The training room looked like every other room of its kind; sparring mats laid out in the middle of the floor, worn punching bags to one side, free weights and resistance machines to another, one whole wall taken up by mirrors.. This one was better than most, the weights and resistance machines top of the line, the punching bags almost new. There was less smell then he was used to, of sweat and faintly of blood.
Animal folded his arms and presented a bored, unimpressed face to the world. Unfortunately, the world- also known, at this moment in time, as Robin- wasn't paying attention.
"So, to start off with, we're going to go over what you know. I want you to attack me. Don't worry, you won't hurt me, I can block or avoid anything you try."
Animal rather doubted that, but beating Robin to a bloody pulp would not help his mission. "Normally, I'm not attacking," he pointed out, and mentally rolled his eyes. Well, that was true enough. Slade was faster, so he always started the training fights.
"But you do attack people, sometimes," Robin replied, his voice mild. "So, attack me. Shoes off, though, please."
Animal, halfway bent over to do just that, hid a scowl as he quickly stripped his feet bare. He shifted his stance a little bit, digging his toes into the faintly giving surface of the sparring mat, and struggled against a fierce grin. Apart from having to pretend to know abso-fucking-lutely nothing, this was going to be fun.
He flexed his fingers, and then lunged. Completely controlled, even if his arms were flailing and he was staggering a bit as he went.
Robin deflected the attack easily, and the next one. He blocked the fist to the face, and ignored the purposely enraged demand that he fight back, damn it!
Animal backed away, fists held up in a carefully calculated stance. He was going to enjoy this. Time to make the Boy Wonder's eyes pop.
Muscle rippled, skin shifted, and in a split second he was something completely different. The mangy, green dog lifted his head and growled. His vision was completely different now; Robin was blurred, like someone had laid a layer of gauze over Animal's eyes. Movement was sharp and he was focused on it before he'd known it.
Robin stepped back, once. That was all Animal needed.
With a sound halfway between a growling demon and a howling wolf, he launched himself at Robin. The hero managed to jump out of the way, but Animal followed.
It was hard to think, as a dog. Instincts were more prevalent, sights and sounds and smells mingling to muck up his brain. Robin moved, he moved to intercept, no directions needed. He wanted to bite something. Robin smelt like something bitable.
The hero kept dancing around, somehow keeping away from Animal's jaws. The dog let out another horrific growl, and made himself stop and think.
There was no time to think. Robin's foot impacted against his ribs, and Animal yelped. He promptly shifted back and clutched at the growing bruise.
"I thought you weren't going to fight back!" he yelled, in between wheezes. That had hurt, damn it! Dogs weren't built for being kicked!
"Are you, you know, you again?" Robin asked, and crouched down beside Animal. He put one hand down on the changeling's shoulder.
"What the hell are you talking about?" Animal asked, and pushed himself up into a sitting position. Okay, something he hadn't known before, or hadn't realized. Injuries carried over from each form, and not just the big ones. Little ones, like bruised ribs, hurt just as much when humanoid as when canine. He'd always thought that sort of thing healed away.
"When you transformed. You stopped being... you." Robin appeared to be staring, very earnestly, at Animal. Animal had to assume that, though, since there was a fucking mask covering half of Robin's face.
"Riddles aren't my thing. What are you talking about?" Breathing was fine, but that side was going to be tender for a while. Animal got to his feet, and glowered at the Boy Wonder. Maybe he could scratch the guy's eyes out without ruining the mask. Something to consider for later.
"You were acting like a dog. A very angry dog." Robin stood up, and pressed one finger against Animal's forehead. Animal reminded himself not to bite. "There wasn't any thinking going on, was there?"
"So?" Animal asked, and backed away. This wasn't going the way he'd expected.
"How often do you spend time as an animal, anyway?"
"Humans are animals, dipshit," Animal said, covering his unease with language Slade would've broken fingers over.
Robin sighed. "Non-human animals, then."
He honestly had to think about it. "Not all that often," he admitted. "I turn into a bat, sometimes, cats when I have to, but mostly... not really."
Robin hummed, and bounced on his toes. "I guess we'll have to practice, then. How are your ribs?"
His 'teacher' nodded. "I want you to know the basics of hand to hand, but I think it'd be better if you focused on your animal transformations."
Animal blinked. "Why?" he asked. "Won't that make it hard to teach me?"
Robin's lips twitched. "Well, yeah, but we might as well work with your strengths. Come on. I'll show you a few basics, then... Well, I'll think of something for your transformations."
Animal finished his report- it was really more of a rant- and sat down in his chair. He hadn't even noticed standing up. He flexed his claws against the armrests, and huffed. "So, after the disaster of a lesson I holed up in my room and came out only for dinner."
"I see." Slade leaned back and seemed to study his hands. "This plays in quite well with my plans for tonight."
"Plans?" Animal arched his eyebrow. "What sort of plans? Does it involve killing Robin, because I'm all for that."
"Really, Apprentice. There is a time and place for everything. Although, perhaps the Titan's leader will have an. . . accident during tonight's assessment."
Animal felt his eyes practically bug out of his face, and then grinned. "That's tonight?" he asked, nearly purring. "Oh, please say I can come too."
"You will observe for the first part of the fight, and then participate in the second. Understood?" Slade stood up and moved to the door. Animal rolled his head to keep his mentor in sight, and sighed.
"Keeping all the fun to yourself, huh? Fine. I'm in."
Apprentice adjusted his face mask, and did a careful check to make sure no skin or hair was showing. Everything was good, and all that was left was to sit and wait. Slade had a plan to get the Titans out of their Tower. All it took was one luckless patrol car to come by.
Slade was perched on a roof across the street from Apprentice. He wasn't trying to hide in the shadows, the way Apprentice was. Then again, Apprentice had spotted a marked police car easing along the road, and if he'd seen it, then so had Slade.
Three, Apprentice thought, his muscles tensing. Two, and the car was almost in place. One, and Slade jumped five stories to the road right in front of the police car. Something cracked, and it sounded like bone. Probably a leg or ankle, Apprentice thought, not at all worried. Slade's armor was designed to keep any broken bones in place while his healing went to work. Five minutes, and he'd be good as new.
In one minute, Slade had flipped the police car over onto the sidewalk and was leaning against the driver's door. The car's wheels were still slowly turning, like the last, dying twitches of a slain beast. It was beautiful, and the best part was, the Titans weren't even going to be the first called. The police were coming in force; he could already hear the sirens.
The 'fight' between Slade and the police was amusing to watch. Bullets just bounced off his armor, and with his enhanced strength it was easy for him to flip cars over one handed. Apprentice closed his eyes to savor the panicked shouts, and the calls for the Titans to come and 'deal with the lunatic'. When he opened his eyes again, he noticed something pink, on one of the rooftops overlooking the street.
Hawk eyes were better with distance then human eyes. Like having a built in pair of binoculars, ones he could put on or take off with just a little concentration.
Someone was peeking, he thought, amused. Someone with pink hair done up in little girl pig-tails. He was pretty sure she was one of the thieves Slade had hired, when they'd first started the job.
"If you're going to be paid to be flashy," he muttered, and chuckled. Ah, the Titans had arrived and the police had retreated.
Robin and Starfire leapt into battle, while Cyborg held back and fought with his cannons. Raven righted the still occupied, overturned police car and sent it on its way with a flick of black magic. Then she threw an unoccupied police car at Slade.
Slade caught it, and sent the car into Starfire, who promptly blew it up. Robin dodged the flaming shrapnel, and got into a fistfight with Slade. Slade promptly played dirty, grabbing Robin by the hair with one hand and sinking his other fist into the boy's gut. Then he threw Robin at Raven, and dodged Cyborg's shot with ease.
This was quality entertainment, Apprentice decided. Robin, the most irritating person with the worst superiority complex ever, barely able to stand up straight. Cyborg couldn't hit Slade, and Starfire was holding back. Raven didn't seem to understand that throwing things just wasn't working.
If the fight kept up at this pace, Slade would be finished in another five minutes, and Apprentice wouldn't have gotten a chance to beat Robin up. No way, he wanted a turn. All he had to do was get down to street level without turning into an animal. That'd just give the game away far too soon.
He stood up, and stretched. Five stories up, not so bad. Really simple, and he'd even manage to be more showy then Slade, for once.
A single deep breath, and then he dove out into the open air. He flipped over once, and came down feet first. The balls of his feet hit the pavement first, and he allowed his body to collapse forward into a roll. All the downward momentum turned into forward motion as he ran into the fight.
Apprentice focused on Robin. He dodged what the other Titans threw at him, which wasn't a lot. They were too busy with Slade.
"Apprentice," Slade said, sounding barely out of breath. Apprentice nodded, once, and then kicked Robin in the ribs before turning and running after his mentor. The Titans seemed divided on whether or not to chase them, and didn't make up their minds in time. Slade and Apprentice were gone, to them, and unless they managed to get really lucky, they wouldn't find them.
"Very good," Slade said, and stepped down an alley. "Make your way back to the tower."
"Next week, my Apprentice."
Apprentice nodded, and headed for the rooftops. He'd wear his costume back, hide it in his room. He knew how to do that, and who looked inside a bed's box spring?
Once on the rooftops, he glanced around and noticed the pink haired criminal again. She was watching the Titans pick themselves up and dust themselves off. Unless he was misjudging her expression, she was amused.
Well. Couldn't hurt to talk to her, could it? Find out who she was and whether or not she was worth leaving alive?
Other people might have walked or run over to the thief's rooftop. Apprentice sauntered, making sure she could see he wasn't carrying anything more lethal then his own hands and feet.
"Isn't this a bit of a dangerous place for a little girl like you?" he asked, once he was close enough not to yell. He smirked, and waved one hand at the Titans down on the street below. "I'd think a thief would avoid the local costumed club."
"You're new in town, mini-Slade, but I know you've heard of recon. This rooftop happens to have the best view around, and you and your boss-man were putting on a show." Jinx's tone was acidic, but she didn't move from her perch at the edge of the roof. "If you do all your chores, do you actually get to beat up the Titans yourself?"
"Hostile, aren't you?" Apprentice moved closer, prowling like a great cat. "Is that your normal state of being, or just special for me?"
"It's my approach to life. You're one to talk, in any case, if you always insult people the first time you meet them. I wasn't even going to tell you that you look like a possessed mannequin, but now it just seems natural."
"Most people think the lack of facial features is intimidating," he pointed out, absurdly amused. Okay, she could live. She was amusing. "I guess I should point out that the pigtails make you look like a ten year old girl."
"The dress dates me more to about twelve, though, and being completely flat isn't helping matters," Jinx said bluntly. "How old do you think I am?"
"Hm..." He pretended to think about it, and smirked behind the mask. "Six. Or maybe seven, hard to tell with the pink." He waved one hand, and looked over the edge of the building. "Oh, lookie, the younglings are running home to lick their wounds. Nice."
"I have better things to do than dye my hair, and why would I bother? People think I'm a harmless little girl that couldn't fight my way out of a wet paper bag."
"You look the part." Apprentice sighed, and shook his head. "Hate to insult and run, but I've got places to be, people to kill. Have a nice night."
Jinx stood, while seeming to pay no attention to just how close her legs were to the edge of the roof. "Don't let me keep you, then." She studied him for a second before offering her hand. "I'm Jinx."
Apprentice tilted his head, then accepted her hand. "Apprentice. Nice to meet you, I'm sure. We'll certainly be seeing a lot of each other later. Stay away from my boss and you might live to see the end of the Titans." With that, he gave a polite half bow, turned, and ran across the rooftop. He had some Titans to beat to the tower.
Jinx watched the mannequin-man go. No name, no face, and no information... but he had manners. She'd expected him to knock her over when she held out her hand. She would have blasted him with a hex, but she would be on her butt and have no real control of the situation. What did he mean by staying away from his boss, though? Slade had come to her headmaster, and had asked for her team.
Maybe he and Slade weren't as tight as she'd thought.
Raven rubbed at her upper arm, and allowed herself to slump. Exhaustion, her own, her teammates, battered at her mind. Yet her muscles were still twitching from an overload of adrenaline. She leaned back against the elevator's corner, and turned to look at her teammates.
Robin had come off the worst, and she had done what she could for him in the med bay before they all went up to the lived-in areas of the Tower. The strange, black garbed, blank masked fighter had focused entirely on Robin. The other fighter, in orange and black, had attacked Raven, Cyborg, and Starfire with too much ease. For once, Raven thought, she had come up against someone who could have faced all her power, and survived.
Starfire wasn't floating. She was standing, one arm around Robin's shoulders because he was drugged and having trouble remembering which way was 'up'. Actual bruises mottled her upper arms and shoulders, and the knuckles of her hands were split and bleeding. It was almost impossible to get Starfire to bleed.
Cyborg was half asleep. All of his injuries could wait until the morning, he'd said, and Raven was inclined to agree with him. She was the only person well enough to do anything about any of their injuries, and she didn't trust herself near the delicate technology that was Cyborg's limbs. He said he had shut off the pain receptors, and that he'd diverted excess energy to his core systems. If he needed help in the morning, Robin would no longer be affected by the pain killers.
The elevator dinged, and the doors slid open. Raven waited for everyone else to stumble out, and then did her best to walk with dignity. It was hard, when she was limping from a twisted ankle, but she did her best.
Animal was watching them.
Raven took a deep breath and looked up from the floor, at the kitchen archway. Animal stood, framed by the light, features invisible due to shadows. She couldn't read his emotions; they were too tangled with instincts. She had the feeling, though, that he was smiling.
That's paranoid, Intellect said. Raven bit her lip and hurried to her room. She wasn't going to waste energy worrying about things she couldn't change. Right now, all she wanted was to read a good book, get a good night's sleep, and hope her ankle had healed by morning.
Once in the sanctuary of her room, she relaxed a little, and even found the strength to float over to her bookshelf. She wasn't interested in spell books. A good, Gothic Romance, or really good Fantasy, perhaps.
She selected a book with white leather binding. A rampaging dragon and the good sorcerer who sealed it away. That sounded just right to her.
Later that night, as she was drifting into sleep, she thought she heard someone chuckle. She rolled over and sighed. She'd have to talk to Animal about watching late night TV.