~~~~~~~Chapter five: The King's Advisors~~~~~~~
It was only ever on the odd occasion Raven had dreams. Typically, her sleep consisted of delving deep into her mind and focusing, almost like an unconscious meditation. She herself knew how to sift through the information in her mind herself.
Nevertheless that night, after returning from her walk, she did dream. She dreamt of herself standing under a cherry tree, pink blossoms falling in her hair and on her shoulder, smack in the middle of a meadow. All around her, there was not a single breathing organism. Just grass that shook with the breeze. It was such a tranquil sector. A surreal place. There were no expectations, no one to nag her, no crimes to fight, nothing pressuring her to be something big and amazing. It was just a place.
For the oddest of reasons, it felt incomplete. She was standing in the middle of a half-finished picture. As if it was missing a big chunk of life, or something imperative. She wanted, no, needed to know what, who, was supposed to be there. This place, it was one step from perfection, and she wanted to breathe in the completed product, even if just for a split second.
There was a swoosh in the branches above her. She looked up and saw the slightest quiver in the tree. A pink petal fell onto her nose. She picked it off. It felt so soft and delicate in between her small fingers. She gazed at it, as if it were the most perfect thing she'd ever touch.
The voice was so soft. It felt like it came from the farthest junctions of the paddock, yet, she was aware of how close it was. She turned around and faced the dark trunk of the tree. This tree, its aura felt so… real. It felt alive. There was a connection. One she'd never felt. It was so beautiful. Her insides felt all warm and fuzzy just looking at it. This was a feeling she would normally reject, but for the oddest reason it was welcomed as if it belonged there all along. Like she was the one who was incomplete. It was binding and constricting, yet sizable and generous. Loving and caring. It was strong and defiant. There was an indescribable rush of emotions that came all in between. It was one entity made up of many. It was invisible, but she knew it was beautiful. Inside and out. If she had to some all of that up into one word, it'd be a word she would have never thought she would use in this lifetime. It was…
It was confirmed now she knew the voice was coming from the tree. The voice was warm and in need. Maybe it needed whatever this place was missing. The tree itself, it felt incomplete, lacking.
She reached out. She wanted to feel. She wanted to understand. What was this? Why did she feel so attached? She was so close to this tree, but it felt like it was getting farther and farther away by the minute. She was running out of time. And it was killing her on the inside. Why couldn't everything just slow down? Let her breathe, let her gather her thoughts. Why couldn't she save it? Was Robin right this whole time? Is she really so incompetent that she can't even save one simple individual in need? What was wrong with her?
Why was she losing?
And finally, after what seemed like a millennium, she her fingers were mere millimeters from the tree. Just when she thought she had reached the voice, the tree combusted in an array of petals. Raven, astonished, fell to her knees. Cherry blossom petals flew everywhere. It was a storm of pink petals spun around her like a cyclone. The storm was so beautiful but this overwhelming feeling of sadness overtook her. Finally, the petals stopped twirling and gradually descended to the ground.
Slowly and methodically, the petals started to disappear, and with it, so did that link between her and whatever entity which had once been this tree. Raven reached out, frantically grabbing at them, but they continued to vanish. It was taunting and excruciating. But her efforts, just like with trying to fit the role of superhero, were to no avail. Within seconds, nothing of the cherry blossom tree was left. She was a useless tragedy. She couldn't be the simple portal for the under-gods like she was meant to be, and she couldn't even be a superhero. Everything around her was falling apart. Her life, her world. This place. The connection was gone everywhere. Soon, she wouldn't fit in anywhere. No matter where she chose to go, she'd be nothing more than comparable to a smudge on stainless steel. She was an error that didn't have a correction malware, because she shouldn't have been there in the first place.
There was so much pain swelling in her. Raven's heart wanted to sojourn. Then, she remembered the petal she still held in her hand. Un-baling her fist, the petal still held the perfection it had exuded when she's first held it. It felt just as alive as before.
Raven, please don't let go…
Raven started to sob and balled her fist into her chest. She didn't know why she had too, but she knew she did. She knew she'd have to break the last of the connection. She had to let it go. There was no other way. And it broke her heart.
"I'm sorry," she whispered through her tears. "But, I have to."
She feels the break. The connection is gone. She's let go. She pulls her hand away from her chest and un-balls her fist….
Raven gasps and sits up in her bed. The curtains are closed shut. Her room is still dark. Somehow the room smells of cherry blossoms.
Raven put her head in her hands, cradling the small headache setting in. Her nerves were shot, and her heart beat was deliberately harsh. For a second there, it felt like she had been attacked from the inside. Like she was being tortured.
Hadn't she gone through enough already?
She knew it was a dream. The most bizarre dream she's ever had. Nonetheless, it felt so real. Like she'd really been in that domicile for centuries trying to snatch a hold of something she was losing. The worst part was that Raven had to face the terrible reality of it. One she didn't comprehend yet was so agonizingly aware of.
Whatever it was, she's already lost it.
Garfield Logan, aka Beast Boy, woke up that morning feeling unbelievably amazing. It was rare when he woke up in a good mood, so this was special. He hopped in the shower and sung a tune, got dressed, flexed gleefully in the mirror for a few minutes, they headed toward the kitchen. There was only one thing he could think of fixing this morning for breakfast to guarantee he would start and end this day absolutely perfect.
Tofu Bacon and eggs.
It always seemed like Tofu bacon and eggs had a special zing to it. It was a rare occasion he got the chance to cook it. But it seemed every time he did, he got a little luck afterward. He had a feeling he'd need it. He wanted this day to be perfect. He knew it would once he started off with breakfast.
Without a care in the world, Beast Boy trotted down the hallway towards the common room, ready to get his morning started. Just thinking about what he was about to bake made his mouth water. But as soon as he hit the sliding doors, the smell he could only compare to long-dead mythical beast mixed with his gym socks flooded his nose. He stopped at the door, covering his mouth as his eyes watered and the doors slide open.
Dear Lord what is that?
The first thing he noticed was Starfire in the kitchen and Cyborg talking to her from the other side of the bar table about to scarf down some pancakes.
"Guys," he coughed. "Did someone freaking die in here?"
Starfire smiled at him. "Beast Boy! I am so glad you are no longer asleep!" She said gleefully. "I have something special for my green friend!" She spun around and floated to the oven while Beast Boy cautiously walked to the kitchen.
Cyborg stuck about three of his stack of thirty or so pancakes into his mouth. "Be careful," he said through bites. "She's made another one of her dishes."
Beast Boy's eyes grew wide with fear as Starfire floated back with something brown and purple stacked tower high in a cooking pan with lumps in it. "Oh, friend I heard about the first date with friend Raven and I decided to make the Tameranian dish of blossoming love!"
Beast Boy's mouth dropped open in disbelief. Then he glared at his best friend with as much contempt he could muster. "Cyborg! You told her?"
He smiled. "Of course I did! I had to know what she was going to cook for the festivities," he smirked.
Beast Boy rolled his eyes and looked at the alien still holding the pan of evil so close to his face. "Listen, Starfire, I appreciate it but this dish is a really bad idea."
Her famous pout of confusion crossed her face. "But why Beast Boy? This is one of the most favored dishes in Tameran. Not only that, but it has none of the 'meat' you oh so very much dislike."
Beast Boy couldn't help but think even meat looked more appetizing than that.
"No Star, it's a bad idea," he insisted, pushing it away. "Think about it. This might scare Raven if you start throwing this in her face and talking about 'blossoming love'. I don't want her to get frightened and call it off."
Cyborg nodded. "I agree with Grass Stain. Raven isn't the lovey-dovey type. And other than a stomach ache the only thing this is going to give her some serious doubts whether she wants to take this step or not. I'm actually rooting for this to succeed. Maybe she'll smile a little more often."
Starfire frowned. "But I really think…"
In the middle of her sentence, Beast Boy heard footsteps from down the hall headed toward the commons.
"Shit, I think that's her," he said, panic starting to set in. "Cyborg, help me get rid of this stuff."
"Beast Boy," Starfire started. "Watch your language! Robin says that is a bad word. And no, this dish will…"
Beast Boy jumped over the counter and snatched the dish of death out of her hands. Cyborg ran around the counter grabbing Starfire and covering her mouth. Beast Boy had just finished disposing of the contents in the garbage disposal and drop the pan before the main doors slid open with Raven standing there holding an ancient looking book in her arms.
Raven looked at the scene with the slightest bit of confusion in her eyes.
Beast Boy and Cyborg both smiled at her. "Hey, Rae," they both said.
Her nose wrinkled and her brow furrowed. "What is that smell?"
"Oh, nothing," Beast Boy shrugged it off, kicking the pan out of sight. One good thing about Raven was that she didn't ask a lot of questions.
Starfire broke from Cyborg's grip. "That was not nice!" She scolded.
Cyborg apologized and raven walked into the kitchen and started some tea on the stove. While Starfire continued to be upset at the half man, half machine, Beast Boy scooted next to Raven as she began heating her tea.
"Hey, Raven," he said nervously. "Have a good sleep?"
She stared at the boiling tea. "It was fine."
"So, we're still going out later, right?"
She looked up at him. Her big, violet eyes were probably the most beautiful things he'd ever seen. "Go where?"
He gulped and could feel himself turning red. Oh great, she doesn't even remember. "Well, you know, remember when I came to your room and told you we had the day off? And I kind of stuttered a bit so maybe I didn't say it right, but you said yes so I assumed you…"
Raven poured her tea and waved her hand to cut him off. "Calm down, Gar, I remember," she said. "Yea we are still going. Unless, you have other plans?"
Beast Boy let out the breath he had been holding in. "Oh, yea, great! And no of course I don't." Raven was sipping her tea now, staring at him with amusement in her eyes.
"That wasn't funny," he told her, finally seeing the mean joke she had played on him.
Not once did her monotonous voice waver. "I thought it was funny."
Beast Boy grinned and pointed at himself. "You trying to tell the comedy king what's funny?"
"Even kings need their advisors," she countered. Then her eyes gradually rotated towards the commons door. "Speaking of the king…"
A split second after Raven, the changeling caught whiff of what she had sensed. It was the smell of extra bitter coffee and hard-ass along with the vibrations of light footsteps he was all too familiar with. Beast Boy followed her gaze just in time to see Robin charge in with a scowl across his lips. It was one so common that Beat Boy had long ago deemed it etched on his face by ancient monks.
"He looks like he's in a good mood today," he snickered. "Do you think King Robin considers us his 'advisors'?" He joked to the sorcerous.
She let out a Pfft and reached for the silver pot to pour more tea. "More like his slaves."
Starfire stopped her argument with Cyborg and floated over to Boy Wonder with the biggest smile on her face. Beast Boy had a feeling it wasn't going to still be there in a moment. One of Robin's many talents he's shown a great deal in exercising recently is the one where he sucks the bliss and happiness out of the people around him with the snap of his fingers. Pretty cool talent if you run a mausoleum; not so much when being a leader of an assembly of superheroes.
"Oh, hello, boyfriend Robin!" She says happily. He just grunts in reply, pulling out his communicator.
"What is wrong, Robin?" Starfire asks. "Are you not excited for the festivities I've planned for our day off?"
He sighs. "Sorry, Star, but I can't." He says. "Something's come up."
Starfire puffed. "What do you mean? It is our day off!"
"I know, Star," he says, not even trying to sound the slightest bit sincere in Beat Boy's opinion. If anything, Boy Wonder sounded nothing more or less than annoyed. "But I got a call from Batgirl this morning. I have to go pick up Zatanna from the airport this morning."
"Zahanna Zahara ish coming?" Cyborg said, mouth full of pancakes. "Why?"
"I don't know but Batgirl made it seem important." He closed his communicator and addressed the rest of the room. "She'll be staying with us for a while. I have no idea how long, but make her feel welcome."
But Starfire wasn't letting it go that easy. "But maybe after you pick up this Zatanna Zahara, you and I could…"
"Her name is Zatanna Zatara." He shakes his head when Starfire still looks on with confusion. "Sorry, but there are a few other things I've gotta take care of while I'm on that side of town. It'll just have to wait."
"Oh, alright." The heart-break was evident in her voice. Beast Boy felt his own heart reach out to the poor love-struck alien. She might've graduated from the University of Happiness and Love but Robin had a Ph.D in Straight-Up Dickery. It was a discriminating advantage he used against her and everyone else in the tower.
"Of course," Raven mumbled crossly. She glared at Robin for only a second longer before she took the tea and book and headed for the door. But Robin wasn't done unleashing his shadow of his overbearing hammer on the members of the team just yet.
Raven stilled, her back to Robin. She didn't respond, or even move. Robin crossed his arms, narrowing his eyes behind his mask and stared holes into her back.
It was time for the waiting game Beast Boy like to call 'The Chest Match O' Death'. He knew it was time to whip out the pieces and ready the caskets and Russian roulette bullets when Beast Boy felt the same blanket of tension that had been there a few days earlier during their initial disagreement. He knew this would continue eventually. Both Robin and Raven were two of the same. They were the kind to let things chafe bitterly between each other. Whatever bad blood they had wasn't going to be swept under the rug. It was that enormous elephant in the room the others on the team wouldn't acknowledge, and Raven and Robin would flaunt it off to each other until one of them decided to address it while everyone else creept around it like it was a giant sensor bomb. This was an intense game of chess, one with no specific rules and not for the faint of heart. Each and every pawn was in danger at all times. The next movement was unpredictable, and all the likely it packed a punch.
Robin's made the first move.
Now the wait.
Beast Boy was sentient of every sound in the room. The heartbeats of everyone in the room, the drip of water from the faucet, Silkie snoring lightly in the corner. At this point, the paw steps of a mouse would sound like Thor's hammer smashing at full speed to the Earth.
"What is it?" she finally replies. Her queen has cautiously scooted forward, her pawns still making a barrio. The others could see where this was going. It was Robin's turn to make his next move.
Robin cleared his throat. "We both know very well Zatana is very skilled in the area where magic is concerned," he tells her. "Especially black magic."
Raven's back is still turned. She isn't going to respond. She passes her turn.
Robin's king moves in just a little bit closer.
"Anyway, I'm sure her reason for coming down her has to do with her practice. I'm not sure if you've heard about her vendetta with mischievous black magic users. I've written up a case file on her ventures for you and…"
"I have," she pronounces, her voice deepening, sounding irritated. "And?"
Her pieces have switched. Now Robin has to follow suit. Still, he isn't beaten easily.
"I suspect that if that's the case you two would be working closely together during her stay," he asserts. "Understand though, I don't want any bickering or complaining. If someone nearby is using black magic improperly, I expect to see you offering full cooperation with minimum damage. Or better yet, no damage at all. Black magic is a touchy topic, and it doesn't need to be plastered all over the media due to carelessness and reckless behavior. I don't want a repeat of the last couple of weeks."
This time Raven doesn't wait to make her next move. She takes a sip of her tea and calmly states, "Of course. I will try to tame my reckless side in the hopes of finally achieving your approval."
Raven's pieces were all in the danger zone now. Each one was exposed and unprotected. Robin had the advantage, or so he thought. At all times cautious, he takes his next move as guardedly as possible.
He shakes his head. "Raven, I'm sorry if you feel my reprimanding is only focused on you," he continues. "But I'm trying to do what's good for the team and the city. We can't play with lives or city edifices. We don't need the press up our asses for every little thing, and believe it or not, when we are in the public eye, I'm the one who has to take up most of the pressure. And I'm sincerely apologetic if you don't see it that way."
Does Raven take the bait? Does she throw in the towel? Call it a truce? Pack up the chess pieces and the board and put it on the middle shelf, just to be pulled out when their next dispute causes Hurricane Abhorrence and Typhoon Spurn to descend upon the Titan Tower once again?
Finally she makes her move.
"No," she declares. "Apology not accepted."
All of Robin's pieces are knocked down in one devastating blow.
It's written all over his face. He's shocked as hell. No one else in the room knows what to say.
And just like that, Raven takes her winnings without a single hint outward of celebration. Raven was the type to revel in her winnings in unadulterated silence. She takes unhurried, solid strides to the door, departing without a word.
Cyborg breaks the silence. "Dude, she is all beyond pissed at you."
Robin shakes his head in disbelief. "I can't believe her."
Beast Boy spoke up. "Dude, that is not the way to apologize to Raven and you know it."
Robin glares at them from behind the mask. "So what, you guys think she has the right to a bitchfit about everything I do?"
Neither male replied. He looked at Starfire. "What about you? You think it's my fault?"
Starfire moves closer toward Robin, attempting to put her hand on his arm. "Robin… Maybe you…"
But Robin pulled away from her. "No. Obviously none of you agree with the way I'm running this team," he spats. "I'm tired of consistently being questioned. I'm trying to run this team in the most efficient way possible and if you don't like it, get out!"
He storms out of the room. If there had been a door to slam, you better believed id would have been knocked off its hinges.
Starfire sits down, looking all sad and broken. Beast Boy's disdain for Robin's attitude and uncalled for backlash grows.
"I am… not sure what I am doing wrong," she says.
Cyborg walks over to her, giving those big brother feels he always has handy.
"Don't blame yourself, Star," he tells her. "Robin's on edge. You know how he gets when he's stressed."
Beast Boy nodded. "Definitely. I'm sure it'll blow over. He isn't really mad at you."
She forces a smile on her face. It's the saddest thing Beast Boy has ever seen.
"I guess… you are right." She concludes. "But, friend Cyborg, since Raven and Beast Boy are having the 'date', maybe you and I could spend our day off together!"
Cyborg frowned. "Aww, I'd love to Star, but I kinda gotta go to the DMV today," he tells her.
Starfire looked confused. "What is a… DMV?"
"It's the place where you get your driving license from."
She still looked confused.
Beast Boy butted in. "You know how Cyborg drives us around all the time?" Starfire nodded. "Well that place gives you a card that says you can do that."
"Oh," she said. "Do they want this 'license' back?"
Cyborg shook his head, "Nah, not that. It's just… okay, neither of you tell Robin this. I sort of let my license expire."
Beast Boy shrugged. "That's not the worst thing ever, dude."
He chuckled nervously. "Three months ago."
Beast Boy's mouth dropped open. "Seriously? You've been driving around all this time with a bad license? And everyone says I'm the irresponsible one."
Cyborg glared. "Not my fault. We've been so damn busy I didn't even remember. And it's not like I had the time to go renew it." He sighed. "They called me yesterday saying under California law I have to re-file my paperwork and take the test over again."
"Geez, dude, you better hope Robin doesn't find out."
Cyborg shook his head at the changeling. "He won't as long as everyone keeps it between us." Cyborg looks back at Starfire. "Sorry I can't hang out, Star. But you won't tell, right?"
"No, I will not tell, friend Cyborg," she replies dejectedly. Head hanging down, Starfire floats into the air and silently leaves the room.
Beast Boy watches her go. "Dude, I feel so bad for her."
"Yeah, me too," Cyborg agreed. "But, hey Grass Stain, don't think about that right now. You got a date to get ready for."
Just the declaration of that brushed the bad vibes off him like a few fragments of fluff. "Yeah, you're right! But… what if something goes wrong."
Cyborg shakes his head and heads toward the door. "It can only go as wrong as you make it. Let it come natural."
As Cyborg exited, Beast Boy thought about what he had said. Cyborg was right. It was only going to go bad if he let it. This afternoon they wouldn't be King Robin's slaves, advisors, jesters or punching bags. He'd be Garfield Logan, going out on a date with his biggest crush.
Beast Boy smiled to himself as he headed en route for his room to get ready.
The changeling didn't even remember about starting his morning off with the perfect breakfast. It didn't matter anyway.
The day could still be perfect without it.
Note: Hey guys, I know this is kinda slow but I like taking my time with a story. I won't be able to upload for a couple of weeks due to AP testing and work, but I hope this suffices until then. I also had a friend who read over this for me for the second drafting and hopefully they aren't any mistakes but excuse me for the if there are ones that were missed. Thanks for taking a read!
Better Days, friends.