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heartbeat (thud of an arrow, thunder of footsteps)

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It’s the end of a long day and all Wally can hear is Artemis’s heartbeat.

At least, she’s pretty sure that’s all he can hear. His head nestles below her collarbone, her chin and one hand resting gently in the fluff of his copper hair, his head half-turned so his ear presses firmly to the exposed skin of her chest. Her other arm is slung over his back, resting between his shoulder blades, where the soft thump of his heart is just barely there. His eyes are nearly closed, and she’s pretty sure he’s asleep, laid soft and limp over her as he is, arms draped around her abdomen and back. With a soft grunt, she readjusts one leg to banish the fuzzy feeling and shifts her back ever so slightly on the deep green arm of the couch. 

It’s almost too much PDA for the common room, but the number of times they’ve walked in on M’gann and Conner making out here and elsewhere in the mountain leaves their little domestic scene positively mild. Even so, Artemis can’t help but wish they were doing this back in the apartment. Their bed is much more comfortable than the worn couch cushions. The only reason why they’re here is the black-haired boy is pacing in the mission briefing room. She can still feel the distant impression of Dick’s mind, racing frantic and worried, alongside the soft wash of Kaldur’s thoughts, M’gann’s soft warm light, Conner’s steadying beat, Wally’s flickering heat. It's become common practice for them to remain at the mountain after the tough days, but now it’s nearly an every-other-mission thing, when Dick’s brain can’t shut down and it’s all they can do to get him to fall into bed every day or two and eat something that isn't packaged or boxed. 

It’s not just him anymore either. Some nights it’s Kaldur, pacing in his room. But now Kaldur’s started to disappear more often, closing off. She rarely senses him now the way she used to. Losing Tula shattered parts of Kaldur she didn’t know existed. Wally feels it too, maybe even more acutely than she does. Now more than ever, they can’t afford to let their friends go. They have to stay, have to be here, have to make sure they don’t fall off the ever-closer edge. 

Tonight, it’s only Dick who’s pacing. Dick, who they’re going to either cuddle into submission or work to exhaustion. It varies by the mission and by the mood. She's hoping it’s the first option. She doesn’t want to move.

Artemis sighs, and lets her chin sink further into her boyfriend’s untamed blown-back hair. There’s food littered on the side table behind them- or there had been. It’s only wrappings now. She’s not surprised that he passed out. Today’s mission left them all drained, and he’d been running harder than she’d seen in a while.

It had also been a snow mission. A white mission. A mission in the cold, in gray and white snow gear. He tires faster in the arctic, both physically and mentally, though for different reasons.

It’s why she hadn’t protested when he’d come up and hugged her from behind and didn't let go even for her to walk into the kitchen. Wally, she’s discovered over the last four years, is a cuddly person by nature- even more so when he’s sad, or afraid, or remembering something he doesn’t want to remember. Artemis doesn’t mind. He’s not the only one who finds it comforting (at least now). When they’d sprawled on the couch and eaten through the food- mostly him, but she’d been ravenous today too, thanks to running through all the snow- and he’d started moving closer and closer, she’d embraced him and pulled him down and let him nestle against her, letting him gravitate toward her pulse, her heartbeat, her breath, whatever could reassure him that her body was still ticking away, a warm and comforting clock. Wouldn't be the first time. Wouldn’t be the last. 

His weight and warmth, with the softness of their after-mission clothing and the familiar comfort of the couch beneath them, leaves her feeling muzzy. She isn’t sure when her eyes slip closed, or when she becomes aware of his breath, soft and fluttering against her skin. She isn’t even sure of when the soft blackness of exhaustion takes over, when she stops thinking and lets go.

 

When she wakes they’re still tangled together on the couch, M’gann hovering nearby. Wally is asleep on her chest, and she gently pushes him off. It’s enough to wake him up. She withdraws her legs at the same time he moves to push himself up, and somehow they overbalance, tip, and end up in a loudly cursing, tangled ball on the floor. 

M’gann giggles softly, a hollow ring to it that hadn’t been there a year ago. She levitates them apart. “He’s ready,” she murmurs, and they both nod, pushing themselves to their feet. 

“About time,” Wally mutters, and Artemis elbows him. He shrugs apologetically, worries lingering in the corners of his eyes.

Dick’s standing at the computer when they go to him in the mission briefing room. It’s nearly two in the morning by the clock, and Artemis exchanges a longsuffering look with Conner across the room. 

Wally starts. He comes up to Dick, hardly making an effort to hide his yawn, and settles a hand- lightly, gently, carefully, telegraphing every movement- onto his old friend’s shoulder. “Dick,” he says quietly, in a tone Artemis had never heard until months into knowing him, a tone reserved for the talking-down and reassuring of his closest friends, a tone so serious and so caring it’s alien to his usual cocksure banter. “Dick. It’s two in the morning, man, you need to sleep.”

Dick mutters an answer, tapping away at a screen full of letters and words that don’t make sense to Artemis’s sleep-deprived brain. He looks ready to fall over. The bags under his eyes are a shade of purple rivaling a plum. 

“C’mon,” Wally says, and tugs at Dick's shoulder. “Dick. Come on.”

Dick, finally noticing, glances over his shoulder with an expression bordering on surprise. A moment passes. “...Wally?” he mumbles. “What’re you doin’ here?”

“I was resting. Like you should’ve been.”

“Dick,” Kaldur adds, walking up behind them. “Your body requires rest. Please, sleep a little while.”

Dick blinks confusedly at the both of them before turning back to the computer. “No,” he says. “No, I… I have to finish the report and research, and I’m reading right now…”

“Dick, please,” M’gann says, floating over to rest a hand on his other shoulder. “Kaldur and Wally are right. You need to sleep.”

Artemis sighs. It’s become practically routine, by now. They wait until he’s so tired he can’t refuse them, and then they drag him off and make him go to sleep. Half the time they all wake up to him right back where he was when they started, but it’s something.

“Dick,” she says. “Don’t be an idiot. You need to sleep. C’mon.”

Wally and M’gann both pull, and finally, Dick turns, still with a bewildered, lost expression. Between the two of them, they manage to tug him out to the massive king-size mattress Conner had helped them drag in a few months ago, resting in the back of the common room and littered with blankets and throw pillows. Dick protests, trying to pull out of their grasp, but they push him down, and Conner throws a weighted blanket over him. The pressure stills him, calms him. Then they pile in alongside him.

Dog-piling used to be awkward. But after years sharing a mind link that allows them subconscious access to each other’s deepest feelings and thoughts, physical contact is hardly anything. With abandon, Wally flops down beside him, and Conner nestles in to hold Dick down if the nightmares start. M’gann curls up alongside Conner and Kaldur claims the space near Dick’s head, and Artemis wraps herself around Wally and puts her head on his chest. Wolf, observing nearby, grabs a blanket and pulls it over them, and Conner murmurs a low “good boy” before lapsing back into silence. The lights have been dim since early in the night, and the cave is quiet and warm. A hum emanates from the fridge and cave electronics, a low and comforting lullaby meshing with the soft thunder-thump of her boyfriend’s heart. Artemis sighs, soft and quiet, before she lets the mixed currents of her team's sleepy minds steal her away into darkness.