Author's Note: This is set immediately after the Titans have flown back to the Tower after surviving the events of the straight-to-video movie, "Trouble in Tokyo." However, it is not set in the same timeline as my ongoing narrative poem "Quoth Our Raven." Be warned: I'll be inserting my own comments into the text of this story from time to time, and jumping wildly from one person's viewpoint to another's without warning; something I normally strive to avoid. It being April Fools' Day and all that, I figure you'll cut me a little slack for humorous purposes. This story is not really an April Fools' prank, but I like to write and post something funny whenever this time of the year rolls around! (One of these days I'll get back to my Titans serial "Faith of the Five," incidentally. If I can ever make up my mind about the proper approach for the next chapter. Hey! Stop rolling your eyes and muttering that you've heard that one before!)
What Your Friends Really Think
They had just landed and were marching into the main lounge of the Tower when Cyborg pulled out his Titans communicator. "Okay, y'all, I've just gotta make a call now that we've landed. I figure it's past breakfast time in Steel City." He spoke into the device. "Yo, Bumblebee, you got your ears on?"
"I'm here, Sparky. What's up?"
"Robin and Starfire are officially dating now—and it's June. That means the grass stain wins the pool. The next time we host an all-night Titans party here at the Tower, he gets to choose the movies that will be running nonstop on the giant screen."
Bumblebee winced, but said bravely, "Well, we all knew the risks we were taking when we started the pool. Give your fearless leader and the princess my best wishes. I'll share the good news and the bad news with the rest of Titans East. Over and out!"
Robin was staring at Cyborg as the latter's communicator screen went blank. "A pool? You mean there was a betting pool on this?"
Cyborg said, "Sure! After we all linked up to kick the tails of the Brotherhood of Evil, some of us were comparing notes . . . and it was obvious to just about everybody but you two that sooner or later Starfire was gonna wear you down. Someone said, 'Hey, I wonder how many more months it will take her to get him to admit how he feels,' and then Argent said she'd bet on no more than three months from that date, and then Speedy said we all oughta pick a different month and set up some kinda prize . . . I was betting on next month, myself. How was I supposed to know Star would end up kissing a guy in Tokyo to learn Japanese—and shake you up a bit in the process?"
Robin was shocked by such underhanded behavior. "But—but—but that's just wrong! Secretly betting on when friends would start dating!"
Beast Boy and Cyborg exchanged baffled looks. Cyborg asked: "It is? Why? Did it hurt you any?"
Robin looked around desperately for an ally. Starfire dragged Beast Boy off to one side and began talking to him quietly, but she didn't look unhappy, so Robin didn't count on her support on this one. Failing that, Robin's eye fell on Raven—Raven, the girl who worked so hard to be calm and rational; Raven, the almost-unflappable; Raven, who had never shown any interest in the vice of gambling. "Raven," he said cajolingly, "don't you think it's ridiculous that Beast Boy and Cyborg were betting on whether Starfire and I would start dating this month or next month?"
"Of course it was ridiculous," Raven said calmly. "My bet was you'd hold out until next February before you expressed your feelings. Considering your track record for keeping things bottled up, I still think that was a more logical prognosis."
"You're a lot of help," Robin groused. He accepted that Starfire didn't seem to mind; but then, Tamaraneans were much more open about their feelings. He still didn't understand how their culture ever got anything done if everybody was going around emoting all day . . . of course, on Starfire it looked good, but that was an exception to the rule, he assured himself (proving once again that love is blind).
What Robin hadn't heard as he saw Starfire speaking softly to Beast Boy was her inquiry: "So, is there also a pool of betting on when Friend Cyborg and Friend Bumblebee will do the becoming of an item?" As it turned out, there was such a pool, but no one had wanted to mention it to Robin or Starfire sooner for fear they'd reach the logical conclusion that there might be more than one such pool. Starfire learned that next January was the earliest month that was still unclaimed by any other teen hero, and told Beast Boy to add her name to the pool for that one.
As soon as that was taken care of, Beast Boy headed for a VCR. "Please be okay, please be okay, please be okay . . . if this thing didn't record the latest episode of Danger Team Five while we were gone, I'll shoot myself! (With a water pistol, of course.)"
He manipulated the controls frantically, rewinding and then pressing PLAY. The screen lit up with some ads, which he fast-forwarded through, and then the logo of Danger Team Five appeared. "Sweet!" Beast Boy cheered, pushing STOP. "It worked! And they were just about to have their Epic Final Confrontation with Baron Barrage, too! I betcha he dies in this one!"
Much against her better judgment, Raven asked, "Didn't you tell me on the way back that they've already had 'epic final confrontations' with Baron Barrage, one at the end of each season? They don't seem to be making much headway."
"No, no, no!" said an annoying voice from a loudspeaker. "They've only had epic final confrontations with Baron Barrage in the final episodes of Seasons One, Three, and Five! Season Two ended with the epic final confrontation with Doctor Mayhem (who later returned), and Season Four ended with the epic final confrontation with The Blaster Master (who still hasn't)!"
"Dude!" Beast Boy said defensively. "I knew all that! But Raven never gets these details right, no matter how hard I try to explain them to her!"
Meanwhile Starfire was saying in horror, "Is that not the voice of the Control Freak?"
"Yes, indeed, Titans!" said their dorkiest recurring villain, as he suddenly zapped himself out of a television screen and stood facing them with his usual gloating sneer (or perhaps a sneering gloat—it's always hard to tell the difference!). "While you were off frolicking in the homeland of anime and manga, I was preparing a special homecoming for you! Something worthy of your uncanny talents and ingenuity!"
Starfire asked innocently, "You mean you were unselfishly creating a family-friendly television series to disseminate news of our many acts of heroism?"
Control Freak paused. "Huh? No, not exactly . . . although come to think of it, that's not an entirely bad idea for a Saturday morning cartoon! But I wonder if it would actually last more than, say, two and a half years in today's climate? Of course, if it just held out long enough to acquire a cult following, then there would always be the option of direct-to-DVD full-length sequels to pick up the slack . . . but to start off on the right foot we'd have to feature me as the archnemesis of the Titans in at least two episodes per season," he added, getting a faraway look in his eyes as he tried to calculate what the royalties would be for the use of his name and distinctive likeness.
Raven rolled her eyes and tried to get the conversation back on track. The sooner the noisy couch potato explained his latest agenda, the sooner they could figure out how to spank him soundly and stuff him in a cell somewhere, and the sooner she could retreat to her room to commence some serious catching up on her reading after going through withdrawal in the Tokyo trip when nobody seemed to be selling any printed material in the languages she knew. She asked impatiently, "But you already had some other big homecoming surprise for us?"
"Oh, right." Control Freak squeezed the button under his thumb and a pre-programmed sequence popped up on the giant screen behind him. He said, "Ladies and gentlemen, after great trial and tribulation, I have crafted an entirely new experience for you!" The three-dimensional letters on the screen spelled out:
Ultimate Titans Challenge, Mark Three!
Robin muttered something about oxymorons and then asked, in a louder tone, "Control Freak, do you even know what the word 'ultimate' usually means? If this one is Ultimate, then that means the one you designed for the Titans East last year should have been called the Penultimate Titans Challenge, and the one you'd planned for us before that was only the Next-To-Penultimate. And after we beat this one, what are you going to call your subsequent plan if you make another comeback? The Post-Ultimate Titans Challenge?"
Robin had this silly obsession with "logic" and "accuracy." Beast Boy had actually worked out a Secret Contingency Plan for the Inevitable Return of Control Freak some time ago (without telling Robin) and now he set it in motion, saying: "Ahem! Lights! Camera! Action!"
Cyborg, who'd been briefed, sent out a signal to a remote-controlled floodlight dangling from the high ceiling, and suddenly Control Freak found himself in the center of the impromptu spotlight. A tape started playing an old song—just the instrumentals; no words. Control Freak blinked at the sudden glare and cocked his head as the sprightly tune began to fill the air. It had a sort of old-fashioned, two-or-three-decades-ago flavor to it, and there was something familiar. . . .
"And now for our next contestant!" Beast Boy exclaimed through a handy megaphone he'd snatched up from a pile of miscellaneous junk behind the couch. "Will he be the first one to correctly identify the Mystery Song of the Day and sing the lyrics from memory? Will he win the First Round's Special Prize—a warm hug from Starfire? Or is he so hopelessly ignorant of old Seventies TV shows that he's never even heard this groovy tune before?"
Robin indignantly started to react to that description of the Special Prize, but suddenly a black band was wrapped around the lower part of his head, gagging him. Raven held up a hand in a "stop" signal to warn him not to interfere. She had also been briefed on Beast Boy's contingency plan, months ago, and, much to her own surprise, now thought it might actually work. It depended largely upon how well Beast Boy could anticipate Control Freak's fanboy-style reactions, but she suspected he was excessively well qualified for that task.
The offer of a Special Prize straight out of Control Freak's daydreams; the challenge to his knowledge of TV trivia; the thrill of literally finding himself in the spotlight (without even needing to rig up the spotlight himself) . . . it all added up to make a triple-baited hook for his ego. Control Freak couldn't possibly have reacted in any other way. Huge ham that he was, he immediately struck a pose in the circle of light, one hand pressed over his heart, and carpe'd the diem (or, if you want a loose translation of that butchered attempt at Latin, let's just say he seized the chance to become the star he'd always known he was born to be). Recognizing the song after a moment's thought, now that Beast Boy had provided a few clues (the heroine had sung it at the end of one episode of her show, about 30 years ago, and naturally Control Freak had the whole series on DVD), he started crooning, "Toto, I get the feeling we're not in Kansas anymore . . ."
"Just how long is this song?" Raven asked quietly, fearing the worst. Control Freak might think he was crooning, but she would call it caterwauling.
"Only about a minute and a half," Beast Boy said apologetically (completely misunderstanding the motive behind her question). "But if you want to hear him make a fool of himself for longer than that before we spring the trap, then it ought to be simple. We just need to all clap and yell, begging him for an encore, and we're guaranteed to get another three minutes' worth of entertainment, easy! Especially if you girls pretend to be going ga-ga at the sudden discovery of his sexy singing voice . . . every nerdy white boy is an absolute sucker for that kind of attention!" He flinched away from Raven's glare and said brightly, "Or maybe that just doesn't work for you?"
All bad things must come to an end, and soon enough Control Freak was wrapping up the second chorus of the old song. Beast Boy was ready with his megaphone as the last strains of the instrumentals faded away. "Congratulations! We have a winner! The first contestant to even begin to recognize the source of that delightful melody, much less to know the words to it! And now Princess Starfire will administer the Special Prize for this round before you need to make the difficult decision: Do you want to move on to the Second Round and try for that Prize as well, or do you want to quit while you're ahead?"
"What's the next Prize?" Control Freak asked eagerly, while Starfire flew toward him and wrapped her arms around his torso.
"Why, that's a big juicy kiss from everyone's favorite alien princess! And then if you go to the last round and make a clean sweep, you win a real date with her! Dinner and a movie; all expenses paid!"
Control Freak spluttered. "K-k-k-kiss? D-d-d-d-" His big round head suddenly resembled a tomato. He seemed unable to frame and utter a coherent sentence to explain his reaction to these fruits of paradise being dangled so tantalizingly before him.
This red-faced failure to communicate might have been caused by unprecedented excitement at the thought that he was finally just one short trivia challenge away from getting his first kiss from a cute girl—at the age of thirty-two.
It might have been caused by acute embarrassment at the realization that he really had no idea exactly what you did to make a good impression on "first dates" with the enchanting but enigmatic creatures known as females, and thus he was afraid of putting a foot wrong and ruining what could otherwise be the beginning of a very promising relationship.
It might have been caused by the fact that Star was now squeezing the breath out of his lungs with her alien strength; continuing to compress his flabby torso, inch by inch, until his ribs were creaking dangerously and inhalation to replace the lost oxygen was effectively impossible.
Or perhaps it derived from some combination of two or more of those factors. Who can say? By the time it occurred to Control Freak to try to use his remote to zap Star away from him, it was far too late . . . Raven had already snatched it out of his slackening grip with her dark energy while he was otherwise preoccupied.
Starfire kept up the pressure until Control Freak quit struggling ineffectually, and then for another ten seconds just to be safe, and then released him. His limp body fell like a lumpy potato sack to the floor. Star might actually have gone too easy on him; the way he started gasping for air suggested he was still conscious . . . just barely. (On the upside, at least he'd still have the vivid memory of a long, tight hug from one of the most beautiful girls on the planet as a consolation prize during his next sojourn behind bars.)
Somewhere along the line, Raven had already released Robin from his temporary restraints. "Well," he said now, "that was certainly anti-climactic. I thought we'd actually have to fight him again! Whose idea was this?"
"Beast Boy's," said the other three Titans in perfect chorus.
Robin looked at his green teammate. "And you told everyone but me about this plan in advance, because . . . ?"
Beast Boy grinned sheepishly. "I wanted to prove I could do something halfway clever without you, just this once, and besides, I figured if it all worked out, it would be a Great Big Surprise for you! Worth taking a chance to see the look on your face!"
Robin shook his head, as if to clear it, and muttered, "Going for the extra drama instead of unified teamwork? Sometimes you and Control Freak have so much in common it's just plain scary."
Raven nodded sympathetically.
Robin cleared his throat and then added, in the tone of a man trying hard to be fair, "On the other hand, I admit it worked. And we didn't even tear the place up in a huge slugfest! That was actually some nice psychology, Beast Boy. Let me see if I can reconstruct your reasoning. You figured we play into Control Freak's hands whenever we let him set the terms of an encounter, so the best approach was to yank the initiative away from him at the very beginning and trick him into playing an unexpected game according to our rules for a change? Darn clever of you!"
Beast Boy said, "Er . . . something like that. One night after I'd been watching American Idol until I dozed off, I had this crazy dream with Control Freak singing old TV tunes into a mike, and after I woke up, I decided to grab the idea and run with it. Hey, it might work!"
Robin rubbed his eyes (through his mask) for a moment. "Inspired by random imagery in a TV-induced dream sequence. I might have known. So much for my idea that you were becoming a strategist."
Control Freak had his hands cuffed behind his back (by Robin) before he was in any condition to put up a fight. Cyborg used various sensors to track down the locations of three backup remotes and miscellaneous other nasty electronic devices concealed about the person of the prisoner. By the time Cyborg was certain he'd made a clean sweep, Control Freak's breathing was almost back to normal, and as he jealously watched Starfire and Robin hugging each other to celebrate the recent victory, he said shrewdly, "So, the two of you are finally an item, huh? If that just started within the last week, then Puppet King and Mad Mod and Mumbo each owe me a hundred bucks!"
Robin scowled. It was meant to be his very best Intimidating Scowl. Batman had made him practice it over and over in the early days in Gotham City. (The only problem was that Robin's friends had never yet had the heart to tell him that they'd seen it so many thousands of times by now that they were long since immune to it, and they strongly suspected that most of the recurring villains in Jump City were rapidly approaching that saturation point as well.) "Was everyone betting on this?"
"Only chump change," Control Freak assured him. "I mean, it was so obviously going to happen fairly soon that there wasn't much sport in it! On the other hand, I've got a thousand bucks down on when Raven and Beast Boy will go on their first date!"
Three jaws dropped (those of the male Titans); Starfire just looked quizzical; Raven very nearly laughed aloud at this bizarre idea, but managed to cover her mouth with a hand and turn it into a semi-convincing cough at the last possible moment. After all, she had an image to maintain.
Cyborg finally asked the obvious question. "What makes you think that's ever gonna happen?"
Control Freak said smugly, "I've had concealed cameras in a circle around this tower for weeks. I've got primo footage of Raven tossing Beast Boy out a high window after he did something incredibly annoying—the camera couldn't see just what. Now, you know and I know that Raven knows that Beast Boy can turn into a bird and just fly away long before he finishes falling, so obviously she wasn't even trying to hurt him! She was just playing hard-to-get without actually getting angry, or else she'd have done something else!"
Beast Boy goggled and looked over at Raven doubtfully. "Um . . . Rae?"
Raven loftily ignored him for the moment (although his insolence in calling her "Rae" would have to be dealt with later), in favor of giving Control Freak an inscrutable look. "So when I throw him out the window, it demonstrates I'm not angry? Interesting theory. Counterintuitive to the point of cluelessness, but at least it's interesting."
Cyborg said hastily, "I think I'll just run him down to the nearest police station—see y'all in a jiffy!" He picked up the captive with one hand, tossed him over a metal shoulder, and hastily retreated from the probable line of fire (meaning anything near the line of sight between Raven and Beast Boy at the moment). Meanwhile Robin and Starfire were thoroughly occupied whispering sweet nothings in each other's ears near a window, and didn't even seem interested in pursuing the subject of Raven's motives for occasionally defenestrating their green teammate in a nonfatal sort of way.
Beast Boy and Raven looked at each other. Beast Boy devoutly wished he were somewhere else. But the awkward subject couldn't just be left hanging in the air, unresolved (could it?). He finally said tentatively, "Um . . . Raven? I never know how seriously to take that clown's wild ideas, but does he have anything resembling a point?"
"He's got most of it backwards," Raven said impatiently. "Remember when I got really angry at Doctor Light?"
Beast Boy shuddered. "Yes."
Raven said matter-of-factly, "But he was a villain, so he was fair game. You're not a villain, so when you get obnoxiously pushy about something, I still restrain myself somewhat. Otherwise you'd still be in therapy. Or traction. But don't make the mistake of confusing 'mercy for a teammate' with 'extreme personal affection.' Get it?"
"Good." As she walked away, she added over her shoulder, "Any time you think I'm flirting with you when I toss you out the window, just say the word, and I'll know it's time to take off Rage's muzzle long enough to let her help my other emotions brainstorm on more effective ways to persuade you that punishment really means punishment—as opposed to some stupid 'get away closer' reverse-psychology gimmick."
"Rage?" Beast Boy repeated faintly, and then added hastily, "Hey, don't go to all that trouble on my account! Of course I'm glad to take your word for it, right now!"
"Good call!" Raven said approvingly, and headed down the hallway to her room. Now maybe things would finally get back to normal here at home . . . of course, "normal" was a word with a great deal of stretch in it when you were living in Titans Tower!
Author's Note: Originally this was meant to be a parody suitable for April Fools Day. But I had a vague idea it was going to focus on Slade driving Robin into paranoia (along with funny comments about betting pools and defenestration and so forth, along the way). Somehow Control Freak suddenly shouldered his way into the story and started claiming a larger and larger role until I found Slade was simply left out in the cold, not even mentioned—and Control Freak is inherently such a silly concept that it's awfully hard to do an exaggerated parody of how the Titans might deal with him. I found myself with the terrible suspicion that what I had as I wrapped it up was more of a "fairly typical humorous adventure," as opposed to an "over-the-top parody of the Titans." So the idea about a parody with everything being Slade's fault gets shoved to the back burner. Maybe next year?)
P.S. I'm adding this a couple of hours after I posted the story. I suddenly realized I'd forgotten to explain about the song Control Freak sings, in case you were wondering about its source. Saturday night I was doing two things simultaneously: Working on an early draft of this story, and listening to (and sometimes looking at) an episode of the DVD boxed set of "Wonder Woman, Season Three" which I had recently had the chance to buy at a reasonable price. At the very end of an episode, Lynda Carter is singing a song that begins "Toto, I get the feeling we're not in Kansas anymore" in a recording studio. I had never heard that song before, but I liked it, and decided to take this as an omen! Obviously, I said to myself, it was what Control Freak should be doing in order to prove his incredible knowledge of old TV trivia! (Naturally, I didn't want to try to explain the "Wonder Woman" connection within the text of the main story, because I strongly doubt the Teen Titans live in a world where Lynda Carter played "Wonder Woman" in a TV show back in the 1970s. Let's just assume she sang that song in some other 70s TV series in the "alternate timeline" in question, okay?)