Almost two years. Almost two years without an update. Almost two years of hindrances and obstacles thrown my way by life. Almost two years of reassuring readers the story isn't dead. Almost two years of fate conspiring against me.
I just wanted to see how many times I could say 'Almost Two Years' without resisting the urge to render blunt force trauma to my person.
YEAH, ALMOST TWO YEARS!
In all seriousness, my most sincere apologies for the exceedingly long wait for anyone out there checking up on my story (apparently more than a few gauging from my e-mails and notes on DeviantArt) We all have to work, and mine has been more sporadic than I would've liked. I'm not gonna go into detail cause I know the last thing anybody wants are long winded excuses. Just know that it was NEVER about not knowing what to write, only the time needed to write.
I dried as many tears as I could, trying to reassure and PM back as many readers as possible with the exception of anonymous reviewers for obvious reasons. But even after all the time that's passed, people still offer me the most touching outpourings of appreciation for the story, and for that I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I can only hope this lives up to your expectations.
Chapter 16: A Kick in the Past
It was a bitter morning as heavy footsteps clunked against the floor. Cyborg stretched his arms in a yawn before scratching the back of his head as he trudged further along the tower's hallway. As a full time crime fighter he had been no stranger to long nights. Just not this exhausting. At least battling bad guys never meant excessive maintenance afterwards. He'd spent the better part of what felt like a night and half getting caught up on the all too long list of backlogged repairs around the tower. And that was only after he'd put Raven's room back the way it was the night before. But at long last there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Ninety four percent of the tower's primary systems were now back up and running at normal efficiency. All of the regular security and scanner systems had been inspected and finely tuned. And all but a few minor communication functions were now back online. He'd also made certain to double the insulation of the wires and add a significant number of backup surge protectors to the primary power conduits to insure something like this never happened again. In a nutshell, it had been a very long night. Fighting over zealous megalomaniacs and super villains was a breeze by comparison.
It was amazing just how much work could pile up in just a few short days. But that was due to the fact that the tower wasn't just their home. It was also their staging area, their monitoring station, their training facility, and served every other essential need for a team of heroes keeping vigilant watch over an entire city. What's more, it had never been more apparent that of all the technological superiority the tower had to offer, both for everyday living and for around the clock surveillance of the city, just how much of it fell solely on Cyborg's shoulders. Sure everyone knew how to operate and access most of the basic consoles and equipment, but when something went haywire Cyborg was the only one with the know how to fix it. It was enough to demand a raise, if only he were getting paid.
Of course that could be chalked up to being a technological wonder himself. He wouldn't trust most of the integral systems to most of the others anyway. Raven wasn't exactly techno savvy and BeastBoy wouldn't know a microchip from a potato chip without one being accompanied by dip. And even though Starfire, while knowledgeable from a culture and technology far surpassing Earth's, he just felt a little uneasy having the same girl who could use a bus as a hammer throw tinkering with such delicate electronics.
"One thing's for sure," he mused to himself, checking his power cell, "Gotta' give somebody else a crash course on how to keep this stuff up an runnin'."
As Cyborg rounded the corner into the main corridor BeastBoy and Raven came into view, entering from the adjacent hallway. Almost instantly Cyborg's demeanor changed, sporting a sly grin. Seeing them continue to honor this ongoing wager was more than enough to renew his spirits. He'd honestly didn't think it would last as long as it had. And even though they weren't as uneasy or anxious around each other as from the start, which took away most of the fun, it certainly made things a lot more interesting around the tower.
"Good morning," he greeted with a spring in his step.
Raven shifted her eyes to the side, quickly able to recognize Cyborg fishing for any kind of occurrence between her and BeastBoy to make his day. "Good morning, Cyborg," she returned plainly.
"Hey, Cy," BeastBoy followed, trailing a few steps behind Raven.
Cyborg walked beside Raven who didn't say another word. Which was to be expected. Raven had never been a very talkative person, especially in the early morning. Aside from 'Good morning, no thanks, or shut up, BeastBoy', there wasn't much Raven needed to say or talk about this early.
He looked back at BeastBoy who still lingered behind. "You doin' alright B?"
BeastBoy gave no immediate response, looking as if in a daze. "Huh? Oh, yeah. Good," he gave a nervous nod.
Cyborg looked at the young shape shifter funny. Not in the conventional 'ha ha' funny, but more of a 'what's with him?' funny. Regardless, he shifted focus back to Raven. He knew they weren't going to make it easy for him but how was he supposed to give them a hard time about anything at this rate?
"So…" he began, realizing if he was going to get anything out of them he was going to have to make a move, "Your room back the way ya like it, Raven?" he asked, poorly masking an opportunity to boast about his quality workmanship on the repairs he'd made to her room in record time.
"Adequate. Thank you," she answered.
"Adequate?" he said, somewhat hoping for a more flattering praise on his hard work, "I worked my servos to the max, fighting off frost bite, and keeping my parts warm by downin' hot coffee and anti-freeze. And all I get is an 'Adequate'?"
Raven was silent.
Cyborg slumped in his step. Considering he'd cause the need for repair to begin with perhaps he wasn't entitled to more of a pat on the back. In fact just by her not psychically crushing his outer frame like a soda can in a pair of vice grips was enough to call it even. Still…
"Would ya like it if I installed a guest room in case you'd like to have company over?" he joked quietly with a waggle of his eyebrow in BeastBoy's direction.
"Would you like it if I made it so you have to carry your head to the breakfast table?" she replied, looking straight ahead.
Cyborg gave a nervous smile, taking the hint to drop the joke. "Uh…How was the arcade?" he quickly changed the subject.
"Fine," Raven answered in her routine deadpan manner.
A short silence absent of details followed.
"Ya have fun?" Cyborg probed again.
"Yes," she blankly replied.
Cyborg raised an eyebrow. Raven admitting to fun? Or was this her casual sarcasm talking? Perhaps another approach was in order.
"How bad did ya do, BeastBoy?" he looked back with a teasing smile.
"Um, my usual," he said casually, having tuned in and out of the conversation.
Cyborg tilted his head, baffled. For the sure fire conversation starter topic of BeastBoy in an arcade, he gave an awfully Raven-like answer. "BB, you feelin' alright?" Cy asked with a hint of concern.
"Who? Me?" he pointed at himself. "Uh, yeah. Yeah, I'm fine." BeastBoy straightened his posture a bit, bolstering a smile. "Just, ya know, a little out of it. Wore myself out on games last night so bad all I wanted to do was crash for a week and as soon as I get in bed, couldn't sleep a wink. Weird, huh?" he finished with a tense chuckle.
Raven's eyes panned to the side, barely turning her head towards BeastBoy. He seemed rested enough, but something seemed to be on his mind. Something distracting him from his usual playful and outgoing demeanor. The day had just started and he'd spoken three or four complete sentences without one use of the word 'dude'.
She had a fairly accurate guess too. The instance of Terra brought up in hardly the most ingenuous manner must've gotten to him more than she'd initially thought. A major blunder on her part but BeastBoy understood it wasn't intentional.
The last few days had further amplified her knowledge and understanding of BeastBoy, but even she didn't have to know someone all that well to know insincerity when she saw it. And if that indeed was the cause it was a wonder he could force a smile and still make it seem genuine. Still, a little positive reinforcement couldn't hurt.
"He got a high score and taught me how to a play a zombie game," she commented in a dull tone.
Cyborg looked from Raven back at BeastBoy.
"Uh, Yeah! Ya shoulda' seen it Cy. C'mon," he shuffled alongside with a grin, taking hold of Cy's metal shoulder, quickening their pace ahead of Raven, "Dude, I'll totally give ya the play by play."
Just a few steps past her, BeastBoy bragged with exaggerated details accompanied by the occasional gesture to his dance performance at the arcade. All of which were greeted by doubtful laughs and rebutting remarks on Cyborg's behalf.
Raven cast her eyes straight ahead as they went ahead. He didn't seem to be fighting back anger or resentment towards her and he was still acting like himself. He would be all right. He just needed a little time to push that unfortunate occurrence out of his mind.
"Hey by the way," Cyborg began as they were drawing closer to the end of the corridor, "Has anybody heard from…"
The main room doors whooshed open.
The three teens paused as they looked inside to find Robin casually sitting at the table with a newspaper in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. Starfire too was present, closing a cabinet door after having just fetched a plate for her toast which sprung from the toaster. Robin looked up from the paper as the main room's door closed.
"Oh, good morning friends," Starfire beamed with a warm smile, "I bid you most joyous greetings."
The three stood as one, caught off guard. They'd been absent from the tower for days, and now here they were. Out of the blue, just there as if nothing had ever happened. They were unsure of how to react. On the one hand they were relieved to see the both of them were safe and back home. On the other, they'd disappeared without any word of their whereabouts and neglected their duties. If the shoe were on the other foot and any of them had taken off so abruptly, Robin would be reading them the riot act.
"Uh… Hiya, Star," BeastBoy was the first to respond with a small wave, briefly looking to Cyborg for guidance on what he should say next.
"Everything…okay?" Raven followed, studying the two of them curiously.
"We're fine," Robin assured with a nod and a smile, setting down the paper.
"Where ya been?" Cyborg asked with a shrug, "I was startin' to think maybe you were seein' other heroes behind our backs."
"Friend Cyborg, your worries are unfounded. We would never seek heroes when you are turned around," Starfire professed. "And I have you missed you all so."
Starfire ascended into the air high enough to clear the table before flying towards her three friends at a quick but safe speed. She clutched Cyborg in a firm hug, as was made evident by the sound of metal crinkling.
"I have missed friend Cyborg and the boo-yahs,"
She quickly released him, moving onto BeastBoy, seizing him in an equally overpowering hug of unbridled emotion.
"I have missed friend BeastBoy and his humor most amusing."
BeastBoy smiled through the pain, trying to take his mind off his internal organs deflating. She then released him with a smile, allowing him to replenish oxygen capacity to his lungs.
"And I have missed friend Raven's…"
Starfire came to an abrupt halt, struggling to find a daily activity of hers to highlight.
"… I have missed friend Raven," she hugged all the same at a loss for words to define Raven.
Raven gritted her teeth with as best a smile as she could muster, also taking the pain in stride with the soreness that was sure to follow. Starfire released her arms from around Raven, who stumbled a step backwards.
In spite of the aches that would linger for the next couple minutes, it was difficult to take exception to Starfire and her emotion driven strength. Even though she had excellent control of her powers, she was still prone to get carried away from time to time.
"Come Raven, I have prepared your morning tea," Starfire happily guided Raven towards a simmering kettle on the stove, which helped to further sooth her fleeting injury.
Robin watched with a smile as Starfire led her into the kitchen area, about to resume reading the paper. Suddenly he felt a pair of hands pull him aside, jerking him to the far side of the table.
"Alright, man. What happened?" Cyborg whispered to remain out of earshot from Starfire.
"Yeah. What gives?" BeastBoy added, his own curiosity equally high. "Last time I saw you, Star was hot on your tail, chasing you clean outta' the tower, you go M.I.A. for like ever, and now suddenly POOF! You're back here like nothin' happened." BeastBoy leaned in, narrowing his eyes as he closely inspected Robin's face. "Star give you some kinda' weird alien mind wipe or somethin'?" he tapped Robin's forehead.
Robin casually swatted away BeastBoy's hand. "I'm fine guys. Seriously."
"Then how bout' you start 'seriously' fillin' in some of the blanks here. Ya know we got every right to be ticked at you for bailin' on us like that," Cyborg crossed his arms at the boy wonder.
"Yeah. It don't look so hot on your leader resume to just take unannounced holidays," BeastBoy lightly scolded.
Robin hung his head off to the side, unable to argue with them. As he'd never intended to in the first place. He'd let a personal problem hinder his duty and breach the safety and trust of his team. He was expected to set far better examples and standards than abandoning his post.
"So what happened with you two?" Cy asked.
"Yeah. Star set ya straight? Or… the other way around?" BeastBoy continued.
"There was nothing that needed to be set straight, BeastBoy. It was just… a misunderstanding. That's all," Robin gave a delayed reply.
"Most misunderstandings end with, 'my bad' or 'sorry I got the wrong idea'. Not with a disappearing act," Cyborg pointed out.
Robin was quiet.
"So?" Cyborg repeated. Not that anything had truly happened in his absence, but to still be left with so much to do, he still felt entitled to some degree of explanation. He'd even settle for an extravagant lie at this point.
"So…" Robin began, getting up from the table.
Raven tuned up her ear as she sipped her tea beside Starfire, noticing movement on Robin's behalf. While gossip inside the tower was not an interest of hers, her adolescent inclined curiosity had still managed to get the better of her as she had listened in on the boy's loose discussion with their friend and leader. She too had been mildly curious as to their whereabouts as much as anybody.
"…Now, I apologize," Robin said with a deep breath, the need to explain himself no longer able to be put off. "Cyborg… BeastBoy… Raven," he addressed.
Raven and Starfire both turned to face Robin as Cyborg and BeastBoy continued to listen intently for whatever came next. It wasn't often that Robin made mistakes, at least that they were aware of. It was even less frequent that if he did, it was anything really worth apologizing over. But this wasn't like a command decision that had backfired or poor judgment or conduct. This was something far more personal.
"A… situation unfolded a few days ago. A 'unique' situation that I was ill prepared to deal with and so I left the tower. I did so without explanation or retaining any form of contact. I put the tower and the team at great risk, as well as the welfare of the city. I'm sorry," he explained sincerely. "Fault is entirely on me and me alone. Starfire only left the tower to bring me back, to which I avoided. An equally poor decision on my part. And it will not happen again," Robin concluded.
Starfire stepped towards her friend, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Robin, we are merely relieved you are unharmed."
"Yeah, man. Usually the only reason ya take off like that is if you're tracking down a lead or followin' up on something big. Like 'Slade' big. Just worried you were in over your head." Cyborg assured him. "Can't pull your spikey-haired butt outta' the fire if we don't know where ya are."
Robin gave a nod and a smile at both sentiments. A huge weight was lifted, and while he still felt bad about the whole ordeal, it was a step in the right direction. Now if only this whole unpleasantness could be put behind them without having to further explain why he…
"I too must apologize," Starfire spoke up. "I was unaware that such things as sleeping in another's nocturnal sleep chamber or Tamaranian healing remedies could cause most worrisome problems."
"Uh, Star… Really it's ok. It's not your…" Robin tried to cut her off.
"No, it most certainly is not. I should have been more well informed about such things," she regretfully explained, "Had I known your reaction would be so… um… what is the phrase I am searching for?"
"Outta whack?" BeastBoy offered with an optimistic grin.
"Yes," she gave her green friend a smile of appreciation, "Had I known it would make you so 'out of the whack', I would never have…"
"It's fine Star really," Robin still mustered to do damage control by not letting any more personal details out. There was no need to dwell on what had already transpired if it could be avoided. "You had no way of knowing."
Starfire looked at Robin, still with a look of apology and deep regret.
"It's no big deal. What's done is done. Honestly," he reinforced his earlier statements, hoping she would just drop the matter altogether. "It's okay."
Starfire closed her eyes as she lowered her head, Robin only to guess if she had taken the hint. She then looked back up; eyes open wide with a comforting smile returning to her face. Robin returned the smile as well as she took Robin's hands in her own.
"Very well. But… know that I feel permitted to share this scornful blame," she clarified. "And I shall later partake of the Zornian muck fungus as atonement for my unaware complications visited on you."
The others could only guess what muck fungus was. No doubt another otherworldly dish of unknown origin. Usually Starfire had an alien meal that was synonymous with counteracting a certain emotional state. But if it was anything like her sadness pudding it was sure to be one not worth sampling.
Starfire started back towards the table to her breakfast before it went cold.
"Oh! And do not worry. I swear on the moons of Razmaq I shall never create such undoings by going into your quarters or offering Tamaranian recovery treatment again," she smiled innocently.
Robin was left with vacant look on his face as she sat back down at the breakfast table. "Umm… thanks?" It was a good news/bad news scenario. Good for the sake of the team. Bad for furthering a deep relationship, as was verified by the varying looks sympathy and amusement from his teammates.
"Dude," BeastBoy shook his head.
"Shot down before he even took off," Cyborg pitied.
Raven merely rolled her eyes at the both of them and took her tea back over to the table.
Robin cleared his throat, breaking his momentary lapse of thought. "In any case, combat practice right after breakfast," he sat back at the table beside Starfire as she bit into a slice of toast. "We're long overdue for a training session."
No one seemed to argue. Ever since the storm that'd hit that caused most of the towers systems to go on the fritz the heavy rains had previously turned the obstacle course along the inner perimeter of the island into a thick layer of mud. But by now the conditions outside were much better suited to the Titan's rigorous training regiment. The terrain was now firm again and able to maintain their footing better, the machinery hidden throughout the course could function unhindered by the elements, and it was always a good idea for anyone in the hero business to undergo some manner of conditioning.
Cyborg sat down with a plate of home fries and eggs barely visible over the mounds of bacon, sausage, a slab of ham stacked on top. Cyborg was a growing boy who was never shy on his protein intake, but mostly he just loved getting a rise out of BeastBoy at the table whenever possible. Star offered to fetch him a cup of coffee, but Cyborg politely declined. Not that he was opposed to caffeine early in the morning but Starfire had developed this occasional habit of adding mustard to the pot.
He sat across from Robin at the table, continuing to sneak an occasional look his way, which was usually accompanied by his familiar teasing smirk. He just knew there was more to the story that Robin would not let him in on and while he respected their leader's privacy it was a tolerable nuisance he'd have to pay.
Raven sat at the end of the table taking another sip of herbal tea. Raven was never big on breakfast as was apparent by the half of an English muffin on her plate with a dollop of butter. She just required enough nourishment to start the day and typically muster sufficient energy should there be trouble, which rarely occurred so early in the day.
BeastBoy stood in the kitchen, pouring milk into a bowl of cereal before returning the milk carton to the refrigerator. Stirring the bowl to evenly wet the cereal he started towards the table to join the others.
An audible chomp of BeastBoy downing his first spoonful of cereal with a steady crunch caused Raven to crack an eye as she took another sip of tea, noticing the green boy making his way towards the group. Reluctantly, she scooted over to the side to make room for him to sit beside her. Not that she was opposed to sharing the table with him but when it came to cereal BeastBoy was a notoriously noisy eater.
BeastBoy looked up from his bowl, stopping just short of the table. His eyes quickly shifted to the side as he began walking hastily to the opposite end of the table, sitting beside Cyborg. It wasn't more than a few seconds before the usual debate ensued.
"Dude, seriously!" he started, flailing his spoon in the air at the sight of Cyborg's large meat ratio on his plate, "How much animal do you have to scarf down in one meal?"
"Hey, if they weren't supposed to be eaten, they wouldn't be so delicious," he grinned as he bit into a strip of bacon.
"What if somebody fried me up? Would ya eat me too?"
"Depends on the sauce."
BeastBoy just stuck out his tongue in response to which Cyborg gave a chuckle. Starfire and Robin also shared a smile at their spirited morning routine making them all the more grateful to be back home and among friends. Raven on the other hand just looked somewhat suspiciously at BeastBoy from down the table before quickly looking down at her English muffin before anyone could notice.
Odd. BeastBoy could've easily avoided that all too common dispute just by sitting next to her. At least that was what she pondered as she bit down into her muffin. Then again, maybe he considered it his patriotic duty to animals to go out of his way once in a while to hassle a carnivore. Not that she cared one way or the other. But still she would sneak a skeptical look his way every so often at the table.
Ever since the day before when she lashed out Raven had been somewhat worried that BeastBoy would revert like he did the last time she popped off at him. That he would just cease behaving like himself and act like a hollow shell of his former being. And while this was a positive sign that he was still himself after the instance at the arcade it still bugged her for some reason. That, coupled with him distancing himself somewhat in the hall this morning left her to wonder.
Maybe she was just being a bit paranoid. Maybe given the history of past occurrences with BeastBoy and guilt was starting to form an unhealthy practice of second guessing herself. Regardless, she would have to keep an eye on him.
Breakfast concluded as the Titans made their way outside of the lower level of the tower and out into the practice grounds around the base of the island. Sure enough the terrain was stable as the sun beat down revealing not an ounce of waterlogged dirt to be seen. There was a cool breeze outside and conditions were optimal for a morning workout.
The course was divided into sections. Each specifically designed for testing different aspects and conditions of combat. It was fitted with a variety of automated obstacles and deterrents, programmed to be triggered at random intervals throughout the course. Some would become active by motion sensors, some set off by stepping into certain areas, but no run of the course was exactly the same. This helped to keep the Titans from memorizing the course and from becoming lax in their training. If they couldn't anticipate and adapt to changes in the course how could they be expected to adapt to armed criminals and super villains?
Robin and Cyborg stood in front a fairly midsize console, overlooking the layout of the course and making certain that all equipment was functioning normally. A quick diagnostic confirmed everything to be working properly and that training was ready to commence.
Normally, combat practice typically began with singles training where each Titan ran the course individually as a warm up. But because they'd been without training for several days Robin instead opted that they jump right into team training, which meant two Titans ran the course at the same time. It helped to better develop their harmony and organization as a group and to better utilize one another's strengths, as well as keep their respective weaknesses from being exploited. It was important that each member of the team be able to recognize when they could be best used to assist others both offensively and defensively.
"So, who's steppin' up to the plate first?" Cyborg asked, calibrating the instruments on the panel to prep the course.
"I will," Robin volunteered with a brief stretch. Limbering up his arms and legs he stepped towards the starting position.
"I wish to as well," Starfire announced, flying beside him, "May I join you?"
Robin gave a nod and a smile. Starfire touched down on the ground with a warm smile of her own.
Cyborg stood at the ready by the console with BeastBoy and Raven beside him. The control station was also designated as a safe zone. The surrounding obstacles were programmed not to fix on anyone within proximity of the control console. One of the many fail/safes Cyborg had installed in the course. They could watch the course be run without fear of stray obstacles bearing down on them, as well as turn off the course if need be.
He punched in a few last commands. "Alright, everything looks good up here. You guys ready?" he asked, finger over a green button.
"Oh yes, I am much ready to commence preparations for rumbling," Starfire called with a thumbs up.
"Ready to rumble," Robin translated with a small laugh.
"That too," she smiled.
Cyborg returned Starfire's thumbs up as Robin gave a nod. "Then let's get this party started." He pushed the button as a loud buzzer sounded.
Instantly the two were off and running as training was underway. Starfire was quick to take to the air as to better scout oncoming threats from a low altitude. Robin meanwhile sprinted ahead.
A short distance ahead, three metal cylinders rose up from the ground. Turning to face the two incoming heroes, small circular openings were briefly visible before long metallic tentacles sprung out at them. Outstretched and lunging towards them at high speed they swiped at them from every direction, trying to ensnare them.
Robin darted from side to side, bo staff drawn. A spin past one, a flip over another, and then sliding underneath one more he cleared the first wave with ease. Another metal limb shot directly at him, brushing it aside with a quick swing of his staff.
Starfire followed overhead letting loose a barrage of starbolts, ripping through the tentacles that had missed before they could come around for another swipe at Robin. Suddenly one managed to hook itself on Starfire's ankle, yanking her towards the ground with an "EEP!"
Quick to react Robin vaulted over the last of the incoming attacks, spinning in mid air to hurl a bird-a-rang from his utility belt. It whizzed right through the metal exterior, severing the tentacle and exposing its inner wiring.
Starfire recovered swiftly, able to pull out of the dive and climb back into the air while shaking loose the scrap of metal dangling from her foot.
Robin hurried past the cylinders as Starfire dive-bombed towards them, arms outstretched, clotheslining the cylinders with such force they were uprooted from the ground.
On the far side of a narrow ridge four miniature launchers sprang up, immediately training on Starfire. They began firing volleys of exploding disc-like projectiles, similar to the kind Robin used in his arsenal. The discs flew high up into the air, exploding in front of Starfire just enough to disorient her. However Starfire was quick to shake it off.
Her eyes glowed bright green, building a charge. With a flick of her brow she fired a dual beam of explosive green energy, sweeping it along the ground, wiping out all four launchers in a single strike.
Robin rounded the corner, moving into the next area of the course. No sooner had he passed the checkpoint of the course than two turrets opened up behind a nearby rock formation, scattering shots in Robin's direction.
He quickly ran along side the far wall, jumping up onto the side and pushing off with his feet, dodging to the side as a hailstorm of shots ricocheted off the ground. He hit the ground, rolling clear, tossing a handful of small metal pellets. Upon making contact the pellets exploded, reducing the guns to smoldering scrap billowing smoke.
Robin continued to press on, Starfire hovering just above him. They entered a long narrow straight away, the goal in sight as they approached the end of the course. Just then a long wall sprung up, barring the way. Robin pulled his bo staff once more, jamming it into the ground like pole-vault, launching himself upwards. Robin cleared the wall with inches to spare.
As Robin sailed over the obstacle, a second wall pushed out horizontally directly in front of him. He couldn't avoid it.
Starfire flew in behind Robin, grabbing him by the shoulders and pulling him in close as she turned her shoulder towards the wall. She smashed clean through the barrier, gently dropping Robin to the ground as the buzzer sounded once more.
"Well alright!" Cyborg called, terminating the course and returning the obstacles and systems to stand-by mode.
"Way to go," BeastBoy hollered.
"Not bad," Robin shrugged with a small smile, "But I still need to improve my reaction time a bit. And that last one nearly cost me." It was a typical reaction for Robin's mindset. Good enough was never quite good enough. "Thanks for the assist, Star."
"I welcome you," she responded warmly.
"At least bein' away from home ain't slowed ya down much," Cyborg congratulated. "Made good time too."
Robin gave a nod, glancing at the console, which gave readout of their completion time and general observation of their performance. "Okay. BeastBoy, you and Raven are up next," he gestured to the starting point.
"Uh… actually, could I maybe run the course with Cy?" he asked nervously.
Raven raised a skeptical eyebrow.
"Um, I mean. I totally gotta' get'em back for… uh… ya know, all the pigs he scarfed down this morning. Yeah! Imagine how bad a taste all that bacon is gonna' leave in his mouth when he can't even keep up with me," he pointed to himself with a chuckle.
Something was up. Making excuses was certainly nothing new or unconventional for him, but this was absent of his usual out of proportion creativity. Even BeastBoy had standards when it came to making excuses and this was far below them. He was scrambling.
Robin gave BeastBoy a funny look. He didn't really mind all that much as long as he was still willing to run the course. "I… suppose. Cyborg, are you okay with…"
"Way ahead of ya," he tapped a few commands into the console. "Broccoli brain wants to play follow the leader? Just let'em try to keep up with the top bot on campus." Cyborg leaped over the console heading to the start position. "Got'er all set up on automatic," he gestured Robin towards the controls.
BeastBoy walked past the others, taking his mark at the starting position beside Cyborg. Starfire offered them both cheerful encouragement as Robin took the helm at the controls. Raven however maintained an indifferent look as she had been. But she couldn't help but cast a curious look at BeastBouy again. This was the third time today he'd gone out of his way to keep some manner of distance between them.
"Got a little excess self-esteem ya tryin' to get rid of?" Cyborg teased the young changeling with a competitive smile, "Or you just decide today was a good day to get shown up."
BeastBoy merely smiled back with a doubtful look on his face. "Whatever, tin grin. I'll try my best not to get dust on your rust."
"Easy, Titans," Robin called from the controls. "Remember, this is a team based exercise."
"Relax, dude. We know," BeastBoy assured.
"Yeah, we're just getting' in the zone," Cyborg added. "Not as 'in' as you and Star, but ya know."
Robin just shot a cold, un-amused look them both. He could tell Cyborg was going to ride anything with himself and Starfire for all it was worth as retribution for his absence.
"Gets'em every time," Cyborg smirked at how easy a target Robin could be.
"Totally," BB concurred, slapping hands with his friend.
Robin just hit the button, sounding the buzzer, and the course was underway.
Both Titans took off into the thick of the course. No sooner had they begun than a large solid steel barricade rose up from below ground barring their way. Cyborg ran out ahead of BeastBoy, stopping just short of the obstacle and dropping to one knee. BeastBoy picked up speed as neared Cyborg, jumping onto his back like a stepping-stone, going air born. He got a good jump, but not high enough to jump over it. Fortunately, that wasn't his plan of action.
As BeastBoy came hurdling down towards the dead center of the barricade he shifted his body, aiming head first for the blockade. In the blink of an eye the green boy's body changed fluidly into a triceratops. With his enhanced weight and size he easily plowed through the obstacle with his horn-mounted skull as if it were made of tissue paper.
BeastBoy rolled clear, returning to human form and back up and running as Cyborg caught up beside him moving onto the next phase of the course.
Ahead of them three small platforms levitated off the ground, discarding a sort of holographic camouflage which had previously disguised them as stray rocks in the middle of the ground.
They promptly hummed to life as laser barrels peered out of their front and began to saturate the ground with beams of red energy.
Dashing to the side of the first beam BeastBoy morphed into a snake, slithering quickly along the ground. The turret quickly adjusted its line of fire but the changeling was a much smaller target and easily able to shift and curve his slender body quicker than the weapon could train on him.
BeastBoy sprang up off the ground with a hiss towards the platform, changing in midair once more to that of an electric eel, coiling around the base of the platform. Discharging an electrical current from his body the platform began to sway and sputter as it desperately tried to stay in the air. A quick burst of sparks beneath it sent crashing against the ground, completely shorted out.
He leapt off the platform just before it hit, back to normal form. He looked up just as the other two platforms took aim on him.
Two wide bursts of blue energy ripped through them, bursting in a cloud of dark smoke.
Cyborg stood a few feet away, cocking his sonic cannon with a smug grin.
Suddenly two launchers flipped up from alongside one of the far walls, firing large disc shaped projectiles.
BeastBoy and Cyborg both dove out of the way, the volley of discs missing by a surprisingly wide margin. However just as they whizzed past them they broke off their straight path, turning around and heading back towards the two teens. Clearly they weren't intended as regular dumb fire projectiles, but rather guidance rounds, seeking out their targets.
The discs broke off into two separate formations in groups of two, whirring back towards both heroes who were still on the move, rounding the halfway mark of the course.
Cyborg turned and fired as he ran, peppering off blast after blast. But the seeker discs were too agile for him to land a decisive hit while on the move.
BeastBoy took to the air in the form of a humming bird, zipping from side to side as if trying to get the seeker's attention. They stayed right on his tail, matching him move for move. He went hard to the left, so did they. Hard to the right, they followed close behind, steadily gaining on him. Zigging and zagging back and forth forced them to fix on his every motion. He now had them sufficiently distracted.
Back on the ground Cyborg had the finish line in sight as he continued to advance forward.
A pitfall opened up in the ground a mere two feet in front of him, scarcely giving him enough time to react at the speed he was running at. Planting both feet just shy of the edge he leapt forward and cleared the final hurdle, rolling across the finish line and turned with his sonic cannon charged and at the ready, prone to fire.
Instantly, the green bird dropped down, allowing Cyborg a clean shot at the four seekers whom he'd duped into a forming a straight line behind him. With a powerful jolt from his arm, Cyborg cut through all four discs with a single shot, cutting through their dead center with an explosion of sparks and flame as BeastBoy crossed the finish line.
The buzzer sounded, returning the course to standby mode and causing all active obstacle to stand down.
"Boo-Yah!" Cyborg exclaimed as he threw fist in the air.
"Oh yeah!" BeastBoy hollered in matching enthusiasm. "Just one question. Who's bad?"
"WE'RE BAD!" they both answered in a spirited high five.
"Good run," Robin called, tallying their performance on the console.
"Oh yes. You have opened boundless cans of the whooped bottom," Starfire congratulated with a smile.
"Go team," Raven said dryly as she twirled a finger in mock enthusiasm.
BeastBoy and Cyborg made their way back over to join the others as Raven passed them to take up her turn on the course. She gave one brief look at BeastBoy, but he and Cyborg were so busy patting each other on the back for a job well done he didn't notice.
"Not a bad day's workout for a soy snackin' gob of green peach fuzz," Cyborg chuckled.
"Couldn't have asked for a better job out of an oversized toaster with legs," BeastBoy exchanged with a smirk as they both lightly punched knuckles.
Raven stood at the ready at the starting position, rolling her head to the side to loosen up her neck. "Ready when you are."
"Hold on a minute, Raven," Robin called as he let Cyborg resume his post at the controls. "We all ran the course in teams of two. I'd still like for you to do the same."
Raven shrugged, not having an opinion one way or the other.
"Oh! Shall I accompany Raven?" Starfire asked excitedly, hovering in the air about to zip over to her friend's side.
Robin put his hand on her shoulder, gently reeling her back to the ground. "Actually…" Robin gave an appreciative smile as he turned, "BeastBoy, think you can go for another run?"
BeastBoy was caught off guard, quickly looking to Raven and then back to his leader. "Um… I-I don't think…"
"I know you just went, but you don't have to go immediately. Take a few minutes to catch your breath. Star and I will make a second run in the meantime," Robin offered. "Alright?"
BeastBoy rubbed his arm sheepishly. "Uh, yeah sure. I guess."
Robin gave a nod has he turned back to Starfire, gesturing towards the course. Accepting Robin's invitation she walked towards the starting point, Robin following behind her.
"You got some kinda' angle goin' here?" Cyborg asked quietly as Robin walked by, curious why he was so focused on getting BeastBoy to run the course again so soon. "Not like you to insist on who teams with who."
This much was true. Robin could usually care less who anyone trained with so long as they had at least one run with every other member of the team.
"No, it's not what you think," Robin replied as he came to a halt beside Cyborg, briefly looking in BeastBoy's direction, "However as long as they're undertaking this wager of yours by choice I am mildly curious as to what effect, if any, it'll have on their focus in combat. They have been acting differently as of late."
"Hmm," Cyborg scratched his chin, "Got a point there. I have noticed BB toning down the lame jokes and actually givin' the old brain box a little more exercise. And Raven hasn't even made one idle threat towards the little dude in like a week. At least… not that I know of."
"In any case, it should be worth checking into just what kind of effect it'll have on them in circumstances outside the tower," he finished as he jogged over to join Starfire at the start of the course.
Raven stood a few feet behind the starting area, paying little mind to the buzzer sounding as two of her friends made their next training run. She kept looking at BeastBoy, who was trying to look as if he was limbering up with a few casual stretches. But the vacant look on his face did little to enforce any kind of belief that his mind was solely on training.
With a small sigh Raven started towards him. She had originally hoped to confront him later on in a more private atmosphere to help understand what was bothering him but there was no other choice. She'd already inadvertently caused a dose of mental/emotional damage and if she was somehow connected to what was troubling him while they ran the course together she didn't want to be responsible for any kind of matching physical injury as well.
"BeastBoy?" she began.
In an instant, he snapped out of whatever trance he'd been in. "Oh, hey! Hey Raven," he stammered with a nervous smile.
"Listen, you don't have to run the course with me. I'll merely ask Cyborg if he'll…"
"N-No, I'm good. Really. We can totally dominate this thing," he gestured to the obstacle course. "I just thought, ya know… ya been stuck with me for so long ya might want a change of scenery."
Raven tilted her head to the side, not breaking eye contact. "So you don't mind if I train with you?" she asked, still probing and analyzing his responses.
"Mind? Me? Nah, are you kiddin'?" he weakly chuckled. "You used to say I never even had a mind so why would I grow one now?"
Something was definitely wrong. The last time BeastBoy acted out, he cut off his personality altogether. This was like the opposite end of the spectrum for him. Rather than just shutting his persona off, he was forcing it.
Raven had to tread carefully. It was no use trying to talk it out with him like this, at least until she knew what was causing it. If she tried to draw him out now he'd just try even harder to act like nothing was wrong and that might lead to bitter consequences.
"Alright," she said simply, starting to walk away. The only logical thing to do was to give him the space that he was seemingly trying to maintain. All she could do was try to get through training without any other complications and try to corner him later.
He turned, silently breathing a sigh of relief, giving his grin a rest.
"BeastBoy?" Raven asked in monotone.
BeastBoy put his grin back up turning to face her again.
"If something was bothering you…" she added, deadpan as ever while trying to still remain compassionate.
"Oh, yeah. Totally," he swatted with his hand, making light of the situation to try to reassure her he was fine.
She gave a nod, walking back to behind the starting point. No sooner than which BeastBoy cast his eyes down to the ground briefly before resuming his mock stretching.
The buzzer sounded as Robin and Starfire finished the course in similar fashion as before.
"Nice goin," Cyborg complimented.
Robin gave an acknowledging nod to Cyborg as he and Starfire made their way clear of the course and joined him by the console. "BeastBoy, are you ready?"
He stood at the starting point pulling his leg back in one final stretch. "Yeah," he took a deep breath.
Raven stood beside him with her hood raised, taking up starting position.
Robin gave a nod to Cyborg as he began typing in commands on the keyboard to randomize the obstacles, as had been the norm for each run.
BeastBoy took his mark, leaning forward in track running fashion as he awaited the starting buzzer. Raven shifted her eyes from under the concealing shadow of her cloak's hood. BeastBoy looked focused and alert, devoid of the tension and empty smiles he'd sported before. He was serious, which she interpreted as a good thing. Better that he keep his mind on something practical to fend off whatever he was going through than run the risk of being injured from lack of concentration while training.
She still couldn't help but wonder what precisely had gotten to him to make him act in such a way unbecoming of his casual self. She'd seen BeastBoy cope with certain kinds of problems in the past. Usually how he chose to cope was a clue as to what kind of problem he had. And this was nothing like any of them. He wasn't angry, he wasn't moody, and he certainly wasn't abstaining from normal activity. If it was somehow her at fault she'd prefer that he just come right out and say it rather than trying to contemplate any number of things that could be forcing him to act the way he was.
The buzzer sounded, catching Raven off guard as she flinched a step backward, so deep in thought she'd temporarily blotted out everything around her.
She shook her head, tuning back into reality, taking to the air to catch up to BeastBoy, now a few feet out in front.
The first obstacle presented itself, a large stonewall rising up from below and effectively baring their path. BeastBoy morphed into a large green gorilla, scaling the wall by climbing the various protruding rocks and edges. Raven merely ascended to a higher altitude.
Just then from below, a few miniature launchers overturned from the surface. With a few beeps their tracking systems locked on, firing a volley of concussive discs upward, curving into the air directly towards Raven.
She was nearly to the top, keeping a close eye on BeastBoy who was nearly over the top of the wall. Suddenly his body stiffened as his keen animal instincts kicked in. Sensing danger as he turned quickly, his head snapped downwards to see the oncoming threat.
He leapt from the wall just as Raven caught a glimpse of the incoming attack with no time to react. BeastBoy hurled himself out in front of her soaking up the discs concussive blast with his thick gorilla hide. Raven now aware of the threat threw out her hand, encasing the launchers in bubbles of black energy, crushing them effortlessly.
BeastBoy hit the ground, kicking up a cloud of dust as he woozily got back to his feet.
Raven quickly soared back down to ground level; mad at herself for not detecting the threat sooner. She was so busy looking out for BeastBoy she hadn't bothered to watch her own back. "BeastBoy, are you all right?" she called as the jade gorilla shook its head to let off the residual effect of the blast.
With hardly a response BeastBoy quickly morphed into a rhino, charging the wall and smashing through to the other side. Raven followed close behind as he charged onward with a snort trying to make up for lost time.
Raven hovered just above him, keeping pace when to the left side an extendable gun barrel rose up firing a bola directly towards them. Raven put up her hands, amassing an energy field to block the whirling projectile. But BeastBoy was quicker on the uptake, pushing off the ground changing into a large elephant. With a mighty swing of his trunk, he knocked the bola away, launching it directly back into the mouth of the cannon that exploded upon jamming.
Swiftly changing to the form of horse, BeastBoy galloped towards the halfway mark as Raven followed behind after a delayed stare, trying to comprehend being beaten to the punch.
Half the course now behind them they pressed on to the finish. Another group of launchers dropped down from the sides of a rock formation dead ahead. With a burst of smoke a swarm of miniature rockets whizzed towards them at alarming speed.
A quick flick of the wrist and Raven flung a slicing blade of energy out in front of them, effectively detonating a few of the rockets and cutting straight into one of the launchers. Unfortunately the rockets spread formation just before Raven had attacked leaving a large majority of them still intact and bearing down on them.
Raven focused her energy once more. "Azarath Metrion Zin…"
BeastBoy morphed again, this time as a pterodactyl. Zipping out in front of her and with a vigorous spin he gave a mighty flap of his wings, deflecting the rockets away save for one that detonated on impact, sending him to the ground with a thud and reverting him to human form.
All the other rockets scattered towards the ground and the remaining launchers with a wave of small explosions, effectively neutralizing another obstacle.
BeastBoy staggered to his feet as Raven touched down to assist him. "BeastBoy, don't be so reckless," firm but caringly she steadied him by taking hold of his shoulder. "You didn't have to…"
But with a quick rub of his head he shook off Raven's hand, morphing again into a cheetah. He pounced on top of Raven, pressing her to the ground just as a laser blast whizzed by overhead.
He quickly darted towards a single turret, dodging incoming fire as he ran lightly over the ground. He leaped over the turret, changing into a hippopotamus in mid air, dropping like a rock and crushing the defensive structure beneath his enormous backside.
Raven watched it all, upside down and from on her back and she slowly rolled over getting to one knee. And she had been worried about BeastBoy being distracted? She'd never seen him so focused.
Morphing again into a gazelle he ran back towards Raven who was still trying to mentally digest what had just happened. He ran straight for her, not slowing down as he drew closer, lowering his head.
"WAAAAHHH!" Raven gave a brief yelp as BeastBoy scooped her up onto his back. She held tightly around the gazelle's neck. She would've been inclined to smack him in the head if not for the fact that she might get flung off. "Ever hear how dangerous it is to pick up hitchhikers? Especially at full speed!"
But BeastBoy didn't avert his eyes for an instant, the finish line staying locked in his sights.
Two more gun emplacements rooted up a few feet short of the goal, laying down a constant line of fire. The gazelle leaped and bounded over the oncoming streams of energy. One beam grazed his hind leg, causing him to hobble briefly.
Raven threw out an arm, making a fist as both field guns radiated black a moment before collapsing in on themselves as if crushed by immense pressure.
A third gun sprang up in between the two dismantled turrets, continuing to press the attack. BeastBoy made one final lunge ahead before reeling back and bucking forward, sending Raven flying over the final obstruction and out of harms way right over the finish line.
He continued to avoid blasts as he circled around picking up speed, lowering his head as he morphed into a ram, horns steadied and aimed as he struck the stationary target with such force it was knocked clean off its mount.
Finally the buzzer sounded as BeastBoy slowly trotted in, returning to human form before falling flat on his face. By then Robin and Starfire were running towards them as Cyborg made certain the course was deactivated.
"Raven! BeastBoy! Are you two alright?" Robin called as he came to a stop before them.
Raven attempted to help BeastBoy up but he kindly gestured her hand away, doing his best to force a smile to show that he was okay. He teetered for an instant but was able to steady himself and finally stand up straight on his own.
"Fine," Raven said not taking her eyes off the young changeling. Which was for the most part true, physically at least. There was hardly a scratch on her. The same could not hold true for her teammate.
BeastBoy looked terrible. A minor bruise just above his cheek, a tear on the right shoulder of his uniform, his arm lightly clutching his stomach easing lingering soreness from the concussive discs, and he was clearly favoring his left leg as a result of the narrow blast just moments ago. None of the ordinates of the training course were designed to be lethal, but by the same token it could hardly be considered viable training unless there was some element of danger. Yet there was no expression on his face hinting at pain or discomfort. Just a very weak smile, empty as before, but Raven didn't let on.
"Not my greatest run," BeastBoy scratched the back of his head shyly. "Guess I musta' burned out the first time through, huh?"
Robin studied his face. "Well… that aside, performance wise you still did quite well for yourself." Robin honestly was surprised, in more ways than one. His first run he did exceptionally well. His second run, though less efficient he was far more aggressive. A trait not typically displayed in BeastBoy unless the stakes were far greater in a fight. "We have been a bit out of practice. What say we call it a day and pick it up tomorrow?"
The others nodded in agreement.
"Raven, take him to the med lab and get him patched up," Robin said calmly.
"I wish to assist friend BeastBoy as well," Starfire announced with outgoing concern. "I shall go and prepare the ancient rejuvenation elixir of the Fjyorg. Its stagnant juices replenish the body even after the most enduring battle." And with that, Starfire took flight for the kitchen.
Robin watched as she left. "Um, Raven… as long as you're there…"
"I'll hide it after she brings it to him," she replied.
Robin gave an appreciative smile. He knew Starfire meant well, but not all of her Tamaranian 'delicacies' were always effective. They especially weren't delectable most of the time either. Some other time perhaps.
Raven nodded, lowering her head as her pupils gave off a white glow. A black rift opened up in the ground at their feet, enveloping her and BeastBoy. In an instant they vanished from sight as Raven's powers transported them back towards the tower.
Robin rubbed his chin. Every detective instinct in his keen mind deduced there had to be something more to BeastBoy's behavior. But he was ill equipped to make such premature deductions after being away and uninformed of the goings on in the tower for so long. He could tell by the way Raven was looking at him she might've been more in touch with the situation at hand. But there didn't seem to be any immediate cause for alarm. With any luck, it would be resolved before it was needed for him to investigate further.
He started back towards the tower for monitoring duty.
"Oh no ya don't!" Cyborg clamped down on the boy wonder's shoulder.
"Hey! What gives?" Robin struggled, taken by surprise.
Cyborg hauled him back towards the entrance to the course. "I spent every day fixin', rebuildin', and fine tunin' this place from top to bottom since you took off playin' hide and go seek around the city. And I ain't letting it slide till you take care of all the toys that got broke."
He pointed towards the obstacle course and the heaps of debris strewn about, as well as mangled mechanical parts and smoldering blast craters filled with sparking wreckage.
Not as insurmountable a job as it might've seemed. The majority of the course was fully automated and designed to routinely refit and replace damaged obstacles. Not every nonfunctioning and outright destroyed piece of hardware had to be repaired and restored. Merely salvaged and removed from the course.
"Um… you're taking this a little bit personal, aren't ya Cy?" Robin gave a nervous chuckle.
"Oh no, I don't think so," he said happily with a smile. "Chaining ya to the floor till ya give me the whole story of what happened while you triple wax the T-Car, THAT'S takin' it personal."
Robin hung his head, clearly not willing to accept the second offer. "Well, I suppose I do need to make up for mYEEAGH!"
Cyborg dropped a heavy-duty toolbox in his arms.
"Good. Cause if anybody's gonna' be dripping a little elbow grease today, it ain't gonna' be me," he dusted off his hands heading back to the tower. "Service manuals are in the box. Have fun."
Robin just blinked. He slowly turned back to the course and the sheer amount of cleanup and repair ahead of him as he listened to Cyborg whistle as he trailed off. "Hope Star makes seconds on the Fjyorg," as he trudged down into the awaiting mess.
Beastboy sat upright on a stool in the med lab; his feet perched on the stainless steel frame. He rotated his shoulder a few times before pausing to rub his forearm, attempting to relieve the soreness that was fading but still achingly present from combat practice.
Raven stood near an open supply cabinet mounted on the wall picking through a few medical supplies. Locating a container of aspirin she popped the lid off as she carefully shook the bottle to empty two capsules into her hand before returning the bottle to the cabinet. Not exactly serious medicine but then BeastBoy's injuries weren't exactly life threatening either. She had already used her powers to ease the pain somewhat. This would merely help alleviate whatever minor discomfort still lingered as a result of his physical injuries.
All the while she couldn't help but be distracted, occasionally looking over her shoulder as if expecting BeastBoy to break into a fit of incessant whining or belly aching about being in need of care. BeastBoy was never crazy about trips to the med lab especially when he was the patient. Hardly genuine most of the time but it mostly served as a mental diversion to distract himself from whatever ailment had prompted the visit. In fact for once Raven would've welcomed it as it was usually a good way to lead into small talk that might help fill in a few blanks regarding BeastBoy's change in behavior towards her.
But astonishingly enough there was none. Not even a crack about getting a lollipop for being a good patient. The closest she would get would be the occasional bored look on his face followed by swinging his legs from side to side.
She walked over to BeastBoy aspirin in hand, reluctant to probe the matter further without having to make the first move. If he wouldn't open up about it before when she asked him on the training course it was doubtful he'd be any more willing now. It seemed like the more she asked about it, the more effort he'd put into assuring her it was nothing when it clearly wasn't. She was just going to have to hope he'd bring it up on his own.
She came to stop in front of him. But just as Raven was about to extend her hand to present the medicine BeastBoy reached out, swiftly plucking the capsules from her hand and popping them into his mouth. With an audible gulp he downed the aspirin followed by a grimacing sour look on his face; the outer flavor of the capsules none too savory for his taste buds.
"Blegkh!" he let his tongue hang out of his mouth.
Raven gave an impatient stare. "You could've at least waited for me to get some water."
"N-No, no. I'm good. Really," BeastBoy shook his head, gesturing not to go to any trouble. "So I guess I'll be gettin' back to…"
He hopped off the stool, quickly brought to one knee by the sharp twinge in his left leg, obviously still tender from the energy blast. Quickly he tried to shape the easily recognizable expression of pain into a tense smile as if he'd tripped.
No dice. Raven wasn't buying it in the least as was apparent by the impatient tapping of her foot as she gave a doubtful look at the hunched green boy.
"Think again," she pulled him upright by the arm just before shoving him back onto the stool. "You need to take it easy for a while. Your head might be made of stone but the rest of you isn't quite so lucky."
BeastBoy rolled his eyes off to the side, folding his arms like a pouting child. He could be on his deathbed and she'd still find some way to give a verbal jab to his person.
"We should probably ice down that leg for a while," she scratched her chin as she inspected his leg. Raven turned towards a small refrigeration unit in the corner of the room. "There should be a couple ice packs…"
BeastBoy quickly hobbled past her, hopping on one leg, beating her to the fridge as he seized up an ice pack and held it against his leg as he hopped back to the stool.
"…here," Raven finished, annoyed.
BeastBoy held the ice pack more firmly against his leg as he sat back down.
Raven took a deep breath. She didn't know what irritated her more. That BeastBoy was still blocking any kind of opportunity for her to talk to him or that he was still maintaining a boundary between them at the expense of his own well being to do so.
She exhaled slowly, massaging her temple with her fingers. Yelling at him wasn't going to do any good, nor would a quick backhand across his head (in spite of how cleansing it might feel). She had to maintain her composure and remain hopeful that an opportunity to get him to talk would present itself.
Raven returned to the medicine cabinet, this time returning with a small bottle of rubbing alcohol and a small cotton swab. "Now, hold still while I see about treating that…"
As before, BeastBoy quickly yet politely seized up the items from Raven, intent on helping himself.
"Ugh!" she fumed. "BeastBoy, will you stop doing that! Since you don't have enough common sense to keep from hurting yourself, at least have the common sense to let me help you."
Not the most compassionate choice of words given her current bind but it couldn't be helped. He couldn't just do as he pleased, not while he was like this.
"I got it. Ya don't have to worry. I can take care of it myself," he dipped the swab into the alcohol solution, giving a quick stir. "See?"
He dabbed the swab lightly against the scrape on his cheek. His eyes shot wide open the instant the alcohol came into contact with his skin. Tears welled up in his eyes, clenching his teeth before…
BeastBoy yelped like he'd raked the side of his face with barbed wire.
Raven let a small content smirk curl to the side of her face. "Serves you right." She peeled an adhesive strip from a bandage, gently applying it to BeastBoy's cheek, covering the injury. She then cupped her hand over his face as a gentle blue glow emanated from her palm.
In less than a few seconds the burning sensation in BeastBoy's cheek faded, a cool soothing feeling running down his face. He sighed in relief as his eyes closed, relaxing his posture, slumping slightly in his seat.
He re-opened his eyes, unable to keep from locking eyes on Raven who was still focused on easing the sting of his injury.
BeastBoy felt a lump in his throat, momentarily unable to swallow. It was a strange feeling. Not unpleasant, but strange. The contrast between the cool, easing relief of Raven's powers and the gentle warmth of her hand against his face, he couldn't help but space out for a brief moment. Like his brain was a balloon and his head had just let go letting it float into the sky.
Raven too stared right back, straight faced as ever as if trying to signal to him to tell her what was wrong and why he was acting so strangely.
BeastBoy was the first to break contact, shaking his head vigorously. He yanked his head back, parting contact with Raven's hand as the glow in her hand dissipated. He shimmied to the edge of the stool before lightly stepping down onto the floor, hastily making his way for the door.
"W-Well… uh… sorry for the trouble. Um, thanks but I think I'll just go and… ya know…rest in my room for the rest of the day. So like…maybe go read some tea or drink some books. No! I mean… uh," he stammered side stepped into the hall, "…bye!"
And with that the door swished shut.
Raven stared at the door for a few moments before she gave a huff in a combination of confusion and annoyance. She was still without a clue to what was up with BeastBoy. His behavior was normal enough but she still sensed this vacancy about him when she was around him. Like he had a wall that would go up just enough to put distance between the two of them.
Ironic that for a time it was the other way around. That when the team was initially formed it was Raven with a wall around her. But where as Raven had an emotional barrier up around her, BeastBoy was now putting up a barrier to merely separate himself from her altogether it seemed. He was distancing himself from her both physically and emotionally. He'd kept his distance in the hall, he didn't sit with her at breakfast, he remained self sufficient in training, and now he was even avoiding her aid. And all while keeping a smile on his face. The question was… why?
He certainly didn't show any sign of holding a grudge, but if he was he was doing it in a very subtle way. He couldn't be angry or depressed as it would've been more apparent.
Raven exited the med lab into the hall. But she still couldn't stop prodding the matter in her head as she walked towards the main room.
BeastBoy was never shy around Raven, at least when he hadn't done anything to upset, infuriate, or annoy her. He'd always made the most prominent efforts to make her feel at ease, like she was one of the group. Maybe he was just naturally curious about her. Maybe he didn't want her to feel as alone as she made herself out to be. And now in the midst of this unusual circumstance between the two of them he was just suddenly cutting himself off from her. Had he somehow gotten bored?
Bored? Bored of her? Was it really so far fetched? Up until now, he'd had to beg, plead, and outright bug her just to be able to hang around long enough to try to coax her out of her emotional shell. Now he was around her all day, everyday.
Had consistently being around Raven during the course of this wager made him tired of her? Had she somehow lost her mystique to him? And now he was just trying to politely wait out the bet?
'Nah,' she mentally mused in her mind.
And yet she couldn't quite dismiss the theory altogether.
Whatever the case may be, it'd have to wait for tomorrow. The day was now more than half over. BeastBoy would probably be resting and recuperating in his room till tomorrow. Which left her a rare opportunity for some alone time to herself. But even in what little meditation she could muster for the remainder of the day, her mind still revolved around the same quandary as before.
It was late that night as Raven stirred in her bed. Eyes opening she sat up with a brief stretch, taking a moment for her eyes to adjust to the darkness. She rubbed her parched throat as a mild thirst had awakened her from slumber.
Steadily she rolled her feet over the side of the bed making her way to the door and out into the hall as she gathered up her cloak on the way. Donning the long blue material around her shoulders she gave a small yawn as she walked softly towards the kitchen for a glass of water. Normally tea was her drink of choice but she was still very tired as indicated by her eyes only halfway open and preparing tea seemed far too much effort to muster.
A short while later having slaked her thirst she returned back the way she'd come. She held a small glass of water in her hand, having taken a long satisfying drink in the kitchen and then pouring another glass to take back to her room should her thirst return. Another soft yawn escaped, Raven barely able to lift her other hand to cover her mouth.
Suddenly she stopped. Freezing to the spot, lifting her head, eyes scanning the hallway from side to side as she detected the slightest twinge in her empathic senses. It came on so sudden it was as if a draft had run through her mind.
Raven held her breath trying to further sense whatever had alarmed her but only silence. Looking behind her into the dark hallway she continued to mentally feel her surroundings. But only the calm of the evening was to be found.
With a fleeting reluctance Raven turned back but only after one last visual scan of the corridor. She eventually shrugged it off. It came as no surprise that as an empath Raven could sometimes become emotionally linked to others within a limited range if the emotional surge was strong enough. Probably just a momentary backlash of someone in the tower having a bad dream.
Raven took another few steps back towards her room.
It wasn't an instant later Raven was overcome by another mental spike of turbulence, so much so that it struck her like a burst of cold air causing her to drop her glass, which shattered on the floor.
Hardly paying the broken glass any mind Raven put out her hands in front of her; focusing her mind to zero in on this alarming sensation she was overwhelmed by. It was much stronger than before and this time far more constant. It sent a chill down the back of her neck.
Raven hovered above the ground for split second before coasting down the corridors of the tower, still one hand out in front of her to better sense the source of this disturbance. Able to sense its intensity through her mind Raven followed the trail like an emotional divining rod.
"What is this… this terrible feeling?" she queried in her mind as she continued pursuit. Raven had never experienced anything like this before. It was definitely coming from within the tower as the feeling wouldn't be so strong any farther away. Its pattern was comparable to severe mental distress, but this had to be much more than a mere bad dream. This was on the verge of a total breakdown as if someone's emotions were ready to collapse in on themselves.
Raven hastened her pace; whizzing silently through the hallways, zigging and zagging hairpin turns down the corridor.
"Warmer," she said as she took a quick left turn.
She ducked down a straightaway, then taking another left.
"Colder," she grunted with a sigh.
The feeling was so strong now that it was becoming difficult to navigate clearly to its source, as it seemed to saturate her senses. It was like trying to find a single drop of water in the ocean.
She doubled back the way she'd come, taking a right in place of her previous direction.
Past the recreation room and hanging a left by Starfire's quarters.
Up to the next floor via ascending the stairwell.
A straightaway down another hallway.
"There had better be one heck of a hunk of cheese at the end of this maze."
She threw her legs forward, halting her course to a complete stop. Raven brought her fingers to the side of her head, taking an intense more thorough feel with her mind, verifying she had arrived at the source of whatever had triggered this intense emotional spike she'd detected. At that point she had to wall off her senses mentally, the feeling so strong it was overwhelming her. There was no doubt. She was here.
The gravity of the potential situation brought Raven to a standstill. She was afraid to have guessed this was where she might have been headed. But logically, there was no other place it could have been.
Raven looked in front her to find the door to BeastBoy's quarters.
Was there a sign she hadn't interpreted correctly? Some clue he'd been trying to give her? What could she have missed? Aside from a discrete hint that he was in horrific emotional turmoil? She knew something was bothering him, she sensed something was off, but she never could have imagined anything like this would be the result. He wasn't in danger, at least not physically. But from what Raven was able to sense before it felt as though he was emotionally set on fire.
There would be time to go over details later. The more pressing matter was still at hand. Raven reached for the door.
But she stopped just shy of the keypad. In spite of the severity of the situation she couldn't help but question her actions. She'd failed to get to the route of the problem sooner, she hadn't anticipated any repercussion of this magnitude, and she was about to breach BeastBoy's room in the dead of night. What if intervening now made things worse?
Raven bit down on her lip. Her hand moved away from the door.
From inside BeastBoy's room a black vortex took shape over the door. Through the dark energies overlapping the entrance a blue-cloaked figure wafted through to the inside of the room touching down on the floor.
Raven surveyed the room. "Well, at least this makes us even for the last time BeastBoy snuck in MY room," she whispered to herself.
BeastBoy's room was dark, but not dark enough that she couldn't see a few feet in front of her. In the corner she noticed a tiny nightlight plugged into the wall socket below giving off a soft yellow glow from its tinted bulb in the shape of a duckling.
Raven couldn't help give the faintest of smiles. Regardless of the circumstances BeastBoy had some element on his side to ease the tension.
She surveyed the room, quickly identifying BeastBoy's bunk bed, shortly after the sound of low rustling noises. She moved quietly alongside the bottom bunk finding the green boy on his side. Covers were strewn about, his pillow fallen on the floor as she observed the most contorted expression of pain on his face as he slowly thrashed from side to side in his sleep.
Raven made critical observations. He was still wearing the tattered uniform from combat practice so at the very least the unfathomable concern of stumbling onto BeastBoy in his undergarments was no longer a worry. He was still asleep. A deep sleep and none too pleasant as was apparent by him clutching the bedspread tightly under his fingers.
Her initial response had been to wake him, but seeing him like this she knew it would only be a short-term solution. He hadn't been willing to talk before under physical strain. Emotional would be no different. If his earlier behavior were any indication even if she woke him he'd still deny anything was wrong and probably blame it on his high sugar intake. And now was no time for empty sentiments and lies. This required a more direct approach.
Gently, Raven took hold of his shoulder as he tossed again towards her, trying to keep him steady. She placed her other hand softly on his forehead. Her eyes moved quickly from side to side, able to quickly establish a deep sense of his troubled thoughts through her mind. He was all twisted up inside. His mind was racing, his heart was heavy, and it felt as if his very emotions were boiling over at their core.
But Raven had only scratched the surface. She needed to get to the root of the problem. She needed to delve deeper into his mind and find the source.
Raven took a deep breath, closing her eyes.
BeastBoy continued to flinch somewhat, but he'd stopped tossing and turning. The look of discomfort on his face began to deteriorate.
Raven slowly exhaled.
His body began to sink against the mattress, relaxing. His grip on the covers loosened.
She opened her eyes.
Raven looked around to find herself in a lush countryside. Tall trees and green grass, wild flowers wafting in a gentle breeze, and a sky so clear and blue overhead. The city limits visible in the distance just over a few rolling hills and even Titan's Tower amidst the shoreline.
She had entered BeastBoy's mind, or at least a part of it. "Strange," she said, "Not what I would've envisioned in an emotional disturbance."
The scene was a peaceful one. Nothing gave the impression that anything was wrong. And she had to admit it was a rather beautiful setting. Hard to believe this was BeastBoy's mind. She would've guessed the inside of his precious arcade or an all you can eat tofu buffet as the main backdrop in his mind.
Still, there was no reason to assume everything was all right. Looks could be deceiving. Perhaps her entering BeastBoy's mind had reset his thoughts. If that were the case then this might only be the calm before the storm.
Raven began to walk aimlessly into a noticeably thicker woodland area to her left. No real direction or inclination of where to go but she certainly wouldn't find anything standing around. She pushed deeper inward, brushing past bushes and parting stray branches. Before long she found herself along a beaten path. A dirt road stretching both ways that seemed to go on forever. There were rows and rows of trees along both sides whose limbs curved upwards, the thick patches of leaves letting speckles of sunlight in to dot the shaded trail below.
"Ya know for a guy whose primary source of culture revolves around comic books and monster movies," Raven mused to herself, "He sure knows how to paint a tranquil picture."
She stepped out into the path. Just then she recognized the sound of approaching footsteps lightly trampling and crunching along the thick dirt trail. Spotting a shadowy silhouette drawing closer, quickly she ducked back behind a tree, peeking out from the side. She didn't want to rush in on the inner working of another's mind without better understanding the situation at hand.
Slowly a figure began to come into view. It was hard to make out at first, but as Raven began to squint into the distance and as it drew closer she began to distinguish a recognizable form.
Raven heard a short chuckle in a familiar tone verifying BeastBoy for certain. She watched as he stepped into view along the trail; now clear in sight, a smile accompanying his laugh. Wearing his standard Titan's uniform he came to a halt, turning to face the way he'd come. Almost as if waiting for something.
Raven trained her eyes on BeastBoy. "What is he…"
A moment later a second figure approached catching up alongside him. BeastBoy wasn't alone.
The other figure stepped into the open and once again another instantly recognizable figure.
"Her," Raven sighed. "It had to be her."
Terra walked up beside BeastBoy, dressed in her Titans ensemble, casually brushing back her hair with a smile.
Raven rolled her eyes. She was far from surprised. After all this was most likely her own doing. Bringing up Terra at the arcade, even just by name had probably refreshed her in BeastBoy's subconscious mind. But it still didn't make the situation any easier for her to bear with. And it certainly didn't make it any clearer.
It was no secret deep down BeastBoy still probably missed her. That she could comprehend. Loss wasn't an easy thing to get over. But if Terra was somehow the root of the problem how did she fit into creating complications for just Raven? If BeastBoy was saddened or depressed over her surely she wouldn't be the only one affected. Why hadn't BeastBoy distanced himself from everyone else as well? And why now all of a sudden?
Terra brushed up alongside BeastBoy as they walked side by side. The green boy gave a shy smile, quickly looking off to the side, coyly rubbing his arm.
Drawing closer, Raven quickly pulled back behind the tree, sure to stay out of sight as they walked by. No sooner had the sound of their footsteps passed than she poked out from the opposite end of the tree watching them from behind.
Terra's hand swooped down, gently taking hold of BeastBoy's. Startled, he stopped cold, jolting Terra to a stop. Her face went blank for only an instant, startled in turn by BeastBoy's sudden stop. But her smile quickly returned, her fingers curling around his hand. He looked down from Terra's hand in his own up to her warm face, which batted her eyelashes at him.
BeastBoy quickly looked away, fighting off a rosy tint in his cheeks. But it did little to hamper Terra's ambitions, slowly taking hold of his other hand.
He looked at Terra. She looked right back. BeastBoy's face was giving way to surprise and just a touch of confusion. He looked like he wanted to say something but no words came. Terra just lowered her head with a content smile as if relishing the moment.
BeastBoy let out a deep breath of relief, relaxing his shoulders, feeling a sense of comfort. He gradually returned her smile with one of his own.
All the while Raven stared, unmoving and unflinching. So many messages going through her mind. One part of her wanted to look away. This was after all BeastBoy's mind and he was permitted to his own thoughts and as such he should be entitled to some privacy. The other was demanding she not take her eyes off him for a second because she knew she still had to find what had been making BeastBoy's emotional state deteriorate earlier. And somewhere in the farthest recesses of her mind was an equally prominent argument to rush in and trounce that ditzy schoolgirl by her putting her foot so far up her…
Raven snapped her attention back to Terra who had suddenly broken away from BeastBoy, clutching her head as she convulsed, seemingly in pain. She took another two steps away from BeastBoy looking as if she was barely able to keep the will to stand, her arms and legs trembling. BeastBoy reached towards her, concerned.
The ground beneath them began to tremble. The sky above went dark as thick storm clouds blotted out all traces of sunlight.
One of Terra's arms shot forward as she let out another frantic howl of agony. Her forearm began to twist and warp as white bandages sprang from her body ensnaring around her arm. She struggled to break free but to no avail, visibly frightened and still very much in pain. Her other arm followed quickly after, matching the other. Her legs followed suit, bandages tightly constricting both her limbs. Metal plates uprooted themselves on her hands, wrists, and shoulders, each with a sickening clang, bolting the polished steel components to her form. Metal berets of similar fashion popped out from each side of the front her head. From Terra's back another large piece of metal clawed itself over her shoulders, locking itself around her chest like armor.
In the dead center of her newly forged chest plate a circular shard of orange steel sprang forth. Embedded in its frame a curved, sleekly contoured black S.
BeastBoy took a step back, shaking his head in a state of disbelief. Terra was now dawned in her apprentice uniform of Slade's design.
It was a difficult sight for him to bear. Deceit and betrayal, a single image that symbolized so much. It felt as if his heart stopped and as if his stomach were tied in knots. Even from a short distance Raven could feel BeastBoy's thoughts beginning to grow heavy and slip towards what she'd felt before. This was someone who he'd trusted, defended, and in the end he still had to bear the damage she'd done to everyone around her. Only now it was far worse, happening much more quickly and right in front of him through his own mind.
Shaking off the initial shock, he reached for her.
At that point Terra fell to her knees, again clutching her head tightly as if trying to blot out the world around her and trying to quiet so much in her own mind.
BeastBoy took hold of her shoulder, hoping to comfort her and ease whatever pain he could.
Terra's head shot straight up, arching her back and letting out the most bloodcurdling scream imaginable. BeastBoy watched in terror as a gray veil shrouded Terra's body from her feet slowly up to her neck, petrifying her body to stone. Her flesh became mineral, her hair froze stiff as granite, and the low sound of crumbling rock hardening her joints solidified her outstretched fingers that had been reaching for BeastBoy in place. Finally the shroud of rock engulfed her face, trapping her in a moment in time as a statue. A few previously welled up tears came loose, now tiny gray pebbles dropping to the ground and rolling short of BeastBoy's feet.
The ground quaked once more, this time with more force as the patch of ground beneath Terra shook to give way to a tall stone pedestal, raising her up beyond BeastBoy's reach several feet in the air.
The quake subsided as the frightened former hero resided on her knees, in pain, and alone atop a makeshift shrine. Forever etched from the very element she once commanded.
Raven hung her head in silence, unable to help but feel sympathy. And not just for BeastBoy either. While she still had more than a few bitter memories of Terra and the wrongs she'd perpetrated it was enough to make her look past them for a little while. Granted it was an exaggeration and a construct of BeastBoy's guilt ridden subconscious, but even Terra and everything Raven had held against her, from this perspective made her focus a little less on her faults.
Raven continued to watch as BeastBoy slowly got to his feet taking a few steps back. He looked as if he'd seen a ghost. And to an extent he had, at least in his mind. He had this look of disbelief, as if unable to accept what'd happened.
He shook his head more vigorously trying to somehow convince himself that this wasn't happening, not again. He fell backwards landing hard against the ground but quickly pushing and kicking against the soil to get back to his feet now running away.
The look of fear was apparent on his face. He was in a cold sweat, his heartbeat quickened, running faster and faster. He panted and huffed with each frantic step as he ran past where Raven had been watching.
She leaned out from behind the tree just as he passed, clearly concerned. But also somewhat confused. "I don't get it," she looked back at Terra's memorial. "Why hasn't he woken up yet?" Usually a person awoke after the worst of a nightmare had concluded, but it seemed this command performance of BeastBoy's mind was still ongoing. Which could only mean one thing.
The worst was yet to come.
BeastBoy continued to run, quickly glancing back once or twice. All the while Raven kept him in view, coasting along the trees to keep pace and still retaining cover. She also maintained a constant link directly to BeastBoy to keep tabs on his emotional output and his mind which while heightened were relatively steady. As traumatic as his experience had been thus far, it was still not triggering anything close to what had alarmed to her before. Still, he ran.
Up ahead Raven could make out several figures advancing towards him through a layer of fog. But BeastyBoy didn't falter. He just kept running, calling out towards them as if he seemed to know who was there.
Not a moment later the figures came clear into view. Brushing past the fog, Cyborg, Starfire, and Robin came to a halt in front of him.
Cyborg called to BeastBoy, Starfire and Robin at his sides. Each had a look of concern all their own as BeastBoy slowed to a halt in front of them catching his breath. He tried to speak, but couldn't mutter more than a few syllables as he panted for air.
"Guys…s-she… a-and… i-it…" He was stammering, looking between his friends and Terra's direction, pointing and making all manner of hand signals as if trying to communicate what had just happened. The apprehension was evident in his shaken voice.
Robin and Starfire each put a hand on his shoulder attempting to calm him. They couldn't make sense of what he was trying to say until he settled down.
Slowly, BeastBoy's breathing began to gradually wind down to normal but he still had a frantic expression on his face. Robin gave a nod as if signaling to take his time and to explain what was wrong.
Suddenly Robin's arm winced away from BeastBoy, growing heavy as a painful tingling spread from his hand up to his elbow. From the tips of his fingers the same gray veil that had consumed Terra was now working it's way towards his shoulder, hardening every fiber of his being to stone.
Robin grunted, trying to shake his arm free, hoping as if to somehow shatter the stone encasing that was now splitting off down his midsection and towards his neck.
Another panicked cry cut through the air. Like Robin, Starfire too was found herself being slowly petrified in the same manner. Spreading from the same hand that had once occupied BeastBoy's shoulder she quickly tried her best to brush it away with her one free hand. Her efforts proving fruitless, she attempted to build a charge of starbolt energy in her now stone sheathed hand. The faintest of green glows emanated from her palm, but quickly faded as she lost all feeling in the arm. It continued to engulf her, granite almost cocooning itself over her body bit by bit.
BeastBoy stumbled backwards, falling to the ground; panic renewed in his eyes once more. He looked again to find Robin and Starfire both frozen in stone, each attempting to reach for one another.
"Star! Robin!" Cyborg rushed to Starfire, then to Robin. He was trying to make sense out of what was happening, shouting to each of his friends as if hoping they could hear him. Taking a knee beside Robin, a small panel popped open from his forearm as he frantically initiated a scan to determine the current state of his fellow Titans.
BeastBoy haggardly crawled over to Cyborg, hoping he could find out what was happening. He somehow clung to the belief that if anyone could identify whatever was happening and possibly reverse it, it had to be Cyborg.
He peered over Cyborg's shoulder, trying to catch sight of the readout on his instruments and if he'd found anything. He asked if they would be all right. He asked what was happening. But no answer came.
Startled by the silence, BeastBoy lightly shook his friend. "Cy? Cy, are they gonna be okay?"
Cyborg didn't respond.
"C'mon Cy, what's wrong?" He shook again, harder, asking again if they'd be all right. "Cy…"
Cyborg fell forward, hitting the ground with thud as a solid stone statue. He too was petrified in the same state as the others. His face was traced with terror, as his transformation had no doubt come on more suddenly and more quickly than he could react. His once brightly lit blue cybernetic components were a musty gray, and the red glow of his electronic eye had gone dark to the way of thick granite.
BeastBoy gasped, backing away. This wasn't happening. It couldn't be happening.
Raven continued to watch from a short distance away. She was beginning to sense it now. That terrible feeling was starting to grow, the one she'd sensed before. She could feel it beginning to surge in his mind. Just starting to sink its way in. And it wasn't getting any easier to observe either.
But it still wasn't at the same intensity that'd alarmed her. And as much as she wanted to stop it from going any farther, she couldn't. There were still too many blanks that kept her from understanding BeastBoy's state of mind. She still couldn't explain what this had to do with her. Terra being refreshed in his mind, she could explain. Re-living and witnessing her demise first hand, that made sense. Sadness, guilt, and fear welling up inside of him, that's what nightmares do. But there had to be some deeper meaning to it all.
She caught a quick glimpse of BeastBoy's face. His shallow breathing, his forehead in a cold sweat, and seeming every muscle in his body trembling. He looked at his hands as if contemplating why he'd brought about all of this. She'd never seen him so scared.
Raven shook her head. She didn't need to understand a thing more. She'd get to the bottom of this eventually but in her own way. Enough was enough. She couldn't let this run its course any longer. Answers or not, this had to stop.
She stepped out from cover and started making for BeastBoy. But just as she started towards him she felt something rush by her.
BeastBoy's ears perked up, detecting movement from behind him. He spun around, still on hands and knees. He was already alarmed.
Another figure moving towards him could be vaguely seen through the fog ahead.
It hardly made BeastBoy any less fearful. Still shaken he merely stood as firmly as he was able, plating one foot in front of him. He leaned forward slightly, gauging friend or foe. Making ready to either run or attack at a moments notice.
He watched as the figure drew closer, swallowing hard as its general shape began to take form through the fog.
It came out plainly into view, stopping just in front of him a few feet away.
"R-Raven…" BeastBoy said plainly only able to state the obvious. His voice was still not without uncertainty.
Raven stood before him just staring. She looked away briefly, observing the other Titans or at least statues of the former.
BeastBoy looked as well, though not able to bear the sight for very long, quickly looking back at her.
Raven looked back at him, a hint of concern in her eyes.
BeastBoy lowered his head, searching for a way to explain any of this.
She took a step towards him.
"Whoa!" BeastBoy took a step back, holding out his hand as if to signal not to come any closer. "I-I don't think that's such a good idea." Though he still wasn't completely certain of what was happening he had an unwavering suspicion that he was somehow at the center of it.
Raven crooked her head slightly, studying his jittery face. She didn't speak, merely watching BeastBoy hesitantly look between her and the stone likenesses of their friends. She waited as BeastBoy lowered his arm. Then she took another step.
"Raven," he asked almost pleadingly, taking two quick steps backwards.
She took another step, holding up her hands to her shoulders as if trying to steady him, to show she meant no harm, and that everything was going to be all right.
But BeastBoy was far from convinced, stepping away again to keep a significant distance between them.
She took another step.
BeastBoy scanned his surroundings, a nervous twitch from his ear as the sound of her footstep gave him pause.
Raven took one more step, now only less than two feet away.
Suddenly BeastBoy turned and ran as if a starting pistol had gone off in his mind. He darted into the thicker woodland area whizzing between the trees, not looking back. He huffed with every step, determined to keep whatever was happening from happening again.
It felt like all he'd been doing since this whole debacle started was run. But as tired as he already was exhaustion just seemed to have little effect on the green boy. Seconds felt like minutes frozen in time. The muscles in his legs starting to burn, his breathing heavier, and his knees sore and yet he still just ran. But for all his efforts it didn't feel like he was getting anywhere.
It felt like he'd past the same trees for the third or fourth time already. Everything was starting to look similar as if he was going in circles even though he knew that just wasn't possible, having run in a straight path, never deviating. He skeptically looked back as if hoping to gauge any manner of distance he'd covered.
Even in his dreams it seemed BeastBoy still retained the kind of luck only he could possess, having run right into an obstacle the instant he looked away.
"Ow!" he sat up, holding the side of his head that had caught the brunt of the impact. He dabbed the side of his face quickly, inspecting his fingers for any sign of blood. Finding none, he quickly got to his feet only to trip himself up and fall back to the ground.
He looked up to find he had run right into a sizeable rock formation. Ironic how he could be running away from an imminent danger of being turned to stone only to collide with a rock.
Taking a more thorough moment to get to his feet more gradually, shaking off the prior daze of the impact he found himself in the midst of a small clearing. Short grass was half dead in patches all round him, encircled by tight groupings of tall trees. The previously dark clouds that had once blotted the sky had eerily receded, paving the way for the dim light of a moonless sky.
BeastBoy backed away slowly, cautious of the ominous atmosphere. His animal senses could detect a dead end when they saw one. And for such a confining area to exist in a wide open environment he couldn't shake the feeling like he would've ended up here even if he hadn't averted his eyes from where he was running. Like he was driven into a dead end.
He had hung around more than long enough. Even with no clear direction or thought of destination, it was time to get moving. He turned to hurry back the way he'd come when…
"Wagh!" BeastBoy yelled as he backpedaled several steps backward.
Raven was there. With no sound, no warning, not a word, Raven was there in front of him.
"Rae," BeastBoy started, hands up as before, "Please just… ya might wanna keep your distance."
Everyone who'd come into contact with him most recently was finding themselves met with being fitted for a stone coffin. Why he himself hadn't turned to stone was still a mystery, but all he could assume was that he was a carrier.
Raven slowly moved towards him.
"Raven, ya don't understand. I-I know this doesn't make a whole lotta' sense but… ya gotta stay away," he pleaded.
Raven didn't take her eyes off him, her expression all but empty though evident of concern and a willingness to help.
"Raven?" he said sadly, fearing the inevitable.
She reached out for him.
He shut his eyes tightly, turning his head away, arms stiff at his sides.
Darkness. Only darkness under the green eyes of BeastBoy. He tried to shut them tighter, but his eyelids were down as far as they'd go. He couldn't hear a sound, which served to both relieve him and frighten him simultaneously. He bit the side of his lip as to help alleviate the low chattering of his teeth. But he dare not look. If he didn't look at her she wouldn't turn to stone. At least that was the hope he clung to.
A soft weight rested on the top of BeastBoy's head, easily identifiable as a hand.
He cringed, still worried what was going to happen next. But he still wasn't inclined to open his eyes.
"I can't see you," he said in a calm desperation, "If I can't see you, you can't turn into a rock."
He felt the weight of her hand shift downward, curving along the back of his head. Raven's fingers contoured along the back of his scalp as her palm slid halfway towards his neck.
"Dude," he thought, " I-Is she…"
He felt the slightest sensation of her hand pulling his head forward. As if she were drawing closer.
I think maybe she's… Yeah. Yeah, I-I think she's gonna kis…"
"Agh-Yee!" BeastBoy yelped as Raven slapped him upside the back of his head. "Dude!" he bellowed, pointing an accusatory finger to Raven's face. "What is wrong with you? I try to keep you from goin' all tomb-stoned and you jus…"
It suddenly donned on BeastBoy as he was making introductory remarks to his third degree that he was now looking dead in the eyes of Raven, having looked at her without even realizing it.
She in turn merely wore a somewhat satisfied smirk. BeastBoy never was much of a deterrent for her.
"Aahh!" BeastBoy spun around with his back to Raven and both hands shielding his eyes, still holding onto his 'Medusa' theory.
Raven gave an exasperated sigh. "BeastBoy…"
"Raven, I can't let ya turn to stone," he said defiantly, squatting to the ground.
"BeastBoy, will you look at me," she responded firmly as she looked down at his backside, which was practically wearing an invitation to her foot.
"No!" he shook his head, "I know ya don't believe me, I know it sounds nuts, but I'm like totally cursed. And you're gonna' be next if you don't…"
"BeastBoy! Turn around and look at me this instant or Azar help me I'm going to give you such a kick that the smack to your head will feel like a love tap," she reeled her leg back in soccer fashion as if she was going to take a penalty kick. Which incidentally she was.
BeastBoy spun back around, standing at attention. His eyes were open but looking up at the sky, missing Raven by a wide margin. Reflex action. Through past experience he had come to assume no matter what dangers he might encounter as a teen hero there was little chance they could rival any consequences at the hands of Raven.
After a momentary cleansing breath, she grabbed hold of BeastBoy's head, aiming his field of vision directly at her. She stared right into his eyes without another word.
He shook nervously for a few seconds. Still reluctant, still scared to a degree, but after a full minute of gazing deeply into Raven's eyes he gradually relaxed. At least as relaxed as possible in keeping with some of her earlier remarks.
At that point she finally felt he was calm enough to get through to.
Raven's hand released the top of his head and gently took hold of his face as a more tranquil and caring sentiment wove its way onto Raven's expression. "Listen, I don't know what's wrong. I don't know what you 'think' is wrong."
BeastBoy's pupils held her attention, though they would nervously break direct contact from time to time. Still the fact that she was very much still flesh and blood was a somewhat reassuring sign.
"But it'll be all right," she finished, allowing a brief silence for her words to sink in.
After a moments peace she watched as BeastBoy's shoulders slowly relaxed, as did the rest of his posture. It was hard to say for certain whether or not he believed her. But she could plainly tell he felt a little better.
She studied his face and the confliction of emotions he must've been feeling. Trusting but worried. Annoyed but grateful. Afraid but willing. It was almost like a side-by-side comparison of at least a dozen emotions at one time. Like she was holding her meditation mirror up to him at an angle, unable to see one part of him without seeing the other.
"I couldn't… I mean, I-I didn't want ya to…" he trailed off, looking down at the ground.
"I know," she replied.
Slowly, BeastBoy gradually began to calm himself. Still the slightest tinge of worry in his eyes but no longer showing signs of immediate concern.
"Wow," Raven mused to herself, leaning against a tree, hidden from view, "He portrays me more accurately in his mind than I do in my own."
Raven, the 'real' Raven, stood from a safe unnoticeable distance watching the whole event take place. Initially she had been set on confronting BeastBoy and ending this nightmare herself. But just as she was about to intervene was when she caught sight of… well… herself. An uncanny resemblance, a Raven no doubt engineered as another element of BeastBoy's mind. This doppelganger fitting her likeness had flown past her to intercept BeastBoy, causing her reluctantly to continue to observe.
She was curious as to see what results her counterpart would yield given the circumstances. At the very least her role in this dream might help explain more about the situation at hand. And she had honestly been curious as to her absence in this dream up until now when all the others had been recounted. She still had her doubts, feeling more confident had she stepped in herself but ultimately decided to remain neutral for just a bit longer. After all, this adaptation of her persona seemed quite capable. She even followed through with her forearm the same way Raven did when she smacked BeastBoy.
She watched as the Raven of BeastBoy's mind slowly extended her other arm, gently resting her other hand on his face, lowering her head to look deeply into his eyes. BeastBoy swallowed a little hard with an audible gulp.
Raven shared a look of nervousness matching BeastBoy's, suddenly having second thoughts about allowing this to continue with BeastBoy all alone with an admittedly realistic image of herself.
Her dream self's head leaned forward an inch or two.
"He… He wouldn't…" Raven murmured to herself, shaking her head. BeastBoy didn't know he was being watched, let alone by the real Raven. And he was a boy after all and boys will be boys. Especially in their dreams. "…Would he?"
BeastBoy's head pulled back slightly as if caught off guard. He parted his lips, but whether or not to speak remained to be seen.
Raven continued to watch, a brief giddy feeling in the pit of her stomach. Well, maybe 'giddy' wasn't the best word. It felt more like butterflies in her stomach, to which she was trying to douse them with gasoline and then light a match. It was such a confliction. Sure it wasn't real and BeastBoy's dreams were no one's business but his own. And if her presence here had somehow caused the danger to pass then she should leave him to his private thoughts. But yet she couldn't look away.
The dream Raven leaned closer towards BeastBoy. But BeastBoy himself was still stiff and unmoving.
Raven peered out from beside the tree just a little more.
Raven's doppelganger closed her eyes, resting her forehead lightly against BeastBoy's head.
"Umm…" he tried to think of what to say but was unable to form syllables, as he could hear nothing but the calming sounds of Raven breathing. BeastBoy remained still. His hands flat at his sides, his face deep in thought as if questioning the outcome of every action that might come next on his behalf. But he couldn't think straight. He couldn't think of what to say. He couldn't think of what to do. All he could think about was to stop thinking.
He closed his eyes, relaxing his head, letting it lean back against Raven's. After a brief moment, he peeked one eye open. Finding no resistance or change in her current demeanor, he closed his eye once more.
He inhaled slowly, holding the air in his chest briefly before exhaling just as slow.
"Raven?" BeastBoy's eyes opened at the sound of Raven in pain, watching her back away slow with both hands cradling her chest. "Raven, are you okay?"
She fell to her knees, falling forward, one hand holding her up against the ground. Her teeth were clenched, her eyes shut tightly almost as if fighting back tears.
"Raven!" BeastBoy rushed to her aid, kneeling beside her, placing his hand on her shoulder. "Raven, what's wrong?"
Raven just cringed tighter, her breathing growing heavy.
"Rae, c'mon. Say somethin'."
Shakily, Raven drew her arm to BeastBoy's shoulder with a tight grip, slowly looking up at BeastBoy, her whole body almost convulsing. She opened her eyes.
"R-Raven?" he asked, concern growing more apparent, looking for any kind of response.
She met eyes with him once more. Suddenly…
Raven gasped, arching her back, throwing back her head as she shot straight up. Her cloak fanned out wildly, whipping and flailing around as if caught in an updraft. Yet there wasn't so much as a breeze in the air.
From just beneath the clasp of her cloak, dozens of gray veins began to seep onto her leotard, spreading and reaching across her in all directions. They curled around her arms, stretched along her waist, and rooted into her legs. For every inch they spread, the wider they expanded. They started to bulge and overlap one another, draping more and more of Raven's form in a thick veil of gray, starting to darken. Starting to solidify. Starting to harden.
Before long Raven's limbs were frozen into position, unable to move. From the shoulders down her entire body began to mineralize and set into stone.
She met eyes with him as the last of the stone barbs crawled along her cheeks, encircling last features of her face. The once bright luster of her pupils faded, extinguishing the last trace of life in her stone figure.
A moment passed.
"Raven?" he took a step towards her.
Her stone face remained stiff and unmoving still frozen in place.
"Rae?" He poked her shoulder. "Raven? Come on!" He took hold of her shoulders, attempting to lightly shake her but unable to budge her sturdy rock exterior. "Please!"
No change. No movement. No hope.
The harsh reality began to sink in. BeastBoy shook his head as if trying to shed any kind of perception that this was happening. He ran his hands through his hair, combing his thoughts for an answer to what had transpired.
A drop of water struck his head. Then another. Slowly a steady rain began to come down.
He looked up as a flash of lightning streaked overhead. A booming crack of thunder shook the sky, BeastBoy taking a step back only to feel something bump into him. Alarmed, he turned around to find Terra, still frozen in stone as he'd left her before.
"Wagh!" BeasyBoy yelped, jumping back as another flash of lighting illuminated the horrified look on her face as if aimed solely at him. "W-Wha?" he looked back the way he'd come, trying to figure out how her statue had appeared out of thin air.
He turned, trying to gather his thoughts, to make some sense of all this. No sooner had his head turned had he came to sight of Cyborg's statue, now upright and only a foot in front of him.
Confused and frightened, he stepped to the side, uneasily trying to exit from his best friend's field of view as if its eyes were looking down on him. Judging him.
Thunder cracked again to the flash of lightning.
BeastBoy jolted in the other direction, quickly looking to find Starfire opposite of him, petrified and as before, eyes feeling as if focused solely at him.
"Aah!" he shrieked, mortified at the sight of another of his fallen friend suddenly appearing.
Another flash of lighting synced to the crack of thunder from behind, almost as if guiding his view to the sight of Robin to which he jumped backwards, startled.
He turned and turned, but no matter where he looked stood one of his friends, frozen in stone and barring his way. Terra, Robin, Starfire, Cyborg, all of them. He was surrounded.
BeastBoy's heart was growing heavier. His mind was grinding to a halt. So much shock, grief and sadness to process all at once it felt as though any second his sanity would simply be yanked out from under him. He shut his eyes, hands covering his ears, attempting to blot out everything around him, trying to get a grip on himself.
He took a deep breath, shaking his head as if trying one last time to convince himself this wasn't for real. That he was going to look up and none of this would have ever transpired. "Not happening. This… this is NOT happening." He steadied his nerves and looked up.
Two stone glazed eyes met his own.
Raven's solidified body was now right in front of him, not a breath of life to her, only her suffering and scared mineralized expression frozen on her face. The spattering rain drops rolled down her face like tears.
BeastBoy's face went blank.
He was all alone. His friends, immortalized as stone statues all around him, each one projecting a different message that only he could seem to hear. How he couldn't save them. How he let them down. How he failed them.
BeastBoy's head started pounding. Clutching his head tightly, wincing from the pain. His breathing became faster, more erratic. He hunched over, shaking his head every which way.
Prying his hands away from his still throbbing head. He looked down at his hands, squinting, hardly able to keep his eyes open through such intense pain. He could feel something growing inside of him. Grief turned to frustration. Frustration turned to anger. Anger turned to…
The fingertips of BeastBoy's gloves burst wide open, razor sharp claws bulging from his fingers. Thick patches of dark green fur began to swell under his uniform, starting to tear at the seams. His forearms grew thicker, his biceps doubled in size. His spinal cord echoed thick popping sounds of each vertebrae realigning itself as his shoulders bulked outwards to match the massive muscular overhaul taking shape over his back.
His legs tightened as his thighs and calf muscles expanded, more and more fur uprooting through his outfit. His shoes split right in half revealing clawed feet. His small body began to drastically expand, both in mass and with muscle.
His head lurched forward as a thick mane of green fur sprouted up from his neckline. His teeth sharpened, his pupils vanished, as did the last remaining trace of humanity. Cold white eyes narrowing as a low growl rumbled from his throat.
Drawing back for an instant, drawing air to his chest, it swung its head upwards.
"ERRRRRRRRRAAAAGGGGHHHHHH!" it cut loose a savage roar.
BeastBoy had reverted to his feral form. A form more animal than any of his other transformations. Because unlike the others, which allowed BeastBoy to assume animal form while maintaining his human state of mind, this form was closer to that of a human beast with an animal's state of mind. A primal and vicious looking hulk of a creature.
The beast took sight of the statues surrounding him. He dropped low to the ground, bearing his claws before leaping into the air and landing with a mighty slash of his arm. Crumbling the statue of Terra to rubble.
It turned, rabidly pouncing on another statue, letting both arms slam down to break off the arms of Robin before body slamming the remaining stone figure against the ground into pieces.
It grabbed hold of Starfire with both arms, squeezing the statue with such forceful pressure that the torso imploded, letting Starfire's head fall to the ground.
From there it lunged at Cyborg, driving his shoulder dead center into the statue's base, knocking it over. The beast then squatted, building strength in his legs before leaping high into the air and crashing down on the stone figure with a bone crushing stomp that sent stone fragments scattering in all directions.
One of the larger pieces made impact with Raven, chipping a portion of her face.
The beast's head snapped to the side at the sound of the impact, narrowing its eyes at the last remaining target. It charged right for Raven's stone likeness.
The beast leaped forward, landing right in front of its prey. Teeth bared, claws at the ready, it swung its arm forward but only to pull back its strike to an abrupt halt just beneath the stone figures chin, the tips of its claws just barely within contact.
The beast's eyes narrowed with a low growl under his breath as if struck by a lingering sense of recognition. As if the tiniest remnants something familiar lingered in its mind.
It crooked its head to the side. Then to the other, seemingly studying the face of the statue.
Slowly it raised its clawed hand to the statue's cheek, tracing the jaw line. It's breathing slowed but still not absent of the faintest snarl. As if caught between instinct and memory. It moved its head closer looking deeper into the statue's face, it's nose twitching as if trying to place a scent, which faded with every drop of rain. The briefest look of sadness dawned on the creature's eyes before shutting them tightly with another growl.
The Beast's hand faltered abruptly, it's sharp finger tips accidentally breaking off the slightest bit of frail stone, chipping away a lock of Raven's mineralized hair.
Ferocity returned to the beast's eyes, memory and whatever lingering humanity remained cut off by overpowering instinct and aggression. It swung back its arms, swiping forward with a deadly crisscrossing strike, breaking apart the statue from above the shoulders. Chunks of stone crumbled to the ground as the beast reeled back its leg before lunging its knee into the center of the now headless figure. The remnants of the torso shattered apart.
The beast breathed heavily, huffing at the ground with one last look at the debris strewn about. Friends, statues, victims, all broken into heaps of splintered granite at its feet. It swung its head upward with a primal howl. A fleeting sadness and boundless anger echoed through the bleak sky, momentarily quieting the thunder overhead, which seemed to cease at the beast cry.
Raven stared in shock. She'd only seen this form once before, but she was unaware if this was just a manifestation of the dream overshadowing BeastBoy or if in fact he was perhaps suffering a lapse of control. Either way, it began to explain the strong emotional emanation she detected earlier. Such a feral state would easily overwhelm BeastBoy's mind almost to the point of overload.
It was a part of BeastBoy she related to. Where as she had her dark side to keep in check, BeastBoy had this inner animal inside of him. It was still an extension of BeastBoy to a degree, not some mindless monster. But to be brought on so suddenly and in a heightened emotional state made it far more difficult to control. Instinct over rationality as it were.
The beast steadied itself, sinking its head between his shoulders, resting its fists squarely on the ground.
Suddenly it's animal instincts went on alert, its head jolting back up. It quickly turned, looking over its shoulder to find Raven.
She stood barely ten feet from the hulking creature. A blank stare as the rain continued to fall, pooling drops to drip from her damp hair.
Slowly the Beast turned the rest of its body towards her. A single fist unfurled to bare its claws and one leg stepping backwards as if prone to pounce on her in an instant. Her deadpan expression doing little to pacify the creature.
Raven didn't speak a word, merely continuing to stare deep into the cold eyes of the beast.
The beast in turn stood unchanged, patiently in position. Not flinching from its stance. Still at the ready to attack but seemingly biding its time to learn her intent.
The rain began to die down to a light sprinkle but the sky still remained bleak as ever. An occasional rumbling of thunder overhead continued to highlight the dismal atmosphere around them.
Raven raised her arm towards the beast.
The beast shot forward, taking the gesture as a challenge as it leapt high into the air, bearing down on Raven with both hands out in striking fashion as it cut loose a ferocious snarl.
Not flinching from the spot Raven merely looked up at the airborne behemoth coming straight for her. With the slightest of effort she thrust her palm forward, spreading out her fingers as a field of black energy surrounded her hand.
A solid ring of energy encircled the beast's torso, yanking him swiftly to the ground with a splat as he landed in a thick layer of freshly wet mud.
A small spattering of mud landed short of Raven's feet to which she just looked down with a sigh. "Impetuous as ever," she took a step towards the beast. It hadn't been her intent to attack, merely to show she meant no harm. Of course BeastBoy wasn't exactly in his most rational state of mind either.
The beast thrashed in the mud anchored to the ground by the still constricting energy around his waist, attempting to pull and pry apart the mystic energy that had ensnared him.
She moved closer, steadily but cautiously.
The beast instantly ceased its efforts upon noticing Raven drawing closer. To which it roared and growled, clawing and swiping at her even without the faintest indication of being able to advance any closer.
Raven came to a stop in front of the creature just out of reach of it still straining arms trying to get hold of her. She stared without a word as the beast still attempted to reach for her, letting him wear himself out a bit more. He might be more susceptible to reasoning if he burned off a little of that aggressive energy that seemed to be flowing through him.
"BeastBoy," she spoke, kneeling down to eye level.
The beast merely growled louder, continuing to grab for her. It's clawed hands skimming and digging into the damp ground trying to pull himself towards her. But he didn't budge an inch.
"BeastBoy," she repeated a bit more firmly.
Realizing his efforts to be for naught he swiped at the ground sending a glob of mud at her, catching Raven in the side of the face. The beast continued to attempt to break free, as Raven merely remained motionless with a sour look on her face as the soggy muck dribbled down her cheek. "Once again BeastBoy's maturity shines through," she huffed as she wiped the mud from her face.
The beast gave one more incessant roar of aggravation. Just then its hands and feet became engulfed by black spheres of energy, dropping and anchoring themselves to the ground. He pulled and twisted his shoulders trying to break free but to no avail. Save for his head, he was now completely immobilized. He looked up at Raven just as the glow dissipated from her hands. She looked back at the beast, folding her arms with a slim manner of satisfaction on her face. As if saying, 'serves you right'.
However this new development did little to hamper his efforts, fiercely jerking and tugging whatever muscles he could. Confinement of any measure seemed not to be an acceptable option. For several minutes he struggled a substantial effort attempting to break free. But it wasn't long before soreness and fatigue started to grow on his face. Popping and creaking sounds faintly echoed from his joints. He was either going to tire himself out or dislocate something. Whichever came first.
Finally after a few minutes of straining, his head dropped against the ground, his chin sinking into the mud with one last growl under his breath as if conceding bitter defeat.
"BeastBoy, I know you're in there somewhere," she began. "It's just a dream. All of it."
The beast merely narrowed its eyes at her, giving the coldest of stares.
"Everyone is fine. I'm fine." She paused to study the beast's face, but it remained unchanged. It was difficult to determine if any of this was getting through to him. "Whatever it is that you're afraid of, it's all in your head. I won't let anything like that happen. None of us will."
The beast continued to just look coldly at her.
"I want to help you. But you have to let me."
She leaned forward.
The beast's eyes went wide. This was the moment he'd been waiting for. His head lurched towards her, snapping at her with his sharp teeth as if trying to bite her.
But Raven quickly shifted to the side, dodging the beast's jaws clamping down on her. Swiftly she took firm hold of the beast's head, her fingers crackling with energy. Her chakra too sparked with a similar effect.
"Alright, BeastBoy. This is your wakeup call," she exclaimed, pressing her forehead against the beast's, her red gemstone lighting up.
A jolt of energy surged through the beast, eyes going wide. It shook its head vigorously to shake her off, but Raven held firm. It squirmed. It twisted. It gave one last roar with everything ounce of strength it had left.
BeastBoy sprang up in bed drenched in a cold sweat. The look on his face said it all. Confusion and terror. He rubbed his head, panting to catch his breath. Somewhat in a daze he woozily shook off the cringing feeling in the back of his mind as if able to recall with vivid detail the terrible dream that had preceded him.
He studied the room for anything out of place, trying to distinguish if this too were a continuation of the dream and if any of it had truly been real and. Fairly certain he was indeed awake, he looked to the side to find Raven kneeling at his bedside.
They stared at one another, BeastBoy clearly at a loss for words. Who wouldn't be? BeastBoy had played out a scenario in his mind of himself or at least a part of himself loosing and eventually destroying everything that he held dear. Raven herself was no stranger to horrific nightmares, but all of her visions were of destruction at the will and influence of her father, not by her own hand. She could only imagine what he must've been feeling.
Raven didn't expect him to say much, at least not right away. No doubt an explanation was in order as to her presence in his room among the least of things to discuss. But only a tense stillness followed, neither of them taking eyes off one another. So Raven opted to break the silence the best way she knew how, placing a comforting hand on BeastBoy's shoulder.
"Tea?" she said plainly.
A short while later BeastBoy sat with his elbows propped up on the kitchen table, holding his head in his hands as he hunched over in his seat. A single overhead lamp and a few small fixture lights in the kitchen dimly lit the dining area where BeastBoy sat as Raven waited patiently by a kettle on the stove.
BeastBoy hadn't said a word the whole time she'd brought him from his room to the kitchen. Only the occasional nod or shake of the head would serve as a response. And amidst all of this he'd still kept a few feet distance between himself and Raven on the way there. An understandable notion given the circumstances, one which Raven seemed to honor. No stranger to the notion herself she was more than willing to grant him a little space even though it was the very thing she had been trying to get to the bottom of. Which, incidentally, she had.
Having touched with BeastBoy's mind filled in a lot of the blanks. Maybe a few too many than she would've wanted all at one time but she'd found the cause of this sudden boundary between her and BeastBoy.
In a way she'd been right all along, and in several others she'd been dead wrong. But even the one thing she was right about was not in the sense that she'd originally thought.
Raven's first perception was that BeastBoy was keeping space between them because she'd aggravated a sore spot from the past and he was acting out of subtle resentment. This was not the case.
Her later observation on the training grounds was that he was being distant on account of weighing down his own thoughts with past sentiments of sadness or guilt. That also wasn't entirely accurate.
Lastly and dare say the most far-fetched hypothesis was that he was just waiting out the remainder of the bet. That he had somehow gotten bored and that being around Raven and spending time as such was now without any lasting appeal. Nothing could be further from the truth.
But there was one detail that was certain from the beginning.
One such critical factor, as she might have suspected, was the remembrance of Terra brought up at the arcade the day before. However it wasn't in the sense that she would've thought. Kind of like a 'yes and no' answer. Yes, it was the trigger. No, it wasn't the cause.
Refreshing Terra in BeastBoy's mind, even just by namesake had triggered something in his subconscious. Memories of her and the time she'd spent with him and the other Titans, good, bad, or indifferent had all flooded back into his mind. But rather than lamenting her loss or questioning what might've been, it rather caused him to analyze Raven from a different perspective.
Right up until the tragic end, BeastBoy and Terra shared a short but constantly blossoming relationship. Whether or not it surpassed the benchmark of good friends was open to debate. But what was certain was that BeastBoy and Terra had shared much with each other. They'd spent a lot of time together and during that time they'd gotten comfortable with one another.
But during that time was also when Terra had drifted towards Slade and the fateful events that followed.
Now it seemed that BeastBoy was spending a lot of time with Raven. And they too had become much more comfortable around each other. For certain there were the occasional bumps in the road as it were, but as a whole Raven was far more approachable. There was this kind of open honesty between each other. When Raven thought something particularly immature or idiotic of BeastBoy, she just came right out and said it. To the same token when BeastBoy felt suffocated by silence or too dull for the moment by Raven's behavior, he'd let her know about it. Or at least as much as possible without fear of being mystically dismembered.
But the point remained valid that there was this new kind of bond forming around them.
And that was what put up wall around her.
If it could happen to Terra, who was to say the same thing wouldn't happen again to Raven? And once again, BeastBoy would be at the center of it all. Or so he thought based on what she'd experienced in his mind.
For whatever reason, BeastBoy seemed to blame himself for what happened to Terra. To what capacity was anyone's guess, but it seemed as if he was starting to notice some sort of similarity between how he got along with Terra to how he was now getting along with Raven. And he was afraid the same thing would happen again. That somehow he would lead Raven down the wrong path and ultimately it would lead to an equally tragic end. Despite how impossible it all sounded the imagery in Beastboy's dream alone was proof enough just how certain he was of this theory. And so putting some manner of distance between her and cutting off the growth of that bond between them seemed the only rational thing to do.
The kettle on the stove gave a low whistle. Carefully, Raven removed the kettle from the stove after turning off the burner.
BeastBoy still remained silent at the kitchen table; uneasy to keep his eyes closed in spite of how tired he was having been deprived of peaceful slumber on account of his nightmare.
Raven set a teacup down in front of him, startling him momentarily, clearly taken by surprise having been so out of touch with everything around him. "Thanks," he said quietly, rubbing his eyes.
Raven simply nodded as she took a seat across from him with a cup of her own. Blowing gently over the top of the cup to part the wafting steam, she took a small sip.
BeastBoy picked up his cup, eyes lazily drifting off to the side, casually taking large swig of tea. "HAAAAAAAAGGHH! HAAAH! HAH!" his eyes went wide, nearly dropping the cup to frantically fan his tongue, clearly not prepared for the hot fluid. "AAAGGH!"
Raven sat in front of him with the most casual of faces. "Too cold?"
BeastBoy gave a small hateful look her way. "Frigid." Though it was hard to tell if he was sarcastically referring to the tea or commenting on her less than concerned demeanor.
Raven merely took another sip. The atmosphere felt a little less tense now.
BeastBoy just stared down into his tea, letting his head sink between his shoulders. Raven held her cup loosely with both hands at her mouth letting it rest against her chin as she watched him, waiting for some kind of response. This newfound patience of BeastBoy's was pleasant. Surprising and also frustrating at the moment, but a pleasant alternative to far worse ways he could choose to cope.
He took a deep breath. "So…"
Raven took another sip of tea, choosing to show BeastBoy she was in no rush for him to clear his head. "So…" she openly repeated.
"So… how much… ya know, did you…" he traced the edge of the cup with his finger.
"All of it, pretty much," she cast her eyes down at the table.
A short silence followed.
"What I did, going into your mind," she set down her tea in front of her, "I only did it out of concern."
BeastBoy gave a heavy sigh. The only thing that struck him as worse than the dream itself was having someone else along for the ride. "Scary, huh?"
"Yes," she replied simply, "Yes it was."
BeastBoy took a sip of tea, now cooler and the brief scolding in his tongue fading. As he swallowed a look of disgust crept over his face as if trying to resist the urge to spit it back out right into Raven's face. His face cringed, scrunching his nose and shutting his eyes. "Ugh-yuck. I thought this stuff was supposed to help ya get over bad dreams."
"It's supposed to calm your nerves and help clear your head."
BeastBoy just sat quietly.
"Well what?" Raven replied.
"Where's the rest of it?"
Raven crooked her head at him slightly, unsure what he was talking about.
"Ya know. It clears your head, but yours is already blank, or something like that?" he forced a small grin.
Raven closed her eyes, lowering her head. There was that empty smile again.
"BeastBoy?" she said quietly, "Stop."
His grin faded. "I was just trying to…"
"No. You're forcing yourself."
"I… I-I don't know what ya…" BeastBoy gave a tense chuckle.
"BeastBoy. Me, your dream, front row seat." She said in calm defiance. "Seeing someone's thoughts and hearing someone's thoughts are two separate things. Whatever is on your mind, just come right out and say it."
BeastBoy hung his head off to the side. He didn't respond.
"Is it something to do with Terra?" she asked.
BeastBoy stirred in his seat, suddenly seeming a bit restless.
Raven looked away as if confirming her suspicion. "I didn't mean to put the image back into your head after all this time and I was hoping not to bring her up again, but after seeing what went on inside your mind its clear that something about this isn't quite resolved inside you."
BeastBoy rubbed his arm, looking at the floor as if searching for words. It had been somewhat evident that his mind was somehow re-evaluating the circumstances between him and Terra. "I just…" he paused. "It feels like all the really bad stuff that happened to her… happened cause of me."
Raven listened without a word.
"I mean, she took off, she joined Slade, and went all-out bad guy. Yeah, she did right at the end but… e-everything in between…" he trailed off.
BeastBoy remained somewhat in a daze as unable to push his own thoughts from his mind.
"Look at me."
BeastBoy slowly turned to find Raven, eyes locked on him. He did his best to look her in the eye but couldn't help but waver from her gaze every few seconds.
"This might be difficult for you to listen to, but it's something that you need to hear," she explained.
He lowered his head for a moment before bringing it right back up again, as close to a nod as he could muster.
"Terra's life was hers to lead. Her choices, however difficult or painful they may have been, were still hers and hers alone to make."
BeastBoy sighed. "So what'd I do to push her towards the wrong choice?"
"Nothing," Raven said firmly, "And beating yourself up over it won't change that."
BeastBoy lightly shook his head. "I let her down, Raven," he contested getting to his feet, pacing back and forth briefly, "I failed her. And part of being one of the good guys is ya don't fail people. Especially one of your own." He folded his arms as if ready to rest his case.
"You didn't fail her. She failed herself. I know you don't want to hear that but you need to accept it," she said assuredly without blinking.
BeastBoy fumed for an instant, turning his back to Raven, tightening his fists.
"The life of a hero is a difficult one," she seemed to agree to a point on what he had been trying to say, "And as such there are a few absolutes in our line of work. And one of the first ones is you can't save everyone."
"Argh!" he fumed under his breath, still keeping his back to her, his fists trembling. It was indeed difficult for BeastBoy hear in such plain words that Terra, the person whom he once trusted so openly was seemingly beyond redemption. That his own thoughts betrayed him and her memory.
But Raven remained calm. She watched his every movement, patiently awaiting his response.
After a moment her words began to sink in as BeastBoy's shoulders slowly relaxed, drooping back down as his fingers uncoiled. He turned back towards her with his head hung low. It was hard to say if he was ready to take what she said to heart or if he was merely going to feel sorry for himself more than he already had.
"I just…" he began, sadness and disappointment clear in his voice, "I thought I knew her better."
Raven motioned for him to sit back down. And after a fleeting hesitance, he returned to his seat at the table.
"I know it wasn't a real long time but, I thought I knew that if it came down to us or the bad guys, she'd have sided with us." He leaned his head back as he stared up at the ceiling.
"She did," Raven agreed, "She wanted friends. But she also wanted control. And for whatever reason, she deduced Slade could facilitate that control either quicker or better than we could."
BeastBoy let his head hang back down. "It just feels like there was something I coulda' done. Something I coulda' said. Something… I don't know… something I shoulda' done differently."
Raven leaned forward. "You were honest. You were compassionate. You were supportive. And you never judged her. If there was anything more that could've helped her, it wasn't on your part."
He gave a faint smile as sign of appreciation, but still he faltered. "But… it still kinda comes back to what I said. I mean, all the bad stuff happened to Terra when I was around her. And now… well, you and… me… we're kinda… sorta… ya know…" he coyly scratched the back of his head.
Raven's expression gave way to a sort of passive but bewildered stare. She quickly cleared her throat, shaking off a subtle warmth in her face. There were so many ways she could've interpreted that statement if she hadn't known what he was getting at. He had seemingly put half the problem behind him, exposing the other half of what had been troubling him. "It… would be fair to say we have grown somewhat… um…"
A rare occurrence for Raven to be without words.
"Y-yeah." BeastBoy remarked doing his best to bridge the gap of the conversation.
Another period of abrupt silence came over the kitchen. Like they both knew what they were trying to say but didn't know how to say it.
"I can understand." Raven started, folding her hands, "It's a reasonable estimation. After all, our circumstances have changed considerably in a short period of time. Maybe not so much the circumstances themselves but… our interactions and mind set as of late. To be honest, I'd begun to look at the matter differently as well."
BeastBoy turned his head faintly.
Raven too had begun to notice, before this incident began, the more relaxed nature between the both of them. The chores, the trip through her mirror, the arcade, all illustrated how their conduct had sort of evolved towards one another. One would still test the others nerves from time to time but it was part of their nature. And now was as good a time as any to express that change in mindset. If getting it off her chest would help BeastBoy get it off his…
Raven closed her eyes, collecting her thoughts. "I admit, I… also have been grasping our arrangement with less disdain than when we first started. Our situation 'is' more… tolerable. It's far from ideal, but there are worse ways I could be spending my time. Bet aside, it does feel as though we have grown in terms of 'understanding' each other. And it seems that a part of you is afraid. Afraid that bad things will happen because of this. And you need to know that 'that' won't happen."
BeastBoy looked away, clearly less than convinced. Raven expected this much. It was a lot for him to take in considering what he'd just gone through. She could tell that he felt a little better but doubt still lingered in his mind.
He might have been willing to put Terra behind him once more. But now it seemed that he couldn't look at the both of them behaving as they were without somehow looking back to the similarities of how he and Terra had gotten along just before she went astray. And he simply did not want that to happen again.
"BeastBoy, do you remember what I said at the arcade?" Raven asked.
He rolled his eyes to the side, trying to think back. Trying to filter so many of Raven's big words for something specific and pertinent to the present situation seemed a bit much for BeastBoy in his current state of mind. "Um…"
"Right before I stormed out, one of my counterparts getting the better of me?"
It all came back to him. But it was obvious he was reluctant to repeat it.
"I said I wasn't Terra," she said calmly. "It was in poor taste at the time, and I had been riled up, but I meant it. And it still holds meaning now. I'm not Terra, nor have I ever tried to be."
BeastBoy looked off to the side.
"And you thought so too. After we got back?" she reminded him further, "You told me you never expected me to fill anyone's shoes but my own. One of your better speaking moments for the year," she added with a dry smile.
He gave a dull look, hardly amused.
"So, similarities or otherwise, you cannot hold a fear against me for being something that I'm not." She sat up straight.
BeastBoy's eyelids closed as if weighing the meaning of her words in his mind.
He looked up, meeting eyes with Raven. She, in turn looked right back. And for the first time a much more familiar, more genuine smile warmly drew itself upon BeastBoy's face.
Raven did her best to match his smile with one of her own, though considerably smaller by comparison. She was never very big on outward expressions but the unwavering feeling of relief she felt made it slightly easier.
They continued to tare deeply into one another's eyes for almost a full minute.
BeastBoy visibly flinched, quickly breaking eye contact and looking off to the side.
"What?" Raven asked, mildly alarmed if his past feeling of guilt had gotten a second wind.
"Sorry." He coyly ran his fingers through his hair. "I'm used to having to think of either a quick or a long term apology when you make direct eye contact like that."
"Oh. I understand," she nodded to herself. It made sense. Locking eyes with BeastBoy was typically reserved for more infuriating occasions in the past. "Wait," her head crooked at him, crossing her arms, "What's the difference between a quick apology and a long term apology?"
"Uh…" He tensed up for a split second. He twiddled his thumbs on the table. "Well, a quick apology is usually right after I do something stupid that bugs ya or ticks you off. And it involves me just… ya know, fessin' up to what I did and remindin' you of what a dunce I can be."
Raven crooked an eyebrow as if undecided whether or not she should be annoyed that he had a formula for how to deal with her. But she was willing to let it slide for the moment considering he was openly willing to admit he could be a lame brain at times.
"And a long term apology?"
"A more detailed description of the stupid thing I did, a longer list of the ways I'm such an idiot, and… a really sincere 'I'm Sorry'." He leaned across the table, highlighting the 'sorry' with a pair of big puppy dog eyes.
"Hmm…" Raven mused to herself. "Impressive. I suppose that's two things you're good at."
"Two?" he looked questionably at her, "What's the other?"
Raven leaned across the table, meeting BeastBoy at the center of the table, kissing him on the lips. BeasBoy went wide eyed, freezing to the spot. But slowly his eyes closed relaxing as he…
"Huh-who-wha-…"His eyes snapped open, sitting upright at the table. Observing his surroundings he found Raven opposite of him at the other side of the table, her normally passive stare hinting a touch of concern.
"BeastBoy, are you all right?" she asked plainly.
"Uh… yeah?" he answered, still somewhat unclear what had just happened.
"I was telling you not to be afraid of me being something that I'm not and you started to doze off," Raven explained.
BeastBoy shook his head. It was just a dream. Not necessarily a bad dream. A mildly confusing dream perhaps, but a welcome alternative to what had proceeded him earlier that night.
"I thought perhaps your nightmare had begun to resurface. You were making a strange face. Well, no stranger than it is right now," she added, clearly starting feel that for the most part BeastBoy was starting to shift back to his old self.
"Like… I was in pain? Like I was freakin' out?"
"Like a goldfish at feeding time," she recalled the look of his face and the twitching of his lips.
BeastBoy shyly covered his mouth as Raven took his now empty cup to the sink. At which point a small yawn grudgingly escaped his mouth.
"You must be feeling a bit better if you're able to fall back to sleep so easily," she analyzed.
"Not as hard as ya might think," he fanned another yawn. His eyelids were still on the heavy side and he felt sluggish even when propped up at the table.
"Do you think you're okay with going back to bed? You're obviously tired."
BeastBoy gave a reluctant pause, still weighing the potential chance of another nightmare. Needless to say, none too anxious to revisit another bad dream by chance. But tired as he was, sleep seemed inevitable. Whether he wanted to or not. "Y-Yeah. I guess so."
Raven came up behind him, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Come on. I'll walk you back to your room," she offered with the sort of passive consideration BeastBoy was starting to grow accustomed to.
They rounded the corner in the hallway to BeastBoy's quarters, both of them walking side by side. Which was more reassuring on Raven's part to see that BeastBoy had dropped that previously confounding boundary between them, no longer keeping a particular distance from her as if she were a leper. That everything between them had returned to some degree of normalcy. Another experience that could be chalked up to another of those 'growing understanding' moments she'd mentioned before.
She would occasionally look over at him since they departed the kitchen. But he would only stare straight ahead as if his mind was preoccupied on something else. Which struck her as no surprise. Nightmares of that caliber weren't the kind of thing you just forgot about. And even once forgotten they could easily slip back into the mind at a moment's notice, almost anything able to trigger them. She would just have to hope he'd take what she'd said to heart, that his spirit would be strong enough to keep it out of his thoughts, and that his own empty headedness would work in his favor for once and it would slip his mind altogether.
BeastBoy on the other hand was far more preoccupied about Raven. More specifically, the questioning of Raven and her appearance in the brief daydream when he nodded off back in the kitchen.
Why did she show up out of the blue like that when he dozed off? And more importantly, why was she kissing him?
His face got warm just thinking about it.
Had to be a side effect of lack of sleep, right? It made sense that after a really bad dream a really good one would balance things out. But why Raven? Not that he was opposed. But of all the things normally present in his dreams, good dreams, why her all of a sudden?
Perhaps after the terrifying premise of loosing her in such a horrible way, an equally positive rendition of being closer to her balanced it out in his mind. A way of subconsciously reassuring himself that everything was going to be alright.
BeastBoy quietly shook his head as if trying to flip the kill switch on his brain. It was bad enough to have to mull over bad thoughts and fear inducing dreams, but questioning and rationalizing 'pleasant' thoughts and 'good' dreams was way too much. All this continuous thinking was starting to hurt his head.
He'd just label it as nightmares tinkering with his thoughts. Or maybe Raven slipped something in his tea to help him sleep and it was making him delusional. Whatever the case may be.
A few moments later they arrived, now standing in front of the door to BeastBoy's quarters.
Raven looked beside her at BeastBoy who merely stood motionless, staring at the door. He seemed calm enough. However it just didn't seem like he was all there. "Here we are," she finally announced somewhat awkwardly after a full minute without a word or movement towards the door.
BeastBoy lowered his head slightly, but otherwise without any activity.
Perhaps she'd made the notion to go back to sleep too soon? Maybe he was trying to reassure himself that it was only a dream. Maybe he was still mulling over their talk from the kitchen.
"BeastBoy, are you sure you're good to try to go back to sleep?" Raven asked. "I can make you another cup of tea… if it'll help."
"Hmm?" his eyes shifted as he turned his head towards her. "Oh! No! No, I'm cool," he went wide-eyed, slouching, casually waving off her offer as if he'd come out of trance.
Raven continued to observe him. There was no doubt a great deal going through his mind. Maybe their talk was starting fully to sink in and he was slowly starting to absolve himself of guilt, fear, and all the other strong emotional anchors that had surged in his mind.
She didn't sense any problem. Just a bit of quiet tension, but nothing above normal levels for someone who'd had the kind of bad dream he'd had. His mind was probably scrambling for some kind of diversion to keep from thinking about it.
"Well… if you're sure," she offered him the chance to reconsider.
"Nah, I'm okay." He walked forward, opening the door, feeling his eyelids growing heavier, now beginning to droop. "But hey," he turned after setting one foot inside, "Thanks for… ya know…"
Raven remained still giving only a small nod. "Anytime."
BeastBoy tried to smile as best he could in appreciation. But it was as if the weight of his eyelids were spreading to the rest of his face, his cheeks weighing down his mouth, faintly curling a smirk.
He took a deep breath, exhaling calmly as he turned back and took another step into his room.
"Good night, BeastBoy," she added as he stepped inside.
"G'night, Raven," he gestured with a wave of his hand, almost dragging his feet along the floor as he walked towards his bed. "I'd tell ya sweet dreams, but I think I could use'em lots more."
He was so busy exhausting what energy he had left to get to bed that he'd left the door wide open. Raven took a step forward to close his door.
"Cause I don't know…," he yawned one last time, falling forwards into his mattress, "If I'm over it."
She heard him flop into the pillow just as she shut the door. "Hmmph," she laughed inward in a whisper as she turned back the way she'd come. The thought that 'as soft in the head as BeastBoy was he probably didn't even need a pillow' couldn't help but enter her mind.
Raven let out a yawn of her own, holding one hand against the wall to steady herself.
She was past due to resume her slumber as well.
And if she didn't get enough beauty rest, someone would most likely pay the next morning. And from past experience, nine to one odds were that BeastBoy would fit the description of 'someone'. And the last thing she wanted to do was offset everything that she'd just repaired between them with another tactless act.
But at least this would be one less thing for her to toss and turn over.
Suddenly an audible swishing sound came from behind her.
Raven turned to see BeastBoy lazily walking towards her. His eyes were half open, his posture just below fully upright and his arms hung down to his sides.
Maybe second thoughts about trying to sleep again so soon kicked in.
"BeastBoy?" she asked, crooking her head at him. "Change your mind about that te-"
He reached up as he gently cupped her cheeks in his hands before kissing her deeply.
Shocked, stunned, bewildered, and… other emotionally charged words she never considered to be associated with BeastBoy raised flags in her vocabulary.
Was he sleepwalking? Out of his head? Contemplating certain death? Surely he knew what she could do to him. BeastBoy more so than anyone. No one else had been more familiar to her wrath. He could almost be entitled to a national holiday for getting Raven angry.
She had been understanding and compassionate to his situation up until now. But concern and compassion only went so far.
And yet this whole time she had questioning what he was doing or what he had been thinking, she'd hadn't made the slightest effort to stop. The smallest attempt to break away. She just stood there, blank faced, as BeastBoy's lips remained tenderly connected to her own.
A moment later, BeastBoy pulled away, delicately removing his hands from her face. Droopy eyed, he looked at her for a split second before turning around, letting out a deep sigh. "Okay. NOW, I'm over it."
And then just as idly as he'd come, he started back towards his room.
Raven remained stiff, frozen to the spot in the position BeastBoy had lip locked her in. Her jaw locked, her eyes aimlessly staring off into space.
Slowly she started to come out of it, woozily swaying forwards. She shook her head, rattling loose whatever dumbfounded feeling had stunned her.
Part of her wanted to demand an explanation. Part of her wanted to strike him with sufficient force that would render him immobile for the remainder of this stupid wager. And part of her…
Well, part of her wanted to split the difference. Only mildly kick him in backside, THEN ask what that was about, THEN return the kiss, THEN wa-
What was that last part?
It didn't matter. Only one immediate response could be expected, rational minded or otherwise.
A thick cracking of Raven's knuckles popped as she balled up a fist.
She reeled back her arm as BeastBoy turned towards her.
Her arm followed through in full swing.
Raven fell over, spilling onto the floor with a thud. She opened her eyes staring up at the ceiling in a daze, a throbbing pain stinging in her hand. Sitting up, she shook her hand, trying to shake off the fleeting soreness in her fingers as she got her wits about her.
"Argh," she grunted as she examined the red swollen marks on the tops of her fingers and knuckles.
Raven looked up, expecting to at least see BeastBoy huddling in fear if not nursing the savage blow she'd just dealt him.
But he was nowhere to be seen.
Raven scanned the hallway, still just outside of BeastBoy's room. But it was vacant. The young changeling wasn't in sight. It was just her. And a small fist shaped indentation in the wall.
Puzzled, she got to her feet, still rubbing her hand. It didn't make any sense.
"How did…?" she muttered to herself, "Didn't I …?"
Looking upwards a sudden thought crossed her mind. She darted over to the door, quickly opening it and leaning inside to observe.
There BeastBoy lay just as she'd left him. Sunken into his mattress, sprawled out, pillow to the side of his face, one foot hanging off the bed on the floor and in a deep sleep. It was clear by the sight of him he hadn't budged an inch.
Raven leaned back out into the hall, looking back at her fist imprint in the wall. She dreamed the whole thing?
She held her head briefly, trying to figure at what point she'd nodded off. Most likely just after BeastBoy had gone into his room while leaning against the wall. Expending less energy to stand must've given her the brief lapse to send her into a light sleep while still on her feet.
But it all seemed so real. Well, real in some respects. After all who would believe BeastBoy could approach Raven so casually, only to kiss her, without scrambling to a bomb shelter immediately afterwards? Or the idea that Raven would get so caught up in a moment of passion that she wouldn't…
Raven vigorously shook her head before she could finish that thought before casting a dull look of resentment his way. It was easy to attribute it to having been in deep telepathic contact with BeastBoy's subconscious.
So she did.
Raven gave a short sigh. Perhaps this evolving relationship of theirs was evolving more than she thought. But she quickly shook off that lingering notion.
It was just one dream. One, tired, exhaustion driven, emotionally based, residual dream. Whether or not there was any merit to that theory was not an assumption to be made in her present state. She was tired, she was dazed, and she was a trifle bit irritable at the moment. Conclusion jumping one-way or the other wouldn't improve her disposition.
She turned her back to the room, still standing in the doorway. Raven took one step outside but stopped, briefly looking over shoulder at BeastBoy.
His face was a tranquil one. A sight of relief compared to the contorted and twisted expression of fear and agony that earlier seized up his mind.
Raven quietly crept over to BeastBoy's bedside. She stood over him, her shadow covering his form as he slept peacefully, seemingly unaware.
With a wave of her hand a black aura enveloped his stray foot hanging off the bed, gently lifting up and setting it back down onto the mattress. Two more bubbles of black energy expanded around his feet, slipping off his shoes. A small soothing smile curled itself on BeastBoy's mouth as the cool air circulated along his feet.
Raven then took hold of the bedspread previously ripped back at the foot of the bed and softly laid it over BeastBoy's waist.
His breathing remained in constant rhythm. His face a serene canvas to his inner thoughts. He never stirred even once. He was fast asleep.
It was then that she was struck by the sudden realization that this was the second time she'd found herself watching BeastBoy sleep.
What would he have thought if he were to wake up? Right now, right this moment, with Raven standing over him.
That she was angry? That she was 'creepy'? That he was in trouble? Or that he was safe. That all those terrible things in his mind were just that. In his mind.
Raven looked around the dark room, dimly lit only by the light of the corridor through the doorway, verifying they were alone.
She bent down, taking one last close study of BeastBoy's calm face. "If you breath a word of this to anyone," she whispered firmly, "I'll deny it."
She started to lean down, but quickly pulled back in an instant of reluctance. She swiftly leaned back down again, this time swooping down all the way to give BeastBoy the tiniest peck on the cheek. As if a quiet way of saying she was glad he was all right and he'd restored harmony inside himself.
Raven swiftly and silently left BeastBoy's room, closing the door behind her. Once outside in the hallway she leaned her head against the door, briefly taking to a moment to digest her thoughts. She closed her eyes, taking a deep cleansing breath.
But she didn't linger long. She started back towards her quarters after a minute or two. It was still late and she was still tired. And the last thing she wanted was to doze off in the hall again and run the risk of being caught up in another dream.
She rounded the hallway into the main corridor, letting out a small yawn along the way.
Raven still couldn't get over how vivid that fleeting daydream was. She could scarcely believe it had just been a dream. She swore she could smell the subtle ever-present aroma of tofu on his breath. Everything from the feeling of BeastBoy's hands on her face right down to warm touch of his…
Raven stopped dead in her tracks before she could finish that thought.
If something like that slipped into her mind on the fly while partially awake, what would happen when she was fully settled in back in bed?
She started down the adjacent hallway back towards the kitchen.
"Maybe I 'could' use a second cup of tea," she murmured to herself as she shook off the blush creeping across her cheeks.
Next Chapter: Amidst the daily humdrum lives of the Titans up until now, the days between Raven and BeastBoy have been relatively calm. But when duty calls will the bond between the two reach its breaking point as a familiar foe drops in to stir up trouble?