Wally’s house is empty and dark and quiet. Artemis steps hesitantly into it from the cool April night outside, gazing slowly and carefully around, when Wally sidles aside to let her in. She thinks she can hear a radio playing upstairs, but it isn’t a tune she knows, so she disregards it.
Her eyes skirt over to Wally, who closes the door calmly and doesn’t look at her. He’s favoring his right leg and there are dark bruises pressed onto his face, and she can see the faint edges of gauze bandages from beneath the hem of his thermal shirt for the briefest of seconds before he shifts, hiding them again.
“What do you want?” he asks, sounding almost bored. He brushes past her, heading for a hallway.
“I just came to check on you,” she says as curtly as she can, feeling ridiculous in her sweaty costume that she still hasn’t taken off, even though their mission ended hours ago. Her hood is off, bunched up and dirty at the back of her neck. “It’s allowed.”
Wally nods, humming indifferently, and vanishes around the corner to Artemis’s left. She huffs and follows him, hands clenched at her sides. The hallway’s walls are laden with photographs and framed certificates, a kindergarten diploma, and various other memorabilia. She honestly prefers the walls at home: blank and unrevealing, secretive enough to be comfortable.
“They won’t stop freaking out,” she tells him abruptly, uttering the sentence like it’s an excuse for her presence.
“I’m fine.” Wally grins at her, freckles and gums and a wrinkled nose, over one shoulder as she follows him into the kitchen. “All of my parts are working.”
“Black Canary thought you might be concussed,” Artemis prods him firmly, leaning against a countertop. Wally opens the refrigerator door and starts to rummage through it. “Like. Like it’s not a normal thing.”
“Well, I’m not in a coma yet, so I think that’s a good sign!” Wally quips, withdrawing a carton of milk and rapidly drinking from it. A stream of it twists in a line down the corner of his lip, tracing the edge of his jawline. Artemis looks away. “Let me guess. ’Getting attacked by the Joker is no joke.’ Except it totally is! Get it? Joke, Joker… work with me here, Artemis.”
“You’re not funny!” Artemis exclaims, crossing her arms sharply. Wally shrugs apathetically, pawing through the fridge for further fortification. “He could have seriously hurt you!”
“Accelerated healing, genius. Besides, you guys were otherwise occupied. I did fine!” Wally sighs hugely, tucking a bunch of apples under one arm. “Like – knives aren’t exactly my immunity, but…”
“Not,” Artemis growls, and Wally freezes, “Funny.”
“Jeez, sorry.” He frowns and blinks, closing the fridge door with his uninjured foot and shuffling over to the kitchen table with his plunder. “I’m in one piece, okay? And he’s in jail.”
“Yeah, but for how long?” Artemis mutters before she can hold the words back. Wally seems unfazed, shrugging comically and biting into an apple.
“Soon’s he gets out, we’ll kick his butt again. ’S how it works,” he explains, devouring the fruit.
Artemis shakes her head, tightening her fingers on the edge of the counter, and the grit beneath her fingernails presses down into her skin. She clutches it more tightly, staring with resolution at the floor.
After a moment, a pair of bare feet appear in the space at which she’s gazing; she doesn’t blink or look up, breathing evenly through her dry and stinging nostrils. She can smell old blood caked on the inside of them, or maybe that’s just her in general, because she hasn’t cleaned herself up since the mission, since she’d glanced over her shoulder after they’d incapacitated the Riddler and had seen Wally curled on the ground as the Joker kicked him repeatedly before being dragged off of the scene by several League members she couldn’t be bothered to recall.
He seems no worse for wear now, chewing noisily and burping once, but Artemis still can’t shake the visual of his bloodied face as he had grinned crookedly at her from his bunk in the back of the bioship, his face frighteningly pallid, his fingers shivering. She wrenches her eyes closed until her head begins to ache.
“Are you okay?” It’s a simple question that he asks her, but it’s resting on thinly-veiled incredulity, like he can’t believe it’s come to the point where he has to ask it in the first place.
“I don’t know,” she spits out, shoving her weight off of the countertop with her palms and standing up straight, rubbing one of her purpling shoulders with one sweaty hand, trying to ignore the stench of her own perspiration and dirt and blood.
“Because,” Wally plows on, “you kind of look like you aren’t. I mean, objectively speaking.”
“Thanks, doc,” Artemis snarls sarcastically, still not looking at him. There is a thud and a rattle to her left and she assumes he’s just tossed the apple core into the trash can. “It’s none of your business.”
“She says while she stands in my kitchen,” Wally mutters dramatically, padding out of sight. Artemis chances a glance upwards, and sees him standing at the sink, running the water into an empty cup – and then another empty cup. He comes back over after a moment, and she goes back to glowering at the floor; suddenly, a hand holding a glass of water impedes her field of vision, and she takes it without a word.
“You really came all this way just to check on me?” Wally inquires, glugging down the water in an instant. Artemis sips hers indifferently.
“Yeah,” she whispers, ashamed.
“Couldn’t resist my charms?” He snickers and she feels the muscle-clenching temptation to toss the contents of her cup onto his face. “I knew you’d come around.”
“You’re so full of it,” she hisses.
“Don’t you want to get that thing off?” Wally asks nonchalantly, and she jerks her head up in shock to see him gesturing to her costume. “I probably have a few t-shirts and sweats lying around…”
“I’m fine!” she snaps. Wally snorts into his glass as he takes another swig.
“Yeah, I can see that,” he chuckles. “You look worse than I did.”
“Are you okay or not?” Artemis blurts out hatefully. Wally blinks, lowering his glass.
“Um.” His eyebrows knit themselves together and Artemis wants to punch him for making that face, for having that face. “Yeah. I’m fine. Sure. Didn’t you already ask me that?”
“I just – I worry,” she mutters almost venomously, slamming her glass down onto the counter and folding her arms. “I thought you were – that I’d, um—“
Her eyes had been closed, but she feels a large warm presence suddenly shift close to her and she opens them. She has to keep herself from leaping back when she notices that Wally is now standing an inch or so, minimum, from her, and his sleepy half-lidded green eyes are fixated on her. She swallows, holding his gaze without blinking, keeping her chin jutting out as if challenging him.
“I’m right here,” he whispers. “You can poke me to make sure I’m real.”
“No, I’m convinced,” she rasps out, then clears her throat and her voice returns to its usual husky adamance. “I’d like to avoid touching you as much as I can anyway.”
Wally surprises her – he raises one bandaged hand and places it lightly on her left cheek, his thumb resting directly beneath her eye. She doesn’t flinch away, miraculously, but each and every inch of her skin tenses with the contact, and she has to inhale deeply to keep from instinctively kicking him in the face.
“Whoops,” he says, grinning innocently and shrugging. Artemis, on any other occasion, would bat his hand away, but his gauze-wrapped palm is shockingly soft and light on the skin of her cheek, and he won’t stop looking her in the eye.
“You are concussed,” she declares.
“Maybe,” Wally agrees, sounding far too pleased at the prospect.
He shifts closer to her, and his hand rests on her face a bit more steadily, and she can’t stoplooking at him, her eyes flickering between his rhythmically.
“Hey, so on a scale of one to ten,” he says idly, full of self-confidence, “how much do you want me to kiss you right now?”
“Like… negative eleven,” Artemis growls, and then she lifts one hand to the back of his neck, guides him down, and presses her lips into his as hard as she can.
It isn’t graceful. It isn’t gentle. It’s fierce and wanting and scared, and her head is suddenly filled with the visions of arctic tundra and green chairs and vast deserts and that look he’d had when they’d all woken up from the exercise, that unmistakeable and altogether infuriatinggrief in his stupid eyes whenever he’d stare at her for long moments in the days and weeks following. Wally grabs at her hips and yanks her closer, and she presses to him, and his tongue scrambles out against hers, and she’s pretty sure she just knocked her glass over with her elbow. She slips her arms beneath his and spreads her palms out over his shoulder blades, and she hates herself for this; she hates herself for thinking that this is the way to make herself stop worrying about him all the time.
“Wally—” she murmurs, pulling away; his hands are on either side of her face, clutching her unrelentingly. “We – this—”
“You said,” he whispers, pressing his lips into the space between her shoulder and neck, “that you came here,” he trails up the side of her neck and she stares at the ceiling as if searching for some point of gravity, “to make sure I’m okay. Why don’t I just, uh, prove that I am.”
“This is…” She laughs breathlessly. “This is one way to do it.”
“Don’t sound so surprised,” he snickers into her ear, kissing the hollow of it, and she’s pretty sure she doesn’t know how to stand properly anymore, but he doesn’t seem to care too much. “But I’m just warning you: If my parents come out here and see us like this, dinner invitations will be given to you. And they’ll want to like. Talk about your childhood, and your hobbies, and what shampoo you use. And it’ll be—“
“Horrible,” Artemis finishes distractedly before finally snatching his mouth back up again, breathing erratically against his teeth.
“Yes – horr—exactly,” Wally splutters out when he manages to draw away. “Took the… words right out – of my…”
Artemis doesn’t give him the chance to finish. There’s something about the chapped and craggy presence of him on her lower lip, the way he exhales heavily through his nose every now and then, that makes her want to shake him and make him promise never to scare her like this again, or at least makes her want to press him against a wall, but she’s not really going into specifics here; it’s hardly the time.
“Artemis…” he practically whines out. He looks so dazed, so pained. “Seriously… myparents…”
“Oh, fine,” she breathes into the corner of his mouth. He practically shivers. “I’m guessing you have a room in this place? Or do they just make you sleep in a doghouse?”
“Well, I do have a room inside, but that’s not to say it isn’t a doghouse.” He winks, and Artemis makes a face.
“You’re kind of disgusting,” she tells him with a smirk. He returns the expression.
“Funny; you weren’t saying that a second ago…” he mumbles, satisfied, waggling his eyebrows as he takes her wrist and leads her out of the kitchen and back into the hallway.
She moves silently behind him as he sneaks along, nudging open a door with one foot and beckoning her inside. The radio is definitely on – some unidentifiable song that crawls quietly up the walls – and there is a yellow street lamp outside that sweeps light in through a window on the far wall. His bed is rumpled and unmade and there are dirty clothes and empty plates scattered on the floor that she wrinkles her nose at.
“Not exactly Buckingham Palace,” she comments dryly. Wally closes the door behind them and she can’t explain why the sound of it makes her want to shiver.
“It suffices,” Wally says in an exaggeratedly pompous voice. Artemis had been expecting him to stride back around to face her after he’d closed the door, but she can feel him standing behind her, causing the air around him to hum.
He moves closer. She doesn’t turn around; one of his hands is trailing idly down the length of her ponytail.
“Why are you really here?” he asks softly.
Artemis wants to tell him: I was scared. I was scared you were dead and asleep and I’d never see you again, even though they all told me you were fine. I was scared. She hadn’t even planned on going by his house, but suddenly, she had found herself walking toward the zeta tubes in the Cave and punching in the four-digit code for suburban Central City, and she had walked three blocks and knocked on Wally’s door and she had been so scared.
“I was in the neighborhood,” she explains loftily.
“That’s not an answer.” His hand halts.
“Does it really matter that much?” she demands more harshly than she had planned, turning her head slightly over her shoulder, eyebrows tight.
“Yeah,” he mutters after a moment’s consideration. “It does to me.”
“So you don’t think it’s because I wanted to make sure you were okay, or because I was sent to check on you, or because—”
“I think it’s just because you like me.” His face is lingering behind the back of her head, and one corner of his grin curls against her earlobe. Artemis doesn’t react.
“Not on your life,” she breathes, trying with all her might to keep from shivering.
“I knew it.” He snickers, and it crackles in her ear, and she closes her eyes.
“Wally,” Artemis says suddenly, turning to face him. His eyelids are low over his lazy green eyes, and he’s staring at her with barely parted lips, looking almost bemused. “Back up. How did this happen?”
“How did what happen?” he mumbles distractedly, leaning toward her mouth. She draws back gently, putting a halting hand on his chest, and he blinks in confusion.
“I-I mean,” she stutters, hating the uncertainty in her voice. “Like… just yesterday, we were – you said my hair was ridiculous, and I said your whole life was ridiculous, and we – I mean, we weren’t – I didn’t – I didn’t think we’d ever…”
She doesn’t know what she’s trying to say. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that, ever since August, when she’d first come kicking her way onto the Team, shaking the shadows from her back, she’s never really decided on what to think about Wally. She had defaulted to disdain after he had inexplicably decided to treat her like less than dirt, but by the time they visited the Tower of Fate (barely a week later), she had progressed to simply thinking he was obnoxious, maybe kind of laughable, and she had sort of wanted to be friends, because she might as well have, and he hadn’t made it horrible or anything.
The months had passed languidly and they’d both gotten better with each other, though that could have been helped by the fact that they’d basically been all over each other in Bialya when they “met again,” or whatever. Amnesia sucked, mostly because, by the time her memories were restored, they felt like the wrong ones. Because honestly, how could she have possibly hated Kid Flash? She’d watched him on the news a dozen times and counted the freckles she could see and wanted to tell him everything about where she came from, but then he had turned out to be a massive dork – it went from annoying to endearing, and then he’d carried her away from tanks and bullets and acted like it was a breeze, and wow, was he ever fantastic.
Until she remembered that they were supposed to constantly be clashing with each other, and until she remembered to force herself to ignore his ninja boyfriend comment – it was all so beyond stupid; it was aggravating, quite frankly, that after that, she found herself staring at Wally during training when he’d take off his shirt; or that she kind of sort of wound up eating sandwiches with him until three in the morning night after night, until he made her laugh so hard that her milk came out her nose and she didn’t even care about what a loser she must have looked like. She found herself enjoying his company, and liking the way his eyes looked in the sunlight, and jibing at him just to rile him up because she liked the way his eyebrows would mash together and make a little crinkle over his nose, and nudging him or punching him just so it could count as touching him—she’d never really been that way with a boy before, because most of the boys she associated with in Gotham City just hopped ahead to second base and moved on.
The absolute worst was when she had woken up from the exercise with a painful, spasming gasp and had felt so sick and scared and dizzy that she had wanted – inexplicably – Wally tohug her; she had wanted to press her face into his chest and not have to say anything, and he had looked so close to putting his hands on either side of her face and looking her in the eye, but – out of nowhere, he had swallowed something down and turned away from her, striding without pause out of the room, and he hadn’t spoken to her for days, and she had hated him for being so confusing all the time; Black Canary had poked and pulled at her insecurities, and yeah, the person she was most worried about was Wally, not just because he’d probably punch her in the face if he found out her family history, but because she worried about him in a general sense, always looking out for him during fights, fixing his broken arm with a sling, bringing him a rebreather, relishing the astonished look in those stupid green eyes of his whenever she’d do something nice.
And okay, maybe when she and Zatanna had shown up late to the Happy Harbor High School’s Halloween dance after the whole debacle with Harm, and werewolf-Wally had begrudgingly asked her to dance right when a slow song came up (“Sparks,” Coldplay; weird choice for a bass-pumpin’ high school crowd), she had felt kind of okay. It had been a little weird, because the entire time they swayed in tandem, he had looked her straight in the eye, and she hadn’t even though to laugh at the fact that he was a werewolf and she was a vampireand her fake fangs looked so dumb when she smiled stupidly at him; his hands had rested a little awkwardly on her hips and his cheeks had been insanely red, but he hadn’t broken eye contact for a second, and, just to spite him, neither had she. And the song had wound to an end, and they’d stood like that for a few seconds too long, and then he had stepped sharply back like she was diseased and strolled over to the punch bowl like nothing had happened.
Then all of their parents had gone missing, and she’d never seen him look so sad, and she’d wanted to do something to help, but she was so terrible at that kind of stuff, so she’d just sort of awkwardly shifted from one foot to the other, debating patting his shoulder but getting distracted by a colicky baby that M’gann had been trying to placate. It had all been over pretty quickly, and she’d hugged her mother, and a few days later, Wally had taught her “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” and they’d sat side-by-side against the wall in his souvenir room and sung it in a duet like a couple of morons, and she’d been unable to help returning the proud smile he’d given her.
Then it was his birthday, and she was sick with disgust – not jealousy, no way, not possible, oh god she was in too deep – at the way he gazed at M’gann like a lovelorn lamb, and wow, she’d practically broken his heart right then and there. She had bitten her nails when she’d seen the news broadcast about Kid Flash being confined to the hospital after failing to save the queen, and they’d bled a little, but she didn’t mention it when he came swaggering back. (She had given him a book of Vietnamese poetry – in English, duh – because he’d been babbling about how it “seemed interesting,” and the very last one was Say It; “I have an immense desire; did you know? / And absolute, too; I am in constant search of you.”) She’s pretty sure he still hasn’t read it, because she saw it sitting by the weights in the training room, pristine.
And suddenly, suddenly, her family had come into the picture, and he’d said things to her in the bioship that she’d never heard in her life and wow; wow, Wally, Wally – when had they gotten to this point, this point at which, suddenly, he was the only person whose opinionmattered to her? And she’d lied to him, just like she’d lied to everyone else, and she hadn’t been able to shake the way he had looked at her when Red Arrow pulled out that tracker, and she hadn’t been able to sleep, and she had wanted to go back to calling him Baywatch and being called Replacement or Harpy; she hadn’t wanted to know him the way she did anymore, because he had ruined her beyond repair.
He had ruined her.
And that had all blown over, and he knew the truth now, and he had apologized to her for about five minutes straight and she’d hidden her happiness with great skill, punching him lightly in the arm and telling him that she would deign to forgive him – she didn’t mention that, after she had gone sniffling to M’gann about what had happened (two weeks before she had told the Team, as M’gann held her hand, about her parents and her sister), the Martian girl had put two fingers on her forehead and filled her mind with images from the exercise, images of Wally shouting her name until his throat went raw, images of him beating his fists against the bioship in anguish.
It had just made her feel worse. Dizzier. More unsure. Maybe she had cried a little, though it was doubtful.
They are at a quiet point now, now that he knows where she comes from and now that she knows exactly how nice he can be if he tries. It’s almost Christmas, and they’ve just had one of the hardest missions ever – Riddler and Joker teaming up to cause absolutely unfounded mayhem in Gotham City, starting with the kidnapping of Kid Flash (she will not believe rumors that the Joker lured Wally out to the abandoned warehouse with a hamburger).
And now she’s here. At his house. In his room, in the dark, as he cups the back of her head with one hand and runs his thumb over her ear. And she has no idea – none – how they got to this point. How she went from hating him to – here. How he went from being barely civil to her to – here. It’s a little terrifying. It’s probably a trick.
She steps away from him, and the backs of her knees bump against the bed.
“You, y’know – hated me,” she reminds him clumsily, her eyebrows furrowed. “I mean, from day one, we didn’t get along.”
“You hated me,” Wally argues, pointing at her and raising an eyebrow. “You called me Baywatch.”
“You said you’d pick Red Arrow for the Team over me,” she retorts.
“You called me a geek,” he splutters indignantly.
“You said I was – insecure. And – and selfish,” she says harshly, not knowing where the words were coming from. “And that I was a screwup and—and you called me Miss Thing.”
“Yeah, okay, well, I was wrong,” Wally replies simply, shrugging. “It happens. Bad first impressions. And like, you could’ve at least not lied to m—us about your family.”
“Because that would’ve worked out great,” she snarls. “I totally would’ve told everyone if it hadn’t been for you; the only reason I didn’t say anything was because I thought you’d, like, never speak to me again. Or that you’d use it as an excuse to tell everyone how much I sucked, just like you’d always said—”
“Wh—me?” he exclaims, his eyes wide. “Me?!”
“Yeah, you!” she barks, folding her arms, and she wants to go back to the part where he was kissing her and she was enjoying it and they weren’t talking about how they got from point A to point Make-Out. “You’re the one who made me feel like crap about my past! You’re the one who I wanted to – to like me!”
Her cheeks feel hot. Thank god it’s dark.
“What?!” Wally shouts. “But you’re the one who treated me like I was a total clown! What difference would I make?”
“You’re the one who would’ve looked for any excuse to get Red Arrow back on the Team!” She curls her hands into fists, and they shake involuntarily. “And you’re the one who wouldn’ttalk to me for like two weeks after that stupid exercise—”
“Yeah? Well, you’re the one who died!” he yells, and the sentence stuns Artemis into silence. He’s breathing a little heavily, putting a hand on his side, right about where the gauze is. “Aw, jeez. Pretend I didn’t say that.”
“No,” she mutters, finally loosening her hands. “M’gann showed me.”
His eyes go wide and his face blanches and his shoulders stiffen.
“She—she did?” He gulps, and his voice returns to a normal volume. “She did.”
Artemis nods slowly, breathlessly.
“Didn’t know you cared,” she says quietly, glancing away and feigning indifference. “You never acted like you did.”
“Well, I guess I did,” he replies. She looks back up at him. He’s staring at the floor with a somber expression that makes her stomach twist. “I was just too scared to admit it to myself. But that exer—that thing made me figure some stuff out.”
“Me, too.” It’s not entirely a lie. She hadn’t lasted long enough to be fooled into thinking that it was real, but the remnants of her teammates’ grief had gripped and throttled her mind for weeks and weeks.
“I was just—” He breaks off, closing his eyes. “I was so freaked out about how I felt about you. I hadn’t even known that I would – that I was… it scared the crap out of me, Artemis; do youget that?”
His eyes open again and he’s gazing at her with this gut-pinching intensity that makes her mouth go dry, and she thinks of how he had ignored her in favor of M’gann for ages after the exercise, how he had gone back to coolly insulting her like he had when she’d first shown up.
“It was like – I didn’t even know how important you were,” he says, “until you were gone. And it was horrible, but kind of a relief, because – I’d never have to deal with all of those…feelings.” He says “feelings” like they’re a bad joke, grimacing. “And then when I woke up, and you were there, it was like, wow, did I seriously flip out that much? Did I seriously care that much? And I got so scared about it that I just – told myself it was nothing. A fluke. That it’d go away.”
He takes two steps forward, and he’s close to her again, making the air buzz with warmth, and Artemis doesn’t blink, gulping feebly at her dry throat. She’s never seen him look so serious, not even when she had mixed up Luke and Anakin Skywalker, and he inhales through his nose slowly, thoughtfully, before sighing.
“But it didn’t,” he murmurs, and it all sounds so weird, having this conversation with Wally while she shivers in his bedroom, smelling grimy and trying to ignore her sore, bruised joints.
He puts his hands on either side of her face, and a crooked grin moves across his face.
“It really didn’t,” he finishes, and his fingers are shaking minutely against her cheeks, but he doesn’t look scared; he has never looked scared, Wally, letting his bullheaded impulses carry him into danger without regret.
“Oh,” Artemis says dumbly, her voice barely quavering out into the dark.
Wally pulls her toward him and when he kisses her, it’s just as clumsy and ferocious as the first one; their teeth ram together and click and their breaths come out in erratic swells. Artemis reaches up and curls her fingers into his hair, and he sags forward when she pulls at it, humming into her mouth in a way that makes her insides mix up and get lost among each other; he is clutching her face with something close to desperation, or triumph, and all of him is gathering at the front of her head, behind her eyes, under her tongue, and she’s wanted to do this for a long time, apparently, because she moans against his teeth when they rake over her lower lip, and hey, wait a minute, this is Wally, Baywatch, Geekbait, Wall-man, Kid Crash, Kid Trash, the Fall-man, Moron, Nerd, Dork, Wally—
“Okay,” she breathes, breaking away from him temporarily (he presses his cheek against hers and holds her to him); “Maybe I was a little scared about seeing you hurt, and that’s why I came, but it’s seriously not a big deal, so don’t get any ideas—”
“I am getting so many ideas.” He smirks against her cheek and guides her lips back to his, and she could do this forever; she really could, because he’s alive, and he’s okay, and made her doubt herself once, when no one else ever had, and sometimes she wakes up in the morning and his face flashes over the backs of her eyelids for the fleetest of seconds before she opens them and pretends her dreams were empty.
“You’re such—” She pops back, and he follows her without breaking the rhythm; “—a major—” She moves her head to the side and blinks and her eyelashes race over his cheek; “—Wally.”
“That is an excellent word for what I am, yes,” he quips back, all-out laughing this time. It’s a really nice sound.
“I can’t be in love with you,” she mutters. “This can’t be happening to me.”
“I guess I’m just irresistible.” Wally’s voice is smug, but she can tell he doesn’t mean it; he never really means it, because he’s just as ill-confident of himself as he pretends not to be. “C’mon, babe, quit freaking out and kiss me.”
“Oh, yes, your highness,” she says snidely. “I’ll just set aside any and all emotional crises.”
“I really see no crisis here,” Wally observes nonchalantly, stroking the right side of her face with the backs of his fingers. He’s smiling sleepily down at her, his eyes dazed and weary and content, and she probably looks about the same, minus the smile. “You like me; I like you; let’s get back to the part where we kiss.”
“How can you possibly…?” Her voice trails off, and she chews her lip, feeling slightly more stupid than she ever has in her life. “Wally, seriously, how can you possibly like me? When did this even happen?”
“Oh, right about the time you called me your ninja boyfriend,” he tells her in all seriousness. “As for the how… I have no idea. But like. That’s half the fun, right? That makes it even better. Why don’t you give me some time to figure out the specifics?”
Artemis stares at him. She stares at him for a long, long time. Her arms are quivering, snaked around his neck; her hands are clasped at the nape. Her breaths are shaky. Her shoulders shiver. Loose hair hangs in her face, and there’s a spot of dried blood around the hem of her shirt that has crusted over and itches against her skin.
She thinks, without consideration, of kneeling in the mud of the Louisiana bayou as Count Vertigo crippled her with his nauseating waves; she had thought, at the time, that the voice she had heard was probably her imagination, because Wally protecting her was the sort of thing she would imagine when she was scared.
Leave her alone. The voice – Wally’s voice – had seemed to still the trees, and she had turned her head clumsily to see him standing in the muck with his hands curling into fists, glaring at Count Vertigo with utter venom in his eyes; before he could do anything, he had been hit from behind by a blast, and then she had, too, and she’d told herself to forget about it.
Twenty-six freckles she had counted on his nose one night, when he had fallen asleep on the couch at the Cave, the hues of the National Geographic channel splashing against his face.
“Yeah, okay,” she hears herself say, almost deferentially. “Challenge accepted.”
Wally’s face splits into a wide grin, and he kisses her again, and she can feel his smile against her lips as she leans back on the bed, pulling him down over her, and he’s warmer than anything she’s ever touched before. The bruises on his face look like shadows in the darkness, and she eventually gets the t-shirt and sweatpants that she had insisted she didn’t want or need, and they don’t really do anything (nothing she wouldn’t tell Jade), but that doesn’t stop his parents from laughing hysterically at them the next morning when they find them curled under Wally’s bright red Flash quilt, and she’s never been so embarrassed in her life.
But before all of that, she is whispering things against Wally’s mouth, and his arms are wrapped around her torso, and it’s like she’s just gone on some massive journey to a place she’d never been or heard of but had, somehow, known precisely how to find.
It’s all so corny. So ridiculous. She could gag.
But between all the corny and the ridiculous, it’s a step or two from perfect, and she doesn’t really deserve this, because – well, because she’s her. She can’t help thinking that for a second, but Wally’s skin is warm against hers, and before she falls asleep, he plants a kiss on her forehead, and it’s about the craziest thing that’s ever happened to her because Wally West just kissed her forehead before she went to sleep and – and—
And it’s dark, and he’s bandaged up and battered, and this is the weirdest – the best – the most… unexpected night of her life. And if she has to sum up how she feels in three syllables or less, she'd say that she's definitely happy.
Maybe it'll start to feel a little less unfamiliar, if she's brave enough.