A siren blared noisily overhead as Artemis raced down half-familiar corridors. Her hair flew loosely behind her; absently, she plucked at the hairtie on her wrist and took comfort in the stinging pain it caused. Two Shadows appeared in her path; Artemis flipped smoothly over their heads, rejoicing in the way her muscles stretched and pulled with the movement, and took them out from behind.

In most cases, Artemis would consider any escape attempt characterized by chaos and conflict to have gone very, very wrong. This wasn't most cases. The sound of the alarm ringing through the great stone complex in which she'd been imprisoned was almost soothing to her ears; the presence of guards in these hallways reassured her (she launched herself into the air and took one out with a spinning kick, then ducked under a swinging fist and socked another in the jaw, knocking him out). Over the course of her stay with the League of Shadows, Artemis had learned to consider quiet escape attempts a very, very bad sign.

The sounds of a scuffle up ahead made hope bloom in Artemis's heart; she put on a burst of speed. Discipline among the Shadows, whose hospitality she currently enjoyed, was impeccable; if there was fighting within these walls, that meant there was an enemy, too. And the enemy of my enemy is usually

Artemis skidded around the corner, and stopped dead. The fight up ahead ended abruptly as the last Shadow standing collided with a wall and slid down it to the floor.

Black spandex. Red hair. Green eyes locking onto hers.

"No," Artemis whispered. "Nonononono, please no, not another dream..." She backed away until she hit a wall and screwed her eyes shut.

"Artemis?" Artemis' legs gave out; it sounded exactly like him. She felt her back slide down the rough stone wall as she sank to the ground. The voice sounded again, closer: "Artemis come on, you gotta get up. We gotta get out of here." She covered her ears and shook her head. She couldn't do this. She couldn't do this. It was bad enough to be robbed of her escape for the dozenth time, but to lose him again, too... "Please, babe, I–" Artemis heard shouting from down the hall, and then suddenly, familiar arms wrapped around her and lifted. One fierce blast of wind later, she felt herself being set on her feet. A warm bulk pressed her against a wall as dozens of feet ran past. Artemis considered calling out and ending this nightmare for once and for all, but a gloved hand clamped itself over her mouth before she could. The footsteps faded; slowly, the hand removed itself. Artemis opened her eyes and looked up into an achingly familiar face.

Anger surged. A second later, Artemis had the – the figment of her dead lover pinned against the imaginary wall, his arm twisted behind his back. "How dare you?" she snarled.

"Beautiful, what–"

"Don't call me that!" She twisted harder; Not-Wally grunted in pain. "Don't you dare call me that. It's bad enough you took his face and his voice, it's bad enough you tried to use his memory against me–"

"Artemis, I don't–"

"Exactly how stupid do you think I am?" she demanded. "Did you really think I was naïve enough to believe my dead boyfriend magically came back from the grave just in time to rescue me from the Shadows like some kind of fucking fairytale? I swear to god when I get out of this stupid dream–"

"Artemis, stop!" A moment later, Artemis was the one pinned against the wall again, breath knocked out of her. Not-Wally had her arms pinned between their bodies; Artemis could have gotten out of it without breaking a sweat, but she was paralyzed by his eyes. Damn the Light, they'd gotten exactly the right shade of green, like maple leaves in June. The desperate, heartsick way they flicked back and forth over her face, searching for a sign of what was wrong and how to fix it, was just as accurate: that was exactly how he'd be looking at her right now if this was real. Artemis felt her features distort with grief as tears welled up again. Dammit, she'd been okay. She hadn't been happy, but she'd been okay. She'd been managing; she'd been getting out of bed every morning...

"Artemis, please listen to me," the figment said. "I don't know what the hell they've been doing to you here, but this isn't a trick, or a dream, or an illusion. This is real, I'm here, and I'm going to get you out of here but I need your help. I need–" He choked a little and paused, face clenching as he ground his teeth together and squeezed his eyes shut. He forced them open again and continued, "I need you."

"Lies," Artemis hissed. The look on his face when she said it didn't make her stomach hurt because he wasn't real, she told herself fiercely.

"Just one more time, okay?" His eyes were focused intently on hers, pleading silently with her. "Please just play along one more time. After that, I promise, you'll never have to do it again."

And that was the end right there. Real or not, Artemis could never resist that look on his face, like all his hopes and dreams were hanging in the balance and she was the only one who could save them. Artemis closed her eyes; breathed in, breathed out; opened them, and looked away. "Fine," she mumbled. What else could she say, with him looking at her like that?

Not-Wally's whole body relaxed. "Thank God," he breathed. "Come on, beautiful, let's–"

Artemis stiffened. "Don't call me that." And there was that hurt look again, the one that definitely didn't hurt her stomach. It wasn't even her real stomach anyway. God, this dream was trippy.

"Okay," he said, and took a deep, shaky breath. "Okay ba – Artemis. I – I won't. Let's just get out of here." And oh, how Artemis hated how perfectly this Wally-mirage mimicked how he sounded when he was about to cry: low, indistinct, like he just didn't have the energy for consonants. Instead of saying anything, Artemis just nodded. There was a brief moment when she thought he might try to kiss her, but it passed without incident; apparently Psimon, or whoever was running this sick apparition, knew when not to push his luck. Artemis would not allow her last memory of kissing Wally to be a lie engineered by her enemies to break her spirit.

Not-Wally backed off, releasing her arms; Artemis realized the two of them were in a supply closet. Trying to ignore how cold she felt without all that extra body heat, Artemis carefully eased the door open and checked the hallway. It was nothing like all the times she'd done it after a makeout session at Mount Justice, she told herself. "Clear," she said. "This way." Wally followed Artemis down the hall as she headed toward where she was pretty sure there was a staircase heading up. Since she had agreed to play along, Artemis grudgingly gave some extra thought to whether or not that staircase actually existed. It did; she'd gotten her head smashed into the railing on one of her earlier escape attempts, which was how she ended up back in her cell that time. The Shadows probably didn't expect her to try that way again, or so she hoped.

They didn't; the stairwell was deserted. "We need to get to the top floor," said Artemis.

"Got it. Hang on tight, b–" Wally choked back the nickname, bit his lip, and lifted her in his arms. A moment later, he set her down at the top of the stairwell. They approached the door to the outside hall, one on either side; Wally nodded to Artemis, who yanked it open. He sped through immediately; Artemis followed just in time to take out two of the four henchmen waiting on the other side, one with a snap kick and the other with an elbow to the jaw. "Which way?" Wally asked.

"This is as far as I ever made it," said Artemis. Except in dreams, but that didn't count. (And if it weirded Artemis out at all that the layout of the Shadows' base was exactly the same in this dream as it was in real life, she wasn't going to admit it.) "Don't you remember how you got in here?"

"Uhh... maybe?" Wally flashed Artemis a sheepish grin; she almost rolled her eyes, but stopped herself just in time. She fixed him with a flat, unimpressed stare instead. "I think it was... this way." He zipped off down one hallway branching off the one they were currently in, then returned just as fast. "Definitely not that way, and on an unrelated note, we need to hurry." He grabbed her hand and towed her away down the hall.

"What did you do?" said Artemis.

"Nothing!" Wally said quickly. "Or... nothing bad. I mean, okay, it was bad, but it was mostly bad for them. I mean–"

"Wally," Artemis growled.

"That's the first time you've said my name today," he said softly. Artemis glared at him to cover the sudden pang of helpless longing that stabbed her in the gut. "I – I mean, I kinda sorta found a dragon, and then I kinda sorta accidentally set it free?"

"Are you fucking kidding me!"

"Eh-heh... sorry?" he said with another weak grin.

Artemis sighed. "How long until it finds us?"

"What makes you think it's gonna–"

"Do I look like a rookie to you? How long until it finds us?"

"Err... five minutes, give or take?" They heard a crash up ahead, followed by a loud roar. "Okay, mostly take."

Artemis swore. "Well, at least now we know which way is out."

"Err... how's that, exactly?"

"Obviously, we should head towards the dragon," said Artemis. "That's how our lives work, remember?" And no way would Psimon include a goddamn dragon in the dream and not take the opportunity to traumatize her with it. Maybe he was getting bored.

"Can't argue with that," said Kid Flash. "Eh, you know... aside from the maybe-getting-barbecued part."

"We're not gonna get barbecued." Artemis stopped herself before she could say anything else. God, it would be so easy to get drawn into bantering with him, just like old times, but the thought of sharing any part of those "old times" with something Psimon created to mess with her made her sick. Fortunately, a timely distraction arrived when something large and green suddenly burst through the large double doors up ahead, and flames shot out of its mouth. Wally and Artemis dove apart to avoid it; resisting the urge to gape at the creature, whose head was the size of a Clyesdale and whose shoulders did not fit through the massive doorway, Artemis dropped and rolled forward. She considered it very important not to let her enemies throw flames at her from a distance, if she could help it. Take the fight to him, she thought as she came up into a crouch right underneath the dragon's head. Fortunately, this creature didn't seem terribly bright; it appeared to be very confused as to where Artemis had gone.

"Hey! Lizard-brain!" Wally shouted. The dragon forgot Artemis entirely as it focused on him. "Bet you can't catch me!" The dragon opened its mouth to flame at him; Wally's voice sounded again, from a different location: "Gotta try harder than that, slowpoke!" Artemis tuned him out and focused on the dragon. Creeping out from directly underneath it, she waited, then launched herself skyward as the thing's head bobbed briefly in its search for Wally. She landed straddling its neck, just above its head, and was winding up to deliver a strike to the back of the skull when the creature let out a pained shriek and withdrew its head. Artemis flipped to the ground just in time to avoid getting smashed against the ruined doorframe, then watched through the open doors as the dragon turned to flame at someone behind it. Judging by the agonized scream that followed, it had no trouble whatsoever hitting people who didn't have superspeed.

Far more interesting than that, however, was the burst of cold, fresh air that washed over Artemis the moment the door was clear. This was the moment when she always dared to hope. It was a painful moment, and had been since the first time Artemis woke up back in her cell after that precious glimpse of sky; this time, with a dead man at her back and a dragon raging at her fore, it was pure agony. Artemis knew she was about to wake up again, but she suddenly wanted nothing more than to bury herself in the arms of a vision and pretend it wasn't true. Instead, she squared her shoulders and stepped through the door.

Pandemonium greeted her. The dragon thrashed and roared in the center of what probably used to be a very elegant courtyard; chains hung uselessly from its neck, Shadows clinging desperately to one or two of them as the creature raged and thrashed. Flames burned amidst the rubble, and the peaked roof hung unevenly where columns had been damaged or destroyed. The question of how the dragon had gotten outside was answered by a massive crater in the center of the courtyard, where evidently the underground portion of the Shadows' base extended outward. Artemis had just enough time to take this in before the dragon spotted her standing in the doorway and reared its head back. Just as it opened its mouth, there was a sudden blast of wind, and then Wally set her down behind one of the few remaining undamaged columns. "What the hell, Artemis? What happened to playing along?" His hands gripped her arms so hard she thought she might bruise. Anyone else might mistake the look in his eyes for fury, but Artemis knew it was fear. Guilt twisted in her gut; she must have really scared him to have earned that look, and there was something dawning in the back of her mind.

"It usually ends there," Artemis mumbled. She stared at her hands for a moment in confusion, then looked up at Wally, eyes wide.

Artemis's moment of realization was interrupted by a blast of dragonfire from the other side of the pillar; Wally pressed his body over hers, shielding her from the flames that licked around either side of their makeshift shelter. Just as Artemis felt the stones at her back starting to heat up, the fire stopped as the dragon directed its attention elsewhere. Why the Shadows were keeping a dragon at their secret base, Artemis had no idea, but evidently they wanted to keep it; she heard shouts in the courtyard along the lines of "Hold it steady!" as the dragon roared.

"Time to go," said Wally, scooping Artemis into his arms. This time, she wrapped her arms around his shoulders and buried her face in the crook of his neck as he ran, breathing in the smell of his sweat and that generic deodorant he always wore. There'd still been a stick of the stuff among his things at their old apartment, but it smelled different in the tube than it did on him. Artemis had thrown it away.

Artemis didn't know how long they ran before stopping. She knew they ran across more than one lake, presumably to hide their tracks; there were also a lot of hills and trees involved, though only tall ones whose branches grew above their heads. At last they came to rest in a quiet glade where the afternoon sun filtered through almost-bare branches in slanted golden beams. The grass was just barely clinging to life here beneath a liberal coating of brown autumn leaves that crunched under Artemis's feet as Wally set her down. Her legs wobbled, and not from the speed; Artemis kept her arms locked around Wally's shoulders, partly to keep herself upright and partly because –

"You're real," Artemis whispered. Carefully, tremblingly, she brought one hand around to brush the knuckles against Wally's cheek. He leaned into the touch; Artemis unfolded her fingers to cup his jaw.

"Yeah," Wally said. It came out hoarse and shaky. "Yeah, I am." One of his arms was still wrapped around her waist from carrying her; his grip tightened as he said this. Artemis took advantage of the added stability to pull him into a kiss. Wally made a hungry noise in the back of his throat and buried a hand in her hair, leaning into Artemis until she arched backwards. Her lower back protested the angle, but she hardly noticed; she was too busy trying to open her mouth as far as it would go to allow his tongue access. She couldn't get him close enough; she needed the reassurance of his touch, needed it everywhere, under her skin and wrapped around her bones. Artemis shivered as Wally's hand eased out of her hair to cup her cheek; a moment later, they broke the kiss by mutual accord and sank down into the leaves together. Wally brought his legs forward to sit cross-legged; Artemis climbed eagerly into his lap and wrapped her legs around his waist. Both were crying; neither knew when they had started. Artemis buried her face in Wally's chest and he buried his in her hair, and they sat that way for a long time.

"Uhh, Artemis?" Wally said at last. Artemis hummed in response. "I, uh... I hate to say it, but my foot's falling asleep. Can we...?" Artemis huffed out a tear-soaked laugh and lifted herself up so that Wally could stretch out his legs and rearrange them so they were folded more loosely around her. Once this was done, the two lovers leaned their foreheads together and smiled tremulously at one another.

"You're alive," said Artemis. "But... how...?"

"I don't know," said Wally. "Nightwing did something; I haven't really asked him what. For me, it was just... one minute I was running, and the next, I was waking up in the med bay." He took a ragged breath in and let it out. "Then they told me you were missing, and I just..."

"How long have you been back?"

"Just a few days. Figured out where you were as soon as I could and went there, first thing. Aqualad had some kind of plan, but I just kind of... ran off."

Artemis closed her eyes, took a deep, deliberate breath, and opened them on the exhale. "Thanks."

"Hey, good guy, remember?" Wally said, prompting another watery chuckle from his girlfriend. "I'll always be there to save you from your evil ninja clan." Artemis didn't want to ruin the mood by bringing up ugly truths like death and taxes, so she stayed quiet. "Artemis, how long were you...?"

"About two weeks."

"Did they...?"

"Hurt me? No."

"Not on the outside," said Wally, reaching up to tuck Artemis's hair behind her ear. His hand lingered; Artemis reached up to grasp his wrist and press his palm against her cheek. "I've never seen you give up before."

The question was implicit; Artemis swallowed. "I kept having these dreams," she said. "They – I think they were something Psimon made. I'd escape, get through the compound, and then as soon as I made it outside, I – I woke up back in my cell." She closed her eyes and let her hand drop; Wally's stayed in place, his thumb rubbing along her cheekbone comfortingly.

"So when you saw me..."

"You were dead," said Artemis, opening her eyes again. "I thought it had to be a dream. So instead of fighting and winning and having it all taken away again, I just... stopped."

"But I wouldn't let you."

"You wouldn't let me," Artemis agreed, smiling. "Good thing, too." She hesitated. "What I said before, about... that thing I didn't want you to call me. It, um... it doesn't apply anymore."

Wally breathed a huge sigh of relief and pulled her into a hug. "Oh, beautiful, you have no idea how glad I am to hear that."

"I'm sorry," Artemis said, voice muffled in her boyfriend's shoulder. She wrapped her arms around his waist and pulled herself closer.

"Don't be," Wally told her firmly. "If it hadn't been me, I – I'd want you to give 'em hell."

"I called you a liar."

"You called Psimon a liar, which he is. Babe, c'mon. Don't beat yourself up over this. You didn't know."

"I'm still sorry I hurt you," said Artemis.

"You didn't hurt me, beautiful. I just..." Wally sighed. "I just didn't like seeing you like that." He hugged her tighter. "Everything's better now." Artemis couldn't think of anything to say to that, so instead she kissed him again. It was slower and gentler this time, driven more by love and gratitude than by desperate need. Artemis felt Wally's breath collide with hers in the close, warm space between them as their lips closed over each other again and again in a smooth, steady rhythm. Their tongues mostly followed this motion, gently reaching and withdrawing every now and again like waves on a beach. After a while, they trailed off, ending with a few quick pecks. Wally planted one on the tip of Artemis's nose, prompting a smile from her. There was a serenity in his eyes that was reserved only for her; Artemis had mentioned it once and Wally had started babbling about dopamine. It was nothing she hadn't already known, so she had smacked him lightly on the back of the head and told him to stop ruining the mood.

Now, as they sat together in the woods, Artemis pulled Wally into another hug. She'd had a lot of hugs since he "died" – from her mother, from the Team, even from Ollie – but nothing had ever quite measured up to the firm, gentle pressure of Wally's arms as they wrapped around her and pulled her close. Now, after two weeks in captivity, Artemis was sure she'd never have enough of Wally's hugs.

After a while, they shifted again, this time so Wally could lean against a tree and Artemis could lean against Wally. As the sun dipped low against the horizon, a yawn pushed its way out of her throat.

"You can go to sleep if you want," said Wally. "M'gann should be here with the bioship in about an hour. I'll keep watch until then." Artemis tensed at the mention of sleep. "What's the matter?" Wally asked, instantly concerned.


"Artemis, what's wrong?" Artemis recognized that stern tone from when she used to try to play tough girl after getting hurt on missions. He wasn't going to let this go.

"It's dumb," she muttered.

Wally sighed. "Beautiful," he said, reaching up to brush his knuckles against her cheek, "please tell me what's wrong." Artemis could tell without looking that he was using the puppy dog eyes again. Glowering down at her lap, she mumbled a response. "What was that?" said Wally.

Artemis gritted her teeth. "I said, I'm afraid I'll – " she waved a hand around vaguely " – wake up. Again."

"Oh," said Wally.

"I told you it was dumb."

"It's not dumb." From the silence, Artemis could tell Wally was trying to come up with an argument that would convince her that wasn't going to happen. She heard him sigh and knew he'd given up. "Beautiful," he said finally, "I promise, when you wake up, I'll be right here with you." He wrapped both arms around her and squeezed for emphasis. "And you'll be safe."

A promise like that wasn't worth much coming from someone who might not exist after all, but Artemis was tired of second-guessing things. Anyway, she really was exhausted. "Okay," she said, yawning again. "Good night, Wally."

"Good night, babe," she heard him say. "See you in the morning."

The world faded out.

Artemis woke briefly when Wally shifted her into his arms and stood to carry her into the bioship. Seeing her eyes open, he smiled and pressed a gentle kiss to her forehead. He'd kept his promise. Artemis drifted off again.