The final chapter. Thanks to all who have been along for the ride - I had such a fun time writing this. Special thanks to Liz, Buck and Laura, without whose help I would not have been able to finish.
March ended. April waxed and began to wane. May loomed, and punched Artemis in the face with the truth – their time together was coming to a close.
"So, room draw," Artemis casually remarked one late spring evening – they were in the study lounge, engaging in various degrees of actual study (on a scale of zero to Kaldur, Artemis ranked about a Conner). "It's in, like, two weeks. Are we gonna talk about this or what?"
From behind his physical chemistry textbook, Wally frowned.
"I don't want to think about next year yet," he said. "Can we not?"
"I mean, technically speaking, we could not," Dick conceded, looking up from his laptop. "But I doubt you'll like the results in the long term."
Wally made a face at his roommate.
"I mean, what's the big deal?" Conner grunted from the chair in the corner. The others turned to look at him. "We're just gonna live together again anyway, aren't we?"
"I'd hoped so," said Artemis, looking around the room for contradiction, which no one gave. Good first sign. "But you know...it's a little more complicated than just deciding that's what we want. Are we going to gamble on getting rooms near each other, or go for a friendship suite, or what?"
"A friendship suite sounds good," said Megan; several people nodded.
"Man, I just wanna live here again though," Wally sighed wistfully, putting his book down on the table. "I like my room. I like the Summit. I even like my roommate once in a while."
"Lies," said Dick with a grin. "Your love for me is constant as the stars above."
"Or Roy's BAC," Conner muttered.
Wally and Dick exchanged smirks. In recent weeks, it seemed that Time Remaining to Graduation and Roy Harper's Sobriety were directly correlated, which was to say that Artemis couldn't remember the last time she'd seen their RA sober.
"Okay, let's not get sappy here," she cut in as Kaldur frowned at his computer screen in disapproval. "Focus, everyone. I don't think it's an option for us to live here again. This is first-year housing, isn't it?"
"Kaldur's a sophomore and he lives here," Zatanna pointed out.
"Kaldur's a transfer," said Artemis, glancing over at him. He was reading something on his laptop, but she knew from his reaction to Conner's jab at Roy that he was paying attention. "I think that's different."
"Yeah, it is," Dick confirmed. "But you know. Housing designations can change, with the right...leverage."
"Are you hinting you have some kind of say in this?"
"I would never be so oblique."
"Don't be coy, Grayson. Can you or can't you make it happen?"
"Yeah," Dick grinned, leaning back in his chair with his arms behind his head. "Yeah, totally. I can get Bruce to put in a word. It's not like we're asking for extra housing, just asking for a redistribution of who lives where. Should be a done deal."
"Excellent," said Artemis as Megan clapped her hands together excitedly. "And I doubt any other sophomores would try to get these rooms in room draw because who wants to live in freshman housing when you can get better?"
"Us," said Wally proudly.
"Uh, guys, one problem," Conner said. He turned to Zatanna. "Where are you living next year?"
Zee smiled a little awkwardly, rubbing her arm as she looked around at the others.
"Oh," said Wally, a look of dismayed realization passing over his face. "Shit, yeah, you should totally come live with us, Zee, which means..."
"...the Cave is a no-go," Artemis finished, nodding and trying not to let her disappointment show. There just weren't enough rooms for all of them. But no, this was good. Better to have Zee and not have the Cave than the other way around.
"It wouldn't have been the same anyway," said Megan diplomatically. "With Roy gone and everything. The next RA might have followed through on reporting us for the things on the roof, or all of Wally's science equipment, or any of the other ways we break school policy."
"True," Wally conceded.
"If I may interject, I believe have a solution to both these problems," said Kaldur, finally looking up from his computer.
The room turned to look at him.
"Yes," he smiled. "My application to the Residential Advisor program has just been accepted."
"You applied to be an RA?" he asked incredulously.
"I did," Kaldur confirmed.
"Well. As I already spend most of my spare time cleaning up your messes, listening to your problems and dissuading you from your own terrible ideas, I thought I might as well be paid for it."
From somewhere down the hall, there was a drunken cackle, then the click of a door shutting.
"Don't think we didn't hear that, Harper!" Artemis yelled after it.
"In any case, if you six can work out a division of the other three rooms that is amenable to everyone, I am certain I could request to be posted on this hall," said Kaldur, looking around.
"Oh, that would be perfect," Megan gushed.
"Wait, okay, so how would this work?" asked Artemis, tapping her pencil against her leg. "Kaldur takes the RA single, Wally and Dick stay together because they're the only ones who can possibly put up with each other, and...uh..."
Megan and Conner shared a look that everyone graciously ignored. A moment passed, like they were having some kind of telepathic conversation, then they looked back to the others.
"And you and Zee take our room, and I move across the hall with Conner," Megan finished.
"Are you sure?" Artemis asked. "You guys can definitely think on it if you want, it's – "
" – it's fine," Conner assured her, then shifted in his chair, looking sheepish. "Let's be real, it's uh, not that different from what we've been doing this year anyway."
There was an awkward silence in which no one could really disagree.
"It is settled, then," said Kaldur, shutting his laptop. "Dick, if you would, speak to your father as soon as possible. I will submit my acceptance to the Campus Life office and request this particular location. The rest will be determined at room draw."
"You got it, fearless leader," Dick grinned.
"All in?" asked Artemis, looking around at her friends, who unanimously smiled back – even Conner.
Early May at Beatus Portum, and it was the nicest day they'd had yet. The quad was green as a lantern, the sky blue as a beetle, the sun black as a canary (which was to say, yellow). In the shade, Artemis flicked out a big blanket towards Zee and the two of them lowered it to the grass, creating a comfy space for their picnic.
"Do we need the second?" Zatanna wondered out loud, reaching for the other blanket they'd brought.
"Nah," said Conner, flopping down onto the ground and slinging his backpack off his shoulder. "We'll fit."
"We're down two anyway," Artemis pointed out. "And we can always put it out later if we decide we want more space."
"All right," Zee relented, and took a seat beside Conner as Megan knelt and opened the first of the picnic baskets. "Let's eat before Wally shows up and eats everything. I'm starved."
There was a mumbled chorus of 'amen's as the others took their seats and began to unpack the spread they'd brought. Megan had prepared it with help from Kaldur and "help" from Conner, and the plan was to eat it while they watched the final matchup of the top-ranking intramural Ultimate Frisbee teams, one of which was the Titans, whose star player happened to be a certain Dick Grayson. Apparently he had invented an entirely new pass, a fast, high-arcing shot that the Ultimate community had dubbed the "Flying Grayson." Naturally, they had found this out only when his photo had showed up on the Sports Spotlight page of the student newspaper, since he hadn't actually told any of them.
You had to try hard to be that weird, Artemis insisted.
"Heyyyy," slurred a new voice. Artemis mentally prepared an eyeroll. "M'I late?"
"Not by your appalling standards of timeliness, no," came Kaldur's seamless reply as Roy flopped down beside him, bottle in hand. Kaldur gave him a look. "It is eleven in the morning, my friend. Had you considered waiting until, say, the afternoon to imbibe?"
"You bring any for the rest of us?" Artemis asked, prodding him in the shoulder so he'd move out of the way. He was blocking the potato salad.
"I hate you too, Harper."
"Hey!" called a markedly friendlier voice, and the six of them looked up to see Dick jogging towards them, Wally at his side, both of them in the jerseys of the Titans – black, with a bright yellow, segmented T emblazoned on the chest. "You made it."
"Of course we did," Megan smiled warmly. "We're here to cheer you on! Both of you."
"Cheer louder for Wally," Dick joked. "He'll need it. He doesn't even know the rules."
"I do too," Wally grumbled under his breath. "Most of them."
"Remind me again how you ended up in this game?" Artemis asked, raising an eyebrow at her boyfriend.
"Well our fastest cutter – those're the designated catchers, they have to sprint ahead of everybody else – sprained his ankle at a party last weekend and we needed somebody fast," Dick explained, shrugging. "Also, I thought it would be hilarious."
"There we go," Artemis smirked, spotting the real reason.
"Have you eaten?" Kaldur asked them, reaching to pick up two plates.
"Nah, we're good," said Wally; Zee and Artemis exchanged stunned looks. Wally turning down food?
"I took him out to Parasite before this," Dick told them. "In exchange for him bailing the team out and all."
"Ah," came the knowing response – Parasite was an all-you-can-eat buffet, a favorite of Beatus Portum students with limitless appetites and limited budgets. Even Wally would be satisfied for a few hours after a visit. Dick wasn't on the Dean's List for nothing.
"Well, play hard and good luck," said Zatanna, offering the two boys a smile. "We'll be rooting for you."
"'Course you will," said Dick with a dashing grin, turning to go. "And we won't disappoint. I promise. Save me a cookie."
"Save me four," said Wally.
Artemis rolled her eyes affectionately.
"Hakuna Matata, bitches."
And with a wink, he was off.
That game marked the first of many, many end-of-year extravaganzas.
The day after Dick's inhuman projectile control and Wally's fleetfooted finesse clinched the Ultimate championship for the Titans, the gang crowded into the bleachers once again at Conner's final rugby game. Though the drama wasn't nearly on the level of last semester's Homecoming football game, it was still fun to watch their friend slamming an endless stream of enormous dudes into the ground. After all, he was very good at it – some people were just blessed with special gifts. Conner's was being impervious to injury, change, and sarcasm.
That Thursday night was Zee's last orchestra concert, for which they cheered no less loudly, albeit at more societally approved intervals (Dick nearly had a seizure when Conner tried to clap between movements). Despite taking music theory the previous semester, Artemis was still fairly clueless about classical music, but the sight of Zatanna in a tailored suit coaxing warm, mellifluous sound out of the curvaceous cello between her knees was enough to make the straightest of women swoon, and given that Artemis wasn't even the straightest of women, she didn't particularly care that she had no idea what was going on. Mahler who?
Some days later came Wally's semester-end cross-country meet, in which he was running a 10k. Artemis woke him the morning of with a kiss and a disgustingly large breakfast, one of which was met with his garbled enthusiasm (and it wasn't the kiss). Track was more Wally's thing than cross-country, but he was certainly no slouch running long distance either, and as usual, the gang took the opportunity to turn out in fine form: they placed themselves at intervals along the race route, each holding a single letter on a piece of posterboard, so that by the end of the race he had passed them all and read their message: "GO WALY."
(Roy had been holding the second L. Predictably, he had grown impatient and gone off to get a beer mid-race, exactly when Wally had run past his post. Fortunately Wally had gotten the point anyway, taken their advice to 'go,' and had crossed the finish line in second place to the sight of all seven of them cheering madly. In retrospect, Kaldur and Dick agreed, it would have been more prudent to have given Roy the G of 'GO,' but at least he'd made it for the endgame.)
And finally, there had been Artemis's last derby bout.
In her mind, nothing would ever compete with the thrill of that first match against Del Luz, but it was a fierce one anyway, not in the least because the referee was "chemically compromised," as Raquel had put it while dumping out the rest of Roy's flask. By the end of the last jam, Artemis had a winning record, several new bruises, and a burgeoning distaste for the taste of the gym floor. It was worth it, though, to feel her teammates' arms around her in a sweaty, blissful huddle of victory, and to hear Raquel tearfully demand they return to play come autumn, and call them all her "sisters." For the first time in years, Artemis didn't inwardly flinch at the word.
"Birds of Prey for life!" Raquel declared, raising a red plastic cup towards her teammates – the team echoed the cheer, and they all drank heartily, basking in the afterglow of their success. Following the match, they had all showered, changed, and gathered in the suite Kara, Raven and Kory shared to celebrate. Also present were various affiliates of the team: the trio's suitemate Bette, former member and Halloween lifesaver Donna, various boyfriends (plus one girlfriend, Renee's) and Artemis's hallmates, who had been warmly welcomed as the team's official groupies. Roy was also due to show, but he was taking his sweet time, as usual.
"Crank it, Grayson," Raquel instructed (Dick had somehow become the unofficial DJ of whatever party he attended). He obeyed, and as music hummed through the room, Artemis grabbed Megan's arm and pulled her into the throng to dance. Conner, alarmed, hurried after his girlfriend, exactly as Artemis had expected, and soon the three of them were in the thick of it, caught up in the warm, happy mess of humanity that was the year's last derby party.
Rollers took their fun seriously. Artemis knew her limits, and did not attempt to go shot for shot with the team's heavier hitters (namely Kara and her twin sister Karen), though neither Conner nor Wally took so much care, the latter going so far as to challenge Karen to a shoot-off, which Kaldur wisely stopped before it could get off the ground. Watching him switch out Roy's vodka tonic for a cup of water later that evening, Artemis guessed he'd had enough dealing with drunken idiots of late, and couldn't blame him.
1 AM saw the suite and its inhabitants in a state of delightful disarray. Wally was leaning heavily against Artemis's shoulder, babbling into her ear about A) how not drunk he was, B) the plethora of attractive ladies in the room and how it was a miracle she hadn't left him for one or all of them and C) the physics of roller derby. Zee was experimenting with the last of these, tottering around the room in Raven's skates while Raven and Kate, Renee's girlfriend, laughed uncontrollably and kept her from falling or breaking anything (human or otherwise). Raquel and Roy, who had been tearing up the dance floor earlier that evening, had finally succeeded in dragging Kaldur out to join them, where he was standing quite still with his arms folded over his chest, trying and failing to look like he wasn't having a good time. In the corner, Conner had retreated to an armchair, Megan in his lap, where the two were being tipsily affectionate with one another, and Dick, for his part, was busy being fawned over by an obviously smitten Kory.
"I'm gonna miss this over the summer," Artemis confessed into Wally's ear, a sad frown flitting across her face as she thought of those long months ahead.
"Don' say that, babe," he slurred sincerely, wrapping an arm around her shoulder and giving her a gentle squeeze. "We'll all find ways t'see each other."
Artemis smiled, but the feeling never made it past her lips. She just wasn't so sure. All their lives were so full, so busy, and most of them had real families back home, other people who loved them, other places they really belonged. They didn't need this place like she did. Didn't need each otherlike she needed them.
...or so she thought.
Zatanna was the first one to bring it up, one afternoon in mid-May when the seven of them had become little more than a collection of bodies strewn across the study lounge like so many living bean bags. Closest to the door was Dick, leaned up against the wall and muttering under his breath as his laptop quizzed him on Chinese vocabulary using a program he'd coded himself.
("Too cool for flashcards?" Artemis had asked when he'd showed it off, and he'd just nodded unironically like it had been a real question.)
Sprawled out on his stomach a few feet away was Wally, whose subject of study was unknown to everyone but him; Artemis had heard him babble enough sciencespeak at her over lunches and late-night snacks and (regrettably) in bed that she'd forbidden him from ever discussing class material in her presence again, an ultimatum he'd thankfully obeyed. Across the room, in the kitchenette, Megan stood mixing something in a bowl while she listened to an Animal Biology lecture through her iPod headphones; the first batch of whatever it was she was baking was already filling the room with a mouth-watering aroma.
In the center of them all, Kaldur sat straight-backed at the table, each of his narrow subject-binders stacked carefully beside his textbooks, three spare pencils lined up at his left as he diligently copied out dates and titles from his Ancient Art textbook. Zee sat opposite him with her legs crossed, nose buried in One Hundred Years of Solitude.
In the corner, in his usual armchair, Conner was staring at a star chart, presumably studying for his Astronomy final, though judging from the way he kept flipping it around and back and scowling, it was a losing battle against his own failure to do any sort of studying (or homework) earlier in the semester. Copying off of Megan did have its drawbacks.
As for Artemis herself, she was seated on the floor amidst a clutter of study guides and textbooks and doodle-strewn notes, some of which were more snarky remarks on her professors than actual lecture content. Naturally, she was not studying any of it, but was instead lazily firing rubber bands over at Dick, who was dodging them without even looking away from his computer.
Just as she unwrapped her IR notecards to repurpose the rubber band holding them together, Zee looked up from her book and asked abruptly,
"So, what's everyone doing this summer?"
The others looked up from their various projects, glancing around at each other; Megan took out her earbuds.
"I'm going back to Gotham," said Dick after a brief pause, taking the initiative to answer first. "Probably do some apprenticeship stuff with Bruce, evade the media, do some personal coding projects, try and talk Barbara into transferring here. You know. The usual."
"That last part sounds good," Artemis put in hopefully. Come to think of it, from what she could tell from the brief interaction they'd had, Barbara would make a fabulous Bird of Prey...
"I am also returning home," said Kaldur, closing his notebook and rotating his chair so he could face more of the room. "Though I imagine I will have at least a few opportunities to come out and visit anyone who does not live prohibitively far away."
"Define 'prohibitively far away'," challenged Wally.
"West of the Mississippi."
"Wait, why damn? You're not going home too, are you?" Zatanna asked Wally. "I thought you said you had a summer research position."
"I do," said Wally uncomfortably. "But...I uh, I didn't mean on campus. It's with my uncle in the forensics lab in Central. My hours are pretty flexible but it's definitely not here. Sorry if I didn't make that clear."
Artemis felt her stomach go cold.
No, he hadn't made that clear. To be fair, they'd barely talked about it, but she'd definitely been under the impression that he was sticking around for the summer, at least for part of the time, and so to find out that not only would Dick and Kaldur be gone, so would Wally...
She swallowed hard, hoping the room's attention wouldn't turn to her next, which of course it did, but she was saved from responding when a noise from the entryway heralded Roy's entrance – he had stumbled and struck the wall.
"Whoa there," said Dick, who was closest, glancing up at the RA. "How's gravity treating you these days?"
"Gravity's an SOB," Roy grunted back, straightening himself out. He took a marginally steadier step into the room, looking around curiously. "What're y'all doin'?"
"Well we were studying..." Zee began.
"What's that?" Roy asked abruptly, pointing to Dick's laptop screen.
"It's um, a program I made to..."
"Awesome," said Roy, and promptly plopped down beside him, pulling Dick's computer into his own lap and clicking around randomly, or at least it sounded random (and Dick's half-amused, half-mortified expression supported that theory). A split second later he lost interest and abandoned that particularly project, scooching his way over to Wally's side and scooping up his Biochem textbook to squint at the text.
"This shit's science," he declared, and promptly gave up on that too.
"Wow," Artemis remarked as Roy staggered upright, made for the table, leaned over it to pluck Zatanna's book out of her hands and knocked one of Kaldur's pencils askew in the process. "You are justdrunk, right?"
"Drunk on successsss," Roy grinned, handing Zee her book back. "Jus' turned in my last lib'ry book. Now they gotta let me grajoo...gradoo..."
"Graduate," Conner finished in a mutter, clearly embarrassed on behalf of the older student.
"I was not aware you had ever been in the library," remarked Kaldur dryly, re-rotating his pencil so that it was parallel to the others. "Or a library."
Roy glanced down at the gesture and promptly flicked the pencil back out of line, grinning impishly. Kaldur narrowed his eyes.
Sensing violence was imminent, Artemis cleared her throat, drawing the room's attention to herself.
"Yeah so, I was maybe planning on staying here for the summer but it sounds like everyone's leaving, so maybe I'll just go home."
"I might be here!" Roy interjected giddily as he wandered towards Megan to investigate what she was baking.
"Oh," said Artemis. "Delightful."
"I will too, actually," said Zatanna. "I'm just going back to New York to collect the rest of my things and then...well. Dr. Lance has set me up in an apartment near campus for the summer, since as soon as I clear out, the house is being sold. There's already a buyer and everything."
The room was silent for a moment, save the sound of Roy sucking cookie dough off his thumb; Kaldur touched Zatanna's arm gently from across the table and nothing more needed to be said.
"Me and Megan will be here too," Conner shrugged; Megan nodded in affirmation.
"Really?" said Artemis hopefully.
"I got a summer job with the planetarium," Megan explained. "During June and July the college hosts an astronomy camp for elementary school students, so I'm going to be a counselor for that. I get to live with them and teach them about the stars and the solar system."
"Children," muttered Artemis, shuddering.
"Sounds perfect for you," said Zatanna with a smile.
"You just crashing with her, then, Con?" Wally asked.
"Nope," said Conner, shaking his head. "I'm staying with Coach Kent. Gonna put in some serious training over the summer, maybe learn something about the team management side of things too."
"Wait, but I thought you two didn't get along," said Artemis, surprised.
Conner smiled, a rare and genuine deviation from his usual scowl.
"Nah, we're cool now," he said. "I'm actually kinda looking forward to it, to be honest. I've never...you know. Had somewhere to be in the summer."
Roy, his eyes brimming with happy tears, stumbled over to give the football player a hug, which Conner tolerated, patting the RA's arm awkwardly. Dick snickered.
"Well," said Artemis, looking around. "I guess I'll look for a job and a place to stay on campus for the summer, then."
"Do it," Wally urged. "Maybe me and Kaldur and fartface can coordinate a visit sometime, get the whole gang back together."
"Fartface?" Dick repeated incredulously.
"Yes, good," said Artemis to Wally, nodding. "Do that."
"Thy will be done, beautiful," said Wally with a grin, and it was.
The night following the last day of finals, there was a full moon.
All nine of them – Raquel had made the trek from north campus – were up on the roof, enjoying the last night they would ever spend as true peers. After all, tomorrow was graduation, when one of their rank would move on an join the real world. They would see each other again, but it would never be the same as that first magical year. Not quite.
The gang was unusually subdued as they chatted quietly under the stars. The night had turned warm and mild, a gentle breeze rustling the leaves on the trees around them; Artemis sat with a cup of red wine cradled in her lap, a parting gift from Roy, who was in fact mostly sober at that moment, seated on the end of the couch with one arm slung casually around Kaldur's shoulder. For perhaps the first time since Artemis had met him, Kaldur himself looked honestly relaxed.
"We should spiff this place up next year," said Dick, looking around the rooftop as he set his cup down. "Now that we know we're coming back."
Room draw had been a success. They were due to move back into the Cave next September.
"I dunno, I kinda like it the way it is," Raquel shrugged. "It's...homey."
Zatanna reached for one of the wine bottles in the center of their circle, pouring just a little more into her glass; Conner held his out and she topped it off obligingly.
"We could build a floodlight," Dick suggested jokingly. "A big beacon we can shine up into the sky, so Roy can always find his way home."
"We could call it the Hat-Signal," Wally chimed in.
"Hilarious," Roy deadpanned, rolling his eyes as the others chuckled, but no one missed the affection in his voice.
"Any idea yet where you'll be next year?" Megan asked him. She was looking unacceptably adorable in one of Conner's big football sweatshirts.
Artemis inwardly braced herself – every time she'd seen Roy asked this question thus far, it had been met with varying degrees of verbal and physical violence. But to her surprise, the RA just shrugged, pausing a moment before answering.
"Here and there," he said finally, looking up at the sky. "Gonna go look for myself or whatever, I guess."
Conner shifted in his chair, frowning slightly.
"Well when you find yourself...come back and introduce us, all right?" he said, gruffness masking the obvious sentiment in his words.
"Deal," said Roy with a wry smile. He settled back against the back of the couch.
They were all silent for a moment, letting the sounds of the surrounding campus fill their ears – someone's faint music from a few floors down, muffled conversations from the quad, the hum of a passing car on the avenue.
"You know, I'm really going to miss this," said Zatanna softly, wrapping her arms around her knees.
Conner grunted his agreement. Artemis bit her lip. Wally, noticing the slight change in her posture, nudged his hand over hers and gave it a gentle squeeze.
"Hey," said Dick quietly, laying a hand on Zee's back and smiling, though Artemis could spot the sadness in his own eyes. "We have another three years to rock this place."
"And after that, a whole lifetime," Megan added.
God, Artemis was not ready to think about that just yet.
"Megan's right," said Wally firmly. "Maybe I'm only speaking for myself, but...I've never had friends like you guys before. And I don't plan on leaving you all alone just because we're not in the same physical space anymore. So don't get your hopes up."
"You better not," Artemis murmured, trying not to cry.
"I feel the same," Kaldur put in, looking around at them all. "What we have forged here together, it is..."
"Powerful," Dick supplied knowingly, and the older boy nodded.
"Yes. And not easily forgotten."
Raquel smiled her agreement and raised her cup towards the center of their gathering.
"To us," she proposed.
"To us," eight voices echoed, eight glasses rising to complete the circle.
They drank, and the night carried on.
In time, the gang dispersed, giving in to the late hour and the duties of the next day. As Megan and Kaldur collected glasses to be washed, Conner and Roy picked up the empties, and they all headed downstairs to get ready for bed.
"Wanna sleep outside tonight?" Wally asked Artemis as they brushed their teeth side by side, he in his pajamas, she in shorts and one of his overlarge t-shirts, the yellow one with the red lightning bolt on it.
"Sure," she replied. "Should I ask Dick and Zee too?"
(The other five had historically declined. Besides, over the course of the year the four of them – Dick, Wally, Artie and Zee – had become their own little subgroup anyhow. It got hard to count the number of nights all four of them had ended up sprawled across Dick and Wally's joint beds, a comfortable pile of bodies and easy friendship. Awkwardness just didn't enter into it.)
Wally smiled in response to the question, to which Artemis nodded slipped out of the bathroom to track down the others, toothbrush held between her teeth.
She found them in Dick and Wally's room, reminiscing over a Facebook album from earlier in the year. They consented to sleeping out on the roof, and as she left them to finish their nostalgia adventure and collect their sleeping bags, she was met with a sight she'd never actually seen: Roy and Kaldur, paused in the RA's open doorway, engaged in a slow, chaste kiss.
Artemis's first thought was that it was weird – Roy being affectionate? – but she immediately recanted. It wasn't weird that it was happening, just weird that she was seeing it. Like seeing your parents kiss, or something. Ducking her head, she tried to cross the hallway back to the bathroom as though nothing had happened, but a noise at her back signaled her failure.
"I saw nothing," she announced quickly, raising her hands in self-defense.
"Damn right you did," came Roy's reply. There was a soft, self-conscious laugh from Kaldur, then the click of a door shutting.
"Good night to you, too," Artemis murmured, slipping back into the bathroom to finish brushing her teeth.
Wally fetched their sleeping bags, they bid their good-nights to Conner and Megan, and together they headed up the stairwell to the Summit. Dick and Zee were already there, the latter with her head cushioned on the former's outstretched arm.
"Hey," Wally greeted, tossing out his sleeping bag beside Dick's and fluffing up his pillow before he laid down. "You already set an alarm, or should I?"
"I got it," Dick said, reaching for his phone. "Ceremony's at ten. Nine o'clock early enough for y'all to get beautiful?"
"Please," Zatanna scoffed playfully. "I wake up beautiful."
"True," conceded Dick and Artemis as one.
Artemis smiled and spread her sleeping bag on the other side of Wally's, stretching out beside him on the rooftop. She didn't protest when he slipped one long arm under her shoulders, nor did she object when he used it to pull her a little closer, snuggling up against her side. In the light of the full moon she could count every freckle on his nose and cheeks.
"You've been quiet all evening," he murmured in her ear, brushing some of her hair out of her face. "You okay?"
"Fine," she muttered back, attempting a smile. On their other side, Zee giggled at a joke Dick had apparently made. "Just...thinking about the future, I guess."
"What about it?"
She hesitated, averting her eyes away from his, but he squeezed her arm gently.
"Come on, babe, talk to me."
"I haven't had a lot of good things in my life," she confessed quietly. "At least...not ones that last very long. I guess I'm afraid that...all of this is going to turn out to be too good to be true."
"'This?'" Wally questioned curiously.
"These people," said Artemis. "This life. You."
Wally let out an unexpected laugh.
"You think I'm just going to up and disappear on you?" he asked, eyes crinkling in amusement. Damn those laugh lines. "You think I'd vanish into thin air, just like that?"
"Wally, I – "
" – Artemis," he interrupted, planting the tip of one finger against her lips, his other arm still holding her secure. "Look at me."
She did, reluctantly lifting her eyes to meet his. He lowered his hand to grasp hers, fingers sliding between her own and squeezing lightly.
"I'm telling you now," he said seriously, lifting their joint hands into the space between their chests. "Heisenberg called it – life is unpredictable. But the one thing I know I know is that your coming here wasn't a mistake. These friends we've made, they aren't mistakes either. You're supposed to be a part of all this, just the same as me or Dick or Megan or Kaldur or hell, even Roy. We all are. And even if we go away for a little while, we're not ever leaving for good, okay? We will always find a way back to each other. I swear to you. Always."
Artemis felt a lump rise in her throat as he spoke, threatening her ability to speak.
"Promise?" she asked, ducking her head.
Wally smiled, pressing a kiss to her knuckles.
Closing her eyes, Artemis inched closer, nuzzling her nose against his and laying a feathery kiss against his lips.
"Good night, Wally," she whispered, letting her head droop into the pillow below it.
Beside her, he settled down onto his own pillow, still holding her close.
"Good night, Art."
She could feel the words hum in his chest, and let that gentle vibration lull her to sleep.
Sunlight woke them the next morning before Dick's alarm had a chance, heralding the arrival of an absolutely dazzling day.
"Morning, gorgeous," said Wally's voice affectionately, and Artemis opened her eyes to give him a face only to find he was actually talking to Dick, who was looking groggy and dishelmed and not particularly amused.
The morning passed in a haze, mostly. The four of them joined their friends downstairs for Megan's last home-cooked breakfast of the semester, then showered and spiffed up for the commencement ceremony with whatever clothes they hadn't already packed. As it had been at the beginning of the year, so it was at the end – boxes stacked upon boxes lining the hallway, suitcases stuffed to bursting, a general state of disarray that no one seemed to mind.
At a quarter to ten they left Mountain Hall and made for the quad, where an endless sea of folding chairs and temporary bleachers had been erected, all facing the stage where the soon-to-be graduates were to walk. Parents, professors and dazed-looking seniors milled about, the sound of their voices forming one low hum of excitement that Artemis couldn't help but feel.
"Today is the day," Kaldur murmured.
No one knew exactly what he meant, but everyone agreed.
From their seats near the back of the bleachers, it was tough to see the details of what was going on, but when Roy's named was called, they stood and screamed as if their lives depended on it (which, to be fair, they might have; Roy was always threatening to off them over something or another). Yes, it was a long time to wait just to see one person cross the stage, but no one complained.
As he left the stage, diploma in hand, Artemis chanced a glance over at Kaldur, who sat beside her, expression unreadable.
"You gonna be okay?" she asked, touching his arm.
He looked at her.
"Certainly," he replied evenly, looking a little surprised by the question. "I am quite all right, I assure you. If anything, I am relieved."
"Relieved?" Artemis repeated confusedly. Hadn't he and Roy been just fine only twelve hours prior?
Kaldur arched an eyebrow, turning his eyes back to the stage.
"If you were at all familiar with Roy's academic record, you would be too," he remarked, and that was that.
At the end of the ceremony came a particularly stirring moment for their gang. Artemis had seen her RA throw so many hats, in so many varied and colorful situations, but never before had she seen two thousand black-robed students follow suit and hurl their headpieces to the sky right along with him. As the air filled with mortarboards and the excited cheers of all those gathered, Commencement came to a close, and the gang took leave of the bleachers.
Artemis stood at the foot of Mountain Hall, in the patch of grass where she'd first stood some nine months before, suitcase in hand.
The dorm at her back was empty, but it didn't matter. After all, the Cave was just a place. All the things that really mattered she could carry with her easily.
The bright ring of Dick's laugh, echoing through the hallway. All his birdbrained schemes; the way the rest of them always went along anyway.
Kaldur's imperturbable patience. The soothing timbre of his voice, the wisdom of his counsel.
Raquel's brash courage. Bruised knees.
The sound of Megan's even breathing across the room at night. Persistent words of encouragement in the morning.
Conner's steady gaze, his steadier grip.
Roy's obstinacy. The soft, soft heart that lay beneath it.
Zee's knowing smile. The faint smell of her perfume, lingering in Artemis's room.
Warm breath on the back of her neck. Wally's banter, his dorky pick-up lines, his freckles, his arms around her whenever she needed them most.
Time would change them. Maybe it would even divide them, physically. But Artemis felt confident now, even with Wally back in Central, with Kaldur back in Atlanta, with Dick back in Gotham and Roy somewhere out on the road: they would find each other again and again, as long as there was a world to share. And there would always be a world to share.
With a sigh and a smile, Artemis shouldered her bag, took a breath, and stepped off the curb.
Summer was waiting, and so were her friends.