Chapter 100 – Shattered Reflections
Several days passed in relative silence, and Raven blankly contemplated the hours, more existing than living. Pairs of Sages and Titans kept vigilant watch at every moment of day and night, but their city was lifeless aside from the flowing constancy of the river isolating them on their small island. The evacuation zone was maintained, giving them little to do but cease the occasional fires and other hazards brought about from the battle against the Ultima Weapon. Reentry into the city was not permitted, and Raven did not care about the public outcry over this issue. Mewtwo secretly subverted the minds of anyone who was found sneaking in, which was thankfully very few, while Cyborg did his best to politically maintain that the danger was far from over, and that the city should be counted as a total loss.
They did not tell anyone that Robin and X had died.
Although most of the Sages and Titans had managed to perform their duties without problem, Raven regretted volunteering to take a shift with Starfire. Working with the Titan girl was the most miserable experience Raven had suffered since the funeral. Star's face, destitute of happiness that had once been in abundance, siphoned life out of both of them as they weakly kept aloft and patrolled the streets for disturbances. They didn't speak, and Star deliberately avoided eye contact, but that didn't keep Star's vacant, emotional graveyard from seeping into Raven's telepathic senses. A number of times, Raven had to douse fires that Star had flown directly over but somehow missed, and they were obvious ones. At the end of the tiring shift, returning to the tower was not a happy event for Raven, but it was somehow preferable to flying over their skeletal city with such terrible company.
Starfire had spoken to no one since Ultima had been vanquished as far as Raven knew. Her supply of tears had long since run dry, but she refused all visitors to her room. Despite her alien durability that surpassed most of the others, it took only a short time of refusing food to make her pallid and dark eyed. When Beast Boy broke into her room in an attempt to comfort her, she nearly killed him. Not intentionally, but the neon bolt from her hand had almost caught him in the head. At least, that was his account of the story, but he had the singed hair to prove it.
In the silence of the kitchen, Raven dabbed at a bowl of oatmeal with her finger. It smelled faintly of cinnamon and apples which relaxed her enough to soothe the remaining aches from the battle against Ultima. Nothing abated her nightmares, but at least a nice meal could help with the tension in her shoulders.
As she stirred the blandly colored food, the sorceress couldn't escape thought about the rapid decay of her once vibrant Titan friend, and Raven sensed a small inkling of some emotion within herself that she couldn't place or name. Whatever that feeling was, it had helped Raven keep down what little food she spooned in. Perhaps it was pity. Or maybe it was a resistance to Starfire's contagious misery that she didn't want to catch. She slowly prodded at the oatmeal that Cyborg had put together.
Cyborg had done most of the cooking with help from Saria and Sonic, but Cy did more than just prepare the food. He had made good meal choices, giving enough flavor to make the palate and stomach feel better, but not enough to make you think of anything happy, because that only made everyone think of how there was nothing happy. Despite the care that he took, Starfire wordlessly chose to go without more often than not.
Cy , unlike Starfire, had managed better than most. His actions all seemed very calculated, predetermined and followed to the letter, which Raven had loosely memorized. He made the morning meals for everyone, took his duty watch, spent the same two hours or so every day repairing, replacing, and testing the technology of their home, checked on each person living in the tower, even Starfire, though all he could do was knock on her door and leave something to eat outside it, then did some simple training exercises, took his shift in the city with Mewtwo, made dinner for everyone, then went off for some time to himself in his room or the garage. Other than the diplomatic conversations that he led, his schedule had very little deviation, and Raven noticed bottled anger in him only when the routine was disrupted.
Of course, all of that was just a way of hiding how awful he felt, using regimented work and business to bury the hopelessness of time that kept on ticking, with no one really knowing how much longer time would last. Raven wasn't fooled by him, but it occurred to her that Cyborg probably wasn't trying to fool anyone anyway.
A small portion of oatmeal that obscured only the tip of Raven's spoon found its way into her mouth without thought. It tasted nice and settled gently afterward, the swallow being the hardest part of it. Raven wondered why it was so difficult to coerce the food into her stomach. After forcing it down, she noticed a taste of fruit that had rested on her tongue, less sweet than expected. She changed her mind about the apples. It was definitely cinnamon and pears. A minor difference, but a nice one, milder but still sweet.
After a few more bites, she released her grip on the spoon, leaving the dish there for someone to take care of. Someone had been washing them all in the middle of the night, by hand instead of using the dish washer. Raven wasn't certain who, but she was confident that it wasn't Cyborg. A rule of the house, whoever cooks doesn't wash. Not to mention, he would have used the dishwasher, as would Terra or Beast Boy. Stopping for a moment, she studied the piles of clean dishes that had not yet been put away or used. They were stacked properly, orderly, in such a way that there was no possibility of toppling, and even upside down so as little water as possible would stay on them, allowing the hand towels below to sop up falling droplets. Nothing about it was haphazard, and there was not a single spot or speck that had not been cleaned. There was something almost mathematical about it. Protoman? The sorceress didn't think it made much sense for him to handle such a menial task, and he seldom left Zelda's side with his free time, but no one else seemed to fit.
Raven entered the living room and stared at the various features, the massive window panes, the black walls and red carpets. The feeling that her home of many years wasn't home anymore pervaded. Without Robin and X, and with Starfire in emotional ruins, it was just a room with leather couches, red and dark surfaces, and a glass wall that peered out over the water. She felt like she was viewing someone else's house, shopping for a new place that she definitely would pass on. Stepping toward the windows meekly, eyes half shut from fatigue, she peered down to see if anyone was outside.
Tidus was the only one, sitting on the ocean-facing ledge, his legs sticking out. Like most others, when there was nothing to preoccupy, he became idle and lost in thought or sight. Raven wondered what he was thinking. She phased through the glass – an effort that was more draining than it should have been – and slowly hovered down to the Sage of Water.
He eventually glanced sideways at her, but neither of them said anything. Raven sat, tucked her legs in and wrapped her arms around her knees, resting her chin on them. For a while, she counted the waves in silence, and he did too. The scent and spray of the water was cold, but not unpleasant.
Tidus sighed, scratching through his blonde hair in that awkward way that follows a compulsion for conversation without anything important to say. "I wonder what's going to happen next."
"Yeah," Raven responded weakly, less inclined to fidget than him.
Tidus frowned with a scratchy exhale. "Seriously. I feel like I'm stuck. Like I'm in a blank period in my life and that I'm fighting just because that's the position I've been thrown into. I don't feel like anything in my childhood brought me to this. I've practically lost Terra. I've lost Yuna, too. Spira doesn't even exist anymore. Zero's consumed the whole future. What is there left that means anything to me?"
Raven rocked with her chin resting on her knees, thinking about that, nothing wise to respond with.
Tidus sighed unhappily, and the two of them continued watching the highs and lows of the frothy sea. The repeating splash on the rocks below and the subtle changes in its upward and unending climb up the hill of sand made them deny difficult thoughts their freedom.
"Do you mean anything to you?" Raven finally asked. She wasn't sure where she was going with the question.
Tidus glanced thoughtfully at her for a moment, even though she didn't look back. "I don't really know," he scoffed with a weak attempt at a grin. "Probably a bad question to ask a person who was created by the Fayth, the Lifestream. What about you?"
"I mostly want to die," she responded. The statement pulsed through her, accelerating her heartbeat slightly in autonomous defense. Much of her really did want to die, as rapidly as anyone could grant it, but just as Starfire could not commit the act, neither could Raven. What little motivation the sorceress possessed gave her an inclination to stand, so she did.
"Without X..." began Raven.
Tidus stared up at the dark sorceress, waiting.
Raven didn't know how to finish at first. She had to ask herself. What was there without him? The answer, and she was confident of it, came when she delved into the simple reality. No naive youth or optimism clouded her understanding of what lay ahead, the future that would occur if they managed to defeat Zero and restore time itself. Raven subtly turned her head to look at the young Tidus, to make sure he fully understood.
"I will never be happy again."
Although she turned her head back to the moving tides, Tidus stared at her for some time, unblinking, and she could sense the effect that her absolute statement had had on him. Both of them tried to imagine what a future like that would mean. For Tidus it was confounding. He couldn't comprehend years of sorrow or what it would do to him. For Raven, it was agony, knowing that her emotions would grow numb, but in a way far more permanent than when she was younger. With no chance of happiness in her future, either the negative emotions had to die too, or she had to die. And the future would play out for many years, possibly centuries. There was no way to tell with her half demon blood how long she could live. Eventually, misery would kill her brain, or she would kill herself from it. Perhaps there were chances for friendships, chances to make differences, but without that one, all important person, it meant very little.
"I'm sorry," Raven said. The laugh she released was small and sad, and she fought the wet and all too familiar sting that entered her eyes. "I'm supposed to be our leader now. I'm failing pretty bad in the morale department."
Tidus weakly smiled. "It's ok. You're going through hell right now. I haven't really felt like I belonged to this group of Sages very well anyway, so don't worry about my morale. I'm kind of tagging along. But... I guess not every story can be my story."
Tidus's smile improved. "It makes me feel a little better that you were willing to open up to me. Honestly, I thought you would've confided in someone else."
Raven had to agree. It did seem strange that it was Tidus she had opened up to. He had joined later on and had shaky connections with everyone. Perhaps it was just because he happened to be staring toward the sea when she had the same idea. Perhaps it was the very nature of his attachment, that his distance from the others made it easier to express. Either way, he had been the first person she had talked to about her feelings. With a small inward sigh, the weight of her chest wasn't as crushing.
"Thanks Tidus," Raven placed a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. She started toward X's ship, the Dreamweaver. Unsure of why her subconscious wanted to risk the emotional traps that lay within, she slowly paced toward the outstretched peninsula where the ship lay.
In a catastrophic moment of immense change, dedicating time to the withheld whispers of nature was a luxury that Saria didn't feel she deserved, and ignoring the thought was the only way she could immerse herself in the energy of all the plants and grass around her. The threat of Zero was always more precedent in her thoughts than the meager pain and malnourishment expressed by the collective conscious of the forest that she had secluded herself in beyond the borders of the ruined city, but she kept ignoring, kept trying to commune with the frightened life around her. It was far from the vivacious energy of the Lost Woods she knew from her childhood, if she could call it that, but it was still nice to be amidst the gentleness of nature. After all of the traveling across space, fighting against the darkness in places where precious and peaceful plant life had been bulldozed for the sake of great cities built by malicious, vile people...
Saria pushed her fingers into the soil, gritting her teeth, furious. Was humanity even worth saving? If they stopped Zero, wouldn't the greedy, selfish nature of foolish, ignorant beings create another crisis?
A shot of pain rippled up through her body. She went still for a while, on her hands and knees, looking at the small blades of grass beneath her.
Amazed at her own thoughts, the Kokiri girl realized that tears had reached the tip of her nose, delaying with a tickling sensation as the first drop fell.
Humanity. Sentient beings. The way she thought... it was as if she didn't think of herself as being among them anymore. She was Saria, but she was also Farore, one of the goddesses responsible for creating the Triforce. Or, at least, that was who she was reincarnated as, inclining closer and closer toward power that might surpass the Hero of Time eventually. The wealth of knowledge and wisdom that came with being Farore's reincarnation wasn't something she had been granted. Only small pieces, incomplete shards of memories and actions were given, slowly increasing, always harshly teasing. Despite being older than even Mewtwo, much of her life as an eternal child of the Kokiri had been spent half aware or sometimes completely unconscious of the natural change that other sentient beings grow through.
Saria dug her dirtied nails into her palms, cynical with anger at her heritage, the once unchanging race that she was the last of. Because of what she was, because of the connection to that infernal tree, she didn't truly know her age, what she was, where she came from, or how long the spirit Farore had been inside her. She thought of it as a reincarnation, but truly, she didn't know that either. It may have been more of a possession, something in the past century, but there was no way to be certain. Worst of all, as Farore, if that's what she was, there had to be something more that she could do in the fight against Zero, but she couldn't begin to fathom what. Something beyond spinning vines and swinging her wooden blade. Something beyond even her increasingly powerful telepathy, though she couldn't yet physically project it like Mewtwo or Raven. There had to be something. The goddesses created the Triforce.
A soft gust caused the gentle blades of green to sway against her, and they spoke their fear. They, just like all the sentient beings, sensed the dooming future, and they, even less able to do anything to stop it, reacted with the very terror that you would expect of any sentient creature. How else could anything react to the idea of simply ceasing to be?
The blades of green signaled the presence of another. Saria glanced to her side.
"May... may I join you?"
Saria was startled. She had been so absorbed in her thought that she hadn't even sensed Terra approaching her until she was a few feet away.
"Sorry I followed you," Terra admitted. "Wasn't hard. From a bird's eye view, the grass is literally greener where you had been walking."
A smile formed in the corner of Saria's lips. "I didn't realize."
"Yeah," shrugged Terra. "So, I know we've... never really talked," the blonde Titan continued, soft and hesitant. From what little the Kokiri girl knew of her, it was unlike Terra to be so open to a stranger.
Saria glanced up and down at her, sizing up the slender Titan. They had a similar build, though Terra was a little taller, and the earth mover had a more petite figure despite her height. Her eyes, though... they stood out with power, cobalt blue even without the sun to brighten them, but tainted slightly with vein-like threads of Mako green.
With a slow exhale, the Sage of Forest decided to ignore the gently swaying leaves and branches that densely canopied above them, instead returning the conversation. "I'm surprised you're not with Beast Boy," she said. "Are the two of you alright?"
"We're good, actually," Terra half smiled. "At least, I guess we're good considering... everything. The two of us just decided that we needed some time and space to ourselves before the... well, you know. Time to think about our lives, and what we'll do afterward if we make it through."
Saria listened, but she found that she didn't have anything to say in response.
Growing more uncomfortable, Terra asked, "So... are you ok? You've been with X since almost the beginning. Longer than me, anyway. I just thought... maybe you needed a friend to talk to?"
Feeling warmth at that, Saria turned away, not wanting to show the instinctual gratitude on her face. "I don't know what to do," she blurted out. "My mind is so irrational right now."
"What do you mean?" asked Terra.
Saria caressed the talkative greenery around her, touching the leaves and grass with the tips of her fingers. "Even as I listen to nature's anxiety, my mind is being torn between Zero, myself, and Nanaki."
"The first two I think I understand," Terra acknowledged the same fears and need for reflection. "We're all thinking about Zero and about ourselves. But your relationship with Nanaki isn't the same as mine and Beast Boy's. You're close in a much different way."
Saria nodded and wiped away some of the residual, drying tears on her face. The Kokiri woman was irate that Terra even suggested understanding the plight in oneself. After all, it wasn't Terra who set off the chain of events that brought them to where they were, facing death's door and the end of time. With a sigh, Saria reminded herself that it was only the need to look inward at oneself, however vague, that Terra referred to in understanding.
"In my future, if there is one," Saria explained, "I don't see myself returning to the dead world of Hyrule, but what kind of life would I have with Nanaki on his world? There would be much to do on Gaia, much to rebuild, so much nature to learn about and protect with the climate having shifted so harshly, but I would be as alien there as I am anywhere else. I could begin anew, but how could I do that with Nanaki going back to his cubs and everything he knows? The more I think about it, the more I consider that there is no place for me."
Terra's eyes widened as Saria's bleak portrait of the future was laid out. Compared to what Saria had just unloaded, Terra's own problems felt much smaller. To not have a home was something she understood, but to be without an entire planet was more than she could comprehend.
"Then... you keep searching," the Sage of Earth exhaled.
"That's all, then?" the Sage of Forest bitterly responded.
"What else can you do?" shrugged the Titan, her blue eyes impassioned with sympathy. "At least with Nanaki you won't have to be alone while you search. It's worse alone. Much worse."
Adrenaline cast a wild anger on Saria's face, and she turned to face the Sage of Earth, no longer interested in the gentle overhang of forest branches. "Don't you dare compare your loneliness with mine! A couple of years trapped in stone is nothing compared to a century of watching your race and your planet die around you!"
Terra backed away with a frightened expression, hands gently held up in defense.
Pain shocked Saria's head, blurring her eyesight more from the sudden onset than the actual intensity. She quickly adjusted, but her balance faltered. Terra caught Saria as the forest girl stumbled to the side. Like her powers, she was as solid as a rock despite her appearance.
"You're dehydrated, and stressed," Terra diagnosed.
The Sage of Forest groggily shook her head and carefully pushed away. "Well, yes, but that's not the problem. And it isn't a problem I want to talk about. X and Nanaki know, and they're the only ones who will ever know."
"That's alright," Terra gently released her to a standing position.
"Sorry I yelled at you," apologized Saria.
"It's alright, we're all... pretty terrified, really. Is there anything I can do for you?"
Saria rubbed the skin around her eyes, tired. She peered through the span of trees, not sure how far she had walked. "Give me a lift back? I want to talk to Nanaki. Start searching, you know?"
"No problem," Terra smiled. Gathering soft soil and rock together was a cinch, and she was careful not to disturb the plan life. The two hopped on the floating earth disc and left the forest behind.
"Can you hear me?" Protoman asked. He didn't care how foolish it sounded, talking to a woman in a coma. He didn't know what he wanted to say after that. The reploid wished that he could do something other than just sit and wait. More than anything, he longed for her voice, her touch, or some sign that said she still had a soul inside her. As much as he hoped, the pale blue sheets and the mix of human and reploid technology monitoring her vitals on both sides of the bed remained ever constant.
If she didn't, if Princess Zelda was truly an empty husk of flesh with her mind destroyed, Protoman knew that it was he who deserved the entirety of the blame. Older and wiser by decades, it was his actions that had led to their relationship, his emotions that were loosed too much and caused her loyalty for him to surpass her loyalty to the Hero, his own brother. Worse, the most painful of all, the chaos emerald that healed him at the cost of her health and her time caused something that was never supposed to happen. The Maverick virus had infected a human being through an opening created by Mako poisoning. He had crossed a barrier so severe with his mistakes that his father would have dismantled him right then and there if the old man was still alive.
Protoman shook his head, trying to loosen the shameful history from his thoughts. No matter how many times he abused his family, Protoman remembered how his father turned the other cheek, time and time again to accept another blow from his firstborn failure of a son.
"I feel like a monster," he whispered to Zelda, watching her chest slowly rise and fall, so weakly that it was barely visible. That meager sign of life in her human lungs seemed to be all that kept him going. When he left to take patrol duty, it was as if a part of him had been disconnected, only to reattach upon his return. The dependency made him curse his weakness at times, but most often he did not consider it a flaw, and rather a vital part of his life that uplifted both of them. Protoman confided in her the shame of his past.
"It's my fault Roll died. It's my fault that X was lost in the robot wars for so long. It might even be my fault that they went on for so many years. I could have stopped it. Mega Man and I, together we could have defeated Doctor Wily and all the other rouge machines, but I... I..."
His voice fell silent again, lost in the sight of Zelda. He wanted for her to wake up and speak to him.
Shadow the Hedgehog sat by himself, absorbed by the light of the seven chaos emeralds. For many hours, he considered the possibility of turning back time, righting wrongs, altering the unfavorable outcomes that had recently come upon them. Just as he had learned of Raven and Zelda's journey to the future of Gaia, and that being no different from X and Raven's short experience in the past during Hyrule's more prosperous years, Shadow knew he was capable of time travel. The reason he had chosen not to was the same reason that any wise person would not, for the fear that a blind desire to correct a single terrible moment might cause a much more dire situation, as well as the imminent danger of encountering one's previous self and the irrevocable damage that could cause. If that wasn't enough reason, there was no guarantee that he could safely traverse any time outside of the present with the Deathflow consuming the stream of time on both ends, preparing to snap time like a rubber band stretched beyond it's limit.
Mega Man X had died against the Ultima Weapon – a fact that anyone would desire to change, given the opportunity. Even with his deep-rooted knowledge of the consequences, the chaos emeralds tempted Shadow, and, preferable to the stagnant misery of most others, that deep temptation invoked a strong desire as his wise side fought that sort of recklessness. Though he knew that his inner turmoil would never result in actually choosing to alter time, the temptation made him feel very much alive, beyond the paralyzing grief that others could not shake. Or perhaps, he considered, this was his own way of grieving. Shadow forced himself to embrace emotions that normally were kept deep within, sealed away because of their tendency to hinder rather than assist. It seemed, as Shadow meditated, that even he could not escape the inevitable self-reflection that the end of days brought.
A small part of him continued to plot ways to alter time more in their favor, but in reality, if X had not done what he had, Raven would be dead, and likely many other sages would have shared the same fate. His rational side continued to repeat that vital rationale as a combatant to his time travel urges, like a wise parent repeatedly telling the child that they must not itch their wounds.
His occasional sighs were meditative, allowing him to relax and listen. His wish to be near the emeralds also allowed him to listen to the voices that passed through them. Many who had been in the presence of the emeralds had felt the existence of other life forms through them, but few, himself included, could actually perceive the consciousnesses that would speak from beyond, using the emeralds as a conduit. He assumed that the "Lifestream" that had been mentioned since the catastrophe at Echidnopolis was where the voices of the past came from. To think that a collection of departed souls from across the universe could express themselves through the jewels only made him admire them more.
But the voices of the emeralds had never been so quiet. Much of it was incomprehensible, even to him, though in the past there had almost always been activity of some kind when he listened. Now, Shadow reflected upon many periods of complete silence, interrupted by intense moments of clamor within them, fear, panic, a fight for survival. The quiet periods didn't deter the black hedgehog from his meditation – other than fulfilling the duties asked of him by Raven or the others, Shadow had no intention of spending all of his time with people whose hearts could not withstand loss.
A potently distinct voice trickled into his mind without warning or invite. Unlike the swarm of voices that often meshed within the emeralds, a single voice spoke, but Shadow could not understand.
"What?" Shadow asked, uncertain if asking the voice to repeat itself would accomplish anything. For many minutes, his relaxation was shelved as he sought the source of the spoken sound. The emeralds were more lively than before, but Shadow considered that their energy was reflected by his, that his alertness merely heightened the pace of their glowing.
No, that was definitely not the cause. He knew the emeralds well enough. This was something entirely new. After many minutes, they settled, returning to a normal pace without granting Shadow any answer. He theorized, wondering if something in the Lifestream had sparked the sudden behavioral shift in the chaos emeralds. Maybe someone was trying to contact him specifically. The mystery grew irritating with every passing idea.
Shadow's ears tilted back. Footsteps. The black and crimson quill clusters on his head adjusted slightly from the frown on his face. Mysteries with company. Even better.
"Hero," the hedgehog acknowledged.
Raven did not answer at first, she didn't care for his tone but was too tired to address the matter. Besides, he was as entitled as everyone else to feel awful. Appearing as invested in the emeralds as ever, Shadow made no attempt to converse. For a short while Raven, as she had with Tidus, sat and meditated quietly, absorbing the eternal glow of the seven chaos emeralds, their radiance of color entrancing.
The white emerald felt foreign to her, having been the last one to enter the completed collection thanks to Zelda and the others. Raven found herself staring at it more than the others before asking a question that had been burning in her thoughts.
"Shadow, I need your opinion. X chose not to use the emeralds against the Ultima Weapon. I know that the reason was so Ultima and Zero wouldn't get a hold of them, but..."
"X made the right choice," Shadow affirmed. "Sonic and I only used the chaos emeralds when our enemies already had taken power from them. As much as they might amplify our power, using them first could invite the worst possible scenario, a foe who can magnify the emeralds' strength far more than I can, or Sonic for that matter. Ultima was almost more powerful than all of us combined. Can you imagine what it would be like with infinite magic, power, speed, regeneration? A nightmare that none of us would have survived."
Raven accepted Shadow's wisdom on the topic, but if all of them collectively used the emeralds...
"That look on your face," Shadow growled knowingly, "you're thinking as logically as anyone else would, but you have to take into account that not everyone can use the emeralds. Sonic and I could have, probably you too, but would X or Protoman be able to as reploids? What about Cyborg, for that matter? And part of the power of chaos is fueled by emotion, which makes Mewtwo and Nanaki questionable candidates for chaos transformation. Robin was too ordinary, he could never have used them."
Angry heat reddened Raven's pale cheeks, and her jaw twitched at the callous mention. At the same time, a swell of emotions rose from her stomach,
"Stow your temper," Shadow rose from his meditation.
"You're one to talk," Raven criticized.
A wry smirk. The hedgehog crossed his arms. "You may be more powerful than me, but you don't have control right now. Anger is part of chaos's power, but not when it's unstable. Have you even tried to test your limits since you gained that second chakra?"
Raven was taken aback. Had Shadow been watching her? "No," she admitted. "I know that... I can't control my power completely."
"Hmph. There isn't much hope for our future then, is there?"
The brilliant light of the emeralds intensified, distracting Shadow as Raven's fist collided with his jaw. The sorceress couldn't hold back her impulse, and the turmoil of rage and loss seething in her mind lifted her fist once more, but the sight of blood staining his teeth and lower lip halted her. Shadow pressed his hands against the wall, and he hesitated, stunned.
A moment of trembling and fear, and Raven realized that he was not stunned, but stuck. She had hit him so hard that his spines had dug into the solid plastic polymers of the wall. How on earth had she generated so much force?
"That was pure, channeled anger, just like you and I always have always used to fight harder," Shadow wiped the blood from his lips, a look of judgment on his face as he leveraged himself free from the wall. "With X's shard of the Master Emerald on your forehead, you've got more reserves of power by far than ever before. But if you can only use it in lucky instances of emotional outburst, then the fate of our future still stands. What are you going to do about it, Hero of Time?"
The glare of superiority that the hedgehog gave her was infuriating, part of her wanted to strike him again, but that was exactly the lack of control that he spoke of.
"I'm... I shouldn't have hit you. Sorry. I'll try to heal you, if you want," offered Raven.
The hedgehog raised an eyebrow, contemplative, then approached her slowly. He angled his head up so she could reach down to him more easily.
Wary of her own powers but confident that she could heal, Raven pulled the glove off of her right hand and placed it on his cheek, radiating unsteady energy in a pale green glow from her palm. Shadow did not flinch from her touch, holding perfectly still. Surprised, and appalled at herself, Raven sensed the damage she had done, the inside of his mouth bloodied in a wider radius than her fist from where the inside of his cheek had smashed against his own teeth. Her stomach twinged, wondering how much telekinetic force she had accidentally used on him, but he remained still, having a higher tolerance for pain than most. As she pressed against his mouth, she felt herself exert far more effort than she should have needed, but as the cuts and bruises shrank, it became easier, faster. Normally Raven could only fix the majority of a wound at best regardless of how severe it was, but her work was... wow.
"Very thorough," the hedgehog tested his jaw, apparently satisfied.
"That was... more control than I've had since losing... since..."
"Since X died," Shadow gently finished.
Raven felt the hollow of her stomach cringe. She was nauseated by the thought, all of the focus she had just gained taken by the utterance of his name. There was still anger churning in her gut, but it was quickly stamped out by grief. As she steadied herself, Shadow peacefully returned to the emeralds, basking in their many shades of light.
"You're welcome to join me, if it would help," he suggested.
"Meditating in front of the emeralds wouldn't help me get over what I've lost."
He glanced at the glowing jewels in their protective barrier, then sideways at her. "Nor would they for me if I was in your position. But you calmed when you started healing me."
For a moment, he turned his full attention back to her as he sat, his eyes reflecting the seven jewels of power. "Perhaps mending the wounds of others will help fix the damage in your own heart."
Raven found herself silent at his suggestion, but only silent outwardly. Inside, her mind swirled with too many thoughts, of herself, of those around her. In order to help others grieve, she would have to allow her own emotions to the surface instead of crushing them into the confines of her soul. The thought of that sent shudders throughout her body.
"If I help heal my friends, then they'll try to heal me. And if I let them..."
Shadow hummed, agreeing. "Then you'll be even stronger to help those who are broken the worst."
"And they'll heal each other..."
"...making everyone stronger."
"You make it sound so simple," Raven smirked.
Shadow eyed her, and his stern features softened for a brief moment. "There's no need to make life hard for a friend."
The tingling warmth in Raven's cheeks surprised her before she could really absorb what he had said. He considered her a friend? The sorceress felt the urge to respond to his gesture, but she had no idea how. She was stunned that the words had even come from his mouth.
"Don't get used to it," Shadow sighed, not unkindly.
Raven could help but feel slightly better. "Thanks, Shadow," she said quickly, already half transformed into a stream of black matter. Almost unable to hold form, she zipped away from the dim chamber of the emeralds, out through the metallic floors of X's memoriam of artifacts, and through the halls of the Dreamweaver. She phased through the glass that she had exited before, noting that Tidus was no longer watching the sea below, and her bedroom was the next sight she discerned with corporeal eyes.
Shadow's friendly words had helped, but the events of the day were wearing on her fragile mental state. Raven collapsed onto the dark sheets, squeezing her pillow against as emotions of all kinds contorted her face in anger, sadness, confusion, until her nails dug into the soft down that she gripped, whitening her already pale knuckles. Cramping aches forced her to loosen her hold on the pillow, and she thought of X, knowing that she needed to brace herself for what was to come.
Not even half a year ago, the reploid had arrived on their world. Had it truly been such a short time? She remembered the events of the day with precision, and she sensed her perspective of the battle merging with X's despite his absence. Was all of it real? It had been a very normal day, one where she was annoyed by Beast Boy and Cyborg playing games with the dirty laundry while Starfire and Robin were training on the beach. Some of the food in the fridge had gained that furry blue mold that never seemed to show up in anyone else's kitchen, and Raven remembered her desire for peace and quiet.
It had changed so quickly. In a battle that at first felt no different from the many criminals and villains that the Titans had taken down in the past, everything changed. Raven recalled the brutal way that her body was smashed against the ground, beaten to a bloody, unrecognizable hell until a shining sword and a mysterious man in armor freed her. Sacrificing his safety, he had split her wounds between them both, unknowingly linking their minds.
He had befriended her, didn't care about her darkness, about her demonic side. He was caring and self-sacrificing from the first moment, repeatedly showing so as he saved her from insanity. Telepathically linked, physically craving each other, protecting each other's lives, they had grown so close so fast.
X was dead and gone. Robin, close in a different way, was a friend of years, not months, and she had lost him as well.
Raven thought about herself. She thought about her own thoughts, where they were darkest, most miserable. She thought of Starfire. She thought of her other friends, how they must be suffering just like her. Guilt stripped away her barriers, and her breath quickened as tears quickly broke the gates of her eyes. The sorceress loathed herself, disgusted with her selfishness, hardly having given a single thought to helping her close friends through what was just as horrible a time for them as it was for her. She buried her face in her bedsheets and sobbed openly, cries of anguish for how hurt she was, and how it had blinded her. She knew Cyborg was burying himself in busywork, but what had she done to help him recover? Both Beast Boy and Cyborg had tried to comfort Starfire, and even though they hadn't succeeded, at least they had tried. What had she done? Nothing but melt in her misery.
"I'm a horrible friend," she said aloud, wiping at her face with her sheets.
Raven sat up as her heart slowed and her breathing came under control. Her lips could not help but maintain a sad downturn of misery. She reached over to the dark oak nightstand for a picture of her, Beast Boy, Cyborg, Starfire and Robin. It was taken before they met X or Terra, and in it, everyone smiled, even Raven, however mild the expression on her lips appeared.
Whether Shadow was right or not, her friends were suffering, and she needed to help repair their emotional wounds just as much as the physical ones. If doing so patched the punctured heart inside of her as well, then they could all overcome the loss, together. Raven reminded herself that if they didn't... well, Shadow was right about the fate of the future.
Two people stood out most clearly to her as she gently touched the faces on the framed picture. Robin was gone, Beast Boy had Terra, but then there was the tall machine man. After him, though she had no idea how she would do it, Raven vowed to fix Starfire's shattered heart.