On Raven's Wing
“I thought you were getting out of here early tonight,” Jean Franklin said walking into her friend's office.
“That was the plan,” Ravenna Simpson responded leaning back in her chair. “But I wanted to finish this brief tonight. I'm due in court first thing in the morning.”
“The Callaghan case?”
“Always the defender of the underdog, aren't you?” Jean stated with a smile.
Ravenna shook her head. “I just hate someone being railroaded because they can't afford a fancy lawyer. What are you still doing here?”
“I promised to clear my desk of all pending projects before I took off on vacation.”
“Ah, the life of a para-legal.”
“It's rough but at least I get vacations.”
Ravenna groaned. “Don't remind me. How long will you be gone?”
“A couple of weeks.”
Jean laughed. “Oh, mighty attorney, don't tell me you're going to miss me.”
“Not so much you but your capabilities,” Ravenna replied with a grin. “You seem to be the only para-legal in this firm that can actually find your way through the law library and get research completed on time.”
“Nice to hear. Maybe you'd like to spread that opinion around upstairs, I could use a raise.”
Ravenna laughed. “Sorry, but I don't think I've got that much clout with the partners.”
Jean grimaced. “Bummer,” she said genially. “It was worth a try,” she added with a smile. “I was on my way to the break room for some coffee when I saw your light on. Do you want a cup?”
“No, thanks,” Ravenna answered reaching for her keyboard. “Just need to shut down my computer and I'm done for the night.” She stood up. “Been a long day… too long,” she groaned stretching her tired back.
“Want me to call for a security guard to walk you to your car?”
Ravenna bent down to retrieve her purse from the bottom drawer of her desk. “I'll be okay,” she said straightening. “It's not that far.”
“That parking lot is creepy after dark— you are not going to walk out there alone.”
Ravenna laughed. “You are such a baby sometimes.”
Jean frowned. “I'd rather be safe than sorry. And if you won't call for an escort, I'm going down to the lobby with you and watch from the door until you're safely in your car.”
“Okay, okay,” Ravenna appeased her determined friend. “I'll ask the lobby guard to walk me out. Happy?”
Ravenna walked around her desk. “You have a good vacation,” she said leading Jean out of her office. “Taking a friend this time?”
“No, going solo… again.”
“You really need to find someone, Jean.”
“I could say the same for you.”
Ravenna laughed. “There's no point, I work fourteen hour days seven days a week. Anyone I might find willing to chance a relationship with me would get bored in no time.”
“Maybe not,” Jean murmured walking beside Ravenna to the elevator.
“Maybe… but I'll probably never know because I don't have time to look for that special someone.” Ravenna pushed the button to bring the elevator to their floor. “You better get back to work so you can get out of here before daylight.”
“So true,” Jean said as the elevator car arrived and the doors slid open.
Ravenna stepped inside. “See you in a couple of weeks.”
Jean laughed. “Heck, I may like it too much and decide to stay.”
Ravenna laughed. “I doubt that,” she said pushing the button for the lobby. “You'd miss this place. Be safe,” she added as the door slid shut.
The elevator bumped to a stop in the lobby and the doors opened to reveal a man dressed in the uniform of the company's security guards. The guard started to enter then abruptly stopped surprised to see Ravenna standing inside.
“Good evening, Ms. Simpson,” the guard greeted her. “Sorry,” he apologized for his startled reaction, “I wasn't expecting anyone to be inside. He stepped back to allow her to exit.
Ravenna smiled. “Good evening, Gordon. I suppose most everyone is gone by now,” she said stepping out of the elevator.
“Are you going somewhere? I was hoping to get an escort to my car.”
“Be glad to… if you can wait for a few minutes. Mrs. Gladstone just called down for an escort. I'm on the way up to meet her.”
“She needs an escort all the way from her office?” Ravenna asked astonished that one of the firm's partners would expect what seemed to her to be an unnecessary use of the guard's time.
Gordon looked uncomfortable as he answered. “I probably shouldn't say this… but she's sure she's going to be attacked in the elevator. She said she's read that lawyers get attacked in elevators all the time.”
Ravenna grinned. “Surely not in their own buildings.”
“That's what she says. Could you give me a few minutes then I'll walk you both out.”
“You go ahead… you don't want to keep her waiting.”
Gordon stepped into the elevator. “Thanks. It won't be but a few minutes.”
Ravenna watched the elevator doors close then she turned and headed across the lobby stopping when she reached the glass doors that led outside. “Knowing Mrs. Gladstone, it'll be more than a few minutes,” Ravenna muttered yawning. She peered through the glass, her eyes searching the deserted street that ran along the front of the building and the dimly lit parking area on its other side. Seeing no movement on either the street or in the parking lot she made her decision. Pushing the doors open, she stepped out into the cool night air.
“Ain't you the brave little girl,” an unpleasant voice came out of the darkness. “Walking out here all alone.”
Ravenna spun around to find a trio of men closing in on her. “Leave me alone.”
“I don't think so,” one of the thugs said. “You come out of that fancy building; bet you have more than a little cash in your purse.”
“The security guard is right behind me,” Ravenna said with a confidence she wasn't truly feeling.
Another of the muggers laughed. “Don't see no security guard,” he said turning to look across the lot to the building just to be sure. Then he turned back to face her. “Guess he found something else to do,” he said smirking.
Ravenna reached into her purse desperately searching for her car keys.
“Why don't you give me that?” the trio's apparent leader asked.
“Give it to me!”
Finally, Ravenna's fingers finally felt the cold metal ring. She fumbled with the key bob until she found the alarm button and pushed it as she spun around and ran for her car.
“Damn it,” the leader snapped when the night's stillness was shattered by the blaring sound of a car's horn. “Get her,” he shouted racing after Ravenna.
Within a few steps of her car, Ravenna felt rough fingers dig into her shoulder. “Noooo,” she screamed struggling to shake the hand loose.
“I got her,” one of the attackers called out coiling his free hand into a fist.
Ravenna sensed the blow coming and jerked away from it.
“Ain't going to get away that easy,” a cruel voice snarled into her ear as she was grabbed by another pair of hands.
“Turn off that damn horn,” the leader ordered after the purse was yanked out of her hands. A moment later the harsh sound stopped.
Ravenna continued to struggle, fighting to free herself. “You have my money,” she gasped, “let me go.”
“We'll take your car, too.”
“Let me go!”
“Okay,” one of the thugs holding Ravenna agreed then he shoved her toward the ground.
Ravenna tried to put her hands out in front of her to break her fall but the other man still held one of her arms. Her body twisted as part of it was pushed downward while the other part was held upright. Then the second man suddenly released her. Unable to react in time, she fell backward onto the asphalt.
“Shit!” Someone exclaimed when Ravenna's head struck the hard surface with a sickening thump.
Ravenna lay still. She was aware of her surroundings and of the three faces staring down at her but she didn't seem to have the energy, or the will, to move. She had an odd sense of feeling fear yet peace at the same time. She blinked.
“Let's get out of here.”
Ravenna eyelids fluttered then closed as the men who had attacked her ran away into the darkness, a darkness that seemed to be deepening as it surrounded her. She was unsure as to the length of time she had laid on the cold, hard pavement when she sensed movement near her. It took all her willpower to force her eyes open and focus on the very large, very black eye staring back at her. She blinked a few times. The bird was standing on her chest, its sharp talons digging lightly into her skin. She felt weak, weaker than she had ever felt in her life. The darkness had enveloped her even more until all she could see was the bird inches from her face, its head cocked to the side as it curiously observed her.
Ravenna's chest felt heavy… but not because of the large bird standing on it. The air inside her lungs felt as if it was wrapped around the weight of the world and her body ached to free itself of the burden.
The bird leaned closer, its beak opening.
With a heavy sigh, Ravenna forced the air from her lungs. Her body relaxed as she refused to draw any more air inside of her. Far in the distance, she heard a shout then her eyes closed.
Late in the evening, two men and a woman stood facing each other and talking animatedly.
“I'm telling you it was a raven. It flew out of nowhere and attacked them,” the woman was telling a police officer.
“Ma'am, have you been drinking?” the officer asked suspiciously.
“I am not drunk, you idiot. It was a raven—”
“She's right,” a disheveled man interrupted. “It was a raven... a big one. Flew down out of the sky and attacked them. Did a real number on them, too. They were all scratched up when they took off running for the river.”
“Yes, a raven.”
The officer closed the small notebook in his hand then tucked it and the pen in his other hand back into his pocket. “Are you injured, sir?” he asked the disheveled man.
“I don't think so. They didn't do more than push me down— didn't have a chance to.”
“No thanks to you,” the woman snapped. “Bad times when a bird does more to protect citizens than the police.”
The officer smiled wearily. “Are you sure you don't want me to call an ambulance? You do have some blood on your forehead.”
“I do?” the man asked reaching up to feel for his injury. “Maybe I should go to the hospital,” he told his wife.
“It's nothing but a scratch,” she informed him.
“Would you like me to call a cab to take you home?” the officer asked.
“Don't need a cab,” the woman responded angrily. “We only live a few blocks away. Think we'd could take an evening walk in our own neighborhood without being attacked by hoodlums,” she huffed. “Come on, Robert, let's go home,” she insisted turning away from the officer to stride down the sidewalk.
Her husband smiled and nodded at the officer then turned to follow, his hand still on his forehead. “I am bleeding, Margaret,” he insisted.
Without looking back or pausing in her steps, Margaret called back, “I'll give you a band-aid when we get home.”
The radio clipped to the officer's shoulder crackled to life. “Tenson, what's your status?”
Officer Tenson reached for the radio, unclipped it and pressed the talk button. “I was just about to call in,” he told the dispatcher.
“Do you need backup?”
“Need a car to bring the perpetrators in?”
“No. No arrests.”
“I thought you were on your way to an assault in progress.”
“It was over when I got here… perps were already gone.”
“Victims fight them off?”
There was a long silence on the other end of the radio. After several minutes, a voice came through. “You're not going to tell me… Tenson, do not tell me the vics claim a raven saved them.”
“You better be heading back to the station because I am not going to be the one to pass that on to the Captain.”
“I'm on my way.” Tenson re-clipped the radio to his shoulder then halfheartedly walked to his patrol car.
“This breaking news just in,” the voice on the television said excitedly, “another mugging thwarted by the crime fighting raven. Police are baffled by a bird that has again come to the rescue of our city's citizens. We will have full details at eleven.”
A short but stout man angrily switched off the television. “How the hell did the media find out about this already?” he shouted at the others standing in his office. “Tenson?”
“Not from me, Captain, I came straight here. Must have been the Nickisons; she was in a big hurry to get home. I bet she wasted no time calling the press when she got there.”
“Then you should have taken her into custody.”
“You want me to start arresting the victims?” Tenson asked incredulously.
“He has a point, Henry, that wouldn't look too good in the press.”
“I don't give a damn about that, Mayor,” the police captain declared glaring at the woman opposite his desk.
“Calm down, Henry,” the mayor insisted. “Let's all take a calming breath before someone hyperventilates.” She made a show of sucking in a deep breath and holding it for a moment before releasing it. “Good. Now let's start again… calmly.”
The captain dropped into the chair behind his desk. “Damn, what am I going to do about this damn bird—?”
“Raven,” the mayor corrected.
“Alright, raven… it seems to appear from nowhere. It only attacks the bad guys then it takes off and disappears as mysteriously as it appeared.”
“Damn strange,” Tenson offered with a shake of his head.
The mayor walked to the office window and peered out into the night. “It's almost,” she began then paused.
“Almost what?” Tenson asked.
“It's almost like it's—”
“Don't start that again,” the captain warned.
The mayor turned her back to the window then leaned against the frame. “There are legends.”
“Legends… not fact.”
“What are the two of you talking about?” Tenson demanded.
“The Ancients told of ravens being able to transform,” the mayor explained. “And of being protectors… seeing what our own eyes can not.”
“What does that mean?”
“That our good mayor is nuts,” the captain grunted.
“Maybe so,” the mayor said pushing up from the window frame, “but right now we have a raven flying about that seems to be able to stop crimes that your officers cannot. I'm not as sure as you, Henry, that this raven is a bad thing.”
“Look, Mayor, this is not Gotham City and I'll be damned if people are going to turn this bird into—”
“Batman,” the mayor suggested with a smile. “Goodness, Henry, I'm not suggesting any such thing. All I'm saying is let's not make a rash decision that we'll regret later.”
“You going to think the same when it attacks someone minding their own business?”
“Thankfully, that hasn't happened.”
The mayor nodded her concession. “It's late and I think we both should get some sleep before we continue this discussion.”
Henry jammed his elbows onto his desk then dropped his head into his beefy hands rubbing his temples. “Tenson can drive you home.”
“That's not necessary.”
“It's no trouble, Mayor,” Tenson assured her.
“Thank you Officer Tenson, but I do prefer to walk.”
“I don't think that's safe.”
“I don't have far to go,” the mayor said then smiled. “Besides, I'm sure the raven will protect me.”
A black form floated through the night sky, its dark eyes never stopping as they scanned the city streets far below. Movement caught the raven's attention and it swiveled its head to gain a better view. With a strong downward beat of its powerful wings, the raven effortlessly increased its speed.
Descending the steps in front of the building, Jean pulled her coat tightly around her body to ward off the night's chill. Reaching the sidewalk, she set off for her apartment building a short distance away. Deep in thought and focusing on the sidewalk under her shoes, she paid little attention to her surroundings or the dark shapes darting in and out of the shadows.
“Lady like you shouldn't be walking alone at night.”
Jean froze when the rough voice startled her. Looking up, she was shocked to see a man blocking her path. “Where did you come from?” she asked nervously. “What do you want?”
“Depends on what you got.”
Gathering her composure, Jean bravely confronted the man. “I really don't think you want to cause me any trouble. You might find that you get more than you bargained for.”
“Speaking awfully big for such a small thing.”
“Shut up,” the man barked. “Give me your purse.”
“Don't give us no trouble,” a warning came from behind the first man.
“Oh, shit,” Jean thought as a second man appeared out of the shadows. Terrified, she watched them approach; faces twisted into sneers and outstretched arms reaching for her.
Floating on the night air, the raven watched the scene unfold below. When the second man stepped out of the shadows, it knew it was time to act. Pulling its wings in close to its body, the raven dipped its head diving toward the ground. Picking up speed as its body hurtled through the air, it stretched its legs forward with sharpened talons spread wide.
Jean opened her mouth to scream.
“I said to shut up,” the first mugger snarled clapping a filthy hand over her mouth. “Get her purse,” he ordered his accomplice.
“Let go,” the second thug growled when Jean refused to release her death grip on her purse. “I said let—”
The raven's talons slammed into the man's neck, digging deep beneath his skin. Forgetting about the purse, he slapped at his unseen attacker screaming in pain when the raven flapped its wings lifting off his body and out of his reach and leaving behind deep and bleeding gashes in his neck.
“What the hell!” the first thug cried out seeing his companion in obvious agony. Hearing a loud screech, he looked up. His eyes widened in terror at the razor sharp talons mere inches from his face and getting closer. He started to raise his arms to fend off the threat but it was too late.
The raven slashed at the man's face, its talons ripping the skin open and tearing at the tissue beneath it.
“Get off me,” he screamed beating at the raven with his fists.
The raven ignored the blows. With its talons firmly gripping the man's face, it thrust its strong beak at one of his eyes.
“Nooooooooooo,” he man shrieked.
Frozen in place, Jean watched as the raven released his victim, the injured man crumbling boneless to the sidewalk.
Fearing the raven would again turn its attention to him, the second mugger raised his arms in front of his face. “Stay away,” he bawled.
Uninterested in continuing the assault, the raven beat its strong wings and rose back into the sky.
Her brain unable to comprehend what had just happened, Jean could only stand and watch her attacker run away leaving his partner stunned and bleeding on the sidewalk. She was surprised when moments later the raven dropped from the sky to land gracefully on the injured man's chest. Its head cocked to the side as it studied its victim. Then it slowly raised its head to peer at her.
Jean eyed the bird warily. “Tha… thank you?” she mumbled nervously. “I suppose that sounds silly… me thanking a bird… it is silly, isn't it? But you did just save me... Oh, my gosh,” she stammered incoherently.
The raven sat patiently.
Jean found her eyes being drawn to the raven's dark orbs; the cold blackness that burned from them only moments before was replaced by a softer, almost caring gaze. She shook her head in disbelief and blinked several times as a forgotten memory rushed forward from the back of her mind. “Don't look at me like that,” she told the bird. “Oh, crap, what am I saying? You're a bird for gosh sake. There is no way in hell that you could be… Is there?” Abruptly, Jean, the raven, and the mugger were bathed in a bright harsh light. The memory was lost as she spun around to spot a police cruiser speeding down the street toward them, its tires squealing against the pavement. When she turned back the bird was already gone. A profound sense of loss overcame her and she looked quizzically up to the sky.
“Mayor?” Officer Tenson asked jumping out of the car immediately after it skidded to a stop, its front tire bouncing up over the curb. “Is that you?”
“Yes, Officer, it's me,” Jean replied, her eyes still following the dark form rapidly melting into the night.
“Are you okay?”
Jean sighed. “Yes.”
Hand on his holstered revolver, Tenson stepped guardedly to the body on the sidewalk. “Is he dead?”
“He may wish he was when he wakes up,” Jean responded. “He's going to require medical care,” Jean informed the officer.
Tenson knelt beside the man flinching when he saw the damage on his face. “What happened?”
Jean sighed. “You won't like my answer,” she cautioned.
Tenson tilted his head in her direction. “Try me.”
Jean shrugged straightening her jacket. “The Raven.”
“Not you, too.”
Jean smiled understandingly at the exasperated officer. “I told you you wouldn't like my answer.
“Don't tell me you're believe—”
Jean held up her hand to stop him. “I believe what I saw, Officer. And right now it's not important that you believe me. What is important is that man needs an ambulance, please call for one.”
“Captain, isn't going to like this,” Tenson grumbled reaching for his radio.
“No, I doubt that he will.”
“I'll take you back to the station as soon as I take care of him.”
“I'm sorry, Officer, but it's been a long night and if I stand here one more minute I may just collapse myself. So, if it's all the same to you, I shall continue home.”
“Captain will have questions.”
“Yes, I'm sure he will. But I'm serious— I really do need to sit down before I fall down. You may tell Henry that I will be at home… enjoying a very big and very strong drink,” Jean said as she headed down the sidewalk. “Damn, I really do need that drink,” she muttered.
With a sense of utter relief, Jean opened the door to her apartment and rushed inside. She pushed the door shut, locked it then double checked to make sure she was indeed secure within her very own haven. Satisfied, she turned around and slumped back against the door to look across the room at the wall of windows on the opposite side and city lights that reflected off their glass. Her purse slipped from her hand to drop with a quiet thud onto the carpeted floor while her head started to shake slowly from side-to-side at what she was seeing.
Outside, a bird sat perched on the balcony railing acting as if it had been waiting for her. As she watched, the raven hopped down to the balcony's concrete surface and walked purposely to the sliding glass door.
Curiosity got the best of her and Jean pushed off the door. With hesitant steps, she crossed her apartment to stand opposite the glass door from the raven. Her hand reached for the door handle; unlocking it, she slid it open then stepped back into the safety of the room. “I can't believe I'm doing this,” she whispered.
“Neither can I,” the raven answered in an oddly familiar voice.
Jean stared at the talking bird. “Am I going nuts or did you just answer me?”
The raven released a short, raspy burst from deep in its throat.
“That almost sounded like a laugh,” Jean observed.
“Best I seem to be able to do in this form.”
Jean backed further into the room. “Oh my gosh, I really do need a drink,” she told herself as well as the raven who continued to stand patiently just outside the open door. “Oh, hell,” she said when the bird cocked its head and focused an amused eye on her. “I don't suppose you'd like to join me?”
“Actually, I'd love one.”
“Well, then, come on in.”
The raven took half a hop then stopped. “I better warn you that what I'm about to do, may shock you.”
Jean chuckled nervously. “After tonight, I doubt anything can shock me.”
“Okay, but don't say I didn't warn you.” The raven cautiously stepped over the sliding door's track to enter the apartment then it began to walk toward Jean. With each step, its body transformed until standing before her was not a raven but a woman wrapped in a thick black cape.
Dumbfounded, Jean stared at the apparition, her eyes wide in disbelief and her mouth gaping. “Okay, you shocked me,” Jean admitted as her eyes rolled back in her head and she fainted.
Disorientated, Jean woke. Blurry eyes swam around the room while her fuzzy brain tried to remember how she had come to be laying on her couch covered by a warm quilt. Then her eyes came to rest on the woman standing with her back to the room peering out into the night. “You should have warned me,” she told the woman.
“I recall that I did,” the woman said turning away from the windows. “At least, I tried.”
“Not hard enough,” Jean grumbled forcing her body upright. Throwing the quilt off, she swung her legs off the couch planting her feet firmly on the floor. “Ouch!” she exclaimed a moment later.
“What are you doing?”
“Pinching myself. I know this must all be a bad dream. I'm trying to wake up.”
The woman laughed sadly. “I hope it works for you… it hasn't for me.”
Jean studied her visitor. “Don't get me wrong,” she finally said, “but aren't you dead?”
“Are you sure? I mean… I saw you… your head was…” Jean vigorously shook her own head to clear the horrible vision of her friend lying on cold pavement, a widening halo of blood around her head. “They said you were dead.”
“I know. I heard them.”
“You heard? You were alive?”
“Yes… and no.”
Jean fell back on the coach, her eyes focusing on the ceiling as she tried to sort out what she was hearing. “I definitely need a drink.”
“That makes two of us. What have you got?”
“Beer in the fridge,” Jean said trying to force her resisting body off the couch.
“Sit… I'll find it.”
“Oh, and there's Baileys in the cupboard above the sink,” Jean added settling back onto the couch, her wobbly legs thankful for the reprieve.
“What's your preference?”
“Bailey's. Definitely the Bailey's. And you can forget about bringing a glass.” Jean called to the woman who had walked into the kitchen to retrieve the liquor. She sat quietly until she returned.
Grinning, Jean sat up reaching for the bottle being held out to her. “It comes in flavors now.” Unscrewing the cap, she lifted the bottle to her lips. After swallowing, she handed the bottle back as she enjoyed enjoying the welcome burn that was working its way down her throat to settle in her belly.
“Thanks.” The woman took a swallow then passed the bottle back.
“Why don't you sit down?” Jean suggested screwing the cap back on the bottle but keeping it close. “And tell me what the hell is happening?”
The woman dropped onto the cushion at the end of the couch. “Ah… that may be a little hard to explain,” she said with a sigh.
“I already figured that part out.”
“I always said you were smart. Where would you like me to start?”
“I would say at the beginning but, unfortunately, I expect the police captain will be knocking on my door at any moment. So, for now, maybe you should start with why are you here?”
“Here as in…?”
“Here…,” Jean answered, her finger pointing downward, “in my apartment, sitting on my couch, freaking the poop out of me.”
“I wanted to make sure you were okay.”
“You didn't have to perch on my balcony if that's all you wanted. You could have seen that when you were circling about overhead out there.”
Rather than answering, the woman rose then walked over to the wall of windows.
Placing the bottle of Baileys on the coffee table, Jean stood then followed. “Ravenna, please, what's going on?” she asked reaching hesitantly for her hand and gently grasping it in her own.
Ravenna turned to gaze into Jean's eyes.
Loud knocking exploded into the room and they both turned to look at the apartment's door.
“Tell me,” Jean insisted after turning back to her friend.
“I… I could really use a friend,” Ravenna answered.
Jean smiled. “Then you came to the right place.”
“Mayor Franklin? Are you in there? Open this door or I'll beat it down.”
“Hold on, Captain,” Jean shouted toward the door. “Give me a moment.”
“Mayor?” Ravenna asked.
Jean shrugged. “There have been a few changes in my life, too.”
“So it seems.” After a moment, Ravenna gently removed her hand from Jean's. “I think it would be better if I left,” she said glancing nervously at the door when the pounding became more insistent.
“Oh, no, you don't. You are not going anywhere until I hear the whole story. Go wait in my bedroom while I deal with the good captain.”
“Go!” Jean insisted pushing Ravenna in the direction of her bedroom. “Trust me.”
Ravenna was halfway across the room when she stopped and turned around. “I always have.”
Ravenna sat on the edge of Jean's bed. She could hear muffled voices through the closed bedroom door but paid little attention to the conversation she knew to be focused on her very existence. Her head twisted about to allow her eyes time to study every object in the room. After several minutes, she slowly pushed herself up from the mattress and walked into the bathroom. A full length mirror was mounted on the wall and she faced it letting the heavy cloak slip off her shoulders and fall to the floor. Then she stood, studying at the image the mirror reflected back at her.
“A fantasy come true.”
Ravenna shifted her back toward Jean then quickly bent down to retrieve her discarded cape as her skin heated with the blush washing over her.
“I'm sorry,” Jean said immediately. “I shouldn't have said that.”
“Actually, it sounded nice,” Ravenna admitted wrapping her cape around her naked body then turning to face Jean. “It's been a long time since anyone looked at me like that.
“I really didn't mean to embarrass you. Forgive me?”
Ravenna smiled sitting on the edge of the tub. “It's okay. Police gone?” she asked to change the subject away from the awkward exchange.
“Yes. Henry wanted to order you shot… I told him that would not be a good idea.”
“Thanks.” Ravenna's eyes dropped to the floor. “I think,” she said sadly.
Jean studied Ravenna. It wasn't difficult to read the range of emotions that she was struggling to control. “The sun is coming up. You don't have to hide in a coffin or anything, do you?”
The question brought a smile to Ravenna's face. “No, I'm not a vampire.”
“Phoo, that's good. Are you hungry?”
Jean grinned. “I make a mean omelet… if you're interested.”
“Got any coffee? It's been so long…”
“Plenty. Come on. You can tell me all about what happened while I prepare breakfast.”
Ravenna stood casting a furtive glance at the tub.
Jean opened a cabinet and pulled out a large, fluffy towel and wash cloth. “Take your time,” she said handing the linen to Ravenna. “Soap and shampoo are there,” she told her pointing to the items on the corner of the tub. “You'll find some combs and a couple of new toothbrushes in the drawer there.” She pointed to the far side of the basin. “Take your pick. Anything else you need?”
Ravenna grinned. “Can't think of anything.”
“Good,” Jean said then turned to leave her guest to bathe in private. Suddenly, she stopped her steps and spun around. “Um, I hate to ask but do you just morph back into a bird on a whim or can you control it?”
“I can control it… sort of.”
Jean blew out a thankful breath. “Oh. Um… well… I really don't think I'm ready for that to happen again quite yet.”
Ravenna chuckled. “I promise to warn you if it becomes necessary.”
Smiling, Jean walked out of the bathroom. “Thanks,” she called back over her shoulder. “I really do appreciate that.”
Ravenna was rinsing toothpaste out of her mouth when she heard a soft tapping on the bathroom door. She watched as the door eased open a few inches and a hand appeared holding a bright blue robe.
“That thing of yours looks awfully heavy. I thought this might be more comfortable while you're here.”
“Thanks,” Ravenna said as she took the robe out of Jean's hand.
“Breakfast is ready whenever you are.”
Ravenna slipped on the robe then pulled the door open. “I'm ready,” she said with a smile.
“Great. Hey, do you want me to throw that in the washer?” Jean asked of the black cloak hanging from a hook.
“As much as I love the thought of that, I don't think it would be a good idea.”
“It looks… ah, different. What is it made of?”
“Really? Wait, that isn't..?”
Ravenna nodded. “I'm afraid it is.”
“When you turn into the bird?”
Another nod. “Yes.”
“You don't know the half of it.”
“No, but you're about to fill me in. Come on, before the omelets get cold.”
Ravenna was sitting at the table in the nook just off the kitchen. A pot of coffee and two cups had already been placed on the table along with a tub of margarine, a jar of peach jam, and a plate holding several pieces of toast. “What do you keep looking at?” she asked as Jean carried two plates out of the kitchen.
“It's odd seeing you with dark hair. It's so different from the—”
“The flaming red ball I used to wear on my head,” Ravenna offered with a grin. “Sheesh, the money I spent on that dye job.”
“It wasn't your real color?”
Ravenna laughed. “I know you aren't that dumb. The red seems to have been lost as part of my transformation.”
“Your eyes are darker too.”
Jean nodded slipping one of the plates in front of Ravenna. “Here you go… a super-duper ham, cheese, peppers, onions, and, for a special treat, bacon omelet. And we have a delightful choice of sour dough or raisin bread toast. Plus plenty of hot coffee, sugar in the bowl, and Irish Crème flavored cream in the pitcher.” Jean moved to the opposite side of the table and sat down as she set the second plate in front of herself.
“So many changes,” Ravenna said sadly.
“I think it looks good. Makes you look much more sophisticated.
“I never like that red hair. Not so much that you didn't look good but the other lawyers in the office used to make jokes about it.”
“You never told me.”
“I didn't think it was my place. I was only a para-legal… you know how attorneys think about us.”
“I never thought about you that way.”
Jean smiled. “I know. That was the only reason I stayed, I really like working with you.”
Ravenna scooped up a forkful of omelet and gathered her thoughts as she chewed. “Too bad we couldn't have been more honest with each other back then.”
Jean sighed. “Yeah, about a lot of things.”
Puzzled, Ravenna looked across the table.
With a quick shake of her head, Jean dismissed the unasked question. “Back to the here and now. What happened?”
Unsettled by Jean's vague admission, Ravenna accepted the change in subject. “The truth is, I'm not sure,” she said. “It all seems so surreal. Even today, after all this time, it's hard to believe that it actually happened. I don't know what to tell you.”
Jean stirred sugar into her coffee. “Start by telling me why you didn't get an escort like you promised?” she said, her voice revealing the betrayal she'd felt that night.
Ravenna took a bite of omelet before responding. “I did ask Gordon… he was on duty in the lobby. But he had to go up to Mrs. Gladstone's office; she had called for him to escort her to her car.”
“From her office? Gad, that woman was a demanding bitch.”
Ravenna laughed. “That's what I always thought, too. Anyway, knowing how she was, I knew Gordon would be longer than a few minutes like he said. And I was tired and really wanted to get home. So after I looked out and didn't see anyone, I decided to forego his escort. I almost made it to my car when the muggers stopped me.” Ravenna picked up her coffee cup and took a drink. “Damn, that tastes good,” she moaned happily then took another swallow.
“The men?” Jean gently prodded.
“I don't know where they came from, they just appeared. They wanted money… at least, that's what they said. I managed to set off my car's alarm before they grabbed me. I fell… or was pushed, I'm not really sure, and my head hit the pavement.”
Jean grimaced. “That must have hurt.”
“That's part of the surreal part… it didn't. It was weird. I can't really explain it but I wasn't feeling pain. More like… it was almost… peaceful.”
“Ravenna, you had a fractured skull,” Jean told her. “How can that be peaceful? It must have hurt like hell.”
“It didn't,” Ravenna said shrugging. “It just didn't.”
“I know this sounds morbid but what were you thinking?”
“Nothing, really. I had an odd feeling that everything would be okay if I just shut my eyes and let the darkness envelope me.”
“You wanted to die?”
“I wouldn't say that… I mean dying never really occurred to me. Not then, anyway.”
“But you did die. I was there when they put you into the body bag.”
Ravenna shivered. “That must have been yucky.”
“It sure wasn't the way I wanted to remember you.”
“You're forgiven. So what happened? How did you go from being…” Jean couldn't bring herself to say the word. “To sitting here eating breakfast?”
“That's the really weird part.”
Jean grinned. “Honey,” she said with a laugh, “this whole thing is weird.”
Ravenna chuckled. “Agreed. Well, I was just lying there waiting for whatever was going to happen and something made me open my eyes. Imagine my shock when I saw a raven standing on my chest. I thought the damn bird had come to pluck my eyeballs out—they are supposed to be the best parts.”
“Oh, gross,” Jean groaned.
Ravenna giggled. “Sorry, but you said you wanted to know everything.”
“Yes, I did. And thanks for that little tidbit; I'm sure it'll be good for creating some dandy nightmares in the near future.”
Jean stuck her tongue out at Ravenna. “What did the bird do?” she asked after withdrawing her tongue.
“It stared at me... almost like it was trying to convey some message. As I looked at it looking at me, I began to think that it hurt too much to breathe and that I wanted to stop,” Ravenna explained reaching for a piece of raisin toast.
“Will you stop eating and tell me what happened,” Jean cried out in frustration when Ravenna spread margarine on her toast then took the time to enjoy it and to drink more coffee.
“I'm hungry. You can't believe the kind of stuff a raven eats.”
Jean glared across the table. “I'm sure and don't bother to tell me. Now what happened?”
“I stopped breathing. With what energy I had left, I forced the air out of my lungs. Then, I don't know.” Ravenna frowned thinking back to that night and the events that took away the life she had known. “I still don't know how much time passed but one minute I was lying on that parking lot with a raven staring me in the eye and the next I woke up.”
“On a pile of sticks.”
Ravenna's eyes darkened and her body began to quiver. “I woke up in a nest built into a crevice on the side of a cliff,” she muttered then abruptly pushed her chair back from the table. “I can't do this,” she cried running through the kitchen.
Jean rushed after her. She found her on the couch, her knees tucked under her chin and her arms wrapped around her legs and frantically rocking back and forth. Without thought, she sat beside her distraught friend slipping her arms around her in a tender hug.
“I was so scared,” Ravenna sobbed. “I didn't know what had happened. I didn't know where I was. How I got there. Everything was so strange. And I was so alone. So awfully alone.”
Jean felt the body in her arms grow rigid as the furious rocking increased. She tightened her hold, trying to comfort the hysterical woman.
Tears streaming from her eyes, Ravenna stared unseeing into the room. In a voice so quiet that Jean barely heard her words, she said, “I didn't know what to do. There was no way out, I was stuck on that cliff. The days were so long but it was the nights… cold, so cold and so long. I was so alone. I thought it was a dream but it wasn't. I lost track of time until…” She sucked in a ragged breath. “Until all I could think was I wanted die. I needed to die.”
“What did you do?” Jean asked softly.
“I did the only thing I could to stop the pain… I crept to the edge of that damn nest and threw myself off the cliff.”
Jean pulled the sobbing woman tight against her. “I'm so sorry,” she whispered in a hopeless attempt to console her friend. “I'm so, so sorry.”
“I feel like a fool,” Ravenna said pressing a wet washcloth against her swollen eyes and tear stained face. She was stretched out on the couch covered in the quilt.
“You shouldn't,” Jean assured her placing a pair of coffee cups on the low table in front of the couch. She poured coffee into the cups then placed the pot on the table. “I'll be right back with the sugar and crème.”
“This is going to sound stupid but could you nuke my omelet.”
Jean chuckled. “Funny, I was just thinking the same thing. Give me a couple of minutes.”
Ravenna scooted into a sitting position when Jean reappeared with their unfinished breakfast. “Thanks,” she said when a plate was placed in her lap.
“Want me to make some fresh toast?”
“No, thanks,” Ravenna said digging into the omelet. “This is good for me.”
Jean settled beside Ravenna. “I… I don't know what to say.”
“I understand. I have trouble wrapping my mind around all of it… and I lived it.”
“I know I shouldn't ask but what happened when you...?”
“I remember looking down and seeing how far it was to the ground below the cliff. I started falling faster and faster and the ground was getting closer. And I was so glad that the nightmare would be over soon. Then I… I would say I heard a voice but it wasn't that, it was more like a reflex to what was happening. I stretched my arms out and I pushed my legs back and I…” Ravenna pushed her fork around her plate making small piles of omelet then moving on to make another.
Jean could stand the silence no longer. “You turned into a raven?” she blurted out.
Ravenna nodded. “My skin transformed into feathers, my mouth into a beak, and my feet into talons. I was no longer a woman… no longer human.”
“Forgive me, but how?”
Ravenna shrugged. “I don't know.”
Jean placed her plate on the coffee table then leaned back resting her head against the couch. “Damn. What did you do?”
“I figured out how to fly. Which, I can tell you, wasn't all that easy. More than once I almost crashed right into those rocks. But I finally got the hang of it and managed to get myself back to the nest.”
“Why go back there?”
“Where else was I supposed to go? As bad as it was, it was the only home I had.”
“I sat there for a long time wondering if that was my fate… to remain a bird. I fell asleep and when I woke up, I was me again. And I was back in that damn nest unable to get out. Then I got mad. Why me? What had I done to deserve this? Revenge was all I could think about. I had to find those men and make them pay. I figured out that when I thought about that, I transformed into the raven. And that meant I could leave the nest and hunt them down.”
“Did you find them?”
“But the attacks? Those weren't the men who attacked you?”
Ravenna shook her head. “No. They just happened. I would sense someone was in trouble and I would go there. It's almost like a sixth sense; I don't seem to have much control over it.” Ravenna's plate joined Jean's. “I think I should go.”
Jean bolted upright. “Go? Go where?”
“Ravenna, do not even try to tell me you are planning on going back to that damn nest in that damn crevice,” Jean exclaimed forcefully. “I absolutely forbid it!”
“Forbid it? Who are you to tell me that?” Ravenna asked angrily.
Jean shifted and squared her body to Ravenna. “I'm someone who cares about you. And I will not have you sleeping on the edge of a cliff when they are other options.”
“Have you not heard a word I've said? I'm a freak, Jean. I have no options.”
“You're not a freak.”
“I'm part bird, part human. What would you call me?”
Jean's face softened and she smiled. “The woman I've loved for a very long time.”
Ravenna was taken aback by the declaration. “What?”
“Look, I know this is probably not the best time but I'm not going to make the same mistake twice.” Jean gathered Ravenna's hands into her own. “I love you and now that I have you back, I'll be damned if I ever let you go again.”
“No… no… no, this can't be happening. You don't know what you're saying. What makes you think…?”
Jean dropped Ravenna's hands. “I'm sorry,” she said quietly. “I guess I put my foot it again.”
“I'm sorry,” Jean snapped. “I'm sorry.” She stood. “Hell, I don't know what I was thinking,” she muttered storming toward the wall of windows. Her anger melted as she gazed at Ravenna's reflection in the glass. “I wanted so long to tell you. I almost did that night. Then when we found you… Oh, god,” she moaned, her head dropping against the cool glass, “I thought I'd made the biggest mistake of my life by not telling you. Then tonight, I thought I had a second chance but I should have known you wouldn't feel the same.”
Perplexed, Ravenna watched her for several minutes then stood and walked over to stand beside her. “I'm an ass,” she stated.
Jean jerked upright. “Not that too?” she gasped.
Ravenna laughed. “No, I don't mean I'm an ass. I mean I reacted like an ass.”
“Jean, I'm not going to lie to you. Back then, I did have feelings for you. And maybe if we had said something to each other it might have turned into something special.”
“But?” Jean asked quietly.
“It can't work. Not now.”
“Did… Do you love me?”
“Please don't ask me that.”
“Why?” Jean again dropped her head, this time to hide the tears welling up in her eyes. “If you don't love me, just tell me.”
Ravenna tenderly hooked a finger under Jean's chin the lifted her head so she could look into her eyes. “I can't.”
“You can't what?”
“It seems we both wasted a lot of precious time back then. But as much as I might want to stay, I don't see how we can work around what's happened to me.”
“Don't you see, it would be better for both of us if I left?”
Jean collapsed against Ravenna's who instinctively wrapped her arms around her. “Don't leave me. Not again.”
“I… I don't think—”
Jean had placed a finger against Ravenna's lips. “Don't think. Just let it be.”
“It could put you in danger.”
“I don't care.”
Ravenna sighed releasing an unsteady breath. “It won't be easy.”
“We can make it work. I know we can.”
“How will you explain me?”
Jean took Ravenna's hand and led her back to the couch. “I don't see any reason to,” she said sitting and pulling Ravenna down beside her.
“You have a police captain that wants to shoot me,” Ravenna reminded.
“He wants to shoot a bird.”
“In this case, it's the same thing.”
“Don't worry, I won't let him shoot either of you.”
“You can't stop him.”
“I can. I'm the mayor, I can do anything.”
Ravenna enjoyed the feel of Jean's arms surrounding her and she snuggled closer. “How is it that you're the mayor? You've made me do all the talking and haven't told me anything about you.”
“Your story is more interesting,” Jean said shifting into a more comfortable position without releasing her hold on Ravenna.
“Blah. Now tell me, how did you go from an overworked para-legal to in-charge mayor?”
Jean sighed. “After your… after your misfortune—”
“Interesting way to say I died.”
“Ah, but you didn't.”
“But you thought I did.”
“Hush. I just couldn't stay at the law firm—too many memories—so I quit.”
“Bet that made them mad.”
“I don't know. The partners were very stone-faced when I gave my notice. If it upset them, they didn't show it and, to be honest, I didn't care. I just couldn't stay there without you.”
“So you quit and became mayor?”
Jean laughed. “Not right away; I had to work my way up to mayor. I was unemployed and needed a way to pay my bills; I read in the paper that there was a shortage of candidates running for city council. I thought what the heck. I went down to city hall, filled out the form, and, what do you know… I got elected.”
“And now you're mayor.”
“And now I'm mayor,” Jean said grinning.
“Do you really think so?”
“You're welcome. Now, Mayor, what do you plan to do about me?”
“Let's see.” Jean thought for a moment. “You said you could control your transformations.”
“Sort of. I'm much better at it now than I used to be.”
“Sometimes they just happen?”
“Yes. But usually I figure out that someone needs help and that's what triggers it.”
“Ah. Makes sense. After all, you are the Raven, super heroine, savior of the downtrodden, foe of muggers and thugs.”
“Makes me sound like some cartoon character.”
“You are definitely not a cartoon character,” Jean said giving Ravenna a gentle squeeze. “I don't know why we can't just be honest and, if people ask, we just tell them that you're Ravenna, my friend.” She grinned. “And hopefully, some day, my lover,” she said tightening her hold. “No one needs to know any different.”
“You're making it sound pretty simple.”
“Until something happens and I turn into a bird.”
“We'll just have to make sure no one sees that happen.”
“That may not be so simple.”
Jean nodded. “We'll figure it out.”
“You make me want to believe,” Ravenna said looking around the apartment. “Question?”
“If I'm going to live here does that mean this is my raven lair?”
Jean giggled. “I suppose it does.”
Ravenna grinned. “Then that must make you my sidekick?”
“Sidekick. Every super hero, or heroine, has a sidekick. Batman and Robin. Xena and Gabrielle.”
“Oh, my god,” Jean said starting to laugh. “Don't you even thing about making me wear some scanty costume and follow you around when you're out doing your thing.”
“You know, fighting off the bad guys.”
“Sheesh,” Ravenna pouted. “At the very least, I should deserve a sidekick.”
Jean thought for a moment. “All right, I agree to be your sidekick—at home, and only at home. But you have to agree to do something for me.”
“When you attack the creeps of the world, would you take it a little easier on them? It's really yucky to see you ripping chucks of skin off their faces.”
Ravenna blushed. “Sorry. That's something else I'm still learning how to control. When I turn into the Raven, I have a lot more strength, and anger, than when I'm just littl', ol', sweet me. But,” she insisted cheerfully, “I am working on it.”
“Good. What's it like to fly?”
Ravenna smiled. “It's the most wonderful feeling,” she murmured.
“I don't suppose you can carry a passenger.”
“I don't think so… But then I've never tried.”
“Maybe some day you will?”
“Maybe,” Ravenna agreed. Then peeking at Jean out of the corner of her eye, she asked, “So, what should we call you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, Gabrielle was the Battling Bard. So, who are you? The Menacing Mayor?”
Jean smiled. “I'm the woman who wonders why she took so long to do this,” she whispered leaning close to capture Ravenna's lips with her own.