Two's Company

April 06, 2018:

Three's a crowd. Raven and Red Robin perch above the streets below, sizing each other up.

Diamond District, Gotham

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Impulse, Spider-Man, Wonder Girl, Zatanna Zatara, Oracle

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

There are words for places like the Diamond District. Glitzy. Glamour. A place where dreams can be made reality through hard work and loads of connections, all of it trending, posh, stylish for the up-and-coming.

To Rachel, she thinks otherwise. While she knows the buzzwords aren't wrong, she frankly believes that they're overused. The more it's said, the less of a meaning it has.

Yet she's fine with it. Trends are annoying, but they do have some good points. Like the drink in her hand, for example. Some strange tea concoction in a blend of ice and milk is slowly sipped through a straw, looking down from her perch on top of one of the shops like a gargoyle no one seems to notice. When she's not busy trying to stop crime or teamed up with a happy-go-lucky patrol partner, she's people-watching. And that's just good practice anyway, it's always good to be aware of the surrounding areas and its populace.

Most people never look up.

It's a curious quirk of human behaviour, perhaps a sign that evolution simply hasn't caught up with the marvels humanity has created: So far removed from the days when predators might be lurking in the branches above, but not yet internalising the idea that cities, with their tall rooftops, might hide something else. Even in Gotham, where those rooftops are almost like a hidden world unto themselves, with their own strange inhabitants, most people simply never look up. Not even the criminals, who should really have learned by now.

Well, no point in complaining when you're given an advantage.

The change in the atmosphere on the roof where Raven lurks is subtle. Imperceptible, really, to most people. In one moment, the Daughter of Darkness is alone… In the next, she is not. A figure in cape and cowl, eyes hidden behind featureless white lenses so the only sign of the person underneath, of their underlying humanity is the mouth and the area around it. A brief glance might mistake the figure for the Bat, but he's slightly shorter, not so broad across the shoulders, and the cowl lacks those distinctive 'ears'… Instead, the black of the costume is mingled with red and yellow, the logo on the chest that of a bird's head in profile.

"Interesting hangout," Red Robin says, quietly, crouching not far from Raven.

Despite its subtlety, she feels the shift, senses the presence of another human being who isn't a part of the lingering crowds below. Rachel - or Raven, to be honest - doesn't even move, holding her position a few seconds longer than she should. Her brow lifts, lips leaving the straw as she turns to look at the young man who bears a striking resemblance to The Bat, but stands out on his own outside of that particular shadow.

"I thought as much," she replies, her own features enveloped by her hood. She leans back, allowing part of her cloak to drift and spread a little from where it used to drape across the concrete. "You would think it would get boring after an hour, but there has been some highlights."

This close, there's no way Raven wouldn't be able to sense something strange about Red Robin: Small and faint, the presence of someone else, as though there were another person, another soul, dormant in the proverbial backseat of his existence. It doesn't belong there, of course, but it also doesn't seem to be anything malign or dangerous. If anything, it's as though whatever, or whoever it is was being protected by him.

It's weird, honestly.

"Unfortunately, Gotham is never really boring," the Red Knight replies, a rueful twist turning up the corners of his mouth. "I've lived here my whole life, and it's always something. Suppose it takes a strange sort of person to live around here." Especially in the Fashion District. Though, with a name like that, maybe it's not too unexpected that a young woman would want to hang out around there.

At the admission, Raven nods, tilting her head a few degrees upward at Red Robin. "Busy isn't as bad as lifeless." Although 'lifeless' would be an exaggeration of the memories she recalls from her own past experiences. Peaceful, yes. Boring? Sure. Sometimes. But not exactly lifeless.

But the feeling is weird. And different.

Noticeable to one such as she. She can't help but zone in on it as she speaks, nonchalant as she wonders why there is more than one soul sitting with the one who's available in the now.

Still, she feels the corner of her mouth tug into what may be called a low-profile smirk. "Takes one to know one, huh." A mild shrug follows the pause. "But I kind of like it." What's not to love? There's creativity along with the hustle and bustle of people playing their parts. Inspiration. And yeah, a lot of weirdness.

So maybe she likes fashion. Sue her.

There was a time in Red Robin's life when surely anyone with supernatural senses wouldn't sense much of anything weird or different around him… But then he fell into the orbit of a certain witch, and those matters became much harder for him to avoid. It's only Zatanna's work in hiding the signs of the spell she carved into his arm, and the one marking his other wrist, that keeps him able to keep his identity hidden to the arcane sorts he keeps running into at all.

But Raven, well, she's something different entirely, isn't she? The matter of hiding his 'guest' hadn't really come up, before.

Takes one to know one, huh.

A faint chuff of amusement escapes the costumed young man at that, but there's not much he can say to argue that. Really, the costume alone marks him out as pretty strange.

"Guess that makes you strange, too," he suggests, mildly. "Most people wouldn't do their people watching from a rooftop, after all."

Well. Got her there. Raven doesn't actively smile, but her nose wrinkles a bit, ruining the smooth mask-like surface of her expression. That's close enough. She then lets her gaze wander outward and over the streets again. "I like my space." The tone of the sentence stays light in its monotony - matter-of-fact, not giving into any sort of defensiveness over her choice. It's like an opinion, accepted or ignored.

The strain of paranormal energy, on the other hand, fulfills both of these things. While it can be ignored, it's still present, still thriving even if it's bound by another kind of magic she may or may not have seen before. Old magic. Everything gets old, is old, will continue to be old until it's made new again. This isn't beginner's work, either; whoever has helped Red Robin is skilled, and she can tell.

She needs to know. And there really is no real way to segue into something as strange as the supernatural. The pitch of her voice drops, feeling like a whisper, yet loud enough to feel like she's sitting right next to the Red Knight despite their distance. "…How long has it been?"

Whispery, but audible despite the distance, despite the other noises of a bustling city; there was something inherently spooky about Raven, no matter how you sliced it… But spooky was something Red Robin was used to. Despite how schooled he was in controlling outward signs of what he was thinking or feeling, despite his training in keeping his emotions suppressed, the Daughter of Darkness was an empath of paramount ability, to her benefit and detriment all at once. She would know if she'd unsettled him.

And she hasn't. There's amusement, growing at her reaction to his remark about her being strange as well, and if she poked and prodded there was that everpresent sense of determination that drove him, but her spooky question and spooky manner barely causes a blip, scarcely a ripple in the deep dark waters that make up his mind. Placid on the surface, inscrutable, but able to hide all sorts of things.

"How long has it been since what?" he asks, looking at her with those featureless white lenses hiding his eyes. Mild confusion: He can't imagine what she might be able to sense about him. "It's been a bit since I ate, but I had a big dinner…"

He's maintaining the atmosphere of subtle camaraderie, of old friends who haven't hung out for ages, of strangers who aren't supposed to delve into serious subjects like the darkness that exists within their plane of reality. Raven can tell he's good at it. Her point-blank statements usually unnerve those who aren't used to confrontations. And he's one example out of a few who don't seem bothered by her demeanor at all.

"Don't play dumb." She says this with the force of an imaginary half-stuffed pillow being thrown directly at him, her expression unchanging as solemn blue eyes look back into those white lenses. "I'm talking about…" She lifts a hand, the one free of the ice-blended drink, to gesture plainly in Red Robin's direction. "…This."

This. Thing. Spirit. Soul? Another side of the masked man? Or something else completely? "There is supposed to be one of you. One body, one soul. And one body is what I see," she adds quietly, her words evenly weighted. "…But why am I sensing two?"

Deflection is an important skill, in a life like his.

It can also be a bad habit: Just ask any of his friends, whether they know him in or out of costume. Deflecting away from sensitive topics, dissembling when things get too close to a dangerous zone. It can make Red Robin… Frustrating. But hiding secrets and vulnerabilities is the difference between triumph and defeat, between life and death, when you're a basically normal human being operating in the sorts of circles he does.

Naturally, under the circumstances, Raven isn't one to be deflected. She admonishes him, clarifies as much as she can. He hadn't expected that, and there's a faint ripple of surprise: The idea that anyone would be able to sense that presence…

"Long story," he says. It's another deflection, and one that's likely not going to work, either. "There was a young woman who'd been removed from her body, trapped in the Astral Plane. The only way we could get her out was inside somebody else, inside this… Relic. So I swallowed it. Haven't been able to get her back where she belongs just yet."

He pauses, contemplatively, turning to look out over the street.

"You know that feeling, when you dry swallow a pill, and it's stuck at the back of your esophagus? It feels like that, but… Not."

Getting to the heart of the matter should be easy. With Robin, it is not. The goth is discovering - and already expected, perhaps - that she will need to spend time and energy, the kind of time and energy she would rather spend on a really good book. Seeing the faint surge of surprise is like a consolation prize, not enough to satiate the rise of questions that are bubbling up somewhere within her dark soul.

Fingers curl into a loose fist, slowly and fluidly dropping back down to Raven's side as if she never did anything in the first place. The short version of the story, however, leaves her to stare at the Red Knight as he explains things as laconically as he can.

Displaced souls. Astral planes. A Relic. The works.

It's only after he finishes she lifts her ice-blended tea drink up to her mouth, lips parting so that her teeth can clamp onto the top of the straw.

And she takes a long, hard sip.

It almost feels like an eternity before she speaks again, breaking up the ambiance with a brief, exhaled breath. "So you now carry someone who needs to return to their original body, but cannot because of complications to that plan." Too much energy. Like pulling teeth. "Who is she? And why is she stuck in this predicament?"

There are, of course, too many details that could compromise other people for him to share them freely with anyone. Red Robin values his secrets and, as a kind of reciprocity, values other people's secrets too. Just… Usually as long as he knows them, himself. He hates not knowing things.

Which is difficult, sometimes, when he also wants to respect other people's privacy.

Which he does. Sometimes.

"An innocent," Red Robin answers, when Raven inquires who the young woman unmoored from her body is. At least, as far as he knows she's innocent of anything that might deserve the predicament she'd been in, stranded in the Astral, a single lost soul huddling and hiding from a terrible thing that wanted to consume her. "As for why, I don't entirely know. Someone, or something did it, and murdered at least one of her coworkers. Their company was involved in a smartphone application that's… Well… Evil. iDol, they call it. It's made by evil wizards from the dark before existence."

Which is a completely ridiculous thing to say, but he says it with absolute sincerity. Because he kinda thinks that this witchy goth girl will believe him. What is it with goth girls and being witchy, anyhow?

So long as they are nowhere down there, in the middle of people wandering to and fro, far removed by the nightlife that is soon to follow. They are safe from any eavesdropping. Raven knows this, and she knows privacy can also be compromised. They aren't alone, after all, and anyone can drop in if they really wanted to.

An innocent.

Another laconic answer, and it hits hard. Her gaze drops, brow creasing as Red Robin continues. What he says is no foreign concept; it's common, all too common in the surreality of the paranormal world beyond the normal, more tangible planes of existence.

What he did is commendable, even fitting for one disguising the physical, mental, and emotional states of being behind a mask.

And she feels she never expected anything less.

"iDol," Raven repeats almost flatly, but the bluntness of the repetition evens out into a hint of amusement. Not that she can't believe it - she's agreeing with him in how right he is in thinking how ridiculous the name sounds out loud. After shaking her head, a hand rises to push back at her hood and the stray strands of dark hair away from her face. "Of course it is."

Magic. Goth witches. It seems to be a popular combination. She wears it well.

"I'm not saying I don't believe you," she then adds, making sure Robin doesn't think she's making fun of him. "But it sounds like there's still much to be done."

Probably he shouldn't even just be telling Raven this stuff. Whatever happened to information security, Red Robin? Whatever happened to being careful and cautious?

But if she was able to feel the presence of that other soul, and curious enough to ask about it, not telling her anything might be more dangerous. She might feel compelled to try and investigate herself, or follow him, or something else like that. And maybe it is the whole gothic witch aesthetic reminding him of Zatanna, making him trust her a bit more.

"I'd hope you believed me," Red Robin says, wry amusement in his voice. "You're the one who noticed I wasn't alone. If you started balking after that you might need to think long and hard about what you find credible. But yeah, there's a lot to be done. Always is." More than he's let on, of course. He might be trusting her a bit… But that doesn't mean he's going to trust her completely. Not without some vetting.

"So, you do magic, then? I think I know somebody you should meet," he says.

That's assuming she hasn't already, of course. The magical world seems closely connected, at least to an outsider like him.

"Yeah. Yelling about it after the fact wouldn't have been a very good impression." The last thing anyone needs is panic. Just imagining herself freaking out like that makes her frown.

Guarding secrets is something the goth is familiar with, but the burden eventually breaks a person if they hold onto it for too long. The quality of care that went into the conversation needs work on her part, but she can see that they've both made the effort to trust each other regarding the matter at hand.

"It's Raven, by the way," she says, casually slipping it in as she shifts to cross her legs over one another in a seated meditative position. "And yeah. You can say I've been around magic for, I don't know, years?" Rolling her shoulders back, she exhales a soft sigh, glancing off at one of the newer buildings in the area. "More people to meet with similar interests this time. I can do that."

A beat passes. Her eyes then flicker back toward Red Robin. "Are they overly exuberant and extroverted? Because if they are, I will need time to prepare."

Imagining Raven freaking out is… Difficult.

She doesn't seem the type.

When she names herself, and answers in the affirmative about her history with the arcane arts, Red Robin commits that information to memory. It's like a place in his head, a construct of thought and imagination - a mind palace, to use the popular term - that looks like his childhood home, now destroyed. A version of it with endless hallways, endless rooms, always expanding, where he puts new information. And now, a room about Raven.

"Must be a night for birds," the Red Knight remarks, the visible part of his face pulling into a grin. "You can call me Red Robin." He pauses again, briefly. "The 'Red' part is important. There's just a regular Robin and he's," a horrible little shit, "touchy." It's the kind of understatement he almost feels bad about, but hopefully Raven never runs afoul of the current Boy Wonder anyway.

"I can definitely introduce you to some exuberant and extroverted people. This person in particular is… Well, she can be. But she gets along with pretty much everyone. Have you heard of the Titans? We're a group of younger… Well, superheroes. T-shaped tower in New York, you can't miss it. Anyway, Zatanna's one of us, I think you two would have a lot to talk about."

Red Robin. She's sure she's heard of a name like that before, but she can't quite place it. "Ah," is all Raven has to say about the difference between a 'Red Robin' and the regular 'Robin,' making a mental note of it if ever she does come across the other one.

The look on her face just about says it all when Robin says he knows people that are on the opposite end of the personality spectrum. "Yay." The crease in her brow deepens, then relaxes a few seconds later. Looks like she will never escape the outgoing types. "Friendly is okay, I guess…"

Pausing to finish her drink, the goth cants her head. "I want to say I don't, but I feel I've heard of them before," she replies. She's sure she's seen the tower somewhere if it's that obvious, but it's one of those things that can easily slip one's mind if they're not actively looking for it. "And it sounds like we do. Is the tower where she resides with the others?"

Already, he can imagine the chaos that would result if he introduced Raven to, say, Impulse. Overly exuberant and extroverted definitely describes the speedster… Maybe Wonder Girl too, or Spider-Man. Well, surely she could adapt if it came down to it, right? Or they could learn to tone things down a little.

Surely.

"It'd be one of the easier places to meet her," Red Robin agrees on the topic of Zatanna and the Tower. The young woman's ancestral home that you can't find unless you're supposed to would be more problematic (also rude) and civilian haunts like the university have their own problems. Not that the Tower is completely without issues. It could be that Raven isn't actually on their side at all. It could be a lot of things. But she was, clearly, a young person with exceptional abilities. And she seemed like someone who might have problems of her own shadowing her. And wasn't that the whole point of the Titans?

"Either way, you'd be welcome to come by. The Titans exist to help young people with powers, and I'm sure Zatanna could use the help since she's our only magic person and we get involved in a lot of weird stuff. Plus you guys can exchange makeup tips."

If - and when - it happens, Raven will come to an understanding of how Red Robin's life is in the company of his teammates. Sure, it can't be that bad, but…well. What happens happens.

She isn't really one to drop in unexpectedly, but there are times the rules of making formal house calls can be thrown out the window. An open invitation to the tower is appreciated, to say the least, especially since Red Robin is extending it without hesitation.

In these moments, he speaks truths with nothing to hide. He can be trustworthy.

Raven stays silent, letting it all sink in before she nods. "…Thank you. I'll see if I can visit." Another long pause settles in afterward. With another thoughtful frown. "…I'm also very sure that's not all girls talk about."

Red Robin is an extremely patient young man.

Which is the only reason he's still sane.

Having, for all intents and purposes, grown up with a group of metahumans in his life, he understands some things about them that others might not. He knows that there are concerns that don't occur to them in the way they should, because their powers have taught them to view the world impractically: When you're a veritable god, it's easy to lose sight of other things. Things which can cause you trouble before you realise it. And he knows that for many of them, life is a curiously lonely thing.

And so he can deal with the sometimes raucous nature of life with his friends and allies, because otherwise they might simply be alone. Besides, it wasn't like he was all business, either. The return of old friends had reminded him of his own more boisterous days.

The days before his found family was the only family he had.

From his utility belt, the caped and cowled crimefighter produces… A business card, as though he'd conjured it into his hand by magic (it's not, obviously, it's just sleight of hand) and offers it towards Raven. On one side is the circled T logo of the Titans, and on the other is just a phone number. That's it. It doesn't need an address anyway, the Tower is not hard to find.

"No, it's just… You two both do the goth witch thing," Red Robin explains, a bit awkwardly. "So… You know what, nevermind, it was a bad joke that only makes sense to me."

She has a lot to learn. To re-learn.

She's used to being alone. But this is about building bridges from shared experiences, connecting people who share similar stories, coming from similar situations. Raven hasn't seen much of that of late, and her recent experience working among a team of women can barely hold a candle to what the young man knows within his circle of friends. Perhaps she needs time to figure it out, to see if she can manage being social in between the work she puts into keeping some kind of order.

Opportunities don't last, but they do show up often. And this is one she will take.

Wordlessly she gets up from her seat, drifting over to where Red Robin is. In his moment of awkwardness, she simply accept the card, making it disappear into the depths of her cloak. A hint of a smile ghosts across the neutral facade of her face as she casts him a look. "Good to know."

Honestly, if Red Robin knew that Raven had also been scouted by Oracle he… Actually he'd be doing exactly this anyway, just with more assurance that the mysterious young woman had been more thoroughly vetted. The possibility that she could help with the whole iDol situation was too good to overlook, and she seemed like someone who could use the help they could provide in turn.

Assuming she decided to take that help, of course. He was never one to take that choice away from someone.

Maneuver them towards the right decision, sure. But that's completely different!

"Besides," he adds, recovering from his mild awkwardness and finding fresh reserves of sass. "You could talk about clothes, too." Yes, he thinks he's very funny.

His cape pushes back as he stretches out one arm towards a taller nearby building, the faint *paf* of the compressed air charge of a grapple gun only audible because Raven is standing close. "Anyway, I've got patrolling left to do. If you need any help, Raven, I'm around," he tells her, and she could tell he does mean it, though his sincerity is undercut by the more practical question of just how 'around' he'd actually be… While, quite impractically, the nearly monofilament line of his grapple gun starts reeling him away.

That's Gotham for you.

"Clothing," Raven says dryly, her eyes hooded once the badness level of the joke begins to pass. "Sure. We'll have to go over shoes as well."

With the grappling hook out and up, the goth drifts back a few feet to give the masked man some room. She does take his sincerity into account, raising a hand to offer a slight wave as she watches him swing off the edge and about the city. "…I'll look forward to it."

The reply occurs long after he's gone, but the sentiment is there. And with that, she decides to make herself scarce. She still has a job to do in the meantime, and it's not going to sit around and wait for her.

In a city, no one waits.

Indeed. That's Gotham for you.

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