Episode 13: Switched Again
Tamaran, 1 Year Ago
There were certain kinds of quiet that were nice, peaceful even. Having the time to think without interruption was a gift. This was not one of those kinds of quiet. This was a quiet of anxious waiting, dreading the unknown. It was a quiet where one wished for the company of others rather than the loneliness of silence. But there was no one to be found. Such was Starfire's predicament.
She sat patiently by her parents' bedsides, waiting for Blackfire's return. For several days now, her parents had been unable to leave their bed due to their illness. It had started with a spotting rash, but now the fatigue and the weakness in their muscles had left them confined to bed. Starfire and Rulore had been up, night and day, caring for them, hoping for some sign of improvement.
In the meantime, Blackfire had to rule in their stead. She had been summoned to meet with the Gordanian leaders to discuss terms of peace. This was a bit unheard of since the Gordanians never talked peace. But somehow, Blackfire had arranged a meeting, and Starfire watched her sister leave with Tamaranean guards. Since then, all she could do was sit, wait, and wring her hands.
She jumped when the double doors swung open with a loud groan. Blackfire strode into the room, her eyes cast down, trying to steady her breath. "Sister, what has happened?" Starfire asked, running up to her. "What is wrong?"
Blackfire's lips trembled, as if unsure what was an appropriate emotion to express. After a long pause, she spoke. "They have agreed to leave Tamaran and to cease aggressions."
Starfire could only muster a small smile. "That is good, yes? We can have the peace needed to rebuild and…"
"That's not all," Blackfire said. "They had terms of their own."
"Well, what are those demands? Surely, we can…"
Blackfire shook her head. "Most of these demands can be met, but there's this one... Koriand'r, they demand living tribute."
Starfire's brows knit together. "Sister, such a request is…it is deplorable. Surely you found another way."
"No, they would not even consider peace otherwise. They only demand one: you."
Blackfire bit her lip before letting the words spill out. "We've already had to admit defeat. This isn't a term of peace. This is them flaunting how they defeated us. The only thing that will keep them from completely obliterating Tamaran is if they can have a member of the royal family as a war prize. They said they would leave me to rule as regent, but they will take the second in line."
"Absolutely not!" It was Rulore who had shouted, her face contorted as though she would kill the Gordanians herself. "How can you even think of such a thing, Kommand'r? Giving away your own sister! And after we just lost…"
Blackfire stiffened, still trying to maintain the air of Grand Ruler. "I know what we've lost. But Ryand'r's death proved to us we cannot escape them. That failed refugee mission cannot happen again. I will not allow the loss of that many lives once more. We are not getting a choice in this. It's either they get her, or we all die."
Rulore pursed her lips together, and Starfire could hear the faint grinding of her teeth. She wanted to scream at Blackfire; she could feel it. "I'll do it," Starfire said, letting out all the air she had been holding in.
"You will do no such thing," Rulore said. "Koriand'r, what they do to their slaves…it's an atrocity on another level. You have no idea what…"
"I know exactly what they do." Starfire was trembling. "I have heard you when you told mother stories about what they did to you. You did not know Kommand'r and I could hear you. I know what they have done."
Silence filled the room once more: Blackfire too shocked to say anything, Starfire too frightened, and Rulore too angry. At last, Rulore spoke. "Then you know what sort of horrors I went through. Koriand'r, I would not wish that kind of torment on my worst enemies. To have it happen to someone I love…"
"I am not saying this decision is easy," Starfire shouted. She looked to her parents, still in the throes of feverish sleep. "But if this is all they require to save Tamaran, I will do it."
"I forbid it!" Galfore roared as he came stomping through the doors.
Starfire looked away from him, not wanting him to see the tears forming in her eyes. "You once said I would have to protect my home one day. This is the one way I can do that now."
"You are not going," Galfore said. "We will find another way."
Blackfire sighed and nodded. "Yes, Galfore. We will find another way. We cannot afford to lose even one more."
Galfore sent the sisters away, hoping to discuss matters with the Grand Ruler when he awoke and to give Rulore a rest.
Blackfire was already marching off in a huff. Starfire's hand grabbed her shoulder before she could get too far. Tears were forming in the corner of Starfire's eyes. "I'll do it," she said, in as steady a voice as she could muster.
"But, Galfore and Rulore…"
"It is me they want. It is my decision alone."
Blackfire's eyes shifted back and forth, studying her sister. She sighed, her mouth crinkling in a half-frown. "You sure?"
Starfire nodded vigorously. "Yes, arranged for me to meet the Gordanians first thing in the morning."
Blackfire shook her head. "This isn't going to be easy. I didn't want to be in this position."
"I do not blame you," Starfire said. "But if this is what it takes for peace, I will do it."
Blackfire nodded. "I'll arrange it then."
Starfire knew this would be her last chance. She stood beside her parents' beds. Rulore slept nearby, holding her mother's hand. She had to be extremely quiet. Right about now, Starfire was having second thoughts. But she had to go along with it. No matter what suffering the Gordanians would inflict, this would bring peace.
She leaned forward and gingerly touched her father's forehead. "Goodbye," she said, holding back a sob.
It was even harder when she had to do the same for her mother. She snuck out, ready to meet Blackfire and the Gordanians.
Blackfire stood before Lord Trogar, trying her best to stand tall and strong. She had to look like an equal, and not as a lesser race who had just surrendered. "As we agreed," she said stiffly. "Remember that."
Lord Trogar smirked, showing his teeth as if to say "What you say doesn't matter, troq." Blackfire knew that there was little chance they would treat her sister with any civility. She glared at him.
As Starfire arrived, Trogar's smile got even bigger. "So, the prize arrives," he hissed.
Starfire stood firm. "I am here, as promised."
Lord Trogar nodded for a couple of his soldiers. They came forward and placed a set of metal cuffs on Starfire's wrists and hands. They limited her movement and canceled out her powers. "For safety reasons, you understand," he said with a sickly grin.
"Of course," Starfire said steadily. She was doing everything she could to mentally prepare herself for what awaited her.
She turned back and looked at Blackfire one last time as they led her away. She hoped this was the right decision.
Jump City, Present
Slade's breath was raspy and labored. Never before had he been brought this low. He still had not been able to leave his hospital bed in his lair, and all he could do was lay there and listen to the annoying beep of the heart monitor. A man was waiting at the foot of his bed. "You have…brought it?" Slade wheezed.
The man nodded. "It wasn't easy, but yes, I was able to retrieve it. You're the mysterious Slade?"
"I may not look it, but yes," Slade said, clearly not amused. "More importantly, is it active?"
The man paused, thinking about how his answer would be taken. "It can be. Best not to just before I send it in. How did this happen?"
Slade slammed his fist against the edge of the bed. "That is none of your concern!" he roared. "Again, I ask you, are you ready to follow the directions I have given you?"
"Y-yes, everything is ready."
Slade let himself relax once more. "Good. Good. I expect you to send our little gift out tonight."
"Tonight?" the man sputtered.
An eyebrow raised. "Is that a problem?"
He quickly backpedaled. "No, of course not, but, so soon? Shouldn't we - "
With a grunt of pain, Slade sat up. "No, it must be tonight! I do not want my former apprentice to even have a chance at completing my greatest opus: destroying the Titans."
"Your former apprentice?"
Slade glowered. "Yes, the one who put me in this state, if you must know. She 'outgrew' me, needed her independence. I can understand that, but she will not take this glory from me. Now, send it."
The man scurried off, afraid of Slade's wrath, even in his weakened state. Slade coughed a few times before settling back into the bed. His butler, Wintergreen, was at his side in an instant. "You must rest, master. This insistence on getting revenge is not good for your health."
"You think this is revenge?" Slade sputtered. "She was like a child with that technology. She didn't know how to use it to its full potential, and she nearly left me for dead. She nearly killed me without even trying. There is not enough I can do in this life that would satisfy my need for retribution. No, this is about claiming what is rightfully mine. I cannot let her take that from me."
"Still, all this fuss is no good for your health. You must rest and recover, sir."
"Not until this task is complete. Don't worry, I won't be getting involved directly. If all goes well, the Titans will be put in a very weak spot."
"Anyone expecting a package?" Cyborg called, coming back to the common room.
Quiet days in the tower were few and far between, but it was still early in the day. There were a few shrugs and noncommittal sounds from the group. Very few of them even bothered to look up. Cyborg shrugged. "Okay, that means a full security search. Hope there's nothing fragile or private in here." He emphasized these last few points, hoping someone would claim it before yet another embarrassing situation happened.
"Wait! It's mine!" Beast Boy called, jogging down the hall to meet him. "It's my birthday present from the Doom Patrol."
"But, the anniversary of your birth was nearly a month ago," Starfire said.
Beast Boy's eyes were watering as he looked at Robot Man's big blocky handwriting on the label. "Yeah, it doesn't always get to me on time. Sometimes they're busy on duty or they're in a place that's too dangerous to send it on time. But, it's the thought that counts, right? Sides, Elasti-Girl always sends me the best comics, so it's worth the wait."
He was already opening the box and going through its contents. While the others considered it sweet that his adoptive family still took that kind of time and effort to make him feel special, they wondered if there were some things unsaid as well. There was no mention of Mento, and they wondered if there may have been years where they had forgotten their friend's birthday.
But, if their friend was at all disappointed, he did not show it. He merely went through his gifts, giving the occasional whoop of joy at getting a rare comic he had his eye on for some time.
Life resumed to normal as Beast Boy flopped on the couch to read his comics, and everyone else went back to their daily activities. Among these normal activities was Robin retreating to the evidence room.
This time, Starfire went with him. "Slade and Blackfire have been quiet for weeks now," Robin said. "I think they're planning something big."
"I too fear that they are planning something," Starfire said, nodding. "Blackfire has always had a way of finding others to aid her plans. I am almost certain that is what she is doing."
Robin was staring intently at various newspaper clipping hanging on the wall. "But Slade doesn't do allies. He only looks for apprentices, something more permanent."
His shoulders sagged. "Are we even sure they are still working together. I know my sister. Such a partnership with someone like Slade is bound not to endure," she said.
Robin sighed. "Unfortunately, we know nothing until they make a move."
"So, we must…wait?"
He put a reassuring hand on her. "Unfortunately, yes, but that doesn't mean we can't prepare. We can be ready for them, and whatever they throw at us."
Starfire gave him a weak smile. She did not begrudge his optimism. He had been through his fair share of hardship, to be sure, but he did not understand the harsh realities of war she had seen. Humans could be counted on for one thing: hope. She was not going to take that away from him.
"Of course, Robin. We can only prepare and wait."
Cyborg decided to take a chance. "Archie, you been alright?" he asked.
Archangel raised an eyebrow. "Of course. Have I seemed upset? I have not intentionally tried to convey that."
Cyborg processed his answer. "That's not exactly the same thing as actually being alright. But, I mean, you've seemed off lately. It's like you're not really there, you know?"
He shook his head. "I do not believe I understand. But, believe me, nothing is wrong. I have been concerned about Starfire. She is very upset with these thoughts about her sister. I am worried for her."
Cyborg grunted somewhat in approval. "Yeah, she's really been on edge lately." He did not add anything to that thought. He was still suspicious of Archangel's answer. It was something else bothering him entirely, he was sure of it.
Archangel, meanwhile, whether he could admit to it or not was clearly lost in his own thoughts. True, he was worried about how Starfire would handle her upcoming confrontation with her sister. More importantly, he was worried about what would happen in its aftermath, and who would not be satisfied with its outcome. A stronger force still weighed him down with great pressure, and there was nothing he could do about it.
At that moment, he desired nothing more than to tell Cyborg the burden in his heart, the secret growing in his very room. But he could not. He could call it being strategic, trying to pick his moments, avoiding being found out, but that could not change what it really was: cowardice. He was just afraid of what his friends would think, or of being found out.
Beast Boy interrupting to gab about what was on the menu for lunch saved Archangel from having to make that tough decision. Before any arguments could break out though, an ear-splitting crack silenced everyone. Beast Boy and Cyborg looked behind them. The crate which had contained Beast Boy's birthday present was lying in a pile of splinters.
"That's odd," Cyborg said, hoping it was just a coincidence.
"Um, maybe the box just finally gave out," Beast Boy suggested. "I mean, you know, postal care and everything."
"I feel as though you two are trying to make something that is not a coincidence into a coincidence," Archangel said.
Raven was examining it carefully. "No sign of anything strange."
But just as she said it, a bright light burst forth from the padding on the floor and Raven was thrown back. Before any of the others could react, the light filled the room, knocking them all to the ground. Robin and Starfire were not spared either and succumbed to the mysterious force upon entering the room. They were completely helpless.
Raven groaned, slowly coming to. Coming around from these sorts of things always filled Raven with a sense of dread. Mass knockout sessions like these never were a good sign. So, it came as no surprise to her to have an odd feeling that something was wrong.
She could not place what it was that felt off, but she just did not feel like herself. "Fell!" That was it. Even unconscious, her friends could still give off some emotional vibes. But right now, she sensed nothing. So, someone had gone and messed with her powers. Just great, she thought. Still, situations like this weren't unheard of, and the team did have contingency plans for just such emergencies.
Sitting up, though, made her see that the problem was much worse. Among the first things she noticed was that she saw…herself lying across from her. When she looked at her legs and shoes did she piece it all together. The green spandex gave it away. She was in Robin's body. "Oh, for the love of Azar, not this again," she grumbled, getting to her feet, or rather Robin's feet.
Well, among the other things that felt new, she could not get over how much energy she felt in her body. Between all the workouts and probably coffee to get him through the mornings, Robin's body felt full of pep. No wonder he was such an eager beaver all the time.
"Star," Raven called in a half-whisper. She was praying Starfire had at least ended up in her body. At least she knew how to use it, and, more importantly, it was not one of the boys in her body. "Star!"
A groan not too far from her dashed that hope. She heard Starfire's voice, but it was Cyborg's body that was stirring. Just great. "Raven," she responded, blinking. "What is…?"
Raven knelt beside her. "Yeah…we've all done some kind of body switch again. You're in Cyborg's body. Probably have his vision right now."
"I do not understand what these flashing messages mean," Starfire said, processing all the computer readouts coming to her cybernetic eye. "And some of them are beeping. Have I broken something?"
"Yeah, I don't know about that," she answered. "But once we figure out whose body Cyborg's in, he'll help. Right now, I'm just hoping Beast Boy isn't the one with my body."
Raven noticed her own body starting to stir and held her breath. When she heard Cyborg's voice coming out of her mouth, she was somewhat relieved. "Okay, so not the absolute worst thing that could happen."
"I'm still dreamin', right?" Cyborg asked in disbelief, looking at himself. "Who's this? Who am I?" he gasped. A pillow on the couch exploded from his sudden outburst of fear, clearly not used to having Raven's powers.
"You're me," Raven said, "or rather, you're in my body. Star's in yours."
He started feeling around his new body, blushing as he realized what she said was true. "Oh, my god! I'm a girl now!" Another pillow burst in a flurry of feathers.
"Yeah, and you have to quit doing that," she said. "Acting up like this only makes my powers…"
"Ugh, did I die or something?" Beast Boy's voice mumbled.
"Oh, that's nice. He's in Starfire's body," Raven said to herself. "Highly volatile powers in his hands. Perfect."
"What are you talking…ahhh!" He squealed when he noticed he was wearing Starfire's clothes. "What's going on? How did I get here? What am I wearing?"
The others looked at him. "I mean, it looks good on you, Star," he backpedaled.
"Okay, so I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that Archangel's in Beast Boy's body since I doubt any of us were spared this humiliation," Raven said. "And Robin's in his body."
Starfire was trying to shake Robin, or rather Robin in Archangel's body, awake. Raven, on the other hand, had a look of realization on her face and dashed out of the room. "Hey, did we lose power or something?" Robin asked as he came to.
The others grimaced. "Oh, right, blind," Beast Boy said, saying what was on everyone's mind.
"Blind? What are you talking about? Hey, where's my uniform?"
"Uh, Raven's got it on," Cyborg said, answering honestly.
In the meantime, Raven had returned with a small blindfold in her hands. It was the exact same one Beast Boy had used when they had tested themselves against their weaknesses and Archangel had designed a maze. She placed it around the eyes on Beast Boy's body. The others looked at her as though she were crazy. "What?" she said. "In Beast Boy's body, he'll be able to see, and opening his eyes to all of that is going to be a huge shock to his senses."
"And I thank you for that," Archangel said, starting to sit up, "but why is this of any concern?" However, he became aware fairly quickly of why. "This does not feel right."
"Yeah, welcome to being in Beast Boy's body," Cyborg answered. "Not the worst thing to happen to you. At least with Beast Boy, you'll still have a better sense of smell and hearing than the rest of us."
"And Robin's in your body, so…yeah, there's that," Beast Boy added.
"So, that explains some problems," Robin said, hobbling up on his new goat legs.
"And since you're in Beast Boy's body, you could be able to see," Raven said. "With a little gradual adjustment, you could…"
Archangel bit his lip. "No, it truly would be a great gift, but this is temporary, right?"
"We're hoping so," Cyborg answered. "I'm not about to spend the rest of my life as Raven."
Archangel nodded. "Then, if that is the case, and I was to end up back in my own body, then being able to see for just a little while would only make me long for it more. I could not live with that disappointment. But tell me, how did such unusual circumstances such as this come to be?"
Starfire and Raven exchanged a look, still not used to seeing each other in Cyborg and Robin's bodies respectively. "The last time this happened, it was the work of the Puppet King," Starfire answered.
"Oh, that little pipsqueak," Cyborg said in almost a growl. "Turned me into a frickin' zombie. When I get my hands on him…"
"It could be possible for someone to have tampered with Beast Boy's package," Raven said, ignoring Cyborg's rant.
The team went towards the shattered remains of the package. They scoured through the broken wood and straw padding. "Well, this isn't what I expected," Cyborg said, holding up a wooden doll.
It was, in fact, the Puppet King, though incredibly lifeless now. Cyborg flipped it over, examining it. "So, it was him, somehow. But, what happened after he switched our bodies?"
Raven stepped up. "Well, you have my powers now. You can sense how long ago his magic was active and maybe a few other clues. But that may be a little advanced."
Cyborg sucked in a breath. Mixed up bodies was one thing, but mixed up powers was another matter entirely. "I…"
"It'll be fine, I think. Look, just follow directions. Concentrate. Imagine sending your very being into the puppet. And then, just sort of listen. You'll pick up some information."
Cyborg sighed and closed his eyes, trying to focus. His face contorted in deep thought. It was not a good look on her own face, Raven thought. He eventually let out the breath he was holding. "Can't do it," he muttered. "But maybe I can run some analysis on my computer. We could maybe learn something, at the very least, how to reactivate him long enough to switch us back."
"If you can convince him to do that," Robin said. "This feels like a setup somehow. It almost looks like someone rigged the Puppet King to be active long enough to switch us, and then shut down."
"So, who could do that?" Beast Boy asked.
"Hard to say. Hopefully, Cyborg's analysis can tell us how it was done, and then we can maybe figure out who has that capability."
"So, what are we supposed to do until then?" Beast Boy said. "We're in each other's bodies for crying out loud! How are we supposed to…?"
"It'll be fine," Robin said, trying to convince himself of his reassuring tone. We'll just have to adjust for a little while."
"Cyborg, I do not know the first thing about using your computer," Starfire said with hesitation.
He was placing the Puppet King on the scanner. Very rarely did the others come into his room. Very few of them even had a reason to. The room was practically wall-to-wall computers, all very advanced, very expensive, and very fragile, according to Cyborg. No one, not even Beast Boy dared to touch them…again anyway.
"Well, the computer needs me, or rather, my body to work. I've set it up to respond to my touch. Plus, it hooks up with my own hardware so that I'm fully in sync with it. Don't worry. I'll walk you through it. Now, first, I want you to turn my right hand into the adapter."
"Um, this one." Cyborg pushed buttons on her right arm until it resembled a less-threatening version of his sonic cannon. "Okay, now you see that hole in the wall there? Stick your arm in that, and it'll connect you."
Starfire almost jumped back as she did so. There were so many complexities to Cyborg's hardware that it sometimes frightened her. "What am I to do now?" she asked. "There are lots of confusing messages on my eye."
Cyborg did his best to keep her calm. "Okay, okay, now, look towards the bottom of the screen and look for a little icon that looks like an eyeball. That opens up the scanner application."
"I see it," she said, "but how do I…?"
"Is it highlighted?"
As Starfire did so, she let out a gasp of surprise. "I did it. Now, what am I to do, friend?"
Cyborg paused for a moment, going through the steps in his head. It had been so long since he had ever had to think about how he did these things. He just did them. And the fact of the matter was that aside from basic use of the surveillance computer in the common room, Starfire had very little experience with Earthly technology.
"Okay, so, look for something that says 'scan from port' and pick that."
"I think I've got it," she said, blinking to make the selection.
For a brief second, the scanner under the Puppet King came to life and lit up. It made several sounds like it was attempting to run, and then just shut off. "Did I do something wrong?" Starfire asked worriedly.
Cyborg grit his teeth, and a few sparks flew out of the computer. "No, I just can't remember the steps, and I can't think with Raven's powers spazzing out anytime I get frustrated. Just, go wait in the common room for a while. I need to think."
She sighed and trudged back out of the room. It felt so odd having a weight keeping her bound to the ground. She was so used to floating. She knew she had to look silly trying to walk normally with Cyborg's big clunky form. She just wished she had not disappointed him.
It was still a surreal sight looking at one's self, and Starfire almost did a double-take, yet again, as she came in to see Beast Boy, in her body, playing video games. He still did that thing where he stuck his tongue out while concentrating, and seeing her own purple tongue in this way was just odd.
She chose instead to sit with Robin, no wait…Raven by the counter. "Anything?" Raven asked, glancing up from her book.
Starfire shook her head. "No, it is very complicated, for both Cyborg and myself. I wish I could be of better assistance."
"We'll get there. Right now, I just wish Robin would let me take the stupid mask off. It'd be so much easier to read without it. Him and his secret identity thing."
Starfire laughed. She was glad Raven was handling the situation well. But then, this was probably one of the first times Raven could actually feel something without her powers going off. With the ability to release all that pent-up emotion, she could keep a level head through all of this.
Beast Boy had gotten up to join them. "I don't know how you keep up with nine stomachs." He was already starting to rummage around the fridge for probably the third time since switching bodies.
"You don't," Starfire answered. "Most of them are just for storage, and each one could probably contain six months-worth of food. Cyborg assures me that this part of Earth doesn't suffer from famine frequently. I only keep about two weeks-worth for emergencies."
Beast Boy paused. "So, I guess I didn't need all this then." He used her long tongue to regurgitate a small mountain of food onto the counter, all of it looking completely untouched as when he had first grabbed it.
"I think I'm going to be sick," Raven said, looking a little green.
Starfire was more impressed that he had figured out how to do that with her body so quickly. "Sides, not like anything tastes good anyway," he continued. "I think the tofu went bad or something."
Starfire shook her head. "It did not spoil. You have Tamaranean taste buds now. Everything tastes different."
"So, that's why you still put gravy on waffles?" Cyborg asked as he entered the room.
She nodded. "An unusual combination for humans, but incredibly delightful to me."
"Any luck?" Raven asked.
Cyborg slumped into a chair. "No, can't get anything to work, and…stuff might've happened."
She raised an eyebrow. He sighed. "Some things blew up. I still can't get a handle on these powers."
"Whatever," Beast Boy said, going back to the original conversation. "There is no way you're getting me to eat that alien food. I don't care if it suddenly tastes like chocolate now. Food isn't supposed to move."
They heard the doors whoosh open as Robin and Archangel rejoined them. The two looked badly bruised. "Dude! What did you do to my body?" Beast Boy asked Archangel.
Robin seemed out of breath. "Training didn't exactly go that well. Look, if we're going to get through this, we really need a handle on this power thing. Star, Raven, you've done it before."
"We took some time to get to know each other," Raven explained. "Once we had a context to understand how our powers have affected us, we had that much more of a will to learn how to use them right."
Robin did not exactly like that answer. If some monster struck now, they would be doomed, flattened in less than a minute. They did not have that kind of time. Still, what other choice did they have? "Okay, crash course in adjustment then. We pair off to work with each other."
"It'll have to do," Cyborg said, heading off with Raven.
"So, I don't get why we're here," Robin said.
He and Archangel were on the tower roof, a light breeze brushing against them. "I suppose the best way for you to learn about my abilities is through my culture. You know I come up here for morning and evening prayers."
"Yeah, but I'm not a very religious type."
It was true. Batman always taught him to have faith in justice, himself, and his mentor. Gods did not answer prayers. Only people could do that for themselves.
"You don't need to be," Archangel answered. "Evening prayers are a form of active meditation. They are times to hone our abilities. To begin, take your hands and position them so."
He took Robin's fingers. With his left hand, he bent his fingers into various positions, not painfully so, but in an odd shape. When Robin thought about it, he knew he had seen this gesture before, though he could not look at it now to be sure. He had seen Archangel use it before, and sometime Starfire when she showed him respect. But, he had seen this somewhere else before; he just knew it.
While he had managed fairly well with Archangel's blindness, it was still a shock. He had managed before with visual impairment, but only temporarily, nothing so permanent as this.
Archangel still held his positioned left hand in front of Robin's chest. "This symbol means 'el,' or 'soul.' This…" He positioned Robin's right hand in the same way, but upside down. "This is 'at,' or 'body.' Together, they make the flame."
Robin's hands were held in front of him, just below his chest. "In that space between your hands, deep in your core, do you feel the warmth?" Archangel asked.
"Every bit of heat in your body, I want you to pull towards that core. Concentrate it until it is one ball of energy in your very center. Make sure that is the heat of your soul, not your anger. Anger burns twice as hot but is not so easy to control. By now, you should feel as though your chest might burst with all that energy. Now, direct that up to your chest and through your arms until you feel it in your palms and fingertips, and then…ignite."
Like a fireplace starting up on the first day of a cold winter, Robin heard the roar of the flames igniting on his palm. It was pleasantly warm, not a burning feeling. Archangel felt the heat of the fire near him and nodded in approval. "Good, when you feel your soul course through your body and can direct it with focus, you have mastered the flames."
"So, how do I throw it, like you do?"
He shook his head. "You do not throw it. Much like breathing the air out of your lungs, you release your soul from the body. It will come back to you. It always does. How are you on finding your sense of direction?"
"Um, okay, I guess. I've had some training in this sort of thing. But, sometimes I get a little turned around."
He put a hand on Robin's shoulder. "I've learned a few tricks over the years."
"Archangel, wait," Robin said. "Aren't you even tempted? I mean, you could see now."
"But to what avail, Robin? I see, and then what? I have no context to understand these new sights. I would not know where to begin, how to re-orient my entire world. And for what purpose? Only to have all of that lost to me again? No, much as it would make me happy, it would bring just as much misery."
Robin could understand that, sort of. He had never had a situation like that, but it made sense. "Hey, when you said anger makes the fire uncontrollable… You say that from experience, don't you?"
Archangel was starting to head back down the tower. He turned. "Yeah, not often, but it has happened before."
Robin scraped his new hooves against the roof. "Look, if I've ever done anything to…"
He laughed. "Robin, you are nothing close to the stuff that makes me that angry."
"So, what does?"
"So, you're having trouble?" Raven said, shutting the door behind her.
Given all the fragile hardware in Cyborg's room and the potentially dangerous magical stuff in hers, it seemed that the wisest idea to get Cyborg familiar with her powers was to go somewhere safe. That happened to be the basement.
"Yeah," Cyborg said. "I just can't get used to it. I mean, even if I feel happy, something goes wrong."
"Welcome to my world."
"I feel bad for you: never being able to feel stuff. Must be hard."
Raven was shuffling boxes around the floor. She never realized how much easier this was with Robin's strength. "I can feel things," she said, a little shorter than she intended. "It's just that I have to be more in control of it."
Cyborg threw up his arms. "But that's just it. You can't control emotions. They just happen. That's life."
Raven glared at him. "You can, and I can show you how. Just, sit for a second."
He groaned and sat on top of a box. Raven tried to be more comforting. "It's not fun, I'll agree. Having to restrain every little thing, even the good stuff, it…well, it sucks. But, it's how I work. I think you can manage for a couple of days."
Cyborg sighed. "Okay, I get it, so what now?"
"I don't know. When Star and I did this, we pretty much told each other our life stories. But, since you guys already know about most of that now…"
His eyebrow raised. "But you didn't tell Star about Trigon. She found out when the rest of us did."
"Look, I didn't tell her everything. I only told her what she needed to know to use my powers."
He reached out and grabbed her hands. "Then tell me."
She took a deep breath and sat on the ground. She gestured for Cyborg to join her, and he hastily sat across from her. "First, find your center."
He gave her a look. "It means to find that spot where you just fell…connected," she explained.
Cyborg thought for a moment. "So…like when I'm hooked up to all my systems."
"Kinda. Does that give you a sense of inner peace?"
"Totally. When everything runs the way it's supposed to, that's the most beautiful thing in the world."
Raven nodded. "Sure, that works. So, think about that. Put yourself in that moment."
He closed his eyes, imagining it. "Okay, got it."
"Now, capture that feeling. Anytime you start to feel anything, think about that. It'll keep everything in check. From there, you focus to get the powers to work." She started to stand up. "So, let's do a little practice."
"Raven, Cyborg said, "thank you."
She furrowed her brow. "For what?"
"You didn't assume that because I was a cyborg, I didn't have feelings."
She helped him to his feet. "Of course not. Cyborg, I know you better than that."
"I guess I'm just not used to being treated like that." He shrugged it off, pretending not to care. "So…what was it like?"
"When did they tell you about your father?"
"I was five."
Starfire had wasted no time rushing Beast Boy off to her room. He had to work at it to keep up as Starfire was talking a mile a minute. She eagerly told him about her life on Tamaran, most of it anyway. She willingly told him all about learning to use her own powers when she was young.
But it was when she got to speaking about her sister and the Gordanian attack that she finally started to fall silent. He could tell there were points where she was trying to avoid saying something.
When she had finished, Beast Boy found the opportunity to speak. "So, how do you do it?" he asked.
She cocked her head in confusion. "I do not understand."
"You powers run on good feelings. After…after everything that happened to you, the Gordanians, your sister selling you off for peace, all of that. How…how do you even find those good feelings?"
She did not say anything at first. She just thought. She studied Beast Boy as if trying to figure out what he was really asking. "A lot of bad things did happen, but so did a lot of good things. Whenever I need to use my abilities, I think about those good memories. For all those terrible things that happened, remembering all I have to be thankful for makes it…better. It does not make it go away, but it makes you feel better."
"Oh, yeah, I get that." Beast Boy curled up his knees. He did not say anything else.
"Friend, I feel that you have many of the bad memories as well. Does this have something to do with the gift from the Doom Patrol?"
"No…kinda. Look, Star, what's that word you use for Galfore?"
"Right, well, that's what the Doom Patrol was to me. Star, a lot…a lot of bad stuff happened before I found them. It wasn't just losing my parents. I mean, that was bad, but some of the stuff that happened after…I can't even…I don't want to talk about it."
Before he could spiral down any further, he was buried in a hug. True, it was the cold metal hug he was used to from his best friend, but he could feel Starfire's heart behind it. "I miss them," he sobbed into her shoulder.
"There are lots of good memories you have with them," Starfire said. "It is hard at first, but those memories will lift you up. There are memories I cannot bear to think about either, but the good ones help."
But there was something nagging at him. What sort of memories would Starfire not want to think about?
When they had switched partners that afternoon, Beast Boy took Archangel outside. "Now, how do you propose we go about this? Archangel asked. "Are you going to tell me how you got your abilities or something to that effect?"
Beast Boy was hardly paying attention. He was busy making sure they had enough room to practice. "Nah, mutated DNA and all that fun stuff. Nothing too spectacular. It's pretty easy. You just think of the animal, and then turn into one. Easy as that."
Archangel had a feeling that things were not as simple as Beast Boy was making them out to be. "Beast Boy, I have never known any of these animals you can turn into."
"Yeah, you haven't seen them or anything but I think I've got that figured out. You see stuff with touch and smell. So, if I describe them in words you understand, then boom! We got this."
"I do not think that is how…"
"Okay, let's get started with something easy: a chimp. The DNA isn't that hard to manipulate for that to work. So, a chimp is basically…"
It was difficult to process how Beast Boy described animals. Archangel could tell he was trying. He was really trying to be accommodating and understanding of his situation. But it was not as simple as Beast Boy hoped. By the time Archangel was done trying to imagine what had been described, he was a hairy, misshapen mess.
"Uh, okay, let's try something you may have more familiarity of. Um…a goat! Yeah, we can do that, since you're body already had some of the parts."
That turned out even worse. Beast Boy could not even look at it. It was like looking at a Picasso painting. "Okay, so we've got to rethink that. Maybe if we…"
"Beast Boy, I appreciate your attempts to make this work, but these are animals I do not know. How can I possibly turn myself into them?
He seemed to light up at that. "That's it! You don't know these animals. You're not from Earth."
Archangel failed to see the correlation. "Those are all obvious statements."
Beast Boy shook his head. "What I mean is we need animals you do know. You said that in that Great Garden place, they raise animals from other planets, right?"
"And you know those animals, right?"
"Easily. I've had enough experience with them."
"Then that's all you need to do!" Beast Boy said. "Just think about one of those animals, and you can turn into it."
Archangel was still unsure. "You're body can do that?"
"Yeah, I kinda figured it out by accident, but I can do alien animals. Well, go on, try it."
He sighed. What other choice did he have? He would need something strong and aggressive if he was to fend off an attack.
Beast Boy grinned ear to ear as Archangel's body began to take shape. He became a mammoth sized creature with tree-trunk-like legs and big curled horns. Its skin was rough and shielded like a rhino. Sure, some details were a little unfinished, but this would do in a pinch. "Awesome!" Beast Boy said. "What is it?"
Archangel shifted back into a human. "A dikrarn, the big predator on my homeworld. Even we know not to hunt them. Once we found the corpse of an old male. That is how I got close enough to feel what one was like."
"Um, cool," Beast Boy said. "I just hope we don't have to use that one anytime soon."
"Exactly how much martial training do you have?" Robin asked as they stepped into the training room.
"The monks of Azar gave me a basic education, and then whatever else you've taught me."
He nodded. "Better than nothing then. I guess we'll focus on using the utility equipment."
"Robin, I've been in your memories, and now I'm in your body. Let's address the elephant in the room here. I know who you are."
She saw the slight twitch of his shoulders tensing up. "Oh, yeah, I guess that was bound to happen in a situation like this," he said stiffly.
"Look, I won't tell anyone or anything."
"I know you won't. It's just the more people who know about these kinds of secrets, the more risk is involved."
Even without her empathetic senses, she could still tell he was very agitated. "Is it really that big of a deal?" she asked.
He shrugged. "Not so much for me anymore, but…"
"Batman," Raven said, finishing the thought for him. "Are you ever going to be able to get out of that shadow?"
Robin was glad he was not able to meet her gaze. He wondered how thankful Archangel was for that benefit. "It's hard, but I'm making it work one day at a time. I'm still trying to figure this stuff out myself. I was so used to being a part of a partnership, now it's a team. I guess I just don't know what I'm doing."
Raven sucked in a breath, mulling it all over. She never had experience in this area. She was so used to doing everything on her own. She never knew what it was like to have to protect and defend others until she found the Titans. "Maybe you don't have to," she said at last. "Maybe you just need to be yourself."
He smiled weakly. "Kind of hard to do when you couldn't be you for so long. I can't remember a time when I could just be a kid. It was always playing the part of Robin, or the adopted son of a millionaire, never just plain me."
"That's what this team is for. I'm trigon's daughter, for crying out loud, and you guys made it okay for me to accept that." He smiled, and she changed the subject. "Now, show me how these birdarang things work. I don't want to lose some of your fingers...my fingers accidentally setting them off."
"Are we going to try analyzing the Puppet King again?" Starfire asked. "I think this attempt might be more successful. I have been practicing…"
"Actually, Star," Cyborg said, "I think this time we're just going to talk. It's probably been a shock to you to just wake up like this. It sure as heck was for me."
"You have said before you were in a vehicular accident."
He nodded. "Yeah, it was…something else. I don't think I actually died or anything, but when it happened, I thought for sure I would. It's sort of relaxing, you know? Just letting go and letting fate take care of the rest. But then, I woke up, everything going off like a computer rebooting. It was scary, I'll tell you that much."
Starfire nodded in agreement. "Everything changed. It must have been frightening."
"You don't know the half of it," Cyborg said with a half-laugh. "Even after I woke up and some stuff looked familiar, I still didn't know what was going on. I don't even know why Silas Stone took so much interest in me and used me as his project. That was just so violating. I mean, I didn't give the guy permission to play slice and dice with me, and then he just shows up and acts like some self-righteous savior to me."
"But, you relied on Stone Labs to help build our tower."
He shrugged, changing out a few old wires in his computer. "Yeah, to avoid a lawsuit, Stone gives me pretty much any supplies I ask for. It's almost like he's trying to buy my love or something, God knows why."
Starfire only sat and listened while Cyborg bustled around. She felt pretty useless while Cyborg set everything up. Cyborg continued talking. "Anyway, it was like having to start over. I had to learn how to walk, how to move, everything. And that's not counting the way people would look at me."
"I do not know what you looked like before."
"I dunno, like any other human, I guess. Course, besides Robin, you really haven't been around ordinary humans, and even Robin's iffy."
She laughed at that. Cyborg sighed. "I had it all back then," he said. "School, friends, football, even a girlfriend. I lost all of that when this happened. Look, Star, I guess my point is that it took a long time for me to get used to it all. I can't possibly expect you to figure it all out in a few hours. So, let's just start from the beginning."
Much as he hated Silas Stone, Cyborg could remember every word he had said when he was teaching him how to use his new body. He was surprised at how quickly he could recall all of that. But, despite everything, he had a lot to thank that doctor for.
It had been a long day, and everyone was glad to finally try and get some sleep, though sleeping arrangements quickly became complicated. Starfire, in Cyborg's body, still had to sleep on the charging station, meaning she had to switch with him for sleeping quarters. While that had been the ending solution, it still elicited a debate for at least an hour as the team considered the possibility of just all switching rooms.
Not that it mattered all that much to Beast Boy. He was content enough to sleep in his own bed, despite how Starfire's taller body made it so that his feet hung over the edge.
At the moment, he had agreed to try and take better care of his friend's body while he was in it, better than he took care of himself anyway. So, after a long day of grimy training, a hot shower did sound good. He was humming to himself as he turned off the water to reach for a towel.
"Ahh!" he heard Raven shriek.
He yelped in surprise as well, hastily grabbing the towel and throwing it around himself. "Raven, what the heck?"
"Sorry," she said, daring to peek to see that he was covered. "Didn't hear you when I came in. What were you doing?"
"Taking a shower," he said matter-of-factly. "What? I wasn't doing anything like that. Do you even know how long it takes to wash all this hair?"
Raven rolled her eyes. Beast Boy may have been an idiot, but he was too stupid to be doing anything awful. "Well, look who's waling a mile in someone else's shoes," she said.
"Hey, it isn't easy being an alien," he said. "I still can't get all the foodstuff sorted out. Don't know how she does it."
"Yeah, well, being without my powers is no picnic either. Feel's so empty."
"I thought you'd like that," Beast Boy said. "Now you can feel stuff without consequences."
She shrugged. "It's nice, but I miss being able to just levitate stuff when I need it." Beast Boy only gave her a confused look. "It was supposed to be a joke."
"Oh, hehe, sure," he said. Raven was about to turn away and leave. "Um, Raven?"
He scratched his head, wishing he was not about to say this. "So, you've been in Starfire's body before."
"Did…you know that she has these…um…." He gestured his hand, pointing to her back.
Raven seemed to know exactly what he meant. "Oh, yeah, those."
"Did you ever ask her what that was all about?"
Raven sighed. "No, we really didn't ask each other stuff. We just told each other what we wanted to. I left out my dad, and I guess Starfire didn't talk about that. Look, I have my own conclusions, and Star will tell us about that stuff when she's ready."
"I guess," Beast Boy said, not feeling satisfied with that answer. He knew what it was like to keep stuff buried away and put on a good face. He hated to think that such horrible things could have happened to Starfire. "Hey, so, weird right?" he said, changing the subject.
"What is?" Raven asked, arching an eyebrow.
"I'm in Star's body, you're in Robin's. It's like fate or something, you know?"
For the most part, everyone felt refreshed and full of hope for the next day. Cyborg had worked out a way to help Starfire use the computer again, and they hoped to have a game plan by later that afternoon.
"I don't know why I didn't think of this sooner," Cyborg said, as he began plugging some wires into Starfire. He was attaching them to a small tablet in his hands. "After our talk yesterday, it just sort of hit me. Dr. Stone used this device to help me learn how to control all my systems. This way, I'll see what you see, and I'll be able to walk you through it."
There was a loud rumble outside and the ground trembled beneath their feet. "This is not good," Starfire said.
"What is going on out there?" Cyborg hollered, coming out the door. His jaw dropped when he saw what it was out the window.
Coming up out of the water and marching onto the shore was Ternion. Ultimate destruction was coming right for them.
The Frankenstein monster-like amalgamation of Plasmus, Cinderblock, and Overload was a sight few could behold without getting squeamish, but each of the Titans looked on in horror as it lumbered closer and closer to the tower. "So…we're gonna fight that thing?" Beast Boy asked, hoping this was all some sort of prank.
"Cyborg and Starfire will have to stay here to complete their analysis," Robin concluded, brushing aside his fear and stepping into leader-mode once more. "If they can solve this body swap sooner, then all the better. We'll have to cover them until then."
The others gave a few noncommittal sounds and even glanced around at each other. Raven, with her usual dose of sarcasm, said, "Sure, nothing could possibly blow up in our faces with this one."
Cyborg shrugged, getting ready to head back to his room to check on Starfire. "It'll have to do. We'll help you guys out as soon as we can."
"Um, go team?" Beast Boy muttered.
"You got it. Titans, go!" Robin called out.
Robin centered himself with a deep breath and ignited his fists. He had been practicing all hours to get that much down. He let his ears flick about, trying to orient himself. He could hear Ternion's thudding steps from the north. Robin did not have to bother with finding a way out of the tower as Ternion let one of its gooey tentacles shoot from the muck of Plasmus and bust through the window. He could aim for the larger target of Ternion as a whole, but the threat had to be neutralized.
He launched a fireball in the direction of the thrashing tentacle. He heard it make contact, and heard Ternion scream, pulling away. It was successful? Well, first time for everything, Robin thought.
"Dude, try not to burn the house down," he heard Beast Boy call.
So, maybe it just grazed the monster. Close enough. At least now, they could take the fight to Ternion.
Raven launched the grappling hook and was glad it hooked onto the edge of the broken window. With a tug to make sure it was secure, she let herself swing out the window. Her hands fiddled about on the belt, trying to find the smoke-bombs to distract Ternion, but trying to manage that and keeping her grip on the rope at the same time made it near impossible.
Instead, her hands reached the birdarangs first. Better than nothing, she thought, throwing them at her target. Her timing was a bit off, and the birdarangs exploded way too early. All she succeeded in doing was annoying the beast. Still, it provided enough of a distraction for Beast Boy and Archangel to make their move.
Archangel crawled out of the broken window and won the tower in the form of some sort of alien arachnid. He never realized how much concentration and precision Beast Boy had to maintain to keep these forms. It already took a lot out of him to make this creature, and now he had to switch forms. He opted for the dikrarn. It would be big enough to go up against something the size of Ternion.
He ran headlong into it, hoping to at least knock it off balance. What he did not expect was the gooey sludge that made up most of Ternion's core. The horns on his head sunk deep into them, and he gagged a little as the stench hit him full force. Ternion roared, wrapping a hand around him and giving him a good electrical shock. Wobbling on his feet, he fell over, smoke wafting from his burnt skin.
Beast Boy's nerves and overall anxiousness were doing nothing for using Starfire's powers. Think happy thoughts, he had to keep telling himself. The joys of reading his favorite comic books at least gave him liftoff. Now, he was trying to find enough confidence to use her starbolts. He kept trying to remember the things that Starfire kept telling him to get him in the right mindset. He was Beast Boy. He could do anything, be anything. He had all the animals of the universe at his fingertips. He was unstoppable.
That was enough to light a small spark, but just seeing that gave him enough confidence to let it grow to the size of a typical starbolt. Smirking, he hurled it at Ternion. The blast hit its shoulder and burst, but nothing more. Cinderblock's armor was more than just stone. It had been recast many times and eventually became hard enough to deflect starbolts. He had to hit the part of Ternion that was Plasmus or overpower the parts that were Overload. He readied another starbolt.
It was hard for Cyborg to concentrate with all the explosions and sounds outside, and the occasional rattle of the building with each hit. "Okay, so pick the option to turn on the scanner, but don't hit scan just yet," he said while his hands shook holding the tablet.
This had worked better. Being able to see his own screens again through the link suddenly made it all come back to him. Starfire was finding it easier as well. She was getting used to some of how some of his systems worked and began to understand how everything was organized and in sync. Had she been familiar with the term "well-oiled machine," she would have used it to describe this situation.
"Great," he continued, "now just…"
The wall burst open as one of Ternion's arms thrashed through the building. Starfire screamed, but almost immediately reacted by turning her arm into the sonic cannon and blasting it away. The arm recoiled upon contact and went back to dealing with the threat on the outside.
"Nice shootin'," Cyborg said, still in disbelief.
"Thank you, but your body reacted to my thought patterns flawlessly. I did not…"
He grinned. "It means you're starting to get used to it and integrate with the systems. Here, let me fix the wall, for now anyway."
Channeling all of his focus and calm, he willed the rubble to reassemble into a makeshift wall, giving them somewhat of a barrier from the threat. "Close enough," he said.
"Raven would be proud," Starfire said, nodding her head.
Cyborg quickly became all business once more. "Okay, now we're ready to scan."
"Dudes! This isn't working," Beast Boy said, catching his breath after their last round of attacks.
"Did we expect it to?" Raven said, being the only rational voice. "We've only been learning how to use these powers for one day. Our plan was to keep it away from Cyborg and Starfire."
"Yeah, and look where that got us," Beast Boy said, gesturing over to the crumbling wall of the tower.
"They're both okay, so that's about as close as it's going to get," Robin said, breaking up the impending argument. "But Beast Boy's right. We've got to do more than just tick it off. Raven, in my utility belt there's a large detonator. It's strong enough to incapacitate Ternion. You just have to get it on him. We'll cover you."
She nodded and ran, trying to position herself for a good place behind Ternion. Robin and Beast Boy, meanwhile, let loose a barrage of flames and starbolts to grab the monster's attention. These blasts did very little damage, but it was enough to make Ternion go after them and not pay attention to Raven's position.
Still, one problem remained: Ternion's limbs and gooey appendages still flailed about wildly, causing destruction to anything nearby. They had to keep it from bringing the whole tower down. At the same time, a mere touch from these limbs could result in an electrical shock from Overload's contribution to the three-villain monstrosity. Still, they knew that Ternion would only shock on command, meaning if someone attacked it while his aim was on someone else, they had a small chance of having an effect.
Archangel rammed him from the sides in his dikrarn form, knocking Ternion off his feet. It landed with a thud but was already scrambling to get up. That was when Raven seized her chance. She leaped upon Ternion and planted the detonator, only to realize…
"Robin, how do I set this thing off?" Raven called, eyes wide at the realization.
Ternion grunted and pulled her off of its back, ready to strike when a loud boom rattled his back, breaking it to pieces. Like a dismantled machine, it collapsed in a heap, Raven crawling out of its grasp. She looked over to see Starfire and Cyborg outside with them. "That is how you do the 'sonic boom,' yes?" she said, looking to Cyborg for guidance.
"Something like that," Cyborg said. "Okay, let's get this guy off to jail and get back in our bodies. I think we finally got it figured out."
"I still haven't figured out who reactivated Puppet King," Cyborg said, reveling in the ability to continue his usual scans and analyses from his own eyes once more, "but it looks like whatever voodoo magic that he used on us the first time gave him life again."
He had long since given up on getting any more clues out of the lifeless doll and set about to the task of repairing the tower. Raven flipped the wooden figure over in her hands, feeling the natural hum of having her own magical abilities back. "In layman's terms, yes, that is what happened. My guess: some small-time crook did it on behalf of someone bigger."
"Three ways to Sunday, it was probably Slade," Beast Boy said, laying flopped on the couch, content to go back to his lazy routine now that things had resumed to normal. "Why else would Ternion have attacked?"
Robin came back from checking the mail, now taking extra precautionary measures. "But it was all too easy, wasn't it? I mean, yeah, I wouldn't put it past Slade to have done this, but even with our powers mixed up, Ternion wasn't much of a threat. What kind of game is he playing?"
"With Blackfire as his apprentice, who knows what he's up to anymore," Cyborg said.
Starfire flinched at that. Beast Boy read that cue. "Oh, hey, Star," he said, scooting closer to her. "So, while I was in your body and stuff, I had Cyborg help me translate Tamaranean cookbooks. I found this one." He pulled out one of Starfire's books from her room, flipping to the right page. "Anyway," he continued, "this looks vegetarian…ish, and I thought maybe we could make it together."
Starfire gasped and her eyes started to water. Beast Boy recoiled. "Oh, god, Star, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to…"
"No, Beast Boy," Starfire said, "it is that…I remember this one. It was one of my favorites. On…on the anniversary of my birth one year, my father woke me up early and we snuck into the palace kitchens to make this." She paused for a long while. "That was the last time we celebrated any anniversaries of birth before the Gordanians attacked."
Beast Boy shifted nervously, his thumbs fidgeting. "So, is that why you like to cook? It reminds you of those last few happy times?"
She nodded. "I never thought about it like that, but yes."
She gave him a small smile and he returned the gesture. Robin was meanwhile flipping through the mail, pausing when he saw a familiar address. Raven sensed his conflicting emotions. "It's from him, isn't it?" she asked.
Robin said nothing, and only let her take a glimpse at the Gotham address. It was probably not even a real place. Probably some abandoned building to avoid prying eyes, but he knew it was from him.
Raven looked to him. "Look, I'm not going to say it's ever going to feel normal for you, but maybe one day it'll feel less awkward."
While that did seem like minimal consolation, that did make him feel better. "Thanks," he murmured sincerely.
Cyborg let out a sigh. Any job was all about having the right tools, and right now, the one he was using to repair the tower was not the right one. "Wrong sized socket," he muttered, scratching his head.
He remembered his calm place: everything connected and all in sync. Since getting back into his own body, he had been feeling that a lot. That was keeping him in good spirits as he worked through the wreckage. He felt someone tap his shoulder. "I believe this one is the right size," Starfire said, holding out a wrench.
"Thanks, Star," he said, wiping his brow.
She stood there silently for a moment. "May I be of assistance?" she said at last.
"Sure, you're pretty good at following directions. So, start by holding this up for me. Now, watch how I…"
The doors to Slade's room burst open. "Slade!" Blackfire roared. Her eyes were aglow, and she looked ready to kill.
"Ah, Blackfire," he greeted in a raspy voice. "I knew you couldn't stay away. Things as a big bad solo villain not working out?"
She gritted her teeth, saving her choice words for later. "Actually, I'm here because of your recent involvement with the Titans."
She could sense the smile curling behind his mask. "Oh, you liked that, did you? Well, it wasn't my most impressive work but - "
"I should shoot you right now," she said, grabbing him by the throat and pressing her amplifier to his forehead. "I will be the one getting revenge on my sister, and I'm not about to let you take that from me."
He raised an eyebrow. "Then why don't you? I'll chalk up your first failure to kill me to sloppy form, but what's stopping you now? You want me dead, then kill me."
The amplifier revved to life as Blackfire readied a starbolt. Slade only laughed. "The thing is, you won't because part of you knows that you still need me. You are nowhere near ready to face your sister on your own. There's still much you could've learned from me."
She pulled the weapon off of him, letting her powers diffuse. "I don't need to waste my efforts on the likes of you. At least your efforts failed, but I will not let you get in my way again."
"Oh, my efforts didn't fail," Slade said, leaning back comfortably. "That little exercised only succeeded in what I wanted to do. It made them stronger as a team, something you're going to fail at being able to handle. Enjoy that."