Auld Lang Syne
Keystone City, MO
"Babe do you really have to go?" Linda asked as she finished unloading the remains of the overtaxed dishwasher.
"You know the rules hon. Barry takes Christmas, I take New Years. It's tradition, anyway it's just one night."
"I know," she sighed, "it's just every year the progressive dinners get more fun, the kids are old enough now that we don't have to hover over them like hawks, and I'm about out of excuses as to why my physicist husband gets called into work every December 31st. Babe I never have anyone to kiss when the ball drops. Promise me you'll try to switch next year."
"I make no promises, but I'll see what I can do," Wally chuckled, staring at himself in the mirror, knowing full well he wouldn't, he couldn't.
He glanced down at the ring, contemplating its legacy for a moment. He hated lying, especially to her, but much like the ring, New Year's Eve had a legacy of its own, one he's couldn't forget. He pushed the trigger on the ring, and donned the garment in the blink of an eye.
Wally walked out of the bedroom decked out in the scarlet suit. It was marginally different from the one his mentor currently wore; a slightly different shade of red, integrated goggles within the eye holes, cowl and mask altered slightly, but the insignia on his chest remained the same. It always would.
"Gotta run babe, criminals of Keystone and Central City beware!" he spoke in his embarrassingly bad superhero voice, the one which always brought a laugh from his kids currently entranced by the television. They loved it when their Dad did his Superman impression.
"God you're such a dork," she grinned taking her husband into her arms.
"It's part of my charm." Wally beamed.
He hugged and kissed his wife. "I love you babe."
"I love you too Wally, be careful. Wake me when you get home ok?"
"Bye dad!" the kids yelled in unison, never tearing away from the Legend of Korra marathon currently showing on Cartoon Network.
"Later gators," he quipped and disappeared into the night.
Gotham City, NY
"Arty can't you skip it, just this year?" Cameron whined. "Izzy's coming down with a something and she's all cranky and shit. When she gets like this, you know all she wants is her mom."
"And whose fault is that?" the blonde laughed. "Make her some chicken soup and you; ice down for a while. You're the one who gets her sick anyway."
"She likes the cold," he smirked.
"No one likes the cold Cam," she deadpanned, "but I tolerate it for some strange reason."
"Why can't you and Jade just pick another night to remember your mom, she didn't even die on New Years?" he questioned.
"Sorry babe, it's a tradition, and besides you don't want to get on my sister's bad side now do you?"
Cameron frowned. "Yeah you're right," he said glumly. "She never liked me."
"She never liked any of them Cam," the blonde smiled.
Artemis reached over and pulled him into her. "I'll be back later. Don't let Izzy stay up till midnight, if she's coming down with something she'll need her sleep."
"I won't. Try not to kill anyone tonight Arty, it's the holidays," he smirked.
"I'll consider it," she snickered and leaned down and kissed her sleeping baby and then her husband's forehead for good measure.
She grabbed her jacket and backpack, pausing at the door for a moment. Artemis turned and looked back at the man that meant so much to her and the beautiful life they'd created together. "You know I love you right?"
"I love you too baby, and hey while you're out, if you're accidently near and electronic store, maybe you could pick us up some iPhone 6's, kind of a late Christmas present, free of charge of course."
Artemis smiled. "I'll see what I can do."
Happy Harbor, RI
Wally sat on the cold stone rubble remains of what was once Mt. Justice, looking out onto the Atlantic. So many great moments had taken place here, so many wonderful memories. His mind drifted to countless nights on this very beach; volleyball games and cookouts, bonfires and skinny dipping, a kiss, but for every joyful moment that took place here, a sad one existed to match. Wally didn't focus on them anymore, this was his happy place; it always would be. This is where he grew up. This is where he learned to be a hero.
It was a beautiful moonlit sky, not a cloud in sight. It was cold but not bitter, not that it mattered much to man with his naturally high body temperature. In the darkness, away from the light pollution of the bigger cities, he could see constellations that weren't visible back in the Midwest. He recalled so many nights sitting on this beach, pointing them out to her. Teaching astronomy to a girl who had absolutely no interest in it, but always sat patiently and listened to every lesson, learned every star pattern just for him, waiting for the lesson to end so they could get back to the business of kissing each other into oblivion.
Wally was lost in his thoughts when the arrow impacted feet from him, sparking the stone surface as it skipped off the rocks.
"Jesus!" Wally yelled, jolting upright into a battle stance in the blink of an eye. Out of the shadows walked the villain, crossbow pointed directly at the speedster's heart, an expression of loathing directed squarely at him.
She hissed, "What the hell are you doing here?"
"I could ask you the same thing Tigress," he snapped back.
Her finger tickled the trigger. She doubted she could actually hit him at this range, but she still had a few tricks up her sleeve, he was always predictable like that.
They stared coldly at each as he slowly approached her.
"If you take one more step I'll kill you." she spat.
Wally continued on unabated. When he was two feet from her, she rested the arrow directly against his heart.
"You're fast Kid, but not that fast."
Wally shook his head and began to smile. "Will you cut it out," he stated with a gleam in his eye.
She smiled broadly back, and broke the crossbow down to put in its place in her backpack. She leaned forward and embraced the speedster.
"Hi beautiful," he lovingly smiled.
"Hi handsome," she replied, resting her head on his shoulder. They remained like that for moments, Wally bringing her in tight sharing his warmth.
She slowly pulled away, carefully tugging his cowl from his face, letting it pool freely around his neck. It had been a long time since she'd seen his untamed red hair or the green of his eyes hidden behind the lenses of his uniform, almost a year to be precise. She lost herself in them for a few seconds before suddenly striking him hard in his bicep.
"Ow!" he yelped, "What the hell was that for?"
"For knocking me into that stone wall back in October jackass." she bickered.
"Well tell you what, you and your little Shadow buddies stop trying to break into STAR and we'll stop kicking your asses. You know the League has a vested interest in that place; it's always on our radar."
"Kind of odd don't you think? Seems like your little boy scout troop always seem to show up when something happens to a facility that Wayne Tech has a stake in," she smirked. "It's almost like Bruce Wayne has you all on speed dial."
Wally shrugged. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Right," she replied sarcastically. "So what did you bring us this year?"
"Oh you know, the usual's, Chicken Whizzies, Big Belly Burger, Taco Bell."
"Ughhh," Artemis replied in disgust, just as she noticed the corners of the speedster mouth turn up ever so slightly. And then the aroma hit.
"No!" she replied excitedly, "Did you really bring it?" she asked hopeful.
"Of course I did," he replied, pulling out the bag he'd hidden in the crevices of the chattered boulders. "Kung Pao, Cashew Chicken, and General Tsos."
"Oh my god!" Artemis replied in excitement. "You remembered."
Artemis moved over beside him opening the paper carton and delving into the scrumptious meal.
"Mmmmm," she moaned at her first bite, taking out another piece of chicken and placing it in the speedster's mouth. "Who would have thought the best Chinese food came from a shitty little place in Central City?"
Wally smiled proudly. "You can thank Barry for that discovery. So what did you bring?"
Artemis pulled the bottle and two glasses from her backpack. "Dom Perignon White Gold Jeroboam."
Wally stared irritably at the bottle. He'd hoped she'd bring the Pinot Grigio from their favorite winery back in California, they one they'd discovered during a road trip up the coast during their Stanford days.
"I thought we'd be a little classier this year?" she cheerfully replied.
The speedster looked sourly at her.
"Wally its $40,000 a bottle," she glowered irritably, brows slightly furrowing.
The speedster rolled his eyes. "I guess I shouldn't ask where you got the money for it?"
"Probably not," she grinned.
She pulled the cork and poured the fine liquor into both glasses.
"To old times," she smiled.
"To old times," he agreed.
They clinked their glasses and she moved closer, drawing on his warmth once again on this cold Rhode Island night.
Over the next hours they exchanged stories. Wally shared updates of old friends. Dick and Barbara's wedding, Megan's embracing of her White Martian heritage, Gar's latest souvenir, the new Titans Tower currently under construction on the west coast that Bart was so excited about, Barry's impending retirement, and his own adventures as the newest member of the Justice League.
She listened sadly at news of Kaldur's banishment from Atlantis, the death of Jonathon Kent, Conner's subsequent isolation, and Dr. Fate continuing to hold Zatanna's father hostage.
She missed her friends so much.
Artemis brought forth stories of Lian and Jade, Roy's relapses and struggles, her latest encounter with her father, the newest members of the Shadows, and how much she missed her mom. Finally the archer pulled out her phone and opened the photo app, selecting the newest pictures of Isabella, as she smiled proudly at every image.
"She's beautiful Artemis, just like her mom."
"Thanks," the villain blushed with joyful heart.
"Any sign of…?" he asked hesitantly.
"Nope, non-Meta all the way thank God. The Cryokinesis seems to have skipped a generation. That's all I needed was another ice cube to share a home with."
Wally smiled at the picture of Izzy decked out in her Halloween princess costume "Thank God she looks like a Crock, and not a Mahkent. So…how is he?" the speedster asked with just a hint of bitterness in his voice. Artemis knew it was a sore subject, her choice of spouse as well as career always would be.
"He's fine, same old same old. Still being bossed around by his father, still nearly getting caught in almost every stupid heist his dad pulls him into."
Wally shook his head and sighed.
"But Wally, he's a great father and he treats me right. It's really all I can ask for."
"Is it?' he questioned.
Her smile faded for a moment, and Wally instantly regretted the comment. Artemis deserved so much more, he knew that in his heart, but she'd chosen her path and it wasn't his place to judge, not anymore.
"Sorry," he apologized, reaching over and squeezing her hand. "My mouth works faster than my brain does sometimes."
She smiled. "It always has."
It was Wally's turn as he searched the secret pocket of the crimson uniform and pulled out his iPhone.
"Let's see how those little spawns' of Satan have changed, speaking of which, how is Lydia?"
"It's Linda," Wally chuckled, "and you know it."
Artemis smiled evilly, hiding the knot she felt forming in her throat.
Wally opened the album and showed her the latest pictures of the twins. They were a few years older than Isabella, having grown so much since they'd exchanged pictures here a year ago. Artemis took the phone from his hand and backed the photos up a few. There was one particular shot of Wally holding Iris in his arms that Artemis instantly fell in love with, a shot of the two red heads laughing as the camera captured the perfect moment.
"God she is so you," Artemis sighed with heartfelt emotion. "I love her eyes, and Jai is the spitting image of…her," she spoke as kindly as her heart would allow.
"Yeah," Wally said, lost in the pictures of his kids posing together outside the Flash museum from just a few weeks ago, a beacon of what they had to live up to, they just didn't know it yet.
"They're gorgeous Wally, they really are. Any budding track stars back at home?"
Wally replied, "Jai's not showing signs yet, but the tests we've done shows he carries the Meta-gene, it just hasn't manifested itself yet, so were just kind of waiting to see what happens, Irey? She's a whole nother story."
"Yep," he replied proudly. "She tried to hide it, but you remember how clumsy I was back then, well she's worse," he laughed. "After breaking tons of lamps and bouncing off walls, she finally admitted it, but we'd known long before that. She's fast Artemis, probably going to be faster than me. She's gonna be a great one."
"I know," Artemis agreed, more than aware of the legacy his daughter had been born into.
"She's a mischievous one Arty, you'd like her,"
"I wonder where she gets that from?" Artemis smirked.
"I have no idea?" he replied in mock confusion.
Artemis rested her head on his shoulders just as they'd begun the night. For old times' sake, Wally pointed out a few constellations to see if she remembered anything he'd taught her. To his surprise she nailed them all.
The speedster looked down at his watch, it was going on three a.m. She noticed it too and sighed sadly. It was time. Wally pulled her to her feet, and they held each other.
"Be careful out there Baywatch, "she whispered into his ear while her chin rested on his shoulder, "I worry about you sometimes."
"I worry about you too ya know. One day it's not going to be me coming up on a crime scene. I can't promise what Bats or Diana will do if they catch you guys first."
"You'll think of something Wally, you always do."
He just shrugged, rolling his eyes. He knew she was right.
They stared into each other's eyes silently for minutes, knowing this was always the hardest part, one that could easily get away from them if they weren't careful. Wally swept her into his arms like, just that night on the Watchtower all those years ago, looking down at her, mesmerized by her Asian beauty highlighted by the pale moon light. It would always be so easy to take that extra step, when a kiss could linger a little longer, when hands could be tempted to explore, when the allure of making love under the stars like they did all those years ago would be too hard to deny, but they'd never let it go that far, they couldn't, those were the rules.
She rested bridal style in Wally's arms, enjoying the last few moments of a home she could never return to. Kid Flash and Artemis, the speedster and the archer, so many years ago saving the world and falling in love. Living together, fighting with and beside each other, nursing each other back to health, and protecting each other with their lives. It was a bond that could never be broken, a connection that unless you lived that life, no one could fully understand.
In their most private of moments, away from the noise and distractions of family, jobs, and commitments, they both longed for those days again, back when they were just two people in love, when they'd left the life of capes and cowls behind. Back to a time when two heroes disappeared from the public eye and a young blonde and red head strolled hand in hand through the campus of a California university. Now, the road not taken. All they had now were those memories, and that had to be enough.
Every December 31st, standing on this beach, each one would wonder if this was finally the year the other wouldn't come, fearful that the next time they faced each other would not be as long lost lovers, but as enemies. For now that would be a bridge they would cross if or when that day ever arrived.
"I'm glad you did this a long time ago," she said sincerely.
"No kidding," he lovingly smiled.
Wally brought his hand to her cheek and pulled her face towards his gently. Their lips met only for a second, but that dangerous chemistry, that electric intensity still shot through their bodies even after all these years. Every year they shared that original kiss, the moment their hearts joined as one. Nothing too intimate or passionate, but innocent like the two naive kids that fell in love so long ago, a love neither could completely let go of. Their lips quickly parted replaced by loving smiles.
"Next year?" she said hopeful.
"Next year," he agreed.
He put her back down of terra firma and they hugged one final time before breaking their embrace. Wally stepped carefully through the boulders and away from the beach as Artemis waited for him to explode into motion. He always left first, he had to. She would remain behind at this hallowed place, taking time to explore her own precious memories of Mt. Justice alone, but for some reason this year he hesitated. He stood silently, leaving his back towards her, unwilling to look her in the eyes. She knew what he needed to hear. She needed to say it.
"I love you Wally."
He breathed deeply, enchanted by her words before turning back to her. "I love you too beautiful, I always will. Stay out of trouble ok? I'd hate to have to bust your ass and ruin our New Year's tradition."
"Bring it on Baywatch, you know how much I enjoy kicking yours."
They both laughed, grateful for a moment of levity to break the tension of goodbye. In their hearts they knew it would never work. They'd made their choices and moved on; both had accepted the others direction, but still they'd always left a microscopic sliver of hope burning. She decided this was the year that she spoke aloud what had always stayed hidden in their deepest corners of both of their minds
"Wally…you know…if you and Linda….you know….if things one day didn't work out. I'll be here."
"I know babe."
The Flash nodded goodbye and seconds later all that remained of him was a faded after image and a trail of lighting that stretched westward.
The archer took the remainder of the champagne bottle and walked the beach for a while. She finished its contents and threw it as far as she could into the Atlantic, smiling about the day it would wash back to shore for someone to discover, curious as to its journey and the history behind it, hoping that someday it would become someone else's souvenir.