The first time he saw her room was one night after the failed exercise. Every night was a sleepless one for the entire team. Every night was spent blinking and breathing and trying to piece together the events of a few nights before, each lung gasping for oxygen to fill it and remind its body that it was still alive, still going through each day as if that horrid exercise had never happened, never ripped their minds apart and made them near crazy.
Her curtains swayed whenever the wind hit it. It was nippy for mid-October, and it was raining, oddly enough, and harsh thunder and lightning lit up the otherwise dark room. Her lamp was on, though. The one beside her bed was already flickering yellow, signaling the need to change the light bulb. The blanket covering her legs wasn't doing enough for her. She tossed and she turned, trying to find a comfortable position, but every way she tried to sleep made reminded her of how she looked lying asleep: like a corpse, slowly rotting into dust that would one day rejoin the air. She was taught from an early age that fear was something to be ashamed of, something real mercenaries cannot live with, something that holds you back and gets you dead. Hah. That really proved true a few days ago. Her days spent training endlessly, her cuts and bruises and scars and dead on impact killings did nothing to save her from that zeta beam. It did nothing to keep the team safe. It did nothing to keep the planet safe. What kind of supposedly amazing super archer dies before firing that last shot- that last shot that could've saved everyone and the planet and her friends and the people she cared about? Why is she even so caught up in this mess, so affected by this simple exercise, designed to fail and make them see that they can't always win the battle?
She heard a knock on the door and considered pretending she to be asleep, pretending everything was okay even if whoever was outside probably knew that no one was asleep. Assuming she knew them well enough, M'gann was probably baking until she couldn't find ingredients or containers and plates to put her food; Kaldur would probably be sitting on the beach, feeling the sand between his webbed toes and contemplating how he handled the situation, as he always does after failed missions; Conner would probably be training his new pet Wolff with his Sphere down where they keep the Bioship; Robin was probably making some new additions to his utility belt, something that would've saved them if he had them on hand in that failed exercise; and Wally was where Wally always is: the kitchen. Taking that into consideration, Artemis had absolutely no idea who was outside, but whoever was knocked again and again. She tried to say "come in," but her throat was dry and her lungs tired and she had not nearly enough energy to speak. Whoever was there decided the quiet meant enter, as did the smell of burnt chocolate and Wally West. He seemed more awkward than usual in his Flash Pajamas (undoubtably a gift from his uncle) and an old t-shit stained with grease, probably from some old experiment he did.
"M'gann made cookies and I figured you haven't eaten in a while so... I brought some milk too." He wasn't paying much attention though. He was looking around. She could tell this was his first time in her room, let alone a girl's room. It was barely any different from Wally's except maybe a bit neater. It also had four white walls, a full-sized bed, a bedside table and a lamp, a desk with a wooden chair that hurts your butt if you sit too long, and a bookshelf. The shelf was full of books on different styles of fighting, on archery, the history of bows and arrows and their styles, Vietnam tour guides, history and dictionaries and on psychology. That last one must have surprised Wally because it made him laugh a litte, something so distant that it made her scoff.
Then his eyes set on her. She was looking down, curled into a ball, arms around her legs covered in grey yoga pants, hair free from it's usual tie and falling over her shoulder in a tangled mess. She felt self-conscious, fiddling with her toes each other under the blanket, embarrassed that he caught her in such an open, vulnerable state. She turned away.
"You okay?" He asked, but he already knew the answer- everybody did. None of them were okay or fine or alright or, as Robin would say, traught. They were the epitomes of distraught, not okay, not alright, not fine, just a mess bottled up into teenaged superheroes.
"Me neither," he replied to her silence. It was uncalled for though. His footsteps rang closer to her ears, implying he was getting closer, so she glanced up. He seemed tired, under eyes dark and eyes watery like he was about to yawn or maybe about to cry. She didn't want to ask. She figured she didn't know him well enough to ask about something that personal. But, because she was Artemis and he was Wally, she did anyway.
"What gives, Baywatch? Not as tough as you say you are, are you?"
His jaw tightened for a second and he looked hurt. She felt bad, really, but that wasn't how they worked. They berated each other and argued until they were frustrated, but contentedly so. They were brutally honest and both straight to the point, not beating around the bush, and saying what nobody else had the courage to say. So that's what he did.
"I'm not sure about the rest entirely, but I don't think any of us realized how much we need you on this team until we lost you back there." He held his neck and shrugged. She looked away, unable to bear seeing his face look like that. She tried to pretend that she wasn't talking to the same Kid Flash that blew up her hair dryer in his latest failed experiment or the same Kid Flash that can eat ten hamburgers in a sitting or the same Kid Flash that always fights with her. He's just another person in the room who happened to have met her before, just another person who knew her name and knew nothing of her history or of her, just another person who doesn't care about her.
"Just leave. I've caused enough mental damage for a lifetime and if you don't leave soon I'm gonna cause some physical damage too." A clank said he put down the plate and glass he was carrying. He was standing beside her, and she felt her bottom lip quiver, but she still refused to give him the satisfaction of knowing his words touched her heart.
"That's fine. I'll live. Cuz I'm not leaving. Look, I get if you think you ruined everything, but I'm just trying to get it into that stubborn head of yours that everybody in this cave would willingly give their life for you and would be heartbroken if you died and would have done anything to get revenge if you really had died. Any of us would have done it and we tried, believe us. But no, you still think you're alone and if you keep doing shit like this you will be..."
This wasn't happening. This wasn't happening. The words felt like lies, words that couldn't be true in a million years. She grew up with the idea that selfishness and self preservation were on in the same, that to be alive was meaning to put yourself first in whatever you do. That's how Jade lived and how she'd reason punching her sister in the solar plexus and throwing sais at her and letting her baby sister take the punishment from her father when she couldn't dodge the knives fast enough.
"...like you don't care that you actually have people who'd do these kinds of things for you! God, how..."
"I don't wanna be alone," she whispered, barely audible to even herself, but Wally must've been looking at her and saw her lips move because he stopped talking and asked what she said. She bit her lip, but he didn't get the message that she didn't want to talk about it. She had been alone for four years, a mother lost to prison, a sister who abandoned her to be what they agreed to never become, and a father determined to mercilessly abuse his children and form them into the next great assassins. Then she wasn't alone. She had Green Arrow, the new-found team and her now-home mother. And then this happened and she was reminded of how bad things happen when she cares about people and why she remained so isolated all of these years. She's this magnet, drawing pain to everybody she surrounds herself with, making it stick to them and not to her. And if it quite frankly came down to it, she'd rather be in pain than have any of these people she cares about be in pain. In isolation is how good warriors live. That's what they have to. She's done it before and she can easily do it again. She can be alone again if she must.
He sighed in desperation. "I don't know what to say anymore, Artemis."
"Then don't say anything. Just... go." And he did and she was left to wallow in her choices and what she did in that exercise. She's left to feel things she had once suppressed and she let herself cry for the first time since she was nine and Jade jumped out that window and never looked back and came back for her.
He sat outside her door, just listening to her sobbing until eventually, her bawling turned into sniffling and into deep, consistent breathing; he knew she was finally asleep, and so he slept too for the first time since lying on that cold metal bed on October 16.