Hello my wonderful readers!
I guess I should start by profusely apologizing for having taken so long to update. In brief, after having my luggage (with my computer) lost by the airlines for three weeks I had almost no time to write before going off to my next couple of trips. I've been so busy I've hardly had time to sit down and write. But, hey, I finally did it!
Before we get to the story I'd like to say a quick thank you to Tsukita for being so supportive and encouraging through this story! :) It really helps!
Also, I should probably worn all the BBRae fans out there that this chapter will be more RobStar centric, but I promise the next chapter will make up for it!
And now we get to the story:
Starfire awoke to the feeling of hot tears rolling down her cheeks. The intensity of her nightmares had reached a level that she was no longer able to stand. It all felt too real – too raw – and was such a direct hit to a wound that she didn't even realize was still there. But it was still there, and it hurt.
She slid out of her bed and walked over to her mirror, looking closely at the image that reflected back. Her eyes were worn and circled from her poor sleep, but that was not what struck her mind. What she thought of, as she peered into the glass, was how much she looked like someone else; and yet she didn't. They were so similar, and yet Starfire knew they were not quite the same. She was another version of that girl in her nightmare, and a tiny voice in the back of her mind told her she was not the improved version.
Starfire shook her head slowly. "I-I am not her," she said to her reflection, her voice tiny and weak. "I shall always come second," she added, another stream of tears falling down her cheeks. The salty tears ran down her face into the corners of her mouth and suddenly she realized how much she hated their taste. They tasted of bitterness and hatred, and she couldn't stomach such emotions. She wiped away the wetness with the back of her hand and backed away from the mirror.
"However," she said, her voice gaining back some of its strength, "I refuse to partake in the feeling sorry for oneself," and with one final disapproving glance at her own reflection, she shot a bolt of energy at the mirror, shattering it, and the sorry image upon in, to pieces.
She hurried herself to get ready, wanting to get out of her room and away from her thoughts quickly, but not daring to let her teammates she her as distraught as she guessed she might appear. When she was finally ready, she rushed out of the room and down the hallway so fast that she almost collided with a clearly perturbed Raven just as she was seemingly escaping her own room.
Starfire stopped herself just in time to escape the outward explosion of Raven's bedroom door as it was flung against the opposite wall by some of her dark magic. With it came a severely tired and frazzled Raven, hair sticking out in all directions and face looking paler than ever.
"Friend Raven," said Starfire, surprised, "Is something not right? Do you require assistance?" Raven whipped her head around to face her teammate.
"W-what? No!" she half shouted, startling Starfire. Realizing how she must of sounded, the dark teenager took a deep breath, and struggled to smooth down her hair with shaking hands. "I-I mean, no thanks. I'm fine."
"Forgive me," began the alien hesitantly, "but you do not appear to be 'fine'. Did you perchance have another–" but she was cut off by the unmistakable sound of something shattering from within the room. Starfire's eyes shot to the crack of space left open at the door frame, and was shocked to find what small portion she could see of her comrade's room as filthy as she might expect of Beast Boy's. Clothes, books, and other various things were strewn across the floor. With the gigantic mess, Raven's state of being, and the crashing noise, Starfire found herself what seemed to be an obvious conclusion. "Raven! There is an intruder in your room!" she whispered hastily, "Perhaps it is the Boogieman! Quickly! Let us go now and catch the villainous thief!" She made a move to go through the open door frame but just before her fingers reached through the space, the door was magicked back into place and slammed shut by Raven.
"There's no intruder," her friend snapped.
Starfire, baffled, stared at her friend with wide eyes. "B-but your room – and the crashing noise–"
"That was me," Raven interrupted with a slight growl of self disappointment. "The nightmares don't exactly agree with my powers."
"Oh," Starfire said, suddenly feeling rather uncomfortable. "May I be of help to you in any way?"
"Not likely," the other girl replied with a bitter edge in her voice. "Unless you've somehow found a cure?"
The red head shook her head sadly. "I am sorry, I know nothing of a cure." But suddenly a thought occurred to her: she hadn't seen Robin since yesterday, and he had seemed pretty intent on finding the Boogieman. "Maybe Robin has had luck where we have not! Let us go find him!"
Spirits lightened, the cheerful teen grabbed her friend too tightly by the arm and flew down the hall, quite literally dragging the other behind her.
"Ugh! Too tight!" gasped Raven in surprise, but Starfire seemed not to hear.
In no time the two reached the main room, where Starfire quickly spotted Robin hunched over his computer. Letting out a squeak of delight, she flew to him, dropping her friend in her excitement. Grumbling to herself and nursing the soon-to-be bruise on the top of her head, Raven pushed herself up and headed to the kitchen to find the teapot. Needless to say she was starting her day on the wrong side of the bed.
On the other side of the room Starfire had reached Robin and was now making a concentrated effort to draw him from his work.
"Robin, please," she was saying, "will you not 'pour the peas' as they say? Is there any news of the villainous Boogieman?"
Robin made no effort to remind her the saying was to "spill the beans," and would have preferred not to answer all together thanks to his sour mood, but knowing Starfire the quickest way to peace was to give her what she wanted. In this case: an answer.
"No," he muttered darkly, not taking his eyes off the screen – where they'd been since earlier last night.
Starfire frowned. "But how can that be? He must be somewhere," she said.
"There's nothing new," he answered again, this time with some irritation.
"Perhaps you may have missed something? I would be most happy to help you look for–"
"I SAID THERE'S NOTHING!" Robin shouted, finally spinning in his seat to face his startled teammate. One look at his face and Starfire knew something was wrong. His eyes were sullen and exhausted looking, with misplaced anger disfiguring his entire expression.
For a few moments the room was dead silent, with Robin and Starfire's gazes locked on each other and Raven listening from the kitchen, before something finally flickered through Robin's eyes. Regret, maybe?
"Look," said Robin, slightly calmer but still with none of his usual demeanor, "This guy is better than we thought, and obviously is only going to come out of hiding if it's on his own terms. So whenever and wherever that is, we need to be prepared. We can't afford to let him slip through our fingers again."
"You believe us to be ill-prepared?" asked Starfire tentatively.
"Very," he replied, frowning. He then got up from his seat and addressed both Starfire and Raven. "Ten minutes from now I expect the team to be on the training field ready to drill. Make sure Beast Boy and Cyborg know," he added before briskly making a beeline for the door to the hall, giving neither girl any indication of his destination.
Starfire and Raven stared at the door a short while before the tea kettle went off, scaring them both back to reality. As Raven poured herself the tea Starfire spoke up.
"Should I then go and awaken friends Beast Boy and Cyborg?" she asked, visibly less cheerful than when they'd first arrived in the room.
Raven had her stare fixed on nothingness, thinking as she sipped her cup. She replied, "I'll get Cyborg if you'll get tofu-for-brains."
Starfire nodded and headed for the door. She sensed that there was an abnormal amount of tension between Raven and Beast Boy for the moment – after all, it wasn't like the gothic teen to insult someone so early in the morning without at least a little provoking – but did not press for an answer. For some reason reconciliation between team members was proving to be harder than usual the past few days.
Just as she reached the doors she called over her shoulder to her friend. "Robin only stressed, yes? He will be back to normal when we catch this Boogieman?"
Raven glanced up at the red haired girl, realizing what Robin's attitude must be doing to her feelings. For at close as those two were, Robin seemed to forget quite often how much Starfire cared for him, and how his negativity hurt her. Lately all the boys in the tower were acting more idiotically than usual.
She nodded once, and replied, "Of course. Everyone will go back normal when this is all over." Starfire didn't realize as her friend spoke, that it wasn't the spikey haired leader she was referring to, but instead a much smaller, greener teammate.
Starfire smiled to herself. "Yes, I know I am only being silly," she said softly. "I will see you on the training grounds?"
Raven only offered a small nod, her thoughts elsewhere, and hardly noticed the opening or closing of the door as she was left to herself.
Five minutes later Raven had pulled herself from her head and had made her way down to Cyborg's room, only to realize he wasn't there. Figuring the only place left for him to hide was the garage, she then phased down through several floors and stopped at the entrance of his workshop, where the sounds of metal things crashing around could be heard.
She knocked on the door, slightly concerned by the loud crashing noises inside. They instantly stopped at the sound of her knocking.
"Who's there?" came the voiced of a seriously stressed Cyborg.
Raven cocked an eyebrow. What was up with everyone's mood today? It was like it was freaking Gloomsday or something.
Absentmindedly she wondered if this was how she normally sounded to her teammates.
"A little less hostile attitude would be nice," she deadpanned back.
She heard a huff of breath and footsteps on the other side of the door which then whooshed open. Cyborg stood on the other side, looking as tired as his other comrades, rubbing the back of his head with his flesh hand. Inside, Raven spied pieces of metal and mechanical junk tossed around the floor.
He let out a deep breath and looking down at his friend. "Sorry, Raven, didn't mean to give ya the cold shoulder or anything, it's just that I'm a little –"
"Stressed," Raven finished for him. "Trust me, we all are."
"Yeah," he replied, now rubbing his eyes. "So what did ya need me for?"
"Up for a healthy dose of stress relief?"
He grinned down at Raven, but some of his usual vigor was missing. "Great idea," he said.
"Bad idea, Raven, bad idea!" yelled Cyborg just fifteen minutes after they'd left the room. In that short amount of time they'd both reached the training field, been briefed by Robin on what the day's training regime would cover, and thrown into practice – or at least that's what Robin called it. It felt a lot more like survival of the fittest: extreme edition.
"Seriously man," Cyborg called up to their team leader, who had just hurdled over a projectile boulder that had come dangerously close to flattening him against the ground, "don't you think we could turn this down just a notch?"
"We'll take a break once the Boogieman is caught, until then we can't afford to rest," replied the Boy Wonder just as he disappeared behind a concrete slab that had just burst from the ground, aimed directly at Raven. She avoided it with a quick twist to the right – it occurred to her that she was on the defensive an awful lot today – and looked around to see how the rest of her teammates were performing with their serious lack of sleep.
Cyborg was blasting his sonic canon at anything and everything that crossed his path, and unfortunately missing most of his marks. She noticed his reaction time was slower than usual, but thankfully just fast enough to keep this training exercise less than life threatening – mostly.
Starfire wasn't doing much better. Her accuracy had taken a hit today as well, with many of her bolts hitting just shy of their marks. She was visibly more erratic in her movements, a dose of her normal grace somehow unaccounted for.
Even their fearless leader seemed slightly off his game. His attacks, while possible more aggressive than normal, lacked some of his trademark strength.
Beast Boy, however, was a different story.
He was performing better than ever. His reflexes, agility, and attack seemed to all have improved over night. He was focused (Raven didn't even know he could focus) and a force to be reckoned with. Lack of sleep aside, it was like he was a whole new Beast Boy. He was a predator on the prowl, a beast even.
Raven froze, mind placing two and two together at last.
A beast. These dreams were making Beast Boy lose control to his Beast again.
In her frozen state, she didn't see the second pillar of concrete shoot up at her until it was too late. With the force of a train, the stone slammed into the teen, driving her into the ground. Just as she landed she was able to put up a protective barrier, keeping the accident from becoming fatal.
"Raven!" sounded several concerned voices from around the area. Her friends rushed to her side, Robin pausing the simulation for the time being.
"Raven! Are you uninjured?" Starfire fretted, offering her hand.
Ignoring her friends outstretched arm, Raven pushed herself up to a sitting position with some difficulty, and looked for Beast Boy. She found him still some feet away, on the outside of the group.
"I'm fine," she replied hastily, not taking her eyes off the changeling, "but I'm not sure if Beast Boy is."
Beast Boy flicked a hostile glare in Raven's direction.
"What are you talking about?" asked a confused Robin, "Beast Boy's on the top of his game."
"I-I just–" Raven hesitated. She didn't necessarily want to tell her teammates of her suspicions if it meant angering Beast Boy even further. "I can just sense that something's wrong."
"Just because you're a sore loser doesn't mean you can blame it on someone else," huffed Beast Boy, taking a step toward her with a face of resentment.
"Excuse me?" he asked back, her eyebrows raised to a dangerous height.
"Oh come on, Raven. Admit it. You're peeved that I'm a better fighter than you for once."
"I won't admit something that isn't true," she growled back.
"Friend, please–" interjected Starfire, who's expression of unease matched that of Cyborg and Robin's. She was ignored.
He took another step closer. "No, you won't admit it 'cause you hate to see me be better than you!"
"Okay, fine, whatever. I'll admit that I'm 'peeved' that you have less of a brain than I originally gave you credit for."
"Raven–" said Robin, but he wasn't given a chance to continue as Beast Boy pushed past him. He was dangerously close now.
"Since when did you ever give me credit for anything?"
The two glared at each other, and a low growl started to rise somewhere deep inside of Beast Boy. Raven took a long look at him. His physical features had somehow transformed over night. The body of the happy, relaxed, goofy boyish-teen had been taken over by someone older, and meaner. He was already backtracking to the state he'd been in last time the Beast was released.
She took a breath and tried to cool her temper, and then spoke slowly but deliberately. "I've always given you credit for maintaining control." She paused for a moment to let her words sink it, and then continued. "But maybe I was wrong," she said in a low voice.
Her words seemed to somewhat get through to Beast Boy. He didn't reply for some time, a series of thoughts seeming to flicker through his head. Eventually, he simply spun around and started stalking back towards the tower.
"So much for trying not to get him angry," thought Raven to herself.
"Beast Boy!" Robin called, "training isn't over!"
"Whatever, dude," called back Beast Boy, "I'm done. Maybe you should worry a little more about yourself ."
Robin's face fell into an expression of frustration. "What's wrong with him?" he asked aloud once the changeling was out of ear-shot.
Raven spoke up, "I think he's starting to lose control."
Cyborg raised his one good eyebrow. "Are you trying to tell me he's gonna turn into that giant, furry, green thing again?"
She nodded solemnly.
"And you think the nightmares are responsible?" asked Robin.
Raven nodded again.
Robin rubbed his chin in thought. "For now, I guess the only thing we can really do is keep an eye on him. To make sure he stays in control of himself," he offered finally.
"You can count me out of baby sitting duty," deadpanned Raven, pushing herself off from the ground. As it was now, if she were to see the green teen ever again it would be too soon.
"I've actually got to agree with you there," replied the leader, "I don't think it's good for Beast Boy's health to have you two in close proximity right now." He then turned to face Cyborg. "How 'bout you, Cy? Think you could take the first shift?"
Cyborg shrugged his shoulders. "Maybe some good old video games can get him out of his funk," he answered.
"Good idea," Robin replied, "in the meantime Starfire, Raven, and I will finish the training course." Both girl's faces lost color with the promise of a round two.
As the half-bot made his way back to the tower, Robin switched back on the obstacle course, and the three remaining titans went back to fighting seemingly for their lives.
Hours later, the training ended only when it was about to end Starfire for what might have been the fourth time.
Suspended in mid air by a spider web specifically engineered by Robin to catch his flying teammates, she was left unable to move her exhausted muscles, and unfortunately unable to get out of the way of a laser that was slowly inching closer and closer to her body. Squealing in terror, she tried prying her arms from the strange contraption, only to find that her struggle made her even more securely stuck.
She squeezed her eyes shut just at the laser was centimeters from slicing her in half and then –
The alien girl popped an eye open to find the laser had been shut off, along with everything else. Without the power to sustain it, the web released Starfire and she fell to the ground, landing right on her backside.
"Ow," she grunted to herself, rubbing the already sore spot where she'd fallen. She'd just at that to the list of bruises she's obtained today.
Robin, remote control to the course in hand, was already standing behind her.
"I-I am sorry… again," she apologized to the leader.
The spikey haired teen did not face her but instead looked somewhere on the ground.
"That's the third time we've had to stop in the past twenty minutes," he said with clear agitation. Whether the frustration was directed at her, Starfire did not know.
"Clearly we're not making any more progress, so let's just give it a rest for the day," he continued. "See you in the tower." Without another word or even a glance in her direction Robin headed for the tower, leaving Starfire in the dust.
Just then Raven materialized right beside her, having finally made it back from the opposite end of the course.
"He's not upset with you," the gothic teen told her, having caught the last of what Robin was saying and guessing what Starfire would have heard behind his words.
"Do you think so?"
Raven nodded. "He's only angry with himself," she added.
Starfire looked quizzically at her friend, not quite believing her. "Why?"
The other girl shrugged. "Not sure," she replied.
Both girls watched their leader as he disappeared through the front entrance into the tower, his gait rushed and fists clenched.
Starfire knew something was wrong, and she was going to figure out what.
Starfire was only a short distance behind as Robin disappeared into his room, and she gave him less than a minute of peace before knocking.
"Who is it?" came a less than enthusiastic greeting.
"It is me who seeks entrance," she called back.
He seemed to hesitate before opening the door, it taking more time than usual to slide open.
"Did you need something, Star?" he asked wearily.
"I, ehm, felt that a discussion of our feelings would be beneficial," she admitted, and watched as the color immediately drained from his face. As he began stuttering, clearly unable to find words, Starfire decided to add, "You are frustrated, are you not?"
Robin, still visibly uncomfortable, ushered Starfire inside and slid the door shut behind her. "I guess a little, sure," he eventually replied.
"Are you frustrated at me?" she asked again, in a much smaller voice this time. She suddenly found it very difficult to face him; her gaze dropped to the floor.
Robin furrowed his eyebrows, and placed a gloved hand on her shoulder. "What? Why would you say that?" he asked in a cautious voice.
Starfire gripped her own hands even tighter. "I fought poorly today… I held back the team," she muttered.
Robin tried to meet her eyes, but she refused to raise hers. "None of us, well except Beast Boy I guess, fought well today. Besides, one bad day doesn't make you a bad hero," he offered.
She allowed a small smile, but still didn't raise her head, so Robin went on. "Star, you wouldn't be here if I didn't think you were one of the best fighters out there." He meant it kindly, but for some reason Starfire's smile instantly vanished, and Robin puzzled over what he could said wrong.
"What if I am not the best fighter?" she replied.
"What if there is another, better version of me out there?"
"What are you talking about?" asked Robin, confused yet again. When she did not answer, he pressed on, "Starfire, tell me what's wrong."
"It's my dreams…" she began, steeling the tiniest of glances up at her friend, and then changed her mind, "Oh, I'm being so silly, forgive me."
"It's okay," Robin said, squeezing her shoulder slightly, "you can tell me."
Starfire took a deep breath. "I-I have been seeing Blackfire in my dreams. And in my sleep I watch her take what is mine. My identity, my role on the team, a-and… my friends. And she is so much better than me when she does so. A better hero; a better friend…" A single tear fell down her cheek and the alien girl quickly wiped it away. "It is not that I think myself to be unimportant, but that I am only second to my sister. I fear that I will never be as strong, or beautiful, or as smart as she is."
There was a brief pause in which neither teen said anything, but finally Robin seemed to find the right words. "Star, listen to me. You will never come second to your sister." He took his hand off her shoulder and used it to gently cup her chin so she would look at him. "You are stronger, smarter, kinder, and more beautiful that she will ever be, and there is no one I'd rather have on this team." He smiled kindly down at her and wiped away the final tear that slipped down her cheek.
She smiled back up at him, and meant it. She trusted him to always speak the truth, and she believed in his words.
"Thank you, Robin. You are a greater friend than I could ever have hoped to have," she said softly. He nodded back.
It took a few moments of them quietly standing for the Boy Wonder to realize how close to each other they were. Upon that realization, he quickly tensed up.
"Eh, I think I'm going to go see what repairs need to be made to the training course for practice tomorrow," he suddenly blurted out. He scrambled for the door with a brief, "I'll see you later," leaving Starfire to puzzle the strange irrational behavior all teenage boys seemed to have.
She, too, exited the room and headed in the direction of her own bedroom, feeling strangely much lighter on her feet. Almost as if a heavy weight had finally been taken off her shoulders.
She was so taken by the giddy feeling that it would be hours before she realized that in her confession and comfort Robin had somehow gotten out of telling her why he was upset.
When she finally entered her room she walked right up to the shattered pieces that once were her mirror and peered in the largest intact shard. What she saw was her own unique reflection and nothing more.
A quick note: It might take another another couple of weeks or so again for the next update, thanks to my crazy summer schedule, but I do promise a future update whenever I get the chance!
And again, all feedback is greatly appreciated!