(A/N)-So... this is a little different from what I normally do. But it was fun to get into Starfire's head and write with her distinct 'voice' for a while. And besides that, that moment in Apprentice where Robin and Starfire face off is one of my favorites of the entire series and I like covering all its various angles and nuances. So enjoy this little first-person jaunt into Star's perspective for that episode.
Disclaimer: Can I own just Starfire at least? No? Well, okay then. I own absolutely nothing in this venture. Now that that's out of the way, on to the one-shot.
Something is wrong.
The moment I see him, that is what I think.
His eyes are emotionless, like the mask that covers them. He looks at us, but I do not recognize him. Gone are the cheerful red, yellow, and green that I have come to know and in its place are orange and black. Darkness emanates from him, from that uniform with its taunting colors. He is like a shadow. His expression is cold. It frightens me, to see him so. It is as though he has become another person. It is as though…
As though he has become Slade.
"Robin?" I call out, as though not entirely sure. "Why are you-?"
He whips out an object from his belt and throws it at me. It explodes in my face and I am thrown back. The shock of the blast cannot compete with the shock of my expression.
He has hit me. Robin… has deliberately hit me.
I look up just as he is looking away. His expression is pained. I almost believe I can see… regret? I spring up and run towards him, along with the others. Before we can reach him, he turns the stolen laser downwards and the bridge between us is blown away. I take to the air and shield my eyes. I can hear the incredulous exclamations of the other Titans over the sound of the explosion.
I uncover my face and look up just as the dark specter of Robin is fading into the smoke.
My spirits sink and I drop a few feet in the air.
I am unsure how to react. How to even think.
I had been so worried when he was missing. So desperate to find him again, to be reassured that he was all right. I had believed that when we found him, everything would be 'the okay' again. We would laugh, he would say something silly, even if he was injured and in obvious pain, I would embrace him, and we would all go back to the Tower and sit on the couch and watch the late night movies, reunited once more.
…I had not been expecting to find him like this.
"Robin…" I murmur, touching a hand to the place where the first blast struck.
They are saying that he is evil now, a criminal. They are saying he is working for Slade. The colors, the uniform, stealing the thermal blaster, not speaking to us and shooting at us when we came near… they say that is the only explanation.
I cannot believe it. I will not. The part of me that belongs to Robin, that trusts in him and even, to a certain extent, loves him… that part of me is screaming at the rest that it cannot be true, that Robin cannot be our enemy.
In this I am not alone. Beast Boy as well, is finding it difficult to believe. He is trying to make light of it, explain it away in his usual manner. Everything he says, Cyborg and Raven are shooting down.
At this point I would take an evil robotic replacement over the prospect that Robin…
It could not have been him. It cannot be. The Robin I know is brave and loyal. He would never work for Slade. Not of his own free will. And he would never attack us. Not unless he had good reason to…
I am suddenly reminded of the incident with Red X. Uncertainty gnaws at me. True, Robin had been using his disguise for good, attempting to fool Slade and find out more about the villain... but still, he took something that was not his, he was dishonest with us… and he broke a certain amount of our trust.
I shake my head. He still has not forgiven himself for it. Robin makes mistakes and he beats himself up about a great many things more than he should… but he would not turn against the Titans. In this, I am certain.
My thoughts begin to wander. I am haunted by the memory of our encounter with the stranger who looked like Robin.
Where was he? Who is this strange person in his place, who looked like him, but was not him? Why was he dressed like Slade? Why was stealing things for him? Why had his expression been so…
I had never seen that expression on Robin's face before. So cold. So lifeless. So devoid of emotion. Seeing him… like that…
I shiver and rub my arms, tuning in to what the others are saying.
"The way I see it," Beast Boy says, "there are only two logical explanations. One: Robin's been replaced by an evil robot double. Two: he's another innocent victim of zombie mind control."
Any other time I might have laughed at this. My eyes drop to the floor.
"As logical as that sounds…" Raven replies. Her tone turns serious. "If anything was controlling his mind, I would've sensed it."
"And my scanners confirmed his biometrics." Cyborg adds. "That was the real Robin. Our Robin."
I cannot help myself. "Lies!" I shout and their heads turn towards me. "That was not Robin! Your scanners are wrong!"
I do not want to believe it. I refuse to. It was not him. I try to convince myself aloud. "Robin is our friend and nothing could ever make him betray us."
The way they are looking at me… my voice falters.
"Nothing." I repeat softly.
The word dies as it leaves my mouth and I can see that it has no effect. Cyborg and Raven's heads still hang and they still gaze at me sadly. "But something did." Raven tells me somberly.
Beast Boy pops up. "Three words:" he says, "disgruntled radioactive clone."
Raven's eyes flash in annoyance and she bats him away angrily. There is a crash as he hits something behind me. I almost turn to look, but Raven is speaking again, speaking to me.
"No matter what the reason," she tells me sternly. "no matter how much we wish it wasn't true, Robin's a criminal now. And just like any other criminal…"
My heart sinks. No…
"The Teen Titans have to bring him down." Cyborg finishes firmly.
The pit of my stomach drops out and… I feel sick. The very thought of fighting against Robin, against one of my friends, against my best friend, causing him hurt… Moisture stings my eyes and I turn away, cupping my hand to my mouth to quiet my sobs.
The alarm goes off and Beast Boy is finally serious as he says quietly. "It's him."
My heart beats uneasily as we rush through the hallways of the building, looking for Robin.
I do not yet know what I will do when we see him next. Part of me still hopes that there is some reasonable explanation. I still do not believe that he is truly evil. And I refuse to fight him until I know for certain.
We reach him. His hand is outstretched, about to grab another piece of technology, about to steal another device for Slade.
"You're not walking out of this one Robin!" Cyborg says and he turns towards us, startled. "Not without a fight." Cyborg finishes.
He runs at us. I tense. My fists clench as he leaps straight towards myself and Raven. I realize at the last second that he is aiming past us and turn to see him kick his way up into an air shaft.
He is gone again. But his actions give me hope. Clearly he does not wish to fight us. Perhaps that means he is not doing this of his own free will after all.
I hold this thought in my heart as we race to find him again.
I have grown to hate that uniform. I hate those taunting colors, I hate the Slade insignia where Robin's 'R' badge should be. I hate the spikes on his mask that are like Slade's eye. I want to tear it off.
I hate seeing Robin in that uniform as we face him once again.
Cyborg is the first to approach him. In Robin's absence he has become our leader. "Look man, I don't know what's going on." I hear him say. "But we don't wanna fight. We just wanna talk."
I feel a jolt in my heart as Robin leaps into the air and kicks Cyborg away. I watch as my friend goes sailing past me and to my side I can hear Beast Boy cracking his knuckles.
"Guess there's nothing to talk about."
I turn and watch as he morphs into a gorilla. He pounds at the roof with his great fists, but Robin is too quick and is leaping and dodging away. I watch the exchange of blows between them…
But I am unable to move myself to action. My reluctance to hurt Robin is driving out any righteous fury I should feel. My hands hang at my side.
Robin has wound a grapple line around Beast Boy's arm. He jumps back and pulls on it. Tiny shards of glass rain down as Beast Boy becomes lodged in one of the neon letters. Robin lands unscathed.
Then he turns to me.
I cannot bring myself to attack. I reach out to him. "Please…" I call plaintively. Please Robin, I know you cannot really-
I gasp as he rushes past me and attacks Raven. She puts up a black barrier to block each strike.
What hope I had in my heart has died away. I watch numbly as Cyborg joins the fray. Robin fights them both.
And I watch him.
Beast Boy has gotten free of the lettering. He charges towards Robin in ram's form and slams him from the side. My heart shoots straight into my throat as Robin skids away, rolling almost to the end of the roof. He does not move and for a moment I fear-
But then Beast Boy is running up to him, a worried and apologetic look on his face. "Dude! Are you okay?" he asks.
Robin strikes him. Beast Boy flies back to collide with Cyborg. And Robin is already getting up.
I still cannot move. I can only watch in horror as all my worst nightmares come to life.
From somewhere above me I can hear Raven reciting her mantra. Black energy swirls around Robin, pinning one of his arms to his side. His other arm is free, though, and he throws a disk from it. It explodes into the side of one of the letters. Raven is blinded and I watch, horrified, as she falls to the roof beside me.
"No!" I cry. I clutch a fist to my now wildly-beating heart as Robin leaps towards Cyborg. He kicks, and punches, he attacks with an inhuman impersonality…
And I watch him.
And all of a sudden it is not my friend I see standing there, but it is the Red X. It is that shadow that Robin created to lie to us and get close to Slade. It is one of Slade's emotionless mechanical robots. It is Slade himself.
I can feel something unpleasant in my mouth. I recognize the taste. I felt it twice before, the first time when my sister attempted to do the pinning the blame on me for her crimes, the second, just after I learned that Robin was the Red X.
It is the bitter taste of betrayal.
My heart turns cold. My eyes harden. No longer am I conflicted. I know what must be done. No matter what I may feel for Robin, I cannot allow him to continue. He is hurting my friends. He is behaving like a criminal. My duty as hero and protector of this city dictates that I must stop him.
And I will.
Cyborg has one of Robin's arms in his grasp and is charging up his sonic canon. But Robin sweeps his feet underneath Cyborg's, knocking him over onto his back. The sonic canon goes off as he falls and the blast sends Robin into the air. Robin grabs ahold of the edge of one of the letters and flips himself upright onto it.
I am snapped into action. My feet leave the ground. As he stands and runs across the tops of the letters I fly swiftly to the other end to head him off. He does not notice me. He merely continues to jump from one letter to the other. I am directly in front of him now and charge up a starbolt with my fist. He is almost upon me-
My command brings him to a halt. He stumbles back a few paces, recovers, looks at me.
I hold my hand steady and determined and fix him with an icy glare. "Do… not… move…" I order him.
He turns his head away from me slightly, listening to something in his ear. I can hear a voice cutting faintly through the silence. Slade's voice.
"I thought I told you to use that blaster." the villain says. "Attack! Now!"
The command stirs him from his paralysis. He turns toward me with an impassive, unreadable expression and charges up the thermal blaster. It whines as it powers, glowing red with energy. I close my hand into a fist and the green glow of my starbolt intensifies, as does my hardened gaze. He fixes the laser on me. I level my charged fist at him.
We stare each other down, waiting. Waiting for that fatal moment where one or the other of us would fire. It almost seems like the whole world is holding its breath.
Neither of us move.
My gaze never falters as I stare him in the face. He never even flinches. My fury builds with the tension. Why will he not simply get this overwith? I scowl as I watch him with narrowed eyes, willing him with my mind and all my might to shoot first so that I…
What was I doing?
My determination falters.
This… this is Robin.
Robin. The boy that was nice to me when I first came here to Earth. The boy that is so patient with me in explaining his planet's culture. The boy that takes me on Ferris wheel rides and shares the cotton candy with me because I am his best friend. This is the boy that works so hard to catch the criminals and does the yelling at himself when they elude us, even if he is not at fault. This is the boy who trains in the gym every day, sometimes for hours on end, to make sure he is strong enough, quick enough, fast enough, to beat the villains and keep the citizens of the city-and rest of us-safe from harm.
This is the young man I have come to trust with my life.
How… how can I be doubting in him? How can I be so sure that he is no longer the boy I know and love but instead is… How can I even consider fighting him?
I hesitate. I am torn between what I know to be my duty as a hero… and what I know to be true about Robin. And as I look at him and realize that even now, I cannot bear to cause him harm, my cold expression softens and slips away. My eyes widen.
My resolve crumbles.
"Robin?" I say to him. My lower lip is trembling. "You are my best friend." My voice quivers as I speak. It is all I can do to stay in the air and keep from sinking straight to the ground. "I cannot be in a world where we must fight. If you are truly evil then…"
I dispel the starbolt from my hand.
"Go ahead. Do what you must." My eyes close as my arm drops to my side. It does not matter whether he is truly evil or not. I will not fight him. I wait, and brace myself to feel the pain of the laser hitting me. I can hear its whine. It is… powering down?
I open my eyes and see the red glow of the thermal blaster fading away as Robin lowers his arm. My heart pounds as the impersonal robotic mask drops from his face, replaced by an anxious, pleading expression. He steps towards me.
"Starfire, no." he says, and I can hear the slight shaking in his voice. "I-"
He cries out suddenly and claps his hands over his ears as a screech of static and feedback explodes from the radio pieces in them.
Slade's voice. He is angry. What is-?
"I gave you an order! If you won't attack, my probes will!"
I almost ask Robin what is going on, but that is before I feel the strange… tingling through my body, running through my veins. It feels as though something very small is creeping around inside of me.
The tingling feeling suddenly explodes into pain.
I cry out as my vision is filled with an orange haze. The thing that was creeping around inside of me is now tearing, clawing, ripping me apart from the core. Every fiber of my being feels as though it is being shocked with electricity. My body jerks about. I can feel myself falling… feel hands underneath me… his hands… catching me… I can only lie limply in his arms as wave after wave of excruciating pain sweeps over me. My eyes are clamped shut tightly. I had been injured in battle before… been tortured once even… this was worse. I felt as though I was just going to split apart.
Dimly I can hear the voice in Robin's radio saying something. Something about 'the only way to save them'. I feel myself moving; feel his warm hands leaving me. Almost instinctively I reach out for him. My eyes open. Through the orange mist I can see him standing over me.
"R…Robin…" I call weakly.
His face holds a pained expression as he whispers, "I'm sorry." before raising the thermal blaster. It charges up and fires. My eyes are filled with a bright red glow.
Everything goes black.
I did not know it then, but somehow, even though I still did not know why it was that Robin was taking orders from Slade… that hesitation… the look I could see in his eyes as the cold expression utterly lost its grip on him…
That was the moment my hope returned.