Swimming Against the Tide
DISCLAIMER: The following story was written purely for entertainment purposes. I am receiving no money or other compensation of any kind. The characters belong to DC Comics, although the premise is derived from the beautiful "Sea & Sky" series. In fact, it was originally written for that series, but does not fit into its established continuity. 'Rith was kind enough to suggest I post it as a kind of AU, anyway. There are some references to m/m slash, so if that offends you, please stop now. The story is set right after "Crisis on Infinite Earths". Feel free to send feedback to me at Casey1122@a...
The rain beat down on them, slamming against their very souls, yet they paid it no mind. They were far too engrossed in their own thoughts and feelings to worry about something as inconsequential as rain, or even the lightning that flashed nearby. Friends had died today. No, not friends. Family. And, as they proceeded solemnly from the cemetery, the group known as the Titans knew they might never be the same again.
"I can't believe it", said Donna softly, wrapped in her husband's comforting embrace. "All of them, gone. Kole, Dove, even poor Tula...."
"And the Flash, too", offered an unusually subdued Changeling, head bowed low. "Man, Wally must be goin' nuts!"
"Yeah, well, he's got his best buddy Dick to help him through it.... Oh, wait! That's right! Dick's not with Flasher, is he? He's down under the Deep Blue helpin' Gilhead lick his wounds!"
Starfire's fists tightened, and she spun on Roy Harper, her eyes flaring.
"That's not fair, Speedy!", she said angrily, the belt of her black trenchcoat whipping in the wind. "You know how torn Dick was about this!"
"She's right, Roy", Donna added, stepping surreptitiously between them. "Wally's got his family to help him right now, but Garth... Garth has no one but Arthur, and you know what a help he is!"
"Yeah, well, it still doesn't feel right! I mean, any of us could've gone to Tula's ceremony! Why'd Dick have to be the one?"
"The Atlantean ceremony for Tula is an important state affair", responded Koriand'r, instinctively falling into her royal persona as Princess of Tamaran. "As leader of the Titans, Dick felt he should be the one to represent us. Even he can't be in five places at once, you know."
"Whatever. Tell it to Wally, when we see him later. Or, better yet, tell it to Hank.... answered Roy, nodding towards the young man named Hank Hall who was getting into a nearby limo. Even from this distance, the group could feel the hopelessness and anger emanating from their friend and teammate. The empath called Raven felt a chill go through her, and she knew, somehow, that it was not from the cold, bitter wind that suddenly howled through the trees.
*** TT ***
In the undersea city-state of Atlantis, preparations were underway for a royal Ceremony of Remembrance. Dick Grayson sat in a seashell-chair, knowing he should get his butt in gear and get dressed. One bare foot draped over the side of the chair, he stared blankly out at the banners being hung as myriad schools of colorful fish swam outside the plasti-steel window of his suite. He wondered what happened, how he had failed them. How it happened that so many of his team fell during this Crisis, and how long before more of them fell. He wondered, too, what he would do if the next one to fall were.....
"Dick? May I come in?"
Aqualad's voice, outside his door, interrupting his thoughts. That soft, almost musical voice.
Jumping up, he glanced in the long, full-length mirror framed in coral. For a moment, he thought of dressing, wearing only a pair of black boxer shorts as he was. But, this was Garth, his teammate. Years of changing into costume together left little room for modesty, so this was nothing Garth--or Wally and Roy, for that matter--hadn't seen before. He ignored the tiny, suspicious giggling in the back of his mind and opened the door. Before him, flanked by two royal Atlantean guards, stood Garth of Atlantis, currently the only heir to the throne of King Orin. However, none of that mattered to Dick. All that mattered to him was that his friend was in pain.
"Garth. How're you holding up?"
He was wearing a deep purple tunic, belted at the waist in gold, black leggings tucked into matching purple boots. Around his neck hung a gold medallion embossed with the royal crest of Atlantis.
"I'm...managing. May I come in?"
The scent of lilac tugged at Dick's nostrils as his friend entered the room, and he noticed the slight grin, sincere if somewhat tired, that he received as Garth saw his state of dress. Once the door was closed, something heavy seemed to leave Garth, and he slumped unceremoniously into a chair, dropping his head into his hands. Immediately, Dick rushed to his side.
"Garth, are you alright? What's wrong?", he asked, feeling a bit foolish at the question, considering he was here for Tula's funeral ceremony.
"I'm alright. I just needed to relax a bit. It's hard enough to deal with Tula's-- with things-- but having to do it as Atlantean royalty is even harder. The people mean well, but it's just so exhausting, sometimes! That's why I came to see you, to get away for a bit. I hope you don't mind?"
He looked up from his study of the floor and into Dick's eyes. The sadness and near-desperation he saw there made Dick's heart ache. Kneeling, he put his muscular right arm around his friend's shoulders.
"Of course I don't mind, pal. Anything you need, anytime, all you've got to do is call me. You know that, don't you?"
"Yes, I do, Robbie", Garth smiled, using an old nickname for their leader that he and the other Teen Titans had long-since abandoned. It made Dick smile, too. He looked into those beautiful, deep purple eyes and was suddenly lost in them. Dick saw something in those eyes that he had not seen before. It wasn't just the sadness and hurt that he saw earlier. This time, he saw something else....need? Desire?
"Dick, I-- It hurts so much-- .I-I need you...."
Dick felt long, supple fingers entwined themselves in his own, subconsciously enjoying the feel of them. He felt his breathing grow heavier as his eyes took in the smooth, tanned chest showing from beneath Garth's tunic, the medallion hanging between two muscular pectorals. He felt himself stirring as feelings long-buried threatened to overwhelm him. Quickly, he moved away, desire and uncertainty waging a war inside of him. Surely Garth didn't mean that the way it sounded, did he? But what if he did? Could there really be a chance, after all these years of silent longing? But no, not now, not like this! How could he act on his feelings when his friend was in mourning? Then, his logical side reaffirmed itself. He dearly wanted to pursue this further, timing be damned, and give in to his lust for this young man, but he knew he could not. Besides, he rationalized, what if he was wrong?
"Garth, you know I'm here for you.", Dick said in his best leader-voice, regaining his composure as he poured himself a glass of water. "I'll do whatever I can to help you get through this. We all will."
Garth blew into his clasped hands and sighed heavily. Dick's emphasis on the word 'all' was painfully plain. In his grief, he had almost made a terrible mistake. Garth pushed his feelings for his former leader aside, as he had done many times before. Then, he turned his head towards the window, away from Dick, before answering in an even tone.
"I know you will, Dick. Thank you."
He rose then, absently straightening his tunic. Walking over to Dick, he wrapped his arms around him in a brotherly hug. The bare skin of their chests met and sent a wave of desire through him. It was better this way. Dick was obviously not interested. Better to ignore these feelings than to risk losing his friendship completely. He couldn't bear that.
"I-I've got to go. Lots of preparations for the ceremony, y'know?"
"Yeah", answered Dick. "I'm sure there must be."
Aqualad walked to the door slowly. He stopped and took a deep breath, squaring his shoulders before opening it. As he did, Dick felt a mixture of pride and sympathy for him. Then, with a backward glance and a subdued smile, Garth was out the door.
Moments later, Dick resumed his position on the shell-chair, knowing he should get his butt in gear and get dressed.