Sea and Sky:
Archive: Ask first, please.
Notations: m/m relationship, nonexplicit.
Fandom: Modern comicsverse. Sea and Sky series, standalone fic posted out of sequence. For the timeline, see http://www.offpanel.net/kerithwyn/SeaSky.html
Continuity: An insert into the 'Officer Down' storyline. This fic takes place while the Batboys (and -girl) chase down Catwoman circa Officer Down part III, Birds of Prey #27. Batman is busy investigating, trying to figure out who shot Jim, rather than standing helplessly by his bedside. Bollocks to that.
Disclaimer: All characters property of DC Comics. What I have done with them is mine. Thanks to Chicago and Smitty and nw's chick for handholding.
Garth was already on his way to Gotham when Dick called.
The cell phone shrilled and he answered it from the back of the taxi. "Hello?"
Dick's breathless voice answered him. "Garth, hey, listen, I can't talk long, there's been--" The stream of words was interrupted for a long gulp of air. "Jim Gordon's been shot. Can you get up here fast?"
"I heard on the radio. I'm halfway there. Is he-- will he be all right?"
"We don't know yet." Garth heard the desperately controlled grief and rage in Dick's tone. "He's out of surgery but still in critical condition. We're...hunting."
We, meaning the Bat-family; and hunting, meaning both the shooter and any possible clues. "I understand. How can I help?"
"If you'd see to Babs, she's going back to the Clocktower. I don't want her to be alone right now. Okay?" Dick's voice was so full of fear on her behalf.
He owed it to Dick to be calm, for all their sakes. "Of course. Do what you need to. Good luck."
"I'm not the one who needs it. --thanks, Garth. Love you." Dick hung up abruptly, doubtless eager to get back on the trail.
Garth glanced out the window, seeing the highway roll by at speed. He'd told the driver to go as fast as safety permitted; it might be an abuse of his diplomatic papers to avoid a speeding ticket, but he wasn't inclined to care at the moment.
He looked toward the ocean and prayed.
Every one of her holographic Oracle's screens was active, but Barbara herself was hunched over a computer keyboard, typing feverishly. He didn't want to disturb her concentration, speaking softly to announce his presence. "Barbara?"
She looked up at him, blinking rapidly, as if she'd forgotten she'd invited him in a moment ago. "Garth. Uh. I guess Dick called you."
"Yes. He said Comm--your father's out of surgery?"
"For the moment. They have to-- there's another bullet--" Barbara's hands clenched on the arms of her chair, the physical expression mirroring the struggle to keep her emotions in check. When she spoke again, her voice refused to waver. "He's lost a lot of blood. The doctors are waiting until he stabilizes to go in after the third bullet."
Her face was pale, almost white with shock and stress, but he knew better than to suggest she take a break. "What can I do?"
What he could do, apparently, was wait with Barbara for word from the hospital while the others gathered evidence and chased down leads. He wasn't experienced in that kind of investigative work, so there was nothing he could contribute on that front. Barbara set him to compiling and organizing what information they had already while she handled more technical tasks. It was more than busywork; any small bit of data could contribute to a solution. Dick had taught him that.
Barbara had been silent for awhile while they worked, and when Garth glanced over he was startled to see tears streaming down her face. She had stifled her grief with such complete determination not to let him hear, even his Atlantean hearing hadn't detected so much as a single sob.
It wasn't...his place, he wasn't part of her life except by association. He knew her well enough to think she would resent any intrusion into her private pain. Even those she was closest to weren't permitted to witness it.
But it was, he thought wryly as he crossed the room to her, eternally the place of 'in-laws' to interfere where they weren't wanted.
Garth knelt down by her chair, handing over a few tissues from the box on her desk. Barbara wiped blindly at her face.
"Couldn't let them see," she hiccupped, more to herself than to him. "Not allowed to be...weak."
He wasn't capable of healing a wound that deep. But he could offer the truth as he knew it. "There's nothing weak about your tears. He's your *father.* You're allowed to be worried, to be angry, to cry for him. No one would think less of you for it."
She nodded, but he recognized her refusal to accept it. Garth understood that better than he cared to admit. Years ago he had been the weakest of the Teen Titans, doubly hindered by his reliance on water and by his lack of self-confidence. So much had changed since that time, and yet he still felt the need to prove himself, to compensate for his relative helplessness then. He could only imagine how much of Barbara's fierce determination to remain helpful, to remain *vital,* was necessary to the life she'd built for herself since losing her legs.
Considering the length of time he'd spent in a near-suicidal daze after Tula's death, he had no right to tell anyone else how to cope after such a trauma. He'd come out of it, eventually, gaining perspective through time and a new sense of purpose. Barbara had found her purpose in Oracle, stubbornly and essentially on her own, proving her worth. It had only come at the cost of letting anyone else see her weaknesses, and her fears.
But the deeper irony here was that if Barbara *had* allowed herself to let Dick care for her in times of need, they might very well have made things work between them. And he would not be standing here at all, in any context.
He didn't care for the thought that his and Dick's relationship had begun at the cost of Barbara's happiness, and remembered what Dick had said on the beach, in Greece: that she had made her decision long ago. None of this had anything to do with him. It was foolish to think otherwise.
Barbara wiped at her eyes one last time. "We should-- we should get back to work."
He stood up and stepped back, respecting her space. "Can I get you anything?"
"Uh--" she glanced at her desktop, reached over for a water bottle. "Would you refill this for me? Tap's fine."
Garth nodded and went into the kitchen to fill the bottle, tasting the water first to check on its relative level of purity. Either Gotham had an extremely clean reservoir or Barbara had an efficient filtration system in place, because it was freer of impurities than he'd expected. The water in Dick's--in their own apartment in 'Haven was one step from toxic, as far as he was concerned.
In the time it took for him to return to the holographic room, Barbara had regained her seemingly composed demeanor. She watched him thoughtfully as she took the bottle. "Thanks, Garth."
He remembered his own vigil, after Tula had been poisoned. Nothing anyone had said made a bit of difference. And still... "I wish I could do more."
"It's this *waiting,* I can't--" she burst out, and then went silent again.
Waiting to hear, waiting to know. Especially frustrating for the Oracle, who had the world's knowledge at her fingertips but couldn't discern the answer to one simple question.
Barbara still held the water bottle in her hands, the container trembling a little, the only outward expression of her fiercely controlled emotions. When she spoke again, her voice was a whisper. "I don't know what I'll do if-- I don't know what to do without him."
It was almost an echo of his own words, years ago, waiting for the doctors to say if Tula would live or die. He had been utterly powerless in the face of that uncertainty. But Barbara was infinitely stronger than he'd been, and had already taken action to help her father in the ways she could. "You don't need to know. Not yet. Have faith."
"That's easy for you to say," she snapped.
"No," he said quietly. "It's not."
Barbara stared at him, her eyes wide and almost panicked. "I don't know how to do that. I can't just sit here and not--"
"You're not just sitting here." He pointed to the screens. "You *have* a job to do. You're possibly the only one who can do it. Barbara, I know exactly what helplessness feels like. I don't think you... I don't think you've ever been helpless in your life."
He could see the initial response war across her face, from astonishment to disbelief to anger. That was fine; if anger would help her to focus, he was willing to take the brunt of it. But after a moment she put her head down, hair falling across her face, and let out a small, ironic laugh. "That sounds like Dick. He thinks I'm perfect. He thinks--"
"I wasn't speaking for Dick. I was speaking for me." It came out a little more annoyed than he'd intended. Garth softened his tone and tried again. "I don't think you're perfect. But I know you can get through this." He wanted to reach out and take her hand, and didn't quite dare. "Even if you need to let your friends help."
Barbara snorted unbelievingly, still behind the veil of her hair. "In *this* group? Self-sufficiency is more than a law, it's practically a religion." But her hand darted out to brush against his, perhaps as much acknowledgement as she could allow.
On cue, as if her computers had sensed her discomfiture, the monitors lit up with reports from Dick and the others, now hard on Catwoman's trail. If Selina herself hadn't shot Jim Gordon--and that seemed unlikely, even if she had returned to her thieving ways--then she probably had witnessed the crime. Garth stood back, listening as Barbara coordinated the efforts of four hunters toward one single end.
There was no more time for talk, only the dedicated effort of translating the accumulated data into action. The work would go on until Catwoman was caught, and after that until the shooter was found. Garth returned to his own monitor to assist.
Barbara glanced at him once in the flurry of activity, the gratitude in her face more expressive than words. Despite the seriousness of the situation, Garth couldn't help smiling to himself once she'd turned away. It was so essentially...*her,* to inspire the desire to help and be so reluctant to accept it. Exactly like someone else of their acquaintance, though Barbara would be loath to admit it. No wonder that Dick loved them both.
No wonder, Garth realized with small surprise, that he had come to love her as well. Not like Dick did, of course, but as a friend he cherished. That she'd *allowed* his help was a clear indication she felt the same.
He said another silent prayer and got back to work.
The rest plays as canon, and Jim lives. Natch. ;)