Sea and Sky:

Family

by Chicago

'rith will forward feedback




The intercom on Garth's desk buzzed, distracting him from glaring at the revised contract proposal on his desk. His irritation at the pending legislation regarding Atlantean trade - and the contract's implicit assumption that the legislation would go through - made his tone more curt than he would have like. "Yes?"

His secretary's voice was apologetic. "I'm sorry, Mr. Ambassador, but I have a Timothy Drake on the phone."

Garth's irritation changed swiftly to gut-churning anxiety. Tim? Calling him here? "Put him through," he ordered, closing the intercom connection and poising his hand over the phone. He snatched it off the cradle before it could finish one ring. "Tim? Is everything okay?"

There was a silence over the line for a moment, then a rather embarrassed sounding, "Um, yeah. Man, I really didn't think, did I?"

Garth breathed through the rapid-fire pounding of his heart, closing his eyes against unnecessary adrenaline. "Sorry, Tim. Social call?"

"Kind of," Tim said awkwardly. "I just-- I'm in town, visiting NYU, and I was thinking since I was here--"

Garth opened his eyes, the cascade of competing emotions giving way to a mix of confusion and flattered pride. He kept his voice level. "Hey, I told you you could call anytime. I just didn't realize you'd be here today."

"Yeah, I sort of got wrapped up in stuff and forgot to tell you and Dick. Anyway, I'm sorry to bother you-"

"Tim?" Garth heard something hesitant and resigned in Tim's tone. "Are you all right?"

"Fine. I was just-"

"Tim, do you want to get lunch?"

"Could we?" There was an almost desperate hope in Tim's voice.

"Of course," Garth reassured, glancing at the schedule on his computer. He'd have his secretary move his 1 o'clock. He didn't want to see the rep from L'eaulands Bottling any sooner than he had to. "You want to meet up here or-"

"There would be great," Tim interrupted. "I have to catch the M60 to LaGuardia by 2."

"You're flying out so soon? I could send a driver-"

"No, it's all good. I take the #4 Subway, right?"

"Right," Garth agreed, fairly mystified. He was sure there was no emergency - Tim would have said if something was wrong with Dick or any of the others. Still, something was not right with the younger man. " Okay, I'll see you soon, then."

"I look forward to it," Garth agreed, listening to Tim's good-bye and cradling the phone thoughtfully. He looked at the phone for a long moment, debating whether to call Dick. Tim didn't sound in trouble, precisely, but there was an undercurrent to their conversation that troubled Garth.

Over the years, he and Tim had developed a companionable enough relationship, but he never had developed the level of closeness with Tim that Dick had. Nor did he feel he should, respecting the relationship between the two and careful not to let Tim feel that Garth had "taken" Dick away from him.

That was part of the reason Tim's call had unnerved Garth. It was unusual for Tim to call specifically for Garth. Of course, if Tim had called... well, it would make sense that if he were in town, but still, it was odd he hadn't called earlier in the week. Unless there was some reason he didn't want Dick to know?

That seemed odd, but it was enough of a doubt to prevent Garth from making the call to his lover. Instead, he paged his secretary, informing her that something had come up and that he needed to reschedule the L'eaulands meeting.

Ten minutes later, he was meeting Tim in the lobby of the Atlantean embassy. "Tim!" he called, drawing the young man's attention.

An expression like relief crossed Tim's features as he crossed to greet Garth. "Hi, Garth. Sorry to just drop in like this-"

"It is fine, Tim," Garth said sternly. "You know you're always welcome to spend time with me or Dick whenever you're around."

"Yeah," Tim acknowledged quietly. "I still probably should've called ahead."

"You're visiting colleges?" Garth asked, noting the travel backpack Tim was carrying and the new NYU sweatshirt he wore.

"Yeah. Just checking out some places to see if I want to do early admission."

Garth nodded. "Well, do you want to leave your backpack here while we get lunch or-"

Tim hesitated. "I think I'll just carry it with me. Then as long as we eat somewhere by Grand Central I can just go directly there after we're done and head out to the airport."

"Makes sense. Are you hungry for anything in particular?"

Tim shook his head, shuffling a little. "Whatever is fine. I just figure we don't get much time to talk, and I haven't seen you lately."

Garth resisted the urge to give Tim a curious look, figuring whatever was on the boy's mind would come out in time. Instead, he headed for the heavy glass doors of the lobby. "Well, then, there's a great vegetarian place down on 41st..."

Tim followed Garth dutifully, making small talk about his visit to NYU. Garth was unsurprised to hear him talk about psychology and criminology majors, although Dick was convinced Tim would study computer science. Garth had taken the opportunity to rib Dick gently for his assumption that Tim would choose a topic he already knew everything about so he wouldn't have to go to class. Dick adored Tim, but sometimes he wasn't as aware as he could be of the ways in which the newer Robin was a different animal altogether than Dick had been.

When they got to the restaurant, Tim accepted Garth's menu recommendation, and the conversation shifted to goings on in Bludhaven and Gotham. Tim discussed his father's improving business fortunes and complained about the increase in society type events he was forced to attend as a result. Garth sympathized, sharing stories of some of Dick's more outrageous excuses for avoiding Bruce's quarterly extravaganzas.

The layering on of Garth's ambassadorial duties had put the couple on display rather more than either would have liked, but there were a limited number of events they could either skip or attend solo. Being alone at a function was like waving a red flag in front of the socialites who were determined to turn one or the other of them straight. Garth was learning to have a sense of humor about it, and had Tim guffawing as he described Madison Morgan's pitch to be the "right woman."

"She didn't!" Tim gasped at Garth's description of the woman's drunken fumble at his shirt buttons in front of the CEO of Cadmium and the ambassador from Uzbekistan.

"She did," Garth confirmed. "Even left a lipstick smear on my tuxedo shirt. 'Desert Crimson,' according to Barbara."

"What did you do?"

"I introduced her to Bruce."

Tim almost spit the water he had just sipped. "Oh my god!"

Garth shrugged. "He didn't seem to mind."

"And she just-"

"Given a choice between a mere gay ambassador and the third richest playboy in the world? Who knows? Maybe she's the one."

Now Tim did choke as Garth continued as if oblivious.

"Or wait, he was with Diedre Lyons last week, so I guess not."

Tim gasped for air. "Garth, stop, you're killing me," he pleaded.

"So you see," Garth continued, taking another sip of his own water, "you don't need to *avoid* these things; you just need to make sure Dick or I are going to be there."

Tim blotted his mouth with his napkin as he regained his composure. "I'll remember that," he promised. "I'm sure the girls who come for me would be happy to go after a gay ambassador instead."

Garth gave Tim a dark look. "Hm. I'll mention that to Dick. You know how fond he is of competition."

"I can take him," Tim boasted, but something in the jest fell flat, and a shadow flitted across Tim's face.

Garth took another careful swallow of water, watching Tim's poorly rallied smile. He set his glass down. "So, Tim," he began, "are you going to tell me what's on your mind?"

Tim lifted troubled eyes and considered Garth for a moment. He sighed and tightened his fists around the napkin he still held. Garth had a suspicion he would be shredding the paper in a few minutes. "It's about my After School Job."

Garth felt himself coming to attention, hearing the capitals on the words and understanding their significance. If he had doubts, the glance Tim cast his way would have confirmed the subject matter. "Are you having problems with it?" Garth asked carefully, not quite as adept as the Bat clan at coded discussion of family business in public. He knew enough to keep his tone casually concerned.

Tim shook his head and began worrying the edge of the napkin. "No. Not -" Tim sighed again. "Not at all. Which sort of is the problem?"

"Tim?"

"It - what do you know about me getting the job?"

Garth considered. "I know a lot of the details, how you figured out there was an opening -" he internally winced at the choice of words, but circumspection was crucial - "and how you proved to the boss that you deserved a chance at it. And I of course know how Dick helped mentor you."

"It was only supposed to be temporary."

Garth blinked. "I'm afraid I don't-"

"The job. I knew the boss needed help and I could do it, but I never imagined..."

"Tim-"

Tim looked up, his eyes intense. "I don't want to do it anymore. Not because anything's wrong with it or because I don't care, because I do, I really do. And I don't want to let the boss down, but-"

Garth let out a slow breath. "Wow. Yes, that is a heavy burden. I didn't realize-"

"I'm not unhappy," Tim cut off. "I don't want you thinking you didn't notice, that people haven't been paying attention. I still love the work -- or parts of it anyway. I just--" The napkin was beginning to drop fibers onto the table top as Tim's fingers continued to worry the paper.

"Okay," Garth said, his mind reeling. "Okay," he repeated. "I take it you haven't talked about this with anyone?"

"A little with Kon," Tim admitted. "Just hints. That was a bad idea."

"He wants you to keep working."

Tim nodded.

"Hazards of a team," Garth acknowledged, letting his voice convey the depth of his understanding. "I know it's not quite the same," he began, even though it was the same, but who knew who might be listening, "but when I was with the Titans years ago, there were times when each of us had to quit for various reasons. Each time, I think we were hard on each other about it for selfish reasons. We didn't want things to ever change. We would argue against anyone quitting. I'm sure -- Kon, you said? -- will come to understand."

Tim snorted. "Maybe." He unfolded the tattered napkin and began refolding it on new lines. "He's not really the one I'm worried about, though."

"Your boss?"

Tim tried a new series of folds. "When I started with him, he really needed someone to help out. Now, though-- I think he'll be okay. He might even be happier. You know how he worries on the nights we have to work alone."

Garth nodded. He knew all too well how Bruce worried, and how the Bat worried. There had been nights when he had almost understood the pure pathology of that worry, and others when he had had to remind his for-all-intents-and-purposes-father-in-law that he was not the only one who worried. "So you think he'll be okay."

"He'll deal." Tim frowned at the napkin, then unfolded it and tore it along the crease he had made.

Garth watched him continue to abuse his napkin, glancing up as the waiter dropped off their check and waiting until the man had moved away before voicing his realization. "You're worried about Dick."

Tim's jaw tightened, and he nodded.

"Tell me more, Tim," Garth encouraged.

Tim stilled his hands, his eyes staring at the almost destroyed napkin. Then he looked up. "He got me the job. It was *his* job before. How can I just - throw that in his face?"

"Throw it - Tim, you've been doing that job for almost five years. Surely you don't think Dick expects you to do it until you're eighty."

"It's important to him," Tim stated flatly. "I -- if it weren't for that job, I never would have--" Tim stopped, and Garth sensed a suggestion of angry tears in Tim's tone.

"You never would have gotten to know Dick," Garth supplied. "And he would never have gotten to know you. But it's not like you will *unknow* each other if you quit the job."

Tim scowled. "Well, duh. But things - it'll be different."

Garth felt his lips tugging toward a smile he wasn't sure Tim would want to see yet. "It's always different, Tim. Imagine if I had never been appointed ambassador and hadn't known Kory and hadn't met Dick? It'd be different."

"That's not--"

"And," Garth interrupted, "I wouldn't be here to have this conversation with. Just imagine if I'd never kissed him."

Tim gave Garth a look. "I can't believe you're comparing this to a romance."

Now Garth did let himself smile sympathetically. "Oh, I understand the difference," he reassured. "But I almost talked myself out of telling Dick how I felt a million times. Because I knew when I told him, things would be different. And it could have gone desperately wrong. But it didn't."

"It's still not the same," Tim objected.

"No, it's not. Dick has gotten more reasonable with age. Mature."

Tim snorted. "Your influence."

"I take credit when I can," Garth preened. "But seriously, I don't think it will be anywhere near the disaster you are imagining."

Tim glanced at his watch. "Shit, I gotta get going." He reached for his jeans pocket.

"I've got it," Garth forestalled, picking up the check.

Tim paused. "Are you sure?"

"Expense account," Garth pointed out.

Tim smirked. "Nice." He scooted out of the booth and shouldered his pack. He paused. "You really think--"

"Talk to him. I'm not promising he'll be a picture of understanding at first, but he'll come around. He's pretty attached to you."

"Yeah, he's grown on me, too."

"Like fungus," the two men said together.

Tim chuckled and Garth rose to give the younger man a hug. "Have a good trip back," he said. "I'm in New York until Wednesday, so he'd probably like company over the weekend. And call me if he's a head case. I'll yell at him for you."

Tim gave Garth a hard squeeze. "Thanks," he murmured.

"Anytime, kid," Garth replied. "Now go catch your bus."

Tim nodded and headed for the door. Garth slid back into his booth and nodded to the waiter, who refilled his water glass and took his credit card. He couldn't quite erase the small smile on his face. Tim wouldn't have an easy go of it with Dick and Bruce, but he'd made his decision and would be fine in the end. And he'd come to Garth for advice.

It made him feel more like part of the family.



{end}