ENEMY OF MY ENEMY

[Disclaimer: I do not own the Teen Titans. DC Comics does. This is a sadness to me, but credit must be given where credit is due, and if DC hadn't come up with them in the first place, this story never would have happened, now would it?]

[Author's Note: Here are the standards I will use in this fic:

The usual convention is that "thoughts" are presented in plain italics, usually without quotes, as in: Jinx didn't comment, but thought, I figured she was wrong, but kept my trap shut anyway.

Memories will be set off by three asterisks (* * *) before and after, and presented in bold-face snippets.

This system will be carried through in all future chapters. I hope this clears up any misconceptions. It would be REALLY nice if this site gave us the option of using more than one font, but that isn't the case and I just have to deal.]

. . .

. . .

. . .

Chapter One - Memory

The setting sun glanced off the massive glass array of Titans Tower at a perfect angle, lighting it up like a candelabra without shining directly into my eyes. Easing into my perch on the roof of one of Jump City's middling-tall office buildings, I studied the big T-shaped thing, sticking up out of the bay on that piddly little island. I would have thought it somewhat pretty, in a mechanistic, utilitarian way, if it didn't also happen to represent forty-odd months of hellish battles, frustration, and occasional short bouts of jail-time for me back in my teen years. So, despite the nice collection of typical sunset colors bouncing off it, I couldn't really see it in a positive light.

Sneaking a peek at my watch, I noted that Raven's patrol would be over in about seventy minutes; my spell would take forty-five to prepare. Granted, most of that would be meditation and chanting, but one can't be too careful, especially when going after – as the safari guys put it – thin-skinned dangerous game. Frankly, I'd a whole lot rather face a cornered tiger than go through with the spell I had planned. Putting the pinch on a demi-demon isn't something one undertakes on a lark, let me tell you! Not even someone like me. But, being out of options, there I sat.

Most of the spell components weren't hard to come by, but the mugwort had to be fresh. It took me just about the whole damn day to find a store that carried it. Silly me, I looked in all the natural-foods places first. Didn't really expect to be able to find it fresh in a magic shop (powdered was a given, of course) but that's where I ended up getting it. Live plants, believe it or not. It seems they encouraged a grow-your-own mentality among the local spell-using populace. Very different from how they did things back East. I wasn't arguing, though.

Moving around to the lee of a big air-conditioning unit (so as to be out of line-of-sight of the Tower) I set up the copper alembic over a can of Sterno and got busy.

####

Raven's cloak slipped off her shoulders as she phased up through the floor into her room; she gave it a careless whirl toward one corner, where it draped itself obligingly over a wooden valet. I could see that her uniform was different. The leotard was gone, or at least covered, and she sported a brief, white vest over a dark, long-sleeved tee, paired with some silky-looking slacks – white, with dark stripes down the sides – and she looked damn good in it. The girl went and filled out while I was away. Floating over toward her bathroom, she didn't bother turning on any lights to alleviate the tar-like darkness. The dense, deep-purple curtains over her window effectively blocked what little light dusk had left, but her demonic heritage gave her darksight that was at least equal to mine. So it only took her a second to register my shape, sitting in one of the chairs by her window. Instantly I was surrounded by a nimbus of black force that held me totally immobile, and I felt a sort of tickle in my mind as her empathic powers sought out my identity.

I won't lie: that was an uncomfortable place to be. I'd dealt with her soul-self often enough to know that I didn't care to come into contact with it any more often than I had to. She can crumple up a car with that black crap, more quickly and efficiently than the hydraulic crusher at the junk yard. I'd seen her do it. And even though I knew (okay, maybe 'knew' was a bit of a stretch) the spell I cast would keep me alive and un-vivisected, the immediate menace was freaking me the hell out.

Her eyes flashing into red slits, she spat out one word: "Jinx!"

I hid my freaked-outedness behind flippancy. "Hello, Raven. And may I compliment you on what a wonderful hostess you are."

"You've got a hell of a nerve. Did you honestly think I wouldn't notice you?"

"Not hardly." Okay, she was just about as pissed as I thought she'd be. That sucked.

"Why are you here?"

Crap. No positive vibes at all. That probably meant that she didn't remember anything. And, yeah, that would be my fault. "I just decided that asking what I needed to ask face to face would work a lot better than sending you a postcard. Believe me, right now I'd rather be pretty much anywhere else."

"What do you want?" Her head jerked around the room, trying to place everything. "What have you taken?"

"I didn't take anything. I told you, I just need to ask you something."

"And you actually expect me to believe that?"

"Well, yeah, since it's the truth."

"Truth. From you? Right." She frowned at me. "Wait. You're blonde now?"

"Pink kinda stands out." And it had been a long time since I had any desire to stand out.

"… Why did you cut your hair?"

"Short's a lot easier to keep up. Life's been kinda busy for me." And being short kept it out of an opponent's grip, too. I asked her, "What, you don't like my stylish pixie-do?"

She showed me a wicked smirk. "Well, they won't have to cut it for you when you get to prison, will they?"

I tried to derail that train of thought. "Raven, think a minute; do you remember our last dust-up?"

"... If memory serves, I was preventing you from stealing a sacred spear from the Treece Museum."

"Spear and atlatl. Commission job. Woulda made eighty large. And, yeah, you stopped me. Got a coupla nasty cuts outta the deal. And that was well over three years ago."

"What's your point?"

"I disappeared for three years. You had not a clue where I went. There were no reports about me, no suspicious crimes with my MO, not even a whisper. Am I right?"

Her eyes began to lose their red glint. "... I say again, what's your point?"

"And – correct me if I'm wrong – the spear and atlatl disappeared anyway sometime later, didn't they?"

"... Um … There was a fire at the museum. Several items were destroyed ..."

"So you bought it. Yeah, that's what everyone was supposed to believe."

"The spear-point was still there! Charred and broken, but still there. Nobody ..."

"No, no. A spear-point was there. The thief planted it right before he started the fire."

"The fire started in an electrical outlet!"

"Not surprising, considering who stole the stuff. You ever wonder why a perfectly good, city-inspected electrical outlet suddenly decided to overload and burn?"

"... Uh ..."

"AfterShock was the thief. He came in over the electrical grid. Since he couldn't get the loot out the same way, I think he left through the broken skylight, but I never was able to verify it."

Raven stared at me hard. "You seem to know an awful lot about it."

"I investigated it for four months. I should know a lot about it."

"So are you just here to brag?"

"Not bragging. I need your help."

She actually laughed at that ... loudly. "My help. Yeah, sure, let me just get my cloak." Chuckling again, she shook her head and continued, "Seems like you wasted a deal of effort. You're going to jail, you know."

"Wouldn't be the first time. And, may I point out, I'm not in jail yet."

"A technicality." She floated over to hover directly in front of me. "You pique my curiosity, Jinx. The Tower does have a telephone, you know. You didn't have to indulge your penchant for breaking and entering just to talk."

"Would you have talked with me if I just phoned?"

She considered that for a moment, pursed her lips, and tapped a fingertip lightly against them. "Perhaps not. But then you also wouldn't be headed to jail, either."

"Would you just hear me out, please? I'm not going anywhere, obviously, and I really do need your help. Really, really."

"I can't conceive of a situation where I would be willing to help you with anything you have planned."

"How about helping me stop a demon from destroying the world?"

The temperature in the room took a noticeable nosedive. Her eyes flashed to red again as she answered, "You come here, you invade my room – my room – and ask for my help … and then mock me?"

"Who's mocking? I'm serious!"

Closing the distance, her face a hand's breadth from mine, she said, "So am I. And this conversation is over." She raised her hands. "Lights out, Jinx."

She learned some new tricks, too. Lightning flew from her fingertips and invested the walls of soul-self that trapped me, sending fifty thousand volts through my frame. I screamed …

… and came to my senses on the office building roof.

"… ow …"

That's all I could come up with, and that barely a whimper. My head was coming apart in a slow-motion detonation, a side effect of the Doppelganger spell, which I was expecting, but which she made a lot worse with that electrical attack. Yeah, didn't see that coming. I carefully rolled over, holding my poor head to keep my brains from oozing out and leaking down my neck, and grabbed the two aspirin powders I had set out earlier. I didn't even bother to drink anything with them.

It's a good spell. Really. I've used it a few times before. If done right, there's no way anybody can tell it's not me, and it obviously worked on Raven. And, boy, did she work me over! Fortunately – in particular this time because it's really tough to hide from an empath of Raven's caliber – the spell also shielded the user from psychic spying. I sure as hell wouldn't be able to do anything for myself right then.

Lying there in the dark, trying to will away the pounding behind my eyes, a slow sigh escaped my lips. I knew from the get-go that this wasn't going to be easy, and I figured she probably wouldn't go for it the first time around – even if she did remember everything, which she obviously didn't – so I guess you could say I wasn't completely disappointed. I made contact, at least, and she hadn't managed to kill me ... yet.

The night was fine. There was no rain in the forecast. I pulled a blanket over my aching self and tried to get some sleep.

####

Nightwing and Starfire looked up in alarm when Raven came storming into the common room. She whipped her head around, grumbled, closed her eyes, and concentrated. "Okay. Basement," she muttered, and started to phase down through the floor. But she stopped when her torso was still sticking out, and said, "Oh, Kori, by the way, happy birthday."

"Thank you, Raven!" But her response fell on a vanishing circle of black on the carpet.

Starfire gave her husband a look. He shrugged. "You know how she is."

"Our dear friend has been unsettled lately. I inquired yesterday as to its cause, but she was noncommittal in her answer."

"Yeah, that's Raven." He reached over and picked up a bottle. "More wine?"

Holding out her glass – into which she'd already deposited a generous blob of hot Chinese mustard – she smiled and said, "Thanks, yes!"

####

About a year and a half earlier, Victor Stone had constructed a robotic manipulator for the T-Car. It would latch onto four (reinforced) points on the frame and pick it up; then the vehicle could be positioned and angled in any convenient way to allow access for maintenance. And it often needed maintenance, given its frequent encounters with villains or their mechanisms that would try to destroy it.

That's where Raven found him, standing in front of the underside of "his baby", extracting some esoteric piece of hardware. She floated up beside him. "Vic, I need you to do something for me."

"Oh, hey, Rae. Yeah, sure. Whatcha need?"

"I need you to pull your long-range DNA scan unit out of mothballs and find someone for me."

"Yeah? Who?"

"Jinx."

He went still, then glanced over at her. "Jinx? How long-range we talkin' here?"

"In Jump. Or near it. She was just here."

"Damn!" The spanner he held made a jarring klang sound as it landed on the concrete. "Here? You mean like, in the Tower?"

"Yes. Only it wasn't really her. She used a Doppelganger spell."

His raised eyebrow telegraphed his unfamiliarity with the term.

"It's a spell that creates a temporary double of the caster, and puts it wherever the caster desires. It's indistinguishable from the original. Even gives off the same mental aura." Talking more to herself, she added, "It's high-level magic, too. She's gotten a lot better if she can swing that."

"Jinx! Damn. I haven't seen her in … wow … must be ..."

"Three years, five months, one day."

That earned her a long, speculative look. She squirmed a little under that keen gaze and said, "She tried a heist and we stopped her. Remember? It was at the Treece Museum, the very day before Mayor Stein's inauguration when the League of Assassins attacked."

"Oh, yeah! And the JLA and the Titans East got mixed up in it. God, what a mess that was!"

"Yes, it was that. But that's why the date stuck in my head."

"All right, I'll buy that. You're off the hook."

"Hook? What hook?"

He was all grins. "Never mind."

"Oh, no, there's no 'never mind' after a comment like that. What are you talking about?"

"Nothin' special."

She crossed her arms and started tapping one foot.

"You really want me to say it?"

tap tap tap tap tap tap tap …

"Fine. You asked for it." He bent and picked up his spanner, turned back to the T-Car, and said, "You were crushing on her."

"What. The. Hell?"

"You heard me. I practically considered you competition."

"Look, Vic, don't try to make this about me. We all know how you felt about that nutcase, but how you can think I could possibly ..."

"She ain't a nutcase. She's quirky. A free spirit." He cast his biological eye her way. "And, yes, you two were crushing on each other."

"That's funny," she commented. "I don't normally think of you as delusional, but I guess I'll have to make an exception."

"Methinks she doth protest too much."

"And methinks you're full of shit."

He turned to face her, leaned back against the robotic manipulator, and held up a polished finger. "Number One. National Holdings Bank. That was, what? Three months or so before the Museum? We caught 'em dead to rights, and the fight was short. I disassembled Gizmo, 'Wing took out Mammoth, Starfire collared Billy Numerous, and Gar stomped See-More into a thin paste. You went after Jinx. And you didn't show back up for, like, three hours. And your uniform was torn in a couple of strategic places … and no Jinx."

The grinding of Raven's teeth would have been audible from the next room. "I chased the bitch over half the city. She blew a hole in my cape, and I got tossed into the bay. That would wreck anybody's ..."

"Number Two. The Westgate Mall payroll. You were on patrol and took the call. She led you a merry chase all over downtown, dropping cash the whole way. We recovered most of it, and the empty bag."

"She blew up half the cars along Jeffries Street! I had my hands full just keeping the collateral damage from extending to the couple thousand civilian bystanders all milling around on their lunch break and ..."

"I thought at the time it smelled pretty damn fishy. As far as Richard was concerned she just did it for shits and giggles, and to twist our noses. But I figured out later that she was only doing it to flirt with you."

"That has got to be the biggest load of crap I ever ..."

"Number Three. That jewelry store on Tenth Avenue. Don't remember its name. She hit it right at closing time, all on her lonesome about two months after the National Holdings job, when the rest of the H.I.V.E. Five were still stuck in jail. The call came in and you were all over it. 'I got this,' you said, and off you went."

"She got my goat, okay? I just wanted to prove to myself that I could take the little bitch down!"

"Uh-huh. 'cept you didn't. And Jinx got away with a rare pink diamond ring. But that was all she took. Then you were gone 'til late the next day, and when you got back, you looked like something the cat dragged in. Dick was ready to shit gold bricks, 'cause you wouldn't answer your T-Com. But you didn't say squat to any of us, went to your room and disappeared, and the only thing I can come up with as to why Dick didn't ream you a new one was that you looked so bad at the time."

"Yeah, he's all heart."

"Don't I know it. But then … the very next day after that, a little box shows up in our mail, no stamp, no return address. Gar opens it up, and lookee here! There's a pink diamond ring and a note that says somethin' like, 'Ravey, Sorry for the hassle, this is for your trouble, J'."

Her mouth fell open. "That ring went straight back to the ..."

"Number Four ..."

"... jewelry store! And I almost died, damn it! She blew a chimney apart, nearly dropped it on me! I told you all that!"

"… Number Four …"

His hand and mouth were covered then in black mist. "Vic, would you just stop, please?"

He grinned, and shut up, and the mist faded out.

"Thank you. I see your point. I understand why you might think that. But I maintain that you are completely off base, barking up the wrong tree, fishing with a coat hanger … pick a metaphor!"

"Fair enough. Let me ask you this, then: where in the Tower did you run into her?"

She glanced away. "..."

"What was that? I don't think I caught that."

Raven gritted out, "... In my room, okay?"

His grin threatened to split his head.

"It. Was. NOT. Like. That."

"Whatever." He gave her a shrug. "So why was she here, if it wasn't interest in you?"

"She said she wanted my help."

He laughed a while over that.

"Finally, we agree on something. I told her that wouldn't be happening."

"No, Rae, I was laughing because you're being dense."

"… Dense?"

"Yeah, dense. She's got the hots for you."

"Right. She drops off the radar for three and a half years, and the reason she shows back up is that she has a thing for me? What's wrong with this picture?"

"Go ahead and think that if that helps you sleep at night."

"Vic. Drop it." She held up a hand to stop his rejoinder. "No. You've had your fun. Haha, good one on Raven. Now. Please unlimber that DNA detector and find Jinx so I can go thank her for sneaking into my room by beating her until she starts shitting her own teeth!"

"Yes, O Mistress of the Dark."

But forty-five minutes later he was shaking his head while grumbling over the device in question. "Sorry, Rae. There's nothin' wrong with the equipment. Either she's not close enough, or she's figured out how to mask herself."

"Damn."

"What'd you say the range was on that spell?"

"About three klicks for good control. Five tops, but it's hard to maintain for long at that distance. As good a job as she did with it, I'd say she had to be within two, probably less."

"Well I'm getting' nothin'."

"Crap."

He leaned back in his chair, laced his massive fingers behind his head, and stated, "You said she asked for your help."

"Yeah. So?"

"What kinda help she need?"

That earned him a snort. "She wasn't being serious."

At his deep chuckle in response to that, she ground out, "Fine. She said she wanted my help in stopping a demon from destroying the world."

Vic's expression sobered up. "A demon, huh?"

"Yeah. Funny, right?"

"And you think she was just blowin' bullshit bubbles?"

"Of course! There's no way in hell she'd be involved with taking down a demon! She's a thief, Vic, and a vandal, not a … a knight errant! If she did know about something like that, she'd be selling popcorn on the sidelines while she picked the audience's collective pocket, not taking it on by herself!"

"Meh. I think you're selling her short."

"And you've got a soft spot for her."

"And I don't deny it. But look at the situation." He ticked off the points on his fingers. "She came to you and asked for help, at considerable personal risk. She didn't attack you. She didn't steal anything. She gave you what you regard as a ridiculous reason for her visit, but if she knows you at all she should know you'd think that, so why would she use it?" He spread his hands. "Way I see it, she just might be on the level."

"… Are we talking about the same person here?"

"Make fun if you want, Rae. I think you ought to check it out." A low chuckle scampered by. "And you know … you are uniquely qualified for something like that."

She didn't bother to answer before floating up through the ceiling.

####

Meditation did not go well that evening. Images of Jinx kept interrupting. Images, specifically, that Vic had dredged up, and that Raven had conveniently forgotten. That jewelry store on Tenth, for instance, was called Fagan's Fine Gems. She decided to start there.

* * *
She caught a glimpse
of the black-tricked pink horns
about a block down from the store,
just as the thief disappeared into an alleyway.
A quick glance into the jeweler's –
and a quick scan of the emotional output –
proved that no one had been hurt,
so she gave chase.
The alley turned out to be a short dead end.
That left only one avenue out (up the walls),
so Raven cast her soul-self outward,
seeking one, peculiar psychic signature …
and there she was.
Streaking upward,
the empath gained the roof in seconds,
and the chase got somewhat haphazard
as Jinx frantically scrambled
from one building to the next,
tossing hexes in her wake,
leading her pursuer deeper
into one of the city's industrial sections
* * *

Raven frowned, but didn't open her eyes. She hadn't thought about this incident in years. Why would that be? It was just one of many … wasn't it? Just one more battle between her and that maddening … creature with the fuchsia cat-eyes. More memories came up with her continued prodding.

* * *
Jinx wasn't moving,
of that she was sure.
Probably trying to catch her breath;
they'd covered several kilometers
in not that many minutes,
and while Jinx
was a meta-human,
Raven knew she had her limits.
Floating silently among the deep shadows
cast by the various obscure devices and machines
that littered the roof here,
Raven kept every sense alert.
She wasn't that familiar with this part of Jump,
and had no idea what went on below her feet.
The building in question was only five stories or so,
a concrete monolith that probably housed
some kind of manufacturing concern.
Several of the big rooftop units were humming,
or warm, or had fans going.
Two of them ejected steam in regular bursts.
And Jinx was around here somewhere.
She could feel it
* * *

This was making her … uncomfortable. Why? Why couldn't she recall details? She knew, clinically, that she'd had a narrow escape involving a falling chimney … didn't she? Was that right? What else was going on here? Must dig deeper.

* * *
Closer. She was getting closer.
Jinx's emotions were all in a knot;
worry, fear, excitement, exhaustion, …
exultation?
How could she be thrilled
about being chased by a demi-demon?
That made no sense!
Of course, few things involving this particular thief
did make sense.
Slowly, carefully,
she moved around the side of a tall smokestack
* * *

This was actually giving her a headache! What in the name of Azar was going on? Why hadn't she remembered any of this? But the resistance only made her more determined to get to the bottom of things.

* * *
Their battle raged all over the roof,
pink blasts of hex energy
parried by tendrils of soul-self.
At one point they both flew apart,
stunned,
and Raven fetched up against one of the taller units.
The object that then tumbled off of it
was large, heavy, and mostly formed of stainless steel,
and it dropped on her from some height.
She barely got a shield up in time
to deflect the brunt of the blow,
but it rang her bell like a hammer
and knocked her to the edge of the roof.
She teetered there,
viciously dizzy and disoriented,
her sight going gray,
for a few heartbeats …
then she fell
* * *

Wait! That can't be right! Something very bizarre is going on, deep in her mind. Knowledge and Wisdom are running around, frantic, trying to make all of this make sense. They are coming up short. But don't panic, she told herself. Settle. Breathe, slowly and evenly. There must be an explanation. So return. Return to the memory. Ground. Center. Dig.

* * *
She hears her name being called.
More than that, being
screamed.
As she topples over;
as she realizes, in some primal corner of her mind,
that it is
much too far to the concrete below
for her to have any hope of survival;
as she picks up speed
and feels the air begin to make her cape whip around –
her name reaches her ears again,
a high-pitched voice giving vent to an agonized wail:
"Raaachel!" And then, nothing . . . . .
* * *

Her eyes did open then, in shock. She flumped down onto the bed, sprawling untidily out of the lotus position she'd maintained up to that point, but immediately sat back up and shook her head.

This couldn't be happening. Who knew her name? It wasn't as if it was some occult secret, but neither was it common knowledge. Whoever had screamed – and could it be anyone besides Jinx? – had known her given name well enough that it, rather than 'Raven', had slipped out under stress. How would Jinx have discovered it? And why would she be so distressed? Wouldn't a dead Raven be of much greater value to her than a live one?

Standing shakily, she took stock of her room and decided to head down to the kitchen. She needed some tea.

####

It was closing in on two in the morning, and sleep yet eluded her. Staring at the ceiling, one arm flopped over her head on the pillow, she went over the questions for the umpteenth time.

Why was none of that memory familiar? Where had it been kept in the intervening years?

What had really happened on that roof?

She distinctly recalled coming to her senses next to a demolished chimney. But how had she gotten there? She'd thought that it fell on her, barely avoiding crushing her, but knocking her out for quite a few hours. Was that the truth, or was this new scenario the real thing? It simply had not come up in her mind since it happened. She didn't like to dwell on her failures, and Jinx filled a good portion of that category. But now she wondered. Which was which? Where was the truth?

Finally giving up with a sigh, she teleported down to the kitchen and once again put some water on to boil. Sitting at the table beside her waiting teacup, her chin on a fist, she came to a decision. When the kettle sang, she poured the water in over the leaves and carried the cup back to her room.

The second right-hand drawer from the top in her bureau contained a false bottom that lifted to reveal a keyhole. She inserted a key that was itself an object normally hidden away, and opened the tiny safe. Removing a heavy, silver-framed mirror, she carefully re-locked the safe.

She kept her mind-mirror out of reach on purpose. For one, she didn't need it to meditate anymore; for another, having it handy to anyone who achieved access to her room had proven dangerous on several occasions. She didn't want an unnecessary death on her conscience when it could so easily be prevented.

Taking up her position on her bed, she gazed into the mirror …

… and popped into being in her mindscape's "common" area. Wisdom was waiting on her. "It certainly took you long enough."

"The situation is too strange. There were too many variables to consider."

"Which is why you should have come to me first. This way, please. We have to get Knowledge calmed down."

"Knowledge?"

"You know how she gets when things take an illogical turn."

"Ah. Indeed."

"She's out in the wasteland, looking for the memory. I told her to wait for you, but she would not be dissuaded."

The Aspect and the Mistress trudged through bleak landscape for a bit, arriving at a dry and broken land of low hills and hidden arroyos. Raven stood still for a bit, mentally nosing around, looking for what she knew had to be there, but which would be unrecognizable. That very trait of anonymity was what led her to it: it constituted a "hole" in her psyche where there should be color. The two of them flashed to the spot.

It was a small cave that had been outfitted with a heavy, wooden door, the beams thick and the cladding strong. Raven frowned. "I didn't put this here."

"I wouldn't think so. Therefore, someone else must have."

"I don't like that answer."

"Neither do I," answered the white-caped Aspect. "Yet here it is. Would you like to open it?"

For an answer, Raven extended her soul-self, infiltrating the door and pulling it slowly open. Revealed was a small chamber containing a low table upon which sat a bright pink box and a single candle, flame flickering. Raven stared at it and said, "I'm not even going to ask how that candle has been burning for so long."

"It may be merely a representation of a desire."

"Yeah, okay. Let's go with that." She ducked into the room and studied the box. It resembled a wrapped present, complete with fancy, red-and-white-striped bow, and was roughly cubic, about a hand-span on a side. She used her power to lift it and carry it outside, where she found that Knowledge had joined them. The yellow-caped Aspect breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank Azar! You found it! What's in it?"

Raven considered the package for a moment, then reached for the bow. As soon as her finger made the most tentative contact, it fell off, the paper flew into confetti, and the lid popped open.

* * *
I am falling.
I cannot focus my will sufficiently enough to fly.
I will die now.
I hear my name being screamed.
The ground is approaching very rapidly.
* * *

* * *
I am surrounded by pink.
Jinx is there, on the ground,
and she is limping.
I fall onto something soft, and I do not die.
But I was falling very rapidly,
and while the softness saves my life,
I am hurt.
My arm is hurt, and my leg, and my head.
My vision grows dark.
* * *

* * *
I am lying on something soft.
My face feels wet, and cool.
I open my eyes,
but my vision is blurred, and fades, and shudders.
There is a face in front of mine.
Pink eyes gaze at me in concern.
Again, my vision blacks out.
* * *

* * *
A salty taste gets my attention.
Where am I?
I can feel soft fabric beneath my hand.
I can smell alcohol.
My arm hurts, and my head.
Why do I taste salt?
Again my eyes open and I can see Jinx.
She is crying, and it is her tears I taste,
as they drip from her eyes onto my face,
and a few of them run past my lips.
* * *

* * *
Why does she cry?
I do not understand any of what is happening.
My head feels thick, my thoughts sluggish.
She lifts a cool, wet cloth to my face,
and my forehead stings where she touches me.
She meets my eyes, and she gasps.
A pink glow surrounds her,
and my eyes close again.
* * *

* * *
When I awaken the next time, my thoughts are clear.
My eyes trace around the room.
I am in a bed, a large bed with a pink canopy,
and I am under the cover,
and there is an arm across my stomach.
I turn my head quickly to the left,
but this was not a good idea.
It creates much pain, and I groan.
This awakens Jinx, who is lying beside me.
Her fuchsia cat-eyes blink at mine,
and she sits up and begins to cry.
She asks me something,
but the pain has overcome me,
and I do not understand.
I lose consciousness again.
* * *

* * *
The last time, when I awaken,
Jinx is sitting in a chair beside my bed.
I stare at her for many long moments,
and she stares back.
Tears begin to leak from her eyes.
"Why do you cry?" I ask.

"Because I thought I had killed you," she says.

"Why would that make you cry?" I want to know.

"I couldn't live with myself if you were dead," she tells me.

I do not understand this.
I do not comprehend any
tiny part of this situation.
"Where are we?" I ask.

"In my apartment."

"You took me to your apartment? Why?"

"I didn't know what else to do! You were hurt!
I thought …
I thought you might …
die."
She drops her head into her hands and begins to sob in earnest.

"Jinx," I finally say, when I have the strength.
She looks up at me.
"Why didn't you just take me to the hospital?"

"Because I was really afraid you really would die if I left you alone."

"I don't understand."

"You don't know how my hex power works, do you?"

"I know it's bad luck to get in its way."

"That's just one part of it.
I can … um, kinda alter reality. A little bit."

I think to myself that this is a most unique statement.
"How do you go about altering reality?"

"… I don't … really know. It's just a thing I can do.
And I had to … to make you better."
She drops to her knees beside the bed
and wraps her arms around me,
her cheek against mine.
"You were hurt so
bad!
You had bones sticking out of your arm.
And your head had a … a funny dent.
But I made it better."

I look at her closely
and see that she appears drawn,
and thin, and tired.
"When?" I ask.

"When, what?"

"How long have I been here?"

"Since last night, when we fought."

I close my eyes and take a few deep breaths.
"I still don't understand."

"What?"

"Why you care whether I live or die."

She straightens up then, and meets my gaze with a
smoldering one of her own.
"You don't, huh? Well, let me explain."
And she leans over and places her lips on mine.

This is a most novel experience.
On three occasions prior to this,
Gar had managed to sneak a kiss from me,
but I always pushed him away.
This time is … quite different.
Her lips are soft, so soft, and they tremble slightly
as they press against me.
Again I taste a slight salty tang from her tears,
but there are other tastes as well.
All this comes to me in a miniscule fraction of a second,
and I am startled and I gasp and my lips open.
She takes this as an invitation.
Her tongue slips in and lightly brushes my lips, my teeth,
then my own tongue, and the other tastes explode.
There is mint and chocolate and something herbal
that is slightly bitter but good.
Her tongue is even softer than her lips,
but more insistent, almost desperate.
My eyes close and I melt into her kiss.
But this only lasts for a few seconds before I realize,
finally, that it is
Jinx who is kissing me.
Jinx. The thief.
The girl who complicates my life on a regular basis,
taunts me when we fight,
and usually foils my efforts to arrest her.
She's the
girl that does this!
My eyes fly back open.
Jinx is a
girl!
Do I even
swing that way?
It's never come up before.
I can't get emotionally involved with others,
certainly not to this degree.
But … This feels really, really good.
Good, like, blow my head completely off my neck good.
Good, like, I don't ever want this to stop good.
But … she's a girl, and she's Jinx,
and Jinx is a thief,
and Jinx is sort of maybe a little bit kind of like
my nemesis or something,
and I make a muffled kind of squeak noise,
and she backs away.

And she says, "How was that for an explanation?"

My head swims
and the room turns about thirty degrees off level,
and I lose consciousness again.
* * *

Raven came back to herself in the comfortable, familiar darkness of her room. She blinked and looked over at the clock. It read 03:48. Her limbs felt stiff and heavy, her mind stuffed with wet wool, and she was suddenly overcome by a monumental fatigue. Curling up on her bed, she pulled the duvet up to her chin and told herself, firmly, I'll think about it tomorrow. Less than a minute later she was asleep.