It was stupid, and he knew it was stupid, but Beast Boy couldn't help going back to Ben's Diner the next day.
"We still don't have vacancies."
He turned from his menu to see Terra, one hand on a hip and the other holding a pot of fresh coffee. Her blonde hair was down, flirting with her shoulders, kept out of her face by her silver butterfly slide. She looked annoyed, but at the same time there was a softness in her eyes - friendliness. Quickly wiping the fond expression off of his face, he gestured to the menu in his hands.
"I actually want food this time," he assured her with a grin, "A veggie burger if you can, doll-face," he teased, tongue-in-cheek, inwardly delighted at the amused snort she made as a result.
"Coming right up, puddin'," she smiled, humouring him.
Beast Boy's eyes narrowed at her retreating figure. Trying to see without moving his head too obviously, he created a mental picture of the Diner as it was in its current state.
There were four other customers there, three of which he had spotted the previous day. He made a point to look out for them in the future; they could just be regular customers or, as was more likely and considering the state of the Diner, they could mean trouble.
He turned back to his place and busied himself with his napkin, shredding and thinking at the same time. He'd leave for the day - it'd convince Terra he really was job hunting, at least - and return in the evening before her shift finished. Just to check up on her.
He fished around in his pocket and put a bill of some sort on the table, not really glancing twice at its value. He turned and nearly crashed into Terra.
"Woah!" she exclaimed, having to quickly jerk the veggie burger out of the way, "So you're just gonna take off without your food?" she interrogated after a split-second, staring at him in exasperation.
"Sorry babe, duty calls," he winked, sliding past her, "don't eat that burger; I'll be back for it later!"
He grinned as he walked out the door, hearing her grumble "Eat it? Yeah right..."
Utilising the ears, eyes and nose of the foxhound he posed as, Beast Boy pressed his face to the ground, sniffing at the sidewalk.
Beast Boy had been doubly lucky with the rainfall the previous day. Not only had it washed away old scents that would have confused him further, but it had also stopped long enough ago that new ones could settle.
He hadn't been totally certain on the scents of the two watchers, as he referred to them in his mind. Because of the nature of the diner, it threw out all kinds of smells that put him off course and it had taken him longer than half an hour to settle on one of them long enough to track it.
Careful not to run into anybody - nobody would see a green dog and forget it, and he didn't need the publicity right now, much as he loved to be in the spotlight - he had taken himself almost all the way to the centre of the city before the trail showed any kind of origin.
Before he could be spotted, he transformed, this time into a tiny midge. Flying soundlessly toward the concrete block (he assumed it had once been a small apartment building), he found his way in through a miniscule gap in the window sealant. What he saw instantly confirmed his suspicions.
The room he was in was small, and a door across from him was ajar. It was sparsely decorated and the walls were completely bare, even from wallpaper and paint. There was a rug on the floorboards - a suspicious-looking stain peeking out from under it - and a computer on a coffee table.
He couldn't hear or see anyone in the building, and so didn't hesitate to resume human form. Logging onto the out of place high-tech computer (Cyborg had taught him basic hacking skills a few months ago, after finally admitting that the changeling wasn't as accident-prone as he once had been), Beast Boy searched through the files. His mind burned with the desire to know what they knew; to know how much they knew.
Looking through the various bits of compiled information, he had to consciously make the effort more than once to not delete the folders - this was purely a reconnaissance mission, after all - even though a lot of what was stored made him furious. Not only was there data on Terra's job, her address, her physical appearance, but there were things like ‘sleeps between 9pm and 10pm, rises at 7am', and ‘mainly eats canned food'. The information wasn't particularly revealing, until you realised that this meant they weren't only watching her at work, they were watching her every move. They had literally everything written down about her. They had taken her life and turned it into a file on a computer.
Beast Boy's fingers twitched over the keyboard as his heart raced and his blood boiled. He couldn't delete the files, but... maybe he could change the information? Tweak a few things here and there? It wouldn't change the memories of the people watching her, he knew that, but maybe they would notice the changes and just accept them, overlook them as a lapse in their own memories?
He licked his lips. Terra wasn't the only one on here, he noticed with a twinge of ire. He opened a file or two and messed around with the information just enough to make it unrecognised by the program's dictionary; just enough to make it irrelevant in any final profile.
Beast Boy jumped as the sound of heavy footsteps registered in his brain. He whirled around in time to see someone - a new person - enter the room. The new guy was big, really big. His bicep looked to be bigger than Beast Boy's head. Luckily, he still had a momentary advantage; his opponent had yet to process the fact that someone had infiltrated their hideout and, even luckier, hadn't yelled to alert any others.
Beast Boy fought against what was now basic instinct to him and remained human. His perception filter would only work if he didn't show off his meta-human powers, and getting discovered wasn't as bad as getting recognised. He sprang forward, putting all of his momentum and weight in a punch to the other guy's throat. He had seen it in a movie once - paralyse the vocal chords to stop them screaming.
It worked - though Beast Boy wasn't as physically strong as someone like Robin, the guy's attempted call for help came out as just a rasping cough. The guy dodged Beast Boy's follow up kick and swung his own foot out, taking Beast Boy's legs out from under him.
Beast Boy hit the floor hard, rolling away to avoid getting stamped on and springing up using his hands. He deflected the guy's punch and threw one of his own, hitting the guy in the jaw. A memory sparked in his mind.
‘Cranial nerve behind the lower jaw; moving jaw into nerve equals KO'
Jabbing forward with his fist, he hit the jaw again. There was a sickening crack and the guy fell down, unconscious.
Beast Boy rubbed his knuckles with a wince; he wasn't used to fighting in his human form. He already had dark bruises blossoming across his hands.
Pain exploded in his kidney and he staggered forward, turning in time to block a second hit. He cursed under his breath and brought his knee up into his second opponent's stomach. The new guy, skinnier than the first, doubled over a little and Beast Boy wasted no time in kicking him in the head. The guy was thrown backwards, hitting the floor with the back of his skull. Knocked out.
Beast Boy quickly checked both pulses and then turned both of the men over into the recovery position. He wasn't out to have dead people on his conscience.
He logged off of the computer and slipped out of the crack in the window again.
He hadn't been recognised, but his stomach wouldn't settle. Travelling further into Jump, he didn't let himself celebrate his victory, a single thought weighing heavy on his mind.
That had been way too easy.
Beast Boy pushed open the permanently greasy door of Ben's Diner and was greeted by even less custom than was usual. It was literally dead; so much so that only Terra and the cook remained, both of them playing cards over the counter.
The cook - a tall ginger chick with too much makeup - smirked and nudged the blonde waitress in the arm. Terra looked up and smiled
"Hi," he replied, standing awkwardly in the door.
For a moment, the only sound was the cook chewing her gum, mouth open. Terra cleared her throat and nudged the woman, gesturing with a tilt of her head.
The cook - Sandy, her nametag said - told Beast Boy to take a seat before disappearing into the kitchen.
Not waiting for her to return, he took the seat opposite Terra, stealing a fry from her plate.
"So are you one of those ‘nothing with a face' kind of guys?" Terra asked him, referring to his order from the morning,
"Since I was six." he stated proudly and puffed his chest out, taking a card from the deck. He threw it onto the pile.
"That's a pretty big commitment. After all you're what? Seven?" she teased, shoving more fries into her mouth before they could be eaten for her.
He snorted, wrestling another chip from the bowl.
"Actually, can you keep a secret?" he asked, lowering his voice and leaning in. She leant in too, eyes wide with curiosity. He looked side to side and leant in further.
"I once ate a potato chip that looked like fat Elvis."
Terra whacked his shoulder and he yelped, laughing. Sandy reappeared, putting Beast Boy's reheated burger in front of him along with ‘Jump Journal'
"Newspaper with your breakfast, sir," Terra explained as Sandy curtsied, snickering. Beast Boy pretended to take off a monocle and wipe it with the hem of his shirt.
"Very good," he replied, replacing the ‘monocle' and opening the paper, "As you were."
A comfortable silence fell, punctuated by the sounds of Beast Boy thumbing through the paper and of the two of them munching on their food. He waited until Terra wasn't paying attention before, discreet, he ripped an article out of one of the inside pages.
"What happened to your leg?" Beast Boy suddenly asked Terra, having noticed the white bandage that morning.
"Burned it," she answered nonchalantly. She carried on with her card game, not even looking up, "It's no big deal."
He watched her chew her fingernail for a moment before he stood and slipped around the counter. She yelped in shock as he lifted her up, sitting her on the countertop.
"W-what are you doing?" she stammered, bewildered.
"I'm just taking a look," he murmured, brows knitted in concentration as he unraveled the bandage, careful to not pull at the burn, "Did you cool it down?"
"Ran it under the tap for a minute."
He looked up at her disapprovingly.
"What?" she shrank away from him a little, raising an eyebrow.
"You're meant to cool it for at least ten minutes, Terra. Otherwise it keeps burning," Beast Boy paused, reigning himself in, "Stay here." he ordered, turning into the kitchen.
He stood still for a moment, pinching the bridge of his nose. He had to keep himself in check - at least for now. He opened his eyes after a minute or two and looked around.
The surfaces, appliances and utensils were stainless steel and the floor was covered in cream tiles, a lot of them cracked in the corners. Even though the back door was open (through which he could see the top of Pam's head and a waft of cigarette smoke curling up away from her) , the air was thick with grease and he wrinkled his nose, slipping across what he hoped was the freshly cleaned floor to the refrigerator. Not feeling like searching through every cabinet for a first aid kit, he wrapped some ice cubes in a couple of kitchen towels and slid his way back to the door.
He went to Terra without a word, carefully and tenderly pressing the ice against her leg.
"You should take better care of yourself, Terra..." he murmured, sadness weighing at him. Such a short time apart... and she'd already lost her way so much.
Beast Boy felt Terra tense.
"What is your problem?" she exclaimed, pushing at his shoulder. His eyes flashed with unreadable emotion, "Where do you get off, telling me what to do?!"
"I tell you what to do because sometimes it feels like I'm the only one who cares about what happens to you," he hissed, almost satisfied in the way she froze. He looked down and wrapped the bandage around his makeshift ice pack to hold it in place.
He glanced up to her again. Her anger had dissipated, confusion hinting in her blue eyes, a slight frown on her forehead. His heart tugged and he itched to explain everything to her right there and then.
He swallowed his desperation, straightened up and turned away to leave.
"Beast Boy, wait..." he heard her sigh behind him. There was a soft tap as her shoes hit the linoleum floor and then an even softer touch on his arm. He turned to her - since when was he so much taller than she was? - and her eyes were fixed nervously on the floor for a moment before she looked up.
"You wanna... hang out... sometime?" she said, her voice steadier than either of them had expected.
"Sure. That'd be cool," he reached to her and brushed a couple of unruly strands of hair away from her face. She leant up to him slightly and he resisted the urge to reciprocate, "I'll see you in a few days, kid."
"I'm older than you, Brat Boy," she replied, smirking.
He laughed. "Of course you are, tiny T."