This chapter is NOT meant to offend anyone's religious sensibilities. I myself am Jewish, but I just could not resist the delicious irony. This will be the last chapter of 'One Last Dance', but I might write a sequel if I get lots of reviews telling me it's a good idea.
Rain fell softly from the shards of cloud that stretched across the heavens, gleaming in the moonlight like fragments of shattered stars drifting down to earth, drumming their quiet rhythm over the silent city. Somewhere in the unseen distance, across miles of metal, asphalt, and stone, the whine of car engines faded into oblivion and lights burned from windows where people stayed up all night, sleepless, filling the dark with their chatter; but here there was no one, the dark windows staring like dead soulless eyes into the night.
A church stood here, its lofty peaks bearing the burden of the rain with silent dignity, its stained-glass panels a splash of bleached, silent color in the gray darkness. Within its thick white walls, all was silent; the worshippers had gone home, and the saints with their porcelain skin and blood-ruby lips spoke no word. Nothing stirred in the cavernous chapel, save a single shadow in the balcony's highest pew, looking down over the moonlit depths of empty space.
Raven sat silently in the middle of the highest row, her gaze roaming endlessly, hungrily, over the frozen saints and angelic figures depicted in windows and tapestries all along the walls, with their wise, kind eyes that told her nothing and their serene smiles that chilled her bones. She could feel the pressure of the moonlight as a tangible force on the back of her neck, falling through the immense stained-glass circle just above her; a single golden star, blazing in the dark night, surrounded by what might have been rose petals, snowflakes, or shards of broken dreams. And she wondered.
Picking up one of the black-bound, gold-titled books that sat on the shelf in front of her, she flipped through the pages, letting her fingers run across the letters, tracing the shape of each one as though she was blind. Watching the flurry of white pages as though mesmerized, she imagined a stain of crimson engulfing the words, the holy book bleeding as she touched it.
But the pages remained as crisp and clean as ever, and the book's black binding was free of any stain. Replacing the book where she had found it, she knelt on the ground in front of the pew, her eyes closed, her head bowed as if in prayer, a faint hope in her mind that maybe – if she breathed enough of the special dust of the place into her lungs and thus into her blood (1)maybe the God of this place would see her, spawn of demons, and take pity on her. Maybe she would come to see him as well.
She remained kneeling on the floor for what seemed like an hour, but there was no epiphany, no voice that spoke from deep inside her, offering words of comfort. There was only the slight pattering of rain from the world outside, and the distant tone of the church bells clanging together as the wind shook them in their tower.
A fragment came to her mind, something she had read a long time ago, part of a story she could not remember, spoken by a character she did not know to describe a God he could not find. It was a phrase that somehow fit this moment perfectly, and her lips curved up in a small smile as she remembered.
Hail, nothing full of nothing, thou art nothing, and nothing is with thee. (2)
The smile faded as quickly as it had come, and she resumed her former seat on the pew, looking down at the enormity of the empty church. Her eyes picked out a band of greasy black smeared across the white marble of the central aisle; a remainder of her last visit here.
She closed her eyes again, trying to blot out the memories of the fire that had raged through the church that memorable day, the day her destiny had first begun to come true. She remembered the raging inferno that had chased her that day, her birthday, had driven her here, exhausted and scared, with a wounded Robin and a heavy heart. And now, with a soul far heavier than it had ever been, with her own wounds that had not yet healed, she had returned, looking for solace and cold comfort. Oh, the irony!
A sharp sound startled her out of her reverie, the staccato tapping of footsteps that rang out and failed to echo in the church's immense emptiness. She did not even need to see his aura to know who had dared to come after her, and she closed her eyes, not wanting to see his accusing glance, his fear, his pain. She had too much despair of her own to take on his as well.
She heard him ascend the staircase to the balcony, and listened without looking as his heavy tread grew nearer and nearer, until he was standing right next to her, looking out as she had from the exalted height. She waited for his probing questions, his accusing comment; but he spoke no word, only stood beside her without looking down at her, as though he did not know she was there. She was grateful for his silence; she could sense in his mind that he was going to talk when she wanted to, and not before, and for that she was thankful.
"Why are you here?" she asked, finally, after the silence had grown into a burden to heavy to bear any longer.
He shrugged, still not looking at her as he replied. "I was worried about you. You shouldn't have left the tower."
He finally turned to look at her, his eyes calculating and unreadable behind his mask, his tone kind and gentle. "You're not entirely healed yet, Raven. We don't want anything to happen to you, not after we came so close to losing you."
She laughed, a harsh, bitter sound that died as it reached the open air. "And by 'we', you mean you don't want anything to happen to me. The others are afraid of me, Robin. I can see it in their eyes. Hell, I can read it in their minds. Either they stare at me like I'm a freak, or they look away so they won't have to see my face."
"They aren't afraid of you," Robin said softly but firmly, his voice swallowed up by the night's silence. "They're afraid of what happened to you. They saw their best friend possessed by a demon killing their other best friend while they were helpless to stop it. They have good reason to be afraid. I've been talking to Cyborg, and he said that – that –" he paused, not wanting to drag up painful memories of that fateful night, but seeing no other choice. "He said that the final battle with your father, in that desert place, only lasted a few seconds. The others don't understand, and that frightens them."
"So now none of them will look me in the eye," she said bitterly. Robin winced as he heard her voice; once smooth and sweet, it was now hoarse and rough-edged, and probably always would be. Her vocal chords, Cyborg had said, had been irreparably damaged by her father's claws, and Raven had barely had enough healing magic to keep herself alive at the time. So now she spoke only when she had to, knowing her harsh tones were another scar that she would bear for the rest of her life.
The silence stretched on for what might have been a period of hours or only minutes, each of them lost in their thoughts, staring out at the quiet beauty that was the mixture of dark shadows and silver moonlight on the floor far below. It was Raven who broke the impasse, her soft words lingering in the frigid air as Robin's had not. "Do you remember – before the battle – before all of this – what I said about us? About – you and me –"
"Not being more than friends," he finished, his heart beating quickly with fear and something like hope. He still loved her, as much as he always had, and he would be glad to tell her so, but he could not rid himself of the memory of her blood on his hands –
"Robin – we still can't. More than ever, I can't risk that kind of emotion." Her hands rose as she spoke, grasping the ebony blue hood and pulling it up so that it shadowed her face. Her voice was only a whisper, a barest hint of sound that somehow stabbed him right through to the heart without breaking his skin.
"But – why?" he asked, cold and bewildered, a thousand emotions warring for dominance inside him, tearing his heart to pieces in the struggle. "I thought now, that he was gone –"
"But he's not gone," Raven said softly, her voice trembling with unshed tears. Arcs of black lightning reached from her in all directions, but nothing exploded, as though the magic didn't dare harm anything here. "I didn't kill him. I couldn't. I only imprisoned him inside of me. Robin, my powers come from his part – the demon part of me. That's where my anger comes from too. Except now that part of me is a thousand times stronger, because instead of just a piece of him, I've trapped his entire being there. So my powers are much stronger now – and so is my rage. The consequences if I let my control slip even the tiniest bit –" she shuddered and fell silent, leaving Robin's imagination racing with visions of apocalypse and doom.
"I still – you know how I feel about you," Raven continued, her voice a deadpan monotone once again. Robin felt as though someone had torn his heart out when he heard that voice, that lack of emotion where once there had been sadness, anger and joy – he felt as though Raven was being forced back into chains from which she had only recently escaped, and that he was the one turning the key.
"I understand," he said softly, trying and failing to keep the depth of grief and despair he felt from entering his voice. She turned to look at him from beneath her hood, and he caught only a glimpse of steel-cold violet eyes before she turned away again.
She stood, slowly, hidden within the shadows of her cloak, and turned to face him fully, her endless eyes boring into his mask. "I can't say it," she said in that horrible monotone, "but you know how I feel." Shrugging the dark folds of her cloak away, she reached her hands up to his face, slipping her fingers under the rough cloth of his mask. He let her unfasten the ties that held it on, watching as it fluttered down to the floor, then raised one ungloved hand and closed it around hers where it still rested on his cheek.
He suddenly frowned, the emotion in his golden eyes softening from despair to concern. "What's this?" he asked softly, pulling her hand away and holding it palm-up, revealing the angry red rune that had been cut there.
Raven shrugged and looked down at her feet, but did not try to pull her hand away. "I didn't find it until later," she said softly, her voice somewhat ashamed. "S-Slade must have done it while I was unconscious."
He studied the blazing design, like a pair of blood-red serpents wound around each other, the same mark that had been emblazoned on Slade's copper mask. He held her hand gently, his fingers barely grazing the back of her wrist, as though her skin was no less fragile than glass. "Can't you heal it?"
Raven closed her fingers, hiding the mark from sight, and pulled her hand away, hiding it in the shadows of her cloak once more. "Yes, I can. But I don't want to."
She shifted uncomfortably, avoiding his gaze. "Because I'm afraid. Afraid I might forget – with the team, and the crimefighting, and – and –"
"And me," he finished. She nodded.
"and you sometimes it's hard to remember that I can't show emotions. Sometimes it's hard not to give into the temptation –" She paused, uncertain, but there was nothing but love and concern in his expression. "– the temptation to belong – to a family."
His eyes widened, but she could not stop talking, not now that she had started. She could only pray that he would understand – or at least pretend to understand. "That thing – that thing that took you over, that is what I could become. What he wants me to become. And it's like living your entire life with this horrible thirst standing on the shore of the ocean but knowing that if you drink you'll drown. I don't want to be like him, I don't want to be a demon, I don't want to destroy." Her voice remained toneless, but Robin could hear the rising passion behind the words, see the gleam of fear in her eyes. "But that ocean is right there, of happiness and love and sadness and everything else and I want it so badly but I don't dare feel anything, because if I do I might bring the world to an end." She was shaking, trembling fitfully, her hands clenched into fists, her expressionless mask still firmly in place. Robin had to fight the forceful urge to pull her hood down and hug her, take her in his arms until the trembling stopped and everything was all right again.
Instead, he reached out and grasped her hands in his, holding them tightly, trying to tell her with his eyes and with his hands that everything would be all right, that he would protect her until his last breath, that even though he wouldn't admit if she didn't want him to, he did love her, and he always would. But he could say none of that, because he knew that it would only frighten her now. She was still fragile, still scarred from her encounter with her father, but she was healing. She would be whole again – he would make sure of it.
He let go of her hands, not noticing as shadow magic swirled all around him, not touching him, not touching anything, like Raven herself – only a pale shadow, drifting through life, touching nothing, a part of nothing, but longing to belong to a family. He smiled, an empty gesture, a silly thing meant to reassure and comfort, without warmth, without meaning. He smiled, and could have sworn he saw the tiniest hint of a smile in return.
She was healing.
He turned away. "Let's go home."
The main room of Titans' tower no longer looked like it had been the site of a battle. The cracked window had been repaired, the sofa returned to its former place, the doors fixed back to their hinges and the bloodstains taken from the carpet and the walls. Yet still Raven closed her eyes when she entered it, as though afraid of the memories that room still held, would always hold for her, memories of pain, helplessness and fear.
Robin felt his heart break clean in two at the look of terror on her face as she looked around the place that had once been her home. Wordlessly, without so much as a glance, he reached out and grasped her hand, leading her across the carpet so that if she wished she could close her eyes.
He passed the huge television, that still sported a spiderweb crack across the screen, and was about to keep walking, when the softest of sounds reached his ears. Thinking that Raven had said something, he turned, only to be confronted with the soft red blinking of the stereo light.
The whisper of sound came again, and he recognized it as, not a voice, but a guitar, strumming softly, just below the edge of hearing, a bittersweet tune. Without thinking, he reached out and turned up the volume to a gentle hum, feeling Raven's hand tightened around his as both of them recognized the song.
Beauty queen of only eighteen, she
Had some trouble with herself,
He turned to look at her, shocked when he found himself staring into a pair of endless violet eyes rather than the shadow cast by the hood. She had pulled the ebony blue cloth away, her deadpan mask gone along with it, to be replaced by the glimmer of what might have been tears.
"I know – I know you said we can't be more than friends," Robin said shakily, his voice catching in his throat, "And I don't – I don't want to make you do anything you don't want to do. But maybe, for memory's sake –" He held out his hand, his eyes pleading, inviting, "—for memory's sake, can I have one last dance?"
She did not answer. Instead she wordlessly placed her other hand in his, swaying softly with him to the beat of the music, her eyes tightly closed, savoring the feeling of his warmth pressed against her. Darkness raged in a shadow storm all around, but neither of them noticed; the TV was ripped almost to shreds, and the sofa torn apart, but the stereo remained untouched and music played on. The newly-repaired window exploded outward, and the wind drove the rain sideways through the gaping hole so that it fell down around them, calling up memories of that faraway night in the city and the rain. And though they danced now for memory's sake, both of them knew that that particular memory could never be experienced again. They had come through pain, trials, and heartbreak, and neither of them would ever be the same.
But for one night, they could pretend that the world was theirs, that love would conquer all, and that the sun would never rise and the rain never stop. And they could share one last dance before the world, in all its cruelty, tore them apart.
The song ended, and the stereo was sliced by a blade of black magic and fell into two separate pieces, as the storm raged around them; but even long after the music had faded into silence, they danced on, moving to the refrain that still echoed inside both of their minds and hearts.
She will be loved,
She will be loved.
And there you have it……… the end. I hope the title makes sense now. Remember, if you want a sequel, you have to tell me! Review, please!
(1)Taken from Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. NOT MINE
(2)A quote from Hemmingway's 'A Clean, Well-Lighted Place'. I DON'T OWN