This is a short one, but it's got a substantial enough plot that I could post it on its own. My knowledge of how to get babies to stop crying is about as extensive as Bart's, and it probably shows in this chapter. Also, I think this marks the end of Wally being a bitter asshole? Well, maybe not quite. But anyway, his grumpiness meter is gonna go down by about ten points. (Especially once Artemis calls Nightwing in to help with baby care whoops spoilers)
Artemis had been approximately one hundred and ten percent certain that waking up to the sound of a baby crying would be the absolute last thing that would happen to her, at least until she was about thirty years old, give or take a bit. This is why, when she is jostled awake by a kick to the shin and a tetchy grumble of, "The baby needs you," her first reaction is panic.
"What baby," she chokes out with no inflection, eyes wide as she stares at the ceiling, spread-eagled and paralyzed.
Wally groans beside her, pulling the sheets over his head.
"Your sister's baby," he mumbles. "Calm down and turn it off."
"Wally, it's a baby, not an alarm clock," she growls, elbowing him as she clambers out of bed, throwing the sheets off of him for good measure. He grumbles crankily, curling up as if in rebellion. She scoffs at him and stumbles out of the room, almost forgetting to open the door, but managing to save herself the embarrassment of smashing into it.
Lian's wailing can be heard in practically every crevice; as soon as Artemis steps out into the hallway, her ears start ringing from the shrillness. She notices right away that Bart is mysteriously absent from the couch, and suddenly, the fact that Lian is crying doesn't seem too far-fetched.
"Allen!" she yells, striding down the hall with her fists at her sides and rounding the corner into the spare room in which she'd set up Lian's crib. Bart is standing over the crib with a terrified expression and he throws his hands defenselessly in the air when she enters, leaping back.
"I didn't do anything!" he exclaims. "I didn't touch it! I'm just an innocent bystander!"
"Yeah, yeah," Artemis growls, not really caring. She crowds past him and looks down at Lian with her hands on her hips and her eyebrows furrowed in confusion. Lian's face is blotchy and red and her nose is running and she is clawing at the air as though it had offended her, and Artemis has no idea what to do.
"What're you waiting for?" Bart demands. "Aren't you gonna pick her up or something? Cradle her? Sing a lullaby? The song of your people? Funny faces are always a plan, too, although I don't know if she'd be able to see them through all that snot, hey, I'll get a tissue!"
He's out the door in a blink and back again with a pink box of Kleenex, holding it out to Artemis like a sacred object. She gives him an askance look before plucking two tissues out and leaning down to snake her arms around Lian and lift her out of the crib, gently cradling her. Bart is watching with rapt attention, as though this is all a demonstration he's required to commit to memory, though the thought of Bart handling an infant is enough to make Artemis want to cry.
"Hey, shh, what's the matter?" she whispers, carefully wiping at Lian's face with one of the tissues. "Did Bart scare you?"
"I didn't!" Bart protests, looking insulted. "If anything, I should be given a medal for having the quickest response time! If it weren't for me, she'd be doomed! Hey, where's Mr. Emotional Constipation? Still snoozing? Good; he'd make this all worse. Has she stopped crying yet?"
"No, Bart," Artemis groans as Lian kicks her in the shoulder (somehow). "I'm guessing you don't have any future-knowledge about how to get babies to go back to sleep."
"Just the basics! Sing to them, act like a moron, help them burp, all that good stuff. Maybe she likes Disney movies? I mean, I wouldn't know; those things are like, sooo ancient, but—"
"Thanks for your input," Artemis cuts him off tersely, deciding that she shouldn't have asked him in the first place. "Okay... let's see..."
That's how she finds herself pacing up and down the hallway while Lian screams relentlessly into her shoulder. Bart follows in her wake like an attentive dog, and Nelson follows in his wake like a slightly less attentive dog, and Artemis lets Lian pull on her hair and generally just hopes that the kid will eventually exhaust herself to the point of sleep.
"It's been like... half an hour," Bart tells her, poking his head over her shoulder. "Maybe she misses her mom!"
"Well, not much we can do about that, is there?" Artemis snaps, all patience gone. Bart balks at her and she sighs apologetically. "Sorry, sorry. I just have no idea what I'm supposed to do."
"Lost and Found is still an option," Bart offers. Artemis shoots him a murderous glare.
"I'm about five seconds away from sending you back to the couch," she hisses.
"You can't do that! I'm a free man!" Bart declares, pointing a finger in the air for emphasis. "I will not be confined to any couches!"
Artemis immediately goes through several different methods in her head of confining him to the couch, most of which involve knocking him unconscious with a baseball bat, but chooses not to act on any of them. She instead walks back into Lian's room and sets her gingerly down in the crib again. Lian, in response, shrieks to the high heavens, kicking furiously.
"I give up," Artemis says, slumped. "This is impossible. I never want kids."
She can't help but jump at the sound of the voice right next to her, and she spins to her left to see Wally slouched beside her, his eyes closed, his eyebrows tight.
"Ouch," he mutters. Artemis drops her head into her hand.
"It was a hyperbole," she replies lamely. Wally nods.
"Uh-huh," he mumbles. "That's... way too many syllables for me to handle at this hour."
"Aw, come on!" Bart chimes in, leaping up from behind them and throwing his arms around the both of them. "You guys'll make great parents!"
"Please, no spoilers," Wally groans, shifting out of Bart's grip.
Lian screams again, starting to sound hoarse. Artemis runs a hand through her hair. She'd tried practically everything she was equipped to – Lian had refused the bottle that had been in the duffle bag, refused the baby food; her diaper was clean, she seemed largely unharmed, and as far as she knew, no bad dreams were involved.
"Did you mean that?" Wally asks. Artemis looks over at him with a frown.
"Mean what?" She honestly doesn't remember anything she's said in the past hour.
"Never wanting kids," Wally explains, gesturing vaguely. "And... all that that implies."
Artemis stares at him.
"What? No," she replies emphatically. "I mean, I – I don't know; I hadn't thought about it. Maybe. I mean... No, of course not. Come on. It's just—"
As if to prove a point, Lian lets out another window-shaking wail. Wally winces at the sound.
"You just don't—ugh, never mind," he snaps, turning to leave. "Whatever, I'm clearly not helping."
"Oh, for the love of—" Artemis grabs his wrist and drags him back. "Don't be ridiculous. None of us are helping."
"I am!" Bart pipes up, raising his hand. Artemis gives him a churlish look that he blinks innocently at before stepping back. "I'm helping," he mutters when Artemis returns her attentions to Wally.
"Why are you being so..." She throws her hands in the air in frustration. "Stupid about everything?"
"I'm not being stupid!" Wally protests, looking offended.
"Yes you are," Bart whispers in the smallest voice possible. Wally, naturally, doesn't hear him.
"I really thought we'd have gotten past the part where you call me stupid a few years ago," Wally grumbles, sounding genuinely hurt. Artemis, rather than simmering down as she normally would at that tone, just starts to feel infinitely more frustrated, and Lian's crying isn't doing much to calm her down.
"I think we're entitled to be honest with each other!" she snaps, folding her arms.
"Wow, so is there anything else you're not telling me?" Wally barks, glaring at her.
"Ooh, let me check my list," Artemis bites back sarcastically.
Bart is looking between them with an increasingly worried-looking expression, wringing his hands and sending fretful glances to the still-shrieking Lian.
"Uh, guys..." he tries to say, but neither of them hears him.
"Just because you're all flipped out about the new kid doesn't mean you have to take it out on me!" Artemis shouts. "I have to deal with this just as much as you do, Wally! Get a grip!"
"I'm not flip—it doesn't—I don't even care!" Wally flummoxes. "Whatever; it's not like the Flash is gonna need me anymore anyway, now that he's got Fancy Feet on his side." He sulks, voice quieting. "Should've known I was useless anyway."
Before Bart can ramble out an argument, Artemis has surged forward with one fist raised and punched Wally in the shoulder.
"Ow!" He stumbles back, rubbing it indignantly. "What was that for?"
Artemis opens her mouth to explain to him precisely what it was for, but she stops at the sudden, inexplicable sound of Lian not crying, but... laughing.
She turns slowly back toward the crib and sees Lian clapping her small hands with enthusiasm, giggling joyfully, her eyes sparkling with delight. Bart sends a surprised expression to Lian, Artemis, and Lian again before straightening up and throwing his arms out in triumph.
"Crisis averted!" he announces.
"What did you...?" Wally asks, stunned, shuffling over to stand beside Artemis and stare down at the ebullient Lian. "Was that—Is this because you punched me?"
Artemis nods dumbfoundedly.
"Shouldn't you be concerned that she's cheered up by violence?" he continues.
Artemis can't help the smirk that comes onto her face.
"It's genetic," she explains breezily, quirking her eyebrow at him. He grimaces, but she can see the smallest hints of a smile in the corners of his mouth.
"Yeah, no kidding," he agrees, finally releasing his shoulder. "That's gonna leave a bruise."
"Aw, you want me to kiss it better?" Artemis teases him.
He waggles his eyebrows.
"How long do I have to consider this offer?"
Artemis shoves his face gently away and snickers. "Don't be such a wimp."
"Right. I'll continue to not be a wimp while I go back to sleep," Wally assures her, leaving with a weary wave. From the hallway, she hears him groan, "Oh, god. Sunlight. Actual sunlight. What's happening to me."
"Well, now at least we know that if ever we face this problem again, we can just throw Wally in front of a car!" Bart says, sounding far too pleased at the prospect.
Artemis rolls her eyes, resting her arms on the edge of the crib as she watches Lian doze off as though nothing had happened.
Bart is next to her in an instant, looking compelled.
"Y'know, for a potential serial killer, she's kinda cute," he comments.
"And for a potential liability to the well-being of the world," Artemis retorts, "you're kinda tolerable."
Bart beams at her.
"It's a gift."