"Vic!" Robin shouted, "Go help Gar!"
Cyborg ducked around the corner of a nearby office building to avoid a round of enemy fire. "Raven, girl, can't you handle it? You're right there!"
Raven scowled and sent a blast of black energy at her nearest opponent. She grabbed Beast Boy's arm and shoved him against the wall, out of the crossfire. "I can't," she snapped irritably, "I've already tried."
Cyborg shook his head and, after establishing that the coast was clear, jogged toward her. He knelt beside Beast Boy and grinned up at her good-naturedly, "You shouldn't sell yourself short, you know. You've done this before."
Shrugging, Raven pushed her hood back and responded flatly, "I don't know what to tell you. It comes and goes."
Cyborg chuckled and turned his attention to the green boy in front of him. The cybernetic looked thoughtful, the shape-shifter just looked vacant. "Now, let's see … what haven't we tried? Rutabaga? Bananarama? Snot?"
"Charming," Raven rolled her eyes and hastily cast a shield to protect them from an incoming volley.
"This was so much easier when we were younger."
"Strange, since you've hardly matured at all."
Cyborg eyed her speculatively, a wicked grin creeping across his face. "What?" Raven asked suspiciously, but Cyborg just turned back to Beast Boy.
"Hey, man," he rasped urgently. "Gar! You need to snap out of it now. C'mon, man … Raven just promised to play strip poker with us every day for a week."
Raven snorted indignantly, but took an appalled step backward when Beast Boy's eyes refocused and he shook his head groggily.
"Good to have you back," Cyborg laughed, clapping a heavy hand on Beast Boy's shoulder. "How many times do we have to tell you not to look at the screens?"
"Yeah, yeah. I know," Beast Boy growled, "There're just so damn many of them."
"Watch it!" Raven warned as she crushed an approaching soldier under a bus. "When you're done chatting, you think the two of you could give the rest of us a hand?"
Beast Boy and Cyborg exchanged raised eyebrows, then leapt up and raced into the street to rejoin the battle.
After tracking him for several weeks, the Titans had finally found Mad Mod holed up in an abandoned factory just outside of town. He had apparently spent his time cobbling together a new robotic army, but lack of preparation had made this round of creations noticeably more fragile. The greatest danger lay in the guns they carried, a crude defense in Raven's opinion, and the hypno-screens hastily strapped to their chests.
The new robot army was almost completely destroyed now. Raven watched Cyborg and Beast Boy take down the last few soldiers with fierce glee. Robin and Starfire had already slipped into the building, so Raven glided over to meet the approaching caravan of squad cars. The local law enforcement had been more than happy to stick to the sidelines until the fight was over.
While Raven briefed the officers, Cyborg and Beast Boy meandered toward them, both grinning and chattering animatedly. A smiled tugged at the corners of her mouth, it was good to see everything reverting to normal. A couple of nights of uninterrupted sleep had restored the Titans to their usual good humor and even Raven, after a week and a half of anxiety, woke up one morning to find her powers fully restored. She was finally feeling like her old self again. Almost.
She had noticed some minor differences, difficult to put her finger on and hardly worth worrying about. She supposed that having her powers torn from her, funneled into a machine, and then abruptly snatched back had disrupted something. Everything was still there, as far as she could tell, but ever so slightly altered. Now that Mad Mod was out of the way, Raven planned to use her free time cataloguing the changes.
The policemen around her cheered and Raven turned toward the factory entrance to watch Robin and Starfire escort Mad Mod through the throng and into the waiting transport truck. She noted with amusement Robin's rougher than necessary treatment of Mod when he shoved him in the vehicle and slammed the door behind him with a clang.
"He's all yours," the Boy Wonder sighed, dusting his hands together with an air of finality. "Boy, am I glad that's over."
The police captain strode forward and grasped Robin's hand warmly. "Good work, sir. The mayor himself wanted to be here, but … well …"
"He didn't," Robin finished for him, smiling, "I kinda figured."
Raven and Cyborg exchanged a disgusted look. The mayor, in fact most of the city, had acted almost disappointed when the Titans had proved their innocence beyond all doubt. She didn't think the Titans' acceptance should be judged by the newsworthiness of their activities. No wonder Robin was so anxious to find a place elsewhere.
"Just do me a favor and make sure he stays locked up this time, will you?" Robin grinned at the captain.
"No problem. I don't care how good his behavior is, this nutso is gonna serve his time."
"You hear that, Moddy?" Beast Boy called, "We'll see you in ten to twenty."
Mad Mod spat out an extremely rude response from between the bars, causing Starfire to scold him soundly. Raven wandered over to a quieter area and massaged her temples absently. She wasn't surprised to sense Cyborg walk up behind her and she twisted around to face him.
"You okay? I thought the fight might have been too much for you."
Raven smiled at him reassuringly. "I'm just happy we finally get to put this behind us. Things are getting back to normal. I was … I was worried about the team for a while."
Cyborg gnawed at the inside of his cheek and searched her face carefully. "You still afraid the team's gonna break up?"
"I … no. Well, maybe a little." Raven shrugged noncommittally.
"Nobody's going anywhere."
"You can't know that, Victor," Raven replied quietly.
He gave her a hard look. He could probably tell she was hiding something from him, but he didn't pry. "No, I can't. But no matter what, you'll be fine, Raven. You know that."
"I know," she replied, studying the horizon, "but I don't have to like it."
Cyborg was still gazing at her uncertainly, but Robin was calling for them now. The Titans piled back into the T-car where Raven sat silently, curled up against the door, all the way back to the Tower.
"I have already declined once before, Beast Boy. I have not changed my mind."
"But Star," Beast Boy pleaded, looking up from the cards he was shuffling, "If you play, Raven will play."
"I will not," Raven muttered from across the counter.
"Raven," Cyborg said sternly, "you promised."
"No, you promised," she retorted, but the others ignored her.
"Well … if Raven is playing then I suppose I might—"
"Alright!" Cyborg leaned forward and grasped Raven's wrist, pulling her firmly toward a bar stool.
"I never agreed to this," Raven protested feebly, then sighed and conceded, "Fine. But we're using the standard rules."
Beast Boy and Cyborg accepted the compromise with good grace and Beast Boy started dealing the cards. "Okay, this is good old five card draw. We can go slow the first few rounds until you get the hang of it," he assured Raven kindly.
"Mmm-hmm. I think I'll be okay," she replied dryly, struggling not to return his soft smile in kind. Instead, she glanced down at her cards and tossed a chip into the center of the table with a calculated air of experience.
After weeks of constant activity, the Titans were perfectly happy to spend every evening this week at home. Cyborg had been around constantly, Raven suspected he was keeping an eye on her, and Sarah had visited the Tower two or three times already. Even Beast Boy, currently girlfriendless, had been persistently underfoot. Starfire had been disappointed when he had explained to the team why Bunny wouldn't be coming around anymore, but Raven could sense the relief from everyone else.
They all looked up when Robin burst into the room and made a beeline for Starfire. "It came, Star! Right here! All the details have been worked out, it's really happening!"
Starfire's expression was faintly strained, but she clasped her hands together and smiled gamely, "I am glad for you. When are you leaving?"
"Wait, what? Leaving? Back up," Beast Boy frowned.
"I'm sorry," Robin said immediately, "I should have told you guys before, but until I was sure …"
"Just spit it out, man."
"See, I was working this case for Batman a few months ago. I ended up in this city I'd never been to before and it was … it was awful, really. But I felt something, too. Like I needed to be there. Like it needed me. So I made a couple of inquiries and, well, look!"
He thrust a letter into Raven's hands and she read it slowly, her heart sinking. There, in black and white, was Robin's ticket out of Jump City. The governor of New Jersey was asking, or rather pleading with Robin to help reverse the onslaught of crime in one of the most notoriously corrupt cities on the east coast. Robin was being offered complete support from the state and a sizable 'incentive.' It was a tremendous opportunity and Raven admitted to herself that Robin would be foolish not to seize it.
"What about us?" Raven asked. Her voice hadn't trembled at all.
"We're still a team, Raven. I'll always be here to help when you guys need me. Besides, it'll just be during the week, at least for a little while. You'll still see me every weekend."
"And … and when do you leave?" Starfire asked unsteadily.
"Er, when do I …? But Star, I thought …" Robin's confused expression lifted and he thumped the counter in frustration, "Star, I'm so sorry. I thought you already … but in all the excitement I forgot to ask you. Here, look … I didn't mean to do it in front of everybody, but that's my own fault …"
Robin rummaged in his pocked for a moment, then held out a hand and slowly uncurled his fingers. Lying in his palm, sparkling brightly even under the ordinary kitchen lights, was a delicate diamond ring. Raven gasped quietly and Cyborg's face split into an enormous grin.
"A … a gift? I thank you, Robin. It is most generous—"
"Star, you don't understand," Robin laughed softly, grasping her hand in his free one. "On this planet, when a man offers a woman a ring like this, it's like a promise. In this case, it means I want to marry you. Will you marry me, Star?"
Starfire eyes grew large and round and her smile lit up the room. "Oh," she breathed, "yes, Robin."
Raven clenched her jaw; she could feel Cyborg's eyes on her again and she raised her book to block his view. The poker game had broken up when Starfire had departed to parts unknown with Robin, still smiling blindingly, her feet never once touching the ground. Raven hadn't been sorry when the two remaining boys had drifted toward the living room to challenge each other to a video game. Raven herself had eventually curled up in her favorite corner of the sofa, book in hand, trying vainly to quiet the butterflies in her stomach.
A digital fanfare sounded and the words 'GAME OVER' flashed across the screen. "Just a sec, man," Cyborg muttered to Beast Boy as he left his seat on the sofa and stepped over his friend. Raven sighed and lowered her book to her lap, eyeing Cyborg defiantly.
"Oh yeah, you're a real tough girl," Cyborg chuckled and Raven narrowed her eyes. He ignored her hostility and lowered himself to an adjacent cushion, "Spill it, Raven."
Beast Boy was looking at her curiously now and Raven avoided his gaze. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Yeah, you do," Cyborg insisted gently, "Just cause Robin and Star aren't gonna be here full time doesn't mean you're gonna be alone."
Raven resisted the urge to look up. She didn't want to see the pity in Cyborg's eyes, or in Beast Boy's, for that matter. She gritted her teeth and muttered, "Not now, Victor. Please."
"Why not now? You know I'm gonna make you talk about this sooner or later. And if you mean because Gar's here, he's just gonna bug me until I tell him all about it anyway, so you may as well get everything off your chest."
Raven didn't relish the idea of a group heart to heart, she wasn't wired that way, but Cyborg was obviously concerned about her and he probably deserved some sort of explanation. She sighed in resignation.
"You keep telling me not to worry, but I've got my reasons. More than the two of you do, anyway."
"It's true. Kory and Richard have always had each other, you two are each other's very best friends, not to mention Sarah and … and the ever present perky blonde." Cyborg snickered and nudged Beast Boy pointedly, but Beast Boy just leaned back into the couch, his arms folded, and stared at her with a calculating expression. "But I'm the one who ends up alone and crazy, talking to myself about how you've all left me. Remember?"
"That wasn't real," Cyborg protested, "or, at least it doesn't have to be. Starfire thinks we can change it if we try. Besides, the rest of us weren't any better off. I don't want to end up like that either, I'm not gonna let it happen."
"Maybe you don't have a choice! Maybe we're all just growing up and growing apart and finding out that we can't just all live together and eat pizza and play video games for the rest of our lives. Robin probably has the right idea, maybe it's time we all moved on. Only … only I don't know what to move on to. And you were right," she conceded, "I am stronger than I thought, but I … I don't want to be alone."
Cyborg and Beast Boy were silent. Raven sank back into the couch, defeated. "Forget it. I'm just being irrational."
"No, you're right," Beast Boy spoke up for the first time, "I just never put that much thought into it."
"Yeah," Cyborg agreed, "but Raven, there's no reason to rush things. We don't have to stop being friends just because some of us are trying something new. You'll move on, just like the rest of us, when you're ready. When it's time, you'll know. Just don't be afraid to do what you need to do when you figure it out, okay?"
"Yeah, and until then you're just gonna have to put up with Vic and me. I don't plan on moving across the country anytime soon, how 'bout you?"
Cyborg shook his head, "See? Looks like we've got a few years of pizza and video games left in us after all."
"Yeah, and speaking of pizza …" Beast Boy grinned hopefully and Raven rolled her eyes, giving in to a smile.
"Fine, but I don't want to spend the whole ride over listening to you two argue about the pepperoni."
"Yes, ma'am," they chorused.
"I'll drive!" offered Beast Boy, galloping for the door.
"Not even, green genes!" Cyborg bellowed, leaping over the back of the couch in hot pursuit.
Raven's eyes followed them thoughtfully. Their whole philosophy seemed to be built on a refusal to worry. Well, maybe they had something there. All her worrying hadn't changed the inevitable, maybe it was time to let go and just enjoy what she had left. And right now, what she had left was sitting in the T-car waiting for her impatiently. She smiled at the thought.
So be it; she wouldn't keep them waiting any longer. A black haze swept around her and an instant later, Raven disappeared through the floor on her way to the garage.
The football halted its downward spiral in midair and, encased in a haze of black energy, shot back in the direction from which it had come.
"Oof. Thanks, Raven!" Beast Boy grinned as the ball all but knocked him flat. Raven waved idly and he jogged back to join the others. She turned her attention back to the grill and scrutinized the sizzling hamburger patties.
"Does this look done?" she asked uncertainly. Sarah peered over her shoulder and shook her head.
"No idea. We should make Vic do this."
"Probably, but this was the only way they'd let me get out of playing."
Sarah laughed, "I'm surprised you'd let yourself get pushed around like that."
"Mmm. Garfield is very persistent," Raven explained vaguely. She prodded a charred piece of meat tentatively with her spatula. The sun beamed down on her bare head pleasantly, and all around her were the sounds of adults and children alike enjoying their Saturday in the park.
Raven glanced toward the field where the football game was apparently winding down. Robin had grasped Starfire's hand and the two of them were slowly ambling toward the nearby creek. This picnic was intended to be in their honor, a pre-pre-farewell party Beast Boy called it, but Raven was doing her best not to dwell on that.
They would only be away for a few weeks, three at the most, while they secured an apartment and discussed preliminary plans with the governor. Then, after a final month spent wrapping up loose ends in Jump City, they would make the move for good. Raven knew she would miss them both dearly, even if they did keep their promise to return every weekend, but she suspected that Starfire would make sure they all kept in touch.
"Vic sure does love those kids," Sarah sighed wistfully. Raven pushed her thoughts to the back of her mind, they weren't doing her any good anyway, and looked in the direction Sarah was pointing.
Cyborg had been cornered by a group of boys, probably no older than twelve, Raven decided. He was crouched down to their eye-level, obligingly explaining the high-tech hardware he had built into his cybernetic limbs. Raven's gaze roamed a little further down the field to where Beast Boy was tossing the football from hand to hand, engaged in intense conversation with a giggling blonde. Raven frowned and turned back to the grill.
"Raven," Sarah touched her shoulder hesitantly, "There's something I wanted to talk to you about. I need you to do something for me."
"Do?" Raven asked, her eyebrows raised, "What?"
"It … it's Vic," Sarah explained, "He really cares about you, Raven."
"No! I mean, yes, but it's not like …"
"I know," Sarah reassured her, grinning, "I'm pretty sure he's not in love with you." Her tone turned serious and she added, "But he does love you. He's concerned about you. I think he's so afraid of hurting you that he's afraid to move on with his life."
"Move on?" Raven repeated, confused. "Move on to what?"
Sarah's gaze faltered and she cleared her throat nervously.
"… Oh. I see." She did see. Her urge to frown fought bitterly with her urge to smile. Her face remained neutral in compromise.
"It's just that he's so worried about you," Sarah was speaking very quickly now. "He thinks you need him more than I do. I don't believe that, though. I love him Raven."
Raven didn't know how to reply to that. She held Sarah's gaze with what she hoped was an encouraging expression, but remained silent.
"I love him, but I don't think I can be satisfied with just a part of him. And that's what I need you to do for me. Let him go. Please, Raven."
Raven opened her mouth to reassure her, but to her surprise, the words wouldn't come. She could see Cyborg walking back toward them now, beaming happily. She thought her heart might be breaking just a little, but she was filled with an overwhelming sense of peace. Sarah was biting her lip and looking at Raven apprehensively and Raven wanted to tell her there was no need.
She nodded understandingly and instantly felt the warm glow of Sarah's relief, and she realized it echoed something in herself. She wanted to smile, and when Sarah mouthed, 'Thank you,' she actually did, a great, glowing smile that made Cyborg do a surprised double-take.
"Geez, Raven, I'm gonna let you flip the burgers more often." Examining her handiwork more closely, then looked up and grinned, "Nice job. Looks like you took care of everything just fine."
"Yes," Raven agreed contentedly, "I really think I did."
"Victor. A word, please?" Robin and Beast Boy looked from Raven to Cyborg curiously, but Raven ignored them.
"Ah, sure. What's up?" Raven grasped his elbow and pulled him toward the stairs. She pushed open the door to the roof and blinked in the bright light of the setting sun for a moment before gesturing for Cyborg to join her in her favorite spot.
"You got a little sun today, girl. Your arms and legs aren't as pale as usual." Raven glanced down and grunted. He was right, she was definitely a bit sunburned. She needed to remember to heal herself a little or she'd really be feeling it in the morning. No time for that now, though.
"Am I in trouble?" Cyborg asked jokingly, "'Cause if I am I just want to point out that it wasn't my idea, B.B. talked me into it."
"No, I just … wait. Talked you into what?"
"Nothing," Cyborg rubbed his neck sheepishly, "Just kidding. You were saying?"
Raven eyed him suspiciously, but pressed on. "Victor, how do you feel about Sarah?"
"Sarah? She's great. Really great. Why?"
"Do you love her?"
Cyborg started visibly, "You're getting a little personal, don't you think—?"
"Don't answer that. I only meant, why aren't you spending more time with her? Why are you hanging around the Tower?"
"Er, Raven … I thought maybe …"
"I needed you? You think I can't make it through one day without crying all over your shoulder?"
"You've just been kinda fragile lately."
"That's true," Raven agreed slowly, "But you can't put off the rest of your life just for me. It's time for you to start moving on, Victor. Don't be afraid to do it, remember?"
"I remember. But Raven—"
"No, that's it. We're done here. Now stop hanging around my Tower, you're getting on my nerves."
"Are … are you sure?"
"I don't want you to disappear completely," she admitted in a softer tone, "but you've got a life to live. I understand that. Friends forever, or some such nonsense, right?"
"Right," Cyborg grinned. "You know you'll always be my favorite girl?"
"I'll settle for second favorite," Raven reminded him.
Once again, she had the tower to herself. Robin and Starfire were halfway across the country by now, Cyborg had taken her advice and taken Sarah out for a candlelit dinner, and Beast Boy had disappeared, probably out with his newest 'fan.' In other words, perfect meditation conditions. Except that she didn't feel like meditating.
She wandered listlessly around the kitchen. She was having difficulty defining her current mood. She didn't feel sad, or even lonely, although the realization came as a surprise. No, she felt … watchful, maybe. As if she was waiting for something. She wasn't sure what she was waiting for, but it wasn't an unpleasant feeling. She leisurely basked in the emotional mix of contentment and gentle anticipation, it wasn't often she felt so at peace.
The whistle from the tea kettle interrupted her musing and she lifted it off the burner. A cup of hot tea and a good book would make for a tolerably pleasant evening, then she planned to wait up until the boys returned.
She didn't have to wait long. She had just settled in and opened her book across her knees when Beast Boy appeared in the doorway. Spotting her, he made his way to her and flopped down on the sofa beside her.
"You're home early," Raven observed, "Where's the blonde?"
"The who, now?"
"The girl from the park. Good grief, Garfield, you met her yesterday."
"Oh, yeah. No. She was just a fan. I signed her shirt for her."
Beast Boy laughed at her disgusted expression, "Her sleeve. Geez, Raven, get your mind out of the gutter."
They sat in silence for a few moments, Beast Boy distractedly drumming his fingers on his thigh and Raven idly ruffling the pages of the book in her lap. She missed the comfortable, companionable silence she usually shared with Cyborg, somehow everything about Beast Boy was just a little more complicated, but she was grateful for his company. She looked up at him and caught him staring at her appraisingly.
He cleared his throat and stood up suddenly. "I'm bored. You wanna go out?"
"Um … excuse me?"
"Out. Outside?" he repeated, speaking slowly as if she were a very small child. "Out of the Tower? You remember out, don't you?"
"Funny," she answered dryly, rolling her eyes, "Why?"
"We could grab food, maybe catch a movie. I dunno, let's just go somewhere. It isn't good for you to stay cooped up in here, you start getting moody."
"I start getting moody, or you start getting restless?"
"Both," Beast Boy conceded with a grin. "Now, c'mon. It'll be fun."
His eyes were pleading with her gently now, his hand extended invitingly, and Raven was suddenly overcome with some inexplicable emotion. She swallowed, but the lump in her throat persisted, and she quickly looked down at her lap before he could notice her eyes tearing up.
He crouched down in front of her and covered her hands with one of his. "Hey, you okay?"
"I'm fine," Raven replied fiercely, jerking her hands away and knocking her book to the floor in the process. "I've got something in my eye."
"Oh please, Raven, you can do better than that."
She swiped at her eyes savagely and glared up at him, but he wasn't laughing at her. His eyes were dark and his smile just the slightest bit sad; Raven's ire melted away instantly.
"You're trying to be brave, but I know you miss everybody. Chatting with Vic, girl stuff with Star, plotting, I dunno, world domination or something with Robin. I'm not really a good replacement for all of that but … we're friends too, you and me, right? I just think we should try to act like it. You never know, you might like hanging out with me."
Raven sniffled and teasingly retorted, "I don't know, I never did before."
"I know," Beast Boy eyed her thoughtfully, "But that was before. Things'll be different now."
"Different, huh? I'm not sure I like different."
"You will." He smiled then, a slow, knowing smile, "I promise."
Bewilderingly, Raven felt her cheeks flushing. She pulled her hood over her head and retorted sarcastically, "Right up until the next tiny blonde comes along. You're very predictable, Garfield."
His eyes never left hers as he shook his head and replied casually, "Nope, not anymore. No more tiny blondes for me. These days I'm all about the cranky, purple-haired chicks."
Raven snorted disbelievingly, but couldn't quite suppress her pleased reaction to his questionable flattery.
"Seriously Raven. Everything's gonna be perfect, you'll see."
The sentiment was naïve and overly ideological, of course ... pure, patented Beast Boy. But somehow at this exact moment she believed him anyway.