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Title: Something to Rely On.
Fandom: Young Justice: Invasion.
Warnings: Mentions of canon!character death. Spoilers for most of the series so far.
Contents: Best friends sharing coffee, gossip, and harebrained plans that might just end with everyone dead. Oh, also bagels.
Characters/couples: Dick Grayson, Artemis Crock (implied Dick->Artemis). Mentioned Wally West and Kaldur'ahm.
Summary: By the time Dick reached Artemis and Wally's place in Palo Alto, he had half convinced himself that it was the most terrible idea he could have had ever in his life, that he should be ashamed of himself and return to the zeta tubes and go back to the Mountain.
Rating: PG.

Oh simple thing where have you gone?
I'm getting old and I need something to rely on
So tell me when you're gonna let me in
I'm getting tired and I need somewhere to begin
“Somewhere Only We Know” Keane

By the time Dick reached Artemis and Wally's place in Palo Alto, he had half convinced himself that it was the most terrible idea he could have had ever in his life, that he should be ashamed of himself and return to the zeta tubes and go back to the Mountain. He would have, actually, turned around and do just so, but when he did, he found a very amused Artemis smirking at him, a hand on her hip and the other hand holding the leash of a very big dog.

“See, I'm supposed to be the one who's retired,” Artemis said, plucking one of the two coffees he was carrying. “And yet I've been tailing you for half a block with a dog without you noticing. Looks bad on your resume, detective.”

Dick grinned and then shrugged, non-chalant. “Well, what can I say, I've had a lot on my mind.”

“Uh-huh,” Artemis looked not impressed as she took a sip of her coffee, not even with the fact that Dick knew how she liked her coffee, not even giving a thank you which, really, was one of the things he appreciated about Artemis. “Don't tell me, you were in the neighborhood and decided to drop by.”

“Can't a man miss his two best friends?” he unplucked his own coffee, dropping the cardboar carrier over a trashbin, then using his free hand to put it over his chest, as if he was struck. “I mean, you two even moved to a whole different time zone. A man could start thinking he's unloved.”

“A man watches too many soap operas,” Artemis said, shaking her head before she climbed the stairs, then opening the door for her dog tu run inside. “Does this sudden and unexpected visit is on a time schedule? Because Wally is not going to be here until late at night. He has the mother of all lit papers to write and he only started it yesterday.”

“The schedule is kinda with you, actually,” he shrugged when she turned to look at him, feeling a little helpless and not wanting to lie just then. “Care for a walk, Artemis?”

She huffed. “I just came from one, you dork,” but she closed the door again, then walking down the stairs. “You're buying me breakfast as well.”

A couple of bagels were easy enough to get and that short trip between Artemis and Wally's place to the bagel shop to the park was, really, the closest to a break Dick had had in what felt like forever. There was little to no talk about superheroing, not with so many civvies around. Instead Artemis talked about how Wally was hopeless at domestic chores and her classes; Dick told her about still thinking of joining Bludhaven's police (“Don't you do enough of that already, workaholic?”) and no, he wasn't seeing anyone just then (“Well, not officialy anyway.”) and yes, he still wanted to go to college there just weren't enough hours in a day to do that and also the job and also, you know, do the usual things like sleep and laundry.

They sat down on the grass instead of over a bench, Dick flopping down on his back, Artemis crossing her legs underneath her. Spring had already hit Palo Alto and the early morning sun was just warm and inviting enough for a very deserved nap in Dick's opinion but Artemis, who had long finished her bagel and was starting on his, didn't give him a chance.

“Okay, so, spill.”

He could have played it cool, he could've been the brat he had been when he had been a teenager and tell her how spilling coffee was a sin punishable in any vigilante's opinion... but he didn't have his heart in it. So Dick sighed, sitting up, taking his glasses off.

“It's about Kaldur.”

“Is he hurt?” he kinda loved Artemis for asking that first. She and Wally where the only ones in the team, both old and new, who knew that Kaldur's act was that, an act. But the last time he had tried to talk with Wally, his first question had been 'did he hurt anyone' which had made it impossible to talk to him.

“No. Not yet, anyway,” he rubbed his face, feeling the exhaustion of years of planning piling over his shoulders, knowing that his part was the easy one, compared to the one Kaldur was pulling. “It's kind of a long story.”

“I've enough coffee and bagels to last a while,” Artemis said with a shrug.

He found the ghost of a smile to give her before he also crossed his legs underneath him, staring at the black lid of his coffee.

“I was supposed to be the mole. I mean, this was before we found out about Kaldur's lineage and about... when Kaldur and I started planning all this, it was going to be me. Kaldur said from the beginning said that as team leader, the most dangerous job should go to him, but then I reminded him about--” he didn't have to say it. He just looked at Artemis and she got it, the way all of the original seven understood when they were talking about that terrible exercise they had gone through. “The leader has to be the one who stays there for his people, right? And as his right hand, well, it just made sense.”

“Except for the part were you've been fighting crime since you were nine and there's no way you'd go to the dark side of the Force, Dick Skywalker.” Artemis pointed out.

Dick nodded. “Which was why we had to make it believable. The fact that I was a teenager helped with it, really, since you're already moody and angry half of the time, so--”

“Wait. Are you saying that the whole Nightwing shtick was because of that?”

He couldn't supress a grin with that, shaking his head, amused. “Fooled ya, didn't I?”

“Dick Grayson!”

“Well, I did!” his mirth ended. “A teenager rebelling against what he has been taught, fighting his mentor, his teammates... Well, you remember.”

“Of course I did, I thought you had somehow turned into bizarro Robin,” but Artemis was frowning too, obviously remembering how he had acted back then, putting in the final pieces. “What about Jason? Was he--”

“No! No. Batman was the one to find him. But... well, it worked out. I pretended I was jealous and--”

“You stopped being Robin and became Nightwing,” her voice sounded soft. “Yeah, I remember that. Batman wasn't the same after that.”

“And you never saw one of our fights without the masks,” it was one of the things, among many, that Dick would carry with him for all his life, the horrible things he had screamed to the man who had adopted him and saved him from being lost. “The plan was simple, really. My fighting became more... vicious. I worked solo most of the time. I didn't join the team. I hacked enough computers to let it know that 'Nightwing' wasn't part of the League, that he had outgrown being a sidekick and playing fair.”

“I know.”

He didn't look at her. Artemis and Wally had tried to talk to him during that phase and he had been-- well. Not as viscious as he had been against Bruce, of course, or against Kaldur, but still. He didn't apologize – because he knew Artemis would say that he should be, and that she was kicking him when they stood up – and he frowned again, wishing he hadn't taken his glasses off.

Artemis, however, broke the silence.

“And then Jason died, didn't he?”

He closed his eyes, then finishing what was left of his lukewarm coffee to try and swallow the plum-sized knot in his throat.

“Not yet. We found out about Kaldur's dad. You know that part, you were pretty much Kaldur's cheerleader back then.”

“Support group 'I'm a child of an evil asshole',” Artemis snorted. “Our reunions are every Thursday at six. Yes, I know.”

“We hadn't even talked about it and how it affected us when Jason--”

“And then Tula,” Dick swallowed again, rubbing at his neck. Jason's death was still a raw pain in his chest, something that was there each time he saw Tim, and Kaldur had loved that girl so much, and what he was about to say wasn't easy. “We were devastated, both of us and... I told him I couldn't do it. Bruce was already blaming himself for Jay's death. I couldn't make him believe that I had betrayed everything he had taught me. I told Kaldur we'd think of another way to infilter the light. And he said that it was obvious what the other way was.”

He had called Kaldur crazy for that, and stupid, he had reminded him about being leader, the team needing them. Cassie had just barely joined them and they were expecting L'agann. They needed someone strong and reassuring that everything would be fine.

'And they will have it, my friend', Kaldur had said, his hand upon his shoulder. “My right hand is the best man for that position”.

Because, he had kept on. If they didn't do that, then... then all the sacrifices both had made, everything they had done, the risks taken... if they didn't go with the mole plan, then Jason and Tula's death were in vane.

“And that's when you told us.” Artemis interrupted his remembrance. He turned to look at her for a moment. “You wanted... back up?”

“Always,” he smiled a little, then sighed. “I told Kaldur that was why we needed to tell you. In case I went missing or-- well, you know. If anything happened and he needed to inform something big--”

“You'd have someone inside who'd know. And then Wally and I quit. Oh, Dick...”

“It's fine, Artemis,” he smiled again a little, then leaned back on his hands. “That wasn't why, really. I just-- Kaldur is the best guy I know. Honorable, trustworhy, giving, a good soldier and an even better leader. It wasn't fair that only I knew that he was still those things, because we were gonna have to make everyone hate the mole. Even if you weren't on the business anymore, if you two knew, then, if something happened, you could tell the League.”

There were a few moments of silence. Dick thought about pretending he was being contacted through the intercom: Artemis didn't carry on hers anymore for her to know it was a lie. He could run and then when Artemis asked, he could tell her that he had needed a confident, and Wally wasn't that confident anymore because, suddenly, he hated any mention of the superhero life. He'd swear on the Bible he had just needed to tell someone, and he'd go back to the drawing board, reconsider any and every option just so that he didn't have to--

“As lovely as the confessions have been, Dick,” Artemis started, her voice serious. “Why are we having this conversation.”

“... I'm worried about Kaldur.”

“Of course you are. So am I, and so is Wally-”

“Not-- not just like that. I'm worried he's starting to believe this.”

Artemis sat straighter at that, even leaning a bit forward

“Do you think he's starting to believe he's loyal to them?”

“Kaldur? Please, I'd swallow a batarang before believing that,” he snorted, then shook his head. “Kaldur will be one of us until he dies. And that's what I'm afraid of. That he's convinced himself that the only redemption he will have after this will come through dying.”

“And you need someone to kick him hard to rattle his brain?” He loved the way Artemis said that, her smile at the non-real promise of violence.

He snorted too, the first time he had felt as laughing in what felt as forever.

“That too, and--” and then Dick felt a small wince because he was almost completely certain that it was he who was going to get kicked in less than ten seconds. “Because of your father.”

She didn't punch him immediately – the joys of not being an angry teenager anymore, maybe? - but Artemis was definitely glaring at him.

“You have ten seconds to explain that.”

“It's not like that, Artemis, I promise. It's not Sportsmaster's daughter I need with Kaldur, but Artemis, our teammate who showed us and the whole League that you are not your family, that genes and blood don't make you a hero.”

“Nor a villain,” it was Artemis who sighed this time. “Because knowing Kaldur and the things that he has done, it's likely he thinks he's the same kind of scum as Black Manta. And if he does--”

“He won't even try to make it out of this alive,” he finished for her, still looking at the endlessly blue sky, its brilliance hard enough it seemed it would blind him. He closed his eyes. “... this whole thing already killed Jay and it was probably responsible of Tula's death. I can't carry Kaldur's death as well, Artemis. I'm not strong enough.”

She didn't say a thing. For a moment, Dick was tempted to turn to look at her, to her expression, her eyes, anything that was real and not this whole stupid plan, maybe even pretend that he wasn't asking her to risk everything she had ever wanted in life, everything that excluded him, so that she could also be in mortal danger 24/7.

But he didn't open his eyes and, so, Dick was surprised when he felt her leaning against his shoulder, surprised enough that he opened his eyes and turned to look at her, but she wasn't looking his way, just looking to the horizon.

“You two, oh magnificent leaders, are so stupid for trying to do everything yourselves,” she admonished. “It's one of the first things I learned on the team, one of the first things you two taught me. There is no 'I' in team. A team exist to carry the burden together.” She did turn to look at him then, half a smirk on her face. “Even harebrained inflitration plans.”

“So... is that a yes?”

“I'll have to talk with Wally,” Artemis said, then shrugged; he could feel the way her shoulder shifted against his shirt. “But yes, it is. You can count on me, boss.”

It was what he came for, what he had hoped for. And yet, he felt as if Zatanna's 'ezeerf' spell ran through his veins, because he still needed to tell her the rest of the plan, that in her case it wasn't going to be as easy as a 'turning-evil-because-of-daddy-issues' thing.

But the sun was warm and Artemis had gone back to lean against his shoulder in a quiet, companiable silence, so Dick decided to play pretend for a little while, something he had been doing a lot in the past year, and he leaned his head against hers and thought about all the things he was going to do once this whole thing finished, once Kaldur came back and was the rightful leader again, once he could stop sending everyone he loved to die.
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