Dick had had a long day at work, answering two domestic dispute calls and managing to get himself entwined with setting up a perimeter around a highway accident which took a couple hours to resolve. He was looking forward to getting home and changing into something more comfortable than his duty belt and cop uniform. What he wasn’t expecting was a surprise visitor waiting for him outside his door. Least of all him.
When Steve Dayton had died, Gar left Titan’s Tower to be with the Doom Patrol for a while, two weeks maximum. Just to support them and help his mother through those trying times. They all understood of course, so that morning when Gar had packed a bag and said his good-byes, they all wished him luck and sent their condolences along to the others.
None of them could have known that that morning would be the last time they would ever see their friend. The last time that all five founding Titans would stand together.
A couple weeks became a month. One month became a few. Next thing they knew, the better part of a year had gone by. His calls became less and less frequent, his reasons for needing to stay longer more and more vague. Until finally one day he told them he simply wouldn’t be coming back at all.
“I need to stay here. I can’t leave them again,” he explained, he must have been tired because his voice sure sounded like it. They couldn’t be sure though because he refused to answer the video chat and simply put them on a call.
“But you’re leaving us !” Vic shot back at him, furious. He was expecting this, but that didn’t help with actually hearing one of his worst nightmares confirmed.
Dick wasn’t sure how he felt yet. Hurt and sad, of course, even a little bit betrayed. But he didn’t think he could bring himself to put any blame on Gar. Inwardly, he always felt that they would lose their youngest member like this. He was a Titan, but that didn’t negate his history and connection to the Doom Patrol. Kory and Raven remained quiet, though Kory was on the verge of tears.
“I’m sorry. I don’t want to leave you, I just… I can’t leave them either.”
Dick suddenly felt as if he was eavesdropping on a private conversation, not entirely sure if “you” referred to all of them or just Vic who had grown quiet.
The silence grew between them until finally Vic sighed and shook his head.
“All right, I get it.”
“Thank you… I’m sorry.”
“But when will we see you again, Garfield? Will you at least visit us? We all miss you,” Kory interjected next, putting into words what they all felt. Gar remained silent on the other line for a few seconds before replying.
“I don’t know, Kory. I miss you guys, too, but it’s just not a good time. I’m sorry, I gotta go right now actually. I’ll call you guys again later.”
And just like that his end of the line clicked shut. It all felt rather abrupt to them which certainly didn’t help with the pain of having just lost their teammate.
It all fell apart after that. Or at least they did. Victor eventually went on to receive an invitation to join the Justice League, which he accepted. Dick and Kory moved to Bludhaven where he went on to become Nightwing and a cop while Kory helped him keep the streets of Bludhaven safe while every now and then joining Vic and the Justice League on off-planet missions. Raven stuck around to train the new generation of incoming Teen Titans, with Vic, Kory or himself often dropping in to help her and check in on things.
And life went on. That was how it went on for several more years, with the distance between them often changing either growing or shrinking, but never going more than a couple weeks without touching base and making sure everyone was OK.
They were still there for each other’s momentous occasions. Dick and Kory got married and Vic and Raven were right there to celebrate. Raven went to Stanford (with the help of some false documentation from Dick) to get a taste of the civilian life and no one was cheered for louder than she when her name was called at the graduation ceremony. Vic also started working at STAR Labs where he made inventions and technological breakthroughs that Dick couldn’t even begin to understand, but knew were important.
Life had moved on and so had they, but that didn’t stop them from remaining steadfast friends or even begin to weaken their bond. Except for one, except for Gar.
No one had seen or heard from him in years. The only person who had any clue as to his whereabouts the last five years was Vic, and even he had only vague answers. Gar would occasionally get in touch with him one way or another and never the other way around since Vic had no way of contacting him. Sometimes he’d get a call from a payphone or a hotel phone and they’d chat for a bit. An hour, maybe more. He’d listen to Vic talk about whatever the League or the Titans, STAR Labs, his father or Sarah was up to, but would remain vague on his own going-ons.
‘Last I talked to him he said he was somewhere in Africa. Togo, I think,’ was the last update they had gotten from Vic. That was four months ago.
And now he was standing right in front of him and Dick didn’t even know how to feel about that.
Kory wasn’t home yet. Donna had dropped by earlier for a visit and they went out to eat. Dick was meant to catch up with them later when he got out of work and had only stopped by their apartment to change out of his uniform. And that was where he found him. Standing outside their apartment door, eyes focused intently on the street view below them, his mind obviously miles away if he hadn’t noticed him yet.
Dick recognized him almost immediately, it would have been hard not to after all. He was still green, except for his eyes which were a warm amber. If it weren’t for that though, Dick wasn’t sure that he would have recognized him because everything else about him was different. Taller now, by a good several inches even. Dick was still taller than him, but no longer by a full head. He wore his hair long now, falling down to his chin, which was strange to Dick because Gar had always kept it cropped neat and short when they knew each other so it was a surprise to see that when grown out his hair was actually somewhat curly and very messy.
“Gar?” Dick had gotten over the initial shock and realizing that Gar still hadn’t noticed him, he called out his name to get his attention. His head snapped away from the street and turned to look at him, his eyes growing wide with realization.
“H-Hey,” that was all he said for a second before spewing into a nervous chatter, “I wasn’t sure how to get a hold of you, but I figured out where you live, but you weren’t home so I didn’t know what else to do. I- umm… Hey,” he sounded guilty.
Besides that though, there was definitely something wrong with him. First thing Dick noticed about him was that he was looked really thin. Despite the baggy clothes he was wearing, the oversized navy blue sweater did little to hide the fact that he must have not had a decent meal in weeks.
Gar had never really been in especially great shape. He was certainly nowhere near Dick’s muscled and stacked physique, but last time anyone had seen him, the young man could still boast a rather fit and toned body. Slim, but some muscle mass was visible on his arms, back and chest. Now though, his gaunt face and slight wrists gave away a much thinner, even underweight build.
The second thing he noticed was that he sported a few new scars on his face. One ran from under his chin up to the corner of his lips on the right side of his face. On the left side he had one going from his ear to across his cheek.
The more Dick inspected this stranger who appeared to be his friend, the more injuries and damage to his body he found. The tip of his formerly pointed left ear looked to be missing, as was his right index and middle finger along with a couple of teeth, and his left eye was partially red from bleeding. What he looked like under his clothes, Dick could only imagine.
His disheveled and cryptic state honestly worried him. The only thing he could wonder was what in the hell has the former Titan gotten himself into? Where has he been all these years? What has he been doing?
“Hey,” he greeted back instead, and fished his house keys out of his pocket to open the door. Sliding them into the door knob, leaving Gar to stand there unsure of what to do with himself.
Dick opened the door and finally turned to look at Gar again.
“Come in. I’ll make you something to eat.”
Gar nodded and entered the apartment, Dick following in after him, closing and locking the door behind them. Kory and Donna would have to wait.
Not many words passed between them as Dick showed Gar to the kitchen. He sat at the table, perched on the edge of his seat as if he was waiting to be asked to leave. Sitting hunched over with his arms crossed over his stomach, he looked very small and weak.
Dick opened his fridge and started taking things out.
“You still don’t eat meat, right?” he finally asked, breaking the silence between them. Gar looked up at him, a bit startled at the sudden question and seemed to have to contemplate it for a bit, not so much to formulate an answer, but to even understand the question posed to him in the first place.
“Um, no. I don’t,” he finally replied, sitting up a bit straighter now.
“Looks like you haven’t really been eating much of anything lately,” Dick said gently, opening a can of refried beans and spooning it out into a pot to heat them. He put another pot of water to boil. He hoped he was handling this right. He had a million and one questions for him, but ever since coming inside Gar looked like he was ready to flee again.
Gar simply looked down at himself and tugged the sleeves of his sweater a bit lower. He didn’t answer this time.
Pouring rice into the pot, and setting it aside to let it cook, Dick started cutting up some vegetables and sticking them in with the beans. Another bout of silence lapsed between them as Dick finished up with the cooking. When everything was done, he ladled heaping portions onto a plate. Not his best work, but it would do.
He set the plate down in front of Gar and turned once more to grab a bottle of hot sauce, remembering that Gar doused everything with the stuff.
“I know Cholula is more your thing, but all I have is Tapatio,” Dick said, placing it in front of him.
Gar actually smiled a bit at that, his eyes downcast, and nodded.
“It’s fine,” he assured him as Dick took the seat across from him.
Gar took the fork and started eating as Dick resisted the urge to watch him intently. He could see more scars on him now, a smattering of small nicks on his forehead and cheekbones. A circular burn mark at his temple. He held the fork a bit awkwardly, between his thumb and ring finger and took only small bites of everything.
Every movement seemed to hurt him. When he walked in and sat down, Dick noticed a limp that was significant enough to impede him. Even bringing the fork up to his mouth and swallowing seemed to cause him to grimace.
Dick couldn’t deal with it anymore. His friend that he hadn’t seen in five years, who always kept his whereabout suspiciously private when they finally did get a hold of him, finally just shows up at his doorstep looking like he had been dragged through hell and back.
“Why are you here?” he finally blurted out, inwardly cursing himself for the harshness that his tone must have carried across. He didn’t mean to sound accusatory.
Gar swallowed the food in his mouth and set the fork down. He leaned a bit further back into his chair and set his hands in his lap again. His eyes never left the plate in front of him.
“I… I was in the area. And I remembered you moved to Bludhaven so I thought…., I don’t know what I thought. I can go if you want.”
A pang shot through Dick’s heart as he shook his head.
“No, I don’t want you to go anywhere,” he only just got him back, “It’s just, it’s been five years, Gar. I imagined our reunion going a bit differently, I guess. I didn’t expect… this.”
“This” didn’t have to be spelled out and defined. Gar knew exactly what he meant, he just wished he knew how to address it.
“Look at me,” Dick almost pleaded with him. Gar did so and wished he hadn’t.
“You don’t have to explain everything to me right now if you don’t want to. But I need to know a couple of things, ok? Do you think you can answer a couple questions for me?” Dick realized he was using his cop tactics on him and made a note to dial it back a bit. This wasn’t going to turn into another interrogation.
But Gar seemed to want to explain himself as he sat straighter and raised his head, forcing himself to meet Dick’s eyes. He owed his former leader some answers.
“Yeah. Yeah, of course,” his voice sounding more steady and clear now.
“Are you in any danger right now, is anyone after you?”
“No. Nothing like that.”
“Does anyone else know that you’re back?”
“No. Just you.”
“ Are you back? Or are you leaving again after tonight?”
“I… I don’t know.”
Dick realized he had no more questions. At least none that needed to be answered right then and there. So he sighed and relaxed into his chair and Gar did the same.
“All right. You’ll at least spend the night here, yeah?”
“I was just going to get a motel or something, there’s one right down the road from here.”
“No, we have plenty of room here. The couch folds out into a bed, you can sleep there,” Dick wanted him as near by as possible. Now that he finally had him back, he wasn’t about to risk losing him again.
“You and Kory?” Gar asked, noticing the “we”. Dick smiled and nodded.
“Yeah, me and Kory.”
“You’re married now,” Gar recalled, a small smile bringing the corners of his mouth up.
“That’s right. Our 2nd year anniversary was last month.”
“Is she here?”
“She’s out with Donna. They were supposed to just do dinner, but I’m sure Donna managed to convince her into a night out.”
“Second year,” Gar repeated, a little disbelieving. So much time had gone by.
“M-hm. You missed out on a lot of things, you know.”
Gar looked down again, not bothering to defend himself. If anyone had told him that morning he left that he wouldn’t see any of his friends again for five years he would have laughed in their faces. He was so worried of being away from them for even two weeks back then, his anxiety growing as the distance between them did and refusing to go away even when he landed in Midway City that day. Five years would have seemed downright impossible to be away from them for so long.
And yet, here he was.
“Well, eat up some more, there’s plenty of food,” Dick said with a sigh, dismissing his previous statement, reminding himself to give Gar more time before launching into five years worth of questions and catching up.
Gar started eating again, but wasn’t able to manage to put down much more. The food was good, but his stomach protested at every forkful and Dick wasn’t quite able to hide his disappointment when Gar insisted he couldn’t eat anymore.
Dick showed him the bathroom where he could shower and get himself together, fetching him a change of clothes that he could change into after. They would be much too big on him, but it was the best he could for him. As Gar excused himself into the bathroom, Dick set to getting the couch ready for him.
When Gar was done he came out looking a bit better, the hot water bringing some color into his face. But he still held himself awkwardly. Tentatively. His arms remained hugged around his stomach, his back and shoulders hunched slightly. Dick had a hard time squaring the man in front of him with the cheerfully loud if somewhat spazzy boy from his past.
“Let me get you some more blankets,” Dick told him and set off to his own room where all the extra bedding was kept. He pulled out his phone and checked if Kory had messaged him at all. He had already told her that something had come up and he wouldn’t be able to meet up with them, now he was debating with himself if he should tell her everything now or wait until she got home.
Hey, so funny thing, but Gar’s back. You remember him, right? Anyway, he’s gonna be crashing on our couch tonight so try not to be too loud coming in.
Yeah, that didn’t sound right. Shoving his phone back into his pocket, he decided to wait to be able to tell her in person. Grabbing the extra warm blanket from the bottom of his wardrobe, he re-entered the living room only to find that Gar was already fast asleep.
Pausing for a second, Dick took the sleeping form in. He was on his right side in fetal position facing him. Standing there with the blanket in his arms for a second, he then crossed the room to him in complete silence before gently setting the blanket down at the foot of the bed.
Standing over him now, Dick was able to see the micromovements his eyelids made as Gar had already fallen into a deep sleep. On one hand, that may have been a testament to the fact of how tired and sick and hurt Gar was, but Dick remembered very clearly how the younger boy was always able to fall asleep anywhere, anytime. He also remembered him being a very deep sleeper.
Dick crouched in front of Gar, still facing him. He chewed his bottom lip and wished that this wasn’t necessary, but didn’t think he could ignore the possibility. Gar looked worse than Roy at his lowest. The drastic weight loss, shifty attitude, loss of appetite. It was all so familiar. Dick ignored the warning signs before, he wasn’t about to again. It would explain so much, after all.
Gently taking a hold of his left arm, he began lifting the hem of the long sleeve that Dick had given him to wear. He kept his focus on Gar’s face, looking for a sign that he might wake up, until he finally got the sleeve up and over his elbow. Pausing for a few more seconds to make sure that Gar wasn’t about to wake up, he finally looked over the exposed arm. What he saw made his stomach sick.
There were no track marks, at least nothing like that that Dick could identify as. And for that he was grateful. His left arm still bore some previous scars from long ago, like the gash on the outside of his arm from when he was thrown through a window in a fight with Mammoth and a large piece managed to wedge itself in there. Victor gave Mammoth the beating of a lifetime over that.
But what made him sick was the new scars on him. Wiry and thin, multiple lines all on top of each other, and encircling all around his thin wrist. He had been bound by something, wire if Dick had to guess, and for a long time. Long enough for it to embed itself into his skin before he was finally freed from them.
A knot grew tight in Dick’s throat as he lowered the sleeve again, not wanting to look at it anymore. This whole time he had held some form of resentment against Gar for leaving, as if he had failed them. Failed to keep in touch, failed to be there for them, failed to let them know where he was or what he was doing. Five years and he had simply dropped off the face of the planet from them. Only now, Dick was starting to think that it was they who had failed him.