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Exhibition[ist]

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Exhibition[ist]


 

 

‘The very thought of you
Has my legs spread apart
Like an easel with a canvas
Begging for art…’
-Rupi Kaur

 


[raw talent]

 

Robin meant well, she knew that deep down. Nonetheless, Raven couldn’t help but feel slighted by his lack of faith. The exchange of a sympathetic smile and an equally shy glance from just beyond his mask had not gone unnoticed by her.

 

Raven furrowed her brows, knowing that she shouldn’t become emotional about something so insignificant, and yet…

 

She wanted to prove him wrong.

 

It was almost like an innate desire — something selfish that urged her to make an impression and catch him off guard, perhaps. Afterall, it was always him coming to her rescue. Maybe it was about time that changed. She was perfectly competent, he’d even assured her of that on many an occasion.

 

Overthinking it, she figured. Robin wasn’t the type to let his ego dictate his actions — one of the many feats Raven had come to admire and respect in their steadfast leader. Knowing him, he was merely taking on the heavier burden, just so she didn’t have to carry any of it herself. Selfless and brave. Starfire was lucky to have somehow found his love and affection beyond the mask as well. The entire team was very well aware that only Koriand’r knew the man behind the costume, and judging by the nature of their slowly blossoming romance, it had seemed more fitting than insulting to the others.

 

As she contemplated this, Raven observed the boy wonder struggling against his restraints, trying to reach the utility belt Slade had no doubt intentionally left just a smidge out of reach. He was gritting his teeth from the effort, groaning as his gloved fingers waggled a mere few inches away from the silver tray next to him. If she was being honest, he looked ridiculous in the moment, not heroic. Sometimes, she needed to remember that Robin was only human, with human capabilities. It was so often they were left starstruck by his impressive skills that even she’d forget how powerless he truly was without all his gadgets and acrobatics.

 

All the smarts in the world, and it had seemed that Slade had won this round.

 

Then again, it was always in the masked man’s best interest to make Robin appear incompetent to his team — for them to lose faith in his skills and bring him down to a level beyond their recognition. As Raven struggled against her own mental and physical bindings, she realized that the bastard was going to get away with it, too.

 

“Damn it!” she heard Robin cry out in frustration. He was breathing hard and fast, the vein in his temple throbbing from the exertion. His voice almost carried in the empty, dark basement, bouncing off the concrete walls.

 

After more helpless writhing against the tight, leather straps that held him down, Robin seemed to finally pause to catch his breath, beads of sweat running down the sides of his face. She hated seeing him so angry with himself; hated watching him fail and realize that he was failing both of them. For the upteenth time that night, Raven tried yet again to call forth her own strength.

 

Concentrate, focus…

 

“Azarath, metrion, zinthos!” For a brief moment, the buckle of the straps twitched to life, her eyes flashing an opaque white as she called forth her power. Clenching her teeth, she tried to keep it going, but the amount of effort it took to maintain even the weakest variation of her soul self, was exhausting her beyond her usual limits.

 

Unable to do anything more than barely wiggle her own restraints, Raven finally let go and collapsed her head onto the hard, cold metal of the stretcher she was laid on. Her own breathing came fast and laboured, like she’d just run a forty kilometer marathon, and the room around her seemed to spin. Her fingers were numb and tingling, and her head was still swimming from whatever drug Slade had doped her with when she’d been knocked unconscious.

 

After she had caught her breath again, she squeezed her eyes shut, swallowed her pride, and admitted to the futility of the situation. “It’s no use,” she told Robin with a shake of her head, “I can’t seem to...to focus at all.”

 

“It’s alright, Raven,” he reassured her, mustering up a half-hearted smile for her benefit. “Don’t overdo it. You’ll need to save your strength for when we get out of here.”

 

When. Wasn’t he the optimist.

 

Raven wasn’t going to kid herself; the other Titans had no clue where they were, and Slade had been meticulous in his cunning to ensure that they never would. Ever the careful assassin, he’d taken every precaution not to leave behind even a trace or a hint of his diabolical plan — whatever that was. The only way the other Titans stood a chance at getting back the rest of their teammates was if they opted to deal with Slade himself, and give him exactly what he wanted.

 

The big question of the night was, of course, what precisely that entailed.

 

As per usual, the Titans had more or less reacted to Slade’s appearance rather than strategizing. When the call had come in, Robin’s immediate retaliation was unquestioned, and the gang had departed after him in a hurry, worried about their obsessive leader first and Slade’s museum heist second. Wherever Deathstroke was concerned, Robin became a different person, often endangering himself more than anyone else. Of this, every Titan was painfully aware.

 

Despite all of her best efforts to quell his addled mind, Raven had never been as successful as Starfire in getting through to the troubled youth when he was at his absolute worst. Their mental bond had always been strong, it was true, but the emotional bond he’d naturally built with Kory over the years had obviously been...stronger. Such was the nature and compulsive power of one of the most terrifying, untamed emotions Raven had ever come to learn of: love. It might have sounded corny and sappy, like something out of a really bad harlequin romance novel, but Raven was well aware that certain emotions were not to be trifled with.

 

If anything, she was sort of hoping the powerful affections Starfire held for Robin would be enough to help the fearsome warrior in tracking down and rescuing them from Slade’s clutches. After all, not much got in the way of a very angry, vengeful, and passionate Tamaranean, or so Raven had learned throughout the years.

 

“They’ll find us,” Robin interrupted her thoughts, his voice cool and distant now that he was rested. “We have to believe in the others. They have to find us, I know they will.” His faith in his team was always unquestionable, and it echoed in the resolve of his voice.

 

It was like Robin was in her head, reading her very thoughts, always knowing just the right thing to say to ease her nerves. It was uncanny, but also highly appreciated. Raven tried to muster up a small smile, but even her lips were numb and disobedient.

 

And that was when it hit her; the idea springing forth from her own thoughts, and facilitated by Robin’s words.

 

Her eyes widened, and her heart panged and fluttered in her chest. There were butterflies in her stomach.

 

Could she do it?

 

Was she even capable?

 

“I’ve got an idea, I think…,” she confessed aloud, unable to hold back her excitement at the thought. The words bubbled out of her in a giddy panic, and she was all the more glad it was Robin she kept for company and not the other Titans, who may have judged her for such an uncanny outburst.

 

Robin, now facing the empath, was studying her curiously, a brow raised. She’d evidently piqued his interest and he was patiently awaiting her plan with a hint of skepticism in the tight lines around his mouth.

 

Raven licked her dry lips and said, “I know that they might find us eventually, but I really don’t want to lay around here and wait for Slade to figure out what he wants to do with us in the meantime. It’s a long shot, but, in the off chance it does work, it can help them get here faster.”

 

Robin’s expression remained unchanged; he was still having trouble understanding where she was going with this. Raven took in a deep breath through her nose, impatience wearing at her mind, before she expanded further with a mildly annoyed tone, “Lillith and I went through some training exercises together the last time I visited Titans East. Her powers are telepathic while mine rely on empathy, but we both shared the ability to create a mental bond, like I did with you all those years ago.”

 

“However, she was able to project more than thoughts to me, even without an established connection. Easily enough, Lillith was able to send me vivid images from her mind; whatever she willed me to receive. Her magic was so potent, they felt real enough to touch, like they were happening right in front of me.”

 

Raven paused, waiting for the dawn of understanding to grace Robin’s handsome features. She knew that he would figure out what she was getting at eventually. He’d always been the best Titan to glean her intentions, if only because they both had a very similar line of thinking, especially in dire situations like the one they were currently in.

 

“So, you think you can project our whereabouts to the others?” Robin asked.

 

Raven frowned. “I can try to. Lillith said there was no reason I shouldn’t be able to perform the same skill, using my most powerful emotion to connect to an individual, since emotions are the source of my strength. But…,” she paused, breaking eye contact.

 

“You’ve never really done it before, have you?” Robin finished for her.

 

Raven shook her head. “Not successfully, no. Until that moment, I didn’t even think that I could. Lillith is leagues better than me, and doesn’t require the aid of emotions to do the things she does.”

 

“Hmm, there’s no harm in trying, I suppose, so long as you don’t wear yourself out. What image were you thinking of sending them?” Robin looked around the dimly lit, windowless basement, and its eerie, concrete walls that surrounded them. “This place isn’t exactly thriving with scenic views.”

 

“Slade’s poison took some time to run its course. He’d left me paralyzed, but not unconscious right away. I caught glimpses of street names and landmarks before it took hold of my mind, too.” It gave her a bit of a headache trying to recall the images, but she knew she had to hold onto them for the sake of both their lives. When all she had had were her eyes, she’d strained against the dark blanket of night, and done her best to take note of where Slade was dragging them. However, it had been only a matter of time before the poison had worked its way to her brainstem, and toyed with her consciousness as well. She’d come to next to a fidgeting Robin, and feeling like she was experiencing a form of sleep paralysis.

 

Robin smirked at her keen observation. “Useful,” he complimented her. “Do your thing, Raven. If Slade comes down to play, I’ll do my best to keep him distracted.”

 

If she was being brutally honest, Raven didn’t really have a clue as to what she was even attempting. Lillith had made it all look so easy, but of course it was easy when telepathy was her forte. She could invade the mind and thoughts of anyone she chose, whereas Raven required an emotional attachment of sorts, among other things. Afterall, there were still some parts of her powers that she was continuously learning — exploring. Always mindful of the borders that crossed into the territory of her evil father.

 

Not wanting to waste anymore precious time, Raven cast her doubts aside briefly and focused on the task at hand. Taking in a deep breath and exhaling through her nose, Raven closed her eyes and thought of each of her teammates.

 

Cyborg.

 

Beast Boy.

 

Starfire.

 

They were her friends, her newfound family. Over the years, she’d come to care deeply for them, and form meaningful bonds with each. All she had to do was find the strongest emotion attached to one of them, and hope against all odds that they received the images in her mind. Sort of like a telepathic fax machine, if she was lucky. 

 

Azarath. Metrion. Zinthos…

 

Not wishing to risk it, Raven thought of a specific, suitable emotion for each Titan, and used it to focus and channel the information to their mind's eye. Three was always better than one.

 

For Cyborg, she thought of camaraderie and trust. Raven had never been keen on ever changing the leadership of the team, but if Victor took over for whatever reason, she’d have gladly followed him off the edge of the world. She trusted him with her life, as she had so many times before, and he trusted her with his. 

 

For Beast Boy, the emotion most prominent was that of loyalty. It was true the two of them had had their fair share of ups and downs in their complex relationship, but ultimately, they both knew that they could always count on one another. Through thick and thin, Garfield had her back, even when the odds were stacked against her, and she would return the favor.

 

Last but not least was Starfire, and that emotion was perhaps the most obvious to Raven. Kindness. The princess inspired it out of everyone around her, most infectious even to her empathic friend. Koriand’r made Raven strive to be better — to be the person she believed her to be; good and kind. No one else on the planet was as pure in intention as the Tamaranean princess.

 

Raven channeled all the energy she had, trying to look past the poison that clouded her mind like a thick smoke and left her body paralyzed. Robin granted her the silence she needed to concentrate, and it was as if she was no longer in a dank, musty, cold basement anymore. Nothing existed. Time stilled, and in her mind, she was alone. She thought of them each, once more.

 

Cyborg, trust.

 

Beast Boy, loyalty.

 

Starfire, kindness.

 

She could see them there before her, could recount the familiar, friendly faces that often gave her comfort in her time of need. Reaching out, Raven tried to connect to them — one at a time — drawing up the images and senses with as much clarity as she could muster under the influence of the toxin.

 

An abandoned building, falling apart.

 

The sound of waves, gently swaying to the summer night breeze.

 

The taste of salt on her tongue from the air.

 

A barn, now turned into a warehouse.

 

The dead silence of night, and the gravel of the pavement, with a streak of yellow paint.

 

It wasn’t much to go by, she knew that, but it had been all she could remember before passing out.

 

She relayed each and every one of these items to her teammates in hopes of reaching them, careful to follow all the instruction Lillith had bestowed on her.

 

Once she was done, expending every iota of energy she had left on the mental action, Raven snapped out of her trance, only to wipe out just as Slade’s burgeoning shadow hung over her still form…