Ch. 8: The Strings That Connect

Disclaimer: I own nothing but the clothes on my back.

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"If you have something bad to say, say it through the puppet. You'll get into less trouble since you're technically not the one saying it." ~Anonymous

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Night After the Funeral:

Jason, still clad in his black funeral suit and red tie, had his hands smothered in his pant pockets, toying with a loose wristwatch. It was still night, his exhales in the form of a mist from the cold, and the environment around him was becoming boring. He sighed and brought the loose wristwatch to his jaded eyes. It was too late to be eleven o'clock so it must have been midnight. The numbers and hands would not tell him, its workings having stopped working years ago.

The boulders bordering the shore of Titan's Island were more interesting as time went ticking on as he waited. The air was getting colder, his exhales turned whiter, his patience was thinning, and the city was losing more life. The thought overwhelming his mind was that the funeral should have been done and packed up hours ago. They all should have been here. All except for one. Nightwing.

The guilt of killing Nightwing was long gone by now. It was already felt for some time so there was no need to let it control his mood all day and night. That was his logic. Now all that was left of his feelings towards the death of his brother was indifference. Cold indifference to fuel his already bitter heart.

A sudden noise awoke his senses and his ears reddened. Jason looked to the side and saw through his peripheral vision, a shadow of a circle atop a vertical rectangle. Instantly, he knew who it was. He shoved his hands in his pant pockets once again and looked at the dark horizon. He chuckled and his misty breath escaped. The figure moved closer until it was several yards away.

"I thought Cinderella's carriage had broken. It's past midnight," he said with new humor.

Silence.

Jason looked down, no smile on his blue lips. "I see. A woman of few words seldom speaks." He turned to her. "But that wasn't the case hours ago in front of his casket, was it?"

"Stop playing. Why did you want to meet me here?" She finally spoke.

"I just wanted to finally greet you face-to-face for the first time."

"Am I that famous that I appeal to the dead?"

"I'm not dead," he raised his skin-covered hand, "as you can see."

"So we've met before?" She scoffed. "I'd remember an experience like that."

"It is not as ridiculous as it sounds, Raven," he said.

"To you. So what do you want now that we meet?" Raven asked.

"I want to reassure you about … Nightwing's death."

She iced up and the cold air around her finally got to her.

"What would you know?" She said as chilled as the climate.

Jason chuckled. "More than you actually. But let me tell you this … I know it wasn't your fault. It was Red X's doing. With the gun. Aren't I right?"

He walked closer to her when she did not respond immediately. She sunk into her cloak even more and her hood fell, her hair running slowly and softly in sync with the wind. Jason smiled gently at the view of her. She looked so fragile, so delicate, so frail, and so beautiful in a way.

"I'm right, I know. But let me tell you something that may ease or complicate your mind … okay?"

Silence from her.

"I know who Red X is. I know where he dwells, when he strikes … and what went down that day you found Nightwing on the floor. I know about the special gun, the encounters you had with Red X, and about the secret rendezvous you had with the dead man." He turned around to face the horizon once more.

"What?" She said through chained teeth.

"You heard right. I know it all. However, me sharing this information with you is optional, on both parts. Maybe if I feel like telling you, and if you want to know as well, then I will tell you."

"Of course I want to know! My friend died because of that maniac!" Raven shouted, then calming down.

"Huh!" Jason snorted. "As if you actually know …"

"What? Just spit it out already," she demanded.

"I just want to tell you not to use that gun you have. It's not safe."

"As if you know anything about it," she scoffed.

"I do." Jason pulled out a cotton beanie from inside his suit jacket and placed it on his head. "You see, I know everything there is to know about what has happened for the past week or so. That is, about you, Nightwing, and Red X."

"Enough with the subliminal, cryptic messages."

Jason sighed. "Sure. So that'll be all for now. I'll be going."

"No. I want to know what happened," Raven persisted.

"Not now. Later. Meet up again tomorrow?" He asked.

"For answers?" She asked.

"If that's what you want."

Raven appeared uncertain and vague, as if not reassured by his placate words. He was still facing the high moon and horizon under it, all his weight balancing lazily on one foot. His tall figure was outlined in the moonlight, letting an angelic ring encase him. The view of him appealed to Raven. She found herself blushing in the slightest with pink stripes. She saw him turn his head to the side, revealing his baby blues and pale skin. That sadly shocked her. He had several features similar to Nightwing, reminding her of him.

"So is it a date?" Jason questioned.

Raven shattered into reality and looked at him clearly. "What?"

"Meet me later today?"

"Today? Oh. I guess."

"Good. I'm looking forward to it. G'night, Raven."

"Bye," she said lowly.

Jason began walking towards her calmly, but with purpose in his gait. She froze up once again and felt a tickling sensation when he brushed by her. Raven did not turn to look where he was off to or how he was to get off Titan's Island, but when she did moments later, he was not there anymore.

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Jumping from great distances so familiar yet so dangerous, Red X made his way across rooftops of buildings, scraping on old and tattered tar. Jason's memory of earlier that day at midnight was a bit blurry and abstract so Red X did not pay any attention to it. What had his attention was the need to get to Titan's Tower to pay the old team a visit and "pay his respects." While he knew they were most likely going to welcome him with open weapons instead of arms, he still persisted on going. The anticipating thought of battling them only served to fuel his desire to go, not to act as a deterrent.

So off he went, tripping and slipping over cracked fragments, making it look like part of his plan until he reached the end of the city. At the very border, in contrast to the colors of his suit, the dark waters of the ocean licked at the ground he stood on. Titan's Tower was only a mile or so away. Red X smiled as he imagined sneaking inside the famous building with too much space, trespassing on forbidden territory and taunting the Titans.

Then again, it would not be as fun since Nightwing was not there anymore. He was in a place with no exit. How was he to enjoy his visit to the tower when his favorite enemy was not there to fight him? Who was he to taunt ominously? Cyborg was not as fun to mess with, Beast Boy was more animal than human when fighting, and Starfire was a ball of light no one could get close to. Raven? She was more likely to kill him rather than have the patience to fight him.

Red X sighed helplessly, slumping with a pout. Now, more than ever, he was wishing that Nightwing was alive just because he missed beating him up. Mentally, physically, and verbally. So maybe he should visit his second favorite team member of the Titans. Raven. Obviously, he would have to come up with a plan to get the gun away from her. That should not be as difficult as it sounded.

"I'll figure it out when I get there," he mumbled to himself.

Red X then went off in the direction of Titan's Tower. When he got there, to his surprise, the common room was empty. There were no loud noises, no Titans, and no movement. Red X, phasing into the common room through the windows, walked slowly further in and observed. There was no Beast Boy, no Cyborg, no Raven, and no Starfire. Odd as it was, Red X still kept going on into the tower's main room. And when he decided that there was no real life in the large room, he entered the dull hallway behind the automatic double doors.

As he ambled on, hands clasped behind his back, trickled down several stairs, he noticed a light coming from inside a room. Recognizing the corridor he walked himself into, Red X grinned mischievously. He crouched dowsed the button on his waist, and cautiously stuck his head through the wall. The first person he saw, or rather, the person closest to him, was, coincidentally, Raven. His grin broadened and he reached his hand to her cloak, tugging on it and then backing away from the wall.

Knowing he had limited time to move away from the door, he ran down the corridor and hid behind the corner. Once there, breathing heavily with excitement, he saw Raven come out of the room and glance around. He lightly drummed his dangerous fingers on the wall and waited for the right moment to strike. When that moment came, he grabbed a small red ball from his belt and bowled it to her feet, watching as it disintegrated into red goo as it rolled. She noticed it and, with eyes broad and filled with wonder, took steps back.

That's when she recognized what it was. A "toy" from Red X, the man on top of her "hit list."

Raven bit her lip and felt frustration and anger mix in her. She was frustrated with Red X, with what he was doing to her, and the hideous role he played in her life. She was angry at the facts that she had not been able to catch him and hang him, by the neck, from her ceiling, that he persisted in everything that was poisonous, and worst of all, that Jason knew everything she wanted to know. Her mood was turning toxic and her intentions crossed the border onto her demonic side. Her hands wanted to strangle him with that damned belt wrapped around his waist and to shove that corrupt gun down his throat.

The woman filled with hatred sought out her power and steered it in the direction she sensed her enemy's presence. There was a grunt and muffled thrashing. Raven closed the door to Nightwing's room and jerked her hand up, hearing the thump of a body hit the ceiling and whispers from the person. The slight voice she heard sounded distinctly familiar so she walked to the corner, peeking at who she had grasped in her black power. She gasped and ordered her black mist to recoil. She had not captured Red X, but captured Cyborg.

"Uh … sorry," she said shyly.

Cyborg breathed out and stretched out his artificial muscles. "Damn, girl! I thought we were on the same side."

"I thought you were someone else …"

"I'd hate to be that person. Who is it? Beast Boy? What'd he do now?" He asked, standing up.

"No. I just …" she turned around and saw that the red substance was nowhere to be seen. "I thought I saw him."

Cyborg's expression turned solemn. "Red X? Why would he be here? He knows we'd give him the biggest can of butt-woop," he joked, attempting to lighten the tense mood.

"I guess. It was just my imagination."

"Maybe," he said, rubbing the top of her head with his giant hand, almost like a brother. "Why don't you just go to your room. It seems like you've been taking the … death ... hard. I tried to convince Starfire too but she insists on helping out with cleaning."

Raven snorted with a slight smile. "Of course she would."

"Just go relax for a while, Raven, we got this."

She looked up at him wearily and he nodded reassuringly. "Okay. I'll see you all later."

Cyborg went inside the haunting room and left her alone. She looked around and disappeared into the floor.

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Lurking among the gray hallways of the famous tower, Red X dragged his red-coated fingers along the wall. Red paint trailed along with his fingers, marking the path it made. Making his way to Raven's room where she resided, smiling as he imagined what would happen while there. Anger, hatred, and probably sadness. All emotions he loved to feel from others. It was a plus when the person felt them for him. So he reached her door and marked it with a large "X", crudely crafted by his ominous fingers.

He knocked on the entrance and swept to the side. After a minute, it opened and called for him to make his move. He heard Raven give a feeble "hello" and he grinned mockingly as he transported inside to the farthest and darkest corner. When she came back inside, with a face pale and stomach cold, she halted in her steps and sunk into her cloak. A swell of mischievous emotions hit her like a headache and she squeezed her eyes closed, sitting down on her bed. Maybe Cyborg had been right about her needing to rest.

Raven lied down on the spherical mattress and buried herself in the silky ocean of blankets. There, and only there in her own burrow of fabric, she slept the headache away and the pain in her eyes as well. Unaware of anything, and not having a single inkling, blinded by her raging fatigue, she lied there in her own vulnerability. Red X's evil smirk never ceased to go away as he slickly passed over the fuzzy carpet of the foreboding room and beside the lonely nightstand, standing confidently next to the bed.

The criminal, glad to the gods above that the curtains were closed, moved swiftly and precipitously, like the experienced felon he was. He rapidly pulled the drawer open, cringing when it squeaked along the way, and paused immediately. When Raven moved under the thin covers, he crawled to the unseen side of the small nightstand and sat there. After that, no sound of movement was recorded and he resumed his offending task. Red X searched with his hands and pulled out a cylinder-like object: a magazine.

He smiled and clipped the magazine to his belt. Before he closed the drawer though, he noticed the gun inside and decided to have some sinister fun. Grabbing and holding the lethal weapon gently, he deposited it within a small hole in the burrow of blankets. Then did she stir, but was too tired and exhausted to actually wake or open her eyes. Red X stood up and, with courage flaming within his mind and stomach, leaned down to her face, pulled up his mask up to his nose, and pecked her on the cheek. A light moan of some sort sounded from her throat and suggested to him that she liked it. He pressed his lips to her cheek again and moved his mouth along her jaw, lingering beside her own lips.

The soft skin on her face made him crave her more and the carnal lust in him kindled. The time he spent kissing her everywhere on her face, but her lips, was well appreciated by him. It was only before she started responding with verbal answers that it all shattered in front of him.

"Nightwing?" She whispered, barely audible to his covered ears.

Red X paused his actions. He leaned back, looked down at her with unimpressed disgust and walked away, pulling his mask back down.

"Oh, brother … even when he's dead she thinks of him as still physically alive. Stupid girl. If only I wasn't so … infatuated with you, you'd be in a coma by now."

With those last cryptic words, Red X pressed the overused button on his belt and disappeared from the room that seemed to not want him.

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At Night:

"What a disgrace," Jason whispered. "This convict is really a basket case, isn't he? Now, not only does he seem to miss the point that he has done enough damage already, but it seems that he is popping up inside the tower? And painting … the walls?"

Raven, sitting with her knees up and bent, nodded and shrugged, staring numbly at the sea. Jason, in his black suit and red tie and beanie again, stared at her weirdly, sitting like her.

"And now you think he took the magazine from your nightstand?" He asked, gathering information.

She nodded again.

"Who knows what he would have done with that kind of power."

"He doesn't have the gun," Raven said. "I still have it. In fact, I woke up with it in my hand."

"I see. What I'm getting is that he wants you to think that you used the bullets, maybe? As you slept, that you did something with the bullets perhaps?" He suggested.

"Probably. Most likely. Red X is evil that way. Whatever. I just want to know more about him and what I need to know." She turned to him. "You mentioned it earlier."

"So I did …"

"What happened to Nightwing? Why did he die?" She asked instantly.

Jason turned grave. "Him and Red X ran into each other, much to Red X's intentions." He paused. "Red X never really used to hate Nightwing, but ever since he found out that you and him were having a friends with benefits relationship, that's when the hatred rolled in."

"So he was jealous?"

"Oh yeah. He's infatuated with you. Very much. So much that it drove him to killing Nightwing."

"His envy and feelings for me drove him to do that?" She asked incredulously.

"Not entirely. Him and Nightwing always had a rivalry, going back to early years, but I'm not giving that away."

"Okay. That gives me some insight on what happened. More?"

"Definitely, but there's only so much I can justify."

"I'll save you some time. So Red X killed Nightwing with the gun he gave me out of envy and hatred?" Raven questioned.

"Yes. And the red substance inside the bullets contained a poisonous chemical inside, lethal enough to kill someone when exposed to skin. That's another way your hero in black and blue succumbed to death."

"Makes sense. He would never fall because of a simple bullet. But when he gave me the gun, he said that it was incapable to kill. He lied."

"Not entirely or intentionally. He was wrong on how the gun worked. Either that or he added some special things without me knowing …" Jason mumbled.

"You worked with him?" Raven asked.

"No. I just know this. Let's just say we were close in a way."

She nodded and looked at the dark water. "So why are you telling me all this?"

Jason leaned back on his palms and stretched his legs. "I want to help. I want you to know this. Do you want to know more?"

"I think."

"He has cameras all over the tower, including your room, I think." Raven's eyes widened. "He's been watching you everywhere and at every time. The broken tapes Nightwing's dead body was lying on was of security footages. Red X destroyed evidence along with his greatest obstacle."

"What were on the tapes?"

"Him roaming around the tower hallways and damaging Nightwing's room, his last run-in with Nightwing, etcetera."

"So he's seen everything that's happened in my room and what I've done?" Raven asked with a blush.

"Yes. He also watched from your window, but you know that already don't you?" Jason smirked and turned to her.

"Yes. I caught him once ... can you tell me something else?"

"What?"

"Who is Red X?"

Jason's smile went down to a grim line. "Red X is Red X."

"Obviously, but what's his real name and identity?"

"I can't tell you."

"Why not? You already told me these other things."

"This is different. I cannot tell you this."

"Fine," she sighed. "Then I'll be going inside if that's all."

"Okay, good. You need your sleep," he said.

Raven stood up and patted down her cloak, filled with dust and dry dirt from the ground. "Yeah. Bye."

Before she could leave, Jason swiftly grabbed her upper arm with a ginger grip. She jerked and turned to him in shock. He stared into her eyes with his azure ones and a fiery feeling flamed within her stomach. Stripes of pink filled her cheeks but she still managed to look at him seriously and strongly.

"Meet up again tomorrow?" He asked with gentle confidence.

"Why?" She questioned.

"Just answer."

"Fine, here again tomorrow. Just let me go."

"Cool. See you later then."

He waved and began walking, Raven watching him until he turned by one of the tower's corners and disappeared. She looked ahead and took a moment to collect her thoughts before continuing on into the tower.

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