It was another long, long night.
Robin had lost all interest in sleep by this time; his concentration on researching, uprooting and capturing Slade were simply too strong to let him have any rest. An ironic twist considering that all of his information, diagrams and other instruments that he had been using in his search had blockaded all the windows of his room in the tower, casting it in eternal darkness. His eyes were used to the fluorescent lights so much now that natural light had a tendency to hurt when he was dragged outside by an emergency of his teammates when they became too worried. Sometimes…sometimes he couldn't blame them for being worried. He was worried too; for their sakes, and the sake of the city they were in. Each time Slade thought of a new insidious plot, the more danger they were all in. The more danger of injury, or capture, or even death…
He rubbed some sweat off his brow, aggravated. The culminations of all his tireless research still had bore no fruit yet as to where Slade could be, or what he was planning at this very moment that Robin was laboring through the labyrinthine puzzles he'd left behind. He couldn't remember offhand the last decent meal he'd had…was it breakfast? No…it was dinner last night. He could remember Beast Boy and Cyborg having their routine fight over what was to be prepared. They ended up making kabobs out of leftovers of whatever they wanted, and the two had no hostilities towards one another but five minutes later when they were playing video games loudly. His stomach groaned a little, but he couldn't stop now. He always felt like it was just around the corner, the answer, the solution that had been eluding him for so long. Thinking about it always managed to get his adrenaline running, and he'd be more driven than ever to continue his investigation regardless of hunger, thirst and tiredness.
His ambition hadn't been calmed at all by the fact that Slade had sent him a menacing message only days ago, late at night when he had finally taken a break to get some water. It was like Slade eerily knew everything about him, the exact moment his dehydration would become too much, and his image suddenly flickered onto the massive intercom screen in their central room.
"So persistent, so focused…and yet you're no closer to finding me than you were before. Moments are ticking by Robin and I'm getting so much further ahead of you that soon enough I'll be entirely out of view…" his deep, menacing voice echoed throughout the silent, dark tower. "But keep trying, after all…if anyone's going to find me, it'll be you…but whether you find me or not, you realize, is entirely up to me…"
Robin's fists clenched painfully as he remembered his tone, his arrogance. It made him so angry sometimes that he could very easily lose his temper, a fault he wasn't proud of in the slightest. But at times he felt like the others didn't realize how much of a threat Slade really was. Of course, since Slade usually targeted Robin for his taunting messages, it was hard to prove his case that the villain was always lurking in the shadows. When he had attempted to show the others the message that Slade had left for him that night, the recording was gone. Like it had never been there at all. The others seemed to be thinking that he was imagining things, thanks to stress and malnourishment at times, but he knew the truth. That Slade's most menacing feature was his ability to sometimes secede reality entirely, at will.
"Robin…" a soft voice suddenly wrenched Robin out of his spiraling, tense thoughts, and he accidentally knocked over a stack of printed documents he'd been looking through. His frustration, however, was extinguished quickly thanks to who it was.
"The…the door's unlocked Starfire…" he said wearily in response, and Starfire pressed the activation button outside his room that granted her access. She hovered into his room quietly and landed at the side of his desk.
"The others are growing worried again about you, Robin…you look more weary than a Flobbergob that has been chasing Snoraps all day…" she said quietly. Robin never quite understood the metaphors she used from her alien culture, but he could usually get the gist of it.
"I know, it's just…I can't stop. Not lately, not with Slade making threats towards us…I just…have this constant feeling that if I stop, right after I do…he's going to strike, act on what he's said…and I'll be sorry that I doubted what he said…" Robin replied, his fists still painfully clenched.
"But Robin, you should not make yourself so weary, and strained. You're making yourself sick…" she said.
"I'm fine…" he retaliated quietly.
"You are not…" she said immediately. "You tell us you are but you are not. You are pale, always tired, and you…you almost never smile or laugh anymore. Even when Cyborg and Beast Boy play of the video games. You always used to laugh at their disagreements over food and games, but now…you never do…" she said; her expression was sad, sympathetic, but she wasn't going to let him be in denial about it.
"I've just had a lot on my mind lately…" his voice was becoming more tense and strained the more he argued with her, but he kept from losing his temper.
"We know that, and you are justified in being worried…but you mustn't carry this whole burden…on yourself alone…we are a team, you should be allowing us to help you."
"This…this is just something I have to do alone."
"…Cyborg thinks you are just being stubborn and…overly protective."
"Cyborg doesn't have any idea what it's like to be the leader."
"Perhaps that is so, but it is still unwise at the same time for the leader to make themselves too tired and distant to be a leader anymore at all."
Robin was quiet, contemplative of what she said. He knew, deep down, she was entirely right. He didn't look much like himself anymore. His skin was losing its healthiness and he rarely ate or rested anymore, the last few days, ever since the last threat of an attack. He wasn't taking good care of himself, and if he wasn't, how was that going to reflect on his team? He had to be an example for them, in the end, there was nothing wrong with diligence but in truth…he was obsessed, and paranoid. Maybe for the right reasons, but how could he get angry at the others for being concerned with his well-being and health?
"I know…that it probably doesn't make a whole lot of sense to all of you, but I need to continue this. I can't stop now, when I feel like I'm getting close…"
"We are not asking you to stop, Robin…but simply…to still be Robin and continue it…" she said, quietly. "We want you to be a strong leader as any team does, but we also want…our friend as well. And we would must prefer…the friend at times than the leader. It…will not hurt you to take but a small break…right…?"
Robin sighed, rubbing his forehead. Why was it also so hard to resist when she asked him like that? "All right…we can go up to the roof for a bit…get some air, but then I need to get back to work."
Starfire nodded, and before he knew it she had grasped his arm and was literally dragging him from his depressing bedroom as though he was going to suddenly change his mind. His room was near the top, so they didn't have far to go before they reached it and she set him down onto the metal rooftop. The sun was beginning to set and the chill of nightfall was beginning to fill the air. They both sat down onto the metal ledge of the tower, which was still warm from the sunshine of the day.
Sometimes being out here made him realize how dank and lifeless his room felt during these lapses of his. He allowed himself to relax a little – just a little tiny bit – and Starfire seemed content in this. It was a start, at the very least.
"Robin…it is not because we are angry with you that we speak to you, and sometimes interrupt your studies…" Starfire began. "It is because we are your friends, and…it makes us afraid to see you so unhappy sometimes."
Was he really that unhappy…? When he thought about it, he realized it was true. He was never content or relaxed. How could you be happy always looking over your shoulder like he did? Sometimes he wished he were more like his teammates who could remain somewhat lackadaisical even in the most tense situations. But it just didn't seem to be in his nature.
"I just…I don't want to see any of you get hurt…" he said quietly. "Slade never threatens…to hurt me, it's always all of you, and I know he is capable of doing it, the moment my back is turned. That's why I never take a break, or let down my guard for even a second…because…I always feel like he's watching, waiting for it and then he's going to attack…"
Starfire was silent and listened to him. "But Robin, he could…also be waiting for you to destroy yourself with this. He knows that you are dedicated and will not give up until…you have lost all your energy. He may be…waiting for you to disable yourself…"
His eyes widened slightly; why hadn't he seen that…? Slade was always feeding his fears, his worries…maybe that was what he was attempting. Or maybe he just couldn't guess what he was up to. Maybe…maybe it was best to just wait it out.
"We should be acting as a team…Slade is dangerous, but…sometimes it is best to just wait for him to make the first attack. It may not be possible to follow every footprint he has left," she said calmly. "But that is why we are a team, and he is alone. He has no friends to help him when he is finally caught, and when that happens we will be able to stop him…" she said reassuringly.
Robin nodded slightly, quietly. Usually he took for granted the team he had, but it was times like this that he realized how lucky he was. He could be out there alone, with no one to talk him out of these spells he fell to when he was pursuing Slade. Wasting away, just like Slade wanted. He made him cringe inwardly to think that perhaps he'd been playing into Slade's plan all along.
Starfire shyly grasped his hand, more in a friendly, comforting gesture, but both of them blushed regardless. It was almost instinct at this point. "If nothing else, no matter what happens Robin…I will be here for you. I just…want to help. I know I am not of this planet, but I know of evils and corruption and…sadness because of them. And I know I would do anything to help."
Robin, for the first time in a while, mustered a small smile. "Don't worry Starfire, you do help…" he said, giving her hand an unconscious squeeze of reassurance. "By…getting me out of my room every now and then. And bringing me those…interesting meals from your home planet…even when it meant all but shoving it down my throat…" he chuckled a little. Starfire smiled her trademark insanely bright smile. "And just…just in being yourself. It…it makes me feel happy, in times like this, when I'm feeling sad, or stressed out."
"Well…I am glad I am able to help somehow…" she replied. "I had felt a bit…without the help for much time. It made me sad to see you so secluded."
"I know…but I'll take your advice and try…try to come out more. And play some video games with Beast Boy and Cyborg…and help you find Silky when he gets lost, and…all of it. Slade…he's just been trying to take my life away from me by making me suspicious and apprehensive…but I won't let him anymore…" he grit his teeth a little, but calmed himself quickly. "In fact…why don't we go inside and get a midnight snack…I think I missed all three meals today…" he said scratching the back of his head a bit, not feeling embarrassed. But Starfire readily grinned. "But of course! I will once again prepare my famous Smorfograffe stew for you as I did the others earlier! They said they have tasted nothing like it before!"
'I'm pretty sure they haven't…' Robin thought to himself, but of course, he always ate her dishes to appease her. She worked so hard and enthusiastically on them that none of them had the heart to tell her at times how weird the dish was. She happily began to lead him back inside, going on about the ingredients she included in it. Robin just smiled faintly as she pulled him along. It was, truly at times like this that he was grateful for his friends, because they were more than teammates, they were people that he deeply cared about…