disclaimer: disclaimed.
dedication: Beth, for essentially saving my ass.
notes: I can't write anything happy. I'M… SORRY… BETH…
notes2: whispers I'm an adult

title: such delicate cruelties
summary: We'll laugh about this someday. — Artemis/Dick.






She smoked in the bedroom, sometimes.

When no one's looking, when Mount Justice was empty, when the winter light filtered in grey late at night, she smoked. Artemis sat on a bed that she still didn't really consider her own. In an army-green tank and tiny black shorts, she flicked the lighter.

The flame was tiny, but bright.

The nicotine had been her mother's bad habit first, and then it was her sister's. Now it was hers, and once in a while Artemis thought idly if maybe it was some sort of terrible self-fulfilling prophecy—smoke cigarettes, cause all sorts of problems, date gigantic assholes, and then rinse and repeat.

She thought about Wally, and her stomach churned.

Wow, so not cool, she was definitely not down for a solo feelings jam. At least not right now. Or maybe not ever. She could hold out that long. Feelings were over-rated. Who needed them, anyway?

Besides, there were bigger things to worry about.

Like the fact that she hadn't actually seen Dick in a month.

This wasn't unusual, really; the team spent a good deal of their time away from each other, solving problems all over the world, but—ever since that boy…

Artemis closed her eyes for a little longer than a standard blink.

God, poor Dick.

She took a slow, deep breath. There was only one thing for it. She was going to have to go find him, and pull him out of it. Because that was Dick's thing—he always took care of everyone, but somehow managed to forget how to take care of himself.

Especially when he was blaming himself for something he could never have changed, no matter how much he wanted to be able to.

Artemis tossed her hair out of her face with one hand. The cherry of her cigarette burnt cheerful between her knuckles, and her bare feet were silent against the warmed HQ floor. She'd always been good at being quiet. Barely any light, either, but she didn't really need light. She knew this place like the back of her hand.

Dick's door was locked.

She'd been expecting that. Two—no, three—three options:

One, kick down the door.

Two, kick down the door and yell.

Three, kick down the door, shove him over on his bed, and stubbornly refuse to move until he got out whatever was wrong with him. They'd tried that before. Or at least, that was normally Dick's course of action, and it seemed to work, so Artemis was going to go with it.

All three were viable options.

It was just that the last sounded like the most viable option.

Artemis knocked, just for good measure.

"Dick? Dick, let me in!"

The door opened.

"God," said Artemis. "Do you, like, ever sleep? Like a normal person? Or do you just, I don't know, stay up all the time and drink dew to stay young and beautiful?"

"Hi," Dick sighed. He didn't even chuckle at the terrible joke.

There were deep dark bags beneath his eyes, made him look older and bitterer than any eighteen-year-old ever was. Artemis squinted up at him—when had he gotten taller than her, this was not okay—and debated between putting him in a headlock and just knocking him on his ass. Either would work.

But he just looked so tired.

"So, what? Are you going to let me in?"

Dick moved out of the way. A think line of smoke curled after the pair of them, settled into their hair and their noses. Artemis exhaled out of her mouth.

He closed the door behind her.

"That's going to kill you, y'know," he said.

"Something has to," Artemis shrugged as she flopped down on the obviously-not-slept-in bed. She put the cigarette to her lips, dragged in deep. Tapped the ash out onto the night table. Dick made a face, and she only grinned at him. Offered it up. "Want it?"

He took it without saying yes, and touched it to his mouth.

Artemis thought indirect kiss.

She felt a hundred times worse.

This was such a bad life decision.

But whatever. She'd made worse decisions than sneaking into Richard Grayson's bedroom when her sort-of-ex was off somewhere across the world trying to clean up some natural disaster or other.

(Maybe not. Um.)

"I'm sorry," she said. "About Jason."

"So am I," he replied.

"About what?"

"About Wally."

Artemis didn't punch him, though she thought about it for a very long time. They were digging at unhealed wounds, tonight. It was miserable. At least she wasn't alone.

"Breaking up isn't the same as dying," she said, and she didn't mince her words. Everyone had walked on eggshells around him, and Artemis had never had time for shit like that.

"I guess not," Dick said.

There was tightness to him, to his voice and his throat, and everything inside Artemis ached to smooth it away. We'll laugh about this someday, he'd said, and they'd had. Sort of. But not now. Not anymore. The knowledge of it burned hot like a knife between her ribs, and she couldn't breathe. She lay on his bed, limbs askew, blonde hair thrown haloed around her head. She stared at the ceiling.

They were such a pair. God, they were such a pair.

"It wasn't your fault, you know," she said. Her voice turned jagged-sharp. "People die. It's what they're good at."

"We're supposed to be better," Dick said.

"Except we aren't. We're—oh my god, Dick, you're such a mess," Artemis said, laughing, helpless. She tugged his down next to her so that they sat together, a little too close, a little too painful. Being close hurt less than it would have otherwise, though. "We're just not, okay? We're not."

She didn't try to explain why they weren't better.

There were a lot of things she could have said, but she didn't. Because she wasn't M'gann, and she didn't believe in magic and goodness and unicorn-rainbows or whatever the hell it was that M'gann was on about this particular week. She didn't try to explain at all.

But Dick got it, anyway.

He dropped his head to her shoulder. For a minute they sat like that. Just the pair of them in the dark of Dick's room, breathing in each other's air. Trying to settle. Failing to settle, because the restlessness sat along both their bones, whispering you could have done it better, remember when you were kids, you could have done it better

And they were tired.

They were both so very, very tired.

Artemis wrapped an arm around his neck. "C'mon. Let's go to bed."

"I—yeah. Okay," Dick said.

He held onto her for a moment too long.

Artemis took one last drag from the butt of the cigarette. It shone red with her breath, flaring up just enough to light them both in the dreamy colours of a sunrise before she put it out against the tabletop. It was easier when she didn't have to look at the hollowness of his f

The room turned dark.

The only thing left was the thin stream of smoke, rising into the night.