Disclaimer: I do not own these characters, nor any rights to their use. This is just for fun 'cause I know I can get away with it. ;)
Warnings: Slash and AU continuity. Fyi, the POV character is very AU and from a parallel universe. So there's two of him. I just haven't written his history yet.
The Price of Love
I'd had the whole evening planned. We'd start with dinner; a recipe for Steak Au Poivre I found in the cookbook I bought when we started getting serious. I had no idea what it was, but with a short ingredient list, I figured it'd be simple enough. I had to check the internet for pronunciation though. I hand-mashed some potatoes to go with it, chucked in a few spices I've seen on the pre-made packages and for a little simplicity I decided on baby carrots because they sounded like something you'd have with a French-style steak. You'd think after all this time I'd know how to be romantic. I didn't. But French stuff is always supposed to be romantic, so I decided it was a safe bet.
I'd also picked up some kind of alcohol. Not really drinking much outside of a bar, I didn't know what to look for, so I picked something red and hard to pronounce.
After dinner we'd talk and laugh for a while, then eat the dark chocolate mousse I'd made last night. After that…I figured something would get us into bed eventually. It always did. Planning was great, but having some kind of spontaneity kept things interesting.
For once in my life, everything seemed to go right. The steak finished just in time for me to finish cleaning up my apartment, set the table and even place a few candles around the room. Nothing burned and everything smelled great. In fact, I had just finished serving everything up when my date arrived.
"Hey Garth," I greeted him.
"Hey. Wow, it smells great in here. And…everything's cleaned up…Is there something going on? What's the occasion?"
"Just 'I love you'." I smiled my charming smile and sat him down at the table. "I just wanted to do something nice."
I'd heard so many times throughout my life that people lost interest in each other when they stop making the effort. I knew a little three-month relationship didn't compare with thirty years of marriage, but I thought the principles were the same.
Garth smiled that cute embarrassed smile of his and I knew I'd hit the mark. He didn't say it, but I saw it all over his face that he felt he didn't deserve me. He had no idea how hard I worked to be that good a boyfriend.
I smiled with pride and shared in his happiness.
Introducing our dinner, I basked in the glow of his admiration. I watched as he melted at the savory taste of the steak. My smile broadened and I took my own first bite. The buttery flavor was unexpectedly complimentary to the steak, but the pepper swelled into the foreground a little too much for my taste. I think I'll use less next time.
"Dinner was great, Dick. I can't believe you went to the trouble."
I grinned, kind of embarrassed. "It sounds impressive, but it actually wasn't that hard to make."
"It was still really nice," he replied coyly.
Though almost a whisper, his words struck my heart. This was what I always loved about him. Everything I did and everything I was was not only okay, but great! And after spending so much of my life hearing and thinking I was somehow less than everyone else, it was nice to finally find someone who didn't know or care about the old me. Just the me I was now. The one that tried hard to be a good person, help people and somehow wade through life without making any tragic mistakes.
"I love you." Shooting across the table I grabbed his head and pressed my lips against his. My self-control was taxed beyond its breaking point trying to contain all I felt for him. As overwhelming as it all was I could never assign any words to describe it. My heart swelled until it felt too big for my chest and I felt such a deep need to be as close to him as I could that nothing ever felt close enough. I couldn't think. I couldn't decide. I couldn't rationalize, study or plan.
All I could do was feel. And I felt everything with him.
The euphoria of the evening cleared and more serious thoughts darkened my mind.
I unconsciously slid myself up into a sitting position, as though the change could keep the memory of our evening from being tainted.
"How long have we been dating?"
Garth regarded me suspiciously.
"About three months," he answered warily. "Why?"
I sighed. "You know why."
He turned over in a huff and huddled up under the blankets like he was going to try and sleep. "I'm not talking about this again. You may like telling people, but I don't."
I knew he hated talking about this issue, but I also knew there was no reason to keep hiding. Yes, it was embarrassing, but people get over that stuff. Everything would be fine in the end.
"I'm not talking about people. I'm talking about friends. I just hate all the sneaking around."
"You were the one always worried what people would think of you if they—
"Not all people—just the guys at work! Come on, Garth…There's a difference."
He turned back to glare at me. "Where?"
I knew there was a difference, but quantifying it was hard. Honestly, it was all the lying and all the pretending and all sneaking that was getting to me, not just him. It was like I had to hide everything from everyone! It didn't seem to matter where I was or who I was with, there was always some secret I had to be careful about not letting slip. I couldn't afford to let myself go for even a minute, lest I hint at the truth behind my lies.
The only person who knew every truth I've kept hidden was Garth. For a while, that was enough. But it had been four months now and the truth was burning a hole in the pit of my stomach. I was tired of the lies and tired of memorizing every detail of this fantasy life I've been building for the ignorant masses around me. It's not so much as I haven't done this before—and been doing it just fine for years…it's just…I'm on overload! Too many secrets kept from too many people and too much time spent on edge, watching myself. I can't even let my guard down in Garth's own bedroom!
"I'm not friends with those people, Garth. I just work with them. They don't know and don't care about who I am or what happens to me so long as I keep doing my job. If they found out I sleep with men—
"You'd never hear the end of it. And neither would I."
I knew what he was feeling. I felt the same way. People look at you differently when they find out you're not straight. Like you're weird or there's something wrong with you. Homosexuality is treated like a disease or disfigurement that needs to be hidden or healed. I kept asking myself, "Why do we need to be ashamed? Why do we feel inferior, broken or dirty?" I never could come up with an answer.
I guess society had just told us to, and we listened. But I'd decided I was done listening.
Aside from work, I wanted everyone to know who and what I was. I didn't care what they thought. I just wanted to declare it to the world. Hiding was off the table.
My job was a different story, though. I'd thought about it, but there were so many practical reasons for keeping quiet that I just couldn't ignore. I was there to do a job and I wanted to do it to the best of my ability as quickly as possible. Complications and explanations just made it much harder and take way longer.
I leaned over to Garth and stared him straight in the eyes. "They wouldn't take me seriously anymore. Law-enforcement is a man's world. Even the women are men. Being gay is even worse than that…I just—I'd never get anywhere!"
At first his gaze had dropped, but by the end of my speech he was holding my gaze again. Suddenly I couldn't look at him anymore. I felt like such a hypocrite. I was asking Garth to do exactly what I wouldn't do. Tell the people he worked with every day that he wasn't normal, wasn't their equal and did things they would consider disgusting. I knew the difference between my situation and his, but I still couldn't bring myself to push him. Once again, the conversation had ended. Once again, I was stuck holding the bag.
Once again, I wondered just how long I could keep doing this to myself. How much was our love worth to me?
Garth had gone back to trying to sleep, this time for real. I settled back under the covers and snaked my arms around him, whispering, "I love you." He let me pull him tight into my embrace. The warmth and closeness was comforting, letting me relax and drift off with one final thought.
How much is peace like this worth?
This fic was written for belated entry into the Comfort Zone challenge. I was asked to step out of my comfort zone and write in a genre I avoid like the plague: romance. I decided to go easy on myself and choose a story arc I already created. I'm still working on it, figuring out Aqualad's backstory and why he's so different from the one in the cartoon, but it all seems to stem from being in the closet and unsure of whether he should try to accept himself or try to conform.
Any suggestions on how to make this new version of him more believable would be much appreciated.
For those of you interested, 'Dick' is an amalgamation of the comic Dick Greyson and an OC. I'm still working on that story arc too.