There were precisely four sections of the garden that grew behind the tower. The first was typical, an array of normal flowers, little tiny things that barely grew. But, when they did, they grew in such perfect clusters that it was almost unnatural to look at. This section of the garden, of course, belonged to Kory, and suited her quite perfectly. Most things that girl did were unnatural.
The second section, far more irregular, was less of a garden and more of an outdoor garage. There was a workbench and a small fountain, and both were cluttered with scraps of metal and various pieces of complex equipment. There was one rather carnivorous-looking plant growing in the corner of this section, but no one dared draw too close to it to find out. This section had been claimed by Vic, but most assumed that the carnivorous plant (that looked somewhat like a combination between a Venus Fly Trap and a water lily) belonged to Kory.
The third part of the garden was wildly overgrown and filled with different edible plants—grapevines, tomato plants, even an apple tree. Of course, finding the apple tree was an adventure in and of itself. Its caretaker referred to the section kindly as "Beautiful Mess". It was a fitting, if somewhat overly affectionate name. And, of course, it belonged to Gar. Not that he ever tended to it. He would run down there and grab a snack or two, then leave it as was. No one really knew how the garden stayed alive at all, but no one really cared to investigate the matter either.
And, finally, the fourth section of the garden. It was closed off by a stone wall and rustic gate, and was terrifically tempting in the sense that it was filled with shrubbery, growing up to seven feet in height. Said shrubbery had been carved into hedges and created a maze, with wildly colored flowers that only bloomed at night. The whole thing was a rather eerie replica of the garden from The Shining.
The section was locked strictly between the hours of 2:00 AM and 10:00 PM. Even when it was unlocked, no one dared enter it except for Rachel, who had planted it in the first place.
She would disappear into the garden on a random evening about once a week. She would take a book with her, as was her norm, and walk straight into the maze. She would not take a single glance back, but that didn't surprise anyone. She would find her way out promptly at 2:00 AM, when she would lock the gate and go back to her own room.
No one knew what she did in there, and most of the team liked to assume she just read. But, of course, most of the team was good at minding their own business. All except for one.
Garfield, or Beast Boy, as he was better known to his team members, was curious. Curious, as he was of most things. He wanted to know what Raven was doing in that ridiculous garden of hers, once a night every week. What could possibly be so fascinating and special about her book, that she would need an entire garden to enjoy it completely?
And so, one summer night in the middle of July, he followed her.
Stalking (Gar might have chosen a less harsh word, maybe following, but stalking was what it was) had always been easy for Gar. After all, he could decrease himself to the size and shape of a spider, an ant even. That was precisely what he had done, and now he was creeping along after Rachel, or Raven, switching between mouse, spider, and cat whenever he needed to go faster or slower. In the back of his mind, he wondered if she could sense his stalking. But, no. She would have stopped him.
He decided not to worry about this, as he switched into a mouse and scurried behind Raven as she opened the gate. As she turned around to close it, he shifted into spider and hid himself in the lush leaves of the maze hedges. The teenage girl was wearing her usual garb, but the hood had fallen from her head and was positioned lightly behind her shoulders. In her right hand, she tightly clutched a book that looked almost ancient.
He eyed this curiously for a moment, a rather difficult thing to do considering he had eight eyes and it was easy to get distracted by something else. He watched as she took a deep breath, released it, then walked forward into the maze.
She knew the way by heart. It was astonishing to Gar, who had gotten lost in mazes multiple times as a young child, to the point that he just sat in the middle of the path, crying, until his parents found him. But now he had no parents, and Raven didn't either, as far as Gar knew. And yet she walked confidently, with the usual grace and poise that he had grown to…well, had grown to fancy. He liked her elegance. It made her seem older.
They walked for what felt like hours. Of course, the distance seemed a lot longer when your legs will a grand total of two inches long and you were practically sprinting to keep up with the maiden ahead of you. But Gar was used to this. He'd had to tag along, not really wanted, for a majority of his life. Trying to "keep up" was second-nature to him by now. He almost didn't notice it.
Finally, Rachel stopped in front of a hedge. To Gar, it looked like she had met a dead end, had absently took a wrong turn along the way. He started to back up, preparing to turn around and follow her down a different path. But she stayed right where she was.
He waited, wanting to raise an eyebrow in confusion, but realizing that spiders didn't exactly have definite eyebrows.
Rachel calmly took the book and laid it on the ground in front of her, kneeling before it. Suddenly, Gar was feeling guilty about following her. This looked…private. Like one of her weird rituals that she did sometimes in her bedroom before dinner or a mission. The "Azarath Metrion Zinthos" stuff.
This feeling of guilt was reinforced by the fact that she did indeed say, "Azarath Metrion Zinthos." But then she continued, and his heart sank a little further.
"Azara janua patefaciare domus," she whispered in her usual monotone voice. She opened the book to a seemingly random page and waved her hand over it. Gar wasn't all that surprised when it started to glow.
, he definitely should not have followed her.
"Harena domus azarath metrion. Lux amor illusio verus."
He almost felt like shifting back to his normal, green-skinned human form, just to admit his transgression and walk away before this went any further. But now the hedge was starting to glow a faint purple-blue, and Gar had a feeling that it might not be a good idea to interrupt this.
His eyes widened further as an arched shape was formed out of iridescent blue leaves, circling around to form what looked like a doorway.
Oh, no. He knew what this meant. This was more of the typical Raven "I'm a portal!" stuff that had nearly gotten the entire world destroyed.
Oh, no, no, no. Yes, it was time to leave now. Goodbye. See ya. Tootles!
Except he couldn't leave. There was something utterly intoxicating about the image of the circling, glowing leaves, the doorway as it grew brighter and brighter until it was almost blinding. And Raven looked content. Not scared or threatened, like she had when her father had forced her to become a portal not-so-long ago. No, she looked like she was accepting this willingly, like she was encouraging it. She looked hopeful, which was an incredibly odd look on Raven's face. It was like seeing Batman smile, which Gar had seen once on television. He hadn't felt quite right for the rest of the day.
He watched this scene take place with a sort of awe, his itsy bitsy, multifaceted spider eyes glinting as the light from the leaves hit them. Then Raven stepped forward, one foot plunging right through the glowing hedge-door and disappearing completely. Then it was her leg, then her upper body, and then herself completely.
Gar sat there for a moment, blinking and debating with himself. To follow or not to follow?
But, of course, Gar was the member of the Teen Titans who had never been so great at keeping to his own business. There was clearly only one answer here.
He shifted into a cat and leaped into the hedge-door, which was already beginning to rapidly close, as Raven, its master, had already passed through. There was no odd sensation as his body passed between doors. He had expected at least a tingle or something. Nope, just the feeling of sudden breeze in his fur as his paws hit something soft.
He looked down and saw that he was standing in sand. Pure, completely white sand, the kind that was hard to look at when it was bright outside. But it wasn't bright—instead, it was twilight. The sky was a pleasant blue, already popping with a selection of scattered stars. He looked at these constellations with some confusion. His mother had loved the stars—had taught him everything from Orion's Belt to the Big Dipper. But none of these looked like stars he recognized. Heck, he couldn't even find the North Star.
He was pulled from his thoughts as he heard Rachel's boots sifting through sand, moving forward. He looked up and realized, with some shock, that they were standing on a beach. The reason he hadn't realized it earlier was because the water was almost completely still. The waves were tiny, and didn't make hardly any noise. Huh. The tide was different here too.
Still, it was beautiful. The water was a deep, sapphire blue that looked infinitely deep and crystal clean. He'd never seen water like it, not ever in his life. Even the ocean that the T-tower was positioned on wasn't this pure of a color, didn't seem this calm and serene.
Gar watched silently as Rachel walked closer to the water's edge, then chose a spot and slowly sat down. She stared out at the water in her usual Raven manner. Quietly, thoughtfully.
When he was sure that she wasn't going to move, he decided to turn around and figure out where exactly the blue-eyed girl had sent him. He was contemplating the idea that it was some beach on Hawaii, perhaps. He'd always heard it was pretty there. He turned, expecting to see some kind of cute rain forest or maybe just more beach.
Instead, he found an entire city.
Garfield could handle most emotions while in animal-form. He'd learned to keep a strong hold on whatever creature he was at the time. But shock had always been harder to keep a leash on because…well, it was shock. It hit you when it felt like it.
So, naturally, he lost control of his power and "Aaah!"ed back into human form as soon as his eyes laid themselves on the tall, arching structures.
Raven hadn't just brought him to a beach. She'd brought him to an entirely different world.
It was a city. An absolutely huge, swooping city of golden pillars and pure, white buildings that arched into the sky and were decorated with great silver sculptures and insignias. The buildings were round like tubes and shaped into points or balls, a weird combination of the "castle turret" and "Taj Mahal" look.
He stared, his jaw slack and his mouth hanging open. He was only pulled out of this Oh-My-Sweet-Jesus moment by the sound of Raven's voice.
"What are you doing here?"
Yes, he was terrified of her. Always had been. Terrified in a way that was also cowering infatuation. He hated it when she was mad at him. But, right now, he was too stunned.
"Wh—what…what is this?" he asked, his eyes still the size of dinner plates. He hadn't even turned to look over at her.
He was expecting her to snap something like, "None of your business!" or "Get OUT!" Instead, she merely sent a bolt of black energy at his face. It gripped his chin and wrenched it to the side, so that he was forced to look at her.
Rachel's eyes were narrowed, but otherwise she didn't look too furious. "What are you doing here, Gar?" she repeated, her hands on her hips and her left eyebrow raised expectantly.
He blinked at her, desperate to find an excuse, but quickly realized that there was none. And, even if there was, she'd see through it. This was Rachel, after all.
"I followed you," he admitted meekly.
She stared at him for a moment, her hands glowing black. She pursed her lips, then acknowledged him with an "Mm." Then she released the energy and abruptly turned around, heading back towards where she had been sitting by the water.
It took him a minute to realize that his life had been spared and all was well. He gingerly patted his fingers over his neck and chin, making sure they were all intact and not gushing blood or something. That might have been problematic.
Then he leapt to his feet and shouted after her, "Hey, wait up!" She had already reached the water's edge and was walking along it, her boots being repeatedly immersed by the tiny waves.
"Wait," he huffed, as he caught up with her and settled into walking stride beside her. "I—you—I mean…what is this place?" he finally asked, his head rolling back to look at the great towers again.
"Azarath," she replied, following his gaze.
His eyes immediately shot back to look at her. "What?"
"It's Azarath," she repeated, her voice growing slightly dry, expressing her annoyance at having to tell him once again. "The Lost Temple."
"You—but I—I thought Azarath—Azarath was destroyed! You brought me…you really brought me to Azarath?"
His words were a confused jumble that would likely have made anyone else laugh. But Rachel was not one prone to find humor in the slow workings of another's mind. Instead, she merely shook her head. "No, I didn't bring you to Azarath. You're right, it's destroyed." She exhaled and looked out over the city. "No, this is merely a projection."
"A projection?" It was typical for Rachel to make absolutely no sense.
"Yes. A memory that I have crafted into a fake reality. This is Azarath the way I remember it, from when I was seven years old." Her eyes had moved to look back out at the ocean.
Gar whistled slowly, breathlessly. He still was having a hard time taking in the absolute splendor of the giant, white city. "You have a good memory. It's…it's really gorgeous here, Rae."
She nodded. "Yes, I know. It was very beautiful back before Trigon came." Her tone didn't change as she said the name of her demonic father, but he knew the bitterness behind the word.
"I'm—" He had been trying to say he was sorry, but she interrupted him. Probably because she was sick of hearing it.
"I came to this beach when I was seven, with my mother. She was trying to show me a certain spell, one that had to do with manipulating water. I barely paid any attention. I was too busy playing out in the waves, enjoying the feeling of the sun on my back. Life was…" Her gaze fell to the ground. "It was easier back then. But I remembered this day, this place in particular. So I re-created it, piece by piece over a few years. The spell book helped," she said, looking back at where the hedge-doorway had been, where she had left the book. "It allowed me to create an image, and then to add sounds, smells, tastes…all along with it. And that became where we are now."
"But it's not actually…real?"
She shook her head, pulling the hood of her cloak up over her head. "No, this is only the Azarath I remember. It's long gone now."
He nodded, knowing fully well the story of the wild demon that was Trigon, Rachel's father, and how he had ripped Azarath, the pacifist planet of her birth, completely apart. Piece by burning piece.
"And so this is where you go most nights?" he asked, turning around in a circle and walking backwards with her, so that he could look at the city again.
"It helps with meditation," she explained and said nothing further.
They walked for a few more minutes, Gar with his mouth still in an awe-filled 'o', Rachel with her hood concealing her face. Her cloak dragged behind her, its edges getting caught by the waves and growing increasingly wet. Eventually, she turned away from the water and walked up to a sand dune.
She closed her eyes and floated up into the air, twisting her fingers together and whispering the incantation that she always repeated when using her dark abilities. They were the simple words that none of the Titans understood, but instead simply accepted. Rather like Rachel herself. Azarath. Metrion. Zinthos.
After about a minute of this, Gar glanced longingly towards the waves. He hadn't had a real vacation in ages.
"Uh…so…you ever go swimming?" he asked, over the sound of her muttering Metrion.
"It's too dangerous. I don't know if I've created the lay-out of this place in a way that makes the ocean…realistic enough to be stable."
"All I hear is blabbady blah blah science blah blah dangerous. Not like anything we haven't gone up against before, right?" He wiggled his eyebrows at her.
"I won't take risks. Such risks have almost lost me teammates before." She didn't have to specify which ones. Almost all of the Titans had been destroyed in the Trigon incident.
"Risks are fun. We take risks every day," he said, attempting to be cheerful. Rachel could be overwhelmingly depressing when she wanted to be.
"Not the kind of risks that would rip apart the very fabric of reality," she replied dryly.
"You could make coffee with that kind of bitterness," he joked. She rolled her eyes. "Ah, come on, Rach! Live a little!"
"I'm living plenty now. My heart is beating and, as far as I know, there aren't different 'levels' of living. You're either alive or dead. Not 'sorta' alive or 'kinda' dead." Her fingertips bent up and down as she mimicked quotation marks.
Gar grinned. "You know what would cheer you up? A good swim."
"I hate water."
"You look cute when your hair is wet." His smile grew innocent, almost bashful.
"You look like a dog when your hair is wet."
This made his grin widen, and he shifted into the form of a slobbering basset hound, looking up at her innocently with drool flying from his panting tongue.
"Charming," she acknowledged, but her eyes narrowed.
He sat there for a moment, his tail wagging enthusiastically, but still she made no move towards the water. She remained cross-legged in mid air, her cape flapping around her and her eyes closed.
He momentarily shifted back into his human form and shrugged. "Suit yourself. I didn't want to have to do this."
She opened one eye, looking at him suspiciously. "Do wha—"
It took less than a second for Gar to change from an average-sized, teenage boy to a towering, ancient-looking elephant. It took less than that for him to seize her with his giant trunk, squeeze all the breath out of her, and pull her out of her meditation. Before she was even completely aware of what was happening, they were charging towards the water's edge, the sound of Gar's elephant trumpet blasting her ears.
"G-g-GAR!" she shouted, as she was shaken back and forth by his massive trunk. He trumpeted happily again, and soon his front feet were smashing through the water, sending up splashes of considerable size. The ocean spray flashed across her face, stinging her eyes and making her cough.
And then, all at once, he let her go.
She dropped like a bullet into the water, felt it rush over her face and her hair and across her skin. Heard it drown out all other sounds as it filled her ears. Her eyes grew huge and she kicked her way up to the surface.
Gar had shifted back into human form and was laughing obnoxiously to himself, rolling over in the tiny waves and clutching his stomach like some drunk buffoon."Y-y-you should have—should have seen your face!" he cried and wiped at his eyes. Rachel wasn't sure if he was wiping salt water or his own tears. Probably a combination of the two.
"I will kill you, Gar! I swear it!" she shouted, as she desperately kicked to stay above surface, sputtering for gasps of breath.
But they were alive. And there wasn't a giant hole ripped through reality.
"I'm sure you will!" he laughed, swimming over to her. "But, before you do, there's something I've always wanted to try!"
"No. Don't you dare even come near me. I will tear you to shreds and don't think I'm kidding. My father is a demo—"
Gar wrapped his arms around her, pulling her into a horrific bear hug that squeezed the remaining air out of her lungs and nearly crushed her ribs along with it. She was pressed against the scrawny green chest of a shape-shifting 15-year-old who watched too much TV and ate nothing but tofu and pizza. This was ridiculous. This was the ridiculous monkey of a boy she had to put up with on a daily basis.
He leaned back. "There," he said, grinning as they bounced up and down in the waves. "Now I'm happy. We can go home now."
"We could have destroyed this dimension."
"It was worth it."
She cocked an eyebrow at him. "For a swim?"
He snickered. "That, and the hug."
He turned back towards the shore and started walking up onto the beach. He waved for her to follow and she did such, lifting herself up out of the water and drifting towards the shore. Her cape dripped into the sapphire water as she squeezed drops out of her hair.
The guy had watched her night after night, followed her here in the form of a spider, trespassed into her private area, seen her own memories, turned into an elephant, squeezed her nearly to death, and dragged her into the water, all for the sake of a hug?
He had dedication, Rachel couldn't deny that.
"Comin'?" he called. "Come on, the summer's a' wastin'!" He trotted onto the beach happily, his hair flopping about in the wind.
She smirked. Gar had a long way to go before he was anything but obnoxious.
A long way, sure. But, hey.
At least he was on the right path.