Disclaimer- I do not own Young Justice or any of it's characters.
Writer's block sucks. This has been collecting dust since September and I'm in a massive slump, both art wise and fic wise. *sigh* Anyway, this is an AU fic that takes place in my scrapped "Where Darkseid Reaches" fic. You don't have to know anything about WDR to read this though, so please read on.
Special hanks to Mel and iloveyou_iknow and Sar-cat, all of whom helped me out at different intervals along the way.
Artemis looked away from the star maps scattered carelessly over the table top, rubbing at her eyes wearily. She'd never much liked trying to decipher the damned things, had always preferred letting her ship follow it's own path among the stars, but right now it was crucial for all of them to do their part in locating the source of the Venom deals in the quadrant. For her, that meant pouring over all her old maps from her days as captain of the Huntress.
She let her gaze shift to the large, reinforced window that allowed her a truly stunning view of the vast reaches of space, and left her feeling homesick. Their stop on Earth had seemed so fleeting after months away, and she longed for the biting cold of the winter that she knew was in full swing on it's surface. It had been weeks since the last time she'd had any free time to zeta down and enjoy life's small pleasures; none of the Team had any time for Earth right now.
Artemis closed her itching eyes and pressed the heels of her palms against the lids until she saw spots, and her mind drifted unbidden to her mother, whom she had visited only about a month ago with the company of Wally and Zatanna. She knew Paula Crock was not a weak woman by any stretch of the imagination, but that didn't stop her from worrying, from wondering if she was warm enough or if she got lonely or even if she missed her own daughter.
Artemis missed her every day, truth be told.
Paula may have made some mistakes, and she may not have always been the galaxy's best mom, but she was a warm and caring individual who had renounced her old ways and cared about Artemis more than anyone else—clearly more than Jade, but Artemis didn't want to think about her so-called sister at the moment—and she was going to make damn sure her mother was taken care of just the same.
She smiled to herself at a sudden memory of her latest trip home, at the image of Paula doting on the cheeky Wallace West, feeding him every bit of homemade Vietnamese cooking she could conjure up and laughing at his ridiculously forced charm and outrageous appetite. Artemis may have had a rocky start with West, but anyone who could make her mother light up like that couldn't be all bad.
Artemis frowned, allowing her thoughts to turn to Wally and his seemingly never ending work in the Cave's labs. Ever since he'd gotten his eager hands on that chunk of Kryptonite ore after Christmas, he'd shut himself up in the lab, and as a result none of the Team had seen much of him lately.
She shifted uncomfortably in her chair; his absence bothered her more than she cared to admit. She missed him more than she cared to admit.
It was maddening.
Maddening because they shouldn't have spent these last few months working together and bantering and liking each other. No, Wally West should have returned to the Justice Alliance where he belong, on his own ship, not demanded he be returned to Earth via hers. He shouldn't have made snarky remarks about the sad state of the Huntress and how he was afraid they would break apart and suffocate in space before the journey was over. He shouldn't have barged into her captain's quarters one night, chewing obnoxiously on a Lightspeed bar and started talking to her like he knew her, shouldn't have proposed to tweak her ship up—to which she refused. He shouldn't have slept in the room next to hers, snoring loudly and coming to her door the next morning clad in nothing but pants with the suspenders hanging down by his sides, asking if he could use her private shower.
And she shouldn't have started to like the things he did.
She shouldn't have liked it when they docked the Huntress at last and he'd hit her in the back of the head with a slushy snowball the moment they'd set foot on the snow dusted ground. She shouldn't have liked him tagging along to her home, or the sight of him making her mother laugh, or when he'd joined her on the fire escape outside her old bedroom window with an offering of hot chocolate. She shouldn't have asked him why he wasn't cold, why he was out in the chilly air with his sleeves rolled up. She shouldn't have been fascinated with his powers and answered his questions about her.
She shouldn't have enjoyed his company so much.
But she had, and she did.
Artemis had grown so accustomed to his presence, his shenanigans, his freckles and his smile since that fateful day she'd taken the Aster, that she felt something important was missing without him, like he had always been one of her most trusted crew members—Artemis didn't hand out trust lightly.
She shook her head and yawned, standing up to pop her back and walk over to pour herself some more coffee.
Going to be a long night...
The sound of her door sliding open caught her attention, and her head whipped around to face the culprit. Wally was standing there, fist up in the knocking position and the other hand hidden behind his back.
He grinned sheepishly.
"Sorry. I was going to knock but it... you know," he explained, and made a sweeping gesture with his hand, accompanied by a noise to mimic the sounds the doors made when they were opened.
She waved away his apology, ignoring the way her heart gave a squeeze at the sight of him.
He looked tired and a little ragged, but awake. His suspenders were hanging by his sides, and his white shirt sleeves were rolled up, a few buttons popped near the top. There was fine ginger stubble covering his chin, his hair was an absolute mess, and his red goggles were perched lopsidedly on his forehead.
"You look like you haven't slept in a week," she commented idly, turning away to dig for another cup. She heard his footsteps approaching and the automatic door swishing closed.
"That may or may not be the case," he replied, startling her with his close proximity. "What about you? You just addicted to coffee or are you trying to beat my record for lack of sleep?"
She bit on her lip to keep from smiling.
"Maybe. Maybe not," she said. They smirked at each other as she handed him his mug, and there was a comfortable silence as they drank. She was the first to place her mug down on the counter with a soft clack, and as she wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, her eyes caught notice of the fact one hand was still hidden behind his back. She narrowed her eyes but didn't say anything.
"So," Wally said when he'd finally finished gulping his down. When he didn't press on, Artemis raised her eyebrows expectantly. He cleared his throat and straightened up. "What are you still doing up?"
The archer shrugged. "Trying not to fall asleep on my star maps. You, on the other hand... where the hell have you been for the last few weeks?" she pressed, trying not to sound particularly concerned or miffed about it. Because she wasn't. "Did you have some life-changing scientific breakthrough or something?"
"Beautiful, if that happened you'd be the first to know." He winked at her, causing her eyes to roll skyward despite the twitch of her lips to one side. He seemed almost pleased with himself for her reaction, which made her sort of wish she'd scowled instead, but he had this funny way of making her react in ways she didn't mean to.
"Well, if you didn't have a breakthrough, why all the secrecy? You haven't even allowed Dick in there to help you, and I find that hard to understand, considering he's your best pal and helped you find it and all..."
Wally averted his gaze out the window, waving his hand at her.
"Ah, Dick wouldn't... ah, understand what I'm doing," he said, not sounding very convincing at all. Artemis shifted her weight over to one foot and crossed her arms beneath her breasts, boot tapping lightly on the smooth floor.
"Look," said Wally, furrowing his brows until there was a little wrinkle between them. "What I'm doing with that ore is very delicate. Even I don't fully understand it, and we've only got a very small chunk to work with; if that goes, it's back to years of searching. I'd just rather handle it on my own."
Artemis wanted to believe him, but the whole explanation had sounded pretty feeble on his lips, and it was a weak argument to begin with. So she called him out on it, of course.
"Wally, that makes no sense and you know it! If that little chunk of ore is so precious and mysterious, why not have all hands on deck? You know, two minds are better than one and all that junk. Especially the minds of two best friends who have made it their life's work to find a bit of space rock that everyone told them was just a myth!"
"It's not space rock..." Wally muttered to himself, but Artemis ignored him, pressing on.
"So tell me: what's so important about this research that you can't share it with anyone?"
Wally didn't answer her immediately. In fact, he picked his empty coffee mug up and held it out to her for a refill. She eyed him momentarily before obliging, and waited impatiently as he took a few drafts of the dark stuff and licked his lips clean. This man sure knew how to stall a conversation, that was for sure.
"Nothing," he said simply.
"Then... why have you—?"
"It's not the research I've been keeping secret, Artemis. In fact, I planned on letting everyone in on what I'm doing with the Kryptonite tomorrow," he explained, the arm behind his back fidgeting quite noticeably. Now she was more curious than ever about his unusual hand placement. She brought her stormy eyes up to meet his green ones. They were sparkling with a strange earnestness, and she wasn't sure if it was a trick of the light, but she could swear the freckled cheeks below were stained with the barest of flushes.
"Okay..." she said slowly, more confused than ever.
"I've been keeping something else secret. A, um, side project, I guess you could say. I wanted to get it out of the way first because... well, it's really important. And I didn't want Dick around because I knew he'd give me complete and utter hell for it."
Artemis opened her mouth to ask him something more, but quickly snapped it shut when the speedster suddenly removed his arm from behind his back, bringing with it a square glass case. At first she could see nothing significant about it; it just looked like an empty container. But then he held it up for her with both hands, and the light caught the thing within magnificently, shining across it's surface in a sliver.
It was a miniscule green arrow.
And it was carved crudely from a piece of what could be nothing but Kryptonite, for no other substance discovered by man could be said to be such an exquisite shade of veridian.
"Merry late Christmas, Artemis," Wally said, beaming at the stunned look on her face. He seemed to find her silence a little unnerving, and so kept talking in a wavering voice that was normally so full of confidence. "I-I know it's not the best; I'm a scientist, not a carver. And about the case, I was going to originally put it on a necklace for you, but there were two problems with that. One, I don't have the materials for it, and two, I still don't fully understand why the Kryptonite's properties affect Supey the way they do, and I didn't think it'd be very safe... you know?"
Artemis barely heard him. Her lips had parted in wonder as she stared at the gift, and her heart had never clenched tighter in her entire life as it was in that moment. She'd never received a proper gift like this before, not a birthday gift and certainly not a Christmas gift. Growing up the way she had, Artemis had been lucky to have her birthdays even half acknowledged by Jade and her mother. She remembered getting a cupcake once. And on her thirteenth birthday, Lawrence had gifted her with a bow and arrows... ones he'd then proceeded to make her use on the most awful missions.
The memory made her shudder.
Still, this gift... it was... it was the best gift she'd ever been given. It wasn't something that was used to further the giver's own ends, it wasn't being forced into her hands with the expectation of her using it to assassinate someone.
It was genuine. It was from the heart.
And Wally had put it above his life's work for her. He had said it was really important; that he wanted to get it done before anything else.
And it was for her.
Artemis felt a lump in her throat as she finally dragged her eyes away from the little charm and up to Wally's equally green eyes. He was looking a bit nervous now, probably from her lack of response, and she mentally kicked herself for leaving him hanging like that, probably making him think she hated it.
That couldn't be further from the truth.
"Wally, I..." she croaked, and had to stop and clear her throat because it was cracking with emotion. She tried again. "Wally, this is... this is beautiful."
He really had no idea just how beautiful it was to her. How could he possibly understand?
He smiled widely at her, freckles spraying upward, eyes shining brighter than she'd ever seen.
"I'm glad you think so, beautiful! I'm just sorry it took so long. I didn't know what to get you and we didn't find the Kryptonite until after the holidays and it took longer than I expected to chip off a small piece and carve it; that's hard stuff! I had to use a powerful laser on it."
She took the case from him and set it gently on the counter near her coffee pot. Her eyes lingered on it, and finally her stunned mouth was able to tug itself into a genuine, exultant smile.
"Wally, you have no idea how much this means to me," Artemis managed, turning to face him once more. They had somehow ended up closer together, though she didn't remember either of them taking steps forward. She could almost taste his breath. "This is the best gift anyone's ever given me."
She was being disturbingly open with him, but she didn't give a damn. She was getting tired of hiding things, and he'd been coaxing stuff out of her for months now, things she'd never told anyone before, not even Zee. And it never took him any effort. All he had to do was ask, and words flowed from her mouth unbidden.
The scientist's brows furrowed deeply. He brought one hand up to scratch absently at his stubble, looking perplexed.
"The best? I'm sure you've gotten lots of amazing things, babe. You don't have to be so modest."
Artemis shook her head, that smile still in place.
"I'm afraid I have to disappoint you, West. I've never really... celebrated my birthdays or Christmas or any of that. It just wasn't a big deal in my house," she shrugged, not in the least bit phased by the way his eyes widened at the information. She'd never felt sorry for herself on the matter, and she didn't want him to, either. "You don't have to feel sorry for me, I've never minded."
"I don't feel sorry for you, Artemis. I just think it's a damned shame."
He took a step closer, and now she could smell the coffee on his breath, and she flinched a bit when his large hand found one of hers and pulled it up level with his face. He kissed one of her knuckles.
It felt nice.
"I should let you get back to your star maps," he told her quietly, but he wasn't moving away. she was glad for it, because the last thing on her mind right now was godforsaken star maps. "I just wanted to make sure you got that as soon as I'd finished."
"Thank you, Wally. So much." she breathed.
He nodded. Their noses were barely a centimeter apart. No sooner had she found herself contemplating the gap between them than Wally was closing it, moving his head forward until his lips pressed into hers with the gentlest pressure. They were soft and chapped, and tasted like coffee. Her lids had just closed like the blinds on a window when he pulled away, staying close enough that their breath mingled. He looked like he was trying to gauge her reaction, like he was afraid he had made the wrong move.
So she tugged him back to her by the popped collar of his bleached white shirt and kissed him again. A tingling warmth spread from her chest down to her toes when Wally's hands tentatively came to rest at her hips, pulling her ever closer to his radiating body heat, their lips sliding together slowly, languidly, reveling in the taste. A little sigh left through her nose before she traced her tongue along his lower lip, eliciting a similar noise from him in response, one she found frightening and thrilling at the same time.
It frightened her because in that moment she realized how much she had wanted this for a while, and Wally West was making her feel things she wasn't used to feeling, things she had been pushing aside for her own insecurities.
She regretted it.
Artemis hummed low in the back of her throat, her entire body relaxing into his all encompassing embrace, marveling at how fantastic it felt to be held so flush by him. He was warm, inhumanly so as a result of his speedster abilities, and it was far too easy to imagine the room around them was colder than it was, that they were alone together on planet Earth with snow drifting down lazily outside the window. It was an endearing thought, a scenario she suddenly longed for as her hands slid up between them high enough to entangle the digits in the curling hair at his nape of his neck.
They broke apart briefly to breathe properly. She took the time to murmur his name meaningfully, a red hue blooming brilliantly over her cheeks and neck as he nuzzled his nose against her collarbone, lips ghosting right behind. Wally kissed a spot near the hollow of her throat before peeling his face away, bringing his eyes up to her level. They were alive with so many things, and it made her breath hitch to know she was the cause of them. She imagined her own eyes were a reflection of what his showed, judging by the soft smile that stretched his features.
"I've wanted to do that for a long time," Wally admitted quietly. She felt one of his thumbs push beneath the fabric of her shirt, stroking her smooth hip idly, and that miniscule skin-on-skin contact was electrifying.
She smirked indolently, content. One of her hands moved away from it's position at the back of his neck and trailed down to cup the side of his face, the pad of her thumb roving over the prickly little hairs dotting his jawline. She wondered if his appearance always ended up so rugged when he got caught up in his science projects, and found the prospect endearing... sexy, even.
"What a coincidence," Artemis replied in little above a whisper, leaning forward to leave a kiss near the corner of his mouth. "I've wanted you to do that for a long time, too."
They both chuckled lowly, huskily. She leaned her face into the heated space between his neck and shoulder, nuzzling into the freckles that constellated the area around his jugular, so similar to the stars they were floating amongst at that very moment.
She felt blissfully content.
More content than... well, than she had felt in a really long time.
Artemis said his name again, softly, enjoying the taste, the way it rolled off her tongue in a way she'd never appreciated before. She wasn't sure exactly why she said it, but it served to get his eyes back on hers, those piercing green irises that were a beacon for the spring in the middle of a snowstorm. She wasn't sure at what point they had started to make her catch her breath, at what point her initial—and admittedly, faked(mostly)—irritation had bled away into genuine care, at what point she began to crave their banter and exchanged looks and the occasional connection of her elbow to his ribs(he deserved it, sometimes).
She wasn't sure at what point she had decided to trust him, utterly and completely. And there was a little voice in the back of her mind, one that sounded disturbingly like her father's, that hissed that she was foolish for it, for allowing this man to scale passed her protective walls so easily. Had he not taught her better than that? To never trust anyone?
Artemis felt irritation at the thought. Her bastard of a father hadn't known what he was talking about. What was so wrong with trust? Trust was sacred to her. She knew who deserved it and who didn't; she didn't hand it out like candy at Hallow's Eve.
I've been taught better than that, she thought with a grimace.
"Artemis?" Wally asked. She became aware of his index finger curled under her chin and the pad of his thumb stroking the tender pink flesh of her lower lip. The crinkle in her brow relaxed, her whole body unwinding back into his hold, free of it's previous mode of thought. "Are you okay?"
She contemplated him for but a moment, and smiled.
"Better than okay."
And she meant it.
He smiled warmly at her, reaching up to brush some of the loose, flaxen strands of hair away from her cheek.
"Good," Wally murmured. He peppered her throat with genteel pecks, sending a tingling warmth spidering through her veins like a hypo filled with adrenaline. She wondered, in her smitten daze, that if maybe this was the sort of high that Venom users experienced upon injection. She pitied them for not knowing there was a better way to get that sensation and magnify it by ten fold to boot; there was no way anything could compare to this.
"Mmm, Wally?" Artemis asked, her voice a little husky from his ministrations. He pulled away and looked at her curiously, his eyes sparkling bright with something full of promises and adventures and great things to come. God, she couldn't wait, and whatever it was, it hadn't even begun yet. "There's an awful lot of star maps left for me to look through, and to be truthful with you? They bore the living hell out of me."
He laughed, the deep chuckles reverberating through her body. She smirked at him, twisting around in his grasp to pour two more mugs of strong coffee from the pot behind them. She handed him one, raising an eyebrow at him.
"Care to help?"
"Hmm, I think I have some time to spare."
"Good. Get over there and get to work," she ordered, taking a sip of her joe, eyeing him mischievously over the rim of her glass.
"Right away, Captain Crock," Wally said, standing rigid and saluting. She wrinkled her nose at him; he knew she hated being called that, she'd made that very clear from the first day he and his friends had set aboard her old space pirate vessel. It was hard to believe that she had been captain only a few months ago...
His words jogged her out of her thoughts. He had one hand wrapped around her free one, tugging it gently in the direction of the star charts.
"Yeah, I'll be right there, just give me a second."
He nodded and made his way to the low rising table, prying the stuck together maps and delving into them like they were the most interesting things in the world. Artemis set her mug down and picked up what was now perhaps the most precious thing in her possession, that tiny glinting arrow that meant more than words could convey. She placed it safely in the alcove above the head of her bunk, out of harm's way and the danger of being knocked to the floor.
The rest of her night was spent closely by Wally's side as they leafed through her charts, his childlike excitement peaking when he saw the places she had been, and told her of the places he wanted to go once the kryptonite provided them with the technology to travel such distances.
The conversation was comfortable and surprisingly easy to slip into; she found herself chatting away animatedly with him, laughing with him, snarking with him, and planning vast, outlandish trips into the stars far beyond the Dark segment. And it was so natural to talk with him that way, as if they had been doing it their whole lives. It wasn't something Artemis was familiar with, but she was more than willing to give it a try if it meant her life would be filled with more moments like this.
The rest of the night passed far too quickly, the rush of the caffeine she had consumed wearing off as Wally's voice dipped down to a low, pleasant hum, and then stopped completely as he became content and immersed in the star charts.
Her head rested comfortably against his shoulder, her cheek sliding lower and lower in her drowsy state. She felt the speedster chuckle lowly against her, then he was lifting his arm up and wrapping it around her until her head rested softly against the side of his chest. The sound of his breathing lulled her into a sense of security she hadn't felt since the days of climbing into bed with Jade on stormy Gotham nights.
Artemis fell asleep to the crisp sound of rustling star charts, and the steady rhythm of Wally West's beating heart.