Sea and Sky:

Debrief

by 'rith



Archive: Ask first, please.
Notations: m/m relationship, innuendo.
Fandom: Modern comicsverse. S&S series. Set after "Visitation," "Affairs of State," and "The Lapdance." For the timeline, see http://www.offpanel.net/kerithwyn/SeaSky.html
Disclaimer: All characters save Alianne property of DC Comics. Alianne belongs to Elay and is used with her permission. What I have done with them is mine.
Thanks to Smitty for kibitzing, to Elay for making sure I did okay by her girl, and to nw's chick for kicking me for the lameness of the first draft and making me do better. Any continued lameness is entirely mine.




Dick woke slowly, savoring the relaxation in his muscles that resulted from fully satisfying rest, along with the tiny aches that accompanied the memory of equally satisfying sex. They'd had over a week of absence from each other to make up for, after all.

He was lying flat on his back, Garth's arm thrown over his torso in a half-embrace and the even breaths in his ear indicating that Garth was still asleep. He couldn't remember the last time they'd slept in like this, the sun streaming in through the bedroom window illuminating the fact that he rarely ever saw this room in full daylight. If he wasn't coming in near dawn after a night's patrol, he was rushing out to start his shift at the Blüdhaven precinct. The bedroom was where his clothes lived, in the closet if they were lucky, and where he caught random hours of sleep in-between jobs. And where he had sex, of course, though virtually every square foot of the apartment had been exploited for that purpose at one time or another.

Besides, it wasn't like the room had much in it to look at, and certainly nothing that deserved attention more than the man sleeping next to him. Without moving any more than necessary, Dick turned his head carefully to see Garth's head on the pillow inches from his own. Despite his caution, he detected the change in breaths that meant Garth was awake, or nearly there.

Garth would have ordinarily been up long before this, needing to rehydrate or refresh his air-breathing spell, except that they had been in and out of the shower half the night. The other tenants would've had cause to complain about the hot water shortage if Garth hadn't used his elemental powers to keep things heated. In more ways than one. Dick shifted a little, remembering, and felt Garth's arm tighten around him. "'morning."

"mmm," Garth non-answered, apparently not yet inclined to approach full coherence. Dick knew exactly how he felt. They lazed like that for another few minutes, until Garth spoke again, not stirring at all otherwise. "What time is it?"

"Just after ten."

Garth's eyes flew open. "Dick, you're late!"

Dick raised an arm and laid a reassuring hand on Garth's chest, enjoying the feel of coiled strength under his palm. "S'okay. When you paged me yesterday that you were coming home, I swapped to second shift. I don't have to be in 'til four." He grinned. "I figured I'd want to sleep in today. *Somebody* wore me out."

"*Somebody* ambushed me when he came in," Garth returned, clearly amused. "All part of your master plan, obviously."

"A cunning plan. So very cunning, in fact, that we never did get around to dinner."

"And I had wanted to...I need to tell you about something that happened while I was in Poseidonis."

The hesitant tone of Garth's voice should have set off warning bells, but Dick had suddenly remembered the encounter he'd meant to share. "Oh, yeah, me too--I had this dream while you were away." He glanced over to catch Garth's raised eyebrow. "Not *that* kind of dream. It was really--"

"Dick, I have to tell you--"

"I dreamed about Tula."

"I kissed my best friend back home."

Dick blinked, feeling like he'd caught a sudden punch to the throat. Garth's statement had hit with the same kind of winded and startled *hurt*, except that most of the time, the person who'd done it wasn't wearing an expression of abject misery. "I'm guessing you don't mean like a peck on the cheek."

"No."

Years of disciplined training reminded him that logic was his friend. Garth had said, 'kissed.' Given his tendency to direct statements, he'd probably meant exactly that and no more. Dick very carefully swallowed down his initial reaction and waited another moment or two until he was reasonably sure his voice would remain steady and relatively neutral. "Okay, your story sounds more interesting."

Garth got up, grabbing a robe from the end of the bed to wrap around himself. That alone signaled how serious he took this, given that they usually didn't bother with clothes in their own bedroom. Garth took a few steps away, pacing nervously. "Dick, you have to believe, I didn't mean to."

"What, you fell on her--his?--lips?" Dick wisecracked to deflect his trepidation, immediately regretting the flippancy at the distressed look on Garth's face. He sat up, putting his back against the wall and giving Garth his full attention. "Tell me what happened."

"It was an accident. I didn't intend-- We were both--"

"Garth," Dick said softly, "just tell me."

Garth paced for another moment, his body language tense and apprehensive. "You...do you remember my telling you about Alianne?"

"Um." Dick thought back to the week in Greece, when Garth had talked about Atlantis and mentioned the few people he was close to there by name. "Sure. You said she was a friend of yours, and Tula's."

"Yes. Even when we were younger, she was one of the few who never paid any attention to the old superstitions. Ali's very smart, extremely well educated, especially in the fields of history and culture...." Garth caught Dick's patient look and grimaced. "I'm babbling."

"Yeah," Dick agreed. "S'okay. Go on."

"It was...it was a setup. Mera had some idea that if Ali and I got together, I'd give up the Titans and you and come back to Poseidonis." He shook his head, bemused. "I can't imagine why Mera would think I'd ever leave you."

"She hasn't seen me since we were kids, obviously," Dick quipped, still fighting anxiety, and then bit his tongue. "Uh. Sorry."

"Obviously." Garth smiled tentatively. "But Mera's still very...dedicated to Atlantis, even though she and Arthur are separated. I know in her own way, she was trying to do what was best for the kingdom, and what she thought was best for me."

Dick raised an eyebrow. "You almost sound like you approve."

"Not at all. It was underhanded and manipulative. But I know why she did it."

"The good of the kingdom," Dick said, with more acidity than he intended. "I'm familiar with the concept."

Garth paused, almost visibly, and then said with compassion, "Kory."

"Yeah." But thinking about it raised the fact that there were certain similarities between Kory's situation and Garth's. "For the love of God, tell me you're not required to get married."

"No!" Then Garth hesitated again, long enough that the muscles in Dick's stomach began to tighten with dread. "That...hasn't been seriously suggested."

He wasn't going to live this particular nightmare again. Would. Not. If he'd learned nothing else from Kory--and God knew he had, more than he could express--they had to *talk* about it rather than deny the possibility until it was too late. The irony that Garth might be subject to the same kind of demands hadn't exactly eluded him, but (again, like with Kory) the prospect seemed so far away he'd never really considered it likely.

If it was...it was also true there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it. The *idea* of being so helpless, yet again, in the face of political demands on his lover's life--

Dick breathed out sharply and then in again, very carefully, trying to calm both his body and his racing thoughts. There was no point in speculating before he had all the facts in place. "*Is* that a possibility?"

"It isn't." Garth sat down on the edge of the bed, looking very earnest. "I've made it very clear that I'm not interested in being part the line of succession, in either Shayeris or Poseidonis. But more important, I wouldn't. Period."

"I don't need that kind of scare," Dick said plaintively.

Garth shook his head. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean--it's only that as long as Arthur hasn't officially named another heir, I'll probably always be considered in line for the throne. No matter how often I state I don't want it."

"Well, he should hurry up and name one, then," Dick muttered.

"...if you want to tell him that, I'll sell tickets," Garth said dryly.

"Pass. You're sure that you--"

Garth held his gaze. "Yes. To whatever you're going to ask. I'm sure that even if someone *did* try to arrange a political marriage, I wouldn't agree to it. I'm sure that I'm not going to suddenly decide to return to Atlantis, regardless of what Arthur and Mera think. And I'm very, very sure that I'm not going to leave you until--until you want me to go."

"I don't want you to go," Dick said hoarsely, tilting his head back against the wall so he wouldn't have to look directly at Garth as he spoke. It wouldn't do either of them any good if he broke down, and the look in Garth's eyes threatened to provoke exactly that. "I can't...imagine. Going through that again. I know it's selfish, I know you have responsibilities, but the idea makes me want to tell all of Atlantis to go to hell."

He felt Garth shift a little before he answered. "I *do* have responsibilities, but they don't include-- Dick, I'm not Kory."

Dick brought his head down at that as Garth continued. "I empathize with the choice she had to make. I know how much it hurt both of you. I'm not...in quite the same position. I'd be equally inclined to join you in telling anyone who decided otherwise to go to hell." He shrugged. "I've said as much to Arthur before, and I'm still here. But more to the point, I'm far more content as ambassador than as crown prince. Noble houses searching for alliances don't look to ambassadors, particularly not those to the surface. They think--what's Lian's expression?--they think landsmen have cooties."

Dick snorted amusement despite himself. "I've contaminated you with my stinky air-breather germs."

"Thoroughly." A tiny smile was playing on Garth's mouth. "Honestly, Dick, the half that don't think I'm somehow tainted because of my eye color believe that my judgment is suspect due to too much exposure to the surface."

Dick nodded, letting relief at Garth's declarations settle through him. Which still left the revelation that had sparked the conversation to begin with. "But Mera apparently found someone who thinks otherwise."

Garth flinched as if stung. "Don't--it wasn't Alianne's fault. Neither of us realized what Mera had intended until later."

"What'd she do, lock you in a closet together?"

"She..." Dick watched incredulously as a mortified blush spread under Garth's skin. "She got us *drunk.*"

In spite of his concern, Dick wrestled with the urge to snicker at both Garth's embarrassment and at the mental picture. "I don't think I've ever seen you finish as much as a glass of wine."

"Mera kept having bowls of fruit sent around. I didn't realize they'd been enhanced with alcohol."

It wasn't completely reassuring, but much better than Dick had been imagining. Garth's hands twisted together, an atypically nervous gesture, and it finally dawned on Dick how uneasy Garth probably felt, making this confession. *Especially* given Dick's history with Kory and accompanying helpless inflexibility about monogamy.

"Hey, wait a second," Dick said softly. "Let's shortcut the drama. I want to hear everything, but just tell me--you kissed her, right? That's all?"

Garth's eyes were wide with apprehension. "M-mostly all."

Dick felt his possessive, predictable jealous streak flare up and stomped it down hard. He didn't have the right to be jealous over a little harmless groping...especially since Garth had made the entire situation with Jean-Paul a nonissue. Dick was sure he wouldn't have been that gracious. At the time he'd justified things in his own mind, rationalizing that he and Garth were done for good; but to *Garth* it hadn't been over, and he'd still chosen not to confront Dick about it. It might have assuaged Dick's own guilt if he had, but Garth had probably wanted to simply put those weeks out of mind altogether. And it wasn't *his* responsibility to require Dick to come to terms with his own mistakes.

Besides, this--this didn't sound like anything more than an accidental indiscretion. Dick had less excuse for his night with Helena. That might have been easier to explain if he *had* been drunk. It wasn't like Garth had gone to Poseidonis with any kind of intention of hooking up with an old friend. And--

God, most of all he couldn't stand that look on Garth's face. "Well, Tula kissed me, so I'd call it even."

Garth frowned a little, as if the words hadn't quite registered. "Tula-- you said you dreamed--"

"Yeah. Tell you about it in a bit. But don't--I'm not mad, okay? I'm not going to freak out." He considered for a moment, trying to find the best tactic for quick reassurance. "Though if it makes you feel better, I'd be happy to get some mistletoe and smooch the hell out of Donna. Don't even have to wait for Christmas. Or mistletoe."

"I-- You-- " Garth stared at him, then started to shake with helpless disbelieving laughter. "Really? You'd make that sacrifice for me?"

"Oh yeah." Dick nodded enthusiastically. "Or you know, if you wanted immediate compensation, Clancy's right downstairs."

Garth chuckled again. "Which would at least have the benefit of not irritating Roy. Though that could be an added bonus, I suppose."

"Right." Dick grinned. "Now, I don't know about you, but I'm hungry. I vote we continue this tale of depravity over food." He bounced out of bed, intending to reach the drawer of take-out menus in the kitchen before Garth could protest, and stopped when he felt Garth's hand touch his arm. "Hm?"

"You surprise me, sometimes." Garth spoke quietly, his eyes full of relief. "I thought you'd be...hurt."

Dick smiled wryly. "Occasionally, even I can have a rational moment." He leaned forward and dropped a quick kiss on Garth's mouth, then rested his forehead against Garth's. "The idea of you kissing someone else makes me a little crazy, you know?"

"I know," Garth said, not moving at all, and Dick could virtually feel the sense of shame radiating through his skin.

He pulled back enough so that Garth could see his eyes and know that he was telling the truth. "You said it was an accident. I trust you. You're forgiven. Someday we'll even laugh about it."

Garth didn't reply, but his arms slid around Dick's waist to draw him closer. Dick threaded his fingers through Garth's hair as Garth laid his head against Dick's chest. It was an utterly peaceful, perfect moment...

...entirely shattered by the loud growling sound emitted by Dick's stomach. Dick froze for a second, biting his lip against the urge to cackle hysterically, and finally gave in when his hunger asserted itself again with a clamor.

Garth glanced up at him, smiling. "That sounds dire. We'd best feed you before whatever's in there decides it wants out."

"'The Stomach That Ate Blüdhaven,'" Dick intoned, detached himself from Garth with a last squeeze to his arm, and glanced around the floor for a pair of shorts.

Garth followed him to the kitchen, where Dick took a brief, obligatory peek into the fridge before reaching into a drawer to hold up a sheaf of paper. "Any preference?"

"You choose."

"Damn. You should feel guilty more often. I'd eat more pizza."

"Oh, I think this has fulfilled my quota for the year," Garth returned dryly.

Dick snorted. "You're a funny guy. Not many people know that about you."

"Keep it to yourself, please."

"I'm keeping all of you to myself, if that's all right with you."

"Yes," Garth said simply, without overt emphasis, but Dick felt his throat tighten briefly anyway.

"That's--that's settled then," he replied, voice husky with restrained emotion. "You're staying and I get my pizza and all is right with the world." He turned toward the phone, using the motion and the shuffle through the papers in his hand to regain his equilibrium. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Garth pass a quick, shaky hand over his eyes as he left the kitchen.

"...Be right back," Garth called, and Dick picked up the phone and dialed his favorite local pizza place. They were so good, the owner Mario (not his real name, he'd confided to Dick, but who wanted to buy pizza from a guy named Tom?) swore, because they shipped in water from New York to make the dough. Everyone knew NY pizza was so good because of the water.

He'd gotten off the phone and started both the coffee and teapot brewing when Garth came back in wearing sweatpants and one of Dick's Gotham Knights t-shirts. Dick smiled at it, but didn't comment; it was one of those subtle gestures that didn't need explanation. And he liked the way it looked stretching across Garth's broad chest.

"Make a salad to go with? Tom said it'd take a few, he's just firing up the ovens. And tell me the rest?"

Garth nodded, gathering ingredients out of the fridge: a bag of prewashed baby spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes. "We were at the formal reception after the speech. Ali--"

"And I didn't even ask, duh, how'd it go?" Dick interrupted, shaking his head in irritation at himself. Garth's proposal would benefit them personally, of course, but it was even more important for the potential trade it would open up with Atlantis.

It went well," Garth replied thoughtfully. "I don't...I'm not comfortable with that kind of attention."

Particularly not from people who might've wanted Garth banished in the first place, Dick thought with grim resentment, but didn't interrupt again.

"But I think Arthur's approval and the support of a few of the more influential noble houses will carry it through," Garth continued. "Things should happen quickly from this point. I expect the Council vote to be a formality, and our representatives should be contacting Mr. Fox shortly."

"That's terrific. You should be really proud." Dick held up a hand to Garth's automatic protest. "No, seriously. All this time, and you're the only one who's managed to put together any kind of real agreement with the surface outside of nonaggression treaties."

"It's not done yet," Garth demurred quietly, but Dick could see the faint flush of satisfaction cross his features.

"It'll happen," Dick returned firmly.

Garth nodded, his concentration seeming entirely fixed on the cutting board and the tomatoes he was slicing. "But anyway, I saw Alianne at the reception...." he paused as if he expected Dick to interrupt and went on when he didn't. "I hadn't seen her for a few years. You know how you carry a mental image of someone? Mine of Ali was one of a teenager, though she's--well, used to be--my age. I remembered her as a girl in a ponytail. She *isn't* one any more. Mera had dressed her up in court best...." Garth glanced over and caught Dick's amused look. "What?"

"You sound, I dunno, all sentimental. It's cute." Dick hoisted himself up to sit on the counter and grabbed a muffin out of the breadbox, tearing it into tiny pieces and tossing bits into his mouth to keep his stomach from staging a complete revolt and going in search of more attentive lodgings.

Garth tilted his head. "I guess...Ali's part of the few good memories I have of growing up in Poseidonis, aside from Tula."

"So then why haven't you kept in touch with her?"

Garth shrugged, moving back to the fridge. "Timing and circumstance. She had a career, responsibilities, and honestly...." he reached out to open the door and ducked his head, his arm partially hiding his face from Dick's view. "I didn't necessarily want her to see me like--like I was after Tula died. And I wasn't ready to deal with someone who'd been close to her too."

Dick nodded slowly, remembering. He'd felt exactly the same way after things literally blew up at his and Kory's wedding. There'd been too many associations, too many memories, to make staying with the Titans comfortable after that. It'd been more of a relief than anything to turn the team over to Roy and head off on his own.

But Garth was looking melancholy again, and that couldn't be allowed. "So your old friend grew up to be a megababe?"

Garth's head came up to look at him, and Dick grinned. "I can relate. Like the first time I saw you after you'd become Tempest. Big change, let me tell you. --Not," he added hastily, "that you weren't cute before, you know, but...."

"Thank you," Garth replied dryly. "But yes, she's grown up to be quite lovely."

Dick tried for his best nonjudgmental tone. "So you were tempted."

"I was half *drunk.* And not blind." Garth lifted his hand in a gesture of apology and then pulled a jar of olives out of the fridge. "So of course I was. Only in theory, obviously. But then.... We. Ah. There was a lot of alcohol in that fruit, and we were both pretty unsteady. Ali and I were tired of the reception by that point, so we went back to the balcony off of my old rooms. We used to go there to talk all the time."

He snuck an apprehensive look at Dick's face and his words sped up, as if to forestall any interruption. "We didn't--it was late, and we were tired and not thinking clearly and sitting together on the couch, and we kissed."

Hearing it wasn't any easier the second time, but Dick stuck to his resolution to let it go. "I'm over it if you are."

Garth smiled, seeming relieved. "We both realized it was a mistake almost as soon as it happened." He hesitated a little. "Well, almost immediately. She felt...good. But I wouldn't do that to you, Dick."

"I know," Dick said softly. "But it sounds like you were both out of it, so what stopped you?"

"Aside from the presence of breasts?" Garth smiled wryly. "Ali touched my mind, telepathically. It was a very...intimate gesture. And since you and I can't do that...."

"Oh." Dick turned that over in his mind, considering. Atlantean telepathy was generally only strong enough to function with other telepaths, and he was about as telepathically sensitive as a stone. "Is that something you miss?"

Garth's brief pause suggested that he was picking his words carefully. "I won't deny...it's a unique experience. But hardly essential."

"I'm sorry," Dick said helplessly, knowing it was neither his fault nor something he could fix. "It seems like yet another thing you've had to give up to stay with me."

"I made that decision even before we were involved, Dick," Garth said with decisive firmness. "When I chose to make my life with the Titans, it meant by necessity I wasn't going to form any kind of permanent attachment with other Atlanteans."

Dick frowned. "So you were going to give up sex altogether?"

"I didn't say *that.*" Garth smirked a bit. "I had opportunities on the occasional trip to Poseidonis. And you've said yourself, landsmen love the accent."

Dick chuckled, taking the filled salad bowl Garth handed him, ignoring the proffered fork and picking at it with his fingers despite Garth's Alfred-worthy glare. "People still think of you as the shy one. If they only knew."

"Roy's reputation is enough for any one team. I was going for 'mysterious, yet sexy.'"

"Got that down," Dick murmured, nibbling on an olive. "So--you and Alianne, you're both okay with what happened? I mean, if she's a good friend, I know that kind of thing can be awkward."

Garth looked troubled. "I think she was bothered more than she initially let on...but she'll be fine. She said she'd be."

"Sure," Dick agreed, privately wondering if her version on 'fine' was similar to his, and anything but.

"...But I didn't really talk to her about it," Garth confessed, mirroring Dick's thoughts. "I should have."

"I would guess," Dick suggested softly, "she probably wants some space to work things out for herself."

"Maybe." Garth was quiet for a moment, his next words hesitant. "It was like we both became aware of something that might have happened in another time, under different circumstances."

Dick stamped down jealousy again. Put in perspective it sounded a lot like his own relationship with Babs, and Garth had never expressed the slightest discomfort about that. Fair's fair, he told himself firmly. Garth had another *life* apart from his interactions with the Titans, and it was only natural that he'd formed connections there as well. He'd never want to begrudge Garth one of the few good associations to his own people. "How did you leave it?"

"We confronted Arthur and Mera together. It won't happen again, any of it. Alianne's assigned to work at the UN Atlantean embassy, once it's finished, and I hope you can meet her then."

"I'd like that," Dick replied with a little too much enthusiasm, and grinned to Garth's raised eyebrow. "Really. Long as she doesn't try anything again. I'd scratch her eyes out."

Garth laughed, shaking his head in disbelief. "Years of martial training, and you'd resort to that. I don't know whether to be flattered or embarrassed on your behalf."

"I'm an excellent hair-puller, too," Dick informed him cheerfully. "Advanced techniques. Ancient ninja secrets."

"That's--" Garth paused, blinking several times, an extremely strained expression on his face.

"What?"

"I'm sorry," Garth managed, sounding choked, "I'm trying not to imagine *Bruce*...."

Dick snorted. "Who'd you think taught *me?*" He fished the last leaf out of his bowl while Garth sputtered and made a show of very deliberately placing the bowl *into* the dishwasher. He poured coffee for himself and tea for Garth, and gestured toward the living room couch. "So, about this dream I had...."

Garth seemed interested, if not overly surprised. "I haven't dreamed about Tula, not in awhile."

"Well, all she wanted to talk about was you," Dick informed him.

Garth's mouth quirked into an ironic smile. "How tiresome."

"Smartass. No, it was nice. She seemed...very sure she would see you again." He wanted to tread lightly, if this was a religious issue. "Is that...do you believe that?"

"I do." Garth's voice held absolute certainty.

"So I'm only a substitute until you're with her again." He honestly had meant it as a joke, but Garth's shocked reaction told him that his humor had gone awry.

"Pallais, no, Dick, don't ever think that!"

Dick raised his hands in apology. "It was a poor joke, really. I know you don't feel that way."

"Not ever," Garth said earnestly. "Dick, whatever comes after...it's not *life.*" He reached out and took Dick's hands in his own, holding tight. "It's not *this.*"

Dick nodded mutely to the somberness in Garth's voice. "...I understand," he finally ventured. "I didn't mean to make light."

After another moment of silence, Garth continued in a different tone altogether. "Because, you know, I'm also very fond of *this.*" One of his hands shifted to grasp Dick's wrists, while the other dropped down to trace a slow, heated line from Dick's knee to his inner thigh, and then slipped inside the wide leg of his shorts.

"Oh," Dick started, "hey. Hello. Yeah, I'm--real fond of that too. Especially--*gnnng.*" He felt his eyelids flutter shut, forced them open again to catch the laughter in Garth's expression. "You've got about a thousand years to stop doing that."

"Is that all?" Garth murmured. "Best not to waste a moment, then."

He leaned forward, his mouth grazing Dick's jawline...and stopped.

"Teasing. Not fair," Dick protested feebly.

Garth had pulled back with a mingled look of amusement and exasperation. "Just remember, *you* were the one who placed the call."

"Wha--" Dick began, and then the doorbell rang. "Oh. Food. The *other* necessity of life." He was about to tell Garth to ignore it when his stomach let out another roaring growl.

"I cannot tell you," Garth said dryly, "how unbearably encouraging I find it to be rejected in favor of tomato-flavored cardboard." He withdrew his hand with a lingering caress and got up. Dick remained sprawled where he was while Garth retrieved Dick's wallet out of the jacket slung over a chair, went to the front door, and returned with an unmistakable square box.

"I'll have you know that's *very good* pizza," Dick retorted, "though I'm definitely willing to put it aside if you--" but Garth had opened the lid and the aroma hit him with almost physical force. "I mean, if you really *insisted*--"

"Dick," Garth said with visibly failing patience, "eat."

He was halfway through a second slice before his stomach finally quit growling long enough to ask the question that had been gnawing at him nearly as strongly as his hunger. "Could it really have been her? Not just a dream?"

"There's no way to be sure...it could have been both."

Dick raised an eyebrow. "'splain?"

"If you're really interested, I can tell you what Atlan explained to me...." At Dick's nod, Garth continued. "The way I understand it, there are...echoes left behind when someone dies. The energy of their lives, formless and immeasurable. Sometimes those echoes manifest as transitory ghosts. Those echoes can also be touched by magic--both undersea and surface cultures have shamans or sorcerers who can 'speak with the dead.' Except it's not truly the souls or spirits of the deceased being contacted, but their echoes, their memories left like an imprint of their passing." He paused and added, "That's how you know charlatans for certain, when they claim to know the future by way of speaking with the dead. Even if they did contact an echo, it wouldn't know anything of the future. It only knows what the person knew in life."

He paused again, longer this time, and finally said quietly, "That's what Slizzath did, I realized later. He gathered the echoes of Tula's life and bound them into a solid form. It wasn't truly her spirit. As far as I know, it's beyond the reach of any mortal mage to recall a soul that has...passed on.

"To make things more complex, there *are* true-ghosts, souls that have lost their bodies but haven't yet gone on. When *those* manifest, it's usually for some purpose or unfinished task."

Dick nodded thoughtfully, reaching for his third slice of pizza. "Could my dream have been--"

"No. I don't believe so." Garth's tone held utter certainty. "I...searched for her, before and after what Slizzath did, and asked Atlan to scry as well. There was no sign."

"Well, but...." He didn't want to poke holes in Garth's beliefs, but he also couldn't ignore the obvious question. "She knew more than she did...at the time she died. We talked about you, and things that've happened since then."

Garth nodded, seeming unperturbed. "But *you* know those things. Your image of her, your dream, was filtered through your own memories and knowledge."

Dick wasn't entirely convinced, but didn't think it was wise to push. If she *had* been more than an...echo, he also thought Tula might have been able to evade whatever magic Garth and Atlan had used. Or she might even have been 'sent' for some reason by a higher power, like Deadman had been sent back to perform an ongoing mission for Rama Kushna. Or the whole experience could, simply, have been a dream. In this case, Dick didn't think further investigation was necessary.

"Atlantean women, huh," he said softly, smiling. "Must be something in the water."

Garth glanced at him, startled, and started to laugh. Dick grinned and leaned back against the couch, content. Any lingering concern was inconsequential as long as they could both *laugh* about it.

He didn't need any other reassurance.



{end}

Randomly...it amuses me that Garth's ghost-echo theory fits in quite nicely with the old X-Men/Teen Titans crossover, wherein Darkseid went around collecting such energies to re-create Dark Phoenix. Go me. ^_^

Next: I collapse from exhaustion. And get some RL work done.
Sometime after a decent hiatus: the Wayne Enterprises reception.