The old, analog clock ticks from its spot above the door. Neither Artemis nor Wally had really wanted a clock for the wall when they had phones, but Wally’s mother had insisted on it. She promised that analog clocks were always more accurate than digital ones. The clock has ticked loudly and constantly ever since. Artemis had thought that clock would conk out, eventually, that they wouldn’t be stuck with it forever. That damn clock is still running, and Wally is not. The clock outlived her boyfriend.
She wants to shoot an arrow through the damn thing. Instead, she rolls over onto her stomach on the couch and tries to ignore the sound of time passing around her. She just wants everything to stop. She has classes she’s supposed to be going to, missions she’s supposed to be going on. She hasn’t even talked to her mother since the funeral, but nothing feels like it matters.
Time is supposed to make things hurt less, not more. But Artemis feels like the farther they get from the day of his death, the more it digs into her heart. The longer it goes on, the realer it feels. The more she knows he will never come through that door again, never sweep her into his arms, never call her “babe” again.
Her Tigress costume lies untouched on the armchair. She’d promised Kaldur that she’d get back in the game. She’d thought that it could help, that she should help, but she can’t even get around to answering her communicator. The Team must be worried sick. They should be. She hasn’t done anything but wallow since- since the funeral.
It just feels like nothing matters. She couldn’t force herself to care. The Reach didn’t take over, but the villains will never stop coming. Lex Luthor is chairman of the U.N, Vandal Savage commands the War World, and the only member of the Light they managed to put in prison is Black Manta, who might be the least awful of the lot of them. None of them will ever be safe, no matter how hard they try. No matter how many of the heroes die fighting.
It would be so much easier if she’d just drop down dead. At least then she wouldn’t have to deal with this shit anymore.
She hears someone knock on her door. Ding dong chimes the doorbell. Artemis ignores it in hopes that the Jehovah’s Witness or campaign intern or salesperson will take the hint.
Knock knock, knock knock, knock knock, pause
She won’t get up. She refuses to answer the door, no matter how long they stand there.
Ding dong, pause
She’s not going to move.
Knock knock knock, knock knock knock, knock knock knock, pause.
She buries her face deeper into the couch cushion.
Ding dong, ding dong, ding dong pause.
She grabs the throw pillow, and holds it over her head. She’s not going to give in. If she can deal with that damned ticking, she can outlast whoever’s at the door.
Knock-uh-knock-uh-knock-uh-knock-uh-knock-uh-knock-uh-knock ding dong knock-uh-knock-uh ding dong knock-uh-knock-uh-knock-uh ding dong knock-uh
“Go away!” Artemis shouts. The knocking stops, and Artemis sighs in relief. She thinks that the person has finally gotten the hint. It takes her a moment to realize that the opposite has happened. They jiggle the doorknob, and then it opens. Artemis jolts up, and flies to the chair. She grabs her short bow from her Tigress costume and aims it towards the door. A girl with black, curly hair in a magician’s costume stands in her entry way. She’s sporting an awkward smile and holding her hands up in surrender.
“Zatanna?” Artemis asks, confusion seeping into her tone.
“Hi Artemis,” she says awkwardly. Artemis sets her bow on the chair.
“How did you get in here?,” Artemis asks.
“It was unlocked, Artemis,” Zatanna says, and she sounds concerned. Deeply concerned.
“Oh,” Artemis says, “right.” There’s an awkward silence, and neither of them speaks.
“That was still a dick move though, just walking in.”
“It was kind of a dick move just lying on your couch while someone rang your doorbell,” Zatanna says with a ghost of a smirk.
“You didn’t just ring the bell,” she says, annoyance and anger building, “you knocked and you rang over and over and over again!” Zatanna shrugs. Artemis huffs.
“What do you want?”
“Just wanted to make sure you were alright,” Zatanna says, “you haven’t answered your com for a week and a half.” Has it really been that long? Artemis doesn’t know. Time’s started to slide together, like a big worthless ball of meaninglessness with nothing to look forward to. She’s barely even kept track of the days. Is it Sunday? She thinks that it’s Sunday.
Did she eat today?
“Okay,” Artemis says. She doesn’t really know what to say. She hasn’t answered her com, but she’s not really sorry about it. She’s just sort of numb to the idea.
“I’m alright,” she says, more bitterly than she’d meant to, “you can leave now.”
“Have you left the apartment since the funeral?” Zatanna asks.
“No. He won’t be less dead if I leave,” Artemis says. There’s a bile in her tone that she doesn’t really mean to use with Zatanna. The other girl flinches slightly.
“We’re worried, Artemis” Zatanna says. Artemis thinks that’s what all her unread text messages say.
“You don’t have to go back to the Team if you don’t want,” Zatanna says, “but you need to get out of the apartment. Let’s have a girl’s night, Mis.”
“I don’t need an intervention,” Artemis snaps. She’s not Roy, who slowly spiraled after finding out he was a clone. She’s got her own set of problems, and she doesn’t need anyone else to fix them for her. And besides, she doesn’t have a wife and daughter to let down. She doesn’t even have a boyfriend to let down anymore.
“You kind of do,” Zatanna tells her. Artemis glares at her, a little bitter about how right Zatanna is. She’s a fucking mess, but she doesn’t want to let the other girl know that.
“Please,” Zee says, “Just come beat up some baddies with me. I know that’s how you deal with your problems. And then you can come back and wallow as soon as we’re done. I promise.” And Artemis laughs at that. It’s not a happy laugh, but it’s not bitter either. It’s just self-deprecating.
“Alright,” Artemis says, the corners of her lips quirking up slightly, “you got me. We’ll beat the shit out of some criminals.” She grabs her Tigress costume off the chair.
“Can I?” Zatanna asks, and it takes Artemis a second to realize that Zatanna’s asking for her permission to magic her clothes on.
“Sure,” she says, “whatever.” Zatanna casts a spell, and suddenly Artemis can feel the mask on her face. She’s Tigress once again.
“Let’s go,” Zatanna says. Artemis doesn’t have to be told twice.
One thing about Palo Alto is that it doesn’t have much crime, at least compared to Gotham. For most people, that’s a perk. People want to raise their families somewhere peaceful, where they don’t have to worry about a crazy clown poisoning the water supply or armed robbers or metahumans on the wrong side of the law. But for someone like her, who’s looking for someone to beat up? Palo Alto’s lack of crime is a major character flaw.
“Does anything happen here?” Zatanna asks after thirty minutes of staking out at the docks.
“Nope,” Artemis says, “that was one of the reasons that Wally wanted to move here. He thought that there’d be less chance of us getting back into the game.” She can feel tears prickling at her eyelashes, and looks away, hoping that Zatanna hasn’t noticed. If the other girl saw, she doesn’t say anything. Artemis appreciates that about her. She doesn’t push the same way that some other people in her life do.
She watches the waves, and Zatanna watches the docks. She’s sure that nothing’s going to happen. She’s half dozed off by the time that Zatanna elbows her.
“I’m awake!” She opens her eyes widely, and catches a glimpse of a familiar set of armor.
“Manta’s minions,” Artemis growls. There’s only six troopers, which should be easy for them to take out together. Artemis is actually a little disappointed. She jumps down from her pile of crates, and smiles as she draws her sword. After years of living in Palo Alto, she’s finally found herself some action. Maybe she just wasn’t looking hard enough.
The troopers turn around, the light flashing across their helmets. Artemis descends upon them, and knocks one of them out in a moment. Zatanna hasn’t joined her yet.
“Are you coming?” Artemis asks her. Zatanna rolls her eyes as she jumps out from behind the crate. Artemis throws another punch, and the trooper punches back with a force that has to be personal.
" Traitor ,” he growls, “you and Kaldur’ahm ruined Manta’s entire operation.”
"Guilty as charged," Artemis drawls, and she dodges as he lunges at her again. She laughs as he falls onto the pavement. He tries to push himself off the ground, but Artemis stomps on him. He screams. She thinks something cracks too.
“ Tigress ,” Zatanna says, sounding horrified.
“He’s not dead,” Artemis says, and then mumbles, “probably.” Zatanna looks even more horrified, but she doesn’t have time to dwell on that. Another trooper lunges at her, and she flips him over. He falls hard on the pavement, and she hears him groan.
“Call the rest of the guys,” another says, “tell them we’ve got Tigress here and we’re gonna make her pay.” Yeah, Artemis is super scared. Manta’s troopers were incompetent back when she led them, and now that they’ve lost their leader Artemis doubts if they’re any real threat. Zatanna takes out another guy, and Artemis hits hers over the head. All of the troopers lie unconscious on the ground.
“That was easy,” Artemis says.
“They said they were calling for backup,” Zatanna says.
“Oh come on,” Artemis says, “we can take them.” Peaking through the waves, Artemis can see one of Manta’s largest ships. Men pour out of it, at least twenty, maybe even closer to thirty. The goons all turn to face her at the same time, and Artemis laughs. They took out six easily, but this is a fight. She’s fucking thrilled.
The men ignore Zatanna, and all circle around Artemis.
“I’m flattered,” she says.
“Don’t be,” says the one in front of her. Artemis laughs as she kicks him in the crotch. It hurts her foot like hell, but the force of the kick still hurts him. He doubles over and falls on his face. Zatanna comes up behind them, and hits one of the men with a blast of energy that sends him flying into another.
“Watch out!” she shouts. Artemis doesn’t register it quickly enough, and her entire head starts to hurt. It feels awful, and the world blurs a little. She forces her elbow back into the man behind her, and it hits the man’s armor. She’s not as practiced as she should be, and her elbow protests with a feeling of pain she can’t allow herself to focus on. She thinks she can feel blood trickling off of it but it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is taking them down.
She looks around for a second before she pulls the sword from her back quickly, ready to cause real damage. The consequences don’t matter. Nothing matters but winning.
She holds it front of her, and swings it in an arc around her. She continues, and makes it a full spin. The men laugh. Artemis realizes that the worst she did was leave scratches all over their shiny black armor. Time to look for the vulnerable spots, god she’s out of practice and she’s only been out of commission for about two weeks. It’s felt shorter and longer than that in some ways.
“Is that the best that you’ve got?” the one behind her taunts. Artemis growls as she turns around, and she slices a straight line in the soft spot in the armor, around the shoulder. The man grunts in pain, and Artemis punches him again. And again, and again, and again, until he falls to the ground. She moves onto the man beside him, and flips him over like he’s made of wet pasta, even though it probably hurts her elbow even more. She can feel it but it’s distant, like background noise.
She sees Zatanna doing well herself, shouting things quickly and taking out a few of Manta’s goons with a spell or two. She looks focused and poised. Hell, Zatanna looks perfect and composed, how does she look so composed ? She almost doesn’t see the next man barreling toward her.
The next man punches her, and gets her right on the nose. Artemis punches back even harder, but it feels like her nose fell off and she can feel it bleeding, trickling down her face. If she opens her lips she can probably taste the blood so she doesn’t talk anymore. Her elbow feels wet like her nose does but she can’t tell how bad the bleeding is. She thinks there might be a bloody clump of hair on the back of her head too. None of it matters though, and Artemis tries to focus on the fight.
She punches and punches and kicks, and he finally goes down too. But he’s not the end of it, not even close. There’s the man beside him, and the men behind her, and all of the ones that Zatanna is fighting.
Artemis sighs. Honestly, this is what she gets for wanting action and being out of commission for so damn long. She keeps punching the guy in front of her as she feels blood running down her fingers. Her knuckles are fucked up. She might have broken one of them but she keeps hitting, keeps slicing and cutting and hurting them. She has blood all over her face, her nose might be broken, her elbow and one of her hands are bleeding and she might have a concussion but Artemis doesn’t care. She feels alive for the first time in months, and if there’s a ton of pain mixed with the adrenaline she doesn’t even care. She just wants to take some of these goons with her.
They’re all surrounding her, and Artemis adjusts her sword in her hand. She’s ready to take them all. Until, of course, one of them kicks her ankle and knocks her feet from underneath her. She falls to the ground, her head pounding and her elbow aching. Her entire damn body hurts from the fall and she realizes how much of her is fucked up.
One of the troopers slams his boot onto her chest. He removes his helmet to smirk at her. He’s a white guy, with blond hair, bright blue eyes and a smirk that reminds her of her godawful father. She wants to punch his smug fucking face until it’s bloody.
“I’ll crush you like a bug,” he says like a promise.
“How about no,” Artemis retorts, wrapping her legs around his foot. She rolls over, and almost throws the man off of her, except a friend of his grabs his shoulders and steadies him.
“You’re not getting away that easily, Tigress,” he says.
“Tigress!” Zatanna shouts.
The man digs his foot in deeper, and Artemis almost can’t breath. Her head hurts and her knuckles hurt and her elbow hurts, and her chest hurts and she can’t breath and she just wants everything to stop, right now or forever, she doesn’t even care.
Zatanna shouts something backwards, and the men fly across the docks. Artemis takes a hurried, shallow breath. She pushes herself off the ground to the point where she’s sitting up. Zee walks over to her, and wraps Artemis’s arm around her shoulder. She helps her stand up. Artemis tries to push off of her, but she finds herself tumbling back into her side. Funny, she doesn’t even remember hurting her leg.
“We need to leave,” Zatanna says softly. There are six men trying to stand back up, and they all look ready to kill.
“I can still take them,” Artemis says, weakly, “we can still beat them!” She has to pummel them into the ground. Zatanna sighs, but doesn’t respond.
“Tnemtrapa ym ot su tropsnart,” Zatanna says. Artemis sees a blue glow, and then the walls of an apartment. She’s definitely not in Palo Alto anymore.
“What happened?” Artemis asks. She stumbles out of Zatanna’s grasp, and awkwardly falls onto a wooden, kitchen chair. The hard structure hurts against all of the injured spots it touches and the adrenaline starts to fade as Zatanna speaks.
“I transported us to my apartment,” Zatanna says. It takes her a moment to realize why she would do that. Zatanna wanted to get her out of that fight. She was worried about her. She knows that shouldn’t make her feel angry, but it does.
“I had things under control,” Artemis shouts. She tries to push herself off of Zatanna’s kitchen chair, but her ankle hurts. She falls back down onto the hard chair.
“You were gonna get yourself killed!” Zatanna shouts back at her.
“I’m fine, Zatanna,” Artemis says, “I don’t need you babying me. I can handle myself.”
“Are you sure?” she asks, a hint of bitterness in her tone. Artemis doesn’t even grace that with a response. She just glares at the other girl.
“Fine,” Zatanna says reluctantly, “I’ll transport you back to Palo Alto if you want.” Artemis thinks about that for a second. She doesn’t really want to go back to Palo Alto. Her apartment’s just full of memories and laundry and dishes that she hasn’t done and she’s too hurt to go back into the fight, and Zee wouldn’t do that anyway.
“If you didn’t transport me back,” Artemis says cautiously, “what would you do?”
“Well,” Zatanna says, obviously surprised that she’d even gotten to this point judging by the look on her face, “I’d ask if you wanted to stay here.” Artemis doesn’t respond. She doesn’t know how to. She and Zatanna haven’t been close for years, and now she’s showing all this.. concern. It’s really fucking weird, especially since Artemis doesn’t feel like she deserves it.
“I know, it’s stupid,” Zatanna says with a self-deprecating laugh, “you didn’t even want to leave your apartment tonight. You wouldn’t want to stay with me.”
“No,” she says, “I- I want to stay.” She doesn’t want to be alone again tonight, in her apartment haunted by memories.
“Oh,” Zatanna says, face lighting up like a Christmas tree, “great!”
“You can stay on the couch,” she says, “and we can like, watch movies or something all night.”
“I’d like that,” Artemis says.
“We should probably get you cleaned up, though,” Zatanna says.
“What?” Artemis asks.
“You’re dripping blood on the tiles,” she says. Artemis looks at her bloody fists and her dried elbow, and sees a puddle staining the white tile.
“Oh,” she says.
“Do you need help?” Zatanna asks, “I noticed you were limping.” Artemis hates accepting help for things, especially physical ones. Maybe it’s from her mother, not accepting any help when she first adjusted to being in her wheelchair. Maybe it’s just because she’s a proud piece of shit, but she’s never been eager to accept help for things.
“No thanks,” Artemis says, forcing herself to her feet. Her right ankle hurts like hell, and she hops quickly, and moves all her weight to her left foot. At least that one doesn’t hurt, even if the position makes her look like she’s ready to run in a three legged race.
“Are you sure you don’t want help?” Zatanna asks. She looks confused and a little bit amused.
“I’m good,” Artemis says with a strained voice. Zatanna laughs at her, the traitor.
“Alright, Mis,” she says. She leads her through the entryway and the laundry room, and over to the bathroom. Artemis hops the whole way, grabbing large pieces of furniture to try to keep her balance. Zatanna opens up the mirror cabinet, and takes out a bottle of peroxide, some band-aids, a few wraps, and a big old tube of Polysporin.
“You’re free to use anything you need,” Zatanna says, “I’ll go make some popcorn.” Artemis leans against the counter, and looks at her face in the mirror. Her nose isn’t bent, so she thinks that it’s not broken. It still hurts like hell though, and has produced enough blood she has to mop it up with one of Zatanna’s red wash cloths. She pours the peroxide over her knuckles next, and the wound bubbles. It burns a bit, but Artemis knows that it’s necessary. Getting an infection in her fists would suck balls.
She sighs as she realizes she’ll have to take the top half of the suit off to dress her elbow. She unzips the upper half of her suit, and slides the arms off. The abrasive fabric slides against her elbow. When she finally gets it off, she lets the upper half dangle over the pants half. It looks goofy as fuck, but she doesn’t care at the moment, standing in only her pants and a bra in Zatanna’s bathroom. She takes out the peroxide, and pours it over her elbow. It bubbles through the drying blood. She smears a bit of Polysporin on the outside of her fists, and wraps some of the soft, spongy bandage material around them. Then, she does the same with her elbow.
Artemis takes her ponytail out, and runs fingers gently through the back of her hair. She can feel bits of dried blood flake off, and she wets the washcloth again. She washes the area gently to clean the wound out, and tries to detangle the hair a little but doesn’t bother with shampoo or anything. Her head hurts, but she knows that she doesn’t have any sort of concussion. She’s had enough head injuries to tell the difference between bad and worse, and self testing confirms it.
Artemis tries to put the supplies back in the closet, but finds that she can’t make them fit the way that Zatanna did. She shoves them in anyways, and slams the door. She looks at herself in the mirror, with her neon yellow sports bra and the goofy way her suit falls. She doesn’t really want to put the shirt half back on, because her elbow still hurts and it’s skin tight. She has no idea if the bandages will even stay put if she pulls the thing up.
Ah, fuck it. She looks kind of goofy, and she’s half naked, but what does she care? Zatanna saw her take a beating today. What does it matter if she sees her like this too?
Then, she hops out of the bathroom, and forces her way back in the kitchen and around the corner into the living room. She falls face first onto the couch as soon as she gets there. She rolls around, and lies her aching head on the cushion. She can smell the popcorn, and Zatanna places a small bowl of it into her hands. The other girl’s already changed into a pair of colored sleep shorts and a Scarlet Witch t-shirt. Artemis is in half of her Tigress costume and her neon sports bra. Zatanna, for her part, doesn’t even look surprised. She almost looks interested for a moment, but it’s over so quickly Artemis isn’t sure it actually happened. She’s probably just tired.
“Can you do the clothes thing again?” Artemis asks. Zatanna grins at her, and she magics her up a pair of soft pants and a shirt with a tiger on the front. Artemis grins a little at that.
“So, what do you want to watch?” Zatanna asks, “I’ve got all the Disney movies, a few romcoms, and then whatever’s on Netflix.”
“I don’t care,” she says honestly. Artemis can’t even bring herself to care about whatever’s playing. She feels accomplished because she stayed at Zatanna’s place instead of wallowing at home. She feels accomplished because she dressed her wounds instead of letting them fester. She doesn’t have any more fucks to give about what movie they play.
Zatanna puts on an old Disney movie with talking cats that Artemis has never seen before. It’s not very good, but Zatanna likes it and Artemis eats her popcorn in peace. They don’t talk much, but they watch a few more movies and Artemis feels a little bit less alone by the time she falls asleep on the couch.
Artemis wakes up the next morning, and immediately knows that something is wrong. She’s on a couch, but not her couch, and parts of her body ache. She’s physically hurt and this isn’t even her couch. Not the one that she’s spent every night on since Wally died. This one faces a loveseat instead of the television, and there’s no old analog clock in sight. She scans the room frantically, trying to find a weapon, but then she notices Zatanna asleep on the red arm chair.
She stayed over at Zatanna’s last night. Now she remembers. Artemis feels stupid as the tension leaves her. This couch is a nice shade of tan, and it’s got a fluffy texture, almost like velvet. The couch in her and Wally’s apartment (just hers now, she reminds herself painfully) is made of a scratchy, ugly green fabric. Wally had bought it as a joke, because it looked like her Artemis costume, but then they’d just never gotten rid of it. She can feel her eyes burning, tears threatening to come, and falls back onto the couch. She tries not to cry and she tries to fall asleep. She’s not very good at either of those things.
She cries herself dry into the corner of the couch. She doesn’t know how long it’s been, but she hears footsteps. She sits up abruptly.
“Looks like you’re awake,” Zatanna says.
“Um, yeah,” she says, “I am.” Zatanna tilts her head towards the kitchen.
“Come eat cereal with me,” she says. Artemis stands up, and her ankle only hurts a little as she does. She’s able to walk to the kitchen with minimal pain. Artemis doesn’t like cereal much, especially with milk, but she eats the Rice Krispies anyway. She needs to, considering how inconsistently she’s eaten lately. She feels lightheaded and maybe like she should actually drink some water or something soon. Maybe.
“I should really zeta back home,” Artemis says.
“You can stay, if you want to,” Zatanna says.
“Are you sure?” Artemis asks.
“You’re my friend, Artemis,” Zatanna says, “you’re always welcome.” Artemis feels something warm, almost, like she’s welcome. It’s a nice feeling, and she doesn’t really want it to go away.
“Thanks Zee,” she says softly.
“You should probably message Kaldur though,” she says, “let him know if you’re coming back to the Team or not.” Artemis nods. She does want to go back to the Team, but she just wasn’t able to work up the energy to before. After last night, though, she thinks that she can now. But there definitely needs to be training and she might time to heal up. She’s still a little out of sorts.
“I’ve got to go- League business,” Zatanna says. Artemis nods.
“Beat someone up for me,” she says.
“Don’t worry, I will,” she says with a grin. Then, Zatanna teleports away, leaving Artemis alone in her house. She searches finds her Tigress gear in the bathroom and takes out her communicator.
“Sorry for not responding sooner,” she texts, “but I want back on the Team.”
“Excellent,” Kaldur responds, “I’ll get you back on the roster.”
Zatanna doesn’t get back until ten o’clock at night, and Artemis spends most of the day watching Agents of Shield on her Netflix account. She eats a granola bar halfway through the day, and considering how little she’s bothered to eat in the past few weeks, she feels accomplished that she forced herself to do that.
“Are you ready for sleepover, part two?” Zatanna asks as she walks in.
“Part two?” Artemis asks, “was there a part one?” She always associates sleepovers with girls doing each other’s nails and pillow fights and talking about boys, something that she’s never done before. She doesn’t know if her sleeping at Zatanna’s house really qualifies, especially since she was coated in blood when she got there.
“Well, you slept over,” Zatanna says, “I’m pretty sure that was a sleepover.”
“I guess so,” Artemis says, and she laughs a little, “but we didn’t really do all the stuff they do in the movies.”
“We could,” Zatanna suggests happily, “you know, I’ve never actually had one of those.” She sort of trails off at the end, sounding far sadder than she did when she started. Giovanni had been a bit of an overbearing father, and Zatanna had complained about it constantly before he put on Fate’s helmet. Artemis knows she’d happily put up with all again if she could get her father back.
“I haven’t either,” Artemis admits. Her home life has never been like what they show on TV.
“We’ll just make up for lost time then,” Zatanna says. She gestures towards her couch.
“Go ahead and sit down,” she says, “I’ll go get us some blankets and shit.” They didn’t bother with blankets the night before, and Artemis is pretty sure she wasn’t the only one who froze to death.
“Is that the technical term?” Artemis asks.
“No, the proper word is bring,” Zatanna shouts from across the room. She emerges from her bedroom with an armful of fuzzy blankets and two pillows. Zatanna plops down in the big, red recliner across from the couch.
“So,” Zatanna says, “which cliché sleepover thing are we going to do? Board games? Pillow fights? Truth or dare?” She waggles her eyebrows as she says the last one, and Artemis laughs. She could barely force herself to watch a movie last night. She doesn’t think she could force herself to do any of those things. At least Zatanna doesn’t ask if she wants to talk about boys. Thank god for that.
"Can we talk?" Artemis asks. She hasn’t really talked to anyone since she holed herself up in her apartment. If she’s going to force herself to do something, then it might as well be interacting with other humans. At least that’s good for her.
"Yeah," Zatanna says, a wide smile spreading across her face, "of course. But could I go first?” Artemis’s heart starts beating a million miles a minute. Zatanna might want to talk about Wally, or about why Artemis almost killed herself last night or about how she hasn’t been taking care of herself. She wants to talk, but she doesn’t want to talk about that.
"Yeah, sure,” Artemis lies, anxiety building up inside her.
"Why'd you stick with Tigress?" Zatanna asks.
"Wait, what?" Artemis asks. She feels confused. She definitely didn’t expect Zatanna to ask about that.
"I mean, when you came back from your mission," Zatanna says, "why didn't you switch back to Artemis?" Artemis sighs. This is an easier topic than a lot of the ones that she could have chosen, but it’s definitely personal. She decides that she’ll give her the real reason though. Zatanna was her best friend once, though, and she wants to be close to her again.
"Artemis was Wally's partner," she says, her voice catching in her throat, "I thought Tigress would be a fresh start."
"Has it worked?" Zatanna asks.
Artemis laughs harshly as she says, "Not really." Artemis was Wally's partner, but Artemis wasn't just the hero. Artemis is every bit of her, and switching costumes and names won't change that. She can feel tears prickling at her eyelashes, and she doesn’t want to have to talk about this anymore. She tries to change the topic.
"So," Artemis says, "what about you? How's the League been treating you?"
"I'm not really feeling the aster," she says. Artemis laughs a little at that, even though she doesn't want to devalue Zatanna's feelings.
"Why?" Artemis asks.
"The League's not as fun as the Team is," Zatanna says, which sounds like a nonanswer. Artemis isn't going to press, though. She doesn't want to make her feel uncomfortable.
“Yeah,” Artemis says, “why do all the League members seem like they have sticks up their asses?” Zatanna sends her a fake insulted look.
“I’m insulted, Artemis,” Zatanna says.
Artemis laughs and says, “Which proves that you've got a stick up your ass.” Zee sends her a glare.
“I’m not sharing my brownies with you, Artemis Crock,” Zatanna says.
To which Artemis responds, “You have brownies?” Which leads to them eating brownies straight out of the pan on Zatanna’s carpeted floor, while watching The Incredibles and laughing about how stupid superhero outfits look.
“So whose is the worst?” Zatanna asks, “and you can be honest.”
“Speedy’s,” Artemis says. She has never seen anything less attractive than the Roys’ first superhero outfit.
Zatanna grimaces, and says, “I can’t top that.” Artemis lies down on her back, and brownie crumbs tumble onto her outfit. She should do something about that, but she doesn't want to. She’s so tired that she just wants to melt into the floor. She curls into a ball on the ground, and closes her eyes.
“Mis?” Zatanna asks.
“Yeah Zee?” Artemis asks groggily, forcing her eyes open to look at her.
“You wanna do this again tomorrow night?” Zatanna asks. She sounds excited by the prospect, like she legitimately wants to sleep on her floor and let Artemis eat all her brownies again. Artemis wonders just how many people she’s had over because Artemis is hardly a stellar guest.
Artemis is groggy, half asleep really, but she says, “Yeah, of course.” She thinks that she could do this every night. It’s certainly better than wallowing in her apartment, waiting for the guilt and sadness to eat her away. She lies her hands under her head, and her thoughts blur together as sleep consumes her.
Over the next few days, she and Zatanna run missions with their respective teams, and come back to her apartment and watch movies and talk. Artemis is sprawled out on the couch again, and Zatanna’s curled up in the red armchair. She’s surfing through movies on Netflix, and Artemis looks around the room in boredom.
On the coffee table sits a picture of Zatanna and her father both in mouse ears on some trip to Disney World. She’d kind of forgotten that other people have lost people too. It’s just- she felt like the world had fallen down when Wally died, and she still does. It’s so hard to remember other people have problems when hers seem so all-consuming. Artemis clutches it in her hands, thinking about how carefree Zee had been when they’d first met. She doesn’t think that she’s ever really been the same after her father became Doctor Fate.
“Zee,” Artemis says softly. Zatanna looks over from her spot surfing Netflix, and realizes what Artemis is looking at.
“Oh,” she says. Her voice sounds dull, lifeless, “you found that photo.” Artemis doesn’t say anything, and Zatanna doesn’t either.
“You should put that down,” Zatanna says, her voice tight, “don’t want to ruin the mood.”
“Do you want to talk, Zee?” Artemis asks softly.
“Nope,” Zatanna assures her in her best I don’t want to talk about it voice. Artemis knows that Zatanna doesn’t like to be pushed, but neither does she. Zatanna pushing her to get out of her apartment last night might have been the best thing anyone’s ever done for her. She’s going to return the favor.
“Come on, Zee,” Artemis says gently, “I know you need to talk too.” Zatanna sends her a look that asks are you sure ? Artemis nods her head.
Zatanna uncoils a little bit and says, “That picture was the last one my dad and I ever took together. We were on a Disney trip, and I- I kind of thought I was too old for that. I wanted to be with you guys, running missions instead.” Zatanna sounds so guilty about it, like her being a petulant teenager is what took away her dad’s bodily autonomy.
“I was so stupid when I was younger,” she says, “I never knew what I had. But, I’ve been working nonstop, looking for a spell to sever Fate from his host.” Her voice is thick with grief, like Artemis when she found Wally hadn’t made it.
“What I’ve found is that it- it’s impossible. Everything written on it says that only a Lord of Order can sever themself from their host. Which means-“ Zatanna pauses a moment, and tries to collect herself. She doesn’t have to continue for Artemis to catch her drift. It means that Zatanna will never get her father back. Giovanni Zatara is as dead as Wally West. And Artemis can feel her own tears forming, her own throat starting to constrict.
"It's not a total loss though," Zatanna says, with a fake perky tone people only put on when they're uncomfortably close to tears, "it helped me figure out how to get Blue off mode." Artemis doesn't know Blue, not really. He didn't join the team until after she left. The closest thing to a conversation she’s ever had with him was when she and Kaldur took him prisoner, but she does know he and Bart are nearly attached at the hip. She can't even imagine what that must have been like, for either of them.
Zatanna can imagine it though. She’s lived through something similar on both counts.
“If only I could get him off mode too,” Zatanna says with the weight of half a decade of regret. Artemis hugs her tightly, and Zatanna melts into it, wrapping her arms around her.
“You know it’s not your fault,” Artemis says with a shaky voice, “right Zee?”
Softly, Zatanna says, “I still feel guilty.” Artemis knows that she could say something. She could assure Zatanna that it’s not her fault, that she was just a kid and didn’t know what would happen. But she knows that that wouldn’t make her feel any better, and Artemis doesn’t think it would help. Instead, she just holds her, and cries into Zatanna’s shoulder as Zatanna cries into hers.
“I miss him,” Zatanna mumbles, and Artemis hugs her tighter.
When she wakes up the next morning, Artemis is a bit afraid Zatanna will be angry. She hadn’t really wanted to talk about it, but Artemis made her dredge up her memories anyways. Zatanna, however, seems anything but angry. She’s already sitting at her kitchen table, eating a bowl of cereal by the time that Artemis drags herself out of the chair.
“It’s about time you woke up,” Zatanna says, “it’s almost noon.”
“Why are you eating cereal then?” Artemis asks.
Zatanna sends her a wry smile and says, “I just got up too.” Artemis rolls her eyes. She’s exasperated, but fondly.
“You want a bowl?” Zatanna asks, and Artemis sits down and eats her breakfast. Or is it lunch? Brunch? She’s never really sure with these things. Zatanna pulls out her phone and checks the time.
“Ugh,” she says, “I’ve gotta get ready. There’s a League meeting in half an hour.” Zatanna’s left her alone in her house a few times, and it almost seems domestic, a little like she lives there, which she’s sure Zatanna wouldn’t want. They need to discuss this.
“When do you want me to leave, Zee?” she asks.
“Leave?” Zatanna asks, “what do you mean?”
Artemis says, “I mean when do you want me to stop sleeping over .” Artemis can’t imagine that Zee wants her staying over indefinitely. She’s probably already tired of her and just doesn’t know how to ask her to leave. Zatanna sends her a look that is somehow even more confused.
"You can stay as long as you want," she says, sounding confused about why Artemis is even asking that.
“Are you sure?” Artemis asks, “Most people don’t issue invites indefinitely.”
“How does forever sound?" Zatanna asks, and Artemis’s heart skips a beat, “I mean, how about however long you want?”
“Wait,” Artemis says, not sure if she should let herself hope, “Are you asking me to move in with you?”
“You kind of already have,” Zatanna says simply, “I thought we’d just make it official.” Artemis blushes.
"Really?” she asks.
"Yes, Artemis," she says, “no use having the League pay for an apartment you’re not using, right?”
Artemis still can’t believe that Zatanna’s actually invited her to move in with her when all that she’s done is eat her food and sleep on her floor and provide a little bit of emotional support.
"You don't have to stay long if you don't want to," she adds. Artemis thinks that Zatanna actually does want her to move in. A warm sense of belonging settles over her.
"Alright," Artemis says, “the League pays your bill too, right?”
“Yes,” Zatanna says, sounding confused.
“I just wanted to make sure, in case you paid it. Then I’d want to split the rent,” she says with a little smile.
Zatanna looks at her, eyes full of joy, and says, "You are wonderful."
Artemis smiles, and says, "I think Cassie's got that one covered.”
"Whatever it is," Zatanna says with a smirk, the sort that she finds terribly attractive, "I'll take it if it's paying my rent.”
“Your hypothetical rent,” Artemis clarifies.
Zatanna rolls her eyes, and says, “Same difference.”
Artemis calls her landlord that afternoon and talks over how to get out of their contract, so the League won’t have to pay for the months she’s not living there before it’s up. She sets up a time on Saturday to get moved out. Zatanna has League business that day, which is alright. Artemis wouldn’t really want to ask her to help her move, especially after she’s already done so much for her.
She ends up asking Bart to help. He's kind of like the annoying little brother she never had, and he was close to Wally. She thinks he might want to take some of the stuff she doesn't need or want. That's how he ends up meeting her at the apartment that she shared with Wally.
This wouldn’t have been a problem, if he didn’t wear the Kid Flash costume. Logically, Artemis knows that it can’t be Wally. Wally’s been dead for almost three months. But the rest of Artemis can’t put that together, because here’s Kid Flash, standing in her apartment in Palo Alto, and every part of her wants it to be him.
"Wally?" Artemis asks, voice broken and scarred and hopeful, and he looks guilty and afraid as he rips off his mask. As the mask comes off, Artemis can see his hair. It's auburn, and she remembers in a terrible, heart-crushing moment that it's Bart. Bart is Kid Flash, and Wally is never coming back. She invited him over to rummage through Wally's things, before she sends the rest of them that she won't keep off to Goodwill. She can feel her throat constricting as an emotional avalanche begins. Wally’s still dead. He’s not here, hasn’t been since July, and he’s never coming back.
"I'm so sorry," Bart says, speedster quick, "I didn't think- I should know how that can affect someone." He says it with a sardonic smile, like it's some self-deprecating joke that Artemis should understand. She doesn't, but she doesn't press either. She still feels like the world is coming down, but she’s kept the tears from falling and she doesn’t have to talk, so maybe she won’t let him know how upset she is. Maybe he won’t be able to see that she’s falling apart.
She likes Bart, and she doesn't want him to feel bad. He loved Wally in his own way, even though he barely knew him. It's still hard for her to look at him in the KF costume, though. It's hard to look at him and not think that he's Wally's replacement, and that no one but she and Dick cares that he's been traded in for the newest model.
Artemis tries to keep her voice from shattering as she says, "take off the costume… please ." Her words come out broken, almost tearful. She barely remembers to add a "please" to the end to make it sound less rude.
"Yeah," Bart says, sounding guilty and embarrassed, "I'll be gone in a flash." A yellow blur whizzes past her, and Artemis is left alone in the living room. Until, of course, a russet haired boy appears, looking downright ashamed.
“I’ve got stuff sorted out,” Artemis says, putting on that same fake perky tone that Zatanna used a couple days ago, “the stuff I want, and the stuff I don’t. You can take whatever you want of that.”
“I um- I actually brought a list of everything that Aunt Mary and Uncle Rudy wanted me to pick up,” he says. Oh god , Artemis thinks as she realizes that she didn’t even check in with the Wests. Artemis feels fucking terrible for forgetting to even call them, even mention that she was getting rid of their dead son’s stuff.
“Oh god,” she says, and she’s about to start rambling on about how sorry she is, but Bart’s a speedster and he cuts her off.
“It’s alright,” he says, at that speed where Artemis has to really listen or she won’t understand a word he’s saying, “they weren’t mad or anything. They know that you’re going through a lot, they just wanted to make sure to get some things.”
“Okay,” Artemis says numbly.
“Really, Arty-mis,” he says, “it’s crash.” Artemis nods her head, but she doesn’t really believe him. They get everything ready anyways.
The thing about having a speedster help you move? It makes things both easy and fast. Within two hours, they get everything moved out. Bart gets the stuff he claimed to the Garricks’ place in Keystone City, and the Wests’ stuff back to Central city. Then, they both take the stuff neither of them want to a thrift store and finally take her stuff to her apartment in New York City.
“Thanks for the help, Bart,” Artemis says.
“Any time, Arty-mis,” Bart says with a little grin, “you’re practically family.”
“I’m not sure about that, Bart,” Artemis says, her throat going uncomfortably dry. She’d rather not talk about this, especially since she forgot to ask if the Wests wanted any of Wally’s stuff.
“The Wests miss you,” he adds.
He sees her flinch, and says, “They’re not mad at you. They just miss you.”
“Please, don’t,” Artemis says. She can’t think about how Wally’s never coming back, or how if Bart didn’t think of it, she wouldn’t have even remembered to get his parents some of his stuff and- She just feels like she’s drowning in guilt and she can’t do it right now.
Bart takes the hint, and doesn’t even say anything in response. He pulls his phone out of his pocket. It takes Artemis a second to moment that it's in a fucking Flash case. Bart Allen might be the least subtle superhero she’s ever met. He checks his phone, and his eyes widen.
“Shit,” he says, sounding frustrated, “I was supposed to meet Blue fifteen minutes ago.”
“Oh my god,” Artemis says, feeling guilty, “Bart, you didn’t have to help if you had plans.”
Bart shrugs, and says, “It’s alright. He’ll forgive me.”
“Gottagobye,” Bart says as he waves at her. Then, he becomes a red and blue blur as he runs out of sight. Artemis sighs as she falls onto Zatanna’s- their couch. She feels a little giddy when she remembers that. She lives here now, officially. She lives with Zatanna, which wow. The thought makes her even happier than she'd expected.
No matter how happy she is, she's still exhausted from the move. She turns on some cartoon. It’s the bright, loud, mindless sort of cartoon and not the type with an overarching plot and character motivations. She appreciates that because she doesn’t have to think about it.
Zatanna gets back about half an hour later. She opens the front door and steps into the living room. And then, she looks at the brown, cardboard boxes on their living room floor.
“Looks like you got all moved in,” she says.
“Yeah,” Artemis says, “don’t have to worry about that anymore.”
“So how’d it go?” Zatanna asks.
“It was fun,” Artemis says, and it was, mainly.
“Artemis,” Zatanna says in her talk to me voice.
"Bart wore the KF costume," Artemis says, and Zatanna's face falls immediately. She knows where this story is going.
"I just- I thought he was back," she says, her voice wobbling an embarrassing amount, "is that stupid?" It feels like Wally’s died all over again, and she just- she can’t deal with it anymore. What matters without Wally? Logically she knows that the importance of everything didn’t die with Wally but it felt like it, god it felt like it.
"Of course not," Zatanna promises her, and it sounds like it comes from experience.
"I miss him," Artemis says, voice soft and it feels like the understatement of the century compared to how she feels, especially with the new guilt over forgetting about his parents. Zatanna wraps her up in a hug, and Artemis melts into it.
“It’s alright,” she tells her, voice soft and soothing. It sounds like she understands, and she does. Artemis knows she does. Zatanna knows what it's like to mourn a dead man walking.
“I hate feeling this fragile ,” Artemis says bitterly. She doesn’t want to feel like this anymore. She just wants him back. She wants to wake up next to him. She wants to hear him laugh and kiss her and call her babe one more time. She just- she misses him so much it hurts, her body too. She’s tired down to her bones and her heart feels like a fake in her chest. Maybe Wally took the real one with him and replaced it so quickly she didn’t even know. They were supposed to be in this together. They were supposed to have forever and even after that.
“You don’t have to be tough all the time,” Zatanna tells her. Artemis nods, even though she’s not sure that she agrees.
“Let’s watch a movie,” Artemis says, “I just- I don’t want to think right now.”
Zatanna laughs, and says, “I have just the thing for that.” Zatanna puts on a shitty horror movie, and they laugh at the fake blood and the shitty screams and all the awful visual effects. For a little while, Artemis doesn’t feel like there’s a gaping hole in her heart.
Artemis runs more and more missions with the Team, and Kaldur gives her soft jobs where she can’t put her life in danger. Artemis thinks that Zatanna told him about what happened with Manta’s goons. She should feel resentful of that. She should feel angry that they’re going behind her back, telling her secrets and her weaknesses, but she doesn’t. She sort of appreciates it. She likes having people that care about her, even if she can’t bring herself to care about herself.
She’s starting to care a little bit more again, at least about her friends. She protects everyone else on missions, and can’t imagine letting any of them come to harm, even if she doesn’t give a shit if she does. She thinks that maybe that’s a good sign, that at least she can care about something , someone again. She had kind of thought that part of her had died with Wally, but now she does .
She can laugh with M’gann and Connor, and listen to Garfield talk about how stoked he is that they’ve finally gotten back together. She can talk to Kaldur, and spar with him without getting reckless because she doesn’t care if she gets hurt. She almost doesn’t feel like her heart is being ripped from her chest every time she sees Bart in the Kid Flash costume. When she gets back to the apartment with Zatanna, she feels like she’s coming home. Artemis doesn't know what she'd do without her.
She feels guilty for it, that she’s starting to be happy again. She feels guilty that she feels so at home with Zatanna, and that sometimes her heart does somersaults when she smiles. Artemis feels guilty when she starts to move on.
Artemis has been doing a lot of things since they stopped the Invasion, but she didn’t really expect babysitting to be one of them. She didn’t even tell Jade where she moved. But one Saturday, Jade shows up on their doorstep, holding Lian on her hip.
“Jade?” Artemis asks.
“Hey little sister,” Jade says, in that taunting yet playful tone she’s always used.
“How did you find out where I live?” Artemis asks skeptically.
“What?” Jade asks, “a girl’s not allowed to keep tabs on her little sister? I’m hurt.” Artemis rolls her eyes.
“You want me to babysit, don’t you?” Artemis asks. Jade doesn’t look remorseful in the least.
“Just for a few hours,” Jade admits, “I’ve got a job to do, and I’d prefer if she were safe.”
“Alright,” Artemis says, a smile curling on her lips, “give me my niece.” Lian smiles at her and coos. Then Jade slings a bag around Artemis’s head.
“I’ll be back before morning,” Jade promises.
“Morning?” Artemis demands, but Jade has already started to run away. She left Artemis holding the baby and the bag.
Great , Artemis thinks, just great .
One thing about Artemis? She’s not really familiar with childcare. She knows that babies wear diapers and that you have to watch them closely to make sure that they don’t die. And also that they drink formula from bottles (or breast milk… from breasts) but that’s about the extent of her knowledge of kids. She was the baby of her family, and she’s never really had any babies that she’s been around before Lian.
She’s pretty sure that she can handle it though. She takes one of her numerous blankets off the couch and lies it on the ground. Then, she sets the girl down on top of it.
“Hey Lian,” she says, her voice drifting into baby talk automatically.
“Aunt Artemis is gonna take good care of you,” she promises. Lian giggles and claps her hands. Then, Artemis’s communicator rings. She groans, and picks it up. Kaldur’s serious face appears on the screen.
“What is it?” she asks.
“We have a mission,” Kaldur says, “you’re needed on alpha squad, Artemis.”
“I’m kinda busy right now, Kaldur,” Artemis says. Kaldur sends her a concerned look. Artemis never turns down a mission. At least, she hasn’t since she came back for good. He’s probably worried about her.
“What is it?” he asks. Artemis scoops Lian up and holds the camera up to her babbling niece.
“I’m on baby duty,” she says. Kaldur’s eyes widen.
“Artemis,” he says, sounding concerned, “is she yours? You never mentioned that you and Wally had a child when we were undercover-”
“She’s my niece, Kaldur!” Artemis exclaims, her face turning bright red.
“Oh,” Kaldur says, looking awkwardly away from the communicator, “um- yes. I am sorry for jumping to conclusions.”
Artemis has no idea how to respond to that, so she just says, “It’s fine, Kaldur. I just- I have to watch her today so Cheshire doesn’t take her out on a job.”
“Cheshire takes the baby on jobs?” Kaldur asks, sounding concerned.
"She does,” Artemis says, regretfully.
“Okay,” he says with a small smile, “I understand, Artemis.” He still sounds so damn considerate.
"Thanks Kaldur,” she says, “bye.” Kaldur nods, and hangs up the line. Artemis appreciates Kaldur. He can be firm when he needs to be, but he's one of the most understanding guys she knows. There's a reason she trusted him to kill her.
A few moments later, Zatanna opens the front door and nearly glides inside.
“Honey, I’m home,” she calls out ironically, and Artemis rolls her eyes. Zatanna sees Artemis sitting on the ground, and looks a little confused. Then she sees Lian and her eyes widen.
“This is a bit more fifties than I was really hoping for,” Zatanna says. Artemis laughs out loud, and then Zatanna sends her a serious look.
“For real, Mis,” Zatanna says, “who’s the baby?”
“Oh,” Artemis says, gesturing to the little ball of puke and sunshine, “this is my niece, Lian.”
“Oh,” Zatanna says, “I can’t believe I didn’t figure that out.”
“Hello Megan,” Artemis says, and Zatanna laughs. M’gann hasn’t done that for years, but it remains a bit of an inside joke between the original members of the Team.
“Is this alright?” Artemis asks, “if you’re not cool with having her here, I could tell Jade no next time.”
“No, no,” Zatanna says, “of course it’s alright. She’s your niece, Mis. And this will be kind of fun. I haven’t been around a baby in forever.” Zatanna sits down on the blanket next to them and makes a few faces at Lian. The baby giggles right back at her.
"You don't have League business?" Artemis asks.
"Nope," Zatanna says, popping the p.
"I've got nothing better to do than help you change her diapers and rock her to sleep," Zatanna says, way more happily than anyone should ever say the word diapers. Artemis appreciates Zatanna so much, maybe more than anyone else. No one has ever been there for her in quite the same way before this.
"Please tell me we're gonna use magic?" Artemis asks, trying to keep the mood light. She doesn’t really want Zatanna to know she’s gotten a case of the feelings. She doesn’t even want to know what all that entails.
"Oh yeah," Zatanna says, " definitely .” Artemis catches a whiff of something unsavory, and Zatanna’s face contorts in disgust.
“I think we might need to do that sooner than later,” she says.
They stay up talking, making faces at Lian as she plays with some of her toys and reading a few of the books from her baby bag. They feed her, and they change her diapers (with magic, thank the Lord) and eventually, Lian Nguyen-Harper falls asleep on the floor.
Artemis and Zatanna both sigh in relief as they fall down on the couch in exhaustion. Zatanna falls asleep beside her, and they bump up against each other a little, but they don’t get closer than that. There’s a part of Artemis that wishes that they would.
At three o’clock in the morning, Jade finally comes to pick her up. Artemis doesn’t know this until she’s sitting casually on the couch, though, because a trained assassin can’t just ring the doorbell .
"Aren't you two cute?" Jade asks. Artemis’s eyes jerk open, and she spots Jade in the big red arm chair.
“We were watching her,” Artemis assures her. She might have fallen asleep for a little, but they were right by her. If Lian needed anything, she would have cried and woken them up.
“I know , Artemis,” Jade says. She looks skeptically at Artemis and Zatanna’s position.
"I didn't think you'd get over flash boy so quickly, though," she says. Artemis feels a mix of anger, embarrassment and a tiny bit of guilt as she glares at her sister.
"Zee and I aren't together," Artemis says adamantly.
"Do you want to be?" Jade wonders, gently picking up her daughter. Lian’s eyes shoot open, and she starts crying.
“It’s alright, Lian,” Jade says, nurturing in a way Artemis never expected from her assassin sister, “mommy’s here.”
Zatanna rolls over and mumbles, "It's your turn, Mis." Artemis's heart does a somersault at how casually domestic it sounds, and how cute she finds it. She curses herself in response.
Jade situates Lian on her hip, and the baby stops crying.
"I think that you do," Jade says seriously. Artemis doesn't think that she's wrong. Jade situates Lian in her sling, and places her behind her back. Then she slinks silently out of the house. Artemis stays on the couch, acutely aware of Zatanna's steady breathing. There's a part of her that wants to be curled around her.
Fuck , Artemis thinks, holy fucking shit . She knew her feelings for Zatanna were different than for her other friends, but she hadn’t considered why . But now that she thinks about it, the heart racing and the physical affection and the banter, it all reminds her of the first time she’d fallen in love, back when she was fifteen and falling for Wally. Her heart races, and she feels sick to her stomach.
She is not ready to be in love again. She is still in love with a dead man.
Artemis ignores her feelings for weeks. Her heart races when they touch, and she tries not to see Zatanna changing for fear of acting like a creep. She doesn't know if she wants to avoid her or spend every waking second with her. It’s not until she gets home from hero-ing four days down the line that Zatanna says anything about it.
"You've been acting weird, Artemis," Zatanna says.
"I have?" she says, and she feels like a middle schooler. She doesn't have much experience telling people how she feels. It's only ever been Wally, and they'd fought and then they'd flirted and then they just fell into each other's arms. Artemis doesn't know how to go from friends to lovers. She doesn't know if they can, and she doesn't know if they should.
"Yeah," Zatanna repeats, "you have. You're doing it right now. Is something wrong?" And the thing is that Artemis doesn't know. Her life's gotten so much better, but Wally's still dead. She’s only started falling for Zatanna because Wally died, and she doesn’t know how she’s supposed to feel about that. Her feelings for Zatanna are so different than what she felt for Wally, and she loves them both but in ways that don’t necessarily overlap. She feels suffocated by grief and guilt and confusion.
“No,” Artemis says, sharp and short and obviously a lie, “of course not.” Zatanna looks at her, blue eyes full of concern.
"For real, Artemis,” she says, “I care about you, and I'm kind of worried. What's up with you?" Artemis sighs, and realizes that she won’t be able to brush this off. She’ll at least have to try to give talking about her feelings a try this time.
“It’s just I- I still miss Wally but… I think I might be falling for someone else,” she says, “and I feel guilty and fucked up and wrong about it and I just- I don’t know what to do.” Wally deserves better than a girlfriend that falls in love with someone else so soon after he died, and Zatanna deserves to be someone’s first choice and not a rebound. This doesn’t feel like this is fair to anyone. What the hell is her heart doing? It’s too early. It’s too fresh. The blood isn’t dry and Wally isn’t cold and she can’t let herself feel this.
“It’s not wrong to fall in love again, Mis,” Zatanna says, “hell, it’s probably good for you, and them too. Anyone would be lucky to have you.” And that? That’s the raindrop that sends the whole dam tumbling down. Artemis closes the distance between them and kisses her. Zatanna freezes for a moment. Artemis is afraid that she's fucked everything, but then, Zatanna starts kissing back.
It feels like heaven has come to earth, like the floodgates have finally opened. It feels like New Year’s Eve all those years ago, with Wally finally working up the nerve to kiss her already . She feels guilty immediately. She doesn’t deserve either of them. She pulls away, needy and wanting and oh so guilty.
"I'm sorry," Artemis says, "I'm- I'm sorry, Zee." Zatanna just looks numb.
“I’m sorry,” she repeats, guilt radiating off of her, “I can’t do this.” Zatanna nods blankly, and Artemis leaves before Zee can explain what that means.
She goes to beat up a few bank robbers, because that’s how Artemis deals with her problems. That’s how she’s dealt with them since was a teenager and she and Zee got wrapped up in that business with Harm and Secret. She groans, and curses herself. Thinking about Zatanna sends a whole wave of emotions through her that she doesn’t really want to deal with.
Artemis finds a few criminals quickly enough, and pummels them into the ground. Artemis might have been a bit rusty on that first mission, but after being back in the swing of things for so many months she’s the best that she’s ever been. She slinks through the alleyways, breathing in that sweet stench of rotting trash, and carefully watching the fire escapes and rooftops for signs of activity.
It appears that her eyes aren’t as perceptive today as her ears. Artemis hears footsteps above her, and jerks her head around to see if someone’s sneaking up on her. Then, she looks up. A boy, probably somewhere thirteen to fourteen, is climbing the rickety old fire escape up to the top of a building. He’s either in danger, or he’s a criminal. Both of those warrant Tigress’s attention, so she climbs the stairs silently to follow him. He doesn’t notice her until they’ve reached the top.
He turns around, lighting quick, and holds his hands up like he’s ready to punch her. Then he smiles widely- and it only takes a moment for her to realize it’s Bart.
“Wow her-man-uh,” Bart says, “you scarred me there for a second.”
"What are you doing in New York… in the middle of the night?” Artemis asks. She’s not sure which part she’s more confused by.
"Sometimes I can't sleep," Bart says, as if that’s all the explanation anyone needs. Artemis stares him down, and lets him know that isn’t the case.
"I like to travel sometimes," Bart clarifies, "there wasn't anything worth looking at back home." Sometimes Artemis forgets that Bart grew up in an actual post-apocalyptic wasteland. She thinks she'll have to remember that the next time she thinks she has it tough.
"What about you?" He asks.
"I'm kind of working through some issues," Artemis says honestly, "beating people up clears my head." Bart sends her the facial equivalent of a slew of question marks. Artemis sighs as she realizes she’ll have to clarify.
"It's just- it's Wally, and it's Zatanna," she says, "and I don't know what to do." Artemis doesn't know why she's asking Bart Allen for advice. The kid's like fourteen, and as far as she knows, he doesn't have any relationships under his belt.
"You don't have to feel guilty for falling in love with someone," Bart says. He says it with a conviction that makes her wonder if he’s had to tell that to himself.
"I never said that," Artemis says.
"You said her name the same way you said Wally's," he says, "it wasn't hard to figure out."
"Okay, yeah," she says, taking a deep breath, "I like Zatanna, alright? And I think she might like me back?" Maybe, if she hasn't already fucked that up.
"Then what's the problem?" Bart asks. He sounds really confused, like there aren't any obstacles keeping them apart.
"It's too soon," Artemis says. Wally hasn’t even been dead half a year yet. She feels like she's pissing on his memory just thinking about it, just liking Zatanna. Bart actually rolls his eyes at that, and he looks so much like Wally when he does that she could cry.
"Wally wouldn't want you to marry his ghost," Bart says, like it's the most insightful piece of advice anyone could ever give.
"That's- what do you even mean?" Artemis asks, and she feels like punching something.
"You don't have to mourn him forever," Bart clarifies.
"And how would you know?" She says, and god she feels awful about it the moment it comes out of her mouth. Part of her feels like maybe she should, maybe she should always mourn Wally and all the things she could have had with him, the future and the suburbs and the semi-normal life. Everything she never got to do with him shouldn’t be shoved under a bed and forgotten about. It matters and they both know it.
"Because Wally loved you," he says like it's the most obvious thing in the world, "he'd want you to be happy." Artemis doesn’t know why, but that hits her like a freight train. She can feel herself getting teary eyed. Wally loved her but she’s not sure that she’s ready to be in a relationship again. She's not even sure she's cried out a fraction of the grief.
"You're pretty smart, you know," Artemis says, her voice hoarse and strained with tears. If Bart notices how her emotions went into overdrive, he doesn’t mention it.
"I know," Bart says with a cocky little grin that reminds her so much of Wally that it hurts. There’s a pang in her chest and she wishes her heart would stop feeling things because it keeps causing her pain and trouble and it all needs to stop.
"And cocky," Artemis adds, and she forces a grin. She tries to keep herself from imploding because of her emotions.
"I know," he adds with a smirk. They sit there for a while, legs hanging off the edge of the building. Artemis looks out at the tiny specks of stars that are still visible, and all of the lights that she can see shining across the city. She’s seen the stars out in the country, miles and miles away from light pollution, but she kind of likes this better. It’s gorgeous in an urban way, the sort that makes her feel less alone in the universe.
"You want me to take you home?" He offers. Artemis trusts Bart. She would appreciate not having to walk, but being carried by a speedster would bring back memories she'd prefer to leave buried tonight.
"No thanks, Bart," she says.
Bart shrugs, and says, "Suit yourself." Artemis glares at him lightly.
"Buh bye Arty-mis," he says, and Bart Allen disappears in a blur.
She goes back to Zatanna's apartment, which is hers now too. Or at least, it is right now. She’s not positive that it will be in a little bit. She opens the door, and Zatanna’s curled up in a pile of blankets on the couch, watching something on Netflix.
“Um,” Artemis says, “hey Zee.”
“Yeah,” Zatanna says, sounding more awkward than Artemis has ever heard her, “hey Artemis.” Artemis sits down on the opposite end of the couch, and Zatanna sends her a look.
“Artemis,” she says, “please talk to me.” Artemis takes a deep breath, and steals herself. She doesn’t have any idea how this is going to go.
"I think I'm falling in love with you," Artemis says, and she feels so guilty. Wally's been dead six months and she's already falling in love again. He deserves better than that.
“I kind of figured,” Zatanna says, “with last night.”
“You don’t have to like me back, Zee,” Artemis says, “hell, if you’re pissed at me, I’ll move out. I don’t want to make this any harder than it needs to be.” She doesn’t want to hurt Zatanna anymore than she already has. She’s already been enough of a burden. Zatanna looks shocked, like that’s not what she expected her to say at all.
“You deserve someone that isn’t already in love with someone else. I’ll get out of your life if that’s what you need-“
“That’s not what I want, Artemis,” Zatanna nearly shouts. Artemis freezes.
“Then what is it?” she asks softly, biting her lip. She doesn’t know where this will go.
“You still love Wally, and that’s alright,” she says softly, “I just, I need to know that you love me too.”
“Of course,” Artemis says, because that’s what all of this has been about, “Zatanna, I feel like I’m cheating on my dead boyfriend because of how much I want to be with you.” Zatanna laughs at that a little, and Artemis can’t tell what that means. A part of her is terrified that Zatanna’s laughing at her.
“You said you were falling,” Zatanna says, her voice sounding dreadfully nervous, “I already fell, Mis.” Artemis’s heart does some crazy trapeze move that only Dick could pull off without falling to his death. She wants to say something, anything, but it seems like her voice has vacated her body. Zatanna looks confused by the silence.
"Are you gonna kiss me or not?" Zatanna asks, playful and a little fearful. Artemis laughs nervously, and her voice finally returns.
"I kinda thought it was your turn, if you wanted to," Artemis says, "like, since I was an asshole and didn’t ask last time or-" Zatanna kisses her, and the rest of her sentence is forgotten. The rest of the world is forgotten as she melts into Zatanna, and forgets why they waited this long in the first place.
So they start dating. They become girlfriends, and most things stay the same but others get exponentially better. They don’t have to pretend not to want to cuddle. They can kiss each other good morning and goodnight. They’re still the same ridiculously domestic people as before, only now they get to do it as a couple. And of course, there’s the sex. (The sex is great, just fyi.)
A few more months pass, and Christmas season rolls around. Artemis isn’t really attached to Christmas. No one in her family is religious, and the only times they did celebrate it were when her dad was around, which wasn’t the greatest time in Artemis’s life, to say the least. The only fond memories she has of the holiday are spent with Wally’s family.
Zatanna, however, absolutely loves it. She decorates a big, ugly, plastic tree and puts it up in the space where an end table used to sit. She sings Christmas carols backwards, and she makes hot chocolate and makes them watch ridiculous Christmas specials. Artemis actually finds herself enjoying the holiday season, just watching how happy it makes her girlfriend.
Artemis’s mom invites her over for New Year’s Eve, along with Jade, Roy, and Lian, and tells her that she’d better bring “that girlfriend” of hers. Artemis suspects that Jade mentioned it to her, because Artemis hasn’t actually told her mother about her new relationship status yet.
“Do you want to go to my mom’s for New Year’s?” Artemis asks. She thinks that Zatanna would enjoy that, but she’s not positive. They haven’t really talked about spending time with her family, and Zatanna doesn’t have any family to spend time with. She knows that Zatanna wants to have family to spend time with, but she also doesn't want her to think that she's rubbing having family in her face.
“Of course, Mis,” Zatanna says with a big grin. Artemis smiles back at her, and it’s settled. They’ve got New Year’s Eve plans, unless of course, the Team or the League disrupts them.
They plan to have a quiet Christmas at home. Of course that doesn’t happen. Someone rings the doorbell at five thirty that night, and Artemis groans as she gets off the couch to get it. She opens up the door, and finds Bart Allen standing out in the hallway.
“Bart?” Artemis asks.
“The one and only,” he says in that distinctly Bart way of his. He’s wearing a red polo and khaki slacks, which is incredibly weird. She’s only ever seen Bart in superhero gear or jeans.
“What are you doing here?” Artemis asks, and it probably comes out ruder than she means it to.
“I’m picking you up for Christmas dinner,” he says with a little grin.
“I don’t remember being invited,” Artemis says, and she feels weird: guilty and confused, and even a little nostalgic.
“You have a perpetual invitation,” he says, and Artemis does remember something like that, at the funeral. Wally’s parents assured her that they still considered her as good as a daughter, and that she was always welcome, always . She feels guilty. She hasn’t taken them up on their offer, and she forgot to even tell them that she was cleaning out the apartment. Now it’s too late to try to repair things, especially now that she’s dating Zatanna. She feels like that ship sailed.
Artemis loves Zatanna, in a way that’s different than she loved Wally, but isn’t any less important. She can love them both without it making either one of them matter less. She doesn’t know how to explain that to other people, though. Zatanna emerges from the kitchen, and looks confused when she sees Bart.
“Hey Bart,” she says, pausing a little, “what are you doing here?”
“Inviting you to dinner,” he says, “well, both of you. Just one would be rude.” Zatanna looks confused, but a little bit excited too.
“What do you think?” Zatanna asks. She’s asking for her opinion, but Artemis can tell that her girlfriend wants her to say yes. Zatanna has never had a big family Christmas, and Artemis knows that she wants one. She'd gotten so excited about going over to Artemis's mom's for New Year's Eve, and she seems even more excited now. That makes Artemis's decision for her. She’s not about to say no if it’ll make Zee happy.
“Alright,” she says, “we’ll come.”
“You don’t have to,” Bart says, “but we’d love to have you, both of you.”
”We said yes, Bart,” Artemis says, rolling her eyes, “you can quit schmoozing.”
“Hey,” he says, “I have an incentive to get you there. The whole family would be pissed if I came back without you.” He says this completely sincerely, and Artemis is a little bit speechless. She might have said something about it, if Bart didn’t change the topic immediately.
"What does that say?" Bart asks, pointing to the matching sweaters Zatanna magicked them up.
"Lesbians backwards," Zatanna says proudly. It takes Bart a moment to get it, but as soon as he does he's laughing his ass off.
"Dude, that is so crash," he says.
“Do you think we should change?” Artemis asks.
“Nope,” he says with a grin from ear to ear, “you’ll have the best outfits there.” He turns to head out the door, then jerks back around to face them.
“Are you guys gonna zeta over?” he asks, “because I can’t carry both of you. I’d like to say I could, but we’d crash, and not in a crash way.” Zatanna sends Artemis a look of utter confusion. It takes her a moment to regain her composure.
“Where are we going?” Zatanna asks.
“My grandparents’ house,” Bart says. Zatanna rolls her eyes.
“I mean an address,” she says, “I can’t teleport us without one.”
“Oh,” Bart says, “oneonenineteenWashingtonCentralCityMissouri-“
“I speak backwards and I didn’t understand a word you just said,” Zatanna says.
“One-one-nineteen-Washington-Central-City-Missouri,” he repeats, this time at a speed slow enough for other people to understand.
“Take my hand,” she’ll said, “we’ll all teleport.”
“Oh I can just run there,” Bart says, because speedsters are insane and can do things like run from New York to Missouri, “no big deal. It’ll only take a minute or two.” Zatanna grabs his hand anyways, and then takes Artemis. Then Artemis takes Bart’s other hand and completes the circle. Zatanna speaks her spell quicker than Artemis can comprehend it. After a poof of blue light they’re standing in a circle in the Allens’ living room. Somehow, Jay and Joan don't even seem phased by the fact that they just appeared in the living room. Apparently, they're used to it.
“That was so crash,” Bart says excitedly, “Dude, that was even faster than I can run!” Joan laughs from her spot on the couch.
“That’s high praise, coming from him,” she says. Bart shrugs. He’s not going to argue.
“Artemis is here,” Jay calls out, and a few members of the Flash family rush out of the kitchen.
“I’m here too,” Bart says indignantly. Joan rolls her eyes.
“We see you every day, Bart,” she says with loving exasperation. Bart huffs, but doesn’t protest. Wally’s parents rush out first, and engulf her in a hug. It feels so nice, and Artemis sort of melts into it. She didn’t realize how much she’d missed the Wests as well.
“How have you been?” Mary asks.
“Pretty good, actually,” Artemis says, because she doesn’t know what else to say. She has been pretty good. How does she tell them that she’s learned to be happy, even though their son is dead? That she’s found herself a girlfriend that she loves and even though she misses him like hell, she doesn’t miss him every moment of every day? Rudy turns his head to Zatanna, who is standing very awkwardly beside Bart. Bart, of course, is having a conversation with Jay that's so fast no one else can understand it.
Artemis says, “This is Zatanna Zatara, my girlfriend.” Zatanna smiles widely at that.
“You’re that magician on the Team, right?” Rudy asks.
“The League now,” Zatanna says, “but pretty much.”
“You must really be working some real magic,” Rudy says amicably, “Artemis is smiling. Bart said she didn’t smile for more than a month at the Cave.”
Zatanna blushes a little at that, and says, “That’s been the goal.” Artemis is so confused about all of this. Artemis has a new partner, and they seem happy about it? Mary seems to see her confusion.
“We’re just glad that you’re happy,” Mary assures her, “we were so worried. You two were so in love, and you were so young… We’re glad you’ve found someone that makes you smile like that.” Artemis feels her heart swell, and she hugs them again. It feels good, knowing that they’re still here for her, after everything. Wally’s family began to feel like hers nearly two years ago, and she was afraid she might lose that too.
Iris comes out of the kitchen, looking tired and pregnant but excited as well.
“Bart?” she asks. Bart tears his attention away from his supersonic conversation with Jay.
“Yeah grams?” he asks. Iris sighs deeply in resignation, and Artemis guesses that she’s asked Bart not to call her that at least ten times.
“What time’s your boyfriend getting here?” she asks.
“Six,” Bart says.
Iris’s eyes widen as she says, “We don’t even have the table set yet.”
“Honey,” Barry says, “ three speedsters , remember?” Iris lets out an audible sigh of relief, like she’d somehow forgotten she married into a family full of speedsters. But then again, Artemis can relate. She’d often forget just how fast Wally could move, especially when they first got together. God, she misses him. Then she remembers that Iris had said, something about Bart’s boyfriend?
“Wait,” Artemis asks, “you have a boyfriend?”
“Um, yeah,” Bart says, sounding confused by the question, “I thought that you knew.”
“Artemis is clueless when it comes to other people’s relationships,” Zatanna stage whispers to him.
“I am not, Zee,” Artemis says.
“Oh come on,” Zatanna says with a teasing grin, “you didn’t know Connor and M’gann were together. They’ve always been the least subtle couple I’ve ever met.” Artemis is honestly glad that she was off the Team for the months when they were broken up. She thinks that it would have been terrible to try to be around them when they were on such bad terms. At least they’ve gotten back together though, and they seem happy, even happier than they were before. Whatever their issues were, they must have gotten them worked out.
“Oh wow,” Bart says, “I de finitely wasn’t as obvious as them. It’s alright you didn’t pick up on it Arty-mis.” Artemis rolls her eyes. At this point, she's pretty sure that's the way Bart's always going to say her name.
“Who is it?” Artemis asks.
“Who’s who?” Bart shoots back.
“Your boyfriend,” Artemis says. The doorbell rings, and Bart sprints across the living room so quickly he rams into the wall.
“No superspeed in the house!” Iris calls out.
“Got it grams,” Bart calls out, as he gently rubs his now bruising face. He opens up the door. Blue Beetle stands on the doorstep, with an awkward half smile in a bright blue polo. Artemis feels like an idiot . How did she not guess that?
“Fuh-liz nav-ee-dad,” Bart says with a shit eating grin. Blue rolls his eyes as he comes inside.
“Merry Christmas, cariño,” he says in a way that’s both loving and sarcastic. Then, he spots Artemis.
“Um, hey Artemis,” he says, and he looks as confused to see her as she is to see him.
“Hey Blue,” she says. He looks even more confused when he sees Zatanna.
“Zatanna?” he asks.
“Yep,” she says a little awkwardly, ”that’s me.” There’s a pause afterwards, and it’s awkward enough that Bart looks like he’s going to say something really weird and uncomfortable to break them out of it. Artemis says something before that can happen.
“How’ve you been, Blue?” Artemis asks. Blue Beetle’s been secretive about his identity, so Artemis doesn’t feel bad calling him that off the clock. If he wants her to know his name, then he'll tell her. She knows something about wanting to keep her identity a secret.
“Better,” he says, smiling a little bit and shifting on his feet, “thanks to you.” He tilts his head towards Zatanna as he says this, and she smiles. It takes Artemis a moment to realize what he’s talking about. She’d almost forgotten that Zatanna was the one who’d gotten him off mode. Blue almost lost his free will to an organization that wanted to enslave mankind. That must be a whole new level of fucked up.
Zatanna shrugs as she says, “Saving people comes with the territory. You know that.” Artemis knows that she's brushing it off as nothing because if she thinks about it any harder, she'll think about her dad. She really hopes that Blue lays off the topic.
“I know, ese,” he says, “I’m just usually on the other side of it.” Neither of them speaks again after that.
"Okay,” Bart says, glancing quickly between Zatanna and Blue, “this is getting kinda heavy.”
He claps his hands together dramatically and says, “Let’s go eat food.”
“I am so ready to eat,” Artemis agrees.
“That’s good,” Barry says after bolting right behind them, “because the food’s ready.”
The food is great, but the company is better. Everyone seems to have a funny story to tell, and they popcorn around until everyone’s in stitches. Finally, they break into smaller conversations.
The kids’ table , Artemis thinks with a groan, is composed of her, Zatanna, Bart and Blue, which isn’t a bad setup. Bart starts to tell an embarrassing story about Blue, and then Blue elbows him in the side. Bart takes a chicken bone off of his plate, and pokes him on the arm. Artemis is pretty sure that it's weird flirting to be honest. They get off topic. Bart never does end up telling that story, but it’s alright.
Zatanna starts telling a story of her own, the first time that she tried teleporting somewhere. Apparently, she got stuck inside a door. Zatanna’s told her a million funny stories, but somehow, that one just hadn’t come up. It reminds her of the first time that Wally tried to vibrate through a wall (and got a bloody nose). She remembers when Dick first told the story, and he’d tried to put a spin on it that made him sound cool and suave. And then later, he’d told the story for real, and maybe even exaggerated parts to make her laugh more.
God , she still misses him. She thinks that she will always miss him, but for the first time since he died she feels alright again. She has friends and a family and she's in love, and she's happy. She thinks about Bart, and his parents, and even Wally himself, and she realizes that they’re right. He wouldn’t begrudge her this. He’d want her to be happy too.
Artemis dangles her hand underneath the table, in case Zatanna wants to take it the way that she often does at home. She takes it, and squeezes.