Sea and Sky:
His last memory indicated a long tiring patrol of 'Haven, and then falling into a bed sadly empty of other company. Garth was in Poseidonis all this week, trying to reassure the Atlanteans of the virtues of the Wayne Enterprises trade agreement.
He was dreaming, then. And since he knew it, that made it a lucid dream. Dick had experienced lucid dreaming many times before, both as a natural occurrence and as a deliberate exercise, and knew how to guide and control his dreams. He honestly thought he'd been too exhausted for a spontaneous lucid episode, but decided to see how this one played out rather than coaxing his mind back into ordinary sleep.
Dick spun around in a complete circle, searching for a clue, and there was nothing but water until he heard the voice he'd never thought to hear again.
"Three dimensions, acrobat. Look up."
He did and she was there, almost like he remembered her. Except that she seemed older, more mature, the woman she'd have become if she'd lived. Hair a little less curly, figure considerably more developed. But the bright piercing blue of her gaze was exactly the same.
Tula looked down, watching him with amusement sparkling in her eyes.
He blinked at her, thinking that if this were an image his mind had cooked up, it was a damned realistic one. "Uh...did I get Garth's dream by mistake?"
She grinned, and as she spoke, the analytical part of his mind registered that he heard her as much in his mind as through the water. "No, I wanted to see *you.* Garth doesn't need to dream me, he knows I'm always with him."
Jealousy about that would be purely ridiculous. Tula was...*Tula.* Garth would always be in love with her, Dick knew that, it didn't mean what he had with Dick was less...
...but he found himself feeling a twinge anyway.
"Don't, Richard. It's not necessary."
He started, surprised. "You can read my mind?" But of course his own dreaming mind would know....
Tula shook her head. "No, you just...got that look. The 'I'm feeling something but I'm going to Bat-suppress it,' look."
"Oh." Dick smiled ruefully. "Were you always that perceptive, and I didn't notice?"
"Like Garth, I used to watch a lot." Her smile went catlike, mischievous. "I still watch. A lot."
Either he was dreaming this entire thing, so that shouldn't alarm him at all; or she really was...what? A ghost? In which case, the idea of her watching was the least of his concerns.
He'd encountered ghosts before. Usually there was a reason for their presence, and it typically wasn't pleasant. If she wasn't...at rest, did that mean she had unfinished business in the world? Or was she something else, like Deadman or Secret?
Again, she seemed to read his mind. "It's thoughtful of you to be concerned. You needn't worry on my behalf. I'm not about to start haunting you."
"Then this dream is..."
"Just a dream." She smiled sweetly. "If that's all you believe it is."
Best to go with the flow, Dick decided, since either his own mind was trying to tell him something, or *she* was. He swam up to meet her, facing her eye to eye.
"You said you wanted to see me." It had to do with Garth, he was sure. If she wasn't happy about their relationship, if she wanted him to break it off--
"Relax, Dick, I'm not jealous. I'm *thrilled* for both of you. In fact, I think you should keep having sex. Lots of sex. Lots of very acrobatic sex that I can watch...wait, I'm getting distracted." Tula grinned at his shocked gaze. "My point is, you should keep having sex. Because if you stop having sex, and you hurt him like you did before, I'm going to have to do something drastic. Atlantean ghosts are really *nasty,* did you know?"
She sighed. "Yes, of course. Because if I *could* interfere...do you think I'd only be watching?"
He didn't want to follow that train of thought. "So...not to be rude...what did you want to talk about?"
Tula regarded him, seeming slightly embarrassed. "I didn't really have an agenda in mind. I meant it literally-- I wanted to *see* you. I missed watching you grow up, you know? I wanted to see the man Garth loves so much. And I can see why."
"You're not going to tell me to take care of him?"
"I hardly have to *tell* you to do that, do I? I meant what I said, about being happy for you both. I was worried about him for so long." She hesitated slightly, her cheerful demeanor seeming to slip. "I was afraid he'd...try to follow me."
Dick started to protest, "He wouldn't have--" and trailed off at her somber expression. Garth had essentially vanished from the Titans' radar after the mission Donna led against Cheshire, shortly after Tula's death. When he'd reappeared, it was only to nearly be killed by the Wildebeests alongside Golden Eagle. After that he'd disappeared again until the team re-formed in its newest incarnation. In between, none of them had really known what Garth was doing, or feeling. Garth had told him some of it since, but now he suspected he'd gotten the watered-down version. Literally. "You think?"
She nodded. "He wasn't actively trying, but...he was awfully self-destructive for awhile. I was so glad when Atlan finally gave him something else to focus on. And then the Titans came together at the right time, when he'd found his true powers and decided to *live* again."
"It seems to be a good place for him. I'm glad it's worked out--aside from the obvious reason," he said, smiling.
Tula snickered. "The team that sleeps together...but he's far more at home with the Titans than he ever was before."
Dick gazed at her steadily, feeling as if he ought to apologize despite knowing he had no reason to. "Back then, we didn't understand how alienated he felt. It's no excuse...but we were only kids."
"Oh, I realize that. Garth understood that, too. And both he and I were far more grateful to all of you for simply *accepting* him than you'll ever know."
"Still. I wish we'd..." he trailed off. No use wishing for things that couldn't be changed, and Garth had become the person he was despite the Titans' occasional inattention. Dick couldn't imagine that Garth might have grown up better...
...except of course that Tula's death had shaped a significant part of Garth's life, and that was a difficult thing to contemplate when he was floating face-to-face with her. It felt vastly disrespectful to consider his own good fortune when she had died to make it possible.
It also belatedly occurred to him that this was the longest conversation he'd ever had with her. Even if it was only in his imagination. And regardless of the fact the past couldn't be changed.... "I wish I'd known you better."
She looked startled, then pleased. "Dick...that's sweet. But I always felt welcome with you and the others, even though we didn't see each other that often."
Seeing her *now* reminded Dick that if she was more than a dream, it wouldn't be the first time someone had encountered Tula since her death. Garth had told him, the words coming slowly and with difficulty, how his insane uncle had seemingly raised Tula from the dead. In the end, Garth had been forced to destroy that false form. "I know Garth saw you again," Dick started tentatively, and she grimaced.
"What Slizzath did. Yes. I wasn't fully aware, not until the end. I wasn't really...there. It seemed like a dream, I didn't question why or how, and I didn't want to. When we realized..." she shuddered. "It was an utter violation. Garth freed us *both* when he destroyed that body. The part of me that Slizzath had bound, the part of Garth...that had never wanted to acknowledge I was gone."
"If you could have stayed--"
"There is no if," Tula said, her tone allowing no debate. "It took too long for Garth to accept my death. Don't second-guess it." She paused briefly. "And there's no call for guilt on your part, either. I'm *glad* he's moved on. It was past time. I-- I hope you can make it work."
Even if she was only a literal figment of his imagination, Dick felt compelled to reassure her. Even if he was only reassuring himself. "I think I've finally come to understand what he's given up--what he continues to give up to be with the Titans, and with me. I don't take that lightly. I'm *trying* not to take those sacrifices for granted. I know I have a tendency to do that," he added with a sigh. "I never want to assume he'll always be here, but I'm willing to do whatever it takes to assure that he is."
Tula's smile belied the thin sheen of unshed tears in her eyes. "Thank you," she breathed. "I didn't-- I didn't want to push. I know you care. It was a selfish impulse, wanting to hear those words." She took a deep, shaky breath. "The only thing that matters is that he's happy when he's with you. You do that, Dick. Pallais, I hope you know that you do."
"I'm trying," Dick said simply.
"That's all I can ask." She gazed at him for a moment, both joy and regret manifest in her features. "He's everything I dreamed, everything I knew he'd become...."
Tula reached a hand toward him; he took it and was surprised when she drew him forward to kiss him lightly on the mouth. "Hold my heart, Richard, until he's with me again."
Dick woke suddenly, sitting upright, startled for a split-second to be breathing thin insubstantial air instead of enfolding waters.
He licked at his lips and briefly tasted salt. The next moment it was gone. Psychosomatic reaction or ghostly residue? It didn't matter. There was a certain relief in having received the blessing of Garth's former love...if the entire experience hadn't been purely a self-serving impulse offered up by his subconscious.
"I will," he said aloud, softly, in case it wasn't.
Whether she was real or not, when Garth got back...they'd give her something to watch.
Fic in this sequence: