Empty Arguments (Preview — Revised)
Rating: T+ (for violence and character death)
Prompt: Even if you prove me wrong, I will never agree with you.
(See, this is why I should not post things that I wrote at like, 3 in the morning. This is moderately better… Ish).
From the prompt: “Even if you prove me wrong, I will never agree with you.”
He’s curled up on his side, arms shaky, circling his middle, and tries to breathe shallowly through the painpainpainpainpain. His fingers skirt, scared and hesitant, around the gashes in his abdomen, wary and nauseous when he touches something that’s fleshy, but not quite skin. The air is thick and metallic, and it burns going down what’s left of his throat.
His thoughts are circling in on themselves, nonsensical, foggy with loss of blood and what are probably multiple concussions. He remembers, vaguely that someone is in here with him – a partner. A teammate. The thought trips him up, makes some semblance of clarity pierce through his mind, and he frantically, hurriedly slogs through his jumbled thoughts, still far too slow for his liking. He wants to heal faster, needs to heal faster, to be faster, to find whoever it is, here, with him.
He hears a sharp intake of breath, distant, and it takes him a moment to figure out that it isn’t his. He tries to turn, tries to move, tries to see, but he can’t because he’ll spill, inside out, things that should never never never, be pressed against his freckled flesh. If he wasn’t a speedster, if he didn’t have the ability – no matter if it still isn’t up to par, if it can’t heal him as quickly as his uncle, as the Flash, as the legacy – he would be dead. No question at all. And the thought worries him, causes sporadic shivers and at the same time freezes him with fear, because he is the only speedster on the team. The other one – the other victim, and the word sounds hopeless and tinny and wrong in his mind – will not have fared as well as he has. And that is even more terrifying, because he knows for a fact that he is in some deep shit right now.
He claws through his memories, broken and sporadic and frantic, and tries to remember, tries to piece things together. The end of a botched reconnaissance mission, the team loading up the Bioship, the tired happiness from the Martian, weary grunts from the muscled clone, soothing, lilting tones from the ever-fearless leader. The light, catching in the distance, the strange spark, the offers to check, to see, to make sure. Cackles following, strange filtered green off leaves, water dripping. White, blinding, hard, painful, searing, bone-jolting impact. Black. Black and pain.
Robin! His stomach lurches and he’s certain another ounce of blood has just squirted onto the floor. He’s here! And he’s – oh God, he’s here. With him. Robin; without powers, without invincibility or invulnerability or accelerated healing. With nothing but his raw skill and trained talent and clever mind to protect him. Robin, barely breathing and suffering and aching somewhere just behind him, so close but so impossibly far.
And the need to turn around and see him is increased tenfold, but he can’t. He can’t, he can’t, he can’t, because the pain and the hope and the fear and death hang above his head, heavy and oppressive. It’s stupid, he thinks, and so, so pathetic, because they’re in a square room six feet across with nothing but floor and walls and ceiling and heavy, bolted, wooden door, small and still taking up so much space. Not even enough room to accelerate even if he could move. Trapped, helpless, and suddenly the idiom ‘Shooting fish in a barrel’ comes to mind, and it’s not a reassuring thought.
Dead, defeated, dying. Playing possum without really having to pretend.
Sweat is beading on his brow, icy and prickling, and his heartbeat is slow. Much, much too slow. They won’t last much longer.
The soft click of the bolt as it is unlatched draws his attention, and the door swings open, sweeping through half the room to land on the side wall. And there he is, standing, casual in the doorway, and of course he’s back. Back to play another sadistic, twisted, private ‘party’ game. Because he won’t leave them here, alone, to die in the squalor and filth of their own breaking bodies. Because he’s having too much fun. He remembers the callous way he’d tossed them in here, the casual way he swung the bat, the happy, breathless light in his eyes as he brought his legs and his arms down, and down, and down. And he remembers the way he had felt Robin’s eyes on him, boring into the back of his head, eyes wide and fearful and angry and watching. At some point, Wally’s sure he passed out. Passed out far before he even got started on his friend.
He’s here to twist their bones and push and push and push to see what it takes to make them break. And Wally almost snarls, low and feral in his throat, but the ripping and bleeding makes it unfeasible. He’s going to have a long wait then – he can crush them and torture them and kill them, but it is near impossible to break them. And he thinks he can stand up to it (metaphorically of course), endure and hope and wait for them to come. For them to arrive and save them. But then, their captor, their torturer, their host, turns around and beckons behind him. Invites. Welcomes. And Wally realizes he was wrong. He is much more fragile than he realized.
She saunters into the room, boots whisper soft on the ground, relaxed and confident and so at home. Her hip cocked, hair swinging elegantly behind her, she looks down at them and he sees nothing. Artemis is gone, wiped clean with that expression of casual amusement. And her lips quirk upwards in that smirk that is so, unquestionably hers, and she spits on those days of friendship and trust and happiness together with one, short, breathy sentence. “This probably goes without saying, but I’m off the team.”
And he wants to yell and scream and screw up his face in anguish and terror and anger and so much goddamn disappointment. But he can’t be vocal – not anymore – so he does the only other thing he can think of. The only other thing that could possibly elicit a response. He pretends that it doesn’t bother him. That it doesn’t matter, that he couldn’t care less that she defected, that she burned their hope and their reliance and their belief in her to the ground with nothing more than a careless quirk of the lips. He tries to convey his apathy, his acceptance, his conviction that he knew what she was like, he had anticipated it. And his anger burns inside him, so bright and deep and disbelieving that he thinks it will kill him before they do – consume him from the inside out until nothing is left but the charred, smouldering remains of idealism and hope.
“Go ahead, baby girl. Show them how it’s done.” The voice is low and amused and her expression never changes. Light, smiling, strange. And she steps casually over to him, her eyes empty and suddenly so, so black. Never changes, even when the sole of a heavy combat boot crushes what’s left of his knee. Even when he’s too tired and defeated to scream. The blood gushes from him, increasing in flow from the jolt caused by the blow, adding to the litres of contaminated, spilt, dirty, blood pooling on the floor. They’re swimming now – floating face down in a pool of red; drowning. And she’s going to let them.
Deep, guttural laughter then, from the man in the damn hockey mask, stained dark brown from dried blood. He moves over to the acrobat, lying prone and probably unconscious on the floor mere inches away, and lifts his boot to mirror his lovely, brutal daughter. Wally wants to spit on him as he passes, but pain is clouding his vision and the effort it would take would likely just rip his guts apart. He’s surprised then, when he hears the low grunt of pain – impossibly deep and masculine. Robin’s never sounded like that, and he can’t understand, doesn’t know what it means, until the dirty blond head comes crashing to the floor next to his, blood seeping from somewhere just above the straps of his mask.
He’s down, with just one well-placed … something. And his heart swells with hope and he realizes she’s a much better actor than he ever gave her credit for. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” And he doesn’t sound surprised, just angry, just terrifyingly vengeful at the very idea that she would have the gall to turn this back on him. A heavy boot, crushing his face, cutting off his airways, before he can even move, so swift and fast and terrible that for a moment, even Wally isn’t sure he sees it coming. His breathing stops and she leaves it there, waits for a good six minutes with her fingers lightly ghosting over his wrist, checking his pulse. “Sorry, daddy.” And her tone is light and soft and just so easy as she carefully rips off his mask. “I was never very good at following orders.”
She turns to Wally then, turns to her teammates, never letting her back face the heavy man on the floor with his nose bleeding, likely broken. “You look like shit.” And he almost laughs, he really does, but the beginnings of one die in his throat and he just quirks his lips instead and says, croaky and soft and terribly, terribly weak, “You’re late.”
She bends down, taking a small syringe from a side pocket on her quiver, uncapping the needle and tapping it, pushing a small amount of fluid out of the tip. “This might sting a little.” And one eyebrow lifts up in jocular amusement, because really, it can’t feel like more than a bite compared to what’s going on with the rest of him. Her lips quirk, but it doesn’t reach her eyes, still, and he realizes that the absence of expression deadens them, makes the grey turn to stony concrete.
She turns to Robin first, injects him, and he can hear the spasm of his muscles, the way his breath hitches and contracts and suddenly goes quiet, and his heart nearly stops altogether. But he trusts her. She came to save them, she took down her own damn father, she wants them to be alright. Never mind how Sportsmaster got his grubby little gloves on her. Never mind that she is so damn prepared for this. He trusts her.
She bends down to give him the needle too, and as soon as she pushes on the plunger, he can see a flicker of movement from the corner of his eye. “Art … ” And the sound is so weak he’s afraid she won’t hear, won’t be able to understand, but she swivels around and stabs the tip of an arrow from her quiver straight through his reaching hand. Blood adds to the pool in the floor, his and Robin’s and now Sportsmaster’s, and he laughs. “So I have taught you something after all. But not enough.”
He’s rolling over, about to get up, to stand, and she can’t afford to let that happen. No more stupid games – she’s done playing. Her foot comes up again, and she kicks him when his face whips back around, with the satisfying Crack! of his nose. And he sees the way she angles upwards, ferocious and contained, knows her well enough to realize it’s deliberate, that she’s trying to shove the bone fragment into his brain. That she wants to kill him.
“Artemis,” Wally starts, and it’s weak and desperate and so, so helpless. The sound grates on her, pierces her skin, but she won’t turn around, won’t acknowledge him. Can’t afford to. “Artemis, don’t.”
And Sportsmaster is on the ground again, backed against a wall, half-dead and skull partially pierced. Wally’s frightened now, of where she’s going. Can see her, barely, hazy and confused from the medication. “Artemis. You’re better than this. I know you are.” His voice is less than a whisper, carried solely with force of will and fear and confusion.
But her arrows are nocked and ready, and she releases without hesitation, without fear, without remorse, without regret. Two arrows at once, one straight through the heart, the other through the skull. She never misses. “But I’m not, Wally.” And the sound is so low and sad and disappointed and quiet, that he wonders if it’s just a dream as he slips from consciousness.