The Thousandth Man

by 'rith



Archive: Ask first, please.
Warnings: M/M slash implication.
Fandom: Modern comicsverse, AU. Two old friends have a new conversation.
Thanks to: Dan and KayJay, for encouragement and a title.
Disclaimer: All characters property of DC Comics. What I have done with them is mine.



Friday night in Titans' Tower was always pizza night.

It was tradition, that was all. Anyone who wasn't busy met up, ordered out, and just hung for the evening--watching movies or lying by the pool or merely talking. No working out, no sparring or war games--simply friends who played as well as worked together. The critical difference between the Titans and the JLA, or the JSA, or any of the other superhero groups who were only teams, and not family.

Other things were tradition, too.

"Extra anchovies, right, Gillhead?" Roy Harper--Arsenal--never knew when to quit. Most of the time it didn't matter, because they were all used to it. "I shoot off my mouth like my arrows," he'd said on more than one occasion, and it was true. Unlike arrows, his words were rarely meant to wound.

But sometimes...

Tempest sighed in frustration. "Roy, I'm asking you. Please, don't. I hate that nickname."

Victor glanced at Gar, concerned, and whispered, "Harper's really asking for it this time."

Changeling nodded. "No Dick or Donna here to save his butt. He's toast."

This Friday night the Tower was more empty than usual; only Arsenal, Tempest, Cyborg, and Changeling had shown up for the weekly ritual. Roy'd laughed about that: "Without the ladies, the kids, or Short Pants, we can pull out the *good* movies!" The other three ignored the suggestion, which drove Roy to even more annoying extremes.

And Garth had always made such a *excellent* target. "Yeah? Whatcha gonna do about it, Fish-Boy?"

"Don't--"

"Aw, had a hard week? Swallowed too much ocean? Hey, I know, it's been awhile, right? I know this cute little mermaid...."

"*Stop.*" The flare of anger caught everyone's attention. "Please. Save it for our enemies, Roy."

Harper smirked. "Oh, c'mon. Take your best shot. Even Robbie gets one in, once in a while."

"My...best shot." Garth's eyes lit up--literally--and his hands glowed. "That's the last thing you want, Arsenal."

O-kay. *That* wasn't funny. Roy took a nervous step back. He'd never seen Garth like this, though he'd known him for years. He suddenly understood why Garth was Tempest and no longer "Aqualad," and gulped at the thought of the power in Garth's hands, carefully restrained.

"My best shot. Something to make even you stop talking." Garth moved forward, considering, eyes narrowed. "So many things to choose from, but I think...yes."

He reached out quicker than Roy could react, hauling him off his feet and into a kiss that utterly stopped Roy's mouth.

Vic grinned, and Garfield fell to the floor laughing. "Whoo! That's the first time I ever saw Harper speechless! You go, Garth!"

Garth pulled back but didn't let go, still dangling Roy a few inches above the ground. "Now. Apologize."

Vic snickered. "Better do it, Harper, I think he means it."

"Wha--guh--" The incoherent sounds spilling out of Roy's mouth finally resolved into words. "G-Garth. I'm sorry, man, you know I can't help it--"

"*Try.*" Tempest dropped Roy back to his feet, nodded to Vic and Gar, and left the room.

"What the heck...?" Arsenal looked at the other two. "Was it something I said?"

Gar giggled again. "It's *everything* you say, Roy. Guess he finally got tired of it. That was *priceless.* You got that on tape, right, Vic?"

"Funny, Salad-Head." Roy headed toward the door leading to the dorm wing. "Be back in a sec, guys."

Vic stared after him. "I don't believe it. That almost sounded serious."

"Perish the thought." Changeling poked his friend. "Seriously, didja get that? I can't wait to show Donna...."



Roy peeked carefully around the doorframe of Tempest's room. "Um...can I come in?"

Garth glanced up with a resigned expression, as if he were expecting another blow. "Yes, Roy?"

"Oh, geez." Abruptly it struck him how few times and far between he'd said a kind word to his friend--and how often, and how easily, the insults had flown. "I want to apologize. Sincerely. I, uh, I've been pretty mean to you, I guess. I never meant--"

The last thing Roy expected was Garth laughing at him. "I *know* that, we all know that, that's just *you!*"

Somehow it made him feel worse, that his poor behavior was so expected they automatically dismissed it out of hand. Dismissed *him.* "Yeah, okay, so I'm an asshole." He turned to leave.

"Roy--wait." Garth's voice drew him back. "We all love you *because* of who you are, not despite it. Yes, you irritate me. And yes, I know you don't mean it. You hit the wrong nerve, this time. That's all."

"Yeah, I figured." He eyed Garth curiously. "But can I ask a question? Why-why'd you kiss me, anyway? Just curious, amigo."

"It seemed the thing to do at the time."

"Huh."

Garth smiled. "If you're asking if I've secretly yearned after you all these years..." he paused just long enough to make the other man sweat, "...then I'm sorry to disappoint you, Roy." His eyes sparkled. "Dick, on the other hand...."

Roy groaned. "What *is* it with him, anyway? The whole world loves him."

"Of course. It is...who he is."

"Then, uh, you'd really..."

"What?"

"Um. Do the wild thing. With Robbie."

Garth laughed. "Yes! Why wouldn't I?"

"Hey, whatever, I just didn't know you were--"

"Roy." The serious tone caught Harper by surprise. "I trust him with my life, body and spirit. We give each other that trust every day, as Titans."

Roy frowned. "So you're talking about...obligation? I don't get it, Dick wouldn't..."

"No, you misunderstand. The things we combat...we depend on each other to guard...I'm not explaining well." He muttered a few words in Atlantean. "English has no equivalent concept. But put most simply, I entrust Richard with all that I am, in battle--why should I not do the same, any other time? And as friends, my body would be the very *least* of what I share...my soul to his keeping, and body as well."

"Wow. That's...wow." Roy stared, amazed. "You really...you really love him."

"*Yes.*" Garth shook his head. "Is that such a revelation? It is the same for Donna, and Wally, and you..."

"Me?!" Roy gasped, shock registering openly on his face.

"Yes, of..." Garth paused. "This surprises you? But why?"

Roy sat, heavily. "I don't...I don't know *why.* I mean, why would you...." He looked up. "I was *never* nice to you. We never hung out like the others. I didn't even know any of what happened to you--" he waved, acknowledging the scars on Garth's face, his new powers, and all the other changes in a motion--"until Donna filled me in. Let's face it, I barely know anything about you anymore. So why..."

Garth spoke quietly. "And you four were the first true friends I had, having grown up with none but myself for company. We five together became something stronger for meeting as we did--despite growing apart, despite everything, we inevitably find ourselves together again. Don't you feel that? A bond forged in life, stronger than the fear of death--there was no surprise that we five came together in what we thought was the end, on the moon...."

Roy blinked hard against a burning in his eyes. "But..."

"*No.*" Swiftly Garth crossed the room and caught Roy's chin briefly, lifting it up. "Stop. I--we all--have faith in you, even if you do not. I have *never* doubted that given need, you would chase into hell or worse for my sake, or for any of us. As we would do for you, whether you believe you deserve our love or not."

"God." Emerald eyes met purple, and held. "I don't know what to say, Garth."

"I shall mark the day." Garth smiled without mocking. "Roy, you asked. I don't expect anything of you, except to be who you are." He paused. "And to ask, that you stop calling me ‘Gillhead.' I really do hate that...."

Roy let out a long breath. "Okay, sure." He got up, still a little shaky. "Hey, uh, that pizza's getting cold..."

"Then by all means, let's go."

Roy hesitated at the door. "I, uh, you're right, about how I feel about you guys. I'm glad you know it, ‘cause I'm terrible at saying it."

"No, you're not. You say it every moment with Lian--we've all seen it. We can read you like a book, ‘amigo.'"

"Great. My cover's blown."

"You never had it, not with us. You never needed it." Garth caught Roy again by the shoulder and turned him. "Never doubt that, or the truth in this."

The kiss was undemanding but firm,

{{memory *flash* "This is Aqualad, he's from Atlantis! Isn't that cool?" "Sure, if you like fish. Hey, that makes you a gillhead, right?" *flash* "Speedy, get down!" Garth tackling him as the energy bolt sizzled through the space where his head had been *flash* "God, you haven't heard...Aquagirl, Tula, she died in the Crisis, Garth is absolutely devastated...." *flash* "That's Lian? Roy, she's beautiful, she has your smile..." *flash* "...calling himself ‘Tempest' now, he's got all these new powers..." "Aqualad, Tempest, whatever, he'll always be Gillhead to me!" *flash* "My only regret is that we haven't been more in touch lately." *flash* "...love you *because* of who you are, not despite it." *flash*}}

and Roy returned it in kind.

They drew back to look at each other for a long moment, until Garth broke the silence. "Please tell me you *did* order one without anchovies...."

"Yeah, ‘course."

"Good. I'm hungry."

"Well, that only figures. What've you been eating, seaweed?"

"Roy..."

"Yeah?"

"Shut *up.*"


{end}


NOTE: The title is of course from Kipling's "The Thousandth Man" (and yeah, I'm quoting the whole damn thing, poetry-lesson time):

One man in a thousand, Solomon says,
Will stick more close than a brother.
And it's worth while seeking him half your days
If you find him before the other.
Nine hundred and ninety-nine depend
On what the world sees in you,
But the Thousandth man will stand your friend
With the whole round world agin you.

'Tis neither promise nor prayer nor show
Will settle the finding for 'ee.
Nine hundred and ninety-nine of 'em go
By your looks, or your acts, or your glory.
But if he finds you and you find him.
The rest of the world don't matter;
For the Thousandth Man will sink or swim
With you in any water.

You can use his purse with no more talk
Than he uses yours for his spendings,
And laugh and meet in your daily walk
As though there had been no lendings.
Nine hundred and ninety-nine of 'em call
For silver and gold in their dealings;
But the Thousandth Man he's worth 'em all,
Because you can show him your feelings.

His wrong's your wrong, and his right's your right,
In season or out of season.
Stand up and back it in all men's sight --
With that for your only reason!
Nine hundred and ninety-nine can't bide
The shame or mocking or laughter,
But the Thousandth Man will stand by your side
To the gallows-foot -- and after!






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