The usual disclaimers apply. I appreciate all feedback, particularly concrit. If something isn't working, I'd like to know why.
Update: fixed some rather embarrassing typos. Ah, the perils of not having a beta reader.
The doorbell rang.
Beast Boy dropped what he was doing with an excited squeal. Since he was doing the dishes - a remarkable occurrence in and of itself - his squeal was punctuated by a large splash and the sound of breaking china.
"I got it! I got it!" he cried and bolted for the stairwell, heedless of the destruction left in his wake.
Robin and Cyborg paused their Gamestation game and turned to watch silently as an unstable stack of dirty bowls decided that the time was right to make a break for the floor and freedom - or, failing that, blessed oblivion. Seeing the apparent success of this strategy, the other stacks, clean and dirty, large and small, soon followed, filling the room with the sound of smashing tableware. A lone plate, true to the universal laws of narrative convention, survived the carnage, rolling out from behind the counter to spin in a forlorn, ever-smaller spiral. The two Titans continued to watch until it had spun itself to a halt, then shrugged as one and returned their attention to the television screen as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
"You know," Cyborg said after a moment, thumbs working the controller frantically, "I keep saying we should get plastic plates. They're more durable."
"China's nicer," Robin replied shortly, and that ended the discussion.
By then Beast Boy was three floors down and accelerating. Cheetah-form, he reached the bottom landing and sprinted down the long hallway for the door. It was here! It had to be! Finally, after endless days - no, agonising weeks! - of waiting and checking the tracking site five zillion times every hour, it was finally here!
He reached the door, human once more, and flung it open.
"It's about time! The tracking thingiewhatsit said you'd be here days... ago..." he trailed off as he realised that something was slightly amiss. "Hey, you're not the delivery guy!"
The woman waiting on the doorstep was definitely not the guy who did deliveries to the island Tower. For starters, the delivery guy was a guy. And he was also short and kinda fat and wore some ugly brown uniform and was not, at all, a tall, slender woman in a white, hooded robe.
She seemed somewhat taken aback by her welcome, or lack thereof.
"I... didn't think I was," the woman replied softly, rallying quickly. "I did find this on the pathway up here, if it helps."
She held out a small, battered and distressingly soggy box, indistinctly addressed to someone by the name of 'Betsy Boye'. Beast Boy squealed for the second time in almost as many minutes and snatched it off her, showering them both in shards of water-logged cardboard and styrofoam packing peanuts as he frantically tore it open.
"Please be ok! Please be ok!"
There, at the bottom - a smaller box, and in it in turn, a sealed plastic clamshell case containing an immaculate Gamestation cartridge. It was still dry! He pulled the precious game out, hugged it tightly to his chest and did a little dance of pure happiness on the spot.
"It's ok! It's ok! Hah! I can't wait to see the look on Cy's face! He said I'd never be able to get a copy! Sold out everywhere my -"
After a few seconds of this, he became aware that the woman was still there, head cocked slightly to one side and looking bemused. He could feel his cheeks start to heat.
"Uh..." He coughed and straightened, trying to look as business-like as he could manage whilst being covered in packing debris. "Soooo: what can the Titans do for you?"
"I was hoping that I might be able to speak with Raven." The woman lowered her hood. Her eyes and her hair were purple, and she had a red stone set in her forehead.
"You're probably going to be waiting a while then. Starfire took her shopping. They could be gone for days." He rolled his eyes and flung wide his arms for dramatic effect. "Seriously! It's like some sort of addiction for Star or something."
"Perhaps another time then." The hood went back up, and the woman turned away without another word.
Beast Boy may have been slightly slow on the uptake, particularly when distracted by a shiny new toy, but he usually got there in the end, and he did now. White, hooded, robe. Purple hair. Purple eyes. Stone thingie.
"Dude! You're Future-Raven, aren't you?" he asked, scrambling around to cut her off. "Star told us all about you from that time she went into the future! Only Raven - I mean, Now-Raven, not you, Future-Raven - said that the future would change because Starfire had come back and told us all about what was going to happen so it wouldn't happen, just like on episode twenty-three of Doctor When, so you can't be that Future-Raven because she doesn't exist anymore, just like the Future-Me who's bald doesn't exist anymore, and totally never will if you get my drift. And then Now-Raven had to go have a lie down because she said thinking about time travel gave her a headache. But you'd know all that because you're a different Future-Raven, right, from our now-future? Future-Us must have sent you back in time to warn Now-Us that something horrible's gonna to happen! What is it? You've got to tell me!" he declared with sudden fervour, falling to his knees and grabbing her hand tightly. "I'm too young and good-looking to dieeee!"
There was a pause. He looked up. She looked down.
"I'm not from the future," she assured him.
"Oh," he said, oddly disappointed. He let go and stood up, dusting off his knees. Time travel would have been cool. "Then who-"
"I am Raven's mother."
The three male Titans held a hasty conference in the kitchen under the guise of restoring it some semblance of order, each burning alive with curiosity.
"Dude, Raven's mom!" Beast Boy hissed, up to his elbows in suds again.
As one, the trio looked across to where the woman sat on the hastily vacated couch. She was examining the Gamestation controller like it was from another planet. In a way, it was.
"Dude, Raven's mom!" Beast Boy repeated.
"Will you cut that out?" Cyborg whispered back, shoving a load of plate shards into the bin. "We get it already."
"I wonder why Raven's never really talked about her," Beast Boy continued. "She seems... nice. A lot better than her dad, anyway. Though that's not really hard I guess. But I'd expected someone more, you know? Raven-ish."
"Raven's never really talked about a lot of things," Robin mused. He finished wiping dry one of the few surviving plates and set it down neatly off to one side before turning to look at the woman again. "We know they're not exactly what you'd call a happy family. It took an apocalypse to get her to talk about her father."
"And it's not like parents are a favourite conversational topic around here anyway," Cyborg added sourly.
"Yeah," the other two sighed.
"I actually thought she was dead," he added after a minute of silent scrubbing, drying and stacking. "Didn't Raven say that her father destroyed the place where she was born?"
"Azarath? Yeah, I remembered her saying that too." Without looking away from the figure, now leafing cautiously through the tv guide, Robin accepted the next plate from Beast Boy and started drying it.
"She could be an impostor."
"Possible, but unlikely. There's a definite resemblance. And Raven would pick up on a fake straight away. There'd be no point."
The door behind them slid open with a hiss and a disappointed sigh. They turned.
"You see Starfire? This is why we should never leave them home alone," Raven announced, entering the room, Starfire a beat behind her. She gestured grandly towards the war zone that was once the kitchen with one arm, the gesture only slightly marred by the large and alarmingly pink shopping bag dangling from it. "They're like chil-"
She caught sight of the figure rising from the couch and ground to an immediate halt.
Her arm fell back to her side and she assumed a posture that, if not defensive, was certainly guarded. Her mother matched it.
The pink bag hit the floor with a dull thump. An uncomfortable silence fell as the two regarded each other.
"Awk-ward!" Beast Boy hummed under his breath, unheard save by Cyborg and Robin, who both dug a prompt elbow into his ribs.
"Raven, this is your mother?" Starfire asked her friend, eyes wide. At Raven's curt affirmative, the young alien dropped her shopping - all twenty-odd bags of it - and flew across the room to seize the woman in a bone-crushing bear-hug before anyone could protest, least of all her target, who soon had no air left for protesting anyway.
"Oh, it is most glorious to meet you!" she said, releasing the hold with a twirl and setting the woman back on the ground. "I am Starfire, one of your daughter's companions! I hope we will be friends too! If only you had arrived sooner, you might have gone with us to the mall of shopping. You have already met Cyborg and Robin and Beast Boy, yes? What is your name? What brings you to our home? What is your favourite colour? Do you like mustard? How do you -"
Panic was not an uncommon reaction to being so attacked and then interrogated by the Tamaranean, and the boys jumped to intervene before it could truly set in.
"I think that's enough questions for now, Star," Robin said firmly, laying a hand on the alien's shoulder. Starfire's enthusiasm deflated sightly.
"Though it would be nice to know what to call you ma'am," said Cyborg.
"Yeah," added Beast Boy. "Unless you want us to call you 'Mysterious Lady in White Robes' or 'Mrs. Raven's Mom'."
"It's not 'Mrs.,' mother and daughter responded instantly and firmly. They glanced at each other.
"You may call me Arella," Arella said softly, turning her attention back to her alien attacker. After a moment's pause, and with slightly more certainty, she added: "My favourite colour is blue and I like mustard in moderation, though I've not had it in many, many years. And I am here because I had hoped to speak with Raven."
Mother and daughter exchanged looks again, and to the other Titans it seemed as though some unspoken communication passed between them.
"My bedroom's downstairs," Raven said eventually. "Right corridor, third door. I'll be there in a minute."
Arella nodded and made her way towards the stairwell. The Titans watched silently until she was out of sight, at which point Raven turned to face her friends.
She held up a finger for silence before any of them could speak.
"I want to make something very clear," she said in a tone that brooked no argument whatsoever. "If any of you even think about trying to eavesdrop," she paused momentarily to eyeball Robin and Beast Boy in particular, "I will know about it and I will do everything in my power to make the rest of your life an unending misery. Understood?"
"Understood," the other Titans chanted in unison.
"Good," she pronounced, then turned on her heel and vanished down the stairwell before any further comment could be made.
Raven found Arella waiting patiently outside the doorway to her room, and nodded her approval. Her mother, of all people, knew better than to enter any space Raven claimed as private without Raven herself at her side. It was a hard and fast rule, one of the many boundaries, large and small, that constrained and defined their relationship, protecting them from each other.
Without a word Raven keyed in the passcode, and led the way through the opened door into the quiet, darkened room she called home. As she did, she saw through new and slightly embarrassed eyes just how cluttered she'd let it become over the past few years. Oh, it was still a far sight tider than, say, Beast Boy's room, but the obsessive, meticulous, temple-taught order and attention to detail had given way to haphazard piles of books, an unmade bed and socks flung carelessly in the general direction of the laundry basket. She simply had better things to do with her time than clean these days.
She stood back as Arella looked over the room, eyes lingering on the clutter, on the relics of Azarath and even stranger places, on the photo of the five of them, the Titans, all dressed up as Robin and grinning their heads off.
"Why did you come here?" she demanded finally, surprised by the accusation she'd failed to keep from her voice. The last time she had seen her mother, alone in the empty remnants of former home, was also the last time she had ever expected to see her. In that one, lonely, terrifying, desperate moment, she had so badly needed someone to comfort her, reassure her, help her shoulder the impossible burden, if only for a moment. A moment, a word, a touch, some faint spark of hope- that was all she had needed.
But it had not been given.
Arella turned to face her and bowed her head slightly, eyes flickering downwards.
"I wished to see you again," she said simply, meeting her daughter's narrow-eyed gaze.
"Yes." She paused. "Should I need more?"
Another rule. Their interactions must always have reason, have purpose beyond the interaction itself. But it was a rule that had been broken before: conversations that wandered, the fleeting touch of a hand... They were only - that was, Arella was only human, after all, and had once desperately wished for her daughter to love her.
Some small part of her still did.
When Raven's expression didn't change, Arella sighed and straightened, burying the faint hope deep down inside herself once more. She had learned long ago that the best she could hope for from anyone, even her own daughter, was tolerance. To pretend otherwise was foolish, and Azar had never had much time for fools. Or for self-pity.
"Very well. Then I came to tell you that you were right."
The frown was instant, and the tone no less harsh. Arella was faintly shocked to see real expression on a face that had been taught since birth to repress and control emotion. But with the shock came a glimmer of relief: for all their worry of it throughout the years, they had not broken her.
"Right about what?"
"To throw off the shackles of your training and the values of your teachers," Arella said simply. "To resist. To fight. To hope."
Raven felt her jaw drop, dumbfounded by the scope of the admission. For all of her life, she'd known Arella as a devout follower of Azar's teachings, with all that entailed. Azarath was a dimension of abject pacifists, who sought to meet their fate, whatever it was, with serenity and total acceptance. Never would they raise a hand or voice against another no matter how provoked, never would they stand in another's way or resist the exercise of another's will. It was anathema.
As philosophies went, it had proved oddly suited for dealing with Raven's more... destructive outbursts and urges. The senior monks who'd seen to her day-to-day care as a young child had been able to endure the worst of her threats and tantrums and lapses of control with serene acceptance, slowly robbing her of reason to act out. But even the goddess Azar herself had never been able to fully purge the dark part of her pupil that sought out, provoked, even rejoiced in conflict. Eventually Raven had grown to realise that, like her powers themselves, the urge could be controlled, directed, used for good - but not suppressed entirely. Moreover, she had realised that she could not find a suitable outlet for them while she remained on Azarath, rigidly bound to Azar's teachings.
"And I am proud beyond words of you for doing so when even I told you there was no cause to hope. So much do I wish I had your courage," Arella continued quietly, eyes downcast again. "I have always looked to others for direction and followed where they led. I have believed what I have been taught without question. It is a foolish thing to do. Then again, I am, and ever have been, a foolish woman."
She sighed heavily and regret, true sadness, coloured her voice.
"But my teacher is dead, and your... sire spared me only so I might bear witness to the destruction of that which I called home and those who had cared for me. The last survivor of Azarth. I find that, for the first time in my life, I am forced to rely upon myself. I must find my own way.
"I have given it much thought these past months. The legacy of Azarath deserves to live on, even if the city herself cannot. I wish to honour Azar's teachings and memory as best I can on Earth. But, like you have chosen to, I will do so in my own way, in a place of my own choosing. And, perhaps, one day, I will be able to return there and begin to rebuild what was lost."
She paused again, and, when she spoke anew, it was with temple-taught formality and the distance of teacher to pupil.
"I have informed you of my intentions, Raven. If you have no questions, I will take my leave."
Raven managed to pick her jaw back up off the floor, but found that the gift of speech was still eluding her. Her mother took the silence as indication the brief audience was over, and nodded her curt acceptance of it, drawing up the hood of her cloak.
"Be well, my daughter. I will not seek you out again."
She turned for the door with the grace Raven had always secretly admired. As if released from a spell by the sudden lurching sensation in her chest, speech - blessed speech! - finally returned.
Raven darted forward, reaching out with a restraining hand. The shock of the contact rippled through them both. A third rule: physical contact was permitted only when there was no alternative. Touch enhanced Raven's psionic abilities, caused her latent empathy to flare, and the bond of blood between them made it all the stronger. And yet... And yet she had faint memories, half-recalled dreams of being held gently, of being soothed by hands that shook even as the voice and heart they belonged to were calm...
The heart was not calm now.
Raven jerked her hand back as though she'd been burned as Arella's buried emotions poured into her. Either her empathic abilities had increased along with her other abilities after she had banished Trigon, or Arella was not even attempting to shield herself. Perhaps both.
Arella stayed frozen in place as Raven reached out for a second time and hesitantly placed her hand on the cloth covered arm.
"Stay," she whispered. "Please."
The onslaught of feeling was far less this time, and Raven was prepared for it when it came. But, even through Arella's hastily erected shield, she could feel the continued surprise and a strong flare of... hope?
"Of course." Yes, hope. It was there in her voice. "If you wish it."
"I do. I mean, I wouldn't have stopped you if I didn't, right?"
Mother and daughter again faced each other in silence.
"What do you wish of me Raven?" Arella said softly.
Raven felt her cheeks heat in another shocking lapse of control, and suddenly found herself keenly interested in the weave of the carpet.
"You... You really wanted to see me?"
"Of course, dear child."
When she glanced up, Raven was astonished to realise that Arella was almost... smiling. She could not remember ever having seen her mother, a sad, solemn and very remote figure, smile. It changed her face entirely, hid the worry lines that made her seem far older than the scarcely thirty years she had actually marked. She was quite pretty even, her chakra stone, the odd colouration of eyes and hair lending her a decidedly exotic air.
"I'm not a child anymore."
Arella shook her head.
"No. We were never able to let you be one. But you are a strong, resilient, beautiful young woman. And you are all that was ever good in me." She reached out, hesitantly, and cupped Raven's chin, tilting her head up slightly. "I know you have doubted it, and with cause, but I have always loved you, Raven. I never wished to be parted from you, but Azar said that as your mother I must give you what you needed, not what I wanted. She was wise. I could not have given you the distance or the control you needed.
"But with... Him defeated and the prophecy averted, perhaps the barriers between us may be relaxed. We can never be as other mothers and daughters are, but when I came here today I had hoped... I had some hope that you might still be willing you to share something of yourself with me."
Raven found her own hand drifting up to cover her mother's, now pressed against her cheek. They were not tactile people - there were rules, after all - but it felt surprisingly natural.
She had imagined, before, what it would be like to have a mother like other mothers, part of a series of secret fantasies about having a normal life where she was just a girl called Rachel who went to school and didn't have to worry about meditation or fighting crime or causing the apocalypse. Arella there - and it had always been Arella- made cookies and patched skinned knees, was strong, intelligent and gave great advice, was someone who was always there for her, someone she could talk to, laugh with... The Arella of her fantasy life was not a weak-willed teenage runaway who'd made a mistake so horrible that it led to the destruction of an entire civilisation, and nearly unleashed hell upon the entire universe. A mistake that had cost them both any chance of leading normal lives.
But Arella did have hidden depths, Raven knew in her heart of hearts. The foolish girl taken in by Azar had grown up quickly, forced confront all that she was and had done. It had given her a quiet strength and dignity of her own making. More, between, heartache, suffering and the patient guidance of their living goddess, she had within her the potential for true wisdom. Had Azarath survived, she would likely have led them one day.
And she had, in her own way, tried to do the right thing for her daughter. She had given Raven life, where Trigon's other children had met swift death at the hands of their own mothers, at birth or, more often, before. She had miraculously found a place where the both of them could be taken in and sheltered, where Raven would be permitted to live in peace and grow and learn as much as they could safely allow her. And she had sacrificed what she had believed to be her sole chance to have a meaningful relationship with her only child in order for this to be.
But, as Raven had discovered over the past year, believing something doesn't necessarily make it true.
"We can't be like other mothers and daughters," Raven agreed as they let their hands drop, breaking the contact. "You're you and I'm... me. But maybe we can still be something to each other."
Her own, shy half-smile was matched by its hesitant mirror image just in time for the Tower alarm to sound, causing them both to start. The moment broken, Raven cursed under her breath as Arella looked in confusion around the now-flashing room, forgetting momentarily that her mother was just as well versed in languages as she was.
"Raven!" came the surprised admonishment.
"Um. Sorry," she stammered, feeling her cheeks heat again. "Look, I have to go. Either there's bad guys to beat up or Beast Boy's lost the remote again."
"I see. And this happens often..?"
"Not as much as it used to. Beast Boy got a lot better about leaving it on the coffee table where it belongs after Cy glued it to his head for a week."
"Glued it to his - that was... a joke?"
"Um, not really."
Precious seconds ticked by as they faced each other, the alert still madly sounding.
"I... guess we should meet up again. Or something."
"Or something." Again, the almost-smile. "I know you will find me should you choose to seek me out."
"Then go. I will find my own way out." When Raven hesitated again, she added: "Your friends are waiting for you."
When Raven was gone, Arella, despite awareness that she was now intruding, found herself moving around, examining the darkened room once more. She had never liked the dark; she'd once fled Gotham's dank, noisy and claustrophobic streets for the light, open serenity of Azarath. Raven, though, by her very nature had always been drawn to it, seeking out the darkest corners of their bright and airy world. Her places, her spaces were always dark. The home she chose to make for herself here was no exception. Heavy curtains, dark furnishings, sculptures that shifted unpleasantly under your lingering gaze, bookshelves groaning under the weight of leather-bound tomes, the ancient wood itself so stained with age it was near black.
But there was light here, too, in small flashes. A giant stuffed chicken, such as you'd win at a county fair, solemnly shared the top of a bookcase with a two-faced, ruby-eyed statue. A necklace of round silver bells hung from one of the wardrobe doors, chiming sweetly at her touch. On the desk, pride of place amidst the books and writing implements, were two small, domed display cases. The first housed what, on closer inspection, turned out to be a spark plug carefully mounted on a small plinth crafted from a broken circuit board. In the second, bearing the inscription of 'Stay Cool', was a black and white domino mask Arella recognised from the earlier photo of the five teenagers dressed identically as their leader.
And, on the bed-side table, another photograph. In this one Raven was front and centre of the group, Robin on one side, Starfire on the other and the bulk of Cyborg, Beast Boy perched atop his shoulder, standing behind her. Four of them were mugging horrendously for the camera, with all manner of contorted expressions, crossed eyes and bunny ears. Raven made no such effort, but her face, though down-turned as if shy, was lit up by the amusement she was evidentially struggling to suppress. Her eyes, looking up towards the camera, shone with mirth, and lips parted in speech curved upwards in an unmistakable smile.
No, they had not broken her. Thank Azar.
She carefully replaced the photo exactly where she had found it, and looked about the room one last time before taking her leave.
Theirs was not a normal life, no, not by any stretch of the imagination. But it was still a life. Raven had made the best of it as she could and so, Arella determined, would she.