A/N: So, yeah...my only excuse for how long it took me to get this up is my own craziness in my life, and the fact that for the longest time, I couldn't bear to look at my computer when I got home at night and just wanted to do other things AWAY from the screen. So, I humbly apologize. The girls I asked to beta this did their job superbly and very quickly, and I've had their corrections sitting in my email for about two months now. And, I finally decided today to put the edits in and get this up for you guys.
Thanks: Specifically, to Misa and Leigh who were so good as to go through this for errors and tell me whether they thought the plot was heading in a good direction or if I totally missed the mark. But generally, I want to send out a GREAT BIG hug and kiss to all of you who continue to review the fic (all my fic, really) and encourage me to continue writing and let me know that you haven't forgotten about me or this fic.
I PROMISE wholeheartedly that I have not abandoned this fic or this fandom...I really do want to write again, but my muse has deserted me - sometimes, he whispers in my ear, but by the time I turn around to look for him, he's flitted off again (the flighty fairy). But I have no intention of abandoning any of these stories that I've started posting on here. So just...hang on with me, 'kay?
And I do read all the reviews you guys send me - you have no idea what a smile it puts on my face to read your words when I'm in the middle of one of my crazy hectic days, so please, keep them coming!
Chapter 14: Just a Game
"A quiet desperation's building higher / I've got to remember this is just a game..."
- 30 Seconds to Mars, "A Beautiful Lie"
The truth was that Robin knew Speedy and Raven were in the kitchen. He could hear them talking and could hear the archer joking with Cyborg and Beast Boy, too. The truth also was that this knowledge was precisely why it took him twenty minutes to put his files away and make it to the kitchen himself. To be completely truthful, he had thought of just avoiding the kitchen altogether and going to his room or the gym.
But he didn't. He made himself walk toward the noise and easy camaraderie his team had developed with the red-head - as if he'd been part of their team from the beginning. He braced himself for the sight of Speedy pretending to show Raven how to slice an onion or sauté a sauce, or maybe flip a flapjack, but when he was within sight of the kitchen, his eyes found Raven standing with her back to the room at the opposite counter from Speedy who was facing Beast Boy, sitting on the counter.
Cyborg was at the stove and Starfire was nowhere to be found.
"But it's eggs!" Beast Boy declared, unmindful of Robin's approach.
"So?" Speedy asked, whisking a concoction in a bowl with alarming speed.
"I'm a vegan! Duh!" Beast Boy pointed out, as if Speedy should know that by now. Beast Boy looked at Robin who was too busy looking between Raven and Speedy to notice.
Speedy looked up, smiled in greeting at Robin, and shook his head, bending back to his bowl. "I don't get why Vegans don't eat eggs...I mean, I get meat and all that, but why no eggs or milk?" he asked and Beast Boy was surprised to note he actually looked interested.
"Well..." he faltered for a moment, as if waiting for someone to stop him, but when the only other people in the kitchen went on about their business as if they hadn't heard him, he smiled, "Well, because it comes from an animal."
"But it's not an unnatural thing, is it?" Speedy pressed. "I know cows get sick if they're not milked and eggs..." he glanced at him "Well, chickens naturally lay eggs, it's not like you're killing the chicken to get her to lay the eggs, right?"
"Well, no," Beast Boy admitted, "But you are killing the little baby chick that would have hatched from the egg if left alone."
Speedy stopped and looked down at the orangey-yellow mixture, "Oh, dude..." he said, making a face, "I never thought of it that way."
Sensing he might have hit a spot of conversion with someone, Beast Boy brightened and prepared to launch into his vegetarian spiel when Speedy shrugged and continued whisking. Beast Boy's face fell.
Speedy grinned at Beast Boy's disappointment momentarily. "Hey, look dude, think of it this way..." Speedy raised the fork and the yellowish mixture of eggs and milk fell back into the bowl, "Population control."
Beast Boy looked horrified which only made Speedy laugh all the harder.
"That is so wrong!" Beast Boy declared.
"Schnookums, ready with the onions yet?" Speedy called over his shoulder to Raven at the cutting board.
"If you want to live, you'll try that again," Raven's deadpan came, the rest of her apparently oblivious.
Speedy grinned at Beast Boy, "Raven," he said pointedly, "Have you finished slicing the onions yet, my darling?"
Raven sighed audibly and her dark energy floated a bowl full of diced onions within Speedy's reach. "I'm working on the peppers now."
"Thank you, baby," he replied sweetly, to which Raven snorted delicately but continued her work.
"Cy, how are them spuds coming?" he called over his other shoulder.
"Just about done, I think," Cy called back.
Speedy left the whisking and went to the stove where Cy was carefully frying up a lot of fries cut up into small squares. They were still yellowish and not yet golden, so Speedy patted Cy's shoulder, "Give 'em a little while longer, they need to be golden."
"Got it," Cy answered.
Speedy took the bowl with Raven's sliced onions and gently poured them into the oil where Cy had the potatoes. "Let these cook a little with the fries," he told him.
"No prob," Cyborg saluted with the spatula.
Speedy came back to the counter and looked at Robin full on. "Mornin' Rob," he greeted. "Come to join us for brunch?"
"What are you making?" Robin asked, rather than answer.
"Speedy's showing us how to make a Spanish Omelet," Cyborg told him.
"How'd you learn to do this again?" Beast Boy asked.
"Mas and Menos..." Speedy laughed, "They've been teaching me tons about cooking, Latin style."
Raven came up next to him and handed him a bowl with a few diced peppers and he took them from her with a grin, pecking her casually on the cheek as he did.
He picked up the whisked egg mixture and poured in the peppers. "Alright, Cy, I think the spuds and the onions should be ready by now."
"Sure are," Cy replied.
"Remember to dry them," Speedy reminded as he whisked, albeit more gently.
"I'm a drying machine," Cyborg informed him as he sifted the oil away from the fries and onions with a colander, then poured the fries onto a paper towel which he used to gently pat them of the excess oil.
Speedy looked up at Robin, "So, you care to try a slice of Spanish Omelet?" he asked. Speedy glanced back at the mixture as Raven handed him the salt and the ground pepper and he liberally doused it on, then he looked back at Robin. "Or, are you going to abandon us like Star?"
"Star's not here?" he asked, looking around.
"No," Raven answered. "She hasn't finished with her closet yet, she said." She met his eyes. "Apparently, there's an issue with the spacing of her shoes."
Robin saw the smile in her eyes, even if her lips weren't giving it up, and for a moment, he felt as if nothing had changed. He was smiling back when Speedy came up behind her and reached for a plate above her head, resting his hand casually on her back as he did so.
The smile slipped from his lips. "I have no plans," Robin answered the first question.
"So can we count you in?" Speedy asked.
Robin tried to blink away the thought of how suddenly he felt as if Speedy was asking him to stay for lunch in his house, not Robin's. "Well, yeah, if it's alright with you," Robin replied, somewhat sarcastically.
"Oh, it's fine!" Speedy said, "B's not going to eat, I forgot about the vegan thing with eggs, so we'll have plenty."
Before Robin could comment, Speedy took the fries and onions Cyborg handed him and poured them into the egg mixture as well, whisking it again, and gently mushing the potatoes a bit.
"Alright, lamby-kins, turn on the stove, would you?" he asked.
Speedy didn't turn around in time to see Raven approach him with the frying pan, ready to strike and Cyborg smoothly taking it from her hand before she could carry it out. But he turned in time to see Raven take the pan back from Cyborg and put it on the stove, adding the butter to it and watching it melt.
Speedy turned from Beast Boy to Cyborg and back again, "I take it she had a violent reaction to lamby-kins?" he asked.
Beast Boy was laughing too hard to speak, but managed to nod his head, emphatically.
Cyborg chuckled, "I'd say that's a definiteno to lamby-kins."
Beast Boy noticed Robin's expression and decided to take it for confusion, "He keeps trying out different pet names for her but she doesn't seem very pleased with any of 'em."
"No, she wouldn't be," Robin answered, but not very loudly. He was having serious second thoughts about joining them for lunch.
"So what would you call her, then?" Speedy asked him, pausing a moment in reaching for a spatula.
"Raven," he answered.
Raven, purposefully not hearing the conversation between Robin and Speedy, looked up at her name. When Robin wasn't looking at her and obviously hadn't used her name to call her, she looked at Speedy.
"Figures," Speedy answered, that half grin still on his lips, "So cold."
"What does...?" Robin started, but was cut off by Raven herself.
"Butter's melted," she announced calmly.
"Ah, coming, Buttercup," Speedy called airily, turning with the mixture to the stove, effectively dismissing Robin by turning his back on him.
"If I must have a nickname, why don't I just choose one?" Raven asked after her glare of death had no effect on the cooking Speedy.
"Because if you chose it, it wouldn't have any meaning," Speedy explained.
"I think you need to go on the darker end of the nickname spectrum, Speedy," Cyborg advised.
"Well," Speedy said pensively, "You've already got Dark-Girl and Goth Girl," he told Cyborg. "Sunshine brings an element of sarcasm that I don't feel suits you," Speedy told Raven, his attention on the pan and the way the omelet was hardening as it cooked. He looked at her, "I know no nickname will completely encompass everything you mean to me, but I can try to keep finding one, can't I?"
"Whoa...he's good," Beast Boy said to Cyborg.
"I think you need to turn the omelet now," was Raven's only response.
Speedy seemed entirely unaffected by her deadpan attempt to kill the mood. He simply lifted the skillet from off the stove and with an expert flip of his wrist, flipped the omelet over to cook on the other side.
She couldn't help it: she smiled. Even though it was gone almost as quickly as it came, Speedy caught it and grinned in return. She shook her head, "Show off," she told him, turning to find the plates.
"It's all in the wrists," Speedy said laughingly, his head turning towards Robin who was watching silently, the smile fading. "And in having excellent timing," he added, moving the pan so that the omelet wouldn't stick.
"Dude," Beast Boy said into the silence. "That actually smells pretty good."
Speedy laughed and waved the skillet under Beast Boy's nose. "It's the vegetables," he told him. "Why don't you try some?"
Beast Boy made a face. "Eeew."
Speedy laughed and shrugged. "Just remember population control, man," he laughed even harder when Beast Boy put a hand to his mouth and pretended to dry heave.
Raven walked away from the main part of the kitchen and busied herself placing plates on the table.
After everyone had praised Speedy's skill with the skillet (except Beast Boy who was munching on microwaved tofu), and they had all teased Raven about being a better prep cook than a cook cook, and Robin was just about ready to get up and leave rather than watch Speedy sitting next to Raven any longer, Speedy put down his fork in surprise.
"Oh," he said. "I almost forgot," he turned to Raven. "About tomorrow..." he paused to take a drink of orange juice and wipe at his mouth and if Robin hadn't been watching Raven, he would have missed the way her eyes grazed his face before wiping at her own mouth.
"I'll be in Gotham tomorrow," she announced. She glanced at him, then back at her plate, then back at him.
"Ah," Speedy said, obviously surprised.
"I just found out a little while ago myself," she said, studiously ignoring the way the entire table had gone silent. She glanced at Robin again and turned to Speedy. "Robin asked me to join him on an errand," she added, and Robin frowned for a moment, wondering if it was just him or if Raven sounded slightly like she was challenging Speedy to argue.
"Ok," Speedy said after a moment, glancing at Robin only for a moment.
"You can try to beat Beast Boy's score on the Game Station," she said, off-handedly.
Beast Boy laughed. "Tch-yeah, he can try!"
Speedy smiled automatically at him, then laughed. "Actually, what I was going to say was that I had to go back to Steel City tomorrow," he said. He looked at her.
"Tomorrow?" she asked, obviously surprised.
"I have a court appearance in City Hall," he explained. "But it shouldn't take all day or anything," he added. "I was going to ask you to come with me and we could spend the day there," he smiled at her. "But if you've got plans..." he shrugged. "I guess I'll see you when I get back."
She nodded. "Alright," she said, and started to put a piece of omelet into her mouth, stopping when the fork was halfway to her lips. "When do you leave?"
"Early tomorrow morning," he answered. "But don't think that means you get to play hermit tonight," he said, the smirk back on his lips.
She raised her brows. "Another club?" she asked.
He smiled. "Whatever you want to do."
"Except play hermit?"
He smiled at her and gave up on his brunch, even if there was still a small bit of omelet left. "Exactly."
She shook her head and decided she was done herself.
"I'll just put these in the dishwasher and we can go," Speedy said.
"Why don't you guys go on ahead?" Cyborg asked from his chair. "Me and Beast Boy will clean up, won't we?" he looked at Beast Boy, then back to Speedy, without waiting for Beast Boy to confirm his statement. "After all, you cooked."
"That's nice of you," Speedy said. "Thanks!" he stacked his plate with Raven's and stood. "Ready to go Mookie?"
She stood and looked at him, unabashedly confused. "Mookie?" she questioned.
He laughed. "What, you don't like it?" he watched her walk away. "I thought I'd make one up!" he called after her.
He smirked at the table and went after her.
By the time he caught up with her in the elevator, the smile had faltered. "So he finally got up the balls to ask you out, huh?"
Raven looked at him. "He hates going back to Gotham, so I usually go with him when he goes," she only half-lied. She knew it wasn't Gotham per se that he didn't like going to alone, but Speedy didn't need to know that. "It's like a tradition, almost."
They reached the garage levels, and although she got out, he didn't and she turned back to look at him. "A tradition," he said, stepping out and stopping when he was next to her. "Okay," he said in the tone that clearly meant he wasn't going to argue with her. It wasn't until he turned to help her onto the motorcycle that he spoke again. "You know," he said and his tone was serious. "There's going to come a time when I'm going to stop pointing out the obvious and take advantage of your obliviousness," he warned.
She rose a brow. When he didn't appear to be forthcoming with any further information, she took his hand and leaned on it as she straddled the back of the motorcycle. "Yeah, I know," she told him. "Friday is the last day of the week I promised you, isn't it?"
Later, as the people around them started to stir; standing and shaking off sand from bodies and blankets and the two man stage crew with the dark shirts started to pick up the props from the shell-like stage, Speedy turned to Raven with an amazed sort of grin on his face.
Raven, for her part, hadn't begun to move yet - she was leaning back on the palms of her hands, head thrown back, staring at the moon.
For a moment, he was struck with her beauty like a physical force pushing against his chest and the breath he'd taken to speak stuck in his throat. She must have realized that he was staring at her, however, because she raised her head and turned her gaze to him, meeting his eyes and waiting. He cleared his throat and went with the thought he'd intended on sharing before he looked at her. "I had no idea there were things like these going on," he said, his voice not quite as playful as he would've wanted it to be.
Her lips quirked upward in a flash of a smile before she sat up, dusting the sand from her hands. "You sound as if you think someone's been pulling a fast one on you, Roy," she commented, her voice as dry as ever.
He straightened his back and put on an air of offense. "They have!" he insisted. At the clear disbelief on her features, he frowned. "You look as if you don't believe that I'd want to come," he pointed out.
She was very obviously amused, even if it was all in the press of her lips and her eyes. "I don't," she confirmed.
He sniffed, "I'm offended."
"You're also not the type to want to watch any kind of musical theatre - let alone a local abridged production of Annie," Raven pointed out.
"I don't know what you're talking about," he said primly. "I enjoy all manner of varied diversions, including musical theatre." At her raised brow, he narrowed his eyes at her. "Don't look at me in that tone of voice," he insisted. "I do."
"Really?" she asked. "You know that just because porn has music in the background, it doesn't make it a musical, don't you?"
Speedy crossed his arms at his chest, and pointedly looked away from her. "I won't deign that with an answer."
She allowed him a smirk and stood with all the graceful agility she displayed in every one of her movements. "Suit yourself," she said, dusting off the sand from the backs of her jeans.
"And anyway," Speedy continued, standing as well, "It isn't like you're the type to watch Annie of all things, either, you know."
She met his eyes again and nodded, "Point taken," she conceded.
Glad to have made a point, he walked with her the way they came, along the shoreline, toward the portion of the boardwalk beyond which he'd parked his bike, absently swinging his boots from the tips of his fingers. "So, how long have you liked coming to these things?" he asked.
"These things as in musical theatre in general or the local drama club's beachside performances?"
"Theatre, in general."
"About four years now, I suppose," she answered.
"So, since about the time you came to Jump then?" he asked. She nodded, looking straight ahead. "So, how did you get to like it?" he pressed. "I doubt it's something you came across in the Tower," he chuckled at the thought.
She exhaled in what might have been an amused sound. "No, not in the Tower," she admitted. "The club that we saw put on performances every week during the summer," she told him. "They do all types of different theatre - sometimes musicals, sometimes slapstick, sometimes Shakespeare," she shrugged. "They even did Kabuki one year."
"That's the Japanese style theatre with the people with all the white faces and stuff, right?" he asked.
She glanced at him, obviously amused at his description. "That's close enough, yes," she allowed.
He grinned. "So you saw them performing four years ago?" he prompted.
"I did," she confirmed. "They've been doing the theatre for years here," she explained. "Of course, it's not always the same performers, or even the same level of quality - they're student run performances, mostly as a type of homework and practice."
"How did you ever find it?" he asked. "I mean, I'd have never even guessed something like this went on."
She was quiet for a while, and he thought she might have decided she'd shared enough about herself, but just as the surf shop he'd used as a signpost of where they'd parked came into view in the distance, she spoke. "When I first came to Earth, I knew very little about this culture," she admitted, looking down at her bare feet walking in the sand for a minute. "And at first, I didn't think about getting to know any of the culture either," she added. "I had a mission, and I was only here to fulfill it, not to enjoy myself," she explained. "But one day, after I'd been with the Titans for about four months, Robin explained to me why he allowed the Titans to have downtime and to fool around with their gamestations and arcade outings and goings to the carnival and pizza joints."
"Which is?" Speedy asked, sincerely curious.
She glanced at him, surprised at his question. "So that they can remember that they're people too, not just heroes," she answered.
"With the way he trains you guys, I would think he'd want to remind you that you're heroes first, people second," Speedy mused.
Raven shook her head. "It's always been important to Robin that we remember that we're both," she said. "I didn't understand why at first," she confessed. "Not even when he explained that it was having these things that we liked to do, these seemingly childish or meaningless pursuits that kept us from losing ourselves to the darkness we see and face every day."
Speedy was quiet for a moment, feeling - once again - how very fit Robin was for his position as team leader, and trying very hard not to react to the note of admiration he heard in her voice when she spoke about him in these terms. "But you understand now?" he asked.
She shrugged, infinitesimally. "I didn't understand then, though," she admitted. "Then, I understood that he was telling me that I should find a hobby, something that I liked to do other than meditate or learn things that I needed to know to accomplish my mission."
She smiled a little, to herself, and Speedy knew it wasn't for him. "He was my leader, though," she continued to explain. "So, I went out in search of a hobby."
Speedy couldn't help but smile, even if it wasn't altogether a happy smile. "Of course." Of course Robin would encourage her to find things she enjoyed.
"So, one day, I came to the beach - this beach - and it just so happened to be during one of the drama club's performances," she looked up at him. "They were performing My Fair Lady, and the girl playing Eliza was singing, "Wouldn't It Be Lovely."
Speedy grinned. "And you were hooked."
Her expression softened. "I was..." she hesitated and looked at her feet again, "...intrigued," she said.
He stopped at the entrance from beach to boardwalk and met her eyes. "And you have Robin to thank for it," he said, his tone unreadable.
He could see in the slight furrow of her brow and the way she pressed her lips together that she was confused, probably at his tone, and trying to figure out what he might mean. Before she thought of what to say, however, he smiled and spoke again. "So, what's your favorite type of theatre, then?" he asked. He stepped onto the boardwalk, sitting on the divider to put on his boots.
Raven dusted off the soles of her feet and slipped on her flats. "I like them all, really," she answered. She seemed to be willing to let his previous comment go. "They have different things they bring to the stage."
"Have you ever gone to see a full-out stage performance?" he asked. "You know, like in Gotham or Los Angeles?"
She shook her head. "No time for the travel," she answered. "This is simpler."
Something about her expression warned him against pressing the issue. "And you always come alone?" he asked, before he had even decided he wanted to know.
She nodded, looking out as the surf came in on the shore. As if snapping herself out of her thoughts, she blinked and looked right at him. "As you implied," she said, "I doubt anyone at the Tower would be interested in amateur musical theatre."
He knew what he was going to ask next, and looked down, intent on tying up the laces of his boots even though he could've done it blindfolded. "Not even Robin?"
For a few moments, he wasn't sure the warm, salty ocean breeze hadn't carried his question away.
"Robin knows I come here," she admitted.
Her admission caught him off guard and he could feel the surprise on his expression as he looked up at her. "And he's never wanted to come with you?"
She shrugged again. "He's never asked to."
Speedy grit his teeth at what he knew had been left unsaid in her deceptively simple and straightforward statement. 'The stupid fuck,' Speedy cursed mentally, really angry and annoyed at Robin for the first time since they'd become friends. 'Why would he let her think he doesn't care about her - that he doesn't even care enough to come with her to a play so she won't have to come alone?' he wondered. 'He doesn't deserve her,' he decided. He's too stupid to go after what he wants and he lets his indecision or doubt hurt her - he doesn't deserve her. He knew that...but he also knew that Raven loved him. One look at her face as she spoke about him and he knew that.
"You never asked him to, did you?" Speedy asked. He'd hate himself for still trying later, he knew that for sure, but if she'd be happy...
For a moment, it seemed that epiphany had struck, but then a wall seemed to come over her expression and whatever else was going on in that mind of hers, she wasn't letting Speedy in on it. "I didn't ask you," she pointed out, glancing at him as she pushed a strand of hair behind her ear.
He laughed, but it wasn't entirely mirthful. He couldn't believe he was doing this...
"Yeah, but not every guy is as stupidly optimistic or persistent as I am, Rae," he told her, hoping he'd kept his voice light and playful. It didn't even occur to him to point out that they were playing a role here until after he'd already insinuated the other reason he'd wanted to spend time with her. He waited with bated breath, to see if she picked up on it. When she didn't seem to get it, he pressed. "I think that's been your problem the whole time," he decided aloud. "Both of you are waiting for the other to make some kind of obvious overture and both of you are too chicken shit to do it."
She looked out across the boardwalk to the colorful shops on the other side and didn't answer.
"Oh wait," Speedy said, suddenly remembering. "I forgot, he already has, hasn't he?" When she looked at him, he met her eyes, trying to keep the smile in his expression. "He asked you to Gotham tomorrow."
Raven shook her head. "I told you," she started.
"Yeah, yeah, tradition," Speedy waved her expected explanation off. "If I were really Robin's friend, I'd tell him you won't believe he's interested until he pulls a Rhett Butler and carries you off to the bedroom," he muttered, half-under his breath.
"What was that?" she asked.
He shook his head, then looked at her with a grin in place. "Feel like going for an ice cream?" he asked, motioning to an ice cream parlor a few feet down the boardwalk.
She looked at where he'd pointed for a moment before shaking her head. "It's late," she said instead. "We should probably get back." She looked at him.
"Right," he nodded and led her to his bike without further comment.
A/N: So, I'll admit something. Part of the next chapter is written. But that's it. I don't actually know what Robin needs to do in Gotham, or what I'm going to have them do while they're there...so...yeah...any ideas?