Note from the Author: This is meant to serve as a follow-up/sequel to my previous story, "Quality Time". And while I did my best to make this a story that can stand on its own, for better reference on the overall setup to this story, it is recommended that Quality Time be read first.
It is my fondest hope to carry on what so many people reviewed so positively from the previous story. I wish to express my deepest gratitude to everyone who supported my endeavors in whatever capacity they were able to. And I ask for your continued patience as I continue into this in as timely a manner as I can afford. Sincerest thanks.
Chapter 1 – Grace Period
Cyborg tapped his fingers against the main room table. The most serious of looks practically chiseled on his face. He looked down at the cards in his hand just before shooting a stare across the table.
Robin hunched forward on the couch, staring back before looking down at his own cards. The tension was all too present as he gave a scratch to his chin in thought. He tapped the table twice with his index finger.
Cyborg nodded, reaching to the side of the table for the deck. He pulled two cards from the top, flicking them across the table, gliding into Robin's grasp as he added them to his hand. Carefully Robin lifted them up, adding the two new cards to his current hand while making certain not to let the faces of either card be seen.
He narrowed his eyes. His expression straight faced, doing his best to mentally calculate his card's value without letting on whether it was a good or bad hand. He looked back across the table.
Cyborg gave one more quick glimpse at his cards before waving off his hand, signaling he was content with what he held.
Robin reached into a small stack of coins in front of him on the table. "Four," he said plainly as he lifted four silver coins from his stack of ten before throwing them into a small pile in the center of the table.
Cyborg watched as the coins clinked against the other coins in the pot. He looked back up, pausing only a moment before reaching down towards one of the few stacks of coins stacked in front of him. "I'll see your four," he tossed four coins in to match Robin's wager, "And raise ya two." He pitched in another two coins.
Robin remained a blank face. He remained focused on Cyborg's equally vacant expression as he casually lifted his remaining coins into his hand a few inches and then let them fall back into a pile on the table repeatedly. After two or three symphonies of coins stacking and falling against one another, he pressed his hand firmly over the stack. He pushed the remainder of his coins into the pot. "All in."
Cyborg leaned forward slightly in anticipation. "Whadya' got?"
Robin laid down his cards. "Two pair," he said proudly as he laid out a pair of sevens and nines.
Cyborg's face fell with a slight sigh. "Sheesh, man" he ran his hand over his head in shame. "You'd think ya could make this just a little easier."
Robin gave a triumphant smirk. He extended his arms reaching out for his winnings.
Cyborg's hand came down with a thud on the table, cutting him off just as Robin was about to snake his forearms around the pot. "Ah-Ah-Ah-Ah!" he waggled his finger.
Robin stopped cold, his previous look of accomplishment and victory turning to grimacing shame and fear.
"Just a little easier… on you. Full house," he laid down three tens and a pair of aces across the table facing Robin. "Boo-Yah!" Cyborg pulled 'his' winnings out of Robin's grasp, allowing a slow path of stray coins to trail behind as if to visually point to the winner's circle.
Robin let his head sink before letting it give way to a mild thud against the table. "That's five games in a row!" he said almost in disbelief. Not long ago it was Robin and his formidable detective skills awarding bragging rights to him as the superior poker player. Now he couldn't catch a single break.
He wanted to examine the cards for markings, but he plainly knew the deck was clean from prior inspection. He wanted to suspect Cyborg of integrating some kind of professional card analyzing software or probability calculator in his operating system. But he plainly knew Cyborg wouldn't install something so trivial on something so vital to his integral systems. Still, something didn't add up. Nobody could have this dramatic a turn around in such a short time. Even someone with enhanced motor and sensory capability.
"Aw, cheer up man," Cyborg dumped a handful of coins into an open slot in his forearm, quickly followed the sound of sifting and shaking metal as a neatly packed roll of coins ejected from his elbow. "Ya can't win'em all. Here, go drown your sorrows." Cyborg lobbed a few stray coins in his direction.
Robin looked up, catching the coins. He inspected them, verifying them to be half of his last wager. The same arcade tokens he'd just recently bet with. However Robin was hardly in the mood just casting a dull gaze on the coins that seemed to have lost their silver luster in his eyes.
He let out a small sigh. "I swear you've got eyes in the back of MY head," he stood from the couch lumbering toward the kitchen.
Cyborg watched as he passed, looking back to where Robin had been sitting. His spare cybernetic hand crawled up from the back of the couch, the red camera lens affixed to the inside of the middle finer blinking before giving a small wave with it's pinky finger.
He cheerfully waved back with a grin seeing himself on a small view screen with a live video feed from the display on his cybernetic eye. "Nope. But you're not far off."
Admittedly not the most honest thing to do, but Robin had this way about him whenever he started winning on a frequent basis that often led to cocky boasting and almost belligerent behavior. And it just felt like his duty as a friend to put those kinds of hot streaks on ice.
Robin trudged to the end of the couch still trying to place where he'd gone wrong, passing Raven just before slumping in the corner to sulk.
Raven had been ever present but more of a fixture to the room, reading quietly the last twenty minutes or so, fading into the background against the other Titans more recreational behavior. Shaded under the silhouette of her hood her eyes moved side-to-side, paragraph-to-paragraph, giving way only to the slightest motion of her hand to move onto the next page. Raven with her hood up was essentially the international symbol for 'do not disturb'. Especially with an open book in hand.
Starfire emerged from the kitchen walking over to the brooding empath with a steaming mug in hand. "Raven," she called cheerfully as she closed distance to her.
Raven's eyes swung upwards from the current passage, retaining their neutral gaze in silence.
"I have prepared for you a cup of the green tea," she offered the mug with an inviting smile.
Raven let the smallest section of her lip curl in an appreciative smile, setting the book down in her lap. It was no secret that she preferred herbal tea in the early hours of the day. Still it was a warm gesture. She was just about to set down her book to fix herself a cup too.
Raven softly took the mug into her hands. "Thank you," she spoke as she watched the steam waft from atop the cup and its warmth entered her palms. She closed her eyes as she took the cup under her chin taking a moment to breathe in the soothing aroma. She inhaled through her nostrils, only for her eyes to bulge slightly in shock and chokingly cough on the residual odor still lingering in her sinuses, as the smell of this tea was somewhat foreign to her expectations.
Raven looked down into the thick neon green, almost gelatinous liquid that still bubbled in a fairly grotesque manner. Green tea, at least as she had always recalled, was never this thick. Nor this green. Or quite this stomach churning.
"Uh, Starfire?" she asked in her most polite, un-horrified manner she could muster. "This tea. What kind of leaves did you use?"
"Leaves?" Starfire asked, confusion evident.
"Um… yes, Star. Tea is typically made with crushed tea leaves."
"Oh! That must be what produces its most natural healthy green color," she brought one hand on top of the other as if just making the connection. "It is most clear now."
"Which is more than I can say for the tea," Raven gave an eerie glimpse into the mug.
"What exactly did you use to make… this?"
"All natural ingredients of earthly origin that resemble the proper color. Broccoli, pistachios, and the mint of chip ice cream."
Raven gave a sour look deeper into the mug, accounting for the small bits of various green bile floating to the surface. "T-Thank you," she said forcing a smile as Star gave a nod and walked back to the kitchen. Raven gulped hard, trying to suppress the lingering sickly feeling gagging at the back of her throat as she set the cup down on the table. She then took a deep cleansing breath, hoping to expunge the remaining unpleasant aroma from memory. "Could've been worse," she mumbled to herself as she inched away from direct line of sight with the foreboding brew, "She could've used yard trimmings."
"Her hearts in the right place."
Raven glanced over her shoulder at Cyborg who offered a sympathetic smile to the culinary blight that had been visited on everyone from one time or another.
"Heart, liver, kidneys, whatever else might've been able to fit in the blender," she shrugged.
Cyborg shuddered briefly. Leave it to Raven to take something visually disagreeable and add commentary remarks to make it all the more nauseating. "So, any ideas how to politely dispose of this one?"
Whenever Starfire offered up a less than tantalizing food, beverage, or anything in between, the most courteous thing to do was dispose of it without her knowledge. Saved face, no hurt feelings, and no digestive ailments or parasites later.
"Need to field test a new kind of engine lubricant?" Raven asked.
"I love my car too much," Cyborg shook his head.
"Replace some of Robin's gas pellets in his utility belt?"
"I don't hate bad guys that much."
Raven scanned the room. No potted plants. Star was in the kitchen so the garbage disposal in the sink was out of the question.
That's when she spotted Silkie in the corner of the room, lapping water from a bowl. She looked back at Cyborg, eyebrow raised as if fishing for approval.
"Pretty sure that's cruelty to animals," he leaned his head to the side. "Speaking of which," he eyed the wall clock verifying it was well past eleven o'clock, "Any word from…"
As if on cue the main room doors swished open as BeastBoy walked into view. "Eeyyyaaaawwwghn", he yawned with one arm outstretched, the other arching against his back. Early to bed and early to rise was an expression lost on the resident changeling. He was more situated in the late hours of movie marathons and video game high scores than rational sleep hours.
"He lives. Sorta'," Cyborg chuckled.
"How can you tell?" Raven turned back to her book.
"Can't," Cyborg activated a small scanner apparatus from his wrist. "Sometimes he puts off less brainwave activity when he's awake than when he's asleep. So… kinda' hard to gauge." He remarked with a smile. To which Raven gave a small shrug as if to imply there was some level of plausibility to that remark, truthful or not.
"Morn-EEEKK!" BeastBoy's leg snared the front leg of the couch sending him falling forward, arms flailing to grab anything to stop himself. His left arm hooked in front of him swiping across the tabletop as his right outstretched as far as it could on impulse to grab onto anything to brace himself.
His chin hit the floor with just enough impact to bite his tongue. BeastBoy slowly pulled himself up from the floor, gingerly sticking his tongue out his mouth. "Agh maghn," ("Aw man") he momentarily annunciated without closing his mouth to keep from accidentally biting his tongue again. He pressed his tongue to the roof of his mouth as if hoping to put pressure on the tender part of his tongue, fighting back the single tear that had welled up in his eye from the sudden stinging pain. He rubbed the bottom of his jaw. "Edhy durbibores?" ("Any survivors?")
"I'll let ya know in a sec," Cyborg said casually in that familiar tone that seemed to be reminiscent of the underlying 'I wouldn't wanna' be you right now' tone of voice.
Still, he had to know.
BeastBoy raised his head up from the floor past the table. A trail of green liquid spattered across the table to the far edge, down a few inches onto the floor from its former vessel, which lay shattered in four or five large pieces with what remained of the green sludge pooling in the center.
To the far end of the room, a book, spread cover to back with but a single edge dry, submerged in almost three inches of water in Silkie's bowl. Momentarily fazed by the sudden airborne surprise in his drinking water, Silkie merely blinked before continuing to lap against the book as he resumed his drink.
BeastBoy looked from his shoulder, down his arm, past his wrist, tracing the path of his hand that was pulling him up, finding that in his haste to the floor he'd been firmly grasping to the top of Raven's thigh.
He jumped backwards releasing his hand and crawling back a few steps, huddling upright on his hands and feet. From there he remained still. Any lingering sleepiness in his eyes broke away. If he wasn't already fully awake he certainly was now. Awake, alert, and his mind racing on the outcome of what was to come next.
"Nope. No survivors," Cyborg remarked, with a shake of his head as he looked from Raven to BeastBoy on the floor.
Raven rose to her feet, slowly straightening her posture, adjusting her cloak as she lifted from off the couch. She took a deep breath, shutting her eyes.
Raven's head snapped to the side, eyes still shut but still able to feel the green boy in her crosshairs. Her eyes opened, now enveloped by an eerie white glow that overshadowed her pupils. Mercy, calm understanding, and patience were gone from her gaze. They were now just two searchlights that had BeastBoy frozen to the spot in fear.
He was grass. And she was the lawnmower.
Hesitantly BeastBoy got to his feet, standing as if the floor beneath him was thin ice.
Raven remained unmoving, her eyes not budging from his all but quivering state.
Cyborg took a step back, knowing all too well what was bound to follow. Fortunately, he had something prepared for just such an occasion.
He pressed a button just below his right shoulder. Instantly two small speakers filed out from an inner compartment on his back, peeking over his shoulders on both sides. Cyborg opened another small compartment on the underside of his forearm pulling a small microphone and lifting it to his mouth. He pressed one final switch and immediately a bugle call bellowed through the speakers, the kind typically played before the start of a race on a horse track.
"AAAND THEY'RE OFF!"
BeastBoy sprang to his feet, tripping and fumbling over his own feet once or twice but it did little to hamper his energies to vacate the room at high speed. He sprinted out of the main room, the doors swishing closed behind him.
Raven remained, but didn't budge an inch, completely still. Not a muscle moving. Not a word spoken.
A black energy field mobilized beneath her feet as she sank into the floor, disappearing from view as she engulfed herself deeper into the swirling energies, dissipating as soon as she vanished from sight.
A green cheetah sprinted down the hallway, coming up fast on a t-junction. It did not decrease speed, merely lowering its head, keeping at optimum pace. The cheetah leapt into the air less than a foot from the wall, shifting its form to a kangaroo bounding off the wall to make a hard right turn down the adjacent hallway, and shifting form again into a gazelle. Again, it scurried faster and faster, doing everything it could to pick up speed.
It was truly a horrifying mindset to be in. Left, right, up, down, forwards, backwards. So many directions and none of them offered any better a chance of getting away. It all boiled down to hope and dumb luck. And if there was ever one thing for BeastBoy to bank on, it was dumb luck.
All his animal senses were on high alert. He couldn't hear Raven. He couldn't smell her. He couldn't sense her by any way, shape, or form. He certainly couldn't see her. But then again in his present form he couldn't quite turn around to look behind him all that well. Not at this speed. But he could feel that she was coming. He just didn't know from where. And there was certainly no point in stopping to verify what he already knew to be certain. Especially based on past experience.
Speed was of the essence. But his nerves were wearing thin. All the same instincts that were helping him to search for her were starting to send other signals as well. Like panic. Fear. Dread. What if it was already too late? What if Raven was already caught up to him and he couldn't see her coming? What if she was right on top of him? Just about to pounce! Just about to snare him! And then? Oh, what then!
BeastBoy resumed human form, his animal instincts on the verge of sending him into a panic attack. He hobbled frantically, having made the transition too quickly and his human legs unable to keep pace with such a high rate of speed, just narrowly avoiding a face plant and skidding down the hall. But he quickly adjusted to a more maintainable speed, pumping his feet hard against the ground. He just had to maintain long enough to regain a calmer state of mind before he could morph again where he had more dependence in animal state.
He looked over his shoulder.
The fleeting corridor behind him was vacant and dark. But that did little to reassure him. Raven was all too comfortable in the dark.
He looked ahead out in front of him.
Suddenly a hand reached out from an intersecting hallway, grabbing firmly by the green boy's chest, his uniform bunched in its tight grasp as the ground was yanked out from under him. A swift jerk found him flung around into the connecting passageway where he was planted with his back firmly against the wall with an audible thud.
BeastBoy was frozen to the spot as he found himself face to face with his inalienable pursuer.
Raven just stared without a word. Without a sound. Her intent hidden beneath the dark silhouette masking her eyes.
BeastBoy panted, still catching his breath.
Raven leaned forward nose to nose with her prey.
BeastBoy's breathing slowed to normal.
A moment's silence hung heavy in the air.
Raven lifted her hands, lowering her hood, her face clearly sporting an un-amused expression. She looked at him hard, just the slightest hint of disdain in her eyes.
BeastBoy swallowed hard with a gulp of jumbled nerves.
"You do realize how lucky you are that wasn't a first edition you ruined, right?" she spoke in her usual monotone.
She was clearly insinuating the book he'd caused to do a half gainer into Silkie's water bowl. But he merely shifted his pupils to the corner of his eyes as if mentally weighing a right or wrong answer.
Raven narrowed her eyes at him, before shutting them to let out an exasperated sigh. "On the one hand, you ruined a perfectly good book of significant age and value AND you spilled my tea."
BeastBoy shrank back against the wall. One or the other was usually the case. But both and at the same time? That was practically a capital offense in Raven's book. Heck, with the kind of luck he had, it might have been listed as such in that very book he destroyed.
"On the other hand," she remained firmly neutral in tone but softened her expression by a small margin, "The book was not a first edition, ergo it can be easily replaced AND… you spilled my tea."
BeastBoy's tense face collapsed into confusion. "W-wait. You just said spilled tea was bad and now it's not so…"
"Oh yeah," she rolled her eyes off to the side.
BeastBoy stared at her a moment before venturing a smile. Raven steadily in turn matched it with a smile of her own. And while not nearly as engaging as BeastBoy's, it was just as inviting and further decreased the prior tension.
It had now been almost two months since the inquiry of a wager among friends. A period in which BeastBoy and Raven were stipulated to occupy one another's personal space and subsequently inject themselves into each others day to day routines during the standard morning to night cycle of daily activities for no less than thirty days.
A heralding experience to say the least. Certainly not without its fair share of high tensions and emotional pitfalls. Regardless, a lot had changed. Nothing more so than the two of them. Not necessarily as people, but rather their perceptions and understandings towards one another. But in the later days that followed afterward, something new had begun to take shape. Something so unexpectedly simple and yet so woefully under appreciated.
A bond. More specifically, a certain kind of bond.
Raven and BeastBoy were not strangers to one another and had long since bonded. As heroes, of course. As friends, certainly. But now they were starting to see if there was something more to it than that. If that bond was continuing to grow into something more. And if it was, was it genuine?
There was little doubt the bet had been the trigger. But these budding feelings of comfortable acceptance and subtle affection, was their current situation that of coincidence or convenience?
Granted, spend a little time with someone for over a month and all kinds of things could happen. Not to mention the least of which would be the kinds of feelings that could easily be miscued or mistaken.
But ever since the end of the bet, neither of them was certain they could simply go back to the way things had been before. Not without finding out first hand if this new bond between them was what it seemed to be. And so since then, the two of them had been more… discreetly pursuing the prospect and dare say possibility of a feasible relationship.
And by discreet, that plainly meant without prying eyes, ears, and speculation amongst the other Titans.
"So… whatcha' wanna' do now?" BeastBoy asked, shyly rubbing the back of his head.
Raven observed the digital readout of her communicator, displaying the current time. "Well, given the nature and haste you took off and the demeanor I had when I gave chase," she contemplated rubbing her chin, "We should keep out of sight for at least an hour or two. If we just walked back now, they'd no doubt be suspicious."
BeastBoy nodded in agreement.
He then quickly threw himself with his back against the wall, peering around the corner to make certain no one had come after them to make certain no major incursion had taken place. He then tip toed to the end of the opposite hallway, all the while giving hand signals to follow him quietly like in some cheesy espionage movie he'd more than likely seen on late night TV.
Raven just watched with a small sigh, deadpan as he sneaked and scurried from corner to corner, ducking and crawling, rolling and weaving around walls. She plainly walked up beside him as he peeked around another hallway.
He turned back.
"Gah!" he yelped, caught off guard, forgetting how naturally quiet Raven was without trying.
Raven folded her arms. "If no one came after us by now, I think it's a safe bet they've pretty much left you to your fate."
"Shhh!" he pressed a finger over her lips, "Can't be too careful. But could ya maybe not make it sound like I been left for dead?" he pleaded with a raise of his brow.
Raven quickly brushed away both his hand from off her mouth, and a miniscule blush from her cheeks.
BeastBoy made one last sweep of the hallway before looking back over his shoulder to Raven. "Listen," he looked back, holding a hand up in front of his mouth to seemingly keep anyone from reading his lips, "Milkshakes run hot down the water slide," he whispered.
Raven crooked an eyebrow at him. "What?"
BeastBoy looked back at her, but quickly looked away again. Once more holding a hand in front of his mouth as he spoke softly. "The rooster crows with a mouth full of jelly beans."
No doubt trying to speak in some form of coded spy dialect. Fortunately, Raven had a universal decoder.
She pulled back her hand, letting it fly freely, smacking the back of BeastBoy's head ever so firmly in the just the right spot, causing him to sink his head between his shoulders.
BeastBoy stood up straight, rubbing the back of his head. "Uh, heh-heh. Let's ditch this place and go for ice cream," he said plainly with an apologetic grin.
Raven gave a tiny smirk in satisfaction. There was definitely something enjoyable about this whole 'secret relationship' thing. Not that she was willing to admit it, neither the fun nor the relationship. She wasn't even certain there was a relationship to admit yet anyway. This was more of a… period of adjustment.
"So… is this kinda' thing officially considered a love tap now?" he asked sweetly.
Raven kicked him sharply in the backside.
"Ow!" he stifled a shout. "What was that for?"
"Something to compare it to," she walked past him, gauging it to be a little too soon to be making those types of remarks.
BeastBoy casually walked after her, mildly rubbing another newly added sore spot. "I'm not hearing a no," he teased.
A short while later Raven found herself comfortably seated in the local bookstore. As per BeastBoy's suggestion, Raven wasn't big on sweets this early in the day. And instead made a counter suggestion to visit one of her favorite bookshops instead. Besides, he still wasn't off the hook from before and he still owed her a copy of the book he had drowned in water and maggot spittle.
BeastBoy was hardly enthusiastic at first, but still forced a nervous smile as if willing to bear it. Though he did get far more comfortable with the idea upon her pointing out there was a sizeable graphic novel section within the store.
Raven was seated in a small reading section in a more wide open space in the middle of the store surrounded by densely packed shelves on either side. A few narrow tables spread out with chairs neatly occupied at four to each table where people could casually read without sales pressure of having to purchase anything. There were benches surrounding the intended communal reading area, almost separating the vicinity from the other sections and doubled as extra space should the tables themselves be occupied. A few lighting fixtures hung overhead giving an almost library feel to the quiet openness of the surrounding spot.
Raven sat up straight, inhaling the scent of crisp paper, that 'new book' smell, with the slightest suggestion of freshly brewed coffee from the small functional café situated in the far corner of the shop. Opening the first of two books she'd carefully selected, she began flipping through the pages of her replaced book, finding her spot before she'd been previously disturbed. She found her place, tucking the receipt in between the binding. She exhaled with a rekindled sense of satisfaction, that everything was now back in proper methodical order.
Raven jumped in her chair, startled as a small stack of books dropped hard against the wooden tabletop like the crack of a gun. She narrowed her eyes, slowing her heart rate from the shock as the chair in front of her was pulled out from under the table.
BeastBoy plopped down in his chair, stretching his arms over his head and tilted his head to the side lightly cracking his neck. No doubt bracing himself as best he could for something that didn't involve a remote or a game controller.
Raven shot a mildly annoyed glare. It was amazing how she could never fully anticipate someone like BeastBoy's even most simplistic actions that would cause her the largest mental breaks.
She observed a stack of comic compilations, single volumes that covered at least a good five to ten individual comic issues. "Scintillating reading material as always I see," she quietly spoke as she looked back to find her place yet again.
BeastBoy crooked an eyebrow. He held up one of the books close to his nose, sniffing deeply. "Smells okay to me."
Raven's eyes parted from her book for only a split second, as if all she could afford for a sigh before turning back to her reading.
BeastBoy merely shrugged, huddling the stack in front of him as he opened the first and largest book and began to discreetly read.
A few moments passed as Raven turned the page having breezed through a good three pages already. She always had a certain degree of speed when properly engrossed in reading that held interest for her.
She would occasionally peek up from behind the cover, verifying BeastBoy was sufficiently occupied. Raven plainly knew BeastBoy had limits when it came to culture and literature. And that this would most likely be one of the last places he would ever find himself of his own accord. Still she was grateful he was willing to tough it out to whatever capacity he was able. And if he should happen to have nodded off she would be more than happy to give him a slight reprieve of slumber just before an obligatory drop of a heavy book against the table to return the same courtesy he'd visited upon her.
But BeastBoy was plainly awake. Awake and reading as evidenced by the back and forth motions of his pupils across the book in front of him.
Raven lowered her gaze back into her own book.
A few more minutes passed and Raven continued at a leisurely pace. Page after page she continued to read on. But every few pages she couldn't help but feel something was off. BeastBoy's reading level was moving at a far slower pace than her own. No surprise there. But she'd clearly heard the flick of paper whenever he moved onto the next page. And in the time it'd taken him to advance four pages, Raven had cleared an entire chapter. Even BeastBoy didn't take that long to look at illustrations and read captions in comics. Either the print was exceptionally small and there was far more content per page, or the green boy she was now spying once again from over the top of her book was up to something.
Slowly, Raven lowered her book as she leaned to the side. "Atomic Arachnid Cheerleaders" embossed in big bold letters on the front cover. Raven rolled her eyes at the illustration of six twenty-foot mutated, half human, half spider valley girls laying waste to a cityscape with laser vision. No doubt a creature feature pulled from the science fiction section.
Raven sat up, inching off the chair bit by bit, just barely to see over the top of the cover. Then as quietly as before she ducked down low to the table as she moved her hands forward. In one swift motion she quickly reached up, snagged the top of the cover, and yanked it downward flat onto the table.
Exposed was a smaller, more novel sized book that had previously been overlapping the larger comic book. The old fake cover bit. Perfectly fitting of BeastBoy. But what wasn't so fitting was what she found underneath.
A thick paperback book with a bright yellow cover. A self-help and observational guidebook entitled: 'All Kinds of Love'. One of those self awareness and self study books about identifying a particular kind of personal problem and taking you through step by step to identify, isolate, and ultimately solve whatever issue was troubling you. This one in particular seemed to be suggestive of romance and relationship building.
"BeastBoy?" she asked calmly, as if trying to mask her confusion, "What is that?"
He shyly looked out from beside the cover with a somewhat bewildered look, which he gradually morphed into a tense grin. "Um… HEY!" he mocked a double take, acting as if taken by surprise himself at the content of what was in his possession. "This isn't 'A Hundred and One Styles of Vegan Cooking'! I was wonderin' why all the recipes were a little wordy." He crossed his arms, shaking his head as he dropped the book onto the table as if disappointed.
Raven snatched the book into her hand, verifying the cover and the back. Both of which were littered with quotes and phrases about finding that 'special someone' and building a lasting relationship from the ground up.
"Clearly not," she dropped the book back onto the table with a dull, questionable look. "Hardly the most recreational read."
BeastBoy sighed, slumping in the chair. "Okay, okay. Ya got me, " he held up his hands, confessing, "But if it makes ya feel any better, I couldn't understand a lotta' the words in this thing."
Raven just held her head briefly before looking back up at him. "BeastBoy, do you know the meaning of the word, 'discreetly'?" she quietly asked fighting back just a touch of resentment.
He stared up at the ceiling. "That's spy talk for… secret? Right?"
Raven placed both hands firmly on the table rising from her chair, leaning forward. "It means cautious. To exercise personal judgment. Not to SAY or DO ANYTHING that might cause trouble."
BeastBoy shrank back in his chair as she closed the distance between them, meeting him nose to nose with her eyes narrowed so tightly he feared sparks would begin to ignite from her brow.
"You do know what 'trouble' is, don't you?" she whispered with a grit of her teeth.
He gave a frantic, timid nod. "I'm in it," he squeaked.
Raven leaned back into her chair letting out a sigh, having felt she drove her point home harder than she initially intended to.
BeastBoy slowly eased back into normal sitting position.
"BeastBoy," Raven said suddenly in firm voice.
He shrank back again, almost ducking underneath the table.
Raven gave another weary sigh, only guessing what kind of outer expression she was giving off and how menacing she may have looked. "BeastBoy," she softened her tone, "When we began this…'endeavor', I knew there would be challenges. But that doesn't mean you have to add to them."
He blinked twice. "Add? Me? Pfft!" he gave a lax reply, "You and me both know I'm horrible at math."
"What I mean is, you have this nasty habit of putting a strain on things almost to their breaking point." Raven collected herself, picking her book back up.
"Look, its not what ya think. I'm just tryin' to… ya know… pick up a few pointers. Learn how to avoid the big stuff and pick up on the little stuff. I mean, I don't wanna' be mean or nothin' but, let's face it. You're not the easiest person to work around stuff like this."
It was a valid point. Hardly the most flattering, but that didn't make it any less ingenuous.
He was making an effort. And he plainly knew the odds of him doing wrong were high enough to seek guidance, even willing to endure a book with written words well beyond his understanding. Plus this couldn't have been the easiest thing for him to wrap his head around. Not that Raven had fared much better at times.
"All I'm saying is just…" she paused looking down at the floor, trying to allocate her words accurately. "Just don't rush into anything. There's no guarantee this is going to pan out one way or the other. We've been teammates this long. We've been friends… almost as long," she rolled off to the side with a dreary shrug. "If this is indeed the next logical step then… it'll come with time."
"Trust me, I-I'm not tryin' to rush anything any more than you are. Especially the stuff that gets me put through the ceiling, and laid out on the floor, and… any other place ya might throw me." He gave a nervous laugh, clearly trying to ease the awkwardness of the conversation.
Raven sank her head between her shoulders, slightly embarrassed in her present state of mind. At least from the more recent incidents that came to memory.
"But I'm new to this kinda' stuff too. And just don't want somethin' special like this to be over as quick as it started." He looked off to the side, his hands fidgeting on top of each other on the table.
A gentle warmth settled on top of BeastBoy's hand.
He looked up to find Raven's hand resting on top of his own. Slowly he raised his eyes looking up, glancing across the table. Raven met eyes with him, offering the smallest most sincere smile that just put him at ease.
It would be hard to label an experience, almost like trial and error, to determine if their way of coexisting with one another was beyond what it once was. But special was probably listed at the bottom. Just below stressful, insane, irrelevant, illogical, and potentially pointless. But somehow, BeastBoy managed to bump it up the list just a bit.
"So long as you understand," she said softly.
BeastBoy gave a smile in return. "Yeah," he whispered. His mind went blank. Which wasn't much of a stretch most of the time. But in a good way for a change. "Uh, yeah. Yeah!" he shook himself out of his previously nervous frame of mind, and resumed his brain function to standard operating capacity. "Time, right? It'll come in time. I mean, its not like I gotta' slip a glass slipper on your foot before midnight or you'll turn into an exploding pumpkin and then kill everyone at the ball."
He paused for a moment as if stuck in a panicked logic.
"Uh… Y-you don't really need me to…"
"No," she said plainly, much to his relief.
He breathed easier as a look of contentment returned to his face.
"So, anything note worthy?" she gestured to his reading choice.
"Oh, uh yeah," he opened the book, turning it to the side so more easily able for her to view. "Lots of stuff. The stuff I can understand, anyway."
Raven was still hard pressed to take to heart anything in a long line of cheap books that seemed only to help people become more flustered about problems they already had and offer solutions that don't always apply or even seem feasible. But still, she had to give him an A for effort.
"So far, it mostly talks about finding common ground so you can ya know, talk to one another. Worst case scenario, ya got something to fall back on when ya get too nervous, or too shy, or somethin'."
"BeastBoy, common ground is fine. But it's hardly essential. I mean, look at us. Aside from fighting crime and distinctive and tragic backgrounds, what do we have in common?" She leaned her head against one hand propped up on the table. "Mutual interests can only go so far."
"Raven, check the book," he held the book closer.
"BeastBoy, check the divorce rates," she countered deadpan.
He leaned back, tapping his fingers as he mentally regrouped. "Oh, I know." He skimmed though the book to another chapter, hoping to have better luck on a new section. After a quick skim of a few paragraphs he found something that seemed to peak his interest.
"Okay, how bout this? Um…" he carefully read the context under his finger, "Sometimes well placed compliments can help bridge the gap to let the other person know how well you perceive and understand them. Try to compliment a… 'Lesser attribute'."
He briefly scratched his head.
"Oh! Um, Raven?"
"What's a lesser attribute?" he said with an oblivious smile as if hoping to overshadow his lack of understanding.
She rolled her eyes, figuring as much. "It's something subtle about a person. Something most people probably wouldn't even notice."
BeastBoy slowly nodded. "Uh… oh. OH! Okay! That's easy. Raven, um… your hands are really soft. Even when ya hit me REALLY hard." He beamed, almost with a sense of pride, as no one else could possibly have known that but him.
Raven just let her mouth hang open slightly, uncertain of how to respond to that remark. There were so many ways to account the various compliments and open flattery, yet she couldn't help but shake the sting of an unintentional insult.
She looked back at the book, flipping through large portions of pages. "Let's skip ahead and see how this ends." She sarcastically mused, deciding to end things on a passive note.
The day was half over, but still much of the afternoon to spare when they left the bookstore. The two started back to the tower on foot, opting to run down a little more time as they walked down the main street. Dozens of citizen aptly occupied the streets around them but paying them little mind.
BeastBoy walked beside Raven, breathing deep the fresh air as he chalked this up to another pleasant experience for their evaluation of one another. And smiled just a little bit more as it was one more little secret the others wouldn't know about. A satisfying kind of sneaky, and for someone like BeastBoy with his ways of practical jokes and pranks, there was none more suited to him.
He exhaled; turning his head just enough to shift his eyes too and fro, stealing fleeting glances of Raven. It hadn't been all that long, but he was quickly growing more and more comfortable with this kind of casual feeling around her. Granted her hood was up again as soon as they stepped foot out of the shop and into the main streets. But he wasn't all that concerned. After all, he was trying to make it so she was more comfortable around him. The rest of the world could wait.
He glanced down at her hand, just visible with her cloak draped back over her shoulders.
Gently, BeastBoy reached out, softly taking Raven's hand into his own.
She let out a small gasp as she pulled her hand away, stopping dead in her tracks, allowing BeastBoy three steps past her.
He turned, looking back at her.
Raven held her hand, closing her eyes as she took a deep breath.
"S-Sorry," he said apologetically.
Maybe the bookstore had a better ambience. Maybe she just wasn't in the mood. Maybe it was brighter with more people around outside and was feeling self-conscious. Either way, timing was never one of his strong suits.
"No," she responded hesitantly. "Just… just surprised me. That's all." Raven resumed walking at normal pace, moving past BeastBoy.
After a moment of staring dumbfounded, he mildly jogged to catch up with her.
At times it was easy to forget that Raven didn't exactly have cruise control over her emotions. But more frequently he had been noticing this occasional dip in her emotional balance. This kind of uncertainty, one that seemed to undermine whatever her previous emotional state may have been. Just a short while ago she'd been perfectly fine with holding BeastBoy's hand. But when he tried to offer the same, she shied away with such reluctance.
"Raven?" he asked kindly, "You okay? I mean, ya can slug me if it'll make ya feel better."
She gave a dry stare as BeastBoy braced himself by reeling his head back behind his shoulder. "That won't be necessary," she assured with a shake of her head.
BeastBoy stopped with a bitter sense of relief as he let Raven walk past him. Few things seemed to bring her out of a funk like nailing him one. But he could still plainly tell something was bothering her. And if BeastBoy could tell, it had to be something significant.
"Is this an emotion thing?"
Raven paused. She turned around, looking back to face him. Her eyes maintaining their ever present neutral gaze. Almost a perfect poker face, but even they couldn't conceal a subtle quiver.
"I know ya gotta' keep your powers under control and all," he said shyly as he looked off to the side. "And… maybe its me, but it seems like if ya just didn't wanna hold hands you'd either say so or… smack me in the head." He looked back at her.
Raven's eyes wandered toward the ground.
It was true. Control over her emotions didn't limit her to be any less vocal. And an obligatory corrective backhand was almost a reflex action at this point. But for her to break away like that without a definitive response was clearly something out of the ordinary.
Finally she breathed outward letting her shoulders droop. "…Yes. But not as you might think."
Raven's disciplinary measures on emotion had always been extreme. She had always limited her measure of feeling. And had always gone to great lengths to suppress and pacify what inner emotional surges she had afforded. But now for reasons she didn't fully understand, she was actively pursuing an emotional strain she might not be up to terms to deal with. Which was odd considering that before the wager began all that time ago, things like this would never have mattered to her in the first place.
What's more, it seemed that she was only comfortable when she took the lead. It was one thing to curve her own actions and emotional intensity. It was quite another for an outside force that she had no control over to intervene. And what force could have less control than BeastBoy?
"Well, what then?" he shrugged. BeastBoy was never too proud to ask for an answer, regardless of how simple or obvious it may have seemed to everyone else. "I mean I get that ya gotta' keep a lotta' stuff down cause of your powers, But… I'm not causin' anything bad to come out. Am I?"
Raven held her hands, looking down solemnly at BeastBoy's feet. It was a simple question but with such a difficult answer. This wasn't as straightforward as conjuring her rage or spiking her powers to an abnormal level. This was far more personal.
BeastBoy took a step backward, beginning to turn his back and walk away. "Look, if you wanna' be alone or just call this whole thing off…"
"No." Raven said firmly. "…no."
BeastBoy stopped mid step, turning back to face her, more confused than before. The inability for her to give a concrete answer made him wonder if she was trying to convince him or herself. He scratched behind his ear. "Okay, Raven. You're sendin' me some seriously mixed signals here."
Raven patiently looked at him, trying to detach herself from the problem at hand, attempting to clear her mind. But she just kept circling back to the same dilemma. How to best explain herself?
How to best explain herself to BeastBoy? Now that was some challenge.
"Raven," he began, bending over slightly trying to catch her sights, which were still aimed squarely toward the ground beneath him. "I know ya always been worried about all the bad stuff tied to your emotions and stuff. But don't ya think maybe ya should try… I dunno'… maybe bringin' out more of the good ones?"
"That's what I'm worried about," she said closing her eyes.
BeastBoy pulled his head back, resuming upright posture as Raven lifted her head.
She opened her eyes, meeting him eye to eye as if having made up her mind. "Emotions are just that. Emotions. Good, bad, or indifferent they all react and amplify my powers. Which in turn bring about the same outcome."
BeastBoy shook his head as if he heard her wrong. "You're sayin' ya might blow stuff up anyway?" he held up both hands, shaking them at her words. "I don't buy it. Even if you're happy?"
"Yes," she answered calmly.
BeastBoy raised an eyebrow in sarcastic fashion, hardly convinced. Raven wasn't big on happy. Content, perhaps. Blissfully at peace, sure. But never straight up happy.
"Probably," she rolled her head to the side. Clearly she had little experience to base it on.
BeastBoy smiled. He knew that had to be her 'what if' mindset talking, over thinking things. "Uh huh."
"Ugh," Raven sighed at his mocking tone. "Look, I've always had to limit and confine my emotions. Particularly the negative and more destructive ones. I'm not anxious to verify my positive ones have equal outcomes." It was almost as if saying she was afraid to hope and to have those hopes dashed. And be reminded of one more symbolice of normal was out of her reach if she so aspired.
His smile faded, taking to heart the seriousness of her claim. "So… you're scared?"
"Of leveling a city? Yes. Of incinerating the populace? Yes." She paced back and forth. "That on top of getting angry, or enraged, or any other high level potential feeling, that being happy or anything pertinent to it would cause untold devastation? YES!" She threw her hands up in the air.
That was when the sudden silence dawned on them. Especially considering where they were. Downtown, in the middle of the day, and hardly a sound to be heard. The previously bustling sounds of the city dissipated. No one had walked past them for sometime. There weren't even the sounds of foot traffic or a single car horn.
They turned their heads.
Dozens of people were stopped dead on all sides of them. Not frozen in time, but they may as well have been as whatever they had been doing had stopped abruptly. People looking up from reading newspapers, others stopping mid bite eating hot dogs from a nearby street vendor, even an officer writing a ticket had ceased all motion. All walks of life, all people on this one street had stopped, heads turned, eyes wide. Obviously having been glued to Raven's growing tone on death and destruction.
A single person blowing a bubble with chewing gum also stopped with a near hysteric look on his face. His bubble letting out a loud pop having kept blowing well past the bubble's acceptable limit, putting the exclamation point on the entire scenario and how deathly serious everyone around seemed to be regarding what they'd just heard.
BeastBoy's eyes darted to Raven and then back to the crowd. "Uh, yeah! Y-Yeah! That was such a cool game! I couldn't stop playing!" he grinned, walking up beside her patting her on the back as if in excited agreement. "I mean once ya get past that grind to level forty? You can just about wipe out anything with that one hyper combo move! Sick, right?"
As quickly as they'd stopped, the crowd of amassed onlookers began to disperse, going back to their humdrum lives. Only a few gave reluctant looks of bad taste back at the two as if having been worked up over nothing.
BeastBoy quickly walked up behind Raven, gently shoving her forward and continually pushing her with little resistance down a nearby alleyway. Raven in turn just allowed her feet to walk and keep pace as the changeling moved her like a piece of luggage with wheels, a vacant look plastered on her face. Ducking out of sight and one last glance to make sure no one was pressing their false claim, he threw himself against the wall. "Phew!" he wiped a cold sweat from his brow. "You okay, Ra-"
He looked over at Raven who was still a blank slate but trying to hide her obvious embarrassment from drawing such a scene in such a public place. Normally that was reserved for BeastBoy or other well suited professionals. He watched as she held her head with a clear look of self-loathing. Or at least the kind of loathing visited upon him when he spiked her tea with root beer.
Raven rubbed her temple with her fingers, setting at peace what parts of her mind she could feel starting to slip under the external stress of the moment.
BeastBoy waited patiently, leaning against the opposite wall, gradually sliding to the bottom sitting with his knees pulled in.
After a final cleansing breath, Raven looked up blinking as her tense state of mind eased into a comfortable neutral facade.
"You good now?" he asked considerately as he watched her push off against the wall to stand upright on her own.
Raven gave a dull nod. "Fine. And, thank you," she looked away briefly. "Any chance we can get back to the tower without drawing the other half of the city?" She looked back with a self-intended sarcastic jab.
"Whatever makes ya happy," he shrugged with a smile.
A nearby trashcan just to the right of BeastBoy blew its top as a spark of black energy ignited the lid like a geyser.
BeastBoy scrunched his head between his shoulders as the sudden recoil startled him.
Raven had planted both hands over her mouth, equally caught off guard, BeastBoy's words having subconsciously acted as the trigger over their previous 'happy equals boom' talk.
Her pupils shifted down to BeastBoy still wide with shock as she previously believed to have brought her emotions under tighter control.
Slowly BeastBoy turned his head to the side at the receptacle before casting them skyward at the missing garbage lid, which was apparently still airborne. He turned back to Raven who could only blink in response.
"Eh," he shrugged, forming his brief shock into a calm smile. "Wouldn't be the first time ya blew up at me." And started down towards the end of the alley so that they could slip out the other side without drawing any funny looks from anyone where they'd previously come.
Raven just shook her head. BeastBoy always was far too lax with close calls. He never let anything, no matter how severe impair his state of mind and forward thinking. It was both one of his greatest faults and one of his most outspoken strengths in certain respects.
She took a step forward to follow, but stopped short, pausing to look back at the trashcan and the conjoined momentary slip of her power.
Such a small slip was not uncommon to her even in her most disciplined state. But this felt far more palpable given the circumstances. Coupled with the fact that Raven had never been a big believer in coincidences and heavily educated in omens.
Everything about this circumstance just instilled bad feelings and that the logical thing to do was to stop and to cease this joint experiment.
But when she thought back these past few months, it only compelled her to press on.
Raven had long feared and doubted the full extent of her emotional boundaries. And plainly not knowing was what spurned her even more. She couldn't keep wondering what was and was not within the realm of possibility. This was something she was bound experience sooner or later. And having already come this far, there was hardly any reason to stop now.
It would be even more difficult to force her way back into any previous mindset. Not with having ventured so close to newer and more engaging prospects.
"Hey, Raven!" BeastBoy called.
She looked back as BeastBoy came running back, dashing up beside her. Raven just stared blankly.
"C'mon," he said cheerfully, grabbing her hand and pulling her along as he started back the way he'd come to make up lost time.
Raven just looked from the back of his head down to his hand, firmly gripping her own as she grudgingly matched pace with him.
BeastBoy had been openly embracing the idea of the two of them becoming something more. Was it really okay to get her hopes up?
What if it didn't work out? What if she just abandoned the idea now and kept living in fear of how far such developed emotions could withstand her powers? What if she wasn't capable of feeling more than what she did? What if she could but it warranted so much more control than her negatively driven emotions? And so much so that it would cause her to ultimately cease growth of any such affection in the future?
"Affection…" she murmured quietly to herself, reflecting on that last thought. She looked back down her hand connected to BeastBoy's as she could feel the warmth of his palm pool onto the top of her hand.
She still found more than her fair share of concerns about whether it would work out or if her powers could cope with the strain. But for now…
"I think too much," she shook her head with a sigh as they vacated the alley.
Just then came a low whistling sound just before the previously departed trashcan lid came falling back down onto the can with a clang, denting the receptacle as a small trail of smoke hissed from the top.
Back in Titans Tower, Raven and BeastBoy entered the main hall. Casually but carefully they made their way through the central corridor.
It was deemed a sufficient amount of time to have passed to keep suspicion from being raised. After all, it had to be as believable as possible. And based on the speed at which BeastBoy had fled and Raven gave chase, they couldn't just duck out for a few minutes and then be expected not to raise any flags about what had secretly been going on between the two of them. Pursue, capture, discipline. That was what was expected and that was that they'd get.
"You were…?" Raven began.
"On the run, scared for my life, keeping you off my tail till I got downtown," he finished.
She nodded in agreement. "And I…?"
"Chased me like mad for about four blocks before ya finally cornered me."
"Three blocks," she interjected.
"Oh, come on!" he lightly whined. "I could totally keep outta' reach longer than that."
Raven glanced over her shoulder, staring at him, unconvinced.
BeastBoy matched her stare, albeit for only a few seconds before finally giving in. "Three and a half blocks?" he pleaded.
She tilted her head to the side, taking her time to think it over to watch him sweat a little. "Three and a half blocks," she conceded.
BeastBoy grinned with pride for being given some credit.
Raven all the while began roughing up the material of his uniform, pulling and tugging, stretching and wearing various parts of his arms and legs, which were sure to receive the most wear from the extreme duress of pursuit and inevitable capture. "And then…?"
He took a deep breath. "You calmed down a tiny bit after I begged and pleaded for my miserable green life and let me off with a stern warning not to let it happen again before ya skipped me across the river like a stone so that I resembled your water logged book I so thoughtlessly ruined." He breathed, replenishing his oxygen from such a long-winded story.
Hardly iron clad. But it was deemed sufficient enough to fool the others. After all, BeastBoy was typically the one to do the storytelling and some degree of exaggeration was expected. It wouldn't sound right otherwise without certain details seemingly omitted intentionally.
"And you're not soaking wet because…?"
"I took the long way home to dry off," he concluded.
"Good," Raven nodded as she mussed his hair frivolously with both hands. Just another finer detail to make the story look all the more convincing.
Her hands stopped leaving his hair a mess, sticking out every which way. However they remained, firmly placed on his head, briefly looking over her work only to catch eyes with him as he looked up at her.
"Yeah," BeastBoy just spoke to pass the silence, keeping eye contact.
They just stared at one another, neither looking away. Raven steadily kneading her fingers through his scalp, tangling her fingertips through his soft hair. BeastBoy, partially closing his eyes to the touch of her hands softly resting on his scalp.
"So, um… did it hurt when ya threw me across the river?" he asked sweetly, as if it was solely for the sake of the story.
Raven pulled back slightly, but her hands never left the changeling's head. She continued to just look deeply into his deep green eyes.
BeastBoy pushed his head forward just a bit, leaning his chin out, seemingly fetching an attempt at a small kiss as was evidenced by his lips pursed slightly into pucker formation.
Raven was somewhat taken aback. The last month or so holding hands and the occasional hug was one thing. But only for the last week or so had BeastBoy stepped up his advances. She hadn't kissed him, not by a long shot. And she didn't really feel the time was quite right yet either. But it was just another example of how strongly he seemed to embrace the idea of them moving forward together.
Still, given the circumstances of the day, maybe this did warrant something special.
Raven's hands slid down the sides of BeastBoy's head, pushing forward, circling around his ears, then pulling back around onto his neck, lifting upwards, tenderly cupping his cheeks.
The surprise and shock was clear on his face, and only further evidenced by the warm blush she could feel burning through his face.
She gave the most comforting, reassuring smile with a slight bat of her eyelashes.
BeastBoy let his eyes close all the way as he leaned his head up just a little more, flexing his lips just a bit.
Raven's fingers dug in.
BeastBoy's eyes sprang open.
She pulled and squished and stretched his cheeks like rubber, simulating just the slightest suggestion of battle damage to his face.
She instantly released the pried portions of BeastBoy's stretched green skin, letting it reshape and reform with a brief jiggle against his tender facial muscles. The tingling sensation left his face warm in reminiscence of the blush that had preceded it, but rather burning in an entirely different way.
She dusted off her hands. "No more than usual when you get what's coming to you," as she calmly strode past him towards her room bearing a slight smirk of satisfaction.
BeastBoy gave a sore, sour look as he rubbed his cheek gingerly as he parted ways toward the main room.
Suddenly, red lights lit up the hall overhead. A repeating blare of an alarm echoed through the corridors, stopping both teens in their tracks as they looked briefly to the ceiling and then each other before making a mad dash towards the main room.
To Be Continued…