Once again, I have no excuse for why it's taken me so long to update. I wish I did.
If you're in a forgiving mood, I invite you to participate in my poll regarding Danny's little clone. There are only two options, so you'll have to be sure of your answer! I've got over a hundred followers, and I hope most of you will share your opinion.
"Okay," Beast Boy began, "First thing's first." Human now, he settled himself on the grass behind the gypsy's booth. Robin immediately sat down across from him, hands on his knees and back ramrod straight. Raven knelt beside him, easily schooling her face into mask of indifference in preparation for whatever Beast Boy had to tell them.
Beast Boy fixed them with a serious look. "So," he said, "I'm pretty sure she's not just crazy."
In the moment of quiet that followed, Raven could practically hear Robin's already fragile patience crack. She cast him a sidelong glance just in time to see the entire right side of his face twitch.
"You're… 'pretty sure,'" Robin repeated, skillfully keeping his tone as neutral as possible.
Beast Boy gave a vigorous nod. "Yeah. Pretty sure."
As if silently praying for the strength to remain calm, Robin bowed his head and took a slow breath through the nose. If there wasn't a potential hostage situation, creepy circus freaks, and problems with her powers to worry about, Raven might have found it funny.
Robin lifted his head. "That has got to be one of the most unhelpful things I have ever heard come out of your mouth!"
"And that's saying something," Raven muttered. Robin shot her a glare, not appreciative of the joke, and Beast Boy glowered at her. You know something's wrong when I'm the one with a sense of humor, she thought. Wisely, she kept that observation to herself.
"It's not unhelpful," Beast Boy protested. "Especially once you hear the rest of it!"
"Then tell us the rest of it before I drag you back to the Tower for bathroom cleaning duty!"
Beast Boy grimaced, visibly shuddering and holding up his hands in a defensive gesture. "Alright, jeez, don't get so impatient!"
"I have every right to be impatient!" Robin snapped. "You went against direct orders to sneak out here into a potentially dangerous situation without telling anyone where you'd gone! If there's something villainous going on, what were we supposed to do if, number one, something had happened to you, or number two, you made the situation worse for the victims by bumbling in here?"
Beast Boy pouted, looking guiltily down at his hands and tugging on one of his gloves. "I didn't 'bumble' in here," he mumbled. "And she was happy to see me. You have no idea how happy…"
Robin crossed his arms, lips pinching together into a thin line.
Beast Boy sighed. He dared to look up again, apologetic. "Okay, I'm sorry. But I knew I could help, and you weren't going to let me. I had to do something."
They watched each other carefully for a moment before Robin finally seemed to relax, the rigid tension draining from his posture. "What's done is done," he sighed. He seemed to think for a moment, then shook his head. "So get to the story. What's going on at this circus?"
Beast Boy sat up a little straighter. "Alright. Here's what I know." He took a deep breath. "When I first showed up, nothing seemed too weird. Well, this place is always weird, but nothing looked like there was anything bad going on. Some of the people looked like they were setting up for the show. It was quiet. But I started to notice a couple things that were… weirder than normal."
"Like what?" Robin asked.
Beast Boy frowned. "For one thing, I can't smell the circus people. None of the freaks have a scent."
Raven blinked, startled. She and Robin glanced at each other, both thinking back to her own inability to sense the circus freaks.
"And another thing," Beast Boy went on, "was that Angel was crying when I found her, and going on about nightmares and getting in trouble. And I didn't realize this until later, but when I got here no one was talking. At all. None of the freaks setting up were talking to any other freaks. So things were kind of fishy from the start, but then they got even fishier."
"Fishier doesn't sound like it should be a word," Raven murmured.
Robin waved her away. "How did things get fishier?"
Beast Boy began using his hands to narrate, explaining how he snuck into the train car with Angel and got her attention, and then how she wrote on her hand instead of speaking to him.
"For a while we had to write all over our hands and arms with her pen," Beast Boy explained. "It was…"
"Weird?" Raven finished. Beast Boy's mouth twisted up on one side.
"Yeah. But she showed me this thing on her wrist," and he clasped his right fingers around his left wrist to demonstrate, "and told me it records everything she says. And it tracks her, too. She can't leave or say anything that would make the ringmaster mad. And then she told me—" He cut off, suddenly looking uncertain. He played with his gloves again to stall. "See, this is the part where that thing about her not being crazy comes in…"
"I'll be the judge of that," Robin said. "You're just making a report. Just say it."
Beast Boy complied. "When we ran out of room on our arms to write on she got this pillow case and turned it inside out, and we started writing on that. She said—wrote—that the ringmaster, Freakshow, kidnapped her and her friend a year ago. And then she said…" He trailed off again and then took another breath. Glancing around, he lowered his voice and leaned forward. "She said Freakshow, her friend, and her were the only humans in the circus, and all the others… are ghosts."
Robin stilled. Raven's hand grabbed the sleeve of his jacket, tension in the tautness of her arm, her eyes sharp when he turned to meet them.
"Back there," Robin said quickly, "when you couldn't sense them, you said—"
"Something was in the way," Raven finished.
"Like it had sucked the life out of existence."
Neither of them finished the thought, too busy running all the clues through their minds, assessing, questioning, wondering—Was it possible?
Beast Boy looked uneasily between them, his insecurity mounting in the face of their silence. "It wouldn't be the craziest thing we've seen," he prompted. "I'm telling you, I can't smell them, and those special effects at the show were really special, and Angel really, really didn't seem crazy—"
Raven held up a hand and he cut off. She looked him square in the eye. His face was the picture of earnestness, eyes imploring her—her personally—to take him seriously. He felt equally as earnest to her sixth sense. She held his gaze for another moment and made up her mind.
"I trust your judgment. I believe you—I believe Angel."
Beast Boy blinked, staring at her as if he didn't quite understand what she'd said.
Robin spoke. "Are you sure?" he asked her, deadly serious.
Raven glanced at him, then looked down at her hands.
She was the closest thing they had to an expert on the occult. If anyone knew anything about dead people and spirits, it had to be her. The only problem was…
"I won't lie. I don't know much about ghosts," she admitted. "I know a few supposed facts. Old myths, a few ancient ghost-warding techniques. I've never tested out anything I know or ever encountered a real ghost. Right now I don't have any way to prove that Angel is telling the truth."
She met Beast Boy's eyes again. "But I have no way of disproving her either. And after what happened with my powers, and your animal senses…it makes as much sense as anything else."
Beast Boy, reading the truth of her words in her expression, practically glowed with relief. He flashed her a brilliant smile that was impossible not to return with a small grin of her own.
"Ghosts," Robin said. He shook his head slowly, a mixture of awe and trepidation, and dropped his head in his left hand. "It may not be the craziest thing we've seen. But it's definitely up there."
He exhaled a sharp sigh before lifting his head and straightening up again. "Alright. Did she tell you anything else?"
"Not much," Beast Boy said. "Her friend's name is Danny. He's got bracelet things like she does."
"Did she tell you why they were kidnapped? Why there are ghosts that want to work for a circus?"
"All she said about getting kidnapped was that Freakshow was after her friend, and used her to get to him. It was really hard writing on a pillowcase. She said she'd give us the details when we could find a better way to talk."
"He used her to get to her friend?" Raven asked. "Does that mean they're a couple?"
Beast Boy stared at her as if the thought hadn't even occurred to him. He frowned, clearly not pleased with the idea. "She didn't say…"
"That's something we'll have to find out later," Robin said. "Now what did she say about these ghosts?"
Slightly less eager to talk now, Beast Boy nevertheless answered. "She said Freakshow controls them with a crystal ball. They're not here of their own free will."
"But why would he use ghosts in his circus instead of people? Just for entertainment's sake? For the special effects, like you said?"
Beast Boy held up his hands. "Beats me. Like I said, it's not easy or fun writing on a pillowcase. The pen kept slipping over the material and we had to write bigger than we wanted to so we could even make the letters out."
Robin growled in frustration. "We have to know more. But how are we supposed to talk to her when she's being recorded?"
"Why do we have to know more?" Beast Boy asked. "What's stopping us from just busting in there, grabbing Angel and her friend, and busting out?"
Raven shook her head. "We don't know what we're up against," she countered. "If this whole circus is secretly run by ghosts, they probably have some defenses to prevent us from doing just that. We've never fought ghosts before; we'd be unprepared."
"Hey, I got in there just fine. If her friend hadn't been gone all day, I probably would have just taken 'em both and made a break for it."
"And then what?" Robin argued. He pointed an accusing finger. "They've got tracking devices on them. This is why I didn't want you to go charging in alone; you have no idea what the consequences could have been if you'd acted before knowing the full story."
"Well unless you want to chop off her hand to get rid of the stupid bracelet thing, we're not going to be able to get the full story!" Beast Boy retorted.
Robin kneaded his forehead in thought. "Maybe Cyborg could think of something," he said. "Maybe he'd know how to deactivate the device for an hour or so. Wait, no—the ringmaster would find out we're investigating when he found out she'd gone silent for a while. Maybe he could get it off of her—but there might be a reason she hasn't taken it off herself. And then we'd have to worry about the friend; if we found a way to remove the device, we'd have to make sure we could get it off of both of them at the same time. But we don't know where the friend is. We don't even know what he looks like…"
Robin trailed off into silence, and a long stretch of quiet fell between the three of them. Raven sat calmly, face blank as usual, masking her thoughts. Beast Boy fidgeted, pulling at the grass beneath him. Robin laced his fingers together and glared down at them in contemplation.
At last Raven closed her eyes and began to chant silently, willing her mind to open to some solution. How do we talk to Angel? She's got a device on her wrist. That means we either have to keep writing things down, which is completely impractical, but possible, or find some way to get around the device itself…
An inkling of a thought occurred to her. She opened her eyes, letting the inkling grow, questioning it and receiving what seemed like solid answers from herself.
"I… I may have an idea."
Her face went through a rapid series of changes the second he walked in.
She saw him in the mirror, of course; that's how it always began when he came into the dressing room. Her hands stilled halfway through her second braid. Her face went blank with surprise, gaze locked on his reflection, body a statue.
Then the statue came to life. She swiveled around in her chair, eyes sparking, face brightening with happiness so strong it stopped him in his tracks and sent a strangely gratifying pang straight through him.
But almost instantly, the happiness dimmed. The shadow of a cringe passed over her face; her eyes darkened with guilt and ran over his form to assess him both physically and emotionally.
She met his eyes and opened her mouth to say something. Bit her lip to stop herself. She seemed conflicted, nervous, and then looked down at the ground and steeled herself. She raised her head.
Danny didn't know whether to laugh or worry. Or whether to just give in and do something he'd feel stupid for later—because at this point, they'd established that hugging was well within acceptable limits, but if he were to just walk up and plant one on that expressive pink mouth, he was pretty sure Star would flip.
So all he did was say, "Hi."
Star relaxed, those pink lips he'd been thinking about pulling into a self-conscious smile as she seemed to realize how perplexing her reaction had been. She reached up to resume plaiting her hair.
"So, um… how are you feeling?" she asked.
He shrugged, walking forward and turning to lean back against the table holding all the makeup. She turned back around in her chair to keep him in her line of vision. "Fine," he replied. "No flashbacks today."
Oops. He mentally slapped himself as her expression slipped back into guilt. Idiot. Why would you say that?
"O-oh," she said, not meeting his eyes. She picked up a small elastic from off the table and tied off her completed braid. "Good. That's good."
So much for not making things awkward between us, Danny thought.
"Star," he sighed, taking her now free hand, "really, I'm fine." Hand-holding was usually as acceptable as hugging, so long as there were no added gestures. The smallest things could sometimes make her uncomfortable, like the time when all he did was trace the curve of her finger with his thumb and she'd pulled her hand away. Why do girls have to make everything into a confusing set of rules? he mused.
Star sighed too. "If you say so," she replied, not pushing the matter. Danny grinned; she'd learned by now that arguing with him about his well-being wasn't always worth it.
She gave his fingers a slight squeeze before pulling hers away and clapping her hands together. "Alright. We'd better start painting your face if we don't want to be late for our act."
Her own makeup and costume already on, just missing the wings, she hopped down from the chair and directed Danny to take her place. He obediently complied, letting out an exaggerated groan as she grabbed the box full of brushes and sponges and colored creams and paint.
Star rolled her eyes, taking out the black stuff first. "You big baby; it's just a little makeup."
"Don't know if you got the memo, but guys don't do makeup." Accordingly, he eyed the goopy stuff she was scooping up with extreme distaste.
"Well this guy does. And he dances, too. He's actually really good at it, it's great."
"Hey, you're the one who taught me. Don't make me sound like some geeky, naturally dancey guy from High School Musical or something."
She snickered, pausing with the black makeup halfway to his face. "Dancey guy?" she repeated, quirking one eyebrow in question.
"You know what I mean," he grinned, poking her in the ribs.
She squeaked and jumped away. "If you tickle me I'm going to mess up your face!" she chastised, trying not to smile. "And then we'll be late, and the audience will boo us out of the ring. And I don't want to get booed at!"
"Fine, fine, I promise not to make you mess up my face."
She got to work quickly, giving him an authoritative (amused) glare if he so much as twitched. By the time she'd finished with the black, she seemed to be in a surprisingly good mood given all that had happened that day.
Guess that means it's time to tell her. Danny braced himself. Before she could start using the gold paint, he spoke up. "Star?"
"I need to tell you something. It's no big deal, just thought you should, uh, know."
She stopped what she was doing to look at him. Just as he'd expected, she looked suspicious. "You always say it's no big deal right before you tell me something that's gonna upset me," she said, eyes narrowing.
He held up his hands defensively. "No, it's really no big deal this time. It's just… Well, I'm not going to sleep on the train tonight. That's all."
She tilted her head in confusion. "Where else would we sleep?"
"No, Star, I'm not going to sleep on the train. Just me." It took a moment, but then he watched as her eyes lit with angry realization, as her lips parted in shock, and prepared himself for the inevitable argument.
"Why—But you can't—Danny, you just had that… That was just this afternoon that Freakshow got mad! Just hours ago! Maybe you haven't had any flashbacks in the daytime, but you can't be alone when it gets dark. You need to be with me! Where are you supposed to sleep? Is this part of why you've been gone all day?"
He tried to take her hand again to calm her down, but she would have none of it. "Star, it's not a big deal! I told you, I'm doing fine. I'm not going to flip out and have nightmares. Would you please just take my word for it?"
"No, I'm not going to just 'take your word for it,' you never tell me the truth," she snapped. "In fact, now I'm beginning to wonder if you're being honest about not having any flashbacks today!"
Frustrated, Danny grabbed hold of her arm and refused to let go, holding her in place so that he could meet her glare head on. "Look, it's not my idea not to sleep on the train. Freakshow is still upset and doesn't want us being around each other any more than we have to be, and I have some things I have to do. But I swear, I'm going to be fine."
"And how do I know you're not just saying that for my benefit?" she argued, practically yelling now. "You always do this—It's like you don't even care that you're making people worry. Like you're allowed to be worried when we do this stupid act, but I'm not allowed to be worried back, and it's just not fair! You're not the only one who wants to keep people safe!"
"I know that!" he shouted. "But again, it's not my decision to make! When I leave you it's not just for the fun of it; if I didn't have to go, I wouldn't! Because frankly, I don't like leaving you alone any more than you like leaving me alone, okay?"
To his surprise, she faltered. All traces of anger vanished from her face, leaving it open, surprised and... something else. He felt his own expression go blank in response, and suddenly realized that when he'd grabbed her arm he'd simultaneously tugged her closer.
I should let go, he thought. He assessed the actual space between them, discovering she was close enough and the chair tall enough that even though he was sitting while she stood it would only take about a second to close the gap and…
Yeah, I should really let go.
But that must not have been the message his brain sent to this fingers, because they trailed down her arm to gently take her hand.
"Okay?" he asked again, quietly this time.
That traitorous brain of his decided to stop working completely. He lifted the hand he'd taken to his mouth and pressed a kiss to her knuckles.
She stared at him, frozen, for one terrible, centuries-long second. Still too close, not even half a foot between them, and for just one second it seemed as if that inches-wide-gap was about to disappear.
But she blushed so deeply and so furiously that the color actually showed through the white covering her face. She snatched her hand back and moved away, turning to the forgotten gold face paint while Danny could only sit in stupefied horror.
"Okay," she practically whispered.
They didn't speak again for the rest of the night.
I swear I wasn't planning this little moment between Danny and Star. It just... happened.
(But, although I may not have planned it, I won't say I didn't enjoy it...)