(Explanation. Important—please read.)
This story is a companion to Bright Line and they are being written simultaneously. They occur at the same time, with very different points of view (Bright Line is Robin's point of view; Cognitive Dissonance is Terra's). Neither story is necessary to comprehend the other, though they are best read together. This is an alternate universe which begins just after the episode "Titan Rising" and goes from there with major changes.
Additionally, I feel that I should caution readers of potentially disturbing content in both this story and its companion. Both contain moderate language, implied rape and a sexual relationship between an adult and a minor. Consider yourself warned.
Finally, a super special thank you to my beta readers. Remix17 and CidGregor, you are dear friends to me and I cannot thank you enough for your help with characterization and canon checks. And to Avea, I simply owe my firstborn, several times over. Thank you for absolutely everything, and most of all for being an amazing friend.
"You know I hate, detest, and can't bear a lie, not because I am straighter than the rest of us, but simply because it appalls me. There is a taint of death, a flavor of mortality in lies--which is exactly what I hate and detest in the world--what I want to forget. It makes me miserable and sick, like biting something rotten would do."
–Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
Chapter One: Biased Sample
Her room really was pretty, everything decorated in earthy greens and yellows. Never mind that the color she actually liked best was red, because people assumed all kinds of things about her once they found out what she could do. Oh, you're a geomancer, so you must be obsessed with all things muddy!
Soft, wide couch, starry ceiling winking up at her, coffee table facing the window--and a laptop. Cool, slim and innocent. Beautiful. Perfect, just perfect for when she…
But her favorite color was red. She should tell them that.
Down the hall, she was vaguely aware of clinking dishes, the scratching of a mixing bowl, heavy footsteps that were probably Cyborg's. Beast Boy was arguing about how the waffles were supposed to be made, his high, insistent voice reverberating throughout the Tower. Personally, Terra didn't really care much one way or another, because she didn't get food often enough to be particular about what went into it, really. But Beast Boy cared. Something complicated about not hurting animals, or whatever. Though there wasn't really any meat in waffles, so Terra wasn't sure what the problem…
He cared. That was reason enough. Maybe that's what having friends was about: you let them have their waffles any way they wanted, even if it was silly or confusing to you, because you wanted them to be happy. And oh, but he was happy. Actually, they all were, even Raven. She had convinced them all, despite how horrible she was. It was the trick of all tricks, really, that anyone could be persuaded to place any confidence in somebody like her.
"I don't believe it--they actually trust me," she said to the laptop. It didn't have anything to say about that.
Terra's stomach loudly demanded that she stop musing, and she had never really been one for musing anyway, so she turned around and walked out of her room, leaving the laptop alone with the star-painted ceiling and big green bed.
By the time Terra found it, the kitchen appeared to have exploded. This place was so big--everything about it was big, and it made her feel more than a little out of place because Terra had never been big. Bowls littered the counter, and flour, and an oddly shaped container of milk that didn't really look like milk. And in the center of it all stood Cyborg and Beast Boy, fighting over the carton of eggs that Cyborg was holding firmly out of reach, with Starfire and Raven watching in amused dismay and bored annoyance, respectively.
"I don't care what you say: I am not eating that junk, so forget it!"
Terra took an instinctive step back through the doorway. It was easy to forget how strong Cyborg was until he raised his voice. And oh, did he look mad.
"Well, why should you get to tell me what I should eat?" Beast Boy was staring up at him, utterly and amazingly fearless.
"Why should you?"
"Obviously 'cos I'm so much cuter!" He noticed Terra at that moment, intense expression instantly easing as he waved at her. "Hey, Terra, aren't I cuter than Cyborg?"
Terra clasped her hands in front of her and felt the rush of blood to her stomach as she edged back into the room. It felt so much like fear, except somehow it wasn't. "Umm…yes?"
"That is the most unfair question I've ever heard you ask," said Cyborg. "Everybody knows that she…never mind."
Maybe the glare from Beast Boy did it, or maybe he decided to trail off by himself, but Cyborg had obviously realized something important, something that he shouldn't say. It made Terra very uncomfortable, and it was all Cyborg's fault that her cheeks burned red hot.
Awkward silence followed. Terra was fast becoming the champion of awkward silences.
Looking nervous, Starfire's eyes went back and forth from Cyborg to Beast Boy to Terra…and then she smiled widely. "I believe the time for eating is now, is it not, friends?"
"It would be, if the resident bleeding heart over there would let us eat some real food," said Cyborg.
"Perhaps Beast Boy would like to make his own waffles that are not manufactured using the products of mammals?" Starfire smiled sweetly.
"But…everybody likes my waffles! Right, guys? Umm…right?" Beast boy asked with increasing hesitancy.
From across the table, Raven shook her head, stiffly and slowly. Terra really hated the way that she always looked so mad, no matter what, making everybody wonder what they had done wrong by breathing. Cyborg just glared in a way that made his opinion on the matter extremely clear. Robin probably would have agreed with them if he was here, but he wasn't, though Terra couldn't figure out for the life of her where he might have gone.
"Well, fine, then!" said Beast Boy. "More for me!"
Terra took a little half-step towards them, looking around for any signs that her presence was not welcome. "And…me?" Please don't say no, please don't say no, please oh please don't say no, I can't handle it…
Beast Boy grinned and motioned her over to the counter. "Sure thing! You guys go have your nasty waffles; me and Terra…"
"Would like some 'alone time,' it seems," said Raven, casually interrupting even as she stood up with something that resembled venom. It was like she cut into you with a knife every time she spoke, really. The not-quite-nervous feeling came back, now mixed with at least a teaspoon of real fear. Raven's good graces were like a wet paper towel that was getting dripped on constantly; you never knew when it was going to tear.
"Oh, leave her alone," said Beast Boy. Then he smiled at her again, and she forgot all about Raven almost-probably-definitely hating her.
"Where's Robin?" asked Terra slowly, looking around to make sure she didn't miss anything. For all she knew, he could have been standing right behind her the whole time, and then they'd all think she was just such an idiot.
Starfire shuffled from one foot to the other. "Friend Robin will not be joining us for dinner because he is…doing the lifting of weights."
Cyborg whistled. "Geez…will he ever quit?"
Letting his breath out in a huge puff of air, Beast Boy gestured to the funny carton of milk. "If you don't know the answer to that, you haven't been around Robin very long. Blah, blah, blah, why does it always have to be about Robin?" He turned to Terra and placed a spoon in her hands. "Okay, let me show you the right way to make waffles."
"And then through there is the main computer, but don't bother going in there because Cy is the only one who has a clue how it works. Well, I guess maybe Robin might, but anyway! If you go down that hallway, it'll eventually lead back to the living room, but it snakes around something crazy so you'd really be better off going this other way right here." Beast Boy indicated a slightly narrower corridor with a sweeping wave.
Turns out that "cruelty-free waffles," as Beast Boy called them, weren't all that bad. Maybe they were even better than regular waffles; Terra wasn't sure. She had eaten until she couldn't eat anymore, and even felt a bit sick, to tell the truth--but food was a tricky thing and you never could tell when you wouldn't get any for a long, long time. Now, Beast Boy was helping out in the grand and dangerous game of Finding Terra's Room. He was so eager, explaining every detail in a frenzy of words that she would never remember…but she just liked to hear Beast Boy talk, so that was alright. His eyes got all happy and crinkly when he was excited.
They passed yet another corridor. "And that's the gym, down that way, usually occupied by none other than the Boy Wonder, off on his quest to become even more wonderful." He wrinkled his nose and circled his left ear with his index finger in a way that communicated exactly what he thought about Robin's training regimen. "I'm sure he'll try to drag you in there one of these days."
"Well," began Terra, feeling that it was time she said something, or else he was going to think she wasn't interested or whatever. "Don't you think I need to, you know, train? I mean, I'm kind of pathetic compared to you guys."
He reached out and touched her shoulder lightly, shaking his head. "Nah, you're fine. But he will track you down, 'cos he's Robin and he's obsessive like that. My advice? Run. He made me drill with him last week, and man, I still hurt in places you don't want to know about."
Terra laughed, and looked at Beast Boy's hand in wonder until he self-consciously pulled it away. "You're hilarious. Really."
"So Raven's room is down the hall--umm, just don't go in there; she'll kill you--and Star's down one flight of stairs on the left." He stopped in front of a familiar looking door. "You know where this is, don't you?"
She shook her head. Terra hated feeling stupid, hated it.
"Your room," he said, but for some reason it didn't sound demeaning, coming from him. "If you need anything, I'm just over there." He pointed.
Oh. Of course it was her room. Well, how stupid could she be, really? "Thanks a lot! I'm kind of tired, though, so I guess I'm just going to go to, you know, sleep now." She waved. Come on, you big loser, get that smile up there, you can do better than that.
"Yeah…okay. Well…good night, Terra."
"Night!" She turned around, face deflating immediately: all that happy was hard work.
"Oh, and Terra?"
Darn it; turn on the happy. "Yeah?"
"I'm really glad you're here. Really glad. And you did great today--umm, really." He bit his lip and took a step backward. "Okay, I guess I'll just go now before I get any stupider." Nervous laughter and a few more steps back. "Umm…bye, Terra!"
"Bye," she said, but he was well down the hall.
Her room was dark when she opened the door: well, what had she been expecting? It wasn't as if they were going to leave the light on, just waiting for her to come back. It took a few seconds of fumbling for the light switch before she found it, and she couldn't shake the intense feeling of relief that came with illuminating the room.
She slept with the light on that night.