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the beginning of yes

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He was pretty sure that if not kissing her wouldn’t kill him, he’d have to kill himself, but: Wallace R. West, not a coward, so Wally made a monumental effort to stop kissing his girlfriend in order to tell her that she was not getting laid.

“What the fuck,” she said in response, distracted and foul-mouthed. Her mouth was wet and red and a little blurred around the edges--she’d been wearing lipstick at some point--and Wally was a dead man, it was official. He ached at the sight of her. 

“I’m not trying to assume anything, but I think we should wait to have sex,” he said in a rush, and smeared his hands down his face in an attempt to clear his head, regain some equilibrium and oh, he found some of her missing lipstick, on his own mouth.

“Oh, no, buster,” she said, rising up on her knees and pushing at his shoulder. “What is your problem? Yes, okay, I’ve kissed a ton of people, but I haven’t slept with any of them, what are you worried about?”

He had to give her points for not getting so offended as to sign his death notice. “That’s not what I meant! I meant, you’re really hot. And I’m, wow, I’m really bothered, could you not touch me while we talk about this?”

She obliged, pulling back from him and crossing her arms theatrically beneath her breasts, which didn’t exactly help matters. Wally tried thinking of really unattractive past missions, but her boobs are still there, under her shirt, and if he really wanted he could touch her. Fuck.

“Okay,” he said, exhaling hard. “Perhaps this is bad timing.” 

“No, I think all conversations regarding physical intimacy should take place while actively making out,” Artemis said. “If it’s not me, what’s wrong with you? Girl’s got needs.”

That being approximately the opening he was looking for, not like that, West. “I have needs too,” he gritted out. “Namely, the need to not feel like a total asshole. You’re fifteen.”

“So?”

“So it’s illegal for us to--for me to--”

“Fuck,” she said, an answer and a statement and possibly a complaint, all in one. “Of all the issues I imagined you having, chivalry was not one of them.”

“There’s nothing romantic about a felony,” Wally grumbled.

Artemis’ posture lost some of its rigidity and she slouched down next to him again, which Wally took as his cue to flop onto his back and sprawl on the mattress like a starfish. She followed, and he made enough room for her to sidle close and put her head on his shoulder, which felt good in the moment and would become incredibly uncomfortable in a few minutes when his arm fell asleep. Wally decided it was so worth the discomfort.

“I get that you’re being sweet,” she said after a few minutes, mostly into his collarbone. “But don’t you think I get a say in this decision?”

“When you put it like that,” Wally said, “no, not really. I realize I’m the last person who’s allowed to talk about boundaries or whatever, but even though I really, really, really want to have sex with you as soon and as often as possible, I think we should wait until me getting naked with you isn’t cause for jail time.”

“I’m flattered,” she said, and the funny thing was, she kind of sounded like that was the truth. “You know, the whole team gives you crap about your priorities and your planning skills, but you kind of have a point.”

 “Kind of?!”

“I can respect where you’re coming from,” she said. “But for the sake of argument, where are you drawing the line? Technically you could get in trouble for kissing me, it’s not limited to banging.”

Wally lied to himself and thought for a moment that the only banging he wanted to engage in involved his head against a wall, but Artemis had a fair point. “I’m pretty sure it means no petting,” he said. His insides crawled, and he probably had a full-body blush going on.

Artemis sighed and rolled away from his shoulder; Wally almost protested, until he realized she was giving him a chance to move his arm.

“I’ve gotta hand it to you, West,” she said, and Wally realized in that moment that he could really love her, “You don’t do anything the easy way.”

*

Later it occurred to her that in order for them to have their incredibly awkward conversation about boundaries, Wally had to do a little internet research and wow, she’s not sure how she felt about that until it came out that what actually happened was Mary West, aka Wally’s mother, did some basic math and had a serious talk with her only son about things like respect.

“Also enthusiastic consent,” Wally said, half-helpful and half sheepish. “Like, ‘Wallace, I know I’ve told you that no means no and silence means no and I’m uncomfortable means no, but let me lay it out for you: if she’s not saying yes, or if you’re not saying yes--if someone is not saying yes, if someone is not a full and willing participant, then you cannot have sex. Period.’”

“What,” Artemis said. She could not fathom a conversation like that ever happening under her own roof.

“It was pretty bad,” Wally said. “But also not the worst? If you catch my drift. My parents want me to know how they feel about the whole thing.”

It was Artemis’ turn to bury her face in her hands and wonder, not for the first time, why this was her life.

“On that note, do you actually like how I kiss you?” Wally asked. She would have hit him, except he was beet-red and he sounded a little eager, a little vulnerable, and even though no one else was around his voice had dropped to that low, strained register that he only seemed to use with her, when he was talking with her and when he treated her like a wonderful discovery. “For the record: I really like how you kiss me. Especially, uh, when you lean over my shoulder and kind of kiss the side of my mouth. And basically I just like your mouth, on me, but I’m famously not picky.”

“Um,” she said, but she had always been fast on her feet, so she shook off her embarrassment and thought for a moment. “Look, it might be faster if I just showed you.”

Artemis.

"I don't like talking about this!"

"I'm uncomfortable too," Wally told her. "But you're important. Please talk to me." 

*

Sometimes Wally had to draw away from her when they were kissing and just take a moment to settle and breathe; if they weren’t practicing willful ignorance, Artemis would ask or look or feel if he’s getting hard. Since they were practicing willful ignorance, she just stilled beside him, touching and not invading, breathing in on his exhale and out on his inhale, until she knew the next move was good to make. It was surprisingly not awkward, after a while.

In some strange way, Artemis was grateful for the chance to be shy. For so many years now, people had been expecting her to be fast and strong and fearless, and while she was all of these things, Wally’s insistence on waiting to have sex was oddly chivalrous, oddly a relief. It was funny, too—who’d have thought that Kid Flash would be one to take things slow—but mostly it was sweet, mostly it was the nicest thing anyone had ever done for her.

They didn’t just have abortive makeouts, anyway, or go on missions with the rest of the team; Wall invited her over to his house a lot, even when he hadn’t kept up with his homework and couldn’t really afford the time. Despite his parents knowing basically everything, Artemis liked being there.

His mom brought it up one day when Wally was finishing an essay and Artemis was helping with dinner. She did so delicately, but even so, Artemis almost blushed, though she would cheerfully break her own arm before giving Wally’s mother the impression that Artemis was ashamed of any of her life choices. She loved Wally, so she spit it out: we’re waiting. I’m almost seventeen.

Mary nodded—she didn’t look surprised or scandalized. She reached out and put one hand along the side of Artemis’ shoulder; right over the very bone Artemis would shatter if she were making a ridiculous gesture.

“You can always wait longer,” Mary said, with infinite kindness, “and I know you won’t probably hold to that, but I wanted it said so there’d be no misunderstandings. There’s no shame in taking the time you need.” Somewhere in there, there might have been a thank-you to Artemis for doing her part in keeping Wally from a statutory rape charge. Well, she lived to serve. 

“Thank you,” Artemis managed to say. It was impossible to be offended in the face of Mary West’s goodwill, though she’d certainly feel more comfortable if she had that luxury.

“We love you too, Artemis,” Wally’s mother said. “Remember that." 

*

Despite itself, time had a way of passing, and Artemis and Wally finally had sex after a solid year and a half of making out. It was frustrating and sort of, maybe, nauseatingly wonderful.

It was actually the evening after Artemis’ birthday—there’d been, as Wally described it, ‘a thing’ and he’d had to run cross-country on the day of—but he finally extricated himself from the debrief and made it to the cave sometime after everyone had eaten and, mostly, gone home. The team knew a little more than Wally liked about his and Artemis’ personal life, but the upside to that was they had pretty much vacated the common areas once the significance of the date had made itself known. 

Wally was not actually acquainted with Artemis’ hair in the mornings, but he hoped he’d have the chance to get used to the fact that she didn’t pull it back at night and it got absolutely everywhere; she had it down now, a prelude, and it was sexy, in an untidy way, the same way it was sexy when she sat across from him on her bed wearing ridiculously tiny shorts: she wasn’t usually being provocative (not that it made much of a difference), and right now she was just reading over a stack of incident reports as a favor for Dick, but Wally couldn’t stop staring at her bare legs, the faint rasp of razor burn up the side of her shin and the little patch of stubble she’d missed when shaving her kneecap. The messy hair, the bare and prickly legs, the chipped polish on her toes (he was betting from her last sleepover with M’gann; the varnish was straight-up glitter): it all hit Wally where he lived, even though he’d known he was in love with Artemis for a long time. Remembering was not painful: the knowledge jostled for space within him, a little, then settled in, the same way his lungs kind of hiccupped before he figured out how to breathe during a long run. 

He made up for lost time as soon as he was close enough to slip one arm under her knees and the other along her spine and book it to her room. He was all over her as soon as the door was closed and locked, which was simultaneously gratifying and distracting, because Artemis looked like she was in the midst of thinking GET OUT, WE NEED PRIVACY at M’gann as loud as possible.

“I wanted to be alone with you like this sooner,” Wally told her, earnest and handsy as ever. “But, call me a romantic, I wanted it to be after I’d showered. It was a pretty gross run.”

“Well, if that’s your way of saying, ‘happy birthday, Artemis, I’m sorry I missed your party—’”

Wally pressed his mouth against hers, hard, and bit her lip the way she liked. “Happy birthday, honey,” he said. “Sorry I missed the party, I had a work emergency.” 

She bit his lip back, half retaliation and half reciprocation. “If ‘work emergency’ means ‘I had to run across the Pacific Northwest with a human organ transplant while wearing a spandex jumpsuit,’ I guess I can understand.”

“I have the nicest girlfriend,” Wally said, paper-dry. “No, really, you’re magnanimous, is what you are. And as always, thank you for understanding that I didn’t want to commit a felony. Somehow it seemed less romantic than enthusiastic consent.”

“I cannot believe you waited until I was seventeen,” Artemis said. She looped her arms around his shoulders and held on, though it was clear Wally didn’t have any plans to leave her. “Seriously, this is ridiculous. Meg and Conner have been fucking for years.”

“One, I’m old fashioned. Point ‘b’, please don’t talk about their sex life—that’s rude—and note that both of them were only sixteen on a technicality.” Another long, gasping kiss. “Besides, this part’s plenty fun.”

“If I take my shirt off,” Artemis mused, “would you even stop talking?” 

“Ohh,” Wally smirked, “the scientific method. Honey, you’re really going all out.”

After, they lay sweating in the dark; it followed that the both of them didn’t immediately know what to say. Wally was flushed and radiating heat, and Artemis couldn’t quite decide if she wanted to stay close or roll away from him. 

“Objectively speaking, that could have gone better.”

“It’s fine, really—”

“But it could also have gone worse,” he continued, as if she hadn’t spoken. “Which means I need to practice. I can’t think of anything worthwhile that I figured out overnight.” Wally spooned close alongside her and meditatively copped a feel, “I already know I love you. Not like this is much of a hardship. If you’re up for it.” 

“How generous,” she murmured back, and lifted his hand off her breast, threading their fingers together. His freckles continued across the backs of his hands and they were fascinating. “It’s a good thing you like repetition.” 

“Oh, beautiful,” His grin against her shoulder was nearly audible, “it’s the only way to get results.”

She twisted in his arms and butted her head into the juncture between his shoulder and neck. “Ugh, you’re such an idiot,” she said, full up with feeling. “We could’ve been screwing for ages, but you had to be allnoble.”

“Okay, will you hit me if I insist on the term ‘making love’?”

Wally.

“You were worth the wait,” he blurted and she looked up, nearly hitting her nose on his chin as she got a good look at him. 

Wally had atrocious bedhead, not just in the mornings, but in general. It was autumn and he’d let it grow a little too long, just this side of unkempt, and it was a wonder his mom hadn’t cornered him with a set of clippers. Right now he looked like all his hair was standing up and running away from his head in different directions, all at once. It was not distracting. Artemis had pretty much always known what Wally’s hair looked like in the mornings, because of overnight missions and because she wondered if he actually owned a comb. Having sex hadn’t changed its general state. His eyes, on the other hand, were wide, the pupils so blown that the iris was a thin green ring. This close, she could see the freckles that dotted his cheekbones and mouth and the hollows of his face, and looked so serious that he was almost unfamiliar.

“Artemis,” he said, and she believed him, “you’ve always been worth it.” 

She kissed him then, because she couldn’t not kiss him when he said shit like that. She had rarely believed in anything good before she’d fallen into this odd life, and now it felt like she might never stop.

 *

WELL!?!” Zatanna shrieked when Artemis dragged herself into the kitchen the next morning. “HAVE YOU FINALLY DEFLOWERED HIM!?!”

“I’ll miss my perfect hearing,” Artemis said, accepting a cup of coffee from M’gann, who was her favorite forever. “But no, this brave new world of clinical deafness could be interesting, Zee, why don’t you try screaming louder?”

“If you do not tell me about your first night of passion in loving, explicit detail, I will murder you and not even Dick will be able to find the body,” Zatanna said cheerfully. “Spill!”

“We’re just happy for you—for both of you,” M’gann said. “Zatanna doesn’t mean to invade your privacy.”

“Mmm,” Zatanna disagreed. “After walking in on you two making out as much as I have, I think I deserve some kind of status update.” She planted her elbows on the counter and dropped her chin into her palms expectantly.

M’gann handed over a plate of French toast to go with the coffee, looking as though she was trying to think of a polite way to say it was still none of their business, but Artemis could still sense the curiosity and delight coming off her in waves: unsurprising. M’gann had been dropping her own opinions about the sex situation practically since Wally had kissed Artemis on the Watchtower.

Artemis rolled her eyes at M’gann and ignored the little hum of the link-up; for good measure, she thought of running training courses in Greenland, just in case she was radiating anything incriminating, like the memory of the noises Wally’d made the night before. 

“You’re blushing,” Zatanna said excitedly. “Megan, she’s blushing. You know what I think that means? I think it means—”

“Human emotions often elude me,” Red Tornado boomed from the control room, “but even I am reasonably certain that it is rude to continue in a line of questioning that one’s companion finds objectionable.”

Artemis was surprised at how grateful she felt for Red Tornado’s interruption; truth be told, there was something private about the night before—not just private, but sweet, and awkward, and pleasantly uncomfortable, too. It was just hers and Wally’s, and between that and her limited progress with the coffee, she needed as many minutes as Red Tornado would buy her.

 “Ugh, mom is no fun,” Zatanna groused, but she respected Red Tornado, and so promptly switched gears and started telling a long and involved story of how she was never going to learn to drive in city traffic, because she was a New Yorker and believed in the subway.

“Motorcycles, fine. But I don’t care if Dick says that the subway is for peasants,” she added. “He’s like fifteen, being contrary is in his blood.”

The rest of Artemis’ breakfast was taken up with shop talk and gossip unrelated to her bedroom, which was about how she liked it.

She was half-listening to M’gann and Zatanna discuss non-verbal mystic arts when Wally skidded into the kitchen, damp with sweat and ravenous from his morning run. He looked glorious and Artemis had the feeling she should think he smelled terrible, but couldn’t bring herself to mind.

“We eating at my parents’ tonight?” He asked, reaching for her empty mug and refilling it for himself (M’gann gestured and the milk floated out of the refrigerator and into his waiting hand). “You didn’t hear it from me, but they might have made you a cake.”

“Wally, your mom has got to stop—”

“My mother is an immovable force,” Wally interrupted serenely, downing his coffee without flinching at the heat; Artemis was struck by how she was in love with the way his throat moved when he swallowed. “Believe me, I have some small measure of experience. I’ll pick you up around seven. CST.” He didn’t wait for an answer, just leaned down and kissed her, a sort of midmorning shorthand: hello, I missed you while you were asleep. His tongue was bitter and soft with the dregs of his coffee-with-milk, and, like always, his affection for her was a living force. Zatanna whistled at them and Artemis would have pulled away, but Wally threaded his hands into her hair—still loose and tangled from the night before—and took his time before he pulled away and bowed grandly to their audience.

“Kid Boyfriend at your service,” he said, and even Artemis had trouble spotting his flush. He might have been flustered, but he was unashamed of her. “I’d offer a similar good morning to you ladies, but as it turns out, I’m strictly monogamous.”

“You two are so romantic,” M’gann said delightedly. Which was a sign that Artemis was mentally hemorrhaging happy thoughts; they’d all been around M’gann so long that it was impossible for her to not glean whatever surface emotions were around, and harder still for her to keep from reflecting her joy back at them.

“Nah,” Wally said. His arms had found their way back around Artemis’ shoulders. “She’s badass. I’m just hungry. Is there any more of that French toast?”

*

These were the details Artemis did not want to tell:

Wally had kissed her until time had slowed to a syrupy crawl, until all that mattered was the heat of him alongside her, the resolution between the two of them; until eventually, he was as naked as she felt: and then all that lay between them was love, its terrible mercy strengthening and softening her desire. As Wally moved to touch her, as he touched her, Artemis had thought for a moment that she might be doing something wrong, or that the mechanism that her allowed her to feel was broken, because love made things more acute, more treacherous. She didn't feel soft at all: she felt like an arrow, aimed and ready to fire.