Hello, readers! Welcome to my most recent work. I hope you all enjoy.
Disclaimer: I do not own Teen Titans; they belong to DC Comics and Cartoon Network, though my lawyers say there's a slim chance we can change that...
Cyborg sighed and walked into his room. The door slid shut behind him with a soft hiss. The metallic African-American was still for a moment while his bionic eye flickered to life in a burning crimson. This allowed him to navigate his room. The place was uncomfortably sterile; only the subtlest fixtures were in place to indicate it was inhabited by a living, breathing person: a sturdy metal chair was pushed away from the computer at an angle, as if whomever had been using it had just sprung up and shrunk into the darkness; there was a bookcase in the corner, lined with textbooks and littered with photographs. Most of the pictures depicted the oldest member of the Teen Titans sitting, standing, smiling, playing and otherwise having a good time with his teammates and friends.
There was one picture, however, that did not feature Cyborg the Teen Titan and his equally strange friends. It was stuffed into the uppermost corner of the pine bookcase and propped precariously against a physics textbook. The photograph was torn and crumpled, worn and faded, and bore the scars of having been ripped to shreds in a fit of rage and meticulously taped back together. There was only one person in the picture, a vibrant football player with a trophy (plastic, of course) clenched in his fist as if it were the thing sustaining him, the thing giving his life meaning. There was an irony of a sort in the picture: the boy beaming out of it would forever smile into the world, unaware of the irreparable damage that had befallen him.
Cyborg paid little attention to the pictures as he walked to his bed – it did not constitute a bed so much as a slab of metal – and lay down. The metallic Titan reached off the side of the slab and groped in the darkness; his hand clunked on the carpet as he searched for his power cable. Cyborg found the cable, large and smooth, perfectly circular, and as sterile as the room it was a part of.
The cybernetic man deftly hooked up the cable and felt over ninety percent of his body instantly shut down. The feeling was disconcerting, thinking but not able to access certain thoughts, feeling but having nothing to feel, searching, adrift, for the memories and sensations and essence that made him human and finding that so much was missing – lost. Cyborg never liked the feeling and shortly fell into a deep sleep, banishing the feeling to the blissful abyss of unconsciousness.
The power surged through the cable and into Cyborg, refilling his battery just as one would refill a tank of gas when nothing but fumes remained. The flight back from Tamaran had taxed Cyborg's power supply (in no small part because he'd needed to rapidly access entire galactic systems maps that usually stayed buried in the innermost depths of his hard-drive).
Cyborg was not the only Titan exhausted from the team's recent trip to Tamaran. Starfire, the team's resident princess to the alien planet, had needed to engage her own sister in heated combat over the throne of the planet. The ensuing battle demolished two stories of the planet's royal palace. While Cyborg recharged and logged the day's events his teammates were left to their own devices. This included Starfire.
Hours passed and Cyborg was slowly filled to the brim with electricity; his power cell buzzed and sent pulse after pulse through his body to prevent the sleeping Titan's systems from overheating. The excess energy flowed through Cyborg like blood, moving in waves from his chest and leaving behind trails of blue light that flickered along his circuitry. Cyborg opened his eyes slowly and sat up.
After checking the display built into his right arm Cyborg pulled the power cable out and let it fall with a thump to the ground. His alarm clock hadn't gone off, Beast Boy hadn't tried to play a stupid prank and given himself away with a run-away peel of laughter, the perimeter sensors were undisturbed; but something had woken Cyborg up, and it took the cybernetic man a few seconds to piece together what it was. Somebody was crying. They were not subdued sniffles nor were they desperate wails. They sat somewhere in between and echoed through Cyborg's head. He knew that sound.
Rising slowly, Cyborg went to the wall opposite his bookcase. Glancing down at the display on his right arm the man let his gaze travel over the sonic read-out. The walls in this part of the tower were paper-thin, a holdover from when the building was first constructed and everybody deemed a state-of-the-art obstacle course more important than personal privacy. As time passed the thin walls proved themselves an awkward barrier that eventually gave way to a strengthened sense of unity among the team. The read-out told Cyborg what he'd already known – Starfire was crying.
There was no mistaking that the room belonged to a girl; everything from the lavender carpet to the tasteful cotton drapes obviously flowed from the consciousness of a young woman. The bed was large and circular, adorned in rich purple linens; a small table overlooked by a vanity mirror sat on one side of the bed while a bedside table housing an ornate ceramic lamp and a book entitled "Understanding the Opposite Gender: A Guide to the Male Psychology" flanked the other side. The book had a bookmark rimmed with hearts wedged into it. Most of the book had been read.
The picture would have been perfect had it not been for the young woman lying on the bed; her head was buried in the fleshy excess of a giant larva and her body shook regularly. Starfire shuddered as another wave of sorrow crashed into her. The Tamaranian princess squeezed so hard that Silkie, the aforementioned mutant insect, cried indignantly. Starfire loosened her grasp only to shudder even more horribly under the next wave of sobs, her guilt over harming her pet compounding with interest on the things already burdening her naturally cheerful soul.
Starfire started when a knock sounded at her door. The alien girl quieted instantly, sniffing and fighting off a hiccup that lodged in her throat. The girl lifted her head from its sanctuary in Silkie's abdomen. The resulting picture was not pretty; Starfire's hair was frazzled and unkempt, a few strands of her fiery locks were clumped together, slick with Silkie's saliva; her eyes were red-rimmed and puffy, giving the upbeat alien an oddly depraved look.
"Who is there?" Starfire called once she had collected herself. She was disappointed by the answer.
"It's me, Star," Cyborg's voice answered from the other side of the door. "Can I come in?"
Starfire didn't want to let Cyborg in. She didn't want to talk to him. She didn't even want her friend to see her like this: broken and tormented by something that would no doubt seem trivial to him – Raven once said she, Starfire, was very emotional, though the empath had never indicated if it was a good or a bad trait. Starfire had a guess about which it was.
"I would prefer you not to," Starfire called back as she hugged Silkie to her bosom. There was no response and the Tamaranian was both pleased and saddened Cyborg had done as she requested. Both emotions quickly became peripheral when her door hissed open. Starfire remembered locking the door. That meant Cyborg had overridden the lock to gain access. Starfire felt her pulse pick up and could hear every beat of her heart thumping in her ears.
"I do not wish for you to be here," Starfire said heatedly as she turned away from the door, hiding the worst of her condition from her teammate. "Leave now, please."
Instead Starfire felt her bed depress as Cyborg sat down behind her. "You need to talk to somebody," the mechanical man stated. "Something's bugging you – big time. And I'm not going to leave you in here to deal with it alone."
"I am fully capable, Cyborg, of handling my own bugs by myself, thank you," Starfire hissed, adopting what she fancied to be the same tone Raven used to get people to leave her alone. It had the desired effect: Cyborg faltered and shifted behind her, as if considering getting up and walking away. That only compounded Starfire's grief, and the alien girl only barely prevented herself from bursting into a renewed fit of sobs. She couldn't prevent the tear that rolled down her cheek.
A cool surface brushed against Starfire's shoulder. The Tamaranian didn't have the energy or the heart to shrug off Cyborg's hand, and the two Titans simply sat like that for a while.
"I could perhaps benefit from confiding in another," Starfire sighed in resignation; and while she was vexed by Cyborg's refusal to heed her wishes a weight lifted from her shoulders. "My sister and I have long had conflicts – when we were younger Blackfire often sought to influence or control me – but we have always made up, we have always resolved our problems. We have always loved each other… we have always been sisters.
Cyborg nodded in understanding. He kept his tongue still and the comment trying to escape his lips locked away tight; the lock was not tight enough and the thought showed on his face. Starfire glanced at Cyborg with red-rimmed eyes and frowned.
"I have been the fool, yes?" Starfire asked sadly as a tear slipped onto her cheek and cut a fresh path down to her chin where it dangled before falling to her lap. "Blackfire never sought to be my friend or my sister, all the times we have made up have been because I am too forgiving–"
Cyborg turned Starfire to face him completely and planted a thick metal finger over her mouth. The coolness of the metal shot through Starfire's lips and made her shiver despite her species natural resistance to extreme temperature changes.
"Stop doing this to yourself, Star. Yeah, your sister's a…" Cyborg caught himself when he looked into Starfire's devastated eyes. "She's not a nice person," he amended instead. "But that doesn't mean anything about you. Starfire, the reason you and your sister have had such a long and happy relationship is because you have a bigger heart than Blackfire could dream of."
"I do not feel like we have had a happy relationship," Starfire mumbled as she pulled away from Cyborg's gaze.
"Were you happy knowing your sister until these past few days?" Cyborg asked with a grim smile. Starfire nodded cautiously. "That's all that matters. Blackfire blew it, not you. Star, you put up with so much… so much from your sister, and you still found it in you to care about her. This is Blackfire's loss; you don't have anything to cry about."
"But I fear Blackfire does not feel she has lost anything. She has lied to me and manipulated me so many times. I do not wish to care for her!" Starfire yelled, her passion igniting and her shoulders beginning to heave like an irritated beast roused from sleep. "I wish for Blackfire to hurt, to feel something comparable to all the pain she has inflicted upon me and my planet and my people."
Cyborg didn't say anything until Starfire's shoulders stopped heaving. Just as quickly as the rage flared up it was smothered, melting away into nothing and leaving the Tamaranian princess in a renewed fit of tears.
"No you don't," Cyborg said as he pulled Starfire into a tight embrace. The girl released Silkie and turned her arms to Cyborg, wrapping around his broad shoulders desperately, as if the cybernetic man was an anchor keeping her from floating away in the abyss of depression. Silkie slipped to the floor as Cyborg awkwardly stroked Starfire's hair. "That's why this hurts so much – you want to forgive her."
"I do not wish to forgive Blackfire," Starfire said quickly. The Tamaranian pressed her tear-streaked face against Cyborg's shoulder. "My sister is not worthy of forgiveness. I am distressed because I feel… sorry for her," Starfire finished tentatively, as if she had worked through her thoughts and emotions as she spoke and didn't fully trust the conclusion she'd come to.
Cyborg continued to hug Starfire. There was nothing more to say. Getting Starfire to admit this much was a huge step, and Cyborg found himself floundering for words in the presence of such unbridled, unfiltered goodness. The metallic Titan could've understood Starfire suffering from depression because all the ideas and illusions she'd conjured regarding her sister had fallen into disrepair; Cyborg could've understood Starfire wanting to forgive Blackfire and just go back to the way things had always been, but he couldn't say anything when faced with the root of his teammate's distress: Starfire actually had room in her heart to find empathy for the person who would've destroyed her life for personal gain and slept soundly the same night.
Starfire's tears slowed. The Tamaranian drew strength from Cyborg; he didn't press for information, he didn't try to console her with easy, one-line lies. Instead Cyborg just sat with her, his hand sliding through her tangled tresses soothingly and his presence assuring her that some things never change.
Starfire sniffed and pulled away from Cyborg's embrace. There was only the tinniest hint of resistance before his hold released.
"I thank you, Cyborg, for your assistance. I believe I shall recover; I simply require time." Cyborg nodded but made no move to leave her. Starfire smiled warmly and the expression lit up her face so that her frazzled appearance went unnoticed. That was the difference between a teammate and a friend, Starfire had discovered – a teammate would have left once Starfire said she was going to be fine; a friend, on the other hand, wouldn't leave it to chance. Cyborg's eyes roamed around Starfire's room and he spotted the book on the bedside table.
"Understanding the Opposite Gender?" Cyborg chuckled when he read the title. Starfire blushed and giggled self-consciously. "That's not the usual idea of bedtime reading," he continued conversationally.
"It has been most informative," Starfire mumbled as she tried to hide her blush.
"Hey, there're no judgements here, girl. You can read whatever you want… I'll just silently judge you for it," Cyborg laughed. Starfire glared at him and the African-American responded by giving her a gentle shove. It wasn't long until Starfire's pillows were in hand and torrents of goose and pigeon down were drifting around the room. (The first hit was initiated by Cyborg and Starfire, unaccustomed to pillow fights, had tried to use a paperweight as her weapon; Cyborg got a headache for his troubles.)
Cyborg wished Starfire a good night and walked into the darkened hallway. He started rubbing a welt on the human side of his face once the door closed.
"You two had fun," a voice stated from the shadows. Cyborg jumped but calmed down when he connected the voice to his leader. Robin walked from his perch in the shadows and gazed quizzically at Cyborg. The acrobat's arms were crossed across his chest and one of his eyebrows was arched. "The walls are paper-thin; you guys should be a little quieter."
"Wait a minute," Cyborg interrupted his leader. "You heard our pillow fight?" Robin nodded. "Then you heard what caused me to go in there in the first place," Cyborg concluded slowly. Robin nodded again, this time slightly less confidently.
"Why didn't you go to her?" Cyborg asked. "She was expecting you; I'm almost positive Star was disappointed when it was me and not you."
"You had it under control, Cyborg. Starfire didn't need both of us tonight, just one. This was something Starfire needed to work through without my help."
Cyborg stared his leader full in the face. Robin shifted uncomfortably. "You didn't want to deal with her," Cyborg concluded; Robin flinched under the accusation but didn't refute it.
"Starfire needed somebody who could help her. I was the wrong person for that tonight – I wouldn't have known how to make her feel better," Robin said. The logic was sound enough but Cyborg found it flawed, and he found it flawed because it was cold, heartless logic – the refuge of a coward.
"Well, I didn't know what to do either when I went in there! I just knew my friend was hurting and needed somebody – anybody – to help her. She'll always be able to count on me for that. What can she count on you for?" Cyborg shot at his leader.
Robin didn't answer and the two Titans parted after a few moments chilled silence, both going back to their respective beds now that Starfire was comforted. As the boys walked away from Starfire's room, intent on pursuing their own dreams, relaxation, and revitalization, they both forgot a simple fact: the walls of Titan's Tower are paper-thin.
Author's Note: Alright. I honestly don't know where this idea came from. I was working on my next multiple-chapter story and then this idea popped into my head. I ran with it and am really happy with the way this turned out. I'd appreciate it if you guys would drop me a review with your comments. This is intended to be a one-shot... I might change my mind about that; I'm not sure.