fandom: young justice (cartoon)
characters: Jade Nguyen, Artemis Crock.
summary: They were different people then.
A/N: Dedicated to that one time Coco and I cried about Jade and Artemis until 3AM.
They see it on the evening news. Jade is sitting in the chair their father always refers to as his when the report comes on, legs draped over the left armrest, picking at loose threads of chenille with fingernails she keeps forgetting to clip. Her eyes are closed when she hears “attempted robbery at the twelfth precinct,” and it’s as if the world stops for a moment, tilting and tilting while the words echo in her mind, while she remembers lying awake at night, hearing muffled snatches of conversation from the kitchen down the hall.
“Twelfth precinct,” she remembers Mom and Dad saying over and over.
And then she’s staring at the small television opposite her, with its single, horizontal line of static that never seems to go away, no matter how much her mother adjusts the antenna; she stares as the anchor’s voice reports a break-in at the precinct’s police headquarters.
“Jade, I made dinner,” Artemis says behind her. Jade doesn’t respond.
“Jade, I said—” she hears plastic crash and rattle behind her when her mother’s mugshot comes up on the television, and turns to look at her sister.
Artemis watches the screen unblinking, a plate upended on the floor, the ugly remnants of an omelet on her green be-socked feet. “Mom?” she says, her voice quavering.
She doesn’t look at Jade, but Jade knows she’s asking her to say something; to tell her no, it’s not Mom.
Jade remains silent, watching her. She watches her until the police spokesperson says the word “charges.”
And Jade lunges out of the chair. The movement is abrupt and awkward, a raw thing that manages to slip out of her before it’s been made effortless. She pivots, and strides to their room. Her mother would tell her to control herself, that her emotions are turning her sloppy.
Her mother, who’s being charged. Who’ll be found guilty, and sent to jail.
And Dad will come back home, and it will only be the three of them. He’ll come back home and make Artemis throw knives at Jade until he’s satisfied that she means it, and he’ll make Jade throw smoke bombs at Artemis until she finally learns not to gasp and take in a lungful of soot; he’ll say he’s training them for missions, when he’s really training them to go to jail too.
Sportsmaster never offers choices.
She stares into their unlit room, and decides to offer herself her own choice.
Jade’s packing the barest of essentials when Artemis wanders in to perch on her bed.
She begs Jade not to leave. They have to keep the family from falling apart, she says.
Jade doesn’t let herself say that the family’s already fallen apart, that the two of them were the largest surviving shard.
Her hands still at that thought. Artemis has always had her.
But she’s leaving and she has no place to stay. She barely has any money.
She doesn’t know what she’ll have to do.
Jade finishes packing and walks to the door, her movements all smooth and collected now. And then she halts, staring at the doorway. Her foot hovers on the threshold. She can hear Artemis behind her, feet padding on the carpet, breathing slightly hitched.
She could drag Artemis with her anyway, she thinks. She could make Artemis come with her.
Just like when Dad made them fight, just like when he told them that this was the life they were going live no matter what.
“I’d let you come with me, but you’d slow me down.”
It’s a light invitation to argue with her, a chance to convince her otherwise.
And Artemis decides. “Someone has to be here when Mom gets out.”
Jade walks out the door.
She used read to Artemis every night.
Their mother tried once, ambling into their room with a new book, a big smile, and promises of a chapter every night. “Promises,” Jade grumbled not ten days later, sprawling on her back next to Artemis with book in hand. “More like intentions.”
“Mom has to work,” Artemis said, ever loyal. Jade remembered the excitement on her face when their mother had brandished a copy of Ozma of Oz, its cover worn and pages yellowed with age. She remembered their mother telling them they’ll love it, they’ll read it together.
She remembered, and laughed her angriest laugh. “Mom has to work,” she repeated. It wasn’t an agreement or a concession, just a hollow echo.
The twin bed creaked as Artemis burrowed more thoroughly into Jade’s side, and she batted at the book, clumsy, eager to break the tension. “Do the voices,” she urged.
“No,” Jade said, and opened Ozma to a corner-folded page.
“I like the voices, though. You have to do them. You have to.” She jabbed at Jade’s upper arm with her index finger, insistent. “You have to!”
“Shut up,” Jade said. She started to read, “The Tin Woodman was the first to address the meeting. ‘To begin with,’ said he, ‘word came to our noble and illustrious Ruler, Ozma of Oz—‘”
“The voices,” Artemis begged, her small, sweaty hands clamping onto Jade’s wrist.
Jade jerked her arm away. “Fine!” The word burst out in a snarl, and she began again. Annoyance made her words hiss for a paragraph or two before she settled into the story, into Ozma and Dorothy discussing the Nome King.
She did the voices. She always did.
She stays in abandoned buildings for the most part, crouched in a corner, cocooned in old quilts from secondhand stores. She’s restless, red-eyed and hot-faced, never able to drift off fully.
She tells herself it’s because she’s being cautious, protecting herself from whatever may come in the night—not because she misses the sound of her sister’s soft snoring and can’t sleep without it.
Now and then she finds herself perched on the fire escape of her old bedroom, peering in to make sure Artemis is still sleeps there. She stays there for hours sometimes, gripping the railing, knowing her hands will be orange with rust in the morning.
She used to hate climbing on the fire escape, but Artemis had whined nearly every day, begging her to pick the flowers from the potted plants in neighbors’ windows.
Jade rarely complied.
When she climbs up to look in on her now, she always leaves a row of blossoms on the sill. She hopes Artemis can read the message: I’m angry, but I’m still here.
During the day, she looks for employment. She delivers, she waitresses, she’s bored out of her skull; there’s nothing dependable, nothing she can live on.
She takes the jobs she hates, and goes back to abandoned buildings where she can’t sleep.
And she begins to practice things, the violent arts that had been second nature since childhood. At first because it gives her something to do when she can’t sleep, then because she starts to enjoy them.
She practices, and starts to take different jobs.
She stops going to fire escape. She doesn’t want the jobs to follow her home.
They made their way through Baum; through Sewell, Lewis, Kipling, and every other book Jade could buy for a dollar or less at the used bookstore down the street from their apartment complex. Black Beauty and Ginger and the White Witch and Mowgli in the jungle drowned out the kitchen-hatched burglary plans, the yelling when a job went south, and the silence when their parents disappeared for days on end
“You’re getting my hair wet,” Jade said after Beth died in Little Women.
“It’s awful,” Artemis choked, her voice part squeak and part gargle.
“You sound like a frog,” Jade pointed out.
Artemis ignored the attempt at levity, clutching her arm in a hug. Jade let her, even though she could feel snot being ground into her shoulder.
They lay like that for a few long moments, quiet, until Artemis finally sat up. “Am I the Beth?”
“No,” Jade said, sharp and immediate. She snapped the book shut and looked at her sister. “You’re the Amy. I’m the Jo.”
“I’m not the Amy,” Artemis said, outraged. “I hate Amy.”
“She burned Jo’s book!” Artemis glared at her. “I wouldn’t do that to you.”
“Sure you would, brat. You burned my breakfast last week on purpose.”
“You made me do the dishes three times in a row,” Artemis muttered.
“And anyway, you should take it as a compliment. Amy’s my favorite.”
“She’s terrible, though,” Artemis insisted.
Jade’s mouth curved into smile, only slightly bitter. “So is Jo. So am I. So are you. We all are, sometimes. Can’t let that stop you though.” She tossed the book to floor where it landed with a soft thunk on the blue-grey carpet, and sprung up from the bed. “If you’re going to be terrible, be gloriously terrible.”
Her mask goes flying and she hits the ground, asphalt scraping at her knees and ears ringing from the explosion. The smoke makes her eyes sting and she shakes her head in an effort to clear it before—
She hears a boot scuff on the pavement behind her and freezes, knowing, knowing it’s her and there’s nowhere to hide anymore. She’s caught; the smoke is clearing and her mask with its safe, dead smile is out of reach.
She’s good at voices, at masks and pretending and make-believe and all the things they’d played as children before she’d turned the games into weapons.
And now her fakery, her smooth voice and practiced shrugs seem so agonizing in their obviousness. She’ll turn around and her smile will tremble and Artemis will know in an instant that she cares, that there’s a knot in her stomach.
She stares down at her hands, splayed and painfully chafing against the grit and pebbles on the sidewalk.
She closes her eyes—
She makes the smile bloom on her face, and stands.
The nights where arguing escalated into yelling matches grew more and more frequent over the years.
Jade often gave up mid-argument, leaving her parents to shout at her retreating back. She fled—she crawled into bed and curled into a small, furious, miserable ball in the corner of her bed, hating everything and everyone.
Her sister would climb in behind her, and she remembered to make one exception. Almost everyone. Almost.
“The King and Queen of Hearts scream a lot sometimes,” Artemis said into Jade’s back.
“It happens when the Cheshire Cat won’t kiss the king’s hand,” Jade said, her voice dull.
They lay like that for a moment, quiet and still but for Artemis slowly patting Jade between the shoulder blades. “You’re Alice, today,” Artemis said finally. “I’ll be the Cheshire and cheer you up on the croquet field.”
Alice in Wonderland had been their book, the one they knew it by heart. It was the only book they ever bothered to reread.
They read it when they wanted to escape.
Jade drew patterns on the wall with a finger while Artemis read, her voice growling in a silly manner when she spoke as the Caterpillar, her voice cracking whenever she said the Cheshire Cat’s lines.
Artemis was terrible at voices, but she always tried.
“’When I used to read fairy tales, I fancied that kind of thing never happened,’” Artemis said, her Alice voice fluttery and forced, “’and now here I am in the middle of one! There ought to be a book written about me, that there ought! And when I grow up, I’ll write one.’”
“And who would you have help you in a fairy tale, Alice?” Jade asked.
“The Cheshire Cat, of course,” Artemis said
“Of course. But why of course? He isn’t helpful in the least.”
She could hear the frown in Artemis’s voice. “He’s very helpful. He doesn’t tell you where to go. He tells you how.”
“If you say so.”
“He would help Alice if she really needed it,” Artemis insisted. “Just like you would always help me.”
“But he always disappears, in the end.”
“But he doesn’t, not really.”
Jade rolled her eyes and said to the wall, “That’s what the book says, Artemis,”
“That’s because Mr. Caroll never met a Cheshire Cat. He doesn’t know them like I do.”
The league members are falling quickly to her sister’s team, but the assassins have driven them away from the wall of the cave.
The league superiors should have called a retreat by now, only they haven’t. And now Artemis and her teammates have let themselves be herded out in the open. Vulnerable.
She sees the man raise a throwing knife, and when she realizes he’s taken aim at Artemis’s back she doesn’t stop to consider, doesn’t hesitate or even blink.
She watches her sai sail through the air, embedding itself in her compatriot’s side, and he falls to the ground.
She watches Artemis catch the movement out of the corner of her eye. Her sister sees the sai, and follows the invisible trail to where Jade stands.
The team leader, the boy from the sea, shouts a warning. She watches Artemis whip around to sweep an opponent’s feet out from under him.
By the time Artemis turns to look back again, she’s gone.