Dedication: This fic would not have come to be were it not for Aileen (User ID: 1112018) who made a simple, off-hand request of Kysra for a sketch/drawing of Speedy without a shirt. (The conversation that led up to it, I am far from remembering) And to Kysra (User ID: 11829) who's drawing of Speedy without his shirt (http / guardian-kysra . livejournal . com / 188159 . html) remove the spaces made me think of Speedy with that kind of look on his face and think about how sexy he looked without a shirt but with his mask and the rest, as they say, is history.

A/N: Like I say above, this fic was entirely inspired by Kysra's picture drawn at Aileen's request. That, and a relaxing shower listening to Christina Aguilera's "Hurt", "Show Me" by John Legend and "Prelude 12/21" by AFI. I'd wanted to do a Speedy/Raven fic for awhile now without any hint or shadow of Robin in it.

Not beta'd for grammar and such. (I read it through only like twice, so be warned) I'm sure I'll find a hundred and one mistakes after I post it...always happens that way.

Disclaimer: Not mine. No money being made.

Special Thanks: To Kysra for playing plot beta and Oh-Hallowed-Titler. (aka, the person who used her mad title skillz to give this fic a title.) And for helping me look for and pick a quote.

Laid Bare
by Em

"To love at all is to be vulnerable."
- Jack Lewis

Speedy answered the door in a pair of worn in gray sweatpants swung low on his hips and his mask, his hair a little mussed and slightly damp from the shower he had just taken.

The last person he had intended to find standing on the other side of his door stared at him with that same unreadable expression that could drive him mad with the desire to wipe it off her face, anyway he could.

Raven, for her part, was glad she was not the kind of person who's thoughts fled from her head at unexpected sights. Sure, she had knocked on his door, so that Speedy answered the door himself wasn't strange – it was his room, after all. But she hadn't expected to be faced with the broad expanse of masculine grace of his bare chest. She had a weakness for strong shoulders and a well toned back. She hadn't admitted it to anyone and she likely never would, but although she had already decided Speedy's body was quite a thing while he was wearing the uniform, without it...

Yes, her planned words were still there, they hadn't fled. They just took a little longer to find, that was all.

She swallowed and met the whites of his mask, surprised she had to raise her sight to do so. "Are you going to invite me inside?" she asked, her voice low and steady, betraying none of the emotion that had nearly overwhelmed her like a wave when he opened the door.

She could feel his hesitation waring with something else and really couldn't have guessed what he was going to do until he shifted sideways, and pushed the door he had been holding with his right hand the rest of the way open, motioning her inside with a sweep of the self-same hand.

She stepped passed him, resisting the animalistic instinct to stall her step when she stood next to him and walked the rest of the way into the guest room he used whenever he came to their Tower. No one else used it, and it really could be deemed to be his – all the Titans East had guest rooms which were really theirs – and his was inbred with his presence wherever she looked. It had started bare and sparse, as all their guest rooms did, and had felt sterile and hollow. Now, it felt warm and alive and smelled like the clean scent of his soap and the minty bite of his shaving cream.

"I didn't expect to see you again before I left," he spoke finally, and she turned to watch as he closed the door and stood still with it at his back.

"I needed to explain--" she started, but at his wry chuckle, stopped.

He was playing with something in his hands and she couldn't tell what it was except that it was small and pliant. "You don't have to explain, Raven," he said, his voice tight but not angry.

Anger she had expected, maybe even bitterness or maybe even the same kind of joking teasing she knew he used as a kind of self-defense mechanism. "Speedy, I --"

Again, he cut her off, palm raised and shaking his head. "Don't, Raven," he stopped her, walking toward her and then sidestepping to the bureau at the last minute. "Like I said, I understand, you needn't have bothered."

"You left before I could give you an answer," she pointed out, some emotion slipping into her tone. "You didn't let me give you an answer."

There was that mirthless laugh again and the controlled shake of the head. "You already did." He turned and met her eyes, even though she couldn't see his. He was suddenly very glad he was wearing the mask. "Like you said, I have plenty of experience with girls," he shrugged and tried to smile, but he wasn't sure it wasn't a grimace instead. "But when a girl looks at you like you've grown another head when you tell her you love her, you don't need much experience to figure out what that means." He shrugged again and tried to make it look unconcerned and casual. "So like I said --" he started to turn around, but the brief touch of her fingers on his elbow stopped him cold. It was gone before he could even focus on it and when he turned, she was standing a few feet away from him again.

"I didn't look at you like you'd grown another head," she said, obviously surprised at his conclusions.

He felt the laughter bubble up inside him, but didn't want to let it come out in fear of hearing the note of disbelief and near desperation in it. "I don't need to get into the particulars of your looks, Raven," he said. "Maybe in a few months we can revisit this, but not right now, not toni-" Again, he was stopped by the sudden realization that Raven had stepped closer to him.

"I did have a look on my face, Speedy, I know that, and I'm sorry," she said honestly. "But I didn't look at you like you were deformed in any way, I looked at you like if you were crazy – I need for you to understand that."

He searched her eyes, realizing she was trying to tell him something, but in his current state, he knew he wasn't about to get it. "What's the difference?"

She sighed and looked away, her hands clasped tightly in front of her in a gesture he had started to realize meant she was finding it hard to maintain a level of physical neutrality. She wanted to fidget. He'd caught her fidgeting before, but only a very few amount of times. "In my experience," she said, her voice back to the low, unemotional murmur he knew was another kind of camouflage for her. "people who love me are either crazy or they want something," she finished, looking up at him. "Which are you, Speedy?"

"You've had a fucked up set of experiences, then, Raven!" he exclaimed before he could help it. She started, and he exhaled, running a hand through his hair in exasperation, turning away from her. Was she really saying what he thought she was saying?

"Maybe, but it still holds true."

"Would you say that about your friends?" he asked suddenly, turning back to her. "Would you say that Star or Cy love you because their either crazy or they want something?"

She thought about it for a moment, then shook her head. "No," she admitted. "But they love me as friends," she said, and swallowed. "Is that the way you meant it?" she asked.

"Hell, no," he answered adamantly, shocking even himself. Then again, he knew he was predominantly an honest person. At least, honest with his emotions and how he felt about people. These last months knowing he loved Raven were the hardest he had ever experienced because although his instinct was to tell her he loved her, he knew she wasn't the kind he could spring something like that on. He had botched it up anyway, it seemed, but that couldn't be helped.

It took him a moment for the realization to hit him: she could've ignored him, let him go away, or, what was perhaps worse and which was what he feared, given him the 'I only think of you as a friend' speech. She hadn't, though. She was trying, it seemed, to understand. That gave him hope. Maybe he'd hate himself for hoping later, but right then, with Raven in his room and looking at him in that adorably confused way, he latched onto that hope.

"Maybe I'm crazy," he admitted, "I don't know," he shrugged, taking a few steps toward her. "But the only things I want from you, Raven are the typical things a guy in love might want, nothing more."

"And what are those?" she asked carefully.

He ran his hand through his hair again, wishing he were better with explaining the things in his heart. He could crack jokes and flirt with the best of them, but that was so very different than speaking from his heart. He was not eloquent. But he knew almost instinctually, that Raven's perception of him depended on something like it here. What did he want, he wondered, really want from Raven?

"I want to be able to hold your hand," he started, honestly. "I want to be able to touch you, hug you, maybe kiss you. I want to be able to put my arms around you and hear your heart beating against my chest and know that you want to be there too." He looked at her sideways. "I want your smile," he said, wishing he could touch her lips. "I want your voice next to me in the dark, I want to hear about your day and maybe, if I'm lucky, your hopes and dreams." All the things he had thought but never put words to were crowding in his throat, trying to find a way out and he had to swallow to be able to continue. "I want to memorize your smell, I want to be able to touch your hair, explore the planes of your fingers, the lines of your palms." He caught sight of her intense gaze and lost momentum, feeling self-conscious and stupid. "Hell, Raven, ideally, I'd just want you to love me back," he added. "But, I'd settle for you not pushing me away."

She frowned and he thought for a moment, he really had messed up beyond the point of no return. He had lost her forever, and then she spoke.

"Why?" she asked, softly.

He almost laughed and the feel of almost delirium was back. "Why do I love you or why do I want any of the things I want?" he asked.

"The former," she said, then shook her head. "Both—all of them."

"You've got all night?" he wondered.

She looked at him and he could tell she was seriously considering his question and then he did smile and he knew that it reached all the way to his soul because she had just answered his question.

"That's why, Raven," he said, pointing vaguely at her. "You're why. I love you because you can be sarcastic and yet so innocent at the same time. I love you because you are beautiful and strong and I want to protect you just the same. I love you because you know more words than I could ever hope to know in my lifetime, because you've read more books than I've probably seen in my life, because you let Starfire drag you to the mall and feed you her pudding even though you would rather get a root canal than go to the mall and you hate her pudding so much you use your power to disappear it somewhere. I love you because you look adorable when you get all dirty working on the T-Car with Cyborg and because you can name all the different parts of an engine and every one of the tools in Cyborg's garage." He chuckled. "I love you because you sit in the common room with your friends even when they're playing loud, noisy videogames and you're trying to read just to be with them." He took a few steps toward her and thrilled when she didn't step away or look at him with anything but consideration and a slight bit of confusion. "I love you because you threaten Beast Boy with bodily harm practically anytime he opens his mouth in your vicinity, and each threat is original and I especially love you because you don't carry a one of them out, and even more because I know you could." He had taken another few steps and when his bare feet were mere inches from the booted toes of hers, he looked up at her. "I love you because you wear combat boots and still manage to make them look sexy and yet somehow manage to keep a leotard from looking trashy. I love you because you are proud and serene but incredibly hot when you're mad." He brought a hand up to her cheek and very carefully, the way one might palm a bird, placed it on the curve of her cheek. When she didn't pull away, he devoted a minute or two to relishing in the feel of her silken skin under his rough hand. "I love you because I am enthralled by watching you drink tea instead of coffee, even though I hate the smell of tea itself," he let his thumb caress her cheek absently. "In short, I love you because you're you," he finished. "Every bit of you."

She let him caress her cheek for a few moments, her eyes closing momentarily as if to hide the emotion in it from him, but when his other hand rose to touch her lips, she started as if he'd hit her and she blinked rapidly, looking utterly confused and almost scared. She pulled back and he let her go, resisting the instinct to keep her close and pressing her close instead. She took a few steps back from him toward the door and turned around. He knew exactly what she was doing. She was running away.

"Raven, wait," he called when she took a step toward the door. She stopped but didn't turn around. "What do you want?" he asked into the charged silence.

She looked straight ahead and he couldn't tell anything from her posture since it didn't change.

"You came here," he continued, fighting against his instinct to step up to her. "You could have let me leave thinking that the thought of my loving you repulsed you, and I wouldn't have blamed you and the next time I came here or you went to Steel City, we could have acted like nothing had happened, but you came here, asking me questions and giving me hope, and now you're going to run away without answering one question of mine?" he prodded. He saw the shift of her weight and felt as if he had just talked a bird away from fleeing out the window. "What do you want?" he asked again.

She was quiet for what seemed an eternity before her head lowered, and then raised again. "I don't know," she finally answered.

He took a step toward her and stopped. "Do you want me to leave in the morning?" he asked carefully.

She took a moment, then shook her head sharply. "No," she answered.

He exhaled and took another breath. "Do you want to pretend I never said anything?"

She took longer to answer this time, her shoulders going stiff under her cape, the tension running down her spine almost as palpably as electricity in a wire. "No," she breathed. Finally.

And so did he. "Good." He nodded, as if she were looking at him and he were assuring her, but she wasn't and so he couldn't be. "We can take our time figuring out the rest, Raven," he said, taking another two steps closer to her.

She turned around to face him very slowly and looked as if he had asked her what the meaning of life was and she was trying very hard to figure it out. "I don't know what love is," she said softly, as unsure as he'd ever heard her.

"I didn't either," he admitted, "until I suddenly knew." He shrugged, but he couldn't keep the smile from his lips.

"And if I can't? If I'm not capable?"

He approached until he was toe to toe with her again and searched her face consideringly. "I don't know," he admitted. "I believe you can, with all my heart, Raven, I believe you can, but whether or not you can love and even if you could, whether or not you love me, I'm willing to give it a try."

She frowned, "I don't understand you, Speedy, I really don't."

He smiled and reached up with one of the hands that wanted to touch her and pulled off his mask, blinking in the change of light until he could focus on her, let her see him behind the green of his eyes. "It's Roy," he said, taking her hand and putting the mask in it. He watched her expression carefully and it wasn't until he saw the shock of his sudden revelation start to wear off that he noticed the other emotion there, the emotion he had thought couldn't possibly be what he'd seen in her eyes when he first opened the door to her.

So, he took a chance, lifting his hand back to her cheek, the other to her chin so their eyes could meet and then slowly, very very slowly, he lowered his head until their lips were a mere breath apart and then, with a flutter of eyelashes, and a sigh, Raven pushed up onto the balls of her feet and their lips met.


A/N: I don't like the ending. What do you think? And in case you haven't gone over to see the picture that inspired this, you should know, it's a picture of Shirtless!Speedy with his mask on. The posture in it sort of made me think of him sort of half leaning on a door, like holding onto it, like one does when you open the door to look at who's standing on the other side and the expression on his face dictated the rest of it.