"Friendly Persuasion" – Part 6 of the "Fire and Ice" series

"Friendly Persuasion" – Part 6 of the "Fire and Ice" series

by Telanu

Rating: PG13

Summary:  Koriand'r has a proposal for Raven—and Thunder and Lightning appear!  Sequel to "I Can Do This."

Author's Note: This storyline is by now clearly in the Alternative-Universe realm; however, "Friendly Persuasion" is largely based on NTT #'s 32-36.  It might help to go reread those titles (and why not?  They're classics!).  So far, the "Fire and Ice" series has been set between issue 31, where Phobia takes control of Raven's mind, and issue 32. We now pick up our story with Thunder and Lightning's appearance…

***

"What have you got in here, Terry?  Bricks?"

Terry Long emerged from the kitchen, where he had busily been unpacking boxes, to scoff at his fiancée's complaint.  "An Amazon is complaining about an itty bitty carton of textbooks?"

Donna huffed as she finally lowered the massive box to the floor.  "I told our all-too-curious neighbors that it was full of clothes.  We might get a few raised eyebrows if they find out little old me can carry upwards of hundreds of pounds." 

"It'll come in handy.  When you carry me over our threshold, that is."

Donna stuck out her tongue, but her expression quickly melted into wonder.  "Our threshold.  I can still hardly believe it.  Our own place…"

Terry's red eyebrows waggled suggestively.  "There's really only one way to make it ours, you know.  We have to christen it."

Donna grinned as she sidled into his arms.  "Oh?  And how do we go about doing that, man o' mine?"

"We make love," he murmured against her lips.  "In every room."

"How decadent," she breathed.  "Mother was right about men…"

"X'Hal!  Are you two at it again?"

Donna and Terry broke apart, flushing, as Koriand'r of Tamaran fairly staggered into the room, grinning over her armload of boxes.  "I don't understand it!" the alien chortled.  "You should be exhausted after spending all day moving in."

" 'That which Love can do,' " quoted Terry, hooking his arms back around Donna's waist, " 'that dares Love attempt.' "

"Oh, that's lovely," Koriand'r said as she placed the boxes carefully down by the sofa.  "Did you just make it up?"

"I wish I could say so," he replied wistfully.  "But I'm afraid I shall never match the talents of Master William Shakespeare."

Koriand'r wrinkled her brow and looked at Donna.  "Shakespeare.  You told me about him."

Donna nodded, snuggling in closer to her lover.  "One of Earth's most famous writers.  They even know about him on Paradise Island…I think from Steve Trevor, actually."

Koriand'r plopped down on the sofa and dragged a hand across her forehead.  "That's nice."

Terry grinned.  "Not up to any discussions about literature?  Thank God.  Neither am I.  I was bluffing."

"He's only a history professor," Donna remarked as she sank into the only empty chair.  "He doesn't really know about anything else."

"I resent that," Terry said mildly as he puttered back into the kitchen.  "I think that was everything, wasn't it, from the truck?"

"Last box," Koriand'r agreed wearily.

"We really appreciate your help, Kory," Donna said sincerely.  "It saved so much time."

"Glad to," Koriand'r said, smiling at her beloved ex-roommate.  "You going to need any help unpacking?  I have a photo shoot tomorrow, but I can help tonight."

Donna suddenly found her new floor very interesting.  "Oh, that's okay.  You're tired."

"So are you.  I just need to rest a few minutes."

"You're very kind, but…well, Dick's actually coming by in the morning to help.  I, um…" Donna finally looked at Koriand'r.  "I think he needs to talk."

Koriand'r didn't know how to reply to that, and so it was that Terry returned from the kitchen to a rather awkward silence.  He paused, and then said brightly, "What were we thinking, honey?  Our first night in our new apartment and we don't have any wine to celebrate with.  I'll run down to the store – be back in a sec.  You ladies just sit here and, uh, chat."

Donna flashed him a quick smile of gratitude and raised her face for a kiss.  "I think we'd like that.  Thank you."

"Just try to have all serious discussions done by the time I get back," he grinned.

"We'll time it," she promised.  As the door shut behind him, she turned back to Koriand'r, suddenly unsure how to begin.

Well, perhaps it was best to be direct.  "What happened with you and Dick, Kory?" she asked gently.  "Can you tell me?"

Koriand'r shrugged, obviously uncomfortable.  "Didn't Dick tell you?"

"Some of it, the night that…whatever happened, happened.  But he wasn't ready to talk much.  Are you?"

Kory looked at her miserably.  "I don't know.  He's your best friend…I'm so afraid you'll hate me."

Donna instantly rose and moved to sit next to the young alien.  "No, no, honey, no.  I've known for a while that you two were having problems – you used to talk to me about it, remember?"  When Koriand'r nodded, she looped an arm over the golden shoulders, now covered by a sweatshirt.  "You still can."

Koriand'r sighed deeply.  "What can I say?  I guess what it took was getting shot," ironic smile, "but in the hospital I finally faced facts: our relationship was all wrong.  I loved Dick.  I still love him.  But…" her voice trailed off for a moment.  "It was just wrong, that's all."

Donna leveled her most penetrating gaze at her friend.  "Is it?  All, I mean?"

Koriand'r looked at her blankly.

"Kory, you're always telling us that on Tamaran, love is the most important thing in a relationship.  But now you're saying it wasn't enough for you and Dick.  So I guess what I'm saying is, could you be a little more specific?"

Now it was Koriand'r who looked away.  "Maybe.  But I don't think I will.  No offense…I just have to think about a lot of things."

"Dick said the same thing," Donna mused.  "Maybe all you two need is some space, a little time to work things out."

"I don't think so," Kory said in a low voice, and Donna looked at her sharply.

"Kory, are you in love with someone else?"

"I don't know," Koriand'r whispered.  "I…I think maybe so.  But I…"

"Who is it?" Donna demanded.  Then, shrewdly, "Do I know her?"

Koriand'r turned a little pale, and Donna knew she'd hit home.  "Um, Donna, I don't…"

Donna cut her off by urgently taking the alien princess' slim hands in her own.  "Koriand'r, I'm your friend and I only want what's best for you.  So listen to me when I say: don't do what I think you're going to do."  She paused, and added as delicately as she could, "Remember what happened to Wally."

Then she watched, dismayed, as Koriand'r yanked her hands away.  "You're assuming too much.  I'm sorry, Donna, but I really don't want to talk about this right now."  She rose from the couch.

"Kory, I'm sorry," Donna said quickly.  "I just want you to be sure…"

"Earthlings always want to be sure," Koriand'r said, a tad scornfully, and then added more kindly, "Please trust me, Donna.  Really – this is more about Dick and me than me and anybody else."

"All right," Donna said, hearing the doubt in her own voice, and knowing her friend could hear it too.  "I want you to be happy."

"Me too."  Koriand'r walked swiftly to the door.  "Tell Terry I said goodnight, okay?"

"Okay.  I'm sorry."

"Don't be."  Koriand'r shook her head.  "You're honest – that's why you're a good friend.  But this is private."  She grinned suddenly.  "And I'm dead tired.  You two just enjoy that wine and start – what did he call it?  'Christening' the place."

Donna turned pink.  Her gold-skinned friend laughed, and shut the door behind her.

In spite of the friendliness of their parting, Donna stared moodily out of the window.  They'd talked, all right, and nothing – everything – had been said.

They hadn't even mentioned Raven's name.

***

It was so cold in here. 

Raven shivered as she wrapped her shawl more tightly around her shoulders.  She could not understand it: Tower systems indicated the central heating was functioning perfectly, but even the space heater she had borrowed from storage seemed unable to take the edge off the chill in her room.

Settling herself more comfortably into the cushions, the young empath attempted to ignore her discomfort so that she could seek the proper state for a trance.  Meditation had been so…difficult in these past few days.  Ever since that dreadful incident which had landed Koriand'r in the hospital, she had been unable to concentrate.  It could not be allowed to continue:  in order to keep herself properly purged of all emotions, she had to meditate frequently.  Today she would conquer this meddlesome problem.  She would.  Her eyes closed.

Five minutes later she rose to fetch a warm woolen scarf, then sat down to try again.

Fifteen minutes later, her breath left her in a hiss of sheer frustration.  Perhaps she should go somewhere else.  Ridiculous as the idea seemed, the pool room was always warm.  Or she could try the sauna.  Or simply build a campfire and sit on it.  Or…

The knocking on the door came as a welcome distraction, even as she realized who it was, who it must be, judging by the tingling in her brain and the pounding of her heart.  Enter, she called, mortified to hear her voice coming out as a croak.  Well, she had been sequestered for several days, speaking to no one; it was only to be expected. 

The door opened and Koriand'r stood on the other side of it, as Raven had known she would.  "Hi, Raven."  Impossibly bright smile.

Hello, Koriand'r.  I trust you are recovered?

"Oh yes, completely."  The princess still hesitated at the door.  "Uh, can I come in?"

Of course, do forgive me, Raven said quickly, even as her common sense screamed at her to evict this beautiful, innocent menace and return to her meditations.  If anything, Koriand'r's presence would destroy what little peace of mind she had left – and yet she found she could only stare in helpless fascination at the shine of golden skin as Koriand'r entered the room and closed the door behind her.

"X'Hal!" Koriand'r was saying, pulling off her own scarf and fanning her face with the other hand.  "I know it's cold outside, but don't you think you're overdoing it in here?"

Raven opened her mouth to say that, on the contrary, she was half-frozen, when the heat of the room suddenly seemed to hit her like a missile.  Azar, how had she not noticed it before?  You are correct, she said weakly, abruptly shrugging out of her shawl.  I was…meditating.  I am afraid I did not notice the temperature.  How easily the lie came to her lips…

"Whew…you must have been pretty deep under!"  her friend exclaimed as she crossed the floor quickly to the space heater.  "Can I turn this off?"

…yes…

The knob on the heater clicked over to the "Off" position, and Koriand'r looked up apologetically.  "You said you were meditating…I'm sorry if I interrupted."

No matter.  My meditations were not…fruitful.  Raven rose gracefully to her feet.  Do sit down.  May I offer you some tea?

"No, thanks," Koriand'r demurred, sitting precariously on one of the cushions Raven had vacated.  "I just wanted to come over, say hello, see how things were."

With surprise, Raven noted the nervousness she could feel from Koriand'r.  It pierced her: did the princess fear her now, as did Wallace?  Not an unreasonable supposition, given her rash actions of a few days ago.

By Azar, what had she been thinking, babbling into Koriand'r's mind in such a way in the ambulance?  She had hoped that her friend would not remember, unconscious as she had been.  Did she remember?  Was that why she was here?  Nausea abruptly formed a tight knot in Raven's stomach.

Things are fine, she said brusquely.

If Koriand'r noticed her sudden coolness, she gave no sign.  "That's good," she said absently, turning to look out the huge bay window that graced the east side of the room, looking over the river.  "Hey, you have a great view.  It must be nice at night…all those buildings lit up."  Raven made no reply.  "I, uh, I wanted to thank you for the other day.  You saved my life.  Again."

Throat tight, Raven could only nod.

"They let me out of the hospital the next morning.  I was hoping I'd see you."

Before she could cry, Why?, Raven said quickly, I have remained in solitude since then.

"Oh.  Meditating?"

Attempting to, Raven was astonished to hear herself admit.  I have not been overly successful.

"I'm sorry."  Koriand'r cocked her head to the side, sending cascades of cinnabar hair tumbling.  "Is it your father?  Can I help?"

Can I help?  Raven bowed her head.  The offer was one automatic to Koriand'r – remarkably so for someone who had been through so much.  It was near impossible to remain cool in the face of such artless generosity.  I appreciate it, Starfire,  but I must decline.  It is a…difficulty I must resolve on my own.

"Do you want to talk about it?"

No!…Ah, no.  Not at present.  Not ever.  Koriand'r would never be burdened by her, much less by her affections, if she could help it.  You spent only one night in the hospital, then?  As if she hadn't called the next day to make sure.

Koriand'r stretched her arms and grinned, making Raven's stomach shiver.  "Uh-huh.  Whatever you did, it did the trick.  I felt fine the next day.  Great, actually.  I spent the afternoon just flying over the city.  I wish you could have seen it with me – new snow!"

How pleasant, Raven murmured, not sure how to respond.

"Everything was shining.  It was like crystal.  You know, as strange as this city still is to me, I've come to love New York.  Something different happens every day.  And so many different kinds of people live here I don't even feel all that out of place."  She laughed suddenly.  "Me, an alien!  You know what I mean?"

Yes, lied Raven.  She'd never fit in anywhere – not with the Titans, not even back in Azarath.  The city is an…interesting place.  So many people, so many different kinds of pain and sorrow, hammering at her wherever she went, until she just wanted to stop moving and scream –

"Are you all right?"

Raven jerked herself back to the moment, embarrassed by her inattention.  Quite.

"I don't know." Koriand'r scratched her head, and her eyes narrowed.  "I mean…you looked fine, but you just felt upset.  If that makes any sense."

Raven went still.  That link between them – was it possible Koriand'r could somehow sense it too?  Could the other woman even be aware of its existence?  What do you mean? she asked cautiously.

Koriand'r shook her head.  "I'm not sure.  But sometimes I think," self-deprecating laugh, "it's like I know what you're feeling.  I don't know.  Is it because you're empathic?  Can Wal–"  she stopped and swallowed suddenly.  "I mean, can anybody else do it too?"

No.  Ah, I mean, no, I don't know what you're talking about.  Another lie.  Please, Azar, don't let her see it!

"Oh."  Koriand'r frowned and then looked embarrassed.  "I guess I'm imagining things.  Sorry, Raven.  That must have sounded really strange.  And presumptuous."

Not at all, Raven said quickly.  I appreciate your concern for me.  More than you will ever know.

"I do get concerned about you, Raven.  I like you a lot.  In fact, that's sort of why I'm here.  I, um, I need…that is, I wanted to ask you something."

Really? Raven heard herself say inanely.  Are you certain you would not like some tea?  Azar, how stupid—

"No, really," Koriand'r said a little impatiently.  "I mean, no, thank you.  Listen, while I was in the hospital I thought a lot about some things."

Feeling sweat break out on her back and under her arms, Raven swallowed hard.  About what?

"Oh…" Koriand'r made an indecisive gesture with one slender hand.  "Just, um, a lot.  I thought about what you said to me, you know, in my head, in the ambulance."

Raven closed her eyes.

"And I thought maybe…what's the matter?  Oh, oh no…I didn't imagine that too, did I?  Oh, X'Hal, was I hallucinating?  I thought I heard you say—uh, I thought—"

Koriand'r, Raven interrupted imploringly, not sure what she would say to the panicked alien, but knowing she couldn't bear to hear any more of this.  Before she could come up with anything, however, the alarm in her quarters sounded, as did the signal on Koriand'r's bracelet.  An emergency.

Both women stared at each other in sudden, stricken silence. 

We must go, Raven murmured after a moment. Do you have your costume?

"Yes, downstairs," Koriand'r whispered, looking away from her.  "I'll just go get it."

She looked close to tears.  Raven was horrified; had she done this somehow?  Even as the alarm continued to ring, she knew she couldn't allow Koriand'r to stay this way. 

Koriand'r, you imagined nothing, she said gently.  There.  Let the other woman interpret that as she would.

Koriand'r, already on the way to the door, abruptly paused and looked back.  The grief on her face (grief?  How strange, Raven thought) faded, to be replaced by relief and, oddly enough, pleasure.  "Thanks, Raven.  Meet me downstairs in the comm room."  The door closed behind her as she flew away.

Of course, Raven said to the empty room.

***

They are not our enemies, Raven told herself as she teleported into a rain-soaked village some few hours later.  These twins, so confused, so full of pain—pain so intense it tears me apart—they need our help!

The villagers were already panicked when she arrived, and her sudden appearance did not serve to help matters.  Making her way through the crowd as best she could, Raven strained to make out the two massive figures standing alone on the rocks down by the sea.  Her task was made easier by the periodic flashes of electricity emitted by Lightning.

As she drew closer, she could hear their tortured cries:  "WHERE IS HE?  WHERE IS OUR FATHER??"

Not trusting herself on the slippery rocks, Raven teleported to a spot directly in front of the enraged duo.  Please stop, she cried, do not do this.  They finally gave her their full attention – but their gazes were full of wrath.  I understand your pains, Raven attempted as calmly as she could, I understand you.  If you continue like this you will not be able to stop -

She never even saw it coming; she felt Thunder's abrupt surge of rage well enough, but did not know his swiftness, and was caught completely off-guard when he struck her – hard – across the face. 

As she collapsed back onto the rocks, nearly falling into the ocean, Raven dimly realized she should be grateful she had retained consciousness, if not mobility.  It was nothing short of miraculous that she had even survived such a hit.  But her entire head rang with the force of the blow and, stunned and breathless, she could not even move to defend herself when Thunder grasped the cowl of her cape.  Azar, he is going to kill me…I can't move, I can't…

"NO!"

Through the ringing in her ears Raven still heard the cry, and saw quite clearly the bolt of energy that struck Thunder full in the chest, driving him away from her.  Koriand'r, she thought dizzily as she slumped back down on the rocks, the rain stinging her face like needles.  A life for a life…are the others here as well…?

She had her answer when a startlingly green bird flew directly overhead, followed moments later by the massive bulk of Cyborg.  Distantly, she saw the bird transform into a hippopotamus and drop directly down onto the fallen Thunder, saw Kid Flash race to help, saw – oh, Azar help her, saw Koriand'r struck by one of Lightning's blasts.  She had to help somehow.  She had to…

"Raven, are you all right?  You look awful."

A voice at her ear, shouting over the storm, hands helping her to sit up.  Terra.  One not to be trusted.  No matter her injuries, Raven did not want to remain here, alone with this girl.  I am…unused to physical violence, Terra.  Thunder's punch hurt me.  Her sense of urgency, the need to get away, was growing by leaps and bounds but she couldn't teleport yet.  An excuse, then?  Terra, I must speak with…

"Everyone, please—stop fighting!"

Surprised to hear those words uttered in a voice not her own, Raven looked up too quickly and instantly regretted it.  Her vision swam, but soon she could make out the red-suited form of Wonder Girl gliding down from a hovering helicopter. 

"…over," Raven could hear Koriand'r saying through the wind and rain, "…won."  Her friend had recovered easily, it seemed, and in fact was now holding Lightning's unconscious body.

Raven wobbled jerkily to her feet, highly conscious of Terra's contempt at her weakness.  Yes, this one must be watched at all costs.  Wonder Girl was holding a sheaf of paper and talking earnestly to Thunder—who stood with head bowed.  Raven could sense his sudden acquiescence and knew that whatever had happened, he and his brother would come peacefully with the Titans.  Would accept their help.  No doubt she would appreciate that far more if half her face weren't throbbing.

"Raven!"

She looked up to see Koriand'r descending before her and Terra.  "Thank X'Hal you're all right!"

"Ah, the witch'll be fine," Terra said, not bothering to disguise her faint sneer.  "Just not used to rough-and-tumbling with the commoners."

Koriand'r frowned at her briefly, and then her expression cleared.  "Well, thanks for helping her, Terra.  I think Wonder Girl wants you for the cleanup—I'll stay with Raven."

"Some people get the easy jobs, don't they?" Terra asked snarkily, but nevertheless scrambled over the rocks toward the rest of the team.  Raven could pay her no mind, though, for Koriand'r had taken her in her arms, supporting her.

Unnecessary, she managed weakly.  I am quite well now.

"Maybe, but with a blow to the head you mustn't take chances.  Here, gently now,"  and Raven felt herself hefted up into two strong arms.  "Don't move too much until we can get you examined."

As you wish.

"You know, that was a bad hit, but it shouldn't have affected you so much.  Terra's right:  you're not used to fighting.  You should train at least a little, in self-defense."

No.

"But I could teach you to—"

I do not fight.  No, Raven repeated firmly.  To face another in physical combat, after a lifetime's instruction in pacifism, was unthinkable.  To soften her refusal, she added, But I appreciate the offer.

"Yeah, well."  Koriand'r was flying them up to the helicopter that still waited in the skies.  Once they were inside, and she could be heard over the roar of the blades, she told the pilot, "Take us to the nearest hospital.  The others can leave on their own power, it's okay."  At Raven's concerned look, she added, "Wonder Girl said so."

The helicopter carefully veered away, the pilot wary of a storm's vagaries, and Koriand'r strapped Raven in before sitting beside her and taking her hand.  "How do you feel?"

A headache.  Some soreness, Raven admitted.

Koriand'r patted her hand.  "I'm just glad you're alive.  I was flying up when I saw Thunder hit you, and then you lay so still…" she shivered a little.  "I was so afraid for you," she admitted quietly. 

And I for you, when I saw you struck by Lightning's blast.

"You saw that?  Oh, well," casual shrug, "that wasn't bad at all.  I don't think Lightning is as bad as his brother – he didn't really want to hurt us."

I hope we can help them.

"Me too."

They sat in silence together for a few moments, each strangely content in the aftermath of battle, hands still clasped. Here and now, Raven could sense Koriand'r's genuine care and concern for her, and it made her bold enough to say, Earlier today, you had something to ask me?

"Huh?"  Koriand'r opened the eyes she had briefly closed.  "I'm sorry, I was drifting.  I had a photo shoot today, and then all this…just tired, I guess.  What did you say?"

Nothing important, Raven answered as courage fled again in the gaze of those green eyes.  Rest, then, and be well.

"Thnx…"  Koriand'r was already drifting off, as the helicopter made its way out of the storm. 

***

As it happened, Raven was fine, and the livid bruises on her face faded within a few days.   By the time she and Wonder Girl faced Trident – rather, one of him – in the Museum of Natural History, they were completely gone.

And now the Titans, sans their leader Robin, were explaining the Trident situation to Koriand'r back in the Tower. 

"Whatever I've thought of her in the past," Kid Flash said of Terra's battle against their mysterious foe, "she's proved herself.  Unfortunately, though, Trident escaped."

Cyborg shook his head, mystified.  "I dunno.  Doesn't sound like the guy I fought." 

Koriand'r frowned.  "So what's the problem?" she asked.  "Look, I didn't fight this Trident, but it seems obvious to me.  You all fought different people."

Just as an of-course expression crossed Wonder Girl's face, and Raven realized the sense of it, a snort sounded from Terra's end of the table.  "Sheesh.  Just 'cause she won the Golden Globes she thinks she's got an I.Q."

How dare you!

Seconds later, Raven was unsure whether the others were more shocked by Terra's outburst, or her own.  Mortified by her loss of control, she clamped her lips shut.

"Well, Raven's right," Donna said after another moment of stunned silence.  "We may joke amongst ourselves, Terra, but not like that."

"Please don't fight," Koriand'r said in a soft, sad voice that tore at Raven's heart and made her anger at Terra even greater.  "Sometimes I think most of you think the same about me.  It's times like this I miss Tamaran – where love is what's important, not your degree of education."

Donna took Koriand'r into an embrace that Raven frankly envied.  "You're right," she admitted, "and we're sorry.  And I think you're right about Trident, too."

"Gimme a minute on our computer," Cyborg said, "and we can find out for sure."

***

In due time, the grisly truth about Trident emerged: that "he" was really three men with similar costumes and different powers, and that two of the men had murdered their third partner.  For a bank robbery gone wrong.

How could you slay a friend for money? Raven asked them in disbelief. 

Kid Flash, holding one of the Tridents by the scruff of his next, turned to look at her.  "How could you slay a friend for anything?" he asked coldly, and Raven knew he wasn't asking the villain.  She felt her stomach clench painfully.

"Let's get them to jail," Koriand'r said immediately.  And they did.

But the Titans' respite was not long – they were soon summoned to S.T.A.R. labs and informed that complications had arisen regarding Thunder and Lightning.

***

Robin had arrived.

Raven noticed with interest the sudden, awkward silence that prevailed the moment he entered the room.  She didn't know much about what he'd been doing; only that he had somehow assisted that disagreeable District Attorney, Adrian Chase, in an arrest.  And now he was back, but why this sudden tension?

Apparently she had missed more than her classes at the university during her days of isolation.

The Titans stood in the back of a large laboratory, watching as the redheaded Dr. Klyburn pumped Thunder and Lightning – strapped to a massive gurney – full of energy.  Every time she increased the flow, Raven felt a fresh wave of agony from the twins.  Soon enough, it became unbearable, and she raised her hands to her temples.  "Raven?" Donna asked in alarm.  "Are you all right?"

I—I do not think so, Wonder Girl, Raven admitted shakily.  Their bodies hurt so very much…it would be better if I were…elsewhere.

She was instantly surrounded by her concerned teammates.  "I saw a couch in Dr. Klyburn's office," Changeling offered.

"Yeah, we don't need ya, anyway.  Go get yerself a rest, kid."  This from Terra, damn her.

"Y'wanna go to a hospital?"  Cyborg.

Nothing from Wallace, of course – she had expected that.  Even now she could feel his deep suspicion of her.  She was more surprised at Robin's inattention – he was team leader, after all – and, if she were to be honest with herself, Koriand'r's. 

Well, there was nothing to be done about any of it.  Raven allowed Wonder Girl to lead her from the room.

***

Koriand'r was indeed cognizant of Raven's departure, and worried about it, but she was far more concerned about Dick's enduring silence.  Was it because of her, or had something happened on that mysterious mission with Chase?  Or both?  Whatever it was, she wished that he'd talk to her about it, but that, of course, was unlikely.  Knowing Dick, he might never talk to her again unless he had to.  The thought made her unbearably sad.

"I don't understand it," Dr. Klyburn was saying in frustration.  "All this feedback should be telling me the cause of their problems, not adding to them!"

Koriand'r glanced at Thunder and Lightning, and saw with horror how they writhed with agony on the gurney.  "Then for God's sake, turn it off!" Dick snapped. Already the twins' bodies had begun to glow with an inhuman light.

"My God," Klyburn gasped, her hands flying frantically over instrument switches, "they're draining the laser banks – " Suddenly, her instrument panel exploded in a shower of sparks.  The doctor threw her hands in front of her face and stumbled backward with a cry.  Dick leapt forward and caught her, calling, "Starfire, Cyborg – get them off that machine – FAST!"

Both Titans leapt to obey, even as Vic yelled that it was too late.  Koriand'r's eyes were suddenly dazzled as the light grew blinding and a horrible boom rent the air.  "X'Hal, the laser exploded!" she gasped.  "Th-they're dead!"

"I don't think so, they're shielded –" Vic began, but in that instant the blinding light faded, to reveal Thunder and Lightning standing side-by-side, very much alive and extremely angry.

Thunder stepped forward, obviously intent on breaking his way out of the laboratory.  He lunged for Cyborg who, unprepared, was knocked cleanly out of the window.  Starfire gasped as Lightning turned his deadly electrical assault on Changeling.  "Please, let us alone now.  I don't want to hurt you!"

"Not hurt" was apparently a relative turn, when Lightning turned on her next.  "I'm sorry," he whispered, "but I have to do as my brother wants!"  Then, faster than thought, he struck out at her with his bolts.

Her whole body stiffened as tens of thousands of volts of electricity raced through it.  X'Hal, it hurt!  She tried to release her pains, tried to find the courage she had learned on Okaara – but before she could do so, the pain overwhelmed her and she collapsed, vaguely aware of being lifted away from the fight on a section of flooring.  Terra, then, had saved her. 

do not trust, murmured an indistinct voice in the back of her mind, just before she blacked out completely.

She came to a few minutes later with a massive headache and seriously frazzled hair, aware that the sounds of battle had ceased.  Vic gently helped her up, and as she staggered to her feet, she saw Dr. Klyburn and Robin speaking to Thunder and Lightning.  The twins had again listened to reason – but for how long this time?

I want to help.

All eyes turned to the destroyed doorway.  Raven had returned.

"Raven, you know the dangers," Robin said gravely. 

Raven's head bowed, and Koriand'r's heart ached for her.  Trigon's influence over me grows daily, the young empath admitted quietly.  I do not know how much longer I can withstand him.  But how can I feel their pain and do nothing?  Please… she swallowed hard.  Please, while time remains, please allow me to be what I am.

Silence reigned, but all around heads slowly nodded.  Except for Wally's.  Raven turned to him.  You have said nothing.  What do you think?

Kid Flash rounded on her, rage and pain naked on his face for a fleeting moment.  "Do you really care what I think?" he demanded hoarsely.

I do…very much so.

"Then it's really a crying shame, Raven," Wally snapped as he turned and stalked out of the room.  "Because I don't care what happens to you."  Donna quickly followed him out, glancing apologetically at the rest of the group over her shoulder.

Red rage briefly clouded Koriand'r's vision.  How could Wally say something like that, how dare he humiliate Raven in front of all these people?  And he claimed to love her!  How?  He didn't even know what love was!

Anger fading to concern, Kory turned to look at Raven, who was settling herself on the floor with every semblance of equanimity.  Very well.  I shall begin.  Her shadowy soul-self began its always-eerie ascent from her body.  I promise you both – there will be no pain!

Koriand'r held her breath as Thunder and Lightning were enveloped in the glowing ebony folds, then released it as nothing immediately went wrong.  For a few minutes, all was tranquil.  Then, suddenly, Raven's body went rigid.

No, she gasped, no--! Then her head thrashed backwards.  Azar protect me! she cried.  So much evil—it must be Tri—no, it's not Trigon, it isn't—aaaahhh!!

Before Koriand'r's horrified gaze, the bird-shaped soul-self seemed to swell and change shape into some monstrous apparition that defied description – all tentacles and arms and vile intent.  She ran forward to her friend's side, heedless of Dick's warning to stay back.  "Raven!" she cried.  "Raven, you've got to fight it!  Don't give in – oof!"

The mutated soul-self had grown yet another arm, which now swatted her effortlessly aside and into a wall, hard enough to jar her whole body.  As she slumped to the ground, she could hear Raven screaming:

Run!  I cannot control it any longer!  Run while you still can!

run, koriand'r  That same voice in her head…forcing herself to her feet, she saw Donna racing back into the room, followed closely by Wally. 

Stop me…do what you have to do, but stop me!!  The words were reasonable: the soul-self was enormous now, almost filling the room, deadly arms and tentacles emerging from all sides.  Koriand'r had a clear shot at Raven's corporeal body.  One starbolt would…

X'Hal, she couldn't!

"I don't like doing this Raven," Donna said, swooping down to Raven's body, only to be knocked aside as Koriand'r had been.  Wally, however, managed to slip by another arm, and Kory watched with a distant sense of rage as he clasped the empath closely to him, saying things too low for the young alien to hear.

Incredibly enough, it worked.

The swollen soul-self abruptly deflated, releasing Thunder and Lightning back onto the lab floor.  Raven's head dropped back onto Wally's shoulder.

"What the hell happened?" Dick demanded, pulling himself up from the floor where he had been shielding Dr. Klyburn.

Thunder painfully got to his feet.  "Now we know," he muttered.

"Know what?" Donna asked.  Lightning turned his sorrowful face toward her.

"Know the truth," he said sadly.  "That creature you just fought – that was our father!"

"Nuts," Vic growled into the sudden, shocked silence.  "Knew I wasn't gonna like this."

Koriand'r made her way over to where Wally still held Raven, picking her way carefully over the rubble of the lab.  "How is she?" she asked the room at large, when it appeared nobody cared.

"She's breathing normally, but unconscious," Wally said quietly.  "She needs to get to a hospital."

"Fine," Dick said, all business.  "Changeling, get her there.  Then rendezvous with us at –"

"No.  I'll take her," Koriand'r broke in.  The others turned to look at her in surprise.  "I'm faster," she added.

"All right," Dick said stonily.  "Do that, and meet up with us as soon as you can.  Your communicator will give you the location." 

Koriand'r knelt by Raven and Wally, studiously ignoring Donna's penetrating gaze as the rest of the team filed out after Thunder and Lightning.  "Let me have her," she demanded of Wally, holding out her arms. 

"I can take her," he said quietly.  "Why don't you…"

"Give her to me," Koriand'r snarled with a ferocity that surprised even her.  "Now."

Stunned, he gave no resistance as she pulled Raven's limp form into her arms.  "Uh, Kory," he began.

"You have no right," she hissed, trying to keep a lid on her temper for the sake of the unconscious empath in her grasp.  "I heard what you said.  You don't care about her.  Stay away from her!"

Wally sat back on his heels, shocked.  "Kory, you know I didn't mean that – "

"No, I don't!"  Hoisting Raven more securely in her embrace, Kory rose into the air.  "I said stay away and I meant it.  X'Hal help me, Wally, if you…just go.  Just go!"

Without waiting to see if he'd obey, she flew out the window – but to a nearby rooftop, not the hospital, because Raven had begun to stir.

Eyes fluttering open, the empath snuggled closer for a minute, a gesture that warmed Koriand'r's heart.  Kori…

"I'm here.  How are you?"

Raven blinked, and seemed to become more aware of her surroundings.  Better, she murmured.  Weak, but well.

"Do you want to go to the hospital?  I could take you to St. Mary's."

That will not be necessary.  The Titans…

"They've gone with Thunder and Lightning.  I think we found their father.  Somehow."

That is good, Raven said wearily.  I only…I remember…Wallace?

Koriand'r suppressed her instant growl.  "He's with them.  I said I'd take you.  Would you rather it was him?"

No, Raven whispered, looking into her eyes.  I…welcome your presence, Koriand'r.

"I'm glad to help," Kory responded past the sudden tightness in her throat.  This dear, dear girl…!

They held the moment for a bit longer, then the Tamaranean looked away with a sigh.  "Should I take you back to the Tower, then?"

Please, Raven murmured, sounding oddly subdued.  Then she shyly wound her arms around Koriand'r's neck as the alien princess prepared to take flight again.  I have never really flown with you before.

"That's right, you haven't!"  After the tension of the previous moments, Koriand'r thought her gaiety sounded a bit forced.  "Well, I'll take it nice and easy so we don't jar you.  Too bad there isn't any pretty new snow."

Springtime is approaching, Raven pointed out as they rose into the air.  I doubt very much if there will be more.

"That's true," Koriand'r mused as she rose in a high, lazy arc.  "At least I'll start to feel warm again."  X'Hal!  Were they really talking about the weather?  That Earth cliché was true, then…

Suddenly, she remembered something.  "Oh, that's right," she said as casually as she could manage.  "I never did get around to asking you…what I wanted to ask you."

Was it her imagination, or could she feel Raven tensing up slightly in her arms?  Which was?

Oh, right…"Well, you know Donna's moved in with Terry now.  So I'm in this apartment by myself, and Donna's old room is so huge and empty, and um I thought, maybe you'd…maybe you'd like to move in with me?  Out of the Tower?  I'm sure it gets lonely, and…"

Raven blinked in surprise.  Move in?  With you?  But…what about Richard?

Koriand'r raised an eyebrow as she made a wide sweep to the east where the Tower stood.  "What about him?"

Why do you not ask him instead?

She actually slowed in her flight, she was so astonished.  "Ask Dick?  Are you – oh.  You must not have heard…"

Heard what?

"We, uh, we broke up.  About three or four days ago."  Three days and five hours…

Raven was definitely tensing up now.

"Look, just think about it," Koriand'r said hurriedly.  Thank X'Hal, the Tower was in sight.  "You don't have to tell me today, just…soon.  I know you like your privacy, but you'd have your own room, and I promise I wouldn't intrude…um, just think about it."

They landed on the roof, by the hidden doorway.  Raven knelt to key in her code and it hissed open to reveal a descending staircase.  She must still feel too weak to teleport, Kory thought.  Then the empath rose, face shadowed by her hood, making her truly inaccessible.  Do you really wish this?

Koriand'r grinned sheepishly.  "Well, we seem to take pretty good care of each other.  And if it didn't work out, you could always move back here."

I will…consider it.

As the words left her mouth, Raven was unsure whether she or Koriand'r was more surprised by them.  Then a wide smile broke across the alien princess' face.  "Great!  I've got to go.  Promise you'll call if anything goes wrong?"

Of course.

Koriand'r jubilantly pulled her friend into a warm embrace before bearing herself aloft once more, homing in on the Titans' signal.

Raven watched her from the platform until she was out of sight and then, with a faint sigh, descended the stair.

Fin.