"You could have said no," she muttered to herself, shifting on her feet outside the apartment door as she tried to ignore the fine carpets and marble details present in the hallway. "Sure, Kaldur, I'll just drop this evidence by the guy who hates my guts. No big deal. After all, I totally live in Star City with my uncle Green Arrow, so it's not like it's out of my way—"
She cut herself off when the door opened, revealing a Roy Harper that Artemis wasn't altogether familiar with.
Read: maskless. And shirtless.
Artemis blinked once, twice, then struck down the flush that threatened to redden her face.
Hell, she may not like him much, but hot damn.
"Were you just talking to yourself?" His question pulled her thoughts away from a primal place and into the realm of normalcy.
She smirked—no way was he letting him catch her off-guard. "No, I was talking to the purple people-eater."
His flat stare confirmed that he found her 100 percent un-amusing today.
No different from any other day then, huh?
"What are you doing here, Artemis?"
"Dropping this load off," she lifted the box in her hands just enough to bring his attention to it.
For an instant, she saw something flash across his face: a furrowed brow, a twitch of the fingers—hesitation.
But then, with a blink, it was gone. "Well, come on, then," he said, motioning for her to come in.
A grimace threatened to overtake her features as she replied: "I think I'll just leave it with you then be on my way, actually."
Insistent, isn't he?
She met his blue eyes, and again she fought down a sudden wave of urges and desires best left untouched. With a hard swallow, she subdued them; that road contained far too many complications.
"I'm really not in the mood for chivalry, Harper, so—"
"Get your ass in here before I drag you by the ponytail."
Her eyes went wide at his shift in tone. "You wouldn't," she responded, then narrowed her eyes as she sized him up.
He arched his brows, leaned against the door frame, and crossed his arms. "Try me."
Two minutes later found her accepting a mug of (admittedly excellent) coffee, trying to keep from grumbling too much.
She watched him move through the kitchen with furrowed brows, trying to pick him apart.
"A picture would last longer, Artemis," he called out, not even pausing to look at her.
She snorted into the brown swill, nearly choking. Rather than rising to the bait, she decided on another thread of conversation. "So why, exactly," she said, "are you suddenly so willing to invite me into your house?"
Now he did pause, his hand half-extended to the cabinet above him. "I can't reconsider my opinion of someone? Give her another shot at a first impression?"
She chewed the question over. "Not you," she finally answered. "You're too stubborn to change on your own."
"And you're not?" he asked, turning to face her.
"I never said I wasn't," she shot back. "And at least I'm not evasive—unlike some people I could mention."
"Good joke, Artemis," he responded, finally turning to look at her. He pressed himself against the counter, bracing his hands on the edge. "Tell it again?"
You'll have to do better than that. Her face remained impassive—waiting, still refusing to let him goad her.
When it became clear he wasn't going to answer on his own, she took another sip of coffee. Then, leaning forward onto the table, she met his blue eyes once more. "Dinah talked to you, didn't she?"
His surprise showed for only an instant—flashing across his face with wide eyes and an open mouth—before it snuffed itself out. "She might have."
Too easy. "It's like you're not even trying to hide anything from me, Harper." She leaned back into the chair and eyed the ceiling, smirking. "Kinda ruins the fun, actually."
"Sorry if I'm not in an indulging mood." She looked back down to see his eyes narrowed and jaw set.
She let a beat pass before getting up, crossing the room to meet him in the kitchen. "C'mon, what'd she say?"
"I don't see how it's your business."
Another upward tilt of her lips. "If you were talking about me, then, well, I don't see how it isn't my business."
A smirk suddenly crept its way onto his face, a new light coming into his eyes as he leaned forward—into her space. She knew this tactic well: he'd gone on the offensive using nothing more than a few physical cues.
"Well, we did, but it was more about her discussions with you—specifically, all the times you'd talk about me." He paused. "Though, 'rant' sounds like a more appropriate word, if I'm remembering Dinah's descriptions accurately."
A sensation like cold water trickled down her back, and she dug her nails into her palms as she struggled to keep her expression even. Dinah wouldn't tell him, would she?
She fought the urge to take a step back, while forcing her eyes to remain unchanged. She'd already gained ground—she wouldn't let it go so easily.
"So what'd she say?" she finally asked—once she trusted herself to speak.
"That I should try and play nice with you," he scoffed and crossed his arms. "Give you a shot at earning my trust."
Hands on her hips, she responded: "And this is your attempt at appeasing her?"
"Considering she told you the same thing—and I know she did," he said, "I'd say this is a mutual attempt. Don't go making me out to be the only guilty party."
A response to that was not forthcoming, much to her chagrin. The silence stretched between them, growing taut as a rubber band and threatening to snap.
When she could bear it no longer: "What now, then?"
He didn't answer for a moment, then shrugged.
"Baby steps, I guess."
When he said "baby steps," this wasn't exactly what he had in mind.
Regardless, he didn't complain when a slew of dark green arrows—too short to belong to GA himself—fell into the alley, laying into three of the goons he was fighting off.
Though he'd taken out the firearm-equipped brutes before leaping directly into the fray, he was still outnumbered by crowbars and baseball bats. When a bolt of long blond hair flashed behind him, he couldn't help but feel a rush of relief wash over him.
Not that she ever needs to know about that.
They made short work of the men, until only one remained conscious. Red Arrow drove him hard against the wall. "Talk."
"Fuck off, Speedy." Red Arrow's grip on the man's neck tightened. The man only smirked. "You don't kill bastards like me, hero."
A thwok sound suddenly filled the alley, and the next instant there was an arrow embedded in the wall, just millimeters from the man's head.
"Maybe he won't." Both males turned to find Artemis standing there, another arrow already aimed and notched. "But I will." Taking in her stance, Red Arrow realized that the next time she took a shot, she wouldn't waste time with a warning.
"You're Green Arrow's sidekick," the man said, still trying to sound sure of himself. "You wouldn't kill anyone either, blondie."
"Mm." The smile that crept across her lips was far from reassuring. "Green Arrow has yet to impress upon me the value of leaving enemies alive. You know your buddies that turned up dead in Gotham?" Recognition flashed across the man's face, before it paled to fear. Even Red Arrow felt a thrill run up his spine, setting his hair on end. "I see you do. So you'll understand that when I suggest you loosen your jaw, it's in your best interest to comply."
Scrambling now, the man continued to protest: "You're bluffing."
And suddenly, there was an arrow in the man's hand.
"Talk," Artemis insisted.
The stream of information that flew from the man's mouth was astounding.
At last, Red Arrow had all he needed. With a few squeezes to some key pressure points, he knocked the man out.
She's convincing, he thought to himself as he went about restraining the man, I'll give her that much.
That done, he turned to face Artemis. "I had it taken care of," he said.
She crossed her arms and smirked. "Yeah, that's why one of those morons was about to knife you in the back before I showed up."
He had no response to that, and instead chose to pursue another subject. "How serious were you?" he asked. "Just now?"
She considered the question, eyes floating upward to take in the night sky as if it contained the answer. For a fleeting moment, the thought—that she had been telling the truth—raced through his mind.
It must have shown on his face, because she suddenly laughed—clear and easy. "Yeah, I was bluffing. Don't worry your pretty little head, Red."
He couldn't help but roll his eyes and shake his head, despite the smile threatening at his lips.
Somehow, though, he couldn't put that supposed 'bluff' out of his mind.
Roy Harper did not consider himself a paranoid person. He made an effort to remain level-headed and logical whenever possible, and very rarely let himself stress over what was likely nothing.
Living and working alone, however, wasn't exactly a conducive way to maintain this outlook.
Subsequently, finding a moving shadow in his dark living room was hardly going to lead anywhere good. Within an instant of catching the form lingering near the windows, he'd drawn his bow and notched an arrow.
"You have five seconds to tell me who you are," he warned.
"Jesus, Harper! It's me." Then a lamp came on, and Roy saw that it was, in fact, Artemis. With her arms crossed and eyes narrowed, it was almost as though he had done something wrong.
This is strangely ironic.
He lowered his bow and eyed her, scowling. "What are you doing here, Artemis?"
Now her disapproval faltered, arms dropping to her sides while she diverted her gaze—looking at anything but him. "I can't stop by to—"
He spared her the trouble and cut her off before she could finish the weak lie. "What's going on?"
She looked almost relieved he had stopped her from continuing, her shoulders easing just a little. "We had—" she stopped, took a deep breath, and folded her arms across her stomach before continuing: "The team's going through a rough patch. Ollie's on travel with the League. And my place is…"
Out of the question.
He knew the feeling, knew how the words tasted on the tip of her tongue.
"I just needed someon—somewhere." She looked away again. "You—this was closest."
"And from the sounds of it," he said, "the only one available." He was going out on a limb, and it threatened to snap from underneath him if she so chose—if he was wrong.
But I'm not.
She opened her mouth to deny that, but nothing came. "Yeah," she finally conceded, giving herself a light tch sound. "That's pretty accurate."
"Hey," he said, allowing himself a small smirk, "there are worse places to crash."
"I'll give you that," she responded, sending a cursory glance around the apartment. Her eyes lingered on the high ceilings, the elegant furniture and the granite surfaces. "How do you even afford this?"
Leave it to Artemis to ask the politically incorrect questions—how she'd kept them to herself during her first visit was beyond him.
"I have enough money stored away," was all he answered with.
She turned to him, and he knew she understood that was all he could trust her with.
For now, at least, he thought to himself. He couldn't deny that they were making progress—slowly, but surely.
"How'd you even get in?"
"… I don't have a fire escape."
She turned, smiling. "You do now."
From then on—and he wasn't entirely sure how—her appearances at his apartment became a regular thing. Most of the time, it was just to mooch: food, his satellite TV, internet. At first, he scowled and drilled her with questions: "What are you doing here?" "What, are you homeless?" – that sort. But she remained unfazed by his attitude, coming in through the window even after he replaced the locks—twice. At that point, he gave up.
"And beating the lock was half the fun," she had said, smirking.
"You're just lucky the alarm system hasn't been installed yet," he'd grumbled.
But slowly, his complaints shifted to simpler gripes: "Jesus, kid, take your shoes off at the door." "Quit surfing and pick a damn channel."
He's even grown to appreciate those evenings she comes by: Star City is quiet, he's in the kitchen throwing something together, and she's in the living room watching TV or working on her bow and arrows. It made the expensive apartment feel a little less empty.
Like tonight, for example, when she's watching a shit movie (and making comments on just how shit it is).
"If you don't like it," he finally called out, cutting her off in the middle of her rant, "why don't you change it?"
"That would require getting the remote," she answered. "Which is currently across the room and thus out of my reach."
"So I take it you won't be getting up to, y'know, eat?"
She shot up so quickly, it was a wonder she didn't knock holes into the floor.
"That's what I thought," he said, watching her grab the plate he offered before jumping back into her usual seat in the armchair, picking up the remote control on the way.
"Have you ever considered that, being my house," he began, taking a seat on the couch, "I should be the one that gets to pick the channels?"
She swallowed the forkful of noodles and paused in her scanning before answering: "I'm the guest here, Harper. Thus—"
"I think you're mistaking 'guest' for 'freeloader,'" he muttered under his breath; she heard him regardless.
"Deal with it," she shot back, finally stopping at a movie that took Roy a minute to place.
"This is the new Indiana Jones, isn't it?" he asked, making no effort to hide his disdain.
"It's not that bad—"
"Yes, it is—almost as bad as the Star Wars prequels, and that's saying something."
"That's stretching!" she exclaimed. "It's better than Temple of Doom, at least."
"I am not!"
"That means a lot, coming from you."
She huffed. "We could get pay-per-view," she suggested.
"I'm not paying six dollars to watch a movie once."
"Says the guy with a luxury apartment!"
"My money, my decision." He stuffed the fork in his mouth to end the discussion.
She chucked something at him in response.
"Thanks for the remote."
Roy has come to realize that when Artemis meant business, she made an effort to use the door.
Take today, for instance: when he opened the door, her eyes were stormy and a scowl was carving a line into her face.
This is bound to end well.
He almost smirked. "What did I do this time?"
"How does casting a shadow sound?" she replied.
He blinked. She crossed her arms and waited for him to respond, as if the answer was dancing in front of him wearing nothing but heels and fishnets.
Subduing a sigh, he decided to indulge her. "I'm afraid you'll have to elaborate."
She rolled her eyes and spoke, counting off the phrases on her fingers as she went. "'Red Arrow wouldn't do this.' 'Roy would know better.' 'God, Artemis, you really don't get it, do you?' 'I can't believe Green Arrow thought you were good enough.'"
"…Wally?" he ventured.
"How ever could you tell?" she shot back, eyes rolling.
"You can't take everything he says personally."
"I know that!"
"And yet, you're here, complaining to me," he said. Before she could vehemently respond, he continued: "What is it you want me to do, Artemis?"
She opened her mouth to speak, but no words came.
"Thought so." Without any preempt, he took her by the wrist and led her inside. Judging by the lack of true struggle, she wasn't too bothered. She'd clearly come here for a reason, then, even if she wasn't sure of it.
He let go of her once they reach the kitchen, and he expected her to take a chair. When she remained standing, he felt compelled to do the same.
"Are you just going to stand there mutely, or am I going to have to drag this out of you?"
"You're an ass," she muttered, refusing to meet his eyes.
"I hadn't noticed."
She scoffed her eyes fixed on the window—her usual entranceway. "What do I have to do, Roy?" she finally asked, almost as if she wasn't expecting an answer.
He gave her one anyways: "Prove yourself."
That, apparently, wasn't the answer she was looking for. "I've tried!" she exclaimed, thrusting her arms up and out in exasperation. "I've saved his ass, the team's ass—Oliver trusts me—"
He couldn't help it: "You're stretching, there."
Now she whirled on him, gray eyes burning. "Don't you go telling me how he feels. You surrendered that privilege when you walked out on him."
Just like that, he'd become the outlet for her anger. He wondered if he wasn't the target to begin with.
But he wasn't going to take it lying down, that was for certain. "If I hadn't 'surrendered that privilege,'" he said, "you wouldn't even have this gig in the first place. Or did you forget?"
"Damn it, Roy!" she yelled, taking a step closer, so that she was mere inches away and looking up into his eyes. "I've done everything I can to show you that you can trust me, that you don't have to worry about me hurting them—"
Then he realized: This isn't about Wally. Or Ollie.
"Do you hear yourself?" he asked. "You're not talking about proving yourself to the team or to Ollie—you're talking about me."
Her mouth worked furiously, but again she could find nothing to say. Then, before the silence completely overtook them, a strangled laugh crawled from her throat.
"I don't get it," she finally managed, her voice smaller now. "I would have killed to be on this team, working with Ollie, and you—you just gave it up."
"You wouldn't understand," he said, voice low.
"No," she agreed, "I don't. What I do understand is that you have an issue with me."
"So does Wally."
"You think I care about what he says?"
"Apparently you do, or you wouldn't let what he said get under your skin."
"Then why are you here?"
"Because every time they look at me, I know they're comparing me to you!" she exclaimed, arms going skyward in her frustration. "They can't see me—just the shadow of Speedy."
"Red Arrow," he corrected automatically.
"Whatever," she ground out. "I'm sick of it. No matter what I do, nothing changes!"
"What is it you want me to say, Artemis? What do you want me to do? Tell them you have my full approval? For the record, you don't—"
"And that's the problem!" she exclaimed.
"Then the burden is on you, Artemis!" he shouted. She shrank back, the volume throwing her. "I'm not going to go along with a copycat stranger—who I know for a fact is lying about her background—taking my place and potentially putting my friends at risk."
"And yet you let me into your apartment," she scoffed. "We both know you could kick me out at any time—if you don't trust me, then why have you put off installing that alarm system? Why do you let me break in, eat your food?"
"'Baby steps,' remember?" he replied. "Putting myself at risk to get a feel for you is a lot different than working on a covert ops team. It's one I'm willing to take—for their sake."
"How noble of you," she said, acid dripping from her words. "So I'm doomed to live in your shadow until you deem fit." She looked away, a sneer marring her face. "Maybe I would have been better off if you never left."
"You don't like it? You're free to walk out at any time—I already did."
"What, and become even more of a copycat?" She snorted. "I don't think so."
"And subject yourself to this?"
"What I'm being 'subjected' to is the same reason you left. Trust—or lack of it."
"I left because people were treating me as though I was incapable of hearing the truth, of being kept in the dark and because the league was withholding information—same as you are, right now. I don't even know your last name—but you already know mine. You don't think that unnerves me? You keep telling me I can trust you, but you keep everything under the rug. You tell me what I'm supposed to make of that."
Something in her eyes flashed, and for a moment he believed it could have been hesitation. Her mouth opened, but no words came.
Finally, she found a response: "I keep things from them to protect them. They don't deserve that burden—my burden." She looked up from the floor. "Neither do you. I've put my darkness behind me. All I have to back it up is my word—and my service."
Before he could speak, she turned and left the apartment.
She paused just before the doorway, though, to offer him a few more words: "My name is Artemis Crock."
Then she was gone.
Later, he would find himself stepping away from the computer, leaving the Crock public records on his desktop untouched. That could come later—if ever.
After semi-regular appearances, his nights following her exit had been quiet—the barbs at his habits and quirks went unspoken, the poor table manners unseen. The initial disruption to his routine had faded, until she had shaped a new schedule for the both of them—she had integrated herself into what he considered normal. And after all of that, just to have her disappear from his life altogether—it was nothing short of unsettling. So when he found her sitting in his living room a week later, waiting with pizza and a movie (one of the Bourne films, he believed), he couldn't help but stare.
And here I was thinking you'd sooner spit in my face than come back here.
Though he'd made very little sound upon his entrance, it was clear she was aware of him. "I know you don't give up on disagreements so easily," she called out, not turning to face him from her place on the couch, "and maybe I'm wrong in assuming this, but: I think you'd like to move forward as well. Or at least try." Now she looked at him, her expression a mixture of hopeful and expectant.
After a stretch of silence—one pregnant with unspoken questions and silent concerns—Roy spoke: "We continue as though nothing happened?"
She pursed her lips, considered, then answered: "I wouldn't say that," she said. "More like… take it as a learning experience and go from there."
"A learning experience?" he repeated.
"You expect me to go along with that?"
"I was hoping for it."
"… is that Guido's pizza?"
She blinked, surprised, then her lips twitched upward—just for an instant. "Yes."
"Pepperoni and onion?"
It was as close to a make-up session they would get.
But he'd take it.
Ten minutes later, after he'd gotten them sodas and sat on the opposite side of the couch, she turned to face him. "So," she began.
He looked over at her, took in how she was picking at the loose threads on the blanket and the way she couldn't bring her eyes to his. "So," he repeated, expectant.
He saw her swallow. "What'd you find?" she asked, her voice so quiet it was almost a whisper. He didn't have to ask what she meant.
For a moment, he let the silence stretch, until—almost a minute later—she finally met his gaze, seeking the answer. Only then did he answer.
"I didn't look."