14. Could Have Been
The sight of a metallic ceiling, painted in shades of gold, greeted Cyborg as he awoke. He sat up with a yawn, rubbing his eyes as consciousness returned. Blinking sleepily, he glanced around the familiar confines of his room, gently illuminated by the morning sun as it shone through the windows. Aside from the golden paint scheme and hexagonal paneling, everything seemed to be in order…and he wasn't sure why the paint struck him as odd, as he couldn't think of what other color it was supposed to be, or why the panels shouldn't be hexagonal in shape.
He frowned, trying to brush away the mental cobwebs as his hand drifted down to idly scratch at an itch on his broad chest…
His chest itched.
He looked down, watching the pale streaks left by the pressure of his fingers on his skin recede, returning to its normal ebony shade.
His chest itched because he had skin, and muscle, and bone.
Why did that seem like such an amazing revelation?
Feeling very strange, he threw aside the bedsheets and stood up, still staring down at his body. Everything certainly looked perfectly normal…but why did he feel as though it shouldn't?
He ran a hand through his hair and walked over to the mirror – and for a split second, he had the strangest flash of a metallic fist smashing it into a thousand tiny shards with a single blow…and yet, it was completely undamaged and whole, unmarred by even a single scratch, in fact. But the idea of that metal fist was so vivid that it somehow felt more real than the mirror in front of him, now, even though he could see it with his own eyes, and touch it with his own fingers, proving that it was indeed there.
His sense of confusion slowly growing, he took another look around the room, trying to reassure himself of…what? The flatscreen, his football trophies, his desk…everything was where it was supposed to be. But he couldn't shake the feeling that something was different…the bed, maybe?
He glanced over his shoulder at it, and nearly did a double-take at the sight of the very pale, very slender girl who was still sleeping in it, facing away from him. Her neon-pink hair was splayed out across her pillow, and as he watched, she shivered slightly and, with a shrug of her delicate shoulder, adjusted the bedsheets to cover her back.
A small but insistent voice somewhere in the back of Cyborg's mind seemed to think that his bed should not be horizontally oriented. Or have a mattress and sheets. Or have Jinx in it.
Taking in the view before him, Cyborg emphatically told that voice to shut up.
The little voice grudgingly relented, but not before reminding him that he was hungry. That seemed agreeable enough, so he quickly pulled on the pants and shirt he'd left draped over a chair the night before, and stepped out into the hall.
The hall was empty, and silent save for the quiet hiss of the ventilation system, and the distant sounds of other machinery. Cyborg set out for the cafeteria, but before he'd taken more than three steps, he suddenly felt a familiar presence looming over him. He stopped in his tracks and, as he turned, he already knew who it was even before he saw the white robe adorning the figure behind him.
"Well! Good morning, Mr. Stone," Brother Blood said pleasantly.
"Headmaster." Cyborg automatically returned the greeting, with a respectful nod.
"And what might you be doing up and about at such an early hour?" Blood asked.
"Oh, I was just, uh, heading down to breakfast," Cyborg replied, idly rubbing the back of his head. He was still a bit nervous in the man's presence, even after spending the past several years under his tutelage.
"Breakfast?" Blood repeated, raising an eyebrow. "You know perfectly well that it won't be served for another two hours. And, for that matter, that the cafeteria does not even open until then."
Cyborg snapped his fingers, suddenly feeling stupid. "Of course, you're right," he replied. "I don't know what I was thinking. Please excuse me, Headmaster."
Blood's dubious expression quickly shifted to an indulgent smile. "Now, now, no harm done…as I've told you, no one appreciates your enthusiasm more than I do. Just don't push yourself too hard, Mr. Stone. I want my star pupil in top form for this afternoon's exercises."
"You can count on that, Sir," Cyborg promised with a grin. "Looking forward to it."
Blood smiled back. "As am I, dear boy, as am I. Well, then…carry on."
With that, Brother Blood turned and strolled back down the hall in the direction from which he'd come. Feeling reassured, Cyborg watched him go until he rounded a corner and passed out of view.
"Is he gone?" hissed a voice in an urgent whisper.
Cyborg started, then looked to his left to see Jinx peering at him from behind his door, which was just barely open the tiniest crack. He exhaled sharply, allowing the tension to leave his body along with it before confirming, "He's gone."
"Then, get back in here." With a mischievous giggle, Jinx practically pulled him back inside the room, a feat made all the more impressive by the fact that Cyborg was pretty sure he had at least a hundred pounds on her.
The door slid shut, blocking out the glaring lights that lined the hallway. Even with the early morning sunlight filtering in through the windows, Cyborg's room was still dimly lit by comparison. The two stood face to face in the doorway, only inches apart.
"How long do we have?" Jinx quietly purred, her dainty finger tracing an abstract pattern on Cyborg's chest.
"Two more hours 'til breakfast," he whispered, smiling down at her. He knew the door was more or less soundproof, but part of him still didn't want to press his luck.
"Hmmm…" With an exaggerated sigh, she took a couple of graceful steps backwards, clasping her hands behind her. "However shall we pass the time..?" She gazed up at him with an expression that was somehow simultaneously innocent and suggestive; both seductive and demure.
It was positively narcotic.
"Oh, I'll bet I could probably come up with one or two ideas," he began with a grin, letting his gaze travel appreciatively down her body. She was wearing one of his football jerseys, which, on her, was effectively a very loose-fitting miniskirt; the hem falling to her upper thighs, and the wide neck hanging enticingly off one slender shoulder. A fashion statement Cyborg enthusiastically approved of.
Suddenly, he stopped. Something was…off. But what…?
Jinx cocked an eyebrow at his hesitation. "You just gonna stand there and stare all day? We do have a schedule to keep, remember."
It was the jersey. There should have been a number on it, but instead, there was a letter – a capital T, to be exact. But that didn't make any sense, what was it supposed to stand f—
Oh. Of course. Looking down at his flesh-and-blood hands, everything crystallized. He'd known, on some level, all along…that this was just too good to be true.
"Damn it," he muttered. "Knew this didn't fit. It's all wrong."
"Well I wasn't planning on wearing it for very long," Jinx began, but Cyborg interrupted her.
"No. Not you. Me. I don't belong here. Never did…never would." Turning away, he shouted at the ceiling. "You hear that, Blood?! I'm on to you, old man. It was a real nice try, I'll give ya that much, but you just had to go and push it. Maybe you can take me in a stand-up fight, but you never could beat me where it really matters…and you never will."
Somewhere, there was a sigh of disappointment. The room abruptly went dark, except for Jinx, who was still standing before Cyborg. But now, rather than seductive, she looked disappointed and sad.
"You could have belonged here," she told him. "You said it yourself. You told me you 'could've been a lot of things'. 'A lot of things' includes this."
He shook his head. "Price was too high."
"All he ever wanted was to help you," she continued. "He really could have given you back your real, flesh-and-blood body."
Despite himself, Cyborg winced. Why keep this up? Now he was just twisting the knife. "You don't know that," he told Jinx.
"Neither do you," she countered. "But you never even considered it. Why not?"
"I already told you," he muttered, glancing around with growing apprehension. The room remained completely dark, save for himself and Jinx; it was as though they were standing in a blank, empty void. "The price was just too high.'
"We could have been happy," she insisted. "You could've been happy. You know it's true."
"Maybe," he sighed as he met her eye, consciously allowing himself to acknowledge his own buried doubts. "Yeah…maybe so. But you know what…? It doesn't matter. Because the truth is…when all's said and done, there are more important things in life than happiness."
With that, Jinx vanished. Cyborg found himself standing in the common room of Titans Tower, where he did belong, surrounded by the other Titans…his friends. His family.
"I'm glad to hear you say that," said Robin, sounding genuinely proud. Beast Boy and Starfire smiled.
"Keep it in mind," Raven added as she took a step toward him, "because this is really gonna hurt."
Before he even had time to ask what she meant, without further warning, she suddenly plunged a clawed hand into his gut.
Author's Note: I realize this is a much shorter update than the previous chapter; please rest assured that it has not taken me an entire year just to write this one scene. But I decided to split this segment from the larger chapter as a brief sort of interlude, plus it also has a kind of symmetry with another previous chapter.
As always, thank you for your patience, and know that there will be more to come.