Robin gritted his teeth as he looked out at the bright stars burning in the ink-black sky. Only one thought filled his mind. Slade. Even just thinking that monster's name sent his body into fight mode: tense muscles, slowed breathing and darting eyes watching for the next attack. I have to find him. I have to find him and bring him down. Robin pictured Slade's face in his mind's eye, the glowing red dot that was his only visible eye reflecting the evil soul within. He remembered all the fights with him, all the chances he'd had to eliminate Slade from the galaxy forever. Stupid, stupid! Why didn't you kill him when you had the chance?! Why did you let him go?! A familiar female voice brought Robin out of his memories.
"Robin? Are you…alright?" Starfire's melodious voice asked from outside the T-Ship. Robin shook his head hard and nodded at his girlfriend's worried face.
Starfire, seemingly satisfied, gave a toothy grin and dropped back to the wing of the ship to resume her task of guiding the T-Ship through the outer regions of space. The Titans had been traveling the stars for a few weeks now, looking for clues as to Slade's whereabouts. The mysterious villain had recently returned with a fresh vengeance, killing, stealing and destroying more than ever before. After a lead on the planet Colu turned out to be false, Starfire suggested they try her homeworld, Tamaran. As luck would have it, the T-Ship's reserve tanks ran out of fuel. Cyborg, muttering to himself about readjustments and blueprints, had turned off his communicator for the rest of the trip, forcing Starfire to act as engine for the spacecraft.
As the white and pink planet came into view, Robin was jerked back in his seat as he felt the ship rapidly accelerating. He flicked on his portable headset, which all the Titans wore to communicate easily.
"Whee! Ah Tamaran! Once again, your beauteous presence makes my heart full!" Robin rolled his eyes at Starfire's excitement, and then raised his voice to get her attention.
"Huh?" Abruptly the ship came to a halt as Starfire glided around to the front of the ship.
"Yes Robin? What is it?"
"You're kinda going a little…fast."
"Ugh…Star…stop. You're gonna make me hurl!" Beast Boy's slightly nauseous voice rang in both of their ears. Star blushed and laughed sheepishly.
"I am very sorry friends. A descent of slower means would be better, yes?"
"Beast Boy, shut up!" Raven ordered the green-skinned shapeshifter.
Robin clicked off his headset and took a deep breath. He closed his eyes and lowered his head. Okay, time to focus. Ask where Slade is, find Slade, kill Slade.Robin repeated his goals like a mantra in his head for a few minutes, and then lifted his head. He was ready.
Starfire lowered the T-Ship to the barren plains of Tamaran, none too gently. As the other Titans climbed out of the cramped quarters of the ship, Starfire spun in giddy circles though the air.
"Hello sky of Tamaran! Hello ground of Tamaran! I am so very joyous to see you again!" Seeing Robin cracking his neck as he stretched sore muscles on the surface, she swooped down to pick him up in a zealous hug.
"Isn't it wonderful, Robin? Isn't it marvelous?" She shot up into the air for a better view of the bleak plains and mountains.
Robin smiled and brushed back a strand of Starfire's shining red hair. "Yeah. It's great. But could you put me down now?"
Starfire looked down in surprise, and then lowered both of them to the ground. "Ah, I am sorry. I was so happy, I just…"
"Star. It's okay." Robin felt his shoes hit the ground as he leaned in to kiss Starfire.
"Ahem." A deep voice made both Titans look up in surprise. Starfire flushed crimson, and then ran to give her k'norfka, Galfore, a hug.
"I see you've been busy." Galfore asked with a cheeky grin.
"Galfore!" Starfire frowned in embarrassment, before giving Galfore a kiss on his massive forehead.
"So what brings our crown princess to visit her humble home?"
"Work, unfortunately. We need to question some people on your planet. About a man named Slade." Robin answered for her.
"Ah…I have heard that name spoken in secret by many." Galfore turned to look into Starfire's emerald eyes. "But I daresay your parents will not want their loyal citizens to be spreading rumors."
"I'll take care of that." Raven interrupted, holding out five small multi-colored gemstones.
"With…shiny rocks?" Beast Boy quipped.
Raven glared quickly in his direction, and then shifted her position to face the rest of the Titans. "No…with time-stopping."
"Now how are those cheap jewels gonna be able to stop time?" Cyborg spoke up.
Raven's face simmered as she replied to the human-robot hybrid. "For your information, these are made out of pure Azarathian crystal and you-" Raven broke off mid-sentence and began to calm her raging emotions. "I mean, these gems have the ability to sustain small amounts of my power for a limited time, in this case the ability to stop time. When you will it, my power will stop time around you and whoever you are in contact with for a short period of time."
"Just enough to ask a few questions." Robin added. "Good job Raven."
"Yeah, great job Ray. Can I have a green one?" Beast Boy asked, reaching out to grasp a bright stone. Raven quickly snatched her hand away, smacking Beast Boy upside the head.
"I'm going to hold onto yours." Raven smirked.
"Whaat? Come on, just let me hold one!" Beast Boy struggled in vain to grab one of the powerful jewels. Raven laughed to herself, and then pushed Beast Boy away to begin handing out the gems to the other Titans.
"We'll split into two teams: one to cover the Tamarans inside the palace, the other to question any Tamarans who may be outside." Robin ordered as he took a smoky gray gem. "Raven, Beast Boy and I will head inside, so Starfire and Cy will stay out here. Got it?"
Cyborg grinned wryly. "Ya don't want to be with your lady love, Rob?"
Starfire giggled softly as Robin's face turned crimson. "I-I don't want to be distracted."
Star ran up to kiss Robin one last time before grabbing Cyborg's hand, leading him off in the direction of an outdoor garden near the palace walls.
The remaining three Titans followed Galfore as he led them to the massive palace gate and the corridors beyond. Robin looked back at Starfire's retreating form as he walked through the entrance to the main hall of the palace. As Raven and Beast Boy playfully squabbled, Robin surveyed the vast amount of orange-skinned Tamarans inside, eating, talking or fighting. It's gonna be a long day.
Starfire gleefully flew among the twisted white ivy that her people considered soothing. Cyborg trailed her at a slower pace, looking for any wayward Tamarans he could question. Suddenly, he saw Star shoot down in a sharp dive. Running, he turned a corner in the garden and saw Star standing in front of an elderly Tamaran, about to take out her violet gem. As time stopped for Cyborg, Starfire began to question Caloge'r, an older male Tamaran who had retired to the palace after a lifetime of as an acting official in the royal courts.
"It is most good to see you, old friend!" Star exclaimed.
"Likewise, dear one. But I suspect you are not here to reminisce, are you?"
Starfire nodded. "Yes, I am here to find information on Slade, a very bad man who we must destroy. Can you be of help to me?"
Caloge'r stiffened at Slade's name. "Ah…I have not heard that name in ages. But why are you tracking him of all people?"
"He is an enemy of Robin."
"I see. But…I'm afraid I am unable to speak of him here."
"Do not worry, friend. See!" Starfire spread her arms wide, indicating the frozen fountain and Cyborg stopped in mid-stride. "I have made the time cease here. You are free to speak as you wish."
Caloge'r looked around in amazement. "Well…let's see. Slade has indeed been to our fair planet before, about eighteen years ago."
"What? Slade? Here?" Starfire stammered.
"Yes." Caloge'r answered, grim-faced. "He was here for a short time, only about a month. Then he was banished from this planet by our great king. Your father."
"Banished? But why? What terrible crime did he commit to deserve such a punishment?"
Caloge'r sighed. "Starfire. Slade was an honored guest here. He was welcomed with open arms and we accepted his gifts with gratitude. Slade was given quarters in the palace, near to those of your parents. And he would…would…visit your mother. Alone."
Starfire's brow furrowed. "What reason could he possibly have to be seeing mother in solitude?"
"Well Starfire, you see, Slade was here the year you were born. Nine months before you were born. And about seven months before your mother gave birth, he was banished without warning." Caloge'r searched Star's astonished face. "Starfire, Slade is…your-"
"No! No! Don't say it! No!" Starfire's eyes glowed an eerie shade of green as she soared into the sky. Caloge'r regretfully watched his princess streak away across the darkening sky. Cyborg opened his eyes to see Starfire gone and a rust-orange Tamaran in her place.
"Star?" he called, looking around.
The older Tamaran gestured for Cy to come closer. "My name is Caloge'r and if you have a time-stopping device such as Princess Starfire's, I will give you the knowledge you seek."
Robin's boot-clad feet stomped down the hallway as he called out Starfire's name. He allowed himself to think of one thing and one thing only as he raced down the dimly-lit corridors: finding Star. Just a few minutes ago, he had been standing disappointedly in front of a room full of useless Tamarans. He, Beast Boy, and Raven had just finished interrogating the rowdy roomful of the orange-skinned race when Cyborg walked in from the outside…alone. When Robin had asked where Star was, Cyborg just shook his head and looked away. Robin stormed up and looked Cyborg straight in the eye.
"Where…is…she?" he demanded. "What happened to her?"
Cyborg tried in vain to avoid eye contact. "She-she should tell you herself." Backing away, Robin took out his T-Communicator with lightning speed.
"Star? Star? Where are you? Star?" Robin pleaded into the communicator. When he heard no reply but static, he flipped open the top of the small device to reveal a locator. A flickering purple dot indicated Starfire's presence. As he dashed away toward his lost girlfriend's location, Cyborg turned to face the other two bewildered Titans.
"Guys, there's something I have to tell you…" he began.
"Well duh." Beast Boy retorted.
Robin shook his head to clear away his wandering thoughts. Suddenly he heard a soft whimpering noise down a dark corridor.
"Star?" Robin whispered. An answering sob told him he'd found her. He headed toward the sounds of her hushed crying. Robin peered down the black hallway, looking for Starfire's familiar red hair.
Robin whirled around, wildly searching for the source of her voice. "Star! Where are you?"
"No…please Robin. Leave. You will have no wish to be with me now."
"What are you talking about? I'll never leave you Star. I…I love you. You know that." Seeing her crouched figure against the wall, he knelt down to stroke her hair.
"I-I return your feelings with the whole of my heart, but…" Starfire choked back another sob as she avoided his gaze in the darkness. Robin moved closer to wrap his arms around Star's back as he rested his chin on her shoulder.
"Nothing could keep me away from you."
"Not even myself?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Robin…I…make a promise with me, please."
Robin, confused, agreed immediately. "Of course. Anything."
"Promise me you'll have the feelings of love and gladness with me. Forever."
"Yeah. I will."
"Then I will tell you now. Robin…"Star inhaled sharply. "Slade is…Slade i-is my fa-father."
Robin blinked, once, twice. "What? You're kidding, right? You…you can't." Robin began to laugh weakly.
"I am not participating in the joke-making now Robin. I am serious with my whole being. It is truth."
Robin abruptly stood up, letting Starfire fall hard to the marble floor below.
"Robin? What is troubling you?" Star feebly asked as she propped herself up on her hands.
"I-I have to go." Robin took off running in the opposite direction without another word. Starfire crumbled, collapsing to the ground in tears.
Robin's head raced as he stumbled down the walkway, but only four words were running through his thoughts. Slade is her father. Slade is her father. Slade is her father. He thought of Star's face, her happy grin, her shining eyes, her smell, the taste of her skin against his mouth. Slade's face loomed over his daughter's through all the memories, a dark shadow over the sun. Robin slowed and slammed his fists into the wall. Why!? Why do you ruin everything!? Robin cursed to himself silently, wishing for the umpteenth time that he'd killed Slade when he'd had the chance. He felt salty tears streak down his face as he tried to calm his swift breathing and racing heart. He'd touched Slade's child. Laughed with Slade's child. Kissed her. Loved her. And all this time, he never knew, never even guessed.
Robin fell to his knees, gripping his head between his hands. How could this happen? Star wasn't evil; she could never betray me like this. He stood there in silence for what seemed liked ages, thinking of nothing, his mind empty.Robin raised his head with a sudden realization. She didn't betray me. She isn't evil. I've know this all along, all the years we've been together. God! Robin smacked his head against the wall. Hard. I'm such an idiot!
Starfire, still in the same position that she'd been in for twenty minutes, didn't even raise her head as he approached. Silently, he bent down to grasp her cold, shaking hands. He tilted her chin to look into her jade eyes. After staring long and hard at her broken shaking face, he leaned in to gently kiss her forehead. Pressing her head against his chest he began to kiss her hair.
"Star...Star…Star…" he croaked. "I'm so…so sorry. I said I'd never hurt you. I promised. But…I-" his voice cracked hoarsely.
"Robin…I'm sorry too. Sorry that…that…that…thing is my father. I had no thoughts of a father besides the one that grew me up. I…" Starfire sighed, a deep choking sound from deep within her.
"It's okay. Star. Look at me." Robin gripped her hair with his hands and brought his forehead to rest against his. "You're not your father. I know that. I've always known that. And…and if you want to stop searching for…him, I will. We can go back home and pretend this never happened. We can for-"
Robin's voice was quieted as Star mashed her lips against his in a desperate kiss.
"No. He must be stopped. Slade is not my father. Not my real father. And he never shall become one to me."
Robin breathed in a sigh of relief, then lay slowly back to the floor, keeping Star's body close to his.
"Star, what I said before…It's true. I love you. God, I love you so much." Robin hugged Star close and, exhausted, fell asleep. Starfire watched as his breathing slowed and his eyes closed. Stroking his cheek with clammy hand and tucking her head under his chin, she also dozed off.
The next morning, Starfire and Robin were awakened by the startled shouts of a surprised Beast Boy.
"Whoa! What were you guys doing last night?!" he sputtered. Robin, confused looked down to see a sheepish Starfire lying on top of him, still half-asleep. He smiled then looked up at Beast Boy.