Disclaimer: I don't own the Teen Titans.
Author's Note: Title brought to you by Qoheleth. Story brought to you by entry number 289 in Hundert.
"It's more than a word, boy- it's a way of life!" Beast Boy's face remained stoically blank as he attached the insignia to his jumpsuit, directly above his heart. Apprentice.
Endings of one rook and pawns are about the most common sort of endings arising on the chess board. Yet though they do occur so often, few have mastered them thoroughly. They are often of a very difficult nature, and sometimes while apparently very simple they are in reality extremely intricate.
Pawn to C7
All in all, killing his master turned out to be very anticlimactic.
Deathstroke… Slade… had been uncharacteristically surprised by his apprentice's attack, a fact which made killing him both easy and necessary. Easy, because as the assassin had told his young pupil countless times before, there is no substitute for catching your target unawares. Necessary, because the fact that Slade hadn't seriously considered that his student would conduct his own final exam meant that he had never seriously considered that his student would ever be anything but his student. Garfield wasn't one for a lifetime of schoolwork.
The master assassin had likely never considered that he might meet his end at his own breakfast table. With his almost superhuman strength, speed, and agility, Slade almost always carried out his contract killings up close and personal… or through a scope. His strength blinded him, and it was his blindness that led him to expect his apprentice to always do so as well. It wasn't that he was unaware of the possibility of poisoning, it was merely that he sometimes forgot that his student had an almost unlimited supply and selection of deadly compounds at his disposal. As far as Garfield knew, Slade could best almost any human alive in hand to hand or armed combat, and while his own training was largely focused on honing that particular portion of the craft, he himself understood that he would never be his master's equal on those terms. Fortunately, he had other strengths to draw upon.
And his juevos rancheros was to die for. Not literally—the poison had been applied to Slade's spoon. But they were good.
"I'm sorry it came to this," he found himself saying to his former master. A part of him truly did regret killing the man who had taken him in off the streets and given him a vocation. Another part of him reminded him that he might not be completely dead, prompting him to keep his distance as he spoke. "I mean, this is kind of a crappy way to thank someone you owe everything to." Slade's body twitched, as if agreeing with his murderer.
"But you and I both knew that this wasn't going to be a forever thing. Birds leave the nest, cubs set out on their own, the Red Sox beat the Yankees… it happens. It's how nature works." He noticed that he was starting to ramble and stopped, remembering how much chatter had annoyed Slade while he had been alive. Not really knowing what else to do, Garfield left the corpse's side and ventured over to the base's control panel. A few keystrokes later, the self-destruct was set and Garfield was racing towards the exit of the only home he could remember for the last time.
Five minutes after he escaped, he heard the rumbling of the underground base's supports giving out as the explosive charges detonated. Within seconds, there was nothing left of the hideout but a depression and a cloud of dust rising in the air.
Shifting into a bird and making his way into the air, he pondered what he would do next.
I'll have to come up with a name to use, he thought. Nobody is going to hire an assassin with a name like 'Garfield.'
"Why would I hire you as one of my bouncers, Ms. Roth?" Unspoken was the remark that she was a woman, and not a physically intimidating one at that. A visual presence was an essential tool in keeping "incidents" to a minimum in any club, but especially in one such as Mr. Calderone operated, where the clientele tended to be young, dumb, drunk, and entitled.
"I realize that I'm not much to look at," Rachel began before being interrupted by her prospective employer.
"I very much disagree, Ms. Roth. I would gladly hire someone with your looks as a bartender, for instance, but as security your appearance would be more likely to start trouble than to stop it." He paused for a moment, then nodded at something over her shoulder. "Look at him, for instance."
Rachel complied, turning around in time to catch a skinny young man undressing her with his eyes get slapped by the woman he was sitting with. A loud argument erupted from the table as she turned back around.
"Do you think," he continued, "that Victor there has the same trouble?" He nodded in another direction, directing her attention to a very large black man in a cheap suit and sunglasses making his way over to the arguing couple, who had stood up and looked to be on the verge of throwing their glasses at one another. "Do you think that, when he escorts them to the exit, that either of them will pick a fight with him? They almost certainly would with you, Ms. Roth. This is simply not a line of work that you are well suited for."
"I disagree. Watch." Mr. Calderone did, not knowing whether he was supposed to be watching Ms. Roth, who was merely staring at the fight, or… he blinked in surprise. The arguing couple almost immediately calmed down, taking their seats and behaving as though they hadn't been fighting at all. Victor, still twenty feet away, slowed his approach in confusion.
"You didn't mention you were a meta," Mr. Calderone dryly noted.
"Is that a problem?" Even in this day and age, some people refused to deal with metahumans as people with equal rights. Rachel hoped her prospective employer wasn't one of them.
"Can you hold your own if that trick of yours doesn't work?" In response, an unseen force seemed to wrap itself around his arms, pinning them to his sides. "Huh, I guess so. Why do you want this job?"
The sun had no right to be shining on a day like this.
Richard Grayson, 20-year old adopted son of the Bruce Wayne and sole heir to the multi-billion dollar Wayne empire, had stood perfectly still as he watched his father's remains be interred for the second time in his short life. All around him, sniffling sycophants dabbed at their eyes and tried to look as though they cared one whit about the man in the ground. Even the preacher, Richard was sure, was more motivated by the prestige of presiding over Gotham's most prominent citizen's funeral. Only three people in that entire crowd gave a damn: himself, his butler Alfred, and his best friend Barbara. Standing on his left, the elderly Englishman laid a reassuring hand on Richard's shoulder as the wheelchair-bound redhead on his right held his hand in hers. He was fairly certain that those two points of human contact were all that were keeping him in control of himself.
The fucking sun had no right to be shining.
After the service, he stood by the grave and stared at the hole in the ground that Bruce had been lowered into. Self-serving well-wishers came up to him to offer their false sympathies, but he didn't respond, leaving Alfred to accept their condolences on his behalf. Richard felt bad for shunting this duty onto him, but he couldn't crawl out of the hole in front of him to deal with the problem as he should. Once the crowd finally dispersed, he walked Barbara to the street while Alfred went to pick up the car.
The pair was waiting in silent commiseration on the sidewalk, when someone bumped into him. Cursing himself for being too caught up to be aware of his surroundings, he immediately spun around to face whoever had run into him. As he did, he surreptitiously checked his pockets for any missing items and found, to his considerable surprise, that he hadn't been pickpocketed. At the same time as he was realizing that fact, he examined his assailant.
While he had been alive, Bruce had been a great believer in self-improvement. He had followed an exercise and martial arts training regimen that could be described as "grueling" by special operations personnel (and "insane" by the rest of the population), and had insisted that Richard partake as well. He had also been of the opinion that the best protection was forewarning, and had insisted that he and Richard both learn how to identify potential threats to themselves. To that end, he had enlisted the help of his personal friend Detective James "Jim" Gordon, Barbara's father. Jim, with the aid of his teenage daughter, taught Bruce and Richard the fine art of noticing minutiae and forming conclusions based on their observations. It was these skills that Richard was falling back onto now.
Sneakers that were too small, too wide, and too worn to be comfortable. Loose jeans that were too long: the hem at the base of the leg showed excessive wear from being constantly stepped on. A baggy jacket obscured the waist, potentially hiding a gun or knife beneath it, although there were none of the telltale bulges higher up that would suggest an under-the-shoulder holster or a weapon in a jacket pocket. Her hands (Something in the back of his head registered that he was, in fact, looking at a woman before making a comment about "telltale bulges in the jacket." He ignored it.) showed signs of roughness, but none of the calluses around the knuckles usually present in people who hit things for a living. By the time he got around to looking at her face, Richard had come to the conclusion that she was more likely a person who simply wasn't watching where she was going rather than someone intending to attack himself or Barbara.
Then he saw her eyes and was immediately back on his guard.
Victor had always seen his size as somewhat of a superpower: whenever he was around, people tended to behave themselves. One look at his heavily built six foot, eight inch frame was usually sufficient to suddenly make whatever argument was in progress become inconsequential and silly.
So when he began making his way over to a loudly bickering couple to work his magic, he expected to encounter a situation similar to hundreds—if not thousands—he had run across before. What he hadn't expected was for the pair to very suddenly stop arguing and take their seats as if nothing had happened… at least, not before they had noticed his approach. Somewhat taken aback, he looked around the room to see if there had been some other factor he hadn't noticed before. The club wasn't very crowded, which wasn't surprising given that the crowds wouldn't begin to arrive for another hour and a half, and aside from a number of other patrons staring at the now well-behaved couple the only deviation from the norm was Bill and the woman he was talking too. That pair had been looking at him for a brief moment before returning to their conversation.
Shaking his head and dismissing the whole thing, Victor went back to keeping watch. If anything started up again, he'd be on it, but otherwise he'd-
"Excuse me, Mr. Stone?" A quiet voice snapped his attention to… the woman who had been talking with Bill. Victor gave her a friendly smile and slowly—people tended to get nervous when he started moving quickly, especially women who were a foot and a half shorter and maybe a third his body weight—extended his hand to shake hers. There was a moment's hesitation on her part before she reciprocated the gesture. Perhaps he hadn't been moving as slowly as he'd thought. Sometimes, his "superpower" was annoying.
"You must be one of Mr. Calderone's business partners," he said. "What can I do for you?"
The woman frowned slightly. "Why do you say that?" she asked.
"Mr. Calderone gave you my name, and he wouldn't do that without a reason. Customers don't have one, and you don't really look like a police officer to me. If you were being hired on, he wouldn't have sent you over to me unless you were…" he slowed down, the pieces falling into place. "Let me guess, empathetic projection?"
A pleased look of surprise replaced the frown for an instant before fading into a carefully neutral expression. "Mr. Calderone directed me to you to 'get acquainted' before I start." She leveled a very direct look at him. "You are remarkably perceptive." Victor laughed.
"You wouldn't think it, would you? I get the same reaction in my engineering classes when I show up the first day." He laughed again. "Play a little football and suddenly everyone forgets you're a nerd."
She looked slightly abashed. "I apologize, Mr. Stone-"
"Call me Vic," he said. "And don't worry 'bout it, little lady; I always get a kick out of it."
"Rachel," she said. "What kind of engineering?"
"You name it. Chemical, civil, electrical, industrial—or as I like to call it, imaginary—mechanical, even a bit of nuclear. I never really outgrew taking the toaster apart to see how it worked, except to find bigger things to dismantle."
Rachel let out a quiet chuckle and Victor smiled. He had a feeling he was going to enjoy working with her.
Kori couldn't believe her bad luck. While finding an unattended jacket in the park was a stroke of good fortune, running into Richard Grayson of all people… rich people didn't like homeless people in her experience, and Grayson was as rich as they came. Plowing into them because you're too busy admiring your "new" coat didn't tend to help things either.
The shock of the collision had momentarily paralyzed her, and the following shock of recognition—everyone in Gotham knew that face—sent her into near panic. She began backpedaling and babbling apologies as quickly as she could. Oh, she didn't want to be arrested! The look on Grayson's face didn't help: he looked as though he was just waiting for her to leap forward and attack him… she gasped in realization and hid her eyes, but it was too late.
Adding injury to insult, her shoes—hand-me-downs from her older sister, back when she lived with her family—caught on a crack in the sidewalk and sent her tumbling to the ground. Apologies still flowing from her mouth, she scrambled back up and turned to run before he could call the police.
"Wait! Don't go!"
Kori stuttered to a halt in surprise: that had been a woman's voice. Turning, she saw the red-haired woman in the wheelchair that she had completely overlooked in her alarm over Grayson. Before Kori could regain her composure and flee, the chair-bound woman rolled forward and lightly grasped her hand with a smile.
"My name is Barbara Gordon," she began, before she was interrupted.
"Babs!" Grayson stepped forward and lightly grabbed Barbara's shoulder, a worried look on his face. He opened his mouth to say something to her, but instead found himself grunting as she backhanded him in the stomach without breaking eye contact with Kori.
"-but you can call me 'Babs,'" she continued, not missing a beat. "The inconsiderate twerp to my right is Richard Grayson, but you can call him-"
"Babs," he growled in irritation.
"No, Dick," Barbara said, turning slightly towards him, "that's my name." She turned back to Kori. "As I was saying, the dick is Dick. We haven't gotten any lunch yet, and would like to invite you to dine with us." She flashed Kori a bright smile and took another swing at Grayson, who had looked as though he was about to say something.
Kori, didn't reply, but rather just blinked at the pair in front of her as though they were aliens from outer space. This…woman… seemed inexplicably eager to feed her, and while her stomach was voting heavily in favor of accepting the first decent meal in days, she simply couldn't reconcile this behavior with what she knew of how people behaved. As she stood there gaping, a black limousine pulled up alongside the curb.
"Please?" Barbara asked again, squeezing the hand that Kori had forgotten she was holding. "Alfred would be over the moon to have a guest over for lunch." The driver-side door to the limo opened up, and an extremely distinguished-looking grey-haired gentleman stepped out. "Isn't that right, Alfred?" She took another blind swing at Richard, who had by then wised up and stepped out of her range. He had also opted to keep his mouth shut.
Alfred paused, obviously having not heard what Mistress Barbara was asking him to agree to, and quickly took stock of the situation. Judging by Master Dick's and Mistress Barbara's respectively sour and pleading expressions, he surmised that they were having a disagreement, and it was something to do with the perplexed metahuman whose hand the mistress was clutching. Deciding to trust whatever intuition Mistress Barbara was relying on, he shrugged inwardly and agreed. "I would be delighted to assist you in whatever way you require, Mistress Barbara," he said, walking around the vehicle to open the door and extend the wheelchair ramp.
Several moments later, Kori found herself gently corralled into the most luxurious vehicle she could imagine, somehow still holding onto Barbara's hand. After the limousine pulled away from the curb, she rediscovered the power of speech. "What… what is going on?" she asked Babs uncertainly.
The redhead smiled. "Tell me… do you like pudding?"
Author's Note: I have no idea what I'm doing. Seriously, I've barely even plotted this out. What am I doing?