Disclaimer: I don't own the Teen Titans.
Author's Note: I'm a bit less drunk than I was when I wrote A State of Confusion earlier today, according to the $40 breathalyzer I got my sister for Christmas (I'm blowing a .07 at the moment, and I was blowing… well, considerably higher.). Let's ride this pony into the sunset, and pray it's not cardboard.
All right, brain, I don't like you and you don't like me - so let's just do this and I'll get back to killing you with beer.
- Homer Simpson
Their Finest Hour
Garfield took a quick look at the area around the bars of his holding cell. He couldn't see very far, as his view was obstructed by wooden crates of assorted size, color, and markings, leading him to believe that he was probably in some sort of warehouse. He couldn't hear any guards, but he figured that didn't necessarily mean nobody was watching: there could be security cameras and motion sensors and all sorts of things that would immediately send hordes of heavily armed henchmen (*ahem* henchpersons) in to shoot him or beat him or do otherwise unpleasant things to his person.
It was with a start that he realized that he was expected to escape, and that he had spent two precious minutes standing around idly out of the hour he had been allotted to save Rachel. He didn't know how his abductors thought he would get out—there was no way they could have known beforehand about his powers—but he didn't want to waste any more time trying to figure out how he should escape, and instead simply shifted into a chartreuse mongoose and slipped through the bars.
The instant his tail cleared the cell, an intolerably loud klaxon started blaring, surprising him out of his form and into his usual human shape.
Garfield had never made much use of his Metahuman capabilities, given the social stigma attached to them, and as a result had not had reason to use them since he had started on that medication regimen that Vic's employers so generously paid for. The pills that had turned his skin and hair to their socially acceptable hues did not, it seemed, carry over through a transformation. Garfield was green again, by virtue of needing to shift out of his cell, and he was not terrifically thrilled about it.
'Maybe,' he thought, 'Rachel will be held in a dark room that won't let her see me very clearly, and I can find some excuse to scram before she catches an eyeful of… well… me.' He heard heavy footsteps running in his general direction over the noise of the klaxons, and shifted into a form more suited to moving about unnoticed.
Meanwhile, in the brightly-lit room where Rachel was being held captive…
The sudden sounds of alarms going off in the distance might have distracted a less disciplined mind than hers, but her powers required control, and control required discipline, and Rachel possessed power, control, and discipline in spades. This fact was becoming more and more apparent as she struggled against her bonds, and as the bonds fought back.
The glowing runes, which had at first only appeared as she reached for her innate abilities, were now permanently etched into the restraints, the only variation in their appearance being in the intensity of the light they emanated.
They were also getting rather hot.
The smell of burning hair and the pain of burning flesh might have distracted a less disciplined mind than hers…
"Take this next left."
Richard tried not to grind his teeth together. "I know how to get there, Vic." It seemed as though having a built-in navigational system gave the researcher an inclination towards backseat driving, which the secretary could have honestly done without.
"Are you sure you do?" Vic shouted over the wind. "I mean, you missed that turn back there on Eleventh-"
"I did not miss it," Richard replied hotly. "I'm taking my own route, thank you very much!"
Victor went silent, and for a moment it seemed as though he was going to let Richard drive the motorcycle in peace.
"Are you taking the tunnel?"
"YesIamtakingthetunnel!" Richard shouted angrily. He suspected his dentist was going to have words with him the next time he saw her, the way his teeth were grinding now.
"You know, the bridge would be faster this time of-"
Richard revved the engine and sped up to drown out his passenger's voice. After a minute, he felt his cell phone vibrate on his belt and turned on his headset inside his helmet.
"Also, there's a wreck on Twenty-Eighth coming up soon."
"Would you rather be riding with Dr. Anders?"
"Since she would be carrying us, don't you mean 'riding Dr. Anders'?"
Richard hung up. A minute later, his phone rang again. He let it go for a few rings before angrily turning on his headset again. "What do you want?!"
"Well that's a fine way to say 'Thank you,' isn't it Dick?" The feminine voice in his ear sounded more amused than annoyed, if anything.
Richard sighed, and dialed back the irritation a bit. "Sorry Babs, I've just had Vic harassing me-"
"Oh, the cute one?"
He felt like hitting his head on the windscreen, but decided at the last second that doing that while weaving through traffic was probably unwise. Heaving a sigh, Richard opted to ignore that last comment of Oracle's. "What've you got for me, Barbara?"
She ignored the use of her full name, and continued in a more serious tone. "I spoke with Doctor Fate about the Roth woman—by the way, that man is an ass. I mean I'm just minding my own business-"
"By poking into everyone else's."
"-and out of nowhere this giant glowing ankh pops up in the living room. No calling ahead to make sure I don't have a stroke when he shows up on my coffee table, just bam!"
"You're getting a bit far afield, Babs."
"Right. In any case, Fate told me to tell you that apparently Ms. Roth is… a bit of a wild card. She was supposed to fulfill this ten-thousand year-old prophecy on her sixteenth birthday and incinerate all life on Earth, or something like that. I think we were going on our first date that night, actually. In any case, we are all spectacularly unincinerated, as you can probably tell. According to Fate, not fulfilling a prophecy of that magnitude was a bit of a mystic faux paus, and while he claims to be happy that she decided to screw that one up (you can never really tell, with Fate), the overriding message that I got was: she will break any rule to get what she wants."
"So… the Devil's kid isn't all that bad?"
He could almost hear the redhead shaking her head on the other side of the line. "I didn't say that. She probably would've preferred not to go up in flames when she was sixteen either, so her bit of world-saving could very well have been nothing more than self-preservation. And she does stick needles into children for a living. Just be very careful around her. She's probably the most powerful Meta you'll run into, and definitely the least predictable. Fate tried to give me a list of her powers, and it would probably have been easier to list the things she can't do. I've got telekinesis, temporal manipulation, and almost everything in between. I can't overemphasize this, Richard: BE CAREFUL."
"I will, don't worry. Got anything else for me?"
"Yeah. You're coming up on a wreck pretty soon—you should've taken the bridge, birdbrain—so I'm arranging a ride for you with… that other redhead."
Richard blinked in confusion for a moment, but before he could figure out exactly what Barbara had meant he felt the motorcycle give a lurch. Suddenly, he an Dr. Stone were no longer driving down downtown Jump City's crowded thoroughfares, but were instead hovering twenty feet in the air. He looked down to his left to see Dr. Anders gripping his bike by the frame and giving him an odd look.
"I… spoke with this 'Barbara,' who told me that you were going to be in need of assistance soon." The odd expression intensified, and Richard waited for the other shoe to drop.
"Please tell me, for while I am somewhat ignorant of your Earthly mating rituals, her behavior seemed to suit the Tamaranian rituals: are she and I to meet on the field of battle? I would not wish to do her harm, but…" she trailed off, waiting for an explanation of Richard's ex-girlfriend's apparently somewhat antagonistic behavior.
Now that it was safe to do so, Richard leaned forward and hit his head on the motorcycle's windscreen.
Half an hour had passed, and Garfield couldn't even catch so much as a whiff of Rachel, even after three laps around the warehouse. He was desperate for a lead, but he didn't have the foggiest clue as to find one. He shifted back to his human form and sat down to think on one of the many crates strewn about the building's interior.
"Hey! You! On the box!" Garfield jumped at the sudden shout, nearly falling off of his perch. Steadying himself, he turned his head to see one of the various thugs his kidnapper had employed pointing a submachine gun at him. "Keep your hands where I can see them and get down from up there!
Garfield complied, landing on the ground ten feet in front of the guard and putting his hands in front of him to show that they weren't holding anything. Suddenly, he recognized the man as one of the street thugs that had confronted him and Rachel on their way to work the previous day, and he knew how he was going to find Rachel.
"Hey, aren't you one of those guys that ran away screaming for mommy the other day?" He knew he was taking a serious risk, considering the gun being pointed at him, but Garfield was gambling on the fact that his would-be captor appeared to want him alive for the time being.
"Fuck you, man!" the enforcer shouted, waving his weapon threateningly. "You ain't so fuckin' tough without your scary bitch to save your ass, are you?" To make his point he fired a shot off to the side, splintering a crate as well as alerting everyone in the building to Garfield's whereabouts.
Garfield didn't know what he meant by "your scary bitch" except that the woman in question was Rachel, and that he didn't particularly appreciate that sort of language being used to describe her. "I'll tell you what," he said. "You are going to tell me where Rachel is being held right now, or I'll show you why I'm a whole lot scarier than she is, capisce?"
The thug laughed. "You, scary? You're just a scrawny little holy fuck you're a bear." And indeed, Garfield was a bear at that precise moment, and he was also charging straight at the gunman, who at that same precise moment completely forgot the weapon in his hands. Before he could remember it, however, he was knocked to the ground, disarmed, and pinned by a very angry, very large grizzly. A gob of saliva dripped out of Garfield's open jaws and landed on the side of the goon's face, bringing him back to the present.
"So… heh… you want to know where the scary lady's bein' held, eh? Heh… wow, what big teeth you have…"
Absently, Rachel noticed that the runes in her restraints had almost burnt all the way through the bands they had been inscribed on. Ignoring the searing pain of the red hot Metal burning away at her wrists and ankles, she focused her thoughts and reached for her powers once again.
Suddenly, she felt her bindings give. The bright white light of the runes dulled to an angry red glow, and then faded altogether. Almost immediately, the Metal bands cooled to room temperature, as though they had been quenched in a barrel of water. She gave a quiet laugh of triumph and tried to remove her shackles… and was blocked once again.
"Oh, you have got to be kidding me." Her efforts to break the enchantments on her restraints had had an unforeseen side effect: the runes were now branded on her flesh. Fortunately, the brands were less precise than the etchings on her restraints, and the smudging effect, while not enough to allow her to outright heal her wounds, was sufficient to let her enter a healing trance. Still, trances took time… shaking her head, she found her center, and began redirecting the energies trapped within her body towards the areas affected by the burns. It was slow going, but as she wore away at the brands, the process would speed up considerably. Rachel estimated that within five minutes she would be free, and within seven she would secure Garfield… or else within eight, there were going to be a lot fewer street thugs living in Jump City.
Garfield circled up in the sky, reading the markings on the sides of the buildings. The guard hadn't been able to produce coherent directions to where Rachel was being held prisoner, but had been more than forthcoming with the building number that Garfield needed. The changeling suspected a trap of some sort, given how easily the guard had recalled the building number (Had he had to guess, Garfield would've labeled the sixth grade as the thug's likely senior year.), but it was all he had to go on, and with the clock ticking…
His eagle eyes spotted the building he needed, and he swooped down, transforming as he landed.
Rachel felt a thrill of triumph as she wiped away the last remnants of her magical bindings, leaving the trifling matter of her physical bonds to deal with. A thought later, she was free to move about the room at will. A quick examination of the walls revealed no surprises there, either mystic or mundane. Her empathetic senses told her that a guard was standing on the other side of the door, and she opted to put on a bit of a show for him, in order to make him more… receptive… to her demands.
The guard gave a startled squeak as the black gateway opened beneath his feet, but it was choked off by the dark tendril that wrapped around his body like a python, squeezing the air out of him. The pressure on his ribcage wasn't what left him speechless, however. Rather, it was the sight of Rachel looming head and shoulders above him, her white lab coat extending all the way to the ground and billowing with what the occasional glimpse through the opening in the front hinted at being hundreds of tendrils identical to the one slowly suffocating him. Her facial expression betrayed only a hint of annoyance, which oddly terrified her would-be guard far more than outright rage would have.
"I'm going to ask you once, and if you don't give me what I want, then I'm going to pop you like a balloon and find someone else to ask. Do we understand each other?" She gave the guard a quick squeeze to drive the point home, and he gave a furious nod. She relaxed her hold a little so he would be able to breathe—barely—and answer her.
"Where. Is. Garfield?"
The guard started panicking in earnest now. While their employer had made certain that the guards holding the teacher knew where Rachel was, the opposite was not true. In truth, the man had no more idea of Garfield's location than Rachel herself did. So he decided to stall for time, hoping that something would happen to pull his bacon out of the fire.
It was not the wisest course of action to have taken.
At his stammering, Rachel's countenance grew darker and darker, until his stammering was cut off by the grip around his body suddenly tightening. His mouth opened and closed like a fish as he desperately gasped for air.
"I said," Rachel shouted, her eyes turning red and splitting from two into four, "WHERE IS HE?!" With that last shout, the man in her grip passed out, although Rachel couldn't tell—and didn't much care—whether it was from fear or from oxygen deprivation. Carelessly, she tossed his limp body to the ground, and roared in frustration. Black shards of energy gathered themselves around her person, and then launched into the walls and ceiling around her.
There was an earsplitting roar, and then the building collapsed.
Garfield hit the ground running, his two enormous legs supporting his fifty tons of bone, muscle, and sinew and propelling them towards the target warehouse. His plan was to simply overwhelm any resistance through a sheer show of force: there are precious few men in this world willing to stand and fight in the face of a charging tyrannosaurus, no matter how well-paid they are, and Garfield was betting that none of them were in his kidnapper's employ.
Lowering his head like a battering ram, the lizard king crashed into the warehouse door, tearing it off of its hinges like tissue paper. Immediately drawing to a halt—so as not to accidentally trample someone who didn't need trampling, like Rachel—he took a deep breath and let loose with an earsplitting roar.
To his not inconsiderable surprise, the building collapsed all around him.
Kori set the bike—laden with Victor and Richard—down at the edge of the warehouse district, at her secretary's direction. The two doctors had stepped back and allowed Richard to take the lead, given that his information was all that they had to act on.
"Alright," their temporary leader said, "Babs wasn't able to get a more precise location for where they were taken other than this general area, so both of you be on the lookout for anything unusual and report it. Dr. Anders-"
"-Kori, you search over there, Dr. Stone, you search in that direction, and I'll sear-"
"Hey Richard, I'd like to report an exploding warehouse and a green T-Rex. Think we should look into it?"
"Bite me, Vic."
Between the two of them, it was fairly safe to say that Garfield was more surprised by the turn of events. While Rachel certainly did not expect the building to collapse and reveal an extinct fifty ton carnivore in a shade it likely never walked the earth while wearing, she did expect for the building to collapse, and also managed to avoid being struck by any debris. Garfield, on the other hand, was caught completely off guard, and managed to catch a good portion of the roof with his head. Thus it was the half-demon that reacted first, which was unfortunate, since she could not possibly recognize the green, mean, meat-eating machine before her as her considerably smaller vegetarian neighbor, and thereby attacked the hapless tyrannosaur in self-defense.
The hundreds of tendrils that the unfortunate guard had spied beneath the billowing lab coat leapt forth to do battle with their gargantuan foe, and before Garfield had a change to recover from the blows to his head he was snatched into the air and bodily thrown clear of the debris. To her surprise, the dinosaur vanished from sight in midair, only to be replaced by a similarly-colored hawk of some indeterminable species. Quickly, she readied a shield and levitated away from the debris of the warehouse, so that if the shapeshifting creature returned to attack, she would be ready.
Garfield was no less than a little worried. He hadn't gotten a good look at whatever had tossed his tyrannosaur form a good hundred yards away, but anything that could do that… well, if it hadn't been in the same building as Rachel, he'd have given it a wide berth. He could only hope that it had somehow protected the pediatrician from falling debris as the building collapsed. The alternative didn't bear thinking about.
Shifting into a red-tailed hawk in midair to avoid crashing into the ground—because when you weigh fifty tons, falling any considerable distance flat out sucks—and wheeled around to take a peek at whatever that thing was that had chucked him like last week's garbage. Unfortunately, all he could see was a semi-opaque obsidian square that even his formidable eyes could hardly penetrate, besides being able to tell that there was something vaguely human-shaped behind it. Clawing his way higher into the air, he got almost directly above his opponent, folded his wings, and dropped like a rock.
Victor pushed his legs as hard as he could, running much faster than his considerable weight and bulk would appear to allow. Behind him, Richard and Kori veered off to the sides in order to surround the two combatants. Richard had relayed the information he had received from his ex-girlfriend—Victor still couldn't help but smile at that—about Rachel, and while he didn't for a moment believe that she would intentionally hurt Garfield, he wasn't entirely sure she knew who her green opponent really was, and accidents do happen.
When he saw the hawk plunge into a dive, however, he immediately came to a halt and readied his latest self-modification: the sonic cannon in his right forearm. He didn't know how strong that black shield Rachel was keeping between her and Gar was, but he knew that if it didn't break when his buddy hit it, he would. He trained his cannon on the floating woman…
Huh. Okay, the grass stain vanished. That's weird.
When the hawk diving at her vanished, Rachel's first instinct was to spin around in place to catch anyone coming up behind her, and in doing so allowed the green flea to land neatly on her jacket collar undetected. A moment later, that flea became a five hundred-pound gorilla, and with a startled squeak not dissimilar to the one the guard made when she grabbed him, she toppled to the ground.
They were already falling when Garfield realized his mistake. Without the shield obscuring her features, it was easy to identify her as the woman he had set out to rescue, even from behind and through the eyes of a gorilla, but by then it was too late. He might have wondered at how someone who could toss around a tyrannosaur would be grounded by the weight of a mere gorilla, but he didn't have the time to do so as the ground rushed up at him and he positioned himself under Rachel to take the brunt of the fall.
Garfield bounced slightly as he landed, releasing Rachel as his arms instinctively flew to his sides to absorb some of the shock. His passenger, slightly worse for the thirty-foot fall, rolled off of his chest and stood up unsteadily, glaring at his injured form. Her hands were encased in the obsidian energy she had been using to devastating effect, and she assumed a defensive stance in case the green creature stirred again.
"Rachel, stop!" A familiar voice to her right surprised her, and she spun her head to face the man she remembered as Victor Stone, although she couldn't claim to know him as well as she might have liked to, considering that he was Garfield's friend. The other two she sensed, however, were completely unfamiliar, and she suspected the one to her left wasn't even human. She remained wary of them all, not trusting anyone who showed up so quickly to where a kidnapper stashed his victims.
"Rachel, that's Garfield right there, right in front of you." She blinked in surprise and glanced over at the green form on the ground beside her, and as she watched it melted into an unconscious Garfield, his clothing somewhat worse for wear. She let a small gasp escape and took a quick step towards him, before jumping back and looking suspiciously at Victor once more.
"It's a shapeshifter. It could just look like Garfield… if he were green, that is." Even to her own ears, it sounded lame.
"Miss Roth," said the other unfamiliar human. "My name is Richard Grayson, and we—that is, Doctor Stone and myself—work for Doctor Anders-"
"Kori!" growled the alien behind Rachel.
"Not now, Kori. As I was saying, we work for her," he nodded to indicate the woman, "developing various methods for Metahumans who cannot blend in with normal society on their own—like Victor and Garfield—to do just that: blend in." Victor flickered for a moment, and suddenly the rather large, friendly African-American man she had lived next to for so long was replaced by an amalgamation of man and machine that, she was ashamed to admit, somewhat scared her.
"One of our earliest jobs was the grass stain," said Victor, assuming his holographic disguise once again. "He couldn't get a job to save his life, because none of the parents would want a Meta teaching their kids." He looked profoundly disgusted at the attitudes of the parents, and she felt in complete agreement… assuming he was telling the truth. "I whipped up the meds myself, and just told him that my employer's health insurance was covering it. I don't know why, probably because letting him try and guess who I worked for was too much damn fun."
"Cheater," moaned the wounded body at her feet, drawing Rachel's attention towards it. "You cheat at video games, you cheat at making me guess where you work, you probably cheat on your taxes too." There was a slight pause as he coughed roughly. "Not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you, as long as it's the feds. The State of California pays my half of the rent, so you'd better not be stiffing them."
A mere touch of her empathetic senses told her that, however impossible it might seem, the green man before her was, in fact, Garfield, and she rushed over to his side to heal his injuries. She felt the man who had identified himself as Richard tense as her hands lit up, but as he made no hostile action—she recalled quite clearly that he hadn't identified himself as a Meta—she ignored him and focused on repairing Garfield.
Once she finished, Rachel helped him to his feet and allowed him to support his weight on her shoulders. She didn't actually think he needed to, but when he tried to stand up on his own she jerked him gently back into leaning on her, and he didn't try again to correct her.
The alien woman who had insisted that Richard call her "Kori" had remained all but silent throughout the entire exchange—something which Rachel suspected was highly unusual for her—cleared her throat meaningfully, looking decidedly awkward. "I," she paused. "I do not know if this is considered rude on this planet, and if it is then I am most apologetic, but… friend Richard mentioned a certain matter that-" she bit her lower lip, as though trying to find the most diplomatic way to say what she was trying to say. Rachel figured she could make a guess.
"You're talking about my father, I suppose?" The alien woman's relieved nod answered. "And your information is probably coming from Dr. Fate as well?" Kori looked to Richard, whose stony face all but confirmed her suspicions. "I made the mistake of going to Dr. Fate when I was fourteen concerning a prophecy that I am certain everyone here is already aware of."
"I'm not," protested Garfield, when everyone else nodded.
"Long story short, I was supposed to bring about the end of the world and life as we know it on my sixteenth birthday. Growing up with this at the back of my mind is probably what resulted in my sunny disposition. Can I continue?" Not waiting for a reply, she did just that.
"Dr. Fate, while all but unsurpassed in this dimension for his studies of the arcane, is rather… ignorant in the study of demonology, and so rather unprofessionally jumped to the conclusion that by virtue of what I was fated to do, my father—who was to be the instrument of all this death and destruction—was, naturally, Satan." Only Garfield felt surprised to her, although Victor seemed disbelieving and Kori seemed to not quite grasp the significance of the name. "Let me state in no uncertain terms that that is not true." Victor and Garfield were letting off waves of relief, Richard reeked of suspicion, and Kori… well, she still didn't seem to quite grasp why this mattered. Rachel let her last statement sink in for a moment before allowing a small, yet thoroughly evil smile alight upon her face. "My father's name is Trigon, and Satan works for him."
Shock came from each of the other four people present, but she wasn't quite done yet. Turning her head to face Garfield, she gently patted him on the cheek and smiled disarmingly. "And yes, I am going to make you ask him for my hand before we get married. Believe me, you wouldn't want to spring that on him without asking." Garfield looked simultaneously delighted and terrified, and Rachel had no choice but to laugh.
"Say, where did all the henchmen go?"
BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEE-click
"Please tell me you just blew up the damn thing, Rachel. I really don't want to get out of bed this morning. What kind of monsters do you work for that make you wake up this early, anyway?"
"The same ones you work for, who apparently don't take kidnapping as a legitimate excuse for missing a day at the office. Now be quiet, I want to enjoy my remaining eight minutes of sleep."
"Rachel, can I tell you a secret?"
"Can it wait eight minutes for when we're both out of bed?"
"I don't actually have to be at the school until ten. I've been waking up three hours early ever since I met you so I could walk to work with you."
"That's… ten, you said?"
"Well, I could probably fudge it fifteen minutes or so, but I'd be an absolute wreck for third period."
"Huh. Well, I don't suppose it'll kill the office if I'm only half an hour early instead of three and a half."
"Wait… you mean? Hold on a sec, I'm tired and bad at math. One, carry the two, seventeen…"
"Shut up and go to sleep Garfield, unless you want me to make you."
"That depends entirely on how you propose to make me, m'dear."
"How does blunt force trauma sound to you?"
"Painful, and not much fun."
"Oh, I don't know, I think I could enjoy myself."
"Huh? What do you…oh."
Trigon had to admit, he was pretty impressed with the kid. Not only did he track down his daughter with fifteen minutes to spare, but he managed to scare half of the criminal element of Jump City straight in one go… although, not without Raven's considerable help. It would have been a shame to have had to kill him if he had been too slow, but a deadline was a deadline, and Trigon was occasionally a stickler for rules. No matter, though. Raven finally getting that mortal boy under her thrall—perhaps it wasn't a magical enthrallment, but it was close enough for Trigon to count it as such, and he reluctantly had to admit that his daughter was correct in her assessment of his understanding of women—was all well and good, but the true purpose of the entire exercise had gone off without a hitch.
Trigon the Terrible, ruler of the Ten Hells, rolled over in his bed, grinned at his clock (8:00), and went straight back to sleep.
THE END (finally)
Author's Note: Yes, the whole kidnapping thing was orchestrated by Trigon so his daughter would wake up when she needed to and let him sleep in. Who am I to question the motivations of enormous demon lords?