Thank you again to all of my reviewers! I love that you guys were faithful enough to pick the story back up after I'd left it off for so long, it was great to see some familiar usernames again (and meet some new ones.) Your feedback actually inspired this chapter, a direction I had no intention of going but I think works really nicely. Let's see what you guys think:
Disclaimer: Seriously, I don't own anything related to the Teen Titans in any of their forms. Though if Beast Boy had a series of plushies, I'd own all of his forms... (Yeah, that doesn't sound creepy)
Changeling may be an excellent tracker, but he's surprisingly easy prey. The shapeshifter had spent the last half hour sitting in a café, munching on stuffed mushrooms and making pleasant small talk, completely unaware of the incredible danger he was in. I almost feel sorry for him.
Later, Changeling wandered casually down the block, completely unaware of the presence behind him as his pursuer paid special attention to the wind currents. No use sticking to the shadows if we cannot stay downwind. The presence had followed the animorph four blocks from the patio to a run-down neighborhood with several derelict buildings when he started to stir.
At first it appeared he had detected the foreign entity behind him, but rather than focus on the concealing shadow of the alley Changeling made a simple sweep of the street before turning towards an abandoned duplex and made his way up the walkway.
It's like he's asking to be jumped, the shadow murmered as it prepared to move quickly and without mercy.
But then Changeling did something surprising: he withdrew the ream of paper from inside his jacket and- glancing to both sides- dropped it into the mail box. Task completed, he gazed out away from the city towards the forested mountains and shifted. A green greyhound- greenhound?- ran with startling swiftness down the street, and while the shadow could have pursued, it was paralyzed by choice.
Pursue, or investigate?
Ultimately, curiosity won out, and as the Changeling faded into the distance the figure emerged from the shadows to cross the narrow road. Expecting the changeling's return at any moment, it wasted no time in securing the manuscript and then… disappeared.
Raven emerged atop the Steiley building again, manuscript in hand, as she confirmed she hadn't been followed or detected. Granted, her position was rather exposed from the air, but there were no tall buildings or other vantage points nearby so her presence was only detectable by a few unique individuals, none of whom had any reason to look for her this far from her patrol route. Nonetheless, she cast a quick spell of early warning to alert her to the approach of unwanted visitors, and turned her attention to the pages in her hand.
Now, perhaps we'll get some answers. In truth, Raven was confused. After chastising Nightwing and fleeing the scene, she found herself returning to the rooftop less than half an hour later to resume surveillance of Changeling's dinner companion. Indeed, had one taken a photo of her vigilance with Nightwing before the blonde had arrived and a second photo 45 minutes later, they might have mistaken Raven for an permanent, immobile fixture on the rooftop.
Of course, had they looked at her eyes they would have known the truth.
Raven's eyes were not their normal hue, not by a long shot. They glowed crimson from lash to pupil, a sinister look that passionately defied her pacifist origins.
This was the only difference, however. Raven still only had two eyes, her normal figure, and her attire was her crime-fighting standard. Now she stood in the dark of the night, her eyes unnaturally bright in the cloudy night, as she carefully opened the first page of the thick document.
Changeling, thanks again for consulting on this for us, she read in black, feminine handwriting, confusion and clarity mixing behind her furrowed brow. –Rose
The blonde has a name, she mused, the sharpness in her mental tone unbidden and unnoticed. Let's see what other notes she might be leaving him…
A quarter of the way into flipping through the manuscript, Raven's eyes began to dim. It's just a script. A script and notes about animals. She flipped back to the casting sheet: Cretaceous Planet? She scanned the names quickly: there. Rose Wilson: Zoologist.
The anger and frustration began to fade, though another, bitter emotion abated only slightly as reassurance rose. They're doing a movie about dinosaurs, and Changeling's helping… That wasn't a date, it was a business meeting…
Raven's mental state shifted: Happiness surged, fear and anger shrank as Reason chastised them for their ridiculous assumptions. And to think, I was ready to attack him for… what, exactly? What in the unknown depths of my psyche had me ready to pounce on my teammate like that?
A bitter taste welled up in her mouth as the answer came to her. Jealousy. She'd only felt it fleetingly before, but she knew the feeling from being near Starfire when Nightwing put her to the side for his work. But that was different, they're in a relationship, and this was much too strong for that…
Reason supplied a rare out-of-nevermore revelation then: Jealousy is a combination of Affection, Fear, and Anger. I'm still coming to terms with Affection; and Fear and Anger are two of my more volatile emotions. Putting those three together….
It certainly explained what she was doing here, at least.
This is ridiculous, Raven thought, snapping the manuscript shut. I was right to chastise Nightwing, even if I misunderstood the situation. Changeling hasn't done anything wrong, yet I'm stalking him on his time off and invading his privacy by reading a script and notes meant for him.
She made to leave, but something brought her up short. But… if this is just a business arrangement, why hasn't he told us about it yet? And why the café? Couldn't he have just picked up the manuscript from their offices? And why send a blonde zoologist his age to give it to him?
Her eyes hardened, and she regarded the document with new suspicion. He's going to be working with her… a cute zoologist about his age… a cute blonde zoologist… If she has even the slightest intention towards him, it's going to be very difficult for him to resist. For reasons Raven would vehemently deny, that worried her.
She placed one hand on either cover of the manuscript. Fortunately, she spent a great deal of time with this, all of it focused on Changeling. If I'm right, her thoughts and emotions will have left trace imprints in these pages, and I can access those….
Raven closed her eyes and reached for her empathic senses. Normally, her sense spread around her like a dome, lightly touching everything and everyone; getting stronger the closer she was to them. Now, however, she focused her attention to the space between her palms. She visualized herself diving deep into the pages, into the ink pressed upon them where Rose's essence would be strongest. She focused first on what she couldn't feel: there was no trace of anger, deceit, or malice. Likewise, there was no trace of love, lust, or even friendly affection.
Raven breathed a sigh of relief as she prepared to pull back her empathic senses when a burst of revelation exploded from the pages. There, in the middle of it all lie a powerful mixture of fear, desperation, and… hope?
Raven ripped the pages open to a point roughly in the center and started flipping, following the specter of whatever she felt calling to her. There.
She was wholly unprepared for what she found.
Changeling, please help me. Slade's back, and he plans to use me to destroy the Titans once and for all.
In an instant, everything changed.
Raven grew several feet, and her cloak now flowed to the rooftop where eddies of black energy twisted and coiled. Her teeth were sharpened to points, and her eyes- still only two- burned blood red again. She let out a low hiss as her energy caught the book before it could hit the roof. Suspending the offending material in front of her, Raven willed the page to turn. Sure enough, the message continued…
Yes, my name is Rose Wilson, but if you want to know who I really am look up "Ravager" in your database. I'll bet you have a file on me.
Raven intended to do precisely that… as soon as she was done ripping the blonde to pieces. She turned the page again…
Slade Wilson- Yeah, that Slade- is my father, and he's raised me to be like him… but I don't want to be.
I've done things, Changeling. Things no one should ever do, and when I stopped doing them, he made me.
Yeah, right… Raven snarled and turned the page again.
He's got me on some drug. I don't know what, but he puts it in my food, my drink. It overrides my motor control, makes me do what he tells me.
It makes me strong, but sometimes I forget things, whole days, even. Things don't make any sense or I can't tell what's real.
Liar, Raven wanted to scream.
And I can never disobey him, even when it wears off, because if I go too long without another dose… it will kill me.
Good. Raven's spiteful side screamed. I saw the way you talked to him, laughed at his jokes. He's not that funny. You set him up. You want him to like you, just so you can do this to him? I ought to kill you myself.
Please, don't be angry. He's ordered me to gather intel, identify weaknesses and opportunities against your team. Eventually, he'll ask me to use them.
I hope he does. That way I can take you down myself.
I know you have no reason to trust me, but this is the best I can do to warn you. Assume every conversation with me is bugged, he does that.
Now Raven was just confused. Why bug her if she's working for him?
He knows I want out; he doesn't trust me. I don't know where he is, or what he has planned, just that he shows up sometimes with my drugs and instructions.
Raven paused. it sounded incredible, unbelievable even. But this was Slade; a man who once made a deal with the devil to destroy the Earth, and then helped destroy the devil. Anything was possible...
He's told me not to tell you about any of this, but the meds wore off during the meeting, so I've got about 24 hours of free will before my next dose.
Whatever you do, don't try to rescue me. If you succeed, I'll die from withdrawals. If you fail, he'll kill me and just change his plan.
And don't tell your teammates either. He's got them under surveillance, especially Nightwing, and he'll know the instant they do.
Raven was torn. She wanted to dismiss the warning as a trick, a trap to isolate Changeling, but she'd sensed no deceit with her scan.
For now, just keep working on the script, we can use it as cover for passing messages.
What is this, middle school?
Oh, and one more thing. I'm sporadically prescient. I get glimpses of the future, here and there, but can't control them.
Raven snorted in dismissal. Of course you do.
Here's the proof: At the café, you'll tell me to call you Mark. Also, don't bet on the Jumpshots tonight.
Mark? As in Garfield Mark Logan? Surely he didn't…
Last thing: Don't underestimate him… or me. Remember that fire you saved me from? I set it, because he told me to introduce myself and I had a vision the fire would work... I had full control when I struck the match.
Raven paled. Three people died in that fire. Three people we couldn't save in time...
But the message continued.
The movie? He's financing it, just to draw you out enough for me to get to you. Millions upon millions of dollars... whatever he's planning, it's bigger than anything he's ever done before.
Slade once overthrew three Central American countries… at once. The sinking feeling in her gut as matched by the shrink of her stature as Raven reverted to normal size, but with her red eyes firmly in place. She closed the pages gently, her jaw hard-set.
Garfield's going to do exactly what she says. She realized. It may be a trap, it may not, it doesn't matter. He'll still go along with it because he won't risk Slade killing her if she gets found out.
She sank into a black pool beneath her feet and reappeared in the shadows of the duplex's porch. Dropping the manuscript back into the wrought-iron box, she took flight back to her patrol route, red eyes showing no signs of dissipating.
But if he thinks he's going on this fool's errand alone, he's wrong. Dead wrong.