This has been totally insane. Y'all don't really wanna know, but let me tell ya. It's been crazy fun.
After that…outburst, the rest of the flight had been quiet. It allowed most of the team to bask in the afterglow of a job well done. Better than that. The mission had been that rarest of things: a complete success. The villain behind bars. His criminal organisation intact. No civilian casualties. A powerful mystical artefact under lock and key.
And all because of these meddling kids.
Despite technically going against orders by stealing, er – retrieving the aforementioned artefact and all that, Batman had actually spared them some of his hard earned praise.
"You're getting better," he'd said.
Unless one had actually been in the Batman's presence, it was impossible to truly understand how monumental that was.
And yet, strangely, neither Wally or Robin were truly happy.
Because, despite all of their apparent success the real question had yet to be answered. Oh, and the question wasn't even "What was Artemis's secret?" any more. Oh no. That was as nothing, a mere mote, compared to the truly important matter:
Who. Was. Right?
They had to know.
After the debriefing, the team had wandered into the general room. Kaldur had collapsed on the arm chair in that constantly flowing way of his while Superboy took his spot on the couch. Belatedly, he realized the remote was on the other side of the coffee table and glared at it. Megan noticed and telekinetically gave it to him as she moved to the kitchen. He smiled his thanks, and she ducked into the doorway of the fridge to hide her blush. Artemis rolled her eyes good-naturedly and bumped the Martian girl aside to grab a soda before sitting up on the counter.
Wally and Robin had brought up the rear of the procession, hanging back at the doorway a moment. They shot each other dissatisfied glares. The hand print on Robin's face had lessened some, but still visible. Wally had nearly fainted in relief that Batman hadn't asked about it.
Then Wally actually saw the light bulb go off above the boy's head. A slow grin crept onto the Boy Wonder's face, and Wally backed away into the room, matching its pace.
"Where ya goin', Wally? We got unfinished business."
Wally zipped across the room as far as he could get from his justifiably vengeful friend. He held up a hand. "Just wait, Rob."
"You're not going to weasel out of this."
At this point, their conversation drew the team's attention away from their own tasks and to the pair. What were they going on about now?
"I'm not," he insisted. "I just need a minute."
"To run away?"
"Of course not!"
"Would either of you," Kaldur began wearily, "care to explain what you are talking about?"
"See this?" Robin pointed to the mark. "Wally did it."
Megan gasped. "Wally! Why would you do that to Robin? He's your friend."
"No, Meg, it's not like that! I got a little…carried away."
"You think?" Robin shot back, turning to Kaldur. "Wally prematurely delivered his slap, without the consent of the bet commissioner and under false pretences. How do you rule?"
Kaldur looked between the stone-faced Robin and the anxious-looking Wally, incredulous. "You are both still on about that?"
"About what exactly?" Artemis asked, suspicious.
When both boys looked hesitant to reply, Megan felt obligated to inform her. "I think this is that bet they were doing before."
"So I was right. It was some weird, boy thing," she smirked, in that self-congratulatory way of hers, "What was the bet about?"
She frowned. "What?"
"Robin bet Wally that the reason you were acting so strangely about the mission because of a lover that you left behind, and Wally said that it was because King Philip was your father."
Artemis merely looked between the boys and offered a non-committal grunt before sipping at her drink.
"That's all you have to say?" Wally asked, edging on outrage. "Aren't you going to tell us which one is right?"
"Hadn't planned on it."
Oh, there it was! That smug, little twist of her lips. That thing she called a smile. He very suddenly missed the quiet Artemis. Sure, it creeped him out, but a quiet Artemis was a nice Artemis.
"All I know," Robin said, "is that I'm owed two slaps for that little stunt of yours, "he titled his head. "That reminds me…"
He said no more and proceeded to remove his gloves with great ceremony and laid them across the back of the couch. He stepped forward, grinning as he marched across the room. As he walked, he flexed the fingers of his right hand, then clenched them repeatedly.
"Is this normal for Earth boys?" Megan whispered.
"The scary thing? Yes. And it gets worse with age," Artemis answered, full of worldly wisdom.
Finally, Robin stopped before the taller teen.
"'Sup, buddy," he said, with a congenial nod.
Wally rolled his eyes. "Just get it over w-"
Robin's right hand shot out, striking Wally left cheek so hard it twisted his head around. The sound echoed through the whole of the base, and Batman deliberately ignored it. He then delivered a back hand across the other cheek, leaving Wally with a stinging, red print on each side of his face.
With a blink, Wally had left the room, distant cursing and yells of pain could be heard as it echoed through the mountain. Batman ignored that, too. While Wally did that, Robin cackled madly. This feeling…it was truly euphoric. Even more so because Wally had deserved it. Man. How much better would it have been if he'd been right?
As his laughter died down, he remembered those discs he'd picked up. With the girls and boys returning to their own business once again, Robin pulled them out and looked them over. They were all labelled. '2007 Bellhaven', '09 Thermopylae', ''10 Brogia', '05 Bialyia'. Well…that one might be interesting. It was before their little trip, but it might have some information on it. He flipped through to the last one. It read: 'The Marriage/Crock-San Dego'. Robin blinked. Crock. Artemis Crock. His eyes flicked to the girl sitting on the counter and grinned.
He was right. It went beyond his scope of things, with her being married, but damn, you couldn't much more of a lover than a husband! Completely disregarding the legalities of the matter, he hopped up from the slouch he'd taken against the wall the moment Wally came back. In just a moment, he'd be running back out of here again, his tail tucked between his legs. At the same time, they started walking towards each other.
"All right, Rob. I gotta hand it to you. That was a pretty good –"
This time, a loud scream accompanied the blow. Batman didn't even acknowledge he'd heard anything this time. In the general room, Wally was moaning on the ground, holding his right cheek. Everyone stared at the pair, as Robin had once again, began laughing.
"I am confused," Megan said, voicing pretty much everyone's thoughts.
"I'm in pain!" Wally yelled. "Dude, what is your deal?"
"This," Robin held the disc above Wally's face, "is my deal, bro."
Robin watched his eyes as they read the label. "…that's just not fair."
"What is it?" Superboy asked.
Triumphantly, Robin held the disc up for all to see. That resulted in Artemis, who was unfortunately taking a long swallow of her soda, choking and spewing the rest out of her mouth. She coughed and spluttered a moment before rasping out,
"Where did you get that?"
"Secret gold room," he supplied happily.
He moved towards the tv.
"What do you think you're doing?"
"Proving once and for all that Wally's wrong, I'm right, and…Wally's wrong. Problem?"
"Don't put that in!"
"Well…" as he spoke, he continued to move steadily forward.
He turned around and began walking backwards, keeping his eyes on Artemis.
"Look, it's just a formality. It's nothing personal," his back touched the tv screen. While she couldn't see his hands, he traced where the dvd player was located, "and I'm sure you're still trying to move on with your life after everything you've went through. I can respect that, Artemis. Really."
Artemis shot off the counter top, pointing at him, and fury in her eyes. "Robin, if you hit play, I will kill you. I mean actually put arrows in you until you're a corpse."
He stepped to the side, hand hovering near the play button.
"I'm sorry, Artemis. Really, I am," he looked down solemnly. Then he looked back up, smiling brightly. "You'll feel better once you've shared your secret!"
He hit play and started to run. Behind him, he could hear... music. Mozart. Ah, the Marriage of Figaro. He knew it! He risked turning around, preparing to gloat, and then he saw that the screen was filled... with Ballet. Robin stopped dead. For right front and centre was undoubtedly a younger Artemis Crock, completely done up in a white leotard, and short, fluffy tutu.
"Oh…it's the Marriage of Figarro starring you…damn it."
For a few seconds, everyone held a stunned silence. Until Wally poorly tried to muffle a laugh. To his credit, he tried. Not all that hard, but still. Then Artemis jumped across the screen in a pirouette, high def and everything, and he lost it. Wally laughed, loud and from the belly. He rolled with it, tears forming in his eyes. It was fortunate he was already on the ground, else he'd fallen over anyway.
Artemis held herself, muscles tight and ready to strike. Her face flamed red, in merry contrast to her costume. Rage and embarrassment came off of her in waves, and from the way the Boy Wonder was trying to ghost out of the room, he noticed.
"Wow, Artemis," Megan said. "I didn't know you could dance so well. It's beautiful."
Kaldur, seeing the minute way the archer relaxed at the praise, offered his opinion as well.
"Indeed. It reminds me of the dances at Atlantis. Even the Royal dancers would be jealous of your grace."
Her breathing was still very rushed, shallow and through her nose. He cued Superboy with his eyes.
"It's really good," he said. "Why don't you dance anymore?"
The entire time, Artemis had been watching Robin try to ease his way to the door. At the question, she flicked her eyes to Superboy momentarily, but they went back to Robin.
"Because it's stupid, and I don't want to. The only reason I did it that time was because me and my mom needed the money to get home, and that one had a reward."
"Then how do you know the ballet?"
"I just memorized the moves and the order. I was never trained in ballet."
By this time, Wally had worked himself down to chuckles and clutching his stomach.
Superboy frowned. "Why didn't your dad help you?"
This time, Superboy had her full attention.
"My father isn't exactly…supportive."
An understanding passed between the two before Superboy stood. He dropped the remote control onto the couch and walked out of the room, careful to avoid stepping on Wally. A moment later, Artemis left as well, making sure to deliver a quick kick to Wally's side. The air was tense after that.
Wally hated tension. He resolved to relieve it.
"So, Rob, you have to feel like an idiot right now."
What better way than starting a fight? Thankfully, Robin caught on.
"You have to feel like that all the time. Gotta say, that must suck."
"Really? That's the best you can do?"
"Oh, you wanna see what I can do?"
"Bring it, bro!"
Mozart played in the background. As Wally sprang to his feet, Kaldur cleared his throat.
"Before either of you 'bring it', there is the matter of your forfeits."
"What?" they asked in unison.
"Neither of you were right, yet you both acted without my judgment in dealing out your…slaps on both occasions. As per the rules, you both warrant penalties."
Before either culprit could wonder just how Kaldur knew the rules, (they hadn't done a good job of detailing his job) Kaldur rose from his chair with the air of a judge. "I will take the time to convene before deciding your punishments."
As Kaldur left the room, the boys felt very much like they'd been sent to their rooms 'to wait until Dad came home.' Megan was the only one with them now, but she floated from around the counter.
"I think I'll go check on Superboy."
With that, she left, never noticing the dejected look on Wally's face at that statement.
Robin sighed. "Well…"
They glanced at each other, looking over the hand prints on each other's faces. Wally pointed at them. "Are we cool?"
"We're cool," Robin said, offering his hand.
Wally grasped his forearm and pulled him forward into a bro hug, with two quick thumps on the back. He stepped back and went to the kitchen.
"Sure. I feel like I haven't eaten in hours."
And just like that, things were as they were. The bet was settled, mostly. Neither was right, both were wrong. They could live with that.
Twenty minutes later, Robin was pacing the length of the room while Wally continued to demolish the stores of food the mountain had.
"Relax, Robin. There's a reason I chose Kal to be the bet commissioner." Wally grinned, confidently. "He doesn't like practical jokes, and he is too dignified to get us to do anything embarrassing. He'll just give us a stern look, a slap on the wrists, and tell us not to do it again."
Robin stopped mid-step. "You…have a point."
He started to relax. Maybe Wally was right. He was getting freaked over nothing. Kaldur just wasn't the type to do that.
They both looked toward the hall as footsteps preceded Kaldur into the room. Wally turned his easy grin into a suitably contrite expression.
"It has taken me some time to come to a suitable reprimand for the both of you. Nothing I could think of quite fit. And then I realised: I am not the best person to choose a penalty for you both. I, after all, am not the offended party. Fortunately, we all know who is."
Wally gave Robin a look. He didn't like where this was going.
Kaldur smiled, slightly. "Artemis had... a great many ideas."
They stared. They pointed. They took pictures and didn't even have the decency to try and hide their laughter. The jerks.
As it turned out, one of Artemis' 'great many ideas' was targeted towards their dignity. She'd been embarrassed because of them so why not return in kind. Both boys agreed though that this…this was scarring them for life.
Somehow, someway, Artemis had gotten ahold of…the Shorts. Those ugly, horrid, orange short shorts from the school. For the entirety of their time at Mt. Justice, Wally and Robin had to wear them for a set number of hours. And it just so happened that Green Arrow had dropped by. When he saw them, he nearly died laughing, tears leaking from his eyes. He, in turn, just had to call Black Canary, the Hawks, Green Lantern, and everyone else he had on speed dial.
If this didn't convince people that Artemis was the spawn of evil, Wally didn't know what would! He could actually feel pieces of himself dying on the inside with each jeer from his childhood heroes. He saw pieces of his hopes for respect and to be seen as an equal shatter to the ground. It felt like high school. Robin just took all of it in stride. When Wally asked what was up with him, he just said,
"You are disturbing my happy place."
That kid was so weird.
Now, they were hiding in one of the lesser used areas of the mountain, away from teammates and leaguers.
"Don't they have people to save or something? Isn't there some psycho villain holding some school kids hostage somewhere? A forest on fire? Anything?" Wally griped.
Robin was typing something into his minicomputer. "Unfortunately, no. I checked."
Wally groaned in annoyance and pulled at the shorts. They kept riding up.
"How much longer do we have to go through this?"
"Just another... six hours."
"…Rob. Tell me about this happy place of yours.
Don Bartholomew switched off the television set and sighed. The court had been a shambles, but it seemed that the damning evidence had eroded his dear old friend King Philip's public support, and without that, he would certainly be going to jail for a long time. His criminal career was over.
It was a shame, of course. But, he reminded himself, in every misfortune there was an opportunity.
He smiled. Intergang had called him the day it had happened. Explained to him the opportunities available from co-operation instead of conflict. He had listened. It made sense. And while King Philip had been an admirable man in some ways, he had such foolishly... moral objections to some extremely profitable things. The margins in human trafficking alone would make him rich beyond all of his dreams of avarice.
Oh, and Intergang had assured him that the school King Philip had started would need a new patron. Someone who would be willing to be more... involved. Hands on. His smiled deepened. That was very promising too. He reached for the brandy decanter on his desk.
"I think it's time you gave up."
Batholomew spun around. He could see nothing. "Who is there- How dare you?"
A small boy stepped. The diminutive size of the child helped overcome his fear.
"This is my home and private property. You can't just-"
"Oh, but I can. I did. And trust me; you'll thank me for it. You see, I thought you'd rather talk to me, than... well, I can't say talk to my friends. None of them are the talking type."
"Who are you?"
"My name's Robin. I bring a message from The Batman."
Don Bartholomew's eyes widened. Everyone knew of the Batman. And it was not a name you took in vain. Ever. "Y-you can't threaten me, I've done nothing wrong-"
"Again, you don't seem to understand how 'can't' means. Cannot: the inability to get something done. I can threaten you. But I won't. I will, however, make you some promises. There is a very big difference between the words. It's important that you actually know them." The boy smiled. "Now, see, your old friend King Philip, he was a criminal. But he had some standards. Not like you. You're just…scum."
"How dare you-"
"You don't speak again. Until I say you can. Or you'll regret it."
The Don felt ridiculous, taking orders from a boy less than half his size, and less than a quarter of his weight. But somehow, he spoke with such a... certainty that the alternative did not seem worth contemplating.
"I'm going to make this clear to you: you made a bad mistake at that last fund-raiser. You spoke to one of our friends in a way that was…overly familiar. We didn't like that. It made us notice you. And now, everyone at that school has us for a friend. So, here's what you're going to do. First thing tomorrow, you are going to give your entire ill-gotten fortune to that school's endowment fund. And then you're never going to go anywhere near it again. If you're stupid enough to forget that, well... "
The boy stepped closer. He laid a magazine on the Don's desk. It was one of the glossy super-hero magazines, opened to the centre pages. He indicated each person he spoke off in turn.
"You see Kid Flash there? You really upset him. He will run along the equator with your face against the ground. Till all the skin is gone. Then he's going to give you to Superboy, who is a simple soul, and he is just going to beat the crud out of you. Then, he's going to give what's left of you to Aqualad, and- Wow. You should have seen how angry he was. I don't quite understand all of what he had planned, because most of it was in Atlantean, but I do know that it involved sharks, octopods, and jellyfish. As for me, I'll just register you as a sex offender, then leave you outside the FBI headquarters with photos of the Directors grandchildren in your pockets." Robin smiled at the Don. It was not a pleasant smile. "Hell. If I have so much as a bad day, I'll probably do that anyway, you perverted, waste of human life."
Don Bartholomew couldn't speak. The beats of sweat the rolled of him, for once, had nothing to do with corpulence, and everything to do with fear.
"Remember this. You're being watched. Always. And you really should stop drinking. The alcohol eats holes into your brain, you know."
Don Bartholomew could have sworn that he had only blinked, but when he opened his eyes, the ghastly apparition... was gone. And even though he was alone in his study, it was some time before he calmed down enough to even turn away from the window. Try as he may to tell himself it was all some nightmare, he knew better. His entire frame shook. When he picked up the phone to make a suddenly urgent phone call, it took him four attempts to dial the right number.
The voice on the other end of the line was French.
"Tell them I have... reconsidered. Life is too short for such dangerous pursuits. I feel they would be wise to do the same."
A/N: BAHAHAHAHAHA! We did it! Wow, am I impressed with us! Me and the right Honorable Marquis of Suck (he's not quite a prince) had some communication issues, and just finished chapters these today. Almost thought we weren't gonna make it. Hopefully, our finals will go well, despite our neglect!
DreamR, win or not, stress and all, it's been fun working with you.
A note from DreamRabbit: We made it... we made it? Really? *cough* I mean, I was never in any doubt. Not at all...
Anyway, despite the above mentioned issues, this was a ton of fun. Foxtrot is a delight to write with, as I'm sure any of you who have, or who will have that opportunity will agree with me.
I hope you enjoyed our story, and a final thought: dear readers, always, always, /always/ check your spam folders. You'll be glad you did.