An hour after Zatanna Zatara kisses Dick Grayson for the first time, she says that it was a mistake.
Of course, at the time, she doesn’t know him as Dick Grayson, which may be part of the mistake. They’re fourteen and pretty tiny and Wally and Artemis haven’t stopped staring intermittently at each other for, like, the entire bioship ride back to Earth; and honestly, Zatanna’s really hungry, and cranky, and there’s also this weird thing that Dick’s doing where he isn’t talking to her or looking her in the eye.
“Okay, look, I’m sorry,” she says as briskly as she can after they’ve finally gotten back to the Cave and everyone else has disembarked. Wally and Artemis, who had been talking to Dick, both stare at her before backing away without questioning any of it (a wise decision), but the look of utter surprise on Dick’s face rivals both of theirs combined.
“What?” he says, his eyes comically wide behind the filmy white of the domino mask. His ears are turning noticeably pinker.
“Sorry for kissing you,” she expounds, pinching the bridge of her nose. “It was – stupid. We shouldn’t – I mean, it was a thing between friends, and stuff, you know?”
“Um,” Dick replies hesitantly, at the most inarticulate she’s ever seen him, stepping slightly forward and patting her shoulder, “Yeah, I think that’s... That might be a good label to put on it. Two friends platonically making out on New Year’s while their two best friends non-platonically make out a few feet away.”
Zatanna winces. Honestly, kissing Robin had been... nice. It had been really nice. She’d been kind of wanting to do it ever since he’d knocked on her door at the Cave at two in the morning when he’d heard her crying about her dad, since he’d hugged her tightly and their bodies had been the same size but he’d still managed to make her feel engulfed and secure and startlingly okay, but she’d written it off as channeling her complicated father issues into something... even more complicated.
“Look, it was a mistake,” she says, very calmly, actually. “I mean – we’re not Wally and Artemis. It doesn’t just start.”
“They’ve been leading up to this since day one,” he counters with a complacent grin.
“And we haven’t?” Zatanna retorts just in time to realize that it’s in total contrast to what she’s trying to get across.
Dick blinks at her from behind his mask, from behind his uniform, from behind his still tacked-on smile.
Zatanna huffs. “Yeah, I kinda think we have.” She puts on the goofiest smile she can muster, impersonating him. “‘I bet you got some good moves!’”
“Wait, so then—” He frowns up at the ceiling pointedly, raising a finger. “Disregarding that super gross pickup line, and ignoring the fact that I’ve ever been affiliated with it: We’ve been leading up to... making this mistake. Since day one. Is that the moral of this story?”
“Robin, I’m sorry,” she says again – “Robin” is such a lame name to use when you’re trying to be serious – and she wrings her hands, biting her lip just slightly, feeling stupider by the second. “I just... didn’t think it through. And you are really adorable, believe me, and I like you a lot, but kissing you was totally a mistake and I promise it won’t happen again.”
She’s kind of startled with herself, once she gets it all out. She must look it, too, because Dick is laughing a little through his nose, that quiet little hum of a laugh that comes out in quick beats that tend to align with the rhythm of her heart.
“You look like M’gann just took control of your brain and said all of that without your permission,” he remarks, but then he stretches, loosening. “But sure, okay. Memo received. We continue to be friends, and not only friends, but the most awesome friends in the history of the universe.”
“Don’t let Wally hear you say that.” Zatanna snorts.
“There’s a lot of stuff I say about you that Wally doesn’t hear,” Dick says, dropping his arms to his sides again and winking. “I don’t think one more thing is gonna kill him.”
Zatanna’s too flustered to bandy anything back. Dick smiles at her, worrisomely genuine, and then walks away, calling New Year’s felicitations over his shoulder. And she knows, then, that she will never, ever be able to promise herself that she won’t kiss him again.
Dick has a lot of girlfriends, and Zatanna is never one of them.
He hadn’t been her first kiss (but she’d been his, and he lies to her about it for a long time). Their virginities had gone to other people. They don’t go on dates or to movies or dinners and Zatanna acts extra-platonic whenever Barbara Gordon’s around, because when she is sixteen she’s sure that Barbara is what’s good for Dick, better than she’ll ever be.
And she’s not ashamed to think that. She and Dick are a couple of cowards who date other people to avoid having to face each other. Plus, she really hadn’t expected to be asked to move in with a guy when she was fourteen, and she hadn’t expected to say no because she couldn’t give up on her father by hopping into a new family like nothing happened. So that’s kind of a weird stage in their history.
Wally and Artemis get pretty goopy, though. Zatanna’s so happy for them that she tends to come dangerously close to puking. And, you know, after about a year of being around the Cave when they hang around, living with Conner and M’gann starts to seem, in comparison, like living in a monastery.
When she kisses Dick again, it’s an accident. It’s Artemis’s eighteenth birthday party and Zatanna’s pretty sure that Wally West wins the universe’s hidden contest for Dorkiest iTunes Library, because one second they’re all dancing around to Earth, Wind, and Fire and the next they’re hearing an audiobook of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and when everyone’s distracted by Wally’s frankly hilarious reaction to being found out, Zatanna grabs Dick at the elbow and wavers a little on her high-heeled boots and sinks a kiss onto him.
He doesn’t move, but his eyes go a little wide (just like they had on New Year’s, younger and bluer then) and his hands kind of shoot up like they’re looking for something to grab onto, but she’s drawn away and looked back to the others before he can lurch into operationality again.
“Well,” he says after a second.
“I’ve had a lot of grape soda,” Zatanna admits.
“Oh. Right. Responsibility exemption,” Dick mutters, as though reminding himself, and Zatanna has to conceal a satisfied smirk.
They peter off into silence again and both snort at the same time when Artemis lightly whacks Wally upside the head and fixes everything, as she is wont to do. Kaldur smiles, pleased, when Toto comes on.
“Oh boy, it’s a slow one,” Zatanna deadpans.
Artemis side-eyes Wally with a raised eyebrow and a shamelessly amused grin, and he flummoxes out some excuse about having cheesy eighties romance tunes in his repertoire, and Artemis pretends to believe him.
“Yeah,” Dick says. Conner escapes to the snack table, erected where the green couches usually are (Kaldur and Roy had moved them all aside that morning for the party).
“Do you want to—?” Zatanna starts to ask, but Dick finishes for her.
“Slip away and get a more extended sample of what you just did, yes, I would.” He grasps her wrist in his hand and she beams and follows him down the hallway and they end up disheveled and flushed in Conner’s room.
Her lower lip is apparently swollen when she comes back out because Artemis spits out the soda she’s drinking and drags her away to interrogate her, and Zatanna should probably mention that she really hates role reversal.
Three months later, Zatanna realizes that, most of the time, she kisses Dick and lets him touch her because it’s the only thing that makes her forget that her father is trapped inside a mystic artifact and is being used as the corporeal form for a bitter, self-important deity. And she tells Artemis this, and Artemis says that, as hot and ridiculous as they are together, that probably isn’t healthy, which sucks, because they really are hot and ridiculous.
Those two words easily sum up how Zatanna feels five minutes before she breaks up with Dick Grayson.
“We can’t do this anymore,” she says, hiking her leg up to wrap around his hips. He holds her against the wall and slants his mouth over hers and she has to remind herself, over and over, how unhealthy this all is, even if it makes her feel, as a gross and chaste understatement, extremely healthy.
“Okay,” he agrees, in a gravelly sort of whisper that makes her stomach actually lurch. “Sorry to see you go.”
“Yeah, sucks,” she breathes, and grasps him at the hair with her gloves still on.
“We need to stop this time,” Zatanna says firmly. “For real.”
“What?” Artemis yells over the sound of the coffee grinder.
Zatanna groans and drops her forehead onto the kitchen table. The Palo Alto sunshine sifts in from the open windows of Wally and Artemis’s new apartment. Zatanna hates it. The world has absolutely no respect for how miserable she is, apparently.
Artemis has just cut her hair to her shoulders, and it’s in a short, messy braid at the back of her head, and she’s wearing a Stanford shirt two sizes too large for her and a pair of Hello Kitty pajama pants, and Zatanna has never seen her look so happy, ever.
“I said I need to break up with Dick!” Zatanna shouts as loudly as she can, which happens, naturally, right when the coffee grinder stops.
Wally pokes his head out from the bedroom. “You need to what?”
“Wally, away,” Artemis barks, waving her hand at him. He rolls his eyes and slips back in, closing the door.
“Isn’t there somewhere he can go?” Zatanna hisses.
“No, because our class doesn’t start for another hour and it takes him like a week to get dressed, oh, and also, it’s six in the morning, Zee,” Artemis replies with increasing volume, though not heatedly. She strides over to the table and sets down a Wonder Woman mug in front of Zatanna before taking the chair oblique to hers. She puts down her own mug, propping her chin up with one hand, and raises her eyebrow at Zatanna, who lets out another groan and drops her face into her hands.
“So what are you doing here?” Artemis prods her.
“I don’t know,” Zatanna mutters, pushing her hands back into her hair and staring blankly at the steaming black coffee. “I got feelings and I panicked, so I came here. I mean, you and Wally have a thing and it’s clearly working—”
“You can say that again!” Wally calls from behind the closed door, and Artemis shouts his name in the same scolding but deceptively fond way that she has been for the last four years.
“Yeah,” Artemis says when she’s done glaring murderously at the door, turning back to Zatanna with a small smile. “It’s working because we don’t go running the other way whenever we hit bumps. You and Dick are just a couple of morons with like fifty other issues you still need to address, but you’re too wimpy to try it.”
“I think I’m entitled to be wimpy when I didn’t know his name until a year ago,” Zatanna huffs, finally tossing back some of the coffee like a shot of vodka. “I hate him so much, Artemis; he’s so – secretive.”
“I thought that was why you were into him.” Artemis snorts. “Plus, okay – I have a question.”
“Remember how you grabbed him at midnight on New Year’s four years ago and made out with him with no mercy?”
Zatanna grimaces. “Uh, yeah, I have a fuzzy recollection of that.”
“Why didn’t you guys just start going out then?” Artemis asks. “Wally and me were actually, y’know, kind of expecting it.”
“We totally were,” Wally contributes, muffled.
“I’ll kill you,” Artemis snaps, which only elicits a guffaw – a bad sign.
“See, that’s why,” Zatanna replies, throwing her hands out in exasperation. “That was – y’know, that was you and Wally getting together. Two incidents of getting-together probably would have violated one of Batman’s rules or made Kaldur uncomfortable or something.”
“Tan, we didn’t call dibs on dating,” Artemis exclaims. “And, just so you know, I would have been super grateful if you and Dick could’ve been the smokescreen that hid me from the embarrassment that was becoming Wally West’s girlfriend.”
Zatanna is frankly astounded that Wally doesn’t have a distant, door-quieted comeback for that.
“I’m sorry for coming so early,” Zatanna sighs. “It’s just – I think I might... L-word him.”
“Levitate?” Artemis suggests.
“No, but I could probably make that hot,” Zatanna replies, and Artemis sniggers. “Artemis, listen; this is really bad news. I think I might love Dick Grayson.”
“Congratulations; you get his butt,” Artemis says without a pause, grinning. “And that means your babies will probably have great butts.”
“Okay, where did I go wrong?” Zatanna exclaims. “Suddenly I’m the one coming to you for relationship venting, and you’re the one making comments about asses and babies.”
“Yeah, it feels pretty good,” Artemis admits with a wink, taking a swig of coffee.
“No, Artemis, you don’t get it,” Zatanna whispers. “Loving him is bad. The only reason we’ve ever lasted is because we... we’re a way out for each other. We understand each other better than anybody else, and we make each other feel better, but that’s just because we know that what we have is something that can start or stop at our convenience, and it doesn’t matter, and it’s not solid, and we don’t have to worry about getting... damaged, you know?”
“Uh, no, because that’s just your roundabout way of saying that you’re both in love but too immature to deal with it, so you bang all the time and hope it goes away,” Artemis retorts immediately, slamming her hands on the table and standing up. “Let’s put this on pause; I need to get some clothes on.”
“No you don’t!” Wally says quickly from the bedroom.
Artemis sets her jaw and rolls her eyes deeply and stomps down the hallway with her fists at her sides, and Zatanna’s pretty sure she can hear Wally scrambling around for a place to hide.
She stares at the coffee, now gone relatively cold, and thinks of Dick kissing her inner thigh.
When Artemis comes back out, Zatanna is gone.
She doesn’t kiss Dick Grayson again for six months, but it makes up for the absence.
“Wow! Screw you!” she exclaims, throwing her hands out, sounding inappropriately cheerful about the whole thing.
Zatanna does this thing, sometimes, where when she’s incredibly angry, she laughs. She’s pretty sure Artemis does the same thing because, based on their compared notes, both of their boyfriends hate it more than anything on the planet.
It doesn’t stop her from doing it.
“Stop it,” he hisses. His sunglasses are clenched tightly in his right fist, and he’s pointing his index finger at her. “Look, I’m sorry, Zee; it was necessary for—”
“For you to use me and lie to me?” Zatanna interrupts, beaming spitefully (she’s pretty sure she’s the only one who can do that). “Gee, remind me to sign onto your plans more often!”
“Please,” he breaks in, and she finally stops, her laughter fading, as she looks at him. His face is drawn and a little ashen, and there are bags under his eyes, and he looks thinner. “Please don’t be mad at me, Zatanna. I’ve got enough people doing that. And I – I deserve it. I do. I deserve worse, probably.”
Zatanna hates herself for softening. The thing is, she’s never seen him look so exhausted, so pitiful, in her entire five years of knowing him, and he’s staring her in the eye with his mask and his shades off, and he’s swaying a little, like he’s torn between moving closer to her and running away.
“Artemis is alive?” she settles on croaking, wobbling on the brink of tears.
Dick nods silently.
He nods again.
“And you...” She shakes her head, scrubbing one gloved hand over her face. Her costume feels stifling. “You manipulated me into giving you that glamour charm? You couldn’t have – you couldn’t have just told me the truth? I would’ve given it to you. I would’ve.”
“I’m sorry,” he whispers.
“God, Dick, what is your disconnect with telling the truth?” she shouts. “Do you even hear yourself? What the—what the fuck ‘necessary,’ Dick?!”
“Zatanna,” he says, and his voice cracks. Zatanna’s frothing anger subsides, briefly, quelling in the pit of her stomach.
He’s thirteen again, asking her who decided it was fair that they should both lose their parents.
“I just didn’t want anyone to get hurt,” he rasps. “I wanted – I wanted as few people aware as possible, because... because more involvement equals more risk.”
“That’s not your call,” she whispers, hurt.
She’s still a little out of breath from the fight against Manta’s troops, from the moment she’d realized what was happening and had seen Tigress’s hair go from black to blonde before her eyes. She’s sweaty and bruised and she will never understand why she thought fishnets would be practical in hand-to-hand combat, and she probably hadn’t helped the Team’s chances by screaming a force spell in Nightwing’s direction and knocking him several feet backwards until he landed against the warehouse wall with a crack.
“What if they’d gotten hurt?” she demands. “What would you have – told us? Told Wally?”
“Wally knows,” Dick murmurs.
“Susej Tsirhc,” she hisses under her breath, because her father had always scolded her for saying it, so she’d found a loophole by teaching herself to say it in reverse. “I can’t believe you. Nos fo a hctib.”
“Hey now,” he defends weakly, a lame attempt at lightening the mood.
She drops her hands to her sides, sighing and looking him in the eye across the floor of her apartment. She doesn’t know how they wound up here, though she’s fairly certain that she’d mystically dragged him and shouted to Raquel to deal with the debrief.
It doesn’t matter.
“Why are you telling me?” she whispers.
“Because I should have,” he answers, “a long time ago.”
Some kind of wave of nostalgia, or of meaning, or something, suddenly slams into her after he says that. She remembers standing in the Watchtower, her fingers still shuddering from adrenaline, and watching her best friend kiss a boy with far more intent and happiness than was casual or ordinary. She remembers gulping in a breath and snatching the knobbly elbow of her stringbean of a crush (dumb word) and pressing their lips together, and thinking, through the haze and buzz of victory and his taste, that it felt frighteningly right.
She remembers tagging along with him on a mission to Paris and watching the Eiffel Tower light up alone. She remembers that the hotel room, and their separate beds, were off-blue. She remembers coffee at Artemis’s (and she almost cries) and she remembers hearing his name for the first time, Richard Grayson, simple and secret and curled in her hands, and she remembers swallowing it down when she slipped her tongue between his teeth.
“Okay, this is probably the unhealthiest thing to say right now, but I really need you to kiss me,” she whispers.
“You got it,” he replies, a touch too eagerly, and he crosses the room and grasps her face at either side and, just like that, Dick Grayson’s mouth is on hers again, and she can taste him again, and she knows she shouldn’t, oh, god, she shouldn’t.
She stumbles back a little and they both topple onto the bed, and the springs creak, and his knee slips up between her legs. It’s easy. She can breathe again.
“I’m going to make up for it,” he whispers. “Everything. But I can’t – I can’t do it without you. I need you.”
“Yeah, I know,” she says flirtatiously, in spite of herself. He draws back and smiles tiredly.
“No – Zatanna, I really do,” he reiterates. The sincerity makes her throat catch on itself, because Dick has never needed anyone, let alone her. “You are basically the only person good enough at yelling at me to help me fix this... mess of things.”
Zatanna feels herself shaking her head, and inside, she’s panicking, scrambling at the brakes, but her body seems eerily sure of itself.
“I’ll do my best to be there for you,” she promises, leaning up slightly to press her lips to his, briefly, in a slow sort of peck. “But if I’m being honest? It’s... going to take a while for me to forgive you.” She’s not smiling anymore. “Sue me for being sick of your secrets, Dick, but – I am. Either you trust me or you don’t.”
He nods, shoulders slackening.
“I understand,” he mutters, clambering back. “Totally understand.”
He doesn’t give her the resolution she asks for. He never does. But she drags him back and grasps his hair in her fist and pants against his kiss, and he goes down on her, his thumbs pressing into the dips of her hipbones, and as they shed their clothes and his name spills out of her when she comes, she can’t help thinking that this is the rightest wrong thing they’ve ever done.
But they’re over. Artemis comes home, and Wally crushes her into a hug that makes Zatanna’s breath hitch; Kaldur falls into M’gann’s and Conner’s arms and claps them both on the back, smiling warmly; the planet is saved and the Light disappears and humanity cheers for them all, and the League comes back with a peace treaty, and as the sun rises over the still-standing Watchtower, empty save for them and the orange light, Zatanna Zatara kisses Dick Grayson’s cheek once and that is the last thing she will do to him.
“Honeymoons are for saps, if you’ll pardon my saying so,” Dick declares from his laptop, his legs crossed, his glasses slightly askew. “And you don’t strike me as the sappy type.”
“Wow, excuse me for wanting to go somewhere not under the pretense of having to fight some obnoxious evil,” Zatanna retorts, lying on her stomach on the couch as the cat treads across her back. “Ow, Giovanni—”
“He’s probably hungry,” Dick sighs. “And I’d like to use this opportunity to point out that right now, your cat eats better than I do.”
“Oops, I think that came off a little too Wally,” Zatanna quips, squinting at one of the pamphlets in her hands. “What about, like... Venice?”
“Zee, please.” She glances over her shoulder to find him leaning against the back of the couch, smirking down at her, and she hates those stupid sexy glasses. “It doesn’t matter where we go as long as the walls are soundproof.”
“Ew,” she laughs, throwing a pen at him. He dodges it expertly and swoops down to plant a kiss on top of her head.
They aren’t married and they never will be. She manages to reach over and slap Dick’s butt as he lopes into the kitchen of their flat and sniggers when he makes an indignant noise. The thing is, New Year’s is in a week. Zatanna intends to spend it somewhere that doesn’t involve outer space or deadly projectiles of any kind. Or, ideally, cell phone service.
“Dick, I can’t reach my pen; get it,” she orders.
“Yeesh, you’re so high-maintenance. I’m breaking up with you.”
Zatanna throws her head back and laughs. “I’d love to see you try.”