Losing him was blue, like I'd never known
Missing him was dark grey, all alone
Forgetting him was like trying to know somebody you never met
But loving him was red
After one month of Wally's ceasing (she would not call it death), Artemis decides she needs a plan. It's easy enough to figure it all out: she and Wally had dated for five years and people always said that there were five stages of grief. Five months was a good enough, logical time for her to get back on track.
Not getting over it as in forgetting or moving on. But maybe enough so that she can remember he won't be waiting for her when she opens the door or that she can look at photos without her throat closing up.
It's been a month so she should be over the first stage. Denial. She can be over with that, right? She can stop believing that it was some sort of mistake and that he'll come home at some point. He won't, she knows that, and dreaming about it doesn't mean she's still in denial. It's just her subconscious, right?
She thinks so when she realizes the second stage is anger. And does she feel angry. How is that any fair? How can the universe or whatever force moves it be like this? It doesn't make sense and she hates it and she just wishes there was someone to blame. There isn't.
By the end of the second stage, one month feels actually too little time to be angry, because she's still furious. It boils inside her and makes her want to snap at everything, but she can't. She needs to follow her plan, because otherwise she'll never recover. And she realizes that the person who decided on this all five stage bullshit was wrong. Because it's not a process, it doesn't follow a line-up. It's an overlap of emotions that she can't control or dominate, they make no sense and have no order and she feels lost. But she needs to move on, she owes this to herself and to him.
So she simply buries her anger and lets bargain take over. And it's the hardest thing in the world. Because all she wants is for someone to answer to her demands and just give him back. They're superheroes, they know aliens and magicians and all kinds of stuff and it's simply not possible that nothing can bring him back. There must be something, science tells her that there must be something – matter can only move and be transformed in energy, not disappear – but everyone shuts her off on that, because, as she herself pointed out, they deal with magicians, why would physics be actually a law for them?
She slips into depression some days before the month is over, and she tries to convince herself that it's actually progress. It's been officially three months since it happened and she feels like it's just dawning on her. All the hopes that she secretly held on to, every dream. The future she had planned out would never actually be. If she ever got married to someone, it wouldn't be him. If she ever had babies, they wouldn't have his stupid smile. She would never be a West. She's never been a crier, but she convinces herself that it's necessary. The tears will clean her out and she needs it. It's a stage, it's normal, and it just means that she is closer to moving forward. So she cries and she hurts and she lets her heart ache. It'll be over soon, she tells herself.
And then the fourth-month anniversary of his death comes and she can't breathe. The next stage is acceptance, but all she feels is denial, anger, bargain and depression all bottled up inside of her and she can't accept it. Wally can't be dead, they had plans, they had promises, they had something good and she's selfish enough to admit that sometimes she thinks of other people who could've died instead of him. She can't accept it, she can't.
She's not getting over it.
And that's when - fourteen days into her acceptance stage - Dick brings Wally back.
"I'm not… ready, Dick." She tells him over her cup of tea, after finally accepting there was no way to avoid the subject.
"Artemis, all you've thought since he…" Dick motions his hand, not wanting to use any words. "All you've thought of was getting him back. And now he's here, in a hospital, desperately asking for you. What's wrong?"
"I don't… I don't think I can do this, ok? I can't even being to explain to you how these months have been to me. I'm a mess. I want him back so badly it physically hurts, Dick, but I'm broken. I'm all over the place, I have sorrows and grief and guilt from five months accumulated inside me and he's not, he doesn't have all this baggage, he's five months in the past where everything was fine and I wasn't mourning the love of my life!"
Dick sighs and gets up, moving closer to where Artemis started pacing in the middle of her rant. "He's not stuck five months in the past. He hasn't talked much, not awake for long, but something happened to him during all this time, Artemis. He's as broken as you are and none of you are gonna heal alone."
"Dick, everything's changed." She looks desperate at him, and he can see that she is as torn about this decision as he is.
"It seems to me that you still love him and want to be with him. And he wants the same, because he talks about it every time he asks where you are. You can't wait until you're not broken anymore to reconnect, because that's not happening, Artemis. You need each other."
Artemis casts her eyes down and fidgets with her hands at his speech, but he knows he's convinced her.
He just hopes he's right.
She's been there for almost an hour, debating whether or not this is the right choice, when he starts to wake up. Deep down she knows she'd never have the heart to leave, not after coming into the room, not after being so close to him.
She's missed him so much.
She gets up from the comfy chair by the bed and leans closer to his bed, almost hovering his face but from a safe distant. His eyes immediately set on her when they open. The way they shine even before he opens his mouth makes her heart twist in a way it hasn't ever since the accident (that's what she calls it now). It's the best feeling in the world.
"Artemis?" He asks slightly, like he thinks he might be dreaming or hallucinating, and before she can control herself she's smiling as she nods, and a second later she has his hand clasped in hers, where she kisses it.
"Hey, babe." And it's wrong, it's too soon, they shouldn't be using pet names, but it feels so normal that she can't help it.
His stiffness finally melts and he smiles largely at her. "You're here." He says releasing a long breath, like he's been waiting to do it for days.
"I am." She doesn't know how, but her hand is caressing his hair, which is longer and falling into his eyes. "I'm sorry it took me so long."
This time he's the one taking her free hand and kissing it. "I'm just glad you came." He releases another breath, more like a sigh this time, and adds. "I missed you so much."
And that's when her eyes start watering and her walls crumble down together with her tears. She's hugging him in no time, careful not to hurt him, but it doesn't seem to be a problem as he tightens his arms around her. "God, Wally, I don't even have to words to say how much I missed you." Her voice is muffled by her crying and also by his shoulder where she's hiding her face, but it doesn't matter. Wally has tears in his eyes, too.
"I know, babe, I know. I'm so sorry, so, so sorry. I never meant to leave you, much less without saying goodbye. When I realized what was happening… it was too late, I was already running and I couldn't stop. Please forgive me, Artemis."
She shook her head a little while she moved from his shoulder and cleaned some of her tears. "I have nothing to forgive you for. You went out there and saved the world. That's what we do." She sat by his side and tried to remember what she was afraid of. How could she possibly heal from losing him, by being away?
"I'm still sorry for hurting you." His eyes are sincere and his thumbs are caressing her hands in a comforting way.
"You're back, though. That's… that's really all I wanted, Wally."
They stay silent for a few seconds, his hands still comforting hers and the heart monitor beeping constantly by their side.
"I love you." She says, suddenly, even though that was the first rule she set to herself before letting herself into the hospital. "I love you so much that it actually makes me a little sick. I just… I really love you, Wally."
His heart doesn't skip a bit and he doesn't even blink. "I love you, too. It doesn't make me sick, though, because you know I love romances."
She actually laughs and rolls her eyes a little. Loving him is so easy. Being with him is easy. She feels like every piece of her that was scattered on the floor is being finally put together. Not the whole puzzle – it'll take time, she knows – but now it feels like she actually knows where all the pieces are and they're actually arranged in groups to come together as the big picture. She's not whole, but she knows now that she will be.
"I think…" She has to swallow her feeling a little before going on. "I think we're gonna be okay."
He squeezes her hands. "Of course we are. We always do."
They share a little smile at that and after a couple of seconds he tries to sit down.
"Artemis. I know I just got back and that it's probably not the best timing. I don't even have a ring – I mean, I do, but it's not with me now because I bought before the whole ceasing fiasco – the point is, I've been planning this for a while and I just-"
She cuts him off with her lips, their first kiss since the one in Paris all those months ago. It's gentle and caring, like the ones they used to share when they first started dating.
"Wally." She says when they part and she can see in his eyes that he understands she needs to explain this. "I have been planning to marry you for a long time. I am 100% sure, even more now, that I want to spend the rest of my life with you. But right now I'm not ready for a proposal. We're not ready. You'll get out of here and we'll get our life back together, and then you're gonna propose again, somewhere more romantic than a hospital, and it'll actually be just a formality, because you know that I'll say yes. Okay?"
And then he's kissing her, a bit more forceful and passionate than her kiss, and Artemis knows he understands.
It honestly doesn't matter to them. Being together is a certainty, it has been for years. The universe was just very stupid trying to get in the way.
He's on his knee exactly 41 days later, and she doesn't say yes either, but that's simply because words aren't necessary.
And that's her acceptance stage. Her plan is finally complete, and she feels free to finally start on new ones.