By The Silver Phoenix
Summary: Robin and Starfire have a talk, takes place after the episode 'Haunted'.
Disclaimer: I do not own the Teen Titans.
Rain slashed down in heavy sheets, fat droplets of water pounding the ground relentlessly like an orchestra of rowdy percussionists. Brilliant forks of lightning ripped through the night, accompanied as ever by the cacophony of rumbling thunder, like claws of electricity tearing the murky sky into tiny pieces. Trees swayed violently as a raging gale whipped through the forest, picking up dead leaves and blowing them about mercilessly, while gnarled branches cast strange and frightening shapes in the darkness.
Two completely drenched Titans, dripping water from head to toe, trudged through the dense foliage in a desperate attempt to search for Slade.
"Starfire, stop him!" Robin called out suddenly. Starfire looked around in bewilderment, straining to see through the misty veil of rain. She hunted for a vaguely humanoid figure, the silhouette of a man… but everywhere she turned, she saw only the hunched shadows of trees that seemed to leer at her, taunting her for her futile efforts… What had Robin seen that she could not?
Robin grabbed her arm, his fingernails digging mercilessly into her skin. "What happened?" he yelled, furious.
Starfire yelped in pain but her voice was quickly snatched away by the wind. "You are hurting me…" She twisted away yet he remained oblivious to her pain, keeping her arm firmly clamped in his excruciating grip.
"Slade ran right by you! How could you let him get away?!" She winced at the very sound of his voice, crackling with anger. She had never seen him so angry before… so angry at her.
"But, Robin…" she answered incredulously, blinking away tears that were immediately washed away by the rain. "There was no one there."
The automatic doors slid shut with barely a whisper, and Starfire slipped inside the darkened room. Her emerald eyes, a pair of bright orbs in the cloaking dimness, quickly sought out a single figure, bedcovers stirring as his chest rose and fell in time to his rhythmic yet slightly laboured breathing. The Tamaranian girl cautiously made her way across the room and drew up a chair by Robin's bedside.
He must have heard the sound of footsteps, for his eyelids fluttered open and he gave a sudden start at seeing a figure bent over his bed. Somewhere in the shadowed recesses of his troubled mind a memory was triggered, a nightmare resurrected. He instinctively clenched his muscles, but quickly relaxed when he recognised Starfire's familiar face.
"You are feeling the O and the K now, yes?" she asked anxiously.
He answered in the affirmative, but she still insisted on examining the state of the injuries for herself. Stray strands of her crimson hair tickled his cheek as she leant over him, gently pulling back the bedcovers. She winced involuntarily upon seeing the assortment of cuts and scratches he had collected; his right eye was quite badly bruised and his arm still hurt, though thankfully none of the wounds were in a critical state.
"I am sorry," Starfire sighed at last, letting her optimistic façade drop. She stared down at her own hands, palms turned upwards, as if wishing to retract the starbolt she had fired earlier that day. An image flashed before her eyes: Robin, fearless leader of the Teen Titans, falling helplessly to the ground in a haze of fluorescent green light… and her own hands before her, still glowing that same telltale shade of green, more incriminating than any bloodstain. "Robin, I…"
"It wasn't your fault," he reminded her quickly. "You didn't have a choice."
"But I have hurt you." The vibrant spark of life about her that he was so used to seeing was gone, and he could just make out the shadows of dark circles beneath her eyes. She hadn't slept all night.
"I'll be fine, Starfire." His gaze, however, remained transfixed on her face. She looked so different now in the half-darkness: tired, forlorn, lost. The Titans had all been badly shaken by the night's events and the Tamaranian girl certainly was not her usual, bubbly self. Robin frowned as he watched her gingerly touch her left arm just above the elbow, and realised with a pang of guilt that that was where he had hurt her. "I'm the one who should be apologising, not you. I was just so sure he was there, I—I thought you were lying to me."
He heard her draw in a sharp breath and didn't even need to see the expression on her face to know just how much that remark had hurt her. He quickly pressed on: "All that time, even when all the signs were right there in front of me, I was just too stubborn to see the truth."
Again, that forlorn look. "But I do not understand. Even if you truly believed that Slade was real, why did you not trust us?"
Robin sighed and shook his head. He hated this. Hated how she wouldn't yell at him, even when he had hurt her badly. Hated how she was hardly ever angry at him the way the others sometimes were. She wasn't even intentionally guilt-tripping him; she was just being Starfire. In that naïve way of hers, she wanted only to understand. But how could he give her the answers she was looking for, if he didn't even have them himself?
"It's not that I don't trust you guys," he answered slowly, "it's just that… well, all those battles, and then there was that time, when I was his apprentice"—he clenched his fists in bitter reminiscence—"Slade's always been just one step ahead of me, every single damned time, Starfire! He can't be dead. Falling into a pit of lava just seems too easy, too good to be true. Even now, I can't help but feel as if he's still out there."
"And that you are the only one who can stop him?" Starfire finished quietly, echoing the very words Robin himself had used.
He deliberately avoided her gaze then, but it didn't matter anyway; she already knew the answer. Had known, in fact, before the words even left her lips. Oh, they were such opposites: she who craved the radiant embrace of the sun and the warmth of love and companionship; and he, he who thrived in darkness and solitude, the lone creature of the cold night. She was not like him, and never would be.
Until tonight, however, she had nonetheless been under the illusion that she had somehow managed to break through some of the barriers he had built around himself. But now, it was clear that there was still much he had not revealed, and much he did not wish to reveal about himself. She wondered what Raven had seen tonight in Robin's mind, and wondered if he would ever willingly, consciously let anyone see those things.
"You should have let us help, Robin," she said softly, her voice tinged with sadness. "Do you know how much it hurt us to watch you do so much damage to yourself?"
He glanced up, surprised at the question. Do you know how much it hurt us, she'd said, but the tone of her voice and the look in her eyes betrayed her underlying meaning. What she was really saying was: Do you know how much it hurt me to watch you do so much damage to yourself… fighting something that was not even real?
He didn't know what to say. No, I don't know. Or maybe, I've been acting like a jerk again, haven't I? Out loud, he simply said, "I'm sorry," but his own voice sounded hollow, even to him.
If Starfire sensed the inadequacy of this statement, then she did not show it. When she spoke again, the usual optimism and hope in her voice had been restored. "We will always be here for you, Robin. If Slade really is alive and is to return, then we will be ready. He cannot always be one step ahead of all of us. If there is to be a next time, then we can and we will defeat him. But for now, you must leave the fighting of the crime to us while your injuries heal. I am afraid that I have already disrupted your rest for tonight; I shall leave you to sleep…"
She was about to leave then, but something in her demeanour changed and she suddenly leant forward and hugged him, burying her face in the comfort of his neck. "You are my best friend, Robin. I do not wish to lose you," she confessed with an almost inaudible sob, "When Raven said that you were not going to 'make it', I feared…"
Surprised at this brash movement, Robin clumsily put an arm around the Tamaranian girl. "It's OK, Star," he comforted, gently stroking her hair, "Things are going to be OK."
They stayed that way for a while, her head resting on his shoulder, his arm awkwardly though not unpleasantly around her. And in that moment, it struck him how distant and insignificant Slade seemed in comparison to the flesh-and-blood girl in his arms. She was here, now. And she most definitely was real.
Eventually, Starfire acknowledged the awkwardness of the situation and extracted herself with an apologetic gesture. She stood up to leave and had already reached the door when Robin called her back. "Star…" He offered her a rare, genuine smile—the first one that day. "Thanks."
An answering smile tugged on her lips and her eyes shone again. "You are welcome." A moment later, she was gone, leaving behind only the warmth of the hug where she had pressed her body against his.
Robin remained awake for some time afterwards, staring numbly at the ceiling. The skies outside had cleared with the last rainclouds receding over the brightening horizon, but another storm of a different kind raged inside his head. Fragmented memories and snatches of conversation whirled around the Boy Wonder's mind with dizzying velocity, six voices escalating like a symphony trapped in crescendo: Our time apart may have made you soft, but it's only made me stronger… Robin, you are hurting me… Why couldn't Starfire see you?… If you've stopped me, then why am I still here?… How can you save a city, Robin, when you can't even save yourself?… There are no generators! There is no Slade!… I'll take down anyone who gets in my way!… As long as I'm around, you're never alone… There's no one here. There never was… I am the evil that haunts every dark corner of your mind… Lights out, Slade.
As Robin gave in at last to the weight of his drowsy eyelids, the voices and memories faded away one by one like shadows chased away at dawn by the first slivers of daylight, until only one last image remained.
She is real, he thought. And that's all that really matters.