Artemis toed into the Cave’s kitchen on lazy feet with a crooked neck and heavy shoulders; as if she carried the earth. She had ultimately decided sleep was cursed, and who was she to trifle with that? Her eyes closed, rested a moment too long to truly be considered awake and she pulled herself towards the counter with the ghost of a sigh trailing from her lungs.
‘daddy, why does Atlas hold the world up all by himself?’
‘because he is weak. he lost, and that was sin.’
Maybe it was the lack of sleep, maybe it was the shadowed darkness that let him in, but her thoughts kept going back to her father. She was pulled from memories when she saw someone sitting bent over the counter playing thoughtlessly with a half empty mug of tea. Artemis soon recognized the dark hair tumbling in front of the figure’s face and watched as she tucked it softly behind her ear, deep in thought.
Zatanna didn't notice her there and Artemis was content with that. Zee had always been entrancing to her. Watching her now was like wandering a museum after dark; for her eyes only.
Zatanna teethed at her lip and Artemis thought her lips looked like cherries, she thought she'd like a taste. But all too suddenly, she realized Zatanna was crying, tears crystal and angry.
‘why do you get mad when I cry daddy?’
‘Crocks don't cry.’
“Hey, you okay?” Artemis asked quietly, trying to smooth the rough edge out of her voice. She padded softly over to Zatanna and placed a hand on her back in what she hoped was a comforting motion. She could feel Zatanna’s shoulder blades through her thin shirt and traced them with her fingers subconsciously.
Zatanna just sunk lower over her mug as if ashamed, hiding her face under the cover of her dark hair; raven even under the dim kitchen lights. Her breaths came shakily and Artemis thought about pulling her hand away until Zatanna’s shoulders started to shake, an earthquake to the fingers that curled slightly on her back, as if pained by the sight.
‘what’s a weakness daddy?’
‘something you’d let yourself be broken for.’
Artemis had never been adept at the art of consolation, always slinking off into the background to leave someone more capable, more caring than her to take care of it. Sometimes she laughed to herself and sometimes she cried about how oftentimes Kaldur and M’gann seemed more human than her, wielding comfort with soft hands and smiles.
But Artemis thought she’d rather kill a man, take her filthy hands and watch them bleed, than let anyone else see Zatanna this broken. She thought, perhaps, she’d want to be the only one to ever see her cry.
Artemis wondered if that was selfish.
They stayed like that a while longer, Artemis soothing circles into the plains of her back and Zatanna grasping at air with shaky breaths. Until Zatanna slumped over the counter with a thunk and her head bedded securely between her arms, raven locks flaring into an imposing kind of crown.
Artemis thought she looked dark and holy, thought she’d lose herself in the vision of her saint-like stature.
The blonde, cautiously, moved her hand on Zee’s back to hook around her waist. Moving her arms to awkwardly enfold Zatanna in the only kind of warmth she knew how to give.
She could feel Zatanna’s breath hitch, her chest steadying at last from the laboured sobs that wracked her body and pushed back slightly, fitting the bones of her spine against Artemis’ sternum. She hoped to the gods that Zatanna couldn't hear her heart beating steadily out of its ribbed prison.
There they stayed, barely breathing, without a word sounded or thought uttered between them and the small space their bodies occupied pressed together so tightly until Zatanna turned around and gave her a porcelain kind of smile, patting the seat beside her wordlessly.
Artemis sat, but didn't know what to say. She stumbled over conversation bits in her head until she settled on her own loss and hurt.
‘daddy where did you go? why were you gone for so long?’
‘what, am i supposed to look out for you baby girl? you're alone in this world.’
“Do you… ever feel empty when you think of him? Your father, I mean.” She hoped the tinge of roughness coating her voice would hide her weakness and she resisted the urge to run her hands through her hair, shining a slight gold under the fluorescent kitchen lights. Artemis ignored the desire to undo the small knots and tangles compulsively.
“Like you try to feel angry because you know you should... but you just can’t seem to feel anything at all?” And under her breath she murmured, distracted, “I think he ruined me, I think I’m broken and it’s his fault.” because she wasn’t really talking about Zatanna’s father at all.
Zatanna paused, she thought maybe her words were heavier than they should seem but bit anyways. “… I guess, maybe?” She studied Artemis keenly for a second or two before continuing. “Mostly when I think of how I'll never see him again, not really.”
Artemis let out a breath she didn't know she was holding, unwinding the tension from her shoulders and smoothing into a more comfortable position. She crossed her arms and rested them on the counter, the chill of it almost burning at first.
“Yeah?” She pushed, glad she hadn’t misstepped.
“I'm so mad at him though, I'm so mad that it feels like dying. Like, how could he do that?” Zatanna stressed, “How could he leave me like that? Especially after mom…” she trailed off into a thought too private for the open air. Zatanna shook her head, picking up where she left off. “And knowing that I'd have to see him, have to look him in the eyes and know that that's not my dad anymore. That it's not really him…” she pulled her hand into a fist until her nails dug into the skin of her palm. “It was so selfish.” She bit out.
Artemis had never felt so helpless, hand raised as if to give its comforting weight but hovering above her shoulder. She didn't know what was too much, and wasn't keen to try.
Zatanna laughed then, a dark, deprecating thing that just nearly broke her heart. “Doctor Fate is wearing my dad like a skin suit and it's all my fault.”
They lapsed back into silence. Let the thrum of electricity rift between them.
“Some nights… does it feel like your head is a ship taking water or something? Like… like you carry ocean in your heart and it's so so heavy. Where some memories can maybe make it hard to breathe or think or say anything at all and there's nothing you can do about it.”
“What are you talking about?” Zatanna asked as she rubbed her eyes a bright pink, even the swelling from the tears couldn't scrape the porcelain tone away. “I lost my father, I don't have…” she waved her hand in the air as if it could catch her thoughts and string them into words, “ptsd.”
Artemis’ thoughts snapped like a whip and she built her walls, laying brick after brick upon the thick mortar of self preservation. She had always been a forest, clambering to latch onto barren soil, to find home in unwanted ground as if she could root herself to the dirt that crumbled beneath her.
“Yeah, ‘course.” Her voice was perhaps a bit rougher than intended, but inside she was stormy, thoughts pouring down to slam upon the ground like empty bullet casings, crashing and rotting from the inside out.
Zatanna shot up, as if suddenly catching what Artemis had thread between the words. Of her pain neatly folded in between the lines. “Oh… Arty.” She said, voice heavy with sympathy and weeded with guilt.
“No.” Artemis said sharply, jumping from her seat and crossing her arms defensively.
“Arty...” Zatanna tried again, all soft words and big, open eyes.
“No.” She barked, put enough venom in to kill.
Don't pity me.
‘daddy, why don't you feel bad when you hurt people?’
‘pity is for fools, baby girl. no one cares about you here.’
“Don't.” She said so softly Zatanna almost didn't hear. But she did, and she pulled away from where she had reached to bridge the now festering gap between them.
Artemis almost felt guilty. She was almost a little disappointed.
“I'm sorry,” Zatanna tried, “I didn't mean-”
Artemis turned on her heels and left; didn't dare weather the storm. She wandered the quiet, lonely hallways back to her room and prepared to face her demons for the second time that night. As she had every night before. Her dad had always told her that her heart was weakest, that it was so painstakingly caring. And she hated it.
Artemis had always been like ocean, storming over rocks to crash upon the shore; aggressive by nature, destructive by choice.
She was ugly, and she was human.
‘promise me baby girl. tell me even if you're one of them, one of the good ones, you’ll never be weak like them.’