Then everything started and she began to see maybe this wasn't her fault. He was push-pulling. Caresses in the dark, telling her to leave, asking why she didn't. Something in his voice. Something hidden. Something which asked her not to leave, not to let this go.
He needed help. He just couldn't ask for it.
He was still reaching for her. She just hoped she'd be there to catch him.
Still four days ago.
"A warehouse," Beast Boy complained. "Why is it always a warehouse? Why can't we ever fight in an arcade?"
"I don't think we're here to fight, Gar," Raven said softly, nodding at Starfire. "We're here to witness."
Starfire barely acknowledged the exchange. She'd retreated, fallen back on training, surrounded herself in a warrior's shield. No emotions getting in, no emotions getting out.
The last time she'd been forced to do this was to escape from the ship bound for the Citadel. Hide all the fear, all the pain and torment, all the knowledge of what was going to happen to her and concentrate on escaping.
She didn't think there was any escape this time.
"You don't have to go in there," Cyborg said, his hand on Starfire's shoulder. "We can-"
"I do," Starfire murmured. "This is my mess."
She patted his hand. "I am sorry you were thrust in the middle."
"It's not your fault," Cyborg soothed. He cuddled her from behind for a moment, his big arms encircling her.
She rested her head on his shoulder. "I should have told you."
"Well, I ain't disputing that," Cyborg replied. "But all I ever wanted was for you to be happy." He smiled at her and squeezed her shoulder as he stepped away. "'Sides, it isn't as much of a shock as you think."
Starfire blinked and looked at him.
Beast Boy grinned. "Hickey's, Star. You got them. Wasn't hard to tell you had someone. And you're not as good as acting as you think around Red X. Take it from me."
Starfire huffed. "You could have said something."
"B and I were just waiting until you felt ready to tell us."
Starfire looked at Raven who smiled and shrugged. "We're here when you need it."
"Thank you," Starfire replied, humbled.
A yell and a crash from inside the warehouse spurred them all into action. Cyborg broke down the door with his foot, Beast Boy leaping inside and changing his form mid-air into that of a snarling tiger. Raven was moments behind him as they made a dramatic entrance. Starfire lit her hands and stalked into the warehouse.
Robin and Red X had been going at it hard. Robin had a bloody lip, one sleeve torn from his shirt and his mask had a slice in it, blood dripping down his cheek. Red X's suit was torn across his ribs, his chest sporting a cut which looked like it had come from a birdarang, his mask had gaping hole in it and he was limping badly as he forced himself upright from where Robin had thrown him into a crate.
Starfire gasped at the sight of both them, covering her mouth with her hands.
Red X laughed, a harsh sound. "So. I finally see what's got you all riled up." He placed an arm across his ribs, doubled over, his other hand supporting his weight against a wooden beam. "Told him, huh?"
"Rob, man, what are you doing?" Cyborg said, ghat.
Robin gritted his teeth. "Taking care of business."
"Like you take care of Starfire?" Red X leered. "Don't you just love the little heart-shaped mole on her inner thigh? It's so nice to lick-"
Starfire gasped while Beast Boy and Cyborg looked uncomfortable.
Robin launched several exploding discs at Red X. "You bastard-"
Red X disappeared and reappeared a short distance away from him. He wobbled, clearly favouring his leg but that didn't stop him from tormenting Robin. "She makes the most amazing noises-"
Robin dragged his bo staff out and launched himself at Red X. "You're lying-"
Red X lifted his hands to block, those two red x's from the back of his hands materialising to act as a shield. Robin's bo staff clanged against it. "It's not my fault you can't please a woman-"
"Shut up!" Robin dropped to the ground and swept Red X's bad leg out from under him. Red X hit the ground on his shoulders, lifting his hands to catch the end of the bo staff as Robin brought it slamming down.
Red X kicked Robin in the side, yanking the staff to the left at the same time. "She wouldn't come to me if you were a real man-"
Robin cast several bombs, right at a still lying down Red X, then back flipped away. Straight into Raven's shield. It roped around him, dragging him away from Red X as another arm of her power plucked Red X away from the bombs.
They exploded and when the smoke cleared, Raven held both boys in the air.
"Funny," she said. "Taking care of business sure looks a lot like you're beating the crap out of each other."
"It's fine. He's a criminal after all." Robin spat a mouthful of blood on the ground."It's allowed."
Red X's laughter turned into a coughing fit.
"Turn yourself in now, Red X, and I'll be lenient."
"This is lenient?" Red X asked. One eye peeked out through the broken mask and fixed itself on Robin. "Nice. I'll remember that."
"You're only making it worse on you."
"Bring it, bird boy."
Raven looked at Starfire. "Did they miss the fact that I have them both?"
"I don't think that matters," Beast Boy said, pointing at them with a hand.
Red X and Robin had resorted to using what little movement they had to throw birdarang and x-shuriken at each other.
With a wrinkle of her nose, Raven dropped them back on the ground. "All yours," she told Starfire. "Go get them."
Starfire interposed herself between them before they could begin fighting again. "Stop it!"
"Starfire, get out of the way," Robin snapped and shoved at her shoulders.
She was as immovable as stone. "No."
"This has been coming for a while," Robin snarled, cracking his knuckles.
Red X sneered. "I'll tell you what's been coming for-"
Starfire levelled a hand at Red X, her starbolt ready. "Shut. Up."
Red X did so, teetering on his leg.
"Starfire, move," Robin demanded. "That's an order."
Starfire levelled a starbolt at him too. "You back down, shut the fuck up and allow me to talk."
Red X crowed with laughter while all blood drained from Robin's face at Starfire's intentional use of a swear word. "That's my girl."
Starfire's head snapped toward Red X. "I am not your girl. You made that abundantly clear. You will cease this testosterone addled feud, there are bigger problems which require solutions. X, you have a lot to answer for. Let us start with this." She withdrew the photo she'd taken from Robin's wall from her belt and tossed it at Red X.
He didn't even bother to catch it. It slapped on the ground at his feet with a lonely, pathetic sort of sound. He stared at it for a long moment. "Where'd you get that?" he asked in a flat voice.
"It does not matter where I acquired it, what matters is I did. This is why you are here."
He was silent.
"Deny it. Tell me it is not."
Robin leant around Starfire as he tried to see the piece of paper. "What is it?"
She placed a hand against Robin's sternum and pushed him back behind her and away from Red X. "Stay out of it."
"This concerns all of us," Robin snapped and grabbed her arm to push it away from his chest.
"It does not."
"He's here, beating up criminals and putting them in hospital and we were asked to stop it. It does concern us."
"Not this," Starfire said.
"You're protecting him?" Robin blurted.
"In this instance, yes."
Red X snarled, "I don't need-"
"He's using you, Starfire. Using you to get to me. To get to all of us. He's played us all, that's what he does. And you're the only one gullible enough to believe his lies."
Starfire ignored that, no matter how much the words sliced at her, and kept her eyes on Red X, willing him to answer.
"Starfire, it's none of your business," Red X said. "I told you to stay out of it. You're not a part of this."
"You made me a part of this. You said 'they' were here. I misunderstood which 'they'. If you had only said." She shook her head. "What is this language?" she asked, switching to the one he'd taught her.
He almost fell, he was so shocked. "Tell me you haven't used that. Tell me you didn't use that!"
"You never mentioned I should not. Yes, I have. That is how we discovered Octave Bonnot."
Red X swore viscously.
She stalked toward him, stooping to retrieve the picture. "I can help." She shoved the picture at his chest. "You know I can. They need-"
"I don't need your help and I don't need you!" Red X pressed the button on his belt and reappeared in the rafters. He grunted as he did so, kneeling on the beam as his leg seemed to collapse.
Starfire made to follow, the need to aid him now so great she couldn't help it. If only she'd realised why he was doing all this sooner.
Robin cleared his throat. "If you go with him, you're out. No longer a Titan."
Beast Boy let out a breathy, "Dude," while Cyborg's, "What?" resounded around the warehouse.
Starfire halted and closed her eyes. Her hands balled into fists.
"If you choose him, Starfire, that's it. No coming back."
"Man, that's messed up!" Cyborg called. "You can't do that!"
"She's not choosing me, dumbass," Red X snapped. "She's got this glorified notion stuck in her head she's needed. She's not. You can have her, I don't care."
"I don't want your casts offs!"
Their words couldn't have hurt more if they'd stabbed her directly in the chest.
Starfire opened her eyes and looked at Raven. Her friend stared back, tears in her eyes, but she nodded. Just once. One small nod and they both knew what it meant.
Do the right thing for you. Make yourself happy. I'll still be here.
Her gaze drifted to Cyborg, to Beast Boy. Brothers and friends. She wouldn't lose them, she could see the anger in their faces at Robin.
Without her permission, her gaze slid to Robin. She tried to memorise his face, call up the image of his smile when they were younger. When the world seemed so bright and happy and she had a place no matter what. Her eyes slipped up to Red X and the tears finally spilled over. Unclipping her communicator from her belt, she held out her hand to Robin. "I once told you I could not live in a world where we must fight."
Robin swallowed. "Star-"
Her hand turned to Red X now. "And I once told you, there were other ways to be free."
She tilted her hand and let her communicator slide from it.
It smashed when it hit, scattered pieces all over the place.
"All this talk of choice," Starfire whispered as she raised her head, stared into empty space. "I think it might have been nice if one of you had chosen me."
With a heavy heart, she turned and walked away from both of them.
Cyborg crossed his arms and glared at Robin as he made his way back over to them after Starfire had disappeared out the back of the warehouse. "If you kick her out because of this, I'm going too."
Robin double took, frozen mid step. "What? You'll side with her."
"I'm not taking sides. But I think you're being a douche right now. Man, we've all been where Starfire is."
Robin frowned. "We have not."
"Jinx," Cyborg said, matter-of-fact.
Beast Boy cleared his throat. "Terra."
"Kitten," Cyborg countered.
"No, that doesn't count," Robin snarled. "That was to save the city. Besides, he's using her."
"He's not," Raven told him.
"Beside, that's Star's problem then, isn't it?" Beast Boy said. "And, dude, some of the things you just said... I don't think Star'll forgive you for them."
Robin's mouth snapped closed and he flinched. "Oh, shit. What'd I just do?"
"You're an idiot, you never think before you speak and 'boy blunder' doesn't even begin to cover the crap you just pulled," Raven said. "Making her choose like that, it's just going to push her further away."
Time doesn't stop for a broken heart. It keeps forging onward. Push and push and move with it or break. And even if broken, time doesn't stand still. It doesn't wait. It can't be stopped, can't be bent.
So Starfire moved. One foot ahead of the other. Just walked all over Skip, her mind a cloud of thoughts.
At times, Raven joined her, a silent shadow, a small hand in hers, an anchor to the world. One who didn't require words or feelings or expression. She was just there. There was a green dog who wandered at her feet, fur brushing against her leg and wide grin to guide her way, or the cybernetic arm across her shoulders, but she didn't respond to any of them. She couldn't.
Somewhere, she knew, Robin was kicking himself. She saw him, out of the corner of her eye, small flashes of regret, but he didn't come close. Just watched. She was glad of his distance but she wondered if his remorse had more to do with his need to solve the case than fix her feelings.
She hated herself for thinking that.
She hated that it all had gone wrong. That it was her fault it had. That there was nothing she could do to mend this. Her world was fragmented.
She didn't see Red X anywhere. Not that she expected to find him.
As the sun sank, she asked Raven to make them leave. She needed some time to be by herself. Make Robin go too, she'd tell him what he wanted to know in the morning, but for now, she needed privacy.
Raven studied her with scepticism, but Starfire was adamant. She'd be all right. Besides, any criminal stupid enough to cross her path tonight would find they picked the wrong night. Her strength was not gone. She still had a lot of righteous fury.
Just her flight was unusable.
She'd wander the streets, linger in the gardens and think.
When Raven asked if she'd be returning to her hotel room, Starfire looked into her friend's eyes and lied. Even with the lie, Raven kissed her cheek and disappeared.
Starfire did linger. She watched the stars. She ran her hands over the flower hedges which trimmed some pathways through the city. But ultimately, her feet brought her where her mind had wanted to go.
She found herself in that same dingy, broken down train station from a week ago. It hadn't changed. There didn't look like there had been any movement in the station at all. The monitoring bugs had shown no activity. Except now, she guessed, with her presence they'd be lighting up.
Robin was probably watching.
Anger, hot and blinding, she lit her hands and fired off starbolt after starbolt. Destroying all the bugs and cameras in the area without so much as a sound. She didn't want him to watch, didn't want him to see.
Then she sat on the edge of the station and let herself feel.
The clock ticked over to midnight.