My apologies, I know this has taken a very long time to submit. But the end is close, and not as bleak as it may appear. As always, I own nothing but this story. Teen Titans is the property of Cartoon Network, DC Comics and Kids WB.
Chap. 22: Ascension
The silhouette of a small, green teenager descended towards the crystal clear waters of Jump City Bay. The young masked man standing beneath the silhouette had very little time to react.
"BeastBoy, no! Stop! What're you-?" But it was too late.
Robin lowered his raised arms as a tiny, barely visible wave rippled over his chest. The 'cannon-ball' was less explosive than he had anticipated. The boy wonder smirked at the now drenched shape-shifter, his soaked hair covering his eyes.
"Ha! You call that a cannon-ball? Trout make a bigger splash than that!" He chided his companion.
BeastBoy gritted his teeth as he wiped his hair out of his face. "Oh, be quiet."
A thunderous yell came from the shore. "WEAK! That was so WEAK!"
BB turned to glare at his half metallic teammate on the bank of Titans Island. "Oh yeah, Cyborg? I'd like to see you do better!"
The bionic bruiser tilted his head, reflecting the glaring sun off of his alloyed forehead, and smiled. "Alright, I will."
With that, Cyborg charged the waves, the vibrations from his footsteps shaking the bedrock beneath the water, and Robin and BeastBoys feet. Both teens struggled to run away from the blast radius.
Robin turned back just in time to see Cyborg propel himself nearly twenty feet into the air with his powerful hydraulically-enhanced legs.
"Look out below!" Cyborg shouted in glee, just before his 400 plus pounds struck the water.
Some distance away, floating upon an inflatable lounge raft, a certain orange haired princess was attempting to sun herself in the constant, unrelenting rays of the afternoon sun. Although the heat was intense, the sun was a primary source of her power, and she was enjoying herself immensely. She had been dieing to try on her new purple polka-dot bikini anyway. The afternoon was going perfectly so far.
That is, until a sizable six foot wave, and one screaming Robin, interrupted her sun-bathing.
"Starfire! Look out!" Robin said, in midair.
Starfire managed to get out one surprised 'EEP!' her eyes the size of Frisbee's, before her team leader dropped upon her, along with a few hundred gallons of water.
Starfire resurfaced, spitting seawater from her mouth, with a very puzzled expression on her face. She swam quickly over to the free floating form of Robin some feet away.
"Robin! Why did you cause the sea to throw you? Have you angered it in some way? What happened?" Starfire asked the very still Robin.
"I didn't, I haven't, and it was (Cough)…Cyborg."
BeastBoy was already giving said Cyborg a piece of his mind. "Are you nuts!? You nearly sent me into orbit! That was so uncalled for!"
"Hey! You sent the challenge, little man! I just answered it." Cyborg said, smiling victoriously.
"I am confused." Starfire said, wringing the saltwater out of her hair. "The point of this activity is to see who can drown their companions first?"
"Uh…actually Starfire, the idea is to see who can make the biggest splash." Robin corrected, shaking the miscellaneous ocean debris from his hair.
"And I just SCHOOLED your butt in cannon-balls!" Cyborg cheered, mocking BeastBoy.
"OH! So, whoever creates the largest swell of ocean liquid by falling into the bay, is the winner?" Starfire asked excitedly, clasping her hands.
"Pretty Much." Robin said, smiling.
"Very well. Please, wait here!" Starfire said. With that, the Tamaranian princess levitated her drenched body out of the bay, into the air, and away into the afternoon sky.
"Hey, where'd Star go?" Cyborg asked.
Robin and BeastBoy looked into the cloudless horizon, but could not see any sign of Starfire, nor could they discern what she was up to.
A few puzzling seconds later, BB's ears perked up, as a low whistling sound could be heard, falling from above. Robin and Cyborg caught it a moment later, and looked towards the sounds direction.
The next thing the boys knew, the solar powerhouse known as Starfire came into view, making a nose dive for the glassy surface of the bay.
"WHEEEEEEE!" came her excited laughter, her face full of ecstatic glee.
"Uh-oh..." Said the three Titans. They didn't have time to say anything else, before Starfire struck the water.
A little over a hundred yards away, and about forty feet in the air, hovered the cloaked figure of Raven. As was her nature, she kept out of the direct sunlight, floating in the large shadow created by the massive Titans Tower. Her hood was up, shielding her eyes from the glare of the sun. But she could still see her friends some distance away. Although she did glance at them every so often, her mind and body were centered, and her mantra kept her concentration steady.
Be that as it may, distractions were still abundant. Such as the sizable wave that was now headed in her general direction, along with the lime green surfer caught in its crest.
"Raven! Look Out! Commin' through!" BeastBoy yelled, flailing his arms.
Ravens eyes went wide for a second, before she pushed herself higher into the air. The wave, and BeastBoy, passed beneath her. She watched her teammate be enveloped in the wall of water, before it met the wall of the tower with a loud WUMPF!
The wave continued over the rocky island surrounding the tower, eventually breaking as it met the water once more on the other side of the tower. The Titans home took the brunt of the man-made tsunami.
BeastBoy withstood a good deal of it as well. He was plastered against the steel of the tower, like a bug on a windshield. "Oi…anybody get the number of that bus?"
Raven gently fell towards her teammate, and grabbed him by the back of his head. She peeled him off of the baking steel, and set him on the rocky shore of the island. Apart from a flattened nose, he appeared to be okay.
"Aren't you supposed to say 'Surfs-up'?" Raven asked, her sarcasm punctuated by a raised eyebrow.
"He did," Cyborg said from behind them, as he reattached his hand component "But it came out as more of a 'WAHHHHH!'"
Raven glanced at Cy. He was limping around on one leg, trying to relocate several of his parts. His left arm was missing a shoulder plate, and his hip was missing a connector joint. His ride on Starfires wave must have been rough too.
Speaking of whom, the red-haired alien beauty was standing in a small fissure in the ocean bedrock created by her cannon-ball. Robin was lying flat against the shore, but tilted his head up enough to look at the smiling young woman.
"I believe I win." Starfire said, her smile as wide as the horizon.
Despite the pain he was in, Robin couldn't help but smile. Starfire glowed when she was happy, and her smile always left him speechless. She found great happiness in the smallest activities, and her slight naivety just made her more adorable.
Robin sat up and stretched his sore limbs. He caught a glimpse of Starfire zipping across the water towards him, her face now crossed with concern. "Robin! You are…undamaged?"
"Yea, Star, I'm fine. But you're supposed to yell 'Cannon-ball' when you dive in." Robin said with a smile.
"Ah! I see. My apologies. Shall I attempt the ball of cannon once more?"
"NO!" came the resounding reply from all three male teens. If it were possible, BeastBoy became pale at mention of another wild ride on the Starfire Special.
Raven allowed herself a small smile when she saw the terror-stricken look on BeastBoys face. Her hood kept her countenance hidden, and she let her gaze linger for a moment. For all his faults, and for his even more frequent blunders, BeastBoy remained a good friend and an important member of the team.
'He's important in other ways too…' Her subconscious chided.
'What is THAT supposed to mean?' She asked the cryptic voice in her head. But she heard no response.
This had been happening for a while now. Often, as Raven meditated, she would find herself distracted, in one way or another, by the shape shifting elf. The most recent incident revolved around silky, tofu pancakes, a malfunction with the egg beater, and Ravens leotard. Just the memory made her shiver with disgust. She would never look at the stove the same way ever again.
Just after it happened, and after BeastBoys attempted apology, her mind began to feed her faint, somewhat awkward messages of admiration. Admiration, in one way or another, for BeastBoy.
At least, that's what she THOUGHT they were. She would have to meditate later to determine what her mind was trying to tell her.
She spoke to BB as he straightened himself out. "Are you OK?"
"That is probably the fastest and most painful way to loose weight ever created." BeastBoy said, flashing his famous smile. "But yeah, still breathing."
"At least you had a chance to cool off." Raven said, indicating how hot the day was.
"No kidding. It must be a hundred and five out here." BeastBoy said, brushing the sweat from his green brow. "Aren't you baking in that thing?"
Raven shook her solemn head. "Things like extreme heat and adverse weather can be focused upon, controlled, and ignored. I am comfortable."
"If you say so. But why not swim with us? Hmm? The water is cool, the breeze is warm, and the sun could fry me into a crispy asparagus sick. Why not put on a suit and jump in?" BB asked, his smile anxious and cheerful.
"I am NOT going swimming." Raven said sternly.
"You don't have to change. Your leotard would be plenty to keep you covered." BB encouraged.
"I am NOT swimming today BeastBoy." Raven said, her irritation rising with her as she levitated into the air.
BB put his fists on his hips, his own frustration with Raven increasing as well. "Well, if not today, then when?"
Wanting to end this, Raven said the first thing that came to mind. "When the sun falls from the sky."
BeastBoy's ears drooped to the sides of head, and he turned away from Raven. He had only walked two feet, when he came upon Cyborg, with a perplexed look upon his face.
"You might want to rethink that statement, Raven." Cy said, his eyes wide with intrigue and concern.
"Why?" BeastBoy and Raven asked simultaneously, turning to Cyborg. But their teammate was looking beyond his companions, his gaze fixed on something above and behind them.
Both titans looked in the direction that Cy was, and saw what his eyes were fixed upon. Robin and Starfire, several yards away, turned their attention away from each other, and towards the sky.
The glare was surprisingly powerful. For a few seconds, at least, it seemed as if the sun, or some other vibrantly bright object, were falling towards the earth. The angle of the approaching object shifted slightly; just long enough for the Titan's to make out what it was.
Raven reached behind her and produced a Teen Titan's communicator, and started tuning it to the desired frequencies. "Cyborg, could you give me a hand?"
Cyborg took the device, thumbed the controls a bit, and started speaking into the receiver. "Titan's Tower to pilot, Titan's Tower to pilot, come in pilot, over."
The 747 above them, the wings wide and the engines roaring, seemed to stall slightly in mid-air. A few seconds after an odd cough came from one of the engines, Cyborg finally received a response, crackly and chock-full of static. "…this is…delta one-nine…engine…-urn out! Requesting…at…clear all non-…I repeat, clear all non-essen-…-unway! Emergency lan-…!"
"What's happening up there, Cy?" Robin asked, slipping his uniform on over his trunks.
"I can see it," Raven said, her eyes closed in concentration, "there's something wrong with one of the intake-manifolds on the far starboard engine, and it's affecting the electronic fuel regulators the other three. The plane can't stay level. I…I think their going to try to land at J.C. Airport, but at their angle and velocity, it will be nearly impossible to land safely."
"How long till it lands?" Robin asked.
"Eight, maybe nine minutes," Cyborg estimated as he scanned the sky, "but with that mean cross wind they could loose altitude way faster. They don't have much time."
"There is a festival today, in the downtown area of the city!" Starfire said, wringing the water out of her hair. "The casualties will be significant if the plane is forced to land on one of the major streets!"
Robin held his chin, seemingly intent on finding a solution. Various possible scenarios played out in his head, all of which seemed fool-hardy. But he didn't have a whole lot of prep time, either.
"BeastBoy, Starfire: see what you can do about leveling the plane out." Robin started, coming up with the best idea he could at the moment. "Raven, I want you to try and get as many passengers off the plane before it's forced to land. Cyborg and I will do what we can in the cockpit, and send the pilots your way."
"So much for 'fun in the sun'." BeastBoy sighed.
"Think of it as a way to keep from getting rusty," Robin said, "and it's bound to be cooler up there anyway. Questions?"
There were none.
"Good. Stay safe. Titan's: GO!"
The Titan's lifted off, Raven carrying Cyborg upon a platform of energy, while Starfire gave Robin a lift. BeastBoy took off as a flacon, making a bee-line for the plane that was slowly becoming bigger and bigger in the afternoon sky.
Indeed, it was cooler the higher the five teens flew. BeastBoy felt his core temperature drop as he climbed higher into the atmosphere, watching the ocean below get larger and bluer. The only thing that obscured his view was the increasingly large shadow of the lopsided airplane above him.
"I shall attempt to stabilize the left side! You try for the right!" Starfire said, veering to port as BB leaned starboard.
BeastBoy approached the dipping right wing of the plane, the roar of the nearby engines playing havoc with his sharp bird hearing. He immediately assumed the form of a Pterodactyl, and dived towards the tip of the wing. Out of his left eye, BB could see Starfire make her way to the other wing, pitched high into the air, the sun outlining her soaring body. He could also make out the faces of many frightened people in the windows of the starboard side of the plane, screaming and crying for fear of a devastating crash.
As soon as Starfire signaled BeastBoy, the shape shifter dug his clawed toes into the aluminum skin of the plane, and flared his twenty-foot wingspan as far as he could stretch it.
The strain on his wings and toes was tremendous. He cawed with frustration, doing his best to maintain his grip. A second later, he felt a great deal of the updraft lesson, and watched as Starfire used her impressive strength to push upon the opposite wing, forcing the massive aircraft to level off in the buffering winds.
"Now, Raven!" Starfire yelled, watching as her friend hugged the right side of the plane near the exit hatch.
"Azarath, Metrion, ZINTHOS!"
The hatch immediately popped open, giving Raven enough time to toss Cyborg up to the top of the plane, and create a large, open walkway for the now whistling doorway.
"Everyone out! Get onto the platform and fill in the bubble! Now!" Robin yelled, his feet magnetically attached to the planes wing, as were Cyborgs.
As Robin and Cyborg made their way forward, the people of the plane began running aft, filling the large bubble of psycho-physical energy created by Raven. The two-hundred people toppled over each other, trying to get off of the flying death-trap as fast as they could. Raven extended the bubble as needed, her cape billowing in the intense draft, her eyes barely open from the constant whip of the cold wind.
"That's the last of them!" yelled a stewardess. "But the pilot is still aboard!"
As soon as he heard this, BeastBoy's already tentative grip on the wing of the plane came loose, along with a sizeable chunk of airframe. The plane whined and pitched to the left violently, just as Raven broke off from the now plummeting aircraft.
"I'll get them to safety! Help Cyborg and Robin!" Raven yelled to her friends, just as she and her bubble flew off and away from the plane.
BeastBoy dove toward the open hatch, grabbed it with his newly transformed Gorilla palm, and pulled himself inside, with Starfire on his heals. The two wrestled with the hatch door, straining under the intense wind pressure, until they finally pulled it shut. They collapsed upon the plush carpeting amidst a mess of food, wrappers, and garbage.
"I think I might have gotten taller." BeastBoy said, feeling how stretched his back had become.
"We will both be substantially flatter if we do not help the others. Come!" Starfire said, getting to her feet and running towards the front of the plane. BeastBoy followed a moment later.
"I told you already, I'm not leaving the plane!" came a yell from the main cockpit.
"Sir, I have to insist that you leave!" Robin said, as firmly and diplomatically as he could. BeastBoy and Starfire entered the large control room a second later.
Robin appeared to be arguing with a man in his early forties, his beard and hair red and long, covered in sweat. Around him, the various displays were beeping and sounding warning signals, making the cabin ring with noise. Cyborg, off to one side, was busy trying to hook himself into the main computer; nearly two dozen fiber-optic cables were plugged into various control panels and outlets. He looked like a blue fly caught in a big spider-web.
"I'd listen to him, man. There isn't much you can do right now." Cyborg said, encouraging the pilot further.
"A captain never abandons his plane!" The man argued.
"Sir, I'm telling you, we can handle this. It would be best if you let one of the Titan's get you off the plane and back with your crew!" Robin tried again, attempting to seize the controls from the man. "Besides, you're injured!"
It was true; the man had a severe electrical burn along the length of his right arm, shining bright red against his white dress shirt. He held it with his left hand, doing his best to stem the bleeding with material torn from the shirt itself, wrapped tightly around the wound.
"You're going to need me in order to land this thing!" The captain insisted, looking Robin in the eye. "I've flown these suckers for near on fifteen years, and all the autopilot control systems have been severed. If you got all the passengers off, it doesn't matter really HOW we land this thing, so much as WHERE. Since the big guy is hooked into the mainframe, he can't help you. And unless your two friends back there are experts in engineering and aeronautics, you're going to need someone to monitor the readings while you try to land this beast!"
Robin looked to Cyborg, who shrugged his big shoulders. "We've got zero rudder control and all the other stabilizers are sluggish. I'm working on re-writing the system protocols so that I can send more hydraulic fluid to the wings, but it's gonna take time. We'll be on the ground before I can take the stick!"
Robin scowled, and looked at BB and Star. "Strap yourselves in; this is gonna get hairy!"
Robin stepped into the co-pilot seat—the only seat with a functioning yolk—and took the controls. "OK captain, I'm all ears!"
"All…ears…" BeastBoy thought as he slowly buckled his seatbelt, his mind suddenly foggy. "Now where have I heard that before…?"
"The dial-assisted heading is screwed, so you're gonna have to pull the yolk until the indicator reads one-zero-five. That's a little south of due east, and should point us directly at J.C. Airport runway number three. It's been cleared for our landing." The pilot instructed, breathing deep as he tried to withstand the pain.
"Heading one-zero-five, got it!" Robin said, pulling on the yolk as hard as he could.
"Once you've got that, tell your friend to cut the fuel to the engines until we're traveling at two-hundred knots. No more and no less. If we have to crash this old girl, I'd like us to be going fast enough to be able to control our entry angle, but not so much that she goes off like a roman candle on impact. Got it?" the captain continued.
"…Impact…" BeastBoy thought aloud, screwing up his eyebrows as a perplexed look took over his face.
"We've got our heading. Did you hear him, Cy?" Robin asked over the loud beeps and honks.
"We're leaking fuel like a sieve! I can cut the fuel, but after that, we're only gonna have enough for one-seventy-five, one-eighty knots, tops!" Cyborg said, his body aglow with power and circulating information.
"That'll have to do. There's the runway!" The captain said.
Sure enough, all four Titan's could see the runway ahead. It spread out like a massive gray field, bathed in orange light. The dashed white lines down the middle were highlighted by the sun, as were the ten or so airport fire-suppression units on either side of the landing strip. Their lights were flashing brightly, and Starfire could almost hear the sirens outside the plane.
"I pray this works." She said, biting her lip.
"Now level the plane off as much as possible, and then pull like hell on the yolk until you've reached an entry angle of about sixty-five degree's. The control for the landing gear is on your left…the blue toggle." The captain instructed, tightening the piece of cloth on his arm.
Robin yanked on the yolk, doing his best to keep the wings from pitching and yawing. He thumbed the blue toggle, but nothing happened. "I've got no landing gear!"
"The release system is shot! I can't override!" Cyborg said.
"Red button! Above your head, behind the glass!" The captain gestured weakly. "Punch it!"
Robin crushed the glass and pressed the button with his fist as several more alarms went off. A harsh groaning sound could be heard from under the plane. The runway continued to get closer, now less than a kilometer beneath the aircraft.
"Emergency system deployed! Landing gear down!" Cyborg said.
"The angle is still sharp! We're comin' in way too hot!" The captain said, squinting his eyes. "Prepare for emergency set-down! Brace yourselves!"
BeastBoy grabbed his seat, and saw Starfire do the same, just before the ground caught the gliding behemoth, crushing the landing gear like tooth-picks and compressing the undercarriage as easily as sponge beneath a house.
Sparks flew as instrumentation failed or short-circuited. Multiple fires broke out over the control-consoles, and BeastBoy found himself shaking like a leaf as the vibrations rocked the airframe viciously. Speaking became difficult, since the constant shuddering made it nearly impossible to complete a sentence.
"P-p-p-le-yee-yee-yee-yee-s-s-s k-ee-ee-ee-p y-y-y-or-or-or t-t-t-ray-ay-ay-ay tay-ay-ay-ay-b-b-b-le-s-s-s in th-th-air-air-air up-ri-ri-ri-ri-ght a-a-nd l-l-l-ah-ah-k-k-ed p-p-p-o-o-s-i-i-i-sh-sh-sh-un-s-s-s…" BeastBoy said, his jaws clicking wildly.
"K-k-k-a-a-a-an-an i-i-i-t B-b-b-e-ea-ea-s-s-s-t-B-b-o-o-o-y-yuh!" Cyborg said, his own jaw clacking like a set of castanets.
Robin pulled back on the throttle, disengaged the drive system, and threw the thrust compressor in reverse. The engines gave a sputtering roar as they began to pump thrust through the intake port of the engines, using all that was left of the fuel to slow the sliding vehicle.
"We're slowing!" The captain said, the vibrations beginning to subside, "Eighty knots and falling! One-Seventy! One-sixty!"
Robin both heard and witnessed the far left engine as it ripped free from the wing under the pressure of its own thrust. It barely missed a following fire-truck as it attempted to catch up to the lifeless aircraft careening across the runway.
"Slag-it! The fuel supply is exhausted! We're riding on inertia now!" Cyborg said, disengaging himself from the plane's control systems.
Robin looked out the now shattered cockpit window, his masked face blinking from the pressure of the wind. Nearly two hundred yards ahead, a small body of water sat directly in the planes path, serene and still, in spite of the huge object that was bearing down on it.
"We're gonna hit the water ditch! Everybody hold on!" Robin said, doing what he could to strap the injured captain in tighter.
"And hold your breath!" BeastBoy added. Even though he was being sarcastic, he saw Starfire take a very deep, gasping breath just before the plane experienced its first, and only, splash-down.
Nearly fifty gallons of water poured into the cockpit. Everyone received a cold splash in their faces, but not enough of one to cause suffocation. Everyone felt a bit sick as the plane's impressive bulk was suddenly displaced in the water, swinging it to one side with sickening centrifugal force. All five occupants witnessed the right wing shear-off from the main fuselage, tumbling out of sight before the plane came to slow, steady halt, bobbing up and down in the shallow water with buoy-like calmness.
Robin immediately helped the captain out of his restraints and checked his pulse, confirming that he was only unconscious instead of dead. He helped him out of his chair as his fellow titans shook their heads to stop the throbbing.
"Canon…ball?" Starfire offered, smiling.
The three teens looked, dumbfounded, at her well-placed, clever joke. BeastBoy fell on his side, laughing hyena-style, while Robin grinned and threw the captains arm over his shoulder, and slowly made his way to the exit.
Imagine the Titan's surprise as they opened the primary exit door to find a large crowd of people standing on the tarmac, covering an area the size of three football fields. BeastBoy stopped at the doorway, his mouth hanging open.
"It's them! They're OK!"
"They've got the pilot!"
"The Titan's have done it AGAIN!"
A cheer, as wide as the sea and as loud as a hurricane, came up from the crowd. People from all walks of life were gathered before the wreckage of the plane. Bankers, businessmen, street-vendors, teachers, grade-school kids, the entire high-school football team, and many others littered the runway. As firefighters swarmed the plane, the Titans descended to the ground via Starfires assistance, only to find themselves practically covered in a throng of excited people.
"Hey look! It's Raven! She's got the passengers!" one onlooker cried out. BeastBoy and Robin looked up.
Sure enough, floating down from the sky like a black soap-sud, came Raven and her rescue container. She gracefully landed upon the runway, setting down the passengers ever so gently, and then dematerializing the large dome of energy, much to the relief of the passengers within.
"Frank, you OK buddy?"
"Jeff! Boy, are you a sight for sore eyes!"
"Millie, I was so worried…!"
"Oh, Gracie, sweetheart, I thought I'd never see you again…!"
Half of the crowd encircled the passengers, the large group desperate to find their saved loved-ones. Various scenes dotted the mass of people; mother's hugging children, friends clapping each other on the back, and lovers embracing and kissing as if the world were about to collapse in on itself. The sense of exhilaration, happiness, and relieved anxiety filled the air of the runway as oxygen fills ones lungs; entirely.
"Nicely done, Raven," Robin said, putting his hand on her shoulder, "you got them all."
"She coulda' come back for us." BeastBoy said with a scowl.
"After seeing you splatter against the Tower, I figured a little plane crash was nothing by comparison." Raven said, rolling her eyes at BB's comment.
"That was immensely entertaining!" Starfire said, flying to Robin's side and gripping his hand, "It was scary and dangerous and caused a bit of the motion sickness, but otherwise very entertaining! Could we do it again?"
Cyborg guffawed, and gave Starfire a playful jab in the shoulder. "How 'bout we ride the Up-Chuck Rocket at the amusement park a bunch of times instead and save the city a bundle? That sound good Star?"
Her smile said yes.
The crowd roared again, this time combined with few hundred more voices added to it. All five Titan's were facing the ocean of voices and praise, including one large man and his wife who sounded loud and clear above the rest. Their voices rang like church-bells over a quite village at dusk, loud and bright and crisp and clear.
"Three cheers for the Teen Titans!" they yelled. The crowd turned as one, raising their hands and voices in one unanimous din.
Raven was a bit taken-aback but the surge of noise and praise, her eyes wide at the sight of over one-thousand cheerful faces. "They're a bit more grateful than usual, aren't they?"
"Yeah. It's like a Prozac convention," BeastBoy said, scratching his head.
"Aw come on, guys, cheer up! We're gettin' some serious recognition right here! Why don't you enjoy it?" Cyborg said, raising his arms to the crowd, leading them in a cheer. "Juuuuummmmp Si-Taaaaaaay! Who do you love?!"
"Teen Titans!" the crowd responded, yelling and whooping even more energetically than before. Raven and BeastBoy both visibly flinched at the exuberance, the two teens finding this sudden and vast appreciation a bit unsettling.
"Teen Titans! If I may have a moment of your time!" came one thunderous voice from somewhere in the middle of the crowd, pushing aside the masses and extending a large hand.
The titans found themselves accosted by a man in his late fifties, sporting a green jacket and a horrible looking tie, along with an odd-looking briefcase. A bald-spot the same basic size and shape of CD sat atop his head and his pudgy mouth was full of big, square teeth. His smile was infectious, if not a little abrasive, and the titans found themselves smiling right along with the large man as he vigorously shook all their hands.
"As mayor elect of the fair metropolis of Jump City, I am pleased to greet you all, and extend my heartfelt thanks and appreciation for what you have done here today." The man said, speaking and breathing like a trained politician. "On behalf of the city council, the governor's office, and the people of this grand conurbation, it is my pleasure to bestow upon you the key to the city, as well as the additional title of 'Urban Guardians!"
Another cheer from the mob-like crowd. BeastBoy winced at the sound just as Robin cringed under the weight of the massive key he had been handed. The copper-colored trophy looked like it weighed a ton, and Robin felt every pound, his smile steady but his hands still weak from his hard-won arm wrestling match with the 747.
"But that isn't all," the mayor said, lifting his hands to calm the crowd, "not by a long shot. I have been given the authority by the state department, the heads of staff of this fine community and its treasury department to bestow, upon each titan, a special gift! That's right; an individual award, tailored to the specific interests of these five outstanding citizens!"
BeastBoy held his ears this time, as did Raven, though both looked pleasant enough to keep the crowd going as they let loose another raucous cheer. They still weren't used to the whole cavalcade of fans, and the look on their faces almost gave that away.
"Firstly, to the young Mr. BeastBoy!" The mayor announced as he opened his briefcase, chuckling much like Santa Claus might have as he doled-out presents, and produced something rather small. "I have a gift of special interest to you. This card will allow you to access and acquire any means of entertainment your heart could ever desire! Movie tickets, delicious tofu meals, video-game purchases, a new motorcycle, a weeks paid vacation to Africa, whatever you like, it's yours! The city is more than happy to foot the bill from now on. Enjoy!"
BeastBoy couldn't speak. He received the green/purple credit card with trembling hands as the crowd again roared with approval, the setting sun reflecting off of the plastic giving it a golden hue. A disbelieving, teary smile appeared on his face.
"I…I don't know what to say," BeastBoy said, still in shock.
"There's a first." Raven said dryly.
"Oh, please don't think that we've forgotten about you, my dear Ms. Raven." The mayor said, reaching into his case once more. "I hold in my hand an official invitation from the world's leaders of philosophical and religious doctrine. Given your experiences with your mother and father, the religious and philosophical communities of this world have taken a key interest in hearing all about your history, family, beliefs, and what they mean for the world and its people. It has been decided, by unanimous vote, that you shall be given your own chair on the UCD, so as to continue your training and meditation in the presence of others in pursuit of the same goals."
Raven just stared as the mayor spoke.
"You have been granted access to every ancient and preserved text on the face of the earth, and are urged to speak at the next international congregation of Religious and Political Ethics." The mayor continued. "Pope Benedict the XVI is especially interested in hearing your views regarding international relations for the future, and his holiness Tenzin Gyatso has requested that you join him in his next teachings on Jamphel Tsencho and Lhamo Jenang. Congratulations, young lady!"
Despite her name, at the moment, Raven looked more like a deer; caught in the head-lights, that is. She accepted the document and marveled at the seal of the United Congress of Dogma, raised and smooth against her fingertips, and fought to regain her speech. Her eye's remained wide for several minutes more.
"Tha-thank…thank you." Raven stutter.
"And now Mr. Cyborg, I have a little something for you." The mayor continued, smiling like a fool as he reached into the attaché. "The world grows smaller and smaller as technology continues to advance, but in this case, a whole new world of opportunities is becoming available to you. This specially designed Intranet-USB connection program will allow you to access any piece of information instantaneously from around the world. It is specifically designed to communicate and extrapolate pieces of data from medical researchers around the globe, all of them experts in the field of genetic and tissue manipulation. With your expertise regarding the complex physiological makeup of your original body, along with the experience of these revered physicians, you will be able, one day, to decide if and when you want to have your body reconstructed from your living DNA. This plethora of knowledge is just the first big step in restoring what was taken from you. It is yours to use how you see fit, and I wish you luck!"
Cyborg accepted the oddly-shaped box containing the program, and found himself unable to speak. A single tear fell from his organic eye, and he used his free hand to touch the area where his heart would be, indicating his extreme gratitude. He bit his lower lip to keep himself from breaking down.
"And Ms. Starfire," the man continued, a grandfather-baritone lacing his voice, "I have something special for you, too. This document has been signed by the president of these United States and also bears the signature of all permanent members of the World Security Council, an establishment founded by the United Nations. It decree's that, as of twelve noon, today, you are an official resident of the Planet Earth, and have been granted legal citizenship in the United States of America. It grants you all the rights, privileges and freedoms guaranteed to any citizen. Please consider every man on this planet to be your brother, every woman your sister, for we shall treat and care for you as one of our own. The UN has also requested that you make contact with your home planet of Tameran, so that the planet Earth might extend a message of peace and prosperity. The leaders of this world would like to begin a new chapter in civilization for this planet, and hope to pursue this new chapter, side by side, with its Tamaranian brethren. Congratulations, my dear girl; you now have two places to call home."
Robin hadn't been fast enough. Starfire had already latched onto the portly man with an embrace that could crush a grain-silo. Her tears of happiness were big and heavy, staining the man's already sweaty shirt from the hot day. He gently patted her arm, and she released him, clutching the paper delicately, as if it would melt in her hand if she were too rough with it.
"Thank you…so much…" Starfire choked out, rubbing her puffy green eyes, smiling when she could.
The mayor choked out a few breaths, adjusted his collar, and turned to Robin. But the Boy Wonder preempted him, and held up his hand.
"I don't think I could accept a gift as generous as the ones you've given to my friends," Robin said, "because I—we—don't do what we do for such lavish awards. It's what we vowed to do when we came to this city; protect it, no matter what."
The mayor looked quizzical, but then smiled a wry smile, as if sharing a joke with himself. "Well, that makes my job a bit easier."
"What do you mean?" BeastBoy asked.
"Well, I do have something for Robin, but it's not a gift; it's a letter." The mayor confessed.
"A letter? Are you serious?" Cyborg said, turning to face the smaller man. "From who?"
The crowd was all a twitter with excitement and puzzlement. Some sounded outraged, flabbergasted at the idea that the leader of such a prestigious group would not receive an award as well.
"It's strange, but I was told not to open this until I had you alone," the mayor said, scratching his head, "away from prying eyes and ears."
"I don't keep secrets from my friends…at least, not anymore," Robin said, looking at Starfire, enjoying her warm smile, "so whatever that thing says, it can be read aloud."
The mob agreed with him, yelling and shouting their approval. With that, the mayor shrugged, and opened the manila envelope, sliding out a large, official looking strip of gold-red paper, and began to read.
"To one Robin, presiding leader of the Teen Titans of Jump City,
"For your exemplary demonstration of leadership skills, outstanding aptitude for combating the forces of evil and successful establishment of a world-wide teenage crime-fighting force, you are hereby granted an honorary Senior Position upon the High Council of the Justice League. You are therefore granted all standard support, intelligence, and resources bequeathed to all members of said council, and are ordered to report to the orbiting surveillance satellite Watchtower for your official indoctrination into the JL. Your subordinates are encouraged to accompany you, and you are expected to provide all collected and analyzed criminal data to the Watchtower information compendium, so as to better serve the law-enforcement and justice community at large. We expect your prompt response and timely arrival to the Watchtower's location in geosynchronous orbit.
"Signed, the Executive Justice League Council,
"Batman, Superman, and Wonder-Woman."
The crowd went berserk. There wasn't a silent person on that slowly darkening runway, and all the voices' present joined in celebration and congratulations for their young Boy Wonder.
Robin, however, didn't say a thing.
"PS!" the mayor read loudly waving his hand, trying to get the crowds attention. "PS—We'll see you in a few days, kid. Congrats: you finally made it. Regards, B.W."
The crowd seemed generally confused, but Robin just hung his head and smiled. It had been a long time since he had heard those initials, and even though no one else had any idea what they stood for, he knew all too well.
He hadn't laughed to himself like that in years.
"Sounds pretty serious," the mayor commented, screwing up his eyes, "but who the heck is B.W—?"
"You know we can't discuss that." Robin said, waving him off politely. "But thank you for delivering this to me. This...this is really big."
"So I see," the mayor laughed, enjoying Robin's surprised but happy look, "and you are right. This is big, for all of you. You've done so much for this city, it's only fitting that we do something to show our gratitude. You are Jump City's favorite sons and daughters, and we are honored to be under your protection."
"But these gifts, these opportunities…this is all too much." Raven said.
"Yeah, I mean, do you know how much time I spend at the arcade WITHOUT all this money?" BeastBoy asked, still looking at the card as if it weren't real. "I'm not sure we can accept ALL of this."
The mayor faced the crowd again, and raised his voice to the stars that had become so much brighter in the sky over the past several minutes. "What do you think, Jump City? Should they accept these gifts?"
The crowd exploded with approval, jumping and clapping like a city-wide pep-rally. The ground literally shook with the crowd's rowdiness, so much so that the water in which the wrecked-plane sat began to ripple with the vibrations.
"The town has spoken," the mayor said with a shrug and a smile, "and since we rarely take no for an answer…"
"OK, OK…Thank you. Thank you all," Robin said softly, looking over his team and pulling Starfire into a welcomed hug, "from the bottom of our hearts."
"Excellent! There is a reception being held in your honor on pier seven of the Jump City Warf. We had to whip something up quick, but I'm sure you will enjoy it. Join us, please!" the mayor said, wrapping his arms around Star and Robin and moving his way through the applauding masses. Cyborg followed close behind, holding his hands in two peace signs above his head, signaling his wish for the crowd to continue their rapturous din.
Raven was about to follow, but noticed that BeastBoy was still holding and looking at his gift with an unusual amount of scrutiny; at least, beyond any level of scrutiny BeastBoy had exhibited before. He seemed to be looking for microscopic fine-print that could only be found on the very bottom of the most insidious legally-binding contracts.
"Though I wouldn't leave it sitting in your room, I doubt it's going to disappear if you suddenly take your eyes off of it." Raven said dryly, eying the card from a distance.
BeastBoy didn't look up. He kept turning his gift over and over, expecting to find some 'got ya!' label on it, or maybe a hidden clause. Raven thought it odd that BeastBoy wasn't smiling, and seemed to have lost a great deal of enthusiasm.
"I wish I could be sure of that," Beast Boy said, finally turning and joining Raven as she walked down the runway, "I really do."
The next several weeks were hectic, to say the least, and time flew accordingly. So much had happened between the time of the plane crash—and the subsequent gifts and accommodations that the Titans had received—and the present day. It was almost silly just how much could be accomplished in just over five and a half months. But for the Titans—two in particular—time poured through the sieve that was the waking moments of their life.
The tower seemed all but vacant these days. Having vastly improved upon the city's defensive network during his inauguration into the Justice League, Robin was hardly needed around the tower, or the city, for that matter. Every time he contacted his fellow Titans, it was right before or right after he had engaged in a major deployment with the League, flying off to Kazakhstan one night, only to reappear in Brussels the next. His face was continuously seen in all the papers, posing over the conquered bunker of a terrorist here, a maniacal doctor there. He was labeled as one of the most promising up-and-coming recruits for the Justice League, and was credited for saving various dignitaries and fellow hero's on several occasions. His future seemed set.
Ironically, nearly every mission that Robin was sent on threw him into the path of Earth's newest honorary resident, and diplomat: Starfire. They would bump into each other just long enough to give each other a helping a hand with whatever the other person might be doing, and for someone to snap a photo. The integration of Earthly customs and those of the planet Tameran into everyday society was slow-going, but the progress was evident. New pieces of technology from off-world allowed for entire new theories about energy-production and metallurgical design to be put into practice, and the technology assimilated by the people of Tameran from Earth saw a dramatic increase in agrarian cultivation and medical/scientific efficacy. The world, for the most part, seemed to be adjusting well to direct contact and interaction with an alien species (after all, if Superman and the Martian Manhunter were any indication, interaction with other species was not only mutually beneficial, but practically essential to Earth's future). Starfire was chief liaison to her people, giving them the same direct and helpful insight that Robin had provided her with when she first arrived on Earth all those years ago, although it did take a while for Earth foreign diplomats to become accustomed to the lip-to-lip language integration methods of the Tamaranian's.
The only person Robin had any real contact with—besides Starfire, of course—was Cyborg. Even then, the bionic-man was constantly working, so getting a-hold of him was just as unlikely. In the last week alone he had visited fourteen different countries and seventy different medical research facilities, all in the pursuit of his physical restoration. He had achieved great success in protein and peptide manipulation while visiting China, and the physicians in Moscow were on the brink of total organ regenerative procedures, in an effort to re-grow every vital part of his body that Cyborg had done without for so long. At last count, he was spending nearly forty hours out of every forty-eight doing nothing but testing the strength of DNA adhesive bonds, simulated autoimmune reconstruction, and the like. It was a very taxing lifestyle, but then, labors of love usually were.
Raven thought about all this as she soared high over the bay between the mainland and her home, Titan's Tower. It seemed strange that she still thought of this place as her home, since she had barely spent any time in this particular building over the last four months. It still stood in the middle of the bay, tall and proud and silent, with barely any glowing lights within the large windows. Raven felt a chill blow across her skin, causing Goosebumps to rise all over her exposed flesh. Fall was in full swing by now, and the air, along with most of the scenery, seemed heavy with the increasing cold.
"It'll be nice to visit my room," Raven said to herself, leaning to her right, approaching the windswept helipad on the roof of the tower, "provided BeastBoy's parties haven't destroyed what's left of it."
Raven set down on the cold metal helipad on the roof and looked around. Since no one had been up to play volley-ball or Frisbee on the roof in many weeks, the ground was littered with debris from the sea and scattered pieces of garbage. She closed her cloak around her cold legs, and hurried to the door, just as a large, white albatross landed on the ledge behind her.
"Perhaps you should fly inland," Raven said to the large bird, "before that storm out at sea hits."
For a second or so, the bird seemed to look at Raven, intently, as if considering what she had suggested. Raven found this odd, since she had merely been sarcastic with her comment, but it still seemed odd that this large, spotlessly white creature was carefully listening to what she was saying. Before she could speak again, however, the bird departed, diving off of the ledge and into the increasingly dark sky beyond.
Raven gave the bird one final look of scrutiny before yanking open the rooftop doorway and slipping inside, slamming the heavy steel frame behind her.
The tower seemed chilled. Raven felt as though she were walking into an air-conditioning vent, the cold permeating the steel walls and concrete steps. It had been a while since anyone had needed to use this stairwell, and the weather from outside could be felt even though it was blocked by two feet of cement and metal. Hopefully it would be warmer in the main living areas of the tower's interior.
"I'm…home." Raven said softly, as if announcing her presence to a ghost. She stepped out of the cold access way, and into the considerably warmer corridor. Raven felt her cheeks flush red from the sudden heat, and removed her ambassadorial hood from her head. The robes she wore were symbolic of peace and tranquility, adorned with the symbols of over a thousand creeds and ancient doctrines, laced upon blue, silken vestments and a flowing cloak. She looked like the equivalent of a spiritual NASCAR racer, only instead of promoting the sale of products, the symbols were designed specifically for universal communication, cooperation, peace and harmony. Raven was proud to wear such a garment, but it was still atrociously hot.
The tower was surprisingly dark. Raven could only see because of the fading glow of the hallway's light bulbs, which looked like they were about to burn out. As she made her way down the corridor towards the common-room of the tower, Raven could smell a rather odd odor all around her. The smell was clogging, stuffy and mildew-laden. Even though the tower was supposed to receive a weekly cleaning service, Raven had the impression that she was walking through a very large attic or crawlspace; it felt as though the area had not been visited or tended-to in years.
Raven finally reached the sliding doors of the common room. At first, the door didn't seem to recognize her presence, until it lazily slid open, revealing the not-too-much brighter command center of the tower. "Robin? Cyborg? Starfire? Is anybody-?"
"…here?" Raven finished, reluctant to look down, but doing so anyway. Raven felt a bit of revulsion ride through her as she realized what she had stepped on. The tofu cube was about the size of a gym-shoe, and nearly as stiff. It gave under Raven's weight, splitting open like a pale, over-ripe squash. It covered her boot and smelled like moldy cheese mixed with dead vegetables.
Raven grimaced as she tried to drag her foot across the carpet, wiping as much of the material away as she could. As she walked further into the room, she finally saw what the cause of the discarded food-product had stemmed from.
The kitchen was a war zone. Pots and pans were strewn about like confetti, littering every surface with filth and rot. Upon the open refrigerator, Raven could see a 'do it yourself' shaved-ice machine, still whirring away, pumping out melted chunks of flavored ice into a large container which, ironically, would have been full to capacity already, had there not been a very large hole in the bottom. The sink was buried beneath culinary debris and the floor was so sticky and grease-covered that it was un-traversable. Had it been summer, flies and gnats would have swarmed the pile of exposed tofu, fruit, and various other edibles that sat upon the kitchen counter, but in the relative heat of the tower and no tropical weather, insects were not prevalent; the stench, however, was practically crippling.
"BeastBoy's room has become malignant," Raven said with dry sarcasm, "and seeks to encompass the entire tower before it's finished."
Raven approached the equally disastrous couch and TV area. Aside from multiple discarded cartons of food, both of the take-out and create-your-own variety, there were several new stains and smirches all over the couch and carpet, some looking as if they would spring to life at any second. The smell was not as bad here, but the TV cast a gaudy amount of light upon the scene, making it look like a college dorm room. The static upon the screen was silent, the TV having been muted some time earlier, and the screen itself was flickering oddly. It seemed as though the towers wireless and satellite connection had degraded sharply over the last few months, since Raven knew for a fact that Cyborg would never settle for anything less that a crystal clear screen.
One thing, however, was not out of place; it was seated in the same spot it always had since the towers construction had been completed all those years ago.
"ZZZzzzZZZzzzZZZzzz… (SNORT)…hmmm, pass the ketchup…" mumbled the sleeping teen.
Raven looked at the comical expression upon the face of the inverted BeastBoy. His leg hung over the side of the couch like a vine, while his head dangled off the edge of the seat. A large dollop of drool hung from his top lip, and his eyes were loosely closed, no doubt indicating that his was dreaming.
"I hope he isn't having nightmares." Raven said to herself, before stopping her voice all together, letting her jaw hang as openly as BB's. "Wait…since when do I care about BeastBoy's nightmares?"
Raven thought about it for a second, and then shook it off. She then bent over the side of the couch, getting as close to BeastBoy as she dared, and began to whisper in his ear, attempting to rouse him.
"BeastBoy?" Raven said, trying to be soft but firm, "Wake up. You have a heck of a mess to clean up."
BeastBoy lolled his head to one side, but didn't wake. His snoring continued.
"BeastBoy!" Raven said in a sharp whisper. "Get up! It's only six thirty at night!"
This was getting her nowhere. Finally, Raven decided upon a more direct approach. She reached under the hanging foot that BeastBoy had slung over the couch, and carefully lifted it up. As soon as it cleared the hooking point upon the seat-back, BeastBoy's weight won-out, and the shape shifter came tumbling to the ground, head first.
"Howinthuh…who…I never touched the coffee-cake!" BeastBoy yelled, sitting straight up on the ground. For a moment, his eyes refused to focus, sending his pupils into a frenzy of spiraling confusion. It took a few seconds for him to get to his feet and appraise the situation, as well as his waker.
"Raven? What are you doin' here?" BeastBoy asked, his drool finally falling from his mouth with a sharp plop.
"I'm surprised you didn't drown," Raven said, folding her arms "especially if you drool like that and sleep upside down."
"Nah, the blood pools at the top of my head, and I fall asleep faster." BB explained.
"Wow, you almost sounded like you knew what you were talking about." Raven scoffed.
BeastBoy smiled sleepily, scratching the back of his head while Raven appraised the area around him. "So…what, a health-food tornado hit the tower?"
BeastBoy felt a bit self-conscious, and looked around with a nervous smile. "Oh, well, ya know…it was Saturday night, we had just knocked over a couple of Cluster Burger joints, dodged the fuzz and felt like celebrating."
Raven continued to look at the field of discarded boxes and Styrofoam containers. "We? I have a hard time believing that Cyborg or Robin would join in this debauchery of all things organic and soy."
Out of the corner of Raven's eye, she saw something move. Months of diplomatic inquiry and debate hadn't softened the senses of the sorceress, and she spun to the left, raising her hands in preparation for a strike…
…only to be met by the eye's of another groggy teenager, not ten feet away. It was a pair of eyes that she didn't recognize.
"Hey, B, have you seen my granola? I could've sworn that I dropped it over here..." said the teen, now standing in the flickering light of the TV. Raven lowered her hand.
She couldn't have been more than sixteen or seventeen years old. Her hair was a strange green-blue color, and the dark lines beneath her heavily mascara-covered eyes made her look ghostly. Her tank-top was sheer and her skirt left almost nothing to the imagination, which made Raven a bit uncomfortable with how close she was getting. The girls' sandals were broken and frayed, but her watch was brand-new. It was the fashion-accessories Nightmare on Elm Street come alive.
The girl came within two feet of Raven, stopped, and placed one hand on her sharp hip. "Who's duh Goth?"
BeastBoy stepped forward before Raven had a chance to answer the question in her own unique way. "She's cool, Jezebel. Ummm…what happened to Ricky?"
Raven watched as the girl leaned back her head, brought her fingers to her mouth, and whistled, loudly, into the room from whence she came. "Rick! Donde estas tu, miho? Get your butt out here!"
The girls' thick Latin accent rang clearly throughout the empty room, and caused the doors to the adjacent hallway to open a moment later. Another guy, probably about eighteen, came bounding out of the dimly lit hallway, and jumped down the six steps to the floor of the common room. He was about six feet tall and thin as a stick, but he had enough hair to bury Raven if he stood right over her. It flowed off of the teens' head like a scraggly brown-black waterfall, and came to a point around his relatively short goatee.
"Jez, check it out!" The teen, known as Ricky, yelled in his companions' ear. "Four parts lemon-grass, two parts ginger, one part essence of garlic, and three parts cloves! I blended it up with four dried prunes and cooled it off in the freezer! I call it…The Vegan Plumber!"
"What is he doing?" Raven asked BeastBoy under her breath, slightly alarmed at the behavior of this man.
"I think he just created something that will thoroughly clean out your tract," BB said, eyeing the blue concoction while tilting his head, "if it doesn't kill you first."
Raven watched with a macabre fascination as the gangly teen proceeded to drink half of his concoction, and then hand the rest over to his smarmy friend, who finished off the glass. After a few seconds, a horrendously-loud belch erupted from Ricky's mouth, lasting about five full seconds before it finally dissipated, causing Ricky to fall flat on his butt. His smile was genuine and lazy, while the look on Jezebel's face resembled that of one who was seriously contemplating homicide.
"Rick, what is this crud?! I think you just fed me liquid sod!" Jezebel said, feeling almost as green as BeastBoy looked.
Raven felt her nose curl up from the stench of the belch, and BB's ultra sensitive sense of smell was practically lighting his nose on fire. "WHEW! OK, look guys, mix the vegan-liquid-drain-o somewhere else tonight, alright? I have company."
The two hooligans helped each other to their feet, Jezebel doing her best to bare the weight of her companion. As they made their way to the door, Raven heard the girl mutter something about party-crashing, before she and her seemingly hung-over friend disappeared out of the sliding doors, into the cold hallway beyond.
Raven cocked an eyebrow at BeastBoy as he tried to straighten out the couch, shrugging and smiling with embarrassment. "Organo-junkies. Great party animals, as long as they don't have to pay for the tofu."
"And why would they? You've pretty much cornered the market, from what I can tell." Raven said, picking up a 'Tub-O-Tofu' container, examining how empty it was. "How much did this all cost?"
"Not a dime; the city kept its word," BeastBoy smiled, "and they haven't asked for any compensation since we rescued that plane."
"Good to know that you've been keeping busy," Raven sighed, looking at the mess, "but couldn't you have cleaned up once every six weeks or so?"
"Aww, where's the fun in that? Besides, I'm sprawled out all over the tower, so you don't have to worry about this stuff getting into your room after it spills out of mine." BeastBoy said, chucking some trash into a can.
Raven smirked, and sat upon the one relatively clean spot on the couch. She levitated a remote-control over to her hand, the motion as familiar to her as pressing a computer-key, and switched off the large monitor. The screen retracted into the ceiling, as did the large tinted panels that covered the western-facing windows of the tower. As the windows cleared, Raven could see the beginnings of clouds and an overcast-horizon, swirling with cold winds and a light snow. The evening was upon them, and with it, the storm from the north-west, out and beyond the sea.
"I hear you've been pretty busy yourself," BeastBoy said, discarding a few more piles or rubbish before sitting a few feet away from Raven, "what with that huge summit whatever-it-was."
"The Terran Congregational Summit," Raven filled in, crossing her legs, "and yes, very busy. It took a whole month just to decide on a location that would be both suitable and neutral enough to host such a vast selection of sovereign representatives. We finally decided on Easter Island, but even that was met with a lot of distain. Eventually, the actual location of the summit was forgotten so as to focus upon the PURPOSE of the summit itself. I swear, sometimes it amazes me that these people can be the cultural and ethnic stewards that they are and STILL find it difficult to agree on the smallest thing. Incredible."
BeastBoy screwed up his eyes for a moment. "But I read that it was successful."
"It was, for the most part, once all the squabbling died down." Raven said, looking tiredly in BeastBoy's direction. "I felt a great deal of accomplishment, actually. The Congregation has agreed to meet again in about two weeks, this time focusing on the conflict accumulating around the West Bank in Jordan. It should be pretty…intense."
"You can handle it," BeastBoy said, opening a warm can of soda, "especially once they get a glimpse of how much better things will be."
"Do you really think that?" Raven said, tilting her head quizzically.
"Hey, if we can live under the same roof for as long as we did without you killing me, I think you should be nominated for sainthood." BeastBoy said, knocking back a slug of cola, making a face when he realized it was warm.
"That's interesting," Raven said, looking out the window, "the Cultural Attaché to the Warring Nations said something along the same lines to me the other day. He's surprised that you still have all your fingers and toes."
"PPBBPTBPTBBPTB!" BeastBoy snorted, the cola streaming out his nose, even though his mouth was wide open. BeastBoy was caught in the middle of a big belly laugh, and it just happened to coincide with his drink; his nose would burn the rest of the night.
"Are you OK?" Raven asked, creasing her brow slightly.
"A joke!" BeastBoy yelled, throwing his arms upwards, the can of cola flying backwards into the junk-pile behind them. "Well I'll be dipped in batter and rolled in breadcrumbs: A Joke! And a good one, too! I think that's the funniest crack you've ever made at my expense, and you've made some whoppers!"
Raven wasn't sure if she should take the cola-spittle-covered teen seriously, because his comment was just as strange as his appearance at the moment. "Well…thank you, I guess."
"And check it out! No melting light bulbs or kitchen-ware! No black halos!" BeastBoy said, looking around the tower, his giddy smile replaced with one of wonder. "You must have developed some serious control over the last few months."
"Not really," Raven said, "more like focus. And it has been a bit…strange, to say the least. Last week I actually tripped over this robe, and fell on my face. I thought the room would erupt from my embarrassment…but it didn't. As a matter of fact, I stood up, and no one said a thing; the atmosphere was totally professional."
"No kidding?" BeastBoy inquired. "I thought I noticed some weird stuff too."
"Well, like with this card-thing that I got from the mayor." BB said, taking said card out from his pocket, holding it up for Raven to see. "Apparently this thing works, not only in the city, but everywhere I travel, too. I've been to Belize, Zaire, Ecuador…all these places accept this card. What's more, people are starting to…DO things for me."
Raven made a face. "Do I even want to know?"
BeastBoy made a face as well. "Nothing weird, just…stuff. I say that a piece of forest should be set aside for a species of animal; a week later, it's done. I hint that it would be a good idea to reduce the amount of fishing in a particular area; in a few days, it becomes legal sanction. It's like people suddenly care about the things I have to say about the environment, and actually put them into application. Maybe I'm being a bit dramatic, but doesn't that seem a bit…odd?"
Raven moved a bit closer, looking BeastBoy over. "There's something different about you, too. Something, I don't know, physically different."
BeastBoy stood, spread his arms, and looked himself up and down. "Like what?"
He noticed exactly what it was as soon as Raven stood next to him.
"AHH! I'm…BIG! I mean tall. Well, tall-er!" BeastBoy said, noticing that his eyes were level with Raven's. "How did this happen?"
Raven looked dubious, and actually frowned with perplexity; something she hadn't done for a few months. "These things just seem to happen nowadays."
BeastBoy stopped his posing and smiling, looking at Raven and her glum expression. "Come again?"
Raven didn't look at him so much as through him as she talked. "I'm not sure. But I've noticed that I seemed to be 'improving' much more conspicuously—and frequently—as well. Aside from the bickering and the posturing, the delegates of the summit seemed strangely apt to agree with my suggestions. When they couldn't agree on any unbiased, level debating-ground upon which they could all meet and converse as equals, I suggested several places, even Antarctica, and it only took them a few minutes to…"
BeastBoy caught it. He had been looking at his newly grown shoulders when they suddenly froze up on him, and his eyes fell on Raven. He noticed the same perplexed look on her face, and slowly pointed a finger, indicating that she was reacting the same way that he was.
"Did you just get a really strange…feeling, in your gut?" BeastBoy said.
"Like that twisting, vertigo thing when you know something is wrong but can't place exactly what it is?" Raven said, nodding with downcast eyes. "Yeah. And you just felt it too, didn't you?"
"Big time." BeastBoy said, sitting down once more. He looked out the window, unable to see the horizon. The storm had stepped-up its intensity, and the swirling, whipping winds now carried more snow and sleet. It was difficult to see beyond the waterline of the rocky shore beneath the tower.
Raven followed his gaze, and felt a strange chill overcome her body. She suddenly felt the same way she did when she first landed on the roof, and it was unsettling, considering how much warmer it was inside the tower.
"You've noticed it more than once, haven't you?" Raven inquired, pulling her cloak tighter around her shoulders. "You've noticed how certain things seem to prick at your flesh, like a bad memory."
BeastBoy seemed to scowl a bit, which surprised Raven. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Raven cocked her head again, this time as a reaction to BeastBoy's tone. "I think it bothers you just as much as it bothers me. Even more so to learn that I have the same reaction to the same strange phrases."
BeastBoy had a 'tell'. Much like a poker player, BeastBoy, as well as the rest of the titans, had a very distinct telling quirk imbedded in his personality, which always described much more than any single word or action. It signified a chink, or rupture, in the emotional armor that all humans cover themselves in, in order to function around others and in society.
At the moment, BeastBoy's 'tell' was sending Raven a veritable Morse-code of information; he turned his head, and his eyes darted back and forth quickly, as if searching for something.
Raven didn't need to point it out, and simply asked her question. "When did you first notice it?"
Unfortunately, he answered her question with one of his own. "Do you want some tea?"
"Tea?" Raven asked, faltering slightly.
"Yeah, tea. Can I make you some?"
"You want to make me tea?"
"Is there an echo in here?" BeastBoy said, walking toward the war-zone that had once resembled the titan's kitchen. "Tea; herbal tea. I'm making some, and would like to make you some as well."
Raven watched as BeastBoy walked away, toward a relatively untouched part of the kitchen, and opened a cupboard. He produced two tea bags, set them in mugs, and placed a kettle upon the dirty stove, igniting the burner beneath it with one twist of the toggle.
Raven watched all this with a beguiling look on her pale face, never interrupting BeastBoy as he slowly but expertly put together two cups of tea in little more than ten minutes. As BeastBoy finished pouring, he topped off both mugs with a sprinkle of ginger and mint, and killed the gas on the stove-top. He walked back over to the still dirty couch and handed Raven her mug.
Had Raven not been astounded by the fact that BeastBoy had given her her favorite tea-mug, she might have started up the conversation again. But BeastBoy preempted her thoughts.
"I've grown to really like this stuff," he said, carefully sipping, "especially on nights like tonight. It's freezing outside, and this herbal mix cuts the chill really well."
"Well…tea is strange like that," Raven said, studying her own mug and the spices within it, "it cools us down when we're hot, and heats us up when we're cold…"
"And it's loaded with antioxidants," BeastBoy added enthusiastically, "not to mention all the nutrients and vitamins you can find in a single bag of highly concentrated—"
"Thirty-eight." Raven stated.
BeastBoy almost swallowed the burning liquid down the wrong pipe. He burned his upper lip slightly, which caused him to loose his grip on the mug. A few droplets fell upon his chin, which made him grimace visibly. He turned away from Raven so as not to show his embarrassment. "P-Pardon?"
Raven sighed deeply, looking from her mug to the window and the weather beyond. The storm seemed to be upon them in earnest now, battering the thick windows and whipping snow and sleet against the cold metal structure of the tower. The sky was more than overcast, much more; deep gray clouds smothered the atmosphere, rolling like great bales of dirty cotton-candy. Raven could feel the faintest rumble of thunder in the distance, shaking the sky and echoing off of the waves too far away to see.
The weather seemed fitting for such an uncomfortable discussion.
"On thirty eight separate occasions—thirty nine, if you count the one from twenty minutes ago—I've either spoken or heard something that conjured up that bizarre, unsettling sensation that both of us just felt," Raven said, her tone and voice as measured as the sand in a rock garden, "and each time, I've dismissed it as irrational, nonsensical worrying; a byproduct of stress and déjà vu."
BeastBoy said nothing. His head was level and his shoulders squared, but he didn't turn to look at Raven or join her in the conversation. The only movement Raven could make out was the wisp of steam from his mug that slowly floated over his shoulder in the dreary light of the snowstorm outside.
"At first, I thought I wasn't getting enough sleep. There were nights where I would be up into the early morning hours, discussing treaties or drafting speeches or debating parliamentary conduct." Raven said, enjoying the warmth of the mug in her hands as it balanced on her knees. "I would see and hear things that didn't make sense. One time, a man from Istanbul mentioned the word 'Xinothium' out of context during one meeting, and it threw me so badly that I had to ask him to restate his question. Another time, I was visiting the Women's Heritage Delegation in Huntsville, Alabama, to discuss the role in which women have and would influence global mediation in the future. One of the women mentioned later that her pet cat named 'Tiger' had spilled 'green' paint all over an expensive 'ice' blue dress of hers. I faltered so violently that I spilled my lemonade all over the skirt of the delegate from Connecticut."
"Then let me guess," BeastBoy said with an air of contempt, still facing away, "you said you were sorry, and the delegate smiled and said nothing of it? Maybe reassured you that it was no big deal and that you shouldn't worry about it?"
Raven felt a sickly sensation boil up in her throat upon hearing just how accurate BeastBoy was. "The delegation concluded in two days time, four days ahead of schedule. It was one of the most successful conferences I've had to date. The woman invited me to have lunch with her next week."
BeastBoy took another sip from his tea, breathing in the aromatic scent, and sighed deeply. "You sound almost disappointed."
"Here's the thing," Raven said, a little louder this time, "I felt exactly the opposite…and acted accordingly."
BeastBoy turned, one eye squinting. "Acted?"
"I laughed." Raven said, shrugging slightly, looking into the storm-filled sky. "As soon as the women left, I laughed aloud. I laughed out of frustration, anxiety, relief, hope…I laughed hard."
BeastBoy's face softened. "Well that's…great! And nothing happened?"
"No," Raven said, looking at BeastBoy's suddenly happy face, placing her mug to the side, "nothing! No exploding appliances, no sizzling furniture, no shattering windows. When I finally realized that nothing was happening, I laughed again. And then again. And again! It was…wonderful!"
"That sounds great!" BeastBoy said, sitting closer. "I'll bet it felt amazing."
"It isamazing!" Raven said with a smile.
"It's…stupendous!" BeastBoy said, adding his own glee.
"It's phenomenal!" Raven said, sitting up with her excitement.
"It's colossal!" BeastBoy said, smiling like a fool, infected by the good cheer of the conversation.
BeastBoy smiled broadly and held up his arms in a victory 'V', waiting for Raven to finish her sentence with incredible exuberance.
BeastBoy visibly recoiled upon the couch, nearly dropping his mug in the process. He fell flat on his rear, all the blood momentarily draining from his face and into his stomach. He felt his fingers and toes begin to tingle, as if her were standing upon the edge of a mile-high cliff with nothing to keep him from falling. He felt a deep, slicing fear race though his body, cutting a tectonic-like fault line through his resolve. He hadn't been this afraid in years, primarily because his eyes had never beheld such a sight.
She was crying.
He couldn't believe it; Raven, the supposedly almighty conveyer of spells and incantations, the daughter of one of the most feared creatures in the universe, the most collected and focused woman he had ever met, was crying. It didn't seem possible. Forget the impossibility of the words 'Raven' and 'crying' ever appearing in the same sentence together, the idea was an almost unfeasible scenario to formulate in his head. Raven. Crying. It…just didn't fit.
And yet, there it was. "R…Raven? What in…I mean, how…?"
She held her hands before her, level with her chest, her fingers curved into claws of despair. They hung in the air and shook ever so slightly, as if she were having a small seizure. Her mouth was slightly open, and her lip actually quivered as if she were about to loose it. Her cheeks were flushed red and her forehead was rutted with worry-lines, making her look much older than she actually was.
But her eyes…her eyes made BeastBoy cringe. Tears were pouring freely from her shining, watery orbs, cascading like twin waterfalls down her cheeks. BeastBoy had always admired how pretty Raven's eyes really were (when she decided to show them), but now, they looked deformed and hollow. Her pupils were huge, looking almost like the eyes of an fish, and they refused to focus on anything.
In spite of all this, Raven retained her beauty. But it was the beauty of someone experiencing intense sorrow.
"What's happening?" BeastBoy asked, suddenly very on-edge. "What are you doing?"
Raven finally looked at BeastBoy, but as she spoke, her voice was shallow and croaky, as if she had just involuntarily swallowed a large amount of water. Her face changed slightly from a mournful mask into a façade of incredulity. "What does it look like, idiot?!"
The slight inflection in her voice spooked BeastBoy even more. "Well I can see what you're doing, but…what the heck is going on?"
Raven sniffled loudly, and brought one of her hands up to her eye, attempting to wipe away as much of her tears as she could. "I'm…I'm feeling really…confused and…and my chest feels tight and my hands feel cold and…!"
"You look really…sad." BeastBoy said, still in disbelief.
He watched as Raven nodded slowly, choking back a sob. "Yeah…"
"But since when do you…I mean, you're never sad." BeastBoy said, fumbling his words.
Raven looked at him with a mix of hatred, disbelief and hurt: the worst combination he had ever seen. Her voice was still hoarse, but her tone and eyes gave BeastBoy the impression that she wanted to kill him where he sat. "Why you…! How could you say that?!"
'Uh-oh…'BeastBoy thought in horror, snapping his big mouth shut.
"You think I'm never sad? You think that all the emotions that you experience are yours alone to endure?!" Raven yelled, her tears and voice quickly escalating in intensity. "That I can't feel the same things you do?!"
The changeling held up his hands defensively, his eyes wide. BeastBoy knew he had screwed up; BADLY.
"NO! No No No! That's…that's not what I meant! That was dumb, REALLY dumb! I…I shouldn't have said it like that, I should know better! Please, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry Raven! What I meant was…you and sad, I mean…I've never…seen it! You always keep it hidden, and you meditate to deal with the really intense stuff, but I've never actually seen you break down like this! That's why I'm a bit freaked out here!" BeastBoy said, coming as close as he dared to the livid young woman with pleading, upturned hands.
Raven took a few deep breaths, coughing a bit to slow her pulse and un-blur her vision. After a minute or so, she sat back on the couch, still crying but much more collected than she had been. BeastBoy watched as she regrouped, but was completely unprepared for what she said next.
"It feels…really good, actually." She sighed, still sobbing under her breath.
BeastBoy had gone from surly to ecstatic to genuinely frightened in less than ten minutes, and it was messing with his head. "Feels good? What feels good?"
Raven actually chuckled through her tears, staring out at the billowing snow. "You take it for granted, this ability to cry. The act itself is painful, taxing and border-line debilitating. But I don't think you fully understand just how valuable such an act is."
BeastBoy crossed his legs beneath him, placing his tea in his lap. His eyes never left Raven's face, and he blinked only when he really needed to, for fear that something would be missed if he did it too often. "I'm still not following."
"I used to have to meditate in order to control and focus my emotions," Raven said, still visibly in anguish with a strange, small smile plastered on her face, "but over the last few months, I've not had to do it once. The emotions come, and they wash over me like…warm rain water. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, for that wall of uncontrollable power to smack me in the face…but it never comes."
"I've felt them all; nervousness right before a meeting, anxiety about my progress, joy when I hear good news, sadness when I present evidence of unnecessary suffering," Raven continued, "and survived them all. Sadness was something I wasn't really prepared to endure, but despite the crying and tears and aches and despair, after it was all done, I felt this incredible…"
"Elation?" BeastBoy said, softly finishing her thought.
Raven smiled a little more, nodding at his choice of words. "It felt wonderful. The process was tough, but the end result was more satisfying than any amount of meditation could have given me. I felt rejuvenated, cleansed, ready to start again…I've never felt anything like it."
BeastBoy nodded as well, keeping his silence.
"I'm sorry I freaked you out, but it felt necessary to cry," Raven said, her voice steadying, "if only to feel the relief that almost always comes afterwards."
"I think I understand," BeastBoy said, keeping his voice even and comforting, "but the fact that you needed to cry at all is probably what messed with me most, along with the act itself."
"Why is that?" Raven said.
BeastBoy smiled nervously as he took a deep breath, and did his best to keep his own voice from faltering. "You scared the crud out of me. In all the time I've known you, I've never seen you so visibly freaked, so candidly miserable. I…didn't know how to react. I knew I had to ACT in some way; something in me was ordering me to take action, to do something…to help you. And I couldn't, because I didn't know how."
Raven felt BeastBoy's words as they floated through the air and into her he ears, filling her with an immeasurable sensation of warmth. So often she had sensed this kindness, this concern from BeastBoy and the other titans, but until now, she hadn't the faintest idea as to how she would react or deal with such sensations. But now, as she sat on that dirty couch, safe inside the tower amidst such a horrible storm, she was finally able to comprehend those feelings.
Unfortunately, this realization only produced more tears.
BeastBoy looked panic-stricken, thinking that perhaps his words had caused Raven more pain, more sorrow. "Wait, what's wrong? What did I say this time?! Oh, man, I suck at this!"
Raven would have laughed, but she was too busy trying to keep herself from crying. "No, no, it's…it's not you. I understand what you're saying. And more importantly, I can also feel what you're saying. Often I hear all these terms of endearment from the others, and you, and I haven't been able to express how much I appreciate them. I'm actually…happy. I'm so happy that I can finally hear, understand, and feel exactly what you mean."
BeastBoy was never the best at reading girls, but Raven was throwing him one curveball after another. He brushed his hair back and sighed with exasperation. "Then why are you crying? Whenever I sense that you might be sad or scared, it really bums me out. But to see you cry, and to think that I'm the cause of it? I can't think of anything that scares me more. Heck, I don't think anything scares me as much as the idea of you being in pain. That's why I get all antsy and try to think of anything I might be able to do to help you, no matter what it is, even if it's a lame joke."
Raven leaned forward a bit, keeping her unblinking eyes on BeastBoy, studying him and the words he was saying. His pulse never deviated, and his eyes revealed no hidden agenda. So far as Raven could tell, he was being completely honest.
"That might be one of the sweetest thing you've ever said to me." Raven said, her voice calm again and her hands once more gripping the tea he had made her. "Thank you."
BeastBoy blushed a bit, but tried to keep focused. "Look, I'm sorry for what I said about you never getting sad. That was stupid, even for me. I should have used my head."
It was then that Raven got the strangest look on her face. For the first time in a while, Raven looked intrigued, almost curious. It was strange to see her switch from one intense state of mind to another so quickly.
"Do you want to make it up to me?" she asked.
BB wasn't prepared for that question, but answered anyway. "Uh…sure. But how?"
"You can tell me the truth," Raven said, sitting cross-legged, facing BeastBoy with renewed enthusiasm and interest, "about what you've noticed over the last several months. I already know you've noticed a few different things, so don't deny them and just start from the top."
BeastBoy hesitated, looking from Raven to the window to his tea and back again. He seemed unsure about how to proceed, and sighed deeply. "It's…it's just kinda hard to explain…"
Raven watched as BeastBoy stalled for a minute or so, before she called him back to the task at hand. "I'm waiting…"
BeastBoy took another deep breath, but refused to look at Raven. If he did, he believed he wouldn't be able to continue; at least, not without a little nagging voice telling him that she thought he was as crazy as he thought he was.
"Nothing…boy, how do I say this…" BeastBoy said, scratching the back of his neck.
Raven remained still.
"Nothing…moves right." BeastBoy said, choosing his words the best he could.
Raven didn't quite understand, but kept listening. "Go on."
BeastBoy stared into his tea as he spoke, his words as ethereal and delicate as the steam from his mug. "From the day we saved that plane, and the people on it, I've noticed how everything around us—the people, the city, plants, the weather—began to behave in an unusual way. I still felt the heat from the sun, but it was never too intense. I still hear the words that people speak, but their voices are always foreign…alien. I still taste food, hear music, and enjoy all my free-time, but nothing ever seems…complete."
Raven looked on with genuine interest. "As if the world around you is moving though a new reality or temporal phase, or perhaps the earth itself is unbalanced."
BeastBoy looked a bit confused, but provided his own analogy. "It kinda feels like an earthquake, at least from an animal's point of view. Even if the center of the quake is hundreds of miles away, the sensation of shifting ground and wacky magnetic signals can really screw with an animal's perception of their environment. Tigers will halt in their tracks, butterflies will hover in mid-air, sharks will stop dead in the water…all because the world around them is suddenly different. That's the best way I can describe it."
"You sense that something is fundamentally wrong with the world?" Raven asked.
"More like there is something wrong with the world around me…around us." BeastBoy said. "Something I can't put my finger on, but it's definitely there."
Raven sighed a bit, smiling wryly. "Well, I can think of one really big attribute that no one seems to have noticed."
"Peace," Raven said simply, looking at BeastBoy as if her statement had been obvious, "the extended period of peace that we've enjoyed for the past several months; none of it makes sense."
BeastBoy's mouth drooped visibly. "You've got a problem with peace?"
Raven gave him a dirty look and ignored his question. "In the past several months, how many times have you fought a villain?"
BeastBoy's face brightened and he raised a finger, but then thought better of it, and answered truthfully. "Not once."
"Foiled a bank-robbery?" Raven asked.
"None at all." BeastBoy admitted.
"Rescued a kitten from a tree?" Raven asked, opening her hands as she began to prove her point.
"I don't suppose it would count if I was the kitten, would it?" BB asked.
Raven shook her head. "And why do you suppose that is?"
"Well, if I got myself up in the tree in the first place," BeastBoy thought aloud, "I suppose it is kinda my responsibility to get down again…"
"Not THAT, why do you suppose you haven't had to do any of the things I just listed?" Raven asked, exasperated to the point where she almost spilled her tea.
BeastBoy gave it a bit of thought. "Because…there haven't been any instances of the above to deal with?"
"Exactly." Raven said, slapping one of her knees. "Don't you think that's weird?"
"Well…I guess the city has been kinda quiet…" BeastBoy admitted.
"Quiet? Jump City used to have a plethora of bad-guys for us to deal with," Raven said, gesturing in the direction of the city, "but it's been virtually silent for nearly half a year. I mean, you've been here more often than any of us. Has there even been so much as a break-in or a house fire?"
BeastBoy felt a bit colder. "No. As a matter of fact, the prison on the outskirts of town just beefed up its security. I checked it out myself. The improvements were great, but the guards told me it wasn't really essential to the prison, since there have been no escape attempts of any kind in almost a year."
"The alarm hasn't gone off once since I was last here, has it?" Raven asked, already knowing the answer.
Raven nodded to indicate how strange she thought it was. "It's kinda spooky. I never use that word, but it fits; spooky."
BeastBoy seemed a bit resigned, but then abruptly brightened with a new thought. "But that isn't completely true! There are still problems with bad-guys; lots of them!"
BeastBoy looked far more confident now, and his eyes sparkled as a result. "Robin seems to do nothing but fight crime! It's all over the news and in the papers; every other day he's fighting a new mad scientist here or crushing the uprising of a megalomaniac there. The Justice League keeps him busy, and all he does with his free time is hang out with Starfire. In fact, she's almost always there after or during one of his missions, and sometimes lends a hand. The boy is busy, to say the least!"
Much to BeastBoy's dismay, Raven sadly shook her head. Luckily, even though she certainly looked it, she didn't break out into tears again, if only because she knew it probably wouldn't help this time. "Tell me something; can you imagine a better situation for Robin to be in?"
"Better? How do you mean?" BeastBoy said, confused by the question.
"You said it yourself," Raven reminded the changeling, "that all he does is fight crime. Robin has this innate need to stop the wicked wherever they might be, no matter what the cost. Now look at him; he's one of the most highly decorated members of the J.L., next to the council itself. He protects the people, defeats criminals, and makes the world a better, safer place as a result. On top of that, Starfire is almost always in the right place at the right time, ready to help him out and spend as much time with him as possible. It seems…ideal, doesn't it?"
BeastBoy seemed to be getting it. He just didn't like it.
"He gets the best of both worlds." Raven explained. "Not only is he a champion of justice and finally recognized as one of the highest ranking Superheroes in the world, but he gets to bask in that glory with the one person he truly cares about. Fighting evil almost around the clock, a crime fighter ranked among the best of the best, spending almost all his free time with the woman he loves…I can't think of a better lifestyle for Robin. For lack of a better word, it's almost—"
"Perfect." BeastBoy said softly.
Raven was surprised at how sad BeastBoy sounded as he said that word. It was almost as if he hated it, wanted to spit it out, and yet was unsure of why it caused such a bad taste in his mouth.
Raven knew he was starting to understand. "Now do you know why I was crying?"
BeastBoy said nothing. He looked out at the storm, busying his eyes with the details of the falling sleet and rumbling clouds.
Raven pressed on. "There are just too many coincidences, too many 'perfect' situations. I've noticed them. You've noticed them. We can't ignore them…not any longer."
"So why did that make you cry?" BeastBoy asked, still unwilling to meet her gaze.
Raven felt that familiar lump in her throat begin to rise to her mouth, choking and constricting and painful. "I guess…I just feel sad. I feel sad about being sad."
"You're not making any sense." BeastBoy said, feeling what was coming next but doing his best to ignore its approach.
Raven tried to explain, but it was difficult to do with the pressure she felt on her head and heart. "I'm sad because I can't express my sadness. I am. I hate that I can have these emotions but never show them the way that you can. And even though I'm showing it, right this second, it just makes me more miserable…because I know the truth…"
"Don't say it," BeastBoy hissed softly, placing a hand over his face, "just...don't say it."
"You know it too," Raven insisted, fresh tears dripping down her cheeks, "you know what I'm talking about; the strange awards, the sudden successes, the frightening sensations, your surge in height and…let's face it, articulation. My ability to express my feelings freely, Robin's ideal lifestyle, even Cyborg's quest for biological renewal…none of it fits…none of it makes sense…"
"Stop," BeastBoy said, covering his ears, still clutching his mug. His heartbeat was loud in his ears, further enhanced by the wind and thunder from the storm. They seemed to be pulsing in tandem, increasing in volume and intensity, one playing off the other with a symbiotic pulse, "please stop…"
"I'm crying because I know that I can't cry, and that I probably never will," Raven said, moving closer, practically shouting at BeastBoy so as to make him listen, "because I'm not supposed to be able to. The only reason I can is because in this world, this reality, this universe...anything we want is ours. EVERYTHING we want is ours; handed to us like gifts from heaven."
"NO…" BeastBoy said, shutting his eyes.
"But they aren't real; your growth, Robin's utopian life, my tears…none of them are real," Raven whispered, her face anguished but her voice strong. "This world…isn't real!"
"NO!" BeastBoy shouted despairingly, standing to his full height, turning and hurling his mug as hard as he could.
BeastBoy and Raven froze. Although Raven had not expected BeastBoy to throw the mug, she had expected the shattering and spraying of liquid that would follow. BeastBoy had expected it too, and while the exploding mud had certainly been loud, there was a strange absence of any following din.
Both titans turned.
In unison, their eyes widened, and their blood froze.
It hung about six feet above the ground; no more, no less. The shards of the earthen container were splintering outwards like the spines of a porcupine, jagged and gnarled. The individual pieces seemed to open outwards like the petals of a flower, blasting apart upon the thick window it had collided with. The tea, still hot, was sprayed upon the hardened material like a blood-spatter, streaking outwards with green-brown fingers of liquid. Steam still rose from the scalding material.
The only problem with all of this was the scene itself; the mug was frozen in place, having ceased to move or fall upon impacting the window.
BeastBoy looked to Raven. His face was a mix of dread and surprise. "Did you just…?"
Raven shook her head, her eyes still teary but her face suddenly awestruck. "It wasn't me."
It looked almost pretty; like an ice-sculpture or a living diorama. The tea itself caught the dirty light pressing through the windows, and the pieces of the mug were still shiny were the tea had touched it. The handle still clung to a chunk of the pottery, and had halted in space just an inch from the window. It most certainly would have shattered as well. Instead, it too hung in place in the suddenly eerie silence of the tower.
"Definitely not normal," BeastBoy said, peering a bit closer, "and we've seen some pretty messed-up stuff."
"I don't think I've ever seen anything like that before." Raven said, pointing her finger.
At first, BB was confused, because Raven wasn't pointing at the mug. He straightened, followed her finger, and felt his jaw nearly unhinge from his skull.
There must have been millions of them. They were small, delicate, almost incandescent and looked as fragile as tissue paper. The window was filled with them, almost as if a mountain had formed in the fifty seconds that had elapsed since BeastBoy performed his first suspended-object illusion. BeastBoy and Raven could not only see through them, but beyond them, into the open space that contained hundreds upon hundreds of millions of the same delicate objects.
"This is…beautiful." Raven said, standing and walking towards the window. "None of this is possible, of course, but still; it's beautiful."
"I gave up on defining 'possible' a long time ago," BeastBoy said, touching the cold glass, "it just makes my head hurt."
The storm seemed to have paused; literally. No clouds moved. No thunder rumbled. The multitudes of falling snowflakes were stationary, keeping their positions in the air with perfect stillness. Had this been a photograph, the snowflakes would have been seen as rushing by, maybe blurred in the background. In this instance, they seemed to be suspended in a crystal clear gelatin, comfortably resting in a vacuum.
"That was close." Raven said as she looked up.
"What was?" BeastBoy asked, following suit.
BeastBoy flinched as he beheld the largest lightening-bolt he had ever seen. It hung in the air, just as the rest of the storm, in absolute silence and stillness. The huge arch of electrical energy was careening towards the tower, curving and bending like a blue-white vine. BeastBoy found it strange to see the bolt from this angle, because it looked very three-dimensional, unlike the flat flashes of light and sound that he was so used to seeing, either from far away or on TV.
"Whatever this is, it isn't a local occurrence." Raven said, slowly stepping closer to her shape-shifting friend. "I can feel it. It's as if a lull in time has occurred, and it seems to encapsulate everything, for as far as my senses can reach."
"Trigon?" BeastBoy asked softly, hoping he was just being paranoid.
"Unlikely." Raven said, causing BeastBoy to sigh with relief. "If it were, the mark of Scath would have begun to etch its way across my skin, and I my powers would flare up violently. This isn't the work of my father."
"Then who?" BeastBoy said, looking beyond the immense cavalcade of snow-flurries and out onto the equally frozen sea. "Other than Trigon, I can't think of anybody powerful enough to stop…EVERYTHING. We don't know anyone who can pull this off!"
…NO…BUT I KNOW YOU…
It was everywhere; sneaking up from between the couch cushions, peaking from behind the doors, smiling from within the pots and pans in the kitchen. It covered their skin and played with their hair. It touched their shoulders and stole the breath from their lungs. It saturated every pore, and yet it made both titans feel lighter than air.
It also made them both shake with a haunting sense of recognition.
"That voice…" they whispered, for fear that it might hear them.
Raven noticed it first. She thought it was a trick of the light, but soon realized that, out beyond the sea of hovering snowflakes, silent lightening and frozen waves…something was moving.
"It's coming this way…" BeastBoy said, catching the same sight.
Both titans backed away from the window, ever so slowly, as an orb of light, no bigger than a softball, approached the tower. It seemed to absorb the snowflakes in its path as it noiselessly soared through the air. It never grew brighter, only clearer and more vibrant. With childlike apprehension, both teen warriors watched as the orb phased through the thick glass of the window, leaving not a hole or even the faintest scuff; one second, it was out among the snow, and the next, it was indoors.
Raven beheld the curious object cautiously, never straying too far from BeastBoy's side. He did the same, knowing that, should something about this encounter suddenly go south, they would be safer if they stayed closer to one another; better to be back to back than corned or against a wall.
BeastBoy whispered softly to Raven so as to not inadvertently appear threatening to the intruder. "I hope it comes in peace…"
Raven scowled at him, but still made a diplomatic gesture; she'd had months of practice, and knew she would have to put all that she had learned into action now. "You say that you know us. We do not know you. May I ask who you are?"
The orb bobbed in mid air, rocking from side to side like a child who was bored. Raven wasn't sure if the analogy applied to a floating sphere of light, but it seemed apt at the time.
…WE HAVE MET BEFORE…MANY TIMES…
The voice was still all-encompassing and vast, yet subtle and unthreatening. Raven had little time to contemplate where she might have heard the voice in the past, because the ball of light suddenly began to melt.
BeastBoy gasped as the sphere began to expand almost exponentially, flowing as liquid gold onto the floor, yet neither burning nor altering the carpet. The illumination was powerful, but it didn't cast any shadows that Raven could see. Instead, the light seemed to solidify, hardening into a shape. Had the air not been clear and her eyes open, Raven would have sworn that the light was pouring itself into a mold, suspended in mid-air.
After one final strobe of energy, the light faded, and BeastBoy and Raven found themselves in the presence of a very familiar face.
"Mayor…Hacker?" Raven said, so amazed that her voice almost failed her.
Indeed, the mayor of Jump City, the man who, many months before, had bestowed upon the titans the most copious of gifts and acclaim, was now standing in their living room. His round body and gentle eyes hadn't changed or aged a day since the plane incident, and his smile was just as genuine.
"You're freakin' kidding me…" BeastBoy said, thunderstruck.
"No, in fact I am not," said the portly man, smiling broadly, "but of course, you've met me many times since I used this form. You just didn't know it."
The rotund gentleman suddenly lit up like a Christmas-tree, his body again morphing into sphere of light, many times the size of the one that had originally invaded the tower. After a brief reshuffle of the energy-globe, another body appeared before the awestruck teens.
BeastBoy didn't recognize the person who stood before him now. Unfortunately, Raven did.
"Your holiness!" Raven exclaimed, covering her mouth from the shock.
Much to Raven's disbelief, it was, in fact, the exalted holy leader with whom Raven had conversed and meditated with on many occasions: Tenzin Gyatso.
Or, as the Gelug Sectand the rest of the world acknowledged him to be, the Dalai Llama.
"Hello again, Raven."
The robe, the beads, the glasses…all of it was there. Raven would know that face no matter where she saw it, and while she didn't subscribe to the same faith as this man, his teachings, and the teachings of his predecessors, were revered the world over, even on Azarath. Raven had the deepest respect for him, and showed it by bowing on one knee.
"I didn't know it was you, sir. I never sensed a change or manifestation of something otherworldly around you…I had no idea." Raven said, doing her best not to mumble or stutter in front of the man.
BeastBoy watched all this and, not wanting to be rude (and really not knowing any better), dropped to his knees and smacked his palms on the floor, bowing his forehead to the shag-carpet. He looked up with a palpable nervousness, and attempted to speak.
"Oh great and powerful holy-man from a land far, far away…uh…how ya doin'?" BeastBoy asked, smiling like a fool.
The man laughed deeply, spooking Raven out of her reverie, causing her to look up. BeastBoy's eyebrows jumped, still unsure of what to do or say.
"Respectful as always, Raven," the aged man said, laughing again, "and still funny to a fault, BeastBoy. Unfortunately, this is not my true form either. It is just one of many."
For the third time, a molten sphere of energy replaced the man standing before the duo, sizzling away like melted butter. Raven stood slowly, watching as the man she had once believed to be Buddhist Nobel Peace Prize winner glowed with an ethereal light, slowly assuming the form of someone else.
Only this time, it was BeastBoy's turn to drop his jaw. "I think I need to lie down…"
"You ARE laying down." said a familiar Latin voice.
Raven noticed that Jezebel—or rather, the shape of Jezebel assumed by this entity—was much cleaner and coherent than the one that BeastBoy had kicked out of the tower an hour earlier. She was still strangely dressed and her hair was a mess, but her voice was stronger, clearer. Obviously this whoever-it-was could very easily assume the mannerisms of several different people; how else could it portray one of the most renowned people on the planet one day, and this health-nut head-case the next?
"You ate my food, slept in my home, watched my TV…and you're not even a vegan?" BeastBoy said, disappointment mixing with his disbelief.
"No. Sorry, BeastBoy," said the young teen, smiling dolefully at the green boy, "but, if it makes a difference, all those times we had, even that weird night were we cleaned out that juice-parlor and the thing with Rico and his castanets…I had a really fun time."
Raven caught Jezebels attention by flipping her cloak back sharply, causing it to snap. "How could you have spent so much time with BeastBoy and still hosted so many different functions and meetings around the world with me? And just how many people HAVE you falsified yourself as?"
The entity/Jezebel looked at Raven with a strange gaze of admiration. "Always straight to the point, eh Raven? I was warned about that when I volunteered for this Chrono-Link; you hate wasting time."
"I also don't like it when people avoid my questions." Raven said, uncomfortable again.
"Warned? Chrono-what?" BeastBoy said, shaking his head. "What the heck are you talking about?"
Jezebel smiled softly, speaking to both titans this time. "I've assumed exactly three hundred and fifty-six different forms over the past several months; each one specifically targeted for interaction with you two. Chances are you've seen me in several unassuming roles and never knew it was me. At least, that was the idea."
That threw Raven for a loop. "Three hundred and…? Wait, do you mean in total?"
Jezebel smiled again. "Very clever, Raven; no. Three hundred and fifty-six apiece."
BeastBoy wasn't sure what to think. This wasn't unusual for him, but in this instance, he felt even more befuddled. What was more, during this entire charade, the tea mug continued to perform its floating act, as did the snowstorm outside. All of it was a bit much to take in.
But an idea came to him. "You were…keeping tabs on us or something?"
The Jezebel-shaped entity looked at BeastBoy directly this time, nodding slowly. "You could call it that, yes."
"Why?" Raven asked. "Why follow and perform for us? Why keep us in the dark? Why stop time and come to us now?"
"That's a lot of questions," Jezebel said, putting one hand on her hip. "Which do you want answered first?"
"Mine." BeastBoy said, stepping forward a bit. "That…ball-of-light thingy: is that your true form?"
Jezebel shook her head, the curls falling over one eye. "No. And neither is this body."
"You've watched and learned practically everything about us for nearly half a year," Raven said as she folded her arms, "and we don't exactly appreciate the secrecy or the captivity. So I think we should learn a few things about you before we continue."
"Such as?" the entity asked.
"Who…what are you?" BeastBoy asked flatly. "Show us what you really are."
Jezebel looked from one teen to another, noting their stolid posture. Her own composure seemed agitated and nervous all of a sudden, as if she/he/it were unsure of something. "I don't have to show you any more than I already have, and probably shouldn't have shown you this much."
"Fine," Raven said, assuming a meditative position as she floated into the air, "but we're through being toyed with. Either show us who and what you are, or leave. Regardless, the two of us aren't going to continue to interact with this reality for as long as we are kept in the dark; you'll have to find your entertainment elsewhere."
BeastBoy nodded his head in agreement just before he morphed into a large snapping-turtle. The five-foot long reptile pulled his legs and head into the hard, scaly shell upon his back, disappearing from sight. For all intents and purposes, he had shut out the faux-world around him.
Raven closed her eyes and began to chant her mantra, keeping herself centered and preoccupied. She knew that she could do this for days on end, if necessary, and was fully prepared to do so; she rarely bluffed.
Apparently, she wouldn't have to.
"If you insist," said the young woman, "it will be done."
But by the time Raven had opened her eyes at the sound of the girl's voice, she had already begun to change.
The tower seemed to be under attack, for a great moan of straining metal could be heard throughout the tall building. It was as if the structure were being battered by hurricane-force winds, twisted from side to side like a cork struggling to pull itself free from a bottle of wine. Though the storm outside remained still and the crumbled cup of tea was stationary, both titans could have sworn that the Earth itself was preparing to swallow the tower whole. They looked at the girl for some kind of explanation, but found yet another conundrum.
The young woman seemed to be shattering. Her skin, hair and clothing began to crack and split, as if her body were a mere egg shell encapsulating a massive bird. From these jagged cracks, beams of a dark, almost oil-colored light began to pour into the room, snaking upwards and outwards as magnificent coils of energy. Had the emanations not been pulsing with incredible power, Raven would have guessed them to be wisps of smoke, engulfing the young girl in a sinister mist.
"I've got a we're-in-deep-crud feeling about this…" BeastBoy said, having popped his head out and slowly de-morphed. His eyes settled upon the girl, or what was left of her, and refused to blink.
A breeze was forming in the room, which now felt all too small for the events taking place within it. It kicked up behind Raven and started to swirl inward, tossing her hair and robes about her body. BeastBoy sat forward on his knuckles, feeling increasingly uneasy at the sight of so much energy being whipped around Raven and himself. He would spring forward to defend himself if necessary, but he would be lying if he'd told himself that he didn't find all of this a bit fascinating, in a macabre sort of what.
As the wind reached its apex, Raven felt the true intra-phase of power from the entity. The potential of this…force…locked away beneath layers of carefully constructed facades of deceit, was slowly revealing itself. In a few more moments, Raven knew that she would come face to face with the real deal, and when she did, she wasn't sure if or how she would even be able to defend herself, should this thing decide to flex its 'muscles'. For now, it was a waiting game; but the tension she felt would not ease.
In a split second of contracted mass and energy, every coil of power was suddenly sucked back into the splintering form of the young girl, as if she had inhaled deeply. The wind ceased, as did any noise within the room. For a moment, the girl who had once been Jezebel stood in complete silence, and looked at the two titans. She seemed to study them, appraise them as a home-maker might look at two pieces of meat, just before she picks the one she will buy and cook on her grill.
It was unsettling.
A final concussion of power, and every shard that comprised the entities body was thrown apart, sending shrapnel in every direction at once. Had she been an actual explosive, the titans would have been cut to ribbons, just before the golden light within this creature blinded them both.
Raven felt her breath return, and slowly opened her eyes. Her arms had instinctively crossed in front of her, attempting to shield herself from whatever had happened. But now, it seemed an unnecessary gesture. She lowered her arms, and watched BeastBoy, who was now at her side, slowly rise to his feet. His body was relaxed, but not nearly as much as his face; it looked like it was about to fall off his skull. Raven looked as well, and instantly understood why.
She was over six feet tall. That was the first thing the titans noticed. She stood above them in the same way that Cyborg had in the past, tall and impressive. She cast no shadow, but then, how does a shadow cast a shadow? For that was the second thing the titans noticed: her garb, or clothing, depending on how you looked at it, appeared to be deeper shade of onyx than anything they had seen before. It wasn't just dark, it was sunken; as if light itself could not escape the tremendous depths of this outfit. Had her dainty, pale feet not been sticking out from beneath the length of this dress/robe, both titans would have sworn that she was not human at all, but slice of dark matter, protruding from the floor of the room.
But she did, indeed, seem to be human. Raven admired her dark hair, long and lustrous. It didn't seem to hang from her head so much as flow out of it, pouring over her shoulders like so much blue-black ink. It seemed to disappear into her clothing, and Raven could not tell exactly how long it was. But it complimented her snow-white face greatly, and while it appeared thick, it seemed no heavier than a breath.
BeastBoy couldn't look away from this woman's eyes. A host of descriptions came to mind, but all of them seemed lacking. The one thing these eyes DID remind BeastBoy of, however, was a feeling. The last time her had felt what he was experiencing now, he had just left the Doom Patrol, and joined with the Titans. That living, earthen feeling of a growing plant or blooming flower, mixed with gentle hues of optimism and excitement; that was the best way he could describe it.
The one thing BeastBoy and Raven could both silently agree upon was the fact that neither of them had ever seen anyone like this before. They may as well have been a pair of Neanderthals who just happened to stumble across an intergalactic spaceship; they had no clue of how to proceed.
The woman finally spoke, her hair playing about her head as if caught in a slight up-draft as her ruby-red lips began to move. "Satisfied?"
Raven was the first to shake her head and come back down to Earth from whatever orbit she had just been placed in. Her head swam from the experience, but she managed a complete sentence.
"This is…what you truly are?" she asked, stumbling over her words.
"Yes," said the woman, her voice still strong, but gentle upon the ears of the two teens, "this is me."
BeastBoy hit the side of his head with the flat of his palm, as if to dislodge something. In truth, he was making sure his head was on straight. "I gotta admit…I wasn't expecting…well, this."
The woman shuttered slightly, and her feet slowly lifted from the ground, making not a sound as she levitated into the air. She hung in mid leap, and took long, resonating breaths, reminding Raven of the sound a wave makes after it crashes and is pulled back into the sea. It was almost therapeutic.
But Raven knew she had to press on, or a lot of loose ends would remain untied. "Clearly you are a being of great power. I can sense that much."
"Power?" the woman repeated as she smiled, curving those porcelain cheeks to reveal large, shinny teeth. "Yes, I suppose that is one way of saying it."
"But she's still just as vague." BeastBoy said, raising an eyebrow.
Raven would have scolded him, but he was right; the woman's answer to Raven's question was precisely calculated to give them some information, but at the same time, allude to the fact that there was a lot more that went unsaid. She pushed on.
"How would you describe it then?" Raven asked.
The woman tilted her head to one side, her smile decreasing to a smirk. "Power is a very general term, and usually derogatory in nature. If you were to say I was someone of great influence, insight or wisdom…that might be more appropriate."
Raven looked and felt a bit perplexed, but she didn't miss a beat, and interjected before BeastBoy had the chance. "You forgot modest."
The woman suddenly apologized, looking down as if embarrassed, smiling softly. "I'm sorry. I'm told that I inherited my grandfather's bravado. Thankfully, that was only thing I got from him."
The spite with which she said that last word gave Raven and BeastBoy a bunch of clues, the most obvious of which being 'don't mention extended family'. After all, they wanted to keep this as diplomatic as possible.
"It hardly shows." Raven said, easing the tension a bit. It seemed to work.
"I'm sure you have many questions…" the woman said in her gentle, yet rolling alto voice.
"That's the understatement of the millennium." BeastBoy cracked.
"Where shall I begin?" the woman asked, assuming what appeared to be a lounging posture as she hovered, as if leaning against an invisible bar.
"Your name," BeastBoy blurted, trying to sound commanding and business-like, "and what you're doing here, with us."
The woman, having been presented a question so directly, appeared to brighten. She leaned towards the changeling, keeping her exposed shoulders square and her chin up, looking at BeastBoy like a child at a fish in a bowl.
"My name—or rather, my given name—is Eleison," she said, looking intently at BeastBoy for a moment, before turning her gaze to Raven, "but my mother always called me her little Spero."
"Latin? Old Greek?" Raven asked, her face scrunched for a moment. Her scripture and intonation was very sharp, but at the moment, she was drawing a blank; her conversational Latin and Greek were a bit rusty.
"Yes, both of them." The woman named Eleison confirmed. "My father apparently wanted to name me after a Japanese cartoon character, by mother wouldn't have it. It's probably just as well; I never did like interactive media as much as he did. You may call me Spero."
Raven gave up trying to remember her translations, and simply continued where she left off. "Ms. Spero…"
"Just Spero, please," the woman insisted, "there's no need for such formality."
"Well…Spero…we now know who you are. Forgive my impertinence, but we still don't know what you are." Raven said, as delicately as she could. BeastBoy didn't follow suit, unfortunately.
"Yeah, and what's with the universal-pause-button thing? Did you have to freak us out to get our attention?" BeastBoy asked, a bit frustrated with the lack of information he was getting from this woman.
Both women stared at him, one a bit surprised by his candidness, and the other considering whether or not she should skin the changeling alive. He stood his ground, for what little that was worth, and seemed unafraid; though his own bravado was only skin deep.
The woman known as Spero closed her eyes, and gave a half smile. Raven watched carefully, looking for any signs of displeasure.
"It's a fair question," Spero said, lifting her head slightly, floating further into the air, "considering how I just appeared out of nowhere immediately afterwards."
Raven moved a bit closer to BeastBoy, but he couldn't tell if she was doing this to see Spero more clearly, or if she was simply moving within swatting range of his head. Either way, he was on guard as Spero spoke.
"I manipulated the space and matter within this realm, essentially halting all movement and force down to the subatomic level. Everything around you is in perfect synchronism; there is no flux, no decay." Spero explained.
"Once more, with subtitles, please?" BeastBoy said, smiling sheepishly.
"She froze everything completely, to the point where the world around us is unable to change. Time no longer moves, so nothing else does either." Raven said, a bit exasperated.
"Yes," Spero continued, "and I did it because I thought it necessary for both of you to understand just how right Raven was when she made her 'discovery', as it were. Besides, without your investment in this world, it cannot continue to function."
BeastBoy's ears twitched. His glare intensified, and he addressed Spero with much more chutzpah than before. "What do you mean by 'investment'?"
"I must admit, I'm curious as to what you meant by that as well." Raven said, squaring off with the floating woman, eyeing her suspiciously. "And exactly what discovery did I make that seized your attention so completely?"
Spero looked at the two titans, their demeanor and attitudes much different from when she had first revealed herself. Clearly, they weren't going to be satisfied with half-answers and segue's anymore.
"Perhaps I should start from the beginning," Spero said, her stance now stiff and commanding, "but first, let us get a bit more comfortable."
Spero snapped her fingers, and the room suddenly…altered. The couch spun on a dime, shooting towards the titans before they had a chance to react. It knocked them off their feet and onto their bottoms, eliciting a few surprised yelps, but otherwise, causing no physical harm to the pair of teens. Nothing else within the room stirred, and the storm held itself in place outside the panoramic windows. The couch was the only thing that had moved; of that, the titans were sure. They looked at each other in surprise and wonder, and then back at Spero, who had finally floated back to the floor, her cavern-like darkness pouring around her body as she folded her legs beneath her.
"Better?" she asked.
She was procrastinating; she knew it and they knew it. The stern look on the teen's faces was enough to send that message. They only stared, and listened to the noiseless room.
Spero had no choice.
"By your calendar, I was born in the year 2025. My parents noticed my 'talents' as a young girl, and encouraged me to explore my abilities...and to make use of them. By 2037, I was the premiere student of Incantation and Mediation in the world, and I was subsequently drafted into the newly formed Coalition of Metaphysical Application, or COMA, for short. By the time I was seventeen, my talents had reached fruition, and I was granted a chair on the COMA Board of Directors, and granted all the privileges therein. My life was, for lack of a better word, a success story; I wanted for nothing."
The teens remained seated, looking at Spero intently. They seemed to have absorbed everything, but Spero spoke a bit more slowly as she continued.
"I was assigned to the Department of Chronological Observation when I turned twenty-one. It seemed like another desk job, and didn't really interest me all that much. Other people in the Coalition seemed to have very fulfilling, exciting positions, and I outranked nearly all of them. I couldn't figure out why I had been placed in what seemed like such a dead-end job. It didn't make sense."
"Like any of this makes sense…" BeastBoy whispered to himself.
"Shush!" Raven snapped, keeping her attention on Spero.
"But about six months in, I finally received an assignment. It was highly classified and available for my eyes only. I wasn't sure what to think." Spero said, shrugging slightly.
"What was the assignment?" Raven asked, crossing her own legs beneath her.
Spero visibly hesitated, and looked to the left. For someone of such immense power, she seemed to shrink, almost out of fear or embarrassment. It took her a few seconds to respond.
"A…Temporal Cleft, of some magnitude, was detected by the Sages working under me in my department," Spero said, searching for the right words, "and the overall Pitch throughout the time-stream had been drastically altered. As a result, ripples, or echoes, if you will, were sent in every direction, both backwards and forwards in time."
"So…echoes equal…bad?" BeastBoy guessed, scratching his chin.
Spero smiled at that, enjoying BeastBoy's befuddlement. "Yes, in a manner of speaking. Such a significant Cleft could only mean one thing: something, or someone, was missing from the general flow of the time stream. Given the relative harmonics of the Cleft, it suggested an untimely death."
Raven interrupted her with a question. "But people around the world die all the time without any apparent warning or reason. If your system is as sensitive as you say, wouldn't every unscheduled death be cause for alarm?"
Spero raised an eyebrow so fluidly it almost looked as if it had detached from her forehead all together. "Clever, Raven. But no."
"Why not?" BeastBoy asked.
"Please do not misinterpret what I am saying; all life is precious," Spero said, gesturing with open hands to show her sincerity, "but not all life-forms shape the world as significantly as others. For example, if Jesus of Nazareth had never been born, or died earlier in his life before his crucifixion, Christianity may very well have grown and spread across the globe, the changes in the timeline notwithstanding. But it would be a very different religion. It would have attracted a different set of followers, proclaimed a different set of values and established itself in a very different manner. Now, for all we know, these changes could have been for the better; who is to say? But that one change to history would reshape the planet, and the modern world. Different wars would have been fought, certain other important historical figures may never have been born and civilization may have embraced an entirely separate mindset about who they are and where they are going in life."
"Hence why your department was created," Raven said, putting a few more pieces together, "correct?"
"Yes," Spero said, "to preserve the essential elements of time, so as to insure that the modern world develops into what it is now; or, from your perspective, the modern world of the year 2047."
BeastBoy felt a bit uncomfortable with just how huge this situation really was. It seemed daunting, but at the same time, a bit sinister: What did all of this have to do with Raven and himself?
"The death must have been a big deal," BeastBoy said, following up his thought, "if it screwed around with the time-stream that badly."
"Indeed," Spero said, her face solemn again, "more so than we first realized. We initially thought that a temporal-inversion would correct the problem, if properly executed. But the damage was severe. A direct incision was deemed necessary."
"Meaning they had to get their hands dirty." Raven clarified.
"I know what she meant!" BeastBoy fumed.
"When I first approached the problem area, I was assigned to ascertain the situation alone." Spero continued, ignoring the bickering teens. "For whatever reason, they sent me into the past to judge for myself what needed to be done. It was very unorthodox, but I conceded."
"And what did you find out?" Raven asked, ignoring BeastBoy as he stuck out his tongue.
Spero did that thing with her body again: seemingly pulling into herself, like a shrinking violet. She became less formidable, but it was a controlled action; her eyes betrayed nothing, even if her body said volumes.
Raven noticed the strange constriction around Spero's milky neck. It looked as if she were swallowing, hard.
Raven put it together. "You knew this person. Didn't you?"
BeastBoy shut up in mid raspberry, his tongue still protruding. He looked back at Spero, and noticed the same odd composure of the women's face and body. Raven had struck a chord, and it was a big one by the look of it.
Spero took a deep, hollow breath, the kind a person takes in an attempt to hold back tears. Though no sadness appeared on the women's face, it seemed very apparent in her voice.
"Persons, actually." Spero clarified, her hair still dancing around her head, though less energetically now. "I knew both of them…very well."
Raven felt the tiniest trickle of sorrow flow from the woman. It collected in a small pool just beneath her body, and seemed to boil up into regret and anger. BeastBoy's instincts and animal intuition were probably telling him that Spero was experiencing stress. But to Raven, that tiny pool seethed like acid, strong and corrosive. It felt like it would eat through the floor with little difficulty.
"Which is why you were chosen for the mission, right?" BeastBoy said, his voice soft and apologetic.
"It was a highly unusual and, for the most part, unauthorized procedure. Bringing in a third party to investigate the death of someone who was close to them in life…" Spero said, her eyes not focusing on anything for a moment as her voice grew in intensity. "It just isn't done that way. It isn't supposed to, anyway."
Raven pressed on as delicately as possible, not wanting to loose momentum. "They must have had a reason. Your department wouldn't have sent you if it weren't absolutely necessary, would they?"
Spero smiled in response, but it was an angry, sarcastic grin. "When men believe themselves to be the weavers of fate, policy becomes nothing more than a commodity; one that isn't as valuable as convenience. They could have found someone else."
"You were unsuited for the job?" Raven asked.
"No," Spero said, her face softening like melting ice-cream, "if anything, I was the most capable person they could have chosen to…mitigate the circumstances of this cleft. That didn't make it any easier."
BeastBoy tilted his head as a confused canine might do. "Who were these people?"
Spero's head jerked back slightly at the question, but she handled her response well. "They were of particular importance, not only to me, but to the world I grew up in…and to each other. That is all you need to know."
There was a warning in her response that was all too apparent to Raven. It wasn't threatening so much as finalistic: clearly, she wouldn't give any further information about them.
"So what happened, exactly?" BeastBoy asked.
Spero composed herself a bit, and continued. "I tried going even further back in time, to different points spread out over the last five days before their deaths. By manipulating local suspension phenomenon, I was able to give hints, clues, suggestions…anything I could think of to keep these two out of harms way as much as possible. And they listened, for the most part, and acted on what they heard. I had been very thorough, and I thought my mission was done. So, I returned to the point where they had supposedly died. But by the time the temporal frequencies were properly aligned, it was already too late; my multiple incisions, along with a full inversion, had both proven useless. They were already dead…murdered."
BeastBoy's ears drooped. He felt the air fall still around his body. Spero had said it without blinking, but BeastBoy felt his body shiver from the idea of loosing someone he loved like that. "I'm…sorry…"
"We both are." Raven said, genuinely sorrowful at hearing the news. "Every one of the titans has lost someone to them at some point in their lives. I'm sure the blow was difficult to bare."
The titans noticed how Spero seemed to glow a bit. It was the strangest sight, seeing someone suddenly illuminate like that. They became more curious, and looked even closer at their mysterious host.
"In my world and time, 'Dead' is a relative term." Spero said, shifting as she sat upon her legs and the ever deepening blackness that was her dress. "The actual sight of these two dead people was deeply unsettling. But it only lasted a moment."
BeastBoy was more confused about what Spero was saying than angry at her apparent apathy. "What did you do?"
Spero gestured to the cup that was still shattered and hanging in mid-explosion against the window. As the titans looked, they saw little beads of light encircle the cup like the webbing of a spider. The light then pulled the cup, shards and all, away from the window, and towards the three sitting in the middle of the room.
Raven watched as the shattered cup hovered above her head for a moment, before resting a few inches above Spero's upturned palm. The shape had not been changed, and not one fleck of pottery was out of place. It looked like a post-modernist sculpture.
"When you look at this tea-cup BeastBoy, what do you see?" Spero asked, letting the object in question spin slowly in her hand.
BeastBoy attempted to sound philosophical and worldly, cocking an eyebrow like a Rhodes-scholar. "Let's see…a manifestation of my inner yearning to be intertwined with the universe and all life therein?"
Raven grasped the bridge of her nose as if she had a sinus infection and closed her eyes, shaking her head. "Nicely put, Thoreau."
Spero laughed a bit; the sound reminded BeastBoy of something like a combination of falling glass and wind-chimes. "That isn't quite what I meant. I asked what you see."
Raven decided to field a guess. "Some times the simplest solution to a problem is the correct one."
"And that would be?" Spero asked.
"A destroyed masonry cup, filled with tea." Raven said.
"Interesting." Spero said. "You said the cup was destroyed. Was anything else damaged or destroyed?"
"Besides my sense of reality?" BeastBoy said.
Raven ignored BB and thought the question over very carefully. Having found nothing else to add to her original answer, she shook her head. "No."
"Why is that?" Spero asked, smiling more readily now.
"Because only the cup was destroyed," Raven said, finally understanding the analogy, "not the tea!"
BeastBoy fell back on the couch in frustration. "I can go make myself a sandwich if you two are going to play word games with each other."
Raven turned, looking almost jovial, and pointed towards the cup. "Regardless of whether the cup was destroyed or not, the tea inside it is still tea. It doesn't matter if it is sitting in a pot or splashed across the floor, the tea has not been changed, except perhaps in position. Understand?"
BeastBoy looked puzzled, and wasn't sure how to proceed, but he did try to put it into context. "So…what, these people that Spero was talking about are…just tea without cups?"
"Exactly!" Raven said.
"Boy, I'm glad you know what I'm talking about, 'cause I haven't the faintest freakin' idea." BeastBoy said, rubbing his head.
Spero laughed that strange, ethereal laugh again. It made the inside of BeastBoy's ears tingle, like he had fallen asleep upside-down or something. It wasn't unpleasant, just…weird.
"Figures; the one person I can make laugh, and she has complete control over time, space and matter." BeastBoy thought aloud.
Spero stopped, placing a finger to her lips. "I'm sorry; I was experiencing a very palpable reoccurrence of memory and sensation. I believe you call it nostalgia."
'Nostalgia?' Raven thought to herself, keeping her mouth shut. 'Why would she phrase it like that?' She couldn't be sure, but knew it had to be of some importance. She locked away that little gem in her mind for later.
"What did you do once you discovered your dead…comrades?" Raven asked, trying to remain on subject and be as delicate as possible.
All signs of happiness left Spero's face. She was all business again, and the tone of her voice said as much. "Their bodies had been almost completely destroyed. By the time I accomplished a resonance suspension, there wasn't much to work with. However, matter restoration being one of my forte's, I was able to find a new vessel for the 'tea' of these murdered individuals. They were poured back into new…cups, if you will. Their lives were spared."
At this, Spero seemed to 'will' the cup fragments back together. The tea and pottery that had been hanging above her hand in its shattered state suddenly congealed into one, solid object again. There was a slight scratching sound as the earthenware was reassembled in mid air, the tea still inside its boundaries. By the time it was finished, neither Raven nor BeastBoy would have been able to tell that the cup had been in fifteen pieces a minute earlier; the cup looked perfect, and the tea inside it was still steaming hot.
"You gave them new bodies?" BeastBoy asked, observing the steam as it coiled out from the cup
"Yes, as well as a full reconstruction of the knowledge they used to perform their…unique, abilities." Spero confirmed, a bit more brightly. "It seemed like the mission was a success."
Raven's eyebrows jumped. "Seemed?"
Spero must have recognized her slip of the tongue, for her mouth shut quickly, her teeth clicking loudly as she did. She was quiet for a while after that, making the room feel a bit stale.
"Would you care to fill us in?" BeastBoy asked after a few minutes.
Spero seemed hesitant, which, for someone as powerful as she seemed to be, was awkward in both appearance and portrayal. Imagine a lion sitting before two mice, playing nervously with its paws, unsure of how to proceed. The two titans were feeling a bit uncomfortable in the prolonged silence.
Raven ventured a guess. "Did something go wrong?"
Spero shook her head. "No. The procedure went flawlessly."
"Well then for crying out loud, tell us why you're acting like I did when I frazzled Cy's mainframe." BeastBoy blurted. "You look like you were just caught stealing money from your parents."
To both titans surprise, the cup that had been hanging in mid air for all this time suddenly fell from its invisible perch. It plummeted six feet and collided with the carpeted floor, shattering for the second time in one day. All three watched as the wet pieces of the cup skipped and slide everywhere, tinkling loudly when they ran into each other. The tea stained the carpet instantly, since no intervention was made to 'freeze' it in place this time.
BeastBoy winced. "Was it something I said?"
Raven narrowed her eyes. It wasn't clear what had jostled Spero initially, but whatever it was, Raven knew a concealment situation when she saw one. Something had visibly shaken this woman enough to make her momentarily loose her grasp on an element—albeit a small element—of the world which she had supposed 'complete' control over.
"Unfortunately," Spero continued, "the one part of this situation that was beyond any of my abilities, beyond all Coda Restoration, apparently, is memory recall."
BeastBoy leaned a bit closer. "What does that mean, exactly?"
Spero closed her eyes, and continued in a somber tone. "In truth, both of these individuals were as physically complete as they were going to be. But memories tend to degrade quickly after life is ceased. Muscle memory is one thing. But the recollection of thoughts, dreams, behavior, wishes, personality…that is something entirely different."
"So what did you do?" Raven asked softly.
Spero opened her eyes, renewed with a strange glow about them. "I decided to modify some memory compositions, and set them for a much earlier time period. That way, they would have no knowledge of the time spent before their eventual murder. And, it would allow the time-line to progress normally, without re-writing any more history than I already had."
"What was the catch?" BeastBoy asked.
"Excuse me?" Spero asked.
BeastBoy actually stood as he spoke this time. "I don't know squat about time travel or incisions or any of that junk. But messing around with history must be a bad idea; Starfire can vouch for that. So if what you say is true, you would have had to do…something to make sure that the universe and everything in it doesn't go BOOM. Am I right?"
Spero looked taken-aback by how articulate BeastBoy was, but it passed quickly. Answering this question was going to take some finesse. She took another deep breath and continued.
"In order to facilitate this transition, I had to use a considerable amount of my power to create a 'Faux Plane'. People, locations, events, personalities, the basic characteristics of this world and its natural occurrences…all needed to be falsified. In this way, I was able to create a suitable world, removed from the actual one, in which they could exist peaceably. The flow of time would move in-sync with the real Earth, but would be incapable of interacting with it directly. For all intents and purposes, this world would be real…and yet, false." Spero explained.
BeastBoy sat again, and looked at Raven in puzzlement. "That was all fascinating, really, but would you mind breaking it down into bite-sized chunks so I can swallow…"
BeastBoy stopped talking when he saw they look on Ravens face. It startled him.
"What? What is it?" He asked.
Raven's normally stoic expression had melted into one of distrust and wariness. Her voice was just as suspicious. "We don't know you! How do you know us?!"
BB felt even more anxious upon hearing her tone of voice. "Whoa, Rae, slow down! What are you talking about? Of course she doesn't know us. It's not like she created a different world for complete strangers…"
He stopped in mid thought. Oftentimes, BeastBoy found it difficult to complete more than one task at a time, even if it was just in his head. But as the subtle clues began to form shapes, ideas and epiphanies in his head, he suddenly found it difficult to speak. His tongue was still, as was his outstretched hand.
It made sense now, and yet, like the world around him, it just didn't seem real.
"You made this…" BeastBoy said, waving his hands around his head as he spoke to Spero, "all of this, for…us?"
Spero was still, but for her solemn, nodding head. "Yes."
"Why?" Raven demanded, a bit flustered at her realization. "We don't know who you are; we've never seen you before today. And who murdered us? I have no memory of being killed because you altered those memories, right? So tell me: who killed us? And why would you create a fake world to save two people who've never even heard of you before?"
For the first time since Spero had revealed her true form to the titans, Spero looked thoroughly resigned. She barely floated above the floor, and her aura was the least intimidating it had ever been. But even though she barely whispered her response, the words themselves nearly made Raven comatose.
"There really isn't anything I WOULDN'T do for you…mom."
BeastBoy watched as the wind was, not simply emptied from Raven's sails, but kicked out with a stick of TNT. Her balled-up fists relaxed into putty-filled fingers, and her rigid posture liquidated into the couch. BeastBoy was reminded of a Popsicle sitting out in the sun, slowly, gracefully melting away under the gentle heat. It was a bit freaky, but BeastBoy knew better than to open his mouth now.
"M-…mom?" Raven said, barely able to find her voice.
Spero twisted her hands in her lap, looking a bit flushed as she nodded again. She couldn't speak.
Raven's voice was choppy and choked. She was doing her best not to let the flood-gates open. "I'm you…YOUR …mother?"
Spero gave a tiny, almost embarrassed smile, and shrugged, answering the best she could.
BeastBoy didn't like how Raven seemed to be vibrating in place as she sat and tried to process this new information. "Raven, are you alright?"
Raven took a few breaths, though she didn't exactly calm down. If anything, she seemed very alert, almost sweating with energy. "Yeah, I think so. It's just that…well…I never expected to live past my last birthday, and now…I'm learning that I have a daughter…in her mid-twenties, of all things! I'm not sure how I'm supposed to react to this…I'm not familiar with these feelings and it's a lot to take in…"
She trailed off in her own tears, looking even more distressed, which had an immediate effect on BeastBoy. He knelt at her side and tried to console her, not daring to touch her for fear of how she might react. "Hey, hey, it's OK. Just…I don't know…count backwards from ten, or whatever helps you relax. It is a lot to process."
Spero seemed to have regained a bit of her confidence, and spoke casually. "She'll be alright. She always bounces back from things like this."
BeastBoy turned sharply, like a cat would if its tail had been pulled. He didn't appreciate Spero's tone, and no matter how powerful she might be, he wouldn't stand for it when one of his friends was like this. His pupils narrowed into vertical slits, as if he was about to morph into something very large with pointy teeth.
"I swear, if you're lying to us…!" he warned, a deep snarl in his throat.
Spero settled herself, and reasserted her formal tone. "I intended no disrespect. But I meant what I said: she always recovers from stuff like this. You should know that."
"BeastBoy, it's alright…" Raven started with a calmer voice, but BeastBoy was preoccupied.
"Here's what I know:" BeastBoy continued, his eyes and body still flickering on the verge of a battle-morph, "you created a new world around us, falsely impersonated our friends, and basically lied to us about everything for the past…who knows how long. And now, you drop a bomb on Raven's head—which may or may not be true—and expect us to go with the flow. I'm sorry, but playing around with history, and our heads, stops here. Don't lie to us any more, got it?"
Spero bristled, and she stood up in one swift motion, spooking both teens for a moment. She stood at her full height, and though she didn't yell, her presence displayed its own volume.
"I'm not lying! I've never lied to you in my entire life, and I don't plan on starting now…dad." She said.
BeastBoy felt about as ferocious as a pygmy shrew. His accusing finger drooped like his ears, and his hands and feet felt hot, as if he were about to jump off of a diving board into a pool of wet cement. The feeling of all his anger and pride dripping out of his body through some unseen hole in his bravado made him feel strangely bewildered, and deeply under-informed.
"Come again?" he said.
Spero seemed to pour herself back onto the floor, never really moving, except for the perpetual up-draft that her hair seemed to be in. When she finally settled, she rested her chin in her hands, leaning forward as if exhausted. Her voice was just as deflated.
"You heard me." She said.
BeastBoy swung his head back to Raven, who was also sporting a 'Did she just say what I THINK she just said?' look. Her head tilted a bit, and her eyes were just as big as BeastBoy's. She looked at him curiously for a moment, before BeastBoy turned back to Spero, his façade unchanged.
Spero raised her head a bit and nodded slightly. "Yes. That's how it is."
BeastBoy looked back to Raven, and then to Spero again. He continued this for a minute or so, his ears making little THWIP-THWIP sounds as he looked back and forth between the two women. Raven thought he was going to give himself whiplash at this rate. When BeastBoy finally spoke to Spero, his voice was shaky and thin.
"You mean I'm…?" he started.
Spero nodded again, a bit somberly. "My father."
BeastBoy seemed to pale even more. "And Raven is…?"
Spero shrugged, almost apologetically. "My mother."
BeastBoy looked as if he were made of pure chlorophyll as he pointed to Raven and then himself.
"Which makes us…?"
Spero put her fingers to her temples to massage the growing tension away. "My parents…as wells as Husband and Wife."
BeastBoy's complexion changed dramatically for a moment, from pale green to an almost comical collection of red and pine; he was a living Christmas ornament for a moment as something rather devious dawned on him. He looked at Spero like the cat that swallowed the canary.
"Which means…that she and I...?"
Even Spero didn't fully catch it. BeastBoy seemed to have been booted out of his seat, flung across the room, and slammed into the wall, plastered upside down and nearly as flat as a crepe. He was held there for a second by a shimmer of glowing black energy, before being released, and sliding slowly to the ground, to crumple in a heap.
He raised one finger from his discarded and damaged body, his voice barely audible. "OK… (Cough)…I think I deserved that."
Raven looked positively murderous. Her face was stretched thin over her skull, and her eye-brow twitched with such severity that it threatened to spring away from her forehead and attack BeastBoy on its own. Her breathing was hoarse and her eyes refused to blink, even though her face was red enough to bring rush-hour traffic to a standstill. One would almost expect fangs to peak out from between her lips.
"You're LUCKY I didn't send you to the MOON!" Raven hissed, her anger flaring all around her.
Spero leaned her head to one side, shaking it a bit as she looked at the mass of mangled flesh that was BeastBoy. "Smooth, dad…real smooth."
After a minute or so, BeastBoy collected himself and returned to the couch, but staying on the far end of it this time. Giving Raven her bubble was probably best right now, and since he valued the fact that his body was still in one piece after all that, he thought it best not to tempt fate.
"You're right, you're right, bad idea." He said, rubbing his jaw as he spoke. "I should have thought that one through."
"That'll be the day…" Raven fumed, turning her head away.
"Do you two mind?" Spero asked, her voice a bit more forcefully than before.
The two teens still looked dubious, though one was certainly more bruised than the other now. Both looked carefully at Spero, their glances probing and distrustful. All this information was delivered rather swiftly. They seemed to be biding their time before asking questions again.
"I can see that you don't fully trust what I have told you." Spero said, her countenance one of a displeased school-teacher.
"Would you?" Raven asked.
Spero chuckled at that. "No. But I suppose I inherited my apprehension and attentiveness to detail from you. I don't trust easily either."
"I wanted to name you after a cartoon character?" BeastBoy said, raising his own brow.
Spero seemed to blush a bit, a startling contrast to her milky skin. "Yes. Apparently, I reminded you of something from your childhood when I was born. But, mother wouldn't have it. Eleison was probably for the best."
BeastBoy had to laugh at that. "Figures. She named you after something I can barely pronounce."
Both women gave him a rather serious, drilling look, to which he raised his hands and gave a hangdog-grin. "Beautiful name, though. Reminds me of uh…a bird…heh-heh…"
"Why should we believe you?" Raven said, trying to remain on-subject. "If you are as powerful as you say, couldn't you be trying to re-fabricate something else for us in this world? To keep us from the truth?"
Even Spero seemed to be no match for her 'mother's' intensity. She shrank a little as she replied. "I just told you the most damning piece of information. Why would I keep anything else from you now?"
"Fine," BeastBoy said, calling Spero on her words, "then answer Raven's earlier question: who killed us? And why?"
Spero wasn't expecting that. Or at least, she didn't look like she had been expecting it. Her shoulders pulled back a bit in what could have been apprehension, but it was difficult to tell with a deity, since, for all they knew, that's exactly what Spero was.
"It's a very long story…" Spero said. "And I'm…not sure how I am supposed tell it, actually."
"From the beginning would be nice." Raven said matter-of-factly. "Wherever that beginning might be."
Spero looked even more apprehensive, almost fearful. "You won't like it. It will probably cause you more pain than comfort, truth or not."
"That's not for you to decide. Now can you tell us or not?" BeastBoy asked, sounding suddenly grown up.
Spero thought. For a long while, she thought and thought about how she would proceed. After nearly ten minutes of silence, both titans were becoming a bit antsy (which meant a lot from Raven's perspective), and looked about ready to pop from their seats like soda-bottles.
But Spero finally settled on a solution. "Telling you would take a very long time. But SHOWING you…that just might be the right approach."
Both titans immediately settled. "Show us?" Raven asked.
"Yes." Spero confirmed. "Memory transfer isn't an easy process, and it is a bit fragmented, but I should be able to show you the primary stanzas. That would trigger a memory Coda: the rest should fall into place for you."
BeastBoy was confused, but shook his head and decided not to argue the point. "OK, fine, great, whatever. How do we do this, before my head pops?"
"You…the both of you…come here." Spero gestured.
Raven and BeastBoy hesitantly moved forward, dismounting the couch and walking the short distance to the imposing and far taller woman. At first, she seemed to be inviting the two titans in for a hug, her arms spread wide and her hands upturned. It was a friendly-looking gesture, but the constant swirl of energy around this woman made both titans apprehensive. She stopped them at arms length.
"I warn you," Spero said, "that if I do this, and it works, you'll retain all the memories before and up to the time of your…death. Every thought, every interaction, every sensation will be a vivid as if you were actually experiencing them again. The process will be accelerated, and it will most likely be somewhat abrasive. I'm not sure how the time-stream will afflict you in a super-compressed feed."
Raven took a deep breath. "We'll deal with it. What do we have to do during this?"
Spero assumed a much more placid look. "Oh, that's easy. You two just have to hold hands with me."
"Sounds simple enough." BeastBoy said.
"And each other." Spero clarified.
Both teens halted their hands in mid air, and looked at each other. The little crack that BeastBoy had made earlier was still fresh in Raven's mind, and BeastBoy was well aware of how long it took Raven to shake a grudge.
"Is it really necessary?" Raven asked, making BeastBoy recoil just a bit.
"Yes. While your individual memories are your own, they are also inextricably linked to each other as well. Without both of you to complete this Memory Triad, it will be next to impossible for a full recollection." Spero explained.
BeastBoy could tell that Raven still wasn't too hot on the idea. He could tell by her slanted eyes and peeved tone of voice.
"I really am sorry." BeastBoy said after a minute, in a soft and friendly voice. "But she broadsided me with that little bit of info back there. I reacted…poorly."
She still didn't look up. Her face was down-turned and her arms folded.
BeastBoy felt exposed and lonely, but pressed on. "I shouldn't have made light of something like that. She threw you with that little tid-bit of info and I...just made it more awkward. I was wrong...please, don't hate me for putting my foot in my mouth...again."
Raven looked at him for a moment, then to the floor. BeastBoy was about to try something else when he felt very delicate fingers intertwine with his right hand, squeezing it softly. BeastBoy responded with a gentle squeeze of his own, and grinned a bit at his friend.
"You're still a jerk." Raven said, looking straight ahead, her hair covering part of her face. BeastBoy could make out the faintest hint of a smile.
"Yeah. But, apparently, I'm your jerk." BeastBoy said, smiling broadly.
"Not yet you're not." Raven said, her voice tasting of caveat.
"Ahem?" Spero said, getting the titan's attention.
"Sorry." BeastBoy said.
"I have to concentrate on my temporal harmonics." Spero instructed, taking Raven's right hand and BeastBoy's left in her own. "For the time being, I need you two to hold on, both to me and each other. It's been a while since I've done this…with the living, I mean."
Before either teen could respond, the 'color' of the air—for lack of a better word—began to change. From all sides, BeastBoy and Raven could feel a constriction of some kind, as if static electricity were passing over their skin. Raven's hair began to stand up, as did BeastBoy's, caught in an unseen vortex of energy. There was no wind, per say, but there was a definite pressure all around them. It felt as if a tropical storm was brewing.
"Is it too late to take the blue pill?" BeastBoy said, a bit freaked at what he was experiencing. Before Raven could scold him, however, Spero did the most peculiar thing.
She began to sing.
'My goodness,' Raven thought, looking at her 'daughter' with a perplexed admiration. 'It's…beautiful.'
Indeed it was. Spero opened her mouth with a resonating note of the purest alto Raven had ever heard. It poured over her skin and clothing, thick as honey, and into her ears. She then switched to a more lyrical series of soprano chords, looping in and out of the human vocal range. At times, the music seemed to pierce both titans, arching in and around them like a spring breeze. Raven found her eyes closing in time with BeastBoy's, allowing the beautiful, haunting melody to fill her to the brim, until she felt ready to burst.
At the apex of this serenade, Spero hit a note of impossible intensity, high and aching with what felt like sorrow. As Raven and BeastBoy closed their eyes completely, they caught sight of Spero enveloped in fiery aura, before her song shut their minds to this world and hurled them to another.
To be Continued…Soon...