The voices have spoken, and this time, not just the ones in my head. It shocked even me just how high in demand this rewrite has been, some people even talking about it before I'd officially announced I'd do it. My ego is seriously going to soar after this.
I worked especially hard on this story, and I think you'll find it vastly different from Playing with Fire. For one, I changed a lot of the original script. For another, there will be no flashbacks at the start of each chapter. (Sorry, but you only get one story this time instead of two!) I will also be introducing different characters, some of who you may recognize, and some you may not. Now that more people have become familiar with my work, I was able to be a bit more daring with certain things, which (I believe) the fanfic wouldn't have been nearly as great without.
The title was chosen off the Final Fantasy X-2 soundtrack. Originally, it was just a working title…but when I finished the first chapter and began searching for one to use officially, I realized that nothing else could possibly match it. So it stuck.
On the elusive hunt for his beloved pet larva, Beast Boy had just reached the end of the hallway when an unusual sight caught his attention. Starfire was floating back and forth carrying a load easily three times her size, including some furniture pieces and mountains of clothing. Normally, such an occurrence was hardly worth a second glance—the Tameranian was known for her exceptional strength and often enjoyed household chores when things were quiet around the Tower—but in the fifteen seconds since he'd paused in mid-step to watch, Beast Boy counted a total of no less than nine trips she'd made.
"Uh…Star?" he finally caught her on her tenth trip. "What are you doing?"
"I am leaving for Tameran," was her answer, but otherwise hardly even acknowledged his presence. She continued on, piles of clothing, boxes, suitcases, and other items passing before the changeling's eyes.
"Isn't that a bit much for a weekend visit?" He scratched his head in bewilderment.
"I…will not be returning."
The words had barely left her lips when Beast Boy spotted a familiar shape in the color of off-white sitting on top of the pile of blankets she had been carrying that particular trip. "Squishy!" he exclaimed, jumping to reclaim his pet. Cradling the smiling larva in his arms, he gave a disapproving look and wagged one finger. "I've been looking all over for you! Bad Squishy! Bad Squishy!
"…wait, what do you mean you won't be returning?" His brain finally able to register what Starfire had just told him, he looked up with wide eyes. His earlier exclamation had startled her into dropping most of her possessions, and with Beast Boy standing between her and her escape, it would take even longer for her to be able to leave the scene.
She knew confrontation was inevitable, no matter how much she'd tried to avoid it, when the sound of footsteps neared. No doubt they'd heard all the commotion and were coming to investigate.
Four pairs of eyes suddenly upon her, the Tameranian took a deep breath and tried to feign a look of happiness. "I received a transmission from my family back on Tameran yesterday evening," she explained. There was a noticeable pause before adding, "I am to be married."
Under different circumstances, Starfire might have been greatly amused by her friends' expression at that moment. Cyborg's mouth nearly hit the ground, open so wide that a tiny fly zipped in and out twice without his noticing. Beast Boy had fallen over in surprise, while Raven's wide-eyed look seemed extremely out of place compared to her usual stoic expression.
But it was Robin who was the first to audibly respond, voicing what was on everyone's mind: "You're getting married?"
"Anyone we know?" Raven questioned calmly as she helped Beast Boy off the ground.
"You're getting married?"
Starfire winced slightly at his tone, but tried to act as if she didn't hear him. "I do not know who exactly my betrothed is just yet. Most Tameranian females do not. That is why I must return home at once: so that I may meet him in person."
"You're getting married?" Robin exclaimed a third time before adding, "To someone you don't know?"
"Aren't you, you know, a bit young?" Beast Boy asked when he'd managed to find his voice again, throwing Robin an odd look out of the corner of his eye.
The Tameranian shook her head. "Thought it does not happen often, it is not an uncommon practice on my planet for…certain families to make such arrangements."
"But that's absurd!" Robin sputtered out. "How could you agree to something like that?"
She visibly recoiled at his accusation, as if physically wounded. A look of hurt washed over her, and her shoulders slumped in defeat. The reactions of her teammates had been, for the most part, anticipated; they'd have a hard time accepting her news, but wouldn't question her native customs. Robin, on the other hand, had been the reaction she'd feared most…and hearing him blame her for something that she obviously had no control over hurt worse than she could ever imagine.
The hurt soon turned to frustration, and she composed herself before speaking up. "Unless I am mistaken, it was not all that long ago such things occurred right here on Earth."
"That doesn't make it right!"
"But Tameranian law does!"
"So you're just going to abandon us, is that it?"
The remaining Titans watched the two from the sidelines, practically speechless. It seemed that Starfire had picked up on Robin's infamous stubborn streak, to the point where she could meet it. Her eyes had narrowed with ever word uttered, believing it unfair to have to face such accusations.
Silence reigned as they stared off before Starfire's expression softened. "I have no choice, Robin."
"Yes, you do." He stated, his voice growing eerily calm. "And I can see you've already made it."
Without giving her a chance to challenge his statement, the boy spun around and stormed down the hallway. Starfire watched his retreating form sadly until it disappeared from sight. Then she turned in the opposite direction and floated away, her pile of belongings all but forgotten. As her door slammed shut behind her, the sound echoing through the corridor, the three that remained turned to look at one another, identical questions burning through their minds:
What the hell just happened?
Robin was already inside the training room doors before he even realized where he'd been heading. It was almost instinct for him to go there at that point whenever he had something he couldn't deal with. Unfortunately for him, most of the weights and equipment had already been put away for the afternoon, but the punching bag was always left out in its permanent location where it hung by a steel chain from the ceiling.
About five minutes of continuous attacks passed before the door creaked open and he spotted Raven poke her head in through the corner of his mask. "I don't want to talk about it." He muttered to the girl in between punches.
"Well, tough shit, Boy Blunder, because I do."
Both the fact that she had talked back to him so curtly and her language nearly startled him into missing on his next blow. The nickname wasn't entirely unfamiliar (he could still remember the time she'd christened him with it, after accidentally suggesting an outing to a theater that was closed for repairs), but Robin hadn't even known she knew any curse words, let alone intergraded them into her vocabulary.
Quickly regaining his composure, he continued his workout without further acknowledging her presence. Taking that as a sign that he didn't fully object to her presence—not that it would have mattered if he had—Raven stepped inside.
"What was up with that little display you just put on before?" She immediately got down to business the moment the door was shut, folding her arms. "I've never seen you yell at Starfire like that before, let alone outright argue with her."
"If you're going to insist on staying," he answered coolly, "you could at least make yourself useful and hold the bag for me."
He was only half-serious in this request, and so was slightly surprised when Raven came over and positioned herself behind the bag without so much as one word of protest. Their eyes met for a brief moment, standing less than a yard from one another, before Robin looked away. He knew what she was trying to do; telepathy might have provided more answers, but (as Raven herself once explained) it was much easier to guard the mind than the heart.
Both of Robin's, however, were well-guarded. Batman had certainly taught his protégé well.
Their was a brief moment in time where no words passed between them, the only sounds being those of Robin's grunts and contacts with the punching bag. Raven used this time to observe the boy closely. Never had she known anybody more difficult to read. Starfire always wore her heart on her sleeve, and even the other boys weren't that afraid to show emotion either. But if what she sensed was true, then Robin was desperately trying to bury something deep inside him.
"It's not good for you to keep your emotions bottled up the way you do," she insisted, earning a groan from the boy. He knew it had been too easy to keep her quiet for long.
"Like you're one to talk," he muttered back without thinking.
Raven's eyes narrowed considerably in almost hatred, and Robin knew he'd crossed a line. "That's another matter entirely, and you know that." For a brief moment, he could have sworn a thin layer of black outlined the bag. Emotions and the ability to feel were a touchy subject for Raven, so much that it showed a lot that she was willing to confront him the way she was right then.
As the boy continued trying to ignore her, something inside Raven snapped and she all but shouted at him, "What is thematter with you?"
Her voice echoed off the walls, and the room was suddenly eerily silent. Robin had paused in his workout to catch his breath, trying to maintain his concentration by staring straight ahead…but he lost focus for a split second, and knew it was too late when Raven let out a sudden gasp: "You—you're…"
Robin muttered a few choice words under his breath about 'nosy empaths,' but remained otherwise motionless.
"You should tell her." Her voice was no longer accusing, but held a much more understanding tone beneath it. "I knew you two were close, but—"
"Why do you even care?" he snapped, interrupting her mid-sentence.
Unlike before, Raven showed no further signs of anger at his attitude towards her. She closed her eyes briefly, as if in deep thought, and when they opened they revealed an uncharacteristically soft, sympathetic expression that even held traces of nostalgia. It was then Robin finally noticed she had taken her hood down for their entire conversation, an unspoken symbol of her sincerity and honesty.
Leaning forward slightly, the lavender-haired girl gently held both hands to the punching bag, almost as if she was trying to partially trying to hide behind it. "Do you remember when we first formed the Titans?" She waited for Robin to nod absently before continuing. "For a brief period of time, it was just the two of us. You were all I had in the world, and yet I felt more at home then than I ever did in my fifteen years of life in Azarath. We were a family…and I'd like to think we still are."
"Of course we are," Robin agreed.
He remembered those days well, long before Beast Boy and Cyborg had joined, and Starfire had arrived from her home planet. It felt like another lifetime to him now. Originally believing her to be the result of one of his more frequently occurring arguments with Batman, he'd dismissed the half demon as a mere figment of his imagination. She'd first appeared to him in a dream, after all, coming to tell him of how he was destined to lead a group of teenage superheroes in the never-ending battle against evil, and he had wanted nothing more at the time than to be able to step away from his mentor's shadow. But it wasn't long until she showed up in person, and soon after, they moved to Jump City and formed the Teen Titans.
In a way, the two were like kindred spirits. Both had their secrets, shadows that darkened their pasts and haunted their dreams, though neither could have imagined to what extent the other had suffered. Yet, they were able to understand another like no one else could because of this. It was how Robin had known he could trust her after the incident with Doctor Light. How he knew that her reluctance to admit fear caused the trouble it did the night they watched Wicked Scary after battling Control Freak.
And how Raven knew whenever something was troubling him, empath or not.
Growing up an only child, Robin found himself looking to the girl as a surrogate older sister (an annoying, omnipotent, know-it-all sister, but a sister nonetheless), and she in turn saw him as the brother she never had. It was a bond they cherished dearly, though neither would ever admit so aloud.
"My point is," she continued, interrupting his musings, "there's only one other person in this world who could possibly know and care about you more than I do…" her eyes briefly closed in concentration, "…and she's currently in her room, crying her eyes out." Robin tried to appear outwardly unaffected at the news, though he clenched his fists tightly.
There was a pause, and Raven just barely had time to move before the boy delivered a harsh mid-air spin kick to the punching bag with such power that it tore from the chains securing it in place. It flew into the nearby wall, exploding on impact and sending a cloud of dust everywhere.
When the air cleared, she put down her telekinetic shield. Her eyes traveled from Robin to the pile of sand that had accumulated around them and back again. An eyebrow rose.
"I don't wanna hear it," Robin muttered, brushing past her.
As Raven watched him storm out the door, a faint smile appeared as she realized where he was heading. Hardly glancing back, she casually waved one hand, and the dust and scraps of leather glowed an iridescent black before rising into the air, reassembling themselves before reconnecting with the newly-fixed ceiling chain. Then she, too, headed out of the training room.
Starfire piled the last of her clothing into the oversized suitcase, pushing down on the fluffy cloth so that the case would be able to snap shut. A few seconds later, she raised a hand to wipe away the tears from her eyes before glancing around the room. Her walls, once decorated with bright, cheerful photographs, were bare. The abundance of stuffed animals was no longer in sight. Almost anything colorful had already been packed away in dull boxes and bags.
Everything that had made the room hers was gone, and never had she felt so out place.
With a heavy sigh, the Tameranian floated sadly over to her dresser to collect the last of her trinkets. It was a wonder she was even still able to fly, as her mind was clouded with sadness and regret. Her hands delicately traveled over each item, pausing as they came upon a small framed picture next to her vanity mirror. Everything else was forgotten as she picked it up, eyes glazing over with reminiscence at the sight.
It was a candid shot of her and Robin, taken the night of that horrid Kitten episode after they had been crowned the King and Queen of Junior Prom. The strange Earth ritual had required the two of them to share a dance underneath the spotlight in front of what was left of the high school crowd. Cyborg had apparently managed to catch a photo of them sometime during the dance without either of their knowledge. Robin's hand had been wrapped loosely but securely around her waist, hers gingerly placed on his shoulder, and their free hands clasped tightly together. They were both sharing a smile, as if lost to the world around them save for each other, and only Starfire had been able to see the smile in his eyes as well.
The boys had intended to use the shot for something called "blackmail," but upon viewing it, both Robin and Starfire had eagerly requested copies without so much as a light blush.
Placing a hand to her cheek, Starfire felt the warmth and realized that she was blushing now. The picture began to blur as fresh tears began to form, a single droplet splashing onto the protective glass case. She wiped it away, the tips of her fingers delicately trailing over the image.
Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. "Starfire? It's me." He head shot up as she recognized Robin's muffled voice. "Can I come it?"
"J-Just one moment, please!" She called back, furiously wiping away at her eyes before shoving the picture under the pile of clothes in the still-open suitcase next to her before locking it shut. A quick check in the mirror to be sure she showed no outward signs of having been crying, Starfire walked to the door and cracked it open, eyes glancing up to meet with the opaque mask she knew so well.
"Hey," Robin spoke softly, "I just wanted to…you know…apologize."
The Tameranian nodded silently and motioned for him to enter. As the door shut behind them, Robin took a seat on the edge of her bed. She chose to remain leaning back against the door, wringing her hands being her back and trying to look anywhere but at him.
"I believe you are not the only one who requires apologizing," she nearly whispered, "As team leader, you should have been made aware of the situation the moment I was informed."
"Star," his face fell, "I'm not just your leader; I'm your friend. This team is like a family to me, and I guess something I forget that you have a real family back home."
"But, Robin," she insisted, moving to sit down beside him, "you are my real family. And one family should never hold more importance in one's heart than the other."
There was a period of silence that followed as the alien's words hung in the air. Both knew that she was right—she usually was---but their brains needed time to absorb exactly what it meant. They darted their sight around the room awkwardly, neither able to think of a way to continue the conversation from there. It was possibly the first time since the formation of their friendship that Robin and Starfire were at a loss for words around each other.
"So it won't," Robin lifted his head suddenly, earning him a curious look. "We'll all make the trip to Tameran. Together."
Her eyes lit up, widening both in surprise and partial disbelief. "Do you mean it?"
"Have I ever said anything I don't mean?" He flashed the girl a cocky grin and joked, "You can't get rid of the Teen titans that easily. I'm afraid you're stuck with the four of us, whether you like it or not."
"Oh, but I do!" She exclaimed, even though she knew him well enough to know he hadn't been serious with his last statement. Her arms wrapped around him in a tight hug, but it wasn't one of her infamous enthusiastic, lung-crushing bear hugs. It was gentler, more serene. "Thank you, Robin. You have no idea how much it means to me to have you all there when I am to meet my betrothed."
"Hey, what are friends for?" was his casual reply. The sudden pain in his voice, however, caused it to quiver so subtly that Starfire scarcely even noticed.
TO BE CONTINUED…