It was like drowning.
They told her to close her eyes, hold her breath, lower her face beneath the surface and not die.
Around her everything felt muffled and blurred, hazed and unclear.
Fragmented. Pieced together with no flow.
She would reach, stretch, fight against the current, but her actions would always feel too slow to do much good. Everything seemed so difficult, and through it all she felt like she was suffocating.
She felt tired and stressed and anxious and burdened, and she wanted to close her eyes, lay her head down in darkness, sleep for a thousand years. But even though everything around her was foreign and harsh and rough, she feared their loss.
She didn't want to leave it.
So she held her breath to the point of bursting, sinking lower and lower into unending depths…
It was like waking up to a dream. Everything felt genuine and right until she closed her eyes and realized that she had absolutely no idea what was going on.
Faces of people she knew she was supposed to recognize but couldn't.
Things around her that should have been familiar but weren't.
There was expectancy hidden beneath forced understanding, and it was radiating from all around her.
And it made her wonder for the millionth time what could have possibly pushed her to eradicate a decade of her life.
Sometimes Raven found Robin annoying.
For three weeks she had been enduring his lessons, listening as he lectured about supercharged villains and key battles in Titan history. He was vastly intelligent, which she respected, and he was thorough, which she appreciated. But he was deliberate and impassioned and his words were like daggers digging into her brain. His constant vigilance made her nerves rattle, and his severe need to always be right made her stomach turn. He was an iron heart and a steely gaze, and sometimes she would have to excuse herself from the lesson for a much-needed breath of fresh air.
Sometimes Raven found Starfire overpowering.
The idea of a close female friend had baffled her mind for days, but Starfire was a force that knew no boundaries. Every time she entered a room it was like coming in close proximity with the sun itself: she emanated light and life, and her adoration of her friends was almost blinding. She was all too attentive of Raven, always willing to spend time together, to have long conversations about anything. At first Raven felt bombarded, but the alien's indisputable kindness sparked her curiosity. She had agreed to a 'girl's night out', and although she did find some joy in it, the evening left her feeling exhausted and drained and in no hurry for a second outing anytime soon.
Sometimes Raven found Cyborg depressing.
As a person who had lived most of their life in self-deprecating shadows, Raven wasn't exactly qualified to judge, but sometimes the cybernetic genius could make her heart drop five circles into Hell. She was content in his company, found that time spent with him was easy, but it only took seconds for his calm demeanor to drop into frigid temperatures. He would look at her with so much loss and disappointment, and she would feel tears well up in her own eyes from his onslaught of emotion. But then the moment would be gone just as quickly as it came, and he would be grinning and acting as if nothing had happened.
And sometimes Raven found Beast Boy…odd.
Ever since their excursion into the city* she had felt the most at ease with Beast Boy—Garfield—than she did with the others. Nothing overly substantial, but when she didn't want to sit alone in her room she found his company wasn't an encumbrance. But he was a mix of strange emotions, happy one second and then defeated the next, anxious in one moment and then stalwart within a breath, yet overlaying everything with a strange humor, laughing so loud that she couldn't tell if it was forced or genuine or just there to be there.
She'd catch him staring only to be avoided for the rest of the day.
They would chat about something menial, but then he'd say something, pause, and then become quiet and somber.
He would make jokes she never understood, and he would chuckle under his breath and tell her that it was from the 'past'.
And she would take it all in with nothing more than a grain of salt and quiet patience.
And although she would feel things for the Titans—annoyed, overpowered, depressed or just odd—nothing struck deep enough for her to feel more.
She knew she was supposed to feel more for everyone. She had a stack of scrapbooks that said so, with pictures and notes of memories that were important. She saw her own face in countless photographs, smiling and even laughing at times, with these people that said they were her friends.
But even with all that evidence in front of her, even with it staring her in the face, she couldn't seem to conjure the slightest recollection of any of it.
No, that was a lie.
There were still things that remained.
Like ghosts on the edge of her vision.
Small things seemed like they could have sparked old memories, but when she grasped at them they came back empty, and when she ignored them they just disappeared again.
She'd been back to the sandwich shop three times, hoping something would stick.
She stood on the rooftop for hours, wondering why it always pulled her.
She roamed the industrial district every night for two weeks, searching for a hidden place beneath the ground.
She'd stare at the Titans for so long, frightening them with her piercing gaze.
Hoping for something to click.
For something to connect.
For something broken to be fixed again.
She had six months.
Six months to prove she wasn't a liability.
Six months to prove that she wasn't dangerous.
Six months to prove that tearing out her own memories had been an act for the greater good.
She had to relearn things, like combat strategies and fighting styles.
She had to relearn names and dates and faces.
She had to relearn functions and codes and passwords.
In the mornings she would train: in the gym, on the practice field, in an apparently newly built safe room on the basement floor, complete with emblazoned runes on the walls.
In the afternoons she would have lessons: about other Towers with other Titans, and about bad people who wanted to do bad things.
And in the evenings she spent time with her friends.
The evenings were critical.
Everyone said they were critical.
Her interaction with people was critical.
But that didn't mean it was easy.
Or that things were going well.
"How are you feeling?" Starfire had asked. It had been one of the first few nights, and there had been two more Titans than before: someone named Aqualad and someone named Speedy. She had thought them to be strange names, but she was not allowed to know their aliases yet.
All seven of them had had dinner. They had sat around one table and talked and conversed and interacted. Raven had been silent most of the time, despite Aqualad's familial attempt at conversation. Now, with the table cleared and the group moved to the sofa for games, Raven found herself standing in the kitchen with a cup of green tea and blank confusion on her face.
"I'm fine," she said, leaning against the counter and staring out the window. The city lights in the distance still fascinated her, and she found she was constantly looking at them. "I am not used to the noise."
"We could leave," Starfire offered, her enthusiasm held in check. "We could go meditate. Or sit somewhere quietly and perform the reading ritual of sitting side by side in silence." Raven had involuntarily flinched and Starfire's face contorted in worry. "Or we could not! I am sorry if that offended you greatly!"
"Your kindness," Raven had said, shaking her head. "It's…I'm not used to it."
"It comes off of you in waves." She had looked towards the group of boys, her eyes falling on Robin and her words spilling out before she realized she was speaking. "For him your waves are vast. Does he not notice how much kindness you give him?" Starfire had blushed and turned away, something of a frown touching her lips.
"He does," she had said, although the reply had been a meager ripple. Raven took a sip of her tea.
"He does not appreciate it because he thinks it's easy to give. Kindness." She shook her head. "Kindness is very hard."
And then their conversation had ended.
It was the third week, and she was sitting in the infirmary with Cyborg. Every six days he would run diagnostics on her, tracking her health and brain activity to ensure that no side effects rose from her spell. It didn't make the situation any better, knowing that dormant consequences could spring into action at any second.
He was in the process of doing her blood work, using a syringe to draw a small amount from her arm. She barely flinched when he pulled back on the plunger, her eyes watching his surprisingly deft fingers work.
"Does this make you uncomfortable?" she asked as he gently withdrew the needle and handed her a small towel. She pressed it to her arm as he slid his chair towards his worktable, frowning.
"Not at all." He pulled out test tubes and labels, going about the same routine she had seen him do twice before. "Why do you ask?"
"Because you are unhappy," she told him. "Every time you test my blood." He lowered his hands but didn't turn around from his table. "There is heaviness when we do this routine. I thought that maybe you're squeamish." He was quiet for a long time, and Raven didn't press him for a response.
"I'm not squeamish," he said, going back to his work. "I just…sorry."
"I don't know why you're apologizing," she said nonchalantly, examining her arm.
"I don't mean to be so unhappy. This routine is… not very happy reminder."
"Of the spell?" She looked up and he turned over his shoulder. They locked eyes and the heaviness weighed down on her again.
"Yeah," he told her.
She didn't view Robin as a leader so much as a teacher. He was the one in charge of her rehabilitation, with Cyborg acting more as the assistant despite the 'program' being mainly his design.
Her days were filled with listening to Robin's voice as he taught her countless things on countless subjects. Some days her attention was bland yet adept, the information seeping into her memory effortlessly. Other days she felt her mind grow stale with the tediousness of her lessons.
She knew what was at stake, knew that a test was coming in the winter and that her ability to pass it would directly alter her future. She knew that the Titans were nervous, that Robin was nervous, that the Justice League was nervous about the result. She knew she was nervous, and yet there were days when it all felt so increasingly useless.
"What if I fail?" she had asked, interrupting Robin midsentence. They were sitting in the conference room on either side of the table, the space between them filled with papers and files and diagrams and books. Robin had froze, his hand poised to pick up a pen.
"If they say you fail then you leave this Tower. You go with them to learn under Doctor Fate."
"And what does that mean?" she pressed. His hand dropped and she could feel the mixture of frustration and confusion in his head. "Doctor Fate is well-versed in mystical arts. Wouldn't learning under him be beneficial?" She watched his expression carefully, noticed the miniscule change in the set of his mouth and the state of his shoulders. He was disappointed and hurt at her statement, but anyone else would have thought he was just offended.
"You wouldn't mind leaving this Tower, or the Titans." It wasn't a question, but she answered it anyway.
"I would, but what if staying isn't the best option?" She watched his countenance change minutely again. Surprise this time.
"How do you mean?"
"I'm rooted in magic, and the only one here who is. Wouldn't it make sense that someone who understands magic should be my mentor? Especially one that works for this world's greatest institution of good?"
"Doctor Fate isn't…." He hesitated, contemplating his response. "He's difficult to deal with, apart from being a League member. As a god of Order he's less humane and more…well…."
"Brutal," she replied. He grimaced.
"I would have said something less harsh."
"And less true."
"But he is an entity, they're not supposed to be humane."
"And you want to learn under someone like that?" He wasn't accusing, although he wasn't passive either.
"Maybe that's what I need," she said calmly. Robin clearly didn't.
"Doctor Fate doesn't exactly deal with empathy for people," he said coldly. "Your time learning from him would be…tough."
"Maybe that is what I need," she repeated, flipping through the book in front of her. "If I was so dangerous to have done all this, then clearly I lacked the discipline required of my abilities."
"Do you really believe that?" Robin asked. She shrugged, uncommitted to their conversation either way.
"I don't know. I have no other reason to believe otherwise."
"Can I sit with you?"
She looked up to see Beast Boy—Garfield—standing behind her, hands shoved into the pockets of his jeans as he bounced nervously on the balls of his feet. She nodded from beneath her hood and watched him settle down on the smooth surface of the boulder. In front of them the late afternoon sun made the water sparkle, and the waves lapped against the rocky shore that they sat on. Raven didn't turn away, but just folded her hands in her lap and watched him.
"You can go back to meditating," he said, staring out at the water. She blinked.
"Wouldn't that be considered rude now that you're here?" she asked. He laughed, a nervous sound.
"When have you ever worried about being rude?"
"I wouldn't know." When he turned to look at her she sighed. There it was again, the look of pity that the Titans were always giving her. It was starting to become a nuisance.
"How have the lessons been going?" he asked, reverting their conversation rather abruptly. She shrugged.
"I'm learning a lot. The information is overwhelming."
"I would think so. Decade's worth and all." He made a face and she tilted her head to the side.
"You think I'm talking about the quantity," she said. His brow furrowed.
"Well, not anymore." He leaned back on his hands and raised an eyebrow. Raven's eyes remained glued to his face, fascinated with the animation of it. He was so different from Robin, whose intentions were found in the smallest of nuances, and even Starfire, who was an open book for all to understand. His emotions were exaggerated tenfold in his outward appearance, making it almost more difficult to decipher what he was actually feeling. It turned him into a contradiction, a blatant mystery, a straightforward enigma. "What were you talking about?" he asked.
"Quality." She looked down over the edge of the rock, at the water splashing against the stones. "I grew up in the temples of Azarath, with no contact beyond the monks who raised me. Now I'm being told I've spent years fighting with superheroes and saving the world. It sounds imaginary."
"Says the girl with the magic," he breathed, smiling feebly.
"Says the girl who doesn't understand how it all happened." She looked over her shoulder, at the Tower looming behind them. "Says the girl who doesn't understand how a place like this became her home. So different from the temples." She brought her eyes back down to his. "So different from the monks."
"I would hope so," Beast Boy replied, his tone easy but his aura an array of confusion. "Wouldn't want to be lumped together with some celibate old crones in robes."
"They weren't all celibate," she replied offhandedly, a comment that instantly flushed Garfield's cheeks red and made his confused aura even more distressed.
"Oh," he said, swallowing hard and fidgeting in his seat. Raven eyed his nervous actions, frowning at how uncomfortable he had apparently become in his own skin. "Well that's…um. Doesn't that kind of defeat the purpose, though?"
"Well, they're monks."
"I mean…well, I don't know…huh." He scratched aggressively at his head and growled, covering his face with his hand. "Sorry."
"I don't know why you're apologizing," she said, and then absently thought that she had spoken that phrase so often in the passing weeks. The Titans seemed quickest to apologize when the atmosphere became strained, and she didn't understand why.
"The subject caught me off guard."
"Why, are you celibate?" she asked, and his head snapped up so quickly that she flinched just the slightest bit.
"Wha-! No, of course not! I mean…no, I mean it's not like I'm just—I wasn't talking about myself being celibate…because I'm not-. But I'm not…I'm not active or, um, I'm just…." He was flustered beyond comprehensible speech, and his hands were waving around so erratically that he threatened to clock her right in the jaw. She reached up and grabbed his wrists, steading his extravagantly pointless struggle.
"You don't have to talk," she said evenly. She lowered his arms and he stared at her. "I don't want to be hit in the face."
"Um, sorry," he said blankly. She nodded and started to withdraw her hands, but then he let out a sporadic 'no' and darted out for her. He closed his fingers around own, holding her tightly, as if he were afraid she'd slip away. Their gazes met, they both blinked in a moment of silent perplexity, and then he practically threw their hold away, scrambling to his feet. "No, I was…uh…sorry," he said again, and then did little more than turn tail and run.
She watched him go, wondering why he had been so red for being so green.
Odd, she thought.
In a moment of desperation, (or as desperate as someone of her emotional restraint could be), she had gone to Cyborg searching for answers.
What and why.
What had happened that had pushed her to forget?
And why couldn't she know?
He had been firm in his silence, shaking his head and telling her that he had made her a promise to never say.
But what good was a promise that she couldn't even remember?
"You shouldn't ask about the past," Beast Boy—Garfield—had told her.
She had been walking out of Cyborg's garage when she ran into him just outside the doors. He had been avoiding her for nearly two days, after he had tossed her hands aside and fled from the boulder. Now he was standing in front of her, dressed in the uniform that made him into Beast Boy and clearly admitting that he had eavesdropped on her conversation.
"That could have been private," she said, almost annoyed. Almost. He shrugged.
"Doesn't matter. You shouldn't ask."
"Because," he said, trudging forward. He brushed passed her towards the garage, displacing the air and filling it with a shroud of melancholy. "That's the whole point."
She didn't know why she had grabbed his arm.
She hadn't meant to, had no reason to stop him. Yet there she was, holding him in her grip and staring up at his face. The action itself confused her; she had never found physical contact easy since it had been scarce for most of her life. Yet when it came to him, to Garfield, it seemed almost…natural?
Was it a part of her hazy memories? Something that lingered for inexplicable reasons?
She frowned at his face, wondering why the gaping space between them always seemed so small.
"Was it for you?" she suddenly asked. His eyes widened and he turned away. "Or was it because of you?"
"Neither," he said. He slipped out of her grasp, and she remembered feeling his pulse race beneath his wrist. "It had nothing to do with me."
"Are you lying?" she asked. He laughed dryly, humorlessly, and glanced back at her.
"Shouldn't you be able to tell?" he shot back, and she couldn't be sure if the sarcasm in his words had been intended or not.
-"ever since their excursion into the city*" = Chapter 20 of Breaker