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Main Room, Titan's Tower. 0319 Hours, 28 AUGUST 2014
Beast Boy's return had been celebrated by all the present Titans, a grand homecoming that had carried on far longer than it should have. The celebratory moods of Cyborg, Starfire, and many of the others overriding Robin's demands for order and infecting the weary Beast Boy. He took the conscious partying over confronting Raven, who turned flame-faced whenever their eyes made any more than a second of contact, after their kiss. It had taken him a second to distinguish the delusions crafted by Sway from reality, especially with the feeling of the real Raven's lips against his own, but her jerking away had shattered the illusions still clouding his head. Initial attempts to talk to her had been stalled by the ecstatic reunion his friends greeted him with and the awkward gulf had only been growing until it seemed too wide to cross.
Herald was serenading the group with a flowing solo upon a saxophone he had recovered from the in-between dimension he traveled through. He stood upon the couch, balancing precariously as he lost himself in his music and the others danced before him. Mas y Menos had stolen away Starfire and had come to a truce, taking turns to ride on the other's shoulder to dance with the redhead as Robin looked on sullenly. Pantha had been content to keep her distance and the beat with the steady clapping of her hands until the changeling had pulled her onto the impromptu dance floor. Cyborg had exchanged glances with Raven and then Robin, receiving shaking heads from both of them before he had grabbed Robin's hand, forcibly twirling him about, and passed Raven to Jericho.
Laughter flowed freely amongst the group and Beast Boy's smile was starting to hurt but he couldn't bring himself to drop it even as he brushed by Raven and she jolted at the contact, whirling to catch his gaze. She immediately ducked her head afterwards, disappearing into the shadows of her hood, and Beast Boy stared after her for a second before he suddenly found himself switching partners. Pantha had to bend over slightly to dance with the only marginally disgruntled Mas y Menos, leaving Beast Boy to be picked up by Starfire who fixed him with a knowing smile.
"What's with that? What's up with that smile?" His eyes narrowed and she gave a small giggle as they wove through the crowd. "I don't like that smile."
"I am merely pleased that you have been returned to us," she told him unconvincingly.
"And I am maybe a little pleased that you and Raven have finally done the admitting of feelings for each other."
"You and friend Raven have done the kissing. You are now the boyfriend and girlfriend, yes? And understand the languages of each other."
". . . All right, that last part - that's only Tamaraneans, remember?"
"Oh. Now I do. That is most inefficient."
"Right. Definitely. Anyway, Rae and I aren't dating or anything. She and I are just frie-"
"Did you two learn nothing from Robin and I?" She interrupted his protest with a sigh and a slight dimming to her bright eyes. "You both like each other. You should stop -"
"Wait, wait. We're talking about our Raven, right? Surly, shadowy teammate? Star, where did you get the idea that she likes me?"
Herald had started in on a new song and was accompanied by Jericho and his acoustic guitar, the two managing a beauteous and slower melody, reducing the dancers to a waltz. Raven had managed to escape the dance floor, watching from the distance, but Robin's escape had been halted by Cyborg's large hand pulling him back into the mass. He guffawed raucously, immune to embarrassment even as Robin flushed lightly and growled threats under his breath that Beast Boy caught whenever they spun by the pair.
His pointed ears flinched at the flat glare Starfire leveled at him and she shook her head, her expression softening as she looked to him again.
"I know that you are far more aware than you let on. You cannot honestly tell me that you have not done the noticing of feelings between you and Raven."
"Star, I'm telling you -"
"And I am telling you - Raven has the crush on you. Stop doing this dancing around of each other and simply admit your feelings."
Her insistence ended as a new song began and the pairs exchanged partners again. He found himself dancing with Cyborg who blew a kiss after Robin as Pantha slid by him, snatching away Starfire and leaving him to the frowning Mas y Menos. They exchanged glances for a moment before both backed away and Beast Boy chuckled as he had his friend glided across the floor.
"Hey, this ain't the Robot. Lemme lead, tin-toes."
"Please." The taller boy scoffed at the shape shifter's demand. "You've got two left feet."
"One misstep from you, and I'll have no feet."
"Then I guess you better follow my lead."
"You ever dance with an elephant? You're about to dance with an elephant."
"What were you and Star talking about? She looked pretty serious."
"We were just - wait. Y'know what? This is not a conversation I want to have while dancing with you."
"Fair enough. I need a snack break."
They had prepared a veritable smorgasbord in the course of the celebration, most of the fare even vegan, and Starfire had happily displayed her slowly improving culinary skills, practicing what little she knew. Aside from her tower of pancakes that served as a centerpiece, they had prepared a fruit bowl, a number of sweets, and a vegan-friendly roast. Most of it had been devoured, Beast Boy ravenous and apparently underfed during his time as a mind-controlled puppet, but some remained and Cyborg carefully picked through the selection for the real meat.
"All right, green bean. Spill. What're you and Raven on now?"
He was silent for a moment as he loaded his plate, still a mere pebble compared to the mountain that Cyborg had assembled, but he finally sighed.
"When that girl got in my head, she . . . she used Raven."
"She made me think that she was Raven. And she, uh, she got it down better than you'd think."
"Hold up a sec. Are you tellin' me that she just had you playin' house the whole time? She didn't have you rob any banks, beat some people up - nothin'?"
"I don't . . . I don't think she really wanted any of that." He paused in his explanation, his face twisting into a pained grimace before he soothed it, shaking the lingering thoughts from his head, and pressed on. "More than anything, I think she was . . . lonely."
The pair had adjourned to the island and they watched the dancers as they spoke, Robin finally managing to connect with Starfire as they twirled about. Mas y Menos had taken the impromptu stage as performers, belting out a perfectly synchronized ballad in their native language. Forced from his position as performer, Herald had managed to lull Raven back into the small crowd of dancers and Jericho and Pantha waltzed alongside them, the blonde's feet never touching the ground. While the sight didn't entirely vanquish Beast Boy's strangely somber mood, it did bring a gentle smile to his face even as his larger friend frowned.
"You feel sorry for her. For Sway." His tone was accusatory, the words punctuated with tiny jabs from his fork in the shape shifter's direction who shrugged, not deflecting the comment.
"I don't know if some of her head was leaking into mine or something, but I think I kinda get it. There were . . . there were a couple of times where she just had me hold her. That was it." He threw a glass of punch down his throat, knocking it back as though he wished it were something harder. Setting the cup back upon the table, he fixed the taller teen with a hard stare, devoid of its usual warmth and mirth. "But, don't think for a second that I think that excuses what she's done. Next time we see her, I might need you to hold me back, so I don't punch her or something."
"I think most of us are gonna be relyin' on Rob for that. But, I got'cher back, green bean."
"Cheers, gear head." They shared a smile and smacked plastic cups together before taking gulps, Beast Boy remembering as it touched his lips that his was empty. He stared at it forlornly, as though willing it to refill, until Cyborg lowered his now-drained cup, studying him with renewed interest.
"Soooooo . . . you and Raven, huh?"
Green skin worked for hiding a blush, but he still ducked his head as though trying to dive into his cup as he grunted his answer.
"And just how was that?"
"It was . . ." He floundered for a word, looking to the hooded sorceress as she glided about the floor. The faintest hint of a smile pulled at her soft lips and his gaze fell upon them for a second, conjuring up the foggy sensation of the kisses he had shared with the faux Raven. His gaze followed her form, ever graceful, and he suddenly struggled to breathe before turning from her, focusing on his food.
"Nice. It was nice."
G Block, JCP. 0809 Hours, 28 AUGUST 2014
Penelope Temple head was pounding, making sleep impossible and forcing her from the dark realms of sleep. She groaned, her eyes opening to a grey expanse of unpainted cinderblocks, and she was content with studying them as she took stock of her situation. Her finery, everything from her boots to her necklace, was gone. The latest fashions had been replaced with a baggy, ill-fitting jumpsuit that rubbed against her satin skin. While her beds were never comfortable, she found herself sleeping upon a cot that challenged the ditch of an underpass for its position as most uncomfortable sleep.
However, most notably, there was no deluge of inane thoughts and foreign ideas hurtling through her skull. There was a faint, distant buzzing but it lacked the usual coherence that assaulted her. Instinctively, she reached out only to find nothing and emotions swirled through her, a dizzying mix of despair, relief, and overwhelming solitude.
The last of them was at least relieved by a creak from overhead and she rolled onto her back to watch the bunk above her own shift before a young woman descended the rungs on the end of the bed. Dark, stringy hair hung about a face with Asiatic features that she couldn't place and a thin circlet of silver wrapped about her forehead.
"Finally awake, Sleeping Beauty?"
"Who the hell are you?" Penelope demanded harshly, forcing herself up in the bed and quickly regretting it as her world tilted wildly about. She grunted and pressed a palm against her skull in an attempt to alleviate the sudden pounding, making out the blur of the similarly dressed girl now standing at her side.
"Alyx. With a Y. And who are you, besides Miss van Winkle?"
"I'm saying you, like, sleep a lot."
"Screw you. Where am I?"
"Would you believe summer camp?"
Penelope's head continued to pound and she dropped it into her hands as she swung her legs over the side of the bed, feeling a cold line of metal against her palms. She frowned and prodded at it, finding it traced about her head.
Alyx spoke again, with the first true hint of sympathy in her voice. "The bands shut down like me, and presumably you, but they, like, give you major headaches."
"And they clash," she grumbled, glancing from the orange jumpsuit to the band on the dark-haired girl's head.
"Right. How could I forget that?" She folded her arms over her chest and rolled her eyes as Penelope bit back a retort and instead glanced past her to the cell door, leading out to a scuffed, cement floor. Other women resided in more cells across the way, some trapped behind reinforced bars and others equipped with clunky collars, who occupied their time, all internally praying that it would pass quickly. Standing up, Penelope staggered to the bars and tugged at them, finding them unmoving and she scowled as she paced about the room, Alyx keeping her under observation.
"So, you got a name or something?" she finally demanded and the brunette jerked her head up in surprise, watching her as she debated offering an answer.
"Not much of a name."
"Well, it's as much as you're gonna get. This Jump Pen?"
"Nah. Day spa." She inspected her nails, chipped and ragged from her growing anxiety, but made a show of appearing disinterested as her cellmate snapped a glare at her. With a sigh, she took a step forward and extended a pale hand to her. "Sorry. I'm . . . I'm a little disagreeable. I'm Alyx Madan-Chen. Better known as Phobos. This is the Jump City Penitentiary, and I'm here 'cause I got, like, cold-cocked by that Raven chick while I was robbing a bank."
She studied the proffered hand suspiciously for a second before accepting it, giving it a firm pump as she nodded to the other girl. "I get that. Raven got you too, huh? She dragged me into her freaking cape thing into some sorta nightmare world."
"What'd you do to deserve that?"
With a shrug, she turned back towards the bars, testing each of them individually before examining the electronic lock on the door. "I kinda brainwashed her almost-boyfriend and held him captive for a few days."
"That witch has a boyfriend?" Alyx's brows rose over her eyes in surprise before they lowered and she muttered to herself under her breath. "Now I'm, like, really starting to question some life choices."
"She and Beast Boy have the hots for each other, but they're both too scared to act on it," she explained, finally crossing back to the bed and landing dejectedly upon it. "It's almost sad, in that pathetic sort of way."
"That makes more sense."
"Sooooo . . ." Penelope leaned back upon her bunk, supporting herself upon her elbows as she looked to the senior prisoner. "What's the dish around here? Who's the boss of the block? And this is a co-ed prison, right? Any cuties?"
"Wouldn't know," she grunted. "Folks give me my space. But, you woke up just in time to make your own opinions. You may have missed breakfast but they have to consolidate men and womenfolk lunch because of some kitchen issues or something."
"Ooh, goodie," she smirked, rising slightly. "That sounds like it could almost be fun."
Titans Tower. 0900 Hours, 28 AUGUST 2014
Robin should have been happy. His friend and teammate was back and mostly unharmed, his adopted city was still in one piece, and yet another criminal now made their abode behind bars. By all counts, the previous evening had been a success, even in regards to the celebration of Beast Boy's return. It had ended in the wee hours of the morning when the moon had nearly completed its voyage across the stars and the rays of light pierced the darkness of the very edge of the horizon. Emptied dishes had been piled haphazardly in the sink to be tended to later and others had been loaded into the fridge, breakfasts, lunches, and dinners to come. More of the mess than he had expected had been picked up though there was certainly still some cleaning to be done.
However, the Boy Wonder could manage nothing more than a ragged scowl as he shuffled through the hall, his body protesting every movement and his head protesting anything louder than his blinking. He had managed a few hours of sleep in which he had laid tangled, mostly innocuously, with Starfire in her bed before his internal alarm had forced him into wakefulness. Part of his head pointed out that Bruce functioned with far less sleep, even with power naps at the office, but he silenced the superior tone with a demand for coffee.
Wincing at the sliding of the doors and the light pouring through the great windows of the main room, he grumbled something about polarizing glass and trudged into the kitchen. His hands moved automatically, filling the pot of his beloved machine as the other reached up to collect the can of grounds. He was thankful for the second nature of the task, leaving him free to drift into a semi-slumbering state. As his sweet ambrosia brewed, he swayed like a tree in the wind, eyes snapping open whenever he lost his center of balance. Snorting, he righted himself, shaking his head at his actions even if his eyes closed only seconds later to repeat the process again.
Finally, though he couldn't recall certain steps of the process, he had a mug filled with warm coffee in his hands as he settled into the couch. The first gulp was bitter, he had never learned the niceties of cream or sugar, but he still moaned appreciatively and slowly opened his eyes. They continued to open, growing remarkably wide beneath his mask, as he took in the sight before him.
He had admittedly retired before the end of the party, retreating from the festivities with Starfire as the others had been convinced by Beast Boy and Cyborg to join in on a round of video games. The massive television was off, likely due to the automatic timer for periods of inactivity, but the crowd still huddled in front of it. Beast Boy had shifted into a massive tiger, sprawling across the floor, and the others had nestled into his downy fur. Herald had discarded his hood and had wrapped the tail about himself at some point. Pantha sprawled towards the midsection, thick arms curled about the twins who she cradled on either side of her. The blonde Jericho wrapped arms about the tiger's brawny neck, and finally Cyborg lay pinned by the feline's head and a paw, snoring in binary.
"I'm almost scared to wake them."
The soft voice nearly ejected Robin from his seat but he quickly collected himself and schooled his expression as he swung it towards Raven. She sat on the couch, sipping her own tea, and displaying none of the bags that he knew resided under his mask. Something akin to a smile pulled at her lips at his reaction, but it disappeared before he could verify it as her amethyst gaze drifted back towards Beast Boy. Managing a smile of his own, worn as it was, Robin took another sip of coffee and nodded to her.
"Morning, Raven. Have you been here the whole night?"
"Good morning. And, no. I left shortly after Pantha and Cyborg started the eating contest."
"Ah," he nodded and took another sip, which Raven mirrored. He smacked his lips as his headache receded, if only marginally, and settled into a comfortable silence alongside her as they watched the snoozing group. After a moment, which he had used to gather up the courage to voice his thoughts, he dared to break the silence. "Sooooo . . . Star told me about the kiss."
Even with the space of three cushions separating them, he could feel Raven stiffen and he quickly fixed his gaze upon his mug as he took what he feared may be his last sip of coffee. However, after a moment, Raven relaxed and merely muttered, "It meant nothing. He was still seeing Sway's brainwashing."
"Really? That's what you're going with?"
She bristled, eye snapping towards him in annoyance. "I'm not 'going with' anything. That is merely the fact. It was a misunderstanding."
Slowly emerging into greater wakefulness, he rolled his eyes behind his mask and countered, "Except that the illusion was still about you. She used the illusion of you to control him. To manipulate him. To make him love her."
"But it wasn't me. Her Raven didn't have to worry about her emotions destroying everything around her."
"While I'm glad you didn't insult me by trying to say that you're not at all interested in his feelings about you, I wish you'd have a higher opinion of yourself. You have more control than you're willing to admit."
"Richard," she sighed, her voice slightly defeated. "You are, quite possibly, the closest thing that I have to a brother. So, please, just drop this issue."
He was silent for a moment, his mouth a thin, disapproving line as she refused to make eye contact with him before he gave a shake of his head.
"Fine. I'll drop it. But, that doesn't just mean that it's going to just go away. I saw you avoiding BB last night. You can't do that forever."
"I don't need to do it forever. Just long enough for him to realize that I'm not worth it."
"Don't talk about yourself like -"
He closed his mouth as she suddenly disappeared into a swirling portal that opened beneath her, quickly carrying him far away from their conversation. Dropping his head onto the back of the couch, he released a drawn-out, tired breath and let himself sink into the cushions, trying to release the worries and thoughts that plagued him. His expertise in the realm of women was sadly lacking, Bruce had determined that Batman's martial arts were more imperative than the billionaire's pick-up skills, and he found himself out of his depths even when spending time with his own girlfriend.
A velvety chuckle drew his attention forward and he found Pantha tilting her head back to study him with a lazy smile.
"Teenagers and their self-esteem issues are not helped by superpowers," she mused thoughtfully.
"No," he agreed. "No, I think not."
"And we are not helped by our role models," she chuckled. "It is not easy to be compared to the likes of Wonder Woman and Power Girl. They make the so-called supermodels look homely."
"Yeah. Trust me, I know what you mean." He grimaced, recalling a disapproving stare, the only thing that pierced from the shadows cloaking the towering figure. Then he balked and looked back towards her, somewhat tentatively. "You, uh, you heard all that, didn't you?"
"What? About how a certain cuervo may have a crush on my favorite shape shifter?" She smiled pleasantly as she disentangled from the twins who instinctively scooted closer together. Stretching out her corded muscles, she groaned as she rolled out her neck and glanced over her shoulder. "Not a thing."
"That's probably for the best. On all accounts." He sighed, shaking his head slightly before looking back up. "Want some coffee?"
Cafeteria, JCP. 1214 Hours, 28 AUGUST 2014
"Kid, wouldja settle yer ass down? Yer makin' me nervous," Arson grumbled at Henry who sat tall in his seat, peering about at the tables, eyes scouring the lines of faces. Repeated instances of hosting heated conversations with himself, sudden shouting at phantasms nobody else could see, and Arson's own protection had ensured that the youth was subjected to no further harassment beyond the initial incident. People watched him warily, keeping their distance before the whimpering turned to violence.
"The women are here," he noted.
"There was some sorta incident. They had to mash summa the lunches together," provided the elder man.
"Hallelujah," Rubio muttered, finally turning his disgruntled and wary stare from the youth to blatantly ogle the crowds on the opposite side of the cafeteria, grinning even as the black ring around his eye ached.
"Ain'cha already got yerself a girl?"
"I'm looking for Alyx," explained the youngest three as Rubio gave a noncommittal grunt in answer to his cellmate before shifting towards the boy.
"That's the chick you freak out about whenever I talk about her, right?"
"Only when you insult her," rasped the youth, his voice suddenly deepening.
"Okay, see, that's some freaky demonic shit right there," he said, torn between jabbing at the boy and pushing away from him. Looking towards the tattooed man, he grumbled, "Look, are you sure this dude isn't some sorta possession case or something?"
"Mostly," he smirked, lacing his fingers over his gut as he leaned back in the chair at the table they had claimed.
Rubio looked at the youth distrustfully and pointed his fork at him as he snapped, "You start turning your head upside down or projectile vomiting, I will exorcise you. Got it?"
"Why are you always so grumpy?" Henry asked curiously, tilting his head to the side.
"I - you-you just - why didn't they put you in an asylum or something, man?!" he demanded in frustration and the boy shrugged.
"The local asylum doesn't have the right sort of equipment or protocols for metahumans."
Arson arched a brow at the explanation while the final member of the trio muttered darkly under his breath, stabbing savagely at the lumpy mass that he was mostly certain was mashed potatoes. The orange-eyed man studied the youth who scoured the female population of the prison for the familiar face before he gave a soft snort and returned his attention to his lunch, filching Henry's pudding while he was distracted. Suddenly, the tray he was pilfering was launched across the table as its owner leapt atop it, a broad smile splitting across his face. He bounded to the next table, paying no heed to the meals he landed in or the discussions he interrupted as he charged across the tables, leaving chaos in his wake. Shouts rang out from guards and prisoners alike as hands grabbed at the boy, catching only the air as he nimbly and instinctually evaded their reach.
"Alyx! Alyx, here I am! Alyx!"
The girl in question, in discussion with a short-haired girl wearing a matching circlet, froze as the familiar voice shouted her name through the cafeteria. She cringed and Sway looked around her curiously at the nearing source of the commotion.
"That'd be Henry." With a tired sigh, she turned and dutifully opened her arms for Henry to fling himself into. He hummed happily as he squeezed her, swinging her about and knocking into a towering woman whose arms were likely thicker than Henry's waist. Alyx returned the glare and fear flashed in the elder's eyes before she turned back around. Setting the pale girl back upon the ground, Henry nuzzled her as Sway looked on in amusement, barely restraining her chuckles. Her cellmate shot her a dirty look to ensure her silence as she patted the lanky boy affectionately upon the back.
"Okay, sweetie, I missed you too. Now, could you, like, let go before you get us both in trouble?"
"Bit late for that," noted a burly guard as his comrades held back the crowd of inmates that had been splattered in Henry's wake as he trampled across the tables. Alyx's eyes narrowed at the man, breaking his own glower with a sliver of terror that he quickly shook away to snarl at her. "Don't go startin' those Jedi mind tricks, now. Kid, you're going to have to come with me."
"What? Why?" he said, his hold on Alyx's hand tightening fractionally.
"You're kidding, right?" he scoffed. "Are you dumb or something? You can't just go running across the tables and not get in some sorta trouble. Now, let's go."
"I'm not dumb," he insisted. "I talk just fine. Maybe you should get your ears checked."
"Look, I deal with enough shit that I don't need backtalk from some punk kid," he growled, seizing his arm roughly. "You can see your girlfriend or whatever later."
"Hey, settle, man," Alyx snapped. Sway took a step back from the brewing conflict, glancing between the pair and the increasingly disgruntled crowd, some of whom had begun spitting death threats. "He messed up, but it's not like he hurt anyone or anything. And I'm not his girlfriend. That's, like, super gross."
"Ma'am, you need to back down," the guard ordered, the slivers of fear feeding into his mounting anger as his hand strayed towards his taser. Alyx's eyes narrowed as she scanned the crowd, noting the increased savagery in the eyes of the inmates pushing against the uniformed barrier and she gave a small sigh before delivering the first blow. The room fell silent as they watched the burly watchman's feet leave the ground only for his back to connect heavily with it almost immediately after. Silence reigned for only an instant. Then, a thunderous roar echoed to the vaulted ceiling of the room and the convicts stormed forward as their minders drew their armaments.
Sway's eyes nearly bulged from their sockets and she swung herself over the counter, jumping into the kitchen and huddling alongside the servers. Alyx took an instant to wince, shaking out the pain in her hand before grabbing the confounded Henry's limb.
"Let's go," said the dark-haired girl, grabbing her companion and ducking into the fray.
Across the cafeteria, Arson gave a low groan as he ran a hand over his scarred scowled.
"Ah tell yah, powers or not, that kid's nuttier that squirrel shit."
"So, uh, we going in after him?" Rubio eyed the thrashing crowd uneasily, but despite his grievances, found the bonds of loyalty tugging at him to rise from his seat.
"Boy made his own bed. He's gonna hafta learn to lie in it someday. Still, don' mean we can jus' laze 'bout on our asses. Up and at 'em."
"For what?" Confusion crossed the younger man's face even as he followed the directive and Arson answered with a quick grin before sliding to one of the abandoned tables.
"Lunch may be crap, but there's somethin' even these brain donors can't foul up." He turned, eagerly presenting the line of pudding cups balanced upon his forearms as he licked his lips. "We're lootin' the puddin'."
Rubio took a second to study the overly pleased thief as he all but danced back to their table and arranged his pile about his try. Looking up, he beamed at the dark-haired man who finally shook his head and then tilted it at his friend.
"You make it really hard to take you seriously sometimes."
The excited smile dropped, enthusiastic light dimming in his eyes, and Arson turned brusquely to march away, snapping over his shoulder.
"Just start stealin' some puddin'."
Within the growing riot, Alyx and Henry wove through guards and prisoners alike, tearing from grasping hands and dolling out swift, fierce blows to any they couldn't otherwise escape. Finally, they emerged from the crowd only to find a man leaping from an adjacent table at them. With a grunt, Henry swung his partner upward and she delivered a sharp kick to the man's jaw before landing upon the table and pulling Henry after her. They charged down the table as the discordant alarm sounded, and they purposely launched the remaining trays at any obstacles in their path. She stomped on an empty one, flipping it through the air before catching it to deflect the beanbag round fired by one of the guards on the walkway up above.
The impromptu shield shattered at the second shot and she tossed it aside as they bounded over to the next table before he suddenly laced his fingers together. Planting a foot in his palms, she fired off as he tossed her upward and she grabbed the bottom of the gangway as the guards shouted, directing attention to the disruptive pair. Henry leapt upward, grabbing her ankles as she swung forward and then whipped him backwards to launch him onto the platform, taking out the approaching official. Reaching down, he easily lifted her upward and she crouched beside the downed man as Henry dodged another beanbag.
Beneath them, Rubio paused in his somewhat reluctant pilfering of pudding to gape in astonishment at the duo as they took out another guard, the belt of the previous one now worn by Alyx as a bandolier. "Did you know the nutjob had moves like that?"
"Nope," Arson grunted in rescued another set of pudding cups from a series of abandoned trays and added them to those he had already amassed. He gave a pleased, nostalgic smile accompanied by a nod before glancing to the pair racing overhead. "But ah may've had an inklin' or two."
"So, uh, I know we're letting psycho sleep in his own bed and all, but, umm . . . we-we gonna jump in on all this?" asked the young man, nodding towards the fray between the inmates and growing number of guards.
"Rube, how much contraband do ah stashed have under mah bunk?"
"Umm . . . a lot?"
"That's right. Now, ah ain't lookin' to git it tossed in some inspection. So, till this hootenanny settles down, ah'm perfectly content right where ah'm at."
With his piece said, he dropped back into his seat and began to spoon the pudding into his mouth. He lifted his gaze to watch as Henry swung Alyx forward, her feet slamming into a burly man's chest and sending him over the railing. As the dark-haired girl landed, she swung her companion over the edge, and he grabbed the man, tossing him back onto the walkway. He started to rise only for a boot to smash across his face, knocking him unconscious as Henry leapt back onto the platform. He turned to find several guards with their armaments pointed at him and Alyx.
His mouth formed a grim, defiant line as he slid in front of her, blocking their shots and casting a glance back towards her. Her face was twisted into a grimace but she gave a small shake of her head and lifted her arms over her head. Turning back towards the guards, he copied her motions and the men quickly moved forward, grabbing their arms and forcing them to their knees.
Henry's eyes darkened at the rough treatment that Alyx was subjected to, but he relented at a gentle shake from her head though he continued to scowl. As restraints were clamped about their wrists, other keepers emerged, filling the overhead aisles as canisters launched from their weapons, landing upon the floor and filling the room with gas. Salvaging as many pudding cups as he could carry, Arson bolted from the encroaching cloud, unceremoniously lifting the plastic dishes to his lips and slurping down the dessert as Rubio shouted after him before following his example and fleeing from the gas. The mob hacked and coughed, now devoid of the will to fight as their adversaries slipped on gas masks and started subduing the prisoners. Sway hid behind the counter until a guard reached over, alerted by one of the cooks, and handily hauled her out, forcing her to join the crowd.
Main Room, Titans Tower. 1247 Hours, 28 AUGUST 2014
Beast Boy awoke reluctantly and still half-buried under the bodies of his dozing friends. He considered rejoining them in the realm of sleep but the sunlight slanting into his eyes, which had roused him to begin with, ensured that was not a possibility without a major adjustment. Internalizing his grumble, he shifted and slid his way out from the pile, careful not to jostle any of them into wakefulness and padded to the kitchen. Yawning, he scratched at his rear and opened the fridge, eyeing its now greatly diminished stock before closing it.
Slouching along the counter, he opened the cupboards before uncovering a partially emptied bag of cinnamon crunch bagels. Licking his lips, he pulled one from the bag and returned the others. The aroma of coffee and tea wound through the air, signaling that Robin and Raven had already woken up and conducted their morning rituals. He paused, briefly, at Raven's scent and mused at it in what he internally told himself was not a creepy manner. Her aroma was curious blend of her vanilla body wash, the incense she often lit in her room, and the faintest touch of brimstone. During his brainwashing, he had never noticed how the masquerading Raven lacked that unique scent and being greeted by it once again eased the troubles of his mind.
Sighing, he abandoned the common room, his bagel in tow, and made his way to the Tower's roof. He may have been far too late to enjoy the sunrise, but he figured he could watch the sun shimmer the water as he ate his midday breakfast. As he passed through the halls, he could hear Starfire still snoring within her room and Robin and Pantha preoccupied themselves with a workout in the gym. A lazy smile spread across the shape shifter's face at the familiar sounds of the Tower and he couldn't stop himself from whistling a cheery tune as he ascended the stairwell to the roof.
As soon as he opened the door and the light breeze met his nose, he realized his mistake. He wanted to turn back, duck back within the Tower and hide in his room, surrounding by the familiar and disgusting. However, his whistling had betrayed him, alerting the other to his presence and he could feel lavender eyes upon him. Steeling himself with a deep breath, he strode with as much cheer as he could muster and offered a cheery grin to the blue-cloaked girl.
"Heya, Rae. How's it been?"
"Quiet." He deflated slightly at her remark and she noticed, quickly correcting. "Not that that's always a good thing. It was . . . we missed you."
"Yeah." With a sigh, he dropped onto the edge of the roof alongside of her and considered the bagel in his hand before offering half to her. "Breakfast?"
Amusement crossed in her eyes but her lips remained a flat line as she shook her head. "No. I had mine several hours ago, when the day actually started. But, thank you."
"As happy as I am that you're back with us, you can't keep calling me that," she informed him.
"Better make as much use of it as I can until then, huh?"
They lapsed into an awkward silence, worse than usual for them and he chewed the bagel slowly, giving himself a reason not to talk. He was subjecting himself to torture, sitting close enough to feel the warmth radiating from her body as her aroma filled his nose. Inches away with the memories of a romance with her, false as it was, still fresh in his mind, dancing and twirling enticingly through his thought processes. They made him wonder if her lips were as soft as the ones he'd kissed, if she made that same little gasp whenever he . . .
He shook his head violently in an attempt to clear, startling Raven as he bolted to his feet and paced away from her. She watched him morosely as he turned his gaze skyward and dragged his hands down his face, blowing out a long groan. Turning away, she focused upon the distant spires of the city until she built up the courage to speak.
"I think . . . we need to talk."
Hands covering his mouth, he gave a short chuckle and swung about to face her, attempting to summon a smile. "Y'know, thosre are the four scariest words in any woman's vocabulary."
Regret, apology, and something else that she was not yet comfortable putting a name to poured from his mental barriers. She shut them out as he returned to his place beside her, keeping his distance this time as he swung his legs over the edge and sighed. He waited for her to begin and she licked her lips, suddenly finding them dry as she fumbled for the proper words.
"You . . . you like me."
"I think the technical term is like-like, but . . . yeah. Sorry about that." He leaned back, placing his gloved palms against the surface of the roof and giving an apologetic smile that didn't reach his sad eyes.
"Sure. I mean, I get that you don't feel the same way and it's making you totally uncomfortable, but I can't really -"
"Exactly! I'll just try -"
"I meant, stop talking."
His words ground to an immediate halt, mouth closing in a thin line as he looked towards her anxiously as she ducked into her hood. Fortifying herself with a deep breath, she emerged from it to meet the emerald gaze but lost her will and glanced back towards the waters as she spoke.
"I am . . . I'm withdrawn. Introversive at best and abrasive at worst. I don't think you're all that funny. I have a temper and I am so out of touch with my emotions that they're almost their own separate entities. I'm the half-demon hellspawn of an interdimensional tyrant. Just . . . what could you possibly like about me?"
"Is the fact that you're a total babe who kicks butt in what's essentially a swimsuit a good enough reason?"
"I just got you back. Please don't make me start threatening you already."
He chuckled and then lifted his gaze to watch a flock of distant seagulls thoughtfully. "I don't know. You talk about being withdrawn or detached. But, y'know, you're not. Not even close. I, ummm, I've been, I guess, noticing you? For a while. Before the whole empathy thing. You care about everybody. You try not to show it, you try to hide in your hood and the shadows and all that, but you . . . you're just amazing. I mean, why do you think Melvin and the other little dudes love you so much."
"Because you did more than just protect them. You cared about them. You don't think I'm all that funny? Fine. Gives me a reason to improve my material. Also, you're kinda hot when you're angry. Like, a scary sorta hot. Scot. And the emotion thing? Please. You're still better off than me and the Beast."
He rapped his knuckles against his skull as he grinned at her attempts to hide the dusky shade of pink coloring her smooth cheeks. She was certain that he could hear her heart hammering in her chest and she vaguely realized that they were closer now though she had no idea which of them had moved.
"And my . . . parentage?"
"You aren't your parents," he replied simply. "You're just you. And, honestly, you're kinda absotively, posilutely gorgeous and wonderful and smart and comp –"
"I get the picture," she interrupted before her face could burst into flames. She tugged incessantly at her hood, certain that it wasn't covering her enough and Beast Boy snickered before sobering and looking back out to the waters. Biting her lip, she observed him for a moment before glancing to the side and muttering, "I-I-I think . . . I think I may 'like-like' you, too."
His body went rigid, eyes flaring open before he tilted his head to the side and slapped his palm against his ear before repeating the action on the other side as though attempting to dislodge something. Once finished, he lifted his gaze and searched the clouds and after making certain that the sky was devoid of airborne porcine, he pinched his cheek between his thumb and knuckle, giving a small yelp and massaging the injured skin before he finally looked to her.
"Okay, I'm sorry. But, could you, pretty, pretty please with tea and whatever else you could ever want on top, please, say that again?"
"Say what again?"
He sputtered as she feigned ignorance and his voice cracked as he finally remembered how to use it. "That-that thing! About the whole maybe 'like-liking' me!"
"I have no clue what you're talking about."
"Raaaeeee! You can't do this to me aft-"
Mercy and a strange playfulness surged through her at his frantic plight that banished her own nervousness. Before it could return, she grabbed his chin and closed the distance between them to meet him in a short, chaste kiss that ended all sound erupting from him. She quickly pulled away, studying his reaction demurely and growing worried when his silence and lack of motion continued to stretch on. A hand was reaching out to jostle his shoulder before he suddenly rocketed to his feet, arms firing into the air as he called his victory to the heavens.
"WOOOHOOHOOOOO! YEEEEEE-EEESSSSSS! SHE LIKE-LIKES ME!"
Several caws echoed in response in what Raven supposed were congratulations and she blushed again before hooking a hand in Beast Boy's belt and pulling him back down alongside her. He eagerly complied, pulling close to her, and butterflies fluttered in her stomach at his proximity. His confidence dimmed and he scratched at the back of his head as he met her gaze unevenly. "So, uh, are we, y'know, are we kinda dating now or something?"
"I could live with that," she nodded softly and his smile returned in full force. He wrapped her hand in his own and she jolted at the contact, emotions whirling through her as there was the sound of tearing metal behind them. They both glanced to see the door leading to the roof had now been reduced to a ball of twisted metal. Gazes swung back towards the clasped hands and Raven, reluctantly, slipped from his grip.
"But I don't think it's that simple," she frowned.
"Hey." She looked up as he placed a hand on her shoulder and offered her a reassuring smile. "It'll be worth it. We'll just have to take . . . small steps."
Managing a smile, she nodded and hesitantly laid her hand over his own, keeping close reins upon her emotions as she echoed, "Small steps."
Basement, Green Valley Church. 1828 Hours, 28 AUGUST 2014
"Wan't my fault, y'know. Felix, right, Felix – see, he was s'posed to be on guard. On lookout. Not me. Not my job. I was down for the night."
The speaker, a broad-shouldered, burly man, rocked back and forth in his chair amongst the circle of the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, eyes downcast and thin, scarred lips pulled into a gnarled line. Whenever they split, they revealed chipped, jaundiced teeth and his speech was accompanied by a series of small nods. He'd rested a ragged black Stetson upon the ground shortly after dropping into his seat, removing it from the greasy rat's nest of russet hair. A scraggly beard dangled from his chin, accentuating the haggard face and matching the orb of glass nestled in one of his eye sockets that a long scar ran through. His other eye was haggard and bloodshot, fixed on the floor but staring horrors of history.
He ran his hands along a pair of dark, rugged jeans as he cast suspicious glances towards the shadows of the basement. Licking his lips, he sucked in a breath and glanced about the room at the soft sounds before he continued.
"They rounded us up. Middle of the night, yeah. Dragged us out, beat us. Dennis, tough bastard, he fought back. They killed him, right there. Slit his throat, see, and I couldn't – I couldn't do anything 'cept watch. And it only got worse from there."
The heel of a worn work boot tapped against the ground like the needle of a sewing machine as he paused, biting viciously upon his lower lip as he winced. Lifting a hand, which was missing a pinkie and its index finger beyond its first knuckle, he pushed back the tangled mess of hair that reached to his broad shoulders. Dropping his hand, he clasped it with the other and continued to gnaw upon his lip, focusing on its scar. Memories swam to the surface, the flash of a dirty knife before it retreated, painted in a fresh coat of blood and screams mingled with sobbing pleas echoed in his ears before he shook his head to clear them.
"They, y'know, they killed them. See, they tortured them for the info, but they never knew. Couldn't give up what they didn't know, right? And, me – I never broke. They woulda, heh, would've killed me, but they, y'know, they couldn't. Doesn't mean they ever stopped trying."
He was scared to close his eyes, terrified of the images that filled the darkness. The pleading, glassy gazes as the last shreds of his life slipped from his brothers-in-arms. The wash of relief as the torment finally ended, leaving them in a semblance of peace as the next thrashing subject was strapped into the blood-soaked chair. His teeth stabbed into his bottom lip, drawing blood, and the tension seeped from his body as the metallic taste filled his mouth. Releasing a weary sigh, he rubbed the heel of his palm into his surviving eye.
"I got out. Found out some . . . things 'bout myself. Got better, right. Then I got to work making sure that they hurt just like the boys did."
His voice descended into a guttural growl and he flexed his fingers, a jagged grin unfurling across his face, accompanied by a cruel chuckle. Looking back up again, he reined in his morbid glee, offering a contrite smile as he wiped his hand off on his thigh.
"It's, uh, heh – sorry. Anyway, they, uh, they found me a couple of months later, and they, y'know, they dragged me outta that shithole. But, the, uh, the damage, yeah, the damage was done. They couldn't do anything to help me. So, they kicked me out. Left me on the streets. Tried to forget 'bout me. And I was happy to let them to. I'd gotten everything I wanted out of them."
Settling back, he gave the surrounding chairs a relieved smile and an embarrassed chuckle as he scratched at his scalp.
"Welp. Sorry 'bout that. Just went on and on 'bout me, right. But, it helped. Really. And I went to thank yah."
The fresh corpses occupying all the chairs, save the one directly opposite of his own, made no protest at his hogging of the spotlight of the meeting. Barely managing to meet his gaze was a woman, breathing heavily as clutched at the hole ripped into her abdomen, blood soaking her black shirt. Tears turned her make-up into black rivers flowing down her face but fear, and a freshly shattered knee, kept her rooted in place. She sobbed, breaking out into a gasp as the man stood and passed across the floor. He wasn't overly tall but the leather duster sweeping to the floor granted him an imposing figure when coupled with his scars.
She gulped and tried to throw herself away from him but he moved with startling speed, fingers twisting in blonde, almost platinum, hair and throwing her back into her seat. With a sigh, he kneeled in front of her, setting a menacing hand upon her leg as the fingers of the other continued to toy with her hair. For a brief moment, he was fixated upon it, brushing the tangled locks back before pulling back his hand, licking his thumb and wiping at the running make-up with an almost paternal touch that she flinched.
"Ssshh," he murmured, his grip tightening upon her leg and causing her to freeze. "Atta girl. Made a bit of a mess, yeah?"
"P-p-please," she blubbered. "D-d-don't kill-kill me. I-I promise I won't – I won't tell -"
He interrupted her with a small chuckle and something that was meant to be a smile, cradling her face with his maimed hand as he looked to her morosely. "Aww, darlin'. I, yeah, I wish I could. I do. But, things just, y'know, they ain't that simple."
"Still, you listened to this, heh, this crusty ol' dog. I'll make this quick."
A moment later, his promise fulfilled, the one-eyed man stood in the center of his handiwork, regarding it carefully to ensure nobody else was getting up. Once content that such was the case, he strode forward, scooping up his hat as he passed and continuing for the door, where he paused with a hand upon his handle. Unbidden, he glanced over his shoulder to the crowd of corpses and he released a long breath, closing his eyes and finding the undersides of his eyelids blissfully blank.
"You're gonna have to, y'know, trust me on this, darlin'," he muttered, settling the dying hat upon his head, tugging it forward. "Death's a release. Surviving, though – heh – surviving's a hell of its own."
So, when we started posting this story, we had about twenty chapters already written out. We've had to rework almost everything for chapter 10 and onward. Hence the delay. We're working to ensure that it does not happen again.
Any other news, it took them long enough, huh? In all honestly though, we tried to progress their relationship at a natural rate. Let us know how we did!
Fun Fact: Arson's favorite food is pudding. This stems from his childhood when his mother, a junkie, alcoholic, and still a caring woman, would cook for him while high. Her attempts at more complex meals . . . often ended as a bit of a dud. But, she never messed up pudding, so sometimes she would make that for dinner and Arson would sit together with his parents about a big bowl of it, sharing it. Even now, pudding reminds him of those times.
Hope you enjoyed! Please leave a review or a helpful criticism! We appreciate both.
Random Mongoose: Hello! We hope that you find/remember your password. Thank you! We certainly try to be. We love our OC's and part of the reason behind their development is that they are characters for our own projects who we introduce here to find their voices and get some feedback on them. And we're glad that you find us frustratingly charming. We've enlarged that text, printed it, and have made labels out of it so that we have proof that somebody thinks so. And lucky you! We do intend to continue to explore Raven's issues with her emotions and the problems that could bring to a relationship. Just wait until you see Season 2 of Bad Moon Rising! And how was that evolution of their relationship? Sadly, no villains to interact with the Titans this time around, but that'll change very soon. Thanks for the review!