Some of you will remember this story. The first 20 chapters were pretty good. The 15 that came after, they were … well, not very good. I was so dissatisfied that I killed the whole story over a year ago. I've decided to bring it back. I'm going to clean up the first 20 chapters, of which I will publish 2 per week and after that I will add new chapters. And don't worry, I haven't forgotten about A Bull's Eye on Her Back, which I will resume when I finish carved in stone.
And for those who review, I promised to bring back the mail bag.
Now, onto the new story. For those of you who haven't read it before, it's set about 14 years after the Titans first met, and as expected … a lot has changed in that time. Rather than spoiling the chapter, I'll let you read it.
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"Ladies and gentlemen, we will now begin our final descent and the Captain has turned on the Fasten Seatbelt sign. We should be touching down at Jump City International Airport in about 10 minutes. On behalf of our flight crew I would like to thank you for choosing Trans Continental Airlines. We know that you have a choice of who to fly with and …"
The young man tuned out the announcement on the airliner's PA system and instead he focused on looking out his window. He was greeted by the city's famous landmarks: its azure bay, which sparkled in the late afternoon sun like a blue sheet covered with tiny diamonds. Then there was the famous suspension bridge, over which the airliner flew. Rush hour traffic scurried across it in both directions.
And then he saw the T shaped tower. The last ferries of the day were transporting tourists back to the mainland. It had been years since any superheroes actually lived in Titans Tower, and the landmark had been converted into a Federal National Monument, not unlike the Statue of Liberty in New York.
The jet zoomed past the landmarks and continued its approach to the airport, where it landed without incident a few minutes later.
The young man was seated near the rear of the plane and knew that there was no point in rushing to get up and off of the airliner. He waited patiently and after the plane was nearly empty he collected his carry on items and proceeded to baggage claim, where he still had to wait for his luggage to appear. Once he collected his luggage he moved on to the rental car counter, and a few minutes later he was on the bus that took him to the rental car lot.
He hired a compact car and was soon on his way out of the airport. It had been years since he had last been in the "Gem of California" as the bayside city was known and yet it felt as if he had never left. The city seemed both familiar and strange to him, familiar sights mingled with new ones. The freeway had an extra lane now and he hummed as he drove. His smartphone was resting on the passenger's seat, barking directions at, not that he needed any help navigating around towm. The traffic wasn't too bad and he made good progress down the bayside freeway and soon reached the exit he was looking for: India Street.
He exited the freeway and drove down the ramp and was suddenly in Jump City's "Little Italy". The streets were lined with all sorts of shops and more than a few Italian restaurants. Unoccupied parking spaces were nowhere to be found, but he knew that wouldn't be a problem. He was looking for a particular establishment where he wanted to stop before checking in to his hotel. He turned left on Grape St. and after driving down a few blocks he found it, right where it was supposed to be.
The building was a nondescript two story structure, and looked like it was built in the 1930's and it was obvious that it was recently remodeled as its façade was immaculate. The second floor was clearly an apartment while the lower level was a storefront. A small painted sign above the shop's entrance identified the establishment: "Azarathia – Books, Antiques and Collectibles." Another sign with a large red arrow announced: "Parking in rear."
He guided the compact rental car into the alley that led to the rear and parked it there. Other than his rental there was only another car, also a compact, parked in the lot. He emerged from the vehicle and entered the shop through its rear entrance, and a chime announced his arrival with an otherworldly timber. He slowly entered the shop and began to peruse through the store until a gravelly female voice called out in a monotone: "I'll be right there!"
The hour was late and he could tell that she was getting ready to close. He couldn't see her but her voice clearly came out of a small storage room. He smiled as he replied.
"Take your time Raven, I'm in no hurry."
The sound of a stack of books being dropped onto the store's creaky hardwood floor was heard, the dull thud resonated throughout the small store.
Raven emerged from behind a curtain that separated the store front from the storage room. She was wearing a long black dress with her signature blue cape and hood, which was lowered, exposing her shoulder length violet hair. She froze as she stared, mesmerized, at her unexpected visitor.
"Gar?" She croaked in surprise.
He grinned at her.
"Do you know any other good looking green guys?" He asked.
She continued to stare at him, until she broke the now uncomfortable silence.
"Why didn't you tell me you would be in town? It's been what, five years since we last saw each other?"
He smiled bashfully before replying.
"I know, I should have called ahead, I just wanted to see the look on your face." He answered as he approached her, opening his arms for a hug.
Raven at first hesitated but then she too opened her arms and the two friends greeted each other properly as they wrapped their arms around each other.
"How are you Rae?" He asked after they released each other.
"I'm doing fine Gar. How about you? Have you finished school yet?"
"I just did, I received a PhD in zoology and a Doctor in Veterinary Medicine at Colorado State. How about you?"
"I was awarded my PhD in Archeology and Ancient History two years ago, here at UC Jump City"
Gar looked around the store, nodding approvingly.
"So this is Azarathia, huh? It's pretty cool. I'm surprised there isn't anyone here."
"It's almost closing time, plus most of my business is online … Gar … don't take this the wrong way … but … why are you here? You didn't come to Jump City just to visit me, did you?"
"Actually, I'm starting a new job here in town in a few weeks and I wanted to tell you in person."
"You mean you're moving back?"
"That's right." He beamed.
"Where? I mean, what are you going to do?"
He looked out the storefront window and saw an Italian restaurant across the street: "Salvatore's"
"Is that place any good?" He gestured at the restaurant.
"Actually, it is."
"Then let me buy you dinner and I'll tell you all about it."
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"One Pasta Primavera for Miss Raven and an Eggplant Parmesano for the long absent Beast Boy!" The restaurant's proprietor announced as he took their orders. "And a glass of my best Chianti for Miss Raven and a beer for …"
"Actually, I prefer to be called Changeling now, if you don't mind."
The owner cracked a huge grin.
"As you wish, one beer for Changeling. I will be right back with your drinks."
As soon as the waiter left Raven gave Gar an inquisitive look.
"Oh yeah, I was going to tell you why I'm in town, about my new job."
"Well? Don't keep me waiting."
He gave her a mischievous grin, one she hadn't seen … since the team broke up.
"I'm going to start next semester as an Associate Professor at UC Jump City."
Raven's eyes bulged in surprise.
"As an Associate Professor? You're skipping the Assistant level? But you just graduated! How did you pull that off, and at UC no less?"
Gar smiled while their drinks were delivered.
"Remember that virus that broke out last year?"
"You mean the one that was killing out all the dogs? How could anyone forget? Half the dogs in the world died before the vaccine was created."
"That's right. Guess who invented the vaccine?"
"You did." She remarked in an astonished voice and paused as she was overwhelmed with the news.
"Gar, I'm so proud of you."
He suddenly had a look on his face that reminded her of when he was a young teen, a mixture of bashful and insecure.
"I'm just glad I was able to stop the epidemic. Anyway, the semester starts in a few weeks and I have to find a place to live and …"
"You can stay with me, Gar. I have a guest room in my home above the store. It's yours if you want it."
Gar was unable to conceal his surprise.
"Really? Uh … why?"
Raven sighed as she took a sip of her wine.
"Things haven't been the same since we dissolved the Titans."
"I'm not sure I understand what you mean Rae. What hasn't been the same?"
Raven put her wine glass down.
"When we folded the team, we all had plans. Nightwing and Starfire married and moved to Bludhaven and they had a daughter. Cyborg went home to Metropolis to work with his father at STAR Labs. You went off to Colorado to get your PhD and DVM …"
"And you got your PhD and started your cool store." He interrupted.
Raven had a taciturn look on her face.
"Yes, I did. Gar … I know this is going to sound strange … especially coming from me …"
He gave her a puzzled look.
"Gar, did you have any girlfriends at CSU?"
He shook his head.
"Nah. You know Rae, the funny thing about being a green celebrity is that a lot of girls want to date you, but that's all they want to do. It's like I was some kind of novelty there, the green ex-superhero. After a date or two they figured out that I really was different and lost interest … fast. After a couple of years I just quit the dating scene, which I guess was a good thing as I had a ton of school work to do. How about you?"
She took another sip of her wine.
"I never dated. No one ever approached me and the few times I reached out I got shot down."
"You mean you asked guys out and they said no?"
"Basically … what I heard from my fellow female students was that I 'intimidate' the guys."
"Well … you could kick their asses with both arms tied behind your back."
"Yeah, I guess … I also tried a dating service … I never got a call, and everyone I asked politely declined."
"Their loss." He interjected.
She smiled appreciatively for a moment before the sad look returned to her face.
"I don't have any friends in school, none at all. I buried myself into my studies and after I graduated I started Azarathia. It's been a good business, I've already made enough money to retire, but if I did … what would I do?"
He took her hand and gave it a friendly squeeze.
"I'm so lonely, Gar. Isn't it ironic? I always wanted to be left alone, barricading myself in my room. And now I miss all of you, so much that it hurts sometimes. Since we broke up the team I've only seen Starfire twice. You're the only other one I've seen since that day …"
"Rae, why didn't you call me? I would have come out to see you..."
"No … you were working on your degrees, I couldn't interrupt that, not because I'm a creepy misfit …" Her voice began to break up.
The proprietor approached with their meals. Gar looked up.
"I'm sorry; could we get those to go?"
The owner was able to see that Raven was on the verge of a break down.
"That won't be a problem. I'll be right back."
The man darted back into the kitchen while Gar, who was sitting opposite of Raven in a booth, moved so that he was sitting next to her and wrapped an arm around her shoulder.
"Remember what I told you once … a long time ago?"
"You said: You think you're alone Raven, but you're not. But I am alone Gar. I'm a freak with no friends … sometimes I feel that … my mind … that I'm going to lose it."
Gar fought off a shiver, recalling when Starfire told them how Raven was institutionalized in the future she visited when she chased Warp through one of his time portals.
"That's not true. I'm your friend and I'm here. And I'll take you up on your offer, Rave."
She sniffled as the waiter returned with their food in a bag. Gar noticed that there was also a bottle of wine in the bag.
"How much do I owe you?" Gar asked as he reached for his wallet.
The owner shook his head and nodded towards Raven who was facing away from them.
"How could I possibly charge two former Titans?" He remarked offhandedly.
"Thanks, but that was a long time ago, I really insist on …"
"Out of the question." The owner cut him off. "Enjoy your evening, and if you need anything else, just phone and I'll send it over."
The proprietor, Salvatore Biaggi, watched as Gar picked up the bag and wrapped an arm around Raven, and continued to watch as they crossed the street and vanished into Raven's store. His wife emerged from the kitchen and watched as well.
"Thank God he has returned, I am getting so worried about her." She remarked softly while her husband nodded.
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"Let me clean up." He offered after they finished eating.
The truth was that other than a few dishes that needed rinsing before being loaded into the dishwasher there wasn't much to clean up. Raven's apartment was spacious and tastefully decorated. While Azarathia downstairs resembled her old room in the Tower with its collection of strange, unusual and even dark artifacts, these were conspicuously absent from her apartment. Her home was also meticulously clean.
"I can do it later Gar, just sit with me, please." She said as she guided him to the living room. He poured them refills for the wine and followed her.
"Have you seen the others?" She asked.
"Only Cyborg, when I went to a conference in Metropolis 3 years ago. But I did see someone else."
"Terra?" She asked with a hint of apprehension in her voice.
"She was also in Metropolis. She married a biologist and they have 3 kids. He seems like a nice guy. Nice kids too, none of them inherited her powers."
"Three children? Has it really been that long?" She asked.
"Well, we're almost 30 years old. I guess time does fly."
They were sitting together on a couch. She leaned over and pecked him on the cheek.
"For always being my friend, even though I treated you like garbage sometimes."
"Forget it, that was a long time ago." He remarked as he picked up a photo album from the coffee table and opened it.
It was an album full of pictures from their days in the Tower. There was one shot, taken on Gar's 16th birthday. She was standing next to him while he had an arm draped around her shoulder with a goofy grin on his face. He was still shorter than her in the photo in contrast to the present where he was now a mere 1 inch taller than her. They were outdoors and her cape was billowing in the wind, revealing her feminine figure.
"I never told you this back then Rave, but when we were Titans I thought you were smoking hot."
"What? Really? Why didn't you tell me?"
"I didn't want to offend you."
She laughed in a self deprecating chuckle.
"I guess at least I learned that 12 years later. I stopped wearing the leotard after we broke up the team. I tried dressing like my peers at college but it seemed wrong. After a couple of years I basically switched to what I'm wearing now."
"Do you still have the leotards?"
"I do. Once in a while I'll put one on and look at myself in the mirror, for old time's sake."
"I'll bet you're still smoking hot in that leotard."
"Don't make fun of me."
"I'm serious. You look great, Raven. I on the other hand, well, Star was right; I'm already starting to lose my hair! Once I'm bald then I really won't have a chance with the ladies."
She rose from her seat.
"You worry too much about that." She replied in her monotone. "It's late; let me show you your room."
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Gar walked down the hall. Raven walked next to him, his luggage floating behind them, engulfed in her dark energy.
"Here it is, I hope you like it."
He peered inside. There was a 4 poster queen sized bed and a chest of drawers, along with a desk. The craftsmanship was impeccable and he could tell that it was expensive furniture, probably Amish in its manufacture.
"It's cozy, thanks Rave."
"You can stay with me as long as you want."
"I know, well, I guess it's time to hit the hay."
He turned around and gave her a gentle hug, she reciprocated and as they separated he gave her a very chaste kiss on the lips. Raven flinched upon receiving the unexpected smooch. He smiled sheepishly as he rubbed the back of his neck.
"Sorry Rave … you know … back at school I kissed so many girls that I wasn't all that crazy about that I figured it was about time I kissed a girl I really do like. I guess that was kind of rude, I should have asked."
"It's OK." She stammered. "It's just … that was my first kiss."
"It was!? Oh Rave, I'm sorry!"
She shook her head.
"Don't apologize. It was nice, actually … before I leave, do you need anything?"
He shook his head.
"Well goodnight then. I'm going to meditate now for a while."
"Gotcha, I won't interrupt. Goodnight Rave, see you in the morning."
Raven returned to her room, which like the rest of her apartment, was furnished and decorated in a conventional style. There were a few artifacts from her past in the room and she picked one up from her desk.
Her meditation mirror was unchanged from the old days in the Tower and she hadn't used it in years. She picked it up and gazed into it. She felt herself being drawn into the artifact and the next thing she knew she was once again in Nevermore, standing in the strange landscape that looked like an alien world with a dark sky full of red stars. She was met by four emoticlones.
Happy was the first to greet her.
"He came back Ravie! He came back for us! He flew in on an airplane!" Happy squealed with glee as she held her arms out like an airplane's wings while she made a propeller like sound, running around like a small child.
Raven also noticed that Brave was present, along with Rude and another emoticlone she had not seen before in Nevermore. The mystery girl wore a hot pink cape.
"Please tell me that isn't who I think she is." She mumbled to herself.
Brave approached her and slapped her on her back.
"Way to go girl! We got our Beastie Boo back under our roof where he belongs!" The green clad Raven congratulated her.
Then the pink clad Raven approached. Her cape billowed and it was plain to see that she was only wearing a very revealing thong bikini. Raven grimaced, knowing that the lustful pink girl was part of her own psyche.
"So, when do we make our move, Ravie? Oh Azar, he kissed us! Next stop: second base!" Lust gushed.
"Don't be ridiculous." Raven replied. "He's my best friend, not my lover."
"He could be our lover. He's lonely too, he told us; remember? He hasn't dated in years. C'mon Raven, no guts, no glory." Brave interjected.
"You know you want him." Lust added.
Rude snickered. "We just have to invite him into our bed, he won't say no …"
"SHUT UP!" Raven shouted. "I didn't come to see you, I came to see Wisdom."
"Wisdom? She's not even an emotion!" Brave protested. "Why do you want to see that nerd?"
"Because she helps me keep you idiots in check!" Raven snarled back at them.
"You mean she helps you keep yourself in check, Raven." Lust added. "In case you haven't noticed, we're 28 years old sweetie and we're still virgins. He's the one Raven, we have to bag him while we can."
Raven turned away from the four facets of her mind, disgusted with herself, knowing full well that those base feelings she had witnessed were her own. To her immense relief they did not follow her and soon enough she encountered both Knowledge and Wisdom.
"Welcome Raven, it's been a long time since your last visit." Wisdom announced.
"It has been a long time. You know why I'm here."
"Garfield has returned." Knowledge announced.
"And you don't know what to do." Wisdom added.
"Was it a good idea to ask him to move in with me?" Raven asked.
"Are you afraid of him?" Wisdom asked.
"Should I be?"
"No, he loves you and will protect you. He always has." Knowledge remarked.
"I know." Raven replied. "I'm more afraid of myself. I'm afraid that I'll be so pathetic that I'll scare him away."
A third girl appeared. Her cape was a light green.
"Do not rush into this Raven. I know that you do feel desire for him, but now is not the time for such a bold move. Instead you should grow and nurture your friendship with him. Take all the time you need."
"Patience is correct Raven. Your best friend has returned. Show him that he is your best friend, everything else will follow by itself." Wisdom added.
Raven jerked and found herself sitting on her bed. The clock on her nightstand said that it was well past 2 AM. She rose and walked out of her room and glided down the hallway until she reached his door. After hesitating for a moment she phased through it.
He was sound asleep in his bed and she gingerly approached him. She looked down upon him and ran her fingers through his hair. He didn't move and continued sleeping. She kneeled so that she was at his eye level and gently kissed him on his forehead. He rustled and Raven quickly teleported out of his room, not wishing to be caught with her fingers in the cookie jar.
He did not wake up. His smart phone was awake however, and it chirped as an email arrived.
From: Silas Stone
To: Garfield Logan
Garfield, forgive me for bothering you, but I need your help. Victor went out on some sort of excursion 3 weeks ago and we haven't heard from him. I contacted Nightwing a week ago to ask him if he knows where Victor is, but he never replied. I know Victor can take care of himself, but he usually checks in when he's away that long. Any help would be appreciated.
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And I slipped in a mini cliff hanger in the first chapter. This one is going to be different from my other stories, I hope you like it.