Category: Teen Titans
Warnings: Language, Slash content
Genre: Romance, Drama
Summary: Speedy's angry at the world. Aqualad is afraid of it. Maybe together they can overcome their anxieties.
There was a long, whirling whistle as the finely crafted arrow flew through the air gracefully, followed by a hearty thunk when the metal tip burrowed itself deep into the target. Normally an impressive sight, Speedy's shot failed to satisfy him. His aim had been off: the arrow struck too far to the left, almost failing to make the tiny bull's-eye. Speedy swore under his breath angrily as he set another arrow and drew it back in one fast, angry movement. The next one would be perfect. He'd get the next one.
"Nice shot, Robin," teased a smooth voice from behind. It had broken the silence just before Speedy had let his second arrow loose, startling him and throwing off his aim once more. This arrow nicked the edge of the target before recoiling and clattering on the ground. With a frustrated growl Speedy snatched a third arrow from his quiver and set it.
"Shut up, Fish Stick," he literally hissed in return. Pure anger. Probably not intended to be directed at present company, but it was still untainted rage nonetheless.
Only Aqualad would interrupt Speedy during his warm-ups. Only Aqualad would lack the sense of self preservation to dare talk to Speedy when he was in such a foul mood. The others knew to stay far away, but Aqualad was an expert in interspecies communication. This meant talking to the marksman fell in his domain. It was with a great sense of reluctance did the Atlantean decide to address the archer in his seclusion after the near disastrous fight just one day before.
"So you missed one shot. Big deal," said Aqualad, coming up around Speedy's left side, "You didn't fell the Cyclops in one attack, but what's it matter? It was moving too fast and you were under a lot of pressure. It happens."
"Not to me!" The third arrow sang a long, hollow tune before it was abruptly silenced with another thunk. Bull's-eye again. This arrow actually clipped the tail of Speedy's first shot before hitting its mark. Had it been a real monster it would have been dead meat. "Pressure does not make me lose shots," the archer continued furiously, "I could have had that thing down in the very beginning, but I missed. It almost cost us a lot more than what it did."
Aqualad sighed, leaned against a wall and crossed his arms. There was no arguing with Speedy when he was like this. He wanted to be angry at himself, and this was becoming a frequently reoccurring behavior for the achieved archer. That was what worried Aqualad, and after the team's most recent misadventure the marine warrior had foreseen Speedy's personal drama looming on the horizon once again.
"But we all came out unharmed," Aqualad finally muttered after the fourth, fifth and sixth arrows all pounded into the miniature bull's-eye, "Bumblebee caught Menos, and if your arrow hadn't hit Cyclops in the wrist he could have crushed me easily."
"Argh! You don't get it, do you?" Speedy demanded, finally lowering his bow yet still holding it in a fierce death grip. The white void in the thin, black mask narrowed. "If I had just blinded Cyclops early on he never would have gotten a hold on you in the first place! I didn't save you; I almost got you killed." The words tumbled heavily from Speedy's throat, and when he finally did look Aqualad in the eyes he was a bit shaken by the curious stare his teammate was giving him. The archer quickly composed himself and added, "And Menos, too."
It was too late. Aqualad had already caught the obvious distress in Speedy, and with eyebrow raised the sea fairing fighter called his fellow Titan out. "But this isn't about Menos, is it?"
Speedy looked almost as if he was about to enact physical violence upon Aqualad but the moment quickly passed. Aqualad cocked his head as Speedy simply sighed, walked across the room to an old crate and sat. His bow clattered when it fell from his hand and onto the floor. This was the most startling action: Speedy's bow was the one possession he had that he would never, ever just carelessly drop on the floor. Concerned, Aqualad followed him.
"When Cyclops dropped you and you hit the pavement I thought you were dead. I saw your head hit the ground and I just kept thinking about how it was my fault. About... You get the idea."
Speedy dropped his head in his hands, leaving the awkward moment to hang in the air. Even though Aqualad was more than a little taken back by Speedy's seemingly uncharacteristic interest in his safety he knew that it would be in everyone's best interest to lighten the mood.
"Aw, c'mon. I've got a skull as hard as a rock. Didn't even feel it." Aqualad even rapped his knuckle on his head for comic effect but Speedy didn't even acknowledge the attempt at humor. Resigned to the gloom, Aqualad took on a more serious tone. He crouched down in front of Speedy. "We all take hits. We all miss once in a while. But we always come out on top because we can count on each other. I trust you to watch my back out there and what happened last night didn't change that."
"And what if I can't do anything? What if I completely exhaust my talents and it doesn't make a difference?" the archer asked pleadingly. Simply seeing the cocky, roguish Speedy suddenly decay into this panicked and vulnerable state was a shock to Aqualad in itself. Never mind the fact that Speedy was opening up to him, his half-hearted rival of Titans East, by letting his demeanor simply fall apart.
"We can only expect everything the other has got. You did all you could to help us, and because of that I'm right here talking to you now. And, honestly," Aqualad adopted his cheeky grin once more, "I have to say I'm a bit flattered that I merit such drama. I didn't think I mattered that much to you."
He'd been expecting something from Speedy for that one: a sarcastic retort, a snicker, a chiding glare. But there was no acknowledgement of the pot shot; only that strange blankness that Aqualad had never seen in Speedy before.
The former Atlantean prince sighed and moved to sit cross-legged on the floor in front of Speedy. The metallic tiles felt cool even through his wetsuit but he was too intent on getting into his teammate's head to be bothered with it. "You want to talk about it? I've never seen you so freaked out before."
"I really don't know what's wrong with me," confessed the archer with a humorless chuckle, "Can't sleep. My best shots are shit. Never hungry. Couldn't tell you why, though."
"Would it help if I seduce Bumblebee and convince her into letting you have some time off?" asked Aqualad. Speedy just shrugged indifferently. "Can't hurt, can it? Maybe leave this war zone for a while. You could probably stay with the other Titans or maybe even your mentor? Green-"
"No," Speedy hung on the 'o' heavily, "Green Arrow's a whole different issue that I don't care to delve into right at this moment, thanks."
"Well, regardless, I'll see if I can't charm the boss into letting you rest for a bit." Aqualad picked up the discarded bow and handed it back to its owner, who took it numbly. "If you need to talk, day or night, just let me know."
Figuring he wouldn't get much more out of Speedy than that Aqualad nodded to himself and stood to leave the training facility, feelings of worry and even fear melding in the pit of his stomach. He would seek out Bumblebee right away.
"What d'you suppose is the problem?" the black-and-yellow clad superwoman asked her marine counterpart, starting to share some of the queasiness he had been feeling.
"If I had to guess I'd say he's gone into shell shock," said Aqualad, pacing about the common room restlessly. He had walked the circumference of the ocean access pool several times while explaining the situation to Bumblebee, occasionally straying to cross in front of the T.V. (much to Mas' and Menos' annoyance) and once even up to the loft.
"Post traumatic stress disorder induced by not being able to save his teammates in a critical moment? He's a perfect candidate, but I still gotta wonder if that's the trouble. I'm not trying to say he's completely insensitive, but just Speedy doesn't seem like he would be so deeply affected by something like that."
Aqualad rested his hands on his hips. "The battle with Cyclops was all he talked about. I think he genuinely doesn't understand what has him so depressed."
"Speedy has always worked alone before. It's possible that the pressure to work with and take care of other members of a team is unconsciously wearing him down."
"Maybe," Aqualad considered, "Or perhaps the problem is just the opposite? Maybe he feels out of place in a team because he's always been alone?"
Bumblebee couldn't immediately reply to his speculations: her mouth was wide open, letting loose a stifling yawn. Aqualad spared a glance at the electric clock on the far side of time room. Huh. It was pretty late.
Right on queue, Menos passed between his two taller teammates, rubbing his eyes tiredly. Mas was just turning off the Game Station when his brother said, "Necesitamos dormir. Buenos noches."
"I'll be up to tuck you in in just a few minutes. Oh, and remember to brush your teeth for real this time, Menos. Don't just water down the toothbrush again," said Bumblebee, her eyes also showing fatigue due to the late hour. Menos mumbled something in Spanish in reply, but it was too faint for either of the English-speakers to make out.
When the youngsters had headed off to bed Bumblebee picked up the conversation with clear intention to wrap it up. "I agree that keeping Speedy out of active duty for a bit is a good idea. Maybe we can get Robin over here for a visit: they always seem to get along pretty well. Who knows? Bird boy might be able to draw something out of him."
"I guess we'll see. Are you going to bed?"
"Heck, yeah. Girl needs her beauty sleep. We can't all be gorgeous outcasts from the Lost City of Legends," said the team leader with a wink. A flutter of her wings and she was hovering above the ground effortlessly. "You try to get some Z's too, Aqualad. I'm already down one set of hands; I'll need everyone else all rested and ready to go tomorrow."
"I will. I'll just do a few quick laps to shake off this energy first."
"Swim carefully, partner. See you in the morning."
"Sleep well," he wished her as she fluttered up into the balcony, passed through the hydraulic doors and vanished into the general direction of the living quarters. This left Aqualad alone in the commons with nothing but the hum of the overhead lights and the gentle splashing of water to keep him company. The only living creature in the expansive room, Aqualad couldn't help but notice how the loneliness set in almost instantly. He wondered how he had managed to make a career of working solo for so long without going crazy from the isolation. He couldn't imagine leaving Titans East to revert back to his solitary life.
Though he had told Bumblebee he would just swim for a while Aqualad couldn't convince himself to take the dive. Under the ocean it was very hard to hide your troubles. Aqualad didn't exactly feel like having to tell every observant fish that passed by that he was okay and, no, they couldn't help, thanks anyway. He just had something nagging at his mind that maybe he should be addressing.
The Atlantean looked back to the metallic door that led to the team's private chambers. Bumblebee would bein bedby now, surely. No one would know if he just went up and knocked on Speedy's door to check on him. Speedy was probably already asleep anyway, so nothing would probably come of it. Still, it would make Aqualad feel better knowing that he tried. He willed himself to the stairs and began climbing to the second level. He barely remembered to flick the light switch off before he left the central hub.
Speedy's room was the last door on the right side of the long, brightly lit hallway. Aqualad had to pass his own bedroom to get there, and just as he thought would happen he considered stopping and forgetting the whole thing. It wasn't like Speedy would do the same for him if he was feeling down, anyway. And surely he wouldn't appreciate being bothered so late at night by a concerned coworker. Now the idea was looking less and less appealing, and by the time the blue-clad fighter got to that last door on the right the whole plan just seemed ridiculous.
"I'm being stupid," he told himself chidingly. Speedy had stressed out, but with some R&R he'd be back in the game in no time. There was no reason to go poking around for something so miniscule, so mundane, as a little…
The door in front of Aqualad hissed open tiredly on its own accord, scaring the Atlantean into a small jump.
"What are you doing out here?" he was asked from the depths of the black room beyond the door. Speedy drew forward into the light of the hall, giving Aqualad a questioning look. He was still in his red and yellow uniform sans utility belt and quiver.
"I… uhhh… I didn't mean to wake you up." Damn. Aqualad had been caught entirely off guard, looking like an idiot wandering around outside his teammate's door with no apparent purpose.
"Wasn't sleeping. What do you want?" Though Speedy's tone was clipped he wasn't being aggressive. It sounded like he was more tired than anything else, not bothering to put the pressure on Aqualad to give him a good reason as to why he was standing outside his room and talking to himself. It was entirely within his right, actually.
Aqualad shifted his weight from foot to foot uncomfortably. He could feel Speedy's gaze burning into him from behind that mask. "Just came to check in on you. You kind of worried me today, but I'm sorry I bothered you so I'll just go."
Anxious to leave, Aqualad ducked out from under Speedy's stare and began to scuttle back to his own quarters. Ugh, he felt so stupid. It was Speedy: who was better capable of taking care of themselves than the independent archer? What had he been thinking?
Aqualad froze, turned to look back and saw Speedy was no longer in the entryway. He had retreated back into the darkness, leaving his door open behind him. Aqualad couldn't tell if Speedy's words had been an invitation to come in or an order, but whichever it was the only way Aqualad could possibly mess this one up would be not taking the offer up at all. He turned and followed his teammate into the dark room. When he entered he pressed the familiar green button on the wall out of habit and the door hissed closed behind him.
Speedy's room faced the ocean towards the East, the same direction from which the moon rose. In its gibbous phase the natural satellite reflected an adequate amount of light into the bay window to allow one to navigate Speedy's room. Aqualad had a natural ability to see in the dark somewhat (for the ocean is not always a brightly lit place) and could easily pick out where a few articles of clothing, tools, and magazines had accumulated on the carpeted floor. He wove around these piles deftly, spying the slumped form of Speedy sacked out on the bed. Aqualad took to the loveseat (Speedy insisted on calling it only a couch) on the far wall.
"Care to tell me what has gotten under your skin lately?"
Speedy shrugged his shoulders, an indiscernible movement in the shrouds of night, and sighed. "I'm thinking about leaving the Titans."
"What?" gawked the Atlantean, once again blind sighted by the archer. He hadn't been expecting this, either. "What are you talking about? Why?"
"Come on, Fish Boy. You know just as well as I do that I don't fit in here. I'm just a wrench in the system."
"I can't believe what I'm hearing. Speedy is considering giving up something because he's afraid of causing trouble? Since when have you ever cared about a little conflict? You like causing friction!"
Speedy sat up in his bed and glared at Aqualad. He became a silhouette against the window, but his eyeless mask was well defined even in the shadows. "Please, spare me the taunts. I'm a loner, always have been, should have stayed that way. This whole joining a group thing was a dabble in something new and it didn't work out."
"Can you at least explain to me what brought this on?" Aqualad stood up, opening his hands to Speedy as if hoping to physically catch some hint of reason as to the seemingly rash decision, "You've been acting so strangely ever since the battle with Cyclops. What happened, Speedy?"
"I missed. That's what happened," the archer growled venomously.
"You're still hung up on that stupid shot?" Aqualad momentarily forgot that there were other Titans nearby trying to sleep, allowing his voice to rise drastically. He had to force himself to quiet down for the sake of not drawing the attention of a certain Bee to this little discussion. "Speedy, listen to me. Get a grip. You missed one mark out of a million! Why are you so distraught over this?"
"This isn't just about that shot! It's not about Cyclops, or you, or Menos, Bumblebee or the whole goddamn world! This is my issue! I need to work alone because I can't stand having to worry about where my other four partners are at any given time and hoping that they aren't about to get hurt by whatever move I'm about to make. I just can't second guess myself constantly!
"You don't seem to realize," Speedy continued, though this time he was sounding resentful of Aqualad. Accusing him of some wrongdoing, even, "that not every battle is going to be as simple as a formulated brawl that ends with the bad guy getting thrown in jail. We won't win every fight, and it's only a matter of time before we lose to the villain who won't just beat us up and leave it at that. Brother Blood was going to kill us, for god's sake. Do you think he's going to be the only evil force that would think to try it?"
"So you're running away because you're afraid of death?"
"I'm leaving because I can't handle letting people get near me, just to see them cut down by whichever passing villain happens to get a lucky shot!" Speedy rose to face Aqualad, their fiery stares boring into each other. Apparently neither of the two teens was paying any regards to their sleeping teammates anymore. Speedy's and Aqualad's argument, as always, had quickly escalated into something fierce, loud, and fueled by strong emotions that had been bottled up and suddenly released. To them there was no world outside their immediate vicinity.
"You're being irrational, Speedy," Aqualad tried to reason with him, "We're Titans. We're all trained for combat and are ready for the worst case scenario. We're not going to wake up one day and jump into a situation that will get us all killed."
"Don't you try that bullshit with me, Fish Boy, because I've got some bad news for you. My father was trained at his job, too. The best, even! He could always get himself out of tight spots and there was no one, no one, alive that could outsmart him and I thought nothing could ever happen to him, either." The words rattled off Speedy's tongue with the strength of grief that could only come from some one who had endured such a traumatic experience first hand. "And when he died it almost killed me. So you keep your idealistic optimism to yourself because I'm not stupid enough to buy into the idea that a bunch of kids like us can't be touched by death. I know it can happen, and I'm not putting myself in the situation to have to say goodbye to some one that close to me again."
Having expelled the last of his steam Speedy stalked back to his bed and collapsed on it, drawing creaks of reluctance from the mattress and frame. Also depleted of anger pending Speedy's revelation, Aqualad couldn't help but lower his voice to a whisper in order to try and talk some sense into the archer once more.
"Speedy, if you hadn't been with us that day what do you think would have happened?" Aqualad followed his companion to the bed and sat on the edge. "Cyclops would have still grabbed Menos and myself. Bumblebee would have had to make a choice about who to save first, and since we all know it would have to be Menos, do you think I would have survived? Cyclops had me totally helpless. If you hadn't been there to stop him I would be dead, no doubt about it. If you think that it's a bad thing to be there saving your friends because you might mess up then, well, all I can say is thank you for going against your heart by being with us that day."
"Stop making it sound like I'm the bad guy."
"I'm not. I just don't understand your logic, is all. You would completely sever your relationships here in order to avoid a seriously unlikely disaster? That's rash, even for you." Aqualad then lay back drowsily next to Speedy and folded his hands over his chest. The Titans both gazed up aimlessly, lost in the rippling of the ocean's reflection of moonlight on the tiled ceiling. It was quite a sight. "If you left the team I don't think we would recover from it."
"You guys would find a replacement."
"Of course we would," Aqualad confirmed without missing a beat, "It's not like there's a shortage of honorary Titans around here. But you've got to remember that while there are plenty of crime fighters, there's only one Speedy."
And for the first time in a while Speedy actually smiled. Not the sly, practical jokester grin he often displayed, but a genuine smile - one inspired by his own competition for fan girls, no less. He didn't say anything about it, though, and they contented themselves with watching the moving webs of light overhead for a while. At least until Aqualad added onto his compliment.
"…And thank God for that," he grinned.
Speedy backhanded Aqualad's stomach half-heartedly, the fuzzy moment now passed. "Great. Thought you had turned into a woman for a minute there."
"Who carries the comb in their utility belt again?"
"Keep it up and I'll beat the salt water taffy right out of you, Fish Stick," warned the archer.
Aqualad smirked and closed his eyes comfortably. "I'm not worried. You hit like a girl."
Aqualad was woken the next morning by a feeling of movement against him. Streams of sunlight blinded the ocean dweller the moment he cracked his eyes open, making him instantly regret it. He squeezed them back shut and tried to recoil from the morning by retreating into the mattress. Another body in the bed kept him from succeeding, however. Aqualad unwillingly gasped as the memory of just where he was came crashing full speed back into his half-awake brain.
He had fallen asleep with Speedy. In Speedy's bed. Forcing aside the uneasiness this caused in his stomach Aqualad tried to get up while causing as little disturbance as possible. He didn't want to wake the archer up, but that might be difficult since Aqualad was pinned between Speedy and the wall. Plus Aqualad had managed to snake one arm beneath his teammate as they had slept.
Both were still wearing their clothes from the day before and Aqualad's wetsuit wasn't doing him any favors in slipping out from beneath Speedy with ease. The tugging roused the archer from his sleep.
"Ummph. Where you going?" he asked groggily. Obviously he wasn't fully awake because the first sensible question to ask would have been 'what are you doing in my bed?' or something to that extent.
Hoping to capitalize on Speedy's lack of coherent thought Aqualad muttered, "I need for you to get off my arm. Sit up for a second." It took a moment, but Speedy did comply. He arched his back up enough to free Aqualad.
"Oh, shit." This was when Speedy was starting to wake, making the same realizations Aqualad had minutes before. The Atlantean tried to crawl out from his wedged space near the wall without climbing on top of Speedy before he got decked by an angry marksman. "Shit, I'm sorry. I didn't mean for you to… for this."
"Neither did I. So, uh, I'm just going to go downstairs and see if anyone's up yet," started Aqualad nervously. Too embarrassed to look at Speedy he bowed his head and once again tried to awkwardly get up. He felt the mattress sink as Speedy sat up to look at the bed side table.
"It's only five forty-five ," he read from the alarm clock. Aqualad felt relieved knowing for sure that there was no one else in the Titans East tower awake at this ungodly hour. He wasn't surprised, though. He was always the first Titan up in the morning and Speedy was always the last. A shame it couldn't have worked out that way today. Would have helped to avoid the seriously awkward silence that he and Speedy were facing at the moment.
"Well, lots of things to do. Better go get started," said Aqualad.
Speedy raised an eyebrow. "Like what?"
"Somebody has to make breakfast around here, and I know how you need your beauty rest."
"You would rather slave over a hot stove than lay in bed with me?"
Speedy had never seen Aqualad's dark eyes grow so wide. He couldn't help but see the humor in it and laugh.
"Was that supposed to be a joke?" asked the marine warrior incredulously. Speedy, devilish smile lingering on his face, stared the stunned teen down confidently.
"It actually was an offer." Aqualad was given only a split second to let this register before Speedy, keen on not allowing his one chance to fly by, grabbed the material of Aqualad's leotard and rolled the unsuspecting Atlantean on top of him.
Aqualad was just barely able to catch himself before he crashed down on Speedy; his arms straddled the archer and sank into the mattress and tousled sheets. Speedy's hands were on Aqualad's wrists, holding him firmly in place despite the fact that Aqualad hadn't the presence of mind to put up much of a resistance. In a sudden, fluid motion Speedy leaned up beneath Aqualad, pressing his lips against a pair that only barely hesitated to respond. The intensity of the moment erased whatever inhibitions the teens had and the two normally down to earth Titans fell powerless before their base urges and needs.
Just as Aqualad would have guessed, Speedy was an excellent kisser. He took charge when the inexperienced Atlantean resigned himself to the submissive role of their interacting tongues. Of course Speedy would be good. The guy wasn't exactly a Puritan, after all. Aqualad fleetingly wondered how many girls Speedy had made out with in his lifetime. Then he wondered how many guys.
Guys or girls, this kiss was a first for Aqualad. Speedy seemed to figure that out and smirked when they pulled apart. The archer dropped back to his pillow and reestablished their eye contact. Aqualad's dark violet eyes, almost black in the shadows, bore heavily into the narrow mask Speedy wore. The reality of what they had just done was starting to sink in, as was what they were probably going to do next. Feeling the mutual hesitance and desire they stopped their rash movements and attempted to make sense of what was going on. During this moment the two Titans simultaneously noticed that Speedy was gasping lightly but Aqualad was not.
"Gills," Aqualad reminded Speedy when he raised an eyebrow. The dialog went beyond simple curiosity, however. It would take some one quick of mind to catch it, but concealed in the words was another conversation. It was portrayed in a fashion only two proud, nervous teenage boys could comprehend. The matter was opened and closed in very few words.
"What other anatomical anomalies are you hiding?" Speedy asked jokingly, yet his voice quavered slightly. Are we really going to do this?
"Why don't you take a look for yourself?" was the equally taunting response. It, too, was an unsure confirmation. I guess so.
Letting go of Aqualad's forearms, Speedy wove his hands up and around the Atlantean's clothed back, pulling him down and occupying Aqualad's mouth with his tongue once more. This time Speedy was far more assertive. He didn't bother to wait for Aqualad to open up to him but instead forced his lips apart and ravaged his partner's mouth ravenously. Hormones entirely out of check, Aqualad consented to the rough treatment with a throaty moan and a shuddering in his limbs.
Speedy, who had assumed the dominant half of the unlikely couple, ran one of his hands down along Aqualad's back and pulled his waist against him without ceremony. Aqualad's last resistance buckled and he found his aching crotch against a definitive hardness lying just underneath Speedy's clothing. This brought up another concern of Aqualad's that he felt should be addressed.
"Never done this before," he managed to groan in the brief reprieve from the merciless kiss Speedy allowed him. The archer snickered, grabbed a handful of black hair and tugged gently.
"Doesn't matter." Speedy was enjoying the feeling of Aqualad's weight resting upon him, forcing him to the bed and limiting his mobility. He would have never foreseen himself and Aqualad going at it in any other way but arguing, but shit, here they were. Nothing planned, nothing figured out: he and Aqualad were just winging it based on their impulses of the moment. It would only lead to trouble but there simply was just no going back. In their minds it wasn't an option now.
Then it occurred to Speedy that he had no idea just how to get Aqualad's suit off. He had never seen the Atlantean remove it before and there were no obvious means of doing so. He didn't want to order Aqualad to strip down, yet Speedy wanted the layers gone. Fast. He decided to compromise his pride and muttered, "Help me out with your clothes."
"Too complicated for you?"
"Shut up and get naked," Speedy growled, eliciting a laugh from the other. Aqualad then sat up (inducing a desirable pressure between the two at the waist) and in a well-rehearsed motion reached behind him and found the small pull to his wetsuit's zipper. With a long, slow hiss the zipper was undone and Aqualad's normally constricting clothing fell slack against his toned muscles. It took some wriggling to snake his upper half out of the suit, but from the telling of Speedy's muffled sounds of pleasure the archer must not have minded.
When Aqualad pulled the material down to his hips Speedy noticed his obvious. Sensing that he needed to be reassured, Speedy teased, "What? Afraid you'll fail to impress?"
The Atlantean grimaced. "I told you, I've never done this before."
"You mean not with anyone, ever?" Speedy gave Aqualad a curious look and moved to sit up on his elbows.
Aqualad rolled his eyes. "Typically, when one says they are new to something that means it's their first time, Speedy."
"I thought you just meant with, you know, a guy." Seconds ticked by as neither of them said anything, just Aqualad looking embarrassed and Speedy shamelessly allowing a lusty smile creep onto his face. It was he who broke the silence with, "So, the great Atlantean seaman, object of affections for teenage girls and lonely housewives everywhere, is a virgin."
Despite the fact that Aqualad punched him in the shoulder pretty hard for the comment Speedy was still laughing over the revelation. Aqualad considered climbing off Speedy and telling him to have fun by himself, but before the plan could be put into action the dexterous archer yanked the seafaring warrior back down against him.
"Don't be so rough," Aqualad complained, "You'll break me."
"That was my intention."
Aqualad couldn't manage to get his hands to stop shaking. He thought that maybe focusing on some elaborate task - cooking, maybe - would maybe get his mind over what had just happened. Determined to shake off all signs of his mental hysteria, Aqualad set to work in the kitchen with skillets, eggs, bacon, spatula and all.
It had only taken an hour for that smooth bastard Speedy to turn Aqualad's world completely on its side. Afterwards the archer had been so calm about it, deciding to take a shower and start his morning as if nothing big had happened. This helped keep Aqualad from totally falling apart, but once the Atlantean had redressed himself and left Speedy's room he knew that he had just seriously messed up.
When it came time to let the eggs and bacon fry Aqualad was left in the position to do the one thing he didn't want to do: think. Suddenly every memory in his head could somehow be linked to Speedy, therefore taking him back to the bedroom. The Atlantean wanted nothing more than to have the ability to not think of anything to do with beds, skin, bows and arrows, Speedy, and even himself. All the wishing did him no good, though, as his mind couldn't get off the subject.
He didn't burn any of the meal, at least. Finally, something was working towards Aqualad's favor today. He wasn't the best cook in the tower by any means, though he did know his way around a pot of pasta. Actually, when it came to culinary preparation Speedy was probably the best, but when the archer was scheduled to cook the team got fast food more often than not.
Damn it, Aqualad realized he was doing it again. Speedy, just get out of my head already.
He was just pouring the orange juice when he heard the distinct sound of one of the tower's automated doors opening. Aqualad hoped it was Bumblebee or the twins walking in, roused by the smell of frying bacon. Then he remembered Speedy took very fast showers and would likely be ready for the day by now. Glancing into the adjoining common room he caught a glimpse of red and yellow. Aqualad cursed inwardly.
Speedy was never a morning person. He often didn't wake up until 10:30 or so, and even then was usually grumpy until lunch time. After being fed he would be in a more agreeable mood, so when he swaggered down the stairs awake and smiling slightly to himself it was a notable moment in the mind of his fellow Titan. Aqualad pretended not to notice the archer when he entered the kitchen area and came up behind him.
Aqualad dropped the greasy skillet into the metal sink, absently wondering if the noise would maybe wake Bumblebee. Speedy popped a piece of bacon into his mouth and, much to Aqualad's shock, laced an arm around the Atlantean prince's waist affectionately.
Surprised, Aqualad immediately shook himself away and stalked off. Speedy could have sworn he heard the other mutter, "Don't touch me." At this brush off Speedy could feel the anger, rooted in bafflement, rising in his chest.
"What's gotten into you?" asked the archer, swallowing the crispy meat and frowning.
"You got what you wanted. Stop trying to feel me up again."
"What? Have you gone completely bipolar?" Speedy demanded, chasing Aqualad to the table. Aqualad dropped the plates of food on the surface carelessly. He refused to say anything. "Huh. Wow, how the tables have turned. It used to be that I was the guy who would fuck and run," the archer sneered bitterly. A tendon tightened in Aqualad's neck and he swallowed hard, clearly trying to maintain his resolve.
"Stop it. This is for the best and you know it."
"Actually, I'm not following you at all," Speedy corrected him.
"What we did was wrong, Speedy!" declared the Aqualad sharply, spinning to face the other "What we are is wrong!"
"Do you seriously believe that?" Speedy demanded, matching Aqualad's deadly tone and volume, "How can something that your heart says is right be-"
"Our hearts had nothing to do with it! There's no love here; we acted out of lust. Hormones and instinct dictated what we did in there. How can you possibly derive passion from that? Snap out of it! We barely even like each other, much less… Much less love each other," Aqualad's anger began to decay into something sad, and Speedy knew the Atlantean was beginning to believe the words he was saying. With quiet conviction he finished his rant. "We didn't make love, Speedy. We mated with the closest available partner. That's it. Now let it go."
"I can't accept that!"
"You'll have to," replied Aqualad. He then turned and left Speedy's room quickly, double timing towards the common room and hoping to the Maker that Speedy wouldn't follow. Persistent bastard as always, the archer didn't grant Aqualad this mercy: the red head was hot on his heels the whole way.
"Why are you shutting me out? Did I do something that pissed you off? Say something?" He waited for a response but soon realized that he was being ignored. Aqualad didn't even spare him a backward glance, and when Speedy tried to rest a hand on his shoulder Aqualad shrugged it off. "Where are you going?"
Finally, a question was answered. "Where you can't follow me. Have a good breakfast."
With a powerful jump Aqualad dove into the ocean access pool, the only thing signaling his existence a moment later being the droplets of water splashing like rain on the tile floor.
It was very late before Aqualad finally returned to the Titans East tower.
He poked his head up first experimentally, gently breaking the surface of the water of the pool. The common room was dark, but some one had left the adjoining kitchen light on. Probably done as an afterthought so that Aqualad would be able to see when he got home. With a sinking feeling the Titan put his arms on the edge of the pool and hoisted himself up out of the water.
He noticed instantly that he was getting some help.
Feeling his wetsuit being pulled upwards from the back, Aqualad shot a look over his shoulder. It was Bumblebee in her miniature form, yanking him out forcefully and, with more anger than he felt was necessary, tossed him onto the floor. Aqualad landed on his back with a wet thud, cracking his head on the tile as he went down.
"What was that for?" he shouted immediately with regards to the throbbing ache in his skull. Bumblebee resumed her natural size, stared her second-in-command down with arms crossed and all her weight on one leg.
"Just didn't want you to vanish before explaining to me just why my marksman has announced that he's quitting the team."
"You heard me, Al," Bumblebee pointed to the general direction of the bedrooms, keeping her sharp eyes on her wavering teammate, "Speedy is up there packing up his stuff as we speak. I want to know why, and since all I can get from him is lip I thought I would ask you."
Aqualad had picked himself up off the floor and rested against the wall tiredly. Because his hands were covering his hurt expression the words he spoke came out muffled. "It's for the best."
"Excuse me? I don't think so. You know that I trust you fully, Al, but to hell with you if you think that I'm going to just let this happen because you say it's okay," she spat, "I understand you guys don't always get along, and I realize he often is a self righteous drama queen, but Speedy is the only long range fighter we have on this team. He's the best stealth fighter out there and he's the one who comes up with most of our combat formations, so if you think I'm going to let the jerk go because you two had a quarrel you're both in for a nasty surprise."
"What do you want me to do about it, 'Bee? I can't make him stay if he wants to leave!"
"I want for you to march your little salty self up there and work out this mess - whatever it is - once and for all. I don't care if you have to get on your knees and beg, Al. Just do whatever it takes to appease the smug bastard and convince him not to go."
"I can't!" Aqualad burst out.
"What not?" she screamed back at him just as loudly.
"I can't explain this to you! Just believe me when I say this is how it needs to be!"
"Oh, for crying out loud," the winged Titan lost all patience, reached for the Bee Stingers holstered on her belt and pointed them directly at her own companion. "You've got 'till the count of three to change your mind."
Stunned at his leader's and best friend's threat, Aqualad refused to buy into the idea she would really go so far. "You wouldn't."
"Three!" With no warning there was no way for Aqualad to defend himself against the electrical attack. It was a mild shock compared to what Bumblebee could really do, but combined with the conductive power of water (Aqualad was still soaked) it was enough to stimulate spasms in his muscles. He twitched involuntarily even after Bumblebee called off her lightening. "Al, that hurt me just as much as it hurt you."
"Ugh… I doubt that."
"Don't make me do it again. Please, just go talk to Speedy," she pleaded sympathetically, "At least try."
Aqualad weighed his options. Both were bleak, and it came down to physical versus emotional pain. But then he considered that this might be his last time to see Speedy, his once chance to say goodbye. Ten years from now he wasn't sure if he could stand looking back and wondering why he didn't say anything, so in his heart the decision was made.
"I'll try," he conceded, "but no promises."
He didn't know for how long he had been standing outside of Speedy's door before finally mustering up the necessary courage to knock. He could hear shuffling within and knew Speedy was awake. Aqualad gently rapped his knuckled on the door, and even though it was a faint sound it seemed to amplify in the quiet hallway.
"I'm busy," was the immediate response from the other side of the door.
"Yeah, well, you have business with me and that comes first."
Aqualad grimaced. "That's kind of what I'm here to talk to you about, actually. Look, Speedy, we both know that it's a twelve story drop from your window to the ocean. You'll have to come out through this door some time. I'll wait if I have to."
For the second time in two days Aqualad was standing just outside Speedy's closed door, wondering if what he was doing was the smart thing. Luckily, he didn't have to wait out in that brilliantly lit hallway for too long before the door was opened by the room's occupant. On the other hand, Aqualad was not lucky that Speedy was in no mood to talk: it had all happened so fast that Aqualad couldn't defend himself in time, and all he could feel was the impact of Speedy's fist delivering a good right hook into his cheek bone.
I might have deserved that.
As Aqualad slumped against the far wall, stunned senseless and the left half of his face throbbing, Speedy stormed back into his room. Aqualad at least had the quickness of mind to move into action just in time by catching the door before it closed entirely. The safety device kept it from closing on his hand and reopened, allowing the Atlantean to pass through.
"I don't fucking get you!" raged the former apprentice of Green Arrow, "One minute you're fine, but the next you've suddenly turned and act like I forced you to sleep with me!"
"Oh, please, enlighten me further, Speedy!" screamed Aqualad, "Who started the groping again? I vaguely recall trying to leave before I was stopped by somebody's raging hormones!
"You weren't exactly an unwilling participant if I remember correctly, Fish Boy!"
Aqualad could have easily rattled off another furious retort, but he was an intelligent person and could see where Speedy was coming from. Sensing nothing good of arguing on like that anymore Aqualad tried to get his own word in.
"I never accused you of being a rapist."
"No, just of being a sleazy bastard. Now get out. I'm sick of looking at you. And here! Take this, too." Aqualad's reflexes were just fast enough to keep the picture frame from smacking him in the face. In a glance he recognized the photograph: it was one of the few Speedy deemed worthy of keeping in sight. It was a picture of the Titans East, Cyborg included, standing in front of their newly finished tower. Speedy and Aqualad had been positioned next to each other in the assembly. Speedy had always kept it on the window sill next to the picture of his father, who was decked out in his ranger uniform.
"Look, I understand you have every reason-" Aqualad started, but was quickly cut off by a vengeful archer.
"I told you this would happen! I told you that somebody would get close to me and then disappear from my life. I saw this coming from a mile away! Just never figured you would be the one to do it," Speedy snapped.
"All right. Now it's you who doesn't get it. Have you ever even wondered why I'm here at all, Speedy?" asked Aqualad, dark violet eyes narrowed, "Have you ever wondered why the prince of Atlantis would ever leave the safety of his city to come live with land dwellers? It's typically not done by choice."
"What are you talking about?"
Aqualad pointed to his face; his eyes, more precisely. "I was exiled from my home because of something that I am that I can't change," he said, "I was one of the unlucky few born with purple eyes, and for that I'm here on the land. Speedy, there's not a day that goes by when I don't wonder what would have happened had I been born with green or blue or brown eyes. I would still be living among my own people, probably the king by now, leading a strong nation. Instead I'm an outcast, seen as inferior and a bad omen."
Quietly, Speedy asked, "But why did you derail like that? No one here thinks you're inferior, especially not me. Obviously."
Aqualad walked across the room and sat on the bed next to Speedy, leaving a few inches of distance between them, and rested his elbows on his knees.
"I've adapted to this place. It's my home now, and Atlantis is a memory," he started, "Us being together like you… like we want to be, it won't be accepted. We'll be the outcasts. I don't want to be exiled from this home because of something that I can change."
"You can't change this," said the archer almost immediately, "You can hide it; lie to cover it up; deny being what you are, but you can't change it. And if society can't accept you for being a faggot-" Aqualad cringed at the word, but Speedy smirked perversely, "-then you tell them to find a WASPy superhero to protect their god damn city for free like we do or fuck off."
"How many times have we had to assist victims of hate crimes, Speedy? What happens when it becomes directed at us?"
"Christ's sake, Fish Boy. You find me a populated town anywhere in this world where no one will hate us for some stupid reason or another and I'll take you there in a blind instant." Speedy snapped his fingers to demonstrate his point. Aqualad, feeling uplifted, closed the gap between himself and the archer be leaning on him, resting a head on Speedy's narrow shoulder. Speedy paused uncertainly, and Aqualad's heart skipped a beat when he thought the archer hadn't yet forgiven him. But then Speedy wrapped an arm around Aqualad's waist and everything was all right.
"You'd drop everything and do that for me?"
Speedy snorted. "Why not? I've already got my bags packed and ready to go."
"Hey, you're not still quitting the team, are you?"
"Hell, yeah. Now that we've reconciled our relationship and have cleared all misunderstandings I see no reason why I would want to live here anymore." Speedy's sarcasm earned him a punch in the gut. Laughing, he added, "All jokes aside, I know I haven't told you this and I probably won't say it too often in the future because it just really cramps my style, but I... Ugh. I'm not good at this sappy stuff, but… Hmm…"
"You love me?" Aqualad laced his arms around Speedy's neck and nuzzled close to his throat, basking in the feel of warmth and the rhythmic pulse of his newfound lover. Speedy's heart was still thumping quickly from the scream fest. "Uh-huh. I figured that out when you put the dead goldfish in my pillowcase."
"Heh. That was pretty funny."
"Says you," Aqualad retorted with a frown. They both took a break to think back to that stressful day in which Speedy and Aqualad went on a rampage for six solid hours, refusing to put aside their differences until they were physically restrained by their fellow teammates. To Speedy that had been fun; to Aqualad, traumatic. "Speedy?"
"I'm not saying that I'm ashamed of being with you," Aqualad started quietly, wondering just how the other Titan would react, "but do you think we could… Can we just keep this to ourselves for a while?"
"Well, I wasn't exactly planning on shouting it from the rooftop, either. But you mean keep it from the other Titans, too?"
"Not forever. Just, you know, let me have some time to take it all in before we let them in on it. Speedy, I'm not as tough as you are. I don't know if I'll be able to handle all the attention this will bring." Aqualad felt Speedy hug him closer and felt comforted by it. "Then when I'm ready we can let the Bumblebee and the others know. Just not right away."
Speedy nodded understandingly, rested his lips on Aqualad's forehead and stared off to his half-packed luggage on the floor. To think he was inches away from leaving this behind.
"I think we can work it out."