At long last, an update! I apologize for such a delay since the last chapter. My laptop crashed with the chapter on it, so I had to put off working on it for a few weeks. When I finally got it back, I began to second-guess everything I was writing, worrying it was not a strong enough pay-off for what I've written so far and I really wanted it to be worth the wait for all of you wonderful, amazing, patient readers. Hopefully what I've come up with worked and you all will enjoy this chapter. Thank you so much for bearing with me during this delay! I really appreciate the comments people have shared throughout this story and the urges for updates people sent since chapter 9. Enjoy!
Is my brain reborn or is it wrecked,
In freedom or in fear?
Wish I were here.
Have I blown my mind forever?
Is cloudy my new clear?
Wish I were here.
-"Wish I Were Here", Next to Normal
Focus was impossible. Coherent thought barely more achievable. Everything was a cacophonous miasma of raw, undiluted emotion. Sensation without voice. Entropy without a semblance of structure to grab onto. The asylum doors had been torn down and the inmates were on a rampage.
Somewhere in this tempest was the core consciousness that knew itself as Raven. What 'Raven' was depended on what she achieved next. Thus far, though, that didn't look promising.
You can do this, the disembodied consciousness told itself as it struggled with the forces around it. You are stronger than your emotions. They do not rule you. Just bring them all together under your command. You've done this before…
Finding a level of calm, Raven focused her energy, drawing emotions toward herself one at a time. She felt two merge successfully, counterbalancing each other equally. She introduced a third, straining to concentrate as the others pounded against her. To relieve the distraction, she allowed a fourth to join the blend. However, the one she had seized out of desperation did not fit the balance she was creating and it disrupted the fragile hold she had over them.
No! She felt the emotions slide back out of her grip as if she had tried to pick up water with splayed fingers. She mentally roared in frustration, but that only fed the emotion around her. The angry energy became more turbulent, upsetting the swirling emotions and starting to draw pieces of her consciousness away into it.
Raven fought against the temptation to indulge in the release of rage. She had to center herself again. But it was becoming increasingly difficult as each failure mired fear and despair deeper in her soul.
What if she didn't succeed? How long would her body last without her consciousness if she couldn't make this work? Would it starve to death or would some fractured, demented version of her mind seize control before that could happen? The demon was dispersed, but that didn't guarantee that whatever survived this process was going to come out whole and normal. She had warned the others that insanity was a possible outcome, but the ramifications of that hit her anew. After all their help getting her this far, were her friends going to have to arrange for her to be committed or destroyed because she couldn't finish her part of the job? How could she put them through that?
Anguish joined the howling whirlpool around her, making thought even more difficult. Panic was beginning to whip everything to an even faster pace. Raven felt her consciousness being consumed, pieces shredding off as the emotions overwhelmed her.
I'm such a fool! How did I think I could take on all of my emotions at once? I'm not strong enough... I'm failing… Oh Azar, I'm going to die!
Raven started, opening her eyes and uncurling from her agonized rictus. Somehow she was in a construct of her physical body again, the raging tempest less pressing. Rather than being torn apart, she seemed to be in an eye of the storm, the emotions writhing around her now a short distance away.
She realized she wasn't alone in the bubble of tranquility. Across from her floated a radiant figure, seeming to emanate her own brilliant white light. Raven felt shock and warmth rise in the storm.
"Azar," she breathed, this time an acknowledgment instead of a prayer.
The other woman smiled, that same peaceful expression Raven remembered comforting her during childhood. "Yes. I am here to help you."
"But…you're dead," Raven said, memories becoming easier to access as her mind cleared. The little bit of distance from her emotions made a world of difference. "Is it really you or did my mind conjure up a hallucination to cope with my panic?"
"I am uncertain how to convince you either way," Azar said, voice even and calm. "But it hardly matters. I know you will heed my words regardless."
Gratitude swelled in Raven, but it made the storm pound harder against whatever barrier surrounded them. "I really need your guidance now, Azar," she pleaded.
Azar sighed, her smile turning sad. "Raven, you have not needed my guidance for years." She continued before Raven could protest. "From the moment you left Azarath, you took your life into your own hands. You chose to defy your destiny and stand up to your father. You gave up Azarath's belief in nonviolence and joined a team of crime fighters. And now you have decided to try to embrace the emotions you were trained to deny."
Shame trickled through the storm and Raven bowed her head. "I know. I'm sorry, Azar. You gave me every chance, but I didn't live up to your expectations."
Hands gripped her upper arms firmly, but warmly, bringing her eyes back up to meet Azar's. "You exceeded my expectations for you. Raven, this universe lives because of the choices you made. Where we accepted defeat, you faced Trigon's evil and changed the future. And now you must make another choice and decide what that future will be for you now."
"I tried!" Frustration surged back. "I can't make it work!"
"You have to," Azar said in that same non-negotiable tone that had kept the younger Raven on task throughout her training. "You are beyond my teachings now. No one can give you answers because no one has been in your situation. All I can do is all I have ever done: offer you a calm center so your mind is able to think."
Raven considered her words, fear trembling beneath the thrum of energy. "But how do I know what's the right choice?" she asked softly.
"You cannot know until after you have made it. I am still not certain I made the right choice for you as a child, but I had to make one and we dealt with the consequences as they arose. And as you see, if your choice does not turn out to be correct, you can always modify it as you continue learning. But you must make a choice, Raven."
Raven clenched her phantom fists, trying to steady her mind. "I want to make this work. I will not let myself go insane. I can't let my friends down. But after all this, I'm not sure I can control my emotions anymore, no matter what form they're in."
"Then perhaps it is time to stop controlling your emotions and start controlling your powers," Azar said.
Raven looked up, brow furrowing. "What does that mean? How do I do that?"
When Azar didn't answer, Raven sighed. "Right, figure it out for myself." She took a deep breath, mostly out of habit since her current body was imaginary, and tried to organize her thoughts. "Okay, before things got this bad, the only technique that was sort of working was Lilith's idea."
"What did you like about that?" Azar prompted gently.
"We started with weaker positive emotions and worked up to stronger, darker ones. It should have built a foundation of positivity so I could maintain a peaceful center before confronting the more…difficult ones. But the demon interfered. I couldn't handle all of them at once." Fear sent a cascade of ripples through the energy around them.
Azar squeezed Raven's arms, both to soothe her and to refocus her attention. "If you would like to try that, I can continue to hold your emotions back and let you bring them into our surroundings gradually, at your own command."
Raven managed a small smile, gripping Azar's arm in return. "Thank you. I would be very grateful."
Allowing her familiar studiousness to settle over her, Raven closed her eyes and drew on her memories of those days in the temple on Azarath. That long-ingrained sense of stillness and structure flowed back into her mind, steadying her. She reached out from that memory and tried to recreate how she had felt in the safe room as Lilith coached her, what felt like a lifetime ago.
"Okay. It started with love."
"The best things always do."
Time passed and slowly the swirling energy began to coalesce, flowing inward toward the calm eye at the center. There, as had happened in the earliest days of the universe, the core gradually and quietly built a world around herself.
Robin was very much looking forward to having one day where everyone he loved was safe and healthy. The past week had been extremely stressful for all of them and it didn't look like it was going to let up soon.
After concluding that they had no choice but to wait out the rest of Raven's mental battle, the team had moved her to the infirmary so they could at least try to monitor her progress. Starfire had been a bit upset to see Raven lying flat on the medical bed instead of hovering above it, but Cyborg assured her that it was because physically Raven was fine and didn't need healing. Knowing that helped, but it never got easier seeing one of their family there, the sound of the monitors and the movement of their breathing the only proof of life.
Sleep had been hard to come by that night. Robin and Starfire had tried to comfort each other, but as they were both unsettled themselves, the words felt trite and the gestures lacking. The Scare in the middle of the night didn't help either, but at least the adrenaline rush it caused left them both so exhausted afterward that when they returned to his room, they simply collapsed on the bed. Sleep had finally found them wrapped tightly in each other's arms, assured that at least nothing would take either one of them away during the night.
The next day passed intolerably slowly. With nothing to be done, each member of the team tried to find ways to distract themselves from the fears that lurked in their minds, ready to consume their thoughts. Starfire and Lilith traded stories of Tamaran and Themyscira. Cyborg and Beast Boy tried to play video games, but the slightest beep from Cyborg's wrist display had them both jumping and Cyborg frequently had to go back to the medical bay to check the readouts or change the IV of nutrients keeping Raven's body strong while her mind did what it had to do. Beast Boy trailed after Cyborg each time, even though there was little he could do but watch and ask questions.
Robin had spent the bulk of the day in the gym, running through every training routine he could think of. He hated being useless when one of their team was in trouble. Part of why the boy named Dick Grayson had relished becoming Robin was that it meant he didn't have to be helpless in the face of danger anymore. But there were things even his wide range of skills could not assist in, and Raven's internal battle was one of them. He had faith in her to succeed, of course, but it didn't make sitting on the sidelines any easier.
It was a relief when the alarm signaled during dinner. At least in the rest of the city there were still problems he could fix by battling, defeating, and arresting straight-forward villains, and a good fight would burn off his nervous energy much faster than any regimen in the gym.
Since it was just Control Freak, they decided Robin, Starfire, and Lilith could handle it while Cyborg and Beast Boy stayed to keep an eye on Raven. If anything happened, Beast Boy could get to the crime scene quickly, whether to help with the battle or to update them if there was an emergency.
The fight was relatively uneventful, but it was still well after dark when the weary Titans returned. Robin finished washing up faster than the girls, so he headed down to the infirmary to check on Raven. Cyborg or Beast Boy would have told him if anything had happened, of course, but he still wanted to see how things were going for himself.
He wasn't surprised to see Cyborg still seated at the control panel monitoring her readouts when he got there.
"How'd the alert go?" Cyborg asked softly. Even though they knew Raven was unconscious, not sleeping, they still found themselves talking quietly while near her bed.
"Not bad." Robin walked in, joining the other man by the computers. "Control Freak took over the Jumbotron at the stadium during a game. Unfortunately for him, it's not connected to a cable or satellite signal, so the only things he could bring to life were football players from instant replays and that animated hotdog they show during breaks in the action. He did try to turn the virtual players on us."
Cyborg arched his eyebrow incredulously. "That AV geek tried to give orders to a bunch of football players?"
"Yeah," Robin leaned against a cabinet. "It went about as well as you'd expect. By the time we'd taken care of the giant hotdog, the players had him contained in a locker for us."
"Huh," Cyborg laughed slightly. "Normally I'd be disappointed to see the jock stereotype being perpetuated, but in this case, go team. So if you were done that quickly, what took you so long getting back?"
"Well, when we tried to make Control Freak send all his creations back into the Jumbotron, the fans got kind of upset. Turns out they actually wanted us to keep all the extra players around and let them play. Made for a pretty interesting game."
"Man! I would have liked to see that," Cyborg said, shaking his head.
"I'm sure the sports channel will be re-airing that one for a long time to come." Robin turned toward Raven. "So, how's she—Whoa."
He stared. Although she hadn't moved since he had last seen her, some significant changes had taken place. Raven's hair extended down past her shoulders, pooling around her head like a violet pillowcase. Her cloak had been removed and draped over a chair nearby when they brought her in, but her leotard and boots were now bright, pristine white.
"Yeah, she was like that when I came in to check on her." Cyborg jerked his head in the direction of her bed. "So was he."
Robin frowned, confused, then walked closer to Raven. Looking over her body, he saw that her left hand was draped across the back of a large, green monitor lizard that stretched against her side, sleeping quietly. The scene made the edge of Robin's mouth quirk up slightly.
The reptile must have sensed him watching because its head shifted, one green eye opening. As it focused on him, the eye widened in a very human gesture and the lizard scrambled quickly off the bed, rising on the other side in a more familiar form.
Beast Boy rubbed the back of his neck, grinning nervously. "Oh, hey, Robin. I, uh, heard that having pets around helps people in hospitals recover quicker, so I figured it was worth a shot. I tried being a cat first, then a dog, but then I thought, it's Raven, so maybe cute and fuzzy wasn't really her thing…"
"That's good thinking, Beast Boy," Robin said to relieve Beast Boy of his rambling.
Beast Boy seemed to relax a bit, shrugging slightly. "Don't know if it made any difference." He looked down at Raven and his eyes widened. "Dude! How long was I asleep?"
"Not that long," Cyborg replied, scanning through Raven's sensor readings. "I think her magic caused those changes, like when she took down Trigon. I'm choosing to take that as a good sign since I don't know what to make of these other readings."
"What do you mean?" Robin asked, coming back to look over his shoulder.
"Well, Raven's mental signature has always been a bit different from most people's. Normally her neural energy's really even and regular, unnaturally constant honestly, which makes sense considering how her mind worked. Well, here's what it looked like when we hooked the monitors up yesterday." He scrolled the readings back to the beginning, pointing out the line graph that showed her mental activity over time.
"See how it was all over the board?" Cyborg explained, tracing the jagged line with his finger. "Again, makes sense given that she just blew up her internal universe. Things should be pretty chaotic in there. But it keeps escalating, getting busier and busier until, well, the scare she gave us last night."
Robin's jaw tightened as Cyborg's finger followed the sharp decline on the screen. They had been hovering near the edge of sleep when the medical alarm went off, indicating one of Raven's vitals had dropped to a dangerous range. Robin and Starfire had scrambled out of bed, dread spurring them on so much that Starfire picked him up so she could fly faster to the infirmary. When they arrived, Cyborg was already at the computers, determining the cause of the alarm. Beast Boy was perched on the side the bed in monkey form, eyes darting back and forth between Raven and Cyborg.
Apparently her brain activity had skyrocketed past critical levels and then suddenly plummeted to almost nothing. Cyborg had gone into a frenzy of typing, trying to figure out if she had had an aneurysm or stroke while Lilith moved to the side of the bed to probe Raven's mind herself. They could find no physical damage to her brain; it just was suddenly functioning at minimal levels. Which was no relief because it meant there was nothing medically they could do to help.
Lilith had leaned over Raven for a long time, hands splayed on either side of her head to strengthen the connection, but found no better news. No matter how much she searched, all she could feel was scrambled emotion. There was no trace of Raven's conscious mind anywhere that Lilith's powers could locate.
For a horrible few minutes, they thought it was over. Her plan hadn't worked. The center hadn't been able to hold and things had fallen apart. Even if she ever woke up again, the Raven they knew was gone.
Robin had held Starfire close as she cried, staring at Raven's body in stunned guilt that, despite everything they had done, he had once again been unable to save her. Lilith stepped back to allow the team their space, but her eyes looked wet too. Beast Boy, back in his human form, had protested in heartbroken denial, then sat on the bed beside her, holding her hand and watching her face with a devastated expression.
Cyborg had been silent and still for a long moment after Lilith's pronouncement, looking more statue than man as he gazed hollowly at their lost teammate. But as he turned away from her, he suddenly exploded into a violent outburst, overturning a table of supplies and punching a dent into the wall. He was about to take a swipe at the computer itself when he froze, staring at the display.
Raven's neural activity was increasing. Very slowly, and barely noticeably, but it was definitely going up. And it was becoming more stable.
Lilith had immediately gone to confirm Cyborg's elated explanation and although she still couldn't definitively pick out Raven's conscious mind, she could sense the ripples of some kind of change happening in her head.
"But her activity's still going up, right?" Beast Boy asked, back in the present.
"Yeah, it's a pretty clear upward curve from then on," Cyborg assured him, indicating the promising curve on the screen. "A few little spikes here and there, but it always goes back to a steady increase. She's getting pretty close to being back in her normal ranges again."
"That's great!" Robin grinned.
"Well, that's what I'm not sure about," Cyborg said, holding up a warning hand. "I mean, the point of this whole adventure was to try to change how her mind's set up, so shouldn't it end up looking different than it did before? So, the question is, is she getting better or is she getting worse?"
"That is what we had hoped to ask you," Starfire said as she and Lilith entered the room.
"Hey," Cyborg greeted them with a wave. "Well, Raven's brain's definitely getting busier. We just need to figure out if that's a good thing or bad thing. Lilith, you mind taking a peek to get a better idea?"
"Yeah, no problem," she said, turning toward the bed. She stopped suddenly, startled. "What the—?"
Beast Boy realized she was seeing Raven's altered look for the first time. "Oh yeah, she did that while you guys were gone."
"Is that normal for her?" Lilith asked, forehead wrinkling.
"Not common, but it's happened before," Cyborg said, leaning back in his chair. "Both times I've seen her look like that was when she defeated some version of Trigon, so it's probably a good sign."
Starfire opened her mouth, but quickly closed it again without saying anything. The troubled look on her face didn't slip past Robin, though.
"Star, what's wrong?"
She shook her head firmly. "Nothing. I will not say anything negative in the presence of an ailing friend."
"If it helps us understand what's going on, we should probably hear it," he persisted, not just for any clues it might hold, but to give himself a better idea of how to ease her mind.
Starfire sighed, wrapping her arms around herself. "When I was thrown into our future and I saw all of our older selves, Raven was wearing white then as well."
"And you said when you saw her there she was completely insane, right?" Robin said, understanding.
"That is why I did not wish to bring it up," Starfire lamented. "This is a room of healing. We should be thinking positive things to help speed Raven's recovery."
"Well, let me take a look and we can find out one way or the other," Lilith said, heading for the bed. She paused on the way, her head turning slightly as if she was walking into wind. "Well, her aura's definitely stronger again." She looked back toward her goal and stopped, eyes focusing on something invisible to Robin. "Cyborg?"
"I see it," he answered gruffly, leaning forward in his chair as he watched Raven's readings. "Her mental activity's going crazy again." He cursed, standing up. "Lilith, you should probably get back. You too, B."
"Yeah, thinking that's a good idea," she agreed, retreating to where the others were standing.
"What's happening?" Beast Boy asked worriedly as he reluctantly joined the rest of the team.
"Raven's brain activity's increasing fast," Cyborg explained, calling up her other health measurements. "Heart rate and respiration are up too."
Robin looked back at Raven and saw that she was breathing heavily now, like someone having a nightmare. He was about to ask for more information about what was going on when Raven's back arched off the bed and his vision was blasted with intense white light.
He shielded his eyes, which were streaming tears as if he had looked at the sun, and waited for the glare to die down. The afterimage seared into his retinas, though, showed a great bird-shape rising out of Raven's body.
The intensity of the light became less painful and he risked opening his eyes in time to see what looked like white flames being pulled back down into Raven. As the last of the energy disappeared into her, Raven collapsed back on the bed, her chest heaving, blazing white eyes staring unseeingly at the ceiling.
Everyone was silent a moment, waiting to see what would happen. When nothing changed, Beast Boy called out hesitantly.
She blinked once, then a few more times, her eyes fading back to violet before she squeezed them shut with a low, raspy moan. Shakily, she raised her hands and rested the heels of her palms against her forehead, blocking her eyes from the room.
"Raven, how are you doing?" Robin asked cautiously. After waiting anxiously for her to wake up, he now found himself more nervous than relieved.
"I feel like my head exploded and had to be sewn back together," she groaned, voice slightly slurred as if she were still half-asleep.
"Want me to get you something for the pain?" Cyborg asked, opening a drawer to find a syringe.
"No, it doesn't hurt," Raven said. She still pressed her hands against her forehead, but her breathing had slowed back to normal. "Everything is just…loud and immediate." She took a deep breath. "I'll get used to it."
"So, it worked, then?" Lilith asked, stepping forward curiously. "You successfully integrated your emotions?"
"I think only time will tell how 'successful' it is, but yes, they're definitely much more present now," Raven agreed. She briefly squinted one eye open "Want to take a look?"
Lilith hesitated. "You're okay with that?"
"I offered, didn't I?" Raven said, a bit shortly.
As Lilith moved closer, Robin's hand caught her arm. "Uh, don't take this wrong, but after everything, well…Are you sure this is safe?" He looked back at the girl on the bed. "You are Raven we're talking to, not…"
"The demon?" She raised one hand to look at him with a wry expression. "No such thing anymore. I'm just me now, whatever that means. And the way I feel, I'm pretty sure Lilith could take me out if she had to."
"It's okay, Robin," Lilith said as she moved to the side of the bed. Sitting down beside Raven, she reached over and touched her fingertips to the wedge of forehead visible between Raven's palms. Her brows narrowed together as she focused, then one arched. "Like what you've done with the place."
"Thanks. You wouldn't believe what it took," Raven said dryly, eyes closed again.
"No, I can tell," Lilith said with a slight smile. "Everything's much freer, more abstract. It's chaotic, disjointed, and just a few steps shy of a total mess." She sat back and grinned down at Raven. "In short, it's pretty human."
"In this case, I'll take that as a compliment." Raven sighed, letting her left arm rest back on the mattress as she rubbed her forehead with her right hand.
"It was one. Did I sense a few walls in there still?" Lilith asked, frowning slightly.
"You did." Raven opened both eyes now, looking up at Lilith seriously. "I was able to merge my emotions and conscious mind in a pretty stable way, but that doesn't mean I'm ready to give them free rein yet. This is still a work in progress and until I'm sure I won't blow something up or kill anybody, I need to be able to put things away if they get to be too much."
"Fair enough. Atlantis wasn't built in a day." Lilith stood up, crossing her arms with a satisfied expression. "Well, you definitely earned 'Most Improved' in my book."
"My proudest achievement," Raven grumbled, but the corners of her eyes tightened just slightly with an unexpressed smile.
"So it did work?" Robin asked, unconscionably relieved at how normal she sounded. "You're, well, cured?"
"I laid the foundation. I still have a lot of work ahead of me before I'd say everything's good, but it's better, yes," Raven said, scooting herself up into a sitting position. She made a slightly annoyed sound when she saw her white clothing and longer hair, but frowned most when she noticed the IV attached to her arm. "How long have I been out?"
"About a day and a half," Cyborg answered, flopping back into the chair by the computers again as everyone in the room began to relax.
Raven's eyebrows rose. "That's all? It felt longer."
"It was plenty long enough out here!" Beast Boy blurted, his nerves finally giving way now that things seemed less life-and-death. "We were worried sick the whole time!"
"Yeah, you cut it pretty close last night," Cyborg agreed, scrolling idly through her readings again, which were all coming up normal. "Thought we had lost you there at one point."
Raven's gaze focused inward, brow furrowing. "So did I. Sorry to scare you."
"As long as you are the okay now, that is all that matters," Starfire said, clearly wanting to hug her friend to confirm she was, in fact, 'the okay'. Instead she satisfied herself by putting an affectionate hand on Raven's foot as it was the only thing she could reach without pushing past the others.
Raven's eyes softened as she looked over at her teammates again, huddling in on herself a bit despite not wearing her cloak. "Still, I'm sorry. I know I've put you guys through a lot the past few days and you were there for me the whole time. I have no idea what I did to deserve it, but thank you. All of you."
Robin felt a smile spread across his face and knew the others were beaming the same way. "Anytime, Raven."
"Yeah, and don't claim you don't know why we'd be there for you," Cyborg insisted. "We were in your head, remember? You think we don't feel the same way about you?"
A blush started on Raven's cheeks, but was suddenly washed out by a white glow that radiated off her skin. She winced, one hand going to her chest and the other shooting out to generate a black wall of energy between them and her.
"I'm okay," she assured them quickly, the glow and barricade fading away. "Just lay off the touching, heart-warming stuff until I have better control, okay?"
"Your powers get triggered that easily?" Robin asked, curiosity warring with concern.
"Like I said, work in progress," Raven said, rubbing her forehead again. "But it's the path I chose." She huffed a slight laugh. "Guess I have to thank Azar for helping me through this too".
"Azar?" Lilith asked.
Raven rolled her eyes, looking a bit awkward at the admission. "When things got…out of control trying to integrate my emotions, my mind created a hallucination of Azar to talk me down. I'm not sure exactly how it worked, but she gave me enough distance from my emotions to get control back."
"What do you mean, 'gave you distance'?" Lilith asked, folding her arms thoughtfully.
Raven shrugged. "It felt like I all of my emotions were pushed away and my conscious mind was separate. I haven't really had enough time to think about how it happened, but it was kind of like stepping out of my own head for a minute."
Cyborg was sitting up and focusing on her now. "Out of your own…" He turned abruptly to the computer and started skimming through the information. "Rave, you have any sense of how long ago that happened?"
She cocked an eyebrow at him. "Not really. It felt like years. Why?"
"Is something else wrong now?" Starfire asked, sounding crushed. At this point, they had all had about enough emotional roller coaster rides and the idea of going on another one was exhausting. Robin slipped his hand into hers to offer some meager bit of comfort if some new tragedy was about to befall them after everything.
"Not wrong, just…" Cyborg muttered, frowning. "Before 'Azar' appeared, were things in there getting increasingly chaotic?"
"Yes." Raven's forehead creased. "I was getting stressed and it was feeding back into my emotions. I…panicked. I was going to lose it, but things calmed down after Azar appeared."
"Kind of like this?" Cyborg asked, turning the screen to face her. Robin leaned around Cyborg and recognized the graph of Raven's mental activity showing the sharp drop of The Scare from the previous night.
Raven stared, scooting to the edge of the bed to stand up and approach the screen. Although Robin and Beast Boy both instinctively reached out to support her, she walked without shakiness or weakness.
"What is that?" Raven asked, scrutinizing the graph.
"That's your mental activity from the first night you were out. I won't lie, we thought you were dying when you crashed like that. Even Lilith couldn't find you."
"It was as if your conscious mind had disappeared," Lilith explained, coming over to join them. "And maybe I wasn't wrong about that after all."
"You think her mind did leave somewhere?" Cyborg asked.
"Well, you already showed a lot of trans-dimensional abilities," Lilith said to Raven. "Maybe, in a moment of panic, you instinctively phased slightly out of our dimension in your head for some space."
"Is that possible?" Robin blinked, glancing at Raven.
"A lot's happened over the last few days that I wouldn't have originally thought was possible," Lilith pointed out. "I mean, it's that or Azar's spirit actually came in and pulled Raven out herself."
Beast Boy shrugged. "Weirder stuff's happened."
"Guess there's no way to know exactly, huh?" Cyborg said, then noticed Raven still analyzing the graph. "You okay, Rave?"
"Yeah. It's just weird seeing proof that it really happened," she said, tracing the sudden drop with her finger. "Can I look at all of your readings sometime? It might be useful in the future."
"Sure, no problem."
Raven leaned forward further to look at the line that represented her recovery and growled in frustration as her lengthened hair fell into her face. Without breaking her focus, she roughly gathered up the violet strands into a ponytail and a few quick slices of dark energy slashed through, cutting it off.
Beast Boy started to groan in disappointment, but stopped abruptly, silenced. They all watched, wide-eyed, as the separated strands of hair that Raven dropped sizzled into dark energy and disappeared before hitting the ground.
"Scans like this might actually be useful for my meditation," Raven continued as if nothing unusual had happened. "If I can actually see what's happening in my mind, maybe it will give me more clues as to how to deal with imbalances and emotional outbreaks." She leaned back against the bed, thoughtfully, and reached out toward a nearby counter. Dark energy extended from her hand, covering a glass of water and bringing it back to her.
She started taking a sip, then froze, eyes going wary. She looked at the glass, then over at her friends, who were watching uncertainly. "How did I just do that?" she asked.
"Uh, a black magic tentacle came out of your hand," Beast Boy answered, still gaping slightly.
She arched an eyebrow. "'Black magic tentacle'?"
"Actually, that's pretty accurate," Robin agreed, mind already whirring as he considered this new outcome of her transformation. "That wasn't intentional?"
"Not exactly." Raven looked over at the counter the glass had been sitting on. "I was thirsty. I thought it was closer…"
"Perhaps your powers obeyed your intentions without you needing to tell them to do so," Starfire suggested.
"But I have to focus to control the amount of energy released," Raven frowned. "I shouldn't have that kind of precision without paying attention."
"Well, you aren't especially emotional right now, so your powers probably don't have much oomph behind them," Lilith commented.
"But I've always needed to consciously direct my powers," Raven insisted. "They shouldn't self-activate when I'm not emotional, period."
"Like Star said, maybe they just respond to your intentions more now," Cyborg said. "Like with your hair."
"What?" Raven's brow creased and she reached up, feeling the ragged ends of her hair.
"You did know you were doing that, right?" Beast Boy asked, concern coloring his voice.
A bit of fear flickered in her eyes. "I wanted it out of my face. I wasn't paying attention…" She looked around the floor, her bafflement increasing as she found it clean.
"The hair disappeared after you cut it off," Starfire said. "Dark energy burned it into nothingness. That is actually a most convenient new ability. Perhaps you can use it next time I require a trimming of the hair."
Her attempt at lightening the mood did nothing to soothe Raven, though. Robin flinched slightly as dark energy began crackling around her, sending cracks and sparks through the monitoring equipment beside her bed.
"Rave, it's okay," Beast Boy said, reaching out to her.
"Stay back!" she warned, holding up a hand as she squeezed her eyes shut. "I'm sorry."
"Raven, stop!" Lilith said firmly.
"I'm trying to," Raven gritted.
"No, I mean stop trying to put your fear back behind that wall in your head." Lilith stepped a bit closer, voice authoritative. "The whole point of putting yourself through this was to be able to feel things, so feel this."
Raven's eyes snapped open, giving Lilith an incredulous look. "I'm destroying the monitors!"
"They're just things. They can be replaced," Lilith replied. Cyborg started to comment, but Robin elbowed him sternly.
"She has a point, Raven," he said carefully, hoping logic would focus her intellectual mind above the emotion. She may not have Wisdom as a personified ally anymore, but her essence was still part of Raven. "The last time you tried to repress your fear didn't turn out so well," he reminded her, thinking of the monsters she had unconsciously unleashed in the Tower years ago.
"And I know you have dealt with greater fears since then, though I shall not name them in case it scares you again," Starfire added.
But Raven was already shaking her head, the dark tempest surging as if reveling victoriously. "That was different. I had a filter then. I can't dull my emotions now."
"Then embrace them, Raven," Lilith persisted. "Good and bad, they're just emotions. You've got this."
"Not yet." Raven squeezed her eyes shut, focusing. "I'm not ready yet. I have to put it away."
Lilith scowled in frustration, then appeared to get an idea. She took Beast Boy's arm and pulled him forward, whispering something in his ear. His eyes took on a look of determination and he nodded.
"You sure you're up for this?" she asked.
"Hey, if it's a stupid, reckless plan, you came to just the right person," he grinned, cracking his knuckles. "Trust me; I've been practicing for this for years."
"B, what's she want you to do?" Cyborg asked, not sure which friend to be more worried about.
"Don't worry, we're just going to make a point," Lilith said calmly, standing back and crossing her arms.
Beast Boy was strolling forward, approaching the towering black force around Raven as if oblivious.
Raven seemed to sense his presence, her eyes opening and a fresh wave of fear stoking her powers. "Beast Boy, what are you doing?"
"Just coming over to see you, Rave."
"Are you insane?" she snapped, backing up. "This isn't the time for jokes. Get away!"
"Sorry, Raven, can't hear you over the storm," he said, all innocence as he kept walking closer.
Her back pressed against the wall; she had nowhere else to retreat. "Now you're just being stupid!" she growled, an edge of desperation making her voice rough. "Garfield! Don't!"
As he reached the edge of the shadows, her powers surged and she flinched away, unable to watch the effect.
"Raven, open your eyes," Lilith said quietly.
She reluctantly looked up, eyes dark with remorse, then stared. Beast Boy stood in front of her with an obnoxiously big, toothy smile, a sphere of white energy shielding him from the rest of her power.
The dark energy began to recede back toward her as confusion overtook fear as her primary emotion. "What…?"
"Your powers are responding to your subconscious intentions," Lilith smiled. "You didn't want to hurt him, so you didn't."
"Knew I could trust you, Rave," he grinned, making a slight ripple go through her aura of energy before it disappeared back into her.
"You knew my powers would protect him?" Raven asked, looking past him at Lilith.
"Well, actually I thought they'd shove him back across the room, but something in that vein, yes," Lilith agreed. "I guess this reaction makes more sense since it's basically what you did in the training room when the wall collapsed the other day. Anyway, I was confident enough to give it a shot.
"Now, I don't know if it will always work that way," she warned seriously. "I know at heart you don't want to hurt anybody, but if you do lose your temper, that impulse might be stronger than your usual morals. So probably best nobody tempts fate until we all have a better understanding of how things work now," she added to the rest of the team.
As one, they turned their gazes to Beast Boy.
"What?" he protested. "You think I'm that stupid?"
"Remember the time you thought the diagrams in Raven's antique book on alchemy would look better in color and when she found out I said 'If looks could kill…'?" Cyborg said. "Well, now hers can."
He grimaced. "Yeah, I guess I can be less…me for a while." He turned back to Raven with a sheepish grin to find her staring at her hands thoughtfully.
"It could work," she murmured.
"Raven?" he asked, becoming concerned again.
"The same emotion created two different types of energy, one destructive and one protective," she mused, eyes focused inward. "'Control your powers, not your emotions.'"
"What's that?" Robin asked, wondering what had caught her attention.
"Something Azar said in my mind," Raven answered, adjusting her stance more squarely as she raised her hands in front of herself, palms up. "I'm going to try something. Could everyone step as far back as possible, please?"
"What are you gonna do, Raven?" Beast Boy asked, not budging.
Her eyes rose now and locked onto his. "Please, go stand with the others. I don't know exactly what's going to happen when I try this."
He hesitated a moment longer, but something he saw in her eyes convinced him to obey without any further protest.
As they cleared room around her, Raven summoned an aura of dark energy around her hands, eyes locked on the sphere of darkness forming above her palms. "You said it yourselves the other day: my emotions and my powers are linked, but they are not the same thing. My emotions do feed my powers, but they can manifest in different ways. I was trained to release my powers in intentional, controlled shapes when I was in an emotionless state of mind. But if it's possible to shape my powers while experiencing an emotion, to choose how that emotion will affect them…"
She closed her eyes, drew a deep breath, and breathed it out slowly whispering, "Azarath, metrion, zinthos." The orb of energy in her hands suddenly blazed outward into a writhing mass of tendrils and flames. Robin felt his own subconscious instincts close his fingers around his retracted bo staff, but forced himself to wait and see what happened. His eyes flicked back and forth between the possible threat and Raven's face, watching for signs of trouble.
As the mass of energy grew bigger between Raven's splayed hands, her eyes opened again, opaque with white light. The now-familiar white aura rose around her body again, then began to flow down her arms to pool with the extension of her powers already there. The black mass twisted in response to this addition, the chaotic tendrils smoothing as eddies of brighter energy merged with it, though remaining separate swirls instead of a uniform gray.
The team took an involuntary step back in surprise as the blend of darkness and light suddenly stretched upward, taking on the familiar shape of a great bird, wings extended upward with a defiant air. Rather than launch itself upward aggressively, though, the black-and-white bird quietly folded its broad wings and settled calmly into Raven's hands, head angled toward her expectantly. The glow faded from her eyes and violet irises stared at the featureless face of her own soul-self. The bird didn't balk, nor attack. It simply seemed to be waiting further instruction, as if she were an arcane falconer.
Robin realized he was holding his breath and had a brief moment of gratitude that his mask hid his eyes as he wasn't entirely sure there weren't tears in them.
Any hope of remaining stoic fled, though, as slowly, an absolute, genuine smile spread across Raven's face and she let out a relieved-sounding laugh. "I can do it," she murmured, eyes shining slightly despite the tension of maintaining the spell. "I can feel without allowing it to become destructive."
By now, Starfire's fingers were digging into Robin's arm tightly enough to leave bruises in an effort to keep herself from erupting with joy. "It is, in every meaning of the word, glorious! May I ask which emotion you are using to create this beautiful bird of energy?"
Raven took her eyes off her work and looked over, letting her foreign smile extend even further. "Honestly? It started out as contentment, but I think now it might be actual happiness."
Starfire had to put a hand over her mouth now to restrain a squeal of delight. Robin could feel tears working their way to the edge of his mask, but he was pretty sure no one was paying any attention to each other. From what he could see through his blurring vision, Cyborg wasn't even trying to hold back his tears of pride, looking like a dad seeing his little girl ride a bike on her own for the first time. Lilith had a hand on his shoulder as she wiped her eyes too, completing the image of parental admiration. Ironically, Beast Boy seemed to be the only one remaining absolutely still, watching with wonder, but barely allowing himself to breathe, as if taking in every detail of a wild animal before it noticed him and bolted.
Raven seemed unprepared for the outpouring of love and excitement that hit her like a heat wave. Her eyes widened as her soul-self suddenly flared its wings with a cry, growing larger and brighter as this new emotional fuel disrupted the balance. With a gasp, she threw her arms out to the sides, dispersing the bird into wisps of energy that dissolved harmlessly before reaching anything else. Shaking, Raven slumped, collapsing against the side of the bed.
"Raven!" Beast Boy yelped, starting forward as the others recovered from the sudden mood shift.
"I'm all right," Raven said, holding up a hand to stop him as she pushed off the bed with the other, straightening up. "I'm just not used to using my powers that way yet." She put a hand to her forehead, wincing. "It's going to take a lot of practice."
"Well, I'd say you're done for today," Cyborg declared in a tone that would brook no argument, getting up to help her back into bed. "I think your brain needs a little more quiet time before you start exploring its limits again."
"Yeah, after everything lately, I could use a bit of sleep," Raven said, resting her head in her palm again as she braced her elbow on her knee.
"Man, you've been sleeping for two days!" Beast Boy complained. Robin empathized with his need to get life back to normal before he would be able to let his nerves relax.
Raven raised a weary, slightly annoyed eye to him, her good mood fading with her energy. "That wasn't sleep. It was work. I haven't really rested, mentally, since this started."
"Then we'll give you some peace and quiet until you feel better," Robin said, adopting his leader voice again in an effort to bring everyone back to normality. He threaded his hand through Starfire's and squeezed it reassuringly. "I think we could all use a restful night."
"I know I could. And just so I can sleep easy," Cyborg said to Raven, "let's just break this down. You're going to be okay now?"
"I think so," she answered, head still resting in her hand.
"You're not going to turn into your demon overnight or anything?"
"And you're still the Raven we know and love, just maybe with a bit more of a magic touch?"
Cyborg nodded decisively. "All right then." He turned to the others. "See, this is why I couldn't grow my hair out even if I wanted to. It's all gray now thanks to the worry you guys put me through."
Before the others could answer, there was a soft chuckle from the bed. "Sorry, I'll try to be boring from now on," Raven said.
Cyborg grinned warmly. "I'm gonna hold you to that." He bent and gave her a kiss on the top of her head, sending a ripple of white light across her skin.
"All right, get some sleep, Raven," Robin said with a fond smile. "We'll talk more tomorrow."
"Rest well," Starfire called. "May your sleep be uninterrupted by escaping emotions or other magical troubles."
As they slipped out of the room and Cyborg dimmed the lights again, Robin realized they were one short. Glancing back in the room, he saw that Beast Boy lingered awkwardly, sidling closer to the bed as Raven settled back on the mattress.
"Raven?" Beast Boy said hesitantly.
She looked up, eyes heavy-lidded, but focused. "Yes, Beast Boy?"
He swallowed, fidgeting with his hands nervously, for once seeming at a loss for what to say. "I just, well, I, uh…I'm really glad you're okay."
A faint smile lifted the edge of her lips. "I promised you I'd come back safe."
He started slightly, eyes widening. His mouth opened, clearly a rush of questions ready to be asked, but seeing how close to sleep she was, he simply nodded. "Good night, Raven."
He reached out a hand, stopping himself self-consciously before actually touching her shoulder or hand. Even though she was drifting off to sleep and didn't move, a tendril of white energy rose from Raven's hand and brushed against his extended palm. It faded away before he could close his fingers around it, but a wide grin spread across his face as he turned to leave.
When he saw Robin in the doorway, Beast Boy froze, blushing, but Robin just smiled and gave him a slight nod. The remaining tension seemed to fall away from Beast Boy and the two friends walked out of the room together as the Tower relaxed into the quiet of a peaceful night.
Not quite the end yet! I still have an epilogue chapter to follow after this, then I'm thinking about doing a couple of vignettes to explore the effects of Raven's new grip on her powers, since they don't fit the arc of this story. I promise the next chapter won't take so long to write!