Disclaimer: I don't own the Teen Titans.

Author's Note: Today's lesson: don't let perfect be the enemy of good.

289) Word

"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.

The great mobility of the King forms one of the chief characteristics of all endgame strategy. In the middlegame the King is a mere 'super', in the endgame on the other hand - one of the 'principals'. We must therefore develop him, bring him nearer to the fighting line.

-Aaron Nimzowitsch

King to C2

"What can I do for you?"

Garfield tried to keep his lack of enthusiasm out of his voice. When he had first set out on his own six years earlier, he had imagined that life would at least be exciting. After all, how dull could it possibly be to be a highly trained assassin-for-hire?

Sadly, the answer to that was "very." His master had spoken of countless assassinations that he had executed, but it seemed to Garfield that the market had dried up. In the six years since Slade's demise, he had been hired precisely once to carry out a hit, and even that had been a dud—the target died of a heart attack the day after he took the job! The client had been impressed ("Even the coroner thinks it's natural!"), but ever since then all of the jobs that had come his way had been for boring old burglaries.

"Yes," the man on the other side of the table said cheesily, "what can ya do fer me?"

He could hardly afford to answer the man truthfully—he needed the money, after all—so instead he grinned widely, showing off his oversized canines as he studied his companion.

The man was tall and overweight, dwarfing Garfield in both respects by a significant margin. Dressed in a white three piece suit that made his pasty white skin even pastier and sporting a pair of oversized aviator sunglasses, he made a clear fashion statement. That the statement was "Help me!" was beside the point. The smell of cheap beer, stale smoke, and old sweat was pervasive enough that even Garfield's sensitive nose couldn't pick out the scent of man underneath it.

"Well, sir," Garfield began, internally wincing at the impatient disapproval he let slip into his voice, "I specialize in contract kills, espionage, and burglary. I don't do kidnapping, intimidation, or birthday parties. Anything else I may consider on a case-by-case basis."

The prospective client laughed wheezily—Garfield almost swore that he saw a piece of fried chicken fly out of his mouth—and reached into his jacket. Garfield briefly tensed—usually clients that wanted to kill him waited until after the job had been done, but he had a weird feeling about this guy—and then relaxed slightly as the man pulled out a photograph and held it up for Garfield to see.

"Richard Grayson. I want 'im dead. Ya have three months 'fore I find someone else fer the job."

Garfield hesitated for a moment. His instincts cried out to walk away from this job, but… he needed to get in the game, to do the job he had trained so hard to do, and this was the first opportunity in ages.

"Consider it done." How hard could it be?

"Dick, we've got a problem," Barbara said as she abruptly rolled into his office. Her best friend and boss, Richard Grayson, was sitting behind his obscenely large desk staring off into space. "I was looking through the records of… Dick, are you listening to me?"

Richard jumped slightly in his chair at the question. "Sorry," he apologized, "I've just been planning what I'll say to the Board this afternoon about the LexCorp deal coming up, and well…" He shrugged.

"Really?" she said with a smirk, "I think you were thinking dirty thoughts about your leggy secretary, Mr. Grayson." Richard sputtered and glanced out the door Barbara had left open behind her as she had entered. As if on cue, Kori looked up from her task and waved at him, flashing a thousand-watt smile at him before returning to her work. Blushing, he belatedly returned the wave and turned back to a grinning Barbara.

"Okay Babs, get it out of your system." For almost six years, she had been teasing him about the woman she had invited over for pudding and bullied him into hiring at Wayne Enterprises. At first it had been a charity case: she obviously needed a job, and just as obviously he wasn't going to get any peace until he helped her out. There had been an opening for an assistant to one of the managers in the engineering department, so he had sent her there. A month later he had discretely sent out feelers to check up on how she was faring and was rather surprised at the response: her boss described her as "terrifyingly efficient," the engineers described her as "terrifyingly friendly," and one stammering intern couldn't get beyond the word "terrifying." When Dick's own assistant retired three months later, he snapped her up. As time passed, he found himself appreciating her personal attributes as well as her professional qualities—a sentiment he had made the mistake of sharing with Babs.

"As much as I love making you turn interesting shades of purple," Babs chuckled, "I have serious business for you," All traces of humor vanished from her face, "Deadly serious, I'm afraid." She produced a small folder and set it down on his desk, facing him. He flipped through the information as she talked. "I was checking out LexCorp for anything that might get you into trouble and while I didn't find any of the usual problems, like ties to organized crime, I did find one rather disturbing issue." Reaching out to the folder Dick was flipping through, she turned to the last page and pointed at something on the bottom.

Dick stared at the indicated item. "So you're telling me that one of the janitors has taken out a hit on me?" An eyebrow arched in confusion. "Where does a janitor get half of a million dollars for something like that? Unless, of course-"

"-Unless this is a warning, and the janitor has nothing to do with anything except serve as a vehicle for letting anyone looking closely enough know that there's going to be someone trying to kill you."

Dick folded his hands on top of the report and looked across the desk at Barbara. "Assuming this is a legitimate threat, which it appears to be, what would be your recommendation?"

"Seeing as you're not really at the top of your game right now," Dick opened his mouth to object, "as evidenced by the fact that I managed to surprise you in your own office while in a wheelchair," Dick closed his mouth, "I would advise that we contract a personal security firm for your protection. Foreseeing no objections, I have already taken the liberty of contacting the Stone Raven security firm for an interview. Pending your approval, I have arranged for the funds to come from your personal accounts, for the sake of expedience. Any questions?"

"What exactly is your job here, again?"

"I keep the company running, Dick."

"Oh. What's my job, then?"

"That's easy: you put up with the Board and smile pretty for the cameras."

"Well. Okay then."

Earlier that day…

"I can't believe this!"

A wave of frustration accompanied Victor's aggravated roar, washing over and flowing through Rachel Roth as she sat idly in their cramped office. Today marked the first day of operations for Stone Raven Security, the dream she had been pursuing ever since-

"Oh no you don't!"

-ever since-

"Oh ho ho, I've got you now!"

-since she-

"What? No! This isn't happening!"

With a sigh, Rachel gave up any hope of expositive reminiscence and glanced over at her business partner, who was at that very moment trying his hardest to grind his teeth into powder as he hunched over his laptop's keyboard and pounded away furiously.

"Still having trouble with that hacker?" Rachel asked. For the past two hours, almost from the moment he had turned on his computer, Victor had been warding off a bizarrely determined intruder from gaining access to their systems. Rachel didn't understand why anyone would bother, given that they had just started up and didn't even have any prospective clients yet, but Victor's escalating blood pressure wasn't a good sign of what they might have to deal with once they did.

"I don't know who this guy thinks he's messing with, but they don't call me the C-Y-B-O-R-G for noth-oh, the hell you are!" He resumed his frantic typing.

"Have you tried simply unplugging the ethernet line?"

"Have I tried…? Rae, you know that's just admittin' defeat! No way am I-" Rachel telekinetically unplugged his connection. Before he could react to this, a video popped up on his screen and started playing.

"Hey Vic!" a cheery redhead waved onscreen at the flummoxed tech expert. "Remember me from our-"

"Information security class?" Victor grumbled. "Yeah, Babs, I remember." To Rachel's surprise, the woman on the video laughed in response.

"Wait," Rachel asked, "are you still connected?"

"Oh!" exclaimed Barbara, "You must be Rachel! Hold on a sec. Hey chrome dome! Turn the computer so I can see both of you! And stop glaring at me like that!" Rachel raised an eyebrow at her sulking partner and pulled up a chair so she could talk to the strange woman. Obviously the two knew each other, and while Victor was radiating indignation, she couldn't sense much concern. Whoever this woman was, he didn't seem to think her intentions were malicious.

"I'm afraid I'm at a bit of a disadvantage here; you would be…?"

"This is Barbara Gordon," Victor answered before the redhead could reply. "We were classmates a while back at Gotham University, and apparently she decided to say 'hello' by giving me a stroke."

"I'm sorry," Barbara laughed, "I just couldn't help myself! You were doing pretty well, though, up until you chickened out and pulled the plug—good thing I switched on your wireless radio an hour ago!" Vic groaned.

"So is this some bizarre social call," Rachel asked brusquely," or is there a reason you're… doing whatever it is you're doing?"

"A little of both," came the reply. "I did want to see how well Vic was keeping up with his security efforts, but I also wanted to do a bit of research on you, Ms. Roth. From what I can tell, you two will be perfect for the job…"