Evening grew over the scenery.
She could see it through the window in the room they resided in as darkness depleted blue and oranges of the sunset. The installed hallway lights turned on by themselves. In the passing of a few minutes, she pondered, not just about what the person beside her had come clean about, but… something else.
All of her damned instincts told her no, the strongest yelling at the top of their nonexistent lungs that he didn't need to know. He didn't deserve to know for walking out on her. But a new voice in her conscious, one she hadn't tapped into for the longest time, the accustomed monotone, had a better reason for telling him. Out of hope for breaking a savage cycle, he confessed a terrible secret. She didn't have to force it out of him. She didn't have to know about it. He did it on his own. And she was the only one who knew. He did the exact thing he wanted her to do, tell the truth. Open up.
Since they were teenagers, Robin practically had to beg Raven to do it. Until now, she remained inconsiderate to most of his begging. Painful past or not, at least he was willing to talk. Making her decision, heart pounding at the very idea, Raven crossed her arm over herself to take his firm hand into hers, hauling them both onto their feet.
"What's going on?"
"Given that you were brave enough to tell me your secret, I'm paying my dues to you. But in order for this to happen... we'll have to do it my way." Raven started hovering off the ground, still clasping his hand, "Will you?" He was having flashbacks of his last flight with her.
Nightwing said mildly, "Even with what I remember, I guess I can cooperate."
"I promise it won't be like last time."
"Where are we going?"
"We'll be there soon enough," came her vague reply.
Quickly and stealthy, Raven folded them into dark blue energy, her soul-self carrying them into the sea-misted air. Fifteen minutes or so, they were lowered onto dewdrop grass and the soul-self disappeared into its host. Surrounding them was suburbia, a neighborhood of row-houses to the left of the wide street; on the other side was an lovely English Rose-style house swathed in shrubbery. His companion was staring longingly at a tipped-over tricycle.
She didn't quite snap out of her trance and looked up with half glazed eyes. "What?"
A couple seconds lapsed. She made a slight head jerk and cleared her throat.
"I- just… well, I'm not suppose to be here. It's a one time deal… just so you know..."
Awkwardly tugging his hand she had not let go, Raven guided him through a winding pathway along the side of the English Rose house, creeping into the backyard where they stood in some brush across from giant, decorative glass doors, lit up enough for someone to glance in from a distance without the curtain.
"I never expected to tell you about this. I didn't have a reason seeing how you weren't around," Raven half-mumbled, knowingly. "But there's an obligation I can't escape." The empath motioned with her head towards the doors. "I'm not sure if you know what's going on in there, but there is a blond-haired woman by the fireplace. Her name is Adrienne Powell. Her husband is Timothy. He works, she stays at home. On the floor near Adrienne, there's a little girl playing with a puppy." Sure enough, Nightwing's ears caught the ringing of a woman's throaty laughter and a tiny yip-yip.
He couldn't get why she was being vague about this.
"What about it?" he asked.
Raven licked her lips.
"The little girl has black hair. It is very full. Almost as long as Kori's was. Her eyes are bright blue, the brightest I've ever seen in my life."
His heart began beating very fast, rocking his chest. His palms sweaty.
He breathed, "I, I-don't… … understand…" She inhaled sharply when he said this and her voice caught and Nightwing redoubled his efforts of clutching her hand, this time slipping both of hers into his own. It gave her the spark of courage she required.
"She was born five years ago. I knew I was pregnant a month after you left. I knew I was going to have her and I knew she deserved better." Her tone hardened but her inners were sour jelly. "I was in no shape to take care of her. The environment wasn't safe. At that time, I was too wrapped up in myself to think of caring for someone else. I would have made a horrible mother. So I let this family adopted her, this way she could have everything and anything I couldn't give her. I signed an agreement never to speak or be known to her until she's eighteen. Maybe then if she wanted to know about me I could see her."
Raven smiled humorlessly, turquoise eyes faraway. "The people working at the adoption center didn't ask about the father. They figured I was some kind of charity case or my abusive boyfriend would dump me if I kept her. I felt like I was being judged in the worst possible way there, five months along already."
Old pain threatened to rise, working as bile against the back of her throat.
She pushed it away, pulling her hands away, away from him to cross them over herself quivering. "I just… that's my terrible secret." Raven pretended not to perceive how his aura, when he was shocked, went off like fireworks, and how his outward appearance stayed inactive.
"What's her name?" A quiet rasp.
Her shoulders trembled.
She shivered, though not cold. A lump clogged her esophagus. "I'm s-sorry…" Raven whispered. "I had to..."
A cool glove lifted her chin, lifting her dampening eyes up.
"You have nothing to be sorry for. You did what you thought was right. I had no say in your decision."
Her face scrunched, a tear slipping out. "But I feel like sometimes I regret it."
There was warmth in this cold world.
Sweet, pink, and smelled like innocent wonder. And it had been taken from her. They had taken her so soon. Her baby. Her living baby, the heiress of the Wayne estate, the only daughter of the Grayson line, the child who opened her tiny eyes and her mother saw the first and last person she ever wanted to see.
Blue. Robin's eyes. His eyes before they lost their color. The eyes Raven couldn't get away from.
When she looked into them, she couldn't place how she felt due to the fact Raven was half paralyzed with the aftershocks of contraction pains. She could have hated her daughter. She could have loved her even more. Raven didn't get a chance to decide as the pink blanket was whisked into chiffon-silk arms. The pimply, long-nosed nurse throwing away the sheets asked boorishly for a name. It came to her so naturally. Raven didn't know anyone named Alexandria, but it fit for her.
It just wasn't fair.
Completely alone in the hospital room, Raven sat propped up on fluffy, green pillows, wishing voicelessly that Slade would just come back from the dead and finish her off right there. She would cede. With a piercing squeak, the hospital door swung open. An amber-skinned woman, in a cheerful, pink spring dress tiptoed in, closing the door in a painstakingly slow approach, wincing at the next squeak.
Bright green widened at the sight of turquoise. "Oh. Did I wake you? I tried not to-"
"I want to be left alone."
Starfire forced a smile, presenting her with purple irises. "I have gotten you flowers from the gift shop. This room is very dreary and it might add some joy to-"
"I appreciate the fact you let me bruise your hands while I was in labor, but I said leave me alone and I meant it." Raven rolled onto her side and stared ruefully at the glossy floor. Weight fell on the opposite end of the bed. Amber hands coaxed her wavy hair. "Friend Raven, if you'll just let me-"
Raven lunged from her kind touch to shout angrily, "Damn it, why won't you listen? Why do you always have to comfort people? Why don't you hate me?"
Starfire asked, oddly mindful, "Why would I hate you?"
"I'm hardly ever nice to you. A normal person would harbor some sort of grudge against that. I stole your boyfriend while you two were still dating and you pranced around like it was no big deal. When it finally got to you, you wouldn't let me drop! I slept with him, the man you adored for years, I just had his kid, and I was responsible for the death of the one other boy who could have been yours! After all that, you still won't hate me! I don't understand WHY!" She had shouted herself exhausted and dug her hands into her hair, lowering her rigid face into her lap.
The alien woman said, coolly, "You want me to hate you for your past behavior concerning Robin and Garfield? Will that make you happy?"
Starfire scooted up the mattress to her teammate, holding her pale, wretched face between her orange hands.
"Then I cannot make you happy. I cannot give you what you want, Raven. You are my best friend and I will not wish ill upon you for any reason, petty or not."
She flashed a sweet, dimpled smile that sent Raven's emotions erupting over the edge. Everything bad that happened, losing her flesh and blood, the realization that she was truly alone with her burdens, it was expressed in a tortured cry as the empath dissolved into violent, body-racking sobs.
Starfire's warm body pressed itself closer to hers. The Tamaranean woman curled up with her in the hospital cot, holding Raven protectively in muscular, soft arms. She yielded to them without thought. Starfire laid her cheek atop a crown of dark brown. "Shhh. Shhh… I am here." Raven cried against her breasts as the alien woman absently rubbed her shivering back in lazy circles. "I will sing to you."
Instead of horrible screeching, there came an outpour of a lovely, soprano harmony. Starfire sang the only Earth song she knew all the lyrics to.
"Twinkle twinkle little star… ..how I wonder what you are… …"
Raven felt her burning eyelids get heavier, her senses muddled. She had a beautiful voice. Like something out of a fairytale.
Why didn't she sing more songs like this instead of those horrid Tamaranean nursery rhymes? As the melody went on, her thoughts became lighter and lighter. Finally, her head tilted sideways onto Starfire's shoulder as she fell soundless asleep in the only arms of love she could find.
Confusion became a second nature over time. To this day Raven didn't get it. And didn't care.
They could all learn a lot more from Starfire, she thought. Though the alien hardly knew Earth customs, she had a perfect grasp of the universal meaning of friendship. Of forgiveness.
While everyone else seethed and acted childishly, Star never badmouthed or back-stabbed them. She knew how to forgive for the sake of her friends and Raven felt as if she should have learned from her. This whole thing with Nightwing... she would have gone and talked to Starfire about it, but seeing how the mere mention of him brought permanent damage to the Tower, she decided best not to.
After Raven finished showing him what she thought he ought to see, a cover of warmth stirred inside her.
She began feeling whole again.
It scared her.
Because it wasn't right for her to be feeling a good emotion towards him. No, it wasn't possible. This couldn't be happening. She had to make it go away before it was too late!
On her level in Titans headquarters, she stood in front of her sealed, titanium bedroom door. Wordlessly, Raven banged her forehead against the metal several times in purposed repetitions. On the third round, Cyborg yelled up from the floor below, "Yo, everything okay up there?"
"Marvelous," she called back and carried on in the task of knocking herself silly, all the while with a determined expression.
As Raven pulled back for another round, slightly woozy now, someone suddenly gathered the hair on the back of her head to solidly keep her from moving forward, and slanted her face backwards. Turquoise glanced into an mask. At familiar, black spikes, notably an ungelled mess. As if he pulled out his own scissors to get the job done. Old, black hoodie and chain jeans.
A sound specter of what was.
The heat coming off his breath barely caressed her face, as he said seriously down to her, "Whatever it is, I'm sure brain damage isn't the answer."
She felt his still gloved fingers untangle from her hair and shook her head.
"Doesn't matter. Hurting yourself isn't going to make the problem go away."
"Why are you assuming I have a problem?" she asked.
'Oh wait, you're still here.'
Even with the mask, Raven had plenty of practice knowing what looks he would give beneath it. This one, the do-I-really-have-to-answer-that look. Arrogant bastard. How dare he silently lecture rose in her chest. "Shouldn't you be going back to wherever you live? You got what you wanted, we're all alive. We're fine without you, and you can sleep well knowing you and I are forever in a rut."
Nightwing said, perceptively, "Except something is bothering you. And you can't make it disappear."
"You don't care. You shouldn't care."
He shook his head at her remark. "If I didn't care... then I wouldn't be trying to figure it out."
Raven growled, "Just because you came waltzing back into the picture doesn't mean you can have control over this. You don't have that liberty anymore. So just…drop it." She gave a small cry when he tried to speak up. "No. No, shut up. Just get out of my life. Stop…making me…"
She wasn't telling him something. And it was eating her up inside.
Raven yelled, pupils on fire, hands flying, "I just want you gone! Gone, do you hear me? After years of suffering under your memory, I can't be feeling what I feel when I look at you. When I look at you, I want to feel happy. I want to be better. I still love you, you stupid bastard!"
The last sentence hung between them, echoing not only through the walls but through their skulls.
She gasped at her own words, bug-eyed and cursed softly, "No… …no…Azar, what have I done… ." Her hands went over her mouth as if she was going to be sick.
Raven turned to retreat but Nightwing grabbed her around the lower arms, preventing her from leaving and protested, "No, you need to hear this. I need to hear this. It didn't matter where I was because I couldn't make you go away. You were in every face, you were the criminals, you were the crying victims, you were my face in the mirror. Guilt made me came back. Feelings I couldn't get rid of made me come back. You wanna know something?"
He brought his face closer to hers, millimeters close.
"I. Am. Sorry. I have never been sorry for anything, except the things I've done to hurt someone, to hurt you. Leaving you was… a huge mistake." Nightwing paused cold in the middle of removing himself from her air space, their ambiance blurred away in their intense conversation. He said astonished, "Wow, that was easier than I thought."
Her head spinning with revelation and skepticism, she questioned, "You want forgiveness?"
"If you'll give it to me," he answered, evenly.
Her eyes gently narrowed around the edges.
It was a simple statement, no existing complications exposed in her tone. But he wasn't ready to give up. "But it happened before. We forgave each other; it was difficult but it happened."
Raven's body loosened, her head bowed forward in mental fatigue.
"Those were different circumstances. We didn't know what we do now."
"Yeah, I didn't know you had our child; yeah, you didn't know I was being haunted by my parent's faults-"
Slipped so smoothly from his tongue through his lips.
She went back to listening. "-who cares about circumstances? If we tried, maybe this torture would end."
"Nothing was wrong with me until you decided to show up," Raven said, frowning. "How hard is that for you to understand? I don't want to talk it out, I don't want to come back to you, and I sure as hell didn't forgive you. That was unforgivable, and-" she aimlessly seized his mask and yanked it down to his neckline, "AZAR, I hate staring at this thing," and went on blathering, "And another thing-"
This time she hesitated, shocked, as Nightwing laughed gut-retching and loud.
'….okay, he's officially lost it.'
"What the hell is wrong with you?"
He only laughed some more which made Raven believe she could have been in danger with this seriously mad man. Nightwing grabbed her by the shoulders this time when she stepped frontward, wheezing amid gasping for oxygen. "Wait…wait…I'm sorry, I'm just…hehyoufinally..."
"Let me go, or I will blast you into the next century," she warned.
Slowly, he obeyed her command.
"You said…you loved me." He added firmly when she opened her mouth, "And don't tell me you didn't mean it, because I heard it with my own ears… … … …I-I just can't believe it."
Red lights flashed in their faces. The warble of the proximity alarms went off in their ear drums. Cyborg shouted something blurred out by the noise.
Her worn tennis shoes fell over the carpet as she hurried out to the operations center with the rest of their ex-teammates. Nightwing feeling her presence leave him. Licking in his lips distracted, the ghost of a cocky smile plucked the corners of his mouth.
'But you meant it, didn't you?'
Jinx picked her flat black fingernail apprehensively, snapping at the hulking figure passing by her line-of-vision.
"Move it! We don't have a lot of time. We would have had more if someone-"
Clear pink dilated, angrily.
"-hadn't tripped the alarm."
Seemore chuckled nervously in the background.
A pink spark sent him flying face first into a window, not hard enough to break it, but enough to create a spider web effect.
The remaining Hive members whipped around at the strange voice, crouching into various positions of defensive poses. The grown woman with pigtails sneered. "I wondered when you'd show up."
Seemore shakily got up from lying flat on his back, careful not to make any sounds behind the empath, as he flipped a switch on his costume. Before the magic barrier bubble could be blown, something extremely sharp sunk into the back of his hand. He let out a piercing yelp. Sticking out of his flesh… a black Bat-a-rang.
Suddenly, an assemble of oddly attired people appeared on that end of the street. One with glowing yellow-green hands and a silver metal covering, one with a blue Sonic cannon and regular street clothes, and the last dressed similarly to the previous but empty handed and the air around him looking particularly deadly. The woman standing in front of them, her windbreaker flapped in the front to an invisible wind.
Mammoth and Gizmo stared wide eyed at the assembly as Jinx swore under her breath.
"Don't just stand there, you jackasses! Get them!"
The largest of the criminals dropped the crate of millions to barrel into them head on. Raven disappeared into the earth as Nightwing and Cyborg took care of the overly sized and strong human being. Starfire battled Gizmo and Seemore on her own, doing very well for herself when one of her starbolts walloped the pack on the tiny genius's back. That left the two supernatural females.
They circle each other, purposely. Jinx cracked her neck muscles, eyes roaming over the other's apparel. "You still can't dress worth a shit." There was no humor in her tone.
"And you need some new material."
Jinx's left eyebrow twitched. Her deadened comment got to the young sorceress more than any snippy comeback would have. Insults would be proven useless. They were no longer playing a child's game. Jinx executed a perfect triple spin on her toes and turned at the accurate moment to slam the sharp jut of her elbow into Raven's face.
It felt as if her face exploded into flames. Raven reeled backwards from the impact, stumbling. Blood dripping from her nose and mouth.
Jinx smirked a cold, superior smirk, snarling, "How about that, bitch?"
A low growl, caused by intense hate, burbled out from her throat and Raven attacked with a operative volley of punches and kicks. She grabbed the back of Jinx's head and thrust her head into her raised knee, jumping mi- air when her upper body up righted itself and slammed her boot into her cheek, surely cracking a few face bones. Theempath watched her slump onto her knees.
Raven spat out her own saliva and blood, glaring darkly as she murmured, "Sloppy."
Jinx looked up, blood red tingeing her left eye and darker red trickling down that side of her face, a nasty swelling bruise to wake up to in jail the next morning.
She gritted her teeth, hissing, "The only reason you're alive is because your hero boyfriend needs someone to fuck. He must be a very desperate boy to consider you. Are you a good fuck, Raven?" What Jinx said was meant to hurt her. Somehow it blew right over her head.
"You're a very sad person Jinx. I'm sorry it has to be this way."
Before either of them could move, react, the pink-haired villain scrunched up her face and let out a high-pitched scream.
Another starbolt flew at her back as Jinx crumbled onto the street, unconscious. Starfire flew away thoroughly satisfied with her work, paying no attention as the bleeding telepath continued staring down at the other woman, gently prodding her foot beneath her and flipping her from her stomach to her back, floppily. Stealthily, undetectable to a person without precise hearing, Nightwing uttered, joining her in the task of staring albeit pointlessly, "The police are here."
She whispered, solemnly, "Good. Get a stretcher."
Her blood fell heavily, making him wince.
A curt response came behind them, "Don't talk back to her."
Cyborg raised his eyebrow at the alien woman beside him fixing daggers at Nightwing, who in turn glared his own daggers with his mask right back.
"Someone just please do it." He didn't have to be told twice by an impatient Raven. Cyborg bumped Starfire out of the way to follow orders. Raven acknowledged the rest of them, touching a blood-stained finger to her head. "Just go home, both of you."
After settling everything at the crime scene, back at 'home', hostility surfaced at dinner. The source, on the opposite end of the kitchen table. It was suppose to be a nice, easy downtime, share some stories, joke around.
As her buzz weakened, it proved that those comfortable times were long lost to history.
Cyborg had seated himself across from her. To their right, Starfire and Nightwing occasionally gave each other dirty facial casts.
If-you-say-one-word-I'm-using-it-against-you kind of dirty.
Not that anyone else knew about their little spat, it was just so obvious that something had produced animosity. Cyborg didn't want to say anything to tick them off, but truthfully, he was getting sick of their childish games. They couldn't even cooperate when Raven needed it. It was times like this he wished for Beast Boy to cheer them up. That light in the Tower was gone forever.
Instead of dwelling on those thoughts, he smiled dimly at the empath, nose healed properly in place and blood mopped away, "So, how are you feeling?"
She drew out a long, breathy chuckle, sucking air through her teeth, "I wish I knew," baring a temperate smile and took another swig of straight alcohol from her goblet. Mind you, Raven was by no means a serious alcoholic. It was only around this week of the year where she had the urge to purge her feelings. Bringing that asshole Bird-Brain back to the picture just made her want it more.
Dressed in her familiar black unitard, even if it was a little tight in some areas, and her indigo cloak, Raven brushed a curl out of her eye as her senses slipped and slid out of place. Yes this was exactly what she needed. Her thoughts might have been dazed, but they were organized enough to lead back to the battle.
Why did she tell Jinx that she felt sorry for her? Because she chose that kind of life? Because Raven knew that she couldn't win no matter what she pulled?
Because she stated something unfair?
Are you a good fuck, Raven?
Wiping her mouth with the back of her sleeve, Raven collected her wits to speak up noisily and a bit tipsy, hoping to get preoccupied, "Yo chickie! Chickie, what's with the haircut? Uh…what'cha been doing on Tamaran?"
When she wasn't looking, Cyborg switched her glass with a concoction of water and fizzing pills.
Bright green softened slightly at the view of her flushed best friend. "I…I have gotten married."
Cyborg raised his glass.
"Congratulations, Star. Who's the lucky guy?"
"A childhood friend of mine on Tamaran. We reacquainted after my sister's death,. He was among the few who tried to stop the rebellion mob." No emotion in her eyes at the mention of Blackfire. "My k'norfka saw it fit for him to rule alongside me on my home planet. I chose my marriage for myself and our people are very happy with him as a ruler." Amber cheeks pinkened as her demeanor changed back to shy, "He is very sweet. He and I hope for children one day."
Cyborg beamed at her. Raven, on the other hand, discovered a strange pang in her stomach accompanied by nausea at the mention of the word children. She didn't even look at Nightwing. She picked up her goblet, swirling the liquid forgetfully. "Yeah… …probably have better luck than I did. Really, cause mine sucked. It's like… .goddamn relationships. I almost had to fuck a guy twice my age and…well, the other one just… .fuck, I don't know."
She ceased her speech, her eyes taking on a spaced-out varnish. Nightwing faintly choked on the other end of the table.
"Perhaps it wasn't entirely your fault," Starfire said menacingly, gazing at him intentionally.
He summoned a fragment of cheek, muttering something along the lines of don't even fucking start.
She grinded her teeth silently, her fingers curling inward, then she went ballistic, "I will not be spoken to like that!" Starfire screeched out the last two words as she rose from her seat and Nightwing rose from his stool.
That was Raven's cue to gulp down the rest of her drink and she promptly clutched her head into her hands.
"Oh, Azar… ..I think I'm sobering up."
Cyborg just sighed from his stool, waiting for the cannons to sound.
"You're the one responsible for her acting like this!" Starfire pointed to the huddling figure nearby shuddering.
"Stop trying to play the guilt card on me because it's not going to work!"
"It should! You should be ashamed of yourself!"
His nostrils flared, as he said angrily, Starfire looking like she was going to blow up again but instead her eyes quivered in a familiar way, "I am not going to take this, but especially not from you of all people! If you wanted to help her so much, then why weren't you here?"
Cutting out of the verbal war, Raven suddenly lurched in her seat.
"And now, I'm gonna be sick."
She took off in a bustle of indigo to race into the nearest bathroom, not worrying about closing the door behind her as she threw herself over the marble sink to dry heave, her upper body shaking uncontrollably. Once the gags passed and she could get some feeling back into her legs, Raven slumped over the rim of the sink, elbows up.
The water faucet glowed dark blue before turning on. She coughed and pushed her hair back to clean the sweat off her face. Staring drowsily at the broken mirror. Four or five Cyborg's appeared behind four or five images of a white, solemn face.
His naturally booming voice greeted her eardrums, "Have you ever heard of a hairbrush, Rae?"
Her throat replied, croakily, "Might have."
She twisted the knob of the faucet herself this time and drew herself to her feet. Cyborg came up behind her in measured steps, pressing his hands into her back for support in case she fell. She glanced over her shoulder at him in unspoken thanks. He smiled and led her to sit on the closed toilet seat, shuffling through the medicine cabinet to fish out a small round brush.
Submissively, Raven folded her hands into her lap as he gently-as-he-could tugged the knots out of her long, lush hair. Ripples of almost black hung around her face. He said, casually, "I am so sick of hearing those two you know. I thought they were bad when they were younger…"
Raven frowned. He added, catching the frown, "Don't you remember when we all got together as a team….?"
No one could forget those memorable first meetings. Certainly became memorable after Robin and Starfire got…..better acquainted. Somehow the memory made her smirk…emptily.
A lot of things felt empty now.
The strokes in her hair.
The echoes of rage down the hallway.
The beating of her heart.
"Are you okay?"
Cyborg stopped brushing and she replied, dully, "I don't know anymore….I don't think I can ever really be okay." Her eyes started to sting. "...I wish I could go home."
He touched the top of her head, sympathetically.
"I gave it up for him."
"He's an idiot. But I think he still loves you."
Raven said, decisively, "I'm not giving him another chance."
She couldn't. No matter how much she had missed him. Mentally, she blanched.
Cyborg patted her shoulder; she looked away. "That's your decision, Raven."
The empath waited a few moments for him to leave, absently rubbing two inch opaque scar on her slender throat. An accident… kind of.
Tapping her fingers on her thigh, she forgot the reason why she was still sitting in the bathroom and concluded that it was meaningless to think inside it. At the doorway, a strong chest collided into her and even stronger arms kept her from falling backwards, grasping her . Slightly surprised, Dick tilted his head to meet her face.
"This is awkward."
He let go cautiously.
He didn't really mean to storm right into her... or even find her in that case. It seemed like a lot of things lately were becoming odd coincidences.
She stated, bleakly, "You shouldn't be tempting Koria to blow you to pieces."
"Apparently I'm doing a lot of things I shouldn't, but I appreciate your concern, Conscience," Dick quipped, dryly.
She couldn't help it. Raven cracked a humored smile, before coming to a mental decision to leave as fast as she could. "You're still as corny as ever."
"And you still love it."
Her eyes widened taken aback at that comment and grew as bigger as he backed her into the sink. She placed her hands on the lip to steady herself, breasts heaving, and she almost ended up with her bottom resting in the sink in the space where his arms closed off, where he leaned over her. Her eyes danced left to right. "I…I can't…."
Sincerity emitted from him. "But you want to."
The sadness etched in her face was unbearable to stare at.
"I want to," she confessed almost to softly to hear. "Azar, do I want to… but I don't want to get hurt either."
She kept back those damnable tears. She was not weak… she was not weak…..
Nightwing reassured, softly, "I'm not going to hurt you… Rav, look at me." She did, mostly out of shock and nostalgia. If only she could know how he felt other than just words. Words got in the way.
All this faltering in her eyes, whether they were a purple or a turquoise, they were her gateways to her soul she couldn't hide no matter how she acted. Raven claimed once that Dick gave away his emotions with his eyes… when she did just the same. This beautiful hypocrite.
He touched her cheek with his glove, her skin burning.
"I'm not going to hurt you anymore. That's the last thing I want. I just want you to know that I love you. If you could understand that…"
Understanding him wasn't the problem. Trust was.
Suppose there was a time and a place to take risks. For the greater good. That there is that moment in time where everything can change, every circumstance, and every detail in the past marred evaporated from reality. Suppose sometimes you had to give up reason for what you wanted. For what you needed.
'Azar help us all…'
Without thinking twice, she seized her fortune, allowing the infectious heat of his body consume her in the form of an embrace. Nothing like the one earlier. No unwanted impulses. No annoying voices telling her to stop. No regrets. She felt him hug her back, tightening his hold around her shoulders, gloved fingers brushing back her bangs off her forehead.
"I'm sorry," he whispered in her ear. "I'm so sorry."
Holding back the gnawing need to cry, the soothing motion of his fingertips massaging her scalp, she whispered back, "Don't hurt me."
There had to be a God out there.
Because they gave the world this woman. If only for a little while, if only for a lifetime, he had her in his. And when he would die, he would die happy knowing that she had existed in it.
Surreal moment in the bathroom, holding her, marveling at the softness of her skin, in awe that they could start anew. What they would do. What he would tell her. The Mayor already signed the contract to stake claim to the island; so what, the Teen Titans would split once more. It's not like they would stay together forever. What counted was that Raven could come with him now. She wouldn't have to be alone.
She shifted in his arms, murmuring, "What now?" Her cloak got in his way when he set an arm around her waist.
"Whatever you want," Nightwing said, grinning.
Turquoise ignited with loveliness for the first time for him then became glassy with a foreign emotion, darker than anything. Her face dropped gradually, her eyebrows rose. She mumbled out loud, "Dick, I'm not feeling good." Thinking that she needed to empty her stomach, he started to help her lean over the marble. She would not let him go, her fingernails dug into the flesh of his biceps unyielding.
Her eyelids fluttered over her eyes. That is when he noticed as he cupped the side of her face the dark trickle of blood coming out of her right ear.
She reopened her eyes, sighing, "My head…"
Nightwing- Robin- whoever he was- felt the surface of complete terror grab him and glanced at the bathroom door. A second glance confirmed that it pulled a hundred yards away from them. He could have sworn it was a shorter distance before. Excluding carrying her out… what if moving her hurt her… he wrapped her into a bear hug, pressing his face tenderly against hers. He had to get Cyborg, he couldn't leave her, he couldn't risk causing more damage. This couldn't be happening… this is not how it's suppose to end…
"Raven... you need to sit down."
She struggled weakly to keep herself close to him, groaning. He gave up too quickly, helplessly as the older blood started to dry on her earlobe and a drizzle slid down the angle of her neck. Raven's face softened, confusion flooding. "Dick, why can't I see you?"
"I'm right here." He sat her down gently. "Rav, I'm right here."
Nightwing threw off his gloves, not caring how terribly scarred they were, and wiped a couple tears dripping down her cheeks with the pads of his thumbs, his heart going at record speed. She was dying right in front of him. And he wasn't strong enough to save her.
As if Raven knew how helpless he felt, she reached out with a tiny smile to brush the tears he did shed on his face and could not prevent, with the same loving gesture he showed her.
"Rav, we have to get somebody… I… can't."
He almost broken down, breathing in stiff gasps. Her warm, slender arms enveloped him, her cool kiss caressing his burning eyelids.
"Just hold me….until my headache goes away," she sounded so sleepy. He complied with her wishes. She tumbled onto his broad chest that rose and fell to match with hers. Raven mumbled, shutting her eyes. "Dick? Can I tell you a secret?"
Her warmth dimmed.
The word that raced across his thoughts, smacking into all possibilities.
It just wouldn't happen. In reality, how much horror can you count in each escalating octave? He was surprised that everyone within a mile radius wasn't wide awake and shivering wildly while phoning the cops to report the sounds of someone being killed in cold blood.
The dawn suspending gently over the bay and Tower was what ushered him into the land of the living. And where he was now lodging in one of the rec chairs.
The brightest rays stroked the outer borders of the rooftop, molten gold and bronze enticed the features of the tennis courts, basketball hoops, and a curled up silhouette of a female creature. The bronze giving her white, white skin the effect of a deep tan. Dark hair streaked blew pensively to the toss of a fresh morning breeze, the hem of a lavender nightdress waved, rippled, skimming the ground.
He wasn't about to alarm her serenity (she was giving it off in mass amounts) with his presence and merely sat in the folding chair as the sky brightened around her.
How dare his nightmare belittle what they've come so far to receive; how dare it show how simplistic their relationship could mean...
One moment and it would have been for nothing. That they could be so powerless. There were minuscule aspects that were real; maybe that's why it was so terrifying. The thought of her… that happening, was unreal. It was a relief to wake alone in his old mattress piled with sheets, overcome with absolute devastation and shock.
He would never let her go without a fight. Five years alone couldn't change that. Not even Death could steal her from him.
His bare left hand made a fist. Crooking his arm, he rested his face on it, touching his thumb to the line of his mouth in musing.
Incredible. That's the only word he could think of to describe her sitting near the edge of the roof, of what this moment felt like.
It was incredible that she had not ran from him... yet. Incredible that she could trust him with her secrets. And what a secret it had been. Was it hard; well, he knew it had to have been difficult to let her child go. But had she had thought of him at any time? When she was pregnant? Had she been as amazed as he was feeling to know something they had created was alive and would grow up to be someone special? His oblivious daughter was somewhere out there.
That question would be reserved for another time.
What Raven was doing on the roof he had no idea; he wasn't blessed with the empathic gift. Mostly she came up here to meditate. She was motionless, face towards the horizon, her back to him.
Silently, he rose from his sitting position to approach the woman across the way. Somewhere between pausing to think of what to say and reaching out to touch her forearm, Raven said sensibly to him, staring straight ahead, "The sunrise brings me comfort. When I'm confused or upset, it reminds me that there's another chance to not screw things up." A smirk quirked the corner of her lip and the color in her eyes seemed lively as they set themselves on his sleep-mussed form.
"I've accepted the fact that you're sorry and I guess… for the sake of forgiveness, I can forgive you. Holding grudges exhausts me. But what you want from me..." She stopped to emphasize her point but spoke softer, "What I want from you, Dick Grayson... will take time and more work."
Getting past the fact she just used his real name, he said in mock fascination, "Does that mean the Raven Roth acknowledges the fact she has feelings for me?"
"I love you, yes. As insane as it sounds, I guess I've come to terms with my own madness."
It would have been the perfect opportunity for a phrase like 'Welcome to the club' but all he could hear in his head was those three little words…from before… the three words he longed to hear since…well, ever. Bending a knee, Dick knelt down beside her. "Say it again," he said.
Questions formed in her eyes, coyly ablaze with curiosity no doubt, and he repeated, inching his face nearer, into her breathing space… not that she minded it so much.
"Say it again."
"I love you," Raven said openly with just a hint of bland amusement.
She said, thoroughly amused. "You want it in writing? Or would you prefer me to scream it across the heavens so the entire world could know five in the morning?"
"Could it be both?"
Raven raised a fine eyebrow at his honest remark and it shut him up, reluctantly. She had that effect on him if he could blatantly remember. She kept them on a shelf, sometimes she pulled out looks that could tighten his groin. Down on his trip to memory lane, he didn't notice as Raven took hold of one of his arms to gaze down at his palm. A flush grazed his neck. He snatched it back wordlessly.
She asked patiently, "Someone catch you off guard?"
"Something like that."
A part of him wanted to feel her hands stroking him again. The careful movements were soft and deliberate, cradling his wounds with earnest affection.
Raven nodded… or was there sadness creeping over? "Looks like it hurt."
"No more than it normally would."
She knew he was playing the evasive-boy routine and didn't care to hear the story about his hands, knowing it would pain him to retell the tale. All was quiet for a good three minutes, one of them was ticking off the seconds, until Dick inquired for her opinion, "What do you think the Mayor's gonna do with this place?" Her shoulders rose.
"I heard around that construction plans on building a summer home on the property. Probably for his darling wife."
In unison, they faced the gorgeous, glimmering ocean-horizon.
"He's got good tastes in location, I'll give him that."
"I guess since Vic's going back to college… Starfire..." His smile forsaken-unconscious hand twitch, he added, "well, she's going back to her planet. That just leaves us." Exposed white eyes gleamed. "Any plans?"
"I might head home to the city I grew up in on Earth… I…."
Raven parted her lips silently. He nudged her knee with his lightly. "What is it?"
"I'm afraid." Dick blinked dumbfound in her unashamed approach to the subject. "I'm afraid to step out into this world. I've locked myself away for so long…like a Rapunzel… I'm not as confident as I use to be," she admitted.
"That can change," he asserted, hating the uncertainty clinging to her. It did not suit her. "Besides the world will be more beautiful with you in it."
Raven closed her eyes, grumbling in a whisper, "Flirt."
"I'm not denying it."
The smirk that was supposed to be on her face instead glowing in her eyes, still she wavered. "I don't know-"
Dick murmured, "Then let me make it easy on you."
Not shocked by his forwardness but nevertheless thrilled by it, his bare hands touched her face. Though scarred, she was unresponsive to the sight and feel, not repulsively flinching away as he expected. On the contrary, she leaned into it. It was like electricity the way he touched her. Heated contact that made her equilibrium spin out of control and throat dry, waiting for him to quench her thirst.
His thumbs positioned themselves under her chin, bidding her to look up. His middle finger tracing her skin.
"Can I kiss you?"
Raven this time did looked stunned. "You're asking me?" she said. He was not the submissive nor patient type. Dive-in-head-first described it better.
"It's been a while, I want it to be perfect," he said, half smiling.
"Perfection's a state of mind, Dick."
"And you're my definition of it."
With that being said, she kissed him first even though he lowered his lips over hers. That passing time in the alley, those spontaneous forceful actions, were nonexistent compared to what they felt now. This is what they'd call their first kiss after years of being separated. There was a divine explosion, a rush of emotions that they were missing and mutually wanted deep down in the darkest corner of their hearts.
The simple meeting of skin to skin meant so much and lasted so concise. It was an undemanding and clean kiss. Dick brushed his nose to the side of her face, breathing her sweet-smelling skin. "It can never be like it was before," he said.
She finished, meeting their lips again, quietly, "But we can hope for better."
Whoever thought the glass of life was half empty clearly never knew Raven.
The muscles in his arms and biceps rippled as they stretched out over the top of his head. The first occupant of Raven's bedroom grunted softly and hazily yawned into his hand. The second, fast asleep, let out a tiny, breathy snore. Holding back a laugh, Dick rubbed her motionless arm. Said motionless arm became active as its owner shifted her body closer to his, slipping her arms around his waist and resting her cheek on his chest.
"Mm… you're warm."
He commented, giving her a wicked smile, "Especially when beautiful women think they can take advantage of me by pretending to be asleep." Her face cracked into an identical smile.
"Don't worry, Bird-Brain. Your virginity is safe with me."
Raven's smile became a smidgen more fiendish.
"Cause I took it," she said, plainly.
Dick grinned, shaking his head in disbelief.
"Do you seriously have any idea how attractive you are?"
She chuckled, warm breath caressing his naked skin, and curled her lower body up towards his side, again sighing contently. She loved this. Being loved that is. Him. He, on the other hand, moved her hair aside contently when his fingers found a thin line along her throat. He could feel it underneath his fingertips where it flawed her unblemished flesh. It bothered him. His index finger stroked it.
"Where did you get this?"
She removed his hand, twining her fingers through his.
"During a fight, a robber choked me with my necklace I was wearing. It broke when it cut into my skin."
A quick flash of anger bubbled in his stomach, then dissipated when she got out of the covers, her rumpled nightdress swaying on her hips. Raven inspected her bookcase/library, tossed a book over her shoulder, and returned to plop down on the mattress. She placed her hands over his, muttering a sincere "sorry" as the weighted object fell into his palms.
The ruby stone hanging on the bottom. Cold metal. The necklace she gave him for Christmas.
"It's okay. It's not like it has much use anymore anyway."
She frowned at his attempt to make her feel better. "That doesn't make it alright. I still feel bad. It was yours-"
Raven was cut off by his mouth attaching to her lips, pressing insistently and dominantly against the seal. Muffling a cry, she was so startled by it that she toppled onto her back with him directly over her, sitting comfortably on her stomach. They parted after a drawn out moment, he said, firmly, "Just forget about it, okay?"
"If you'll do one thing for me."
He smiled, warmly. "What did you have in mind?"
She rolled out from under him, securing herself in a position right between his hips, and murmured hotly in his ear, "Stop crushing me. You are not an anorexic teenager anymore."
"Hey! I ate!" Dick said, defensively. Raven snorted atop him.
"As much as I did, Obsessive Compulsive Insomniac."
"What was your excuse?"
"How else was I gonna fit in my spandex?"
He did not have a comeback. Instead of admitting defeat, he started up where they had stopped. Dick breathed stifled into a vigorous kiss he exchanged with her bruised lips, her mouth opening and a moan breaking from her system. A shameless hand kneaded her breast. He arched up into her to pull her down, kisses became more aggressive and tongues. Her lithe hand began to develop a mind of its own-
"Whoa! What the hell are you two doing?"
Bliss interrupted by a figure right in the middle of the open bedroom doorway. Raven looked over her shoulder to snarl at the gawker, thorough annoyed at herself more than him.
"Ever heard of knocking?" she snapped.
Cyborg held a mechanical hand to his metal brow, speaking with a touch of bewilderment and disgust, "Oh lord, don't tell me you were screwing..."
"We would until-"
She covered her lover's mouth, growling, "If you value your life, you won't finish that sentence, and you" Raven scowled at Cyborg as a wave of dark blue knocked him out and the door slid close by itself deafeningly. "As much as I adore the control you have over your libido," she said- Dick groaned when her hand swatted him upside the head- "You deserved that."
"What, are you ashamed to be seen with me?"
She crossed her arms, giving her a very calculating glare. "I'm not giving you the satisfaction. My hands are not coming anywhere near your ass."
Raven swung a leg over him, seating herself on her pillow and threw another at his face. "Sorry to disappoint you, but we only have a few hours to pack." He skimmed his fingertips over his watch, cursing. Somewhat dejectedly, he turned his head and crawled out of the sheets, stretching the small of his back on the way out. "I'll meet you downstairs."
Bare feet muffled in the carpet.
She threw herself back into the covers. With a small smile, Raven buried her face into his pillow he laid in, taking in the aroma of her shampoo he borrowed, veiled with his own scent.
This was safety.
Her empathic senses picked up a notch. Her head jerked right around to the person's aura she detected.
"Do you need help packing?"
Standing right in the hallway with folded arms, Starfire watched her with slight disdain. The empath gestured her in, smiling lightly.
"I remember when you use to phrase it 'You require my assistance in packing the items which belong to you, yes?'"
The new Queen of Tamaran could not suppress the matching smile touching her golden lips, a soft chuckle passing them. "Your Earthly language grew on me. English is now fluently on Tamaran."
"Wonderful. Now I won't have to bother reading the book on alien-languages-I-can't-understand."
She joined her in the task of placing her things in boxes and stacking them near the door. Starfire lugged her trunk full of secrets out from the closet, pausing to set it on an angle.
"You and… Nightwing seem to be getting along fine."
Raven shut her eyes, speaking with a touch of annoyance as she threw a CD into a shoebox, "Starfire, I'm not going to have this argument with you."
Upon seeing her frustration in her stance, the alien woman said, "I'm sorry. I can't find it in my heart to forgive him when I feel so betrayed." The empath couldn't help but look over her shoulder in pity as Starfire whispered, crestfallen, "It was like he left me, too."
"Forgiveness is something we have to do to become better people. To show just how kind we are."
The Tamaranean tilted her head, intrigued. "It appears that I still have a lot to learn. And that you know so much." The other woman grinned, looking away.
"A lot of it I learned from you."
Raven didn't get to see her grin back.
Once her books were packed away into all the boxes, clothes tossed in as well, random items in other boxes, her lonely trunk stacked below the boxes, Raven took a good last look at her surroundings. Empty book case, single mattress and V-shaped bedstead. The fantastically dark décor, her two-faced statue (frankly she didn't want it) were the things to be left behind. A swelling of melancholy ballooned in her chest.
This was actually it. This place could soon cease to exist. Her haven.
Fingers shaking, Raven pressed the access code to shut the door. Heart pounding behind her tongue, eyes smarting, it locked with a soft thud. She traced her name engraved in the titanium fondly before slowly turning away and taking steps out into the stairwell, away from the hallway. She could breathe again.
With most of her belongings floating in front of her, and Starfire taking the trunk, they ended up near the main entrance just past the East elevators.
"Is there anything else you need?"
Raven shook her head. "You've done everything you can."
"Then I must be going."
Turquoise stood out prominently as they widened in dismay. "What?" Raven asked.
Starfire tried to explain to her gently, as not to hurt her with carefully placed words, "Cyborg is my ride. My things in the T-Car. We will be leaving shortly… he does not want to get caught in traffic…."
Eyes beginning to well, Raven stared at the floor as if it had told her the bad news.
Suddenly, a pair of bright green came into view.
Softly-curved arms enveloped her, enveloped her grief kindly, squeezing her body warmly. Starfire said with a clenched jaw, clenched to keep her own despair from showing. "I'm sorry to be telling you right this instant. I didn't know how to tell you without causing you pain. Your happiness is everything to me. You have always been my best friend. You know things no one else does. We will meet again. I don't know when or how, but I feel it."
She made a sign over her breast, indicating the space where her heart was and then silently leaned in. Warm lips touched hers, chastely. Starfire pulled back and gazed deeply into her eyes. Raven held back a sob that threatened to peak at the gesture, when the alien woman whispered, "I love you, Friend Raven."
The empath whispered back, screwing up her wet eyes, "I love you, too, Koria."
Starfire touched her lips to her hair, eyeing the open area where the two men finished their goodbyes. Cyborg had dropped the stiff act of doing a lamely attempted guy handshake to catch him in a brief hug to which the other man smiled sadly at.
Cyborg's human eye flickered over to where they stood, as the men entered the corridor to join them and mouthed to the empath: C'mere.
Raven soon found herself wrapped in a bone-crushing hug, not caring if a couple of ribs might have been bruised in the process, and still found a way to frown good-naturedly when he pinched her cheek. "You be good, Dark Girl. I'll still be calling on the communicator."
"Can't wait, Vic."
He chuckled, his face stony with the same effort of keeping his emotions from pouring out, and vanished into the elevator without another word.
Dick shifted uncomfortably as Starfire glanced at him. What didn't glistened in her eyes before did now. With a slight hand wave, she smiled hopefully. Not receiving a response from him, her hand lowered and she walked out to the second elevator.
His low voice echoed in hollow walls. The pings of each level faded. Raven swallowed her tears and buried her face into her palms, her shoulders giving an occasional tremor. "Hey," he shushed her, walking across the hall to tuck her head underneath his chin and rocked her in his arms.
"I can't help it," she mumbled into his rumpled shirt.
When Raven pulled away red-eyed, Dick kissed her face. "Need help putting stuff into the rental car?" She made a head motion signaling 'no' and levitated her things out of the double doors flooding sunshine. On her way out, the sunlight caught her hair.
To his surprise, the color was not dark but a wine-color.
He could find a million ways to describe her, and there would always be something coming along to surprise him about her. From every stage, the beginning when she was no more than a mystery. The element secreted from her. It tempted him to discover what made her tick, what made her smile those rare smiles, what made her feel.
To a friend that cared, who he cared for, who he could risk his neck for, understanding the torture Slade inflicted upon her, and began to come to his own realization that she might have meant more than a teammate and ally.
To a lover that lit all good intentions within him, even though she was dark, she made his light stand out. She loved with all her being, body and mind, giving all she could and making him desire more than any other woman could have in his life.
To an enemy in a memory, keeping some part of her heart from his grasp, clawing into his wounds when she lashed out, when she was too consumed by anger and uncertainty to comprehend her actions.
In the long run, Raven took the form of everything and developed into the one person Dick couldn't live without, his half that he needed to survive. To become complete. He never thought he could love someone so entirely and without indignity. His soul fell hopelessly in love.
Raven cleared her throat, throwing him a half-amused, pointed look. Dick smirked. "A little bit," He raised her arm up to eye level, tracing soft kisses on the inside skin. He held out her hand to kiss the knuckles.
"I thought about something," Raven said.
She snorted with a slight eye roll, tried to pull her hand back. He tugged it, apologizing and smiling. "I'm sorry, please continue."
"You gonna listen or make cracks all day?"
"I'll control myself. I promise."
Humor dissolved into seriousness.
"Who is going to protect this city from crime? Did we even thinking about that?"
Almost automatically, he replied, "Jump City can hold itself up. They're strong. They did it without us a long time ago." Raven opened her mouth and he butted in, "What matters is that we have to move on. Who knows what will happen after we leave? Maybe somebody will take our place."
"That's not what I was going to ask."
"Oh…" He rubbed his neck sheepishly. "Um…"
"For the record, what you said did reassure me. But, what I was going to say was... where are we going?" Raven made a face right after she finished, "And it would be wonderful if you could avoid the phrase 'Gotham City'." Dick laughed. He hoped she'd never change.
From the looks of it, he had nothing to worry about.
"Relax, I was actually thinking you and I could go out of the country for a little while before settling in one place. Go see some uncharted island, go sailing; Rav, you'd love the beaches." Her eyes glowed at the nickname.
"Where are you getting all this money, Bird-Brain?"
He shrugged nonchalantly, slipping an lean hand to her hip. "Couple jobs here and there..."
She smiled faintly as they walked into the morning light.
"I'd like to see the beach."
"It's a date then."
A/N: And so all good stories come to an end. This one is no different. It's been a wild ride, through every twist, turn, and drop I had you guys to support me. I'm sorry to have to end this journey, I feel like it's over too soon, but the sad fact is that it is. Yes, I am thinking about a oneshot follow up and depending on how much time I can dedicate to it, you might see it this summer. I loved writing this story, it was a wonderful way to challenge and channel everything I could put into it, it was a great motivator, and I loved having a way to connect to everyone. There are some of you out there that did feel a strong connection to this epic story, thank you for letting me know, it made me feel like I was doing something important.
Now comes the time to thank my cherished reviewers, thank you: ravenrogue19, Tecna, Insanely Unstable, MrsSakuraPotter, Kikkii, Darkened Master, Cherished18, sbu-liz, Cherry Jade, MyChemSweetie, finalitylife, defyinggravity178, SweetNCrazieSugarmuffin, Valian, Alena-chan, jesters pet oriole, Peppertip, RaeVin, ravenslair, Lyra36, 1X1pEngUIn89, , RoadToStupid, ray1, A Raven's last song, AzarathPrincess, and paprika90!
Also to those who reviewed Darker Edges and who put me on their favorites too! I appreciate everything you've done everyone.
If you'd be so kind, now that I've gotten mushy, to leave me a final review, cry, vent, goodbyes, what you thought of this last chapter,what you hated or loved throughout the entire story, story recommendations (I'm always looking for something new to read!). I'll see you at the next story!
All my love, Val.