Artemis knew he was going to be there and she was pissed. Dick had called to give her the heads up, but after hearing the keywords of invite and Wally and Christmas party, in the same sentence she had hung up on him immediately. Dick Grayson might be her boss in the civilian world, but among the covert team that still existed to fight injustice they were equals. There was no reason for him to have done this now, but technically he was President and CEO of Wayne Tech Securities, so for one night she would just have to conquer and overcome, she'd been doing it her whole life anyway.
After all the fallout and consequences of their battle with the Light and the Reach, the team affectionately nicknamed Young Justice by their junior members, had to rethink the way they did business. All formal ties with the Justice League had been severed for public relation purposes due to the damage and destruction from their final conflict. The League had a relationship with the U.S. and other world governments, and they couldn't be party to protecting a reckless group of heroes, despite the fact they had saved the world. However off the books they continued to do covert missions for them in much the same function and manner as they did before. They weren't quite vigilantes, but they remained an unaffiliated group unto themselves.
With Mt. Justice destroyed, and the senior members no longer of school age, it was necessary for them to explore and expand their alter egos and find legitimate work and employment. For persons like Conner, Megan, and Kaldur, having a dual identity was a new experience. They still received a stipend form the League unofficially, but with no housing, stocked kitchen, or headquarters to train in, it was finally time for them to make it on their own in the real world. Younger members were still required to go to school, and were provided with training facilities by Oliver Queen, but the senior members would have limited access and might have found too difficult to remain together or take on missions and operations. That's where Bruce Wayne came in.
Batman for years had been discussing with Dick Grayson the need for him to get more involved with Wayne Enterprises. As Bruce Wayne's adopted son, one day the entire organization would be left to him and he needed to understand the intricacies of the business side of it. Dick was reluctant to have anything handed to him, and after much deliberation the two came up with an idea. Nightwing had always been a master hacker and knew the computer systems at Wayne inside and out. On occasion he even had input on design and security upgrades that had always been his niche. So with the ever increasing threat of cyber break-ins and terrorism, the two formed the company Wayne Tech Securities, a subsidiary of the Wayne Enterprises. This allowed Bruce and Dick to officially hire the senior members in roles they were largely comfortable with and trained for. These jobs would not just entail sitting behind a desk looking at code, but also boots on the ground field work, investigating the different organizations that participated and trafficked in such criminal activities. Such organizations would be thoroughly investigated and privately dealt with by the proper law enforcement agencies or occasionally by their own unique brand of justice.
The company's growth had been slow at first, but when they officially became responsible for the entire Wayne conglomerate, offers from other companies began pouring in. Dick would never admit it, but he found the business side very interesting and satisfying. The team continued their normal patrolling and hero functions, but the top three floors of the office complex in downtown Gotham unofficially became their new headquarters. Additional staff was hired due to the increased work load, but none were aware that the senior staff with their private secured offices on the top floor and their many unscheduled business trips, were actually the same costumed vigilantes that patrolled their home cities protecting their citizens. The top floor was so secure it even housed a Zeta Tube for easy transportation across the country for senior and junior members as well as Nightwing's personal residence.
So when the second annual staff Christmas party invites were sent out, it was common knowledge among the team that their presence was mandatory at this function. Artemis hated parties, but realized they were important to maintain their cover, and deep down she actually liked most of the civilian staff that worked there. Also after repeated and annoyed requests, it was also a chance to finally bring Doug Martin to her office and meet her coworkers. The same Doug Martin she had been dating for the past seven months.
Artemis and Doug had met during an Extreme Vacation Adventure Excursion. After they both realized they had been on three trips together in the same travel group, they recognized that their attraction and compatibility was undeniable. They were both young successful businesspersons with a secret life as adrenalin junkies. Doug was not aware how far that addiction actually went with Artemis. She could not tell him of her heroic alter ego without putting her other teammate's identities in jeopardy, but also never felt the need to. Their relationship was fun and exciting both understanding they were kindred spirits. She had not intended for it to become romantic, but that's usually how the best ones start. However due to her past and the last time she had let someone into her heart, she had no intention of it becoming too serious, at least for now.
The party was in full swing by the time they arrived. This job field could be a very stressful at times, so it was fun to see the staff with their hair down in a less professionally setting. They weren't the only ones having fun. Dick as always was the ringmaster. Handing out drinks and keeping the atmosphere fun. Conner usually the sullen one was all smiles this night, laughing and flirting with the attractive female staff that worked a few floors down. Kaldur stood dressed in a turtle neck and comfortable clothes to hide his Atlantean appearance. Megan played host mom, handing out appetizers and desserts she insisted on preparing herself. Roy sat to the side in deep conversation with what appeared to be his younger brother, which in reality was the clone he was spawned from. Their relationship had greatly improved, and older Roy was showing him the ropes on proper pick up techniques, since his ex-assassin wife at home would have his hide if the archer tried it himself. Having his blonde sister-n-law there also prevented him from getting too wild.
Artemis made small talk all the while keeping a tight grip on her boyfriend's hand.
Dick was the first of the senior staff she reluctantly introduced him to.
"Dick-Doug, Doug- Dick, can we go now?"
"Artemis!" Doug chided. "Excuse her, You know what a party animal she is I assume. Nice to meet you Dick."
"Same here. We've heard the stories, nice to finally put a face to them. So you guys met at the Mt. Everest trip right?"
"Yeah. At 16,000 feet she had to drag my sorry ass to the top."
"You were doing fine," she smiled.
"Artemis tells me you were the one to convince her to do the climb," Doug spoke. "Thanks I owe you. When did you make the ascent?"
"About a year ago, best of time of my life," Dick replied. "Listen I was about to grab some beers, come with me let me show you around."
Artemis immediately began to protest when Doug silenced her with a kiss. She had always been a sucker for that. "I'm fine babe. I might even see if I can get Wayne Tech to look at my firm's security status."
"I always love talking shop, come on," Dick smiled. "Artemis go try to have some fun, I know you're already looking at your watch."
"Whatever," she groaned. "Try not to keep him too long. We have plans after this."
Dick waved and the two men disappeared in the crowd. Artemis grabbed a drink off of one of the serving trays and did her best imitation of having fun, while keeping an eye out for someone she was not the least bit excited to see. She mingled into the kitchen making small talk when she finally saw him off in the corner. It was hard not to notice the two attractive redheads in the same room and she quickly glanced away from the forms of Wally West and Barbara Gordon laughing in fun conversation. Barbara immediately caught glimpse of the archer and called for her. Artemis clinched her teeth cursing quietly as she finally turned around realizing the persistence of the female caped crusader would eventually win.
She walked over and inwardly shivered at the site of her ex-boyfriend. Of course he had to look as hot as she remembered she mentally cursed. He might even have been a tad more muscular. They both were in their early twenties, well past any growth spurts, but she still thought he had grown an inch. Unfortunately his eyes were as green as she recalled and she avoided looking at them at all cost.
From his expression she deduced that he was possibly feeling the same about her, not that it mattered anymore.
"Barbara, Wally," she formally pronounced. "Merry Christmas."
Wally swallowed hard, "Uh..same to you. You look…uh great."
"Thanks," she answered curtly, not hinting at all the she felt much the same way. "Barbara I love that dress, where did you get it?"
Artemis was relieved that Barbara started a long diatribe about her mid-town shopping experience, of which the archer had no interest in whatsoever, but the ongoing conversation drowned any opportunity for her to have to address the speedster. Doug would be back soon enough and they could be on their way.
"God I am such a chatterbox, alcohol does this to me sorry. I'm going to grab some of Megan's crab cakes and let you two catch up," she grinned evilly.
"Barbara wait!" the archer protested, but sighed and realized she was trapped.
She turned to look at Wally's bemused expression. It had been almost two years since they last saw each other. Their break up had been as ugly as they both assumed it would be. To be fair the superhero life was absolute hell on relationships, that's why so few ever dated within their appointed teams, the most successful of course being Ollie and Dinah, but Wally and Artemis had become a close second, until Dick's plan had been put into place. After she returned from her time undercover, the speedster had assumed they would both go back to their old lives together, but too much had changed. Artemis realized she could not give up the life, and Wally tried his best to understand and be supportive, but deep down he was hurt and resentful. Long days apart at school would lead to long nights of him waiting at home for her to return from missions. She in turn felt the disappointment and disillusionment with him for wasting the gift he had worked hard to recreate. Artemis had always been in awe of his intelligence, but soon realized that science had become the girlfriend she could never be. Their schedules grew more and more apart until once day Wally finally called it off. There was no battle to remain together, just a shared animosity and the need for blame. Graduation came and the both barely spoke as they broke their lease and separated their belongings.
The last thing Wally said to her was cutting and cold despite its innocuous appearance. "We'll laugh about this someday."
She cried on and off for weeks, but soon dove headfirst into as many missions as possible to silence the pain. She and Dick never spoke of him, Nightwing knowing how painful and touchy the subject was, but eventually Artemis overheard Conner and Roy discussing the speedster's nomination by the Dean of Science at Stanford to the European Organization of Nuclear Research to join the team working on the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva in search of the long sought after God Particle; the essential building block of the universe. It was an incredibly high honor for such a young man, and for his friends who remembered him as the loudmouth reckless flirt that hid his genius behind the clowning facade, they couldn't have been more proud, Artemis included, though she would never admit it to anyone. It had always been a dream of his to be involved with something of this importance, and despite their mutual animosity, she was happy for him.
So the former lovers stood next to each other in the crowded kitchen, each desperately searching for something to say so they could civilly move on and get it over with. It would hopefully be another few years before they were faced with something like this again, or so she prayed.
As usual Wally was first. "Well that was awkward," he winced eyebrows furrowing.
"Yeah I guess," Artemis answered nonchalantly trying to deliver the hint that she would like to end this conversation as soon possible.
Wally tried to run through several different scenarios of pleasantries or small talk they could exchange, but soon realized abrupt and to the point was going to be the best approach.
"I recognize that look, so let me give you your freedom. It was nice seeing you and enjoy the party. I just want us to try to be as professional as possible; I'm not here to screw up your life."
Artemis just stared at the speedster, with a look equal part confusion and annoyance. "Ok?" she answered sarcastically. "Ditto."
She concluded and began walking off when Doug snuck up on her from behind and squeezed her tightly. She immediately recognized his touch and was not alarmed, just perhaps a bit uncomfortable with this happening in front of her ex. For someone she had spent so much of her life with, someone who in the past could almost finish her sentences, he was fairly unreadable at the moment.
"Didn't think you could hide so easily did you?" he grinned. Doug finished kissing the back of his girlfriend's neck and realized she had been in mid conversation and he was intruding. He quickly extended his hand to the redhead who firmly gripped it.
"Sorry for interrupting. Doug Martin," he announced and shook the speedsters hand enthusiastically.
"Wally West," the speedster returned.
"Oh wow, the Wally West. It's nice to finally meet you. Artemis has talked a lot about you."
Wally grimaced and both men broke into a mild chuckle. "I bet she has, don't believe everything Doug. King of the assholes is just a title; I never actually go to rule over anybody."
It was a good natured conversation and both men were amicable. Artemis's stomach churned as the two made brief but pleasant small talk until once again Wally beat her to the punch.
"I think I've taken enough of your time. Artemis it was good seeing you and Doug it was nice meeting you. You guys have fun."
With a final handshake, he was off to find his old teammates and mingle, but not before turning back around at the couple, "Artemis I like him, he's a keeper."
Years of heroics under pressure had trained Artemis never to reveal her emotions under fire, but at the moment she had to wonder if she was wearing a shell-shocked expression or not. The archer quickly composed herself just to be safe and led Doug in the opposite direction. Her blood pressure shot up into the deadly range trying to figure out if Wally was being nice or snide. Their time apart had really made him indecipherable and that troubled her for some reason. It really felt like he really was a stranger now.
The party continued on for a few more hours until finally wrapping up just short of midnight. Everyone gathered around as Dick strode into the middle of the crowd preparing for a brief announcement.
"Guys we had a great year and I really want to thank each and every one of you for your hard work and dedication. We started out as a small firm, a pet project of Wayne Enterprises. We're not the biggest, we're not the best. Not yet at least, but if we continue this growth, companies are going to be knocking down our door for our services, and you guys are the reasons why. When you get home, check your banking, I think you all will be pleasantly surprised. Merry Christmas."
Everyone erupted into a hearty round of applause realizing they may have just received the rumored bonus they'd hoped for. Later on they would discover it to be more generous than they could have dreamed.
"Bruce and I thank you guys, enjoy your time off and of course have a safe holiday. Skelton crews begin tomorrow. Now get out of here before I put you to work," he laughed and the crowd smiled and said their goodbyes.
Before the partygoers could disperse, Dick quickly made one last statement. "Oh wait before I forget I need to introduce our latest hire. He looked over at the man and smiled sheepishly. "I know you hate this, that's why I enjoy it so much."
"Guys this man comes highly recommended. His resume would take hours to go through and most of us wouldn't understand half of it. Suffice it to say he knows his stuff, and anytime your office needs cleaning or a toilet needs plunged, this is your guy."
Artemis felt bile form in her throat.
"Ok. I'm done embarrassing him. In all seriousness, we are really lucky to have him. I know he will fit in great and his work with numbers theory and algorithms is going to blow your minds. He's really going to take us to the next level. Guys please welcome our chief scientific advisor and my best friend…. Wally West."
Everyone gave a quick raising of their glasses and Wally retuned in kind. He finished his champagne and accidently caught sight of the blond archer as she fumed back at him. He let out a noticeable sigh that she could easily observe from across the room and turned away.
Artemis grabbed her coat and her boyfriend and made her way to the exit where Dick and Megan were saying their goodbyes.
She stormed past him, before briefly stopping and putting her face almost nose to nose with his.
"You're a prick you know that." she spoke in a quiet but angry tone. She stomped out leaving Doug yelling a quick nice to meet you as she slammed the elevator button waiting for a car.
Wally slowly made his way up to his best friend as the last of the crown shuffled out.
"Well that went well. You didn't tell her did you?" he deadpanned.
"I tried; there was just no way to tell her without risking a black eye. She was mad enough that you were just going to be here. Besides if she'd had known we'd have missed out on one of the best stormout artists in the business. There was no good way to tell her I was hiring her ex? What was I supposed to do?"
"I don't know; maybe ease into it a bit more before dropping Fat Man and Little Boy on her."
Dick just stared at him.
"You know the atomic bombs we dropped on Japan?"
"Yep we hired the right guy, Nightwing smiled, "Brilliant, but geeky."
"I hope you know what you're doing." Wally lamented.
"Wally I wasn't kidding with what I said back there. We are lucky to have you. This is not some charity case; this is a steal for us, a homerun without ever going to the batter's box. She'll come around, just give her time."
Wally sighed, silently doubting anything Dick said was true.