It was late.
Or more precisely, it was early. Very early. The skies were already beginning to lighten in the east, and in the west the dimmer stars had begun to fade. There had been no moon tonight, and some would say that its absence left the world below a darker place. On good days, he would make arguments for the beauty of the starscape, and how its cold perfection was always marred by the intruding eyesore of Earth's natural satellite. On bad days though—bad nights like tonight, all that seemed to matter was the crushing weight of increased darkness. Without the blanket of moonlight, the world was bathed in oppressive, strangling shadow.
On nights like tonight, even darkness became his enemy.
Morbid thoughts, he realized without caring, as he made his way thought the darkened tower. The light of life and laughter had long since departed as his teammates had retired to their beds. Without daylight, without moonlight, without the comforting presence of his friends, the sparse florescent glow was as cold and unfeeling as the night itself. It was an act of selfish defiance then, that made him kill the lights in the elevator. A sad, futile gesture it became a second later, when his night-vision automatically compensated.
When the doors dinged open on the roof, the green haze of the night-vision receded, blending back into the background as the graying eastern sky lessened their necessity. It was here, in the cool damp of a morning fog that rolled in across the bay, that he found her.
Waiting for him.
It had become unspoken tradition between them. Always he would patrol the moonless nights, as though he had to fight the very darkness that protected him, and always she would wait for him, foregoing sleep until his return. Someone had to ensure that he did, in fact, return to them, as the others always failed to notice his unrest.
And if they did, only she could heal him.
"Rough night?" she asked as she abandoned meditation. It was a useless question; the nights were always rough. Besides, their accidental mental link enabled her to feel his approach—and the injuries he carried.
That might be why he never answered her.
Tonight he stood before her, impassively waiting, the direction of his gaze hidden—always hidden—behind his mask. She levitated towards him, closing the gap, already summoning additional psychic energy to her person. She would need it if she meant to heal him.
She always did.
Tonight had been fairly mild though, for at least he was still able to stand before her.
Gentle hands framed his face, and in an obsidian whisper, the split lip sealed itself, and the bruising behind the mask evaporated without having ever been seen. Then one hand lingered on his brow as the other fanned its fingers and came to rest above his heart. It always took a few moments for her empathic perception to discern his heartbeat through the layers of Kevlar/Nomex weave and slat-like steel plating, but once she did, it was easy to synch her own life force to his body's rhythm.
Once the link was established, he felt the gentle brush against his mind—so soft and tender now, and so unlike that first intrusion. As always, his mental defenses relaxed with the air of resignation, and his thoughts washed over to sweet nothingness, totally enveloped in the darkling power of the empath's soul.
Soul-self, he corrected himself, belatedly, as his wounded body healed and his battered spirit eased—as much as he ever would allow.
Why do you do this?
Her question fell softly in his mind's ear, as it always did. As always, he answered her, but like the warrior he was, his words were harsh, uncompromising.
This city is my protectorate, my responsibility.
Jump was far from your mind tonight. She had thought of stronger words, but then, his lie hadn't been for her benefit.
Four armed robberies, two muggings, and an attempted rape, he rattled off, as though the litany was supposed to speak for him.
She ignored it. Why do you punish yourself? A question she always asked quite honestly.
Maybe one day, he would answer it.
The ethereal silence that always surrounded the use of their bond shattered on Raven's voiceless sigh. She dropped her arms and retreated from his mind, dutifully ignoring the faint echoes of relief she felt through him as she did so.
"The perfection you seek… is not the province of mortals."
Her parting shot, a slice of fortune-cookie wisdom, spoken from a degree of understanding few could despair to match. Then she was gone, disappeared back into the elevator, most likely towards the kitchen and some herbal tea.
Sometimes she forgets, he knows her quite well too.
Then dawn broke across the eastern sky, sudden and swift, banishing away the shadows and drowning out the darkness that had quietly enveloped his soul. He closed his eyes against the brightness and almost imagined that he could feel the warmth. The midwinter sun was a psychopath's smile, brilliant but cold; yet as the uncaring rays shone down across the city the ugliness was stripped away. The steel and concrete jungle was reborn as a glittering maze of pearl and silver beneath a too-blue sky.
These nights were always hard, but the promise of daybreak was always worth it. Raven may have been right, but dawn was always perfect.