Author's note: Follows after my stories Reach the Horizon and Here's a Good One, but you don't have to have read those for this to make sense. This one's in a bit lighter vein.
The first time Robin went to the Jump City Museum of Rare Antiquities on Jump Boulevard, nothing happened.
Nothing had been taken from the museum, not yet. The Titans answered the call that came in on a Tuesday morning. The security alarm had gone off but nothing seemed amiss when they arrived. Kid Flash, of course, had been first and had relayed to Robin the words of the staff. False alarm. Must've been a false alarm. But, Robin had his suspicions. It was one of Red X's tricks to set off an alarm and gauge response to it and study the alarm mechanism itself before committing the actual robbery. So, while the rest of the Titans were rather blase after they all reached the Museum and found apparently nothing going on, no one robbing the place and no one to chase, Robin's antennae went up.
Kid Flash zipped around and read the plaque at every display and talked on his Titans communicator withJinx, back at the Tower. Beast Boy joked with Cyborg about his incorporating some medieval pikes in his own armaments. Raven rolled her eyes at them and discreetly watched intellectually fascinated Kid Flash out of the corners of her eyes. And, Robin inspected the wiring with Starfire trailing behind him and made his way to the office of the director of the museum.
The museum director, a little white haired old man, checked and made sure that everything was still in place. It seemed like an odd place to Robin, all filled with pikes and swords but also crowns, tiaras, rings, bracelets, amulets, ancient bling of every sort, some of it very valuable for the gems and gold contained in them. There were even claims of magical powers attributed to some of the stuff outlined in the cards by each display. Robin rolled his eyes behind his mask. They probably have to say things like that to make it more interesting to kids.
He went about with the little white haired man who kept staring at him so oddly. This museum director turned out to be a professor and he eyed Robin rather openly, staring at him from one side then the other as he led him around. But the Titans all got that sort of gawking all the time, not being exactly the boys or girls next door. So, Robin thought nothing of it as he went from case to case with the museum director confirming that seals were unbroken on all the displays. Nothing had been touched. It could have just been a short somewhere in the electrical system. It was certainly possible. But so was Red X practicing on the alarm system. Robin ran his theory by Cyborg and the little white haired man returned to his office where Kid Flash was looking at some of the odd items on his desk.
"I love all this stuff, sir. What's the significance of this quill pen?" asked Kid Flash holding up a glass box with a worn quill pen inside.
The little white haired man spoke while looking not at Kid Flash, but out to where Robin was standing next to Cyborg and Beast Boy just past them.
"That pen is reputed to have been used by William Shakespeare himself in writing Othello."
"Wasn't the real author the Earl of Oxford, professor? . . . Professor?"
"The most perfect shapeshifter I've ever seen," the man sighed idly.
Kid Flash glanced out the doorway and saw Gar next to Cyborg with Robin beyond them. "Of course, professor. That's what Beast Boy does."
"KF. Come here!" called Robin and he zipped over to his pal. He never heard the little white haired man object softly. "No, not him. The black haired boy. A smallish nose just so. Ears just the right shape. Largish feet but not hands and a slender physique just so. Perfectly receptive to the right spell. You see the ancients believed that the energies and magnetism of human bodies varied with the shape of the body. A body just so, like your slender black haired friend is susceptible to energies from --"
He looked around to find that Kid Flash was not only not listening. He was no longer there. He shrugged and went about his work.
Robin approached Kid Flash back at the Tower. "So, tell me again. How'd you beat Red X those two times?"
"You're really set on the idea that the alarm going off was his test?"
Robin nodded. "There was a time when he robbed a jewelry store where we're certain that he tested the alarm one day. And it didn't go off. And he still waited to come back again to rob it. He's extremely meticulous. Now, how'd you beat him?"
"Well, you know about the first time. He had the cloaking device on and I accidentally steamrolled him in our hallway. And then uh Speedy and Aqualad took his suit off and uh . . . neutralized him . . . for a while."
Robin smirked. "If only he hadn't swam away that night."
"The other time, well, he just couldn't deal with me. I guessed where he was going to try to leave the building, the roof. And once I was up there I threw this container of water in the air and blew it and all these wrappers and trash all over the roof so that some of it would hit him and reveal his position even if he had the cloaking device on."
"And he tried a couple things to deal with me, he sent out some kind of gas but I just sort of arm cycloned that away," said Kid Flash doing a slow motion version to show Robin. "And he tried to electrocute me but I sort of sniffed that out too. My gloves don't conduct and I just kicked the crap out of him while we sort of grappled hand to hand."
"He didn't throw those little shuriken stars at you?"
Kid Flash shrugged. "Yeah, but, for me, it was like dodging a half dozen giant tortoises."
Robin nodded slowly. "He just couldn't deal with your speed?"
"No. Not really. And, I'm not being flippant. All our training in the year I've been a Titan's really helped me refine my use of my speed. But he didn't really have an answer at all when the gas and electricity didn't get him anywhere."
The next day, on their ride in to Jump City Academy where Wally Allenand Dick Grayson take two classes, calculus and biochemistry on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, Robin takes a very long route driving the T-Car. His orange haired passenger smiles. He knows just what Robin's doing. And, not surprisingly, this extra long route takes them past the Jump City Museum of Natural Antiquities.
"You really think he'd want to pull a job at this time of day, morning commute?" asked Kid Flash from the passenger seat in his chinos and Jump City Academy blazer.
"If he's got an escape route that doesn't require him to go through traffic he might benefit from it."
Kid Flash nodded. Logical. Robin pulled up to the street outside the museum's parking lot and turned to his passenger. In the blink of an eye, chinos and a blazer were replaced by the red and yellow uniform of Kid Flash.
"I'll go check," he said. Robin nodded and started changing out of his school clothes and into his uniform while his best friend zoomed off, a red and yellow blur leading from their car to the front of the museum.
Two seconds later he sprinted back, his rapid fire footsteps almost a continuous sound approaching the driver's side window.
"He's there! He's there!" he told Robin excitedly. "I saw him on putting some rings in a bag. Black uniform, little cape, white mask face. Him. How do you want to handle this?" he asked his nearly fully uniformed teammate. Robin pulled on his cape and then jumped out of the car. His mind raced with the strategic options. Finally, he settled on one.
"Okay. We catch him outside. I'll distract him and you kick his ass super speed style. I'm the decoy. You're the hammer."
They worked their plan to perfection. Teamwork between the two pals had become so ingrained that, atone point in the short fight, Robin just glanced over to one side of Red X and then attacked him from the other side only to have Kid Flash barrel into him from exactly the location to which he'd glanced a second later. They were like a finely oiled machin, the two teen super hero boys. Red X tried everything. He had his cloaking device on as he exited the rear of the museum but Kid Flash blew water from a fountain and newly placed mulch all over the outside of the building and enough stuck to Red X to reveal his position. He ran and threw concealing smoke bombs but Kid Flash just blew the smoke away with more arm cyclones. He threw sharp stars at Robin but Robin dodged them. He grappled with Robin and took a super speed smack to the side of the head from Kid Flash while doing so. He tried to ward off Kid Flash with the threat of electrocution, sparks jumping from his gloves, but Robin threw a birdarang that quickly wrapped around his gloves, bringing together and shorting them out. Red X was clearly frantic and taking a beating but the two teen heroes didn't get impatient. He was still dangerous. They just progressively beat him up, till Robin nailed him with a flying, spinning kick and Red X staggered into Kid Flash who smashed him with a punch at the end of a super speed sprint that both knocked out Red X and sent his satchel of stolen items flying into the air around them.
"We did it!" laughed Robin. "We beat him! We finally beat him! Oh man. I want a pay channel that consists of just closed circuit footage of this guy moping in his cell. Saweeet!"
Kid Flash grinned at his pal.Good for him. He's wanted to bring this guy down for so long.Good for him. Had Robin ever had a bigger smile? He zipped over andhugged Robin about the shoulders.
"KF!" And patted his butt. "Nice work, team captain. Youhad it right about what he was doing."
Robin just stood there grinning and gave Red X a kick in the butt for good measure. Hebent to pick up some of the stolen items scattered by Kid Flash's knockout punch and noticed that a couple had gotten stuck on his uniform. A gold necklace hung on his utility belt. He was nearly stepping on a tiara. He gave these items and any others in sight to Kid Flash who vibrated into the museum with all of them and returned them to their correct displays.
But he didn't get all of them. Robin feels something at the back of his collar wedged between his cape and collar. A ring. An old looking ring with an odd red and green gem and made of gold but desperately in need of some cleaning. Hmmph.Robin absentmindedly reads the inscription on the inside of the ring. It takes a minute because of the discoloration and wear on the ring and having to turn the ring just right in the light to read it. Some of the letters are barely visible and the script is a cursive with little flourishes.
" . . . In . . . ca . . . nis . . . cor . . . por . . . e . . . trans . . . mu . . . to . . . "
Pinpricks all over his body. His skin is on fire with these pinprick sensations.
Almost every square inch. Robin feels pinpricks all over his body, almost every square inch. What the hell? Did Red X send some kind of itching powder into the air as a last defense? He looks around quickly, his head on a swivel but doesn't see anything in the air. The itching is intense. He expects it to go away like a cold shudder or something raising hair on the back of your neck but it doesn't. It doesn't stop. Robin wants to ask Kid Flash about it. But, at the same time, Kid Flash feels his ring go off on his finger. Three vibrations. Three vibrations. Three vibrations.
"Robin!" he calls out fromthe middle of the parking lot, stoppingalmost as an afterthought on his way to sprint to Central City. "I'm getting a call from Flash asking for help. Can you handle this?"
"Of course I can," replies Robin denying the weird way his skin feels and, out of sight of Kid Flash, pressing one hand to the top of his butt where things feel really weird now. KF says thanks and zips off and Robin has to lean against a fence post. He looks down and sees the bulge at his crotch seem to deflate. What the--!Then he feels unsteady on his feet. His knees wobble back and forth.
Pffew! His knees seem to stabilize but now posture is an issue. The muscles of his legs and back are on fire and it almost feels like he's somehow become shorter. And it feels like such a strain to stand upright. He leans over a little bit. Pffew again. That's better. But then this posture also seems like a strain, again. He bends over some more. Again, improvement. This pattern holds three times till Robin finds himself on all fours. What the hell! And all the while, his skin is going crazy. Only the feeling of all the pinpricks has diminished. His skin feels a little itchy, very odd, quite different, maybe . . hairy somehow, but not bad.
He looks down at his green gloves and this is bad. They don't seem to fit at all any more. His hands feel so odd. Clumpy and awkward. What the hell's with my thumbs! His fingers feel shorter, his nails longer.
What the hell! Robin tries to say out loud but winds up asking "Lllll uh lllllll" because, somehow, his tongue now seems to be a foot long. It feels that long as it droops out of his mouth and down past his chin. He sticks it straight out and can actually see it. He can actually see a few inches of his tongue! Jesus, that's even worse than Wally's! Robin's frantic. And now changes are too dramatic and fast to deny. The Boy Wonder feels something at the seat of his pants, something that is him. Something that's not supposed to be there. He's getting shorter and his torso feels like it's in a vise in one direction, shoulders squeezing narrower but that his chest is somehow bulging forward at the same time. And he's suddenly aware that he can smell every single plant there by the fence, that he can smell and distinguish every piece of discarded paper, every piece of trash. He smells the hours old piss from a cat nearby.
"Goddam thiamethe, too!" he growls to himself. And just as he does, his nose, his mouth, his whole face reshapes into his new identity, nose and mouth projecting forward into a long muzzle, sharp teeth, jaws and tongue reshaping to fit. His mask falls off but at last, things quiet.
"Pffew! Thank god all that weirdness is over. That's better!" says Robin realizing that his blood had been pounding in his ears like a loud drum beat but now his high, pointy ears are quiet. He sighs and tries to get up but finds it to be extremely difficult. He glances to the side and sees a small pool of water. He walks to it on all fours. Yet, somehow his knees aren't touching the ground. "Why doesn't this feel more awkward?" he asks himself. But it feels perfectly natural. Weird. His four legged gait is smooth and natural. This isn't crawling. He's not moving on his knees. This is something he could do really fast if he wanted to.
At the water, Robin stares in shock.
"No! . . . . No!" he both begged and demanded.
Looking back at him, improbably wedged into the uniform of Robin, the boy wonder, is a German Shepherd, a brown eyed German Shepherd.
"This can't be! I can't be a dog! I can't! I'm supposed to see Starfire tonight!" says Robin surprised that he can still, somehow, speak and annoyed that the dog's big pointy mouth moved in time with his words proving that it was him speaking.
"That stupid ring!"
He looks behind him and sees the ring. He tries to pick it up but can't with his awkward new dog paws. He ends up just sort of pushing at it with the small clublike ends of his arms. He hesitates to say the phrase to himself. My paws. With an angry grunt at the situation, he picks it up in his long dog mouth and lies it back down in the brush at the edge of the parking area. He isn't anxious to be seen like that. He tries the ring again. He puts it under his paw, angry at how cumbersome these new dog limbs are. He tries reading the inscription again. Nothing. He tries to read it backward. Nothing. He tries simply willing himself to be a skinny boy again. He tries to remember how Beast Boy said he did it. Just think of the next animal, was that it? He tries to picture his normal self. Nothing.
"No!" he half shouts angrily and responds with surprise to the sound of his unchanged voice.
"Holy shit. That's right. I can still talk? How can that be? Course, how the hell am I supposed to be turned into a goddam dog just by reading the inscription on a ring."
Robin groans at that last part and resolves one more time to force his will on the situation. With the greatest possible effort, he willed that he should metamorphose back into being a 16 year old boy. With every scrap of his will he tried to reverse this ridiculous and humiliating situation. He tried to stand up at the same time as he was willing himself back to being a boy. But he found his new back muscles totally inadequate for the job. So, the doggy wonder jumped his front paws up on a low sapling branch. He stepped hesitantly closer with his embarassingly small back legs and moved his front paws up to higher then still higher branches till his back was almost vertical. He pushed unsteadily back from the sapling and tried to stay walking upright like that.
"I'm a boy!" he grunted angrily with the herculean effort. "I'm not a dog. I'm a boy!"
And then he fell back down onto his front paws, simply unable to maintain an upright posture. Back on his four paws, he felt much more comfortable. Sadly, he acknowledged to himself the fantastic but unavoidable truth.
" . . . I-I'm a dog. I really am a frigging dog."
He's nearly overcome by the humiliation of what's happened to him. His iron will proven useless, simply a dog whether he liked it or not. He feels his tail down between his furry legs in a classic canine posture of humiliation. But he snaps out of his self pity when he hears Red X groaning by the marble front steps of the museum where Kid Flash had knocked him out.
"Oh god! I can't let him see me like this!" whimpers Robin. He bites at his green gloves and easily pulls them off. His shoes practically fall off. His mask already had. But he can only get out of his red top with great difficulty and it seems to take him forever to pull himself awkwardly out of his green pants. He has to step on the waistband of his supporter with first one then the other paw wiggling his new dog butt and then hind legs frantically to free himself, wiggling and wiggling. His new backward bending knees get caught in the straps but finally he's free of his own supporter. He's embarassed to admit even to himself how much better it feels to be able to extend his tail freely and get those ill fitting clothes off his fine coat of fur.
But simply being out of any clothes is not enough. He has to hide these now useless clothes. The utility belt and birdarangs could be dangerous. Robin starts kicking away with his stronger back legs and starts a hole. He's slightly embarrassed at how natural these doggy motions prove to be for him. He continues his frantic digging with his front paws and then drags all his uniform to the little hole and kicks the dirt in on top of it.
"Now what?" he mumbled to himself in his still human voice.
First of all, he watches Red X groan and get slowly to his feet. Robin the german shepherd looks to the parking lot entrance hoping that the police will arrive. Maybe they'd be able to deal with him in Red X's groggy condition. But they don't arrive right away and Red X gathers his wits and stumbles off around the other side of the building. Robin feels the pull of strong instinct to chase after Red X and nip at him, to sink all those sharp teeth into that black spandex covered butt. He starts to feel the pull of chasing Red X, of running after him like one dog in a pack and then bringing him down. He drools on the ground by his front paws. With a sigh of some effort, he resists it.
There are all sorts of impulses to resist. Though his conscious mind was still his human one, all his sensory inputs are canine. The sun shines pleasantly on his shiny brown/black coat. Watching Red X get away he rubs the side of his dog butt on a sapling and notices that it feels good. It seems that he can smell everything within a hundred yards and every single smell pulls him in a different direction. Cat? Hatred. Attack!
A car with a bad catalytic converter? Discomfort. Flee.
The stick from what was a corn dog? Mmmm. Seek.
And he felt endless curiosity about the tiny whisps of smells that he could detect. He found himself sniffing away at the ground much of the time. And he found himself reacting oddly to people who walked past. His first instinct was fearful. He did not have Teen Titan Robin's instinctive confidence. He felt insecurity and deference toward humans. And . . . he sniffed at the air. Hmmm. Somewhere, not too far away, there was a bitch in heat.
Robin shook his head. Oh my god! No way! I'm human and I'm gonna be human again soon. But, what now? But the question is answered in the short term in just a moment when the police arrive on the scene. Robin watches them, just a dog for all anybody knows, as they dust the locks and door for prints and the cases inside. He shakes his dog head. Red X wouldn't be so dumb as to leave prints, guys! God. Finally, at 9 a.m. A smallish elderly man arrives along with some other people. The others seem to be the employees who run the register and stand guard during the day and whatnot. But the police address the old man as some sort of professor. This piques Robin's interest. The museum director! He remembers that this guy is the museaum director. Robin picks up the ring in his big dog mouth and approaches the front door where a sign says something about a special week of ancient artifacts including wiccan and antiquities.
Robin watches carefully from outside the door. The employees and cops don't seem to pay any attention to the area to the left of the door. So, Robin the dog wonder sneaks in the door right after a cop leaves and sees a way to sneak through most of the museum on that side. He hides his dog self behind one display while a cop and an employee go by. Then he moves up to another hiding place on one side of the next one while two more employees pass. The whole four legged thing is pretty natural already. At last, he manages to dash into the old man's office at the end of the museum. He pushes the door closed behind himself with a swish of his dog hips. He drops the ring, covered in his canine saliva, onto the man's desk.
"Professor? I have to talk to you? You-you are a professor, aren't you?"
The white haired old man was rummaging around behind his desk. "Professor of anthropology with a specialty in certain antiquities."
"Like the special ring?"
"Oh which one?"
"This one!" said Robin with exasperation that only grew when the professor noticed him but said nothing and started examining the ring after wiping it with a tissue.
"Professor! I'm a dog!"
"Oh, uh, yes, and quite a handsome one. Look at your fine coat," he said and patted Robin's head.
"Professor!" Robin hated the belittling gesture and even more that it felt good to have his furry head petted. "Isn't it strange to you that a dog is talking to you?"
"You suppose! Professor! I've gotta get out of this!"
"You don't want to be a dog?"
"Of course not!"
"Oh. You're quite a fine looking dog."
"Professor!" Robin pleaded then sighed in frustration at the doddering old fool. Then, before going on, he tended to those furs down there that had somehow gotten rubbed the wrong way. Using his tremendous new flexibility, Robin stretched as far as he could, flicked out his long tongue and applied a nice coat of saliva over the fur on his balls. Ahhhhhh! That's better. He straightened up and then his warm new chocolate brown eyes went wide with horror.
"Oh god. What'd I just do?" he moaned.
"You licked your-"
"I know what I did professor!" snapped Robin the german shepherd angrily. "But I shouldn't be doing that. I'm a boy. I-I'm supposed to be a teenage boy. I'm Robin from the Teen Titans. Kid Flash and I stopped a guy named Red X from robbing your museum early this morning. All the stuff he'd stolen went flying during the fight and this stupid ring landed between my cape and my collar. When I read the inscription on the inside, this happened."
"Ahhh. Robin. Yes. You were here after the false alarm. Black hair with the red and green uniform, yes?"
"Yes!" said Robin with exasperation.
"Natural born shape shifter."
"You must mean my teammate, Beast Boy, the green skinned one."
"Oh no. You. Your smallish nose of just a certain shape, face of a certain shape. Ears just a certain shape. Body just a certain size and shape. I knew you'd be susceptible to the Borgia ring from the first display. You couldn't design a boy as a better receptor of energies from-"
"Professor! Please! How do I get out of this?"
"Well, you should expect random repeating of your present condition until you break the spell or someone else becomes the target of its energies."
"What! How do I do that?"
"Well, I'm not quite sure. It might be broken by a brave deed as a dog. Or, it might be with you for the rest of your life. Again, someone else could make himself the target, hmmm, but I wouldn't count on that one."
The rest of my life! Please no! This guy's a bitsoft in the head. Raven. That's who he needed. He would get to Titans Tower and see what Raven could do. This was her game, right? Spells and sorcery.
"Professor? Could you just do one thing for me? Could you tie something around my neck so that I can carry that ring with me without having to keep it in my-my big dog mouth?"
The professor said he would be glad to help and found a leather strap holding some book together in a bundle. He wrapped it around the neck of the once Boy Wonder and ran it throught the ring before tying it. He then walked Robin out the museum doors past all the employees and cops. Robin felt humiliated and ridiculous being only knee high on the little old man and naked but fur covered.
But now he was on his way.