Chapter Nine: Genetic Disposition
The sun was shining, and the seagulls were squawking, as Raven levitated on the roof of Titans Tower in the late morning sun. While the darkness was something she was more accustomed to and preferred, there was something undeniable about the way sunlight plied its fingers against her skin, gentle and loving and full of warmth. The sensation meant that she was alive, and she soaked the rays, inhaling the warm air. It was peaceful and soothing and allowed her to fall easily into a simple trance of meditation.
Raven began her usual mantra, opening her mind. Images swirled before her, were her. The very definition of 'self' for Raven had changed so much within the past few years, slowly grown to accept and encompass others, making them a part of her. The image of me. The thought came unbidden, rippling across her thoughtscape. It seemed to change with every moment. Herself. Robin. The Titans. Rain. Terra. Jinx. The countless others that had banded together in a common cause. She was like a drop in a bucket, rippling across them, her life touching that of others. No, it wasn't that simple. It couldn't be. She was more than that. She still belonged to herself.
The air had turned cold, and she was now alight upon it, keeping her body sleek and aerodynamic, cutting through the wind. This was a place in her mind she hadn't journeyed to in some time. It was cold and solitary and, once upon it time, it had given her comfort. Distance. How long had it been her greatest companion? Even in her years of being a member of the Teen Titans, Distance had been her only real friend. She was part of the team. She showed up for training. Responded to all team efforts. Looked out for her companions in battle. But then it would be back to her room or another place of solitude. Even in placating attempts to appear 'social,' she had often just stayed in the living area, reading. She couldn't help it. It had all seemed so pointless. Relationships, friendships, family bonding, romance…none of it was something she could possess for more than fleeting moments. None of them really knew who she was, what she was capable of. What would happen. And then her father came, and in spite of a lifetime of preparing…the despair she had felt in those final days still weighed on her tenfold. Even then, when she had turned to Robin, her truest friend…when she had needed to share some measure of her pain and plight with him, he still was unable to fathom the true level of hopelessness she knew. Because once he had been introduced to the situation, he brought with him the greatest pain of all…hope. Hope that there was something to be done, some door she could pass through that could still bring about salvation. But she quickly came to know better. There was no door. She was the end of the world. And no volume of good she spent her life doing would make a difference. Nothing she tried could atone for what she was. She prayed for death, and welcomed the release when her role in the horrid prophecy was finally finished. She had never really counted on Robin being so damned stubborn. But he had walked the line for her, cheated death for her. And that small pining in her heart she had slowly begun to suffer over the years would no longer be smothered with indifference or yield to her negligence. With a new life ahead of her, even her old friend Distance could no longer keep the stirrings of her very heart and blood in check.
And finally she had to meet with the council of emotions she kept in Evermore and put herself on trial before them. And her cursed emotions like, love, jealousy, lust, pleasure, happiness, and even sorrow confronted her with evidence that forever destroyed her life as she had known it. The simple will she had left for Robin to find—assuming there was still a world left afterward, Raven knew he would have been the one to go through her room, catalogue her possessions, and try to honor her wishes. No one else understood solitude like he did. Like she did. Perhaps, if those events had come to pass, he might have been the person she could have closest related to.
"If you are reading this, then I am gone, and there is nothing to be done to bring me back. I know that you will blame yourself, but I beseech you not to. There was nothing you could have done to stop it. And if you have survived even a day to find this, then you are already carrying the best I had to offer with you. The contents of this room are yours. I'm leaving them to you because I know that you will not misuse them, will not be so curious as to peek into things better left shut away. You understand what it is like to be alone and private. I thank you for the gift of friendship you bestowed upon me. It is something I have not known for a very long time, and I promise to keep it in death as I have in life. If I have ever said or done anything to make you question where your loyalties lie, I beg your forgiveness. Watch over the Titans, and take care of Starfire. She has placed so much of her trusting heart with you. If we ever meet again, I will answer the question you have held since that night our minds touched. You're friend in this life and those to come, Raven."
She had never been much for words. Ironic, considering all the reading she had done throughout her life. But they still somehow felt clumsy to her, as though she couldn't find a way to clearly express her intent. It wasn't about friendship, and it wasn't as simple as another boy-meets-girl story. There were times she truly wish that she didn't have emotions. Hiding them all the time was difficult, but not nearly as painful as realizing that she didn't even understand how to express them. How could one make someone understand their feelings without being able to show them, to wear them? Well, except maybe for sarcasm. Now there was a wordcraft she had honed to a fine art, the only thing she could truly express without consequence to the environment around her. And Richard was always there, verbally sparring with her. He understood that she couldn't be emotionally free, like Starfire…like Terra. And yet, he took it in stride. He communicated with her the best way she knew how to, kept up with her, made her more comfortable. If she hadn't had so much pride, she would find it commendable. As it was, it still gave her something of a warm feeling that he was willing to give up even more normality for her sake. But, given the fact that Robin was anything but normal himself, perhaps it only made the sacrifice seem natural.
The sudden intrusion caused Raven's eyes to start open, but there was only a minor lopsided dip to her levitation before Raven regained her center. "Terra." She spoke simply, rotating herself to face the blonde.
"Sorry if I interrupted."
"Everything's okay with Rain? I left her with Starfire." The sorceress asked, suddenly worried that there was a maternal matter that required her attention.
"She should be fine. Haven't heard anything from Star asking for help." Terra shrugged. "Actually, I'm here for me."
Raven blinked, not entirely sure what her fellow Titan meant by that. "Elaborate."
"It's about me. And Beast Boy. And…and Robin."
"Trouble in paradise?"
Terra nodded. "I need your help as a professional, Raven. I can't…I can't get any closer to Beast Boy…unless I let go of Robin. He's been in my head for so long now, it's getting hard to remember what it was like before he was there."
"And you're sure you want me to help?"
Terra sighed. "You were the one who did this to us. No, wait, that's not right!" Terra waved her arms frantically as Raven glowered at her. "I mean, you helped us join. But this isn't your fault!"
"I tried everything I could to dissuade him."
"I know. No one blames you, Raven. I shouldn't have said that. Honest? I've never really regretted it until now. The only thing that has been hard has been that feeling of connection to him I always have. I…don't mean to come between you two. But I know I do. And Robin comes between me and BB."
"That's the sorrow that can come from your type of bond. It should never be undertaken between two people who aren't truly ready for all the consequences it brings. You can't just…touch someone's mind and not become one with them."
"Robin says that you did, once."
"That was different." Raven tried to explain. "I was controlling myself. I can facilitate bonds between others, but I can't really control how deep they go. It depends on the action of those inside the bond. Robin gave it all for you. He threw himself into the heart of your despair and pulled you out. That's what he does. He never takes the easy way, never does anything without giving his all. That kind of bond, it can't ever really be broken. What I did with Robin was only an echo of what he did with you. Our minds did touch. But we didn't become one as you and he did."
"I'm sorry." Terra whispered.
Raven held a hand in front of her to stem the apology. "He would have done the same for me. For any of us. In his own way, he already has for me." Raven closed her eyes. "You've seen inside of him as well. You know."
"He loved you even then. He just wasn't willing to accept it or admit it, Raven. I…" Terra squeezed her hands in front of her into fists. "I tried…to give him a push towards you. To be honest with himself. When we were one."
"And to some extent, you succeeded. Otherwise I imagine things wouldn't have turned out as they did in Gotham. Although I suppose a lapse in judgment on my part is also to blame."
"You didn't do anything wrong, Raven. It's not your fault that you have feelings for him. And even though I know that Starfire had to suffer-"
"That doesn't make it right. Because of my bond with Robin, you still have to suffer. Starfire was wronged, yes. And despite her nature, I will never be entirely comfortable with what happened. Though I cannot change it. You don't admit it, Terra, but I know you suffer. As hard as I try, I still play the part of a traitor." Raven steepled her fingers. "I am not blind, Terra. Nor do I choose to be. But I do trust. I knew what I might be opening myself up to when I didn't push Robin away in Gotham City. But I did it anyway. I trust him. And even though I know you are…sometimes weak in this, I trust you as well."
"I'm not finished. As I said, I am not blind. I know what you feel for him. I also know that, despite a few lapses, you have been worthy of trust. Because even when you have longed to be with Robin…"
"…I've always known afterwards that I'd end up more alone than I started." Terra finished. "It's funny, you know? I mean, before all this. I never really disliked Robin. I think the other me was attracted to him. You know, he was strong, dependable, stoic, handsome, hunky…"
"Indeed." Raven permitted a flicker of a smirk to cross her face.
"But, the real me. The one you first met—before Slade. He never would've gone for Robin. I never really stopped falling for BB, except maybe when I wasn't myself, or my other self, or…"
"The human bonds we forge among one another—there are none really like the kind of trust that comes with letting someone else in, letting someone else really see what a mess you are on the inside. Allowing them to see your weaknesses and vulnerabilities, learning how to destroy you from the inside out. Trusting them not to do so. It is intimate. And it very often awakens feelings that never would have otherwise. When you see someone in an entirely different light, they can become attractive to you. Your entire perception of them can change. Barriers are broken down. And when you truly feel that connection, it extends any other obstacle. Age, race, beliefs. We can't always control what we feel."
Terra nodded her head, but found herself looking down at the concrete surface, averting her eyes. "I love him, you know that. I love Robin. I'm sorry."
"He feels the same way, Terra. As I said, I understand there is a part of him that I know is beyond even my reach. I accept that. And I trust him, as I trust you."
"And it's time I dealt with it. He's not for me. And I'm okay with that. There's someone else who has been waiting for me for too long. Who has been kind and understanding and…and too patient. I've always cared for Beast Boy and I want to be able to care for him the same way I do for Robin. I know you can't just change it all back. But…do you think you could suppress him in my head? Maybe make it so I don't feel him all the time. I've relied on him for so long now. But I have to cut this cord in some way if I'm going to stand on my own and live my own life. Can you help me?"
"I don't know." Raven admitted quietly. "But I will try."
"Thank you. I'm just…I'm sorry, Raven."
"During the time Robin and I have been together, have you ever once done something with him to betray me?"
"No. But that doesn't mean that I haven't wanted to."
"Nevertheless, you didn't. You can't stop yourself from thinking something, from feeling something. But you can control your actions. And you have. Besides, it's hard to fault your taste in men. On the other hand, you've slept in Garfield's bed. I do have to take points off for that."
Terra rolled her eyes. "Everyone's a critic."
"I'm more concerned at the prospect of Beast Boy procreating."
"You should give him more of a chance. He's a fun guy."
"A fungi? I think we're finally in agreement."
"Are you going to help me?"
"I am helping. It's not too late to go out there and meet someone new."
The Goth let out a breath, extending her legs to touch the ground and shift to a standing pose. "Fine. I'll help you. But it will be a lot of hard work. You've never taken the time to compartmentalize. We have to build a room inside your head for Robin. Unfortunately, he's never going to go away. But you can give him his own space and keep him out of yours so he can't interrupt your thoughts and feelings. You have to separate your own voice from his."
"That doesn't sound so bad."
"It would be considerably easier if you hadn't let the issue run unchecked all this time. This will be like trying to train a dog that is three years old instead of a puppy. But better now than never. I know it wasn't easy for you to come to me. It shows maturity." A sliver of a smile crossed Raven's lips. "Maybe all that time with Rain has paid off."
Terra twiddled her fingers together nervously. "Sometimes, I think maybe you should've picked Starfire to be her godmother."
"Actually, Starfire was a strong candidate. Ultimately, we picked you because we were worried that Starfire might get called home to Tamaran again, and it wouldn't be fair to divide her loyalties like that. I've done enough to her." Raven sighed. "Still, I wanted her to be just as involved. As an alien, I know there is much Rain will learn from having Starfire in her life."
Terra turned her smile. "Rain is growing up in Titans' Tower. Regardless of any powers she may or may not have; she doesn't stand much chance of being 'normal,' does she?"
"No, but I don't think she'll be any the worse for wear than the rest of us." Raven paused, looking more intently at Terra, knowing this might be a touchy subject. "You turned out just fine, in spite of everything. And Rain has not exhibited my emotional empathy, so I believe it is safe to assume that she'll be rather well-adjusted on that front.
Terra looked away. "That's what I'm afraid of. I learned to control my powers because of Robin. Because he was in my head. Giving me confidence, something to draw in when I wasn't sure if I could keep pushing myself, when I wanted to just give up."
"But you still did it on your own. You may have relied on that reassurance in your head. But you still did the work, Terra. Robin couldn't do that for you. Not the one in your head, not even the one who was physically there. You are stronger than you think. You have been down a dark path before, and if there's one blessing to show for it, it's that you know the signs."
"But I don't feel strong, Raven. Most of my life, I've been running. I had to become a monster to stop, and then I ran away from that too. All of you have made me feel welcome here in spite of the past. I didn't deserve a second chance and you gave it to me anyway. But sometimes I still feel like I don't belong. Like I'm just waiting for my next mistake. That's the problem with me, isn't it? I always take more than I give."
"Enough." Raven interrupted the blonde's wallowing. "You have to let go of all this doubt you're holding in. How are you ever going to stand on your own if you don't trust yourself to do the right thing? You've come so far, don't hold yourself back now. No one's keeping track of your mistakes. Because no one else wants theirs tallied."
"You're a better friend to me than I am to you, Raven."
"I've just been around the block a few times. You had the fortune of not being here for the worst of my struggles. Let she who is without sin cast the first stone. Besides, I'm impervious to most forms of torture. I'm a parent."
Though the words came out in Raven's native deadpan cadence, there was a feeling of mirth beneath the surface that Terra could pick up on. "Thank you."
"You're welcome. We'll start this week on your training, if that's alright."
Terra nodded her head in an exaggerated bow, as though she were being done a great honor. "Yes!"
"Right. Um, was there something else?" Raven asked.
Terra found herself pawing the concrete slightly with her boot, unsure if she should proceed. "I'm sorry. Sometimes I just…don't realize that you probably understand me better than I give you credit for."
This caught Raven off guard, making her shift her weight slightly "Alright, I'll bite."
"There have been a lot of me, if that makes any sense. Like when we first met. I was just myself. Alone, scared, but I knew I had to show you confidence. Not because I was trying to deceive you then, but because I wanted to fit in. I've met people over the years that have had different powers, but you guys were the first real team—the first people I dared to hope might give me a home. But I didn't trust you enough—because I didn't trust myself. I ran away, to Slade. I knew it was a mistake, but I thought it was the only way I would ever be able to control my powers. Then I became his puppet. And I hated myself. I hurt inside so much, because I knew that I had given up something so precious out of fear. I hated what I had become, who I was, and I used those feelings to make myself hate you and the others too. It was so easy to beat you all with Slade backing me. And the truth is that even while I was doing it, I felt like I was punishing myself. And it felt good, somehow. You see, even when I was at my worst, I was being true to myself. I've been hurt so much in life, lost everything. Making you all feel the way I did somehow made it more bearable."
"You have to let go-"
"This time I'm not finished." Terra pressed on. "Anyway, you were there. You know what came afterwards. I'm still a little hazy on it. I did the only thing I could to save myself, but it was more instinct than anything else. And then, there was darkness. I don't really remember that other life, the one Beast Boy found me in. Just echoes. I remember I…me, not the other me…I think I reached out to him once, tried to push him away for his own good."
"You should have known, he'd never give up so easily. Even in those years you were gone, he never gave up on you. If there is one thing Beast Boy excels at, it's optimism. He always believed in you. He knew that you could be more. And Robin considered you his greatest failure."
"I know." She whispered. "That's the point, isn't it? In the end, what I'm best at is hurting others. Even when I'm trying to do right. Even when I'm true to myself. I even tried to remake myself into someone else. But the truth is that even then, I was only running away. It's what I'm best at. Help me not to run away from this, Raven. Don't let me run away from the only good things in my life."
Terra gave the Goth an awkward hug, which Raven lightly reciprocated. Gathering her thoughts, she placed a hand gently on the blonde girl's shoulder, brushing her hair out of the way. "You're so screwed up." Raven said softly, pulling Terra back to look her in the eye. "But you haven't given up. I will help you as long as you swear to me you won't give up on yourself."
Terra nodded. "I won't."
"Good. Because I've been there. When you give into the fear, when you let go of whom you are, that's when the darkness comes." She suppressed a shiver. "You can't hesitate. You have to keep going forward. You were right to come to me."
"Thanks for listening." Terra breathed. "Sorry if I-"
"No apologies necessary. Go on, why don't you try to get a little rest?"
"I spent most of the morning in bed as it is." The blonde smirked.
Raven inclined her head slightly. "If you're looking for something to busy yourself with, try this exercise. Build a room for the Robin in your head. Instead of letting him run around in your thoughts, interjecting his opinions, practice going to him instead. You need to mentally contain him—it's your mind; you have to be the one in control."
"I haven't really wanted it until now. The thing is, I have a tendency to make bad choices. I think that having Robin there, since that day, it's kept me on the straight and narrow. Prevented me from making wrong turns."
"Perhaps." Raven pursed her lips slightly, drinking in the blonde's words, acknowledging that he had even imperceptibly guided her at times—a prospect that Raven wasn't entirely certain how she should feel about. "Still, you need to be the one in control. The part of Robin inside of you is really only that. An imprint, an echo. You make the rules inside of your own mind. You don't have to erase that. You simply need the clarity."
Terra nodded. "If it's alright, I think I'm going to try this meditation thing. I promise to be really quiet…"
"At the moment, I need to meditate alone. I'm a bit behind. Perhaps tomorrow."
"I understand. I'm sorry to disturb you."
"You are not a disturbance. I just need a little 'me' time." Raven explained, picking up on an expression she had heard Robin use on occasion.
"Maybe I'll see if Cyborg can use an extra pair of hands then."
"Manual labor can help focus the mind." Raven added.
"Thank you Raven, for everything. I'll see you later." Terra took her leave, finding her way back to the stairwell into the tower and leaving the sorceress to her meditation. "That went better than expected." Terra said to no one in particular as she descended the staircase to the top floor. Truthfully, Raven sometimes frightened her a little. And at other times, she looked like any other mother in Jump City. Well, maybe not any other mother. "I wonder what Cyborg is up to…" Terra pondered as she made her way to the elevator.
Rain's eyes started wide as she stared into the closet of the Tower's resident alien princess. She toddled forward with glee, hurling herself into a pile of multi-colored objects.
"I acquired these at the mall of shopping." Starfire beamed as she watched her small charge rifle through the large blocks. "I was told they are appropriate for your age. Perhaps I could attempt to build the castle I grew up in."
If Rain heard the red-head's words, she certainly paid them little heed as she began to haphazardly stack blocks in front of her, laughing when her small little towers would fall over.
"I have always wondered what it would be like to have children. You are like a gift, Rain." Starfire smiled, sitting down near the closet and helping the little girl to create wonders out of molded plastic. "You would not understand, but at times, I have been envious of you."
Rain, seemingly aware of her caregiver's statement, punctuated it by placing a blue cube on top of the yellow rectangular base Starfire had absently begun to form with several blocks around her. Instantly, Starfire connected the color to the emotion of sadness and melancholy, what Cyborg had once tried to explain to her as the "blues." This made sense to her—the Earthling penchant for relating songs to color. The first time she had really understood the meaning was years ago, when she had lost Robin to her friend in his absence. Blue was a color she even associated with Raven, although she did not wear it. Strange.
"Sometimes I believe you understand us all more than we know."
Rain seemed to smile at that comment, staring down at the small gathering of blocks she and Starfire had pooled around them. Starfire blinked, then looked closer to see what had piqued the young girl's interest. Curiously, Starfire pushed several of the smaller, grounded blocks around, but couldn't seem to find anything. "Rain?" She asked, her green eyes blinking.
Rain stood, toddling back to the closet and its reflective, mirrored doors, as though beckoning her caretaker to follow her. The dark-haired girl turned towards the red-head, an expression of wonder on her face as she laid her little palm flat against the mirrored surface of the door, pulling herself through the mirror like Alice Liddell.
Again, Starfire blinked, as though dumbfounded by what she had just seen? "R-Rain? This is not the time to be playing seek-and-find, please…" She spoke nervously, fearful when she opened the door to the closet and could not find her charge. The alien literally jumped back when the mirror spoke to her in a childish voice. "Stahfar!"
In the over two years of the little girl's existence, Rain had never spoken. Now, she was saying Starfire's name as though it were the first word she had learned a year ago. She was there, in the mirror, looking back at her babysitter with a beaming smile. "Star-Star!"
"R-Rain, where did you go?" The Tamaranian's voice rose and octave, realizing that Raven's daughter seemed to be weaving her own magic spells at so young an age.
"Here!" The little girl smiled, extending her hand, which left an imprint on the glass. Starfire reached out to mirror the motion, but her fingers purchased only the cold, reflective surface, Rain's happy smile looking back at her.
Freaked out, Starfire grasped her communicator so tightly she was in danger of crushing it. "ROBIN!"
"Star, what's wrong." Robin responded in mere seconds, acutely aware of the distress in his friend's voice.
"You must be coming to my room very fast! Rain is-" The alien never finished her sentence.
"On my way." Robin said darkly, literally dropping everything he was doing to respond to the call, a basket full of his boxer shorts spilling sideways. He envied Raven her phasing and teleportation abilities at the moment, racing up the basement stairs two at a time, bypassing the common areas altogether in his sprint to the living areas of the tower. As he reached the living areas, the Boy Wonder vaulted the railing of the staircase onto the landing, passing by the elevator just as it opened for a very confused Terra.
"Robin?" She asked in puzzlement as her Leader flew by her without sparing a glance, but she heard him call out Starfire and Rain's names as he reached Starfire's door, hitting the door chime and banging on it with abandon. Her thoughts of visiting Cyborg set aside, Terra walked towards Robin, determined to find out what the emergency was.
The blonde's wait was miniscule. A visually pale, tall form of Starfire opened her door, pointing in alarm to something inside her room. Robin pushed past his friend immediately, and Terra gave chase, running into the room moments later, only to literally crash into a seemingly stupefied father. Catching herself from completely falling over, Terra staggered backwards, rubbing her delicate nose. "Robin, what's the-" The Earth Mover fell completely silent upon seeing what her friends were staring at, her mouth literally falling open.
Panic wormed its way through Robin's brain, seeing his only daughter inside of a mirror. He wanted to scream, but as soon as the urge came, the training imparted on him by his mentor kicked in, keeping him in control of his motions. "Starfire, how long?" He asked curtly, shattering the silence that had settled for a moment.
Starfire herself blinked, as though something in her brain realized Robin was speaking to her but her brain was responding in a kind of slow-motion. Quizzically, she looked at the frantic father, then the other girl that had appeared in her presence. Shaking her head to clear the cobwebs, Starfire processed the question she had been asked. "I am not exactly certain—only minutes. I called for you very quickly."
Robin nodded. "You did great, Star. But how did this happen?"
"I do not know!" Starfire cried. "We were only playing, with the blocks. Rain simply stood up and walked to the closet and…and…and into it! I do not know how this is possible!"
Trying to keep a calm demeanor, Robin approached his daughter, weaving a path through the blocks on the floor to get closer to the closet. "Rain?" He asked plainly.
The small girl smiled back at him, her hair bouncing slightly. "Dah-dee." She grinned as though she were having the time of her life.
Robin took half a step backwards upon hearing his daughter talk. "She just spoke like she's been doing it for some time…" He muttered quietly, completely confused. "But, she's never spoken a word to me."
"She said my name right before I called you." Starfire ventured, shaking. But she was already inside-"
Robin cut the alien off. "Terra, has Rain ever spoken anything to you when you've watched her?"
Like Starfire, Terra took a moment to recover from the shock of what she was seeing. "Wh-what? Oh, um…no. Babbling and gibberish sometimes, but nothing even close to this. She's…speaking like a girl her age should, but Rain never has."
Instinctively, Robin clenched his left fist. "Get Raven."
"Consider it done." Terra responded, beginning to feel uncomfortable with a little girl she cared for so much in some kind of frightening peril. She meandered out of the room and took off at a pace only slightly slower than the one Robin had assumed to get her in the first place, yanking the door to the staircase that led to the roof open with a force Cyborg would have applauded.
Carefully, Robin stepped up to the mirror so that he was right in front of it, extending his arm so that he could touch it. He reached up to where Rain's dark hair projected as though to touch it, but his fingers only purchased the smooth, reflective surface. This solicited another little grin from Rain, smiling as though she were pulling off some kind of practical joke on her family. "How on earth?" Robin wondered, but moments later found himself looking into the steely eyes of his mate, her face upside-down and locked in grave concern that made her normally stoic demeanor seem warm and inviting.
Raven offered no words as she effortlessly rotated herself after descending from the ceiling she had phased through, landing right in front of the mirror and pulling back the hood of her cloak. She spoke no words upon assessing the situation, running through a myriad of possibilities in her head.
"Did she phase?" Robin asked, interrupting her train of thought. "Maybe she's inheriting your powers?"
"If she had phased, she would have gone through the mirror, not inside of it." Raven explained. "And if she does inherit any of my abilities, they shouldn't manifest like this. She's two. She doesn't know any magic spells or incantations. And we've never seen her emotional state have a reaction on the environment."
"So, um, just to be clear." Robin began. "We're saying this probably isn't a result of you or your heritage."
Raven turned to look at him momentarily. "Anything is possible, but that was my first instinct, and the signs aren't matching up."
Every gaze turned back to the mirror, where the girl inside had just acknowledged her mother for the first time. A panting Terra returned to the room moments later, her eyes widening again as she watched the interaction of mother and daughter.
Raven bent down onto one knee, cautiously smiling at her little girl. "Hello, Rain." Her voice threatened to falter, but she kept it even, not wanting to frighten her daughter. Raven extended a hand to beckon Rain forward, motioning with her arm for the girl to come to her. Smiling, the little girl did exactly that, marching forwards playfully, stepping through the mirror as though it didn't exist and into the arms of her mother. Raven wrapped her arms around her child, clutching her tightly as she picked the small girl up, her normally expressionless face showcasing a great deal of relief.
"Raven…" She heard a voice call her name, turning her head towards Terra. Terra did not seem at all relieved by their reunion, the blonde's face still painted with fear and trepidation.
Holding onto her daughter more tightly, the sorceress rotated her gaze back towards the mirror, seeing a second version of her daughter, still smiling happily, still looking as though she were playing a game. Examining the girl in her arms, she could see almost no difference between her daughter and the Mirror Girl other than demeanor. Smiling sweetly, the Mirror rain raised her hand, pushing her palm against the surface of the mirror as though it were a tangible thing. And indeed, it seemed to be, as a handprint appeared on the glass.
"Rain?" Raven whispered in confusion, but the Mirror Rain only smiled at her again and ran off into the ether, becoming smaller and smaller in the reflective surface until she disappeared, the handprint left behind darkening to a blood red color.
Acting purely on instinct, Raven placed her daughter into Robin's arms and charged the mirror, but much as she had explained moments earlier, she merely phased through it, emerging not inside of it, but rather inside of Starfire's closet. "Ouch." She muttered, becoming tangled on a cluster of hangers and unworn outfits she had purchased on many a shopping spree with Jinx.
Robin ran to the closet, opening the doors with a free hand to extract his lover, while holding Rain over his shoulder. "Rae, what's happening."
"I intend to find out." She said darkly, accepting his proffered hand and pulling herself to a standing position. "Terra, find Beast Boy and bring him to the Common Room. Starfire, have Cyborg put the tower on lockdown and then ask him to the Common Room."
Neither of the women hesitated as they rushed out the door, Starfire taking to the air to improve her speed to the garage and Terra running in leaps to the room she often shared with her heart's intent.
Robin adjusted Rain in his arms, stroking her hair and feeling her clutch at him tightly. He lifted her in front of his face to examine her, eyes searching his in some form of silent wonder. She was mute again, it seemed, but he paid it no mind, gracious to have recovered his precious little girl. But he didn't need to be an empath to pick up on the maelstrom of emotions from her mother. "Raven, settle, we have to figure this out logically.
She heard him, but he could tell from the strain on his love's face that it was only one voice among many warring within her at the moment. She raised a hand as though to smash it against the mirrored door that had nearly taken her child from her. "Raven, don't. It's our only lead." Robin said in a more serious, yet somewhat pleading voice.
Her eyes momentarily flashed red, and she pressed the palms of her hands to her temples, struggling against an inner rage she had not felt for some time.
"She's safe for now, Raven. She's right here. Don't you want to hold her again?" Robin asked her, trying to speak more soothingly. "She's okay. You protected her." He encouraged, hoping his voice would calm the storm of the worst emotions within her that wanted control. Slowly, Raven's breathing slowed and she lowered her hands from her head one at a time, breathing heavily. Quieting Rage within her was never an easy task, and while she was no longer a door for her Father, she knew with certain wrong choices that she too could visit much suffering upon humanity. But she was better than that, chose to be every day. And the daughter she held dearer than her own life was all the reason she would ever need to be true to herself.
Breathing deeply, Raven looked into the eyes of her mate. "Thanks." She said quietly, extending her arms to accept her daughter's weight. Rain made no fuss at the transfer, seemingly pleased with the extra amount of attention she was being given.
"For a moment there, I was worried." Robin expressed earnestly, bending down to join his family.
"Sometimes, it feels so hard to fight what I am." She explained. "You give me reason to." Raven explained to the silent girl in her arms, stroking Rain's hair.
"And you worry about being a good mother?" Robin smiled.
"There's nothing I wouldn't do for her." Raven admitted easily, holding her daughter a little tighter before finally setting Rain on her own two feet, taking her hand.
"I feel the same way—about both of you."
"Flattery doesn't do much for me." Raven gave him a hint of a smile, taking her other hand and placing it in his, making them look something like a traditional family unit. "Nevertheless, I appreciate the sentiment."
"As do I." Robin smiled broadly, reflecting the feeling he knew his family could not entirely. "So what's our next move?"
"We keep the tower on lockdown until we determine if this is an attack, and cover up every reflective surface until we know what is happening."
"Starfire said that Rain stepped into that mirror on her own, just like you coaxed her out of it. That other Rain-"
"Don't call her that. That….aberration is not our daughter."
"Do we know that for sure?"
"Alright, alright. The Mirror Girl, then?"
"That Mirror Girl, she has something to do with this. But I'm not sure what. She didn't strike me as evil. Or good for that matter."
"Whatever she is, she's not taking my daughter again."
"I know, Rae. It's fun. We won't let this go."
"I've asked you and everyone else to make sacrifices for me already."
"You never asked. Everything I've ever done for you is because I couldn't stop myself. I'd never leave you twisting in the wind."
"But now we have our child to consider, and she comes first."
"That's right. But she needs her mother. You're not doing this alone."
"No. This is something we all do. Rain is our daughter. But everyone here will protect her. Our little girl has an extended family. They want to protect her. And we can't do everything by ourselves. I know how special she is, but don't shut them out. Don't shut me out. I need our little girl as much as I need you."
Raven relented by letting go of her mate and daughter, switching positions so that Rain was in-between them, and they each took one of Rain's small hands, something that seemed to greatly please her, as she let out a little squeal of pleasure that was almost like a giggle. The sorceress suppressed a sigh, keeping a slow pace to make sure Rain's smaller legs could easily keep up with her parents. "Remind me again how two people as stubborn as you and I decided to have a child."
"Because underneath all the little barbs, we understand each other. You know better than anyone how screwed up I can be. But the two of you, you make me better. I never really saw much of a future for myself before. That's something you gave me. My only regret is the time it took me to realize that."
"Not to tear open old wounds at an inopportune time, but you would've been alright with Starfire."
"Yeah, that's the problem. I would've been alright. But not like this. She's a great girl and I'll never lie to you and say there isn't a part of me that doesn't still love her. But she's not you. She doesn't get inside of me and push me to be the best Robin I can be. Not just some hero who runs around saving the city. But someone who is trying to make a better world for her." He tightened his grip on Rain's hand for a moment.
"Well if you're going to go and speak openly about things…" Raven rolled her eyes.
"Uh-huh." Robin winked.
"Then I suppose I should thank you for pulling me through in my…time of need. I let myself forget who I was, because it was easier. You never gave up on me."
"I wasn't willing to live in a world without you. You had already done a lot for me. I know you don't offer friendship easily. You gave that to me, and I never took it lightly. I should have realized you were my soul mate a lot sooner."
"That isn't your fault. I denied it to myself for a long time. Perhaps if I hadn't…I wouldn't have faltered when Trigon came."
"You came through when it really mattered. I was proud of you."
"Aww, am I interrupting your little love fest?" Teased a familiar blonde, poking her head in through the doorway of Starfire's room.
Raven grimaced. "I thought you were escorting Beast Boy to the Common Room."
"He's already there, with Cyborg. They were playing on the GameStation. She beeped my communicator to tell me."
Raven wiped at her face using her free hand. "We'll be right down."
"I'm sure." Terra grinned, then suddenly developed a serious look. "You belong together. It wasn't a mistake, so don't ever doubt that. Robin and I were joined by you. I saw things. And I know that I'm a complication-"
"You're not a complication." Robin interrupted, but Terra marched over his words.
"I am. And I'm working on it. But what you have is special. Don't loosen your grip on it for anything. In just the few years you've been together, you've already made Rain." Terra beamed, leaning down to give the girl a one-sided hug as her arms were currently occupied. "Think of all the other wonders you might accomplish."
"I'm sorry, my mind wandered to birth control." Raven deadpanned, but the shine in her eyes visible only to those that truly knew her told them everything they needed to know.
"She's a keeper, Robin." Terra chided, turning to make her exit.
"Yeah, I have to remind myself of that every day." He sighed with an exaggerated manner.
"Only every day?" Raven cocked an eyebrow. "Every hour or two I find I need a reminder that I love you."
"That can be arranged…" Robin offered
"That kind of thinking is how we ended up here in the first place. I guess the simple days aren't coming back."
"Yeah, I miss those times when we only had to deal with the Brotherhood of Evil trying to conquer the world and your Father coming forth from another plane to destroy it."
"You too?" Raven asked, in a tone both playful and serious. "I knew how to handle those things…eventually. This is different. My daughter is at stake, and I'm not just going to let something happen to her. I gave up on myself once. But I made a promise never to give up on Rain."
Those words made Terra turn back and embrace Raven in a manner that caught the Goth off guard. Raven's suffering expression made a smile crack on Robin's face. "I gave up on myself too." Terra sniffed. "He has this way of bringing you back. Beast Boy never lost faith in me. Robin wouldn't let me go. And you…you gave me control."
"You gave yourself control, Terra." Raven patted the weeping girl's shoulders awkwardly. I only gave you tools to help you. The rest, like everything, came with-"
"Time and patience." Terra gripped at Raven's cloak. "I'm sorry, I just…I'm scared for Rain."
"We all are." Raven put a hand on Terra's back to steady her. "But we shouldn't let her see that. We don't know what's happening with her just yet, but none of us are just going to let anything bad or frightening happen to this little girl. You're part of her family too, Terra. And we're counting on you."
"Okay." Terra rubbed at her eyes to dry them. "You're right. I'm good. I can do this."
"We can do this." Robin reiterated. "Come on, let's discuss this with the others. I'm sure we can figure out what's happening."
"That doesn't matter." Raven expressed. "Whatever is happening, I don't intend to allow it." She squeezed at her daughter's hands, feeling the small fingers slip between her own. "Let's go."
In the common room, Beast Boy was scratching his head at Starfire's explanation of what happened with Rain, while Cyborg was putting the GameStation away.
"So, you mean Rain went inside the mirror?" He asked, eyes widening. "You mean like that time Cyborg and I-"
"It was nothing like that." Raven interrupted. "The mirror you experienced is merely a tool I use, a way for me to connect with my various emotions in a safe environment. Rain does not possess my empathy. When she is happy, she laughs. When she is upset, she cries. She doesn't need a Nevermore."
"Okay, so this….Mirror girl. She's not an emotional state of Rain, like the other yous?" Cyborg asked, finishing his task and wanting to ensure he stayed completely in the loop.
"I don't see how. This doesn't feel the same. Something is wrong."
Beast Boy picked up Rain, who had contentedly been playing on the floor with several old TV guides, and placed her on his lap, feeling her head. "I don't think she's sick or anything."
"Of course she's not sick, BB." Terra threw her arms up into the air. "This is…I don't even know what this is."
"I am the one at fault." Starfire hiccupped. "Friend Raven entrusted me to look after her. I have failed in my duties. As penance, I shall wear necklace of gromstork so that my shame is known to all!" Tears like waterfalls fell from the alien's eyes, and Beast Boy slid himself up against Terra to keep dry, Rain seemingly enjoying the ride.
"That won't be necessary, Starfire. We're not meeting to assign blame. We're meeting to try and figure out what happened and what we can do to prevent it."
Cyborg shrugged, raising one of his cybernetic hands to his chin. "Well, I guess we could cover all the mirrors in the tower. But that's kind of a band-aid solution at best."
"Agreed." Robin noted. "Let's do that as a precaution for now. Anyone have any idea why this is happening? If we rule out the Nevermore idea, then what else could it be?"
"Some of our enemies have dragged us into some pretty wacky places." Beast Boy offered. "Like Mumbo or Mad Mod."
"Mumbo might have a grudge against me. I beat him at his own game."
"He's been quietly lately." Robin muttered. "But even he couldn't get through the security. And even if he could, why would he have let Rain come back? He would have taken her, and wanted us to know it."
"And Mad Mod's not that creative." Cyborg added. "Guy's a fruit loop."
"Slade?" Terra asked, hugging herself a bit.
"He said he would be back." Beast Boy nodded.
"It's possible." Robin pursed his lips. "But again, he would have taken her, and want us to know it. He'd want us to suffer. He would want Raven and I to know he has her and there's nothing we can do about it unless we play whatever sick game he has in mind. Slade is calculating, and an egomaniac. If he were after Rain, he would want to make sure I knew. I'm positive of that."
"Well this is certainly productive." Raven snapped, her mood more stand-offish than normal. No one blamed her with her daughter in potential danger.
"It's frustrating me too." Robin added, lending her his support. He made an attempt to soothe her through the bond he shared, but found that she had bound it tightly. Raven was brooding, and did not wish to be disturbed from it.
"What if it's just some kind of power of hers?" Cyborg asked. "You said it yourself. She went in the mirror. She came out. She wasn't hurt or upset."
Starfire nodded. "On my planet, it is common for our young to be unaware of their own strength and have accidents. Perhaps Rain's curious nature merely caused her to have an accident. If she is not distressed, she may not understand what she was doing.
Terra snapped her fingers. "She talked when she was in the mirror, right?"
"She spoke my name." Starfire affirmed. "Rain also addressed Friend Robin and Friend Raven as her makers."
"Say what?" Beast Boy asked.
Cyborg conked the team's gesture on his head. "She called them Mom and Dad."
"Oh. No one's ever done that to me." Beast Boy rubbed his head where Cyborg had hit him. His comment earned him an even harder thumping from Terra. "You'd better hope no one ever does unless I'm involved."
Even Raven's surly mood couldn't allow her to miss that opening. "We're the good guys, we're supposed to make the world a better place. I've already slipped up by helping Boy Blunder there pass on his DNA. You pass on Beast Boy's and there's no telling the damage that will be unleashed on the gene pool."
"That sounds like a challenge." The changeling rubbed his hands together. "What do you think Rain, should we give you a cousin to play with?"
"I'm so glad we had this talk." Terra grit her teeth.
Raven resumed order by standing up and walking to Beast Boy, taking her daughter in her arms. Casually she sat back down with Rain, looking into her eyes. "I don't suppose you can tell me what this was all about?" The little girl cocked her head to the side, then made an unintelligible, happy sound and gripped her mother by the shoulders, trying to push herself higher into Raven's arms. "Still not talking to me…" Raven sighed in her frustration, But she couldn't bring herself to be upset with Rain. The girl was only being herself. Indeed, she was getting too old to be so quiet. So why had she spoken when inside the mirror? Pieces coming together in her head, Raven extended her arms to hold her daughter above her head and at arm's length. "Is that it? You're trying to tell me something?"
Of course, even if this were the case, Raven was aware that Rain's development would still be insufficient for her child to actually understand the words she was saying. Still, simple baby words shouldn't' be beyond her. Terra frequently encouraged her with vocal play, and she herself read to Rain, encouraging her mental development. She should be babbling simple things coherently by this point. And she did. Inside the mirror. But not now.
"That's it." Raven suddenly stood up, bringing her burden with her and placing Rain down directly in front of Robin. "She spoke inside that mirror. But she can't here. What if…it isn't her being shy or slow or underdeveloped. What if she can't speak here?"
"Something that prevents her from talking?" Robin asked, stroking Rain's cheek, passing two fingers through her dark black tresses.
"There were complications…" Raven began.
"I remember. I came as close as I ever dared to losing both of you. I haven't ever been that frightened before. Because I felt like I couldn't do anything to protect the family I had forged."
"You did do something." Raven reassured him. "Don't you remember?"
And yes, I am going to end it there, because that's the kind of sadistic tease that I am. But seriously folks. It's been a year since I updated not just this story, but really wrote at all. I've done stuff here and there for other people, helped them out with projects, penned snatches of dialogue in IM windows….but I haven't really sat down to just write in a very long time. As I've probably moved at some time or another, I'm getting older. I can never locate enough free time for all my interests. And this is coming from someone who is single and in his early-thirties! Imagine if I were married or had children or…any of the things someone my age usually has. There's a point to all this somewhere. I'll let you know when I get to it.
What I'm trying to put in a more succinct manner is that I don't find as much time to write as I'd like. Hence why I have so many projects on my "to be finished eventually" backed up in the proverbial sink until it's overflowing. But, I recently reconnected with these characters and found the actions and dialogue flowing freely over the keyboard. This story began writing itself again, as it did when I first began it, so that has made me overjoyed. And I already know where I'm going with the next chapter, which is a major excitement for me. I've endeavored to make this story about nothing, which is to say, instead of it having some long, complicated, overarching plot, it's just about a dysfunctional but loving extended family trying to live. And adjust to a more ordinary life. I'm probably not always successful in that, but I feel that these been enough stories that tell of the heroic exploits, and enough romances that tell of the myriad of pairings that could be created. Here, I made the pairing decisions beforehand and have tried to tell the stories of what it takes to make a relationship survive and thrive rather than the simple discovery of love. The easy part has already passed, the long road ahead is where the pairings are now.
That's something that has always made this story such an enjoyment. That it takes characters that live in a universe full of metahumans who have battles for good and evil with ramifications over the entire world. But at the same time, even many of the villains can still be complex people. For instance, I adore how many things can be done with Jinx. She's more than just a reformed villain, and I've only scratched the surface of things I'd like to see her do in this story. Sure, we all love a little Flinx, and I'll pepper it in when appropriate, but I really want to see how she develops on our own. I only hold the pen. I never presume to tell any character how they will or won't act. They tell me. And in many cases, show me. I would rather let them be themselves, rather than try to fit them into my mold. Sometimes that means the story changes on me, often times hardly resembling what I originally thought up in my head. But in every case, it's for the better. Because if I lose touch and become the puppet master instead of the guy writing down their stories, well, then something is lost. And that's not something I'm willing to part with. Even if it costs me readers in the long run. I set out to do something different and I've no intention of running away from that now.
And I'm not really sure what else to say after a year of absence. Except that I've got some great stuff already written out for the next chapter, I'm really going to enjoy this next particular flashback sequence. I think those of you who are such big fans of Rain will too.
Oh, that's right, there is one more thing. I can now be found on Twitter. So to get random tweets from me about fanfics, politics, different fandoms, life in general, etc., love me lordmalachite. Or just Follow me. Whatever. Because your daily Twitter feed needs one more voice.
Reviews always welcome, including constructive criticism. Yup, the spiel never changes. Send your questions, comments, compliments, complaints, love letters, death threats, marriage proposals, and ransom demands to:
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