Disclaimer: Teen Titans is the sole property of someone else...this isn't going to change unless by some form of divine intervention I inherit the ability to alter reality. Thus, this disclaimer applies from this point on.
A/N: Well, here it is folks, the continuation of my one-shot, "The Song Remains the Same." If you haven't read it, I would suggest doing so, or you're probably going to be a bit lost, here.
Also, just a fair warning, I'm notoriously slow. I have a slew of health problems and family issues and job hunting bizzareness in my life that prevent me from writing as much as I'd like, so be advised, I'm no Kid Flash, here. I, am, however trying to work ahead a bit on this, so I don't leave you guys hanging for too long. I have the next couple of chapters lined up and a clear idea on where I'm going with this, so for the moment you can expect updates every two or three weeks.
I accept all forms of criticism, though flames will be used to melt the icicles from my nose this winter...God knows no one can afford propane. And reviews make me a happy little hippie, so don't forget to feed the author on your way out.
All that said, thanks to evilsangel for taking a peek at this for me to make sure I've not slaughtered anyone's character or the like. Peace, all, and I hope you enjoy!
Chapter One: Echoes
"By chance two separate glances meet, and I am you, and what I see is me." --Pink Floyd, Echoes
He moved like mercury—fluid and precise, lethal in its subtlety. Every step spoke of power, every breath of measured control. His muscles tangled and flowed in long lines of moonlit liquefaction, emanating raw energy with every sweeping motion. Rolling over unto himself, twisting this way and that, he was an exhibition of finesse and preternatural agility, striking out into the night with such intensity that she could feel the wind brush her face from the force of his blows.
It was art, in its most primal form: The human body.
Had she the time, Raven would have appreciated the beauty of it all. However, as he was in all things, Robin was relentless and whole-hearted, and thus, his assault left room for nothing save the feel of the energy between them, the moment as it fell into place around them, and the natural urgency of her body's response to his. He advanced, and she countered. He struck, and she blocked. Over and again, he unleashed a flurry of seamless attacks; yet, while he was clearly her superior, she continued to rise against him, stone-faced and ever unyielding.
And so it was they danced beneath the moonlight, every movement a poem, vicious and sensual—symphonic in all its brutality.
Their battle became feverish as he pushed her faster, manipulating her defense to guide her into the wall of the rooftop entrance. She could feel the fatigue weigh down on her as heavily as the sweat on her skin, and a well-placed kick to her midsection slipped through her resistance. Raven froze as her back made contact with cool steel.
She was cornered.
But Raven was clever, more so than most, and when Robin closed the distance with his arms positioned for his finishing move, she put her sense to good use. She dropped to the ground and brought her left leg around in a wide arc, sweeping his legs right out from under him. Robin grunted as the impact knocked the air forcefully from his lungs. However, he was quick, and in the space of a breath he had rolled away and was on his feet again.
Yet the damage was already done. This time it was Robin on the defensive as Raven struck out at him with a newfound force, her small fists driving him to block at nearly unimaginable speeds. So caught up in her assault was he, that he barely stopped what would have been a stinging kick to his side if it had landed.
It was exactly what she'd hoped for, as it turns out. Just as he gripped her leg, she delivered a sound, open palm hit directly to his sternum that sent him skidding backward to the very edge of the roof.
Raven's eyes went wide as the ledge caught him across the back of his heels, throwing him further off balance; he teetered there for just a moment, arms moving in wide circles, before succumbing to the pull of gravity and slipping over the side. "Robin!" she cried as she ran to the edge, eyes glowing in preparation to catch him in the web of her magic before he met a grisly end on the rocks below.
But he wasn't there.
The sound of his boots as they touched down was her only warning. Raven turned back just in time to catch a strong, side sweeping kick to the ribs that sent her tumbling violently, face first across the ground. She came to a rest on her back, panting heavily and groaning at the raw pain in her side and across her face.
Of course, Robin was nowhere near finished with his assault, and Raven just barely managed to bring her feet up to block as he descended upon her. To her utter surprise, the last second maneuver worked; she caught him squarely in the stomach, using the angle of his attack to draw back and propel him into the air and over her head in a painful collision course with the ground. Before he could even register what she'd done, Raven had used the momentum of her defense to vault back into a crouch.
And then it was over.
In any other situation, it might have been considered provocative. But Raven didn't do provocative, at least not consciously, and Robin wasn't about to further risk his health by pointing it out to her. So, he opted to sit motionless below her as she straddled him, knees dug into hands and chest pressed tightly to his while she brought her forearm up securely across his throat.
"Give?" she asked breathlessly.
He couldn't help but grin in response. While her expression was entirely void, he could still see the excitement dancing like star-shine behind her eyes, could feel the victorious smirk tug at the corner of her lips like it was his own. It was nearly a shame to disappoint her.
He chuckled a bit, though winded. "You're getting better," he complimented, and she relaxed her hold on his throat and sat up, offering a small, genuine smile as she did.
It was a bit premature, as it turns out.
The moment she lifted, he jerked up, unsettling the balance of her weight enough to tip her. His hand shot out to grab her wrist, and he shifted his knee between her thighs, rolling them across the ground until he could secure his advantage.
Now, it was over.
Raven squirmed and cursed as he pinned her to the ground, face down, with her hands held tightly in one hand and her neck in the other. His knees trapped her legs, and he distributed his weight evenly across her back, effectively immobilizing the dark sorceress.
"But you've still got a long way to go," he finished, smirking. "Give?"
"You cheated," she growled. Raven was seething. The arrogant bastard, she should have known he wouldn't give up so easily.
"And how many villains do you know that play fair, Raven?" he remarked, still not letting go of his hold on her. "Besides, I don't recall conceding the fight."
She glowered at that, and for just a moment she seriously debated on using her powers to whack him upside that giant, ego-inflated head. However, it was their only rule: No weapons. No powers. And she wasn't about to stoop to violating it—even if he did deserve it.
"You're an ass," she deadpanned.
Robin laughed out loud. "Oh come on, Raven," he replied amusedly. "Winning isn't everything."
"No, it's just the only thing that matters," she spoke dryly, quoting his words from so long ago. She wriggled a bit more but quickly discovered that any attempts to break his hold were futile. "Alright, Boy Blunder," she muttered with a defeated sigh, "I give. Now, get off me."
He was on his feet without another word, and Raven rolled to a sitting position, rubbing her wrists gingerly and scowling at him all the while. Damn it! She was so close that time. In the eight months he'd been training her, she had never once beaten him, and while she wasn't as glaringly obvious about it, Raven hated to lose almost as much as Robin. Many nights, it was for this reason and this reason only that she did not just give up altogether.
The truth of the matter was that Raven hadn't wanted to learn Kung fu, or any other martial art, in the first place. But after the incident at Wayne Enterprises, when Cinderblock had sent her sailing over the edge of that skyscraper, Robin had insisted that she take up a secondary form of defense. She had argued with him, of course, saying that even if she had been more adept in hand-to-hand combat it would have made little difference against an opponent like Cinderblock.
Her logic had, unfortunately, fallen on deaf ears.
Had he been anyone else, she would have told him to kiss her ass and left it at that. But this was Robin, and Robin never second-guessed her judgment or her abilities.
Only his own.
And that's when she had realized just why this was so important to him. Raven wanted to kick herself for not recognizing it sooner. He'd become so accomplished at hiding his feelings from her that she hadn't been able to pinpoint the source of his discomfort until it was staring her in the face.
He hadn't been able to get to her, couldn't come for her when her situation was most dire, and it was eating him up inside. That she had been saved by Red-X, of all people, did nothing save intensify his, already unhealthy, sense of self-loathing. In his mind, Robin had failed her, no matter how hard he had tried. And she had no doubts that he'd tried. He would gladly lay down his life for any one of them and not think twice about it. Not because they were his team or even his friends—it was more than that.
They were a family. That's what families do.
Thus, she agreed, knowing that it was his way of saving her after the fact, knowing that it would do more for his conscience than words ever could. And if it was within her power to give him that one little piece of absolution, then Raven supposed it was worth it.
Because that's what families do.
…Even if it does mean kicking the crap out of each other four times a week.
"Here," Robin said, offering her a towel and a bottle of water as he took a seat in front of her. He was either oblivious to the glare she was sending his way, or he was simply not at all intimidated. Raven suspected the latter. She accepted with a sigh, and Robin grinned, pleased with his ability to quell her anger but decidedly smart enough not to bring further attention to the matter.
"You did well tonight," he praised sincerely. "Your blocking is coming more naturally, and your leg technique has improved. Now, we just need to work on building the strength of your attack before we take things up a level."
"To?" Raven raised a delicate eyebrow for emphasis as she finished drying the back of her neck with one hand and brought the bottle to her lips with the other.
"I thought I'd introduce you to some basic weaponry," he said as he stood and extended his hand in a gesture for her to take. "Come on, we should stretch."
She eyed his open palm for only a brief second before accepting it just long enough to gain her footing. "In case you haven't noticed, Boy Wonder, with me, virtually everything is a weapon," she replied flatly.
"Maybe so," he grinned before suddenly becoming serious, "and I know that you're fully capable of taking care of yourself, but…" he paused, searching for the right words. "It's just that you might not always be able to rely on your magic, Raven. Anything can happen, and I'll be damned if I lose you to some creep with more muscles than brain cells when I could've prevented it."
She stopped mid-stretch and stood upright to face him. 'If I lose you…' Had she heard him right? What did he mean by that? Raven was confused; the words swam in fragments in her mind, and suddenly, she felt a knot of ice coil up in the pit of her stomach. Why did she have the distinct urge to run away?
"You?" It was the only thing she could manage at the moment.
He resumed his stretching, expression carefully schooled though Raven could feel the knot tighten and wondered briefly if the sentiment was actually her own. "Yes well, not just me…we…all of us, that is," he backpedaled, his tone secure even if his words were not. "Besides," he continued quickly, "I bet you'd be a natural with small blades."
"Perhaps," she replied distantly, preoccupied with a dawning possibility beyond either of them. A possibility she was decidedly not ready to face—at least, not now. She turned away and swallowed past her nervousness, content to finish out her stretches and forget the awkwardness of the last few moments.
"Raven?" If he'd only let her.
"Yes?" She tensed as she felt his eyes on her, but she dared not turn to face him. Not until she was sure she could control what he'd see in her eyes.
"We…no, I…" a heavy sigh, "what I meant to say was—"
The abrupt ringing of Robin's communicator pierced through the tension that had wound so tightly around them, and Raven found herself infinitely glad for the distraction. The minute relaxation of his aura told her that Robin was no less relieved.
"Go ahead, Cyborg." He was all business, now.
"Hey man, you guys better get down here. We got trouble at the museum."
He cast a glance back to find Raven already donning her cloak and making her way toward the stairs.
"On our way."
Red-X was a man who knew things.
He knew that the floor plan for Jump City Museum was approximately 300,000 square feet, and that there were at least 614 security cameras and nearly twice as many motion sensors and trip wires within that space. He knew that there were nine different exits of conventional means and at least five others of less conspicuous notability. He knew that on any given shift there were no less than eight armed security guards and as many as twenty during peak visiting hours.
Similarly, he knew that at precisely 11:32 P.M. Billy, the night watchman for the East wing, would be finished scarfing down his pastrami on rye and step away from his post to indulge in his evening cigarette. And it was from this point on that the most important detail Red-X knew was this: He had five minutes.
Five minutes to scramble the encryption codes and disable the motion sensors and security cameras to the main showroom. Five minutes to unseal Khafre's sarcophagus and remove the Eye of Horus from the remains within. Five minutes to get clear of the exhibit and reinstate the codes before the backup system could kick in and trigger the alarm. Five minutes to execute on three months worth of planning, before Billy came back reeking of coffee and stale cigarettes.
All of this, he knew. Knew how to steal like he knew how to breathe, and quite frankly, he was damn good at it.
However, what he did not know, and for the life of him might never figure out, was what had ever possessed him to get involved. It was the cardinal rule of thievery, and as far as Red-X was concerned it was gospel: Those who got involved, got caught. Invariably. It mattered not who with or why; the moment a thief took concern in anything other than his own affairs was the moment he set his own end in motion.
X would have done well to take his own advice.
Had he not gotten involved in the first place, they would never have known he existed. He wouldn't have felt compelled to shadow their battles, even if it was just a cautionary measure for his own protection. He most definitely wouldn't have gone out of his way to save their lives—twice in some cases. And he for damn sure would not have jeopardized the success of a multi-million dollar heist by deliberately tripping that alarm.
But that's precisely what he did.
He tried to tell himself it was because things had simply been too easy. It wasn't a total lie; he'd been, essentially, home free by the time he stepped on the tile that activated the failsafe alert linked directly to the Titans' tower. It was tempting to say that he was looking forward to the rush that only a good fight could provide. Torturing Bird Boy was only part of the appeal.
Still, X did not make it a habit of lying to himself, and when the voice in the back of his mind nagged that it was more than that, he felt somewhat inclined to listen. Only when they arrived on the scene and immediately split up to find him did he come to a rather unsettling conclusion on the matter: He wanted to see them.
Or more specifically, he wanted to see her.
The notion was profoundly disturbing, and perhaps a little crazy, but in the strange and slightly twisted realm of X's mind it actually made sense. He'd rather eat nails than admit it, but his last encounter with the dark witch had left him more than a little shaken up. And all she had to do was look at him.
No, that wasn't right. She didn't look at him she looked through him.
And it was more than just a look; he could feel her presence in his mind. It was as though the moment their eyes met, they crossed the undercurrent between and stepped into one another.
It was a connection—intimate and fragile.
And he didn't like it. Not one little bit.
It was the vulnerability imposed upon him that troubled him so, and it was for this reason that he had made it a point not to cross paths with them in the months since the incident. But Red-X feared nothing, and now he simply had a point to prove.
"This doesn't change anything," she'd said. And this is what it all boiled down to—he had to know whether or not that was true.
Pushing aside the anxiety and doubt in favor of casual indifference, he decided that now was as good a time as any to find out and dropped from his place in the shadows.
"Well, if it isn't my favorite bird."
Hope you all enjoyed!