Well, this story has been going for a while, but it has reached its close. I hope all my readers enjoyed the ride, and that I've wrapped everything up satisfactorily. If you guys enjoyed Smile for the Camera (or any of my other work) I encourage you to keep your eyes open for my next story. Right now, I'm still debating which of my plot bunnies is most worthy.
I have a few general messages for you guys. Firstly, I'd like to say thank you to all readers. The very fact that you guys reached this final chapter speaks volumes to me.
To my reviewers, new and old, thank you all so much for taking the time to give me some feed-back. Reviews are never the reason to write a story, but I would be lying if I said I didn't appreciate every one of them.
With all the sentimental stuff out of the way, I give you the final installation of Smile for the Camera.
Smile for the Camera
Beast Boy was jarred from his thoughts a few minutes later by the sound of someone running down the tunnel into the Titan's hidden refuge. They weren't bothering to keep quiet. Beast Boy sprang up quickly and Raven did the same. The demoness inched away from Beast Boy subtly. He frowned.
The sound of pounding feet got closer and closer, and Beast Boy could hear multiple feet in pursuit. One of the pursuers had Cyborg's heavy gait; the other sounded like Robin. That meant someone had found the hidden refuge and been caught trying to escape. Beast Boy rushed to the tunnel mouth and morphed into a tiger. The changeling gnashed his teeth together and waited.
"Would you stop that?" Raven commanded from behind him. "Whoever they're chasing isn't a threat, otherwise they wouldn't be running back this way." Beast Boy growled but shifted back into his human form.
"There's no harm in being careful, Raven. You should be able to understand…" Beast Boy never got time to finish his lecture. A very solid body slammed into the changeling, and Beast Boy was sent sprawling. He landed on his knees and turned to glare at the intruder. Drew was getting off the ground, and it took a moment for Beast Boy to make the connection between who had run into him and who he was looking at.
"That's your idea of careful?" Raven chuckled from the side.
"Drew! How did you get down here?" Beast Boy asked. He tried to act dignified and keep the surprise out of his voice. He couldn't keep the surprise away, and Beast Boy couldn't salvage dignity from being plowed over by the cameraman. Cyborg and Robin rushed into the cavern and glared daggers at the weedy man.
Raven gestured for Cyborg and Robin to relax. "Robin, Cyborg, this is Drew, he's working with us on the counter-documentary." The empath stared pointedly at Robin and the Boy Wonder backed down.
"Hey, Beast Boy. I followed the tracker I put on you," Drew answered. He fished through his pockets and pulled out a very familiar device. The palm-sized monitor had a small red blip on it that pulsed every few seconds. Robin stiffened.
"You stole that!" Robin shouted when he saw the device. It was the same mechanism built into the Titan's communicators. The Boy Wonder had used the exact design to trace Jinx back to the HIVE Academy. Drew tossed the device at Robin, and he caught it deftly.
"You're right. Do you want to grill me for borrowing something I've already given back… or do you want to focus of the counter-documentary you need to finish in the next two days?"
"Wait a minute," Cyborg interrupted. "Are you seriously saying that Stewart's documentary is going to be finished in forty-eight hours? That can't be possible."
"It is," Drew said simply. "I don't think anyone on the tech staff has slept a wink since you guys ran off. You know Stewart, he's a terrific motivator when it suits him."
Beast Boy gapped at Drew. The documentary couldn't almost be finished; Cyborg hadn't even gotten a chance to render all of the footage yet. Beast Boy looked over to the computer and felt his stomach sink uncomfortably. He'd forgotten to restart the rendering after looking at his disk.
"What should we do?" Raven asked calmly. Only Beast Boy seemed to notice how pale Raven was – paler than usual. Drew brightened, and Beast Boy saw Robin clench and unclench his fists. The changeling could understand why: the Titans were in big trouble, Drew shouldn't be smiling.
"Get to work," Drew said. "I just quit Stewart's staff; I think Sarah Rose is going to stick around for a while. I'm here to help you guys out. I figured you don't know much about making documentaries, and you're going to need a hand."
"We appreciate it, man," Cyborg said slowly. Beast Boy didn't think the metal Titan sounded very grateful. "But we can handle it on our own." Drew smirked and Cyborg scowled. "All we need to do is present the truth next to Stewart's version and that'll be that."
Drew shook his head sadly. "No, that won't be that. The truth isn't enough, and you know it," the cameraman said.
"What would you suggest then?" Raven asked before Cyborg could retaliate. Drew held up his camera.
"You need to give the people something juicy. You need to look human; that will score you some points. I've seen parts of Stewart's documentary. It looks really good, I almost believed it, but there are a few holes in his story. That's where you get to capitalize… with this," Drew motioned to the camera.
Beast Boy frowned at the camera and tried to figure out what could possibly be on it that would make their counter-documentary stronger. Raven and he no doubt looked very bad, especially considering all the times they vanished. And the fact that they both attacked their shadows. Beast Boy's eyes widened and he waved his arms frantically.
"No way, dude! We can't use that footage, it will make things worse than they already are!"
Robin, Cyborg, and Raven all stared wide-eyed at Beast Boy. The fact that the changeling somehow knew what was on the camera and no one else did was strange. Then Raven's eyes widened as realization dawned on her. Drew had filmed them comforting each other.
"How can it get worse than this?" Drew asked wryly, waving his arm around the cave. "News flash, buddy, you've all hit rock bottom. The only place to go now is up."
Beast Boy growled and cradled his head. The speculation that would be created by the film of Raven and him comforting each other, especially if it was taken out of context, would be disastrous. Beast Boy wasn't in a relationship with Raven, they were just friends, but the glint in Drew's eye told Beast Boy that the cameraman could make it look like much more.
"What else can we do?" Raven asked after a moment. Beast Boy thought the dark girl was asking about alternatives, but it slowly registered that she had accepted Drew's proposal.
"We should talk about this one first," the changeling interrupted. Raven cut him off.
"No. We don't need to talk about this one. Everybody already speculates... you read the same stories I read. Let them have their perverse fantasies. What's next?" Raven asked, directing the question at Drew. Cyborg and Robin exchanged glances, then they shrugged simultaneously.
"Oh, come on!" Beast Boy yelled exasperatedly. "Where's Starfire? She'll back me up on this one," Beast Boy protested. Raven frowned at him, and Beast Boy thought he saw pain flash in her violet eyes. Then it was gone, and Beast Boy was positive it had been a trick of the light.
"Star's still on the surface trying to lose her helicopter entourage," Cyborg said with a light smirk. Beast Boy sighed loudly. Raven arched an eyebrow at the changeling and he cocked his head to the side.
"What?" he asked hesitantly.
"It's just that I don't think Starfire would agree with you," Raven said lightly. "If she pesters me about a real relationship, I doubt a fake one would bother her." Beast Boy's mouth went dry; Starfire and Raven had been talking, talking about Raven and him in a relationship. The changeling studied Raven, trying to figure out how those conversations ended. The demoness' face betrayed nothing.
"Okay… if you're sure, Raven," Beast Boy sighed. "So, Drew, what's next?"
The next two days passed in a desperate flurry of activity during which Beast Boy felt completely and utterly useless. After he accidentally deleted a segment of film that Cyborg had to spend over an hour recovering, the changeling was banished to the couch, where he sat and watched the project that would determine a large part of his future and the future of his friends and family unfold.
Cyborg and Drew worked together extremely well, and Cyborg picked up one the technical aspects of documentary making quickly. The cybernetic teen also caught onto the styles and motifs Drew was going for. Raven spent most of her time going over completed footage and writing voice-over scripts for Robin. Starfire seemed to do nothing and yet everything to Beast Boy. The Tamaranian wasn't familiar with any of the technology being used, but the alien princess was an invaluable source of energy and optimism.
Beast Boy willed time to move faster, and was rewarded for his efforts with seconds that dragged by with leaden feet. None of them slept very much. Beast Boy found himself drifting off to sleep now and then and ran a few laps around the cave every time.
It was too risky for the Titans to venture above ground. Thankfully, emergencies in the city dwindled to a trickle even the Jump City Police Department could manage. After much pondering and debate, Drew agreed to get in touch with an old college roommate to get the completed counter-documentary into theatres. Stewart's version had already been in Jump City theaters for a day. After that, it wasn't long before life returned to normal – as normal as it ever got.
Beast Boy walked into the Tower days later with a large cotton bag slung over his shoulder. The bag was full of mail from fans and critics of the Titans. The slant articles against Raven and Beast Boy had dried up quickly in response to public outcry. The counter-documentary Drew had crafted milked the "relationship" between Raven and Beast Boy and the one between Robin and Starfire for all they were worth. Beast Boy wasn't completely happy about it, he doubted anyone was, but it was better than the alternatives.
Fan-fiction was still up and running; Sawchak had maneuvered quickly to enumerate all the different ways the Titans had broken their contract, but story submissions had lessened. Beast Boy thought it was because of sympathy to the Titans. The changeling wasn't sure how long that would last.
He trekked up to the living room and dumped the bag of letters unceremoniously on the table. Cyborg looked up from where he was preparing lunch. Beast Boy opened his mouth to protest, but Cyborg silenced him with a look. Sitting on the edge of the table was a tofu sandwich. Beast Boy couldn't help but smile at how much that simple act cost Cyborg. But the eldest Titan had done it anyway.
"More letters?" Cyborg asked. He sounded bored. Beast Boy just nodded. "We could just burn all of them," Cyborg mused as he jabbed a ham with a fork to test its completeness.
Beast Boy shook his head. As much trouble as the letters were, it was nice to see the apologies. Tiny handed scrawls ripe with misspellings from children who had never doubted them, retractions from parents who had been pulled into the lies. Beast Boy liked to read those letters, because the changeling had doubted himself for a while during the whole ordeal. Knowing that other people hadn't sent Beast Boy soaring.
The changeling set about sorting the mail. Not all of the letters were retractions. Some were threats, some were rude, and some would be apologies if only their writer's had less pride. A letter for Starfire, one for Cyborg, Robin, Robin, Beast Boy, Raven, Raven, Starfire, Beast Boy, Raven, Robin, Cyborg, Raven, Raven, Beast Boy. It went on until Beast Boy's fingers ached from picking up the envelopes.
Without speaking, Beast Boy scooped up Raven's letters and his. The changeling waved cheerfully to Cyborg before heading out of the living room. Before he knew it, Beast Boy was standing in front of Raven's door with his fist extended toward the door and suspended mid-knock.
"Come in," Raven's voice called from inside. Beast Boy jumped. He didn't know Raven could tell he was outside. The changeling pushed the door's panel, and it slid into its frame. Raven was sitting cross-legged on her bed with one eye cracked open. Beast Boy chuckled nervously: it was never a good idea, in his experience, to interrupt Raven while she was meditating.
"Hey, Rae, we got a few more letters," Beast Boy held up the clump of envelopes as if to offer the dark girl proof that he wasn't just wasting her time.
"I can see that, Beast Boy," Raven smiled. She paused for a moment. "Come in," Raven patted a spot next to her on the bed. The green shape-shifter walked into Raven's room slowly, like he was expecting to be attacked. The dark girl watched his progress with laughter dancing in her eyes. Beast Boy reached the bed and handed Raven her mail. The empath glanced at the stack and then back up at Beast Boy.
"I already told you to sit down," Raven deadpanned. Beast Boy smiled nervously and sunk down onto the bed. Raven picked up an envelope, and Beast Boy happened to catch the name on the return address.
"I didn't know you were keeping in touch with Sarah Rose," Beast Boy said. The changeling thought Raven would want to put as much distance between herself and the memory of the past few weeks as possible.
"Well, I am," Raven quipped. Beast Boy waited for Raven to open the envelope and skim the letter.
"Well," he asked, "what does it say?" Raven rolled her eyes, but Beast Boy noticed the usual annoyance didn't accompany the gesture. Raven was actually being playful.
"She says Stewart fired both Drew and her and that both of them have received about a dozen different job offers. She's thinking about going to work with Central Park Media. Sawchak is still raving against us, and he's going to be investigated for abusing his license." Beast Boy frowned in though. "You don't actually feel sorry for him, do you?" Raven asked. "The man's a monster."
Beast Boy nodded absent-mindedly. "And you're a half-demon. Don't get me wrong," Beast Boy added quickly when he saw Raven's face darken, "he's definitely one seriously bad dude, but… I guess I feel guilty about his sister."
Raven sat in silence. "You could always tell him so," she said. It came out little more than a whisper. "You shouldn't talk to him, but you could write him a letter and send him a copy of Robin's report disk. He won't forgive you, though, Beast Boy. He's lived too long with revenge in his heart to let it go."
Beast Boy frowned at his feet. A few moments later the contemplative changeling was replaced by a hyper teenage boy; he could deal with that later. The green teen ripped open an envelope and scanned through it. A little girl had written it. The girl said her parents had been angry, but she had never thought he'd done the terrible things people said he did. Scanning to the signature, Beast Boy's world jarred to a stop. Written in large looping letters was a name Beast Boy was very familiar with – Lynn.
"It isn't the same person, you know," Raven sighed from across him. Beast Boy's head shot up. Raven was leaning forward, reading the letter upside down.
"I know," Beast Boy sighed, and he felt a light tug at the back of his mind. "Hey, Rae, do you think we could talk about the whole going into my head thing?"
Raven uncrossed her legs and set her mail behind her, giving Beast Boy her undivided attention. "I don't see why not," she responded. "I'm not sure what there is to talk about."
"What do you know?" Beast Boy asked quietly. Raven's expression softened.
"Everything," the empath responded. "What you've done, what you've seen, how you feel about what you've done and seen." Beast Boy went cold. The boy had suspected as much, but hearing it put into words was still mind-boggling.
"So, you'll be more tolerant when I annoy you?" Beast Boy joked, trying to dull the all-consuming cold flooding through his body. Raven's expression went slack.
"I wouldn't go that far, Beast Boy," Raven laughed. For all his attempts to get Raven to laugh, the sound was strange coming from the demoness. Beast Boy poked her arm a few times to make sure she was real. Then he went too far and pinched her hand. Raven's glare spoke volumes. The changeling chuckled.
"Sorry, I guess I'm trying to wrap my mind around everything and acting–"
"You're acting like a child," Raven inserted for him, her expression frozen in place. Her physiognomy softened and Raven continued. "But I understand why – it's a lot to take in at once. I thought Robin was going to take a swing at me when he found out how much I'd learned from our mind-meld. If you want some time alone, we can talk later," Raven offered.
Beast Boy's brow furrowed. Raven knew everything there was to know about him. All his excuses, his masks, his antics, were laid bare before the critical demoness. She'd known everything all along, but she hadn't said anything until he asked. The changeling swallowed a lump in his throat and managed a weak smile. The cold inside him was still there, it would take a while to dissipate.
"I think I'll be fine," Beast Boy said. "Besides, you know everything about me now. It's only fair that you fill me in about you." Raven blinked a few times, and Beast Boy could see the immediate rejection flit in and out of her mind. Eventually, slowly, Raven nodded.
"What do you want to know?" the demoness asked. Beast Boy rummaged through his mind, looking for all the questions he had about Raven. Questions about her past, her behavior, her real thoughts about his jokes. Questions about her most embarrassing moment, questions about her life in Azarath. Raven knew everything about him, and Beast Boy had always wanted good blackmail against the empath.
As Beast Boy searched through his thoughts he couldn't think of Raven as the humorless girl who yelled at him and insulted him every time they spoke. He couldn't focus on the dark girl who had so thoroughly ignored him after he'd stumbled across fan-fiction. Beast Boy's thoughts kept roaming back into years past to the lonely young woman who had entrusted her heart to a monster and had it shattered. That girl and the one who had sat huddled with him feet away from a shredded newspaper were the same person. Beast Boy really liked that person. The young man sighed inaudibly.
"How are you doing?" As the last word left his mouth, Beast Boy could taste all sorts of hidden secrets creeping away from him so he could never find them again. Raven smiled up at him, a tiny little smile that seemed to strike a match in the icy presence that had consumed him.
"I'll be fine," Raven whispered. "The worst of this is over. It will take time, but I'll heal."
Beast Boy nodded in understanding. He knew all too well the healing powers of time. But for his deepest wounds, Beast Boy had never had to cope alone. After Terra had betrayed the Teen Titans, after Terra had turned to stone in the final double-cross, after Terra had mysteriously returned without a single memory of her life as a Titan, Raven had been there to help him wade through the encroaching depression.
"Do you want help?" Beast Boy asked. Raven looked up and caught his gaze. Beast Boy stared deep into Raven's violet eyes, willing her to see he was nothing but sincere. The empath lowered her gaze, and, on an impulse, Beast Boy reached out and cupped her chin. Slowly, Beast Boy raised Raven's eyes back up. She could have pulled away if she wanted to, but instead Beast Boy found himself staring into Raven's eyes as tears pooled over the irises.
A tear escaped and rolled down Raven's cheek. Beast Boy used his thumb to gently brush it away. Without warning, Raven threw herself at Beast Boy and buried her face in his shoulder. The changeling wrapped Raven in a tight embrace and tried to think of something comforting to do or say. He'd known Raven was hurt by the articles against them, but he'd never considered how deep the cuts were. Beast Boy couldn't think of anything to comfort Raven with, but she seemed content with the silent embrace. Raven pulled away before Beast Boy could figure out what to do.
"I could use a little help," Raven answered Beast Boy's question. Although there were tracks of water running along Raven's delicate features, her voice was perfectly composed.
Beast Boy pulled Raven to her feet. "First, we need to get you washed up. Then we need to go eat; Cyborg was making a ham earlier, and I'm betting he's done. No talking," Beast Boy instructed when Raven opened her mouth. The changeling dragged Raven to the bathroom and playfully pushed the demoness inside. The door slid shut before he could see the grin spreading across Raven's face.
They were all scarred in one way or another by Stewart and Sawchak. But it was over now. It was time to move on, to heal. Beast Boy sat outside the bathroom door as Raven washed her face, running over what to say in his letter to Sawchak. When the demoness emerged from the bathroom, she seemed more collected. Beast Boy thought she even seemed to glow. The changeling jumped to his feet and, together, Raven and Beast Boy walked to lunch. They would put this behind them in time. But they would do it together.
Author's Note: I hope you have all enjoyed this story. I know writing it has been a fantastic experience for me.