Author note: Thanks so much for all the glowing reviews! (Head inflation commencing) Everyone's input has been accounted for and worked into both chapters.
The priority has been to keep all of the Titans completely in character—especially Raven and Garfield. However, note that I've intentionally placed them in scenarios outside of their normal elements, to see how they react (sort of a scientific approach). There's also quite a bit of writing experimentation in this one; where's the fun without a few risks?
Without further delay, the second half of our exploration:
"To re-adjust, you've got to trust that all the fuss is just a minor thing."
–Anthony Kiedis, Red Hot Chili Peppers
1. Slice Economics
"I still can't believe you two are dating," Victor commented as he finished his pizza and snatched one of the three remaining slices. The sun beat down on the Titans on the roof of their favorite triangle-shaped pizza joint. The tin man reached over the table and adjusted the umbrella to center the shade over himself, exposing Raven and Kory on the other side of the table. The Tamaranian basked in the sunlight, while the demoness looked somewhat less pleased.
"It's not like we've gone out on actual dates," Gar corrected, shuffling toward Victor in order to partake in the umbrella's shade. He took another slice from the dwindling pie—while Dick and Kory both eyed the remaining slice—and said, "It's kinda just a… thing."
"How romantic…" Raven droned, squinting against the sunlight.
"But still," Dick chimed in, beginning to reach for the last slice. "It's surprising—er, uh, great—that you're in a relationship." He was having difficulty reaching toward the slice, and looked down to find Kory's hand innocently holding his arm back while she worked on her own slice. "Uh Star, I want to grab that slice."
The group split into two conversations as Victor continued, "And who woulda known you'd be smoochin with the grass stain."
"Dude I'm sitting right here!" Gar exclaimed in mild outrage.
"But I am nearly finished with mine," Kory replied ingenuously to Dick.
"Okay, but I'm already finished with my pizza," Dick attempted to reason.
Raven replied dryly to Victor, "Believe it or not, I did what I did because I actually like 'the grass stain'. Even if he does drive me crazy." She glanced at Gar and then back to Victor. "And it's been a week now, so get over it."
Kory countered Dick, "It was my impression that on this planet, the male is supposed to yield limited resources to the female. I believe the saying is, 'ladies first'?"
Raven muttered, "'Chivalry is dead' is more like it." She looked accusingly at Gar, who stopped mid-chew and looked back at her sheepishly. He motioned to offer his partially-eaten slice covered in bite marks, but Raven was underwhelmed as usual: "Pass."
"Fine, take it," Dick conceded with an exasperated sigh. "But I get the last slice next time."
Kory happily grabbed the last slice and doused it in mustard. As the greasy cheese drowned in yellow sauce, the table's empath could feel Dick's, Victor's, and Gar's hearts sink as if something great had just been put to death. The team sat quietly while Kory, Victor, and Gar finished their food and Dick's stomach growled in defeat.
The team exited the pizzeria to walk back to the T-car, with Dick, Kory, and Victor leading the front of the pack while discussing some new tech for the tower. Gar and Raven trailed behind the others, with Gar trying to convince her that his comics did indeed measure up to the writings in her books. His arguments were ridiculous, but Raven nevertheless participated in the conversation, probably out of simple amusement.
"I'm telling you, they're not just comics!" he attempted as they walked. "They're graphic novels and they can be just as detailed as your books."
"I'd be more inclined to believe you if you'd ever actually read a real novel."
"But they're so… ugh, I guess I could try one… If you'll read one of my comics."
"I thought they were 'graphic novels'…" she quipped with knowing smirk.
"You know what I mean!" he flustered.
Raven glanced at him for a moment as if pondering, and replied, "Deal. You read one of mine and then I'll read one of yours." Of course, she had no intention of reading any comics, but Gar would have to deal with that when the time came—which itself was doubtful because her books required weeks of reading. He'd surely grow tired of them and give up long before that point.
"You got it," Gar confirmed. "Just don't give me one of those boring, sappy ones." Looking to his left, he smiled at the profile view of his new girlfriend. Her dark purple hair swayed slightly over her shoulders as she walked, and the faintest remnants of her previous smirk remained as a slight smile—albeit a very slight smile. He said quietly so the others wouldn't hear, "You're really pretty, Rae."
Her face faltered from the unexpected sentiment, and she wanted to look back at him but couldn't bring her eyes to look anywhere but forward. What was she supposed to say? 'Thanks'? How typical of her, she thought; unable to process even the slightest bit of affection.
"You okay?" he asked, noticing her disoriented expression.
She snapped out of it and replied, "Yes, sorry. I'm just… surprised you can see me like that."
"It's easy." Gar grinned to lighten the mood.
Without much thought, he reached out and took her hand, taking in the feel of her pale skin and the body heat radiating from her palm. However, it was a strange sensation for Raven, as if their intimacy last week had actually been ages ago and she'd forgotten how to do it. She looked awkwardly at their hands. She truly did enjoy his touch, and yet the thought of expressing this was somehow beyond her. How could Gar do this so freely without feeling the nagging pressure that she did?
Seeing her violet eyes staring dispassionately, Gar frowned and let go of her hand—it was only then that Raven realized she hadn't even bothered to return his grip.
"I guess you don't like holding hands," Gar said dryly, turning away. He attempted a neutral tone, but the empath could sense restrained irritation pouring off of him.
"It's not my thing," she droned automatically, but then kicked herself for not being more sensitive. Gar was supposed to be the immature one who ruined precious moments, not her.
"I guess," he sighed.
The two walked along the sidewalk in silence, still trailing about ten meters behind the other Titans. Gar's eyes looked steadily forward in defiance, while Raven's focused downward at her alternating feet. Unable to bear any further awkward interaction, they walked as two separate individuals—their footsteps almost deliberately out of sync.
As the T-car came into view, the silence was broken by the sudden, blaring ringing of their five communicators. Everybody instinctively grabbed their devices to assess the disturbance, but it was Dick who gave the verdict:
2. Flash Point
Trouble's name today was Dr. Light, and Gar would only remember the ensuing battle as fragmented memories. The beginning of the fight remained slightly clearer to him, while the latter existed only as brief, scattered glimpses.
His earliest memory was just after the fireworks first started. Dr. Light had thrown his usual arsenal at them, breaking out his lasers and electrified whips right away. The Titans evaded most of his attacks and mainly retaliated with their own long-range techniques. The strategy with Dr. Light was to always keep moving, and it was working fairly well. His yellow force field protected him from most of their attacks, but Victor eventually managed to catch him off guard with his sonic blaster. Gar had followed through in the form of a green ram, delivering a headbutt to the recovering villain that sent him tumbling backwards.
It was then that things began to deviate from the usual routine. As the doctor rose back to his feet, the light source at the center of his armor glowed and Gar's animal senses detected some sort of accumulating pressure, as if something were charging up. Growing angry, Dr. Light set his sights on the changeling and a moment later, a sharp blast erupted from his chest piece resembling a lightning bolt. Gar's heightened instincts allowed him to narrowly avoid the attack by immediately taking the form of a small bird that was out of its path, but the bolt continued onward to land a direct hit on an unsuspecting Tamaranian. Kory screamed in agony as the lightning fed into her body for nearly three long seconds, after which she collapsed to the ground as sparks lingered at her extremities.
It was actually a good thing that Kory had been the first one to get hit, since she was probably the only Titan who could take a lighting strike and still get back up. Even so, Dr. Light's new ability to attack with lightning bolts changed everything, and it is here that Gar's memory becomes fragmented…
He remembers running a perimeter as a cheetah, dodging electric whips before reverting to his human form. Explosions are ringing out from Victor's cannon and Dick's projectiles, and there is the sound of twisting metal as Raven uproots street lamps and traffic signs. Dr. Light is getting reckless. Gar plans his next move, when Dick shouts something frantically to him, and then the memory sharply cuts off.
The next experience is foggy—the sensation of someone's hands rolling him onto his back. He's on the ground and vaguely feels like he isn't breathing. Explosions still ring out. As Gar's head falls limply to the side, he sees the blurred image of Victor's back to him. He is shouting urgently over his shoulder—something about "cover fire". There are more hands on him, and then the image fades to black.
Gar's eyes open again, slightly. He's still on his back with his head facing sideways, and the battle is still going on but time has passed. The ground and buildings are now littered with scorch marks. He feels hypoxic, like his chest has been crushed and isn't moving any air or blood. Victor is still next to him and facing the other way, except now he is covered with slash marks and patches of melted metal. Dick's battle cries are ferocious, and Gar can barely make out the image of the Boy Wonder in close-quarters combat with Dr. Light. Someone's hands are still on him, but he can't turn his head to look. The attempt causes him to black out again.
He's in the T-car, laid out across the back seat. Now his head is facing upward, limiting his sight to the roof of the vehicle and a restricted view of a blue cloak at the bottom of his visual field. The cabin is full of energy. He can feel the street passing under him extremely quickly; for some reason, they're driving very fast. Victor is repeating "hang in there" over and over again, while Dick's voice is saying medical-sounding things… Who are they talking about? Gar's eyes close and he has the foggy wonder if someone is hurt.
Hands are still on his chest, which feels noncompliant and painfully congested. A weak cough comes to the surface. It feels like it's tearing through his thorax, and everything is black again.
Gar shifted to and fro atop his bed, searching for a position that didn't aggravate his chest wound any further. The damage had already come a long way in healing, but the flesh still ached under its own tension and although it was bearable, it was also quite annoying. He made a mental note to be more careful the next time he faced off against Dr. Light.
The ironically dimwitted villain was far from a criminal mastermind, but he did have impressive tech and enough luck to land an intense, fully charged lightning bolt straight into the changeling's sternum. Gar's most coherent memory afterward was waking up in the Titans' infirmary, with Raven performing her healing magic and Victor working at several diagnostic monitors. He was later told that he'd been on the brink of death, and would have actually bit it if the demoness hadn't been on him so quickly. Her healing on the scene had managed to barely halt his otherwise rapid decline (while an enraged Kory let loose on Dr. Light), and she had continued her magic nonstop until he'd regained consciousness.
The other Titans regaled him with a full account of what had happened during his interim, but as he lay on his bed, the only image Gar replayed in his mind was that of Raven standing over him as he awoke. Despite her obvious exhaustion from holding her magic for so long, her violet eyes looked down at him with concern as if he were the only thing that mattered. What a feeling to have such a beautiful girl look at him like that… it made his insides flutter just remembering it.
Of course, given the drastic circumstance, a look of such concern would not have been so remarkable had it come from any of the other Titans. But what he and Raven had was now something else entirely, and it had become apparent that she was very much out of her element. Maybe it was a stubborn attempt to hold onto her established self-image; even holding hands seemed to make her uncomfortable, Gar remembered, and damned if she ever initiated anything herself. It was frustrating to say the least, and was starting to put tension on their still-young relationship.
But apparently, for all her pride, even Raven couldn't mask her concern for the green teen this afternoon. He smiled to himself as the image played through his mind yet again.
Gar's door swooshed open, and he glanced over to see the object of his affection enter quietly before seeing that he was awake.
"Well you seem back to your chirpy self," Raven commented, walking over to him.
"Just thinkin' about you, babe," he grinned.
Raven's expression seemed torn between flattery and frustration, and she replied with some irritation, "Gar, you know I don't know what to say to that."
Gar's pointy ears drooped a little. "Relax Rae, I wasn't looking for you to say anything." He decided to take a risk by holding eye contact while he continued, "It's just that... you know... I almost died out there. It's strange being so close to death… but it was really great seeing you when I came back."
Raven may have otherwise shrugged off his compliment, but this time a small smile forced its way to the surface as she returned his gaze. Arriving at his side, she sat next to him on his bed—her weight on the mattress causing Gar's body to shift toward leftward and his face to wince from the pain in his chest.
"I should be able to finish healing you now. Once you woke up, I was pretty drained and had to stop for a while."
"Sure you did…" he feigned disbelief. "I'll bet you just wanted me to be waiting up for ya."
"Right, that sounds like me," the demoness deflected, rolling her eyes as she placed her left hand over his wound to resume her healing technique.
The room became quiet while Raven's hand poured magical energy into Gar's chest. Minutes went by, during which neither spoke. Raven focused while Gar lay back with his eyes closed. In the silence, her mind wandered. She thought about their Martian escape a week earlier, still amazed at the resolve she'd worked up to take such initiative. After all their years of bickering, who knew that she would have been the one to pursue him?
She'd figured that would have been the hardest part, but now they were 'together' and so many things weren't any easier. Stealing an unseen look at Gar's relaxed face, her own expression softened. The thought of almost losing him today stung more than she'd ever admit… which was probably the problem. Caring was one thing, but affection was something completely alien to her. He'd almost died, and all she knew how to do afterward was stare awkwardly like she always did. What was she thinking, starting a relationship when she had no idea how to participate? It was too engrained in her to diffuse his jokes and compliments; to create distance rather than close it. Ugh, how had she managed to do this right the first time?
"That feels good, Raven…" Gar muttered weakly under his breath, offsetting the rhythm of her thoughts.
Taken aback for a moment, the chromatically challenged girl watched his expression curiously. He hadn't spoken to her with that tone—that sense of awe—since she'd first kissed him. As undeserved as it felt, it was nevertheless a good feeling. At least she must have been doing something right.
She continued to watch him as he sank into his bed under her magic. He looked so content, and Raven wondered if he could feel her gaze on him, despite his closed eyes. His guard was completely down and he seemed to have surrendered himself to her in that moment. It was unlike her, but she couldn't help but feel somewhat content herself.
After a short time, Gar's wound had fully recovered and Raven ceased her technique.
"There," she said, breaking the silence with her usual monotone. "You should be back to normal."
Gar opened his eyes and replied, "Wow, it feels completely healed. Thanks Rae."
As their eyes met, both found they had no desire to move from their position; that mysterious, unseen force was at work again. After a moment, Gar felt a light sensation moving along his chest. He looked and found Raven's hand still in place, her pale fingers drifting over his green skin. Raven's eyes also turned, but for some reason, she didn't recoil her hand. Some deeper part of her didn't want to relinquish the faint but electrifying feel of Gar's bare chest on the pads of her fingers. As her fingertips danced over his skin, both of their breaths slowed to a crawl and their eyes transfixed on the point of contact.
So this is intimacy, Raven thought as she watched intently. It was as if this simple touch had allowed them to flow freely into one another, making everything else part of a distant, irrelevant background.
She started to move her hand down his midline, her fingers grazing over his lean abdominal muscles. It was the first time she'd felt anyone like this. The contours of his musculature triggered a reflexive obsidian spark that jolted from her fingers through each of their bodies, causing their breaths to stutter and their muscles to tense for just an instant. She lingered near his navel, and then ran her fingers smoothly up to his sternum, her light touches revving up his nervous system and sending tingles radiating from each movement.
"Raven…" he murmured breathlessly, causing her to look back at his face.
It was that tone again—the one of amazement, or maybe of connection. Whatever it was, it flowed completely through her, drawing her in like a force of gravity. Strong gravity.
The next thing Gar knew, Raven had leaned in and was now hovering centimeters over his face. Her warm breaths and the finer details of her radioactive irides were immediately mesmerizing. He hadn't seen this look in her eyes since the last time she was about to kiss him, which meant it was definitely a very welcome look.
Picking up on his cue, the changeling lifted his arms and used both hands on her head to eagerly pull her lips onto his. The sudden eruption of passion and contact sent the demoness' powers into a torrent through her body; a shockwave rippled through her, causing her supporting arm to weaken momentarily. After a week of awkward interactions, their kiss was immediately intoxicating. Gar buried his fingers into her lavender hair, to which she instinctively inhaled sharply, stealing the air from his lungs. Behind her head, he grasped her hair firmly with both hands, and she melted under his grip. A small part of her wondered how she'd allowed her guard to drop so low; despite her impenetrably strong will, this boy's touch had somehow reduced her to warm putty in his hands.
Considering how unusual it was for Raven to relinquish this much control, Gar wasn't about to let the opportunity pass by. He pressed his entire mouth onto hers, taking in her taste and enjoying the feel of her soft lips. Then, he decided to take an even bigger risk than a lightning bolt to the chest: holding her head in place, he ran his tongue quickly along her lower lip, and then braced for his likely punishment.
Raven's eyes opened at the unexpected moist sensation on her lip, sending chills radiating across the corners of her mouth. She knew she should have killed him for it, but was instead surprised when an approving moan rumbled from her vocal cords. Gar grinned and Raven blushed from her involuntary display, but she wouldn't let him keep the victory. Moving her hand from his chest to the back of his head, she gripped his dark green hair and pulled his lips back onto hers. Rather than simply return the favor, she closed her eyes and pushed her tongue all the way into Gar's mouth—earning an unprepared gasp in response. They played tongue games for several seconds, until eventually stopping to catch their breaths. As they separated, Raven lingered with their lips just barely touching, and Gar felt a tooth rub unexpectedly against his lower lip.
As they came apart, he opened to his eyes to find Raven looking back at him, locks of her newly disheveled hair draped along his face. Two small, feminine-looking fangs protruded beyond the girl's regular teeth. Gar's eyes widened for a moment before he broke into a grin and looked back to her eyes.
"I was right, the fangs are hot," Gar said between breaths. He could still taste her in his mouth and added, "I can't believe you did all that."
"You were asking for it," Raven replied flatly but with a small smile of her own, as the fangs returned to her usual canine teeth.
"Heh, yeah… I did think you might kill me at one point," he confessed, only half-jokingly.
"I still might," she corrected with narrowed eyes, "if you tell anyone about this."
He grinned again and teased, "Oh, you mean about how you totally melted and started moaning…"
Raven blushed again at the memory, but held strong and countered, "Funny, I remember you making some interesting sounds way before that happened…"
"Yeah, well…" Gar searched unsuccessfully for a defense, before yielding the last word to the girl.
After a few quiet moments, Raven's palm again landed gently—almost timidly—on Gar's chest. Scanning her face, Gar noticed her expression change as she focused, and then felt the pleasantly familiar sensation of Raven's healing art diffusing through him. As before, it was stimulating in an unusual way that was both calming and energizing. He'd never been able to find words to describe it, other than that it just felt so right.
"I thought you said I was healed," he said quietly, distracted while he savored the strange but invigorating feeling coursing from her hand through his body.
"You are. But don't pretend you don't like it," she quipped back in her characteristic monotone, her empathic abilities reading the changeling's elation like a book. She felt Gar's mind surrender to her again, and made a mental note of her technique's secondary utility. Thoughtfully, she asked, "So is this… 'connection' what you've wanted all week?"
Gar smiled and answered, "Rae, this is so much more than what I've wanted all week… Pleeeease can I at least tell Cyborg?"
Ignoring his propensity for ruining the moment, the reticent girl reflected. Considering her failed attempts to feign affection, the real thing had been so effortless. Sure, she had unwittingly destroyed just about every breakable object in the room during their make-out session, but Gar wouldn't notice until she'd left, anyway. Maybe 'creepy' girls could manage half-decent relationships after all, at least when no one was watching. And the benefits were better than she'd ever admit; the feel of Gar's skin was captivating and Raven was in no rush to let it go.
As his emerald eyes stared up at her, Gar gave a euphoric sigh and said, "You know, Raven, I'm not sure all this magic stuff is fair…"
"And yet you don't seem to be complaining," she replied, her palm and fingers gliding along his chest as she worked her spell.
"Definitely not…" he said as his eyes closed. "I don't know what you did with the other Raven, but I could do this forever." He paused, as if realizing something, and Raven waited curiously for what he might say next. A few seconds went by before he opened his eyes, narrowed them suspiciously, and added, "You are the real Raven right? Not one of those mini-you's that hang out in your head or something..."
"I'm me," she answered, rolling her eyes at what she hoped was a lame joke. "And no, you cannot tell Cyborg."
Author note: Thus concludes our look at how an introverted, emotionally-disconnected half demon might navigate feelings of attraction and intimacy. I figure if a picture is worth a thousand words, then touch is worth at least as many pictures.
Now, I know your first instinct is going to be to ignore that text box and leave me hanging. One weekend, this had 249 NEW READERS and NO REVIEWS! But believe me, reviews mean everything to us writers and your feedback really does make my day. I'd be grateful!
Lastly, credit goes to the works of Sir Alwick and Xaphrin; they've shown that sometimes, physical interaction can convey so much more than dialog. Thanks to Dylan for his prepublication comments.