"What do you mean, Starfire's gone?" Robin raged, as he paced back and forth in the big central room in Teen Tower. "There were three of you here, and you couldn't stop her from leaving?"
"It was the middle of the night. Even if we had been awake, what were we supposed to do? Tackle her and pin her down until you got here?" Raven asked with a frown. Her dry tone didn't completely disguise her own concern.
"If you had to." Robin snapped back at her, stance rigid. "And nobody has a reason? She didn't say anything to anybody?"
"You saw the note." Beast Boy said, avoiding Robin's piercing glare by staring at the floor. "She just said she had to leave."
"I was only gone two days." Robin resumed his pacing. "Did she get in a fight with anyone? You guys make fun of her cooking? Did she get a phone call? Any mail?"
"No, no, no, and not that we know of" Raven responded. "Robin, calm down. No doubt its just some Tamaranian thing, and she'll be back in a day or two."
"No Raven. Her note doesn't say she will be back." Robin faced the window.
"Dude, sure she'll come back." Cyborg said quickly. "Where could she go? "
"She left all her stuff." Beast Boy added. "We checked her room first thing."
"And you looked for her?" Robin asked.
"Yes." Raven nodded. "Right after we called you."
"Well, I'm going out to look for her now. You keep an eye out here. Something's going on. Something's wrong. And I've got to find her." Robin swept past them to the door. "You can handle anything that comes up."
"But…"Beast Boy stared at him.
"I'll be back when I find her." Robin said curtly, as the door closed.
"Whoa." Beast Boy heaved a sigh.
"I would say he's a little upset." Cyborg muttered.
"He's a lot more than a little." Raven said. She walked over to the window and stared out at the fog swirling around the Tower. "I don't know. But I agree with him, something is very wrong."
"Can't you like, do your…" Beast Boy gestured at his head, "mind thingy and find her?"
"No. I can't sense her like I can all of you." Raven looked over her shoulder at him. "I tried."
"Well, if anyone can find her, it'll be Robin."Cyborg said.
"Still, if she doesn't want to be found…" Raven shook her head.
That was the thought that was going around in Robin's head as he drove his motorcycle slowly through the fog-shrouded streets. His headlight barely dented the thick fog. The problem was he had no idea of where to look. What he wanted to know was why? Why had Starfire just disappeared like that? It wasn't like her. He knew that. Therefore he knew that he had every right to be worried. But he was more than worried. If it were Raven, he would be worried. If it were Cyborg he would be worried. If it were Beast Boy he would be worried. But since it was Starfire, he was petrified. He hadn't expected to have that reaction. But the minute he had taken the call, and Raven had said that Starfire had left secretly in the night, and had left a farewell note, he had felt like his whole world had just bottomed out. All the way home he had kept saying to himself that she would be back by the time he got there. It had been a mistake. She had written the note wrong; her English had gotten messed up as usual. But, when he got home, she was still gone, and the note was very clear. Just a simple note, but he could hear her voice saying the words.
"My friends. Forgive me please. But I must leave you now. I love you all. Good-bye."
Robin ground his teeth together. Why? Why? Why? He had to find her. He couldn't lose her now. Not when he had never…not before he could…He just had to find her and clear up this mess. Where would she go? Alone, with none of her things, where could she go? Robin wracked his brain for places he knew that Starfire liked. If it took all night, if it took all of the nights for a week, he would keep looking until he found her. And if he had to, he would go all the way to Tamaran. He had…things to tell her. He'd put it off too long. Now he might not have the chance. She would never know. Robin let out a growl.
The night was long. The fog was thick and damp. Robin was getting colder and wetter as he continued his search. He had gone to Starfire's favorite restaurant, besides the Pizza parlor. Nothing. He had gone to her favorite park. Nothing. He had gone to her favorite movie theater. Nothing. Now he wasn't sure where else to go. To be honest, Starfire stayed at the Tower most of the time. She enjoyed being with everyone else, even when they weren't particularly social. But, Robin thought hard as he stopped the motorcycle. Moisture from the fog dripped down his helmet. Starfire had taken him to a place once, a place that she said she went when she had to think about things, and the Tower was too distracting. It was a place that she found particularly soothing. The beach. A cave at the beach. It was the ocean that Star really loved. And while she could see it from the Tower window, she like to get close to it, to hear the waves and to watch them break and foam. In her wanderings, she had found a cave in a deserted area of beach that was difficult to get to unless one could fly. Rocky cliffs surrounded it. Robin turned his motorcycle and roared off in the direction of the beach. It was a long shot, but it was the last place he could think of.
He stood at the edge of the steep, rocky cliff. The fog was so dense he couldn't see the bottom. But he could hear the muffled sound of waves crashing below. He took off his helmet and set it on the motorcycle seat. Climbing down a cliff was no big deal. He hauled himself up skyscrapers on a daily basis chasing the bad guys. It was just a little daunting in the dark, with the fog hiding everything. But, if Star was down there, he had to know. And he knew that she wouldn't answer if he just tried calling down, even if she could hear him over the waves. And speaking of waves, was it high tide or low tide? Would he drop down expecting sand and finding himself submerged in salty, churning water? No matter, he was here, and he had to go now. Gingerly, Robin began to descend, holding the taut cord he had affixed to a tree above. The fog swirled around him in the heavy mist. He could feel the moisture collect on his skin and hair. Visibility was nearly zero; he could barely see the rocky cliff in front of his face. The sound of the waves became louder as he went down. He paused to peer, squinting, into the murky darkness below. Then he continued to lower himself down.
Spray from waves shattering on rocks stung his eyes, coated his clothes and flattened his hair. But he felt his feet touch sand. So the cove wasn't flooded by high tide. He let go of the rope and turned, reaching for a slim, but powerful flashlight on his belt. The beam of light hit fog and only illuminated a few feet in front of him. He began to walk carefully away from the cliff, but followed it looking for the cave. If he remembered correctly, it was at a curve in the cliff line, towards the water.
He almost missed it. His flashlight beam skated along the cliff surface then vanished into darkness. He swung it back. The darkness had to be the cave entrance. He felt a heavy sense of disappointment. He had expected to see some form of light emanating from the cave to show that Star was inside. A little fire. A globe of her star energy. But it was pitch black in there. Robin sighed and resisted the urge to shiver in the frigid cascade of spray from the breaking waves. Water swirled near his feet, making it clear that he was not too far from where the breakers hurled themselves to land. He had a vague notion to perhaps put this off to daylight when he could at least see a hand in front of his face, particularly if he planned on going into the cave. But, his jaw tightened, he wasn't going to put it off. He needed to find Starfire tonight if she was here. By tomorrow she might have gone somewhere else. Especially if she knew he had come here.
That thought bothered Robin. The idea that Starfire would run and hide from him of all people was painful. She should have known she could come to him and tell him if there was problem of some kind. Was he that unapproachable? He had thought she trusted him. Of course she had gone to none of the others either, a small consolation. But he had always felt that they had a special connection. He couldn't have imagined that she seemed to understand him better than the others. He couldn't have imagined that she had smiled a little brighter when he smiled at her. Nor could he have imagined that she glowed more at his praise than anyone else's. She was always the first to his defense when the others got prickly about something. And she believed in him, always, without fail. So why hadn't she come to him with whatever it was that had made her run away?
With care, Robin ducked and slipped into the cave. Once inside, the ceiling was high enough he could straighten. It was more like a tunnel at this point. Robin recalled that it went on for a number of yards before opening into a good size cavern. He kept walking, with a mental hope that the cave wasn't close enough to the water to fill up at high tide. In the dark, even with his high-powered flashlight, he had no way of telling. At least he was out of the freezing spray now. And the fog hadn't seeped into the cave, so visibility was certainly better. He followed the tunnel and finally stepped out into the large cavern. He let his flashlight beam circle the cavern. His hopes were dimming. It was silent and cold in there. Surely if Star was here, there would have been some evidence of it. Still, Robin knew she was no fool. She could have heard or seen him coming and extinguished any form of light, except a simple campfire.
"Starfire!" Robin called, and heard his voice echo. He waited. He felt his nerves grating on edge. He turned slowly, letting the beam of the flashlight play over the cave's rough walls, all the way to the far end. There were all sorts of nooks and crannies in the cave, even what appeared to be assorted smaller tunnels leading away. Robin gritted his teeth and began to walk into the cave. "Star! I'm not leaving until you come out!" Robin winced. He sounded too authoritarian, too bossy. Hadn't the others often mentioned to him that he tended to get pushy when he wanted his own way? That wouldn't be the best tact to take with Starfire. He took a deep breath. "Starfire, listen. If something's wrong we need to talk about it. Running away isn't going to help." He stood and waited for the echo to die away.
"Come on, Star. You know that everyone is worried about you. I don't know what the trouble is, but we can all solve any problem together. Haven't we proved that to you? I know you've doubted us before, but we always came through for you. Why are you afraid to come to us now? It can't be anything worse that what we've already faced together." Robin sighed, and heard that echo as well. He lowered his eyes and stared at the sandy floor. The silence weighed on him. Was Star even here or was he just being a fool and wasting his breath? Yeah, he must look the picture of cool, standing in a cold, damp cave talking to himself. Robin frowned, and started to turn to leave. Something stopped him. Just a hunch. Just a feeling. Hadn't he blown it a few times by being impatient? Wasn't Starfire worth a few more minutes of looking like a fool? So, who was here to see, anyway?
"Starfire." His voice was quiet, very different than the sharp commanding voice that everyone was used to hearing from Robin. "If you won't let the others help you, at least let me. You know, Star, I would…miss you if you left. It wouldn't be the same. I've told you before that I think you're special. I guess that I'm not very good with words if I'm not giving orders. It isn't very easy for me. It doesn't really matter with the others. But, um, it's different with you, Star. If you're in trouble, if you're afraid of something, whatever the problem is, don't try to handle it on your own. Tell me, Star. I want to help you. I'll blame myself if you leave. Really. Because I wasn't honest with you. Because I was too…erm…" Robin broke of and took a long and deep breath. He lifted his eyes to the empty cave. "I was too scared to say that…that…I need you…" He stood, hearing his words echo in cave, until they faded into silence. Then he waited even longer. Still nothing. Finally, he turned with a sigh, and walked to the tunnel.
"Oh Robin…" Came a whisper from across the cave. Robin spun. From a dark crease in the cave wall came a figure, barely floating above the cave's dirt floor, a faint green glow emanating from one hand
"Starfire!" Robin took several quick steps towards her, only to stop when she held up a hand and let her feet touch the ground.
"I am sorry to have caused you distress." She said, lowering her eyes.
"You're not to blame." Robin refrained from going closer.
"But I am." Starfire said. "I should have gone, but I could not. And I could not ignore you now."
"Haven't you found out by now that there is no reason on earth for you to ever have to leave? You have to tell me what it is, Starfire." He did take a step towards her. Her eyes lifted to his.
"I cannot." She said.
"Then I'm not leaving." Robin stated, planting his feet solidly on the dirt. Starfire looked confused. Robin could see the turmoil in her eyes. And more. The light in her hand reflected the glitter of tears pooling in her eyes.
"But, I must…" She started to propel herself up into flight, and Robin knew that if he let her, she would be gone, out of reach, and he would never find her again. Before she could gain altitude, he sprang and caught her arm. Taken by surprise, she didn't think to try to keep flying with Robin dangling. Before she had time to react, Robin's feet touched down, pulling Starfire with him. Unprepared for his action, Starfire lost her balance on landing, and stumbled up against Robin. He caught her. And acting purely on instinct, not thinking, he pulled her to him and kissed her.
"Mmmmphhh" Starfire stiffened and made a muffled noise, which faded quickly. Slowly her arms lifted to slip around Robin's neck. Her little green ball of star bolt light went out.
"Now," Robin's voice was gentle in the darkness. "You aren't going to leave, are you?"
"I…" Starfire's voice was uncertain. "You have performed the earth custom of kissing on me?"
"Yeah. I did." Robin said, a smile in his voice. He could just see the flicker of green fire in her eyes. "It was okay, wasn't it? I mean, you aren't mad are you?"
"It was okay, yes."Starfire said in a faint whisper. "And no, I am not mad."
"And, um, the earth custom of kissing means you have to tell me the truth now." Robin said, noticing that he still had his arms around her, and he could feel hers around his neck. It was a nice feeling.
"Oh, it does?" Starfire said hesitantly.
"Sure. The whole truth. Why you were leaving like that. You can't now, of course."
"No, I suppose not. Not like that." Robin felt her shiver slightly. "I will tell you, Robin. But, not tonight. Please." There was a note in her voice that Robin had never heard before. Somehow, it made his heart ache.
"Well, all right. As long as you don't try to sneak away again like that." Robin said, unwilling to push her too far at this point.
"No, I will not sneak. Robin?"
"Please. Teach me more of this earth custom of kissing. Then, tomorrow, I will tell you the truth of why I was… leaving."
"Now? Here?" Robin felt her arms tighten around his neck. The fire in her eyes glowed even stronger.
"Please." She whispered.
"I would be glad to."
The next morning Starfire announced her betrothal and her return to Tamaran.