Starfire sadly turned the hologram message off. It was an instant telegram sent in by the heralds of her kingdom, requesting her presence in the yearly celebration of the birth of the crescent moon. It had always been a very important gathering for their planet, for the power of the moon had been believed to influence the fertility of the women in their kingdom. It was in the crescent moon that her own mother had prayed fervently to, and in return, was given two beautiful princesses.
But she seriously doubted if she could make it in time for the celebration. She had been briefed earlier along with the rest of the Titans that they had been tasked to guard planet Earth's own celebration of New Year. Their team leader stressed that their visibility was needed to deter both big-time and petty criminals from even trying to pull anything against the citizens of the city.
She looked up at the late afternoon sky of indigo and orange hues slowly yielding to the velvet darkness of nighttime. By this time, she was sure that her whole family was beginning the ceremonies to usher in the queen moon. It would be both hers and her family's first time to spend this festivity without each other and she silently wondered how different the celebration would be from the previous years.
She then heard the door from across the hallway bang lightly. Robin.
Hesitantly, she got up, and then sauntered towards their team leader's room. Maybe she could get his permission to leave, even for just a few hours. After all, the four of them could still do the job properly even without her.
"Robin? Robin, may I come in?" Her knuckles rapped delicately on the door. "I need to talk to you, if it would be alright for me to take some of your time. Robin?"
Her heart fell when she received no reply. Maybe he left awhile ago…
She was just about to turn around and leave when the door opened, revealing a wet young man wrapped in towel from waist down, revealing the often-overlooked muscles brought about by constant martial arts training. Shampoo was still bubbling on his soaked dark hair, and his eyes…
A gasp came out of her. It was her first time to see his face unmasked. His eyes were closed, but it didn't take away the fact that he looked very… pleasant. Very, very pleasant.
To her surprise, confusion appeared on his face too. This was quickly replaced by a faint hint of embarrassment, and then…
The door banged in front of her.
"R-Robin? I-I am sorry to catch you in an indecent state!" She knocked the back of her palm on the door again, feeling quite mortified herself. "I-I didn't…"
"Stay put, Starfire. I-I am getting dressed!"
"N-No! I-I'll just come back—"
She grimaced. He must have been really humiliated… Robin would rarely shout at her, except when in the middle of combat, where his tensions get the best of him.
A minute later, the door opened. He was now wearing a blue-green bathrobe, his eyes covered by the mask again. His hair though, was still covering a part of his eyes, making him look…well… what was Beast Boy's term for that? Sexy? She unconsciously set her gaze down on the floor, for some reason feeling very self-conscious with the thought occupying her mind presently.
"OK, you can come in now." Robin's head peeked out of the hallway to check if anyone saw the act of stupidity he did awhile ago. Thankfully, there was no sign of the other Titans.
"Thank you." She couldn't help but sniff delicately the scent of his shampoo when she passed by his shoulders. It smelled like no ordinary flower that her planet normally uses—it smelled strong and penetrating and spicy. Something she agreed as symmetrical to the boy's personality.
She opened her eyes and realized that he was looking at her, a brow raised. She then realized that she was still standing close to his hair, guessing its fragrance source. Her cheeks were flooded with crimson color. "P-Pardon me?"
"I use menthol shampoo," he clarified, gesturing to the only available seat in his room—the study desk. She settled on the chair gracefully. He, on the other hand, opted to stand by the wall across her, arms crossed over his chest.
"Now maybe we can talk about what you came here for?" he began.
She nodded, all the while feeling her heartbeat pounding in her ears. In the territory of this young man, she felt her confidence and its attached verbal ability slowly losing to the vacuum of the darkness inside the room. Even in his sodden state and wearing only a robe for his body and leftover shampoo bubbles on his hair, their team leader still has his way of looking very authoritative and imposing.
"Well?" he prompted.
"M-May I…" she choked. "I-I mean, m-may I request for some hours of absence?"
"Hours of absence?"
"Y-Yes. You see…" She clasped and unclasped her hands together. "M-My presence is being requested by my kingdom for tonight…"
"I…I hold full knowledge of my responsibilities, Robin," she added hastily. It didn't help the creasing of his forehead though. "B-But it would just be for a few hours…I would just watch the ceremony for the crescent moon, and then I shall return."
"You know that our duty tonight is important as well, Starfire…"
She shut her eyes tight. Whenever he would complete her name, she knew that he meant business.
"…how would I be sure that you would come back tonight too?" he wanted to know.
Her emerald eyes lit up excitedly. "A-Ah…m-my fiancé would personally…" She fell silent when she saw how his face visibly darkened, as illuminated by the lone lamplight inside the room. "…take me back here," she finished lamely.
"No." He straightened, signaling the end of their brief exchange. "Tell your ex-fiancée that you cannot make it."
"A couple of hours?" she bargained.
"I will not repeat myself," he said firmly.
She got up, her heart heavy. "I…I understand." Her head hung. "T-Thank you for your time."
"Y-Yes?" The dejection she was forcing back traitorously surfaced.
He looked at her for the longest of time, and then a sigh of defeat escaped him. "Close the door when you leave please."
"O-Of course." She sensed that he still had something else in mind to say, but decided not to inquire further anymore. She still had to make a telegram of regret to the people back in her planet.
"No usual words of cheeriness?" Raven remarked while the two of them were touring the southern part of the city.
She gave her teammate a weak smile. "W-What are you talking about? I-I am always very cheerful!"
"Does my IQ seem akin to Beast Boy's?" she asked dryly. "You look like a bride who lost her groom right in front of the altar... or Cyborg after Beast Boy and Robin took out his newly constructed ship for a test drive."
"Y-You are imagining things, friend Raven!" She laughed uncomfortably. "A-Ah, I think there are people over there that need our attention!" She immediately flew down.
The dark-haired girl rolled her eyes. "One of the few times I actually show human concern and it is pushed aside oh-so-subtly."
"Thank you for your patrolling around the area, Titans," said the chief of the police as the arsonists were being hauled off into the police cars stationed nearby. "They could have set off a major fire alarm in the city if not for your help."
"No problem, chief! You know us, always ready to help all those in need!" said Beast Boy proudly. "Besides, we—heeeey! Gimme that freakin' camera!" He stood in front of Cyborg who was being interviewed by the daily news reporter. "Hey, hey, is that thing on?"
Raven rolled her eyes and stepped back. "I do -not- know that guy."
"What's wrong with a little publicity?" asked the green-complexioned Titan. "The public has the right to know who's safeguarding them!"
The dark-haired girl was about to snap back when her attention was captured by the sight of the other female Titan looking up pensively at the moon overhead.
"What's her problem?" asked Cyborg, frowning in curiosity.
"Wrong question. I think we should be asking their problem." She set her gaze on their team leader who was stealing glances at the cardinal-haired Titan.
"Only guilty people do that," said Beast Boy, coming from behind.
"What is he to feel guilty about?" asked their mechanic, scratching his bald head.
"And how do you know what a guilty person feels?" asked Raven dryly. "Did anything stupid lately?"
The creature-morphing boy ignored her comment. "Hey, maybe Starfire declared her undying love for him and he turned her down, and now she's hurting and he's hurting too because he only did that because he can't let love get in the way of his job to safeguard the city!"
"You're getting too sappy!" retorted the mechanized boy. "That proves what watching too much soaps can do to someone. Anyway, maybe Robin just over-scolded Starfire or something."
"Like Starfire is the kind of person to dwell on trivial things like that," said Raven dryly. "Maybe we are looking at things in the wrong way. Maybe they are both in some sort of conspiracy to test how we would react if two among our team are not functioning. They may be grading us right now, checking our responses."
"You're thinking too deeply!" said Beast Boy. "I say it's lovers' quarrel."
"They're not even lovers!" exclaimed the two.
"Well, they are—they just won't tell us…because they know you would get in the way!" He clicked his tongue. "Ah the pains of love amidst obligations…"
"I say it's just Robin being too harsh on Starfire and Starfire just getting hyper-sensitive," said Cyborg confidently.
"And I think it's all just a test of our abilities as Titans," said Raven, shrugging.
"And I say you all three quit talking like pregnant ladies." Robin came up from behind and surprised the trio, his eyebrow raised and his arms crossed.
Beast boy was the first to recover. Acting quickly, he saluted. "Yes Sir! Over and out!" He then inched closer to his other teammates. "How did he know we were talking about him?"
Cyborg slapped his forehead. "Damn!" Upon receiving puzzled looks, he explained in consternation, "I have installed communication devices on each of our suits so we can have five-way communication with each other while in combat!"
"Way to go, Tiger!" said the green-skinned Titan, adopting the Raven-rolling-eyes mode.
"Okay, all of you guys did a great job tonight. Let's call it a night, shall we?" Robin stepped back. "Dismissed."
Cyborg raised his fists excitedly. "Yahoo! We still have ten minutes before the New Year countdown!"
Beast Boy hooted. "Food! Food! Let's get some food!"
Raven pasted a saccharine smile on her face that nearly made the green boy jump out of his skin. "I've taken care of it."
"Y-You didn't…" Utter look of horror was displayed on his face. "Meanie!" His eyes scanned the avenue, and upon spotting an about to close hotdog stand, made a mad dash for it as if wild lions were after his meat. "Waiiit! Don't clooooseeeee!"
"So you really cooked?" asked Robin, bewildered.
"No," said Raven simply.
"She has ordered pizza for us," said the mechanic wiz of the group, grinning from ear to ear.
"But you said pizza is nothing but garbage," said the dark-haired boy, sweatdropping.
"With the state of turbulence my stomach is suffering now, I cannot hold my usual discriminating taste anymore for this time being." She shrugged. "I'll just hate myself tomorrow."
Robin watched as his teammates walked ahead. He then turned to look behind him and watched as the usually animated Starfire walked past him, looking quite down.
He sighed. One more business to settle.
She slowly looked up and back at him. "Y-Yes?"
"We need to talk." His eyes narrowed when he sensed his other teammates freeze. "But first, deactivate the communications gadget first."
From the chili hotdog stand, an "Aaw, bummer!" can be heard audibly.
"I know you are disappointed that I couldn't permit you to leave your post," began Robin when they were on the rooftop of their headquarters. "But I hope you don't take it against me."
"I shall never do that," she said softly. "As I have told you earlier, I understand my duties fully."
"No…you don't understand." He exhaled audibly. "You have every reason to get mad at me. What I did was unethical."
"I should have allowed you to leave the headquarters because you have secured permission from your commander in a proper way, with a valid excuse." He looked down. "But…"
"But…?" she prompted.
He smiled ruefully. "I let my irrationality overwhelm me." His eyes set on the night skies. "I… find the idea of you seeing your ex-fiancé again objectionable."
"W-Why do you feel so?" she asked, her tone befuddled.
"If…if I knew the answer to that, I would have done something to address it instead of upsetting you with my idiocy." He shifted his weight to his other foot. "The bottom line is, I really am sorry." His tone turned hushed. "Really."
Her emerald eyes softened. Earlier, she was feeling rather depressed because she had really wanted to be there in the ceremony, but after hearing his formal apology (which she sensed was not very easy for him to choke out), she had suddenly felt much better.
"I-If I can do something to make you feel better…if you want me to arrange for Cyborg to make a lightning fast vehicle to transport you back to the planet and catch up with the festivities…" His words were interrupted by the light touch she gave his arm.
Her eyes were now smiling again. "No, thank you. The palace has promised to send me images captured in the festivity. For now, I would very much like it if I can spend this earthling event you call…you call…new..."
"New Year." His grin widened. "Well then—"
His words were interrupted by the deafening sounds and the almost-blinding lights on the night skies.
Starfire, frightened by the sudden activity, turned to flee. "Ambush!"
"Whoa!" His arm quickly held her hand back, and she tumbled back to his side, caught cleanly by his other arm. "Look over there, Star."
She reluctantly did as told. To her amazement, she saw the most beautiful display of rainbow lights on the black velvety sky. Fountains and sprays of lights lit up the city night skies like a thousand chandeliers, each explosion more beautiful than the last one.
"Those are called fireworks," he murmured, intently watching the awe imprinted clearly on her face.
"They're most wonderful, Robin!" she gushed.
"Yeah," he nodded. His gaze lingered on her for a moment, then he turned his eyes back at the pyrotechnics. "Happy New Year, Star."
"A most happy New Year too," she bade. "Did I get that right?"
He nodded smilingly.
"Great! That's the ambush?" complained Cyborg as he pointed to the silhouette of the two whose shadows made it seem that they were locked in a passionate embrace. "And I was in the middle of wolfing down the pizza!"
"Ah…true love!" swooned Beast Boy.
"I don't know…I'm still pretty nervous," said Raven, fixing her hood. "Robin has already caught us earlier. What if this is another of his tests?"
"And my sanity…oh boy," sighed Raven, cupping her chin and doing her best to hide a smile as well.