Rounded With A Sleep

Rounded With A Sleep

By Telanu (telanu@email.com)

Eighth in the "Fire and Ice" Raven/Starfire series; follows "Many Movements."

Summary: The Terminator makes plans; Kory takes a shower (woo hoo!) and has a dream that could change the course of her life – not to mention the fate of the universe.  This is where the events of the series start to seriously deviate from those of the comics canon.  Not that that's necessarily a bad thing, I hope.

Disclaimer: All these wonderful people belong to DC Comics; I'm making no money off this, just having fun.

Feedback, please!

Less conversation in this one, guys.  I promise.  Oh, and Kory's dream (STORY SPOILER HERE!) follows the events of NTT (second run) 4 and 5.

***

"Everything!  I know everything!  Those shmucks fell for the little-girl-lost act hook, line and sinker – not bad, hey, Slade?"

Tara Markov paced feverishly around the luxuriously-appointed room, kept warm from the Siberian chill outside by a roaring fire in the hearth, and the finest indoor heating system money could buy.  Her blue dressing gown flapped around in her ankles in a froth of quilted satin as she roamed from one end of the huge sitting room to the other, stopping to pick up random objects and then put them down in a different place, glancing incessantly out the snow-covered windows, unable to sit still in her excitement.  She rounded on her partner again, her blue eyes shining.

"An' get this.  Dick Grayson, Slade.  I thought the name was familiar when he told me an' I did a little checking up – do you know who Dick Grayson is, Slade?"

"Bruce Wayne's ward, if memory serves," her companion replied rather coldly.

Slade Wilson, the Terminator, rose gracefully from his own overstuffed chair and went to stand before the fire, gazing deep into the flame.  "Tara, must you continually underestimate everyone?  Even me?  Of all the names you learned last night, Dick Grayson's was the one that surprised me the least."

Tara's pacing stopped as she stared at her partner, her full mouth drawing first into a pout, and then into a sneer.  "Really?  Why not?"

"I have known that Robin is really Dick Grayson for some time."

"What?" Tara's hands clenched into fists.  "So what did you…were you plannin' to fill me in on this or what?"

"Tara," the Terminator said patiently, "I have hidden nothing from you.  All the information was there for you to pick up, as I did."  He strode over to a file cabinet in the corner of the room, ignoring the icy glare of the girl behind him.  Without rummaging, apparently without even needing to look, he whisked a newspaper from the depths of a drawer. 

"It's a good idea to keep tabs wherever you find them," he said conversationally, placing the page directly in front of Tara's face.  The clipping was several months old, from the society page of the Gotham Gazette.  It showed a picture of Dick Grayson walking arm and arm with Starfire into a New York movie premiere, both dressed to the nines.  The caption read, "Dick Grayson, ward of millionaire Bruce Wayne, takes in a show with latest flame, model Kory Anders." 

The Terminator then plucked the page away.  "The romance is – was – quite public, Tara.  If Starfire sees Dick Grayson in public, and sees Robin within the walls of Titans Tower – two young men who bear an astounding physical resemblance to one another, by the way – then what conclusions can we draw?"

Tara cursed loudly and crudely.  Slade merely raised an eyebrow.  "You can do better than that, Tara.  Let us extrapolate further.  If Dick Grayson is Robin, then who is Batman?"

The blue eyes slowly got as big as dinner plates, and Terra's mouth formed a small O.  

"Well?"

"B-bruce Wayne?" Tara stammered.  At the Terminator's satisfied nod, she burst out, "What are you sayin'?  That you figured out who the Batman is and didn't tell anybody?!  Don't you know how many people would pay big money to – "

"Of course I do," her partner cut in impatiently.  "But a contract is a contract, and we've got this one to finish first.  Once the Titans have been delivered to the H.I.V.E., then we can begin collecting bids for the death of Batman.  But that's for the future.  The near future, I hope."

"Near?" Tara's eyes were gleaming.  "How near?"

Slade Wilson sighed, and this time his gaze went toward the frozen world beyond the window.  Slow, measured steps took him closer to the frosty glass.  "We shall have to move against the Titans sooner than I thought.  You have been compromised."

"Compro – how?  What've I done?" Tara demanded furiously.  "If you mean that business with the witch, then I'm tellin' you it's nothin' to worry about.  Didn't she come crawlin' and apologizin' to me this morning?  Didn't she tell me everything too?  Look at the tape – "

"She told you nothing," the Terminator snapped.  "The only thing she was honest about was her distrust of you last night.  That was clumsily done of her, but at least it lets us know where she stands.  Starfire is the one that concerns me."

"Starfire?  But Goldie told me everythin' last night.  Hell, I was afraid she'd never shut up."

"Really?  Let's review what she told you.  Where does she live?  Who is her modeling agent?  What's her phone number?  What's her favorite food?"

Tara huffed.  "I tried to find out where she lived.  You saw that.  She had somethin' else to do.  I'll get it soon."

Slade shook his head.  "She suspects you, Tara.  She deliberately withheld vital information from you, in a much subtler – and better – way than Raven did.  By telling you so many things, she kept the most important things from you."

Tara's skeptical face told its own story.  "Bubble Bod?  You're kidding."

"What did I just tell you about underestimating people?" the Terminator demanded, his voice one edge away from shouting.  "Raven openly reveals her distrust of you.  Immediately afterward, Starfire fills your head with a lot of nonsense about her home planet that is both unverifiable and unimportant.  This morning, Raven comes to you and does exactly the same thing concerning her home in…what did she call it?  Azarath.  What the hell do we care about Azarath?  The obvious conclusion is that these two women are colluding and adopting the same strategy to keep you in the dark."  He sighed heavily.  "You were outmaneuvered, Tara.  Perhaps you couldn't prevent it, but you should have recognized it."

"I don't believe it!  Starry's too stupid to pull anything like that.  And anyway, Raven told me where she lives.  In Titans Tower."

"Have you had a chance to examine her rooms?"

"No, but – "

"When you do look, I am certain you will find they don't exist.  That part, I think, was a boldfaced fib. Didn't you see how she never met your eyes?  Poor little Raven is not a natural liar.  Neither is Starfire, but she appears to have cultivated the necessary skills.  Maybe from that delightful-sounding sister of hers…We have to act quickly, before their suspicions spread to the other Titans.  Our only advantage is that these two appear to have estranged themselves somewhat from the rest of the group."

"Easy pickings," Tara murmured, her eyes beginning to gleam again. 

"Easier, at any rate.  None of the Titans trust Raven anymore, and by breaking off from Robin, Starfire has made herself an agent of instability within the team.  We already know strong feeling exists between these ladies; this will strengthen it, and serve to further isolate them.  That's good.  I'm also fairly certain that, wherever they live, they live together.  That's better."

"So do we go for them first?"

"We will strike all at once.  Eliminating Raven and Starfire out of hand might give credence to their suspicions among the other Titans, and then the game's up.  I think it'll be a package deal.  We know enough to begin; Wintergreen spent his morning checking out the stats you learned last night, and they all line up."

Tara's face twisted with ugly anticipation.  "I can't wait.  Can I have Logan?  God, I want to see that little bastard dead."

Slade laughed softly, and caressed her cheek with the tips of his fingers.  "The Changeling will soon cease to be an annoyance, m'dear.  But for now…" he smiled slightly, "I think I've had enough of mentoring you."

The pretty face under his hand smoothed back into a girlish pout.  "Yeah?  Let's see if you can get enuffa me in other ways."

***

Raven staggered into the apartment, feeling her arms weighted down as if she carried blocks of cement instead of two bags of groceries.  It had been an exhausting day; she had begun at dawn with a rigorous session of meditation, determined to break through the walls that seemed to separate her from Azar and from the peace of Azarath. 

Typically, she had failed; atypically, this failure was beginning to bother her less and less.  She was…content in her life now.  Quite the new sensation.  It had only been a week since she had moved in with Koriand'r, but they seemed to be settling in quite well together.  When she was with her friend she felt warm, accepted, lov – accepted.  Which was more than one such as she should ever expect from anyone else; she'd learned that much. 

So the more she became accustomed to these new, pleasant rhythms in her life, the less she troubled herself about her inability to find the empty "peace" she had once so fervently depended upon. 

She'd risen from her meditation mat that morning with a muted sense of frustration mingled with purpose, determined to spend her day again at St. Mary's, doing what she could at the charity clinic.  She had been spending more and more of her free mornings there, and knew they benefited from her help.  Once or twice news reporters had even dropped by – egged on by Marcie, no doubt.  She'd turned them away, disliking all kinds of publicity and attention directed toward herself, but had been secretly…pleased that her assistance had moved the workers so much at St. Mary's.  It had been a fruitful morning, so much so that the morning had faded into afternoon and she hadn't noticed.  She'd been forced to contact Koriand'r and cancel a lunch appointment they'd set up, but her friend hadn't seemed to mind, had indeed sounded happy that Raven was keeping so occupied.  Finally, about to drop from exhaustion, Raven had allowed herself to be shooed out by Marcie, and was even congratulated on a job well done by the director of the clinic.  How long had it been since a fellow Titan congratulated her for her work, or even dropped a simple word of thanks?


Raven shook her head.  Those were unworthy thoughts.  The team was busy, and wary of her, and in any case she was hardly a model of perfect Titan behavior.  She'd gone to Terra a few days ago and made a rather halting attempt to smooth the girl's ruffled feathers – Terra hadn't made it easy, and she had doubts of her success, especially given that she'd been lying about a great many things.  Raven was highly conscious that she was terrible at lies of commission.  Omission she could do quite well, but…well, it was done at any rate.

She set the bags down and fumbled with the key until the door opened before her, letting the light from their comfortable, well-appointed apartment spill out into the dim hallway.  Stepping inside gratefully and closing the door, Raven removed the sari's wrap that covered her forehead, with its strange blood-red gem and pointed hairline.  So far as their neighbors knew, she was just a friend living with famous model Kory Anders, not another Teen Titan.  And she preferred it that way. 

The apartment sounded with jubilant music coming from the record player on the shelf by the far left wall.  A woman's pleasant, husky voice, which Raven did not recognize, smoothed its way through the room and revived her ears, tired of the clinic's sounds of pain and suffering.  "Let me tell you 'bout a boy I know!  He's my baby and he loves me so!  Ev'ry morning 'fore the sun comes up, he brings me coffee in my favorite cup…" Inexplicably cheered by the bouancy of the singer's voice, Raven busied herself putting away the bread and milk while she listened to the song, and then wandered over to the player and picked up the album cover.  Peggy Lee's Greatest Hits…it must be something Donna had left.  The young Amazon liked this sort of thing, though it certainly seemed to suit Koriand'r's bubbly personality as well.  It was a far cry from the slow, exotic melodies Raven preferred on the rare occasions she listened to music.

Koriand'r…now that she paid attention to it, Raven could hear the hissing sound of the shower coming from the bathroom.  She disliked 'barging in' while the room was occupied, but she was so tired that she simply had to go to bed, and Raven was not one to go to bed with unbrushed teeth and a dirty face.  Koriand'r took incredibly long showers.  She would probably be there for a while.  At times the empath began to fear her friend was drowning in the tub.

Raven decided to take the leap.  She knocked timidly on the bathroom door, heard the cheery "Come in!" over the sound of running water, opened the door – and nearly choked on the cloud of steam that greeted her.  She could scarcely see a thing.  Raven felt her way, by now familiar, over to the sink, glad that she did not require the services of the mirror, which was clouded beyond use.  She brushed her teeth quickly as she could, and then turned on the tap to wash her face.

With the cooler water running near her ears, and her own hands splashing it efficiently over her face, she did not hear the sounds of the shower shutting off behind her, nor the sound of a hand groping for a towel.  So when she rinsed the soap off and turned her dripping, blinking face around to locate the sink's towel – where had it gotten to? – she was unprepared for the sight of a  six-foot-four naked golden Tamaranean woman behind her, flushed with steam and dripping with water.  Koriand'r's face and hair were obscured by a giant towel as she worked furiously to wring out her enormous mane.  Raven was distantly grateful for this, because at least Koriand'r couldn't see the way she was gaping at her, hypnotized by the sight of so much of that gilded flesh, every inch of it just as it should be and perfect. 

The poor young empath's mind was flying back to the last time she had seen the alien princess naked: lying in postcoital sleep on her bed, abandoned by Richard Grayson and smelling of sex.  Now here she was, fully conscious, just as bare, and smelling of warm, wonderful soap…Raven was paralyzed by her mind's helpless fluctuation between the two images, and was aware that the heat of the room, while stifling before, was now unbearable.  But she couldn't move.  Clear drops of water adorned those perfect shoulders like liquid gems, hung suspended from soft dusky nipples…

Then Koriand'r raised the towel from her face, moving it down to buff her torso dry, and Raven's eyes suddenly found themselves looking at the floor, the ceiling, the befogged mirror, and most especially the door, anywhere but that body.  Her face was still dripping wet.  "Hi, Raven," Koriand'r was saying cheerfully, as if it didn't bother her in the least to be toweling off naked in front of her roommate – and it obviously didn't, Raven realized, remembering Tamaran's vastly different notions of modesty.  How fortunate for Koriand'r; as for Raven, her own face was going so red it would in all probability steam off the water still clinging to it.

I – I apologize for intruding, she stuttered, wanting to be as nonchalant as her friend and knowing she couldn't possibly manage it.  I…a towel…

"Oh!" Koriand'r reached one long arm above Raven's head and plucked a clean one from atop a cabinet.  "Sorry.  I was doing some laundry.  Must've forgotten to put a clean one on the rack."  Her laugh was soft and musical and without mockery.  "Sorry you had to stand there with your face dripping!"

Raven applied the proffered towel to her face with something like frenzy, as if seeking to rub the knowledge of that enticing form right out of her eyes.  "How was your day?" Koriand'r continued conversationally, still drying off as if conversing naked in the bathroom was something she did every day.  The soft terrycloth dipped down into the hollow of one hip, then over a smooth inner thigh.

…What had Koriand'r said?  Her day?  What had she done today?  Fine, she stammered, falling back on the all-purpose response and making her way to the door, careful not to slip on the slickened tile.  Ah, how was yours? This…reaction of hers made no sense.  Koriand'r's Titan costume was certainly the most revealing fighting outfit she had ever seen, and left little to the imagination; how could these little exposed bits of secret flesh affect her so much?

At least it is I here, and not Garfield, she thought half-hysterically, and laid her hand on the doorknob before she realized Koriand'r was speaking.

"Okay, I guess.  Photo shoot had me really nervous – the photog's notoriously difficult to work with, but it wasn't all that bad.  I had to go all the way down to Tahiti.  Sometimes I think people only hire me because I can fly faster than a plane and they can save the airfare."  She grinned and Raven rocked back slightly on her feet, keeping her eyes firmly fixed on that glowing face.  Nowhere else.  Just the face.  "Made a nice bundle, though.  And they gave me some of the clothes.  Y'know, I really love Tahiti.  It's the closest thing to Tamaran I've seen on Earth.  You ever been there?"

No, Raven swallowed.

"I'll have to show you sometime.  Hey, are you all right?"

I…?  Oh, I am merely tired.  I had a…long day.  Meditation and then…ah, the clinic.

"Yeah, you called me.  Maybe we can do lunch on Wednesday instead.  Worked out for the best; I was too beat to fly from Tahiti to New York just for lunch!  They have really great seafood there, though.  In Tahiti, I mean.  Um, you don't eat fish, do you?"

Raven mutely shook her head no, hand still clenching the doorknob like a lifeline.

"Oh well.  I've heard they have good vegetable dishes too.  Maybe one weekend if things are quiet around here…"

One more second of this and Raven would snap.  She was sure of it.  Yes.  That would be…lovely.  I think…I think I'll go to bed now…

"Oh, I'm sorry!  Here I am, just babbling away and you're about to fall over.  Hey, you can turn off the music if you like.  I was just trying to teach myself to dance a little, before Donna's wedding.  I've also seen some of – what is it? – MTV, and I think I know what to do now."  Her face fell.  "Dick was going to teach me, but – never mind.  Sleep well, Raven."

S-sleep...yes, thank you, you too, Raven mumbled, and almost fell out of the door, still flushed and feeling like the biggest fool Azar had ever let into the world of humans.  At least she couldn't sense any pity or amusement from Koriand'r – that would have been unbearable.

The music still played in the living area, and the vocalist's voice had gone from cheerful to sultry, with soft finger-snapping in the background and a gentle bass thumping.  "Sun lights up the daytime…moon lights up the night.  I light up when you call my name and you know I'm gonna treat you right…you give me fever.  Fever!"  It was entirely too much.  Raven felt that the universe was laughing at her.  She shut off the record player rather viciously and made a beeline for her room, where she shut her door firmly behind her, dressed for bed, and curled up under the covers. Her exhaustion had fled in a sudden rush of adrenaline, and the image of that perfect, golden body was burned into the back of her eyes, making her shiver in a not entirely unpleasant way. 

Soon enough, though, the rush left her; she dropped into sleep like a dead woman, and to her astonished pleasure she dreamed – not of Trigon, not of Azar, but of soft, soft lips and the endless supply of kisses they bestowed upon her own mouth.

***

Koriand'r, lately a Princess of Tamaran, also dreamed.

The night had started well.  She'd had a nice long shower, washing all the Tahitian sand out of places it didn't rightfully belong, and had hummed a little Peggy Lee to herself as she made ready for bed.  She'd have to thank Donna for letting her keep that record.  She'd fallen in love the first time she'd heard it.  Donna said Terry couldn't stand it, though, so small chance of "Fever" being played at the wedding…too bad.  That one was her favorite.

She snuggled under her sheets and blankets, thankful that the New York winter was finally starting to end.  As she began to drift, she thought again of Raven, and felt a little guilty.  The quiet empath spent her days wearing herself out giving help to the needy, and what was she, Koriand'r, doing?  Accepting exorbitant fees to lounge around on a beach in skimpy swimsuits.  Her royal parents would not be impressed.  She had to find something more meaningful to do with her time.  Not that her work with the Titans wasn't meaningful, but what good did it do the city's poor if she and her teammates razed another building in their zeal for justice?

Eyes closing, Koriand'r chuckled to herself.  Raven was obviously starting to wear off on her…in more ways than one.  And then she slipped into sleep.

The next thing she saw was Raven lying in her own bed, blue eyes open and sparkling with welcome.  Koriand'r, she said happily, I am pleased you have come.

"I'm pleased to be here," Kory grinned.  The dream was a familiar one by now, but it always felt so real that upon waking she was invariably disappointed.  She thought of none of that now, though, only thought of making her way to the bed, lying down, and taking her friend in her arms.  Then she bent and kissed Raven.  And kissed her again, and again, like and unlike the way she'd kissed her in the cave, what felt like months ago.

Slender, warm arms slid around her neck and Raven murmured contentedly under her lips, the slim body shifting slightly in an effort to get closer.  Overjoyed, Koriand'r wrapped her own arms snugly around that tiny waist – really, Raven massed no more than the bird she was named for – and moved her kisses to the empath's smooth cheeks, forehead, eyelids.  "I love you," she said, and felt Raven smile, and was happier than she could ever remember being.

Suddenly, so fast she couldn't follow, everything…changed.

First, the pliant body in her arms stiffened, lost its suppleness.  Raising her head to see what was wrong, Koriand'r saw that Raven's soft expression had been replaced by the cool, remote one she habitually wore while on mission.  "What's the matter?" she asked anxiously.

I should not be here, the empath said stonily.  This is wrong.

"Wrong?  How can it be wrong?"

I have no emotions.  You are wasting your time in loving me.  Far more than you ever wasted it on Richard.

"I didn't waste my love on Dick!  It just…it didn't work out, that's all.  What's happened?  Why are you acting like this?"

Before her stunned eyes, the planes of Raven's face slimmed, grew even sharper than before, and the cool blue eyes grew positively cold.  When she spoke again, the voice chilled Kory to the bone.

You only came to Raven in dreams, you stupid girl.  You never really cared enough about her to show her how you felt in the waking world.  You lost her.

Kory froze in horror.  That voice, coming out of Raven's mouth…it was Trigon's voice!  She'd heard it before, in the battle on Azarath and that horrible prison-dimension…and later, from Raven herself as they battled the Brotherhood of Evil in Zandia.

"Raven!" she cried, terrified.  "Raven, can you hear me?  Don't let him take you over!  You can fight him!  Listen to me!"

But Raven's face didn't change, and neither did the voice.  Instead, it intoned solemnly, You are too little, girl…too little, and far too late.  Suddenly, Raven began to flicker in her arms, fading in and out of view, on the verge of disappearing completely.

"Raven…!"

Goodbye, foolish Koriand'r.  Now look upon what you have done, and all that you have lost.

Suddenly Raven was gone from her arms, and Kory was left alone on the cold bed, looking around wildly as the room began to shift and swing crazily around her.  It seemed that gravity fell away, pulled down and outward by its own power, and she was left alone in the vacuum, watching as the bed, the walls, the door, and even the vase of roses disappeared.  All that was left was darkness, and that was swiftly closing in on her, worse than the tunnels of Okaara that had terrified her so much as a child.  She opened her mouth to scream, to pray to X'Hal to deliver her from this, or at least give her the strength to battle through it, for all her own courage seemed to have suddenly deserted her.  But no words would come. 

She was spinning, around and around, and she couldn't tell where she was going, and she was colder than if she'd been buried in a mountain of snow, and –

She landed.  Hard.  Somewhere.

She forced her eyes open as she fumbled up on her hands and knees, nothing around her but empty white space, and couldn't believe what she was seeing.  She was crouched in the middle of a circle of people, surrounded by her own friends, the Teen Titans: Donna, Dick, Vic, Gar, and Wally – in plainclothes.  Only Tara was missing.  To her astonishment, completing the ring were the young precognitive Lilith, and…

"A-arella?" Kory stammered in disbelief as she looked up into the haggard face of Raven's mother.  "What are you doing here? I-I thought…"

"Trigon has been set free," Arella said heavily.  "I left his dimension to battle him here, only to find that I am too late."

Desperately, Koriand'r looked from her to her other teammates.  "Trigon's free?  But where's Raven, then?  What do you mean, we're too late?!"

"Look beyond you, Kory," Donna said in a dead tone.  "Look at what you've done."

Koriand'r staggered to her feet and then, to her astonishment, the white space around began to disappear, replaced by a scene of horror she'd never imagined in her wildest nightmares.  It was New York City – but a New York from Hell itself, the buildings transformed into rocks and earth, the sky blood-red.  Worst of all were the people…frozen people everywhere, their bodies distorted and discolored, all of them wearing expressions of the sheerest terror. 

"Their souls are trapped," Lilith said quietly.  "They belong to Trigon now.  Only we are left."

"Then what are we doing standing here?!" Koriand'r demanded, hearing her own voice cracking with hysteria.  "We have to do something – call the Justice League, set up a resistance – find Raven – "

"Raven is dead," Gar said flatly.

Somehow, that seemed worse than all this put together.  "What?" Kory asked faintly.

"Not dead," Wally said, "but not alive as you knew her.  Trigon has taken her for his own.  She helped him turn our world into this."

"The Justice League is no more," Donna said, and Kory wanted to scream at the blank, cold expression on her friends' faces.  Didn't any of them care about what was happening?!  "It isn't just New York that's affected, Kory.  All of Earth lies under his sway.  And now Raven belongs to him as well."

"It's your fault, you know," put in Vic.

Koriand'r rounded on his metallic form.  "My fault that this happened?  How could it be?"

His face was as deadly calm as the rest of them, his eyes gazing off as if he didn't really see her.  They all looked…her heart grew cold…they looked like Raven did, when she was meditating, or focusing on some force only she could see.  They looked like oracles.

"You didn't love her," Dick said roughly, and she turned to stare at him in amazement.  He didn't look half-dead; his eyes were snapping furious sparks, his lip twisted in a sneer, and he was dressed in a strange costume – a blue and yellow one, unknown to her.  "You wasted all that precious time worrying about yourself, worrying about me and what was best for us.  Trying to juggle it all.  Never seeing how she was slipping away right before your eyes.  And now our world is destroyed because of you!"

"That's not true!" Koriand'r cried passionately.  A small part of her wondered why they were all standing here arguing pointlessly when they should be going off to fight Trigon and save Raven, but the rest of her needed to understand what was happening, why her dearest friends were accusing her like this.  "I did love – I do love her.  I'd do anything to protect her."

"Yeah, right," Gar sneered, his cool mask dropping as well.  "Like you protected me from Tara?  Didn't save me any heartbreak, let me tell you."

"Tara?  What…what about Tara – where is she?"

"Don't play dumb, Kory," Donna sighed.  "I think you've done enough damage, don't you?  You can't pretend you don't remember everything that happened…going back to Dick, moving in with him, leaving Raven all alone…"

"I never did that!" Kory gasped.  "Are you crazy?  I would never – "

A gentle hand laid itself on her shoulder, and she whirled to stare into Lilith's serene eyes.  "This is what Might Be, Kory," she whispered.  "Listen, if you have ears!"

What?  What might be?  She still didn't understand.  What were they talking about?  She'd never moved back in with Dick.  And she did love Raven.  She just needed time to work things out, to make sure they were both comfortable, to see if this was really what she wanted to…

Time, sweet alien, said a horribly familiar voice above her, is precisely what you do not have.

***

Before Koriand'r's horrified eyes, her teammates and friends turned to stone, their expressions morphing into horror, just like the other twisting columns of people that surrounded her.  Raising her head, wiping the sweat-slick curls of hair from over her eyes, she could see a dark shape hovering in the reddened sky over her.  The shape began to materialize, to coalesce, into a familiar, much-loved form wearing a deep blue dress and cloak.  But the face…

"X'Hal," Koriand'r moaned in denial, "no.  No!"

But yes.

Raven's thin, pretty face had been transformed.  Its pale skin had turned a ruddy orange, and the sharp cheekbones now looked positively sunken, but all of that paled next to the eyes.  The gentle blue was gone, changed into red and yellow – and surmounted by another, identical pair of eyes right above it.  Just like…it was…

"T-trigon?"

Part of him.  I am heir to his throne of power.  At last, I have had the strength to accept and take what is mine.

"No," Koriand'r whispered again.  And despair curled inside her: not because of the wreck of the world around her, not for her lost friends, but because she knew that she still thought Raven was beautiful, that she still loved her, that the loss of that precious soul seemed somehow worse than all the rest combined.  "Oh, please…"

One thin, orange arm swept the air as Raven hovered over her.  Look at our former foolish teammates.  I think they look rather well as tortured souls, don't you?

Koriand'r closed her eyes.  If what the Titans had said was true, and this really was somehow her fault, she had to correct it.  Gathering her tattered courage, she rose into the air to meet Raven at eye level.  "Raven, I love you," she said, hearing the pleading note in her own voice.  "Please, I don't know what…happened, but it doesn't have to be this way.  You're a good person, Raven.  You don't really want to hurt us!"

Raven's thin lips quirked in a ghastly parody of a smile.  I have not hurt you, have I, Koriand'r?

Blinking, Kory realized that was true.  "Um…"

No, and the smile turned quite menacing, since it is due to you, after all, that I have ascended to this magnificent height, I have decided to reward you.  You, dear Koriand'r, most beautiful of all, you are to be my Consort.  You will rule beside me; all you ever desired will be yours. Before Kory's disbelieving gaze, Raven extended a hand.  Join me, and Tamaran will be yours.  All the injustice you have ever longed to see corrected, will be corrected.  The Citadel will be no more, should you wish it; its destruction will be the simplest task for me…

"Injustice?" Koriand'r cried in outrage.  "Do you call THIS justice?!  Will you do to Tamaran what you've done to Earth?"  The very thought made her blood boil, and courage reasserted itself in the familiar form of rage.

Earth is a necessary sacrifice, that my father and I may come to our full strength in this dimension.  Raven's voice was soft, seductive…persuasive.  She spoke almost as if soothing a frightened child.  No other world need suffer so, unless you desire it.  Hands as cold as ice caressed Koriand'r's own.  You never loved me, but I am prepared to forgive you.  Come to me, my darling.  Leave this weakness and indecision behind; I will show you how a Dark One loves.  I will show you how to be nothing but strength!

Koriand'r yanked her hands back, shaking all over, darting back in the air a few meters.  "Raven, listen to me!  This is insane.  I know you can hear me, Raven!"

The thin lips pulled into a frown of displeasure.  You refuse me, Raven said softly. 

"Would you please lis – "

Even now?  Even now you are too weak and stupid to love me?  Very well!

Suddenly the wind began to scream around Koriand'r, buffeting her and tossing her around like a doll.  She could hear nothing over the roaring, was only conscious of that blackness rushing on her again.  She cried out, panicked, shooting starbolts from her hands in a last-ditch effort to penetrate the infinite darkness that threatened to swallow her whole forever.  But Raven, or Trigon, had blotted out the sun and it was madness to expend her energy this way.  She wouldn't be able to recharge.  She had to think of something else.  She had to…She could only think of one thing, and it had little chance of success.

"RAVEN!" she screamed, trying to be heard over the roar of the wind.  "RAVEN, I DO LOVE YOU!  DO YOU HEAR ME?  I LOVE YOU – I LOVE – "

There is no love!  There is only fear! came to her ears as she was slammed in yet another direction, the wind hitting her like a solid thing.  She could hear Raven, but couldn't see her. You had your chance to love me, to save me.  You passed it by!  Now it is time to see the consequences of your indecision!

Before Koriand'r's frightened eyes passed visions: visions of whole Earth cities swallowed up by Trigon's horror, millions of people turned to stone and writhing in torment – her own dear friends trapped in their personal hells.  Donna, watching Terry die.  Vic, laughed at and mocked by Sarah Simms because of his metal parts.  Dick, feeling responsible for the death of the Batman, because he had abandoned him –

Just as you abandoned me, that hated voice jeered.  Even now, your heart goes out to him.  Even now you love him more!  But it will do you no good!

Wally, running in circles until he died of exhaustion resulting from – a heart problem?  Wally's heart was weak?  And Gar, watching his loved ones die, from his parents to his foster parents to his friends…everyone and everything dying…w-was that Terra's body among the fallen?

"Stop it!" Koriand'r screamed, unable to bear it any longer.  "You're killing them!"

Slowly and surely.  What can you do, girl? How can you save them?

A howl was building up in the back of her throat, clawing and scratching.  She had no more words.  All of her training was coming to the forefront of her mind, all that had made her Tamaranean and that had been diluted during her stay on Earth.  Kill or be killed.  Destroy or be destroyed.  Once the battle began, there could be no turning back.  Raven wasn't the enemy, her mind jabbered, but her instincts were no longer listening.

Donna.  Dick.  Vic. Gar.  Even Wally and Lilith and Arella – she fought to save them all.  And she had only one weapon: her starbolts.  Last-ditch effort; if she failed, she would fail as a warrior of Tamaran.  Marshaling all of her strength and resolve, Kory fired into the visions that surrounded and attacked her, releasing starbolts of magnitude and power that she'd never managed before.

Suddenly, as she fired, the wind stopped.  No longer buoyed by its momentum, and completely disoriented, Koriand'r crashed down onto the rocky ground, feeling her ankle collapse painfully beneath her, firing one last starbolt into the reddened air.

She looked up, and she was once again surrounded by her teammates.  The hellish scenery had gone, replaced once again by dead white nothingness.  Donna reached down and gave her a hand up.  "You saved us, Kory," she said softly.  "You did the only thing you could."

Koriand'r took a moment to try and clear her head, and then decided she was long past any hope of that.  "Wh-where's Raven?" she stammered.  "Did I save her too?  Is she all right?  Is Trigon destroyed?"

Donna merely looked to her right, and Kory raised her head, to see that someone else was enclosed within the circle of Titans.  Raven.  But she was crumpled, lying so very still, and…and…giving off smoke

Dear X'Hal, what had she done?

"Donna?" she croaked.  "D-dick?  Please – what have I – "

"You did all you could, kid," Vic said gently, laying one heavy metal hand on her shoulder.  "Raven hadda be killed to destroy her father."

"It was the only way," Lilith agreed quietly.  And then Kory could hear soft sobs, turned to her left, and saw Arella huddled on the ground outside the circle, weeping softly and moaning my daughter my daughter.

"I killed her," Koriand'r said starkly, and Donna nodded.

"A starbolt through her heart."

"I didn't mean to!  I was just trying to…to stop the darkness.  It was all around me and I couldn't see and I…To save you and her!  I…"

"Nevertheless, you did kill her, Kory," Dick said, sounding kind.  "Nobody's blaming you.  Even Arella understands."

"No," Koriand'r whispered, and lurched forward, stumbling painfully on her injured ankle, to where Raven lay.  They had to be wrong.  Surely Raven was still alive.  Starbolts couldn't have killed someone with the power of Trigon, could they?  She'd only meant to reach her friend, to snap her out of it, to show her love…she hadn't even been firing at Raven at all, this was just a terrible mistake…

But then she reached the limp body, took it in her arms, turned it over (it weighed nothing) and saw the scorched hole over the heart, right where Donna had said.  The gaping wound revealed the charred flesh and organs inside, cauterized from any bleeding.  She saw the four opened, staring eyes, now deprived of any power to harm or to forgive.  No, Raven could never forgive her now.  And this was her fault.  They'd all said so.

There was only one thing left to do.

She lifted eyes fogged with tears to face her teammates.  "I'm sorry," she said dully.

Donna nodded solemnly, and as one they all took two steps back.  She could still hear Arella crying.

Koriand'r raised her shaking hands to either side of her head, pressed down hard, and discovered she had one starbolt left.  That was enough.  It didn't hurt, and the world disappeared in a burst of red flame.

***

She was floating again, and it was dark again, but this time she felt none of the sheer terror she'd experienced before.  That was numbed now, overlaid by despair and sorrow.  I killed Raven, she thought.  I killed her.  And herself too, and had died a coward's death. 

"You are not dead, child."

Koriand'r gazed around the darkness, blinking.  Where had that voice come from?  It was a woman's voice, and it sounded old and raspy with age, but beyond that she couldn't identify it at all.

"Who are you?" she demanded, hearing her own voice roughened by sobs.  "Where am I?"

"You are In-Between.  You will return to your own world soon enough; nothing is as it seems to be.  Don't be afraid."

"I-I'm not afraid."

"Don't lie, either."  A shape began to take form in the darkness, but to Kory's mingled relief and disappointment it wasn't Raven's.  "I can sense truth from lies."

Before her bemused eyes formed the shape of a woman, wrinkled and old, but standing upright, wrapped in fantastic robes of red and gold.  A red gem, not unlike Raven's, adorned her forehead, and her hair was silver, and flowed down her back.  Koriand'r gasped.  From Raven's descriptions, told around a campfire one night, this could only be…

"Azar?" she whispered.

The stern head nodded.  "Yes.  You were paying attention that night."

Kory wondered if she should kneel, or bow, or what, and then realized she could do neither in this formless place.  Could do nothing except float.  "A-azar?  Where am I?  Is this the afterlife?  Can I see Raven?"  To apologize, if nothing else.  If Raven was here, then that must mean she'd escaped Trigon, and could maybe forgive –

"So many questions," the old woman mused, "so much fire.  Of a certainty you would never have belonged in Azarath."

From what Kory knew of the place, she certainly agreed.  "Please help me," she begged.  "I don't understand anything.  I…I killed Raven, didn't I?"

"You did," Azar said neutrally.

Koriand'r lowered her head with a moan. 

"That is to say, you did, and you will," Azar added.

Kory raised her head again.  "What?"

"You are in the dream world, Koriand'r.  You are seeing what will come to pass, not what has already passed."

"You mean I had a dream?  Of the future?"

"Yes."

"That's impossible," Koriand'r snapped.  "I wouldn't do any of those things.  I'm not going to go back to Dick.  I'm not going to kill Raven like that."

"You cannot escape it," Azar said calmly.  "It is your destiny, and hers."

"Destiny?  What are you talking about?"

"Raven is doomed to be taken over by her father.  You and your fellow Titans will resist; you will give in to your dark sides, and in doing so you will destroy Raven.  Her death will be the impetus for Trigon's.  You yourself will strike the killing blow with one of your starbolts, and Raven will fall, much as she did in your dream."

"Never!" Koriand'r cried, shaking with rage.  "I don't believe life is like that.  We make our own choices!  Nothing's set in stone!"

"You would be surprised," Azar said coolly.  "I am only giving you fair warning.  Now: wake, and remember all you have learned."

"NO!" Koriand'r screamed, fighting with all her strength against the currents that were trying to take her away, presumably back to the waking world.  "You showed me this – for what?"

"To tell you to give up.  I have purged Raven of all her emotions.  You see that it is futile; no matter what you do, now matter how hard you try, you cannot save her from what she is destined to become."

It's all your fault, you know.  You didn't love her enough.  Now the words had new meaning.  "You're not my goddess," Koriand'r hissed, feeling her hands warm with starbolts once again.  "My goddess fought to the very end to defend her world.  Her example showed me what true courage means."  Now the starbolt tingled just under her skin, waiting to be released.  "You're nothing but a sham!  You sent me that dream – you put me through all that – by X'Hal, I won't look at you any longer!  You go straight to hell!!"

With a final cry, Koriand'r fired her starbolts at Azar, who screamed under them and vanished.  Kory crowed in triumph – there, that was for Raven, and to punish all those miserable Azaratheans who had tried to ruin her!

I have purged Raven of all her emotions.  Kory didn't believe that for a second.  How many times had Raven wept, or been lonely, or despaired?  Too many.  She had emotions, all right – all the bad ones, and permitted herself no good ones to counteract them!  Except with Koriand'r.  With Koriand'r she teased and joked and smiled and cooked vegetarian meals.  And Azar wanted Kory to give that up?  To give Raven up to all these evil feelings that would only make her easy prey for Trigon?  Never!

Let the people of Azarath have their deathlike serenity.  She and Raven would have life!

Sizzling with her triumph, Koriand'r allowed the dream currents to whisk her away, back to her apartment and the world she knew.

In the wake of her departure, scattered atoms and burnt ashes regathered themselves.  The body of Azar took form again, and the wizened face watched as Koriand'r disappeared.

And the old goddess smiled.

***

Koriand'r swam rapidly up from sleep, clinging hard to the memory of her dream, refusing to let it fade when she finally woke.  She wasn't surprised to find herself trembling when she regained herself, nor that the sheets were soaked with sweat.  She rose from the bed, feeling tense as a drawn wire, and drew on her robe, deciding to head for the kitchen.  Maybe Raven had some more of that chamomile stuff.  It was supposed to help you sleep.

Of course, she didn't really want to sleep now, Kory mused as she set about making the tea.  But she would like to relax, a little. X'Hal!  That dream had left her exhausted, with eyes that felt like sandpaper, but way too wound up.  She had to sit down, sip some hot tea and calm down, so that the image of Raven's red, burnt body would disappear from in front of her eyes.

I killed her, she thought, and had to restrain herself from actually going to the empath's room and checking on her.  It was only a dream.  Of course she's all right.  I never…

She rose from her chair, the warm mug clenched in her hands.  Oh, to hell with it.  She'd just poke her head in.  It was silly, but she needed this reassurance far more than she needed any old tea.

She'd made it about halfway across the living area towards Raven's door, when that door opened and out stepped Raven herself, rubbing her eyes blearily.  Kory was so startled that she fumbled her mug, sending scalding tea all over the front of her robe.  She cursed fluently in Tamaranean and was barely aware of Raven's rapidly approaching presence until two gentle hands laid themselves on her arm and the pain suddenly disappeared.  Koriand'r looked up into Raven's wincing face and felt guilty as her friend processed the injury, then let it go.  "What are you doing up?" she asked, feeling foolish and unnerved and not sure she could deal with this right now.   Not after blowing away Raven's goddess in her dream, anyway.

I might ask the same of you, Raven said mildly, taking Kory's elbow and gently guiding her back to the kitchen.  I sensed your turmoil.  Is there any tea left?

"Um, some.  I'm sorry I woke you."

Do not be.  I am glad I woke, if it means I can help you.  In spite of her tenseness, the sincerity of that statement made Koriand'r smile softly.  She sat down at the table again while Raven refilled her mug, and then poured herself the small amount remaining in the pot.  Kory was finally beginning to relax when her friend seated herself at the chair across the table and said gently, You are deeply disturbed.  What happened?

She couldn't meet Raven's eyes.  "I had a nightmare."

That kind face, so unlike the demonic one of her dream, softened into immediate compassion.  I see.  Those can be very disturbing, as I sense yours was. She paused.  Do…did you want to talk about it?

"No!  I mean, I don't think so.  No thanks."

Raven chewed her lip, seemed to concentrate, and then looked worried.  Koriand'r, I am sensing deep ambivalence from you…concerning…me?

No help for it now.  Of all the things Raven was absolutely determined to talk about…Kory would get her back for this, one day.  Force Raven to talk about her own troubles as honestly as this. "The nightmare was about you," she muttered.  "I dreamed you died.  On…on a mission."

Raven blinked in astonishment.  Which mission?

Koriand'r waved her hand.  "Not one that's ever happened.  It was all so strange.  Some…alien world," she murmured, prevaricating like mad but trying to stay close to the truth, aware that Raven could sense lies.  Well, the Earth had looked alien under all that horrible living stone.  "I made a mistake while we were fighting.  A starbolt hit you.  I killed you."  Now that it was out of her mouth, it seemed more horrible than ever, and she took a huge gulp of tea.

Raven tilted her head to one side, and her lips curved in that unique not-quite-a-smile.  It was only a dream, she said gently.  Koriand'r, I am sitting here across from you, quite well.  If it makes you feel better, I am…more well than I have in a long time.

That made Koriand'r look up in a hurry.  She gazed sharply at her friend, who seemed surprised at the abrupt scrutiny.  " 'Only a dream?' " she repeated.  "That doesn't sound like you."

Have you ever had prescient dreams before?

"No."  Not before tonight, anyway.  But she wasn't going to tell Raven about talking to Azar.  At least, not yet.  It would be just like her friend to believe she had some cockeyed fate-ordained role to fulfill.

I didn't think you had…then this is likely no cause for concern, just some personal anxiety on your part bringing itself to the surface. She paused.  Have you been worried about me?

"Of course I have.  But not so much, recently.  You seem…happier now.  You just said yourself you were doing well."

I am, Raven murmured thoughtfully.  I do not precisely understand why, but of late Trigon's influence over me seems to have subsided.  He still attempts to communicate with me during my trances and my dreams, but I find that I am able to…deflect him.  His summons does not interest me, it does not stir the darkest parts of me, as it once did. She blushed suddenly. 

"Why not?" Koriand'r asked, fascinated and hopeful.

Raven bent her head to study the table.  It is too recent a development for me to analyze, she admitted.  But… she seemed to struggle mightily with whatever she was about to say, and then gave up.  Koriand'r, I think your friendship and support over the last few months have helped immeasurably.  As an empath, I can feel your concern and…affection for me, and it is untainted by fear.  I cannot tell you what that means to me.  You are, she was blushing even more furiously now, you…I…this is difficult for me to say.  But at the least you deserve my thanks, for simply being yourself with me.

Kory felt like a weight had been lifted from her shoulders.  Who'd have thought it?  In her own way, Azar had been right.  Draining Raven of emotions, or making the foolhardy attempt to do so, would make her Trigon's pawn; but filling her with love and friendship and all other good things, to counterbalance all the terrible things, could make sure that never happened.  Of course, Raven might never fulfill her "destiny" as some kind of Azarathean martyr, but Kory found she couldn't care less.

It was going to work.  It was.  She'd make it work.  And then she smiled as a sudden thought appealed to her curiosity.

"Thanks, Raven.  That makes me feel much better.  Tell me something – what do you dream about?"  After all, she'd revealed something pretty personal.  It was only fair to ask.

To her surprise, Raven went even pinker and began studying the table with great interest.  Many things, the empath said feebly.  I, ah, I sometimes dream about…um, Azarath, of course, and my life there.  Sometimes I dream of a special place in between dimensions.  It is called the Nexus –

"Did you say In-Between?" Koriand'r asked a little sharply, and Raven blinked in surprise.

Yes.

"Oh.  How, um, interesting."  She then saved herself from the coming question with a huge yawn.  "X'Hal!  That dream made me so tired, but it keyed me up too, you know?  I want to go back to sleep, but I don't know if I can."

You should, Raven said, her concern obvious.  We have the Titans meeting in the morning.  Would you like me to help you?

Koriand'r was about to refuse politely, then decided she didn't want to.  "If you wouldn't mind," she said happily, knowing somehow that Raven really wouldn't.

It is no trouble.

Kory led the way back to her bedroom, wrinkling her nose as the smell of her sweaty sheets hit her nostrils.  She tossed off her robe and then lay down on top of the sheets, deciding she couldn't face tangling herself up again in the linen.  Then she looked up and found Raven standing in the doorway, looking at her, then around the room with a stunned expression.  "What's the matter?" Kory asked, before remembering she was naked, and that that might discomfit Raven a little.  She should have thought of that earlier in the bathroom.  Her friend was very shy about some things.

I – nothing – for a moment this just seemed –

"Familiar," Koriand'r said, completing the thought without realizing it, and then blinked.  Where had that come from?  But from the look on Raven's face she knew she'd guessed right, and said a little wickedly, "You go into a lot of naked ladies' bedrooms?"

The poor girl really was shy, she decided a moment later as Raven looked wildly around the room as if trying to find an escape route.  "I'm sorry," she said quickly.  "You're being so nice, and I'm teasing…"

No, no, it's quite all…

"I shouldn't…"

Their voices trailed off as one; Koriand'r, still naked and now highly conscious of it, lay back down on the bed as Raven slowly approached.  Was it her imagination, or did the empath's pale hands tremble a little as they touched her face?  She closed her eyes against the delightful coolness of those fingerpads.  "Nice," she murmured, already beginning to feel sleepy.  "Like that dream I told you about…where you came here and…"

Yes, Raven said in an oddly husky voice.  You told me about – that dream.  But I am real now. The gentle hands trailed from her temples down her cheeks.  I am…very real now… The voice dropped to a whisper.  Sleep, dear Koriand'r.

She felt herself dropping away, into a world of warmth and peace, and smiled.  Her eyes fluttered open one last time, to gaze with infinite tenderness on the face that hovered above her own, a pale smudge in the darkness.  "Love you," she mumbled, and promptly dropped like a stone into sleep.

***

Raven sat for a long time beside her on the bed, staring at the sleeping face that fascinated her beyond reason, and thought back over the past few minutes.

She'd been awakened from that extremely…pleasant…dream by a surge of acute distress over her mental link to Koriand'r.  Confused, she had explored it, only to discover that her friend was awake, no longer dreaming, and she'd decided to investigate. 

Koriand'r had had a dream about her.  Her friend worried about Raven's dying – more, about Raven dying at Koriand'r's own hands.  What could that mean?  It was troubling…did Koriand'r truly fear hurting Raven somehow?  Surely not in the crude physical sense – Koriand'r had full control over her powers, and had never been afraid of using them.  So could it…involve Richard, perhaps?

The young empath bit her lip hard.  Koriand'r couldn't be aware of Raven's own unfortunate longings.  Or could she?  Was it possible she did know, did understand that loving Richard Grayson would hurt Raven worse than any starbolt in the world?

Oh, Azar.  When had this started?  Raven could not recollect the precise moment in which her whole life had become wrapped up in this long golden body, but it was now an irrefutable fact.  Azar had certainly been right about the danger and instability of emotions.  And it was far too late to stop now.  

She did not even want to stop now. 

That more than anything frightened her.  She liked being this way, liked living almost as normal human beings did, cared for and caring.  She was casting aside a lifetime's worth of training and instruction, and could not bring herself to regret it at all.  This required meditation.  Much meditation.  She simply had to focus more, had to find some way to understand herself and make truly sure that Trigon's hand was not in this.

If she hurt Koriand'r…

Azar help her, it was never far from her thoughts.  To allow some foolish self-indulgence to bring her dearest friend to harm was beyond bearing.  She looked again on the sleeping face and felt something clench very tight inside her, so tight that she couldn't tell if it was painful or not.  No.  More than anything, this one must be protected.  Koriand'r, out of all creatures living, must never be allowed to come to harm.  She could not allow it – could not endure it! 

If this was love – and Raven grew ever more certain that it was – it was complicated and extremely unsatisfying.  But surely it could not go on this way forever?  No, something was sure to happen: Koriand'r would return to Richard's arms, or become disgusted by Raven's true nature, or something else.  Raven should "cut her losses," as Victor said, and get out while the getting was good.  But she could not.  She simply could not. 

I cannot leave you, she whispered to the sleeping woman, shaking all over now with a mixture of fear, desire and fatigue.  She should go back to bed; the Titans meeting was early.  But just a few moments sitting here, watching her, would not hurt at all.  For all her confusion and misgivings, it felt better than any meditation possibly could. 

She wound up sitting on Koriand'r's bed until five in the morning, when finally, afraid she would fall asleep and be discovered, she staggered back into her own room.  Falling back into an uneasy sleep, the thought rebounded once again inside her head:

Can never leave you…

Fin.