Wally, for one of the first times in his life, is actually not enjoying his stack of waffles. By normal standards, this is just a little sad, but by Wally standards, this is nothing short of catastrophic, and it’s not lost on his best friend by any means.
“Dude,” Dick says, “you okay?”
Wally groans and lays his forehead on the keyboard, not knowing (nor caring) about the string of z’s scurrying across the page. Long ago, his eggs went cold and unappetizingly rubbery, and everything appears before his eyes as a convoluted mixture of chemistry and physics. At one point, he hallucinates a girl walking towards him, smirking mouth getting ready to make fun of him, but he’s too tired to do anything about it, even if she is real. It’s been 30 hours and counting since he last slept, and he’s one caffeinated beverage away from fully turning into a teenage mutant ninja turtle.
“ Please remind me why I majored in chemistry and physics when I had a full ride to just run laps,” he moans, finally picking his head up from his laptop. Small red corners and half-squares indent themselves in his forehead. “I’m seeing things, man. It’s either from the stress, o-o-or my optic nerves are detaching from my eyeballs. Not sure which one.”
“Like, ochem. Combined with the trajectory paths of objects traveling towards black holes. Not cool stuff!”
Man. He rubs his eyes hard in an attempt to shock them into concentrating on the task at hand, but it doesn’t work. If Artemis were here, she’d bully him into doing his work––well, bullying isn't the right word, but her methods are just a tad less sensitive than Dick’s. Then again, Dick doesn’t really help Wally do his work so much as sit there and smirk until Wally’s own guilt becomes the activation energy to do things.
A series of short, fast beeps comes from Dick’s wristwatch, and he sighs. “Here’s to my 3-hour CS lab,” he says, scooting his chair back. “Catch ya later.”
“Bye,” Wally says, ready to bury his face into his breakfast again. He almost does.
The walk to Thursday morning physics feels like a waist-deep slog through a muddy swamp. There’s a pounding in his head that signals dehydration and lack of sleep, and the first rays of sun venturing out from the clouds have the audacity to shine directly in his eyes as he walks up the hill to class.
“Good morning , sunshine.”
Wally blinks until the person––Artemis, of course it’s Artemis––comes into focus. She looks amazingly put together for someone who’s up at this hour, her hair pulled into a long blond river spilling over her shoulders. A while ago, she had mentioned something about being a morning person; maybe that was it.
(“It’s like watching the world change dimensions. One minute the sky’s dark blue, and the next it’s all red and purple and you can start seeing the sun come up.”)
He braces himself for her snarkiness, but instead, she pulls out a bottle of Pedialyte from her bag and hands it to him. “You look like you could use it more than me.”
She’s right––it’s like he’s the main character in an RPG who just chugged a health potion. “And you carry around Pedialyte all the time?”
“It’s a good hydrator. Especially after archery practice.”
“You do archery in the middle of the night or something?”
“No, but it’s more like you like to wake up in the afternoon,” Artemis teases. “Oh, and M’gann’s not feeling so hot, so––”
“––can I send her a copy of my notes because I’m the genius of this generation? Why, of course I can. It would be my pleasure.”
Artemis shoves him, but the last notes of laughter linger between them.
Wally files into the physics hall with the rest of the three hundred-odd students, all of them equally addled from stress and lack of sleep. He takes his usual seat and starts unloading the learning essentials from his backpack: a bag of Chicken Whizees––a shameless middle finger to the bright red sign that clearly prohibits eating in the lecture hall––Artemis’s enormous bottle of Pedialyte, and a pencil. The pencil is for twirling and occasionally doing that thing with your arm that makes it look all bendy.
“You know,” he says, shifting in his seat to look at Artemis––“Artemis?”
“Oh, is this seat taken?” The person occupying the seat next to him looks over.
We’ve been sitting there all quarter , Wally thinks with a dash of annoyance, but Artemis appears one row beneath him.
“It’s okay,” she says quickly, “if like, you need that seat to see or anything, that’s fine.”
“No, no,” replies the stranger, already moving their bags. “My bad, I didn’t know you were saving the seat.” Wally quickly thanks them and gestures to Artemis, patting the armrest of the newly vacated seat.
“You save spots for us?” Artemis jokes.
“Well, duh,” Wally says, turning away so she can’t see his face. “I walk faster than you and M’gann. And sitting in the aisle is a total fire hazard!” He folds his arms behind his head and happily prepares for his much-anticipated nap––he already read the section of the textbook that the professor was going to go over, and it was easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy.
The professor dims the lights to start the lecture. Wally, ever perceptive, notices Artemis’s muscles tighten, brow furrowed in concentration when the lecture hasn’t even started yet. It reminds him of himself in English classes––seriously, what is a rhetorical analysis and who cares about it?––except he’s usually asleep during those, too. She’s concentrating so hard, it’s like she’s trying to invoke the powers of Superman and use her eyes to laser through the paper, or maybe the PowerPoint on how time and gravity behave differently around black holes. So Wally leaves her be. She’s smart enough to ask for help when she needs it, he thinks.
An hour passes. He sneaks a glance over at Artemis, who’s concentrating as hard as ever. “Hey,” he whispers, and taps an equation she’s written down. “You’ve got these two switched.”
She groans. “No wonder I was so confused. Thanks.”
“Hey, it’s what I do. Chicken Whizee?”
It’s kind of funny, he thinks, munching on the chicken skins as discreetly as he can without spilling crumbs everywhere or attracting the professor’s attention. His life is so dictated by Murphy’s law; how else would it end up that some know-it-all girl who beat him at arm wrestling (and beer pong, and king’s cup, and, well, that’s off topic at this point) would be in one of his most important classes? And end up tutoring him outside of class, because weirdly enough, none of the other hot girls in Writing 11A replied to his texts.
Are they friends? Well, stupid question, of course they are. Are they close friends? You don’t help your enemies try to keep pace with you in class; Wally certainly doesn’t. The goodness of his heart is pretty huge, but definitely finite. But, Artemis does feed him. That’s definitely a green flag. And even though the dining hall has its questionable moments, it’s been pretty good to the both of them since they started school. It’s seen Wally pass his English quizzes by the hair of his teeth. But maybe they could swing by Dunbar’s later; the combination of a hot blueberry muffin and a cup of coffee might cure even the most left-brained of people, and with Artemis around? Count Wally West as the luckiest guy in the world. For passing 11A, that is. Nothing else.
“He- llo , Wally. Earth to science geek.”
“Class is over, genius.” She hands him his bag. “What’s wrong? You look...weird.”
“Nothing, nothing. Thanks.”
When they’re outside the classroom, Artemis stops, looking at Wally expectantly. He tries to think about what he’s forgotten––uh, laundry, most probably, taking out the trash in his and Dick’s room, oh jeez, the English essay ––“Oh, yeah!” He pulls out his phone and his binder, snapping a few photos in quick succession. “For you. Well, technically, M’gann, and tell her I hope she gets better. So, uh, who am I sending these to? I don’t know if I have her number.”
“Great.” He sends them. “Wait a second. This is a Gotham area code. I thought M’gann was an out of state student?”
“She is,” Artemis says, confused.
“So who did I just text these to?”
“Me? You don’t have my number saved?”
“I just look back at chats until I can figure out who I was talking to. I should probably change that. Anyways, I thought they were for M’gann!”
“Well, you said they were for both of us,” she says.
God, she’s so annoying when she’s right. “Yeah, well, you so owe me.”
“I’ve been paying you in food and tutoring!”
“Hey,” she says suddenly. “Isn’t your birthday this Saturday? That’s rough, having a birthday in week 7.”
He splutters. “How did you know that?”
“Because,” she says breezily, beckoning him to start walking, “your best friend definitely has the hots for mine, and I heard them talking about it when he came over to our room to study. What do they even study about, anyways? Dick’s a CS major, and Zatanna studies linguistics with an emphasis in French.”
“That’s definitely it, then.”
“Seriously? Dick Grayson studies French?”
Wally snickers. “Yeah, French kissing .”
“So you noticed it too!”
“No duh I have. Every time we pass Frat Row, people start whispering.” He pitches his voice to a falsetto, and then a baritone to indicate a switch in speakers. “‘I wish he was single!’ ‘He’s in one of my classes and I don’t think so, but I wish he was too!’ It never ends.”
“Well, yeah. He’s always been pretty good with the ladies. Not as good as me, though. He wishes he could be me.”
“I’m sure he does.”
“ Anyways ,” Wally says, “it is next week. And by the way, I would never tell anyone this, but my wishlist is pinned to the corkboard behind my desk, and it’s got the new PS5 on it. Pretty cool, huh?”
“I’m not coughing up half a grand for your birthday, pal.”
“I didn’t say it had to be just you. Obviously, Dick’s been cc’ed on this update.”
“Okay, fine, maybe a PS5 is a little much...and I could always just play at Dick’s house. I’m thinking just like a small get-together or something at my place, assuming it doesn’t snow. Or somewhere else, I dunno. Surprise me. Again, Dick’s been cc’ed on this update.”
“So I shouldn’t need to tell him that you beg like a dog when you want a surprise birthday party?”
“Hey, if anyone’s the dog between the two of us, it’s gotta be him,” Wally protests. “He went through three girlfriends in senior year of high school.”
“You know, that’s pretty impressive for a CS major.” Artemis waves a white plastic card in front of the locked door. “I’m off to study.”
Whoa, already? He hadn’t meant to walk with her any farther than the dining hall, and somehow, he ended up in front of her dorm. It was a whole extra ten minutes––Artemis always grumbled about having to walk literally halfway across the campus to get to physics. They were just talking after class ended, and then he wound up here, like teleportation.
“...unless you have to go?”
“I said, Dick’s probably up there with Zatanna already,” Artemis says, smirking. “If you don’t have class, might as well join us, right?”
“Oh, uh, yeah! Yeah, sure.”
Artemis blissfully only lives on the second floor, so there’s no need to take the elevator to her room, where, as she predicted, Dick is sitting upright in bed with Zatanna’s head (and not his computer) in his lap. They look so content and sappy and disgusting, and yet Wally feels some kind of tingle deep in his chest––and it’s not heartburn. Actually, it might be heartburn.
“Look what the cat dragged in.” Dick grins and offers a fist bump to Wally.
“I would say the same about yourself,” replies Wally, taking the bump. “Hey, Zatanna. You know he has his own dorm, right? I mean, I know you’re just being nice and all, but he doesn’t have to live in your room 24/7.”
Zatanna laughs. “I don’t mind,” she says, and Dick smirks. Wally shoots him a look that says, We are sooooo talking about this later!
Fortunately, Artemis beans him in the head with a bag of chips to dispel his jealousy. “Don’t you have an essay to write?”
He groans. She is so annoying when she’s right.
English has never been Wally’s favorite subject.
Even when he was in high school, he had never cared much for literature or comparing it––who would? None of the characters exist, and most of the authors have been dead for the last century or two or three, so what does any of it matter for? He asked Artemis about this one day while they were drinking coffee and fighting over the last piece of scone.
She waxed poetic (no pun intended) about how people of different languages and cultures were able to express such similar but deeply nuanced feelings without ever having met each other. How a single syllable in one language changes the entire tone of a work written two countries over. The way that language is not just an auditory sense, but a visual one as well when you read.
(“Every word has...a shape,” she says. “I’m not really sure how to explain it. But that’s why typos are so easy for me to notice, because the entire shape of the word is just so different and wrong when it’s misspelled. I know the shapes of English words well enough, but reading Vietnamese is like seeing a new spectrum of colors. You get that, right? Physics major and all?”
“No! Humans can only see a tiny fraction of the light spectrum. That’s like asking if I can see radio waves. I can’t!”)
She immediately rolled her eyes after that, but he didn’t really care. He likes listening to Artemis, present tense. Likes the way her voice is a little deeper, a little raspier than most girls that he’s been into––not that he’s into her, they’re just friends––and the way each cadence is so subtle but changes her tone entirely.
“You okay?” Artemis-in-real-time peers over at him. “You look like you’re thinking really hard.”
“Don’t let him do that,” warns Dick. “He’ll hurt himself.”
“Hey!” Yeah, they’ve been best friends for like, forever, but that’s just low and thus deserving of the pillow that Wally hurls at Dick’s head.
Artemis rolls her eyes. “Are you done? I’ll proofread yours.”
“Done? I’m on my second piece of evidence,” he moans. “How many pieces do you have?”
“ Seven ?!”
“I would’ve done eight but I hit the word limit,” she says. Without any warning, she reaches over and grabs his laptop. “You could go deeper into the analysis here. Why is the ending of Crime and Punishment so important? That it takes place in Siberia of all places?”
“I don’t know,” he moans. “I was hoping you would tell me that.”
“Not a chance.”
Dick laughs, and Wally throws him a look instead of a pillow. “Hey,” Dick says, “she’s not enabling you. That’s a good thing.”
“Hey, a little enabling never hurt anyone.”
Dick makes a conspicuous show of checking his watch. “Well, gotta go. That code won’t write itself.”
Zatanna pulls her head from Dick’s lap. She looks like she sleeps there every night instead of on a bed––and yet they both insist they aren’t dating each other. Unbelievable. “I’ll walk you back,” she says quickly.
Wally looks at Artemis.
Disgusting , they think simultaneously.
“Bye, Casanova,” Wally calls after Dick, who has his arm loosely draped around Zatanna’s shoulder.
Initially, there’s no response, but Dick runs back to stick his head in the door and reply, “Catch you later, Romeo ...and Juliet.”
DISGUSTING, they think simultaneously again, this time scooting away from each other on the bed.
Wally always forgets that Dick’s two years younger than him...until he acts like it. Like, they grew up together, except Dick skipped a couple grades to be with Wally. The guy has no concept of subtlety whatsoever!
Artemis is the first to break the awkward silence. “So,” she says, in between her coughing fit, “any progress? On the, uh, essay?”
“Uh, nope.” Why would she ask that? She knows he’s not gotten anything done yet.
She stifles a yawn. “O-okay.”
“You should take a nap,” he suggests. He feels a little guilty––she looks tired, the gray crescents beneath her eyes a little puffier than usual. He’s Wally West, he can handle an English essay.
“I’m okay,” she says. Her voice cracks on the last syllable.
She looks at him. There is something written in the way she holds her gaze steady with him, so fierce and determined that he has half a mind to just forget about it. And yet, there’s also something written in the rest of her body language, the way her hand shakes infinitesimally when she lifts it to point out a grammatical error in his paper, the way it falls back to her side. She moves with the muscles of someone who’s been playing tough a little too long.
It’s hard to say how he knows. He just does. And maybe he doesn’t know everything about her, about this smart, infuriating, kinda-hot-but-I’d-never-say-it-out-loud enigma of a woman in front of him, but he knows enough to press his hand to hers and say insistently, “Sleep, Artemis.”
She holds her stare with him for just a second longer before the muscles he has his hand on start to relax. “Wake me up when you’re done,” she says, and pulls the comforter up to her shoulders.
He gets through the essay in record time, actually, and it’s not that shabby. By his standards, at least. But sheesh ––writing always renders his brain into a smooth mush by the end of it, so he elects to just close his laptop and rest. He lies down carefully next to Artemis, trying his best to not invade her personal space, sleep on his arm, or roll off the tiny twin bed. Eventually, he rests his head on his elbow, his fingers just a few inches away from Artemis’s.
He’s glad he said something about going to sleep. She looks peaceful. Happy. The worry lines that wreath her mouth have been blurred into nonexistence, and the slope of her cheek is softer, fuller. Crazy what a proper nap can do for a body, and for a soul.
Artemis’s eyelids flutter open gently. “Hey,” she says. “You finished that paper.”
“Uh huh,” he mumbles, voice thick with drowsiness. “I even remembered to cite my sources.”
“You are definitely gonna fall like that.” Artemis moves to the side, so her back is flat against the wall.
It’s true. His butt’s been dangling off the edge of the bed for who knows how long. “Thanks.”
She gives a little murmur of acknowledgment before shifting into a more comfortable sleeping position. A thousand innuendos (all of them having to deal with sleeping with him in a manner very different from how they are now) pile up at the tip of his tongue, but he says none of them, only curving his body to fit the space that Artemis leaves.
Before he can fully comprehend just how bad he’s got it, he falls asleep.
The growling of a stomach awakens him. Whether it’s his or Artemis’s is still being questioned.
“Sleeping beauty awakens,” she quips, her long legs draped over the side of the desk chair. Wally sits up. She looks so much...better. In general. And he feels so much better, like he was actually in a magical slumber.
“Wow,” he mumbles, “what time is it?”
Thank God, he’s not late to his next class. It feels like he slept for an eternity. He’s grateful that, when he turns around, Zatanna’s not there, because she totally would have gotten the wrong idea about him sleeping in Artemis’s bed. Maybe. Well, he thinks that he and Zatanna are cool, but regardless, it never helps your case of ‘Artemis and I are just friends’ when you’re caught sleeping in her bed. At least Dick wasn’t around to see him. Wally would never hear the end of that one.
“You looked like you needed that nap as much as I did.”
“Honestly.” Wait a second. “How long have you been awake for?”
Artemis smirks, and Wally’s stomach turns a somersault. “Long enough to know how bad you snore. And sleeptalk.”
He checks the pillow hurriedly on both sides, only to discover that it’s perfectly dry, much to his relief. “Very funny.”
She snickers. “Too bad you woke up so soon. I really wanted to know who you were begging kisses from in your dream.”
“Probably myself,” he brags, flexing one bicep and trying desperately to keep down the red blush crawling up his neck. “Self-love is such a great thing. But uh, I gotta run now. Thanks for letting me crash.”
“Bye.” He’s about to leave, but turns around in the entryway.
Artemis looks up, brushing a strand of hair off her nose. Wally’s chest tightens for just the briefest of moments when she says, her voice low and soft, “Forget something?”
“Nothing,” he says. “Just...it’s okay to take naps, you know? I mean, I do it all the time. You’re good at school. You shouldn’t work yourself so tired all the time.”
She doesn’t look up from the book she’s reading, but Wally thinks he sees the shadow of a smile behind the page.
Maybe it’s a start. And hey––maybe it’s enough.
The rest of the week is a forgettable blur of class. The real fun begins on Saturday morning, when Dick slam dunks a pillow on his face.
“ Dude ,” he says, “happy birthday!”
Wally mumbles something about ‘thanks’, ‘ouch’, and ‘the hell was that for’.
He bolts straight up and laughs. Nineteen!
Dick, as if reading his mind, smirks and says, “Happy nasty nineteen, as the sorority girls say it.”
Wally grabs his phone and observes the time––a very cold and lightly snowy 9 AM on a Saturday. And, yeah, it’s the Saturday before his weekly chemistry quiz, but it’s not like he needs to study for it or anything. Today, he thinks, snuggling back into his pillows and excitedly reading his birthday texts, is a day to be lazy and absorb attention.
miss megan ❤️💕💝💜
happy birthday, Wally! Hope you have lots of cake and cookies today :)
and Conner wants to wish you a happy birthday too
happy birthday! hope it’s as magical as you dreamed.
boy toy named roy 🎯
Happy bday WALLMAN
mom 💛 , dad 💛 , aunt iris 🗞 , uncle barry ⚡️
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, WALLY!!! 🎉🥳🎊
Happy birthday to my favorite nephew ❤️
^And to our favorite son!
Happy birthday, Wally. I hope all is well. May your nineteenth birthday be full of love and joy.
Wally grins in satisfaction, already thinking about his mom’s triple threat chocolate cake. The one that had been requested every single birthday since...well, since he could eat birthday cake. The chocolate, the peanut butter, the cookie dough...
Happy birthday, sweetie ❤️❤️❤️ Remember to come home for dinner sometime this weekend! I’m baking your favorite cake.
I’ll be home tonight
Dick’s throwing me the coolest surprise party ;)
I hope you’re attending English class…maybe ask your professor what ‘surprise’ means. That’s from your dad.
His phone chimes once more, and Wally swipes away from the texts his mom sent.
goddess of congeniality 🙄
a little bird told me that dunbar’s accidentally baked too many muffins this morning
and since you’re a regular…
way way WAY ahead of you
“So,” Dick says, “what’s the plan, birthday man? It’s not snowing too hard, so Alfred should be fine if we go to my house and play video games.”
“Dude,” he says. “You had me at video games. Wait! Artemis told me that Dunbar’s made too many muffins this morning.”
Dick tosses his keychain into the air and catches it with one hand, just to show off. “Gotcha covered.”
The snow is light and delightfully crunchy under his shoes as he makes his way across the lawn and to the third level of the parking garage that Dick’s coupe sits in. “So,” Wally says, not even bothering to hide the smirk on his face, “when did you and Zatanna start going out?”
“Hmm, same day you and Artemis started going out,” Dick rejoins.
Wally makes an indignant tch! sound in the back of his throat. “Dude, we study together. I’m good at physics, and she’s good at English. That’s all there is. At least when we study, there’s an arm’s length between us. What kinda computer science involves having a girl sleep in your lap?”
“My kinda computer science.”
Wally rolls his eyes, ignoring the grin on his best friend’s face. “Yeah, of course it is. Just keep your shenanigans to your side of the room.”
“Nobody said we were up to shenanigans.”
“Nobody needed to say it, we’ve all got working eyes here.”
Dick punches him lightly in the shoulder as he swings into the parking lot of the diner. Wally rushes in to pick up the goods as fast as he can without slipping on the clear ice patches (which is sadly not that fast) and gets back in the car in time to inhale the mouthwatering fragrance of blueberries and their famous cinnamon crumble. It’s bliss.
When Dick parks the car in the massive garage of the manor, he waves Wally in with one hand. “I gotta check the tire pressure,” he says. “This’ll only take a second. Go set up what you wanna play.”
“Sure, if you don’t mind losing for the millionth time in a row.”
“Please! If your driving in Mario Kart is anything like how you drive in real life, I’m gonna Peach Beach your ass.”
Dick flips him off. Wally does the same.
When he pushes the door open, the interior of the manor is completely dark. “Interesting,” he drawls, dragging his words out. “It’s almost like––”
“And before you say ‘aw guys, you shouldn’t have’, we know how much you wanted a surprise party,” says Artemis, leaning on the wall by the light switch. The whole gang’s here––Kaldur and his boyfriend Wyynde; Roy, who had come all the way from Star City; Megan and Conner; Zatanna; Artemis; even Uncle Barry.
The side door to the kitchen bursts open, and Dick comes walking through with a massive sheet cake that almost obscures the entirety of his face. “Happy birthday to you…”
The entire room joins in rowdily, the song getting progressively louder and more off key, before someone pops a confetti gun and sends sparkles raining down all over Wally.
“Okay,” he admits, picking a streamer out of his hair, “I did want a surprise party. Just a little.”
“Modesty doesn’t suit you,” Artemis says. A thick slice of cake on a paper plate is extended towards him.
Between mouthfuls of cake (which is actually like, really good even though it’s not his mom’s), he asks her, “So, who’s the mastermind behind it all? Dick?”
“Not true,” Dick says. He’s perched himself on the side of the couch, fork stuck perpendicular in a slice of cake. “I put Artemis in charge of the guest list and party prep. And your birthday registry that’s five miles long.”
Artemis snickers. “Just because you know that Zatanna’s dad invented toaster strudel doesn’t mean he’ll give you a lifetime supply. And why do you want an inflatable T-rex costume, anyway?”
“Geek,” she says.
“Boring,” Wally retorts.
“Can you even do anything in that?”
Wally twists around in his seat, a grin lighting up his face. “I’m glad you asked! A T-rex’s average speed is about 17 miles an hour. When I’m on the track, I average around 20. So, give or take a few m-p-h to account for friction and the overall bulkiness of the suit, I would be an excellent T-rex.”
Wally waves his fork in the air dismissively. “Just you wait.”
“Wait for what?” Uncle Barry walks over and holds his hand out for a fist bump, which Wally obliges him with. “Happy birthday, kid.”
Beside him, Artemis looks like she’s going to burst with excitement. Actually, the only thing she’s doing is smiling, but knowing her, that’s probably a sign that she’s holding in all her feelings. “Wow,” she whispers.
“Uncle Barry, this is Artemis,” he says, figuring that if she doesn’t say anything, Uncle Barry’s never going to figure out that he’s got a fan. “Artemis, well, you already know him, I guess.”
“Hi,” she gasps out, “I’m Artemis. I mean, you knew that, but...wow.”
Uncle Barry chuckles as he shakes Artemis’s hand. “Nice to meet you, Artemis. So you’re the famous archer that I’m always hearing stories about when I go have dinner with Iris’s side of the family.”
Artemis looks at Wally.
Wally looks at his plate.
“Uh, yeah, I think,” Artemis says, and if Wally didn’t know that this wasn’t part of the human ability, he’d say Artemis was glaring at him with one eye and looking at Flash with the other. “I’m on GU’s archery team.”
“Oh, so you know Ollie, huh? Oliver Queen?”
“He’s my coach,” Artemis says, somehow even more awestruck. “You know each other?”
“Sure, we’re old friends,” Flash says. His watch starts beeping. “Sorry, gotta take this. Nice to meet you, Artemis.”
“You look like the Cheshire Cat,” Wally says, after Flash leaves. “Seriously, it’s weird how fascinated people are with Uncle Barry. For the fastest man in the world, he’s late to everything, not to mention he forgets to tie his shoes on the way to work.”
“It’s just neat meeting a celebrity,” Artemis says, “and he knows Ollie.”
There’s silence for a moment as they eat and take in the party. Dick and Zatanna slink away somewhere, and Wally reminds himself to never use the guest bedrooms at the manor ever again. “Hey, thanks for this,” he says, gesturing.
“Um, yeah. No problem. It was fun. My parents weren’t really big on throwing birthday parties, so it’s kind of fun to plan them for other people.”
“Yeah. My parents split when I was younger, and my dad got custody of my sister. And Mom’s not much of a party person. We mostly just get takeout instead of canned vegetables for dinner on our birthdays.”
“Well,” Wally says, “for someone who didn’t have birthday parties as a kid, this is the best surprise party I’ve had. And I’ve had a few.”
Artemis grins. “Anything to shut you up about having one.”
“Oh, come on! I didn’t go on that long.”
“I was on the receiving end,” Artemis says. “You definitely did.”
“Fine,” he concedes. “But seriously. I did not.”
“Can you just go back to when you said this is the best surprise party you’ve had?”
“Fine.” Wally pauses. “But, really, thanks. It’s nice to actually have the attention on me for once.”
“I’m serious!” Wally pouts, and Artemis’ face softens (as the intended effect). “The paps always find Uncle Barry. You’d think after they realized it was my birthday that they’d leave, but no-o-o-pe.”
Artemis angles herself towards him. “I’m sorry. That’s pretty annoying.”
“Right? And then they interview me, since I’m supposed to be like, next in line to his weird throne of sprint records and relay races. And honestly? I don’t care about all that. I just want to get my PhD in physics and do research so I can make a billion dollars and ban all paparazzi from being within a 10-mile radius of me.”
“Looks like you’re on a pretty good path to that.”
“You’d think they pay more attention to the fact that like, I invented nanorobotics that can literally patch holes in your heart when I was in high school, but no!” Wally rolls his eyes. “It’s always Kid Flash this, Kid Flash that.”
“Doctor West does have a nice ring to it.” Artemis’s features have arranged themselves in a manner much softer than her usual appearance, her eyes round and her lips in a sympathetic smile. “I like it more than Kid Flash.”
“It just sounds right, doesn’t it?”
Wally clears his throat. “So...is that big box in the corner my new PS5?”
“Am I my archery coach’s niece?”
“Aww, dang it!”
Ah, his birthday. The calm before the storm––literally. An apocalyptically cold blizzard hits Gotham just a few days later, and Wally takes it as a sign from above to get studying, considering that snow plows have to clear paths around the school every half hour. The cold is not good for Wally, anyway; it blanches his already pale skin into the color of milk and it takes him forever to warm up after the cold.
Fortunately though, he and Dick have barricaded themselves in their dorm with a supply of instant noodles (the good spicy Shin Ramyun kind) and trail mix, which is really all that’s needed to sustain him. Wally sets up a tiny Christmas tree on top of their microwave and plays Ariana Grande’s Christmas EP on repeat, despite Dick’s protests that it’s not even Thanksgiving yet.
( “Who cares?” Wally asks. “At least all of my homework-related stress can be peppermint flavored now.”
“You skipped pumpkin!”
“Yeah, but peppermint is better.” )
Wally is in the middle of a derivatives bonus question for his calculus class when he sees Dick standing on his tiptoes by the door. “What are you doing?”
“You forgot the mistletoe this year,” Dick says, tearing a piece of duct tape with his teeth. “It can’t be that you’re not fishing for kisses anymore.”
“I don’t need to,” stammers Wally. “They all come to me without asking.”
“Didn’t hear Artemis say that.”
Wally pelts a whiteboard marker at him, and, infuriatingly , Dick catches it, grinning. “Just say you’re trying to be gross with Zatanna in front of me and go. Sheesh.”
“Denial is not just a river in Egypt.”
“Aw, shut up.”
“You already asked her to have dinner with you and your parents,” Dick points out. He’s also very annoying when he’s right.
“Yeah, and I always ask you and Kaldur and Roy and Megan too.”
“So what’s the difference between that and asking her to have dinner with just you at the nice French place two blocks down from here?”
“My wallet,” he says ruefully.
“I would gladly give you two hundred bucks if it meant that you stopped beating around the bush and asked Artemis out.”
Wally sighs. “I don’t want to make it weird. We’re friends and she’s my tutor and I’m hers. Not like, hers hers, but you know what I mean.”
“Wally,” Dick says firmly. “I know you’re not failing English. You have a ninety-three and you still insist on reserving the private study rooms in the library for you and Artemis twice a week.”
Wally’s cheeks flush crimson. Well. There’s no getting out of that one.
“Allow me to explain,” Dick says. “You’re an object on a path. Do you take the long, twisty one with the holes along the way? Or do you take the one that’s a straight shot?”
“The one that’s a straight shot.”
“Ergo…” Dick motions for Wally to continue the sentence.
“Okay!” he cries. “I will...consider.”
“You could start by admitting you think she’s hot.”
“Can I at least do that after finals?”