A.N. So here's the deal. I'm taking the SAT in three weeks, and I really ought to be preparing. Instead, I'm writing fanfiction! (God, I love this site. =] ) Anyway, the idea for this fic was rumbling around in my head sometime a few days ago, and I simply had to write it. I had hoped to have it up before 2009, but oh well. I really hope that you enjoy reading this, because it was loads of fun to write. It was originally going to be some sort of chaptered fic, but in light of my less than impressive updating speed (*cough* Like It or Not *cough*), I decided that a oneshot would be more prudent.

Before beginning the story, I'd also like to say a big thank you to titanfan45, who was kind enough to send me some encouraging words while I was freaking out about life earlier this week. He's a great guy, and his wisdom makes me feel like a little kid. Much love, titanfan45.

Without further ado, please enjoy my New Year gift to you all.

Of Snow Armies and Confessions

So far, Raven's Thursday had been absolutely lovely. The Tower was devoid of the commotions that accompanied the Titans' usual activities, seeing as this wasn't a normal day. Much to Raven's relief, the holiday season was finally over and done with, and a mild, snowy winter had settled over Jump City. Everywhere you looked, buildings and vegetation were laden with snow from the night before, such that the entire city looked like snapshots from one of those winter wonderland calendars. Raven adored the peacefulness that seemed to always descend with the snow at this time of year, not to mention the fact that her teammates could never resist going out to play with the snow in some way or another, be it ice skating, constructing snowmen, or taking part in one of those pointless snowball fights. This, of course, often left Raven with a vacant Tower in which to pass the time as she pleased, unbothered by bored teammates with their distracting antics.

On this particularly wonderful, snowy afternoon, Raven was enjoying watching the city alone from the warmth and comfort of the Tower's common room, snuggled against the big red couch with a soft, blue checked blanket and a book of Sudoku puzzles. A nearly empty mug of hot chocolate rested by her feet on the carpet. The pure luxury of being able to lazily pass the time in such a way did wonderful things to Raven's disposition, perhaps best evidenced in the rare expression of serenity upon the empath's face. She loved her teammates dearly, really she did, but they were so terribly unpredictable with their fluctuating emotions and indefatigable actions that she simply couldn't let her guard down like this around them. It was nice to be able to journey from the sanctuary of her bedroom without erecting a protective wall of detachment, and snowy days like this one often afforded her that indulgence.

Where exactly was her team? Raven couldn't begin to guess. They literally could have been anywhere in the world. Superheroes or not, when a friendly group of teenagers had unlimited access to a submarine, a spaceship, cars and planes, no place was off limits or too far away. Still, Raven supposed that they were somewhere in the city, since Robin was usually a strong proponent of not straying far from the city they were commissioned to protect. But all she knew for certain was that they had gone off somewhere in the early morning (after copiously pleading with her to accompany them, of course) in search of a way to appreciate the five inches of freshly fallen snow.

At that moment, Raven was completely focused on the Sudoku before her, and was flipping a pen absently over her fingers while she struggled to complete a particularly baffling puzzle. Her eyes were narrowed in concentration, and save her pen-flipping right hand, she was motionless. So great was her attentiveness to the puzzle that she didn't hear the common room's door quietly hiss open, even as a wind-whipped Beast Boy stepped into the room, positively glowing with the lingering radiance of excitement and the icy outdoor air. He was clad in his usual uniform and a thick coat of a similar design, and his cheeks were painted with the redness that remains long after prolonged exposure to the cold. His eyes even seemed to sparkle a bit more with the pure, childlike pleasure of a day of snow-covered excitement.

Beast Boy spotted Raven on the couch immediately, and deliberately checked his grin a bit. The dark Titan was never impressed by what she deemed to be inordinate happiness, and although he could argue that he wasn't acting unreasonably, it was usually best to avoid any sort of argument with her. Besides, he didn't particularly enjoy it when Raven saw him as childish or whimsy, as she had for far too long. On the contrary, lately he often strove to impress her with an extra measure of maturity, even though it often went unnoticed. Well, hold that thought. It wasn't like he particularly fancied her or anything, really. He was a courteous kind of guy, doing what he could to avoid squabbles.

… Alright, alright. Maybe he did try to impress Raven a bit (or a lot) more than he tried to impress the others. But what could be said for that? In his eyes, Raven was an extremely remarkable, intelligent, and interesting young lady, and he was just the sort of dashing young man who could sweep her off her feet if he so chose. He simply had never tried to make her fall for him, that's all. He felt a definite air of unease, though, from the possibility that Raven would finally find a relationship somewhere else while he sat complacent. They were both eighteen, which meant that he had known Raven for a good five years. Maybe she wouldn't admit it, but all that time together inevitably allowed an intimate sort of kinship to bloom. It wasn't just between the two of them, no doubt, but lately Beast Boy seemed to be more focused on his unique relationship with Raven than his relationship with his other teammates. That wasn't to say that he didn't absolutely love to ruffle her feathers, though. There was just something euphoric about making her react to his antics, even if it was with a groan and a book to the head. Raven was never made so animated by the actions of the others, and his sole possession of that ability was one of his most cherished privileges.

Beast Boy pulled himself from his thoughts with a shake of his head, which caused bits of mostly melted snow to fall from his hair to the carpet. Although he was eighteen and had grown several inches of late (which finally put him at an inch or so taller than Raven, thank God), he still wore his disheveled, forest green hair at medium length, and it was usually messily spiked. The empath sometimes complained that he was too old to be flattered by such an unkempt appearance, but Beast Boy was certain that she appreciated the roguish sort of handsomeness it lent him, even if she would never voice the sentiment. He would usually reply with some remark about how Raven had similarly neglected to change her appearance over the years. Her pin straight, deep purple hair still fell just below her chin and framed her face, and she was still donned in the same old leotard and cloak. Sometimes he would also quip that she had outgrown the age at which such a scandalous outfit could be passed off as an innocent child's getup, but this often led to more books being hurled at his cranium.

Usually he tried to be a bit more tactful around her though, because he knew she appreciated it. And that was why, instead of calling out a greeting to the empath and urging her to help finish the snowman army that he and Cyborg had just spent hours assembling, he quietly slipped off his coat and made his way over to her before speaking, just as a gentleman would.

"A pen? That's ballsy, Rae," he greeted the empath good-naturedly as he approached.

Raven's head snapped up, and her hand ceased flipping her writing implement at once. The changeling was suddenly standing casually at the opposite end of the couch, obviously feigning sedateness as eagerness coursed through him. Yes, she could thank her empathy for being able to see right through the changeling, as usual. She supposed she ought to be touched by his effort to mask his high spirits for her sake, but she was more than a bit perturbed that she had let him sneak up on her.

"Hello to you too," she replied crisply, and Beast Boy smiled.

"You're doing Sudoku in pen," he explained, using a hand to motion to the pen suspended in her grip. Raven's line of vision obediently trailed to her hand before snapping back to Beast Boy's eyes. "Normal people use pencil, ya know, in case they make a mistake."

Raven regarded Beast Boy coolly for a few moments and then shrugged her shoulders in apathy.

"I've always done Sudoku in pen," she offered, "and I never did claim to be normal."

Beast Boy's smile grew and he fell casually to the couch a distance away from Raven, stretching out his feet in front of him. He sighed contentedly.

"Gosh, Rae, you don't know what you've been missing today. While you've been doing your boring number puzzles, the rest of us built these huge snow forts in the city park, then had the most epic snowball fight with all the kids from the city. It was four against almost fifty, plus a bunch of their parents. We got creamed!" Beast Boy's eyes danced in excitement as he related his adventures to Raven. "It was awesome, you should have been there."

Raven couldn't lie to herself. Interacting with the residents of Jump City was something she usually enjoyed, no matter the pretense of misanthropy that surrounded her. However, whenever there were that many energetic people crowded in one place, things could get very… hectic for the empath.

"I don't do snowball fights," she replied absently, and let her attention fall back to her puzzle.

"That's lame," Beast Boy whined, then caught himself and cleared his throat. "We should have one later today, just the five of us here on the island. The losers shovel the roof."

"As appealing as that sounds, I usually attempt to avoid such frivolous expenditures of effort," Raven answered, not looking up from her book of puzzles.

"Raven, Raven, Raven," Beast Boy sighed, shaking his head dramatically. He reached out to pat her foot, which was the part of her body that was closest to him. "You hide behind words I don't understand, but deep down, I know you're dying to bury me in snow." He winked at Raven, and she looked at him skeptically.

"Truthfully, that doesn't sound too bad. Maybe if I can find a deep enough snow drift, you won't be able to dig your way out until springtime," she retorted evenly, in that ambiguous tone which could have been interpreted as either mildly playful or seriously threatening. Beast Boy decided to assume the former. Nonetheless, he retracted his hand with an apologetic sort of grin.

"Actually, all of us want you to come out and help finish the snowman army we're building. Cyborg and I have been working on it for hours, and we're all pitching in to finish it before nightfall."

"Is that why you're here, then?" Raven asked, ignoring his petition. "I figured there had to be a reason that you would abandon your snow play to come talk to boring old me."

"Well… yeah," Beast Boy replied fairly. "Plus, our teammates threatened to stuff snow down my pants if I didn't come get you."

"And the truth is revealed," Raven exclaimed with feigned astonishment. "What an honor, Beast Boy, that you would rather bear my presence than have snow stuffed down your pants."

"Aw, come on. I'm sure you know I don't mean it like that," Beast Boy defended. "Even if you don't feel like helping, we'd all like you there with us. It builds team spirit."

Raven eyed him mirthlessly, but closed her book of Sudoku on her pen all the same.

"You know, I often contemplate the nature of our team," she replied lightly, "And I always conclude that we are most definitely lacking in the team spirit department. We only eat, sleep, and fight together every single day."

"Exactly. So you'll come with me?" Beast Boy asked, offering Raven his most winning smile.

"I'd go for the benefit of the team," Raven specified, "not for you."

"But I'm part of the team, so you'd kinda be going for me."

"No, not really."

"Yeah, really."

"Do you want me to go or not?" Raven warned. "I'm perfectly happy staying here, if not happier."

"Well fine. If you're not going to help us with the snow army," Beast Boy replied, refusing to yield leverage to Raven, "then I'll just stay here too. Besides, I can't bear the thought of a lady being lonely." He settled into the couch as if to reflect his determination.

"I'm not lonely, Beast Boy," Raven stated, teeth clenched. "I'm merely taking advantage of the day in a way that I want to for once, and you're disrupting me." She was hardly in the mood for an argument, but if Beast Boy insisted on being unbearable, then an altercation there would be. The changeling noticed this switch in the demeanor of his friend, but good judgment wasn't really one of his gifts. He pretended to scrutinize her carefully for a few moments, as if puzzling through something in his head.

"Nope, you seem lonely to me," he finally decided with an easy shrug. "And that 'I want to be alone' excuse doesn't really cut it."

"It isn't an excuse," Raven tersely responded, "and if you had half a brain then you might recognize that."

Beast Boy affected a pensive air again, complete with a furrowed brow and pursed lips. He was silent for a spell and then snapped his fingers, apparently having come to a conclusion.

"You know what you need, Rae?" he inquired confidently.

"A pistol and two bullets?" she replied dangerously, a vein in her forehead beginning to throb.

Beast Boy swallowed but continued on, seemingly undaunted.

"What you need is some quality male companionship. Ya know, a boyfriend or something. That way you wouldn't have to press yourself to keep coming up with lame excuses for why being lonely all the time doesn't suck." Beast Boy nodded in satisfaction after verbalizing his thoughts, apparently very pleased with himself.

"Let me guess," Raven replied flatly, "The added bonus is that you're seeking similar companionship, so of course it would be logical for us to satisfy our mutual, aching emptiness with each other."

Beast Boy was positively exuding excitement, and was dreadful at hiding it. It was rolling off him in waves, making poor empathic Raven practically sick.

"Well, what an idea," he exclaimed with feigned ingenuousness. "Now that you mention it, I might just take you up on that offer."

"I wasn't offering, Beast Boy," Raven ground out, a cloud of irritation almost visible around her. "And you know that."

"I know you want to offer, though," the changeling insisted, eyes twinkling.

"Not in a million years. Now go build your darned snowmen, and Azar help me, I could care less if you get snow shoved down your pants until you freeze solid."

Beast Boy appeared to deflate a bit at Raven's hard words, and sunk back against the couch again to regroup.

"First off, Raven, it's a snow army," he finally muttered. "And second of all, you really need to carpe diem. You're only eighteen once, so don't waste it being a stubborn old geezer."

Raven's eyebrows almost reached her hairline.

"My my, look who's breaking out the Latin," Raven exclaimed. "I'll even forgive your insults and improper usage of the phrase as a verb, so great is my shock."

Beast Boy looked smug.

"You take me for an idiot, Raven," he replied sadly, "but I'm not all that dumb." He hesitated for a beat. "So… will you go out with me?"

Raven's expression immediately became one of irritation again and she sighed, shaking her head.

"No, Beast Boy," she groaned. "Haven't you realized yet that I'm not interested in a relationship? We have our responsibilities, and those must come first. End of discussion."

"Robin and Starfire are keeping up with their responsibilities to the team, and they're still going out," Beast Boy retorted, obviously refusing to let the conversation die. "Same thing with Cyborg and Bumble Bee, and their relationship is even long distance."

"Perhaps they are emotionally and mentally mature enough to handle all of their commitments then," Raven replied matter-of-factly. "And please, don't bother asserting that you're similarly mature, because you aren't."

Beast Boy scoffed at her, clearly offended by her criticism of his character. He didn't have reason to expect anything else from her, but still it wasn't pleasant to take.

"I'm not the dumb thirteen-year-old I was when we met, Rae," he replied indignantly. "If you were half the empath you claim to be, then I think that would be plain as day."

"Disparaging my abilities will get you nowhere," Raven warned him, a twinge of insult lacing her tone. "But for the record, I know you're hardly the same person that you were five years ago. You've become exactly what most males your age are."

"And what's that?"

Raven exhaled audibly.

"Use your imagination, dear boy."

Beast Boy seemed to contemplate Raven's words for an eternity, and looked off into space while he thought. Well, this conversation had not gone exactly as planned. This was the point that she was supposed to realize her deep adoration for him and agree to date him, but instead she seemed just as disenchanted with him as ever. It was a bummer to hear Raven liken him to any other guy, because he really, really wasn't. At least, he didn't feel like just any other guy, whether or not he was able to communicate that through his words and actions. Maybe if Raven gave him half a chance, though, he could once and for all show her how different he was. Different in a good, respectful, spunky sort of way, that was.

"I take it for granted that you've never been in a relationship with a guy before," Beast Boy vocalized, more as a statement than a question or response, and continued on before Raven could issue another sarcastic mark at his expense. "Maybe you don't know what you're missing. Like I said, you're only eighteen once. Letting everything the time offers just slip by seems kinda dumb, don't you think?"

Raven could feel her face heating up in indignation. Who was Beast Boy (honestly, Beast Boy, of all people!) to chastise her for letting life pass her by? What did he take her for, a fearful child, willing to hole herself up in her bedroom and wait out the storm of life? There was nothing about her life that she regretted, and even if Beast Boy was just sore about being rejected yet again, she would not stand for his ridiculous insults.

"You think I'm letting life slip by?" Raven inquired dangerously, tossing her book of Sudoku onto the coffee table neat the couch. She pulled herself upright in indignation.

"Yeah," Beast Boy replied, but a bit of his fire had been doused upon realizing Raven's quickly growing fury. He hadn't meant to upset her much, but he was beyond the point of turning back. "And even if you don't really like people, you can't be happy hiding away in your books and meditation, watching everyone else actually live."

"You think that I'm not living?" Raven asked in disbelief, anger boiling up inside her. She had little tolerance for this brand of ignorance. She cast the changeling the most menacing look she was capable of and squared her shoulders. "I knew you were ignorant, Beast Boy, but I never took you for outright stupid. Who are you tell me how I ought to live in order to feel satisfied? I read, yes, and I meditate, but that is not what defines me. My empathy, Beast Boy, the very thing you criticized earlier, is what makes me what I am. My powers are so volatile when I experience strong emotion or when others nearby me experience strong emotion that I am forced to be detached. It's for my own good, and for the good of those around me. But how dare you assert that my caution has stolen away the right to even call myself alive!"

Beast Boy suddenly wanted to disappear into the couch. Seeing Raven livid like this was a terrifying sight, and he wanted nothing more than to retract every word he had spoken over the last ten minutes. He hadn't meant to offend Raven, only to make her realize why she should go out with him. Unfortunately, like most of his schemes, this one had blown up in his face.

"I didn't mean to insult you, Raven, I just wanted to––" Beast Boy began, but was cut off when Raven held up a hand to silence him and continued speaking.

"You said exactly what you believe, and for once, I'm grateful for that. It proves to me that you're no less ignorant than any other person I've met," she continued icily, "So thank you for the insight." She paused and took a deep breath before continuing. After all, it wouldn't do to speak about emotional control, only to get carried away and end up allowing her powers to lash out. She pushed the blue checked blanket from her lap, since the common room suddenly felt uncomfortably warm.

"Because of my empathy I must experience many things vicariously, if at all," she went on. Although a bit of the anger had been forced from her voice, her tone remained brutal. "In light of your obvious ignorance, I suppose I need to tell you that 'vicariously' means 'through another person'. When someone near me is happy, I feel it. Not quite in the same way, but the essence of the sentiment is there, unadulterated by circumstances or thoughts. When someone near me is angry, I am similarly affected. When someone is anxious, terrified, or love struck, those feelings are cast upon me. Can you understand yet, or do I need to spell out exactly why I do not feel the compulsion to throw myself into romance?"

Beast Boy resisted the urge to cower under Raven's glare. He cleared his throat and forced himself to speak evenly, even if he could not pluck up any confidence at all.

"I guess you're sick enough of love as it is, since you must constantly feel that emotion from people around you," he replied reluctantly. "And if you feel too much of it, then you wouldn't be able to control your powers."

"It's quite ironic that you say I'm not living, Beast Boy," Raven said, shaking her head bitterly, "because I've experienced more and suffered more than anyone else ever could or should. Some things I've been through have made me incredibly happy, but some things I wouldn't even wish on the likes of Dr. Light." She swallowed heavily and tore her gaze from the changeling's, choosing instead to stare vacantly out the window at the snow covered city, though the first hint of darkness in the sky was beginning to obscure it from sight. Somehow, through incredible self-control, Raven was able to force away even more of the anger she felt towards Beast Boy. The phrase "stupidity is not a crime" sprung to mind. Surely those words were the salvation of countless, the changeling included.

"I've felt what it's like to be in love," she admitted, more aloof than before. "I've felt it myself, of course, but vicariously, I've also felt the love that a man and woman can feel for each other, and the love a mother has for her children." She swallowed heavily, and began speaking more somberly still. "But I've also felt heartbreak so strong that it makes your chest ache and you just want to die. I've felt incredible humiliation, greed, envy, fear, depression, elation, and the list goes on. To truncate a lengthy explanation, from my exposure to tens of thousands of people over eighteen years, I've felt it all." She hesitated, as if trying to decide if it would be prudent to continue in her explanation. She chanced a glance at the changeling, and his humbled expression seemed to encourage her.

"It's like I've experienced everything that life gives us to experience, from the most beautiful to the most horrific." She swallowed again and looked down at her lap. "Even if I haven't done something firsthand, when I am around someone who has, it's like… their experience carries on to me, whether I like it or not. Through other people, I've experienced marriage, the death of a spouse, the joy of a new baby coming into the world, sex, suicide, rape, and practically anything else you could imagine. I don't much care what you call me, Beast Boy, but don't question if I'm really living just because I keep to myself."

After Raven finally stopped speaking, for a long time Beast Boy simply could not produce words with which to reply. He stared at her with eyes opened wide, as if he was seeing the empath for the first time. In a way, he really was. He never could have guessed the magnitude of all that Raven had been through, and he felt like an absolute jerk for asserting in his ignorance that Raven was missing out on life simply because she would not date him. He hated himself for thinking that he could understand the enigma that was Raven, and for believing that he deserved to treat her based on the image of her that he had drawn up from his own stupid observations. All he hoped was that Raven didn't hate him for his ignorance, because he realized now that she had a right to.

"Raven," he said meekly, hardly able to look at her out of shame, "I had no idea. Please forgive me."

Raven tiredly looked at the green boy before her. She hadn't really wanted to divulge what she had to him, but the damage was done, and at least he was showing appropriate remorse. Besides, it felt good to finally tell someone the truth, and to share even a fraction of the weight of the world that she carried every day.

"You didn't know. I can't hold it against you," she admitted graciously. "To be honest, nobody else really knows the scope of what I deal with either."

"Why don't you tell them, like you told me?" Beast Boy inquired keenly. "How can you stand suffering in silence like this? No one should have to deal with choosing between complete detachment or the worst experiences this life has to offer."

"It's my cross to bear. Everyone has their issues, and this is mine," Raven replied with a shrug.

To Beast Boy at that moment, the empath seemed like the bravest, most gracious creature in the universe for being able to feel that way.

"God, I should never complain again," Beast Boy chuckled sedately. "So, reading and meditation – they just get your mind off of everything?"

"And meditation helps me control my emotions, yes."

"And there's nothing else you can do to… ya know, make life more bearable?"

Raven stopped a moment to contemplate Beast Boy's question. It was true that nothing but death would alleviate her problems completely, and yet, her life certainly wasn't as horrible as it could be. After all, with the curse of unwanted empathy also came the ability to help millions with her powers, as well as the chance to live with four people she loved fiercely, despite how annoying they often were.

"Being with my friends makes life more bearable," she replied carefully. "It makes me happy. Experiencing happiness with people is… wonderful."

Beast Boy couldn't help but smile inanely.

"So… I make you happy?" he asked sheepishly.

Raven merely stared at him, marveling at his bizarre thought process, and then cast her gaze heavenward.

"You're fantastic at ruining moments, has anyone else ever told you that?" Raven asked with slight exasperation.

"You'd be surprised," Beast Boy laughed. "But you didn't answer my question."

Raven rolled her eyes.

"Fine. I suppose you, like everyone else on this team, are capable of making my happy."

"… But I make you happier than the others do, right?" he pressed.

"Don't you think it's best to avoid having another argument just yet?" Raven cautioned the changeling, who obediently seemed to settle down a bit and relaxed on the couch again.

"That's a yes, right?" Beast Boy continued, a bit more quietly.

"Is there a reason that you won't shut up?" Raven demanded lightly.

"Actually, yes," Beast Boy declared seriously. "You've probably figured this out already, but I kinda… well, I like you, Raven."

"So I surmised, yes," Raven replied, but a blush painted her cheeks nonetheless.

"And I know I don't deserve another chance, 'cause every time we talk I always seem to screw something up, but if I could just have one teeny opportunity, I could show you that I'm not like every other guy." Beast Boy looked at Raven expectantly, and for once, Raven was speechless to see the simple, unadulterated honesty that his eyes betrayed. Suddenly she was faced with an opportunity to either trust her teammate or follow her gut instinct to reject the threat of unnecessary interaction. Besides, it wasn't like Beast Boy deserved her prolonged attention. And yet, what damage could a second chance between friends cause, especially if the changeling was repentant? He had no ill intentions, and, alright, he wasn't always a completely annoying dunce.

"One chance," she finally sighed against her better judgment, "But don't make me–– Oof!"

Before Raven could finish articulating her thought, Beast Boy had launched himself at her, wrapped her in the strongest tackle hug that she had experienced in a long time, and sent them both against the couch. Raven's eyes opened in absolute shock as Beast Boy hugged her fiercely, arms around her middle and head just under her chin.

"You won't regret it, Rae," the changeling earnestly promised, his voice only slightly muffled by Raven's neck, "I swear."

Raven grinned thinly and carefully patted Beast Boy's back.

"Good, because I'm tired of handing out second chances. Now, um, if you'll get off me, the others are in the building and I don't want them to find us like this."

Beast Boy obediently pulled away from Raven, smiling sheepishly.

"I guess that means we're not going to help finish the snow army," he sighed.

"But what was that about a snowball fight for just the five of us?" Raven inquired, praying that she wouldn't regret it later. The exuberant smile this elicited from the changeling could have stopped a fan girl's heart.

"You'd do that for me?" he asked, truly touched.

"Azar, no," Raven smirked, "but for my team, perhaps."

"Eh, it's a start." Beast Boy shrugged.

"And Beast Boy?"


"Tell the others about all this and I'll shove so much snow down your pants that you'll be digging it out until you turn fifty."

"I don't doubt that for a second. But, Rae?"


"Just to let you know, I think this is the start of a beautiful relationship."


A very Happy New Year to you all. Let's make 2009 fantastic, hm?

I'm sure that many of you caught the reference in the last line of the story, but I'll still give e-cookies to whoever feels like telling me what it's from.

Also, please leave a review if you have a moment to spare. I'm thankful for every one I receive, and without feedback, I cannot improve.

Thanks again for reading!