One of the perks of owning a private security company was having access to the latest state of the art home security systems. It's always good practice to stay familiar and hands on with one of your top selling products in the event clients have questions or problems after hours, and Bowhunter had always hung its hat on their outstanding customer service.
It's not like he was overly concerned for his personal safety. Even though he hadn't made many friends in the criminal underworld over the years, he was more than capable of protecting himself and his young daughter in the event things went south. It didn't hurt that his back up/roommate was one of the best in the business either, so anyone stupid enough to break in was in for the shock of their lives, but still a little peace of mind never hurt anyone.
What struck the owner as odd though, was the figure that triggered the silent alarm didn't appear to be breaking in as much as breaking out.
Pulling into his driveway, Will Harper approached the door cautiously, entering in the pin code and disabling the alarm. He wasn't trying to be stealthy, but just loud enough to make his presence known. This was not a person you wanted to sneak up on.
Turning the corner, Will quietly made his way down the hallway, stopping barley a foot in front of his roommate's open bedroom door, carefully leaning in and watching the culprit inside removing his clothes and belongings from the dresser and folding them haphazardly into two duffle bags laid out across the dark hardwood floor.
This wasn't some run of the mill burglar; this was one of his oldest friends; and someone who'd barely spoken to him since his miraculous return. On the surface, the reason why seemed fairly obvious.
"So…" Harper spoke out, clearing his throat, "what are you doing?"
"What does it look like?" the speedster replied curtly, cramming his socks and t-shirts into the open black duffle, never turning to face his inquisitor.
"I thought you were meeting Artemis for lunch and a tour of campus."
"Change of plans," Wally replied tersely.
"Ok then," Harper replied evenly. "So where ya going? Looks like you're taking just about everything you own."
"I don't own that much anymore," West replied curtly.
With the archer's refusal to let go of the subject, the speedster finally replied. "Artemis has a couple of papers due Monday. I'm just going to spend the weekend at my folk's house, give her some space. Maybe catch a ballgame with Barry. Is that all right with you?"
The archer refused to take the bait, but he wasn't going to sit back and play the fool either.
"Well that's interesting, cause Dick called me this morning and told me you'd asked if you could crash at his place for a couple of weeks. He was worried something was wrong."
The speedster paused, his jaw tightening, remaining silent as he scanned the room for his toiletries bag.
"Well is it Wally?"
Wally ignored the question, resuming his packing. Back in the day there were times you couldn't get the young impetuous red head to shut up fast enough. Happier days, simpler days, but those times had long since passed.
It had been a tense couple of weeks. After the dust had settled and life began to return to some sense of normalcy, Artemis had told him; told Wally about that night.
It was a night like any other; two roommates sharing a bottle of wine, commiserating about the ones they'd lost. Loneliness and loss are powerful draws. Then it happened, but for all the wrong reasons. It was over as quickly as it was started, both quickly realizing it before anyone got hurt, perhaps salvaging their relationship in the process. It was no one's fault, there was no one to blame. In retrospect, it might have made their friendship even stronger as odd as it sounds, but for Wally perhaps not as much.
The speedster had said all the right things. The words you say when you want to avoid hurt feelings or opening old wounds, wounds you feel responsible for to begin with.
He was dead and she wasn't. Life goes on just as it's supposed to. No one was wronged, No one had been wronged. It's just life.
Yet despite this admission, things had remained tense, awkward at best, but lately it had gotten worse and somehow Will sensed it wasn't just about the bitterness or jealousy of a night that had taken a decidedly wrong turn. This was something more.
"Have you told Artemis yet?"
"There's…nothing…to…tell," the speedster grunted as he hurriedly shoved the remainder of his clothes into the bags, leaning his full weight on top of the duffle and pulling the zipper closed with a mighty yank. Satisfied, he rose to his feet, brushing off his track pants. "Dick gave you bad intel. He does that sometimes."
He was a terrible liar, he always had been.
Wally grabbed the duffels from the floor, sidestepping the archer, as his bags jarred into Harper's leg on the way out to the kitchen. The closest Zeta Tube was on the far side of town near the harbor district, and the grumbling in his gut cautioned him that he needed to fuel up first. Artemis's homemade Pho noodles and last nights grilled chicken would definitely do the trick.
Moments later, Wally sat down at the kitchen table, digging into their leftovers with reckless abandon. Somethings never change.
Soon Will caught up with him, annoyed with the passive aggressive cat and mouse game.
"So while we're on the subject of phone calls, Paula says she been trying to reach you for weeks. She's wondering why you haven't returned any of her calls."
Suddenly the slurping of noodles stopped and the speedster's brow furrowed. Harper realized he'd touched a nerve.
"She's worried about you."
"Really?" Wally chuckled sarcastically.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Forget it," the speedster frowned, returning to his noodles. He wasn't exactly on the clock, but the sooner he finished, the better.
"No really?" Roy questioned irritably. "What's so hard to believe about her being concerned about you?
"It means…" Wally replied through a mouth full of noodles, "She's worried about Artemis and what this whole thing with me being back might do to her. You know the Crock mantra, every girl for herself. I would have thought you'd figured that out by now."
It was a low blow on so many levels, exactly as Wally intended. Cheshire's absence had left a gaping hole in not only Will's heart, but Lian's as well, even if she was too young to completely understand it. That night with Artemis had complicated matters to say the least, but Roy held no illusions that perhaps something similar might have befallen his wife as well. Heartbreak can lead you down uneven paths. Jade had told him to move on; Paula the same, but despite it all Will still held out hope. They could survive anything together if she'd just give them a chance.
If Wally was still angry about Artemis, he would have used that bullet he'd chambered a long time ago, but the speedster would have to come at him with more than that if he wanted to get under his skin.
This was classic West deflection. He'd seen it a million times. It wasn't that long ago the archer had found himself on a similar end of that conversation. He still remembered one of those nights vividly.
"I'm whelmed by all this attention. What are you even doing here West? I thought you ditched the hero game."
"Ditching the game doesn't mean ditching my friends, and before you round back to the "original Roy" again, let's face the facts. He was never our friend."
"We've all done the math. Speedy was abducted before any of us met."
"You're the guy we trained beside; fought beside. You're the only you we know."
"You're our friend. Just because you're a clone with anger management issues doesn't change that."
"Seriously, have you met Superboy?"
"All done? You want to salvage someone's soul? Go get Kaldur to see the light. From what I hear, he needs course-correcting, but leave me out! Write me off, or don't. Either way…blow."
Even during his darkest days, when the drugs and the guilt had taken their toll, Wally and Dick were there for him. They were brothers; the next generation of heroes, soon to join the League together. One day replacing and perhaps surpassing their mentors. That was the plan, their vision. That dream had died for a number of reasons, but the bond between them remained.
Will knew a little something about waking up one day to find the whole world turned upside down; not necessarily returning from the dead, but definitely to a life that felt like it had passed him by. It makes you feel unsettled, on edge, angry; and that anger becomes a cancer devouring everything in its path. As toxic as any off the addictions the archer still wrestled with to this day.
If Will had learned anything from his past, it was you can't save a drowning man if he doesn't want to be rescued. Perhaps Wally just needed time to sort things out on his own and get his mind right. For now, pressing the matter was only going to make things worse.
"Look I'm sorry for interrupting. Give your parents, Barry, Dick or whoever it is you're going to see my best."
The speedster never replied, just continuing with his meal.
With a defeated sigh, Will left the room, trying to figure out what he could possible say to Artemis when she came home that evening. That's when it hit him.
The answer had been in front of him the entire time.
That was it. That's how Wally must have felt; how he must still feel. Returning to a world that had passed him by. Intruding on other people's pasts, interrupting other people's futures; specifically he and Artemis.
Of course the speedster wasn't happy about that night, who would be in his place? But how was he supposed to walk into a room with his head held high, hugging and shaking hands with people welcoming him back, knowing those same people were hoping…praying the two archers would find happiness again…with each other. How do you reconcile that?
Will thought back to the moments he and Artemis had shared over the last years; moving into together, laughing with each other, crying with each other, encouraging and consoling each other. Dealing with the constant inquiries from friends and acquaintances about what was going on between the two. Not judgmental accusations but more well-meaning encouragement.
How much it must have hurt to find out how hard Paula had tried to push the two together for all the wrong reason; unhealthy substitutes for absent partners; one dead - one broken. Then to hear that same woman say she's worried about him, wanted to see and reconnect with him. It had to feel like the ultimate slap in the face.
How Wally had found out wasn't important. People talk, people gossip, very rarely knowing the full story; just their interpretation of it. Inconsiderate whispers easily overheard that could lead to a number of conclusions that were dead wrong.
Artemis was happy. She'd moved on. She was on her way to a doctorate. She had a family, a new path, a new life, a new love. He wasn't supposed to be here, no one wanted him here.
Will was faced with someone who desperately needed someone in his corner, someone to be on his side and pull him out of this nosedive. The speedster was loved but he was so hurt he couldn't see it, couldn't feel it. He was an intruder, but only in his mind.
Very rarely in life are people granted a second chance at a happily ever after; Wally and Artemis were going to be that exception, but if the speedster didn't deal with the disease that was eating away at him, he would join the countless others who'd watched their one chance pass them by. There were just some moments you can't walk back from.
He wouldn't talk to Dick about it; he couldn't talk to Artemis, and if he wasn't careful, his next step might be his last. The archer was bound and determined not to let that happen, for everyone's sakes. Sometimes people just need time, other times they need a push.
This had all the makings of one of his dumber decisions, but Wally was going to talk to him whether he liked it or not.
Will stepped back into the kitchen, finding the speedster at the sink, scarping his plate.
It was now or never…
"You know, if you want to leave…fine, I'm not going to stop you, but if you're willing to walk away from a woman like her again, then you clearly don't deserve her in the first place.
Wally paused, spinning around, brow furrowed. "What you say?"
Will could almost see the countdown clock ticking down in his mind.
"Leaving again without saying goodbye is kind of your m.o." Will chuckled sarcastically. "I guess she should be used to it by now. Don't worry; she'll be fine. I'll take care of her…just like I did before."
Wally's eyes began to glow, something deep inside him beginning to spark. Dick and Kaldur had told the archer that the speedster's new power levels were off the charts, but he hadn't really considered that fact until right now.
But he'd already cracked open the door; it was time to see if Wally would step through it. What was the saying? In for a penny, in for a pound
Lightning began to dance across the speedster's skin. He was fighting it, Will could tell, but to get the desired effect, he needed more than a fancy light show.
"You know what's funny? Dick was the first to admit he came to Star City looking for a Wally West substitute, but you know what? Artemis never did. She was looking for something more. Maybe that night wasn't as big a mistake as she let in."
It was like the standing in the middle of the track, seconds before impact. One minute he was in the kitchen, the next he was slamming through Lian's bedroom door, knocking it off the hinges, splinters of wood spraying across the room. This was a side of Wally he'd never seen before, the blinding uncontrolled rage. And it was about that time he realized he may have made a big mistake.
The speedster pulled the archer from the floor, grabbing him by the collar and slamming him into the wall, his body sinking into the plaster drywall.
"You want me gone?! Is that it? Fine! You're just like the rest of them, but I'll tell you this, she deserves a hell of a lot better than you!"
His words came out in a furious spittle, his apple green eyes hidden behind a blinding shade of silver. Will had seen a lot of scary things in this world, but nothing quite like this before; not this close. Wally's arm drew back; his fist a blur. The archer knew he'd have no chance to block as the speedster threw his punch in the blink of an eye.
The loud crack that followed shook the room, but it wasn't the impact to his jaw, but a blow that had intentionally missed its target, bones cracking as the speedster's fist met unforgiving wooden studs.
"Fuck!" he screamed, pulling his broken wrist from the cracking plaster, wincing in pain as he stormed out of the room. Will pulled himself from the drywall, quickly counting his blessings. There was no telling the damage the speedster could have done if he'd actually tried to hurt him, but that wasn't his friend. That wasn't Wally West.
Harper brushed off the chucks of drywall from his chest and shoulders, his head still a little groggy from the trip through his daughter's bedroom door. This was going to be an expensive fix, but right now he had more important things to worry about.
Following the trail of dusty plaster scattered across the hallway floor, Will found the speedster sitting defeatedly on Artemis's bed, cradling his wrist, staring blankly at the picture on her bedside table. The same picture that greeted her every morning and said goodnight at the end of the day; Brucely, the archer and the speedster. Happier days before the world stopped making sense.
Gone now was the lightning, leaving behind only hurt and shame.
"I'm...I'm sorry…I don't…I didn't mean...aw fuck," he sighed, his palm resting on his forehead.
Will walked over, pulling a chair from Artemis's desk and sat down across from him. "You ready to talk now?"
After a moments pause, the speedster nodded. "I don't know what I'm doing anymore."
"Wally, it's a form of survivor's guilt, but it's not about anyone specific that never made it back, it's because you did. You feel guilty for being here. You feel like you don't belong here, like you crashed some party no one invited you to. Trust me I get it. I used to feel like I'd stolen something. That all these people that were once my friends, now wished they could just throw me away so the real Roy could have his life back. But Wally that was never true. You and Dick where the first to tell me that, but I was in too bad a place to accept it then. I don't feel that way anymore and neither should you."
"It's not about you and Artemis," Wally replied. "I get it…I really do. It was two years. I would have wanted her to move on and be happy."
"I know you would, but it doesn't help to find out so many other people did too, and now you feel no one wants you back or wants you two together, or even worse that she's only back with out of some misplaced feelings of guilt or obligation. Come on, you know her better that that. She's with you because she loves you.
Paula and the others only wanted what was best for her; then and now, and what's best for her is you. She loves you. She's complete, as long as you don't screw it up like you're trying to right now."
Wally nodded, wiping his eyes. "What do I do?"
"Well a couple of things. First you're going to Home Depot with me to buy a new door, spackling and some paint. Hell hath no fury like a Crock woman scorned, no matter what size they are. Then you're going to make that date with your girlfriend and if she wants to look at apartments, that's exactly what you're going to do. I'd probably unpack your shit too. She doesn't need to know about this; any of this. I know you don't like keeping secrets from her, but I think this one time you should make an exception."
"Got it," the speedster nodded, standing up and preparing to explode into motion.
"Oh and Wally…" Harper called out. "One last thing. You're going to call Paula and go see her. You're going to forgive her and then you're going to forgive yourself. Of all of that, that last part will be the hardest, but I know you can do it."
The speedster smiled and disappeared in a bolt of lightning; ready and willing to accept and take advantage of the second chances most people never get.
Today was the day.
Will watched the contrail fade and smiled to himself, knowing he may be no Dick Grayson, but maybe someone just as important. It was nice to do the saving every now and then.
Author's Notes. Guys, it's been my pleasure writing for you all. I never considered myself much of an author, but writing stories about these two really inspired me. I'll remain a Spitfire fan till the day I die, but I think I've told all the stories I have left to tell.
I won't lie; this season has really brought me down. The absence of Wally and watching Artemis slowly move on has taken the wind out of my sails. I really hope for a triumphant return and a magical happily ever after, but I think YJ has other plans. If you're a writer, don't you dare give up on them in fanfiction. Dazzle us and remind us of the things that made their pairing so special. Good luck and thanks.