Author's Note: First off, happy birthday to the wonderfullest chicker-doodle in the world. Er, that would be Heather... Yup, it's her birthday. I just finished this today and I figured I'd post it as her birthday present. Hope you like, Pagemasta! Well... this made me sad. It's the longest chapter, which I think is kinda funny. I dunno. I feel like something's missing. But that might just be me. Find me again at the bottom of the chapter for further notes on it! Zip!
Chapter 13: Epilogue: Wash Away
The Titans watched her approach and somehow, they knew to say nothing.
Slowly and silently, she walked over towards the pizza parlor, footsteps echoing, and sat down at a table outside the restaurant, staring blankly out across infinity.
Her fellow Titans followed her slowly and soon they were six feet away from the table she occupied.
Beast Boy was the first to break the tense air.
"So, uh, did you kick some ass?" he asked, chuckling slightly.
She did not reply.
Beast Boy looked to Robin curiously. "OK, are we sure that's the real Raven?"
Robin was watching her, almost in a trance. "Positive," he replied.
"Yes," said Starfire, looking at Robin. "Robin would know should this person be an imposter."
"So... what's eating her?" Cyborg asked rhetorically.
The other Titans needlessly shrugged in reply.
Eventually, wringing her hands uncertainly, Starfire dared to approach her silent friend. Biting her lip, she reached out to her with tender words. "Raven, my friend," she said, taking the seat across from her. "I know you have experienced a great ordeal."
Her companion remained still.
Starfire looked down at the table, then reached across it and clasped Raven's hands in hers. "I have seen your past," she whispered, "and I know your victory was bittersweet. You won back your body, but you lost so much more."
Raven's eyes seemed to focus for the first time on the alien girl seated across from her. She paused, then nodded.
Starfire smiled at her warmly as she rose. "I am glad you have come back to us," she said. "Now come home with us."
She waited patiently. Raven watched her a moment, then followed suit, rising to meet her friend.
They stared at each other mutely a moment, their faces twin images of inscrutability, but their eyes deep with meaning.
Unexpectedly, Raven threw her arms around Starfire and the Tameranian gratefully returned it, though a slight feeling of deja vu made her shiver, and she too experienced some of what Raven had lost. For she, too, had on some strange level, lost a very dear friend.
Raven knew this. And she hugged Starfire all the tighter for it. No tears escaped her eyes, however the bittersweet agony could be distinctly heard in the whisper only Starfire's ears could hear.
It was over. Whatever had happened, and most of them were still not clear on the details, it was over. The days all seemed to blur together after that exceptionally long one. The others simply left Raven alone, for it was obvious she needed space and time to straighten things out in her head.
Though everything returned to relatively normal, Beast Boy noticed a difference in the tower.
It was quieter.
Not that he wasn't having burping contests with Cyborg or loud kareoke rounds with Starfire or turning up the volume on the TV while game-stationing it just to get the full effect. All the sights and sounds that defined the Titans were still present. It was something entirely different that was absent. An unusual sound, present for only a day and then gone again with the wind.
Beast Boy didn't know what to make of it.
"Dude, you gonna play?" Cyborg asked from the couch.
"In a minute," the shape shifter replied, heading to the kitchen.
He opened the fridge and smiled at the bowl of whatever-it-was that sat on the bottom shelf, bubbling and threatening to grow mold.
He found himself lifting the bowl off of the shelf and placing it on the counter, uncovering the saran wrap and just stared at it.
The girl that had lived in this tower for just under twelve hours didn't leave much behind, and definitely nothing tangible. She took everything with her when she left. But she did leave one thing.
The memory took hold of his imagination. How could that not have been Raven? He'd felt closer to her than he ever had before, excepting maybe when he was inside her mirror. But she'd seemed so... real to him somehow. It bothered him, and he was afraid to talk to her about it.
He didn't want to admit it to himself, but he missed her laughter. He missed the way she'd just sit there in the kitchen with him, talking about pointless stuff, even the time when she gave him tabasco instead of water.
But then, he reminded himself, the real Raven probably wouldn't have done that.
He thought back now on some of the little quirks she did that were rather un-Raven like. And somehow, he didn't seem to care much.
Even when she had been with them, something inside him told him that it wasn't really her– somehow, he could just tell. And yet, he'd denied it to himself. 'No,' he'd thought. 'This has to be Raven. Because if it's not...'
He never could find an end to that sentence.
And since she wasn't...?
He shook his head to clear it and sat down at the table, something inside him feeling strangely hollow. His stomach began to twist.
No, he thought. That wasn't Raven. But underneath it all, Starfire's right. She was my friend.
There was no other answer. Beast Boy didn't know what he would do if this affirmation proved to be untrue. To feel so close to someone and have them be... wicked??? No, it just didn't fit. It would be like...
He shook his head again, ridding himself of those thoughts. He couldn't go through that again. Not now, not ever.
She had to be his friend. It wasn't Larkin in there, it couldn't have been. And yet, it was.
It was a perplexing paradox.
In a burst of fury he lifted the bowl of whatever-it-was and threw it hard against the kitchen wall. The strange doughy liquid splattered over the wall, sliding down it like wet spaghetti, joining the plastic bowl on the floor.
The call was Starfire's. Beast Boy's eyes went wide as he realized what he'd done.
"Shit!" he muttered through gritted teeth. "I'm not cleaning that up!"
Instantly, he was a mouse and he hid in a hole in a bottom cupboard. Peaking his nose out of the hole, he saw Starfire purple boots walk in, pause, do a 180, pause again.
The mouse was silent.
Finally, the boots walked out of the kitchen.
But Beast Boy didn't leave his dark hiding place.
Still in mouse form, he sank against the wooden wall with a sigh, still running over the unbelievable facts in his mind.
Raven might have been abducted by aliens and replaced with a clone. Raven might have been under the control of evil zombie monsters. Raven might even have been made Slade's apprentice. And things would be OK. Because he could have accepted that. Because he would have taken definite action against this obviously evil scheme and freed Raven from whatever captivity she was in. That's what they did, after all. Save people.
But wasn't it Larkin, Charles Larkin, who saved Starfire down by the pizzeria? Wasn't it Larkin who didn't bat an eyelash when Cyborg snatched his tail? Wasn't it Larkin who saved them all from that huge magic snake that was about to crush them all to death?
And wasn't it Larkin who, in the end, turned out to be the real snake, coiling around their minds and manipulating them as Robin had so often tried to tell them?
Beast Boy decided then and there that it was way too much for him to sort out. He remembered what Larkin did to Robin, what Larkin had done to him. He remembered, also, Robin and Starfire's accounts of what Larkin had done to Raven. And the Larkin he supposedly spent twelve hours with had seemed... well, nothing like the one he'd heard about. Definitely not the Larkin who possessed Raven six months ago and threw him against a rock.
Unconsciously, Beast Boy rubbed a scar across his stomach.
He didn't understand. He probably never would. And no matter how much all the facts denied it, or how his head kept saying he was wrong, his heart kept telling him that his first gut instinct about the girl that lived in Titans' Tower for twelve hours that day was correct. She was not evil. Just a little lonely.
And deep down, he pitied that girl more than anyone else in the world. Especially now that she was never coming home.
She looked up at the office number, unconvinced she had the right one. She looked skeptically back down the hall at Annie, the secretary who looked like a disorganized but neurotic librarian as she flipped frantically through papers on her desk scattering them everywhere.
Raven shook her head and sighed. Timidly, she knocked on the door.
A gruff voice answered her.
"Come in, come in," the voice said, annoyed.
Mutely, she turned the metal doorknob and entered the office and took a seat in front of his desk. The man in the chair wasn't looking at her. He was finishing something up on his computer, his eyes on the monitor but his head inclined towards Raven, getting ready to turn to face her.
He had brown hair that looked as though it had just been cut but his brown stubbly beard looked like it needed a little attention. His white coat was neatly pressed and stainless but his purple tie with cows on it was a little tacky. His eyes were a deep and vibrant brown, though there were lines at the corners and bags underneath. Nonetheless, his eyes shone with an inner vigor, like he was the Energizer Bunny that just kept going and going and going...
Probably from gallons of coffee a day.
As he typed the last few words and closed the document, his eyes flew to his guest with a smile– then he realized who she was and he nearly fell back in his chair.
Collecting himself, he shook his head and apologized. "I'm sorry," he said. "We don't see you people in here often."
"Hm, my people, indeed," Raven muttered.
The man was flustered. "I didn't mean–"
"I'm sure you didn't," Raven interrupted.
Both persons were silent a moment as Raven stared at him inscrutably. He began to get hot under his collar and he loosened his tie and opened a window with a cough.
"So, uh, what brings you to Jump City General?" he asked when he could tolerate her staring no longer.
She didn't answer. She didn't know how to. She'd never thought that it would be so difficult to say.
"Abby Clarke is dead."
Silence answered her unasked question.
It was hard to tell what he was thinking. His reaction wasn't a predictable one. As she spoke the first words, he had watched her intently, obviously not expecting the last one. However when that fateful 'd' word did escape her lips, nothing changed in his expression other than a fleeting eyebrow raise and a blink, perhaps even a curt and silent gasp. And then there were no more words.
"For some reason, I thought you should know..."
What else did she need to say?
"I don't know what else you want me to say..." Raven muttered, looking away towards a corner in the wall. "I'm not very good at this, I'm sorry."
The doctor sighed as he leaned back in his chair and crossed his legs, putting his fingers together. "It's alright," he said. "I know how strange those words can sound when you say them. I have to do it every day. My God, Abby Clarke... there's a name I haven't heard in a while."
He sighed again but said no more, staring off distantly at the ceiling as if lost in a daydream. "So what did it, in the end?" he said at last, sounding distant. "The flu? Some crazy bacterial infection? Bad cold?"
"Try giant snake," Raven said coolly, annoyed at his casual demeanor.
This seemed to snap him out of his day dream and he looked at her confused.
"She didn't die of AIDS," Raven clarified, eying him pointedly. "I mean, that's what you assumed, isn't it?"
"Well, it's been years–" he said, flustered. "I just assumed, since that's why she left, to deal with it, and, you know it... Wait, how... Why are you here, telling me this? And you, of all people?"
"Do you have a problem with cynical female superheroes, Dr. Langley?" Raven asked, raising her eyebrows.
"No," he said with a small laugh. "I mean..."
"I know what you mean," Raven interrupted.
Langley sighed again and put his hands over his face. "Abby, Abby, Abby... How was she, kid? Before she died?"
"Don't call me kid," Raven said evenly.
"We kinda lost touch after she left JC General," Langley muttered, more to himself than Raven it seemed. "God, what a woman. Always up for anything. You know, kid,"– and Raven frowned at this– "we were on a Ferris wheel at the fair once and she asked me, and I mean seriously asked me, if when we were at the top she'd be able to touch a star. I laughed, but she was dead serious."
"So what'd you say?" Raven asked, her voice calm.,
He sighed, remembering. "I said, 'Doll, when you're up there, you can touch anything.' So then she asked if she'd get stardust on her fingers and I told her not to worry because it didn't stain."
Raven smiled weakly as he sighed again. He wasn't as bad a guy as she had originally thought. "So was this before or after you learned she was HIV positive?"
He paused a moment as he frowned to remember. "I think... I think it was after, actually."
Raven's lips twitched into a brief smile again and she rose to her feet. "Well, thank you, Dr. Langley, this has been very enlightening."
"Glad to be of help," Langley said, rising to his feet as well, confused at her sudden move to leave. "Where are you off to so fast?"
"Oh, you know," Raven said with a shrug and a wink. "Villains to catch, lives to save."
The wink seemed to stun Langley and he blinked. "I thought you were the humorless one?"
"Abby taught an old dog some new tricks," Raven said simply. "And then some."
He smiled. "I'll be she died fighting."
Raven returned his smile. "You don't know how true those words are."
"How is she?"
His large stature stood in the half-light of the cluttered room, staring at it's only other occupant: a small teenager hunched over his desk. The latter looked up at him, confused.
"What do you mean?" Robin asked.
Cyborg sighed and looked down. "I mean, how is she? Is she dealing? I mean, you would know, wouldn't you?"
Robin looked away from him and back at the work at his desk, mutely. There was a strange silence.
Cyborg licked his lips. "Well, you know, she hasn't been talking much... not that she ever talks much, but... Well, she's been locking herself away a lot more frequently. And, well, I guess that's, well, normal for her, isn't it? It just seems so... so unnatural now somehow, after that whole episode last week. I mean, he was only in her body for a day and he still impacted all our lives immensely. Obviously, her most of all, but... But with him in there, the tower was... different somehow. And Rob, man... I hate to say it, but I'm kinda scared."
Robin blinked but didn't look up. "Scared of what?"
"Scared of her. But mostly, scared of, well, me." Cyborg waited for Robin to ask what he meant, but his friend was silent. Sighing, he continued. "I mean... what if I treat her differently now? What if I don't like that she's reverted back to her normal self? I liked her fine before, and then she changed and... Well, I liked that new Raven a lot too, basically because I thought she was still Raven and the fact that she was opening up really made me happy for her. And now, she's more closed than she ever was before, talking less, hiding more... What if I hold some grudge that she doesn't deserve? She's my... well, she's a good friend of mine, Robin. I don't want to..."
"Cyborg," Robin interrupted harshly. The half-robot stopped and looked up, but the boy's eyes were still on the work in front of him. "Listen to me. You said it. You liked Raven how she was before. Now, she's back and she just needs a little time and space before she can come back to us. And you'll remember her, and you'll... you'll love her for it. I hardly think there's an issue here."
"Dammit," Cyborg muttered. "Why do I always have to be the one who feels like shit after all these crazy mind games?"
"I think this time, we all do," Robin said.
"Yeah," said Cyborg. "Beast Boy feels like shit because he lost the Raven he always wanted and he was betrayed yet again. You feel like shit because you thought everyone was against you, and you felt helpless at that scene, Robin– don't deny it, I saw it– and it killed you. Standing there, watching her fight. You were the one who held the rest of us back, but I know you. You have an instinct to fight, to protect. And you couldn't. Not in a fight like that. And now, you feel betrayed because she won't even look at you. And Starfire... Hell, I don't know what the hell that girl's on, but whatever it is, I want it. She's all sunshine and roses again. As if it all doesn't matter. But she feels it. I know she does. Somewhere."
"And you?" Robin said after a moment.
"Me?" Cyborg laughed. "I feel like shit for the same reason I did last time: I feel like an idiot. I feel like I should have known it all along. I should have never trusted Larkin. I should have joined your side sooner. And I feel like somehow, all over again, I let her down. And that I'll continue to let her down. Robin... can I accept her again? Can I accept the way I let her down?"
Robin swivelled around in his chair to finally face his friend. "Cyborg, look. You did nothing wrong. You did all you could do. And when it came down to it, you were always on her side. Hell, did you see the way she freaked when you grabbed that snake's tail? She understands, Cyborg. I think that, like her, you just need a little time. As do the rest of us."
Cyborg nodded. "Yeah, I guess you're right. Thanks, man." Cyborg gave his leader a weak smile as he turned to leave.
"And Cyborg?" The named Titan paused. Robin smiled at his back, though looked rather awkward. "Thanks for backing me up. It really... means a lot... to me. And to Raven."
Cyborg smiled to himself. "Anytime, man."
"Perhaps you would permit me to sit with you?" The request was innocent enough. Silently, Raven acquiesced with a nod.
Starfire sat down next to Raven on the rocks and hugged her knees. For a long moment, she didn't speak as she watched Raven skip stones as fluidly as she had done a week ago. The deja vu was uncanny. Raven had been by her side only a week ago and they had shared an intimate moment of her past here. Only it wasn't Raven. It wasn't even her past. It was Larkin's. She realized that now.
"Your stones are skipping well," Starfire commented quietly. Raven said nothing. Starfire looked at her reflection in the water and for the first time wondered about the reassurance of physical appearances. Her pale skin, her long red tresses, even her green eyes were no real indication of who she was. And these trivial things were no real indication of who Raven was either. And yet, that seemed to be all they knew.
All but Robin, Starfire reminded herself.
She looked up at the telekinetic, skipping stones as if Starfire wasn't even there. She would have given anything just to know her at that moment, to get inside her and feel her...
She blinked. Robin was not the only one who knew what it was like to be Raven.
"It seems that you are getting used to traveling between bodies, are you not Raven?" she said with a smile. Raven looked up at her blankly.
"What do you... Oh." And she turned back to skipping stones. Starfire was a bit disappointed with her dull recognition. She had hoped that by that comment she could identify with Raven's situation.
"I..." she began. "I wish there was someway... for me to understand you."
This caught Raven's attention and she looked up at the girl, but now, Starfire was staring out across the water. "I do not think I need to apologize for anything I have done wrong as Cyborg seems to believe," she said. "He feels he has betrayed you somehow by not recognizing Larkin. But I believe it was not our folly that allowed him to deceive us. I believe... it was yours." Starfire paused as there was an empathetic pain in her heart, knowing she had hurt Raven. The telekinetic looked away.
"You're right," she said simply.
"You did not give me a chance to explain–"
"I don't need to," Raven said. She turned and looked at Starfire again who slowly turned to meet her gaze. "I know what you meant. You don't know me well enough to determine me from my worst enemy."
There was an odd paused as Starfire bit her lip, finding her words. "I... care deeply for you, Raven. You are more of a sister to me than my own blood kin. But Larkin was seated in the same place you now occupy only a week ago, telling me of his past. I believed it to be your past. I was in your body too, Raven, and yet I know so little about your mind, your heart, your soul. I would... I would like to understand you, as Robin understands you."
Raven smiled one of her rare gems of a smile that glowed in the gray sunlight as she placed a kind hand on Starfire's shoulder. "Starfire..." she said, slowly. "Without being in my head... you understand me better than... well, better than any guy ever could. You're right. I haven't shared much of my thoughts or past with you or the rest of the Titans for that matter. It's probably because I made that mistake before and it took a lot from me. But Starfire, without knowing, without seeing, you understand. Robin... well, we have a link. I've denied it for too long. He gets me because he felt what I felt those six months ago. But you don't have to fall into someone's head to understand them. You just have to... be there. Beside them. Like... like now."
"But Robin–" Starfire began.
"Look," said Raven with a small laugh. "I can see you're not convinced. Let me put it this way. I was in and out of Larkin's head. And even when I discovered his deeper intentions for me and I thought I knew him inside out, I didn't. I didn't know Larkin at all until last week. And I only fully understood him seconds before he died. He wasn't wicked to the core, like I'd presume. Things are more than black and white. To understand someone, you don't have to be in their head. You just... have to love them."
Starfire smiled. "So by your definition," she said after a pause, "you... loved Larkin. Before he died."
Raven nodded slowly. "I suppose I did."
Starfire sighed and looked down, then up at Raven again. "Thank you."
"For what?" Raven said.
"Just... for being my friend."
Raven raised an eyebrow. "That was probably the corniest thing you've ever said to me."
Starfire tossed her head back and laughed loudly. Then, she jumped to her feet. "Come!" she exclaimed. "We must show our friends that you have returned to us!"
"Uh, thanks Star, but there's something I have to do..." Raven muttered.
The clouds were crowding over the horizon and bulging to the point of bursting. There was a rumble of thunder off in the distance. However, the girl standing there, in the middle of the deserted beach, didn't seem to care.
She sat down on an algae covered rock, painted black by years of being swallowed up, spat out, and swallowed up again by the ocean. The tide was out and there were a hundred scattered tide pools across the beach with starfish and anemones waiting for the water to spill back over them. Soon, it would come, but not from the sea. The clouds above threatened to unleash their fury.
The sea was ageless, Raven observed. It went on and on in all directions, and it remained constant yet ever-changing. It was the mother of all life. On each frothy wave, it carried many secrets of the past and future. For the first time, she saw the poetry of it, what Abby had tried to convey.
"Remind me: when all this is over, I have to show you the ocean."
"Abby, maybe you forget. I'm a Titan. I live on the water."
"Yeah, but you haven't seen the ocean like I have... Even in the gray clouds, amongst all that water... It's huge, really, and gorgeous, and even in the stormy air you could still smell time itself on its waves... God, I sound like some cheesy Hallmark employee. But, well... You know, that sea smell, salt and froth, and... it makes me pensive. It seemed endless, kinda like everything else did when I was your age. But like everything else, even the ocean has a limit. But it at least lasts. It lasts forever."
But the ocean wasn't the only thing that could last. Abby wasn't gone. Not entirely. Not ever.
Somehow, Raven found peace in all that gray. She wished Abby could see her now, changed and older, appreciating life as an AIDS patient should, stopping to smell the flowers or the froth on the waves.
And at that moment, it began to rain.
Author's Notes: Aha, here I am again! Some might ask why I made Starfire the sympathizer to Raven and not Robin. Well, Rob's been in the limelight for most of this fic anyway, and I never really gave credit enough to dear Starfire for her role in "Dangerous Minds." Also, it seemed fitting that even though Raven was inside Robin's head, Starfire should be the one to help her through her rut. It was more in character of the Tameranian than our little Robbie. Or so thought I. Though, I must say, I did debate that quite a bit. Well, I love you all, thank you, and I hope you enjoyed it!!! Now let me post this little phrase at the bottom to make it all nice and complete:
THE VERY END