According to Psychology Today, “Childhood trauma causes permanent changes in the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex.” Not to mention that children exposed to trauma can lead to a lifetime of anxiety, fear, depression, PTSD, self-destructive behavior, anger issues, feelings of isolation, and low self-esteem. By supporting a group of child superheroes, we are essentially saying that we do not care that we are condemning them to a life of problematic mental health issues.
Artemis jotted down a note on one of the mass of sticky notes surrounding her computer. Her political science class had been discussing the new House of Representatives Bill 4031b that President Katz supported, and House minority leaders were trying to schedule a vote for before the presidential election next month. Rather than analyze the upcoming election, Professor Howard had instructed his classes to study and prepare for a debate regarding the proposed disbanding of Young Justice and all superheroes under the age of 18. Artemis wouldn’t know until the day of which side she had to represent, so she was attempting to find support for both sides.
It wasn’t hard to build an argument rejecting the bill. Being a superhero had saved her life. Joining Young Justice had kept her from following Jade and her father into a life of crime. Jade was the only reason she had escaped without killing anyone. Her older sister had always taken the ‘messier’ assignments. Her first kill was at the age of 15. When Jade had returned home, Artemis had found her sprawled on the bathroom floor arm draped over the toilet while the rest of her crumbled on the floor. Chunks of bile and half-digested food floated in the water. Artemis flushed the toilet and sat down next to her sister, clutching her hand in a desperate grip. Seeing her beautiful, strong sister lifeless on the floor caused tears to flow as she tried to force Jade to move. Jade never once acknowledged her. Everything changed after that.
In contrast, Artemis moved in with their mother at the age of 14. Paula Crock had been released from jail, but Jade was 18 and far too entrenched in the criminal life. Despite not being around for a few years, Paula was determined that at least one of her daughters wouldn’t end up in a life of crime. When Artemis had turned 15 and almost gotten expelled for fighting, Batman – no doubt with the help of Cheshire – found her.
She didn’t know where she would be without Young Justice, so the idea that some government official would take that away from her and her friends infuriated her. Most of the upper class had no idea what the real world was like, and they had no right to take a haven from kids that needed it.
But reading the other side’s arguments forced her to rethink. Would Dick still be suffering from depression and low self-esteem if he hadn’t been Robin? And Wally hadn’t slept through a night since his return from the speed force. He wouldn’t talk about it, but Artemis knew something had happened. Roy also fell off the deep end while searching for the other Roy Harper. Conner had anger issues, but she wasn’t sure if that was a result of trauma or just his personality. Kaldur pulled away from everyone after the reveal of his father’s identity. M’gann was…well M’gann was normal. She was also a Martian, so Artemis wasn’t sure she counted.
Young Justice had saved her, had saved the world – but was it worth the damage it unleashed on her friends? Someone had to save the world. Heroes knew the sacrifices made. It wasn’t like turning 18 magically made one more capable of handling trauma.
A rush of wind scattered her notes everywhere. Her tea mug knocked over, and Artemis dashed for her laptop, barely grabbing it before the brown liquid flowed across her desk.
“Good news! I just booked the perfect place for our wedding!” Wally announced, standing in a ta-da pose.
“God, Wally. I’ve asked you not to run in here. It’s hard enough keeping -” Artemis paused. “Did you just say you booked a place for our wedding?”
Rising from her desk chair, she placed her computer on a dry surface. Wally dashed out of the room, causing more papers to shuffle, and handed her paper towels. White paper towels quickly turned brown as they absorbed the spilt tea.
“Yes, and you’re going to love it. There’s no craved furniture. No crystal dishware. But it has a beautiful view overlooking the city,” Wally replied joyfully.
“And you booked it?” Artemis repeated, voice carefully neutral.
Wally beamed at her. “Yes! For June 3rd. We’ll finish classes, get married, and then honeymoon! Wait. Why aren’t you excited?”
“You booked a place without asking me?!”
Her idiot boyfriend threw his hands in the air. “You said you didn’t want to plan a wedding!”
“I meant let’s go to the courthouse. Not plan one behind my back!”
“Plan one behind your back?!” Wally sputtered. “You knew I was doing this!”
Artemis threw the dirty paper towels into the trash bin under her desk. “Did it not occur to you that maybe I wanted to see the place before you booked it?”
Vibrating with his anger, Wally yelled, “No, it didn’t! Because you’re miserable every time we see a place. It’s like you don’t even want to get married!” Wally sped out of the room after that, knocking over the now empty teacup again.
Collapsing into her desk chair, Artemis gripped the armrests until her entire hand turned white. She needed to shoot something.
“Should I be offended that all your targets have red hair?”
Tigress ignored Batgirl’s comments as she pulled her bowstring taut and aimed at the moving robotic targets. She fired three shots in a row. The first hit a shoulder joint, the second a kneecap, and the third a foot. All nonlethal, but all would take opponents out of a fight.
Satisfied with her work, she turned to face Barbara, who leaned against the wall with her arms crossed and one leg bent with her foot on the wall. It was a pose far too reminiscent of Nightwing, but Artemis refrained from commenting on it. “Just venting some frustration.”
Batgirl pushed off the wall, approaching her friend now that the simulator had deactivated. “What did Wally do now?”
“Booked a wedding venue without asking me,” she replied. The fierce anger cooled after an hour or so of archery practice. Mostly, she just didn’t understand it now.
Barbara pinched her lips in that way that Artemis knew she was refraining from making some disparaging comment about the patriarchy. Feeling the need to defend Wally before he was lumped into that category, she added, “It was a miscommunication.” She was still incredibly annoyed, and she didn’t comprehend how it happened, but she would be damned if Barbara insulted Wally. No one insulted her idiot.
The other vigilante frowned but let it go. Artemis turned away from her to put her bow back in the room’s armory.
“I’m leading a mission to Miami in a few days. Do you want in?” Batgirl asked.
“Can’t.” Artemis shook her head. “I have midterms.” She stopped mid-step. “Don’t you have midterms?”
Smirking, Barbara teased, “I took mine last week. Plus, I’ve finished all my assignments for the semester. Well, except finals.”
Artemins groaned. Why were her two favorite people in the world genius prodigies. It wasn’t fair. “I hate you. I literally hate you.”
“No, you don’t. You hate that after two years of indecision, you finally decided on a major and have a backlog of courses to take.”
Nudging Barbara in the shoulder a little more forcefully than necessary, she began to exit the room. The other woman just laughed and walked with her. Artemis asked, “So what’s your mission?”
“There’s a new lead on smash. A new drug in Miami called purple hit the streets with similar death rates and addictive properties. The drug hasn’t been seen since Red Hood disrupted the drug trade in Gotham, but now it’s made an appearance in a largely populated city with no known hero presence. It’s worth investigating,” Batgirl explained.
Once the pair had entered the female locker room, Artemis flipped up her mask. She grabbed a towel and wiped the sweat from her face. “Sounds fun. Who you taking with you?”
“Miss Martian and Wonder Girl.”
Artemis removed the towel from her face and shot Barbara a doubtful look. “You want to take Wonder Girl on an investigative mission.”
Barbara placed both hands on her hips. “Cassie’s stealth competence has drastically improved over the last few months. She’s capable of far more than others give her credit for. More importantly, she wants to learn.”
Tossing the now used towel into the hamper, Tigress began removing the outer layer of her armor. “I didn’t say she wasn’t capable. I’m just surprised. You’ve been chasing this drug and chemist for months.”
Tight shoulders relaxed, and Batgirl let it go. “You sure everything is okay with you and Wally?”
Stunned by the change of topic, Artemis paused in pulling of her boots to look at her friend. “Yeah, why?”
“Because those dark circles under your eyes look almost as bad as Dick’s last summer.”
With one last tug Artemis removed her boot. The welcome chill of the floor provided relief for her sweaty feet. “Wally hasn’t been sleeping well,” she admitted quietly.
“I’m sorry.” Artemis hated her tone. “Have you talked about it?”
“No,” the blonde growled, shoving her boots into her bag. “He insists on pretending everything is fine.”
“He has always struggled with denial.”
Whirling around on Batgirl, Artemis threw her sweaty socks into her bag. “Don’t insult him! At least, he remembers to eat!”
Barbara’s mouth parted slightly. “Whoa, I didn’t – ”
“Just forget it,” she replied before stomping off towards the shower.
Blindly reaching for her cup, Artemis sipped her coffee – and almost spit it back out again. It had gone cold. How long had she been studying? Her eyes flicked to the bottom right of her computer screen. It was nearly 3am, and she still wasn’t done studying for her American government midterm. She groaned and stood up to refill her mug of coffee. If she hadn’t decided to take a trip to the Watch Tower to blow off steam, she probably would have finished by now. At least, Wally was patrolling Central City tonight. She could study in peace.
That was until she heard the loud crash in her living room.
“What is going on?”
“Um. Nothing! Shouldn’t you be sleeping!” Bart replied while he attempted to hold a woozy Wally up.
Ignoring his nonsense, Artemis raced to her finance and began checking him for injuries. “What happened?”
“Hey Babe,” Wally greeted with a dopey smile. He swatted her hands away from his midsection. “Tickles.”
Artemis turned the full force of her glare on the kid next to her. “Answers. Now.”
“Yelp! Um…he got hurt on patrol, but didn’t want to tell Flash’s team about it, so he called me, and I may have accidentally given him too many pain killers,” Bart raced to explain.
Helping Bart lay Wally on the couch, Artemis focused on the issue at hand. “Where is he hurt?”
“His leg. I’m not sure where. He kept saying it’s would heal in a few days, and he just needed some pain relief until then.”
“Wally, which leg is hurt?”
“You look like an angel.” He grinned in response.
Rolling her eyes skyward, Artemis searched his leg for damage. She didn’t see any entry wounds or bullet holes, which meant it must have been a dislocation or a break. Carefully, she glided her hand up and down his leg until she felt the massive swelling in his knee.
“Dammit,” she cursed. His knee had been dislocated, and Wally popped it back in himself. “Bart, go get Barry.”
Bart hesitated; his weight shifted between each foot. “I don’t think he want’s Grandpa to know he’s hurt.”
“I don’t give a rat’s ass what he wants! He’s a complete and utter moron! If that knee wasn’t placed back in properly, it will heal incorrectly, which means surgery to fix it. Which means a whole lot of unnecessary pain, considering it’s near impossible to keep you all sedated for any length of time,” Artemis yelled, barely refraining from hitting Wally or shaking his stupid accomplish.
“Welp!” Bart exclaimed. Then he rushed out of the room. Hopefully, Barry and Bart would be able to get the moron to the Watch Tower before his knee had the chance to heal incorrectly.
“Artemis?” Wally blinked as he stared at her. His metabolism had already started burning through the fog of medication.
“Yes, it’s me, idiot. How many pain pills did you take?”
“Dunno. Hurts,” he whimpered.
Artemis refused to take pity on him. “That’s what happens when you’re an idiot.”
Wally scrunched his face in thought when two bursts of wind entered their apartment.
“What happened?” Barry asked, kneeling next to his nephew immediately. His hair was puffed out on all sides. He was wearing blue and white striped pajamas, apparently not bothering to change his clothing when he heard about Wally’s injury.
“No, no, no,” Wally moaned, shaking his head back in forth.
Barry ran a hand through Wally’s sweat-soaked hair and turned to Bart. “What happened?”
Bart gulped under the intensity of his grandfather’s glare. Rarely, did Barry Allen show his fury, but when he did, it was a terrifying sight. “I don’t know. He called me and said that he needed some pain killers from your supply and that it was important that no one else knew. Is he going to be alright?”
“He’ll be fine once his metabolism burns through the medicine. How many pills did he take?”
“Um…” Bart’s mouth drooped, and his eyes darted to the floor. “All of them.”
“What?!” Barry turned to fully face his grandson. “There was over half a bottle left. You know those pills already take our metabolism into account!”
Bart mumbled at the floor.
“What was that?” Barry’s tone was hard.
“He said something about wanting to sleep.”
Of course, he did. Why did she love this idiot? Right now, she wanted to smack him in the head a few times. Surely that would fix his insomnia. “His knee was dislocated, and he popped it back in himself,” Artemis informed Barry, who had bent down to scoop his nephew up.
He nodded once and turned to Bart. “Go home and tell Iris what’s going on.”
“But I want to help.”
“You’ve helped enough.”
Bart looked crestfallen, but he obeyed and raced out of the room. Barry left less than a second after him, leaving Artemis alone in her living room with her incomplete study guide and half-read books. She rubbed her hands down her face and closed her laptop. She doubted she’d get anymore studying done tonight; she could only hope she had learned enough to pass her midterm tomorrow.
By the time Artemis had cooled down enough to join her idiot fiancé at the Watch Tower medical room, Dr. Mid Nite had properly reset Wally’s knee and given him a cast from his mid-thigh to his calf. His left leg was completely immobilized. A normal person would require at least six weeks of healing, but Wally would only need a week. It was a good thing because Artemis doubted she’d survive a week with a speedster on crutches with her sanity intact.
Barry, now dressed in the Flash’s uniform, handed Wally a pair of crutches. Wally grimaced, but took them and swung his legs slowly off the bed. His movements suggested that the massive amount of pain pills he had taken had worn off.
The pair didn’t say anything when she walked in. Barry still wore a hard look on his face, and Wally refused to look at his uncle.
“All set?” She asked, trying to disrupt the tension.
Wally looked up at her gratefully, slowly putting his weight on his good leg and adjusting his crutches as he slid off the bed. “Yeah, I’m good to go.”
Whipping his head to face Artemis, Barry asked, “Has Wally talked to you about his time in the speed force?”
Only his quick relaxes prevented Wally’s crutches from crashing to the ground when he stumbled in response. Artemis wanted to have sympathy for her idiot, but truthfully, she was tired of Wally’s denial. “No.”
“Will you that let go?” Wally screeched. “I made a bad judgment call tonight. It’s not connected.”
“A bad judgment call?” Barry repeated, incredulous. “You didn’t think through your plan of attack, ended up injured in a fight you should have easily won, neglected to inform your backup of said injury, tried and failed to take care of it on your own, dragged a benched hero into this, and nearly overdosed on pain medication. Did I miss anything?”
She had never heard Barry filled with that amount of fury. Throughout the tirade, Wally’s earlier ire disintegrated, and he hunched in on himself. His uncle took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
“Kid, you can’t keep pretending this isn’t affecting you. How much longer until you fall apart? Or get an injury we can’t fix?”
Wally’s voice was incredibly small when he spoke, “I don’t want to talk about it.”
Hearing her stupid idiot with that small voice broke something inside of her, Artemis walked over to stand next to him; she placed her hand over his on the crutch and squeezed. Wally gave her a smile, but she could see the tears gathering in his eyes.
“Not talking about it isn’t working. Come on, Wall-man, I want to sleep through the night again.”
Wally nodded. His voice thick, he replied, “Okay, okay. Just not tonight, okay? I want to get my head on straight.”
Artemis was about to argue but failed to stop the yawn that escaped her.
“Go get some rest. We’ll talk more later,” Barry announced.
“What about Central City?”
“Cisco and Caitlin can watch over the city. I should have done that in the first place. Central City can survive without the Flash for a few months. I shouldn’t have asked you to cover for me,” Barry replied, shaking his head slightly as he studied his nephew.
Wally’s shoulders slumped even further. He didn’t say anything in response just nodded as he followed Artemis out of the room.
Once the couple returned home, Artemis helped situate Wally on their bed. When she turned to leave the bedroom, he called, “Aren’t you coming to bed?”
“My government midterm is in a few hours. I need to finish studying.”
“Babe, I’m sure you’ve studied enough.”
She was too tired to fight Wally on this. “I’m not a genius, Wally. I actually have to study.” She left the room before he could reply.
Settling in her living room with a fresh cup of coffee, Artemis glanced at the clock. It was nearly six am. Determined to ignore the creeping sense of defeat, she buckled down and got to work.
Unfortunately, the conversion with Wally had to be postponed for a few days while Artemis took her midterms. She had just finished her debate on bill 4031b, where she had to argue for the disbanding of Young Justice, and she started to feel herself convinced of her own arguments. It wasn’t something she wanted to think about. She took her backpack off and set her keys on the kitchen counter. Too tired for the serious conversation that they needed to have, she rubbed her eyes and started to make a fresh cup of coffee.
She grabbed a mug and a splash of creamer as she waited for the pot to finish brewing. What she really needed right now was a nap, but they had been putting this conversation off for days already. Wally needed to talk about what had happened. She could sleep once they talked.
She walked into the living room where Wally was laying across the couch with his injured leg propped up on several pillows.
“How you feeling?” Artemis asked as she sat down in their oversized chair.
Wally threw a ball in the air and caught it. Repeating the motion as he replied, “Fine. I should be able to put some weight on my knee my the end of the day.”
“That’s great, Walls.”
Silence penetrated the room. It was awkward and uncomfortable and so far from their norm.
“What happened in the speed force, Wally?”
He didn’t reply at first just kept throwing that ball up in the air and catching it. Artemis gripped her coffee and forced herself to wait.
Finally, Wally caught the ball, but didn’t throw it back up. Instead, his hand squeezed it so hard his entire arm shook. “I saw you die. Over and over again, I watched you die.” Tears filled his eyes, and his voice was hoarse. “Knife to the stomach. Arrow to the heart. Explosion. Car crash. Some rare disease. It wasn’t just you. It was everyone. Dick kept jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge.” He made a strange hiccup noise. “Uncle Barry. Aunt Iris. The twins. Bart. Everyone.”
Wally’s shoulders shook with the force of his sobs. Artemis placed her coffee cup on the side table and rushed to his side. She grabbed his hand with one hand and ran her fingers through his hair with the other.
“Hey, hey, you’re okay. I’m here. I’m alive,” she reassured him.
“I know!” Wally exclaimed with a hoarse sob. “I know, but I keep dreaming about it.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Artemis wished she could keep her exasperation out of her tone. This wasn’t about her.
“I thought they would go away!”
“Wally, it’s been months!”
“I know! Okay, I know.”
Standing up, she returned to her seat and grabbed her cup of coffee. She was torn between wanting to comfort Wally and wanting to punch him. Having something to occupy her hands would prevent her from giving into the latter.
“Where do we go from here?” She asked.
“Uncle Barry thinks talking about it will help.” His tone indicated how he felt about that statement. “He’s also going to have Caitlin observe me while I sleep in case the speed force did something to my neuropathways.”
“Okay, that’s good.” It occurred to Artemis that Barry knew more about Wally’s anguish than she did. That left a disquiet feeling in her stomach. She was the one Wally was going to marry. She was his partner now. She should know these things before his uncle. Why didn’t Wally trust her?
“You okay?” Wally called.
“I want to be there.”
“When you do the sleep testing, I want to be there,” she repeated, determination clear in her voice.
Wally hedged, “You don’t have to do that.”
“I know I don’t. I want to.”
“I don’t want you there!” Wally yelled.
Artemis jerked back as if she’d been slapped. The words hung in the air. Wally’s text message alert broke the silence, and he grabbed it off the coffee table.
“I have to go,” he said after he pocketed his phone.
“GO?! You can’t just go after saying something like that!”
“Dick’s in trouble. He needs me.”
Artemis threw her hands wide, splashing coffee on the chair and the floor. “Dick has other friends! I swear to God Wally if you leave now, you won’t need to bother coming back.”
Wally paused in his efforts to push himself off the couch. “You don’t mean that.”
“If you want to test how much I mean it, walk out the door!”
“Don’t you dare! You plan our wedding by yourself. You lie to my face for months. You don’t want my help. And now, when we’re finally talking, you want to rush off to check on Dick, who has just about every member of Young Justice and the Justice League at his disposal to help him! Oh, screw it! I don’t care! Do whatever the hell you want.” Artemis walked into their bedroom and slammed the door.