Artemis awoke alone in her bed. She wasn't surprised by the speedster's absence, but was still disappointed none the less. Their night had been so meaningful, so special, but still wrought with strong conflicting emotions. He needed time and she accepted that, but the archer would have preferred them sit and talk it through instead of him disappearing into the sunrise.
She stared at the ceiling lost in her thoughts. Her mind drifted to Falcone and the look of terror she saw on his face as she prepared to kill him. He deserved to die, that fact she'd never dispute, but not at her hands, not anymore.
She would always have a dark side, a part of her that thirsted for vengeance at any cost. She'd spent her formative years training alongside her sister to be a deadly amoral tool, used by her parents to carry out unspeakable actions against persons both good and bad. Artemis's life may have remained on that path had her mother not suffered her crippling injury and subsequent incarceration. Paula Crock's time in prison had provided the assassin with an epiphany of sorts, and once she was released, her mother set about trying to undo the damage and brainwashing her husband had inflicted on their daughters during her time away.
Fortunately for the woman codenamed Huntress, her youngest daughter had also had a moment of clarity during her mother's absence. Her older sister had abandoned her and the father she tried so hard to please had become more abusive, more bitter as the family around him fell apart. She realized more and more each day that the only person she could ever truly count on would be herself.
Despite Lawrence Crock's frequent absences, Artemis was still required to go to school and train, she was too disciplined not to, but at night with the glow of the television as her only companion, her only source of warmth in the cold lonely apartment, the archer would watch on the news the very heroes she was taught to despise. She would observe them risk their lives and ask nothing in return. That intrigued her. Sometimes at night she would sneak through the streets of Gotham just to catch a glimpse of those individuals in action, at times even providing some heroics of her own. She was careful not to be seen, but very few people escaped the sight of the Dark Knight.
Soon Artemis was provided a new path, but one she had begun miles before Batman ever approached her or Paula Crock. The archer had tripped and stumbled along that path as everyone does, but it wasn't until her boyfriend's death that she truly lost her way. Through a series of impossible circumstances and unbelievable miracles, that same path had now appeared before her once again and she had no plans of deviating from it.
The voice inside her mind was silent, her thirst for killing satiated. Tigress would always be a part of her, and in a strange way she was grateful for that, but she would never let the mask take control of life again. That was a vow she made hours ago wrapped in the arms of a man who had died almost two years prior, the same man she longed to see again soon.
Artemis rose from her bed, wrapping her naked body in the comforter and made her way to the den. She sat on the couch curious to see if any of the local news channels had begun reporting on the recently discovered documents outlining the operations of Northeast's biggest crime boss. She pushed the power button several times before remembering the utilities had been shut off days ago.
"Hello Megan," she slapped her head stealing her earth sister's catchphrase.
Artemis sighed and walked to the door, preparing to borrow the newspaper from her annoying neighbor that she rarely spoke to. This would be the day she'd run into her, hair matted down, barely dressed, newspaper that clearly didn't belong to her in hand.
She opened the front door and rushed out to commit her crime in broad daylight when she barreled right into the speedster, knocking him down the stairs, coffee and cakes spilling all over his chest from the cartons and bags he was carrying seconds before.
"Wally!" she screamed, running down the steps to check on the prone redhead covered in her surprise breakfast.
"Aw man….." he looked down and at his stained clothes and lost treats. "That was the last 20 bucks," he whined.
Wally just sighed and rested his head on the concrete sidewalk. Artemis knelt down and slid her hand carefully under the back of his head to provide some cushion from the cold unyielding surface. They both just stared at each other, before breaking into laughter.
"Nice outfit," he smiled, wiping the beverage from his eyes.
"Really?" she laughed, throwing her head back dramatically, "This old thing, it's just something I threw on."
He chuckled and she leaned down and stroked his cheek.
"So um, did you like Lattes or Frappuccino's? For some strange reason I couldn't remember," he grinned
She smiled and rested her head on his chest happily.
"You're such a dork."
Wally eyed a large deposit of whipped cream on his shirt that had not hit the ground yet. He scooped his finger through it preparing to enjoy at least some remnant of the lost breakfast before looking into her wanting eyes. He sighed and brought it to the blonde's lips who proceeded to lick the cream off with satisfaction.
"You owe me?" he slyly grinned.
"I think after last night I'm the one that's owed something." she retorted.
"Ouch," Wally lovingly smiled and gently caressed her temple. She closed her eyes melting into his touch, then opened them again with a slightly troubled expression and whispered sadly, "I thought you'd left me."
"From you? Not a chance," Wally kindly replied. "I'm done doing that," and brought her head down and kissed her. Joggers from all directions began to appear on the streets, running past the two, eyeing the odd sight before them, but neither of them cared.
Artemis ended the kiss and helped the speedster to his feet while keeping the blanket wrapped around her bare body.
"Let's go in, we look ridiculous."
"You look ridiculous, I look delicious."
He prepared for her snappy comeback when she only smiled. "Yeah you kinda do."
She took his hand and they went back inside the apartment, leaving a trail of chocolate and pound cake decorating the sidewalk.
Not long after, they walked the streets, hand in hand, randomly stopping at any street vendor they passed to feed the speedster's insatiable hunger. Wally moaned in gratitude every time, while Artemis just shook her head and smiled in mock annoyance. They roamed for hours with no destination in sight, just two normal people on a normal day, the violence of the last 24 hours far behind them while the promise of a bright future shined directly ahead.
"I'm gonna have to go home soon," Wally said regrettably.
"I know," she replied sadly.
Artemis hesitated before she spoke again. "Will ...will you come back?"
Wally looked at her with troubled eyes, "Of course I will. What kind of question is that?"
"How soon?" she asked.
"How soon do you want me?" he replied.
"How about yesterday," she smiled.
They continued their walk through the shops and cafes that decorated the streets of West Gotham. Artemis had lived in this part of town for over a year, but had never really taken the time to explore the unique shops and cafes this quiet part of town had to offer. She felt so free, so content for the first time in as long as she could remember.
Artemis paused their trek for a moment and pulled Wally aside.
"I can't take back what happened on the island Wally. I want to blame it on someone else so badly, but that would be a lie. Tigress is a just a part of me, but she doesn't control me. I lost myself under the mask, but deep down I knew what I was doing. I knew it was wrong, but… I just couldn't stop."
"But you did Artemis," Wally encouraged, "You did stop. You could have killed Falcone, you could have killed me too for that matter, but you didn't. That's important to remember. Your dad was right, you can't change who you are, you can get lost from time to time, but eventually you find your way back, at least the good ones do, good ones like you."
There were few people she could talk to without fear of judgment or ridicule. She'd done horrible things in her life, sometimes being as cruel as the people she sought out, but there was always one person who could look past all that, someone who refused to see the persona she projected but instead the person within. It broke her heart to think about what she'd done to him.
"I hurt you Wally. How in the hell could I have done that? I never dreamed, never even allowed myself to dream that a day like this would ever happen, that somehow you'd come back, and then I did this to you," she spoke resting her hands on his chest. "I'll never forgive myself for it."
Wally sighed and squeezed her hand. "I know exactly how you feel Artemis. You just want...you just need to blame it on someone, someone that you can hate and separate yourself from. Sometimes you do it just so can breathe, but in the end you can't escape the choices you make no matter how much you want to, you just have to try and live with them and do your best to move on, like rushing head first into situation without thinking it through, or leaving someone behind and never ...never saying goodbye. No matter how much I hate it, it was me that did that, not him, not some other guy I don't remember, I did it."
Artemis choked up, "I lost you once, and when I had you back….."
She stared to the ground; unable to look him in the eye, unable to finish her thoughts, but a gentle finger brought her eyes back to his.
"Yeah, but I hurt you first."
Wally took her hand and led her to a park bench under one of the shaded trees of Gotham Central. They sat down and the speedster placed his arm around her shoulder and drew her into him.
He looked into her steel blue eyes, "Artemis, I don't want this…," he lifted their hands entwined, "I don't want us to be over."
"I don't either Wally."
"I know we can't go back to where we left off, but we could...you know...maybe start over?"
Artemis considered his words before sharing her own. "Wally, I always find reasons to run away, I constantly look for the flaws and negatives in every situation, why things will fail or won't work..."
The speedster's heart started to sink.
"...I don't want to be that person anymore."
Wally sighed in relief, "I thought you were going to say you didn't want to see me anymore."
"God no!" she replied.
He kissed the side of her head and she rested it on his shoulder as they both watched children playing across the way, enjoying one of the nicest days Gotham had seen in weeks.
"I'm never going to be the guy you remember, I wish to god I was, but I'm not. I won't lie; this is a crazy ass life to come back to. Superheroes, secret identities, costumes, super-speed. It's really unbelievable if you stop and think about it for a second."
Wally turned and took her hand, "But Artemis somehow I got a second chance; I don't want to waste it. You know last night when you said I was afraid of being alone…,"
"Wally I said a lot of things I didn't mean..."
"No it's ok, really, it's just... I'm not afraid of being alone, I'm ...just afraid of being without you. There's got to be a reason I found you, I hope you'll give us a chance to find out what it is."
Artemis pulled him to her and kissed him.
"I think I might consider it," she smiled, running her finger through his untamed hair, "and for the record babe, you are exactly the guy I remember. How about instead of worrying about what you've lost, why don't we start making you some new memories right here - right now. Together."
Wally grinned. "I'd like that. How do we start?"
"Like this," she stood and straddled his lap, wrapping her arms around him, tilting her head to the side back and forth smiling until she found the perfect spot and went in for the kiss. His hands reached up and untied her hair band, letting her long blond mane free.
Her hands made it up to his face and she held it tight, peppering him with kisses, loving every second of his lips, his tongue...him. In her mind the memory of their last kiss under the Eifel Tower slowly faded away. This was their last kiss, right now. Soon another location would takes its place, then another, and then another.
There will always be a world to save, but for now that would be someone else's job, she was busy.
She kissed his nose and rested her head under his chin. "Ok, so here are some ground rules. First I'm always right. Second if you're ever confused about something see rule one."
"Now wait a second," he pleaded
"No, and don't interrupt me," she smiled "I'm on a roll. Third rule….."
His lips found hers again, immediately silencing her rant. Minutes later they stopped for a breath.
"No fair. You made me lose my train if thought." she whined.
"Good, now let's take this opportunity for a short break and go find something to eat. I'm starving."
"Fine," she huffed, "but I can't afford to feed you forever, thanks to you I'm out of a job."
"A fact I am most proud of," he beamed.
"Yeah yeah." she chided "Let's see if we can find some place that's still serving breakfast, I'm craving waffles."
"I like the way you think," he chuckled.
The two left the bench, hands entwined and made their way across the park towards 12th Ave. and breakfast.
"It's not going to be easy Wally, you and me."
"Anything worth having never is, but I'm game if you are. You ready?"
"Born that way," she smiled squeezing his hand
The message on her phone shocked Zatanna, even more so when she saw Barbara Gordon waiting outside the Pier I Cafe. The two heroes had made peace long ago, both realizing they'd been used as toys by a broken man, lied to and deceived from the moment Nightwing asked for the glamour charm. Despite the overall success of the mission, they still held strong resentment for the brunette they once loved so dearly and perhaps a tiny bit towards the other still, but they were still sisters, members of a unique sorority of women that few would ever understand unless you were one of them. Both women were still part time Leaguers, but rarely worked alongside the other anymore.
"Zee!" Barbara smiled, taking her friend into her arms, "It's great to see you," she said earnestly. "Were you as surprised as I was to get this call?"
"Yeah, you could say that," Zatanna shrugged. "She returns about one out of every five or six messages I leave if I'm lucky."
"I haven't spoken to Artemis in months," Barbara lamented. "I'm a shitty friend."
"No you're not," Zee replied taking the red heads hands. "It takes two; you can only do so much. Her calling us is big step, let's enjoy it and hope she ready to come out of her shell."
"Good idea," Barbara smiled.
Zatanna continued. "I tried to get a hold of Megan and see if she got a call too, but I couldn't reach her on her cell or at the Watchtower, which is pretty weird considering she usually answers before the first ring, you know how much Megs loves to talk."
"Yeah I know," Batgirl sighed in mental exhaustion, remembering painfully slow nights on monitor duty when their green skinned teammate and her unique Martian sleep cycle would call and lock Barbara in conversations for hours.
"You know speaking of the League, there's some weird buzz going around on the com channels lately. I can't get a straight answer from Bruce, but he cancelled three shifts of mine over the last few weeks for monitor duty saying he'd cover them. He hates monitor duty."
"That is really strange," Zee replied
"Tell me about it, "Barbara added.
They continued their small talk until a familiar voice broke through the sea of outdoor patrons.
"Well look at you two," Artemis grinned, "I was wondering if you guys would show, after the stellar friend I've been and all."
The brunette and redhead wrapped their long lost friend in a loving embrace.
"I've missed you guys," the archer said sincerely.
"Us to, I can't believe you called."
"Yeah I should have done it a long time ago, I'm really sorry," Artemis replied.
"Life gets in the way sometimes honey, we're just glad you did," Zee answered.
"I've got a table in the corner and a bottle of Sangria on ice. Let's go sit down and catch up."
The three women made their way through the crowded open air cafe. The restaurant was packed with college students and young working professionals, exactly the kind of place Zatanna loved with its oceans of available men to spend the evening flirting with. She would try to restrain herself tonight, but when the three girls would get together in the past, trouble usually followed, the good kind.
The table Artemis picked, had the best scenic view of the Gotham River of the entire café, complete with a gorgeous sunset burning across the water.
Sangria flowed freely as the Barbara and Zatanna shared stories of the magician's U.S. Tour, Barbara's new job with the Library of Congress, friends and family, horrible blind dates, petty gossip amongst the League, but most importantly there was laughter and love, a chance to spend time and share with a friend they'd thought they'd lost.
"So did you hear they caught Carmine Falcone trying to cross the Canadian border? With all the stuff they have on him now, that may have been his last bit of daylight for a long time," Barbara suspiciously announced.
"You wouldn't know anything about that now would you?" Zee mischievously smiled.
Artemis shot them a silent sly grin and they both immediately knew.
Zee crocked an eyebrow. "There's something different about you?"
"Well I'm unemployed," Artemis shrugged.
"Good," Barbara replied perhaps a tad too enthusiastically, but Artemis knew she meant well. The archer's career of choice had been a major point of contention amongst her friends, and Zee and Barbara were more than glad to hear she was out of the game, no matter how long it lasted.
"No, that's not it. It's something else."
The blonde's eyebrow rose suspiciously.
A huge grinned stretched across the magician's face. "You've met someone. You're seeing someone aren't you?" she asked excitedly.
"Why do you say that?" Artemis questioned, but the corners of her mouth twisted ever so slightly and her oldest friend picked up on it immediately.
"Oh my god, you're sleeping with him!"
"Zee!" Barbara exclaimed in defense of her silent friend.
"She not denying it," the magician hurriedly added.
Barbara shook her head. "Artemis ignore her, you know how horny she gets when she's out on the road."
"You two have not changed a bit, I've missed this…I've missed you." Artemis smiled lovingly at her friends.
"Oh honey we've missed you too," Zee replied, misting up slightly.
"Artemis that's great news, we're so happy for you." Barbara smiled
"So what's he like? Blonde or brunette, Is he good in bed, god I bet he is knowing you, When can we meet him?" Zatanna rattled off, not giving the archer a chance to answer.
"Slow down Zee. Actually…I was thinking about having a party, yeah I know I'm not exactly the party type, but it's been a long time since I saw everyone, and since most of you guys have never been over to my place I thought it would be a good excuse to have everyone over, and…you know…meet him."
"That is a fantastic idea!" Zatanna exclaimed, practically squealing with delight. "Let me help you plan it. I love parties."
"Count me in too," Barbara volunteered. "Everyone's missed you so much, let's make it night to remember."
"Oh I think it will be," Artemis chuckled and tilted her glass.
Barbara reached for the bottle discovering it was empty. "Wow that went quick."
"I know?" Artemis quizzically replied. "I sent a guy to get another one a while back; I wonder what's taking so long?"
The buzz in the crowd died down momentarily, giving the three a chance to talk without yelling for a change, and Zatanna took the opportunity to be serious for a moment.
"Honey, I'm really glad you're seeing someone. It's time. You've got too much love to keep locked inside. I haven't seen you smile like this…in a really long time. He's got to be special."
Barbara added. "Wally would want you to be happy."
"Wally would what now?" the tall red head asked, depositing the new bottle on the table, pulling up a chair to join the trio.
"I'm sorry that took so long babe, the lines here are ridiculous. Here's your change, I swear I'm going to find a job soon."
He turned to the two open mouthed women. "Oh, Sorry, Hi. I'm Wally."
The detective and the magician just stared at the new arrival with earthquake caliber confusion. They looked over at Artemis and she nodded with eyebrows raised.
"Sorry I didn't mean to interrupt you gu….whoa!" the speedster cried as the two women knocked him from his chair, grabbing hold of him for dear life. Zee covered him with kisses while Barbara squeezed the air right out of him. Wally looked up desperately to Artemis for help, but she just smiled at him along with the patrons who all stared at the disturbance, pouring herself another glass and enjoying the show.
By the time the party arrived, news of Wally's return had already spread like wildfire. Artemis had spent great lengths explaining to the speedster who everyone was and his personal connection to them. Between their many talks and his journal, he had a pretty good idea of who they were and what they meant to him.
The small gathering took place outside on Artemis's courtyard, decorated with Christmas lights and scented Tiki lamps, whose aroma blended perfectly with the exotic flowers she grew there.
Conner was first. Wally was prepared to meet the cold distant man he'd described in his diary, but was nowhere near prepared when the junior man of steel lifted him effortlessly in the air and hugged him harder than he'd ever been before. Artemis's eyes grew wide and ran over and helped Wally down, but Conner's emotion and excitement never waned throughout the night. He'd never forgotten the man who'd helped free him from Cadmus, and he spent the evening reminding Wally of that and the times they shared. He considered Wally a brother, and by night's end Wally felt the same.
Kaldur was quiet, solemn. He stretched his webbed hand out and shook Wally's before embracing him. A small tear rolled down his noble features, thankful to the gods who had granted this miracle. They'd grown up together, four young headstrong teens, ready to form their own identities, away from the shadows of their mentors. The two had been together from the beginning, and a part of Aqualad died when Wally wasn't present for the end. Kaldur denied the part of himself that longed for his love to return like the archer's had, but was eternally grateful that she had been granted a wish she never thought she'd deserved.
Roy came in like a hurricane and immediately began bitching alternately between Megan, Dick and Artemis for keeping the speedster's arrival a secret before his wife calmed him down and sat him in the corner of the courtyard to hold his child, the only thing that could instantly soothe him and bring him back to earth.
"He's like that," Jade shrugged patting Wally's face before securing the only bottle of Vietnamese wine that Artemis had purchased. "He'll come around in while, he just has anger management and communication issues, sound like anyone you know?" she grinned and walked away to join her husband sitting away from the crowd as his daughter peacefully slept. Wally looked over at him uncomfortably, and the two fiery redheads locked eyes for a moment as Roy finally raised his beer saluting Wally, welcoming the speedster back in his own unique screwed up way.
Wally's face contorted sourly as Dick came up bringing him a beer.
"He's kind of a prick isn't he?" Wally mumbled which immediately cracked up his best friend.
"You have no idea, but give him time; he'll start to grow on you after a while, like a fungus."
Wally stood watching the festivities, every few minutes catching glances from the beautiful blonde, who never strayed far from his line of sight.
Megan walked up and hugged the speedster. "Great party." she grinned.
"Megan!" Wally enthusiastically replied, thankful to see a familiar face. "I was hoping you'd come. I really wanted to thank you for how nice you were on the…" he paused and pointed upward, looking to the stars.
"Wally, everyone knows what it is, relax your among friends."
He nodded taking a sip of his beer. "So um…it was you who went inside my head huh, found out I was…you know… real."
"Wally you're very real, you didn't need a telepath to figure that out, I'm just sorry I couldn't help get your memories back."
"It's ok, but I do remember one thing though; I think you're supposed to be a little greener right?"
Megan blushed. "Did you really remember that or did Artemis tell you?"
"A little from column A, a little from column B," he smiled as an emerald hue began dancing across her body until it formed her unique shade.
"Cool!" Wally said impressed.
Dick brought over three plates of food and proceeded to hand them to the speedster.
"Dude! Thanks. I didn't want everyone thinking I was a pig."
"Don't sweat it, everyone remembers your eating habits, trust me it's nothing compared to what Bart shovels in."
"Is he um…coming?" Wally asked.
"No, Dick said sadly."Conner said he isn't. He'll come around when he's ready."
Wally shook his head. "It's like he thinks I'm mad at him or something. I don't even really know him, but he's family. I'd like to if he'd give me the chance."
"He will Wally. Just give it some time. You speedsters always have so much trouble with that concept."
Wally chuckled before tuning serious for a moment. "Hey listen can I talk to you for a minute?" he asked looking for an unoccupied place for some privacy.
"Yeah sure," Dick answered and the two walked out the gate toward the back parking lot.
"What's on your mind?" Grayson asked.
"You know I've been taking Wally West 101 courses for the last couple of days, you know trying to fit all the stories and players back in my mind. Anyway I just wanted to say I'm sorry."
"Sorry for what Dick?" asked confused
"For not believing in you, for not supporting you. Barry and Artemis told me all about the Reach and everything you had to do. Didn't sound like I was much of a best friend during all that."
"Wally you don't have too….."
"No Dick I do. Evidently I've done some pretty stupid things in my life, but going against your best friend when he needs you the most, that's kind of at the top of the list."
Dick remained silent, unsure of what to say.
"You and I have been friends since we were kids right? I should never have done that to you. I don't' know anything about what it's like to be a hero, but I know what it's like to be lost. You needed someone in your corner, and it should have been me. That what best friends do."
"Best friends forgive too Wally."
"Dick I got a second chance to come back and try to make things right. It started with her, it ends with you. It doesn't matter if I remember or not, I'm lucky, lucky to have a friend like you."
He took at the stunned detective and wrapped him in his arms.
Megan stood at the kitchen window cleaning her plate when she caught sight of the two men embraced.
"Artemis" she called out in a low tone not to alert the other guests.
The archer joined her friend at the sink, as the Martian nodded her head towards the kitchen window. The Martian and the archer smiled at the sight of two men who personified what best friends should be, finally getting the proper closure that should have taken place almost two years earlier.
The two held on tight before Wally started to laugh. "Too long?" he asked referring to the hug.
"Too long," Dick agreed and they broke apart laughing.
"Thanks Wally, I needed that."
"Anytime, that what best pals are for, or so they tell me."
Off in the distance a cough cleared a throat.
They turned to see Barbara Gordon and Zatanna Zatara standing at the gate, staring at the two men.
Dick expression grew uncomfortable, until the speedster laid an assuring hand on his friends shoulder.
Wally stepped forward hugging the two women and kissing them of their cheeks before heading back to the party. He turned and spoke to the three. "Everyone deserves a second chance every once in a while don't you think? You know…to fix the mistakes they've made. I'm not going to waste mine. Life's too short, trust me on that. See you guys inside." he spoke before walking back to the courtyard, closing the gate to the privacy fence to give them just that.
Wally stood inside the gate with a look of silent satisfaction on his face when a warm voice approached him from behind.
"Hey stranger, You ok?" Artemis asked.
Wally nodded his head. "Yeah…. I really am. Thanks for doing this."
"Thanks for coming," she smiled.
He reached over and cupped her face. "Can you stay with me the rest of the night. It's been great meeting all these people again, but I could really use a dose of you for a while, a heavy one."
She was ready to make a joke, some teasing remark, but she saw the sincerity in his eyes, the need.
"I'm not going anywhere."
"Good," he smiled and leaned in to kiss her, "Me either."
The rest of the night the sat together, hands and fingers locked, sharing the same air, hearts beating as one. Stories were told and laughs were shared. Not as teammates or costumed heroes, but just friends and family. The way it should be. For being with a group of relative strangers, Wally felt right at home
Wally rubbed his eyes as he looked over the mountains of paperwork laid out in front of him. The last few weeks of commuting between to Gotham and Keystone had begun to wear on him. All things considered his parents had been very tolerant of his constant visits to the archer and the occasional sleepovers that ensued, but they preferred him home, safe under their constant watch.
After weeks of restlessness, Barry and Iris had finally convinced the West's it was time to ease up and consider allowing Wally to go back to school, minus the yellow and red spandex of course. They were not keen to the idea by any stretch, but he was 23 years old and despite his absence, he did deserve a life of his own, just as long as he kept his parents a big part of it.
Speed was not his friend at the moment. Every I needed to be dotted; every T crossed. Even with his incredible gifts, this had to be a slow process, a mind numbingly painful process. Considering the generosity that was being shown to him by one of Gotham's largest benefactors, he couldn't afford to be sloppy.
Wallace R. West was the latest recipient of the Thomas and Martha Wayne Foundation Scholarship Fund, awarded to young brilliant students who had overcome great adversity, looking only to use their gifts to make a true impact on the world one day. The scholarship was awarded to only the best and brightest, and Bruce Wayne interviewed all nominees personally. It just so happened that Wally's had taken place inside a dark cavernous base deep underneath Wayne Manor without him even knowing it.
Stanford was not amused by Wally's deceitful withdrawal from their university, and was not particularly accommodating in changing his status from deceased to dropped out. It was not uncommon for the pressures of college, especially in Wally's field of study, to cause crushing stress and rash decisions, but faking one's death to avoid the semester finals was one rarely seen, especially when they came back asking for their credits. The university begrudgingly granted the speedster's request after a convincing if not mildly threatening letter was received, sent by one of their largest donors on the west coast, a one Oliver Queen.
Still once the paperwork snafu at Stanford was corrected and his status updated, Wally had still lost all the scholarships he had worked so hard on his senior year at Keystone, college grants makers not being very forgiving to deceitful students.
According to the minutes of the last Wayne Foundation board meeting, Mr. Wayne believed he saw promise in the young man despite his poor judgment in the past, and in Wayne's eyes deemed him worthy of a second chance. No one would ever know that decision was made from behind a latex and Kevlar mask on board a space station weeks ago, as a frightened young man labored through test after test just to prove his existence. No one deserved an award like this more than Wally West.
Reacquainting the speedster with all the knowledge he'd lost was a relatively easy task, Wally's mind absorbed facts, formulas, and theories like a sponge. It would only take a few months for him to catch up to the education level he had inadvertently left behind.
For once he was slightly glad for the loss of his memories, had he remembered what this was like the first time, he questioned himself if he would have actually put himself through this twice. The paperwork involved in officially requesting these grants as well as the admission process was wearing on the weary speedster.
One of the stipulations of the Wayne grant was to attend one of New York's oldest and most prestigious schools. Gotham University had given rise to many of the nation's most brilliant minds and thinkers, and that was what the winners of the Wayne Scholarships were expected to become. It puzzled Wally how he would ever be able to get back into a Physics major when the simple admission process had him so befuddled. A year of remedial 101 classes would probably do the trick, but they were of no use to him now as he labored line by line, word by word of all the documents in front of him.
Artemis called out from the other room, but Wally barely registered the request as he signed his name in triplicate on what seemed like every other page of the current class catalog. Suddenly his brow furrowed as her words finally made their way into his mind.
"What'd you say?" he asked walking into her bedroom as she labored with the giant storage box.
"I said move in with me."
"Excuse me?" he replied bewildered.
"You heard me the first, second, and third time. I want you to move in with me."
"Look you're going to have to eventually move into the dorms, and you're ridiculously too old to be mixing with freshman and sophomores even though you're still probably on their maturity level."
"Wally It's the best university of the East coast, your freaking best friend lives up here, you're still only 900 miles from home which you can do in…. what about an hour and a half? Less maybe? You love the city I can tell, and you'll….you'll be with me, and god knows you need someone to watch over you, and….."
"Artemis!" he yelled
"What!" she snapped back, taking a deep breath before beginning page two of her reasons he should stay.
"Yes. Yes I want to. If you'd quit yapping for half a second, maybe you'd hear me. I want to. I've wanted to since the first day you let me sleep on your couch. It feels right, it feels like home. I can tell my parents are waiting for me to ask. It's not exactly practical to make the run from Keystone 4-5 times a week with a backpack full of school work, and I'm gonna repeatedly ask them to stay the weekend with you anyway, you know we are a little old for sleepovers."
"I don't know, they've been pretty fun," she purred.
Wally beamed, a light blush shading appearing on his cheeks. "Yeah they have."
"Plus I know the Wayne grant covers lodging, and you could finally start paying your way around here while I look for …..ahem honest work."
"It stings when you say it doesn't it?" he smirked
"Shut-up" she grinned.
"And here I was thinking you wanted me for my body, but it's really just about the money. I feel so used."
"Sometimes the truth hurts doesn't it Baywatch?"
Wally rolled his eyes. "That's an annoying nickname."
She beamed with pride, "That's why I use it."
He wrapped his arms around his beautiful girlfriend. "I'd love to stay. I convinced my folks once, I 'm sure I can do it again. It wouldn't matter though. I'd still find a way to be with you. I always will…if you'll let me."
"God you're so cheesy."
"What are you talking about, that's my best line yet?"
She stepped forward and kissed him as he drew her in as close as science would allow. His lips matched hers perfectly, like they were created for each other's. Every kiss felt like the first, and left them with the desire for many many more.
"So what are you doing in here anyway?" he asked when he looked down and saw the orange and black uniform sitting in the bottom of the box, along with gleaming exotic armaments from the open weapons safe.
"Nothing I'm just …getting rid of some stuff."
She blinked and Wally was suddenly on the other side of her, hands carefully lifting out and examining the contents of the box
"Wally?" she whined annoyed.
"Artemis you don't need to do this for me."
She sighed, "Wally I'm not doing it for you. I'm doing it for me. I'm tired of the masks. I've been wearing them since I was kid, probably even longer than you. One of the best times in my life was the day we walked away from the game together. I saw a future I never dreamed possible, a future with you. For the first time I got to choose my own path, not what was expected of me, not what I felt I owed someone, but what I wanted."
"For a while I really missed it, and when Dick asked for my help, I couldn't join fast enough. But the rush wasn't what I remembered. Everyday more and more of me got stripped away. I had to hurt people, hurt our friends, anything and anyone to keep my mask in place and my identity safe. One day I finally stopped believing that we'd succeed, or that I'd get out alive….that I'd ever see you again."
She sat down on her bed as her eyes began to burn. "Wally…I was prepared. I knew the risks when I said yes. I knew there was a chance I wouldn't make back. I hated that I had done that to you, fucking hated it. I just never considered when I left on that sub with Kaldur, what it would be like for you if didn't make it back."
Wally sat next to her and took her hands as she continued. "I never even dreamed it would be you. All that time I felt so fucking noble, like all my sins would be forgiven if something happened to me. I just always assumed it would be me. When you and I made it out from the Summit, I actually felt hope again, you don't know how long I'd been without it, and then 72 hours later…you were gone."
Wally rubbed his eyes, feeling helpless to ease her pain, to make her whole again.
"I'm done with masks Wally. I want a future again, not just a pause in between mission. I want that freedom; I want to take some time and figure out who Artemis Crock is supposed to be."
Wally stood from the bed and kneeled down in front of her. "I'd like to help if you'd let me, I'm still trying to figure myself out. I just know this. Whatever my old life was, whatever choices or decisions I made in the past, I'm not going to be a slave to them. Where I go next I choose. Why don't you come with me, we'll find tomorrow together."
Wally reached down and picked up the orange and black costume, discovering the green one hidden underneath it.
"You did a lot of good wearing these, saved a ton of lives. I don't blame you if you want to walk away, but maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea if we kept them safe, just in case one day you change your mind."
"Wally I don't want them anym…."
"I know babe, but maybe someday."
Artemis looked into Wally's deep green eyes, the same eyes she'd been in love with since before she even know what love was. At some point she stopped worrying that this was all some dream, some hallucination. That she'd finally stepped off the edge of sanity and this was part off the fall.
He was real, they were real. She loved to argue with him, loved to debate every minute point just to watch his fire rise, his passion set free. It could be anything from science to Star Trek, but she loved pushing his buttons just because she loved him. She knew they'd get back to that fun eventually, but one thing never changed. He was right, he usually was. She loved and hated that about him at the same time.
She nodded as he placed the contents of the box back into the weapons safe. She sat on the edge of the bed watching as the last remnants of her former life were safely stowed away, more than likely never seeing the light of day again, just like Carmine Falcone. Before he closed the safe, Wally pulled a ring off his finger, one she'd never noticed before. He held it in his hands and watched the sunlight glisten of the gold alloy exterior, watched the brightness shine off the lightning bolt insignia that graced the top of it.
"Is that…?." she asked shockingly.
"Barry gave it to me, as a reminder of who I was, or who I could be one day. My choice."
"OH HELL NO!" she demanded furiously before Wally's lips met hers, silencing them.
He took the ring and placed it inside the safe, closing the heavy door with a loud thud, listening as the tumblers slid into place.
He looked at the girl he loved more than life itself and traced the contour of her cheek with his fingers.
The dream returned that night as it had for weeks. He'd kept it private as not to worry his girlfriend. Wally no longer tossed and turned during it, no longer broke out in a sweat or lost his breath. He simply accepted it and let the vision take him where it may.
A small red headed boy sat alone on a hillside, staring out at the miles of grassy plains that stretched in all directions. The large oak that usually provided the perfect amount of shade, leaned to and fro as powerful winds blew through its branches, bending the tall grass that decorated the country side.
Off in the distance a storm was coming. The boy intently watched the lightning strikes off in the distance; saw the dark clouds beginning to form together and slowly oscillate. It wouldn't be long now.
A tall figure walked up behind the boy and sat down next to him.
"Mind if I join you," he asked.
"Sure," the small boy smiled, reaching over to take the man's hand.
They sat together quietly, watching the funnel cloud take shape and drift towards the plains.
The ferocious tornado hit the ground with deadly force, digging into the landscape as lightning continued to strike all around it.
The young boy leaned his head against the older man's shoulders, watching the impressive display of nature's might, not in fear anymore, but in awe.
The ground around them soon grew cold, as the grass turned effortlessly into ice and snow, but the two never felt the chill.
Over the horizon, twin steaks of crimson shot towards the vortex that had now lost its dark appearance, morphing into a clear crystalline vortex, almost a chrysalis.
The streaks began circling the spinning structure at unimaginable speeds, trying to slow its approach, end its devastation.
Finally off in the distance a third streak sped towards the vortex, leaving a yellow and red distortion trail in its wake.
"This is my favorite part," the boy spoke.
"Mine too," the man answered.
The vortex began to glow as lightning struck the slower yellow streak.
A ship of some kind appeared in the western sky, landing a safe distance from the raging storm as it slowly lost its destructive power.
Costumed heroes ran from the Bioship towards the last remnants of the chrysalis, as snow and steam spread all around, dissipating energy surges flashing the last of its strength around the crater it had created.
The heroes ran towards the two men dressed it scarlet who fell to their knees exhausted, unable to catch their breath let alone stand.
On the hillside, the boy and the older man focused on the blonde woman dressed in green, she was distressed crying, inconsolable. A green skinned woman held her in her arms as she sobbed, while the other individuals present tilted their heads heavily, sadness draping their features.
Moments later a tall man in black wearing a red S on his chest tilted his head slightly, as if sensing something the others couldn't hear over the howling arctic winds.
In the midst of their collective grief, he ran from the group towards the crater as the others looked up in heartbroken confusion. The man in black reached the edge of the crater just as an unsteady crimson glove reached to the top and weakly attempted to pull himself out.
The crowd froze as Superboy pulled the disoriented Kid Flash from the crevasse. Within seconds the archer was on her feet, pushing through the crowd to reach the exhausted speedster. The young hero dropped to his knees as the archer reached his side, holding him up, smothering him with the kisses she feared shed never be able share again.
Wally wiped the tears from her eyes, "Sorry I was late beautiful," he wheezed in between breaths.
"Don't...ever...do...that...again!" She growled, pulling his cowl around his neck, checking the electrical burns on his back.
He rested his head on her chest, as she ran her fingers through his hair, trying as hard as she could to block her teammates from seeing the tears she was fighting.
"So are you going to kiss me or kill me," Wally asked slowly catching his wind.
She punched him in the arm before wrapping her's around him, whispering in his ear. "I'll decide later...when were alone."
Wally brought her forehead to his lips. "I love you babe."
"God I love you too," she smiled, boxing up the ache in her heart, as happiness rushed in to takes its place.
The rest of the team soon ran to their side, hugging and supporting their lost teammate, a joy that could be felt all the way to the hillside where the two observers rested.
The older man got to his feet and pulled the young boy to his.
"I guess I better go," the elder Wally told the younger one.
"Yeah me too," the boy answered, "Mom's making pork chops tonight."
"Aw Cool. So I guess I'll see you around soon, be good kid."
"I will Wally. Next time I'll bring some snacks."
"Mom's snicker doodles if you can." the elder West yelled as the young boy burst off towards the horizon.
Wally eyes opened, sighing in peace. He rolled over and watched as his girlfriend slept tranquilly. She was beautiful, even more so than the pictures he now looked at as part of his new daily ritual shown. He would always be despondent about the life and memories he'd lost, but looked so forward to the new life ahead, a life with her.
Just to be safe he slid his hand under her pillow, only to make sure the blade she normally slept with had been safely put away before he scooted closer to her.
He gently brushed the hair out of her eyes as she breathed. "Thanks for waiting for me," he spoke quietly kissing her ear.
"Mmmmm," she moaned lightly. "Thanks for coming back," she whispered half asleep, rolling over and wrapping her arms and legs around him before finally drifting back to sleep, holding the speedster tightly, protecting him like she vowed long ago.
Wally smiled and closed his eyes, waiting for sleep to take him as well. As he drifted away, he wondered when the dream would visit him again. He hoped soon, it was wonderful dream.
Author's Note: Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed it. I have an epilogue ready that I will post later this week, but our story has come to an end. Thanks again for sticking with this. I hope this was the ending you had hoped for. Not exactly happy, definitely not back where they started, but a wide open world with a lot of promise. Thanks to everyone who reviewed. There were a lot of times I was really without motivation and energy, but your reviews and opinions really kept me going.
There is one question this story never answered. How. You'll find that out in the epilogue. Thanks again.