Cognitive Dissonance

Chapter Thirteen: Loaded Question

Terra hadn't been sleeping. She said that she was, but she wasn't. It wasn't really a lie, she'd decided, because it was only a lie if it hurt somebody—and this didn't do anything but make her really tired, so it was okay.

Sometimes, she'd be able to sleep for a little while in the afternoon or later in the morning, with all the lights on and her head turned away so she couldn't see the bars that they'd put on her windows last week and hadn't taken off. Even though she had her tracker on her wrist all the time now, which meant that she no longer had to be locked in her room, they still hadn't taken off the bars. It was to keep her from opening the window, summoning up a rock, and running away to tell Slade stuff. Synthetic metal bars, so Terra couldn't touch them with her powers—they were dead to her, lacking even a tiny ounce of earth to grab onto. It made her feel helpless. Naked.

It made her feel like they'd just wanted to decorate her room to look like a jail cell.

Lying on her back with her hands behind her head, she tried to count all the sparkly stars on her ceiling, eyes moving from right to left but losing focus somewhere in the middle. They'd put them there. For her. They'd decorated it with green and yellow and brown, but her favorite color was red, and they didn't care She'd told them it was her favorite, and they didn't even care.

Red like fire. Red like blood. Red like Lady Macbeth in that play that she'd had to read last month because Robin made them take classes, and she couldn't get the red out of her hands no matter what, it would never come out…

Terra shuddered and closed her eyes; because for some reason, counting the stars wasn't as comforting anymore. She thought that maybe she should sleep because it was so late that it was early—way too early for anyone to be up, except maybe Robin because he didn't ever really sleep. So she tried to roll over and think about nothing, but she ended up pulling her pillow to her stomach and thinking about the tracker on her wrist, the little, black band that she might have been able to pass off as a bracelet, except it wasn't meant to look pretty and it didn't. When she did sleep, it was always the last thing she saw before she closed her eyes. It kind of got stuck in front of her face, like someone was trying to remind her of why the others didn't trust her, why nobody could ever trust her again.

Terra finally gave up on trying to sleep. Peeling back the covers, she swung her feet over the side of her bed and stood up, pulling her hair into a ponytail as she started for the bathroom. She was allowed to go places by herself now that she had the tracker, since it wasn't convenient for everybody to have to watch her all the time. At least, she could go places inside the Tower. They didn't let her leave by herself. Cyborg said that she still wasn't ready yet, but that was stupid because Terra had been by herself all her life, so why did he think she was suddenly scared of it, or something? It was a lie. Like all the other lies about how one day she'd earn their trust back, how what happened wasn't her fault, how everything would work out okay in the end. Cyborg lied a lot. Maybe he was lying about her blood test, too; maybe the results weren't negative and she really would die from her infected blood. Terra thought that she should care more than she did, but thinking it wouldn't make her care more.

She was starting to wonder if it even mattered, anyway.

Terra was planning on taking a shower, but voices from the living room made her stop. It was way too early for anyone else to be awake—the only good excuse was not sleeping at all, like her. Guilt welled up in her, and she knew that she shouldn't do it, but she found herself walking quietly towards the living room door anyway, because if they were talking about her, at least then she'd know what they'd said. Then maybe she could figure out what to do about it.

What she saw didn't surprise her, but it almost made her start laughing and give herself away.

You're not going out with her, huh, Robin? Terra rolled her eyes as she watched Raven give him a hug, kept her arms around him and let her chin rest on his shoulder, saying something that was too quiet for Terra to hear. Robin was going somewhere, he'd told them two days ago, and he would be back Tuesday, but he didn't say where he was going or why, and Terra hadn't thought that he would leave so early in the morning. He was wearing jeans. It made him look really weird. And a little older.

Robin must not have heard Raven, either, because Raven repeated what she'd said, and when she did it made Terra want to throw up.

"…Go see Batman."

The first part was still too quiet for Terra to hear, but she didn't need to hear it all. Well, of course. She was so stupid, because he was Robin, wasn't he, and she'd never thought about what that meant, but he knew Batman, probably worked with him and stuff, and… Terra didn't know too much about Batman because she'd never really bothered much with other superheroes—why did it matter; they'd never saved her when she'd been ten years old and starving and thirsty and hot... She didn't know much about Batman, but she knew enough: he was really scary and really mean and really huge, and Terra would be perfectly happy for him to never know she existed. Except. Oh, god. Robin must have told him about her. So he would know. About her. And how bad she was.

She forced herself to turn back to the conversation. Robin didn't let go of Raven, just sighed and said, "No. Just mad at myself that this is so hard."

He sounded upset, and it was sweet when Raven started rubbing his shoulder, but she couldn't think about that because of what Raven was saying. "You haven't seen him in almost a year and now you're going to tell him that something terrible happened to you. Of course it's hard."

Something terrible. Terra was the "something terrible," wasn't she? She had to be—nothing had happened to Robin since she'd met him except him going out with Raven, and that wasn't anything like terrible. Well, it kind of was, since Raven was so mean, but she wasn't mean to him, so it shouldn't count as terrible. Probably. And of course Robin would be upset, because he probably didn't want to tell Batman what she'd done, but he was going to do it anyway because Raven wanted him to—Raven hated her, so of course she'd ask. No wonder Robin hadn't told where he was going. No wonder he was leaving so early before anybody else was up.

"…Make things better in the long run; I wouldn't have encouraged you if I didn't really believe that." They'd pulled away from each other so Raven was looking straight at him with her arms still around his neck, and now Terra could see that…that he…he wasn't wearing the mask. At all. She couldn't really see his eyes from here, but she could see that she'd been wrong; they were blue, not green.

And it would make things better in the long run, wouldn't it, if Robin told him about all the bad things that she'd done and he just…took care of her. It would make things a lot better, for Raven, because she'd always wanted to get rid of Terra, even before anything had happened, and it would be really mean for Batman to kill girls, but he was kind of mean, and maybe he would... Terra turned away and leaned against the wall, staring down at her hands—she kind of liked the way they shook.

Already, she was wondering if there was any way to keep it from happening. If she left right now and nobody saw her, the tracker would go off, but maybe she could find some way to cut it or break it before the others woke up. And once she got away, she didn't know if that would really help, but at least it would be something. Terra couldn't just…sit here, counting the stars on her ceiling and thinking about red stuff and wondering when Batman was going to show up to kill her.

At first, she didn't even realize that running away was against the Rules—well, she wasn't really running; she'd just go away for a little while and come back when it was safe. But even then, it was against the Rules.

Terra clenched her hands into fists and watched as the shaking slowed, then stopped, her breathing gradually returning to normal. For some reason, she felt calmer than she'd felt in a long time, maybe as calm as she'd ever been.

She didn't care about Rules. Not anymore. Not when Raven didn't play by the Rules.

Rules could go to hell.

She glanced back to the living room and couldn't decide if she was glad she did or not. They were kissing, and it kind of made Terra feel like she finally knew more than them about something, because she was definitely better at it than that. And not only had she been wrong about Robin's eyes, but she was also wrong about thinking that he'd had sex—because there was no way Robin could have ever even kissed anybody before this. It was short and sort of at the wrong angle and reminded her of when she'd first kissed Beast Boy in the hallway, and Terra felt a little guilty when they broke apart, like she'd seen something that was supposed to be private. Which she kind of had.

Well. If they didn't want her to see, they shouldn't have kissed each other right after they'd been talking about having Terra killed.

After that, Terra had to hide in a storage room for a few minutes while Robin left to go…wherever Batman lived. In some cave somewhere, probably. All by himself, and it was probably cold, too.

She waited until long after the noise of the elevator had stopped before she let the door slide open and shuffled down the hall. But she'd only taken fifteen steps—she counted because she was nervous—when Raven stopped her.

"Bit early for you."

She didn't sound angry, but Terra knew that she was. "I was gonna take a shower."

Raven crossed her arms over her chest. "Right. Sure you were."

"I was though!"

"Shower's that way, Terra," Raven said, pointing down the hall.

Terra swallowed the lump in her throat and looked at the floor.

"Look." Raven narrowed her eyes, a fire behind them that had nothing to do with whatever made her eyes turn red sometimes. "I don't know what's going on with you and I don't care. But if you hurt him, I will kill you. Understand?"

It didn't matter if she hurt Robin or not—Raven was going to kill her anyway, and Terra wasn't going to hurt Robin, but if she'd wanted to…it wouldn't have mattered. Terra's heart beat faster in a way that she wasn't sure she liked, but at the same time it made her feel stronger.

Raven couldn't know that she was strong, though.

So Terra kept her eyes on the floor, calling up the shaking that she'd stopped earlier, squeezing a tremor into her voice as she stammered out, "Uh huh, I promise that I didn't mean to do anything bad—I just want to take a shower now, okay, and then I'll go right back to my room and you won't have to look at me anymore today, would that be okay?"

"Fair enough. Have fun with that." Raven rolled her eyes and then was gone in a dark glimmer of not-light.

Terra wasn't going to take a shower. Slade had told her to take a shower, and she wasn't going to listen to Slade. She was only going to listen to Terra from now on.

She wasn't going to take a shower—but she wasn't going to her room, either, and she definitely wasn't sleeping.

Okay, so eventually, she did go to her room for a little bit. It didn't count because she didn't stay there. And she'd gone to the kitchen first. She'd opened drawers and cabinets, one after another, grabbing anything that looked interesting, because she didn't know when she'd be able to come back and she needed to have some food. After that, she'd gone to her room and flung the food into a backpack she'd dragged out of her closet, adding a hairbrush and some clothes. Her fingers had grazed the heart-shaped picture frame that Beast Boy had given her last month, but she didn't pick it up. It was going to sit right there, because Beast Boy didn't like her any more than the others did—he was lying to her, just like everybody lied to her all the time.

And then she'd looked at her watch, realized that it was late enough that the others would be getting up soon, so she slung the backpack over her shoulders, stuffed some pillows under her sheets, and locked the door behind her. She hoped that by the time they figured out that she hadn't really gone in there because she was afraid of Raven, she'd be far enough away so it wouldn't matter.

The stupid tracker started beeping almost as soon as she stepped outside onto fresh earth, and calling up a cluster of ground to get her off the island took more effort than she'd needed in a long, long time. Stepping onto the swaying, trembling lump of dirt, she forced her heart to get out of her throat and back into her chest where it belonged. The wind played with her hair, and she sat down with her hands around her knees, staring out into the ocean as the sun got brighter and brighter on the top of her head. Before, she'd sometimes pretended that she had a magic carpet. It was kind of like that. Except this one was dirty. Like Terra. It was the only kind of magic carpet she could make.

And the tracker beeped, whiny and insistent on her left wrist, not shutting up for even a second as she tried to maneuver it off of herself. But it was too tight for that, and she didn't see any way to get the clasp open—there had been some kind of lock, and knowing Robin it had a password that only he knew. If she could get it off her, she could toss it into the water and it would sink down, down and nobody could ever use it to find her. Assuming it even still worked underwater. Thinking about the little blinking light going dead and still as it came to rest against a rock almost made her laugh.

But it wouldn't come off, no matter how hard she pulled. Her wrist was turning red.

She decided she'd have to find a better way. Maybe she could cut it somehow. But she didn't have anything to cut with. Terra groaned, wishing that she'd thought of that before she'd left, because they probably had at least a few sharp things at the Tower.

She thought about it for a few minutes as she stared into the water, following the dark shadow of a dolphin skimming the surface. Hardware stores had sharp things. Lots of them. Scissors and knives and electric saws. She pulled the clump of earth back into full focus, turning it to head towards the city, towards freedom from the tracker, even though it seemed like going back into the city would take her further from the other kind of freedom, the important kind that she wanted.

No. First, cut the tracker. Then she could find another rock and float away above the skyline and out into the ocean, and she'd follow dolphins and wonder what the clouds looked like and not stop until she'd found some place far, far away where she didn't have to be herself.

The first suitable place she came to wasn't the greatest area of town. On the outskirts of the city, near the area under the bridge where you didn't go if you wanted to come out alive—unless you were a superhero, of course. They'd saved a lot of people from being shot and beaten and worse under that bridge, and many like it.

Of course, Terra didn't think she'd ever be a superhero again, but she thought she'd probaly be okay down there anyway.

The store was right at the top of a small hill, a hill that was covered with weeds and thorns and probably had anthills everywhere and the parking lot wouldn't have disgusting bugs or anything—but she'd already stirred up the only anthill that mattered, though, so she didn't really care that she came to a stop almost on top of a huge hill crawling with the little things.

There was nobody around when she turned one way and then the other, noticing an abandoned park near the bottom on the hill—she didn't want to exactly touch down in the middle of the parking lot and have everybody stare at her, and then sooner or later somebody would recognize her and start demanding autographs… She shuddered and turned away from the rusted swing set, with one of the chains broken and dragging in the dirt, weaving around beer bottles and newspaper as the wind blew it. Swings shouldn't ever have to look like that. It was wrong, somehow.

Head down, she started up the hill towards the crumbling, purple sign that proclaimed, Sammy's Home Improvement. Personally, Terra thought that Sammy himself could exercise a little home improvement on his own store. But that didn't matter, as long as Sammy sold sharp things.

She stumbled on a rock that had the nerve to be sitting right in her path, yelping as she lost her balance and went flying towards a thick patch of vines and trash.

But she never hit the ground.

Because something grabbed her backpack and held on tight, snapping her back to her feet. A human something, because then there were hands clamping down on her shoulders as if they wanted to squeeze her into the ground and bury her. And for half a terrifying second, she thought it was Batman and wished she were dead.

Then, she realized who it really was, decided that it wasn't much better than Batman, and kept right on wishing she were dead.

Terra didn't turn around, because she didn't need to. She just let herself hang there limply in his grip, listening to the funny way her breathing sounded when it got faster and faster, the backpack pulling at the place underneath her arms.

And Slade's voice in her ear, his voice that was way, way too familiar, the unyielding mask leaned into her cheek and his hot breath wrapping itself around her as he spoke…

"Children shouldn't play with sharp objects, you know. They might hurt themselves. They ought to find a responsible adult to handle such matters."

One of his hands left her shoulder so all her weight fell on the right strap of the backpack, and she bit her lip against the pain. A whirring sound, and then she looked down to see him taking hold of her wrist as he dropped her other shoulder. It was probably easy for him because Terra didn't struggle—though her hands were shaking so it was hard for him to get a good grip. He turned it over, examining the black tracker critically.

"Very cute, Robin," he murmured, bringing the tiny, silver, spinning blade to Terra's wrist, holding her there with the same armored hand. She gasped, fully expecting to see her arm turn red with slippery blood, but Slade was good at cutting, he was responsible, just like he'd said, and the tracker snapped free and fell into his other hand. Before she could blink, the little saw had disappeared into one of the many compartments at his waist, and the tracker had fallen to the ground, sliced open around the band so it continued to blink and beep as if nothing had happened.

Without thinking, Terra stooped to pick it up, but his other hand yanked her back upright by the backpack.

"I don't think you'll be needing that," he murmured. "Not where you're going."

Terra didn't know where she was going and didn't want to know, but had a feeling she'd be finding out sooner than she was ready for, because he was dragging her past the rusty swing set, away from Sammy's Home Improvement and into the forest that bordered the park, and Terra tried to look back towards the road but he turned her head sharply into his chest, holding it there as he moved.

Terra coughed, fighting for words. "Let—let me go—I don't want to—"

"It doesn't really matter what you want, does it, my dear?" Slade answered calmly. "It has come to my attention that you have been a very, very naughty girl, and I believe you will regrettably have to learn that such behavior will not be tolerated."

"H-how am I gonna learn that?"

"Who knows," said Slade, stroking her hair in a parody of reassurance. "But rest assured that you will learn."

Terra was starting to think that learning would be worse than whatever Batman wanted to do to her.