Cloak and Dagger

Raven knew she was dreaming. Usually such awareness made it possible to alter her dream or awaken from it completely. She was barefoot, walking down a hallway. The walls were adorned in ugly wallpaper, large pastel flowers stark and random against two tone brown stripes. There was carpet under her feet, tan and thread bare. She noticed with only mild concern that she was leaving bloody footprints as she walked. There was a doorway before her now with a beaded, wooden curtain and as she pushed past it she couldn't help but grimace at the outdated d├ęcor. She wasn't in a room once she stepped past the doorway though. She was outside. She seemed unconcerned with this and kept walking. She had to lay down. There, seeming to grow out of the thick undergrowth was a wooden alter. Yes, she had been looking for this. She sat on the surprisingly warm wood. It seemed nearly alive. Raven leaned back until she was laying on the smooth wood, looking up at a surprisingly thick canopy of trees. This was more than a forest, it was a jungle. Birds twittered in the treetops and she saw them take flight. One broke away from the flock. It landed lightly on her big toe, it's tiny head cocking in interest. Raven studied the diminutive green bird for just a moment then looked away, her eyes focusing on the blood that was pooling on the wood. Was she bleeding?

"Blood is life," she told the tiny bird, that wasn't a bird anymore.

"I'm sorry it had to be this way," Beastboy told her with a frown, sitting on the edge of the alter, his back to her.

"It never could have been any other way."

"Blood is life," he agreed, nodding.

"Blood is death," she muttered, dipping her fingers in the growing pool of crimson.

"Everything bleeds. Don't be afraid." He touched her blood now too, pulling his index finger through it to draw some strange symbol upon the wood. He was whispering words in some strange language. Was he praying or casting a spell? Was there really a difference? The thoughts were fleeting. Her chest felt heavy, breathing becoming more difficult. Beastboy stopped his strange words and produced a dagger. Ornate and silver it glistened in the sun. The changeling took her hand, squeezing the handle into her flesh until she gripped it. "I would do it for you if I could Rae . . . you know I would."

"I know." The metal was so cold in her hand. "Tell me again, tell me why."

"When they died I was a raven. It means something, all those strands are tied together. In all our lives those little strands . . . they tie together. They died and you'll live. It all balances out."

"I'm a portal," Raven told him with a fearful gasp, but he smiled and shook his head.

"No . . . never. You're an artist."

"I can't alone." She couldn't even lift her hand and that heavy knife now.

"You aren't alone." His hand closed over hers. "I would take it from you if I could Raven. I would suffer it."

"I know, I know." She watched as together their hands lifted, the dagger once again glinting in the sun. Together they plunged the sharp steel deep into her stomach.

Raven awoke with a loud gasp, her hands moving to clutch at her middle. She took several, gulping breathes and forced herself to calm down. It was just a dream. Just a bad dream. Never mind that she had been having it for three weeks straight. It was just a product of stress, a way for her unconscious mind to exercise some pent up anxiety. She hadn't been feeling particularly worried about anything, but that didn't mean that her subconscious wasn't trying to work through something. She pushed her sheets aside and stood. Quietly she walked to the heavy curtains over her window and pushed them aside. The sun was just beginning to rise. It was time to wake up anyway. She would meditate for a couple hours while the Tower was still asleep and she would feel better. It was just a dream after all.

Thankfully the morning and afternoon were quiet and free from disturbances. Even inside the Tower it was still. Cyborg was in the garage, ever perfecting his car. Robin spent hours hunched over a computer screen, researching Azar knew what. Starfire seemed content to sit near him, occasionally looking over his shoulder. And Beastboy was reading. It would have seemed strange, but the fact that his reading material was a graphic novel certainly helped soften the oddity of it. Raven herself sat on the farthest side of the room, pretending to read. At first she had been honestly trying to read, but had found it impossible. The one day it was quiet and she couldn't concentrate. There was a feeling of . . . wrongness that wouldn't leave her alone. She'd been having deja-vue all day, which certainly didn't help. The feeling crept up her spine more and more often as the day wore on. She felt her shoulders tense a second before Robin sneezed. Her head turned his direction a moment before Beastboy asked her if she would split a cheese pizza with him if he paid for it.

"What are you researching Robin?" she asked instead of answering the changeling, just to break the chain of events that felt too familiar.

"A few small scale robberies. They seem . . . connected. The odd thing about them is . . . whoever commits them never steals very much. They leave money or valuables behind every time."

"Some people steal because they feel like they got to. To survive, you know." Beastboy said, sitting his overgrown comic aside. "What about that pizza Raven?"

"That's true and I'm nearly tempted to agree with you. Still, it feels like something more." Robin sighed, leaning back from the screen.

"I think Friend Beastboy is correct." Starfire added, leaning in close to the screen once Robin had leaned back. "All the robberies are in the same hood of neighbors. The thieves only take a little of what they could. They steal to purchase necessity. Food and mustard drink perhaps."

"Seriously, if I get a pizza will you have some?" Beastboy asked a bit louder. When Raven didn't respond he stalked closer to the others. "It's sorta rude to just ignore me."

"Can't you eat an entire pizza by yourself Beastboy?" Raven responded evenly.

"I could . . . but you haven't eat all day and I thought it'd be nice to offer. I figured you gotta be hungry."

"No." Raven both liked and loathed the fact that the green boy kept track of such things. It wasn't any of his business when and what she ate. Still, there was something nice about having him care enough to notice.

"Fine. More for me then." He smiled, his shoulders lifting in a shrug. She could feel his concern though. He couldn't honestly think she didn't know the truth. Perhaps the lie was more for his own benefit, a part of her provided.

"I'll split a pizza with you, Beastboy." Robin told him as he pushed away from the computer.

"No way, Man. You've got Bruce Wayne money, buy your own pizza."

"I thought you wanted someone to . . ." Robin began only to have the changeling cut him off.

"I've decided I'm hungrier than I first thought. Animal metabolism and all." Raven closed her eyes for a moment, the feeling of familiarity flitting over her awareness again. Maybe she should say something.

Like what? Some part of her psyche laughed. You're having crazy nightmares and now everything feels too familiar today? Maybe she couldn't say that, but she should say something. She opened her mouth to speak, but an alarm blared before she had a chance to utter the first syllable. Robin made a sound that was nearly a laugh.

"Speak of the devil. It's our "necessity" thief again. If nothing else we can get them the help they need."

"Please, please!" A beraggled woman wept, throwing the sixty-five dollars she had stolen down at Robin's feet, backing away. "I just . . . please . . . I'm so hungry!" She was thin and frail, her large eyes ringed with dark circles. Her brown hair was matted and it was clear it had not been washed in days.

"It's okay, we won't hurt you." The boy in the cape assured her.

"We can help." The mechanical man agreed, smiling sadly. "There's a shelter not too far from here. They'll feed you, get you a warm place to sleep."

"Yes, yes . . . I'm so tired. And I . . ." She trailed off, watery blue eyes filling with honest tears as a blue cowled figure landed lightly. She pushed the hood down and the woman made a strange sound that hung somewhere between a moan and a sob. "You are . . . magnificent." The woman looked like she might fall for a moment, but she steadied herself on the side of the nearest building. "I knew . . . I knew you would be." She was clutching at the collar of her tattered coat, almost as if it was strangling her.

"Ma'am . . ." Cyborg began, moving a step closer.

"The only begotten daughter of Trigon." And suddenly the woman lunged forward. A glittering, thick handled dagger was clutched tight in her hand. Instantly Cyborg fell back in front of Raven, ready to deflect the blade. Either her aim was very poor or she wasn't aiming for the empath at all. The blade moved in a sweeping arch, catching Beastboy high on the right arm. The blade bit into his skin, blood rolling down to darken his uniform. He snarled and she laughed, tossing the blade over her shoulder and falling to her knees. The act was confusing for only a second. Everywhere down the previously deserted street people appeared. First twenty, then fifty, then somewhere closer to a hundred. Nearly a hundred men and women stood shoulder to shoulder. A hundred ordinary looking people that would have seemed completely at home milling about the local shopping center. The only thing of note was that each had a high powered rifle slung over their right shoulder. A woman trotted eagerly over to the discarded dagger and picked it up. Atop her head she wore a crown of thinly woven branches, small antlers on either side just above her ears.

"Daughter of Trigon. You may come to me now and save the city from our righteous fury. Or we can pursue you. We can kill your friends and anyone else we happen upon in that pursuit." At that moment the evening air exploded with the sound of a hundred guns being cocked into a ready position. "The choice is completely your own."

"We'll fight!" Robin declared, but Raven shook her head.

"No! We can't have a hundred weapons firing just one street over from a residential neighborhood. Too many innocent people will get hurt."

"But . . . you can't just . . . go with them." Beastboy insisted, holding his left hand firmly over his wound.

"I agree!" Starfire huffed, lifting off the ground. "We will fight them Friend Raven. We will not let them take you."

"I'm not going to take her anywhere. I just want a word." The leader of this strange group said with a shrug. "Just a couple words and you can have her back."

"This don't sit with me," Cyborg said loudly.

"There isn't any choice." Raven steadied herself, finding her center. She refused to be afraid. She wouldn't be afraid. Shoulders squared she walked toward the horned woman, her followers shifting out of her way as she approached. The horned woman was whispering, glancing down at her dagger like it was the most precious thing she'd ever held in her hand. Raven stopped just a few paces away from her and she smiled, whispered to her blade for a moment more, and then stepped forward.

"This is an honor. Of all the faithful followers I am blessed to be standing here with you. Face to face."

"Who do you follow?"

"A silly question deserves an equally nonsensical answer." The horned woman's red lips twisted into a smirk.

"What do you want?" Raven demanded and that smirk twisted higher.

"I have a gift for you." Lightning fast she moved and before Raven could react the dagger plunged deep into her. Just below her navel the handle bobbed for a moment before the horned woman reach out and jerked it back out. "You're welcome," she crooned as the empath crumpled to the ground. "No guns." The woman was telling someone loudly. "Don't let them take her yet though. Not until it's too late."

She couldn't heal herself. Why couldn't she heal herself? Raven lay curled on the pavement, listening to her friends' shouts as they fought to get closer to her. Blood was oozing out onto her hands, passing through her fingers to wet the road beneath her. She tried to focus, but still could not heal the wound. The horned woman had been whispering as she had approached. She'd cast a spell on the dagger. She'd cast a spell so Raven couldn't heal herself. She was simply going to lay there and bleed to death. The moment she had all but resigned herself to such a fate, a deafening roar sounded just above her. She forced her eyes open and could see two great, green paws on either side of her head. There was blood on it's claws. A moment later they were gloved hands, roughly picking her up. Raven gasped and shuddered at the pain the movement caused.

"You're gonna be okay Rae. It's okay." It was ridiculous to say it. He didn't even believe it. She could feel the doubt. The fear. "Just have to get you home. That's all. We just have to get home." Her eyes closed, too heavy to hold open. Beastboy had begun to scream. She felt frustration and anger explode from him. They weren't letting him leave. She could hear the guns cocking again and she tried to focus enough to tell him it was probably a hollow threat. The horned woman, the leader, had said not to use their guns. But she had also said not to let anyone save her. Which command was more important? She couldn't think clearly enough to begin to guess. She was being shifted around and it hurt. There was nothing but horrible, burning pain for a moment. She wanted to tell him to put her down. All he was doing was tormenting her. He couldn't save her. Then she realized she was on the ground. She could feel the cool, rough concrete under her bottom. His arms were still around her though, still holding her to him. He was clutching and pushing his hand into her wound and if she'd had even an ounce of strength she would have probably killed him.

"St-s-stop." She managed to breathe.

"Have to get the bleeding stopped. Can't you . . . heal yourself?"

"Nnnn." It was the best she could manage. Of course she couldn't heal herself. She would have done it already if it was an option. He asked such stupid questions sometimes.

"Okay. That's okay. We . . . we're going to . . ." He trailed off and she heard him swallow loudly. He began to speak again. It wasn't English. It seemed to be the same language from her dream. He stopped mid word . . . she was pretty sure of that. Almost if he hadn't realized he'd reverted to some comfortable dialect in an unconscious attempt at soothing himself. He was speaking English again. Speaking it quiet and quick against her ear. Telling her secrets. Telling her every secret he'd ever had. Perhaps he thought she'd find these things interesting enough to fight death a little longer just to hear them. Faster and faster he spoke, the sound betraying his panic. Backwards he worked until he was at the beginning, murmuring his first regret into her ear. " . . . and I just sat there in the tree. I . . . I watched them die. I was a raven and I . . . when I met you, I thought that meant something. Like it had circled 'round. Like it all . . . tied together." It was the last thing she heard. Welcomed, painless unconsciousness had claimed her at last.