Chapter 1: On the 12th Day of Christmas...
Dick released a painful groan as his body hit his bed. He’d just gone toe-to-toe with thirteen bank robbers. He won, and the bruises on his body were proof of that. “Would it kill you to ask for help every now and then?” a monotone voice asked from his door. He hadn’t even heard his door open and close. Someone must have phased through the door. “Hey, Raven,” he groaned into his pillow without looking up.
“You do know I was your backup tonight, right?” she approached his bed.
“I got them,” was her leader’s reply.
“Them who?” she was standing next to him.
“Thirteen armed robbers” Dick sat up.
“Richard!” Raven exclaimed.
“I didn’t get shot or stabbed,” he said as he slowly, painfully, sat up.
“You still like doing things on your own,” Raven tsked.
“I thought you were on a date,” Dick mentioned in annoyance.
“It wasn’t a date,” Raven folded her arms as she looked away.
“It wasn’t a date, and you’re dressed like that?” Dick motioned to her body. She looked down at herself. She was wearing a dark purple sweater dress that came to mid-thigh. Black leggings and black boots. “What do you mean?” she asked. Dick stared at her incredulously. Did she not see it? She looked incredible. “Did you wear your hair down?” he asked.
“No. It was in a messy bun. Why?”
“You’re dressed for a date.”
“It wasn’t a date,” she sat next to him on the bed and began peeling his uniform.
“What are you doing!” Dick jumped back in shock.
“You’re injured. I was just going to heal you.”
“Oh,” Dick relaxed, sitting back down. “It’s not necessary.”
“Come on, Richard,” Raven said, “do not make me make you take your clothes off.” Dick swallowed hard as he imagined what that scene would look like if it played out. “Fine,” Dick said as he gently pulled off the upper half of his uniform. Raven stared at his torso as he disrobed. His abs and chest were amazing, sculpted, works of art. The long, bloody slice going across his torso plus the multiple stab wounds and bruises were worrisome. “I thought you didn’t get stabbed,” Raven said as Dick sat back down. He looked down at himself. “And I thought you upgraded your suit to prevent stab wounds from happening.”
“I did,” Dick said. “The attack happened before I could put my uniform on.”
“The robbery was just beginning. I had a few smoke bombs in my pocket. These are just lucky shots.” Raven placed a gentle hand on his stomach, fighting the urge to caress his smooth skin. “You need to be more careful,” she whispered. Dick only sighed, trying to keep his breathing and thoughts under control. “So,” he said, “if it wasn’t a date, what was it?”
“A business meeting.”
“I can’t tell you that,” Raven said.
“So, it was a date.”
“It wasn’t a date. The guy has to be 50 years older than me.”
“If it wasn’t a date, then tell me who it was.”
“You know, you didn’t give Kori this much crap when she started dating again.”
“Exactly my point,” Raven said. Dick cracked his neck as he felt his wounds slowly close. “Why are you keeping his identity a secret?” Dick questioned.
“I’m done,” Raven said as she stood to her feet. Dick looked down at his torso. All the wounds were healed. Not a scar in sight. “Raven, wait,” he called out. She turned to face him. Her violet eyes shining in the darkened room. “I just want to make sure you’re being safe.”
“I am, Richard. You can trust me,” she answered softly.
“I do trust you, Raven,” Dick replied, “it’s the males out there that I don’t trust.” Raven bit back a laugh. “It’s not funny,” Dick said.
“No,” Raven agreed with a smile, “I find the big brother act rather cute.” A sharp pain shot through Dick’s chest when she said that. “Have a good night,” Raven said before leaving his room. Dick laid on his back, staring up at the ceiling. Brother? She saw him as a brothe? Dick rolled to his side. Tonight, just was not his night.
A banging sound woke him up. Dick groaned. It was way too early for this. “What?” he yelled out.
“Dude,” he heard Beast Boy say, “you’ve got a delivery!”
“Just set it by the door,” Dick replied.
“What do you mean you – fine. I’ll be out shortly.” A faux cry left Dick’s lips. He just wanted to sleep in. What was Beast Boy even doing waking up at…? Dick turned to his clock. 11:15 a.m. Okay. He must have been exhausted. He never overslept. Never.
Dick walked groggily to the common room dressed only in pajama pants. He couldn’t for the life of him figure out why he was so tired. All conversation ceased when the doors slid open. “What is it?” he asked.
“You have an admirer,” Cyborg stated kindly as he handed him something. “This card came with it.” Dick took it before looking at the foil wrapped trays of…something. “Who delivered it?” he asked.
“Did a thorough background check,” Cyborg answered. “The deliverer works for one of those delivery companies. They usually deliver baked goods.” Dick nodded as she tore open the envelope. Inside was a slip of paper that read On the 12th Day of Christmas My True Love Gave To Me… Dick cocked an eyebrow before gently pulling back the foil of the one of the trays. “What the…!”
“What are those?” Starfire asked.
“Candy apples!” Beast Boy exclaimed.
“Candy apples?” Starfire repeated.
“What does the note say?” Cyborg asked. Dick handed it to him as he continued to unwrap the delicious treats. “What is a candy apple?” Kori asked.
“It’s just an apple covered in some type of sugary coating,” Raven answered her. Dick nearly jumped at the sound of her voice. Sometimes, Raven was so quiet, you just forgot she was in the room.
Once the trays were uncovered, Dick marveled at the 12 brightly covered candy apples. “Twelve candy apples,” Cyborg said. “That’s…different.”
“What do you mean?” Raven asked. “What does the note say?”
“On the 12th day of Christmas my true love gave to me,” Cyborg answered. “Twelve candy apples.”
“That is different,” Raven agreed.
“I do not understand,” Starfire said as Beast Boy began arguing with their leader about whether the treats should be eaten.
“It’s a Christmas song,” Raven answered. “They lyrics are On the 12th day of Christmas my true love gave to me, 12 drummers drumming.”
“I think I understand?” Starfire said unsure of herself.
“Just, ask Speedy when you see him again,” Raven said. Starfire nodded with a smile. “Cool!” Beast Boy exclaimed holding an apple out to Raven. “Robin said we can eat them.”
“I’m not eating those,” Raven pushed the apple away. “And you shouldn’t either.”
“Just like you and Robin to suck the fun out of everything,” Beast Boy grumbled. “Fine. I’ll eat it.”
“Yes,” Raven said as he bit into the apple. “If you are still alive in 48 hours, we will know that the apples have not been poisoned; and they are safe for us to eat.” Cyborg and Starfire burst into laughter as Raven left the room. Robin only studied the note and apples before he too, retreated to his room.
Later that night, Dick sat in the common room in front of the huge windows. It was a little after midnight, and he’d just finished half of a candy apple. He couldn’t help it. The sugary fruits brought back so many memories. They even tasted the same. He was so deep in thought, he didn’t even notice when Raven entered the common room, nor did he notice when she sat across from him. “Hey,” Dick started at the sound of her voice. “Sorry,” Raven apologized.
“It’s fine,” Dick said, “I was just…thinking.”
“About?” she cocked her head to the side, studying him.
“Ah,” she smiled, “your secret admirer.”
“Shut up,” Dick nudged her gently.
“You ate it,” Raven pointed to the half-eaten apple on the plate.
“Yeah,” Dick smiled. “I gave in.”
“But you don’t like sugar,” Raven smiled slightly.
“I don’t,” he admitted. “But I haven’t had candied apples since my circus days.”
“Really?” Raven asked. “So…whoever sent these apples must know you as both Robin and Richard.” Dick blinked once before saying, “I was so lost in my memory, I didn’t even consider that. What if it’s a villain?”
“Can you think of a villain who may know your secret identity?” raven asked. Dick thought hard. Only one came to mind, but he was in Metropolis. “I can’t,” he relented. “It’s probably Roy playing a stupid prank,” he laughed half-heartedly. Raven continued studying him intensely. “Richard,” she said her friend’s name softly. Dick looked at her questioningly. “Are you sure you’re okay with…this?” she motioned to the candy apples. “This doesn’t bring back any…bad memories?”
“I’m good, Rae,” he comforted her, amused by the look on her face when he said ‘Rae’. “Remind me to tell you about the time I got a candy apple stuck in my hair.” Raven’s eyes widened enough to let Dick know she was eager to hear the story. “You should try it,” Dick picked up the apple by the stick and held it out to her. Raven tentatively reached for it. “Are you sure it’s safe?” she asked.
“Yes,” Dick answered. “I am confident these are safe.” Raven sighed as she bit into the treat. Dick watched as her tongue licked the sticky sweetness from her soft lips. He was so entranced with her. “It is good,” she smiled.
“Yeah, there’s 5 left.”
“You and I are sharing one. Cyborg had one. Starfire had one. Beast Boy ate four.”
“He’s going to have a stomachache.’
“I think he already had one,” Dick smiled. His heart skipped a beat when she responded with a smile of her own. The two then spent the next three hours talking and joking with each other.
Chapter 2: On the 11th Day of Christmas...
The next day, Starfire and Beast Boy begged and begged and begged to decorate the tower. Raven pointed out that Starfire and Beast Boy would not be here on Christmas Day, so there was no point. But Robin said there was nothing wrong with spreading a little Christmas cheer, and Cyborg agreed. Raven refused to be part of the festivities, opting to hang out in her room instead. “Gee,” Beast Boy said after she left the room, “she’s grumpier than usual.”
“Well,” Cyborg said, “this is the first year since Trigon’s demise that she’ll be able to freely enjoy Christmas.”
“Shouldn’t that make her happy?”
“Beast Boy, what are you doing for Christmas?” Cyborg asked.
“Oh, I’m going to meet up with my old team; I may even see my stepdad. See if I can mend things between us.”
“Uh-huh,” Cyborg said as he began untangling lights. “Starfire, what are you doing for Christmas?”
“Well, usually I would travel back to Tameran. But, since my sister has yet to pardon me for whatever crimes I did not commit, boyfriend Speedy has asked me to join him and his family.”
“Sweet,” Beast Boy said, and it suddenly made sense to Robin. He understood what Cyborg was saying. “What Cyborg is trying to say,” Robin interrupted, “is that Raven will be by herself for the holidays. We all have friends and families. Raven only has us.”
“So why don’t you just take her with you?” Beast Boy asked as he began taking out tinsel and ornaments. Robin froze. Why didn’t he think of that? “Um…” Robin scratched the back of his head nervously.
“Friend Robin,” Starfire said, “your face is turning red.”
“Dude, you’re blushing!” Beast Boy shouted.
“Shut up!” Robin said to the team’s youngest manner.
“Wow, you really are blushing,” Cyborg leaned in close to Robin’s face.
“Okay, okay, okay,” Robin pushed the cyborg away from him. “Beast Boy, why do you think I should invite Raven to go with me?” Robin asked. Suddenly, 3 pairs of eyes were on him, staring at him like he was the most stupid thing they’d ever seen.
“Dude,” Beast Boy said.
“We see the way you look at her,” Cyborg said with a ‘duh’ expression. To say Robin was confused was an understatement. “How do I look at Raven?” Robin asked. “I look at her the same way I look at all of you.”
“Dude,” Beast Boy answered, “if you look at Starfire the way you look at Raven, don’t tell Speedy. He’ll kill you.” Starfire chuckled as she unceremoniously dumped a box of ornaments onto the table. “I always thought Raven would be the one in denial,” Cyborg said, “who knew it would be you?”
“Wait…” Robin paused, “you guys think I like Raven like that.”
“Yes,” all three answered at the same time.
“I don’t like her that way,” Robin argued. “I…she…we’re friends.”
“Wow,” Beast Boy said, “that was almost convincing.”
“You know, sarcasm isn’t a good look on you,” Robin said. “Anyway,” Robin rubbed his masked eyes in exasperation, “I am not in love with Raven.” His three teammates said nothing. Instead, they stared at something behind him with both shock and horror. Robin didn’t want to turn around, but he turned around anyway. Raven was standing there, looking at him wide-eyed, clutching a teacup in her dainty hands. Blotches of red covered her cheeks.
“H-h-hey,” Robin said uneasily.
“I was just coming to make tea,” Raven said slowly, “but I think I’ll just go back to my…” her voice trailed off as she disappeared into the floor.
“Dude,” Beast Boy said, “that was messed up.”
“I may kill you,” Robin glared at the changeling.
Later that evening, after all the decorating had been completed, Robin heard a soft knock at his room door. “Come in,” he said. Raven entered the room. “There’s something for you in the kitchen,” she said.
“Oh no,” Robin said, “another gift?” Raven nodded. “You may want to look at it before the others destroy it,” Raven motioned with her head. Robin slowly stood from his chair and walked silently through the halls next to the empath. “Raven,” he began, “about today.”
“Robin, it’s fine.”
“It’s not what you think…”
“It really isn’t any of my business.”
“You came in at the wrong part of the conversation- “
“Robin, it’s fine. I’m not- “
“Spend Christmas with me!” he blurted out. Raven froze mid-step. “I mean…um…I…” he turned to look at the shocked girl. Her lips were slightly parted in surprise, her violet eyes were as round as saucers. To Robin, the deer-in-the-headlights look seemed to only enhance her beauty. “Yeah,” Robin repeated, “Come with me. I’m going to Gotham for a Christmas gala. Richard Grayson needs to make an appearance. Come with me.”
“Robin,” Raven said, “if this is pity…”
“It’s not pity.”
“I don’t mind being by myself- “
“I want you to come with me,” he admitted. Raven was once again struck speechless. “I want you to spend Christmas with me, in Gotham,” Robin was surprised at how true that was.
“O-okay,” Raven hugged herself nervously. “If you’re sure…”
“And it will be okay? I don’t want to intrude.”
“Trust me. It will be fine. They’ll be happy to see me bring a girl around. And I know for a fact that Alfred will love you.”
“Really?” Raven bit her lip shyly. Robin nodded. “You two have a ton in common,” he assured her. “So,” he said, “sound like a plan? You and me, knocking elbows with the richest people in Gotham?”
“Sounds…fun,” Raven smiled up at him. Her face then scrunched in concern. “I don’t have a dress.”
“We’ll go shopping.”
“Robin – “
“I have to find a tux. We can go shopping together.”
“Okay,” Raven said as they continued walking down the quiet hallway. “Thank you for inviting me,” she said softly, almost shyly. Robin couldn’t stop the fluttering sensation in his chest and stomach. He felt like a little kid. She was happy, and he was the one who made her happy. “I’m only sorry I didn’t think to ask earlier.”
“Well,” Raven said as they continued walking, “it’s been a busy year. You’ve had a lot on your mind.”
“Me?” Robin scoffed. “What about you? Taking on Trigon like it was nothing.” Raven’s face reddened, and she looked away from Robin’s approving gaze. “I couldn’t have done it without you,” Raven whispered as they entered the common room which led to the kitchen. “Okay,” Robin said, “I’m here. Show me.”
“Someone has a secret admirer,” Beast Boy sang, handing a card to Robin. Robin groaned as he opened it. “On The 11th Day of Christmas My True Love Gave To Me…,” he read. “Where is it?” he asked. Cyborg moved to the side to reveal an unopened, brown, shipping box. “I already scanned it,” Cyborg said. “There’s nothing in there that can be deemed dangerous or hazardous…nothing that my scanners picked up, I mean.” Robin nodded as grabbed a knife from the drawer and cut the box open. He frowned as he took out small individual packages with decorative items inside. “What is it?” Beast Boy asked eagerly.
“Do-It-Yourself-Piper’s-Piping Ornament,” Robin read a small package. “What?” Robin was confused. Cyborg was already counting the individual packages. “Eleven,” Cyborg said victoriously. “Eleven packages. Eleven pipers piping.”
“Ooh!” Starfire squealed as she began to float. “I asked boyfriend Speedy about this last night. He was most knowledgeable.”
“So, we’re supposed to…decorate these ornaments?” Raven held up two packs. The excitement clearly absent from her face. “Seriously?”
“Yes, friend Raven,” Starfire hugged her teammate, “join us! It will be fun!”
“Please get off of me,” Raven said. Starfire released her friend, and she and Beast Boy began pulling glitter and glue out of the box along with other arts and craft items. Cyborg joined them seconds later. Raven turned to Robin. He was only staring at a pack in his hands. For the first time in a few years, Raven could not tell what he was thinking. “Robin,” she walked up to him, placing a hand on his shoulder. He jumped at the contact. “Are you okay?” Raven asked worriedly. Robin stared at her before saying, “I have an errand to run.” He ran out the common room before the others could get a word in. “Huh? I wonder what his deal is?” Beast Boy asked with a shrug. Cyborg and Starfire ignored the changeling. Instead, they looked at Raven. “Yeah, yeah, I know,” she said. “I’ll talk to him. Return to your art projects.”
Robin returned to the tower 5 hours later, well after 11 p.m. He entered the kitchen, surprised to see the light still on. He was even more surprised to see Raven wide awake, sitting at the table. A do-it-yourself ornament sat in front of her along with a mess of glitter and construction paper and glue. “Hey,” he said.
“We were called out,” Raven replied. “There was a fire at an orphanage. No one was hurt.” Robin pat himself down, searching his body. “I didn’t grab my communicator before I left,” he said in surprise, “I am so sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Raven gave him a small smile. “No one was hurt. We got everyone out in time.” Robin sat adjacent her. “I am so out of it,” he bemoaned. “That gift really threw me. Brought up some memories.”
“Any you want to talk about?” Raven asked hesitantly.
“Well, those piper ornaments are super hard to find.” Raven only listened with wide eyes. “I know this, because my mother used to get them shipped here from Europe.”
“Oh,” Raven said.
“Only someone who knows me extremely well would know that, though. And there’s only one person who knows me that well. He’s in Gotham, and he definitely wouldn’t do this.”
“Who would?” Raven asked.
“I don’t know,” he sighed.
“Well, I saved you an ornament,” Raven pushed the unopened single packet to him. “The others desecrated the tree with 10 of them.”
“Come on,” Robin smiled, “their work couldn’t have been that bad.”
“Ha! Trust me. It was.” Robin opened the small pack and took out the pieces. “Did you make one?” he asked her.
“No,” Raven shook her head. “I didn’t want to.”
“I just…this stuff is so foreign to me,” Raven shrugged. “It doesn’t excite me at all.”
“Did you have any holidays on Azarath?” Robin opened the package.
“We had festivals,” Raven thought back as Robin began making his tiny piper. “My favorited was the double moon festivals,” Raven’s eyes lit up as she spoke of her home world. “Azarath had two moons. Of course, we had full moons once a month. But every 10, we had had two full moons at the same time. Those were fun days,” Raven reminisced. “The galaxies were at their brightest and would light up the entire sky. A starfall would accompany the full moons.”
“What’s a starfall?” Robin asked as he began gluing items onto his piper.
“A starfall happens when the sky lights up with thousands upon thousands of shooting stars. That was…it’s one of the things I miss most about Azarath.” Raven looked at Robin who had stopped working on his project and was gazing at her. “What?” Raven asked as she looked down, hiding her face with her hair.
“I’ve just…you never talk about Azarath,” Robin smiled.
“I…no one has ever asked,” she replied.
“Well, that is an oversight on my part.”
“It’s okay,” Raven assured him. “As I said before, it’s been a busy year.” The two birds continued to stare at each other silently until Raven looked away. “What are you doing to your piper?” Raven asked, clearing her throat.
“I’m making him into a legit piper – bagpipes and all.”
“Are you going to give him a little skirt, too?” Raven chuckled.
“It’s not a skirt. It’s a kilt. There’s a difference,” Robin laughed with her. Raven spent the next hour with Robin until he finished his piper. When he hung his ornament on the tree, he had to admit Raven was right about the other’s pipers. They were horrendous.
Chapter 3: On the 10th Day of Christmas...
Two days later, Robin was training while mentally counting down the days to Christmas. There were 16 days left. Also, he and Raven needed to be in Gotham by the 18th of December. They would have time to relax, hang out, and go shopping for the Christmas Eve ball. He smirked as he began doing ab crunches. Raven in a dress. That was going to be sight he couldn’t wait to see. She’d probably be uncomfortable. She’s probably be too beautiful for words. Robin’s mind begin to wander. He and Raven had been spending a lot of time together. A whole lot of time together. It started the day he received the first package from his secret admirer. The secret admirer who knew details about his life as Dick Grayson. For the life of him, he could not figure out who it was. Maybe he needed to call his mentor. “Um…Robin?” a sweet voice called from the doorway.
“Yeah, Star?” Robin asked.
“You have another delivery.” Robin froze mid-crunch. He turned to look at the alien. “Again?” he asked in annoyance. Starfire only nodded. “Fine,” Robin said, “I’ll be up in 10.” Robin immediately began his cool-down routine as Starfire disappeared. He needed to find out who was messing with him and soon. He didn’t know how much longer he could keep his sanity intact.
“There is no return address, Raven,” Robin heard Cyborg say as he approached the common room doors.
“Well, we need to figure something out,” he heard Raven say. “We don’t need another…Slade thing,” she whispered just as Robin entered the room. Raven’s face paled. She probably thought Robin heard her. He had, but she didn’t need to know that. “No Beast Boy and Starfire?” Robin joked.
“Beast Boy is at a game store, and Starfire literally just received a call from Speedy,” Cyborg answered. “It’s just us three.”
“Okay. Raven, if you please,” Robin motioned to the empath. She looked between him and the shipping box. “Me?” she pointed at herself. “Why me? It’s not addressed to me.”
“You scared?” Robin asked playfully.
“Are you?” Raven shot back. Robin smirked before stepping forward. “I’m guessing there is a card somewhere,” Robin said.
“Cyborg already scanned it for fingerprints,” Raven explained as she handed it to him. Robin gently took it from her, thanking her. Raven gave him a small smile. “On the 10th Day of Christmas My True Love Gave to Me,” Robin read aloud. “Well,” he smiled at Raven, “shall we see what my true love gave to me?” Cyborg handed him a box cutter, which Robin used. Robin pulled out 10 things, individually wrapped in wax paper. “What?” Cyborg stared at the 10 contents. “What is this?” Robin unwrapped one of the…things. Plastic wrap lay underneath the wax paper. Wrapped in the plastic was – “Is that a robin wearing a Santa hat?” Raven asked, leaning her body into Robin’s as she tried to get a closer look. Robin tried not to think about what parts of Raven’s soft body might be pressing into his hard one. “Your true love gave you 10 robins wearing Santa hats?” she questioned with a cock of her head. Robin smelled vanilla and lilacs. Was that Raven’s natural body scent or did she use bodywash? Robin cleared his throat before responding. “It appears so,” Robin said.
“Dude,” Cyborg laughed, “it’s made of rice krispies, marshmallows and a whole bunch of sugar.”
“Wow, someone really doesn’t know you well,” Raven said, moving her body away from Robin’s, much to his disappointment. “You hate sugar,” Raven continued. Raven watched curiously as Robin and Cyborg began unwrapping each item. “Ten robins wearing Santa hats,” Raven smiled. “All edible. I think someone is trying to woo you,” Raven looked at Robin, her face stoic but her eyes dancing in humor.
“I guess so,” Robin gave her a slight smile.
“What are you going to do with – really Cyborg?” Raven looked at the older Titan who’d just taken a big bite out of one.
“What?” Cyborg asked with his mouth full. “I’m just making sure its edible.” Raven rolled her eyes as Robin snickered. Robin then grabbed one and took a big bite out of it, too. “Robin!” Raven exclaimed in horror. “What are you doing? They could be poisonous.”
“Someone obviously isn’t trying to kill me with these gifts, Rae,” he smiled.
“No, they’re just trying to fatten you up before throwing you into an oven,” she folded her arms. Robin rolled his eyes at the Hans and Gretel reference. “I’m going to shower this sweat off,” he said. “Tell Starfire and Beast Boy they’re welcome to them.” Robin then left the room. Raven turned to Cyborg. “When did I become the only voice of reason on this team?” she asked him. Cyborg shrugged before finishing the treat. Raven only shook her head before leaving the room. She needed to meditate.
Raven stood in her room, lighting candles. She had finished meditating hours ago. She decided to spend the rest of the night relaxing in her room, hence the only source of light being the multiple candles lit, and the full moon in the sky. Someone knocked on her door, just as she finished lighting the last candle. Raven reached out with her powers. Robin. “Come in,” she said as the mask-less boy wonder entered her sanctuary. Raven turned to him. “Yes?” she asked with a tilt of her head. Richard stepped into her room. “We haven’t seen you in 5 hours,” he said as he scanned her body from head to toe. She was in a cami and shorts; her hair fell just past her shoulders. “I was meditating,” she crossed her arms. “It’s good to see you’re not dead…yet,” she said.
“I just want to make sure we’re okay.”
“Why wouldn’t we be?” Raven asked with a shrug before returning to her bed.
“I get the sense that I’ve upset you,” Richard slowly approached her.
“No, it’s not that,” Raven said grabbing a pillow. Richard stood before her bed, studying her silently. “I know you heard what I said about Slade,” Raven said, gesturing for Richard to sit across from her. “I didn’t mean…”
“Raven, it’s okay. I know how obsessive I can be.”
“I’m just worried,” Raven said. “You don’t know who’s sending these…presents to you. You’ll probably start looking for him or her or them. You’ll get so invested in your research- “
“Raven,” Richard held her hand comfortingly, “I will not become obsessed.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because you’ve been in my head. I know if I get in too deep, you’ll be there to pull me out.” Raven gave his hand a friendly squeeze. “I still think you shouldn’t eat weird things in a box that have come from an anonymous sender. The old Richard would agree with me.”
“I still agree with you,” he said. “But what if it someone having harmless fun. I mean, the candy apples were delicious. So were with the robin rice Krispy treats. You would know that if you tried one.”
“No,” Raven laughed. “Like I said, it wasn’t addressed to me. Obviously, it’s for you to enjoy.”
“I don’t mind sharing,” his blue eyes held her violet eyes.
“That’s okay,” Raven smiled. “Besides, I don’t like cherry.”
“Cherry?” Richard asked.
“The red chest on the robins. They’re cherry flavored.”
“I thought you didn’t try them. How would you know that?” Richard asked.
“Cyborg told me,” Raven shrugged a shoulder. “He shoved the entire thing in his mouth when you left the room. It was disgusting.” Richard laughed. “He may have inhaled even more after I left.”
“Probably,” Richard smiled. “So, are we still good for Gotham? You still coming with me?”
“Of course,” Raven blushed slightly. “I would never pass up the chance to see where pauper Richard became rich Dick.” Richard smiled and laughed. “But when do we leave? You haven’t told me,” Raven said, “and what are we going to do while we’re there? Am I going to have to attend a stupid gala?” Richard smiled as he spent the next hour going over their trip, all the while never letting go of Raven’s hand.
The dark figure paced up and down, nibbling on fingernails nervously. The Robin kid would be leaving for Gotham soon. He said they would have enough time, clearly, he misjudged Richard’s eagerness to go home. The dark figure began rushing to make the next gift, realizing the timetable had just accelerated.
Chapter 4: On the 9th Day of Christmas
The H.I.V.E. Five wasn’t what it used to be. With Jinx gone, they were severely lacking. Her replacement, Shimmer, was a waste of space. “Is it me or is this too easy?” Beast Boy asked.
“Way too easy,” Cyborg answered as Starfire threw Mammoth to the ground from and incredible height.
“I too agree,” she said. “I have not yet begun to perspire.” Robin dragged an unconscious Billy Numerous to his team as Raven held Kid Wykkyd with his powers. He wasn’t even fighting. And based on what she could pick up from his mind, he hadn’t wanted to attack the Titans anyway. “You snot-nosed, grub-licking, barfbrain…” Robin sighed as Gizmo continued to call them names. He was hovering via jetpack. “Dude,” Beast Boy spoke, “are those the only insults you know?” Gizmo stuck his tongue out. “You think we’d attack without a backup plan?” Gizmo asked. He pressed a button on his wrists. Three giant robots broke through the asphalt. They sort of resembled Slade bots, except these robots were bigger and looked stupid. Gizmo began laughing his cringy laugh. “Raven,” Robin said. Raven released Kid Wykkyd. “What are you doing?” Cyborg asked wide-eyed.
“He isn’t going anywhere,” Raven said. The four other Titans turned to Kid Wykkyd. He nodded. As for Gizmo. He was ordering his robots to attack, but the four Titans didn’t even flinch. Four? Where was the dark, scary one? “Hello, Gizmo,” a monotone voice said from behind him. Gizmo didn’t want to look. He didn’t want to look, but her turned anyway. The dark Titan stood 2 feet away from him, eye-to-eye. He was two stories in the air. “We don’t have to do this again,” the Titan said as 4 red eyes stared at him. “Put the robots away, or else,” Raven threatened calmly, her hands going to her hood. Gizmo teeth began to chatter as his body shook in fear. “Uh…I…” Gizmo said.
“Fine,” she threw her hood back. Suddenly every monster and nightmare he had ever seen appeared in front of his eyes. Gizmo released high-pitched scream causing windows in nearby buildings to crack. While he was screaming, Raven shrunk to regular size, pulled her fist back, and delivered a knockout blow. She teleported herself and Gizmo’s body to her teammates, who were now speaking to cops. “He’ll be out for a while,” Raven said as she dumped his body on the ground in front of the cops. They nodded in slight fear. Raven almost rolled her eyes. Six years protecting Jump, and people were still afraid of her. She released an annoyed sigh. The other Titans could deal with this. “I’m heading back,” she said, moving away from the cops and gathering crowd. Before she took flight, she felt a hand on her shoulder. Robin. “Wait,” Robin said. “Are you okay?” Raven looked at Starfire, Cyborg, and Beast Boy posing for pictures with their adoring fans. A plethora of girls were screaming for Robin’s attention. No one was here for her. It used to not hurt. “Raven,” Robin said her name again in concern. Raven looked into her masked leader’s eyes, wondering if he could see how much all of this was getting to her. “I’ll see you back at the tower,” she whispered before taking off. Robin only sighed as she stared at her disappearing figure, a weird ache filling his chest. What was going on?
He would be going on patrol tonight. He wouldn’t be alone. Beast Boy would most likely be with him this time. Robin liked patrolling with different teammates at random times. The figure smirked. Robin probably didn’t even realize that he was following a pattern. He paired up with Beast Boy the second Friday of each month. Cyborg accompanied him the fourth Wednesday of every month. Starfire went with him the third Tuesday of every month. And the goth bird, the one the figure wasn’t sure Robin liked or not…she patrolled with Robin…whenever. She was the only one who didn’t do things in a pattern. The figure turned back to the calendar. December 11th. Hopefully, this worked.
Robin stood at the top of the clocktower, lost in thoughts. He hadn’t seen Raven all day. Something must have upset her, but for the life of him, he couldn’t figure out what. “Dude,” Robin heard Beast Boy complain in his ear, “there’s nothing going on out here. I’m so bored.” Robin rolled his eyes. Beast Boy complained without fail, every time. Robin was about to tell Beast Boy to go home when an alarm went off. “Sorry, Beast Boy,” Robin said.
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Beast Boy groaned. “I’ll meet you there.”
Ten minutes later, Robin and Beast Boy stood next to each other on the roof. “This is a ballet theater,” Beast Boy stated in confusion. “Someone broke into a ballet theater? Why?” Even Robin found it peculiar. “I hear music,” Beast Boy said. Robin pulled out his thermal scanner. He saw 9 warm bodies standing in a line. “There’s 9 people in the arena,” Robin put it away after a brief glance. “Let’s go.”
“This is so weird,” Beast Boy muttered as he followed his leader.
Once they were inside, Robin crept towards the music coming from the arena, sticking to the shadows. Beast Boy had gone ahead as a green mouse. “Dude,” Beast Boy said, clearly, he’d returned to his human form. “You need to see this.” Robin quickly but carefully made his way to Beast Boy. He entered the stadium to see Beast Boy standing in the middle of the aisle, watching 9 ballerinas onstage doing an abridged version of the Waltz of the Snowflakes from The Nutcracker. “A…dude,” Beast Boy said, “there’s 9 ballerinas on stage.” Robin nodded dumbly. He couldn’t believe his…brain. Nine ladies dancing. “Do we…interrupt them?” Beast Boy asked. Robin didn’t have an answer. He was too…thrown. The beautiful dance soon ended, and Robin made his presence known. “Eek!” one of the ballerinas screeched when Robin made his presence known. The dancers began muttering amongst themselves as Robin jumped on to the stage. The 9 girls were dressed in full snowflake costume. “What are you doing?” Robin asked. One girl gingerly stepped forward and said, “We…we were told to…someone paid us a lot of money to do this.”
“Yes,” she answered.
“What’s your name?” Robin asked, trying to build a rapport.
“Okay, Chelsea. I’m not mad. I just want to know what you guys are doing here. An alarm went off, alerting us to a break-in.”
“We were paid to do our dance.”
“Who?” Robin asked, trying to keep his voice steady.
“We do not know,” Chelsea said.
“A lot of money showed up in our account this morning, telling us where to be and what to do,” another dancer clinging fearfully to Chelsea said.
“How much money?”
“A lot,” Chelsea stressed. “We all have enough to retire. Also…” Chelsea looked down at her feet. “We were told to give this to you if you showed up,” she held a white envelope out to Robin. Robin carefully took it. “Are we in trouble?” Chelsea asked with round, brown eyes.
“No,” Robin answered instantly, calming her down. He began to ready his grappling hook. “Just…be careful getting home.”
“I can make sure they get home safely,” Beast Boy appeared next to Robin out of nowhere. The girls began to blush, staring at Beast Boy who had turned into a green kitty, sitting on Robin’s shoulder. “S-S-Sure,” Robin said, “if they’re okay with that.” The dancers squealed in delight when Beast Boy alighted off Robin’s shoulder and landed among them, staring up at them with anime-like eyes. Once everyone’s attention was off him, Robin disappeared into the darkness. The girls would be safe enough with Beast Boy. He would call if he needed help.
Robin stood in front of Raven’s room, still in costume, white envelope in hand. “Robin,” he heard from the other side of the door, “are you going to stand there all night?” Robin smiled to himself before walking through her unlocked door. His heart skipped a beat. There she was, sitting on her bed in black cami and shorts. Her purple hair fell over her shoulder, touching her bare thighs. Her violet eyes studied him. She was gorgeous. The emotions Robin was feeling made him want to pass out. He finally understood what that strange feeling in his chest was. Raven’s face morphed into one of concern. “Robin,” she swung her legs over the side of the bed, “are you okay? Did someone get hurt?”
“No,” he all but rushed to her, “no. It’s just…the strangest thing happened about half-an-hour ago.” Raven backed onto the bed, inviting Robin to join her. He took off his mask and began to recount the nights events. “Are you going to open it?” Raven asked, looking down at the envelope in Richard’s now ungloved hands. On the front of the envelope was On The 9th Day of Christmas My True Love Gave to Me… “Well, you already saw the 9 ladies dancing,” Raven pointed out. “What could possibly be in there?”
“That’s what I was wondering,” Richard opened the envelope. He pulled out two tickets to the Gotham Opera House. Though, instead of an opera, The Nutcracker Suite would be the performance. On the inside of the opened flap were the words a gift for you and the one you love. Richard looked back at Raven. “What?” she asked.
“Tickets to a ballet,” he said, showing them to her. Raven blinked at them, showing no emotion. “For the week we’ll be in Gotham.”
“So, your mysterious lover wants to take you to a ballet in Gotham?” Raven asked. Richard looked back at the writing on the flap of the envelope. “I’m not sure that’s it,” he said slowly.
Chapter 5: On the 8th Day of Christmas...
Richard lay on his bed, staring at his ceiling, the ballet tickets in hand. A gift for you and the one you love. It was Raven. Of course, it was Raven. The thought of asking Raven to the ballet made him nauseated, and he didn’t know why. Richard had never shied away from speaking to girls…any girl. Not even Starfire. But he was older now. This wasn’t puppy love. Raven was…Raven was special. He couldn’t mess this up. “Yo, Rob,” Richard heard from the other side of the door. It was Cyborg. “Yeah, Cy,” Richard called out.
“The crew and I are going into town. Starfire wants to go to the mall. There’s a new bookstore in town Raven is going to hit up. I’m going to the game store. And Beast Boy said something about a ballerina named Chelsea, Kelsey, and some other chick. You want anything?”
“I’m good. Probably going to train.”
“Of course. See ya, man.”
“Later.” Richard listened as the half-metal man’s clunky footsteps echoed down the empty hall. After a few minutes, Richard grabbed his phone from his nightstand, hitting speed dial. “Hello?” an old man’s voice answered.
“Alfred, hey,” Richard said.
“Master Dick. How are you, Sir?”
“I’m good. And you don’t have to call me Sir.”
“So you’ve said, Sir,” was the elderly butler’s reply. Richard only smiled before saying, “I just want to let you know, instead of the 18th, Raven and I will probably be there on the 15th or 16th. I really need a break from Jump City.”
“Ah, so you’ve confessed your feelings to Miss Roth.”
“Uh…no,” Richard answered.
“And why not?” Alfred asked.
“I…you know. Timing…and crime is – the full moon – “Richard slapped his forehead.
“Wow,” Alfred said. Richard could tell the old man was laughing at him. “Would you like to try that again, Sir?”
“No,” Richard smiled. “Every time I think about telling her, I throw up a little in my mouth.”
“Ahh…to be young and in love.”
“You jump off buildings without parachutes, Master Dick. Telling Miss Roth how you feel should be a breeze.”
“So, you have no advice for me,” Richard stated in resignation.
“Just be honest, Master Dick.”
“But what if she doesn’t reciprocate my feelings?”
“And what if she does?”
“What if she doesn’t?” Richard shot back.
“How will you know if you don’t tell her?” Richard didn’t answer. “You said she agreed to come to Gotham with you. Correct?”
“Yes,” Richard answered.
“Then do what Master Bruce taught you to do.”
“Huh?” was what came from Richard’s mouth.
“Master Dick, work with me, please,” the butler said in exasperation. “It was after he told you about sex.”
“Oh! You’re saying I should woo her.”
“How you’re able to lead a team of superheroes is beyond me.”
“I’d rather fight Killer Croc than deal with emotions any day.”
“Yes. Today is the 12th. I should be seeing you in approximately 3 – 4 days. I will tell Master Bruce. Should I prepare a guest room, or will she be sharing your bed, Sir?”
“Guestroom, Alfred!” Richard exclaimed. He felt his face heat up.
“As you wish, Sir,” Alfred said. Richard could tell the butler was smirking. “Goodbye, Master Grayson.”
“Bye, Alfred,” Richard pinched the bridge of his nose as he ended the call. Alfred could be so…uh…not helpful sometimes. Richard shot to his feet. He needed to hit something. He opened his bedroom door, almost tripping over something on the floor. “What…?” he muttered to himself. He blindly reached for the light switch. Looking down, Richard saw a medium-sized box sitting on the floor. What now? Richard picked the box up. Before he opened it, he noticed another one about 3 feet away. This had to be a prank. Beast Boy. Another box sat on the floor 3 feet from the second box. It continued until Richard was holding 8 boxes on his arms. He entered the Common Room with his arms full, the lights turning on automatically. He set the boxes down on the couch, clearly seeing that they were shoe boxes. Eight shoe boxes. He opened the first box and nearly laughed. A pair of Superman high-tops. He opened the next shoe box. Another pair of Superman high-top designed differently from the first pair. Richard opened the boxes one at a time. In each shoebox was a pair of Superman high-tops, all designed differently. Richard shook his head. He could only imagine Bruce’s annoyance if he showed up to Wayne Manor wearing a pair of Superman sneakers. Richard didn’t have to try any of them on to know they all fit his feet. He sat on the couch, searching each box for a note of some kind. He found one taped to the bottom of the last shoebox. Couldn’t find 8 maids milking, so here are 16 Superman sneakers. Richard smirked at the note with only one thought in his head. How the hell had someone managed to sneak 8 pairs of sneakers into the Tower without setting off a single alarm?
The nervous habit of biting one’s own nails had returned. The figure had just received a message saying the little bird would be headed to Gotham in the next three or four days. This wasn’t good. The figure paced, staring at the remaining gifts stacked neatly against the wall. Days 7, 6, and 5 would have to be done consecutively. That would bring them to the 15th. Who knew what the Boy Wonder’s schedule would be like in Gotham? And he wouldn’t be travelling alone. The figure fell to the floor. Why was all this suddenly so difficult?
Chapter 6: On the 7th Day of Christmas...
The Titans returned one-by-one to the tower that evening, surprised to see their leader sitting on the floor of the common room surrounded by sneakers. Each Titan more puzzled than the last, with Raven being the last. “You ordered Superman sneakers?” Raven asked, staring down at her leader, along with her teammates. “Why?”
“I didn’t order these,” Richard replied.
“His secret admirer did,” Beast Boy continued to stare curiously at the sneakers. “Do they fit?”
“They do,” Richard answered.
“So…this person knows your shoe size?” Cyborg asked uneasily. “When did this…happen?”
“I don’t know, Cyborg,” Richard glared at him, “you tell me. You were the last person in the hallway.”
“Oh no!” Cyborg held his hands up, refuting whatever he was being accused of, “I did not do that. I am not your secret admirer. Trust me,” Cyborg laughed. “As devilishly handsome as you are…no.”
“How do you not know?” Raven inquired. “The alarms didn’t go off?” Richard shook his head.
“Cyborg was the last one to leave the tower,” Starfire said simply. All four Titans turned to Cyborg. “It wasn’t me!” Cyborg yelled.
“The lady doth protest too much, methinks,” Raven quoted with a smirk.
“I do not love Robin!” Cyborg exclaimed.
“That’s harsh,” Beast Boy said as he pointed to Richard, “he’s right there. You don’t have to scream it at the dude’s face.”
“Yes, Friend Cyborg,” Starfire said with her wide green eyes, “as someone who has once loved Robin, I can attest- “
“I’m not in love with Robin!” Cyborg couldn’t believe his ears. “Did you even check the security footage?”
“Nothing is there.”
“What do you mean nothing is there?” Cyborg asked, pulling the camera footage up on his arm. “Okay, look,” Cyborg said as a holographic image appeared. “There’s me talking to Robin.” The video showed Cyborg at their leader’s door. “Now watch as I-“ the video cut off. “Hey!” Cyborg exclaimed. The video than resumed when Richard picked up the first shoebox. “Well that was informative,” Raven stated dryly.
“It’s not me!”
“Relax, Cyborg,” Richard stood to his feet. “You’ve convinced me. It’s not you,” he eased the older Titan’s worries.
“What on Earth – how do you –“ Cyborg threw his arms in the air before storming away. Starfire and Beast Boy followed Cyborg, continuing to poke fun at their teammate. Raven looked at the shoes littering the floor. “Superman?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Richard scratched the back of his head nervously. “Hey, listen,” he said. “I was on the phone with Alfred earlier. I know I originally said we’d leave on the 18th, but is it okay if we left on the 15th or 16th?”
“That’s in…3 days,” Raven said, slightly worried, which confused Richard.
“I know,” he studied her reaction curiously. “Is that going to be a problem?”
“I haven’t mentally prepared myself…or meditated enough.”
“You can meditate at the manor.”
“Yeah, but I’d rather spend that time with you,” her eyes widened as the words poured out of her mouth before she could stop them. “I – I – I mean…” Richard could only stare at her in stunned silence. “I just mean…” her cheeks pinkened slightly, “I’ll be fine.”
“Are you sure?” Richard took a step towards her, “because…”
“No…No. I’m good,” Raven backed away. “I’m just going to go start meditating now…or I’ll read my new book. Goodnight.” She phased into the floor before Richard could say something else. He began to mentally berate himself for not saying he would love to spend time with her also. Wow, he really needed a break from Jump City. He was totally off his game.
Five hours later, instead of sleeping, Richard was replaying footage taken from the security cameras outside his door. He kept replaying the moment he left his room. Something was there. He just didn’t know what. He continued rewinding, playing, stopping, etc. Batman taught him to trust his instincts. His instincts were telling him there was something there…something he wasn’t seeing. But there was this tingling sensation at the back of his mind telling him that whatever he wasn’t seeing, he had seen before. Maybe he needed a break. It was almost 3 a.m. He pushed away from his desk before leaving the room, making his way to the kitchen. A voice caused him to pause a few feet from the common room doors. It was…Raven. She was talking to someone. “No, he wants to go sooner…I don’t think I’m ready…Gotta go, bye.” She must have sensed him through the door, but when he entered the common room, she wasn’t there. No one was there. The lights were off. The place didn’t even look like it had been disturbed. Weird, Richard thought. She teleported away from him. Why would she do that? And what was she hiding?
Around 8 a.m., Robin called an impromptu training. While he expected three of his teammates to be exhausted, as per usual, he was shocked when Raven appeared with bags under her eyes. She also wasn’t in uniform. Not odd for the other Titans, but Raven usually trained in uniform. She certainly never trained in sweatpants and tank top. And her hair was a frizzled mess. All four Titans gaped at her. “What?” she tiredly barked out when she realized her teammates were gawking at her.
“Dude,” Beast Boy said, “you look terrible.” Raven scowled at him.
“Are you okay, Friend Raven?” Starfire asked tenderly.
“Yeah, dark girl,” Cyborg chimed in, “you don’t look well.”
“Are you menstruating?” Beast Boy asked, and Robin would have slapped him if Raven hadn’t thrown him into a wall with her powers. He hit the floor with an ‘eek’. “I’m not menstruating,” Raven said, no longer sounding or looking exhausted, “if you must know, I was learning new spells. I didn’t realize how late it was until it was 7:30 a.m.”
“Yeesh,” Cyborg said.
“Well,” Robin continued to stare worriedly at her. She looked like she was about to collapse. “Maybe take it easy this morning.” Beast Boy limped over to them, glaring at Raven. “Was that really necessary?” he growled.
“Shut up, or I’ll do it again,” Raven said. The changeling immediately snapped his mouth shut. Robin smiled to himself as he began going over the morning’s workouts.
Hours and a shower later, a little after noon, Richard found his tin friend in the kitchen making one of the biggest subs he had ever seen. “Cy,” Richard called out.
“Hmm?” Cyborg asked, not looking away from his masterpiece.
“About yesterday. I was just kidding. I know it’s not you.”
“Then why accuse me?” the cyborg asked in genuine curiosity.
“I needed to see how the others reacted.”
“Oh,” was all he said. “Find anything out?”
“No…well…” he paused, getting Cyborg’s attention. “I came down here around 3 in the morning for water or something. I overheard Raven talking to someone on the phone.”
“She tell you who?”
“She teleported away before I could ask,” Richard shifted worriedly. “Do you think…she has a boyfriend?”
“Ha!” Cyborg burst out laughing. “Oh, you’re serious,” he said when he saw Richard’s face. “No. Dark girl definitely doesn’t have a boyfriend.”
“How do you know?”
“One, she would tell me. I am her big brother after all. And 2, I have it from a reliable source that she is into you.”
“Really?” Richard couldn’t help the smile that lit up his face.
“You know, for two people who are so intelligent, you guys really are slow,” Cyborg grabbed the mustard sitting on the counter. “But if you just told her how you felt…”
“I intend to…in Gotham.” Cyborg gave his friend a wary look. “What?” Richard asked.
“I can’t help you,” Cyborg said as he returned to his sandwich, hearts in his eyes. Richard smirked as he left the kitchen, leaving his friend to his sandwich.
Richard was approaching his room when he froze. His door was open. His door hadn’t been open when he left. He knew this because the doors automatically locked every time a Titan left their room. But his door was open. Wide open. Richard silently approached his door. No one was in his room – no one that he could see, anyway. But there was a large package sitting on his bed, a package that hadn’t been there before. No. He wasn’t going in there. This was getting weird. Instead of returning to the kitchen where Cyborg was, he walked to Raven’s room which was on the same floor as his room and much closer. He knocked on her door. “Raven,” he said, “I need you.” The door opened and Raven stood in front of him looking well-rested. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Follow me. I’ll explain as we go.” Richard gave Raven the bullet points as they walked back to his room. His door was open. A strange package was on his bed. He needed her to scan his room with her powers to make sure it was safe to enter. Raven nodded in understanding, thankful that Richard was being careful. She closed her eyes and began to chant. Her eyes flashed white for a brief second. “No one is in here,” Raven reassured him as she entered the room, “but there’s something weird going on with that package.”
“Weird how? Like a bomb?”
“No,” Raven slowly approached. Richard immediately grabbed her wrist, stopping her. She looked back at him inquisitively. “Maybe you shouldn’t,” he said, his blue eyes filled with concern.
“I don’t think it’s a bomb. It’s…buzzing,” she tried to explain, her violet eyes portraying calm. Richard’s brow scrunched in confusion. “Like…electricity,” Raven added. Richard still didn’t release her. “Aren’t you eager to see what it is?” she asked.
“Not if it means you get hurt,” he answered.
“I’ll remind you that I heal rather quickly,” she quirked an eyebrow at him.
“Come on,” she gently pulled. “I want to see what this secret admirer sent you.”
“What makes you think it’s from my secret admirer?” Richard asked, slowly releasing her wrist.
“Everything that’s shown up in this tower this past month has been from your secret admirer,” Raven smiled slightly before approaching the box. She gingerly opened the box and peered at the items inside. “What is it?” Richard asked at her curious expression.
“Have you started on your Nightwing costume?” Raven asked, not looking up at him.
“Uh…sort of. Bruce and I have been discussing weapons. Why?”
“Looks like Bruce sent you baton sticks.”
“I told you, they’re called escrima sticks,” Richard smiled brightly at her. He investigated the box. Sure enough, there were multiple escrima sticks in the box. “Huh,” Richard said as he studied the items.
“That metal is…weird,” Raven said slowly.
“What do you mean?” Richard asked. Raven’s hand glowed black as she lowered it to pick up one of the sticks. No sooner had she wrapped her hand around one did she jump back with a shriek. Multiple items in Richard’s room exploded, stunning him. And Raven doubled over, gripping her hand painfully. “What the fuck!” Richard raced to her. Her eyes were full of pain. The skin on her magic covered hand was burned raw. Richard immediately helped her slowly sink to the floor. He could feel her pain through their bond, buzzing in his head as if it were his own. He fought the urge to cry out with her as he grabbed a discarded t-shirt and wrapped it around her hand that was slowly turning a blistering red color. Why hadn’t her healing powers kicked in yet? A flurry of footsteps got both heroes’ attention. Their three teammates came rushing into Richard’s bedroom. “What happened?” Cyborg demanded.
“Nearly everything in my room exploded!” Starfire said.
“Why do I smell burnt skin?” Beast Boy asked.
“I’m fine,” Raven said as she tried to stand to her feet. Richard placed a gentle yet firm hand on her shoulder, his eyes silently telling her to remain seated. “What is going on?” Cyborg stepped forward. Richard slowly stood to his feet and began to explain. “My secret admirer left me a gift,” he motioned to the sticks on his bed. “Raven touched one and, well…”
“Hmm?” Cyborg hummed as he walked closer to the objects on his leader’s bed. He began scanning them. His arm beeped. “These stick things, they’re lined with Nth metal,” Cyborg raised his eyebrows, clearly impressed.
“Huh?” Beast Boy asked while Starfire look just as confused.
“It’s a metal,” Richard reached for the weapons in awe, “a very special metal that interrupts magic.”
“Well, that explains that,” Raven slowly stood to her feet as her hand began to heal. “I wanted to make sure it was safe. I used my powers to pick it up,” Raven massaged her newly healed hand. “No wonder.”
“Forgive me friends,” Starfire said, “I still do not understand.”
“The metal is the same metal used in Hawkgirl’s mace,” Raven explained.
“Oh,” Starfire’s eyes widened with understanding. Richard held each baton reverently, swinging each one experimentally. He was in his happy place, and everyone could tell. “Was there a note or something?” Cyborg searched the box.
“Didn’t get a chance to look,” Raven said, staring at the box warily. Cyborg gently smiled as he began digging around. “Found it,” he held up the small envelope triumphantly. Everyone turned their attention to the cyborg. “On the 7th Day of…blah blah blah. We all know,” Cyborg muttered. He opened the card. “Couldn’t find 7 swans, but what about 7 pairs of electric batons? P.S. Keep the magic user away from them. The metal packs quite a punch.”
“Would have been nice if your admirer put that directly on the box,” Raven mumbled as she continued massaging her hand.
“Sorry,” Richard looked at Raven apologetically.
“It’s not your fault,” she smiled back at him. “I won’t hold it against you. You’ll live to fight another day.”
“You have my thanks,” Richard joked with her. The other three Titans rolled their eyes before silently filing out of their leader’s room. Beast Boy grumbled about how they would need a new gaming system while Starfire tried to comfort him. Raven reached towards one of the batons. “What are you doing?” Richard grabbed her wrist, stopping her from grabbing the baton.
“I just want to try something,” she smiled. “Don’t worry.” Raven gently picked up weapon. Nothing happened. “What the…” Richard began, but then smiled. “It’s not hurting you,” he looked at her fondly, “because you aren’t using magic.” She nodded as she caressed the cold metal that seemed to buzz right beneath the surface. “So,” Raven smirked, pacing Richard’s room, “you’re going to trade your bo in for these stun batons?” she swung them around awkwardly.
“That’s not how you use them,” Richard laughed as he placed the ones he was holding onto his bed. He then stood behind Raven and began positioning her hands and legs correctly. “Like this,” he said, feeling her body shudder against his as he breathed the words gently into her ear. He then began moving her body, showing her different forms and ways to attack with them, a smile remaining on his face the entire time.
Chapter 7: On the 6th Day of Christmas...
Richard stared at his screen. Raven had just left his room, and her scent still lingered. Operation Woo Raven had commenced and was proceeding as well as could be. But the question still lingered in the back of his head – where were these gifts coming from? He began scrolling through video surveillance, focusing mainly on the activity in front of his bedroom door. Only…there was absolutely no activity happening in front of his bedroom door. Nothing. Zip. Nada. At least, that’s what his eyes were saying; but the subconscious part of his brain kept saying something was there. Richard pressed the spacebar on his computer, pausing the video. He folded his fingers and studied the frozen screen. “What am I missing?” he whispered to himself. He rubbed his eyes. They were beginning to burn. He was missing something. What it was, he did not know; and it was beginning to drive him insane.
The being looked at the time. It was 3:00 a.m. on the 13th. They were running out of time. The being paced anxiously. Doing this in Gotham would be difficult and risky, but something necessary. She already contacted him. He assured her that everything she needed would be in Gotham. The figure looked out the window of the Tower. She would need a break soon. Touching the metal had nearly wiped her out. The being returned to the bookshelf, looking for the recipe. This would take a few days.
Two days had gone by with no gifts. Richard didn’t know whether to be relieved or worried. He was leaning towards the latter. However, the worry he felt always disappeared whenever Raven is near. Which is why he now sat on her bed, watching as she finished packing. “So when do we leave?” Raven asked as she folded her last T-shirt.
“Bruce said the plane should be at the private airport in about 2 hours. That okay?” He looked at her small suitcase. “Is that all you’re taking with you?” Raven only laughed gently in response. “Exactly how long will we be in Gotham?” Rachel laughed quietly as she asked the question.
“As long as you want,” Richard answered, completely mesmerized by her smile.
“Huh?” Raven looked at him questioningly.
“I mean,” Richard shook himself out of whatever stupor he’d been in, “at least until after New Year’s Day.” Raven nodded as her leader stood from the bed. “I’m going to start saying my good-byes. You know who dramatic those three can be.” Raven bit back a smile. “I just want to add a few more things,” Raven smiled, “but I’ll meet you out there.” Richard smiled at her before leaving Raven’s room. As for Raven, she inhaled deeply before slowly releasing air. She could do this. No need to panic. If he didn’t like her, he wouldn’t have asked her to join him in Gotham…right?
Exactly 2 hours later, Raven was sitting in a private jet, next to the window. Richard had planted himself right next to her. Raven felt heat rise to her cheeks. She almost reached for the hood of her cape…that she wasn’t wearing. “Excuse me, sir,” a male flight attendant thankfully got her team leader’s attention. He walked to where they were sitting, “These were dropped off for you nearly two hours ago.” The flight attendant stepped back, allowing another attendant to place three gift bags on the table in front of Richard and Raven. “Also, the pilot said we will be taking off shortly.”
“Thanks,” Richard said. “Wait!” he stopped the attendant from leaving. “Do you know who delivered…those?”
“I honestly do not know, sir. It was a flower delivery man who handed them to me.”
“Oh,” Richard replied disappointedly. “Thanks anyway.” The flight attendant gave a slight nod before walking to the back of the plane. Raven stared curiously at the Christmas-themed decorated bags sitting across from them. “Are you going to open them?” she asked, looking at Richard out the corner of her eye.
“Once we get in the air,” he answered. As soon as the seatbelt sign turned off, Richard stood from his chair, and grabbed the gift bags, handing one to Raven. They weren’t heavy, but they also weren’t too light. “I don’t know if I should open it,” he said remembering Raven’s injury.
“I think it’s fine,” Raven said as she gently shook the bag in her hand. Richard nodded before slowly reaching his hand in. “I found the card.” He ignored the writing on the front of the envelope as he tore it open. “I couldn’t find 6 geese a-layin’ anything. How about 6 giant kisses?” Richard raised an eyebrow before reaching in the bag. His eyes widened as he felt the object. He pulled it out with a silly grin. “Is that a giant chocolate kiss?” Raven asked. She quickly stuck a hand into the bag she was holding. She pulled out 2 giant kisses. “There’s another one in here,” Richard said. Moments later, 6 brightly wrapped, giant pieces of chocolate sat on the table in front of them. “Um…” Raven wasn’t sure what to say. “I think whoever it is probably knows you’re going to Gotham,” she said.
“He or she also knows about Bruce’s private airport,” Richard said in concern.
“I didn’t even think of that,” Raven turned to look at him with large eyes. “Should we be worried? Should Bruce be worried?”
“I honestly think I’m going to have to wait until the first day of Christmas to figure this out,” Richard said, clearly miffed. Someone was toying with him. “What are you going to do with these?” Raven motioned towards the candy with her head.
“You want one?” Richard asked.
“As much as I love chocolate,” Raven said, “those candies have to weigh at least 3 pounds each. I can’t eat it.”
“I’ll give it to Alfred,” Richard smiled, “he’ll know what to do with 18 pounds of chocolate.”
Chapter 8: On the 5th Day of Christmas
Richard felt a heavy weight on his chest as he began to stir. He looked around, surveying his surroundings. He recognized the plane he was in, remembering dozing off nearly 20 minutes after takeoff. He looked down at the weight on his chest. Raven. He smiled gently, realizing she was just as tired as he was. Bringing up his hand to stroke her hair, sniffing the top of her head like a creep. Lilacs and vanilla. “Excuse me, sir,” the flight attendant approached him. “We will be landing momentarily.” Richard nodded, gently shaking Raven awake. “Raven,” Richard whispered into the top of her head as he shook her. Her eyes began to flutter, slowly opening. “Omigosh!” she gasped nearly jumping away from him. “I’m so sorry,” she apologized with large violet eyes wide opened, completely horrified to see she’d fallen asleep on her leader.
“It’s okay,” Richard gave her a calming look. He loved waking up to the feeling of her on top of him. “I don’t mind. I just wanted to let you know, we are about to land.” Raven quickly put on her seatbelt, refusing to meet her leader’s intense gaze. Her cheeks reddened as she tried not to think about exactly where her head had been. Moments later, she was following Richard to a parked town car, where an old man stood. Raven was so focused on the old gentleman, her body had yet to process how cold it was. “Hey, Alfred,” Richard greeted the kind butler. “Master Grayson. Wonderful to see you again, sir.”
“And this is- “
“Miss Raven,” Alfred interrupted Richard, taking the empath’s hand gently in his, an action that shocked Richard. “It is good to see you.” Richard almost heard the unspoken again at the end of that sentence. After convincing Alfred they did not need help loading their bags, Richard and Raven were finally able to climb into the backseat. Once comfortable, once Alfred began driving, Richard turned to Raven and asked her mentally, “What was that?”
“What was what?” Raven asked innocently.
“Alfred held your hand…the way he was speaking to you…it was almost as if…” Richard’s voice trailed off.
“As if what?” Raven asked when he didn’t continue.
“As if you already knew each other.” Raven blinked a few times in confusion. “Richard, I just met Alfred,” she said. “You saw.”
“If anything, Alfred seemed to know me.”
“He grabbed my hand in such a familiar way, as if he knew me.” Richard began to flush under Raven’s intense stare. “Do you talk about us with your butler every time you visit?”
“N-N-No,” he stuttered, “not every time. Sometimes we talk about coffee and tea.” Raven raised a brow at her leader. He quickly ended their mind connection. “Well,” Raven said aloud after clearing her throat, “you could have mentioned the near-freezing temperature.”
“It’s not that cold outside.”
“Seriously?” Raven scoffed, “it has to be below freezing.”
“I’m pretty sure I said to bring a jacket.”
“Yeah, but you didn’t say I’d need one made from the fur of an alpaca.”
“You didn’t seem cold when we exited the plane.”
“I was so focused on our surroundings…I didn’t realize how cold I was until I realized how warm Alfred’s hands were. Is it going to be like this the entire time?”
“Worry not, Miss Raven,” Alfred looked at the two in the rearview mirror, “I’m sure Master Dick has already thought of all the ways to keep you warm.”
“Alfred!” Richard explained in abject horror, wishing he could disappear. Raven covered a smile with her hand as the car’s atmosphere instantly changed to one of awkwardness. The kind butler simply hummed a Christmas tune, not at all caring about the car’s atmospheric change.
Richard’s mind was all over the place as he began to slowly unpack. He hadn’t wanted to worry Raven, but the giant chocolate kisses had him worried. He didn’t even know how to explain where they came from to Alfred. The old man only stared at Richard blankly as Richard tried to explain the gifts. Eventually, Alfred put him out of his misery, telling him to take the giant candies to the kitchen. “I’ll use them in something at the Christmas Eve gala, which is in a week, by the way,” he reminded Richard. He was refolding a shirt when he sensed Raven’s presence at his open door. “May I come in?” she asked shyly.
“Of course,” Richard said. “How’s your room?” he asked about the guestroom with a bathroom that connected to his room. Alfred was just so funny.
“It’s big,” Raven slowly made his way to him. “We share a bathroom.”
“I know,” Richard rolled his eyes before turning to her. He was going to kill Alfred. “But...um…” Raven sucked her lower lip as she nervously sat on his bed. Richard couldn’t figure out why she was suddenly nervous. “Raven,” he got her attention, “it’s me. What’s on your mind?”
“I sensed a change in your emotions,” she blurted out breathlessly. “You’re worried, but you’re trying not to be. Why?”
“This is your first Christmas without the threat of your father hanging over your head. This…I want to make sure you have a good time. I don’t want you to spend your first worry-free Christmas, worrying about me.”
“Richard,” Raven stared at him intently, “if you’re stressed, then I’m stressed. And not because you’re my leader or teammate. You are…you’re…” her voice trailed off. She wasn’t sure what she was trying to say. “I can’t have fun if you’re not having fun. If you’re worried, I’m worried.”
“But you shouldn’t.”
“I choose to.”
“Why?” he stopped folding, holding the empath’s stare. Raven’s lips parted slightly to respond. Richard slowly lifted a hand to her face, gently placing a few strands of soft, violet hair behind her ear. He was so happy she’d decided to grow it out. It almost reached her lower back now, and he ached to pull his fingers through the soft strands. His eyes returned to Raven’s beautiful irises as his thumb slowly began stroking her lower lip. The air was charged with the energy racing between them. He was going to do it. He was going to kiss her. Raven seemed to be following his lead as she began to slowly lean towards him. Now was his chance, and he refused to miss it. “What’s that?” she whispered, her face scrunching in confusion. Her head was turned away from him. Richard followed her gaze. She was looking inside his suitcase where a plastic package lay. “I – I don’t know,” Richard said, his hand slowly fell from her face.
“How can you not know?” Raven asked, “didn’t you pack your own bag?” Richard fixed her with a look. “Sorry,” she said, “it’s better than the alternative.”
“Is there anything in there that you…sense?” Richard asked. If he were truly honest with himself, he would admit that he was sick and tired of whatever game was being played. Raven’s eyes and hand glowed black. “Nothing,” she said. “I sense…nothing.” Richard didn’t want to worry Alfred by taking the package to the Batcave. He also didn’t want to alert Bruce, who had yet to return from work. “We don’t have to open it now?” Raven asked, hugging herself. “Do we?”
“Well, none of the gifts I’ve received so far have hurt me,” he turned to look at the girl looking at him with blatant worry. “Also, I have you here to protect me,” he smiled, trying to rid the stress lines from her face. Her face remained the same. Richard sighed before gently picking up the package. It was heavier than it looked. He slowly opened the top of it, pulled out a card, and read the front of it to himself. “Let me guess,” Raven spoke after several seconds, “this is the 5th day of Christmas?”
“Yep.” He then turned the package upside-down, dumping out the contents. He heard Raven gasp as he did so. On his bed lay 5 rings in 5 separate plastic bags. Five golden rings, as round as bangles and slightly thicker. “Are those…” Raven’s voice trailed off as she stood next to Richard. “Those can’t be real, right?” she asked. Richard took one out of the package. Upon closer inspection, he saw that they seemed to sparkle…like a starry night…with a gold sky. Raven picked up the discarded card and read aloud, “These are not 100% real gold. I don’t have the type of money. Instead, they’re 25% gold with a little magic to make them sparkle. P.S. Do you know who I am? This person seems to want you to know who they are,” Raven said as she handed the card to Richard. “But they are…” her fingertips stroked the soft metal. “I know it’s weird and unnerving, but maybe the person doing this genuinely likes you,” she said. “It’s not easy making metal look like a starry night, but who could know you so well?” Richard’s eyes snapped up to meet hers. “What did you say?” he asked.
“I was just saying that maybe the person who did this really likes you.”
“No. After that.”
“Who could know you so well?”
“Before that,” he said. Raven pursed her lips as she began to think back, but Richard knew the signs of a person stalling. Raven looked at him. A look flashed in her eyes, too quick for him to decipher. She opened her mouth to answer but was interrupted by Alfred. “Have you had dinner, sir?” Alfred appeared in his room. “Oh. I see you and Miss Raven are already settling in.”
“She’s sleeping in the guestroom, Alfred,” Richard said, desperately hoping the butler would shut up.
“Well, of course, she’s sleeping in the guestroom, Master Dick. Where else would she sleep?” Richard gave Alfred an exasperated look. “I have a few sandwiches downstairs if that interests you.”
“It does,” Raven gave him a small smile. “I’ll take one.”
“Take your time. They’re in the kitchen when you’re ready. Master Bruce, I’m afraid, had a last-minute work emergency. He won’t be in until late.”
“Work emergency?” Richard scoffed, “or work emergency.”
“No one likes a smartass, Master Dick. Just say what you mean. It’s a work emergency.” The butler then turned on his heel and strolled out Richard’s bedroom, leaving the young man shocked and stuttering. “You were right,” Raven said, “I do like him.”
“Uh,” was all Richard could say.
Chapter 9: On the 4th Day of Christmas...4.1
That same evening, Richard sent a quick email to Cyborg, asking him to send copies of the security camera footage outside his room. Cyborg said he’d get on it ASAP. Richard than shut his laptop, gently tossed it to the side and flopped on his back. So far, he hadn’t been actively investigating…anything. If anything, he’d been surprisingly apathetic towards the whole thing; and it had shocked him. The old, younger him would have been all over this secret admirer thing. He would not have rested until him/her/them were found and brought to justice for this stupid crush. But here he was…day 9 of secret admirer Christmas gifts, and he hadn’t even bothered to dust for fingerprints or…anything. It was like he had grown completely…numb. Richard sat up abruptly, his eyes focused hard on the bathroom door. He really needed to see those security tapes. It was time he actively took part in this non-existent investigation.
Richard sleepily made his way down the steps of the manor, surprised to see Raven already awake and engrossed in a conversation with Bruce at the table. Richard smiled when he noticed the multiple waffles on her plate. “Morning, Master Grayson,” Alfred greeted, staring at Richard who had stopped at the open doorway.
“Morning, Alfred,” Richard decided to sit next to Raven. “Morning,” he smiled at her.
“Morning,” she replied softly.
“Raven was just updating me on…the gifts you’ve been receiving,” Bruce said seriously. Richard could swear there was a humorous glint in Bruce’s eye, but it disappeared as quickly as it came. “Any leads?”
“Uh...no,” Richard said slowly as Alfred placed a plate of pancakes in front of him. Bruce raised a curious brow. “Shouldn’t you…get on that?” Bruce asked.
“I have Cyborg looking into something,” Richard answered. “But I didn’t want to bring my work here, to Gotham,” he smiled at Raven who looked away. “Raven has never really had the opportunity to fully…enjoy Christmas.”
“Any plans for today?” Bruce asked.
“Dress shopping,” Richard answered. “Raven needs one for the Christmas Eve gala.”
“I could make a few calls, set up appointments, so you can have privacy.”
“What a marvelous idea, sir,” Alfred said.
“Isn’t that too last minute?” Raven asked with a furrowed brow.
“Not for a Wayne,” Richard smiled. “And…you’re going to need two dresses?”
“Two?” Raven asked curiously. “Why?”
“I’ll tell you later,” Richard winked at her, “Bruce, would it be too much to ask for you to do that?”
“Not at all. This way, you won’t have to worry about being bombarded by paparazzi and fangirls,” Bruce said as he pulled his phone from out of his pocket.
“I’m sure Master Grayson will appreciate all the privacy he can get,” Alfred said. He turned to Richard and said, “Many of the changing stalls in the newer luxury designer stores have been reinforced with steel, in case of any
“Thank you, Alfred,” Richard pushed himself away from the table and glared at the old butler.
“Just thought you should know,” Alfred said as he returned to the kitchen. Richard was going to murder Alfred.
An hour later, Richard jogged down the steps, ready to go to a high-end boutique with Raven…who was at the bottom of the steps, waiting for him. She was dressed in black leggings, black Uggs, and a beautiful black winter jacket that almost reached her knees. Her hair was black, and her eyes were bluer than his. As enchanting as they were, he couldn’t help but miss the violet irises. “You ready?” he asked with a smile.
“Lead the way.”
She rubbed her hands together. They’d finally left the manor…on their way to a fancy boutique for dress-shopping. Her comrade in arms promised enough time to enact their plan. It would take some time, but seriously…he should have figured out his secret admirer by now. Come on! She rolled her eyes. Wasn’t he supposed to be the world’s youngest detective? The Boy Wonder? Was she not dropping enough hints? The signs were always in front of him. But no, his mind was elsewhere, most likely on his Christmas companion. All right, she sighed. Fourth day of Christmas here she comes. This could take several days.
Chapter 10: On the 4th Day of Christmas...4.2
“Come on, Rae,” Richard laughed from his place on the fancy chair, adjusting his sunglasses.
“Would you like a beverage, sir?” one of the female employees asked for the umpteenth time. She batted her eyes and unbuttoned the top of her shirt to show her cleavage. She was overtly flirting with him. Had their roles been reversed, he’d be fired for sexual harassment. “I’m not thirsty, but I would like to speak to whoever is in charge,” he smiled. Her face outwardly paled as she went to find her boss. “Rachel!” he called her by her civilian name.
“It’s not fair,” she complained from behind the curtain. “Guys have it so easy. They try on one outfit, and then they’re done.”
“I’ll have you know, I tried on three suits,” Richard smiled.
“Why can’t we get the first one I tried on?” she complained.
“It was black, long, and had no sparkles,” she moaned.
“We can do better. Now come out, or I’m coming in.”
“Excuse me, Mr. Grayson,” an elderly man approached him, “I was told you wanted to see me.”
“Yeah, one of your female employees won’t stop harassing me. I’ve rebuffed her advances multiple times, but she doesn’t seem to take the hint.”
“Again?” the manager said, squeezing his eyes shut and pinching his nose. “This is the last time I do a favor for family. My apologies, sir, she will be dealt with immediately.” Richard nodded as the manager shuffled away, holding back his rage for his employee. “Raven,” Richard said again, once the coast was clear.
“I’m coming,” Raven sighed as she drew back the curtain. Richard could only stare. She wore a long-sleeved, light-blue, sparkly gown, dipping dangerously low in the back. Jewel-like necklaces drooped gracefully, covering her bareback partly. “Wow,” Richard heard an employee say from behind him. He turned and glared at the guy. “Sorry,” the employee said before scurrying away. Richard couldn’t fault the guy for saying ‘wow’; but ‘wow’ didn’t do her justice. “So…?” Raven said, unsure of herself. A stylist came over and oohed and awed over the dress which was named after some designer. Richard wasn’t listening. Her magically blue eyes seemed to hold him captive. “If you wear this dress,” the stylist was saying, “you should pin your hair up like so. May I?” the stylist asked. Raven briskly looked away from Richard with color coming to her cheeks. She nodded. Not even five minutes later, Raven’s hair was up in a makeshift bun, showing off her graceful neck, making it look longer than it was. Richard swallowed hard. All he wanted to do was lay gently kisses up and down her soft skin. “What do you think?” the stylist asked him.
“I like it,” Richard said, “a lot. Like a lot. What do you think, Rae?” Raven turned to face the mirror. She gasped when she saw her reflection. It was her, but it wasn’t her. “Wow,” Raven breathed. She barely recognized herself.
“We’ll try another one,” Richard said.
“What?” Raven whirled around, facing him with slight horror on her face. “What’s wrong with this one?” she asked.
“Absolutely nothing,” Richard smiled. “You’re gorgeous. But you need two dresses. And…I may or may not have promised to send pictures to Kori.” A black spark flickered in Raven’s eyes as he laughed. “I’m going to get you for this,” Raven pointed a finger in his face. Richard winked at her before she slowly made her way back into the dressing room. He smiled to himself. He promised Starfire no such thing, he just figured, when was the next time he’d get to see Raven in a dress. His phone alerted him to a message, just as he was sitting. A large email from Cyborg. Don’t know how this is going to help, but good luck. “What’s wrong?” Raven asked. Richard looked up at her. “I sensed a shift…”
“Nothing. Cyborg was just doing something for me.” An employee walked by with an armful of dresses. “Try on the pink one,” Richard smiled.
“I will kill you,” Raven said seriously. Richard only laughed at her.
Three hours later, Richard and Raven were finally finished. “Well, that was fun,” Richard said cheerfully as they both entered his car.
“Fun?” Raven turned to look at him with large eyes, “I tried on 15 dresses.”
“You looked great in all of them.”
“Fifteen,” her body seemed to quake with rage.
“Relax,” Richard said, “Why didn’t you let me see the last dress?”
“No,” Raven said firmly.
“But I- “
“No. I’m mad at you,” Raven folded her arms in anger.
“Oh, relax,” he laughed, “I have a surprise for you back at the manor.”
“It had better be a good surprise,” she mumbled.
“It will be, but first…sustenance.”
“Sustenance?” Raven asked.
“Do not worry. You will love this café.”
The bell rung as Richard and Raven entered the quaint café. The inside was warm, cozy, and inviting. A realistic, mechanical fire place rested in the corner where a few small bookshelves sat on either side. A few couches and loveseat sofas were spread throughout while small tables for two were set in the middle. The café looked smaller on the outside. Soft colors painted the walls, and the gentle smell of coffee filled the air. The place was not too packed, thankfully. “Wow,” Raven said. “I was expecting you to take me to some rich, expensive, over-the-top restaurant where the prices are huge, but portions are small.” Richard laughed quietly. He placed a hand on her lower back and led her to a place by the window where they could watch the snowfall. The chairs were so close together, either their elbows or knees bumped each other. “Bruce has taken me to those kinds of restaurants. Alfred usually has food at the manor for us,” Richard picked up a menu that was already on the table.
“So how does this work?” Raven asked, staring at her own menu.
“Figure out what you want; order and pay at the counter; grab a number; they bring the food out,” he answered.
“Teas are on the other side.”
“I think I’ll order something venturous,” Raven said.
“Really?” Richard looked at her from over his menu.
“Yep. I’m going to order a hot chocolate.”
“Woah. Calm down, party girl.”
“Shut up,” Raven smiled, kicking him gently under the table.“Imma need you to calm down, you little daredevil,” he continued, attempting to block the barrage of kicks he was receiving under the table. Raven shoved his soldier playfully. “Okay, okay, I’ll stop. You know what, I’m gonna do something a little crazy, too. I’m going to order a coffee with one pack of sugar instead of none.” He laughed as Raven began hitting his shoulder. Both birds stuck in their little world, oblivious to the person watching them from the window.
Raven and Richard left the café in high spirits, joking with each other, walking close to each other, their hands brushing now and then.
"I wish we had time to look at those books on the wall," Raven looked up at Richard, "the atmosphere was so calming and relaxing."
"Yeah," Richard agreed, "if you are someone who talks loudly and loves guffawing with friends, that café is not the place for you." Raven nodded. “Now,” she said, “what big surprise do you have…” her voice trailed off, and she stopped walking. Richard stopped also when he saw why she stopped. “Is that a…” Raven began.
“Yep.” On the hood of his car sat a small gift in red and green wrapping paper addressed to Richard. “It could be from one of your many fangirls,” Raven offered.
“True.” The two heroes slowly crept towards the car. “What do you want to do?” Raven asked.
“I don’t want to touch it because I don’t know what it is,” he said. “In the Batcave, there’s a small room where we put items that may be explosive. The material it’s made of is alien. Can you teleport it into that room?”
“Richard,” Raven looked at him, “I have to know exactly where that room is for that to work. I haven’t been to the Batcave.”
“What if I let you in mind? You can see exactly where this room is.” A pained look crossed Raven’s face. Richard didn’t understand why his request seemed to make her so uncomfortable; it wouldn’t be the first time she entered his mind.
“What if I send it to a pocket dimension?” she asked. “That way, I won’t have to mess with your mind.”
“Raven,” Richard turned to her and held her hand, “I trust you. You know this.” Raven looked down at their joined hands, biting one side of her lip. She was uncomfortable, and Richard couldn’t for the life of him figure out why. “I don’t want to accidentally teleport it into Alfred’s kitchen,” Raven looked up at him, almost pleadingly.
“Okay,” Richard said, not comprehending the emotions she seemed to be emitting.
“Okay,” she relaxed with a smile. Checking to make sure the coast was clear, Raven quickly said her mantra, and the gift disappeared. She smiled at him, and Richard couldn’t help but return it. “Let’s head back,” Richard said. The two spent the drive to Wayne Manor in silence, alone with their thoughts.
Richard led Raven to the Batcave as soon as they entered the manor, barely greeting the butler. Raven didn’t have time to wonder at the massive cave as Richard was in a hurry to get the package in some…container. “Here it is,” Richard stopped in front of a clear, square 10 × 10 × 10 clear container. Raven’s hands glowed black before the green and red wrapped present appeared on the floor. “What is going on?” they heard Alfred ask from behind them.
“Someone left a gift on the hood of my car. I want to make sure it’s not explosive,” Richard answered. “Suspicious gifts have been being sent to me since the beginning of December.”
“Robin or Richard?”
“My word,” the butler’s eyebrows raised. “Someone knows who you are? Have you told Master Bruce?”
“I’m handling it, Alfred,” Richard walked over to a nearby computer and began typing in commands. “It’s going to scan the item,” he told Raven. She made a small ‘oh’ with her mouth. “Should I be concerned?” Alfred asked as beams of light began scanning the small item on the floor.
“I don’t know,” Richard said. “I’ve been very indifferent in my approach, but that changes now.” The computer beeped. “Not an explosive. No fingerprints. Hmm,” Richard stared.
“According to the computer, it’s safe to open,” Raven said.
“Computers can be hacked,” Richard said.
“You really think someone hacked Batman’s computer?” Raven asked.
“Well, when you say it like that…” Richard’s face turned red. He opened the small door and grabbed the gift. The box was small…10 inches. He began unwrapping the present. Of course, there was a card. On the Fourth Day of Christmas My True Love Came to Me. “I’m missing something big here, aren’t I?” Alfred asked.
“I’ll fill you in later,” Richard stated dryly as he opened the tiny box. Inside was a black, origami bird, its wings spread out in mid-flight. A tiny name tag was attached to its foot. “Call me Colly?” Richard read. “What’s a colly?”
“It’s a black bird,” Raven answered. “I think,” she said with a blush.
“In the song,” Alfred began, “people used to sing ‘colly birds’ instead of ‘calling’. And it was more about the bird’s color rather than voice.”
“How do you know this, Alfred?” Richard asked.
“I’m old,” he answered.
“But this is just one bird,” Raven spoke, “does that mean you should expect more…here?”
“I suggest you alert Master Wayne. Maybe he could shed some insight on…this,” Alfred said.
“I had Cyborg send me copies of our security videos, namely the ones outside my bedroom,” Richard said. “Bruce’s computers are better than ours at the tower.”
“Don’t let Cyborg hear you say that,” Raven came to stand by him.
“The library was supposed to be your surprise,” Richard looked at her, “I’m sorry I can’t give you the tour, maybe Alfred can.”
“That’s okay,” Raven gave a tentative smile. “Just point me in the right direction.” Richard rattled off directions to the library. “Thank you,” Raven said before disappearing into a black hole.
“Well played, Master Dick,” Alfred stated sarcastically with an eyeroll.
“What?” Richard asked the butler, bringing up security tapes on the big screen. “She’ll be fine. She’ll be in her element. She won’t even notice my absence.” Alfred fought the urge to slap himself and then the young man in front of him. “Walk me through everything that has happened with this ‘secret admirer,’” Alfred sat in a computer chair, daring Richard to deny him his request.
“Fine,” Richard groaned, leaning against the desk. “It started with apples…”
Chapter 11: On the 4th Day of Christmas...4.3
Richard replayed the security tapes over and over again. “Maybe there’s nothing to be concern yourself with, Master Dick,” Alfred said as he watched the young man.
“Alfred,” Richard said as he watched recordings of nothing happening outside his bedroom, “you’ve been Batman’s man in the chair for how many years now? Where is this laissez-faire attitude coming from? Do you know something I don’t?” Richard turned in his chair and peered at the butler curiously.
“I haven’t the foggiest idea what you’re talking about,” Alfred faced the giant computer. “All I know is that you have a guest upstairs by herself, in the library. And she’s been up there by herself for the last four hours.” Richard’s face paled. He looked at the origami colly. Dammit, he was doing it again, obsessing on something for hours and hours. “Crap,” Richard slammed his hand on the counter. “Has it really been four hours since I started?”
“Yes,” Alfred said. Richard jumped from the chair. “You looked at every security tape in every place that a gift showed up.”
“What?” Richard gasped. He immediately remembered how he was with Slade. His teammates couldn’t get him to leave his room for days. Thirty minutes in his room was usually 3 hours in reality. “I’m doing it again,” Richard said. “But someone is leaving me these…things. They could be a villain!”
“Master Richard, I’d be remiss if I pretended to understand what goes on in your world. But I do know; you’ll need a fresh pair of eyes to find whatever it is you are looking for. Also, there is a girl you have a crush on upstai-“ Richard had already left the cave. Alfred only shrugged as he stared at the video replaying on the screen, immediately seeing what Richard was missing. He shook his head. Sometimes these batboys could be so stupid.
She was worried. They told her he wouldn’t take it personally if she entered her mind just a little, but now he was reverting to his old Robin ways, it seemed. He wasn’t…engaging emotionally with her the way he should be for someone who had a crush. What was wrong with these batboys?
Richard found Raven sitting comfortably in a beanbag chair, hidden away in the library's back corner. “What are you reading?” he asked with a smile, leaning against a bookshelf, with his arms crossed.
“I found a Leo Tolstoy written in its original language,” Raven smiled. “How was your research? Did you find what you were looking for?”
“I found,” Richard casually walked over to her with his hands in his pocket, “that I’ve been a horrible host so far.”
“You…a creepy someone is sending you gifts. I understand,” Raven smiled as she stood to her feet and then shyly placed a long strand of hair behind her ear.
“Well,” Richard looked at the expensive watch adorning his wrist. “Why don’t I make it up to you?”
“How?” Raven asked with a small smile.
“Dinner at a semi-fancy restaurant; ice skating later. Tomorrow night, the lighting of the giant Christmas Tree in Gotham Square. Gotham City Library.”
“Is Gotham City Library bigger than this library?” Raven’s eyes widened in wonder.
“Yes,” Richard laughed. “It puts this library to shame.”
“Can we go there now?” Raven grasped Richard’s arms with all the wonder of a child.
“Unfortunately, it closes in an hour. But, we can do dinner and ice skating,” he said.
“Let me change,” Raven looked down at herself.
“You look fine,” Richard smiled gently, “but go ahead. I’m going to call ahead and get us a private table.”
“Okay,” Raven said, putting her book back with her powers before disappearing into a dark portal. Richard smiled as he made his way to the exit. Maybe Alfred was right. Perhaps he was looking…who was he kidding? As soon as he returned from his date with Raven, he was gonna resume looking for his secret lover. Richard froze. He had a date with Raven. He couldn’t help but smile. He also needed to tell Alfred not to expect them for dinner. He had a date with Raven.
“I don’t know about this,” Raven looked down at the skates. She looked up at Richard before looking at the rink. There were so many people out. “Are you getting overwhelmed?” Richard asked with genuine concern as he sat next to her.
“No, I’m fine,” she reassured him. “It’s just…these blades look sharp enough to kill someone. Are you sure I won’t get impaled if I fall?”
“There is no possible way for you to fall and impale yourself with your own skate,” Richard laughed. He stood and held his hand out. “Come on,” he smiled. “I won’t let you fall.”
“That’s sweet,” Raven gripped his hand in hers, “but I’m pretty sure I’m the one who’s going to stop you from falling.”
“Yeah…okay,” he said as he led them to the rink. “I can’t believe you’ve never done this before,” Richard said as he showed her how to glide on the ice.
“This is my first time celebrating Christmas,” Raven said, gripping Richard’s harder as she wobbled. “I’ve never really been into it.”
“I know,” Richard said as they began slowly, “but what changed? Besides the whole Trigon thing.” Raven watched as two little girls performed expert-like tricks on the ice before returning to their parents. Her gaze then turned to other families and lovers on the ice. Raven’s family origin was no laughing matter, and she usually didn’t dwell on it. But, every once in a while, a little wishful thinking would creep in, and she’d wish her life was different. Richard followed her gaze. He knew what it was like to wish for a family. He was lucky enough to get fostered by a billionaire. Richard had been in the foster system for less than a week when Bruce came along. Raven had no one. “No,” she looked up at him, “I have you.” Her face then reddened as she covered her mouth with her free hand. “I am so sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean-“
“It’s okay,” Richard touched her face gently, “you’re the only one I’d ever trust to enter my mind. Also, we have a bond…though, I haven’t made much use of it lately,” he shrugged. “Now, you think you can make it around the rink without holding my hand?”
“You better not let go,” Raven mildly threatened with a laugh. “I’m serious, Dick, don’t you dare!” she screamed as Richard took off with a laugh. “I’m going to hurt him,” Raven said as she began a slow glide on the ice. This was so embarrassing.
Richard entered his room with a massive smile on his face. He had so much fun with Raven. They had skated until the rink closed – midnight. Richard chuckled to himself. Raven couldn’t skate to save her life. It was cute watching her try. She was so bashful, and her cheeks would get this soft, rosy color to them. He was so happy to – what was that? Richard’s train of thought took an abrupt 180°. On the middle of his bed sat a black origami bird. “What the fu-“
Chapter 12: On the 4th Day of Christmas...4.4
Richard groaned, rubbing his eyes. He’d been staring at the screen in the Batcave for the last 4 hours. “Dick?” a voice came from the darkness, nearly startling the Boy Wonder.
“Hey, Bruce,” Dick grunted.
“You’re still up?” Bruce asked with a raised brow as he removed his cowl.
“Am I stuck in a twilight zone?” Dick asked aloud. “A present appears on my bed, Bruce. On. My. Bed. That means someone got into the manor undetected. Why am I the only one worried about this?”
“No one got in the manor undetected, Richard,” Bruce stated almost humorously. Richard studied him hard. “Is this a joke that I’m not in on?” Richard asked.
“What if, to put your mind at ease, I said it is a joke you’re not in on,” Bruce looked at him with a smile. Richard looked at Bruce blankly. Bruce walked towards the showers with a noticeable difference in his gait. “You’re hurt,” Richard said. “How bad is it?”
“It’s just a nick, no major arteries.”
“You need Raven to heal it? I’m sure she wouldn’t mind,” Richard offered. Bruce gave his ward a wry glance. “Okay, she may feel a bit…weird about doing it,” Richard said, “but she wouldn’t say ‘no.’”
“Thanks, but no thanks. And go to bed. Alfred said your spending more time on…this than with Raven.”
“Why are you and Alfred so interested in my relationship with Raven?”
“We have a bet,” Bruce answered with a shrug before disappearing down a hallway. Richard sat in silence, his mind processing what he’d just heard. “What?” he said, his voice echoing throughout the cave. “I’m in the twilight zone,” Richard muttered as he stood from the giant computer. “I’m in the twilight zone.”
Richard walked sleepily into the kitchen, rubbing his tired eyes. Multiple voices could be heard coming from the kitchen, including the one voice that usually made his heart skip various beats in a row. “Morning, Master Richard. You’re looking positively dapper today,” Alfred greeted.
“Thanks, Alfred,” Richard said as he sat at the kitchen table. Raven sat across from him, while Bruce sat two chairs away. Richard then felt a gentle tug in his mind. Richard looked up to see Raven staring intently at him. Oh, he opened his mind.
Are you okay? You look really tired, her voice slipped into his mind seamlessly. Richard gave her a kind smile before saying, “I’m okay.”
“He was up until 4 a.m. researching that thing I told you about,” Bruce said to Raven, who nodded minutely.
“Any luck?” Raven asked. The doorbell wrang before Richard had a chance to answer. “Allow me,” Alfred said, leaving the kitchen.
“No,” Richard said, “nothing.”
“Well, Alfred said you and Raven went on a date last night,” Bruce said easily. A coughing, hacking sound came from Raven, who had been swallowing tea. Richard looked at her with a raised brow. “You okay?” he asked, humor lacing his voice. She waved him off, saying she was okay, grabbing the glass of water nearby. “We went ice skating,” Richard said, “Raven had never been.”
“Your mother is from Gotham,” Bruce looked at her. Raven nodded; a look of anxiety quickly flashed across her face. Richard quickly interjected. “She went to Gotham High,” he said, “right, Raven?” Raven nodded, red coming to her cheeks. She hated being the center of attention, but Richard found the blush very adorable. “That’s correct,” Raven shyly placed her hair behind her ear. “She-“
“I have returned,” Alfred stated, reentering the kitchen, cutting Raven off. Richard saw Raven breathe a sigh of relief. “Who was at the door, Alfred?” Bruce asked.
“A package for Master Dick,” Alfred revealed a small shipment box. The kitchen grew quiet, the only sound coming from a drafty window. Richard slowly reached for it. “It came with a bouquet, but I put them in Master Bruce’s room already.”
“Gee, thanks, Alfred,” Bruce deadpanned.
“Your room needed a spritz of color.” Richard continued staring at the brown box in his hand as Bruce and Alfred’s conversation became background noise. “Richard,” Richard’s eyes shot to Raven. Her face gave nothing away, but her eyes said she was worried. Giving it no second thought, Richard opened the box. Of course, a note. These colly’s parents had twins. Two black origami birds, but one was different. One had a small purple gemstone for an eye. Richard looked up at Raven, who was watching him with an unreadable expression. “…came from Smith’s Flower Shop,” Alfred was saying. Richard stood from the table. “I think I’ll pay them a visit today,” Richard said.
“Ahem,” Alfred grunted, getting Richard’s attention. Richard stared at Alfred and Bruce, both silently telling him to look at Raven in their own different ways. Richard did. She had an origami bird in her hand, studying it. “I mean we,” Richard stated loudly. “Raven,” she looked up at him, “want to go to a flower shop?” Raven’s face told him she did not like that idea at all. Instead, she said, “Sure.” Richard smiled brightly at Alfred and Bruce, who both stared at him in exasperation. Richard shrugged before leaving the kitchen. They’ll get over it.
The drive to Smith’s Flower Shop was long and quiet. Richard was deep in thought, ignoring the probing stares Raven kept surreptitiously throwing his way. They eventually stopped in front of a small shop, placed snuggly between a large department store and a furniture store. “Huh,” Raven spoke, interrupting Richard’s introspective silence.
“What?” Richard asked as he placed the car in park.
“I just expected it to be bigger,” Raven answered with a slight blush. “I mean…they delivered to Wayne Manor, and the place is a good hour drive.” Raven looked around. They were in the suburbs of Gotham, no longer in the city. The air smelled cleaner; the sun shone brighter; the snow glistened brilliantly. “The last time I was in Gotham with my parents, my father brought flowers for my mother. He brought them from here.” Oh. Raven nodded. “We don’t have to go in,” Raven placed a comforting hand on Richard’s shoulder. He smiled at her. “I’m okay.” They unbuckled their seatbelts, Raven bracing herself for the cold air that was going to hit her skin. “I hate the cold,” Raven muttered as she and Richard crossed the street. He grabbed her hand with a laugh and began to run. Raven chuckled as she kept with him. They both burst through the door of the shop, a bell announcing their presence. “Hello and welcome to Smith’s Flower Shop,” a young voice called out. Raven stared at the massive array of flowers around her. A meta had to be running this shop as most of the flowers were out of season. Raven let go of Richard’s hand and began perusing the shop. Richard walked straight up to the counter. “Hello, how can I – omigosh!” the very young girls screeched at the top of her lungs. Richard visibly flinched, the sound grating his and the other customer’s ears. “Sorry, sorry,” she apologized to everyone. “Wow,” she gasped, her large blue eyes taking in Richard’s figure. “This is amazing,” she gushed. “When the order came in today, I thought it was for sure a joke, but it was real.”
“Yes,” Richard smiled, preparing to catch the girl should she pass out. “I have a question about that order.” The girl smiled and nodded enthusiastically. “Who placed the order?” he asked. The girl’s face scrunched in confusion. “There’s usually a card…” her voice trailed off.
“Yeah,” Richard scratched the back of his head, faking a shy smile. “There was no name, but I’m sure you keep a record of who pays.” He leaned on the counter with a head tilt. “Valentina,” he read her nametag. Richard swore Valentina was about to swoon.
“We don’t usually do that,” the girl giggled. She had to be 16 at the very least.
“Please,” Richard inwardly hurled.
“Okay,” she caved, “give me a sec.” Richard mouthed ‘thank you’ to her before turning and leaning back on the counter. Where was Raven? His eyes found her standing in front of a window, the sun shining on her magically dyed black hair just so. His heart pounded in his chest. She was beautiful. Her eyes shot up, catching his stare. She raised a brow at him. He answered with a shrug. “So,” Valentina said, “the computer just locked me out. I guess the pay logs are above my pay raise,” she chuckled. “But let me get grandpa. He’d love to help you.”
“Wait-“ Richard said as Valentina scurried away. This was not going well. He should have hacked them. “I’m sorry, sir,” a tall, kind, old man appeared from the back, followed by a sheepish Valentina. “I don’t know what my granddaughter told you,” he eyed her, “but I am afraid we can be of no help. We practice utmost discretion. Many of our customers like to remain anonymous,” he smiled kindly. Richard didn’t let the disappointment show on his face. “But would you like to buy a bouquet or two for someone special?” Richard opened his mouth to say no, but he thought better of it. He had dragged Raven an hour away from the manor in this fruitless endeavor. Upon entering the shop, Richard had noticed most of the flowers were out of season and not indigenous to this region, meaning someone in the Smith family was a meta. “You wouldn’t happen to have any Queen of the Night tulips or purple calla lilies?” The older man smiled widely. “How many?” he asked.
Raven didn’t know how long she’d been perusing the flower shop that looked deceivingly small on the outside. Since her time on Earth, she’d never been in the midst of so many flowers. It reminded her of Azarath. It reminded her of her – a dark, single flower appeared in her line of sight, making her jump. “For you,” a voice said from behind her. Raven’s body immediately relaxed once she realized it was Richard. “You bought me a flower?” Raven asked, turning to face him. Her face instantly heated when she realized how close they were to each other. “Thank you,” Raven took the flower from Richard’s hand, their fingers brushing together. Raven’s heart sped up at the contact. Richard smiled. “I bought you a bouquet,” Richard rocked back on his heels, “but they won’t be delivered until the 23rd or 24th.” Raven took a gentle step back, red covering her cheeks. “Did you find what you were looking for?” she asked.
“No,” Richard said, turning his body to the door. “I didn’t. Confidentiality.”
“Want me to make them tell you?” Raven offered.
“No, but thanks,” he smiled, holding the door open for her. The two quickly made their way to the car. As soon as they entered the vehicle, Richard turned the heat on full blast. “What now?” Raven asked, her fingers gently stroking the flower.
“What would you like to do?” Richard asked. He suddenly remembered their conversation from breakfast. “Your mother,” Raven turned her eyes to Richard’s, “did she have any hobbies or places she liked to visit?” Raven’s back straightened. “She told me she would sometimes go to the art gallery section of the Met and sketch or read.”
“Then that’s where we go next.”
Richard couldn’t help but smile as Raven perused the many pieces of art lining the wall. She spent time studying each one, and she still held the flower in her hand. Richard wondered if she knew she was still holding it. She approached another painting, and Richard immediately noticed her body stiffen. Raven stood, frozen, in front of a picture of a ballerina. Richard walked to stand beside her. He didn’t say anything. He only studied the painting in front of him. After several seconds, Raven released a breathy sigh before saying, “My mother…it was the last thing she ever sketched for me. She said Alexander Sheversky was her favorite painter.”
“Do you have any of her sketches?” Richard asked softly. Raven shook her head silently. He peered at her. “You don’t sketch, do you?” he asked, “I’ve never seen you draw.” Raven snorted. “I don’t have an artistic bone in my body,” Raven smiled as she moved onto the next painting.
“I find that very hard to believe,” Richard followed.
“Trust me,” Raven said, “I tried to draw my mother’s face once, from memory. I…I don’t have any pictures of her,” she admitted shyly. “Anyway, it came out looking like a moldy, melted cantaloupe.”
“A moldy, melted cantaloupe?” Richard laughed. “That’s very specific.”
“It was not good,” Raven said. Richard spent the remainder of their museum time asking Raven questions, learning about Raven, and falling in love with Raven.
Once again, they returned to the manor late and then spent even more time with each other in the massive library. Richard wasn’t able to return to his research until a little after 2 a.m. Leaning back in the computer chair, thinking about how much fun he had with Raven while absentmindedly rewatching security tapes, he was finally able to think of a gift for her while he played with a colly. He was smiling to himself when his feet hit the ground in shock. He paused the video. He now understood that…thing that had been bugging his subconscious whenever he watched these videos. But he didn’t understand. He stared at the paper bird in his hand before returning his searching eyes to the screen. Was that shadow in the shape of…a bird?
Chapter 13: On the 3rd Day of Christmas
Richard paced back and forth. Okay, okay. He reminded himself to breathe. His heart was racing a mile a minute, and he wasn’t sure what to do with himself. He rubbed his face with both hands. This was crazy. This was insane. He didn’t know whether he should be annoyed, mad, or thrilled. He needed to talk to her. Wait. No, he couldn’t do that. He didn’t want to scare her off. Maybe…maybe…he should wait it out. Looking back at all the times he’d seen the worried looks on her face. He thought she was worried about his mental state, what these gifts were doing to him. It turns out she was concerned about what she was doing to him. And Bruce and Alfred…Richard gasped. Traitors, he thought. He would get them for this. First, he needed to find out if any other teammates knew about this…true love. There’s no way, well…she’d always been resourceful. He had also noticed how…stiff and tense things between them were lately. He needed to relax. If he were relaxed, then Raven would be relaxed. And maybe he’d be able to salvage what was left of this vacation. He needed to spend less time finding his true love and more time getting to know Raven.
Richard closed his eyes. He was out of practice, but this was something he needed to do. Peaceful thoughts. Happy thoughts. Things that made him relax. After five minutes, Richard opened his eyes. He began racking his brain for gift ideas. A lightbulb went off in his brain. Yearbooks were easy enough to download and find online. She was going to love this. This, he knew for a fact.
She shot up in her bed. He knew. He had figured it out. Her heart began to beat a mile a minute. She didn’t know what to do with this information. She…or he didn’t seem to be upset. If anything, he seemed more relaxed than he had been in days. Maybe he’d finally spend time with her and get to know her. That’s all she’d ever wanted since last year. Today was the 21st. Christmas was the 25th. The ballet tickets were for the 23rd. The 2nd to last Christmas gift would appear early morning of the 24th. And a partridge in a pear tree at 11:30 p.m. Christmas Eve. She fell back onto her pillow. If she pulled this off, she would owe both Alfred and Bruce big time.
“So,” Richard announced brightly, strolling into the kitchen, his gait light and happy. Alfred and Raven both exchanged looks of confusion. This was the earliest he’d risen since they’d been here. 8 a.m. Also, he was happy. Too happy. “Morning,” he smiled at Alfred, winked at Raven. “Raven,” Richard said as he poured coffee into a coffee mug. “I thought we could go skiing.”
“Skiing?” she Raven repeated with a raised brow. “I can’t ski.”
“I know,” he smiled. “I’m going to teach you.” The look of horror that crossed Raven’s face made Richard want to laugh. He kept himself composed. “I’m going to break my neck,” Raven stated.
“No, you’re not,” Richard disputed.
“You should be worried.”
“About me? About you?”
“No, about the other skiers around me. This isn’t a good idea. I know I come across as someone who is in perfect control of her appendages, but I am not. You saw that with the ice skating,” she tried to reason with him.
“You fell three times,” Richard sat across from her with a plump.
“Five-year-olds were laughing at me.” Richard rolled his eyes. “Do you know how humiliating it is to get laughed at by a five-year-old?”
“I do not,” Richard smiled cockily, taking a piece of fruit off her plate and popping it into his mouth. “You were fine. She was fine,” Richard turned to Alfred, who was obviously eavesdropping even though he pretended to be washing dishes. “You’ll be fine,” Richard said. “No one will get hurt.”
“No one will get hurt. And how, may I ask, do you know that?” Raven asked, a bit of humor in her voice.
“Because we’ll be the only ones up there,” Richard’s eyes danced joyously.
“Will you be taking the helicopter, Master Richard?” Alfred asked. “Should I call the pilot?”
“No need to worry, Alfred,” Richard said. “I’ve already done it.”
“Hm,” Alfred said, “keep doing things for yourself, and soon my place here will be obsolete.”
“Don’t be dramatic, Al,” Richard smiled cheesily at the butler.
“You want me to ski from a helicopter?” Raven was horrified. “No,” she shook her head. “Absolutely not. No.”
“No,” Richard laughed. “Bruce has a ski chalet…a small, private one. An hour drive to the heliport. Thirty-minute flight. Has a miniature ski lift.”
“You put me on skis; I will die,” Raven reinforced her earlier sentiment.
“It’s not a huge slope. 100 feet, maybe. Bruce used to have…winter sleepovers with females who were not otherwise athletically inclined in any way. You won’t die. Besides,” Richard pinned her with an intense stare, “I’m going to be right there with you. I won’t let you die. You know that.”
“What if there’s an avalanche?” Raven asked.
“Remind me again, can you still teleport?” Richard asked. Raven held up a waffle with her powers. “I will throw this waffle at you,” she said, her face not flinching at all.
“C’mon,” Richard almost begged. “It will be fun; we’ll be back by nightfall. Tomorrow, I will take you to the biggest library in Gotham.” Raven perked up when she heard that. Raven’s Achilles’ heel – libraries. She sighed heavily, and Richard smiled, knowing he was about to get his way. “Fine,” she said. “When do you want to leave?”
“I need to gather the ski equipment. Is an hour enough time for you to pack?”
“I don’t know what to wear or pack for skiing,” Raven was looking confused and terrified. She hated last-minute trips. “You’ll figure it out,” Richard smiled, “I have faith in you.” He jumped from his chair and left the kitchen.
As for Raven, she could only stare at the space Richard had been occupying in abject horror. This was…she couldn’t…her plan. Raven stared at Alfred, silently pleading for him to get her out of this. “Oh, Raven,” Richard’s head popped back into the kitchen. “Do you have a swimsuit? There’s a hot tub. You know what, it’s fine if you don’t,” he waved it off. “Bruce always keeps numerous types of swimsuits from Europe still in their original packaging.” He disappeared as quickly as he came. Raven’s head fell into her hands. This – this was going to be a complete disaster.
Eight hours later, Raven was sitting on the bathroom counter in a spaghetti top and hot shorts, with her hands on both sides of Richard’s head. “I can’t believe it,” Raven tutted. She was currently healing the right side of Richard’s face. “I thought you were supposed to be a pro,” she laughed.
“I got distracted,” Richard moaned as he felt the skin on his jaw repair himself.
“Richard, are you sure you don’t want to sit?”
“I’m fine,” he asked.
“So,” Raven’s healing reached his cheek. “What distracted you? You’re always so focused.” Richard didn’t answer immediately. He didn’t know how to tell her that he was staring at her instead of focusing on the slope, and that’s why he didn’t see the rock and ended up in the trees. “I was just thinking,” he said.
“About what?” Raven asked, leaning into him, checking Richard’s head as she finished repairing his eye. Her scent enveloped him, and he unconsciously gripped her hips. Raven figured he was bracing himself. “Are you sure you don’t want to sit?” she asked again.
“I’m good,” Richard answered, “the pain is already subsiding.”
“Okay, but if you pass out, I’m not going to revive you,” Raven joked. Richard gave a half-smile. “I’m finished,” she said, smoothing his hair. Richard took a step closer to her, looking at his reflection over her shoulder. “Wow,” he said, “not even a scar.” He leaned forward to get a better look, momentarily forgetting that Raven was still sitting in front of him. “Maybe I should have left a small one. Girls seem drawn to guys that have one or two scars on their face,” he felt Raven’s breath on his neck as she spoke.
“Are you one of those girls?” Richard looked at her, holding her stare. Neither moved an inch forward or an inch back. They stayed where they were, frozen, each waiting for the other to make a move. “You really want to know what I was thinking?” Richard asked, reaching his hand up to place a strand of purple hair behind her ear.
“If you want to tell me,” Raven whispered breathlessly, a small shudder working its way up her spine. Richard’s hand fell to her jaw as his thumb brushed her lower lip. “You,” Richard whispered as his lips gently brushed against hers once. Then twice. Then…his phone rang loudly. He reluctantly pulled away. “I’ll…clean up in here,” Raven motioned to the bloody towels and tissues.
“Thank you. I’ll…get my phone,” Richard was going to murder the person on the other end. “Hello,” he nearly growled into the phone.
"Master Richard, are you okay?” Alfred asked.
“Yes,” Richard’s demeanor immediately changed. The old butler didn’t deserve his wrath. “What’s up?”
“I’m afraid you’re going to have to cut your day with Ms. Roth short. An extreme blizzard will be passing through there. The helicopter is on its way to you now.”
“Okay,” Richard said, expertly hiding the disappointment in his voice. “I’ll let Rae know. Thank you.” Richard ended the call. “Hey, Raven!” he called out. “We need to leave early! There’s a blizzard on its way!”
“Okay!” he heard her call back. “I can’t wait to tell Alfred and Bruce that you wiped out on the bunny slope!” Richard groaned. He was just happy she didn’t have pictures.
Raven and Richard returned to the manor later that evening. Tired, sore, but in good spirits. “I am so glad you’ve returned,” Alfred said. “Your assistance is needed in the kitchen.” Raven blanched as Richard’s face paled. “Oh, don’t give me that look, you two,” Alfred said, “I only need you to make shapes in the cookie dough.”
“Cookie dough?” Raven looked at Richard for clarification.
“The orphanage?” Richard asked. “I thought you and Bruce did that, not that I mind going. I don’t.”
“This is for the homeless shelter,” Alfred stated, leading the two into the kitchen. Raven and Richard entered the kitchen. Every inch of the counter was covered in massive balls of dough and cookie cutters. “Enjoy,” Alfred said, leaving the two alone.
“Does he want us to bake them?” Raven asked.
“Probably not,” Richard said with a shrug, “but we should do it anyway.”
An hour or so later, the two young adult Titans were stomping shapes into cookie dough, baking cookies, then decorating. “Oh,” Richard said, “by the way. The night of the 23rd, we’re going to see The Nutcracker Suite.” Raven paused in her decoration of a snowman. “Your snowman looks like a yeti,” Richard laughed.
“Back up,” Raven said, “you’re taking me to see a ballet?” Richard nodded. “You’re going to sit through an entire ballet?” Raven asked him, disbelief coloring her voice.
“You were there when I showed you the two tickets,” Richard said, not sure what she was playing at.
“I know,” she blushed, “I didn’t think you were going to take me,” she said, her eyes betraying her happiness.
“I was told to,” Richard said with a shrug, placing another cookie sheet in the oven.
“Your secret admirer told you to take me to a ballet?” Raven asked.
“Yep,” Richard answered as he began rolling out more dough.
“Me, specifically?” Raven asked for clarification. Richard looked at her with a smile. “You, specifically,” he said. Raven froze, her heart pounding in her chest. “Snowmen are very easy to decorate,” Richard muttered, looking at Raven’s work of art.
“You’re taking me?” she repeated. Richard stared at her. She looked genuinely surprised, which confused him. He could have sworn… “Yes,” Richard said. “I wouldn’t go with anyone else.” Raven sucked on her lower lip, fighting a smile. “Seriously?” Richard looked back at her cookie. “That looked like a snowman when I took it from the oven.”
“What time?” Raven asked softly.
“It starts at 6, but we should get there by 5:45. We should leave here by 5:00.”
“Okay,” Raven said, wanting to laugh and cry simultaneously.
“You weren’t joking about your art skills.”
“Shut up,” Raven laughed. “I’m doing my best.”
“What were you trying to do?”
“Give him arms and boots.”
“What’s with the nose?” Richard pointed out.
“That’s a pipe,” Raven blushed.
“No, no, no, no. Give me the pipe,” Richard tried to grab the frosting from her.
“No, you’ll ruin it.”
“I’ll ruin it?” Richard asked, trying to yank it from her hand. The Titans soon began a tug-of-war game with the piping bag as the rope—both completely unaware of Alfred and Bruce eavesdropping.
“You know they’re going to destroy your kitchen,” Bruce said to Alfred.
“I have complete faith in Raven’s cleaning ability. Richard, not so much.” Bruce laughed. “I think we may be able to pull off this Christmas miracle,” Alfred said.
“It will be a Christmas miracle indeed.”
A little after midnight, Richard sat on his bed, just finishing his shower. He had such a fun day. He and Raven kissed…almost kissed…it counted as a kiss in his mind. They skied. They made Christmas cookies. Raven’s cookies looked like the Ghost of Christmas Future…or the Grudge, depending on how you tilted your head. He smiled to himself. Raven may have understated her lack of art skills. He was about to climb into bed when he noticed a small present on his desk, decorated with red wrapping paper. He grabbed the gift and returned to his bed before unwrapping it. Opening the lid to the box, he found a piece of paper. Clever boy. Last-minute ski trip to throw me off my game. I had to improvise, something I do not like to do. But...I think you know who I am now. Here’s your third day of Christmas present. Richard held up a large sandwich bag filled with small cookies, or should he say, little cookies in the shapes of ovals and chickens. The ovals were eggs, and the chickens were most likely hens. Richard laughed to himself. “Clever girl,” he muttered. “Clever girl.”
Chapter 14: On the 2nd Day of Christmas...
“Who sent it?” Raven heard the voices coming from below. She carefully walked down the stairs, rubbing her eyes as she did so. Alfred and Richard were at the bottom of the steps, a large, open box stood in between them. “What is that?” Raven asked, coming to stand near the two men.
“I don’t know,” Richard looked at her, a twinkle in his eye. “You tell me,” he grinned at her before winking. Raven felt heat rise to her face. What was with him today? “It seems Master Grayson’s mystery lover sent him a telescope,” Alfred answered her.
“A telescope,” Raven repeated, “how intriguing.” Alfred held a small card out to her. Raven gently took it from the kind butler. “More to come…” Raven read. Raven looked at Richard. He was watching her intently, studying her, sizing her up. “What?” Raven asked him with a raised brow. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Like what?” he asked, humor flashing in his blue eyes. Raven gave him a playful shove before handing the card back to Alfred. “Anyway,” Richard said, “I’m going to put this telescope in my room. I thought maybe we could go to dinner before the ballet.”
“You’re actually going to sit through a ballet, Master Dick?” Alfred asked in shock.
“That’s what I said,” Raven gave a small laugh.
“Anyway,” Richard ignored the two, “there’s a French restaurant across the street from the theater.”
"Le Bijou de Feu?” Alfred asked with a raised brow. “You are going to take Miss Roth to Le Bijou de Feu?”
“Yes, Alfred,” Richard said, hiding his annoyance.
“You?” Alfred snorted.
“Isn’t there something you should be doing or cleaning?” Richard asked almost icily. Alfred only gave him a wry look before leaving the two young adults. “Yes. I originally said the ballet began at 6. It begins at 7. We should be there by 6:45. I thought, maybe, you and I could dine at the fancy French restaurant Alfred just mentioned.”
“How fancy?” Raven asked, gazing up at Richard.
“Uh…not a step or two below ballroom fancy,” he smiled. “There shouldn’t be any paparazzi in the area.”
“Paparazzi?” Raven’s eyes widened. Where was Richard taking her?
“I just made the reservations,” Richard said. “We need to leave here at 4:30. Think you can be ready by then?”
“Yeah,” Raven said slowly. Richard gave her another beautiful smile before lifting the telescope. “I could teleport it to your room,” Raven said.
“I got it,” Richard assured her. “I’ll see you in a bit.” Raven nodded before walking away, leaving Richard to carry a large telescope up 20 stairs.
Richard sat the telescope on the floor in front of his balcony doors. He’d unbox it later. Richard studied the item. “What are you planning?” he smiled to himself as he remembered their conversation from the day before. He had come through on his promise, taking her to the biggest library in Gotham. Her reward for the last-minute ski trip he’d sprung upon her. Somehow, they got onto the subject of astronomy and stars. “How’d you get this here so fast?” Richard whispered to himself. A mystery to solve later.
Astronomy wasn’t the only thing they discussed.
Raven pulled every book she could find on Tchaikovsky and The Nutcracker Suite. She then explained the ballet to Richard. He already knew what the ballet was, but watching and listening to her give an in-depth explanation of the show brought joy to Richard’s heart and butterflies to his stomach. Raven gave Richard a brief biography lesson about Pyotr Tchaikovsky. Her magically turned blue eyes sparkled with childlike wonder as she gave Richard the history behind the ballet. Her voice became thick with emotion when she said The Nutcracker had been her mother’s favorite ballet as well as the only one she’d ever seen. Richard sat across from her, hanging onto her every word as her excitement became more palpable the more she spoke. He’d never heard her say so many words in one day, and he realized he loved the sound of her voice. Richard spent the very few lulls in conversation, mentally tracing every single line and curve in her face. Who knew you could have so much fun at a library?
Richard left his room as he continued reminiscing about yesterday’s events.
They had ended the day at Gotham Square to see the giant Christmas tree. Raven’s awe at its size was overtly seen on her face. Richard couldn’t help but agree with her when she said a meta had to have grown that tree. Last he checked, redwoods were the only trees that could reach over 300 feet. The lights from the tree danced across her face. Richard could tell from her expression that she was genuinely having a good time. Her mouth was relaxed; her eyes seemed to be taking in the sights instead of looking for danger among the masses. She trusted him enough to lower her guard and enjoy herself. He couldn’t look away. She was adorable in her hat and gloves and winter coat. She really couldn’t stand the cold, Richard laughed inwardly. “Raven,” he remembered saying her name softly. She had looked at him with those large, round eyes. His hand found her face, and his thumb stroked her lower lip. He wanted to suck that lower lip so badly. Raven’s face blushed a deep red, meaning she heard his last thought. As he continued gazing at her, he couldn’t help but wonder how many shades of red he could make her blush if given the chance.
Richard shook his head. He would have kissed her last night had a child not nearly bowled the both of them over. Man, he groaned; he had been so close. How was he so bad at this…wooing? Richard opened the door to the kitchen, where he found Raven sitting at the table, watching as Alfred cooked. “You’re not going to do all of the cooking, right?” Raven asked.
“Only a few desserts,” Alfred answered. “We usually cater. I make sure everything runs smoothly.”
“The kitchen usually off-limits during these elaborate events,” Richard interrupted the two, startling Alfred.
“I’m sure that never stopped you,” Raven replied, watching as Richard made his daily cup of coffee.
“Master Richard tried many-a-time to make the kitchen his hiding place,” Alfred said, “but I would not allow it.” Richard rolled his eyes. “Alfred is a bit of a dictator when it comes to his kitchen,” Richard said.
“I will take that as a compliment,” Alfred said. “So, what do you two have planned besides dinner and a show?”
“I need to find a Christmas gift for Starfire and Beast Boy,” Raven said, “they’re going to want something from Gotham just to say they have something from Gotham.” Richard couldn’t agree more. “We should be there when the mall opens. Hopefully, we’ll beat the crowds,” Richard said. Raven nodded in agreement.
Raven looked around the magnificent restaurant, its ambiance warming her from the inside out. From the soft music to the velvet seats to the candlelight chandeliers, everything was so lovely. Raven looked down at herself. She wore a long-sleeve, black dress that stopped mid-thigh. She wore black fishnet stockings with black above-the-knee boots. Taking in her surroundings, Raven began to wonder if maybe she was underdressed. She was wearing a lot of black. A warm hand covered the hand she had resting on the table. “You look beautiful,” Richard said, his naturally blue eyes shimmering in the candlelight. A soft smile appeared on Raven’s face. “Thank you,” she said.
“I think it’s good that we match,” he withdrew his hand with a smile. Richard wore a slim-fit black suit with a sleek sheen to it. He left the top two buttons of his black dress shirt unbuttoned, showing a sculpted collar bone. Having seen Richard shirtless by accident one time, Raven knew what that shirt was hiding. She had to ball her hand into a fist to stop herself from reaching over, caressing the muscles of his abdomen. Her face began to heat as another blush crept up. How many times had she blushed just today? “So,” Raven started to, breaking the silence as she opened her menu, “is this one of those restaurants with high prices but small portions?”
“Surprisingly, no,” Richard said.
“How many times have you dined here?” Raven asked, her eyes focused on the foreign words on the menu.
“Twice. Neither time with a female.” Raven looked over her menu and at Richard with a raised brow. “Bruce met a few clients here,” Richard explained. “Do you know what you want to order? Need me to translate?”
“Aha,” Raven said playfully, “I knew there had to be a reason you brought me here. You wanted to wow me with your linguistic skills.” Richard laughed. “I can speak French.”
“Dang it,” Richard gave a flirtatious smile, “I really wanted to impress you.” Raven shyly placed several strands of hair behind her ear. “Well, maybe you still can,” she admitted quietly. “I don’t understand everything on this menu.” Richard felt his face light up. He moved his chair closer to her, close enough for their knees to touch. “Tout le plaisir ést pour moi,” Richard waggled his eyebrows as he leaned into Raven. Raven only rolled her eyes. “Let’s see,” his blue eyes danced across the pages, “how hungry are you?”
Dinner had been fantastic. They’d been so engrossed in their meals and each other; they hadn’t had time to dance. Raven was okay with that, though. Dancing wasn’t her strong suit. Now, they walked hand-in-hand into the theater. “Oh my Azar,” Raven said when they entered the auditorium. “This is huge.” Richard had to agree. “Our seats are up there,” he whispered into her ear.
“We have a box?” Raven’s eyes widened even more.
“I guess so,” Richard answered slowly before navigating the crowd, leading the way to their seats. Fifteen minutes later, the curtain opened, and the show began.
Richard didn’t pay much attention to what was going on onstage. He opted instead to unabashedly gaze at the dark beauty sitting next to him while her eyes were fixed on the performers. She seemed genuinely surprised at their seating. Richard had taken a “bathroom break” mid “March of the Toy Soldiers” to do some sleuthing. Whoever bought their tickets had bought out the few surrounding chairs, so he and Raven had the box to themselves. As Richard wasn’t appraised to all the ways Raven made money – she probably sold a few jewels from Azarath – he was fairly sure she didn’t have 6-box-seats-for-a-ballet-in-the-most-expensive-auditorium-in-the-country money. He continued watching the minute expressions on her face. Several signs pointed to her being his secret true love; however, many signs pointed away from her. So, either she wasn’t his true love – or it was a joint effort. Somehow, he knew she was his secret true love. He just didn’t know how.
Raven and Richard returned to the manor close to midnight. “So?” Raven asked, her hair and eyes reverting to their natural color as soon as they passed the threshold. “How did you like it?”
“Um,” Richard paused, “I don’t think ballets are for me.”
“Yeah, I figured after your 5th or 6th bathroom break.”
“Hey,” Richard said as they both began walking towards the kitchen, “those bathroom breaks could have been legit bathroom breaks.”
“Were they?” Raven smirked.
“That is neither here nor there,” Richard said as they entered the kitchen. The young adults froze upon entering the kitchen. “Alfred,” Richard called the butler. Every surface was covered with cookies. “You’ve been busy.” Alfred stepped out of one of the many cupboards. Flour and other ingredients decorated the butler’s apron. “How was your date, sir?” Alfred asked.
“It wasn’t a – never mind,” Richard said. “How many cookies have you baked?”
“Not enough,” Alfred said.
“Batman has already left,” Alfred said.
“You know,” Raven spoke quietly, “since we’ve been here, you haven’t gone patrolling with Batman.”
“It’s okay,” Richard looked at her. “I’m in between suits at the moment.” Raven bit her lip shyly. “Are you sure?” she asked.
“I’m fine. As I said, I’m between suits. I want Nightwing to debut in Jump.” Raven nodded in understanding. After ensuring Alfred didn’t need or want help, the two young adults walked up the steps to their room. “Thank you,” Raven said. “I know spending hours at a ballet is not something you ever wanted to do, but…” her voice trailed off.
“I’d do it again for you in a heartbeat,” Richard took a step towards her.
“I had…fun,” Raven said hesitantly. “Thank you.”
“You made it fun,” Richard rocked on his heels, “so I should be thanking you.” Raven smiled up at him. Richard decided he was going to make his move again when his phone buzzed in his pocket. He was going to kill whoever was on the other end. He swiped the screen to read the text message. His mouth twisted in confusion. “What is it?” Raven asked.
“Roy. He, Star, Oliver, and Kori are in town. Said Starfire is having a girl emergency and is trying to reach you because she will only talk to you.”
“A girl emergency?” Raven muttered to herself before disappearing into her guestroom. Richard laughed. He couldn’t imagine what the emergency was, but he shot a quick response back to Roy before entering his room. Upon taking the first step into his room, Richard froze. Someone had unpacked and set up his very expensive and new telescope. His immediate guess was Alfred. Richard’s brisk pace slowed as he saw a white card tied to the telescope with a ribbon. So…not Alfred. Richard opened the white card, reading the words written inside.
On the Second Day of Christmas, My True Love Gave To Me…I don’t have two turtle doves. But I do have two stars. As you know, LexCorp recently donated a buttload of money to the International Astronomical Union, effectively buying them. With the help of S.T.A.R. Labs, people are now able actually to get stars named after them. Names that will appear in science and astronomy books for at least 4+ decades depending on how much one is willing to spend. It costs an arm, a leg, a kidney, and a spleen, but I believe you are worth all of my body organs. If you look under your pillow, you’ll find a folder. The contents of which are certificates, pamphlets, and other things congratulating you on the purchase of a binary star. The system itself has been named The Little Robin with the two main stars named John and Mary.
Richard stopped reading when he reached the last sentence. He immediately rushed to his bed and reached under his pillow. Sure enough, there was a folder filled with the contents mentioned in the card.
The telescope provided is a particularly powerful one – made to order. (Did you know Wayne Enterprise has an off-branch dedicated to the study of the stars, and they build especially powerful telescopes?) The Little Robin is nearly 300 million light-years away from Earth and is definitely not visible to the naked eye unless you’re Superman. However, every Christmas morning at 12:01, it should be visible via telescope for a good hour above Gotham. And every March 20th, it will be visible above Bludhaven. (You said you wanted to settle in Bludhaven, though Azar knows why.) This is my Second Day of Christmas gift to you. P.S. If you don’t know who I am, tomorrow will be very awkward.
Richard stared at the telescope and the multiple pamphlets and certificates littering his bed. She’d gone all out. His gift for her wouldn’t be ready until the new year. Richard slowly looked up when he heard a knock on the bathroom door he was sharing with Raven. “Come in,” he said, quickly shoving the papers back beneath his pillow.
“Hey,” Raven said, opening the door, “sorry to interrupt.”
“Is everything okay with Star?”
“Uh…yes and no. It will be. Starfire is having a…crisis and needs me. I’m going to teleport to her hotel. Now.”
“Now?” Richard asked, standing to his feet, suddenly worried. “Should I be concerned?”
“No,” Raven quickly shook her head. “No. It’ll be fine. I’m sure of it. Trust me. I probably won’t see you until that evening, though.”
“That’s okay. I’ll invite Roy over, and we’ll do…something. Are you sure everything is okay?”
“Yes,” Raven gave a rough sort-of laugh. “It’s just…Starfire. I can’t explain now, but I’m going to go.”
“Yeah. You know where the hotel is?”
“Starfire painted a very vivid image in her head for me. I’m going to have to teach her how to do that without inserting herself and Roy in the scene. I’m going to go,” Raven said. “I will see you later.”
“If you’re sure,” Richard said.
“I’m positive. She probably just wants to have a girl chat,” Raven reassured him. “So…bye.”
“See you later,” Richard said slowly as Raven disappeared behind the closed door. This situation had him perplexed. He didn’t know whether to be suspicious because, at the end of the day, girls, in general, confused him. He returned to the card in his hand. Now, time to figure out the most confusing girl of all.
Raven laid her dress out on the bed. Everything was going as planned. It both excited and terrified her. Richard was smart. He probably figured everything out weeks ago. The ballet tickets probably threw him off because they certainly threw her off. She hadn’t expected Bruce to rent the whole box. She would have to thank him…eventually.
After making sure she had everything, Raven opened a portal. She was nervous. She was nauseated. Within 24 hours, all of her cards would be laid out for Richard to see. Azar, she hoped everything worked out. She didn’t know what she was going to do if he said ‘no.’
Raven shifted from foot-to-foot as she stared at the front door to the giant manor in front of her. She could do this. No, she couldn't. But she would. Maybe she shouldn’t. This was Batman, for crying out loud. She pulled her fingers through her lengthening hair. “Breathe, Raven,” she said to herself. “All you have to do is knock on the door and say, ‘I like Richard. I don’t know if he likes me, but I have a very flashy, over-the-top, YA romance novel, romcom-from-the-80s plan, and I would like your help executing it.’ Omigosh,” Raven nearly doubled over. This wasn’t going to work. She’d rather face Trigon than do what she was about to do. “Oh Azar,” she said to herself again. Abort. She was aborting this mission. It was stupid. She wasn’t going to – “Can I help you?” a deep voice asked. Raven whirled around to face the door. She hadn’t even heard it open. Also, magazines didn’t do Bruce Wayne justice; he was more gorgeous and imposing in person. It didn’t help that he was glowering at her. Was she facing Bruce or the Bat? “Master Wayne, for goodness’ sake,” a second voice said. The door was pulled open even further, revealing a kind, older man. Bruce Wayne’s face immediately softened. This must be Alfred, Raven thought. “I apologize for Mr. Wayne,” Alfred glared at Bruce, who shrugged. Bruce turned back to Raven. Raven decided to speak. “I’m-“
“I know who you are,” Bruce interrupted. “Raven of the Teen Titans. Daughter of intergalactic, genocidal, war demon Trigon.”
“Master Wayne,” Alfred chastised firmly. “Forgive his rudeness. How can we help you?”
“We already know what she wants,” Bruce said. He turned to Raven. “We’ve been watching you pace here for the last half-hour, and yes, we heard you talking to yourself.” Raven felt the blood leave her face. This was a bad idea. “Leave the poor child alone,” Alfred said. “He’s trying to scare you.” Raven wanted to say it was working, but she kept her mouth shut and face blank. Instead, she held Bruce Wayne’s stare. After a minute of an old-fashioned staring contest, Bruce’s face broke into a smirk, and his eyes softened. “I’m impressed,” he said, folding his arms. “Clark would have peed his pants.” Raven didn’t know who Clark was. “I don’t disagree,” Alfred added. Raven blinked, still staring at the two men. “I think Richard undersold you,” Bruce praised her. Was he smiling? Was Batman smiling? “Now that she’s passed your scrupulous examination,” Alfred deadpanned, “can we let her in?”
“Oh. Yes,” Bruce stepped to the side. “Come in.” Raven nodded stiffly. She entered the…palace while trying to calm her stomach. “Richard has told us all about you,” Bruce continued speaking. “He speaks highly of all of you, but he’s extremely fond of you in particular. How can we help?”
“Um…do you have a bathroom?” Raven asked. She really needed to puke.
“So, we’ve finished days 12-8,” Raven sat in the garden with pen and notebook in hand. Bruce sat across from her while Alfred poured lemonade. “I thought about what you said for day 2,” Bruce said, deep in thought, “I think I could get the telescope made by then.”
“So I will work on purchasing the stars,” Raven said.
“How are you making money?” Bruce asked point-blank.
“Way to be subtle, sir,” Alfred spoke sarcastically.
“It’s okay,” Raven gave a tentative smile, “I had a couple of jewels from Azarath that I sold. Some big-time jewelry dealer. I made sure he was clean.”
“When was this?” Bruce asked, making his own notes.
“Five years ago. I have just enough for this.”
“Hmm. Do you plan on attending college?” Bruce asked.
“I honestly didn’t plan to live past 18,” Raven said.
“Hmm,” Bruce said, “can you give me the name of the buyer and a description of the jewels you sold?”
“Sure,” Raven said, not questioning why he wanted the information.
"Now, what are your plans for day 4?” Bruce asked. “Because I could get four trained macaws here easily.”
"Miss Raven should be here shortly, sir,” Alfred said as he placed a tea tray on the small coffee table in the study. “What are you doing?” he asked.
“I’m looking for those jewels Raven sold. I have a lead on a buyer,” Bruce answered.
“Are you planning on throwing your hat in the ring for Miss Roth’s hand?” Alfred asked. Bruce gave his butler and friend an exasperated look. “No, Alfred,” Bruce answered, “but if this girl is to be my future daughter-in-law, I would like to be prepared. What better way than gifting her with the jewels she was forced to part with? No doubt, they are her only connection to her mother and Azarath.” A knock stopped Alfred from replying. “Come in,” Bruce said, knowing it was Raven. The empath walked in, closing the door behind her; her face completely flushed. “Are you sure you’re okay teleporting from Jump to Gotham?” Bruce asked her.
“I’m fine,” Raven waved off his concern. “Someone released a handful of prison metas.”
“What’s a handful?” Alfred asked.
“Twenty. Took almost an hour to catch them. Though, Richard has become very suspicious of my coming and goings these past few weeks. I had to come up with something.”
“What does the young master think you’re doing?”
“Seeing an older man,” Raven answered. Alfred and Bruce stared blankly at her. “Obviously, you, Master Bruce, are the older man as I do not yet consider myself old,” Alfred stated. Bruce rolled his eyes at his butler. “Let’s begin,” Bruce said to Raven, who sat in a chair with a nod.
(end of October 2020)
“I think it’s the best course of action,” Alfred said.
“I disagree,” Bruce argued.
“And I don’t want to,” Raven added.
“How else are we supposed to fool Master Dick? If he’s as paranoid as Miss Roth makes him out to be, this is our only option.”
“I am not going to fool around in Richard’s mind,” Raven stated firmly for the umpteenth time. “Sure, I would like for him not to be able to figure it out on the first day, but if it happens, it happens. I will not mess with his mind.” She could not be moved.
“I’m only saying you need to make him mildly apathetic,” Alfred said.
“We understand that Alfred,” Bruce said to the butler, “but it needs to be done in a way that won’t make Richard possibly resent Raven.” Raven nodded in agreement.
“Well…what other option is there?” Alfred asked.
"There may be a way for me to work around entering Richard’s mind,” Raven admitted slowly. “Sometimes, my emotions are powerful enough to affect the emotions of others around me inadvertently. I can also manipulate the overall feel of a room without…invading anyone’s mind.”
“Meaning…?” Alfred encouraged her to continue.
“Beast Boy and Starfire have very loud emotions,” Raven said. “All I have to do is overexcite them a tad more than necessary. Richard doesn’t like working around overt joy and playfulness, and these items are probably going to bring up some feelings he won’t want to explore in our presence. He’ll also be worried about becoming obsessive, especially if I remind him of how obsessive he could be. Also, it’s the holidays. He won’t want to bring the mood down.”
“Hmm…” Bruce said.
“I know, it’s manipulative, but at least I won’t have to enter his mind.”
“I think it’s cunning,” Bruce said.
"You would,” Alfred muttered.
“The suffocating happiness from your two teammates, along with the emotions being stirred within him, will confuse him enough. Once he centers himself, he’ll be too exhausted to go full detective. He’ll think he’s apathetic. In reality, he’s just being overloaded with emotions,” Bruce said. “Eventually, he’ll see there is no threat, with the help of Alfred and me, of course. He’ll eventually relax. I say go for it.” Raven nodded, feeling somewhat unsure. “Look,” Bruce said as if he could read her mind, “I know you don’t find this morally acceptable, but try looking at it differently. Richard is just too intelligent to manipulate head-on. You have to manipulate his environment.” Raven nodded. It didn’t make her feel any better, but at least she wasn’t entering his head. And she would always be there, checking on him, asking if he was okay. She was going to be there. If at any moment she felt he couldn’t take it, she would call quits on the whole thing. She loved him, and she preferred he came out of this unscathed.
(week before Thanksgiving 2020)
"Everything ready on your end, Miss Roth?” Alfred asked. Raven took her phone off speaker as she exited her bathroom. “I’m all good to go. Nervous, but ready,” she answered.
“You have nothing to worry about, Miss Roth.”
"The excitement he has shown at the prospect of essentially pranking his protegee is startling and a little scary. I will have to keep my eye on him."
“Okay,” Raven sighed. “Hopefully, I will see you in December.
“Richard hasn’t stopped talking about you as of late. We will most definitely be seeing you in December.”
“Let me get this straight,” Roy said as he lounged on the floor next to Richard, playing a video game in Richard’s bedroom. “Raven has been leaving you secret gifts?”
“Yes,” Richard said, not taking his eyes off the screen. “I think Alfred and Bruce are in on it, also.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Well, Alfred keeps making snide comments about my love life, and Bruce is exceptionally chill for a guy receiving anonymous packages at his house after knowing that the sender knows our secret identity.”
“True,” Roy shrugged. “So Raven pursued you?”
“Yeah,” Richard said, “it was strange. That’s so unlike her.” The words YOU LOSE popped on the screen. Roy swore as Richard smiled smugly at him. “Anyway,” Richard continued, “I’ve been enjoying it. I brought her to Gotham to woo her, and she’s been wooing me this entire time. It’s bold.”
“You said she bought you a star.”
“She bought me a binary star,” Richard corrected him.
“Do you know how expensive that is?” Roy asked, staring at his friend with his mouth agape.
“I researched it early this morning,” Richard said, “now that people can actually pay to have a star named after them and documented internationally. Then those books have to get reprinted every year in so many languages – it’s expensive.”
“I think it’s safe to say that she’s probably spent close to $30,000 on me,” Richard said confidently.
“What did you get her?” Roy asked.
“You’re a moron,” Roy replied immediately.
“Not just a necklace,” Richard punched his friend in the shoulder. “The rest of her gift won’t be here until New Year’s.”
“This is wigging me out,” Roy said, “Raven actively pursued you.”
“Raven. Dark, creepy-“
“She isn’t creepy,” Richard interrupted him. “She’s smart and beautiful and amazing. She loves ballet and Tchaikovsky. She cares and feels so much and so deeply. Outwardly, she’s prickly. But once you get to know her, really know her…” Richard’s voice trailed off as he stared off into the distance. “I’ve never met someone so selfless.”
“Huh,” Roy said, “Star said the same thing, kind of. I told her Raven terrified me, and she said I should get to know Raven.”
“Starfire is right.”
“Well, I can’t get past her stare. It rivals Batman’s.” Richard had to agree. “So…what are you going to do? Have you guys talked about…this?”
“I’m trying to follow her lead. But, man, I have been so happy these past few days.”
“Well, you do look less broody,” Roy said. “It’s not saying much, but it’s something.”
“Thanks.” A crash was heard from the foyer. “I hope the servers didn’t break anything old and valuable,” Richard said, speaking of the team setting up for tonight’s gala. “Alfred will have their heads.”
“We should order pizza,” Roy said, “I’m afraid to go down there. I don’t want to get into Alfred’s way accidentally.”
“Yeah. Even Bruce hides from Alfred when he takes charge of event planning. That old guy is scary.”
(1 hour before the party)
Raven checked herself in the mirror one last time. She wore a long-sleeved shimmery silver gown with a deep V-neck in the front. The skirt of the gown flowed around her like a river of silk with every step she took. A slit ran up one side of the dress, stopping at her thigh. Her hair was black, curled, and pulled to one side. She cast a spell, turning her violet eyes blue. A pair of open-toed heels and a silver clutch completed her ensemble. “Okay,” Raven breathed. “I can do this. I can do this.”
“Starfire said they’re on their way,” Roy said as he and Richard leaned against a makeshift bar. “Hopefully, they get here soon.” He cast a worried glance at a group of girls who’d been relentlessly flirting with him and Richard. “If Star sees a girl flirting with me, she will attack that girl,” Roy said. Richard smiled. “Let’s go wait by the entrance.” No sooner had the words left his mouth did a black-haired woman, in a long-sleeved silver gown with a V-neck showing a bit of cleavage, but not too much to the point of being unmodest, step into the ballroom. She looked a little timid. She bit one side of her lower lip, and Richard immediately recognized her. “Dude,” Roy nudged him. “Get over there. Guys are about to swarm her.” Richard saw several guys almost surround the beautiful enchantress. He heard Raven turn down a dance, giving a nervous laugh. “Excuse me, guys,” Richard nearly shoved the ogling men to the ground, “this is my date.” The defeated look on the faces of several guys was priceless. If he had been a lesser man, he would have laughed in their faces. He offered his arm to Raven. “Shall we?” he asked. She gave a small nod, slipping her hand into the crook of his elbow. Richard felt a little tension leave Raven’s body the further away from the men they got. “Thanks,” Raven said. Richard faced her. “You look beautiful,” he said. Raven blushed. “I just hope I don’t embarrass you,” she said softly.
“Raven, you could never embarrass me even if you tried,” Richard said seriously. “Oh, Roy is…” Richard’s voice trailed off as he found Roy and Starfire in a corner, undressing each other with their eyes. “Nevermind,” Richard said.
“Wait,” Raven said, staring at the dessert table. She released Richard’s elbow and marched up to a table. “I can’t believe it,” she placed her hands on her hips.
“What?” Richard asked, his arm automatically going to her waist.
“Alfred used my cookies. Why would he do that?” Richard stared at the cookies. Sure enough, deformed snowman cookies were scattered in between the beautifully decorated ones. Richard laughed loudly, ignoring the questioning stares of a few onlookers. “It’s not funny,” Raven said. Richard picked up a snowman that resembled a blob wearing a tuxedo. “Alfred tried so hard to fix it,” he said.
“This is so embarrassing,” Raven said.
“No one knows it’s you,” Richard took a big bite out of the cookie. “It’s delicious,” he said. “Oh, right, I baked them.”
“All you did was stick them in the oven and then remove it at the appropriate time.”
“You make it sound easy,” Richard said.
“Then how come you burn everything you cook?” he joked. Raven fixed him with one of her softer glares. “Come on,” Richard said, taking her hand in his. “I need greet Bruce. Then you and I are going to join the other couples in a dance.”
After speaking with Bruce, Raven stood chest-to-chest with Richard. “Richard,” she said, worrying her bottom lip, “I don’t know how to-“ Richard placed a finger on her incredibly soft lips, silencing her. “Follow my lead,” he said, placing an arm around her waist, holding a hand out to her. Raven gently placed her hand in his while placing her other hand on his shoulder. “Maybe I should have taken a dance lesson rather than visiting the library,” Raven said, staring into Richard’s eyes desperately.
“Breathe,” Richard spoke softly. “Relax. Follow my lead.” He began to move as a waltz began. He started slowly, speeding up only when Raven became more comfortable with the movement. “See?” Richard praised her. “You’re a natural. Just like ice skating.”
“Don’t mention ice skating,” Raven groaned.
“You did fine.”
“Five-year-olds laughed at me,” she said. “Five-year-olds.” Richard laughed, bringing her body closer to his. “So,” Raven said after a second of silence. “Who taught you to dance?”
“When I was little, I would stand on my mother’s feet, and she would dance around the room of wherever we were staying.”
“That sounds fun,” Raven smiled. “Although I can’t imagine you little. Did you have a big, bobble-like head?”
“I will have you know I was an adorable child,” Richard feigned offense. “I was a marvel to behold.” Raven laughed into his shoulder. “What about you?” he asked with a smile. “Were you an ugly baby?”
“I don’t know,” Raven said, “I don’t have any pictures from my childhood.”
“They didn’t take photographs on Azarath?” Richard asked.
“No, they did. Trigon destroyed…everything,” Raven answered with a quiver. Richard slowly stopped dancing. Raven’s grip on his shoulder tightened as she refused to meet his gaze. Richard had to keep reminding himself that as depressing as his childhood was, he had at least one. All Raven seemed to know what pain and anguish. “Raven,” Richard said her name softly.
“I have to go to the restroom,” Raven abruptly pulled away from him. She still refused to meet his eyes. “Sorry,” she brushed past him briskly. Richard stared after her, watching as she turned the corner. “What did you do?” a voice asked from beside him. Richard almost jumped out of his skin. Almost. “Nothing,” Richard said to Bruce. “I brought up her childhood.”
“Nice going,” Bruce said, taking a sip of whatever he was drinking. “I’m sure you’ll be able to fix whatever you did. I like Raven. She’s a nice girl. I want her as a daughter-in-law,” Bruce said. Richard could only stare in bafflement at his mentor. He had to be in the twilight zone. “You don’t deserve her,” Bruce said. Richard agreed. “You should chase after her before one of these bozos decides to.”
“Do you know something I don’t?” Richard asked. Bruce shrugged. “I like it when Raven visits,” Bruce said. “She’s an intelligent girl.” He turned and walked away. “What do you mean ‘when Raven visits’?” Richard wanted to ask. Instead, he exited the ballroom, following Raven. “Excuse me, Mr. Grayson?” Richard turned to see a waiter. “I’m sorry,” Richard said, “I’m looking for someone.”
“I was told to give this to you,” he held a card out to Richard.
“Who?” Richard eyed the waiter.
“Mr. Pennyworth, I believe.”
“Thank you,” Richard said, turning away from the waiter. He opened the card.
Please don’t be mad at me. I can explain everything. I’m in the center of the garden holding a candle for you. I have no partridge in a pear tree. Perhaps you’ll accept my heart instead?
Richard grabbed a jacket on his way to the backyard. The center of the garden could be reached by solving Bruce’s ridiculously grand garden maze. He sprinted through the maze, navigating it with ease as snow began to fall. His excitement grew with every step he took.
Hurrying through the maze, Richard came to a stop when he found her. There she stood, tall and regal, glowing in the moonlight, with snow falling around her, watching him with wide, violet eyes, as she held a candle. She had loosened her hair. The violet tresses now flowed down her back. She looked scared, terrified even. Did she really think he was going to reject her? Well, he needed to erase that thought from her mind. “I’ve wanted to do this for so long,” Richard breathed as he marched right up to her. Raven had the wherewithal to place the candle on a nearby table before Richard reached her. His one hand went to the back of her head, and the other hand went to her waist. Pulling her close, Richard brought his lips down to Raven’s and began kissing her passionately, his tongue immediately tangling with hers, causing tingles to run up and down her spine. He buried his hand in Raven’s soft, silky hair as he kissed her the way he wanted, no longer worried about interruptions. Raven slowly slid her hands up from Richard’s chest to his shoulders while Richard nipped and sucked her plump lower lip. Richard claimed Raven’s mouth again and again, upping his intensity.
Richard pulled her impossibly closer when Raven’s tongue timidly touched his. He felt her fingers grip the back of his head as he began laying open-mouthed kisses on her neck. “Richard,” she moaned, out of breath. His hands began exploring every curve of her body as his mouth met hers again. One of Raven’s hands fell to his chest, searing him through his shirt. Gosh, where was a wall when you needed one? Raven’s lower half brushed against his lower half, and a throaty groan came from deep within. She was going to be the death of him, and he was going to die a happy, happy man. Richard slowly halted his kisses, loosening his hold without fully releasing her. Her lips were swollen, and her cheeks were pink from a flush and the cold. They stared at each other silently, their chests brushing each other as they breathed heavily. “You came out here without a jacket?” Richard asked.
“I was about to lose my nerve,” Raven answered as Richard quickly put his jacket around her shoulders. “You are not upset?” she asked in a small voice.
“No,” Richard breathed, his breath visible. “Can we finish this inside?”
“Bruce’s study should be empty.” Raven nodded as her eyes glowed black. A giant, black bird enveloped the two within its wings before depositing them in Bruce’s dark study. Instead of expected silence, they were met with groans and breathless moans. “What the…?” Richard blindly found the light switch, flipping it on. “Starfire!” he exclaimed.
“Eek!” she squealed. She was sitting on someone’s lap with half of her dress off. “Hey guys,” Roy said looked around his girlfriend with a silly grin on his face.
“Really? Bruce’s study?” Richard asked.
“It was the closest room,” Roy cheesed. “What are you two doing in here?” he waggled his eyebrows.
“Talking,” Raven answered the archer.
“Talking?” he repeated, not believing her.
“Yes,” Raven almost growled, “talking.” Richard grabbed her hand. “We can talk in my room,” Richard mumbled into her ear. Raven nodded. “And get out,” Richard ordered before leaving the room with Raven. Roy’s laugh was all that was heard as the study door closed. “I hope Bruce catches him,” Richard muttered as he walked up the steps with Raven by his side.
“Bruce would kill him,” Raven smiled.
“I’ll survive the emotional trauma his death will no doubt bring,” Richard replied sarcastically. Raven covered her laugh with his shoulder as they continued to Richard’s room.
Once the door to Richard’s room closed behind them, the adrenaline had worn off; and Raven was now severely nervous. She turned to speak, but his mouth was on hers before she could say anything. He whirled them around, pressing Raven’s back into the door as he continued his assault on her mouth. Raven was drowning in feelings and sensations. Her back slightly arched as she felt his warm hand against her bare thigh. Richard lifted her leg, placing it around his waist, his fingers splayed against her thigh. “How did you do it?” he whispered in between sucking and nibbling her lower lip.
“Um…” Raven said. She was having a hard time thinking while he kissed her. Her thoughts were scrambled. Did Richard seriously expect her to explain her plan while his lips did that to her neck? She stifled a groan when she felt Richard’s tongue come out and soothe the slight sting on her neck. “Um…” she tried to speak again as his lips followed the deep V of her dress. “Richard,” she moaned, “Dick.”
“Are you asking?” he smiled against her skin, pressing a light kiss on her lower sternum, the bottom of the V. He slowly dragged his lips back up, nipping and pulling here and there, driving her crazy. Raven almost cried out when his hand brushed her breast on its journey up to her face. Richard placed a small kiss on the corner of her mouth before staring at her with his intense blue eyes. “Tell me everything,” he said, nudging her nose with his own.
“O-okay,” Raven agreed, her lips swollen, her eyes dazed. She bit her lower lip, slowly getting her bearings. She was going to need some semblance of focus if she was going to recount her story.
Richard lay on his back, staring up at his ceiling. Raven’s body was snuggled into his. She looked at him while he absently played in her hair. Both were still fully clothed. They were just relaxing on top of his covers. “So you just showed up at Bruce’s door?” Richard asked as his mind reenacted the story she’d only just told. “The old guy you were seeing, in the beginning, was Alfred,” Richard said slowly. Raven nodded. “And the candy apples…”
“Cooking is not one of my strong suits.”
“That’s an understatement,” Richard muttered before he could stop himself. Raven’s mouth formed a playful pout as she pinched the skin over his ribs. “Ow!” he jumped.
“Those pied piper ornaments are very hard to find,” she ignored his cry of pain.
“I know,” he said. “The robins?”
“Were fun to make. I didn’t burn those,” Raven said rather proudly. Richard smiled, laying a kiss on top of her hair. “The dancers,” he said.
“The tickets and dancers were a surprise to me, too,” Raven said. “Bruce said he’d take care of it. He wrote the card for Day 9.”
“He was very much part of all this,” Raven said.
“How did you keep me so…uninterested?” Richard asked, searching for the word. Raven’s body tensed, and she slowly pulled away from Richard. “What?” he asked as she sat up.
“You would have figured it out the first or second day,” Raven let her hair fall in front of her face, covering her embarrassment. “I didn’t mess with your emotions, I swear,” she looked back at him desperately.
“I know,” Richard sat up. “We have a bond. I would have felt that.”
“I may have messed with the atmosphere around you, though.”
“Bruce said the same thing,” Raven said in hidden awe.
“You were afraid I was going to be mad at you…for that?” he asked the empath. She nodded, refusing to meet his eyes. “I’m not,” he smiled. “I’m a little flattered, actually,” he said.
“How?” Raven’s brows furrowed.
“I’m smarter than you. The only way you can beat me mentally is by using your powers.” Raven began playfully hitting him. Richard grabbed her wrists with a laugh before pinning her underneath him. They looked into each other’s eyes. “Should we rejoin the party?” Raven asked in a whisper.
“I have a better idea,” Richard said before brushing his lips against hers. “Unless you have something you want to do.”
“I have no plans,” Raven replied. “I’m yours.” Richard pressed his lips firmly against hers. She was his, in more ways than one.
The world was shaking. Richard groaned as his eyes fluttered open. He was shaking. “Richard…”
“What?” he asked drowsily. He sat up, the sheets pooling around his waist. Raven was shaking his shoulder. She was wearing his dress shirt and nothing else. “Come on,” she said, pulling him to the telescope.
“What?” he asked, trying to wake himself.
“Look,” she said. Richard sleepily looked through the telescope and saw two stars. Realization hit him like a ton of bricks. “Mom,” he whispered. “Dad.”
Raven sensed multiple emotions flow through Richard; his shoulders gently shook. She placed a soft hand on his arm, letting him know she was there. Several minutes later, Raven was hit with a new emotion…emanating from him. It was one she didn’t understand. He turned to her, facing her, unashamed of his nakedness. Raven swallowed thickly, forcing her eyes to remain above Richard’s belly button. Richard placed his hands on both sides of his face, staring into her beautiful violet eyes. “Thank you,” he said, looking deep into her eyes. Raven bit her lip to keep from blushing. Now was not the time to be shy, especially after everything she’d just done with Richard in his bed. “How did you…?” his voice trailed off.
“I sold a few of my Azarathean jewels,” she answered.
“How much is a few?”
“All…with a few exceptions. I had nothing when I came to Earth. I hunted down a reputable salesman, and the rest is history. The amount of money has tided me over these past few years,” she began speaking more to herself. “I may actually have to find a hmph.” Richard silenced her with his lips. Raven stood on her tiptoes as her arms wrapped around his neck. He lifted her before setting her on the bed. Raven propped herself up on her elbows as Richard crawled over her. He rubbed her nose with his before capturing her lips in a searing kiss. His hand gently stroked her throat, his thumb caressing one of the many hickeys littering her neck. “Merry Christmas,” he whispered before sucking Raven’s lower lip.
“Merry Christmas,” Raven replied with a smile. “Next year, I’ll get you a partridge in a pear tree.”
There will be one more chapter.
Chapter 16: Epilogue
“I’m sorry I have to leave so soon,” Richard said as he packed an overnight bag.
“It’s okay,” Raven said, sitting on his bed, watching him pack.
“We just left Gotham yesterday, and now he’s calling me back,” Richard complained.
“You and I both know Bruce wouldn’t call you home unless it were indispensable,” Raven tried to soothe him. “It must be important.”
“Still, you and I just started dating, and…he assured me I would be back by New Year’s Eve.”
“It’s only five days,” Raven smirked, “I’m sure you’ll survive.”
“Well, that’s it,” Richard said as he zipped his bag. “I’ll call you when I get there. Feel free to stay in my room.” He leaned down and placed a soft, lingering kiss on his girlfriend’s lips, pulling away from her before he lost himself. Raven gave him a soft smile before bidding him goodbye. Raven stared at the door long after he’d gone. It was going to be a long five days.
New Year's Eve and Titan Tower was in full swing. Almost every Titan in the country was in attendance. Raven had been speaking with Starfire, but as soon as Roy entered the room, Starfire lost all interest in what Raven was saying. Raven looked at the amorous couple on the dance floor. Did they ever talk, or were their tongues always down each other’s throats? Judging from what she saw on the dance floor, Raven was leaning towards the latter. Starfire did mention extensive pillow-talks. Raven looked at the digital clock in the kitchen. It was almost midnight, and Richard still hadn’t shown. She tried contacting him earlier that day, but her calls went unanswered. Raven hoped he was safe. “Forty-five minutes to midnight, y’all!” Cyborg shouted. “Get ya’ cups ready!” Raven smiled slightly. She didn’t need anymore to drink. She did want to watch the fireworks. She teleported to Titans Tower. Even from this distance, Raven could hear the parties happening in the city. She leaned on the roof’s ledge. Her bleak mood lifted when she sensed a familiar presence. She whirled around to see him standing there with a large smile on his face. “You’re back,” she said, nearly running to him. Raven threw her arms around Richard’s neck before kissing him. “I’m so sorry I’m late,” he said. “I honestly didn’t expect the trip back to take so long,” he said, lifting her off her feet in a hug.
“It’s fine,” Raven smiled at him. She pulled away, her eyes and hands roaming his face. “Are you hurt anywhere?” Raven asked him, a hint of worry in her voice. Richard shook his head with a smile. It was then that Raven noticed the large gift bag in his hand. “What’s that?” she asked.
“Thirty minutes ‘til midnight!” they both heard Cyborg’s boisterous voice.
“It’s for you,” Richard held the bag out to her.
“You already got me a gift,” Raven took the gift with a smile. “A necklace.”
“Uh…my gift didn’t hold a candle to what you did for me,” Richard said, “hopefully, this makes up for my cliché gift.” Raven pulled a smaller gift from the large bag and began unwrapping it. “Cliché or not,” she said, “it was thought…ful.” Raven grew silent. It was a black 4x6 picture frame. She left it floating in the air with her powers as she dug through the large gift bag. There was an envelope containing a few 4x6 photos. Raven stared at the pictures in silence before opening the large gift. A black 16x20 painting with a picture of a young Arella reading. A young Raven had her head in Arella’s lap while Arella had a hand in Raven’s hair, seemingly stroking it. “I…” Raven didn’t know what to say. “We had to use a computer to age Arella up just a bit. The last known photo of your mother was taken when she was 16,” Richard motioned to the 4x6 frame still floating in mid-air. “But the others,” Raven picked up the manila envelope as Cyborg’s voice alerting everyone to a 2 – minute countdown rang out in the background. “Richard, you have my mom’s birth certificate. And how did you get the baby photos?”
“Arella's very first foster mom was very kind and loving. She took as many photos of Arella as a baby. A few of the photos Bruce, Alfred, and I found in yearbooks. We had to manipulate them and everything,” Richard rubbed the back of his head uneasily.
“Is that why you were gone? You were doing this…for me?” Raven’s eyes began to fill with emotion. Richard brought a hand to his girlfriend’s face and began caressing it. “You found – and you did this-“ Raven placed a hand over her mouth as her voice broke. Tears came to her eyes. “You don’t like it?” Richard asked.
“No, I love it,” Raven gasped as Cyborg screamed, “Fifteen minutes” in the background. “I never…this is amazing,” Raven said as she tried to blink away her tears. She couldn’t. “Thank you,” she nearly wept. “I don’t know how to thank you.” Richard simply lifted her chin and began kissing her softly. Raven pulled Richard even closer as she fisted his shirt. They began pulling at each other’s clothes, not caring that they were on the roof, out in the open. The knowledge that anyone of their teammates could happen upon them at any time only heightened the intensity and passion. “I can’t believe you did this for me,” Raven gasped as Richard rolled her underneath him.
“I can’t believe what you did for me,” Richard groaned as he pulled his fingers through her hair. His hand began exploring every curve of her body while staring into her eyes. “I think your gift beat mine,” Raven arched into Richard. Richard captured her lips in another soft kiss. Cyborg’s voice alerted the entire island, letting them know the new year would begin in 5 minutes. “I still think your gift is better,” Richard said as he rocked against her, into her.
“Agree to disagree,” Raven moaned as her hips bucked against his like they had a mind of their own. Richard only covered her mouth with his, his tongue sweeping inside, stroking her tongue before withdrawing as he began kissing down her jaw. His mouth rested on the crease in her shoulder as movements became more erratic. His mind barely registered the countdown happening inside as he caressed Raven’s thigh before resting it on his hip. “Ten! Nine! Eight! Seven!” A strange sensation began pooling in Raven’s abdomen. She knew what the feeling meant, but she still had yet to be accustomed to it. “Four! Three! Two! One! Happy New Year!” The shots from their teammates coupled with the fireworks above drowned out the sounds of their impassioned cries and moans.
A couple of hours later, after the fireworks had stopped and the party inside had died down, Richard and Raven remained wrapped in each other, lying naked on the roof, basking in the afterglow of their multiple couplings. Raven’s head rested on Richard’s chest, and she had one leg thrown between his two. “I think,” Richard began, “this had to be the best ending to a year. Hands down.” Raven buried her face in his chest, hiding her blush. “Seriously,” he continued, “how in the world are we going to top this?”
"We set the bar too high this year,” Raven looked up at him. Richard looked down at her, his thumb caressing the lower lip he loved so much. “I think we’ll come up with something,” Richard added before claiming her lips in another kiss. She had mentioned something about selling Azarathean jewels. Guess he’d better get started on hunting those down. It was going to be a great year.