No matter how many times the pages turned, the story remained the same. And yet, every time, it was just as wonderful as the first. Wuthering Heights always remained amazing. It was absolutely breathtaking to the girl who was currently reading it, her forefinger absently stroking the binding as she rested her chin on her other hand. It was a lazy day today, sun steaming in from the townhouse window and spilling down onto the polished tile floor. It skittered over the ground and across to the plush red velvet armchair where the girl was reading.
Her legs were tucked up underneath her in a rather unladylike fashion, her golden hair loose and falling down about her shoulders. She licked the tip of her finger and turned the page again. Oh, Heathcliff. Oh, Catherine. If only such a romance was realistic in any sense of the word. And poor Mr. Lockwood! Caught up in all this mess.
"The return of sunshine was welcomed by answering sunshine from him. I believe I may assert that they were really in possession of deep and growing happiness," the girl in the armchair read, sighing lightly to herself and tucking her feet tighter beneath her skirt. "It en—"
"Artemis! Artemis, darling, where are you?"
The girl raised her eyes from her book, trying to remain impartial to the fact that she had been interrupted in her reading. Her mother was calling for her.
Gently slipping the crystal charm bookmark into the yellowed pages of Wuthering Heights, Artemis stood up, smoothing her skirts. "Yes, mother!" she called, grabbing the silk ribbon from off the end table and slipping it underneath her hair, attempting to tie it up.
"You have a visitor, darling! Come to the parlor!"
Artemis groaned audibly, knowing her mother wouldn't be able to hear. She turned towards the mirror and checked her appearance, making a final knot in the ribbon to keep her hair up. "Just have them leave their calling card, mother!" she called, feeling not at all up to dealing with visitors.
"Dear!" The strain in her mother's voice hinted that she was losing her patience.
Great. That meant one of two things. Either there was an emergency. Or, standing at the Crock's front door, there was a boy.
And he almost certainly was not Heathcliff.
She tied the ribbon with one last bow and then swiveled on her heel, running her hands over her bodice and making sure it wasn't wrinkled from when she had been sitting in the chair. Not that she was trying to impress anyone. Whoever this suitor was, he could trot right on back home now, for all she cared. They would probably waste less time that way.
Manhattan 1900 was a world that Artemis had grown quite tired of, but that her mother utterly delighted in. It was a world of gossip columns and plunging necklines and elegant party dresses sweeping across parlor floors at late-night parties. It was a world of secrets and lies and Artemis was right well sick of it. Of how fake it all was. And how, beneath all the gentle dancing and perfect reputations, Manhattan was a city slowly becoming corrupted with crime. Most of the ladies had shut this fact up in some hidden drawer, chosen to accept and forget it, and move about as if nothing happened in the night. Some of the men were even worse, charismatically giving speeches about their great city while patting the sleeves of their thousand dollar suits. Smile for the cameras, boys. All is well as long as there's money to burn.
The Crocks were a well-to-do family themselves, or at least they liked to appear as one. They had a very fancy townhouse in a very exclusive park in Manhattan, which rested near a small fishing pond. Artemis' father was a businessman who owned an oil company out west, one that had struck it rich a couple generations ago and had since become quite wealthy. Artemis never saw her father. Her mother was mostly head of the household, but would occasionally help tailor for wedding gowns or other extravagant dresses. Artemis herself was the Crock's only daughter, and was thus their true prize. They (or, at least, Paula Crock) wanted more than anything for Artemis to be a young lady of society, who claimed the gossip column each week with her ravishing dresses and exquisite manners.
And Artemis? Well, she thought it was all complete bull.
She slipped on her shoes and made her way to the staircase, resting her hand lightly on the banister and letting it trail down as she descended. "I'm coming," she told her mother, who was standing at the other side of the room, wearing a turquoise chiffon dress with a high bodice and her hair coming out of its bun. She was looking at the door with this sort of giddy amusement that, Artemis thought, was rather unbecoming.
Artemis walked down to the door, her green skirts skimming across the last stair step and following her onto the tile of the main entryway. She closed her fingers around the gold doorknob and pulled, not bothering to glance at her mother.
Standing there was, of course, a young man. Artemis had expected that, had known that. But what she hadn't expected was that it would be this particular young man.
He was a reasonably tall thing, with orange-red hair and teasing green eyes. He was wearing a black waistcoat and grey Homburg which he had slipped off his head and into his hand when she had opened the door. Black over-the-ankle boots covered his feet and gleamed in the sun, having recently been polished. A navy blue and grey necktie stood out on his chest, colorful against the stark white undershirt it partially covered.
Artemis couldn't believe it, but Wallace West actually looked somewhat sharp. Almosthandsome.
"Miss Crock, it is my absolute pleasure to see you on this fine afternoon. You look lovely," he told her, swooping down into a bow and kissing her gloved hand. This bow was unnecessarily and ridiculously overdone, to the point that he was bent almost to an acute angle, like he was trying to touch his toes or something. And yet his eyes remained steadily on Artemis.
He was putting on quite a show for Paula Crock, but Artemis knew he was laughing his silly ass off behind those emerald eyes.
"Mister West. What an utter delight," Artemis replied with such low enthusiasm that Wally almost snorted.
"And, might I add, that is a lovely necklace," he told her, gesturing to the pendant which hung from her neck. It was ugly, gaudy, and extremely overpriced, and she and him both knew it. "Did you get it at Lord's and Co.?"
Paula Crock loved Lord's and Co. And, of course, that was where the necklace was from. And, of course, now Paula Crock was going to love Wally.
Artemis' eyes narrowed at the absurd red-head. He was good. Too good.
"As a matter of fact, yes, it is!" Paula Crock butted in, as had been expected. She stepped in front of Artemis and towards Wally, who faked surprise and blinked at her with good humor. Artemis would have crossed her arms in irritation, had that been a more "ladylike" thing to do.
"Oh, Mrs. Crock, you are simply ravishing," Wally told the older woman, giving her the same, overdramatic bow he had given Artemis. "Ma'am, I am afraid I might have to ask a favor?"
Mrs. Crock smiled in a way that was all too excited for Artemis' taste. "Why, of course, my good sir. Anything at all."
"Would you mind if I borrowed your daughter for a few minutes? We have some matters to discuss. There is to be a…erm," he paused for a moment, searching for an excuse, "…a party tonight. At Skylar Hall." His eyes flashed to Artemis for a moment, and there they flickered with such mischief that Artemis almost threw her hands up in exasperation. She was surrounded by a bunch of utter buffoons.
"At Skylar Hall? Well, yes, certainly, please. Artemis, go with Mr. West here. He's inviting you to a party," Paula turned and told her daughter, as if Artemis hadn't been standing there the entire time. Paula gently put her hand on her daughter's back and pushed her forward towards Wally, who stood there grinning at her, still holding the Homburg in his right hand.
"Be back by five, darling!" Artemis' mother told her, and then she elegantly waltzed back into the townhouse, shutting the door back behind her. But not, of course, without taking one glance at her daughter and the new "suitor".
"My dear, you are absolutely nothing like your mother," Wally told Artemis with a large grin, as he watched Paula Crock retreat into her home. "I mean, really. That lady smiles like it's her birthday and you don't even give me a proper curtsy."
Artemis shot him a look, silencing him immediately. But the lopsided grin remained, as it always did. But she was used to that. She had known Wally for a good year now, and had gotten used to just about every little quirk he had. And he had a lot of them. She had gotten used to all…except one.
And that one was the fact that, for God knows what reason, he was one of the few males in Manhattan who she actually, naturally thought about. Without even trying. He would slip into her mind on strange days when she was doing up her hair or reading one of her books. Just pass right on through like a ripple on the surface of water.
It was irritating as all get out.
"What was it exactly you wanted to tell me, Wally?" she asked him, beginning to walk before her mother could come running back out of the house with a hat or something else for Artemis to wear.
He followed alongside her, placing the Homburg back on his head and shoving his hands in his trouser pockets. "We're having another meeting tonight," he told her, glancing to the side to see if she was looking at him. "During the party at Skylar Hall."
"Just a meeting? Or are we going out?" Artemis asked plainly, not meeting his gaze but looking around and making sure the two of them weren't being watched. The last thing she wanted was the gossip column chatting it up about how she and Wally were "courting" or something.
"If we get lucky, we'll get to go out. Dick's working on setting up a diversion so no one will notice us missing," Wally told her.
"And if they do?" Her eyes finally moved to meet his.
A slight smile. "Same excuse as always. We were showing the guests the excellent wine cellar."
She rolled her eyes. "Does that excuse really work? I mean, really?"
He laughed, as they stepped down onto the main walk of Central Park. Spring was nearing its finale, and the trees swayed in the breeze, overcome with large, colorful clusters of flowers. "Come now, Artemis," Wally snickered. "Of all people in Manhattan, you should know that people of society basically means people of stupidity. They're all too caught up in their worlds of finances and party gowns to really give a glance our way."
Artemis nodded to herself, gazing around at the plants which decorated the area. It was a nice day. Cool, calm, not many people out. Change was in the air. "And why Skylar Hall? What's going on?"
"The mayor is hosting a celebration for the beginning of his reelection campaign," Wally explained, glancing over towards the lake, where a group of ducklings were huddled around a lily pad. He turned and grinned at Artemis. "In other words, everyone's invited and everyone's going to get drop-dead drunk. It'll be easy as cake to sneak out of there unnoticed."
"And where are we going out to?"
He shrugged. "That's up to Kal. Whatever area needs us the most tonight, I suppose. I'm not in charge of that sort of thing."
"And thank God for that," Artemis snorted, earning an immediate frown and a slight flush from her red-headed friend. She could care less that it was unladylike to snort. The satisfaction to see Wally embarrassed had been worth it. "You'd lead us all to some dive in the middle of nowhere and we'd all end up killed."
"I would not!" Wally defended himself childishly, his chest getting all big like he was a peacock showing off his plumage. "I know this city better than most people around here."
"Better than Kal? Better than Dick?" Artemis asked, cocking an eyebrow at him and smiling smugly.
He blinked, and then flushed brighter. "Well, I…no…but—"
She laughed. "Oh, save it, Wally. My mother's halfway in love with you but she has no idea what an utter fool you are when you aren't showing off your latest fashion knowledge." She glanced at him through the corner of her eye and resisted the urge to give him a wink.
Wally smiled at this comment, despite himself. "Thought she might like that bit about Lord's and Co. And, I'm sorry, but that is a hideous necklace," he told her, glancing at the pendant dubiously.
"I'm very well aware. My father sent it a couple months ago and Mother guards it like it's her second child."
At the mention of Artemis' father, Wally's smile disappeared. It was replaced by a look that was somewhere between curiosity and concern. "When's the last time you heard from your father?" he asked, watching her and noting how she refused to meet his gaze. "I mean, like real words. Not just a necklace in the post."
"October." The answer was quick and definite. Almost too quick. Like it was something Artemis had been keeping track of, something she had been thinking about.
They had reached the middle of Central Park and had pulled to a stop, standing next to a dark iron bench. Wally was staring absently out at the streets of Manhattan, his right hand fiddling with the pocket watch in his waistcoat. Artemis was standing with her hands clasped together, her chin held straight and high, her eyes watching people moving in and out of Lord's and Co., which was right across the street.
"Did he ever explain the weapons?" Wally finally asked, when she refused to say anything. "The ones you found in your attic? Where you found your bow?"
She shook her head. "No. The arrows and the swords might as well be old war memorabilia. Except, Father was never in a war and never will be."
Wally nodded at this thoughtfully, but didn't reply. They stood there in silence for a few moments longer, the breeze blowing gently back and forth, lifting Artemis' blonde hair and tugging at the haphazardly tied ribbon she had used earlier. Wally steadied the Homburg on his head, then looked over at his partner. "Want to go home?"
"No." Artemis smiled. "But you may escort me anyway."
The two of them walked back down the sidewalk to the Crock's townhouse, not speaking much but instead enjoying the weather and keeping their thoughts to themselves. Artemis' were about her father, and about the slender bow and arrows that she kept hidden under the floorboard in her room. Wally's were, much to his chagrin, about Artemis. He hadn't really noticed it before, but she was quite a lovely lady. Her bodice shaped her form perfectly, and the waistband of her dress accentuated the curves of her hips. Full lips, deep blue-grey eyes, light complexion, long blonde hair.
If she weren't so damn arrogant, he might of even considered courting her.
Eventually, they reached the townhouse and he swooped her one last bow, although this one was less of a show than the others. He kissed her gloved hand lightly and whispered, "I'll see you at Skylar. Eight 'o clock. Don't bring your mother along, she'll want me to kiss you." He grinned.
She narrowed her eyes at him but a slight smile edged across her lips. "I don't think you'll have to be worrying about that, Mr. West."
He tipped his hat. "Good afternoon, Miss Crock."
She shook her head, amused as he began to walk away. "Good afternoon."
Eight 'o clock came sooner than Artemis had expected. She was only on the third button of her whale bone corset when the clock struck seven.
Brilliant, she thought. Absolutely, positively brilliant.
The Crock's maid, Linda, helped get Artemis into her crepe and satin dress. It was a lovely, light green color and embroidered with small emerald gems that decorated the bodice and quite literally made Artemis sparkle. Her hair was piled high into a courageous up-do of curls and bobby pins that was really too extravagant for Artemis, who preferred a simple pony-tail and always would. The neckline of the dress, much to Artemis' dismay, was typical—it plunged down like a fishing hook to where it offered a hint at her cleavage. She groaned. Fabulous.
When Linda had gone out of the room to fetch Artemis' shoes, Artemis swiftly moved to the edge of her bed and drew open one of the floorboards. There underneath was a beautiful, perfectly carved bow made from an ash tree and dyed a dark cherry color. Next to it were a quiver of arrows and a pair of women's farming pants and boots, along with one of her father's old shirts. Not allowing herself to pause for a moment, she scooped the items into the box which her dress had been delivered in, then carried it down the stairs, walking as quickly as it was possible to do in an evening gown. The carriage that would take her to Skylar Hall was waiting outside by the front entrance, and the carriage boy was standing erect in the front parlor. He looked about 12-years-old and more than a little frightened of the world. She moved to meet him.
"Sir, if you would please take this crate and place it in the back of my carriage," she said, giving the box to the little boy, who just looked happy enough to be noticed by a lady of such high class. He immediately went out the door and placed it in the carriage without so much as a word. Good, Artemis thought. She didn't need people asking questions.
She took a deep breath once this was accomplished, and looked at the large grandfather clock in the corner of the parlor. 7:30 now. Almost time. She could already feel the adrenaline begin the pump through her veins, the excitement of a night out already getting to her. She could anticipate the way the wind would feel when she ran out onto the rooftop, how deliberately insane she would feel, how wonderful she would feel when she was a woman who stopped a rape or some other crime before it could even begin. How good it was to be alive, and to be doing something. To be making a difference.
Linda brought her the soft high-heeled shoes and she slipped into them, clenching her toes and stretching her arms in the tight sleeves of her dress. Yes, tonight would be a good night.
She was lead into the carriage by the little boy, called a quick good-bye to her mother, and was off.
It was eight 'o clock sharp when Artemis reached Skylar Hall. The Hall itself was typical—big, beautiful, overdone, and extravagant. It had been decorated with assortments of white roses and banners exclaiming, "Reelect Our Beloved Mayor! Vote for Fredrick Neilson!"
Large groups of people were streaming in and out of the hall, and every lady was more done-up than the previous. Artemis even saw one woman who was wearing a large diamond in her hair and had such large heels that the very sound of them against the tile was excruciating to the ears. As for Artemis, she merely took compliments that men (and women) sent in her direction with a nod and a "thank you", all the while keeping an eye peeled for one of her teammates. Wally hadn't specified earlier where they were all supposed to be meeting.
Eventually, she did indeed find someone. Dick Grayson was standing over by the refreshment table, a right sharp bachelor now that he was 16 years old. As always, he was decorated in the finest that money could buy. A dark tail coat dressed his shoulders, fixed with a dark waistcoat, white bow tie, and winged collar. His mischievous blue eyes shone like gems as they met Artemis' and he grinned.
She smiled and walked to meet him, lifting her hand for him to take. When they met, he did such, bending over and kissing it. "Miss Crock," he said. "You look absolutely stunning. I'm surprised Wally hasn't swept you off your feet yet."
Artemis shot him a look to remind him that he was two years younger than her and had no right to be teasing her about Wally. But then she smiled. "You look great too, Dick. Found a damsel in distress yet?"
Dick snorted. "In this place? I don't think so. Not unless you count a woman drowning in jewels as a 'damsel in distress'." He turned and looked out at the rest of the crowd. "No, I've been searching for the others. Wally and Kal are upstairs. We're just waiting on Conner and Megan now that you're here."
She nodded. "Okay. Which room?"
Without looking at her, he very discreetly slipped a key from his sleeve pocket into the palm of her hand. "808," he told her, still scanning the crowd. "I'll be up soon as the other two get here and then we can get started."
She immediately slipped the key under the sleeve of her dress. "Alright, see you in a minute," she replied, and turned in the other direction, walking towards the staircase. She slipped past a blubbering gentleman who was already on his fifth or sixth G&T (Artemis could tell from his slurred speech, but the absolute stench of his breath was a helpful hint as well) and placed her hand on the banister.
Then she noticed something. That had been the stench of G&T, but there had been something else by the bar. A far more awful smell. But she couldn't quite place—
Suddenly, the smell intensified and she knew exactly what it was. That was the smell of a skunk.
Then she remembered what Wally had said earlier: Dick was going to set up a diversion.
She grinned. Oh, goodness. Dick was never going to grow up.
She hurriedly climbed the stairs as people began to gasp and moan about the stench. When she reached the top floor, she walked by a group of whispering young girls, smiling at them, and made her way to the right hallway. At the end of this hallway was Room 808.
Artemis took the key out of her sleeve and put it into the lock, turned it, and stepped inside.
"It's about time," Wally immediately said, as soon as her foot was in the doorway. He was already in costume, a collection of black mask and tight shorts and pants that he had painted dark and decorated with the symbol of a lightning bolt. Apparently, it was because he could run as fast as the speed of light, but Artemis thought he was just a braggart. He could run fast alright, but she didn't think he could run from here to London in less than a minute.
Kaldur (or Kal, as he was more commonly called—Kaldur was a strange name for a Manhattan citizen) was leaning against the room's bar, his arms crossed, smiling at Artemis. He was also dressed in his costume, although it was a little less ridiculous than Wally's. It was a dark red trapper's shirt that clung nicely to his shoulders and a pair of black hunting pants. "Hello, Artemis," he told her, looking at her kindly. "Ignore our fast friend. You are just on time."
"Thanks, Kal," she said to him, glancing through the room. "Did you get—"
Wally interrupted her. "Your costume's in the bedroom. I got the box off of your carriage soon as it got here."
Artemis stopped in her tracks, momentarily shocked.
Wally got her costume? Kaldur, sure, that was a little more like him, but…Wally?
"Er…thanks," she told him awkwardly, then quickly headed over to the bedroom before he could make some smart alec reply. And there the box was, sitting on top of the red velvet bed. Unopened. Wow. Wally had even respected her privacy.
There was something strange about that boy, that was for certain. Something she liked. Or perhaps didn't like.
She shook the thought away.
She opened the box and changed into her costume, which wasn't really much of a costume but would serve the same purpose. Women were rarely seen wearing pants, and a woman wearing pants and parading across rooftops in the middle of the night was never seen. No one would guess who she was.
After a while, Conner, Megan, and Dick arrived and the group of young Manhattan citizens gathered in the main parlor of Room 808.
"Entire parlor smells from here to high heaven," Dick told them, grinning widely and not looking in the least bit sorry for what he had done. He walked over to the coffee table and laid out a map of Manhattan.
The group of them pointed out places of interest. Mister Calhoun's Bar, the Rancher's place, Mygon Alley, the typical stuff. Typical, sure, but full of action. Artemis was almost grinning in excitement.
They grouped up. Dick went with Megan, Conner with Kal, and of course that left Artemis with Wally. That was just her luck most of the time. But, as long as he kept that great honking mouth shut, they would probably still get a few things accomplished.
Each group left at a different time interval, so that it wouldn't look too suspicious if someone happened to catch on to what was happening. Not that anyone would. It was a Friday night and Manhattan was dancing in the dark. Not to mention a skunk was running wild through Skylar Hall.
When it was finally Wally and Artemis' turn to step out, Artemis went first. Her mouth stretched into a very wide smile and she raced forward, snatching a hold of rooftop shingles and swinging from one front porch to another, then back onto a rooftop. She stretched her fingers took deep, gasping breaths of cool night air.
Out on the rooftops, Artemis ran with her bow tight in one hand and her other hand tasting the wind. It snapped at her cheeks and blew back her hair, as she leapt onto another group of shingles, Wally right on her heels. The full moon shown on the horizon, creating a perfect spotlight onto the houses and alleys far below. Artemis closed her eyes and breathed. Oh, this was what it felt to be alive. Screw party dresses and gossip columns. Secrets and lies could go burn. This was life, right here.
They ran for about ten minutes, silently, Artemis in the lead and thinking to herself. Thinking about that box that Wally had gotten for her. Thinking about how he had complimented her hideous necklace. Thinking about how he had run his eyes up and down her body when he thought she wasn't looking.
She bit her tongue, and stared out at the darkness of the night. For a reason she couldn't quite understand, a certain passage of Wuthering Heights occured to her.
"Doubtless Catherine marked the difference between her friends, as one came in and the other went out. The contrast resembled what you see in exchanging a bleak, hilly, coal country for a beautiful fertile valley; and his voice and greeting were as opposite as his aspect."
Doubtless Catherine. Catherine who had given herself completely to a man who was quite different. Heathcliff. Doubtless Catherine who had been a thrill-seeker from the very beginning. Heathcliff, who was like a beautiful fertile valley. Something different. Something new.
"Should we check out Mygon?" Wally asked, interrupting her thoughts, literally running a circle around her and then screeching to a halt, kicking off a few roof shingles as he did such. The wind had really picked up and his hair was being shot back and forth along with it. For some reason, this was extremely amusing. It looked like a dancing shadow, his hair did, backlit by the moonlight.
She threw back her head and laughed, in a way that would have sounded insane to a normal Manhattan citizen but that was perfectly normal to Wally. He was well-associated with the hero adrenaline rush. He had been doing this for years.
No, the laugh didn't worry him. It was the weird, sly look on her face.
Catherine had been a thrill-seeker from the very beginning.
Artemis leaped towards him, lifting her bow into the air, and before he could speed out of the way, she had caught his head in-between the bow and its string. His eyes grew wide as he stared at Artemis, wondering exactly if and why she had gone legitimately crazy. This wasn't hero adrenaline rush. This was just plain bizarre.
She laughed again, then leaned in close to his face. "I don't know what's wrong with you, Wally, but you make me feel like Catherine. Catherine from Wuthering Heights, a book you've probably never read and probably never will." She snorted.
Wally didn't say anything. In fact, he hadn't even known such a book existed. Not that he was too concerned with that at the moment.
"So, yeah, let's go check out Mygon," Artemis continued. "Let's save a life and, then after that, let's save another one. And then let's go jumping off of rooftops until dawn hits. But, first, I want to try something." She leaned in closer, her eyelids drooping. "Because I'm sick of seeing all these society girls get their way."
Wally froze, his blood turning to absolute ice that was somehow quite warm. His eyes shut immediately, as if he had no control over them, and he waited. Waited for the inevitable, for what he had wanted for quite some time now.
Artemis closed her eyes completely, leaned in, and pressed her lips against Wally's. Let her lips trail over his for a moment, then allowed him to kiss her himself. Wrapped her arms around his neck and, for God knows what reason, relished in a moment of complete and utter spontaneity. A moment where she could celebrate something that was real and true, that wasn't another secret or another lie.
Then she smiled to herself, as he drew closer to her and tried to kiss her again. Yes, this Wally was quite a handsome one. Not that she would ever tell anyone she thought that.
Go on, gossip column. Hit me with your best shot.
Author's Note: This is my second piece for a WallArt week, and this time the prompt was AU, so I made this little shindig happen! I do hope you enjoy, and please leave a review!