradles her in his arms, dodging bullets. "Oh shit oh shit oh shit."
"Don't call me Arty," she slurs, her hand pressed weakly over the wound in her side. Her skin is steadily taking on an ashen hue as blood drips away in a crimson trail behind them. Her head lolls against his bare arm, and he shivers a little at how cold she feels.
"Is that really that important right now?" he hisses. "Actually, it probably is. Just keep talking to me, Artemis, keep talking."
"Take a left here," she says. "Kick open the door and take the staircase up." He obeys, finding himself on a high tower.
"This is a dead end," he says, hearing the angry shouts getting closer.
"Y'can run down the wall, can't you?" she says.
"Do you want me to aggravate that gaping hole in your side?" he says as he speeds back down. "I'm not losing you, Arty."
"Stop callin' me that," comes her reply. "You wan' the long way out, take the next right and keep taking rights."
"Thank you," he says, kicking his speed up a notch. "Now keep conscious."
"M'dad's Sportsmaster," she says suddenly.
"That's nice," he says. "Why are you telling me this?"
She shrugs. "If'm gonna croak I might as well be honest with you," she says.
"You're not going to die on me," Wally says. "Tell me more about your family."
"The League of Shadows assassin with the smiley-cat-mask thing?"
"Y'huh. M'mom's Huntress."
"Used t'work for the Shadows, retired."
"Is everyone in your family except you assassins, Arty?"
"Mmmm-hmm. Don' call me that."
"I'll call you what I want, Arty," he says, zipping around a corner only to come face-to-face with a squad of Savage's armed henchmen. He runs up the wall and across the ceiling, bullets whistling past him and missing. A second later, they're well out of range. "Tell me more about yourself."
"Your favorite book, I don't know, just keep talking to me," he says. "Why the hell does this place need to be so labyrinthine?"
"Alice in Wonderlan'," Artemis mumbles.
"Alice in Wonderlan'," she repeats. "Favorite book."
"Okay, that's great, that's great, now where the hell did I park the bio-ship," he mutters, glancing around him.
"Tol' you to put it dow' over in the cour'yard."
"Well, yes, but there was an antiaircraft cannon in the courtyard, so I parked it over—ah!" He runs over to the hole in the air and up the invisible ramp. In five minutes the pair are out of harm's way.
"Okay, med-bay, med-bay, think med-bay," Wally mutters to himself, focusing on growing a table beneath Artemis's limp form. "Stop the bleeding, need to bring up vital stats, c'mon girl, c'mon."
A screen pops up. "And lovely, she's gone into shock," he says, glancing over the statistics. Her blood pressure is dangerously low, her breath coming in short, sharp pants. He doesn't look at her body temperature, choosing instead to focus on memories of her body, warm against his as they curled up against the cold night.
"Blood type, blood type," he mutters, focusing on the typing process, willing the ship around him to replicate it. "C'mon, please be compatible."
"Wally?" Artemis says quietly. He is by her side in an instant.
"I don't hate you. I never really did."
"Okay, that's great," he says as he wills the ship to bring up the equipment he needs. "Keep talking to me, Artemis."
"Y'were always m'favorite superhero," she mumbles, "back when I was a kid. I really liked you. I really really like y'hair, too, an'y'freckles." She pauses momentarily as Wally brings up a console so he can continue his work. "I really like everythin' 'bout you, Wally."
"That's great, beautiful, keep talking to me," he says as a screen displaying Artemis's shredded insides pops up. He forces down the bile and focuses on suturing the torn veins—it's a miracle, frankly, that her arteries are intact. "This is going to hurt a bit, so just keep talking to me, all right?"
She winces, but complies as microscopic fibers work their way into her flesh. "I really, really like you Wally," she says again, softly.
"Then why all the hostility?" he says.
"Why did you always argue with me?"
"Couldn' help it," she mumbles. "Couldn' stand you flirting and hatin' me all the time."
"I don't hate you," he says, "I never hated you, where'd you get that idea?" He pauses and reconsiders. "Oh."
Artemis laughs. "Yeah, oh," she says. "Yer an idiot, Wally."
"No kidding. I manage to screw up everything, don't I?"
"Ayup." She giggles semi-hysterically and Wally winces at the noise. "But you nev' do it on purpose."
"Like hell I did," he says softly. There's a ping as the ship finishes processing Artemis's blood—it's not like there's a lack of it to process, the stuff is dripping all over the place. "Please be compatible, please be compatible yes! AB positive!"
"Wally? I'm cold, Wally," she whimpers.
"Don't worry, I'm going to fix that," he tells her, jabbing an IV line into her arm.
"Ow," she says, pouting.
He ties a tourniquet around his elbow, watching as his blood vessels protrude, before growing another line. He hesitates a moment before stabbing it into the ulnar artery. Screw it, he doesn't have the time, and he can handle it.
He watches as Artemis relaxes, color suffusing her face again as his lifeblood becomes hers.
She isn't going to die.
He lands in the Artic, burying the ship underneath the ruins of the Fortress of Solitude, and lets himself sleep.
Artemis resigns herself to being babied by Wally for the next month as she heals, whether it's him fussing over her slowly healing wounds every time the bio-ship hits turbulence as they change locations or him letting her sleep a little longer when she's supposed to relieve him during the night watch. But something has irrevocably changed about him. He's become quieter, more prone to letting himself drift off into long silences that he always needs to be woken from. He's twitchier around her, too, refusing to meet her gaze half the time.
She finally becomes fed up with his behavior when they begin planning their next big heist.
"Wally, for the last damn time, it's just going to a routine smash-and-grab," she growls. "And you don't know a thing about how to act around these guys."
"Like you're any better," Wally retorts. "Or have you forgotten how you nearly died the last time?"
"There were a hundred Shadow assassins there."
"And there won't be this time around?"
She purses her lips and crosses her arms and cocks a hip in that oh-so-damn familiar manner that means that the shouting is going to start and he winces preemptively. He's learned that, during the few arguments that they do have, she tends to win, mostly because she is very willing to use her knife to inflict bodily harm on him.
"Why are you so worried?" she says.
"Why are you," she says more slowly, pointing at him, "so worried, about me?"
"You're the only one left," he attempts.
"Bull. We've been the only ones left for how long now? And just now you have a problem with me putting myself in mortal danger?"
"Well, you nearly dying might've had something to do with that."
"Bull. Your eye is twitching. You only ever do that when you're lying."
"Wait, it does?" He blanches. "Shit."
"Still fast with your feet and slow with your mouth." Artemis stalks closer. "Why can't you just tell me, Wally?" She almost seems hurt. "I thought we had enough trust between us for that."
Wally opts to keep his mouth very firmly shut.
"Wally," she pleads. "C'mon. If you're not going to do it for me then do it for us. Because you're screwing up the team dynamic here." His lips tighten as she keeps trying to lighten the mood. "You're not supposed to be the broody, secretive one with the dark, mysterious past, that's job. You're the loudmouth who can't keep from griping about me. So c'mon, gripe. Gripe away. What'd I do?"
"You told me that you cared," he snaps. "Happy? You told me that you cared for me."
She stiffens slightly before waving a careless hand. "Blood loss. I must've been delirious."
"Now who's lying?" Wally says. "You told me about your family, too. I somehow doubt that was you being delirious."
"Even if I wasn't," she challenges, "then what's the issue?"
"You can't," he says. "Y'know, care for me. You can't."
"Why not, you're the only other person in the world I can rely on—"
"Because everyone I have ever loved has died!" he screams at her. "And I can't lose you!"
Artemis stands there, stunned, as Wally runs off into the wilds around them.
The first thing she does when he comes back that night, dragging himself back into the firelight, is smack him. Her eyes are swollen and wet and her lower lip bleeding a little from where she's been chewing it. He's been expecting it, but even the expectation does nothing to dull the sting of her words as she shouts at him until her voice gives out.
The sex that night is hot and furious and animalistic, as Artemis relishes in the feel of Wally's hot skin against her own, as Wally kisses her again and again as reassurance that yes, this is really happening, as their shared climax speaks to them both, "I am here. I am here."
"Wally," she murmurs as the two bed down in the bio-ship for the night. Her free hand, curling up under his ribs, traces circles on his chest as she keeps her gaze fixed on the lines of his back.
"Do you love me?"
What few people know about the suite of abilities that speedsters possess is that, when they aren't using their speed, their brains are still on overdrive, running twice as quickly as any normal, baseline human's. Normally this is mitigated by the fact that the increased processing power does nothing to help them focus, but that one question brings every last memory he has of them into sharp relief.
Even so, it takes him a minute to reply.
"Wally?" she asks again, wondering if he's gone to sleep. He wriggles around until he's facing her, and takes her hands—he's never realized how small and delicate they look, for all of the scars and calluses that cover them—in both of his own.
"I do," he says.
Artemis smiles at him and burrows her head into the hollow between his shoulder and his neck as his stomach flips and flops.
She leaves to insert herself into the operations of the local warlord the day after. Wally has never been more relieved to see her four weeks later, bloodied and dirty and filthy, running full-tilt from the compound with her backpack laden, a manic grin on her face.
But as the months pass and their stockpile grows and grows, they gain the attention of the alien invaders. It seems that at every turn now, they need to duck patrols, and once the bio-ship nearly gets shot out of the sky.
Wally groans as they go over their plan again.
"Too little intel, too little time, too few resources to draw on," he mumbles. "This is suicide."
"Then we die together," Artemis says, toying with his hair. "Isn't that what heroes do? Swoop in, sacrifice themselves for the fate of the world?"
"Either that or die like chumps."
"Well then," she says, kissing him lightly on the head. "Let's make sure that we go out with a bang, then."
The plan is elegant in its simplicity and brutish in everything else. The cloaked bio-ship charges through the cloud of alien ships surrounding the mothership, firing a volley of scattering shots before focusing every weapon it has forwards. The black and red hull holds and holds and holds before melting and burning away, giving them access to the hangar. Wally guides the ship in and sets it down, extending the ramp. Artemis grabs her backpack and slings it over her shoulders.
"Clear the way," she says, tossing him one of the energy weapons they'd filched from one of the LexCorp's top-security labs. "Remember—"
"Thirty shots per pack, need a tight grouping of three to be sure," Wally finishes, checking the fit on his makeshift bandolier. "Scanner's up and running?"
"Yup," she says, checking the display. "Be back here in two."
"Done and done. I'll be running interference."
"You go do that, Baywatch."
He smiles at her before vanishing, and soon the sound of weapons fire fills the air.
"Check, check, check," she mutters to herself as she surveys her arsenal. She places a hand on the ship's control orbs and activates a programmed response. Essentially, the ship is going to fire its weapons at anything larger than a rhino that approaches.
She runs out without a second glance.
"Get back here," she radios Wally as she takes down another walker. "You're too far out, get back before your escape route gets cut off."
He doesn't bother to acknowledge her. All she hears is another three-round burst over the radio before he's back behind her, panting lightly.
"Well," he remarks. "They're overextended thataway, beautiful. Shall we get moving?"
"Not until you start carrying your fair share," she says, giving him one of the packs filled with various flavors of high explosive.
"Sure thing, gorgeous," he says.
She rolls her eyes. "Less flirting, more fighting?"
It's a simple matter for them to follow the corridors in the rough direction of the largest energy signature on the scanner, the thing pulsating every so often like some sort of tumorous organ, blood washing through the vessels that permeate it.
"Whoa," is their immediate reaction when they actually reach the chamber.
"Well, it's shiny," Wally remarks.
"See if you can snag the grappling hook on something over there, I'll keep you covered."
"Got it, beautiful."
"What did I tell you about flirting?" she says, only to hear a whirr, a whoosh, and a metallic clank. She sighs and focuses on putting as much fire down the corridor as possible. She hardly needs to aim, given how densely packed the alien walkers are.
She hears Wally curse, and looks back to see him clinging desperately to the edge of part of the superstructure surrounding the central core.
"Gravity shifts!" he shouts. "Keep firing, I can set everything up and get out!"
She turns her attention back to the corridor just in time to see one of a walker's long mechanical legs swooping down to crush her. She rolls to the side and destroys it with a quick burst into its underbelly, but she needs space and cover, neither of which is immediately available given that she's maybe a meter away from a very long fall.
She snatches up a spare power pack and makes the jump. She falls for a sickening moment before the gravity shifts and she's plummeting towards the core.
"Wally!" she screams. He looks up, eyes widening, and catches her, collapsing a bit under the strain. "We have a bit of a situation here," she says, firing upwards at the walkers, which are following her.
"No, really," Wally says. "I'm moving under cover, just keep them offa me for a moment."
She pauses momentarily as a dozen walkers clank down around them and begin advancing.
"Don't bother with the timer," she says. "We're trapped in here."
"Like hell we are," he says.
Of course, her rifle needs to take that moment to spark and sputter, and she barely manages to toss it away before it explodes from the overheating. She hisses as fragments of the weapon pepper her flesh.
"Give me your gun," she shouts, and Wally kicks the thing back over to her as he fiddles with the detonator, feverishly checking and double-checking the connections.
"This isn't working!" he says. "Work, you piece of junk, work—"
"Spare in my pack!" Artemis says. "Hurry up!"
"You can either get fast and imprecise or slow and careful, beautiful," Wally says.
"Just hurry up, damn it!"
"Aha!" he proclaims a second later. "And we have green for let's go and get the hell out!"
Of course one of the walkers at that moment decides to swing its leg into him, crushing his ribs and hurling him away. A curiously painless warmth blooms in his chest as he coughs up blood. His lung's been punctured.
"Oh," he manages.
Artemis curses and glances over at him. They have an entire silent conversation in that moment.
"I'm sorry for doing this," she says.
"For doing what?" he replies.
Artemis shoots him one final backward glance and a half-smile before she dives for the detonator and jams her fist down on the button.
There is enough explosive there to completely vaporize her, and the concussive wave hurls him, skidding and thumping and rolling, even further back. At this point, he doesn't really care. Numbness has spread through him, and it takes all of his strength for him to roll onto his back. He waits for a heartbeat, then another. Nothing happens.
So they've failed.
Well, at least they tried.
He stares up at the walker that has clanked over and raised its leg to crush him and smiles at it. He has to fight down the urge to laugh and laugh and laugh, because really, what kind of sick fuck does that when every last friend he has ever had is now dead and gone, when his lover has just committed suicide to save the world and failed utterly at it?
The leg comes down with a crackling crunch, the sound of his sternum and then his spine giving way beneath the overwhelming force. A bare whisper of breath escapes.
In the millisecond before he dies, Wally feels the core at his back grow suddenly, catastrophically hot. He would've laughed then, if his diaphragm hadn't been pulverized.
So they didn't lose after all.
Darkness takes him.