Sea and Sky XX:
Revelations and Conversations
Compiled by 'rith*
Notations: m/m relationship, nonexplicit. Also, Roy curses under stress. Well, all the time. But more potently when he's ticked off.
Summary: "The one where everyone finds out."
Series timing: Begins a few hours after S&S XIX, "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Tower", aka the Clocktower Visit, wherein the guys had a chat with Babs and Dinah. (Takes place before the dinner with Bruce and the Titans-invade-'Haven fics.)
Canon timing: circa Titans #9, before Deathstroke collapses on the lawn.
Thanks to nw's chick for insightful draft notes, to Chicago for the Voice of J'onn, and to Smitty for letting me whine at her.
This html file contains annotations for the truly obsessed. Because I like to share. To view annotations, hold your cursor over the ^ symbol. You may need to do it two or more times for the longer ones.
* and therefore any lingering errors are also mine.
The silence was immediate, and loud. I told myself it was due to understandable surprise, and tried to keep my breathing steady. It didn't help much. These people were my and Garth's shared family--and after everything we'd been through, I desperately wanted this to go right. I looked around the rec room at the assembled team, hoping for that to be true.
The speculative look in Donna's eyes had blossomed into a glow of pure delight. She smiled at us, with the utter warmth and sincerity that makes her so special, and I felt my heart ease. Our old friend was happy for us both.
Next to her, Kory stood absolutely still, silent and frozen, arms clenched stiffly at her sides. Her face had gone so pale it would have been white on a human--but her eyes blazed with rage and pain. Donna's emotional radar must have kicked in; without even looking, she moved over slightly and put one arm around my old love. Eyes still locked on me, Kory didn't seem to notice.
Vic was outright grinning--actually, it was more of a smirk. There was absolutely no surprise in his face. I suppose when you've been through as many changes as he has, surprise is hard to come by. Or else...I thought about his array of sensors, wondering for the first time what they might have picked up from us, and damn near blushed. I'd investigate that later.
Grant was blinking at us, dark eyes wide and startled. His expression suggested he was trying to work out how he felt about this and hadn't quite managed it yet.
Roy and Wally had almost identical expressions on their faces: utter, uncomprehending shock as they tried desperately to process the information and failed completely. They looked as if someone had come up behind them and hit them over the head with simultaneous two-by-fours--I suppose in a sense we had. Jesse had been their triplet for about three seconds before she shut her mouth with a snap and rearranged her features to a carefully polite blankness. Interestingly, her reaction after that was exactly the same as mine: to look around and study the others. The mask almost broke when she caught sight of Wally, but I won't tell on her.
Surprise cleared Toni's face too, but only for a moment. After that it washed into enthusiastic--and, I judged, mostly genuine--delight. Her voice broke the silence first. "Wow, that's great!" When no one immediately jumped in to second her, she glanced around the room, slightly defensive. "Well, it is, isn't it?"
Maybe I'd subconsciously known this was coming when Dick asked everyone to move to the rec room after the official meeting was over, because standing next to Kory was exactly where I needed to be right then. I felt Kory's muscles tense under my hand and tightened my own grip a bit, trying to silently let her know I was there for her. I was glad he and Garth had finally gotten it out in the open--but dammit, could Dick have picked a *worse* way to break the news? I love him, I do, but his good sense falls apart when his emotions are involved.
"Of course it is," I replied to Toni's question when no one else leaped in, "It's just something of a surprise."
"Very funny." Wally's tone said he didn't think it was funny at all...and the fact that he was standing perfectly still, not fidgeting at all, made that even more clear. "It's a little late for April Fools, *Nightwing.*"
His emphasis reminded me that three people in the room didn't know Dick's identity. Even furious, Wally had the presence of mind to consider that.
"No joke," Dick said, calmly enough, though I could almost feel his abrupt, belated realization that he should have at least told Wally first. "And thank you, Toni."
"What. the. FUCK," Roy shouted from his position over the back of the couch, which was the signal for everyone else to start reacting all at once. I kept an eye on the rest of the room while whispering urgently into Kory's ear. She was trembling under my arm, angry and confused, and I had to try to get through to her before that came spilling out into words or actions she'd regret.
"I'm sorry, honey, but it's true. They've both been lonely for a long, long time. I think they--"
She interrupted, turning to me, green eyes full of anguish. "He didn't have to be alone. Why couldn't he let me be with him?"
There were a half-dozen reasons for that, and none that would make any sense to her. "Kory, you know he couldn't do that. That's how he *is.*"
She shook her head, and I could feel her frustration. "It doesn't make *sense,* Donna, it never made sense. I love him, he still loves me, I know that."
Sometimes there's nothing to do but tell the truth. I cursed Dick a little for making me be the one to say it. "He does, Kory. But not the way he did before, and it won't ever be that way again."
Nightwing and a guy. Tempest and a guy. Nightwing and Tempest.
Did you ever feel like you'd gotten up on the wrong planet this morning? Just when you think life can't get any stranger...
Okay, it took me a little aback, I can admit that. It's...well, honestly, I'd never even thought about it. Certainly had no clue that Nightwing and Tempest were--well, anything. I'd feel grouchy about that, except that from the array of stunned looks around me, we were *all* left out of this one.
And besides, seeing the look on Wally's face right now is well worth any number of secrets.
Ah, the Titans. Running a multimillion dollar company has nothing on this. And my dirty little secret: I like it. ^ Where else can I watch a seventeen-year-old walking bomb make eyes at a half-alien mall princess? Where else will all our construction workers turn out to secretly be super-villains? ^ (That actually worked out to our advantage--we got most of a day's work out of them before they started their attack, and we didn't have to pay them for it.) Where else can I go bar-hopping with a goddess turned fashion photographer who started out life as a clone of Wonder Woman, and an alien warrior princess with a body out of Frazetta and a personality out of Sweet Valley High? Where else will the Batman's protégé call me in to confess to having a passionate homosexual affair with an Atlantean mage?
To hell with what my mother thinks. I love this team. ^
Guess my sensors *hadn't* been on the fritz, after all. ^
Alien princesses from the other side of the galaxy, magicians from thirty thousand leagues under the sea...tell you this for nothing, Robbie sure can pick 'em. Have to admit, I've wondered sometimes if he'd let himself in for a little less grief if he'd find himself a nice girl next door. But hell, me and Fleetfeet both went that route and didn't do so well ourselves, so who am I to talk? ^
Besides, it ain't like there's anything wrong with his taste. Kory may not be Donna Reed, but they don't come any sweeter, and she's got enough heart and enough guts for ten people. Don't know Gillhead as well, but everything I do know is good. 'Sides, underneath all the worry 'bout what we're gonna say, you can see stars in both their eyes. Those two are In Love.
I'm probably supposed to say something about their plumbing at this point. Well, hell with that. Maybe way back when I was Vic Stone and nothin' more, I'd've cared. But I've known too many people in every shade of strange now, and if half of 'em were stone killers, half of them were fighting day in and day out against every kind of evil and craziness, and some of 'em were the best friends I've ever had. And me--for years, I was a walking advertisement for Freaks'R'Us, and that was *before* I got to be part of an alien computer collective. Trust me, after that *nothin'* looks weird to you. So if Dick's found himself a piece o' joy, more power to him, and never mind the packagin'.
Wally was still staring at Dick, too stunned to react. In fact, nearly *everyone* was staring at Dick, everyone but Toni, who was staring at...me. She had an odd, dreamy expression on her face, and I wasn't quite sure I wanted to know what that meant.
After Roy's outburst Donna had turned to Kory, talking urgently into her ear, and I hoped Kory would understand. Dick said he would handle telling everyone, and he had--and now we had to deal with the fallout.
Beginning with Roy, who hadn't stopped bellowing to take a breath. "No, seriously! What the fuck! Did everyone suddenly wake up gay? Was there a memo I missed? You got some 'splaining to do, Lucy!"
His tirade was directed entirely at Dick, and I had to suppress the urge to slip out of the room while most of the attention was focused on him. Dick was better equipped to handle the inevitable questions, especially since I had known going in that his 'sudden change'--at least from the perspective of those who had no reason to expect it--was going to be a considerably more popular subject for debate than my involvement. Dick had laughed when I'd told him that earlier, but it was true simply by virtue of his nature. His place was in the spotlight. I was far more content to merely be part of the team. Still, it would have been...tacky, I think Toni would say, to leave Dick to fend for himself. Not that I'd seriously considered it.
Donna caught my eye, winking slightly even as she spoke to Kory, and I knew she understood. She always did.
Vic approached us, with Jesse trailing behind. Ignoring Roy, he addressed us both, sounding genuinely pleased. "Well, damn. That's great."
"Um, yes." Jesse was trying very hard to keep from glancing at Wally, probably to keep from laughing in his face. "Surprising, but...if you guys are happy, then that's all that matters, right?"
"That's what we thought." Dick sighed and faced Roy, who'd gotten up off the couch where he'd thrown himself when we first entered the room and was advancing with an irate glare. "If you'd stop yelling...."
"Then you better start talkin'."
Dick shrugged. "What do you want me to say?"
He was baiting Roy, just a little, and possibly not even realizing he was doing it. Dick and Roy seemed to communicate best on a level that others might mistake for antagonism. Or maybe he was deliberately goading Roy, counting on his more predictable strident outrage to deflect Wally's quietly rising temper.
Roy, of course, wasn't going to stand for Dick's non-answer. "Well, c'mon! What, all of a sudden, you both simultaneously decided you liked playing hide-the-sausage?"
Oh, yes, that was vintage Roy. Vic coughed, Jesse turned bright red, and Dick looked like he was about to go for Roy's throat. "I never thought I'd have to say this, but my sex life is none of your business, Roy."
Roy didn't budge. "It is when you drop a bombshell like this."
If Dick had been more honest with the Titans about his personal life over the years, these explanations wouldn't be necessary; but then again, I hadn't been completely forthcoming myself. Dick glanced at me, hesitating for a moment before he answered. "This isn't...entirely new. To either of us. But I'm not naming names." He obviously didn't want to explain about Joey, not like this, and especially not in front of those who hadn't known him. Time for a distraction.
"Any names I gave, you wouldn't recognize anyway." Roy's attention shifted to me, the result I'd been hoping for. "But I didn't think you were that interested."
"Jesus, Gillhead, I didn't think you'd been with anyone since--" Roy cut himself off, biting his lip.
Despite the exasperating nickname, I appreciated Roy's attempt to spare my feelings, unexpected after the way he'd been speaking to Dick. Roy demonstrated surprising thoughtfulness at the strangest moments. This time, it wasn't necessary. "Since Tula died," I finished for him, keeping my tone light. "Thanks to the years I spent in Atlan's dimension, it's been eight years for me since then. Trust me, I did not spend that time in a monastery." ^
Roy blinked at me, probably trying to reconcile what he *thought* he knew about me--about us--with what Dick and I were telling him now. Before he could resume his questioning, Wally spoke again.
"I know Nightwing didn't." His voice was low with anger. "But I guess he was busier than I thought."
Vic tried to intervene. "Wally, man, take it easy."
"How long has this been going on?" Wally asked in that same deceptively quiet tone, ignoring Vic.
"We started, ah, dating, about three months ago," I said, trying to pre-empt the confrontation, "but it's only in the last two weeks that we've--" ^
Wally cut me off, his eyes never leaving Dick's face. "Spare me the details. Three *months*?! And in all that time, you didn't have five minutes to pick up the phone?"
"Wally." Dick's voice was sharp, commanding attention. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you earlier. I should have, and I apologize for that. But I'm not going to apologize for falling in love with someone you didn't expect."
Next to me, Kory made a small choked sound--but despite my sympathy for her heartache, I couldn't help smiling. It was both surprising and wonderful to hear Dick declare that out loud, in front of everyone.
Judging by the stunned look on Garth's face, I guess he thought so too.
Dick was beaming, as if he'd realized what he'd said and didn't care what anyone else thought about it. Jesse was blinking rapidly, and I wondered if she was as okay with this as she seemed to be. Toni, on the other hand, had on a grin so huge I could practically see the fillings in her back molars.
Grant was wide-eyed, looking vaguely...nervous? ^ Before I could get a better sense of his mood, he noticed my glance and turned away, blushing. He was so powerful, sometimes it was easy to forget how *young* he was. I guessed maybe a teenaged boy might be embarrassed by all this. I'd have to see if he wanted to talk later.
Roy had been caught with his mouth half-open; now he closed it, looking thoughtful. Even Wally seemed to back down at Dick's statement. "You--you really mean that."
Vic chuckled. "Can't you see he does?"
Beside me, Kory said, "D--Nightwing wouldn't say that unless he meant it." She spoke softly, but everyone in the room turned to look at her. She took a few steps away from me, toward Dick, her eyes fixed on his face.
It was like the world narrowed to a corridor of space between the two of them, where nothing existed except the memories of what they'd once had. It wasn't easy to watch. Even the three in the room who hadn't ever seen Nightwing and Starfire as a couple seemed to understand that this was the final nail in the coffin of a relationship we'd all once thought would last forever.
And truth be told, it had already been over for a long, long time. But Kory had still hoped that Dick would remember what it'd been like for them and come back to her. I'd told her that Dick hadn't forgotten...but that he'd changed so much in the past three years, I didn't think that was possible. ^ She hadn't wanted to believe me. And if I knew Kory, she *still* didn't see any reason why she and Dick couldn't be together...Garth notwithstanding. Tamaranean social customs were a lot different than Terran morals. Or specifically, Dick's morals. He was a lot more conservative in his own way than most people thought.
"Kory, I--" Dick took a step toward her, hands out, and she shook her head violently.
"Don't. Don't--say anything. Don't think you can make it all right with words."
"There's nothing to make right, Kory," Dick said simply. "You just need to accept what you already know."
She made an inarticulate noise and flung herself through the door. We could all hear the noisy rush of her flight down the corridor. There was a long, stunned moment and then I heard my own rueful voice break the silence.
"Well, *that* could have gone better...."
So this is where I came in--late. What can I say, the coast-to-coast commute is a pain in the rear. Actually, I was in the area already, fighting my way through some a' the Dayton Industries red tape, and I was so busy swearing at it I almost forgot Dick'd asked me up to the Tower. ^ Isn't this what ridiculously rich playboy heirs have staffs to take care of? But Questor says I gotta at least be able to tell if they're ripping me off, so....^ And to be honest, I kind of like the idea of knowing what's going on with the biz. Still made my head hurt, though.
So when I remembered, I dumped the paperwork and made my escape through the nearest window, the better to avoid anyone who wanted to stop me. Heck, maybe if I was really lucky, the Paperwork Fairy would come in and take care of all of it while I was gone. But I wasn't betting on it.
I zipped my way crosstown, did a quick sea-change to an otter to get into the Tower, and was stepping out of the elevator when I was run over by an upset Tamaranean.
"Whoa!" We wobbled for a sec, then wound up in a heap on the floor, me mostly on the bottom. That's not as bad as it sounds--having Kory lying on top of me is actually way up there on the fantasy-meter. Only problem was, I was up close enough to see the tears shining in those bright green eyes.
Pure reflex kicked me into joke-mode. "Y'know, Goldie, we've got to stop meeting like this."
Didn't net me even an inch of smile; she only sniffed a little and started picking herself up. "Sorry, Gar. I didn't see you."
I stepped firmly on another one-liner, took the hand up she offered, and didn't let go. "What's up, Kory? Can I help?"
*That* won me a brief, bitter smile, but it wasn't one I liked much. "Can you bring back the dead?"
The cold went straight through me. "Dead?" I croaked. "Who's dead?"
Again with the smile. I didn't like it much this time either. "No one you know." Half of me was relieved, for a minute I'd thought...but I was getting more worried about Kory by the second, not to mention completely bewildered. Did this have something to do with Dick's mystery announcement?
She scrubbed at her eyes, shook her head impatiently. "It doesn't matter, I have to go."
"Kory, *wait.* What's going on?"
The tears started flowing, and this time she didn't bother to rub them away. "Dick's in love with Garth."
Wow. I'd known Nightwing and Starfire used to be together...but I had no idea she'd be *that* upset. Then again, she'd given me the hairy eyeball every time Nightwing and I had so much as a brief conversation.
And I'd thought about it, sure, but it had seemed like an amazingly stupid idea to get involved with someone who was as much of a workaholic as me. In retrospect I was *extremely* glad I hadn't considered Nightwing as a potential romance. I'm not sure how I would've dealt with the revelation that my hypothetical boyfriend swung both ways.
I didn't have a problem with that...in theory. Maybe I was more sheltered than I thought. I'd dealt with HR issues within my own company, the standard corporate CYA on discrimination and hiring policies...but not so much personally. Still, it hopefully wouldn't *matter* as far at the team went, and it wasn't like I knew either Nightwing or Tempest that well, anyway.
Not like Wally did, and I was starting to feel bad for privately snickering over his shock. Beneath his surprise was a very definite undertone of hurt, and despite the rotten trick Wally had played on me once, he didn't deserve that.
Donna turned as if she was going to follow Starfire, but she came over to our little cluster first. "I probably should go after her. But I'm so glad you guys finally decided to tell everyone. It's so--"
Wally didn't miss a thing. "'Finally'? You *knew* about this?"
Donna looked like she wanted to rip out her own tongue. It was almost funny, seeing her so flustered. It wasn't that I didn't like her--I didn't think it was possible *not* to like Donna Troy--but she usually came across as so...perfect. I knew she hated that perception, too. "Wally, I-- It wasn't like--"
While she flailed for an explanation, Cyborg tried to step in again to calm Wally down. I was still getting a feel for team dynamics and wondered if he'd always played referee. This time he picked the wrong thing to say, though. "I wouldn't have known either, if I hadn't been in the right place at the right time."
Nightwing glanced at him with a wry smile. "That day I came in looking for Garth...." ^
Cyborg smirked, an incongruous expression on his golden face. "Yeah."
Wally reacted like he'd been punched in the gut. "You too? That's..." he started, but then he tilted his head, seeming to listen to something. After a second he fixed Nightwing with a glare. "You got saved by the bell. JLA meeting page. ^ *Don't go anywhere.*" There was a brief blur of motion--faster than anyone else could see--and then he was gone.
"Ohhh...damn." Donna sighed. "I'm sorry, guys."
Nightwing shook his head. "Not your fault. He was going to be upset no matter what anyone said. My mistake."
"Say that again." Roy looked completely disgusted. "What the hell were you *thinking?*"
"I was *thinking* that I wanted to share some good news with my friends." Instead of being defensive, Nightwing countered with his own annoyance. It was a good tactic, one I used myself. "I was *hoping* they might be pleased for us."
Roy wasn't going for it, though. "Don't even. That's not what this is about."
Nightwing crossed his arms against his chest. "Then what *is* it about, Roy?"
"Forget it. I'm not helping you out of this one."
As their voices escalated, Tempest looked past my shoulder, frowning a little. "Jesse, did you see where Damage went?"
I whirled around, startled, belatedly realizing that Grant had vanished.
Why do people make everything so complicated?
So Nightwing and Tempest are dating. I mean, that's pretty sweet. They gave each other these looks--like, they didn't actually kiss, but it was a lot better than that. Didn't know Nightwing *could* look like that, all I've seen him doing is that ultra-leader thing--well, he'll joke with Flash and stuff like that, but he's still, you know, all Bat-thingy. But with Garth it was like he *melted*. Been a while since I've seen *my* parents look at each other that way....
Yeah, yeah, I know, the guy thing. Well, it is kinda a waste, 'specially Tempest. He's just *so* cute--those hands, and those *eyes*, and that butt--and he's really, *really* nice. ^ Nightwing's always doing the leader thing, like I said, and Arsenal's kinda a jerk, and Flash never holds still to talk to or anything, and he's married anyway. But Garth.... Oh, get real, Toni, you had *no* chance, even if he and big bad Nightwing hadn't taken the fall. And not such a loss, anyway, once you see them together, and, ooh, lotsa daydream material there--way major cute factor.
But I guess not everybody sees it that way.
So after the, you know, the big come-out meeting, Garth did this little, you know, brush with his hand, and murmured something to Nightwing and then moved away. I was so busy watching, it took me a minute to realize he was heading my way.
"Toni." Did I mention those eyes? They're so--I mean, it's almost like a romance novel, you totally can fall into them. "May I ask you a favor?" Oooh. Oh. Oh yeah, anything you want, honey, no problem.... Then I kicked myself hard--c'*mon*, girl, drag your brain out of the gutter. 'Least for now.
I tried to look responsible and adult. "Sure, Tempest. What is it?"
"I wondered if you could talk to Damage. See if he's--" his hands did this graceful little thing--"all right."
And that really did pop the daydreams, because all of a sudden I realized I hadn't heard a peep out of Grant this whole time, and when I glanced around he wasn't there. Ooops. Yeah, Toni, *that's* cool--get so caught up in watching 'em be sweet you totally lose track of the best friend you've got around here.
Garth nodded, like he was following what I was thinking. "He was very quiet, and I know some might be...disturbed...by the idea of this relationship."
"Yeah, like--" And then my brain caught up with my mouth--was I really about to snark on the Flash? To somebody who knows him, like, ten times better than I do? But--I mean, I know he's a hero, but he was acting like a total moron. They're supposed to be his friends, he should be happy for them.
Except Garth got a look like he was thinking the same thing. "Yes. Like that." But then he sighed, and sort of waved it away. "No, that's not fair. Wally...doesn't do very well with surprises, especially not from people that he cares about. He's hurt right now because he feels his friends were keeping secrets from him, and that makes him angry."
And, okay, that does kinda make sense. I hadn't thought about it that way. I guess I might be pissed too, if I were him--I mean, nobody tells me and Grant anything anyway, so it's not like I was expecting to know. And if Garth's okay with it, I guess I ought to be too.
"But you do see--and Nightwing and I don't want our being together to create problems. He'll talk to Wally, but if Grant is--" he did that thing with his hands again--"upset, well, I don't know that he will want to see either of us. You're his friend."
And that kinda made me--I mean, maybe I'm Janie-come-lately around here, but I *have* been paying attention, y'know? When Garth and the others talk about being friends, they don't mean somebody you go to the mall with. More like somebody you'd die for. So when he says that, it's like this huge compliment. And I'm not even sure that I *am* like that for Grant, but right then I absolutely wanted to be.
And it's not like I *don't* care. I do. And, okay, I'd probably have walked out into rush-hour traffic if Garth had given me that look and asked, but I'd've gone after Grant even without that, if I'd clued in he was having problems. I just hadn't thought about it or anything--not something we ever talked about, you know? "Hey, Grant, would it bother you if Tempest was sleeping with Nightwing?" Yeah, right.
But I know, I knew even before the last five minutes, some people it does bother, big time. Even I might think it was a little weird if I'd heard about it and couldn't see how *so* perfect they are together. And maybe it's stupid, but it's there, and you don't dump your friends 'cause they're stupid about something.
"I'll, um, go talk to him." I looked over and saw Arsenal and Nightwing standing toe-to-toe, practically shouting. "Are they, uh, gonna be okay?"
Garth smiled and whoa, swoon-city. "They'll be fine. I'd be more worried if Roy *wasn't* bellowing. It's healthier if he gets it out of his system now."
"Oh." Articulate much? I tried to sound understanding and hoped it didn't come out too stupid. "So it's like if he's that loud, he's really not that mad?"
"Something like that."
Across the room, Nightwing held up a hand to stop Roy from yelling and turned to face the rest of us. "This probably goes without saying, but I'm going to say it anyway. We wanted you all to know because you're our team, and we trust you. But I'm counting on you to make sure this *stays* in the Titans. No talking to the press or other heroes. As far as anyone else is concerned, Nightwing and Tempest are simply teammates."
Roy said something under his breath I didn't catch, but I guess Garth did, because he looked like he was trying not to laugh out loud. I was about to ask, but Garth shook his head like it didn't matter. "Roy's on a roll. But about what Nightwing said...it's important to keep in mind."
"Well, sure," I said, but I didn't get it. Superhero dating was always big tabloid news, so I didn't see why this was different. And everyone kept telling me to ask if I didn't know, so.... "Okay, wait, why? I mean, what's the big deal?"
"I don't have another identity," he said, watching my face. Girl, don't blush. "Nightwing does."
"Um, yeah..." I knew there had to be something obvious I was missing.
"And sometimes," Garth said, not sounding too much like he was talking to an idiot, "we'd like to go out in public without having to use disguises."
Duh. Well, of course Nightwing didn't live in his costume. Never mind that the idea of him *out* of costume was super hot--oh, yeah, there went the blush--I hadn't thought about that. That he, y'know, went grocery shopping and to the movies and out to eat like other people. Nightwing was all Secret Identity Guy to me, but I guess to Garth, he was...whatever his real name was. "Uh, right. Got it. No talking about it. I'll tell Grant about that too."
"Thank you, Toni. I know this is a surprise to everyone, but I hope--"
"Oh, no, it's good, it's totally great," I babbled. Oh, I so had to get out of there before I blew what little cool I had left. I didn't want to miss a second of this but Garth was expecting me to talk to Grant, and last thing I wanted was for him to think I wasn't up for it. "I'll go find Grant. Good--good luck with Roy."
He smiled again with a kinda ironic expression, this amazingly cute little twist of his lips. "We'll manage."
I took off, thinking that first, I really had to learn to stop staring, or at least figure out how to watch 'em so they didn't notice; and second, that Garth had said 'we.' Like he and Nightwing could face anything or anyone together and be okay.
I wanted to go up and hear what was going on for myself, but it was easy to see that Kory needed someone to talk to. Since she didn't seem to want to wait for anyone else to follow her, I figured that someone ought to be me. "You wanna get out of here?"
"Let's fly." I morphed myself into a green falcon and hung back a second while she took off, using the comm to call up and tell the computer to let everyone know I was with Kory. I also left a private message for Nightwing, mostly consisting of multiple variations on "what the hell?!" Then I flapped like crazy to catch up. We didn't end up going far, just down to a nearby bar that was used to having the Titans drop in ever since Vic's dad built the first Tower. Most of the time we--
Dammit, I had to stop doing that. I *wasn't* a Titan these days, partly 'cause I didn't get picked in the 'draft'...not that I could blame 'em for their choices. ^ Argent and Damage needed the training, Kory and Vic needed the support, and Jesse could fill in for Wally when he was off with the JLA. They woulda made space for me if I'd asked, but I hadn't wanted to be an eleventh wheel. Besides, I'd wanted to see if I could make a life for myself outside the team. Great experiment, right? Except it wasn't supposed to be so *lonely.*
Oh, wah. All things considered, I was doing pretty well. And now wasn't time to play 'all about Garfield.' Now was about finding out what was going on.
We got drinks, settled into a back corner booth, and Kory told me what Dick had said.
It absolutely didn't compute, you know? Nearly the whole time we'd been in the Titans together, Dick had been with Kory. I knew he'd had at least one girlfriend before her, and heard the rumors about the Huntress after. Never mind that woman he actually *married.* The guy was more of a walking chick-magnet than Harper. I remembered Flamebird, Huntress, Mirage, and even Argent staring at Nightwing after we saved Vic, watching him like a bunch'a cats about to pounce. Practically licking their whiskers. ^
There was no way I was gonna figure this myself, so I tried to work out where Kory was coming from. She was awfully upset, and I had to wonder.... "Is it because Garth's, you know, a guy?"
She just looked confused. "Why would that bother me?"
Okay, not the issue. It *was* completely out of the blue, though. "Well...but...Dick never...."
Kory shrugged slightly. "Of course not. He thought it was wrong to be with anyone but me. He slept with Joseph for a while, though." ^
No. Flippin'. Way.
I *thought*-- I *wondered*-- "When?!" I managed to squeak out.
"When I married Karras," Kory said softly. "I *told* Dick it was only a peace treaty, that he and I could still be together...but he couldn't accept that." ^
Oh, yeah, I'd heard about that afterward. And it sounded like Dick, too. "So Joey--"
"Offered him comfort." She nodded, seeming utterly at ease with the idea. "I was grateful to him for that."
I took a long, long sip of beer to collect my thoughts. Okay, technically I shouldn't have been drinking, being under the legal age and all, but since I was bright green and wearing superhero colors the bartender wasn't too eager to card me. ^ 'sides, he was too busy staring at Kory's bo--chest to pay attention to me.
Joey and Dick. Unbelievable. It was like this whole new piece of history being laid over what I already knew. Dick had been messed up when Joey died--but *all* of us had been messed up, then. Maybe that was another reason why he'd been so crazy afterward. Not only his teammate, but his...ex-boyfriend? I guess.
God. Did *Slade* know about that? ^ I couldn't imagine. As if his connections to the Titans weren't confusing enough.
I'd *been* there and hadn't caught a single clue. Except I *hadn't* really been there, since Vic and I had been busy chasing down the Hybrid and fighting Brother Blood, and by the time we were all together again, Kory had come back. ^ It'd sure looked like she and Dick would be okay after that, but I guess it turned out things weren't as good as they seemed. "So Joe, um, he was okay with you and Dick getting back together?"
Kory sighed. "I suppose. I didn't talk about it with him, and I should have, but I was too happy to be with Dick again. And I *told* Dick it didn't matter, we could be with Joey too, if he wanted--"
My whole body jolted with the shock of *that* declaration and the beer bottle slipped out of my hand, bouncing onto the table and spilling a little before I caught it. "You. Uh. Seriously?"
Kory gave me that look, the patient one she got when she was trying to explain something that was so obvious to her it shouldn't need explaining. "Joseph was my friend too, and I loved him. It didn't make sense that Dick had to give one of us up to be with the other." She fiddled with the stem of her wineglass, her nails clicking against the glass. "I'm not...stupid, Gar. I know people think I am, because of the way I look, and I don't understand that. But I do understand that humans have different ideas about love, and I respected that because I loved Dick and wanted to be with him, no matter what. He believed he could only love one person at a time, so that was the way it had to be."
"I never thought you were stupid, Kor'," I told her, and that was true. Even as dense as I'd been when we first met, I'd been able to recognize that her sincerity and openness didn't mean she was at all naïve. "I'm beginning to think Dick is, though. He has no idea how lucky he was."
Kory smiled and sipped demurely at her wine. It killed me, it really did. One second Kory seemed so innocent, and the next, she was talking about threesomes like it was nothing.
Only she *wasn't* innocent. We all knew her story, about how her own parents had given her up to be a slave to avoid a war, and while she didn't tell us exactly what happened during those six years, the Titans'd gotten a damn good idea from everything we learned later about her captors. *Horrible* things. I'd had my own share of misery, but Kory's life made mine look like a cakewalk. And she'd never been bitter about everything she'd been through, never been...broken. ^
"...you're amazing, you know that?" It slipped out before I could censor myself, but hell, she probably needed to hear that.
Kory tilted her head at me. "Gar?"
"You...just...you never give up."
Her face kind of twitched, like she was trying not to cry, and she turned sideways in her seat to stare out the window. I didn't say anything, watching her, sure I'd screwed up but not knowing exactly how. After a long couple of minutes she finally spoke again, in a voice so quiet I had to strain to listen. "I was trained as a warrior, Gar. As long as there was something to fight, something to fight *for,* I could survive anything. I didn't battle in the slave pits or the arenas because I was forced to, I fought because as long as I kept fighting there was the chance I could escape someday. I *chose* to survive everything for that chance. When I got to Earth I found other things worth fighting for. Everything the Titans did, and Dick..." her voice wavered the tiniest bit, "Dick was worth fighting for, the chance for both of us to be happy. When Dick thought he couldn't love me because we were so different, or when his mentor made it clear he didn't like me, I could win those battles. Or at least," she admitted, her mouth twisting in what might have been a smile if she hadn't been so upset, "declare a draw, like with *him.*" She meant Batman, the great and terrible. Talk about the last guy anyone would want as an in-law.
"But when things went wrong with us, there wasn't anything I could do. It wasn't like before, there wasn't anything...I could fight against to fix it. And now, I know I'm not supposed to hurt this much, I'm supposed to be glad for him, and I *am,* I honestly am, but Gar, I don't...." Kory finally looked back at me, and her eyes were swimming with tears. "I don't know how to *fight* this."
I slid out of my side of the booth and moved to sit next to her, shielding her as well as I could from the rest of the bar while she sobbed on my shoulder. The thing was, I knew what she meant. Not that she wanted to fight Garth, or force Dick to love her again, but that she didn't know how to make things okay with how *she* felt. God, I knew--when Tara died, after we all knew she was a traitor and that she'd played all of us for idiots, especially me, I'd *still* cared about her, still cried for her like she deserved it. ^
Kory and I sat there for a long time, my arms around her, and damned if I wasn't crying too.
My name is Wally West. I'm the Flash.
Today, I'm the most confused man alive.
My JLA pager went off while I was still trying to digest the shocker Dick had dropped. And honestly, I was a little bit glad to get out of there. It was...too much to handle, all at once.
You figure I should have been able to deal more easily, after Piper shared *his* revelation. But I hadn't known Piper for half my life. I hadn't grown up with him, shared some of the scariest and most exhilarating moments of my life with him, sworn to always be there if he needed me. Piper's a friend, sure, and a good one, probably better than I deserve. But he isn't my *best* friend.
That's Dick Grayson. And dammit, I should have known!
I got to the Watchtower, still fuming, and ran straight into Green Lantern. He took one look at my face and started right off with the snappy banter. "Hey, man, you look like your favorite comic book got canceled."
"Don't start with me, Kyle."
I didn't mean to snap at him, but he made such an *easy* target. Kyle and I were getting along much better these days, but I wasn't in the mood to play nice.
He must've caught a clue, because he raised his hands defensively and said, "Didn't mean anything, okay? What's wrong?"
I should have kept my mouth shut. But my better judgment struggled for half a second with my need to vent, and utterly lost. "I just found out my best friend is dating another guy--has been for months--and neither one of them told me a thing. I didn't even know either of them was *interested* in guys!"
"Ouch." Kyle whistled. "That stings. You didn't know? How long you known this guy, anyway?"
I let out a breath of utter frustration. "Most of my life. Last long-term relationship--hell, *all* of the relationships I've seen him in were with women." Though none of them had been precisely normal, either. I wasn't even really talking to GL as I muttered, "Alien princess, supposed black widow, psycho wanna-be Bat, but *women*...."
Kyle blinked behind his mask. "'Alien'...your 'best friend.' You're talking about Nightwing, aren't you?! Holy cow! Who's he dating?"
Dick was so damn eager to tell everyone, I was surprised he hadn't had Oracle make an announcement. "It'll be all over the place soon, I'm sure.... Tempest. He's with Tempest."
"Wow." Before he could say any more the transporter hummed and Kyle turned, grinning. "Batman, you're not gonna believe--"
One of the perks of being the Fastest Man Alive is that you can see the train wrecks coming and therefore sometimes divert them. A new speed record was set as for the first time in human history, a man moved faster than the speed of gossip. I clapped a red-gloved hand over Kyle's mouth. "Kyle, DON'T. Tellyoulater trustme justdon't."
I removed my hand, hoping Kyle had the sense to listen. No question that Batman knew already, half of what made him so scary was his habit of knowing things before everyone else, but I'd bet anything the last thing he wanted was people *talking* about it. Especially not to him.
Batman turned, his voice coldly curious. "You had something to say, Lantern?"
Kyle threw an irritated glare at me but answered, "Uh, no, sorry. Nothing."
"Fine. We have a meeting, let's not waste time."
Yeah, good. I could focus on that for awhile. Better than thinking about how Dick had *lied* to me all these years.
I thought maybe I'd have to hunt for Grant--the Tower's a lot bigger than you'd think. I was gonna check the gym first; I've seen him go there a couple times when he was mad. Guys.
But it turned out all I had to do was wander down the hall and find him just sort of standing there. Ohhh-kay.
He looked up at the sound of my voice, blinking. "Toni?"
"Last time I checked," I agreed. "Where you going?" Bright and clueless; it comes pretty easy, after all.
He looked around the hall like he'd never seen it before. "Nowhere, really. I just...." His voice faded off a little, and he shrugged like he didn't know what to say.
"You okay?" Okay, so "subtle" doesn't come so easy. I'm working on it.
His head jerked up and he stared at me. "What? Yeah. I mean--why do you want to know?"
"Uh, because after Garth and Nightwing made their big announcement you ran out of the room without saying anything? And now you're standing here looking like you got your last credit card canceled?" Yeah, sometimes I don't even *try* for subtle.
"I didn't run," he said defensively. "I just--left."
"And you 'left' because...?"
"Because!" he snapped, glaring. "I don't have to tell you every little thing, do I?"
My cheeks got hot, and I had my mouth open to yell something about how I didn't *care* what he told me, and excuse me for living, when I remembered the sound of all those noisy voices back in the conference room, and everything I'd just said to Garth, and I bit my tongue.
See? I do have impulse control. Really.
So my voice was totally calm and under control when I said, "You *don't* have to. I just thought you might want to. You know. If there was anything wrong."
He scowled at me suspiciously for a minute, but I gave him my best wide-eyed of-course-you-can-trust-me look, and he relaxed a little.
"It's not," he started. "I mean, I'm not. Or...I guess I am, 'cause I'm..." he threw up his hands. "Doing this."
"Grant, I can babble fluently, and even I'm not following this." Okay, maybe I should have said something more supportive or encouraging, but cut me some slack. I don't have a whole lot of experience here. I was kinda hoping he'd smile, actually, but no such luck.
He did get more coherent, though. Good enough. "I...it's weird."
"Tempest and Nightwing," I said, to keep up my side of the conversation.
"Yeah." He looked at me like he hoped I felt the same. "Don't you think it's weird?"
I bit my tongue again--if I said "weirdly sexy, maybe," he was gonna have an aneurysm. Some things guys don't need to know. "I think weird is the flavor of the month around here, Grant. This is a lot more normal than aliens." And silver-skinned half-alien me has some idea what I'm talking about, here.
Grant flexed his hands a little, slow, probably thinking about his own varieties of weird. "I know. I know," he sighed. "It shouldn't be a big deal."
"But it's bugging you anyway." Not like I need to be a mind-reader to figure *that* one.
"Yeah. I just...I don't want to think about it. At all. It makes my stomach twist up."
Again: *guys*. Oh, all right, it's not just guys. But still.
He looked really unhappy, though, almost as pale as me. So I tried not to say it like that, exactly. "They're in love, Grant. They're not doing anything wrong."
He thought about that for a minute. "No...." he said softly. "No, I guess I get that part."
"I should hope," I grinned. "It's *so* sweet, you know?"
He looked at me like I'd lost my mind. "Toni, it's *Nightwing*."
"So? It's still sweet."
He shook his head. "Girls." I decided to ignore that.
"So, you think you're going to be okay?" Hmm. Note for future interventions, stock up on patience. Oh well, already out of my mouth....
He thought about it. "I don't know," he admitted. "I still think it's--"
"Weird?" I supplied.
He scowled at me. "Something like that. I can't just stop thinking things, you know?"
I bit my lip. Being friends only goes so far. "They're going to be around, Grant," I warned him. "I don't think they're gonna be thrilled if you...do anything."
"I won't," he said, shaking his head hard. "I won't do anything, ever. I know...." his mouth curved in a sort-of smile. "I know how to play by the rules. And I don't want anyone mad at me."
Something about his face kinda made me want to give him a hug. But I wasn't sure how he'd take it, so I offered, "I'm not mad at you."
His face relaxed into a grin. "Gee, thanks." Laughing at me, the jerk.
"I could definitely *get* mad," I warned him.
"Yeah, I'm terrified."
"Hey, I could take you." And I could, too. Probably. If I used my powers and took advantage of the fact that he wouldn't want to blast me, and it's not cheating if you win, right...? But the others could be coming by any time, and seeing me try to strangle Grant with my plasma bands wouldn't exactly impress Garth with my maturity.
Which reminded me of something. "Oh! Garth wanted me to tell you, we're not supposed to talk about them. To anyone but the Titans, I mean. So they can protect Nightwing's secret identity."
He thought about that for a minute, probably doing the same he-doesn't-*live*-in-that-costume? math I had. "Secret identities. Right. Must be nice."
I knew what he meant, probably better than he did. Grant can at least walk down the street without getting stared at. And yeah, sure, I *love* getting stared at. "Unique and spectacular" beats "like everyone else," big-time. But...sometimes it would be nice if I could be normal, just for a *little* while. "Yeah. But if *we* were dating, we could say so."
Grant's eyes went wide and his face went red as I realized that that hadn't come out exactly the way I meant it. "I mean, if *either* of us were dating. Someone else. Not like if *we* were dating. 'Cause we're not." Around there I managed to shut my mouth, before anything else made it out. *Really* smooth, Toni.
"Right. 'Cause we're not," he agreed, so fast I was almost kind of insulted. Except more relieved, really.
It's not that I haven't thought about it, trust me. Grant's cute, he's got decent taste in music and movies, and, okay, so he's kind of moody sometimes, but I've seen way worse. And he's the only guy my age around here.
Which is the problem. I can think ahead sometimes, you know? Oh, shut up, I can too. And I can figure what happens if Grant and I start going out...and then we break up. All *kinds* of bad--you ever tried breaking up with someone you have to keep *living* with? Me neither, don't wanna go there. And I wouldn't be able to talk to him anymore. Donna and Garth are great, they really are, but they're *adults*. And like everyone else around here, they're all plugged into this known-each-other-for-years thing. It's cool, honest. Thinking I'm part of something like *that*. But it's nice not being the only new kid around, too, you know?
And not just 'cause I'm not the only one still screwing up her powers. Though, you know, not knocking that part.
All of which is why I try not to think about it. Maybe him, too, he backed off *real* fast that one time I was sure he was about to...but maybe only 'cause Garth walked in. Anyway. Whatever. Change the subject, standing here staring at each other is a Bad Thing.
"So. Um. You're good? About everything?"
It took him a minute. "Um, yeah. Good. Fine." Well, at least I got his mind off thinking about the guys. That's good, right? "I think I'm, um, going to go down to the gym." See, what'd I tell you? Not that I was complaining, right then.
"Right. You do that. Catch you later." When we'll be able to pretend we didn't say any of this.
Okay, maybe it's not just other people who make everything so complicated....
Roy had stalked out of the room shortly after Toni left, using the excuse of tucking Lian into bed to escape. I hoped he'd be in a calmer mood when he came back. The five of us still in the room looked at each other, not quite knowing what to say, until Vic wisecracked, "Tune in next week, on 'As the Tower Turns'...."
We all laughed. "Wouldn't miss an episode," Jesse confirmed, which was funny but also kind of revealing. Jesse still felt like an outsider, like she was watching the team rather than being part of it. Most of us had formed our friendships back when we were teenagers, so it was natural that she felt a little left out. I'd tried to make it clear that she was welcome, but Jesse and I were so inherently different, it was hard to find a level we could connect on. I especially didn't want to come across as the resident pushy den mother. But we liked her, and as far as I knew she liked us, so I thought it'd all work out in time.
"I don't know about anyone else," Dick said, a bit too cheerfully, "but I could use a snack. Who's up for a couple of pizzas?"
Garth sounded both amused and exasperated. "Any excuse for the junk food."
"You bet." Dick grinned, glancing at me. "Found a place that'll deliver to the Tower yet?"
Given that the Titans tended to live on take-out, it was more than an idle question. "Not officially. Our insurance doesn't cover delivery boys, and all the nearby restaurants have a strict policy." Dick started to frown, and I added quickly, "*But* they'll take bribes to come to the Manhattan and Queens shorelines and we can fly over or take the barge for pick up."
"Excellent. Kids'll probably want some, and Roy...Jesse, how about you? Stick around for awhile?"
I admit, I was absolutely expecting her to plead work, that she had to be getting back home to prepare for some business meeting tomorrow, but after a moment's hesitation she smiled. "Sure."
Part of me wondered if she'd agreed so easily because it was *Dick* who asked. But then, he's the only one who speaks the language she seems to understand best. Nightwing was the kind of competent, 'professional' hero she wanted to be. It wasn't that Jesse didn't respect the rest of us, but she was definitely looking for structure--and Dick, at least on the surface, seemed to have all the parts of his life integrated. I wasn't about to spill the truth about how thin that façade really was.
"Great." Dick glanced at me again, and I got the unspoken cue.
"Come on, I'll show you where we hid the menus." I started toward the door, Dick following.
We walked through the corridors, heading for the kitchen, and some perverse impulse kept me from making small talk. Probably petty revenge for the way Dick had sprung the news on Wally, never mind the rest of us. Granted I'd had a good idea about what was going on beforehand, but still....
We'd actually gotten as far as the entrance to the kitchen dome before he said, "I should have told you before."
"Uh-huh." I shot him a *look,* and he grinned weakly.
"I'm sorry. You know I'm lousy at stuff like this."
Old, old excuse, and not as true anymore as he wanted everyone to believe. But I wasn't in the mood to call him on it. "Apologize to Wally and we'll be even."
"Huh. Right." Dick studied me from behind the mask while I rooted through the drawer for the take-out menu. "You weren't surprised."
"Well, I'd talked to Garth--"
He nodded. "I know, but he said he didn't tell you about me, so?"
"I, um." I glanced at him sideways. I was fairly sure about my suspicions, but didn't know how he'd take my knowing about it. For a team that was supposedly closer than any other, we still kept too many secrets from each other. "You never talked about it and neither did he, but I got the feeling something had happened between you and Joey on Tamaran."
"Yeah." There were *volumes* of feeling behind that single word, most of it painful. But also, I thought, a kind of relief in being able to say it out loud. "I wish I'd talked to you then."
He was talking about the 'affair,' but I knew he was thinking about everything that happened to Joey afterward. Looking back, that had been the beginning of so much else that had gone wrong, both for the team and for all of us personally. "Dick," I said, wanting to make it absolutely clear, "Joe's death wasn't your fault. *None* of us saw what was going on."
"My team, my responsibility. My *friend,*" Dick said with pointed emphasis, "who helped keep me sane. I'm not talking about whose fault it was, I'm talking about the fact that I was too absorbed in my own concerns to notice what was happening to him."
"We all were. You don't have an exclusive on that fact." But then, no one does guilt like the Bat-folks. It was pointless to argue about it. "But all that aside, I put two and two together when Garth and I talked. I'm glad, Dick, I really am."
"Yeah. Me too." He smiled a little, shy and sweet, and that was almost enough to forgive him everything. But somehow it felt important for him to know that *I* knew it hadn't been a flawless romance.
"Dick, one thing?"
"Whatever you did before, that hurt Garth so badly--don't do it again."
He started, then looked away. When he turned back to me, his voice was shaded with guilt and regret. "I won't. Believe me, I won't."
"Good. 'cause you know, I'll--"
"--kick your ass," he finished with me. "I know. I don't want to be on the receiving end again."
He wasn't being serious, but I winced anyway. That was one of my most shameful memories, the fact that I'd lashed out physically at one of my closest friends. Dick had rolled with the blow, but still...I could have hurt him badly. Or worse. I'd seriously overreacted to the stress and done the unthinkable.
"Oh, hey, Donna. Bad joke." Dick reached over and lifted my chin with his gloved hand. "Ancient history. And I deserved it, anyway. I was being an ass."
"You had reason." That had been right after Dick returned to Earth and found the team in a shambles. So many crises had erupted while he was gone, and I hadn't been able to handle them all. Another reason among so many why Dick was the Titans' leader, and not me. It wasn't a job I ever wanted again.
"So we were both out of line. Forget it," Dick said firmly. He took the menu from my hand and turned toward the phone.
I listened to him place the order, musing. Even with all the tension and anger and other emotions flowing around the room, I liked what I'd seen between the two of them. It felt...solid. Dick could use that kind of stability in his life.
Secretly, though, I was probably even more pleased for Garth's sake. What I'd said to Kory was true, but it was also true that Dick had...far more *opportunities* to find love. We teased him about how everyone he met fell in love with him, but it was only half a joke. Garth's had more than his fair share of lovers--I knew enough about *that* phase of his life--but there were so few people he truly let into his heart. A lot of that was bound up in his fear of losing someone else who'd meant as much to him as Tula did. But once I thought about it, it wasn't any surprise to me that he'd felt Dick was worth the risk. It was all bound up in the bonds between the first five Titans, and how much we were part of the events that shaped each others' lives. If Garth had finally been ready to love again, it only made sense that he'd look first to someone he already knew and cared about.
I'd always felt close to Garth, even when we hadn't seen each other for awhile. That feeling had grown stronger in the last few years, after both of us had lost the person we thought we'd spend the rest of our lives with. I hoped-- I *prayed*--that he and Dick could make it work. The Titans had seen so much hardship and tragedy, it was like a ray of hope to believe some of us might find a happy ending.
After the meeting I waited for it. One second. Two. Thr--
"Flash, a word with you."
I took a deep breath and followed Batman to the side of the conference chamber. When the Bat used *that* voice, it evoked the image of every single thing you ever might have done wrong. Sort of like the Drill Sergeant from Hell.
"You were at Titans' Tower earlier tonight."
It wouldn't've surprised me to learn he'd tagged me with a Bat-tracking device, but more probably he simply knew when all the teams tended to gather. Best to get this over with. "Yeah. Nightwing and Tempest were there." I didn't need to add any more.
He studied me from beneath the cowl. "You're upset."
Didn't take the World's Greatest Detective to catch *that* one. I took a moment, then met the Bat's eye-slits. I had a brief but vivid flashback: this was exactly like when I was fourteen and utterly in awe of Robin's mentor. Some things never changed. "Dick is my best friend, sir, and I didn't know. Not only Garth, I mean, the whole *idea*--" I cut myself off before I started to babble.
I got one of those famous noncommittal "Hhh" sounds and then he said, "Flash, I'm certain Nightwing didn't keep this from you out of..." he seemed to be hunting for the right words, a rare occurrence in and of itself, "...malice, or negligence. He's always considered you to be his closest friend."
That was more than Batman had *ever* said to me about a personal matter. I was still processing the idea that he might actually be trying to comfort me when he switched gears entirely to his 'report, soldier!' tone. "Your impression?"
"Aside from being completely weirded out?" I said before I could stop myself, and which he ignored. It finally occurred to me later that he was still trying to help in his own way, making me think about what I'd seen rather than how I *felt.* At the time, all I could figure was that this was his way of checking up on Dick. It seemed almost normal that Batman would ask me instead of, you know, picking up the phone. "Oh, Dick was thrilled with himself."
Funny how one word can stop you in your tracks. Or maybe it was a special quality of that tone. "I don't know. He-- I--" I shut my mouth and let my brain run instead.
Dick had been thrilled, yeah, but with apprehension beneath it, like he was nervous about our reactions. With damn good reason, too. But there was also this *look* on his face, like I hadn't seen since...his interrupted wedding to Kory? That was three years ago, already. I knew that look, because it was the same whacked-between-the-eyes-with-the-goofy-stick expression I had on every morning, waking up and realizing Linda was next to me. Like everything else didn't matter, as long as that were true. Like he was--
Dammit. There were times I absolutely hated this guy. But it probably would have taken either this or Diana's lasso to get me to admit what I hadn't wanted to see. "He, uh. He looks happy. More than in a long time." Batman stood patiently, waiting for me to finish telling him what he no doubt already knew. "...And I don't know Garth as well as I used to, since he's changed I mean, but I know he...." I realized it was the truth even as I said it. "He'd never do anything to hurt Dick. I'm sure of it."
"I would hope not," Batman said in a low growl, then motioned back toward the others. "You might restrain Lantern before he informs the *rest* of the world." I turned to see Kyle gesticulating enthusiastically and grinning like crazy. J'onn was nodding, appearing not at all surprised, and Diana seemed gently amused. Plastic Man's jaw had literally hit the floor. Superman looked frankly astonished and Arthur--Arthur looked completely thunderstruck.
When Superman glanced over our way, I realized he must be looking for Batman, to judge *his* reaction; but of course he had already disappeared.
Couldn't blame him, I guess.
I zipped over and grabbed Kyle's arm, pulling him away from the others. "Kyle, take it down a notch, okay?"
"Sorry, it's *great* gossip!"
I rolled my eyes. "Yeah, well, still."
"What WAS that with Batman, anyway?"
"You don't--oh, jeez, you don't know." I couldn't resist the barb. Like I said, he made it *easy.* "Sometimes I forget you've only been GL for like ten minutes and don't know all the history."
Kyle snorted. "Gee. Thanks. You gonna tell me or are you gonna hold that over me forever?"
Tempting, but... "Nah. See...once upon a time there were the Teen Titans, the best group of sidekicks in the business. I was Kid Flash, Donna was Wonder Girl, Garth was Aqualad, Roy was Speedy, and Nightwing...used to be Robin."
It took Kyle a second. "Robin. You mean, like 'Batman and.'"
His face filled with horror. "And I almost--"
Kyle gulped. "Oh, man, I OWE you."
Before I could mock him any more a heavy hand fell on my shoulder. "Flash, is this true?!"
I turned, honestly surprised, to see Aquaman's more-intent-than-usual scowl. "Garth didn't--uh, yes, it's true." I repeated what I'd said to Batman. "He looked happy."
Arthur grunted and turned away, looking--upset? Angry? I couldn't tell. Why hadn't Garth...? J'onn's voice kept me from pursuing it. "Are you quite all right, Wally?"
"Huh? Yeah." I fell into my chair, pulled the mask back, and scrubbed a hand through my hair. "I'm still kinda reeling, that's all. I didn't have a *clue,* and he's supposed to be my best friend...."
"Perhaps he had reason. But in any case, perhaps you should talk to him? If this...unsettles you."
I was unsettled, all right, but not the way J'onn was hinting at. "It's not--it's that I didn't *know.* If he's happy, great, I'm happy. I hate feeling so...left out, that's all. Everyone seemed to know before I did. Even YOU didn't look surprised."
J'onn hesitated a moment before he spoke. "I admit, I saw them both a week ago. As you say...they seemed in exceptionally good spirits."
"Great. Fabulous." I started to seethe again. "Batman knew. Troia, Cyborg, you...his freakin' *landlady* probably knew before he finally decided to tell me." J'onn's quiet cough reminded me not to spill Nightwing's identity. "Yeah, yeah. I'll talk to him."
"Wally." Kyle's voice was full of barely restrained hilarity. "If I ever decide to come out of the closet I SWEAR you'll be the first person I tell."
"Very funny." Okay, enough of this. Better to find Dick and get it off my chest than mope about it. "See you guys later."
Oracle had summoned Garth for a relayed video call shortly after Donna and I went back to the rec room. Personal, not team business, Barbara's computerized voice said.
He was gone for awhile, and finally I excused myself and went to see if there was some kind of problem. First stop was the monitor room--if he was still busy with his call, I wouldn't interrupt.
The door was closed.
Closed doors could be...interesting. They were interesting when they hid mystery; when clues to puzzles to be solved were still behind them, waiting for me to reveal their secrets. This door was interesting both because it was shut, and because of the sounds coming from behind it.
I heard voices, low, almost hushed. Hard for me to hear without actually going up to the door and putting either an ear or one of the surveillance devices hidden in my costume to it, and I wasn't about to do that.
Ironically, had our positions been reversed, Garth's sensitive hearing would have been able to hear the conversation going on behind the closed door with little trouble. Garth would have also been able to understand the exchange, because the conversation was in Atlantean. I'd picked up a few words, enough to identify the language if not to translate it.
The other thing I picked up from the voices was the tone. Anger. Controlled, very polite, very civilized anger. That, plus the fact that Barbara had summoned Garth for the call via Oracle's JLA hookup, identified the caller as Arthur.
I repeated my resolve not to interrupt. He would tell me what was going on when he came out of there. I hoped.
Five minutes later, the door opened. Garth began to let the door slam shut, only to catch the edge with his hand, stopping the swing and deliberately closing the door gently. Too gently.
Garth said nothing, simply looking away from the door and toward me. The anger I saw in his face--an expression I rarely glimpsed--caused Garth's jaw to clench tight, drawing his lips into a thin, hard line. His eyes were glittering a flat, hard amethyst. The flecks of various shades of violet that gave his eyes warmth and life were gone. His expression, coupled with the force with which Garth had almost slammed the door, impelled me to cross to him in one quick motion. I put an arm around his shoulders and steered him to the couch on the wall outside the monitor room.
Garth sat, posture stiff and unyielding, arms folded tightly across his chest. "I don't want to talk about it."
"Uh-uh," I chided. "That's my gig. Not yours." I attempted to wrap a smile around the words, but even as I said them, I knew my attempt at humor had fallen flat. "C'mon, Garth. You've put up with my troubles and tribulations. It's my turn now. What's wrong?"
"That was Arthur," Garth said simply, as if that were enough explanation.
I nodded slowly. "And...?" I prompted.
Then, finally: "And when I see Wally, I'm going to throttle him."
"This is a two plus two that's not adding up to four, Garth. Help me out here."
"Wally, our dear and trusted friend...what's the expression? Oh, yes...he spilled his guts about us."
"What!" I turned toward Garth, moving to the edge of the sofa's seat. "He didn't."
"In front of the entire JLA."
I groaned. "West is a dead man." That was a whole potential can of worms to deal with, but at the moment, there was only one who mattered. "So, that means Arthur knows."
"And he's mad about it? Damn him. What right does he have to be angry about us?"
"It's not that, Robbie," Garth sighed. "It's that he found out the way he did. He's embarrassed, and that makes him angry."
"What, did he expect an engraved announcement or something?" My tone was resentful in a way Garth's wasn't, expressing the bitterness that Garth couldn't--or wouldn't.
Garth shook his head lightly, sending inky curls rippling across his forehead. "He expected to hear it from me directly."
Which only made sense, but I wasn't in the mood to accord Arthur that kind of consideration. It didn't bother me one bit that he'd found out by accident. Far as I was concerned, Garth didn't need to agonize about it either. But I wanted to hear his reasoning. Why?"
"I don't know. I don't know why he expects anything from me. He...." Garth's voice trailed off in resignation, but I knew the underlying anger was still there. "I thought we had settled this. My personal life, anything that didn't have to do with my official duties, was clearly beneath his notice. I'd learned to accept that."
Saying nothing, I studied his expression. Everything about him, his posture, his tone, his words, belied his statement. Oh, it still bothered him. He cared deeply. I just wasn't sure about what it was Garth cared about. Arthur's approval? Lack of warmth? Lack of respect? Lack of interest?
Garth sighed again. "Robbie, I'd prefer not to talk about this now. It's too complicated."
"Hey, this is me, remember? The poster child for complicated mentor-student relationships."
"This isn't that kind of complicated. It's...." His voice trailed off again. "Maybe later," he finally offered. "I want to think on it further. Maybe I can make some sense of it...and then make sense of it to you."
I knew avoidance when I heard it. Still, he was probably right that this wasn't the time or place.
"How much d'you want to bet the others are talking about us right now?" I said lightly, letting him know I was willing to let it go for the moment.
He smiled gratefully. "No bet. I hope Grant is all right with this."
"He'll have to be." I shrugged and got up, offering Garth a hand. If Grant did have a problem with us, he'd be wise to work it out for himself. I wasn't about to tolerate homophobia on my own team.
Garth shook his head at my tone. "Be easy with everyone, Dick, they're reacting out of surprise. Give them time to process it." He took my hand, squeezing gently as he stood.
I heard the unspoken criticism and smiled ruefully. "I made a mess of it, didn't I."
"It wasn't...the most diplomatic revelation, no," he agreed, "though I have to admit it was worth it for the look on Roy's face."
"We're never going to hear the end of that." I rolled my eyes. "Keep me from killing him, that's all I ask."
Garth's mouth twitched upward into a faint smile, and I was relieved to see it. "You haven't yet."
"'Yet' being the critical word."
Getting my daughter settled into bed was a guaranteed way of putting everything else in perspective. As in, as long as she was safe and happy, everything else could be dealt with.
Lian picked up that something was bothering me--she didn't miss much--but accepted it when I told her it was grown-up stuff. Sometimes I wondered if I was doing the right thing, raising her here in the Tower, given the Titans were such a visible target. Watching the news any night of the week reminded me that the world outside wasn't any safer; and besides, I knew everyone on the team would protect Lian with everything they had.
I hadn't wanted to reenter the Twilight Zone of Big Gay Love but there was no avoiding it. I'd still have been half convinced it was a joke except that Dick's sense of humor wasn't that good. Or that bad. Which meant it had to be true, and the whole thing was so unbelievably weird I couldn't even begin to sort it out. I figured it'd be best to keep my mouth shut--big damn deal, I know--until I got a better sense of things.
I'd come back in right as Oracle called Garth to the monitor room. Couple of minutes later Dick got up and followed. I caught Donna's arm and pulled her to the side once Dick had cleared the door. "What do you really think?"
She looked surprised that I'd even ask. "I'm happy for them, of course."
"Yeah, but--is it a *good* thing?"
"Why wouldn't it be?"
Yeah, yeah, Amazon teaching, Paradise Island, everyone living in perfect harmony, yadda yadda yadda. The real world didn't work that way. "Robbie's going to cop school. How're *they* gonna take it?"
Donna answered with the utter faith I should've expected. "Dick can handle it."
"Sure." I kept my reservations to myself and chewed on my lip for a second. "You, uh, didn't tell me...." Not as if she owed me that, we were only sleeping together, no strings attached. In theory.
"I only guessed. Honestly. It was some things Garth said, his spending time in Blüdhaven, things like that. I didn't want to say until I knew for sure." She glanced into my eyes. "You're not mad?"
"'Course not." I smiled and Donna looked relieved. "Not at *you.*"
She frowned and started to say, "Roy, don't--" and then she stopped herself and eyed me thoughtfully. "Okay, I know better than to believe you're actually upset. What's this *really* about?"
Having people around who know you better than you know yourself sounds nice in theory. It sucks in practice. "Where the hell was I during all this?"
"They haven't been around much--" she started, but I didn't want to hear that.
"Fleetfeet at least has an excuse. Between things blowing up in Keystone and the JLA, he's barely got time to touch base with the Titans. *You* knew, and you've been out working on your photography thing. Me, I haven't been doing anything except taking care of Lian, and even that's been here."
I paused for a breath. This time Donna didn't say anything, letting me rant until I ran out of steam. Like I said, she knew me.
"And, you know, I like to think I'm at least moderately observant. How the hell did I miss this? Dick's a good actor, yeah, but Christ, I always thought Garth was less...devious than that. Or at least less secretive," I amended. "Not that we've ever been super-close, but still, I woulda thought, something like this...unless they didn't *want* me to know, like they thought I couldn't handle it or something." And if that was the case, I *was* going to be pissed off. That was Wally's gig, not mine, and Dick at least should have known that.
"Or maybe," I said before I made myself stop, "they didn't think it was important to let me know."
That was a particularly dark and ugly train of thinking, way too familiar. It wasn't about their secrecy, it was about my own doubts. Vaguely muttering thoughts in the back of my head that they didn't owe me anything, I was lucky to be with the Titans anyway, ex-junkie loser that I was.
Donna was always good at providing a reality check. "First off," she said with complete certainty, "it wasn't about you at all. They weren't telling *anyone.* Not even me, and I'm supposed to be everyone's confidante." She gave a small, self-deprecating laugh. "Garth talked to me, but not in specifics, and I'd bet that's because Dick wasn't, uh, ready to deal with everyone yet. I got the idea..." Donna hesitated slightly, "there was something else going on. They weren't...together the whole time, I got that much from Garth, even when he didn't tell me who it was."
Interesting. And typical, if I knew Grayson. But-- "You knew it was a guy? When Garth talked to you?"
"Uh-huh. And that was a private conversation, I wasn't going to share that even if I hadn't suspected it was Dick."
"No, I wouldn't have expected you to." Everyone talked to Donna *because* she didn't blab the private stuff.
Garth would talk to Donna before he talked to anyone else, I got that. And Dick theoretically would have told Wally first if he was going to talk about it at all, so I hadn't been cut out of the loop on purpose. I could live with that. But that didn't answer how I hadn't seen anything before--and not just recently, either.
It wasn't like a longstanding case of denial--both of 'em would've been married already if things had gone differently, and nobody who'd seen Dick with Kory and Garth with Tula would ever say those relationships were any kind of cover. Some sudden realization? Except that didn't seem to fit. Which meant most likely both of them had been interested in guys all along, and I *had* missed it.
It bugged me, and I couldn't say why. "Did you know either of them liked guys? Before this?"
"Neither of them ever specifically talked about it to me." Donna's careful answer told me all I needed to know. She doesn't lie, but you can tell as much from what she *doesn't* say. They hadn't told her, but she'd intuited something anyway. No point in my asking what she'd picked up on; chances were it wasn't even anything specific she could point to. Donna wasn't actually empathic, far as I knew, but she was as close to it as you could get without being psychic.
"What I don't understand," I said slowly, "is what the big secrecy was about."
Donna knew exactly what I was getting at. "I don't know. I guess...mostly because it wasn't a factor. I mean, Dick was with Kory for so long...and did you ever ask Garth if he was seeing anyone in all this time?" She didn't need for me to answer that and went on, looking a little guilty. "I didn't either. He wasn't around much, but it's been five years since Tula died. We just didn't...think about it."
There was nothing to say to that, because it was true. It'd been too easy to see Garth as some kind of...ascetic. Lost his One True Love, never to love again, all that jazz. Maybe if I'd asked, I wouldn't have been so flat-footed by all this. It wasn't fair to accuse him of hiding the truth when I hadn't thought to ask for it, and Donna was right anyway about his being out of touch for long periods of time.
Dick, though...Dick had deliberately been keeping secrets. His prerogative, and absolutely in his nature, and also none of my damn business. Which wouldn't stop me from giving him crap about it, of course. That was my other Titans' job, far as I was concerned, aside from kicking bad guy ass.
Don't know what I would've seen even if I'd been aware, though. Dick wasn't exactly the statement-making type. Like Donna said, he was with Kory all those years...and I was gonna drive myself crazy trying to figure this out. Some things, I guess, can't be explained.
So all that aside...Dick and Garth as a couple. Not to go all Keanu, but *whoa.* It wasn't even a question of "never would have believed it"--more like, never would have even *thought* of it. Strictly personality-wise, never mind anything else. If I'd ever thought Dick had a type...well, Garth wasn't it, judging by the women I knew he'd dated. Probably not a good comparison, but what else did I have to go on? There'd been Kory, and then...huh. That Emily girl, who had turned out to be part of a case Dick was working. We'd all thought that sudden "marriage" was bizarre anyway. So she didn't count. Only other one I could think of was Huntress, and man, everything I'd heard about her pointed toward the uh, "fiery-tempered" type. Like Kory.
Donna had been watching me while I thought it over. "So?"
"So I don't get it. But love is deaf, stupid, and blind, so what the hell do I know?"
She laughed softly. "In their case I'd say it had a fine sense of aesthetics, but that's my prurient interest talking."
"Thank you for sharing. Also, mental images, very disturbing."
Donna raised an amused eyebrow. "So are you telling me that if it had been, say, Kory and Raven making that announcement, your thoughts would have remained pure?"
I groaned. "Again, mental images. Only disturbing in a whole *other* way. A not-for-public-display way."
She grinned at me. "So tell me all about it later. In private."
People--meaning Wally--tend to think of Donna as innocent. I'm grateful to have reason to know otherwise. "It's a date. I tell you what, though...."
"*He's* gonna explain this to Lian."
Roy had pulled Donna off for a private discussion. I turned down my audio sensors, not wanting to intrude, and glanced at Jesse. "You okay?"
Jesse started and turned to me. "Sure. Just thinking. This, uh, won't make any difference to the team, will it?"
"Don't see why it should," I answered, going for casual, "it worked fine when Robbie was dating Kory."
She nodded. "Okay, good."
I didn't know her very well yet, but I'd gotten the impression that Jesse was like Dick in more ways 'n one--both of 'em practiced at hiding their emotions. "You were only worried about the team? I was wondering, 'cause I'd figured you were maybe interested in Nightwing yourself."
"Oh!" Jesse blushed. "N-no, not seriously."
I grinned, letting her know it honestly was a joke. "You'd be the first, then. I mean, he's not my type, you understand, but I thought the 'Nightwing effect' was universal among the female members of the Titans. An' some of the male ones, I guess."
She gave me a quick, examining look before allowing herself to laugh. That more'n anything told me Jesse was still trying to figure her place on the team, modifying her responses to fit. I wondered how long it'd take until she felt comfortable enough with us to say what she really thought. I could see why Wally and Dick had wanted her for the Titans, though. Jesse had drive, intelligence, and a gift for tactical thinking. Once she learned to relax, she could be a key player on the team.
"Vic," I told her patiently, "told you before to call me Vic."
She smiled shyly. "Vic. Obviously, if I knew them better, I might be more emotionally involved...but I was thinking, it'd make an interesting thesis."
"Oh?" Have to admit, I didn't like the sound of that--I'd had more'n my share of people looking at me like a bug under the microscope.
Jesse caught my tone, flushed a little, and added quickly, "Not that I'd ever write it, of course."
I guess I could understand that Jesse tended to think analytically first, rather than emotionally. More a matter of habit than like she was here to *study* us. "So what kind of thesis?"
"Well." She glanced at my face, saw that I was interested, and launched almost unconsciously into 'lecture' mode. "There's always a lot of speculation about the, uh, personal lives of heroes. Especially their sexuality, given the flamboyance of costumes and codenames. Young, sexy, flashy, clearly in good shape, full of adrenaline and pheromones and not afraid to show off their bodies...." She dropped her instructor's tone. "I'm talking about public opinion, of course."
"Of course," I said, straight-faced.
She grinned. "Okay, the hero gossip line isn't any better. But I was thinking, for all that the public expects heroes as a group to be more...experimental, 'alternative,' it isn't really so, at least not that I've seen. Granted my main focus of study was the Justice Society, and social mores were stricter then. Still, the only gay hero I specifically know of was Dr. Mid-Nite, the first one. Charles McNider." She paused. "I met him, not long before he died. He was kind."
I didn't keep up much with JSA history, but I knew about the big stuff. "I'd heard he'd been killed."
"Along with Hourman and the original Atom. They were my parents' friends." She sighed slightly, then went on, following her premise. "Aside from Mid-Nite, there was always gossip about Hippolyta, but that was probably more because of the Amazon myth than anything, and I've heard that she actually had a long-standing affair with Wi--uh." She stopped herself mid-word. "That's unsubstantiated rumor and I probably shouldn't repeat it."
"You could ask Donna, if you want to find out for sure," I said, amused. "If she doesn't know, she could ask Wonder Woman."
She paused for a moment. "I hadn't thought of that. Huh." Then she shook her head. "No, it's none of my business."
"So what's your conclusion, professor?"
Jesse had on a slightly faraway look. "I think we've all chosen an extremely dangerous profession, and that despite all the inevitable speculation, it doesn't *matter* what anyone thinks if you find someone who--who is willing to share those risks with you."
She sounded pensive, and more vulnerable in that one moment than I'd ever seen her. Then she glanced at me and grimaced. "Profound, right?"
"Got it in one, though." Her comments made me think about Sarah again. It had hurt when I found out she was dating someone new...but then, it hadn't been fair to expect her not to go on with her life while I was gone. I figured it'd be easier if I kept my distance, but damned if I didn't still miss her.
"I was also thinking," Jesse said, changing the subject and keeping me from getting all weepy, "that it's interesting that Nightwing trusts us with this, but not with his name. Trusts Argent and Damage and me, I mean," she amended, "the rest of you already know who he is."
She was trying hard to make it an objective observation, stated clinically rather than resentfully. Did pretty well, too. "He's got reasons."
"Oh, I understand that. I can even guess at some of them. It's...not what I'm used to. By association, I mean. The Justice Society didn't hide who they were from each other." She shook her head, frowning. "And I should remind myself that this isn't the JSA and that the same standards don't apply."
There was a wistfulness hidden deep in her tone, like a little girl left on the sidelines while the other kids played ball without her. "You want my honest opinion, Jesse, I think Nightwing would've told you the first day you joined, if he could've. Far as I've seen, with the Titans he's always been more open than anywhere else."
Maybe that wasn't *exactly* as true anymore, not after Terra, but I didn't think that factored into Dick's thinking about his ID, at least as far as Jesse was concerned. She wasn't a security risk, not that way.
"Like in Gotham, for example?" she asked, sounding almost defiant.
"Yeah." I didn't want to sound like I was talking down to her, but she had to understand. "If you know that, you know why he's got to be so careful."
Jesse tilted her head at me, her gaze sharply inquisitive. "So he's under orders?"
"Not...exactly. Not that I know of, anyway." Personally, I thought that if Batman had actually tried to give that kind of order, Dick would've told him to cram it sideways. "More like keeping his own secret out of respect for other people's. Think of it this way--if your mother wasn't who she was and capable of defending herself, would you be as willing to share your ID?"
She didn't answer right away, seeming to give the question serious consideration. "I take your point. And Cyborg--Vic--I'm honestly not angry at Nightwing over the identity issue. It's more that I wish it didn't have to be that way. That things could be simpler."
More like they used to be, I thought she meant. I guessed Jesse probably had a romanticized view of what the JSA had really been like, but then, she'd grown up hearing their stories from her mom and dad. All she'd ever wanted was to follow in their footsteps.
Argent wandered back in, glanced around, and seemed vaguely disappointed that Dick and Garth weren't in the room. Cute girl, but not very subtle. "Hey, kiddo, everything all right?"
She nodded, walking over our way after another quick look at the door. "Sure. Grant's a little weirded out but, you know, okay. He needs some time to get used to the idea. It's cool."
Right then Wally stalked in, scowling like a thundercloud. Jesse took one look at his face and winced, then turned to Toni. "Nightwing ordered a bunch of pizzas. Want to fly out with me and see if they're ready?"
"Okay," Toni agreed, probably more out of politeness than anything.
I'd been listening into the hall, and heard the sounds of two sets of footsteps approaching. "Might want to go now, if you want to miss the explosion," I told Jesse, winking, and she grinned at me.
"Going," she spoke her speed formula, "'3X2(9YZ)4A!', gone."
She zipped out the door. Toni blinked, surprised, but created a silvery energy slide and followed. A moment later Dick and Garth entered together.
Wally didn't waste any time, getting right into Dick's face. He wasn't as loud as I'd anticipated, though. "Let's go talk. Now."
Dick tossed a resigned glance back our way as he followed Wally out again, not saying a word.
"You know what's fun?" Roy said brightly once they were gone. "Not having Twinkle Toes pissed at *me* for a change."
Garth looked amused, despite his obvious concern for Dick. "But Roy, you're so good at annoying him. No one else does half as thorough a job."
Roy pointed at him, accusing. "And see? That right there, that's new. Genuine snark. Where'd that come from? Grayson rubbing off on--" he stopped, looking vaguely unsettled. "*Not* where I was going with that."
Donna was giggling softly. "No, please, go on."
"Not. Helping," Roy growled, and turned to me. "Vic, man. Help me out, here."
"Sorry, you're on your own."
Roy put on his most hurt expression. "Nice. You can all *bite me.*" He glowered at Garth. "This is not an invitation."
He threw himself down onto the couch, doing his best version of a sulk, while me and Donna and Garth burst out laughing. He didn't quite move fast enough, though, because I caught his tiny smile before his face was hidden by the back of the couch.
Amazon princess, gay Atlantean ambassador, wiseass archer with a heart of gold: Friends don't come any better than this.
We'd finally pulled ourselves together, mopping our faces off with quickly shredding bits of napkins. "I'll, uh, go get some more," I managed awkwardly, while Kory nodded and sniffled. Didn't make her look any less gorgeous.
I got up and grabbed a handful of napkins at the bar, then ordered another round. The lone waitress had been making a wide arc avoiding our booth, probably afraid the two bawling superheroes in the corner were about to spontaneously explode or something.
The bartender had clearly seen it all before. "Everything okay?" he asked casually, pushing another beer and glass of wine across the counter. "I don't want any trouble. Insurance doesn't cover 'acts of costume.'"
In this neighborhood that was probably tempting fate, but it wasn't up to me to tell him how to run his business. And to hear Guy Gardner bitch about the cost, hero insurance would've bankrupted this place. I woulda tossed off some explanation--'bad breakup,' maybe--except that anything I said was likely to end up in the tabloids. No one would believe someone'd broken up with *her,* anyway. "Hunky dory."
"You say so." He glanced over my shoulder toward our booth. "Hey, d'you think I could get--"
"No." I didn't care how rude that sounded, Kory wasn't in the mood to sign autographs or pose for a picture. "Give us some space, okay?" I slid a fifty under the nearest coaster. Money talks...or in this case, shuts mouths.
He made it vanish with the swipe of his rag over the counter. "You got it."
I crossed back over to our booth, sliding into the bench across the table from Kory so she wouldn't think I was crowding her or anything. She nodded her thanks for the wine and finished wiping the tears off her face, smiling a little ruefully.
"I must sound like...what's the phrase? 'Ex-girlfriend from hell?' I don't mean to-- this shouldn't *hurt* like--"
"Hey," I said, trying to sound both smarter and wiser than I really was, "you feel what you feel, right?"
Kory sighed. "I've never understood how Earth people can shut off their emotions. Even after all this time, that's still..." she spread her hands in apology, "*alien.*"
I knew enough to guess she was exaggerating for effect, but I wasn't about to call her on it. "'cause sometimes it's easier, if things hurt too much. Or if we're afraid of hurting other people."
"You hurt yourself more holding it in." When she said 'you', she meant humans. "It's dishonest."
It finally hit me that she was talking to me like an *adult,* not the annoying kid I used to be. Well, okay, probably still was, at least as far as people like Questor were concerned. But maybe to her I wasn't still the 14-year-old brat who she met when she arrived on Earth. Or the 16-year-old twerp who never shut up with the jokes. Or even the 18-year-old freak who'd left Earth to follow Vic into space 'cause I didn't have anything left for me here.
Now I was 20 and living in L.A., trying to find work as an actor. Honestly, it wasn't going so hot. Bette was all excited about doing the hero thing, maybe forming a new Titans West, but I wasn't so sure. Seemed like if I got into that again, I'd end up right back where I'd started. For the moment, I was ignoring the little voice in the back of my head that kept suggesting that was where I was meant to be, after all.
I ended up telling Kory all of that, distracting her from her troubles by whining about mine. Nice, huh? Except when I was done, she gave me this sad, sweet smile.
"I guess we have that in common. Neither of us knows where we belong, anymore."
She sounded so utterly heartbroken. I reached over and took her hand, squeezing it in mine. "Aw, c'mon, Kory, you know the motto. 'Titans Together.' As long as you're with 'em, you're never alone."
"X'Hal, I wish that were true."
I got back to the Tower rec room and waited, impatiently, for Dick to appear. I wasn't in the mood to chase after him, and everyone else kept their distance. He walked in with Garth and I was done waiting. "Let's go talk. Now."
He followed me out of the room and into one of the small meeting chambers. I turned to glare at him, knowing how my face looked: set and grim. "Just tell me one thing, Dick...." and I'd meant to say it calmly, but it came out loaded with all my frustration with my friend and his damned secrets. "*Why didn't I know about this?!*"
He'd been about to say something first, I could tell, but let whatever it was drop, blinking at me like he was surprised. "About Garth?"
"About *everything.*" God, he could be so dense. "So first, I'm finding out my best friend is gay--" Dick started to stay something but I cut him off-- "bisexual, whatever, and he never bothered to tell me, when I thought I knew everything *important* there was to know about him. And not only that, but he's been going out with ANOTHER one of my oldest friends for months, and no one's said a word. Tell me, Dick. Do you do this on purpose, or are you not interested in letting me know what's going on in your life anymore? 'Cause if it's that--"
"Wally, stop." Dick peeled off his mask, looking upset, which was sort of a good thing. Much better than his dispassionate Bat-face. At least I could hope for some kind of *answer* if Dick was being himself and not Batman Junior. "I didn't--It wasn't like I was purposely--" He paused, then sighed. "You're right."
Somehow Dick always managed to surprise me. "Care to explain?"
"I mean, you're right. There are things I never told you because I didn't think you'd understand."
"Right. Good old close-minded Midwest-yokel Wally. Jesus, Dick, I thought you knew me better than that! I can't believe you didn't trust me enough to tell me about this."
He held up a hand. "Okay, hang on. First off, yeah, I never told you mostly because there never seemed to be a good time to say, 'By the way, Wally, I'm attracted to guys as well as girls.'"
It didn't quite wash. "We've known each other how long? You could have found time. I *remember* all those times we sat around and talked about girls with Roy--was all that BS? Or didn't you think it was important enough to mention to *me?*"
Dick's hesitation almost answered the question before he spoke. "Well...you.... Okay, yes." He shrugged, conceding the point. "I have to admit back then I was a little afraid of how you might react. I figured you'd get over it, we wouldn't stop being friends or anything, but I was worried that it'd never be the *same.* But that was a long time ago, Wally. I know you've, uh, grown up since then."
"Gee, thanks." It probably was a fair point. I could admit that--not that I was about to, right now--but I HAD changed. My friendship with Piper proved that, if anything needed to be proven. "But that still doesn't tell me why you haven't told me *since* then. How long has this been going on, anyway? Were there others you didn't tell me about because you 'didn't think I'd understand'? All this time I've been worrying about you and how I didn't think you had anybody--guess I was wasting my time, huh?"
Dick's quiet reply did a nice job of puncturing my righteous indignation. "I hope it wasn't 'wasting your time' to care about me. I may be bad at showing it but your friendship means a lot to me, it always has."
"Yeah. I know that." I took a deep breath. "C'mon, you gotta know the reason I'm so upset about this is *because* I feel the same way. So would you just--tell me, please? What's going on with you. And what I've missed."
"All right." Dick perched on the edge of the table and spread his hands. "There's really only been one other guy who mattered, and that was Joe."
"Joe...Wilson? Jericho?!" I actually squeaked.
Dick nodded. "When it happened I wasn't in any *shape* to tell you, or anyone else for that matter. You weren't around when Kory went back to Tamaran and left me, and I didn't tell anyone about what happened between me and Joey after that." He went on, his voice gentle. "You were still dealing with Barry's death, too. Neither of us was up for a heart-to-heart."
True enough. "So...no one knew about him?"
"No. Well, I finally told Kory after she came back, and it didn't bother her at all. Tamaranean social customs and all." Dick smiled wryly. "She took my being with Joe a lot better than I dealt with her being with Karras, that's for damn sure."
I snorted. "I can imagine."
"Yeah. I was a real jerk about it--shut up, West, don't say it." Dick kept the smile even though the shadow in his eyes told me how much the memory still hurt. "Joey got me through that. I owed him so much, and couldn't save him."
"Jesus. No *wonder* you were a basket case after he--uh, sorry."
"No, you're right. I went a little nuts for awhile. That was only one of the reasons."
"Okay." I'd have to think about it more later, but it was obvious that Dick didn't like talking about that at all. "But...I still gotta wonder. Garth--with him, that's only recently, right? If it wasn't 'cause you thought I'd freak out or whatever--then why didn't you tell me?"
Dick sighed. "When it started I didn't tell anyone about Garth...because that would have been admitting there *was* something to tell."
I frowned at him. "I don't understand."
"You were there, at the beginning with me and Kory. You remember what I went through, all that--denial--of what I was feeling about her." Dick hesitated, clearly trying to find a way to explain. "I went through...something similar, with him. I didn't even want to *think* about what it might mean, Wally, never mind *talk* to anyone about it! It wasn't you I was hiding from, it was everyone. Including myself. When it started I didn't want to talk about it, and when I started to get a sense of how serious it might be...well, I freaked out. Badly. I kicked him out, I did some incredibly stupid things, I got myself and someone else hurt. Garth...shouldn't have forgiven me for what I put him through. Thank God he did." The look on Dick's face said...a lot of things I wasn't ready to think about yet. "So when he said, three months, he was being overly generous. A couple of weeks at the beginning, and then the last two, most of which we spent trying to sort things out. And, uh, getting reacquainted."
He had on this little smirk and I didn't want to know any more about *that.* "But Donna and Vic--"
"Garth talked to Donna when I was, uh, being stupid and she figured it out; he didn't explicitly tell her either. Vic...picked up on something." Dick actually blushed. "I, um, forgot about his sensors...."
"Oh." Knowing I hadn't been singled out for the silent treatment helped. Some. "J'onn said he saw you guys last week, too."
I could almost see the Bat-mantle snap back into place as he gave me a hard stare. "Sure. Of course you talked to J'onn. Because obviously, there was no reason *not* to spill this to the entire JLA."
Suddenly *I* was on the defensive, and wasn't sure why. "I was still surprised as hell when I got to the Watchtower. I told Kyle. He told everyone else. This is a problem why?"
"You told *Kyle?* Wally, it's gonna be in the *papers.*"
"Hey, I told him to tone it down. Don't worry."
That earned me a disgusted look. "Secret IDs, Wally, remember that concept? Some of us still have them."
I didn't follow. "You were gonna keep this a secret from the JLA?"
"Nightwing," Dick said very slowly and emphatically, "can't be dating Tempest. Because Garth has been staying with Dick Grayson in Blüdhaven."
"Oh." It hadn't hit me 'til then. If his civilian ID was on the line, then.... "Oh, hell. You're--you're *really* serious about this."
There'd been a whole rigmarole back when Dick was going to marry Kory, since she'd been visibly involved with Nightwing before that. Granted, Nightwing's public profile was a lot higher back then, but still, I couldn't even imagine the complications involved here. As usual, Dick was three steps ahead of me. "I'll let Kyle know not to spread it around."
He nodded. "Please do, Wally. We've got to do some scrambling on the ID thing."
This was only one of the reasons why I was so glad not to have to worry about it any more. "I don't know how you remember who knows what."
"You know it matters less to me. But I'm not the only one at risk here. The good news is, it's not as bad as it could be. Six of you knew already. If Kyle and Plas figure it out--well, then they'll know." Dick shrugged. "Bruce will have a fit, but if you can't trust the Justice League...."
I couldn't help grinning. "You have no idea how cool it is to hear you say that."
"I'm still vaguely troubled by the fact that the Justice League had nothing better to do than discuss my love life," Dick said, his expression both ironic and amused.
"Gotta admit it made the meeting more interesting."
He rolled his eyes. "I *bet.*"
I paused, thinking about the only thing I had left to ask, and said, "Dick, you, uh. Love him? You're happy?"
"I really am."
"I'm glad, then. Just--*talk* to me, okay? I'll lose my 'best friend' license if you don't."
"Never happen." Dick smiled. "I mean that. And listen--you should bring Linda down to the 'Haven sometime. I'd like to see her again."
I stared at him. "Damn, Robbie, you tossed *all* your Bat-paranoia out the window."
"Well, she knows already, right? From when Kory and I were in Keystone."
"Yeah, that's true. We never talked about it, though."
Dick shrugged, as if he'd never had any concern at all. "You trust her, Fleetfeet, that's good enough for me."
That was the most annoying thing about Dick: it was impossible to stay mad at him. "Bats *will* have a fit."
"He'll have to deal." Dick's gaze was steady. "There was--Wally, I can't tell you all of it, but the last while has been...rough. But this is what I want. I'm tired of putting my life on hold, you know? I *can't* tell everyone who I am like you did, but you haven't let being Flash get in the way of being Wally West. I want that for myself. Dick Grayson's life, not just Nightwing's." He smiled lopsidedly. "Does that make any sense?"
"A lot," I had to admit, "and part of the reason why I needled you into the Titans again, remember?"
"Yeah." Dick laughed suddenly. "So it's your fault, really. If I hadn't joined up, Garth and I wouldn't have gotten close. Thanks, pal!"
"Don't even go there. I couldn't have dreamed up anything this weird if I'd *tried.*"
"'Weird'?" Dick was giving me a neutral 'you might want to reconsider that' look.
I ignored it. "Yeah. 'Weird.' C'mon, Dick, I've just found out two of my oldest friends are, uh, involved, I'm entitled to a little bit of political incorrectness."
"Hmmm." Dick looked thoughtful, then grinned. "So, how did you react when you found out about Roy and Donna...?"
I grimaced involuntarily. "Don't remind me."
Dick laughed. "You weren't actually *surprised,* were you?"
"No comment," I said, and waved off Dick's raised eyebrow. As long as Roy didn't hurt her, I wasn't going to say a word about it. Even if I thought Roy didn't deserve her at all. "Not important. Everybody's happy, I'm cool."
Dick didn't look entirely convinced, but nodded and smoothed his mask back into place. "So we're okay?"
The thing was, I thought to myself but didn't say, that if it was my "fault" that Dick looked so happy now, well....
I'd live with the weirdness, and the blame.
Enough solitude. I'd had enough of solitude.
The Watchtower's observation deck is an amazing place...a place to ponder the mysteries of the universe. The majesty of space swirls around me in a ballet of silence. I am used to the vastness of the oceans in a way most humans will never be, and so I find it hard to be humbled by nature. This is the one place that humbles me. But it is not a good place to brood.
I turned away from the observation deck and went back into the main section of the Watchtower. After our meeting, most of the Leaguers returned to Earth. I knew I was not the only one left, though. Lantern was on monitor duty. He might have welcomed conversation--but he has the attention span of a great white and would be too distracted...and besides, he is not someone to whom I could unburden myself about what troubled me.
Before I realized it, I found myself in the section of the Watchtower that houses our personal quarters. I sounded the door chime to one of the doors before I could change my mind. The door slid open and I walked inside.
"Arthur, this is a surprise. I thought you returned home."
Diana turned toward me, a welcoming smile on her face. I trust this woman. I am comfortable around her, more so than with some of my other teammates. She looked as I was unused to seeing her. She wore a soft chiton that draped gracefully to the floor. At that moment, she looked every inch a princess. A princess at leisure, perhaps, but a princess nonetheless. Her armor was nowhere to be seen, and for a moment, I wished I were wearing anything else besides mine. "No, not yet," I replied. "I have been doing some stargazing."
"And some thinking?"
I almost smiled. "You're not supposed to know me that well, Diana." She gestured to a sofa and I sat, feeling much too large and unwieldy for her environment. Everything there was light and delicate...except for me.
My teammates whisper about my attraction to this woman. And she is attractive, strong and beautiful. But attraction is all there will ever be.
Diana is a princess. Mera, by birth and training and inclination, is a queen. Gods grant she be mine again, some day.
"You're more transparent than you realize," she said, sitting down across from me. "You have a wrinkle that appears between your eyes when you're troubled." She gave me a pointed look. "It's there right now." A long moment of silence passed between us. "This is about the news Wally had to share tonight, isn't it? About Garth and Richard?"
I nodded slowly. "It...troubles me, Diana. And I'm not sure why."
Leaning forward slightly, her hands resting casually in her lap, she studied me. "I know you were displeased when Wally told you about them, Arthur. What fuels that displeasure? That you didn't know about their relationship...or that they have a relationship in the first place?"
She went right to the heart of it without prelude, which is precisely why I sought her out. I matched her body language, meeting the steadiness of her gaze with my own, blue eyes to blue, meeting; locking. "I've been thinking about that, and I have to admit that both things bother me. It bothers me that Garth didn't see fit to inform me about this...and the more I think about the two of them together, the more of a logistical nightmare it becomes."
"Has Garth come to you in the past when he started dating someone new?"
"Well, he's never made any sort of formal announcement...but then again, he hasn't dated much, to my knowledge. There was Tula...and although they never came to us to say they were a couple, when they first discovered each other, it quickly became obvious that they were together. She was a ward of the kingdom. Indirectly, I had responsibility for her and she lived on the palace grounds. I don't think they needed to tell either Mera or myself. We simply knew. After she died, it was a long time before Garth's thoughts turned to any sort of romantic entanglement. At least as far as I know," I added, because in retrospect it was clear I wasn't as informed as I should have been.
Diana nodded. "That's more than understandable. Donna has mentioned Tula to me...told me about the kind of woman she was, her courage and her spirit. She would have made a good Amazon, I think. Donna admired her, and I know that she often felt powerless in trying to help Garth deal with Tula's death."
So did we all. I know what Tula's death cost Garth. I would have done anything to spare him that, if there had been time, if there had been a way. He does not think I truly care. And gods know I do, impossible as I find that to express. "Eventually, he became involved with the daughter of my Captain of the Guard, but I don't think he and Lia were together very long. He never said much about her. And then Dolphin...."
Diana looked like she wanted to hear more about that, but I wasn't interesting in discussing it. There was no point in rehashing what had been a difficult episode for all involved. "I'm not sure about any others, though I think there must have been."
Her expression was filled with thoughtful curiosity. "So it's not unusual for him not to inform you about his relationships. Then it must be the relationship itself...and you did refer to it as a 'logistical nightmare.' I'm not sure I understand."
Of course she would not. I like to think that Diana and I have more in common than other members of the League. We both hail from places that most people believe are mythological; we are both royalty. In these things, we understand each other. But she is still of the land, and this thing, she does not comprehend. "Diana, many years ago, before you and I ever met, I stayed for awhile with a man named Arthur Curry. He gave me his name, among other things--friendship, an education, knowledge of the land and of landsmen. One of the people he knew was a Rabbi. You know what a Rabbi is?"
In retrospect, I realize she did me a great kindness by not laughing in my face. Diana is a well-informed ambassador to the world, and in many ways, she knows its cultures and peoples far better than I. "A teacher of the Jewish faith. Arthur, where is this leading?"
Holding up my hand to stave off further questions, I continued. "This Rabbi, he was an elderly man, one possessed with a great sense of humor and full of many old Yiddish proverbs. He would often tell Arthur of young people of his congregation who had fallen in love with someone outside of the Jewish faith. To him, this was unthinkable. Arthur would ask him why this was such a bad thing, and always, the Rabbi would say, 'A bird and a fish can fall in love, but where would they build a nest?' To him, a Jew and a non-Jew were too different to even consider a future together.
"The first thing that came into my head, when I was out on the observation deck thinking about Garth and Richard together, was this same proverb...and how literally it applies to them. Richard is a landsman. He always will be, that cannot change. Garth is of the sea, and although he can be on the land, he can never be *of* the land. Any sacrifices that are to be made for them to be together will be Garth's to make, only because he has the magic to make them possible, where Richard does not."
Unexpectedly, Diana smiled. Perhaps I was as transparent as she claimed, because she said, "You surprise me, Arthur. I thought your troubles stemmed from the fact that Garth is involved with another man."
I exhaled deeply. "I would be lying if I said that I wasn't having a problem with that, but it's not my major concern."
"There's nothing inherently wrong with same-gender pairings, Arthur. They...they're not anathema in Poseidonis, are they? Is Garth violating societal expectations by being with Richard?"
"No. For all our cultural superstitions, we're generally accepting of any type of relationship between people, unless they're somehow harmful." I was all too aware of the irony; those cultural superstitions had been so influential in Garth's life that the lack of prejudice in this arena seemed almost inconsequential. "So, if you're asking if I'm homophobic, I'd have to say no."
"But you did have some objection?"
I leaned back against the sofa, searching for the right words. "I think to understand my feelings on this, it would help to understand what Garth's life has been like."
She gestured for me to go on. "I admit, I don't know him well. I would like to hear."
The words came slowly, a distillation of years. "Diana, Garth has always been...lonely, even when he is with other people. He does not have many friends. His teammates, certainly, though I know even those relationships have been strained from time to time over the years. I only know of one person at home with whom he feels close to...an old schoolmate, but even then, I know he no longer visits her very often.
"Tula was everything to him, in many ways--lover, love, friend and nurturer. I was not...adept...at nurturing him while he was growing up. When he came into my life, I had no idea how to be a parent. Things were changing so fast in my life at the time. I found Garth and took him in and had to make some sort of home for him. Then I made my way back to Poseidonis, only to learn that I was their monarch....
"That was a hard time for Garth. He was not welcomed with open arms by the citizenry because of the stories the Shayerans, his birth people, had spread about the purple-eyed being dangerous and inferior. He spent many years overcoming those biases and had to work twice as hard as anyone else to prove his worth. During this time, Mera also came into my life, and not long after we had our own son. Garth tried so hard to reach out to me, to please me. He needed a father and I tried...Orin's beard, but I tried. But I didn't know how to be a parent, let alone a good one. I never had a true parent. So much of what I did for him was trial and error. The world I grew up in was harsh and demanding. It required focus, discipline...these were the things necessary for survival. These were the only things I knew how to pass down to him."
I kept waiting for Diana to interrupt me, to ask a question or make a comment, but she simply sat silently, listening, compassion sketched lightly on her exquisite features. Perhaps she feared if she interrupted my words, I would stop talking. I think she knew how hard it is for me to open up to anyone.
"What nurturing I learned, I learned from Mera and the baby. How can you not cuddle and soothe an infant? Garth was a teenager by then...and it never occurred to me that he also needed nurturing. I assumed he was too old and too independent for that. He was so quiet, so shy. I figured if I kept him busy, kept training him in the only thing I knew--the arts of survival and combat--that it would compensate for his shyness, especially around his peers. Our society respects and admires warriors, Diana." She nodded, and I knew that she understood that from the example of her own culture. "I thought if I could turn him into the best of all warriors, he would be admired and respected. I was trying to give him the tools to overcome Poseidonian biases. I was tough on him...too tough. I thought he needed the toughness more than he needed tenderness."
I averted my gaze. I had said these things to no one else, not even Mera. Then again, I never needed to say these things to her; she lived through those times with me. She watched all this unfold as it happened. I have often wondered if it was one of the reasons our marriage didn't survive.
But who else could I confess to, if not the woman who had been a goddess of Truth? After so long, it finally needed to be said. "Diana, I thought I was being firm with Garth. I thought I was giving him toughness and discipline. Instead, I often gave him cruelty. I was too harsh on him...harsh emotionally, harsh physically. I didn't mean to be, and I tried not to be, but I didn't know any other way...and by the time I did learn other ways, it was too late. Garth kept reaching out, but it never occurred to me to reach back.
"And he is still a lonely young man. Even when he had love, he was still lonely in many ways. So now, I hear that he has involved himself with Richard, someone who I know has been a friend to him over the years, and I wonder if he has done so because being with a friend is better than being with no one at all. Or, since the only other relationships of his I know of have been with women, if this is some sort of experimental phase...or...k'ach...I don't know. And I shouldn't have expected him to tell me about this. He wasn't courteous enough to tell me, and I don't know whom I'm angrier at--him for not giving the courtesy, or myself for creating a situation where I don't deserve it from him."
I had no more words. Diana leaned forward, extended a hand, and gently patted my knee in sympathy. There was still compassion in her eyes. I didn't deserve her compassion. I deserved condemnation. I deserved scorn. She gave me kindness and understanding and it nearly undid me.
"What do you plan to do now?" she asked, her voice soft and low. She had stopped patting my knee, her hand resting lightly there instead.
"I called Garth after speaking with Wally," I answered slowly. "I was...harsh with him. I think the first thing I need to do is to apologize to him. After that, I don't know if there's anything I should do. I don't know if there's anything I *can* do."
In the end, then, I had what I started with before seeking Diana out. Silence and solitude...but because she was there and listened to me, for that moment at least, I did not feel quite so alone.
Perhaps in time I can learn to extend that feeling to Garth.
"...Batman's little bat-boy, huh?" Plastic Man's malleable shape dripped into an amorphous mass, stretched out like taffy, snapped back into a vaguely humanoid form and immediately started melting again.
I glanced over at him and swallowed hard. "Uh, Plas, that's...unbelievably disturbing." I focused my attention back on the screens in the Monitor Womb. "Anyway, yeah, that's what Wally said. So?"
"So!" Reflected in the screens, a human-sized exclamation point emphasized Plas' outburst. "Don't you think it's funny, or weird, or somethin'? Big macho Bat, and his ex-sidekick..." the punctuation wavered and fell back into Plastic Man's usual shape. "...'batting'--heh--'for the other team'?"
I shrugged without turning around to face him. "You're asking the wrong guy. I live in the Village. My next-door neighbors are lesbians. Doesn't bother me."
"I didn't say it *bothered* me," Plas protested, and followed up with, "Are your neighbors hot?"
"They're my *friends.* I don't, uh, spend my time thinking about it. Them." Not much, anyway, and not that I was going to admit to *him.* I swiveled the chair around again. "So? What's the big deal, then?"
"Nothing! Not! A! Thing!" A bouncing red and yellow ball hit the floor with each word. Someone doth protest wayyyy too much, I thought. That surprised me a little. I mean, this is the *Justice League.* We were supposed to be, you know, tolerant of pretty much everyone except super-villains.
Some of that must have reflected in my expression, because the ball suddenly deflated and Plastic Man's flattened face was looking up at me earnestly from the floor. "Oh, hey, I really don't care. I'm just sayin'..." his eyes formed into huge round circles, a mock simulation of wide-eyed innocence. "Something to tease the Bat about, you know? Could be good for a lot of laughs."
I snorted. "Oh, yeah, THAT'S a good idea. If the Bat-glare doesn't kill you first, Wally'd tie you in knots. Nightwing's his best friend."
"G'on, spoil my fun," Plas muttered, taking human form again and slouching against the wall. "When did *you* become Mister Responsible? I thought I could count on you, man! Nobody's got a sense of humor anymore."
"You weren't considering teasing Aquaman about Tempest, either," I pointed out.
Plastic Man shuddered. "I *know* Aquaman doesn't have a funnybone. I think it got bitten off with his hand."
"But you think Batman does? Sheesh." I shook my head in disbelief. "Warn me in advance. I don't want to get caught in the crossfire." Although the carnage might be fun to watch. From a safe distance.
"Take allll the fun out of things, why don'cha."
"The fun out of what?" J'onn inquired, entering the Monitor Womb. At least this time he came through the door instead of ghosting down through the ceiling. He knew that creeped me out.
"Teasing Batman about Nightwing," I told him, "Plas thought that'd be a cute thing to do."
J'onn raised an eyebrow. "I'd advise against it," he said, sounding totally serious. "Batman might take such repartee in a spirit other than it was intended. It would be...unwise to put him in a defensive mood."
"Understatement of the century." Batman's version of 'defensive' involved Batarangs to sensitive body parts. "More like suicidal."
"That's exaggeration," J'onn said mildly, "but nevertheless, while I'm certain that any jest would not reflect disapproval, that's not how Batman would see it."
"Well, it wasn't *my* idea," I said, trying not to sound whiny about it.
J'onn turned to Plas, who was sulking from his position on the wall. "Eel...?"
"Well, c'mon!" he burst out, "Don't you think it's weird?"
J'onn's brow furrowed. Man, that was a lot of brow. "'Weird?' How do you mean?"
"You know! A bat! And a, a fishboy! It's 'Things Not Found in Nature' theater!"
"Again, I would recommend," J'onn said, his voice shaded with a chill that shivered down my spine, "that you not mention such an attitude in Batman's presence."
Or his, J'onn's tone suggested. I wouldn't have wanted that tone directed at *me,* and one glance at Plas told me he'd gotten the message. His body'd literally gone flat against the wall, like he was trying to blend into the scenery and disappear. Maybe he was being a dork, but I sort of felt sorry for him. J'onn's voice sounded to me like he was more disappointed than anything, which was almost worse than having him be angry at you. Like you'd let down the one guy who believed in you, no matter what.
Yeah, maybe I was projecting, since J'onn had gone out of his way to be nice to me while others seemed to take any opportunity to mock me for not having been born in spandex. But *everyone* respected J'onn, even the Bat. His disapproval was like five times worse than anyone else's.
So going for casual, I said, "So, uh, on Mars, I guess this kind of thing wasn't a big deal?"
He glanced at me, not at all fooled by my pathetic attempt to distract him, and his mouth quirked in that way that meant he was amused. "'This kind of thing' wasn't an issue, no. It couldn't have been."
By this time, I was able to recognize when J'onn was setting up for a punchline. I played along. "Because, um, everyone was telepathic?"
He nodded, seeming pleased. Gold star for me. "That was part of it. But more to the point, simply because Martians have no predefined *gender.*"
He dropped through the floor with an enigmatic smile.
"He's putting us on," I suggested, not at all certain about that but not really wanting to know.
Plas was looking seriously freaked. "What the hell did *that* mean? J'onn isn't a guy? He had a *wife!*"
"Maybe it didn't mean the same thing," I offered lamely. "They were all shapeshifters...." And then I couldn't help myself. "C'mon, you know half of his other identities are female. Haven't you ever wondered what it'd be like?"
He gave me an utterly horrified look and puddled out under the door without another word. "Round to me," I snickered to myself, though I knew he'd get me back for it later. It was kinda funny: The whole conversation had reminded me that Plastic Man was...*old.* Not that he looked it, but the guy had been around during World War II. So maybe his attitude was reflective of the time he grew up in.
Must've been my Deep Thought[tm] for the day. And honestly, what Plas thought or didn't was none of my business. Wally had been really upset, though. The news didn't affect me personally; I'd met Nightwing in passing, didn't know Tempest at all outside of meeting him briefly when Cyborg tried to eat the moon. But it'd be *great* gossip to share with Connor, when I met up with him later....
Dick and I wandered back out into the rec room. Donna and Garth looked over at both of us, scanning our faces. Easy to guess they were trying to assess if I was okay, if Dick's and my friendship was okay. Especially given the way I'd stormed out before.
Dick displayed his hands to the room. "No blood, see?"
Donna smiled, looking relieved. Garth was still gazing at Dick, his expression faintly questioning; Dick nodded slightly, and Garth relaxed. If I hadn't been looking for it, I wouldn't have caught the motion at all. 'Couple's telepathy,' like Linda and I had, and wow that was a new and disturbing thought. But talking to Dick had told me that he took this seriously, which meant I needed to take it seriously, and with that in mind there was something else to work out here.
Dick had his reasons for not telling me, and while I still thought they were a load of crap, I'd get over it. Garth...
Well, when *was* the last time I'd talked to Garth, anyway? A long time. It wasn't that I didn't like the guy, Garth didn't get on my last nerve like Roy did, we just...never talked. Too little in common, maybe? Or a holdover from the early days when I'd been a xenophobic little dweeb and anything not fitting my narrow Midwestern mindset had been "other" and therefore not to be trusted. That was a long time ago, though. Now Garth was my friend, and so....
I headed over in his direction, Dick pacing me. I knew he was probably desperate to hear what I had to say to Garth, but I wasn't in the mood to accommodate him. "Hey. I don't need a chaperone. Go talk to Donna or something."
Dick shrugged, glanced an apology toward Garth, and moved off. What, did he think he had to 'protect' Garth from me? That he had to apologize in advance for my certain disapproval? That was exactly the kind of thing that made me want to prove him wrong. I *didn't* get it--I thought it'd be a long time before I got it--but I'd be polite if it killed me. Now, if it were *Roy*--
Ugh. The idea made me want to scrub out my brain. With steel wool.
I crossed the room, feeling like everyone was staring. Glib pleasantries failed me when I opened my mouth. "Hey. Uh."
"Wally." Garth nodded at me, pretending not to notice my uncertainty, waiting for whatever I had to say in that polite way of his. I might have preferred a push.
"Um, I guess you already know--I sort of spilled the news to the JLA. I shouldn't have, I know, but--"
"Yes. Arthur called."
Something tight flashed across his face, the expression only momentary. But his tone was so flat, so...resigned...that right away I realized that I'd stepped into a pile of something I couldn't even pretend to understand. I had some idea of how Bruce and Dick got along, or not, depending on the day. Arthur and Garth...cripes, I could probably count on one hand the number of times I'd seen them in the same place. If Garth hadn't told him about Dick because he knew Arthur'd go ballistic, and I went and shot my mouth off.... "Oh, man, I'm sorry. I'd assumed he knew already. That was massively dumb."
Garth shook his head. "I'd meant to tell him, I just...hadn't, yet. You saved me a trip," he added wryly.
"Not the way you wanted to break it to him, I'm guessing. He's pissed?"
He rubbed a hand over his eyes. "Wally, I've been through this once tonight. Can we...skip it?"
"Sure. Yeah. Sorry," I said again. Very feeble. "It's been a day for surprises."
Garth sighed, and I had absolutely no idea what he was thinking until he said, "I don't want you to be angry with Dick."
"No, I--" I replied by reflex, and stopped. Garth regarded me calmly, whatever "judgment" I had to offer to be accepted as given. I hated to be predictable. "Look. I'm irritated that I didn't know. That bugs me, yeah. But--I wanted to say I'm glad. If you're happy together." An impulse made me add, "Not just for him. I'm glad for you, too."
I'm sure it was only Garth's innate tact that kept him from looking surprised. Something else I'd be irritated about, if I didn't want to get *on* with things. "Anyway, uh, you guys have any other surprises to drop, I don't want to be the last to know."
He nodded. "I'm sorry about that. And Wally--thank you."
"Aw, well. 'Titans Together' and all that. We founding members have to stick together." I grinned. "The THREE of us."
He laughed, and it struck me how *rarely* I'd ever heard Garth laughing so freely. "As you're always oh-so-careful to point out to Roy. But I don't often hear you reminding Donna of the same thing!"
"She doesn't annoy me like he does. Okay, look, I've got to make a quick stop at GL's and then get home, Linda's expecting me. Take--take care of yourself, all right? And him." A brief clasp on Garth's shoulder and I was gone before he could reply. But that was okay, because really, everything important had already been said.
We closed the bar, me and Kory, finally heading out with the bartender a few apologetic steps behind us. 'Course, he was probably staring at her rear the whole way, but who wouldn't?
Out on the sidewalk, she gave me something at least close to her usual starbolt-intensity smile. "Thank you, anyway, for coming with me and letting me cry all over you."
I spread my hands and grinned. "What can I say, I'm a sucker for beautiful women."
She actually chuckled. "I remember. It's nice to know that *some* things haven't changed."
"For you, my sweet, I will be as constant as the Northern Star, as faithful as--"
"All right, all right!" she commanded--really laughing for the first time all evening. Never let anybody tell you a clown act hasn't got its uses. "Gar, honestly, thank you."
"Anything for you, beautiful."
"*Anything?*" It was only a line, our old game of flirting at thirty paces. 'Cept that something had changed in her voice, something that left the question hanging in the air like letters of fire. The whole world seemed to shift ninety degrees as I realized for the first time that I was standing out here with Kory, just me and her, and Dick wasn't a safe wall between us any more.
Her pupilless green eyes fixed me in place, and I couldn't breathe. "Are you my friend, Garfield?"
I never much cared for my name. She made it sound like magic. And I was sure she had no idea what effect it had on me, her saying it that way. I answered the only way I could. "'Course I am, Kory. Always will be."
She smiled, and leaned in, and kissed me.
Not the brush on the cheek she was always so free to give. Not even the brief press of her lips against mine that meant she was being playful, casually affectionate, and which used to leave me aching for hours. A full-on, real kiss on the mouth, her body coming in close against me, the scent of her filling my senses and her tongue gently touching mine and then my hands were in her hair and I was kissing her back.
Best. Kiss. Ever. Even with my admittedly limited experience, I was sure of that.
She broke off right before I would've happily passed out. I stood there gasping, breathing hard from more than lack of oxygen. *Thought* was actually, physically, impossible. I stared at her, unable to even *begin* to put words together. Only some miracle--or maybe the world's most timely case of sudden dry-mouth--kept me from drooling on my own shoes.
Yeah, that's me: Gar Logan, former TV star, superhero veteran, idol of millions. Calm, cool, and collected in the face of the unexpected. In my *dreams.*
So there's me, gaping like a moron, and Kory still smiling at me like I was...I dunno. Her 'knight in shining armor,' you know, like I'd done something incredibly heroic. And then she said,
"Gar? Be with me?"
...Jumpin' Jesus on a pogo stick. Pardon my French.
I knew Kory. She wasn't talking about a relationship, or even more than one night. Talk about having one of my dearest adolescent fantasies come to life. I mean, this was *Starfire.* Supermodel pin-up idol of millions. Being near her in the Titans during my teenaged years had been...stimulating. To say the least. But she'd always treated me like a little brother, ignoring all my incredibly lame attempts at innuendo. Thank God she had, too, because I'd really been an obnoxious jerk. Only I wasn't her brother, and now....
I began to understand what she'd been saying before. I was her friend, so she loved me, so to her it was totally logical that she'd want to express that. Physically. The whole idea was melting the few tiny bits of gray matter I had left.
But I guess I was even dumber than I looked. She *was* my friend, and she was hurting, and if I could make her feel better, I'd do just about anything. Just about, that was the thing, and I suddenly *got* what Dick's whole problem had been. If I'd been Tamaranean, it'd be okay. But I wasn't, and to *me,* it felt like I'd be taking advantage of her heartache. Even if she wouldn't ever see it that way. To her, it wouldn't change anything. To me, it'd change everything. Total cliché, but--I loved her too much as a friend to lose that.
Like I said. Dumb.
I opened my mouth to babble something, anything and she laid a finger across my lips. Her touch froze me in my tracks. "You don't have to say. It's all right. I can see...it was selfish of me to ask."
God. The life I have. The most beautiful woman I've ever known asks me to sleep with her, and then calls *herself* selfish. It was either cry or laugh, so.... I reached up and took her hand away from my mouth. "Yeah, totally. I absolutely hated that. Wait here, I need to go get a vidcam so you can ask again and I can replay it over and over. To remind myself how much I hated it."
She giggled. "I love you, Gar, I really do."
"Love you too, babe," I said gently, using every scrap of willpower I never knew I had not to tell her I was joking, of course, I'd sacrifice the body part of her choice to be with her like she'd asked. "D'you want to go back to the Tower?"
Kory wrinkled her nose. "Not tonight. Can we go somewhere? Just to talk," she added hastily. "I don't...I'm not ready to go back yet."
The woman was going to kill me. I was going to die, right there on the dirty sidewalk, melted into a puddle of frustration. Super-casual, I managed, "Sure, no prob. I know the perfect place." There was a nice high-rise townhouse among the assets I'd inherited from Dayton. That'd be better than going back to the mansion, if for no other reason than to dodge Questor's raised eyebrow. That thing was a deadly weapon.
And yeah, I might end up spending the rest of the night cursing myself, but that was the price of being 'grown up,' I guess. For whatever that was worth. No, I knew what it was worth: Kory taking me seriously, that alone did wonders for my self-image. It felt good, not being considered like a kid anymore. Like I'd crossed some kind of imaginary line.
'Course, the juvenile part of my brain was still running in ecstatic circles, screeching 'Kory kissed me!', but no one else needed to know that.
(from her journal)
...Meanwhile Arthur's return to Poseidonis will be delayed by several more days, since he finds himself occupied both with political matters and with the demands of his League. I find the fact that he called me personally to relay this information both comforting and unsettling. Comforting, because it speaks of his ease in trusting me, in confiding in me, as I urged him to do. Unsettling...because it would be easy to fall into old patterns between us, where too much might be taken for granted. If Arthur and I are to have any future together--and I am far from decided on the matter--we would need to guard very carefully against such old habits.
But he also called with news. Garth has apparently involved himself with a landsman, an old friend of his from the surface. I admit it took me a moment to recall the boy--or rather the man now, of course--in question; but vanity suggests that lapse was due less to a faltering memory than to the fact that I met 'Robin' only briefly, years ago. Arthur says that he now calls himself 'Nightwing.' He says that Nightwing still leads the Titans--no longer teen--which I would expect from my recollection of a frighteningly competent child. Such talent would not be content to hide in the shadows. But *that* may be an unfair comment. Certainly I have heard Arthur rail against Batman's methods, and my own view has become biased. I do not recall any particular comment he has made in the past about Nightwing, and even in telling me this, Arthur had nothing disparaging to say in specific about the man. His omissions are as telling as his outrages...although in this case, Arthur was more focused on informing me about what had passed between himself and Garth.
Perhaps predictably, Arthur's first and immediate reaction was to provoke a confrontation--solely verbal, at least this time. He confessed to this, rather shamefaced, and also that he had spoken with Diana about it. That he should turn first to her rather than me is not surprising. She is his comrade in battle, and they have no difficult history between them to complicate matters. I might even be jealous, if I did not know Diana and trust her implicitly. And Arthur, too, despite his faults, would not be less than honest. Like his father, he has an eye for beauty; markedly unlike Atlan the Meddler, he is not casual about his loves. And I will end that line of thought here, before descending again into fruitless speculation about what our own relationship may become.
Arthur had few details to share, but he made it sound as though this relationship is serious. On the one hand, then, I should be pleased. Garth has been alone for far too long, by any standard. And yet....
Political repercussions are distasteful to contemplate, particularly when then intersect with matters of the heart. But we whose words decide the fate of nations cannot escape them...so much that even I, who have no right to regard myself in that position any longer, still feel that weight of responsibility. Arthur, certainly, is aware of such considerations. His liaison with Dolphin would never have amounted to more than dalliance, even if she had not left him first. A blow to his ego, perhaps, but only presaging the inevitable.
Garth's position is less clear. His Shayeran throne goes unclaimed, with self-appointed proxies ruling in his stead. For now, the situation remains stable--unsurprisingly so, since Shayeris effectively survived in isolation for centuries. But this state of affairs will change, has already changed, with the new awareness of this 'lost' Atlantean city. And Garth's association with Arthur, however strained, begs a broader question. By his own choice he is *not* Arthur's heir to Poseidonis and thereby Atlantis, yet the popular perception considers him so. The quietly official appointment of *me* as interim heir solves nothing.
I respect and admire Arthur's resolve to abide by Garth's wishes in this matter. Political realities being what they are, however, I believe he is being shortsighted. I had given some brief thought to some means to bring Garth home, and equally as important, to see him happy here. Clearly, I have dawdled too long; and the damage, as it were, has been done. If Garth is content on the surface, he will not return...not unless there is some even more compelling reason to draw him back. Neither wealth nor power would provide sufficient motivation, since Garth seems oblivious to the one and actively spurns the other. Love, then. And I wonder....
I must think on it further.
So finally, I got to go home. This is always a good thing, because home is where Linda is.
The fact that home *wasn't* where any new and disturbing sexual revelations from my friends were...well. Icing.
I zipped into the house, and she gave me that smile that does amazingly good things for my heart, and we hugged and kissed our hellos. I breathed in the scent of her--don't ask me how that works, when she doesn't wear perfume--and felt the whole tangled day start to unknot.
And then she asked the fateful question: "So, how was your day?"
I was never going to get away from this....
Well, it wasn't like I hadn't been going to tell her. I had Dick's blessing, after all. And I couldn't exactly yell at Dick for keeping secrets and then turn around and do it to Linda. And besides--
"That good, huh?"
--she's pretty good about figuring these things out on her own.
I looked at her sympathetic, curious eyes, and sighed. I'd probably feel better for telling her, right?
"I...found something out," I started. "Something...personal. About Nightwing."
She nodded. Dick hadn't been by the house any time recently, but I keep her up on the players. "Your workaholic friend."
My mouth twitched. Not that I could criticize; not only did I agree, I was the one she'd gotten that description from. "Yeah. Well, he's...found something else to do with his time."
"Not a part-time paper route, I take it."
How to put this. "He's been dating Garth." Which made them sound like they were sixteen, and didn't accurately get things across. "They're in a serious relationship." Now I sounded like Oprah, and something was still missing. "They're *sleeping* together." Uh-huh. That.
Linda's eyes had widened as I started talking; by the end she was having to fight to keep a straight face. "I...see," she choked, and then lost the fight completely.
I glared at her. "Well, I feel a lot better now."
She managed to stop laughing, barely. "Sorry, hon. But you should have seen the look on your face..." She took a deep breath and got her face under control. Sort of. "How, uh, did you find this out? Did...?"
I got the picture, and flushed all the way down to my neck. "No!" I squawked. It hadn't even occurred to me that I *could* have...God. This could've actually been *worse* than it was. Small favors. Very small. "No," I repeated more calmly. "They made an announcement."
"And caught you off-guard, huh?"
Her voice was still amused, but this time the laughter was affectionate, and somehow it helped me smile too. "Completely," I admitted.
She ruffled my hair. "That's my Wally. You want to talk about it?"
"I've been talking about it all day," I sighed, closing my eyes.
Brief pause. "All right. Do you want to hear about *my* day?"
Greater love hath no reporter than to let a good story go. I opened my eyes gratefully. "I'd *love* to hear about your day."
Yeah. Nothing like coming home to this. If Dick and Garth have anything half as good--I'm glad for them.
Even if it's still a little weird.
Garth and I stayed up late, talking to Donna, Roy, and Vic. Wally and Jesse went home to their respective cities, Gar called again and said he and Kory weren't coming back that evening, and the kids had gone to bed. Earlier Grant had finally stumbled in, muttering a confused, "um, congrats" before fleeing back to his room. I hoped that was only embarrassment and not a sign of any real problem on his part. Toni, on the other hand, practically had to be ordered to get some sleep. The way she kept watching us....
Roy was still being mouthy, but I thought I could detect a note of shocked approval under the bluster. That was...interesting. I honestly hadn't given a lot of thought to how he might react, but his guarded acceptance--no matter how layered in defensive loudmouth ranting--was far preferable to the alternative.
During the evening the Tower got another message from Aquaman, but this time Garth told Oracle that unless it was official business, he wasn't interested in taking the call. I could almost hear Barbara's glee through her Oracle's masked voice as she made note of that. Naturally, Arthur's attempted interruption led to questions about how *Bruce* was taking all of this. I told them we weren't speaking much at the moment, which wasn't anything new as far as the Titans were concerned. Roy's grunted, "Go figure" saved me from having to explain any further.
Finally there wasn't anything left to say. We cleaned up the debris of the pizza and headed toward the living quarters elevator as a group. Roy made a smartass comment when Garth and I headed down toward his room together rather than splitting off to our separate levels. I didn't even have to answer, just raised an eyebrow at him when he followed Donna out of the elevator. Vic smiled, wished us good night, and that was that.
Garth's quarters were on the lowest level, with close access to the underwater egress. Once inside, we both fell on the front room sofa with a simultaneous groan of relief. He reached for my hand and we sat there, heads tilted back, not needing to dissect the day. All factors considered...everything had gone better than I'd had any right to expect. There'd be consequences to deal with, of course, but that was for later. Right now I could sit here and enjoy the silence, and Garth's quiet company.
After a few minutes his voice shook me out of a semi-doze. "Are you heading back to Blüdhaven tomorrow?"
That would've been preferable, but... "I'll probably hang around most of the day. Make sure everything's copacetic here." I didn't want to assume for Garth, considering his other duties. "You?"
"Meetings at the UN all day, mainly discussing the work on the Atlantean embassy." He sighed a little. "Your zoning laws are...very confusing."
I turned my head to look at him. "You need someone to look over the papers? I could ask Lucius to--"
"No," he interrupted firmly. "I'm handling it."
And yeah, did I appreciate that. Part of the ex-sidekick psych profile; you never get over the need to prove yourself. I squeezed his hand to tell him I understood. "Okay."
Garth smiled, and again I knew why: having someone take you at your word, trusting you to get the job done--we'd both fought hard for those precise things over the years. It was as much a blessing as anything to have one person to whom nothing more needed to be proven.
Roy, probably still in need of a target to express his outrage on, immediately started in. "Oh, you've *got* to be kidding me!"
Kory smiled sweetly at him. "Jealous, Roy?"
"Of *him?* Please!" He threw a minimally guilty look toward Donna, who was grinning broadly, then turned back to Gar. "Last time I tried something with her, I got starbolted into a wall. What'd *you* do?"
Gar stood as tall as his 5'8" height allowed and looked smug. "I listened."
Roy stared at him. "That's *it*?"
"Hey, a gentleman never tells." Gar smiled up at Kory, who smiled back. By now I was fairly certain that nothing had actually *happened* between them, though if it had...I was very carefully not going to think about it.
Vic raised a golden eyebrow. "There's a gentleman around here?"
Gar nodded complacently. "I'm in practice."
"Yeah, but for what--oof!" Roy's breath whooshed out as Donna elbowed him in the side.
"Shut up, Roy. Unless you want *me* to start giving out details to all and sundry." Donna paused at everyone's collective stare. "Uh. Did I say that out loud?"
"Clearly," Garth said, taking Donna's arm, "coffee is needed here. Before you say anything you'll regret." He steered her into the kitchen, not-incidentally herding Roy and Vic along too. Leaving Gar and Kory and me standing in the hall, looking at each other.
Except Gar had also picked up on Garth's intent. "Look, you guys need to talk. I just have one thing to say." He caught my eye, holding my gaze with an intensity I didn't remember from him. "I don't know everything that happened with you, but you were an *idiot* for letting her go."
Slightly stunned, I managed, "Probably."
Kory was quicker, or maybe she'd had longer to think about it. "Yes, and he's suffered for it ever since."
Gar laughed. "I think you'll be fine, Kory. I'm gonna go get some breakfast now. Have fun, you two." He grinned wickedly and turned to follow the others. Older and wiser or not--and it's something of a shock to the system to realize that he really is both--Gar's probably never going to lose that low sense of humor.
Of course, something I'd apparently forgotten in the past three years is that Kory's isn't much better.
"Oh, very okay. I'll never underestimate our little Garfield again." She flashed a teasing smile. "Not so little."
I knew she was joking from the look in her eyes, but played along. "More than I needed to know."
Kory giggled, but then said with surprising seriousness, "We should stay in touch with him, Dick. He doesn't deserve to lose his...his family, not again."
It always amazed me, how many of the Titans were orphans of one kind or another. The team had become family for so many of us. "Gar always has a place here if he wants it, he knows that."
She nodded. "I know he's trying to do other things right now, but I think Gar will need the Titans again someday. The Titans need him. His sense of humor, you know? We haven't had a lot to laugh about, lately." She glanced at me, considering. "Well, most of us."
I had nothing to apologize for, not about this, and that wasn't what she wanted to hear anyway. "You know I never wanted to hurt you, Kory."
She was quiet for a moment. "It does hurt. Not because you're happy...but because you wouldn't let me try to make you happy. It upsets me because I know you, and I know there's only room in your heart for one person. If you love Garth, that means you'll never love me again."
"I'll always--" I started to say, and stopped at the look on her face.
"Don't. I know you mean it, but not the way I want you to." She shrugged slightly, helplessly. "And I know that's not going to change. Things are different now, maybe we're both different than we used to be, but I don't--I don't know how to stop loving you, Dick."
There was, literally, nothing I could say, nothing I could even imagine saying to that; and after a moment Kory shook her head as if it didn't matter. "Do you want me to leave the team?"
"No!" That, at least, was very clear, especially in light of her comment before about family. As long as there was a Titans team--that I was part of, anyway, and I knew Donna felt the same--there'd be a place for Kory. "I'd never ask that. We'll make it work, Kory, I promise."
She nodded, not quite agreeing but willing to take me at my word. I'd do anything in my power to keep it. I owed her at least that, and so much more.
We headed into the kitchen. Toni hadn't come down for breakfast, which didn't surprise me, because she took the concept of 'late sleeper' to extremes. Grant hadn't either, and I'd definitely have to track him down later. I didn't want to push him, but truth was the kid was literally a walking timebomb, and if he was upset that'd only add to his stress level and the likelihood of an explosion.
Almost totally unnoticed, I walked in a step behind Kory--who calmly took a seat next to Gar, much to Roy's renewed interest. Garth looked up from filling the tea kettle and caught my eye, a question evident in his face. I grinned at him, and he relaxed and grinned back.
Yeah. Everything's going to be just fine.