Sea and Sky:
by Chicago and 'rith
How fic happens: Chicago and I chat via IM. I needle Chicago into some improv spam. Then the resultant plot bunny EATS MY BRAIN until I finish it. (Or in this case, write the beginning.)
Unexpected fic is sometimes the best. ^_^
Archive: Ask first, please.
He ran into Clancy on stoop outside the apartment building and would have stopped to chat, but she waved him on with a knowing grin. "G'on, boyo, I know you don't want to talk to me when you've the likes of *him* waitin' for you!"
"Some other time, Clance," he called back, heading in and taking the stairs three at a time. He burst through the apartment door and found Garth staring intently at the laptop computer, set up at a desk in the living room. "Welcome back!" He crossed the room and planted a cheerful kiss on the top of Garth's head. "How was the trip?"
Garth didn't look up. "The usual. For the most part. Anything blow up while I was gone?"
Dick snickered. "Nothing major. Some fun down at the Zee Moores yesterday. Let me get out of this monkey suit and I'll tell you about it."
"I like the suit." Garth glanced at him with a faint smile. "Both of them."
"But you like my birthday suit the best," Dick threw back cheekily as he wandered toward the bedroom.
A short while later, Dick was gleefully describing the previous night's adventure while Garth began rummaging through the kitchen for the evening's meal. It was a comfortable pattern, played out with variations every night the both of them were home.
Except. It had taken him awhile to notice, but Garth was...quieter than usual. Not that he was overly chatty under normal circumstances, but this was a kind of silence that gave Dick pause. He glanced around the apartment, suddenly wondering if he'd forgotten to put dishes in the sink again, or left a pile of wet towels on the bathroom floor. He'd *thought* he was getting better about that kind of thing, but with everything going on between his police work and the gang wars among factions trying to fill the power vacuum left by the ailing Blockbuster, he easily could have forgotten.
Garth wouldn't say anything, of course, so it was up to him to make it right. Starting immediately after dinner, by chasing Garth out of the kitchen to go relax when they both usually shared the task of cleaning up. Following up after with a comfortable cuddle on the couch, Garth letting himself be held and Dick happy to just *hold* him, not thinking about all the craziness outside for awhile. The situation on the streets was too volatile for Nightwing to skip patrol altogether, but when nothing seemed in imminent danger of exploding he called it an early night rather than making rounds nearly until sunrise. He crawled back into their building through Dr. Fleidermaus's apartment, dropped his costume and worries outside the bedroom door, and snuggled in next to Garth for a blissful extra few hours of sleep.
He woke feeling unusually well rested, and with Garth's arms around him: perfection. He wiggled himself deeper into his lover's embrace with a contented sigh. It was the kind of arrangement that ordinarily might lead to sex, but this morning Garth simply burrowed in closer with a noncommittal "mmm."
Dick rested his hands on Garth's enfolding arms and considered the wall for a moment. Then he turned to face Garth and placed a gentle kiss on one still-closed eyelid. "Sleep well?" he asked.
Garth nodded slightly, his eyes remaining closed.
He stroked gentle fingers through Garth's hair. "I'm going to get ready for work. You can join me in the shower if you want."
Garth still didn't open his eyes. "Tired," he mumbled, burrowing deeper under the covers.
Dick frowned slightly as he rose, but he placed another soft kiss on Garth's forehead and headed toward the bathroom. He took special care to actually toss yesterday's clothes *into* the hamper, something that eluded him most days.
When he emerged twenty minutes later, the bed was empty and he could smell coffee brewing. Garth was padding barefoot through the kitchen, clad only in pajama bottoms, his hair dripping a bit from where he had obviously run his head under the sink. The coffeepot was already half full and the tea kettle was whistling on the stove.
"You're running late," Garth pointed out, gesturing toward the clock.
"What?" Dick started, realizing he had less than fifteen minutes before he had to leave for the station.
"Daylight savings," Garth said, pulling two slices of toast from the toaster and dropping them onto a plate. I remembered after you got out of bed." He handed the plate and a butter knife to Dick.
"Oh, man," Dick groaned, slathering butter onto his toast as Garth set his filled travel mug on the breakfast bar beside him. "And I wanted to fix you breakfast. How on earth did I manage to forget that?"
Garth seemed to shake himself from the distant look that had overtaken his features and shrugged. "Just another weird surface custom. We can do breakfast another time."
"Still, that's irritating," Dick complained, reaching for his jacket and thrusting his arm into one sleeve as he shoveled toast into his mouth with his other hand. "Tell you what. I'll make it up to you. I'll pick up some take out on the way home. Maybe that Japanese place on Dockside that you like so much."
Garth raised an eyebrow at him. "It's not something you need to make up to me, but that sounds good."
"What d'you have planned for today?"
"A consultation with some of the Wayne Enterprises representatives in Gotham. I should be back by the time your shift's over. And I have official correspondence with Poseidonis to deal with." He emerged from behind the counter, straightening Dick's collar and giving him a quick peck on the lips. "You're really going to be late. See you tonight."
"Yep," Dick agreed with slightly more cheerfulness than was necessary. "Maybe I can even knock off early. Love you."
He dashed out the door, but the slight dissonance of the morning's tone niggled at him all day, so much so that his partner Amy finally told him to stop fidgeting and go home. To hell with night patrol, he decided; the critical difference between Nightwing and Batman was that Dick *would* take a night off here and there, for no other reason than the acknowledgement that the world wouldn't fall apart without him. At least for one night. And he could give some quality attention to whatever was troubling Garth.
Dick collected the promised take out and started toward home, determined to make things right.
But somehow, despite his resolution, the evening didn't go quite as planned. Garth greeted him with absent thanks for picking up dinner, and after they'd eaten, he returned to studying Atlantean-script documents on the computer. Work following one or the both of them home was also an unfortunate standard, but Garth's continued reserve wasn't. Dick wandered around the apartment, randomly straightening knickknacks and making vague dusting motions at any and all surfaces.
It was creeping toward full dark when Garth finally seemed to register that Dick hadn't yet made a move to suit up. He glanced up from the laptop. "Are you patrolling tonight?"
"Things were pretty quiet last night. Figured I'd take the night off, see if I can lull 'em into a false sense of security. And I'd get to spend more time with you as a bonus."
"Dick. Stop. Please."
He gave his best ingenuous look. "Stop what?"
Garth sighed and shut the laptop with a snap. "Stop...coddling me. I don't need that. I don't want you to derail your routine to take care of me."
"But I like..." Dick started, and changed his tactics in response to the look on Garth's face. "Well, look, obviously something's bothering you. Just tell me what I can do--"
"It's not always you, Dick!"
The sudden expression of irritation, so unusual in its volume, caught him completely off guard. Garth never *yelled.*
Dick knew what a difficult thing anger was for Garth, how much it reminded him of Arthur, and immediately felt disgusted at himself for having provoked it. But then again...thinking about Arthur reminded him there really was only one person who seemed to annoy Garth on a regular basis. Dick swallowed his startlement and tried again. "Did something happen in Atlantis?"
"Something, yes." Garth's exasperation was evident. "There was an...argument regarding the annexation of Cerdia. Arthur and I disagreed on how to resolve it."
Dick snorted. "Big surprise. And you're upset about that? C'mon, you know how he is, better than anyone. He loves to argue on principle. That's why *you're* the Atlantean rep."
"Which means, what? That he's automatically in the wrong?" Garth pushed back from the desk and stood, his posture tense and remote.
"Usually is, but that's not *your* fault." Dick smiled, reassuring. "Whatever happened, I'm sure you didn't--"
"I did," Garth said flatly. "I mishandled the situation, I made things worse, and I don't need you to tell me it's not my fault when I know very well that it is. You can't *fix* this, Dick, it doesn't have anything to do with you."
Dick tried to process it. "Even if...even if you did do something wrong, it's not the end of the world, right? Everyone screws up once in awhile. God knows I do. You couldn't have done anything that bad."
"...you're so sure of that." Garth's voice posed unexpected challenge. "What if I did? What if my perspective was flawed and my decisions were completely irrational because of that?"
"I can't believe--"
"That's the problem! How can I talk to you about this, when you never want to acknowledge that I might make that kind of mistake? I'm not--" he coughed suddenly, the sound raspy and dry. "It's later than I thought. I need to rehydrate."
Dick nodded, instantly solicitous. "I'll start the shower."
Garth hesitated for a moment. "I think I'll go out. There's a storm coming. The rain will feel good."
Dick took a single step toward the door, intending to go as well, and Garth stopped him with a single look. "No reason for both of us to get wet."
"But," Dick said to empty air, as Garth exercised what Dick had thought was exclusively a Bat-trick, and vanished through the door before he could take another step.
Dick picked his way quietly along the beach, silent by habit rather than intent. Not that his silence made any difference; it was unlikely any person would have heard him over the increasing howl of the wind, let alone the figure sitting on the rocks. Indeed, Garth did not turn but continued staring out over the ocean as waves crashed around him.
Dick hesitated; he really couldn't approach without being smashed against the rocks. He didn't have his lover's mass to hold him in place, nor his ability to breathe underwater.
But that was his Garth sitting there, looking so forlorn.
And, as he thought about it, probably in that spot precisely because Dick couldn't follow.
Dick stepped up onto the rocks and waited, wincing a little as the salt spray stung his exposed cheeks. If Garth had truly not wanted to be found, Dick reasoned, he would have slipped beneath the waves.
The ocean was a roaring force here, too loud for anyone to hear anything.
Correction: too loud for Dick to hear anything.
Garth, on the other hand, with his enhanced hearing....
That might make more sense. Garth didn't want to leave completely, but he didn't want to argue. And he didn't want to be swept into Dick's arms, the easy comfort of their union obscuring the problem that still sat between them without solving it.
"Ga--" the name caught in Dick's throat, and he swallowed hard. "Garth," he tried again.
He did not raise his voice, did not yell. Garth did not turn, but Dick was certain he could hear.
Dick pulled his windbreaker more tightly around him. His jeans were already soaked through from the pounding surf. "Garth, I'm not going to say I understand, because it's obvious I don't." He thought for a second. "Or maybe I understand part of it. The part about feeling like you have to be perfect.
"I feel that way a lot, like everyone expects so much and I'm not even half of what they expect or believe of me. That's part of what's so amazing about you; you know I've got issues. You've seen me mess up, and that's okay. I mean, not okay, but you've seen me at my worst and you still stay with me. That still amazes me, that I can just be me around you. You *get* it."
Dick paused, considering his words.
Garth still hadn't turned, and Dick's anxiously longing look at his back was having no effect. It only exposed his eyes to more of the splashing salt water. He could feel the cold water beginning to trickle down through his hair.
"Garth, I'm trying to understand," he pleaded.
"How can I fix this?"
The words had left his mouth before he heard them, and they struck him suddenly in the light of Garth's earlier shouted remark: "It's not always you, Dick!"
It hadn't made sense before, but now he recalled everything he had just said. How he sympathized, how he felt the same pressures.
He didn't. He didn't know. He was trying to fix it himself, trying to make things perfect.
Not 'us.' Not 'we.'
Not 'we' because Garth was already perfect, was the miracle that had made his life complete. Garth didn't have to work on anything.
Garth only needed to be, to continue-- Dick bowed his head, squeezing his eyes shut. His hands balled into fists of self-directed anger. How could he be so-- so-- *oblivious?*
"Garth," he said softly, his voice aching.
His mind was racing. What could he say? How could he break the habit of years, a habit that, God help him, he had learned from Bruce. Take all the burdens and leave others either blameless or evil. How often had he complained at Bruce's self-centeredness?
"I love you--"
That didn't change anything. Garth *knew* Dick loved him. He still loved Dick. That wasn't the issue.
He raised his face to the stinging salt. Garth still sat there, the ocean smashing against him. It had to hurt, those walls of water slamming against even Atlantean flesh.
He thought back over their argument, over the last evening, over this morning when Garth had wanted only to be held.
"Garth," he tried again. "What--" He spluttered as an ocean splash caught him unaware, soaking him thoroughly. He took a staggering splash to regain his balance.
He mopped his hand across his face, squinting against the increasing spray. He should probably retreat to safer ground, but Garth wouldn't let anything....
Dick paused. Garth could certainly save him, but did he want to make this a test?
He carefully stepped down and regained firm footing on the wet sand. He could barely see Garth from here now as a pounding rain began to fall.
"Garth, can we talk about what happened in Atlantis?" he pleaded.
No answer, and now he really couldn't see his lover at all. "I want to know what you wish you had done differently," Dick said into the darkness. "I wish-- I should have-- "
He stopped, aware that the he was cold, that the ocean's fury was increasing, and that maybe what Garth needed was to be alone, to be pounded by the surf, to defy the weather to its worst.
That maybe what Garth wanted was for Dick to go home and wait.
Dick turned, half-blinded by the rain and salt, and began to make his way back toward the boardwalk. The going was hard, and the wind was forcing him off course.
He stumbled, falling hard onto his knees in the wet sand. He fought the wind to regain his feet.
Then there was a hand on his elbow and a sturdy figure helping him upright. An arm snaked around his waist and steered him toward the shelter of the boardwalk.
He accepted the aid, leaning against his lover's chest.
"What were you doing on the beach in this weather, anyway?"
"Wanted to talk to you," Dick said helplessly, "but when you didn't answer, I figured you wanted to be alone."
Garth blinked at him, puzzled. "I didn't know you were there until I glanced back and saw you fall."
"You didn't hear..." Dick stared at him incredulously, then abruptly began to laugh. "Well, you missed the part where I really went for the drama, so that's probably good."
Garth glanced back at the waves, now crashing even more strongly into the shoreline. "Really, Dick, I figured you'd have more sense than to chase me into a storm."
"Clearly I don't," Dick replied wryly. "But now that you *can* hear me...can we talk about it? Please?"
Through the wind and rain, he heard a voice in his ear. "We'll talk. And someday, Dick Grayson, I will break you of this drama queen habit."
Dick was still tired and cold, still fighting for his steps against the raging weather, but his heart felt suddenly light.