Welcome back everyone! Since this is an old fic, I updated all the chapters (8/11/2012). I strongly recommend rereading them so you know what's going on! So enjoy! Ah yes, this chapter is dedicated to Smiles-X-Giggles, for inspiring me to do more to develop Raven and Starfire's relationship, and also for beta reading this chapter. Thus the title of this chapter is "Games" :) Please read & review!

Disclaimer: I don't own the Teen Titans, nor Converses, just this story and my own, dear characters.


Chapter 9 : Games
Passion in the Palace


"This," Lee roared, hovering his hand frantically over the water damaged scene that was the master bed and bathroom. "Is completely, UNACCEPTABLE!" Workers droned in and out of the massive double doors that seemed themselves to be drooping in shame, which the Prince and Princess obvious lacked as they glared at each other while Lee freaked out. "This is the master bedroom! For the betrothed heirs of Silver Stone Island—can't you see what you've done!? The greenhouse, the theater room, the ballroom, the front terrace, but Heaven's sake, your own room?! You think you can just rip showers out of the wall whenever you feel like disagreeing?! Queen Rochelle will not be happy, this isn't just your ungrateful necks on the line here but mine as well!"

Robin glared at Raven standing opposite of him in the doorway. She connected his glare with her own, the daggers she shot screeched, "This is your fault. You stayed here all night and let the water get this bad and now I have to hear it from this diva because of your negligence."

Robin stared back incredulously, his chest rising at the wrongful accusation. His glare said to her, "Seriously? You think this is all my fault? Who's the one who decided to rip the showerhead off to begin with?"

"...And don't even get me started on these handmade Iranian carpets!"

"Look, jackwad. None of this would have happened if you weren't such a jerk last night."

"Oh, I'm the jerk now?"

"You've always been the jerk."

"And all the things you said to Speedy weren't of jerk language?"

"DON'T you bring Speedy into this, this is about your stupid negligence!"

"IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO YOU FREAK."

Lee slowed down his ranting as he noticed Robin and Raven pretty much in each other's faces, having some sort of unspoken heated debate. "Are you guys even paying attention?"

"Every word." They both muttered, never severing the angry connection they were forging.

Lee sighed and rubbed his temples, tucking his cell phone under his arm. "Look, unless you both want to be beheaded, I suggest you get out before the Queen finds out," Lee glanced at his sparkling watch. "Which is a miracle she hasn't found out all ready. Collect your little gang of teenagers and get out, please."

Robin and Raven looked side long at Lee, Rochelle must really be pissed if Lee of all people was going the extra mile to save their asses.

"And where do you suggest we go." Raven demanded.

"I don't know, food, whatever, it's not my concern just get out and don't get into anything stupid." Lee turned his attention to the cleaning cart that stood alone a little ways off. "Josie, you and, er, Beast Boy take these two with you somewhere."

Allikat and a green rat crept out from behind the cart looking guilty. Obviously they failed at eavesdropping. Beast Boy warped back to his human form and pushed Allikat on in front to the bedroom doors, weaving between the frantic workers. As they both caught sight of the dangerous looks of suspicion Robin and Raven gave them, they both plastered cheesing faces on.

"Oh don't worry about it Lee, we know the perfect place!" Beast Boy chimed.

"Right, and who am I to turn down getting dismissed so early in the day!" Allikat grabbed Robin's arm and pulled him down the stairs as Beast Boy did the same to Raven.

"Do I dare ask what 'the perfect place' is?" Raven asked without excitement.

"Just a place, called my former job." Allikat said over her shoulder.

"And why are we going to your former job?" Robin asked.

"Because its tasty!" Beast Boy shouted as they neared the front door. The doorman looked at him startled, and gestured if he should open the door. "Wait right here, I'll go get Starfire."

"And I'll go get Cy."

And with that, Beast Boy and Allikat dashed off in different directions, leaving Robin and Raven standing alone in the palace foyer with the doorman standing by dutifully.

Robin turned to Raven, who slid the hood of her thin dark-gray hoodie over her head and stood cross-armed, opposite of him. "Raven, for the sake of our friendships here, can you at least attempt to –"

"Shut up, Robin. I'll be a good girl, if you be a good boy."

"Fine then." Robin said, agitated. When Beast Boy pulled Starfire into the foyer, Robin gave Raven a look before going to Starfire and asking her how her rest was.

Raven rolled her eyes.

Cyborg came into the foyer then, holding Allikat up on his massive robotic shoulder. "So Allikat told me where we're goin'. And I have one suggestion," he said with booming pride. He walked over to Raven, and to her surprise, plucked her up and propped her so both girls were seated on either of his shoulders. "We take the Monster."

- x -

The monster truck ride to the Pizza Joint was interesting enough. As it turned out, it was indeed the same convertible monster truck Raven saw when she was on her way to the palace for the first time. And just as she saw them through the limousine window that day, Cyborg was yelling "BOOO YAAAHH!" and Robin was yelling "WOO HOOO!" as Cyborg raced the wheeled monster down the long palace drive. Beast Boy, sitting beside AlliKat with Robin and Starfire in the backseat, had morphed into a Harlequin Great Dane with his massive tongue flapping in the wind. Allikat was sitting on the headrest, rocking out to the rock remix of a popular rap song that blasted from the monster truck's surround sound. Starfire was halfway in the front, halfway in the back squealing in delight next to Raven's ear. Raven fought the urge to form a solid black wall to keep Starfire in the back, but stopped when Cyborg happily slapped Raven on the back. He gave a remote to Raven, and told her to choose her favorite station to blast. Before she could even take it, Starfire squealed and grabbed the remote, fascinated, and began flipping through stations, making Allikat stop mid-head pound. Starfire paused on a Classical station, delighted with the old-man opera singing. When Robin and human form Beast Boy tried to grab the remote from her hand to change the station, she held her tall, slim but muscular arm high in the air above their reach, and the group listened to Opera music all the way downtown.

- x -

At the Pizza Joint, Speedy greeted the group outside and welcomed them in. They all sat down at a large round table near the Arcade, and talked about their favorite pizza and favorite kind of games. Beast Boy, unable to bare most everyone talking about Meat Lover's pizza, went with Allikat to the front of the restaurant where the cash register and wall menu were. Allikat comfortably hit the familiar bell on the counter while Beast Boy looked over the vegetarian menu.

"Hey girl, what on Earth brings you back to the Joint?" behind the counter, a curvaceous girl with glowing chocolate skin and a translucent pair of wings skated over to Allikat.

"The gang wants pizza, and what better place to go than to the Joint? Plus, I'm not gonna pass up a chance to see my practical sister."

The girl put a hand on her hip, her wings coaxing a better response in slow questioning flaps. "You mean you need help getting Marmalade off your flustered nerves."

Allikat blushed as the girl pointed a tomato sauce covered spoon in Speedy's direction. "Bumblebee I can't believe you're pushing that on me, when I just got here. Come on now."

"You know he sulked around for a week when you left?"

'Just a week?' Allikat thought, rather disappointed.

"And look at him now, since you found him again he's been smiling all over the place. He finally talks about stuff that doesn't have to do with just meaningless sex."

Both girls looked on at Speedy. He was drinking yet another Sobe, explaining the rules of a card game called Egyptian Rat Screw to Robin, Raven, Cyborg and Starfire. Cyborg was engrossed in the rules, Starfire looked confused and determined. Robin pretended to pay attention, sneaking glances at Raven, who stared menacingly at Starfire. "You can only slam when there's a sandwich, double, or ten-on-jack. Slam the deck wrong and you have to burn three cards from the top of your deck." Speedy expertly shifted the deck, creating arches of cards on the table, scooping them up, and creating arches in the air. "Got that Princess?" Starfire responded with a question, but it was clear Speedy meant to address Raven.

Allikat rested her eyes on Raven. Speedy was trying to get her attention but she seemed focused on avoiding contact with Robin, who had his arm around Starfire's chair and was clarifying the rules for her. Looking back to Speedy and back again to Raven, Allikat said, "And you honestly think he's insouciant because of me."

"Sure," Bumblebee said.

'I don't think you're so right on that,' Allikat thought.

Bumblebee straightened up and addressed Beast Boy, who was drooling at the veggie pizza on the menu. "Mr. Green now I've seen you here a couple times before with the Prince."

Beast Boy snapped out of his reverie and turned to Bumblebee. "Uh, yeah," he smiled. "I'm Beast Boy."

"Mhm." Bee nodded and pointed with her spoon to the Tamaranian slamming her hand incorrectly on the deck of cards. "And who's the orange giant?"

"That's Starfire," Allikat said. "She's an old friend of the gang. She's staying at the palace since her planet's under attack. She's the Princess of Tamaran."

Bee acknowledged the flat glare Raven didn't seem to know she was giving Starfire. "A friend of the whole gang?"

"Well, not quite Raven."

"Raven hates Starfire for some reason," Beast Boy interjected.

"Maybe she's just jealous," Bee offered, as Raven got up from the table and left when Stafire squeezed Robin's hand in glee.

"WHAT?!" Beast Boy and Allikat blurted.

"Over Robin?"

"They freaking hate each other!" Allikat and Beast Boy started imitating what it'd be like if Robin and Raven where to show affection to each other. They couldn't take how bizarre they thought it would be, and busted out laughing.

Cyborg glanced up from the game at the sound of exploding laughter.

Bumblebee sighed and shrugged her shoulders. Glancing back at the table, her eyes connected with Cyborg's.

"And who," Bee's eyebrow rose and a sly, predatory smile formed on her full, crimson lips. "Might that hunk of android be?"

Allikat cleared her eyes from laughter "That— is Cyborg. And he's not an android, he's human."

"Yeah," Beast Boy said. "He's just got computer-machine parts."

Bumblebee smiled more dangerously, still holding her gaze with Cyborg. "M." she said in satisfaction. "I like him already."

Allikat grinned to Beast Boy. "Uh oh. Looks like Bee's been activated. She always liked her machine-toys, you know what I mean?"

Beast Boy spun around and gagged, fire burning on his cheeks.

"Hey, Bumblebee!" An incredibly short Mexican guy jumped up on the counter in front of Bumblebee, waving his red-gloved hands in front of her face. "Boss says to get back to work!"

Bumblebee blinked and gave an annoyed look to the little guy. "Más—"

Another short guy jumped onto the counter, a duplicate of the first. He was just as hyper and energized as the first. "Si, hermana, you know we're extra short on staff!"

"Damn, Menos I know!" Bee raised her voice and pushed away from the counter. "You Pizza Joint Nazi's don't eva let me forget." She started heading for the back, her shoulders raised in irritation. Relaxing, she looked back to Cyborg, smiled when they made eye contact, and disappeared into the back kitchen.

"What did she say to me?" One of the short guys said to the other. "¿Qué ella dijo a mí?"

"Aye, Menos let it go! We have customers!" Más turned and smiled at Beast Boy and Allikat.

"Aye! Customers!" Menos turned and smiled. "¿Cómo podemos ayudarle?"

There was a loud yelling in the back, and a manly voiced called for Más and Menos.

"¡Lo siento pero tenemos que ir!"

"¡Si! ¡Lo siento!" And together, they spun off into the kitchen, leaving Beast Boy and Allikat with blank expressions.

"Any idea what they said?"

"Beats me."

- x -

When Raven got up and left the game, Speedy tossed down his stack of cards. "Uh, I don't wanna play anymore, Rob you take over." Allikat slid in, picked up Speedy's cards and continued where he left off.

Speedy walked over to Raven, standing by the large window near the entrance. "Hey Princess, what's the matter?"

"Nothing," Raven said irritably.

"Oh come on. Is it the Starfire?"

Raven cringed. "I just don't appreciate when people whisper to each other like everyone else isn't there. I've had enough of that done to me in high school, and I don't need it on what's supposed to be my own turf."

"Wow, you really just can't stand that girl."

Raven confirmed this with a lazy glare out the window.

Speedy stepped closer to Raven. "OK. You know something is wrong when I have to be your voice of reason," he started. Both jumped when Beast Boy slammed his fist on the table, morphing from an unseen fly to a now winning Gorilla, and caused everyone to shout in surprise.

"Yo Green Man!" Bee shouted halfway between the kitchen doors. "Save your changing for OUTSIDE the joint!"

"As I was saying," Speedy said, as if this sort of thing happened all the time in the Pizza Joint. "You can't avoid her—she's here for a while and everyone seems more than willing to accommodate her."

"Accommodate her?" Raven hissed, causing Robin to very carefully look their way. "Since when do her needs come before those of the country's own Princess's?"

"Ahh, and there it is." Speedy expertly projected his voice toward Robin. "The Princess finally admits that she has needs that aren't being met. Hey Más and Menos! Let's get the Princess of Silver Stone an apple cinnamon pizza for her new found sense of self!"

"¡Sí Señor! Coming right up!"

"I don't have any needs that I can't take care of myself."

"Now you're starting to sound like Bumblebee over there. All I'm saying is that it might turn out to be more satisfying to let her in than push her away."

"Why would I let someone in that I don't trust."

"Well, do you trust Cyborg and Beast Boy and Robin and Allikat?"

"I..."

"You trust that they all want what's best for you, right?"

"I suppose, that is if they want what's best for their own future."

"Come on, Raven. If you can trust them, trust that their friendship with Starfire is made with good will and consideration. Besides, you'll only be hurting what you have with everyone else."

Unwillingly, Raven 's mind traveled back to her fight with Robin, after their somewhat bonding experience under the clouds. "...You can't be nice to Starfire like the rest of us... ...Forget it. There's only one person I'd tell anything to, and it's not you." Raven groaned and slid her eyes nearly closed. It was so frustrating and impossible that any of this bothered her, that she cared at all. If it bothered her so much to lose what she had with someone she didn't like over Starfire, what would it be like if she drifted apart from Beast Boy, from Cyborg? Even Speedy and Allikat seemed to be warming up awfully quick to the orange alien.

"Are you falling for Starfire too?" Raven asked accusingly.

"I think she's pretty hot-"

"SPEEDY."

"Okay, okay. I don't think she's so bad." He finally admitted. Raven sighed. "Small steps, Raven. Just as she's trying to make with you."

"With me." Raven repeated, unconvinced. At that moment, Starfire was raising Robin's hand in victory.

"Yeees, with you. I know you didn't forget about that tea she made for you."

Raven's mouth salivated instantly. Annoyed, she rubbed the corner of her mouth with her hoodie on the back of her knuckles. "Is that dessert pizza ready yet," she said, changing the subject. On cue, Más and Menos spun up in a flash, producing a sizzling, 42 inch Apple and Cinnamon Crunch dessert pizza.

"Extra big for our extra beautiful princess!" Más said, balancing on top of Menos's shoulders.

Raven stared at the huge golden pizza in disbelief. "There's no way I can eat this whole thing."

"Bueno, Princesa, you'd better try." Menos said, receiving a stomp on the shoulder from Más.

"You want me to carry that for you?" Allikat approached Raven, giving Speedy the Why-didn't-you-ask-her-that-already look. He seemed uncharacteristically submerged in very deep thought.

"Uh, no, it's okay." Raven said, but Allikat already slipped the over-sized pan of pizza onto the top of her head and balanced it with rather graceful, light fingertips.

"Come on, Rae, I didn't leave this job because I couldn't stand working here."

"Why did you leave?" Raven asked curiously.

From under the large pan, Allikat's eyes shifted to Speedy, and back to Raven. She sighed.

"Oh," Raven understood, and Allikat was thankful that she truly did.

"Where do you want this?"

"I guess I can share it with the group," Raven said, giving in to the Small Steps for Friendship Program. As she and Allikat walked back to the table of loud teens, she reassured herself that this honest attempt to befriend Starfire was for the sake of what she had, and could have, with everyone else. 'Small Steps to Friendship', she thought to herself. If Jinx were here, she'd be dying on the floor laughing.

"Look what Princess Raven brought to share," Allikat sang to the group as she slid the delicious, sweet pizza into the center of the round table.

All but Robin voiced their surprise and appreciation to Raven, as if she was sharing the best birthday cake that was made with ingredients nobody could find anywhere.

Starfire, consumed by the kind gesture, snatched Raven's small body and propped her between herself and Cyborg. "Sit Princess Raven, and let us feast as we do on my home planet!" Starfire started to grab eight slices all together with her mouth gaping wide to bite.

"How about-" Raven slapped her hand to shut Starfire's mouth and inwardly shuddered at the contact. "-we eat like normal Earthlings, and take one or two slices at a time."

"Dude!" Best Boy exclaimed. "Since when is anything 'normal' about this group!"

"He has a point," Cyborg said.

"No," Starfire straightened herself and mimicked Raven's posture. "Let us do as Princess Raven says, and eat in the traditional Earthling way. Please, Princess Raven, will you teach me the way of Silver Stone dining?"

Raven sighed heavily. 'Small Steps... Small Steps.'

Robin, who had been irritated that Speedy was still here at all, glanced his way. What was his deal, talking to Raven in private as if they all weren't here together. And now that Raven was among everyone again, she seemed especially keen on ignoring him. Was it honestly that hard for Raven to open up to him again? Robin was the one who saved her-twice-at the night club. Robin was the one who had to sleep in the same bed with her most nights. Robin was the person she was engaged to, so why did she open up to Speedy and not him? And Speedy was standing way over there, pretending to be all thoughtful. Enough was enough, he thought. Robin got up and walked over to him.

"What are you getting at Speedy. What do you want with Raven."

Startled, Speedy dropped his hand from his chin. "What do I want? This isn't about me or you," Speedy said, pulling Robin's shoulder to the window so they could talk more privately. "We need to give Raven a push."

"What are you talking about."

"Raven needs to warm up to the group, including you, Wonder Boy, but especially to that pretty alien over there. So I have a plan."

"What are you scheming."

"What? Listen to you, you sound just like her."

"What do you know what she's like."

"Richard. Focus."

Robin narrowed his eyes. "Alright, I'm listening."

"Left to their own devices, those princesses and that beloved palace of yours would not even see the beginning to their successful friendship. So, as I said, we need to give them a little push. Sure, the rest of the gang can help, but it's gotta be you and me. Since you know Starfire oooh so well," Speedy made an obscene gesture with his hands at Robin. "You'll be more of her guiding force. And naturally, since Raven and I, ya know, bow chika bow wow chika bow wow, I'll be guiding her sweet, sexy—"

"OK Speedy stop, before I punch you in your fucking face."

"Alright, alright. So, with us as their gentle guides and conflict buffers, we encourage them through games."

"...Games?"

"Well, more like opportunities to bond."

Robin looked back to the table. Raven—dark, quiet, and rather motionless—hopelessly lowered her face into her hand. Meanwhile bright, animate Starfire was grabbing the left over crusts from Raven's plate and every sauce and substance on the table, cheesing and giggling as she inhaled them all.

"How do you know Raven will want to go through with this."

"It will take time, Robin," Speedy said exhaustedly, reminding Robin of that mysterious phone call he got the night he met Raven. "But, with supportive friends it should go by much smoother."

Robin took a deep breath and looked at the princesses again. He did want to protect them, from each other. He wanted Raven just to be nice to Starfire, them being buddy-buddy wasn't exactly what he had in mind. That would make things a bit awkward, for reasons he couldn't really pinpoint. It made sense for him to guide Starfire, after all he'd always wanted to show her life on Earth. But would Raven and Speedy become inseparable with him as her guide? At this rate, they were already becoming inseparable. Yes, Robin would definitely prefer Raven to spend her time becoming friends with Starfire than getting closer and closer with his insufferable, long-time competition.

"I'm not gonna have to worry about you doing anything to either of them, am I?"

"Oh Robin," Speedy said, full of pity. "It's not me you should be worried about."

Robin gave Speedy a bewildered look.

"So, do we have a deal?" Speedy held out his hand.

Robin stared critically at Speedy's outstretched hand. Before he could take it, Speedy pulled his hand back.

"I'm probably gonna need residence at the palace, to make sure everything goes according to plan."

"No way," Robin started to turn away.

"Would you rather her come running back to me, alone, downtown again every time you do something to piss her off?"

"Fine," Robin said, gripping Speedy's hand hard. "One room. In the west wing. Where I can keep an eye on you."

"Heelloooo Palace life!" Speedy cheered. "It's great doin' business with ya, buddy."

"I'm not your buddy," Robin growled as Speedy threw a comradely arm over his shoulder.

"Oh, but you will be," Speedy generated yet another bottle of Sobe.

The two masked teens headed back to the group at the table.

"And what about the games?" Robin whispered.

"I have the perfect idea."

"Friend Robin and new Acquaintance Speedy!" Starfire greeted, rising from her seat. "Please join us in the 'whopping down' of the pizza!"

Raven looked up from her semi-permanent facepalm with a pale look that said, "Dear Mother of Azarath, please channel me strength."

Robin and Speedy sat down in sync, both picking up a slice of pizza and taking a bite like they were mirror images.

"So gang," Speedy started. "Have any of you been to a haunted house?"

- x - x - x -

As they all cleaned up and got ready to leave the Pizza Joint, each one of them shared their excitement about going to a haunted house. Cyborg, Beast Boy and Speedy spoke about past experiences and popular stories. Raven quietly voiced how the idea seemed "cool". Allikat asked Bumblebee if she'd like to come along, but due to short staff, Bee regretfully declined. Not without putting her number in Cyborg's system, though. Robin and Raven agreed that going to the palace before the haunted house was a bad idea, considering that Queen Rochelle was most likely back and would punish everyone for the destruction of their bed and bathroom. Eventually the chattering group made it to the parking lot where they headed back for the monster truck.

Robin waited for the group to go on ahead before he dropped back beside Raven. "Raven, can I talk to you for a minute?"

"No."

Starfire paused as everyone else carried on. "Friend Robin, are you and Princess Raven not joining us in the vehicle of monsters?"

"Yeah, just a minute Star. You guys go ahead we'll meet you at the truck in a few minutes."

Starfire nodded and flew after Cyborg, Speedy and Beast Boy.

"What do you want Robin, I'm tired of dealing with you."

"Look Raven, I just wanted to say that I'm sorry. I'm sorry for being a jerk last night. I was in a... not so good mood. And I'm really sorry for crashing you through the glass in the shower."

Raven raised an eyebrow.

"You just seemed so tough even though you're so small—"

"I'm not afraid to fight you, Robin."

That shocked Robin. He didn't expect her to say something like that. "Well... you kinda suck at fighting. I mean you're better than a lot of people but—"

"Is this what you came to tell me?"

"No, not at all. I just..." Robin was tongue tied, again. After all the fighting they'd been through, why did he need Raven to forgive him? Was a clean slate all that important? It seemed the only way to get her to open up to him again—a feeling that he was becoming strangely addicted to, even though he could never admit that. "I just think..." Raven was looking at him, expectantly, those big amethyst eyes once again waiting for him to say what he really should say. "I just think... you should be careful," he said finally.

"Careful." she repeated.

"Yeah. I know you guys've gotten to know each other somewhat, but I've known Speedy for a long time, and I just think—"

"Are you seriously on Speedy again? What is it with you and him?"

"Nothing, I just don't trust—"

"Oh you don't trust Speedy. It's okay for Robin to not trust Speedy but Heaven forbid I don't trust your little Tamaran."

"That's different, ok?"

"How is it different, Robin."

"Well for starters, Starfire is not some whore that wants to fuck everything in sight—"

Raven stared at him bewilderedly. "Speedy is not like that."

"Yes he is."

"No he's not."

"Yes he is!"

"No, Robin, he's not!"

"He was a horn dog in high school; he tried to screw every girl in his grade before he transferred and now—"

"Every girl?"

Raven and Robin both looked at Allikat, who was standing in disbelief between them and the Pizza Joint entrance.

"Did he really try to sleep with every girl?" She asked again, with vacant eyes.

When Robin nor Raven—still surprised that she had been there listening—didn't respond immediately, she shook her head and sped off to the monster truck. She climbed into the passenger seat and pulled out her mp3 player from the dashboard, and plugged the headphones into her ears.

Cyborg and the group looked up from the pavement and decided they should all get in too. When they noticed that Robin and Raven were still far away, Speedy yelled, "Hurry up you two! Or are you too chicken to step on to Heather's Drive?"

Raven turned back to Robin. "I've had plenty of time to listen to Speedy talk. And I can say without a doubt that Speedy is not actually like that," she said finally. "Besides, what does it matter if I happen to get taken advantage of? It doesn't matter to you."

"Of course it matters!" Robin glared seriously at Raven, causing them both to stop short in surprise. She stared at him, seeming confused. Yet again, her eyes presented him the opportunity to simply speak what was really on his mind, but instead, he found himself beating around the bush. "You can't just... go off with anyone, didn't your guardians ever tell you that?"

Raven glared at Robin, annoyed that he was starting to sound like Madam and Mister. "Are we done here?"

"All I wanted to do was apologize, Raven."

"Apology duly noted." Raven was now irritatingly uneasy at feeling her emotions mix at his sudden interest in her well being. How long was it going to last before he cut her off again?

"Why do you keep doing that! Why do you keep pushing me away?" Robin said before he could stop himself, and instantly regretted it.

Something ignited in Raven's eyes, and Robin felt an inexplicable tinge of sadness in the pit of his stomach. She looked him straight on, her face was expressionless, but her eyes...

"You, more than anyone else here, remind me that I'm not human. And you seem to do it, just because you can."

A powerful wave of shock paralyzed the air in Robin's chest. Sadness. Cold. Behind his mask, he searched Raven's face, her eyes, for a meaning that he couldn't seem to put together.

"You push me away Robin. I can't read minds very well, and since I'm not Starfire, I'll never know what's inside of yours. There are things about me that I don't want anyone to know. You saw me at a vulnerable time and walked away. So I'm sorry if you push me away, and I decide to stay on the safe side and do the same."

Raven stared vacantly at him for a few moments more, as he stared back, speechless. When she realized that some telling words had escaped her mouth, she suddenly shook. She fought to conceal her moment of vulnerability by shooting a vicious, accusing glare at him, but she couldn't help but feel that a part of her had been lost, or misplaced.

Robin, as quick and intelligent as he was, could not think of one thing to say. When he managed to swallow, Raven melted into her shadowy soul-self and materialized in the back seat of the monster truck, looking epically pissed off and misplaced. Though he couldn't begin to understand exactly what she meant about being 'not human' or the things she was dealing with, he did feel something. Something he couldn't yet understand, but something his intuition told him to fight for. As everyone hopped, climbed and landed into the car, Robin walked back silently, his mind a labyrinth of questions and confusion.

- x - x - x -

As Cyborg drove the monster truck away from the city and further into the country sides, the group listened to Speedy go on about the failures of people who've tried to make it through the haunted, abandoned house of Heather's Drive.

"They say the true form of Lady Heather appears differently for each person that encounters her ghost," Speedy said mystically. "Her longing to be accepted by society, as well as her undying resentment of being casted away is what causes her to change into a form you secretly desire, or secretly fear."

"How could she know what I fear or desire," Beast Boy said coolly, trying to sound unconvinced and completely unafraid. He sat in the middle of the back seat, sporting a pair of Cyborg's over-sized hi-tech sunglasses without his permission.

"She's a ghost, BB," Allikat said from the passenger seat. "They can feel out whatever's in your brain."

"That is, if you believe in ghosts." Cyborg said. "It all just seems like superstition to me."

"Oh you say that now," Speedy continued. "But once you feel the presence of her estate, you won't be able to deny that there are things there, much less be able to speak at all."

"Oh, that sounds most unpleasant!" Starfire cried, squeezing Robin's hand to her left.

"Have you even been there before?" Robin glared at Speedy, irritated that he was such an attention hog.

"Well... not exactly. Bee and I tried to get Alli to come with us but she's just too scared."

"Oh, s'il vous plaît!" Allikat turned around in her seat to yell at Speedy. "You were the one shaking in your bow and arrows trying to shoot every leaf that fluttered in the wind!"

"I was just trying to protect you, Allikat." Speedy gave his warm and charming smile, but she just glared at him and turned back around in her seat. From beside him on the far right of the back seat, Raven gave him the disapproving head shake of failure as she gazed over the hilly countryside.

"This eerie place that we are going, is it dangerous?" Starfire asked. Her eyes were wide as she absorbed every creepy bit of information about Heather's Drive.

"As dangerous as any other old building in Silver Stone," Cyborg said, still unconvinced that Heather's Drive was actually haunted, though even he couldn't deny that just driving there was giving him the heebie-jeebies.

Speedy shook his head. "Any building that has the ability to make you say words that aren't yours can't possibly be considered a 'safe house'."

Beast Boy shook his head nervously. "Dude, that can't be right. Someone is just making up all this crap to scare people." The thought of being possessed was making Beast Boy turn a bluish shade of green.

Allikat also shook her head. "We didn't even turn on to the driveway last time, and Bumblebee screamed; said she heard her own voice whispering for her to go play in Heather's basement. There is no record that that house even has a basement."

Starfire squeezed tighter on Robin's hand as she and Beast Boy nervously bit their fingernails. "I don't think that I could bear to hear a voice inside my head that is not my own."

"It's not so bad," Raven said.

Robin gave Raven a look, but she ignored it.

"It's not so bad when you have someone like me nearby," Speedy cheesed, flexing out his muscles.

'Here we go again,' Robin sighed loudly.

"Unlike Robin over there, I happen to have a perfect score in archery. When I shoot, I never miss."

"Real handy in dealing with ghosts," Raven said.

"I'm also a great public speaker. I can charm anyone who can hear my voice, dead or alive."

"Which is why you're still single." Allikat said.

"With this kind of unrivaled physical perfection, no one can beat or resist me." Speedy confidently took another swig of his drink.

"And not to mention, you're still a virgin."

Cyborg slammed the breaks to the monster truck as Speedy sprayed out Sobe from his mouth. Everyone turned to gape at Speedy as he stared at Raven in complete horror.

"Well." She said, without any regrets. "I just thought everyone would like to know." She couldn't help the sly smile that slithered across her lips.

Speedy glanced at Allikat, who turned back around in the passenger seat, shaking her head. He didn't miss her satisfied smile or the faint blush on her cheeks. Speedy sat back in between Raven and Beast Boy. "Not cool, Princess." was all he said.

As Cyborg drove on, he and Beast Boy bombarded Speedy with comments about how it couldn't be true, how it must be true. How he did this and how he was like that and how it didn't make any sense, and how it all made perfect sense.

Robin looked away from the group and over the passing countryside. So Speedy was just a flirt who never did anything serious with anyone? That's twice today that he felt like a complete idiot.

Raven looked at Speedy slumping down, deflated in his chair. Perhaps she should throw him a bone, she thought.

"Big deal, I'm a virgin."

The entire group fell into silence, shocked that the mysterious, introverted Raven would share such private information. All of the tension seemed to now be directed toward Robin, who sat on the far left in the back seat.

Cyborg caught his masked eyes in the rear view mirror, and raised his own eyebrows with a look that said, 'You better get on that.'

Robin jerked his glare over the country side again, an angry wildfire screaming on his face.

"So..." Speedy started, "Are you looking to change that?"

Before Raven or Allikat could yell at Speedy, Robin threw Best Boy's converse shoe right into the side of his head.

"Remember that rule of the GAMES, Speedy," Robin growled before settling back next to Starfire.

As Speedy grinned and rubbed his head, everyone gave Robin a confused look, but decided to let it go. As long time competition, those two had their own way of communicating and even had their own way of moving in sync. For all they knew, the rules Robin spoke of were from a game created years ago.

"Is it bad," Starfire began, "to be a virgin?"

"Of course not," Beast Boy spoke. "It shows great virtue!"

"Yeah..." Cyborg said, glancing at the hopelessness that was Beast Boy. "We all know that you're extremely virtuous."

Everyone had to smile to themselves at that. Poor Beast Boy. He was probably going to die a virgin.

"Well... that is unfortunate," Starfire said, looking down at her purple shorts. "Because... I... am not."

Cyborg slammed on the breaks and everyone turned in their seat with wide eyes on the innocent alien.

"You're... You're not?" Robin managed to blurt.

"What is worse... I... enjoyed it." Starfire shut her eyes, as if to block out seeing everyone's faces. When she opened her eyes, she panicked at the disbelieving shock on Robin's face. She drew both hands to the sides of her face, tears threatening to spill from her huge green eyes. "Well, it was my sister," she tried to defend herself, as quickly as her limited English would let her.

"Oh man, I gotta hear this," Speedy said.

"Many nar'g forgs ago, she pushed me into a dark room with no windows. There were many young men that she liked to do most unvirtuous things with, and she persisted that I... I—"

"That you do what, Starfire?"

"Oh! I cannot say it is far too terrible!"

"It's okay Starfire, no one is going to judge you."

Starfire looked to Raven, who stared back at her with an unreadable expression. "Well... as the boys began to circle around me, my sister handed me some Zorka Nogn. I wanted to be like her so much and the boys all seemed so frightening, so I.. I... I drank the Zorka Nogn."

Everyone stared at her with apprehensive expressions. "Did they..."

"YES!" She cried out, tears bursting from her face. "My world became dizzy and suddenly I was wearing a great gown and headdress and spinning between boy after boy after boy, as they all cheered me and praised me! My sister laughed as bright flowers floated out of her mouth, and the moon rained sweet-smelling fires that blossomed into new born babies and... oooh it was so terrible and thrilling and I did not want it to stop! Had my K'norfka found out about the images I had seen, my place as princess would be stripped and I would never be allowed to be wed!"

Everyone stared speechless at Starfire as she cried and blew glowing, blue snot into her fuzzy handkerchief.

"Tamaran culture," Raven eventually said. "Interesting."

Cyborg continued on the drive as they all reassured Starfire that her forced Zorka trip didn't make her not-a-virgin, and that she was still considered pure and virtuous by Earthling standards. After soaking her handkerchief and tears and snot, Starfire was finally able to resume speaking about her life on Tamaran. Much to everyone's delight, Raven seemed to be genuinely accepting the information Starfire told her about the Tamaran standards of being a princess, and what it was like being raised from birth as one. Though Raven didn't speak much, or even look at her much, she did seem to be making the effort to simply listen to her. Raven even batted Speedy and Beast Boy down when they giggled over Starfire's awkward comments, probably because in some way, Raven could understand where the oddball's thoughts and feelings where coming from.

Three and a half hours went by where the group was simply enjoying listening to the music from Silver Stone's radio stations. As the sun began to set and their proximity to Heather's Drive grew closer, a strange feeling of foreboding seemed to join them in the car. The few passing cars and farms they saw on the way grew scarce about an hour ago, and as they drove on, signs of human life seemed nonexistent in the expanse of their darkening surroundings. The radio station had turned to complete static, and even the static made a dying gurgling sound and went silent as Cyborg cautiously steered the truck on to the final road. Passing deeper into the thick, silent woods, not a single firefly glowed and not a single leaf turned in the wind.

Since no one seemed able to speak and suggest turning around, Cyborg warily pressed on to the haunted, waiting house.

Though Raven enjoyed horror stories and creepy locations, she began to feel an unpleasant, jittery feeling inside her. As the revving noise of the monster truck accompanied them along the road, she could feel a faint pressure in the core of her existence. No, she was not afraid of this place, not even a little excited yet either, but deep down she was becoming weary... of who she was. Everyone else seemed to be paranoid about this approaching house, staying quiet and playing cool as to not give away how creeped out they were. They held on to something—the steering wheel, an iPod, a hand, a bow—reminding themselves that the myths were all untrue, that they came just for shits and giggles.

But what she felt, that unknown pressure, it wasn't this place... it was her...

'Raven are you okay?'

Was that Robin's voice, in her head? When Raven snapped her head in his direction, she saw Robin and only Robin staring at her with a face full of sick confusion.

Before Robin could open his mouth to speak to her, Cyborg halted the truck and croaked, "We're here."


Next...
Chapter 10: Heather's Drive
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