Sorry for the delay. This chapter just kept getting longer and longer, but I couldn't find a natural break and didn't want to cut anything, so... Hope you enjoy!
Maybe I'm tired of the game
Of coming up short, of the rules, of the shame...
A girl full of anger and hope
A girl with a mother who just couldn't cope
A girl who felt caught and thought no one could see
That maybe, one day, she'll be free
-"Maybe", Next to Normal
When Beast Boy woke up the previous day, he would never have guessed that less than twenty-four hours later he would be watching Raven sleep. Granted he was doing so because at any moment her demon side could come ripping out of her subconscious and make her devastate the world, but life had taught him to enjoy the little things when you had the chance.
Right now, that little thing was curled on her side on the floor of the safe room, her cloak pulled around her, head resting on a pillow Lilith had brought in after handing over her shift to Cyborg. Since everyone had already gone to bed when Robin finished his turn standing watch, he hadn't had a chance to explain to them that Raven's avatar for wisdom had taken control of the situation and was now allowing their body to sleep while the others kept her demon distracted. Because of this, each shift change had become a series of panics followed by hurried explanations that bordered on the comical each time it repeated.
Beast Boy was kind of happy it had worked out this way. If Raven had been trying to meditate, he would have had to be extra careful not to irritate her by making noise or moving around too much. But she seemed to be sleeping deeply enough that he didn't need to worry about being perfectly silent. Even knowing that, it took a little while for him to get over his initial awkwardness at being alone in a room with a Raven who was mostly unconscious, but who might have one side of her mind keeping an eye on him the whole time. It figured Raven could make him nervous without even being awake.
To pass the time, Beast Boy had brought his graphic novel and a handheld videogame—muted, of course, since he wasn't crazy. For about the first half hour, these kept him reasonably occupied, but the corner of his eye kept catching the mirror sitting by his side. He hadn't touched it since entering the room except to carefully turn the reflective side toward the floor. Couldn't be too careful, especially with his luck.
Pausing his game, he looked down at the metal frame, flashing back to the first time he had seen it. When he had been dragged through its glass, it had revealed to him an entire world that he couldn't have imagined existed in the unreadable girl he shared the Tower with. They had both just been kids then, having barely known each other for a year, if that long. So much had changed since those early struggles to relate to each other. While he was convinced he would never truly get exactly what she was thinking half the time, he had figured out how to read the tiny gestures that did manage to slip through her control, and she, in return, had started trying to put her feelings in larger print. If he hadn't accidentally stumbled into her mind, would they have still gotten to that point on their own? All he knew was once he had glimpsed the emotions hidden behind Raven's mask, he had become determined to draw them out a bit.
He glanced over at Raven, her face as expressionless in sleep as it was when she was awake. If things worked today, it seemed he would get his wish. Whether that meant Raven would switch back and forth between the personalities he had seen in her mind or if it would be less dramatic, he wasn't sure. The memory of her standing in his doorway, hungry eyes triggering his prey instincts, filled his vision for a fevered heartbeat and he found himself hoping for the latter.
His thoughts were interrupted as he heard Raven draw a deep breath, stretching her limbs as she stirred. Carefully, his hand reached for the bag of powder and the instruction sheet, wishing belatedly he had at least read through it once during his shift.
To his relief, as Raven's eyes blinked open they were bleary violet. They started to focus, her fingers closing on the edge of the pillow, then suddenly flew wide open. She scrambled backward, dark energy crackling across the floor to spark on the walls.
"Raven! It's okay! It's okay!" he called, hands held out to soothe her. He realized the curse components were still in them and dropped them quickly.
Raven stared at the pillow, nose wrinkling. Her eyes shot to him, fury warring with betrayal. "You let me fall asleep?" she snapped. "There was one thing I asked you to do—" Her voice cut off in a groan as her eyes scrunched shut, hand going to her head as if it could hold the demon back by itself.
Beast Boy winced sympathetically, waiting until her face relaxed again. "Raven, none of us let you fall asleep. Apparently during Robin's shift your brainy side took over and said the rest of them would keep an eye on things so you could sleep."
"They what?" she growled, still squinting slightly as if in pain.
"I don't know exactly. You were already out when I came in and I'm not sure I understood what Starfire was saying exactly. But hey, it worked," he said, grinning as he gestured widely to indicate the lack of death and destruction around them. "It's morning and nothing happened all night."
Raven looked around, her posture releasing its tension to settle propped up on one arm. "Everyone's okay?"
"Last time I saw them," he assured her, pushing to his feet. "Wanna go see? They're probably up and around by now."
She stayed sitting, rubbing her eyes as she got to finish waking up fully. "Sure. Sounds good."
Beast Boy picked up his video game and comic, sparing a quick glance at the sheet of magic words he was grateful he hadn't needed to use. Putting a cheerful tone in his voice again, he continued, "What do you feel like for breakfast? You've got a big day today, so probably want to fuel up as much as we can."
When she didn't answer, he looked up. Raven remained sitting on the floor, fingers absently twisting the corner of the pillow as she stared past him with a slightly troubled expression. Confused, he followed her gaze and saw the mirror still lying face-down on the floor.
"We're really doing this," she murmured, eyes never leaving the mirror.
"Uh, yeah. I mean, if you still want to." He walked over to sit beside her. "It's your call, Raven. If you're having second thoughts—"
"No." She straightened slightly, shaking her head. "I want to try this. I need to try this. It's just…if this does work, everything's going to change."
He cocked his head, looking at the profile of her face as worry crept into the back of his mind. "Everything?"
"Lilith says my 'core personality' will be the same, but I'm not sure what that means. I don't remember what I was like before Azar helped shape my mind. I do know it was bad enough to require having my emotions completely locked away." Raven shifted uncomfortably, pulling the pillow into a tighter grip in her lap. "We talk about expressing my emotions as a positive thing, but ultimately I have to allow my darker emotions a voice too. I know the things I have to stop myself from saying or doing when I'm angry. What if my core personality is that violent side?"
Beast Boy thought about that. He had to admit he was guilty of picturing Expressive Raven as just meaning she would be able to laugh and smile and, yes, cry if she had to, but that was just childish excitement. Freedom meant taking the bad with the good, even if her bad was scarier than most people's.
He scooted a little bit so that he was more in front of her. "Remember the first time I turned into the Beast?"
"Parts of it," she said dully.
He winced. "Oh, yeah. But remember after it was done, when I was freaked out that that creature was part of me? You told me having it inside me didn't make me a monster; knowing when to let it out made me a man. You didn't say to never let it out. You didn't even say to try to get rid of it. You said 'know when' to use it."
He leaned forward, getting her eyes to focus on him. "Yeah, your demon is part of you, but it's just a part of you. And it doesn't mean you're a monster. Everybody feels anger and jealousy and aggression and stuff. But you learn when's the right time to show it." He smiled a little, sincerely. "And I think you're gonna be great at that, 'cause I don't know what a core personality is either, but I know the rest of you that isn't the demon is really cool and smart and brave and you do care a lot about people. There's no way any bad part of you stands a chance against the real you."
Raven didn't say anything, her eyes just staring into his, as if searching for evidence he was making it all up. He grinned slightly, crookedly, hoping she might return the gesture with the tiny, faint smile that was such a rare privilege to see.
Instead, her eyes began shimmering as tears gathered on her lower lids, making him think his pep talk had backfired. But before he could apologize, she leaned forward too, wrapping her arms around him and pressing her head into his neck.
"Thank you, Garfield, for understanding me," she whispered.
Shock was still rippling through his mind and he froze, waiting for her to realize what she was doing and shove away from him. But her grip didn't lessen. He even thought he felt a warm energy radiating from her hands that made his heart beat still faster. Carefully, he put his arms around her in return, pulling her closer.
Even with the pillow stuck awkwardly between them, he was struck by the novelty and rarity of this situation. He had hugged her plenty of times before to try to get a reaction out of her, but she had never responded beyond glaring at him. She had only hugged him once, when he tried to make her feel better after Malchior broke her heart, and he had been so shocked by that he wound up shoving her off. But this was the first time both of them were hugging each other and he decided to savor it while he could before she snapped out of it and pushed him back again.
When she didn't let go or say anything else, he began to realize this hug wasn't just a thank you for what he said. As she held on, he felt her muscles tensing in what he now recognized as an internal struggle with the demon. The energy around her hands turned icy cold and made his skin crawl. Instinctively, his own hand began rubbing her back, feeling pathetically helpless against her pain. The meager gesture must have been enough, though, as slowly, he felt her relax against him again. He held on a little tighter, knowing this had to be really scaring her if she was actually letting him comfort her. So he waited, trying to be silently supportive, until she gave him a sign she was okay again.
Finally, he felt her arms loosen from his sides and she shifted her weight backward. He immediately, if reluctantly, released her and sat back as she regained her composure.
"Thanks," she said, pushing her hair back awkwardly as she looked away. "Sorry about that."
He shrugged casually, trying to play it off. "Don't be. I'm glad I could help." He patted around the pockets of his uniform. "I just wish I had something to give you for luck like I did last time we were in here."
She snorted slightly. "That penny didn't exactly do much good anyway."
"Yeah, I guess not," he said, trying not to remember that awful day. Then his ears perked up and he grinned at her. "But hey, at least I must be getting better at coming up with gifts. Last time it was a penny. This time it was my two cents!"
The look she gave him was somewhere between disbelief and someone who just smelled sour milk.
"Oh, come on! That was a great one!" he groaned.
She closed her eyes, sighing. "And we were doing so well there too."
He stood up, offering her his hand. "What can I say? Some things never change." His eyes widened. "Wait, was that another coin pun? Let me try that again—"
"Don't push it," Raven said, but she accepted his hand and let him pull her to her feet.
"We really should head up for breakfast, though," Beast Boy said, gathering his belongings. "Cy's probably started cooking by now, and you know how fast food goes when he makes it."
"True. Though most of it goes to him or you," she commented, scooping up the pillow. He noticed that, after a moment's pause, she picked up the mirror, pouch of herbs, and the spell. She held them out to him. "Here."
He stopped. "What? But you're awake now."
"Just in case," she said firmly, arm extended unwaveringly.
Garfield looked at the instruments sadly, reminded of the threat hanging over their head. "Okay," he said, taking the pouch and paper. "But I'm not touching that mirror. It doesn't like me."
She rolled her eyes, but let her arm lower, keeping hold of the mirror. "It's just a tool. It's what's inside that doesn't like you."
He gulped nervously, but as he looked up at her, he saw the glint in her eye that told him she was teasing him. His grin returned at this little sense of normalcy. "Hey, I thought we figured out what's in your head likes me just fine."
She blushed slightly, but kept her serious expression as she stepped past him. "Don't flatter yourself. It was a moment of impulse."
Beast Boy tailed after her into the hallway, leaning over her shoulder as he sang, "Beast Boy and Raven's mind sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N—Ow!"
Raven tuned Beast Boy out for the remainder of the walk to the kitchen, using the time to make sure her barriers were secure enough to last until they implemented her plan. She still wasn't sure how her emotions had managed to hold back her demon during the night, but she decided not to question something finally going right. She just hoped it meant they all would be a bit more cooperative than usual when she called on them for the fight.
As they walked in, she was surprised to see the rest of the team already bustling around, preparing breakfast.
"Hey, morning, Sunshine!" Cyborg called from his familiar position at the stove. He wore the chef's hat and 'Love Machine' apron that he usually only broke out for special occasions.
Robin and Starfire were working together to set the table while Lilith sliced fresh fruit at the counter. All of them looked over and acknowledged her cheerfully.
"Uh…hi." A little spooked, Raven glanced over at Beast Boy, who stood beside her with an equally confused expression.
He noticed her look and shrugged. "Don't ask me. Maybe Mother Mae-Eye's back."
"Do not be silly, friends!" Starfire beamed, floating over. "It is a beautiful morning, perfect for the consuming of a nutritious and hearty breakfast, do you not agree?"
"Okay, this is normal for you, Star," Raven said, "but what's everyone else so perky about? Did something happen last night after all?"
"Everything's fine, Raven," Robin said, gesturing to a seat at the table. "Today's going to be a big day, so we just wanted to start it off right."
"Uh-huh." She took the seat he offered, but continued watching the rest of them dubiously. Jump City had been pretty quiet the last few days. It would be too appropriate for a villain to decide to mess with the Titans on the day she planned the greatest battle for her soul.
The knots in her stomach only got worse when Cyborg came over and placed a heaping stack of waffles in front of her, Lilith brought her a plate of fruit, and Robin poured her a cup of tea. Sugar, honey, and milk were all available on the table to finish it to her taste. When she looked down, she saw that even her waffles were smiling back at her with a whipped cream face.
"Okay, what is going on?" she snapped, feeling her temper fraying the edges of her mental walls.
"You gave us a job to do, Rave," Cyborg said, dishing up another plate of food. "Our responsibility today is to make sure your positive emotions are at full power, so we figured we'd get started right away."
"I contributed the cream of whipping to ensure your waffles provided the maximum amount of happiness," Starfire added.
Raven found her voice disappearing as her throat tightened, taken aback once again by the depth of her friends' kindness. She looked from the optimistic expressions on their faces to the spread they had laid out for her. She even noticed the book she had been reading before everything went crazy sitting on the table beside her, bookmark still in place. She had no idea where she had left it, but someone had actually paid attention to which one she was reading and thought to provide it.
She felt the now-familiar warmth filling her chest again and white energy began to flicker around her body. She immediately closed her eyes and clamped down on it. Not yet. If this worked, she could enjoy that feeling all she wanted, but she hadn't come this far to lose control again.
"I meant I want you to do that when we're inside my mind, where it can't affect my powers."
She opened her eyes to see their cheery expressions had changed to worry and a bit of guilt set in. She made herself smile slightly, even if she couldn't afford to indulge the emotion behind it. "But this is really nice. Thank you."
They relaxed again, filling their plates and joining her at the table. From there, it became a surprisingly normal morning. They talked, Cyborg and Beast Boy bickered over something inane, Robin scolded them, and Starfire distracted Robin, at least until Beast Boy hit the side of his head with a thrown grape, immediately pointing with feigned innocence at Lilith, who proceeded to steal his last strip of soy bacon in revenge. And all the while, they didn't pressure Raven to take part, so she was able to simply sit back and maintain control while basking in the warm feelings radiating off her family. It was…wonderful. For a little while, she was able to forget that it wasn't just another day.
All too soon, though, the plates were empty and being cleared into the sink. The air of frivolity faded, taken over by a growing sense of anticipation and nerves. Raven became aware that they were all starting to look to her.
Robin spoke up first. "So, when do you want to do this?"
Raven took a deep breath that wasn't quite a sigh and schooled her mind back to business. "Whenever you all are ready. But it would probably be best if I meditated a bit first, to make sure I'm in the right frame of mind."
Robin nodded. "Okay. That gives us all time to take care of anything we need to do this morning. How long do you need?"
"An hour or so should be enough," she said. None of it would make that much difference as far as the coming conflict, she just wanted to steady her nerves.
"An hour then and we'll meet back at the safe room."
The hour passed quickly. She tried to enjoy the uninterrupted time in her mental space, but due to recent events it wasn't the safe haven it had once been. She glanced up at the looming wall of black energy blocking the stars, the flashes of red trying to get around the edges, and she shivered. Was it really a good idea to bring her friends into this environment when it was so unstable? She supposed only time would tell.
Despite her distant state of mind, she still felt the others approach before they actually reached the door. She opened her eyes, lowering her legs to stand as they entered the safe room.
"Everything go okay?" Robin asked as they grouped awkwardly just inside the doorway.
She nodded. "I'm as ready as I'll ever be."
"So are we." Robin crossed his arms, ready for action. "Uh, you never actually told us how exactly this is going to work."
Raven reached into the folds of her cloak, withdrawing the meditation mirror. She held it briefly, taking reassurance from its familiar weight. Then she laid it in the middle of the room, reflective side up. She caught a glimpse of her face in it as she set it down. The reflection tried to open a second pair of eyes on its forehead, but she ignored it and stepped back.
"There's a spell I have to recite to bring us all into my mind. The rest of you need to circle around the mirror, holding onto each other. Once we're inside, I'll explain the rest."
"Would it help if I stayed out here?" Lilith spoke up. "Aside from the fact that I'm not sure I'll inspire good emotions from you, I could be ready to use your cur—spell in case the demon escapes."
"No! You can't!" Raven said sharply. "In fact, Beast Boy, get rid of the curse. You can't bring that into my mind."
As he gratefully took the pouch and spell sheet out of his pocket and tossed them through the door, Raven looked back to Lilith. "If you tried to bind me to the mirror while everyone was still in my mind, it would trap all of them too, if it didn't destroy them in the process. Besides," she added, calmer, "I'll need your strength inside more."
"Okay," Lilith nodded. "Just offering."
"I appreciate it," Raven replied, walking back toward the mirror.
"You said we go around the mirror?" Cyborg said, stepping forward.
"Yes, sitting down." She took her own place with the handle pointing toward her, crossing her legs, but not hovering.
The others arranged themselves in a circle. She noticed Beast Boy plopped down right next to her, eyeing the mirror nervously.
"Don't worry," she murmured. "You're with me this time."
He grinned slightly in return.
As the others settled into place, Raven looked at her hands, rubbing them together anxiously. "There's one more thing you need to know," she said, eyes still on her fingers. "Once we're in my mind, you will be able to interact with my emotions directly and unfiltered. I guess you've already seen that a bit when they took control during the night, but…I just ask that you be understanding of whatever you see or hear."
Sympathy swelled around the circle.
"Raven, we would never judge you for anything in your mind," Starfire assured her.
Don't promise that until you've seen it, Raven mused darkly, but she nodded. "Thanks." Taking a deep, centering breath, Raven sat up straight, closed her eyes, and held out her hands to either side as if she were about to lead the group in prayer. The dark irony was not lost on her.
She felt Lilith clasp her left hand and a slight hesitation before Beast Boy's hand curled around her right one. One eye peeked open to ensure the others had followed suit, forming a connected circle. She wrapped bands of dark energy around each set of joined hands, hearing the others gasp at the sudden cold. "Trust me," she said simply, "you don't want to let go."
Closing her eye again, she tapped into the well of dark energy beneath her heart, feeling it flare eagerly at her summons. The Azarathean words flowed from her mouth, familiar as a favorite song, and she felt the rush like being caught up in a river's current. The transport was a bit rougher than usual with the added resistance of her friends trailing behind her, but she kept her bonds on their wrists strong.
Shortly, the torrent of energy ended and she opened her eyes to see the floating rocks of her mental plane. The others were scattered nearby, mostly upright, but in various states of disorientation. She released the tendrils of dark energy, letting them separate.
"Nope, doesn't get easier the second time," Cyborg groaned, shaking his head.
Robin was staring around, taking in the expanse of abyss. "This is your mind?" He had heard Cyborg's and Beast Boy's stories, but actually seeing a physical world and trying to acknowledge it was in someone's head was challenging.
"The core of it, yes," Raven said, helping a greener-than-usual Beast Boy up as she stood. "It's where I can directly interface with my emotions."
"So when you meditate, this is where you go?" He shook his head. Strange as it was, he had to admit the view was incredible. "I can see why you wouldn't want to be interrupted."
"Oh, it is most beautiful, Raven!" Starfire exulted, soaring into the space above them to look around, feeling strangely at home amongst the floating rocks. "It reminds me of the rings of Okaara. I believe I would like your Azarath very much."
"Sorry you're not seeing it at its best," Raven commented, noticing the fine cracks sprinkled through the ground they stood on.
"Yeah, I thought there was more last time," Cyborg said, looking around. "Gateways to your emotions' homes, creepy birds…weren't there stars up there?" he asked, peering skyward.
Raven looked up at the crackling wall of dark energy. "The proportions have shifted. The demon has been gradually taking over more and more of my mind. I've managed to hold it back from this section, but I'm not sure how much longer that would have lasted."
The others sobered, taking in the towering walls encompassing the area around them in all directions. They had seen the demon's power once, but being at the heart of the battle, the scale was daunting, to say the least. As they looked, red fire flared against the barriers, making the world around them shake. Still, the wall held.
Robin looked back at her, eyes serious and determined. "How do we stop it?"
Raven had her arms wrapped around herself again, trying not to chicken out now that she had come this far. "I'm going to pair each of you up with the emotion you provoke most strongly in me."
"Oh," Beast Boy said, grimacing. "So, do you want me to just go stand on the demon's side now or should I leave totally?" Cyborg elbowed him sharply.
"Do we have to do anything special to find them?" Robin asked.
Raven was looking around into the shadows of the abyss. "They know the plan. It should start happening on its own."
A blur of pink streaked in like a comet, latching onto Starfire in midair with a hug that rivalled the strength of her own. "I'm so excited you're here! First our midnight girl-talk the other day and now we're getting to work together! How cool is that?!"
Robin and Lilith gaped at the doppelganger of Raven, turning to assure themselves the original Raven was still standing beside them. She merely spared them a lifted eyebrow before looking back at Starfire and her partner.
Starfire had managed to overcome her surprise and stared down at Raven. "I cause you to feel…happy?"
"Well, duh!" the rose-clad Raven beamed, releasing her hug enough to look Starfire in the eyes. "How could anyone be unhappy around you? You're, like, pure happiness in person form! Okay, sometimes I get buried when we're stressed or we can't afford to show it 'cause our powers will go crazy, but you do cheer me up, Star."
Tears shimmered in Starfire's eyes and she looked down to Raven. The blue-cloaked girl watched quietly, a small smile on her lips.
Taking that as confirmation that this was real, Starfire threw her arms around her emotion-partner, returning the vigorous hug. "It is my great joy to know I can strengthen you, Raven of Happiness! We shall be the most glorious team in defeating your angry demon self!"
Beast Boy watched the pair talk excitedly, feeling a pang of jealousy. Sure, seeing Raven that perky freaked him out a bit, but he had kind of hoped she felt happy around him. After all, that Raven even said she thought he was funny…
"I bet we could light the Tower for a week with the energy those two are giving off," Cyborg muttered.
"It gets to be a bit much, doesn't it?"
Cyborg jumped at the unexpected voice, looking down to see a green-cloaked version of Raven standing beside him, arms crossed as she watched the other girls chat joyfully. He calmed down, head cocking in recognition. "Oh, I remember you."
She looked up at him, snorting slightly. "I hope so. We just saw each other four nights ago."
"Yeah…" Cyborg turned back to Raven herself, hurt plain on his face. "I make you want to fight?"
"Actually, I'm here because my range of emotions includes something you helped give me," the green Raven said, making sure his attention turned back to her. "Self-confidence. From the first day we met, you didn't let me sulk and run away. You made sure I felt okay about myself even when you were insecure about who you were. I'm not sure I would have been a Titan if it wasn't for you. You don't make me want to fight, but you made me believe that I can."
Cyborg stared at her in shock for a long moment. "Really?"
"What, am I gonna lie to you?" she said sarcastically.
He bent down on one knee to address her face-to-face. Trying to keep his voice level, he gave her a very serious expression. "Well then, are you ready to win this fight, tough girl?"
She responded with a cocky smirk and held her fist out. "Booyah."
He grinned proudly, bumping his fist to hers.
Robin watched the others getting to know their partners with some confusion. He knew he wouldn't be paired with simple Happiness, but he was a little surprised to see Self-confidence go to Cyborg. He was team leader. He had stood with her when she was convinced Trigon had won. If he didn't inspire Raven in battle, what else did he offer her?
"Don't tell me you've forgotten me already."
Robin spun around at the voice behind him and froze, jaw going slack. While the other avatars looked identical to Raven but for the color of their cloaks, this version wore all white with a cloak of shimmering silver, her hair long and flowing. He had only seen Raven look like this once before.
The gleaming avatar smiled softly. "You do remember. While I've always been here, I wasn't recognized for most of our life, drowned out by the darkness. It wasn't until you that I was finally acknowledged and given more power." She glanced down at her atypical appearance. "Because I only manifested more recently, I took the form we achieved when I was fully realized. You should understand why I was chosen for you. You're why she even knows I exist."
Robin found his voice again, even if it was little more than a breath. "Hope."
Her smile widened and she held out a hand to him, like a queen to her champion. "My believer."
Standing slightly apart from the rest, Beast Boy tried not to show his disappointment and heartache as he saw Hope take her place with Robin. He sagged a bit. What was left? Maybe for all the progress he thought they'd made in the last year or two, Raven didn't have any particular good feelings about him. Maybe the best she did associate with him was Tolerance or whatever the emotion was for 'He's not really that bad, most of the time.'
He was so lost in these depressing thoughts that he almost didn't feel the light, quick tap on his shoulder. Turning around, he saw a version of Raven hunched nearby, looking at him nervously. At first he thought it was the gray Raven he had met the last time he was in her mind, but this one's cloak, although faded and washed-out, was definitely purple.
"Hi. Um," she started, voice low, "I just wanted to say I'm sorry. You know, for the other night. When we discovered that we could escape at night, my more…aggressive side took control and…Well, I'm just sorry that I made you uncomfortable. I shouldn't have done that."
His eyes widened slightly and flicked to Raven, who was watching silently from a short distance away. He looked back at the purple-cloaked Raven. That's who this was? She certainly didn't look like the woman who had woken him up with a clear goal in mind, but Raven had said these…mini-Ravens represented ranges of emotions. So if that was the "aggressive" end, then this must be…
"Oh," he murmured, noticing the slight flush on her cheeks, the way her eyes darted nervously, her hands trying to figure out what to do with themselves. He swallowed, giving her an awkward smile back. "Don't worry about it. I mean, it wasn't like I was totally against the idea."
Her eyes rose to hold his, looking oddly vulnerable. "So, you do like me?"
"Of course I like you, Raven. You're one of my best friends. You mean a lot to me."
She smiled shyly, hiding her face slightly beneath her hood and he noticed that her cloak had become a more vibrant shade of purple. "You mean a lot to me too, Garfield. You always try to find us emotions even when we can't let ourselves be seen. After Malchior hurt me, you tried to comfort us. That was the first time any part of my range ever got to control our body." She shifted slightly, hands fidgeting even more. "There are so many things I want to say, but this isn't the place or the time. It's not how it should happen."
She straightened up slightly, meeting his eyes again. "If this works and I am able to express myself more, would you like to start over and try doing this right?"
"Doing what?" he asked, his brain a bit hazy due to this interaction.
"Would you like to see if you and I could get to that place and time naturally?"
He realized what she was asking him and his jaw slackened. He turned, looking to Raven who still watched them, an unreadable expression on her face.
"You heard me," she said softly.
He swallowed hard, looking back at the version speaking to him as uncensored emotion. He smiled and held out a hand to her, even as he turned his head to speak to Raven herself. "I'd love to."
Nearly glowing purple, his partner took his hand and they stood together, both blushing slightly and enjoying the new sensation.
As Lilith watched them all, feeling like an intruder on these personal moments, she felt a presence step up beside her.
"We meet again."
Lilith looked down at the yellow-cloaked version of Raven beside her. "Let's see, you're not part of the demon and you're not bubbling over with any particular emotion I can sense, so I'm assuming you're Intellect from last night?"
The girl raised her head, eyebrow arching sardonically behind a pair of glasses. "Well deduced."
"Sorry," Raven said, looking a bit embarrassed. "I haven't known you long enough to associate you strongly with any particular emotion, so…"
"No, no, this is fine," Lilith waved reassuringly. "Heck, I take it as a compliment you think I can help strengthen her."
"You should," the yellow Raven replied. She paused slightly. "In full disclosure, I should mention Pride sometimes overlaps my range."
Lilith found herself smiling. "Don't worry about it. Mine too." She looked out across the group of avatars and teammates. "I've gotta say, I can see why your Azar would try to simplify things. You've got quite an operation to maintain here."
"This is merely scratching the surface of our existence," Intellect said, sounding slightly bored. "However, it will suffice for facilitating direct interaction between ourselves and all of you."
"I take it you've studied color symbology, or were your appearances just a fluke?"
A slight gleam of interest appeared in the yellow Raven's eyes, rising to the topic. "Some of the colors were guided during meditation based on the emotions they commonly influence. Others were inspired by Raven's own associations from her life. A few likely received what was left after the most obvious colors had been used."
"Right." Lilith looked back at her partner, trying to keep her amusement out of her voice. She knew she shouldn't, but she just couldn't resist. "I have to ask. You wear glasses? Is your vision bad because the prefrontal cortex is so far from the occipital lobe?"
The yellow Raven glared back up at her with as much disdain as pure rational thought could convey. "They're an affectation. In the books we read growing up, the most intelligent characters often wore glasses, and so an association formed despite few Azaratheans requiring them. Don't take it too literally."
"Makes sense." Lilith nodded. "Well, necessary or not, they suit you."
Intellect turned her gaze back to the assembled group. "That's irrelevant. But thank you."
"All right!" Cyborg clapped his hands together. "Looks like everybody's got a dance partner. Is it time to rumble?"
Raven was frowning, though, scanning the space around them. "Not yet. We're missing someone."
"Hey, where is Lazypants?" The pink Raven of happiness asked, leaning on Starfire's shoulder.
"Our orange-clad counterpart was absorbed into the demon last night," Intellect replied.
"Great," Bravery groaned.
"Wouldn't that be a good thing?" Beast Boy asked. "I'd rather fight a lazy demon any day."
"Laziness is only part of her spectrum," Raven said absently, still searching the area. "The problem is the other end of her scale embodies Apathy."
"That is dangerous?" Starfire asked.
"You should hear when she gets going," Happiness said. "It's really sad. 'What's the point? Why leave our room?'"
"'Why bother fighting? Another bad guy's just going to do something else tomorrow.' 'Why worry about those people in the city? It's not like any of them even like me anyway.' 'We're all going to die one day. We should just give up now.'" Bravery shook her head, disgusted. "Hope and I have to drown her out every day just so we get anything done. Especially if she starts setting off you-know-who."
"You do know that we don't know, right?" Cyborg said, trying to keep up.
"Where is the little one?" Hope asked with almost maternal concern, looking to Raven.
"That's who I'm looking for," Raven said, brow furrowed. "She has to be here. She's always here somewhere…" Her eyes fell on a gray shape on the opposite end of the boulder they floated on. "Ah."
As she approached, the huddled form shivered more, twitching away from her. "No!" it whimpered. "Leave me out of this. I'll only cause trouble."
A gateway opened in the air behind her, revealing the entrance to a labyrinth, but Raven quickly closed it with a wave of her hand. The gray-cloaked girl stopped scrambling backward and buried her face in her knees.
"I called everyone here," Raven said calmly, standing over her cowering emotion. "Why were you trying to run away?"
"You wanted all of your positive emotions to help you fight the demon. I shouldn't be here. I'll only weaken you." She raised her face slightly, even though she still wouldn't meet Raven's eyes. "I tried to go join the demon, so maybe I could weaken it instead. But it remembered what I did when it was in control. It kicked me back here, so I was trying to hide and stay out of the way." Her eyes began to tear up. "I don't want you to lose because of me. Just let me go!"
The others' hearts ached, seeing any version of Raven so distraught, but Raven herself listened steadily. As the gray avatar tried to burrow deeper in her cloak, as if she could vanish into the stone, Raven crouched down, trying to catch her eyes.
"Who ever said you weren't one of my positive emotions?"
The girl looked up now, confusion showing past the miserable guilt in her eyes. "But, I'm not happy or confident or strong…"
Raven cut her off, voice gentle. "That doesn't mean you're not still healthy or important. Shame, I need you as part of me. You're my conscience. It's because of you that I resist the demon every day. You're the reason I didn't surrender to my father years ago and destroy the universe. You remind me why I can never allow myself to get too confident about my powers. I wouldn't still be here if it wasn't for you.
"Now, if this works, maybe we can see if I can express you in smaller doses," Raven continued. "But whatever happens, please don't leave me completely. If you do, then I really will lose to the demon."
The gray Raven looked dumbstruck, just staring at her other self, but she had stopped trembling.
Raven smiled slightly and extended a hand to the girl. "So, will you join me in this fight?"
Shame swallowed once, looking at the offered hand, then back into Raven's eyes again, her own now seeming wistful. Her form blurred as it became a glowing haze of gray light that pooled into Raven's palm like a smoky flame.
Raven closed her hand around the ball of energy, inhaling deeply as the ashen light leaked between her fingers. The light expanded then, washing over the rest of her body, before fading away. Letting her breath out, Raven opened her hand, which was empty once more.
As she walked back over to the group, the rest of the avatars stared at her.
"What happened to her?" Love asked nervously.
"I reintegrated her into my consciousness," Raven explained. "That's sort of how it will work for the rest of you if this goes well."
Robin noticed that her cloak was a slightly lighter, dusty shade of blue now and arched an eyebrow. "You sure you're okay absorbing that emotion right before a fight?"
Raven looked at him, eyes serious, and he wondered if she was somehow holding herself straighter or if something was giving her the illusion of seeming a little taller than usual. "She's been around my whole life," she answered. "I know how to work with her."
The red energy suddenly slammed against the black wall with renewed force, causing the rock they stood on to shake violently. Raven grimaced, clutching her head. Robin reached out to steady her. The rest of her emotions just stood quietly, staring up at the energy barrier.
"I'm going to have to let the wall down soon," Raven said, regaining her footing. "The demon knows what we're doing and it's ready for a fight."
"Then tell us what to do," Robin said firmly, feeling the familiar thrill of adrenaline entering his system.
"You each know which emotion you're responsible for," Raven nodded toward their color-coded partners. "When I let the wall down, the demon will manifest physically in this plane as the others have, but because it is multiple emotions bound into one, it will be far larger and more powerful."
"We're ready," Beast Boy said firmly, holding Love's hand tighter.
"Yeah, after all that thing's done to you lately, I can't wait to get my hands on it," Cyborg agreed, charging up his sonic cannon as Bravery grinned.
"No!" Raven said sharply. "Taking the demon apart is my job. Leave the direct fighting to me."
"Then, how are we to assist your emotion-Ravens?" Starfire asked, puzzled.
"I don't know about the others, but just you being here is perking me up," Happy said, giving Starfire a friendly shoulder bump.
"Your jobs are to empower your assigned emotions by provoking them," Raven explained. "That way they will be at full strength when they join with me. How you provoke them is up to you, but do not try to fight the demon yourselves."
Cyborg slumped, sonic cannon powering down. "So, you brought us in here to be…cheerleaders?"
"If cheerleaders literally did cause players to gain muscle and extra powers," Bravery said reassuringly.
"We're basically just going to stand back and watch while you fight?" Robin frowned.
"It's the only way." Raven scowled right back at him. "Whatever you do, do not engage the demon directly. You're not ghosts in here; you can get hurt or killed."
"So, if we get hurt in here, it'll affect our real bodies back on the outside?" Beast Boy asked.
She looked to him, a bit of concern showing through her eyes. "I didn't just bring your minds in here. You're still in your physical bodies. If you die here, you die for real."
"Hold on," Lilith interrupted. "Our physical bodies are somehow inside your head?"
"Yes," Raven nodded.
"How on earth is that possible?"
"Would you accept magic as an answer?" Raven asked.
"I guess I have to," Lilith shook her head. "But you're, at least, a mental construct like these avatars, right?"
"No, my physical body is here too," Raven answered. "I have the same risks as the rest of you."
Lilith held up a hand to stop her, needing a moment. Finally, she opened her eyes. "Your physical body…is inside your own head?"
"It's best not to overthink it," Raven deadpanned.
"If it helps, our ability to achieve such a fractal existence is tied into our nature as a portal," Intellect piped up. "We exist as energy as much as matter and are capable of transcending dimensions and manipulating the laws of nature within our own domains."
"I'm just going to interpret that as 'omnipotent inter-dimensional energy being' and stop asking questions," Lilith said, rubbing her temple.
"Good, because I think the wall's coming down," Raven grunted, eyes clamped shut as she struggled to maintain the barricade.
Red cracks formed across the wall of dark energy, brightening and widening until the wall shattered under the mounting pressure. The Titans braced themselves, settling into fighting stances as a wave of heat washed across them. Where the shield had stood, they could now see into a world of fire and lava, the same landscape Trigon had induced upon the Earth when he arrived. The red sky extended toward them, but stopped a few meters away, leaving the area surrounding their floating boulder still shadowed by a cool night sky devoid of stars.
As their eyes adjusted to the eerie light, they could make out a giant figure perched on another boulder across from them. It got to its feet, towering nearly one hundred feet tall, with all the menace of its father. Its skin was red, four sinister eyes gleaming even more vibrantly vermillion. Long white hair flowed around two horns that rose from its skull. But for all these demonic traits, the demon standing before them was still very obviously Raven, if a twisted version of her.
"At last, you fight me face-to-face," the demon boomed, taking on the same sneer they had seen it use when controlling Raven's body.
"Dude, last time I thought that thing looked like your dad!" Beast Boy gaped.
"Last time, he was what I feared most," Raven answered. "Now I fear becoming like him."
"You shall not win this day!" Starfire shouted challengingly, despite looking like little more than an orange fly in front of the massive demon.
The demon grinned, revealing razor-edged fangs the size of a person. "I should thank you. I was looking forward to killing your friends, and here you've brought them right to me for the slaughter."
"That was a mistake," Raven rumbled softly as the Titans glared back at the demon.
"What, bringing us here?" Beast Boy asked, stepping up beside her.
"No." Raven extended a hand toward the demon and a red light leapt from the creature's chest, causing it to grunt slightly in pain. The red energy flowed into Raven's hand, settling as a small crimson flame in her palm. She closed her fist and the red spread across the rest of her body and vanished.
Raven smirked slightly at the recovering demon. "It made me mad. And I already know how to use some righteous anger to protect my friends."
Lilith arched an eyebrow, approvingly. "I think you're getting the hang of this."
The demon hissed, straightening up. "Very well, we can play that way. If you want to steal from my emotional ranges, just remember that your precious little 'positive' emotions each have their own dark aspects."
The giant red hand extended toward them and each of the avatars shuddered, red energy flickering through them. Raven winced, her mind assaulted alternatingly by envious lust, boastful hubris, desperate denial, crippling depression, and clinical detachment. She latched onto the last one as the lesser evil and used it to push back the effects of the other emotions.
Turning to her friends, who were trying to figure out how to help their ailing partners, Raven raised her voice commandingly. "This is why I need you here. Whatever happens, do what you have always done for me: keep reminding me of everything good I can be so I don't give in to the darkness."
The others watched, slightly taken aback, as she rose into the air, transforming into her bird-like soul-self. Her now-disembodied voice echoed through the air. "Titans, go."
The black bird spread its wings, soaring to meet the demon. The enormous being laughed as the relatively tiny bird streaked toward it without hesitation. Unimpressed, it raised one arm and swatted Raven out of the air. Raven caught herself before hitting the floating stone and swept back up to attack the demon again, dark energy arcing from her chest.
Robin snapped out of his shock first, looking to the others. "You heard her!" He turned to Hope, who looked up from her hunched position. "I know you can do this, Raven. I have since the day we met. You're stronger than your father. There's no more prophecy to control you. You get to decide who you are, and I know your soul is good."
Hope smiled at him, standing straighter again. "Thank you," she said, before turning into a smaller silver bird-shape.
The others saw this and leapt into action.
"You ready to get out there and kick some demon butt?" Cyborg yelled at Bravery, drawing on the voice of his high school football coach. "You're the biggest, baddest, demon-scaringest superhero out there! You made Trigon wet his pants and run crying home to mommy! You eat creepier things than this for breakfast! Nobody can make you be anything you don't wanna be! Now, are you gonna go out there and put this demon in its place? Give me a 'Booyah'!"
Bravery squared her shoulders, eyes narrowing as she shifted into a green bird. "BOOYAH!"
"That's my girl!" Cyborg called after her.
Starfire wrapped Happiness in a hug, speaking in her warmest voice. "We all love you very much, Raven. You are the truest sister I have ever known. I treasure our time together, whether we are shopping or meditating or even doing different things in the same room. You do not have to fight villains to do good. You make our lives better every day just by being there."
Happiness hugged her back tightly as her arms turned into glowing pink wings. "That means a lot to me, Star. I feel the same about you all."
Beast Boy stared at the Raven before him, trying to find words that could express the endlessly complicated depth of feelings neither of them had been able to vocalize up to this point.
Fortunately, she already seemed to feel what he was struggling with. She placed her hand on his heart, her eyes holding his with a warmth that stole his breath away. The look in her eyes was one he had never thought he would get to see on Raven's face, better even than the look she had given him during that elicit midnight rendezvous. In that instant, he knew he would do whatever he could once this was over to get her to look at him that way again.
"I know," Love said simply.
Overcome with the swell of emotion between them, he pulled her into the strongest hug he had ever given, trying to pour every bit of his feelings through the strength of his arms.
"Come back safe," he managed, unable to let go.
She melted out of his arms, forming a purple bird of energy that hovered before him a moment. It trailed the tip of one wing against his cheek in the tenderest gesture he had ever seen from her. "Well, now that I have a good reason…" she said, voice slightly teasing.
The familiarity of that tone was enough to make him laugh slightly, but when he tried to reach up and put his hand over her wing, she was already flying away.
Lilith looked down at the impassive yellow form beside her. "You already know you're a very bright person."
"I do," Intellect said, watching the other Ravens fly toward the battle.
"And you helped come up with this plan, so you know that, when united, all of your positive emotions should be strong enough to overpower your darker ones."
"I know that as well," she agreed, still not moving.
Lilith frowned, cocking her head at the girl. "But you should also be smart enough to know that neither emotions nor intelligence are enough by themselves. It is only when both thought and feeling are combined that you are truly balanced."
Intellect appeared to consider this for a moment. "You make a good point." She sighed, turning into a golden raven. "I suppose I should oversee my compatriots."
"Sounds like a good idea," Lilith said, amused, as she watched it fly away.
The black raven rebounded into the air again, dodging blast after blast of red energy. She was holding her own against the rage of the demon, but it was becoming increasingly clear that she just managing to hold it at bay, not making any new headway.
Raising her wings again for a new attack, she saw the demon react to something over her shoulder, its eyes flaring in dark amusement. Without even glancing back, she knew the emotional cavalry were on their way.
"Your plan looks even more pitiful in action. You really think you're strong enough to defeat me with that?" the demon snarled, tentacles of red fire leaping out at each of the colorful ravens.
Raven said nothing, but black shields appeared in the path of each crimson arm, struggling to hold the energy back. Below, her friends each focused on their charges, thinking of every good time they had ever shared with Raven, every time she had been heroic or kind or loyal. As the soul fragments drew closer, each of their shields flared with their own colors and Raven was able to focus her energy back on her own body's protection.
Behind her central massive shield, the flock of ravens converged on their core Self, merging their energies into her. As their forms overlapped, a pulse of blinding white light blasted out, forcing the Titans to shade their eyes. Blinking the spots from his vision, Robin looked back up and found his throat clenching at the sight before him.
A vast white raven hovered between them and the demon, prismatic lights dancing across its wings. The aura it cast radiated out to each of the Titans with tangible warmth, nearly bringing tears to their eyes. Robin knew, in that moment, they were witnessing Raven's purest soul, for this brief moment untarnished by her demonic heritage.
Her darker half growled menacingly, launching a spray of red energy. Raven didn't even flinch. A blazing white wall caught the attack in midair, stopping its forward movement, then gradually forcing it back the way it came. Shock flashed through the demon's eyes before it narrowed again. It redoubled its energy, throwing even greater force behind its attack and sending serpentine tendrils out from all sides. Even as the power increased, attack after vicious attack, each was met and held firmly by the unwavering white wall.
As the demon faltered slightly, searching for a new tactic, shimmering talons emerged from the white Raven. Almost faster than the Titans could see, the claws lashed forward, piercing into the demon's chest with a spurt of red light. It howled in rage and pain, slashing its own arms forward to try to rend its antagonist apart. The white raven raised its wings for defense, its focus entirely centered on straining to pull its talons in opposite directions.
Robin jumped as felt a warm energy wrap around his waist and Raven's phantom voice spoke as if right next to his ear. "Time to go."
Before he could react, he was being pulled backward, away from the battle. "Wait!" he yelled, seeing the others being dragged along as well. "She needs us! We have to help her!"
"You have done all you can," Raven's voice replied serenely. "Now you must get to safety."
The others continued struggling and protesting too, but it was useless. They were carried inexorably backward by the white energy that bound them, the conflict becoming more distant.
Robin watched helplessly as the demon became unfocused, its humanoid shape dissolving into an unnatural red-and-black creature that could in only the most general of classifications be called a raven. With a discordant cry, it clamped its own talons onto the white bird's chest, red tendrils beginning to extend from each claw into the pure light.
"No!" he cried, squirming harder. Forget safety. He couldn't watch Raven get destroyed by her demon and do nothing.
A horrific shriek drew his eyes back up, terror twisting his heart. He just made out the white raven's talons flexing one last time and the monstrous creature tearing into fiery red pieces before he was pulled through a stone archway and the world disappeared. A blue tunnel surrounded them and he tumbled endlessly head over feet, as if he had fallen into mountain rapids. He tried to grab onto something, anything, but only succeeded in becoming increasingly disoriented, his ears filled with the equally bewildered yelps of his friends around him.
Suddenly, the tunnel gave way to open air and he hit the ground, rolling a few times before coming to a stop on the metal floor. The sudden quiet was deafening, broken only by the hum of electric lights and the air conditioner. He lay still for a moment, getting his bearings again and remembering how his arms worked.
Gradually, he pushed himself into a sitting position, hearing the others groaning and grumbling as well. They were back in the safe room, sprawled across the floor by the force of their arrival. Nothing appeared to have changed since they had left…however long ago it was.
"Why do I get the feeling that was all some crazy dream and nothing really happened?" Cyborg asked, rubbing his head.
The fear in Beast Boy's voice woke everyone the rest of the way up and brought them back to reality. Robin followed the boy's panicked scramble across the floor to where a crumpled form in a blue cloak lay motionless on the ground, wisps of dark energy rising off her like steam.
"Okay, not a dream," Cyborg muttered, hurrying to his feet.
Beast Boy had pulled Raven's upper body into his lap, trying to rouse her, but not getting any kind of response. "Is she okay?" he asked as the others gathered around. "Why isn't she waking up?"
"She's alive," Cyborg confirmed with a relieved breath, holding his wrist scanner over her. "Heart's fine. Breathing fine. Brain activity's…" His eyebrows flew up. "Off the charts."
"Is that a sign of bad things?" Starfire clutched her hands together worriedly.
Lilith crouched down, touching her fingers to Raven's forehead. "Well, she definitely succeeded in taking apart her mental world," she answered, brow wrinkling as she scanned harder. "I can't get a clear view of what's going on in there. It's just…chaos. Random emotions and thoughts swirling around with no real pattern."
"What does that mean?" Beast Boy frowned, holding Raven a little closer. "Did she beat the demon?"
"I'm not really sure just from probing her mind," Lilith sighed.
"The last thing I saw was the white Raven tearing the red one apart," Robin said, stepping closer. His foot bumped against something. He looked down, then bent to pick up the forgotten item.
"Yeah, I saw that too," Cyborg nodded. "That must mean Raven won, right? Our Raven?"
Lilith sat back on one knee, releasing Raven from her psychic evaluation. "From what I could sense, it does look like she succeeded in breaking down its joined demonic form. I didn't see any sign of any of her physical avatars. But all of those parts still exist, good and bad, just in a more abstract form. She still has to reintegrate everything safely with her own mind in charge before this is over."
"Raven did say that what came after defeating the demon would be the difficult part," Starfire said softly, putting a hand on Beast Boy's shoulder as she looked down at their unconscious friend.
"We need to go back in and help her," Beast Boy insisted.
"It doesn't look like that's possible anymore," Robin said. They all looked over as he held up Raven's meditation mirror. Its glass was shattered, fine cracks spider-webbing across the entire surface.
"Oh, man…" Cyborg whispered. "She's gonna kill us."
"I don't think we did this," Robin mused, rubbing his finger on the glass's smooth surface. No sharp edges caught the material of his glove. "It cracked from the inside."
"But…then, what do we do?" Beast Boy looked around, eyes glistening with the beginnings of tears.
"We've already done it," Lilith said firmly, standing up. "She said so when she pulled us out. If we were still in there, our physical bodies would have nowhere to exist. But we gave her the strength she needed to even out the fight."
"Were you able to tell anything about when she's going to wake up?" Robin asked.
Lilith shook her head. "Depends how long this 'reintegration' takes. Could be an hour. Could be a month. It's all up to Raven at this point."
They looked down at Raven's still body again, the peaceful expression on her face belying the battle raging inside. Robin tried to reassure himself that this had been the best way to proceed and that she knew what she was doing. Because he knew that if anything went wrong and they lost her, a part of him would always feel responsible for involving himself in her business and calling in Lilith in the first place.
"When she does wake up, she will be all right, yes?" Starfire asked quietly, voicing all of the team's nervous thoughts.
"Hard to know just yet," Lilith said, scrubbing a hand through her hair wearily. "We shook up the snow globe. Everything needs time to settle again before we can see what's inside."
She glanced at the mirror again and muttered, so softly that Robin barely caught her words, "Or who."