Continuity: See prologue. Focus is on other Titans. (Clarification: In 'Fallen,' Robin touched the nano-orb but pulled away before he was infected.)
This chapter is, unfortunately, something of a prologue in its own right. The action should pick up next chapter; length, too - this chapter is horrendously short, and my apologies for it.
Agony flickered, sputtering through her veins with enough vicious intensity to keep her limbs grotesquely still, though the fire was little more than a shadow of the blaze that had crippled them all. Shame and pride closed her throat, effectively stopping a shuddering onset of whimpering; she understood the muffled weeping from Starfire, the odd little pained gasps of the animalistic boy crouched somewhere out of her blunted range of vision, but she could not allow herself to cry or permit even the briefest whimper. The frightened, desperate emotion of bottled and crushed hysteria whispered half-heard promises: if she gave out, if she sobbed or moaned at the tracing pain, she would go insane.
Raven curled her fingers, tentatively, and felt her spine stiffen horribly as that simple movement stung her flesh and nerves. A scream was lodged somewhere deep in her throat, pulling tightly at the raw vocal cords and choking her, filling her chest with the want to lose herself utterly.
A brush of metal touched her ashen face - an oddly gentle caress of glinting silver that quivered with his own complex emotions - and she thought, distantly, that were she standing she would sag, giving him her slight weight in a brief, uncharacteristic impulse; but she was curled, almost fetally, on the harsh floor, and ill-accustomed to the peculiarities of touch. The cool metal of Cyborg's hand left her face and she was relieved: both for the momentary salvation of her burning nerves, by the cool contact of his metallic hand, and also for the removal of touch.
He was still beside her, massive and shivering.
"He's gone," she said quietly, monotonously; curling her fingers again, a small muscle in her cheek spasmed, temporarily escaping her will for her usual expressionless appearance. "Robin left with Slade." It was not a question though she had no memory of seeing or sensing departure; all she could recall - without recoiling - was the fire that possessed and filled her with terrible, outside power.
"Yeah," Cyborg grunted, somehow emptily. That flatness, as opposed to his standard aggravating aura of jock-arrogance, was sour to her, and she began slowly, carefully, sliding up. He echoed, "Robin left with Slade," and his dark face contorted furiously, quickly enough for her to summon a weak shadow around her palm, reaching out to stop his fist from striking a metal crate.
Still resting, unwilling, on the floor, propped up by the flat of her forearm alone, Raven's eyes flickered ebony in her face. "That won't help," she said darkly. "They're already gone and there's no use in pointless tantrums. We were out too long to stop them." She could feel the intricate cybernetics and flesh under her slender hand, the tiny tendons, mechanical and mortal, flexing agitatedly, and fixed a cold glare on him.
"I didn't want to be right," he spoke, after a long moment, as Starfire made a reassuring noise to Beast Boy somewhere near the consoles. "I just wanted it to be some stupid mistake, and he wasn't supposed to go with Slade!" She pulled her hand back quickly, lips thinning as he turned slightly and, faint light in the abandoned lair gleaming along the silver metal of his body, thrust his fist through one of the tiles.
"He wasn't" - with each syllable, a fist drove through the metal tiling, shattering and cracking the floor with increasing strength - "supposed" - sharp bits of metal flipped up, as Raven slowly straightened into a loose sitting stance, pulling her hood protectively over her face - "to go!" With a noise, crossed between the roar of a large man and a pitiful snarl, he smashed his fists once more to the floor, and, jaw tightening, lowered his head.
Raven forced the pain to the back of her mind, with the glittering cobwebs of old memories, and carefully drawing her hood more fully around her features stood. The thin, worn muscles of her legs threatened to collapse beneath her, and she wobbled, briefly, before she caught herself with a grim expression. She straightened, somehow seeming to melt back into her cloak, as though afraid to let the others see her face.
"He did," Raven said simply, keeping her slightly rasped voice quiet. Cyborg's broad shoulders shuddered, once.
"But Robin saved us," Starfire protested weakly, and both turned: one slight figure cast in shadow, eyes glimmering eerily under her hood, the other heavier figure lit with silver veins and glowing with exhausted frustration.
Tracks of tears, old and sticky, shone yet along her deep-orange skin. "He has left to save us," she continued, almost pleading, scrabbling for Beast Boy's hands as she lowered her head. "He would not leave us for any other reason, Raven: he is Robin." She glanced up at them again, almond-shaped eyes unnaturally bright, and shifted, as though to bring her knees up to her chest. "Robin would not abandon us for that," she spat the next word out, emotionally as her eyes flashed dangerously, "monster."
Beast Boy laughed, shakily, for a few seconds, and the silent, unwelcome atmosphere of Slade's chill lair grew oppressive until the small teenager said, "Guess we were all kinda zombies." He shuddered, then, as Cyborg flexed his metal hand and looked up at Raven, dark eyes filmed over with something – regret, anger, futility – and jaw tight.
"I think I can feel 'em in my skin," the smallest of the four added into that frightening silence. "Or maybe I'm just imagining, but they're under my skin, crawling." A shiver convulsed his thin body, and he scratched agitatedly at the slender green of his arms, fingers shifting into talons and tracing coarse paths over the skin.
Cyborg clenched his fingers into large fists one last time, squeezing metal and flesh with a useless ferocity, and glanced at the two crouched beside one another across the room, as if sensing a barrier they had formed unconsciously between one another. "I got something we can use to get rid of them," he said finally. "I don't think we'll be able to get all of them out, but it'd be something."
A poised moment, paused and charged with confusion and realization.
"Are we leaving Robin?" asked Starfire, hesitantly. She tightened her grip on Beast Boy's shoulders. "Slade has left many things; is it not likely he would return for those he has left?" Hope tinged her words, nearly shaming for Cyborg.
Hiding in the eclipsing shadows of her hood, Raven cast an emotionless look at the other girl, fatigue shivering in the worn, inflamed muscles of her arms. "He won't return, Starfire. We're going back to H-Q and that's all we can do."
She had always been skilled at hiding her emotions.
Koriand'r was not afraid of many things: she was a warrior-princess, with power most living beings would cower before, and she had experienced few things more terrifying than enslavement. She was emotional, and had a tendency to be silly rather than tough, like Raven, but she did not fear.
Now, though, with a friend missing and another ranting in an adjoining room, with the taste of bile back in her throat and the smell of purified air-conditioning, she wanted more than anything to cry. She was terrified, imagining the small machines attached to the individual cells of her blood and traveling endlessly throughout the veins of her body; Cyborg had promised them he would find some way to rid their bodies of the things, but it was not yet her turn.
She feared for Robin, and feared for herself, and had not felt so discouraged and helpless since she was a small child.
"I'm scared," Starfire whispered, shuddering; she pulled her knees tight against her chest, curling on the couch as though to drawn within herself. "I wish Robin was here." She thought, perhaps, if he was with them, it would be far more bearable, to have Slade's mechanical demons wandering the smooth tunnels of her capillaries and arteries.
"Stupid!" Cyborg shouted, voice muffled by the walls as various, distant, sounds of heavy tinkering filtered through. "C'mon, baby, we need you to work. Don't be stupid!" A slamming sound, filled with frustration, and Starfire glanced, shivering, at the door.
"He's just gotta get some of his anger out," Beast Boy commented from his position on the soft cushions of the armchair, small, lithe frame nearly swallowed by the sagging material. He, like Starfire, was shivering, though he had donned several thick blankets and cupped a mug of something steaming in his slender hands.
She changed the direction of her gaze, staring at the floor numbly. "We have lost Robin," she said, again, and her shoulders convulsed, once. "We did not believe him to be one of us still, and so we lost him." She held her hands up, studying them curiously, and slid them over her face, shoulders quivering. "Robin will never return."
Silence: broken only by Cyborg's pleading with the machinery in the far room and delicate footsteps on the stairs above, where Raven walked.
"Nah," Beast Boy attempted a smile, a feeble twitch of his lips that was nonetheless sincere. "I mean, yeah, he's gone, but this is Robin; the guy's too stuck-up to stay away for long." It was such an utterly natural statement, snotty but affectionate towards their lost companion, that for a moment Starfire felt as though the world had clicked back into normality.
She smiled, briefly, and sadly, before dropping her hands to her lap, giving him a hopeful, curious look. "Do you really believe Robin will return to us?"
"Well, yeah," he replied, confident. "Remember the whole zombie thing? Soon as we get these nano-bugs," he wriggled slightly under the blankets with the intensity of his disgust, "outta us, then Slade won't have anything left to blackmail Rob with. It's practically foolproof." He nodded, and sneezed; rubbing idly at his nose, pointed ears twitching, he held the mug out to her. "Sip'a cocoa?"
"No," she replied, and hooked her hands around her legs, nervously glancing once more to where Cyborg had stormed through the door, muttering darkly on his way to locate some tool. "You *have* sneezed over it."
He looked sheepish and pulled his hot chocolate closer to the blankets, arms disappearing quickly into the oddly shaped mountain swaddled around him. "It's kinda weird," he announced suddenly, gulping some of the hot liquid and blanching at the heat.
She tilted her head, inviting him to continue, and winced as Cyborg, still growling under his breath, stomped back through the door.
"I mean," Beast Boy was continuing, his voice suddenly anxious, and she had the sensation of hearing from a great distance, "it's weird that I feel cold all over. You're cold, too, right? 'Cause I don't wanna be the only one."
"I am also cold," Starfire said softly, tightening her fingers around her ankles. "But after feeling as if I am on fire, I wish to feel the cold." She paused, casting a worried look to the stairs as the bestial boy sneezed again, a bit more violently, and regardless of health began guzzling his drink again; as he swallowed, with a satisfied sigh, she filled the quiet air with, "It may be that we are made weak by Slade's creatures: I am still worn after waking, and we were out for several hours."
He made an eloquent snorting noise, tilting the mug up in a half-hearted attempt to claim the chalky remnants. "I guess," he muttered, and fumbling with the emptied mug, looked uncharacteristically drained, shoulders slumping and eyes glancing to the floor.
Starfire felt herself growing quiet, no longer hopeless but simply feeling completely - flat. "Robin will not return," she whispered, sliding her legs to the floor and clasping her hands, "will he?"
"Not by himself," interrupted the subtle rasp of Raven's voice, and both of the Titans in the rec room jumped; Beast Boy tossed his mug to the side and shifted halfway into a tiger, absurdly tangled in the blankets, while Starfire clapped a hand to her chest. "Robin," Raven granted them both droll looks from the dark hollow of her hood, slim hand resting on the wall, "won't be coming back on his own. If we know anything about Slade - and we don't know much - then it's pretty much guaranteed he won't make it easy for Robin to get away, if at all."
"But if we get the nano-whatevers out," Beast Boy protested, having shifted back to his normal, slight form, and struggled to untangle himself from the blankets.
Raven gave him a dryly annoyed look. "It won't matter," she said flatly. "We don't know where they went, and Slade won't let Robin loose, whether or not we get the 'nano-whatevers' out of our bodies." Gently, she brushed her fingers over the wall before letting her hand to fall, loose, beside her slender thigh, dark eyes gleaming.
"So what do we do?" Beast Boy asked, poking his head through a fold in the pile of heavy cloth. He had a look of questioning uncertainty, nose wrinkling as he raised an eyebrow. "We can't let him just be - gone, you know."
Raven smiled, humorlessly, the movements of her mouth hidden effectively by shadow and the tilt of her head. "I've already called Batman at the J-L-A Watchtower," she said smoothly, sliding her fingers under the the dark purple folds of her hood, flipping it back. "He should have known when this mess with Slade first started." The sleek length of her hair glinted metallically under the whitening lights riveted in the ceiling, matching the narrow, expressionless line of her mouth.
Beast Boy slowly began crawling back under the blankets, pulling the cloth resolutely over his head as a string of sturdy footsteps announced Cybog's somber, if triumphant, approach to the door.
"Aw, man," the large Titan said from the doorway, voicing what the others were thinking. "Not the Bat, Raven. I want Rob-man back as much as you do, but the Bat?"
"Is the Bat bad?" Starfire asked cautiously, a myriad of emotions flitting across her face, from anticipation to a faint degree of fear. "Will he help us?" She glanced, worried, at Beast Boy, who permitted one somewhat agonized groan to filter through the blankets.
Notes: The bit referencing Koriand'r/Starfire's past may or may not be canonical to the cartoon-verse (I haven't seen the first few episodes), but regardless, it's what was true in the comics-verse. I have, of course, taken some minor artistic license - Starfire's lack of differentiating between Batman and "the Bat" - but I've done my best to keep the chapter in-character and -continuity. Apologies for any lack of goodness.
Disclaimer: As is obvious, one should be glad I don't own the characters, situations, etc., of Teen Titans.
Feedback: I'm not entirely pleased with this chapter, but let's see what ya'll have to say. :] A thousand thanks to those who already reviewed, and I hope you'll stick with me as I work out the kinks and bugs.
CLARIFICATION: The nano-bot attack at the beginning is, actually, a sort of extension of the one towards the end of 'Apprentice' - in that the Titans were laid low a bit longer. I actually have some bizarre and possibly fanatical theoretical essay tidied away somewhere on my computer about it...so no worries, Manny PenPen, it's canonical. ^^; Sorta.