Author's Note: OK! Well, finally, a third Teen Titan fic from Carly. This is a one-shot Cyborg-centric story. It's not the BEST thing in the world, but I felt I'd post it anyway after much hesitation. Please comment on any errors I have made because I know there's bound to see some-- character deviation, too much detail, redundancy, grammar, how to fix a car engine... Really, I ask you to. But put all that aside and try to enjoy the story.
Also, I went through plenty of different names for this piece of Fan Fiction: Some of you who I've spoken to about it may have heard me call it "Horizon," "Charlotte," or even "The Scarlet Letters." But, seeing as some are irrelevant and others are too obvious, I decided on the subtle "Spirit Chaser." I'd also like to hear your opinions on this title and whether or not it's good for the story. Thanks.
(EDIT: Thanks King Cheetah for mentioning my mistakes. Much appreciated. BTW, everyone go read his stuff. Good work, that.)
Summary: When Cyborg's beloved Mustang breaks down on a deserted road, he meets a peculiar character. He'd love it if she told him just one thing about herself, but mostly, he'd like to at least know her name.
"Stick to the main road," Robin had told him. He remembered clearly the directions Robin had laid out for him. And yet, he remembered more vividly the detailed detour Beast Boy had explained to him later that day.
"If you want to get there fast," he'd said, "take the side road— the one with the rusted sign that says 'This is Not Highway 88.' It's an old road from the 1950s that leads past Roswell and straight into Albuquerque, instead of going around the state. But make sure you're full of gas and supplies, man, because that road is literally in the middle of nowhere. Since it hasn't been used since 1959, no one's set up shop there. You'll probably drive by a few ghost towns and the like. Who knows, maybe one of them will be Area 51. And if you're lucky, you might just see an alien or two."
With a wink, Beast Boy had tucked the map into Cyborg's rucksack and left his room.
Now, dusty and tired, poor Cyborg leaned on the hood of his beautiful 1964, newly restored, red Mustang. The damn thing had given out on him, making Cyborg curse the mechanic who had sold him the new engine.
"Brand spankin' new," the man had assured him in a peculiar New York accent. "Just got it in from the factories. Only the best for you, my man!"
However, the best seemed to be a cheap piece of metal that was probably older than the car itself. Cyborg knew he should have known better than to take his baby out on the long roads just yet without taking a closer look at the engine.
Unfortunately, he had been running behind schedule, and was desperate to meet up with his friends at a New Mexico superhero convention. It was a publicity stunt of sorts, a way for agents to get a little extra cash flow by strutting their clients about like dogs on display at a show. Pie graphs, line graphs, autographs, photographs, and any other graph imaginable could be found there, awaiting scrutiny by adoring fans and skeptical sponsors. Robin had decided for the team that they would attend, despite Cyborg's protest that he had a car to repair. He never liked being interrupted in the middle of a project, and Robin knew this all too well. If dragged away from his beloved Mustang mid-operation, the surgeon would merely whine and complain about being separated from it. This, Robin knew from experience.
So, the leader allowed Cyborg to stay behind for a time while the others proceeded to the convention. Cyborg was to meet up with them on Sunday at the latest, two days into the convention. It was to end on Monday. The trip itself normally took most of a day, which left Cyborg only two extra days to finish his tune-ups. But he knew that restoring the classic auto would take just a little more than two days. As he had procrastinated in joining his friends, he was delighted to take Beast Boy's advice, and had strong faith in it.
However, when Beast Boy had said the road drove through the middle of nowhere, he hadn't been kidding.
Cyborg found himself on the side of an old, dust-covered desert highway that no one used any more. It was noon on the Sunday he was supposed to meet his friends. He'd planned it all perfectly— Leaving Titan's Tower at 5:00 AM sharp, he was going to follow the main road and then take the shortcut after about three hours into the journey—around 8:00 with no stops. The detour was supposed to cut a good four hours off his trip, making his arrival in Albuquerque around 12:00, rather than 4:00. He probably should have gotten in late Saturday night, but insisting he could make it to the city before the afternoon on Sunday, Robin's strict deadline, he'd put off traveling until Sunday morning. It had all worked out perfectly, and gave Cyborg a few extra hours to tune up the car. He'd stayed up to midnight making sure that it would be ready for the journey in the morning, and had only gotten about four hours sleep. Luckily, that was all the half-robot really needed to recharge. Unluckily, his batteries were beginning to disagree with him, for they were used to getting more time to regroup their energy.
So here he was, stranded on an abandoned desert highway, with frustrated batteries and a busted engine and no hope of rescue. Was this the end as he knew it?
With a faint smile, he thought of his friends at the convention, who were probably wondering where he was by now. Fuming, Robin would rant about how no one ever takes him seriously, and frantically dial his out-of-range communicator in a desperate and vain effort to get a hold of the missing Titan.
Raven would cynically mutter something about how Cyborg didn't really care for timing and was bigger with the dramatic entrances than Beast Boy. She would reassure Robin, probably already very annoyed with his ranting, that Cyborg would show eventually, and that he better have a damn good reason for being late.
Dear Starfire would agree completely with Raven's words, assuming that something of utter importance had detained Cyborg, and that there was some grand rescue that prevented him from calling. She would probably be convinced that Cyborg would arrive soon, in a glorious parade of extravagance, carrying a bus full of school children he had saved from a fire. All of these children would love Starfire immediately, of course, and she in turn would play and care for them until the convention was finished.
Beast Boy would probably not be phased in the least by Cyborg's delay, taking it all one hour at a time and trying to stay out of Robin's line of fire. At that very moment, he was probably wallowing in pride as dozens of adoring twelve-year-old girls begged him to sign the cover of their diaries.
Or perhaps, it was the fantasy he was wallowing in.
Eventually, someone would come by the road and find his frozen corpse, hopefully in time to reenergize him. So really, he didn't fear much for his life. It was only a matter of hours. Or days.
The latter thought disturbed him. The thought of being stuck out in a desert for a few days without pizza or TV did not interest him in the least. His only comfort was the old radio in his restored vehicle— the one that didn't even have a tape deck, let alone a CD player. He had been hoping to install both before he'd left, but there hadn't been the time…
Now, he wished he'd stayed just a little bit later to install these necessities. What would it have mattered if he'd hit the road an hour later now anyway? He was already late. But how was he supposed to know that his car would break down?
Sighing, Cyborg lifted the hood of the car and checked out the engine. It was still as rusted and dead as it was the last time he had checked. He rolled his eyes and closed the hood, walking around to the side and flopping back into the car.
He turned on the radio, trying to listen to what random frequency it was picking up, no matter how distorted it was. It was an advertisement of some sort, but for what, Cyborg couldn't tell. He changed the channel, in hopes of finding a station that was in his range. Hopefully, with good music, and not some weird country music stations one always seems to find when lost in the southern wilderness.
Finding nothing worth listening to, he turned off the radio and leaned back in his seat. He contemplated hooking up some cables to the car battery and milking it for what it's worth in order to recharge his own. But then he decided against it, for no matter how long he was going to be stuck in the desert, he would rather spend it unconscious and unaware of it all.
So, he put his arms behind his head and waited for his battery to run out…
His eyes opened at the sound of a motor off in the distance. Instantly, he was awake, scouting the horizon for the source of the sound. Turning west, he saw in the glow of late sunset, a rusted-out El Camino making its lonely way down the highway, running away from the light.
He jumped out of the Mustang eagerly and stood in the middle of the road, waving his arms.
"HEY!" Cyborg shouted at the approaching truck, scurrying around like an ant on hot pavement.
The car slowed to a stop and pulled over onto the shoulder just behind Cyborg's Mustang. A young girl with blonde curls and gray eyes stepped out of the vehicle and looked at the Titan. She was a small thing, and looked quite frail, and yet her eyes were deep and strong. Those eyes looked like they could hold anything together just by staring at it. They seemed to have the opposite effect on Cyborg's composure as he lost his train of thought just staring at her.
"What's wrong, are you lost?" she asked him after a few minutes of tolerating his stares. Cyborg shook his head to clear it.
"Huh?" he said, confused.
"No one uses this road unless they're lost or they're damn bold," she replied with a crooked grin.
"Then I guess I'm a bit of both," Cyborg replied with a weak smile. "I was on my way to Albuquerque when my engine gave out on me. I thought no one would find me for days."
The girl laughed. "Well, I found you, didn't I?" she said. Cyborg sighed. Her laugh was like church bells on Sunday, pure and welcoming. She looked Cyborg up and down, her smile slowly broadening. The Titan suddenly felt incredibly self-conscious.
"You're Cyborg, aren't you?" she said at last. "From the Teen Titans?"
Cyborg blinked. "My reputation precedes me," he said. "But I didn't think we were that big outside of Jump City."
"Are you kidding?" the girl said with a laugh. "I would have thought you were big wherever you go."
Cyborg was somewhat confused, but she nodded at his large stature. "You look pretty big to me."
He gave her a wry grin, and then seemed to suddenly remember his plight. "Oh, uh, do you think you could give me a ride to the nearest gas station?"
"I can do better than that," the girl said, analyzing Cyborg's car from tire tread to paint job. "I got some tools in my car. We can fix it ourselves."
Cyborg looked impressed. "You're into cars?"
She merely smiled back at him, mysteriously. "I'm into a lot of things," she said. "Including superheroes. You're headed to that convention, are you? The one with all the autograph signings and demonstrations?"
"Yeah," he said. "Are you going there?"
She sighed, regretfully. "I was," she said. "But I can't. Something came up."
"You should come," said Cyborg. "It'll be more tolerable with someone like you there. You'd love it, anyway."
"I wish I could," she replied. "But really, my fate is sealed. I can't get out of this now." She looked incredibly sad and Cyborg wanted nothing more in the world at that moment than to comfort her. But she shook her head and smiled up at him, warmly.
"Well, let's get those jumper cables, shall we?" she said, going to the back of her truck.
She seemed to work miracles with the machine, clipping busted wires and substituting new ones, adding a few extra pipes here and there, and patching a leak in the gas container. By the time the engine started up again, the sun had set completely, and Cyborg had given up all intentions of making it to Albuquerque any time soon.
"Your engine should take you where you're going, but it'll bitch and moan about it the whole way there," the girl told him as she closed the hood. "You'll have to buy a new one in the city to take you back."
Cyborg nodded, thinking he'd probably just sell the whole thing. With all the restorations on it, it would get him quite a bit of money, despite the fact that it was engine-less. For some reason, his baby didn't seem half as important in that moment as the blonde twenty-something-year-old sitting beside him on the front of his car.
"You never did tell me your name," he said with a flirtatious grin. She closed her eyes and seemed to roll them behind her lids.
"My name's no big deal," she said. "You'd just forget it after a while anyways. We won't keep in touch and so there's no reason to clutter your memory with it."
"I'd like to know your name," Cyborg pressed, not buying her cheap excuses. But she looked at him with mysteriously firm eyes, stubbornness etched in desolate stony gray.
"No, you don't," she said with a wistful sigh. She looked at the watch on her wrist. "Hey, didn't you say that Robin told you to be there, like, now?" she inquired, with a playful grin.
Cyborg waved her words away as if they had no meaning. "Rob can wait. He'll get over it. He's a big boy." He frowned as he noticed her shivering. "Hey, I have a jacket in the car, let me…"
"No," she interrupted, holding up a hand. "It won't help. I'm always cold. Even in the desert sun. Sometimes, I drive these highways looking for warmth in them…"
"Where are you from?" Cyborg asked.
"I was born in Phoenix," she replied. "I moved to New York with my father and grew up there. I came to New Mexico after high school for college… but now, it looks like I'll be moving again…" She sighed, sadly, as if she didn't want to leave.
"Where will you be going?"
The girl bit her lip. "I'm not sure yet…" she whispered.
They stared in silence at the horizon, and the purple sky that surrounded them. The stars blinked at them from their secure spots in their firmament. Cyborg had never seen them so bright.
"Sometimes," said the girl. "I think I want to go up there." She nodded at the heavens. "I think the stars are amazing…"
"It's cold up there," Cyborg noted. "Vacuums tend to be devoid of light…"
"I'll be cold anywhere," the girl said with a laugh. "I'd just do anything to be surrounded by such beauty."
"You deserve it too," said Cyborg. "Seeing as you radiate with beauty."
She blushed, but he meant every word. There was nothing particularly attractive in her appearance. Her blonde curls were pale wisps, without much body. Her eyes were hard as stone, and her features were sharp. Her build was slight, and not very curved. However, there was some sort of aura that surrounded her that made her seem like the most beautiful creature that had ever walked the earth.
"I'm not beautiful…" she whispered, still blushing. Cyborg tilted his head and frowned.
"You don't think so?" he asked.
"I had one boyfriend my whole life," she said. "And he was an asshole. He only cheated on me with every girl who'd let him." She scowled at this unwelcome memory.
"That has nothing to do with it," said Cyborg, confused. "And I don't know what his problem is. There's something about you that just makes me feel… Well, I'm more comfortable around you than anyone else I know. And I have some pretty close friends, but with you… it's like, you're a part of me somehow. And everything I say, you'll understand. You shine with a pale light that's like a candle in the dark… no, more appropriately, the moon in the night."
"That's reflected light," the girl pointed out. "The moon itself does not emit any glow at all."
"Then maybe you're some sort of mirror reflecting this strange light outwardly that glows from within…" Cyborg grinned in pride at his poetic metaphor. She laughed. "I've never heard myself talk like that. I hate Shakespeare. But that didn't sound too bad."
"That wasn't Shakespeare," she said, still laughing. "It was Cyborg."
"I should write a play," said Cyborg enthusiastically. "You can be my muse… I can see it now! How do you like the name 'Phoenix?'"
"Is it about me?" the girl asked, amused.
"Hell no!" Cyborg exclaimed. He patted the hood of his car, which gave a dull clunk. "It's about my baby here! Risen from the ashes of its old engine, the red Mustang will ride again!"
They laughed and the girl leaned her head on Cyborg's shoulder. "You're a very sweet person, Cyborg…" she said.
Cyborg looked down at her in intrigue. "You don't have to call me that," he said quietly, stroking her hair calmly. "You can call me…"
"I don't want to call you anything else," the girl interrupted. "Because I've known you my whole life as Cyborg. I followed the conquests of the Teen Titans religiously. You were always my favorite."
"I didn't know you were such a fan," said Cyborg.
"I always admired the humanity you seemed to bring to the team… the reality you reminded them all of."
Cyborg frowned at the comment. "Me, humanity? Reality? Girl, I don't get your reasoning. I think you're thinking of Starfire."
"No," said the girl resolutely. "Starfire's sweet and optimistic. But you're realistic and… and you're the most human aspect of the group."
Cyborg looked at the metal fused with flesh. "You might wanna take a good look at me before you say that again."
"You're human," said the girl, looking right at him. "And you know you are. Humanity isn't in genetic makeup. It's always in the heart. You show flaws and strengths. You're the anchor of the team, and I like that. You remember your fans. You care about them."
"So do the others," said Cyborg.
"But not like you," said the girl. "You write them back."
Cyborg frowned at her. "How did you…?"
"Look!" the girl said, pointing up at the sky suddenly. "A shooting star! Make a wish!"
"I wish I knew your name," said Cyborg, looking at her long and hard. She merely grinned enigmatically.
"You weren't supposed to say it out loud," she said, with a mysterious sparkle in her eye. "Now it'll never come true."
Cyborg sighed and leaned back against the windshield.
"OK," he said. "I'll accept the fact that I don't know your name, if you accept the fact that you're beautiful."
She looked away from him. "Cyborg… I… there's something I should tell you about me."
"You mean, like your name?" Cyborg prompted with a laugh. But he stopped laughing as he saw her eyes were sad again. She looked at him in earnest.
"Promise me," she said, "that you'll always remember me this way, as I am tonight, and as nothing else. Don't let a name or any other information you learn hereafter taint this memory. Tonight is all we have."
Cyborg frowned at her skeptically. "You're not a criminal, are you?"
She tossed back her pale curls and laughed, that church bell laugh. "No, no, I'm not. Just promise."
"OK…" said Cyborg, uncertainly. "I promise."
"Cyborg… what you said about me being a part of you… understanding you and all… I agree. Totally. Because I've felt that way about you since I first heard of the Teen Titans. You're years younger than me, and yet I look up to you. You never cease to brighten my day. And all I ever wanted was to meet you, just once. So for once, I could brighten your day, as you have done for me so many times in the past."
"And now you have," said Cyborg. "I guess your wish came true."
"Not… quite…" she said, eying him uncertainly. Suddenly, she grinned, and pulled him to his feet onto the road. "Dance with me!"
"There's no music!" Cyborg chuckled. Instantly, she ran to the car and turned on the radio, which was somehow picking up a signal loud and clear. Cyborg was confused, but only slightly. Late in the evening, they were playing soft, easy listening songs. It was an old song, from decades ago, and Cyborg barely recognized it. The girl threw her arms around Cyborg's neck and pressed herself against him. He wrapped his arms around her protectively; afraid that somehow if he squeezed her too hard, she would break.
She was a delicate creature, and light on her feet. Somehow, holding her was like holding air… it was almost like she wasn't there at all. And yet, where her cheek rested against his metal chest, where her arms rested on his shoulders, it was all very real, and very warm. He enjoyed spending time with her, even if she was a bit erratic, and he wished more than anything that she'd tell him her name. He wished he could stay on that desert highway forever.
The song ended, all too soon, but the girl did not let go of Cyborg.
"Thank you," she whispered. "For making this the best night… ever…"
"Likewise," he told her, his mind reeling. Who was she? Who was this girl that could make him feel like he was at home in the middle of a desolate wasteland?
She pulled away from him after a moment, her smile wan. He noticed she was no longer shivering.
"Are you still cold?" he asked her. She smiled.
"Where I am, it's always cold," she said. "But now, I'm warm. You've taken all that cold away. I'll always be warm now, thanks to you."
They were silent a moment.
"I have to go now," she said at last. "I have an appointment to keep. And so do you."
"Stay with me until my car starts?" Cyborg asked, pleadingly. Her smile broadened, and yet her eyes were still sad.
"It'll start," she assured him. "Believe me."
And with that, she climbed into her truck.
"Wait!" Cyborg cried. "Please! Tell me your name!"
She looked out the window at him as she drove past him. "Don't ruin the memory!" she cried as she drove off to nowhere.
Cyborg returned to his car and noticed that the moment she left, the radio suddenly lost its signal… 104.2 was the station. Smiling, he turned off the static. Sighing, and realizing his batteries were on their last leg, he climbed regretfully in his car and left the desert behind.
As he was just coming up on the main highway, and the large bridge that followed it, he came across an old radio station. The number of the station had been emblazoned in large numbers above the entrance, yet one of them had lost a screw and was swinging upside down. Cyborg frowned, confused as he looked at it.
KISS 104.2, New Mexico's Soft Music Station.
"Where the hell have you been?" Robin demanded as Cyborg walked into their shared suite, looking worn.
"Nowhere," he replied truthfully. "Car broke down. Got help. Here now. Must sleep."
And, pushing past Robin, he plugged in and climbed into bed.
Robin fumed silently as he and Beast Boy watched their sleeping comrade.
"Leave him alone," said Beast Boy. "Save it for the morning."
He dreamed of her. Those stony eyes that seemed to hold so many secrets he'd never have the chance to discover. He longed more than anything to know where she was going, where he could find her again.
He got his answer the next morning.
"Get up, Cy, we gotta be there in ten minutes!" Beast Boy shouted, throwing a pillow at the sleeping Titan.
"Argh!" Cyborg complained, throwing the pillow back with double force. "Leave me alone!"
"You better get up," said Beast Boy with a grin. "Or Robin will have your head on a platter. He's pretty steamed you didn't make it on time. People have been asking for you."
"Really?" said Cyborg.
"Yeah. Like, the president of the company who manages us has been wanting you to do a dedication for a long time."
"Dedication?" Cyborg said with a yawn, only half-interested.
"Of course, I offered," Beast Boy went on, "because everyone knows the public loves me, but he was pretty set on having you."
"What dedication?" Cyborg repeated.
"Didn't Robin tell you?" Beast Boy asked. "His daughter, Charlotte Kingston died last week. He's dedicating a wing of his management center here in Albuquerque to her." Beast Boy explained. "Remember her?"
"Yeah," said Cyborg with a nostalgic smile. "I remember Charlotte. Sweet girl. Older… Felt like she could confide in me… I never knew she was the president's daughter. She died? How?"
"Car accident," Beast Boy explained. "Drove her car over a bridge into the river."
Beast Boy continued to brief Cyborg of the situation until he came to the auditorium, where the president of the company was about to give a speech.
When he walked in, he froze.
There she was. Those pale curls, those piercing gray eyes, that slight stature, that gorgeous smile… he could almost hear her laughter. He remembered those eyes now, and how they had somehow reminded him of a graveyard on a rainy day.
Her picture hung behind the man onstage, who looked like he'd been crying. It was from floor to ceiling. Underneath the picture were the words: Charlotte Kingston, Beloved Daughter and Friend. May Angels Carry You to Where You Will Be Safe.
Cyborg was caught between inhale and exhale, unsure of which one he'd been in the process of performing before he'd seen that picture.
"Dude!" Beast Boy hissed, urgently. "Come on!" He pulled Cyborg up front to join Robin, Raven and Starfire, who were already there. All of them wore black, appropriately.
"My daughter Charlotte," the father began with quavering voice, "was the light of my life. Her smile chased away the shadows and demons from my life. Her laughter still rings in my ears… She had always wanted to save the world, ever since she was a child reading about Spiderman in the New York Times. However large her ambitions, she had no great physical strength, nor any real superhero talent. So instead, she settled for admiring them and their great courage. This interest lasted throughout her teen years and even on into her twenties… One hero she admired above all others… And that is Cyborg, of the Teen Titans. She said it was because somehow, she saw herself in him. And I always thought they had much in common. His compassion towards the under privileged people of this society was reflected in my daughter. Both of them are strong. Unlike her, though he was strong physically and bold, she matched that physical strength with her inner one, and that boldness with her own. He taught her some valuable lessons she always treasured. And sometimes, it's a simple reply to her fan letters that really made her day.
"Charlotte died last week while driving down here to meet me and help set up for the convention. She'd taken a side road, one not many take anymore. She was always one for an adventure. At the end of the road was a bridge over the river. Her car skidded on someone else's oil leak and she tumbled into the water…
"I know that more than anything, Charlotte wanted most to meet her hero at this convention, and perhaps share more with him than just a few random letters. So, it is with great honor and privilege that I welcome Cyborg to the podium."
The man made a gestured at Cyborg sitting in the front, who looked dumbstruck and strangely ashen. In a daze, he walked up on stage and blinked before speaking into the microphone. He coughed.
"Um… I never told anyone this, but I met Charlotte… not… too long ago. She helped me jump start my car after it broke down. She refused to tell me her name, as if she wished to remain just a helpful anonymous citizen, so I never knew that it was really the Charlotte of her letters… We shared a special few hours together in which I really felt I knew her and… She told me that she didn't want to tell me her name so it wouldn't spoil the memory. But now that I've learned it, it's only convinced me of how truly special that meeting really was. I will never, ever, forget that night… I'm glad to dedicate this new wing to such a phenomenal girl…"
There was clapping, but Cyborg didn't hear it.
After the dedication, he walked out with his friends.
"You never told me you made a new friend!" Starfire exclaimed. "When was this encounter and why was I not informed?"
"Was she really all you said?" Raven inquired coolly. "Or did you just make up that meeting to sound sympathetic?"
"What's the matter, Cyborg?" Robin asked, frowning curiously. "You look like you've seen a ghost."
Cyborg turned to him deliberately, his face blank. He remembered holding her, how delicate she felt, and subconsciously touched the part of his chest where her head had lain. He frowned at Robin and looked about to say something, but thought better of it as he shook his head and went upstairs.
All the other Titans could do was stare in bafflement at his slumped shoulders and retreating back.
Robin looked at the others. "Was it something I said?"