Raven had never liked Christmas. At the tower, it was a rigid affair: her father, simultaneously doting and severe, would hand out gift after expensive gift, each one a reminder of the person he wanted her to be, while her mother drank and made laughing judgements on each thing she unwrapped. Dinner followed, tense and uncomfortable. The table would be set, piled high with food that had been traditional before the wars but which few now could afford, her father's business partners would arrive with their families, and they would eat.
She would, inevitably, find herself seated beside one of the sons, practically aristocracy in her father's city, and she would smile vacantly between courses, making empty conversation and trying to ignore the coldness in their eyes. Eventually, she knew, perhaps when she was twenty-one and her father knew that she was still ageing, she would be expected to marry one of them. Oh they'd pretend she had a choice–if she was lucky they'd even let her choose between three or four dark haired men who would all wear tailored suits and businessman's smiles–but they would all know the truth. Like everything else in the tower, she was a bargaining chip; much treasured perhaps, but still there to be traded for land or loyalty.
Outside, she knew, was freedom. She didn't know what happened out there during the holidays, safe beneath the surface, but she knew that it could be nothing like this. No false smiles, no politely pretending that as long as the drink was expensive there was nothing unusual with her mother gesturing to the servants for glass after glass after glass. No. Raven knew that there would be none of that. When she could steal a few seconds to dream–usually as whoever was next to her droned on, easily convinced of her attention by a few nods and interested noises–she imagined what it must be like with the Lost.
There would be laughter she was certain. Not the polite laughter of her father's business partners, but uproarious and full of life. It was life she longed for more than anything else. In the tower, surrounded and stifled by luxury and comfort, she was barely alive; outside its walls she learned how to breath.
Raven had been sneaking out since she was sixteen. She would wait until her parents were asleep, then climb out through her bedroom window, down from her balcony, and make her way to the Deep End. She had friends there, people who wouldn’t question where she had come from, who understood her desperate need to escape. They understood too the need for anonymity, and if, as time passed, they worked out that she was Falco’s daughter they said nothing, because she was one of them. So she had her friends, and she had a place where she could finally explore herself, away from the watchful eyes of her parents, away from the world which started and ended at the tower door.
And some days she would have Strat. He wasn’t there all of the time, but when he was, they would dance for hours. For the longest time, she wasn’t sure that he had worked out who she was; the dim light of the Deep End obscured her face, and she never told him her real name.
When they weren’t dancing, they talked, and he would hold her hands and look at her with an intensity that she knew should scare her. They’d talk for hours, and then morning would come, and she would leave, with the promise that she would come back, and his words echoing in her ears.
On other days, when Strat was away causing whatever destruction he could to her father’s construction sites, she had the others. Relationships worked differently down in the Deep End; although it was Strat she had first found herself loving–and how could she not; there was something in the darkness of his eyes that spoke of secrets to be uncovered–as time passed, she saw that none of The Lost could ever bind themselves to one person alone, and found her own heart opening to others. It was in many ways the opposite of the relationship she saw her parents having; instead of a rigid and unyielding commitment that they had outgrown but could not escape, there was a trust she felt herself getting lost in.
They wanted her to stay, they all knew that.
She could never answer. She wanted to say yes, longed to stay forever and never leave, but she knew that wasn’t an option, that if she stayed, it would bring down the full wrath of her father on them all, and she wouldn't risk her family like that.
So she left. Every morning, as dawn began to creep over the horizon, she would go home, and dream of a world where she had more than those snatched moments of freedom.
The Lost brought their protests to Falco Tower, and Raven was torn between fear and exhilaration by the knowledge that her time living two lives was coming to an end. She knew that she wouldn’t be able to resist fighting alongside them, wouldn’t be able to resist the opportunity to prove to herself that she was one of them. She also knew that it would only be a matter of time before someone saw her slipping in or out of the tower, or her father saw her in the fray, or her mother caught her bandaging her wounds after. There would be no way to keep her two worlds separate indefinitely.
Time after time she wondered whether it would be better to simply tell them. They knew her, loved her , she would tell herself; they would understand the need for secrecy –but still there was a sliver of fear. What if they hated her for leaving it this long? What if they didn’t? She knew that when the truth came out she would have to make a decision. And so she left it.
She didn’t even make it through their first protest before the facade came crashing down. Her father spotted her and every hope she’d harboured that she might remain undetected was shattered.
Faced with the undeniable proof of who she was, Strat begged her to leave with him, to come home, and blinded with love and that desperate longing for freedom, she went with him. It ended in tragedy, with her family shattered by the loss of one of their own, and with Raven in a self-imposed exile, unable to do anything but blame herself for the pain she had brought down upon those she loved.
That Christmas has been the worst she'd ever had. With her mother gone and her family out of reach, she was alone. She hadn't spoken to her father since the night he had killed Tink. Since the night she had got Tink killed. The only people she saw were the servants who brought her food and coaxed her into eating it. Sometimes at night, as she gazed out of her window over the square below, she thought she could see The Lost in the shadows, and her soul ached for what she had lost.
Strat came, eventually, because of course he did, because The Lost could not function when one of their own was gone. They had lost Tink, they would not lose Raven too. He came because he loved her, because they all did, in their varying ways, and because she needed to come home.
She made her home in the Deep End, with the family she loved without obligation. It wasn't easy at first; there were wounds which would take years to heal, if they healed at all, but they could draw strength from one another, and hold each other when the nightmares came.
Christmas with The Lost, Raven discovered, was nothing like Christmas at the tower. It was louder for a start, and more boisterous, and the chances of having to grab your food whilst simultaneously avoiding getting trodden on by whoever was standing on the table were much higher. Gifts were generally handmade or carefully (or not so carefully–every year there were numerous close calls, generally involving Ledoux who seemed to make it his personal goal to steal the most ridiculous items possible) liberated from her father and his friends.
Come evening, after a dinner which in no way resembled a traditional Christmas meal, they would push the table aside and collapse onto an eclectic collection of floor cushions and mattresses. There would be a brief but furious scuffle for the chaise lounge, which Valkyrie would win but which inevitably ended up with at least two other people squeezed onto it and trying desperately not to fall off (when they did fall off they would be laughed at and then they would drift off to lounge besides someone else). Raven would think, this is what family feels like , and someone would say "oh my god Strat, we don't need to hear the guitar story again" and there'd be loud shushing from at least five people because "maybe he does tell that story every year but it's a good story okay". And the evening would go on in joy and in laughter, until it bled into night and The Lost would fall asleep where they lay.
And Raven would know that she was home.