AN: Wow... we're finally here. I have a bunch of senseless yammering to do and a ton of people to thank, but that's best left at the bottom. In the meantime, enjoy the final chapter of Schisma Barchinonium!
Disclaimer: I've never owned the Teen Titans, but despite its many flaws, I'm still proud of what I've created with them here.
Everything was white, and still bright despite Cyborg having dimmed the lights as far as they would go without turning off entirely. The infirmary was far from the ideal location for spellcasting under most circumstances, but in Raven's current state, the harsh, sterile atmosphere posed no distraction. The benefits of conducting the ritual here, on the other hand, were considerable. With Beast Boy already in a clean, safe place, there would be no need to relocate him while he recovered, and Cyborg would be able to monitor even the most minute changes in the shapeshifter's state.
Placing one last unlit candle around the cot where Beast Boy would lie, Raven stood and circled the bed. After she had checked and rechecked the chalk sigils drawn on the floor, she turned and nodded to her teammates. "Everything is ready," she stated.
The huddled group shifted, Cyborg's hands tightening on Beast Boy's shoulders before releasing them and patting twice. Robin's jaw twitched, and Starfire's eyes welled up afresh. Even with Raven's empathy suppressed almost completely, the collective apprehension from her team was palpable.
Beast Boy, for his part, simply took a deep breath and stepped forward. "Is it okay to take a minute?" he asked, voice hoarse. When the empath nodded, he beckoned her over. "C'mere, then."
No sooner had Raven come within arm's reach than Garfield caught hold of her and pulled her into a hug with one arm, reaching the other as far around Cyborg as he could manage. Robin and Starfire added their limbs to the tangle, and a smile spread across Garfield's face even as his eyes welled with tears. "You guys are my family," he whispered, voice husky despite its hushed tone. "You know me better than anybody, so I have to ask you to do something huge for me. When I come out of this, you've gotta help me be me again. If I get lost, it's up to you guys to make sure I find my way back. Can you do that for me?"
There was a murmur of assent, and Beast Boy's hold tightened for just a moment, then he released his friends. As Raven took a few steps back, the changeling turned to face her.
"All right," he said, fists clenched. "I'm ready."
The empath gestured to the cot that awaited Garfield. "Get comfortable."
Striding over to the bed and taking a seat, the shapeshifter faced his friends one last time. Two fingers shot off a lazy salute; only Raven was close enough to notice them trembling. "Catch you guys on the flip side," he remarked, and the three Titans not involved in the ritual shuffled out the door.
As Garfield lay back, Raven opened the box of matches lying on the floor and set to lighting the candles that would serve as the focal points for her magic.
Silence stretched for longer than Raven had expected; she was kneeling at the last candle before Garfield spoke. "It's funny," came the scratchy voice from just above her, "There's so much I wanna say, but I don't know how to say it."
"Perhaps no words are necessary," Raven began, but was stilled by a hand on her shoulder. She looked up to find Garfield's face inches from hers.
"Nah," he said, one fang showing, "I'm just bad with words. That's why I wrote this." He held out an envelope, and she accepted it with an inquiring tilt of her head. "Don't open it this till I go lights out, okay?" he added.
Raven nodded, slipping the paper into the space between her belt and her leotard.
Garfield's eyes met hers once more, and his already shaky smile faded. "Rae, I'm sorry," he said, ears drooping. "I know when I wake up I'm gonna hurt you over and over again, and I won't even know to apologize, so I'm saying sorry now. If I do something dumb, you have my permission to give me a good beating. Do whatever you need to while you're waiting for me to get my head together. All I'm asking is, just be patient with me, okay? It could take some time, but I swear I'll find my way back."
"I'll be patient with you, Gar; I promise," she replied. The monotone in which she spoke the words was woefully insufficient, but she knew he understood its necessity.
A rueful grin cracked his face. "Y'know, I really, really wanna kiss you one more time, but I'm not gonna shake things up right before the brain surgery. So... I guess, kiss ya later?"
"I'll hold you to that," she said, giving his face a brief caress, then returned to her task. When the final candle had been lit, she stood and took his hand. "Ready?"
Garfield nodded. "Let's do this."
The infirmary door slid open, and Raven emerged to find her friends standing in the hall. All three drew in a collective breath and held it to the point of discomfort.
It was Cyborg who finally broke the silence. "Is he...?"
The empath nodded. "He is asleep. The procedure went according to plan, but as we discussed before, there's no telling just how extensive the memory wipe was, other than that it was more than sufficient to remove the trauma."
"And now," Starfire asked, "What can we do to help our friend recover? Must we hide the knowledge of what has happened here in Spain from our friend in order to preserve the integrity of his mind?"
Raven shook her head. "This removed absolutely everything about the traumatic experience. The information will come as a shock to him, which is why we should tell him before Slade does, but there are no memory fragments left to trigger a flashback." She took a deep breath, then released it. "He'll seem normal until an unexpected gap shows up, and then it's our job to fill it. We help him remember what he needs to remember... and we help him cope with any collateral damage until he's our Garfield again."
Cyborg's head tilted, and his eyebrow rose just slightly. Had he noticed her careless choice of words?
"Slade has beaten us this time," Starfire growled, hands glowing a faint green, "But we are not defeated. And we shall make him pay for every second of every moment he has taken from our friend."
Just as Raven was about to voice her assent, a painful twinge shot through her chest, eliciting a gasp. She regained her composure, only to feel agony blossom in her temples, quickly overtaking her whole body and forcing her to her knees. The reckoning was due... but she couldn't break down yet.
Strengthening her barriers against all emotions, including her own, she raised her head to find Robin and Starfire kneeling beside her, each with a hand on her shoulder, Cyborg standing ready to help but keeping his distance so as not to crowd her.
"It's time, isn't it?" Robin asked.
Raven nodded. "I have to visit my room first," she managed, shaking her head to clear some of the residual pain. With the aid of her teammates, she stood, and they followed behind her as she made her way to her room.
Outside her door, Raven turned to her friends. "I need a minute alone," she said. "Wait for me outside the safe room." With that, she entered her sanctuary and closed the door behind her.
As Raven switched on the light, she felt pressure building once more in her head. "Just a few minutes more," she pleaded, and the pain subsided, but not before one more pulse reminded her that her emotions would not be placated for long.
Taking a seat on her bed, Raven reached to her belt and withdrew the envelope Garfield had given her. Inside, she found a sheet of notebook paper with a wobbly, almost childish scrawl. I owe Raven one totally awesome date with palak paneer at Jump City's best Indian restaurant, it read, and a sloppy cursive signature with a drawing of a paw print made the debt official. Further down the page, wrapped in parentheses, was an addendum: To be redeemed whenever Beast Boy gets over his dumminess and realizes he's got the major hots for Raven.
Hands trembling, Raven folded the paper as carefully as she could and placed it back in the envelope. She opened the top drawer of her nightstand, scooped its meager contents onto her bed, and felt around the back for a seldom-used finger hold. With a soft popping sound, the false bottom came loose, and Garfield's letter was placed alongside a ragtag assortment of objects: a few photographs, a letter on yellowed parchment with a pair of wax sigils matching the ones adorning Raven's most treasured book, and a commonplace, extraordinary penny a boy had once found in the park.
A few seconds later, the evidence had been hidden, and Raven walked to the door and turned the lights off before exiting her room. Down the hall she went, off to meet her friends outside the room they had designed for her protection.
When she arrived, each of them received a hug, albeit a brief one, before she moved past them and pressed the button to open the safe room. It slid open with a hiss, stale air rushing out to freedom even as Raven led herself into temporary captivity.
The door slid shut, awaiting a new beginning.
AN: This is it. This is the end of the longest single piece of fiction I've ever written. We've tied Titans Together into Things Change and explained just what that white monster was (and why none of the Titans ever asked what it was). There's so much about Schisma that didn't make it onto the page— thought processes unexplored due to point-of-view restrictions, events left without explanation, a kiss left on the cutting room floor... but it has me wondering: are there things here that you would like to see explored from a different point of view (i.e. outtakes)?
Now, with the saga at an end, I'm going to take a moment for some self-indulgent thank-yous.
One year and four days ago, I received the prompt from Qoheleth, and four months later, I began publishing what I believed was a mostly-finished piece. Boy, was I wrong... and boy, am I glad I was wrong. In the process of writing this, it grew to something bigger and better than I could possibly have written without your reviews and input.
I wrote Robin's behavior far too one-dimensionally; one of RabulaTasa's reviews reminded me of this, and I tweaked it. An anonymous reviewer named Bob reminded me of some details in the beginning that detracted greatly from the story arc; I fixed them. Qoheleth's constructive criticism has helped me shape and sharpen many parts of this story. The narrative itself is over twice as long as what I had on my hard drive when I began. That's a far cry from the chapter or so I thought I had left to go when I started publishing, and it's because the feedback that I received from all of you helped this story grow.
I'd like to thank each and every person who read this, and especially those who have reviewed... and those who will in the future. Whether it's a striking analysis that makes me consider new possibilities or just a simple, "I liked this chapter," each review brightens my day. Beyond that, though, I am so very grateful for those who have stuck with me and taken the time to write multiple reviews. Special thanks go to RabulaTasa, lunar silver, JesFriendMagnet, ssjEasterBunny, and Haebris: I treasure your reviews and your continued readership, and I'm especially glad for the conversations we've struck up via PM. To my buddies Felerial and Kasumychan, who have encouraged me to keep writing even when the words aren't coming, and to Concolor44, a comforting presence here on FF and a delightful author whose work I read as voraciously as I can: thank you for everything. I could spend a page drooling about each of you, but let's leave it at the biggest thank you I can express in text. And of course, a huge thanks to Qoheleth, without whom this story would never have existed.
Finally, if you haven't found yourself in the above list, and even if you have, thank you for reading this story. I hope you've enjoyed it.