"...More Close Than a Brother."

by 'rith



Archive: Ask first, please.
Warnings: Very mild M/M slash implication.
Fandom: Titans, modern comicsverse, AU. A sequel to "The Thousandth Man," which can be found at my webpage http://www.offpanel.net/kerithwyn/. For the much slashier version, see "...With You in Any Water."
Thanks to: KayJay, who thought there was sequel potential, even if this isn't exactly what she was expecting. ;)
Disclaimer: All characters property of DC Comics. What I have done with them is mine.


One man in a thousand, Solomon says,
Will stick more close than a brother.

--Kipling



Another day, another battle, another bunch of anonymous thugs who thought they were good enough to take on the Titans.

And the six Titans in residence were enthusiastically proving them *wrong.*

"Why is it every group of half-trained goons thinks we'd make good punching bags?" That was Arsenal, his mouth running faster than the Flash as usual. "This never happens to the JLA. We need better press, Wingster!"

Nightwing grinned as he vaulted over the battle and landed feet-first on the shoulders of a gunman, driving him into the dirt. "Sure. Lemme call up Bethany Snow...."

Cyborg shook his head and grabbed up two of the thugs, slamming them together, stunning them. "Nah. She'd only say we maliciously and without provocation attacked these poor, innocent gun-wielding, armor-wearing gentlemen who just *happened* to be on Titans island...sight-seeing."

Argent, new to the team but quickly finding the spirit of it, chimed in. "Maybe we can recruit someone--like that Kent guy in Metropolis, he does all of Superman's press."

"...or Lane. Yeah, I wouldn't mind her hanging around, watching my every move...."

"She's *married,* Roy!" Troia glared at Arsenal as she tore the power packs out of the fallen weapons.

"Well, all right. Tana Moon, then." He grinned. "I'm just sayin'--"

Cyborg laughed. "Yeah, Harper, we know what you're saying, you never shut up!"

Crouched behind a rock, one of the last remaining gunmen--a little more cautious than the rest--took stock. It was infuriating, watching the Titans' casual disposal of his team. They were laughing, *joking* as the bodies piled up around them, and the sound of it was worse than the failure. Well. He'd make sure to leave them with something they *couldn't* laugh off. That one, the quick one who directed the others as casually as breathing...he was obviously the leader. Take out the head, and the rest will fall. Maybe not in this attack, but surely with the next.... He took careful aim, tracking the acrobat's moves, and fired.

The energy bolt screamed through the air toward Nightwing's back, only to be intercepted by a red-and-black garbed body throwing itself in the way. Tempest went down, sorely burned but protected from a killing shot by his Atlantean physiology. As Nightwing, merely human, would not have been.

To some surprise, it was Arsenal who reacted first.

"Garth! Stay down, buddy, I gotcha--"

Faster than thought three arrows buried themselves in the gunman: one in his shoulder, one through his hand, the last piercing his thigh. He went down howling, never knowing how close he'd been to finding that final arrow through his heart.

"Jeez, Arsenal." Argent looked at him with wide eyes. "Thought you were gonna kill that guy."

Roy ignored her, running heedless of his own safety toward the fallen Tempest. Behind him, Cyborg and Nightwing dispatched the remaining goons. "It's okay, you're gonna be okay, please be okay--"

Troia swooped down. "Roy? Is he--"

"...'s alright, it's just a bad burn, but he's unconscious. Can you carry him?"

"Of course." Donna lifted Garth easily and took off toward Titans' Tower and the new medical bay.

Nightwing came up. "Roy? He'll be fine. Are you--"

"That blast would have killed you, Dick! If he hadn't seen it...."

"That's what the team's for. We watch out for each other." Dick nodded to Cyborg and Argent and called across the field, "Vic, Toni, you two deal with these guys, all right? Roy and I are going to check on Garth."

Argent looked at Cyborg, a little panicked. "They're just leaving us to do that? But..."

Vic patted her shoulder. "They've got more important things on their minds. You have to remember, Donna and Roy and Garth and--Nightwing, they've known each other a long time. Making sure a couple of goons get turned over to the authorities is pretty minor compared to that. And they trust us to do it. C'mon, you truss ‘em up, I'll make the call...."

Back at the Tower, Dick was still trying to get Roy to talk. "You, ah, that was pretty harsh with that last guy--"

"He deserved it."

"Hm."

Silence for one moment, two, and then: "Okay, okay. Look, it's...this is weird, don't laugh, but I ended up talking with Garth a little a couple of weeks ago. Really talking. Man, Robbie, I've known him forever and I barely knew...."

"Go on." Dick carefully kept his face straight, and tried to put the story Changeling'd told him out of his mind. Something about Garth finally getting annoyed at Harper's insults, and a kiss.

"Yeah. So I just never realized, I guess. What, uh, you and me and Donna and Wally mean to him. It kinda shook me."

"I know." Dick smiled faintly. "I don't know why you have such a hard time believing we care about you, Harper. You're only an idiot on the outside."

"Gee, thanks. But it wasn't just about me. He could've died out there, he was saving your life, and he didn't hesitate for a second!"

"Roy." Dick caught his friend's eye. "We've all fought together before, it's always like that. Next time it'll be your turn to save Donna, or mine to help Wally. Why is this different?"

"Nothing! That's just the point!" Roy looked away. "All that time, I barely ever talked to Garth except to insult him, I never really got to know him, and he loves me--you, all of us--enough to die for us. What'd I do to deserve that?"

"You're *you.*" They reached the medical bay. "Donna?"

"Here, Dick." She was looking over readings on the computer console. "I bound the wound and got him in the tank STAR Labs sent. I'm just adjusting the pressure now. I figured the last thing he needed was a case of dehydration on top of everything else."

"Good thinking." Garth stirred and winced in the water-filled chamber. "Looks like he's coming to."

"Ouch." Tempest opened his purple eyes and reached for the intercom inside the tank. "Glad to see you guys in one piece. The others?"

"Fine, no one got hurt except for you, and thanks." Dick shook his head mournfully. "What, ‘Nightwing, duck!' wouldn't have been enough?"

"I didn't want to take the chance." Garth smiled. "Besides, this offers a fine excuse for all of you to visit me while I lie in bed injured, the selfless hero...."

Dick snorted. "An ulterior motive. I knew it." He moved forward and laid a hand flat on the chamber; inside, Garth mirrored the motion. "Thanks, Garth."

"Any time, Robbie."

"I should get back out there and see if our ‘friends' want to tell us anything about who sent them. I'll check back later."

"Yeah, later." Roy looked up into the tank. "Glad you're all right."

Donna smiled to herself. She'd heard the story too--and Gar had shown her the picture, as well. "Roy got the guy who shot you. Took him down pretty hard, actually."

Tempest raised an eyebrow. "Not too hard, I hope?"

"He'll live."

"Thanks."

"De nada, amigo."

Garth shook his head. "You two don't have to nursemaid me, if you need to go--I should rest, anyway."

"Nah, if I go back out there, Robbie'll put me to work." Roy grabbed a chair and put his feet up on the console. "Go ahead and sleep, I'll be here if you need anything."

Donna smiled at Garth over Roy's head. "I'll leave you in good hands, then." She bent down and kissed Roy's cheek.

"Huh?" He looked up at her, confused. "What's that for?"

"Being you. Never mind."

"Sure." She left, and Roy grinned at the tank. "You get shot, and I get kissed. No question who got the better deal today, buddy."

No answer. Roy glanced at the monitor and saw Garth had fallen asleep. Donna'd put a sedative into the water to help ease the healing process. Sneaky. He'd have to put a note in his own file so they'd never pull that trick on him. Drugs, no thank you, never again. He'd suffer the pain, but Garth didn't deserve to. "You sleep. I'll be here."

It was, after all, the least he could do.

{the next day}

"Hey."

Garth looked up to see Roy eyeing him hesitantly from the door. "Hey, yourself. You've just missed Dick...."

"Yeah, that's all right. How, uh, how are you feeling?"

"Much better. Come in, Roy, you don't have to stand in the doorway...."

Roy looked around as he entered, noting the relative absence of clutter in Garth's room as opposed to his own. Clothing, a few books, a small framed picture of the original Titans, and that was it. His own was a wreck, clothes and weapons everywhere, some of Lian's toys, an accumulated mess. Garth was on the bed, ribs bound. "Hey, can I get you anything? Water?"

"I'm all right at the moment, thanks."

"I was just wondering, thought you'd be in the tank...."

Garth shook his head. "I've been able to stretch my tolerance for being out of water quite a bit. It's much easier now--Roy, quit hovering, I'm okay."

Roy dropped down into the chair next to the bed. "I remember in the old days, an hour and then you'd have to run."

"Made me fairly useless to you guys." Garth held up a hand as Roy started to protest. "It's true. It's a large part of the reason I quit when I did. I felt like a burden, you all watching to make sure ‘Aqualad' didn't choke on air, and having to worry about heading inland on cases. I *wasn't* much use, after all."

"Well, you sure don't have that problem anymore."

"No." He smiled a little. "I can't help but wonder what would have happened if Atlan had found me sooner."

"He taught you--magic, right? That's still so weird, saying that."

"He helped me discover my birthright, the powers I had all along and never knew. They're magical in nature, yes, but they're not spells in the way you're thinking. I *have* cast a spell. Once." He frowned. "It was like--channeling a hurricane. Power from outside that I focused. I haven't thought about that much, since. Atlan insists that I should take the time for proper study and learn."

Roy shrugged. "What do you think?"

"I think it might be useful; apparently I have the potential to be a powerful sorcerer. So I've been told."

"I don't know what to tell you. I mean, sure, more firepower in a fight is always a good thing." He grinned. "That's the perspective you get from the guy called ‘Arsenal.'"

Garth laughed. "Right, of course. But there's more to it than another kind of offensive weaponry."

"I guess. There's the stuff Raven used to do, like healing and teleporting--that's kind of what you mean?"

"Theoretically."

Roy nodded. "That *does* sound useful. But y'know, it's not like the Titans are lacking for power these days, you shouldn't do it just for us...."

"Hm. The training *would* take me away from the team, and I'm not ready to leave again just yet."

"Yeah. The team feels pretty good, doesn't it?"

"Very. ... Roy? I appreciate this."

"What, the visit? You said yourself, do the hero thing, everyone feels guilty and comes by." Roy smirked. "Pretty good scam, buddy."

Garth smiled. "Tell you what, then, next time I'll pick *you* up and use you for a shield!"

"Ha! Thanks, no. You may be the suffer-in-silence type, but you'd hear me screaming from one end of the Tower to the other. I'm a lousy patient."

"But just think, you could have Donna for a nurse...."

"Yeah, right." Roy snorted. "I can hear it now. ‘Get your ass out of bed, Harper, and quit whining.' Nah. You're the sympathetic one; I'd just get ragged on."

"Oh, I think she'd be a little more comforting than that. "

"Maybe." He was quiet for a moment. "Listen. I've been thinking a lot about when we talked, the other day."

Garth's eyes were level on his own, undemanding. "Oh?"

"Yeah. So, um, I was just wondering, I dunno why, about, uh, what you said about Dick and me and the others...."

"I remember, Roy. I never meant to imply that I expected--"

"Nah, I know, but, uh, this isn't obligation or worry or guilt or anything else, it's cause I want to. All right?"

He leaned forward, seeing the astonishment turn to acceptance in Garth's eyes. A breath, and their lips met.

Naught but silence, and the faintest whisper of flesh against flesh.

Roy pulled back, and Garth looked at him oddly. "Um..."

Roy nodded. "Yeah."

"That was..."

"I *know!*"

"That was *terrible!*" Garth fell back to the bed laughing, holding his ribs against the pain but unable to stop.

Roy snickered. "Yeah, don't let it get out, it'd ruin my rep.... I love you, man, but obviously not *that* much!"

"I know." Still smiling, Garth caught Roy's hand. "You never had to prove it, of course."

"I was curious. I'm not anymore, believe me!"

"Oh, well. Have to scratch you off my list, then."

Roy stared, then let out a breath when he saw Garth's smirk. "Oh, ha ha, very funny."

"*I* thought so."

Donna poked her head around the corner. "Hey, guys. Roy, I hate to drag you away, but Lian's insisting we take her out for ice cream...."

"Now how could I resist the chance to take out my two favorite ladies, huh? Catch you later, Gi--Garth."

Garth's enhanced hearing followed as they left the room.

Donna's tone was full of gentle amusement. "Nice to see you boys getting along."

"Well, the guy's hurt, might as well cut him some slack."

"Hmmm. There's hope for you, Roy Harper."

"Nah."

Their voices faded. "The more things change..." Garth closed his eyes, and smiled. "I hope he never does."


{end}







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