Sea and Sky VII:
Warnings: M/M slash implication. If this concept disturbs you, read no further.
Fandom/Summary: Modern comicsverse. Babs just found out; everyone reacts. Seventh in the "Sea and Sky" series, the previous parts of which can be found at http://www.offpanel.net/kerithwyn/.
THANKS TO: For all their help, Dannell, Carmen, PollyMel, KJ, and the other IRC folks--and most especially Kael, without whom this and following sections would have just been a big unformed mess. Without her insight this series might have remained permanently stalled. I owe you, babe.
Disclaimer: All characters property of DC Comics. What I have done with them is mine.
Fortunately the call didn't take long--Dinah needed some information, and I was able to dig it up without much effort. Which was a good thing, because I was still completely distracted by what I'd seen.
My God, what I'd seen!
I already knew--sort of--that Dick liked men as well as women. There was always something in his voice when he talked about Jericho. When Joey died, what Dick went through seemed much more than just grief over a teammate's death.
Not that we ever talked about it. God forbid we ever talked about anything *that* deep. I suppose I just filed that in the back of my head like a good librarian and didn't think about it too much.
Me and Dick...now there was a whole 'nother subject. Batgirl and Robin. Oracle and Nightwing. A world of difference between the two.
Back then, sometimes it was us against the Bat. He was the Batman's sanctioned partner, while I was just the uppity chit who decided to put on a pair of tights and go swinging over Gotham. Bruce got over that--eventually--but Dick supported me from the beginning.
It was fun, having someone to talk to about the crazy stuff we were doing. We made a good team. And I'll admit it was a heck of a thrill to know that this handsome, talented, and intelligent young man had a crush on me. A *young* man--only a few years younger than me, but years that made all the difference back then. Now.....
Now there are other considerations. I wasn't lying when I said I was happy for them. How could I be anything but? I've seen Dick reach for love over and over through the years. Thank God! Bruce taught him a lot, and certainly Dick is the good man he's become in no small part due to that example. But Bruce also wraps himself in a coldness that keeps him from ever really knowing love. He can't let himself know. Dick never learned that lesson. Even with all he's been through, all the tragedy and heartache, Richard John Grayson never let the shadow of the Bat darken his heart.
"Shadow of the Bat." How melodramatic. Get a grip, Babs.
What I'd seen...
I didn't know Garth that well. In passing, really, from a few brief meetings with the Titans. As Oracle I knew all the unimportant things, of course. All the hard simple facts pulled from the superhero database: height, weight, known powers. Some of his history--enough to make my voice go cold whenever I spoke with Aquaman on the Watchtower.
But I saw...I saw Garth look at Dick the way I think I sometimes do. Of course I love Dick. I always have, though somewhere along the line that changed from something big-sisterly to...well, to a possibility, that's all. He was still finding his way on his own as Nightwing, I'd quit being Batgirl a bit earlier, and we didn't really see each other a lot, and then, then--
I became Oracle. This is my life, and it's a good one. A lot of stubborn hardheaded determination and not a little therapy brought me to that. I save lives. I walk--in spirit, at least--with a pantheon of the greatest super-heroes ever to guard the Earth. I watch, and I guide, and with my help those modern gods function more efficiently. I make a difference on a global scale. Batgirl struggled to take out a few drug-dealers on a street corner. Oracle can burn an international drug lord's business to the ground with a touch on a keyboard.
I can't touch him.
But Garth can--oh, yes, he certainly can. I'd turned on the camera just to see if Dick was home and caught an eyeful. Fast as I switched off the link, that image still burned itself into my brain. I was surprised...okay, shocked. I had no idea they were that...close. Really, really close. And really beautiful together. So shock and then, well, some totally indecent fascination, and maybe a flash of jealousy before I started giggling. Nervous reaction, probably.
And then I just *had* to tease him about it. He should've told me *something* about what was going on. "Hey, Babs, I'm seeing someone," would have been enough. Thinking he could keep a secret from *me!* I owed him for that.
Garth was sweet. I'm going to enjoy getting to know him--he was so obviously concerned for me. And he ain't half-bad to look at, either. Really...built. Incredible, intense purple eyes. I think I'll have interesting dreams tonight.
Nightwing and Tempest. They even *sound* good together.
Maybe I'm jumping to conclusions too fast. Maybe it's just a fling, or something. I've got to make Dick talk to me about this. That oughta be fun.
I think--I *hope*--it's more. I want Dick to be happy. I'll be happy, with that.
I swear, if Bruce says one disapproving word about this, I'll fry every computer in his 'cave!
I'm the Oracle. I *watch.* That's what I do. And what I'd seen...
"Just...love him, okay?"
Barbara said that, all concern and her own love for him unmistakable, and I only spoke truth when I answered, "yes."
I hadn't known it for truth, until then. Friendship, passion, comfort, yes, all of those things. But love?
"Robbie, I'll be back, I need a swim to clear my head." He nodded, changing into his costume, and I knew he'd be preoccupied for a few hours at least. Nightwing has a city under his guardianship, and he takes that responsibility seriously. But unlike his mentor, he still allows his other self a life apart from that, intertwined as they inevitably are. Dick Grayson and Nightwing, both my friend since I first came to the surface.
And now, more. Lover, that was one thing, and perhaps the simplest; I'd always admired him from afar, but never dreamed to hold him so. I had no inkling that he might want me in return. And far more importantly...there was Tula.
She had me, literally, from the moment we met. Tula, adopted daughter of the royal house of the city of Poseidonis. She fought and laughed and loved with a passion for life so profound it swept me up, pulled me out of shyness and uncertainty into that same enthusiasm. She never hesitated when some wrong needed to be righted or some offense troubled her sense of justice. Tula--it was only laughingly that she called herself "Aquagirl"--*shone,* she was a beacon in the dark ocean depths, she was all of my life and my heart. My love.
It still hurts, her death. Far worse was her false resurrection at the whim of Slizzath, my mad uncle. Mind fogged with Slizzath's sorcery, she fought me for his sake, and when she finally realized the truth of it she begged me to stop her. "If you ever loved me..."
Should I live an eternity, no moment will ever hurt as badly. There, among the warriors both living and dead, the words came like a flood from my soul. "My God, Tula, I loved you more than anyone I've ever known! I've never experienced feelings for anyone like the ones I feel for you…you were my world! You were the one great love of my life--and you're dead!" And I begged her to remember me, to remember that I loved her, as I destroyed that mockery of a form that Slizzath had raised...and all my hopes of her return with it.
I tell myself she would have thanked me for it, but that cannot erase the memory of her form shattered by nothing more than the strength in my hands.
But even that, even so horrible a moment, made in the end a kind of closure I'd been lacking. I finally told her and myself, after so long: "I can't keep waiting for you to come back to me, because you're not going to. I've got to go live the rest of my life and that means letting you go. ...for so long I was afraid that if I let go, I'd somehow forget you...and that you'd think I didn't love you anymore--that I was rejecting everything we'd ever shared. But I know now I could never forget you. You were my first love...and you'll always be a part of me. I'm sorry it took me so long to figure out that getting on with my life was the healthy thing to do, and that I wasn't forgetting a thing...and that it's what you'd want me to do, too. But I have figured it out now. And I've got to go--I've got to see what's out there, waiting for me. And trust that part of you will watch over and protect me...and guide me, always. ... I love you, Tula. I miss you."
And that was goodbye, at last. It was with a clear conscience that I reached for Richard when he so obviously needed a friend, for the loneliness that echoed to my own. Worse, perhaps; his memory of love for Koriand'r is clouded by other things, and far distant. Tula...is with me, even now.
I know she smiles, to see us.
I loved the passion in her, her strength, and I see so much of the same strength in him. It drives him, pushes him to test his limits, makes him in into the leader who leads simply by being there. Yet balanced by that is the talent for cold analysis learned from his mentor, the ability to see and judge a situation in a second's glance and immediately have the right answer. *Unlike* his teacher, that chill ability rarely impacts allies as well as enemies.
The Batman leads through fear. Nightwing inspires the Titans' love. There has never been any question to us which creates the stronger bond.
Still, sometimes that tendency to withdraw takes him; and for the first time, I find myself able to help *him.* With Tula I followed where she led, joyously, her passions our guiding spirit. Whereas I reached out to him when he would not, his strength inspiring mine and--I hope--the emotions I finally learned to express keeping him from his mentor's solitary fate. He is simply too beautiful to be allowed that.
I never looked for this. I spoke of Tula as the first great love of my life, and that remains true. The first--and I swear to it, I never thought there would be another. Friends, yes. Even friends I loved in body as well as spirit. But not--
I *know* that she would wish me to go on. I do know it. Yet until now I never sought...any other who might fill my heart, as she had. That might have been a betrayal of my love for her, and yes, I know she would shake her head at me to hear that. But it still would have been true.
There was no hint of this with any other, not with those in whom I sought comfort after her death, not even with Dolphin. I was still flush with the excitement of my new powers, and she was willing and beautiful and *there.* But for all the affection and desire between us, that was all it was. Besides which there were...other complications...that made things difficult. In the end it was just as well that we parted.
I don't know if Dick will ever understand what his friendship meant to me, all those years ago. He, Donna, Wally, Roy--they accepted me when my own people had left me to die. Arthur tried in his own way, but he was an indifferent father at best and I was always a secondary concern after his own family and troubles. With the Teen Titans I found a home for the first time. Family. Love. I never forgot that, not when I left the surface world, not with Tula who understood, not even in the transformation that remade me into Tempest.
I reached for him in friendship and long-standing desire. Now I want to stay, even on the surface that sometimes seems so stifling, to be with him. But it seems only right that one of my first and truest friends would be...has become so much more.
Trust the Oracle to speak true. "Just love him."
And I do.
Mortal embarrassment quotient fulfilled for the day, it was time to go on patrol.
I'll kill Babs, I really will--catching us like that!
Why hadn't I told her?
The monitor was dark again by the time I figured it was safe to go back to the bedroom, and Garth was dressed. I pulled out my costume, feeling that old familiar adrenaline rush. In a couple of minutes I'd be over the city, flying--
"Robbie, I'll be back, I need a swim to clear my head."
I nodded absently, but by the time I looked up he was gone. "Robbie." From Roy that was almost mocking, a throwback to younger times and a reminder of when we were both "just" sidekicks. From Garth...it was an endearment, intimate and warming.
I'd felt a lot of that, lately. Warm. Comfortable. It was great having him around, really made the apartment feel like home with a friend to share things with. Getting to know him all over again had been just amazing--he'd grown so much, and I really admired the man he'd become. And, God, the sex was...unbelievable. Incredibly intense. I was half-hard again just thinking about the way he smelled, and tasted, and felt against me--
I could make a fortune to rival Bruce's if I could bottle my overactive hormones, I bet. Mind *out* of the gutter, Grayson, before there's a blue-and-black smear across Blüdhaven. Not that anyone would notice for all the other corpses. Nice thought.
Casting the jumpline, wind in my face, and why *hadn't* I told her?
No secrets between us, not anymore. Barbara knows me better than I know myself, I think. At least, she's usually right when she tells me I'm being stupid about something. Like the thing with Helena--I thought I'd *never* hear the end of that one!
So I sure as hell wasn't *ashamed* of Garth, and I figured she already knew about Joey, so that wasn't the problem.
Something about her knowing. ...I saw her face, she looked so pleased, like she was expecting...something more.
But that's silly. We've been friends for so long, of course it's been easy to adjust to him being here. I even told Tim my relationship with Garth was really about companionship and comfort. We have good chemistry. That's all. That's--
A load of crap, actually.
Because the thing is, I've been lying to myself.
...I haven't been *thinking* about it, I admit. It's been a lot of fun. Except--except there was that look on Babs' face, and I've been fooling myself about what this means for *him.*
Garth came back to the Titans time and again partly because of me. Flattering, sure, but...oh, shit, Grayson, just say it.
He loves you, and you can't deal.
He's my friend and I *do* love him as my friend, but I shouldn't be trying to--replace Tula, and I shouldn't be trying to turn it into something else.
God, I even said it about the Titans when we were talking about re-forming the team. "Everything gets so personal." I don't...*want*...that.
I can't go through it again. My "romances" always end badly. Never mind Emily, that was a case...or Miggie, even though that one ended in a funeral...or Helena, because that was just loneliness and hormones on both our parts. But Barbara insisted that whatever might have been with us had been shattered by the Joker's bullet. Joey's death tore my heart out. And Kory--God, she was my life, and we fell apart in the most painful way I could ever imagine. I can't...dammit, I won't go through that again. I won't put *Garth* through that.
And the longer this goes on, the harder it's gonna be.
It's got to stop before things get even more...complicated....
Oh, and. Yes, the quoted material sounds different than how I've been writing Garth's "voice." Rationalization Lass has a reason for that: He's speaking in Atlantean, his native tongue, so of course his speech is a little more casual.