Hot and Cold
She was dreaming of Garfield's childhood home again. She sat upon the driftwood table, her bare feet swinging slightly so that the grass beneath her tickled over her soles. Evening was falling, the shadows of the nearby trees stretching seemingly on forever. Raven's head titled when a soft sound caught her attention. She turned around slowly, her eyes falling upon a little girl. She was more than a toddler . . . but not much more. Upon waking the empath would have no firm recollection of what the girl looked like, only that she was beautiful.
"It's dark," the girl said, her voice like music, Raven's lips curling upward at the sound.
"Not too dark, don't worry," she soothed but the girl shook her head, frowning slightly.
"We gotta go see Baba . . . you said we would."
"I know Bug . . . but . . . how about tomorrow?" Why did her lungs suddenly feel too heavy at the little girl's request?
"Today. You said today Mama." A tiny hand reach for Raven, fingers splayed wide. As if in slow motion her pale hand closed around it. Suddenly they were walking down a stone lined path, her little girl singing softly. She let go of Raven's hand and ran ahead, laughing loudly, the sound like tinkling silver bells. "Hello Baba!" She greeting in her angelic voice. The rustling of wind in the trees was her only response. The empath slowed nearly to a stop.
"Bug, come back."
"I brought Mama! Look, here's a flower." Tears were gathering and that heavy feeling upon her chest multiplied. Her feet carried her onward and soon she was watching her daughter laying bright yellow wildflowers upon a small slab of granite. "Blood is life. He bled for us didn't he Mama?" The girl asked, looking up from the grave. A sob escaped Raven's lips and she sank to her knees, shaking her head.
"No, please . . . I can't . . . I can't without you." She reach out as if to touch the stone but recoiled, wringing her hands instead.
"It was always us or him Mama . . . don't be a silly goose!" The girl laughed again, wrapping her arms around her mother's neck. "He would kill the world for us. He would die for us."
"Gar!" Raven exclaimed as she jolted awake, her hands blindly searching in the dark. She felt disoriented, her heart slamming into her chest as she struggled to recall where she was.
"I'm here, shhhh . . . I'm here Mpenzi. It's okay." His warm hand closed around her wrist and a moment later his arms wrapped around her protectively. She was shivering and she pressed closer to him, greedy for his body heat. "Did you have a nightmare?" He murmured quietly against her ear.
"Yeah," she admitted with a soft sigh, slowly recalling where she was. They were in Twisp, Washington. Dayton Incorporated had a small office building where they were hiding for the night. Rita had met them in the tiny, out of the way town after taking an unnecessary three flights to ensure she wasn't followed. The office was really just a front for a safe house. Doom Patrol had a couple in each state and scattered around the world. The office had only two employees, a "secretary" that sat in the front room for appearances and a janitor. The "offices" in the back of the small building served as a bunk room, weapon storage, and supply depot. The bunk room was heavily fortified but the small group had taken turns taking watch duty, acutely aware they couldn't be too careful. Starfire stood at the closed and tightly locked door at the moment, her eyes slightly luminescent as she turned to look back toward the row of bunks. Raven wriggled out of the green arms that held her, self-conscious once she became aware that they were not alone.
"After today I'd be surprised if you didn't have nightmares. I'm sure I would too . . . if I could sleep at all." The changeling yawned quietly, his back propped up against the chilly concrete of the wall. The room was entirely too cold for his tastes and he worried about Raven's health. She lacked the means to heal herself if she got sick. "Do you need another blanket?" He asked after a moment, knowing she would reject any attempt at holding her again.
"I’m fine," she muttered, pulling the two blankets that covered her closer to her chin. She had become so accustom to the fair California weather that she had nearly forgotten what winter felt like. The climate was only going to become more unforgiving as they were planning on traveling into Canada in just a handful of hours. It seemed ill advised to carry out their plan of laying low near Jump until the baby was born now. Beastboy was finally getting exactly what his instincts had been demanding for months. They were running. Running far from the cult, far from the city. Even America itself would be left thousands of miles behind. They would be meeting up with Steve in the Canadian wilderness and in his first act of support since the media turned on Raven and the Titans, he would be transporting them in the Doom Patrol's hoverpod. It was a secret and exceptionally expensive piece of equipment. Like a helicopter it could land and take off with only a small open area. Unlike a helicopter the hoverpod was nearly silent and had a cloaking device that made the small craft practically invisible. It would be next to impossible for anyone to follow them once they were in the air. Garfield hadn't told Steve, or anyone for that matter where they were going after the pick-up. He would tell his adoptive father in person, where there was no risk of unwanted ears somehow hearing.
His paranoia seemed to be shared by all of the group. The idea that the cult had manipulated their way into the Tower had put them all on edge. There were so many cult members and they seemed to have their fingers in far too many pies. It was the reason for Rita's plane jumping, going first to South Dakota, then back tracking to Utah before arriving in Washington State. It was also the reason that Starfire refused to tell Robin their location.
He had called on her Titan communicator a couple hours ago, his face still smudged with soot. When the cult had attacked he had had his hands full, fighting off the mob that had poured into their home. In the end most had managed to escape, losing interest when it became apparent that Raven had fled and was no longer there. A handful, unable to slip back out of the Tower had killed themselves. In the end there were only three cult members that left the Tower both alive and in handcuffs. Robin was originally hopeful that he and the local police could get some answers from the prisoners, but they quickly made it clear that the caped hero was not welcome to join them in their interrogation. Nor did they express any plans on sharing what they found with the young man. It had left him disheartened and frustrated. The damage to Titan Tower was repairable, but it would take some time.
"I'm going to the other city," he told the Tamaranian cryptically, perhaps concerned about the security of the comlink as well. "I took you to the house once, do you remember?"
"Yes, I do recall. I cannot join you there. I must remain with Sister Raven."
"I understand why you want to but . . ."
"Apologies, there is no the but Robin. I will remain until the child is born." Robin sighed loudly, his lips pulling into a sharp frown for a moment.
"Star, I know you mean well, but you . . . you're different. You draw attention and you don't have a holoring. It will be impossible for everyone else to pass unnoticed if you're with them."
"My sister will require my assistance when her birthing time arrives. I will wear the glasses of sun repellent. I will wear clothes to cover my skin and Friend Rita is skilled at the disguising. I will be careful."
"Alright," he sounded impossibly weary, his head shaking slightly. "I guess I'll rendezvous with . . ."
"I believe that is unwise. I do not wish to speak the place we are currently located."
"This is a secure line," Robin insisted with irritation.
"Friend Cyborg once advised me that no line of communication is completely safe from the tampering. Do you not recall the Brotherhood of Evil?"
"Of course I do." It was the reason he couldn't just trace her location using the homing beacon that was within her communicator. The beacon was only enabled if the "panic button" was initiated on a communicator. It was a failsafe to help protect the carrier from being tracked, like what had happened with the Brotherhood of Evil incident.
"Perhaps if you had learned Tamaranian as I requested some time ago . . ."
"Just tell me where you are."
"I will not. We will no longer be in this location very soon. I will not divulge our destination. It is unsafe. It is the stupid, reckless. These are things you taught me."
"You're right, I did." Again the black haired man sighed loudly. "I'll meet you then, at one of the safe locations . . . just tell me the number." There were three bunkers that had been hidden in secure locations, meeting places should the Titans become separated or their means of communication compromised. Beastboy had retreated to one during the attacks the Brotherhood of Evil had orchestrated on Titan and Honorary Titan alike.
"I cannot. Transportation has already been arranged. Friend Beastboy has already done the selecting of the location where we shall remain until the baby is born."
"Let me speak to him."
"I will not. He comforts Raven as she sleeps. I will not disturb them."
"Star . . . why are you being so difficult? I'm trying to help. We're all on the same side, right? All still a team and . . ."
"We are no longer a team, we are doing the banding of this."
"Disbanding. And that isn't until the first of the year."
"Robin . . . you have been removing yourself from the team for many weeks. You are far away in thought. You do not speak to us. More so, you do not speak to me. You do not come to the room with my bed at night any longer. You have left me. Does it surprise you so very much that I am the one doing the leaving now?"
"I . . . Kori . . ," he began softly, but Starfire cut him off sharply.
"Do not speak my name. You will not say the place you have retreated in fear of discovery and yet you speak my given name for our enemies to hear?"
"That wasn't my intention. I know I've been distant and I'm sorry. This has been hard on all of us and I . . . I'm doing the best I can. I've been focusing on solutions. I problem solve, it's what I'm best at . . . it's what I fall back on when I don't know what else to do. And sometimes I let it consume me . . . I know I do. I'm just trying to . . ."
"I do not wish for you to explain. I know much about you Robin. If you know me you will understand. I will return in time and we shall do the discussing of the future. Until that time I will focus upon my sister and her wellbeing." Starfire smiled sadly, blinking away tears. "Goodbye Robin." With a flick of her orange finger she cut the communicator off.
There was nothing nicer than a hot bath and expensive chocolate. Well, perhaps having them in an upscale hotel room made both just a little nicer. Laying sprawled in the steaming water, her dark brown hair pooled around her in floating tendrils, smiled Priestess. She inhaled deeply the scent of lilac and vanilla, her eyes slowly opening. It was cold tonight and she thought of her devotees. The huddled mass of mindless followers were camping outside, a few miles away in the forest. In tents and sleeping bags they waited for her to return and lead them to their next act of dedication. She laughed lightly at the idea, sitting up and reaching for another piece of chocolate. Was it cold enough for a few to freeze to death? She doubted it and sighed in disappointment. She relished the image of her mindless sheep, so loyal that they would remain where she had commanded them stay, even when it meant their own death. Again Priestess settled her back against the porcelain rim of the tub, her mind musing over the happenings of the day. The group she had sent to Titan Tower had not come back with Raven. She hadn't expected them too or even actually wanted them to . . . but they didn't know that. She'd had a select few flogged for their failure, even though they had done exactly as she had wished. They had driven the heavily pregnant woman from her home. They had forced her to flee.
"Just like the story," she murmured to herself, chuckling softly.
"What story?" A male voice asked from the far side of the room. She had forgotten that Lucas was there, waiting for her to call to him, her large towel slung over his arm.
"The birth story in the Bible. Mary and Joseph had to leave their home and travel far away, to the place of Joseph's birth." And thanks to the felt covered box one of her devotees had brought back with him, Priestess knew exactly where the couple had most likely fled.
"My mother read some kid version of the scripture to me when I was little. Before she ran off with her best friend's husband anyway." His lip curled in disgust, both for his mother and the fairy tale she had told him.
"Before she decided it was better if you didn't exist," she nodded in understanding. "When Trigon comes she'll pay. Everyone will . . . just like they should."
"She tried to call last year about this time. Maybe I should have spoken to her." Lucas shook his head, his dark brown eyes closing for a moment. "Judasa, what we're doing, is it . . ."
"Are you really having second thoughts? After everything we've both been through?" The woman, who had renamed herself Judasa years ago stood, motioning for her companion to bring her the towel he held. "This world is a horrible place. People are heartless, cruel, and too ignorant and lazy to even want to change. Nothing is going to fix this. Nothing but a fresh start. You know it's true."
"I just . . ."
"Who has been kind to you Lucas? Your mother abandoned you. Your father cares more about his books than he ever did your wellbeing. There were bullies at school. Women that broke your heart . . . who's been kind to you?"
"You . . . you've been kind to me," he told her and she pulled the towel away from his outstretched hands, shaking her head.
"Lucas . . . Darling . . . I would slit your throat right here and now to get what I want. I'm using you. Just like I'm using my followers. Just like everyone in the world uses everyone else. It's tolerable to you right now because we want the same things. That's all."
"I love you Judasa and it hurts when . . ."
"Love isn't real," she told him, stepping past him to look into the large oval mirror over the sink. "Love is a trick. A lie people use to make you do what they want. To make you weak." Her head tilted slightly as she studied her foggy reflection. "My mother said she loved me . . . just not more than she loved crack. My grandparents said they loved me . . . but not enough to deal with my issues. And my adoptive parents . . . oh how they loved me Lucas. They loved me so much that they tried to beat the devil out of me. They beat me and starved me and locked me away . . . because they loved me so much."
"I know your childhood was . . ."
"I'm thankful to all of them . . . but especially my new mom and dad. I never would have known Trigon without them. They taught me how evil the world is. Of course they thought praying to Jesus fixed evil, because Jesus loves us. I prayed to Him, just like they told me I should. I prayed to not be evil anymore. I just wanted to be a good girl, so Mommy and Daddy would love me. So they wouldn't hit me. So they wouldn't make me stay on my knees for hours on end, clutching my rosary, reciting until my voice cracked. I prayed and prayed and do you know what happened?"
"Nothing. Nothing changed. I was still bad . . . evil. They still punished me in the name of love and divinity. And eventually I knew they were right. The world is evil. The only thing they had wrong was that you could pray that away. That's when I started reading in secret. I started looking. Satan was an obvious choice of course. But if Jesus wasn't real, how could he exist? They were both characters in the same work of fiction. It took a long while and a lot of reading . . . but then I found him . . . I found Trigon." She smiled brightly, using her hand to wipe away the steam on the mirror so she could see herself more clearly.
"He hates us all equally," Lucas said softly and Priestess nodded enthusiastically.
"Exactly. There are no favorites in his eyes. We are all lacking. We are all evil and every last one of us will be treated justly. We'll all be punished." Using her index finger she drew in the remaining steam on the glass, drawing horns on either side of her reflection. "My new parents taught me something else . . . that I could be someone's daughter without a drop of their blood in my veins. Trigon may only have one begotten daughter . . . but she failed him. But I . . . I'll be everything he could want and more."
Smoke filled the common room when the pair entered it, holding hands to ensure they didn't become separated from each other. It was clear that a fire was smoldering somewhere nearby and that there had been a small explosion just within the entry way. Raven coughed and quickly Beastboy lead her away from the ruined room, wanting to get her to fresh air.
"Robin? Cyborg? Starfire? Where is everyone?" The changeling called, choking slightly on the thick smoke as he shouted. He hurried down the hallway, stopping short when he saw a figure moving in the smoke, coming toward them. The strong smells of burning fabric and melting plastic made it impossible for the youngest Titan to identify the individual by smell alone. Closer they came and then staggered out of the smoke to collapse. It was a man, his skin red and blistered, his clothes burnt off in places. His lungs rattled loudly with each intake of breath as he reach out a hand that seemed to be begging for help.
"I . . . did . . . it. I . . . got . . . in," he wheezed, his bloodshot and irritated eyes squinting up at the couple. "Gonna . . . save the . . . world." He clawed at his charred pants pocket, pulling out a pistol. He was badly injured though and Beastboy was able to disarm him with practically no effort.
"Was it worth it Wacko? Huh?" Gar barked at the burnt man that glared up at him.
"The . . . Anti-Christ . . . will . . ."
"There is no Anti-Christ Numbnuts! That's my kid. Mine! You nearly killed yourself for nothing!"
"But . . . I . . . they helped me . . . build the . . . bomb so . . ."
"Who helped you?" Raven demanded, her question answered not by the gasping man, but a shout from within the smoke.
"Daughter of Trigon! It is time!"
Chaos descended upon the Tower just seconds later. The one lone voice was joined by several dozen more, cheering and shouting as they poured from the smoke filled room and into the hallway where the pair stood. There was a moment of shock, the couple staring with wide-eyed fear. The shock passed quickly though and Beastboy grabbed Raven firmly by the wrist, running away from the advancing mob. He paused, slapping at the large red button mounted on the wall. The security alarm had not gone off and even though he couldn't imagine that the other Titans were unaware that something was going on, it seemed the best way to summon the help they desperately needed.
"We aren't gonna get away at this rate!" The changeling shouted to her as they dashed down the hall, thirty men and women just a couple feet behind.
"I'd like to see you try to run when you're nine months pregnant!" Raven retorted breathlessly. She wished desperately for her powers. She could just teleport them wherever they needed to go.
"I'm going to carry you." He slowed slightly, grunting as he hoisted her onto his back. "Hold on tight!" A second later he was a tiger and her fingers clung desperately to his fur as he dashed through the maze of hallways, heading deeper into the Tower. Running at his top speed in this form he was able to finally put some distance between himself and the mob of cult members. Even still it didn't seem fast enough. They were able to keep up well enough to see each turn he took a moment before he took it.
"We're going down! Why are we going down?" Raven shouted, her heels digging almost painfully into his sides. He couldn't exactly answer her, but he made a rumbling sound in his chest to acknowledge the question. They needed an exit not just from the Tower, but the island as well. There were tunnels in the garage that ran underwater and led to the main land. "The tunnels?" She asked with concern, shaking her head as if he could see the movement. "No, they could have come in that way too! We need the roof! They can't fly!"
Neither can you. He thought, huffing. Of course he could have turned into something large and carried her off the roof. He hadn't thought of that and it was too late now. He couldn't rightly turn around and fight the hefty number of cult members alone. Where was everyone else? The door to the garage was fast approaching and the green tiger slowed. Raven would need to type in the code in order for the door to open. If luck was with them she would be able to do so and the door would close behind them before the advancing group was able to get inside. He skidded to a stop right in front of the sealed door and the empath wasted no time in typing in the six digit code. The door slide open and Gar bound forward instantly, nearly losing his passenger in his haste. The door slid firmly shut and his heart soared, only to crash back into the pit of his stomach again a moment later. The garage was far from empty.
The question to where at least one of the other Titans were was answered as they entered the garage. Cyborg was battling a small army of cultists, shouting curses as they swarmed, wreaking havoc on everything within the large concrete room. The T-car had clearly been on fire at some point, the built in sprinkler system had put the fire out and had made the floor slippery, water standing several inches deep. The sedan was on its side like a dead animal, its tires slashed. A couple men were working on shattering the windows. The room fell into a moment of still silence when the pair entered the room, every set of deranged eyes settling on the mother-to-be with sick glee. They surged forward like an ominous wave.
"No you don't!" Cyborg bellowed, rushing forward with sonic cannon blaring to make a path for Beastboy and Raven. The empath felt the muscles under her legs ripple, the only warning she received before the tiger became an elephant. Without fur to cling to she had to fight to remand upon the broad back beneath her. He knees dug in and her hands grabbed at the edges of the large ears at either side of his head. The changeling trumpeted loudly, carelessly knocking people out of his way with his truck and tusks as he moved toward the tunnel that would eventually lead to the world outside. Behind them the cybernetic man fought on, looking like the group might overcome him at any moment.
"Cyborg!" Raven shouted and the elephant's massive head turned to look back at their struggling team member as well.
"I got this, just go!" He insisted loudly. Still, the changeling began to turn back to assist the eldest Titan. "Get her outta here! Go on!" With a soft, sad sound Garfield did just that. Again his muscles constricted and rippled in a way Raven couldn't help but imagine being rather painful and she was upon the back of a green horse.
Beastboy wasn't sure, but he was pretty certain riding a horse down a five mile stretch of dark tunnel was probably not advisable in the later months of pregnancy. He'd chosen his form carefully though. He was a Tennessee Walking Horse, an equine capable of a smooth gait even while moving at higher speeds. There was very little bounce as he raced toward the daylight he couldn't see yet, but knew was on the other side. Raven's fingers were tangled in his mane, her breath coming in harsh pants. He could smell the fear and anxiety roll off of her like an overpowering perfume. She didn't like the underwater tunnel on a good day. Rushing through it when you were most likely being pursued by babynapping mad men did nothing to improve her opinion of the enclosed space. They were only about a mile away from the exit when the sound of a vehicle joined the rhythmic fall of hooves. As the sound came closer it was clearly a motorcycle.
Please be Robin, please be Robin. The changeling thought, speeding up slightly.
"Not Robin," Raven told him urgently, digging her heels into his flanks as if to urge him on faster. He was already at his top speed in his current form and he thought frantically. He could morph into a cheetah, but he wasn't sure his lean frame could support her weight. The motorcycle was closing in and he settled on a form, his muscles twitching madly for half a second as he took on the form of a pronghorn antelope. It was the second fastest land animal, capable of hitting fifty-five miles per hour. It wasn't a speed he could maintain for long, but hopefully he could hold out long enough to escape the enclosed tunnel. His lungs ached and his heart was slamming painfully into his chest already, but he sprinted onward.
Daylight had never looked so beautiful as it appeared as a small pinpoint before Raven's eyes, growing larger with every bounding stride. She could feel the exhausted desperation rising from her companion and she knew he was pushing his limits to the breaking point. He wouldn't be able to run much longer. Closer and closer the light bobbed until she felt nearly blinded by the sun as they tore from the mouth of the tunnel. There was an unexpected explosion only a couple seconds after they emerged from the opening and the empath's head tilted skyward to see Starfire blasting the opening of the tunnel, cutting off the pursuing motorcycle's path. A moment later her feet were gently set upon the ground and Garfield crouched beside her, breathing hard.
"That was . . . close," he wheezed with a breathless chuckle. Static danced in front of his eyes and he slowed his breathing before he passed out. Starfire landed lightly beside them, her green eyes wide, assessing the pair critically.
"Friend Cyborg alerted me so that I could meet you when you exited the underwater passage. I am relieved that you are both unharmed. You are unharmed, correct?"
"I'm fine," Raven told the other woman softly, setting a hand on Beastboy's back. "Are you alright Gar?" She questioned, watching as he remained in his stooped position, eyes squinted, a hand holding his chest as if to sooth the aching organs within. He offered her a thumbs up, but retched a moment later, turning away as he vomited up his lunch.
"We should not remain in the open." Starfire floated above the road slightly, her keen eyes darting back and forth, looking for any threat. "I can carry you, Sister Raven. Can you fly?" She asked the changeling, who was wiping at his mouth with the sleeve of his shirt.
"Yeah," he nodded, rolling his aching shoulders. He'd never dream of saying so, but Raven was heavy.
This content is intended for mature audiences.
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The End and the Beginning
The following week was a somber one. Usually, the weekend after Thanksgiving Starfire would spend hours decorating the Tower for Christmas. Now, the boxes sat in the basement, slowly being picked through and divided by the group. Robin insisted the Tameranian could still decorate, but she had sullenly refused. In an attempt to cheer the alien princess up he had gone out and bought a smaller tree and decorated it himself. The orange hued girl had burst into tears when she entered the common room and saw the thoughtful token though. Stoically their leader insisted the tree remain erected beside the large window overlooking the ocean and he hung a wreath on the front door.
"I don't think we'll ever have a view like this again Man," Cyborg said softly, his head tilting slightly in contemplation. He was putting the finishing touches on the holo rings he had created for Beastboy and Raven and needed to ensure that direct sunlight didn't distort the false image. The changeling stood in front of the common room window with the sun directly behind him, holding his arms out at his side as he had been instructed.
"You'll be coming back here. In just a couple years too, I bet. And it'll be nice to help out the Titans East in the meanwhile." It was strange to hear the shape shifter's voice rise from the image of a blonde haired man.
"Stand natural now and move around a little," the eldest Titan directed after a moment. "It's so cold on the East Coast. I don't know if I'm going."
"Buy a coat then. It isn't that cold anyway. It's not like its frigging Russia or something. Tell 'im Rae," his hand swung in the direction of the couch where Raven sat. She had been studying her wrist in interest, amazed by the faint blue veins that now appeared just under her skin. Despite how pale she naturally was her skin was thicker than a human's and her veins were never visible.
"Pretty sure you just told him," she mumbled, glancing up only briefly. She should probably become accustom to looking at the changeling while wearing the holo-ring, but she found her eyes drifting away quickly again. While the empath usually found him exceptionally attractive, Raven found herself less than thrilled with his now very normal appearance.
"I just . . . it isn't just that it's cold. It won't feel like home." Large shoulders shrugged and he forced a smile to his face. "I think I might go to college . . . be a regular guy for a while."
"You can just download anything you want to know into your memory banks," Garfield pointed out, turning to look at his own reflection in the window.
"I'm guaranteed to be a straight A student then. Alright Grass Stain . . . looks good, I think you're all set. What do you think Raven?"
"The disguise is very good, no matter how he moves the image doesn't waver."
"But, how do I look?" The changeling asked, turning to face them again. Pink lips curled into a small smile to revel straight, average teeth.
"Very much like I imagine you would have looked had you never gotten sick," she replied, skirting the question again.
"Not just very much," Cyborg interjected proudly. "This image is 97.6% accurate. That's nearly exactly what he'd look like. And your image," he pressed on, offering a heartfelt smile, "is just as accurate a representation of what you'd look like as a human." Raven's eyes shifted past Gar for a moment to look at herself in the window's reflection. With her holo-ring on her skin was still very fair, but touched with warm rosiness in places. Her lips were a soft pink, the skin under her nails a soft blush color that screamed life compared to her usual grayish hues. Her hair was a shimmering black, her eyes deep blue.
"We look awesome!" Beastboy agreed, bounding over and plopping down on the couch beside the empath. He put his arm around her shoulders, not missing the way she winced away from him slightly before forcing herself to remain still.
"Sorry," she muttered when he cast her a questioning glance.
"Uh-oh . . . there's a little interference when you guys touch." Sure enough in the place where their sides nearly connected the images distorted slightly with a strange static. "It's easy enough to fix. I'll be right back."
"It's weird, huh?" Gar asked softly after the cybernetic man had exited the room.
"It'll take some getting used to, but it isn't all bad, right? No one will know who we really are. And you get to look at someone handsome for a change." He waggled his fair eyebrows at her and smiled, though the expression looked superficial. Sadness rolled off him and she shook her head, sighing loudly.
"I will get used to it, but . . . to be completely honest I don't think this version of you is an improvement."
"Oh," he blinked a couple times and cleared his throat. "So either way I'm kinda . . . ugly."
"No," Raven retorted firmly. "You are not ugly. I just meant that I like the real you better Gar, that's all."
"Because that's what you're used to. . . I get it."
"Because it's what I'm accustom to, yes." She shook her head, realizing she would have to say more if she wanted to salvage his already fragile self-esteem. "And . . . it's what I like. I like the way you look. I think you're rather appealing."
"Appealing, as in attractive?" He asked softly as if he was certain he was misunderstanding her. The empath nodded in conformation and he smiled his strange, fang-less smile again. "For the record . . . I think you look better as the real you too."
Raven stood in the middle of the room that had been a nursery just days before, feeling somewhat crestfallen. All the furniture, once ready to receive the newest resident of the Tower, was now again disassembled. The mobile and stuffed animals Beastboy had already bought were packed away in boxes, each labeled "Bug". Violet eyes wondered over to the green changeling, who was taping up the last box. He stood and tilted his head upward. Raven did the same, looking at the stars that still adorned the ceiling. Terra's stars, he hadn't painted over them.
"I'm gonna paint stars for her," he muttered, eyes still trailing over the golden pattern. "And maybe the moon too . . . a little crescent moon." Slowly his eyes lowered until he was looking at the empath, a sad smile tugging at his lips. "It's hard to believe this will be our last night sleeping here."
"Agreed. The apartment is . . . okay though." She wanted to say nice, but she couldn't bring herself to mutter the word. The apartment was just that . . . an apartment. It had two bedrooms and a small galley kitchen. It had one bathroom and a plain living room with boring eggshell white paint on every wall. It would never be home. Gar promised her they would start making plans to buy a house right after Bug was born. That they could live anywhere she wanted. They just needed to be near the city for a little longer now. The apartment was just a two hour drive from Jump. It was far enough away that the empath couldn't feel the negativity that wafted off the city, but close enough that Cyborg could get there quickly when the time came for Raven to deliver. Starfire had insisted she would be there as well, it was her duty and honor as a sister after all.
"It's just for a little while," he reminded softly, wrapping his arms gently around her middle. The changeling nuzzled his nose against her cheek and jaw lightly, a hand straying into her hair. She sighed, her fingers curling into the fabric of his sweater. "It'll be nice . . . just you and me for a bit."
"I'm due in just twenty days Gar. There won't be much alone time."
"True," he laughed and hugged her a little tighter. She sensed a strange amount of desire suddenly bubble up into his consciousness and she pushed him lightly away.
"What are you thinking?" Raven asked, her eyes narrowing slightly. Green lips parted to say "nothing", then closed again. It was against the rules of his own game. When she asked what he was thinking he felt obliged to answer truthfully.
"I uhhh . . . I was having an animal moment," he grumbled, chuckling uncomfortably. "After the young are born . . . after a while . . . you . . . I mean with animals . . . uhhhh, the female becomes receptive to . . . to mating again," he blushed, his cheeks turning a reddish brown color.
"Garfield . . ."
"I know, I know . . . and I'm sorry. There really isn't any pressure. It was just a passing thought that I shouldn't have let effect me."
"Don't be sorry. It would be unrealistic of me to expect you to never think of certain aspects of a romantic relationship or even to have aspirations or daydreams about them. Your mind and feelings are your own and it would be wrong of me to ask you to modify them just because I'm privy to some part of them." She sighed and took a couple steps away from him. "I just want you to have . . . reasonable expectations. My powers will come back once Bug is born and that will make certain things . . ."
"I want to say something real honest Raven, okay?" He suddenly interrupted, closing the space she had put between them. "Okay?" He prompted again and she nodded after a moment. "I think this is something that needs to happen before the baby is born."
"Why?" She tried to recoil, but he stopped her backward retreat, his right hand grasping her elbow, his left hand cupping the tender area at the base of her head.
"Because you're anxious about it. And fear and anxiety tend to cause more magical outbursts than anything else . . . well, other than anger. After the first time the fear and anxiousness will go away. All the other emotions are manageable."
"I thought you said there was no pressure."
"There isn't. Like I said . . . I'm just being honest and telling you what I really think. I'd never make you do something you didn't want to do. The when and what of our bedroom business is totally up to you."
"I can't," she told him mournfully, her pale lips turning down in a slight frown.
"That isn't true Raven. Of course you can. You're choosing not to, which is completely fine. But don't tell me you can't."
"I can't!" The empath insisted again, shaking her head. "It isn't an option for me."
"Tell me why then. Without using the excuse of emotions or magic . . . tell me why."
"It isn't an excuse! It's a fact. It isn't an option for me. I told you that before we became whatever the Hell we are now. I can't!"
"That's a lie that you're telling yourself. And I think deep, deep down you know that." He fought the urge to be angry, his words soft and kind instead.
"It isn't fair . . . but it is a fact." His lack of anger defused her own somewhat.
"I know you're unsure. I can't even imagine how much. You grew up constantly hearing how bad and dangerous you are. But right now, in this moment, nothing bad can happen. See?" He lowered his mouth to her jaw, placing wet kisses along the angle, working slowly lower. Gloved fingers lightly caressed down her back, nearly to her rear and then up again. Raven shivered, her eyes slipping shut. "See? We can do whatever we want Rae . . . anything we want right now."
"After . . ." she began, her breath catching in her throat as his tongue laved against the sensitive place on the left side of her throat. The place he had marked when he'd claimed her as his own.
"It's okay to live in the moment," the changeling soothed, his hands moving to grasp at her hips. "Kuna tu wakati huu."
"It's rude to . . . to talk in a language no one else understands." The empath was attempting to rally some semblance of anger or at least the will to pull away from him.
"You do it all the time Mpenzi," he reminded teasingly, his hands shifting again until each palm was grasping a plump butt cheek, kneading rhythmically. Raven swallowed a gasp, trying to focus.
"What did you just call me?"
"Something nice," he assured, pulling his gloves off and tossing them aside. He went back to kneading at her backside, letting his claws dig lightly into her skin. This time she couldn't hide her gasp and he smiled to himself. Sharp teeth nipped at her collar bone for a moment before his nose nudged at the collar of her blouse. One hand stopped its cat like kneading, moving to crawl under her shirt. He pet lightly at her belly and side. She said nothing about the intrusion so after a moment he allowed his fingers to climb higher. Lightly he traced the edge of her bra, again waiting for her rebuff. Though Gar was pushing her boundaries, he respected her limits. He didn't want to push her too far and if she told him to stop he would. No rejection came and green fingers pushed themselves beneath the silk. "I called you lover . . . mate . . . ummm, your skin is so soft Rae."
"I like that," Raven mumbled breathlessly, eyes tightly closed.
"Being called Mpenzi or what I'm doing?" He asked against her ear, nipping lightly at the tender curve.
"Then I'll have to do both of them more often from now on." A husky chuckle rumbled from his chest again. The hand that wasn't occupied with her chest skirted to her front, eager fingers caressing over her hip as they came around to press at the junction of her thighs.
"Gar?" Her voice had deepened slightly and he thought it incredibly sexy.
"I . . . I can. I can and I think . . . I think I want to." She forced her eyes open so he could see the sincerity within them. "Let's go to our . . ." a thunderous roar suddenly sounded somewhere below, shaking the floor beneath their feet.
The Last Supper
It was the morning of her last day of bed rest when Raven jolted awake, suddenly aware of a presence in the room. The sun was just starting to rise, not yet visible over the window sill. The fear she felt faded into annoyance quickly. It was just Starfire. She was crouched beside the bed, her face uncomfortably close to Raven's when she turned to look at her.
"Greetings Friend," she said softly, making a surprised sound when Beastboy suddenly sat upright in the bed, growling loudly. The unexpected voice had startled him and he glared blearily at the alien princess for a second or two before his brain seemed to process that there was no threat. He flopped back down onto the mattress, grumbling to himself before his breathing evened out again as he drifted back to sleep. "My apologies for startling you both."
"Starfire, is everything okay?" Raven whispered, confused by the nervousness the other woman was feeling.
"Yes, I am most okay. I simply wished to speak with you."
"It's very early."
"I am aware, but you must understand that what I am about to swear . . . it must be sworn as the first sun aligns with the horizon." Starfire's eyes shifted to the window and then back to the still reclined empath. "I am certain you remember the meeting of my sister, Blackfire."
"Yes, I remember."
"She was not . . ," the orange hued girl seemed to search for the right words for a moment. "She is not the kind or sisterly. This once caused me great sadness." She cleared her throat and smiled softly. "It no longer makes me feel such sadness. I wish to make a pledge with you Raven." The nervousness she felt grew and she shifted about slightly, taking a deep breath. "I have been acquainted with you for many years now. You have been the truest of friends and I wish to be your sister. On Tamaran sisters are bound to protect each other and the children that their sister produces to the death. There would be no greater honor than to call you sister and to offer my life for that of your own and your most precious offspring." Starfire took another shaky breath and extended her right hand, her palm up and fingers splayed. "Will you accept my offer of sisterhood?"
"I would never ask you to die for me," Raven whispered, looking down at the offered hand.
"I shall not die if I need not, however to die for a sister is a great honor. The sun is in the correct position and you must accept or decline," Starfire replied, her tone serious and pensive.
"I've always been your sister Koriand'r." An impossibly pale hand settled in the brightly colored one, squeezing gently.
October faded into November and the tension in Jump City continued to grow. The Titans were often met with hostility whenever they entered the city limits to fight crime. Everywhere the citizens cast distrusting glances in their direction. Mothers that had once encouraged their children to speak to the heroes now pulled their young away as they walked down the street, random voices hissing or cursing had replaced cheers and thank yous. In the waters surrounding the Tower boats ceaselessly moved, the pontoons full of church congregations had been joined by tourist snapping pictures, picketers shouting slogans, and recently and most upsetting of all there were often groups of self-proclaimed Satanists. The sort that based their "religion" on horror movies and hatred. Their shouts of praise mixed with the cries of woe and warning creating an endless dull roar that could never be completely drowned out. Slowly the honorary Titans stopped their visits, though they stayed in regular communication. This distance was at Robin's request. The young man was wise enough to know their constant presence could only serve to poison the citizens of the city and even the country to all super heroes and not just the Teen Titans in general.
Rita did return however, just as she promised she would. It seemed she had abandoned her ideas about a quiet, Midwest life. When she returned she came with boxes and bags that suggested she had no intention of leaving. Cyborg offered to prepare a room for her on the guest wing, but she balked at the idea of being a guest and made herself at home in the room that had belonged to Beastboy since the Titans had formed. Robin, who had become increasingly quiet and removed from the group, seemed to have no opinion on the matter.
"We're having vegetarian lasagna for Thanksgiving," Raven told Cyborg with no preamble a sunny Saturday morning two weeks before the holiday. She was sitting beside him at the kitchen table, enjoying a thick slice of ham and a heaping pile of fried potatoes. Beastboy sat some distance away, at the bar where he looked up sharply from the small wooden horse he had been painting. The changeling had bought the simple, unpainted mobile for the baby and had been enjoying decorating each little animal.
"Like Hell! I already bought a turkey." Cyborg looked at her like she had completely lost her mind, his one eyebrow arching high. "You love my turkey."
"I do, but that doesn't matter."
"Of course it does. I guess we can do both . . . even though lasagna is not a food you should ever cook for . . ."
"No. The whole meal needs to be meat free." Raven stood with a grunt, walking to the refrigerator. With only a month and a half to go until her due date her middle had swollen to a size she would have thought unattainable.
"Why?" Cyborg looked down on his plate and his ham with what seemed like affection.
"I want us all to share a meal." She waddled back to her seat, a bottle of apple juice in hand.
"We share a meal every Thanksgiving. Last year we all . . ."
"All Beastboy had on his plate last year was cranberry sauce and macaroni salad. That isn't sharing a meal." The empath interrupted with a shake of her head.
"Rae . . . it's okay, no one else wants a Thanksgiving with no turkey." Gar said softly, his eyes squinted slightly as he applied tiny white dots to the pink horse.
"See? Grass Stain understands that . . ."
"It isn't okay. I'll cook if you don't want to. Just humor me. I'm just asking for one Thanksgiving, just this one." She looked back down at her plate, poking her ham with her fork. Her eyes were burning slightly and she wanted to ensure they didn't see the tears that were trying to form.
"You can't even bend over to put things in the oven," the cybernetic man reminded loudly, but kindly. "If it means that much to you Raven then we'll do it. But next year there's going to be double the meat."
It wasn't unusual for Raven to wake up in the middle of the night. The once quiet twilight was now often charged with emotion and that coupled with the pressure upon her bladder, often lead to a restless night's sleep. And so it was no great surprise when she awoke for the third time that night, the need to visit the restroom boarding on urgency. What was strange was that Garfield was already sitting up in bed, wide awake. Silently he stood and rounded the bed, helping to hoist the empath to her feet, following behind her as she hurried out of the room and into the hall. Usually he would hum or try to talk to her through the bathroom door, but he was unusually quiet as he waited for her. Together they walked back to the bedroom and the changeling settled on the edge of the bed, watching her as she settled again, not moving to lay beside her.
"What's wrong?" Raven asked, sitting up again with some effort.
"I'm just thinking," he shrugged, a small smile curling his lips. "I'm fine, go back to sleep." Gar made some vague gesture before turning away from her, looking toward the window, obscured by a heavy curtain. He sighed, his ears lowering slightly.
"Tell me what's bothering you," she insisted instead of laying down.
"The world is just . . . it's an ugly place sometimes. It's so unfair that people are so . . . that they always believe the worst instead of having faith in the best." It was so unlike him to have such negative thoughts and it made the empath shiver. She was accustom to his upbeat outlook on life.
"I know how easy it is to let the negativity of others infect you, believe me I know. But, you're stronger than that. You're strong enough to know that the world is good, even if some of the people in it aren't."
"Some people? It’s the whole friggin' city now. Someone spat on Starfire the last time we went out. On Starfire! And she's the sweetest soul, she would never hurt anyone. They hate us, Raven."
"They just don't understand. It's fear, not hate."
"That out there, that's hate." He pointed to the window and the unseen ocean beyond it. "I hear the nasty, ignorant things they say about you and Bug and . . . God help me Rae, I want to just . . . I want to hurt them sometimes. I just want to . . . make them stop."
"I'm leaving," Raven told him softly and he spun around to face her.
"That's why I pushed to have the vegetarian friendly Thanksgiving dinner. It will be our last one together as Titans."
"You . . . you said we couldn't just lay low, that it wouldn't blow over and . . ."
"This isn't going to blow over. The world isn't going to forget. I won't be biding my time or hiding out . . . that suggests that someday I'll be coming back. This is over Garfield. I can't be a Titan anymore. I can't be a hero. I need to just . . . disappear and be someone else now."
"You say it like you think you'll be alone." He crawled across the mattress until he was in front of her, their eyes meeting.
"I can't ask you to . . ."
"You don't have to ask. There's nothing I wouldn't do Rae . . . nothing I wouldn't do for you." Gently green hands moved to cup her cheeks and he leaned forward until their noses touched.
"Please don't feel like you have to . . . I'd never keep you from seeing the baby. I know she means the world to you. And I know being part of the Titans means . . ." Her words were silenced as warm lips stole them from her tongue. They kissed for a short eternity before the need to breathe parted them.
"Raven . . . ask me to think about you," he encouraged, his thumb stroking over her jaw. She had asked the changeling to think of many people and things in their game of talking out feelings, but never had she requested he think of her. It seemed her voice had abandoned her as she swallowed loudly, but she nodded and Gar moved to pull her forehead to his own as he began to speak. "I'm thinking of how excited I am to see you holding Bug. I'm thinking about how wonderful a mother you're going to be." Pride and affection crashed over her and her eyes closed tight. "I'm thinking about . . . watching you sleep. I do that sometimes. You look so peaceful, so beautiful." There was joy now and the beginnings of desire. "I'm thinking about when you initiate little touches and how it . . . how lucky I feel that you're showing me affection."
"It's not enough." The empath managed to murmur, her eyes opening again. "It's so little and you deserve . . ."
"It isn't little to you Raven. It's honest and real and . . ." His eyes shown with tears and he leaned forward to press soft kisses along her hairline. "And I love that about you. I love you Rae. I love you." More kisses were peppered across her forehead and against the bridge of her nose. "No matter where you go . . . that's where I'm going to be. No matter what. Even if I have to stop being a Titan. Even if I have to were a holoring every time I step out the front door. I promised you." Claw tipped fingers pressed lightly at her neck for a moment before his mouth followed to nip lightly. "I thought you understood what it meant."
"I did understand, but things . . ."
"There is no but," Garfield insisted firmly.
"Things change and . . ."
"And we'll be together for all those changes. You're my mate Rae. That's forever, that doesn't change."
"People . . ." the empath began again and he growled lightly, shaking his head, his cheek brushing against her throat.
"People do make promises like this that they don't mean, you're right. I'm not people. I'm wolf. I'm swan. I'm . . ." he chuckled softly, his fingers tangling in her hair. "I'm raven. None of those animals make idle promises. They mate for life. You don't have to be afraid."
"I'm not afraid," she told him, pulling away so she could look into his eyes again. And this time, she meant it.
Thanksgiving Day dawned cool, but pleasantly sunny. Raven spent the majority of the early afternoon in the kitchen, preparing their dinner with Cyborg and Rita's help. She had not had much experience with preparing meals and felt rather pleased with herself as each dish passed from the stove to the tabletop looking completely eatable. It helped fuel her confidence, she was soon going to find herself in a home of her own with a small family to feed after all. Though the decision had been made, neither Raven nor Beastboy had told anyone else about their plans. Both agreed that waiting until after Thanksgiving would be best. There was no need to ruin their last holiday together with the difficult news.
Dinner itself was low key and sentimental. The group reflected on holidays they had spent together and talked about victories and defeats alike in their lives as crime fighters. They ate and complemented the empath heavily, Cyborg even admitting that the meat free Thanksgiving was a great idea. It was nice to see Beastboy's plate heaped with the same foods everyone else had. Eventually dessert was passed around and the patchwork family sat about the common room, eating pie and sipping coffee.
"I think this might be one of the best Thanksgivings I've ever had," Rita said softly, picking at her apple pie.
"Most of our Thanksgivings with Doom Patrol were spent out in the middle of nowhere. I think we forgot it was Thanksgiving at all a couple times." Gar laughed lightly at the memory, shaking his head.
"Yeah, a couple years in a row actually," Rita nodded and sighed loudly. "I should have been better at . . ." Her hand made a random, rolling gesture. "At making life more normal for you."
"Normal and super hero don't belong in the same sentence. It's alright Rita. Besides, you made my first Thanksgiving a good one. Steve was so mad that you insisted we fly home, but you wouldn't let up until he gave in."
"That was a good day, even with Steve's complaining," she chuckled and reach for her coffee mug. "Next Thanksgiving is going to be exciting."
"Hell yeah!" Cyborg agreed, shifting forward in his seat. "It's going to be double meat Thanksgiving!"
"I think Rita was thinking more about it being the baby's first Thanksgiving," Raven replied evenly. She had finished her slice of apple pie and had eagerly accepted the piece that Gar had only eaten a bite of from his own plate.
"Oh yeah, that too," the eldest Titan laughed hardily, his eyes twinkling with mirth. "I'll make turkey puree!"
"Bug isn't going to eat meat," Beastboy told him and Cyborg's one organic eye rolled.
"We'll see. And when are you going to give the poor kid a real name?"
"When she's born," Raven provided with a soft sigh. Though the baby's gender was no longer a mystery she had been reluctant to even discuss names with Garfield. He was eager and apparently had even prepared a list, but the empath believed firmly that it was unfair to name a child prior to their birth. How could she agree to a name and risk finding the child she had given birth to looked nothing like the title they had been assigned? That's what had happened to her after all. She'd been named Raven before she'd taken her first breath. Raven, a nuisance bird and mythic harbinger of death. Her mother and the monks of Azarath had been expecting a fiery skinned infant, with horns and claws and too many eyes. She managed to come into the world with only one of those traits however. She had in fact looked practically like any newborn baby should, save her ashen complexion. Perhaps if they had waited to name her they would have been kinder.
"No pressure or anything, but I think Victoria is pretty awesome," Cyborg said around a large bite of pie.
"Rita is pretty good too," Rita parried with a laugh.
"Oh . . . I am thinking Zeppelin is the most delightful sounding word that could be used for a name!" Starfire added, completely missing the point of the joke.
"I kinda like Zeppelin," the changeling agreed with a hint of sincerity that made Raven shake her head firmly.
"Sounds like a super hero name," Cyborg said, smiling. "She'll be growing up in the Tower so you might want to . . ." The empath opened her mouth to speak, but Robin, who had been quiet all day stood and cleared his throat.
"I was going to wait until tomorrow, but . . . I've known for a couple weeks now and I just can't keep you guys in the dark anymore." He took a deep breath and pressed on. "As of the first of the year the Teen Titans will be disbanding." Five sets of eyes stared up at him, the room completely silent. "The mayor of Jump . . . and myself . . . think it's for the best."
"You can't be serious," the eldest Titan mumbled, shaking his head.
"I am. Raven will be twenty in just a couple more months. That leaves only one of us that's still actually even a teen. It's time we grew up and moved on to other things."
"Robin, could we not simply remove the word "teen"? Could we not simply be The Titans?" Starfire blinked innocently up at him.
"No. Jump City needs a break from . . . heroes for a while. I'm hopeful that in a few years there can be a new team. In fact, I think when the city is ready that Cyborg should come back as a mentor for the new group. Until then Titans East said they'd be more than happy to have you."
"That's on the other side of the country," the robotic man reminded, looking around at the others. He couldn't imagine not seeing them every day.
"I know and that's not a bad thing. I'm going back to Gotham. I'm leaving the identity of Robin behind . . . I've outgrown it to be honest. I plan on . . ."
"It doesn't have to be this way," Raven suddenly interrupted. "It's me the city has a problem with. And I . . . Beastboy and I are leaving. Talk to the mayor. Tell him that you kicked me out, that I'll never come back to Jump."
"There is a tremendous amount of pressure from the citizens and it's an election year. It's out of my hands. And I'm not going to turn against you Raven, not even for show. We're a family and that won't ever change. But it's time. It's just time to move on."