Chapter 17 : All In
Continued from Part 2 --->
It was late the next morning. The day had begun, breakfast was ended, and fees had been well past collected. BeastBoy sat on the couch beside Robin, playing head to head on the gamestation with nothing but time on his hands as Cyborg was noticeably absent. Well underway in his immense undertaking of restoring some semblance of order to the sullied chaos that was BeastBoy’s room. A chore certain to take up most of the day. At the least.
Starfire kneeled beside the couch, splitting her attention between observing the two at play and teaching Silkie to do tricks.
“Come, Silkie,” she cheered. “Do as you have been taught.”
Silkie tilted his head up; wriggling and gurgling in the affectionate way only he could express himself with.
“Come on my little bungorf,” she encouraged.
“Whatcha’ tryin’ to teach’em, Star?” BeastBoy inquired as Robin paused the game to likewise shift his attention to the little maggots’ activity.
“It is Earth custom to train other species companions to initiate acts on command to strengthen their bond with those whom they are share living quarters with. So I have taken much joy in the teaching of Silkie a few most basic pet like functions.”
“Roll over?” BeastBoy ventured a guess.
“Play dead?” Robin followed.
“Oh, something much more formal.” She kneeled down closer, clasping her hands together. “Come on, Silkie.”
Silkie sat up.
“That’s it,” she smiled. “As I have instructed.”
He bulged and puffed out his lower region, holding his head back as the faintest chewing and gurgling sounds began to build from his tiny little abdomen. Almost like the growl of an empty stomach but higher in pitch.
“That’s it,” she said giddily with excitement. “You are-”
The little maggot spit up a thick stream of dense slime, hitting her in the chest that knocked Starfire onto her back.
“Star!” Robin called in concern.
Starfire merely sat up grinning ear to ear with pride, laughing as she took Silkie into her arms, cradling him in joy. “Most fine boy, Silkie.”
BeastBoy and Robin both did their best to hold back their mild disgust for the sake of Starfire’s feelings.
“You’re teachin’ him to puke on command?” BeastBoy inquired. “Why is that gross yet… somehow cool?”
“On my planet there is no greater show of honor and dignity than for one’s pet to present his mucilage,” she explained as she patted him on the head.
“I’m guessing leash laws are a long way off on that planet,” Robin mused quietly to his teammate beside him as they resumed their game.
On the far end of the couch sat Raven. Book in hand and reclined comfortably. And while present and accounted for with the rest of the group she was also, in a sense, separate. At least from her restricted auditory functions, courtesy of Cyborg’s custom earpieces.
Karma was indeed in effect. She’d stomached this month long wager and now her efforts had bore fruit. Frequency isolating earplugs making any place in the tower her own personal sound deprivation chamber. The fact that Cyborg was in BeastBoy’s room scuffing his finish on dirt, grime, and hopefully much worse, was a bonus.
She took a deep breath, closing her eyes. Raven exhaled slowly as she looked to her side at the others. Mouths moving and not so much as a sound to be heard. A vacuum. A void of sound. “Sweet peace,” she whispered to herself.
It had been like this for most of the morning now. Ever since she’d plucked them from Cyborg’s hands just before BeastBoy had handed him a bucket of cleaning supplies in their place. They hadn’t left her ears. A long overdue holiday of nothing but stillness and tranquility.
A few minutes went by. And still not a sound to be heard.
It all seemed too good to be true. Raven would occasionally glance up from the book once or twice. But then just as quickly turn back to her place.
She began to stir. She shifted position on the couch.
She leaned from one side to the other.
She put one leg up.
Then she put it back down.
The words on the page began to lose meaning. She flipped to another page. Then another. Then another. But reading had lost its appeal. She felt antsy. Restless. But she didn’t know why.
She shut the book holding it to her chest.
Raven reached up pushing one of the buttons on the side of the earpiece. All sound came back instantly. Starfire further encouraging Silkie. Robin and BeastBoy exchanging each other’s accustomed sounds of fleeting victory and bitter defeat in their back and forth struggle within the game at play.
She shut her eyes briefly. Then pressed button again.
As before, her ears muted. Silence once more.
She looked up at the ceiling, closing here eyes once more as she pressed another button.
The sound filtered, canceling all surrounding noise. Isolating and canceling out every sound. Every sound that is, except BeastBoy.
Her mind clicked. There was a renewed sense of clarity. She could align her thoughts. Focus returned to her.
She opened her eyes, shifting her pupils to the side so as not to be noticed of the small, perplexed look on her face.
One month. One month tolerating every level of distraction she ever thought possible. One month pushing through turbulence in her mind that clamored for an escape. One month of BeastBoy, on tap, despite every personal instinct and precaution against it. Some good, some bad, some… mildly confusing. But after all she’d been through, everything she’d endured…
She solemnly shook her head. “Don’t tell me I actually got used to it,” she muttered bitterly to herself.
This entire ordeal had hammered one particularly poignant revelation into Raven’s mind. It was as irritating as it was profound. There was such a thing as too much quiet. And if there was one thing BeastBoy was particularly well equipped to deal with, it was to prevent suffocation from silence. To keep the serious from getting too serious.
The main room doors suddenly opened as Cyborg hobbled inside. All heads turned in surprise to find him back from his up until recently insurmountable task. He slowly walked inside around to the front of the couch where he lingered for only a few seconds until absolutely certain he was behind the cushions as he let himself fall backwards.
“Ahh,” he gave a relaxed sigh as he sank into the cushions.
“Finished so soon?” Robin asked, looking up at the nearby wall clock to verify it had only been a few hours.
“No,” Cyborg responded. “But… I’m getting’ there.” Hardly an ounce of enthusiasm escaped him. Not to mention the slightest inkling of assurance or optimism.
The sheen to the outer finish of his cybernetic components had gone dull. Dust affixed itself to more than half of his metallic surfaces and exterior parts and assembly. Trace amounts of cleaning solvent were clearly visible, spattered atop his forearms and knee joint. And the subtle suggestion of bleach and ammonia hovered about him like a storm cloud over his head.
“Well, at least you’re making prog-WHOA!” Robin was quick to cover his nose and mouth as the strong scent of disinfectant overwhelmed the immediate air around him. “I suspected it would be bad, but is it ‘that’ bad?”
“Nah,” he swatted with his hand. “It’ll take a little more work before its ‘that’ bad.”
“Dude, I don’t mind ya takin’ a breather,” BeastBoy held his nose with a mild gag, “As long as you allow us the same.” He shrank in size as he assumed the form of a small green skunk, turning his back to his friend and lifting his tail to give a sprits of skunk spray.
He quickly turned his head, shielding his face with his hands. The blast of odor hit Cyborg dead on, though hardly fazing him. Slowly pulling his hands away he gave a cautious sniff with his twitching nostril. “That actually smells… better.”
The previously burning arid aroma of bleach died down, yielding to the lingering smell of what could be described as rotten banana peels and coffee grounds. Between the intensely clean smell and the noxious bad smell it seemed the two opposing odors cancelled each other out leaving the air somewhat neutral.
Everyone breathed in relief, un-pinching their noses.
Cyborg brushed himself off, attempting to wipe a bit of the more obvious signs of his labor intensive struggle with the elements of un-cleanliness visited upon him in BeastBoy’s room.
From over his shoulder a game controller presented itself, dangling in front of him. He looked over to find BeastBoy offering a more cleansing alterative to shake the fatigue from his senses.
“Couple quick games before ya get back to work?” he asked with a small grin. “Less of course you don’t wanna’ lose AGAIN so soon.”
“Oh, bring it on short, green, and gruesome!” Cyborg excitedly snatched the controller with a rejuvenated vigor. He might still have a job to do, but he couldn’t be expected to complete a task like that in one go. Besides he’d earned a break.
Raven stood up, carrying her book under her arm as she exited the main room. Perhaps another choice in literature was in order.
Robin rose from the couch to give Cyborg more room and to check on Starfire and be sure Silkie’s trick hadn’t had any unforeseen complications. It was anyone’s guess what could affect Silkie on the inside; let alone what came out of him.
BeastBoy and Cyborg played head to head on screen only briefly losing themselves to the events that had lead up to today.
“Ya know, gotta’ tell you,” Cyborg began, never averting his eyes from the screen, his fingers mashing franticly the buttons on his controller, “This whole bet thing? Not what I thought it was gonna’ be.”
“Little late for regrets, Cy,” BeastBoy responded as he matched pace on his own controller, also not looking away.
“Naw, I mean I figured most of the stuff that went down early on. Raven blows up at you, you implode on her, that I saw comin’ a mile away. But after that? Man, I didn’t think things would mellow like they did,” he shrugged.
BeastBoy gave a momentary break from the screen just to look at his metallic friend funny. “Mellow?”
Cyborg caught the green boy’s expression out of the corner of his eye, looking at him like he had to be joking. Or perhaps the fumes had affected his brain. “Okay, okay! Maybe mellow ain’t the word. But ya know what I mean.”
“Un-blow-up-able?” BeastBoy snickered.
“Close. But I never assume un-ANYTHING when Raven’s in the right state of mind. Or wrong,” he quivered at the thought of a few close calls visited upon him.
“Yeah,” he hung his head off to the side. “She’s got that way about her.”
There was a short silence between them as their gameplay intensified. Each gaining the lead and falling behind by closer margins back and forth.
“So… what’s your secret?” Cyborg restarted the conversation in the subtle hopes of distracting his green friend long enough to take a substantial lead.
“To what? Staying alive?” he answered, guessing he could only assume he was insinuating self-preservation under the previous circumstances.
“You know. Raven. You had to have picked up a trick or two. Otherwise no way you coulda’ held out as long as ya did,” Cyborg scoffed.
BeastBoy’s eyes wandered past his controller giving the matter some thought. He did have a point. There was no way he could’ve maintained himself under normal means without having to adapt in some way. At least not that he would’ve noticed.
“Well?” Cyborg gave a verbal nudge after a prolonged silence, signaling he wasn’t going to let the issue slide.
“Well,” BeastBoy reluctantly began, “…there are two things I kinda’ had to learn quick bein’ around Raven pretty much all day.”
Cyborg leaned his head to the side to listen more intently, but retaining view of the screen dead ahead.
“The first is, Raven is used to bein’ alone. And alone is hard to compete with. Especially when someone takes a liking to it. Ya try to take that away from her, you’re askin’ for trouble. The best you can do is kinda’ try to show her that… I dunno’… ya can be ‘alone’ together.”
A smile curled to the side of Cyborg’s mouth. To which BeastBoy shifted to the side uncomfortably as if able to hear it.
“DUDE!” he was quick to defend his last statement and how it sounded. “Not what I meant! What I mean is ya show her ya can have the alone without actually being alone.”
“Isn’t that like ‘misery loves company’?” Cyborg responded.
“Come on, Cy. She just really really likes her peace and quiet. Probably cause it reminds her there are better things to do than putting walkin’ junk piles like you through the floor.”
“Look who’s talkin’. She practically uses you as a human lawn dart at least once a week.”
“Yeah. And how many times she done that lately?”
Cyborg opened his mouth to speak but found no counter argument to be made. He was right. Throughout this entire wager Raven had relied on BeastBoy less and less as a human projectile. Maybe cause he was working his way into her alone time like he was saying. Maybe she thought he would learn better without constant head trauma. Either way, it was a valid point.
“Look…” he sighed, “I had to find a way to share the same space as a girl who can squash me like a bug just by thinking of a fly swatter. She yelled at me if I tried to pretend she wasn’t there. And she yelled at me even more if I tried to pretend I was like her.”
“So what? Ya just call it a draw?” he joked.
“Yeah,” he shrugged. “Kinda’.”
Now it was Cyborg’s turn to exchange peculiar looks at BeastBoy.
“I think that once she just realized that I wasn’t tryin’ to take her alone time from her, that I wasn’t just tryin to see how big I could make the vein in the side of her head grow. That I was tryin’ to share my alone time with her, she just kinda’… I dunno’… gave into it.”
Cyborg continued to play, but at a considerably less intense pace. His grip on the controller was far less tight and his fingers had slowed their intense mashing and pounding against the buttons.
“Guess sometimes ya can give people what they want and other times ya can end up givin’em what they need,” BeastBoy finished his explanation.
Cyborg took a moment to let it completely sink it. He hadn’t expected such deep thought, even if not worded the most accurately, to come from his friend. But then again this was BeastBoy. And of all the people in the tower he could certainly give you a few surprises when he wanted to.
“And the second?” he asked as he glanced over his shoulder, feeling as though the first lesson had come through.
“The second is,” BeastBoy took a deep breath. “It’s wicked easy to make someone else’s mind wander if ya just tell them what they wanna’ hear.”
“Huh?” he gave a baffled look.
From the screen came a sudden buzzer accompanied by the overwhelming melody of victory music.
Cyborg looked to find that in being fully absorbed in BeastBoy’s life lesson he’d fallen so far behind in the game he’d suffered total defeat. The screen flashed a victory animation over BeastBoy’s character. To which BeastBoy himself shared a smug expression.
Cyborg’s mouth agape, he quickly shook off the fleeting sense of shock, his own plan to distract his competitor used against him. He looked back over at BeastBoy with a sour look to his face, ripe with complaints and objections to losing on account of his own distraction.
“New game?” he asked innocently with a small boastful grin as he lightly twirled the controller by the connection wire around his finger.
He stared bitterly as he dropped the controller to his side on the couch, slowly rising in ominous silence, turning on his heel. “Hmph!” he grunted without another word as he walked sternly towards the kitchen area.
BeastBoy merely shrugged as he took proper hold of the controller to play a solo game in his place.
Cyborg made his way over to Robin as he assisted Starfire by the sink, cleaning the last of Silkie’s trick from her face. Wringing out the sponge after one last swab of her cheek Robin gave a casual glance in the direction where he’d come. “Everything okay?” he asked, plainly knowing the young changeling was getting under his skin. Not an uncommon occurrence to be sure. However usually it took a lot more than a single loss at Gamestation to get to Cyborg like this. Especially considering how much he commonly dominated BeastBoy every other time at video games.
Cyborg just folded his arms with a snort. Almost pouting.
“Trouble yourself not, Cyborg,” Starfire beamed with a smile. “Even with the loss of the games on video, you have much to be proud.”
“BeastBoy will have a cleaner living quarters,” Robin supported.
“Till he turns it into a sty all over again,” Cyborg muttered, fearing his labor would be wasted effort.
“Raven will have a quieter setting for her meditation and personal recreation,” Robin went on.
“And you have strengthened the bond of our two most dearest friends,” Starfire cheerfully concluded.
Cyborg was unresponsive for a moment. But after letting off a little steam and looking up to further think about the overall results his wager had yielded, he started to come around to the idea giving a small smile in self satisfaction. “Yeah,” he said softly. “Yeah, I guess you’re right,” he responded in a slightly more upbeat tone. “Who knows? Maybe it was all for the best. Certainly couldn’t be any worse.”
Starfire smiled brightly.
“At the very least, we shouldn’t have to worry about the two of them causing such frequent commotion around the tower,” Robin said optimistically.
POP! - SPLASH!
Suddenly from down the hall came a loud disturbance. What sounded like the sharp pop of a balloon followed by water spilling onto the floor. Then nothing at all.
Robin, Starfire, and Cyborg all turned, facing the main room door.
Silence. Unnatural silence.
Then after a moments pause, they heard it.
Slowly and steadily came the trudging foreboding footsteps of what sounded like damp shoes sloshing and squeaking against the floor.
The main room doors opened.
“Then again…” Robin trailed off.
In walked Raven. Soaked from the waist up. Her hair damp and matted to her head, a few steady trickles of water dripping onto the ground. The top of her cloak saturated, clinging heavily to her shoulders, and a few shredded remnants of a water balloon sticking into the fabric.
Raven’s face was eerily calm save for the narrowed, angry expression of her eyes. “Where is he?” she spat firmly as a few droplets fell from her brow, almost jumping as if afraid of being caught in her eyes.
Her neck creaked as she looked to the side able to see the back of BeastBoy’s head on the couch, too absorbed in his current game to even notice her arrive. Raven marched, the soles of her shoes still squeaking from the trail of water being dripped behind her as she moved. She didn’t say a word. Only the squeaks beneath her feet filled the room like tiny screams as if foretelling what was about to follow.
“Uh, well look at the time. Breaks over!” Cyborg exclaimed feverishly as he slinked against the wall, making haste to vacate the room and steer clear of Raven’s path. “Guess I’d better be gettin’ back to work!”
“And I… uh just remembered I’m long overdue to hit the obstacle course today!” Robin followed soon after, making for the exit. “Star, wanna spot me?”
“Oh yes, I would be most happy t…”
Robin took her by the wrist, yanking her beside him to match his pace to quickly get the both of them out of the room. “Great! Let’s go.”
Normally Robin was big on keeping his teammates from incurring unnecessary injury. But where BeastBoy and one of his pranks was concerned he also felt it was important he owned up to his actions. And then of course Raven was more than a handful whenever she got like this. As long as it was below a concussion in terms of severity it was deemed lesson learned.
All three hastily vacated the room to pursue something very loud to do for the next hour or so.
BeastBoy sat on the couch, still engrossed in his game, blissfully unaware.
Raven stepped right in front of him.
Still BeastBoy made the effort to peer around her, leaning as far over as he was able while still maintaining a firm grip on the controller.
Raven leaned down, locking eyes. Angry, damp, dripping, impatient eyes.
The controller slipped loose from his grip, hitting the floor with a clunk. Yet his hands remained frozen in holding position as BeastBoy stared up at her. “Um…” he attempted to deduce the best opening statement for the situation at hand but found himself coming up short as he didn’t know what to make of Raven’s fresh new expression of border lining aggravation and at least three different layers of silent wrath.
“I suppose you think this is ‘funny’?” she asked almost rhetorically with her jaw locked.
He tilted his head to the side as if to analyze it from a different perspective. “Well, now that ya mention it… it this light…”
Raven’s eyes narrowed as her brow dug down as far as it could go without touching her nose.
“Whoa!” BeastBoy sat up in a fright with his back flat against the couch. It was then that he took notice of the traces of torn water balloon pieces, no doubt the cause of her looking like she’d been waist deep bobbing for apples.
“I know where you’re goin’ with this! And I know how this must look! But I didn’t do it!” He franticly had his hands up in front of him as if to swear he was telling the truth.
Raven crossed her arms, impatiently tapping her foot that was punctuated by the soggy smack of her shoe forming a small puddle with every tap of her foot.
“Raven, I’m tellin’ ya I had nothin’ to do with it!” BeastBoy remained unyielding in professing his innocence.
“No, of course not,” she brushed the water balloon pieces from her shoulder, shaking her head.
She took a step forward, turning around as she plopped down beside BeastBoy on the couch. “I did,” she replied simply as she wrung out a portion of her cloak, allowing the runoff to drip onto BeastBoy’s knee.
He jumped back an inch or so to keep from getting wet but still trying to comprehend what was happening and trying to keep his face from going totally vacant. “Wha…? You?!”
Raven raised her hand into the air as the main room’s doors swished open just briefly enough to allow a single book encased in black energy to whiz through the air and into her waiting fingers. She shook her other hand making certain it was dry as she opened the book and began reading quietly without a single word of explanation.
BeastBoy remained perplexed. “Hu… wha… you…” he gestured back and forth between the door, her, and the few scattered puddles around the room as if trying to make sense of it all. Raven had always had an element of mystery to her, but this seemed a bit more than BeastBoy could wrap his head around. At least, right away.
He continued to stare though letting his eyes wander around the immediate vicinity at the sudden absence of anyone else in the room. It was quiet. It was just the two of them. What did this mean? She was more comfortable around him as long as no one else was there to see it? She did go through a rather intricate ruse to clear the place out. Quickly he found his sights back on Raven who remained attentive to her book.
Raven’s pupils shifted, able to give him the smallest glance out of the corner of her eye. Though she didn’t speak a word.
“Uh…” BeastBoy tried to form some kind of question. Now if only he could figure out which to ask.
Raven remained motionless, crooking an eyebrow as if signifying, ‘Well?’
BeastBoy’s eyes wandered to the floor. “Never mind,” he shook his head. He leaned down scooping up his controller.
Raven held her sights on him.
“Okay, just one thing!” he threw out his hands.
She rolled her eyes, having seen it coming.
BeastBoy looked closely at her still waterlogged face and upper body. “I gotta’ ask,” he pointed a finger at her. “Just… how big a water balloon did you use?”
Raven’s face remained blank, absent of a single hint of emotion one way or the other. “Big enough,” she answered plainly.
BeastBoy paused before nodding slightly. “Makes sense,” he shrugged quickly turning himself back to the screen.
She stared for a split second. Raven looked straight ahead before giving a delayed shake of her head. Leave it to BeastBoy to sweat the little things.
Suddenly she felt a gentle weight press against her side. Raven looked over to find BeastBoy reclined with his back to her side and his resting on her shoulder. She looked down at him with a somewhat impatient stare as if expecting a response. Or at the very least an explanation.
However BeastBoy had locked his attention back on the screen and was already in the process of starting a new game.
“Ahem,” she poorly masked her attempt to get BeastBoy’s attention as she cast her head down.
“What?” he replied, “You’re comfortable. A little soggy, but…”
Raven parted one hand from her book, shoving him upright back into sitting position. “Not with your shoulders knocking against my ribs and your elbow swinging into my leg every time you clear a level,” she speculated, brushing herself off.
“Hmph!” he curled a smile, playfully turning his nose up in the air as if insulted.
It felt somewhat refreshing in a way. It had been a while since the both of them had just acted natural without having to preserve a stipulation. But now the bet was over. And it felt nice knowing that even if things were somehow different now some things were still the same.
“Yeah yeah,” he consented. “Just make sure those fancy earplug of yours are-”
Raven leaned her head onto BeastBoy’s shoulder.
BeastBoy froze. His eyes looked over at the top of Raven’s head as she was reading intently.
He tapped her on the top of the head. Gently. (No way Raven had changed that much)
After two or three blunt nudges of the finger Raven looked up with the demeanor of an irate librarian.
“Uh, excuse you,” he said in a fearless manner scarcely ever felt he would address Raven in, “What happen to miss, ‘you bump and jab when ya play’? How am I supposed to enjoy my game?”
“Carefully,” she said simply. And with that she turned back to her book, picking up where she left off.
BeastBoy stared at her head for a moment before letting out a deep breath. The kind you usually exhale after you play hackie sack with a live grenade.
He’d never felt that casual addressing Raven in such a way, not after an expression like THAT was plastered on her face. Yet he hadn’t given it a second thought at the time. Then again, with BeastBoy, first thoughts were usually the most he could handle.
Raven too was having her own internal debate. Since when was she this laid back around BeastBoy? Literally ‘laid back’, as in using him as a cushion. A stepping-stone or a human Frisbee, that was plausible given the right circumstance. But this? This was new.
But what was done was done. Raven eased into comfortable reading position. And BeastBoy turned his attention to his video game. They both quietly occupied the room. Well, save for the occasional cheap game death BeastBoy would suffer due to his controller not doing what he wanted it to which he responded to by cracking the controller’s cord like a whip. This inadvertently caused his shoulders to drop suddenly causing Raven’s head to dip and knock against him like a speed bump. And then she would kindly remind him to be more considerate by reaching up, pinching her thumb and middle finger together, and sharply flicking the back of his ear. It only took two of said occurrences before BeastBoy wised up. A new personal best.
Of course always one to press his luck he decided to take the limits of the moment to another level. After a short while, without incident or warning or a word spoken between the two of them, he slowly leaned his head to the side resting his head on top of Raven’s.
Instantly he could feel Raven’s eyes shift from the book to whatever portion of his skull was visible as he nervously swallowed.
Raven stirred from her position, but only to nestle her other shoulder more firmly against the couch. And then she turned the page of her book.
Just then he looked over as a pillow irradiated black as it levitated off the couch a few feet into the air. It softly coasted through the air and then landed on the floor in front of them.
BeastBoy looked between the couch and the pillow on the ground, his mind trying to decipher whatever meaning it held. A delayed response? A warning? No. It was something else entirely.
The answer dawned on him causing him a give a nervous laugh. Raven gave a small smile as if to mentally answer that he was correct in his assumption.
Both of them had grown… closer. Fond perhaps of one another in some sense. And while the future was uncertain as to where things go from here, one thing was abundantly clear. This moment wouldn’t last forever. Cyborg had already had more than his fair share of fun at their expense and there was no sense in repeating that for any indefinite period of time. And certainly no reason to add Robin and Starfire into the mix as well. Sooner or later the others were bound to return. To check on them and to do damage control. And this scenario was not the kind for prying eyes.
And now Raven had taken it upon herself to give BeastBoy the warmest gesture he ever thought possible.
She had afforded him a soft place to throw him.