"Does it ever weird you out?"
He waits for her to elaborate. Artemis' hands lay bare and hidden in her lap. Her white tuna on wheat untouched with only the crust torn away in little, brown ribbons on the plate. Her long hair damp, shower-wet; a cornsilk plait — like the rope tightly coiled to her contorting neck, and oh that breathless scream — trailing limply off a shoulder.
Wally's eyes stare at the unbruised flesh, the gold arch of her neck, before he swallows on another lukewarm mouthful of his caramel blast, extra whip topping.
A soft tinkle of the café's bell.
"Being dead, I guess," she murmurs.
His fingers, encased by the thick, friction-resistant material of the Kid Flash gloves, drum soundless on his coffee mug. A pair of kids runs by the café booth window, in the luminosity of a sunny, blue park day, screeching energetic and happy at the top of their lungs as they chase down monstrously sized, iridescent bubbles floating just out of reach.
"It kinda feels like before, doesn't it? I mean, I don't feel different," Wally points out, snatching up a blueberry scone and wolfing a portion of it, before spitting it out into a napkin after a few seconds, expressionless. Artemis makes a thoughtful noise, not agreeing or disagreeing. "Am I supposed to get philosophical about it?" he asks.
The magenta, terry cot fabric of her bathrobe shifts when she shrugs at him. "Dunno, I got tired of thinking about it," Artemis admits, meeting his eyes, "or worrying about it, you know?" He does know. He remembers worrying, craving for what he couldn't have. The food is tasteless. The drinks aren't terrible. Hot isn't hot, cold isn't cold. No one ever gets sick or needs to be rushed to emergency care, and no one really feels like talking much. Every scene they fall into is comfortable and well-lit around them; there are smiling faces, but for other people, smiles for people who know them.
No one calls this place Heaven.
"Do you think everyone's mad at us for leaving?" It's his turn to shrug, like it doesn't honestly matter. (And it doesn't. The real world was the real world, and here, like it's being orchestrated by someone else — the tasteless props, the screeching actors; he gets the feeling that it's supposed to be a stress-less environment, what they perceive here.)
Her lips quirk in the faintest indications of a smirk.
"You miss Robin," she voices.
"I miss my uncle… too." He had spat out another scone, but something still lumps and clogs. "And my aunt," Wally adds, making a small nod to no one particular. No one in the café pays attention to them. They're ignored. Ghosts. His cowled face tilts away from view, and Artemis' hand slides under the table and clasps the roundness of his kneepad sympathetically.
There are gaps in memory, in the space of time. They could go to the café surroundings to a quiet, cramped apartment den.
They could stretch out together on a futon, and curl under blankets to a pleasantly warm, scented room, with Wally's naked, freckled arm encircling her waist, his open hand cupping the back of her head. The sensation of her archer-muscled fingers under his jaw, pushing through his hairline — his scalp comes apart bloody from his cracked skull, and the comm.-link intermits blaring static — as they whisper in the dark about things that no longer exist, what to do to keep from going insane.
They have no idea how many years would pass before they'd encounter someone new — their bodies never change, no matter how many memory gaps happen. Sometimes they're in different clothes, different hairstyles, but clothes they have worn in the past but no one ever seems to age more than when they arrived, maybe that's a lie, too.
Wally breaks into a sprint, at human speed.
No longer blessed or troubled by his meta condition, he leaves the grass-choked sidewalk in the middle of their conversation. Artemis stares with a disbelieving look as he nearly tackles the shorter boy, arms thrusting up the two-toned cape as Wally cradles him up into his arms and spins them both on his toes, laughing uproariously.
Robin — it's Dick Grayson with his blue than thou eyes, his thin smile — grabs onto Wally's shoulder, signaling to be let down. He holds Wally's face with the palms of his gauntlets. Like he can't believe he's real.
Wally does the same with his palms, cheeks giving telltale warmth, fingers and nail pads sliding across Dick's temples in a hungry, desperate inspection. He bumps his forehead against Dick's, mirroring a grin, but its meaning is lost to those outside their world.
"This is all very heterosexual in this angle, by the way," Artemis announces, snorting, coming up from the right side.
"You jelly, 'Mis?" Dick turns the grin to her. She goes against the compulsion to lightly punch his bicep — no more pain, no more indignation — and then, sweeps him into a long, clumsy hug. He's real — tendons, bones, lungs, the pounding of blood in his veins and his arteries to sound a heart pressed firmly against hers.
They expect him to burn with questions — why now, why here, how, for how long, why, why, why me —
It never comes. Dick seems, for the moment, to accept where he is around them, smiling and laughing at old jokes ("Yeah, yeah, yuk it up. Black Canary totally couldn't resist the Wall-man's vibes") and spouting off the quirky Robin-isms ("Man, waaay to put all the mis- in the conduct").
He's a source of renewed familiarity and glee. And they're not willing to break it with acknowledging their own — why now, for how long, how, why, why you —
Wally warns her that Dick would get violent nightmares, stuff from Batman and stuff pre-Batman.
But she never hears them, never sees him thrashing in his sleep.
He curls tight on the box-mattress, Wally's fingers laced warm and loose to his, but breathes evenly for hours. Artemis' pajamaed arm drapes across his chest — coated with the hardening liquid explosive, Bruce yelling into his earbud, and the building's hallway lights up in a hot flare of firelight — to shield him, just in case.
Kaldur eventually joins them at the café booth, his umber, webbed hands grasping and covering Artemis' elbow with a silent kindness when her eyes fill with tears. A sheen of rainwater clings to his squared, patient features — and the poison clogs up his airways, his gills, blurring out, darkening the rest of his view as his King retreats.
"So, whaddaya think?" Wally poses the question to his teammates, wool mittens clasping a nearby railing, "This real?"
Artemis plops down onto a frosty-looking bench with labyrinthine spindles. She scoots to the side as Kaldur joins her from pacing the indoor ice-rink, her cheeks a stinging red (but feeling none of the sensation). "I thought you didn't want to get philosophical," she brings up, raising a blonde eyebrow beneath her green-knit cap.
Wally snaps his fingers, noise muffled. "Never said I wouldn't," he says to her, earning him a mild eye-roll, and she nods to Dick skating up to Wally's side, who nods back wordless and flashes a quick smile. "Okay, I think the better question might be: is Purgatory real?"
"You think we're in Purgatory?"
"It's just a question."
"What… like the seven terraces of the Mount of Purgatory?" Dick laughs with a hint of cynicism, drawing their attention over to him. "I don't know about you but I didn't come across any angels with swords or any of Peter's Gates when I showed up." Wally shrugs unoffended at the observation.
"Sarcasm noted, Dante," Artemis says, smirking. "It's the afterlife, obviously."
The Atlantean adjusts at the fringy, purple scarf round his shoulders, musing, "There appears to be a sense of peace here. Perhaps it is a place for the souls to rest, no matter how different the culture and religion they were brought up in."
"Sure, and - uhhh – ghosts still don't exist, by the way…" Wally frowns, pulling on his 'I'm seriously serious about science' face. "There's no source of documentation that can't be altered with computer programs."
"Will you shut up about it already, Casper," comes a brand new voice.
Dick's shoulders seize up a little, Wally's throat bobbing as Roy, casually dressed, no bows or arrows in sight, strolls up behind their leader. He peers down at the top of Kaldur's head until the other man senses the intense scrutiny. He tilts his face upwards, slowly peering into a set of deeper blue eyes.
"Hey," Roy whispers to him, rasping the single word, expression softening with fondness as a 'hello' echoes in slight fascination.
His hands find their place on Kaldur's broad, scarf-wrapped shoulders, not inching away or letting go as a large, webbed hand falls over scarred, pale skin — delirium, euphoria, all things he could no longer feel when the heroin overdose painfully spasms his heart.
Why, why, why — is what M'gann manages to sob out, becoming the center-point of a circle of many arms, many understanding and responsive glances.
The crest of her red head tucks under the jut of Conner's chin. And he keeps noiseless and solid as M'gann quivers against his chest — screaming until the flames took her voice; blazing like wildfire, flying higher and higher away from help; the ends of her red hair turning to ash — as he rubs the nape of her neck — a little glow of green, degenerates his entire body.
Another countless assemblage of gaps… but they've stopped caring.
Finding themselves in a languor against a row of porch steps, in front of an empty, stucco cottage in the middle of nowhere, encased by cornfields and open starlight. Wally snickers into one of his hands, several steps above Artemis when she points skyward with her free hand not interlocked by lissome, green fingers.
"..Orin…?" Artemis cringes in embarrassment at her wrong guess. "Crap, I never paid attention in astronomy," she confesses.
The alien girl shakes her head back and forth with a tiny, amused smile, and gently squeezes her hand.
"I believe some may call the constellation: 'Boötes', Artemis. It is the most ancient of Earth's constellations."
"From the Odyssey," Conner recalls faintly. Kaldur confirms this with a conceding, low noise, heavy and snug against the crook of Roy's right arm.
When M'gann practically beams at the Kryptonian, leaning forward eagerly to kiss him on the cheek, Wally can clearly glimpse the attraction they share — nothing quite like he may have achieved with her when they were alive, and it startles him for the briefest of moments to discover he doesn't care.
There's a palpable sense of emotional reality in this non-reality.
He focuses instead on the reassuring warmth of his best friend's spine pressing against his back, the sleepy weight of Dick's head tilting to rest to his.
No… he's not weirded out.
It feels more like home than it ever did.