There was no rain that day. No clouds, no wind, not even the shadow of an impending villain haunted the landscape of Jump City. The sun rays reflecting off the lake only magnified the stream of light pouring in through the giant T's innumerable windows. The light outside blended with the luminescence of fluorescent lights beaming from the ceiling of each room, including the spacious living room where a green blur fought with a blue metallic streak as their bodies jerked back and forth on the couch, video game controllers in hand. In the background, the sunlight added highlights to the swishing red hair of a cheery Tameranean as she prepared what she deemed breakfast. Watching her, fire extinguisher in hand, was a spiky haired boy, only a few inches shorter than she was, who was looking up at her, even though one couldn't tell because of his mask, with love. He smiled as he watched her revel in her self-proclaimed culinary genius.
To an outsider, it may appear that this scene was complete, four friends enjoying the morning, waiting for a call that would summon them into action, to perform the duties for which they were revered. But to the gifted teenagers, something was secretly nagging them. Their final friend, the darkest and, as was recently revealed, most powerful of them all, was nowhere in sight. Of course, they knew where she was, as she had been there for the past few days, but it still left them wondering if she was well. They never bothered her, except for one particularly masochistic changeling, who decided that all this gloomy girl needed was some comfort from her friends, and she would be back to normal. But every knock on the door fell upon deaf ears. Raven never opened her door, not even to yell at her friend to leave her alone. So, every day at noon, Beast Boy silently sulked as he sadly made his way back down the corridor towards the living room.
Raven was awaiting his arrival. Though her eyes weren't focused on the clock, but were closed instead, she knew that it was nearly time for the little green energy ball to come bounding to her door, with an over-optimistic rapping and the promise of tofu eggs or the challenge of video games. She knew that her response, or lack there of, would be the same again. His accusation that she needed to eventually come out, at least to eat, would be denied and he would leave. Lucky for her, there had been no attacks on the city since that day; it was almost as if the villains knew that after nearly ending the world, this girl was not in the mood for fighting, and they left her well enough alone. So she stayed in her room, the only darkness in a five-mile radius. Her blackout curtains were drawn, her lights off; she had even taken the precaution of placing a towel at the bottom of her door to keep out light creeping in from the hallway. If she were to exit the room, she may very well have gone blind. But what was losing her sight when she almost lost her soul? Her friends? Her home? Luckily, the only thing that was lost was the pure evil and haunting specter of a destiny that had resided within her. Not even her dark blue wardrobe was stolen from her. She had placed the ivory white outfit in the back of her closet, and returned to her normal black and blue ensemble, though in the blackness of her room, it was hard to tell whether or not she was even there. But she was, and she was deep in thought.
True, in the day following that pivotal battle, she had spent the entire time with her friends, daring to allow her emotions to show without fear of causing an explosion. But that night, her mind was flooded not by the happy memories of the day, but of worries, of guilt that seemed to ensnare her in a cage of self-loathing. She had denied, defied, and left her friends, when they were only trying to help. Even though she knew more than anyone what she was doing, and it all turned out for the best, she had placed them in danger, and even though she had more faith in them than she had in herself, she felt that if she had let any of them come to grief, the world would no longer have been worth saving. She struggled with her thoughts, and the new and confusing surge of emotions that continuously coursed through her body, filling her mind, heart, and lungs, almost drowning her, until she convinced herself that her friends were strong and could never be taken down.
That was usually around the time that a knocking sound came upon her door, his cheery voice a dead giveaway of the broad smile that was on the other side. It was then that Raven remembered that despite being heroes, these four teenagers were just that, teenagers. They were awkward, occasionally immature, moody, and even sometimes let their emotions and desires get the best of them. They were still growing, learning, coming into their own, and it nearly brought a tear to her eye to know that she had almost stopped that growth process because she was born to do it. The prankster of the group helped her come to that serious conclusion every day, with his good intentions. And it was because of that that she was able to remain in her sanctuary and not reenter the world of the living. She thanked him for that, as she knew was not quite ready for her debut as the new, possibly improved, Raven of Azurath. She still had quite a few problems to work out.
For now, she waited to hear the tell tale tap on the door that would signal yet another day of solitude. But today it didn't come. The second controller had long been abandoned by the green youngster and was now in the hands of the caped Boy Wonder, who was trying with all his might to defeat the robot menace threatening his lead. In the hallway, outside the metallic door with the towel beneath it, the pointy eared green Titan stood with a small black book in his hands. He had found it yesterday in an old bookshop he had never really noticed before. He scared his friends when he entered, closing the door before the others could follow, and nearly put them into cardiac arrest when he exited a few minutes later with a small brown paper bag. The bag was discarded, a crumpled ball on the floor of his room, and he held the black covered novel in his gloved hands, tracing the peeling gold letters that were raised on the cover of the book. When he saw it, he knew that it was what she needed. If the light wouldn't make her better, he had reasoned, maybe some darkness would. He smiled at his revelation and had eagerly purchased the volume. Now, he raised his hand, not to knock, but to open the door, spilling an ocean of light into her darkened abode.
Raven's eyes snapped open, the brightness stinging for a moment as she focused on the shadows now painted on the ceiling. How could I have been so stupid? I should have locked the door. She had simply assumed that like her enemies, her friends wouldn't intrude on her while she was in such a state and she hadn't bothered to secure her privacy. And now it was being invaded. Beast Boy was squinting in the darkness, his eyes searching for a light switch. After a few seconds he abandoned his search but stepped forward, keeping the door open.
"Close it." was the only drawling sound that rose from the bed. Beast Boy obliged reluctantly, but stepped towards the bed, switching on a dim lamp on the nightstand. Raven allowed the light, added to the streaming beams from under the door, now visible from the towel being pushed aside, to disturb her pure atmosphere. The new addition of green was also tolerated, but barely. Raven decided not to sit up or otherwise acknowledge the boy's presence, allowing him to break the tense silence, if he wasn't afraid. Surprisingly, to both parties involved, he wasn't. He had a whole speech in his mind, but as was usually the case, he had forgotten all of it as soon as the darkness had absorbed the life and light in the room. Instead he held the book, his white gloves trembling in the dimness of the room. "Raven. I…I know you don't want to leave your room (Why? He had been wondering for days.), so I thought…m-maybe you might want something to read while your in here." His eyes perused the many full bookshelves in the room, nearly causing his ears to droop with defeat, but he maintained his composure, for her sake.
Raven remained fixed on the ceiling, her eyes examining the varying shades of gray blending above her. Beast Boy sighed, and tried only once more. "It's by that guy you like." He read the fading letters, squinting. "Edgar…Alan…Poo?" He guessed on the last letter, as the 'e' was almost completely peeled off, and despite the fame of the poet, Beast Boy was oblivious to just who he was. Raven closed her eyes, trying not to crack a smile at the mispronunciation. Why she wouldn't allow herself the pleasure, not even she was sure, but she just wanted him out of there, wanted the pain and guilt to stop, as soon as possible. She knew what she would do with the book as soon as she was alone with it, but she wasn't going to tell him that. Beast Boy held the book, a goofy grin spread on his face as he realized that no famous author in there right mind would live with a surname like that. He hoped to get some recognition from the girl, but when all she did was close her eyes, he lowered his to the ground and sighed. "I wish you would stop being so lonely and just come out. You were fine before, I wish you could be like that again." Knowing that his words would never get through to his friend, her mind was as closed as her eyelids, he lifted her left hand, which was resting on her stomach, above her right one, and took it in his own warm and gloved one. He gave it a gentle squeeze before placing the book in her cool, pale palm and closing her fingers around the spine. Even though he feared her pulling away, they both secretly knew that she wasn't going to. Her hand, now weighted down by the small, yet substantially thick material bound volume, fell back into place on top of her stomach, which rose and fell with each breath in a rhythm that would suggest she was sleeping. After a few silent moments of depression, the pointy eared superhero left defeated, closing the door behind him, taking with him only the memory of a silent silhouette.
Upon his departure, Raven let herself drift into a state of unconsciousness. As with her friends, she wasn't quite ready to face the gift that she had received. She wasn't sure how long she stayed asleep, but she refused to wake up until every ounce of exhaustion and self doubt left her body. When she did finally wake herself, she took her time, giving herself an opportunity to let her emotions dissipate before fluttering her eyelids open. After a few deep and concentrated breaths, she rose into a sitting position, crossing her legs as if to meditate, her hands and the book in her lap. She pulled her hood off her head and let some extra light flood into her field of vision. Being more accustomed to the shadows in her room, she was able to easily make out the words. Some of the letters had indeed flaked off and all that remained of the title was:
Raven and The Tell-Tale Heart
Edgar Alan Po
The Raven, or rather, just plain Raven, read the cover a few times, musing inwardly at the accuracy with which the abridged title described her, or rather, her sentiments towards the provider of this gift. And what a glorious irony that he would never know of the relevance of it all, after going out of his way to acquire it for her. But Raven would not allow herself to be taken in by this book, of which she had numerous copies, in better condition. She would not allow the old yellowing pages to force her from this safety, from her solitude. She had to dispose of it, or risk returning to the world which she nearly destroyed before she was ready to see it again. Without leaving the darkness and comfort of her bed, she tossed the book towards her black waste paper basket. It missed.
Slowly, the pale yet dark girl pushed off from her mattress and stood up straight for the first time in days. Even through her boots she could sense the coldness emanating from the floor as she walked across it towards her bureau, where the book lay open, cover up, next to the basket, a few pages bent. She knelt down and picked up the hardcover anthology, unfolding the pages before closing the cover. Her hand moved steadily until it hovered above the rim of the receptacle, the book nearly shaking in her hand, as though it were afraid of its fate. But Raven didn't release it. Instead, she held it in both hands and drew it into her chest, holding it like young children hold their teddy bears on a dark, scary night.
In her arms, the book was like a catapult, launching a barrage of emotions into her. These feelings scared her, which then in turn frightened her even more. She wasn't ready to accept what she had been forced to deny for so long, even though now she had the means and the freedom to follow her pursuit openly without apprehension. But she was still worried. There had been so much that happened, with certain blonde haired traitors and whatnot, that she wasn't sure exactly how to go about simply opening up. It wasn't like opening a book, where she could simply reveal herself like the words on the page. She couldn't just flip to a chapter that explained it all, and she couldn't tear out a section that ruined her ending. No, this kind of opening was different, difficult, and almost impossible for her. She knew that he only had her best interests in mind when he presented her with the old text, but he was doing damage to her. But perhaps the old saying was right, whatever didn't kill her would make her stronger. And with everything that had happened, to come out of it all alive, she must have a power that surpassed even her own expectations. If she could maintain the balance of the world, then surely she would be able to keep her emotions level. However, despite all its perfection, this revelation seemed as though it was missing something, like the clockwork thump on the door that would remind her that she was wrong and needed more time. But, for the second time that day, it was conspicuously absent.
Raven knew what to do. She wasn't one to stand idly by while someone was in pain, even when it was herself. Action was needed, and action was what she was good at. Taking a deep breath, drawing it out to give her mind one last chance to repent, she took a few slow but certain steps towards the door, clutching the book as though it were the bait on the fishing hook pulling her out of her personal lake. She brought her right hand out and slowly opened the portal into the blinding white of the clean silent hallway. It almost felt as though she was being dragged from the surface of the water into a blinding world of thin air that almost made her gasp for breath. She shielded her eyes for a moment before taking a few steps down the corridor, her feet making a small padding sound on the floor. She felt as though she were walking the Green Mile, awaiting her judgment. In her mind, she kept the possibility of turning back prominent, but it was always pushed back by her determination.
When she entered the living room, it was completely dark. She had been sleeping for much longer than she thought, but she welcomed the night with gratitude. Her friends were in bed, and she was given one more night to be alone. She turned to leave and started walking back when she heard a rustling coming from the couch. A shadowy green head popped up from over the top of the red cushions and looked towards the doorway. Raven glanced over her shoulder before rotating slowly, facing him. Upon recognizing the looming figure at the doorway, Beast Boy grinned, the pure exhilaration on his face illuminating the Tower and the nocturnal silence. He jumped over the back of the couch and walked up the steps to the hallway entrance, looking up at Raven's somewhat stunned face. He noticed the book in her hands immediately, and felt the need to imitate his robotic friend, screaming "Booyah!" silently in his mind. To Raven, he simply said, with sleep still on his voice, "So are you still gonna keep yourself hidden in your room?"
And, with a soft smile, quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."