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 a bit dark, so read with caution and take care of yourselves. See end of chapter notes for specific trigger warnings. As always, I don't own anything! And I can't believe how naive I was to not make this very clear when I first posted this story - there will be NO furry content found here.


Heady

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, and no book. No concept called time. Certainly no girl named Raven.

He had a lot of practice at being not real, yet somehow he seemed to be getting worse at it.

It did not help that one of the most unhealthy topics for his mind to get stuck on was currently storming around her bedroom, every noise emphasising the fact he was still alive to hear it. She was mutturing as she went but the words were muffled by the chest his book was currently locked in, making him more and more desperately interested in whatever it was that had upset her the longer she carried on. He 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 the bedroom, leaving him completely alone once more.

He knew he would ruminate on this small clue about her life for hours today.

In the span of his life, mere hours were nothing. And yet time in the past few years had taken on a stretched out quality. Almost like his first few years in the book, where he'd lived every second in rage or fear. Only once those emotions had dulled had Malchior been been able to become not real for the first time.

After that, there had been long periods of his imprisonment where he hadn't really been present. Only stimuli outside of the book brought him back, suggesting as it did a chance of escape. When those opportunities inevitably did not pan out, he would stick around to read about the goings on of the new time, maybe learn a language or two. In spite of some surprises - the discovery of far off lands, nuclear bombs, the internet - Malchior found the same themes mostly repeated themselves. There was birth, death, war. Despair and hope. Love and hate. Rebuilding and degredation.

He always grew bored, and eventually became blessedly not real once more.

But then he'd met Raven. Or rather, he'd heard her speaking to the bookseller about taking his book home. He'd been curious of course, as very rarely did he find his way into human hands. But then she'd touched the front cover and raw power had pulsed through his prison, filling him with hope. 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 pretty, and very lonely.

Malchior had been fond of Raven immediately. Access to all the printed reading material in the world did not compare to human interaction and beyond that she was clever, funny and rather sweet. A little young, perhaps. Her crush on him was immediately obvious, and he leant on it heavily in his desperation for a way out. He needed her to help him the same way most needed oxygen. It was not usually a conscious choice to breathe but an instinct. And so yes, he'd taken advantage of her insecurities when it seemed like she might back out.

That didn't mean Malchior had felt good about it. But, really, he hadn't needed to stretch the truth all the much. Raven's friends evidently did not understand or appreciate her, while he truly found lovely.

Obviously, he'd lied about being the dragon. What girl in her right mind would trust a man who led with their greatest fault? He'd planned to tell her later, once he was out of the book. He'd thought they could be friends.

But then the unfortunate accident had occurred. He'd 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 truest crime against Raven was stupidity.

After all that, his feelings for the girl (woman now, really) were complicated. To be shoved so violently back into captivity after tasting freedom had been agony, and as unfair as it was, a part of him hated her for it. At the same time, he'd been impressed by her sheer power and quick-thinking. And then there was that fondness, which had since developed into something else...

The moment he'd realised he'd never see her again, Malchior had begun to miss Raven quite desperately.

Even before the book, it had been rare to meet anyone interested in the same things as him. Now whenever he read something interesting he yearned to hear her opinion and whenever he read something ridiculous he wished she were there to mock it with him. He'd stare at his drawings of her sometimes, and wonder if she still looked the same after four years.

Sometimes he'd play out a fantasy in his head, where the accident had never happened. Where he'd emerged a man, and they'd became more than friends.

Maddeningly, Raven was usually only a few metres away from his book at any given time. His nigh constant and only companion, even though she ignored his existence completely. He tracked her every move with an obsessive devotion he resented, because he suspected it was this that kept him tethered to this half-life by preventing him from becomming not real.

He'd been reading the research on solitary confinement with great interest lately. It told him what he already knew - that being locked up alone for extended periods was a profound form of psychological torture. The lucky coped by becoming not real, which the experts called dissociation, and which he could sadly no longer achieve. Malchior regularly begged any God that was out there to let him die, sure that even his misdeeds did not deserve this fate. In all the poems and songs about the hero Rorek, not once was the Sorcerer's deep streak of cruelty acknowledged. When a dog lashed out and bit, you killed it. You did not 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!

The thing that drove him most mad was not really Rorek's fault however. It was Raven's.

The bindings she'd cast to imprison him once more were not standing up well to time. When Malchior flexed his mind, there was a little give. It was but another layer to his torture. All day, every day, the desire to needle at that weakness called to him. He was sure that if he tried hard enough he could undo it eventually, thread by magical thread.

But then what?

Raven would only fling him back into the book if he escaped, and likely with stronger bindings. Or worse - what if she did not do so fast enough? Last time, his fondness for her had translated into a draconian need to play with his food, and that had saved her from death. If he got out again things would be different. The dragon inside him was incandescent with rage, and all that was cruel and bitter and entitled about him would merge with that uncontrollable magic to punish Raven for what she had done.

As badly as he wanted out, Malchior did not want to hurt her again. His memories between escaping and re-imprisonment were hazy, but he knew it must have been bad. It made him ache with shame to think of it - how would he live with himself if he hurt her physically as well as emotionally? If he snuffed out her light completely?

No, escape would have to wait. As penance for his lies and lack of foresight, he would see out Raven's stewardship over his book before trying to leave again. Or at least, he would do the best he could.

Malchior sighed without breath, knowing this line of thinking went nowhere good. He returned to the one word he heard clearly from Raven's lips this morning.

Breakfast.

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, but he knew he would be bereft without hearing her voice. The closest he came to rest or being not real was hearing her chant during meditation.

Azarath. Metrion. Zynthos. 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, her expression one of practised neutrality. Inside however, she was humming with bitterness.

The sun hit her eyes, which were unused to the brightness - rarely did she leave her room this early in the day. It contributed to her shock when a pair of strong hands took hold of her body and wheeled her in a new direction. Raven caught a split-second glimpse of Cyborg and Jinx at the breakfast bar before being forced roughly into a seat at the dinky kitchen table. Starfire let go of her and beamed. 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 for the breaking of the fast!" the alien princess cried, practically bursting with concentrated enthusiasm.

Raven began to protest, attempting to stand up. "That's not ne-"

"I have already done it." Starfire announced, pushing Raven back down and presenting a tray piled high with toast. "As the magicians say – Ta da!".

Raven glanced down at the stack of bread, which was consistently burnt but at least slathered in copious amounts of butter. Starfire's cooking improved by inches every year, and for that everyone was very thankful.

When Raven looked back up, Jinx was staring at her openly over her plate of Eggs Benedict. Cyborg had likely lovingly prepared it, as he was the only real chef in the Tower.

This was the first meal that Raven had shared with the team in months. But that wasn't Starfire's fault.

"Thank you." Raven said quietly.

Starfire grinned, somewhat manically, and sat directly across from the demoness as if trying to block her view. She happily crunched into a piece of toast without cringing, suggesting she had burnt it so thoroughly because she liked it that way.

"I am glad you have decided to break the nightly fast with us Raven!"

"You already said that."

Joining breakfast had not exactly been her choice. 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? Promising to make an appearance had really the only way to get him to shut up.

"That is because it makes me joyful! Please, would you like to spend some more time together after noon? It is almost the time of the festival of friendship on Tameran, and it would be pleasant and fruitful to go to the mall of shopping. I am planning to make us a feast of traditional dishes and we are in need of ingredients!" Starfire announced.

"I'm busy." Raven said. "Have a book to finish."

"Sounds urgent." Jinx remaked under her breath.

Raven opened her mouth to snap back, but Starfire continued their conversation hastily.

"Perhaps that is just as well! The feast is normally to be made by a group of friends, together, but the dishes are very complex. It will be easier to make them myself, as I am the only one who has had them before! The sleme cake, for instance, will require the re-baking 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 on everyone, but found it impossible to even pretend she cared how to make sleme cake while they were in her vicinity.

Raven had loved Cyborg. And yet here he was, sitting and laughing with Jinx instead. It had been a year since their break up, and she knew she should be over it, but it still stung like hell.

"- is my favourite in the entire Tameran calendar! And we do have a lot of festivals. The next 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'. An introvert and a realist who hadn't considered the possibility of a romantic relationship until after surviving her 16th birthday. But once it was possible, of course she'd wanted it. She wasn't so cut off from her own feelings as to lie to herself about that. Wanting love was the nature of the human condition.

"Romance is not 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 so right now. It's just that friendship and the kind of love Raven thought about at night were different.

Cyborg was, of course, no longer considered a friend. It wasn't just the fact of the break up. It was the way he'd gone about it. At least Malchior had ripped the band-aid off quickly. Plus Raven knew she'd been stupid in that situation, getting so attached to someone she couldn't even touch for a scrap of affection. With Cyborg, she didn't know what she was meant to have done differently. Apparently knowing someone for years didn't mean you could trust them. People changed. That's what had brought them together in the first place. They'd been like siblings, and then Raven had turned 16 safely and could suddenly feel things without endangering lives. She'd stopped hiding so much. She made eye contact more, let her hair grow long so she could tuck it behind one ear and look people in the eye. Sometimes she smiled or even laughed. Cyborg had noticed, and one day while they were working on the T-car had told her so and kissed her.

No one had ever pictured them together before it happened, but after the fact it made perfect sense. He was one of her closest friends. He was attractive, with a good balance of intelligence and good-humour. He kept things light for the most part but wasn't afraid of getting serious either. And after years of co-habitation and trauma-bonding he knew her. Knew when to push and when to back off.

They'd moved slowly at first, and kept it all a secret from the team. She'd already lost her virginity to a boy in a club just before her 16th birthday (it had been fine), but Cyborg insisted on waiting months before touching her properly. When the team had found out about the relationship, it had been a joyful occassion.

The relationship had lasted about a year, bridging her 17th and 18th birthdays and extending just a few months more. The real problems had started in the last two, though there had been issues before that. It had never been the most passionate relationship of all time, for one. Cyborg had said once that she scared him with how quiet she could be, how little of her feelings she shared. He thought it odd she never wanted to talk about her childhood and still wouldn't let him hang out in her room. In turn, Raven hated how 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 all that mattered to him. But it hadn't been a big deal until Jinx had joined the team after approaching Robin off the street, saying she'd changed and wanted to switch sides. At first he'd been suspicious, but Jinx had convinced him to put it to the team for a vote.

For the record, Beastboy also voted no initially. And to her credit, when the decision to let Jinx join the team was made official, she was not hostile. She probably spoke to the pink-haired witch more in those two months than she ever would again, even if they both remained Titans for the rest of their lives.

When Cyborg had become distant, Raven hadn't worried. If she'd known quite how much time he was spending with Jinx, she might have. But she hadn't thought to attribute certain events (that she and Cyborg kept missing out on alone time, that old arguments kept getting triggered by happenstance) to the literal bad luck charm that had moved in to the tower. Eventually, he'd sat Raven down and told her the truth - he was so so sorry, but he had lingering feelings for Jinx from his time undercover. He hadn't realised until seeing her again. And then he hadn't said anything straight away because he'd needed time to figure out what he wanted. But he was sure now. He wanted Jinx instead.

Raven learned later that Robin had found out what was going on, and given Cyborg an ultimatum – end things with Raven, or Robin would tell her himself.

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.

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, feeling her soul harden. They'd not spoken again outside of work or the thinly veiled insults she sometimes lobbed in their direction since.

Raven was broken out of her reverie 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, or punished them for it. What could a family do when one of its member genuinely followed his heart?

She found their maturity and refusal to take sides infuriating and remained on the team only because:

1. Why should she be the one to leave?

2. Where would she go if she did?

"Could you chew quietly?" Raven asked Jinx, her voice as even as ever but her irritation towards the witch quite clearly implied.

Jinx's jaw tightened, but she didn't respond. Given her famous hot-headedness, it was remarkable that Raven had not yet been able to provoke her. Hex me, just once, she often thought.

"Sorry Starfire, go on." Raven added, realising she'd interrupted Starfire mid-monologue. Raven knew her behaviour was fast veering towards outright unprofessional but no one had properly told her off for it yet.

"Raven?" Robin asked sharply. "Can I talk to you outside?"

She sighed audibly and followed her leader to the hall, feeling very much like a 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, matching her with the tone of a tired mother.

"You're the one who said I need to be around the rest of the team more." Raven pointed out.

"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- she made a better shopping companion for Starfire, was more present in team strategy meetings and trainings, could actually stand Beastboy's jokes, and looked more natural with Cyborg. Couldn't Raven at least have their leader?

"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 replied.

There was no therapist in the world 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 a room with them."

She hated that she'd used the word cope. She should have said stand.

Robin's eyes softened. "Okay. I'm sorry. I think it's good you came today. I do."

"I'm trying."

"I know you are."

"Good."

Their talk was interrupted by Robin's cellphone ringing. They shared a wary look, and he answered. The way his eyebrows shot up a few seconds in to the call did not bode well.

"We'll be there soon." Robin said eventually, in a low voice, and hung up. "That was the chief of police."

"That's unusual." Raven remarked.

The police force in Jump City rarely communicated directly with the Titans. Understandably, there was a bit of tension and insecurity in that particular relationship too.

"There was a disturbance reported at the docks early this morning. Not an emergency, just a jogger calling in about weird noises. The police were under-staffed so they didn't check it out straight away, but apparently once they got around to it they found a bunch of dead bodies."

"Exactly how many is a bunch?" Raven asked.

"He wasn't specific. More than a few, I guess." Ribin replied grimly.

"This doesn't seem in our purview."

"The chief said there was a lot of… occult stuff. At the scene. They want us to take a look."

"It's probably just someone trying to cover their tracks. Hiding a run-of-the-mill murder with a pentagram drawn in blood." she said, though she felt suddenly cold.

Robin nodded. "I hope you're right."

"Better go tell the others." she said, now in business mode. It was much easier to face them during work hours.

"Think this is a job for everyone?" he eyed her sceptically.

She smiled wryly, in spite of the sudden turn the day had taken.

"I don't know. Maybe you should let everyone make their own choices and deal with the consequences in their own way."


TW: references to suicide, extreme loneliness, awful break ups.

Will do my best to update weekly if there's interest in it!