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Sea & Sky Prequel: Context

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So this is the part where I'm supposed to talk about my adolescent sexual identity crisis. Big melodrama, massive teenage angst, the works.

Never happened. Not about *that,* anyway.

It's not like I had some kind of sudden grand revelation about my sexuality. I always *knew.* Maybe it was growing up in the circus--plenty of pairings of all types there, married couples and gay couples of both genders and a threesome or two. It all seemed perfectly natural to me.

And then Bruce, of course, didn't stand for prejudice of any kind. So while I never talked about it with him, I always knew he wouldn't *care.* But naturally, I didn't talk about it with him, because, well--

Let's just say sometimes it was awfully hard to hide my attraction to him when we worked out, or went jump-lining over the city together, or whatever. But of course he never said a word and I stuffed my feelings down to be a good partner, a good Robin.

The first time--

I should say, my first time with another guy. First time with a woman was with Lori Elton. We met that brief time I was in college, did the whole dating thing, eventually broke up amiably. We liked each other, had fun together, and that was about it. She wasn't the first woman I'd fallen head-over-heels for. That was Babs, of course. I had the most ridiculously huge crush on Batgirl imaginable.

That feeling hasn't gone away, either, not entirely. A long time ago that crush turned into a deep admiration and maybe more. Barbara still awes me, inspires me, and--though she'd hurt me for saying so--*shames* me into always trying harder, doing more. She and I...if she hadn't been so determined to push me away for as long as she did, who knows?

But the first time I was with a guy it wasn't about love or any kind of really deep emotion; I'd have to wait for Kory to feel that reciprocated with a woman, and Joey with a man. Predictably, the first time was about sex.

Go figure, huh.

I had all this *tension* to work off. A lot of the time I went over to the community gym. The equipment in the Batcave was much better, of course, but for obvious reasons I didn't hang out there. Too-close quarters, and all.

So I went to the gym. I got to know a couple of guys there well enough to trust each other to spot weights and bullshit about girls and that kind of thing. Of course, I could only tell them so much; they had no idea about my whole other life, so I must have seemed incredibly dull.

I wasn't using my real name, either. It was easier to be "Robert Malone" than take the chance that someone'd remember that Dick Grayson was Bruce Wayne's ward. Bruce had been adamant about keeping me out of the media spotlight, which suited me just fine. But inevitably there'd been pictures taken at events I couldn't escape, and my name was a matter of public record. Fortunately, my relative level of 'fame' mostly applied to the upper crust, who followed Bruce's every move. Most people in Gotham didn't recognize me by face, and they were only a little bit more likely to do so by name. Besides, I was already used to answering to "Robbie."

This was before Raven came along and got the second Titans team together to fight Trigon. I'd already dropped out of college, and when I wasn't working on a case with Bruce or something solo I was pretty bored. I *missed* the Titans, hanging out with Wally and Roy and Donna and Garth, when he was there.

If I knew then what I knew now...but then again, sometimes I think everything that's happened was somehow necessary to bring us together. As difficult as some of it was.

Anyway. Back then, at the gym, I was only one of the guys. They ragged on me for being a dropout. I ragged on them when I regularly outpaced them on the weights or the track--not too much, because I wasn't trying to show off. Enough to keep my pride intact, that's all.

So one day I'd been running, enough laps around the indoor track that everyone else I knew had quit. A *lot* of energy to work off, like I said. A couple of others paced me for awhile and then dropped away, except for one.

Tall guy. Blond and dark-eyed. He looked nothing like Bruce, which made him attractive in a whole different way. Not that I was really thinking along those terms, then. He'd been running nearly as long as I had, and eventually we met up and ran together. Not a word, just running. And yeah, testosterone will out, it became a sort of silent contest to see who'd drop out first.

Eventually I guess we both noticed it was starting to get dark out, which made it as good a time as any to stop. We sat at the side of the track, cooling off and drinking bottled water, and he extended a hand. "Hi. I'm Alex."

We shook hands. Strong grip. "Robbie. Good run."

"Yeah, I usually practice at the college track, but I needed a change of pace. ...Gotham U track team," he explained. "I didn't expect to meet anyone here who could keep up." He paused. "Damn, that sounded wrong."

Bragging rights. I could relate. "Nah, I understand."

"Cool. So I haven't seen you around campus...."

I gave him the standard line. "Yeah, I went for awhile but college wasn't my thing."

He nodded. "I got in on an athletic scholarship. I'll do my best for the team, but I'm really aiming for med school."

Which told me he was athletic *and* smart. But I still wasn't thinking about making a move or anything. Honestly. I knew objectively I wasn't the only guy around who liked both men and women, but it wasn't exactly the kind of thing I wanted to advertise. I'd gotten the occasional *look* or invitation (subtle or otherwise) but nothing I wanted to answer. And with being Robin, there were always secrets to keep. I pretty much figured anyone I got serious about would *have* to know. I hadn't been serious enough with Lori to tell her. "That's great. About the med school, I mean."

Alex smiled. "Yeah, thanks. Hardest part is keeping my grades high enough to qualify for one of those new Wayne medical scholarships. Man, that's a sweet deal. They pay your way through school, and all you have to give back is some time at a free clinic."

"Sounds good," I said noncommittally, while thinking: Bruce, you sneak. But anything that helped Leslie keep her clinic running was a good thing. "Did you have a specialty in mind, or are you going GP?"

"GP, I think. Or maybe..." he hesitated, "Maybe pediatrics. But that's pretty tough, I understand. All those sick kids...I'm not sure I could handle it."

"You could volunteer at a hospital, try it out," I suggested.

He nodded slowly. "Yeah. I might do that. --Hey, you want to go grab something to eat?"

I was hungry anyway. And nothing beat Alfred's cooking, but I wasn't ready to go home yet. "Sure. DeLuca's or La Taqueria?"

Alex grinned, because I'd named the only two restaurants close by that were fairly well guaranteed not to serve up a helping of ptomaine with your meal. The food around Gotham U was notoriously bad, which made me appreciate Alfred all the more. "'luca's. If I eat another burrito this week I might sprout castanets."

"Heh. Okay. You have a car? I've got my bike here, but I didn't bring an extra helmet with me."

His eyes lit up. "That bike in the lot, that's yours? I was looking at it when I came in--that's a sweet little machine."

The bike I had then wasn't as fancy as Tim's Redbird, but I was proud of her anyway. "Yep, that's mine. Actually, I don't want to leave her here, so...."

Alex nodded. "Don't blame you. My car's a beater, but I wouldn't leave it either. No problem, meet you there. After, um, I clean up a bit."

I made a show of sniffing at my armpits. "Not fit for public appearance, no."

We hit the showers, and sorry, but this isn't about to devolve into a gay porn scene. I'd just *met* the guy. Our conventional locker-room etiquette was firmly in place.

Safely deodorized, we headed over separately to DeLuca's. Over a couple slices of reasonably edible pizza, we talked about school, the gym, cars, my bike...guy-stuff. Very casual. I found talking to him easy, which was unusual. I'd gotten used to keeping to myself, for the most part, and I hadn't realized how...*lonely* that felt. I already knew I could never be like Bruce, who kept himself virtually isolated even in a crowd. When he was Batman, no one dared get too close. When he was Bruce, money and a scatterbrained demeanor made an effective social barrier. I wasn't capable of splitting my personas that drastically, and I didn't want to. Talking with Alex made me realize how removed I'd become despite that resolution.

We'd settled the bill (I'd thought about offering to cover it, but didn't want to insult him) and were finishing up the requisite lattes when he looked up and caught my eye. He seemed nervous, but resolved. "Um. Listen, I'm gonna say something and go, all right?"

Well, what was this about? "Uh, sure."

"I'd-- like to see you again. Like. A date." He took a quick gulp of air and dropped a card on the table. "Here's my number. If you're interested, call me. If not, you don't have to worry about avoiding me, I won't go back to your gym." True to his word, he got up from the table. Half looking like he expected to get hit, half hoping.

I was too stunned to say anything, so I mutely watched Alex get in his car and drive away.

Wow. Jeez. Well....

Huh. I didn't know how to react.

But I thought about him, and thought about myself, and realized that the lessons my parents had taught me still applied. Throwing myself from high places was a breeze compared to *this,* but there was nothing to be afraid of if I was interested....

Yeah, I was.

But I still wanted a second opinion.


And who better to ask than a doctor?

I'd known Doctor Leslie Thompkins since Bruce took me in. She'd done a lot to help me through those first few hard months after my parents died. It wasn't until later that I found out she'd done the same for Bruce, years before.

When I opened the door to her office at the Thomas Wayne Memorial Clinic, she was peering at the computer screen, squinting through her glasses.

"Hi. You, um, have some time...?"

"Of course, Dick, let me finish this report." I sat down on the couch. She typed for a few minutes, then finished with a last tap on the keyboard. "There. Justified our expenses for another month." She smiled at me, folding the glasses on her desk and giving me her full attention.

Oh, boy.

"I...wanted to talk to you about something. I'm not *worried* about it, or anything, I just wanted to talk. It's pretty, um, personal."

Leslie got up, looking a little concerned, and came around the desk. "Dick, honey, you can talk to me about anything." She cocked her head a little. "I assume this is something you don't feel comfortable discussing with Bruce?"

Like Alfred, Leslie had that uncanny ability to read my mind. "Yeah."

She nodded. "All right. I can offer you doctor-patient confidentiality--anything you say remains in this room, unless it's something that is potentially harmful to you or others."

"No, nothing like that!" Bless her for being willing to keep things secret, though. Not that I'd thought she'd run to tell Bruce, but still...Leslie took her oaths seriously. Like the one she swore years ago, to look after Bruce as well as she could. She still did, as much as he let her. "Thanks."

She smiled and sat down in one of the office chairs on my side of the desk. "What's on your mind?"

"I, well--" Oh, I so hadn't thought this through. I didn't want this to play out like a cheesy afternoon drama, but I wasn't ready to spit it out, either. "I've. Met someone pretty interesting. I might-- we might date, but I'm not sure."

Leslie looked puzzled, not surprising considering my incoherent rambling. "What aren't you sure about?"

"It's...potentially complicated. Not that it should be any different, but..." Dammit. I wasn't making any sense, and the words kept running in circles around what I really wanted to say. "It's. Um. A new situation for me."

"Dick, you'll need to be a little more specific," she said gently. "Maybe if you tell me something more about this girl--"

"That's the thing," I blurted before I could chicken out, "It's not a girl. I, I like guys. AND I like girls." God, that sounded stupid. I snuck a peek at her face--she looked surprised, but not shocked. "I'm not confused about that, I've always known it."

She blinked a little and sat back. "You're sure?"

I nodded firmly, finally back on track now that it was out. Or rather, now that *I* was out. "Yeah. I am."

Dr. Leslie let out a breath. "'re smart enough that I don't have to tell you there's nothing wrong with you."

I had to grin. "Right."

"Right." She smiled back. "And you're certainly old enough to know your own mind."

If for nothing else, I'd love her for the fact she took what I said at face value.

"So," she continued, "I doubt you're here to get a lecture on safe sex--" she gave me a pointed stare, "--which you *are* practicing, of course."

"Um, yes," I mumbled, but obviously not decisively enough to suit her.

"No 'um' about it. Do you have questions? Is there anything you'd like to discuss? Because Dick," she said, her voice admitting no room for compromise, "I accept the risks you take in...other areas. Not this."

And those other things were the source of the tension between Leslie and Bruce. Leslie Thompkins was a healer, deeply dedicated to her patients and her ideals. She accepted the good the Batman did, but abhorred the violence inherent in his nightly crusade. Dr. Leslie especially didn't approve of Bruce 'recruiting me into his obsession,' as I'd overheard her say to him once (okay, I was eavesdropping), but I'd since assured her it was my choice too.

"No, I know. It's okay. I know the drill." Maybe I'd only practiced with Lori to date, but I'd done the research. "I guess I just...wanted to talk. There wasn't really anyone else...."

"Not that I'm not flattered, but what about your friends?" It struck me that she probably felt sorry for me that I was in here, stammering at her, instead of commiserating with someone my own age. But she hid it well. "From school, or the-- that group you were in?"

Ha. As if I'd share this with Wally 'Conservative Lad' West or Roy Harper, the Mouth that Walked Like a Man. I could have talked to Donna, I guess, but I never did. No one else had been around enough to confide in. "Nah, I didn't tell any of them."

She looked frankly astonished. "Dick--why? If they're your friends, surely they'd understand--"

I shrugged. "It doesn't matter now, none of them are around to talk to now anyway."

Leslie stared at me for a long minute. I could see all the things she wanted to say, and never would. Like that she thought I should go back to college, preferably somewhere outside of Gotham. Or maybe join the army. Anything that would make me stop being Robin. But I didn't *want* to stop being Robin. It was about all I had left of my own.

Finally she shook her head and said, "I'm glad I was here, then. So what was it you wanted to talk about, specifically?"

"Oh!" I blushed. And I'd been doing so well, too. "I met someone. A guy. I think I like him."

She nodded, noncommittal. "And...?"

"And--" I stopped, then shrugged helplessly. "And I don't know."

Leslie grinned a little. "If you're looking for dating advice, I'm afraid I'm a little out of practice."

I laughed. "Uh, no." And then it hit me. "I think-- I'm not sure if I should." I got up and paced the small area in front of the desk. "I mean. I have a choice, right? I like women. I could be happy dating only women. But I have this other option, you know, I'm not sure...if I should explore it."

"Why," she asked gently. "I'm not saying you *should,* I'm asking why you think you *shouldn't.*"

Good question. "Huh. I'm not afraid of what people will think--"

"Except you haven't told your friends," Leslie said with pointed irony.

I winced. "There wasn't anything to tell them, before."

She only looked at me. I sighed. "Lousy excuse. I will. Sometime."

"That might be best," she agreed. "Any other reasons?"

There was, and it sounded stupid to say it aloud, but... "What about Bruce?"

Leslie frowned. "What about him?"

I wasn't going to talk about the *real* trouble with Bruce, but there were still other concerns. "Wouldn't it be... I mean, I don't want to make things difficult for him. Um, socially."

She snorted, a tiny sound of disbelief. "That wouldn't be *your* doing. Bruce has a talent for making things difficult all by himself."

That made me smile. "Yeah, but--"

"Please. He's perfectly capable of dealing with the media and his peers, even if you and your-- your boyfriend took out a full-page announcement in the Wall Street Journal."

Alex and I weren't even dating yet, but I got the point. "Maybe I'm not sure *I* want to deal with that kind of attention."

I was reaching, and Leslie knew it. "I thought you weren't afraid of what people will think."


Leslie shook her head. "Listen, Dick, I can't tell you what's right. All I *can* say is, if you want to explore other possibilities, you shouldn't be afraid to try. careful.

"Listen to your heart."

It was advice that, years later, I'd repeat to Tim Drake.


So I called him.


"Hey, Alex. It's Robbie Malone. From the gym."

Total surprise came over the line. "Oh! Uh, hey."

"Listen, I wanted to know two things."

"Uh-huh...?" His voice sounded wary. Couldn't blame him, I guess.

"Did you go to the gym looking for...looking for someone?"

A pause, then: "Not specifically, I just wanted to get away from school for awhile. But, yeah, maybe in the back of my head I was hoping to meet someone interesting."

Okay, that was fair. "And--why me? I mean, did you get some feeling or something...?"

He sounded amused. "I thought you were really cute, that's all. And I hoped you wouldn't be offended if I told you that. Are you?"

I laughed. "No. Uh, thanks. Okay. Oh, no, wait, I've got one more question. I don't know the rules--is it okay if, say, I asked you out to dinner?"

"That's great. That's totally great." I wished I could see his face; I bet he was smiling ear to ear. Well, so was I. Cool.

We arranged when and where, and hung up. It was a looooong wait 'til Friday night.


I'd suggested a place far enough from Gotham U to give us a little bit of privacy, away from anyone who might know us from school. Not that I really cared, particularly since I wasn't a student anymore, but I wasn't sure how out Alex was. That was something else I'd never given a lot of thought to, before.

We met at the restaurant, figuring it would be the most pressure-free way to get to know each other. No real expectation, simply casual conversation with the possibility of more as an understated theme.

In other words, a date. Neat, huh.

I'd gotten there a little early, waiting in the parking lot on my bike until I saw his car pull in. He got out, saw me, and came over.

"Hey," he said, looking almost surprised that I was actually there.

"Hey," I said, and we stood for a minute, grinning at each other like fools.

"I'm glad you called," he said simply, and then we went inside.

All the awkwardness of a first date was firmly in place, set off slightly by certain commonalties. For the first while, I sat there trying to figure out if it *felt* any different than when I'd been out with Lori. No...and yes.

Then I thought, to hell with it, and went with the flow.

I told Alex I'd dated women but never a guy before. He'd only ever been interested in guys. "I knew I was gay pretty early on," he said, "and I'm not real interested in being some kind of role-model, but I wasn't going to hide, either." He'd made a deliberate choice to tell people he dealt with every day: his coach, his teammates, his friends. I wondered what it would be like to be that honest, and knew I never could.

Halfway through dinner, I started noticing things. Or maybe it was then that I let myself acknowledge that I'd been noticing things already. Like the way his eyes crinkled up when he smiled, and his strong-looking, long-fingered hands. It seemed silly not to admit to myself that I found him attractive in all the right ways, physically and otherwise.

If he noticed I didn't say much about my life, he didn't remark on it. But his openness made me feel uncomfortable. Not with Alex, but with the lie I'd already told him.

By this time, I was used to the necessities of a double life. Without putting too fine a point on it, I'd gotten in the habit of lying to nearly everyone about almost everything. Who I really was, what I really did. The thing was, though, I liked Alex. If things were going where I thought they might, it wouldn't be right to maintain the fiction. Not about my real identity, anyway. Lori hadn't known about Robin and I wasn't prepared to tell Alex either, not on the strength of a single date and some strong vibes. But I didn't have a reason good enough to keep lying to him about my name.

So after dinner, when we were chatting back over by my bike and Alex leaned in to kiss me, I said, "Wait."

He pulled back immediately. "Shit, sorry. Too fast?"

"No, not that--I need to tell you something. I wouldn't feel right if-- anyway, listen. I didn't, uh, give you my real name at the gym."

He stared at me, then said in a deadpan tone, "Witness protection program?"

I snorted. "That'd be easier to explain. I'm Dick Grayson. My friends really do call me Robbie, though," I finished lamely.

"If I was called Dick, I'd change my name too," he quipped, but I could tell his heart wasn't in it. "So why...?"

"Family stuff. --Not like the Mafia," I said to his dubious look. "It's complicated. Sometimes it's...easier to be someone else for awhile."

"So," Alex said slowly, "if you didn't want to be yourself.... Why are you telling me this now?"

Truth was best, at least as far as I could tell it. "'cause I like you, Alex, and I'd have felt like crap if we, you know, got involved and you didn't even know my name."

He grinned, suddenly and unexpectedly. "You're thinking we might get 'involved,' then?"

"One step at a--" and then I couldn't finish, because he'd darted forward and pressed his lips against mine. He waited just long enough to see if I'd pull away. I didn't, and after another moment he stepped back again.

"Sorry," he smirked, not looking repentant at all, "had to be done."

"Okay, then," I said, laughing because he looked so pleased with himself. "Sneaky. I'll remember that. And uh, yeah. I definitely want to see you again."

"That's...good. That's really good," Alex breathed. "Dick-- Robbie-- whoever you are-- I should go now. I don't want to, but--"

"No, it's okay," I said. He'd said his schedule was hectic this semester, and I didn't want to get in the way of studying or whatever. "You have an early class tomorrow, right?"

"That's not why," he said, dark eyes catching mine, and the actuality of his attraction to me hit as hard as every cliché in the book. I stood there, nearly stunned by the force of it and my response to him.

"Alex--" I managed, and he shook his head and stepped back out of reach.

"I'll call," he threw back over his shoulder, heading toward his car. "Believe it."

I did. I also believed it'd be awhile before I could sit comfortably enough on my bike to drive home. I was right about that, too.


Over the next three weeks we only managed to meet briefly a couple of times, between his class schedule and my being occupied with cases I was following as Robin. We got together for a quick lunch once or twice, ran a few miles for fun one afternoon, and had a number of long phone conversations while I was doing solo surveillance on one rooftop or another.

I explained about being Bruce's ward and about my family, back at the circus. He was...surprised, to say the least. But everything I said was true: mostly, being Robbie Malone was a way of escaping the attention and expectations that went along with the Wayne celebrity. I was a lot more comfortable shooting hoops and lifting weights with normal people than with country-club snobs.

Finally we got to a Saturday when I wasn't patrolling and his roommates were out of town on some kind of fraternity trip. A couple of rented videos and take-out Chinese made a suitable excuse to get together at his apartment, but really, it was all pretext.

We ate out of the paper containers, slurping down noodles like starving creatures. We watched the first movie, laughing a little too much at anything even vaguely funny. I had a very familiar tension curling up and down my spine, the pre-adrenaline rush of excitement, like I got right before a tricky high-wire stunt or tackling a bunch of thugs. Anticipation rather than nervousness.

The movie ended. Alex leaned forward, moving to get up and rewind the tape. I reached out to touch his shoulder, and he stopped and turned back to me. "Hm?"

I was trying not to smirk, and failing miserably. "Nothing. Do that later."

A quick flash of surprise crossed his face, and then he leaned over and kissed me, briefly. He pulled back to look at me. "Okay?"

"Mm...okay. Too quick, though."

Alex grinned and leaned in again.

This time wasn't brief.

Then we were making out on the couch, groping and laughing and wet, sloppy kissing. I liked how it felt. I liked how *he* felt, sprawled on top of me, long runner's legs tangled with mine. And no question that he was enjoying himself as much as I was.

After a couple of minutes he dropped his head onto my shoulder, breathing hard. "Woo."

"Yeah." I wriggled a little under him, and he groaned.

"Robbie-- oh, jeez." Alex lifted his head, and his expression was both urgent and earnest. "I don't want to rush you. But I really, really want you to stay tonight."

Exactly like the trapeze. I took a breath, and jumped. "I want to stay."

"Oh, thank God." He grinned and kissed me again, then started working his way down.

I didn't go back to the mansion that night. Or the next. I had too much to learn.

I was a very *attentive* student. And I put the lessons to good use, then and later.


Alex and I liked each other. We had a good time. But it never went beyond that. I couldn't really share my life with him, and he was looking for something more committed than I was willing to give. A few weeks after we broke up I met the people who'd become the new incarnation of the Teen Titans, including Kory, and not long after that she and I were together.

It'd be six years after I had the discussion with Dr. Leslie, but I finally did talk to my friends. I never told them about Alex, I couldn't tell them about Joey at the time because that was too painful, I didn't mention anything while I was dating Warren. (I saw him a couple of times before I moved down to Blüdhaven. He was a wealthy exec, looked great in a business suit. We had really good, uncomplicated sex. Then he got a call from an old flame of his who was moving to the States, and that was that.) It was only with Garth that I realized it was time to tell them the whole truth.

Secrets may be inevitable in this profession, but this is one less thing to hide from the people I care about. I'd been so used to segregating parts of my life: Titans here, Bat-stuff *there,* and a little bit of Dick Grayson around the edges. It's taken a long time to get to a point where all the pieces can coexist. I'll always have secrets...but it's a great relief that who I *love* isn't one of them any more.

But I think maybe...I never talked about it because the whole subject was tied up with my feelings for Bruce, and I wasn't ready or willing to deal with them. I almost blew things completely with Garth because I'd left that unresolved for so long.

It's almost unbelievable, looking back now, that I'd never *noticed* Garth in that sense before that day on Montauk Point. I can't even say it's because we were all so young back in the first Titans team; that never stopped Roy and Donna. I *can* say that after I met Kory, there wasn't room or even desire for anyone else in my life, and Garth hadn't been around that much anyway by that point. And when he was, Tula was there as well, and they were happy together.

Maybe it had to happen this way. It took him years to recover from Tula's death. It took me awhile to figure out who I wanted to be after things fell apart with Kory. Garth found his heritage and powers to become Tempest; I found a place for myself in accepting that I was *Nightwing,* not and never-again Batman's sidekick.

Reasons don't matter now. What matters is that I *did* finally notice, and he reached out, and all that's happened since has led to where we are now. Thank God, or Pallais, or whatever powers might have had a hand in it.

I'm finally happy with where I am. That's all the blessing I need.