And we come at last to the conclusion. I hope everyone enjoyed the ride, and I hope y'all all find this a satisfying ending. I'd like to particularly thank my reviewers for taking the time to express themselves. And especially, I'd like to give big, big thanks to Witchgirl, who busied herself reviewing in enjoyable verbosity before almost anyone else bothered to, and El Queso de Malicioso, who came in a little later but has been a dutiful commentator ever since his arrival. Without you guys, this fic would've probably come out a LOT slower. ;) So yeah, you made a difference, and thanks for it.
For those of you who're interested (that's right, all ten of you!), I've got a few spinoff and sequely story ideas I'll be penning soon, so feel free to keep half an eye out if you still want more fresh reading material after this.
Epilogue: House of Cards II
Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.
"Dude, whoever's doing that, will you please stop?" Beast Boy murmured drowsily, words a little slurred. He didn't feel like opening his eyes yet. He was halfway propped up, somewhere comfortable, soft and warm. He wasn't hurting. He didn't feel the need to look around yet. He just wanted to go back to sleep.
"You're awake." Robin's voice was quiet, but filled with that special kind of tenseness that told Beast Boy his leader was in Super Repression Mode, a mode Robin went into almost as much as a certain purple-haired empath. "How are you feeling?"
Mentally sighing, Beast Boy resigned himself to not immediately drifting back into sleepy land, and pulled his eyelids up to peek around. He was in the T-Ship, in Robin's pod, which had been enlarged a bit somehow and been given a nice comfy miniature-matress thingy for him, and a blanket, and a pillow. They were flying... somewhere. Not like he could tell where just by looking at clouds.
Robin had the thing on autopilot, apparently, because he wasn't steering or even looking at the computers. He was looking at him. Beast Boy got the mildly creepy idea that Robin had been staring like that for a long time.
Beast Boy yawned. "M'okay... tired... where're we goin'?"
"We're going back home. Back to Jump."
"Sweet. Did everything get fixed in Metro then?"
"Well, things are... complicated. I'll explain later, okay? Right now you should just focus on resting. Are you thirsty?"
It wasn't until Robin asked that he realized he was. "Oh dude, yes. I have the worst cotton mouth too."
Robin produced a can of fruit juice from a compartment, flipping the tab and holding it out carefully and very loosely.
"I can hold it myself y'know," Beast Boy grumbled, reaching for it.
"Alright. You need to drink a lot, though... your body's lost a lot of fluid, and you need to replenish it as much as you can. Raven did her best, but replenishing blood with magic's supposed to be tricky... especially when it's... um, unusual blood, like yours."
"Heh, right. Hope she didn't work too hard patching me up."
He slurped the can away in small sips, contented. Then he felt a sudden stab of alarm as he remembered he still didn't know what the heck had happened to his best bud Cy.
"Dude, Cy's okay, right?"
"Yeah. Yeah, he's fine. He beat his evil half after all. A bit banged up, but nothing we can't fix once we get home."
"Sweet. Hey, why're you looking at me weird? Looks like your eyes are all twisted up behind that mask or something." It really did. One day he was just going to lean over and RIP that stupid mask off. Which birdboy probably kept on with glue, so it'd hurt, and it'd serve him right for wearing the dumb thing all the time. Nyah.
"Beast Boy... I'm sorry, but Raven can't heal your arm. Even if we had it with us... it fell into that hole with Trickster..."
"Oh. Oh, dude, I suck. I'm sorry, I probably scared the crap outta you, didn't I." He grinned sheepishly. "Is crap a curse word? I don't think it is. Anyway. I can fix that. I'm just glad it doesn't hurt anymore, that thing hurt like a mofo. Hey, is mofo a curse word? Okay, yeah, anyway, I can fix it up. Spend enough naps as a starfish and it'll grow all the way back. Figured it out one time when I scrapped off a toenail as a kid. Pretty neat, huh?"
Robin looked totally floored. Almost ready to hyperventilate. It was super funny, but also super guilt-making.
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you before, I probably shoulda, huh... I just didn't think I'd ever lose an arm or anything, y'know? Dude, Robin? Dude? Y'okay?"
The boy wonder engulfed him in a Starfire-strength hug. The immediate fiery pain was, not on his ribs for a change, but just below one of his shoulders.
"Ack! Dude! Still lost an arm here, still hurts, watch it!"
Robin practically teleported away, he moved so fast. "Oh, God, I'm so sorry Beast Boy! It's just... oh my God, I thought you were going to be crippled for life. I was talking with Cyborg about fixing up some kind of mechanical arm for you, but then we didn't know how well it would go with your powers, and, and, and, oh THANK GOD you can grow it back!"
He giggled. "Dude. You sound like a chick, cut it out. We're the Titans, we bounce back from everything, like, boingy boingy. We're Slinkees." He yawned again. "Nnph. Still tired. Can I have another nap? I'll even do it all starfishy. The sooner I can clap my hands again, the better."
"Yeah. Yeah, you do that Beast Boy. Get all the rest you need. I'm going to switch over to Cy's pod for a bit, but if you need me, just push that button on the side there, okay?"
"Sure thing, nurse Robin." He smirked and snuggled deeper down in his little bed. They were going home. The bad guys had been squishified, or at least gone away. Everything was gonna be fine.
It was a little awkward talking to a Cyborg that was mostly just a head and neck (not counting the random scavenged parts of him that were currently living in a box), but not nearly as awkward as it would have been talking to a Raven still exhausted and grumpy from the most intensive healing effort of her life, and he just plain didn't feel up to dealing with Starfire's... passion... right now, even if he adored her for her enthusiasm most of the time. Besides, Cyborg and Beast Boy were especially close. Cyborg deserved to know first.
"...and then I let him go back to sleep and came over here, so I wouldn't disturb him talking through the comm system."
Cyborg was grinning broadly. "I toldja not to count our little spud down and out, didn't I?"
Robin smiled wryly. "Yeah. Yeah, you did. I need to have more faith in him. But you should have seen him, he was so cheerful, so normal. He acted like it was just one more tough fight! I... I don't think he knows how close he came to dying there. If Raven hadn't been right there, and used every last ounce of her powers to keep him going, we would have lost him. We would have lost him."
"But we didn't, and thank sweet baby Jesus for that."
"But we came so close. I'll never forget that moment... after he lost his arm... and he still tried to keep going. Saying he wasn't going to let us down. It was the worst thing I've ever seen, Cyborg." Robin let his head drop, holding it in his hands. It was about the closest he allowed himself to crying. "I've seen a lot of awful things, but that was the worst. And it was all my fault. I agreed to the stupid terms. I didn't interfere, I should have interfered, sooner, much sooner. Or at least called a retreat! Never engage the enemy on his own terms, that's one of the first rules of crimefighting. Batman would be ashamed of me."
"Man, stop the pity trip, your angst is way cooler when you deal with it by being a paranoid workaholic. I'd put a hand on your shoulder but right now I seem to lack hands, so just pretend I did it. No one knew Trickster was that good. He was tricky, hard to scope out. And BB still beat 'im!"
Robin raised his head. "You think?" His voice was faintly skeptical.
"Well, yeah. The little kid sent Trickster to Hell. I dunno how it is where you hail from, but Grandma Cyborg would call that a right proper whuppin'."
"Hmm. It was a stalemate at best. A costly stalemate. I can't let things get that close ever again. It's funny... you know?" He started to ramble, knowing he was rambling. An unaccustomed luxury. It felt oddly good. "I never really expected to lose any of you in the field. Never. I mean, I planned for it, I had contingencies in place, but that's not the same thing. I never really felt, deep down, that this time, this time there might only be four of us coming back to the tower, and the fifth one would just have a grave. Not even when Raven gave herself up to the prophecy and the whole world seemed to end. Not until I saw Beast Boy mutilated like that, and saw him trying to keep on going on even though he couldn't possibly win. I was... I was so scared I was going to lose him, Cy..." The last sentence came out as barely more than a whisper, a shameful secret that it hurt to admit, wonder at his own pain coloring his tone.
"I think maybe you should tell him that," Cyborg said back almost equally quietly. "I think it'd mean a lot to him, coming from you. He looks up to you more than anyone 'cept maybe Raven and that old Mento guy, y'know."
"You've got to be kidding."
"No, really. You two don't have much in common, but in a way that's why he respects you and trusts you as a leader. Because he knows you'll always push yourself hard... maybe a little too hard... and always try to do your best... and maybe a little more. It's not that he can't do the same if he tries, but it comes to you more natural like. You've got a lotta hard edges, but that's why the times when you're soft mean more. Like the briefcase racing derby thing. Boy, we all talked about that for weeks."
"Argh, I remember..."
"I mean, seriously, of all the things to keep in a briefcase!"
"Alright, fine, you made your point!"
"Heheheh. You're too easy, man. Oh, by the way... do you mind if I lockdown the third ancillary computer from the main system for a while after we get back?"
Robin blinked. "Uh, no, go right ahead. Why?"
There was a strange smirk on Cyborg's lips. "I've got a passenger to unload."
"Heh, never you mind, man."
"You're not going to try to hide more pink hair fetish adult material in the Titan computers, are you? Because I remember telling you that I don't want that kind of trash on there where everyone can see it."
"For the last time, man, I told you, Kid Flash did that to me as a prank!"
After some more traditional male teasing 'arguments,' he felt ready to talk to Starfire.
It was truly a strange new world, where Cyborg was relieved to be holding conversations with a robotic-sounding voice in his head.
True, he wished he'd been able to save Fixit any other way. He wished he'd had more control over his weird mystical life energy powers. He wished that Fixit could have retained what was left of his physical humanity. But strangely, in losing almost everything that literally defined him as human, Fixit became more human than ever in personality.
Metal or flesh, programming or neurons, I do not think the raw materials make much difference, Fixit had said at one point. The end result is what matters.
The end result.
What was Fixit to do with himself, now that he was reduced to lines of code? Even if ridiculously complicated and verbose lines of code that gave Cyborg a headache when he tried to make sense of it all. Magic and technology apparently weren't that far apart.
Cyborg wondered how many needless headaches he'd given himself by simply insisting on categorizing things too strongly. Life wasn't a series of boxes, it was a rainbow that shifted gently from one shade to another.
They'd discussed Fixit's future at length during the trip back to Jump. There were any number of businesses and services that would benefit from an advanced 'artificial' intelligence with human-level reasoning abilities, but in the end, they'd both decided it was best to keep him 'in house' for at least a while, to work out any unforeseen bugs and make sure all potential viruses and other threats were safeguarded against.
Even if the company and resulting philosophical optimism was nice, he was glad to get the guy out of his skull and into a computer finally, when his body was repaired enough to be working again. Housing a second personality had been eating up ridiculous amounts of memory, and the fact that the other Titans had caught him talking to 'himself' a lot had resulted in a lot of teasing and an uncomfortable 'You know you can always come to me if anything's bothering you' talk with Robin.
So yeah, Fixit in a computer? Not ideal, but it had its perks. Like the fact that Cyborg and Raven had one more chess partner. An irritatingly good chess partner. Self-mocking Asimov and 2001: A Space Odyssey quotes, delivered in an eerily precise mechanical imitation of Fixit's 'real' voice, suddenly became a staple in the tower. Beast Boy's occasional accusations that Fixit was spying on his internet history got added to the meat and tofu wars as another traditional, amusingly stupid argument. There were more practical benefits as well. Robin was overjoyed, in his totally serious way, to have a real mind of sorts to control the training machines instead of pre-set programs, which adding a new level to their workouts so they could train even harder (boo!).
Fixit wasn't exactly a Titan. Nor was he even a superhero. Just a computer program with personality, thoughts, intellect, and feelings. But he fit into the tower anyway, maybe because he was as much of a misfit as they were, in his own way. And he was happy for it. Or maybe he was just happy to be around people, and be useful, and be cared for and care in turn, however subtly.
After a few weeks, Cyborg asked Fixit whether or not he was happy.
"Happy? Happy is not the word."
The digitized face smiled, and went on before Cyborg could get in a word edgewise. For someone with such a mild 'voice,' Fixit was pretty good at overriding everyone else in a room when he wanted to. It was almost Raven-esque.
"Happiness is an offhand result of malleable and impermanent circumstances. You ask me if I am happy, and I would say that I am, but I would not call that the defining element."
"Okay, what would you say's the defining element, then, smart guy?"
"Serenity. For the first time, I feel that I am at peace."
"You don't miss anything from before?" He didn't spell it out, but he was thinking of things like sunshine, and food, and sports...
"No. I have everything I need right here."
It was weird, but Cyborg was sure the guy meant it, too.
Of course, for all the hours spent talking with Fixit over matters of mechanical philosophy, there was still plenty of time for the rest of the team. In fact, he'd been been spending more time with Raven than ever before. She was surprisingly patient when it came to teaching him the basic principles of life-transferral magic. It would've helped if he'd known how to read Sumerian, though. Or Latin. Or Sanskrit. So, progress was slow. But being made.
Apparently it was uncommon but not unheard of for people to spontaneously manifest magical powers along a very narrow range, inclined towards a specific intense interest.
He loved living life, so he got life magic.
Too bad it had such a nasty cost attached, but Raven had considered that a compliment on the self-sacrifice inherent in his personality. He was still a little sketchy on that part, though.
After all, if self-sacrifice was what it took, then Beast Boy would've developed magic tricks a long time ago.
Cyborg was willing to give up a few years to do good deeds, but if a supervillain came up to him and told him to abstain from meat for the rest of his life or the earth would be destroyed... well, then, the earth would be just plain screwed.
They'd been working out together (well, next to each other, anyway) in the gym when Raven decided that enough was enough. Very few things in life were more irritating than strong feelings of hesitation for no good reason. And it was just that sort of thing that had been wafting off from Robin ever since they'd gotten back from Metropolis.
"You don't seem to be brooding, so what's wrong?" she asked straight out, putting down the barbells and wiping sweat from her forehead. Maybe it was time to get a lighter cloak for exercise. There was no way she was going cloakless around her teammates. And the clothes that Beast Boy had suggested? Oh, no. She'd be dead before she'd be caught in that outfit.
Typical of him, Robin kept on pumping the irons while talking. "What do you mean, Raven? Nothing's wrong."
She smacked him as though he were Beast Boy, and smirked at his slightly stunned expression. "You've been wanting to do something, but you keep putting it off. Whatever it is, just do it. You're a leader, so act like it and be decisive."
"Grrgh. I hate empaths," he muttered, pumping the barbells harder.
"Everyone does," she said almost smugly. "Even empaths hate being empaths. So, are you going to go ahead and do it, or not?"
"I... I suppose. It's just..." He let the metal bars drop with twin clangs, and looked straight at her. A very calm, very peaceful, but very intense expression. Her heart beat just a little faster from it, and she had no idea why. "I... I wanted to talk about it with you first. I don't know why. A compulsion, I guess."
"You're talking right now."
"Yeah, I guess I am, aren't I? I've, um, I've decided I want to date Starfire. I mean, seriously. I want to make a commitment."
She smirked, relieved that he was going to finally give the girl what she deserved, while at the same time feeling a tiny pang of wistful envy that she mentally shoved aside with self-disgust. There was no reason to be anything but happy over the event. It had been inevitable that the two of them would either date, or Robin would not date anyone. And Starfire was just the kind of girl Robin needed, someone to lighten him up and keep him from going on self-destructive spirals.
"Glad to hear it, loverboy. So why're you telling me? Go tell her."
"Well, it's just that, I, uh, I..." The boy's words drifted off into uncertain silence, and he stared at her meaningfully, clearly wanting to say something but not knowing how to say it.
Oh. That. Raven suppressed a groan. Why did he insist on caring about that stupid little Trickster incident? It hadn't meant anything. Not to her, not to him, not even to, hah, Trickster. Just one more forgettable dirty trick in the villainous article, to be recorded and filed away with innumerable others.
"You know, I want to say I'm sorry, but I'm not even sure what I'd be saying it for," Robin went on, laughing faintly. "Starfire's a wonderful person... she makes me happy... but you're a wonderful person too, and I hope you don't forget that."
"Right, fine, I won't," she said quickly, panicking on the inside even while her face went utterly stony. She picked up her weights again and started working them like the fate of the world depended on it. "Glad we got that out of the way, let's talk about something else now. Like the weather. Weather's nice."
"Yeah, I like weather." He was humoring her. She hated it when people humored her. Especially when they grinned while doing it. "So, while I'm making you uncomfortable... are you ever gonna tell me what went on with you and Beast Boy back in Metropolis?"
It was a totally random question, and one that flashed her back to rather emotional memories when she was already in a slightly vulnerable state. The weights slowed, and were abandoned again. She peered at him thoughtfully, examining his ruffled white t-shirt, the interesting good-humored twist to his mouth, the shining beads of sweat on his face and arms, the muscles that seemed to ripple even when he wasn't moving. Starfire was a lucky girl.
"That depends. Are you ever going to tell Starfire about this?"
Robin blinked. "About wha-"
She pressed her lips to his cheek, a touch as fleeting and delicate as a ghost's caress, not letting the kiss linger even an instant. She wasn't quite able to repress a faint smirk, nor a mild blush to her cheeks. "Just so you know what the real thing's like, so you can stop thinking about that cheap imitation."
To his credit, he recovered more quickly than she expected, returing her smile with one of his own. Subdued, but gentle. Painfully open, but it was a good kind of pain between them. "I guess... in another universe... we could've been something, huh?"
"Mm, maybe. But not this one." She kept the smile as she said it, and it was only a little hard. "Well? Go on, go talk to her. Tell her all the sickeningly gushy things you want to say. She's been waiting for them. She's been waiting," she said meaningfully, "for a very long time."
"And... you're happy?"
Blech, why did boys always have to make things harder than they had to be? "There's lots of ways to be happy, Robin. For me, this is one of them. Get out of here."
He nodded and left the gym, a hyperactively cheerful bounce in his step, practically aquiver with anticipation. As for Raven, she wiped herself off, went to her room to change into fresh clothes, and then floated down to the main room.
It was half past noon, which meant that Beast Boy was probably up by now. Probably. And somehow or other he'd cajoled a promise out of her to learn how to play video games today.
He was up. In fact, he was waiting for her. Grinning hugely. With the controllers in his hands.
It was one of the scariest things she'd ever seen.
Cyborg was also there, though, lounging on the couch, and let his displeasure be known. "Raven, tell the bean sprout that you'll give your slot to me, pretty please? I just got the new Zombies versus Ninjas game, and he's not gonna let me play it because he says he wants to torture you with FPS ownage!"
"I didn't say I wanna torture her!" he objected, while she was busy trying to figure out what 'FPS ownage' meant.
"Ah, but it's implicit," Cyborg shot back, waggling a finger.
"I am not gonna make her play anything explicit, dude, I don't wanna gross her out!"
"You know you're not supposed to use big words around him, Cyborg," Raven said with a smirk, settling on the couch and accepting a controller and her electronically doomed fate.
"Yeah, Cyborg! I don't read every book Raven reads over her shoulder, just some of them! Like the Harry Potter stuff."
"Whoa, Raven, you read Harry Pot-"
"That's a filthy lie!" she spat out, cheeks heating. She quickly sought out the solace of her hood's shadow. "Uh. Can we just play now?"
"Ooohhh, Raven's embarrassed that she likes to read Harry Potter 'cause it's so popularrrrr," Beast Boy's freakishly huge grin was back. "Raven likes books 'bout Haaarrrrrry, even though they're not creepy or scaaaarrryy, and prolly wants Snape to pop her- eep," he interrupted his own song, cowering, as her eyes lit up with white.
"Finish that song," she said very, very calmly, "and the police will never find enough pieces of you to identify the body."
Cyborg was being smart, and carefully backing away from the scene before he got caught in the crossfire. While still staying close enough to watch and enjoy the show. And... was that popcorn he was eating? Where had he gotten popcorn?!
"I'll be good," Beast Boy said timidly.
"Good. So are we playing or not?"
He bounced back to cheerful in a millisecond. "Oh yeah! It'll be awesome! Just let me get the cd in... kay, there, all good to go. Now this game is called Halo, and you're s'posed to grab a weapon, and maybe a vehicle, and kill the guy on the other team, and sometimes get a flag..."
Beast Boy was a pitiless and cruel teacher. His way of educating her about the gameplay was to play the game as normal, only keeping up a steady stream of explanatory dialogue at the same time. So, in addition to having to figure out what was going on on the television screen and reacting appropriately, she had to listen to and interpret Beast Boy's hyperactive stream of verbiage. It was headache-inducing, and the fact that it took her almost a full minute just to figure out how to move her soldier around and change the view didn't help. A short while after that, she accidentally climbed into a flying ship of some kind, and crashed aimlessly into walls and structures before Beast Boy shot her down.
But it was alright, because one death didn't mean so much. The game could keep going for many, many, many deaths.
She learned about the joys of being blown up by grenades. And then about being blown up by grenades that stuck to you even when you tried to run away from them. And then there were the needles that followed you, and the heavy artillery that exploded in a radius to kill you in one or two hits, and being run over by jeeps, and getting hit by a charged laser shot, and being shot in the head with a pistol...
During this painful learning process, she died twenty-seven times.
After thirty minutes of it, Raven was well and truly pissed, and determined to not give up until she'd mastered the stupid game well enough to at least kill Beast Boy once. Suddenly she understood all the video game-related arguments. Her universe was incomplete until she wiped the smug smirk off that fuzzy little twit's face.
And then she found the sniper rifle.
It was just one more weapon amongst a confusingly varied arsenal, but just for the sake of the thing, she asked Beast Boy what it was.
"Oh, that's just the sniper rifle. It's junk. I mean, you can kill people with it, but it's way boring. Real men use a sweet weapon like the fuel rod gun."
"But I'm not a real man, or haven't you noticed?" she asked dryly.
He coughed and flushed, muttering something indecipherable.
Out of sheer contrariness, she picked the thing up and tried it out. She was glad to find that it had a scope, like the starting weapon, but an even better one, with a ridiculous range. Not much ammunition, though. But then... if it didn't have many shots... then it followed logically that the few shots it did have had to do something impressive, to make up for the lack of quantity.
"Hmm," she muttered to herself, smiling a little as she pondered her plans of vengeance.
"Oh, duuude, don't pick that, that's so boring! C'mon, get in the banshee again! The banshee's awesome! We can dogfight!"
"You mean fly in circles around each other until one of us circles just a little slower than the other one and dies?"
"I think I'll stick with the rifle."
Hoping real world logic would apply at least somewhat to the game, she found a secluded perch to hide in that overlooked most of the map, figuring that was what a sniper ought to do. Now, where was... ah, there he was. Jumping around like a frog and spraying his blue energy shots all over the place.
She zoomed in.
She zoomed in again.
Well, this wasn't so bad, she could see him easily now, even though he was too far away for him to see her.
Now, what body part was supposed to be the most vulnerable one, again? Oh, right, the head. It was a small target, but far from impossible to hit from such a zoomed in view. Beast Boy didn't seem to realize that the jumping only made his movements more predictable due to the limited trajectory. Oh, Azar bless pseudo-realistic gravity.
"DUDE! You took my shields out! DUDE! DUDE!" He ran like a chicken with its head cut off, and squawked like a chicken with its head still on. "That was totally a lucky shot! When I get over there I'm gonna-"
She'd initially intended to stop playing once she got that one first kill, but his reaction was so amusingly over the top that she couldn't help but push her luck, trying to see if she could do better.
She sought out a different hiding place, and waited for him to get impatient and careless.
Which took approximately twenty seconds.
It took her a couple more shots this time, but she took him down again.
And the time after that, as well.
And again... and again... and again...
Joy in the suffering of others was generally something she tried very hard to repress, but this one time, it was too much fun to stop.
And with each death Beast Boy got louder, and more desperate, and more irrational. By the hundred twenty-fourth kill, he was almost foaming at the mouth.
He hadn't managed to get a single kill in since she'd picked up the sniper rifle.
"This is so unfair! I don't get how you're beating me when it's your first time playing! Sniping requires precision, and discipline, and concentration, and focus! How can you be so good at it?! It doesn't make any sense! And, and I'm handicapped! You shouldn't beat up on handicapped people!"
"You've regenerated everything but your pinky. I don't think that qualifies as handicapped."
"Dude, you have no idea how important the pinky is for this game. It's like, vital!"
"I haven't used my pinkies." BLAM, BLAM. "One hundred twenty-five."
Mercy was for the weak.
Although, her hands were getting cramped. And there was certainly a lot of emotion in the room. It was time for Beast Boy to live up to his half of their little agreement.
"I think I've killed your soldier enough for today."
"Oh, thank God." Beast Boy practically deflated in relief.
"Now it's time to do the activity of my choice."
"Oh no... no waaaayyy..." He clutched his head melodramatically.
She raised an eyebrow. "Fair's fair. You thought it would be a good idea to spend more time together. We've done something you've enjoyed... at least, theoretically," she added with a wicked smirk, "and now it's time for something I'll enjoy."
"What do you want from me?" he whimpered piteously, as though she were practicing torturous interrogation techniques on him.
"Everyone on this team has some kind of experience with mental discipline or the nature of the supernatural arts... everyone except for you."
"Oh... oh no... do you mean..."
"Yes, Beast Boy. I think it's time you learned how to meditate."
"You hate me!" he accused wildly, crocodile tears in his eyes. She was mildly impressed, she didn't know guys could manage that trick.
"Intensely and lingeringly," she deadpanned, bullying him upstairs.
When she got up to her room, though (intent on retrieving candles... she was not letting Beast Boy in her room for a prolonged period of time!), she found an... alteration.
She hadn't yet given up her newly-acquired habit of making pyramids with her cards, although she no longer had difficulty meditating. However, she didn't remember using duct tape to make any of the pyramids!
"Beast Boy, you snuck into my room again, didn't you."
"Yes ma'am," he said quietly, clearly hoping to avoid wrath by way of extreme submissiveness.
She walked closer to the bizarre construction. There was almost more duct tape than cards, and it leaned and bulged in odd places; Beast Boy had clearly struggled putting the thing together. And the 'Trickster' signatures were concealed by more tape, something she couldn't blame him for doing.
"What," she demanded of him, "is that?"
"Um... it's your card triangle thingy, that you've been trying to keep from falling?"
She blew out a breath in mild exasperation. She never had been able to build it completely and keep it from toppling, not without cheating and using her powers. "Yes, but why is it put together like that?"
"Well, I couldn't get it to stay any other way. That's the point of the thing, isn't it? To make it stay together?"
She looked again at the pyramid, and then back to Beast Boy, feeling a surge of intense but completely unidentifiable emotion within her.
"Yeah..." she said slowly. "Yeah, I guess it is."
"You will not triumph over the Dark Side young hero! Oh yeah, we'll see about that! Hah, the only thing you will see is my rancor's jaws crushing your feeble body!"
The furious duel between miniatures of Emperor Palpatine and He-Man was interrupted by a knock on his door. Huh, well that didn't happen too often. Most people didn't appreciate the cozy, fragrant atmosphere of his bedroom.
Their resident hot alien appeared in the doorway. "I hope I am not intruding, friend Beast Boy?"
"Naw, c'mon in! Oh, watch the pile of clothes on the left though. I think I saw something moving in there last night."
She stepped in gingerly. He started to wonder why gingerly was a word and why it meant what it did. Why not paprikaly or basily?
"Friend, I have been thinking for some time on this, and have come to the conclusion that our fallen enemy-and-friend Doll That Is Russian deserves a large rock carved into her appearance to honor her sacrifice. Since you have known her the most of any of us I wished to gather your opinion on this."
Pretend battles were forgotten for real ones. The Russian Doll's flippant, don't-you-act-bitchy-at-me-you-bitch speech and her bloodless but terrible death at Darker's hands flashed into memory. Why did nice people have to die?
"No, it's okay," he said quietly, setting the action figures down. "I mean, it's a nice thought and all, but she hated formal stuffy stuff. She woulda just thought it a waste of rock. She lived kinda like an animal, in a good way... just day to day. I don't think she really cared what happened once she was gone."
"She was a person of much practicality, then."
"Oh, totally, except for all the fun theatrical fighting stuff. You know, she kind of reminded me of Jinx... sneaky, kinda aiming for trouble, but not meaning anything bad by it."
"If you crave the deeds of mischief, perhaps the sorceress of bad luck would consent to visit our tower and stay for a while?"
He stared suspiciously. "Hey, are you trying to hook me up? 'Cause she's totally with Kid Flash. At least they're always hanging around each other and stuff. And she talks to Cy more than the rest of us, so I think he's got dibs on her if KF gets dumb and drops her. She is kinda cute, though..." he mused thoughtfully. "Eh, naw. I've run outta good pickup lines. You can never use the same one twice, y'know, they go stale if you do that."
"Truly? I am not acquainted with these lines of picking up that you speak of, can you explain?"
"Dude, you know. The stuff you say when you're trying to impress someone cute and make them like you."
"Oh, yes! On my planet it is more common to simply show a great feat of strength, such as slaying an elder jurdoq and placing the head on the doorstep of the one affection is held for, but words are also sometimes used."
"Huh. Neat. So, what kinda things do Tamaranians say to other Tamaranians they wanna play tonsil-hockey with?"
"Tonsil-hockey? I am unfamiliar with that sport."
"Heh, ask Robin to teach you how to play. You've got a date with him tonight, right?"
"Eep! I had forgotten! I must do the brushing of my hair for ten thousand strokes, and try out many different dresses of varying coloration, and-"
"Heh," Beast Boy said, picking his action figures up again. He'd find out some Tamaranian pickup lines some other time. Maybe Jinx wasn't totally out of his league. Or that cute red-haired foreign chick. What was her name? Something with two syllables, he was pretty sure.
Star was sooooo Robin's, though, it wasn't even funny.
It wasn't like there was anyone else worth hitting on...
"No way," he muttered disbelieving at Palpatine, shaking his head as if that would rid him of the random crazy, totally ridiculous thought. "Even I'm not that stupid. Right, Palpatine? Indeed, young superhero!"
On the other hand, if he ever got emo and wanted to die, at least he now had a plan for indirect suicide.
Her biggest worry turned out to be interpreting the correct utensils for various functions. No one had ever told her there could ever be three forks for a single meal! Robin had, as always, done his best to help her understand.
"Well, it's like this, the different forks are for different dishes. The one at the top of your plate is for... you know what? The heck with it, it's not like there's any possible way for any of it to matter. Eat whatever you want with whichever fork you want."
She stared uncertainly. "Robin, are you certain? I do not wish to offend any of your people with my ignorance of your-"
"-completely irrational and arbitrary cultural norms," Robin interrupted her, grinning. "Don't worry about it. It's not important. Enjoy yourself and be happy. That's what's important."
And so she did. The dinner was very nice. The ride back on Robin's R-Cycle was even nicer, though. It was, if not very creative, a very definite step up in their relationship, something she'd been wanting for a long time. Being seen in public, not just as superheroes, but as a coupled superheroes... it was exactly what she had been hoping for. A Robin that wasn't ashamed to engage in traditional earthly courtship rituals. She would enjoy introducing him to traditional Tamaranian courtship rituals eventually... but there was no need to hurry. He was a more delicate boy than he showed, and the kind of activities she had in mind would probably be too... intense... for him, for now. But she could compromise, she could wait patiently. Progress was being made.
But almost at the end of the ride, at the sea's shore, Robin stopped and got off, staring at the water contemplatively. The sun had long since set, and the waves were dark and gentle.
"Robin? Are you well?" She hoped he hadn't found something to brood over again, not at the end of their first real date.
"I'm great, Star. There's just something I wanted to do before we got back home."
She slipped off the vehicle herself and put a hand on his shoulder. "And what is that?"
He still didn't look at her. The waves were a soothing sound, though, she had to admit, and his entrancement was understandable. "It's funny... you'd think, living with a guy like Cyborg all this time, I would've figured out simple things like this a lot sooner..." He turned to look at her, reaching up to brush gloved fingers over her hand. "Life's too short to not really live it. A petty criminal who wasn't such a bad person in the end is gone... Beast Boy was almost gone... for that matter, we could all die any day in our line of work. When I go, I want to go without any regrets. Without wishing I'd done something. Starfire... there are things between me and Batman, things I need to clear up. It's wrong to just let them linger."
She carefully disguised her disappointment. "I see. How long will you be away?"
He smiled wryly. "Oh, so you don't want to come along?"
"You wish for me to accompany you?" Her eyes widened in shock. "Are not your past and Gotham and the Batman private things that do not concern me?"
"I can't think of anyone they'd concern more. After all, it's only right that my father figure meet my girlfriend..."
Unable to help herself, she sprung up into the air twenty feet, performing a giggly twirl. Robin stared upwards, bewildered.
She brought herself to ground, grinning bashfully. "My apologies Robin. I was suddenly very... happy."
"Glad to hear it, but I'm not done yet." His arms entwined her waist, tugged her close. "The mask. Take it off."
If she had been overjoyed before, now she was simply stunned. It was a long moment before she could find words to speak again.
"You are not a robot of Slade, are you dear Robin?" she teased. "I had never thought I would live to see this day... never thought, but always hoped..."
She hesitated until he nodded her on, and then she carefully, nervously peeled the fabric off. It was attached by some sort of clinging substance, but delicately enough that it came off easily when deliberate pressure was applied, without leaving any marks or causing any discomfort.
"You look as beautiful with the mask off as on, I am seeing," she murmured, brushing fingers over his cheek.
The kiss was, by this point, inevitable and predictable, but no less intensely enjoyable for being those things. After a few moments, it became surprisingly intense as well, and was accompanied with mutual caresses... it was all she could do to remember not to use her full strength on him and hurt him.
After about a minute, they broke things off, panting and flushed. She handed her mask to him, but he waved it off.
"Naw. You keep it for a little bit. I wanna get back home first."
So he was planning to bless the entire team with his unmasked visage! Oh, what a truly glorious day this was indeed.
When they got inside, she could scarcely contain her excitement.
"Friends! Friends, come quickly! Robin has something he must show you!"
She had a very loud voice when she wanted to. The remaining Titans were there in short order.
"Jeez, Starfire, my ears're practically-holyjumpingbeansonamoped..."
"Hey, what's goin'... what's... what's goin'... goin'... guh..."
Robin grinned and gave a little wave. "Uh... hi, guys?"
Raven, Cyborg, and Beast Boy gawked openly, jaws open.
Cyborg suddenly fell to the ground with a crash, and Starfire gasped. Had she excited her mechanical friend too much and caused some kind of malfunction? "Friend Cyborg!"
Beast Boy poked his gaming partner with a foot, staring down. "Dude. I think he fainted."
The television spoke to a room dark as a cave. It was just a repeat of older news, and no one would have stayed up for it specifically. But, one pair of ears was listening anyway, simply because sometimes, you just didn't want to go to sleep.
"-in fact, many experts are opining that the infamous incident now popular known as the Great Secret Identity Unveiling was merely a speeding up of a process already inevitable due to advancements in satellite photo technology. Both the United Nations and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have independently confirmed that at least fifty percent of the so-called secret identities are false, despite several of the names being definitively confirmed, most notably Clark Kent, Barry Allen, and John Stewart, also known as Superman, the Flash, and the Green Lantern. This has trimmed many of the prolonged, interconnected court battles down to the bare proven essentials, which still make for some of the most complicated legal debating the world has ever seen. Despite the inevitable complications, many legal experts have expressed a hope that this will be a positive event in the long run, allowing society to more properly encorporate super-powered individuals into the mainstream world instead of keeping them at arm's reach, separate, 'special,' and ultimately, perhaps even segregated..."
He heard softly padding footsteps, so he muted the tv. He didn't bother getting up or turning the lights on, though.
"Hey, dude. How often d'you... aaahhhhmmm... sit around in the dark past midnight?" Beast Boy asked, pausing for a yawn in the middle of the question.
Robin turned around and chuckled a little at his teammate's attire. "How often do you wear Tiny Toons pajamas with little booties?"
"Prolly more than I should," Beast Boy confessed with a grin, patting down hair still ruffled from sleep.
His friend peered closer, saw the table and what was on it. "Hey, what's all that stuff? That's not a milk bottle is it? Wouldn't mind saving a trip to the fridge and its creepy blue fuzz..."
He shook his head. "Sorry. It's, uh, wine... and a few glasses... don't worry, it's not what you think."
"Good, 'cause you know we'd all have to kick your butt if you became a freaky-deaky midnight alcoholic boozemonger!"
"Yeah, heh, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I set this stuff out because I wanted to celebrate... I don't know what, actually."
"No reason's totally the best reason for celebrating."
"Somehow I'm not surprised you'd think that. So, I wanted to celebrate together... a sort of toast, thing. Kind of stupid now that I think about it. And I planned it all wrong, anyway. By the time I chose the right wine and found some good glasses everyone was already asleep, hah. I was going to put the stuff up in a little bit. Do it another time, maybe."
Beast Boy sat down beside him on the couch, staring at the bottle. "Is it expensive?"
"By the standards of wine, no. By the standards of anything else we've ever drunk, yes."
"Cool." He was quiet for a moment. "It's kinda neat to know that you're down here, sometimes, just being all... Robiny. Like a good leader."
"A leader can never be better than the people he leads, y'know."
"Psh. C'mon, dude. False modesty's gross. You're way stronger than me... better'n me..."
"Why would you say that?"
"Look, you remember that time Star got zapped to the future? You were all superheroic, just like always. Even more so, maybe, 'cause you apparently had this rad black suit and worked alone. And me... I was just some dumb bald idiot in a cage. I'm just no good when I don't have people to help me out. I'm not strong like you. I need... people..." He didn't sound really depressed about it. A little sad, but mostly just accepting, and a bit tired. That might have been the awake-in-the-middle-of-the-night expressing itself, though.
"We all need people, Beast Boy." He smirked a bit. "Some of us just have a harder time admitting it than others."
"Hahah, right. And then there's the Metropolis thing... boy, we can never go back there, can we?"
"That's not your fault."
"Yeah, well, some of it is. Anyways. Maybe I'm just thinking too much, but it seems like everyone got to learn something from it, got to be better people. Everyone 'cept me. Everyone had some kind of lesson... but like Trickster said, nothing that happened to me during that whole thing ever told me anything I didn't kinda know already, and it didn't help me beat him."
"Well, then, maybe your lesson's that not everything has a quick and easy answer. Maybe it's that sometimes, things are just plain hard, and you have to try your best anyway, win or lose. No one ever said doing the right thing would always be easy, or let you win at everything in life, or even give you what you deserve to get. But when you do the right thing... you know that you did the right thing, and no matter what else happens, nothing can take that away from you."
They sat there in the dark for a while, not talking, barely moving. Watching the tv simply for the sake of watching something, without either one of them really wanting to unmute it. It wasn't awkward so much as it was... solemn. A random moment in the night they'd probably never bother to tell anyone else about.
"So," Beast Boy finally said, "can I try some of the wine?"
"You want to?"
"Sure, why not? Never had any. Has to be good if it costs so much."
"Alright." He screwed the corkscrew in and pulled the cork out carefully, and poured a small amount into two glasses. He took one. Beast Boy took the other. They looked at each other, and there was something that was rarely shared between them: understanding.
the Titans?" Beast Boy suggested.
"To the Titans."
The glasses clinked against each other gently.
"Change is hard," Beast Boy said, almost inaudibly, with a little sigh before taking a sip.
"But change is good," Robin said with a smile, downing his glass in a gulp.