Whatever You Need
A Tale of Nightwing and Jericho by Dannell Lites and Rachel Ehrlich
DISCLAIMER: All characters are copyright DC Comics. They certainly wouldn't approve of what we've chosen to do with them, but we've done it anyway, in the hope that no one decides to take legal action against us as a result. There wouldn't be much point, since we have no money and aren't making any from doing this. 'Twas all just for fun. Oh yeah, M/M slash, so if that scares you more than it does Rachel, run away now. Or at least before you get to Dannell's parts.
The damp chill of the Okaaran caves was the least of my misery, but at the moment, it was the most immediate. I shivered, pulling the fur-lined covers tightly around myself, but it didn't help much. Maybe it was all part of the Okaaran warrior training, or maybe Tamaraneans weren't as susceptible to cold temperatures. But I was neither Okaaran nor Tamaranean, and quite frankly, I was cold. It certainly didn't help that the outfits we had been given by the Tamaraneans would only have been suitable as beach apparel on Earth. It was even less helpful that those minimalist items were strictly day-wear; apparently they didn't bother with clothes at night.
And here I'd always thought that winters in England were cold. Silly me.
Then again, maybe it wasn't usually so cold on Okaara. I had no doubt that the physical chill of the caves was exacerbated by the emotional chill of the people presently inhabiting them. Things between Dick and Kory were positively polar at the moment.
Well, and whose fault was that , Mr. Wilson? I'd overheard Karras on the trip to Tamaran; why didn't I tell Dick and Kory about it? Why did I wait until things played themselves out in the worst possible way?
I winced inwardly. I had debated about telling my friends what I'd heard, but there hadn't been an appropriate opportunity before everything had unraveled. OK, I admit it, there was more to it than just that. I didn't want to be the bearer of ill tidings -- especially ill tidings that were neither my doing nor in my power to change. I tried to find a way to change them anyway, but honestly, what could I have done? To support Kory's choice in obeying her father would have alienated an already frustrated and uncertain Dick. To support Dick's rejection of the entire sociopolitical system on Tamaran would only have made the situation worse for a distraught Kory, who had never truly understood the profound differences in human and Tamaranean outlooks.
I must admit, I was every bit as shocked and dismayed as Dick when Kory's father announced his intent to force her into a political marriage. Hadn't he done enough to destroy her life already? Why on Earth would she or Karras agree to such a thing?
'Why on Earth', indeed. That was the heart of it: we weren't on Earth. Earth had nothing to do with it. We were on Tamaran, and for good or ill, this was how Tamaran was run. We could object all we liked, but our alien Earth views were politely ignored. I would have been offended if not for the fact that we probably would have behaved no differently had we been on Earth, attending the wedding of Dick and Kory, and an outraged Tamaranean delegation had shown up to protest such a thing. Yes, we understand your views, we're terribly sorry you don't agree, now be so kind as to silence yourself while we hold our ceremony, there's a good chap.
Trying to make Dick see that, though, was an effort wasted. He didn't want to cede anything to King Myand'r, least of all the right to tell his daughter what to do. Honestly, I couldn't blame him; all three of us had been hurt by our parents in the past, and this struck too close to home for any of our liking. Granted, Dick's parents hadn't meant to die and leave their son an orphan, but then, my father hadn't meant for me to be kidnapped and nearly killed on account of his activities as a mercenary, either. Intent is irrelevant when you're in that much pain.
And Kory's father had meant to sell her into slavery. Rationalizing that it was to end a war and save lives is a sick self-delusion when you're sending your own daughter into a life of misery and endless abuse. Even worse, he'd learned nothing from the incident, and was more than ready to repeat himself, this time to sell her into the 'slavery' of an arranged marriage that neither she nor her intended husband wanted. No, I was far from a supporter of King Myand'r, but Dick's hostile behavior to everyone around him wasn't making it any easier to support him.
It isn't as though I didn't know he was in pain; been there, done that, don't want to do it again, thanks but no thanks. I just didn't know what to say that might make him feel better. Like me, Dick tended to internalize his pain; unlike me, his pains fueled his insecurities, which then added to his pain in a downward spiral of self-destruction. I had to snap him out of that spiral now, before it got past the point that I could do anything at all to help.
A fortnight on Okaara was long enough, especially when considering the time before on Tamaran meant that Dick had been under intense stress for nearly a month. Longer, if the strain in his relationship with Kory while still back on Earth was taken into account. Small wonder, then, that he was at his snapping point, something I should have noticed a lot sooner than I did. Well, Donna isn't the only one who strives for perfection; she just manages to achieve it more frequently than I do.
I sighed and sat up, quickly tugging the covers over my shoulders to ward off the sudden attack of cold air. There was no point in my lying in bed and pondering the situation; either do something about it, or go to sleep. No choice, really; Dick was my friend, and I couldn't just ignore him. Not unless I wanted to be nagged by my guilty conscience all night.
I slid my feet out from under the protective warmth of the covers, gasping as the bare soles made contact with the frigid stone floor. I thought about putting on my boots, but since I wasn't wearing anything else, it seemed too odd. Dick's room was right next to mine, anyway, so I wouldn't have far to walk. Good thing, too, since the warm, fur-lined covers were too heavy and awkward to drag off the bed. I wrapped the thin undersheet around myself and made my way through the barely lit cavern.
The main entrance to the guest chamber had a solid metal door that could be locked from within to provide both privacy and security. The bedrooms, budded off from the main chamber, had only a thick curtain draped across each entryway. Dick had locked the outer door in a nonverbal message to everyone else that no matter what happened on Okaara or Tamaran, he was not at anyone's beck and call. At least, I think that's why he did it, since he and I were the only ones in the guest rooms, and I certainly hadn't asked him to lock it.
Light flickered from behind the curtain to Dick's room. I wasn't surprised that he was still awake; I was convinced he hadn't slept much at all in over a month. Dick drives himself too hard at the best of times -- and this was anything but the best of times. Even from out here, I could feel the waves of anguish emanate from his room. Silently, I pushed aside the curtain and stepped inside.
He was fully dressed, sitting on the low bed with his knees pulled up and his arms draped loosely over them. He stared ahead at the small brazier that threw its flickering light across his face, the motion of the dancing shadows contrasting with the utter stillness of his form. If he was even aware of the chill in the air, he gave no outward sign of it.
"We should go home." Those were the first words he'd said to me in days. That he'd spoken to me at all was enough of a good sign that I ignored the monotone in which the words had been said. Instead, I knelt by his bedside and studied his profile. His expression gave nothing away, but his eyes were deep wells of pain, swirling pools of loss and betrayal, anger and despair. I'd seen those eyes before, in the mirror, but now was not the time to think of Penny Lord; now was the time to think of Dick Grayson, and what I could do to change the look in his eyes.
One of the benefits of sign language is that it forces the listener to give his full attention to the conversation at hand; no listening with half an ear, so to speak. But the downside was that I had to get his attention to begin with. To that end, I reached out from under the sheet and stroked his cheek with the back of my fingers.
It worked. He turned to face me, and as our eyes met, I knew precisely what he needed.
I took a deep breath. I was walking into an emotional minefield, but if that's what would help Dick, so be it. I wasn't afraid of getting hurt, but I didn't want to end up doing more harm than good in the long run. It would have to be his decision.
'Tell me how I can help,' I said. 'Whatever you need, I'll always be here for you.'
He surprised me with the sheer desperation of his response, but at least it meant that I'd done the right thing after all.
You wanna know the worst part of the whole incredibly ugly thing?
It wasn't that Kory married someone else. Not really. I mean, OK, I'm not exactly on the same wavelength as this whole royalty thing. This whole noblesse oblige noise. Condescending as hell as far as I'm concerned. And, as a form of government, a monarchy makes about as much sense to me as a screen door on a blasted submarine. Archaic doesn't begin to cover the subject. And King Myand'r was about as archaic as they come. He really believed all that crap. Especially the part that told him he had the right to make life-changing decisions for a whole planet full of people. Jesus!
The trouble was, Kory believed that, too. She always had. I had begun to realize that this was the true reason behind her savage ways and her refusal to change them while on Earth. She felt she had the right to do these things, conveyed upon her by her high birth.
But, no. That wasn't the real problem at all.
Because, even thought royalty and associated minutia might give me an enormous gas pain, one of the things I do understand extremely well is duty. Duty to others. Duty to a concept; a cause. Christ, I've had that ingrained into my mind and body by an expert since I was nine years old. Don't tell me about duty! And God knows there's enough precedent for what Kory had in mind right here on good old Mother Earth; Terra Firma. Kings and queens rarely have any say about who they marry. So, sort of as a consolation prize, I guess, you have the mistress.
Or, in my case, the gigolo. The kept man.
All nice and quiet and no one comes up stiff as long as there's an undisputed heir and public propriety, right? Kory seemed to think it was a done deal. The natural course of events. And only my stubbornness was standing in the way of our blissful happiness. Stay on Tamaran and take up residence in the Palace as Her Highness' Royal BoyToy.
No, what hurt was the sudden, crushing knowledge that Kory, the woman I loved, the woman I shared my body, heart and soul with, didn't understand me at all. How could she, if she didn't even understand me well enough to know that... that... I could never do that.
All right. Call me stupid. Call me hopelessly unhip. Call me old fashioned. It might not bother Kory in the least to shatter her marriage vows like that...
But I just... couldn't.
It was only the beginning of my education in how very different Kory and I were. God help me, but I still loved her. I just didn't understand her anymore. I was beginning to see how truly alien she was. How could I have fooled myself for so long? I -- I guess I have a bad habit of lying to myself, don't I? It's so easy to do, after all. It probably started way back in my mid-teens when I got real good at deceiving to myself about... about...
Oh, Christ! I just couldn't deal with... with... Bruce right now. If I tried I was gonna lose myself, drown in all that pain. I told myself that I had quite enough of that to deal with at the moment, thank you very much. I remember stumbling over to the low bed, crawling into it, and pulling my knees up to my chest to try and stop the painful pounding of my heart against my ribs.
It was the cold, the damned cold... had to be, right?
I'm not sure how long I just sat there, trying so damned hard not to think; not to hurt. It was a long time I think. I was so lost, so wrapped up in my own misery that I never even heard him when he entered the room. Some World's Second Greatest Detective, huh? I opened my eyes, looked up and quickly looked away. But it didn't dim the image seared into the back of my eyelids. There he was; just standing there in the flickering half light of the brazier. The flames danced in his wide, expressive green eyes. And.... and...
He was wrapped in a sheet. That's all. Just a thin sheet from his bed. Oh, God...
I think I eventually spoke. I'm not at all sure about that. But, I must have. The next thing I really remember with any clarity, Joey was sitting beside me on my bed, a warm, comforting presence that glowed with a life of its own in the chill darkness. Joey isn't usually very aggressive at all. I think even if he weren't mute, Joey would be the quiet type; easily overlooked, blending into the background. God, sometimes I wish I could do that. So I must have been the one to make the first move, I'm sure.
I sat there, basking in the warmth of his nearness. It felt so good. Just so damned good... not to be alone. Not to be in pain. At first, I didn't even realize I'd reached for his hand, until I felt its slender, elegant length filling mine; warming my own chill, shaking fingers.
Joey has the most beautiful hands in the world. Long, slim fingers; agile and supple like fine silk cloth. And soft, I discovered. So very, very soft... And when those hand began to move... such grace... weaving poems in the air with every elegant gesture...
God... so beautiful...
Like Joey himself.
Joey is an empath. I had to believe that he knew exactly what he was doing, exactly what to expect, when he came to me clad only in a bedsheet. He knew. Oh, yes, he knew... I needed...
I cupped his face and kissed him softly. His mouth still tasted faintly of the tart sweetness of the Tamaranean havafruit he'd eaten for supper. My fingers curled possessively around the curve of his neck, trailing lightly down his spine. He shivered, moaning softly.
Gently, I swept the sheet's scant cover from off his shoulders and watched it pool in liquid folds upon the cold stone floor. He didn't protest. In the dimness his eyes sparkled and I fell willingly into those verdant sea-green depths and almost drowned. I lay him down on the bed's softness, kissing my way down the long, ivory column of his neck. My flesh began to harden at the many small cries of pleasure that escaped him, then. He gasped and entwined those lovely hands in my hair. My body began to ache it was so eager and hard.
"Joey..." I whispered his name like a benediction, a prayer.
And so it was.
When his hands wandered down to that certain small spot in the middle of my back and caressed it with deft hands, I was lost. I wrapped my tongue around hard nub of one nipple and began to suckle like a child.
And those hands... such skillful hands...
Ghosting over my body, stroking, caressing, wresting from me such pleasure that I cried out in a loud voice that rang off the cavern walls like thunder, giving vent to all my pleasure and wonder. Joyously, I spent myself, then lay quiet in his arms, still trembling with the tiny aftershocks of my orgasm. We lay there, each listening to the others deep, contented breathing in the stillness of the Okaaran night, warmed by the merrily dancing fire of the brazier. It was several moments before either of us could speak.
"Joey?" I murmured. "Just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for wanting me... thank you for... for..." My fading voice failed me entirely and I had to let the sentence hang there between us, unfinished, unspoken.
Joey's fingers moved, caressing my cheek in Sign.
'My pleasure,' and that made me smile. 'Sleep, now... everything will be better in the morning... sleep... sleep...'
And I did. Nestled like spoons, we fit together like the pieces of a puzzle, safe and warm in the fastness of the long, attar-strewn night. My dreams, after that, were full of laughing sea-green eyes and indescribably beautiful hands moving through the air with slow, lyrical poetry of motion.
Mission accomplished. Dick was out like a light, the occasional soft sigh escaping his lips as he dreamed. Unfortunately, now it was my turn to stay up, pondering the significance of what I'd just done.
I hadn't meant to. Please, I'm not that crass; I would hardly have used this heartbreaking episode as an excuse to seduce my best friend. Until he'd looked at me, I hadn't even known that he was interested; I'd only ever seen him with Kory, and eyes for no one else.
But deep down, I knew. I didn't mean to do that, either, but I can't control it. As a side effect of my power, I subconsciously learn things about the people I possess, and when I took over Dick Grayson the first time I met him in the Tower, I learned things about him that even he didn't know. I wasn't able to list them all, but the knowledge worked itself out in odd ways; knowing without being told what colors he preferred, or what music he would be more apt to enjoy. It was like having a small piece of him inside my head. Multiply that by everyone I've ever used my power on, and it's a wonder I have any personality to call my own.
That might explain my own preferences, though. After all, I'd possessed as many women as men, so it was only natural that I might be equally attracted to both. Another side effect of my mutation, it seems, was empathy. Not like Raven's -- nowhere near that powerful -- but just enough to make me very sensitive to what the people around me were feeling. As a rule, empaths are attracted to emotion, and secondarily to the people feeling those emotions. Gender, if it rates at all, is only third on the list. Most people can't grasp that concept; they're attracted to what they see, which puts gender first, and to have someone tell them that gender is irrelevant is too alien a thought.
Or should I say, too Tamaranean a thought? I would fit in here -- an odd realization if there ever was one. Superficially, I look about as Tamaranean as a human can; green eyes, curly hair, give me a good tan and you'd never know I wasn't born here. Well, OK, my irises are too small and I have visible pupils, but maybe the Tamaraneans have mutants, too. It could happen. And except for the bloodthirsty warrior thing that runs under the surface of their culture, I could flourish in this environment, artistically, spiritually, emotionally.
Not Dick. They say that opposites attract, but he and Kory were too opposite; there has to be some common ground in a relationship, and sexual attraction alone won't do it for long. Sure, there had been some benefits to their relationship; Dick had provided Kory with her first stability and real love, while Kory gave Dick the sort of unconditional love and acceptance that Bruce never had. But overall, they were at philosophical odds. Kory was a warrior; Dick abhorred violence. Kory was a free spirit; Dick kept himself very restrained. Kory understood her duty as a member of the Royal House of Tamaran; Dick saw only the infringement of an individual's right to self-determination.
Dick was a human, and as sweet as she was, Kory was just too alien for him.
Which isn't to say he didn't love her. Obviously he did, or he wouldn't have been in the kind of pain that drove me to offer him what I did. But now that I had, and he had accepted, where did we go from here? Neither of us favored short-term casual relationships, and I didn't see myself as any better a match for him than Kory. What he thought about it, I don't know. A telepath I'm not, and thank God for that -- bad enough having people's emotions pressing in on me without adding their thoughts, too. And people wondered how it was I understood Raven so well! There were times that I'd have given anything to be just a normal person, like Dick. Grass is always greener, eh?
I lay back slowly, exhausted in body if not in mind. What little I'd done had helped, but Dick needed to release his anger as much as he needed to feel loved. The combination would make for some serious aggression, but I had no doubt that it would always be under his iron self-control. I imagine he gets that from Bruce; it fits the image I have of Batman. Of course, I've never met Batman -- or Bruce -- but my subconscious understanding of Dick suggested he might have had a wilder side to him once, which got suppressed between the trauma of his parents' deaths and the rigor of his training as Robin. Releasing that wild side might be just what he needed.
At least I didn't have to fear that he might turn violent as a result. Just another little something I knew about him, I guess, but it was a real relief for me; I'd been in an abusive relationship before, and I wasn't out to repeat the experience. Dick wasn't Omar, though; the only thing they had in common was black hair and good looks.
I had met Omar al-Hadif my final year at Eton. Mum's insistence that I go to school in England probably had more to do with keeping me away from the danger inherent in her work than any benefit I might derive from attending her father's alma matter. Omar, following the tradition of many rich families from Saudi Arabia, had been sent overseas for the purposes of learning the Western way of doing business. With his noble background and exotic Mediterranean features, he was used to getting what he wanted.
He wanted me.
A pity that, since I alone of all the students was unimpressed by Omar's appearance. He took it as a challenge, going so far as to learn basic sign language in order to attract me. That -- and his overwhelming charisma -- did the trick. Omar managed to talk the head prefect of the senior form into assigning me as his flatmate, and before I knew it, we were sleeping together.
No one said anything. What was there to say? There are so many poofs in England you'd think it was contagious. We never flaunted our relationship -- well, I didn't, at any rate -- and if anyone was bothered, it was only because two of the most handsome men in the school had just been taken off the eligibility list. That sounds immodest, I know, but really, English aristocracy is known for two things, poor dentistry and inbreeding, neither of which does wonders to improve the looks.
Things were fine the first trimester. Omar could be imperious at times, and was more controlling than I fancied, but he respected my differences of opinion enough to know that he needed to charm me if he wanted to continue getting his way all the time. I chalked it up to cultural dissimilarities, and ignored all the early warning signs. Coming from an Islamic country, Omar wasn't supposed to drink alcohol. Apparently, Saudi Arabia was more liberal in that regard than most of its neighbors, because Omar was exceedingly fond of wine, and knew enough about the various vintages to show that he was no novice. Since I rarely drank, it was just one of the many things to which I paid no attention, until the night Omar showed up back at our flat absolutely pissed.
That was unlike him, to have gone on such a bender in public. On top of it all, he was clearly in a bad mood, but I had no idea why; I had declined the invitation to the party he'd attended, so whatever had transpired there was known only to him. Not that I was overly pleased myself, to see him come home in that condition, but I figured I'd make him some coffee, see him to bed, and let him sleep it off.
Ever since the Jackal's attack, my mother had been obsessive about teaching me self-defense. I wasn't a black-belt martial artist, but I knew how to fight in a wide variety of styles. Omar knew that, of course; we hadn't spent all this time together without talking to each other. I could deflect nearly any blow I saw coming, which was why he made sure to attack from behind. A kidney strike is designed to take a person down, and his kick dropped me like a stone. Paralyzed with pain, I was unable to move, much less defend myself from the rest of the blows he rained down on me. I barely managed to curl into a fetal position, and waited for the hurricane of his rage to pass.
Hours later, after Omar had succumbed to an alcoholic stupor, I dragged my battered body to my side of the bed and lay there, shivering from the shock of the assault. It had been so unexpected that my mind didn't want to accept the facts of what had occurred. Where had this violent monster come from? What had happened to the Omar I'd known?
He was back the next morning, apologetic almost to the point of embarrassment. He professed ignorance to what he'd been doing, swearing that he would never, ever do it again. My body, at least, knew what my mind refused to acknowledge, and I couldn't stop myself from flinching whenever he touched me. Maybe I was imagining it, but he seemed perversely pleased by my reaction. That, too, I ignored, and foolishly accepted both his apology and his oath.
For what little they turned out to be worth. Second trimester was coming to an end, and I was busy with the revision for my exams. Engrossed in the details of Immanuel Kant's philosophy, I didn't notice when Omar set down his textbooks and left the room. I was reading about Kant's concept of the categorical imperative when the back of my skull exploded in agony and the world went dark.
I awoke three days later in the hospital. The doctors told me I was lucky to be alive; according to my flatmate, a gang of hooligans from another school had accosted me with cricket bats, leaving me with a broken collarbone, shattered left wrist, five cracked ribs, a broken right tibia, and a serious basilar skull fracture. Naturally, Omar had single-handedly rescued me and brought me to the hospital. The whole tale was a load of rubbish, but there was no point in saying so; it was my word against Omar's, and of the two, he was the one with the ability to make others believe him. I could honestly tell the doctors I had no recollection of the event. They nodded sympathetically and said they would notify Omar that I was awake.
Not that I cared to see him. It would have been beyond daft to forgive him this time; it would have been suicidal. Kicking me purple was bad enough, but landing me in the hospital was an order of magnitude worse. If I allowed this to continue, I might as well just ring my mother and tell her to select a coffin, since I'd be in it before year's end.
He strode into the room with complete confidence. And why not? Everyone from the headmaster at Eton to the doctors in the emergency room had bought his story. He'd succeeded in beating me senseless twice and gotten away with it; if I hadn't said anything the first time, I wouldn't say anything now. After all, I'm generally a very pleasant fellow. I should be; I try hard enough at it. It takes a lot to anger me, and it's next to impossible to make me mad enough to want to hurt someone. But I couldn't reject my parents' genetic inheritance as easily as I had their convenient morality. One look in my eyes, and Omar knew he'd crossed a deadly boundary.
We simply stared at each other for the space of several seconds. It was a challenge, but this time, I wasn't backing down. Without a word, he turned and left; it was the last I ever saw of him. Later, I found out that he'd made up some excuse for a sudden return to Saudi Arabia, and by the time I was released from the hospital a month later, he was already long gone. But the twisted bastard had left a parting gift lying on my bed: the splintered, bloodstained cricket bat he'd used on me.
End, Part One