Raven woke up to feel something plastic and slimy touching her.
Dog mumbled something around the bag of chips in his mouth, before continuing to press it into Raven's hands. "Good morning," he repeated when she took it.
"Thanks," she said, too groggy to reject a smelly dog and some junk food.
He sat down and wagged his tail, clearly pleased with himself. She stared down at the bag, and finished waking up. "I'm going to need more than a bag of chips for breakfast," she said, wondering if there was even anything else to eat.
"Well, you won't eat tofu," the canine said.
She hesitated. Would eating here even do anything? She'd never eaten in her own mindscape. Would ingesting a part of Beast Boy's psyche, even a small bit made to be eaten, affect her? Affect Beast Boy?
She forced down her anxieties. (What if she needed to pee?) She had to eat.
"I will if I have to," she finally answered, and opened the bag.
Dog looked up from his grooming to grin at her. To his (Beast Boys?) credit, he hadn't pestered her while she was thinking. Though gnawing his own butt was perhaps a poor choice of actions when she was thinking of food. "You don't. Orangutan is bringing fruit salad."
Raven looked up from the crinkling bag in her lap. "Orangutan's coming?"
He stopped grinning. "You'll need all the help you can get to handle Rex."
"He's right," she thought, downing her meager meal. She did need all the help she could get.
"Dog," she said when she was finished, "I need to meditate for a while." She cringed inside, and her lungs paused. She needed peace and quiet, but was afraid to push Dog away. Not after abandoning him last night.
Dog waited for the other half of her statement, but saw her hesitate. "And," he continued for her, "you need me to not bother you."
She nodded, finally exhaling and trying to be subtle about it. It didn't work.
Dog snorted. "For an empath, you can be awfully dense."
He earned a scowl for that, and he wagged his tail, happy to see normal Raven returning. It was refreshing to be around when she lowered her barriers against others, but he also knew better than to push her limits.
Raven closed her eyes. She lost track of time, as usually happened when she meditated. Falling into herself had the added benefit of shutting out the pressure of being in someone else's mind.
As an experiment, she pushed her mind out, and tried to filter through the overwhelming omnipresence of Beast Boy's mindscape. Her extra senses had been dulled yesterday, smothered by the avalanche of green, and consequently she hadn't been able to feel any of the Aspects as they approached her.
She lost track of time, but didn't waste it. She could already fish out the closer Aspects from the ocean of Beast Boy's mind. There was Dog, stretched out in the sun, heart beating steadfast. Orangutan was getting closer, in measured, thoughtful steps. A smaller, flitting presence was with him — that had to be Hummingbird. Farther away, an unfamiliar presence she assumed to be Turtle waited patiently. And farthest crouched Rex, self-satisfied and deadly.
Tyrannosaurus Rex. She steeled herself for another encounter with the Tyrant King. Brave she would need, along with Wisdom. Timid had to be minimized for now, as she would only hold her back. Rude and Anger she ruthlessly pushed down — they would only lead to trouble.
Breathing deep, Raven opened her eyes and rose to her feet. Orangutan and Hummingbird were almost there.
In the Tower, trying to meditate with Beast Boy in the same room was almost impossible, but here, Dog had been graciously quiet. She was grateful, and was growing to like this side of Beast Boy.
"I'm ready," she said. "And... thank you." She was still uncomfortable with thanking people, and afraid it showed. Years of carefully distancing herself from others made saying two short words feel unnatural.
He thumped his tail against the ground, letting her know he heard, and was too lazy to look up from his impromptu nap. "Pestering you is Hummingbird's job," he said, tail dropping to rest.
Orangutan arrived, pulling a child's wagon behind him with a bowl of fruit and a bouquet in it, with Hummingbird hovering nearby.
"I bring you the fruits of my labor," said the ape, presenting her with the bowl. Raven rolled her eyes at the pun.
Dog eyed the bouquet. They were probably for Hummingbird (he refused to eat from hummingbird feeders, claiming they were insulting). But, Raven deserved an apology beyond just food, and there was a bunch of flowers right there.
"Hey!" Hummingbird squeaked as Dog grabbed the bouquet, gently placing it at her feet.
"These are for you," the mutt said. "We're sorry about last night. We're sorry you got hurt. It won't happen again."
Raven sighed, bowl of fruit in her hand and flowers at her feet. She was grateful, but it was all just a bit much for her. "Look, Dog, you're sorry about Rex. I forgive you," she said, firm but not harsh. "I'm sorry about it. But I'd like to finish breakfast and get out of Beast Boys mind."
She noticed Hummingbird shooting the mutt a tiny glare. "And I think Hummingbird would also like to eat," she added.
"Do you always have to be such a dog, Dog?" Orangutan sighed, rolling his eyes, as Raven encased the bouquet in her power and floated it to the wagon.
"What are we going to do about Rex?" she said, when their meal was done. We and not you. Normally, she wouldn't go out of her way to interfere with another's mind. It raised uncomfortable ethical questions and uncomfortable assumptions of what she was capable of. But none of this was normal.
"He's dangerous and needs to be forced back," Orangutan said. She nodded at that. A healthy mind kept its Aspects in their proper place, using each at the proper time. And of all of them, Rex was rampaging, making Beast Boy a danger to everyone around him.
Orangutan, it turned out, was bursting with ideas for defeating Rex. The problem was Dog didn't like any of them. As he and Raven brainstormed, the canine lay to the side, unhelpfully nitpicking and bitching about purported flaws. After the fourth overly-critical objection, Orangutan's tolerance ran out.
"What is your problem?!" he burst, glaring at Dog.
"All of your plans pit Raven against Rex," the mutt answered.
"None of us are even close to Rex in strength. The three of us together can change things enough to harass him a little, but like it or not, Raven's the only fighter we have," he said. He wasn't supposed to be angry. He was supposed to be the smart one, but if certain animals refused to appreciate that, it certainly merited a little righteous fury. "She's powerful — unlike a mutt like you. We've all seen her fight. She fought him before, and came out alive."
"Barely," Dog said. He didn't stand or sit up, though he raised his hackles. He made no threats, but let his fur suggest that they could always be made.
"If we die, Beast Boy will be emotionally crippled, and eventually recover," the hound said. "If Raven dies, she's dead forever."
"Who's the brains here? That's right, me." He put his hands on his hands on his hips, knowing the size of him arms made the gesture more intimidating. If Dog wanted to fight with body language, so would he. "You think I don't know that? You think I don't care?" He shuffled forward a little. "All battles involve some risk. She's a superhero — she risks her life every day!"
Dog stood up. "You say you help whoever asks. But who are you helping, now? Raven? Or Beast Boy?"
"I can help both," Orangutan bit out, hands and jaw clenching and unclenching.
A little more hair stood up on Dog's back. "I think you're helping yourself. You're so desperate to show her how smart Beast Boy can be —"
"And you're so desperate to show you're such a great friend, you've forgotten about Beast Boy!"
Raven sat staring at them, wide-eyed and forgotten.
Hummingbird landed on her shoulder. "Breakfast and a show, huh?" the tiny bird said, unflappably positive. She looked at him, noting the how happy he looked to just be sitting on her shoulder. His brilliant green and blue feathers shined just right, while her own dark blue cloak looked dead against the light...
"Uh, Rae?" the tiny bird said, poking her nose.
"Sorry, trying to distract myself." She faced the other two. "I don't like having to be the leader." She sighed. "But we need to get things done."
"Beast Boy's in a cell right now; it's not like he can hurt anyone!" Dog had changed into a much bigger dog, and his nose and teeth were inch's away from Orangutan. The ape had turned into a chimpanzee, baring his own fangs, ready to wrench Dog's legs out from under him.
Raven floated to her feet and steeled herself.
"Fine then!" the simian screamed, throwing his arms up. "I'll do it myself! Why bother with you when I can call the others! So go ahead and run away with your little girlfriend!"
Black bands clamped over their mouths. "I'm not little, or anyone's girlfriend," she said.
"Really?!" Hummingbird sounded far too happy. "I thought you and —" Another band shut his beak.
"Both of you are going to stop fighting. I have enough headaches for the both of us; Beast Boy doesn't need one, too." She felt like a teacher handling a few particularly unyielding students.
Under her glare all they could do was nod. She let the bands fade.
"Orangutan," she said, facing him. "Tell me why Beast Boy is in a cell."
The ape scratched the back of his head nervously. "Rex gained control of him last night. He almost killed Red X," he said, avoiding her gaze.
"Does he still have control of him?"
Awkward thumb-twiddling. "Yes. But, uh..." he hesitated.
"But what?" she pressed.
Dog spoke up. "It's hard for us to tell what Beast Boy's actually doing when you're close by. Your presence," he said, nervously scratching himself, "uh, interferes. In a way."
Raven nodded slowly. There was no point in protesting facts. She paused, gathering her thoughts, and took a deep breathe. Leadership never came naturally to her.
"Orangutan, you call the other Aspects for help," she said in her best impression of Robin giving orders. "Then, we go to stop Rex." In a cell or not, Rex couldn't be left in control of Beast Boy.
The simian immediately whipped out a microphone. "Hello, hello," he spoke into it. His words echoed from a speaker hidden in a nearby tree.
Raven twitched. "You have an intercom?"
"Uh, yes," he answered sheepishly.
The day was shaping up to be a series of headaches. "And you didn't use it until now because...?"
He waved the microphone timidly. "Because I didn't think of changing the mindscape to have one until now?"
The sorceress stared at him for a moment.
He coughed. "Ahem," he said, holding the microphone up to his mouth. "This is Orangutan speaking. Calling all Aspects. This is urgent: Rex is in control and needs to be stopped. Head for the big hill in Turtle's place."
Satisfied, Raven impatiently turned to look west, where Rex was.
"Um, so it'll be just Orangutan, you, me, and Hummingbird?" Dog asked hesitantly, in a last effort to nudge her towards safety.
Raven just nodded.
"If we pick up Turtle, he can be with us, too!" Hummingbird added cheerily.
"A turtle. I'm sure a turtle will be incredibly helpful," the sorceress deadpanned. But, they needed all the help they could get holding off Rex until the rest of the Aspects arrived. Beast Boy was in a cell — what harm was a short detour to gather reinforcements?
She sighed. "Fine. Let's go pick up Turtle."
Turtle was lying on his back in the sand. It was warm and sunny, the surf was inviting, and he didn't care because he was stuck upside down. But his extra senses picked up a familiar presence, growing stronger. Orangutan was approaching. He didn't care that this still meant waiting — waiting for something was better than waiting for nothing. So he waited.
Turtle was one of the few Aspects with the patience needed to feel where his fellows were. Kakapo could, too, and Orangutan when he wasn't busying himself with games and gadgets. There might've been others, but Turtle rarely allowed himself suspicions. He couldn't keep up with intrigue, and working off guesswork alone was stupid. His actions had to be true, because he took so long to finish them.
When Rex had started moving, Turtle had felt him bulldozing across the mindscape, advancing faster than word could spread. The terrapin had known there was nothing he could do, and had continued to enjoy his lunch. (The blossoms were coming out, and they were delicious.) He'd pulled inside his shell only when the dinosaur had charged him.
"I guess you need some help?" Orangutan's voice interrupted the reptile's thoughts.
Turtle took a moment to finish thinking. His train of thought did not just stop — he slowed it with great deliberation.
Raven's eyebrows raised as Turtle took a solid ten seconds to respond. The others seemed to find this normal.
"Would one of you flip me over?" he asked.
She reached out with a great black hand to right him, but he shrunk down to the size of a box turtle just as she did so. She hesitated for just a moment at this, and Orangutan seized him, already talking about everything that happened, that Raven was here and Snake was a rat and Dog was so industrious and shouldn't he be thanking his friend for picking him up?
"Thank you, Raven," Turtle said. Orangutan sighed — Raven hadn't helped Turtle at all. No one ever listened to him, especially his terrapin friend, whose head was thicker than his shell. And even when they did listen, he never got any credit for his brilliance.
Turtle ignored the ape's sigh. There had been no misfire, no fumbling of others' feelings. Turtle said what he felt needed saying, and Raven needed encouragement from her friends, while Orangutan did not. Raven nodded, and content with his actions, he was free to continue ignoring Orangutan.
The savory smell of young shoots drifted in front of him, and the tortoise reared his head up to better smell it.
Orangutan smirked. "Do I have your attention now?" he asked.
Darn it. The ape had tweaked the mindscape to grab his attention. "Yes," he replied. "What's the plan, then?"
Orangutan chest swelled. He lived to hear those words. "The five of us are going to try and stop Rex. The other Aspects will join us as they arrive."
Raven was ignoring them both. Something was shifting violently on the edge of her senses, and she was trying to feel it out.
Turtle noticed it too. His senses were not as distracted by Raven as the others. "Rex is fighting," he said. "Here, and in real life."
Impulse told him to move now, and Rex strained against his instincts.
He was not a patient Aspect. Prey should be hunted at sunrise and eaten at breakfast, not hunted for breakfast and eaten at lunch. Long battles meant delaying the feel of death between his teeth, and still-warm flesh passing down his throat.
He tried to be courteous. In his own territory, he would only attack after regally presenting himself to his prey. He certainly liked his battles challenging — each day he summoned new and interesting opponents — but in the end, when they retreated bleeding, he graciously allowed them their pick of ravines to be cornered in, and broke their bones against only the most suitable boulders.
He couldn't afford courtesy today. Turtle's territory was soft and open, and killing his prey before breakfast required an ambush for that early, crippling blow.
His prey was close. Close enough. Muscles pulled, pulled, pulled, driving him forward and crushing his mouth around Cinderblock's shoulder.
A concrete fist hammered into Rex's side, shoving the dinosaur away from him.
The great lizard eyed the large crack in his prey's shoulder, watching the stone giant grip the wound. It was enough. He charged again and again, chipping teeth as he bit the same rock shoulder again. Cinderblock screamed as the joint finally shattered, and whimpered as Rex pulled his arm off his body.
He could've waited for his prey to die. Could've waited for Cinderblock to weaken until he could no longer fight. But Rex did not like waiting for prey. He fought for it, wrested its life with his own maw.
The Tyrant King tossed the arm aside and slammed the weakening golem.
Raven stared. Rock wasn't supposed to bleed.
As Cinderblock stopped breathing, bleeding out onto the dirt and grass, Rex turned to Raven and the others.
"I've just caught breakfast. Care to join me?" His toothy grin left no room for "no."
Rex ripped a hunk of flesh from Cinderblock. Bleh. He should've known. This was still Turtle's territory, after all, and Rex was alone in his like for meat. But, victory was victory, even when it tasted funny.
"Don't worry," he said to Raven when he caught her staring. "It's only tofu. And this red?" He gestured. "Food coloring."
The empath looked up at him, face carefully blank. "But you're still killing something and eating its body."
Rex smiled at that. "I know. Delicious, isn't it?" Raven wasn't sure if he meant the irony or the tofu.
The great lizard eyed her and her companions. He was unimpressed. "Only five of you? That's not nearly enough to stop me. I've had control of Beast Boy since this morning. I still have control. By the time any others get here, it'll be too late."
She had to work very hard to keep her worry from showing. "What are you making him do?" she asked, voice controlled.
The tyrant gave an affronted look. "I'm not 'making' Beast Boy do anything — I am him. Right now, he's merely," he paused to grin, head cocked arrogantly, "asserting himself."
A dozen horrible things passed through Raven's mind.
Rex snorted at her expression. "Oh, please. Don't worry your pretty little head. No innocents will be harmed. Only those who deserve it."
"Whom. Whom deserve it," Orangutan muttered pettily. Raven felt a little bit better, having a kindred spirit by her side.
Rex ripped another chunk of flesh from Cinderblock's corpse.
That morning, Beast Boy woke up in a steel-plated cell. He felt better than ever. Angrier.
Who did Robin think he was, punishing him just because he'd asserted himself a little last night?
Yesterday, Red X couldn't stop him, Robin couldn't order him.
Today, no cell could hold him.
The Tower alert blared out, red lights glaring. Beast Boy stood in front of the main computer in the common room, seeing the words "Hive Five" flash onto the screen.
The rest of the team was already out fighting a different criminal. They'd either split up or finish the first job before moving on to this one.
His hand paused over the cancel button. A tiny voice in the back of his head whispered, "Don't." And another, louder, saying, "Yes."
The klaxons stopped blaring and the red lights stopped glaring. The rest of the team could piddle around all they wanted with petty bank robbers. Fuck 'em. He had real supervillains to stop.
Well damn, the first version of this chapter I uploaded was missing the second half of a sentence. That's been rectified. I also ironed some typos out of the earlier chapters. "Be your own beta" is never as good as an idea as you think it is.
The argument between Orangutan and Dog feels odd to me. It just sort of happened in the course of writing this chapter. Let me know what you think.
My apologies for taking so long with this chapter. Double-apologies for letting the one-year anniversary of this story pass without an update.