A Hole In the World
Summary: An ancient demon is awakened and takes residence in Starfire. Raven and Beast Boy try to find its tomb while Robin tries to comfort a suffering Starfire before he loses her forever.
Author's Note: Though it has the possibility of turning into a long story, I hope this won't exceed four parts (which is short for me). If this story sounds familiar, it's because it is. I must confess, it is not my own. I was so affected by the Angel episode of the same name that I hade to get it out in writing, basically recreating a similar scenario in Titans style. If you know the show, then I'm sure you know the ending, and by knowing that, make your own decision of whether or not you want to read this because I may or may not stick to the ending and you gotta prepare for that. Those who have no idea what the show is even about, let me just say that it's a little sad. That said, read at your own risk.
Also take note that while much of the witty dialogue belongs to Joss Whedon, much of the descriptions, actions, and the adaptations for the Titanverse can be accreditted to moi. And of course, the Titans aren't mine. So this story is 1/3 mine, and the rest belongs to other people. So what else is new.
This is an experiment. I have three out of four parts written. Depending on readers' reactions, I will figure out if I oughta finish or not... People who read my stuff will note that I've been incommuticado for a while. Well, I found this on my computer today and it brought up memories. We'll see what you guys have to say.
Chapter One: Illyria
The day began as any other. Beast Boy and Raven were arguing again as they walked through the elevator door. Raven was drenched in mud as she swiftly walked first out of the elevator, followed by a frustrated Beast Boy.
"It's almost as if you try to get on my nerves," she was saying as she tracked mud across the living room floor.
"I really don't have to try that hard," said Beast Boy, a little bitterly.
"So you accidentally decided to knock me into the hippo enclosure? What were you trying to do, kill me?"
"No," said Beast Boy, getting a little more annoyed himself. "If I wanted to kill you, I would have thrown you into the lion enclosure instead."
"You guys," said Cyborg, stepping in between them and putting his arms around them. He then frowned and took his arm away from Raven's shoulder due to the mud that came off on his hands. He smiled at her and laughed awkwardly as she glared at him. "Uh... why don't you give it a break for a while, yeah? Raven— take a shower. BB— I challenge you to a game of Super Sharp Ninja Nine. You game?"
"Am I ever!" cried Beast Boy as he darted to the couch with Cyborg.
Robin and Starfire entered together looking at each other in a strange way, glad to be home after the long fight.
"The H.I.V.E. operatives were unusually mysterious today," said Starfire, curiously.
"Yeah, they were," said Robin airily as if the thought really didn't mean much to him. He refused to look away from Starfire's eyes, finding her much more interesting than their conversation.
They looked at each other a moment and Starfire beamed. This was what she had wanted for so long, for him to look at her the way he did; all his moves were subtle, not overwhelming or distracting. Such as the way he'd glance over at her and give her a secret smile that only they would share. Or the way he took her hand under the table when they sat next to each other at breakfast. How he always saved a slice of pizza with sardines and mustard on it just for her. He was so subtle that she wondered if her fellow Titans had even noticed the now open romance was blossoming in the Tower.
"You're right, but who cares? We kicked their H.I.V.E. butts!"
The exclamation of triumph had come from none other than Terra who had entered behind Starfire and Robin and wedged herself between the two lovers, using their shoulders as arm rests. She looked from one to the other. Robin looked a little disappointed at the distance Terra had successfully made between the two, even if it was only a few inches more than it had been before.
Terra cocked an eyebrow at him with a lopsided grin and then looked to Starfire. "And what about you two, eh? We need a little more PDA from you guys!" And to emphasize her point, she grabbed their wrists and made them hold hands before striding over to Cyborg and Beast Boy and plopping down in between them.
Maybe we weren't that subtle, Starfire thought to herself with a grin.
Raven shook out her wet hair and looked at herself in the mirror. She wasn't perfect, but she was clean, and that was all she cared about for the moment. She remembered the peculiar behavior of the H.I.V.E. kids during the fight earlier, particularly Jinx, and wondered what those villains could have been up to. Their fighting style was only half-hearted and they had no real business attacking a zoo of all places. It almost seemed like a distraction. She resolved to talk to Robin about it immediately.
She turned the corner of the hall to see Robin and Starfire casually flirting with each other at the top of the stairs, beaming and joking. She rolled her eyes. She would probably be better received when Robin wasn't marveling at Starfire's presence. With this in mind, she quickened her pace to go downstairs and make herself some tea to calm her nerves, which were still a little on edge from the battle. In her haste, she brushed Starfire's shoulder.
The premonition didn't come immediately. It waited to pounce on her until the most inopportune moment. Raven was halfway down the stairs when she was overcome with the worst sense of dread she had ever experienced.
Nothing. After that... there was nothing.
What happened next occurred in under a millisecond. Raven spun around to warn them and watched them as Starfire continued to chat amiably, drowning in Robin's attention.
And then it happened in less then a moment and Starfire was in Raven's arms and Robin's face was covered in blood.
Robin had a dazed sort of half smile on his features, as if he hadn't exactly acknowledged what had happened yet. But within the next few seconds, his eyes grew wide as his mouth opened a little. Raven was already looking over her shoulder and screaming for Cyborg to help get her to the medical wing.
"Hey guys, I've been lookin' all over for you, check out all the free samples of alcohol I scored from—Holy Hell, what happened here?"
Terra's arms were filled with tiny bottles of liquor and they quivered at the sight of Starfire in white linen sheets. To her credit, she didn't drop her prize, but all the color drained from her face.
Everyone was solemn. They looked at Terra briefly, then back to Starfire. Terra realized she was still holding her armful of alcohol. Snapping to her senses, she immediately unloaded it on another bed and joined her friends, who were all waiting for Starfire to awaken.
As if on cue, the Tameranian slowly opened her eyes, looking dazed. She looked around at the assembled crowd and smiled, her eyes weak.
"My friends..." she said, sounding somewhat strange. "Am I ill? Do I have the pox of chickens? Or perhaps the smaller variety?"
"No chicken pox," said Cyborg with a nod and a reassuring smile.
"I do not look like a chicken?" Starfire said, her smile looking a little weaker.
"I've seen plenty of chickens," said Beast Boy from the back, "and none are as pretty as you. Almost none."
Starfire laughed a bit, but it was raspy, more like a cough than an expression of mirth. "So what is wrong with me? I do not have pox of any kind. I am not stricken with the coma, for I would be unable to speak. It is perhaps a bad icy illness? I have been feeling an odd chill recently."
"I'm afraid it's not a cold either, Star," said Cyborg, his voice quiet as if he were in a church. "Uh... to tell you the truth, we aren't quite sure what the problem is yet. But don't think we won't find out."
"Cyborg's working on it," said Robin, stepping forward. "He knows the best doctors in the state. We'll work this, like we work anything."
Starfire's smile grew as she saw her beloved. "Handsome man comes to save the day."
Robin chuckled, sadly. He sat down on the edge of her bed and took her hand. "That's how it works."
Slowly, they all filed out of the room. All but Robin, who stayed by Starfire's side. Beast Boy and Raven remained in the doorway.
"Star and Rob?" said Beast Boy with a raise of his eyebrow.
"You didn't know?" Raven said, skeptically.
Beast Boy shrugged before turning to leave "No one tells me these things."
"Information," Robin said, the second he'd assembled the Titans in the living room. "That's what we need. Cyborg, you said there's something unusual affecting her body?"
Cyborg looked grave as he nodded. "I... I can't be too sure. I just monitored the stats, and I'm no licensed doctor, but I find no trace of a virus, bacteria or any other pathogen of any kind."
"That's a good thing, isn't it?" said Terra from her safe corner on the couch. They looked back at her. She was hugging her knees, her blue eyes wide.
Terra had voiced their unspoken hope, but Cyborg shook his head. "There's something definitely wrong. You don't just cough up blood and fall unconscious for no reason. And..." Cyborg bit his lip and closed his eyes, fighting some internal battle he would never let them see.
"What?" Raven said, a little frustrated.
Cyborg looked straight at her, as if drawing stoicism from her cold eyes. "Some parasitic agent is working its way through, burrowing inside her cells and hiding there. As near as I can tell..."
"Get to the point," Robin said.
"Her organs..." Cyborg closed his eyes and took a deep breath before he continued, more composed. "Her organs are cooking. In twenty-four hours, there'll liquify."
Silence befell them like a plague. Beast Boy shook away his horrified look and replaced it with determination. "No," he said. "Not this girl. Not today."
"Raven," said Robin, turning to their resident magic expert. "You know about mystical afflictions. Could this be a curse or something?"
At the word 'curse,' Raven suddenly went paler than her normal shade of gray. "Curse... Jinx. There was something off about that fight earlier today. I was going to mention it to you, but then Starfire... It had completely slipped my mind."
"Jinx just got herself an apartment," Beast Boy said suddenly. "Down on the corner of 8th and Elm. That's what intelligence says anyway. Apparently she's been commuting."
"Get on it," Robin ordered. "Raven, Terra, and Beast Boy, I want you to hit her when she's not ready for it. Pound her for everything she knows."
"And me?" Cyborg said.
"You're staying here with me," Robin replied. "Get a hold of those doctors you were talking about earlier. I'm going to sit with Starfire..." Robin trailed off. Then, he spun to Raven, Terra and Beast Boy. "Report back to me immediately when you get anything from Jinx."
"Wouldn't want to do otherwise, man," said Beast Boy.
As he bid the others farewell, Robin nearly collapsed on the floor. He forced his legs to be strong and his mind to focus on something else. But all he could think about was her.
Cyborg was already on the phone with countless physicians across the country, getting opinions and advice, as well as promises of medical visits. Robin could hear their voices as they told Cyborg what to do.
Look for this, try that... Your friend would make for an interesting case study...
"No," Robin said, staring at the floor.
"I'm sorry, Rob?" Cyborg called over his shoulder.
"Starfire is nobody's case study. I... I'm going to go check on her."
But when he went to the medical wing, she wasn't there. Panicked he looked around and found her in the adjoining room, drenched in sweat and throwing books off the wall. She turned upon hearing his entrance and looked at him with wide green eyes, a frightened doe with no where to run.
But she shook it off, and her red hair fell across her eyes. She looked wild in the unforgiving florescent lights as she grasped the lab desk, knocking over Petri dishes, searching for something.
"Starfire, calm down. You need to rest. That's what's best now."
"No..." said Starfire, breathlessly. "No, Robin, I must find the source of my pain... Everything is within these tomes, Cyborg could always... Robin I must know, I can do this... I... Something could have been missed..."
But Robin hushed her as he hurried to her. "What you need to do is sleep. You're exhausted. Whatever's happening to you, we'll stop it, I swear to you..."
"I can not sleep..." Starfire said, tears appearing in her eyes. "I must..."
"Let me bring you back to bed."
"No!" This was a more adamant cry than her previous attempts. She turned to him, rivulets of her desperation trailing down her cheeks. "I am not a delicate helpless creature that needs to be saved; I am not your victim to defend! I have gone through years of monsters and villains, I am a heroine! And I will not just lie down feebly and let this happen; I am better than that!" She faltered and looked down, sniffing. "But I wonder... how very scared I am..."
She was breathing heavily at the end of this, her chest heaving and her skin white as she quivered like she was freezing. Robin couldn't bare it.
"Please," she said simply with her chapped lips. "Please, I have to help you..." But even as she said the words, her knees gave way beneath her and she fell, but he caught her and held her to his chest as she sobbed.
"What is wrong with me?"
It didn't take them long to find Jinx's apartment. Raven easily got rid of the door.
Jinx was on a ratty looking couch watching TV and tossing Cheetos into her mouth. She saw them and prepared to fire when Raven, quick on the draw, encased her in dark energy and lifted her off the floor, where she kicked and screamed.
"Don't you people knock?"
"You don't deserve that courtesy, Jinx," hissed Raven, eyes glowing red.
"What do you want? You hurt me, you'll have the H.I.V.E. on your ass!"
"We just want to talk," said Terra, her face cold. "So sing, birdie."
"Talk?" said Jinx, looking genuinely surprised. "About what, your bad fashion sense?" She directed this last comment to Raven.
"Starfire," Terra said, before Raven could reply with a biting retort. "What did you do to her?"
"Starfire?" said Jinx, almost laughing. "Why would we want to do anything to Starfire?"
"Why wouldn't you?" Raven returned.
Jinx tilted her head and looked at Raven seriously. "You're kidding, right?"
"You are one of our more annoying enemies," said Beast Boy.
"Exactly," said Jinx. "We'd never want to really get rid of you."
This statement stumped the Titans. Seeing this, Jinx sighed and explained.
"What is the H.I.V.E., people, hm? An academy to train talented villains and villainesses like myself. You are the H.I.V.E.'s best obstacle course. Granted, you're bitches, but the students need something relatively worthy to go up against. You provide the perfect challenge. We use you, freaks, and I can't believe you haven't figured that out yet."
"Why you little—"
"Starfire's sick," Terra said quickly, making sure Raven didn't try to attack Jinx. "And it happened after our little scuffle with you."
For the first time, Jinx looked horrified. "I-I don't know why you would link us to a simple sickness," she said.
"Curse," Raven hissed ominously. "A curse. She's not exactly being attacked by a virus, Jinx. And I'm sure you know perfectly well what I'm talking about."
"The only thing I know perfectly well about you Raven," Jinx replied, her confidence returned, "is that you have got to hit the mall sometime. That outfit is so passé."
That was the last straw. Raven lost her concentration and dropped Jinx, ready to rip her head off of her neck. Jinx, too was in attack mode; it seemed as though this had been exactly what she was waiting for.
"Stupid witch bitch!" Jinx snapped.
"Says the poser," Raven retorted as Jinx advanced.
"Raven, please!" Terra cried but before anything could happen there was a booming roar.
Between the Titans and their villain stood an angry looking green lion who succeeded in making Jinx back off into the wall. Beast Boy reared up on his hind legs and put one paw on either side of Jinx's head. She looked from paw to paw, then straight into the lion's eyes as he transformed back into Beast Boy.
"Listen to me, Jinxy. Koriand'r Star once said to me after a sinful amount of tofu and in lieu of absolutely nothing: 'I think a lot of people would like to be green. Your shade, if they had the choice.' If I find out that you had even the most miniscule role in what's happened to her, Raven won't even have time to kill you."
There was a moment of stunned silence. Not even the two other Titans had ever heard Beast Boy speak like that before.
"Alright, alright," Jinx said at last with a sigh. "I don't know much, OK? All I know is what I was ordered to do.
"The H.I.V.E. big shots told Gizmo, Mammoth and me to wreak havoc at this random zoo. You know what happened there. They didn't tell us why or anything. But last minute, they made us take this box. They put it in my charge. I was curious, so I tried to open it and it didn't work. I was promptly scolded. The box, they said, was for the Teen Titans. Should they interfere, I was to toss it like a bomb and get the hell out of there."
"Which explains the quick retreat," muttered Raven.
Terra, who had been calm before, flared up as she pushed Beast Boy aside and held Jinx up by the neck of her shirt.
"What else?" she demanded, her eyes wide. "What else did you do to her?"
Jinx, for the first time in her life, didn't know what to say. "I-I-I told you all I know, I swear!"
"You're lying!" Terra shrieked, near tears.
"She isn't," said Raven, simply. "I can tell. Let her go, Terra. She's useless to us now."
Slowly, Terra let Jinx go and backed away. She was breathing hard, trying to find the composure that had been present when they'd first entered Jinx's apartment.
"Wait," said Jinx, scrambling to her feet. The Titans paused. Jinx's eyes darted around the apartment. "The H.I.V.E. is... older than you guys think it is. I heard rumors... something big is supposed to happen. Find anything on the Old Ones."
There was no obvious change in Raven's expression. But her body stiffened. And her friends noticed. Before they could ask, she simply said. "We need to get back to the tower. Now."
Raven tossed a heavy volume onto the kitchen table with a cloud of dust.
"It's called Illyria," she said simply, her face straight. "The God King of the Old World. It's shrouded in legend, I'm not sure... but apparently its kingdom used to be around this area."
"What... is it?" Cyborg asked, his voice quiet.
Raven was solemn. "An impossibly powerful demon. Or rather, the soul of one." She opened the book and turned to a page. "According to this, its reincarnation was fated to happen. They were like dinosaurs; you know, everything was bigger back then. Some of the demons you see today are only a fraction of the size—and strength— of an ancient demon like Illyria. All the Old Demons who used to live on earth died, including the really powerful ones. They were entombed somewhere called the Deeper Well."
"Which is?" Beast Boy prompted.
"A burial ground," Raven replied, "or resting place. For all the remaining Old Ones."
"This one isn't resting," Terra muttered.
"No..." whispered Cyborg looking down. He closed his eyes and didn't look up again.
"Starfire's skin... it's hardening like a shell. I-I think maybe she's being hollowed out..."
"...So this thing can use her to gestate, to claw its way back into our world..." Raven said, almost in awe. She looked around at everyone, now staring at her. "That's just speculation. Either way, she dies–"
"Any chance of finding this deeper well?" Robin asked, breezing right past Raven's last sentence.
Raven nodded. "I have a good idea where it is."
"Find it," said Robin in a fierce voice just above a whisper.
"There might be someone there... a guardian, maybe several," Raven warned.
"Let 'em send an army," Beast Boy said, punching his hand.
"How do we know that will help?" Terra asked, timidly.
"The Deeper Well is like a prison for the dead. You don't necessarily get out scot free," said Raven. "It's written that anything that gets out can be drawn back to the source."
"That's our shot," said Robin.
"Well... Keep working here. But yeah, I think you're right," said Raven.
"Go," Robin ordered in that harsh whisper.
Raven nodded dutifully and Beast Boy assigned himself to go with her. Terra and Cyborg were on their way to follow, but Robin stopped them.
"No," he said, a faraway look to his eyes. "Cyborg. Doctors. You're the only one who remotely understands any of it. And Terra, I want you going through books, reading up on this big evil demon thing. I want to know everything about it. What makes this whole reincarnation thing possible and how we're supposed to stop it."
"And you?" Terra said, already knowing the answer.
Robin sighed, his eyes cast downward. "I'll be with Starfire."
Terra stared at the stack of books Raven had conveniently dropped on her desk. She didn't know where to begin, nor if she really wanted to. She sighed, head resting in her hands as her elbows rested on the desk. Robin had told her, nay, ordered her to research this thing. And as much as she wanted to help Starfire, in anyway she could, she wasn't sure if she could face what she had done.
She knew Jinx had been telling the truth, which is why she had reacted so badly to it. She wanted Jinx to be lying, maybe setting Terra up to take the fall, framing her... Only, she wasn't. And if Terra saw a picture of that box, the one she had studied for a week, she would know. It was all her fault.
Three months ago, Terra had met a dealer on the streets of Jump City. It was during one of her nightly walks she would take to get away from the Tower and all the things it represented—all the things she could never quite match up to. She was no hero, at least not to her own mind. She was a girl, a vagabond, meant to wander not settle, and she didn't belong anywhere. Which is why the Titans scared her so. They called themselves friends, allies, and gave her a home. She had never had these things before. And for a reason. Everywhere she went, she brought bad luck.
She took these walks to gather a few moments to herself every night after playing the happy, friendly team member during the day. After all the time she spent with the Titans, she still didn't quite feel like she could measure up to all they were. They were so high above her, she couldn't begin to imagine what it would be like up at their level. She had caused so much trouble everywhere she'd been... She wasn't worthy.
And then the dealer promised her that she would be.
He dealt in a special kind of drug, a stimulant mainly for people with her physical makeup: super heroes. For a small fee, he would strap her to his chair and stimulate her mind with electric currents which engorged the part of her mind that held her powers. It made her quicker, more adept, and powerful. And to her mind itself, she felt like she was getting smarter, more logical, strategic, and intuitive. Overall, it made her better, and it matched her to their level.
Her friends commented on her improvement and it made her feel like she was finally worth something; she felt as though she could finally compete at their level and at last give them the help and support they needed. She had become somebody out of the nobody Terra she used to be, and for the first time in a long time, she had felt like she'd had a home.
Three weeks ago, the effects of the drug had worn off. Her performance decreased tremendously and she was dying for another dose. She found the dealer right where she'd left him, begging for another brain-jolt. Only this time, he was more expensive.
"The first one's free," he said. "But the second upgrade comes with a steeper price."
As it turned out, the dealer actually worked for the H.I.V.E. and his bosses required a mystical box. It had been on its way to them directly, but the delivery had been intercepted and a museum housed it. The dealer wanted a job out of Terra. She was to fetch him the box from the museum, and he would give her the power she craved. Due to the mental addiction the procedure had left on her, she agreed wholeheartedly. She knew it would eventually have its price...
But she didn't know that price would be Starfire.
Her dark habits were definitely coming back to haunt her as she stared at the tomes before her which may have held both the key to Starfire's salvation and her own destruction perhaps on the same page. Did she dare risk discovery if it meant saving Starfire?
Terra closed her eyes and took a deep breath as she grabbed a leather bound book with both hands, pulling it towards her. Regardless of what it meant about her, Starfire was the priority. Friends always are.