I still don't own the Teen Titans. This story is what happens when a literature dork writes about her favorite character for two and a half hours: a character study in books.

Seventeen was an odd age to discover children's stories.

She started reading them just days after the Brotherhood of Evil was defeated. She wanted something with a happy ending, some classic work of literature that didn't always end in tragedy.

She found Mark Twain and Margery Sharp, Frances Hodgson Burnett and Anna Sewell, J. M. Barrie and Katherine Paterson.

Raven read books written for children when her teammates had already grown up.

After Tokyo, Robin and Starfire seemed to be attached at the hip. After the first few weeks, they spent a few days a week doing something else. On rare trips to the shopping mall, Starfire's grammar was oddly normal as she talked about what she and Robin had done. Robin changed, too, smiling for no particular reason and loosening up from the old training regimen.

Cyborg was working on a second car. That car was made with parts and circuits earned from a part-time job at an automotive research company right in Jump City. The car wasn't for him. Several people had expressed interest in a car with the T-Car's efficiency and style. Cyborg left the artillery and rockets out, toned down the maximum speed, and built a car from the axles up in just six weeks.

Raven was reading about Neverland when she realized just what had been so strange.

They all had been impressed with Beast Boy, of course. He had led Titans he hadn't met before, and the five of them had held off the Brotherhood long enough for enforcements to arrive. Even when they had, Beast Boy had led them.

Raven had scowled as if Mr. Barrie had disappointed her. People didn't just suddenly start to grow up, as if they'd left some magical place behind. She had set the book aside and moved onto Paterson.

That had been a mistake. Bridge to Terabithia was, if possible, worse. Did growing up always mean leaving something (or some people) behind?

Raven had grown up fast. She didn't remember any of the seemingly essential parts of childhood. She had been destined to destroy the world. She had never learned to smile and laugh, to make forts from couches and blankets, or to have a snowball fight. The typical books she read didn't give her the answers. Classic Literature was the province of adults, so she read through books that children would read.

She didn't think she had been a child, after reading all the books she could find. She had always needed to be in control, and had known that she was evil. Now, she was wearing down that old belief. Maybe she had been a child. A child will believe anything, if told often enough. She had been a sponge, then, without time or use for play. The others seemed to think she could just change her mind overnight, but it wasn't that easy. The Adults had told her that she was Evil. To a child, Adults (invariably given capitals, when they seem as important and frightening as Azar) are always right.

Her preliminary study wasn't enough. She read C. S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll, and J. R. R. Tolkien. Not all books were written specifically for children, but the closest approximation so far had been the contrary protagonist of Burnett's Secret Garden. It wasn't close enough. Mistress Mary had gone on to find a childhood. Raven had left the matter a little bit late.

Natalie Babbit, Frank L. Baum, Marguerite Henry, Washington Irving, Rudyard Kipling, Lois Lenski, Hugh Lofting, L. M. Montgomery, Madeleine L'Engle- no author had the answer to her question. She didn't know what she was asking.

Louisa May Alcott, Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Anne Frank, Victor Hugo, Anne McCaffrey, Wilson Rawls, Sir Walter Scott, John Steinbeck, Robert Lewis Stevenson, O. Henry, J.D. Salinger! Nothing. Still nothing.

How did you know if you had ever been a child? If she couldn't remember such a thing now- how would she change like the rest of her teammates? She had been changing, but her slow steps in relaxing weren't enough. Her teammates were growing too fast, and soon she wouldn't feel too old for them. She would be too young.

Finally, she gave up. No one else seemed to understand, so she returned to J. M. Barrie and brushed off two weeks of dust.

She read it all the way through, then read it again. She saw herself in every character, and almost knew what questions she wanted to ask. Almost.

Raven teased Cyborg about how much time he was spending in the garage until he understood what she couldn't say, and heard the words behind the sarcasm. He taught her how to play one of those silly video games, and she lost. Every time.

Robin found them, once, and he took a third control. Raven lost again, but it didn't seem to matter- as long as she took someone else's car out of the race with her own. She didn't (quite) laugh, and (mostly) didn't smile, but there was something oddly relaxing about wasting her time so thoroughly.

Beast Boy didn't notice. He'd been spending more time on the shore, doing nothing, and no one could tempt him from staring across the water. Staring at her.

Starfire accepted a halting offer to go to the mall, and was ecstatic when Raven agreed to a (partial!) makeover.

An hour after the first attempt, a barrette was finally untangled from fine hair. Raven eyed the snarl of hair, and didn't scowl (much). Instead, her brush shot into her hand. She and Starfire compared possible plans for the future. A future without being a superhero wasn't so frightening when no one would fight crime as a Teen Titan. They would just save the world one day at a time, the civilian way.

Beast Boy didn't come to training practice, once. Robin couldn't teach them the new strategy for battle when missing one of five, so they had learned useless acrobatic tricks. Raven could do a handstand, without powers, and a cartwheel with only a little help from her powers. Robin still claimed she was cheating, and Raven had somehow knew the correct response was to roll her eyes- while doing a headstand.

Something was starting to mend. Raven smiled more often, even if it was just with her eyes. She lost (typically abysmally) at video games, she didn't put up as much as a token resistance when Starfire "dragged" her to the mall, and she helped Cyborg build scale remote-controlled replicas of the T-Car. They couldn't find a reason that sounded properly efficient, but they were just a few laps from wearing a track in the common room's carpet.

Beast Boy still spent his time alone, waiting for a girl who didn't remember him.

Raven put aside her books, for a time, and started looking into the paperbound catalogs of college courses. She wasn't ready yet, but she was working towards her G.E.D. online. When (not if) the Titans had to move on to something else, Raven would have a place to go. It wasn't so scary as she had thought.

Raven packed her books carefully in a cedar chest, layering them with cloth as if she was tucking them in. Only one book stayed out, her new reminder that it wasn't too late. Not yet. She exposed her windows to daylight, packed the darkest spellbooks away rather haphazardly, and started reading and re-reading the classics that would be expected for a major in literature. She had spent her first years in books, and had found something like a childhood through the ideas in them.

She started to look into the careers available. High school was an option, or working with children. After searching curricula of the highest courses, however, she found just where she should be. Why didn't the universities in her area teach children's books to adults? The lessons were just as important, and it never was too late. Never.

Raven started to look past the aligned spines of books, even as she brought her favorite books back out from the layers of cloth to stand among the usual classics.

Peter Pan stayed on her nightstand. Even if she didn't read the book, it was there.

She smiled more often, and not just her teammates (three teammates, she had to amend) noticed. Raven didn't know what to think when the young man on the skateboard winked at her. She had almost tripped over her own feet, and Starfire had giggled at Raven's expression. From there… Raven found another part of childhood.

The next time someone winked, she was ready with curved lips. When someone whistled, she tossed her hair and only broke the face of her watch. The first time the waiter at the pizza place flirted, she smiled at her plate.

For days afterward, she moved to new books, and filled her shelves again with Tamora Pierce, Laurie Halse Anderson, Garth Nix, Eoin Colfer, Han Nolan, Jean Ferris, Karen Cushman, Nancy Farmer, Phillip Pullman, Zilpha Keatley Snyder, Jane Yolen, Diana Wynne Jones, Katherine Paterson again, Lois Lowry, Robin McKinley, Louis Sachar, Louisa May Alcott, T. A. Barron, and Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer (who wrote some books together).

The next time he flirted with her, she said a few words back, smiling-

Beast Boy looked up, suddenly, and she imagined that they were strangers.

He stared at her, the next day, and noticed when she started the GameStation with easy familiarity. It had been five weeks, but he just had started coming back to them when Cyborg and Robin cornered him about Terra and the girl Terra was not.

She tossed him a controller, and smiled-

He stood like he wanted to leave, and she couldn't help the flash of hurt. She was living her childhood late, and children couldn't lie about emotions. It wasn't because they lacked the capacity to tell such a fib, but children didn't need to hide emotions. Raven had finally worn the old adage that she was evil down to a vestigial fragment of doubt.

He had picked it up off the floor, belatedly, and she almost beat him. After one game, he looked ready to wander away- so she found a book from her room. Later, after dinner, she put the book into his hand. She looked comfortably apathetic, then ruined it with a smile when a bemused teammate accepted the book. She had never tried to get him to read before- such a waste!

Raven knew that the brief exploration wouldn't last. Going back to childhood, from what she had read, was a short-lived affair. Having a childhood to begin with, however- that was different. She knew that it would end, so she read books as if she was losing that option.

Charles Dickens for a second time, Betty Smith, a new appreciation for J.D. Salinger, Harper Lee, Steven Crane, James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Charlotte Bronte, again with Mark Twain, Carson McCullers, Ian McEwan, Robert Cormier, Judy Blume, Maya Angelou, S. E. Hinton, another Laurie Halse Anderson, Edward Bloor, Ray Bradbury, and one author known only as anonymous.

It couldn't last forever, but it had lasted. She gradually lost that reckless wonder, and her tastes gradually darkened- but she read books that had been written in that last year, and paperbacks had places of honor among the musty old bound books. It took three weeks, and no more.

She was finished with Neverland and childhood when she put J. M. Barrie back among her teachers, and smiles were harder to catch. She thought about suitably grown-up things, such as just where how dreams would work, and drank her grown-up tea without any sudden hints of sugar or lemon juice.

She bought clothes at the mall that she could wear to interviews, and some for college classes. She imagined a normal house. She loved the Tower, almost as much as she adored (and to think that she could say such a thing!) her teammates, but she had learned more about just how she wanted to live. Raven wanted to go to college for years and years, where people could talk for days about the significance about just why the classics were Classics. She wanted to teach to college students, to make them understand that they could be a child in how they read their books- they could go back. It was never too late.

Raven hadn't thought to apply this new insight to her life. She smiled, at flirtation, and only the boldest earned a second remark. It was a game, at her favorite restaurant. Single (and some not single) customers would flirt, just to see what reaction they would draw- sometimes with a crowd, sometimes with a dare. She was more approachable, now that they had seen her thumbing through paperbacks they had read, and she really was a pretty girl when she sent that (mischievous! From her!) slant-eyed glance at a potential date.

The brave stayed, and then were challenged. It was a sport for two, that banter, but no one had caught her- yet.

It took almost two months, but he had been knocking at her door to borrow some book or other. He could go to the library, but maybe another time. She was right next door, and every book on her shelves was good. Raven's old books of magic had long been replaced by mildewed classics and hardcover favorites and paperback stories that sated Happy, even when laughing would shake her hard-kept control.

It was a bright, anonymous spring day when she took her seat by the window. She had an old favorite, title worn away by years and love for J. M. Barrie's story, one that she missed. She wasn't a child any longer, and the Titans were on their last legs. They had made the decision the night before, as a team. Jump City didn't need heroes on call, and together they started working on plans.

Robin would continue in a part of the world that needed a hero, and Starfire had the roots of a dandelion seed. She would follow him, and they would be happy. Bludhaven seemed very far away, but they all would visit for Christmas and some time in Jump City's late spring, when the capricious weather could be absolutely perfect- or damp. Cyborg hated the damp, but loved the rest of Jump City. He already had faithful clientele, and would continue working with cars- fighting crime on the side, if needed. The city had offered a stipend, but he had waved them off. The money would go to any inadvertent property damage. Beast Boy still was drifting between possibilities, not sure if he would even stay in the city.

Raven had sent in her applications to colleges with strong programs in literature, and already had two acceptance letters to her name, with scholarships to follow. She had pored over them with her team, and they had been the ones to help her decide what on earth she should put for ethnicity. (They decided on "not listed above.") Cyborg- Victor- had proofread her essays, then handed them over to Robin. Starfire had critiqued tone, Beast Boy had given her that odd look that had become his usual- Raven didn't understand, but something in that deep confusion softened when she smiled at him.

She smiled at him as much as she could bring that motion forward, and Happy whispered to Affection.

She was in civilian clothes, from the hood of her coat to the soles of her boots. (They would have been leather, but Beast Boy- Garfield, now- would shudder at the thought.) She supposed that she could be normal, but the hair absently tucked behind her ears and over her shoulders was purple, her tinted sunglasses couldn't conceal violet eyes, and the sunlight caught the gem on her forehead.

She was just beginning the ending, and remembering with only the smallest traces of smugness that she would have flight always, even when gone from her Neverland, when someone took the other seat at the table for two, and she looked up from her book to be caught in those Erin-green eyes. The word for that expression danced just out of reach, and the pages flipped past her fingers as the book fell to her lap quietly, with very little fuss. Books, she knew, were very sensible constructions- and wasn't it odd how her thoughts hadn't stopped?

Raven had been an adult before she could walk, and mature before she could form the beginnings of sentences. She had learned to trust from her friends, and they had taught her to trust herself. Books started teaching her childhood, but it was her friends again who made that brief period one of the best. Raven was back to her usual sedate (mostly, anyhow) lifestyle, but she had hope, now, and had started a pillow-fight with only minimal casualties (two cups, a plate, and the kitchen sink).

They forgot to talk, for that first minute, and by then her hands had somehow known to set the book between them- not as a barrier, but as a bridge. The chairs were arranged to look partially out at the street, where no crime was in progress, so she was close enough that her left hand somehow had the good judgment to reach for his right.

That made his job of the first words easier, and she wondered if he had seen her game of learning to flirt before. She never had accepted a date, believing that the idea of the potential was more exciting than hours in her company with only a few smiles and the occasional, brief laugh for compensation. He didn't ask for a date, which surprised her. He only wanted a chance.

He explained, words growing progressively more together until they were hardly any pauses at all, that he had been caught up in what might have happened for too long. All along, he had said he would make her (and he meant Raven, for once, when the pronoun was feminine) happy, and he had missed far too many smiles. If she would give him this chance, just one, then he would see if he deserved it. He didn't have any plans, not yet, but he was starting to remember things from being young without regret. His parents had been scientists, and perhaps he could be one, too.

She couldn't give him that chance, of course, for she had read too many books. One chance, she continued, with a finger just barely touching his lips, was hardly sufficient, when their luck had taken so long. She would give him Scheherazade's nights in chances (for after fairy tales by Grimm and by Anderson, it seemed only fair to include the One Thousand and One Arabian Nights), and more if he ran out- because she had read enough about life to know you can't just learn it from books.

Raven still meditated, of course, and emotions were cautious new territories, but he learned to understand the intricacies of just what expressions could say. Her university, chosen for its literature program (and partially the proximity to home), had a program in genetics that had happily accepted the child of Drs. Mark and Marie Logan.

This would, of course, be the point that the book stops. The conflicts are resolved, the characters are happy, and there seems little potential for a sudden twist in fate that would upset the balance. Raven knows that stories don't cover this part, but that's for good reason. All life has small conflicts, and there's only one thing to do after a happy ending- start over again, and know just how things will end. Stories can be just as wonderful the second time around, especially when she knows just what differences she would like to contribute.

It's never too late to make things right, just as it says in the first children's book by Raven Logan, Ph.D.