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The Definition of Love
He kissed the hollow of her neck, and she moaned in appreciation. Their bare bodies moved against each other.
Tonight was the night. Their friends were out at a movie, and dinner afterwards was not an unreasonable assumption. They were alone for the time being. Long enough.
He leaned down and kissed one of her breasts. Her moans got louder. He moved against her, eager, wanting...
She moaned and begged underneath him, the sounds she made driving him mad with lust... but something wasn't right. He paused.
"Please," she begged, "Please take me. Make me yours. I'm yours. Please... Master."
He moved back. This wasn't like her. Even in the heat of the moment, this felt wrong. Something was wrong.
"Raven..." he started.
She was panting with want. She looked at him, eyes large, her skin so pale it glowed in the dim light of his room.
"Master, don't you want me? Please, don't reject me, take me!"
"Raven, what's wrong? Why are you acting this way?"
She growled like an animal.
"Please! I need you!" she panted.
He leaned close to her, looking into her eyes.
"Raven, what's going on?"
Her dark eyes flashed red, and her skin took on a scarlet tinge. In an instant she was on top of him, their positions reversed.
"If you won't man up, then I'll take what I want," she snarled.
Robin found himself pinned to the bed with dark energy. Raven straddled him, eyes glowing an ominous red. She extended and hand, caressing his face. To his mounting horror, he realized that the fingers ended in curved talons.
She ran the talons lightly across his chest. In testament to their wicked nature, the left bloody trails in their wake.
"I want you, Robin, and I will have you." Raven smiled a vicious smile. "You will be mine. I will make you mine."
She leaned down and lick across his chest. He moaned despite himself. She moved her body down his, raking her talons across the inside of this thighs, leaving more bloody trails. She cupped his balls with the hand, and Robin's body went rigid. He could feel the sharp points of talons poking into his skin.
"You will be mine, little Robin. I will make it so you no longer know the difference between pleasure and pain. I will make you beg and plead, and when you think you can't take any more I will break you, and you will be mine. My slave. An extension of my Will. Oh, we will have so much fun!"
"Raven!" he gasped, pleadingly.
The red glow in her eyes dimmed, and the sneer left her face. She withdrew her hand from him. She moved back from him, her face stony.
The look in her eyes was one he'd seen only once before... fear. Panic. Utter terror. She backed off the bed, almost falling backwards in her haste, and pulled the sheet with her, wrapping it around herself protectively in a reasonably good replication of her usual cloak.
"I... I'm sorry. I... I can't." she said. With that her black aura flared, and the sheet fell, empty, to the floor.
Robin stared, gaping where his love had been only moments before. The rapid turn of events left him in shock, incapable of coherency. There was only one response that seemed appropriate.
"What the hell?"
As his mind started working again to its usual capacity, worry filled him. Raven. What happened? What caused the shift in personality? What was she afraid of? Rejection? Loss of control? He needed to speak with her. He ran to the door, but stopped short. Pants. Pants would be a good idea.
Grabbing the first pair of anything offering groin coverage, he donned the garment without hesitation, and sprinted out of the room in search of his heart's desire. He flew to her and pounded on the door frantically.
"Raven! Please, Raven, speak to me!. Tell me what's going on!" He paused, listening for any sign betraying her presence behind the unresponsive door. "Please... you know I'd never do anything to hurt you. Please let me in. Please talk to me!"
Robin was working himself into a panic with worry. He closed his eyes, and took a breath. He needed to see her, to make sure she was OK. Cyborg was going to kill him for what came next, assuming Raven left him anything. He went to the keypad by the door. He'd promised he would never learn her code. He knew how much her privacy meant to her, how much having her own space meant to her. He'd kept that promise... but...
He looked around for something too use as a shiv. Finding a dirty knife by Beastboy's room, he ran back and began prying off the cover to the keypad. He reached in, and pulled out some length of wires connected to the back of the keypad. He carefully cut sections of wires to form jumpers.
"Swap these... jumper this data line and this one..." he muttered to himself as he worked. "Cut the power... one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, reconnect the power, enter random code, and..."
The door swung open.
He peered inside the gloom.
"Raven?" he called anxiously.
He searched for a light switch. Light flooded Raven's sanctuary. He blinked a few times, his eyes adjusting.
The room was as it had been when last he'd seen it. Raven kept her room fairly neat, though clothes were typically strewn about. Keeping clothes off the floor and making her bed were the two things that always seemed to elude her.
All seemed normal. Robin closed his eyes again, and took another breath, trying to center himself. He'd never felt more in need of his training than he did now. He opened his eyes. He looked around the room with detective's eyes. Everything still looked normal, but...
A drawer was half open. A quirk of Raven's was that though the floor was cluttered with clothes, she would never look there for something to wear, even in a hurry. She would always pick clean clothes from the dresser. She had been there, and not closed the dresser drawer completely in her haste. What else? The mirror. Raven's mirror to Nevermore. There was a piece of clothing against the mirror. He walked closer. It wasn't againstthe mirror, it was half inthe mirror, breaking through the surface of the glass like it was a pool of water.
Raven was in the mirror. She was in Nevermore.
Robin stared at the mirror, a respectful distance away, and debated with himself as to whether to go in. Breaking into her room was one thing, but this...
The mirror was used for reflection; an ethereal pun that had never amused Robin the way it did Raven. If she was in the mirror, she was safe. Nothing could hurt her there, not now that Trigon was gone. If she was in the mirror, she needed to be alone, to see something about herself.
Robin cursed the logic, wanting desperately to see her, but couldn't fault it. He needed to wait for her to come out. Then she was fair game. He left the room and headed to the kitchen. He needed a drink. With the way this evening was shaping up, he was going to need to dip into the hard stuff. He opened the refrigerator and pulled out a Mountain Dew. He cracked the top, not really seeing his surroundings, and took a swig. He stared into space, mind working on the possibilities.
Sound behind him shook him from his introspection. He turned to see his friends filtering into the kitchen.
"Dude!" Beastboy said, "is there something we should know?"
Robin gave him a quizzical look.
"Those are some sexy, funkadelic pants, Rob." Cyborg clarified, smirking.
Robin looked down. Pink bunny rabbits looked up at him. He had thrown on a pair of loose pajama pants from the set Raven had jokingly shown up in his room in. The teddy bear she brought in with her, and the pigtails in her hair completed the effect better than he would have imagined.
"Oh." Robin took another swig. There wasn't much more he could say.
It was several days later before anyone saw Raven again. Robin had been closed lipped about her disappearance, but continually paced like a caged animal during her absence. Every day she was gone increased the tension in the tower, and the shortness of his temper.
Her entrance into the kitchen was a quiet one.
"Robin, could you make me some tea?" she said softly. Her voice was tired and flat.
Robin hurried to accommodate her, taking the time to observe her while the kettle was coming to a boil. She was gaunt looking, and even paler than normal. Her face was drawn, and there were dark circles under her eyes.
Robin did not push her. She was here, in the kitchen, and she was OK. He placed her cup of tea in front of her, and sat beside her, waiting.
"Do we have anything to eat that's a bit bland?" she asked. "I'm starved, but I don't think my stomach can handle anything too rich."
Robin rummaged around in the cupboards a moment before finding a box a crackers. He opened the box and sniffed suspiciously for a moment before handing them over.
"I can't promise they aren't stale." he said.
"Even stale crackers would be welcome at this point." she said, giving a small smile.
She ate quietly for a time. Robin sat quietly next to her.
"We need to talk," she said finally, "later, but I want you to know now that I love you."
"I love you too." he replied.
She munched on another cracker.
"Have you ever wondered about what love really is?" she asked. "What is its form? Its color? Its weight? Is love just feelings of affection, or desire? How do you know you are in love? How do you prove it? How do you know when someone loves you?"
Robin had gotten used to Raven being more open since the resolution of Slade and Trigon, but now... Her voice now was dull, as when they first met. The tone, or lack thereof, worried Robin more that her haggard appearance.
"Are you saying I don't really love you?" Robin asked in light tones, trying not so show his growing concern.
"I would never say that. And besides, I said I love you."
"So you have an answer," Robin said.
"Better to say I have myanswer." she corrected.
"Which means..." he prompted.
"I have decided how I wish to define love. I have chosen a definition that allows me to express love for people despite my... other issues." she said.
"Are these 'other issues' why you ran out on me the other day?" he asked.
"Yes, and that's part of what we have to talk about." Raven stood. "Give me an hour to get cleaned up, and meet me on the roof."
She paused, and picked up the box of crackers, popping another into her mouth.
"Better make it two hours." she said with a mouth full of cracker.
Two hours later Robin was pacing across the roof. He had once stood stone-still for hours in the rain with Batman, waiting on the strength of a tip that someone was going to rob a bank. Now he wondered if he could ever stay still again.
Raven appeared at the door to the roof, hair still damp, and box of crackers still in hand. She sat in her usual spot, in her usual lotus position.
Robin looked at her expectantly.
"I love you," she said, "I want you to know that I love you more than anything, and that I've been happier with you than I've ever been in my life."
Robin filled with dread.
"I've had to come to terms with sides of my self I didn't know before." she said. "With your help, I've avoided my destiny, and the world is safe from me, and from Trigon."
Robin tried to be patient as she spoke the obvious.
"In a way, the fact that we derailed my grand and terrible destiny might be part of the problem."
"Come again?" Robin said, confused.
"My destiny was to be a portal for Trigon to enter this world, and to be a vessel for his will. Then I was to be his instrument for this world's destruction."
Robin felt like he was seeing parts of a riddle, but without seeing the whole thing he had no chance of solving it.
"Raven, please. Pretend for a moment I'm completely stupid, and explain to me what's going on."
She have a sigh which clearly implied that pretending was less of a stretch than he'd probably be comfortable with.
"Look. Trigon raped my mother to create me. The entire fact of my existence is based on this fact, and the expectation of my destiny being fulfilled. It's important to remember that it came in two parts; being a vessel for his will, and being the implement of destruction. It's written into my very essence. It's a fact of my very being. Just because we stopped my destiny from coming to fruition does not change this."
"So what does this have to do with love? With you running out on me?" he asked.
"Please stop referring to it that way." she said. "I've found two powerful, previously hidden aspects to myself in Nevermore. I've named them Slave and Demon. They are part of me as much as my magic and half-demon heritage."
"Oh, no. Slave and Demon." Robin said in understanding.
"Oh, yes." Raven responded. "My sudden need to be dominated. My reversal, where I tried to dominate you. Slave and Demon. They were fueled by my desire, by my lust for you. That is why we can't be together, why I must leave."
"Whoa, whoa whoa!" Robin cried. "How did we go from you loosing control for a moment to us breaking up, and you leaving?"
Raven sighed again. Robin was getting sick of the sound, and the flatness of her voice.
"I love you." she said.
"You said that before, but it doesn't explain why you're leaving me."
"I told you, I had to decide what love was. For me, love can't just be about feeling affection, because my feelings are dangerous. I must control them at all times. The wise have long said that you can only judge someone by their actions. For me, love must be my actions. It must be my behavior. I have decided that your well-being is more important to me than my own. Your needs more important than mine. I must now act in a manner that is consistent with that."
"And that means you're leaving?"
"My presence has become a danger to you. To our friends. I cannot allow harm to come to them or you. At the same time, I must find a way to control the Slave and Demon. This means time. Time alone. I have to leave."
"This is bullshit, Raven. You can't just walk out of my life like this!" Robin shouted.
"You think I want this?" She shouted back, showing the first real emotion since she disappeared. "You think this is fun for me?" Energy crackled around her. "I agonized over this! This is killing me inside!"
She stopped, and closed her eyes, fists clenching, as she tried to calm herself. When she spoke again, the flatness had returned to her voice.
"You must understand, Robin. The time I've spent with you is precious to me. I've been the happiest, the most free I've ever been in my life. But now I'm back to the same problems I've had in the past. Emotions are dangerous. Please listen, Robin. The Slave and the Demon were not temporary. If we had consummated our relationship that night, the Slave aspect would have become permanent. I would have been left with no will of my own, completely subservient to your will. I know you, Robin, and no matter what joke you are about to make about it being 'kinky' you would not have been happy. The Demon, too, did not lie. It... I would have broken you, and broken you completely. How could I live with myself after that?"
"That doesn't mean you have to run away. You stopped yourself." Robin countered. He felt like he was getting to the end of the riddle, and he still didn't have an answer. He still didn't have the words to say to make her stay. Desperation was setting in.
"No, you stopped me. You stopped before we... completed... our act. That break gave me the chance I needed to control myself. If you hadn't..."
"Raven, please don't leave. Whatever this is, we can beat it together."
"This isn't something we can fight, Robin. This is part of me, written into the very fact of my existence. I have to learn to control it. More than that, I have to heal it. I have to go. I'm sorry for hurting you, but better causing you heartache than being the instrument of your death. Hate me if you must, but live, Robin. Live."
It was never the same after Raven left. The Titans continued for a while after she was gone, longer than anyone expected, in fact, but it was never the same. Before they split up, however, Robin noticed that one by one the received phone calls. After someone received a call, the titan in question disappeared for a while. Not long, only an afternoon or an evening. When they came back, they were different. Quieter. More serious. None ever spoke of where the went or what they experienced, but afterwards they were more... themselves. Robin suspected she was responsible. He waited. His call never came.
"Beast Boy. Sit, please."
The green Titan entered the spartan apartment and sat down at the kitchen table. He glanced around, an noticed a lack of any personality. In fact, apart from the furniture, there was no indication the apartment was occupied.
"Rae. I'm glad t' see you, but I'm a bit confused why you called."
"All in good time. Something to eat? Drink?" she asked.
Beastboy frowned. Her voice was even, controlled, more than he had ever heard, even more than when they'd first met.
"No thanks, I'm good." he replied, trying to hid his concerns.
"Are you sure? Very well." She sat across from him. "I wanted to speak with you, mostly to apologize."
"Huh? For what?"
"For the way I treated you. For leaving without saying goodbye. For not letting you know how I really felt."
This felt all wrong. Raven's voice was still the flat monotone, which didn't match the words coming out of her mouth. She also sat nearly motionless. It was all wrong. Raven was wrong. It wasn't the Raven who'd get annoyed with him when he pulled a prank, or accidentally through a stankball her way. It wasn't the Raven who saw him at his worst, and tried to console him. It wasn't her.
"What's going on? You're acting strange. Are you really Raven?" He started to stand.
"Please, let me explain. Please sit back down. Beast Boy, the reason I left was because my emotions were becoming even more dangerous. I needed to gain control, which I have done to the best of my ability. During that time, I have come to some decisions also. I've decided that because I cannot show my emotions, because I can't display how I feel, I need to tell people, and act accordingly. I care about you, Beast Boy. Despite how angry I got with you, I care deeply about you and all the rest of our friends. I think you deserve to know. As for action... I'll make you a deal. You know more about me that I think I do about you, but I was still careful to hide myself from others. If I promise to answer truthfully any question you ask me, will you do the same?"
This was getting weird. Beast Boy wasn't sure he liked where this was going. He'd almost think she was coming on to him... but this was Raven.
"Raven, you're weirding me out." He fidgeted in his seat, wondering how to escape without being to obvious about it.
"I'm sorry. I'm still figuring this out as I go along. Let me put it another way: in an effort to show you how much I care, since I can't openly display my emotions, and to make amends for the way I've treated you in the past, I would like to give you a gift."
"What gift?" he asked, wondering if curiosity was going to kill the occasional cat.
"Healing." she replied.
Beast Boy was completely caught off guard.
"No one in the tower is without pain. We all hid it, but it was there. I sometimes wonder if that is why we were so wild, because we were trying to drown out the pain. I know you hurt, Beast Boy, and I know the pain doesn't just come from Terra."
He flinched as if struck when the name was said.
"Why did you have to bring her up. You know how I feel about that." he growled.
"I know. That's why I asked you here. We all need healing. I'm an empath. I know better than anyone. Take my hand." She reached out.
Beast Boy hesitated.
"I dunno. I still think you're acting weird"
"Please. No matter how I'm acting, I'm still me. I left because if I stayed, I may not have been. I'm in more control now than I have ever been. Please trust me. I promise this will only go as far as you let it."
He took her hand. It was cool but he felt warmth radiating through it. He marveled when he realized the warmth was her affection toward him.
"Now, tell me your name."
"I'm Beast Boy," he said confused.
"No, your real name. Your original name."
He hesitated again, but with the warmth washing over him, he found he couldn't help but trust her.
"Hello, Garfield. I won't lie to you; this will hurt, but it's the hurt of a septic wound being drained, or an improperly healed bone being re-broken. I promise you will feel better when it is over, and I will be here with you through it all. I want you to know that I love you. You are my friend, and your well-being is more important than my own. I love you. Now, tell me your story."
Raven sat cross-legged on the floor, with Garfield's head in her lap, and his arms wrapped around her waist. He sobs had died down, but not completely stopped.
Garfield was spent. His throat was raw, his face felt puffy, and his eyes seemed glued shut. He felt as though he had been flayed open, and innards laid bare. He'd lost all sense of time. The world had disappeared. There was only Garfield and Raven. His crying finally ceased, settling into deep breathing. His reality began expanding, his awareness of the rest of the world returning slowly. The sounds of the outside world, the feel of the floor against his hip, the feeling of Raven's hand stroking his hair, all made themselves known to him.
As feelings returned to him, he realized what position he was in. His face was against Raven's stomach, his tears had made a rather damp spot on her leotard. Somewhat embarrassed, he pulled away gingerly. Raven released his head, and he sat up. They sat in silence for a moment, Garfield unable to meet her eyes. A hand reached out and caught his chin, lifting his head. He stared into her eyes.
"Are you well?" she asked. The cold, mechanical flatness never left her voice, through all the emotion. Not once had she ever lost control.
"Yeah, I'm OK," he said hoarsely. Her eyes were warm. Windows to the soul, he realized. She can hide her emotions in every other way, but she could not change her eyes.
"This was just the first step for your healing. The rest is up to you. It won't be easy, but we did the hardest part together. I know you are strong enough to do the rest yourself. You were always stronger than you gave yourself credit for."
He nodded mutely.
"We can stay here as long as you need. I only ask that you don't tell... him... about seeing me."
"Why not? What happened between you two?" Garfield asked.
Raven paused a moment.
"I suppose that's a fair question. I did promise to answer any question you asked, didn't I?" Her eyes went distant. "I'm not going to tell you the whole story. The reason I don't want you to tell him about seeing me, is that I don't want him to try to find me. It would be very painful to see him. Also, the emotions it would bring up are still too strong. I'm not sure I would be able to control them, even now. As for what happened, why I left... it started when we tried to have sex."
Garfield alternately paled and blushed from her frank admission. Words failed him for the first time in his life.
"When we were together, something inside me was released, something dangerous. I left because I didn't want to put you, my friends, in danger. I needed control, and to decide what my future was going to be."
Garfield looked at her curiously.
"Your future?" he asked.
"Even if I'd stayed, we wouldn't be Titans forever. Eventually we would have to move on. To grow up. To become adults, and find our places in the world. We have to decide what's really important for ourselves."
"Have you made any decisions?" he asked.
"My friends are important. Even if I cannot be with them, they are important to me. Also, I've decided that protecting people is important."
"You protected people as a Titan. You know you can always come back."
She made no response.
Nightwing watched the office intently. If the tip he'd received was good the robbery would be tonight. Movement caught his eye through the window. It was show time.
"The boss said the safe was supposed to be under the desk." the thug whispered.
Nightwing smiled in the darkness. The reveal was always the fun part. He crept around, looking for the ideal position to attack from. Shielding his eyes, he tossed a flash-bang toward the dark moving bodies and struck.
"It's da bird!" a panicked shout came.
Light came on as Nightwing struck at wrist after wrist, disarming the gun-toting thugs.
Nightwing paused. Time seemed to stop.
"It's not her, it's just some punk in tights." the brute sounded positively relieved. Nightwing was borderline insulted.
"Some punk in tights? I'm Nightwing. Nightwing? Protector of Blüdhaven? Ring any bells?"
"Whatever, kid. Ice 'im."
Nightwing realized he'd made a rookie mistake. He'd stopped the assault and allowed them collect themselves. He was going to work extra hard to fight out of this one. He gripped a hand-full of smoke pellets and waited for the tell-tale movements that warned of their impending attack.
It never came. No one moved. The light in the room began dimming. Nightwing tried to look around to see what was going on, but realized he couldn't move. Focusing on the thugs, he realized they were covered in a black aura that looked too familiar not to be... no, it couldn't be.
The room dimmed until it looked light a forest at twilight: full of long shadows, the light bulbs dying embers in the night.
Finally there was movement in the stillness. I cloaked figure, covered in the same black aura strode into the center of the frozen melee.
"Gentlemen. I hope I'm not intruding." The voice was light, conversational, but there was no warmth to it. Like a bad actor, the words didn't carry any emotional weight. Though the tone was light, it was though they were being recited from a page.
A body thudded to the floor.
"I noticed the party, and was worried I wasn't invited. Oh. Your watchdog upstairs was looking lonely."
The figure on the floor groaned.
"I have a message for your boss. The child trafficking stops now."
The figure walked toward the thug that had done the most talking, pausing only briefly to pluck a pistol out of some random crook's hand, and crush it in a clawed fist. It reached out the clawed hand, and caressed the cheek of the frozen brute, leaving blood trails down his cheek. Nightwing shivered at the sight of the talons and blood trails, memories coming to the surface. The talons continued down his cheek and under his chin across his neck.
"I am going to pay your boss a visit in two days. If the child trafficking has not stopped, I will rip every last scrap of information pertaining to it out of his mind, leaving him a broken, screaming shell. I will trap him in a waking nightmare for the rest of his natural life. If I find out the message was not given, I will do the same to you. Am I quite clear? Good."
The figure turned and looked to the rest of the room. In horror, Nightwing realized that the only thing visible under the hood were three pairs of glowing red slits for eyes. The figure turned to him.
"Oh? What have we here?" the light conversational tones asked. "You don't look like one of these brutes. Is this some new hired help, Johnny?" it asked the bleeding man.
The figure drew near to Nightwing.
-Please don't be her.- Nightwing pleaded. The voice was wrong, the shape was wrong, the sadism was all wrong, but the black aura... and those eyes...
The figure seemed to look him over.
"Nice tights." it said. "I think you and I ought to talk. Outside, of course. Not in the current company."
With those words, a black portal appeared, not beside the figure, as Raven's always had, and Nightwing alternately hoped and feared, but below them. It looked like a pool of tar, bubbling and swirling. Tar didn't appear semi-sentient, as this did, however. Tendrils of the portal reached up hungrily and as the two figures sank into its depth the tendrils wrapped around them, trying to pull them in faster.
It was though the earth opened, and help itself had come to claim them. Not a fiery hell, but a cold, dark, endless oblivion, as cold as the original depiction of hell as the absence of God's love.
Nightwing was glad he was frozen by the black aura. He didn't have to worry about his self control breaking in the face of this.
They sank quickly into the tar like nothingness, though in Nightwing's opinion, it took far to long. Almost as soon as his eyes dipped below the surface and panic threatened to overwhelm him, Nightwing felt the sensation of rising, and his eyes cleared to the sight of a rooftop.
Once secure on the roof, the black aura cleared from around him, freeing his body to move once again.
"So, Robin. Aren't you a little outside your jurisdiction?" the figure spoke to him. The black aura still surrounded him, and the red eyes still stared out from beneath the cloak's hood. Her words, however, were proof enough of her identity.
"Are you just going to let them go? They were robbing that office! You swoop in and give them a stern talking to, and let them go?"
"A safe in some random office doesn't concern me. Besides," she said as lights and sirens surrounded the building, "I never said anything about letting them go free, Robin."
"Actually, it's Nightwing now, but you always had the right to use my real name, Raven."
Now that he was free of the aura, he had more time to observe her. The cloak was the same, though tattered and ragged, and she still had not dropped the protective aura around her. Her shape seemed off. One shoulder was higher than the other, almost like she had a hump. Under the hood, the face was in shadow, looking skull-like, but otherwise obscured. Beneath the cloak her leotard was gone. In its place, it looked like she was wearing rags. Other than that, the cloak hid any other detail.
"It's Nevermore now."
"Nevermore? The place in the mirror?" he asked.
"Raven walked into the mirror, and Nevermore walked out." she said. "Raven was not equipped for the realities of working alone. Nevermore has worked to correct it."
"Does Nevermore love me the way Raven did?" he asked, somewhat desperately.
"I always loved you, Robin. That was never the issue."
"Then talk to me. Why do you still have your protective aura? Why the talons and red eyes?" Nightwing's voice when quiet. "Why did you never call? You spoke to the others, why not me?"
"You know why, Robin." Her voice was back to the flatness Nightwing remembered and hated. "My emotions concerning you were too strong to be reliably controlled. I cared for you too much. I carefor you too much."
"Then tell me what's going on." His voice was almost a whisper.
The cloaked figure stared at him with its six red slits.
"Very well." Nightwing thought he detected strain in the voice. "You won't get all my secrets, but I'll share a few."
She walked toward him, reaching out with a hand. A nice, normal, un-clawed hand, Nightwing was happy to see. She reached out to place it on his shoulder. Instead, he caught the hand, and held it in his own. The figure froze, tense.
The black tar-like portal appeared again beneath them. Nightwing closed his eyes and let the darkness overtake him.
When he opened his eyes again, he was in a small average, if sparsely furnished room.
"Melodramatic much?" he asked with a shiver. He took a moment to steady himself. "This is where you live?"
He looked around the small room. There was a wooden chair with a clean, if worn blanked folded and setting in the seat. A small table was sitting next to it, with a book sitting on top, and a drawer ajar beneath it. A surreptitious glance in the drawer showed another small blanket or shawl, some paper and pens and pencils, and a bottle of pills.
"No, I use this room as a safe-house of sorts. I rest here occasionally between outings when the need strikes." At last she dropped the protective aura, and Nightwing got his first real look at her. She pulled the hood from her head, and the Nightwing realized the skull image and six slitted eyes were in fact a helm she was wearing. She pulled off the helm, and the breath caught in Nightwing's throat. She was as lovely as ever.
He pulled his eyes away from her face, and tried to objectively observe the rest of her. The ragged clothing he saw previously he now saw was a body suit. The tattered edges and ragged lines were disguising that it was, in fact, light body armor.
"So, the eyes and skull face were fakes?" He got a nod. "What about the claw?"
She reached out her arm. A clawed gauntlet was on her hand. She undid the straps and removed it from her hand.
"Why only one?" he asked.
"Because it's heavy awkward, and more or less useless. One is manageable, but two would leave me walking like a gorilla. I have a set, and I switch back and forth."
"Useless? The way you crushed that gun..."
"My magic crushed the gun. The claw was just for show."
"Helm, body armor, gauntlet... it's a wonder you leave your protective aura up constantly."
"That was a lesson hard learned. I was shot from behind once, after I'd thought I'd neutralized all the enemies. I learned two lessons that day, in fact. One, that I'm more resilient than I gave myself credit for, and two, never let your guard down."
"You have to let your guard down some time, Raven. We all have to eventually." Nightwing walked over and picked up the book sitting on the small table. While pretending to check the title and a few pages, he palmed one of the pills that he found which must have fallen from the bottle in the drawer.
"I think I've shown you enough secrets for one day, Robin. I'm sorry; 'Nightwing'."
"Please, Raven. Nevermore. Whatever you want to be called. I've missed you so much. Please talk with me a while longer." Robin pleaded.
"If you return to this safe-house you will find nothing. I will not return here again." Nevermore replied.
"Raven! Please! Am I so repulsive to you that you burn every link between us? Please, I missed you. I-I still love you." Robin said desperately.
"I love you too, but I'm still not able to be with you. Those aspects of myself are still not healed. I still can't return your affections they way you want. You need to be with an equal. You need someone who can return your affections the way you deserve. You won't be happy with anything less. You won't be happy with me."
"That's bullshit rationalization, Raven, and you know it. If you wanted to be rid of me you should have just come out and said it!"
"I love you, you idiot!" Raven shouted. "Still after all this time, I can't get over you. Every moment we spent together is precious to me."
Robin/Nightwing held his tongue. This was the first genuine emotion he'd seen from her. The tell-tale feel of electricity crawling over his skin was a testament to its validity.
"But how can I be with you when every moment I fear I might harm you? How can I live that way? I died inside when I realized what I almost did to you, what I had become!"
She stopped, and took a breath. Robin cursed silently as the flat quality returned to her voice.
"You can still make me lose control. After all the work, all the practice, you still affect me so. Is it any wonder I'm afraid of myself around you." Nevermore mused.
Robin felt like time was slipping away from him. Again, he sensed the riddle he had no answer for.
"Goodbye Nightwing. I hope you don't hate me, but if that is what you require to move on, then so be it."
The black aura swirled around her, and began filling the room. Robin reached out, and tried to call to her, but his voice failed him.
The aura cleared, and the room was empty.
Nightwing turned, and lost himself into the night.
Nightwing sat in the dark and thought. It was better in the dark. Safer. Beside his mentor, he'd learned to move and strike from the darkness. To be in control. Control. Is that all it ever boiled down to? There was something wrong with her. She looked almost exactly the same, clothes notwithstanding, but something was off. She looked almost boyish. She was still lovely, but less feminine. More androgynous. Something was going on.
Enough. He had a detective's training, and a puzzle in front of him. It was time to stop acting like a child.
Step 1: collect evidence and data.
He picked up his cell phone.
"Hey, Babs, it's me. Yeah, it's been a while. Listen, I need a favor. You have someone I can use either at GCPD or some other lab for analysing something? A pill. No, I only have one. No, I don't want to use the old man for this. This is personal, and you know how he is about that kind of thing. No, no. Nothing like that. No, no vendetta, no relentless crusade, nothing. I'm just trying to help out a friend. Thanks, I owe you another one. Yeah, you too. Bye."
One down. The next one needed to be in person. It was always better to be face-to-face when you needed to press some one.
"Hey, Gar. How's it going?" Nightwing asked.
"WHOA!" The green former Titan started. "Dude, you scared me half to death! Warn a guy when you're gonna do that. Geez. Pull another stunt like that and I'm gonna have to start dying my hair. I don't even wanna think about how hard it's gonna be to match this green."
"Ok, ok, I'm sorry. I need to talk to you."
"Well, give me a sec to get my heart started again, and let's talk."
"What happened between you and Raven the last time you talked?" Nightwing asked.
"I don't know what you're talking about"
"Cmon, Gar. I know you talked to her when we were all in the tower. You, Vic, Kori, you all went somewhere and talked to her." Nightwing said.
"Yeah, OK,, so I talked to her. It's kinda private. I don't think..."
"TELL ME." Nightwing urged. "You went out, and when you came back you were different, quieter. That was when you started using your real name. Something's going on with Raven. I just saw her, and something's not right. Now, I don't know if what you talked about has anything to do with this, but it obviously affected you, and I wanna know why. Now TELL ME."
"Ok, Ok! Geez." Garfield Logan took a breath and steadied himself. He was feeling a bit shaken, and he suspected Nightwing was doing it on purpose.
"Look, I'm not going o tell you everything that went on, 'cause it's none of your business. I will tell you that we talked, mostly about my past, and some of the things I've seen that still haunted me. She was cold. Her voice was all weird, like she was a robot, but here eyes... You know, I never really realized that when she was in the tower she usually hid her eyes under her hood. You could see all her feelings in her eyes."
"That's it? You just looked into her eyes and talked about the past?" Nightwing pressed.
"No, but..." Garfield sighed. "Look, this is embarassing, and it's gonna sound weird, but don't go jumping to conclusions, ok?" He waited for some affirmation before continuing.
"She told me she loved me. Then she held my hand." Garfield blushed. "I could feel all her emotions flowing through her hand. Then we went through my past. I talked about what happened, but it was closer to reliving it. I could see it as we talked. All the regrets, the hurts, the things I wanted to forget, I saw it all. And through it all, she was there, holding my hand, letting me feel her love, and telling me it was going to be OK."
Garfield fidgeted, blush even more evident on his face.
"When it was over, I was wiped, but everything seemed a little better. It was like all that stuff made me who I am, but I was letting it own me. That was why I started using my real name in the tower. Beast Boy was who I was because it was too painful being Garfield. Now it's not so bad. I haven't talked to her since. I went back to the apartment we met in, but it was empty. I checked around and found out it had been sitting empty for a while. She must have broke in."
Nightwing was silent, thinking furiously.
"Did she say why?" he asked finally.
"She said it was a gift." Garfield replied. "A gift of healing."
Nightwing made his goodbyes to his friend and left quietly. He rode away on his motorcycle, pausing only to make a phone call. Cyborg was in the League, and couldn't be dropped in on the same way. It would take a slightly softer touch.
"Vic, it's me. We need to talk. Is there a good place to meet?"
One Titan down, two to go.
Nightwing sat, again in the darkness. It was time to stop.
Step 2: Collate and interpret the data.
Nightwing typically was more action oriented than thought oriented, but his training with the 'old man' didn't go completely to waste. It all started with that damned mirror. Nightwing almost envied Raven for having one. It would be so much easier to speak to the facets of his personality, and to use them to organize his thoughts, rather than just trying to sort all his thoughts in his head, and risk forgetting something important.
Raven left to find a way to heal herself; her Demon and Slave. While she's gone she tries to heal her friends. The stories from Cyborg and Starfire were similar to the one he god form Beast Boy. Both were taken through their own memories, both were told they were loved. The both felt the love through a physical link: a held hand. It made perfect sense considering how powerful she'd obviously gotten. She was an empath. If she felt her friend's pain, she would be driven to help heal it. Healing for her was a form of love.
When Raven returned from the mirror she'd said she'd made a decision regarding love. She decided love was a behavior. That made sense for her. For someone that couldn't display emotion, who had to suppress emotion as much as possible, love couldn't just be something you feel.
'Your well-being is more important to me than my own. Your needs more important than mine.' That is what she said. That was at the heart of the riddle.
I love her. She loves me. She showed her love for her friends by offering healing.
Then there was the pill. The analysis came back with it being a hormone inhibitor. That was worrying, but also made sense after a fashion. She rigidly controls her emotions, but can't control her hormones. Lust affects everyone at some point. We choose not to act on it, but the feelings can be powerful. Powerful feelings are something Raven can't afford. So, in an effort to prevent them, she's tried to completely suppress her gender. It made a sick twisted kind of sense.
It also went against her idea of healing. She was trying to make others whole, all the while she herself was divided.
Wait. Was that it? Was the answer that simple? Nightwing knew what he had to do next.
Nevermore was perturbed. The upscale apartment which was supposed to house a minor crime boss and a large number of lackeys was empty. Empty was a slight exaggeration. There was one person in the office. One single person, who had a very familiar aura.
She sent her energy outward and filled the office. She pulled herself in after it.
"Why are you here, Nightwing, and where's my victim?" Nevermore asked calmly.
The desk chair rotated slowly to reveal her former lover seated, looking serene despite the black aura filling the room.
"He saw reason with a little persuading. He's turned himself in, and giving the police details about the child trafficking ring." he said smugly.
"I see. Not that I mind, but why did you do that?"
"So I could talk with you undisturbed."
"I think we've said everything there is to say between us." she stated, her voice still flat and even.
"No. I've made a decision regarding love." Robin said. "I realized that you were right. Love is not just how we feel, it's how we act. I was acting possessive of you. I wanted you so much that it was overwhelming everything else. That was not love."
"That wasn't what I was saying, Nightwing."
"No, but it's the truth. You helped me see it. You helped me see what my love for you needed to be."
"No. Don't." Her even voice carried an undertone of panic.
Robin stood, and walked to her, arm stretched outward.
"I love you. Your well-being is more important to me than my own. Your needs are more important than mine." He neared her, driving implacably forward despite the fact she was shrinking back.
"I love you." He managed to get his arms around her.
"You need to be a whole person. A person who has emotions. A person who has friends to talk to. A person who is healthy. You need to heal. You've been healing others, but never yourself. I swear that no matter what, I will never leave you alone, never leave you hurting, never stop loving you, and never stop helping you to find the healing you need."
He pulled her close. She shuddered in his arms.
"You are important to me. You've been hurting. You've been alone. You've been divided. Even if we can never have the relationship we wanted, even if I can never touch you the way I want to, I will ever leave you."
After that, words seemed lacking. He took his hand and sought hers. He held her hand and poured every ounce of love into it that he could manage.
After that, words seemed unimportant.