Batgirl was amazed at how quickly the Titans readied themselves for their return to Jump City. Before leaving for Jump City, the Titans had taken time to create secret identities for themselves, arrange a cover story, bring in a team of replacement heroes, and book tickets to Gotham on a civilian airline. All in all, it had taken them quite a long time before they were ready, not including the actual flight time.
The return to Jump was going to be very different. An hour before, Robin had instructed his team to rest up, then start packing and be ready to leave the very next afternoon. Apparently, he no longer cared about travelling incognito, as he'd arranged for the Titans to use the Justice League's teleporter to travel from Gotham to the Watchtower, and from the Watchtower to Jump City. When she asked him about that, he'd just sighed and answered that, with no trace of Beastboy or his kidnappers to be found anywhere and with so much time having passed since his abduction, there really wasn't much point in sneaking around anymore.
Robin had then surprised her by asking if she would be returning to Jump City with them. "We asked you to come as a temporary measure" He'd said "Just until Beastboy returned from his…rest. After his disappearance, you agreed to stay until we got to Gotham and recovered him. But now we're leaving Gotham, and quite frankly I don't know how long it will be before we get Beastboy back- you might be in Jump City for a long, long time. No one will blame you if you decide to stay in Gotham. Take tonight and think it over."
Cassie took the secret passage from the Batcave over to the Seven Stars mall, keeping her mind focused on evading notice as she slipped from the passage into the still-empty mall. By keeping to the shadows and moving very carefully, she avoided detection by the security guards and cleaning staff just long enough to reach the exit and catch a bus to her own apartment. All the while she carefully blocked Robin's question from her mind, knowing that even with all her practice at hiding her thoughts there was still a chance some of her worry and unease might become visible. It was only when she was safely back in her own tiny apartment, just as the sun rose over the city, that she flopped down on her bed and let herself consider the question in depth.
DID she want to return to Jump City? Or, to put it more accurately, did she want to abandon Gotham for Jump City? It would mean leaving behind her family in Gotham, Batman, Barbara and Alfred, possibly for good. Yet they had told her for a long time that she needed to expand her social circle beyond them and meet new people in order to grow as a person. Furthermore, she had become unexpectedly close to the Titans in the time she'd worked with them- she knew that, if she chose to remain in Gotham, she would come to miss them greatly. Ultimately, she knew that her family would be pleased if she chose to leave Gotham- they would see it as 'leaving the nest', and would be feel a little disappointed (perhaps even guilty) were she to choose to stay because of them. So, that was a point for Jump City.
On the other hand, Titans Tower never felt like home to her. She looked around at her small bedroom. Most people, she knew, would find it stark and unpleasantly austere but for her it had a simple elegance she found comforting. She'd chosen all the furnishings herself, to suit her own tastes. This was the first real home she'd ever had- her father had deliberately kept her from forming such attachments as part of his program to make her the perfect assassin. More than that, though, she liked the neighborhood. It was quiet and nobody questioned a young girl who lived alone without any visible job. Most importantly, though, it was HERS which made it special in a way quarters at the Tower could never really be. She found that, trivial though it might seem, the thought of leaving her home for the Tower was a painful and frightening one.
Then there was… the other matter. Cassie still felt guilty about that, and cursed herself for being talked into that. He'd been so persuasive at the time, and made it seem so... well, she couldn't say it had ever seemed innocent, but it had seemed like a good idea at the time. He'd told her she might have to do it again, and now she was too far in to say no. There was no doubt about it- when the Titans found out what she had done, they would be furious. They might even lose their trust in her completely. If she went to Jump City, she'd be reminded of her actions every day, but if she stayed in Gotham she'd never have a chance to make things right.
Cassie chewed her lip. So far it seemed to be a tie- she had good reason to choose either city. Thus, as a heroine, she fell back on which city truly NEEDED her more. Gotham had no shortage of protectors- apart from the BatClan, there was Huntress, Anarky, Azrael and others. Cassie knew that, while she certainly contributed a great deal to the fight against evil in Gotham, she was hardly vitally necessary here. In contrast, the Titans were in desperate need of a fifth member- all their strategies, schedules, and battle tactics were based upon a team of five or more. With one member missing, even regular patrols and battles with 'ordinary' villains would be far more dangerous and difficult, never mind searching for Beastboy. No, clearly she was needed far more in Jump City than she was in Gotham, and her own comforts would simply have to take a back seat to her duty. Besides which, Beastboy was her friend and she wouldn't let him remain a captive without doing everything she could to save him.
Satisfied with her decision, the young vigilante drifted off to sleep.
Robin hammered at the punching bag as sweat dripped into his eyes. The events of the night still weighed heavily on his mind, and he'd found himself unable to sleep. As was his habit on nights like that, he decided to train until exhaustion allowed him to sleep. He'd headed down to the Batcave and found Batman already there, working silently at the computer. Not wishing to disturb his mentor, Robin had gone to the workout area and began his training. That had been over an hour ago, and he could feel it starting to work- his limbs felt like rubber and his eyelids were beginning to droop. He slowly wound down his exercises and stretched his muscles before heading over to the computer.
"Anything new on Scarecrow's mysterious employer?" He asked. Despite Crane's revelation that he knew nothing of the missing Titan, there was still a fair chance that he could lead them to someone useful.
The Dark Knight grunted and shook his head. "I've left the business of tracing Crane's money to the police. They have more time and resources than we do, and can afford to devote the effort to it. Frankly, I think that anyone intelligent enough to hire Crane to serve as a distraction, without him ever suspecting it, will have been clever enough to cover their tracks. Our investigation would be better served by focusing on Jump City."
"OUR investigation?" Robin repeated.
Batman turned slightly to give his former sidekick a look. "I assumed that you still wanted my help." Turning back to the screen, he went on. "I won't be able to offer you as much help as I could in Gotham, but I'd be happy to give what insight I can. But right now, I'm a bit more concerned with Slade."
"Slade? What does he have to do with any of this?" Robin repeated.
"Nothing. I doubt Beastboy's disappearance can be laid at his feet- the resources and the patience required for this are beyond anything he's displayed before, at least according to your reports. " Batman replied. "But if you recall, earlier this year Slade's robots robbed a laboratory here in Gotham. It's not my policy to let that sort of thing slide, so I've been reviewing all of your reports about him."
"I guess that makes sense. I mean, he must have- wait! All of my reports? I only sent you a few of them, enough to give you a general idea! Some of those reports were confidential- they had information the other Titans don't want getting out! I had them encrypted!"
"Yes." Batman said with a nod. "Incidentally, you might want to tell Cyborg to update your Tower's security firewall. I found it…somewhat lacking."
Robin opened his mouth to protest loudly, but sighed instead. This was the brick wall that every Robin, hell every Super Hero, ran up against sooner or later. Batman had broken into the Titan's confidential files because he viewed it as a necessary action. Complaining about the invasion of privacy or the hypocrisy of his actions would serve no purpose- Batman would simply say that he'd needed the information, and that he'd done no real harm. He honestly wouldn't see the problem. Better to just give in this time and tell Cyborg to improve his security.
"So, what do you think?" He said, moving to the small refrigerator and pulling out a bottle of water.
"I'm actually rather puzzled." Batman admitted, turning to face the younger man. "Robin, what exactly is Slade's goal?"
"Huh? Well, to start with he wanted to make me his apprentice. When that didn't work, he caused the whole Terra incident- honestly, we may never know if she was turned before or after we met her so I don't know if that was his goal or one step along the way. After that, he partnered with Trigon and tried to turn Raven evil. So I guess his goal is to turn one or more of us into his apprentice or partner."
"Robin, you must realize that that makes no sense" Batman said slowly. "In your case he tried to blackmail you into becoming his apprentice, threatening to kill your friends unless you joined him. The threat itself was self-limiting; he had to know that even if you took his side, it would only be until you could find a way to free your friends. Terra, too, was hardly the ideal choice for a villainous would-be mentor. Leaving aside her obvious control issues, the girl was motivated more by hurt than by malice, as anyone can see from your reports. That might have been enough to cause her to fight you, but long-term she wouldn't have the stomach for genuine evil."
"What about Raven and Trigon?" Robin asked, genuinely curious. He hadn't considered these points before, and he wasn't sure he liked what they implied.
"The Justice League has had more than a few dealings with so-called 'demonic' beings" Batman replied "and one thing that's remained constant is their ability to influence the minds of humans. I doubt Slade was entirely under his own control- the idea of being a servant, even a favored one, to a demonic master wouldn't likely appeal to him. Since his autonomy is questionable, his motives are irrelevant."
"Hmm…" Robin said, as he sipped from his water. "If your reasoning is right, then Slade's an even bigger enigma than I thought. That's hardly comforting- his motives were the only thing I thought I knew about him."
Batman returned his attention to the computer screen, a small smile playing on his face. "If you're looking for comfort, you're in the wrong line of work. Have you given any thought to how you'll proceed back in Jump?"
Robin nodded and sat down beside his mentor. "I do have one or two ideas I'd like to run past you." After all, it's not like I really NEED sleep… he thought. And a chance to bounce my ideas off Batman is too good to let it slip.
Cyborg was also finding it hard to sleep. Many people who heard about his nightly recharge assumed it was easy- plug in, close eyes, sleep. The truth was a lot more complicated than that. Sure, plugging into his recharge unit would immediately begin re-energizing his cybernetics but it did nothing for his organic parts, and it certainly didn't automatically put him to sleep, although he did find it to be a soothing feeling. But tonight, even the gentle sensation of his body entering 'charge mode' wasn't enough to lull him to sleep.
He had a hard time accepting just how badly he and the others had messed up. How could he not have seen that the Sunnyvale hospital wasn't the most secure location for a troubled superhero? He should have at least organized extra security measures- even a camera in the lobby would have told them who had taken their friend! Or they could have told the staff that Beastboy was only to be released to them personally. Or… the list went on and on, as his keen mind provided him with dozens of precautions that seemed so obvious in hindsight.
The metallic teen let out a deep sigh and closed his eyes. He knew almost all his friends were struggling with similar thoughts and were dealing with them in their own ways. Robin was down in the cave training, Starfire had headed straight to bed, while Raven had retreated into deep meditation to keep her emotions under control- he'd actually had to carry her up to bed because she was unable to leave her trance until she felt it was safe to do so.
Batgirl, unsurprisingly, was the exception- she had done the best she could, and there was no point in kicking herself over what she hadn't thought to do, and so she put the past behind her and focused on how best to help him now. Cyborg wished he could do the same. He had no idea what their next move should be- the trail in Jump City was over a month old by this point, and any clues they might find would likely be so out of date as to be irrelevant. If only they hadn't taken the bait so quickly, if only they'd done at least a basic search for clues before coming to Gotham, if only they hadn't screwed up Beastboy's treatment in the first place…
Cyborg shook his head and rose from his charging unit. "I ain't gonna be able to kick myself to sleep" he muttered "Might as well go get a snack to settle myself."
The cybernetic hero walked slowly through the gloom of Wayne Manor, and as always he found the place creeping him out greatly. Even now, at nearly seven in the morning, the manor was dark and gloomy, which only served to worsen his mood. The place just had a really bad vibe. He made his way downstairs to the huge kitchen, and was surprised (and a tad alarmed) to see Starfire seated at the table with an open pickle jar in front of her. That was not a good sign.
Several years before, the Titans had defeated a third-rate super villain calling himself the Condiment King at the Klaus Brothers Pickle Works. The owners of the factory had been so grateful they had offered each of the heroes with a huge jar of their finest gourmet pickles. Most of the Titans had declined and asked the grateful businessmen to make a donation to one of Jump City's charities instead. Starfire, however, had accepted the gift on the grounds that she had never tried pickles before, and had found the aroma in the factory very pleasant. The instant the group returned to the Tower, the alien princess had gleefully begun consuming her prize. The Titans had learned two things that day: First, that pickled cucumbers had an effect on Tamaranians comparable to hard liquor on humans. Second, that Starfire was an emotional drunk, quickly swinging from furious to maudlin at the slightest provocation.
Cautiously, Cyborg entered the kitchen and greeted his friend. "Hey Star. Couldn't sleep either, huh?" He cautiously tapped the jar on the table, and was distressed to see that it was mostly empty. "How many of those have you had?"
Starfire followed his gaze and gave a weary smile. "Worry not, my very dear friend, I have eaten only six so far. I believe that someone here enjoys the pickles almost as much as I."
Cyborg sighed in relief, although he took note of the words 'so far'. Heading to the refrigerator, he set about making himself a large sandwich- nothing too fancy, just a basic salami-cheese-ham-bacon-chicken-lettuce-tomato sandwich with barbecue sauce. "Bad night, huh?" he said over one shoulder.
Starfire nodded gravely and slumped forward sadly. "It has been so very bad. We were all readying ourselves for a joyous reunion with our absent friend Beastboy. Today was to be a day of celebration but instead it is one of disappointment and misery. We are further than ever from regaining our friend, and now I (sniff) I fear that we shall never see him again!" At that, Starfire began quietly sobbing into her hands, pausing only to eat another pickle.
Sitting down with his sandwich, the metal man patted his friend on the back. "Hey, now it's not as bad as all that"
Starfire looked up with tears in her (somewhat unfocused) eyes. "Is it not?"
"No, and I'll tell you why." Cyborg said as he took a bite of his sandwich, more to give himself time to think than out of hunger. He'd just wanted to cheer Starfire up (or at least prevent a drunken breakdown) but now he had to find a silver lining to this rotten situation. Swallowing, he went on "Yeah, we don't have Beastboy and yeah we fell for the old red herring trick. But the very fact that we did is kind of a good sign. Whoever captured Beastboy went to a lot of trouble and expense to make sure we thought it was Scarecrow who did it- and they wouldn't have done that if they'd meant to just kill him. So we can be pretty sure the little grass stain is still alive. Also, whoever it was sent us to the other side of the country, right? Why would they do that unless they planned to stay in or near Jump City and wanted to be sure we were far away? So- we know he's alive, and that he's probably in or near Jump."
"Yes…" Starfire said, straightening up and beginning to smile. "Yes! You are right my friend! We have erred but our errors show us there is still hope! OH! I must go and explain this to Raven- she seemed to be very very sad!"
The orange girl rose into the air and began to fly (in a wobbly way) to the door, when she ran right into Robin. The Boy Wonder was driven to the floor by the impact, but managed to catch his girlfriend's leg before she could fly away.
"Whoa, Star! What's going on?" he asked as he got up. Noticing her shaky flight and the glassy look in her eyes, he shot Cyborg a questioning look. The metal man shrugged and mouthed the word 'pickles'. Robin grimaced- tonight was bad enough without adding an intoxicated alien into it. Turning back to his girlfriend he forced a smile. "Where are you going at this hour?"
"I am going to tell Raven the good news! That through our failures we have succeeded!" Starfire proclaimed proudly.
Robin stifled a gasp at that. Right now, Raven was meditating as deeply as she could to prevent her emotions wreaking havoc. The last thing anyone needed was for her to be confronted by an intoxicated Starfire, bent on sharing such 'good news'. "I don't think that's such a good idea. Raven… Raven's had a very long night and needs her rest." He temporized. "Why not tell her tonight? I'm sure she'll be much more … receptive. In the meantime, why not go to bed? We're all tired, and we need to be rested for our trip."
Starfire giggled before she gave him a dazzling smile and poked a finger into his chest. "I know what you are up to Dearest and most Beloved Tim! But I fear you are wasting your time, for my season has passed. I am no longer sexually receptive, so you will simply have to wait! But worry not, for in a few weeks, the next time my season comes I will reward your patience. I promise you…"
"Oh well! I guess I'll just have to wait!" Robin cut in, his face as red as his uniform. He couldn't bring himself to look at Cyborg. "But in the meantime will you at least let me walk you up to your room? It IS a little late for a talk with Raven, isn't it?"
Starfire took his arm and nodded happily. "I shall be sure to tell Raven the good news tomorrow. Good night, Cyborg!"
Cyborg watched the pair as Robin half-led, half-dragged a thoroughly inebriated Starfire to her room. He was SO glad he had a camera installed into his cybernetic eye- after all, there was still the matter of a cup of motor oil to be avenged. Cyborg knew his team, and he knew they functioned best when everything seemed as 'normal' as possible, including the boys jokes. Looking at it like that, he practically had a DUTY to prank Robin, purely for his own good of course…
Raven did not sleep at all that day, instead focusing on centering herself and balancing her emotions. She began as soon as the Titans returned to Wayne Manor, retreating to her room and engaging in a series of Azerathian breathing exercises to calm herself as much as possible. During this time, she was unable to fully restrain her powers completely and destroyed a chair and two lamps before regaining control. With her conscious mind now firmly under control, she turned to her emotional state. Using her mirror, Raven returned to the emotional landscape her friends had named Nevermore.
She had expected Rage to be dominant at this point and was thus surprised to find that Timid's maze had taken over a large portion of Nevermore but as she wandered the twisting labyrinth, she realized what had happened. Like all the other beings that populated Nevermore, Timid was an amalgam of several related emotions- fear, sadness, timidity, regret… and despair. Crane's revelation had shattered her best hope of ever seeing Beastboy again, and Timid's power must have increased dramatically. Raven certainly felt horrible enough for that to be true. As she made her way through the maze, she pondered how best to rectify the situation.
A direct confrontation was out. Raven's emotions existed in a curious balance with one another- for one to gain as much power as Timid clearly had, the others would have to have been significantly diminished. That meant that Raven would be on her own, and while Timid was far from the most aggressive of emotions, she could be dangerous in her own way. Instead, Raven would have to change her own mood- a difficult enough task under normal circumstances, but made all the harder due to the active opposition of her own sadness. As she continued to make her way through the great labyrinth, the empath tried to think of ways she could counter her own despair.
Eventually, she arrived in a vast circular clearing at the heart of the maze, one which hadn't been there the last time she came to Nevermore. At the heart of this area stood six copies of herself arrayed in a circle, with a seventh in the center. The outer six Ravens wore cloaks of different colors- red, green, yellow, pink, purple, and sky blue- but all were muted, almost to the point of being gray. Their faces were expressionless, gazing out in all directions with colorless dead eyes.
At the center of this ring Timid sat on the ground, her face in her hands as she wept.
Raven cautiously approached her doppelgangers, alert for any sign of an attack. Moving passed them, she reached Timid but found herself at a loss for what to say. She could think of nothing which would dispel her own gloom- happy thoughts and silver linings weren't her specialty at the best of times. Today, she found it impossible to think of anything cheery enough to break the despair that had taken control of her emotions. On top of that, she had very little experience dealing with Timid. The shy emotion was usually the least troublesome of all the residents of Nevermore, and Raven usually only had to prevent her from inhibiting her too much. She DID know of another way… it would be extremely dangerous, but it was almost guaranteed to work.
Raven reached down and pulled Timid to her feet… before delivering a ringing slap across the emotion's face. Timid fell to the ground and looked up at Raven with disbelief.
"You sicken me." Raven said in a cold monotone. "You sit here, wallowing in self-pity, while the villain who stole Beastboy from me- from US- laughs at us. You pitiful, cowardly weakling."
"But, but…" Timid stammered, unaccustomed to such harsh treatment. Normally, Raven either ignored her or spoke gently to her. "But it's been so long… wh-what if Garfield is d-dea-dead?"
"Then what you're doing is even worse. You're letting the boy we love lie unavenged." Raven replied. Turning to her other emotions she favored them with a glare. "The rest of you are no better. Is THIS what the daughter of Trigon does when enemies attack her family? Would our mother curl up weeping if someone hurt or killed her loved ones?"
Out of the corner of her eye, Raven could see the effect her words were having. Rage's cloak was becoming progressively brighter, and her body was beginning to twitch. Raven, turned back to Timid and pressed the attack.
"My father must be laughing right now." Raven went on, and somehow her icy tone gave her words more weight than if she'd ranted and yelled. "I faced him without fear, my friends by my side, and managed to defeat him. I purged my soul of his evil and averted the prophecy he'd pinned so much on. But when my boyfriend needs me most, when things look dark, I can't do anything at all because I'm just too busy wallowing in my own misery. Is THAT all I am- a helpless little girl who crumbles to pieces when things look grim?"
Behind her she could hear a faint growling, and readied herself. It wouldn't be long now.
"Is this all we can do? Sit here feeling sorry for ourself when Beastboy's kidnappers- maybe his MURDERERS- run around free?" Raven called out, raising her voice and addressing all her emotions.
"NO!" Bellowed Rage as crimson energy flared from her body. Her teeth sharpened visibly while her eyes glowed blood red. "We will NOT be silent! We will NOT allow this to pass unavenged! Our enemies will drown in their own blood, and will die screaming in terror!"
As Rage's fury grew, the other emotions began to return to normal. Raven allowed herself a small smirk. Just as she'd predicted, by infuriating Rage she'd been able to break the despair which had paralyzed her emotions. True, she now had to deal with Rage, but that was a fight she had a great deal of experience with. She began the well-honed ritual of subduing her anger, with the aid of her other psychic selves.
An hour later, Raven opened her eyes for the first time since leaving Gotham Police Headquarters. She slowly rose from the lotus position, noting the cracking and creaking of her joints. She glanced at the clock- it was now two in the afternoon. Robin had told them to be ready to go at four. She frowned a bit- she'd hoped to be able to sleep a little at least, but supposed she'd be all right without. She headed down to the kitchen to brew some tea, and get something to eat.
She arrived at the kitchen only to find Starfire sitting at the table with a bag of ice on her head, while Alfred stood at the stove frying something. Raven found herself genuinely shocked at her friend's appearance- her green eyes were bloodshot, her hair was a mess, and her skin was a pale shade of orange.
Raven prepared her tea and made herself a small sandwich before returning to the table. As she pulled back the chair to seat herself, she noticed Starfire wince at the sound before pressing her hands to the side of her head.
"What's wrong, Star?' Raven asked, sipping her tea. "Have you caught a cold?"
"Alas, I fear not." Alfred said, in a tone of stern disapproval. "Her Highness overindulged in pickles last night and is rather feeling the effects now."
Raven looked back at Starfire with disappointment. "Star, I thought you'd promised not to overdo the pickles again. It took us a week to repair the common room after your last binge. You promised us all that would be the last time. "
Starfire sat up and gave Raven a bleary glare. "That was not my fault! The television was refusing to work properly and the wires caused me to trip! I had to defend myself!" Suddenly she turned pale and slumped back down. "Oooohh… Yelling was a poor idea…"
"As was consuming so many pickles last night, I daresay." Alfred said, sliding a plate of fried eggs and hash browns in front of her. "Perhaps you will remember both of these lessons in future. Now, eat- fried foods are good for hangovers."
Starfire looked at the plate with a mixture of longing and fear. "This is true in humans, yes? How can we be sure it will be as helpful to me?"
"Allow me to answer your question with a question, Your Majesty" Alfred replied "Could it conceivably make you feel any worse?"
Starfire considered this for a moment, then began eating. Raven smirked and finished her meal. She patted her friend gently on the shoulder before heading back up to her room to pack.
An hour and a half later, it was time to go. The Titans assembled in the Batcave, carrying what few belongings they'd brought with them. Alfred and Nightwing waited to make their goodbyes, and to give Cassie assurances that she'd always be welcome in Gotham or Bloodhaven. There were no tears, but the empath could feel the mixture of emotions present- pride, fear, joy, love and many others all blending together. Soon, though, it was time to leave. The Titans stepped onto the teleporter with their belongings while Batman moved to the controls.
What happened next was very odd and completely unlike anything she'd ever experienced before. There was a flash of impossibly brilliant light, and then darkness. For a split second, Raven felt as though she were being forced through an impossibly thin pipe. There was sensation of moving at a fantastic speed. Then another burst of light, and she found herself in a completely different location. She stood in a vast chamber, with walls of grey-green steel, across from what appeared to be a massive window. Filling the entire window was the Earth, slowly turning below. It was a beautiful sight, one which filled her with a feeling of awe and majesty, marred only slightly by the sound of Starfire being noisily sick beside her.
Starfire wished that her head would simply explode- at least then the pain would be over quickly. As it was, she was feeling miserable and the worst part was that she had no one to blame but herself. She had been feeling so very sad and helpless, ever since they had learned that they had been chasing an undomesticated goose (yet another Terran expression that made no sense). It appeared that their friend might be lost to them, for surely after so long the trail would be almost impossible to find.
She had felt so badly that she found herself unable to sleep and had wandered to the kitchen in the hopes of finding something that would soothe her nerves and her heart. The pickles had seemed the very thing- she'd told herself she would have just one, to settle herself, and then she would put the jar back. After one she HAD felt a little better, but not well enough to rest so she'd had a second. After the second pickle, a third seemed reasonable enough. After the third, she realized she'd had too much and decided that she might as well go all out- little point in moderation when she was already intoxicated after all. She was glad now that friend Cyborg had stopped her for she was sure that, left alone, she would have consumed them all and poisoned herself.
But oh how she was suffering now! When she'd first awoken that evening, she had felt as though a herd of n'flem beasts had been using her head as a battleground and her mouth as a toilet. Her stomach had churned and rolled, and she had felt as though she would be sick every time she took a step or left the ground. Alfred's fried breakfast had helped a bit, settling her poor stomach and clearing her head a bit, but the feeling of teleportation had been too much for her. After her stomach had emptied itself, she had felt much better physically and had requested a moment to clean herself up in the room of washing. Robin had agreed, since it would take some time before the teleporter was ready for use once more- he did not say so, but she knew that they needed to be sure her accident had not damaged the machine.
As for her emotional state… Starfire doused her face with cold water from the sink in an attempt to quell her blush. She had made a fool of herself last night, first with Cyborg and again with Tim. She shuddered to think of the embarrassing things she had said to him that night, and of the way she had almost collapsed on the stairs. Raven's disapproval was nearly as bad- she had seen the way her friend had looked at her that morning, and she was unable to blame her. Starfire HAD promised to be moderate in her consumption of pickles, and yet she had eaten herself into a stupor last night. Raven had suffered far more from the revelation of last night, and yet she had not succumbed to such weakness.
She walked out of the washing room and looked passed the technicians inspecting the teleporter to her fellow Titans. Cyborg and Robin were arguing over something, quite loudly. Cassie stood at the window, gazing down at the Earth below them- a view she had likely never seen before. Raven stood in one corner with her eyes closed. Starfire moved to her side.
Without opening her eyes, the empath turned to Starfire and spoke. "Star, I want to apologize for earlier. I might have been a bit harsh with you."
The young princess smiled. "Do not worry my friend. I know that you are feeling a great deal of the stress right now. May I ask, are you in need of meditation right now?"
Raven sighed and nodded. "I thought I had it under control, I really did, but then…" Raven trailed off into silence for a moment before resuming. "Anyway, this isn't the best place to meditate- there're too many people around."
Starfire placed a hand on Raven's shoulder. "Meditate if you need to, friend, I shall ensure you are not disturbed."
Raven nodded gratefully before settling onto the floor in her meditative position. Within a few moments, she rose a few inches off the ground.
Starfire looked over to where Robin and Cyborg appeared to be finished with their argument, and smiled as Robin came over to where she stood.
"I greet you, Robin" Starfire said, kissing her boyfriend lightly on the cheek. "About what were you and Cyborg arguing?"
"Ah, it's nothing important Star." Robin sighed "Cyborg's just decided to restart our little prank war."
Starfire jerked away, a look of shock on her face. "How can he think of such a thing while Beastboy is a captive? Were they not the best of friends? Does he not worry about his friend?"
"I think that's actually why he's doing this." Robin replied with a nod. "Pulling pranks lets him feel like things are normal- it keeps him from focusing so much on what happened to his best friend and provides him with a way to relieve some stress. It also helps the rest of you- you get to have a good laugh at the expense of the one being pranked, which is something I think we're going to need in the days ahead. So I can't really be too angry at most jokes. But some pranks cross the line, and need to be dealt with; and since I can't ban all jokes without coming across as an unreasonable jerk, I have to teach him a lesson in other ways."
"I see." Starfire said thoughtfully. "Tell me, what is this joke that crossed the line?"
"Oh, Cyborg took some pictures last night, and sent them to Titans East." Noting Starfire's look of horror Robin quickly added "Not of you! Just… my reaction to what happened."
"Oh. I see." Starfire said with shame in her voice. "I must again apologize. I would not have acted as I did were it not for the pickles."
Robin kissed her briefly. "I know that, Star- you're one of the sweetest and most innocent girls I've ever known. Just… just try to lay off the pickles, ok?"
"I shall" Starfire replied.
Before things could get much further, the technician signaled that the teleporter was once again ready for use. The Titans assembled once more, with Starfire praying to X'hal that her stomach would not respond to this trip as it had to the last.
In a burst of light, the Titans found themselves just outside their beloved Tower once more. It was now around ten PM, and most of the lights in the Tower were out. Stepping inside, they found the entrance chamber dark and empty.
Robin frowned. "Where is everyone? I told them we were coming."
"They're probably upstairs." Cyborg replied with a shrug. "Most likely wanna surprise us."
But the Tower seemed to be totally empty and quiet. It was only when they reached the Common Room that they found some of the Titans North. Jinx and Freddy Freeman were watching TV- Jinx sitting on the floor, with Freddy behind her on the couch running a brush through her bright pink hair which hung down to her back.. Both looked up in surprise when the Titans came into the room. Robin scowled at them.
"Where's the rest of your team, Freddy?" he growled. "Why aren't they here? I told you we were coming!"
"I-I" stammered the young hero called Captain Marvel Junior, clearly intimidated. "I didn't… that is…"
"I'll handle this, Junior." Jinx said, standing up to poke Robin in the chest. "Listen, traffic light. Kate told us to expect you tomorrow morning- we've spent the last two days cleaning up the Tower and preparing reports on what happened this month, when we weren't patrolling the city. This is the first free time any of us have had since hearing from you so don't you DARE get angry at us for enjoying ourselves. "
Robin took a moment to digest this before speaking again. "Where is Kate? I told her we'd be here around NOW not tomorrow morning."
"She and Fang are in their bedroom, but..." Freddy started, but Robin stomped off before he could finish.
"I think I'm going to go unpack, then get some rest." Raven droned "It's been a long day, and we've got a lot to do tomorrow."
"Me too" Cyborg agreed, while Cassie merely nodded.
Starfire floated over to Jinx and smiled at her one-time enemy. "I greet you, Jinx. I am pleased to see that you and Captain Marvel Junior are happy together."
"Yeah, well, what can I say?" Jinx said, sitting on the sofa and giving her boyfriend a coy smile. "I like 'em sweet and I like 'em simple. If you wanna be with the Red-Breasted Brooding Bird, you can have him. Superboy and Stargirl are working out okay, too- they're on 'patrol' together right now."
Starfire giggled but was cut off by a piercing scream that echoed through the Tower. Both girls leapt off the couch, but before they could investigate Robin burst into the room. His face was a bright red and his breath was coming in gasps.
"Boyfriend Robin!" Starfire exclaimed "What has happened? Is there some enemy in the Tower?"
Before they could answer, Fang entered the room on his long spider's legs. The mutant teenager was naked, save for a small towel wrapped around his midsection. Without a word to the others, he seized Robin by the wrist and dragged him back out into the hallway. Wordlessly, the other Titans followed, curious as to what was going on. The group moved through the halls of Titans Tower, until eventually they reached one of the guest bedrooms Robin had set aside for the replacement team's use. Fang stopped outside the door and raised Robin's hand, rapping it against the closed door three times.
Turning to Robin, the spider-headed man spoke one word "Knocking." Turning back to the door, he rapped Robin's hand against the steel door three more times before releasing it. He leaned forward so his spider face was inches from Robin's before speaking again. "Knocking. Embrace it."
Robin stammered for a moment, while Starfire laughed to herself. It was obvious to her what had happened- in his anger at the perceived communications failure, her boyfriend had burst into the bedroom of Kate and Fang and interrupted what was meant to be a private moment between the two. It was rather funny, she thought.
Eventually, Robin recovered enough to make an apology- although he was unable to look Fang in the eye(s) while he did so. As the boys went their separate ways (Fang muttering something about a cold shower, which sounded unpleasant to her)Starfire rapped gently on the door to the bedroom.
"Friend Kate?" she called "It is I, Starfire. Do you wish to come out?"
There was a sigh from behind the door, and Starfire's onetime rival for Robin emerged. Her blonde hair was messed up, her skin was flushed, and she wore a bright pink bathrobe with a cartoon spider on one breast. "I might as well" she said wearily. "The mood's ruined now, anyway."
"I fear it is" Starfire said, greeting her enemy-turned-friend with a hug. "I am most sorry"
"It's okay, Kori. Fangy-poo and I will just have to try again later." Kate replied "Let's go find Robin and find out what's going on."
When they reached the Common Room, Robin was seated on the couch receiving a lecture on courtesy from Freddy, while Jinx looked on and struggled not to laugh.
"…realize it's your tower, Robin" Freddy was saying "But we've been living and working here for over a month. Now, I'm not saying it's OURS but we have come to expect a certain degree of privacy in our rooms. So barging it, whatever the circumstances…"
"KATE!" Robin exclaimed, relieved to be able to move on. "There you are! Why did you tell Freddy and the others that we were coming in tomorrow?"
"Because you told me you were leaving at three this afternoon, Gotham time. It's a six hour flight from Gotham to here, assuming you went with a civilian flight the way you did last time." Kate replied. "I figured you'd arrive around three or four in the morning. I'm actually a little curious as to what you're doing here now."
"We took the JLA's teleporter" Robin said a little sheepishly. "I guess I forgot to tell you. It really hasn't been my day."
An awkward silence descended on the room, but it was soon broken by a bizarre sound- to Starfire's ear it sounded like a combination of crackling and chewing. "Excuse me" the alien girl said "But what it that noise?"
Kate shrugged. "It started pretty soon after you guys left, actually. We tried to track it but it's coming from the crawlspace in the walls and it's always moving. I think you've got rats."
Robin leapt to his feet and withdrew his bo staff. The others jumped away as the Boy Wonder raced to the nearest wall.
"What? What's wrong?" Fang called after him. "Are rats in the crawlspace such a big deal?"
"Get Cyborg here as soon as you can" Robin said with a snarl. "The Tower's walls don't HAVE crawlspaces- they're supposed to be solid. No rat I ever heard of can tunnel through solid concrete and steel. We need to get to the bottom of this."
Sorry about the wait. See, I was kinda distracted by recent life-events: I finally graduated! YAY! Now I get to look for work! And an apartment!
Anyway. Long chapter. Couple important plot points set up, and a start made. I hope it meets everyone's expectations.
Oh, and Celtic Warrior? I don't normally respond to Private Messages in stories but to answer the question you sent me: Right…about… (Wait for it)…NOW.