Author's Note: I am a slow writer. More importantly, I'm a very busy person these days (full-time college senior expecting to graduate and get a job in the next few months) and I've had a lot of stuff on my plate to deal with. (Check my profile to see what precisely.) Eventually this fic will get finished entirely, but it will be quite some time before I get there. Please continue to be patient with me.
Remember, reviews of any kind are gladly welcomed! Also, uh, this chapter is 80% fluff/filler, and only 20% plot progression. Oops. I swear, though, this chapter was necessary for stuff to better unfold come Chapter 8.
Oh. And I should probably warn you to prepare for a cliffhanger.
Disclaimer: I don't own the Titans.
CHAPTER 7 – DIVERSION
Raven slept horrendously that night.
Inconsistent emotional shouting inundated the empath as the nighttime hours crept by. Lying in the twin-sized bed next to hers, Starfire tossed and turned, lost to night terrors. The princess's amalgamated feelings of desperation, anger, and passion twanged at Raven's temples until the sun had begun to peak through the room's curtains. She had half a mind to wake the troubled girl from her slumber, but thought better of it; at least Starfire was getting sleep.
In the seldom instances where Raven found the peace to fall deeply into slumber, she was plagued by a variety of her own terrors.
Brief images of her friends laughing at her, dismissing her, and tormenting her at the expense of her feelings flashed behind her snoozing eyes. They were unreasonable and clearly rooted in fear, but still, when Raven awoke from them, she found her throat dry and her skin blanketed with sweat.
Further, there were a handful of petrifying nightmares of her father rising once more from the depths of hell. Just as she'd always feared, he'd siege the Earth and destroy it – her planet, her home, and her friends. In these particular nightmares, however, Trigon had been empowered by Raven's own budding emotions. In these dreams, his strength appeared to come directly from Raven's unhinged emotions. It was her fault for feeling.
Most disturbing of all, the sorceress was harassed by terrors involving the changeling. In some of these dreams, he stared wordlessly at Raven with disgust, seemingly repulsed by the mere sight of her. In others, he looked broken – shattered emotionally beyond repair – and the nauseating feeling in the empath's gut told her exactly who'd made him that way.
So when Raven startled awake to see the mid-morning sun shining happily through the curtains, she sighed heavily with relief and pushed her tired body out of bed. Despite her exhaustion, she had little interest in sleep. As she stood, Raven looked across the room for Starfire…
…but she was nowhere to be found.
The empath raised an eyebrow at the bed's emptiness. While Starfire always rose from bed in the early morning, she tended to stay within the confines of her room for a while after she did. At the very least, it was unlike Starfire to not have sent a text about her whereabouts.
Raven let out another sigh as she dug into her bag for a fresh set of clothes. She was admittedly discouraged at the lack of Starfire's presence; she'd been hoping to speak with her about whatever had the princess so tightly wound throughout the night.
And perhaps about the changeling and the way the memories of him from the previous night yanked at her intestines.
She hadn't a clue what to wear for the day, so she mindlessly tugged out articles of clothing and dressed haphazardly. Once the dark jeans and a basic navy-colored V-neck were on, Raven set out for the day. She glanced quickly out her window before leaving the room, decided to add a black zip-up sweatshirt to her ensemble, and left.
"Are you sure you can handle it?" Robin asked, his voice rough and his face penetrating.
"Everything's been fine," the voice from his communicator insisted, audibly irritated. "Nobody in Jump seems to want to even leave their houses."
"Yeah", another voice chimed in, "It's been over 100 since we got here. No one's doing anything with the heat this bad."
Robin's expression was unremitting as he stared unhappily into the communicator. "I find it impossible to believe there hasn't been a single call since we left, Roy."
"Man, I told you," the red-haired hero asserted with an exasperated sigh. "The only calls we got were from the fire department, and we handled it."
"He means I handled it," the other voice chimed in once more, this time shoving Speedy away from the communicator. Aqualad appeared in his place. "The fires were no problem, Rob. Your city is safe with us. You've got to relax."
Robin stared vacantly at the Titans, his face unwavering. Before he could say anything, Speedy appeared in the communicator again, shoving Aqualad from view. His voice brimmed with mischief. "What's got you so butthurt today, Robin?"
The Boy Wonder growled noiselessly at the communicator. Ignoring the redhead completely, he addressed Aqualad. "Thanks again for watching the city for us," he grumbled, visibly distracted. "We owe you. If you need anything, call." He clicked off his communicator abruptly, immediately blacking out the questioning faces of Speedy and Aqualad as he did so.
He was in no mood to talk.
Beast Boy and Cyborg strolled together down the boardwalk pier lackadaisically, laughing and joking with one-another as they usually did. The past month had been packed with such non-stop bad guy butt-kicking that it had been a while since the Pie Bros had gotten a chance to bro out. At the moment, the changeling – currently in the form of a green lemur – was perched atop the cybernetic man's shoulder, waving at the attractive females that passed by.
Quickly, it grew tiring for the shape-shifter to hold any sort of quality conversation with the mechanical man while remaining in a primate form. Soon enough, Beast Boy transformed back into his normal, pointy-eared, toothy-grinned self. As he did, he adjusted his open gray hoodie, light-wash denim jeans, and his black tee shirt – which donned the Tri-Force symbol from the Legend of Zelda series – into place. It was not quite as easy to shape-shift when he wasn't wearing his form-fitting uniform.
Moments after Beast Boy's clothes were attuned, he stretched happily. "She so dug me," he said slyly in reference to the dazed female that he'd recently startled. The brunette and her friend were now giggling at the superhero duo, appearing somewhat stunned and… largely weirded out.
Cyborg laughed boisterously. "Some things never change," he remarked as he continued walking.
Today, the cybernetic man sported a large, casual blue tee shirt over his mechanical body. He seemed adamant about attempting to remain "casual" while away. The Titans were always unbelievably overworked, and for the first time in all the years since the team had banned together, he wanted the world to know that they were proudly on vacation. They weren't there to entertain or sign autographs or adhere to anyone else's schedule. First and foremost they'd always be Titans, but this week, Cyborg desperately craved to just be himself.
Thunder rumbled overhead, shaking Cyborg from his thoughts. He peered up at the sky in irritation. "The only measly vacation we ever get, and it rains almost the whole time?" The mechanical man then turned his attention down to the screen on his right arm and began fumbling around with buttons.
Beast Boy couldn't have cared less about the weather. In fact, he'd asked Cyborg to accompany him to the pier for a particular reason. For almost two hours now, he'd been attempting to work up the nerve to discuss a personal matter with the cybernetic man.
A personal matter that may or may not have had something to do with a violet-haired sorceress.
"So Cy," the changeling started, his gaze currently focused on a handful of young teens standing a dozen feet away on the boardwalk. One of the teenaged boys was pestering the only girl of the group. The girl was blatantly blowing him off. Beast Boy swallowed hard, compelling his attention back to his friend. "I was wonderin' if I could ask you something."
"Go 'head," Cyborg responded. His attention hardly left his arm scanner.
Beast Boy cleared his throat, his neck suddenly feeling warm. "I've got kinda this weird problem… thing… that I think I could totally use your wisdom on," he said. Why did this feel so difficult for him to talk about?
The mechanical man grumbled in response, switching off his arm scanner. He looked towards the green teen, but only briefly. "What kinda 'weird problem thing', B?"
The changeling could swear the hairs on his neck were coated with sweat. He chuckled nervously, earning a raised eyebrow from Cyborg, and shook his head to himself. They were still walking along the pier. "Well, it's kinda like a… girl thing," Beast Boy said finally after shushing his own chuckles.
Out of the corner of his eye, Cyborg noted a small-framed girl leaning against a food stand on the pier. She stood twenty or so feet away from where the changeling and he were headed, and she smiled deviously at him before disappearing into a crowd.
Beast Boy noticed the mechanical man's odd glances ahead, and raised a peculiar eyebrow. "What's up, dude?"
"Nothing," Cyborg responded half-heartedly. Shaking the girl from his thoughts, he turned his focus back to his best friend. He cracked a sideways smile and slapped a robotic hand on his green teammate's shoulder. "So my little green clorbag's got a crush, huh?"
The shape-shifter coughed, caught off guard both by the bluntness of the question and the force that shook his shoulder. "I, uh, well," he began, searching for the words and inexplicably coming up empty-handed. Beside him, Cyborg let out a boisterous and comforting laugh. "Ya see," the changeling continued, still not making any coherent sense, but he couldn't help but smile alongside Cyborg. "Um, yeah, I dunno exactly. I guess I'm tryna figure that out."
"Man, that wasn't a question," the mechanical man laughed again, pushing playfully at the changeling. "It's obvious you're crushin'. I wanna know what you're gonna do about it."
The warmth in Beast Boy's neck spread into his cheeks. He groaned, scratching the back of his neck bashfully. "I don't know if I'm gonna do anything about it, dude. It's kinda… complicated."
Before the mechanical man could retort with another crafty comment, a flash of pink hair caught his attention once more. He skimmed the crowd hurriedly to his right, but the girl was gone just as quickly as she'd appeared.
"You looking for someone?" Beast Boy asked him, peering in the same direction confusedly.
"No," Cyborg said hastily. He and the shape-shifter walked quietly together down the pier for a few moments. As far as the cybernetic man could tell, Beast Boy didn't seem too bothered by Cyborg's diverted attention, so he let the green teen ponder silently to himself for a bit before pressing the subject any further. When Beast Boy sighed loudly, Cyborg's smile finally cracked. "So exactly what girl's got you trippin'?"
The pupils in Beast Boy's dark forest eyes dilated. He'd been hoping his friend wouldn't ask.
Luck was on the changeling's side that day, however. Very abruptly, black energy in the form of a dark bird spewed up from the planks of the pier just ahead of the Titan boys, and they stopped in their tracks as civilians scattered from the immediate area and looked on with anticipation. Beast Boy and Cyborg watched calmly as the obsidian energy dissipated into Raven, who stepped out from the blackness with her a typically blank expression.
"Hey," she said simply, glancing briefly at Beast Boy and walking to the left of Cyborg. Both of the boys seemed to appreciate her interruption. Very naturally, the three Titans settled into a comfortable pace and trotted onward down the pier.
The previous conversation was over.
After a few minutes of comfortable silence between the trio, Raven broke the quiet. "Have either of you seen Starfire today?" she asked, her voice betraying a hint of concern despite her attempt to remain monotone
"Nope," Cyborg said, appearing extremely distracted as he stared yet again into a crowd of people on the opposite side of the boardwalk.
"Nuh-uh," the changeling chimed, his attention focused on Raven. He didn't seem too concerned with the current line of conversation. "Where've you been all morning?"
She wasn't sure why, but Raven could feel herself wanting to crack a smile. "I slept in," the sorceress responded coolly.
"You? Slept in?" Cyborg chimed. Despite the fact that he was standing directly between Beast Boy and the sorceress, Cyborg was hardly even looking at her. "Girl, you must be off your game."
The violet-haired girl gave a brief, sideways glance in Beast Boy's general direction, who was giving her a subdued grin. "I must be," Raven concurred, almost smiling.
The exchange between the two went entirely unnoticed by Cyborg, for his attention was diverted elsewhere. His pace slowed and he fell behind, and after a few steps, the changeling and the empath turned to face the cybernetic man with hints of confusion.
"I… gotta go," Cyborg said finally, vagueness in his voice. He knew he must've appeared odd to his friends, but also knew that there was a more pressing matter at hand. "Sorry, ya'll; forgot something important back in my room. I'll catch up soon." He waved awkwardly at the changeling and the sorceress, smiled cheekily, and then turned abruptly on the pier.
Raven and Beast Boy stood gracelessly in place and watched Cyborg disappear into the crowd behind them.
"That was weird," Raven commented.
"Yep," Beast Boy agreed, and then smiled at the empath. "Definitely lying."
Raven nodded in agreement with the green teen, though neither of them pushed the subject. They both trusted Cyborg too much to question his motives.
Beast Boy smiled, turning back towards the violet-haired girl. "And now it's just us. So what do you wanna do?"
Raven's face did not wince – she didn't even allow herself to blush – but internally, she felt her stomach flip ever-so-small. "Whatever," she responded, attempting to be as warm as possible with her tone, despite the creeping feeling of nausea. "It's up to you."
The changeling scratched his chin thoughtfully for a moment. The pair was still standing in the middle of the boardwalk where Cyborg had left them, and as such, they were beginning to draw some attention. The shape-shifter knew it was only a matter of time before the sorceress' patience would wear thin – especially if the civilians on the boardwalk began to get excited. After all, they might not have been wearing their typical superhero getups, but Beast Boy was still green, and Raven still had purple hair, and they'd always be a symbol of superheroism to the public.
"How 'bout this," Beast Boy began, putting a quick arm around Raven to shoo her away from the crowd that had begun to stare. As they walked, he nonchalantly removed his arm, but walked in close proximity to the sorceress. "We'll alternate with boardwalk fun – you choose something to do, then I'll pick something – until we get bored."
Raven was glad to be walking again, and was specifically glad that the changeling had quickly removed his arm from her back. She didn't mind him touching her – and in fact, she quietly admitted to herself that she enjoyed the warmth of his arms – but judgmental glimpses from onlookers often set off her sensitive empathic abilities. "That would be a great idea," Raven said, exhaling at the relief of no longer being looked at, "Except I don't particularly like any boardwalk activities."
"Hush," Beast Boy said, waving a dismissive hand at her. He appeared to know where he was walking, and so the sorceress followed his lead. "I know exactly what you wanna do first. Don't worry; you can thank me when we get there."
Externally, Raven let out a playful groan. On the inside, she wondered how it was possible that fate could place her in the sole yet public company of the changeling for the second day in a row.
As Cyborg walked aimlessly on the pier back towards the White Sands, he looked around for his pink-haired friend, but she seemed nowhere to be found. Just as he was about to shrug off his suspicions, he felt a tap on his shoulder.
He turned and found himself facing a frail-looking female with big, bright blue eyes. "Finally," she said, in a voice that sounded familiar. "I thought you'd never slip away."
His hunches were, of course, correct. Jinx had been signaling him subtly for the majority of the afternoon. Nevertheless, Cyborg was surprised to see her in such a quality disguise. Though her hair was still a bright pink, this was the extent of the physical similarities between what she looked like now and her typical appearance. Her vibrant hair sat just above her shoulders in a choppy cut, her eyes were a sunny blue, her skin glowed with peach and tan hues, and her facial features were entirely unrecognizable. She stood in basic civilian clothing that attracted very little attention.
"That you in there?" Cyborg asked. He peered at Jinx's disguise critically, silently wondering how she'd been able to pull it off.
She flashed her left hand in front of the mechanical man, showing off a plain, silver ring. "You made one for every Titan a few years back," she reminded him, placing her hand back at her side.
"I never went into enough detail in my designs to alter physical features," Cyborg began, lifting her hand delicately in his own. It felt oddly frail and thin, like Jinx's hands usually felt, despite how strong they appeared at this very moment. "Except on my own holoring, of course, to camouflage the metal of my body. How'd you –"
"I had a friend alter your designs a bit," she admitted, smiling slyly. She began to walk ahead, and Cyborg followed.
When he caught up with her, the mechanical man grinned down at the tiny girl. "If you were goin' for 'subtle', you shoulda skipped the pink hair."
Jinx looked at him incredulously, walking backwards. "Since when have I ever done 'subtle'?" She turned back around and continued to lead the tin man away from the boardwalk. "Besides, how 'subtle' am I supposed to be while I walk around with a six-and-a-half foot robo-Titan?"
"Got me there," he laughed. But Cyborg was far too smart to miss the important details. He smiled slyly to match Jinx's. "So which mysterious friend o' yours was able to alter my holoring designs?"
The enchantress stared determinedly at the ground, not answer. Within an instant, Cyborg realized it would have been easier for him to remain silent.
"Hey, alright, no worries. It's cool." He put a hand around her shoulders, smiling and friendly and attempting to lighten the encounter. "Where we headin'?"
With the slyest and most devious voice Cyborg ever heard in his life, Jinx did not even turn to look him in the eye as she responded. "I'd like to take you somewhere a bit more… private."
Stopping dead in his tracks and retrieving his arm, Cyborg accidentally allowed the fleshy side of his face turned bright crimson. He must have misheard her.
"Bad luck girly said what now?"
Jinx cackled boisterously, enjoying the somewhat bewildered expression on the mechanical man's face. "Don't get too excited," she teased, Cyborg's face growing ever redder.
Raven had enjoyed the dunking tank significantly more than she expected to. At first she declined Beast Boy's offer to play, claiming that it would be unfair for her to participate due to the advance her telekinetic prowess would provide. However, the clown who sat in the tank refused to stop yelling obscenities at all those who passed by, and soon enough, the empath's patience dissipated into nonexistence. By the time the clown noticed the chromatically challenged pair of heroes and began to direct his jokes towards the changeling, Raven had already picked up the baseball and was winding up to take a throw.
The splash the clown made as his body hit the water was indescribably satisfying.
"Knew you'd enjoy that," Beast Boy had commented afterwards, not-so-subtly praising his own decision.
After that, the pair of heroes walked further down the pier and into the biggest arcade that the boardwalk had to offer. "I promise I won't let myself get carried away here," the changeling swore to the empath, almost feeling the disdain for the atmosphere dripping off her pale skin as they entered the vicinity.
Instead of heading immediately towards the more classic arcade-style games, where Beast Boy tended to gravitate, he instead led Raven towards a large, dark, booth-styled game. It was designed to look like a jeep, and had dinosaurs printed all over the outside. "C'mon," he said, ushering Raven into the seat on the right despite her obvious reservation. "We've got some dino-butt to kick."
"I have no idea what I'm doing," Raven admitted, disdain and mild impatience clearly evident within her voice.
Beast Boy haphazardly shoved quarters into the machine. "Don't worry. This game is hardly based on skill, anyway. It's just for fun."
The sorceress grasped the main point of the game rather quickly. Their characters were trapped within a research facility where a variety of dinosaurs had broken free and grown aggressive. Their goal was to escape the dinosaur-infested grounds with their lives.
After utilizing over $10 worth of quarters and spending the best portion of an hour playing, the changeling and the sorceress finally "beat" the game. Beast Boy's overall shot accuracy was 93%, and he happily turned to Raven to see a tiny but definitive smile on her lips. "You enjoy the game?" he asked, hoping for the best.
She'd surpassed the exceedingly low expectations that she set for herself in regards to the game. Though it was rather mindless and pointlessly graphic, the game had been fairly stimulating. Having to work alongside a partner added a level of excitement to the adventure as well, and when Raven's score of 74% accuracy appeared on the final screen, she was actually somewhat proud of herself. "I guess," Raven responded, still smiling slightly but stubbornly refusing to give the changeling any vocal satisfaction. "It wasn't so bad."
As the chromatically challenged pair exited the video game, they noticed that a tiny crowd of children and young teens – no older than fourteen – had gathered around the outside of the jeep in order to watch the heroes complete the game. Seldom did anyone have the required time, patience, or money to blow in order to finish it. Upon seeing the crowd and the way they snickered quietly at the duo, Raven's face flushed and her mood threatened to immediately turn sour.
"Can we leave?" she asked brashly, raising her black hood over her head to conceal her colored face. An infinitesimal frown flashed across the shapeshifter's face, and he nodded as he rose from his seat.
Jinx-in-disguise and Cyborg had spent the majority of the afternoon just off the shore of the beach, discussing the details of her whereabouts for the past year and a half more in-depth. She seemed eager to share this information with the mechanical man, as if a heavy weight was being lifted further off of her chest.
Over the past hour, Cyborg had learned everything he could from the bad luck enchantress. For the year that she'd been away, Jinx had travelled all over the country. She followed tiny whispers and traces of Kid Flash's whereabouts, from Gotham to Metropolis and eventually back to Jump City, until she eventually found his torn-apart mask on the outskirts of Jump.
But there were pieces that Jinx did not seem willing to share. When he'd asked if she'd had any help looking for Kid Flash during her year away, the bad luck sorceress did not respond. Cyborg didn't doubt that Jinx would do anything to find Wally, and so he wasn't surprised by her suspicious secrets. She'd likely been in contact with some shady individuals.
The conversation between the two had now become much lighter. The mechanical man and the enchantress lounged on the rocks of the shore near the beach, bantering playfully.
Jinx laughed at the end of another of Cyborg's tales from the past year. "I don't even understand why Mumbo tries anymore."
"Nobody understands it, girl," the mechanical man said smiling. With another loud laugh, he added, "Maybe he appreciates tradition."
The sorceress laughed along, but appeared ready to change she subject. A peculiar gleam flickered briefly in her disguised eyes. After all this time, she had a few questions up her own tattered sleeves.
"So, Cyborg," she began, her tone growing crafty, "Are you still seeing Sarah?"
"Maybe," he replied aloofly, not skipping a beat. The cybernetic man could tell she was lightly toying with him.
Jinx frowned in response, but her tone remained weightless. "What the hell does 'maybe' mean?"
Cyborg let out a big smile. "It means that's for me to know and you to wonder about."
The pink-haired enchantress frowned for another heavy moment, making direct eye contact with the mechanical man before breaking the weight of the conversation. She smiled somewhat sadly at Cyborg, cocking an eyebrow. "If I was your girl and you weren't anything put proud to admit it, I'd find a new guy."
Cyborg's grin turned sour momentarily, but before he could so much as think of a response, his communicator started to blare. This was abnormal; Robin had told the Titans that this trip should be used first and foremost as a vacation and nothing more serious – which meant that his call to Cyborg had to have been important. The bionic man and Jinx simultaneously sighed at the unwelcomed interruption.
The sorceress leaned out of view as the metallic man flipped open his infamous yellow device. "What's u–"
"Cyborg," Robin snapped sharply through the mechanical man's communicator. The Boy Wonder's voice was raw and cold, and as the digital image of his face became visible, the expression that accompanied the voice was similarly as unforgiving. "Do an in-depth scan of what's happening weather-wise above the hotel right now. Something's wrong."
Cyborg's attention was focused elsewhere, however, as he scooted Jinx behind him and out of view from the communicator. As he did so, he glanced behind him towards the hotel, where a menacing black storm cloud had formed.
"I need that done now, Cyborg," Robin snapped again even more icily.
For a moment, the cybernetic man was quiet as he made eye contact with the Boy Wonder through the device. Jinx sat silently behind him, unmoving, wary about being seen by the Titans leader.
"That tone better not be aimed towards me," Cyborg responded finally. His voice was neither warm nor cool; it was simple and straight-forward.
Briefly, it appeared that Robin might snap once more, but after the fleeting expression of aggravation passed, he sighed deeply, resigning. "Sorry, Cy. I'm having a bad day."
"I can see that," Cyborg remarked, his voice growing more friendly. "Keep your head up and we'll talk later if you want. I'll get on the scans now and report back ASAP."
"Thanks," Robin mumbled through the device before clicking off.
Immediately, Jinx stood up from her rocky seat and stepped out from behind the cybernetic man. "Well that was… something," she remarked off-handedly as she observed Cyborg begin fumbling with the display panel on his right arm. "What's got him so –"
"Starfire, obviously," Cyborg interrupted, answering the question she hadn't even been able to finish. He did not look up at the bad luck enchantress. His attention was focused on his digital readings.
Jinx sighed and shook her head, a sad smile creeping its way onto her temporarily peach face. "That's still going on?" she asked with mock surprise. "Geez, by now, I'da guessed someone else might've snatched her up."
Cyborg's face was scrunched up, focusing heavily on his arm and hardly listening to Jinx. "Someone might if that boy don't start thinkin' straight," he noted.
As Beast Boy and Raven exited the game vehicle, teens congratulated the off-duty heroes on their small victory. The shapeshifter smiled at the teenage fans, occasionally returning their praise with a toothy "Thanks" or high-five. Meanwhile, Raven walked briskly ahead of him, doing her best to ignore the attention.
Soon, the chromatically challenged pair stood outside the boardwalk arcade. The sky was an ominous shade of white flecked with charcoal clouds that lingered just overhead. Further behind them, as the clouds inched towards their hotel in the distance, the clouds grew obsidian and troublesome, but neither Titan noticed just yet.
The empath had walked ahead of the changeling as they vacated, so she stood awkwardly outside of the door for a few moments as she waited for him to follow. When he did, his smile dissipated entirely.
"I'm sorry," Raven said quietly, refusing to remove her hood but allowing herself to move a step closer to the green teen. "I just –"
Beast Boy quickly shushed her and put his hand briefly on the sorceress's back. He was even quicker to remove it. "I know, Rae. You can't handle being swarmed. It's no biggie."
She looked at him hesitantly as he began walking ahead. Using her telekinesis, she hovered just a few inches above the ground for a moment and then briskly floated behind the changeling, following his pace. "I can handle it," she amended, trying to keep her tone even. She was offended by the idea of her not being able to handle something, but she didn't want to show it. Beast Boy had meant no harm in his phrasing. "I just strongly dislike it."
"What's the difference?" Beast Boy asked, slowing his pace so that Raven could comfortably float by his side. Raven cocked an eyebrow, now very aware of how aware her green teammate was with his own wording. His tone was flatter than usual, and he made no attempt at eye contact.
Raven felt a prickling emotion bouncing off the changeling's skin. She didn't mean to, but her voice absorbed just a tingle of his spikiness. "The difference is that I prefer to avoid it; not that I 'can't handle it'." She paused, and then floated ahead and about-faced to stop the shapeshifter from continuing to walk. When he stopped, he shoved a hand into the depths of his pocket and looked at her rather emptily.
Raven's glare protruded out from underneath her hood. "Gar, what's going on?"
Beast Boy shook his head thinly. "Are you embarrassed to be seen with me, Raven?"
Instantly, Raven shook her head vigorously. "What?" she asked rhetorically, her voice sharp and incredulous. She'd been absolutely caught off-guard. She briskly stuttered, "I – no, Beast Boy. Absolutely not. Why would you think that?"
"Oh, come on," he responded, something entirely unrecognizable in his voice. "You hardly talk to me without sarcasm if we're in public, you always get uncomfortable around me even if it's just us, and you don't like it when people see us together."
He brought his gaze back up to hers, and instantaneously he realized that he was blindsiding her – and he felt bad about it. All of the sudden, there was less sharpness in his voice. "I know I'm probably just bein' silly, but your body language…"
The empath had no idea how to respond as a handful of feelings swirled around her. She wasn't sure which were hers, which were Beast Boy's, and which were merely projections of the other's emotions as they made eye contact; being an empath was far from an easy science. This is precisely why she preferred to keep her empathetic hood raised far over her own face and mind her own emotional business. It just made everything more confusing.
But Beast Boy wasn't afraid to look her dead in the eyes, and Raven refused to let herself will her gaze away. She had no idea why her cheeks were so awfully crimson underneath the hood of her cloak, or why she so desperately felt like teleporting out of this particular confrontation. "I'm not embarrassed of you," Raven asserted.
Beast Boy smirked sadly at her. "Then why do you keep looking around?" he asked, gesturing at the few people passing by. The sorceress's cheeks burned at his words, and she almost appeared to be angry, but he pressed onwards still. "And why do you look so damn guilty?"
Raven grumbled. "I'm not embarrassed," she stressed, though this time much more quietly. "And I really don't want to do this right now."
The changeling's smirk turned into a full-blown grin. There was something unmistakably sad about it. "Okay, Raven," he laughed lightly. He didn't sound as bitter as she expected him to be; in fact, the green teen simply sounded like he regretted bringing up the topic at all.
He tried to turn away, but kept his voice as light and airy as he could. "Let's just go back to the hotel, Rae. I'm honestly exhausted from that game!" As the words left his mouth, though, Beast Boy began to notice a few pebble-sized pieces of frozen water beginning to hit the boardwalk floor.
It had begun to hail.
"That's weird," he observed aloud, gesturing to the random hail and the sky's bizarre coloring.
Raven followed his gesture, and as she did, the wind suddenly whipped up violently around them and continued down the length of the boardwalk. The hood was ripped by the hands of the wind from Raven's head, and her cloak thrashed around aggressively. A few of the boardwalk patrons screamed as the civilians scrambled to find shelter from the ever-growing wind and hail.
She took a step closer to Beast Boy. "What is this?" she asked angrily, shielding her face with her arm.
Beast Boy pointed above the hotel far ahead of them, finally noticing the blackened storm. There, ominous charcoal clouds gathered and amalgamated menacingly.
From her comfortable and padded chair, Starfire conversed with the ladies around her.
"It took the coercion of our friends for him to even accompany me," she sighed with irritation.
The women surrounding her all sighed and shook their heads in response. The woman massaging Starfire's scalp made a ticking sound with her tongue. "You deserve someone better, sweetie," she said.
Another woman in the chair next to the princess piped up. Her accent was from the East Coast and humorously thick. "Ya know, I always heard that the Batman has terrible manners. That's probably where your boy gets all this angst from!"
A minute later, the water in the sink behind Starfire was turned off and a towel was put around her shoulders.
"Just another few minutes as I do the blowout, okay sweetie?" the woman behind her chimed.
However, Starfire's attention was focused elsewhere. Through the obscenely large glass windows in the salon, the princess could see the sky quickly becoming black and dangerous just a few miles to the West. Even just outside, the wind looked to be whipping up a ruckus, and civilians on the street were running frantically into their homes.
"I am very sorry, but I must go," Starfire apologized, standing briskly from her chair and ringing her hair out. She returned the dampened towel to the salon patroness. "It appears that there is trouble. Thank you for all that you have done today," she said happily, unfolding the money from her pocket and cheerfully handing it to the woman.
"No problem, sweetie. Come back anytime."
With a quick wave, Starfire opened the door to the salon and embarked upon flight. Considering how fast she flew, the princess doubted that the blowout would've been necessary.
All five Titans gathered together outside the front of the hotel. Cyborg had arrived first after Jinx had inexplicably disappeared on the pier of the boardwalk after his exchange with Robin, and the mechanical man was soon met by the changeling, the empath, and the Boy Wonder.
Starfire arrived last, though not long behind the other four. As she did, the other Titans glanced at her briefly in shock, despite the looming storm overhead.
Her long, cascading, crimson locks were no more.
During her absence in the day, she'd very obviously decided to make a physical change in her appearance; the majority of her thick, crimson hair fell both smoothly and sharply among the corners of her head, just barely brushing her shoulders in the back, although the front pieces were still much longer. This was surely the shortest she'd ever willingly* had her hair, at least during her stay on Earth and with the Titans.
She floated confidently behind her teammates, her eyes glowing that ominous, harlequin green, with an indescribable look of ferocity encompassing her body language. The shortness of her hair drew attention to the Robin looked at her, wide-eyed and shameful, and she met his gaze with fierceness. Rather quickly, he decided to allow her late arrival to slide without a word.
Above the White Sands, a deep, onyx-colored cloud had formed and was stirring violently. Lightning flashes within the depths of the blackness and thunder roared monstrously. Violent winds had whipped up around the glorious hotel, but its walls were visibly sturdy and seemed able to handle the odd storm. On the ground below, the Titans took battle stance out of pure habit as residents of the hotel scattered in confusion around them.
"What is that?" Beast Boy asked aloud, vocalizing what each of the Titans had been wondering.
"No clue," Cyborg mumbled, still fumbling with his arm panel. "But my scanners can't pick up anything unnatural. No heat signatures."
The sight was breathtaking. It appeared that tornadoes and twisters might drop down at any moment, and behind the Titans, the ocean began to toss and turn with incredible illness.
"This is unnerving," Raven noted with mild irritation, putting a hand up just in time to block her face from debris. Normally, the entire property of the White Sands was clear of any and all trash and litter, but with these zephyrs, all of the trash cans in the area had been thrown about. Quietly, she breathed, "Azarath, metrion, zinthos," and utilizing her telekinetic commands, she created a confined patch of black energy to surround the team. It would act as their shield from the weather and threat of debris until they could form a plan of attack.
Beast Boy dropped his battle-ready stance and came up behind Cyborg, peering over him as if he could understand the readings on the mechanical man's arm. "Are we sure it isn't just Thunder and Lightning stirrin' up some trouble again or something?"
Cyborg shook his head. "Man, I'm telling you, there's nobody up there."
"Besides," Robin said, his tone austerely and brooding. His negative mood from earlier still weighed heavily on his disposition. "Thunder and Lightning's GPS indicate that they're not even on the West Coast."
When Starfire spoke, her voice was empty. "If there is nothing unusual creating this storm cloud, how are we to proceed?" A heavy moment of quiet followed her speech, signifying that not even the Boy Wonder had a useful response.
"Maybe we should let it run its course," Cyborg offered doubtfully, finally looking up from his arm and addressing Robin directly. The masked acrobat would require the most convincing. "I know it definitely isn't a natural storm, but I can tell you that whatever's causing it isn't up there. Everything on my scanners indicates that it's just a nasty-looking storm cloud."
Robin ripped his eyes away from the mechanical man and stared intently at the storm. It swirled menacingly, flashed brightly with streaks of electricity, and rumbled deeply… but no rain accompanied it. Only wind escaped the blackness of the cloud. Slowly, as he observed, he allowed his arms to drop to his sides. "It isn't up there," Robin repeated at no one in particular.
The other Titans exchanged a look of confusion with one another.
Suddenly, things began to make sense to masked hero. He couldn't quite place it, but pieces of the past few weeks and months began to string themselves together in his mind, sending goosebumps up his arms.
Something was wrong.
"Shit," Robin swore under his breath. He glanced around briefly as the other Titans continued to watch in quiet puzzlement. The Boy Wonder took a step back abruptly, not having abandoned his battle stance for even a split second. He looked back at his teammates, slight desperation forming in his eyes.
His friends looked back at him, their eyes reflecting his desperation but intermingled with mirrors of confusion. His voice came out sharp and cutting, but his family knew better; he was filled with panic.
"It's not up there!" Robin shouted, pleading with them to get to the conclusion he'd only just made himself. "Guys, it's some sort of…"
A mile or two beyond the White Sands, the sky suddenly lit up. An indescribable whiteness blanketed its entirety, accompanied almost simultaneously with a deep rumbling. After a second, the cataclysmic sound of the explosion shattered the eardrums of the five Titans. They stared in horror as the sky continued to dance, aglow with flames, and the whiteness refused to settle for many moments.
The world quaked.
Author's Note: For some reason the colon/semi-colon key [ :/; ] on my computer isn't working properly and it's driving me nuts. On top of that, I'm pretty sure I had a more recent draft of this chapter saved somewhere, but I can't find it, so whatever haha. (I save about a million drafts of each chapter.)
In order to prevent you guys from killing me entirely for leaving you on a cliffhanger (and an explosive one at that – haha!), I want to let you know that Chapter 8 is already on the way and it shouldn't take more than 2 weeks or so at best. I finally know which direction I'd like this fic to go in – wahoo! =) Get ready for the Plot Bus, 'cause it's coming for you guys!
Please review. Your feedback means the world to me. (And if you want to see a quick sketch of how I meant Starfire's hair to turn out, please head to chromaticallychallenged . tumblr tagged / r&r ! :D More sketches are to come!
*Edit: I always thought after episodes in TT like X (where Star got her hair burned off by the giant laser) or in TTG like Legendary Sandwich... that Starfire's hair would need to be shorter for some time. In my head canons, I always anticipated her remaining in her room for a few weeks straight until her hair grew back. (Because in my mind, the hair of Tamaraneans also grows extremely fast.) Well part of the reason I want her to be so proud and defiant about her hair is because it's what makes her sooo innately feminine, and I just want her to break out of that damn sexist shell and be proud of how gorgeous she is despite the long, crimson locks she's always got. She wants to SHOW the other Titans that she can be "human" and make "impulsive human decisions" like any other person and she's proud of the difference it makes, even if it's only momentarily. (When Robin notices her.) Idk. I decided I wanted that in the fic LONG ago because I'm admittedly the type of gal to often change her hair and it's FREEING beyond belief. Hell yeah, Star. Keep rockin' it!