three: the midnight hour

For a few more days Robin and Raven continued as they had for some time, living together but separately from their teammates, answering incoming calls as a group and then branching off the moment the trouble was over. They joined Beast Boy for breakfast in the morning and made halting small talk with Cyborg when he came in to watch television with them, and because it was just natural enough that every moment was not a grating challenge, Robin was willing to let the entire matter drop and just follow the path of least resistance.

Then, of course, there was a minor incident involving Beast Boy burning a midnight snack that roused the Tower's fire alarm. Robin, coughing around in the smoke, went straight to Raven's room to make sure she was leaving, and when he couldn't find her, raced around, arm over his mouth, coughing and calling out for her. Eventually he was forced outside without having located her because the air had gotten so thick.

Outside, he found Starfire, Cyborg, and Beast Boy standing around in the chilled darkness. None of them would meet his eyes, and Cyborg was openly glaring.

"Where's Raven?" Robin asked, but had to turn away and cough into his shoulder before continuing. "Is everyone okay?"

Beast Boy stood up off of the rock he'd been squatting on. He kicked a stone and sent it flying out into the void of the sea surrounding their little island. "Are you sure you care about that?"

He glanced up sharply at him. "Why wouldn't I?"

"Well, you didn't check for any of us when the alarm went off," Cyborg said. "You didn't even yell for us all to get out. You just went looking for her."

Robin scraped a hand exasperatedly through his hair. Was this really happening? Was his home really filled with smoke and his girlfriend nowhere to be found? Was he really being frozen out because he picked the wrong girl?

"I can't deal with this right now," he muttered. He shook his head and stalked back to the Tower, which lit up without warning. The dull screech of the alarm also stopped. He took a step back; at the same time, the front door opened again and Raven ducked out, the cowl of her cloak pulled up close over her face. His stomach bottomed out with a cold kind of relief.

He knew that she didn't need him protecting him, didn't need him watching out for her, but that was an aspect of himself he couldn't fully suppress. He tried his best to tamp down his instinctive urges to shield her during fights and follow her when she disappeared into the dark embrace of her powers, well aware that she despised the idea of being coddled or taken care of. He was also very confident that she could navigate some toaster-smoke on her own, but still had been gnawed with fear not being able to find her, having to leave without her. Seeing her in front of him, whole, unharmed, even though he had expected nothing less, was still an immense relief.

His arms were around her before he could stop himself, his hands scrabbling over her knobby shoulders and into her hair. He kissed her without even meaning to, kissed her without even considering the obvious ramifications of exacerbating an already troubled situation.

"Relax," she said, pushing away from him slightly. In her voice he heard a warning, a reminder to take caution. Of course she was composed and aware enough to judge and consider what their current social climate was. She's read the tableau in an instant and he still hadn't fully discerned it. "I couldn't sleep. I was meditating on the roof."

He could feel their friends standing behind them, watching them, waiting for them to do something. Robin decided to keep talking to delay the inevitable.

"You didn't hear the alarm?"

"I was meditating," Raven repeated, her eyes flicking up over Robin's shoulder and then meeting his again, silently asking him what to do. "Say something," she hissed.


She considered for a moment. "Call a meeting."

He opened his mouth to argue, but a swift look from her silenced him. He turned around to face their three other teammates. Starfire was staring out at the dark water lapping at the shore of the distant, ghostly-lit city, Beast Boy was skipping rocks with unsettling accuracy and an impassive expression, and Cyborg was merely standing, arms crossed, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Robin drew in a deep breath that tasted like stale, sour smoke. This was going to be a tough bullet to bite.

He said, "Guys, we need to talk."

The team mutually agreed to wait until the next day for what was sure to be the most awkward and unpleasant gathering in the Titans' history, choosing instead to catch what little rest was left in their night rather than shift uncomfortably on the couch while they cleared their throats and avoided each others' eyes.

As a straggling group, the five of them reentered the Tower, made sure there was no damage done to the place, and reset the fire alarms after opening the windows to air out the smoke. They all retreated at first to their separate rooms for the sake of appearances, but after a half hour had elapsed and there were no shuffling sounds in the hallways or running taps in the bathrooms, Robin thought it was safe to slip out of his room and into Raven's.

She put down the brush she was running through her hair when her door opened. "This is going to be a disaster," she said flatly, pushing back the stool of her vanity and rising. She crossed the room and stood with her arms folded before the window, staring out into darkness.

He came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her shoulders. She shrugged him off and went to the bed. Robin rubbed his eyes tiredly and followed her, stretching out on his side. His feet always dangled off of the rounded edge, and he knew that, for whatever reason, Raven was intensely tickled by this.

She laid out flat on her stomach and rested her head on her arm. He looked up at her sideways and reached out to brush away the strands of her hair that had fallen over her face. She allowed this gesture with neither a cynical comment nor an exasperated facial expression, which privately thrilled him.

"We just have to tell them to grow up," he said, forcing more bravado into his words than he truly felt. "We have to remind them that we're all practically adults and that it's time to get over this high school kind of bullshit."

"Especially since we never went to high school," she dryly retorted.

Robin's hand trailed away from her hair to cup her cheek, and he leaned in and kissed her, always carefully, chastely, at first. It always had to be Raven's choice to decide whether to turn away or open her mouth wider, kiss him deeper, because only she knew the limits of her emotions and how she had to restrain them at any given moment. If she was calmer, they could go further; if she was incensed, it was best they stayed apart.

Raven rolled onto her back and Robin threw a leg over her waist, sliding over her and hooking his fingers into the sleeves of her leotard. As he began to ease it away from her skin, Raven turned her head away from him, breaking the kiss. His hands paused and he sat up slightly.

She wasn't looking at him. "Why are you so interested in me?" she asked.

"Do I really have to explain myself?" he mumbled, and silently adding Now? to this question in his mind.

"I'm not pretty," Raven said.

"You are," he insisted.

"I don't have a good personality."

"You do."

"I've got a bad history."

"That's true."

She met his eyes. Robin sighed, sitting up fully, his knees planted on either side of Raven's hips and his fingers coursing through his hair in an attempt to stimulate compelling responses out of his tired, smoke-addled brain.

"You're intelligent," he began. "You can dissect a situation in an instant, you see through traps, you analyze what we're all thinking. You're complicated" – she snorted derisively – "but that makes you sexy, because a dark, ambiguous background is an instant turn-on to a guy. It also helps that you kick serious ass, and that you could kill me with your brain if you wanted to – and that you choose not to." He smiled. "For now."

"I'm not insecure," she started, and as he saw her cheeks start to flush, and felt the equilibrium in the room shift. Something was going to crack and break if she got anymore embarrassed. "You don't validate me. I don't need you."

"Very romantic. That really sets the mood, you know?"

She laughed, a rare and therefore enticing moment.

"I'm just letting you know. In case you're looking for an out," she added after a brief hesitation.

Robin bent down to kiss her again, tangling one hand in the blanket beneath her head and the other sliding beneath the small of her back to bring her closer to him. "I'm not looking for an out," he said against her lips. Her breath was hot on his face, hot like the smoke had been. "I'm just looking for a way to be with you properly. Formally."