Artemis did not bother traipsing home once the team was dismissed from their debriefing session; her mother might know of Artemis' activities, but the firefight had drawn itself out through dusk, and Friday night had hit both her and the others with both exhaustion and a need for popcorn, salted and free from butter (unless your name was Kid Hollow-Leg, in which case the bowl would be soggy with melted dairy fat. Artemis, vaguely lactose intolerant and wholly Wally-intolerant, demanded separate but equal portions, which was in its own way unfair; no one else needed calories quite like Kid Flash. She couldn’t help the unkindness. Acquiescing to his needs felt too much like a weakness on her part.)
Popcorn had to wait until they hit the showers, and Artemis moved to the girl's shower, her body aching and unfolding from a sniper's position (her bones knew the movement and she hated her father so much she could not breath, was simultaneously overwhelmed with gratitude for all he'd taught her, all that kept her alive). She stripped off her uniform and cursed quietly; she had forgotten the date and as a result, her period caught her off-guard. She stepped into the shower and wet her hair before sluicing water over her front, between and down the length of her legs. The heat coiled through her. Blood trailed down one leg and she wanted to wail at her traitorous body.
"Artemis," M'gann's voice, from the doorway and not the confines of her skull, "are you okay? Wally said you could make the popcorn, he doesn't really care."
Artemis crossed an arm defensively over her breasts. "It doesn't matter. And what's the deal with not knocking? Don't you understand the concept of privacy?" Exhaustion and the slow advance of muscle cramping made her irritable; embarrassment pushed her into an offensive, protective stance.
M'gann, also naked but unashamed, politely ignored Artemis' ire and turned on a second showerhead, two spaces over so that ice water, her preferred temperature, did not splash Artemis, wreathed in steam.
"No one can ever explain—Artemis! Are you bleeding? Oh my gosh, are you hurt?!"
"My period," Artemis grunted, hideously uncomfortable and hoping to forestall one of M'gann's frantic, concerned swoops.
"Oh, menstruation," M'gann settled back under her own showerhead, satisfied at least in part. "Privacy seems so inconsistent! The boys shower together. The girls at school shower in the same room, though curtains are usually involved—is that decorative, by the way?"
Artemis scrubbed a heel against her opposite shin and kept her eyes averted. "That's modesty," she said. She started washing her hair and was glad she kept it long. “Unless you’re, like, having sex with someone, it’s kind of rude to look when they’re naked.”
"Martians," M'gann said, a little tiredly, "are different." She gestured and the shampoo bottle floated over to her. "Besides," she added, scrubbing at her own scalp, "I thought the twenty-first century was exciting and new and people didn't care about modesty any more."
"People aren't like TV, M'gann."
"They totally are. I mean, in all the ways that count." M'gann rinsed and stepped out of the shower. She walked over to stand, horror of horrors, beside Artemis, just outside of the shower's spray. “Artemis?” M’gann’s voice had gone high and girlish; even though she was older, she had a way of sounding painfully young. “What’re they like? Your menses, I mean. It’s hard to approximate things I don’t know.”
Artemis, only halfway through combing the tangles from her hair, knew there was no escaping this conversation. It sucked that Black Canary was never around when M’gann voiced questions about life sciences.
“Put on a towel or some cloths or something, geez,” she said. “It’s different for different people. Aren’t you, you know, mature?” She’d been twelve when she’d hit menarche, and hadn’t known what the fuck was going on. After one of the most painful conversations she’d ever had with her father she’d turned to the little pamphlets the social workers left in the bathrooms at school. She could probably have this conversation with her alien best friend.
“Martians are different,” M’gann said again, and did that thing where she suddenly had clothes on. Artemis was grateful, because it was one thing to be confident about your body and another to have a dialogue about human biology, naked, et cetera.
“Well, obviously,” she said, and dragged her fingers through the last section of her hair. Good enough. “So, uh, you know about uteruses and fallopian tubes and stuff, right?”
“Anatomy, yes,” M’gann waved the terms off casually; the gesture also apparently encompassed the room, because Artemis’ shower turned itself off and a towel draped itself discreetly about her shoulders. “I’m lacking information about,” —she frowned, the look she usually got when she had to translate from Martian to English—, “duration, sensation, mood, that kind of thing.”
Be clinical, Artemis told herself. You are providing an information service.
“Well,” she said, “it’s, like I said, different for different people, and it takes a few years to regulate, but it averages out to—”
“Do you want to eat chocolate,” M’gann clarified.
“Can I get dressed?” It came out maybe thirty percent mocking, which was a small enough figure that M’gann would politely ignore the tone altogether.
M’gann turned away obligingly and Artemis was left with the problem of what to put on; M’gann didn’t really have spare clothes she could borrow, so Artemis had to make do with a pair of sweatpants from her gym bag and an oversized knit shirt she hoped didn’t belong to Wally (she’d found it in the common area, there was no way it wasn’t actually his).
“So.” She started toweling her hair, mostly so she didn’t have to make eye contact. “I don’t usually want to eat chocolate, I’m more of a phở girl.” A horrible thought occurred to Artemis, and she dropped the towel. “Shit, you’re not asking about pregnancy, right? Are you and Conner being safe?”
“What?” Popular culture took a moment to catch up with her before M’gann blushed, the color high and obvious in her face. “No! Not like that!” She wrung her hands and Artemis didn’t quite believe her, until M’gann continued. “It’s…at cheerleading practice. The other girls talk about stuff, shopping and snacks and their periods. Martian fertility is different—I don’t have anything to say. I stick out like a sore thumb.”
It took a moment to read M’gann’s reaction as shame. Artemis only caught it because she was well acquainted with the feeling. “You want help passing as human.”
“I can change my clothes and my body just by thinking about it,” M’gann said. “I have a boyfriend who’s as alien as me.” She had gotten better about the metal link, but Artemis still felt a wave of M’gann’s yearning wash over and saturate her. “It’s hard to be one of the girls when I don’t even know what they’re talking about and I’m not supposed to listen when they think.”
Somehow, telling M’gann to be herself—to not care what anyone thought—didn’t seem like the right advice, any more than telling Artemis to pass for one of the popular girls was the answer. M’gann needed to be liked more than Artemis did, or maybe she was just more honest about wanting it.
“I thought you could just—shape shift. And the body took care of itself. You don’t have to know exactly how gills worked in order to use them.”
“Sometimes,” M’gann said. “But—it’s like getting stuck.” Artemis felt a soft push in her head—M’gann again, tentative—, and the sense-memory of her body stuttering to a confused halt infused her, like the sensation of a sneeze or a sliding door off its track.
“Okay.” She dropped her shoulders and sighed. “Tomorrow, we’re going to the library and finding some Judy Blume novels for you, but until then, here are the basics.” She ticked them off on her fingers, “Week before, I’m hungry. Week of, I’m tired, a little queasy. Fighting helps.” Artemis was pretty sure this wasn’t helpful, but M’gann watched her with an intensity normally reserved for the Classic Comedy Channel, so it was a start. “Some breast tenderness, some muscle cramping, not so bad since I started ab workouts—M’gann, I feel like an idiot, what else do you want to know?” This should not have been hard to talk about—Artemis was a frank person, and M’gann was her friend—but it was inexplicably difficult, as if she were trying to answer a riddle.
M’gann floated free of the floor and twisted absently in a perfect somersault, a movement that indicated she was thinking about the topic at hand.
“I don’t know what I want to know,” she said, a little mournfully. “I used to want to know everything about Earth, but I’ve had to reevaluate.”
“Look, if it’s any consolation, it’s easy to feel lost in translation. Even when you’re human.” Artemis thought in particular of her school uniform, of the early missions when she’d just met the team and hadn’t known their patter. (She thought of how her mother sometimes scolded her in Vietnamese, a language Artemis could barely identify.)
“I thought,” M’gann sighed, letting her feet touch the floor again, “that once I came to Earth, I would be a different person. I thought I could be Megan.” Her skin rippled from green to white and back again, an illustration of conflict.
Artemis was so used to her loneliness that it felt like home, like the apartment, the feeling was all wrapped up with the empty bed in her room and the posters she was never going to take down; she could not imagine the kind of isolation that came from being born on another planet and choosing to leave it. She reached out and caught hold of M’gann’s wrist. Her skin was cool and soft, almost but not quite human.
“Getting your period sucks,” Artemis said. “Welcome to Earth.”