“Stop moving,” Dick says, wiping his brush on his jeans, “you’re making the light change.”
Artemis narrows her eyes, shifting once more in silent rebellion. “Seriously Grayson, if this wasn’t for my mom I’d stick those paintbrushes so far up your--”
“Language,” he says with a smirk, just to drive her crazy. “Don’t forget, this was your idea.”
“I was being sarcastic,” she reminds him, which is both totally true and totally hilarious. “It’s not my fault Mom thought it would be nice.”
The afternoon sun is catching her blonde hair perfectly, and Dick puts a pause on their banter to try and memorialize it on canvas before she loses interest altogether, momentary parental disappointment be damned. He has enough trouble tracking her down at all these days, between her class load and the part-time job that’s really more full-time-without-the-paycheck, and he gets it, he does, but sometimes he’s worried she’s going to burn herself out before she hits twenty-three.
“So,” she says after a while, and it’s like she’s reading his mind, “how’s the life of the rich and idle?”
“Excellent,” he says, sniffing haughtily, “I’m learning all sorts of new skills, as you can see.”
Artemis laughs, and it’s still one of Dick’s favorite sounds even after all these years. “If I didn’t know how much you hated most of it, I’d think you were the perfect little socialite.”
He grins and reaches for the oils and doesn’t say “I’ve always been a good actor” because she already knows.
“Are you sure this isn’t classified as stalking?” Jaime asks, pulling his hoodie tighter around him and eyeing Tim skeptically.
“Practice is open to anyone,” Tim says, like he’s quoting the school handbook. He probably is, actually, but Jaime’s not touching that one. “Also, shut up.”
Tim’s staring straight ahead, watching the football team with singular focus, and Jaime sighs and takes his phone out, settling in for the long haul and trying to remember if Bart gets an afternoon break at the Smoothie Hut today or not.
On the field someone passes Conner Kent the ball, and Jaime can all but feel Tim vibrating happily next to him. He’s seriously thinking about roping Cassie into an intervention or reminding Tim about the time he had that super inappropriate crush on his (okay, not biological) brother, because this? Is getting ridiculous. He’s pretty sure Tim and Conner have only exchanged a handful of words ever, and most of those have been because Conner’s friends with Dick rather than any ability on Tim’s part to hold a halfway articulate conversation. Jaime loves his friend enough to take two buses to the college after school and sit in uncomfortable metal bleachers for an hour, but he doesn’t for a second think anything about it is healthy.
“Oh, hey, there’s M’gann,” Tim says, standing up and pointing down at where the cheerleaders have appeared at the edge of the field, “I’m just going to go say hi.”
Jaime rolls his eyes. “I’ll be right here when you’re done making an idiot out of yourself!” he calls and grins when Tim flips him off.
if arrested plz tell cops drake’s a psycho and i don’t even know him, he texts Bart, even though Bart’s supervisor has a strict ‘no cell phones on the floor’ policy, because it’s good to be prepared, then closes his eyes to try and catch some z’s.
Tim’s felt many things for M’gann over the years, ranging from indifference to extreme dislike bordering on searing hatred, and now to thinking that she’s very possibly a goddess in disguise.
“It’s going to be pretty laidback,” she says, smiling sweetly and tucking a strand of short, red hair behind her ear. “La’gaan doesn’t want anything big, so we’re just going for milkshakes.”
Tim tries to keep his expression neutral. “Are you sure it’s okay? I don’t want to crash.”
M’gann waves a hand dismissively, greeting a couple of her fellow cheerleaders as they pass, and doesn’t look at Tim like he’s just her friend’s little brother. “You wouldn’t be,” she says. “Really. La’gaan still hasn’t met many people, and I think you two would get along really well.”
“Okay,” he says, shrugging casually, “yeah, sure. I’ll be there.”
“Great!” M’gann says. “I have to get to practice but I’ll see you later.”
“M’gann is my favorite female,” Tim says, heading back up the bleachers once the football team’s retreated to the showers. “If I wasn’t in love with her ex-boyfriend I’d ask her to marry me.”
“Cool,” Jaime says, not looking up from his phone. “Tell me again how you’ve avoided even a single restraining order?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Tim says, and vows to let Bart know that Jaime was flirting with their Bio teacher fifth period. “Bruce says that slander is always a sueable offense.”
Jaime shoots him a look. “I’m so glad you’re such a sane pillar of Gotham society. Really.”
Tim resists pulling a face only because of his impeccable upbringing and changes Bio teacher to Paul Westbury the hot lacrosse player just because.
“So,” Wally says, Doritos propped on his chest as he hangs upside down off the bed, “you talked to her yet?”
“I talk to her all the time,” Dick says, rolling his eyes and trying to remember if he’s expected at the Manor for dinner tonight or not.
Wally scoffs and Dick gets a fantastic view of his clothes-strewn floor before his face reappears, now upright and supported by about half a dozen pillows. “I don’t know why everyone always says I’m the idiot.”
“Okay,” Dick says, ignoring him. “How’s Europe?”
“You’d know better than me,” Wally reminds him, good-naturedly. “I can tell you about the new chewing gum stains on the lab ceiling or my roommate’s cactus obsession if it’ll help you steer clear of awkward topics though.”
“That’s why you’re my best friend,” Dick says, and it’s never felt truer than when they’re not talking about Artemis.
“Damn straight,” Wally says, tossing the empty Doritos packet off-screen. “So, is your brother still stalking Conner?”
Dick laughs. “I think Bruce is trying to talk Alfred into locking Timmy in his room at night, at least until he works out how to manufacture chastity belts without the board of investors asking too many questions.”
“Lost cause,” Wally laughs. “At least if he ends up anything like you.”
Wally’s expressions shifts, just a little, and it hits Dick like it always does that this is the same boy who went to Junior Prom with him after Zatanna broke it off, just so he wouldn’t be dateless.
The same boy who’d held him for hours after Jason died.
“I love you both,” Wally says. “So much. You know that, right?”
“Yes,” Dick says, because he does. Wally’s proved it all his life.
“Then don’t use me as an excuse,” Wally says, and Dick--
Dick doesn’t have a response to that.
Tim arrives at the diner fifteen minutes late, almost out of breath and still in his school uniform, which isn’t exactly the Casually Apathetic and Socially Accessible image he’d been hoping to project but no one seems to care so he just slips into the booth next to M’gann and orders a plain vanilla shake.
“Hi,” he says, when there’s a break in the conversation. “Sorry I’m late. Happy Birthday, La’gaan.”
“No worries, man,” La’gaan says, reaching across the table to give Tim a complicated hand shake that fails spectacularly. Tim shoots him an apologetic look but La’gaan doesn’t seem fazed. “We were just talking about our trip to Cali.”
M’gann blushes, and explains, “La’gaan’s family wants me to visit for Christmas.”
“Cool,” Tim says, even as his eyes find Conner who’s sitting further along the booth listening to something Cassie’s saying, and okay, Jaime can call him a stalker all he wants, but whatever, at least it means he can tell when Conner’s only pretending not to pay attention. “Uh,” he says, trying to think of any other topic. “How’s cheerleading going, M’gann? Do you think you’ll make it to Nationals again this year?”
M’gann’s eyes light up and she starts talking with her hands, and Tim relaxes a little and almost doesn’t notice the small smile Conner sends him, gone as quickly as it appears.
Bart’s already in his room when Jaime gets home from school, clothes rumpled and chin resting on his arms as he causes a series of explosions on the PlayStation, looking to all the world like he’s been hanging out for hours when in reality he can’t have got there more than five minutes before Jaime.
“Comfy?” he asks, dropping his bag in the corner and kicking his shoes somewhere in the direction of the closet.
“Always,” Bart says, reaching for a handful of chips. “Be more comfy if you let me use you as a pillow though.”
Jaime scoffs and tries not to blush. Bart’s grin suggests it’s a lost cause, so Jaime gives up and sprawls out next to him, reaching for his own controller.
They kill things on-screen for a bit before Bart gets bored and stretches his legs so they’re tangled with Jaime’s.
“Hi,” he says, smile wide.
“Hi,” Jaime says, reaching over to play with the zipper on Bart’s hoodie. “Good day?”
Bart shrugs. “It was okay. Better now.”
“Yeah,” Jaime agrees. “Better now.”
“Wanna make out until dinner?” Bart says, kicking Jaime’s shin gently, and Jaime huffs a laugh into his neck.
“My boyfriend, the romantic.”
“You know it, baby,” Bart leers, and Jaime has to kiss him then, just to shut him up.
Artemis opens the door in leggings and an oversized Star City Thunder t-shirt he thinks once belonged to Roy, hair pulled away from her face and a bowl of cereal in her hand.
“Hardcore Friday night?” he jokes as she props the door open for him with her foot.
“It’s what all the cool kids are doing,” she says, giving up on hospitality and lying back on the couch without bothering to ask why he’s there.
He knows that any other time he’d have dropped down next to her, stolen the TV remote, and ordered take-out from that organic place on Fifth just so he knows she’s eaten at least one nutritional meal in the last week. Any other time she’d laugh at the forty dollar socks he’d never have bought for himself, make him fetch them both cheap beer from the flower box outside the kitchen window that’s cooler than her refrigerator, and tell him he’s a cheat when he beats her at Jeopardy re-runs.
Any other time.
“Wally thinks we’re idiots,” he says. “Well. I’m an idiot.”
Artemis blinks and carefully sets her bowl down on the coffee table.
“Wally collects soda bottles,” she says after a moment. “He doesn’t get a vote.”
Dick knows he could laugh, could go on ignoring everything that’s been steadily building up for years and years and forever, and keep their fragile world of blissful ignorance intact.
Instead he says, “I’ve been in love with you since I was fourteen,” and listens for the way Artemis’ breath catches on her tongue.
“Oh,” she says, and Dick knows the shock is only because she never expected to hear him say it aloud. “Right.”
Dick waits, leaving the ball in her court, and maybe he shouldn’t be surprised when she kisses him, but he is anyway.
“Thanks,” Conner says, holding the door open for him as M’gann and La’gaan wave their goodbyes, everyone else long gone. Tim’s suddenly glad he lingered, even though it’s getting late and he still has a pile of homework sitting on his desk. “For earlier. They’d been talking about it for ages.”
“Oh,” Tim says, sticking his hands in his coat pockets and trying not to blush. “You’re welcome.”
Conner falls into step with him, and Tim wonders if he should say something, ask about football or the Kent’s or Wolf, except then he’d be admitting to paying more attention than he should, and he’s sure it’s the world’s worst kept secret but that’s not the point.
“You’ve got a gymnastics competition coming up, right?” Conner asks, eventually, and Tim blinks back his surprise.
“Um, yeah,” he says.
“Dick mentioned it,” Conner says, awkwardly. “You should get everyone to come cheer you on, you make it to enough of our games.”
“Really?” Tim says, before he can stop himself. “You’d come?”
“Sure,” Conner says, and he’s almost smiling. “I hear you’re great on the horizontal bar.”
“Dick needs to shut up,” Tim says, ducking his head.
Conner shrugs. “He’s proud of you.”
“I know,” Tim says, because he does (and because once upon a time hearing it would have made his heart beat double time).
“You should tell me about it,” Conner says, and it sounds like he’s fumbling with the words. “About the competition, I mean. I’ve only ever seen Dick do some floor stuff.”
“Oh,” Tim says. “Sure. Anytime.”
“How about now?” Conner says, and when Tim glances up there’s color high on his cheeks. “Milkshakes are great but I could use some real food.”
Tim knows he’s probably reading too much into it, knows he’s probably hearing what he wants, but Conner looks almost shy and this is everything Tim’s been not-so-secretly hoping for all year.
“Okay,” he says, because there was never another answer. “I’d like that.”
Conner smiles, then, and Tim thinks maybe he’s not imagining things after all.
Jaime’s mom thinks Bart is the greatest boy in the world, which is probably why she pretends to believe that Bart sleeps on a roll out camping mat whenever he crashes over. Jaime’s mom is kind of awesome.
It’s only when he’s dozing off, Bart’s body like a furnace even through two layers of clothes, that Jaime realizes his phone hasn’t spent the evening buzzing the way it normally does.
haven’t heard from you all night, he sends Tim. bruce refusing to post bail?
He has to wait an unusually long time for a reply, and he’s wondering if he really should be digging out his wallet when he gets a series of texts in a row.
Hanging out with Conner. We’re sharing pizza.
Update you tomorrow.
Jaime stares for a few minutes, trying to work out if he’s hallucinating, then gives up and goes to sleep, Bart curled around him.
“Mom loves the portrait,” Artemis says later, when they’re wrapped in sheets they pulled from the bed, finally drinking the last of the beer. “She’s hung it in the front hall.”
“Yeah, well, I had a great subject,” Dick says, putting an arm behind his head and staring at the ceiling. “I don’t suppose she wants another one for Christmas?”
“If you say anything like that where she can hear you, Grayson, I swear--”
Dick laughs, rolling out of the way of her arm as she halfheartedly smacks him. “We should probably send Wally a fruit basket or something,” he says, and knows she gets that he’s only partly joking.
“Yeah,” Artemis says, hiding her smile in the crook of her arm, “best be careful though or he’ll start all that threesome talk up again.”
She shifts until her head’s pillowed on his chest, and Dick presses a kiss to her hair and lets himself marvel that any of this is happening, and doesn’t try and fight the contented sleep that’s creeping up on him.
Then her words register and his eyes fly open. “Wait,” he says, “what threesome talk?”
Artemis laughs so hard the neighbors start banging on the wall.