Hello, old and new friends. This COVID-19 quarantine has me wanting to do something fun, so I'm back reading and writing fanfiction! Who has the energy to emotionally invest in new worlds?
This is an old story being revamped (again). Some passages and scenes will remain the same or highly similar. Changes to key plot points and characterisation will also occur. Get ready for some highly unpopular ships!
This story will be dark, so read with caution and take care of yourself. See end of chapter notes for specific trigger warnings.
1. Potent, intoxicating
2. Likely to cause conceit
3. Impetuous, violent.
Malchior was trying to pretend he was not real. That there had never been a boy, a man or a dragon by his name. No magic, no death. No Rorek, no battle, no book. Not even a concept called time. Certainly no girl named Raven.
He had a lot of practice at this, yet felt his skill was diminishing somehow.
It did not help that one of the most unhealthy topics for his mind to get stuck on was currently storming around her room, every noise emphasising the fact that he was indeed real. She was muttering as she dressed for the morning (or at least he thought that was what she was doing, as he had not actually seen her in several years). Every now and then one of her words was punctuated with extra volume and feeling although he couldn't hear what she said exactly, as sound was muffled by the chest his book was currently locked in. He found himself more and more desperately interested in whatever it was that had upset her the longer she carried on.
Malchior finally made out one word hissed with an unusual amount of venom ("breakfast"), before she slammed her closet door with unnecessary force and walked out of her bedroom, leaving him completely alone.
He knew that he would ruminate on this small clue about her life for hours - such had been his primary hobby for the past few years. In the scheme of his lifetime (if you wanted to expand a description of his existence that far), he knew this span of time should seem like nothing. But something about these particular years felt longer than most, more akin to the first he had spent trapped in the book. He supposed it was the quality of emotion that made them feel similar. The rage and fear when he'd first been trapped had been immense, but one couldn't hold onto such intensity for centuries. His feelings had dulled somewhat there in the middle, faded in the way things do when you sit with them for long enough. Only once that happened had he been able to pretend he was not real with any success.
After that there had been long stretches of Malchior's imprisonment where his mind had gone somewhere else, returning only in response to stimuli outside of the book which suggested a chance at escape. When these opportunities did not pan out, he would stick around in the time where he resurfaced to read about its goings on. In spite of some surprises -the discovery of far off lands, nuclear bombs, the pace of technology lately- Malchior found the same themes mostly repeated themselves. He saw more and more the inevitability of certain things – birth, death, war, wealth, revolution. He would become bored with it all, and then eventually he would become blessedly not real once again.
But then he had met Raven. Rather, he'd first heard her voice as she spoke to the bookseller about purchasing him. Malchior had only been curious then, as very rarely did his book find its way into human hands. Although he had access to all the printed reading material in the world, one came to appreciate any form of interpersonal interaction. When she had finally touched the book, he'd known immediately she was more than a novelty. Her power had pulsed through his prison and filled him with an all-encompassing hope for escape. Feeling a magical signature other than Rorek's influence pressing in on him had been like inhaling fresh air after living an entire lifetime underground.
It had been a fantastic bonus when she opened the book and he saw she was both very beautiful and very lonely.
Malchior had been fond of her immediately and leant on this instinct in his desperation for a way out. An insurance policy - he'd needed her to help him. There had been cause for panic that their connection would not be enough to secure his escape at a few points, especially when she expressed distaste for his method of magic. In response, he'd taken advantage of her insecurities.
That had not felt good, but she had made it easy for him to do it.
And it wasn't like he had to stretch the truth all that much. Her friend's really didn't understand her. He really did think she was wonderful, to talk to and to look at, and to be around in general.
Of course he had lied about being the dragon. What girl would trust someone who led with their greatest fault?
He couldn't risk her leaving. He planned to tell her later, once he was out of the book.
He had never planned to try and kill her. That had been an accident. Malchior blamed himself for not anticipating it. He had entered the book as a dragon in a state of pure, unadulterated hatred for all of humanity. Out of his mind with power, rage and grief. Of course he was going to come out in the same state.
His current feelings for Raven were… complicated. That initial fondness had grown into something else, at times much darker, and at times the most pure thing about him. Raven had saved him, and then trapped him yet again. He had manipulated her and ended up hurting himself. She made him ashamed and he hated himself for making her doubt her worth. He grieved for her and was obsessed with her every move. He missed their talks desperately. Sometimes, he made love to her all night long in his thoughts.
She was his only companion and she ignored his existence completely.
Since Raven had thrown him back into the book he had also found himself painfully real most of the time. Tethered to his half-life by fresh emotion, he supposed. He had found himself begging any god that was out there to let him die more than once, sure that even his misdeeds were not so unforgivable as to deserve this fate. He was especially bitter that in all the poems and songs written about the hero Rorek, no one had ever acknowledged the Sorcerer's deep streak of cruelty. What being, no matter how evil, deserved this? Malchior knew that when a dog lashed out and bit, you killed it. You didn't lock it in a cave to starve to death. You certainly did not curse it to live for eternity, lock it in a cave and then leave it there to suffer!
In recent years he had read all existing research on solitary confinement with great interest, only to find what he already knew – that being locked alone in silence for extended periods was the most profound form of psychological torture. His only saving grace was his mind's capacity to render itself not real (he read that experts now called this dissociation) and now that was gone too.
There was also the fact that the bindings Raven had him in were not quite as powerful as Rorek's. When he flexed his mind, there was a little give, and he felt less hemmed in somehow. This was only another layer to his torture.
Malchior knew Raven would fling him back into his prison (with stronger bindings) if he escaped. Yet it was the alternative thought which kept him from even trying – what if she did not do so fast enough? It had only been the fact that his human feelings for her had translated into a draconian need to play with his food that had saved her from death last time. If he was able to get out again he knew things would be different. The dragon inside was incandescent with rage and all that was cruel and bitter and entitled about him would merge with that uncontrollable magic to destroy a woman responsible for keeping him locked up.
Escape would have to wait. As penance for his lies and lack of foresight, Malchior would see out her stewardship over his book before he even tried. Or at least, he would do the best he could.
He sighed without breath inside his prison, knowing this line of thinking went nowhere good. He returned to the one word he heard clearly from Raven's lips this morning.
What could be so bad about that? With all of his mental energy he could not envision something more pleasant than the opportunity to eat something.
Raven's tendency to talk to herself was maddening in that it routinely confused him without resolution, however he knew he would be bereft without hearing her voice. The closest he came to rest these days was hearing her chant during meditation.
Azarath Metrion Zynthous, repeated until that phrase was all there was in the world.
He resolved to think about that instead.
Raven took a deep breath and entered the common area, fixing her expression into a mask of practiced neutrality even though the hood of her cloak was already raised (Robin always said it was good to have back up). It struck her first that it was sunnier in the common room than she remembered at this time of day. This brightness contributed to her shock when strong hands commandeered her body, wheeling her in a different direction than she'd originally intended to go.
Raven caught a split-second glimpse of Cyborg and Jinx sitting at the breakfast bar, before she was forced into a dining chair by Starfire. As usual, her team mate seemed unaware of her own strength.
"Friend Raven, I am so glad you are joining us! Let me make your food!" the Alien Princess cried, practically bursting with concentrated enthusiasm.
"There's really no nee-" Raven began to protest, attempting to stand up.
"I've already done it." Starfire announced, pushing Raven back down into her chair and presenting a tray piled high with toast. "As the magicians say – Ta da!".
There was something manic in Starfire's movements, and Raven was under no illusions as to the cause. This was the first morning the demoness had shared a meal with the rest of her team in months.
She frowned down at the stack of toast, which was consistently burnt but at least slathered in copious amounts of butter. Starfire's cooking improved by inches every year, and for that Raven was thankful.
She was also thankful she had not been shoved into a seat at the breakfast bar, and therefore decided not to complain too much about her rough handling. It was one thing to be betrayed, and another to sit directly across from the culprits at breakfast.
"Thank you." Raven said quietly.
Her decision to remain calm quickly leaving her thoughts, she shot a quick glare at Cyborg and Jinx. Although they had looked up in trepidation upon her entry to the common room, they were now talking quietly over two plates of eggs Benedict (which Raven assumed the half-robot had lovingly prepared).
Starfire sat down across from the demoness, gamely trying to block her view while crunching into a piece of toast without cringing (it appeared she liked it this way).
"I am glad you have decided to break the nightly fast with us Raven!"
"You already said that." Raven muttered.
Joining breakfast had not exactly been her choice. Rather, Robin had ordered her to start participating in communal life again under threat of double trainings. Also, he thought she wasn't eating enough. Also, was she sure she didn't want to talk?
"Well, that is because I am very glad! Would you like to spend some more time together this afternoon? It is almost the time of the festival of friendship on Tameran, and it would be nice to go to the mall of shopping for supplies. I am planning to make us a feast of traditional dishes!"
"No thanks." Raven said, attempting and succeeding to glare around her friend. Cyborg and Jinx ignored this, or were perhaps used to it.
"Perhaps that is just as well. The feast for the festival is normally made by a group of friends, together, but the dishes are complicated and it might be easier to make them myself as I am the only one who has had them before! The sleme cake, for instance, will require re-baking at least four times and I am not sure what earth fruits I can use to-"
Starfire was often talkative, but this was nervous babbling. Raven knew her friend was trying to make things easier for everyone, but found it impossible to even appear as if she cared how to best cook food no one in their right minds would ever eat. Not while they were in her vicinity.
Raven had loved Cyborg. And yet here he was, sitting and laughing with Jinx instead.
She knew it had been almost a year since their break up, and that she should be well over it by now. Yet it still hurt.
"I think that the festival of friendship is my favourite in the whole Tameran calendar! That is saying something, as we do have a lot of festivals. My second favourite is perhaps the festival of sighs, which is focused on romantic love between-"
The biggest misconception people had about Raven was that she didn't want love. It was true that she was 'different' and an introvert. It was also true that she was a realist who hadn't considered the possibility of a romantic relationship until after she had survived her 16th birthday. But once she had, of course she'd wanted it. She wasn't one of those people who lied to themselves and said they were fine with being completely isolated.
Raven knew that wanting love was the very nature of the human condition – even a first year psychology textbook will tell you that babies fail to thrive without emotional connection, regardless of how well they are physically cared for. This fact made Raven wonder if she only managed to survive infancy by virtue of her demon blood. The act of being loved was largely unfamiliar to her - even her mother's was the distant kind.
"Not that romance is the most important thing!" Starfire amended a statement that Raven had not even heard, with a shrill tone and a look of fear.
Raven made a vague noise of agreement in an attempt to throw her best friend a bone. She wasn't completely drowning in self-pity – she knew her friends loved her and that Starfire was showing her this right now. It's just that friendship and the kind of love Raven thought about at night were different things.
Cyborg was no longer included in the friendship category, of course. He'd excluded himself.
At least Malchior had ripped the band-aid off quickly. Raven knew she'd been stupid in that situation, getting so attached to someone she couldn't even touch in exchange for a scrap of affection. She had learned her lesson there, not that it had helped with Cyborg. With him, she didn't know what she was meant to have done differently.
He had been her friend for years. Shouldn't that be long enough to know someone?
She supposed that sometimes, things just changed. She and Cyborg had started off like siblings at first, after all. But then Raven had turned 16 and could suddenly feel things without blowing up half the tower and endangering lives, and it had become clear that they were not actually brother and sister. Cyborg had started to see her differently and act accordingly. Raven had stopped hiding quite so much. She'd made eye contact more, wore her hood down. Let her hair grow longer so she could tuck it behind one ear, no longer wanting to cover her face. Sometimes she smiled, or even laughed. And then one day while they were working on the T-car, Cyborg had kissed her.
Raven had never really pictured the two of them together before that day, but when it happened the whole thing seemed to make perfect sense. Cyborg was one of her closest friends. He was attractive and intelligent. He was funny and liked to keep things light for the most part, but he was not afraid of being serious either. He also knew when to push her and when to back off. Who else would Raven be with? He was already her family. He would never hurt her (she thought, at the time).
They'd moved slowly at first, physically. She didn't lose her virginity to him – that had happened already, with a boy she met in a club just before her 16th birthday (it had been fine). Cyborg had been intensely surprised by that revelation.
They hadn't told the rest of the team for a while, kept it a sweet secret between them. When everyone found out, they were all happy. The relationship had lasted about a year, spanning the time between her 17th and 18th birthdays and then a few months more.
The few months more were where the problems started.
When Jinx had joined the team. She had gone to Robin directly, saying she'd changed and wanted to switch sides. At first he was suspicious, but Jinx convinced him enough that he put it to a team vote. For the record, Beastboy had also voted no initially. And to Raven's credit, when the decision to let Jinx join the team was made official, she was not hostile. Raven probably spoke to the pink-haired witch more in those few months than she ever would again, even if they both remained Titans for the rest of their lives.
When Cyborg had became distant, Raven hadn't worried or complained (she liked time to herself). She also hadn't known quite how much time he was spending with Jinx. And somehow she hadn't attributed certain things (that she and Cyborg kept missing opportunities to spend time alone, that old arguments kept getting triggered by happenstance) to the literal bad luck charm that had moved in to the tower.
Eventually, Cyborg had sat Raven down and told her he was so so sorry, but he had lingering feelings for Jinx from his time undercover. He hadn't realised this until he saw her again. He hadn't said anything straight away because he'd needed time to figure out what he wanted.
He was sure now that he wanted Jinx.
Raven learned later that Robin had somehow found out what was going on, and had given Cyborg an ultimatum – end things with Raven, or Robin would tell her himself. Cyborg had been too afraid until then.
Raven often wondered what Jinx had that made it worth it for Cyborg to blow up the foundation of the entire team. He still swore that his relationship with her had not been physical while he was still with Raven. His explanation was that his bond with Jinx was different, special. Raven found this was not much of an explanation at all, even though she had always known their relationship had its problems.
It hadn't been the most passionate of all time (that was partly why she'd liked it) but it had been easy and fun. Cyborg hadn't liked that Raven still wanted to spend long stretches of time alone, reading or meditating. He'd said once that she scared him with how quiet she could be, how little of her feelings she shared. That he knew they all had difficult pasts but it was odd she never wanted to talk about her childhood and still wouldn't let him hang out in her room. Raven had hated that the one thing he never wanted to talk about was her half-demon side, feeling strangely hurt by his insistence that the human part of her was the only part that mattered to him. But overall, the relationship had still been bliss for her, compared to what she thought her life would be. Up until her father's death she had not been able to laugh freely out of fear of killing those around her.
How was she to know that pleasures like comfort, trust and security were not enough for other people?
Of course Cyborg had desperately wanted them to retain some kind of friendship going forward. I still love you, he'd said, pleading. Just not like that. Raven had stared blankly back at him, until she processed what he was saying and felt her very soul harden. She had walked away without a word on that occasion, and they had not directly spoken again (outside of work and the aggressive remarks she lobbed in their direction when feeling particularly resentful). At eighteen and a few months, Raven had regressed to her fifteen-year-old self again. She was nineteen now, and nothing much had changed.
Raven was broken out of her thoughts by the sound of Beastboy entering the room. He automatically sat down with Cyborg and Jinx, not registering her presence.
Although the Titans were desperately sad for her, none of them resented Cyborg and Jinx their happiness. What can a family do when one member genuinely follows his heart, even if it disrupts the entire system? She found their mature responses secretly infuriating and remained on the team only because:
1. Why should she be the one to leave?
2. Where would she go?
Another peal of laughter from their table, and Raven felt that being in this room was torture. Usually she was only around the couple for short periods during which she was also focused on crime fighting, however in this setting her powers of empathy were dominant. That she could feel their love for one another was strong and vital like a heartbeat made her angrier, if possible.
"Could you chew quietly?" Raven suddenly said, voice unnaturally even but aggression implied. She was not even sure which of the trio she was even directing her comment at and was actually irritated by their chatter, but she couldn't exactly ask them not to talk.
Jinx's jaw tightened but she didn't respond. Given her hot-headedness, it was remarkable that Raven had not yet been able to provoke her. Hex me, just once, she often thought.
"Sorry Star, go on." Raven added, realising she'd interrupted Starfire mid-monologue. Raven knew her behaviour was fast veering towards outright bitch, but no one had properly told her off for it yet.
"Raven?" Robin asked sharply.
She looked up with a start – when did he get here?
"Can I talk to you outside?"
She sighed audibly, annoyed at herself for conjuring him with her thoughts. She followed her leader to the hall, feeling very much the defiant child. He turned back to face her once he was sure they wouldn't be overheard.
"Can you please try and be a little nicer?" He asked, with the air of a tired mother.
"You're the one who said I have to be around the rest of the team more." Raven pointed out. He ignored her remark.
"Okay, nice was too strong a word. Can you be a little less aggressive?"
"So I'm the one at fault here?"
Raven knew she was being unfair, but she wanted Robin to be wholly on her side. Jinx felt like Terra reincarnated – a girl slotting into the team better than Raven had, even though Raven had been around for much longer. She knew Jinx made a better shopping companion for Starfire, was more present in team strategy meetings and trainings, and could actually stand Beastboy's jokes. She even looked more natural with Cyborg.
Raven also knew that her overall demeanour wasn't doing her any favours. There had always been the option to face this situation graciously - maybe retreat to her room for a few weeks (understandable), emerge sore but standing (sympathetic), at first tolerating their presence (admirable) but eventually brokering peace (as a gift to the team). But that path didn't do justice to the hurt she felt, and required her to confront things that were tremendously painful on a daily basis.
To face head on that this relationship too, was not for her. That maybe she would always be denied this kind of love. That at best, she would get to be a placeholder. And that as smart as she was, she was fucking stupid when it came to men.
So instead she made meals awkward with her presence - when she was forced to go to them.
"That's not what I said. You know, I was serious about the whole, do you want to speak to someone thing."
"I'm not going to a psychologist. Maybe you should suggest it to him, to deal with his love addiction. Or to her, so she can unpack whatever it was that made her a criminal in the first place." Raven said.
What therapist in the world was equipped to handle her daddy issues anyway?
"I'm not suggesting you're ill. Just that you've been through a lot in the last few years, and that maybe talking to someone neutral would be helpful. So you can adjust."
"I don't need to talk Robin, I need to meditate more so I can cope with being in the room with them."
Her voice cracked somewhat on the word cope, and she cursed herself.
Robin's eyes softened.
"Okay. I'm sorry. I think it's good you came today, I really do."
"I'm trying Robin."
In reality, Raven knew she wasn't fine. She was full of resentment and couldn't see a way out of it.
Their talk was interrupted by Robin's cellphone ringing, and Raven waited while he answered it and spoke in a low voice to whoever was on the other end. After a minute, he ended the call.
"That was the chief of police." He said, expression suddenly grim.
Raven raised an eyebrow.
The police force in Jump rarely communicated directly with the Titans. Understandably, there was a bit of tension and insecurity in that particular relationship too.
"Apparently there was a disturbance reported at the docks early this morning. Not an emergency, just a jogger calling in about weird noises. It wasn't an emergency and the police were under-staffed so they didn't check it out until this morning. Apparently they found a bunch of dead bodies."
"How many is a bunch?" Raven asked, feeling herself go suddenly cold.
"He wasn't specific. More than a few, I guess."
"And how is this in our purview?"
"They chief said there was a lot of… occult-like stuff at the scene. They want us to take a look."
Raven took a deep breath. It probably wasn't anything to worry about, beyond the usual cause for despair if you looked too closely at humanity. The police likely wouldn't recognise real magical rituals if they were carried out in the middle of the precinct. Probably a drug deal gone wrong, and then someone had drawn a pentagram in blood to cover it up. Still, she felt slightly sick.
"Better go tell the others." she said. She felt more comfortable facing them all in this context, at least.
"Think this is a job for everyone?" he asked her sceptically.
"I think you don't always know best and should give people a chance to make their own choices, deal with things in their own way." Raven half-smiled.
"Yeah, yeah, okay. Point taken. Go get ready."
He smiled back, in spite of the nerves they both felt.
TW: references to suicide, extreme loneliness, awful break ups.
Will do my best to update weekly if there's interest in it!