This is typical: Discussed the initial idea with Dannell six or so years ago. Wrote a chunk in 2003. Finished it January 2006 and sat on it in a fit of despair and unadulterated loathing. Posting now so I can say I accomplished something.

I'm fairly sure this counts as Lord King Bad Fanfic, at least for the *theme.* But I never had that much shame to begin with.


Still lacks a title but I'm not holding this any longer, so for now let's just call it Sea and Sky: The One Where Donna Asks a Question.

Sea and Sky:

(The One Where Donna Asks a Question)

by 'rith



Archive: Ask first, please.
Fandom: Modern DC comicsverse. Sea and Sky series [Nightwing/Tempest]. The previous parts can be found at http://www.offpanel.net/kerithwyn/. Out of sequence, set a year or two "future," possibly AU.
Disclaimer: All characters property of DC Comics. What I have done with them is mine.
Notations: Slash relationship, nonexplicit.

Thanks to the usual suspects for putting up with my endless neurosis, and especially to Kael for cheerleading, beta, and good sense.


***

On an otherwise unremarkable Tuesday, Dick came home to find Donna Troy sitting at the kitchen table with Garth, drinking tea and seeming entirely at home. No reason she shouldn't, of course, because she was always welcome. But he didn't remember her calling, or Garth mentioning that she was coming to visit; it was enough of a break in the routine that he would have remembered. Her being here couldn't be official business, since they saw each other at the weekly Titans meetings if not for some crisis or another....

"Hi," Donna said over her teacup, and smiled. Dick grinned back, half at her and half at his own automatic questioning analysis. He crossed the room and leaned down to kiss her cheek.

"Hi yourself," he said lightly, sliding into an empty chair and reaching over to squeeze Garth's offered hand. And because it seemed expected of him: "Staying for dinner?"

"As long as you're not cooking," she said, still smiling.

"No fear of that," Garth said dryly, "and I think we can do better than Dick's ready finger with the speed dial to every take-out place in a 10-mile radius."

Dick clutched at his chest in mock distress. "A hit, a palpable hit. A long hard day of protecting the fine citizenry of this fair--well, okay, wretched--city, and this is the thanks I get? Being abused in my own home."

"You'd rather be abused somewhere else?" Garth questioned with his most innocent expression, and Dick got up, shaking his head over the sound of Donna's laughter.

"I'm gonna go change. Please feel free to mock me in my absence."

"Not as much fun," Donna said, and then as he just reached the hall, obviously to Garth but in a voice deliberately loud enough for him to hear, "Nice...pants."

He couldn't hear Garth's murmured response, but Donna's answering giggle made the context clear enough. Dick smirked to himself and continued down the hall.

The banter went on though dinner, never serious nor significant, but the faint blush on Donna's cheeks and her occasional sideways glances were enough for Dick to presume that Donna's visit was more than a random drop-in.

They were in the living room, talking idly over coffee, when Donna abruptly stood and took a few nervous, pacing steps.

"Dick, I'd like--there's something I want to ask you."

"Anything," he said, surprised that she'd even hesitate.

Garth gestured toward the back of the house. "Should I go?"

She blinked at him, seeming startled. "Oh, no, please stay. You should be here too, it's important that you both--listen, I have to say this before I lose my nerve." She took a deep breath, watching them both, her whole posture full of agitated energy. "I want to have a baby. And I'd like Dick to be the father."

Dick literally, physically, forgot to breathe. He heard blood roaring in his ears, no other sound penetrating, as if the entire world had dropped into silence. After a moment's stunned immobility he managed a weak, "...what?"

"I want to have a baby," Donna repeated, all her nervousness now replaced by absolute surety. "I've always wanted...Dick, you remember how much I wanted that with Terry."

He nodded mutely, remembering. Donna had virtually glowed with excitement when she'd found out she was pregnant. For all of the difficulty with the birth and the troubles afterward, Donna had been as happy then as he'd ever seen her. And completely devastated when her ex-husband and son had been killed.

"That hasn't changed," she continued in a steady tone. "I waited this long because I wanted to make sure I wasn't...only trying to 'replace' Bobby. I loved him, but he's...gone." She swallowed once, visibly, and went on in that same sure voice. "I want a child not as a substitute for him but because I still want more than anything to be a mother."

Dick glanced toward Garth, looking to gauge his reaction for lack of any coherent assessment of his own, and saw the same measure of stunned surprise he was sure must be showing on his own face. But Garth already seemed to have moved past astonishment into actual *contemplation* of what Donna had asked, while Dick was still trying to put the words she'd said into a context that made sense.

"And there's no reason to wait," Donna was saying as if it were the most obvious truth she knew. "I'm twenty-six and frankly, it's not like I need to wait until I'm in a committed relationship again. Of course that'd be ideal, but...." she shrugged. "This is more important to me right now. Even if I met someone I could fall in love with tomorrow, it wouldn't be fair to expect him to commit to the same things I want right away. It took time with Terry, and that was good. We agreed together when it was time to start a family. But now I'm making that decision for myself.

"So," she grinned a little at Dick, the blush more prominent on her cheeks, "who else, honestly, was I going to ask?"

"I," Dick said feebly, and found himself at a complete loss for other words.

"I know it's a lot to ask," Donna said softly. "I know it's a shock and that there's a lot to work out if--if you agree. Please believe me, the last thing I want to do is disrupt what you guys have. I don't expect you to derail your entire life. It's just--I don't think I could go the anonymous artificial insemination route, and you're everything I could hope for anyway. Beautiful, brilliant--"

"You only love me for my genes," Dick blurted, taking refuge in the wisecrack to avoid the enormity of actually *thinking* about what Donna was proposing.

She laughed. "I love all of you. And that's why you're the only one I thought of asking." Donna hesitated and turned to Garth. "Not that I don't--that I wouldn't be thrilled, but...."

"The potential complications of hybrid genetics," Garth said easily. "I'm not offended."

She smiled gratefully. "Exactly. Of course it wouldn't be right to ask Roy or Wally, and--"

"Wait," Dick finally said, "wait. Stop. From the beginning. You want a baby. I think that's terrific. You ask me--" he glanced helplessly at Garth again. "I don't even know where to begin. Aside from being absolutely honored and completely confused."

Donna nodded. "That's fair. Like I said, I know this is huge. I wanted to ask both of you, together, because I want you to talk about it and decide together."

Details were easier to contemplate than the enormity of her request. To begin with, he had more than a few questions about the *method.* "If I--how would we do this?"

"Well, I wouldn't mind the old-fashioned way," she began with a wicked gleam in her eye.

Dick stared at her and turned to look incredulously at Garth, who--

--looked like that was the best idea he'd ever heard. Like he was completely enthralled with the suggestion, to the point of locking Dick and Donna in the bedroom together to ensure it. And then watching through the keyhole, if not from a chair by the bedside, with popcorn.

"But I'd understand if you thought that was too awkward," she continued blithely. "I've already consulted with STAR Labs. The main medical hub's in San Francisco, which is great because it's *away* from everybody, and Sarah Charles said she'd be happy to facilitate donor insemination. No one needs to know, at least until we find out if it works." She stopped, taking a deep breath. "I mean. If you agree."

"I think," Garth said softly, filling in the silence when Dick found himself utterly unable to reply, "Dick needs some time to think about it."

"Right. Of course." Donna looked like she wanted to add something else, maybe plead her case, but she knew him well enough to know he was already processing what she'd told him and that anything else would be extraneous. "I'll--talk to you guys soon? I hope." She went out quickly, as if hoping that the sooner she left, the sooner he'd be able to decide.

Dick sat stock-still for another full minute, barely blinking. Then he got up, went over to the rarely used liquor cabinet, opened it, poured a generous shot of whiskey, and swallowed it down in a single gulp.

"Better?" Garth asked behind him, sounding far too amused.

"Oh, my *God,*" Dick said, pouring another shot. He wasn't ready for it yet, but could feel the need building. "I-- she--"

"I think we've established the premise."

"Did you *know* about this?" Dick demanded, turning. "You're not even--"

Garth held up a hand. "I didn't have any idea."

"But you're not *surprised.*"

"Not entirely." Garth hesitated. "It...makes a lot of sense, from her point of view."

It was the *way* he said it. "And you agree with her?"

Garth let out a long, slow breath. "I-- this has to be your decision."

Dick stared at him. "Don't even. I have no *idea* what to think right now. But I want to know how you feel about it."

"How I--" Garth gave a short laugh. "A child of two people I love best in this world? How could I think the notion was anything less than brilliant?"

There were too many conflicting emotions tearing through him to separate. Dick sat down again, trying not to let any of them show before Garth had the chance to express his thoughts. "Explain? Please."

Garth looked at him for a long moment, probably debating how forthright he wanted to be with his obvious opinion, and finally shrugged. "This is...a fairly common situation in Atlantis. For a lot of reasons. Not just for unpartnered men or women who want to become parents, or same-sex couples, but because so many Atlanteans simply aren't capable of conceiving a child. There's been so much environmental damage over the years--you know the statistics." Dick nodded silently. "We've become experts at genetic manipulation out of necessity. Despite what I told Donna, we might very well have to find a way to introduce fresh DNA into our gene pool, or risk extinction."

That was a dire enough pronouncement to shake Dick out of his own head. "I-- you never said things were that bad."

"It's not quite that desperate yet. And that's not-- my point was, what Donna proposed is a very familiar idea to me, culturally. Personally...." Garth took another long breath. "I love you both. Donna wants this very much, and I know it's not a whim to her. And the thought of *your* child is just...breathtaking. She was absolutely right about that." He went on, more slowly. "You've never...expressed an opinion about fatherhood. Whether that was something you wanted or not. Maybe you felt you didn't have a reason to think about it, before. You should now."

Dick listened, taking it all in, feeling nothing as much as a pit opening up in his stomach. His eyes fell on the forgotten glass in his hand and he emptied it again. "From what I gathered, she doesn't want me to be a *father,* just a--a sperm-donor."

Garth snorted in disbelief. "It's *Donna.* If that was all she'd wanted, there are facilities for that. She came to *you.*"

"No, *seriously,* listen," Dick insisted, resisting the urge to get up and pace. If he did, he'd end up at the liquor cabinet again, and he could already feel his head buzzing. "She wants a *baby.* I'm just a--a means to an end. And what about *you?* I'm just supposed to go off and--"

Garth sounded like he was trying not to *laugh,* of all things. "I wouldn't be jealous. I promise."

"Maybe you should be," Dick muttered, and resolutely put the glass down on the table before its emptiness became overwhelming. "Why're you trying to pimp me out all of a sudden?"

There was a brief pause. "I think the right expression would be, 'put you out to stud,'" Garth said mildly. "But you should talk to Donna about what she expects from you. I don't want to speak for her."

Dick groaned and dropped his head down into his hands. "When did we get to be so *grown-up,* talking about--having kids, and all that? Can't we just go on beating up thugs and super-villains? I like that. I'm good at that. It's *easy.*"

The couch dipped next to him as Garth sat. "For what it's worth, I like the way you've grown up."

Dick groaned again and leaned sideways into him. "I can't think about this any more right now."

"All right." Garth kissed the top of his head. The gesture was sweet, but didn't forestall Dick's incipient headache. "Just *talk* to her before you decide anything, all right?"

"Yeah." He wanted very badly to go get his Nightwing gear and throw himself off a couple of rooftops in quick succession, but knew it'd be a terrible idea in his current state. "Look, I just want to-- I dunno. Give my brain a rest for a while this percolates. Fire up the Xbox for me? I'm feeling a need to shoot things. A lot."

"That's a vaguely alarming reaction, Dick." But Garth got up and fished the controller out of the TV cabinet, tossing it over. "I'm going for a swim."

"Sure." Dick was already impatiently watching the opening graphics scroll by. Part of him knew he really should put down the game and talk the whole thing over with Garth further, but Garth had already made his feelings clear and Dick wasn't anywhere near ready to deal with his own. This was definitely a better alternative.

Shooting down brain-sucking alien zombies didn't involve any uncertainty about it. At the moment, that was required to hold his last nerve in place.

***

It felt like any other morning when he woke up, at least for the two seconds he was awake before he remembered Donna's visit and all of his bewilderment came rushing back. He stumbled through his day, barely avoiding a reprimand from Amy for being completely distracted on the job, and finally called to let Garth know that he'd be heading up to the Tower after work and not to wait up. Garth sounded like he'd expected nothing less, which perversely made Dick want to ditch the trip entirely, but it was *Donna* and she deserved better than to be left hanging.

One thing--okay, more than one, but this one in particular kept bugging him a little throughout the day and into the ride into New York. Both Garth and Donna seemed to think there was only one obvious response, like his agreement was inevitable. He couldn't be instantaneously enthusiastic about the idea, not with so many unanswered questions, but it felt like he'd disappointed them both with his hesitation.

More to the point, how could he say no to *Donna,* who he'd loved since they met so many years ago? How could he refuse her request without being the bad guy?

He still had no idea what he was going to say when he got to the Tower and found her in the monitor room. "Hi."

He didn't get any further than that. "Come on," Donna said, getting up and moving past him at speed. Dick followed and they ended up in the kitchen, nice neutral territory and the traditional place for Titans heart-to-hearts. He'd often thought they needed a hanger to put outside the doorway, or something else to indicate that the room was in use. No, a hanger was *definitely* the wrong signal--.

She started talking before he could corral his thoughts. "Look, I hope I didn't freak you out too badly, or anything. I've thought about this a *lot* in the last couple of weeks. It wasn't a whim, if that's what you were--"

"No, that wasn't--no," he finished lamely. "I know you wouldn't have...asked me if you hadn't meant it."

"So you probably have a million questions." She sat down on one of the kitchen stools, looking expectant.

He did, but found he couldn't actually articulate a single one. "Start by-- tell me how you think this would go."

If Donna was disappointed that he wasn't more positive, she wasn't showing it. "The procedure itself is really easy. I'm perfectly healthy, I got all checked out when I went in for a preliminary exam. And I didn't...have any trouble conceiving before, so I already know everything works." She looked a bit pensive for a moment before going on, clearly recalling her previous pregnancy. "So on the physical front, all I really need is your, uh, contribution." She grinned suddenly. "So to speak."

"R-right," Dick said hoarsely. "And after that?"

She gave him a curious glance, but continued. "There's something like a 20% chance I would get pregnant during any cycle, and about 70% within six months. But--Dick, that's not what you're asking, is it."

"I'm not sure," he said very slowly, not knowing what the next word was going to be until he said it. "I'm still trying to figure out what you expect from me. Outside of the obvious." He grimaced. "Donna, I can't even-- you'd be having my *baby.* I can't even process that I'm saying those words."

She'd started to reply, but now that he'd started talking, the words wouldn't stop. "--And Garth said something after you left that I keep coming back to. You said you couldn't do the anonymous donor thing, but that's essentially all I'd be, right? Unless you wanted something else from me." He stopped, wincing, realizing how that sounded. "I didn't mean--"

"No, it's okay." Donna sounded like she was finding her words, too. "I guess--as far as the physical stuff goes, asking you is...hedging my bets, you know?" She smiled faintly. "I could go on at length about your attributes, but I think you know what I mean."

"Gotcha," Dick said, and belatedly, "thank you." He was feeling the need to pace again, and swung himself up to perch on one of the counters instead. There was a bowl of fruit nearby and he grabbed an orange out of it, tossing it from hand to hand just to give his twitchy nerves something to do.

"Aside from that...." she shrugged a little. "I know I can count on you. I know you'll always be there if I need help."

"That's a given," Dick returned evenly. "And it'd be true even if you turned up pregnant one day and I had no idea who the father was. But you're not--" that was it, that was the crux of it. "You're not looking for a father for your baby..."

She had her chin up, defiant. "Not in the traditional sense, no."

"...and that makes sense for you and where you are now," Dick finished. "I get that. And none of us came from traditional families, so that's not even on my radar, okay? But if you're really just asking me to provide DNA and not be involved...."

Donna looked hurt. "It isn't like I'd just disappear. Of course you'd be involved. But I didn't want you to think you'd have to be *responsible* for-- oh, dammit, bad word," she said quickly, seeing the look on his face. "I *know* you. I know you can't help being responsible, it's who you *are.* But I meant what I said about you and Garth, I wouldn't do anything to get between you guys. ...what does he think, by the way?"

"He's utterly in love with the idea," Dick said absently, chewing over what Donna had said.

But Donna was beaming. "Oh, I'm glad. I knew he'd understand."

"Hey, I 'understand,'" Dick retorted, stung. "But I'm still having some cognitive dissonance."

Donna spread her hands. "What else can I tell you?"

Dick breathed out slowly, ordering his thoughts. "Bear with me, I'm just...running the scenario." Donna rolled her eyes, but didn't say anything. "So if we do this, you have the baby, and then...." He motioned for her to continue.

"...then, obviously, I'd be on leave from the Titans for awhile, and then eventually I'd find a nanny and come back." Donna smiled. "I've been through it before. It's really not all that difficult."

He hadn't even been thinking about the *team.* "No, I meant...dammit." The orange wasn't helping. He tossed it back into the bowl and looked her square in the eyes. "What am *I* doing through all of that?"

"What do you *want* to be doing?" she threw back at him. "Like I said, I have no intention of vanishing on you. I *know* you're not just some anonymous donor I would never have any interaction with. That's half the reason I asked you. But you're not my lover or my husband, and I don't think you'd ever planned on signing up for a threesome." Donna smirked, her eyes crinkling with mischief. "Neither did I, pretty as the picture might be."

"Donna," he said helplessly, feeling his ears go red, but she wasn't done.

"No, I think I know what you're getting at, and the fact that you're worried about this is just...perfectly you." She shrugged, smiling. "Are there details to work out? Sure. But it all seems really clear to me."

She sounded so certain, he wasn't sure what he was missing. If anything. Maybe he was overcomplicating things; it wouldn't be the first time. And Garth had seemed to think the arrangement was obvious, too.

He didn't have to decide this second, at least. "Look, I'm still-- I've still gotta think about this."

Donna nodded. "I knew you'd need some time. That's fine. I didn't exactly expect to get knocked up next week...though I wouldn't mind if I did." She was joking, obviously, though something in her voice made it clear she was also telling the absolute truth.

The thought made Dick's knees go to water. "It could happen that fast?"

She looked startled. "You mean--oh, no, not really. There's supposed to be a waiting time of six months, but Sarah said she'd expedite that. We'd have to do some blood work, some obligatory counseling, that kind of thing." She saw him frown and added, "That's another reason to use STAR, they're already familiar with superhero identity confidentiality."

"Right, sure." His head was full again and nothing was being decided this second, anyway. "I'm going to go use the gym for a bit before I head back."

"Of course you are," Donna agreed, and he'd be chagrined at how easily she read him if she hadn't perfected the art over more than a decade. "I'm not going to pressure you about this, all right? I mean, I want you to say yes, obviously, but it's not like--there's no immediate timeline."

"Thanks," he said, aware of how incongruous the whole conversation had become and how incredibly far out of his depth he'd gotten. Nothing could have prepared him for this, and granted, that was probably how most people felt about the whole procreation-baby-*thing* when it first came up. Still....

"I'll have an answer for you soon," he promised, and headed toward the gym before either of them could say anything else.

Trouble was, he didn't have a frame of reference for any of it. Sure, Bruce still got offers every other week by women desperate to have his baby, but that was *Bruce.* He didn't even waste a disdainful sneer for the idea; hell, he probably had a form letter to deal with it. Dick didn't have the luxury of dismissing the proposal, not from Donna. Not when he knew how much it would mean to her.

What it meant to *him*....

He felt like he was still missing some critical information, that there was some part of this decision he wasn't fully understanding. "Details to work out," Donna had said. Was that all, just the actual logistics of how much he'd be involved and the way he'd--they'd--share responsibilities between them? Was he even supposed to have responsibilities? How would he--

When confronted with a complex situation, Bruce had taught him, it was always best to go back to basics. He wouldn't have specific answers until he figured out the specific questions. He'd start making a list tomorrow, when his head was clearer. Until then, these trapezes and high bars plainly needed some attention. Throwing himself bodily through space was still the best way he knew to unwind. Well, second best.

He was upside-down and halfway through a sequence when it hit him.

Would his daughter be able to do this?

He didn't fall. Just.

Dick finished the set on automatic with no finesse whatsoever, dropped down to the mat, and stood there thinking.

Would Donna's son be able to fly?

Would *their* child--black haired and blue eyed, obviously--inherit Donna's strength? His tactical sense? Her natural empathy?

Would--

"Hey, uh, Nightwing?"

He whirled around to see Argent standing in the doorway, dressed in civilian clothes with a backpack on her shoulder. She blinked at him, obviously surprised that she'd caught him unaware. "...is this a bad time?"

"No, it's all right," he said, grabbing a nearby towel and wiping at his neck, though the sweat had long since dried. "You just get back in? How's school going?"

Toni brightened immediately. "Oh, really good. I thought I might study fashion design, but these sociology classes I've been taking are really interesting. Plus, you know, *this* place," she waved vaguely, "it's like a living social Petri dish."

"You ought to read Jesse's thesis," he said, amused, and she grinned at him.

"Already have a copy. She dropped one on me the second I mentioned my classes. Less than a second." Her grin faded and she bit at her lip. "I wanted to ask you...."

She trailed off. Dick crossed the mat to get a bottle of water out of the mini-fridge, motioning for her to continue.

"Is Donna okay? She says she's fine but she won't talk to me, and every time I come in she's either staring off into space or she's working on the computer and she shuts it off so I can't see what she's looking at. If she was only reading *porn*...." Toni shrugged. "She's not sick or anything? You'd tell me, right?"

"She's not sick," Dick assured her. "It's personal stuff."

"Okay. Thanks, Nightwing." That was funny, how Toni implicitly trusted him at his word but in all the time she'd known his identity, she still couldn't call him by name. "I didn't mean to interrupt."

"You didn't." Nothing but his own thoughts, and there was a lot more where they came from. He needed to talk to Garth about this. If he knew more how this whole thing was all supposed to work....

Abruptly he realized Toni was still standing there. "Sorry. Lot on my mind."

"Now you're doing it too," she said good-naturedly, and waved a hand. "No worry. Tell Garth I said 'hi,' okay?"

"Sure," he said, distracted, watching her go. Argent still might not know exactly what she wanted to be when she grew up, but she knew which avenues to explore to get there. He and Garth and Jesse had full careers aside from the Titans, and Roy had gotten heavily involved with kids' self-defense and martial arts programs. All of the others likewise had additional vocations...except for Donna. Her photography career had never really evolved into a significant focus, and she'd taken on more and more of the administrative and leadership roles for the Titans over the years. While several members rarely came to the Tower any more except for meetings, she was always here.

Dick cut off that train of thought before it really got going. Donna didn't want a child because she was *bored,* and imagining otherwise was a gross mischaracterization of her motives. But he could understand that she'd looked around and seen the other Titans getting older and interacting with the world, and determined what she wanted for herself. As Donna said herself, her wish for a baby wasn't a new desire, but something she'd always believed she'd have someday. There was no reason that that "someday" couldn't be now.

He didn't need to remind himself of all the promises he and the other Titans had made among themselves over the years. If they could help each other, they *did.* This was...a little more than a favor she was asking, but Dick still owed her all possible consideration. People *managed* this kind of thing in the real world. If they could work out the details....

He really had to talk to Garth.

***

It was far too late for any kind of coherent conversation by the time he got back to Bludhaven, did a quick sweep patrol, and came up into the house's basement from the abandoned mine tunnel. Still, Dick wasn't surprised to find Garth waiting for him in the kitchen.

"Hey. You shouldn't be up."

"Your nocturnal habits are catching." The microwave pinged and Garth handed him a heated mug of cocoa. "I thought you'd be chilled after your ride."

He sipped at the chocolate with pleasure as Garth warmed another mug for himself. "Thanks. So I, uh, talked to Donna."

Garth was clearly impatient to hear Dick's report, but he settled for a restrained, "What did she say? Did she tell you what she expects your involvement to be?"

"Whatever I want it to be. I guess," Dick added uncertainly, thinking back. Had she said, specifically...?

But Garth was nodding. "You'd have to determine what's appropriate for you."

"*We'd* have to determine," Dick reminded him, "and that's what I wanted to ask you. In Atlantis, how would this kind of thing work, exactly?"

Garth glanced at the clock, then seemed to shrug a bit. "It's not entirely the same. Families are more community oriented, by necessity. Not 'communal,' but far more cooperative. Children are looked after by the wider populace as much as by their families. So with something like this...there's already an expectation that the, ah, donor would be involved in the child's life."

"And personally," Dick said slowly, trying to get a solid feel for the idea, "how would they-- Okay, never mind the theoretical. How would *we* deal with it? --I'm still trying to wrap my head around all of this," he said hastily to the way Garth's face lit up. "I haven't made any decision yet."

Garth shook his head slightly as if he was trying to regain a more neutral expression, but his smile stayed put. "I know. I'm sorry, I really do understand that this is your choice, but--"

"I wish you'd stop saying that," Dick retorted more irritably than he'd intended. It was late, he could blame his snappishness on that. "It's *our* life we're talking about drastically changing here, all right? The physical part might just be me, but that's the least of it, and Donna was right that we have to decide together on this. And maybe we should hold off until we're both not sleep-deprived."

"Please let me know when *that* would be, I hear there's a first time for everything," Garth countered, still with good humor. "But you're probably right. I have a daylong meeting in Gotham and *you*--"

"--have to make up for today's-- I mean, yesterday's inattention. Yeah." Dick sighed and put the empty mugs into the dishwasher. "So...later? After work?"

Garth yawned suddenly, looked surprised, and laughed. "It's a date."

***

The next day, in between patrol and make-up paperwork, Dick tried to make his list but only ended up with multiple scribbled-on and tossed away pieces of paper. Everything he wrote sounded so *basic,* so essentially obvious, that he ended up wondering what he was trying to define in the first place.

It kept pinging off his imagination, what Garth had said about fatherhood, a child of his own. And that *image* he'd had in the Tower gym, of a teenaged girl or boy flying alongside him from bar to bar....

New thoughts. Strange thoughts. And not...entirely unwelcome thoughts, if he was being completely honest with himself, and there was no room in this situation *not* to be. He only had to look to Roy and Lian to see how rewarding the whole experience might be...and Roy hadn't even had the security of knowing that Lian's mother had her child's best interests in mind. That would never be a question with Donna.

If all his reservations were just a matter of determining his involvement, didn't that just come down to...time management, really? Donna wasn't going anywhere and neither was he. Garth was ready to make whatever commitment was necessary, no questions asked. All the pieces seemed to be in place. They were young, they were stable--as stable as active superheroes got, at any rate--there weren't money or family problems to worry about.

The rule about best-laid plans remained in full effect: Dick got home to find a message that Garth's meeting had gone late and not to wait on dinner. That gave him time to do some research he'd been meaning to anyway. He scrounged through the kitchen for food, then settled in at the computer desk.

He found and downloaded a sample questionnaire intended for known donors. Most of it was straightforward: basic stats, physical status and history, genetic history, educational history, psychosocial history. STAR would, he thought, need to take that part of it with about a truckload of salt.

And then there was this one: "Are you willing to meet any future children from the artificial insemination procedure once he/she turns 18?"

It didn't *apply.* He'd know Donna's baby from the moment he or she was born. But the fact that the question was asked led him to wonder about the reasons for it. Did most known donors never know their children? Was what he and Donna were contemplating really outside the norm? Was he *expected* not to have any contact with his child? Donna had made it clear that wouldn't be the case, but the question seemed based on so many assumptions that he thought he'd be best served by gathering as much information as he could.

An hour later he pushed away from the computer, feeling unsettled again. Some of the sites had proclaimed that known donors were the best and most fulfilling way to go about the whole artificial insemination process; others were just as vehemently opposed, citing legal and emotional issues. The first was virtually irrelevant, considering who they were. The second...he was still trying to identify.

It hadn't registered at the time, but in retrospect something else had been bothering him, too. Donna had said, "Of course it wouldn't be right to ask Roy or Wally" and that made sense; Wally and Linda had enough excitement in their lives just dealing with their twins. And Roy was pretty serious with Clancy, even if they broke up and got back together every other week. But Dick wasn't any less committed to Garth than the other two were to their partners, and yet he was still...fair game? Those relationships counted, but his didn't? That outlook seemed *dismissive* in a way he was sure Donna hadn't meant, but it was still a discordant note.

He heard the door alarm sound and shut off as Garth came in. Dick stopped in the kitchen to start a kettle boiling, then went to meet him. Garth's hair was still wet from the swim from Gotham, and water drops fell on Dick's shirt when he kissed Garth hello. "Did you eat?"

"They brought dinner in." Which didn't exactly answer the question, but Dick let it go under the aura of exasperation Garth was exuding. "We still would have been there, swimming in circles, if I hadn't called a recess."

"That good, huh?" Dick murmured, and Garth groaned.

"You have no idea. Thank Pallais for Lucius Fox. I swear, Dick, Bruce has only my forbearance and Lucius's loyalty to thank for the fact that *we* haven't made him a job offer he couldn't refuse."

"We" meaning all of Atlantis, which could doubtless easily match if not double Wayne Enterprises' benefits. But Lucius would never leave, even if Garth hadn't resolved not to ask. "Lucky for Bruce, then," Dick said lightly. "Go, get changed. We can just relax if you--"

"*Oh* no you don't," Garth returned with a smirk. "We had a date. Not the kind you'd *prefer,* maybe, but I'm holding you to it."

Dick held his hands up in surrender. "Hey, I'm not the one who came in looking like something a cat barfed up. Or a dolphin, maybe. Do dolphins vomit?"

"They do. They-- we are seriously not having this conversation." Garth headed up the stairs toward the bedroom. "Put some water on for tea?"

"Already done," Dick called up, grinning. "You're so *predictable.*"

That earned him a stream of Atlantean invective, only about half of which he understood, and from the context Dick was glad for the missing words. He heard the shower run briefly before Garth came back down, wearing sweats and the ubiquitous "Gotham Knights" t-shirt. Garth made his tea, took an apple out of the fridge, and sat down on one of the kitchen stools. "So where were we?"

"I think," Dick said slowly, perching on the dividing half-wall between the kitchen and the living room, "I need to know why you're so sure what Donna's asking wouldn't totally derail our lives."

Garth blinked at him, surprised. "Why would it? No more than--well." He smiled wryly. "This would be an entirely different conversation if one of us was a woman."

Dick swore briefly in Romany and spit over his left shoulder. He turned back to see Garth regarding him, both eyebrows raised. "You don't even *joke* about that, not in our line of work."

He watched Garth consider that. "...point taken. What I meant was, people make this decision the time and still seem to survive. And it wouldn't even have as much impact as that, considering the circumstances."

"'The circumstances'," Dick repeated. "That's what I'm still trying to define. There's this nebulous area between 'sperm donor' and 'father' and I'm not sure how that works."

Garth looked like he was stifling a laugh. "I don't think there's a guidebook. Even in Atlantis."

"No, seriously," Dick insisted. "I've been doing some reading. No one agrees, but it does seem like the lack of definition is a recipe for messy entanglements."

Tiny bits of apple went flying as Garth coughed, his expression full of incredulity. "...You didn't just say that."

Dick started to bristle, then laughed. "Okay, the phrasing might've been a bit overwrought."

"A bit," Garth said dryly, getting up for a rag to mop off the counter. "I'm still not sure what you're getting at. I don't know three people who understand each other better than you and I and Donna." He frowned slightly, thinking. "You said the other night, maybe I should be jealous. But I can't, I couldn't be, not about this."

"Even if I ended up spending half my nights wherever she was?"

Garth shrugged. "Even if. And I doubt you'd be anywhere so far away I couldn't swim to meet you. People *do* make sacrifices for their children, Dick. That's how it's supposed to work." His lips twisted briefly into a half-smile filled with wry irony. "At least, that's what I hear."

"Dammit. I didn't think--" Dick started, but Garth waved him off.

"Old news, and not important anymore. *This* is important. I think about the possibility of your child, of Donna's child, and how much that child would be loved, and that's...." Garth took a deep breath, like he was trying to maintain his equilibrium. "That's worth any inconvenience, any 'entanglement.'"

Garth's assertion left Dick wondering, again, why he was hesitating. "I was imagining, a little," he admitted. "It's...still overwhelming, but I can sort of picture...."

"Your child?" Garth was smiling again, that brilliant expression lighting his face. "It really is an amazing notion, Dick."

"And this wouldn't...change things, between us?" He bit his lip, realized it probably made him look as young as Toni, and stopped. "Obviously, things would change, but I don't want--"

Garth stood, putting down his cup and the remains of his apple, and moved around the table to slide his arms around Dick's waist. "I think it would be an adjustment, like all big decisions, and I absolutely think that the prospect is worth it. I also think we've already overcome far greater complications, evidenced by the fact that we're both *here.*"

Dick leaned over to rest his forehead against Garth's. "I wish I had your certainty. I was feeling guilty the other day, that that I couldn't be as...immediately enthusiastic as you were."

"Don't. That would have been wonderful, but uncharacteristic." Dick pulled back enough to see that Garth was grinning, mischief in his eyes. "That's also how I know this isn't as monstrously complicated as you're making it seem. It's the *really* momentous decisions, like throwing yourself off a skyscraper or outing yourself to the whole world, that you don't hesitate about."

"Yeah, but those things are *easy,*" Dick grumbled, and brought his hands up to lace behind Garth's neck. "So you're saying I'm just getting hung up on the details?"

"Well, the details are important," Garth conceded. "But there's a lot that *can't* be decided or predicted right now, because the situation isn't predictable."

"...huh."

"Dick?"

"No, you're right," Dick said slowly. "I mean, this whole...process...is inherently unpredictable, isn't it? And I've been trying to quantify factors that can't even be identified until they happen." He could hold off, think on it longer, turn it over and over in his head and change his mind half a hundred times in the space of a day, and instead he found himself saying, "Let's go talk to Donna."

Garth looked startled. "Now? Really?"

"Yeah--dammit, no," he swore, remembering. "Can't. Weapons shipment coming in tonight that needs diverting, it's the final link in a big case. The BHDP is on it, but I need to be there if something goes sideways."

"Tomorrow, then--or the next day, that's Saturday, we won't be at work-- Dick, are you sure?" Garth sounded almost breathless, waiting on his answer, and Dick laughed with the pure crazy relief of having come to a decision.

"Not even a little bit sure. But that's okay." Garth still seemed a little shell-shocked, so Dick leaned over and kissed him. "I think there are going to be complications the *three* of us will have to work out, but like you said, the reward is worth it. A *baby* is--oh, my God." He paused again, blinking, the enormity of the fact hitting him with a completely unexpected, wild euphoria. "I'm going to be a *father.*"

He had a brief, incongruous moment wondering what Bruce would have to say about all of this, but it didn't matter right now, not when Garth had gotten over his astonishment and had taken Dick's face in his hands to kiss him fiercely. They were both panting when Garth released his mouth long enough to mutter, "This shipment of yours, when is it due?"

Dick grinned, already knowing where the question was leading. "Not 'til past midnight."

"So until then...."

"I can spare you a few minutes," Dick agreed, smirking, and whooped as Garth pulled him forward and over his shoulder to carry him up the stairs. There was probably a joke to be made here, something about clubs and cavemen but Garth's hand was sliding determinedly over his ass and that was a serious thing, *fundamental* even, and Dick ordered the running monologue in his head to shut itself off so he could give the phenomenon his full attention.

Garth gave the matter his full attention, too.

***

The previous night had gone spectacularly well--on all fronts--and Dick had the rare pleasure of overseeing the weapons' shipment wrap-up at his day job the next morning. The overall good vibes of the police department due to the clean resolution of the case neatly covered the fact that he found himself grinning at odd times throughout the day. He took some time to chat with Amy about her kids, really *hearing* the love and pride in her voice when she talked about Emma and Justin, and imagining what his future-self might say about his own child.

He was really going to do this. He was really going to be a father.

The words kept going through his mind, like the refrain of a song he couldn't stop hearing, and Dick was still riding the exhilarated wave of that idea when he got home to find Garth already there. "I thought you might be late again. Meetings go better today?"

"Much. I think the esteemed representatives were disconcerted that I was smiling so much, it made them think I knew something they didn't." Garth's excitement was nearly visible under his skin, the same buzzing anticipation that Dick had felt around him all day. "I still can't believe--"

"I *know.*" And hell, it was Friday and all of Bludhaven's wicked children were cowering in their lairs after last night's bust and Dick could afford to let them sweat for a day or two. "You know what? Let's go up and tell Donna tonight. Now."

"Right off the ledge," Garth murmured, sounding almost awed, though that didn't stop him from moving immediately toward the door.

Dick grinned and followed. "Only way to get anywhere."

They headed up to New York by way of Dick's favorite mode of transportation that didn't involve rooftops and jumplines: swimming with Garth. Or to be more accurate, clinging to Garth's shoulders while he swam up the coast, circumventing traffic and tolls and moving far faster than either the car or bike. The only tricky part of the trip involved the currents and boat traffic on the East River, and Garth was a longtime expert in navigating both.

The latest incarnation of Titans' Tower included a water access way that let out deep in the Tower's foundations. Garth had never complained, but Dick insisted on having a shower and lockers installed after the first or second time he accompanied Garth to the Tower. The East River really *wasn't* as bad as out-of-towners liked to joke, but rinsing away the ocean salt and river water made him feel cleaner anyway.

As he and Garth stepped into the sloping tunnel that ran up to the first floor of the Tower, the refrain kept repeating over and over in his mind.

He was really going to do this.

He was really going to be a father.

He was--

Dick had gotten halfway up the slope when it struck him, finally and irrevocably, that he *wasn't.* He wasn't going to *be* a father to Donna's baby, not in anything but the biological sense, and that--

"Wait," he rasped, and stopped to close his eyes and lean his head against the wall.

"Dick, what--" Garth was at his side, sounding alarmed, but the turmoil of his thoughts couldn't spare any energy for a reply.

He'd nearly committed to the proposal without having the slightest idea how he'd feel, how much he'd end up wanting to be involved. How much he'd *need* to be involved, because he'd come to want the child as much as Donna did.

They'd all been spectacularly na´ve.

Donna wanted to be a single parent. She would make all decisions regarding their son--or daughter--disregarding his parental rights because he didn't *have* any parental rights, never would. It didn't have anything to do with him not trusting her decisions, because he did. But to not have any say about anything, to have to watch his child grow up from a distance and never be able to give any input that *mattered*....

He wasn't capable of standing aside and playing back up when Donna needed him to, and keeping out of her way and the child's life the rest of the time. And he should have known that, right from the start and certainly before he'd gotten her hopes up. Or his own.

Dick lifted his head and saw Garth waiting, his look of concern turning to confusion when he saw Dick's face. He hated this, hated like hell that he was about to destroy the fantasy that Garth and Donna had embraced, and there weren't any words that could make the blow he was about to deliver any less harsh. "I can't do this."

"You--" The confusion was still present, but now tinged with disbelief. "You just stood there and decided, out of thin air--"

"No," Dick said firmly, and started walking again. "Not out of thin air. But Donna needs to hear it first."

"Dick, *wait!*" Garth caught up and put a hand on his arm, not quite restraining. "Don't do this. You obviously still have concerns, we can talk to Donna--"

"Please don't make this any harder," Dick said in his softest, most implacable tone, and Garth dropped his hand as if burned. He continued up the hall, Garth following behind, and he couldn't stop to explain or he'd lose his newfound clarity to Garth's entreaties. Part of him wanted to stop and listen and be convinced, again, that this could work. The rest of him knew better, and he opened the door from the waterway access into the Tower proper.

Donna was waiting for them there, obviously alerted to their presence by the security systems. "I wasn't expecting--"

Dick took her elbow and steered her into the closest meeting room with a door, feeling this was too private even for the kitchen. Donna kept shooting him quick, nervous glances and he didn't want to turn to see what Garth's face looked like. Dick was abruptly glad that they hadn't stopped to eat dinner; he already felt like he wanted to throw up and didn't need the extra incentive.

Garth stopped just inside the closed door, his expression like stone, so Dick put his hands on Donna's shoulders to keep her gaze on him. "Donna...you know how much I love you, right?"

Her eyes looked into his with such trust. "Yes."

"And you know how much I want you to be happy. That I know you'll be a wonderful mother."

She didn't reply, still gazing at him.

This was, without question, the most unspeakable thing he'd ever been forced to do. "The problem is, I've been fighting my own better judgment ever since you first proposed this and I let myself be convinced because you and Garth were both so excited. I let myself get excited about it too. But I don't think this will work."

Donna started to shake her head in negation, her automatic denial verging on deliberate misunderstanding. "It will, there's no reason why it--"

Dick fought the urge to plead with her to understand and kept his voice as level as he could. "No. I'm so, so sorry. But no. You said it yourself--I can't help but be responsible. And you wouldn't want me in your life, in your baby's life, as much as I'd *need* to be. Not want to be. *Need.*"

She looked desperately into his eyes, trying to find anything that would indicate he might be willing to relent. He'd been a friend to her, a teammate, a brother. He would have given her anything else, but this. It took every ounce of willpower he'd never known he had to keep his resolve.

In the end, she turned away so that he could barely hear her whisper. "I swore to myself I wouldn't beg. If you said no."

"Donna--"

She whirled around again to face him, so fast he barely saw her move, and her eyes were full of tears but her voice was as steady and resolute as he'd ever heard it. "*Don't.* Your reasons are flawless, I'm sure. But I don't have to hear them right now."

He chose the better part of valor and stayed silent as she walked, slowly and with dignity, toward the door. "I'm taking a leave of absence, effective immediately. Don't call me." Dick saw her reach out to touch Garth's arm, a gesture of empathy or reassurance or both, and then she was gone.

Dick closed his eyes, counting breaths, knowing that by some grace or providence he hadn't earned Donna had spared him a far worse confrontation. He *deserved* to suffer the entirety of her anger and disappointment. It might have even made him feel better than this, and at that thought the full force of his egotism really struck home, because this wasn't about *him* at all. Even if it had been, Donna knew he'd tear himself up more thoroughly than she ever could. But her restraint wasn't for his benefit, it was proof of her own self-possession. If-- *when* she came back, Dick would have to make sure she understood how much he respected her for that.

The room had been silent long enough that Garth's voice, very cold and very quiet, cut through Dick's rumination like a knife. "Donna might not have cared to hear your reasons. But I do."

"It wasn't going to work," Dick started, but Garth wasn't done.

"No? Because last night, less than two *hours* ago, you seemed very certain that it was."

"I was wrong." Dick turned to face him, seeing that despite the calm tone, the high color in Garth's face attested to his anger. "I was never going to really be a father, not this way. Do you know I might have had to sign documents that ensured I'd never have any parental rights whatsoever?"

Garth stared at him like Dick was telling him that the moon was, in fact, made of green cheese. "They make you-- That's obscene."

"That's the law."

Garth paused for a moment, his jaw working like he was chewing over an inedible thought, and finally shook his head. "It doesn't matter what the papers said. It's *Donna!* She wouldn't--steal your child, or whatever insane thing you're thinking would happen--"

"It doesn't have anything to do with the legal issues! It's--oh, my God, don't you see?" Dick turned to pace, shaking with agitation and horror at what he'd nearly let happen. "You told me to think about fatherhood, and I *did.* I thought about Roy, and about how he and I went halfway around the world to find his daughter--"

He didn't get any further than that. Garth's flush went even darker as his voice rose. "It's not the same at *all.* You're not seriously comparing Cheshire to Donna. Cheshire wasn't fit--"

"If she had been," Dick said softly, keeping his tone even, "do you think Roy could have sat back and let her raise Lian without any input from him?"

Garth was still shaking his head. "But Donna wouldn't leave you out--you'd be involved--"

"Yeah. When I could. How much would that really be? How much do I see *you,* some weeks? If you're not in Atlantis, I'm chasing down drug runners. If I'm not in New York, you're at the U.N. We live insane schedules already. But I couldn't *not* be involved, and it'd never be enough. What would I do, fit in regular visits to Donna and her baby around the corners of the rest of my life?"

He held up a hand so Garth would let him finish. "I thought about how much you wanted this, and how much *I* was starting to want this, and that's when it hit me how it could never be what I was imagining. I don't know. Maybe in Atlantis you've got this all figured out, maybe it's all really obvious how it works down there, but here...we're just not that smart."

Garth drew up like he'd been slapped. "I've known you too long to believe that you're not smart enough to make any situation work. If you really *wanted* to."

If Garth was trying to provoke him, it wasn't working. Every word only made his decision clearer. "That's the entire point," Dick said, "that I ended up *wanting* this. It isn't about time issues at all. I could quit all my jobs and it'd never be enough if I wasn't...*there.* Garth, Donna wants to be a single mother, she doesn't want a *father* for her baby, and I just can't do that."

He saw the comprehension dawning in Garth's eyes. "You want--"

The full truth was becoming clear even as he said it, the words shocking even out of his own mouth. "Yeah. I didn't know that before, but apparently, I do. Or at least I like the idea enough to know that I couldn't settle for being 'Uncle Nightwing' to Donna's baby. That's great with Lian, but I couldn't deal with that from my--my own child."

"That's not," Garth said slowly, "the difficulty I expected. At all."

Dick repressed the urge to ask, specifically, what difficulty Garth *had* envisioned. "Who knew? And I'm sorry, I really am, I know how much you were hoping this would work."

"Don't be concerned about *my* feelings," Garth said, his tone remote, and now Dick felt like he was the one who'd been slapped. "I just hope that Donna--"

"She's hardly a frail flower," Dick interrupted sharply, "and it was never a given that I was going to say yes. I'm sure *she* knew that."

Garth didn't answer immediately, and Dick thought it best to let him work through whatever he was thinking without interference. He went upstairs to the kitchen to grab a couple of bottles of water, and when he came back a few minutes later, Garth had finally taken a seat and was rubbing at his face.

"Here," Dick said, handing over a bottle, and Garth nodded his acknowledgement without looking up.

"We're really not any smarter about this in Atlantis," Garth finally said, his head bowed over his hands, "just possibly more desperate. There's far more flexibility about the situation, by necessity. I should have realized it couldn't work the same. That you wouldn't...see it the same way."

"I wish I could. I wish I could give Donna what she wanted and stay *detached,* but--"

"But then you wouldn't be you," Garth finished, and Dick was relieved to see that a faint, rueful smile had touched his mouth. "I...see your point. Although I'm still not convinced we couldn't have found a way to make it work. And I wish...."

Dick thought he knew, but Garth deserved to have his say. "What?"

Garth straightened up and caught Dick's gaze. "I wish you'd realized this before *I'd* gotten so attached to the idea."

"I didn't know." It wasn't meant as an excuse, but the honest truth. "Seriously, I didn't have any reason to think about it until now."

Garth was watching him intently. "And now that you have...you discovered you weren't adverse to the concept in theory?"

If he was really asking...but this wasn't the time for that conversation. If ever. Dick sighed and fell into a chair. "I only know this wasn't the way to find out."

Garth didn't reply, which was equivalent to his saying that he didn't agree, and that was all right. Dick had the feeling they'd all be dealing with the ramifications of Donna's proposal for a long while. The only thing he'd have to fall back on was his gut feeling that he'd been right to refuse, even if it'd taken him too long to reach that conclusion.

What it came down to, more than anything, was that he loved Donna too much to subject her to what would have become an inevitable power battle between them for control of the child's life. He wouldn't have been capable of ceding all his authority, no more than she would have been willing to share hers...particularly with someone who would only be part of the child's life when he could spare the time.

Dick might be inclined to dare nearly anything, but he wasn't willing to risk turning their friendship into a custody battle neither of them could win. Not even to give Donna her heart's desire.

He'd regret being right for the rest of his life.



{end}


This fic contains the seed of a fairly obvious potential sequel that I am not writing (seriously for really no) because apparently I do retain *some* degree of shame. Who knew?

Backstory: In this future Roy is dating Bridget Clancy, based on a bit of unposted chat-spam speculation.



Liner notes:

This isn't the way this story was supposed to go.

A couple of years back, Dannell and I were randomly IM-plotting a whole bunch of future-possible stuff for S&S. It seemed *brilliant* at the time: Donna wanted a baby, so she'd ask her best male friend, and everyone would live happily ever after: Dick with Garth, Donna and her son. (We named him John Terrance Troy. Watching Batman deal with a flying "grandson" would have been fun.)

The idea was saved and shelved for later, dusted off and discussed with others at various times, most of whom also thought it'd be cool...until August 2003, when Domenika and I stayed up 'til 4:30 in the morning at DexCon, talking about S&S. (Did I wallow in the chance to show her all of my obsessive note-taking and lists? You damn betcha.) Nika, who I'm not at all ashamed to admit is much smarter than me, pointed out several teeny-tiny details that made this plot more than a little bit...difficult. And by teeny-tiny I mean HUGE and UGLY and with the kind of emotional complications that would've ended friendships.

Therefore, this version.

In an earlier draft of this fic, Dick *did* agree to go through with it, only to realize once they'd started the process what a terrible mistake it was. Fic doesn't always intersect with the real world, but in this case, even nominal research told me that the prevailing school of thought is, basically: "known donor? Don't do it." Or at the very least, both parties would have to go through psychological counseling and sign a zillion legal documents before anything happened. Donna wouldn't have gotten through shrink session one. Dick? Less than half of one.