Artemis swung around, aiming her bow in the direction the voice had come from. A young woman was standing there, arms crossed, looking angry.
"You're Artemis?" the woman asked, although she seemed to already know the answer.
"Who are you?" Artemis asked, bow still pointed straight at the strange woman. Artemis knew she wasn't exactly one of the well known heroes. Definitely not popular enough that someone should be following her up to the top of a building to call out to her. The woman must have been quiet, too. She hadn't even heard her coming up.
"Shawna. Peekaboo," the woman irritatedly corrected. "But I prefer Shawna. Anyway, I'm not here to talk about me, I'm here to tell you to lay off Kid Flash!"
"Peekaboo? One of the Rogues?" Artemis scoffed. "And you're telling me to lay off him?"
"We're the bad guys," Shawna spat back. "What's your excuse? We fight him, sure, and taunt him, but you're the one calling him an idiot all the time. Do you even know how smart Wally is? He's at the top of all his science classes!"
Artemis just stared, mouth dropping open, watching the pride and protective fury written all over Shawna's face. Unconsciously, her bow hand dropped, the arrow now pointing down towards the rooftop.
"Seriously?" she cried, unable to stop herself. "He doesn't just have parents who care about him, he has an aunt, an uncle who's also a superhero, and now even his villains! What's so special about Wally? Why does he get so many people who love him, and I –" Her voice cut off abruptly, and she glanced warily at Shawna.
"You've got no one?" Some of Shawna's fury had dropped, replaced with something Artemis couldn't quite recognise.
"It's not no one!" she protested. "There's my mom, and my sister, and my dad..."
Shawna cut her off. "Family who don't care about you might as well be no one."
Her shoulders slumped. "Yeah, I know." She swung her bow back onto her back and slumped down to sit on the rooftop, letting her legs hang over the edge. Shawna came and sat beside her.
They sat side by side for a long moment, staring out over the city. The sun was setting, the buildings casting long shadows along the ground, sending the people scurrying along below into darkness.
"It's not that they don't care at all," Artemis whispered, breaking the silence that had fallen between them. "My mom loves me, but just two of us doesn’t feel like family the way it used to. It was better when my sister was there. She still cares, I know that, but she has her own life. She doesn't want to be looking after me all the time. Besides, she's a villain. So's my dad, but he –" she exhaled loudly. "That's more complicated."
"Alright," Shawna said slowly. "Then uncomplicate it."
Artemis bristled, defences going up. "I can't!" she hissed. "You think I haven't tried? But they won't listen!"
Shawna waved her off. "No, not like that. Your family sucks, that much is obvious. And considering my mother threw me out onto the street when I was your age because her new boyfriend didn't like me, I think I would know." Despite her glib words, there was old pain in her eyes. The kind of pain Artemis recognised from every time she'd seen it in the mirror. "So now, you need some new family."
"I have my team!" Artemis protested.
"And they feel like family to you?" Shawna crossed her arms.
Artemis began to speak, then stopped. As much as she liked her team, she had to admit, they didn't really feel like family. There were too many secrets, not enough time spent together that wasn't just training and missions. Some day, maybe, they could actually be like family, but not now.
Shawna nodded, satisfied. "That's what I thought." She jumped to her feet, dragging Artemis up with her. "Come with me. I'm going to show you what real family is like."
Artemis shook her head, but let herself be dragged along. Whatever Shawna had to show her, it couldn't be worse than staying here.
In a series of quick blinks, they teleported, ending up outside a building she recognised.
Okay, she was wrong. This was definitely worse than staying there. "You took me to the Rogues hideout!"
Shawna looked at her like she was stupid. "Even if I don't go out and fight, I am still a Rogue. Where did you think I'd take you?"
"You said you were going to show me a family! Not a lair!"
"The Rogues are a family. And it's not a lair or a hideout, it's a safehouse!"
Artemis scoffed. "Oh, because that's so much better."
Shawna rolled her eyes. "Just come in."
Tense, but unwilling to give in after having come this far, Artemis followed her inside.
Inside, she was met by Captain Cold, Mirror Master, and another Rogue she didn't recognise surrounding her and Shawna, their weapons raised and ready.
"Shawna," Cold greeted coolly. "You didn't mention you were bringing a guest."
Shawna blew out a long breath. "I know, I should have, but she really needed a break. I promise, I'm not being controlled or anything. I know what I'm doing."
Cold studied her for a moment, then turned to Artemis. "Check her out," he said, gaze not leaving her.
The other Rogue stepped forward, waving a slim metal device over her. He then stepped back, turning to Cold. "She's clean."
"Alright." He holstered his weapon. "She's all yours, Shawna. She makes a mess, you clean it up."
"That's all?" Artemis muttered.
"Mick's still in the kitchen," Cold said cheerfully, startling her. Either she had said that louder than she intended, or Cold had much better hearing than she had thought. "Disturb him, and you'll wish we'd shot you."
Artemis stared at him, expecting more of a reaction, but there was none. Cold went back to looking over his plans, Heatwave was apparently still in the kitchen, and the other Rogues had lowered their weapons, returning to whatever they had been doing before she came in.
"Why are they not doing anything?" she hissed at Shawna.
Shawna shot her an amused glance. "We don't bring just anyone to our safe house, you know. Once you're in, you're in. Chill."
Artemis would have pressed the point, made Shawna explain what she meant by such a puzzling statement, but then Shawna grimaced. "Not again! One day I'm going to kill him for that."
Artemis' gaze flicked around the room. Her fingers flexed, desperate to track back and grab her bow, but wary of doing so with so many potential enemies around. "Kill who? Are they here?"
"Him." She jerked her thumb at Cold. "Those puns are contagious."
Artemis blinked. Her fingers relaxed. "Oh." She hadn't even noticed.
"Once you've spent enough time around here, you'll find you're doing it too," Shawna continued. She rolled her eyes. "It's the most irritating thing, I swear, but none of us can stop."
She said more, but Artemis tuned out, floored by the realisation that this wasn't a one time offer, born out of pity or a strange sense of unity when it came to terrible families. Shawna actually expected her to come back.
She gradually realised Shawna had stopped talking and was now staring at her; and from her expression she'd been waiting for a while.
"What?" she asked defensively.
Shawna leant back, looking amused. "No need to get touchy. I was just asking if you like barbecue."
"Why do you care?" she snapped.
Shawna's eyes softened. Artemis silently cursed herself for being so obvious. Clearly she could tell this was not just about the food.
To her surprise, Shawna didn't actually ask her if she was alright, or tell her that of course she cared, or any of those other annoying things adults did. She just said, "Mick's cooking dinner. If you don't like barbecue, you're stuck with salad."
"Mick?" Artemis' eyes widened. "Heatwave is using the barbecue? The pyromaniac?"
"Yeah, that's what I thought, but it's okay, he's really good. Never burns the meat."
"Kind of not the issue," Artemis says faintly. "I was more thinking about him burning the building. Or, you know, the people."
"Len takes care of that," Shawna dismissed easily. "Don't worry about it."
Artemis wanted to protest, but bit her tongue. She still wasn't sure of her place here, and even if it seemed like Shawna liked her, she'd only known the Rogue for a few hours. Definitely not enough time to rely on Shawna standing up for her if she accidentally insulted one of the other Rogues. Especially as Shawna considered them family.
"So what are you doing?" she says instead. "Why did you bring me here?" She scowled, shoulders hunching defensively. "You aren't holding me as a hostage, are you?"
"No!" Shawna looked offended. "I said you needed some family time, didn't I? Obviously I was right, if that's the first thing you think of."
Artemis' shoulders loosened. "Gotham kid," she offered, feeling a little guilty. "Most of my class has been some kind of hostage before."
"Wow." Shawna stared at her. "Now I know I was right, you definitely need a break."
"Yeah," she agreed tiredly. "I think you're right."
"Listen," Shawna said slowly. "I was going to suggest we play some card games, maybe swap some stupidest crime stories, but you're obviously exhausted. And don't even try to deny it," Shawna forestalled her protests. "I went to med school, I know what the symptoms of exhaustion look like."
She waited for her to protest again, but Artemis couldn't bring herself to do so. Shawna was right, she was tired, and right now, sitting and relaxing in front of a movie sounded amazing. Even being in the Rogues' hideout wasn't enough to put her off.
"Can it be Disney?"
For a moment, Shawna looked surprised at her lack of protest, but then she grinned wickedly. "Sure. I have the perfect one in mind."
Artemis followed Shawna over to the living room, nearly falling on to one of the lounges, while Shawna went over to the TV and fiddled with something.
"There we go!" she said triumphantly, standing back as the Disney logo lit up the screen.
The DVD's home screen popped up. Artemis hid her face in the surprisingly numerous cushions. "Seriously? Brave?"
Shawna gave her a quick, sly glance. "Really, it was either this or Robin Hood."
Artemis recalled the story of a handsome, full of himself master archer, with a girlfriend who was way too good for him, and shuddered. "No thanks. I get enough of that in my other life."
She settled further into the cushions, feeling her muscles slowly start to relax as the first song started to play.
Before Merida even made it back to the castle, her eyes had closed, and she was drifting off to sleep.
“Food’s almost ready, Artemis. Now would be a good time to wake up.”
Artemis’ nose scrunched at the unexpected noise coming from somewhere not too far away. Then she recognised the voice, and the words sank into her brain.
“Thanks,” she mumbled, uncurling and stretching out. It felt weird, being this relaxed and slow to wake up. She barely slept that well in her own bed. For a moment she considered she might have been drugged, then dismissed it. She hadn’t eaten or drink anything the whole time she was here, and she didn’t feel the headache or sluggishness which usually came with drugged sleep. She must just have felt comfortable here, like it actually was the home Shawna said it was.
"Do you have a real name?" Shawna asked. "Because Artemis is a bit long to be using all the time. Though if you don't want to tell me, that's fine," she amended. "You superheroes have rules about identities, we all know that."
Artemis' cheeks reddened. "Artemis is enough." There was no way she was letting any of the Rogues know that her name really was Artemis. It was just so much easier than trying to remember a code name all the time! She had no idea how Robin kept it up even around just the team.
"Her name is Artemis anyway, might as well keep calling her that."
She jerked upright, scanning to see where the new voice had come from. The Rogue she'd seen earlier, the one who had scanned her on the way in, was now leaning against the wall, smirking at her.
"Artemis Crock, to be exact. Not that you'd be able to find that connection any more. Someone cleared all ties between Artemis and – well, Artemis – the very night she joined Baby's little team."
Her gaze flicked between Shawna and the new Rogue, heart beating wildly.
“You’re being a jerk, Hartley,” Shawna said sharply. “Stop f-,” she glanced quickly at Artemis, “stop screwing with her.”
She pushed him away, and he left the room, looking satisfied. “That’s just Hartley,” she told Artemis. “He’s always like that.”
“Why are you like this?” Artemis said quietly. Now that her adrenaline spike was going down, she just felt tired, and embarrassingly emotional. Tears pricked at the corner of her eyes. “You just found out my real name, and you don’t even care?”
Shawna sighed. “I... I didn’t want to talk about this, because it’s hard, and I don’t really like thinking on some of these memories, but I’m probably the only one who’ll actually give you a straight answer, so I guess I have to.”
“You know the Rogues have been around for a long time, right? We’re not one of those groups who only got together to defeat this one hero, then split up when it didn’t work. We stay, and we have rules. We don’t kill, and we don’t hurt innocents. Used to be women and children, but firstly, that’s sexist, Lisa campaigned against it as soon as she found out–“
Artemis nodded. She hated that line as well.
“–and secondly, you guys came along.”
“We aren’t children, we’re teenagers!” Artemis protested. “You have teens in the Rogues as well!”
Shawna held up a finger. “One teen. And Axel is nineteen, which makes him an adult. But as I was saying, we have rules, the Rogues’ code. Len and the Flash came up with them right around when the Rogues were formed, so before I was a Rogue, but I’ve heard the stories. We follow the rules, and Flash has no reason to kill us.”
Artemis’ mouth dropped open. She’d met the Flash, and the only time she could imagine him even getting angry was if Wally had done something stupid and gotten himself injured. Even then, angry enough to kill? No way. He was always cheerful, even in the news broadcasts of League battles.
Shawna apparently noticed her look. “The Flash can punch someone at Mach 5 speeds,” she said drily. “He can phase through walls, and probably people too if he wanted to. He definitely has the ability to kill someone. We have the Rogues’ Code so he doesn’t kill us.”
“So we had the Code – and again, I wasn’t a Rogue then, I just know this from stories – and then Kid Flash came along. This tiny little kid, racing after the Flash, thinking he could go against criminals who had been doing this for years. He had abilities, yeah, and wasn’t too bad with them, but the Rogues had been fighting Flash for years. They knew how to work around those.”
“Only he was a kid. Only sickos like the Joker want to hurt kids. The Rogues, we don’t do that. Partly because of the Code, but more because some of us know what it’s like to have someone hurt you just because you’re small and in the way.” Fierce tears shined in Shawna’s eyes, and for a moment she looked like she might get lost in memories, before rallying and returning to her story. “So we took it easy on him. We played nice, never let him get hurt too bad, kept him safe from the villains who weren’t so friendly. He grew on us. He’s like that, you know?”
Artemis found herself nodding before she even realised. Yeah, she did know. Maybe she didn’t like Wally that much yet, still didn’t understand why they all loved him all so much, but she was starting to. When he wasn’t irritating her with his jokes and pranks, he was a pretty good teammate.
“Then something happened, and I can’t tell you what because I don’t know. I was a Rogue by then, most of the Rogues were together, and one night Len came into the safe house, furious, with this kid following behind him. Didn’t tell us what happened, just told us that the kid was staying with us tonight. The kid ended up telling us his name was Wally, and he was Kid Flash. I still don’t know what happened to get him there. Len does, so Mick does, and probably Lisa too, but the rest of have no clue. We just got used to him coming around sometimes. Now he spends as much time here as he does at Flash’s or his parents’. He’s family.”
“But what’s that got to do with me?”
Shawna gave her a flat look. “Did you miss all of that? You’re a kid. All of you, your whole baby superhero group, you‘re kids, and I told you, only sickos like the Joker want to hurt kids.”
Artemis wasn’t going to buy that. She was a Gotham kid, she knew a diversion when she heard one. “Not wanting to hurt kids isn’t the same as taking one home and feeding them dinner.”
“I told you, you looked like you needed a break.”
Nope, she still wasn’t buying it. “Still doesn’t explain why you didn’t care about my name.” Emotions started rising up again at that, but she pushed it down. Tears could wait until she had some answers.
Shawna sighed. “Look, I don’t know much about kids, but I know happy kids don’t go out in costumes and punch people every night. I told you what happened with my mom.”
Artemis nodded. She remembered that.
“So when I was your age, all I wanted was a place where I could be safe for a while, not worry about where to get food or where I‘d be sleeping. I think you need that too.”
“And the Rogues are okay with that?” Artemis asked incredulously. Last time she’d fought Captain Cold, he’d frozen her in a block of ice. That didn’t exactly come across as the type of guy who’d be happy with kids wandering around his safehouse, no matter what stories Shawna told.
Shawna huffed a laugh. “Let’s say I’m not the only one who had a difficult childhood.” She stood up from the lounge, holding out a hand for Artemis. “C’mon, if we’re quick there will still be some food left.”
Artemis grabbed her hand and got to her feet, body following Shawna while her mind tried to process everything she had heard. Even as she sat down and ate with the Rogues, she was silent, mulling it all over. The Rogues seemed friendly right now, while she was sitting in their house and eating their food, but so did Penguin... at first. Underneath, they were all bad guys, killers, just like her father. Even if it had been a long time since any of the Rogues had killed, that never went away. Except...
Except that Cold could have killed her last time they fought, and he didn’t. Any of them could have died that day at the hands of a Rogue, and not only did they all survive, the Rogues actually stopped when Wally asked. They were even only there in the first place to check if Wally was okay, at least according to M’gann. So maybe Shawna was sincere, and the Rogues really did just want to make sure she had somewhere safe if she needed it. Or at least Shawna did, and trusted the others enough to think they wouldn’t stop her.
As weird as it had been, today had actually been one of the best days she’d had in a while. It had been nice to have some time to relax, not have to think about training, if the team would be watching her back when she needed it, and if someone was going to die tonight. And Shawna, she felt more like a friend than a villain.
Her phone beeped, distracting her from pursuing that discomfiting line of thought. She quickly checked it. She hadn’t realised how late it had gotten – her mother would have expected her home before now.
This would be the true test of their intentions. Would they really just let her leave?
Artemis stood up, pushing her chair back. “It’s been great, but I think I’ll head out,” she said, feigning calm. There was no way this was going to work. This whole thing had been one extended trap, trying to get her to let down her guard long enough for them to capture her, it had to be. Her hands clenched and unclenched, itching to reach for her bow. They wouldn’t take her easily.
Cold turned to her, his cool, assessing gaze sweep over her. He shrugged, and turned away. “Alright.”
A small flicker of hope was rising in the back of her mind. What if this wasn’t a trap after all? She tried to push it down, but it stubbornly persisted.
“You can stay here if you need to,” Heatwave offered, looking in her direction. “Take a break from heroing.”
Artemis turned, staring behind her. There was no one there. “You mean... me?” she asked weakly.
“Nah, mate, he meant me.” Captain Boomerang rolled his eyes at her. “I’m just so heroic, ya know?”
Artemis’ eyes flicked between them, trying to figure this out. Was this another layer to the trap? Trying to get her to agree to stay, so she wouldn’t find out that she couldn’t? Even to her, that seemed a little farfetched.
Maybe, a little voice in the back of her mind suggested, he was just trying to be nice. Maybe they actually did care, and Shawna was right. She told the voice to shut up.
“I can’t.” She shook her head, still trying to pretend she was totally calm and not at all suspicious. “I’m expected back.” She inched backwards, closer to the door.
Nobody looked up.
Nobody stopped her.
Her heart was in her throat all the way to the door, but nothing happened. They just kept eating, throwing jokes and comments around the table, almost like they’d forgotten she’d ever been there at all. She told herself that it didn’t matter, that it was better they forgot about her. She was safer that way.
"Hey, Artemis!" Shawna called.
Artemis paused, half turning. "Yeah?"
"There's always room for you here."
She looked around, expecting disagreement, but the rest of the Rogues were nodding.
She swallowed roughly, scrubbing at her eyes. It suddenly seemed really dusty in here. It was making her eyes water. "Thanks, guys."