Author's Note: I am not a writer. I'm not even an English major. I'm a Teen Titans fan and as I was taking a trip down memory lane watching the cartoon the other day, this idea came into my head that felt like I had to write. This is my experimental first fanfic (so go easy on me)! I hope you enjoy it, and let me know what you think!
Disclaimer: I don't own the Teen Titans, any brand names mentioned, or anything else someone would feel the need to sue me over.
"Finally," Cyborg huffed as he screwed the last bolt into his latest creation.
Raven's eyes lifted from her book for a moment to glance at her teammate's project. The Titan's technology had needed an upgrade for quite a while now and Cyborg had finally gotten around to working on it this week. The computers in the common room, though they still had keyboards, were now all touch-screens; a feat considering Raven and Starfire were the only two whose hands were normally exposed.
"Cyborg, friend, are you at last finished with the upgrading?" Starfire inquired from the kitchen. She had just finished concocting some Tamaranian dish. Raven couldn't definitively tell what it was, but Starfire planned on consuming it for lunch. She enjoyed earthly food, but still ate her native fare often. Raven didn't mind, as long as none of it ended up on her plate.
"Yep! The tech is upgraded, the work is done, and chef Cyborg's making lunch!" He joined Starfire in the kitchen, searching for food. "Want something to eat Rae?"
Though it was already past noon, Raven didn't have much of an appetite. She sat at the kitchen table, engaged in a novel she had just bought yesterday. "I'll make something in a minute," she replied. The common room was peacefully quiet this morning. The soft clanking of Cyborg's tools and Starfire's contented humming were a perfect background to Raven's reading.
"Dude!" Beast Boy exclaimed as he sauntered through the door to the common room. Well, Raven thought with a frown, there goes that.
Beast Boy assessed the changes to the common room tech. "Sweet, the TV's back up! Wanna play some video games, Cy?" he asked, wiggling his eyebrows. Cyborg, who by now had built a hefty sub, grinned.
"I'm ready to kick your skinny green butt!" he taunted, scarfing his sandwich and hopping over the couch to join Beast Boy.
"Boys," Raven sighed as she closed her book. "No matter how old they get, they still act like idiots."
Starfire giggled at the pair, who hadn't played games in a while. For one, the Titan's computers had been down for a few days as Cyborg updated them. But as the two grew older, they found more "adult" activities to occupy themselves with. They spent most of their free time enjoying Jump City's nightlife, though they were still up for a few rounds of the latest Mega-Monkeys now and then.
Raven moved into the kitchen calmly as she prepared a cup of tea and some fruit for a light lunch. As she worked, she caught a glimpse of her reflection in the glass of the microwave and her eyes lingered a little longer than usual. What had caught her attention was her hair—it was getting long, almost brushing her shoulders. It was time for a trim. This afternoon, perhaps, she thought.
Since she usually spent so little time looking at her image, she allowed herself a few extra moments to study her face. It had matured since she joined the Titans, which was, of course, to be expected. Though she always acted the most mature of the Titans, she was actually the youngest member of the team; she was about to turn twenty-one in a couple of weeks. Five years as a titan, she thought. She had always acted like an adult, but now she finally looked the part—her cheeks had lost their round shape and had become more angular, her jaw more defined, and her features more prominent.
Everyone on the team had changed. Well, almost everyone. Raven looked over at Cyborg, whose face had only changed a little bit. The rest of him was covered in metal, so it was hard to tell any difference. Beast Boy, on the other hand, had grown at least a foot. Though he was still shorter than the other Titans, he was close on their heels and still considerably taller than Raven, who had only grown an inch. She was content with her height, but certainly wouldn't mind an extra inch or two. Or three. Even though the green Titan had grown, he was still thin and lanky, with a layer of ropy muscle covering his body.
Turning back to her tea, Raven was distracted by the disturbing sight of Starfire gobbling down her gelatinous Tamaranian lunch. The girl hadn't grown much taller either, but, like Raven, had matured in the face considerably, though she still had an innocent beauty to her.
"Raven!" the alien sang out as Raven returned to the kitchen table. "Please, my grid of dates tells me that your birthday is only a flarthnog away. I must begin the plans of celebration and require your assistance and approval!" she said, beaming.
Raven tried not to cringe. "Listen Starfire," she began firmly, "we're just going to celebrate like we usually do. A small party with just the five of us." She would rather just forget the whole thing, but her friends would not let her get away with that. Besides, she didn't really mind spending time with her friends, she just didn't like all of the fanfare that accompanied the date.
"Lame!" Beast Boy called from the couch, attention momentarily diverted from his game. That was all it took for Cyborg to deliver one final blow and defeat him.
"Not cool," Beast Boy enunciated to his metal companion before they both joined the girls in the kitchen.
"You're turning twenty-one, not ten!" the green Titan elaborated. "I'm thinking pizza, cool bar downtown, and SHOTS!" he said mischievously.
"Aw, yeah!" Cyborg hollered. "You know what they say: twenty-one years, twenty-one shots!"
Raven just stared a them for a moment. "You're joking, right?"
"Yes, Robin has repeatedly instructed me not to partake in the 'alcohol' of this planet," Starfire stated nervously.
"Don't listen to everything Robin says," Beast Boy scoffed dismissively. He looked around the room. "Speaking of Robin, where is he? It's not like him to sleep this late. I wonder if he's—"
"I CAN'T BELIEVE THIS!" Robin shouted as he stormed through the doors, right on cue. He was gesturing to the opened newspaper in his hands, clearly exasperated. "After all we do for this city!" The Titans all circled behind his seething form, curious as to what had riled him this time.
Evidently, it was a newspaper article about them whose title read:
TEEN TITANS NEED TO GROW UP
Raven sighed. Here we go...
Beast Boy cleared his throat ceremonially and began to read aloud.
"'While the Teen Titans have protected our city from danger for many years, they're becoming adults and need to act as such. Costly, messy battles that the city has to pay to repair the damage from, reclusive and often rude behavior towards citizens, and a general disregard for the order they supposedly fight to protect in Jump City has created a wary attitude towards the crime fighting team.'"
Beast Boy stopped reading aloud as he skimmed the next paragraph, visibly paling. Robin picked up where he had left off, glaring at Beast Boy and Cyborg as he read.
"'The Titans are not exactly role models either. Once a little more wholesome, the team can now be seen hitting the bars, drinking, and partying in between fighting crime,'" Robin dictated, each word distinct and dripping with scorn. "'Just last week Beast Boy and Cyborg were seen at a local night club, passed out from intoxication.'" Robin stopped to glare at his teammates.
"Uhhh..." Beast Boy stammered in response, shrugging sheepishly. Cyborg was even blushing under the heat of Robin's glare.
"Hey, it's not all our fault," Cyborg finally managed.
"Yeah, that line about 'reclusive and rude' was a direct reference to Raven!" Beast Boy added defensively.
"I'm just here to fight crime. Not really a people person," she replied indifferently.
Robin sighed, loosing some of his anger. "We're all guilty of acting a little less than heroic lately." He paused a moment. "We need to bring our focus back to our job of protecting the city. Which is why there are going to be some changes around here."
Changes. Raven had never liked that word, especially when it came out of Robin's mouth. Though she wasn't thrilled about what this article would mean for them, she did enjoy the verbal pounding Cyborg and Beast Boy were receiving. That was a long time coming, she smirked to herself.
"Robin, what changes do you speak of?" Starfire questioned, eyes wide.
"Well, for starters no more irresponsible behavior." He turned his gaze on Cyborg and Beast Boy. "Especially you two."
"Well, there goes Raven's birthday party," grumbled Cyborg.
"Raven's..." Robin began quizzically. "Oh, right, it's almost your birthday," he said to Raven. Cyborg and Beast Boy glanced at each other, thankful for the distraction.
"Sure is!" Beast Boy exclaimed perkily. "And now that partying is on the list of inexcusable behaviors"—Robin rolled his eyes—"we have to come up with a whole new plan."
"I already told you—" Raven began, but Beast Boy's hand clamped down on her mouth. She turned her best glare on him and he quickly removed it, smiling sheepishly.
Meanwhile, Cyborg continued. "Yep, it's gonna be tough since we're clearly being watched," he said, referencing the paper.
"Well then we'll just have to...wait a minute." Robin's eyes narrowed. "You two are trying to distract me. I'm not finished—"
Just then his communicator began to blink.
"Alright, perfect timing!" Cyborg exclaimed, garnering an eye-roll from Robin.
"Robin, what is the trouble?" Starfire asked.
"Not trouble, just someone trying to contact us," he replied, brows drawn together in confusion. The team gathered around the TV as Robin transferred the image from his communicator to the screen. A young woman with neat features and a clean appearance sat in a well-appointed office, her thin lips turned up in a conservative but pleasant smile.
"Uh, can we help you?" Robin asked.
"Hello, Titans. My name is Celeste Bowman. I'm an assistant to Jump City's new Mayor, Annette Forbes."
"Wait, when did Jump City get a new Mayor?" Beast Boy interrupted.
"It's called an election, Beast Boy. They have them every once in a while, here in America," Raven said sarcastically.
"Anyhow," Celeste said crisply, "it's recently come to our attention that your team has had some issues with the media, to phrase it delicately." All of the Titans looked a little embarrassed. "Yes, well, seeing as how the city needs your services and how we fund your crime-fighting efforts, we've decided we really must fix this problem. We need Jump City to adore its heroes," she said. "Now, we'd be more than happy to help with your 're-imaging,' but I would suggest we meet first to discuss it further."
"That would be, um, nice," Robin said cautiously. "But I don't want to commit to anything yet. We need to talk about it together first, and we would need to know more about what you're planning."
"Of course. Let's meet tomorrow, say at eight?" she suggested. "We're quite excited to discuss this further."
"As are we," Raven spoke up in her cool, confident tone. Raven wasn't sure this was a good idea, but it was interesting, to say the least.
"I'll see you tomorrow morning. Until then, Titans," Celeste said. The screen went blank, offering a scenic view of the bay once again.
It was a short drive to City Hall the next morning, and a quiet one. Beast Boy was still half asleep thanks to the early wake-up call. Raven was reserved as usual. Robin was pondering all possible outcomes of the meeting, and Starfire was uncharacteristically silent as she stared out the window, worried about how the meeting would go and how her friends' behavior would be perceived. Cyborg kept his attention on the road.
Overall, Raven couldn't complain.
When they arrived, they all moved stiffly out of the car and up to the regal building. A few minutes later, they were all seated in elegant leather chairs that lined the hallway outside of the mayor's office. A flurry of people streamed through the large oak double doors and all slowed their pace to stare at the Titans with curiosity. Finally, Celeste emerged from the two doors, smiling at the assembled group curtly.
"Well," she said in greeting, "I certainly didn't expect you to come in costume."
"We're heroes," Robin said in reply, put out by her negative tone. "It's not exactly a day job. We have to be ready at all times."
"Of course," Celeste replied, turning into the office and beckoning them to follow.
Raven rose and followed her teammates through the doors. She didn't like this woman. She didn't like this situation. She didn't have much hope for a positive outcome.
As she passed through the large doorway, her eyes darted around the sizable office space, which was bustling with activity. These must be the Mayor's assistants, she thought, looking at all of the desks and the suited people behind each of them. She caught bits of the conversation between Robin and the woman in front of her.
"Yes, the Mayor does have a sizable staff. I'm one of many on it and I'm specifically tasked with handling public and media relations for the Mayor and her... acquaintances." Celeste smirked.
The Titans had reached another doorway against the back wall, similar to the first. Her reserved smile still in place, Celeste turned and walked through the door, leaving it open for the Titans to follow.
They walked single file through the doorway and into the Mayor's opulent office. Rich burgundy wall paper was well paired with oak wood floors, cabinets, and trimming. Gold accents and accessories were sprinkled throughout the room, adding to its grandeur. It was octagonal, with four diagonal, shorter walls that were bookcases while the others held beautifully framed antique paintings.
"Typical," Raven muttered under her breath.
"Welcome," said a soft but authoritative voice from behind the deep oak desk. The woman had a full face with soft features and wispy hair and dressed her fuller figure with a soft-looking navy suit.
"I've been looking forward to meeting you," she continued. "Please, have a seat." Five identical leather chairs formed in an arc before the Mayor's desk.
"As have we," Raven said placidly as she levitated to her seat, choosing the second one on the left. Catching Beast Boy's blank look, she amended, "well, at least some of us have." He narrowed his eyes at her across the space between them.
The Mayor merely smirked slightly. "I run a tight ship around here so I suggest we jump right in. The Teen Titans offer a very valuable service to Jump City by protecting it from crime our police force is not equipped to handle. We have continued to fund your operation because of its benefit to the city." She paused, considering her words carefully. "This may not always be able to continue."
"What?" a very dumbstruck Robin asked. "How can you not fund us anymore? Without your help we can't function, and with no heroes, Jump City would be in chaos!"
"You're getting ahead of yourself Robin," Mayor Forbes responded calmly. "I simply meant that your funding is conditional."
"Conditional on what?" Robin said weakly, knowing full well where this was going. "We protect the city, its citizens, and make sure the criminals are in their place."
"Yes. That is a very important part of your job," the Mayor conceded. "You respond to the public's need for safety, but now you must respond to its other needs. Our city needs more than heroes; it needs role models. Outstanding citizens that adults admire and children idolize. I understand that your job is to first and foremost fight crime, but you've been neglecting a key part of what has made you so successful in the past: your image. If the public doesn't approve of you, you become vigilantes, not heroes."
The room was silent when the Mayor finished her speech. Though all the Titans hated to admit it, her point was valid. Starfire was the first to speak.
"We have most certainly let our standards fall. But please, what must we do to fix this?"
A smile played at the edge of the Mayor's lips. "That is what Ms. Bowman is here for," she said as her stately assistant circled around her desk to stand behind her to her right. "We've created a course of action that should put you back on track. Celeste?"
"The first part is simple enough," she stated. "All it requires is the cessation of any rude or inappropriate behavior. That means no partying, drinking, swearing, smoking, wearing inappropriate clothing, wearing no clothing, destruction of private property—intentional or unintentional," she scolded, catching their the looks of protest on the youth's faces. "No insults, dirty jokes, crass language, taunting or arguing in public." She paused to catch her breath. "That should cover it, but please use good judgement. Can you all agree to this?"
The Titans grumbled a chorus of "yes," "I suppose," "sure," and "fine."
"We kind of agreed to something similar back at the tower," Robin admitted.
"Excellent. Now we can move on to the second part, which may take a while to complete. We'll have to keep an eye open for an opportunity to present itself."
"And what exactly is phase two?" Robin inquired.
"At this point, the damage to your reputation is done. Simply ceasing your bad behavior will not be enough to win back the hearts of Jump City," Celeste replied. "We'll have to find a way to make them take a second look at the Titans. Something that will get a lot of media attention, like a fundraiser, a gala, or an extreme act of selflessness."
"Extreme act of selflessness?" Robin asked incredulously. "We protect the city and act selflessly every day."
"Yes, but the public has seen you do that a hundred times. It's old hat. We're looking for something out of character. Something that will catch their attention. After that, I want you all helping orphans, stray animals, the elderly, disabled veterans; the progression of these changes will help make this appear more natural instead of in response to the recent media attacks." Celeste finished speaking and waited for the team's response.
"This sounds well thought out," Raven replied thoughtfully as the other Titan's nodded in agreement.
"We'll keep our word about the first part," Robin added. "We're in for some major changes. But what about this second part? What are we supposed to do for that?"
"That will be my job," Celeste said. "We would love some sort of fundraiser, to prove your maturity and dedication to helping others. However, it must be in response to something, or else it will appear too staged. A holiday, a tragedy, even a natural disaster would do as a cause," she explained apathetically.
"Dude!" Beast Boy shouted, almost leaping from his seat with excitement. "I've got it! Raven's Birthday!"
Starfire squealed at the prospect, floating up and spinning around in the Mayor's high ceiling. "Oh, yes, yes, YES!" She cried out. "It will be a glorious celebration!"
Raven, on the other hand, sat completely still, processing what was happening.
"Absolutely not," she barked, finally getting ahold of her initial flood of dread. "There is no way in hell I'm letting you—"
"Swearing!" Celeste's chastising voice rang out.
"Oh come on Rae, we can have the party in the tower and everything!" Beast Boy pleaded.
"I rather like the idea," the Mayor added. "The event will be justified, and we can ask for donations to various organizations in Jump City. It will seem very charitable, having a fundraising gala instead of a traditional party."
"Gala?" Raven asked incredulously, but Celeste talked over her.
"Well then, it's settled," she said, jotting down notes on a yellow legal pad. "I'll get started—"
"Settled?" Raven asked angrily. "As I said before I will not allow you to—"
"Raven," Robin said firmly. When Raven looked at him, she saw pleading in his features. It gave her pause. We need this, he would have said. The team needs this.
The room was silent and tense for the ten seconds it took Raven to talk herself into this. "Fine," she finally sighed, uninclined to say more.
The chorus of voices rang out, all clearly excited. The Mayor directed a sympathetic thank you to Raven, who gave a stiff nod in return.
"Now," Celeste said, clearly ready to move forward, "I'll send over a list of parameters for the gala first thing tomorrow, so that you can begin the preparations. It will be a lot of work, but I want you five to be in charge of planning." Raven's head spun as she continued with her oratory. "Thank you all for coming in today. We look forward to working with you further."
With that, the Titan's murmured their partings and walked out single-file the way they came, all but Raven boisterously chatting about her gala. Gala, Raven thought with scorn. What about me says 'Gala'?
As they approached the T-car, it was all Raven could do to keep her mouth shut.
Raven floated down the hallway hastily towards her room. She had been silent the entire ride home amidst the clamor from her teammates about the upcoming festivities. She just stared ahead and pretended to be uninterested in their conversation. Though the mood was mostly light (Robin was a little ruffled at having to take orders from someone else), it didn't remotely reach Raven. Now, as she passed through the door to her room, she let her built up distress run loose.
Why is this happening? she thought as books, sculptures, and furniture flew around her darkly decorated room, encased in black energy. One of the reasons Raven's room was such a sacred space was because it was the only place she could safely let her emotions loose. She didn't have to worry about anyone getting hurt when she was all alone, locked in her room.
How can any of them think this is a good idea? she continued her mental lament as she paced through the room. A party, for my birthday, where I will be forced into the center of everyone's' attention for hours. They'll probably make me talk to these people. What if they ask me questions about who I am, where I came from, what my life is like?
Raven was always known as the mysterious one on the team. The media always speculated about her, her past, her love life (which Raven knew was nonexistent, even if the tabloids didn't). There was a reason Raven never spoke of these things: the answers were something that the public didn't want to hear. If they knew her past, or her struggles to keep her powers and emotions in check... she doubted they would like having her around. But at the party, would people ask her these questions face-to-face? She wasn't even remotely sure how she would answer. How she should answer.
The anxiety built inside of her until a lamp shattered, sending bits of ceramic flying around the room. Raven held up a hand, forming a shield of energy to keep the pieces from reaching her.
A knock at her door interrupted her nervous worrying. She expected it was Robin. They shared a special bond, and he could always tell when she was upset. He probably heard all the commotion, Raven sighed, making her way carefully around all the debris on the floor. She cracked the door open only enough to show her face, and was surprised to discover Beast Boy there instead of the team leader. She stared at him blankly.
"Um, hi," he choked out hesitantly. "I uh, know this is kinda Robin's job, but I, um, wanted to make sure you were okay. You were pretty quiet during the ride home."
She hadn't thought he had noticed; he was responsible for quite a bit of the noise in the car. Eager to be rid of him, she clipped out a flat "never better." She stepped back as the door started to shut.
"Wait!" he cried, jamming his foot into the crack in an attempt to stop the door. He only ended up crying out in pain as the door slid shut into his foot.
This time, Raven opened the door all the way, stepping into the hallway and kneeling beside him as he cradled his injured appendage. "Are you alright?" she asked anxiously.
"I think so," he said as she offered a hand to help him stand. He gingerly placed his foot on the ground. "Doesn't feel like anything's broken, at least."
Raven straightened her posture and narrowed her eyes at him. "Well, that was stupid," she remarked, attempting to cover her concern with cynicism.
Beast Boy gave her a weak glare, then returned to the subject he was evidently determined to discuss. "Seriously Raven, I know this is probably a lot for you and I know you don't like people and all but—"
Raven held up a hand to silence him. "Thank you for your concern Beast Boy, but I'm fine," she lied unconvincingly.
"I have eyes, Raven. I can see that this makes you really uncomfortable."
Raven was slightly taken aback. Beast Boy looked at her with genuine concern. Raven was unsure of what to say in return. She stared at him for a moment before slipping back into her usual reaction to the social unknown.
"I know you have eyes, I just doubt they're connected to a brain," she replied cooly, moving back into familiar territory. Though Raven knew Beast Boy had developed a more serious side, she still wasn't sure how to handle it.
As Raven's door shut again, Beast Boy didn't try to stop it. He just watched her with clouded eyes.
Raven glanced at the clock on her nightstand, realizing a little to late that it was time for bed. Sighing and stuffing a bookmark in between the pages of the book she had been caught up in, she moved sluggishly towards the bathroom.
The remainder of the evening had been fairly uneventful. Raven knew for a fact that Beast Boy and Cyborg spent it killing brain cells in front of the TV. Robin kept busy with his usual pastime: worrying. Alone in his room, he alternated between checking up on the Titan's favorite villains and fuming about their current debacle, making minimal progress on either front. Starfire passed the day at the mall, shopping for who knew what. Raven never really understood her fascination; if she wore her uniform every day, what was the need for other clothing?
After moving through her bathroom routine, Raven took off her cloak and tossed her boots aside, running a hand through her deep purple hair as she climbed into bed.
As she settled in and closed her eyes, she let out a sigh. While she had calmed considerably about the meeting this morning and its implications, she still wasn't thrilled about the prospect of a huge party. Raven took a deep breath, muttering a drawn-out "Azarath, Metrion, Zinthos" on the exhale. She felt its calming effect rush through her entire body as her lips turned up into a small smile.
She was almost asleep when she began to feel it. It was gradual, starting off as a dull pain in her head, and grew until her eyes flew open at its intensity. Her head throbbed, with a sharp, stabbing pain in the center of her forehead. Her body started to burn and she writhed in her skin, fear gripping her mind. Her vision was tinged with red and spotted with black.
With gasping breaths, she frantically grabbed for something, anything to help her. The pain built and built until she felt she was going to burst and then...
It was gone. Raven shook as she sat alone in her bed, tangled in her sheets, desperately trying to catch her breath and figure out what had just happened. She rose out of the bed, readying herself in case something was really wrong. Her room was still blazing and humid; she noticed it had left her window foggy. Raven's stomach dropped when she caught sight of the window. There, traced in the steam, was the symbol that Raven had feared and fought her entire life.
The mark of Scath.
Raven didn't hear herself scream. She only felt the rising blackness and felt herself succumb. A few seconds later, she was on the floor.