Chapter 17: All In
A fresh new day in its early hours was the setting amidst the kitchen and dining area of Titans Tower. A day not so different from so many others that had preceded it. Robin sat slightly slumped at the table sipping a glass of orange juice as he scratched his chin with the back end of a ballpoint pen, sharpening his keen mind on the daily crossword puzzle in the morning paper. Starfire happily hummed in a particularly chipper tone, sporting an apron by the stove as she patiently waited for the perfect moment to flip the first of several gobs of batter sizzling in a skillet on the burner. Curiously she would occasionally lift the edges just enough with a spatula to ensure they had cooked enough to make them stable enough to flip.
Starfire had always found a second calling in the kitchen and was always ecstatic when it was her turn to cook. And while her dishes were occasionally somewhat… contrived in terms of flavor for a pallet to those of earthly origin there was no denying the amount of skill and passion she put into every morsel of mixed cuisine she was bound to turn out. But like every good chef Starfire was not so easily discouraged despite her infrequent culinary indiscretions of Earth and Tamaranian ingredients.
"The savory cakes born of pan shall be ready momentarily," she called cheerfully to her friends at the table.
Robin looked up with a nod and a smile.
He looked back down at his crossword puzzle having made significant progress but still a few columns remained blank. "Hmmm," he narrowed his eyes, "Number twenty-two across." He pondered on the clue given for a moment. "Hey, Cyborg, any thoughts on a six letter word, means 'to be condemned'."
"Oh, yeah," he said enlightened, seeming obvious, "Thanks." He looked to his side. "Uh…Cyborg?"
Cyborg sat quietly beside Robin at the table, passively almost blankly stirring a mug of coffee. He stared straight ahead, zoned out in deep inner thought.
It seemed unfathomable. Incomprehensible. Outright impossible. But here he was. For today was not just any other day. It was THE day. The ONLY day left.
As hard as it might have been to believe his month long wager with BeastBoy and Raven was drawing to a close. The terms were simple. From sunrise to sunset, beginning to end of each day encompassing one month the two of them would be in close proximity to one another, not leaving the others side. A feat seemingly impossible given their opposing nature and sometimes conflicting personalities. Raven, the quiet, solitary intellectual. BeastBoy the spontaneous, untamed joker. Oil and water.
The stakes? Cyborg's only ante in this was the spectacle sure to follow. Certainly a few laughs to be had and a more dynamic life to lead around the tower. But should the two of them succeed, Raven would claim a special pair of custom-made sound filtering earpieces. And as for BeastBoy?
Cyborg's human eye gave a slight twitch. Loosing one of his techno toys he could easily get over. Re-designing and re-building to improve his tech was practically a hobby for him. But this…
He'd clean BeastBoy's room. Perhaps 'clean' was an understatement. Sanitize was more appropriate. In boiling bleach. After it had been set on fire maybe.
It was no secret BeastBoy's room was somewhat of a sty. But attempting the task of cleaning and restoring some degree of hygienic standard was an immense undertaking. It was like being assigned to scrub a decomposing trash dump. You have a rough idea what you're getting into, but you'd rather not go near it if you didn't have to.
Which brings us to today. Hours had turned into days, days became weeks. And now the end was upon us. It started off as rocky as he might've hoped. Nerves undermined, routines disrupted, and even the occasional momentary slip of sanity here and there. But throughout this entire ordeal the two of them exercised the one thing he never thought would come to bear in this circumstance. Patience.
Sure he liked his friends to get along. But not this well when these kinds of stakes were involved. Why couldn't they have gotten along so great next month? It almost seemed like they were against him. Like they were able to put aside their squabbling with one another just to spite him. They were in cahoots on this. Yeah, that had to be it. They were sitting on all those hostile vibes that normally just gushed out of them when they shared the same space, and as soon as his back was turned, Oh they were just pickin' their spot to put one over on him. Just waitin' to…
Cyborg shook his head, turning to Robin and snapping back to the real world back at the table.
"Cy, are you okay?" Robin asked somewhat concerned.
"Uh… okay? Yeah. Sure. Sure, I'm okay. Why wouldn't I be okay?" he forced a grin.
"Um, cause you're stirring your coffee with a strip of bacon."
Cyborg looked down. Sure enough in his disoriented state he'd been stirring his coffee with a strip of bacon. He lifted it out of the mug watching as the once sizzling strip of pork soggily dripped into his mug.
He merely shrugged, biting into the bacon with a ferocious chomp. "Mmmm," he gulped in approval, "Ain't any wrong way to eat bacon."
Robin just smirked and went back to his puzzle. "A little anxious?"
"What makes ya say that?" he dunked the bacon back into his coffee with a forced laugh. "I just happened to invent a new breakfast combo. Now my bacon tastes like coffee and my coffee tastes like bacon."
"I believe Robin is referring to your most sociable wager amongst friends BeastBoy and Raven." Starfire said as she flipped her pancakes. "Today is the last and final day, is it not?"
"No," he said coyly, "It's not the last 'day'." He scoped a digital readout on the underside of his forearm. "It's the last seventeen hours, forty one minutes and… seven seconds. But who's countin'?"
"There'll be other bets, Cy," Robin gave a sympathetic pat on the back. "And besides, ya never know. Something could still happen."
Cyborg looked up for an instant. "Yeah," he agreed, "YEAH, You're right! It ain't over till it's over. Last couple weeks could finally get to'em at the last minute. Even Rae can't sit on THAT much BeastBoy on tap for this long. And BB can't filter himself to her comfort zone forever."
He looked around the kitchen noticing the both of them were still not present. "Why I bet they're havin' some sorta ground zero moment right now and are makin' for both sides of the city limits right…"
The main room doors swished open. All heads turned. Well, Robin and Starfire's heads turned. Cyborg's fell. BeastBoy and Raven casually entered the kitchen area taking up seats side by side opposite of Robin and Cyborg.
"Nevermind," he sighed to himself.
Cyborg looked across the table at both of them. Raven quietly sitting with her hands folded, BeastBoy with a handheld game. His eyes were narrowed at the device with his tongue sticking out to the side, no doubt in the deepest immersion with the game, harboring his total concentration.
"So where have you two been?" Robin asked politely, uncharacteristically sound for Raven to show up this late to breakfast and for BeastBoy to arrive this early. "Just wake up?"
"The roof," Raven answered, "Early morning meditation. Not as necessary as my routine dictates but given the circumstances of today I didn't want to leave anything to chance." She gave the slightest glance in Cyborg's direction. As if to remind him without directly reminding him.
"Part of the deal," BeastBoy added not looking up from his game.
Robin gave a curious look.
"Yes. In exchange for waking up like a sensible person in the actual morning hours and sharing his presence so that I can meditate while still honoring the bet, I in turn agreed to stick it out on the couch for an hour of his video games."
"To play, not just watch," BeastBoy looked away just quick enough to point a finger at her as if to put the exclamation point on the precise stipulation of the deal.
"To participate, yes." Raven nodded.
BeastBoy smiled to himself.
Robin was impressed. He had a few lingering concerns about this wager of theirs at the beginning, fearing they'd more than likely destroy one another. Not in a literal sense, but in terms of dismantling their friendship and everything that'd taken them so long to build towards getting along as well as they had. But it seemed to be having a rather positive influence on the both of them. They were downright civil and in the early hours of the morning no less when BeastBoy was hardly ever present and Raven was typically a faded grumble until her morning tea.
Cyborg remained a blank stare with the exception of a questionable eyebrow raised. He was happy two of his friends and teammates had strengthened their bond and had developed such a peaceful coexistence with each other. BUT WHY NOW OF ALL TIMES?
He was quick to mentally regroup. It was obvious hoping for this arrangement to go south was a lost cause. Action had to be taken. His livelihood was on the line. Not to mention the decaying funk he'd be scrubbing out of his parts for weeks if he were expected to live up to his end of the deal. But of course these were still his friends he was sparking devious notions about. He didn't want to drive a rift between them but just enough friction to pull them apart long enough gain the upper hand in the bet.
Cyborg rose from his seat making his way over to the kitchen counter towards the coffee pot for a refill. "Well ain't you two gettin' comfortable," he smirked in teasingly sweet tone. "Makes me wonder where this is all gonna' go from here."
He paused looking over his shoulder as Raven causally sipped a cup of her morning tea that had been waiting for her on the table and BeastBoy remained glued to his game.
"Rae, any second thoughts on my suggestion to add a 'guest' room?"
Raven's eyes opened casually in a menacingly neutral fashion just as BeastBoy's videogame emitted an audible beep signaling he'd paused. Both their heads turned slowly towards Cyborg. BeastBoy flared his nostrils in his friend's direction but otherwise there was not a sound.
Robin and Starfire watched with curiosity. This was new. Normally BeastBoy would be firing back comebacks and general carnivore slander while Raven would go Poltergeist on the room in general making any object that wasn't nailed down her own personal annoyance seeking missile. But they were completely calm. Quiet. Dangerously quiet.
Raven and BeastBoy turned their attention from Cyborg to each other, meeting eyes yielding equally vacant expressions.
"Is it my turn or yours?" Raven asked quietly.
"Mine," BeastBoy stood from the table, "Hold this." He handed her his handheld game which she accepted as he walked to the cupboard on the opposite side of the kitchen.
"Less of course you'd rather move right in with BB," Cyborg continued as he poured his coffee unaware, "I mean he does already have bedding arrangements for two."
BeastBoy pulled a small box from the cupboard.
Raven took another sip of tea as both Robin and Star continued to observe, unsure of what the proper course of action was in this situation. Yet compelled to remain silent.
"Of course the whole 'living in a junk induced biohazard' could be a low point," Cyborg scratched his head as if trying to ponder if the arrangement was even plausible.
BeastBoy walked up behind Cyborg, opening a small compartment on his lower back. From there he poured the entire contents of the box into the open slot. Once verified that the container was empty with one final shake he closed the compartment with a low 'clunk' sound.
"Hmm?" Cyborg turned around just in time to see BeastBoy discarding a box over his shoulder, dusting off his hands.
He watched as BeastBoy sat back down and Raven handed him back his game.
Cyborg shrugged taking a sip of his freshly poured brew, walking back towards the table.
"Wait for it," BeastBoy mused, un-pausing his game.
"Huh?" Cyborg came to a halt at the sound of what sounded like a ball bearing striking a piece of chrome.
Cyborg spun around at the repeated sound trying to determine where it was coming from.
POP-POP! CLANG! POP! CLANG-CLANG!
"Hey!" he shouted "Hey, what gives!"
Rapid popping and clanging sounds continued to erupt inside of Cyborg's metal frame like a ricocheting machine gun. From the underside of his right shoulder a tiny white projectile escaped through a small gap in his outer assembly, landing in the middle of the kitchen table.
Robin picked up the small pellet, gently squeezing it to verify what his eyes identified as…
It seemed that the box BeastBoy had poured inside of Cyborg had indeed been a box of popcorn kernels. And the heat put off by his inner working cybernetic components was igniting them.
Cyborg began to flail his limbs wildly, his arms swinging and swaying, his legs bending and bounding as hundreds of popped kernels bounced off his inner circuitry. "Hey-ey-ey-ey!" he bellowed. "This stuff is seriously messin' with my motor controls!"
He continued to strut and swing and flail his limbs every which way in a sort of sporadic rhythm.
Starfire clapped in delight. "Oh most joyous!" she cheered, discarding her apron. She whizzed into the main room snatching up a portable stereo, placing it on the kitchen counter. "I have heard much of this ancient time earth dance." Starfire pressed a button atop the player before flying beside Cyborg, mimicking his movements as the stereo played 'Walk Like An Egyptian'.
Robin, BeastBoy, and even Raven could not help but be amused as Star synced her movements to Cyborg's with such uncanny rhythm.
"C'mon guys!" Cyborg pleaded in between huffs, "I get it! Ain't this enough for you?"
"Not quite. But you're getting there," Raven said casually as she reclined slightly into her seat.
BeastBoy attempted but ultimately failed to stifle a small laugh.
Suddenly Cyborg shot up straight as a low rumbling inside him started to make him wobble. More and more the vibrations continued to build inside of him until…
A small eruption of popcorn came pouring out of a sprung compartment on his lower rear quarters. Followed by one or two late kernels finally popping as Cyborg took a deep breath collapsing atop a small soft mountain of popcorn. He exhaled in relief before shooting a frown at the occupants of the table. "Good enough for ya?"
Raven crooked her head slightly. "No."
Suddenly a small saltshaker and a stick of butter encased in dark energy floated overhead. The shaker turned upside down seasoning the popcorn as the energy bubble encasing the butter compressed it into a fine liquid that also served to flavor the mounds of white puffs below.
A handful of popcorn became engulfed in similar energy lifting off the ground drawn to Raven's outstretched hand. She popped a few bites into her mouth then offering to share with BeastBoy who happily munched a few bites.
"But close enough," she finished turning back to the table and her tea.
Cyborg just sat there crestfallen with a few salt particles scattered on his head and a smear of butter residue on his cheek.
"Wonder if he can make nachos too?" BB queried beside Raven already resuming his game and paying Cyborg no further mind.
Cyborg hung his head with a sigh, acknowledging overwhelming defeat.
A few moments later, broom in hand, BeastBoy swept up the last remaining bits of popcorn off the floor into a dustpan. No sooner had the last kernel been brushed into the pan a field of black energy lifted the dustpan into the air, floating towards the trash bin.
Starfire stepped on the foot pedal at the base of the trash container, opening the lid allowing the popcorn to be dumped inside.
Raven gave a small nod setting the dustpan back into a storage closet.
Beastboy walked over also returning the broom to storage. "Well, that oughta' do it," he said wiping his brow. "Might be a little tight on snacks come movie night though."
"Waste not, want not," Raven replied casually.
"Aw, don't even!" Cyborg said with a grunt, feeding a scrubbing brush into a maintenance compartment to the side of his torso. "You got any idea how long it's gonna' take me to get the smell of burnt popcorn outta' my circuits?" He gave a sigh, giving up as he closed the compartment deeming it a chore to be better suited for the garage.
He slumped down resting his chin on the kitchen table. If Cyborg hadn't been down before he most certainly was now.
"Try to cheer up Cy," Robin made a meager effort to recover his friend's spirits. "Could've been worse."
A hefty plate of food plopped down in front of Cyborg.
"Perhaps devouring large quantities of Earth breakfast will dispatch your sorrow," Starfire beamed with optimistic pride.
Cyborg and Robin exchanged looks. "It's worse."
BeastBoy and Raven retook their places at the table as Starfire placed down similar plates in front of them. Large golden brown discs, assumedly pancakes stacked high on top of each other occupied each plate, a wasp of steam rising from the top, still warm from the pan.
"Um, thanks Star," BeastBoy said with a faint smile.
"Looks positively… brown," Robin attempted to compliment her as a plate was placed down in front of him as well.
There was a brief stillness at the table as Starfire walked back to the stove to prepare her own plate.
The Titans began to rigorously inspect their breakfast. They sort of looked like pancakes. They vaguely smelled like pancakes. But there was still doubt as to how Starfire had put her own distinctive Tamaranean flare on today's breakfast item. Even when following closely most recipes not of her home planet she had this habit of 'tweaking' the flavor ever so slightly to better fit her own palette and to present bold otherworldly tastes to her friends.
The fact that they looked perfectly normal was what made them most uncertain. Certainly Starfire had no distaste for human food. But when preparing it she always felt a desire to improve it in some way. And there was no shortage of possibilities. An ingredient of alien origin? A cultivated spore or fungus?
Cyborg jammed his fork into the top of one of the pancakes in question. It penetrated quite easily showing that it was quite soft and moist. "Passed the first test," he said with a glimmer of caution, "Didn't squirm or make any noise."
Robin held a whole pancake above his plate peering closely. Most noticeably baked into the surface of the pancakes were numerous deep red blotches. "Strawberries maybe?" he guessed with hopefulness.
"Dude, never known strawberries to turn into a bloody pulpy mess when ya cook'em," BeastBoy squinted at his plate.
"Not helpin', man," Cyborg continued to prod the food lightly with his fork.
Raven too looked down in quiet hesitation at her plate. She turned to BeastBoy.
He forced a smile as best he good. "Uh… ladies first." He gestured towards her the self deemed privilege of the first bite.
Raven took firm hold of the fork, jamming it into a whole pancake. She hoisted it off the plate just as she grabbed BeastBoy by the nose, lifting him by the nostrils and causing his mouth to open. Raven crammed the entire pancake into his mouth before prying her fork loose, releasing his nose to let his mouth snap shut with his cheeks full.
Robin and Cyborg stared in anticipation, concerned to be certain but more curious as to what reaction the food would yield on BeastBoy.
A few seconds passed as he began to chew.
Thus far no obvious sign of discomfort.
BeastBoy continued to chew slowly but steadily, his eyes shifting between bites. His taste buds on high alert as if waiting for that one particular taste that would push him over the edge.
Again there was no sign of any particular side effect. BeastBoy appeared to be fine and hadn't burst into hives or changed color or any such other alien side effect prevalent in Star's other dishes. Unless of course he was turning another shade of green and no one noticed.
BeastBoy closed his eyes briefly sinking his head between his shoulders before lifting back up again as pushed the food down his throat with an audible gulp.
Raven, Cyborg, and Robin leaned in a bit closer.
BeastBoy opened his eyes slowly, smacking his lips a few times as he monitored his taste buds for abnormalities.
"BeastBoy?" Robin asked warily.
He gave a brief pause looking up at the ceiling as if waiting for a grace period after swallowing.
His eyes went wide as a pleasantly surprised expression painted itself on his face. "Mmmm," he approved. He shoveled another pancake from his plate and downed it as he had the former.
Cyborg looked to Robin still somewhat doubtful. "What do ya think?"
Robin cut up a small slice of a pancake from his own plate lifting it to eye level. He took a bite. He chewed slowly but then quickly swallowed. "It tastes… normal."
Raven followed his example taking a more casual bite for herself. She waited a moment after swallowing at an equal pace Beastboy had. Her taste buds rendered the same verdict. "It's surprisingly… non-spit-up able".
Finally Cyborg took a bite to share his own experience. "Ya know it ain't half bad."
In only a few more bites all dread and skepticism was forgotten. The group continued to eat collectively at a less threatened pace.
"What do ya think she put in'em?" BeastBoy asked between bites.
"More like what'd she leave out?" Raven rephrased.
"Hard to believe this is from the same girl who made food a five letter word," Cyborg said with hardly a care.
Starfire returned to her place at the table with a hefty stack of pancakes of her own. "The customary morning jacks are flapped to your liking?" she inquired sweetly.
"Got that right," Cyborg answered swiftly as went for the syrup to fully saturate his next bite.
"Wicked good stuff, Star," BeastBoy said. "Has this really sweet after taste to it, but… I can't put my finger on it."
"I picked up that as well," Raven seconded BeastBoy's critique.
"Fess up Star. What's your secret?" Cyborg added as he swabbed his plate clean.
"Oh, no secrets friends. The batter is most common of the store of groceries. I merely added a little something special while cooking to heighten the flavor." Starfire explained with a warm smile.
"I guessed there had to be something to it from the red blotches cooked into the top," Robin commented. "Cherries?"
"Raspberries?" BeastBoy wagered a guess.
"Zorkaberries." She answered.
All forks froze in their hands while in transit to their mouths, save for Starfire who continued to eat regardless.
"Those alien juju fruits that turned Silkie into a ginormous mega sized super moth?" BeastBoy asked.
The other Titans looked questionably at their plates once more.
"Yes, but fear not. Zorkaberries are quite harmless to the earthly digestive system. Of this I am certain." Starfire explained calmly.
"You sure, Star?" Cyborg asked with a hint of doubt but not trying to sound distrustful. "I mean, I'm not doubtin' you personally but your food ain't exactly known for always…"
"Agreeing with us?" Raven finished in an equally sympathetic manner.
"In or out of our stomachs," BeastBoy added sensitively, but still yielding a light jab from Raven to his side.
"Your concern is understandable, but I promise the berries will ail you not," she affirmed with an earnest look of sincerity in her eyes. "Though past instances of Tamaranean sustenance have proven quite fickle I remain certain that the zorkaberries will be of no consequence. I have even refined them with copious amounts of the white powder of sweetness to make them more palatable."
The Titans shared a look at each other as if mentally agreeing. Starfire's delicacies were at times a sour note on their taste buds, but she had never, nor would ever intentionally serve them something harmful in any manner.
"Just checkin'," Cyborg smiled.
"Yeah. If ya can't trust something with a lotta' sugar what can ya trust?" BeastBoy returned to eating.
Raven lightly shook her head. "Will there ever come a day when you're sick of sugar?"
BeastBoy looked at her whimsically. "Laid up in bed sick or emergency room sick?"
Starfire just smiled warmly as she began to eat along with her friends.
Suddenly bright red lights began flashing, flooding every room of the tower in deep crimson light overhead to the sound of thunderous buzzing. The Titan's warning alarm was sounding indicating trouble somewhere in the city.
Startled at first from lack of any activity the Titans quickly responded, springing from their seats.
"Trouble!" Robin shouted racing to the monitoring station. The others following close behind.
"Was startin' to wonder where all the bad guys had gone," Cyborg said casually to the lack of activity. It was a rare occurrence for the city to go without incident for so long. There always seemed to be no shortage of up-and-coming criminals and villains determined to prove their status as a true super villain either to the Titans, the underworld, or both.
"I was thinkin' we were gonna' have to start labeling the back of milk cartons," BeastBoy responded. "Where'd they get to?"
"Doesn't matter. Whoever they are, they're back and up to no good," Robin stated. A grid of the city was brought up onto the main view screen. A large section of the downtown district was highlighted. "And it looks like they're making up for lost time."
"Who is it?" Starfire asked peering over Robin's shoulder.
The screen flashed bringing up footage from a nearby traffic cam.
Raven raised an eyebrow in annoying disbelief. "You've gotta' be kidding me."
Downtown the streets of Jump City were rampant with the screams of panicked citizens scrambling in every direction, as if trying to put distance between the chaos breaking loose. Cars came to an abrupt halt, their passengers abandoning their vehicles and retreating back the way they'd come on foot.
Debris lay scattered in the street, nearby windows broken in with glass fragments below.
At the center of all this commotion stood a single individual calmly surveying the scene before him. Adjusting the position of his black top hat, straightening the collar of his matching black suit, a proud smile beamed from his blue complexion. "Tough crowd," he scoffed to himself. "But, the show must go."
Clapping his hands together then pulling them apart a slim magic wand materialized from nowhere between his palms. With a flick and twirl he cast the wand forward. "Mumbo Jumbo!" he exclaimed.
A nearby banking machine gave a sudden twitch then began to inflate at its base before it burst a steady stream of bills into the air, wafting to the ground.
"And they say working a street corner is no respectable place for a performer," he grinned at the heaping wads of cash on the ground, ripe for the taking. "And now may I have a volunteer from the audience?"
Mumbo turned to face a window display of a gentleman's clothing shop. Three blank faced manikins stood in plain view, each dressed in a finely tailored suit. "Yes! You sir," he pointed.
With another wave of Mumbo's wand the manikin in the center sprung to life. After a brief stretch of it's now flexible plastic limbs it burst through the window showering glass fragments to the ground around him. Casually walking forward and then stopping just short of the magician who'd summoned him to life.
With a flick of the wrist he whisked a large sack out of thin air in his hand, handing it to his volunteer. "If you'd be so kind," he gestured to the large heaps of money on the ground.
The manikin began scooping up handful after handful of currency into the sack.
"Moving right along," he straightened his bow tie. He turned to a pet store across the street. From the main display window was a large viewing area of several rabbits at play. "A little something for our younger viewers." He threw back his cape taking aim with the wand. "Mumbo Change-O!"
Inside the viewing area the three rabbits quadrupled in size, sprouting long legs and massive forearms, hunched over in posture resembling Neanderthal bunnies. Their eyes curved as their noses grew pointy resembling Mumbo's facial features.
With a mighty swing one rabbit punched through the Plexiglas display, causing the whole casing to topple over onto the sidewalk. The three behemoth rabbits bounded from the store, merrily hopping to Mumbo's side.
"Onto the next act," he pointed to a nearby jewelry store.
The henchbunnies leaped and skipped towards their assigned target. They dove head first through the window, setting off an alarm mounted on the wall.
"Please, no distractions while the performer is on stage." Mumbo gave another wave of his wand, instantly turning the blaring alarm into a tiny alarm clock that fell to the ground, breaking apart on impact.
Inside the jewelry store the rabbits tore open display cases, chomping off thick locks and outright prying open the thick metal sliding cabinets behind them. They scooped up as many diamonds and expensive looking trinkets as they could carry. Watches and necklaces draped over their arms and hands full of rings and precious stones.
Just then a bushel of carrots lowered into view of the broken window, levitating inside a field of black energy.
The bunny's noses began twitching, their heads perking up. Even under magic, their animal instincts were still very much intact amidst Mumbo's spell.
The rabbits turned catching sight of the carrots as if in a trance, dropping their loot to the floor as they slowly hopped towards the tantalizing aroma. The carrots floated backwards leading them away from the store and out into the center of the street.
From the end of the street Starfire swooped down, BeastBoy beside her in the form of Pterodactyl, the two of them seizing a firm grip on the opposing sides of a chain link fence. With hardly an effort between the two they gave a yank uprooting the fence from the ground and continuing to charge forward, the fence outstretched like a wide net towards the still preoccupied rabbits.
They flew straight forward ensnaring the group of hench-bunnies in the fence, circling around them tightly, corralling them in the wrapped metal barrier.
At that same moment a bird-a-rang whizzed through the air severing the manikin's loot bag, causing the sack to rip and tear as the once gathered cash spilled back onto the ground.
The manikin looked up just as a burst of bright blue energy collided with his head, dislodging his thick plastic cranium from between his shoulders to bounce onto the pavement. The manikin's arms reached aimlessly where his head once sat finding only an empty space before his body became lifeless once more and fell over onto the pile of money he'd been gathering.
Alarmed by the sudden commotion Mumbo turned. He looked up to the rooftop across the street where Robin and Cyborg stood, Robin pulling another projectile from his belt at the ready, Cyborg blowing a gust of smoke from his sonic cannon.
"Hmmph!" Mumbo folded his arms with a scoff. "Every time I branch into a new venue, I always get hecklers."
"Show's just gettin' started, blue boy," Cyborg remarked.
"And you've got a command performance. For ten to fifteen years." Robin added.
"Sorry, I don't do private parties," Mumbo shrugged with a smile. "Besides I'm booked solid through New Years. You'll have to get in touch with my agent." Mumbo turned just in time to duck from the path of a hurled tomato that hit the ground with a splat. He looked back to find the rest of his audience.
BeastBoy sat perched atop a produce stand lightly tossing and catching another tomato in the air, Starfire and Raven hovering beside him. "And that's just the reviews from your first act," he grinned.
Mumbo frowned as he straightened his hat before smiling once more. "You'll excuse me if I don't take to heart pedestrian criticism from rank amateurs at children's parties who throw toma-WHOA!"
Mumbo ducked another hurled tomato.
"Fine! Stage is getting crowded anyway and if it's one thing I don't do it's share the spotlight." He dusted off his coat as he removed his top hat. Reaching into his hat he pulled a small cup before returning the hat to his head. He tossed the cup into the air directly above him. Once above him the cup magically expanded to enormous size. "Mumbo-Switch-O!"
The cup landed upside down covering Mumbo from view inside the large cup. From the single cup sprang two more, one at either side. They then began to shift position; sliding and shuffling round and round. Faster and faster they mixed between each other.
The Titans tried to keep sight of the center cup, which Mumbo had been under, but the cups were switching positions so quickly it became difficult to keep track. BeastBoy's eyes felt like they were spinning inside his own head.
Suddenly the cups came to a stop. They then began dashing forward picking up speed as they broke off into separate directions down a three-way intersection. One cup hung a left down the main street, another bearing right towards the next city district, and the third continuing straight ahead towards midtown.
Mumbo was many things but careless wasn't one of them. Past experiences had taught him well the odds of taking all five Titans single handedly were not in his favor.
"Titans, GO!" Robin exclaimed as he leaped from the roof firing his grapple launcher latching onto an adjacent building swinging after the cup that had proceeded down the center path. "Split up."
Cyborg hit the ground running, but not long as Starfire scooped him up by the shoulders taking to the air to pursue the cup that had fled to the left. That only left Raven soaring above street level to chase down the last cup's remaining escape route to the right with BeastBoy following on foot in cheetah form.
A few moments later Raven touched down on the street below as BeastBoy met up with her shifting back into human form catching his breath. She scanned the vacant streets surrounding her. No doubt word had already spread of Mumbo's crime spree and people were already off the streets. Just as well as it was one less detour to bringing down the bad guy.
"So where'd 'hocus-jokus' get to?" BeastBoy asked as he looked for any sign of a trail to follow.
"Not sure," she replied. Raven moved forward slowly, alert for any sign of Mumbo's presence. No obvious signs of Mumbo having passed through were apparent. It would've appeared they were following a cold trail. If not for the stirring feeling in her gut. "But he's close."
"Are ya sure?" he asked.
A thick metal ring flung towards BeastBoy striking his wrist sending him reeling against a building, anchoring itself into the wall with BeastBoy's arm stuck inside. "Whuh!" he yelled caught off guard.
Raven looked from BeastBoy to the direction it'd come from finding Mumbo casually reclined on top of the marquee of a local theater. He twirled three more magic linking rings around his finger.
"Are you convinced now?" she dryly called to BeastBoy, not taking her eyes off the magician.
BeastBoy struggled to pull the ring loose. "Sorta," he grunted.
Raven took to the air at eye level with Mumbo. "I thought you didn't do private parties," she put up her guard.
"Professional courtesy," he tipped his hat, "One magic user to another."
"Magic, yes." Raven threw out her hands, levitating several manhole covers up from the streets to her side, "Parlor tricks, no." She pushed her palms forward causing the covers to fly at Mumbo at high speed.
Mumbo leaped from the marquee just as the thick metal discs dug into wall where he'd been nestled. As he fell to the ground he pulled a long lasso of multi colored handkerchiefs from his sleeve. With a quick twirl he threw the lasso ensnaring Raven's leg with a firm downward yank, plucking her from the air and into the pavement below.
"Argh!" Raven shouted as she hit the ground.
BeastBoy morphed into a gorilla swinging his arm with a mighty heave, breaking the ring that held him in place in several pieces. He bounded towards Mumbo just as he touched down onto the street, shifting form to a lion.
Mumbo grinned. "Now there's something fresh for the act." Mumbo retrieved a whip from his hat, cracking it into the air as he pulled a small chair from behind his cape that he held out in front of him to keep the green animal at bay.
BeastBoy stopped just short of Mumbo as he prodded and poked the chair towards him. To which BeastBoy cut a thunderous roar.
"Back! Back I say!" he dramatically shouted cracking the whip repeatedly. "What do ya think? Too much?" he glanced in Raven's direction who was still steadying herself from the fall as if fishing for comments.
Mumbo looked back as BeastBoy bit into the chair with his sharp teeth, tearing the wooden legs from its base and chewing them into paste as if it were nothing more than bubblegum to his ferocious jaws.
Mumbo gave an audible gulp as he dropped the remains of the chair. "I think we should hold off on the 'putting my head in your mouth' bit. Crowd might be squeamish. Not to mention me." Mumbo reeled back the whip cracking the air once more in BeastBoy's direction. But the lion snapped its strong grip on the end of the whip in its mouth before he could retract it.
Mumbo wrestled and pulled furiously to pull the whip free. But the lion merely gave an un-amused glare as it swung his neck back to send Mumbo hurdling through the air and tumbling to the ground.
The magician was laid out on the ground flat on his back with his cape draped over his head. He shook his head with a small groan, unable to see.
Suddenly a low growl caught his ear. Cautiously Mumbo lifted his cape from over his eyes looking up at the green lion standing ominously over him and the hostile snarl on his face. "Not bad, kid. Ya got potential but you come up just short on the execution."
The lion reared back, springing off the ground about to pounce on its prey.
"Eh-heh," he coyly laughed, "Poor choice of words." Mumbo quickly rolled to his side, brushing back his cape to reveal his top hat in hand. Into the hat BeastBoy fell, magically sucked inside without the hat altering its shape or size as the large feline disappeared inside.
"See, in this line of work it really is style over substance," Mumbo smirked triumphantly.
"BeastBoy!" Raven called, now on her feet and advancing towards his captor. A nearby lamppost glowed black before rising from the street, the concrete once holding it in place crumbling free. With a swish of her arms the post acted as a telekinetic club striking hard against the ground.
"Ya know…" Mumbo began sidestepping the attack.
"…You should really give some thought…" he leaped backwards avoiding another strike.
"…To putting this whole hero profession…" he narrowly dodged another swipe.
Raven pulled her hands back before thrusting them forwards sending the lamppost flying at Mumbo like a javelin.
Mumbo ducked as the pole soared past him driving itself into a wall.
"A magician's life is so much more fulfilling. No collateral damage, no violent tendencies," he gestured to the surroundings of their battleground. "Whaddya say? I could use an assistant of your caliber. You and me, we can go places." Mumbo offered with a taunting smile.
Raven silently stared him down not bothering to reply.
Mumbo's shoulders sank, hanging his head. "So that's the way its gonna' be, eh? Well, guess there's only one way to settle this."
Mumbo pulled his cape around him, quickly throwing it back out to reveal a slight change in attire. Stirrups on the heels of his now black boots, leather chaps over his pants, a red vest over his coat with a small silver star pinned to the side. A holster attached to a black belt hanging low to his side with a magic wand in place of a six-shooter. He pressed down against his top hat just before it sprung back up as a ten-gallon hat. "Let's see who's quicker on the wand," he spat to the side in cowboy fashion.
Raven narrowed her eyes as if visually accepting the duel.
Mumbo narrowed his right back. He let one hand fall low to his side, flexing his fingers eager to draw.
Raven clenched her fist, black energy crackling from her knuckles. She didn't need a weapon. Only the will to close the curtain on this second rate illusionist.
A newspaper blew across the street like tumbleweed.
Mumbo spread his fingers wide.
With a swift motion Mumbo pulled the wand from his holster swinging his arm forward towards Raven. As soon as he drew his wand on Raven a narrow tidal wave of trick flowers erupted from his sleeve bearing down on Raven.
Quickly Raven flew into the air avoiding the colorful onslaught below her as the stream of flowers struck a city bus behind her with the force of a tidal wave, knocking it over. She cast her hand to the side engulfing a floral delivery truck with an aura of black energy, levitating it slightly off the ground before tossing it high into the air like a lawn dart.
Mumbo looked up as the shadow of the plummeting vehicle began to close in around him. Leaping out of the way he narrowly dodged the falling truck as it half buried into the street with such force, the back door of the truck cracked open raining flowers to the ground around its close proximity.
He dusted a few stray carnations and other assorted flowers from his person. "Remind me not to catch the bouquet at your wedding."
Raven went into a dive flying towards him.
Mumbo pulled a deck of playing cards from his jacket. With a quick shuffle he split the deck between his hands, scattering the cards at his feet. Upon touching the ground the cards began to squirm and twitch, digging into the ground, burying themselves like seeds.
Raven continued towards him, arms out in front of her, hands glowing with energy amassing in her palms prepared to attack.
Suddenly the ground began to rumble. The street split open as a giant house of cards sprung up, obstructing Mumbo from view.
Raven didn't slow down, merely continuing forwards. She fanned out her hands sending a ripple of energy out in front of her that hit the dead center of the makeshift structure, toppling it as quickly as it had been created.
She coasted to a stop above the scattered pile of cards on the ground. She searched the area, but there was no sign of Mumbo. Another diversion, as she'd expected.
"Another admirable quality of a performer in training…"
Raven turned to find Mumbo on the other side of the street leaning against a mailbox, casually re-shuffling another deck of cards, fanning them out in front of him.
He swung his arm forward sending several cards whizzing through the air landing a few feet short of Raven. The instant the cards landed on the ground a large puff of white smoke erupted from each card. When the smoke dissipated there stood in place of the cards large magically transformed figures matching the likenesses of a jack, a queen, and a king. Each standing tall with a familiar blue complexion, looking down at Raven with sinister smirks of mischievous intent.
"…Performing before a 'full house'," Mumbo grinned.
The royal figures took a step towards her, the jack pulling a mace, the queen donning an axe, and the king sporting a long sword. In unison they raised their weapons high.
Raven crouched low to the ground. "I prefer a roundhouse." She sprung into the air just as their weapons came bearing down on her, swinging her leg forward. Her foot struck all three in semicircular motion leaving a trail of black energy rippling from her ankle which intensified the blow as all three attackers were sent skidding across the ground on their backs.
Steadily the three royal garbed minions got back to their feet, firmly gripping their weapons once more. All the while a proud smile matching Mumbo's never leaving their faces. Raven held firm, arms out to her sides preparing for the next attack.
"Hmm," Mumbo scratched his chin harboring doubt that the playing field was still too equal for his taste. "Card tricks certainly aren't what they used to be. Let's see if we can't find a little something extra to really get the crowd on their feet."
He removed his top hat, waving his hand over the top. He reached inside. "Observe. The hand is quicker than the ey-yi-YI-YIGH!" Mumbo shouted as a loud snap echoed from the hat, removing his hand and with it a green lobster clamping its claw firmly across his fingers.
Mumbo shook his hand vigorously in between yelps of pain trying to shake the infernal creature free. After a few frantic flails the lobster released its grip, flung in the direction of Mumbo's minions as they began to advance towards Raven. BeastBoy expanded in size midair into the form of an elephant, shifting to his side.
The royal henchman looked up just as the large green pachyderm plunged down on top of them, rolling over the three and pan caking them into the ground.
As he rolled clear BeastBoy returned to human form, skidding to one knee by Raven's side still at the ready to fend off another attack. But it was unnecessary as all three figures remained down and motionless, eventually dematerializing into ordinary playing cards once more.
"Boy, talk about performance issues," BeastBoy quipped.
Mumbo sucked on his fingers, as if trying to numb the sharp pain still lingering in his hand. Removing his hand he gave an irked grunt firmly pulling his top hat back onto his head. "Okay! That does it!" he rolled up his sleeves, his once carefree smirk now a malicious grin. "As much as it pains me to break up a good performance, it's time to split up this act."
Mumbo threw his hands forward, his gloves flying from his hands. One landed square on Raven's face, its fingers grabbing a tight hold over her nose and mouth. She struggled to pry it off, but its grip was too strong and with her mouth sealed she couldn't chant her mantra to properly focus her energies around it.
BeastBoy reached for her. But his attempt to help her was short lived as the other glove grew to the size of a car, crashing down on top of him and pinning him to the ground under its palm.
Raven continued to pry at the glove, ripping at its fingers and wrist. But just as she began to lift it an inch from her face the glove burst into a puff of smoke. More precisely, knock out gas, causing Raven to cough before an exasperated gasp as she collapsed to the ground.
BeastBoy pushed and wriggled every muscle in his body to get loose. The large animate glove still anchoring him merely dug its fingers into the pavement solidifying its hold. Still he resisted as best he could.
He looked up as Mumbo casually stood over him.
"Don't feel too bad, kid," he gloated as he dusted off his coat. "Ya put on a good show. But a good magician always has an ace up his sleeve."
A large playing card with the ace of spades sprung from the gloves wrist, its razor sharp edge stopping just short of BeastBoy's neck. One false move and he was sure to get the mother of all paper cuts.
"Shame really. Could've used a well-trained rabbit for the hat tricks. Even if he was a little green." Mumbo leaned over giving a satisfied smile. "But I guess the next hat they pull you out of will be six feet deep."
BeastBoy shifted his eyes to the side looking for any sign of movement from Raven.
"Aw, don't worry," Mumbo took notice. "No hard feelings. It comes with the territory. Sometimes ya work the good crowds and sometimes ya don't. There'll be other acts to follow." He placed his hat over his heart looking up.
"Dude, seriously. Do you EVER get tired of listening to yourself talk?" BeastBoy gave a dry stare. "You're not the only one who knows a trick or two ya know."
Mumbo glanced questionably at the trapped green boy. "Confident till the curtain falls. I respect that," he smirked. "But you don't really think you can beat a magician at his own game do you?"
"You don't really think I'll let ya just walk off without a fight, do you?" he replied. "Stop me if you've heard this one before. Now ya see me…"
Mumbo flipped his hand up. Though it wasn't really his intent, he refused to risk being upstaged by another do-gooder.
The ace swung downward.
The edge of the card cut deep into the ground like a blade, even penetrating a few inches into the pavement.
Mumbo slowly looked back, having turned his head at the last second. Despite being a villain he never did care much for the sight of the more unsavory acts that came with his choice of criminal career. He much preferred the role of performer than executioner.
"Not my style, I know," he sighed with a tinge of pity before rekindling his smile. "But every so often ya just have to take things to a whole new… huh?"
Much to his surprise as he looked down BeastBoy was nowhere to be found. Gone from beneath the giant glove that was still unchanged from its spot firmly planted on the ground.
"Where did…? How…?" Mumbo dropped to his hands and knees, squinting to see if he'd changed form and crawled underneath. Getting back to his feet he gave a wave of his hand and in an instant the enormous glove shrank to its regular size.
No longer barring view of the street it was now clear to see that BeastBoy was indeed gone. No tracks, no trail, no clue as to where he might've gone.
Mumbo scratched his chin, looking back to find Raven still face down where she'd been. Also unchanged.
He walked over to her, standing over Raven's motionless figure as he made one last visual sweep of the surrounding area. Whether the changeling had fled to regroup or was lying in wait to attack, he still remained baffled as to how he'd done it. "Kids these days are finding better tricks all the time. Another trade secret, I'm sure." He looked down at her, lightly nudging her side with his foot.
Yielding no response, Mumbo shrugged. He had no loot for his efforts but he was still unscathed save for his pride. And he still had his freedom. It was time to cut his losses and exit the stage while he was still able.
"Well then," he gave a small bow and tip of the hat as show of respect, "Until the next stage is set." Mumbo turned walking away.
Just then he faintly heard a low murmur.
"Hmm?" he turned.
Mumbo walked back, kneeling down beside Raven with a hand beside his ear. Again he could vaguely make out a few grumblings posing as words.
"What was that?" He pushed her partially onto her side.
Raven lay still with her ear against the ground, eyes shut, her mouth trembling to open.
Mumbo leaned in closer. "Didn't quite catch that, kid."
Raven's eyes opened wide as her hand rose to her shoulder. "AlaKazam!"
A black vortex opened point blank in front of Mumbo. A green spider monkey sprung from the mystic opening latching onto Mumbo's face. The small monkey tugged on Mumbo's mustache, poked him in the eyes, slapping and beating against his face like a drum as he screeched in primal manner.
Mumbo yelled in both pain and annoyance as he backpedaled several feet, shaking his head as he swung his torso while using both arms to attempt to throw the little beast from his shoulders.
Finally Mumbo was able to separate the green monkey's grip, seizing him by the wrist and flinging him into the air. Though the chimp landed squarely on his feet as he turned to flail his arms and razz the magician with his tongue.
Mumbo huffed as he tried to catch his breath, running his hand along the side of his head to straighten his hair. That's when the realization struck him as his hand felt around the alarming vacancy atop his head. His top hat was gone.
It was then he looked up to see his hat ensnared in the monkey's tail.
He turned, running up alongside Raven who was now on her feet. The little monkey climbed up her leg, around her back onto her shoulder where he placed the hat on her head with a playful smile clapping his hands. Raven too shared a small smile of her own.
Mumbo narrowed his eyes with a flare of his nostrils. He too curled a smile beneath his pointy nose.
Throwing out his arm, his wand sprung forth from his sleeve, catching it in his hand. He gave a quick twirl and then thrust it forward. "Mumbo Jumbo!"
In an instant the top hat expanded around them, transforming, seizing the both of them in what appeared to be a magic cabinet.
"Sharp as ever. Misdirection is a magician's best friend," he knocked on the side of the cabinet before reaching around to the side, retrieving the top hat from thin air. "Too bad it works both ways."
He placed both hands on the side of the cabinet. "But one good turn deserves another." He spun the cabinet around and around at dizzying speed. It twirled for a few seconds before eventually grinding to a stop beside Mumbo's hand.
He threw open the cabinet. "And behind door number one?"
BeastBoy and Raven steadied themselves against the inside of the cabinet; still woozy from the centrifugal force they'd endured inside. They swayed momentarily as their pupils briefly kept spinning just after they had.
"Wha-ah-uh-ugh-oh," BeastBoy stabilized himself. He brought both hands to his head as if trying to make the world around him finally stop spinning. "Anybody get the license plate number on that washing machine?"
Suddenly he perked his head up, wrapping his arms around his waist as a brief shiver rattled against his teeth. "Ooh-wuh-wuh-wuh! Is there a draft in here?"
"No," Raven replied also regaining her bearings, steadying a hand against her forehead. "But I do feel rather… constricted."
They both looked down to discover the cause of their newfound discomfort.
"Whah!" the two heroes yelped in shock as they were now finding themselves aware of BeastBoy in Raven's outfit and Raven in BeastBoy's uniform.
BeastBoy was quick to throw the long cloak around his exposed legs, clearly taken by surprise at the sudden exposure of his bare skinned legs so suddenly and in a combat situation. The fact that Raven's leotard did little to conceal his lower anatomy was probably an after thought as well.
Raven followed a similar reaction throwing her arms around herself, one across her chest, the other below her waist, trying to cover as much as possible. While not unaccustomed to tight clothing, BeastBoy's ensemble felt a little more formfitting than she was used to. Like it contoured across every inch of her, highlighting every inch of her body's shape. It felt as if she were wearing almost nothing at all.
"Is this what they call an out of body experience?" BeastBoy queried.
Raven merely gave an impatient stare. Not daring to pull either hand away long enough to smack him.
"Hmm…" Mumbo scratched his chin. "Shoe's on the other foot. But doesn't look to be a good fit."
Mumbo slammed the cabinet door, taking firm hold to the side once more, twirling the cabinet like a top. After a few seconds of high-speed rotations the cabinet came to a stop. And once more Mumbo threw open the cabinet door.
BeastBoy wore a matching red suit and hat with white fur lining around the sleeves and a big black leather belt across his waist with matching black boots. A clearly fake, thick white beard, which BeastBoy was quick to tear from his face as it muffled his voice. BeastBoy was dressed in the splitting image of Santa Clause. Minus the holly jolly waistline.
He looked to his side to find Raven hunched in sour expression as she was donned in a hefty light pink rabbit suit with a basket of colored eggs hung from her arm. Chalk up one more unpleasant experience with rabbits on Mumbo's behalf.
She shifted her eyes to the side at the young changeling. "You're out of season." Seemingly all she could muster from spite of having the theme of floppy ears once again forced upon her person.
BeastBoy crossed his arms as if sore about being overlooked as to how good a Santa he looked. "You put on weight," he teasingly remarked at the bulky fluff padding the inside of Raven's suit.
Raven shot up straight, planting the Easter basket onto his head with a SPLAT as yolks dribbled down his face.
Mumbo slammed the door closed. "Not bad. But I don't care much for holiday specials."
Again he gave the cabinet an intense spin. And once more the cabinet came to a halt. The door flung open.
"Perhaps imitation is the most sincerest form of flattery," Mumbo boasted at the latest transformation.
BeastBoy was dressed in a dark green tuxedo with a dark purple collar and bow tie, white gloves, and a top hat. The ensemble was a similar magician's attire to that of his captor. He looked from shoulder to shoulder at his new look with a shudder. "Please tell me this isn't a hand-me-down," he said with a nauseous sense of concern.
He looked beside him to find Raven in a deep blue sequins gown that cut off just above the knee. No doubt intended to be taking up the role of the 'lovely assistant', to which she could not help but feel slightly belittled.
However not missing the irony of this role reversal, she gave a casual role of the eyes. "Now this makes two people in tuxes who can't do proper magic." She mused at Mumbo's expense with just a snippet aimed at BeastBoy for misusing her spell books a while back.
"Hey, no way I'm sportin' that look," he waved off the prospect of trading outfits. "Besides I don't got the legs for it." He tugged at his pant legs to contrast her short outfit causing a flock of pigeons to fly out from inside.
Raven gave a small smirk as the swarm of birds scattered up past him, flapping him in the face with stray feathers left hanging on his outfit.
Mumbo narrowed his gaze as the door snapped shut. "On second thought, too many performers spoil the show," he scowled.
With a wave of his wand he materialized a pull start on the side of the cabinet. He grabbed hold of the handle with a renewed smile, putting one foot squarely against the side of the cabinet, giving a mighty heave. After two or three sharp pulls the cabinet started to sputter like an outboard motor, whirling and twirling quicker than it had before. It spun faster and faster, rocking back and forth, almost starting to lift off the ground.
Mumbo leaned forward, one hand pressing his top hat against his head, having to fight the amount of wind resistance being put off just to stand upright.
The cabinet came to a screeching halt.
"Ya know something? It takes talent to spot talent. Memorable acts come and go. But you two?" he straightened his collar. "You both have such good chemistry together on stage…"
The cabinet door swung open.
"What say we take it to the next level?" he grinned.
BeastBoy shook off yet another dizzying spin. "Dude, seriously. This is getting' way old."
"Old is all he does," Raven pointed out, rubbing the wobbly blur from her eyes. "Old tricks, old hat, old age."
"Yeah, well that still doesn't change the fact that we're totally gonna' kick his-" BeastBoy stopped abruptly catching sight of his new attire.
Mumbo's current cabinet transformation was just starting to come into focus. BeastBoy was dressed in a formal black suit with silver cufflinks. White dress shirt underneath accented by a black tie. A white handkerchief tucked into his breast pocket. Polished black dress shoes.
"Okay, didn't we already do the 'wanna' be magician' act? Cause I don't do reruhhhh…" BeastBoy looked beside him finding a shortness of both words and thought.
Raven was dressed in a stunning backless white wedding gown. Silk and lace delicately woven over her figure, a radiant contrast to her undressed bare arms holding a small bouquet of pale yellow roses and ivory white orchids. Her hair slightly pulled back. A transparent white veil draped down over her face.
Raven at last looked to have shaken the last of the dizziness from her only to find her vision somewhat obscured by the new accessory donned atop her head, quick to tear back the veil from her face. "What the…" all she could muster looking herself over. She spread her arms, looking from shoulder to shoulder as she angrily noted every last insufferable detail to this magical mockery.
BeastBoy just stared, unsure of what else to do.
Raven caught sight of BeastBoy's somewhat vacant gawk. "What?" she quietly said in uncertainty, inching away. She pulled her arms around her instinctually unable to shake the embarrassment of once again being used as a living dress up doll.
"Uh…" BeastBoy stammered. He'd never seen Raven dressed like this. Like this? He'd never seen Raven 'dressed' at all. And while she certainly never cared for outward remarks on how she dressed before, what was there to say? What would get him pummeled more? How good she looked or how bad a fit it was for her persona?
Though truth be told there was a certain radiance about her. Maybe it was a side effect of Mumbo's cabinet; maybe it was the constant dizziness he'd endured that was making him lightheaded, but it felt like his vision was being slightly distorted. Like the effect in Japanese cartoons where everything around you gets all bright and glittery and you're surrounded by bubbles for some reason.
Raven stared impatiently, narrowing her eyes at the green boy beside her. The look of aggravation all she could do to mask her own silent observation of his like-wise change in appearance.
It was certainly different. She'd never even contemplated the idea of BeastBoy in a suit. And certainly not how much it seemed to radically overshadow so much of his personality in such a drastic way. He had a look of maturity to him. Distinction. Class. No impression whatsoever that this was the same person who on occasion would build a fort at the foot of his bed with dirty laundry and play the harmonica with his nose.
"I-I…uh…" BeastBoy fumbled, shyly rubbing the back of his head.
Raven looked down staring at the ground. Or at least what little ground that visible and not hidden by her gown. "Yeah. Um…"
"This is kinda'… I mean n-not that you…"
"Don't… Just… Maybe…"
Awkward silence, save for occasional forced syllable brought on by the quickest of glances back and forth between each other.
Mumbo could not help but delight in this development as he concealed a snicker. He'd all but completely immobilized them and seemingly neutralized their very train of thought. "Mmm… Needs something," he deviously scratched his chin.
Always a perfectionist when it came to the details he needed that one final feature. The proverbial icing on the cake.
"That's it!" he said with a snap of his fingers. Mumbo drew his wand in hand once more giving a wave and an upward thrust high into the air.
From below to the two teens feet sprung an enormous three-tiered wedding cake, lifting them high into the air. The cake surged and grew to forty feet high, thick coatings of vanilla icing covering every square inch.
Raven and BeastBoy remained glued to the spot, shaken but unmoving. Their feet deeply entrenched in thick white frosting as if nothing more than decoration.
Mumbo gazed atop the mountainous desert and the two decorative toppers above. "And now that we've all had our just desserts," he rolled up his sleeves, "It's time to bring this show to a close."
With a swish of his wand in the air the magic cabinet sprung up from beneath the cake right behind the two heroes. Its doors ominously opened wide giving way to a void of utter blackness inside. The magician's intent was made clear. He was preparing to send them on a honeymoon. Into oblivion.
"And now, for my final act," he held his hands high as if catering to the ever present crowd in his mind. "I will now make this happy couple… DISAPPEAR." He smiled malevolently.
He tilted his top hat back, reeling back with both arms. One hand flexing his fingertips, the other waving his wand in preparation. He was ready. His magic in control. The final curtain set to lower.
Something was amiss. The stage was set for the performance of a lifetime, but Mumbo couldn't help but feel… out of sync. Restless over something he couldn't quite put his finger on.
He looked to the top of the cake at his two captives. Still anchored in place. Still unchanged. Only sharing occasional fleeting glances at one another.
"Ahem!" he pretended to clear his throat as he lowered his posture briefly before holding himself high in preparation once more. "I will NOW make this HAPPY COUPLE… DISAPPEAR!"
No witty banter.
No idle threats.
Just two well dressed teens bashfully sharing the same awkward space. Their eyes cast up at the sky or down at the ground in between the occasional timid looks as if trying to think of what to say to one another.
Mumbo's teeth began to quiver. A cold sweat dripped from his brow. He had them right where he wanted them. Alone, helpless, and no escape. Just a flick of the wrist and he could beat a hasty exit to perform another day. The reviews would be in his favor, the performance of a lifetime, and two less interlopers to upstage him at future venues.
But it was all for not if he didn't have the spotlight. The captive audience's attention was elsewhere. It was unprofessional.
"ERRRRGGGHH!" Mumbo fumed, "HEY!"
He threw his hands to his sides, defiantly marching towards the base of the towering cake. He did have his pride. And he was still a performer above all else.
He stared daggers at the both of them but it was if he wasn't even there. He smacked his hand onto his face dragging his fingers down across his features in sheer frustration.
Mumbo stomped heavily up the side of the cake sinking his once polished shoes and stainless black dress pants deep into the spongy mass of cake and its thick gobs of sugary glaze.
"There… are certain levels… of common courtesy," he huffed in between wide steps, continuing to ascend higher up the first tier of the cake. "When a performer… takes… the stage!"
Mumbo finally made the last messy trudge onto the top layer of the cake, several pounds of frosting clinging all around his legs. After a moment to catch his breath from the exhausting upward hike the magician stared down his two oblivious spectators.
"So without further adieu, can we wrap this show up!" he crossed in arms in bitter intolerance.
BeastBoy glanced at Raven.
Raven glanced at BeastBoy.
The two finally meeting eyes for more than a fleeting glance.
"Now?" he asked politely.
"Now," Raven gave a nod with a small smile.
The two teens reeled back their arms. BeastBoy's arm morphing to that of a gorilla's brutish fist, a bulging orb of building telekinetic energy amassing outside Raven's knuckles, bawling up their fists in harmony before shooting them straight out in front of them parallel to both side of Mumbo's face.
The impact erupted like a crack of thunder as the magician was sent airborne, arcing over the side of the towering cake. Tumbling down tier after tier, soaking up frosting like a snowball rolling down a steep hill. Bounding and falling over and over again, layer after layer, his entire being now encased in a heavy coating of white frosting as he sluggishly rolled to a stop back onto the pavement with a splat.
On the up side, the outer shell of icing he now wore around him like a hefty white round overcoat had softened the fall. So there wasn't much additional damage done to his person. However the frosting had all but solidified, thickened and tightly packed around his entire body save for his head.
Mumbo woozily shook his head. He could feel his face starting to swell as the searing imprint of each of the Titan's fist prints were now beginning to puff out against the side of his cheeks. The soreness followed close behind as he could feel everything below his eyelids starting to throb and tingle with the burning sensation of defeat. "Newlyweds…" he babbled before blacking out.
Meanwhile back on top of the world, as it were, BeastBoy pulled at his leg trying to pry it free from the icing. "So," he yanked at his knee with a strain in his voice, "Gonna' ask me if I'm sick of sugar now?"
Raven rolled her eyes throwing out her hand in Mumbo's direction.
Mumbo's wand uprooted itself from the sugary mass that held the magician in place. Encased in black energy it flew to Raven's hand where she grasped it tightly before snapping it in two.
The magic cabinet vanished in a puff of smoke. The frosting began to dissolve. The massive cake beneath their feet began to deflate in size. All of Mumbo's magic was slowing coming undone.
Raven discarded the wand fragment over her shoulder with a sigh of relief. "Glad that's over."
"Uh, Raven?" BeastBoy asked in a somewhat concerned manner.
BeastBoy shyly pointed down.
Raven looked down.
In the moment of triumph of nullifying Mumbo's magic she'd forgotten just how high off the ground they were.
The cake began to break apart.
"Oh," came her deadpan realization.
All three tiers gave way crumbling into nothingness.
"WAAAGHH!" they yelled in a downward plunge towards the ground.
BeastBoy landed in a thick mountain of frosting on the ground, softly but messily breaking his fall. Shakily he sat up knocking a stray bit of frosting from out of his ear.
He quickly looked up to find Raven still falling, coming right down on top of him. BeastBoy held out his arms, catching her in his lap.
Raven remained motionless for a moment, caught bridal style in BeastBoy's arms. The two meeting eyes just long enough to blink. She was quick to shove herself away. But in doing so only to fall into the same pile of sugary paste that had saved them.
"So… yeah. This was a day to remember." BeastBoy obliged in a bit of sarcasm befitting Raven as he got to his feet.
"Hardly one I'll soon forget," she huffed wiping icing from her face as she walked, stopping short of Mumbo verifying he was indeed still out cold and no longer a threat. "Though I'll certainly try."
They watched as the last remnants of the magician's magic dissipated. Save for a few reverted props and lingering mounds of frosting the street was essentially restored to normal.
"Little property damage and a few chunks missin' from the main street," BeastBoy surveyed the most noticeable damage, "But overall, chalk up another one for the good guys." He gave a thumbs up in approval.
"Now let's just call the others before…" Raven reached for her communicator. But found only the delicate white wedding gown hanging at her hips. In fact her entire wedding dress was still intact, covering her standard apparel.
She looked up at BeastBoy. He too was still dressed in Mumbo's magically summoned wedding attire. Where as everything else had reverted back, their outfits remained.
BeastBoy looked curiously at her, keying to the mildly alarmed look in her eyes. "Uh," he started, "Problem?" The only time Raven had that look was when something was wrong or when he'd done something to light her fuse. Which in many ways was pretty much the same thing.
"Good deduction," she dryly hissed, "Why are we still dressed like this?"
"Dunno'," he shrugged. "Hocus pocus and presti-digi-whatzits is your department."
She grumbled as if she had expected anything less. Raven rested her hand on her chin in deep thought. "Mumbo draws his magic from the hat. But his wand is how he focuses and directs it. We broke the wand so the energies that it focused all should have dispersed. So why did-"
"No problem. We just do it the hard way." BeastBoy took firm hold of his left sleeve. With a swift pull he tore the sleeve off the tuxedo, ripping at the shoulder. The magic remnants of the outfit torn away, there beneath were BeastBoy's gloved hand and uniform clothed arm. "See?"
Just seconds after forcibly removing the article of clothing, the torn seam gently glowed. From the shoulder of the tuxedo a new sleeve instantly stitched itself over BeastBoy's arm, leaving him fully dressed as if nothing had happened.
BeastBoy tore away the sleeve again with more force and a more determined look on his face. And again, the sleeve grew back. He ripped it off again. It grew back. Every tear, rip, and shred was mended as fast as he could remove it. Over and over again he tried to remove part of the tuxedo. The opposite sleeve, the collar, the pants. But as fast as he exposed his uniform underneath, the tuxedo would regenerate over it.
BeastBoy found himself short of breath, panting heavily from his vigorous failed attempts. "Okay, Raven. I give. Go ahead."
"Go ahead and what?" she said.
"Ya know, wiggle your fingers and just make this thing fly off or something and make me look totally stupid for trying?"
"There are two things wrong with that, BeastBoy. One, trying and making you look stupid are usually the natural order of things as they are the same. And two, this isn't some spell or incantation I can just shoo away."
BeastBoy gave a small frown. Was there ever going to be a situation that didn't leave him open to ridicule?
"When I broke Mumbo's wand, my powers must've disrupted the flow of magic feeding into these insipid outfits," she looked down. "And now they seem to be drawing whatever trace amounts of my powers they can to sustain them."
"So… these things are usin' you like a battery?" he scratched his head.
"More or less," she sighed. "At least until I can figure out a way to stop their flow of magic."
Raven was doing her best to keep a cool head in the midst of this situation but it didn't make her ensemble any easier to choke down. The fact that no one else was around to see this debacle was the only thing keeping her within rational boundaries of thought. Still, the sooner they were off the streets and out of sight, the better.
"There's nothing we can do from here. Let's get back to the tower," Raven turned, embarrassingly lifting her gown just enough to comfortably walk.
BeastBoy turned to follow but looked back at Mumbo, still down for the count and neck deep in frosting. "What about him?"
"The others will no doubt be along shortly. All the more reason to leave unnoticed." Raven shrunk her head between her shoulders in discomfort at the idea of Starfire or Cyborg stumbling upon either of them like this.
"Hmm," he pondered. He shot upright with a smile, snapping his fingers. "Hang on a sec."
BeastBoy dashed back towards Mumbo, busily arranging a proper farewell for the blue-faced villain and all the headaches he'd visited upon them today. Taking a step back to double check his work he gave a nod of approval before dashing back alongside Raven.
Curiously Raven tilted her head from BeastBoy back to their unconscious adversary. She gave a small smirk in appreciation. "Certainly know how to make the most of your surroundings." And with that Raven encircled them both with a black sphere of energy sinking into the ground and transporting back to Titans Tower.
Mere moments after their departure it was then that Cyborg dropped onto the street with a clang as his thick metal feet struck the pavement, falling to one knee with his sonic cannon primed and ready. Starfire swooped down low just above having air lifted him to the scene, both hands emitting a dense flow of green energy to her palms. Lastly came the whiz of Robin's grappling hook, snagging the side of a nearby ledge as he propelled himself through the air and touching down on the ground between his fellow Titans. Bow staff extended in one hand, bird-a-rang tight in the grip of the other.
"Alright, Mumbo," came a firm ultimatum, "Surrender or we…"
Robin's well-prepared address pandered off at the sight that awaited them. Mumbo was incapacitated in what appeared to be a mammoth sized snowball of white frosting with his head poking out and his fingers barely prying up through the thick goo. His top hat was compacted down onto his head, leaving just enough room for a white wedding veil to cover his face. Tied around his neck were several strings attached to tin cans that dangled against the street with a sign propped under his chin reading: 'JUST BUSTED'.
It was a perplexing sight. The Titans were used to gift-wrapping the bad guys for the authorities. But it seemed someone had beat them to it.
The three heroes eased out of combat stance though still somewhat unsure of what to make of it.
"The magic Mumbo has been defeated," Starfire smiled. "Yes?" she asked with a hint of uncertainty having never seen such a ritual of earthly incarceration such as this before.
"I would say so," Cyborg conjectured as he converted his sonic cannon back to his standard arm function. He dipped his finger into the frosting before sampling a taste with a smack of his lips. "Though personally I prefer my bad guys with strawberry icing."
Robin pulled his communicator from his utility belt. "I'll contact the authorities."
"Might be easier to call a caterer," he joked concerning Mumbo's abundance of cake themed decoration.
"Friends Raven and BeastBoy? They are absent over their victory?" Starfire asked in concern. "I pray they're not injured most fatal."
"I'm sure they're fine, Star." Robin assured. "If it were anything serious they would've notified us by now. Probably…'complications' from their encounter with Mumbo." Robin gave a quick study of the amassed sugary slop that encased the villain in question.
"Probably a story too," Cyborg inspected the veil atop Mumbo's head as he was starting to come around. "Probably one we're never gonna' hear either."
Raven and BeastBoy walked side by side down the halls of the tower, Raven occasionally lagging a few steps due to her still cumbersome blouse getting caught under her feet.
"You really think ya can get these things off?" BeastBoy tugged at his collar in equal discomfort.
"There's bound to be a spell in one of my ancient texts that covers removing outer magic of foreign energies," she sighed to herself but assured.
"Um, if you… say so," he mentally stumbled with her subject classification. "Just outta' curiosity, ya know… worst case scenario… what if there's nothin' in the books that can help us?"
Raven looked up at the ceiling in thought as they drew closer to her room. "Worst case, we wait for the magic to lose its compatible hold over whatever amount of energy my powers bonded with it."
"Oh. Well, yeah. That makes sense," he gave a nervous laugh as if not thrown by Raven's superior knowledge and understanding. "The old waitin' game. How long could that be?" BeastBoy gave a needed boost of optimism.
"Maybe hours. Maybe days," she stared ahead in neutral dread. "Maybe longer."
"Yeeesh," BeastBoy rubbed the back of his neck in awkward fashion as if sorry that he'd asked. "That could seriously cramp my style. I mean I know they say, 'dress for success' and all. But I prefer somethin' a little more casual. Plus I feel kinda' silly in this monkey suit."
"You look fine," she said casually. "I'm the one who's going to have to bar the door and observe isolation if it comes to that." Raven would too. Not that the possibility was previously unheard of if she were in the right kind of mood. "Could this be any more degrading?"
"You don't look so bad."
Raven stopped, looking over her shoulder questionably.
BeastBoy froze. Nervously he took a step back, not sure if he'd said the right thing. "I-I mean… uh… y-you do. No! I mean, you never did before. Bu-But uh… you are kinda'… I dunno'… pretty?"
Raven just blinked, softly batting her eyelashes as she did. She turned towards him.
BeastBoy threw his arms over his head to block the corrective action he felt coming his way.
Raven reached out for him.
BeastBoy shut his eyes.
She slightly straightened his tie.
He looked down just as she delicately took hold of the tie in one hand, the knot in the other. Suddenly she pulled down with just enough force to tighten it around BeastBoy's collar with a small jerk to the throat.
"Gghnk!" he gave a low gag.
"And you," she began firmly. Raven gave a lopsided smile. "Could do a lot worse."
BeastBoy retuned a small smile of his own. A little unclear if she was talking about his suit, his comment, or the idea of her as a bride. But he was already notorious for asking her to overly explain things that often resulted in him losing further understanding while sometimes getting a side order of open palm to the soft spot on his head and souring her mood. Best not to push it for now.
"We could always paint it blue," he tried to lighten her burden in a different color in the event things didn't play out to her liking.
She walked away towards the end of the hall, giving her half smile time to fade on its own in light of the sweet, albeit foolish, sentiment.
The door to Raven's room opened just as BeastBoy caught up beside her. "Just try to keep quiet while I sift through the necessary books."
"I could just wait out here… if ya want?" he asked with a lost look in his eye as if unsure of what help he could be.
Raven looked at him with the smallest sense of appreciation. He knew how she was most effectively in tune with magic in a solitary atmosphere. Especially where books and reading were concerned. "Better that I can keep you where I can keep an eye on you. Besides, if the others were to see you dressed like that, I can only surmise what they'd envision me to be in."
He perked up just a bit, even if only for the fact that she was plainly saying he'd give away their predicament otherwise. "Good point," he chuckled lightly at his own getup.
BeastBoy walk towards the open door, Raven gesturing him welcome to come inside. But he stopped short of the doorway, shrinking back as if reluctant to step inside.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
"Um… isn't it like… a tradition or something to… carry you over the 'threshold'?" he twiddled his thumbs. "Or something?"
"BeastBoy," she began in her calmest, most patiently scolding voice, "May I remind you there is more than one way to 'annul' this arrangement?" Raven softly balled her fist as a mass of energy gathered to her hand.
"Eh-heh-heh," he nervously laughed. "Just askin'."
Raven walked inside, BeastBoy following close behind as the door swished shut behind them.
It was late the next morning. The day had begun, breakfast was ended, and fees had been well past collected. BeastBoy sat on the couch beside Robin, playing head to head on the gamestation with nothing but time on his hands as Cyborg was noticeably absent. Well underway in his immense undertaking of restoring some semblance of order to the sullied chaos that was BeastBoy's room. A chore certain to take up most of the day. At the least.
Starfire kneeled beside the couch, splitting her attention between observing the two at play and teaching Silkie to do tricks.
"Come, Silkie," she cheered. "Do as you have been taught."
Silkie tilted his head up; wriggling and gurgling in the affectionate way only he could express himself with.
"Come on my little bungorf," she encouraged.
"Whatcha' tryin' to teach'em, Star?" BeastBoy inquired as Robin paused the game to likewise shift his attention to the little maggots' activity.
"It is Earth custom to train other species companions to initiate acts on command to strengthen their bond with those whom they are share living quarters with. So I have taken much joy in the teaching of Silkie a few most basic pet like functions."
"Roll over?" BeastBoy ventured a guess.
"Play dead?" Robin followed.
"Oh, something much more formal." She kneeled down closer, clasping her hands together. "Come on, Silkie."
Silkie sat up.
"That's it," she smiled. "As I have instructed."
He bulged and puffed out his lower region, holding his head back as the faintest chewing and gurgling sounds began to build from his tiny little abdomen. Almost like the growl of an empty stomach but higher in pitch.
"That's it," she said giddily with excitement. "You are-"
The little maggot spit up a thick stream of dense slime, hitting her in the chest that knocked Starfire onto her back.
"Star!" Robin called in concern.
Starfire merely sat up grinning ear to ear with pride, laughing as she took Silkie into her arms, cradling him in joy. "Most fine boy, Silkie."
BeastBoy and Robin both did their best to hold back their mild disgust for the sake of Starfire's feelings.
"You're teachin' him to puke on command?" BeastBoy inquired. "Why is that gross yet… somehow cool?"
"On my planet there is no greater show of honor and dignity than for one's pet to present his mucilage," she explained as she patted him on the head.
"I'm guessing leash laws are a long way off on that planet," Robin mused quietly to his teammate beside him as they resumed their game.
On the far end of the couch sat Raven. Book in hand and reclined comfortably. And while present and accounted for with the rest of the group she was also, in a sense, separate. At least from her restricted auditory functions, courtesy of Cyborg's custom earpieces.
Karma was indeed in effect. She'd stomached this month long wager and now her efforts had bore fruit. Frequency isolating earplugs making any place in the tower her own personal sound deprivation chamber. The fact that Cyborg was in BeastBoy's room scuffing his finish on dirt, grime, and hopefully much worse, was a bonus.
She took a deep breath, closing her eyes. Raven exhaled slowly as she looked to her side at the others. Mouths moving and not so much as a sound to be heard. A vacuum. A void of sound. "Sweet peace," she whispered to herself.
It had been like this for most of the morning now. Ever since she'd plucked them from Cyborg's hands just before BeastBoy had handed him a bucket of cleaning supplies in their place. They hadn't left her ears. A long overdue holiday of nothing but stillness and tranquility.
A few minutes went by. And still not a sound to be heard.
It all seemed too good to be true. Raven would occasionally glance up from the book once or twice. But then just as quickly turn back to her place.
She began to stir. She shifted position on the couch.
She leaned from one side to the other.
She put one leg up.
Then she put it back down.
The words on the page began to lose meaning. She flipped to another page. Then another. Then another. But reading had lost its appeal. She felt antsy. Restless. But she didn't know why.
She shut the book holding it to her chest.
Raven reached up pushing one of the buttons on the side of the earpiece. All sound came back instantly. Starfire further encouraging Silkie. Robin and BeastBoy exchanging each other's accustomed sounds of fleeting victory and bitter defeat in their back and forth struggle within the game at play.
She shut her eyes briefly. Then pressed button again.
As before, her ears muted. Silence once more.
She looked up at the ceiling, closing here eyes once more as she pressed another button.
The sound filtered, canceling all surrounding noise. Isolating and canceling out every sound. Every sound that is, except BeastBoy.
Her mind clicked. There was a renewed sense of clarity. She could align her thoughts. Focus returned to her.
She opened her eyes, shifting her pupils to the side so as not to be noticed of the small, perplexed look on her face.
One month. One month tolerating every level of distraction she ever thought possible. One month pushing through turbulence in her mind that clamored for an escape. One month of BeastBoy, on tap, despite every personal instinct and precaution against it. Some good, some bad, some… mildly confusing. But after all she'd been through, everything she'd endured…
She solemnly shook her head. "Don't tell me I actually got used to it," she muttered bitterly to herself.
This entire ordeal had hammered one particularly poignant revelation into Raven's mind. It was as irritating as it was profound. There was such a thing as too much quiet. And if there was one thing BeastBoy was particularly well equipped to deal with, it was to prevent suffocation from silence. To keep the serious from getting too serious.
The main room doors suddenly opened as Cyborg hobbled inside. All heads turned in surprise to find him back from his up until recently insurmountable task. He slowly walked inside around to the front of the couch where he lingered for only a few seconds until absolutely certain he was behind the cushions as he let himself fall backwards.
"Ahh," he gave a relaxed sigh as he sank into the cushions.
"Finished so soon?" Robin asked, looking up at the nearby wall clock to verify it had only been a few hours.
"No," Cyborg responded. "But… I'm getting' there." Hardly an ounce of enthusiasm escaped him. Not to mention the slightest inkling of assurance or optimism.
The sheen to the outer finish of his cybernetic components had gone dull. Dust affixed itself to more than half of his metallic surfaces and exterior parts and assembly. Trace amounts of cleaning solvent were clearly visible, spattered atop his forearms and knee joint. And the subtle suggestion of bleach and ammonia hovered about him like a storm cloud over his head.
"Well, at least you're making prog-WHOA!" Robin was quick to cover his nose and mouth as the strong scent of disinfectant overwhelmed the immediate air around him. "I suspected it would be bad, but is it 'that' bad?"
"Nah," he swatted with his hand. "It'll take a little more work before its 'that' bad."
"Dude, I don't mind ya takin' a breather," BeastBoy held his nose with a mild gag, "As long as you allow us the same." He shrank in size as he assumed the form of a small green skunk, turning his back to his friend and lifting his tail to give a sprits of skunk spray.
He quickly turned his head, shielding his face with his hands. The blast of odor hit Cyborg dead on, though hardly fazing him. Slowly pulling his hands away he gave a cautious sniff with his twitching nostril. "That actually smells… better."
The previously burning arid aroma of bleach died down, yielding to the lingering smell of what could be described as rotten banana peels and coffee grounds. Between the intensely clean smell and the noxious bad smell it seemed the two opposing odors cancelled each other out leaving the air somewhat neutral.
Everyone breathed in relief, un-pinching their noses.
Cyborg brushed himself off, attempting to wipe a bit of the more obvious signs of his labor intensive struggle with the elements of un-cleanliness visited upon him in BeastBoy's room.
From over his shoulder a game controller presented itself, dangling in front of him. He looked over to find BeastBoy offering a more cleansing alterative to shake the fatigue from his senses.
"Couple quick games before ya get back to work?" he asked with a small grin. "Less of course you don't wanna' lose AGAIN so soon."
"Oh, bring it on short, green, and gruesome!" Cyborg excitedly snatched the controller with a rejuvenated vigor. He might still have a job to do, but he couldn't be expected to complete a task like that in one go. Besides he'd earned a break.
Raven stood up, carrying her book under her arm as she exited the main room. Perhaps another choice in literature was in order.
Robin rose from the couch to give Cyborg more room and to check on Starfire and be sure Silkie's trick hadn't had any unforeseen complications. It was anyone's guess what could affect Silkie on the inside; let alone what came out of him.
BeastBoy and Cyborg played head to head on screen only briefly losing themselves to the events that had lead up to today.
"Ya know, gotta' tell you," Cyborg began, never averting his eyes from the screen, his fingers mashing franticly the buttons on his controller, "This whole bet thing? Not what I thought it was gonna' be."
"Little late for regrets, Cy," BeastBoy responded as he matched pace on his own controller, also not looking away.
"Naw, I mean I figured most of the stuff that went down early on. Raven blows up at you, you implode on her, that I saw comin' a mile away. But after that? Man, I didn't think things would mellow like they did," he shrugged.
BeastBoy gave a momentary break from the screen just to look at his metallic friend funny. "Mellow?"
Cyborg caught the green boy's expression out of the corner of his eye, looking at him like he had to be joking. Or perhaps the fumes had affected his brain. "Okay, okay! Maybe mellow ain't the word. But ya know what I mean."
"Un-blow-up-able?" BeastBoy snickered.
"Close. But I never assume un-ANYTHING when Raven's in the right state of mind. Or wrong," he quivered at the thought of a few close calls visited upon him.
"Yeah," he hung his head off to the side. "She's got that way about her."
There was a short silence between them as their gameplay intensified. Each gaining the lead and falling behind by closer margins back and forth.
"So… what's your secret?" Cyborg restarted the conversation in the subtle hopes of distracting his green friend long enough to take a substantial lead.
"To what? Staying alive?" he answered, guessing he could only assume he was insinuating self-preservation under the previous circumstances.
"You know. Raven. You had to have picked up a trick or two. Otherwise no way you coulda' held out as long as ya did," Cyborg scoffed.
BeastBoy's eyes wandered past his controller giving the matter some thought. He did have a point. There was no way he could've maintained himself under normal means without having to adapt in some way. At least not that he would've noticed.
"Well?" Cyborg gave a verbal nudge after a prolonged silence, signaling he wasn't going to let the issue slide.
"Well," BeastBoy reluctantly began, "…there are two things I kinda' had to learn quick bein' around Raven pretty much all day."
Cyborg leaned his head to the side to listen more intently, but retaining view of the screen dead ahead.
"The first is, Raven is used to bein' alone. And alone is hard to compete with. Especially when someone takes a liking to it. Ya try to take that away from her, you're askin' for trouble. The best you can do is kinda' try to show her that… I dunno'… ya can be 'alone' together."
A smile curled to the side of Cyborg's mouth. To which BeastBoy shifted to the side uncomfortably as if able to hear it.
"DUDE!" he was quick to defend his last statement and how it sounded. "Not what I meant! What I mean is ya show her ya can have the alone without actually being alone."
"Isn't that like 'misery loves company'?" Cyborg responded.
"Come on, Cy. She just really really likes her peace and quiet. Probably cause it reminds her there are better things to do than putting walkin' junk piles like you through the floor."
"Look who's talkin'. She practically uses you as a human lawn dart at least once a week."
"Yeah. And how many times she done that lately?"
Cyborg opened his mouth to speak but found no counter argument to be made. He was right. Throughout this entire wager Raven had relied on BeastBoy less and less as a human projectile. Maybe cause he was working his way into her alone time like he was saying. Maybe she thought he would learn better without constant head trauma. Either way, it was a valid point.
"Look…" he sighed, "I had to find a way to share the same space as a girl who can squash me like a bug just by thinking of a fly swatter. She yelled at me if I tried to pretend she wasn't there. And she yelled at me even more if I tried to pretend I was like her."
"So what? Ya just call it a draw?" he joked.
"Yeah," he shrugged. "Kinda'."
Now it was Cyborg's turn to exchange peculiar looks at BeastBoy.
"I think that once she just realized that I wasn't tryin' to take her alone time from her, that I wasn't just tryin to see how big I could make the vein in the side of her head grow. That I was tryin' to share my alone time with her, she just kinda'… I dunno'… gave into it."
Cyborg continued to play, but at a considerably less intense pace. His grip on the controller was far less tight and his fingers had slowed their intense mashing and pounding against the buttons.
"Guess sometimes ya can give people what they want and other times ya can end up givin'em what they need," BeastBoy finished his explanation.
Cyborg took a moment to let it completely sink it. He hadn't expected such deep thought, even if not worded the most accurately, to come from his friend. But then again this was BeastBoy. And of all the people in the tower he could certainly give you a few surprises when he wanted to.
"And the second?" he asked as he glanced over his shoulder, feeling as though the first lesson had come through.
"The second is," BeastBoy took a deep breath. "It's wicked easy to make someone else's mind wander if ya just tell them what they wanna' hear."
"Huh?" he gave a baffled look.
From the screen came a sudden buzzer accompanied by the overwhelming melody of victory music.
Cyborg looked to find that in being fully absorbed in BeastBoy's life lesson he'd fallen so far behind in the game he'd suffered total defeat. The screen flashed a victory animation over BeastBoy's character. To which BeastBoy himself shared a smug expression.
Cyborg's mouth agape, he quickly shook off the fleeting sense of shock, his own plan to distract his competitor used against him. He looked back over at BeastBoy with a sour look to his face, ripe with complaints and objections to losing on account of his own distraction.
"New game?" he asked innocently with a small boastful grin as he lightly twirled the controller by the connection wire around his finger.
He stared bitterly as he dropped the controller to his side on the couch, slowly rising in ominous silence, turning on his heel. "Hmph!" he grunted without another word as he walked sternly towards the kitchen area.
BeastBoy merely shrugged as he took proper hold of the controller to play a solo game in his place.
Cyborg made his way over to Robin as he assisted Starfire by the sink, cleaning the last of Silkie's trick from her face. Wringing out the sponge after one last swab of her cheek Robin gave a casual glance in the direction where he'd come. "Everything okay?" he asked, plainly knowing the young changeling was getting under his skin. Not an uncommon occurrence to be sure. However usually it took a lot more than a single loss at Gamestation to get to Cyborg like this. Especially considering how much he commonly dominated BeastBoy every other time at video games.
Cyborg just folded his arms with a snort. Almost pouting.
"Trouble yourself not, Cyborg," Starfire beamed with a smile. "Even with the loss of the games on video, you have much to be proud."
"BeastBoy will have a cleaner living quarters," Robin supported.
"Till he turns it into a sty all over again," Cyborg muttered, fearing his labor would be wasted effort.
"Raven will have a quieter setting for her meditation and personal recreation," Robin went on.
"And you have strengthened the bond of our two most dearest friends," Starfire cheerfully concluded.
Cyborg was unresponsive for a moment. But after letting off a little steam and looking up to further think about the overall results his wager had yielded, he started to come around to the idea giving a small smile in self satisfaction. "Yeah," he said softly. "Yeah, I guess you're right," he responded in a slightly more upbeat tone. "Who knows? Maybe it was all for the best. Certainly couldn't be any worse."
Starfire smiled brightly.
"At the very least, we shouldn't have to worry about the two of them causing such frequent commotion around the tower," Robin said optimistically.
POP! - SPLASH!
Suddenly from down the hall came a loud disturbance. What sounded like the sharp pop of a balloon followed by water spilling onto the floor. Then nothing at all.
Robin, Starfire, and Cyborg all turned, facing the main room door.
Silence. Unnatural silence.
Then after a moments pause, they heard it.
Slowly and steadily came the trudging foreboding footsteps of what sounded like damp shoes sloshing and squeaking against the floor.
The main room doors opened.
"Then again…" Robin trailed off.
In walked Raven. Soaked from the waist up. Her hair damp and matted to her head, a few steady trickles of water dripping onto the ground. The top of her cloak saturated, clinging heavily to her shoulders, and a few shredded remnants of a water balloon sticking into the fabric.
Raven's face was eerily calm save for the narrowed, angry expression of her eyes. "Where is he?" she spat firmly as a few droplets fell from her brow, almost jumping as if afraid of being caught in her eyes.
Her neck creaked as she looked to the side able to see the back of BeastBoy's head on the couch, too absorbed in his current game to even notice her arrive. Raven marched, the soles of her shoes still squeaking from the trail of water being dripped behind her as she moved. She didn't say a word. Only the squeaks beneath her feet filled the room like tiny screams as if foretelling what was about to follow.
"Uh, well look at the time. Breaks over!" Cyborg exclaimed feverishly as he slinked against the wall, making haste to vacate the room and steer clear of Raven's path. "Guess I'd better be gettin' back to work!"
"And I… uh just remembered I'm long overdue to hit the obstacle course today!" Robin followed soon after, making for the exit. "Star, wanna spot me?"
"Oh yes, I would be most happy t…"
Robin took her by the wrist, yanking her beside him to match his pace to quickly get the both of them out of the room. "Great! Let's go."
Normally Robin was big on keeping his teammates from incurring unnecessary injury. But where BeastBoy and one of his pranks was concerned he also felt it was important he owned up to his actions. And then of course Raven was more than a handful whenever she got like this. As long as it was below a concussion in terms of severity it was deemed lesson learned.
All three hastily vacated the room to pursue something very loud to do for the next hour or so.
BeastBoy sat on the couch, still engrossed in his game, blissfully unaware.
Raven stepped right in front of him.
Still BeastBoy made the effort to peer around her, leaning as far over as he was able while still maintaining a firm grip on the controller.
Raven leaned down, locking eyes. Angry, damp, dripping, impatient eyes.
The controller slipped loose from his grip, hitting the floor with a clunk. Yet his hands remained frozen in holding position as BeastBoy stared up at her. "Um…" he attempted to deduce the best opening statement for the situation at hand but found himself coming up short as he didn't know what to make of Raven's fresh new expression of border lining aggravation and at least three different layers of silent wrath.
"I suppose you think this is 'funny'?" she asked almost rhetorically with her jaw locked.
He tilted his head to the side as if to analyze it from a different perspective. "Well, now that ya mention it… it this light…"
Raven's eyes narrowed as her brow dug down as far as it could go without touching her nose.
"Whoa!" BeastBoy sat up in a fright with his back flat against the couch. It was then that he took notice of the traces of torn water balloon pieces, no doubt the cause of her looking like she'd been waist deep bobbing for apples.
"I know where you're goin' with this! And I know how this must look! But I didn't do it!" He franticly had his hands up in front of him as if to swear he was telling the truth.
Raven crossed her arms, impatiently tapping her foot that was punctuated by the soggy smack of her shoe forming a small puddle with every tap of her foot.
"Raven, I'm tellin' ya I had nothin' to do with it!" BeastBoy remained unyielding in professing his innocence.
"No, of course not," she brushed the water balloon pieces from her shoulder, shaking her head.
She took a step forward, turning around as she plopped down beside BeastBoy on the couch. "I did," she replied simply as she wrung out a portion of her cloak, allowing the runoff to drip onto BeastBoy's knee.
He jumped back an inch or so to keep from getting wet but still trying to comprehend what was happening and trying to keep his face from going totally vacant. "Wha…? You?!"
Raven raised her hand into the air as the main room's doors swished open just briefly enough to allow a single book encased in black energy to whiz through the air and into her waiting fingers. She shook her other hand making certain it was dry as she opened the book and began reading quietly without a single word of explanation.
BeastBoy remained perplexed. "Hu… wha… you…" he gestured back and forth between the door, her, and the few scattered puddles around the room as if trying to make sense of it all. Raven had always had an element of mystery to her, but this seemed a bit more than BeastBoy could wrap his head around. At least, right away.
He continued to stare though letting his eyes wander around the immediate vicinity at the sudden absence of anyone else in the room. It was quiet. It was just the two of them. What did this mean? She was more comfortable around him as long as no one else was there to see it? She did go through a rather intricate ruse to clear the place out. Quickly he found his sights back on Raven who remained attentive to her book.
Raven's pupils shifted, able to give him the smallest glance out of the corner of her eye. Though she didn't speak a word.
"Uh…" BeastBoy tried to form some kind of question. Now if only he could figure out which to ask.
Raven remained motionless, crooking an eyebrow as if signifying, 'Well?'
BeastBoy's eyes wandered to the floor. "Never mind," he shook his head. He leaned down scooping up his controller.
Raven held her sights on him.
"Okay, just one thing!" he threw out his hands.
She rolled her eyes, having seen it coming.
BeastBoy looked closely at her still waterlogged face and upper body. "I gotta' ask," he pointed a finger at her. "Just… how big a water balloon did you use?"
Raven's face remained blank, absent of a single hint of emotion one way or the other. "Big enough," she answered plainly.
BeastBoy paused before nodding slightly. "Makes sense," he shrugged quickly turning himself back to the screen.
She stared for a split second. Raven looked straight ahead before giving a delayed shake of her head. Leave it to BeastBoy to sweat the little things.
Suddenly she felt a gentle weight press against her side. Raven looked over to find BeastBoy reclined with his back to her side and his resting on her shoulder. She looked down at him with a somewhat impatient stare as if expecting a response. Or at the very least an explanation.
However BeastBoy had locked his attention back on the screen and was already in the process of starting a new game.
"Ahem," she poorly masked her attempt to get BeastBoy's attention as she cast her head down.
"What?" he replied, "You're comfortable. A little soggy, but…"
Raven parted one hand from her book, shoving him upright back into sitting position. "Not with your shoulders knocking against my ribs and your elbow swinging into my leg every time you clear a level," she speculated, brushing herself off.
"Hmph!" he curled a smile, playfully turning his nose up in the air as if insulted.
It felt somewhat refreshing in a way. It had been a while since the both of them had just acted natural without having to preserve a stipulation. But now the bet was over. And it felt nice knowing that even if things were somehow different now some things were still the same.
"Yeah yeah," he consented. "Just make sure those fancy earplug of yours are-"
Raven leaned her head onto BeastBoy's shoulder.
BeastBoy froze. His eyes looked over at the top of Raven's head as she was reading intently.
He tapped her on the top of the head. Gently. (No way Raven had changed that much)
After two or three blunt nudges of the finger Raven looked up with the demeanor of an irate librarian.
"Uh, excuse you," he said in a fearless manner scarcely ever felt he would address Raven in, "What happen to miss, 'you bump and jab when ya play'? How am I supposed to enjoy my game?"
"Carefully," she said simply. And with that she turned back to her book, picking up where she left off.
BeastBoy stared at her head for a moment before letting out a deep breath. The kind you usually exhale after you play hackie sack with a live grenade.
He'd never felt that casual addressing Raven in such a way, not after an expression like THAT was plastered on her face. Yet he hadn't given it a second thought at the time. Then again, with BeastBoy, first thoughts were usually the most he could handle.
Raven too was having her own internal debate. Since when was she this laid back around BeastBoy? Literally 'laid back', as in using him as a cushion. A stepping-stone or a human Frisbee, that was plausible given the right circumstance. But this? This was new.
But what was done was done. Raven eased into comfortable reading position. And BeastBoy turned his attention to his video game. They both quietly occupied the room. Well, save for the occasional cheap game death BeastBoy would suffer due to his controller not doing what he wanted it to which he responded to by cracking the controller's cord like a whip. This inadvertently caused his shoulders to drop suddenly causing Raven's head to dip and knock against him like a speed bump. And then she would kindly remind him to be more considerate by reaching up, pinching her thumb and middle finger together, and sharply flicking the back of his ear. It only took two of said occurrences before BeastBoy wised up. A new personal best.
Of course always one to press his luck he decided to take the limits of the moment to another level. After a short while, without incident or warning or a word spoken between the two of them, he slowly leaned his head to the side resting his head on top of Raven's.
Instantly he could feel Raven's eyes shift from the book to whatever portion of his skull was visible as he nervously swallowed.
Raven stirred from her position, but only to nestle her other shoulder more firmly against the couch. And then she turned the page of her book.
Just then he looked over as a pillow irradiated black as it levitated off the couch a few feet into the air. It softly coasted through the air and then landed on the floor in front of them.
BeastBoy looked between the couch and the pillow on the ground, his mind trying to decipher whatever meaning it held. A delayed response? A warning? No. It was something else entirely.
The answer dawned on him causing him a give a nervous laugh. Raven gave a small smile as if to mentally answer that he was correct in his assumption.
Both of them had grown… closer. Fond perhaps of one another in some sense. And while the future was uncertain as to where things go from here, one thing was abundantly clear. This moment wouldn't last forever. Cyborg had already had more than his fair share of fun at their expense and there was no sense in repeating that for any indefinite period of time. And certainly no reason to add Robin and Starfire into the mix as well. Sooner or later the others were bound to return. To check on them and to do damage control. And this scenario was not the kind for prying eyes.
And now Raven had taken it upon herself to give BeastBoy the warmest gesture he ever thought possible.
She had afforded him a soft place to throw him.
Note From the Author: Pardon me as I wipe a tear from my eye.
I just want to thank all my readers out there for supporting this story throughout all the overextended and overdue updates. It was not intentional. And it was never about not knowing what to write. Merely finding the time. Most people told me straight out they didn't mind the wait, and preferred it not be rushed. But a fair number of people also made their need for a fix known as well. I responded to as many as I could (at least the ones who weren't anonymous) to let them know it was still ongoing.
Some of you who may have visited my DeviantArt page (to which I also responded to update requests) may have commented that, 'if I had time to draw, why not time to write?' I won't deny this. And believe me it hurt my heart to take so long. However writing is a far different process for me than drawing. I can draw at my desk, at home, in the break room at work; I can pull out my sketchpad anywhere and start drawing. I can have music going, the tv on, have a bite in between. I can seamlessly go from drawing after drawing. Writing is a whole other process. I need quiet, no distractions, and focus. I start typing a few paragraphs, then get up and walk around the room to hash out some of the scenes in my head. Sometimes I even go as far as to say the dialogue out loud and act the scene out. A lot of people commend me for staying true to the characters, and this is in part how I achieve this.
And I also want to especially thank the people who took the time to write reviews. Most people just give the obligatory 'update' or 'cool' (Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the positive reinforcement all the same) But the people who go into specifics about what they like about the story and let me know what it means to them on a personal level, that's the stuff that truly humbles me.
Even the people who aren't shippers. People who e-mail and note me:
'I don't care for BeastBoy and Raven. I don't like the idea of them together. I don't see them as a couple. … But you make it work.'
To me, that is the highest praise I could ever have.
So what's next? Not sure. I'm not done writing if that's what you want to know. I have a good six or seven plot ideas lined up. Some multi chapter stories, some one-shots. As it stands, I only have outlines for all of them. I just need to decide which one I want to do next and hash out the details. Regardless, I'll be busy, as only a fan boy knows how.
Thank you again.