Bright Line

Chapter Fourteen: Modus Tollens

Six-thirty was relatively late for Robin, but the others were hardly ever up at this hour, so he wasn't expecting Raven to be in the kitchen. But she was, stirring something in a plastic bowl, looking up to smile at him when she noticed that he was standing there, watching her.


"I didn't know you cooked." They usually left that to Cyborg, because Robin didn't have time and he didn't trust some of them with the stove and Starfire's cooking was…sometimes a health hazard for a whole host of reasons.

Raven quirked an eyebrow, placing the two bowls in the microwave and hitting a button. "I don't. At all. But I can handle opening a packet and pouring in some water. As long as the directions are really detailed."

"Do you need help?" he asked quickly, not wanting to just stand there.

She reached across the bar and poked him in the shoulder. "What part of 'packet and water' was too hard to understand? You ready to go?"

"If you don't need help making oatmeal, I definitely don't need help packing," he said, indicating the bag at his feet.

Raven leaned over to look at it, turned back to him to roll her eyes. "Yeah, and I bet you might even be able to fit a toothbrush in there." The microwave beeped and she set one of the bowls in front of him, along with a glass of orange juice. "Turns out I can pour from cartons, too; there is hope for the world."

"Thanks. Seriously." He hadn't been expecting anyone to be up, would have completely understood if she didn't want to—besides, they'd already said goodbye last night—but it made what he was about to do just slightly less impossible.

Raven shrugged, moving around to sit next to him. "If I didn't, you'd never eat, and you're cranky when you don't eat so I didn't think that would go over well."

"I am not!"

"Fine, I amend that." She smirked. "You're cranky when you haven't eaten, slept, or been anywhere except in the danger room or in front of your computer for three days."

"I've gone for five."


He finished his juice without taking a breath, deliberately using the opportunity to pause before responding. "It's fine, Rae. Don't worry, really. I spent years learning how to do it."

"Doesn't mean you should have had to. And take your mask off, please."

Sighing, he obeyed, staring back at her evenly and suddenly aware of a thread of emotion from her that made him gasp…and then smile, slowly, uncertainly. He didn't know what it was—verbalizing emotion wasn't exactly his strong point, anyway—but he could gather that it was a good thing, gentle enough that it didn't overwhelm him like he thought that something like this might.

"Did you start wearing it because you got tired of people staring at you, or what?"

He rolled his eyes. "No, I started wearing the mask so people wouldn't discover my identity." He twisted around in his seat until their knees were almost touching. "Duh."

"Shut up; you're gorgeous and you know it," Raven said, and he couldn't tell which parts of the sentence were teasing and which were serious. Because actually, he didn't know it, and would argue the point if he didn't have to leave in fifteen minutes. Before, Robin had just never paid attention to how he looked, but after Slade, he hadn't looked in a mirror if he could absolutely help it. And when he did, 'gorgeous' was not the word that came to mind. But he did have to leave in fifteen minutes, so Raven would just have to live with the mistaken conclusion that he was gorgeous until he could come back and correct her.

"I…I think I'm going to miss my flight if I don't leave soon," he muttered, standing up.

Raven nodded and followed wordlessly. The past few days had been difficult and embarrassing for both of them, and though it was hard to imagine Raven being awkward at anything (with the possible exception of sports), he was slowly beginning to realize that she didn't have any more idea on how to act than he did. Of course, there was the added complication of her being under the impression that Robin was liable to break into a thousand pieces at any moment. He couldn't decide if her excessive concern annoyed or reassured him. It was excessive, but this way he didn't have to worry about the things he'd done that he never wanted to do again, and even though he knew in his head that he wasn't evil for the way his body had reacted, it still—sometimes he still had trouble separating intellect from emotion.

If anything, Robin had come to the somewhat paradoxical realization that he didn't know half as much about relationships as he'd thought. That just because he'd done things that some his age didn't even know existed didn't mean that he knew what to do when Raven put her arms around his neck and urged him closer. He'd expected a cold shudder but that wasn't what he felt at all.

"Are you mad at me?" she asked quietly, resting her chin on his shoulder.


"For making you go see Batman."

He sighed, and shifted slightly so his arms felt a little less awkward. "No. Just mad at myself that this is so hard."

She lowered her hand slightly to rub the place where neck met shoulder, and it distracted him enough that he almost had difficulty processing what she said. "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."

"Uh huh," he mumbled into her hair.

Raven laughed, drawing back so they were looking at each other again, though she didn't let him go. "Wake up; you have to go drive a motorcycle. As I was saying, it'll make things better in the long run; I wouldn't have encouraged you if I didn't really believe that."

"Wouldn't have made me, you mean."

"Let's compromise: persuaded you. Call me tonight, okay? Seriously, call me. And no fair getting obsessed with something and saying you forgot to call me."

"Okay, no obsessing. Promise." The worry would have annoyed him if it had come from someone else, but somehow, knowing that she wanted him to call made him feel better about leaving.

"And you'll be back Tuesday night unless I hear otherwise, right?"

He nodded. "I sincerely doubt I'll have any lingering desire to stay there."

"You never know," she said brightly, then paused, had one of those silent arguments with herself before continuing, "I'll miss you. Nobody to ensure that we're all operating at full neuroticism, you know."

"I think that might have been sarcasm," said Robin.

"Then you're wrong, because I will." And somehow, her face was centimeters from Robin's, hesitant and uncertain and determined all at once, and he could feel her breath as she whispered, "…Is this okay?"

He managed a slight nod, and Raven closed the distance between them and kissed him. It was over before he had time to wonder if it was really okay or not, but he was fairly sure of the answer when he realized he was smiling. He knew he didn't want to do anything more, but he also knew that he didn't have to, and Robin hadn't known that it could be like that—to know that he could make it stop if he wanted to, didn't have to do it because people would die if he didn't. Rationally, he knew that it wasn't that way with other people but—maybe that applied to him, too.

Robin knew he was blushing as much as she was, and he finally couldn't stand it any longer and broke the silence. "I need to go now."

She nodded, gave him another quick hug and then stepped back, releasing him as she moved away. "Try to have some fun. And call me. And be careful. And don't treat yourself like crap. And call me."

He paused with his hand on the door frame. "I will," he sighed, though it was hard to pretend to be annoyed at the attention when they were both very well aware that he was just pretending. "Bye, Rae."

She waved, and he turned, leaving the mask off as he headed towards the elevator. He only looked back twice.

"If I accidentally got on a plane to Iceland, what would happen?"

A teenage girl with low pigtails looked over her laptop to glare at the boy, presumably her brother. "Then I'd seriously consider believing in Santa Claus again."

"You're mean, Krista!"

The chair he was sitting in was hard, blue, and far too close to the little boy who was fiddling with a toy fire truck. Robin glanced at his watch, looking down to see the jeans that looked so wrong and out of place on him—but he was traveling as Richard, since the other option would connect his real life with Bruce Wayne. He felt exposed, weak, human. It wasn't exactly instilling a great sense of confidence for what he had to do.

"No, just honest," Krista returned, her gaze focusing on Robin for a microsecond before falling back to her laptop. She pulled on her pigtails, straightening them out.

The boy rolled his fire truck along the rail of Robin's chair. "Hi," he said. "We're going to Michigan and we're staying for our whole spring break, and my grandpa's gonna let me drive his truck."

Krista reached over and snatched the fire truck away. "Jackson, don't talk to strangers."

"But I'm bored!"

She glanced at Robin, raising an eyebrow and smirking. "You still shouldn't talk to strangers. They might kidnap you. Which would be a tragedy." Krista coughed. "Who knows," she continued brightly, voice suffused with sarcasm. "You might get picked up by that guy on the news, Slade, and you won't even have any superheroes around to save you."

Jackson stared at her with his mouth hanging open. "The one with the creepy, metal mask that only has one eye?"

"Yep, just the one," said Krista, leaning over him, gaze intense as she lowered her voice. "And then he'll take you home and chop you up into little pieces, and bake you in a pie and feed you to Mom, and then…"

"Shut up, Krista!" Jackson covered his ears.

"Lucky you, that's our flight," said Krista, rising and taking Jackson's hand as he grabbed for his fire truck with his free arm. "I can tell you fun Slade stories on the plane."

Robin took a deep breath but managed not to reply. He looked at his watch again and wondered if the others were up yet.

"Y'know…" Krista's voice drew his attention again—he'd known she'd been standing there staring at him, but chose not to comment. "Has anyone ever told you that you look a lot like Robin?"

Robin shrugged easily. "Not that I recall."

Krista narrowed her eyes and then finally resumed pulling Jackson to the terminal.

"Yeah, I couldn't even get captured by Slade, 'cos Robin would save me, he would…"

The insistence in his high-pitched voice was not reassuring. Because Robin didn't know if he could save Jackson from Slade, didn't know if he could even face him again—he'd have to find a way, but the thought still left him nauseated. And it didn't matter how sure the little kid was; Robin knew that things weren't easy, that Santa Claus wasn't real, and that Slade would probably do a lot worse to Jackson than getting chopped up if he was actually captured.

It reminded him of something Beast Boy had said to him a few days ago, when he'd caught Robin alone in the gym—he'd been working out lately, of his own free will and at odd hours, which for Beast Boy indicated that he was taking Terra's revelation immeasurably harder than he was letting on.

"Haven't you ever thought about—this? What we do? I mean, Robin, we're kids. Like, not even old enough to see R-rated movies, except for Cy. And after Terra…and Slade…and man, I know this shouldn't matter but he's an adult and he raped her and who knows what he'd—I'm scared." He'd been leaning against the dumbbell rack, tracing his finger along one of the larger bars, spitting out the last two words like they were bones he'd almost swallowed.

And Robin hadn't known what to say, because there wasn't anything he could say that would make it better. Oh, don't worry, Beast Boy, Slade raped me, too; everything will be fine. There was nothing. When Slade was involved, you never made things better—you just survived, hopefully, and kept surviving till the next time you had to protect someone. And then you did your job.

But knowing that didn't help the way his stomach got stuck in his throat when he had to hear the small, pleading voice that had never sounded this small before, the one that had always counted on Robin to come through for him, except this time Robin couldn't do anything.

Because, when he was completely honest with himself, Robin was just as afraid as Beast Boy. Maybe more afraid. He leaned his hand into his arm and wondered if he should tell Bruce. Tell him everything, up to and including begging for him to come deal with Slade. It was cowardly, it was quitting, it was everything Robin hated, but maybe Bruce was right, maybe he'd always been right and Robin wasn't ready for this—and the others would probably never forgive him, but seeing what had happened to Terra, the way Beast Boy had looked as he pleaded for Robin to save them all…

It made it real. More real than it had ever been. And Robin hated the way he suddenly wanted Bruce to hug him more than anything in the world.

Then, he noticed a tiny light in the corner of his watch. His heart stopped beating.

Terra. Oh god, Terra.

The voice on the loudspeaker was announcing something about Flight 8300 to Gotham, but Robin couldn't take his eyes away from the light, willing it to go out, unable to get a breath. Her tracking device. The one he'd rigged himself because he needed to do it himself before he'd believe that it was adequate. The one that he'd fitted to her wrist last week with a stab of pity, as huge, blue eyes blinked at him in pain, confusion. The one he'd all but convinced himself that he didn't actually need, because Terra would never try so injudicious a course of action as running away.

And the light wouldn't go out. For a few more seconds, he just sat there, frozen in the blue, plastic seat, one shaking finger hovering over the buttons.

Then, he calmly pressed the sequence of keys that would turn the alarm off at the Tower, telling the nausea and the terror to stay buried within him where they belonged.

He'd said he would never do this again. Promised it to all of them after November, swore it to himself that night in the shower when he'd scrubbed himself raw as he cried. And yet, he was doing it. Impossibly. Idiotically.

Except, actually, it wasn't idiotic this time. Robin knew the consequences. He just didn't care. He had to save Terra, and in order for her to survive, the others couldn't ever know that she had triggered that alarm.

Because Raven would kill her. He really did believe that, and it wasn't one of the things he liked about her, but it was true. Even if he did somehow manage to stop Raven—and he wasn't confident that he could, not when Raven could telekinetically drop a bus on him if she wanted to—Terra's life was over if this got out. And he couldn't let that happen, not without at least hearing why…and considering how on edge she'd been lately, her mind could have manufactured any number of grounds for running away. Even for running to…Robin swallowed the thought and choked on it.

He didn't have a lot of time, and he was calling Bruce's private phone line before he'd had time to formulate an acceptable excuse, and he'd been hoping to just leave a message—why hadn't he just sent a voicemail, he was so stupid—but wherever Bruce was at eleven-thirty—probably at work—he had his phone with him.

"Are you alright, Richard?" He didn't sound tired or aggravated, just concerned. Probably because he knew that there was no way Robin would be calling just to let him know where he was.

"Umm, sorry for interrupting…whatever, but I can't come." He closed his eyes and willed Bruce not to ask too many questions.

A pause. "Why not?"

Well, at least he owed him an answer to that question. "Team member in serious trouble. I'm really sorry, but we'll have to reschedule."

"You don't have to apologize for something like that. Do what you need to do."

He was on his feet heading for the exit before Bruce had finished speaking, a fraction of the tension draining away. "Thank you." Robin heard himself adding more words to that, rambling, pointless words that he felt like he had to say. "I really didn't mean for this to happen; this isn't more teen angst, I swear, and maybe later we can—"

"Richard." His tone was confident, firm, and for some reason exactly what he needed to hear. "Be careful; call me when you get it taken care of; go."

"Okay," he said, and he had to fight to make himself press the button that would end the call. Had to fight against the voice that wanted to drag Bruce out here no matter what important meeting he had, because he selfishly wanted him here now, so he wouldn't have to face a man who raped teenagers.

Robin snapped the phone shut.