WARNING: this is, without a doubt, the creepiest villain I have ever written in my life. If you have any kind of personal history with stalking, sexual assault, or any related topic, please proceed with caution. I would hate for anyone to be triggered by my work.
Many thanks to my beta, FoxgirlAfterDusk, for all her wonderful assistance! You should go read her stuff; it's really neat.
Artemis woke slowly, which was her first clue that something was wrong. Her second clue was the pounding headache that immediately claimed her full attention. A pained breath hissed in through her teeth; she tried to rub her head, but came up short against cold metal. She was lying flat on what felt like some sort of lab table, hands and feet held apart by metal cuffs bolted to the surface. Artemis scowled; this was officially her least favorite way to wake up basically ever, Wally's morning breath included. Wally's morning breath was not to be underestimated, either; after almost a month living together in Palo Alto, Artemis still hadn't gotten used to it.
"Oh, good, you're awake." The voice was unfamiliar. Artemis's eyelids felt as though they were weighted with lead, but she had to see who was speaking. Slowly, she forced her eyes open, then squinted against the blaring circle of fluorescent light pointed right at her face. Gradually, the brownish blur in front of her resolved into a man. He was of middling height and slender build, with brown eyes and short brown hair, neatly combed down. His face bordered on attractive, but his eyes were just a bit too small, his jaw just barely too long and angular to make the cut. He wore unremarkable clothes: brown slacks, brown shoes, and a white button-down shirt with a black tie, all of which fit and were in good repair, but none of which stood out. He smiled, friendly and pleased. "Hello, Artemis," he said in a light, cultured tenor.
She furrowed her brow in puzzlement. "Um. Who are you?" She honestly could not remember ever having seen this man before in her life.
"Oh, how rude of me! My name is Anthony Werther. How are you feeling?"
"Fine," Artemis bit out.
Werther clicked his tongue at her. "Now, now, my dear, there's no need to play tough around me. We're beyond such pretenses, you and I."
Feeling a little creeped out by the tenderness in the strange man's gaze, Artemis cut to the chase. "Uh-huh, sure. Mind telling me where the hell I am and why I'm strapped to a table?"
Werther winced. "I am truly sorry about that. If there'd been another way – but there wasn't. I needed – I need – and you never would have listened, not with that – "
"Werther," Artemis growled. He looked at her, startled. "Why. Am. I. Here?"
That stopped him in his tracks. He took a deep breath. "Now you must promise to stay calm. I know this is a lot to take in." Artemis just glared. "All right, well, here goes. Artemis, you and I are soulmates."
Artemis' jaw dropped. "You think we're WHAT?"
"I don't think, I know," Werther insisted. "From the first moment I saw you – "
"We literally just met."
"From the very first moment I saw you," he continued, unperturbed, "I knew you were the one. That's why I brought you here. I hoped that when we met, you'd know as surely as I do that we were meant for each other."
"You have got to be kidding me," Artemis said flatly.
Werther frowned. For a moment, his features took on a threatening cast, his eyes glinting with what looked like rage. It was gone so quickly, anyone else might have wondered if they'd imagined it, but Artemis knew what she'd seen. The look itself didn't chill her nearly as much as the way it morphed seamlessly into a gentle, devoted expression that would've creeped her out on Wally, never mind some random stranger who had her shackled to a table in – Artemis glanced around – yep, an abandoned warehouse. Original.
"It's all right," Artemis' stalker said calmly. "I thought this might happen. Your rational mind is overpowering what you know, deep in your heart, to be true. Don't worry; in just under an hour, I can unleash your true self, and you and I will be together forever."
"Why? What happens in an hour?"
Werther smiled and stroked her hair; Artemis resolved to shower as soon as she got home. "It's a surprise."
"I hate surprises."
"You'll like this one. I could put you to sleep until it's ready," he offered. "Then you won't have to feel the suspense."
He shrugged. "Suit yourself. I must attend to your surprise, my love. If you need anything, you have only to shout." Artemis said nothing, only stared stonily ahead and fought not to cringe as Werther bent down to kiss her forehead. All the same, her eyes widened when his lips made contact with skin. Her mask! He had pulled it down around her neck while she was unconscious. Artemis took a deep breath and closed her eyes as he walked away. So he'd seen her face; big deal. It wasn't like she had her ID on her. When this failed to calm her down, Artemis told herself she'd deal with it when she wasn't strapped to a table anymore.
A door opened and closed somewhere nearby, and the sound of Werther's footsteps stopped. Artemis counted down from a hundred to make sure he was gone, then got to work. Through a copious amount of shifting, twisting, and wriggling her wrist, Artemis managed to get the lockpick she kept tucked into her armguard to fall into her palm, and immediately set about unlocking her shackle. It took longer than usual due to the awkward angle, but at long last she heard and felt that satisfying click as the manacle popped open. Artemis made quick work of the remaining shackles, then sat up. Her first order of business was to hastily restore her mask to its proper position over her face; after that, she swung her legs over the side of the table and hopped down, then went silently to where she saw her bow and quiver sitting on a nearby table.
Artemis was still a little woozy from being hit over the head – or at least, that was what she was going to say if anyone asked her why she had thought it was a good idea to pick up her weapons without checking for booby traps first. The moment her hand made contact with her bow, a sharp jolt of electricity shot through Artemis's body, white-hot, prompting an involuntary cry of pain.
A door opened. "Artemis!" Thinking fast, Artemis grabbed a handful of arrows, careful not to touch her quiver, and stuffed them down the back of her shirt. It was a gamble, but as she had hoped, Werther hadn't bothered to electrify every individual arrow.
That done, Artemis settled into a fighting stance and scanned the warehouse for her opponent. Time to end this.
"Artemis," said his voice in her ear as hands grasped her arms and pinned them behind her back. She jumped a mile. "My love, you shouldn't be up and about," he crooned. "You'll only upset yourself."
"I'm not your love," Artemis growled.
Werther sighed. "You're confused; it's understandable. But don't worry – we'll just put you to bed for a nice, long nap, and everything will make sense in the morning." He let go with one hand, and that was all the opening Artemis needed. Wrenching her arms free of his now single-handed grip, she reached back and threw Werther over her shoulder. He hit the ground and disappeared, reappearing a few yards away with a disappointed look on his face. Well, that solved the mystery of how the hell he'd gotten behind her so fast, anyway. "I didn't want to do this, Artemis," he said, "but you leave me no choice." He lifted his hand, revealing a small remote with a big red button on it, and pressed the button. Artemis turned to watch as, groaning and creaking, the big loading dock door behind her began to retract into the ceiling. When it had gone up a few inches, she felt her stomach drop: through that little gap, she saw countless steel limbs, all in groups of four. Robots: lots of them. Artemis backed up a few steps out of instinct; then her brain kicked into gear. Reaching back, she grabbed an arrow out of her shirt, prayed it was the right one, and slammed it down onto the table next to her, point first, right into her com link.
Her risk was rewarded: a thick cloud of smoke immediately issued forth. Quickly, before it could dissipate in the large space of the warehouse, Artemis dropped, rolled under the table, and sprinted for a gap in the far wall. Or, well, divider-thing. Whatever it was. It was definitely too short to be an actual wall. Focus, Artemis. She could figure out what this place was when she wasn't actively being chased by robots.
Glancing to her right, Artemis saw a dance studio so small a single barre spanned half the floor; beyond that glowed a red "Exit" sign. Artemis made a beeline for it, only to skid to a halt as bars slammed down over the door and a siren blared. Okay, obviously getting out wasn't an option right now. Turning, she bolted in the opposite direction as fast as she possibly could. The area past the dance studio contained several fragile-looking stools gathered around a bar, with dusty bottles sitting on shelves behind it whose labels proclaimed them to contain various forms of alcohol. Not seeing much in the way of places to hide... Artemis came around another wall and spotted what appeared to be an audience seating area. It was raised about six feet off the ground, with high metal railings surrounding rows of chairs, each elevated slightly above the row in front of it. The stairs were on the other side, so Artemis grabbed hold of the railing, hauled herself up until she had her toes on the platform, then straightened and swung herself over, landing cat-quiet on the metal.
"Target acquired." Artemis whirled to see one of Werther's robots approaching from across the platform. She swore under her breath and tugged two ordinary arrows out of her shirt. Wielding one in each hand like daggers, Artemis ran to meet her foe. The robot was about 6' tall and had no head, just a small, spherical body with four legs and four arms sticking out of it. The overall effect was rather spiderlike, except spiders didn't usually have claws on two arms and what appeared to be small laser cannons mounted on the other two, nor did they generally have red, glowing lenses set into silver blocks situated squarely atop their bodies, twitching and rotating in a thoroughly unnerving way. Lightning-fast, Artemis twisted and dodged away as it shot at her, then slid underneath its legs, stabbing upward into its body as she went. She kept ahold of the arrow, hoping to rip it through the thing using her momentum, which would cause more damage and possibly break a circuit or two. The arrowhead broke off partway through, but the damage was done: the robot collapsed in on itself with a series of distressed-sounding beeps, sparks flying.
"Target acquired." Artemis looked and saw three more robots approaching from the front; lacking any better ideas, she threw the broken shaft at them and bolted up the stairs to one side of the seating area, stuffing the other arrow back down her shirt as she went. When she reached the top, she climbed on top of the railing, balanced carefully as it wobbled, and leapt to the top of the sound booth. As she was hauling her body up on top of it, something sharp and clawlike grabbed hold of her boot; Artemis kicked frantically until it lost its grip and hauled herself up. She rolled to her feet and turned to see the three metal monstrosities climbing up after her. Dodging blasts from its laser cannons, Artemis darted in close to the nearest one, stamped on the claws that clung to the edge, then twisted around. Grabbing hold of its laser cannons, she aimed one at each of the other robots just as the thing fired. Two perfect hits: her targets smoked and threw off sparks as they fell motionless. Artemis went to one knee and used her momentum to pull the thing over her head and slam it into the ground. Quickly, before it could right itself, she pulled out her "dagger"-arrow from before and stabbed it into the body, yanking it out quickly as sparks flew. But the thing got off one more shot in the moment between when she let go of its laser cannon and when she stabbed it with the arrow; Artemis let out a short yell of surprise and pain as the blast seared her side. It wasn't lethal, or even permanently damaging, but it stung like a motherfucker. Artemis was more concerned with the fact that if the fight hadn't given away her position, the yell certainly had. She needed to move.
A quick glance around revealed a thick, heavy chain hanging down from the rafters a few yards away from the sound booth. There was no way to test its integrity first, so with a quick prayer to whatever was listening, Artemis took a running jump towards it. Her hands grabbed hold of the metal; it swung a little with her momentum, slipped a few heart-stopping feet – and held. Artemis let out a breath of relief, then quickly started to climb. Thankfully, she was well above the heads of any pursuers before they arrived, and none of them thought to look up. Thank God for dumb robots. Artemis finished the climb and pulled herself up onto the rafter, then carefully stood. Heart hammering, she extended her arms and tiptoed towards the nearest wall as quickly as she dared. Her skin pricked at the thought of how far down it was; to distract herself, she started calculating her approximate moment of inertia in her head, as compared to what it would be without her arms outstretched. It was less reassuring than she had hoped it would be, but it kept her from freezing up as she made her way into a shadowy corner and settled carefully onto a rafter with her back pressed to a wall, stifling a grateful sigh lest she give away her position. Artemis was under no illusion that height would stop a teleporter, but it did appear to have stopped his robots, so that was a plus. Anyway, teleportation became a lot less useful if Werther had no idea where she was, and Artemis was reasonably certain neither he nor any of his robots had seen her climb. Hopefully, they'd waste a significant chunk of time searching the ground floor before turning their sights to the rafters. That should be enough time for her friends to locate the emergency beacon sent out by her communicator upon its destruction and arrive in the bioship.
"My love, why do you run from me?" Werther's voice echoed up from below. "You cannot escape our destiny. Our love will be one to last throughout the ages; our first kiss..." Artemis rolled her eyes and tuned him out; this guy had obviously read way too many romance novels. Instead of listening, she scanned the dark rafters for any signs of robots or pushy, deluded teleporters and tried to figure out where she was. It obviously wasn't an abandoned warehouse, as she had first thought, but an abandoned movie set. The presence of an audience seating area was clearly indicative of a sitcom, though Artemis didn't watch enough TV to know which one. She was probably somewhere in or around Los Angeles, then. That matched up reasonably well with the last thing Artemis remembered, which was stepping into the alley that contained Star City's zeta tube on her way home after a patrol. She'd been covering for Green Arrow, since he was off-world on League business. It was a long drive between the two cities, but not impossible. Artemis wondered with a pang how long she'd been missing. If Werther really had driven all the way from Star City, north of San Francisco, down to Los Angeles, then she'd been gone for at least a day. Wally would be frantic with worry by now. She just hoped he hadn't told GA; Ollie had gotten really overprotective since the whole Speedy thing. Artemis wouldn't put it past him to ditch his mission over this, which would be way overreacting.
It was comforting to think of her loved ones right now. Artemis never would have admitted it out loud, but this guy had her pretty freaked out. As if having a stalker wasn't bad enough; hers had to come with teleportation and robots.
So Artemis waited on her rafter, all senses alert for signs of discovery or pursuit. Unfortunately, this meant she couldn't continue to tune out Werther's increasingly creepy words of devotion and assurances of the inevitability of fate. Wally didn't believe in fate. Artemis had found that irritating in Dr. Fate's tower, but all of a sudden, she found comfort in it. Wally would never do something like this. She could break up with him tomorrow, and he'd be heartbroken – would probably argue with her – but he'd never try and force her to stay.
She had a choice. Both of them did.
About twenty minutes in, Werther tried a different tactic: "Your friends aren't coming, you know," he called. "They don't care about you like I do. They don't share a bond like the one that brings us together no matter where – or when – we are." Artemis rolled her eyes for what felt like the thousandth time that night. "In any case, your com is quite thoroughly disabled, and even if it wasn't, no signal in the world can bypass my signal-blocker. I thought you might be resistant, my dear, and I therefore took precautions."
Artemis narrowed her eyes as she considered this. It could be a ploy to draw her out of hiding before help could arrive; however, if it wasn't, she could be in trouble. The emergency signal from her com would only last about an hour past activation, meaning she only had 40 minutes maximum to locate the signal-blocker and shut it down – less, if she wanted to give Nightwing enough time to track it. Artemis stifled a sigh. She was going to have to risk it. Carefully, silently, Artemis started crawling back the way she had come. She hated to use the same route down that she'd used to come up, but she didn't have time to find another way, not if she was also going to find and shut down the signal jammer in time for Nightwing to track her com. Upon reaching the place where the chain hung down, Artemis quickly and quietly started to climb. Against all odds, her landing site was unguarded. Artemis landed lightly on the concrete floor and darted behind a dusty black curtain as a spider-like robot came click-clicking around the front of the audience seating area. Artemis held her breath as she listened to the thing's investigation of the area; at last, "No target acquired," it announced in a toneless metallic voice, and went clicking off. Artemis let out the breath she'd been holding slowly. Silently, she emerged from her hiding spot, got her bearings, and headed back in the direction from which she had originally come, moving from cover to cover with all the stealth and care she could muster. Not that Artemis had never fought an army of robots before, but these were quite a bit bigger than Ivo's MONQIs. Plus, Ivo couldn't teleport. Artemis was a little stuck on that whole teleportation thing.
It couldn't have taken more than five or ten minutes to get back to the area where Artemis had woken up, but she couldn't shake the feeling that it had been a lot longer than that. Her skin prickled with anxiety as she peered carefully around a false wall. There was the metal slab where she'd woken up, and just beyond it paced the man who had put her there. Artemis's eyes narrowed. He was alone, apparently not having thought that Artemis would return to where she knew he was waiting.
Or maybe he thought that if she did return, he'd have no need to use force.
That's it, Artemis realized. That's his weakness. That's my way in. She cringed as she realized what she was going to have to do. Clenching her fists and jaw, she took a deep, silent breath, then forcibly relaxed her body as she let it out. She stepped out into the open. What was his first name again? Oh, right. "Anthony?" she called, pitching her voice a little higher than usual. Oh god, this is so humiliating. It worked, though: Werther stopped dead, eyes widening. "Can we talk?"
"O-of course, my love," he said hurriedly. "Does this mean you've come to your senses?"
Don't overplay it. "Maybe," Artemis said. She took a cautious step forward. "I'm sorry for running away. Everything is just happening so fast, I - I panicked."
"That's understandable, my dear," he said, smiling warmly at her. Artemis smiled back hesitantly. "I, too, was overwhelmed when I first discovered the truth."
"How did you, err... discover it?" Artemis tilted her head to the side and furrowed her brow slightly, letting genuine curiosity color her tone. How had this guy decided on her, specifically, to stalk, kidnap, and shackle to a slab?
Werther's smile turned reminiscent. "It came to me in a dream," he said. "I stood upon a golden tower looking out across the land. The people were all gathered before me, bowing down, for I was their ruler. I had everything a man could want - power, glory, unimaginable wealth - but still I felt unfulfilled." His eyes softened. "Then you came to me, clad in white upon a white winged horse who wore a golden bridle. You stepped down and offered me his reins, but I took your hand instead, and from that moment on, all was right with the world." He shook his head in amazement. "I would have dismissed it as a mere fantasy, had I not seen you on the news the very next day with your mentor Green Arrow. A golden-haired young beauty, just like my dream, and going by the name of the very goddess who once helped a man tame the winged Pegasus!" Artemis bit her tongue to keep from pointing out that it was Athena who gave Bellerophon the golden bridle and nodded, trying to look fascinated. "From that moment on, I knew that we were meant to be together, and that you and I would one day be the rulers of the world."
Oh. Of course. World domination. Why did that always seem to be what it came down to with these types? "Wow," Artemis managed. "I, uh, don't know what to say." At least that much was true.
"It's all right, my love; you needn't say anything. I can help you understand your destiny, and then you and I will be as one."
"How are you gonna do that?" Another genuine question. What was this guy's plan?
Werther hesitated. "It... was supposed to be a surprise..."
"I hate surprises," Artemis reminded him. "Besides, maybe if I know what's coming, I won't be so nervous about it." Because whatever it is will be lying on the floor in pieces, she thought.
"Well, all right. I suppose just this once..."
"Thank you," said Artemis, adding in a grateful sigh for good measure. "I'm sure I'll feel much better." She smiled warmly at Werther, and smirked on the inside as he blushed.
"Er. Well. Yes. That is, um... you're very welcome, my dear. Er. R-right this way." Seeming a little dazed, he led her to a door set into a nearby wall. "After you, my lady," Werther said, holding the door open for her. Artemis forced a smile and walked through, trying to ignore the way the hairs on the back of her neck prickled as he came through behind her. It was a very small room, sparsely furnished and dimly lit by an old yellow bulb. A scratched and worn-looking desk stood about four feet from the back wall, every inch of its surface covered in vials and tubes that looped over and around each other. Liquids and gases of various colors and consistencies bubbled, steamed, or flowed through them at varying rates.
"Wow," Artemis breathed. "What is all this?" She stepped forward to examine the setup, squinting at a clear, thick liquid bubbling away over a bunsen burner. A cloudy gas roiled through a tube attached to the top of its flask.
"It is your cure," Werther said softly. Artemis almost jumped; his voice sounded just a few inches from her ear. He placed a hand on her lower back, where her costume didn't cover; Artemis tried not to cringe. "This is what will bring us together for all eternity."
Yeah, I got that part, Artemis thought irritably. "Can you tell me what's in it?" At least Wally couldn't hear her right now; she'd never live down this sugary-sweet act. It was probably the only good thing about not having him here.
Werther, for his part, just chuckled. "My dear, I'm afraid you would find it rather dull. But tell me, does this put your mind at ease?"
Artemis narrowed her eyes at a vial of what appeared to be sodium pentathol. If there was one thing she never forgave or forgot, it was a slight to her intelligence. "I guess."
Mistaking her resentment for uncertainty, Werther chuckled again. "Your reticence is quite charming, my dear. Like the modesty of a virgin on her wedding night." Artemis froze, fingers clenching the edge of the desk as a potent mix of fury and mortification roiled in her gut. Werther didn't seem to notice; his other hand came up to caress her cheek. Artemis hoped he couldn't feel her skin crawling. "Let me reassure you that I know what I'm doing. You will come to no harm at my hands."
Artemis took several deep breaths, then asked calmly, "When will it be done?"
"Soon enough, my love; soon enough. All it requires now is time. Now come; we will await our destiny in far greater comfort than this." As he began to lead her away, Artemis spotted something in the corner of the room that made her perk up: a square black box, about a foot wide and long and four inches deep, sat innocently on a stool, one green light holding steady and one red one blinking evenly out of the front.
Artemis tilted her head to the side. "Actually, about that..." Quickly, she stepped her right foot behind his left, wrapped an arm around his neck in what could almost be mistaken for a friendly gesture, grabbed hold of her wrist with her other hand, and pulled. Ordinarily, the move would send her hapless victim to the floor, but Artemis modified it to send Werther crashing straight through his precious chemistry set instead. While he roared in pain and fury amid the sounds of breaking glass and hissing liquids, Artemis whirled to face what she had to assume was the signal blocker. Before she could reach it, Werther materialized in front of her with a 'pop,' breathing heavily and covered in chemical burns.
"M-my love, why-?"
"Stop calling me that!" Artemis swung a roundhouse at Werther's head; he blinked out of existence. Not bothering to wonder where he'd gone, Artemis lunged forward and grabbed the signal blocker. She was just about to smash it against the wall when hands grabbed hold of it out of nowhere. Artemis found herself in a desperate game of tug-o-war with her captor; heart hammering, she gripped the thing with all the strength she had. Wrecking his chem lab was one thing, but if she couldn't either get out or get help, chances were he'd just build another one, given time. Whatever exactly he had been creating (it was clearly mind-altering, going by the sodium pentathol), Artemis was sure she wanted nothing to do with it. Out of desperation, she planted a foot in Werther's gut and shoved, forcing him to let go and stumble backwards, wheezing. Quickly, before he could recover, she raised the thing high and threw it into the ground with all her strength, then stomped on it for good measure. Werther howled; the next instant, Artemis found herself slammed into the wall, her right arm twisted behind her back.
"Now, now, my dear," Werther panted, "that was very rash. I had hoped to wait a little longer, but, well... there are other ways to convince you." A hand ghosted over her bare waist. Panic flooded through Artemis's system, bringing with it a fresh dose of adrenaline; gritting her teeth against the pain in her arm, she stamped on Werther's foot as hard as she could and threw her left elbow into his gut, right where she had kicked him earlier. Werther let out a bellow of pain and loosened his grip; Artemis broke free, whirled, and kicked him in the groin. While he groaned, temporarily immobilized, Artemis punched him in the jaw, knocking him out.
"Amateur," she told his crumpled form. What kind of criminal forgot to wear a cup on the job? Quickly, she bent to tie his hands behind his back using his necktie, then looked around for something to use on his feet. Seeing nothing useful, Artemis went to search the surrounding area. She was checking the table where her bow and quiver lay and had just disarmed the trap on them when she heard it:
"Target acquired." Artemis swore loudly and whirled to face the approaching robot. Swinging her bow up with a steel tipped arrow on the string, she fired, rejoicing in having her weapon back in hand. Just as the thing went down, Artemis yelled in pain as something seared her right lower back.
"Yeah, no kidding," Artemis grunted as she turned and shot the culprit. Now that she was paying attention, she could hear more of the things coming. "Great," she muttered. Snatching up her quiver, she stuffed the arrows she had grabbed earlier back into it, slung it on, and turned -
Only to yelp with surprise as she came face-to-face with Anthony Werther. Somehow he'd gotten his hands free, and now here he stood in front of her, looking ragged and furious. "That," he growled, "my dear, was not very nice."
"No shit," said Artemis, swinging at him with her bow. It whooshed through empty air; Artemis kicked backwards and heard a grunt as her foot made contact with flesh. So predictable. The next moment, she felt hands grip her ankle and found herself dumped on her butt. Without blinking, she shifted into a sweep kick, bringing Werther down to her level, then yelped as a laser beam zapped her shoulder. Groping in her quiver for another smoke arrow, she slammed it into the ground, scrambled to her feet, and ran. If it had been just Werther or just the robots, she could have had either opponent trussed up and ready for transport long before the team arrived; both together, however, were proving to be a bit much. Artemis ran down the fire lane that followed the outside wall of the building, past ladders and curtains and creepy imitations of real-life places like bedrooms and cafes, searching for a way back up into the rafters. None seemed to be forthcoming. A robot appeared in her path; she shot it and veered right, cutting across the enormous building between sets. More robots came to accost her; she shot them as they arrived with steel-tipped arrows, saving her trick arrows in case this guy had any more surprises in store for her.
The audience seating area was deserted when Artemis arrived, but it didn't stay that way. Immediately upon arrival, she shot a robot as it came around a corner, then another from the other direction. This afforded her enough of a lull to get over that rail, but she found herself going up the stairs backwards as she shot down three pursuers. Heart hammering, Artemis collapsed her bow, climbed atop the sound booth, and leapt for the long, dangling chain that had been her best escape before. It wasn't long until she was pulling herself onto a rafter with a sigh of relief.
"So this is where you've been hiding." Artemis jumped so hard she almost fell; heart pounding, she carefully turned to see Werther standing on a rafter about ten yards away. "Clever girl. I never would have thought to look here, had one of my robots not seen you climb." Shit, shit, shit. This was not a great place for a showdown with a teleporter. If he fell, he could just blink himself back up; she, on the other hand... "But it is time to stop running now, my dear. My patience wears thin. After all, you cannot escape destiny."
"You are not my destiny!" Artemis drew and fired, bringing to bear every bit of speed and accuracy that her years of hard work and dedication had bought her. He vanished; Artemis scanned the rafters warily.
"You cannot deny it-" Artemis shot at the sound of his voice and smirked as a loud 'pop!' told her he'd had to disappear again.
"Watch me!" Spotting the white of his shirt in the gloom, Artemis fired again. "My destiny-" another shot "-is whatever I say it is-" another "-and believe me-" an awkward angle, but another bullseye, if that telltale 'pop!' was anything to go by "-you are not in the running!" Two shots in rapid succession, both on target. Pity nothing so far had hit.
"How long can you keep shooting, my dear?"
"Long enough," muttered Artemis. Aloud, she said, "I'm not your dear!" He did have a point, though; Artemis's arrows were not infinite. She fired another shot, but held her next one, pretending not to have seen him over in the corner.
"You are my birthright!"
"Do you even know how creepy that sounds?" She aimed at the wrong corner on purpose, watching carefully out of the corner of her eye as Werther relaxed. "I'm not a freaking castle in Scotland!" She swung around and shot, and took pleasure in his yelp as her arrow buried itself in his shoulder.
"You are the final piece of the puzzle!" Artemis scanned the rafters, eyes narrowed. His voice sounded odd... "With you by my side-"
Artemis snorted. "Oh, please. Batman could still take you with one hand tied behind his back, and that's before we even get into the fact that I don't like you."
"I know you're scared-"
"Scared? Try angry!" She shot again to emphasize her point, not really expecting to hit. She didn't. "You kidnap me, strap me to a table, try to drug me, try to rape me-"
"I only wished to make you see-"
"By raping me?!"
"No! By loving you!"
"Newsflash: when the other person doesn't want you to, that's called rape." Artemis punctuated the statement with another arrow. It missed. She took a deep breath, trying to calm herself. Man, this guy was getting under her skin.
"But you only think you don't want me to." Artemis rolled her eyes at this. "If you would just let me show you-"
"No thanks." With that, Artemis notched an arrow, turned-
-felt her ankle twist-
Time slowed down as she groped for a grappling arrow, only to realize her quiver had already scattered all her ammunition to the air below. Artemis might have screamed; she didn't know. All she knew was that terror and helplessness threatened to claw her apart as the rafters pulled away-
Then a pair of arms wrapped around her and she found herself on the ground, looking up into the worried face of Anthony Werther.
"My love! Are you all right?" he breathed. Artemis answered him the best way she knew how: by punching him in the jaw. Again.
"Peachy," she grunted, shoving his dead weight to the side, then flopped back. For a moment, all she could do was close her eyes and breathe.
"Target acquired." Artemis's eyes snapped open to find herself surrounded by about a dozen of Werther's freaky robot-things. "Threat to operator detected." Well, that was new. "Directive: eliminate." Crap crap crap! Artemis vaulted to her feet, knowing as she did that it was too late, she'd never manage to dodge the blast-
Only to blink in surprise as a yellow-and-red blur sent about five of the things crashing to the ground. "Hey babe!" Wally appeared by her side, decked out in yellow and red spandex as Kid Flash. "Got your call. Sorry I'm late; what'd I miss? You okay?"
"Less talking, more smashing!" Artemis launched herself at the nearest robot and heard the whoosh and rapid patter of footsteps that meant Wally had done the same. From elsewhere in the warehouse, she heard a familiar cackle, followed by a liquid stream of unintelligible babble. The sounds injected fresh energy into the weary archer; she leapt into the air and landed feet-first on the head of a robot, stomping it into the ground, then ducked a round of laser blasts and lunged for the next one. Before she knew it, she and Wally stood panting amidst the smashed, dismembered remains of their foes, some of which still threw off sparks or gave off-key beeps of distress. Nightwing and Zatanna came around the corner a moment later.
"Is that all of them?" asked Nightwing.
Kid Flash zipped away, and then zipped back. "Looks like," he said.
"Artemis! Are you all right?" Zatanna ran to embrace her friend. "We've been looking all over for you!"
"Yeah, I'm fine," said Artemis. "Just a few bumps and bruises. Nightwing, could you get a collar on that guy?" She pointed at Werther. "He's a teleporter, and a real pain in the ass."
"Roger that. It'll just take me a minute to program in the right restrictions." Nightwing knelt down, plugged an inhibitor collar into his wrist computer, and started tapping away.
"So who is this guy, anyway?" continued Zee.
"My 'destiny,' apparently." Artemis loaded as much sarcasm into the words as humanly possible.
Zatanna wrinkled her nose. "Oh, gross."
"Tell me about it. He was planning on injecting me with some kind of serum to make me fall in love with him."
"He was gonna what?" Wally yelped. Artemis suddenly found herself in her boyfriend's arms on the opposite side of the room from where Werther lay. She arched her eyebrows at Wally; he grinned sheepishly and set her on her feet, but kept an arm locked around her waist. Artemis rolled her eyes, but leaned into his warm bulk; Wally squeezed gently in response.
"How we comin' on that collar?" asked Artemis, to cover the warm, fluttery feeling in her gut. Wally shot her a grin that said he absolutely was not buying it.
"Almost there," Dick muttered distractedly. "Ready to go in three... two... one... one half, one quarter - come on, come on - got it." He disconnected the collar from his wrist and snapped it around the villain's neck. The group breathed a collective sigh of relief as the little red lights lining the side blinked on. "How's that, KF? Feelin' the aster yet?"
"Wha - me?" Wally turned red under his cowl. "I - you - uhh... I have n-no idea what you're talking about."
Zatanna scoffed. "Yeah, right. You should've heard him Artemis. He was going on and on about how you'd probably been possessed by evil bees and then kidnapped by aliens-"
"I am entitled to be upset when my girlfriend goes missing!"
Nightwing grinned as he cuffed Werther's hands behind his back. "'Course you are. It's just hilarious."
"Well, look what almost happened! I was right to be worried. So there." The look on Wally's face could only best be described as a pout. Artemis shook her head and leaned over to kiss her boyfriend's cheek.
"You're such a dork," she told him, smiling fondly.
Wally smiled back. "Yeah, I know." They both leaned in, but a groggy groan pulled them back.
"M-my love, what..." Werther blinked rapidly, wincing. Then his eyes landed on Artemis and widened. "What are you doing?! Unhand her, you oaf!"
A sudden burst of fury propelled Artemis's hand to the back of Wally's neck; she pulled him in for a kiss. Disregarding Dick and Zatanna, she opened her mouth and let her tongue follow the motion of her lips, deepening the kiss beyond what she would normally allow in public. For a moment, Artemis forgot her kidnapping entirely as she focused on the warmth of Wally's breath and the startled noise of appreciation he made in the back of his throat as he turned his body towards hers and crushed her torso to his with both arms. Remembering her purpose, Artemis reluctantly pulled away and turned to glare at Werther.
"For the three millionth time, I am not your love." She wrapped both arms firmly around Wally's neck without breaking eye contact. "I'm his."
"Yeah!" added Wally with a firm nod.
Werther looked between the two of them in bewildered desperation; then his eyes landed on Wally and hardened. "You!" he snarled. "You stole her away from me. You'll pay dearly for this! My goddess, my darling, my-"
"Gag mih," said Zatanna. Werther's diatribe cut off as a strip of duct tape appeared across his mouth. "Come on, creeper. Time to go to jail. Etativel." She floated him away, still struggling and yelling through the gag.
"Thanks, Zee," Artemis called tiredly. All the muscles in her body seemed to relax at once; she leaned into Wally and felt him relax, too, his stance shifting from protective to comforting. They buried their faces in each other's shoulders.
"And that's my cue to go, before you traumatize me any further," said Nightwing. "Ten minutes, kiddies, or the bus leaves without you." Artemis flapped a hand at their friend without looking up; then, with one last cackle, he was gone.
"What do you think the odds are that he really will leave without us?" Wally mumbled.
"Mmm... not good. I still have to debrief."
Wally groaned. "Can't you do it later? I could run us home."
"Not unless you want Nightwing banging on our door an hour from now." Another groan. "You know he'd do it."
"Yeah, I know." Wally sighed. "Oh well. At least I get to hear all about how you kicked his ass from here to Mars." He pulled back to look Artemis in the eye, hands sliding up to clasp her shoulders. "Are you okay? He didn't hurt you, did he?"
"Like I told Zee, it's just a few bumps and bruises. I'll be fine." Wally frowned, eyes scanning her form calculatingly. "I'm fine, Wally."
"You were limping earlier."
"Twisted my ankle falling off a rafter. No big."
"Falling off a what?" Wally glanced up at the rafters high above their heads and then looked back at her, eyes wide. "Are you sure you're not hurt? Oh Einstein, what if it's just the adrenaline? What if-"
"Wally. Wally! I'm fine, I swear. Werther caught me in midair and teleported me to the ground."
Wally winced. "I'm sorry, babe. I should've been there."
"It's fine." Artemis shrugged it off, then smirked. "Besides, it gave me the perfect opening to punch him in the face."
Wally burst out laughing. "I love you, babe, you know that?"
"Mmm, I know. I love you too." Wally leaned in to kiss her, then jerked back with a grimace, one hand going to the com in his ear.
"Yeah, whatever, dude. Shut up. We're coming." He looked at Artemis. "That was Nightwing. Ready to blow this joint?"
"Beyond ready," Artemis told him, rolling her eyes.
Wally scooped her up. "Then hang on tight, beautiful." He started to move, then paused and planted a quick, firm kiss on Artemis's lips.
"Are we going, or what?" Artemis demanded, but she was grinning. Wally grinned back and kissed her again. "Wally!" Artemis laughed.
"Okay, okay," he said, laughing with her. A moment later, they were gone.