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The Year of the Raven

Chapter 1

Breath in.

It was a nice knife, as knives went. It was a decent size, and from the way the crook handled it, it looked well balanced, too.

Breath out.

From the edge digging into Raven's neck, and the telltale trick of blood she felt, it seemed pretty sharp too. Yes, it seemed like a very nice knife.

"I swear, you make one move and I'll slit her throat! Don't mess with me!" the panicked criminal shouted.

Breath in.

Neither the knife nor the crook really bothered her, if Raven was honest with herself. Sure, she was a little shaken from letting him get the drop on her, but if she hadn't been having a 'bad emotions day', and let herself get distracted, it never would have been an issue.

Breath out.

Most teens only had to worry about bad hair days, when they didn't look or feel as attractive. Raven had to worry about bad emotion days, when her control was shaky, and she might slip and kill someone. Or someones. Or everyones.

She gave a mental sigh. There were days she hated being a half demon. Most days she did, in fact.

To make matters worse, her powers were getting stronger. She's normally count that as a good thing, especially after the whole Trigon thing was resolved, and she could express herself a little more. Unfortunately, with the increase in power came a need for an increase in control. She still wasn't as bad as she'd been originally; she'd learned the difference between control and repression, but she couldn't be as open as she wanted anymore.

Breath in.

"I'm serious! I'm not kidding around! I'll do it! Just back off, and let me leave."

Raven wondered idly where Beast Boy was. She could feel his concern emanating from him. Was he sneaking up behind the crook in a smaller shape, ready to get the drop on him? Was he simply lying in wait, watching for a chance to act, but afraid to do anything that would get Raven hurt? He was a good friend. He was probably just watching, wondering why Raven hadn't acted yet. She had to act soon, though. Good friends could be needlessly selfless on occasion. It wouldn't do to get him hurt.

Breath out.

The knife pressed harder against her throat. Raven was going to have to act soon one way or another. The crook was panicking. His fear was palpable, and fear always made people more dangerous, more willing to take risks. More willing to kill.

Raven tried not to think about that. She let the thoughts slide through her, taking any worry or fear with it, leaving nothing. She needed to center herself. She needed to be calm.

Ah. There it was. There was her center, and with it, everything.

Breath in.

As she inhaled a strong breath, she summoned her magic. It filled her immediately, eager to be unleashed.

It sang to her. It crackled its energy over her skin, caressing her, and setting her nerve endings on fire. It whispered in her ear. It spoke of wondrous things. It promised her power, beauty, fame. It promised her all her heart's desires, if only she would let go of her control.

With practiced ease she clamped down with ruthlessly rigid control, cowing her magic into obedience. She controlled the magic. The magic did not control her.

"Any last words, freak?" the crook asked her.

"Yes," she said calmly. "Azarath, Metrion, Zinthos!"

With those words as a focus, she sent a shockwave of force in all directions, sending the arms around her flailing back, and shoving the crook reeling backwards.

She demurely stepped forward away from the stunned criminal. She'd probably pulled his arms out of their sockets, but he'd live.

"All yours," she said.

After that, it was over quickly.

Raven stood away from the others for a moment, trying to make sure she maintained her calm state as the team secured the crook for the police, and potentially EMS to pick up.

As she waited, she caught Robin throwing glares in her direction. It was time for some team relationship maintenance.

"Robin," she said, capturing his attention. "I'm sorry if I worried you. I was a little rattled, and needed to center myself before I acted." She gave a small smile as a peace offering.

"You could have been killed, Raven! Why didn't you do something?" he asked. "You just sat there!"

"I wasn't just sitting there, I was centering myself. I wasn't in any danger. I could have acted at any time to protect myself. I just needed some time. If I'd acted while I was riled up, I could have killed him. You know how my emotions can be."

"Yeah, I know," he said, calming. "It's just..."

"I know. You were worried about me," she said. "It means a lot to me that you care that much. I'm sorry I worried you."

She offered another small smile.

This time she got one in return.

"I guess I was being a little silly," Robin said.

"Why? 'Cause you were worried about your teammate? That's what makes you a good leader," she replied.

Their eyes locked for a brief moment, a moment that seemed like forever, yet was far too short, before something inevitably drew Robin's attention away. Raven felt warm for during the trip back to the tower.

Everyone's emotions were still running high, even after the trip back to the Tower. The smell of adrenaline was thick in the air.

Raven gave a sigh. She knew what was coming, and there was no avoiding it. It was only a matter of time.

"AAAAAAAAAWWW YEEEEEAH! It's STANKBALL time, baby!" Cyborg shouted, lobbing a mass of dirty laundry at Beast Boy.

The game was on.

Aaaand, there it was. Raven sighed again. She shrugged slightly to herself, and deflected an incoming odorous projectile back at Starfire, who was squealing with joy. Joy that was not diminished in the least by being thwacked with a wad of stinky clothing.

Even Robin seemed to be in on the action. His eyes were sparkling with mischief and delight as he dodged a ball o' stank, and dove for its landing site to return fire.

Raven idly wondered if Stankball actually had rules.

She deflected another mass, but was pelted in the head from behind. She turned to see Beast Boy doing a little celebratory dance. The dance was cut short as Raven let go of the pile she gripped in her magic, and dropped the heap on his head.

She dodged another missile, wondering if she really wanted to know what held the stankball together. Probably not she decided. She bobbed, avoiding a face full of stinky socks. In the midst of it all she realized she was actually enjoying herself.

The game continued, the air filling with various missiles and mortars, until finally the teens began to tire.

The teens were draped over various pieces of furniture. Starfire lay across the back of the couch. She glowed, positively radiant from the exertion. The fact that she looked so attractive, no matter the circumstances was a constant source of wonder and, if Raven were again honest with herself, envy. When Raven was exhausted, she felt and looked like a limp dishrag. Starfire could be doused with raw sewage, walk into a crowded room, and still have boys fawning over her.

Raven wondered if she did it on purpose. Probably not, she decided. Tamaranians were culturally more open about their bodies and their sexuality. In contrast, the Azarathian monks that raised Raven were decidedly ascetic.

Raven sighed to herself. There was no use blaming, or ranting to anyone. Things were the way they were. She didn't, couldn't, hate Starfire for who she was. Starfire was too open, too free, too caring, too transparent to hate. She cared for her friends with an open love that left no room for embarrassment or subterfuge; a love that flowed from her whole being.

No, Raven couldn't hate her. She could, however, envy her.

Raven looked around at her friends, all panting and smiling as they lay on various chairs and sofas. Their eyes were half closed from the tiredness which filled the holes the adrenaline left. The evening was winding down. It was as good a time as any to meditate.

She stood. The sudden movement drew her friends' attention.

"I'm going to go meditate before bed. 'Night," she said to the room.

"Good night, my dearest friend!" Starfire exclaimed.

"'Night, Rae," Cyborg said.

The others chimed in with their own departing salutations.

She smiled to herself as she went to the roof to meditate. It was nice to have such friends. She never imagined herself in such a place, with such kindred souls. Her life was far better, far fuller than she'd ever imagined it could be. The only thing that could make it better, was...

No. She couldn't think of such things. No matter how her life had changed, she couldn't entertain those thoughts. It was only inviting trouble. Friends were one thing, even friends she openly loved. That, however, was something entirely different. Better to not tempt herself even with the fantasy. After all, look what happened with that whole Melchior business.

Raven took her usual place on the roof. It was a nice night, calm, if a bit chilly. She sat, and crossed her legs into the lotus position with all the ease her long hours of practice afforded her.

Breath in.

She pulled herself in, finding her center, and grounding herself.

Breath out.

She flung herself outward, expanding in all directions, and searching for that oneness with the universe that cherished so highly. She felt herself begin to pulse in time with the universe's rhythm.

As she settled into her meditative state, sure of her own place in the universe, she felt her magic respond, as it always did. Her body, she knew, was now floating above the roof, even if she could not feel it, as deep as she was in meditation. The magic swelled, and surrounded her. It permeated every inch of her being. It sang too her. It caressed her. It tempted her with all manner of things. It taunted her, throwing in her face things she could never have.

As she always did, she did her best to ignore the magic's song, and steadied herself in the universe's embrace.


Raven awoke with a start, and rolled out of bed. Mind still foggy, and eyes bleary, she didn't even realize the condition she was in until she was halfway out the door.

"Pants," she muttered to herself, "pants... robe?"

Eyes still not fully focused, she grabbed whatever clothing was handy, and hastily put it on as she staggered out the door.

It was calling to her. It drew her like the metaphorical moth.

Hurt.

Pain.

The source of the pain called to her. She needed to find it. She HAD to find it. She needed to feast upon the foolish mortal's pain, rend his soul and...

No... wait...

Heal. She needed to heal the pain, her waking mind corrected. Find the source of the pain, and heal it. Relieve the sufferer of his agony.

Male. It was definitely male. The taste of the pain made that evident.

Raven wasn't really aware of where she was, only that she was headed to the source of the pain. She scurried through corridors, through doors, and occasionally through walls, homing in on the source, on the one radiating hurt.

She paused as she reached the final barrier, the door behind which the hurt lie.

"Robin," she breathed. It was Robin's door.

"ROBIN," she shouted, banging on the door, "Robin, are you OK?"

There was no response.

The pain radiating out from the room wavered, lacing itself with confusion and doubt.

There was only one thing to do.

Raven summoned her magic, completely ignoring its siren's song, and phased through the door.

Robin lay in his bed, asleep, but not peacefully. He was bare from the waist up, and sweat gave his muscled frame a glistening sheen. The sheets had wrapped themselves around his waist and legs during what must have been a frantic bout of tossing and turning.

Robin gave a moan, and Raven felt another wave of hurt emanating from him... hurt mixed with the sensation of flying. Flying... or maybe... dropping? She hurried to the side of his bed, and crouched, slightly fearful of disturbing his slumber, despite his current condition.

"Robin, Robin, wake up. You're having a nightmare," she whispered, touching his bare shoulder lightly.

Instantly, Robin woke, bolting upright, body tensing, and guarding against attack.

"Robin, shush... Robin, it's just me," she said, projecting as much calm as she was able.

"Wha-... Raven?" he replied groggily. His body began to relax slightly. He blinked quickly, caught between his adrenaline rush and the last vestiges of sleep clinging to him.

The tension flooding Raven's body left her all at once as when she saw him awake and safe. Her body sagged, and she hauled herself up to sit on the edge of his bed.

"You were having a nightmare," she said.

"Nightmare... yes..." Robin shivered with the memory and shook his head. "Raven... what are you doing here?"

"Apparently my empathic abilities are increasing," she said with a smile. "I felt your pain in the dream, and it drew me to you. I came to make sure you were OK."

"Uh, thanks, I guess," he said nervously. He looked down quickly.

Raven looked at him curiously, sensing his sudden reticence. She looked down. Her robe was hanging open, and the coolness of the room was evident through her thin sleepshirt. Raven drew back toward the foot of the bed, blushing, and pulled her robe closed. She looked up at Robin, who was shivering slightly, and pulling the sheets securely around his waist.

"Sorry," Raven said. "I ran out of my room in a hurry. I wasn't really thinking, just running on instinct."

"No problem," Robin said with a shy smile. "I just don't get female company in my room very often."

"Well, keep having nightmares like that, and it'll happen more often."

Robin's face clouded.

Raven moved toward him.

"Do you want to talk about it?"

Robin looked up sharply. His gaze softened when he looked into her eyes.

"Thanks, but I'm OK." He gave a small smile. "It was nothing to worry about."

"Well, if you're sure..." Raven said hesitantly.

"I'm sure. Go back to bed. I'm sorry I troubled you."

Raven risked reaching out to touch his shoulder.

"Robin, it's never trouble helping my friends. You know I'd do anything for you."

Robin looked up, and their gazes locked. An eternity passed before Raven managed to look pull herself away, her face scarlet.

"All of you, I mean. Everyone. The team."

"Of course," the reply came.

Raven couldn't bring herself to look at him, she was so embarrassed. She closed her eyes, trying to find her center, and cool the heat scorching her face.

Her eyes shot open when she felt a hand on her shoulder. She looked up to seen Robin smiling at her.

"Go back to bed, Raven. It's late. Or early. Whatever. Either way, thanks for coming to check on me. It means a lot."

Raven couldn't help but smile back.

"Anytime."

She rose, and gave Robin one last glance before turning to the door.

"Anytime."


It was always difficult maintaining one's center in the tense calm before battle, Raven mused. Not that it was impossible... after all, that's what all her training was for. Even so, it was murder on her nerves. It reminded Raven of the old adage about war being 'long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror'. Several firefighters Raven had spoken to agreed with the saying wholeheartedly.

"Spread out, and signal if you find anything. Above all, stay sharp, and don't panic," Robin said, bringing Raven back to the task at hand.

She blinked into the gloom of the darkened warehouse. Their prey was somewhere among the aisles of crates and boxes. The teens split off into different directions, creeping silently into the darkness.

Raven tip-toed around a corner, icy sweat running down her back. Their foe had to be in here somewhere, but the dark warehouse, combined with the tension was quickly fraying her nerves. She was nervous. The crook could jump out at any moment; in front of her, behind her, anywhere. She was more than nervous, she was afraid. The warehouse wasn't pitch black, but the filthy windows let in little light. What light they did let in only served to ruin her night vision at just the wrong moment. This was insane, Raven thought. She felt like she wanted to scream.

She bolted upright, and did a face-palm. She was a fool.

She was Raven, she was half demon, she was a sorceress, and she was creeping around the dark aisles like a fool. This was supposed to be her element. She wasn't supposed to be feeling fear, she was supposed to be causing it.

The realization drained all the tension from her. She reached out her arms, as if reaching for her magic, and summoned the power within herself.

With the magic came the familiar siren song. It sang and crooned. Let go, it sang. Let go, and it can all be yours. It promised her the moon and the stars. It promised her love. It promised her Robin...

Raven paused, shaken. She wouldn't lose control; her training was too ingrained for that, but she was shaken nonetheless. It wasn't temptation which made her pause, only startlement. She was shocked that the magic would offer her such a thing. Why?

She shook off her bemused state, and turned to the task at hand. There would be plenty of time for meditation and self reflection later. She clasped the magic in the grip of her iron will, and brought it to bay. It was time to show the darkness who the master was.

She stretched out with her empathic senses, and located everyone in the warehouse.

She found Starfire, her outward nervousness masking her warrior's resolve. There was Beast Boy, who was afraid, but she could feel the predator's instinct within him, clawing to get out. Over here was Cyborg, who was completely unafraid, but was struggling against a cold dispassion, which Raven assumed was his machine half. There, there was Robin. Raven hesitated to focus on him after her experience summoning her magic, but she could feel his steely calm, his confidence in his own ability, and in that of his team. Raven smiled to herself. She wouldn't let him down.

There was one more presence in the warehouse. It was a fearful, dangerous presence. Raven wrapped herself in shadow, and phased herself through the various shelves and boxes. She emerged above him, keeping herself still mostly phased. He was a rough character, scars and tattoos littering his lanky frame. His face clearly showed he was no stranger to trouble in his prison tattoos and his grim, set expression. In one hand he held an elongated box, which most likely contained his booty, and in the other, a sub-machine gun. His steady hand, and his loose, but confident grip spoke of familiarity with the device.

Raven silently considered him. He looked tough, and wouldn't be taken easily in a frontal assault. His fear, though, that gave him a weakness she could exploit.

She whispered to him. It was a soft, nearly silent sound. In her phased state, he might not even consciously register it, but it would be there. It would affect him.

'What are you going to do now?' she whispered. 'They're hunting you, and they'll find you. Not just anyone, either; the Titans. They're used to handling much more than you.'

Raven felt his resolve harden. That wasn't what she was after; she needed to change tactics.

'If only it weren't so dark in here. It's impossible to see anything. They could be anywhere. They could be right on top of you, and you'd never know it.'

Raven felt his heartbeat speed up.

'How are you supposed to see anything in here. Those damned windows are useless. Did that shadow just move? Wait, behind you!'

The perp swung around, gun raised, heart racing.

'Damn it! They could be anywhere! They could be everywhere! You'd never know until they were right on top of you!'

Raven noted where her friends were, and reached out with her magic, pulling on a box opposite them. The criminal reared on the sound of the falling box, and let loose a stream of bullets. Muzzle flash lit up the corner, ruining any remaining night vision.

'Over there!'

In a panic now, the crook didn't need a noise, just a prompt and a direction. A spray of bullets peppered a stack of crates.

'What's that?'

Another spray, ending in an empty click.

Raven phased back to reality.

"That's the problem with full-auto; it goes through bullets so quickly. You should have stuck with semi, and sprung for the extended mag."

The criminal turned to look up at Raven so quickly he lost his footing and fell backwards. He tossed away his sub-machine gun, and pulled a handgun with a shaking hand. Before he could pull the trigger, a birdarang swooped out of the darkness to neatly disarm the trembling perp. Raven pulled with her magic, taking the elongated box swiftly out of his grasp, and it was over, just like that.

"You were supposed to let us know when you found him," Robin said to her as they dragged the crook out into the daylight.

"Sorry. I turned a corner and almost tripped over him. I couldn't call without giving up my position," she lied guiltily.

"Still," he pressed, "you were taking foolish chances. You could have gotten hurt with the way you were playing with him."

Raven was nearly gritting her teeth with frustration. She had enjoyed toying with him... too much in fact, but that was her problem, not his. She wanted... needed... Robin's approval.

"Look, having us crawl around a dark warehouse looking for a psycho with an uzi wasn't really the best idea. I was scared. When I realized how stupid I was being, and what I was doing, I was pissed. I took it out on him. I'm sorry." She didn't sound sorry, she realized.

"So now you ignore orders because you don't agree with them?"

Robin was getting defensive. That was the last thing Raven wanted.

"Robin, I'm sorry," she said, trying to put really feeling into the words. "I don't mean to be questioning your leadership. You know I would follow you into Hell itself. Still, maybe we've been fighting super-villains too long. Maybe we've forgotten what it's like to fight common street thugs. A punk with gun can kill us just as easily, and they're more likely to shoot first, and gloat later."

"So, now I'm endangering everyone," he said.

"Robin, please," she said desperately. What was wrong with her? Now she was nearly in tears. She needed to center. She needed to focus. "Just think about what I've said. I know you will; you're too good a leader not to."

Robin frowned, turned and walked away. She watched him walk away for a moment before directing her attention elsewhere. Raven felt tension she'd not known was there leave her shoulders. She turned to see Starfire, Beast Boy, and Cyborg staring at her with eyes wide.

"Well?" she asked.

"I guess it was kinda stupid if you think about it," Cyborg said. "Don't worry, Rae, he'll come around. That thing you did with the punk was pretty cool."

Beast Boy nodded his agreement as Starfire squealed.

"It was marvelous!"

Raven blushed faintly.

"Thanks." was all she could say. It was good to still have friends.

As they wrapped up, the next call came in. It was going to be a busy night.

Raven didn't fare as well during that skirmish. Flustered and frustrated, she let a stray brick through her defenses. It clipped her in the side of the head; not enough to hurt her significantly, but enough to daze her and put her out of the fight. Cyborg and Beast Boy both put on spectacular performances. Beast Boy tossed crooks in the air left and right as a gorilla, while Cyborg shot skeet with his sonic cannon on its lowest power, stunning them, and dropping them back into Beast Boy's waiting arms.

She was still dizzy as the third call came in. As they rode to the scene, waves of nausea washed over her, probably indicating a mild concussion. She wasn't going to be any good in this fight either. Robin, probably feeling frustration from his bruised ego, was particularly vicious. He leapt into the fray, kicking and punching, and allowing no one to lay a hand on him. Starfire simply hovered in the air, arms folded, and a strange small smile on her face as she watched him go. Occasionally she surreptitiously blasted a crook who was creeping up behind Robin, but mostly she just watched.

Once they returned to the tower, Raven went right to her room. If Stankball was in the cards tonight, which was highly unlikely considering how tired they all were, it would have to be without Raven. Tonight Raven needed some reflection.

Reflection. Raven smiled, as she walked into her room. She walked up to her mirror. This was no ordinary mirror. It had its own particular kind of magic. Raven used it for self reflection. Reflection. She smiled a little wider. She used a mirror for reflection. The unconscious pun never failed to amuse her.

Raven looked at her reflection in the mirror for a moment. When she felt ready, she stepped forward, and entered the mirror as though it were a doorway. Calmly, she entered the world of Nevermore, the reflection of her 'self'.

Raven wandered the distorted, but oddly comfortable landscape only for a moment before reaching her destination. Before her was a circle of young women, all alike except for the color of their cloaks, and all identical to Raven.

Raven stared at the women, each representing a facet of herself. When Cyborg and Beast Boy broke into her room and entered the mirror mistakenly, they'd seen only a handful, maybe a dozen, of her other 'selves'. What they didn't realize is that there were dozens, hundreds, of different colors of Ravens there. Sure there were the 'Major' emotions: Happy, Sad, Angry, etc., but there were variations upon variations. Just as Red wasn't Scarlet wasn't Maroon, neither was Angry the same as Irate, or Furious. Depressed wasn't Sad wasn't Blue wasn't Melancholy. Happy was different than Elated, which was different than Joyous or Jubilant or Ecstatic or Rapturous. Each facet of herself was a different color, and each had a different flavor, a different texture, a different nuance.

And they were all Raven.

And she had a question. A question that needed an answer. She couldn't just let it lie. If she didn't examine it, understand every aspect of it, then it could be a chink in her armor, and that was something she couldn't afford.

She face the circle of her 'selves'.

"Why?" she asked. "Why Robin?"

The figures in the circle multiplied, and sprinted around in a motion that reminded Raven of rifling through a deck of cards. When the chaos ended, there was an equal number of figures as there were initially, but one in particular stood out as different.

Raven walked towards her, and looked her in the eye. She knew from her aura, and the feelings washing over herself, which aspect she was facing. It wasn't one she expected.

It also wasn't very comfortable.

"Lust, explain."

Lust's eyes sparkled and she smiled sweetly.

"We want him. It's that simple. He's strong, he's confident, and he's built. We trust him, we respect him, and know he would never betray us. He's safe, and we want him. We want to pin him down, tear off all his clothes, and do such delicious things with him."

Lust paused, and her eyes unfocused in reflection.

"I'm not sure if it's sex, or ripping out his heart and eating it, still beating, in front of him. Either way."

Raven rolled her eyes and groaned. It was frustrating and confusing being half demon. Raven was sure Starfire never had to deal with primal urges which directed her to slaughter her friends, and eat their souls. Maybe she did, Raven mused. Tamaranians were very... different in their relationships and culture.

That was a question for a different day.

"Why now?" she demanded.

"Who knows?" Lust replied. "Maybe we're feeling our hormones a bit more. Maybe it's our Empathy, and feeling what others feel. Maybe it was seeing him after his nightmare, where he was shirtless and vulnerable. Does it really matter?"

"I suppose not," Raven conceded. "Still, it complicates things. I mean, there's him and Starfire, for one thing... that's complicated enough, not to mention hurt feelings or betrayal would destroy the team. I can't jeopardize the team, or my relationships with my friends."

"I'm not going to go away," Lust warned.

"I know," Raven sighed tiredly, "but maybe I could... I don't know... find you another target or something. A safer target."

"You know it's not going to be that easy," Lust said.

Raven could only shake her head in tired frustration. As she looked on at Lust, a pulling at her emotions caught her attention. She pushed out with her will, and the circle of multicolored Ravens began their shuffle once again. When they had finished their scurrying, Lust's place was occupied by another uncomfortable emotion.

"Well?" Raven asked Love.

"Nothing, only that you already know the answer to your problem," she replied.

Raven understood. It was the hardest lesson for her to learn, one she struggled with constantly, even now.

Emotions were not bad. They weren't 'wrong'. Even more importantly; they were all part of Raven. She couldn't deny them, she couldn't kill them. She had to be whole. She had to accept them, though that didn't mean she had to let them control her.

The second lesson was easier. Though emotions weren't bad, they did have darker aspects to them. Love and Lust were similar to each other, but Lust was more possessive, tending to want ownership and control over the object of her affection. Love was more selfless, focusing on forsaking one's own desires for the good of the other. In both cases, however, they could be protective, guarding the focus from harm. The trick was using the nature of an emotion, anyemotion, even rage or hate, to her advantage.

"If only it were just that easy," she said mournfully to Love."

"Isn't it?" Love countered.

"The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak," Raven quoted.

"The vodka is good, but the mean is rotten," quipped Love, quoting an old translation joke.

Raven grimaced, and turned to leave. She had her answer, the rest didn't require an audience.

-To Be Continued...