The emotions drew Raven. Before she knew it she was almost running. She willed both her steps and her heartbeat to be slow and even.
They called to her. They made her hungry.
She neared the door, and placed a hand on the cool metal exterior.
He was definitely in his room. The emotions were emanating from behind the door.
"Beast Boy, it's me. We need to talk."
"Come on, Beast Boy. I know you're in there."
silence greeted her.
So much for the nice approach. It was time for the direct approach.
She phased through the door.
The room appeared empty, but Raven knew better. The changeling could be hiding anywhere in the clutter of his room. Unfortunately for him, Raven had no plans to search with her eyes.
Raven closed her eyes and focused on her Empathy.
There he was; a mouse in his burrow.
She focused her powers, plucked him off the ground, and held him suspended in the center of the room.
"You cheated," he groused, reverting back to human. He glowered at her, his red fur giving him a demonic look.
"I wasn't playing," Raven replied. "We need to talk."
Beast Boy simply glowered at her.
"You've been avoiding me."
"I haven't been…" his protest began.
"You have been avoiding me, and I know why."
He cringed guiltily.
"I didn't… I mean, I didn't mean…"
"Beast Boy, it's OK," she assured him.
"But… but I…"
"You protected your friends," Raven said calmly.
"You're my friend, and I…"
"You bounced my skull off the concrete, gave me a concussion, and I spent several days in the infirmary," she finished for him.
"Yeah," he admitted shamefully.
"Beast Boy, my powers were running out of control. If you hadn't done that, we wouldn't be standing here. You saved everyone. You saved everyone. Besides, I don't think you were completely in control of your actions."
Raven felt shame, fear, and disgust rise up in the red-furred changeling. That was not at all what she intended.
"Not like that. I don't mean your bestial nature was taking control. Your abilities connected you to something powerful, something primal. I can't quite explain."
"I could have killed you," he exclaimed.
"I'm a monster!" he wailed.
He began thrashing, struggling to get free of the magic which contained him.
"Let me go!"
"Beast Boy, calm down!"
Beast Boy ignored her and thrashed harder.
Raven stretched out with her Empathy, trying to read him, trying to decide how to calm him.
There was only one thing she could think of that might help. She walked toward him, bringing him level with her. Slowly she approached him, and wrapped her arms around him in a soft hug.
"Let me go," he sobbed. "I'm a monster."
"Am I afraid of you? I'm the one you attacked, aren't I?"
Beast Boy simply sobbed in response.
"It's no coincidence that your fur turned red. It's no coincidence it's the color of blood, or that nature is 'red in tooth and claw', but that doesn't necessarily mean violence or bloodshed."
She held him tighter as his struggling slackened, but did not cease.
"Blood gives life. Blood courses through the body sustaining it, giving it life and warmth. In Middle English, Old French, and Latin there are variations on the word for blood which we still use today; sanguine, but when we refer to a sanguine person, we don't mean a violent, bloodthirsty person, we mean someone who is confident, courageous, hopeful, and cheerful. We mean someone full of life. You connected to something elemental, and it acted through you to protect life, not to cause violence for violence's sake. Do you understand?"
Beast Boy's struggles ceased, and his sobbing had reduced to a catch in his breathing. She felt him nod against her shoulder.
Finally she released him, both physically and magically.
"What happened was my fault, not yours, so no more hiding. I promise it won't happen again. I'm sorry."
She stepped back from him. His pain and fear had mostly subsided. Something was still bothering him, but it could wait. She still had to meet Robin in her room, and Beast Boy was emotionally spent. A little time before she tried helping him again might be wise.
"I have to go." Raven turned to leave.
"Raven…" Beast Boy called.
She turned to look at him.
"When that… power… was guiding me, it… it hated you. There was rage, and hate, and I… it wanted to destroy you," he admitted shamefully.
So that was it. That was the last worry.
"Of course it did. I told you; you were an avatar of life, and I…" she hesitated. It shamed her to admit it, but he had to know. He had to understand that it wasn't his fault. "I was an avatar of death."
She turned and left. She couldn't look back. She didn't want him to see the shame in her eyes.
Some deep breathing and re-centering, and she was feeling much more clear-headed when she reached her room. Robin was already standing outside her door waiting for you. She looked him over as she approached. It was strange seeing him prepped for battle, yet not wearing his mask. He had yet to put it back on since their date the other night.
Wordlessly, she opened the door and motioned for him to enter.
When the door shut behind him, she finally spoke.
"No weapons. Weapons stay here," she ordered.
"I thought you said it would be dangerous," he replied.
"I exaggerated the physical danger slightly. The mirror is mine, and even while keyed to you, I still have some control over it. I will be able to protect us physically. The real danger is to your ego, emotions, and psyche. That will be the real danger. Don't underestimate it, though. If I have to drag you out of the mirror to see you catatonic for the rest of your days, I won't be able to live with myself."
"Uh…" Robin wavered.
"Still want to do this?"
Robin let out a deep breath.
"I can't tell if you're encouraging me, or trying to scare me off," he said.
"I'm not sure myself," she admitted. "This won't exactly be pleasant for me either. I will experience everything you will. I will see parts of you you've kept hidden from the world, from your best friends, even from yourself. I may see sides of you that might make it hard to trust you in the future. While I know that everyone has a dark side, and the mirror exaggerates it, that doesn't make experiencing it firsthand any less intense."
"Then why did you offer?" he asked.
"Because I L- Because I care about you, and about the team. Things are changing. They have been for some time, but we've not changed with them. Jump City's crime rate is the lowest it's ever been. Most of our old enemies have quit or moved on. There's less and less room for us here. We need to change. I… I don't want the team to break up, but I have a sense that that's where we're headed."
Words spilled out like water from a downspout.
"I think you need this. I think you need this to understand where you need to go, with or without the team. I hope it's with, but…"
Raven's throat closed. The words were becoming too emotional. She closed her eyes.
"This team is my family; the only one I've ever known. I want my family to stay together, but not if it means we can't grow, can't change; and if you can't change, you can't live."
Raven gave a start as she felt arms around her.
She opened her eyes, and found herself staring into his. That moment she decided she could happily do that for the rest of her life.
Her foolishness dawned on her, and she looked away, blushing.
"I promise you will never be left alone," Robin said.
"Don't make promises like that, Robin," Raven warned. "You can't control everything, and fate always seems to conspire in making people break them."
"I don't believe in fate."
"I'm not sure if I do or not," she said. "I suppose it doesn't really matter. Let's go before I lose my nerve."
Robin released her and stepped back. Raven immediately regretted the loss of contact.
"What do I do?"
"First, stand still and close your eyes," she answered. "I have to key the mirror to you."
Robin closed his eyes, and relaxed his body.
"Azerath, Metrion, Zinthos…"
Raven focused her energies. She closed her eyes and saw with her Othersense. There on one side was Robin, and on the other the mirror. She reached out with her magic, and linked the two energies together. The chant was mostly just a way to focus. It was a lens which helped intensify and direct the her own energies as well as those around her.
"… Azerath, Metrion Zinthos!"
It was done.
Raven opened her eyes to see Robin looking at her.
"What do I do?" he asked.
"Simply walk into the mirror. I'll be right behind you."
"We won't get separated?"
"Once inside, the whole world of the mirror will be focused around you. Wherever you are, there I will be."
Robin nodded. Without further prompting, he strode to the mirror. There was only slight hesitation before he casually stepped through the glassy surface.
Raven chased after him.
The sensation of falling used to be disorientating, but years of using the mirror mad it almost pleasant. She readied herself for her landing. It was never too jarring, but one had to be ready.
Raven's mirror world was a forest, created from her memories of sneaking away to play when she was younger. The world of Robin's mind reflected his own experiences. His world was a massive city, and they had landed on a rooftop. There in front of them was Slade.
"You shouldn't have come here," the impossibly tall masked figure said in his deep, even voice.
Raven watched Robin's body tense, ready for action.
"Slade. What're you doing here?" he asked.
"I have always been here, Robin; watching, waiting, guiding my apprentice."
"You psycho, I'm gonna…" Robin seethed.
He dropped into a combat stance, mirrored by his imposing foe.
The figures froze.
"Raven, what're you-"
"This is your mind, Robin. Slade can't be here, only you and I."
"But if we got here, couldn't Slade? I mean…"
"Robin STOP. You and I are the only real people here. The mirror isn't a weapon. You can't force it on someone. This Slade is something from your mind, a memory, and fear, an aspect of your personality. Don't let it have power over you."
Slowly, cautiously, as though expecting an attack at any time, Robin left his combat stance, standing up straight.
"What do I do?" he asked.
"Well, you can try to ignore it, or you can own it."
"It is a part of you made manifest. Face it. Accept that it is you. Name it if you can. You must understand that you have many sides, some of which you aren't going to like."
Robin faced the image of Slade, who was still tensed for combat, muscles flexing, his single visible eye staring out from his mask.
"This is me?" Robin asked no one in particular. "If you're me, what would you be? Control? Drive?"
The figure straightened, and Raven noticed it was now the same height as Robin. It took of its mask, and revealed Robin's face behind it.
"I prefer Obsession," it said with Robin's voice.
With an echoing laugh, the figure faded from existence. Before it disappeared completely, its final words sounded:
"I'll see you around."
The words hung in the air, backed by the fading laughter.
"Will they all be like this?" Robin asked.
"This one was easy," Raven cautioned. "The things you hide will most likely be disguised. They will try to sidetrack you. The emotions you are open with will also be in the open, but can also sidetrack you if you aren't careful."
Raven walked around to place herself in front of Robin. As his eyes focused on her, she felt herself shiver.
"Robin, I'm going to tell you something that you will have a hard time accepting. It took me a long time to really understand this."
Robin waited expectantly.
"Your emotions, even the dark ones you try to hide, are not bad. They aren't evil. At the same time, the 'good' emotions aren't really good. They simply are. What is good or bad is how you handle them."
"I think I understand," Robin said.
"It's OK if you don't. I told you; it took me a long time, and I've been doing this much longer than you. We'd better get moving. We don't want to take all night."
"Which way?" Robin asked.
"You tell me. It's your mind. Which way to the center of the city?"
Robin looked around, almost as though he were sniffing the air.
"That way." he pointed.
"I'll be right behind you."
With a nod, Robin ran to the edge of the roof and leapt off into the night.
The city was perfectly suited to Robin. The buildings, realistic or not, were perfectly spaced, with staggered heights, to make the leaps from roof to roof look effortless and smooth. Occasionally Robin would have to scale a building to recover some height, but it was as clean and slick as watching skilled Parkour. Raven flew behind him, following far enough back to give him space to maneuver, and allowing Raven to admire his athletics.
There wasn't a pause or any indication of hesitation when Robin's path abruptly shifted. Curious, Raven sped to catch up with the Titan leader.
Then she heard it.
There was sobbing.
She struggled to follow Robin, who was speeding toward a nearby alley.
He stopped so suddenly she almost crashed into his back.
She looked around him to see what had halted him.
There, in a fenced-in section of alleyway, was Robin…
"Glad you could make it!" the other Robin said smoothly.
"Please, you have to help me! Don't let him-" the other Raven began.
"Quiet, you!" the other Robin said, sending that Raven reeling with the back of his hand.
"Hey!" her Robin barked. "Don't!"
He threw himself against the fence angrily.
"You've already got one. This one's mine."
As he spoke, the grabbed Other-Raven by the hair with one hand, and with the other tore the front of her outfit, baring her ample chest.
If you don't want that one, I've got one I'm done with."
He gestured to a previously unlit corner of the alley. Light rose just enough to display a battered, naked, and bound Starfire. Her face was filthy and streaked with tears.
The real Robin snarled and threw himself again at the fence. Finding it unyielding, he began to scale it, searching desperately for entry.
Meanwhile, Other-Robin finished his job on Other-Raven's outfit. Satisfied she was bare and sufficiently cowed, he reached for his belt, and...
Raven turned away. She had to center herself, and quickly.
She heard Other-Raven start to whimper.
The whimpers were turning into sobs.
The sobs were now being interspersed with moans.
Raven turned back to the awful scene. It was no less horrifying, but she could now watch without being sick, though she would definitely have to meditate on this later.
As she viewed the molestation with a dispassionate eye, things made much more sense. Horrific sense, yes, but the logic was irrefutable.
"Robin!" she called.
Robin was frantically trying to gain entrance to the alley.
"ROBIN!" she yelled.
"Not now!" he roared.
"Robin, STOP. Come down."
"what?!" he cried. "How can you-"
"This isn't real, remember? This is all in your mind. What's more, this is a diversion."
"But..." he protested.
"NOT REAL! It's not me. I'm right here. We came here for a reason, remember? Focus on the mission."
Reluctantly, Robin jumped down to where Raven was standing.
"I just don't feel right leaving you like that," he said gesturing, and carefully avoiding looking at the continuing abuse.
"I'm right here, and I'm fine. That's literally all in your head."
"B... But how... How... I mean I would never..." Robin sputtered.
"Of course you wouldn't. This is all your worst aspects twisted, and taken to a logical extreme. This isn't reality. I mean, really; my breasts aren't nearly that big."
"How can you joke about that?! I mean, I'm raping you!"
She really wished he hadn't said the 'R' word. She was having enough trouble keeping her focus as it was.
"Robin, I need you to focus on the mission. Let's go."
Robin seemed frozen in place. Raven grabbed his hand and pulled him away slowly. Once there was some distance between them and the alley, Robin seemed to relax a bit, and move of his own accord. He shook his head, trying to clear it.
"Seriously, Raven," he said, " I don't know how you could joke about that."
"Finding inconsistencies and inaccuracies can sometimes help you separate yourself from the experience, and remind you it's not real" she answered.
"Robin, you have seen the best and worst sides of humanity. You can recognize how people can crack under pressure, and how they are likely to react. You also recognize the weaknesses and flaws in normal humans. Recognize those same flaws in yourself."
Robin was silent.
"You just saw yourself doing something horrible; something depraved. I understand. But realize that unlike most people, you actually have an outlet for your negative emotions. You work out your Anger, your Darkness, by beating up bad guys, and helping people. Can you imagine how much worse it could be if you didn't have that outlet? How much worse would your average repressed accountant, lawyer, engineer, or, gods help us, soccer mom be?"
Raven paused to look at Robin.
"I guess I'm not being very comforting. All I'm trying to say is that all this means is that you're human."
Robin's eyes still showed uncertainty, but his mouth was set, and nodded resolutely.
The color drained from Robin's face, and his eyes went wide. Fear began rolling off of him in waves.
"So sweet. HehehehahahaHAHAHAHAHAHA!"
Raven turned toward the sound to see the new arrival.
Her blood ran cold.
One had to be living in a fallout shelter for the last decade to not recognize the figure before them. Tall, confident, and radiating malevolence, The Joker strolled nonchalantly toward them.
Raven's brow knit with concentration.
It was The Joker, that much was obvious, but the face... Raven couldn't describe the face. It was like it was blurry, and only inferring detail. Try though she might, all she came away with was the impression of a grin, of scarring, of white. Any true detail escaped her.
It was strange. Robin knew The Joker; had seen him in person, and knew what he looked like.
But this wasn't the place of what he knew, Raven realized. This was the place of what he felt... and what he felt was fear.
"Robin, it can't hurt you unless you let it. We're almost to the city center. Name it and own it, or ignore it. Either way let's go. It's just a distraction."
Robin was rigid with tension and fear.
"I thought you said emotions weren't bad," he said through clenched teeth.
"They're not, but right now they're distracting you. We need to keep moving."
"Why are they showing me this? Why are they throwing all this shit in my face?" he pleaded.
"Short answer is they want attention."
That was enough to break Robin's rapt attention from the giggling figure, if only for a moment.
"Emotions are for experiencing. The more you repress them, the more they struggle to be free. Trust me on this one," she added wryly. "So, since we're here, which emotion is this?"
"Fear." Robin said at once.
"I don't know about you, Robin, but I don't think he's feeling any fear."
"Well I sure as hell am," Robin retorted.
"He is supposed to be an aspect of you. Unless he's your ability to inspire fear, which I think is a little too abstract, I don't think he has anything to do with fear."
"Well fear is all I can think of right now!" he snapped.
It appeared time for more direct intervention. Raven's ability to affect this world was diminished, since it was not her mind, but that did not leave her powerless.
She placed her hand on Robin's back, and allowed her Empathy do do its work, calming him and clearing emotional distractions from him.
She both felt and sensed Robin relax.
"You are Contempt." he said with certainty. "One of the disturbing things about The Joker is his contempt for everything. He will step on an ant and murder a family with equal disregard, as though they are equally irrelevant."
Immediately the figure's face solidified. Though the skin was still white, the face was clearly Robin's, and the grin was now a sneer.
The figure snorted.
"Getting help like that is cheating," Contempt said, "though I don't know why I expected better of you."
The real Robin turned to Raven, his face showing surprise.
"That's why I had to be here," Raven said, preempting Robin's words. "Empath, remember? It works both ways. Sense and, to some extent, control. Questions later. We're almost there."
The titans hurried through an alley, turned, and found themselves in a city square outside what looked like a City Hall or County Courthouse. Raven looked across the empty square. It was quiet, lonely, and more than a little unsettling. It reminded her of a most-apocalyptic movie showing a once bustling city devoid of humans.
Robin, however, was serene. This was his center; where he was relaxed, where he was at home.
"OK, we're here. Now what?"
"Call them." Raven answered.
"However you think appropriate. I summon them by focusing my-"
Her description was interrupted by Robin putting fingers in his mouth and letting out a piercing whistle.
Raven gave a start.
"Not my prefered method," she cracked.
Raven's prefered method or not, it worked. Robins of all colored masks descended on the two Titans, leaping down from rooftops, and swinging down on lines. Several even popped up out of manholes. Soon the square was filled with Robins of all shapes and colors. The only thing that bound them together was that no matter the shape, they were all unmistakably Robin.
"They're here. Now what?"
"Ask questions. CAREFULLY," she added hastily. "They only know what you know, and they answer according to their nature, so asking 'what should I do' is not going to help. You'll get a thousand different answers from 'kill him' to 'have sex with him, her, or it'. Ask questions that help you understand what you really want or need."
"what do I want?"
A cacophony answered him from every side.
"money sex a puppy justice vengeance wings! murder tacos justice one of those JUSTICE fruity drinks with the JUSTICE little paper umbrellas JUSTICE dude, screw that, be a man and JUSTICE have a beer respect JUSTICE JUSTICE no puppy? JUSTICE control JUSTICE! JUSTICE! JUSTICE!"
The cry resonated in the square for some time before tapering off into silence.
The word was spoken quietly, but it was clear, and it hung in the air. Robin stiffened as if slapped.
He stood there, either stunned or furiously thinking, before asking another question.
"What do I need?"
"MONEY sex justice vengeance..."
The cacophony died out before it really began.
"To grow. To know my(our)self. To push our limits. To prove we are worthy."
The words were calm. Metered. Introspective.
Richard's face betrayed nothing.
"Who am I?"
"BATBOY! Robin Richard One of the Flying Graysons DEATHWING! I'm afraid of being alone. I NEED to be alone! I'm afraid of ending up like my parents. I'm afraid of letting down Bruce.
"Who AM I?" he shouted over the noise.
The answers died. Silence remained.
"WHO AM I?"
The silence grew oppressive.
"We... we don't know yet."
Richard's mouth worked as though we was trying to form words, but no sound came. Eventually he gave up, and his head dropped, though whether in defeat or contemplation Raven couldn't tell.
She stood there, silently watching him. The cold analytical side of her whispered that he needed time to sort out his feelings, to decide what it all meant. The warm side of her, newly born from Raven and Richard's... whatever it was, longed to comfort the brooding figure.
Eventually the coldness won out. It represented the path of least resistance, and the coldness was a familiar companion. The warmth... it was too new, too strange, too frightening.
When Richard's eyes finally cleared, and his head rose, he turned to Raven, but his eyes looked through her.
"I've seen enough," was all he would say.
Wordlessly Raven offered him a hand. In a similar fashion he took it. His hand radiated no warmth either of emotion or temperature.
Raven summoned her power and drew them out of the mirror. Once back in her room Richard was no more communicative. The faraway look remained in his eyes. He walked to the door, only pausing for a moment before leaving, not even turning or acknowledging Raven.
"Assemble the team,"
-To Be Continued