Raven gasped and bolted upright, clutching the dark sheets. Her purple hair fell about her face, a few sweaty strands sticking to her forehead. She stared about her room and tried to take comfort in the familiarity, but the grotesque masks and eerie shapes of her furniture only made her wonder (for the second time) if she should think about decorating. Raven brushed the hair off her face and sighed, trying to remain calm and focused.
It had been like this for the past three months, ever since she had gotten home from that trip to Japan with her friends to hunt down Brushogun. Nothing about the trip had been unusually upsetting, but since Daizo's defeat that night she had been plagued with nightmares, not of Tokyo, but of the armageddon she had brought about.
Raven had spent the past three months remembering flashes of the events leading up to the world's destruction: Slade tearing off her clothes and exposing the marks of Scath tattooed into her skin; her friends, trapped helplessly in Slade's magic; Beast Boy pressing the penny into her hand; her friends, desperately fighting fiery demons to save her; her father's rising; her imprisonment in the subterranean hell; the wasted city; her helplessness as Trigon battled her friends. Raven shut her eyes as the image of Robin sprawled across the cracked stone flashed into her mind again. She remembered clinging to his back as he climbed out of hell, nothing between her and scorching flame but the body beneath her.
Raven shook her head, mentally chiding herself. Thinking about the past was pointless. Trigon was finished. It was over. She had been fine ever since. So why were her dreams so malicious now? Raven leaned back, and her head thunked against the headboard. Raven winced and tried to settle more comfortably into the pillows. She stared at the ceiling for only a few seconds before a faint sob interrupted the silence of her room. Raven sighed, blowing a stand of violet hair out of her eyes.
Starfire again. The night Raven's nightmares started was also the night Starfire and Robin officially became a couple. The pair had been drifting toward each other since they first met. The relationship wasn't a surprise. And everyone expected Star fire to be a bit clingy with Robin. What they hadn't expected was for Starfire to stick to Robin like moss on a tree. The Tamaranean wouldn't let Robin leave her side. She would insist that they do everything together- training, eating, kissing. Starfire seemed to believe that a moment not kissing Robin was a moment wasted. And Robin indulged her while they went through what Cyborg aptly termed the honeymoon phase, where the two were blind to each other's faults.
But after two weeks, things started returning to normal. Robin had certainly been a bit more affectionate toward Starfire, but there was still a city to protect and his obsession with stopping crime returned full force. Instead of taking it easy and enjoying the time Robin did spend with her, Starfire became even clingier. She would insist that Robin go everywhere with her, and refused to work with anyone else on missions, which left Raven with Beast Boy more often than she would like. If Robin got hit, Starfire would drop everything (including a falling Cyborg) and rush to help him.
It wasn't any better outside the missions. Robin became irritable and snapped at Star for constantly badgering him, which made her cry. On one particularly memorable day Robin shouted himself hoarse because Starfire burst through the bathroom wall saying, "Friend who is also a boy, why have you been in the room of bathing for so long a time? Do you require assistance?"
The shouting escalated until Starfire hit Robin, cracking one of his ribs. Apparently punching someone in the gut was a Tamaranean way of settling a dispute. At this point Beast Boy and Cyborg sat Starfire down and talked to her about dating. Raven even got dragged into the conversation. For a few days, things quieted down. Then two weeks ago they got a mission alert for a downtown robbery, nothing big. But during the fight, Starfire got in front of Robin at every turn to 'protect' him and impeded both of them. In the end no money was stolen, but two goons escaped.
When they returned to the tower, Starfire and Robin disappeared into her room for hours. The team could hear the female aliens yells, but nothing from Robin. When Starfire came into the living room an hour and a half later, Robin was nowhere to be seen. Starfire just sat on the couch and wept. It was over. The team barely saw Robin after that and heard even less from him, but Starfire was crying on and off all day. At night she would wake up, cry, and wail Tamaranean sadness songs sporadically.
Each Titan responded differently. Cyborg brought Star bottles of mustard to cheer her up and slept with steel earmuffs. Beast Boy told her jokes and slept in the basement. Raven tried to get Star to meditate, which failed miserably. Talking about feelings also failed. Suggesting she move on made it worse. Another moan spiked Raven's eardrums. She groaned and tried to chant her mantra over the sound.
"Azarath...Metrion…Zinthos" Raven gave up as the sobbing grew louder. Raven couldn't help feel a stab of sympathy for her friend. But Raven's sympathy for Star was second to her growing concern about her powers. Raven sat up and massaged her temples. She was still in control of her powers, but barely so. Raven was spending increasing amounts of time meditating, yet every night the dreams returned. That coupled with Starfire's depression was wearing her control thin.
Another cry left a stabbing pain in Raven's skull right between her eyes. That did it. Middle of the night or not, she needed herbal tea now. Raven staggered out of bed and into the hall, away from Star's room. Raven stumbled through the door of the main living area, groaning. Outside a storm was brewing, pelting rain against the floor-to-ceiling windows like gravel.
"Storm wake you up?" a groggy voice asked. A tall figure leaned against the counter. In the faint light that passed through the windows Raven could make out ebony hair, bristled into menacing spikes, leaving the angular face exposed save for the dark mask that obscured his eyes. Raven kept her face deadpan, hoping he wouldn't notice how surprised she was. She walked over to the kitchen and filled her kettle, setting it to boil a bag of tea on the stove. She stood stock still, staring at the kettle, unsure how to respond.
"Why are you up so late?" she asked, too drained to think of a sarcastic comeback. Always ask a question to avoid answering one. Raven saw Robin smile wanly out of the corner of her eye. Then his faint scowl returned. He clutched a mug of hot chocolate in one hand. His cape settled around his body the way her cloak might, concealing the bright colors of his uniform. In the shadows cast by the overhead cabinets he seemed to be almost another patch of darkness, at home in the night's soft embrace. For a brief moment Raven wondered how someone who always wore bright red, yellow, and green became so at ease in the dark. So like her.
"Slade," he said eventually. "I can't get him out of my head. There's been no sign of him since Beast Boy took out that Slade android and that white…thing. We know Slade made it, or at least sent it after us, but why has he stayed quiet for three months? It just doesn't make any sense."
"Are you sure miss sunshine and rainbows didn't wake you up?" Raven spoke an impulse. Why had she said anything? She didn't want to get involved. She never had. This whole thing made her feel…weird. One of the cabinet doors promptly detonated before she could get a lid on her powers. It was too dark for Robin to see the black energy that had encased it, but he wouldn't need to. Raven took her whistling kettle off the stove and poured herself a cup, trying to keep her face expressionless while wrestling for control over her emotions. Fortunately, she had a lifetime of practice with this. Robin was silent. Raven chanced a peek out of the corner of her eye. He was staring into his mug. Its contents were cold. He quietly picked up the cabinet door and placed it on the island.
"I never wanted to hurt her," he murmured, so quiet she could barely hear. Robin set his mug on the counter.
"Maybe you should have thought about that before you broke up with her," Raven muttered, with less venom in her voice this time. She was still wrestling with her emotions, but she could dimly perceive a heaviness on Robin's aura.
"I didn't." Raven stopped and turned toward him, quizzical, before taking a sip of her tea.
"Wait, Star told you that I broke up with her?" he asked.
"Then why would you assume that I broke up with her?"
"She's crying all the time, you two never spend time together, and…if you really didn't brake up with her then why is that still going on?" Raven gestured to the door. It was quieter in here than in her room, but she could still hear faint caterwauls. Raven instantly felt three emotions slam into her chest and another three cabinet doors exploded. Anger she was familiar with. Robin was usually caring, almost overprotective. He had gone to hell and back to save her. Every time Raven grew four eyes he would grill her to open up. This was just not like him. He should be a better boyfriend than this. Raven was also irritated that Robin was the reason she was up at three in the morning. But the third was harder to place. Raven took a deep breath, trying to quell the upsurge of emotion. She managed to lock her emotion down, and when she turned her attention back to the scene at hand Robin was looking at her strangely.
"Raven, are you ok?" he asked, voice soft. Immediately Raven was annoyed and strangely touched by his concern, and annoyed again because her emotions were running wild in a viscous cycle. This time she reined her emotions in before something exploded. She really needed her tea. Raven took a sip to steady herself and glowered at Robin over the top of the mug.
"I'm fine," she said. "But Star is crying her head off up there, and if you're still her boyfriend then it's still your job to comfort her."
"I'm not her boyfriend anymore," Robin said, a touch of irritation creeping into his voice. "She broke up with me. And I did try to comfort her. That's how I got this." Robin turned his face and gestured to a rather spectacular bruise blossoming on his jaw that had been hidden from view in the shadows. Raven wasn't quite sure how to respond, so she didn't. But now that she was paying attention, Raven noticed the heaviness was a layer of quiet depression draped over his soul like layers of lead vests. She should have noticed earlier. The bond she shared with Robin had felt like a small metal ball at the back of her skull, dragging her down. But Raven had ignored it, already overwhelmed with her dreams. It occurred to her that this was the first time she had seen Robin since the last mission four days ago, and Raven felt a twinge of guilt.
As they stood there it dawned on Raven that Robin was the one they should have been trying to help. They had jumped to conclusions too quickly. Robin was the one who was really suffering. Robin glided on near silent feet to sit on the U-shaped couch. Raven crossed the room and sat down, leaving a good foot of space between her and Robin. Some part of her brain told her it was too much space. She set her tea down on the coffee table and tried to think of something helpful to say.
"Do you, uh, want to talk about it?" Raven winced at the sound of that. Great, now she was doctor Phil. Robin shook his head.
"Thanks, but I'm- I'll be ok." He mumbled. Robin took a deep breath like he was getting ready to do something painful. "It was puppy love. That's it." Robin blurted without warning. He stared at the floor like the carpet held the answers he needed. Raven thought she had kept her face deadpan, but when Robin looked up and saw her face he began to defend himself, his voice strained and defensive. "Don't get me wrong, Star's great, she really is. And she'll always be a good friend and she'll always be special to me, it's just..." he trailed off, searching for words before continuing. He spoke in a rush, like he was afraid Raven would leave before he could finish or that the words would choke him if he didn't speak.
"What held us together was weak, flimsy. We were just attracted to each other on a shallow scale, but we didn't want to admit it because we fit so well together before. And then she started latching onto me, questioning me when I left the room, bursting in on me in the bathroom." Robin paused for breath, a touch of rose coloring his cheeks. "And it felt too easy the whole time. Even when she was barging into my room while I was working on a Slade lead she was so easy to predict. Like, like- dating Star was like saying you want to go swimming and just sitting in a kiddy pool. We wanted a meaningful relationship, something that would last and touch us beyond friendship. But she was too easy read. Star didn't have any secrets, we already knew each other, and our relationship wasn't going to go any further. If you want to swim, really swim, you have to jump into the ocean, and Star wasn't an ocean for me. I felt good when I was with her, I felt special, but I felt special because of a joke I made or because of my martial arts skill out on the street. It was nice, very nice, but once she blocked me in battle, that's when it hit me: she was using me. She cares about me, but ultimately she never appreciated me for who I am. I am a fighter, a leader, my place is in the battle. She wanted me to sit on my hands and talk to her about how pretty her hair was or the glories of mustard or meaning of the word 'platypus'. I had been blinded by the novelty of someone giggling over me." Robin hung his head and glanced to the side, as if embarrassed. "You probably think I'm an idiot, don't you?"
"No, I don't," Raven murmured, her voice impossibly soft even to her ears.
"Raven, do you think I'm wrong to break up with her," he asked quietly. Raven took her time responding. Logically she knew she had no experience in this kind of thing. Part of her (the part that listened to Star's crying all the time) wanted to say yes. It would be so much easier for everyone if Robin just patched this up with Star and got back together. But that's not what a relationship is based on. She thought about Beast Boy and Terra. Terra had abandoned him, toyed with his emotions, betrayed him, and rejected him. But Beast Boy hadn't let that stop him from chasing her down time and time again. Raven had strived to understand why Beast Boy was so determined to hunt after Terra so many times, but she could never fully grasp it. Robin always went to greater lengths than anyone else to help a friend, yet he clearly lacked Beast Boy's almost maniacal passion on this point. Raven paused to consider the irony.
But she did understand being blinded by flirtatious affection. Raven cringed as she remembered Malchior. The dragon had charmed her so effortlessly, slipped through her carefully constructed emotional walls like a ghost, and wrapped himself around her heart. He had been charming, courteous, polite- the perfect gentleman. And he sympathized with Raven so easily. He had taken to time to know Raven, to understand her. Really he had been manipulating her into doing his bidding, had tricked her. It had taken Raven weeks before she discovered Malchior's true scheme. And even then she only found out because the spell that was supposed to free a handsome mage had unleashed a terrible dragon. Starfire wasn't nearly as bad, but Raven could relate nonetheless.
"Were you really happier being her boyfriend than you were being her friend?" Raven asked eventually.
"No," he said after a pause. "I much preferred being her friend."
"Then you did the right thing. Give it time. Star will come around eventually." Robin smiled at her, and Raven treated him to a small smile in return. Raven felt the first layer of depression slink off Robin's shoulders and vanish.
"So why were you up?" Robin inquired.
"Bad dreams," Raven said. Immediately she wanted to smack herself in the face. Why on earth did she say that? Now he was going to ask what was wrong. Raven mentally prepared herself for the slew of questions that was sure to follow.
"You were dreaming about Trigon," It was a statement, not a question. Raven narrowed her eyes, suspicious.
"How did you know?" she demanded.
"I didn't until just now," Robin said. "But we share a bond, remember. Ever since Japan something's been bugging you, and recently you've been off. I was worried, but by the time I had determined that you weren't just going through one of your solitary confinement stages, Star was so jealous that having a private conversation with you was almost impossible."
He had a point. Raven sometimes disappeared into her room for days or weeks for no particular reason. And the clingier Starfire became, the more jealous she became. Star had begun firing star bolts at random giggling girls in the days leading up to the bathroom incident, and not even Raven had been totally safe from the Tamaranean girl's suspicion.
"It's nothing," Raven muttered, crossing her arms over her chest. To her displeasure, Raven realized that she had left her cloak in her room.
"Raven, please, talk to me," Robin coaxed. Suddenly Raven couldn't hold it in any longer. Three months of absolute insanity broke forth and Raven's powers went haywire. Eight of the nine remotes popped, the microwave shattered, and the door of the bridge blew off. She sighed. Great. Now If she didn't tell him he'd badger her for weeks about it. Raven held out her hand and magically repaired the damaged appliances. Robin was still waiting. She wished she had more tea.
"Every time I go to bed I see Trigon destroying the city, those fiery demons, the Titans' destruction, Slade menacing me, you dying." Raven clutched her head in her hands, rubbing her temples, careful to keep her voice emotionless, though she could not suppress the tired drawl. "I have to watch it all again, I wake up, I fall asleep, and then I have to rewatch it every night. I can barely meditate or eat, sleep is more tiring than listening to Beast Boy's jokes. I'm almost at the point where I can't read," Raven continued, her voice becoming a touch more desperate. "Do you have any idea what it's like for me to not be able to read? And I just keep seeing it and seeing it and seeing it every night." She finished in a rush. Raven waited for a second. Robin didn't move.
Raven drained her tea in two big gulps and set the cub on the table. The tea had gone cold long ago and now she was shivering without her cloak. A pair of strong, thin arms wrapped around her waist and pulled her down, slowly, gently, but firmly. When her shoulder blade brushed against Robin's chest Raven initially shrank from the human contact, but he radiated comforting warmth like a hearth. Raven eased awkwardly onto his chest, and Robin tightened his arms around her waist. Surprise kept Raven stock still at first as they slowly lowered to their sides, facing the window, Robin's cape wrapped around her. She couldn't remember the last time she had been hugged by anyone except Starfire.
"I promise you, Rae," he murmured. "You don't ever have to worry about Trigon again. He's gone- you saw to that yourself. He is not your family. We are. And if Slade rears his head again, we'll remind him why it was smart to keep it down." Icy rain steamed against the glass, but inside it was warm. Raven placed her arm over one of Robin's. Her innate dislike of being touched was vying with something new, a warm feeling spreading through her chest.
Raven felt herself begin to relax into Robin's embrace, as slowly as a melting glacier. She lost track of how long she lay there with him, but after a while she could feel her eyelids closing and her pulse slowing. Raven would have been perfectly content to drift off to sleep right then and there. But she knew that would cause more problems, not to mention jokes, then it was worth. She slipped from Robin's arms and scooted to the side, stretching her arms by pushing down with locked joints like a cat.
Robin sat up and blinked owlishly. Raven saw the deep bags under his eyes, visible around the edges of his mask, and wondered if she had bags that dark under her eyes. She probably did. She wished she had her cloak so that she could draw up her cowl.
"I should be going to bed," she said. Raven knew she was blushing and silently thanked the inanimate shadows for shrouding it.
"Oh, ok," Robin said, voice slurred with sleep. His hair was bristling even more from lying on his side. Raven left the room before she did something illogical for the hundredth time that night and made an even bigger fool out of herself. She made a mental note to solve this sleep problem once and for all. Unchecked emotions and a sleep-deprived brain were not a good combination. Raven was almost to the door when a groggy voice from behind her called out, "Sweet dreams."
When Raven laid her head on the pillows, she fell asleep almost immediately. The only dream she had was of Robin stretching his hand out toward her in hell, smiling and saying, "It's ok, you're safe now."