title: Play Me A Memory (ii)
rating: PG-13 for a passing mention of violence and death
summary: Two Titans walk into a (jazz) bar. No, really. ... well, sort of. With added alcohol this time and angst, which every jazz story needs eventually.
notes: Unbeta'd, so edits, what have you would be appreciated. I didn't actually plan on this becoming a series, but once in a while, things hit me over the head and this was one of them. We'll see if it continues to beat me into making it a full-fledged one-shot anthology or not. XD
disclaimer: Don't own any of the songs referenced or Teen Titans.
No one has seen Robin since they returned from the case. Granted, it is not unheard of for him to hole himself away in his study for days on end, but he is not to be found there today. In fact, their team leader is nowhere in Titans Tower at all, and, given the circumstances of the day they've all just had, it is more than a little worrying to the Titans that they seem to have lost their leader somewhere along the way from the police station back to the island.
After hours of searching, they give up; Robin would return when he was ready and none of them have any doubts that, should an emergency arise, he would be the first one on the scene. None of the Titans notice Raven quietly slipping away as they call it a night, and each return to their respective rooms and their own thoughts.
She has a sneaking suspicion of where she might find their wayward leader.
Tonight, the Jupiter Jazz is louder, which is not surprising considering it is the cusp of the weekend. The band is playing West End Blues. Raven finds him seated at the bar, fingers resting with deceptive lightness on the sides of his tumbler. It is filled halfway with a dark golden liquid that Raven thinks might be whiskey, but she isn't exactly an expert on liquor differentiation. He must hear her approach, or feel it through their strange mental bond, since he does not startle or even look at her when she reaches his shoulder and speaks.
"We're not legal yet." She says it like she might comment on the weather: without inflection or expectations.
Robin takes a sip, makes a face, and then looks up at her with blue eyes that are just beginning to attain the edges of that alcohol-induced glaze. If she is surprised that he's not wearing his mask, Raven does a very good job of hiding it. And she is surprised, but only because she is still unused to seeing his bare eyes and even less accustomed to seeing them bitter and pained. But of course, it would not do for Robin, teen superhero and beloved city champion, to be seen flagrantly getting hammered by himself in a bar—underage, no less.
"Ro—" She checks herself; complete civilian cover this time around, Raven reminds herself. She resists the urge to give the Gatsby cap concealing her conspicuous hair and even more conspicuous chakra stone a self-conscious tug. "Richard. What are you doing?"
"Killing my liver," he replies, his words remarkably clear despite the sharp tang of alcohol she can smell on him now that she is closer. "Care to join me?"
"Neither of us are 21," she reminds him.
His eyes blaze with a sudden intensity. "I saw a little girl die today while her mother watched. I think I can handle a grown-up thing like alcohol."
Raven stares at him, violet eyes reflecting all the sadness that does not show up on her face. He looks away after a minute, turning back to his drink, tension wound tight in his hunched shoulders. Her hand hovers over his clenched back for a long second, but Raven eventually lets it fall back to her side, slumping a bit in her sapphire-blue cardigan. She takes the empty seat beside him, orders a Darjeeling and a glass of water for Robin, and the two of them sit there in heavy silence as the soft jazz strains drift around them, circling overhead like pale streams of opium-blue smoke.
"There was nothing you could have done," she says at last, quietly. Raven knows that Robin is aware of that, deep down, but perhaps he needs to hear it said aloud before he can admit it to himself.
"We could have been faster. I could have been faster."
"You're right; you could have been." It hurts her to see him visibly flinch at the words, but Raven continues with only the slightest hitch, "And I could have teleported instead of riding in the T-Car. Starfire could have flown faster instead of keeping pace with the T-Car; Cyborg could have driven faster—the T-Car is faster than your R-Cycle and you know it." She speaks low, trusting the music to make their conversation inaudible to all but themselves. "Beast Boy could have turned into a cheetah, a falcon. We can't know everything—"
"Why not?" he demands. "We should."
"Coulda, shoulda, woulda," she replies without humour, though it prompts him to lift increasingly-bleary eyes to stare at her rare usage of such colloquial terms. "But we didn't, because we didn't know. And we couldn't have; it was a standard bank robbery. There was no way for us to predict that he was as unstable as he was and that he would fire indiscriminately into the crowd."
Robin is silent, but the whiteness of his knuckles around his tumbler is telling enough on its own, and Raven is afraid that if he grips any harder, the glass will splinter and crack under the pressure. In fact, he remains quiet for so long that when he finally speaks, voice pitched low and rough, she almost jumps. "She was so young. Six, tops." Raven knows from the hysterical statement taken from the girl's mother afterwards, which she attended with Cyborg after Robin disappeared, that the girl was, in fact, turning six later that month; her name was Amelie. She does not share that with Robin; now is not the right time. "And her mother—" His voice finally chokes off, thick with the tears that he has not yet allowed himself to indulge in.
"There was nothing we could have—"
"Stop saying that!"
"I'm going to say it until you listen to me, Richard," she says evenly, unmoving in the face of his snarl.
"You say it so easily, like you don't even care. Like seeing her die out there today with that psychopath's bullet in her chest didn't faze you at all," he accuses angrily, his mouth reacting before his brain has the chance to. He realizes his mistake a second too late; the words are already out.
The effect on Raven is immediate and marked; her expression shuts down, mouth forming a thin, taut line, and her eyes cold enough to singlehandedly stop global warming. She knows that he is only looking for a place to lash out, to direct the chaotic cacophony of emotions she can feel raging inside him, but the remark was far out of line, especially given what Robin alone knows of her. And Raven is not nearly noble enough to forgive it, even considering his current half-inebriated state. She is here to try to help him with his pain, not to provide an outlet for his self-loathing. She tells him as much. "I came here to find you because you're my friend, Richard. If you want a verbal punching bag, I suggest you look elsewhere. I have enough to deal with on my own without putting my mind under your emotional assault; I am not going to deal with verbal abuse on top of that." Her own grief and feelings of helplessness already threaten to consume her precious control as it is, and by all rights, Raven should be in her room fighting the awning darkness with hours of meditation instead of sitting here in a packed bar, full of unrestrained emotional auras and exposing herself to Robin's inner turmoil.
His frustration urges him to tell her that he didn't ask for her to come looking for him in the first place, but Robin is not one to make the same mistake twice (at least not in such quick succession) and he forces himself to tamp down the self-fury before he speaks again. "No, that's not what I – sorry, that was out of line. But it never gets easier." The last words come out an anguished whisper beneath the piano's mourning cadenza.
"It shouldn't," she replies just as softly. "The pain never gets better; sometimes we just get better at dealing with it. It means you're still human; that fighting monsters hasn't turned you into one."
"If you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."
Raven isn't surprised that Robin recognized the reference at once, even half-inebriated as he is. She doesn't reply immediately, both allowing him time to reflect (with another grimaced sip of his drink) and taking time to choose her own words carefully. "So let it," she says at last, taking a sip of her own tea. She is satisfied that his intervals between sips have increased as he focuses in on their conversation instead of his own internal abyss—that blackness Raven knows only too well, and knows that Robin (as well as his mentor) carries heavily at all times as well.
He is silent, so she carries on, swivelling her stool in order to fix his profile with her steady gaze. "There is only something to fear if you have something to hide; if you believe there something that will call to it inside you. Richard…" There is that urge to reach out to him again, but she refrains as she always does, settling instead for pushing the glass of water toward him. "You have nothing to be ashamed of; you have nothing to fear from the abyss. Let it look if it wants; let it see what it is like in the light and be shamed itself."
Another tableau of silence.
"Besides, don't tell me you're content to lose to a staring contest with the metaphorical manifestation of a madman's depression." Raven is gratified by the smile that quirks at Robin's lips at her attempt at flippant humour.
"I thought Nietzche was a genius."
Encouraged by his response, Raven continues playing the part, giving a slight sniff and gesturing vaguely with her mug. "Genius, madman; it's a fine line."
"Just like between vigilante and villain, huh."
Her heart drops momentarily at Robin's remark; she is just about worn out on ideas of how to get him out of his funk, and her own abyss is growing wider every second she delays her meditation regimen. Then, like a small miracle, Robin pushes his half-empty tumbler to the side and reaches for the glass of water. The fluttering despair drains from her with a long exhale, the breath out like the expulsion of a lungful of fear and desperation, and the breath in tasting like cool relief. If Robin notices the brief glow around her mug, he doesn't comment as he lifts the glass to his lips and drains it.
When he's finished and turns to her, Raven is already as composed as always, though she allows some of the relief to course through her until it runs itself dry. "With this entire conversation, I'll be surprised if RedX doesn't come calling soon."
She matches his slight smirk. "I'm surprised we haven't the call already, with you tempting fate like that."
His gaze flickers to the mug in her hands briefly before catching her eyes again with his. There is still grief imprinted sharply there and mourning swirling in his aura, but the bitterness and anger is no longer overwhelming. It's still there, but under control, and Raven knows Robin can begin his own coping process now.
She allows her own grief and regret at the day's tragedy to reflect in her gaze for a moment. Placing her mug on the counter, she reaches out to take the tumbler he'd set aside and, like a ritual, tips it back and swallows with a grimace as the liquor burns its way down her throat. Out of her peripheral vision, she sees Robin's eyes widen in surprise, and then, as understanding sets in, soften into something like amusement, and something like gratitude.
"And you lecture me, Rachel."
She stands, and almost immediately regrets her rash decision as she wobbles a little, head swirling. And she thinks that it isn't fair when Robin, as sturdy as ever after Azar knew how many drinks, steadies her from behind and then has the gall to laugh softly in her ear.
Her feet firmly planted now, Raven pulls away and directs a half-hearted scowl at him. "Can we go home now?"
"I think we'd better," he replies easily, the half-glare gliding off him like water off a particularly cheeky and death-defying duck. "Before I have to carry you back."
Raven decides that she is in a generous mood and will thus spare him the obligatory smack on the head… especially given that she cannot be one hundred percent certain she won't wobble if she does so. Besides, Robin is chuckling (granted at her, but she decides to overlook that magnanimously as well), so she considers the mission accomplished.
And if he insists on seeing her to her room after they make it back to the Tower ("So you don't fall over a chair and kill yourself," he says, "I would feel responsible." To which she retorts, "Right, so I don't fall over an invisible chair in the empty halls."), she allows it and considers the mug of tea he brings around a few minutes later a token of his thanks for her hard work in dealing with his pigheadedness.
He laughs again when she tells him as much and delivers a light kiss to her cheek along with a murmured, "Another token then. Thank you."
And before Raven can react, he gives her another smile and disappears down the hall to his own room, leaving her with her tea, the faint smell of whiskey and gel, and an even more pressing need to meditate.
Endnotes: Reviews/thoughts/comments shall be doted on. Concrit is always appreciated as an ever-developing writer; flames on my pairing of choice will be laughed at, especially since you've read all the way through to here already.
Thank you everyone who reviewed on the last chapter, and many many bonus points to those who did recognize the bar's name. Yay, shared fandoms!