Disclaimer: I don't own Teen Titans. They are the property of DC Comics and Cartoon Network.
Chapter Seven: Point B
"Now, like the children of Abraham, we're reaching out for the promised land, for our home."
--Phil Wickham, "Messiah"
For the past 16 years, I lived in fear of consequences. The world was ruled by cause and effect, and when I was the cause, the effects were never pretty. It didn't matter whether I was happy or sad or enraged--nothing good could ever come of it. Nothing good could come from me. That's what I believed. So, instead of exploring the proverbial oases all around me, I trapped myself in the desert wastelands of my mind.
Now, however... Now, I need not be mired in consequences. Oh, they are still there, and still unpleasant more often than not, but they are to be lived through and learned from.
In that light, the confrontation with Robin was less painful than I thought it would be. The consequences of realigning Beast Boy's face with my fist didn't disappear like the swelling had, and my leader certainly made sure I knew it. Being put on probation was a heavy blow, but for a violent and public infraction, it could have been far, far worse. It was probably the shock of seeing me in white again. And of seeing my formerly black powers match my garb.
It was easier with the other Titans. All it took was one glance at my hand safely wrapped in Beast Boy's for Starfire to squeal in delight, draw us both into a bone-crushing hug, and then drag me off for a quarter hour of girl-talk about fashion and boys.
Cyborg looked torn between wanting to give me a stern talking-to and welcoming me back as enthusiastically as Star. He finally settled on a lopsided smile, a good-natured elbow in my boyfriend's ribs, and a teasing, "Sexual tension, huh?"
That's certainly what the tabloids wrote the altercation off to--well, that and PMS. I walked around the tower with my hood up for the next week while Cyborg paraded around poorly done photo-manipulations from our 'lover's quarrel.' He must have bought a whole pile of the gossipy gazettes because no matter how many I threw out, the boy always seemed to have another one. I blushed more furiously for more continuous hours than I can recall in my entire life, yet I didn't blow up, emotionally or appliancially. A strange sense of peace pervaded deeper than any meditation session could--although I'm happy to say I can finally stand myself enough to actually engage in those sessions again.
I'll be honest, though. Even with that deep-seated calm, telling Robin about my newly adopted faith was nerve-racking. "It'll cause problems. It's a distraction," Robin said. Extricating my Bible from Malchior's chest was no picnic, either. "It's a lie. He could never love you," Malchior claimed. But the dragon eventually gave up. And the bird begrudgingly gave in, same as when he found out about Gar.
Gar. I smile across the kitchen counter at him. I'm still amused by his given name, but one can only take so much blackmail from Cy in a given week, so I've kept that information secret. For now.
The green teen looks up from the comics page and catches me staring. "You wanna look at Garfield, too?" he asks, gesturing toward the paper.
"The view's just fine from here."
Gar grins at my dead-pan and strikes his moped model pose. "It is a fine view, isn't it?"
I blush and roll my eyes.
With a few deft moves of his hands, his semi-styled hair turns into an Elvis-do. "Aw, c'mon baby," he says, put-on accent and all. "You know 'I'm just a hunka hunka burnin' love.'"
"I think I'd rather have a hunk of burning tofu," I reply dryly and sip my tea.
Scree! Scree! Scree! I wince as the Tower alarm blares in my ears and tea spills on Gar's newspaper.
"Now I'll never know what the punch line was," he mopes.
"I'll buy you a new one when you get back," I placate as we walk into the conjoining living room. Robin is already at the main console, bringing up coordinates. A grease-smudged Cyborg trails us into the room, followed by Starfire, who, in midair, busily blows on freshly painted toenails. Satisfied they're dry, she tugs on her boot, touches down, and fixes Gar with a look of open amusement. "Friend Beast Boy, that is a most intriguing hairstyle you have today."
With a jolt, the boy realizes he still looks like a sea-sick Presley and quickly restores his hair to its normal disarray.
I feel Robin's attitude shift from all business to blanketed rage, and I place a silencing hand on Gar's shoulder before he can try for a snappy comeback.
"It's Slade," our leader hisses, and the team dynamic instantly changes.
Cyborg ruthlessly wipes the oil from his cheek. Starfire's eyes flare righteous green. Beast Boy stands at attention. I inhale apprehensively and still the arm that twitches instinctively toward where a hand-shaped bruise once was.
Robin nods gravely at me, then tips his head toward the exit. We're all needed for this fight. "Titans, trouble."
We fly. The rightness of the formation loosens the knot of my unease. On my left, Starfire glows with the thrill of flight and of upcoming battle. Balancing her out is the analytical boy in her arms, battle scenarios already playing out behind masked eyes. To my right, Cyborg radiates cool strength and confidence from his perch within green claws. And soaring in pteradactyl form is the changeling whose presence I missed so much on our last confrontation with Slade. I carry no one, but for once in my life, I don't feel alone.
We arrive at our destination, and as one, the horde of Slade-bots looks toward the sky. Robin shouts his traditional call-to-arms in free-fall, and on landing, the battle's engaged.
With a fearsome shriek, Beast Boy angles his wings and releases his cargo; Cyborg hurtles toward the throng like a bowling ball at a set of pins. Starfire's hands blaze neon green, and with a Tamaranian cry, the aerial blitz begins. Beast Boy circles back around, gains altitude, and then plummets toward the black and orange host at terminal velocity. I inhale, refusing to allow myself the luxury of doubt at the number of fighting machines. My eyes glow white, and on the exhale rides my famous mantra. "Azarath Metrion Zinthos."
To the untrained eye and ear, it must be chaos. But to me, it sounds like a freshly tuned machine, at once similar and yet infinitely better than Slade's remote-controlled minions.
Metal crunches. Fiberglass cracks. Bird-a-rangs fwip through the air.
Black metal boots leap onto blue metal shoulders. Cyborg scowls. "Ya dirty li'l--"
Starbolts zing out. An alloy shell collapses. A chipper "Owe ya one, Star!" follows.
Robotic fingers dig into green gorilla fur. A pained roar erupts as hair and roots pull loose.
"Azarath Metrion Zinthos!" A storage crate slams into offending robots, and a fanged grin is flashed.
Ensconced in shadows, a set of knuckles cracks in anticipation.
A bo staff screams through the air. An augmented hand slices cleanly through the staff. Masked eyes widen. "Shit."
Canon blasts boom. A motherboard fizzles into nothingness. "You're welcome, Rob!"
High-jumping droids intercept a low-flying alien. She cries, "Assistance please!"
A green grizzly barrels through the mecha. Displaced bolts pling against the pavement.
An industrious machine scales a fire escape, calculates the trajectory needed to bring down the nearby hooded girl. From the darkness, a perfectly camouflaged human smiles.
"Azar--umph!" An elbow to the solar plexus cuts the chant off, and suddenly I am gasping, falling, and taking the robot with me.
Steel-toed boots dig into the sand with the eagerness of a runner stealing base. Their owner takes off, and his strong arms catch both the robot and me as neatly as a baseball in a mitt. A swift jab to the faceplate throws my animatronic assailant off. I look into my rescuer's face, and the thanks I was about to utter dies in my throat. I think I'd prefer the robot.
"Slade." I spit the name like a swear-word, and vice-like arms tighten their embrace.
"What? No 'thank you?' 'Merci?' 'Arigato?'" the villain chides. I can practically feel the smirk on his face as hands--painfully familiar hands--wrap around my neck. I twist ineffectually and claw at strong, gloved fingers, trying to find purchase, trying to breathe. "I really have missed our little chats," Slade croons.
I wheeze some unintelligible insult, and the man behind me chuckles. His hot breath tickles my ear through the vents in his mask. I want to retch.
"Well, since it's just you and me for the moment, I suppose we have time to get reacquainted," he continues. "I've really been worried, sweet songbird. See, I heard the most disturbing rumors from our favorite fuchsia minx."
White fireflies begin to hover at the edges of my vision as the choke-hold becomes even firmer. "Birthday Girl," Slade's voice commands over the distraction of my fading sight, "don't tell me you've been reborn?"
Fear stabs down my spine at the man's inexplicable interest, and hands tighten around my jugular as if in response. God...
Suddenly, the hands are gone. A blur of green whirls by, taking them with it. I gulp down quick, deep breaths and stare in awe when the shape stops several yards away and resolves itself into Beast Boy. He spits and growls fiercely in leopard form over my attacker.
The kung fo master kicks the feline away like it was nothing more than a house cat. I encase a manhole cover in white energy and hurl it at the criminal. The second his block takes is all the time Beast Boy and I need to reassure each other we are both alright. Then Beast Boy charges back in, this time as a wolf.
They circle, pounce, kick, and growl. Teeth flash, as does metallic armor. In a quick duck, Slade picks up the sewer lid I threw at him. He spins around and rebuffs the beast with the heavy shield. The wolf refuses to yield, however; his fight with Slade is as impassioned as Robin's normally are.
It's not the swift exchange of blows I am used to when seeing Slade fight; instead, there are only erratic charges and brute force blocks. I can't get a shot in edgewise for fear of hitting Beast Boy.
Fortunately, Robin's bird-a-rang can hit a much smaller target than a flung cinderblock. Slade stumbles before freeing his leg of the ice freezing it to the pavement. My leader casts a reassuring glance my way as he leaps into the fray.
I let my eyes linger on the green boar beside the red, yellow, and green boy. Take care of him, of them, I pray, then turn to help my other teammates.
By the time the last robot is disassembled, Slade is long gone. He escaped, ironically, down the the manhole whose lid I hit him with.
Neither Star nor myself are trackers. The sewage confuses scents, so Beast Boy is no good either, and in the hissing steam, Cyborg's heat sensors are all but useless. The malefactor knows how to cover his tracks, so even Robin, our resident detective, cannot tell which way Slade went.
"I hate him," Robin mutters as we ascend back to the street. He climbs the ladder awkwardly, nursing a set a bloodied knuckles. He is my first stop in battlefield first aid.
Next comes Beast Boy with his swollen eye and the 'Jump City Sewage' imprint on his brow. Still soaking in his comforting presence, I survey Star and Cy; their wounds are negligible. I suddenly freeze.
Green fingers rest against my throat just above where hand-shaped bruises are rising. I am caught in Gar's concerned green eyes. "You alright?" he asks.
I open my mouth, flustered, but manage to shut down my automatic, defensive reply. Instead, I allow myself to be warmed by the multi-layered question. "I'll heal."
He nods, understanding my equally complex response, bright boy that he is behind an abysmal sense of humor. He turns to the others and shouts, "So, dudes, who wants pizza?"
Cyborg grins back. "Man, we just fought Slade. Do you really wanna battle me now, for a stinkin' tofu pie?"
"I could take you."
"How about chinese?" I suggest with the faintest hint of a smile.
"Oh, I am most in love with the pork of moo shu!" Star exclaims.
"That would be good," Robin admits.
"Movie night! The foreign foods mean the movie night!" Starfire chirps.
"I veto any chick flicks!" Beast Boy declares.
"Who gave you veto powers?" Cyborg retorts.
"Are you saying you wanna watch some chick flick?"
"I'm not sayin' that. Now, you're just twistin' my words."
"Demoness," I hear Slade's voice.
I whip around, half hoping and half fearing that my teammates heard him too. I search the shadows but see no sign of the man. Unsettled, I make a move toward my teammates; then I hear it again. "You never answered my question," comes the voice over a cracked transmission screen.
"Don't tell me you've been reborn?"
I raise my chin against the memory. "Yes, I have."
Slade's one visible eye narrows, as if he's no longer quite sure what to make of me. I stare straight back, ignoring the shiver that runs down my back. Then I flick my wrist and watch the screen glow white and then go blank.
"Rae?" Gar asks, slinging an arm over my shoulders to stare at the crushed circuitry at my feet.
I inhale his scent--forest and earth and sweat--and exhale the tension in my spine. I carefully thread my fingers through his, letting him know through that contact that I'm okay. Or at least, will be soon. Together, we walk back toward my team, my family, my home.
"Raven," I correct belatedly.
Gar pouts. "I don't get the big deal. Rae's only one syllable less."
"And Raven's just one syllable more."
"Friends, we shall go now?" Starfire asks.
"Yeah, me and Rae are ready now."
"Raven." I roll my eyes as I take to the air.
Gar momentarily changes into an iguana and sticks his long tongue out at me, before turning into a hawk and taking flight, too.
Starfire takes Robin into her arms and rises into the sky.
"Hey, don't forget about me," Cyborg calls from the ground.
I smirk and lift him into the air with a sweep of white energy. I feint a drop, and the boy screams like a girl before I catch him in a large, cushioned fist. "Sorry," I tease. "I think you're too heavy to forget."
"Ha ha," he laughs, then surreptitiously pokes his stomach. Half-serious, he mumbles, "Ya really think I look fat?"
Robin's snorts, Starfire's placations, and Beast Boy's caws of amusement as a Laughing Gull pepper the flight home. Warmed by their presence and by a greater, unseen one, I smile. Home.