Central City was nothing like Gotham, or so Artemis had heard. The night she stepped down off a bus at the Greyhound station, it looked about the same. The rain came down in a steady drip, slowly soaking through her black hoodie and sweatpants. An abandoned newspaper lay plastered to the sidewalk nearby; a styrofoam coffee cup rolled around near a trashcan where someone had missed their shot and hadn't bothered to pick it up. The white sign above the station flickered; inside, fluorescent lights shone a sickly, dull yellow. Artemis turned away, shouldering the ratty black duffel bag that held her bow and quiver. Adopting the cold, hunched-over walk that had served to discourage trouble for years in Gotham, she strode away down the sidewalk, scowling at the ground. The few people who were out after dark in this neighborhood shifted out of her way as she walked. Artemis had spent a long time perfecting her leave-me-alone-if-you-know-what's-good-for-you vibe; it worked on pretty much everyone except supervillains.

It had been months since Artemis's encounter with Kid Flash in the Bialyan Desert, and their ensuing stay in the abandoned castle in Scotland. If she sat down and thought about it, she could probably figure out exactly how long it had been, but Artemis had tried not to count. For the first three months or so after it happened, Artemis was on lockdown, chained up in one of Sportsmaster's old hideouts in Gotham with no link to the outside world. No one came looking for her; kids dropped out at Gotham North all the time. It took that long for her father to become convinced he had snuffed most of the rebellion out of her and start letting her outside again (though never unaccompanied). At first, Artemis had held onto some kind of hope that maybe Kid Flash had survived somehow; she took to glancing discreetly at the televisions in shop windows and listening to the news in cafes as she and her father waited to meet up with contacts, on the off chance that she'd see or hear about Kid Flash zipping around with his mentor. Now and again, she'd see the Flash conducting an interview, but his sidekick was nowhere to be found. As weeks went by with no sign of him, Artemis slowly lost hope. Her mind fixated increasingly on his last words to her: "I'm not trying to throw my life away. I just don't want to lose it for nothing." Artemis had promised Kid Flash that she would get out of this situation; this time, she promised herself. Artemis Lian Crock was going to find out what it was like to live out from under her father's thumb, or she was going to die trying.

Regaining her father's trust after what had happened was tricky. It wasn't hard to pretend to be shattered after what had happened: something in Artemis had broken that day, watching that green-eyed boy bleed out in the dirt. What was far more difficult was convincing her dad that her ordeal had secured her obedience. Artemis was a Crock, after all; they weren't known for their fragility. It wasn't until she planted an arrow in a fleeing man's back on a heist that he seemed convinced. Artemis felt bad about that, but the cops were on their way. As long as he made it to the hospital in time, the man would most likely live.

When they went out for their next assignment, Artemis found the hunting knife that had taken Wally's life among her things when Sportsmaster handed them to her. Swallowing bile, she strapped it to her leg without comment.

Artemis suffered three weeks of nightmares in which the fleeing man turned into Wally and drowned in a pool of his own blood, and then it happened: Sportsmaster sent her out on an assignment without him. She wasn't alone, but it wasn't hard to give Icicle Jr. the slip. She simply convinced him it would be most efficient to split up for the mission; then, when it came time to rendezvous, she didn't show.

Knowing her father would expect her to skip town as soon as possible, Artemis laid low in Gotham for a week instead, ditching her assassin gear for a black hoodie and sweatpants she stole from a Goodwill bin, along with a duffle bag to hide her weapons. The quality of her old clothes would have marked her as someone with the means and inclination to buy good combat gear; no one would remember a teenager in sweats, which would make it easier to hide. She left her old stuff in a dumpster, along with the hunting knife. No way was she going anywhere near the Flash with the weapon that had killed his sidekick. (Jade would have laughed at the idea that a weapon could be tainted by the blood it had spilled, so Artemis didn't admit she was glad to be rid of it, even to herself.)

Finally, Artemis deemed it safe to leave town. Rather than head straight to Central, as she feared Sportsmaster might expect, she hitched a ride north to Niagara Falls and stayed there for a couple of days, eating at soup kitchens and sleeping on the streets. After that, she considered going to Chicago just to muddy the waters a little more, but realized she was just procrastinating. Artemis didn't really want to face Kid Flash's mentor after having failed so dismally to protect him from her father. Still, she had made a promise, and she intended to keep it. Sneaking aboard a Greyhound bus bound for Central had been child's play; now, here she was, and she had no idea what to do.

How did one get ahold of a superhero, anyway? Back in Gotham, there was the Bat Signal, but only Commissioner Gordon could use that. Artemis had no idea how they did it in other cities. What happened when a supervillain went on a rampage in Central? Did they just cross their fingers and pray somebody would show up before it leveled the city? Artemis shuddered. What a horrible way to live. She'd rather go down fighting any day than sit around waiting for somebody else to save her.

When it came right down to it, Artemis could think of only one good idea. Ducking into an alleyway, she knelt down in the shadow of an overhang and unzipped her duffel bag. From it, she withdrew her precious collapsible bow and her quiver, followed by a plain black domino mask. Quickly, she pulled on the mask and slung her quiver onto her shoulders, then expanded her bow and made sure the string was properly waxed, to protect it from the rain. After making a few adjustments to the balance, Artemis stood. Kicking the now-empty duffel further into the shadows in case she needed it again later (she might not find the Flash on her first try, after all), she took a running jump, grabbed onto a nearby fire escape, and swung herself up. Moving as silently as she could on the rattling metal, Artemis ran to the roof, thankfully without drawing the attention of any civilians. If there was one thing she didn't need today, it was that. Once she had reached the top, Artemis paused for a moment and took a deep breath. The world felt different without her father looking over her shoulder. It was almost intimidating in the way it spread out all around her, with no one to tell her which way to run or where to shoot. What it was more than anything, though, was exhilarating. Artemis had learned some valuable things about herself over the past two weeks or so, and she knew it didn't really matter which way she ran. The world was hers as long as she kept going.

No wonder Jade had never come home.

But Artemis was not Jade. The thought of being alone in the world like this forever, never having anyone to count on or anywhere to call home, weighed on her like a backpack full of bricks. So here she stood on a rooftop in Central City, clinging to a promise made to her six months ago by a boy she hardly knew. Put that way, the whole thing sounded ridiculous, but it wasn't like Artemis had anywhere else to go; besides, the two days for which she'd known him had proven that boy more trustworthy than anyone else she knew. If Wally said the Flash would help her, then Artemis would go to the Flash, and pray she was right about both of them.

"Okay," she said to herself, looking around the rooftop. "What next?" The best way to find a superhero was usually to find a crime. How did the heroes do it? Did they have some kind of special, crime-detecting gadgets, or did they just wander around town until they found some badguys? Artemis supposed she could just commit a crime herself, but somehow she didn't think that would make the right impression. Besides, she was on the straight and narrow now. No more crime, for any reason.

Just as Artemis was about to just pick a direction and go, she heard angry voices shouting. Having no other leads, she took off. Two rooftops over, she looked down into an alleyway and saw a large group of men clustered around two crumpled forms, taking turns kicking and hitting them. Artemis narrowed her eyes; she despised bullies. Quickly, she took aim and fired: the largest of the group went down howling with an arrow in his knee. The others looked up, terrified; Artemis took that opportunity to shoot another in the shoulder. That was all it took for the group to scatter, her first mark limping along on his injured leg. Artemis watched them go with a scowl, wishing (not for the first time) that she had access to some of Green Arrow's fancy equipment. What she wouldn't give for the ability to wrap those thugs up in nets to wait for justice. Unfortunately, her father had nothing but disdain for those sorts of trick arrows; he called them "toys" and told her Green Arrow was weak for refusing to shoot to kill. All Artemis had in her quiver were regular arrows, grappling arrows (not much use for anything but, well... grappling), and a couple of explosives, and she definitely didn't want to kill anyone. Instead, she stood and watched over the victims as they slowly uncurled, revealing themselves to be a pair of young men in their mid-twenties. When it registered that their tormentors were really gone, one launched himself at the other and they clung to each other in a tight hug. Artemis watched with an ache in her heart, remembering how Kid Flash had held her in that prison cell long ago, before she had gotten angry with him for caring about her and stormed away. She'd only had to worry about Sportsmaster's wrath, and that had been more than enough; those two had the whole world gunning for them. One of the men scanned the rooftops, looking for their rescuer, and spotted her; Artemis gave him a tight nod and turned away. They'd be all right, for now. As for the future, well, nothing was ever sure about that.

Two muggings and an attempted rape later (Artemis had to restrain herself from shooting that last one in the testicles; she was pretty sure men could die from that), Artemis heard the sound of a store alarm and grinned. Finally! If this didn't get the Flash's attention, she didn't know what would. It was certainly loud enough; Artemis gritted her teeth at the piercing noise as she drew near. In fact, by the time she arrived, the Flash was already there. Artemis stopped for a moment to watch, eyes wide with awe. It was so much different in person than on TV. Hollywood had all kinds of tricks up their sleeves these days; it wasn't really all that shocking to see incredible things on a television screen. But to be here, in person, and know that that red blur streaking around knocking over criminals was an actual human being... it was mind-boggling. Not for the first time, Artemis marveled at the world in which she lived.

Then, finally, that blur resolved itself into the shape of a person; Artemis started, cursing herself for her inaction. Now he'd be gone before he even knew she was there and she'd have to hunt him down all over again. Just then, a flicker of movement behind the hero caught her eye; Artemis spotted one of the thugs who had supposedly been knocked unconscious sitting up and raising his gun. Faster than conscious thought, Artemis raised her bow and shot the weapon out of the robber's hand. The Flash turned at the sound of it clattering to the floor and zipped over to knock the man unconscious for real, then looked up at the roof where Artemis stood. Her breath caught: this was it. This was the moment she'd been waiting for all these months, ever since her grief had abated long enough for her to remember her promise. Artemis squeezed her eyes shut and willed herself to move.

"Hey, kid," said a voice behind her. Artemis squeaked, spun around, and dropped into a fighting stance, bow drawn and heart hammering. "Whoa, easy there, sport," said the Flash, raising his hands in front of his chest. Holy crap, he was fast. "I'm not gonna hurt you. I just wanted to say thanks for the save." Artemis nodded stiffly, lowering her bow and straightening. All of a sudden, she wondered what she was doing here. Why would the Flash want to help her? Why would he trust her? For that matter, how did she know she could trust him? The hero squinted at her. "Are you with Green Arrow? He didn't say he'd taken on a new protege; I thought he was still hoping Speedy would come around." Artemis blinked at this last bit (she had not been aware of any drama between Green Arrow and his sidekick), and shook her head.

"My name is Artemis," she said at last, then took a deep breath and forced herself to continue: "W-Wally sent me." It was the first time she'd said his name since Scotland - the first time she'd said his real name at all. The Flash's face went slack with shock; Artemis heard her bow clatter to the ground and suddenly realized she was crying. Great, heaving sobs wracked her body as she covered her face with her hands. A moment later, there was a gust of wind, and Artemis found herself crying into the scarlet uniform she'd seen so many times on TV. The Flash held her for a long while; only when her sobs had subsided did he speak.

"It's okay," he told her, "you're safe now. Do you have a place to stay? And not a hotel," he warned. "I'm talking about friends, family." Artemis shook her head, still sniffling. "I'm going to take you home with me then, okay?" Artemis looked up at him in astonishment; the Flash gave her a crooked smile. "Hey, if Wally trusted you, then so will I. Here." He released his hold to pick up her bow and hand it to her. "You'd better hang onto that. Ready?" Without waiting for an answer, he scooped her up. The world blurred away with a fierce blast of wind that forced Artemis to close her eyes; when she opened them, they were standing in front of what she could only assume was the Flash's house. It was a two-story building made of a beige material, with a tiled roof and a window bay in the front. Carefully, he set Artemis on her feet. "My wife hates it when I use my speed in the house," he explained. "Come on." Wrapping a protective arm around Artemis' shoulders, he led her inside. As he closed the door behind them, Artemis stared around at the warm beige walls and sturdy, polished furnishings. She'd been inside a house like this only once before, when a girl from kindergarten had a birthday party and invited the whole class. Now, at sixteen years old, she felt as if she were that little girl again, seeing this whole other world of brightness and comfort for the first time.

"Barry?" a female voice called. "Is that you?" A moment later, a pretty redheaded woman came into the entryway. "Oh," she said as she caught sight of Artemis. "You brought company."

The Flash pulled off his cowl, revealing short blonde hair and blue eyes. "Iris, this is Artemis," he said. "She's a friend of Wally's. Artemis, I'm Barry, and this is my wife, Iris."

"You're that reporter," Artemis realized. "The one who's always on when the Flash shows up."

"That's me," the woman said with a smile.

"Iris, I'm sorry to spring this on you, but Artemis needs a place to stay," said Barry. "Do you think we could-?"

"Oh, of course!" said Iris. "Barry, why don't you go make up the bed in the guest room? Artemis, come with me; I'll show you where the shower is and get you a fresh change of clothes."

Artemis hesitated; Barry nudged her. "Go on, kid," he said with a wink. "Iris doesn't bite. Well, unless it's me."

"You're a big boy, you can handle it," Iris told him. "Come on, Artemis. You look like you could use a hot shower." Only then did Artemis realize she was shivering; reluctantly, she stepped towards the woman and followed her up the stairs.

It felt like it had been years since Artemis had had a hot shower, though she knew she'd had one the day before her assignment with Icicle Junior. As she stood under the spray and waited for the water to soak into her long blonde hair, she felt herself relaxing for the first time in a long time. Everything in her life had been so twisted and wrong for such a long time, in ways that had gotten even worse after Wally – after what happened; it was hard to believe it was really over. Somehow, this was what convinced her. When she finally stepped out of the bathroom, clean and dressed in the flannel pants and oversized T-shirt that Iris had provided, Artemis felt like a new person.

"I was starting to think you'd drowned," Iris teased. "All that hair must take a while to wash, huh? Are you hungry?" Artemis opened her mouth to say no, but at just that moment, her stomach rumbled loudly. She glared down at it; Iris laughed. "Come on downstairs and we'll get you something to eat. One of the upsides to living with the Flash is that there's always food in the kitchen... as long as you get there first." She winked conspiratorially at Artemis, who gave her a small smile in return. It felt good. With a pleased smile of her own, Iris led the way downstairs into the kitchen. Artemis blinked around in startlement: the walls were red. In a way, it made sense; this was the Flash's house, after all. It wasn't exactly subtle, though, particularly given the almost golden walls everywhere else. Artemis had had no idea a color scheme could be so pervasive in a person's life.

"What would you like?" asked Iris, walking to the sleek metal refrigerator and opening it to look inside. "Are you in the mood for anything in particular?"

Artemis shrugged, then realized Iris wasn't looking at her. "Not really." She hadn't had a choice in what she ate in a long time; the idea of choosing now was almost intimidating.

Iris glanced over; her eyes narrowed. "Hmm... aha! I know." She closed the refrigerator and opened the freezer instead. After rummaging around for a bit, she withdrew a container of ice cream. "Just this once, we can have ice cream for dinner. Just don't tell Barry." She winked. "How do you feel about Rocky Road?"

"Rocky Road is... fine," Artemis said, offering the woman another ghost of a smile. Iris smiled back and closed the freezer. Setting the ice cream down on the center island (their kitchen had an island; this was so surreal), she went to grab two spoons, two bowls, and an ice cream scoop out of the cupboards. Artemis perched gingerly on a stool at the island; Iris returned and sat down across from her. They each scooped out their portion of Rocky Road, then settled in to eat. Artemis hadn't realized how hungry she was; she ended up going back for seconds. They were both quiet until about halfway through that second bowl, when Artemis' stomach finally quieted a little. Then she swallowed and asked the question that had been bothering her since she arrived: "So... are all heroes this suicidally trusting, or is it just a Flash thing?"

Iris burst out laughing. "It's a Flash thing," she assured Artemis. "Something about that red-and-yellow just makes them hopelessly optimistic. The Green Lanterns are worse, though: only one of the three of them even bothers with a mask."

"That's crazy," said Artemis.

Iris shrugged. "It's who they are. Some people can handle living a double life; some people can't. Barry and Wally are somewhere in the middle: they can handle it if they need to, but their definition of 'need to' is definitely a little vague." She glanced at Artemis. "Why? Does it bother you?"

"Doesn't it bother you?" Artemis retorted. "You barely know me, and now I know where you live and that you're married to the Flash. Doesn't that worry you a little?"

"Not particularly." Iris shrugged again. "I trust Barry's judgment. Besides, you seem like you could use a helping hand."

"I'm bad news," Artemis mumbled, poking at her rapidly-melting ice cream with her spoon.

"Now that, I seriously doubt," said Iris. "Troubled, yes. But bad news? Not a chance. Artemis, look at me." The teen obeyed, and gulped: Iris' eyes were almost exactly the same color as Wally's. She supposed they must be related somehow. "Barry told me how you saved his life tonight. You're a good kid. All you need is a chance to show it." Iris gave Artemis a warm, sympathetic smile; Artemis looked down and resumed poking at her ice cream. She wished she could believe this kind-hearted woman, but all she could see when she looked in those eyes was Wally looking up at her, broken and bleeding on the ground.

"Ice cream for dinner?" Artemis looked up and saw the Flash – Barry – standing in the doorway in civilian clothes, looking affronted. "Iris, you never let me have ice cream for dinner!"

"Busted," Iris told Artemis, smirking; then, to Barry, "Well, you'd better sit down and have some, then, because this is your one and only chance. There's an extra tub in the freezer." Barry grinned and walked over to drop a kiss on her cheek before heading to the freezer to pull out another tub of Rocky Road. Grabbing a spoon from the silverware drawer, he joined them on Iris' side of the island. For a couple of minutes, the loudest sounds in the room were the hum of the refrigerator and the clinking of spoons against bowls as they all ate their ice cream; then, suddenly, Artemis couldn't stand it anymore. She put her spoon down.

"I'm sorry I got Wally killed," she blurted. Tears blurred her vision as she stared down at her half-empty bowl; a moment later, she felt warm arms encircle her and found herself crying on Iris' shoulder. She didn't understand. Why were they being so nice to her when she'd just admitted it was her fault Wally was dead? If she'd stayed awake that night in the desert, if she'd fought harder to hold her dad off until the Justice League arrived...

"Artemis, sweetie, look at me," said Iris. With great effort, Artemis forced herself to look up into those green eyes. "Wally isn't dead."

Artemis froze. "He's not?" she whispered.

"No, sweetie, he's not." Iris smiled at her. Artemis scanned the woman's face for a sign that this was some kind of trick and found nothing but honesty and compassion.

"But – I saw -" Artemis swallowed. "My d – Sportsmaster -"

"The League found him just in time to rush him to a hospital," said the Flash, who had followed Iris around the island and now stood beside her. "It was touch-and-go for a while, but he pulled through just fine."

Artemis looked back and forth between the two of them in bewilderment as the nightmare world she'd been living in for the past six months dissolved, leaving her dazed and confused. Wally was alive? "Can I see him?"

"First thing tomorrow morning," Barry promised. "For now, I think we'd all better get some sleep. It's been a long day." Artemis nodded reluctantly. As much as she wanted to verify that Wally really was all right, she couldn't deny that she was exhausted. Everything she'd been through was catching up to her all at once, leaving her bone-weary.

"Barry, would you mind taking care of the dishes? I'll show Artemis to the guest bedroom," said Iris. Without waiting for a response, she led Artemis out of the kitchen.

"But I looked for him," Artemis said suddenly. "O-on the news." Sure, she'd only been able to steal glances here and there, but how could she have missed him so entirely?

Iris raised her eyebrows. "Well, I don't know what channel you were watching, but it was obviously the wrong one." She hesitated, then wrapped an arm around Artemis' shoulders and steered her into the living room. "There's something you need to see." Sitting down on the couch, she turned the TV on and started searching through TiVo recordings. Artemis sat down just as the redheaded woman found what she was looking for and pressed play. Artemis found herself looking at Iris West Allen, pointing a microphone at a vibrantly, beautifully alive Kid Flash. Artemis felt a shock run through her at the sight of him.

"-here with Kid Flash today. As many of you know, Kid Flash has not been seen often in Central City of late. I'm here with GBS News to ask: Kid Flash, where have you been lately? Are you thinking of giving up the hero gig?"

"What? No," Kid Flash said with a laugh, making a negating gesture with his hands. "No, the truth is, I've been looking for someone."

TV-Iris arched her eyebrows in surprise. "Oh? Does this mysterious person have a name?"

"She does, but I can't tell you what it is," the hero said, and winked. "Secret identity, and all."

"So she's a superhero, then?"

"I think she could be, if she wanted to."

"Well as you know, we are now live on channel 10. In case this mystery girl is watching, is there anything you'd like to say to her?" asked Iris, and held out the microphone.

Kid Flash took a deep breath and looked straight at the camera. "Just that everything I said to her before was true, and I'm not gonna stop looking until I find her. And, um, I'm still gonna hold her to what she said to me, because if anyone can do it, it's her."

"She sounds like a lucky girl," Iris commented.

"Not particularly," said Wally, scratching his head a little awkwardly. "But, uh – I think her luck's gonna change, one of these days."

"And there you have it," said Iris. "Reporting live from Central City, this is Iris West-Allen. Cat, back to you."

Next to Artemis, Iris raised the remote and turned off the TV. "That was playing on every major news network for three weeks straight. The viewers ate it up; everyone was calling it 'the Cinderella story of the decade.' I don't know how you missed it." Artemis didn't say anything, but she wondered if that was during the time when her dad had her locked up. "He's been looking for you, Artemis," Iris said quietly, reaching over to put a comforting hand on the teenager's knee. "That's why he hasn't been on the news."

"Such a drama queen," Artemis muttered. "He knew me for, like, two days."

Iris arched an eyebrow at the younger girl. "And who was it crying over him in my kitchen ten minutes ago?" Artemis felt her face grow hot; Iris smirked at her. "Sometimes, two days is enough. Now come on; let's get you to bed."

A few minutes later, Iris closed the door to the guest bedroom and turned to find Barry standing beside her. "She's asleep," she said quietly. "Conked out the moment her head hit the pillow."

Barry shook his head. "Poor kid. How long do you think she's been on the run?"

"I don't know, but she looked like she hadn't had a decent meal in weeks." Iris's eyes narrowed. "So let's hope the answer is 'a few weeks,' or else I'm going to have a few things to say to this Sportsmaster."

"A few more things, you mean?" Barry chuckled. "You've had a few things to say to him since the League first found Wally in that castle." He sobered quickly. "I've contacted the League; they know she's here. We'll be meeting up with them tomorrow to decide what happens next."

"Have you told Wally?"

"He's out on a mission with the team," said Barry. "I'll tell him tomorrow. Good thing he doesn't have school."

"Like he'd go."

"Exactly." The two shared a rueful smile, then turned to contemplate the door to the guest bedroom.

"What do you think is going to happen?" Iris asked.

"Well, Green Arrow's been needing a new sidekick," said Barry. "He might be willing to take her on. She'll probably end up staying at the Cave with M'gann and Conner. That is, assuming she wants to be part of the team. If not..." He sighed. "We'll figure something out."

"Poor girl," Iris said with a sigh. Barry wrapped an arm around her shoulders and squeezed. "If any of what Wally said about how her father treated her was true..."

Barry thought of the wild, wary look in the teenager's eyes as she whirled to face him on that rooftop. "I get the feeling he didn't know the half of it."

"Recognized: Artemis, A06. Flash, 04."

Traveling by zeta tube was probably the weirdest thing Artemis had ever done, and she'd done a lot of weird things. There was a moment like being plunged underwater in the Arctic; then her body tingled all over, there was a strange rushing sound in her ears, and for a moment she wasn't entirely sure she existed. At last, she emerged on the other side, whole and unchanged except for a whole slew of philosophical questions she wasn't sure she wanted answered. Setting those aside for now, Artemis looked around. She was in a large, cave-like structure with some kind of round metal thing coming out of the ceiling. As the echoes of a robotic voice announcing her entrance faded away, Artemis stepped forward, feeling a little shabby in her black hoodie and sweatpants. When she had chosen these items in Gotham, it had been a matter of practicality and availability. They were all she could get her hands on, and they would help her avoid attracting attention, provided she kept her bow and quiver hidden unless absolutely necessary (hence the duffle bag that now lay abandoned in an alleyway in Central). But even the entrance to this place practically screamed "Super Lair," and right now Artemis just felt like some runaway teen in a cheap mask. Even the quiver on her back and the bow collapsed in her hoodie pocket offered her little comfort. She felt a hand settle on her shoulder and looked over to see the Flash, who had come through the zeta tube behind her, giving her an encouraging smile. Taking a deep breath, she let him steer her to the center of the room, where Batman stood looking at several holographic screens, and even typing on one of them. Artemis immediately realized what the big metal thing was for, and looked up at it in fascinated curiosity. She would love a chance to figure out exactly how that worked.

"Batman," said Flash. Artemis's attention snapped back to the matter at hand. "Good to see you."

"Flash." He didn't look up.

"This is Artemis, the girl Kid Flash has been looking for," said Flash. "Artemis, this is-"

"Batman, I know," she said. "I grew up in Gotham." Batman's fingers paused at this; his head bowed a little.

"Is Green Arrow here yet?" Flash asked.

"Not yet. He should be arriving shortly."

A red and blue blur entered the cave, bringing with it a gust of air and a stream of chatter: "Uncle Barry, is that you? I heard the zeta – Artemis!" Wally skidded to a halt, eyes wide as he stared at her. For a moment, all she could do was stare back, paralyzed with shock, relief, and an unexpected anxiety. All of a sudden, she felt doubly self-conscious about her shabby "costume," even though he was just wearing jeans and a red shirt.

"Hey," she managed finally. The desert had been one thing, the castle had been another, but this was the "real" world. Back in the context of civilization, Artemis was suddenly fiercely aware of the gaping chasm between his world and hers. Who was she kidding? How could anyone bridge that gap? How could a Gotham girl and the fresh-faced sidekick of a Justice League member ever have anything to do with each other?

Then there was another gust of air, and Artemis found herself wrapped in a tight, desperate hug. "You're here," said Wally, his voice muffled in her hair. "You did it. You're here."

Artemis clenched her teeth past her first instinct to throw him into the ground and deliberately relaxed, hesitantly bringing her arms up under his to return the embrace. "I said I would, didn't I?"

"Well yeah, but there was your dad, and it's been so long, and... god, Artemis, I was so worried."

"You were worried?" Artemis pulled back enough to glare up at him. "I thought you were dead!"

"Wh – dead?" Wally blinked at her in astonishment. "But didn't you see the-"

"Not 'til last night," said Artemis.

"Last night?" Wally blinked and looked over her shoulder, presumably at the Flash, then rolled his eyes and muttered, "Aunt Iris." His eyes returned to hers. "But it was all over the news. How did you not-"

"Dad kinda had me on lockdown," Artemis admitted.

Wally scowled. "You mean he had you locked up. Artemis, how did you escape?"

Artemis thought of the man she'd shot and shuddered. "It doesn't matter."

"Actually, it does." They both looked up at where Batman had pulled up some information on the holoscreens, including a photograph. "This man was found shot in the back with a steel-tipped arrow at the scene of a heist in Gotham City," Batman continued. "Valuable tech was stolen that night from the facility at which he was working." He narrowed his eyes at Artemis. "Sound familiar?"

Artemis sighed and pulled away from Wally, crossing her arms over her chest and looking down. "Yeah, that was me."

"Care to explain?" Artemis could understand how the criminals of Gotham could be so terrified of this man. From his tone, she understood on a visceral level that if she didn't have a good enough explanation, things would go very, very badly for her.

"My dad had me under lock and key," said Artemis. "He was barely letting me out of his sight long enough to go to the bathroom. I knew if I was ever going to get away, I had to convince him that..." She swallowed. "That I wasn't going to fight him anymore."

"There, you see?" Wally insisted. "It wasn't her fault!" No one answered him.

Artemis forced herself to look at Batman. "Is he...?"

"The man you shot is alive and in recovery," said Batman. "Fortunately, wounds of that nature have a high survival rate, provided the patient reaches a hospital in time, which I suspect you knew. Police were already on their way; an ambulance arrived not long after." Artemis let out a breath of relief, her arms dropping to her sides. Wally grabbed hold of her hand; Artemis squeezed gratefully, and felt happy butterflies in her stomach when he squeezed back. "However, regardless of the results, such tactics are not tolerated by the Justice League. Should you choose to join the team-"

"Join the team?" Artemis interrupted, brow furrowed. He couldn't mean-

"Not the Justice League," the Flash clarified. "We have a more... age-appropriate option."

Then it clicked. "Whoa, wait a minute, you mean his team?" she demanded, jerking her head at Wally. "The one with all your special proteges or partners or whatever?"

"Dude, Artemis, that would be so cool!" Wally exclaimed. "I could introduce you to everybody, show you around the Cave-"

Artemis wasn't listening. "But aren't you afraid I'll, I don't know... betray them all to the Shadows or something?"

"The League does not discriminate based on family background," said Batman.

"Artemis, Kid Flash told us what happened in Bialya and in Scotland," said Flash. "You did everything you could to protect him, even when it meant putting your own personal safety at risk. I think that earns you some trust."

"Flash is correct. However-"

"Right, no more shooting innocent people in the back, got it," Artemis said. It wasn't exactly a sacrifice. "But seriously, I get to join the team?" Batman narrowed his eyes again, but nodded.

"Sweet!" Wally exclaimed. He tugged her in the direction from which he'd come. "I'll give you the grand tour. M'gann is gonna be so-"

"It'll have to wait," said Batman; a computerized voice announced the arrival of "Green Arrow, 08" and a figure materialized in the zeta tubes.

"Hey everyone, sorry I'm late," said Green Arrow as he walked out of the tube. "Patrol ran late last night. What did I miss?"

"Artemis has agreed to join the team," said Batman.

"Really? That's great! So you must be Artemis, then," he said, stopping in front of her. "I've heard a lot about you. Good to finally put a face to the name – or, well, most of a face." He offered a hand; Artemis shook it a little warily. "Word has it you're an archer. You any good?"

She smirked, feeling some of her old bravado return. "Pretty decent."

"Do you have your own bow?" Artemis pulled it out of her hoodie and handed it over; Green Arrow expanded it to its full size and looked it over. "Nice," he commented. "But I think I can do better, unless this one means something special to you."

"My dad gave it to me," Artemis said flatly, "so no."

Green Arrow's mouth quirked in sympathy under his mustache, but he said nothing as he handed back the bow. Artemis' shoulders relaxed a little when she had her weapon back in hand, though she tried not to show it. Arrow went over to one of the hollow screens and pressed a few buttons; a target appeared on the opposite side of the holographic projection platform. "Let's see what kind of shot you are." Artemis took a few steps back (dropping Wally's hand in the process), drew an arrow, and shot. She barely took time to aim; she didn't need to. The arrow sailed through the target dead center and planted itself in the cave wall behind it. Artemis watched it quiver there with a satisfied smile. "Not bad," said Green Arrow with a smile of his own. "Artemis, I would be honored to be your mentor."

"Won't Speedy object?" Artemis asked. She saw Wally shift uncomfortably out of the corner of her eye.

"Speedy, ah – Speedy went solo," Green Arrow said, looking down. "Goes by Red Arrow now."

"Oh," said Artemis. "Uh... sorry?" She got the feeling now wasn't the time for a crack about how original the new name was.

"Ah, everybody's gotta grow up sometime," said Green Arrow. Artemis got the distinct impression there was more to it than that, but didn't press. He looked up at her again. "So how about it? You in?"

Artemis hummed thoughtfully, tapping her chin in mock contemplation, then grinned. "I'm in."

"Now that that's settled, we need to discuss the issue of accommodations," said Batman. "The most obvious choice would be for Artemis to stay at the Cave-"

"I'm fine with that," Artemis interrupted, then shrank back at the look Batman gave her. "Sorry," she muttered.

"However, there is an alternative," he continued, and tapped a few buttons in front of him. "I did some digging. Paula Crock, formerly known as Huntress, was released from prison on July 31st of last year." Artemis went stiff with shock as a picture of her mother appeared before them, accompanied by panels of information. "Her repeated attempts to find you have all met with failure; however, if you so choose, the League can contact her to let her know we have custody of you and the two of you can go from there. It's your call."

"Right on time," Artemis growled. "Mom got out of prison right on time. That bastard lied to me."

"You can take as long as you need to decide what you want to do," said Batman. "There's a room made up in the Cave; you can stay there for now. I suggest you take some time to think about it."

Artemis opened her mouth to say that of course she wanted to live with her mom, it was all she'd thought about for years, then looked up at the holoscreen and froze. Her mother's face stared back at her, sharp features painted with war paint, dressed in the uniform she'd worn the night she fell from the roof and was arrested. Artemis realized suddenly that she didn't know this person, not anymore. After six years in prison, Paula Crock could be as bad as Lawrence, maybe worse. "Yeah," she said, looking away. "Okay."

There was a brief, uncomfortable silence. "Soooo if that's everything?" said Wally, after a bit. Artemis looked over and almost laughed: he was literally bouncing with excitement.

"That's everything," said Batman.

"Awesome! So-"

"Wait a sec," Artemis said to Wally, then turned to the three adult heroes in the room. "Thank you," she said, looking at each of them in turn. Her eyes landed on the Flash last, remembering his willingness to bring a ragtag teenager into his own home on nothing but the word of his sidekick. "For everything."

Flash stepped forward and put a hand on her shoulder. "It was our pleasure, Artemis," he told her warmly. Artemis knew he wasn't just talking about the League. The moment his hand dropped, Artemis found herself swept up in a familiar pair of arms.

"Okay great, that's awesome, everything's set now right? Gottagobye!" Artemis just barely had time to collapse her bow before Kid Flash took off. She couldn't help a burst of laughter at the sudden speed. It was the first time Artemis had laughed in a very long time; she reveled in the feel of it bubbling out of her chest to hang in the air behind them. She felt Wally's chest shaking as he laughed with her; the last of the tension that had been clinging to her melted away at the sound. "First stop on the tour: the back door!" he announced grandly, coming to a halt.

"Whoa," said Artemis from her comfortable perch in Kid Flash's arms. "Cool." They stood on a ledge overlooking a bright, clear bay surrounded by green-coated mountains with only traces of brown poking through at their tops. By the water on the far shore sat neat rows of brightly-colored houses, nestled amongst the trees. There was a small cozy-looking beach just below them, hemmed in by the landscape to the point where it would have been difficult to reach it without superpowers; a mottled lump of rock and bushes sat a little ways offshore with one brave tree standing stubbornly atop it. Around the island sat several round patches of bare stone, some of which disappeared beneath the waves periodically as the water swelled and receded. Seagulls cried overhead as they soared in search of food, and crickets chirped from the nearby bushes, creating a soothing counterpoint to the sound of waves crashing against the rocks below. Artemis took a deep, appreciative breath of the fresh, salty sea breeze; then, seeing Wally turn his head to look at her, she looked back, and promptly forgot everything else. Once again, it hit her that he wasn't dead, that he hadn't bled out in that cell, that she hadn't really watched those beautiful green eyes close for good. He was here, breathing, holding her and looking at her with that big doofy grin that should have been embarrassing but was somehow endearing instead.

"I should have done this a long time ago," Wally murmured.

Artemis smirked at him and looped an arm over his shoulders. "No kidding." They both leaned in. This wasn't Artemis's first kiss, but the first guy had kept shoving his tongue in her mouth in a way that made her feel like a castle under siege. Wally, for all his bravado and ridiculous pick-up lines, was much less insistent: his lips met hers almost hesitantly, opening just enough to let her top lip fit between them, followed by the bottom. Both their tongues stayed firmly in their mouths, allowing Artemis to focus on the intimacy of having someone else's face so close to hers that she could feel her own breath bouncing off his skin. The morning sun shone bright overhead as they kissed; the wind tugged gently at their hair and clothes, making Artemis's ponytail sway gently. As Wally's arms tightened around her, Artemis decided that no matter what came next, this moment right here was worth it all.