Packing lightly had never been a problem for Artemis. She wasn't the type of girl who needed twenty pairs of shoes for a week's vacation. No, a few t-shirts, a couple pairs of shorts, and her costume would suit just fine. Toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant. Hairbrush. The works.
And her bow. Yes, of course, she would need her bow.
She glanced over to her right, where a stack of medium-sized metal boxes, painted green, rested on the berber carpet. She crawled over to them, carefully taking one into her lap and pressing the concealed button on its side. It unfolded immediately, its edges sliding out and shifting until the box was no longer a box but a bow.
She sighed, running a finger down the smooth surface of the handle and then pinching the string. Tight, strong. The strongest that money could buy, of course. Courtesy of Green Arrow, but fixed up with a few modifications by her father.
Artemis condensed the bow back into box-form and picked up two others, her favorites, placing them carefully in her bag. Then she slung it over her shoulder and walked out into the hallway, heading towards the Mount Justice living room.
Naturally, Robin, Wally, and Megan were sitting on the couch, looking over at the TV, each holding a slender sheet of paper. There was a Clue board on the coffee table, accompanied by a few cans of soda and some popcorn. Wally was studying his sheet with a rather amusing ferocity, while Megan merely looked confused.
"I don't understand," she said, pointing a green finger towards the playing board. "If I'm Professor Plum, why am I a suspect? I promise, I never committed any crime. I never made Professor Plum commit a crime either." She looked genuinely worried that this game might get her thrown in jail.
Robin, who was leaning against the couch with his arms slung behind his neck, looking overly pleased with himself, replied, "It's just pretend, Megan. You're pretending to be Professor Plum, who might have done a crime." His overly pleased look turned to one of outright smugness. "You know, in the living room at dawn with the revolver."
Wally's eyes widened and he turned to stare at the Boy Wonder. "You figured it out already?"
"Ah, come on, Wal, this one's easy," Robin said, sighing and sitting up, gesturing to his notes. "Miss Scarlet wore her scarab broach at breakfast. That means it wasn't the scarab broach. Mr. Green was found unconscious just before breakfast in a secret passageway, connecting between the study and the living room. Professor Plum was putting together a jewelry exhibit. That means—"
Wally threw his hands in the air, causing the cards he had been holding to scatter. They rained down in front of him like leaves from a tree. "That's it, I don't even care anymore." He scrutinized Robin moodily. "You have an unfair advantage because you were taught by the World's Greatest Detective."
"Yeah, and I also happen to have a small speck of common sense," Robin replied. His lips twitched into a wry smile.
"I honestly don't know how I've put up with you this long."
"I honestly don't know how you've ever been able to solve a crime without Flash's help."
"Hey! I caught Captain Cold red-handed the other day by the—"
"Oh, come on, Wally! You heard a bank alarm going off, investigated, and found Cold's calling card! It doesn't exactly take expert detective skills to figure out who did it!"
"It could have been—"
Artemis figured this was as good a time as any to interrupt. "Ahem," she coughed, standing behind the couch and smirking.
Wally stopped mid-sentence and turned around to look at her. "Oh, it's you," he said, blinking at her with a smile that only really touched his lips.
"Yeah, it's me." She rolled her eyes and threw her bag up onto the top of the couch. "You guys know when we're heading out? I need to run by my mom's, tell her I'm gonna be gone for the next few days."
"We're leavin' at 7:00," Robin said. "Can't you just call her?"
"I left my favorite bow there," Artemis lied, "since I didn't know we would be heading out to the middle of nowhere for a period longer than 24 hours."
The black-haired boy nodded, giving her a thumbs up and a grin, then turned back to the Clue board. Of course, he immediately recommenced his argument with Wally about unfair advantages and Robin's uncanny ability to belittle Wally in just about everything. Artemis slung her bag back over her shoulder and walked out of the room, heading towards the teleportation center that would get her to Gotham quickest.
Best she get this over with as fast as possible. The others would get suspicious if it took too long.
And, besides. She wanted it over with more than anything. God, she just wanted this whole thing done. Better yet, she wanted it gone. Out of her life. See ya, bubye, so long!
She tightened her grip on the Velcro strap of her bag and put on her best poker face. Being Artemis, however, did have its benefits.
She had a damn good poker face.
Standing in the living room of her father's house, Artemis dropped her bag onto the redwood kitchen floors with a thump.
"Dad?" she called, peering down the hallway.
The house was dark, but she knew he was here. The refrigerator door was cracked and the back window was open. The partially-opened fridge was meant as a signal to Cheshire, that he wanted to see her tonight but at a different location than the house. The open window was so that she could slip in her message, telling him with a simple, scribbled "Yes" or "No" on a slip of paper whether or not she could come.
Artemis knew that, because it had been the system since she'd been young and naïve and foolish. Jade, AKA Cheshire, used to come nearly every day, with her little scraps of paper or half-eaten leaves with fancy, cursive "Yes" or "No". Sometimes there was even old-fashioned papyrus. The messages used to excite little Artemis, who would grab the scrap and run it to her father down the hall.
And, of course, the window meant an ability to sneak out, Artemis thought. It had been something she did constantly when she was young, when she thought her father hadn't noticed. She had gone somewhere, but…she couldn't quite remember—
This time he didn't surprise her; she had heard his footsteps coming up behind her. She was getting better at this.
Her lips curved into a grin.
She whirled around and threw a punch at the right side of his face, immediately ducking down and swiping a leg against the back of his knees. He dodged the punch with ease, but had to steady himself against the kick. He jabbed at her, which she blocked, then threw an elbow into her side. She grunted, keeling over, then tried again with a high-raised kick that accentuated her long, lean leg.
Just a typical Crock family greeting.
"Good," Lawrence Crock told her calmly, as she got a solid fist against his shoulder. "You're improving."
"This," she replied, spinning around and sending a kick at him, which he caught with one hand and tossed aside like it was a piece of trash, "is nothing. Black Canary's taught us a lot, Dad."
"Mm, so I've heard."
"You going to ask me why I'm here?"
"I already know."
That caught her off guard. She stopped for a second, bringing her hands down, and his fist connected with her face, knocking her backwards and leaving what would become a nice bruise beneath her left eye.
Great, she thought. Now I have to come up with another lie for the team to fall for way too easily.
It bothered her, how true that statement was. The rest of Young Justice was eating up every word she said, like she was some sort of angel who happened to have a more-than-mysterious past and an unfriendly demeanor to boot.
"You know why I'm here?" she asked, getting back up on her feet.
Her father nodded, his eerie brown eyes glinting. "You're heading to Bhutran to investigate Kobra Venom. It wasn't hard to figure out, Artemis. Things are getting suspicious over there, the League is naturally going to try and investigate."
"You know more than you're saying." She eyed him straight-on, proud that she knew her father this well. It took a liar to know one.
He held her gaze, his face mostly unchanged. But Artemis had caught the ever-so-slight raise of his eyebrows. He was impressed. Good.
"I know you're heading to Bhutran because we've been investigating Bhutran ourselves, over the last few weeks." He turned from her and started walking down the hallway, flicking on the light switch as he did such.
She followed him. "You have?"
"We've known about Kobra Venom since before Santa Prisca, but Bhutran never entered the picture until it started becoming so incessantly obvious. The monks are doing a pathetically horrible job of concealing their experiments."
"Their weapons," Artemis corrected. The words sounded strange on her tongue, like a secret that should have been kept secret.
"Yes, their weapons," Lawrence acknowledged. "So we went in a few weeks ago, cleaned some things up, started drafting. But, of course, the Justice League still nosed their asses into the clearing and now any kind of association with the so-called monks is difficult over there."
Artemis took a moment to process this, following her father into his makeshift study in the duplex she used to live in as a child. "Why didn't you tell me any of this? I was here earlier today, you should have told me then."
He started to sift through papers on his desk. "Because you didn't need to until now. I was waiting for the JLA to get your team involved before I trusted you with more crucial information."
That stung. Of course it did. But she stood her ground and only allowed her fists to clench. Nothing more.
Can't read my poker face.
"So how does my part play?" she asked, realizing suddenly that, with her being in Bhutran, her father's plan had to have changed. Maybe she had more time before the total betrayal began.
Hope bloomed in her chest before she could stop it. She knew she was only prolonging the inevitable, but maybe if she had more time, maybe if she—
"It hasn't," he told her, as he bent over a file cabinet and pulled out a single envelope.
She blinked, the hope disappearing, immediately replaced by a cold sense of dread. It seeped through her skin like blood through a white shirt, like the ones in the old Renaissance movies Artemis used to watch with her mother. "I…don't understand. Dad, I'm going to be in Bhutran. Not here in—I can't—"
He shot her a look in the dark and she silenced immediately.
When most people thought "icy" eyes, they thought of a very light blue, a blue that was almost white. Like snowflakes in a storm. But, no, Artemis' father's eyes were a light brown, and they were the iciest thing she'd ever seen.
"The plan hasn't changed, Artemis. You'll still be a part of the fight." When she was about to protest, he opened the envelope and slid the contents out into his palm. It was a small, thin, metallic box, painted crimson, not unlike the boxes her bows compressed into. He looked up to meet her gaze. "Now the fight's just going to happen in a different place."
Her eyes widened. "You're coming to Bhutran?"
"Of course we are, Artemis. Don't be stupid."
Lawrence took her hand roughly, and put the small box into her palm. He held up his hands and counted off the fingers. "On the first day, you gather as much Intel as you possibly can. You send it to us using that." He pointed to the box, which had started to vibrate lightly against her skin. "It recognizes your DNA pattern and will respond to your voice commands. It's designed to look like one of your compressed bows, in order to avoid any suspicion. I trust you'll be smart enough to know when to and when not to use it?"
She nodded, but her eyes narrowed. She hated this. She hated all of this. She hated him, this man who stood in front of her, practically a half-giant, who hid behind his mask and controlled her like a ventriloquist, like she was a puppet. And he did it so easily.
Because she didn't hate him. She loved him and she didn't know why.
His second finger shot up. "On the second day, you start deliveries." He closed the file cabinet and re-locked it, taking a stack of papers from off the ground and throwing them onto the desk haphazardly. Many of them were labeled 'Kingston and Company', implying that her father worked for a business and wasn't a criminal at large.
"I'll send you different rendezvous points for you to meet Jade and deliver materials," he continued after he'd done this. "She'll give you further orders."
Artemis had to resist the urge to snarl back at this. She couldn't stand Jade. But that wasn't the worst part; not by far.
"And on the third day, you let us in. You know what that means."
Yes. Yes, she knew what that meant.
"Who have you been paired with?" he asked, turning away again. "On your mission, I mean."
"Wally," she muttered, tightly holding onto the disguised communicator. It felt hot in her hands, but not like it was warm. More like she was a little kid and it was the piece of candy she'd stolen from the grocery store, the one she hadn't told Mommy and Daddy about.
Except Daddy knew all about it. He'd seen her steal the candy, had encouraged it happening. Good girl, Artemis. Go on, steal it. Every time you get away with it, I'm proud, because it's all my doing, all my training. But as soon as you get caught? Huh. I don't even know you.
"Good," Lawrence replied. He nodded to himself. "Him first."
The two words were said so casually that, at first, she didn't really catch them. She almost mistook it for more parent talk. Okay, Dad, whatever, I got it. But, no, this wasn't just parent talk. It was an order, an incredibly important order, one that brought her back to the crushing reality of this situation.
Wally. Wally first.
For a moment, she just stood there, her fingers still clasped around the little box, the arrow on her chest pointing up to her blank face. "…What?"
"Him first. It makes sense; he'll be the one you're with the most," he told her, noticing the way her face had gone a shade paler. "Plus he's been a pain in my side for long enough, it's about time we got something figured out about him. And I mean that. I want it figured out."
"But, Dad, he—I thought I was going to—"
"You don't have a problem with it, do you, Artemis?" Again, the brown eyes that should have been blue thrust themselves into her like hollow point bullets.
Suddenly, she was furious. More than furious. She felt downright sick with disgust and anger and frustration, nauseous with all the thoughts swimming through her head. The muscles in her arms tightened and she squeezed her fingers over the box, shooting her own steely eyes back at her father.
"No. No problem at all," she said coldly.
"Good. Now go."
By the time Artemis got back to Mount Justice, the BioShip was already loaded up and ready to go. Kaldur was standing near the front of the ship with a couple of old-fashioned suitcases in his hands, looking like an old navy sailor about to go abroad. It might have made her smile, had Artemis been having a better day.
"Are you almost ready?" he asked her kindly, as she walked towards him, carrying her own pack.
"Yeah," she replied, knowing she sounded exhausted. Probably because she was.
"Good, because we should probably be going soon," he said, glancing over at the oversized digital clock on the left wall. "It is going to be about a 12 to 13 hour flight, even with the added speed of Miss Martian's BioShip."
Artemis nodded, having taken plenty of flights to China and surrounding areas before. She had been born in Vietnam, after all. It seemed light-years away.
"I'll be right back, just have to grab something from my room," she said, then turned away before he could reply. She needed time to gather herself for a moment, to take a deep breath before she set out on this journey or trip or mission or whatever it was.
She needed time to fully accept what, exactly, she was about to do.
She turned the corner, running a hand through her thick hair, squeezing on the tip of the ponytail and sighing. Her eyes trailed down to her feet, the slim black boots with the folded cuff—almost like socks, she mused.
Thus distracted, she didn't see who was walking in the opposite direction, and apparently he didn't either, because the two of them walked smack into one another without so much as a sudden gasp.
It took her a second to reorient herself and realize just who she had blindly collided with. Of course, it wasn't difficult. You could be half-blind and still recognize that sharp orange hair or the devious green eyes.
Wally blinked at her, also disoriented. "I—oh, uh—sorry. I wasn't looking."
"I wasn't either," she replied, distracted. She was experiencing flashes of the dream she'd had the night before, as she looked at him. The pulsing walls, green to red.
He smiled sheepishly, but then it faded as he looked at her more closely. "Jeez, Sleeping Beauty. That criminal must have done a number on you this morning," he said, his tone teasing but now laced with what Artemis almost thought was concern. "I thought it had been an 'easy case'," he jabbed, putting his fingers up and mimicking quotation marks.
"Huh?" She placed a hand on her hip and tried to appear defensive. But she was too tired and anxious, she knew, to look anything but flustered. Like a peacock that'd lost its feathers and was desperately trying to find them.
Wally pointed at her face, losing the smirk. "There's a nasty bruise under your eye. Left one," he clarified, as her fingers moved up to feel her skin.
Crap. She'd completely forgotten about the hit her father had gotten in.
"Oh. Uh, it's nothing. Just…yeah, the criminal got in a punch."
"A common thief got in a punch?" The smirk came back, as Artemis had known it would. "I thought you were more evasive than that."
"Oh, shut up." She pushed his shoulder aside, knocking him out of the way so that she could walk through the hallway.
She stopped, running a hand over her face. She didn't need this, not right now. Wally was the last person she wanted to talk to now. Everything about him screamed wrong at this moment, screamed bad, screamed nightmares.
"I'm just kidding, okay? Seriously, stop taking everything so literally. It's annoying," he told her, walking back to her side. "You should know by now I like teasing people."
"Yeah, and that's pretty annoying too, Wally. You should know that by now," she said, resisting the almost painful urge to roll her eyes.
To her immense shock, he grinned at her clever retort. "Come on," he said, "we're going to be partners so you might as well stop pretending you hate me."
"I do hate you."
"Well, I hate you too, so I guess that means we're even."
She let out a final, defeated sigh. "Okay, partner. Take my suitcase and put it in the ship."
"Pssh. I'm your partner, I never said I was your butler. Good God, what are you? Some kind of slave-driver? Is that what partners are to you?"
"Get in the ship. Just get in the ship right now, before I—before I—"
"Ah, crap, she's gonna blow!" Wally shouted, turning around and beaming at her as he sped away. Before he turned the corner, he raised a hand to his forehead and saluted her.
The. Laughing. Arrogant. Idiot.
How she was going to survive being assigned with him, she hadn't the slightest idea.
This was going to be a long trip.
So here it finally is, right before the start of school! Still not a lot of plot action yet, I know, but it's coming. Next chappy they finally get to Bhutran, which I'm thrilled about writing because I love describing and creating different countries.
Anyway! I'd like to make a quick point. This story will be connected to a previous story I wrote called "Littleton Park." I would very much appreciate if you read that story as well, if you're going to stay on with this one. Trust me, it will help you understand much better. You can find "Littleton Park" under "My Stories" on my profile. Thank you!