Author's Note: I have made an important discovery: I have a very hard time writing at school. Things don't come as naturally and it is frustrating. On the other hand, in moments of inspiration which unfortunately tend to come right in the middle the listening exercises for my music class, I have divined what is to come in this story. That is to say, my writer's block is a lack of "how to write" as opposed to "what." Yay? Anyway, I've got one more chapter "planned" for Part I and then we'll be onto Part II. I'll stop rambling now and let you get on with it. And go write a paper. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: I am not claiming ownership or making any sort of money. No copyright violation is intended.
"I'll continue my work on the Project on my terms. I'm not a part of your little squad and I have no intention of joining it. As soon as I decide I'm done, I'm leaving. And you would do well not to follow," said Rachel's distorted voice in a straightforward tone. It was a little scary, actually; how flippantly she spoke. As if her words had no impact beyond herself and her own whims. She almost sounded bored, like the entire mission was beneath her and she had better things to do.
There was the scrape of a chair and intentional footsteps, then the click of a door closing and Star's distinctive sigh. Dick Grayson let out a sigh of his own, removing the headphones and running his hands through his skillfully styled hair. He laced his fingers behind his head and leaned back in his chair, staring imploringly up at the pitch-black ceiling. There was light in the closet-like room, but it came from a solitary lamp on the desk. No windows, no paint, no furnishings beyond the desk and the swivel chair. Pictures, newspaper clippings, maps, and connecting lines of string decorated a corkboard on the wall to his left, like a schizophrenic's collage. To his right there was a giant white board filled with technological designs, building plans, and notes written in code. The handwriting was pristine, engineering print, identical to the meticulous labels which marked every tape and disk in the room. A giant monitor with about ten different programs running hung on the wall above the desk, taking up its breadth with ease. The door lay behind Dick, outlined in the yellow light that seeped in from his public home.
There were all kinds of gadgets tucked away in this back room, but at the moment, the only one Dick cared about was the tape recorder that sat before him. Old-fashioned, but tapes were significantly harder copy and steal than digital files. The tape itself had previously been altered to play only with the Dick's player, so there was no loss of encryption either. And since these particular tapes were for his ears only, portability wasn't an issue. They stayed right here, safe, hidden, and locked up. He knew it was morally ambiguous to have his girlfriend's kitchen bugged and he knew she wouldn't react well if she ever found out. Rachel might outright kill him if she knew, but he just couldn't help himself. Vic called it being an obsessive, paranoid, control freak; Dick called it prudence.
"Star," he bemoaned quietly. "Was it really necessary to tell her all of that? I swear, you're one of these days gonna give me a heart attack…"
He let out another sigh and stood up, hanging the headphones neatly across his listening device. Pursing his lips in thought he moved to the corkboard, rubbing his chin with one hand and folding the other across his chest. The board was divided into three distinct segments surrounding a center photo of Garfield Logan. In the upper left-hand corner there was a photo of Rachel Roth and in the upper right-hand corner, a hand-scrawled note that read "Cerveau." Squished at the bottom of the board was the mug shot of a pretty blond girl with big, deep-sky blue eyes and sun kissed skin. She wore her hair straight and down around her face and the board she held up with disdain identified her as Terra Markov.
Each player was connected back to Garfield with a string and, of the four, Terra had undoubtedly the most associated articles. Near as Dick could tell, she'd provided the Organization with "Beast Boy," but was otherwise uninvolved. Dick thought he understood why, too; she was sloppy and careless, avoiding capture solely through her geo-kinetic abilities and leaving a paper trail the size of a small dinosaur. Generally she stuck to theft, but her record was littered with unrelated murders, most likely assassination jobs. Seems about a year ago she stumbled upon the changeling during one of these "jobs," swiping him away from a particularly heinous lawyer Nicholas Galtry. The two had "worked" together until Terra traded Beast Boy for, as far as he could tell, immunity. Dick wasn't sure to what extent Garfield was involved with Terra, but a life of crime seemed to be nothing new to the changeling.
Moving up one photo, Garfield's picture was most notably marked with a front-page article on "America's Most Wanted Eight Year Old." Next to it there was a short and ambiguous obituary for Marie and Mark Logan that mourned the loss of their work on the "green monkey" and its usefulness to modern biology more than the people themselves. Apparently, Beast Boy's parents had been quite brilliant. There was a bit more on Nicholas Galtry, who somehow managed to get a hold of Garfield's inheritance, and his shady associations with jewel thieves. Of the ones they could catch, these thieves either died conveniently or swore Galtry was to blame, that he had some kind of shapeshifting kid that did all the dirty work. This was, of course, considered ludicrous all the way up until they managed to catch said shapeshifter. Galtry bailed him out, claiming he was his "long lost" nephew and a troubled youth who was the unfortunate victim of his parents' cruel experiments. Now utterly lacking in humanity, the poor boy aught to be treated more as an animal than a person and returned to him like a lost dog. This conflicted with the arresting officers reports, which indicated that the changeling not only possessed human facilities, but was also quite talkative and clever. A mysterious fire at the police station ended the matter before anyone's story could be confirmed, and Garfield Logan was presumed dead… All the way up until the point when a green changeling started showing up with Terra Markov.
No, Beast Boy's history was quite clear; his willingness as a participant was not… The individual known as Cerveau had the opposite problem. His history was sparse, but riddled with intent. Unlike Terra Markov, his record was near spotless, suspicious but inconclusive. Cerveau wasn't connected to anything or anyone, but there certainly were a lot of people connected to him. Whispers, rumors, but enough to make his various… acquisitions more than a little dubious. Most of Dick's information in this section came from the Doom Patrol's reports, which linked Mousier Cerveau with the much more publically villainous Brotherhood of Evil. As a group dedicated to world domination and enslavement, the name seemed appropriate. The connection alone wasn't enough to take him down, but it'd been enough to make Dick very nervous when Cerveau "obtained" Garfield Logan. The supplemental information of the Organization's movements supplied by Vic Stone only made him more nervous.
Which brought them to the newest, and sparsest addition to the board, Dr. Rachel Roth. Starfire's little chat with her roommate may have been risky, but it turned out well enough and gained him a little more information. So far, all Dick could put together was that, for all intents and purposes, Rachel Roth didn't exist prior to eight years ago. She had no childhood, no teenage years, and, despite her credentials, no concrete education. Yes, she possessed several commendable degrees, but the records of how she got them or from what university were slippery. Her dissertations were easy enough to find, but since entering the professional world at the ripe age of twenty-two (the first two years of her existence seemed to have been spent establishing residency and credibility) hadn't published a single paper. Mostly, she seemed to use her credentials to weasel her way into positions involving supernatural creatures. Reports indicated that, once a problem of possible demonic nature arose, Dr. Roth appeared out of the blue and dealt with it. If it was indeed supernatural, she vanquished the demon or ghost or whatever, if not, she handled the situation using her training in psychology and animal behavior. Regardless, people were always better off for having her around and she had an unquestionable 100% clearance rate.
Dick already suspected that she, like Starfire, Vic, and Garfield, wasn't strictly speaking human. But, despite not wanting to trust her with all the facts of their situation just yet, he'd figured her for one of the good guys. Killing demons seemed like a pretty honorable thing to do. Yet after that night's talk, he wasn't so sure. What was she running away from and, more importantly, what terrible thing would happen if they found her? Who was after her and why? Was she killing demons because it was morally right or because she had something to hide? And most importantly, what was her connection to Beast Boy? Rachel herself was either unaware or not sharing, but the Organization certainly thought they had one. And, given the amount of effort they'd put into pushing the demonologist and the shapeshifter together, it couldn't be anything "good."
He sensed he was missing something here, something about Rachel, something key. Dick snorted in annoyance, nodding at the wall and pacing as if the change in angle might yield some secret message. Some hidden truth he hadn't noticed before. Finally, he pulled a scrap of paper off a nearby stack, scribbled a note, and pinned it between Rachel and Cerveau. He then attached three strings to the pin, linking it to Cerveau, Rachel, and Garfield to form a web of triangles. The note was simple, yet the conclusion it denoted had case shattering implications. It read: Third Party with a question mark.
The next few days in the Roth-Anders apartment were cordial. Not cold or hostile, but certainly not the friendly, comfortable atmosphere one would have found two weeks ago. Rachel was polite, but distant, as if she'd decided their friendship itself had been tainted with Kori's deception. If it wanted to survive the metaphorical winter, then it simply had to be rebuilt from the bottom up. Reforged in the harsh light of reality, so to speak. Kori, for her part, was trying desperately to do just that; however, the burnt glop that had been breakfast in bed and the girls' night featuring a romantic comedy and toenail painting had not gone over well. Throwing tact to the wind, Rachel had refused to so much as touch the glop or allow Kori anywhere near her toenails. Considering Kori's knowledge of friendship building was completely limited to TV dramas and children's movies, this frustration was inevitable. Short of a near-death bonding experience, she was out of ideas.
It certainly didn't help that Rachel was putting next to no effort into the healing process herself. Most of the time she wasn't even home. She'd taken to locking herself in the archives at work, going over every file related to the Leshy Project she could get her hands on. So… not that many. What she did find were the internally published results of the subject's cellular and hormonal tests.
Beast Boy's cells appeared normal enough near as she could tell, excepting one extraneous organelle. Every cell in his body, from nerve to epithelial to the red blood corpuscles (which eject the majority of their organelles upon maturation) contained what they thought was a second nucleus. Contained within his DNA were the pieces to every known genetic code and then some, like a vault of blocks that could be used to build any and every structure imaginable. They hypothesized the human DNA, that which belonged to Garfield Logan, was housed within the "regular" nucleus and everything else was housed in this auxiliary organelle. How it got there or how it worked without killing Beast Boy remained unknown. The hormonal results were less extensive, as most of the compounds had yet to be isolated or characterized. All they could say for certain was that Beast Boy had maybe a hundred or more times the regulatory hormones of a regular human being and these had to be involved in his transformations. The entire system was highly unstable and, to the great disappointment of the "higher ups," could not be replicated, or even sustained in a Petri dish, outside of the subject himself.
This cellular and chemical stuff was in no way Dr. Roth's forte, but she tried her best to understand. Having never actually encountered biological data on demons, she wasn't really clear on what she hoped to find in these test results. Impossible as it seemed, what happened to Beast Boy's body whenever he changed appeared entirely explainable, given enough time and study. There wasn't a hint of the magic or random corrosive materials she'd come to associate with demons. That is to say, if he was demonic in nature, then she expected to find a report somewhere detailing some kind of extraneous acid sac or poison glands or subcutaneous bone spikes. But there was nothing of that nature. The guy hadn't even killed anyone since arriving! In her gut she knew there was no demon to be hunted here- at least, not of the hell-spawn variety. Yet Rachel kept reading, kept digging, trying to satisfy a newfound curiosity in the changeling. Kori's information regarding the Organization's interest in her brought up a valid question: why did they want her interacting with Beast Boy? What could they possibly get out of pushing them together? If they didn't want her for her expertise in demon vanquishing, then why was she there?
"Has it occurred to you that they may legitimately want the kid evaluated," suggested Vic, flipping through a file on his desk. "All of our work has been at or below the cellular level; maybe they're looking to study him as an entire organism."
Rachel leaned against the closed door across from him, shaking her head. She'd decided she liked Vic and had taken to consulting him on the things she didn't understand. For a technologist, his knowledge of molecular and cell biology was a little surprising. Maybe eve a little disturbing, but he was straightforward and efficient. That, and of all her associates, she had the least to hide from him. Vic was in the same vicarious, "working with the enemy" position as she, so they could both be relatively frank, and they worked well together.
"There's more to it," she said, frowning. "They're working some angle, some agenda we're not privy to."
"Yeah, obviously. But seriously, I think you're comin' at this from the wrong direction."
"How so," asked Rachel, raising an eyebrow skeptically. She looked as if she was already preparing her counterargument, causing Vic to sigh heavily. He closed the folder and looked at her, his grey eyes stern.
"You're so obsessed with this whole demon thing you can't see the flip side. Maybe they don't give a crap about any of that and just want your expertise as behaviorist."
"Which is why they told me the thought he was a demon…"
"Come on, would you have come if they told you he was an "exotic animal" or something? Look at it this way, we're pretty sure their end goal is to control him, and minds are much easier to manipulate than cells."
She threw him a disbelieving look. Vic grinned back and gave her a thumbs-up, causing her to roll her eyes and straighten.
"Regardless," she said, ignoring his continued joviality. "I need to go see the subject. It's been a couple days since I called him demonic to his face, so he's probably forgotten all about it. Who knows, maybe he'll even be in a good enough mood to tell me a little bit more about his previous associates… Maybe one of them is a demon I can go kill."
"You'd better get something out of it, or else the higher ups are gonna start wondering what's taking you so long. Which pretty much means their gonna go snooping and find some stuff you don't want them to see, am I right? All that to say, you'd best get on your paperwork."
Rachel threw him a cold, 'you wouldn't dare' look, which Vic met with a smile and a small wave. She made a move to leave.
"Actually, wait a minute. Before you go, I wanted to get your opinion on something." Her hand hovered over the doorknob for a moment, then fell back to her side as she turned. Vic moved to the computer and started to pull something up, waving her over.
"This is the footage of Beast Boy's cell from two nights ago," he said as he worked the mouse.
"The night after you drove me home," she confirmed. Vic nodded, pressing the play button. Seconds ticked by and the room filled with Beast Boy's snores. Rachel tilted her head expectantly, her gaze moving from the screen to Vic. "And," she finally asked, unable to stand the sound much longer.
"Well, here's the footage of the same time from a week ago," Vic said, pulling up another window and syncing the time signatures on the two videos. "Notice anything odd?"
"He sounds like a sleeping bear," tried Rachel tiredly. As she spoke, the Beast Boy in both films rolled over, jerking his leg as if dreaming. Rachel frowned at that leaning forward to scrutinize the screen. "No, wait… that can't be right. They look the same."
"They're identical," said Vic matter-of-factly, folding his arms and straightening. "All the way through. There's not a single difference between them."
"This can't be the footage from two nights ago. It's statistically not possible."
"That's what I was thinking," Vic agreed with a nod. "Someone's replaced the real footage with this and hoped no one would notice. Clearly they didn't anticipate my genius."
"Well, it did take you two days to catch it," criticized Rachel, poking a hole in Vic's ego balloon. He deflated slightly, making a face which Rachel ignored. "Has Beast Boy's behavior changed at all since that night? Does he appear hurt or otherwise compromised?"
"That's why it took me so long to catch; the little grass stain's just been carrying on like he always has. His shirt's new, but that's not abnormal. The doctors like to keep him and his cell sterile. If something went down, he doesn't seem to care."
"I'll ask him about it," she said, standing up to leave.
"I was hoping you would," Vic shot back with a sly grin. Rachel returned it. "I'll fix the cameras to give you two some privacy. And while you're down there I'll also try and recover the lost file. Unless they wiped the hard drive it's still in there somewhere. Don't worry, I'll coax it out."
This time Rachel made no pretense of unease or uncertainty; she just brushed past the guards with a nod and marched in to Beast Boy's cell, easy as you please. Like she was going to the supermarket or something mundane, not strolling into the jaws of, according to every other scientist on the project, pure, feral, evil. A man whose dress identified him as a visitor from another guard post gave her a flirtations grin as she passed, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively. Rachel, shot him a warning look, but smiled a little on the inside. It was her intention to be noticed. She wore a long, black dress which accented her waist with a subdued, dark purple corset. To make it a little more business appropriate, she'd added a simple black jacket with silver buttons and flat black boots. In her experience, feminine wiles were particularly helpful in getting men to do what she wanted, and among other things, Beast Boy was a man. A particularly troublesome man at that, if her initial experiences were any indication, and she needed all the help she could get.
"Hello," she greeted flatly, making sure to clear the door way as she entered. The steel block slid shut behind her like a vault, the electric field engaging. Beast Boy, who sat leaning against the wall across and slightly to the right of her, shot her an annoyed look. There was something about his expression that moaned: 'You again?'
Rachel let out a small sigh through her nose, wondering if he could have looked any less enthusiastic. She pulled the controller for his chains out of her pocket, released them, then put it back casually, moving towards him. Beast Boy looked down at his wrists and ankles, then back up at her, frowning in suspicion. He didn't leap up and rush her like she'd anticipated, instead electing to keep his distance. Watching her warily like skittish dog.
"I need to talk to you."
He cocked an eyebrow and leaned his head to one side. It was the look of a teenager being patronized about the tooth fairy and, though not quite what she wanted, it was about what Rachel expected. With another sigh, Rachel rolled her lips together and looked away, preparing herself for what she had to do. Humiliating as it was…
"I'm sorry I called you a demon. There, I said it. Now you can stop being offended and we can move on. I have things to ask you that require a somewhat detailed response and the less time we have to spend together, the better."
That seemed to sway him a little, but his relaxed form was far from convinced. His green eyes caught hers meaningfully, as if to evaluate any signs of deception that might be lurking in their depths. Then he did something decidedly stupid; he dropped his gaze to Rachel's chest. She set her jaw and pouted her lips off to one side, nodding in unsurprised disappointment. Men: give 'em long enough and their eyes will invariably start to "wander." Yet, before she could open her mouth to scold him, Beast Boy's eyes met hers again. He raised his eyebrows and leaned forward, his gaze flicking down to her chest and back. Rachel frowned, turning her head and giving him a confused expression. Beast Boy's eyebrows, against all odds, climbed even higher and he flat out jerked his head towards her, pointing discretely at his own throat. There was a moment of silence, then Rachel let out a groan of understanding.
"Is this what you want," she asked, digging her amulet out from beneath the folds of her dress and holding it towards him. Its chain of woven obsidian beads strained against her pale neck, the periwinkle stone gleaming. Beast Boy's mouth turned up in a mischievous grin and he tilted his head, eyes still latched onto hers in an unblinking stare. The message was clear enough: 'Take it off.'
She let out another sigh, shaking her head as she undid the clasp. The amulet fell heavily into her hand, which immediately closed into a fist around it. Beast Boy pouted his mouth off to one side and extended his own hand palm up, fingers wiggling in a beckoning gesture. Rachel looked like she wanted to strangle him, or at least maim him a little. Nevertheless, she crammed the amulet into his waiting palm, trying not to touch him as she did do. Her demonic form flashed for an instant, and then was gone. Purple hair and eyes appeared to glow as the gem on her forehead glinted in the white light. Beast Boy felt the hair across his body raise on end again, charged by her magical presence and gave her a triumphant smile.
"There," she spat venomously. "You happy?"
"Yep," he replied, standing. His fingers curled around her amulet and he held it close.
"You know," Rachel said tersely. "If I'm here, you can just assume the cameras are off. We don't have to do this every time I visit."
"Oh, I think we do. I think if you want me to talk or even so much as mime, then I'm gonna need a little insurance. Safe for you, safe for me, right?"
Beast Boy grinned, wrinkling his nose, and Rachel got the overwhelming urge to smack him. Instead she reached into the inside pocket of her jacket, pulling a small bag and tossing it towards him. Asking nicely had been less than productive, so now it was time to try bribery.
"I brought you something," she all but growled, staring as if to dare him to refuse her gift. "It's not much, but I've never known an American man who didn't appreciate even a cheep bacon-cheeseburger."
The look she received was venomous. Beast Boy's nostrils flared and his face crinkled up in pure disgust. He recoiled, looking from the obscene bag on the floor to Rachel, then back again.
"Dude," he said tersely. "I'm vegan."
"No your not." There wasn't even a trace of uncertainty in Rachel's voice, just cold pride at having caught him in his deception. Beast Boy rolled his eyes in frustration, scooting along the wall to get away from the cheeseburger.
"Seriously," he said again, holding up his hands for emphasis. "I'm vegan. I don't eat animal products, cheep beef, bacon, and cheese included."
"I know what a vegan is! There's just no possible way that you're vegan. Humans are designed to be omnivorous and, on top of that, you turn into the largest predators ever to walk the earth. I'm no expert on dinosaurs, but that kind of hunger must be insatiable. Besides, you would've starved in here if you refused to eat any animal products."
"Have you seen the crap they give me? I think they just mash their recycle paper into a pulp, mix it with some synthetic vitamin/protein paste they cook up in a lab, and call it good. Nasty, but 100% vegan. Besides, changeling doesn't just mean predators; I can turn into whatever I want."
"Sooooo, why do you have a problem with meat?"
"I've been the animals people use for food, cow, pig, goat, fish, so eating them myself just feels sorta like… cannibalism."
He said the last word abnormally quickly, then stood up very straight, as if preparing to defend his position further. But Rachel didn't attack. She gave him a small, strange frown, though whether she was frowning at him or just thinking was impossible to tell. Finally, unexpectedly, she shrugged.
"That's a fair point. Not something I personally would have thought of, but perfectly fair."
Beast Boy tucked his head back against his chest like a turtle recoiling into its shell, shocked and more than a little confused. If Rachel noticed, she didn't mention it. Instead she just continued speaking in a low voice, half to herself, folding her arms as her gaze fell to the floor.
"I'm actually a little surprised; it sounds like you've thought this through almost carefully. Maybe even, dare I say, rationally."
"Hey," said Beast Boy indignantly, relaxing into a slouch and grinning despite himself. "This may sound a little weird coming from a guy who's gotten himself caught in a cell, but I'm actually not that stupid."
"Oh, I wouldn't call you stupid," replied Rachel absently. "Just… impulsive." She raised one hand with that last word, as if to present it to him on her fingertips. Another smile twisted Beast Boy's lips and a chuckle started in his chest. Was she being honest or diplomatic? He felt it was the former and it amused him that, of all the words she could have chosen given their previous interactions, impulsive was the one she came up with. And that, after every thing she'd done, including but not limited to unchaining a changeling and then insulting him to his face multiple times, he was the impulsive one. Finally, he couldn't contain it anymore and snorted in unbidden laughter.
Blood sprayed across the white floor.
Beast Boy's smile fell and his chest visibly deflated. In an overly practiced ritual, one hand reaching up to try and contain the spontaneous bloody nose while his head jutted forward to avoid staining his white shirt. The other fiddled around with his waistband, securing Rachel's amulet between his left hip and the cloth-covered elastic. Her purple eyes caught the red flecks against white plaster and swung up to her vicariously positioned gem, then to his face. She collected herself, adopting a rigid back and professionally blank stare. She'd come prepared this time and produced a small packet of tissues from nowhere Beast Boy could see. He accepted them with a small groan of resignation, stuffing the white paper up his bleeding nostril.
"This happens often," Rachel surmised, noting his irritation and recalling their second meeting.
"Ever since they started this latest round of injections," he grumbled tersely, squatting and wiping his bloodied palm on the floor. It left a bright red smear between them which gleamed in the artificial light. Shaking his hand as if to fling off any residual wetness, he stood up again, scowling. " They've been coming in every other, I don't know, maybe every other morning. Hose me off like a dog, shoot me up with something, then leave."
He paused for a moment, then: "I don't know what they want, but sometimes I wish they'd just take it, you know? Just get it over with…"
Rachel looked down and the red on the floor, then back up at him, choosing her next move carefully. Beast Boy, who seemed to have become utterly absorbed in the task of changing his soaked tissue, didn't meet her gaze. Finally, after probably too much deliberation, she rolled her lips together and nodded to herself, stepping across the blood-smear carefully and reaching towards his face.
"Here, let me," she said in a low monotone. Emerald eyes flashed and with inhuman speed, Beast Boy caught her wrist. Rachel met his accusatory stare unfazed.
"It's all right," she soothed. "Look, I know it's a lot to ask, but if you give me a chance I might be able to be somewhat useful. Just relax for a second; I promise not to hit you or send you to any hell-dimensions."
His eyes narrowed, a snarl curving his lips, but if Rachel was intimidated she didn't show it. There was a moment of silent communication between them, of silent evaluation. Then Beast Boy's grip slackened his fingers slipping slowly off her skin. As he watched, a pale blue mist surrounded Rachel's hand, sparkling with a light of its own. Delicately, she pressed the cold tip of one finger onto the bridge of Beast Boy's nose, causing him to shudder. Yet there was something like warmth in her touch, something he didn't have time to describe. It was there, and then she was pulling away, stepping back and folding her arms. Her face was completely impassive.
"What did you-" he started in a breathy voice, probing his nose uncertainly.
"I have limited healing abilities," she cut him off. "You're not bleeding anymore."
"Is that how you're hand got better so fast," he asked without thinking, removing the bloodied tissue and looking for a place to store it.
"Why would you say that?" Despite her best efforts, Rachel couldn't keep all the suspicion out of her voice.
"Come on, I smelled it when the door got you," Beast Boy said, giving her an indignant look. "Now I know from experience, burns like that take weeks to heal. But when you came to see me a couple days later, it wasn't even bandaged, just a little raw."
"Not stupid, remember," he said with a grin. "So, what else can you do?"
"Moving stuff with your mind, healing," he listed, ticking them off on his fingers. "What else?"
"That's really not important."
There was a strange look on his face; a goofy, playful grin that felt like a mere shadow of some expression from the past, yet still seemed a little too big in its own right. Primarily it annoyed Rachel. At the same time, though she was loathed to admit it, there was something admirably innocent in that smile. Some light that, even in the utter despair of his current imprisonment, refused to go out. It was endearing…
"Listen," she snapped, shaking off the sentiment. "I'm not here to entertain you. I came her for one, simple reason."
"Yeah, yeah," he said, waiving her off. "You've got "questions."" He emphasized with air-quotes. "And when you first walked in, I had about zero intention of answering. I mean, I have, like, no incentive to help you out and, after last time when you pretty much called me evil, I think my care level may have gone negative."
Rachel gave an exasperated look and rolled her eyes.
"But now," Beast Boy continued, holding up one finger as if to express a particularly brilliant idea. "Now I've got some questions of my own. So how 'bout it? You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours? What else can you do?"
"Now wait just a second you pointy eared little elf! I don't know where you got the idea, but you do not have the authority to-"
"Whoa, whoa! Chicks dig the pointy ears!"
"You're impossible, you know that?"
"Look who's talking! Come on, this isn't fair! I don't even know your name!"
"There's no reason you should."
"Then what am I supposed to call you? Creep-Demon Lady?"
"That's a moot point. You don't have to "call" me anything because everything you say, every conversation you have, will be with me. I am literally the only person you have to talk to. There is no one else."
It was a low blow and she knew it even before it left her mouth. Beast Boy's smile dropped from his face as if someone had tied a rock to it then thrown it into a pond. He rolled his shoulders back and dropped his chin, giving her a predatory scowl that failed to conceal how much her words had truly stung. How deeply his isolation really cut. As frustration grew in his gut he turned away from her, stepping back and throwing the bloody tissues intentionally next to the discarded cheeseburger.
"You had some questions you wanted to ask," he said curtly, his voice oddly controlled and low. "So ask them."
Rachel, not oblivious to his sudden change in humor, tightened her jaw in an alien sense of shame.
"Garfield," she tried softly.
She took in a long breath, held it tensely for a moment, then let it out in a resigned sigh. Damage done, she might as well get some information out of the train wreck. Feeling just a little disdain for her own coldness (a novelty which probably owed its origins to the rawness of Beast Boy's emotions), she pressed forward.
"What do you remember about the last couple nights? Has anything… noteworthy happened?"
"No," he answered shortly, not meeting her gaze. "Nothing "noteworthy-" nothing literally. Just me and the cell. The cameras could've told you that, but whatever."
There was another silence, this one charged and dangerous as a thunderstorm. Rachel didn't know what he wanted her to say and, for that matter, neither did Beast Boy. Something horrible, some terrible anger was building up inside him like a funnel cloud turning into a hurricane and Rachel sensed it. Like needles in her skin. And as he balled his fists in barely controlled rage, she sensed something else… Some fleeting phantom of a power she could almost name. Finally, Beast Boy couldn't take it any longer.
"Here," he snapped, turning his back to her and pulling her amulet from his waistband. He held it lightly and thrust it quickly towards her feet, as if it burned him. "Get out. Take that crap-" he jerked his head towards the trash "-and just leave."
So she did. She picked up the tissue and bag as if they were biohazards and left without another word. The second the door closed Beast Boy collapsed into a slouch. He sighed heavily, running his fingers through his messy green hair and then pressing his face into his palms. There was a constricted feeling in his throat and a burning sensation in his eyes; preludes of the tears he'd restrained for months. Yet there was something else, too, something new and unnerving. An ache in his gut and the vague feeling of movement inside his ribcage…