Raven and Beastboy emerged from a shrieking black bird composed of psychic energy into a darkened bedroom. The green boy shivered, rubbing his arms despite the warm climate of the room.
"Brr… I don't think I'm EVER gonna get used to that, Rae" He said "It's super convenient, but kinda creepy too."
"So nice to know that my boyfriend considers the true essence of my soul to be creepy." Raven droned, moving her sack of objects to one corner of her bedroom. "I guess you're just as sensitive as you are smart, and only a little smarter than you are funny."
"Aw, c'mon Rae!" Beastboy protested, placing his hands on her shoulders "You know I didn't mean it like that! I just… hey, wait…"
Raven turned to face her boyfriend, a sardonic smirk on her lips. "Just getting back to 'our thing', as you called it."
"Ah, there's the sarcastic, mean Raven I fell in love with." Beastboy said with a smile. He leaned in to hug her, only for Raven to deftly duck and weave under his arms.
"Before you start, you should go and explain to Slade just what happened and why the mission had to be cut short. You know, the SILENT and PEACEFUL mission to retrieve my magical equipment from the Tower which ended because you tried to capture Robin? On your own? Despite being ordered not to approach any of the other Titans?" the empath said, ignoring her boyfriend's wince. She knew he was embarrassed by his failure, but also knew that the only way he'd learn was to face his mistakes head on. She made a mental note to comfort him later.
Beastboy's shoulders slumped, and he turned to plod towards the door. At the threshold, he turned to address Raven once more. "If I don't come back, remember me as I was. Handsome, generous, funny…"
"…totally devoid of common sense, self-awareness or modesty." Raven finished with a softer and more affectionate smile. "Go."
When the door closed behind him, Raven turned to her reclaimed possessions. Slowly and carefully, she began to place them around the room, guiding her placement choices with the Azerathian art of Zra'Dhuir. Each item was placed in such a way as to maximize the mystical energy of the whole room, channeling positive influences and warding against negative one. This was essential for Raven, who needed to be sure that demonic influences were- if not completely blocked- at least hindered from access to her mind and soul. Eventually, though, it came time to take out her meditation mirror. Raven couldn't quite bring herself even to reach into the bag for it, much less take it out. Despite its importance, the dark empath found herself filled with conflicting emotions about the tiny object.
On the one hand, it was a severe disappointment that she still needed it. After her sixteenth birthday and the defeat of her father, she'd hoped that her dependence upon the mirror would end- that her need to keep her psyche in balance would be gone along with her prophesied doom. Holding the mirror reminded her that, whatever happened, her father's cursed influence would always be with her. But on the other hand, it really HAD been a trial to be without it. Though she had kept up with her normal meditation techniques, these had not been very helpful in maintaining her internal balance. The sad fact was that without regular mystical meditation, combined with journeys into Nevermore, Raven had found it difficult to keep herself under control. She'd felt far more emotional and prone to mood swings that left those around her puzzled, and left her feeling a little frightened.
Raven decided to compromise. She couldn't give up the mirror entirely, but maybe she could delay taking it out for one more night. Instead, she assumed the lotus position for a little traditional meditation.
"Azarath, Metrion, Zinthos… Azerath, Metrion, Zinthos…"
Down in the main base, Slade listened impassively as Beastboy related what had happened in the Tower, working a whetstone across the blade of his sword as he listened. The soft rasping sound seemed to disconcert the changeling, but to his credit Beastboy didn't falter in his recitation nor did he try to lie or create justifications about what had happened. When he finished, Slade slowly put down the stone and held his sword up to the light, examining the blade for scratches or notches.
Eventually Slade spoke, never taking his eye from the blade. "Your assignment was to go infiltrate Titans Tower, retrieve Raven's mystical tools and your own possessions. You were supposed to enter and exit without any of the Titans knowing you were there- in fact, I specifically told you not to make any contact with the Titans on this trip. By revealing yourself tonight, you not only ensured that the Titans would be on alert in the future, but that they would close the security loopholes that allowed you to enter the Tower undetected. The question I must ask is- why did you take the risk? Why did you decide to go after Robin despite being ordered not to engage?"
"Because I saw an opportunity to strengthen our team and cripple theirs." Beastboy responded frankly. "Without Robin, the Titans tend to be a little lost in the best of circumstances- no one is as confident or experienced a leader as he is. With him gone, and Raven and I on the other side, I think the Titans would have basically fallen apart- none of them would've been able to decide what to do next. I didn't think it was too risky, either- I can be real quiet when I wanna be, and Rob was fast asleep. It seemed like a pretty good balance of risk for reward, y'know? How was I supposed to know Silkie would wander into the room and tackle me? Ya can't predict that kinda thing, dude."
Slade nodded at this and lowered his sword down to the table. "That's true. Any situation will have all kinds of factors and possibilities which are beyond your ability to predict or control. That is precisely why sticking to the plan is so important- it minimizes the potential for things to go wrong."
"I gotcha." Beastboy said with a sigh "So, what's the punishment gonna be?"
"Punishment?" Slade repeated.
"Yeah, c'mon dude don't keep me in suspense here. Robin would always give me massive training routines as punishment when I messed up, Mento'd do the same but worse- so lay it on me. I'm ready to face the music." Beastboy closed his eyes, mentally bracing himself. The feeling of a hand gently resting on his shoulder caused him to open them again. He saw Slade looking at him with concern on his face.
"Beastboy, you made an error in judgment. You KNOW that what you did was inappropriate, and disciplining you like a child won't serve any useful function. If you want to do extra training, I certainly won't stop you, but neither will I order you to do it as though you were a school boy. Remember your error, learn from it, and don't repeat it. That is all I expect you to do about this mistake- we'll say no more about it." Slade moved to the door. "We'll reconvene after breakfast, and I will give you and Raven your mission for tomorrow night. I suggest you get some sleep, it will be a difficult one."
"Um, o-okay. Well, uh, g'night." Beastboy said hesitantly. It seemed unnatural to him- if you made a mistake, you had to pay for it. That was how Mento had run his team, and Robin had done the same. Still, he wasn't complaining. Although, maybe a little more training WAS called for. He should've done WAY better in that fight with Robin than he had- he didn't expect to WIN against the Boy Wonder, but he should've done better than that. Beastboy headed over to the training room, wondering idly if this was what maturity felt like.
Back at the Tower, Robin convened an emergency meeting in the hallway outside his bedroom- it had to be held outside his bedroom because the Boy Wonder was having a bit more trouble than he'd expected getting through the thick ice that had encased his door. Robin had, to his chagrin, thrown one of his new experimental freeze discs- ones which used a different chemical mixture and which resulted in a much thicker coating of ice. Furthermore, neither Cyborg nor Starfire could simply blast through the icy blockade without seriously damaging the walls and door. Given what had just happened to him, Robin wasn't prepared to render his bedroom any less secure than it already was, and so the meeting consisted of Robin talking to his team through the ice, while every portable heater in the Tower worked to melt it. After giving his team mates a summary of the night's events, the Boy Wonder opened the floor to comments and questions.
"I have a question. Kind of a big one." Batgirl said, taking care to speak loudly so that Robin could hear her. "How did Beastboy get into the Tower? Shouldn't the alarms have sounded?"
"Um… Not necessarily." Cyborg admitted sheepishly. "In all the craziness that's been goin' on, I kinda might have forgotten to reset the passwords and to deactivate BB and Rae's authorization codes. Far as the Tower's systems were concerned, the little green bean had every right to be here. I'll fix that as soon as soon as we're done here. He won't be able to get back in here again without us knowing about it."
"It is very strange" Starfire said softly, almost to herself. "We have spent so long trying to return Beastboy to our home, and now we are discussing how to keep him out."
"Did you say something Starfire?" Robin called out, unable to hear his girlfriend through the ice.
"I said it is very strange! We have spent so long trying to return Beastboy to our home, and now we are discussing how to keep him out!" Starfire repeated, yelling to be sure that Robin could hear her.
"Oh! Well, we don't have a choice- he's proven over and over that he's working with Slade. He and Raven have to be considered no different from any other criminal" Robin called back. "That doesn't just mean we have to defend against them, it also means we have to be able to go looking for them. Any ideas on that front?"
"Hard to do. Raven can teleport and phase through walls. Almost impossible to trap her. Beastboy can hide in plain sight. As a bug. Or a reptile. No one would question his color. Need to find their hideout." Batgirl said thoughtfully. "Cyborg was building something to help with that. How is that going?"
"It ain't." Cyborg replied flatly.
"What?" Robin yelled.
"I SAID IT AIN'T GOING AT ALL!" Cyborg bellowed through the ice.
"OH! Why not?" The Boy Wonder asked.
"There's too many variables involved! The sonic echolocator was built to find any hidden underground rooms that weren't documented with the city! But not all basements are documented! Plus if they're too deep down, it won't see 'em!" Cyborg said. "So that idea's out!"
"It is all right Cyborg, it was a good idea." Starfire said comfortingly. "You were not to know that it would not be possible."
"I SAID- Oh, for X'hal's sake!" Starfire fumed, frustrated by the icy barrier. "Can this wall not be made to melt more quicky?! It is impossible to speak in this manner, let alone come up with a plan!"
"It doesn't matter, Star, it's too late at night for a full planning session. The reason I called you here was to set up the new security measures we will be employing." Robin replied. "From now on, no one goes anywhere alone- whether inside the Tower or out. Whether you're going on patrol, going to the kitchen, or even going to the bathroom you must have at least one other Titan with you. Second, no one sleeps in their rooms anymore. As soon as this ice melts I want everyone to grab their sleeping things and assemble in the Common Room- we all sleep there until this thing gets resolved."
"Yo, Rob, don'tcha think this is a little extreme?" Cyborg asked. "I mean, yeah, BB got in once but I'll recalibrate the security systems so he and Raven'll set off the alarms if they get in. Goin' around in pairs an' sleepin' in the same room is gonna be mighty inconvenient."
"Can you guarantee that the system will be able to detect insects or even microscopic organisms?" Robin countered. "What about teleportation or other magic? Beastboy and Raven are probably the best suited for infiltration and reconnaissance of all the Titans. A fact I'd bet everything I own Slade knew about that when he decided to recruit them. We can't take the chance of them making it through the system and grabbing someone."
"I had a thought. Beastboy and Raven work for Slade now." Batgirl said, as the others digested these new rules. "Do you think this means they know Batman's secret identity?"
Robin was silent for a long moment, and when he did speak his voice was uncertain, as though he were desperate for reassurance himself. "I don't know, Batgirl. We have to assume the worst- and I will inform Batman of the possibility myself. He has contingency plans in place for situations like these, I'm sure he'll know what to do."
"As it is getting late, we should begin preparing for bed." Starfire said, beckoning to Batgirl. "Cassandra, would you come with me to my room so that I may ready myself for slorvax?"
"Okay. Afterwards we'll go by my room. Get my things for the night." The quiet girl replied. "Not sure how well I'll be sleeping after all that. But I'll try anyway."
"That is the spirit! We must try to remain cheerful!" Starfire said with a smile. "Oh! I believe I have successfully translated some Tamaranian jokes- come, I shall tell them to you along the way!"
As the alien girl led a slightly worried Batgirl down the hall to her room, Cyborg turned back to the ice barrier. "Looks like it's startin' to melt through" he noted "You should be oughta there in another hour or so. I'll wait out here til you're done, then we'll head down to the common room for some sleep."
"Good. In the meanwhile, I'll call the police on the backup system I have in here." Robin replied, moving to his desk. "Maybe they've found something that'll tell us just what the heck is going on here."
"I'm afraid I don't have any better news for you than you have for me" Commissioner said a few minutes later, wiping a hand across his eyes. In truth, Robin was amazed the older man was still at his desk- it was getting close to midnight, and Whyte looked as though he'd been working all day long. "Nothing on Slade, nothing on your former teammates, and nothing from the Municipal Archives site. In fact, most my day was spent on an unrelated case."
"Can you tell me about that case?" Robin asked. "Slade has a habit of weaving together seemingly unconnected crimes to form his plans- so we shouldn't dismiss it out of hand."
"All right, but I don't see what connection there could be." Whyte replied, reaching across his desk to pick up a file folder. "This afternoon a mail van heading out of Jump City stopped on the highway to fix a flat. When the driver was out, he noticed a patch of bare earth in the middle of a field. A little investigation revealed a shallow grave containing a human corpse. It'd been pretty badly damaged by quicklime, and the face was disfigured by the fatal gunshot, but we managed to get a clean enough set of prints to let us make an identification. The deceased was Doctor Christian Tannenberg, a neurosurgeon or something from Idaho of all places."
"Hm. Bullet to the face and a roadside grave doesn't exactly sound like Slade's handiwork, it's true." Robin said "How long had Tannenberg been missing?"
"Near as we can tell, he wasn't." Whyte answered. "The hospital he worked for said he resigned over the phone months ago. He said something about traveling the country for a while. They weren't happy to see their best man flake off to 'find himself', but they didn't think it was too suspicious either."
"I can see that. Medicine's a stressful job" Robin said, thoughtfully. "They probably have a few doctors who drop out every year."
"Completely unlike our own, relaxing professions?" Whyte said with a tired smile. Robin laughed and wished the older man a good night.
Once the monitor went dark, Robin rose and began putting together everything he needed for the night. Pajamas, toiletries, pillows and blanket all went into a small travel bag. By the time he'd finished, there was a large enough hole in the ice wall to squeeze through. Outside, Cyborg was waiting.
"Any news man?" the metal teen asked.
"Nothing that can't wait until morning." Robin responded with a yawn. "Let's turn off the heaters for the night- the ice can melt on its own, and I'm tired."
Just then, Starfire and Batgirl came round the corner. The alien girl, now wearing her pink nightgown and fuzzy slippers, seemed much happier than she had before. The vigilante, who wore only a tanktop and grey jogging pants, only seemed confused. Evidently, Starfire's jokes were not meeting with the reception she'd hoped for.
"How about this joke? What is the difference between a jak'aril and a qut'lech? The jak'aril is purple! HAHAHAHA! Ah, Robin!" Starfire exclaimed, flying over to capture her boyfriend in a hug. "I am pleased to see you out of your room once more! Shall we head downstairs to prepare for slorvax?"
"Yeah, Star. Slorvax sounds good. This'll all look a lot better in the morning." Robin said, forcing himself to smile as the group headed for the elevator. In truth, he felt incredibly tense and worried as things just seemed to be getting worse and worse. His attempts to cover this did not completely succeed, however. Starfire leaned in close.
"You do not truly believe this, do you Tim?" Starfire said, her voice sad.
Robin heaved a deep sigh and shook his head. "Not really" he admitted. "I can't see any way forward- we have no clues, no leads, and there seems to be no pattern to Slade's plan. All we can do is wait and hope that somehow, this time, we'll be able to stop whatever he's doing without him turning any more of us to his side."
"Not a good situation." Cassie agreed. "We can't predict his moves. Or his targets. Not enough information on him to get inside his head."
"Get inside his…" Cyborg repeated, stopping dead in the middle of the hallway. After a second, he grabbed Starfire by the hand and raced off in the opposite direction. "I GOT IT!"
"Cyborg!" Robin yelled, as he and Batgirl followed the two. "What are you talking about?!"
The metal man came to a halt in front of Raven's door and began working the controls to unlock it. As he worked he answered Robin. "I got it! I know how we can get one step ahead of them! Raven's mirror!"
"How would a mirror help us?" Cassie asked in bewilderment as the door slid open, revealing a mostly empty room.
"Oh, man! I guess BB wasn't here alone- guess that kills that idea. Still, maybe they missed it?" Cyborg said, scanning the shelves. "Anyway, Raven's mirror is an entryway into her mind scape. It's filled with representations of Raven's emotions, who all look like her but in different colored cloaks. I figured we could go in and ask the various Ravens what's going on."
"Do you really think that'd work?" Robin queried as he too joined the search. "It's not like Raven herself would just tell us what she was up to, why should we expect her emotions to be any different?"
"When me and Beastboy got sucked in there way back when, we spent some time talking to the emotions." Cyborg replied, dropping to his hands and knees to scan under the furniture. "They didn't really seem to have a handle on the idea of lying or keeping secrets. Which makes sense, since their whole reason for existing is to help Rae keep her mind balanced- not easy to do that if she can't tell when they're being honest with her. AHA!"
Cyborg reached under the bed and withdrew a small, antique-style hand mirror. It's pane was a solid, non-reflective gray, marking it unmistakably as a supernatural object. The Titans clustered around, taking a moment to study it.
"So, how do we use this?" Robin asked.
"WE do not." Starfire said, crossly. "You have spent this entire evening exerting yourself- you are in no condition to partake in this plan."
"Star's right, Rob." Cyborg agreed. "Besides, we need someone to stay at the Tower to make sure BB and Raven don't just burn the place down or somethin'. Of all of us, I'm the only one whose actually been inside Raven's mind before, so I'll go. I'll take Starfire with me because, apart from the grass stain, she's closer to Raven than anyone."
Robin opened his mouth to argue but instead found himself voicing a deep yawn. All at once, the exertions and tension of the day seemed to catch up with him. He gave a weary nod. "All right. How long do you think it will take?"
"No way to know, Rob." Was the only answer Cyborg gave.
Robin ground his teeth in frustration. "Cyborg, I need at least a ballpark figure here. If you run into trouble in there, we would have no way to know. I need a rough estimate so I know when to officially start worrying."
"No fighting. Team bonds have been weakened enough." Cassie said, stepping between the two boys. "Need to stay cool here. Cyborg, just come back in 2 hours. If you need to go back, go back after. Just check in in 2 hours."
"Okay, sounds reasonable." Cyborg agreed, before looking to Starfire. "Ready to go?"
"I wish I had not changed into my sleeping wear" the alien girl grumbled. "Although I doubt that Raven or her emotions will care. I am ready."
"Okay, on three. Azerath, Metrion, ZINTHOS!"
As soon as Cyborg finished the chant, a golden hand emerged from the mirror and dragged the two into its surface.
In hindsight, that should have been their first clue that something was wrong.
I really liked the idea of the Titans holding their big meeting shouting at one another through a locked door. Kinda wanted to break up the monotony of standard meetings.
For those thinking that Slade's out of character for not ripping BB a new one, I don't think he is. Slade is, remember, an experienced soldier. He knows that sometimes you have to take risks to achieve big successes, and that those risks don't always pan out. Beastboy knows he screwed up, he won't break orders again, and his actual reasoning was pretty sound.
The next chapter will probably be delayed slightly, as I am once again moving to another continent. One would think I'd have learned my lesson by this point, but apparently not.